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Literacy in the Classroom

Top Ten Kid-Recommended Picture Books to Celebrate Kindness

Books We Love, Literacy in the Classroom

Happy World Kindness Day! Every November 13th, we have the opportunity to celebrate kindness, while recognizing that kindness is important every day of the year. Today, during snack, my third graders and I started discussing books that fit a theme of kindness. This launched a fascinating conversation that stretched into our literacy block and throughout the rest of the day. My students compiled the following list of Top Ten Kid-Recommended Books to Celebrate Kindness. Enjoy, and be sure to let us know how you celebrate kindness in the comments below!


Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev was one of our read alouds on the first day of school. Telling the story of a boy and his pet elephant, this book captures the isolating feeling of exclusion as well as the joyful feeling of including others. My third grade readers said the message of this book can be expressed in just three words: “All are welcome.”

Draw the Line by Kathryn Otoshi is an absolutely gorgeous wordless picture book. It’s fitting that this book has no words, as it communicates a feeling that can be so hard to articulate: the feeling of genuine friendship. While friendship can be messy and hard, it can also be beautiful. My third grade readers love the colors and creativity with which this story is told.

We’re All Wonders by R.J. Palacio captures the feeling of longing to belong – something that we all experience at some point in our lives. In the same way that her novel asks students to “choose kind,” Palacio’s picture book encourages readers to see the strengths that we all hold inside ourselves.

Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts makes me cry every time I read it aloud! It can feel so isolating to be the only one who is “missing out” on the newest thing. This book celebrates the people in our lives who try to give us the world, and teaches us that it’s okay when we can’t get everything we want. In fact, what doesn’t work out for us might be the perfect thing for someone else.

 

Separate is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatiuh chronicles young Sylvia Mendez’s fight for quality education in the 1940s. When a student proposed it as a book about kindness today, he pointed out that being fair and inclusive is necessary in order to be kind. This nonfiction text reminds us that justice for all is another way to show kindness towards all.

 

The Little Gardener by Emily Hughes just effuses kindness. A little gardener, no bigger than a worm, puts his whole heart into helping his garden. While he doesn’t look like much, he makes an impact a million times larger than he could imagine. This book is a celebration of kindness towards the environment and kindness towards each other.

 

The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney is a gorgeous wordless retelling of an Aesop fable. Today, our class discussed how kindness can circle back towards you when you least expect it. If you put kindness out into the world, you may get a little bit (or a big bit!) back.

 

The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister shows how unkind behavior like bragging and excluding others can harm everyone. Celebrating our strengths and using them to bring joy to others is the way to go! My students have such fond memories of reading this book for the first time in kindergarten or first grade. It’s definitely a kindness classic!

 


One by Kathryn Otoshi is such a great read aloud for any grade level, K through 12. My students love the playful way in which the colors learn to stand up for themselves, and eventually stand together. This is a book we return to again and again throughout the year as we explore ways in which we can speak up and stand up.

Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson is a heartprint book that always leaves my third graders thinking. Every day, we take actions that create hurricanes or sunshine for others. How will you bring sunshine to the lives of those around you? Each Kindness reminds us of the importance of considering this question every single day.

Using Your Classroom Door to Create Reading Community

Literacy in the Classroom

One of my goals for the 2017-2018 school year is to create a powerful reading community in my classroom. In thinking about how to change my classroom to reflect this goal, I thought I’d start from the moment my third graders walk through the door each day.

On the last day of school in June, we had a “Sneak Peek” day where my new students visited my classroom. There was one question I made sure to ask every child: what was your favorite book from second grade? This gave me great information about my students as readers. Coming into the new school year, I wanted to find a way to remind my students about the positive reading experiences they had in second grade.

On my classroom door, I made a tag for each student with their name and their favorite book from second grade. These door tags started conversation from the first day. “You read that book in second grade, too?!” “Yeah, I loved it! What did you think about the part where…”

I also wanted to give my students a glimpse into my life as a reader. On the bottom half of the door, I decided to show the covers of all the books I read this summer. With some help from my former students, I taped more than 80 book covers on the door:

The conversations around these books have been powerful, too. My students were drawn to the display, and have asked me about many of the pictured books. When I asked students to make “To Be Read” lists for the first few weeks of third grade, many of them walked over to the door to copy down some titles from my summer reading. I’ve even had former students stop by to chat about shared reads after looking at the door.

