I’ve got to get this elephant off my chest. Sometimes we make bad decisions with the best of intentions. And I owe my former library students a huge apology. A few years ago I felt pressure when a parent said she wanted me to make sure her child brought home other books besides graphic novels. I checked in with some librarians I trusted for advice and their suggestion was to let students choose a graphic novel and then something else. What I am about to reveal makes me feel ashamed and sad and exposed. But if you can learn from me, my mistake was worth something. I made a rule: students could not check out a graphic novel unless they checked out another type of book. And here’s what I observed:
students groaning when I reminded them of the rule
students hastily grabbing another book off a display to meet the check-out criteria
students placing the other book on the return cart as they left library class because they never wanted it in the first place
students visibly defeated when I told them “one graphic novel per customer”
At Nerd Camp Michigan I heard many presenters and panelists talk about the power of choice. ‘Of course choice,’ I thought. It didn’t dawn on me that I was a complete hypocrite until that very thought woke me up in the middle of the night a week after getting home. If I believe in providing choice, why do I have a rule that goes against my beliefs? Why am I letting a parent’s request change the way I do business? It’s my fifth year in the library and I’ve gained my confidence. I’m willing to stand up to someone who challenges my beliefs.
Now that this school year has begun, I have gotten a positive response from both children and parents. My returning students were astounded and excited to hear there were no restrictions on what they could check out. I’m talking seeking each other out to make eye contact and fist pumping the air excited. A few parents have told me their child is having a good year because they have free choice in terms of check-out. Each time I see and hear this feedback I go from feeling happy to feeling completely embarrassed. Embarrassed because I subjected kids to a rule that doesn’t make a lot of sense. And I knew better. I only hope that I can make it up to my former students by being strong enough to educate others and staying true to myself.
Inspired by some Voxer nerdy pals doing reading identity lessons with their students, I asked my colleagues if anyone would let me come into their classrooms during research blocks at the start of the year. 12 out of 22 teachers responded with a “yes.” I asked that teachers made sure to have their students take out reading notebooks and pencils, connect my Google slides presentation to a big screen, and be sure to stay in the room so they could continue the discussion long after I left.
We started by talking about different genres. Students offered examples of each genre.
I showed an example of genres I like to read and genres I tend to avoid. I asked students to try their own two columns in their reading notebooks. Many were happy to let me take pictures of their notebooks.
Next we talked about different text formats. We looked at examples of small text (typical chapter book), big text with lots of white background, hybrid (pictures interspersed with paragraphs), and graphic novels (blocks of pictures with text within). Students then rated the text formats by preference in their notebooks.
We put our pencils down and discussed why it’s okay to abandon books, how people find time for pleasure reading, where we like to read, and how we come up with the next books we will read.
We ended the lesson with me modeling the statement “I’m the kind of reader who…” with a long bulleted list. I told the students they did not need as many bullets, but I wanted them to be as honest as possible when creating their list…even if they have negative feelings about reading. I told them it was a judgement-free zone and the teachers will learn more about them and figure out books that will interest them.
Before I left I told them that I have a reading inventory for them to fill out at a later date. I explained to the students that they should be as honest as possible when they fill out the survey so that their teachers can help them reach their goals. A student walked up to me with a scrap paper and a pencil in hand. He asked, “How do you spell Theodore Boone?” I helped him spell it out and said, “Did your neighbor give you a reading recommendation when we were discussing genres earlier?” He gave me a huge smile and a nod.
They’ve told us the truth. What do we do about it?
I feel honored that our students entrusted us with this information. It certainly does not feel like enough to go into a class for a 40 minute reading identity lesson. Taking the time to talk about and reflect on our reading lives feels like really important work. By the time I walked out of each classroom I felt closer to the students in the reading community in that short amount of time.
I feel a responsibility to do right by them. I plan to follow up with teachers and students. We can reflect on the data and create a classroom library more reflective of their students’ needs and wants. We can set individual reading goals after conferring with students. We can identify our reading gaps and set goals around that. We can hone in on specific needs such as someone who feels most comfortable with audiobooks and make sure we give her what she needs during DEAR time. We can revisit our reflections throughout the year. We can change a negative reading identity little by little over time when we are attentive to our students and provide them with many positive reading experiences and interactions throughout the school year.
