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!



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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This week, I simultaneously loved and hated my job. My week ended by dinner and one Moscow Mule at 4:30 with my girls and in bed by 8:15 and falling asleep reading (the only thing that kept me awake was I kept dropping my kindle) waiting for my husband to get home to at least say hi to him.  That is a true indication of my exhausted week. All the teachers out there know exactly what I am talking about.

See, my students began the SBAC test this week.  My third graders this week took the math test and math performance test (2 different tests) This test is unlike any other test I have ever seen before.  There is short answers, long answers, moving numbers, underlining, highlighting, crossing out, making bigger etc.  This is just the computer skills that 8 year olds need. I know that people think that kids are computer savvy now.  They are not.  They know how to play games and manipulate characters in a game.  They need to be taught not only how to word process, that is really just the beginning.  They also need to have good eye hand coordination for the skills needed above.

Students also need the maturity to be able to do this on the test without letting these computer skills get in the way of answers. For example, there is a cross out feature where student can cross out the answers they don’t think are right.  Are the students using that tool correctly or just playing? Students can also change the font..again, has this just become a toy.  Are they bored with the test, so they are bolding all of the words and changing font just because they can and their brains have had too much? Now for the longer answers..think about just the typing alone.  Now these are 8 year olds..they are hunting and pecking. Try doing that from what is in your brain, because even though they can have scrap paper, you know that for longer answers no one is writing it down.  So, they need to hold the word in their brain, search for letters and hope they can remember what they were typing.

Students need to know all of this even before they know the answer.  They need to have these skills down in order to process the questions.  So let’s talk about the questions.  The days of what is 5 x 7 is gone.  There are no multiple choice questions, at least on math.  Every problem needed to worked out. Kids went through 5 pages of scrap paper (which had to be shredded). The math test was 34 examples.  After 90 minutes my entire class was still taking it.  Yup. 8 year olds at a computer for 90 minutes. I had told them to take care of themselves.  I told them if they needed to stretch, do it.  Many started to stand and work from standing (they do this during regular class time too).  I cut them off after 2 hours.  I still had many not done. The performance task was much shorter for my class taking about 60 minutes and everyone finished.

How do we prepare for this beast of a test? What do we do? I start in September. This test has definitely upped my game.  We get on the computer.  Just typing documents is not enough. We now do slides; we import pictures, we change font, we center words, we copy and paste etc.  We do activities on google slides with creating pictures that require mouse skills. We type and we type and we type.  We type from our heads, we type from rough drafts.  We use different programs (google docs, google slides, book creator, Padlet, Kidblog) so students can figure out how to manipulate words if the program is different. At age 8, we are the first line for this kind of test. It is my job to get them comfortable with using the computer. I don’t want computer skills to be a stumbling block for the test. Right before the test, we go over a practice test, just so they can see the computer skills needed.

For the knowledge, we read, we read, we read.  I read, we discuss. We write, we write, and we write. We do low floor high ceiling math problems.  We discuss growth mindset over and over again.  We work on our grit and perseverance.  This test takes a lot of grit. We have math projects where the deeper you look the more answer you will find.  We blog with each other and realize that in order for people to be able to read our writing, we need to have spelling correct and capital letters and periods.  We have strong opinions about our books, but in order to convey them, we need to show evidence from the text.  We work through things that are hard and seem impossible at first. We develop confidence. We learn to control our breathing and practice mindfulness.

I did a test prep unit in April, before April vacation.  Then I stopped talking about the test.  I wanted them to be prepared for the types of questions asked, but I didn’t want them to be scared.   I never told them the exact day were going to test.  Inspired by my third grade niece who was scared and anxious for the test because of the unknown, my students had no idea until they walked in that day and saw computers on their desk. Then there was no time to be scared.  I shared the letter with them, gave them a pep talk, watched Carrie Underwood’s video Champion and then..

I  lied to my students. I told them that this test was fun and for many of them it did become fun.  They liked the figuring out part.  I told them that they are taught way beyond this test. They were to show “those testing people” just how much they knew.  My students bought it. Hook, line and sinker.  They worked..oh boy did they work.

Every single one of my students gave it their all. My heart broke when one of my students asked if she go to the closet where the math manipulatives are (students are allowed whenever we are doing math work to use whatever they need) and I had to say no. But, she asked. She knew that manipulatives make her a better math student and the fact that I had to say no brought tears to my eyes, for real.

Next week, I will give the English Language Arts portion of the test.  Another monster.  Again, I will wish that the people who created these tests would come into my room and tell me that this is the best use of my time.  Can’t you just trust teachers to do their job? Can’t you trust administrators to make sure teachers are doing their job? Is it really worth all of this? I guess an important question is, have the people behind this test taken it?  Have they seen children take it?

I am lucky.  Very lucky. After 30 years, this test doesn’t define me as an educator.  Whatever the scores my students get will not impact me because I was lucky to see what the test will never measure. I saw 8 year olds digging in and working as hard as they could. I saw 8 year olds stick with something for over 90 minutes. I saw 8 years completely confident that they “showed those testing people” and that is the absolute true meaning of success for me.



Have I really done this 30 times?

Yesterday was Open House at our school.  We do Open House the way we have done it forever.  The kids come with their parents and we open our school.  The kids take their parents around and show them work.  It is a lovely evening, one that I have always liked so much better than the Parent Orientation that teachers talk in the front of the room.  This one is about the student, and only about the student, and that is why I love it.

This was year 30 for me.  The 30th time I have done this.  Boy am I old!  As fate would have it, I gave my 30th Open House in the exact same room (although newly renovated) that I gave my first.  I have switched schools, rooms and grades many times, but my 30th Open House was given in the same one as my first.  Isn’t that crazy?! I don’t think I could have ever predicted that!

