Sunday, January 29, 2017

Sharing Our Stories

I've held back for so long. I've tried to figure out the best way for my voice to be heard. And then the Immigration Ban came along. I can be silent no longer. 

My family immigrated here from Poland, many of them refugees from a tumultuous time in Poland. Unrest was widespread as Russia controlled part of the area, and borders continued to change between Russia, Poland, Germany, Austria, and more. From the research we've done, it appears as though many of them came here in the early 1900s, from about 1903-1913 for the most part.

My Great-Grandparents, immigrants from Poland
My family came here seeking asylum, seeking what they hoped would be a better life. They were forced to leave loved ones behind in order to do so. And this all came before both World War I and World War II, where things would become even more volatile. 

Loved ones who were left behind in Poland were lost. We know that my great-grandfather's sister and her husband were killed by Nazis, simply because they were Polish. 

In later years, we know my great-grandmother refused to speak of her family back in the Warsaw, Poland area. When one of her daughters won a trip to Poland, she begged her not to visit or look up family (for fear of putting them in danger.) To this day, we know very little of the family connections we have in Poland.

My Great-Grandfather
My great-grandfather immigrated here in the early 1900s. He worked as a carpenter and miner in North Dakota, Michigan, and Wisconsin before settling down in Chicago. 

What if there had been a ban on immigrants back then? What if we disallowed certain nationalities or countries from sending us their refugees? What if, for all intents and purposes, one man declared war on one particular religion? Oh, wait...

Yes. We must take action and make our country safe, but to what end? Sadly, many of our terrorists are "homegrown" or come from countries not outlined on the recent Executive Action banning immigrants. And to specifically ban refugees from one particular country blows my mind. Do we need to take further steps to increase the safety of our country and our people? Yes. But I believe doing it in such a "blanket" way will only bring more problems to our doorstep.

We need to know these stories. Bana Alabed should be a household name. She's a 7 year-old peace preacher who has managed to escape the horrors she lived through in Aleppo. How can we say she's not welcome here?

We must also resist the urge and fight against the danger of a single story. We all have stories to tell. Pay attention. Listen. Resist.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Messy Learning!

Earlier in the school year, I remember reading this blog post by the always-thought-provoking Franki Sibberson about how she approaches introducing new topics to students. In this particular post, she explained how she let kids "have a go" at something before she provided any explicit instruction or modeling; doing so can send the message that she already thinks they don't know how to do it. Not only does this provide time for productive struggle, but I believe it also serves as a formative assessment tool to determine what students already know about a given skill or strategy. Franki's words have played over and over in my mind as the year has progressed. I've tried to find a way to build in that natural inquiry process of letting them start to figure it out on their own. 

This week, we threw caution to the wind as we started wrapping our minds around the idea of nonfiction "text structures." Rather than simply introducing each possible text structure and expecting kids to somehow magically absorb that knowledge, my teaching buddy Maria and I decided we'd give kids time to dig in and try to figure it out. We gathered stacks of informational texts and provided butcher paper. As we explained the task at hand to our classes, we simply told them it was their job to figure out how authors organize their thinking in the books they write. Once they figured that out, they had to provide proof (text evidence, if you will.) 

About 15 minutes into the task as we were bouncing from group to group, nudging and pushing them to keep trying, I looked at Maria. "You hate me right now, don't you?" This was definitely messy, messy learning. We both laughed and agreed that this is exactly the kind of deep learning our kids need to be doing.

Shortly after that happened, we noticed a few groups starting to talk in terms of "fact and opinion" and "ABC order," while asking questions like, "Isn't that a main idea?" Slowly but surely, they were making sense of it. We quickly pulled the groups together and asked just a few to share out what they were currently thinking. You could see lightbulbs popping up around the room as kids shared. We sent them back to continue working on the task, armed with this new knowledge. Pretty soon, we were hearing about lists, comparing and contrasting, chronological order, and more. 

On day two, we only gave kids about 15 minutes to review the previous day's thinking before we gathered together for each group to share one book and its structure. Truth be told, our 4th grade learners came up with some possibilities I hadn't even considered! We created our anchor charts together so these ideas will be visible in our rooms. After seeing the list they generated, I am confident this was way more effective that the traditional "sit and git" instruction!

Where do we go from here? We invited our learners to use these structures as they are working during Readers' and Writers' Workshop time. It also opened the conversation about the possibilities of presentations for our next student-led EdCamp (more on that to follow!) 

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Digital Reading Options

In the four years that I've been teaching in a school with 1-1 devices, I've continued to investigate options for sites and apps that will allow my kids to read books digitally. My school uses Destiny e-reader, but kids didn't seem to be using it very often. This year, we've discovered two new options that have become wildly popular with my 4th graders!

The first option is the free site Epic Reads. There is an option to pay for access to the site, but I signed up as a teacher and was able to add all of my kids to my account. I love that it features REAL books and gives kids the option to read it themselves or read with their ears. It has a good mix of both fiction and nonfiction, as well as mixed formats (picture books, chapter books, graphic novels, audio books.)
Binky the Space Cat is even offered on Epic Reads!
From My 4th Graders...
I like the options of books on Epic! On Epic, you can see the books you've read and you can read them again if you want. There's long books and short books. - Sienna
I like Epic better and the variety of books. I don't like, on MyOn, how you have to take a quiz and remember every last detail about the book. - Max
I don't really like either one, but if I had to pick, I'd pick Epic. It has shorter books and longer books! - Ella

The second option is MyOn. My district paid for this one, so it is available on all student devices (Chromebooks.) Just like Epic, it offers a good variety of genres, formats, and possibilities. Again, this site provides access to REAL books. Actually, we've added books to our classroom library based on what they've read on MyOn. Three of the most popular finds have been the Spine Shivers series (great for Goosebumps fans!), Mighty Mighty Monsters graphic novels, and Sports Illustrated Kids graphic novels.

My 4th graders love the Sports Illustrated Kids graphic novels!

From my 4th Graders...
It is easy to search for books. It keeps track of how many minutes and hours you've read each week. -Gianna
There's a lot of choices! I like to listen to the books. There's better books than on Epic! - Eric

One word of caution. There is an option for kids to take a quiz on the books they've read. This does not fit with my philosophy of free choice reading and discussions as a means of determining comprehension. Right from the beginning, we figured out how to ignore the request to take a quiz. However, some of my kids find this "fun" and choose to take the quizzes occasionally.

I'm excited that we've found a couple of digital reading options that are engaging and appeal to middle grade readers! What's even better, in my opinion, is that the sites feature real titles from real books, rather than books that are made specifically to be placed onto a site. Which sites are your favorites?