Life Lessons Through Elephant and Piggie

If you know my family, we have this weirdness with pig nicknames. Upon the arrival of my new niece last year, I wanted to start on her a book series, and while browsing our school book fair came across a story called Happy Pig Day by Mo Willems. 


I was immediately drawn to the title, but in all honesty, the book itself didn’t look that appealing to me. It’s written in comic style, with colour-coordinated speech bubbles for the characters, Gerald and Piggie. However, once I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down. The characters are so lovable, empathetic, and melted my heart. My cousin, of course, agreed!

It wasn’t until recently when I came across a different story from the series, and thought about reading it to my grade 4 class. I was hestitant because of the simplicity of the book, but was surprised with a loud applause after we read it. Like me, they too are now addicted! They seek the series out at the library, share them with each other, and are constantly recommending a new story from the series. “Why?” I wondered. 

Sometimes I think as teachers we’re caught up in the need to teach our kids to read. To teach them to challenge themselves. To encourage them to read chapters book. But have we forgotten to teach our kids to enjoy reading? Don’t we want them to connect and relate to the characters? Find humour in texts? Empathize? 

This series has opened the doors for me in my classroom to teach children about friendship, character, and life lessons, but more importantly to be able to find themselves in a book! I challenge you to do the same. 

Adventures in a Classroom Library

During the last year, I had a class filled of readers. Any chance they got, they were delved into a novel, picture book, fact book, anything that they could get their hands on. As I watched them riffle through our class library, I became aware that it wasn’t as user-friendly as I had once anticipated. Shelves of books, shoved in tightly, with a basic organizational structure, did not appeal to their reading needs. As a class, we decided to find a new way to organize our books. It was a massive undertaking, days filled with chaos, but their organization process and reasoning of why a book should go in a specific category was fascinating to observe.

After the books were neatly organized into bins, where titles and cover pages could be observed, the access and ability to find such diverse books in our classroom made reading that much more enjoyable. However, after a few weeks, the books became organized again, bins filled with varieties of genres, and I became to feel like we were back at square one.

Upon returning to school this year, and spending much time online seeing how other teachers organized their libraries, labels and stickers seemed to be the best way. I created labels for every bin, with colour-coordinated stickers on each book according to genre. Green stickers for series, pink for fiction, and orange for non-fiction. On each label outside of the bin a sticker was placed with a code so students knew where each book was to be returned. This has eliminated books being placed in the wrong bins.

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I also ensured to have a “lost” bin so students had somewhere to put books if they couldn’t locate the correct place. Additionally, a “hospital” bin was also needed, so we could stay on top of keeping books in good condition.

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I think the biggest change that I made was giving up my personal “teacher” space. I had an L-shaped desk that took up the majority of a corner in my classroom. When I reflected on how much I was actually at my desk throughout a day, which is very limited, I realized I could make better use of the space. I want my classroom to encourage reading, and for students to have a place where they can feel at home and comfortable. I found bean bag chairs on kijiji, and had my handy boyfriend build me a wonderful reading bench.

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Although my classroom space isn’t perfect, seeing my students lounging and reading makes it pretty close!

*Making labels can be a tedious task, and I am more than willing to share mine with anyone. If you would like the file, please comment below or contact me on twitter*

Wild About Reading

As part of our school initiative on literacy this year, we dove into examining the book Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller and Susan Kelley, as it’s purpose is to instil lifelong reading habits in our students. The book is filled with tips, strategies, and stories about the ways in which the goal of lifelong reading can be established. As I read through the chapters, highlighting key points to refer back to, I thought that sharing these points may be valuable to others. They are the ones that stood out for me, and the strategies that I want to implement in my classroom. You may agree, or after reading, you may find ones that I missed. Regardless it’s a starting point, and hopefully a way to inspire you to encourage a love of reading with your students. Enjoy!

Chapter 1:
Kids need to build a stamina to read. When assigning 30 minutes of reading at home, ensure that they know it can be done in chunks, for example, 15 minutes before dinner, 10 minutes after dinner, 5 minutes before bed.
Mini-lesson – Bring a book everywhere for a “reading emergency.” Discuss with students time on the weekend when they were bored (i.e. waiting for a doctor’s appointment), and highlight how these few minutes of time could be used for reading.
Reading Itinerary – Throughout a week have students record where and when they read. “Focusing on reading habits for one week increases their awareness of their own reading behaviors and opens dialogue between readers using their observations as a launching point” (Miller & Kelley, 2014, p. 18-19).
Fake Reading – keep an eye on students who you notice to be fake readers, keep observations of them, have a conference, and try to determine whether it is a habit or a book related problem.