My Open House is brought to you by all of the great educators that I follow, learned from and stolen from over the years. I thought I would share on here. Not one of these ideas is originally from me, so I can take no credit at all.

This first activity is one I have done for 28 years.  I used to use the students clothes and stuff them with newspaper, but as the years have gone on, newspaper is harder to find, so I adapted:

I also had up the Best Part of Me bulletin board that I talked about in this post.


Then Scholastic Books had a great idea to create this shelf below.  We made binding of all of the chapter books I have read (top shelf) and many of the picture books.  I just love this so much!E2F6DAE0-688B-42EB-96A3-EFBF63EC5FE5

We also created reading buddies.  This is a take on the reading frogs we made last year.  Every child had to make a book jacket for their favorite book.


Last in my classroom was our Jo Boaler bulletin board.  Jo Boaler is a math professor at Stanford who is my math hero.  She has combined current brain research with what is best for kids. She has created classroom norms for math class.  Honestly, I kinda hero worship her.


As you can tell, I have books everywhere.  I also have 2 gaming chairs; 2 “living room” chairs, and 2 comfy chairs.  I have two rugs and two tables.  Students work where ever they want.  Also at Open House, I had out 6 computers so students could show parents the nonfiction books they were working on.  In the back of my room in a world and United States Map.  On those, we mark all of the places that we have had a connection with.  There are a lot!

Outside is our fraction activities. We created a fraction number line city and compared fractions.

And last, but not least is my Fish In A Tree bulletin board. Fish In a Tree is an outstanding book by an outstanding author.  Read here to learn more.


Reaching year 30 has been such a milestone.  It has caused me to be even more reflective than ever.  30 years of highs and lows.  30 years of vacillating between loving and hating my job.  Last night was definitely one of the highs.

The Best Part of Me

5935FCA7-E5A7-47FE-B869-05219BBA14EDLast year, I did this wonderful activity based on this book, the Best Part of Me.  In this book, different children talk about the what they feel is the best part of them.  Then a picture is taken of that body part.  I saw this activity on line (I can totally not take credit for it) and knew I had to do it.  As a woman, loving my body parts does not come easy for me, as I wrote about here.  But it is definitely something that I want my daughters and students to do; love themselves for who they are. So, when I saw this activity, I knew I had to do it.

I started off the lesson by reading the book. Then I talked about my favorite body part as being my 6 inch scar on my right shoulder.  I say how it is what makes me different and unique.  It also shows that I can survive 3 shoulder surgeries and be in the best shape of my life at my age.  Then I let them at it.

I always say that students will surprise you every day if you let them.  This activity was no exception.  I think you will enjoy these as much as I did:









Pinterest Classroom

My classroom is not a Pinterest classroom.  For those of you who don’t know, a Pinterest classroom is one that is perfectly decorated.  One that usually has a theme and has colors to match.  Charts and wall hangings are perfect.  Many look better than my house ever could.

I have found that Pinterest makes me feel inadequate for sure.  (Actually, not just with classroom, but with anything else that I search, Can drinking apple cider vinegar really cause you to lose weight? And those before and after pictures, wow! Don’t get me started on the crafts). Have you seen these classrooms?  They are beautiful.  Stunning really.  Many look like they have been designed by an interior designer.  I say, if that is your thing, keep at it!  Do you.

My reality is that my room is clean, mostly.  Well, by clean I mean I make the students pick up the trash off the floor at the end of the day. (Seriously, do they not realize that they have 5 pencils UNDER their desk?)  There are usually a few science experiments going somewhere.  Be careful of the water bucket on the floor.  (Which my paraprofessional stepped in) Things may or may not fall out of the cabinet when you open it.  The construction paper is always a mess and just shoved in there.  Watch out for the cabinet that holds all of my “stuff”.  As a teacher of 30 years, you never know when you are going to need tin foil, vinegar, clay, pom pons etc.  Don’t look under any cabinets or who knows what you will find! (Seeds that got away from an experiment in September and are now moldy) And please don’t ever look behind my desk. Ever.

I am not an artist.  My charts are usually quickly made with the children.  I won’t be posting them on Pinterest any time soon, unless to show what a messy chart looks like. The one bulletin board in my classroom is covered with maps of the US and the world and we are keeping track of all the global connection we make. There are index cards along the outside of the maps with string leading to the place we made the connection.  At this point in the year, we have made many connections, so it it becoming a spider web of a mess.

The bulletin board outside my classroom is completely student made.  I had a few students completely take it over this year.  Have at it! And there are books, everywhere! I have my classroom library, but then books are on display, on my white board, on my computer, every available space in my room is taken.

These perfect looking classrooms were around long before Pinterest and social media.  I remember one classroom where the “children’s” artwork was just amazing.  Social media has just lead us to insecurity.  Sometimes it makes me feel like this type of classroom is the norm. It is something that I can struggle with.  I would love for my classroom to look perfect. Who wouldn’t? But I also have to realize that that is not my forte (at all, ask my husband). I have to be careful to go down that rabbit hole.

There are only so many hours in a day and only so much money to spend. Do what lights your soul on fire.  For me, it is not in the decorating.  For me, (second to relationships with my students, which comes first no matter what) it is in professional development and reading both middle grade, picture and professional development books.  As many of you know, I spend a lot of my time on twitter. Professionally, this is how I choose to spend my time. Through there, I learn about the best books to read and that is how I choose to spend my money.  That is what works for me…and I have to go now because a box just arrived from Barnes and Noble. 😉


Below are some snapshots of my classroom; a couple examples of anchor charts, a science experiment and a bulletin board in the making; below is the student made bulletin board..