Books Make Me

#sol21- July 27, 2021

Last week as part of the fabulous Book Love summer book club Penny Kittle talked to Kwame Alexander and the stars aligned so that I was able to “be there” on Facebook Live. I could listen to them all night long, but we only had about half an hour. One idea he left us with is community poems. He has done this for NPR, where he gives a starting line and people send in their responses and he puts them together into a poem. Our starting line, via Ann Marie Stevens and Kwame Alexander was “Books make me…” so that is what I am writing from today.

Books Make Me

Books make me a better person,

Opening windows to new ideas,

Challenging me,

Yes, sometimes also comforting me, as I find the familiar.

Books make me a better teacher,

As they coteach with me every day,

The class library reflecting opportunities, dreams, challenges, and more,

Transforming readers one page at a time.

Books make me discerning- there is never enough time to read a meh book when so many great books are on deck,

They connect me- to authors, illustrators, other readers,

They take me far beyond their pages.

Books make me spend more money,

How hard it is to not buy all the books,

I wait (impatiently) for each order to arrive,

I know it is almost always money well spent.

Books make me who I am today and inspire me to outgrow myself!

Thanks to Kwame, Ann Marie, Penny, and Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop (who first talked about books being windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors)

Win x Almost Infinity

#sol21- July 20, 2021

This is yet another summer of quiet for me. Due to quarantine requirements here and the uncertainty of rapidly shifting guidelines/requirements I made the decision to not go “home” (again) this summer. I was determined to make “good use” of this summer and interpreted that in many ways. I need 6 graduate credits every 5 to recertify, so that was goal one (I do not need to recertify until the summer of 2024, so that is some forward thinking!). I took care of that in the first two weeks of summer because I am an expert procrastinator and I did not want that hanging over my head.

This, as it turned out, was perfect timing, because two of my favorite summer pd opportunities were set to start the next week, Kate Messner’s Teachers Write and Penny Kittle’s Book Love. I have participated in both for years and look forward to them, as they are great professional development and available to dip in and out of at your own pace and time.

But, on to my small moment… Imagine, if you will, chubby, little Erika in February of 2020 realizing the little daily exercise she got was going to be eliminated by working from home. My impetuous COVID purchase was an exercise bike. I am not an exercise kind of person, but I dutifully assembled it, and sat on it once or twice before the end of the school year. Near the end of that school year I decided it needed to be used for more that a place to hang my clothes, so I started with 15 minutes a day, on level one- a good beginning. I have now worked my way up to 30 minutes a day at level 11 and I am a little less chubby.

Yesterday someone on Twitter posted something about their 40 minute ride while listening to a podcast, so today’s next step was to move on to 40 minutes. Conveniently Clare Landrigan had posted her discussion with Laura Jiménez in the Book Love Facebook group and it was just over 40 minutes- talk about multi-tasking, I could do something I (still) do not love while listening to something inspiring. Minute by minute I pedaled and listened, but then came the problem… Those smarties kept saying things I wanted to remember-grr! Still I pedaled on. I usually bike before breakfast, so my stomach may have been rumbling, but that was dulled by the food for my brain. Laura was talking all about graphic novels and marginalized identities and throwing out names and numbers I wanted to have at hand to pass on to skeptical colleagues or worried parents. Still I pedaled.

