#nErDcampMI 2017 = Inspiration 

I’m overflowing with inspiration as I reflect on my experience at nErDcampMI. The community of passionate educators, authors, and the various others who attend nErDcampMI will forever be in my heart. 

The crazy thing is… I can still physically feel the energy/buzz which radiated from every room in Western High School. Hundreds of people traveled across many states (mostly on their own dime) to learn, grow, share, and inspire each other. Talk about authentic engagement.

As a second-year attendee, I knew what to expect, yet I learned a TON and became even more inspired than last year. (I think last year I was in shock that such a community could even exist!) Last year I was able to take one idea from camp and implement it at my school. Thanks to Stacey Reidmiller’s session at nErDcampMI 2016, her Books On Blankets Program inspired me to secure a Little Free Library for my elementary school and start a summer Books & Blankets Program of our own. If you want to learn more about Stacey’s summer program, go to Literacy for Big Kids blog.

Sitting at home, stewing over the new literacy ideas I obtained at camp, I cannot help but want to share. Writing the ideas here will not only allow me to share them with all of you, but will allow the flame of inspiration to keep burning within me. I’m sharing one idea below and will create future posts which will include other wonderful, fabulous literacy tidbits I learned at nErDcampMI.

One School, One Book

Author Jacqueline Davies taught us about Read To Them’s wonderful resource called One School, One Book. After attending Jacqueline’s session, my colleague and I want to implement this at our school. The basics are…

  • Two-week lead-up excitement including clues left behind each day as to the title of the book. 
  • Kick-off assembly where the title is revealed. The whole school and staff leaves the assembly with their own copy of the book.
  • One chapter a night is read with family members. ALL staff members read too (teachers, principal, custodians, etc.)
  • Fun trivia questions are asked about the chapter read the following day on the intercom.
  • Family night. After the book is completed, teachers will compete in teams using their knowledge of the book.

There are MANY more details we learned about this wonderful program from Jacqueline. Numerous ways to jazz up the school and create a FUN experience for the school community. For example, imagine your school was planning to read THE LEMONADE WARS, and your principal dressed up like a lemon for the kick-off assembly. 

I cannot stop thinking about One School, One Book. It has the possibility to create a culture of reading by sharing a common positive experience with the WHOLE school community. Imagine how powerful that could be.

All the resources and information for One School, One Book are available at the Read To Them website. Click One School, One Book for more infomation.

If you EVER get a chance to attend a nerdcamp, do not pass it up. It is the best, most amazing community of people you could imagine being around. Thank you to all the people who make nErDcampMI possible. I am forever grateful.

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Caleb and Kit by Beth Vrabel: A Middle- Grade Book Review

Image result for caleb and kit by beth vrabel

Thank you to the @kidlitexchange for providing a copy for review purposes.

Caleb is a twelve-year-old boy who suffers from cystic fibrosis. Caleb’s mom tends to be a “helicopter mom” hovering over her fragile boy. When Caleb meets Kit, a girl his age, in the forest by his house, Caleb finally has something all to himself. He decides to keep his friendship a secret. But secrets can cause you to do things you otherwise might not do.

I absolutely adored this story. Caleb and Kits friendship was magical, needed, and heartwarming. Beth Vrabel wrote a feel-good story worthy of reading. This must be included in every classroom and school library. If you loved WONDER, you will adore Caleb and Kit.

#TeachersWrite Experience

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I am loving my experience with #TeachersWrite so far. After my first week, I actually have a piece of writing. Yay! I know if I want to be a better writing teacher, I need to write. The #TeachersWrite blog is just I need for guidance to overcome the fear I’ve always had about writing. If you are interested in checking it out, click here. It links to author Kate Messner and her blog. (By the way, if you have not read THE SEVENTH WISH, by Kate Messner, you must.)

Now, for the brave, getting over the fear, part of this process. My work in progress is below. Feel free to comment and share what works for you, what does not, and any suggestions for improvement.

 

He just does not understand! I do not want a dog, I need a dog. When I am terrified after waking up from a nightmare, a dog will be there to comfort me. When grief takes over my body like a disease, a dog will love me.

“Dad, I will pay the adoption fee, pick up the poop, feed him. I swear I will!”

“Rrr,” Dad grunted, shutting the office door behind him.

Defeat washed over me like a wave. I’m drowning. I slowly trudge up the stairs and plop down on my bed.

“Rrr,” I grunt.

