This time of year can be tough, for kids and teachers. As the end of term approaches expectations increase, workload is high and patience is short. Up here in the Great White North, it's often dark when we leave for work and dark when we come home; it's cold and snowy and everything - from getting dressed to starting the car - requires one extra step (or 5 - coats, snowpants, mitts, toques, boots...so.much.clothing). All of this comes together to equal the perfect storm of stress and pressure for all of us. This is the time of year when kids with challenging behaviours flare and teachers have less patience for their antics. So, what's a support teacher to do? Read, of course!
This week for IMWAYR I wanted to share two books I have been (slowly) making my way through in an effort to find ways to support some of our struggling students. They have both caused me to think deeply about my practices, my beliefs and the alignment between the two. They also have me pondering ways we can change our support systems as whole to ensure success for all students.
Children Who Fail at School But Succeed At Life: Lessons from Lives Well-Lived - Mark Katz - The title of this book grabbed me right away. I have always felt that educators revert to a doom and gloom, they're never going to make anything of themselves attitude towards students who struggle in school (which makes me so sad, but sometimes their struggles are so great that it is hard to see beyond the present moment). This book tells the story of these kids once they leave school and make their way in the real world. Katz shares 5 "erroneous perceptions" that are at once so obvious and so ingrained that you realize how much of an obstacle they present to changing out mindset around struggling learners. It also presents different ways that we can support students so that they are successful earlier (my favourite suggestion? More labels. We need to outweigh the negative labels - learning disability, behaviour problem, etc. - with positive ones - leader, friend, coder, artist, etc.). It isn't an easy read; although Katz aims for a conversational tone he often ends up striking a much more academic one. The case studies are fantastic however and the book is rich with ways to support our students on their paths to success.
Lost & Found: Helping Behaviorally Challenging Students (And While You're At It, All the Others) - Ross W. Greene This book is basically a roadmap for using Ross Greene's Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS) method in schools. This method resonates with me on so many levels, so beginning to explore and implement it via this book has been wonderful. It is an easier read than Katz's book but is still so information-dense that I am finding I need to read it in chunks, practice a bit and then come back to it. The case studies and examples are extremely helpful and there are really nice chapter summaries at the end. I have always believed in involving kids in discussions about their behaviour, working with them to find solutions that are meaningful and mutually agreed upon. This book not only affirms that belief but gives me a way to structure it to be most successful (feel like I've used that word a lot!).
Both of these books are the types of books that I wish I could distill and make sure everyone knew and understood what they were all about. The next best thing is to share them here so that more people know about them, read them and begin to shift there thinking!
I have not participated in It's Monday What Are You Reading? in a very long time but lately I have found myself missing this community of readers. I have been following the lovely Carrie Gelson's blog (thereisabookforthat.com) for quite awhile now and she has been drawing me back with her wonderful descriptions of new books (and the way she shares them in her classroom; I would love to be a learner in her room). I have also been doing a lot of reading lately and want to share it. So, here we are, back to joining #IMWAYR.
I always like to have a theme to my #IMWAYR posts. Themes help me organize my thoughts and bring cohesion to my final product - whether that is a blog post, a birthday party or a new unit I am prepping for a class. While choosing a theme can sometimes be a process (I'm looking at you birthday parties!), more often than not themes seem to gradually make themselves known to me until they are so obvious that I can no longer ignore them. In this case, the theme comes from the recent movie release of Wonder, an adaptation of the book by R.J. Palacio.
Wonder (R.J. Palacio) - A truly transformational read, Wonder tells the story of a young boy who, due to a severe facial deformity, has been home-schooled his whole life. Now, in Gr. 5, his parents have enrolled him in public school. As Auggie negotiates life in middle school we learn not just about him but about all of the people around him and all of the ways that his condition touch their lives. Much like the books below, this book is a fabulous gateway to discussing differences, kindness, bullying and more. With the addition of the movie it becomes even more accessible to our young readers.
