A Small Breakthrough

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I started using the ClassDojo App as a behavior tool to track positive and negative behaviors, which means I carry the classroom iPad around a LOT. My iPad has been switching off to a black screen randomly, which is annoying when I am trying to use it, and of course my kids notice because they don’t want anything to get in the way of getting their points.

Right after the final bell one day, my little T______ bounds up to me: “I can fix that!”

T_____ is a darling kid and he struggles with just about every subject.

He took the iPad in his dirt covered hands and my gut reaction was, “Whooooa, do not touch that” but he was flying through the icons like a master. He found the settings button (which was hidden within a couple of folders), and viola! Fixed.

I ask kids to read and write and multiply for me constantly—but here was a moment for this kid to shine in a different way. I loved it.

There’s a Bully in All of Us (don’t feed it)

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ImageI read an amazing book by Thanhha Lai a few months ago. This is what I wrote about it then:

Inside Out and Back Again has set alight a spark in me, and for the past few days I have lived through the eyes of the main character, Hà.

Thanhha Lai weaves a thread of emotion back and forth between Hà‘s heart and my own.

This is about the aftermath of war, and racial discrimination, and I am itching to read it to my little clutch of 8-year-olds. Will they understand?  I am too impatient to wait until the end of the year, when they are just a bit older. Do they need to be older?

The story takes place in Vietnam and Alabama. To be honest, both places are equally foreign to these kids.

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And now? I am almost done reading the book to my 3rd graders. And I was right to be tentative.

Thanhha Lai beautifully displays Hà’s character, with depth and emotion. I came to know and love Hà as the story progressed, and I wanted my kids to progress with her.

In a culture where bullying is a trigger word, I wanted my particular group of kids this year to broaden their view. Hà escaped a WAR. She became a REFUGEE in a strange new place. She had to learn a strange new language. Hà experienced RACIAL DISCRIMINATION. I guess what I wanted was to give my kids the opportunity to put their first world problems into perspective.

It did not go the way I planned.

My smart, sensitive class thinks Hà is wildly funny. They treat this heartbreaking character exactly the same way as the bullies in the book do. They call her names—and my kids laugh. She struggles with English—and they giggle. I expected understanding and got something ugly. Not what I anticipated.

It was a reminder that my own response to stories as an adult is not a predictor of what children will get out of it.

My students can see with absolute clarity that the kids in the book are bullies. But seeing it in themselves? Not so easy. If Ha were in our class, I think she would have the same issues as in the story. We have some work to do.

But . . . Tuesday was Library Day. One of my girls searched for Inside Out and Back Again on the shelves, checked it out excitedly, and asked me, “Mrs, Seegmiller, what page are we on? I have to know what happens to Hà.” Her parents split up this year, I know it has changed her. She is a strong girl, and she knows something about learning empathy through experience.

I will definitely try again next year.

 

What stories have given you a powerful glimpse into another person’s life?

Have You Noticed This?

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Children inhabit a different world.

I walked across the playground on my way to bus duty, watching and listening, looking out for any problems, but ultimately ending up giggling to myself over what I saw.

A 7 year old boy walked up to his classmates who were waiting by the doors, and instead of saying hello, he screetched at them in the best velociraptor impression I have ever heard. The reaction of his friends? They didn’t think it was weird; they didn’t even miss a beat. They belted out a series of musical, unintelligible screetches right back at him. They were speaking each others language.

Whipping up some plans for 2014

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I have great hopes for this year.

My word for the year is create, and I’ve been making plans!

 

These are my intentions for this blog during the next 12 months:

1. Write every week. Post every Tuesday night after school.

2. Read and Review every book on the New York Public Library’s list of 100 Books for Reading and Sharing (very excited about this!)

3. Start Posting and Sharing products on Teachers Pay Teachers, with an emphasis on literacy.

bring on the new year 🙂

 

 

 

 

The Advantage of Disadvantage

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A new book by one of my favorite non-fiction authors is out and I am absorbed in it! This is not a children’s book, but it’s nice to stir things up a bit.

David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell is proving to be just as good as his previous books. And as usual, the content makes me re-evaluate all my preconceived notions about my students and the way we educate them. 

Think of the students you teach. You know them well enough to know the specific things they grapple with: learning disabilities, loss of a parent, dyslexia, etc. What if those things are their greatest asset? What if some of those students can become better BECAUSE OF the difficulty, not in spite of it?

I am a huge advocate of reading. Read often. Read early, Read well. I read to my students everyday, and stretch out reading time for as many minutes as possible. But. As much as I believe in the power of reading, I also know exactly which kids will deeply struggle with it for a long time. What about them? What about carving out room for the skills that come easily to them?

“Most of us gravitate toward the areas in which we excel. The child who picks up reading easily goes on to read even more, becomes even better at it, and ends up in a field that requires a lot of reading . . . and on and on in a virtuous circle.”

Student who are not good readers are developing OTHER skills, just as powerful.

“Desirable difficulties have the opposite logic …”

That opposite logic is that a child with dyslexia is forced every day to compensate. They have no choice but to find OTHER ways of doing what needs to be done. They survive the school system without being able to read fluently, but they become devastatingly good at listening and talking and remembering. They know how to think around a situation and make it work for them. Could a teacher or a parent give a kid that kind of intense motivation. I don’t think so.

“What is learned in necessity is inevitably more powerful than that which comes easily.

As parents and educators, of course we want our kids to learn the art of persuasion or to think outside the box.

“But a normal, well-adjusted child has no need to take these lessons seriously.”

Think about it. The very skills we work so hard to teach are learned instinctively and with great effort by children who grapple with things like dyslexia.

“If you get A’s in school, you never need to figure out how to negotiate your way to a passing grade, or to look around the room as a nine year old and start strategizing about how to make it through the next hour.”

Disadvantages are the perfect preparation.

Re-think. Take another look. We are always seeking out our students’ strengths—it could be that their struggles fit in that category as well.