Books, Bibliotherapy and Patience

From the time I put a book in my hands and read about someone else’s life I knew this would be transformative for me! And it has. Instead of wallowing in self pity (many opportunities for that) I read about another’s dilemma, conundrum or challenge in their lives. Old classics just reaffirmed that “we all go through trying times.” And this belief helped me get through the challenges in my life. But so much for that, for now. (A previous post to help you understand.)

I steered my kids to books as outlets for their “drama” and now my grandkids read voraciously, understanding that books can help them as well.

From the day I entered the classroom I knew books held a key and the backbone to my teaching. Whether sharing joyous, humorous stories, informational text, traveling to distant countries, looking at hardships characters endured or deleving into self-help books my go to reservoir was always plentiful! When classroom situations seemed daunting there was always a huge number of books available in our school or classroom library. And what an incredible resource we have in our librarian! I think about this as I reflect on my years of teaching and how often that book, that said it so well, was close at hand. For the child who was bullied, the one with few friends, the one facing the death of a parent or close family member, the one who faced illness, or one who was moving or the daily “goodbyes” when it was time for school; books that looked at empathy, kindness, and the choices we make. There was a book there and a caring adult to read to the class (or one on one to that child), to address their concerns. (To read about Bibliotherapy )

As with all the “tools” in our trade, books are not a panacea but another resource that supports our students to let them know we care. And now I sub and continue to reach out to students with the power of stories and books. I subbed with the 4s this week and read We’re All Wonders by R.J Palacio. Sitting wide eyed they asked incredible questions and tried to make sense of being “not nice.” Now the wait to see how they transfer that story into their own behavior. It will take time and many other stories, but it’s a start.

Does that “perfect” book change a behavior? Do the children get it right away? Is there an immediate transfer to actual circumstances? I’m not naive, just hopeful that discussions and questions when books are shared might  help children reflect before they act. And here is where patience comes into play: change takes time, but it happens.



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A Thought, An Idea, A Suggestion

It’s rare that I write a post so soon after publishing one a few days before, but this has been on my mind, so I thought I’d share my thinking as I process my ideas and reflections. So I ponder…

I have been so fortunate in subbing at the school I have taught at for over 39 years! I had spent the last 25 of those years teaching kindergarten and the first 14 years in early childhood classrooms with toddlers, 3s and 4s. Over time there have been many changes, some in hindsight are wonderful and allow space for the divergent thinkers, learners (students and teachers) and some I continue to question. But as most situations in life there is a continuum and the pendulum that swings. Philosophical, pedagogical and pragmatic outlooks influence what happens in the classroom. Where these programs will take us, continues to unfold. When teacher autonomy is valued then, in my opinion, the relationships between student and teacher hold the reins for appropriate practices.

My role as a sub is to support the teachers, the students and the curriculum. I am comfortable with this and also feel that my observations and questions have been welcomed. I continue to learn from these incredible educators who participate in Professional Development opportunities to grow in their own practices.

So my first “ponder”: “How do we make suggestions when a aha-ha moment occurs as you watch a teacher lead a group? How do you look back at your own teaching and how you implemented changes after being observed and then the follow up discussion about your work?” I think about those questions before I jump in. I think about the relationship I have with that teacher. I think about how I felt when a question looked like a criticism and a failure, a mistake in my teaching practices.

But I am bold and I am brave! I observed a few group times that involved the children sharing their “treasure” from home. In kinder they have put it under a “Dialogue Share” framework. Those kinders who have brought in their share object have an opportunity to talk about it.  Then the class can ask questions; usually up to three children ask questions. (Over the years share has evolved and had had many iterations in the kindergarten classroom. I like what I see now in the kinder class. I find it manageable and meaningful.) It reminds me of the “Comments and Compliments” group time I have observed in 2nd Grade at the end of the day. I think these are out of Responsive Classroom activities. (A new focus introduced before I retired and now in practice in the kinder class as well.) As I listened to the children share in an early childhood classroom I noticed that all questions centered around “What’s your favorite: color, car, toy” and so on.  I wondered if this was a developmental process of asking questions or could the children get passed the “favorite” question? After watching this for a few days, I raised my hand for a turn and asked a different question, which the child could confidently answer. When it was another child’s turn to ask a questuon, once again it was about the “favorite.” This time I asked the teacher if I could suggest different ways to ask questions. If we could frame it with a Who, When, Why, How, Where and What (with another way to use what) questions since they have done a great job with the What is your favorite! She liked that idea and when it was another child’s turn, guess what, you’re right, they went right back to “What is your favorite”!! The teachers smiled but we were not discouraged. The teacher leading the group added her own twist (knowing this group of children much better than I do) and as soon as she called on another child she gave them a prompt, suggesting they start with Who, Where, How, When and Why question. It worked and the children were delighted in the answers and curious to see what other questions they could ask! And that was my second “ponder”; how to help fascilitate a more engaging “share” experience.