I will admit I did glance down at the timer function on my bike a few times, as I wiped the sweat from my eyes, but the 40+ minute conversation sure made the bike ride more pleasant. These conversations are often broadcast live for those in convenient time zones, so questions can be asked and answered, but the conversation always continues afterward. There are more than 1300 educators in 15 countries participating and the content is always thought provoking. There are two groups- one for elementary and one for middle/high, but you can access all content. Each group has 4 books that have been selected and over the course of the 5 weeks there are author/illustrator interviews, discussions with thought leaders, ideas for how to use the texts in class, so many extra resources, and so much more. This morning as I pedaled I was thinking of Book Love and how doing the work is the only way to make change and it was doubly so today. I am so grateful for the opportunities I have to learn with others and work to be a better teacher even in this summer where I really need lots of down time to mentally prepare for the reality that we are likely starting school online again in two weeks. I know some teachers are committed to no school work over the summer, and if this is you the good news is that all of the material is there for you for a full year. If you are finding yourself getting a little restless you can dive in now (or wait until you are ready). I also love that the $60 it costs me goes right back to getting great books in the hands of kids! Every summer I think that THIS time Book Love has really outdone themselves- and then the next summer comes along. I am glad I joined again! Doing the work of thinking and growing as an educator in the company of so many others while also being able to achieve some of my own personal goals (I am looking at you exercise bike) that is my win x almost infinity in this cloudy Tuesday morning.

PS You can still join! Click the Book Love link above! I know this may read as an ad, but not my intention- just thinking about goals and working together even while apart. Now I need to watch that video again to get down the wisdom in my notebook!

So Many Books and Still Too Little Time!

#sol21- July 13, 2021

I have long been known as “that book crazy lady” and I am totally okay with that, even though I would argue that I have other interests as well. When I found out last spring that I would be moving from third grade to fifth grade one of my first thoughts was, “But what about my library?” I buy a lot of books and my book buying dollars do not go nearly as far here in Cambodia because I pay at least double the price to get books shipped here.

Realistically, I knew that plenty of my third grade class library books would work in fifth, but I also knew I was going to have to really bulk up my middle grade selection (and would be able to bring in some books I had at home that I had bought and loved that seemed “too old” for third graders. I put out a plea on Twitter and asked just about anyone I could think of that would have an opinion for their recommendations. I started a to buy list and semi carefully checked out what I already owned to prevent duplications (except when I duplicated on purpose). Bit by bit I started reading, because I want to know as many books to recommend as I can.

As summer break approached I looked at my stacks and shelves. “No worries,” I told myself, “I always like to try Donalyn Miller’s #bookaday in the summer and with me not traveling this summer that gives me more time than ever!”

I counted the days of break- 51 days. I looked at my piles- hmm, way more than 51 books… solution? I kept ordering more books. This was not helping my dilemma. I just counted- I am on day 32 of break and I have finished 36 books, which sounds great, until you look at my stacks still waiting (and until you look at the books that are “on their way” and due here soon).

I started a list of the chapter books I wanted to be sure to read aloud this year – umm, it now numbers 18. Knowing that I will also read a picture book a day I feel like I will be lucky to get to 5 chapter books… and I still have many in my piles that book lovers describe as “perfect for grade 5” to read!

Then there are the 34 picture books that I brainstormed for “first days/identity” without looking at what I read last year (so that surely means that list will grow). Yesterday when I saw Cathy Mere put out the reminder that #pb10for10 is coming on August 10 (see the hashtag on Twitter) I cheered- I know my list of books to buy always grows as I explore other readers’ lists!

So now, I put the call out to you- any books you think I MUST read before school starts? Any books I must add to our fifth grade library?

Summer Rain!

#sol21- July 6, 2021

I have a new summer routine- I am a storm chaser. Now that might sound a lot more active and dangerous than it really is, but…

I LOVE my balcony and never spend enough time on it. This summer I am taking more opportunities to read and write there (okay, yeah, I may also people watch, but I see that as pre-writing).

It is the rainy season here in Phnom Penh and I love rainy season, so I am having lots of fun reading and writing in the rain (and as a bonus I am not getting sunburned). This morning I was enjoying my tea and a good book and I heard a roaring. I inhaled deeply – the heady scent of rain, and knew what was coming. I put down my book to watch it unfold. I looked to my right and I could see the blackened sky. A minute later the rain came down the road. The storm may have been slow moving, but the rain pelted down. I could see it coming closer and closer, but in my balcony I was more or less protected. Life here continues in the rain- sidewalk vendors have their umbrellas up for sun protection any way and any unprepared pedestrian just ducks into a doorway. The moto drivers may pause to pull out their raincoats or not. The storms are fierce, but not usually long.

