Graphic Novels

I just finished up this blog post. I wanted to tell you of some of my students favorites.  Many students start the year reading Baby Mouse by Jennifer L. Holm.  This is a delightful series of a mouse who thinks she can change the world.  This series has been a gateway for many of my students.

Here are the books that made the Iwanicki Book Awards this year:



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The winner was:



Is graphic novel reading real reading?

When I was kid, I would love to read comics. I would wait for the Sunday paper and read the comics.  Richie Rich, Archie and Mad Magazines were all a part of my reading life. I devoured them.  The best was something called the digest.  These were comic books but they looked more like paperback books.  These were fabulous to read because they took longer.

When I was about 10 or so, I stopped reading comic books and moved on to novels.  When I became a teacher, I noticed that these comic books didn’t seem to be around any more.  Then about 6 years ago, I moved grades.  I noticed that there seemed to be a new to me genre called graphic novels.  These are the modern day comic books but the story line is more in-depth but is told in comic book fashion. I ordered a few for my classroom.

Kids devoured them.  I could not keep them on my shelf.  I began to read them.  For me, I actually found them difficult to read.  The story line can be complex, but it is supported by the pictures. If you don’t look carefully at the pictures, then you can miss parts of the story.  I read fast, so I actually struggle with graphic novels.  I tell my students that too.  That some if them are better readers of graphic novels than I am! (they love that)

I began to notice an interesting phenomena, students who told me they don’t like reading, would read/devour graphic novels.  In my class, I don’t care what you read, as long as you read.  What good is putting a novel in a child’s hands if all they do is look at the wall during this time?

During independent reading time, students who used to struggle in reading would be focused on their graphic novel for the whole time.  For many students, reading graphic novels showed them how wonderful reading is and they moved on to read other books.  For a few, they stayed within the graphic novel genre and that was fine too.

The other day, I had heard that in some places graphic novels are not accepted as a form of literature and my heart was broken. Yes, there are some not great graphic novels out there. But there are also some not great novels and picture books too.  I tweeted about it and in my world, it went viral.

As a grade three teacher, I am unbelievably grateful to all of the fabulous writers of graphic novels.  You have created a way to engage students in reading. You have shown students how awesome reading is! Thank you!



Kathy the mechanic

The past year and a half have been brutal on us with car repairs.  Let’s see, we have had 2 car accidents; resulting in one total car.  My daughter’s car overheated on the George Washington Bridge in New York City and had to be towed back to our northern Connecticut town.  My 10 year old van is starting to show it’s age and my husband’s car had something wrong with the transmition.  We have spent well over $5000 in the past year on car repairs.  Such as the life of a car owner, things break and have to be fixed. But it was starting to feel like we had money pits.

Yesterday, on a simple trip to Goodwill with Kelsey, we noticed that the air conditioner wasn’t working.  Weird. I hadn’t noticed it before.  She said, I bet it is the coolant (as it was her car, with her sister in it, that overheated in New York City).  As luck would have it, there was an auto place right next to Goodwill.  I went in and asked for the coolant.  I told the guy what was wrong. He said, it sounded more like a Freon (?) problem and I could buy this kit for $50 and YouTube it and fix it myself. I bought the coolant and left.

Hmm..that got me thinking..why can’t I YouTube it? Why can’t I figure this out on my own.  With my cheapness frugalness as a motivator, I started a google search.  What did I have to lose, except to blow up my car, then again, it is 10 years old and over 150,000 miles so.. (just kidding).

So, I began my search.  Turns out the AC doesn’t just stop working. If your AC is going, it goes slowly.  Who knew?  If it goes quickly, then there is a problem with the fuses.  Shocking right?! I mean a car has fuses?! Makes sense, but who knew? I watched 2 YouTube videos and opened the hood.  Found the fuse box and found the fuse that I thought it was.  Turns out it is a like a plug called a Relay.  What kind of name is that? Now to get that sucker out.  I go into my husband’s tool box. He has everything in there. Anything anyone would ever need at anytime.  I find a screwdriver and go back to pulling out this Relay.  I get it out in time for Kelsey to get home for the gym.

The next problem, how do we know if this is broken? You cannot see inside it.  More YouTube.  We took a different Relay that controlled other parts of the car and put it in the place of the one we took out.  Moment of truth.  I am not going to lie.  This part was so scary to me.  I had to turn on the car.  Would it blow up?  With my heart beating out of my chest, I took a deep breath and turned on the engine.  Waited about 5 seconds and SUCCESS!  Kelsey and I started screaming like idiots people who just won the lottery.