Highly Illogical Behavior (John Corey Whaley) - Just finished this one and really enjoyed it. I will put out there right off the bat that, although this is a book that could be read at the middle school level, there are a few swear words and a fair bit of discovering your sexuality (no sex scenes but lots of talk about it), so I wouldn't recommend it for general consumption below Gr. 9 (aside: we were chatting the other day at a district gifted/enrichment meeting about needing to allow some precocious readers to read above their pay grade. Some kids are ready for this material earlier than others and, with parent permission, that's a-ok). Anyway, back to the book. Highly Illogical Behavior nails the teenage characters in all of their awkwardness and enthusiasm; they are stereotypical but with just enough of a twist that they are endearing - the highly-driven keener (with a dysfunctional family), the jock (who loves Star Trek and is reluctant in the bedroom), the lovable Star Trek fan (who hasn't left the house in 3 years). The premise - that of an agoraphobic teen who hasn't stepped foot outside of his house in 3 years - and the journey the characters embark on together is rich fodder for classroom discussions about differences, mental illness, helping others, friendships and more. Definitely a book worth sharing!
A Mango-Shaped Space (Wendy Mass) - What a wonderful book! A Mango-Shaped Space takes a look at a young girl with synesthesia, a condition that causes her to see colours for letters and words. I loved the way this book explored the way Mia's feelings about her condition develop and change; nothing felt forced or awkward about Mass' portrayal of a teen coming to grips with who she is and who she wants to be. I can definitely see many kids making lots of connections to this book! Much like Highly Illogical Behavior, this is a great choice for discussing differences, loss and friendships.
Out of My Mind (Sharon M. Draper) - I've blogged about this one (and my I'm-not-so-sure-I-loved-it feeling) before. The subject matter was fascinating - the idea that a very intelligent person could be trapped in a body that prevents them from sharing their intelligence really makes you stop and think about some of the kiddos we come across. Are we underestimating them? If they could communicate, what would they say? How can we provide them with opportunities to show what they know? Definitely transformative thoughts to be had there.
At the same time, I just didn't really love the book. I found many of the terms used to be quite dated ("way cool", "that's what's up"), which made the book feel a bit stilted. I also think that many of my students would have trouble connecting to the students in this book; in many ways it felt like an adult's interpretation of how kids behave and what they say. Finally, the climax (which I won't spoil for you) felt forced; possible, yes, but not very likely. All in all, I loved the concept of this book and think it could spark some very interesting discussions; ultimately, however, it fell a bit flat for me.
The Honest Truth (Dan Gemeinhart) - This is a heart-breaking book (expect tears!) about a boy who decides that he is too much of a burden for his family and friends, so he runs away to fulfill a dream or die trying. Told from his point of view and that of his best friend, Jessie, we get a clear picture of two very different perspectives on the same event. Well-written for the middle grades but be aware that the content is pretty heavy and there are some dark scenes. Again, though, another great book for exploring friendships, differences, illness, dreams and more.
I can imagine using all of these books in a themed (of course) lit circle, along with classics like The Outsiders. The rich conversations that all of these books will inevitably spark are so enticing! Stay tuned for a differences-themed lit circle task cards unit that I am working on...any of these books would be a perfect fit.
Have a wonderful week!
I have been sick - as in, off work sick - for a week. Ugh. Not only did I catch a brutal chest cold (which I can't shake at the best of times), I also tweaked my back somehow and was basically unable to move for several days. Now I'm back up and moving, but the cough...oh, the cough. Let me just say that a cough and back pain do not go together at. all. So, healing is slow but I am getting there, The silver lining has been time - time to see my kids off to school in the morning and welcome them home at the end of the day, time to sit on my butt and binge watch Netflix, time to think and learn and create. And create I have! It has been a lot of fun to put together a couple of new parent handouts for you (this is where I sometimes wish I were from the Southern U.S. so that I could throw a "y'all" in there. Some new parent handouts for y'all - it has a certain ring to it, don't you think?). I also updated my Elementary Parent Handout Bundle (8 great handouts - one with French resources on it for all you French teachers out there!) to include the 2 new ones - Ways to Help Your Child with Social-Emotional Learning and Ways to Help Your Child with Early Math Skills - and gave it a face-lift.
What do you think? I'm really happy with the way it turned out and hope you like the new resources too! Click here or on the picture to buy it - at only $5 the bundle is a steal of a deal!
I like to give the handouts out at Parent-Teacher nights, school literacy or math nights, in report cards or sent home with those littles that need just that little something extra at home. I'd love to hear how you use them too! Shoot me some feedback here or on Teachers Pay Teachers.
Happy fall, y'all!
I'm Bryn, teacher, mom, book lover, athlete. I am passionate about living life with my family, teaching and learning something new all the time. I hope you find something that speaks to you here on my blog and would love to hear from you too!