10 Books to Add to Your Class Library

I’ve been trying to find time to read more children’s book, which at times can be difficult, but it does make a huge difference when you’ve actually read the books that you are recommending and encouraging your students to read. These are some newer children’s book that I have in my classroom that I loved reading, and so did my students. These are books I would recommend for students in grades 4-6. Some of the content is a bit more mature and would be better for 5th grade and up. I won’t write super detailed synopsis reviews because you can find those on amazon and goodreads, but I’ll share how I recommend using them as a teacher!

Fantasy

Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley-  My fifth grade class just finished this new book as our fantasy unit read aloud. There are great themes, metaphors, symbolism and figurative language in this story. The students loved this read aloud, and so will you, as you get sucked into the magic of believing in all that Circus Mirandus is about.

Circus-Mirandus

Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan- This is a book I would recommend for your higher level readers. It is a historical fiction and fantasy book, and goes through different time periods, but weaves the stories all together through this one prophecy. If you have a student reading it, it would be good to check-in with them, and make sure they are understanding the plot and historical background.

echo

The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer Holm-  This book integrates science so well into the story. Ellie’s grandfather, a scientist, has found a way to make himself young again, and transforms himself into a 13-year old boy. I used this book at the end of the year as a read aloud, which my students were enthusiastic about as well!

fourteenth goldfish

 

Realistic Fiction

The Thing About Jelly Fish by Ali Benjamin- I just finished reading this book over my spring break, and I was lying next to my hotel pool in Thailand trying to not cry while I was finishing this book. This book also deals with some mature content. Suzy loses her best friend from a drowning and she deals with that grief and guilt she feels from treating her badly before she unexpectedly passes.

the thing about jellyfish

Fish in a Tree by Linda Mullaly Hunt- If you need a new beginning of the year read-aloud and all of your students have already read Wonder, this is it. My students enjoyed this read aloud, which is about Ally, who has dyslexia, and struggles to do well in school and is also dealing with bullying. It has many similar themes as the book Wonder.

fish-in-a-tree-335x512

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan- This is another book I would recommend for the high readers in your class. The main character, Willow Chance, is a gifted child, and adopted. When she unexpectedly loses her adopted parents to a car crash, her world becomes drastically changed. She finds a new “family” as she deals with the grief and loss. She is a quirky character, that you really feel for, and root for. You won’t be disappointed.

counting by 7s

The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart – This is kind of like the kid’s version of The Fault in Our Stars, but with no big romantic storyline. The main character Mark gets cancer again and finds out he doesn’t have long to live.  Then, he decides to go on an unforgettable last adventure to Mt. Rainier with his dog as his sidekick. It’ll be a book that you and your students won’t be able to put down. It could also work as an end of the year read aloud.

the honest truth

Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate – I’m a huge fan of Katherine Applegate’s books like Home of the Brave and The One and Only Ivan. If you loved those books, you’ll like this one as well. This book is about a boy dealing with homelessness, so the topic is a bit more mature.

crenshaw

 

Graphic Novel

El Deafo by CeCe Bell- This is a fun and fast read about a bunny who is deaf and needs to wear a hearing aid in school. The themes of fitting in and friendship will make it easy for students to relate to. My students couldn’t wait to borrow this book.

eldeafo.jpg

Historical Fiction

Stella by Starlight by Sharon Draper- This is a moving story about an inquisitive and brave girl, Stella, who is living in the segregated south and witnesses the Ku Klux Klan in action. It would work great as a read aloud or if students read it independently, some preteaching on the historical time period would be helpful.

stella-by-starlight-9781442494978_hr.jpg

What are some new books that you recommend for our classroom libraries? 

signature

to confer or not to confer…

“Will you meet with every student?” I had an eager student come up to me and ask me after I shared with my class about my workshop routines. I shared how during independent reading or writing time I will meet with students individually or in small groups. My student seemed genuinely excited about getting feedback and conferring with me, which is the kind of response you want.

One of my #teachergoals (see my previous post) is to improve my feedback and I feel that conferring is the perfect place to start. In order to improve in this area, I needed to first improve how I keep my conferring notes. I’ve tried quite a few different ways to keep track of my conferences from a big 3 ring binder with tracking sheets, clipboards with student names on each box, to using different apps on my iPad (confer and evernote).

This year, I decided to go back to paper, but I created my own conferring notebook. I didn’t like the models I’ve used in the past and I had trouble finding a template that fit what I wanted, so I created my own. I wanted it to be simple enough and without too many categories, but I wanted to focus on a few areas like small group instruction, individual student goals, and teaching points.

So my DIY conferring notebook looked like this:IMG_1477

In the beginning I put a class roster page, so I can keep track of which students I meet with for individual and small group conferences. Then, I have a few pages of conference tips/reminders, and then a section for small group conferences that I can plan out in advance for the week.