Later in the day the teacher and I discussed how share time went. We have a good relationship and have been colleagues at the same school for some years. We talked about my suggestions (and I hoped I had not overstepped) as I reinforced how much I valued her idea of prompts that would help her students move away from their “go to question.” I can’t wait for the next share time.

Once again another day when I see how “it takes a village!”

My two ponders for this post as I am big proponent in sharing ideas. When ideas hit you how do you feel about sharing  them with colleagues? Which leads me to this: I am curious about share time and how it’s implemented for the various age groups and grades you teach?

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Two Readers

I subbed in kinders this week. So much going on as everyone at school is working on activities for Open House/Art Fair and Grandparents’/Grandfriends’ Day. We had “rotations” and I worked with the children on making their rainforest animal headbands. They colored, cut and chatted. I listened, helped when needed and chatted. Nice to work with all the children and listen to their conversations. Kinders are getting big; more independent, more self-reliant, still filled with awe and wonderment. And asking questions or sharing their authoritative voice on what they really, really know!! It was a good day. In the afternoon after finishing the first part of their Mother’s Day gifts, they could choose to read books from the class library or from a bag donated with many Mo Willems books. They have been working on an author’s study on Mo Willems. One little girl choose to read Amanda & Her Alligator.

I was sitting at a table and she sat down next to me, showing me her book. She looked at the book, then at me and said it looked like it had lots of words she didn’t know. I thought of all the ways I could answer her unasked question, from “I think there are many words you might know already” to “I think there are words you can sound out” to “The picture clues might help you read some words,” but chose to say, “Would you like me to read it to you?” Her face lit up with delight and I started to read. In a few minutes she joined in reading the words she knew and recognizing the unfamiliar words I had just read. We read together and when she needed some help, I helped her and I would read until she was ready to continue. Her friend came over to see what we were doing and quickly let me know that she reads chapter books at home. I acknowledged that it was exciting to read chapter books and she was proud to be able to read them. She also said she could help my “reader” read the Amanda and Her Alligator book. I let her know that she could certainly sit with us while my “reader” and I finished reading our book together. This seemed ok for both girls as we continued reading. Every once in awhile I made a comment about the text  when we all laughed at some of the antics portrayed by the alligator. We didn’t have a chance to finish the book, but both girls liked that a post-it note held their place for next time, when they could finished the book together.

And I, well I was so pleased that we shared a book together, reading without worry, without pressure, without a formal assessment, without a running record; just a joyful experience between two readers!

In your busy days do you have time to read with one child or a small group of students without a reading group focus? Do your students choose books that call to them whether level appropriate or not? How do you share these experiences with readers who so want to read different genres without regard to levels/abilities?


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I Choose To Celebrate

Today is my son’s birthday!

50 years of seeing him grow.

50 years of joy mixed with sadness

Embracing the vagaries of life.

This is a good day,

Family and friends wish him well.

This is a good day, we laugh, we joke

All is well.

For a moment a memory of his birthday past,

The death of one that held us fast.

It’s been a year,

How can that be,

Friends and family have no words to console,

A year has past.

Today is my son’s birthday,

I choose to celebrate!

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What’s The Rush

I’ve been on the sidelines of chats lately, but still checking in on what’s being questioned, wondered and said. So many supportive educators sharing their thoughts and ideas to  advocate what’s best for their students. I have spent time with my three grandchildren, laughed with them and watched them as they each tackled homework in their own way. I listened to them practice piano, played board games with them and have gone for walks with them. I have enjoyed spending time with them as they shared with me their reading and writings. Each of them came to this place in different ways and times. The reader and writer in me smiles and rejoices in private. This is their journey and I’m there when they need me or when they want to share. And now I once again reflect and think about the different ways children get to the reading and writing.

