We need more stories to help us think!

It is the start of indoor recess season and last week I walked into a classroom explosion of signs, sign-ups, and lots of blocks. Students had been busy for sure. As they were all hastily trying to clean up a group hIMG_3092ad gathered around a particular sign. I heard some saying, “Why hasn’t anyone signed up yet?” and others saying, “What does this even mean?” The sign they were discussing said, “Cool kids Club Sooo Much fun we Do girl and Boy Stuff“. I had my immediate thoughts and it took everything not to insert them.

As one student glanced over and saw me watching they asked, “Can we talk about this?”My students routinely bring things to the group to discuss. It stems from a practice we do each morning where students have time to talk in small groups about things they are thinking about. Sometimes students bring topics to the discussions and sometimes I do.Well, on this day students felt the need to talk about the sign and didn’t want to wait until the next morning.

We gathered and I put the sign under the document camera. I asked the students to discuss what they noticed. Right away students pulled out the words, “cool”, and  “girl and boy stuff”.  As they began to question one another and share their thoughts it didn’t take long for the conversation to move to books as a way to make sense of what they were thinking.

Students said things like, “Remember when we read about Oliver and he didn’t do things boys were “supposed” to do? and “What about Jessie and how he liked things that sparkled?” One student even said, “Where do you think they would sign-up on this sign? Would Jessie have to be under the girl stuff because girls are supposed to like things that sparkle?”

As I stood back and listened I noticed that their evidence to help them support their assertions were based off a few books we had read together that helped us think about gender. Most these books were from a “boy” perspective and experience. These stories helped us think through previous comments and experiences that have been made about “girl things and boy things”. I have to admit, it was so encouraging that they were referencing these stories, characters, and the authors who created these stories but even more obvious to me is that their repertoire of evidence was small. Their evidence was confined to a short list of books.

No one cited real life experiences, commercials, friends, family members or other books outside of our shared experiences that helped them come to their conclusion that the sign didn’t feel right. Students were quick to say that they wished the makers of the sign would have not used “girl and boy”. But the reality for the sign makers and the rest of them is that all around them it is girl and boy. We only have a short list of books that say otherwise and everything else that we read, see, watch, and experience leads us to feel the need to make sure everyone feels included by saying “boy and girl” versus come and create whatever you like to create.

The makers of the sign said that they just wanted everyone to know that it would be cool no matter if you are a boy or girl because they wanted anyone to join. They even said they felt like they needed to say boy stuff because they were girls and they were worried boys would not be interested. There is so much to unpack here and the work never ends. We just need more stories and life experiences to help us think. The conversation ended that day with the class thinking of ideas to recreate the sign and thinking about how indoor recess club could look and operate.

The conversation still continues and has evolved from the sign. A question we will continue to think through as we read books is, “What does this author want us to think about what children (boys and girls) can do and should do?” Most books we read whisper messages to us through characters actions…the question remains what messages are we aware of and not aware of?

Student Quotes and Books to Provide Windows

I spend a lot of time listening and writing down things I hear my students saying. These quotes often find there way back into our learning together. Most of the books we read together have come from questions, ideas, comments, or statements that a student has said. Here are the top 5 quotes from students that have led to us using stories as a way learn about our world.

5. “Why do people call them Indians not Native Americans?”

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4. “What’s the whole point of gender as kid?”

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3. “Can someones culture be a costume?”

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2. “Why are people racist just because someones skin is different?”

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1. “Why are people upset about immigrants?”

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The conversations and questions didn’t end with these books they were just the first in a series of books, tweets, photographs, video clips, and podcasts that are working together to help us understand what we see, hear, and feel around us.

Reflection on Classroom Libraries

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“A good library will never be too neat, or too dusty, because somebody will always be in it, taking books off the shelves and staying up late reading them.” -Lemony Snicket

I once came across a quote by Lemony Snicket that read, “A good library will never be too neat, or too dusty, because somebody will always be in it, taking books off the shelves and staying up late reading them.” The visual that instantly formed in my head was a classroom library. Never too neat, never too dusty, somebody will always be in it…taking books off the shelves. Those words danced in my head as I envisioned the classroom library that I hoped to curate for the children in my room.

In my school district that is situated right outside of Columbus, Ohio we are provided with an initial classroom library. This initial library is selected by a group of teachers who create a list of books that would be appropriate respective grade levels. I consider this initial library just a start. The list…while a start, wasn’t created specifically for the readers in my room. In my mind classroom libraries are built each year based off the children that are living in it each year.

As I browse my current collection of books I can see the many children reflected from past and current years. I add books all the time. In the past I’ve used donations, written grants, always my own funds, and each year my entire classroom budget that is provided by the school strictly goes to buying books for the year.

