One Thousand Reasons to read thought provoking literature.

I preface this post with the statement, “It is important to read for fun and enjoyment” I am a strong believer in this and I want my students to have time every day to read books they like and want to read. Sometimes these books are fun: Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Captain Underpants, Dork Diaries, I survived. The list goes on and on. Sometimes though books that make us think, that make us consider other points of view are not only important they are necessary.

I don’t have 1000 reason to read thought provoking literature but I do have a few.

  1. Exposing ourselves to experiences outside what we know. I just finished reading one of the most interesting books I have read in a long time. One Thousand Hills is a recounting of the time leading up to the Rwandan genocide and it has me completely engrossed. The final chapter and seeming epilogue had me so gripped I lost track of time. I had some background knowledge of the Rwandan Genocide but the scope of it’s enormity I had no idea. The parallels that could be drawn today to other crisis around the world are simply chilling. I am currently reading A Long Walk to Water with my class and it lightly discusses the crisis in Sudan. This text is another example of how we can use stories to explore topics like refugees and genocide in a way that is both informative and engaging. I hope to use One Thousand Hills with my class. Edited a bit but as close to the material as possible.
  2. Picture Books serve a purpose far beyond “looking at nice pictures”. Peter Reynolds writes and illustrates wonderful stories about inclusion, creativity and kindness. Tango makes Three by Justin Richardson explores family beyond the “traditional sense”. My wonderful wife found me the most wonderfully touching story titled “Out“. The story of a refugee family leaving a war torn area and adjusting to their new lives. The ending is a tear jerker but the story helps the reader to be in the characters shoes. My classroom has no refugees but we do have kids that deal with tough things in their lives they can relate to this character in a different situation with that connection.
  3. Critical Thinking is a life skill we will use forever. If we are never challenged in our thinking, if we are only exposed to literature that agrees with our mindset we will not grow. A book that discusses issues of race, poverty and religion that are contrary to our thoughts does not necessarily change our thoughts but it hopefully will make us look at them further. Questioning and thinking about our own positions should lead us to new conclusion. We will either strengthen our positions with evidence or we will realize there is perhaps a better position to take. Reading can bring us to this in a way that not many things can. Just the other day my Trump supporting students (they are in grade 6 so cut them some slack) read an article about the restrictions Trump placed on immigrants coming from primarily Muslim nations. The article did not say it was wrong just simply discussed the impact on those seeking asylum or those coming to see family or even legal residents returning home from vacation. After reading, their stance was challenged that his decisions are all “GREAT” and they wanted to learn more about why he did what he did. It will lead to further conversations.

Thought provoking articles, picture books and novels, all literature, helps us to develop more as individuals. Reading a book like Diary of a Wimpy kid is great. My students love them, I have not read them so I can’t say they are not thought provoking, but I feel safe in saying stories like it serve a different purpose than books like One Thousand Hills, Child Soldiers, Tango Makes Three or Freak the Mighty. Reading serves many purposes causing us to think is just one of the best ones. Until next time.

Ever feel like time is just getting away?

Man time is just flying by. Lots going on, had a blast today at school with an Olympic day and teaching what I hope is a very cool lesson on Monday to kick off experimenting with Poetry.

There is a strategy called concept attainment where the students are challenged to establish rules or definitions for why things are sorted the way they are. This calls on students to recognize similarities and differences. Not sure why this works but science says that is one of the more high yield strategies for learning. We are going to be putting it to the test Monday.

In a matter of months we will already be beginning the PAT prep. No need to worry as these kids will be prepared but in Grade 6 it feels like we have to fit a years worth of teaching into 8 months plus holidays and everything else. Time just flies by. This has been a wonderful year of growth for me as a teacher and I am grateful for the new opportunities that I am challenging myself with.

Now let’s bring on this last week before the February break and a chance to just read a few good books.

Bullying is not just being mean

In a few days we are having a presentation from Dare to Care a Bully Awareness program that helps to inform parents, teachers and students about the real causes of bullying, what bullying is and how we can all take a role in helping to end bullying. It is a good presentation that I think all can benefit from. Here are some of my thoughts formed through experience. In University much of my course work on projects revolved around the effects of bullying and how in my role of teacher I can help those students who are experiencing the same things I did as a kid.

