Every spring, our fourth grade hatches chicks. I always took my class to visit the chicks in someone else's class, but we never hatched our own until last year. Even then, my coteacher did most of the chickening. This year I was solo again, so this was really the first time that I was the official chicken mama. It all began like this, with a dozen eggs in our incubator, and twenty-one days of patience.
This is the outline to the writing fiction unit I adapted and designed this year. Here's the post that explains it and includes photos, this is just the nuts and bolts.
So, this summer I've jumped into the #BookADay challenge and I'm SO INTO IT. It's recharged my reading life in a way that I badly needed. In the busy clutch of the school year, I just fall away from reading, and fall into habits of mindlessly watching TV or scrolling endlessly online in the evening. But man, do I respond to a challenge, and do I love filling out a chart! (I assigned myself the same reading log I gave my kids for the homework, and my geeky self loves filling it out every day.) I decided to interpret #BookADay for myself as reading a book a day, if not finishing a book a day. That made me feel like it's an achievable goal. I've been on my pre-summer-school break for six days now, and I've finished three middle grade books, and I'm working on another, plus Happy Teachers Change the World (which is incredible, more on that later).
I'm all about this version of #BookADay. And. I also want to supercharge it with SO MANY PICTURE BOOKS, because it's fun, and because I want to win my own #BookADay, and because I want to go into next school year with a ton of new mentor texts options. So on one of my free afternoons this week, I took myself to my local independent bookstore, and pulled myself a stack of books. Spoiler alert, it was wonderful.
(And in case you're worried about my bookstore, after reading this stack, I bought three books for my nephew's birthday, plus Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova, since I started the series earlier in the week and fell in love with Brave. More on that to come, too.)
On to the picture books!
One of the ways I'm lucky to live in my little self-contained world (meaning my class is self-contained special ed, combining at least two grade levels every year) is that I have a lot of freedom with curriculum, and my administrators have been pretty open to me doing what works for my kids. One thing this looks like is adapting our reading and writing programs. We've been following a workshop model for just a few years now (and I LOVE it), and use a boxed curriculum (SchoolWide Writing Fundamentals) to guide our teaching. Overall, I like it a lot, and it includes some excellent mentor texts. (I have a lot more thoughts and feelings about the curriculum, but I want to get down to the point of this post now!)
That being said, when I pulled out the 3rd grade level kit for fiction writing, I was underwhelmed. Also, it just didn't seem to match where we were as a writing community. While it was about writing fiction, most of the gathering work was about drawing on your personal experiences, and my instinct was that it would lead to a lot of personal narrative pieces...which we'd already done. My writers were ready to try something new. Also, the unit as written was an author study of Patricia Pollaco, and her books are lovely classics...that don't reflect my students very well, and felt a little dated to me.
So I decided to venture forth on my own, and make something that would energize my writers.
I think this event (the kid-centered portion of it) initially came across my radar because the Scholastic facebook was promoting Selina Alko and Sean Qualls' appearance to do a reading of their (really lovely) new book Why Am I Me? And when I dove into the listing on the Brooklyn Book Festival site and saw their was a panel with Ellen Oh, Jacqueline Woodson, Rita William-Garcia, and Gene Luen Yang, my decision was made. I texted it to my best best friend (the one who already met Rita at our local bookstore), saying, listen, I know this event is in Brooklyn and breaks the two rivers rule (we live in New Jersey, so anything in the outer boroughs involves crossing two rivers in some kind of way, and requires careful consideration and a really good reason why), but check out this panel. She immediately wrote back, "I would SWIM to Brooklyn for that panel." Excellent perspective, friend! We didn't swim, we just took the PATH and the subway and it wasn't bad at all. The adventure, however, was a Best Day Ever kind of day.
One of my munchkins is all about dates and calendars and birthdates (I mean, as am I, but he can memorize them waaaaaay better). The class calendar is always the first thing he looks at in the morning, and I’m pretty sure he’s the only one who updates it daily. When I fixed the calendar for February, he was of course inspecting it immediately upon arrival, and called across the room to tell me that I forgot to put Rosa Parks’ birthday.
“Oh, I did! When is it?”
“February 4th. Sunday.”
“Cool! You can add it to the calendar,” I said.
“I did,” he answered, matter-of-fact. Of course he did!
So then when we went over the calendar all together later, it was already there. And the kids kind of just assumed it was a holiday.
I began this year by changing classrooms. I'm not sure that changing classrooms is ever a fun or easy undertaking, but I went into this move with mostly good feelings. I'd spend the past year sharing a large room with a co-teacher, in which we tried valiantly to run two classes in a space partially separated by a movable divider, occupied by many children and many paras. We did our level best, but it was crowded and busy and never quiet. My new room is actually my old room, where I first started my career ten Septembers ago, and it was a strange sensation to go back into this deeply familiar space as a very different person and teacher.
The move also gave me a specific and wonderful opportunity. As I launched The Liberatory Library here, and at school in my teaching practice, I also got to launch it intentionally in our space. I spent several long August days unpacking and sorting and arranging and rearranging and decorating, and the result makes me happy every day. Even as I continue tweaking and altering, as my kids and I live in the space and bring it alive. So, here's what I walked into in August:
Ugh. Click to read more, and see the lovely "after." (And the scary cat painting.)
Ahhh, I started this post more than a month ago!! School life really is a whirlwind. I'm so glad that I started this blog over the summer, when I had time to devote to launching it, but I want to find more time to write now that we're back to the real world.
The year so far has been so much! Mostly great and exciting and happening, with sprinkles of magic and hiccups of frustration here and there. I have SO MANY things to write about, including:
To be honest, I made that list as a reminder to myself of all the things I want to write about. For now, I'm going to start with our reading life. There will be some cute photos, and much geeking out.
I have to say, I made pretty good progress on my summer reading list...especially the kidlit/YA list. The adult list did not fare as well, and there are two serious-looking novels that I checked out of the library sitting on the table looking at me right now. Ah well! Kidlit is too much fun! Find part two of my summer reading (and the next-ups) below.
Our teaching should encourage students to ask critical questions of our world. It should prize activism and struggle, and also kindness, joy, and cooperation — a curriculum of empathy that builds essential academic skills and powerful understandings. It’s a time for audacity in our work, not timidity.
I thought it would be best to have this in a separate post from this one with some of my reflections on white supremacy. Below, you can find a number of resources that I found challenging, comforting, inspiring, and helpful, in various and powerful combinations, in the weeks since the events in Charlottesville. Some quotes and annotations will give you an idea what you'll find in each link. It got so long, I just couldn't help it. Even if you don't read all of the articles, there are some really spectacular quotes to check out; the one at the top is a teaser, so you'll keep reading!
Writing about practicing literacy and freedom with my small humans.