I know there are so many other educators doing this kind of work to establish your classroom communities. As I said earlier, this lesson was inspired by a Voxer conversation with educators I admire. I’d love to hear what else you do to establish reading identities.
Thank you to Cathy Mere and Mandy Robek for hosting this amazing and expensive day! It’s one of my favorite days of August!
Here is a list of some of my favorite read alouds of the moment. I wish I could say there is an overall theme but I don’t have one this year. They are just plain old enjoyable!
The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors
words by Drew Daywalt and pictures by Adam Rex
My word, I can’t think of the last time I had this much fun reading a book aloud. This one brings my students, child, and me pure joy!
by Gaia Cornwall
We all know what it feels like to struggle with being brave. The picture from the little boy’s perspective looking down from that diving board is so realistic! It’s the book I chose to gift my son’s teacher as school starts.
I Just Want to Say Goodnight
by Rachel Isadora
Parents everywhere know what it is like to have a child who comes up with ways to delay going to bed. This is very sweet with a little literary surprise to look for at the end.
words by Cynthia Rylant and pictures by Brendan Wenzel
Oh my gosh, I want to give this book to everyone I know. The message is universal and I’m slightly obsessed with Brendan Wenzel’s illustrations.
The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet
words by Carmen Agra Deedy and pictures by Eugene Yelchin
This book has a message everyone should hear. It’s definitely going on my Mock Caldecott list.
words by Mac Barnett and pictures by Jon Klassen
Such a simple concept and just incredibly funny. I tested it out with fourth graders and they were enthralled. I’m glad there will be more shapes to come!
The Book of Mistakes
by Corinna Luyken
A great book for growth mindset. As we set the tone at the beginning of the year it’s good to work on re-framing our thinking to recognize the opportunities that come from our mistakes.
words by Dev Petty and pictures by Lauren Eldridge
My son absolutely LOVES this book! We have giggled our way through it so many times this summer.
Lucia the Luchadora
words by Cynthia Leonor Garza and pictures by Alyssa Bermudez
I absolutely adore the vibrant illustrations in this book. The message about standing up for what is right and being true to yourself makes it a must-read.
Wolf in the Snow
by Matthew Cordell
This wordless picture book has my heart. If it does not receive Caldecott hardware I will be sorely disappointed.
Today I turn 44 years old. That means I’ve been teaching for exactly half of my life. There are so many ways in which my beloved profession and I have changed over time. When I started out bright-eyed and bushy-tailed after college, here are some items I utilized:
A metal chalk holder was a prized purchase that I used daily.
A multi-chalk holder was a must-have for printing and cursive instruction.
The EZ-Grader grading calculator was a simple way to grade papers and provide number scores.
I had one of these alphabets hanging above the chalkboard where the focus of instruction happened.
We had copy machines when I started teaching, but I made copies of veteran teachers’ mimeograph worksheets for students.
If I had just held off on buying an obscene amount of stickers over the years, I’d have a pretty healthy college fund for my son!
Seriously, though, how do you provide feedback without a grade and a sticker (if it’s warranted)? Ah, the weekly spelling test.
These observations are strictly that – observations I am making based on my own personal experiences in two states and three districts over my professional career. Here are the big ways in which teaching and I have changed over time…
I started teaching when the college classes we took for reading instruction were based on the whole language movement. Needless to say, it did not prepare me for my first teaching position: a multi-age self-contained special education classroom. How could I teach my students to read without any solid reading strategies under my belt? So I went back for a master’s degree in reading within a year of finishing college. A colleague friend was trained in the Wilson reading program (Tina Stewart, I’m talking about you), and I learned everything I could from her in order to help my students master the sounds of our alphabet.
Specific daily reading instruction was built into pulling apart the morning message on chart paper and working with language together.
I’ve been around long enough to experience the whole language movement, reading workshop model with literature circles around themes, professionally- produced reading anthologies, and now the create your own curriculum using the Common Core standards.
There are definitely benefits to the Common Core curriculum. It has brought a focus to reading nonfiction text, research skills, and listening and speaking skills. However, I feel that education has thrown a lot of beautiful babies out with the bath water. Students I work with today don’t have a solid spelling or grammar foundation. They’ve been deprived of cursive instruction, which has a lot of research proving how much it helps brain development. High stakes testing is only allowed to be done on the computer, which makes me wonder if it’s showing what all of our learners truly know and understand. But mostly, it pains me to see that Common Core standards have stifled the joy of reading for pleasure. I work really hard in my corner of the world to change that. In fact, my mission is to bring back reading joy to students and staff.