Chapter 2:
Read-alouds are important classroom activities that help build community, expose students to a variety of genres, support developing readers, and demonstrate that reading is an enjoyable activity.
Mini-lesson – Have students bring in their favourite read-aloud to school. Place them in groups, as they reread their favourite book and share the story with others. This helps to build community, and encourage book talks. This could even be applied to a reading buddy activity.
Box Draw – Increases excitement around classroom books, as you place interested students’ names into a draw to “win” the book to read. Be sure to establish rules surrounding these draws (see pages 57-58 for examples).
Checking out classroom library books – use the online organizer Booksource’s Classroom Organizer as a way to keep track of your books and which student is reading what book.

Chapter 3:
See if your principal will allow students, staff, or visitors to share their book recommendations during morning announcements.
Participate in the twitter chat #titletalk to learn information about instructional practices, resources, and suggested books to read.
Mini-lesson – Book Commercials: Have a select student sit in the teacher’s chair, write out the title and author of the book they’ve read, give a brief summary without any spoilers, and describe the kind of reader who would like the book. The teachers asks if any other students have read it, and what they’re impressions were.

Chapter 4:
Students initially need to set reading goals, especially over holidays, in order to ensure that they have a reading plan. Upon return, they can reflect on their goal, whether it was attainable, and to help identify the types of books they enjoy reading.
If students are struggling to finish books, recommend short stories and setting small goals in order to help them achieve success, and build stamina.
Mini-lesson – Have students share their must-read book lists and share why they believe these books are “must-reads.” This information can be shared on a classroom blog, or displayed in the classroom.
An outline of summer reading tips are provided on pages 154-156, and offer suggestions for encouraging reading over the summer break.
There was one point in particular that really spoke to me in this chapter:
“While the Common Core text exemplars collect a list of worthy literature that all students should read, I question the premise that any reading list meets the needs of all readers. Creating a list, anchored in a time or viewpoint driven by one group’s opinion of what literature is meaningful, marginalizes the personal aspect that we bring to what we read” (Miller & Kelley, 2014, p. 160).
I think that this is an incredibly valuable point to bring up around the ideas of a set list for novel studies!

Chapter 5
Encourage students to read from a variety of genres. Although it’s okay that they read fantasy books all of the time, challenging them to read from a new genre can help develop new skills and a new love for books.
Looks for ways to bridge the gap between school and life reading. The authors suggest changing the term “name” on forms/sheets to “reader” or “writer.”
Documenting books students are reading and the general level of those books can be valuable when recommending new books of them to read.
Mini-lesson – Challenge students to read forty books from a variety of genres throughout the school year. “Encouraging students to read what they want while exposing them to high-interest, engaging, quality texts of all kinds fosters their engagement and provides the diverse experiences they need to find texts that will meet their reading interests and needs both today and tomorrow” (Miller & Kelly, 2014, p. 192).

The appendix of the book is filled with chart, graphs, and resources to use to jump start your class to develop habits of reading in the wild.

Could 9 Year Olds Rule the World?

On the first day of school, I wanted to start the afternoon off by showing my students an inspirational child in which they could relate to, and who better than Kid President? While playing the video below, bursts of laughter and quiet conversations emerged, as the students listened attentively to the message being delivered.

At the end of the video, Kid President poses the question, “What are you teaching the world?” Together we talked about what this might mean, and the potential legacy that we can choose to leave behind. I gave students time to reflect independently, and then passed them each a sticky note to share their personal ideas and to answer the question in their own words. Here are some of their responses:

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Being positive, kind, and safe, showing respect not only to people but the environment, and recognizing that everyone is important…what else could we want in our world? Perhaps we have something to learn from these inquisitive nine year old minds. Maybe they are the ones that we need to listen to. Maybe they are the ones who could make a difference.

As teachers, we have an important role to play in helping our students develop into critical thinkers and problem solvers. And so I leave you with the question to reflect on: What are you teaching the world?