Living on the corner gives me a perfect view- I can see the path the storm is taking and watch the chain of events as laundry is brought inside, some windows are closed. The street to my left often floods, but once the rain stops the heat dries it up pretty quickly.

There is something so freeing about being out in the rain, but not getting really wet and several times in the last few days I have headed out purposefully waiting for the rain to come. I love to watch the little kids who slosh around delightedly and remember my own younger days when I would gleefully put on my bathing suit and (wash my hair” in the rain. I have never been a raincoat or umbrella lover- always feeling like I will dry off when it is over. Here I realize this is a privilege as many people have to deal with regular floods in their homes.

Days like today give me multiple opportunities to enjoy the rain-in fact as I write I think I hear the distant rumble of thunder…I do love summer rain! Another excuse to pick up my book!

Summer Wishes

#sol21- June 29, 2021

I did make a summer wish list- kind of a combination of challenges, goals, and want-to’s. I did/do have some things I have to do this summer.

When I read Kate Messner’s introduction to Teachers Write yesterday I took her at her word. I have participated in this every summer and always get out what I put in, so I knew she had wise words (which seemed to speak directly to me).

As I sat on my balcony this morning breathing deeply I could almost smell the squishy ground between the trees. I could feel the cool rock as I flipped it over. I could see the worms and assorted insects burrowing deeper in the ground to be safe yet again. I could also feel the smooth skin on the lucky days when I found a salamander I could inspect for a minute or two before I put her back and she skittered away. I was 50 years younger. Always being someone who burned easily I was the one in the shade on those endless sunny summer days of so long ago.

Today it is a different kind of summer giving me the shade I need. Instead of turning over rocks and schlepping through the mud I am mostly staying in my apartment and finding my adventures via the pages of books. It is a solitary summer of not going “home” to see family again. I know I am lucky to have this quiet time, because it is true, the 16 months have been exhausting and this is how I can breathe more deeply. Rumors of another lockdown? Grab another book and go to another place or time.

My #bookaday is allowing me to feel all the feels. This summer I am crying and laughing. I am imagining which readers may “need” the book I have just finished. I am trying out genres that are not my favorites and surprising myself sometimes. I have books that make me think and books that let me not. I am traveling vicariously.

I am also writing- notes from pd, lists, letters, serious, and silly- there is room for it all this summer. Traveling backwards and forward in time this way is what need too.

May your summer give you some space and time to breathe deeply.

You Might Have a Book Buying Problem if…

#sol21- June 22, 2021

It happened again! I got a text from DHL saying that a package would be delivered by the end of the day- it was 2 PM and these texts usually come much earlier in the day, but I waited a few minutes for a phone call.

You see, I have now become accustomed to the wonderful man who delivers my book orders. Due to lockdowns, etc. he has even taken to calling on the day of a delivery to find out whether I want it delivered to school (the address on the packages) or home- whaaaa?!

A few minutes passed and I received no call. Maybe he has the day off, I thought, it happened once before. A few days later he sorted delivery, so I did not worry.

A few minutes passed. Riiing. My phone trilled and it was the DHL man. After confirming I was home I messaged that I was going out in a bit, but the package could be left with the guard at my building. Ten minutes later- another call. He was already outside with my package.

I might have a book buying problem, but Mr. DHL sure makes it even easier! It is the little/big things that remind me how lucky I am.

The Best Note

#sol21- June 15, 2021

Last Friday was our last day of school and I am still in recovery mode. I wasn’t sure what I could slice about, so I flicked through my notebook. I had copied in several messages I got from colleagues, parents, and students that meant so much to me and my eyes fell on this one:

Thank you for loving books

Thank you for loving your class

Thank you for loving me!

This third grader! <3! This weekend I read Teach Like Yourself by Gravity Goldberg and this message helped me to realize I am on the right path. If students leave the year knowing they are loved as they are, then something has gone right in this ever so challenging year.