I hope my door sends a simple message to my students: You’re a reader, and I am, too. Let’s grow as readers this year!

Let’s Do Better: Diversifying Our Reading

#DiverseKidLit, Literacy in the Classroom

“I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” -Maya Angelou

I vividly remember the moment when I first encountered this startling infographic:

I started asking myself a lot of questions. In curating a classroom library, what experiences were becoming visible for my students? Were all of my third graders seeing reflections of their own lives in the books that filled our classroom? Were my students getting a chance to see the world through the eyes of people of different cultures? Races? Socioeconomic backgrounds? Genders?

According to a study by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at UW Madison, only 14.9% of children’s books published in 2015 were about people of color. In 2016, that number jumped to 22%. While this shows progress in publishing, I wanted to explore whether or not my own reading was beginning to diversify.

Since the start of 2017, I have read 101 children’s books. 55 of those books were fiction, while 46 were nonfiction. To begin analyzing my own reading habits, I looked at representations of race and ethnicity in my fiction reads.

What I found was troubling. In the 55 fiction books, there were 62 featured characters. Nearly 70% of those protagonists were white. Only 9 protagonists were African or African-American. Another 9 protagonists were talking animals or objects. 6 characters were Latinx or Latinx-American. There were only 3 Asian Pacific or Asian Pacific-American protagonists. Out of the 62 protagonists in the 55 books, there were zero American Indian or First Nations characters.

I worry about the messages we send to children when we make it hard for them to find stories depicting the lived experiences of others. I worry about making children feel like their own experiences are unrepresented in the books that are available to them. I worry about the implications of being a teacher who has spent half a year reading fiction books in which 84.9% of the characters are either white, a talking animal, or a talking object. And while analyzing my reading habits opened my eyes to the lack of racial diversity in the fiction books I’ve read this year, I imagine the the findings would be similarly concerning if I examined representations of gender identity, religion, sexual orientation, or disability.

As a reader, a teacher, and a citizen of this country, I need to do better. I need to seek out books that tell the stories of people whose lives look different from my own. I need to use resources like We Need Diverse Books, the Coretta Scott King Award, and the American Indian Youth Literature Award, among others. I need to ask for recommendations, look at booklists, use my local library, and get these books into my classroom.

Over the past few months, there have been glimmers of hope in my reading life. wishtree by Katherine Applegate explores how a community can heal after a hate crime against a Muslim family. Hello Goodbye Dog teaches young readers about therapy dogs and how they assist students with disabilities. Girl Rising helps young adult readers learn more about education equity around the globe. As these new books are released, we have the opportunity to put them in the hands of the children who sit in our classrooms.

At the International Literacy Association conference this summer, I was inspired by the work of National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Gene Luen Yang. His Reading Without Walls challenge asks readers of all ages to reach outside their comfort zones. There are three parts to the challenge: read a book about a character who doesn’t look or live like you, a book about a topic you don’t know much about, and a book in a format you don’t usually read. While the concept is simple, the impact is powerful. Can you imagine the changes that could be made if we all spent time expanding our reading horizons?

We are living in a world where we have to know better, and then we have to do better. We have to seek out diverse reading experiences when they don’t land on our newsfeeds or in our classroom libraries. We have to break down the walls of our classrooms to connect our students with the world around them. The books we put in children’s hands today determine how they live their lives tomorrow. Now that we know better, let’s do better.

Third Graders’ Favorite Picture Books – 2016-2017

Books We Love, Literacy in the Classroom

Some of my favorite memories of elementary school include my teachers reading to the class. I loved listening to Charlotte’s Web, Chrysanthemum, The Kissing Hand and so many more. I hope that as my students grow, they hold onto the stories we shared this year.

During the last week of school, I asked my students to share their favorite picture book read aloud from their year in 3M. The books below captured our hearts, inspired us, and made us laugh. I hope they bring joy to you, too!


School’s First Day of School
Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade
Last Stop on Market Street

Christian Robinson is a hero in the eyes of my third graders. We fell in love with his beautiful illustrations this year. They add so much to these incredible stories! All three of these books taught us lessons about compassion and making a change.


