C.S. Lewis on Reading Fiction

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C.S. Lewis on Reading Fiction

We have more picture books on the way next week, and in 2 weeks I am tackling a stack of folktales & fairytales. I love reading fiction, particularly fairytales, because the story is good vs. evil, there are clear foes, and the brave heroes manage to win. Children need to read fiction if only to experience safely in a book the villains they will surely meet face-to-face in one form or another. Can’t wait to share more books with you!

 

Teachers and parents:

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ReThinking My Classroom: All is Love

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It is about half way through the school year, and what do you think I’ve been hearing about at work day after day? The upcoming Olympic games (so excited!), or good books we’ve read to our kids? NO.  End of year testing. Every day there is a discussion or a training to get us all ready for the brand spankin’ new standardized tests, that no one seems to know anything about yet. Scary.

Testing has been on my mind. A lot. Too much. Am I losing sight of what matters with these kids?

Then I read this blog post from Momastery: Share This With All the Schools, Please

And I stopped. Here is a description of a teacher who GETS IT. She isn’t just teaching math, she is teaching human beings. “All is love.”

And I resolve to think about training good kids instead of training good test takers.

It is not as if this is new. I just need reminders once and awhile. THIS WAS A POWERFUL REMINDER.

We Are KindI am the teacher who has “We Are Kind” posted on the classroom wall in a big frame I painted one summer. We spend the whole first week brainstorming ways to be kind to each other. We giggle and cheer and bond. And then school happens.

February is going to be a VERY busy month for my class. Crammed into the shortest month of the year will be 4 full days of testing, Parent Teacher Conferences, publishing a class book, the Valentine’s Day Party, two art assemblies, several birthdays, and a career day, on top of our regular classroom activities (some of those I am truly PSYCHED about, and some of them I am dreading . . . cough cough testing . . . )

But—being busy is no excuse. If I have time for a load of testing that I don’t believe in, surely I have time for a small and powerful thing that I DO believe in.

I teach in a third grade Dual Immersion classroom, which means I have one group of kids in the morning and another group in the afternoon. I am responsible for 44 little souls. I feel the weight of that responsibility. 

That blog post made me stop immediately and THINK. 

The part about looking for patterns jumped out at me. I can do that. THAT would be powerful for my kids.

 

So I am asking myself these questions:

Which kids are looked over and forgotten? Why?

Which kids are showing bravery? How?

What can I do for them today?

What can I do for them tomorrow?

 

If I can change my classroom in little ways, to help those kids who feel lost, then I might actually accomplish what I set out to do at the beginning of the year: foster kindness.

So I am adding something else into the mix for February and the rest of the year. And I couldn’t be more happy about 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.

­­­­___________________

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?

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.

 

Staying Healthy Through the Winter Months: 6 Tips for Teachers

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Staying Healthy Through the Winter Months: 6 Tips for Teachers1. Eat your vegetables

Along with the treats from all the winter holidays, including Valentine’s Day, make sure you are giving your body the vitamins and nutrients it needs. Find fruits and veggies that are in season. Stock up on vegetable juices—it is quick (all teachers need that!) and doesn’t go bad as quickly (I keep a few jugs in the pantry).

2. Create a cleaning routine in the classroom

You know it’s true—the flu bug you caught this month came from the children. Reduce those germs by having a set time daily or weekly for disinfecting desks, chairs, doorknobs, and shelves! Use safe cleaners and be aware of kids with allergies or skin irritation.

3. Maintain your exercise routine

I am adding this one on this list because it is the one I struggle with the most! My motivation to go to the gym or on a quick run plummets in the winter. Why? It is cold. No one will notice any weight change under all the sweaters and scarves. I would rather eat gingerbread. Did I mention the cold?

You may need to set up a new system, give yourself a reward chart (borrow a sticker chart from school . . . ), or track your progress in a public way (that might mean tweeting your goals, having the support of teachers in your building, or asking a family member to keep you accountable).

What works for you? (I might need the extra encouragement & ideas . . . )

4. Set aside time each day to de-stress

It is easy to get tightly wound with all the hustle and bustle. You have tests to give (and grade), plans to make, and meetings to attend. You have to write calming emails to angry parents. And that is just at work. Chances are you have a trouble or two outside of your job. Do yourself a favor and STEP BACK. Give yourself credit for what you are doing.  Choose a 15 minute block of time dedicated to stillness. Find your own brand of unwinding; the possibilities are vast, but you can start with one of these:

  • Breathe deeply
  • Tell yourself 5 things you are good at
  • Slowly eat a square of chocolate
  • Do a yoga move or two
  • Remember all the funny things your students have said recently
  • Make a mental list of all the things you are genuinely grateful for

5. Get enough sleep

A rested body is in a much better place to fight infection—don’t overlook the importance of a consistent bed-time. I know you are tempted to stay up late putting another layer of ruffles on the tree skirt, or watching another re-run of Downton Abbey. Those are strong temptations, but you need time to regenerate for tomorrow. Grab a calming herbal tea or a hot rice bag instead of the remote or your sewing kit.

6. If you need a sick day, TAKE IT!

I know too many teachers who carry on through viruses and fevers needlessly.  The world will not end if you stop to take care of yourself. “But if I leave my students will suffer!” No. They will be fine. Go to bed.

 What do you do to stay healthy?

What Every Child (and Adult) Should Learn about Being Brave

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Narnia. We all know it is magic.

I just finished The Voyage of the Dawn Treader this week and was completely wrapped up in its metaphors and movement.

There is a quest, started by Caspian to find the lost lords who served his father.

There is danger and rescue. There is Aslan.

Every person, big ones and little ones, YOU and ME, knows about adventure and danger BECAUSE WE ARE LIVING, we are human, we are vulnerable, we are learning to be brave.

There are things every person must face, and I am glad to have already met in this book ordinary children who fought sea serpents—and won. When my own troubles come slithering in, I already have the victory envisioned.

CSLewis Brave KnightsSo! This is your list of what I learned about being brave—here I will be brief—if you want the full effect, read the book.

1. Direction is Important 

Bravery in this story has purpose. As a constant motif throughout every chapter, the Dawn Treader sails East. Each island is a step along the way. They know where they are going from the moment they set sail. East, east, east, toward the sun.

2. The end of the world is not the end of the world

I want my students to know this.

I want my future kiddos to know this.

I want to know this.

When Lucy, Edmund, Eustace, Caspian, & the gang reach the first island, they are immediately caught and sold as slaves. In the whole scheme of the book, it is a small piece of the adventure, and (spoiler alert!) they do escape the slavetrader. Of course they do. It is not the worst thing to happen—just the first thing.

When my students bring a problem to me, often their eyes are filled with “this-is-the-end-of-the-world.” No, it’s not. It is the beginning.

CSLewis Courage Dear Heart

3. Dragons Can Be Conquered

Even if the dragon is You.

4. Make It Narnian

For children, and more often for adults, life is murky. If something in your world is hard to understand, imagine instead what it would look like in Narnia.

Ordinary people become kings and queens. Your loved one struggling through addiction becomes a knight in armour, battling off the seven snare-clawed demons circling his head. Make the worry into a metaphor and suddenly it snaps into focus.

So be brave like Lucy! Be changed like Eustace! It is nice to read a children’s novel and feel closer to God and closer to he truest version of myself. You don’t get that very often.

CSLewis The Story