Friday, August 21, 2020

Choosing the Perfect Read-Aloud

If there's a favorite time of the day for me, it's when I get to do my read-aloud with the class. Just getting to share a book for pure enjoyment takes away the academic pressure and also builds community in our class. I could write a whole separate post on why you should still be reading aloud to your older students, but instead I'm linking one that I found and liked here. I want to share more about how to pick a great book today because I have a feeling I'm mostly preaching to the choir anyway! 😉

For a long time, I read almost exactly the same books every year, and that was kind of okay. The kids enjoyed the books, and they were quality novels that created community and even provided good conversation. However, there were three issues with this system: 
1. After some time, I started to tire of some of the books.
2. Even more importantly, I wasn't considering or even really noticing is that most of my books featured the same types of characters. And they were almost always white boys.
3. I also tended to select books from my favorite few genres (for me, realistic and historical fiction). I may get one fantasy book in the year.

Now I try to be much more intentional about what I select. Thanks to Facebook pages such as We Need Diverse Books and also some amazing Instagram friends, I am constantly adding new books to my library and pulling many of them into read alouds. That doesn't mean I completely abandon old favorites. I just mix them in with other new, great books.

Things to Consider When Choosing Your Next Book

1. What have I already read? To this day, I STILL begin each year reading Louis Sachar's There's a Boy in the Girl's Bathroom. It is one of my all-time favorite books, and I think it has some fantastic lessons about friendship. However, for a while I went from that to Wonder (also a fantastic book). Two books in a row about friendship, but they're both realistic fiction with white male leads. It's time to change things up a little after that, or maybe even earlier. It might not be a bad idea to make a list of the books somewhere and include the genre and main character.
2. What is the makeup of my classroom? It's SO important that students see themselves in books, so you should work especially hard to find books to match your school's population. For me, I keep a very close eye out for books with Indian and other Asian main characters (there are a few in the graphic above that I personally love, but I can point you toward more if you're interested). Do your research. Ask around. Find teachers from those backgrounds, whether they're at your school or on social media. 
**This does NOT mean that you shouldn't find books to represent students who are not in your classroom. It's almost as important that our students learn more about people they don't already know also. It helps them work through biases they might have without even realizing it.
3. Who wrote the book? Not all books with diverse characters are good representations. For instance, Stone Fox would not be a good choice for representing Native Americans. A good place to start is looking at who wrote the book. Ideally, you want people of color writing about their own culture. They would be the experts, after all. Rick Riordan Presents is a branch of Disney-Hyperion Publishing that works to publish and promote fantasy books with underrepresented cultures. I've read a little over half of these books already, and they are FANTASTIC. The Serpent's Secret actually is not part of that series, but I read it with my class a few years ago, and it was so cool to hear from my Indian students as they explained more background with some of the mythological elements.
4. Is it good for my class right now? There are some years that I know my class is not going to be able to handle certain books as a read aloud for whatever reasons (that doesn't mean I can't use it for book clubs). As much as I love The Crossover, if I have a student who recently lost a parent, I'm not going to pull that one. Or the style just might not appeal to that specific group. It's best to pre-read your books so you know what to expect and can plan accordingly. 
5. Can I commit to this book and show excitement about it? If you aren't invested and excited, your students won't be either. It's not good for anybody.

What are your favorite read-alouds? What are some great new titles you've discovered that I maybe didn't add above?

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Effectively Using Bitmoji Classrooms

Hey guys! I'm sure many of you have seen the craze of Bitmoji classrooms and felt a variety of things: anxiety over creating one, FOMO because they're so cute, excitement to make yours the best, etc. I wanted to share my two cents and also (at the end) share an easy to use template for what I think will get the biggest bang for your buck.

Confession: I am a minimalist. I hate clutter, maybe because I'm slightly ADD, and I can't function well with it. This is also true for your students. I also have been working hard to make sure that the things I do and create are actually useful and beneficial to my students. As cute as some of these classrooms are, if you send something out with a million hidden treasures, it may not actually support your students with their learning.

If you notice, I only have 3 links (email, Clever, and Epic). That's okay. I don't need this to be a jumping point for everything. For that I have Schoology and my Google Site, which includes easy to use buttons with the titles to follow. More on that another time, although I will say I made it all last night and don't know why I didn't take the plunge earlier. 

If you're wanting to learn how to make these, Hello Teacher Lady has a great tutorial here. Or you can google "bitmoji classroom templates" and find a million resources. I literally copied and pasted from a few I liked.

