The Power of a Great Read Aloud

Read aloud time is THE most important part of my day.  Period. The end.  I am lucky that I teach in a self contained third grade, so I can make sure it happens, every day.  It is my morning meeting, my reading lesson and so much more.

This is my second go around with teaching third grade.  I did a stint about 18 years or so ago for 6 years.  However, this time things are different. I have a different perspective on teaching grade three, as I taught second grade for many years, then fourth and then I landed back in grade three. Also, in that time, the middle grade genre exploded!

Third graders are an interesting bunch.  They are caught between early childhood and middle grades.  That makes read aloud a very interesting time.  At the beginning of the year, many (not all) responses to conversation are about themselves. If you are reading about a dog, they will tell you they have dog or their aunt has dog or their friend has a dog. Etc.  This is very developmentally appropriate.  As we delve deeper into read alouds and read more, slowly, their responses begin to change.  They are able to begin to look through the characters eyes now. They can make predictions that make sense to the story and not what they want to happen.  Because by now we have shared many good books, we are starting to make connections to other stories.  I marvel as their responses grow as they mature as students and small humans.

Last week, an amazing thing happened.  My read aloud at that time was the One and Only Ivan.  This is one of my personal must read to student books.  It is about a gorilla named Ivan and his friend Stella the elephant who live in a shopping mall.  If you haven’t read it, you need to! It is probably my 5th or so novel this year so I am starting to see the change in responses from my students.  Anyways, 3 girls asked if they could stay in for recess to work on something.  I said sure.  I noticed that one student took about 20 sheets of copy paper.  She put them all out like a puzzle and began sketching.  At the end, she handed everyone sheets to take home and work on it.  At the end of recess, they told me that they were creating Stella the elephant. (See picture below).  The story was so powerful that they felt the need to miss recess to get their ideas down.

So, I finish the story and then I read the picture book by the same name.  The students were not happy about the treatment of animals.  Also, at that time, my daughter Kelsey is in South Africa   Home.   And had been to safaris.  She had been sending us pictures and information about animals that needed help.  It was decided that we would “save” animals.  We looked up the World Wildlife Federation and we decided to save a gorilla or an elephant.  It was decided that the students would have to earn the money themselves. it cost $25 to sponsor one animal.  I told them that if they raised $16, I would kick in the rest.  Well, a very generous donation from our teaching assistant, Mr. Carroll helped us to adopt a gorilla.  The students then worked to adopt an elephant.  They were to do chores at home.  Parents were not just give them the money.  The money started coming in. Yesterday, I was able to adopt a gorilla, an elephant AND a rhino (which we had learned from Kelsey were in the most need).  How fabulous is that?

My next read aloud which I started immediately (and am still reading) is Wishtree also by the same author as the One and Only Ivan. The same girls from before decided to make a Wishtree where each child created a wish for it.  They also felt we should have a class wish, which is in the middle of the tree.  These girls also played Wishtree at recess.  Students who at the beginning of the year who were making connections to themselves are now seeing connections between Wishtree and Wonder.

I love to read aloud.  I love to watch their faces as the story unfolds.  Some books, I choose to read every year.  Some books I mix up but every year, students surprise me with their insight.  Every class takes read aloud in a different direction.  I am so lucky to be able to watch it unfold. I can’t wait to see where this class continues to go..

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This is our bulletin board mentioned above.  On the sides is our personal reflections to the One and Only Ivan.  The elephant is Stella.  (The girls haven’t finished yet with the title).  The sign in the middle says, We Love Katherine Applegate Book.  Then the Wishtree.  Our class wish is that We Wish everyone to be kind to each other.

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Bringing the World To Us

I have seen many changes in education in the past 30 years.  Some good, some not so good.  Over all the changes I have seen, the best one, the one I feel has impacted learning the most has been technology.  When I first started, there were no computers.  Hard to imagine that!

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Yesterday was one of those amazing days. That you look back and are glad that you were apart of it.  It started with my daughter Kelsey FaceTiming in to our class from South Africa.  She spends Thursdays at University of Cape Town and uses their WiFi to connect.  The students were able to ask “in person” their questions about her bungee jumping, lion meeting and other adventures.  She showed them her university and then turned the camera around and showed them the mountains.  You know she has been making a difference when one student said, “Oh, I see Table Mountain.”

The second exciting thing to happen was because of Wonder .  We have been reading the chapter book and I stumbled across a Facebook Group of teachers reading it.  Through that group, Megan Brown contacted me and said she was willing to Skype from Washington with my class to discuss her life as someone who has craniofacial issues.  D5AC6B69-904C-408F-BC71-ABF2EB88DCD7Megan presented to my class for about 15 minutes about her life and then my students asked her questions.

Also part of the day, which I didn’t think about until after because it is becoming so common place (which is crazy) is we checked Twitter. On Twitter our friend Carl DeStefano from Australia had tweeted pictures of his alpaca at us.  I then told the kids a story that Carl was tell me that morning in a twitter chat and we tweet back to him.  We have been corresponding with Carl all year, but how crazy is that?! My students saw alpaca pics from Australia?!