The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles

We first read The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles last fall during a Reading Ramble (see this blog post for more on this awesome community event!). My students were so drawn into the story, so I picked up a copy for our classroom. The book feels mysterious and intriguing, while also inspiring kids to deliver messages of inclusion. As one of my students wrote, “This character never gave up with that message and it teaches you to never give up on the things you do.”

Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat

One of my students wrote me a note about this book and said she would nominate it for a “most inspiring” award: “Radiant Child inspires kids to think – if you have a dream, stick with it, follow it, and never give up with it!”

Are We There Yet?

So many of the boys in my class are obsessed with this book. The illustrations are incredible, and the whole thing feels like an adventure. Not to mention, there is a robot character that speaks in QR codes! This is another book that never stays on the shelf for long.

They All Saw a Cat

We read They All Saw a Cat as part of our Mock Caldecott project in January. A fantastic and humorous tale of perspective, this one definitely stuck with my kiddos. The pictures are incredible, as are the words. One of my students wrote “When the author wrote this sentence: ‘The cat walked through the world with its whiskers, ears, and paw’s I thought it sounded BEAUTIFUL!” We keep this text on our Featured Books shelf, although it doesn’t spend much time sitting there! It’s almost always in the hands of a child – the sign of a truly great book.

We Found a Hat

After I heard Jon Klassen speak at the Boston Book Festival last fall, I knew I had to add more of his books to my classroom library. My students were so happy when we added We Found a Hat. One wrote, “This book has the most adorable critters and the cutest story! This book is not only cute and funny, but has great amazing pictures with the funniest quotes! I’m pretty sure all children would like this book.”

Ada’s Violin: The Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay

My students loved this tale of how creativity and community can help change circumstances for people around the world. In the words of a third grader, “Ada is very devoted. Yay for the Recycled Orchestra!”


Stick and Stone

We read Stick and Stone on our first day of school, and collected ways to be a Perfect 10 Friend. I was so happy when my students added this to their reflection lists this spring, as I hope the message is one they will carry with them well beyond grade three!

Ada Twist, Scientist
Rosie Revere, Engineer
Ivy Peck, Architect

On the last day of school, we hold a Sneak Peak Day where students visit their new classroom and get to meet their new teacher. Last year, I ended my students’ visit by reading them Rosie Revere, Engineer. By the time we came back in September, we were all eagerly awaiting the release of Ada Twist, Scientist. Andrea Beatty’s spectacular books have been a part of this year’s classroom culture since (literally) Day One.


My students and I hope these books make you laugh, smile, and think! Happy reading!

Reflecting on a Year as Readers

Literacy in the Classroom

One of my colleagues shared an amazing idea with me this past spring, and I just had to give it a try in my classroom. My colleague has her students write letters about their reading journeys. The insights students share are amazing! My students came up with questions they could answer in their letters. Here are a few:

  • What have you discovered about yourself as a reader this year?
  • What is your favorite reading memory from third grade?
  • What new things did you try as a reader in grade three?
  • Are there any books that stuck with you this year?
  • How have your reading habits changed in third grade?
  • What are your reading plans for summer and beyond?

All the questions were optional, and there wasn’t a sentence or page requirement. I was amazed with the writing that came back. Students wrote pages upon pages about the books that made a difference in their lives, the ways they have grown, and their plans to keep reading in their futures.

Many of my students described finding the genres and book formats that fit their reading styles. Learning how to make reading choices was a big focus of ours this year, so I was so excited that many students now know where to look to find new reads!

I love how this reader admitted to losing her reading log. (I tell students all the time that it’s about the reading, not the piece of paper that says you read!) I also loved the description of finishing a great book: a mix of sadness and understanding.

As this reader says, this letter was my “ticket to knowing town” when it comes to learning about him as a reader. After finishing Stone Fox, I knew this reader would appreciate Pax. I’m so happy he stuck with it!

What a great description of a cozy reading moment! I hope that all of my students can identify some landmark reading memories. There’s nothing like curling up with a good book when it’s raining outside.

As this reader illustrated, “reading is what I live for!” When there are so many books out there and kiddos want them all, we know that our school has created a strong reading community.