My New Writing Journey

 

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#teacherswrite 2016 Monday June 27th

I am not a writer. I have never been. I try to say things on paper, but when I read it, the message is not there. No formal training on writing, but I am expected to teach my intermediate students the art of writing. This is why I am here. I want to learn. I desire to learn. I am scared. I worry someone will read what I have to say and think, “Who do they think they are?? Really, you are a teacher?” The fear is there like a wall. Do I climb over it? Do I let others see me in my vulnerable state? Or do I just keep doing what I have always done?
One thing I do know, once I became a reader, I was a better, much better, reading teacher. My passion rubbed off in the classroom. I had a book recommendation for every type of student/taste. If only I can accomplish this with writing. If I become a writer, will I be a better, much better, writing teacher? I hope so.

Now…what do I write about???

#druffelites Top Ten Books

Our Top Ten Most Loved Book List

1. THE FALSE PRINCE by Jennifer Nielsen

The False Prince was our last read aloud for the school year. Students were invested in this book. They hated if we only had ten minutes to read on a tight-scheduled day. Many class discussion arose without probing or prodding. If you want a class at the edge of their seats, or a child who cannot put the book down, this one is for you.

From Amazon.com: In this first book in a remarkable trilogy, an orphan is forced into a twisted game with deadly stakes.

Choose to lie…or choose to die.

In a discontent kingdom, civil war is brewing. To unify the divided people, Conner, a nobleman of the court, devises a cunning plan to find an impersonator of the king’s long-lost son and install him as a puppet prince. Four orphans are recruited to compete for the role, including a defiant boy named Sage. Sage knows that Conner’s motives are more than questionable, yet his life balances on a sword’s point — he must be chosen to play the prince or he will certainly be killed. But Sage’s rivals have their own agendas as well.

As Sage moves from a rundown orphanage to Conner’s sumptuous palace, layer upon layer of treachery and deceit unfold, until finally, a truth is revealed that, in the end, may very well prove more dangerous than all of the lies taken together.

An extraordinary adventure filled with danger and action, lies and deadly truths that will have readers clinging to the edge of their seats.

2. AMULET Series by Kazu Kibuishi

Talk about well-loved. I have to buy a whole new set of this series for fall. Girls and boys devoured this series and could not wait for book 7 when it came out this spring. We had wait-list after wait-list of readers read for the next book in the series.

From Amazon.com: After tragedy strikes their family, Emily and Navin move with their mother into the old home of their great-grandfather. On their very first night in the strange house, Emily and Navin’s mom is kidnapped by a tentacled creature. Determined to rescue her, Emily and Navin are led into a world of robots, talking animals, flying ships, new allies . . . and enemies. There, Emily learns that she is a Stonekeeper and essential to the survival of this world, and that her incredible story is only just beginning.

3. THE HONEST TRUTH by Dan Gemeinhart

This is the second year I have include this book as a read aloud. We were even lucky enough to have Dan Gemeinhart visit our school this spring. Students fell in love with the main character Mark and his Dog Beau as they traveled to Mt. Rainier. Taking place in Washington State was the perfect setting since our social studies unit for the year was Washington State History and Government. Students made storyboards of their favorite scene and presented them to author Dan Gemeinhart during his visit. This heart-wrenching tale of perseverance and love engage readers from cover to cover.

From Amazon.com: It’s never too late for the adventure of a lifetime.

In all the ways that matter, Mark is a normal kid. He’s got a dog named Beau and a best friend, Jessie. He likes to take photos and write haiku poems in his notebook. He dreams of climbing a mountain one day.

But in one important way, Mark is not like other kids at all. Mark is sick. The kind of sick that means hospitals. And treatments. The kind of sick some people never get better from.

So Mark runs away. He leaves home with his camera, his notebook, his dog, and a plan. A plan to reach the top of Mount Rainier. Even if it’s the last thing he ever does.

THE HONEST TRUTH is a rare and extraordinary novel about big questions, small moments, and one incredible journey.

4. SHILOH by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

Our first read aloud of the year drew in the new fourth graders. Students quickly discovered how invested a reader can get into a book. They cared about Shiloh and despised Judd. This is a wonderful read aloud.

From Amazon.com: Marty will do anything to save his new friend Shiloh in this Newbery Medal–winning novel from Phillis Reynolds Naylor.

When Marty Preston comes across a young beagle in the hills behind his home, it’s love at first sight—and also big trouble. It turns out the dog, which Marty names Shiloh, belongs to Judd Travers, who drinks too much and has a gun—and abuses his dogs. So when Shiloh runs away from Judd to Marty, Marty just has to hide him and protect him from Judd. But Marty’s secret becomes too big for him to keep to himself, and it exposes his entire family to Judd’s anger. How far will Marty have to go to make Shiloh his?