FullSizeRender (4)

The main section of my conferring notes are pages for my individual students which I color coded each name with a label. Then, I put a goals sheet in front of each student’s section of notes so I can make sure I know what their goals are and I can check off when I the student meets a goal. So in theory it should all work out perfectly, but we’ll see how things go.

FullSizeRender (2)FullSizeRender (3)

For my writing workshop conferences, I’ve started conferring individually and in small groups for our narrative unit. When I go around to confer, I bring my conferring notebook along with my writer’s tool kit. The writer’s tool kit is something I learned from a summer writing institute I went a few years ago. Christy Curran, from the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, shared this idea in a workshop about carrying a writer’s tool kit for the different genres (narrative, opinion, and informational) you teach. Inside my writer’s tool kit, I’ve have sections for: charts, mentor texts, writer’s notebook, and post-its & stickers. It’s an easy way to carry these tools around with you for easy access during a conference. I use the post-its to write the teaching point and compliment I give to my student. They keep the post-it note in their notebook to remind them about what we talked about.

It’s easy when the students are reading or writing independently to try to get other “stuff” done, but think about that student that is eagerly waiting to get your feedback, so keep conferring friends!

How do you keep track of your conferences? Please share any great ideas with us!

jeeyoung_signature

the art of grand conversation

During the coaching institute, we were in labsites in a NYC public school where we got to teach lessons. One of the lessons we had to plan was a grand conversation. I admit that I haven’t really been doing them in my classroom prior to the institute. It was a great reminder for me to integrate more grand conversations into my lessons. Of course we do have a lot of discussions as a class, but a grand conversation is a bit different. A grand conversation is where the students are leading this conversation around a specific content area. The amazing thing about grand conversations are that the students participate and build off each other. You shouldn’t need to call on the students. They chime in as they wish.

My group led a grand conversation in a fifth grade classroom during the institute. We decided on a nonfiction text about Jackie Robinson. We read the short book on Jackie Robinson and had a few key questions we used to help start the conversation. I was impressed with the engagement and level of depth in the conversation.

A few tips to leading your own grand conversation:

1)  Set clear expectations- It will really be important to be clear that when a person talks, you are listening to them speak and not interrupting them. I have my students sit in a circle so they can see everyone in the class. Grand conversations work great when students are really listening and adding on to each other. A smart idea would be to review with them a sentence starters chart as a scaffold for their conversation. I found a great one on pinterest with conversational sentence starters:

grandcoversation chart

Here’s a quick chart I came up with to help set expectations:

photo 1 (30)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2) Make it mandatory for everyone to participate- A great tip that a colleague gave was to give each student 2 index cards. After they speak, they put the index card in front of them. Once they use up both index cards, they have to wait until everyone else shared to speak again. I tried this with my class and it really helped getting everyone to share. I loved seeing my more reluctant sharers really making meaningful contributions.

3) Use open ended questions to get the conversation started- Also, one thing I tried to do was to spice things up by making a few controversial statements (about the characters) that would allow for debate among the students. Here are some questions that you could use to start the discussion.

  • Who was your favorite character and why? Who was your least favorite character?
  • How did the characters change in the story?
  • What was your favorite part of the story and why?
  • What was the author trying to teach you through the story? What were the themes in the story and why?

As the facilitator, depending on the topic and students, if the conversation is not really going well or at a standstill, jump in by changing questions. Also, feel free to share your opinion about the topic.

4) Make sure there’s a lot to talk about- I’ve only done grand conversations in reading workshop, and make sure there’s enough content to talk about. One time, I did a grand conversation after a short picture book I read, and there wasn’t as much for the students to talk about for an extending period of time. Our grand conversation quickly flopped after about 10minutes. After that failure, I held another grand conversation after finishing our long read aloud chapter book, and the students had so much to talk about. My fifth graders were talking for a good 30 minutes.

5) Record it! – If you have an iPad, all you need to do is set it on a table next to where the students are sitting in a circle. Then, press record, and you can easily upload it to your class blog! If it goes well, you can use it as a example to show your students next year. Also, it’ll be a great way to motivate students to be extra focused and pay attention when they know they are being recorded. I have this iPad stand that I used to record:

photo 2 (28)

 

Have you tried grand conversations in your classroom? Do you have any other tips to add? I would love to hear them!

jeeyoung_signature

Top 3 Things I Learned from the Coaching Institute

This past January, I had an opportunity to go to NY to participate in the Teacher’s College Coaching Institute. Not only did I have this amazing professional opportunity, I got to go back home to NY! After traveling about 24 hours to get from Singapore to NY, I was glad to be greeted by my parents at the airport along with the colder winter weather. One of the best parts about this coaching institute is that we were able to be in the public schools and not only observe, but teach and coach. After 4 days, I came up with three big ideas that I took from the institute.