Buying books happens all throughout the school year as I get to know the children in my class. Choosing books to add to our classroom library largely depends on the identities of readers that sit in front of me. The stories that they tell me about themselves and bring into our classroom space guide the book selection process. I look to see if the children’s interests, race, religion, gender, family structure, language, ability, national origin, personality type, socio-economic experience, and ethnicity are represented in the books that are currently in our library and add books based on the stories that will increase the mirrors and windows for the readers in the room. Rudine Sims Bishop forever changed me as she taught me about mirrors and windows in books for children. I believe classroom libraries should be filled with mirrors and windows.

A library is never too neat.” With the number of books coming in and out of our classroom library our system for housing books is simple. I currently teach third graders but to be honest our system was the same when I taught first and second grade students. We have baskets for realistic stories. Both picture books and chapter books are in these baskets. These stories the children say are everyday children stories. We have baskets for series books. Where they are early chapter books series or picture books series. Students know if a book is in a series where they should go to find it. There are baskets for “animal fantasy” books as one of my students lovely named those baskets. These are books with animals who exhibit human features. And there are baskets for fantasy, poetry, non-fiction, biographies, and author sets.

This system has made it simple for students for search for books and put them away. The simplistic approach has ensured that the classroom library is never too neat but many students are always in it searching and finding books the need to read all throughout the day.

Book displays have been a great compliment to housing books in baskets. The organized baskets allow students easy and quick access but displays also get them excited about new additions. I use book displays around the room to show case new books. We talk about them and think about where they would go in the classroom library when it’s time to put them in baskets.

Oftentimes I use books off the displays for our classroom book-a-day and random book talks. Classroom book-a-day started by Jillian Heise, a school librarian, has been a perfect way to get children excited about books. It’s a time of the day where I read a book for the shear enjoyment of reading the book. Also, doing quick book talks randomly throughout the day has been a fun and easy way that I’ve gotten children excited about books. Children have come to expect classroom book-a-day and my random book talks each day and they often tell me they have gotten ideas for their next book to read because of them.

Taking books off the shelves and staying up late reading them.” That’s the goal, right? Children taking books off the shelves and reading them. To achieve this goal in my mind it is not finding the perfect balance of older or newer books, only have popular authors, or only selecting award winning books. It is knowing the identities of the children in front of you. It’s matching books to readers who are reading them.

A book that was written twenty years ago that never won an award can do that just as a brand-new book that is the top seller can also do that. It is my job as an educator to be an avid reader of books for children. I need to know books well and be responsive to the identities of the readers in my room. To get children taking books off shelves and reading them I need to provide the books that reflect who my students are and their interests each and every year.

My classroom library was built and will be curated from the vast identities of children who have entered through the doors of our classroom. The books tell their stories. Reflect their interests. Have touched their hearts and have hopefully changed their human experience.

 

 

We Did It!

Dear Children of Room 215,

We did it!

You made it to the end of your second grade year without having to use a classroom behavior chart.

If you can even remember this was a very hot topic during the beginning of the year. Several of you wondered why we didn’t have one. You were upset that other classrooms had one but we did not. You were nervous about what it would be like to not have the classroom behavior chart. You asked questions like, “Well what about us who always move up? What will we get?” You also asked questions like, “How will we know we are being good or bad?”

I remember listening to your passionate concerns. Not answering…just listening. I wrote down many of your questions and concerns as it helped me to better understand your needs. Ultimately, you wanted to feel successful. You wanted others to know you were successful. You wanted the classroom to feel “good”. And you also wanted to celebrate success.

We spent a significant part of the first three months of school having conversations around living as a community. We agreed that we would all work to be respectful, kind, safe, and brave. We also agreed to use these four practices to help us navigate situations and issues that arise in the classroom community. As we discussed your questions and concerns about how you will know if you are good and bad and what will happen if someone is not following our four practices we decided to use our words instead of using a chart.

We learned to use our words to praise…

We learned to use our words to debate…

We learned to use our words to encourage…

We learned to use our words to express hurt and sadness…

We learned to use our words to heal…

We learned to use our words problem solve…

We learned to use our words to say, “Stop, I don’t like it!”

We learned to use our words to communicate joy…

We learned to use our words to compliment…

We learned to use our words to say, “I’m getting angry!”

We learned to use our words to say, “I need my space.”

We learned to use our words to help others feel good…

WE LEARNED TO USE OUR WORDS…

As I watched all of you learn to use your words I noticed that I was no longer the person you approached to help solve a problem. You began working issues out on your own. At times some of you would ask for a class discussion and we would have it. I did not have to suggest that for you. I noticed that positive feedback did not only come from me…it MOSTLY came from ALL of YOU! I witnessed smiles, tears, laughter, frowns, and joyfulness. I noticed an eagerness to work things out because you cared to.

My hope for all of you is that you can take the power of your words with you and know that the chart does not give you power…You DO!

Love,

Mrs. Burkins

What Does it Mean to be a Community?