There used to be more time. Not more hours of the school day, but the days were not as packed with the amount of curriculum we are now required to cover. Everything today is so FAST. We know that children learn through play. Yet full day kindergarten is a lot of sitting and learning. People who have been in this business a long time know that what we are expecting of children today is not developmentally appropriate. Yet we are mandated to teach this way. And the teachers at the upper grades are paying for it. Kids today have a harder time thinking and reasoning for themselves. When a student approached me with a broken tip on his pencil and asked, “What should I do?” I knew our current system could use some restructuring.
And why do sports and activities take place every day of the week? Our society seems to have forgotten about quality family time being important. When I hear of people going to soccer tournaments on Father’s Day, I shake my head and say, “What are we doing wrong as a society? Where does the madness end?” Kids need down time. They don’t seem to get much of that anymore. Unstructured time for imaginative play and playing with friends would help to build those problem solving abilities that are lacking in our classrooms today.
And don’t even get me started on professional development. We love the buzz words, don’t we? Deeper Learning. Design Thinking. We proclaim that these are in full effect. Why? Because you said so? How about providing teachers with the time and resources to fully understand the new initiatives you are telling the school committee we have embraced? Isn’t that what professional development is supposed to be about? I see a couple teachers taking their weekends to learn more on their own time and the rest looking like a deer in headlights. You cannot expect teachers to implement something with fidelity that they have not been trained to do.
Respect and Accountability
I never had an issue with classroom management at age 22. Back when I started teaching it was a given that families and teachers worked together to help form their little humans. I remember a parent conference where a mom said, “I’m not worried about her academics. I know she’ll be fine in that area. My first question is ‘Is she respectful to you? That’s very important in our house.” Students were respectful because their parents placed a value on respect for others.
It was probably at age 33 that I had my first dose of the new reality. A student was really mean to another student so I kept him in for the first five minutes of recess to talk to him about it. I got an email that night from his mother saying how dare I embarrass her son by keeping him in for recess. Let’s recap: he was hurtful to another student, I reflected on it with him so he wouldn’t act like that again, and I was the bad guy.
Since then a law has been put into place that you cannot keep a child in for the first five minutes of recess to reflect on their behavior. You must find another time for that. We establish expectations and rules but we don’t have consequences. Have we lost our common sense? Don’t all children thrive on routine and knowing what to expect?
I think we have no consequences because the schools are afraid of parents. And I’m not talking the parents who believe in rules and consequences. I mean the parents who don’t bother to parent their own children because it takes work and time to do it right. The parents who don’t think anything of disparaging teachers on social media. The parents who honk their horns and try to drive around cars in the drop-off line. The parents teaching their children that “the rules apply to everyone but us.” They are the parents I want to send to a John Rosemond workshop for a weekend. Believe me, for the most part, I interact with kind, respectful students and families. But, boy, there are some tough kids and families out there. And the media has not done a great job of building up our profession over the years. For every bad teacher story you see on the news, I can tell you about at least a hundred good teachers I personally know.
We are not allowed to give homework anymore. I have a hard time with that. Yes, students have sports and activities. Even on Father’s Day. I don’t even think families eat dinner with one another anymore (a rant for another day). Parents are too busy and too tired to deal with homework. But I think homework helps develop ownership and responsibility. Mind you, I’m not talking a heavy load of work. And as a parent, don’t you want to sort of know what your child is learning? My son is just entering kindergarten in the Fall, so maybe I’ll be singing another tune in a few years. But I do think creating a home-school connection is always a good thing. When you take the time to sit with your child to review homework, you are teaching your children that 1. your children are your priority and 2. education is your family’s priority. (You’d be dismayed to meet the amount of children today who have been led to believe through words and actions that they are not their parents’ priority).
This is the area that just gets better and better with time. Wow, we are so lucky to be living with the vast amount of incredible titles out there for kids. The quality and variety of genres are simply amazing. It’s a personal challenge when I come across a student who is not into reading. I know with the nonfiction, fantasy, action/adventure, graphic novels, hybrids, historical fiction, realistic fiction, and mystery genres out there, I can find a way to hook a dormant reader. I also like that publishers and kid lit people are working hard to be sure to produce books that are both windows and mirrors for readers. In other words, students should be able to see how someone else lives and students should be able to validate how they live through literature. The We Need Diverse Books movement is a great catalyst for this.