5. THE WAR THAT SAVED MY LIFE by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

My words will never do this book justice. This is the most powerful book I have read. The main character, Ada, endures more than most of us could imagine. My students fell in love with Ada and HATED Mam, Ada’s mom.We were ecstatic to hear this well-deserved book won a Newbery Honor. After we completed this class read aloud, we had the pleasure to Skype with the author, Kimberly Brubaker Bradely. We found out the sequel will leave off right where this story ended. We cannot wait!

From Amazon.com: An exceptionally moving story of triumph against all odds set during World War 2, from the acclaimed author of Jefferson’s Sons and for fans of Number the Stars.
 
Nine-year-old Ada has never left her one-room apartment. Her mother is too humiliated by Ada’s twisted foot to let her outside. So when her little brother Jamie is shipped out of London to escape the war, Ada doesn’t waste a minute—she sneaks out to join him.
 
So begins a new adventure of Ada, and for Susan Smith, the woman who is forced to take the two kids in. As Ada teaches herself to ride a pony, learns to read, and watches for German spies, she begins to trust Susan—and Susan begins to love Ada and Jamie. But in the end, will their bond be enough to hold them together through wartime? Or will Ada and her brother fall back into the cruel hands of their mother?
 
This masterful work of historical fiction is equal parts adventure and a moving tale of family and identity—a classic in the making.

6. RAYMIE NIGHTINGALE by Kate DiCamillo

We pre-ordered this book for our Fourth Grade Book Club. Students had three weeks to read the book, then we met after school to discuss. Many finished the book within one week because they could not put it down. Out of the three rancheros (best friends), Beverly was the most favorite. We were not disappointed with Kate DiCamillo’s newest book!

From Amazon.com: Raymie Clarke has come to realize that everything, absolutely everything, depends on her. And she has a plan. If Raymie can win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, then her father, who left town two days ago with a dental hygienist, will see Raymie’s picture in the paper and (maybe) come home. To win, not only does Raymie have to do good deeds and learn how to twirl a baton; she also has to contend with the wispy, frequently fainting Louisiana Elefante, who has a show-business background, and the fiery, stubborn Beverly Tapinski, who’s determined to sabotage the contest. But as the competition approaches, loneliness, loss, and unanswerable questions draw the three girls into an unlikely friendship — and challenge each of them to come to the rescue in unexpected ways.

7. SOME KIND OF COURAGE by Dan Gemeinhart

The first student to read this book in my class followed along with the award-winning audio book. He would shout, tear-up, and whisper to himself throughout the book. This is a kid who finally fell in love with a book thanks to Dan Gemeinhart. This was also our first Fourth Grade Book Club book and the group loved it. It is action-packed and full of love. It takes place in the 1800s in Washington State. Another must read!

From Amazon.com: Joseph Johnson has lost just about everyone he’s ever loved. He lost his pa in an accident. He lost his ma and his little sister to sickness. And now, he’s lost his pony-fast, fierce, beautiful Sarah, taken away by a man who had no right to take her.

Joseph can sure enough get her back, though. The odds are stacked against him, but he isn’t about to give up. He will face down deadly animals, dangerous men, and the fury of nature itself on his quest to be reunited with the only family he has left.

Because Joseph Johnson may have lost just about everything. But he hasn’t lost hope. And he hasn’t lost the fire in his belly that says he’s getting his Sarah back-no matter what.

The critically acclaimed author of The Honest Truth returns with a poignant, hopeful, and action-packed story about hearts that won’t be tamed… and spirits that refuse to be broken.

8. WONDER by R.J. Palacio

This was another Fourth Grade Book Club book the students loved. It made them think about what it would like to be Auggie and how they treat people who may look different.

From Amazon.com: The book that inspired the Choose Kind movement.

“I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.” 

August Pullman was born with a facial difference that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid—but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face. WONDER, now a #1 New York Times bestseller and included on the Texas Bluebonnet Award master list, begins from Auggie’s point of view, but soon switches to include his classmates, his sister, her boyfriend, and others. These perspectives converge in a portrait of one community’s struggle with empathy, compassion, and acceptance.

“Wonder is the best kids’ book of the year,” said Emily Bazelon, senior editor at Slate.com and author ofSticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy. In a world where bullying among young people is an epidemic, this is a refreshing new narrative full of heart and hope. R.J. Palacio has called her debut novel “a meditation on kindness” —indeed, every reader will come away with a greater appreciation for the simple courage of friendship. Auggie is a hero to root for, a diamond in the rough who proves that you can’t blend in when you were born to stand out.

