Title: Meet Yasmin
Author: Saadia Faruqi
Illustrator: Hatem Aly
I read a portion of Meet Yasmin with my second graders today after buying it this past weekend. We love Yasmin! She is a second-grader just like my students. This book is a collection of 4 short stories, each broken up into several chapters. My students loved the first story about Yasmin exploring her neighborhood. I set the book on the shelf when I finished and there are already requests to read the rest of the stories tomorrow. Yasmin's family is from Pakistan. She calls her father 'baba.' One of my students heard this and shouts, "that's what I call my dad, too!" Watching her eyes light up when she realized Yasmin spoke the same language as her family was the best part of this read aloud. I love the way this book feels like a chapter book, but is a simple read for my students who need it. We need more books for this type of reader, especially ones that represent underrepresented cultures. I can't recommend this one enough!
Title: Beatrice Zinker Upside Down Thinker
Author: Shelley Johannes
Beatrice Zinker was our first chapter book read aloud of this school year. What a fantastic choice! I chose to read this book, because we are an IB school and our first unit covers the transdisciplinary theme of Who We Are. Beatrice makes no apologies for who she is. She is an upside down thinker. This can sometimes get her into trouble, but her unique way of looking at the world allows her to navigate friendship and, of course, espionage. After the first chapter, one of my students wrote her name upside down, and another wore her backpack upside down on the way out the door. My students were immediately taken by Beatrice and were rooting for her the whole way. After we finished reading, I was so happy to announce that I had just bought the sequel, Beatrice Zinker: Incognito. My kids are itching to find out what happens next! I know you'll love Beatrice, too.
Late last school year, I decided to make the switch to flexible seating. Why did I do this in April, you ask? Let me paint you a picture.
Before using flexible seating, I was constantly searching for that perfect seating arrangement. Who is going to talk to whom? Who needs to be closer to the board? Who needs to not be within arm's reach of the bathroom pass? (You need to go again?!)
I spent so much time figuring out who needs to be where, that I was missing the reality that we hardly spent any time at our own desks. Students always moved supplies to the side or to the ground because they needed space to work in centers, spread out their writing, or get creative during indoor recess.
The flexible seating trend was nothing new at this point. I had heard about it all over the internet and witnessed a few of my colleagues making the switch. Honestly, one of the reasons I was hesitant was because I was that kid who loved having her own 'space.' Oh, you mean I can stack my Lisa Frank notebooks here AND have my own container of cool mechanical pencils? Yes, please.
(side note: who remembers those pencils that had the tiny stackable leads? You had to push the dull one in the eraser end and the new one would be ready, except if even one of the leads was missing, the whole thing was useless. The 90's were a magical time for school supplies).
I digress. My point is that I loved all my stuff. Would my students be okay with losing some of that personal space in order to gain more choice when it came to our everyday activities? The answer is yes and no.
My group last year did well with the switch. At that point in the school year, we knew the routines and changing the desk situation wasn't a huge deal to them. They already knew that their supplies landed wherever they were.
This year, I hit the ground running with flexible seating. My one condition was that there still be enough surface space for each student to have a seat at the same time if they needed. This has already come in handy when it comes to taking state assessments. Luckily, I am super blessed to have a large room. I know not everyone has this luxury. It's a small perk to working in what was once a middle school. If I haven't mentioned, I teach 2nd grade.
I have bean bags, DIY bouncy seats, a floor table, and lots of carpet space. I also have a computer station, and a few groups of tables and desks to provide surface and chairs for the kids to sit in if they wish to do so.
A couple kids came in on the first day of school hoping and wishing that 2nd grade would be the year they got their own desk. We have tables, so this was never really going to happen. A part of me felt that pang of regret that I wasn't letting my kids personalize their space. However, each student has their own bin to house the majority of their supplies, and it goes with them around the room. We also share supplies in a caddie on each surface. We are only 6 days into the school year, but I have to say that despite some initial disappointment, my students have risen to the task. They know that they have to make smart choices about where to sit or they may lose that privilege. They know that they can move around the room, but need to be respectful in doing so. They know that not everyone can sit on the bouncy seats ALL the time. I don't have a rotation for these coveted seats, but they really do work it out. It's amazing what kids will do when they get the chance to explore, make choices, and solve problems on their own.
Is it perfect? No. I'm sure I will be changing and tweaking our room arrangement as the year goes on. Next year it may look completely different. What I do know, is that I don't think I can go back to seating arrangements any time soon.
Each new school year, I come back into my classroom to a mountain of furniture, blank walls, and filled with that back-to-school nervous excitement. I arrange tables and chairs, put up some fresh bulletin boards, and then I get to do my favorite back-to-school task: organizing the classroom library. I purposely save this for last, because I could spend weeks doing this every year and nothing else would get done. I've been known to stop part way and start reading. I mean, am I supposed to not read the books?!