1) Frequent feedback- I was reminded over and over again about the importance of frequent effective feedback not only for our students, but for teachers as well. In order for students to grow, they need frequent feedback. They continued to reference John Hattie’s work in Visible Teaching for Teachers.John Hattie’s research continues to be huge in the education field right now. One of the top 10 factors that can positively influence student growth is feedback. John Hattie states the importance of powerful feedback that helps students grow and meet their goals. Therefore, it’s important to keep the mini-lesson truly mini. This allows teachers to spend more time conferring and doing small group instruction where students are getting that personalized feedback.

One point that stuck with me about feedback was the idea that as teachers, we need effective feedback as well. One of the staff developers shared that the powerful feedback she receives once a year from her boss, helps her last through the year. As teachers, we don’t necessarily need feedback every week, but when we get good feedback about our teaching, it can not only encourage us, but help us improve as well. How often do you get feedback about your teaching from your admin?

Feedback-for-Learning-Visible-Learning-John-Hattie-Infographic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taken from John Hattie’s Visible Learning website: http://visible-learning.org/2015/02/infographic-feedback-for-learning/

2) Faster planning- Another huge takeaway from me was the idea of faster planning for our lessons. On the second day of the institute, we were in the public schools. When we arrived, Mary E., the staff developer leading our cohort, gave us the schedule. We would observe her doing a lesson (which was amazing), than we would have about 30minutes to plan out our lessons, then we would be in the classrooms teaching. Even though we did break up parts of the lesson among the groups, I was surprised that we had such little time. Mary emphasized that it was not realistic to spend an hour planning for an hour lesson.

It was pretty great how we were able to plan the lessons so quickly, because we were given such time limits. Even though in reality we would have more time to plan our actual lessons, we did become more efficient and faster with our planning with the time limits given. I don’t think I have an answer to how to plan more quickly, as there are quite a few different factors to take into account, but there needs to more ways to be smarter with our planning without compromising the quality of our lessons. That’s something that’s still lingering in my mind…

3) Feet on the ground– The last big takeaway for me was the importance of getting into each other’s classrooms. I really loved being in the different classrooms and getting to observe and teach with other coaches and teachers from all over. Collaboration offers opportunities to learn from each other that doesn’t happen when we are isolated in our classroom. Some of the ways you can get your feet into each others classroom are walkthroughs, demo-lessons, or team teaching lessons.

However, it’s important that there is a culture of collaboration in the school, where teachers feel comfortable being in each other’s room, giving feedback, and working together. It is definitely not easy to open up your classroom to other teachers, and it takes a bit of vulnerability, and support from admin is crucial. And remember, it takes time to build that culture of collaboration, but start with small steps! It might just be observing another teacher for 15 minutes, but get yourself in other classrooms. A lot of fantastic learning is taking place and we should take more advantage of the opportunities to learn from our colleagues.

Stay tuned for more on some more practical classroom takeaways from the coaching institute!

jeeyoung_signature

A New Kind of Library

A good friend of ours in California, Mona, just introduced us to the little free library. And I absolutely love the idea! People are creating their own mini-library outside of their homes for people in their neighborhoods. It’s an honor system, where you keep the books inside and people are free to take a book and bring it back. Neighbors can also add books to the library as well. Also, you put a notebook inside, where people can leave comments on what they thought of the book. It can be a mix of adult and children’s books. I would totally start one if I didn’t live in an apartment building.  This video gives a brief explanation on this idea:

Story featuring Adison Schanie by Beargrass Media about the Little Free Library.

This movement is growing which you can see from this map. Not only are there free little libraries in the US, but all over the world! As of now, I don’t see any in Singapore, maybe it has to do with lack of front yards, but I’m hoping someone will start one soon.

Screen shot 2013-11-15 at 11.33.02 PM

Have you seen any of these little free libraries in your city? Do you plan on trying to start one in front of your home? Let us know! 🙂

signature

What are you reading?

It’s finally summer time for teachers, which means a lot of free time and hopefully time to rest and travel. One thing that I’m always telling my students is the importance of reading over the summer. So we create summer reading lists, book recommendations, and borrow a lot of books from our school library before the school year ends.

As a teacher I love having the time to catch up on my reading over the summer. I love going to Barnes & Noble and seeing the best sellers and books that are popular in the States.  This summer I’ve gotten some great recommendations that have helped me find some great reads!

Pie by Sarah Weeks

Pie

I just happen to know the author Sarah Weeks, who also wrote So B. It.  I was in her workshop on writing children’s picture books at the Reading & Writing Project Summer Institute this June. I will definitely be posting on that experience soon! This was a fun read, and I will definitely be recommending the book to my new 5th graders, especially if they like a good mystery and baking.