How do your students reflect on their year as readers and writers? Let us know in the comments below!

Summer Send-Offs to Promote Reading and Writing

Literacy in the Classroom

 

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”
-A.A. Milne

On Tuesday, I said goodbye to my 24 third graders after a year of dreaming, thinking, writing, and reading together. Sending my students off for summer, I’m hopeful that they’ll hold on to the lessons we learned as a class this year. I especially hope that they continue to make reading and writing a part of their daily lives.

With that in mind, I wanted to send my students off with some ideas and tools for reading and writing throughout the summer. First, I felt it was so important for me to model including reading in my summer plans. For weeks, I’ve been talking about my summer to-read list. I’ve been having conversations with students about their own summer reading plans. We’ve been book talking great summer reads as a class. When we show students our own reading habits, they are more likely to create their own reading identities.

I also wanted to give students a way to celebrate the reading they do over the summer. We are already participating in a school-wide reading challenge (teachers, too!), so students have access to many ideas for incorporating reading in their busy summer lives. I gave students a one-page sheet to keep track of the books they read this summer, as well as their ratings of the books. No parent choices, no time requirements, just what they want to read. My students know that I will be eagerly awaiting their lists on our first day of school in the fall! While the log is optional, my students know that once they are readers, there’s no turning back. Reading for enjoyment should be a part of their lives year-round.

Throughout the year, students also deserve the opportunity to be authentic writers. One of the highlights of our year was our pen pal program with students in Uganda during the Global Read Aloud. My students loved writing letters. I wanted to give them the chance to write to whomever they choose this summer. My summer packets included a card and pre-stamped envelope so that each kid could send at least one letter. My students love writing with an audience, so I know they will enjoy sending a letter to someone this summer!


How do you send your students off as readers and writers? Share your ideas in the comments below!

Creating a Reading Community: The Reading Ramble

Literacy in the Classroom

There are many reasons why I love teaching at the same school where I was a student. One of my favorite things is that I can continue to learn from my former teachers now that they are my colleagues. My first grade teacher, Mrs. George, and my second grade teacher, Mrs. Blake, have always been two of my heroes. They helped me fall in love with learning and find my strengths as a student. Now, they both teach second grade, and I feel so lucky to work alongside them at Johnson School.

While I could go on and on about how amazing these two educators are, I’d like to share one of the things they have done to create a community of readers at our school. Over the past year, the second grade team has coordinated three Reading Rambles on our school’s campus. The second graders work together to set up an outdoor reading adventure. Giant copies of book pages are set up around the school, and classes make their way from page to page on their reading journey.

Creating a Reading Community - The Reading Ramble - Elementary School

The first Reading Ramble fittingly featured the book Wombat Walkabout. My students loved the illustrations and the plot. The kids were thrilled when the fall Ramble featured The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles, a beautifully illustrated tale of purpose, belonging, and kindness.

Creating a Reading Community - The Reading Ramble - Elementary School

This spring, the second grade switched it up by displaying student writing instead of a published book. Students in grades K through 4 submitted writing on the theme of “Looking Up, Looking Down and Looking All Around.” Narrative, informational, and poetry writing surrounded our school as students reflected on nature and spring. My third graders’ faces were absolutely joy-filled as they found their own writing on the posters. It’s always amazing for students to see their writing published and displayed.

Creating a Reading Community - The Reading Ramble - Elementary School

I love how the Reading Rambles create excitement around literacy at our school. They get kids excited about reading and writing. Students fly from page to page, anticipating the next part of the story. Parents are invited to walk through the Walkabout with their children after school, so the whole family can join in on the reading experience.

There are so many ways in which Mrs. George and Mrs. Blake are making a difference in students’ lives. Thank you for all you do to create a community of readers at Johnson School!

 

Creating a Reading Community - The Reading Ramble - Elementary School

Chapter Book Read Alouds for Third Grade

Books We Love, Literacy in the Classroom

We have an obligation to read aloud to our children. To read them things they enjoy. To read to them stories we are already tired of. To do the voices, to make it interesting, and not to stop reading to them just because they learn to read to themselves.
-Neil Gaiman

One of my favorite things about being a teacher is reading aloud to my students. During that fifteen or twenty minutes a day, our class connects in so many ways. We laugh together, we cry together, and we share big ideas we have about the world. This year, my class has connected around four chapter book read alouds. Some are funny, some are heartbreaking, some are inspiring, but all of them have brought joy to my students, and I hope they bring joy to you, too.