So now I had AC but I didn’t have something else because I had moved another Relay.  I did not know what this Relay controlled. So the problem wasn’t solved completely.  I figured I would just order on Amazon and be without AC for a few days. I called my husband bragging to tell what we done.  He said there was a car parts place right in town.  Who knew?  We called and they had the part.  Kelsey went to get it.

She came back and with bated breath, we tried it.  It worked!!!! What a thrill! It was a $6 part.  I avoided a whole lot of trouble and money by YouTubing it.  It was an unbelievable feeling to know that this was something completely outside my comfort zone and I did it.

I keep coming back to this.  The feeling of self directed learning spurred on by motivation. I was going to figure out the problem and if I could, I would solve it. I am lucky that this problem was one that I could fix, but it has really gotten me thinking about how important self motivation is in learning.  It has me thinking of Genius Hour and how kids chose their own study.  Isn’t our goal as educators to NOT give kids the answers, to NOT make sure they pass the test, but rather, to make them curious, to make them thinkers and problem solvers? Today’s world is very different than the world I grew up in.  Answers are right at your finger tips.  My experience yesterday showed me that. I need to keep this experience close to my heart as I think about my classroom in the fall.

When is the last time you learned/did/tried something outside your comfort zone?  How did it work for you?



Simple poem

I am taking a class this summer online with Kate Messner (the amazing author).  Today’s assignment was to free write a poem something about this summer.


My daughter’s teacher job hunt, by her teacher mom

Too much advice
More interviews
More lessons
More tears
Holding back
Saying too much
Praying, wishing, hoping
Encouraging, pushing
The phone call that changed everything

Would you like to be a first grade teacher?

More tears..

It takes a village

I am not a sales person.  I hate to ask anyone to help me do anything.  One year I was room parent for my daughter’s kindergarten classroom. I was assigned the task of creating a basket for a raffle.  Rather than asking parents for help, I ended up buying all of the stuff myself.  I tried selling Avon in college and lasted one month.  I love to drink Shakeology (a type of protein shake) and I can get just two people to buy from me, I can get it for free.  Let’s just say that I get my protein at Costco now.

However, when it comes to my classroom, there is nothing I won’t ask.  If you have something for my class, I am not above begging asking for it. For the past two years, I have had two separate wonderful humans enrich the lives of my students beyond anything I could have done for them.

The first is one of my best teaching buddies.  She retired and I swooped in to take advantage of it.  We do a project called March Book Madness.  Many students read books totally outside their comfort zone. There are 16 picture books in one category and 16 middle grade books in another.  Because this program is an add on, it takes extra work. I read all of the 32 books.  Students that are reading the middle grade books need time to book talk.  Because these books are complicated, it is helpful to have an adult with them who has read the book and can facilitate. That is where Ms Smith comes in.  Before the project begins, she take several of the books, both middle grade and picture books and read them on her own time.  She then comes prepared to book conference with the students.  She actually takes the group out of the room and spends over 20 minutes with each group. 20 minutes!  Could you imagine! She gives my class the gift of time.  She takes her time with each group and can really encourage rich discussions. She can spend the 20 minutes with each group and really pass on her love of reading and characters.  Because of her involvement in this program, students have reached new heights in their thinking and reading which would not have been accomplished without her.

The second person that has added something special to my classroom is my neighbor.  Over a fire one night, he was talking about all of the places that he travels for work. Hmm..and on that summer night, Where in the world is Mr. Feldstein was born.  We began tracking where he was.  When he traveled, he would email me pictures and a little description about the places he was traveling to.  We would look at the pictures and would color in the places on maps.  Then he began telling us about a project that he was doing to turn salt water into drinking water.  My students were completely fascinated.  They asked questions and he answered them.  This interaction made the students think more globally and outside of their small town.  It made them think of problems (clean drinking water) that is not on their radar. It also helped them to understand that there are many different kinds of jobs out there! Who knows whom he inspired by this interaction with my classroom.

Finally, I know I wrote two, but I would be remiss, if I didn’t mention my daughter Kelsey.  Last year, Kelsey traveled to teach in both Costa Rica and in South Africa.  When she was in both places, she would Skype with my class, answering questions about these foreign countries.  She kept it real when discussing South Africa and sent us video of the poverty.  She came in and did a lecture with my class and even inspired one young student to do all of her genius hour projects on different animals from South Africa.  Kelsey’s interaction with us  also encourage my class to do chores at home to save 3 Africa animals. She brought another country into our classroom, the good and the bad.  She wrote blogs on this site and we close read them to learn!

I cannot be all to all students.  I wish I could, but I know I cannot.  However, I am very blessed to have such wonderful people in my life.  People who will give to my students.  The impact that these three incredible humans had on my class is immeasurable.  Who knows what book a student will read because of Ms. Smith or who will become and an engineer because of Mr. Feldstein and create something as cool as drinking water from salt water.  Who knows who will travel because of Kelsey.  My students and I are very, very lucky!