I am spending the 51 days of break doing what I need to do, want to do, and get to do. On day 52 I will return to school in a new grade level ready for what lies ahead. Today I am grateful for time to let it all sink in.

#kidscanteachus on Zoom

#sol21- June 8, 2021

BC (before Corona) I always opened up an afternoon or two (or more) to third graders having the chance to teach whatever they wanted to a small group. We would build the schedule together, where “teachers” decided how big a group they would manage, bring in any necessary supplies, and then have a time to teach.

Last week when we were planning the activities that we wanted to make sure we got to in our class I mentioned this as an option. After some jumping in then out and others waiting until the last day to decide to join we ended up having only three volunteer teachers this year. A taught how to make a fidget, L taught how to draw anime, and T taught tech tips. Their students joined them in a breakout room and for ten minutes or so they all were learning new things.

In the debrief afterward the teachers shared:

“It was hard because they couldn’t always see what I meant.”

“They did not always understand me well.”

“I had to say it again and again.”

The learners shared:

“I did not have everything I needed.”

“It was hard to see.”

“I did not know it would be so fun and I would learn so much.”

Now with only three days left I am wishing we had more chances to learn from each other. Such an awesome group- always wearing the hats of learner and teacher!

What Award Would You Get?

#sol21- June 1, 2021

We are winding down this long and complicated year and today I was reminded yet again how much I love this class! They are always up for new ideas. We had a unit Who We Are to start the year and now we are reflecting on how we have changed since then. They spoke on a Flipgrid to their peers and the teachers they will have next year.

Today, in part inspired by Pernille Ripp, I had the third graders create two awards- one they would give themselves as a reader this year and another for a book they read this year.

Here are the awards they have given themselves so far:

  • Best voices for every character
  • Late to graphic novels
  • Thinking about main characters and what they do
  • Books made me read more
  • Big reader
  • Reading more
  • Reading into the night
  • Actually reading sometimes this year
  • Better at inferring words I don’t know
  • Read a book until 12 am
  • Starting to read chapter books
  • 30 minute reader
  • Reading an hour a day, getting excited, and learning lots of new words
  • Ninja
  • 2 hour reader

These readers have grown in these ways and more this year, in spite of being online for more than half the year. In the coming days we will make reading plans for the break (they have already created a Jamboard with reading challenge ideas they would like to try). What’s not to love???

There Can Never Be Too Many Books!

#sol21-May 25, 2021

It is that time of year! Even though we are still in school (until June 11) we are online, so it is time to move classrooms again-ugh! This will be my third classroom in my fourth year at this school and to be honest, I have lost track of the number of classrooms in total. I have to say, it does not really seem to get easier.

At this school we are lucky to have absolutely amazing TAs who make the moving process as painless as possible. I have to be honest though- I have my own criteria for awesome… There are the people who walk in and say “Wow, you have a lot of books!” with awe and wonder in their voice and then there are those who say almost the same thing, but with, perhaps, a bit of a sneer or eye roll.

When the books were packed last week the TA who works with me was in on day one and set the bar high. The TA who was in the next day did her very best to keep her packing up to that high standard (and succeeded). Unpacking began today and the superstars of today asked for my system of organizing books, immediately earning star status too and we got so much done. We fit more into the classroom (even allowing for Covid distancing that seems likely to persist in August) than I might have guessed and the overflow fit (sort of, more or less) on a shelf just outside my room and the grade level piazza.

You know you have the right TAs when they pause over books, admire covers, flick through pages as they go. At least one left with a borrowed book today and others made promises of borrowing soon. I am so happy to be in the presence of other book lovers and as nervous as I am about moving to a new grade level seeing all my book friends in a new classroom gave me a little zing of excitement. I may have added about 40 new books to the library in the last two weeks… there really seems to be no stopping my book buying habit.

Meanwhile, my current class has extracted a promise from me that they will still be able to borrow books next year!