HOWEVER, this type of Bitmoji classroom is not going to be where most students find what they need, and I think it's perfectly fine to completely skip this step. Especially if it's causing you anxiety. What I'm more excited about are the information slides that I've created for students to find what they need.This set includes:

- virtual meeting expectations
- learning objectives
- weekly schedule
- assignments due
- "What Mrs. Dalton is reading"

I made this an editable template so that you can make a copy and then personalize to fit your needs.To make it more fun, I left my bitmojis along with what to search to find the same kind for you. You just need to create your own bitmoji and download the Chrome extension, then you're all set! 

Is there anything else you would like to see? I'm open to adding new slides if you realize something else that could be useful to students!

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Running Book Clubs in a Virtual Learning Scenario

Hi! Of course it's been quite a while (story of my life), but I wanted to get on here and provide a little support for those of you who will be doing virtual learning this fall (like me). I know that it's a totally new way of approaching teaching, and I am FAR from an expert with it, but one thing that I found successful in the spring was the way I ran my book clubs.

I've been doing book clubs with my students for a long time, and it's one of my favorite things! I have collected many sets so that students have a lot of choice, and I just wasn't ready to let that go when we had to shut down the buildings in March. Here are my suggestions:

Preparing for Virtual Book Clubs

  • If you have access to your classroom, select the books and get them to students. I know this varies from school to school, but some of you may have the ability for students to either pick up materials OR deliver them to homes. I'm hoping this will be an option for me in the fall, and, since we only rotate through books every few weeks, I wouldn't need to worry about driving around to all of those houses ALL the time.
  • If you can't get them physical books, make good use of online library resources. For the spring, I didn't have the option to use my books, so I went to Epic! (Teachers can get free access, AND they have expanded free access to students). First, I spent a LONG time browsing their website and jotting down any titles that I thought would be engaging for the students and would also provide good discussion. Another resource that could be helpful here is Hoopla, but it does require the family to have a library card. Talk to your librarians as well because you may have access to ebooks through the school library or your district may have other resources as well (Tumblebooks, etc).
  • Select a few titles and either assign or have students pick. I always give my students a google form to select their top choices and then work from there. Since I could let as many kids as I wanted read each of these books at a time, I just created a google sheet and listed each title. Then students added their name under whatever book they wanted without worrying about the number. Of course, in the spring book clubs were optional for my county, so I didn't have quite as many students doing them. You may have to set a cap on the numbers or split a group in two. You decide what works best for you.
  • Make a schedule for assigned readings AND virtual meeting times. I did 30 minute increments just to see how things went in the spring, and we never spent that long talking about the book (although sometimes we spent that long just talking and catching up)! With my fall schedule, it will be much more structured, and I'm going with 15-20 minute clubs.
If you're looking for an easy resource for students to be held accountable for their reading and also keep them on track, I have been using an SPQC format for a few years. It takes practice and training for students to know what to do, but I find it very effective! Instead of each student having a different job (and some students not doing their job or whatever other problems I've run into), everyone write a short Summary, Prediction, Question, and Connection. These 4 square sheets stay in their notebooks (when we're at school), and students can refer back to them throughout the book to remember what happened. You can access this sheet to print (or just have students recreate in their notebooks (it's super easy) OR find the digital version to share with students for these virtual book clubs! Click here or on the picture below to access.

I also allow students to use these sheets and their book when we take our final assessments on the book at the end of the unit. For those interested, stay tuned for more about that assessment because it has made my life SO much easier and it's more meaningful to the students!

What great books have you found that your students can access virtually? I'd love to collect some amazing titles for the different grade levels and share them out in another post! Comment below with some ideas!

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Labor Day to Thanksgiving

Phew!! We finally made it to Thanksgiving break, and I am exhausted. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love my class this year and am really having some fun with them. But, I'm sure like many of you, we have not had a break since we began the Tuesday after Labor Day. I just want to crash.

So, instead of sharing about everything, I wanted to share our most recent fun! Our school has a fun tradition of having a Thanksgiving parade. Y'all, when I say "Thanksgiving parade", I'm talking we go all out.

Yes, that's Santa riding the floor cleaner! I don't even have pictures of the mini-marching band from the high school that marches through. No kidding. We have a few of the high school band members come out for this (and they're paid in donuts). Anyway, they wanted to represent more cultures this year, so we were presented with a last minute request to maybe come up with a "float" or two.

We actually started this project Friday, and my kids jumped on it with vigor! I have a diverse enough class that we actually had at least two people who actually celebrated each holiday (with the exception of Kwanzaa), and the rest of my students jumped on board to help research and decorate as needed. These are the results of maybe 3 hours work (two of which were with a substitute yesterday), and they had a blast then surprising the rest of the school today in the parade!

