Thinking Teaching Creating

Thoughts, Tips, Ideas, and Projects from a Creative Teacher Mama

Summer: Time To Catch Up On Hobbies

In between all the schoolwork and impromptu trips to the pool, park, or local children’s museums to provide the copious amounts of gross motor activity 3 little boys need to ever fall asleep each night, I have some hobbies.  Shocking, I know.

I’ve already read 3 books just for fun (Quiet, a random YA novel that was the third in a series I started ages ago, and The Witch’s Daughter), I’m saving The Handmaid’s Tale for when I’m dying for something new while I reread an old favorite, AND I’ve preordered the next installing in The Pink Carnation series, which is due out early in August.  My neighborhood just updated the fitness center, so I decided to take advantage of that and have started exercising.  I got several new card and board games for my birthday that I’ve been playing a lot.  It turns out cooperative games are lots of fun, without the hurt feelings at the end because your husband put a hotel on Boardwalk when he KNEW you only had $300 left. (Talk about overkill!)  I highly recommend Quirkle, Forbidden Desert, Forbidden Island, and Chrononauts.  The “forbidden” ones are both cooperative, Chrononauts has 2 variations on gameplay, one of which is a solitaire version, and Quirkle is easy enough that my 6-year old can play, yet it’s challenging enough to still be fun for adults.

And then there are the many sewing and knitting projects I have either in progress or on my to-do list.  It wasn’t until this morning when I actually added all my crafty projects to Wunderlist that I realized how many I have!  And, of course, I want to finish them all before school starts and I get too busy to work on them again.  I have a shawl in progress (Follow Your Arrow Shawl), and I’ve barely started the second fingerless mitt in a pair to wear on those fall days that are cold only in the morning and evening.  I need to actually sew the next size cloth diapers I cut out months ago for my youngest; he needs to move up a size any day now.  I also got a sewing pattern for Christmas (Amy Butler’s Liverpool Shirt/Dress) to do some selfish sewing that I haven’t done more to than look at it wistfully.

I really do have a deadline for the knitting projects though.  My brother is getting married next year.  It will be an outdoor wedding, in October…in New England.  Translation: even if she chooses a long-sleeved dress, the bride will be FREEZING!  So I volunteered to make a warm shawl for my sister-in-law to be, whom I adore and would rather not see her get pneumonia.  I started the Rosana shawl once already, and completely messed up.  I had to rip out everything I’d done, and was irritated about it.  So I did what anyone would do; I procrastinated by starting a different project.  I vowed to restart her shawl at least a year before the wedding though, to make sure I had plenty of time to finish it, which means all other nonessential craft projects stop in October.

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The Leveled Classroom Library – Friend or Foe?

Now, as you read this post, keep in mind that I’ve spent the last 9 years teaching 1st and 2nd grade.  These are grades that tend to have a huge span between the most and least capable readers in your class, and even more so if you teach gifted kids.  The past few years, I’ve taught first grade, and my class tended to start the year ranging from a DRA level 6 all the way through a DRA level 38.  As a result, my classroom library needed to have books that were appropriate for the kids reading at an end of kindergarten/beginning of first grade level all the way up through those who would be reading at a fourth grade level by the end of the year.

Let’s take a minute, and put yourself into the shoes of a student who is told they may only take books that are certain levels, or even that they may only read the books their teacher actually hands them to read.  Imagine you’ve gotten onto your computer to look through Pinterest.  You see beautiful photos of recipes you want to try, crafts you want to make, and clothes you wish filled your closet.  Every time you want to find out more about one, you click on it.  Sometimes clicking the photo sends you to the site to find out how to make it or where to buy it.  Other times, you get messages like, “That’s too hard for you!” or “That craft is too easy, you did that last year.” Or, the most discouraging of all, “You’ll never afford that dress on a teacher’s salary, hit up your local Goodwill instead!”  That would pretty much suck, wouldn’t it?  That’s exactly what we’re doing to our students when we put interesting books in front of them, but tell them they can only choose from a certain level range preventing books from being too easy or too hard.

Many of my books do have stickers on the spine indicating the approximate level (I have a poster that shows the colors to mean easy, easy-medium, medium, medium-hard, and hard), and I do tell students the color that they are likely to read with the most success.  However, I almost never tell students that they are only allowed to choose books with certain color stickers.  The exception to that are students who consistently choose books that are way too hard for them, and then become frustrated because they can’t read them.  These kids typically end up spending more time switching books than they do actually reading them.  For those few students, I talk to them about how their choices of books only seem to be frustrating them, and that it’s resulting in their reading time not being spent reading.  So, they end up with a limit of how difficult the books they choose can be, but I only set that limit for a week or two before I watch to see if they’re able to make better choices on their own again.

Think about that really cool book you have on dinosaurs that’s written at a 4th grade reading level.  It has lots of pictures, doesn’t it?  Wouldn’t it be awful to deprive the kid reading at a first grade level who is obsessed with dinosaurs the opportunity to look through that book because it’s too hard?  No, he won’t be able to read all the words, or even most of them.  But, if a student is motivated to read, they’ll try that much harder.  The little girl who reads at a second grade level but grabbed the fattest Harry Potter book on the shelf because it’s what her big sister is reading won’t understand most of what she’s reading, but she’s motivated to read.  I’ve had students whose parents shared with me that their child really disliked reading, and typically those are the same children who would be at the bottom of the class if they were ranked by reading level.  Have you read the books that are DRA 6-10?  They are BORING and repetitive!  There’s very little to the stories, and I wouldn’t like reading if that’s all I were allowed to read either!  But, reading appropriately leveled books for instruction and being allowed to explore the wide world of books that have more substance to their stories on their own is often enough motivation to make a student become a reader.

The standards say my job is to teach students to read to at least a certain reading level and to make them capable of answering certain types of questions and thinking about books in certain ways.  Ultimately though, my job is to teach children how to love stories and learn from what they read.  Leveled readers, especially at the lower levels, do not do a great job of creating a love of reading.