Gorilla or Fish? It’s a Win/Win

Video

“Humans waste words. They toss them like banana peels and leave them to rot. Everyone knows the peels are the best part.”      (from The One and Only Ivan)

Told from the perspective of a silverback gorilla and inspired by a true story, The One and Only Ivan is a book that deservedly won the Newbery Award which was announced earlier this year. Katherine Applegate’s doesn’t waste a single word in this heartwarming tale. She tackles the issues of animals in captivity in a way that will make kids think twice about zoos. Are zoos good or bad? Children will be able to grapple with this question and realize that the question isn’t really boolean.

Cover image taken from npr.org

The Caldecott medal this year was given to John Klassen’s This is Not My Hat. Beautifully illustrated, it tells a tale of a fish who steals a hat from another fish. A great picture book is one that uses illustrations to great effect in the story telling. Even though it’s designed for very young readers, it is refreshing as the main character isn’t exactly one with upstanding character traits (after all he does steal a hat right at the beginning of the story).

In the end, both books are fine examples of storytelling at its best.

Here’s a trailer someone made for The One and Only Ivan:

What Does Censoring Children’s Literature do to Critical Thinking?

It saddened me to read in the news that a book by one of my favorite authors, Patricia Polacco was restricted in a Utah school district on Monday.

Patricia Polacco is a prolific children’s writer and for some of my readers we engage in an author study featuring her books. She tends to write from personal experiences about family and friends and her themes vary widely. Some of her most famous books include:

Thank you Mr. Falker, a book about a young girl with dyslexia who realizes her potential thanks to a fifth grade teacher named Mr. Falker.  The epilogue is quite touching when you realize that the girl with dyslexia is the author.

Pink and Say, a book about two boys (one black and one white) during the Civil War. Another touching book.

Mr. Lincoln’s Way, a book about overcoming bullying.

Thundercake, a book about how the author overcame her fear of thunderstorms.

The book that was banned was called In Our Mothers’ House, which is a story about family or three raised by two mothers. I always worry about children’s books that may contain ‘issues’. Often they can be preachy and end up not being very good literature. This book is simply a good story. We had it in our library, so I read it to my students.

I asked them why they thought this book might be banned for children, and it was quite refreshing to hear their responses. The overwhelming response was, “I think some adults don’t think children can handle stories with sad endings.” Only two children identified the two moms as the possible reason and one child said, “I think it might be about the two moms because in some places, they just don’t get it yet.”

I try really hard not to provide any answers for my students. They need to analyze and think for themselves. I enjoy opportunities to do this. If books are censored, how can children develop critical thinking skills? This doesn’t mean I need to read every book on a banned list, but it’s important to get kids thinking.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/01/utah-school-district-rest_n_1564118.html

Best 2nd Grade Books for 2011

It’s that time of year again where ‘best of 2011’ lists in every conceivable category seem to pop up everywhere. I figured I may as well compile my list of best books for 2nd grade.

In the past few years, there have been many children’s books that would have made my list, except for the fact that they weren’t really suitable for all 2nd graders. Books on those lists would have included Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book and Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me (2010 and 2009 Newbery Award Winners). I keep hoping for another book like Kate DiCamillo’s 2004 Newbery winner The Tale of Despereaux, a book that has deep complex characters and themes, that although sometimes dark, are balanced with just the right amount of light for young children. It’s no accident that one of Despereaux’s foes is named Chiaroscuro.

There were many engaging chapter books that 2nd graders gravitated towards this year, but most were books that were part of a series like, Diary of a Wimpy Kid. My list of top 2nd grade books for 2011, therefore, does not include a chapter book. If you have any suggestions, please let me know.


Grandpa Green by Lane Smith

You can say so much with so few words and marvelous images. A great book about memory, aging, gardening, history, family, and much more.

 


Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature by Joyce Sidman, pictures by Beth Krommes

Not surprisingly, Beth Krommes has already won a Caldecott Award. The illustrations are mesmerizing.

 


Press Here by Herve Tullett

For all the people who are averse to reading on a tablet, this book has a great sense of humor in the way one is supposed to interact with a physical book.

 

 

The Chronicles of Harris Burdick (illus. by Chris Van Allsburg; written by various)

Originally published in 1984, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, was a book of fantastic illustrations, each with only a single caption. These illustrations and captions have been great story starters that have inspired children to write. Now, well known authors like Sherman Alexie, Kate DiCamillo, Stephen King, Jon Scieszka, and Lemony Snicket have all contributed their story to one of the illustrations. I haven’t all the stories yet, but the ones I have are great!

 

The House Baba Built: An Artist’s Childhood In China by Ed Young

An amazingly illustrated memoir of the author’s childhood in Shanghai during WWII.

 

 

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen

Another book that says so much with so little. It’s also wickedly funny.

 

 

Everything On It by Shel Silverstein

Books that are published posthumously often seem to be a random compilation of odds and ends. That’s not the case with this collection of poems, each as silly, witty, and fun as any in his other collections.

 

The Lego Ideas Book: Unlock Your Imagination by Daniel Lipkowitz

Currently, it’s the most sought after book in my classroom library.

 

 

There are several books that were published this year that I have yet to read, something I hope to do this winter break. Among them are Wonderstruck, Inside Out and Back Again, The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman, and Secrets at Sea. I’m hoping one of these will make a good read-aloud.

Have a wonderful holiday!

 

Am I An Effective Teacher?

There are many ways to evaluate the effectiveness of a teacher: observations, rating forms, informal drop ins, student work, student surveys, and student tests. Many different organizations keep looking for different ways to look at teacher improvement and thus school improvement.

