Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Poor Neglected Nonfiction


 I am the lucky mom of two adorable kids, Alex and Megan.  Note their adorableness:
     Alex and Megan both have their special, unique qualities- their quirks.  Alex loves superheroes and stories.  He will take whatever objects are near him and turn them into a team of bad-guy-fighting crayons! I love the dialogue he creates for his toys as he makes up scenes and stories for them to play out.  Megan, a month away from turning 2, amazes me with her vocabulary and her empathy.  She asks me often, "You happy, Mommy?" especially after she does something that most assuredly has NOT made me happy (colored on the wall, flung her pastina, pressed every button on the remote...).  She then will pat my cheek, look at me with her big blue eyes and say, "Be happy, Mommy!" This morning, when I told her we had to wake up Alex, she told me, "It's too dangerous!" Did I mention she isn't even two? They are both my loves, both different and similar in ways.  I could never pick one over the other as my "favorite"- it would be like trying to choose what is more beautiful, a sunrise or a sunset.  Simply put, there is no choice- they are both spectacular.

     In the world of teaching and reading, I haven't been as diplomatic with my fiction and nonfiction books.  Clearly, favorites have been played and nonfiction has gotten the raw end of the deal.  When I first heard about this challenge, I thought, "Sure! I have tons of favorite books.  Picking 10 will be a cinch!" But then, I thought about my favorite nonfiction books and got a little nervous.  I could only come up with 5.  Yikes.  How is that possible? 

     I'm a lot like my son Alex in that I really like a good story, which is why I have loved fiction so much and grudgingly admit that most of my read alouds have been fiction.  Not to make excuses, but I taught kindergarten for the last ten years before switching this year to third grade.  Most of the nonfiction I read to my kindergarten students was in the form of simple big books, with one or two sentences on the page, used for shared reading.  Not exactly riveting page-turners.  A few of my favorite titles here I did share with my kindergarten class but by and large, I read them my most treasured fiction stories. Now that I teach third grade and my students can handle longer and more complex texts, I am realizing I need to start showing nonfiction a lot more love and flourishing more attention on this important and surprisingly (to me) entertaining genre.  

     I cannot wait to read about the books posted in this challenge and I have my notebook ready to write down all the new titles I need to read and share with my students.  For this blog, I will share my top 5 nonfiction books. Then I will share my top 5 nonfiction books to be read...books I haven't read to students yet but will before this year is through. I promise next year to easily have ten new favorites to share!

My Top 5 Nonfiction Books 
(Ones I've read aloud)

Chickens Aren't the Only Ones by Ruth Heller: This book explores all the different animals that are oviparous (hint- lay eggs) in a rhyming format.  I've used this book to launch a unit on animals that lay eggs and there is a great poem called "Eggs!" by Meish Goldish that I use in conjunction with this book.  I would have students make a flipbook with an egg on the front and a different oviparous animal underneath.  This book is near and dear to my teaching heart.  

So You Want to Be President by Judith St. George: I just read this book with my class last week as we discussed Presidents Day.  This book is so much fun and makes the former U.S. Presidents really relatable to kids and has fun facts about life in the White House.  The last few pages are really inspiring and conjure up feelings of patriotism and love of country.  This books is features on Bookflix also and plays like a movie.  I highly recommend reading it with your future presidents.  

Penguin Chick by Betty Tatham: This one I read in kindergarten and third grade.  It is narrative nonfiction about the birth and life of a penguin chick.  There are so many interesting facts about how these penguins survive their icy habitats and how a penguin chick develops, yet it reads like a story.  The illustrations are fabulous as well.  This book fit well in our unit about animal adaptations, as well as our study of narrative nonfiction. 

My Map Book by Sara Fanelli: This brightly colored book features all different types of maps including the map of my heart, map of my dog, map of my face, etc.  I used this in kindergarten, mostly to feature the map of my heart as a way to kick off their own writing and connecting their writing to people and places they love.  Now as I look at this book, I am envisioning new possibilities for third grade.  Synthesizing all the maps in the book, you can make some inferences about the person who created all these maps.  Students can pick something in their own lives to map, using this book for ideas and inspiration.  