  1. The “Bully” is often a victim of poor examples. Kids are not born bullies. They are formed into them. These examples can be from other students, siblings, parents or adults in their lives and yes even their teachers. When a child witnesses adults saying unkind things about or to others they get the idea it is ok. They repeat this action, when a child is mistreated by a peer they react in kind to someone else. What we see or experience we repeat. It is simple sociology. Bullies can be victims.
  2. Peers are often the biggest bullies in a child’s life. We make excuses for others treating us poorly because any attention sometimes is better than no attention. Kids are especially vulnerable to this because they a so desperate to be included they will suffer mistreatment.
  3. Boys are typically more physical bullies (threats, physical aggression) Girls tend to be more social bullies (secrets, exclusion) This is not 100% but my experience and research shows this to be the case.
  4. Most reported bullying is not bullying. Plain and simple the understanding of what bullying is tends to be the problem. Bullying is a systemic and intentional long term mistreatment of another individual. Telling someone that you do not want to be friends with them does not make you a bully, not sharing a snack does not make you a bully, not picking someone in a sports event in the order they want does not make you a bully. A bully targets someone with the intention of causing them harm either psychologically or physically. They do this more than once or twice, it is calculated and intentional. Most cases of “bullying” do not fit the actual description.
  5. Just because it is not bullying doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter. As adults we should listen to all complaints of bullying and then take a moment to educate and assist.

It is our job as adults to help kids navigate these trials. Especially because if we don’t they are going to turn into those adults that whisper around the corner and make you feel like crap because they learned they can get away with it.

Conclusions

For around 7 hours a day I am responsible for 30+ wonderful humans and interact with hundreds more over the course of the year. During that time I am responsible for their learning but I am also responsible to make sure they can critically think about the events that are going on in the world around them.

It is not however my job to make sure they think the same way I do. It is not my job to make sure they think the way their parents do. It is my job to help them learn how to look at any scenario with as many lenses as they possibly can and come to a conclusion that they can defend and that makes sense to them that is my job.

There is a lot going on in the world today. A lot of bad and a lot of good. Unfortunately we do not spend a lot of time focusing on the good. The other day we discussed why people felt like they needed to protest President Trump (who many in the class think is a Rockstar, I do not). Kids asked why he was “so bad” I could have taken the opportunity to list a million reasons why I feel he is dangerous (I have them) Instead we listened to “I have a dream” We discussed that time in American history, we discussed how change came about then and then looked at things Trump had said. Kids asked why he has said the things he had said, why people would vote for him, we looked at finding answers to those questions as well. Once we were done they had information why some did vote for him and why some didn’t. They understood why some feel worried for their rights but they were given the opportunity to come to that conclusion on their own.

It is hard be neutral when you are opposed to one thing so much but I know it is my job to teach my students to think, not like me but for themselves. The world is changing, it is already very different from when I grew up, kids have to deal with so much more, they are exposed to so much more and with the proper tools and ability to think hopefully they do not have to struggle too much with coming to their own conclusions.

 

 

Imagination needs exercise

This year I have been trying Genius Hour with my class and while they are coming up with some fun ideas to research they are not really looking outside the box. They want to discuss tangible things, the best hotels, why the leaves change colours, which hockey sticks are the best, wolves… the list goes on.

We do writing activities and they have the hardest time coming up with ideas, give them a picture to write about and they “don’t have ideas”, tell them to write about anything they want…”I don’t have any ideas”.

Where does this lack of ideas come from? Who knows for sure, we can blame video games and screen time, or over scheduling or even just the idea of “When would you do this in real life?” As a teacher I think that often, why do I ask my students to write a story in the first place? How is that a skill that we need to take into the world outside of school? One of my students actually said the other day, “None of this really matters for life after school” In the moment I said of course it does but then couldn’t really find the connection to story writing and life after school unless you want to be a writer. Then I read a few picture books and I think I get it.

We do creative writing and story writing to build our imagination, we build our imaginations so we can think outside the box and we think outside the box so we can solve problems. This  might seem like a stretch but it is not. A strong imagination comes in handy when you hit a wall and don’t know what to do. With a strong imagination you say, “what about this…” versus “I don’t get it”.

Imaginations are important but you have to use them or you lose them. That is why kids are so creative because they have imaginary friends, they make up games, they live in a fantasy world even for 15 minutes at a time at recess. Slowly that is eroded by requiring everyone to be too serious.

We should try not to be so serious all the time. Picture Books can help with that 🙂

A time to be Grateful even on the hard days.

The holidays are coming and as the natural “half way” point (not literal) I want to reflect on the things I am grateful for so far this year.