Some ratings are tied to compensation, and others to tenure. Others seem to be done as a formality. Some are pass/fail while others use a rubric: exemplary, proficient, adequate, ineffective. Regardless of the system, for it to be effective, an action path for growth needs to take place. Even if you are an exemplary teacher, there’s always room for growth.

At the same time, positive feedback is only good if it is specific. “Good job!” doesn’t mean anything more than ‘you did well.’ What part specifically? The whole entire thing? Really? I had a good morning today as my head of school came in and gave me direct feedback with concrete examples. It was positive, but specific. Now I know and can think to myself, “That part was good, so Implement it next year. Ask yourself is there a way to make it better?”

I’m excited as our new school at more effective ways to evaluate our teachers. I’m hoping with the intent of developing growth mindsets. Perhaps if we look at all the data about the kinds of assessments we collect from children, the same kinds could apply to teachers.

There are so many ways to collect evidence that you’re reaching your goals. Student work, portfolios, student surveys, individual assessments, their daily writing, observation, questioning., etc. Wouldn’t it be nice to get past the old teacher observation evaluation model and incorporate elements of the assessments we place on kids. Observation and feedback should just be a piece of the pie.

The Man Who Walked Between Two Towers

A lot of people have written and reflected upon the tragic day that occurred 10 years ago. It affected everyone in some way, and while have have memories good and bad seered into my memory of what happend, I thought instead I’d share a resource for children that I like to use.

It’sa Caldecott winning picture book called The Man Who Walked Between The Towers by Mordecai Gerstein. It’s a gorgeously illustrated book and tells of a joyous ture story of a man who walked on a tightrope between the towers just shortly before they were completed.

It’s a great story as it is unrelated to the events other than the words on the penultimate page, “Now the towers are gone.” The children I taught that day in ’01 are now seniors in high school, and the children I teach today were born post 9/11. Yet, the questions from the children remain the same and unanswered. I just hope they keep asking questions. Inquiry  is just the beginning.

A month prior to the horrific event, I visited NYC for the first time, and as a tourist, it was on my agenda. Below is my fond memory of the WTC. Below that is a youtube video that was made of the book. Enjoy.

What Can a Book Do?

It’s back-to-school time, and it’s always exciting and busy. I love this time of year, and this week has been a great one. We started our all-faculty gatherings this week. Though there’s a lot of work to do, it’s always nice to catch up with colleagues you haven’t seen over the summer and welcome new teachers, getting to know them a little better. It was also a great week as this blog was mentioned on cnn.com. I had never really been interviewed by the media before, so I wasn’t sure how I’d come across. It was a good experience, and I learned a lot. I was thankful for the first aid training we were required to take. I just hope I never have to use CPR on a child. There were numerous good moments this week, but I never expected it to end this way:

From Anita Silvey's Children's Book-a-Day Almanac

In 2004, one of my students announced that they would not be returning to our school. His family would be moving to Italy. As a farewell gift, I gave him the book Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett, a children’s mystery that I thought he’d enjoy.

Almost 7 years later, while visiting Seattle, they paid a visit to the school today and presented me with a different book with the same title. It was a photo book of my former student and his younger brother in front of every Vermeer painting. Inspired by the book and taking advantage of living in Europe, they planned many of their vacations around where these paintings were kept and set on a quest to see all 35 undisputed paintings (the 36th is stolen).

It’s always great when former students visit and I get to find out what they’ve been up to. It’s also rather incredible to know a children’s book can inspire such an adventure. Looking through the photo book this evening and seeing a third grader grow into a tenth grader standing next to all those paintings was truly a special way to end the week.

 

5 Things I Did for PD this Summer

An indepentdent school IT director from CT,  Lorri Caroll is another educator who blogs. I also found her through twitter as I continue to try to grow my professional learning network. I’d recommended reading her blog from time to time as she has some amazing insights. She also runs the weekly #isedchat on twitter every Thursday 6pm on twitter. Her recent blog post titld 5 Awesome things I did for PD this Summer inspired me to do the same.

If you want kids to be life-long learners, I believe you have to model it yourself. Summer is a great time for relaxation, but I also managed to find some good PD in that time.

1. Taught summer school. I’ve read about problem/project based learning, 90 minute class periods, multi-aged classes and such, but never tried it. So I took a three week teaching gig with the Summe Institute for the Gifted and boy, did I learn a lot. Some of which I’m going to try and incorporate in my classroom this school year.

2. Attended the ISTE conference. I was blown away by the shear size of it, let a lone the incredible amount of learning that took place.

3. Participated in our school’s Summer Plannng Institute. It was incredible. Change is hard, but I believe our school, through this institute hit critical mass interms of developing a culture of professional learners who share, are clear, trust one another, and want to get better all the time. I love it!

4. Read A New Culture of Learning which is one I highly recommend (it reframes how one might look at things). Short easy read, but powerful insights. Partook in the twitter book club for this book, and looking forward to a follow up webinar by the author.

5. Learning how to use social media responsibly. The riots in London last week were sobering, but a good reminder about how we need to teach responsible use to our children. How can we do this if we don’t engage in social media, blogging, etc. ourselves. A silly post I made had almost 15,000 hits. Then I got a call from cnn.com for an interview. I said yes, because even if they misquoted me to sound ridiculous. I would have learned something. I think I played it too safe. They did not use any of our conversation. Still a good learning experience.

But wait… there’s more. Maybe another time.