In one day, my students traveled to Cape Town, South Africa, Washington State and Australia.  Wow!  Just Wow!

Maybe because 30 years ago I could never imagine even talking on the phone during the day to South Africa or Washington let alone Skype and FaceTime, but yesterday was one of those magical, special days. It is one of those days that make me feel lucky to be able to do what I do and keeps my faith that I have the greatest job in the world.

Robots (well maybe)

This week we started the Global Read Aloud.  https://theglobalreadaloud.com/  The Global Read Aloud is one book that is read aloud to students around the world.  There are a few

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books to choose from.  The choices change every year.  This is my fifth year participating and it is one of my favorite global projects.  Over 2 million, yes, million children participate.

This year, I am reading the Wild Robot by Peter Brown.  It is a delightful story of a robot who gets stranded on a deserted island.  We are only in our first week, so we are not that far into the book. However, we did have to make our own robots because how can you read a book about robots and not make one?

Here is what they came up with.  How cute are they, right?!  The only directions were that they had to be shorter than 18 inches and had to stand. They were given 1 hour.  Materials could be used from the classroom or brought from home.  I had robot dogs, cats, heads

IMG_1051[1]and even a dinosaur.

What the picture doesn’t show is the hard work that went into these creations.  There was a lot of trial and error happening for sure!  There was also a lot of cooperation and sharing.  There was even squeals of delight when their creation stood up, like they wanted it to.

After we finished our creations, we snuck into my teaching buddy’s 5th grade classroom to get a look at hers.  What a difference a couple years make.  Hers all looked like robots.  Some moved, one was even voice activated!  They were amazing!

I chuckled that I did not have any “robot looking” robots at all.  But what I did have was children being children.  Simply delighted in the idea of creating something.  Using amazing problem solving skill.  Cooperation.  Kindness. Pride.  What I did have was a morning filled with smiles and giggles. It was a time to remind me that they are still children.

Wishtree

I have been waiting for this book since I first knew of its existence.  I watched in envy as people with advanced copies tweeted and posted about its magic.  I even preordered it from Amazon Prime, which is not something I do often with books.  Katherine Applegate is a writing genius.  Her books are amazing.  The One and Only Ivan is a must read aloud every year for me. It is brilliant. For those of you who don’t know, it is about a gorilla who is in a shopping mall zoo and the trials and tribulations that come with it.  It was the first book that I had a student so invested in the book that she broke down and cried at one part.

As I sit here on a chilly end of September morning wrapped in a blanket, I devour the whole book in one sitting. I wanted to slow down and savior its deliciousness, but my brain need to absorb every word and find out how/if the story worked out. Once I finished, I felt I should go to the gym, but I must write about this work of art. Beautiful.  That is how I describe this book.  Just beautiful. My favorite line of the whole story is, “I wanted to tell them that friendship doesn’t have to be hard.  That sometimes we let the world make it hard.”  I reread that line again and again.  I find myself still mulling that line over.

This book is meant to be shared, talked about and lingered over.  The central character is Red an oak tree. Red and the other animals help the reader to see a different perspective than we usually see.  This book is about friendship, kindness of strangers, prejudice and so much more.  This book takes us back to look forward.

I cannot wait to share this work of art with my students.  They will love it!

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Wonder

Reading aloud is the most important thing I do in my classroom.  It is the glue that holds us together. Read aloud is so much more than hearing a really wonderful story.  During read aloud, we discuss reading and reading skills without the students realizing it. We talk about how books go and what to expect from certain books. We talk about how the book reminds us of other books. We make predictions, we notice patterns and we analyze the plot.

But read aloud time is more than that.  It is when we become a community.  It is when we learn about ourselves and our world.  Read aloud is when we tackle big social problems as group through the safety of literature and our classroom.  

Beginning grade three is a time when I begin to build that trust.  I always start off the year with Marty McGuire.  A delightful story by Kate Messner.  The students enjoy Marty and her naughtiness and I begin to hook them.  I usually read Marty McGuire Digs For Worms next to get kids hooked on series.  This year, however, I tried something new.  Usually, my first “heavy” book would be done with the Global Read Aloud, in October. But with the movie Wonder coming out in November, I decided that it would be my next read aloud.

I struggled with the decision, was it too early in the year for my students?  Wonder is about a boy with cranifacial abnormalities who is attending school for the first time.  It is a wonderful story that I would definitely read later in the year.  However, I am a reading purist and do not like reading a book after the movie has come out.  So I struggled, should I do this? Would my small humans be able to handle the complexity of the book?

I decide that I will try and see what happens.  Well, this week has shown me that I made the right decision.  I am a little over half way through with the book. I am beginning to notice a change in my students.  They are starting to get emotionally involved in the book.  Auggie is taking up space in our classroom and in our hearts.  We are beginning to really dislike other characters.  Students are spontaneously cheering at appropriate parts (not to give anything away). During meaner and more intense parts, I am watching their faces and they are so engrossed in the story line.  Many showing anger and happiness throughout my reading.