Divergent by Veronica Roth

divergent

I hadn’t heard of this series until my cousin mentioned it to me recently. I just started reading it and am having a harder time getting into it than The Hunger Games. The similar dystopian story line makes me appreciate the characters and storyline of The Hunger Games even more. It seems like this book is going to be turned into a movie as well, with Shailene Woodley as Tris. So if you want to be on the “in” when the movie comes out in March 2014, start reading!

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

The_Fault_in_Our_Stars

Another recommended book by a friend, I couldn’t put it down and read it in a few days. It’s a recent NY Times best seller and originally written for young adults. Yes, it’s a story about a 16-year-old girl with cancer, but it surprises you, makes you laugh out loud in a few places with it’s honesty and wit, and of course touches you deeply with tears. This book looks like it’s going to made into a movie in 2015 with Shailene Woodley (from Divergent) playing Hazel!

The Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri

unaccustomed_earth

I absolutely love Jhumpa Lahiri’s writing. Not only is she a graduate of my alma mater (Barnard), but she writes fictional short stories that I can easily identify and relate to as a Korean American, even though they are stories of Indian Americans.

Creating Innovators by Tony Wagner

Creating-Innovators-Tony-Wagner-thumb-300x300-914-thumb-300x300-915

I had the opportunity of hearing Tony Wagner give a keynote at the Reading and Writing Project Summer Institute. He was a dynamic speaker and he shared about his book. In the book he shared stories about the lives of people that have really become successful innovators. He interviewed them, their parents, and mentors. He shared how they all had these 3 key things: purpose, passion & play.

I enjoyed watching the links he had of short video clips of the people he wrote about. This book definitely had me thinking more deeply about how to help my students become innovators and the massive need to change in our education system if we really want to prepare them to be successful.

Leverage Leadership: A Practical Guide to Building Exceptional Schools by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo

leverage leadership

I mean with a title like that, how could you not buy it? What teacher doesn’t want their school to be exceptional? Paul Bambrick- Santoyo, who is a leader for Uncommon Schools, has written a few different books on education. I’ve always been really impressed with their charter schools. I had a chance to visit North Star Academy in Newark many years ago. I was able to sit down with Paul and hear about the amazing work this charter school was doing. Now, they have many schools across the nation in their network and I knew that the advice and ideas Paul had, whether it be on classroom management or professional development would be radical and effective.

What are some books that you are reading this summer? I’m always looking for good recommendations!

jeeyoung_signature

Classroom Makeover

I admit there are times where I’ve teared at the end of the Extreme Home Makeover when the family sees their amazing and dream like home after all the struggles they’ve gone through.  There’s something about the predictable formula of makeover shows that draws me in. Well, my classroom has slowly been having a makeover throughout the year, not quite as drastic as the makeovers on the TV show, but enough to make an impact on learning.

The past few weeks we’ve been doing a coaching cycle with our literacy coach, where we’ve done various walk throughs in classrooms. We’ve been going in small groups, looking at classroom charts, libraries and classroom setup. I absolutely love being able to see other classrooms. There are so many amazing teachers in my school, and I hardly ever get a chance to go into the classrooms of the other grades. I enjoyed having the chance to walk through classrooms from 3rd-8th grade.

It’s so interesting to see how other teachers set up the same amount of space that we’re given in our classroom. I was so impressed by all the creativity and uses of the spaces I saw. I felt very inspired to really reflect on my own classroom space and be more intentional with how I set things up. Here are a few reflections after my visits:

1. Create bold, visual and interactive charts. I decided to try to get more pictures and visuals with the text on my charts. Also, I used various colored post-its to make things pop out.  I have some interactive charts like the one that keeps progress on our book club groups. I love to go to chartchums when I need some inspiration on spicing up my charts!

DSC_0474 DSC_0460

2. Utilize the entire classroom space.  In my original classroom, I had wanted my meeting area in the back and it took up 2/3 of the space in the back with pockets of space not used for anything.  I changed my meeting area in the front, that way I can utilize my projector and document camera during my mini-lessons.

I also divided the back into two equal areas. I got a new table so I could do small group lessons there while keeping the library in the other half. My students and I are really enjoying the new set up!

DSC_0451 DSC_0448

3. Create more interactive bulletin boards. Again, I’m trying to be more intentional in how I use my classroom space including bulletin boards. On one section of the bulletin boards in the back of my classroom, I’m using to keep track of post-it notes that students do in reading workshop. I’m sorting them into categories we use: progressing, secure, & exceeds expectations. That way, students can see where they are in the spectrum and can help them push their thinking and writing to becoming in the secure and exceeds expectations categories.

We’ll continue to add post-it notes as we continue through our fantasy unit. You can see the post-its hanging in the picture above. I got this great idea from another fabulous 5th grade teacher on my team, Kate!

How do you utilize your classroom space effectively? What tips can you share? When was the last time you visited another colleagues classroom for ideas? 

signature