What does it mean to be a community?

A classroom community?

Is it the way we take care of each other? The way we anticipate the emotional moves of one another? How we can collectively see an issue and care about it? How we know each other and seek to learn more about each other?

With only 26 more school days left of this year I’m not sure I’m ready to answer these questions. What I do know is that this year I’ve gotten closer than I’ve ever been to being able to understand the power in the collective voice of a classroom community. Our classroom community has been ever-changing. Since the start of the school year we have had 13 students move in and 13 students move out. Building and maintaining community has been a priority since day one and has not stopped.

This past Monday my literacy coach and dear friend Heather Halli purchased a book a for the readers in room 215. She told me that when she read this story it reminded her of the students in my classroom and she wanted them to have the story. The book she purchased was Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal. Heather knows how much we talk about our names and history behind our names. We are always talking names because of the flow of students coming and going.

On Monday I read the story to my class. Listening to their talk during the story helped me to realize how important it is to each one of them that they know about their own names and each other’s. Once we arrived to the author’s note my students couldn’t wait to hear what Juana had to say. Juana talked about the importance of her name and her story. She ended her note with two questions in which my students took as a call to action.

Her questions were:

What is the story of your name?

What story would you like to tell?

My students immediately said, “We already know the answer to the first question…lets answer her second question!” And then we stopped and we all went off to answer Juana’s question. There was no turn and talk to think about what we might say. There was no discussion about what the question meant. The only thing that was agreed on was that we wanted to put our whole name at the top.

As I read through their work I felt a sense of community that had been building all year. A sense of community that I can feel but not give words to yet. Today I dedicate this post to the classroom community of room 215. Here are their words…

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Slowing Down

“Remind teachers to slow down now so they can move fast later” were the wise words of a mentor of mine Jill Reinhart as she spoke to a group of us literacy coaches during a summer retreat. Although I heard this a few years back these words are ever ringing in my mind especially as I prepared to come back after spring break.

My mind was busy with the number of weeks and days we had left, curriculum demands, grade level team initiatives, field trips, learning goals and outcomes…you name it I was thinking it. I began to get my mind and body in the busy state of hurry now and hurry later. The place where no one wins. What I had forgotten for just a moment was that very phrase that saved me in the beginning of the year, “slow down”.  See slowing down meant that I could trust my knowledge and understanding of curriculum, student learning, and assessment to listen to what students need. Slowing down also meant that I could watch, document, and plan more efficiently to meet my students where they are at.

I could also help facilitate the type of classroom environment that my students would want to come to each and every day.

So, on Monday evening, the night before coming back to school after spring break I took time to plan to slow down. I spent time thinking and wondering:

What are my students thinking about, hoping about, and wondering about tonight?

What are they most looking forward to? What are they not looking forward to?

Have I met their expectations? Have they met their own expectation’s?

As I tried to think about possible answers to these questions I realized even more that going slow at the end of the year is just as important as going slow in the beginning. The moving fast part happens as we launch our students into the summer with their own high expectations of what their learning journey will look like as they take ownership of it during the summer. Our classroom community has been carefully shaped and woven by the 24 personalities that show up each day and feed and nurture it. They deserve for me to slow down and listen, slow down and watch, slow down and trust.

Domino Effect

If you haven’t gotten your hands on Carol Ann Tomlinson’s article in Educational Leadership, November 2017 it is a must read! Her article, Citizenship at Its Core, reminds us that if we want to prepare our students to become good citizens of our world we must start in the classroom.

She writes about how complicated our world is and as teachers how we are charged with helping our students navigate heavy issues like conflict, injustice, poverty, and much more. This article reads much like a guide to how we work to create classroom communities where students can be dignified with the heavy task of learning to be a good citizen of our world.

She states…“It’s daunting work to create a classroom world that models what we hope the broader world could be.” –Carol Ann Tomlinson

I was highly encouraged by her piece. Encouraged make time to listen, respond, and make space for children to explore the issues they see in their world. Also to be more intentional about taking instructional leads from their voices.

In late February, Aliza sent me a tweet to check out the kid section in the New York Times. Little did I know the domino effect the tweet would cause. At the end of the kid section there was a page of opinion lines that sparked emotional conversations that lasted for days and left a trail of passionate learning artifacts that looks like this:

IMG_0017These statements led to this…

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Which prompted students to create this…

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That sparked the idea to make this…

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And excited others to think about this…

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Which made others want to develop this…

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My students have been busy creating public service announcements, writing speeches, making signs for our school, and trying to plan field trips to places they can go and make a difference. As Carol Ann Tomlinson reminds us that, creating citizens starts in our classrooms, as a classroom teacher I see everyday how passionate these young citizens are about what happens around them.  This group of second graders, much like most children around them, want to save the world NOW as in TODAY! Exciting times.