What amazed me the most was yesterday.  I showed them a short YouTube video called I am Auggie.  It was a montage of different people saying, “I am Auggie Pullman.”  Each person had a different abnormality.  It was very powerful to watch.  You could hear a pin drop in my room as the students sat and really watched the video.  The discussion after it was priceless. In such a short period of time, they have grown as humans.  A good book does that.

I am glad I made the decision to read the book early.  I always believe that students will surprise you every time.  As we head toward the second half of the book, it is with mixed emotion.  I don’t know if we will be ready to put Auggie away, but I know that he will be in our classroom the rest of the year!

Iwanicki Book Awards

In going with the theme of making the last day of school as good as first, I did this Dave Burgess inspired activity of the Iwanicki Book Awards.  This was several weeks in the making and revealed today. Just a quick recap. Students used Kidblog to write their nominee and convince others of their choice. Then I created a google form which they answered (using google forms for the first time).

During the week, small groups of students had created trivia questions for many of the categories. Another group also made a word search. During the Award’s ceremony, we built up suspense by playing Oscar Music and then announcing each category and the nominees. I would then say, “Here is a word from our sponsor.”  While the students waited, they worked on their trivia.   Students were cheering and yelling and there were even a few disappointed students.  I had to sit back and remember that this was all about books!  Students in my class were yelling about books! How great is that?!  The books listed below affected my students.  It made them passionate readers. They all made my students think just a little differently.

It was a wonderful activity that I hope will become a tradition.  I am glad that I pushed myself just a little harder.  The students reactions were priceless.

PS I would recommend any book on this list for anyone to read. They are all fabulous!

 

Best Setting
Winner: Echo
Runner Up: The War That Saved My Life

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Best Supporting Character:
Winner:  Frankie in Echo
Runner Up:  Rose in Out of My Mind

Best Illustrations
Winner: The Night Gardner
Runner Up:  Journey

Favorite Character in a Graphic Novel
Winner: Snappsy
Runner Up: El Deafo

Favorite Character in a Chapter/Middle Grade Novel
Winner: Tie: Gerta in Night Divided and Charlie in Wish
Runner Up:  Frankie and Mike in Echo

war that saved my lifeBest Picture Book:
Winner: Snappsy
Runner Up: The Night Gardener

Best Graphic Novel
Winner: El Deafo
Runner Up:  The Bad Guys

Best Middle Grade Novel
Winner:  Echo
Runner Up: Tie The Night Divided and The War That Saved My Life

Favorite Read Aloud
Winner: Rump
Runner Up:  Out of My Mind
the night divided

 

When the day turns around..

A funny thing is happening to me.  There are moments in the day when I think, I should blog about this.  It is very interesting to me because I have heard for years, that teachers should blog and I didn’t get it.  Who has time for that? But, I am realizing that this blog is making me even more reflective and think even harder about my school day. I am grateful for that.

Yesterday I woke up crabby.  I was carrying a frustration from the day before and the night didn’t allow me to shake it off.  So, I barked at my husband, got into the car, and left.  I am sure he was happy to get rid of me! I had to change my attitude quick because this is parent conference week.  With yesterday’s frustration still lingering in my head, students started coming in.  One arrived with a bowl full of fish eggs!  How can anyone be upset when there are fish eggs in the classroom?  Oh and the students, they were so excited!  So, we are growing fish eggs! Or at least she thinks they are fish eggs! Let’s see what happens. Stay tuned..I feel another blog coming! 🙂

The second thing was my very dear friend, a retired teacher, has been coming in and holding book clubs with students.  She taught many of them in grade one.  She visited one day and the students gave her a reading list and told her to come back to talk to them.  She did! Today’s book was the Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart and about 10 students participated. There is really something special about a retired teacher who left loving her job coming in to talk with students.  I walked in and out of the book club (as I still had other students) and boy I felt so lucky. Here is a very talented teacher who has the gift of time. What a treat to watch her work.  What an experience for my students.

The last thing that happened was completely unexpected and brought tears to my eyes.  We had a fire drill and while we were outside, I saw another friend (who I haven’t seen in a few years). I went over to say hi and she said I came to see you! I have a surprise for you. When she came into my classroom, I was reading aloud (Wish, by Barbara O’Connor – great book) and she exclaims, “You are doing just the right activity.” She then proceeds to unwrap the most gorgeous bookworm I have ever seen.   My students were in awe!  It is beautiful, don’t you think! The fact that I haven’t seen her and she took her time to make it for me touched me so deeply in my heart.

So, I was frustrated when I started out the day on Thursday.  By the end of the day, my heart was full.  Little moments are what keep teachers coming back day after day.  When I got my first job my dad said to me, “Teaching and coaching are the greatest jobs in the world. It is all the other stuff that will kill.”  That was 29 years ago and I still hear his voice saying that.  This blog is helping me to focus on the little positive moments in my day. Thank you so much for reading.  You are all making me a better teacher!