9. DEEP, DARK, AND DANGEROUS by Mary Downing Hahn

The craze with this book started when a student read this book along with the audio book on our class iPad. He could not stop talking about how creepy this book was and how much he loved it. Students waited for their turn with the book. A great ghost story for any classroom library.

From Amazon.com: Just before summer begins, 13-year-old Ali finds an odd photograph in the attic. She knows the two children in it are her mother, Claire, and her aunt Dulcie. But who’s the third person, the one who’s been torn out of the picture?

Ali figures she’ll find out while she’s vacationing in Maine with Dulcie and her four-year-old daughter, Emma, in the house where Ali’s mother’s family used to spend summers. All hopes for relaxation are quashed shortly after their arrival, though, when the girls meet Sissy, a kid who’s mean and spiteful and a bad influence on Emma.

Strangest of all, Sissy keeps talking about a girl named Teresa who drowned under mysterious circumstances back when Claire and Dulcie were kids, and whose body was never found. At first Ali thinks Sissy’s just trying to scare her with a ghost story, but soon she discovers the real reason why Sissy is so angry. . . . Mary Downing Hahn is at her chilling best in this new supernatural tale that’s certain to send shivers down her readers’ spines.

10. THE BOOK SCAVENGER by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman

Boy did my students fall in love with this book and ciphers. It was a great book to read aloud this year. It kept the students guessing right up until the end. What a fun book!

From Amazon.com: For twelve-year-old Emily, the best thing about moving to San Francisco is that it’s the home city of her literary idol: Garrison Griswold, book publisher and creator of the online sensation Book Scavenger (a game where books are hidden in cities all over the country and clues to find them are revealed through puzzles). Upon her arrival, however, Emily learns that Griswold has been attacked and is now in a coma, and no one knows anything about the epic new game he had been poised to launch. Then Emily and her new friend James discover an odd book, which they come to believe is from Griswold himself, and might contain the only copy of his mysterious new game.

Racing against time, Emily and James rush from clue to clue, desperate to figure out the secret at the heart of Griswold’s new game―before those who attacked Griswold come after them too.

My Most Important Job

Today was National Teacher Appreciation Day, but the most important gift I received today was from my oldest daughter.

My room was 80 degrees. Half an hour after students left, so did I. The room was too hot to work in so I brought my work home.

I met my own children at daycare. I even made it before they arrived from being picked up at their school. Emma, my oldest, was the first off the daycare bus. She held a hand-made card in her hand. “Mom, you have to read this!” she shouted enthusiastically. 

We made the five minute trip home listening to classic rock (my girls’ favorite). As we unpacked the car, Emma said, “Mom, read the card!” 

I unpacked our school items and proceeded to read the hand-made card. It read, “Happy Mothers Day” on the front. Inside she wrote, “You are the best mom I could ever have!” On the other side, Emma drew a picture of us exchanging the card. She was so proud. 

I was surprised because Mother’s Day is not until Sunday, yet Emma felt the need to give her mom a card early. 

This was a message I received loud and clear. My children (and being a mother) is my MOST important job. Yes, I LOVE being a teacher and do my very best for my “school children” everyday. But, my children are still the most important and most deserving of my time. 

When you work with a needy population of kids, it can be hard to let your “school kids”and their issues go, when you are at home, away from them. But, when I am home, MY children are the most important.

Thank you Emma, for the Mother’s Day card I received early from you today. You will never know how the card was THE most important gift I received on Teacher Appreciation Day.

A MUST READ FOR ALL AGES

amazon.com

I have been away from blogging for quite awhile. Many other things in my life have needed my attention. That being said, I MUST blog about The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. It has been tugging at me ever since I read it, this summer, for the first time.

Ada, the main character, is a girl that will forever live in my heart. World War II saved her life. But really, Ada’s strength is what saved her, and the love of Miss Smith.

You see, Ada was born with a clubfoot. Her mother, Mam, confined Ada to their third-floor flat in London, England. She never learned how to walk. Ada’s only view of the world was from her window. Mam mistreated Ada in various, horrific, ways. Yet Ada found strength. 

After reading this book aloud to my fourth grade class, I asked my students what they thought the author’s message was. One response was all it took to verify my decision to read this book aloud. “If Ada can make it through all her tough times, then I can.” 