Becoming a Parent
I’ve conducted countless parent-teacher conferences over the years, but being on the other side of it as a parent was nerve-wracking. I now realize that at the very core of it, you want to know that you are sending your child to be in the care of someone who truly gets him and cares for him, who knows he has things to work on but celebrates the gifts he brings to the table. I want to honor my son’s exuberance but also help him understand time and place. For instance, he often gets excited and yells what he wants to say. We are working on using an inside voice even when he’s excited. I believe God gives teachers sons so we will realize that when they are constantly in motion, they truly cannot help it. It’s just who they are.
Over my 22 years I’ve taught in three districts, two states, worked for six principals, called 6 classrooms home, taught special and regular education, earned two master’s degrees, achieved National Board certification, and switched from the classroom to the library setting. I now teach 550 students a week instead of 25 students. I miss the close relationships you build with your own classroom students, but I love the impact I can make across the whole school. Teaching is a hard profession. Elementary teachers are expected to teach all subjects while also being counselors for the many heartbreaking issues our children are facing today. It’s incredibly exhausting but I cannot think of another place I’d rather be. Kids are honest and funny. They have so much of their lives ahead of them, and I love being around that kind of promise each day. I hope that the students I’ve had over the years know that I cared for them, that I had high expectations for them, and that I’m excited to see what the world has in store for them.
Although so much has changed in my profession, I still believe that we are put on this earth to learn as much as we can and be as kind as we can. It can’t get any simpler than that. Here’s to another 22 years! I hope I’m still as excited and passionate as I prepare for retirement.
It’s my birthday so I’d like to give you a gift. If you leave a comment about how you’ve seen education change, you could win the book I’m excited to read and discuss. Entries are due by July 10, 2017 at midnight EST.
I’m entering new territory with my five-year-old. He has discovered the world of Lego and I will admit I already miss our picture book days. Each night since he was 6-months-old, reading together has been part of our bedtime routine. (Before month six is a blur – mostly singing to him and middle of the night feedings). At first I only bought board books because he chewed on them as part of his “reading.” I joked that chew marks along the edges were his stamp of approval for titles. And, of course, I cannot part with the ones that hold memories of a time when he, of the delicious rolls and sweet baby smell, snuggled into my lap for book after book after book before the goodnight song and lights out.
We then reached a point where we could choose library books without fear of them ending up in his mouth. I laugh thinking back to him being just two-years-old when walking into the public library and announcing to the librarian he wanted books about chickens and goats. She led him over to the informational books and he happily chose his day’s selection. We would leave with a mixture of stories and informational text. I guess he always did know what he wanted.
Finding a book at Biomes and settling down on the floor to “read” it – Age 3
Between ages three and four, we began having conversations on the ride to school about the elements of story: bad guys, good guys, a problem, and a solution. He began looking at life through that lens. We devoured any version of the fairy tales we could get our hands on. He enjoyed re-telling the stories. A good friend commented that he was a guy who loved a good story. His preschool teacher relayed at the parent-teacher conference that he really enjoyed stories.
The books were getting longer and as much as I love our reading routine, this tired mom needed parameters. Our rule became three books before bed, one book before a nap on weekends. I began posting our daily book choices with the hashtag #bedtimebookaday when a friend asked for book suggestions.
We visit the library once or twice a week. I place a lot of holds that we pick up at the circulation desk, but there is also a lot of teamwork as he finds books in the children’s room to add to our bag. His memory is much better than mine so sometimes I’ll hold up a book and ask him, “Have we read this one before?” and he can give me a definitive yes or no. Some days he gets immersed in playing with other kids and I’m the sole book chooser. (For a snapshot of a library visit at age four read this post).
This week I ended my chat with the librarian and looked over to find my son in a corner chair with a pile of Lego books on his lap. He was looking at the pictures and creating his own story aloud to himself. I’m not proud to admit that my heart kind of sunk thinking of the commercialism of the book titles. But another, larger part of me was incredibly proud and awed to see this new stage in his reading development – his independent choices and overwhelming need to stop and tell the story to himself. Although it was getting late and I was thinking of making dinner and lunches for tomorrow, I didn’t interrupt. I let him finish his story telling and asked if he wanted to bring some of the books home. He excitedly added all six titles to our bag.