Are You a Spider? By Judie Allen and Tudor Humphries: In kindergarten, kids loved this book and would laugh at the questions.  This book presents many facts about spiders but does so in a way that you are laughing and thinking to yourself, "What if I WERE a spider?!"  I haven't read it to my third graders yet but I plan on reading it to them soon!

5 More Nonfiction Books I Promise to Read!

Nonfiction, I promise from this day forward to recognize that you have a lot to offer both me and my students.  I promise to stop playing favorites with fiction and recognize that there is no need to pick between you: Both fiction and nonfiction can be incredible reading experiences and while I'm sad it took me so long to realize this, my eyes are open now.  Bring on the nonfiction titles! 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Welcome to "Courage Doesn't Always Roar..."


Courage doesn't always roar.  
Sometimes courage is that quiet voice 
at the end of the day saying,
"I will try again tomorrow".
-Mary Anne Radmacher

I first came across this quote as an education student at Molloy College. I remember it was tacked up on the wall and I paused to read what it said as I made my way to class. After reading those lines, it was almost like exhaling breath I didn't know I was holding. It was so reassuring to think that you could be courageous by admitting it all wasn't going as you wished it would- but you could try again tomorrow to get it right.  As I embark upon this new adventure in blogging about my life as a teacher, this quote came back to me as the right name for this blog.  After 13 years of teaching, I find myself struggling still to get it "right" and always trying again tomorrow to be better and do better for my students. 

This year, in particular, has been a year of great learning for me.  I began my teaching career in 6th grade, teaching language arts, reading, and science to multiple classes.  The following year, I took a position teaching a special education, self-contained class of 5th and 6th grade students.  Then, in my third year of teaching, I switched back to general education and became a kindergarten teacher.  Three years- three different teaching positions.  I was petrified, at first, to be a kindergarten teacher but soon it felt like my destiny.  I loved teaching kindergarten and in time, I learned many strategies and methods for working with such young children.  While teaching kindergarten, my personal life changed greatly.  I went from being a single teacher, living at home with my parents, to getting married, buying a house, and having two children.  

While my life changed, kindergarten did too.  The expectations, the curriculum, the assessments- it changed drastically during my 10 years in K.  It didn't feel like the right fit for me anymore.  When an opportunity arose at the end of last year to teach third grade in September, something inside me insisted I ask for the position.  The rationale part of me reminded myself that with two young children at home, it might not be the right time to make such a big move, pack up a huge classroom with 10 years worth of "stuff" and start all over again.  My heart said I desperately needed the change and would somehow handle all the hard work. In life, I've found I can't go wrong when I follow my heart and my principal agreed to let me teach third grade.  

So back to the learning.  Everything has been new for me this year.  How to set up a classroom for third graders. The books I need to buy and display.  The school supplies third graders need each day.  English Language Arts.  Math.  Science. Social Studies. What third grade reading and writing should look like.  What third grade math skills they need. How much homework to give and what type? Questions, questions, more questions.  Every time I think I find an answer, I end up with more questions.  There are many things I am struggling with and more days than not, I worry I am not doing a good enough job.  

As I reflect, I see that it is important for me to pay attention to these feelings during this year of disequilibrium.  When you know something like the back of your hand, you kind of forget what it's like to NOT know, to be confused, to struggle.  As teachers, we need to remember this feeling because our students feel it often.  How do you ask for help when you don't even know where to begin? I've been asking for help all year and I am so grateful to my third grade team and instructional coaches who have been so generous with their time, expertise, and materials.  It's just that, for me, even with all the amazing support, I still have to piece it all together for myself in a way that makes sense to me.  

So, that is what I'm doing.  Piecing it together, trying each day to be a little better than the day before.  On the really rough days, I take a deep breath and exhale slowly, remembering that courage, sometimes, is the quiet voice that promises to try again tomorrow.