Many of my students do not come from ideal home situations. I’m happy to know that Ada’s strength will stay with them. Hopefully Ada will help them through their tough times. 

Here is a synopsis of the book from School Library Journal

Gr 4–6—Bradley turns her keen historical eye from Monticello (Jefferson’s Sons, Penguin, 2011) to the British home front during World War II. Ada isn’t exactly sure how old she is; for as long as she can remember, she’s been a virtual prisoner in her mother’s third floor one-room apartment. She was born with a clubfoot and her mother uses her disability as an excuse to abuse her both emotionally and physically. Ada watches the world through the narrow confines of the apartment window, waves to neighbors in the street, and carefully gauges the danger of being beaten during each encounter with her hateful mother. She envies the freedom of her little brother, Jamie, who goes to school and generally roves the neighborhood at will. When her mother prepares to ship Jamie out to the countryside with other children being evacuated from London, Ada sneaks out with him. When the two fail to be chosen by any villagers, the woman in charge forces Susan Smith, a recluse, to take them in. Though Susan is reluctant and insists that she knows nothing about caring for children, she does so diligently and is baffled by the girl’s fearful flinching anytime Ada makes a mistake. Though uneducated, Ada is intensely observant and quick to learn. Readers will ache for her as she misreads cues and pushes Susan away even though she yearns to be enfolded in a hug. There is much to like here-Ada’s engaging voice, the vivid setting, the humor, the heartbreak, but most of all the tenacious will to survive exhibited by Ada and the villagers who grow to love and accept her.—Brenda Kahn, Tenakill Middle School, Closter, NJ

Questioning, I Need Your Help

  

 How do we go from toddlers and preschoolers asking questions about everything around them, to school-agers who hardly ask questions at all? What is the message being sent to students in the way we view and deliver teaching and learning in the standard classroom?

Our staff is reading articles about questioning and student engagement. When is a child truly engaged? What is our definition of student engagement?

With these question running through my head during Winter Break, I feel torn by what is expected of me as a teacher, and what I believe is best for the whole child in my classroom. Where is the balance? What is best for one child is not necessarily best for another. How do we get children to be engaged for true learning instead of pleasing the teacher and finding the right answer. 

Some of the things I have implemented this year is the focus on effort vs. getting the right answer. The focus on learning vs. the right answer. The focus on effort vs. correct spelling. I have to say this again and again in my classroom. I find students slowly taking more risks and less fix-mindset, negative thinking. But I cannot do this alone. 

How do we change the culture of school? How do we change a classroom into a learning/wonder/investigation studio? 

I do not have the answers. I cannot begin to pretend to know how to make this change. But I know what I believe in my heart, and I am torn. 

I am turning to my PLN, Twitter community to help me begin to find the answers to these questions. Please help me start the conversation. Please help me find the courage to move forward.

Time for the Little Things

  
I built a Lego house with my girls today. Yesterday, I cleaned the house. I didn’t grade papers or plan lessons.

I spent time on the little things. I took time to relax and keep away from my job for the weekend. It was nice. It was refreshing. It was calming.

I didn’t worry about falling behind. I was present in the moment. I was able to do this because I am doing the same thing with my students this year.

I am taking time for “Yoga Breaks.” I take time to play transition music. I take time to just “be” with my students. 

I am a person who loves schedules and checklists. I am efficient and know how to throw out the “fluff.” But what I am realizing is that I can be too good at this. I need to take the time for the little things. And I finally am. 

I’m adding back in the joy in my job and in my life. It is okay to just “be.” Be in the moment. Be present. Be there for your students and your own children. Be there for your spouse. Take the time for the little things.

Make Mistakes

  
Make mistakes. This phrase is our fourth-grade class focus for the year. Yesterday was the first day of school. I explained to my class how effort=success and that mistakes are okay. In fact, they are to be celebrated, because making mistakes is the only way we learn.

“Make mistakes,” I said. Many heads nodded. A few look at me confused. I then continued to explain to the anxious faces that I will not focus on getting the “right” answer, but I will focus on learning. And we learn by making mistakes.

Make mistakes. Today we tried a challenge to “Save Fred.” Six out of the seven groups successfully completed the challenge. One group broke the life preserver and did not save Fred. We discussed what we learned from the mistake the group made. The group responded that the life preserver was stretched too far, so next time they would make sure to not stretch the life preserver too far. They made a mistake, but they learned from it. They enjoyed the challenge. They had fun. 

Make mistakes. What can we learn from our mistakes? Isn’t learning what school is all about? How do you celebrate mistakes?