Last year I made some MAJOR changes to how I organized my library. All books are organized by genre or author instead of level. This has been life-changing! I kept a small bookshelf of leveled readers that I use during assessments or small groups, but otherwise my students choose books from our shelves just how you would at a real library. Minus the Dewey Decimal System, of course.
Here is this year's result after adding a few bins, a fancy spinning rack for series, and re-numbering books so it made more sense.
I reluctantly joined Twitter in April of 2015. Before that, the only social media I was into was Facebook. I'm of the generation that got Facebook in college. I went to a small school and we waited and waited for our school to be added after listening to our friends at bigger universities talk about how cool it was. Was it actually cool back then? Probably not. Does saying cool this many times make me seem cool?
Anyway, I joined Twitter and Instagram around the same time. Everyone was doing it and I basically caved to peer pressure. Just say no, guys. I didn't post anything, but decided to passively follow my friends, a few celebrities, and some news organizations. "I only use Twitter to keep up with the news," I would say, as if it made me sound sophisticated.
Then, about a year ago, a few teachers in my district talked about the number of educators and authors that actively used Twitter as a way to share resources, inspire each other, and connect. Some were only using it to connect with their own classroom families, others were using it to connect in a broader sense.
So, I searched for a few of my favorite authors, and followed a few education and technology pages I heard about. Again, I followed passively. I still didn't post much, but I did use it frequently to get inspiration for my classroom, hear about upcoming books, and learn about new apps and technology.
Then I went to Nerd Camp MI. I first heard about Nerd Camp on Twitter and everyone made it sound pretty amazing. I signed up, went, and it blew my mind. Read my last post for more about that! I realized just how extensive Teacher Twitter really is. I started following everyone and everyone they were talking about. Since then, I have started to tweet more of my own posts, retweet, and respond to posts I like. I have made a few solid connections and was able to connect with those people again this year at Nerd Camp. I've connected with a few authors who I'm excited to continue to connect with over the course of the school year.
By no means have I mastered all that Twitter can offer. I'm happy that I've made some connections, gained inspiration, and received fresh ideas. It's a giant community of many like-minded educators ready to take on the world!
Nerd Camp MI was two weeks ago, and processing what I've learned has been a process. This was my second time at Nerd Camp MI, and it did not disappoint. Last year, I came across Nerd Camp after becoming more involved on Twitter.
Side note: I resisted Twitter for a long time because I was all like, "Social media is taking over the world!" I joined on the suggestion of a friend because there was apparently a lot of teaching resources. She was more than right. Okay, this side note is now a side paragraph. I guess a new post on the influence of Twitter is in the near future.
ANYWAY...I went to Nerd Camp last year by myself on a whim. It looked promising and I could get credits for free. What's not to love? Oh my gosh, it was so much more than just getting in a few free SCECHs. It felt like I had found my people. Teachers, librarians, authors, and book nerds of all kinds. Every session I went to (and there are approximately 1 million to choose from) was the best one. I was convinced. And I'm sure everyone else felt the same way. I met authors I admired, authors I never heard of, and teachers who want only the best experiences for their students and any kid they may run into. I walked away hooked. I felt lucky that I only had about an hour drive to this literacy extravaganza.
Fast forward to this year when registration was announced. I signed up that day and it was a good thing I did, because tickets went fast. I couldn't wait until July and I convinced a co-worker to come along for the ride.
Again, I experienced only the best sessions. I choose the best ones. It's because every session is one of the best. I listened to expert panels on graphic novels and revision. I heard Donalyn Miller, Pernille Ripp, Chad C. Everett, Sara K. Ahmed, and Meg Medina give passionate nerd talks. I spoke with Jacqueline Davies about the power of service learning in the classroom. I learned of First Book, a phenomenal organization whose mission it is to get high quality books into the hands of kids. I learned how to connect with authors like Josh Funk and Jarrett Lerner through Skype and FlipGrid. I learned how to draw sneaky eyebrows from Laurie Keller. The list goes on and on.
Come to Nerd Camp. Then spread that nerdiness in whatever you do. Get passionate about books, or writing, or teaching, or sneaky eyebrows. Just get out there and share it.
Do you remember your first library card? Today I saw a friend post a picture of her daughter receiving her first one. It made me think of that day and I wonder if anyone else remembers it fondly. For me, I must have been about 5 years old. I remember waiting at the desk and my mom talking to the librarian. The librarian handed me a laminated card. White with a blue outline. I was then asked to sign it. Oh my goodness I thought I was just about the most important person in the world at that moment. I got to sign it? Like my parents sign things? I took the pen and focused on writing my best signature. It was so good, that it curves down around the edge of the card. I was five. It was adorable. It may have seemed like an insignificant moment to others, or even to my parents, but I recall that moment as one of my earliest memories. I loved checking books out with that thing. I was hot stuff! Honestly, I think I thought it was a credit card. If only. Does anyone else have a library card story?