Then I wonder. Am I being a rebel without a cause or am I rebelling from hindsight and a longing for what was and could be?

I think of a picture book written in a foreign language and wonder if I could read it. I ask  myself if that’s what our kinders might be thinking when we put a book in their hands and tell them it’s reading time. Could I read the pictures? Could I figure out any familiar (foreign) words? Could I retell the story if I’d heard (foreign langauge) it before? We look at this with The Daily5 . I know this has been used (and probably successfully, for the most part) with ELL (English Language Learners), but I wonder about it for the young kindergarten child. The three ways certainly empowers the beginning reader to recognize they can “read”!

Then the process becomes a little muddled, for me, as we group students in leveled readers; following programs that may not be what’s best for our particular students at this time. Have we ever asked an ELL kinder student what books with English text (or in truth any language) looks like to them? Do we wonder where their struggles hinder or what competencies help in their reading journey? Do we ask the same question of our English speaking students or do we just assume this it the right way and the best way? Is early reading an imperative above all? I question the impact on social-emotional fortitude if success does not come as easily for some, as it does for others. How quickly do they identify each other as readers and writers?

Then the writing program takes shape and we follow a program before some kinders can hold a pencil, write their letters or have many phonetic skills. Their writing is guided  based on a formula of units to follow. Do kinders need to know how to write How To books? What happened to the excitement of labeling their pictures? What happened to the squiggles that the kinders wrote and then read to tell us their story?  Did that have to be left behind when they entered kindergarten? Were they ready to let go of their perceived success to discover the adult expectations so differed from their reality? Where are the writings based on topics of their interest or as a way to share a unit of study or a wonder they may have? These that I call “authentic” reasons to write; to write from the heart. Do we give them time? Time to feel okay about labeling their picture and extending their writings independently, when they’re ready and claim ownership of their ideas and work!

     This writer had a great relationship with his teacher and felt comfortable with her guidance to help him complete his How To book.

  Part of their Rainforest Unit of Study, the kinders were excited about sharing their riddles: Writing and Reading them.

When it doesn’t feel right to you as their teacher then it probably isn’t right for them. I have seen the reading and writing programs at work. I have taught them, and they are successful for many children, but at what price? What’s left behind and what is lost? My hope is not our young students’ enthusiasm for learning, their compassion and empathy. Can we bend the rules? I think the structure and order is so enticing for teachers. Knowing what comes next, what language to use makes teaching content easier and smoother. But we need to see the impact on the children we teach. Sometimes sitting with the kindergartener as they draw or read a book saying, “Tell me your story we’ll write it together. Tell me your story we’ll read it together. There’s no rush, we’ll get there together.

    I took this block building picture while subbing in a kindergarten class. New buildings are going up and the kinders have seen the process throughout the year. It was a special day with the “final beam,” going up. The kinders have been observing their environment, to making sense of the process and then they built and drew what they saw. This natural process, as I see it, would be the authentic writing and reading that could follow so smoothly. For those kinders who were excited about this process they could make signs, discuss what was happening as they build and then in what ever way they were ready, to write a “How To” book about the “final beam!”

Where are you in the reading and writing process with your young students? Do you follow a program? If yes, do you need to modify it? What support systems do you have in place to implement changes?