Of course, we did end up right in front of Santa, so a few of my kids commented that everyone was more excited about him. Well, do you compete with a dearly loved janitor riding a floor cleaner? #cantwinemall

Along with that excitement, we had our grade level "party" today. They had three rooms with different activities that they rotated through. My room had minute to win it games, and the kids had a blast!

Click the image above for my Amazon affiliate link

We have also been reading Wonder along with the rest of the world, and I'm maybe 30 pages from the end. I actually read for almost an hour total today, but we're planning on going to see the movie next Monday after school. I wanted to be close enough that I could feasibly finish before we went, and, let's be honest, we weren't going to get much accomplished today, especially not after a parade AND fall festival games. Some days are just good reading days, plus we had to make it through the who nature trip section. I love how engrossed in this book they are!

Anyone else seen the movie yet? I've been watching the previews and can't wait! Also, does anyone have suggestions on what I should read next? I want to read something with a minority character. Thinking about A Long Walk to Water, and I started reading it myself last night. I should be able to finish it tomorrow and will decide from there, but I'm open to suggestions!

Happy Thanksgiving, friends!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Week 2 is Almost Through!

Hey guys!! I am rounding out the end of week two, and can I just say that I am LOVING everything about this school year? My kids are amazing, parents are super-supportive, and it certainly helps that I'm back in the same school and actually know what I'm doing a little better this year.

We have hit the ground running, and I wanted to share some of the fun things we have been working on.

Our first project has been creating Biopoems complete with a design challenge. Students had to make a realistic version of their face complete with a 3D nose and hair, a moving mouth, and a quote that expresses them in some way. These always turn out so cute, and it's a great way to learn a little about each child right off the bat!

We also have been busy reviewing genres and dabbling in some Scholastic News. The kids have proved that they are going to be hard-workers.

And possibly the most exciting thing we have begun is blogging with the 100 Word Challenge! If you haven't heard of it (I hadn't until the end of last year), please go check out their website. The jist of it is that students read the weekly prompt and then respond in EXACTLY 100 words. This seemed like a great opportunity for my kids to practice their writing, have a different audience (the program reaches a wide range of schools from countries all over the world), AND learn how to blog. We did our first one today (no pictures yet), and I can't wait to read them all!

Anyway, I'm tired and will probably look back at this later and realize I sound like a bumbling idiot, but I wanted to share a little about what was happening. I'm excited about the year and also hoping to share more about what we're doing here. We did a lot of cool things last year, but honestly I was just too overwhelmed with all the newness of everything to even try to keep up.

Goodnight, and remember that tomorrow is FRIYAY!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Summer Reads #10: Space Case

I promised a fun one this week, so here it is! When I started teaching 5th grade last year, I noticed my boys were passing around Stuart Gibbs books as fast as they could read them. It started with Spy School (which is still on my list) and then moved on to the Moon Base Alpha series (which is what Space Case belongs to), and then there is also the FunJungle series that I haven't read yet.

Then this book appeared on the middle school Virginia Reader's Choice list, so I decided to get it in this summer. It isn't what I would typically pick up, but I can see why my boys liked it so much!

Click on the book to purchase from my Amazon affiliate link.

Dash is a 12-year-old living on the moon, which sounds cool, but really it's super boring. He used to live in Hawaii and could go surfing and hang out with his friends. On the moon, there are very few kids and almost nowhere to go inside the base. He hasn't stepped foot outside since he arrived on the moon, and he's going stir crazy.

Until one of the scientists dies when his helmet isn't properly secured on the moon's surface. Everyone says it was a terrible accident, but Dash isn't convinced. He overheard Dr. Holtz excitedly talking about a new secret that he was going to reveal the next morning, and it doesn't seem like a coincidence to him. Dash is determined to solve this murder-mystery even if it means danger for himself!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Summer Reads #9: The Thing About Jellyfish

Alright, guys, I'm going all in again this week with a hard-hitting book. Why is it that so many middle/high school books are so sad? I will tell you now that next week's book is a more upbeat, fun book, though!

Click on the book to purchase from my Amazon affiliate link.

The Thing About Jellyfish is another middle school Virginia Reader's Choice book for this year, and I loved it! It's a book following a girl, Suzy, who is dealing with the loss of her recently estranged friend. Franny was one of the best swimmers that Suzy knew, so surely she didn't just drown. Suzy is convinced that she was stung by a jellyfish and will not stop until she has proven it to be true.

Oh, and Suzy is a bit of a social outcast.
And she feels like it is her fault that Franny died.
And she is refusing to talk.

This is a very deep book, but it's great for students who feel alone and misunderstood. Suzy is very scientifically minded and misses many social cues, so it does have some lighthearted, funny moments, but your heart really does bleed for Suzy.