Then and now

This past week I completed my 30th year of teaching. 30 years. 30 years of smiles, laughs, frustration, parent conferences, Open House, first days, last days, tears, sorrow and smiles.  While the day passed seemingly unnoticed, for me it was a milestone. I honestly don’t know where the years have gone.  It is like I blinked around the age of thirty and here I am now with 30 teaching years.  It means..well, it means I am officially old.  It means that I can now be one of those teachers who talks about what life USED to be like. I have been kind of thinking of that, what life was like then and now.

30 years ago, I taught sixth grade in an open school.  No walls. I was only in that school for 2 years before heading across town to teach grades 2,3 and 2 again.  I then went back to the original school (no longer an open school) teach grade 4. Another grade change and by some twist of fate, I am now in the original room from when I started at age 21.  However, the room now has walls and a door.

30 years ago..

We had a row of 10 computers that I would take my math class into.  There were no computers in the classroom, only the media center. I used overhead projectors, filmstrips and record players.  There were no phones in the classroom.  At my second school, the phone only connected to the office.

We used chalkboard, chalk and erasers had to clapped together to remove the dust.  Parents were kept informed by possibly weekly or monthly newletters.  Grades were letter grades and report cards were hand written.

We had Xerox machine, but it didn’t copy in color and I don’t remember needing it so much.However, the year before at college, I did use a ditto machine, with its blue ink!

I was evaluated and observed once a month.  There was no standardized testing.  We did not track students by data. Teachers evaluation was not based on student data. However, students were grouped for math and language arts according to ability.

As a class, we would write to a friend in Florida’s class.  By hand, through the mail.

I would spend my Saturdays at the library digging for books and trying to find teaching ideas.  My Sundays would be spent in my classroom making games.  Professional development books were hard to come by and very EXPENSIVE.  I subscribed to Teacher Magazine and our school library subscribed to Mailbox.  I would comb these issues cover to cover and examine back issue to find great ideas.


I don’t have a chalkboard. I have a Smartboard that is like a huge computer screen.  I can access anything on my computer and show the class on the Smartboard.  I have two white boards that I use marker to write on.  There is no chalk in my classroom. To show student things up close, instead of a project, I have a document camera.  Anything I put under the document camera will be enlarged on my Smartboard.

Because of the computer, we can Skype with other classrooms from around the world.  My students have had the opportunity to “visit” Canada, Alaska, and Hawaii to just name a few. We also “talk” to other states by Kidblog, Padlet and google documents.

I have access to a class set of laptop computers and my program is dependent upon them.  Students take standardized test several times throughout the year.  There is the MAPS test taken three times a year and SBAC once.  Students need to have more than just basic understanding of computer skills for theses tests.  The scores from these tests are part of my evaluation.  They are also used to determine if a student needs extra help.

I have a desktop computer in my room on my desk, which is essential.  I also have a smartphone and an IPad that I use on a daily basis.  I couldn’t imagine life without any of these.

Report cards are standards based.  Grades are 1 – 4.  They are completed on the computer. I also keep parents up to date almost daily through an app called Remind.  I send emails out with our events.

Professional development is easy to find.  Twitter, Facebook and lately even instagram have tons of PD.  Books are less expensive to buy.  Podcasts are free.  Where my younger self craved all of this learning, my old self has to tell me to stop.


Some things never change..

I started my library that very first year of teaching and it has grown over thousands of books.  I could never imagine a classroom without books for the students.

My students still sit in groups and not row.  They work in projects and can sit wherever they want.

My math manipulative collection that I stared 30 years ago, I still have and use in my math class because base 10 blocks, pattern blocks, tangrams etc. never go out of style.

I still work hard; like I did 30 years ago.

Reading aloud is still the most important part of my day.

My father told me 30 years ago, “Teaching and coaching are the greatest jobs in the world.  It is all the other stuff that will kill you.”

Second Annual Iwanicki Book Awards

We completed our second annual Iwanicki Book Awards this year.  I had the students come up with the categories.  We added all the books that they thought should be nominated in each category.  We voted by google forms to narrow down our choices to 4 – 6 books and then we voted, again by google forms.  We had an Iwanicki Book Award party where the kids had created word searches and puzzles with the nominees.  Students dressed fancy or like the nominated characters.  Every time I announced a new book, I played music from the Oscars.

I thought I would share the winners.  There are some really, really good books there.  My favorite new books are Restart, Refugee and Grump for chapter books.  I also loved It’s Not Jack and Love for picture books.

I am running this as a slide show, which I have never done before, so I hope it comes out okay.


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