 

Sideways Stories from Wayside School
by Louis Sachar

Every year, the third grade team at my school starts off with Sideways Stories. There’s so much to love about this book: hilarious characters, fantasy elements, laugh-out-loud scenes, and teachable moments. This book reminded my students how much there is to love about reading. After we read this aloud, the other books in the Wayside School series flew off of my classroom bookshelves!

The BFG
by Roald Dahl

This year, we read The BFG as part of the Global Read Aloud. While the entire experience was amazing, the book itself takes a lot of the credit. Kids around the world love the characters of the BFG and Sophie. They immerse themselves in a world where “frobscottle” and “whizpoppers” are actual words, and where courage and kindness matter above all else.

 

Holes
by Louis Sachar

As you can tell, my class and I love Louis Sachar. Students are usually amazed when they realize that Sideways Stories and Holes are written by the same author. The books couldn’t be more different! I usually read Holes a little later in the year, when students can dig deeper into the questions the book raises about fairness, luck, hard work, and friendship.

 

The Wild Robot
by Peter Brown

Since The Wild Robot will be the selection for this fall’s Global Read Aloud, I decided to give the book a shot with this year’s crew of third graders. While we haven’t finished the book, the students absolutely love it so far. Reminiscent of Charlotte’s Web, but with a sci-fi twist, this book appeals to so many types of readers. Fair warning for teachers: make sure you have your robot voice down before giving this book a try! I highly recommend adding this book to your collection and connecting with other classes during the GRA this fall!


I would love to hear about the chapter book read alouds that captivated your classes this year. Feel free to comment below to share the literacy love!

Literacy in the Classroom: Global Read Aloud

Literacy in the Classroom


As educators, we often ask ourselves big questions about how we can do what’s right for our students: How can we show kids what exists outside the four walls of our classroom? How can we teach them about different cultures? How can we build bridges to teach global citizenship? How can we help kids connect?

Last summer, I read about an amazing educational movement called the Global Read Aloud. With the slogan “One Book to Connect the World,” the Global Read Aloud helps students and teachers connect internationally to share a reading experience. I immediately felt that this project would answer many of my questions about how to teach global citizenship. After connecting with teachers at the Arlington Academy of Hope in Uganda, our plan for the Global Read Aloud was set.

A drawing from a Primary 3 student at the Arlington Academy of Hope.

Over the course of a few months, students in our third grade classes and students in the Primary 3 class at AAH read The BFG by Roald Dahl. Students wrote letters back and forth discussing the book. They wrote about their favorite characters. They discussed scenes in the text and analyzed favorite passages. They deepened their understanding of the text through sharing their thoughts in authentic writing.

Along the way, students also shared about their lives in the US and in Uganda. Students discussed their families, their pets, their chores, their interests. There were many ways that the pen pals were different from one another. The students soon discovered, however, that they had even more in common.

Last week, our project came to a close with a Skype visit. After months of communicating through letters, our students saw each other face to face in a video call. The students asked questions about each other’s lives, shared thoughts on what they were learning in school, and wrapped up our discussion of The BFG. Finally, students sang songs to each other.

I can’t tell you how much this project changed the lives of my students, but I can show you. This photo shows the moment when my students saw their pen pals come onto the screen. The pure joy and happiness in this photo speaks volumes. I know this project will be remembered by my students for years to come.

Posted by Natick Public Schools on Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Miss Magee’s class at Johnson made new friends in Uganda and we’re so thrilled to share about the experience.

From Miss…

Posted by Natick Public Schools on Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Posted by The Peacemakers: Music With A Message on Friday, March 3, 2017

As an educator, the day of our Skype call filled me with so much joy. Seeing kids share thoughts across an ocean renewed my belief in the power of education. We can create experiences for kids where they can see beyond the walls of our classroom. We can create connections. We can raise a generation of global citizens. Through literature and technology, we can change the world.