The next morning he asked to borrow my book light and I found him in our dark living room “reading” his Lego book on the couch. There is no question – he is officially captivated. That night he asked to turn off his show so I could read him a Lego book on the couch (we normally read in his bed and he loves his t.v. time). I started to read to him and quickly realized I had misjudged this book by the cover. Typically the size and shape of this type of book is an early reader that will take a little bit longer than a picture book to read aloud. Not the case with this book. It reads like a chapter book and is really long. I got through the introductions of characters (pages and pages of intros) before gently suggesting we read more at bedtime.
The Lego book has good guys and bad guys – the story elements he craves. I am bored beyond words reading it aloud (although I’ll never show it in my inflection) but he is fascinated. In fact, tonight I was pretty tired and looking to finish so I thought I could pull a fast one. I read it as if it was the end of the story but really ended without reading the last of three stories within the book. He asked, “I wonder why we never learned more about the ravens?” Huh, so he really was listening and understanding this mind-numbing tale. I’m now riddled with guilt and will finish the story with him tomorrow.
Do I look forward to a life of Lego for the foreseeable future? Not particularly. But I will honor his reading choices because they matter to him. And I want him to continue on the path I’ve worked so hard to build. Stories matter to him. He sees the value in books. When he asks me a question I don’t know an answer to, he says, “Maybe we can order a book from the library so we can learn, Mom.” So, yes, I will keep reading the Lego books and anything else he chooses. And I will watch my child blossom into the reader I am so proud to watch him become.
I am participating in the Picture Book 10 for 10 event hosted by Mandy Robek and my new #NerdCampMI friend Cathy Mere. This exciting event takes place on August 10th every year. Bloggers are welcome to post a list of picture books around a theme using the hashtag #pb10for10 on Twitter. (Added benefit: it is a great way to find new book-loving people to follow on Twitter). There is also a Google Community you can join. I LOVE poring over these lists and adding titles to my Goodreads account, so I wanted to throw my hat in the ring for the first time. Many thanks to a couple of K-3 librarian friends who suggested titles.
I have spent the summer with my four year old son and it has been an amazing window into an innocent, joyful, imaginative mind. It got me thinking: over time life gets in the way and we lose some of that innocence, some of that joy, and some of our imagination. This list is my attempt to point out the power of the imagination to our students. Let’s celebrate those imaginative minds!
My Pen by Christopher Myers (2015)
The black and white drawings detail all the possibilities when you put your pen to paper and use your imagination to let your ideas come to life.
Not a Box by Antoinette Portis (2006)
Remember that feeling when you were little and you could turn a box into anything you imagined? This rabbit shows readers how there are no limits to what that box can be when you use your imagination.
Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran (2004)
That hill of cactus, rocks and sand and old boxes strewn about may not look like much to a passerby. However, to the children who play here it is Roxaboxen, a town of homes and streets and ice cream shops.
Skippyjon Jones by Judy Schachner (2003)
This little kitten lives in an imaginative world where he is the fearless El Skippito, a sword-fighting Chihuahua. He shows readers that even when he gets sent to his room for punishment, his imagination keeps him entertained.
The Stick by Clay Rice (2014)
A little boy looks on day after day as others play with toys. He has no toys of his own. However, everything changes when he finds a stick on the ground with inspiring words carved into it. Suddenly that stick can be anything his mind can dream up.
This is My Dollhouse by Giselle Potter (2016)
A little girl makes a dollhouse out of cardboard and walks the readers through all the delightful parts she’s included. She then visits a friend who has a store-bought dollhouse. When the friend visits her, she hides her cardboard dollhouse thinking the friend won’t like it. Eventually the friend discovers the cardboard dollhouse and realizes how much more fun it is to use your imagination.
This is Sadie by Sara O’Leary (2015)
Sadie uses her wonderful imagination to have incredible adventures. She likes to make up stories and discover all of life’s possibilities.
What Do You Do With an Idea? by Kobi Yamada (2014)
When you have an idea and your confidence grows, so does your idea. This is what happens when this child has an idea to bring into the world. Inspiring for all ages.
We Forgot Brock! By Carter Goodrich (2015)
A little boy named Phillip has an imaginary best friend named Brock. One night a sleepy Phillip accidentally leaves Brock behind at the fair. Will the friends find one another?