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And Still I Learn

I continue to sub and learn so much from my day to day experiences in the different classrooms as I work with various grades in early childhood and lower elementary classes. But I think I’ve discovered a throughline in my interactions with teachers, students and administrators: we’ve gotta get out of the ME/Mine/I mindset and look towards and embrace the WE/US/OURS mindset. I wonder if we perpetuate some of the “I” over the “We?” Does asking their opinions, their concerns which comes from their perspective,   give students time to reflect and think of  “others” as well? Do conflict discussions allow for a give and take that goes beyond “I” and “you done me wrong?” Does pushing for excellence and mastery, allow for students’ to notice their growth and space for the now? Do we over think, over question, over talk in our attempt to connect to our students and thus take away an important step in learning: “the not knowing?” When I sub, I am part of a team (unless I sub for the science or music teacher, then I rely on their lesson plans), and my role is to help the teachers and students. I also have a chance to observe and then reflect here, on my blog and hopefully engage in conversation with you. In the school culture that “raised” me, working together and thinking about the children we teach, encouraged conversation, communication and brainstorming. And that continues even in my role as a substitute teacher. I ask questions because I truly want to know about the thinking behind an action, a conversation, or decision made. It’s about me learning, not being critical, but understanding or really just listening to what “you” have to say. Then you ask me what I see, my POV and the conversation continues. How the “me/mine/l” plays out often varies with the age groups I work with and the developmentally appropriate responses for the children’s wants and needs. Slowly as we move into the kinder years and lower elementary grades where the “me/mine/I”  is seen in a different light, the expectations change as we work towards a “we/us/our” mindset. I have seen this as students help their classmates with math problems, during their writing workshop lessons, with iPads and sharing stories they’re reading. I see this as they navigate answers to science questions and eagerly ask if they can work with partners. I see this as they wonder about a read aloud and bounce ideas off each other. I see this in their collaborative work whether in geniushour projects, in service learning/outreach activities or holding a friend’s hand who is having a hard day. And I see this, as a sub, when they let me know they will help me if I have any questions.

Sometimes school work gets in the way of what is really important. Instead of  “How do you feel about.. ?” asking, “How do think he/she feels…?” If we value a “we” mindset, how do we support and pave the way for our students to think beyond themselves?




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Play: A Four Letter Word To Embrace

I’ve been thinking about play (when am I not thinking about play), reading about the importance of play here and here and watching children at play. Children playing at home, at school, in the classroom, on the recess yard and in the supermarket. I am a watcher, an observer of people, in general, and children, in particular.  This perspective became a guide to my interactions with students; learning not to jump to conclusions but giving them a chance to share and discuss their actions. Play takes many forms from the solo, independent child discovering that is needed at a given moment in time, to the outgoing, gregarious, activity seeking leaders; shepherding peers through their maze of discovery.

There has been much discussion about what kind of play is most meaningful to kids (for the purpose of this post I look at play in schools); self-directed vs structured, goal focused vs open-ended (without prescribed outcome attached). Some may argue that STEM/STEAM  Geniushour, PBL are a conduit of play and discovery guided by the teacher: purposeful play.  Some proscribe that inherent in play is the child’s self-directed focus; intrinsic motivation to process and search for knowledge, learning and understanding. For many purists at either end of the spectrum, there is little give to the middle ground. But as the argument continues, play is dismissed as time consuming with little educational value since there is so little time to cover all the curriculum in a given day! I won’t go into the plethora of research on the importance of play, suffice it to say that the research supports the need for students to play in order to develop social-emotional skills, motor skills and academic skills: language arts, math, science.

I’ve read many erudite articles on the value of play but here I look at how both play pundits (self-directed & teacher designed) can work together to combine their pedogolical beliefs to benifit their students. Research shows the importance of play and recess for students’ optimal development in the elementary years as well. These students need play as much as their younger counterparts. As a kindergarten teacher I found different ways to bring “play” into the classroom. I incorporated geniushour as a vechile for self-discovery, a focus that could be a solitary endeavor or include peers in the learning process. Geniushour for my kinders was a purposeful play that integrated process and product. Our WonderWall enhanced exploration of the world around us. The outdoor became an endless classroom devoted to awe and discovery. Art incorporated with Nature became another focus when the children playfully learned to navigate pulleys with branches and twigs. Completely enthralled with their discovery, the kinders, on their own, discovered trial and error then stepped aside, talked with each other, and generated ideas that were remarkable in their sophistication.

In a given day play takes on many faces. When curriculum is integrated in the process a different dimension to play is observed. We can’t go back to the way it was. But we can’t stand by idly and exclaim “What can we do, we have no time to play.” Let’s make the time for play, knowing that’s where learning begins. Let’s make time for recess, the exuberant, joyous, ruckus noise of developing friendships.

I continue to mull over play. Not the importance, that I have down pat, but how to help all educators to understand it as well.

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