  1. First and foremost I am grateful for my students. I am grateful for their fun energetic nature, even though I have “shushed” far more than any year before the joy that they have just visiting with each other, playing games and even talking about books makes it hard to get after them. I am grateful for their drive to succeed. I am grateful for the smiles when they realize they have achieved a goal. I am grateful they are willing to try new things that interest me as a teacher and trust that it will help them understand things more in the long run. I am grateful they still want to be kids. We are all in too big of a hurry to get older and I am so grateful that my students just want to play cards and listen to me read them a book (it can be the highlight of my day)
  2. I am grateful that I get to be a teacher. It is a wonderful job even on the hard days. The moments when learning is evident, helping kids solve a problem, laughing and playing. Today I raced some grade 3 kids up the hall, their teacher may not have approved of the running the halls but this teacher approved of the fun. Playing a role in the development of good people is a responsibility that I take very seriously and I am grateful that I am trusted to play that role.
  3. I am grateful for good co-workers. I work with the best team. On the hard days they are the best support a teacher could ask for and on the good days we celebrate together. We are a team and I am so grateful because not all teachers have that support.
  4. I am grateful for parents that are supportive of both me and their children. I am grateful they have taught their children to be good people, to be respectful and to be kind. On the whole that is the description for my students and I am grateful for the parents that have helped them to become those kids.

It becomes so easy this time of year to get lost in the crazy, the busy, the “holiday”. We tend to forget that this is a time to be grateful. Of course there is always the day a student “helps” you to temporarily forget that you are grateful for them too. Or the hard parts of the job make you forget you are grateful for the good parts. Or you have a co-worker that does not see your vision (that is my kind way of saying drives you crazy). Or maybe even that parent that makes you feel like you just can’t get it right. This is why taking a moment to recognize what you are grateful for is so important. Even on the hard days we need to recognize that there is more than just a silver lining. There is far more to be grateful for than tired of, you just have to look for it.

Merry Christmas-Happy Holidays-Thank You.

Good Leadership Leads

I saw a meme that pops up often with the quote, “I want every girl that is told she is bossy to instead say she is developing leadership skills”…the thing is a true leader is the furthest thing from bossy. A true leader inspires, lifts up and leads those who work with them to be successful.

In the past I had group leaders, it worked in Grade 3 because I think they are still a bit more innocent, they take their job seriously and those in the table took it seriously as well. In grade 6 there is a larger degree of class system setting up in the social structure. An appointed leader is less likely to be successful because there are so many more parts to the puzzle.

I have a great group of kids this year and many capable leaders, but they do need the same guidance on what being a good leader looks like that most adults still need (this one included).

So my thoughts are pretty simple

  1. A leader leads by example– Asking the members of the group to work hard but then sitting back on the couch and letting them do everything for you is just not going to fly. If you want people to work hard don’t give them a reason to question if you do.
  2. A leader builds up those around them– The other day a few of the kids were working on a project and I walked over questioning why one was giving out what looked like orders. They both explained that since one was the better artist and that portion required illustration that they were using their talents and the partner was going to write. Both building each other up with compliments of their strengths.
  3. A leader isn’t always the person that asks for it, but sometimes it is– People will surprise us sometimes. The quiet kid in the corner that never volunteers to be captain might just be shy. The loud kid that always volunteers may have the qualities of a great leader and just needs them channelled properly. In the end the moral is don’t judge based on just your perception. Everyone deserves a chance to build their leadership muscles.

Leadership like so many skills goes so much further than school. This life skill is important to start developing at a young age but equally as important is pointing out that Bossy does not equal Leader. The common adult answer “because I said so” or “because I am in charge” doesn’t work for adults so why should it work for kids?

So many misunderstand the mantle of leadership, my goal in the new year is to help my students (and myself) realize that leadership is so much more than being “in charge” Leadership is about building strong bridges, strong foundations for others to build on. Being Bossy and pushing others around because you can does nothing to build that strong foundation.

Funny what a silly little meme can make you think about.

Reading words is great but…

There is so much emphasis put on kids being able to “read the words” especially in the younger grades that I think we forget that reading should be two things. Most importantly reading should be FUN. I know that kids need to learn to read words but by the time they get old enough to really realize they are not good at that part it becomes a chore, a task that they struggle with. The idea of it being fun is outrageous. At the start of the year I asked kids what they liked about reading. A few talked about the adventures, the other worlds, the humour. Most however simply said they didn’t. They didn’t like reading, some even claimed they hated it. At some point the journey to “read the words” stopped being fun (probably once they could not do it as well as everyone else) and became work and really “work” and “fun” are not typically synonymous.

The second thing reading should be is thinking. Even those who struggle with the words should be shown how to unlock the meaning of text. Asking questions, looking for answers, thinking about the text they are working with is not a skill that should be reserved just for the “proficient”.

This year I have tried to bring the fun back to reading and we are doing it a few different ways.

1.Time-There is nothing worse that getting into a book and being told to put it away, or be constantly interrupted being asked to write notes, get out the “post its” or take out the response journals. There is a time for those activities because they work right into the “thinking” portion of reading but it should be when it is natural not at a teacher demands.

