Happy Valentine’s Day!

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bookandbliss.comI am completely biased, but Valentine’s Day is probably best spent in an elementary school. There’s a party, and LOTS of card giving! Hearts and chocolate and innocence. I love it.

I also love to share stories. Here are a few of our classroom favorites this year:

1. Love, Splat by Rob Scotton. The illustrations are delightful and funny! There is also Splat the Cat: Funny Valentine, an engaging lift the flap book, perfect for younger readers (but not so much for 3rd graders).

2. Happy Valentine’s Day, Dolores by Barbara Samuels. This is a new favorite! I immediately bought my own copy. The story and pictures are very simple, and it was a spot-on tool for teaching character development. We also made a LOT of inferences using the pictures.

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3. Valentine’s Day by Alice K. Flanagan. It was nice to add a NONFICTION book to our Valentine’s Day repertoire. Easily understood and lots of good vocabulary.

4. Valentine Hearts Holiday Poetry by Lee Bennett Hopkins. This I Can Read book is great for students to read on their own once they have heard it read aloud.

5. Arthur’s Valentine by Marc Brown. Classic.

Arthur's Valentine

Share the love! What are your favorite stories?

THE LIST: Upcoming Book Reviews in 2014

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About a month ago, I happened upon a list. A book list. A children’s book list.

Bliss.

At the close of 2013, the New York Public Library released their 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing (you can find it here). Throughout the year I plan to read and share quite a bit from this list!

And thanks to my own nearby public library, I am up to my nose in books!

Each book review will include a rating. Here’s the system:

4 Cheers—THIS IS A GREAT BOOK! MUST READ!

3 Cheers—This is a good book, definitely read it.

2 Cheers—This is an okay book.

1 Cheer—This is an even less okay book.

*cricket* —This  book didn’t make a splash. Spend your time elsewhere.

As you can see, these are rigorous standards. Ahem.

BUT I do have some basic questions that will guide my ratings (there is a method to the madness).

Elements To Consider

  • Can I make personal connections to the story? Is it meaningful?
  • Are the illustrations captivating?
  • Is the language interesting?
  • Is it fun? (Reading to children is nothing if it isn’t fun!)

As always, some books are wonderful because they are light, funny, and a rollicking good time while other books become favorites because they appeal to our artistic taste. Both kinds of favorites are welcome to me!

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 🙂

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 🙂