Tech, Tech, and More Tech

Each school year, as I begin planning my days and units I am amazed at the changes and progression of technology. Last year, I was excited to use iPads, really focus on blogging with my students, and begin our Twitter classroom account. The connections made and sharing abilities proved to be successful, and provided ample learning opportunities for my students. This year, the options are endless: iPads, blogging, Edmodo, chromebooks, apps galore, and Web 2.0 tools. Initially, I felt overwhelmed trying to discover new and innovative ways to use these tools. How do I know which tools is the best for the job? How can I decide which device to use? These questions led me to wonder, is there truly an answer? Can one tool be the “be all, end all?”

As I began to reflect, I immediately disregarded these initial queries. I think that we have multiple tools because they are each unique and beneficial in their own ways. If I didn’t have laptops, I would want them. If I didn’t have iPads, I would wonder how to complete projects. Limiting ones tools is not the answer. Discovering how to use them, and allowing students to use what works best for them is a better response. My appreciation and excitement has flourished as I imagine the projects and possibilities that technology lends itself to. Let the 2015 school year begin!

Is Failing Worth it? A Student’s Perception

Last week during class, I was working through a Rachel’s Challenge lesson with my students that was all about goal setting. We discussed goals they have set in the past, long term and short term goals they might have now, and the things that constitute a good goal. Then I asked them the following question: Do you agree or disagree – it is better to set lower goals than to risk failure by setting higher goals?

As they discussed in groups, I wandered around the classroom listening to what they were saying, their ideas, and I was honestly quite surprised with what I was hearing. I brought the students back for a class-wide discussion and a large majority of the students agreed that setting a lower goal is better than risking failure. It left me to wonder why.

Our discussion revealed that students believe that failing is a bad thing. Failing makes you realize you are not good at something. The words they used to describe failure were all negative. Why do they believe that failing is always something bad? How can we help students to redefine what failure means to them.

As I was baffled trying to put a positive spin on the word, one student shared this: “But if you fail you can learn from it and try again.” This was exactly the point I was trying to make. Failing is an opportunity to rethink and re-examine what happened, and to attempt to try again. It is an opportunity to learn and grow. We need to help our students understand that when you fail, you don’t give up. You reflect, you learn, and you try again. We need to redefine what it means to fail. It is after all a “first attempt at learning.

Coding: The Next Generation

“We live in a world that is changing more rapidly than ever before. Today’s children will face a continual stream of new issues and unexpected challenges in the future. Many things that they learn today will be obsolete tomorrow. To thrive, they must learn to design innovative solutions to the unexpected problems that will undoubtedly arise in their lives. Their success and satisfaction will be based on their ability to think and act creatively. Knowledge alone is not enough: they must learn how to use their knowledge creatively.” Mitch Resnick

When thinking about setting up our students up for success in the future, what kind of skills do you feel they need? A few ideas come to mind: How to problem solve, how to work cooperatively together, how to persevere, and how to think outside of the box. Keeping these ideals in mind, has caused me to reflect upon my own teaching in the last year. Do I provide opportunities for these skills to develop to my classroom?

Through my master’s course, I have been exposed to a lot of the current research in the learning sciences, and am continuing to find ways to challenge my own thinking. If the research says students need opportunities to play and discover, how can I ensure I provide these in my class?

Today, my students participated in the Hour of Code, a global movement designed to introduce students to computer programming and making it possible for all students to learn the basics of coding. I initially showed my students a couple tutorials and then just let them play. What happened next was something I dream of as a teacher. My students were 100% engaged, they collaborated and helped one another out, they shared their skills and taught each other, they problem solved, they persevered, and they were creative! However, the most powerful piece of this lesson was when it ended and the responses I heard:
“This was the best class ever!”
“Oh my gosh, that was so much fun!”
“Ms. Petley, can we please do this again?”

Do you need to know how to code in order for your students to learn? Model learning together. Model problem solving. Let them experiment and teach you. Let them be creative. Let them code!

Helping each other out during the #HourOfCode

Helping each other out during the #HourOfCode

We participated in the #HourOfCode

We participated in the #HourOfCode

References
Resnick, M. (2014). Give p’s a chance: Projects, peers, passion, play. Constructionism and Creativity conference, opening keynote. Vienna.