What Can I Be? By Ann Rand (2016)
This book takes circles, triangles, squares, lines and colors and asks readers, “What can I be?” It offers some examples and encourages readers to imagine and discover for themselves.
If Day 1 of #nErDcampMI was good, I had a feeling Day 2 would be even better. Why? Because on Day 2 is when it is truly an edcamp format. This day is participant-driven which means we, the campers, get to choose the topics of the day. I walked down to breakfast at the hotel with a pad and paper in hand to brainstorm ideas. I had a lovely discussion with many including Erika Victor, Jason Lewis, and Phyllis Sutton. I could have tapped into the brains at that breakfast table for another hour if we had it! But it was time to go.
By 8:30am we had filed into the gymnasium for opening remarks and the AM idea board creation. A Google doc with columns for sessions 1 and 2 projected on a big screen. As people lined up for the microphone, they were given a 5 x 7 index card and Sharpie to write down their topic and their name. They stepped up to the microphone and introduced their topic. Then an organizer took the index card and handed it to Alaina Sharp, who plugged it into a slot for either Session 1 or 2 on the Google doc. We could follow along by going to www.nerdcampmi.weebly.com and clicking on Day 2 nErDcamp idea board 2016.
Surprise “Safe Travels” card from my boys
Did I mention that I left my four-year-old for four days to do this camp? My husband and son surprised me with a “safe travels” ice cream cake and card the night before I left. I took a plane to get here. It was the longest I’d ever been away from them. Needless to say, I was seriously committed to learning as much as possible in the time I had. I got myself in line and filled out an index card. I looked out at the sea of lifelong learners in the bleachers and knew I desperately wanted to learn from them. My chance was NOW. I got up to the microphone and said I was looking to talk to others about forming a Mock Caldecott and/or Mock Newbery group with students.
Here’s the thing: I was not prepared for how many people would also want to talk about organizing a Mock Caldecott and/or Mock Newbery group with students. When I walked in I remember saying, “Oops, am I in the wrong room?” But these people, including a principal, were here to share ideas and learn from one another. It was pretty heady stuff!
I love the organization of the document. The room numbers and notes docs were already included so that Alaina Sharp simply added the topic and person who suggested it at the idea board creation session. We started in our session by asking if someone would like to be in charge of taking notes. However, every participant in the room was free to add notes to the document as the discussion happened. What is super helpful is that we can access notes from every session that took place because, believe me, the worst part of the day is not being able to be in all the sessions that interest you. The other cool part is that if the session is not meeting your needs, you can feel free to leave and go to another session. There are no hurt feelings; we are all here to make the most out of the time we have together.
I attended Getting Teachers Excited about Books led by Tina Stimpson and Micki Uppena for session 2. We know how busy teachers are. It was nice to hear of some ways other librarians let teachers know about new books without overwhelming them. For instance, one takeaway I’d like to try is from Kurt Stroh. He sends an email every Sunday night featuring 5 books- some picture books and some chapter books. This is a bite-sized way for others to digest, they know they can expect it on a Sunday, and they might find titles that could work with a unit they are planning.
It is important to remember that this all takes place at a high school during the summer in the middle of farm land. The planners have come up with inventive ways to meet the needs of their campers. They brought in a well-known coffee shop which always seemed to have a line of customers to keep everyone caffeinated a.k.a happy. They had a snack bar set up in the school cafeteria with dollar snacks and drinks (purchased at a wholesale food club). And they had local food trucks set up at lunch time for a variety of lunch options.
On this day I tried the local cuisine (a bratwurst and their delicious local potato chip brand- the name escapes me) and found a seat with some other women. Somehow we got on the topic of reader leaders. A lunch mate told me how she started a program to give students more voice and ownership through a reading ambassador program. I told her I tried something similar this year with a library council. She said, “Hey, do you think we should propose that as an idea for a session after lunch?” I liked the idea and we made sure to follow each other on Twitter.
At 12:45 we had filed back into the gymnasium for the development of the PM idea board. I got a Twitter message from my lunch mate and new friend Cathy Mere to meet in line for the microphone. We suggested our idea and soon we were heading to the classroom.
To my amazement, the room filled with people. Every desk was taken. I could not believe how many people were interested in talking about giving students more voice and empowerment.