Like, I love it so much. I just downloaded the ESPN app solely to watch it. Have I downloaded it to watch sports? No. Spelling? Yes.
"Why, why do you like to watch kids spell super hard words?"
Let me try to explain. First, it's so much more than spelling. It's not just reading the dictionary and memorizing the whole thing (although that couldn't hurt, I suppose). These students understand language of origin, multiple definitions, various pronunciations, and parts of speech. Add the pressure of spelling complex words correctly on a stage in front of the nation, and I'm impressed.
Honestly, it's the language of origin that gets me the most. The words given to each speller are English words, but have any number of places of origin. These include, but I'm sure are not limited to, Greek, Latin, German, and French. Knowing where a word originates helps you understand what combination of phonemes are used to make the word. If you know the word is German, and you hear a 'v' sound, it's most likely going to be spelled with a 'w.'
I love that knowing the spelling of a word is like a puzzle. Clues are given through the part of speech, definition, and pronunciation. Language astounds me. All of these random letters and sounds are put together to make meaning. Then, another random set of letters and sounds are put together to make meaning for someone else on the other side of the world. THEN, our brains just figure out how to make sense of it all based on the language used around us when we're babies. I mean, that's amazing, right?
I'm sure I'm not doing any justice to the intricacies of language and spelling. I just love the way it all comes together and has the power to change the world. I bet you didn't think this post about the spelling bee would end with how it can change the world, did you?
I still remember my 6th grade spelling bee disappointment (it's 'levee' not 'levy') and I quietly quiz myself in an act of redemption when each word is announced on TV. I am in awe of these students who put in countless hours of studying, love language, and can flat out spell words that most of us have never heard. They are impossible not to root for.
Let me set the scene:
I'm a first year teacher. It's the first week of school. The first week of Kindergarten, nonetheless. We're learning about the letter 'M.' (It was a letter person. If you know what I'm talking about, you know you miss them).
The task at hand was to make a collage of things beginning with 'M.' I explain what the students need to do and naively say, "any questions?"
A boy in the middle of the group confidently raises his hand. His voice full of sincerity, he asks, "Why do frogs jump?" Eight years into my career, and this is still one of the cutest things that I've ever seen. I'd love to say that I went off script and launched into a great lesson regarding frogs and how awesome they are, but I said something like, "We can talk about that later, let's get to work!" Which, is a completely acceptable response. We all know that we've got to get through 8 million things in one day.
However, I think of this moment often. It was one of the first times as a teacher that things weren't going as I thought they would (though certainly not the last). I remember that his question took me by surprise. How did this 5 year old not know that I meant a question about the assignment and not a question about literally anything? (Hint: he's 5. With a million questions about everything).
I've learned to take those questions in stride. If I don't have time for the answers in the moment, we come back to it later. I'm honest with my students if I don't know the answer right away. Just like we know the importance in offering choice to our students, it's important to let them know that they should be curious about everything. Whether it pertains to the topic at hand or not. We live in a time where we have information at our fingertips 24/7. What good is that if we constantly just push onto the next thing?
Going off track with my students leads to insightful conversations, and often piggybacks into great learning. Some days it's hard. It's hard to let go of those 8 million things left to do on the checklist. But going off track just might lead to a better next station down the line.
In the fall, my classroom participated in the Global Read Aloud. It was our first time, so I wasn't sure what to expect. For next year, I am all in to make some solid connections with other classrooms reading the same book. I can't wait to see what is chosen. This year, I read The Wild Robot by Peter Brown. To say that my kids liked this book is a vast understatement. I'd finish a refreshingly short chapter, and shut the book to the following statements:
"You can't stop there!"
"Nooooooo!" (actual number of o's)
This is not a reaction you get from every read aloud. My second graders were captivated. We finished the book hoping for the best for Roz, Brightbill, and their friends. This week I surprised my class with the sequel, The Wild Robot Escapes. For dramatic effect, I sneakily put the copy into one of our bookshelves before the kids walked in for the day. I wanted to see how long it took them to realize it was there. It took less than a minute for one of my students to bring it to me, ask if he could read it, and then promptly shout "LOOK WHAT'S FINALLY HERE!" to his classmates. My little I-waited-for-the-release-of-every-Harry-Potter-book-at-the-stroke-of-midnight heart was overjoyed. I am thrilled that my students have that same anticipation for a brand new book. With the exception of one student who matter-of-factly stated, "that was not my favorite." Which, I was also thrilled with, but that's a post for another time. We began the book together on Monday and I can't wait to hear more "nooooooooo!"
Teacher, reader, tea drinker, and dog mom.