Wednesday, February 20, 2013


Listening to myself speak to my students (and to my daughters, for that matter) I find I make a lot of assumptions.

I assume kids understand what I want them to stop when I tell them to stop.
I assume kids understand what I expect them to do when I tell them to get it together.
I assume kids understand what I am praising when I say good job.

I don't just assume kids understand all the implications and inferences behind my words, I also assume they can do whatever it is I am asking.

I assume when I say sit still that they are able to control their body enough to do so.
I assume when I say whisper that they know how.
I assume when I say slow down and walk that their enthusiasm and excitement can be restrained.

If I truly want my words to have meaning, either that kids will get from them what I truly mean or that they will be able to do what I am asking, I have to be more explicit.

Instead of stop, I need to say stop poking the child next to you.
Instead of get it together I need to say put down the blocks, take a deep breath, count to 10, then try again to play.
Instead of good job I need to say I am really impressed with how thoughtfully you solved that problem.

Instead of simply saying sit still, I need to help students recognize what that means and learn strategies to make it possible. (I also need to only ask them to do so for reasonably periods of time.)
Instead of simply saying whisper, I need to practice doing so with them and help them feel what a whisper is.
Instead of simply saying slow down and walk, I need accept that there are times when that is too much to ask.

I've been mulling this over for some time, but this Responsive Classroom post really hit home. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

10 for 10 nonfiction

Some fabulous bloggers organized a 10 for 10 nonfiction event. Picking my 10 favorite nonfiction books was a challenge. Partly because I struggled to define nonfiction. I decided not to include poetry or folk tales, even though those show up in the nonfiction section of the library. I stuck with a more traditional idea of nonfiction books. Even then it was tough to narrow it down. Once I decided each book had to be by a different author it got easier! Otherwise you might see 10 Steve Jenkins' books here.

Move! by Steve Jenkins
I absolutely adore all of Steve Jenkins' books. I have read at least a dozen of them to my class this year and not been disappointed once. (I call them Steve Jenkins' books but many of them are written by his wife, Robin Page, and illustrated by him. I do not give her enough credit.) Move! is my favorite though. I love all the verbs describing how different animals move and we return to this book and move in those ways around our classroom when we need to get some wiggles out.

Handstand Kids Cookbooks
There are a few different books in this cookbook series, the Mexican cookbook, Chinese cookbook, and Italian cookbook, at least. We bought these for our oldest daughter, starting when she was about 7 and wanted to be cooking. They are easy to follow and we have found the recipes to be delicious. There are also tidbits about the different cultures in each cookbook which add a bit of fun.

Knucklehead: Tall Tales and Almost True Stories of Growing Up by Jon Scieszka

This one isn't really for my students (first graders) but is fabulous for those a little older. It is absolutely hilarious and a book that upper elementary students will quickly identify with. According to one of my colleagues, the audio book is read by the author. We've read this one at home but I think we may have to check out the audio book just to hear it in his voice. Scieszka also read one chapter of this book to President Bush and his wife when Scieszka was named the first National Ambassador for Young People's Literature. I love that this is what he chose to read.

Baby Animals by Seymour Simon
I am not as big of a Seymour Simon fan as I once was, but his See More Readers series is one I love. The photographs, typical of Simon, are stunning. The way this series is laid out works for me better than his traditional books. There are now quite a few books in this series, about all kinds of topics including animals, space, machines...Still, Baby Animals remains my favorite.

An Egg is Quiet by Dianna Hutts Aston, illustrated by Sylvia Long

This one has been out for a while now and I still return to it often. The pale colors and gentle illustrations are just right for this. The book offers a lot of information, but can be read without getting into all of the details. Sometimes we read everything and sometimes we just read the basics. It gets kids thinking about something as simple as an egg in new ways which helps them look at other things in new ways.

Faithful Elephants: A True Story of Animals, People, and War by Yukio Tsuchiya, illustrated by Ted Lewin

This is another one that isn't appropriate for my first graders. I loved using this book when I taught fourth and fifth grades. It is such a sad story but is so well written it offers myriad possibilities for discussions and questions. It's a book that sticks with you long after you finish (clearly it has stuck with me because I haven't read it in more than four years).

Me ... Jane by Patrick McDonnell

Patrick McDonnell also wrote the wonderful, wordless picture book South which I use at the start of every year. He is able to tell stories in such a welcoming way. His illustrations, so similar to those of his comic strip Mutts draw you in as well. This biography of Jane Goodall is an amazing text to use with young children. So many biographies written for young children are stilted and dull. This definitely is not.

Just One Bite by Lola Schaefer, illustrated by Geoff Waring

This book always reminds me of Steve Jenkins' books. In fact, every time I see it in the library I think it is one of his. It's big, which helps with a read aloud, and it's about animals and food. Kids find parts of it gross but that's never a bad thing with young kids. The grossness just makes it that much more interesting.

Wax to Crayons by Inez Snyder

We spend a lot of time in first grade wondering about things, anything. We wonder about things outside our window, on our wonder table, at recess, or in our classroom. I love books that offer us answers to our wonders while giving us even more to wonder about. Crayons are such a common item that kids are usually fascinated to see how complex they can be.

Why Do Snakes Hiss? and Other Questions about Snakes, Lizards, and Turtles by Joan Holub

We ask a lot of questions when we wonder so a book like this is a great mentor text for us as writers. Seeing how an author takes a question and writes about the answer helps us. Plus, these questions are ones that fascinate my students. So they love it as readers and writers.