2. Choice- I have read multiple “teacher books” this year that all said choice and time are the biggest factor in making reading fun again. Kids need to be able to pick a text that they are interested in reading. This does not mean they should be able to pick any book because if they can’t read it there is no use in just staring at the pages pretending to read. But as someone who has been assigned reading before, it is a lot more difficult to find the fun when you are being told “read it because…” because why you may ask? Usually there isn’t as good of an answer for that one.

3. Instruction- We want readers to be thinkers. You will enjoy a book or any text more if you understand it. So we need  the tools to understand what we read beyond just knowing the words. This year I am working with the typical strategies to fix up misunderstandings. Questioning, Connections, Visualizations and on and on, but I am adding more targeted thinking. Clues of what to look for to  know what to think about. In terms some of my boys would understand, if you are going hunting you don’t just walk into the woods without an idea of what you are looking for, and my hope is that the tools we develop  will help us to know what we are hunting for in our reading.

Reading words is great…but it can’t be everything. Reading as thinking becomes thinking. Thinking about the messages they read, they hear and they are presented with. That is a skill that all kids need and instruction in it is not something that can wait until they get the words right every time.

 

[insert name] you’re a star!

I go back to my recent find Billy’s Booger (check out my summary in the book box) for todays blog post.

I am a firm believer in the idea that if given the chance everyone can be a star. Given the freedom to explore what interests them, given a chance to lead most will take the opportunity and shine. When they do not it is a great time to discuss perseverance but that post can be found elsewhere.

For now we are talking about letting people shine. As a teacher I think a part of my job is providing a safe place for kids to learn what they are good at or with effort could be good at. A chance to safely explore knowing that I will help them when they stumble and pick them up when they fall.

Some of us shine in math others reading, others everything. Today we read an article about how teachers tend to focus more instruction on boys, because they are rowdy we go to them for the answers to keep them busy, because they are active we tend to let them choose the games at recess or gym. Generally I think this is still the case, it is the reason, the article claimed, that boys tend to do better than girls in Science and Math (for the record I try very hard to spread out all the question asking and I believe girls are just as good at science and math as boys, also I have girls this year that kick butt in sports and academics, just to be clear)

Setting limitations, holding people back, not letting them shine has detrimental ongoing effects. The more we are told, “It is not your turn”, “This really isn’t your thing” ” This person does it better” and so on the more we believe it.

My favourite thing to see is kids finding something that they are good at, even more so finding something that they are good at that they never would have imagined. If we do not give kids the chance to shine they won’t. They will hide in the corner keeping the light low. As adults we need to help them, give them a chance to shine and see where they take it.

 

More than a mark

It is the time of year when the report card goes out. As a kid I dreaded this moment. A child of the letter grades and percentages I worked hard enough to get by but I was never an over achiever. Solid B- or C+ I was average. My parents always told me I was not an “average” student. I could have done better but my moms proudest moment was not when I brought home a report card full of A’s. My moms proudest moment of me was when my 3rd grade teacher called her at home to tell her how kind and inviting I was to a new student. I had demonstrated a quality that lasts far longer than the tally of A+’s or 100% or 5’s or whatever a report card reports on.

As a teacher we are required to report on what our students have learned and what they still need to learn. As time goes on we move further away from A+ or E for excellent and closer to, “Johnny has excelled in decimals but still is developing in factors and multiples” Descriptive feedback that means something. But as one of my kids pointed out the other day, “this is grade 6 and in the big picture it is not that important” while I disagree I was in grade 6 once and I think I said the same thing.

The marks I get in math might not matter, the percentage of questions I get right on a Science test on trees will not impact my college acceptance. But the skills I learn, the attitude I hold towards education and ultimately the kind of person I am is something that is being developed more at this age.

My goal as a teacher is to help my students see that if at first they are not successful it is ok as long as they don’t think the answer is to quit. When they struggle, that they know asking for help is ok and shows you are strong enough to realize you need it. That treating each other with respect and kindness will make you far more memorable to your peers than having the best report card. Students should strive to be more than a collection of marks.

Don’t get me wrong I think the learning is important, I am thrilled for my students when they reach or exceed their goals but I am more excited when they realize they can be successful and their confidence is bolstered. The R on their reading test is not the important part or that it correlates to a 2 on their report card, numbers and letter are numbers and letters but the smile on a student that gained confidence and the knowledge that they CAN do hard things, that they can learn, that they can grow, that is worth its weight in gold.

Please remember that of course achievement is important but it is only a snapshot. After all it isn’t like we sit around talking about how Johnny won the gold medal in his grade 6 track meet thirty years later but we do remember our friends, the classmates that were kind to everyone. That is what leaves an impression. We are all more than just a mark.