There were a lot of great ideas that came out of that session. This country has so many educators who work with little to no resources and still find a way to get books into children’s hands. And they were genuinely interested to hear how we tried out the idea of reader leaders in our schools.
During the last session I went to see Sandy Otto on the topic of Teaching Our Students to be Effective Communicators. She talked about an author named Erik Palmer who has written Well Spoken and Good Thinking. He talks about how important it is to explicitly teach students how to speak in front of others if you are expecting them to present what they have learned. He came up with the Six Traits of Speaking with the acronym PVLEGS- poise, voice, life, eye contact, gestures, speed. You can learn more about it at pvlegs.com. Again, another interesting session topic that left me walking away with my head brimming with ideas.
At 3:30 we came back to the gymnasium for the closing of #nErDcampMI. The organizers put out a lot of swag – books, etc. for anyone who came up to the microphone to say what they got out of their experience over the past two days. Again, I sat there so incredibly grateful and incredulous that I was among such greatness.
Rockstar teachers Melissa Guerrette and Jason Lewis, Reading Royalty Mr. Schu and Margie Culver-Myers and me
But for a lot of us, the day was not over. We still had #nErDcampMI Junior to look forward to. I volunteered to take a group of students around for four sessions (one being a dinner session). All the volunteers were given shirts to wear and a quick dinner before heading to the auditorium for a debriefing on the night. I got a yardstick with my group number to hold up in my row. Parents brought students into the auditorium and dropped them off to the volunteers.
As students found their groups, Raina Telgemeier and Jenni Holm, both incredibly well-loved and famous graphic novelists, took the stage to face off in a drawing contest with audience participation. The MC did a great job getting the kids engaged and involved. Illustrators Aaron Zenz and Eddie Pittman joined the fun as well. The whole time I kept thinking, “None of these people are getting paid for this. They are here giving their time and energy because they care about kids. What an amazing feeling to be a part of this.”
I took my 13 upcoming fourth graders to meet author/illustrator Ruth McNally Barshaw (Ellie McDoodle Diaries) for the first session. She taught them how they could draw various creatures using the same oval shape as the basis. She was so friendly and kind, and the kids were drawing along with her in their notebooks.
The next session was dinner so we headed to the cafeteria. The kids dined on pizza, chips and a juice box. We took advantage of some down time for kids to take a bathroom break.
Our third session was with author Louise Borden (The Journey That Saved Curious George) who talked to the children about her book and the research process. The students got a chance to decorate their own passports using old-fashioned stamps and stickers.
Our last session of the night was with author/illustrator Jenni Holm. I love Ms. Holm for her book Turtle in Paradise. However, the kids in that room were all about her graphic novels Baby Mouse, Squish, and Sunny Side Up. Jenni taught the kids how to write a comic using a four step process.
She was so fun and did an excellent job keeping the children’s attention even while a huge thunderstorm took place outside the classroom window.
At the end of the fourth session, we went back to our original room with Ruth McNally Barshaw. She signed a book for every child. Parents came down to the room and showed me a name tag that matched up with their child’s in order for me to release their child to them.
From there families could go to the cafeteria to get books signed by any authors at #nErDcamp Jr.
The night was so well-run and I’ve tried to capture all the pieces (I could see) that went into the thought and planning of the organizers to bring 700 children through a four-part session in about two hours. It was quite an undertaking but their commitment to children and passion for reading, writing, creating, and learning drove every aspect of the night.
Today was about designing my own learning. It was an incredible feeling of community to talk with other passionate educators about topics that truly interested me. It was by far the best professional development I’ve had in years. I’d love to see an edcamp format adopted by school districts for at least one professional development day a year. I think administrators would be pleasantly surprised to see the buy-in of staff once they’re given the chance to choose topics they genuinely want to learn more about.
Tonight was about seeing how a #nErDcamp for kids could be run. I love the possibilities of trying some version of this as an arts/literacy extra for kids on a weekend. We have so many talented local writers and illustrators who might be interested in this concept.
The next morning we piled into the Nerd Van for the hour long drive back to the airport. And, yes, that is almost a 50/50 ratio of authors/illustrators to educators in that van picture below. I left Michigan with a grateful heart, zillions of ideas, new friends, and so many amazing memories. In a world that can be negative, I choose to surround myself with the positive energy of the kid lit community. May we always shine that positive light on the students we have the privilege of working with.