All images from

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Needing Space

I've been away from this space for a week, a long time for me. I'm not short on ideas - there are several beginning of drafts waiting as well as a host of new ideas percolating. It's not even that time has been too tight because of other commitments. I just haven't had the brain space for this space.

This space is important to me. It helps me reflect on my classroom, my school, and education in general. It is a place to vent frustration at times and to celebrate at others. It offers connections to many from whom I learn. I miss it right now.

All aspects of my life feel swirly and out of control at the moment. I'm hoping that at least some of those will get back to behaving soon. Then I will get back here.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Updated Encienda 2013

After some messing around and googling, I managed to record my Encienda from Educon this year. It's titled, Walk in Their Shoes, and fits with one of my great passions right now, seeing kids as people. They may be younger, less experienced, but they are amazing, brilliant, thoughtful, and funny. Just like adults. We (including me) miss that a lot.

(My daughters can be heard in the background. Oh well. It seems appropriate that there are some kids' voices here, at least a little bit.)

(For reasons I don't understand, when uploading this the images get ahead of the audio. I can't seem to fix it. Sorry about that.)

Thursday, February 07, 2013

New Book Discovery

I read a lot of blogs about children's literature. A lot. Some really fabulous ones. As a result, I'm often the first one in my school to know about or have new books.

So color me surprised this morning when we went to the library and our phenomenal librarian read Chloe and the Lion to my class.

I'm not familiar with Mac Barnett but I've greatly enjoyed some of Adam Rex's previous books.

This one is brilliant. The author is there in the book and the author and illustrator end up arguing. The main character has to step in.

I'm not doing justice to this book. Not by a long shot. The kids laughed out loud. I laughed out loud. Our librarian and I exchanged looks many, many times throughout as we enjoyed humorous tidbits that the kids completely missed.

One of my students suggested this would make a great play. He's totally right.

So, where were all my kid lit friends on this one? Did I just miss it? Or is no one talking about it? Did no one else find this book fabulous?

Monday, February 04, 2013

More on Perception

Post-Educon I had conversations about the conference with numerous people, often about my thoughts on the power of perception. One such person is a brilliant educator I am lucky to know who works in a variety of capacities. The one that is relevant at the moment is her work with our district's interagency schools. These are the schools that work with our court system and detention centers, mental health supports, and transitional services. These schools support students and families in various stages of trauma, stress, and challenges. They can do amazing things.

This educator was describing to me two of the schools that work with the court system. One is very much what you would expect of a school working with a court system, tough rules, high expectations, etc.

The other does some interesting things. For one, they take a picture of their incoming students the day they arrive. This typically means a picture of them looking very run down, maybe tired, dirty, ragged. They then take a picture of the student on their graduation day, the day they complete their time at that school and return to their base school. This picture typically shows a well-dressed, clean, poised young person. At the graduation they show both pictures. These graduations happen regularly as students arrive and leave at different times. This means that throughout their time at this school students see these images side-by-side again and again. They see the possibility their future holds, what they can be. They are pushed to perceive themselves in a new light through seeing their classmates change.

I don't have any data but my guess would be that students coming out of this school are more successful when they return to their base school, and to regular life, than students returning from the more traditional court-affiliated school. Changing negative perceptions matters.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Power of Perception

A week ago I was in Philadelphia, freezing but doing some fabulous talking, learning, and thinking about education. Interestingly enough some of the best of all three happened around 11 pm on Saturday night.

A bunch of us were standing around outside City Tap House (I got it right Becky!) because that is where you can actually hear each other talk. Luckily, this year they had fires in the fire pits. Last year that was not true. There are now railings around the fire pits which was apparently what was needed for the fire marshal to approve their use.* As a result, the top halves of our bodies were warm while the bottom halves were freezing. This isn't really relevant, but is included because I find it fascinating that this is where I had one of the most interesting and thought-provoking conversation of the entire weekend. That's the beauty of Educon. The talking and learning doesn't stop.

Chris Lehman, Jeremy Spry, and Doug Herman, all of Science Leadership Academy were part of the crowd, as were Becky Fisher, me, my husband, and a couple of guys from Ohio who I don't know. The SLA crowd was discussing some students who were struggling to complete assignments, maintain grades, and basically be successful at the game of school. (This is mildly shocking to those who attend Educon and meet so many fabulous SLA students and then assume they are all doing quite well.)

The more we talked the more it became clear that (some of) these students are fulfilling their self-perceptions. We discussed one student who works awfully hard to earn Ds. My impression was that he could probably earn higher grades with less effort, just effort expended in different ways. I was reminded of one of my little darlings who will state, "I'm a loser!" and then work hard to fulfill that statement.

As teachers we recognize these struggles, the challenge of learning to read, the challenge of finishing assignments, etc. but often we miss the underlying cause, the child's self-perception. We can work as hard as we can to teach a child reading strategies or strategies for perseverance or other strategies, but unless we work to change their negative self-perception it is unlikely that any of those strategies will have sticking power. Perception is very, very powerful.

* There's another example of perception, but from the outside. The fire marshal has a perception of those who spend time at City Tap House that they are likely to 'accidentally'' fall into a fire pit. It's possible that's an accurate perception. I don't have enough experience there to say for sure.