Educator Spotlight: Rachel Harder

Today we are excited to welcome 4th grade teacher Rachel Harder to the #MGBookVillage as part of our month-long celebration of educators! 

Please tell us about yourself!

I am finishing up my 16th year of teaching, although I’m not sure how and when that happened. My teaching experience includes teaching English for a year in Lithuania, ESOL for 5 years in Minnesota, and am currently completing year 10 of teaching 4th grade in Kansas. I am currently a 4th grade ELA teacher at Union Valley Elementary in Hutchinson, Kansas. When I am not at school, I am spending time at home with my husband and my 5 year old twins. Or I’m at the library or my local bookstore. Or there’s a good chance I’m napping, too.

What are some of your favorite middle grade books or authors?

 My favorites change as I read and depending on what my heart needs. But, some of the books I find myself regularly recommending to students and adults are:

  • Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate (Kek won my heart from the moment he boarded that flying boat.)
  • Some Kind of Courage by Dan Gemeinhart (I adore Ah-Kee and his compassion, yet he says nothing in the entire book. My students and I agree that Dan needs to write a sequel about Ah-Kee’s journey.)
  • It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel by Firoozeh Dumas (A book automatically wins me over when I laugh out loud and cry within a few pages.)
  • Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl (Anyone that writes about characters delicately picking their nose is a winner.)


Tell us about your classroom library!

When I first started teaching, my classroom library was made up of a comfy bathtub and two bookshelves. The books were organized by Lexile (cringe) and were marked on the spine if there was a Reading Counts! test on that book (oh Sweet-Heaven-On-A-Biscuit, DH8c6MBVwAAQPaUI’m so sorry children). Since then, as my understanding of readers and teaching and learning and choice and access and book love has changed, so has my library. My Book Nook does not mention tests or levels or too hard or too easy or points or reports. My hope is that it reflects book love and happiness and choice and access and acceptance and some glimpses into what heaven could be like. I want every student to experience that feeling of “just-one-more-chapter” and I hope every student tries to sneak an open book onto their lap while I’m teaching (don’t tell them this though- they think it’s hilarious when their reading teacher tells them to stop reading). This, however, is a never-ending task. As my students and the world changes, as do the books I put on my shelves. Some years, I need more books about World War II, while another year I need more books about farting and poop (okay, every year). This year, I need more graphic novels and novels in verse and books with Spanish words. And, I’ll keep filling my shelves with books. Because, how can I say, “No”?


Are you connected with authors online? How do you incorporate authors in your classroom?

Twitter is the best way to connect with author and illustrators. My first class had the awesome opportunity to Skype with Jon Klassen after they became obsessed with I Want My Hat Back. Before this, I was always hesitant to Skype, as I worried about the technology not working or it just being an all-around disaster (read: endless dabbing and other shenanigans by ecstatic children). However, I found out that we would be Skyping with him within thirty minutes and I didn’t really have time to overthink and perseverate about all that could go wrong. Ever since then, I try to connect with an author several times a year, depending on which books my students and I have read. Global Read Aloud, World Read Aloud Day, and March Book Madness have created awesome opportunities for us to talk with and learn from some of our favorite authors.

A few years ago, some coworkers and I started up nErDcampKS, an off-shoot of the original Michigan nErDcamp. Because of this, I have had the opportunity to connect with even more authors, especially with more authors that are located in the Midwest. This year, we have 15 authors coming as well as Christine Taylor-Butler and Donalyn Miller as keynote speakers. It’s conferences like this one that provide me with even more ways to incorporate authors and their books into my classroom.


What are the “hot” books in your classroom right now?

This year, our most favorite seem to be:

What are some of your favorite reading-related projects or activities to do with your students?
If time allows, I love providing time for students to do a Novel Engineering project with something that they have been reading about.  Novel Engineering is a way for students to reflect on their learning and reading in a hands-on way- think MakerSpace/STEM.  There is a C94P18-UQAAYMMEwebsite ( that provides ideas of books that may work for students to read and then create a contraption to help the character solve a problem in the book and, therefore, change the plot of the story.  I have done this several times and I have never seen students more engaged and talking about texts than when we have done a Novel Engineering Project.  I have done projects using picture books, chapter books, and stories from our reading series–it works with all of them.  In other instances, I have them design contraptions but not build them (due to time restraints).  I conference with students while they are designing and building and I am immediately aware who needs more support with the text! When they are done building, students share with peers and explain how their contraption would help the characters.  They also share something that they are proud of, something that was challenging, and something they would like to improve.   No need for any written assessments, as their device and explanation are all the information I need!

What’s the most recent book you’ve read about teaching?

My beloved mailman just delivered Help for Billy by Heather T. Forbes. My district is 51DtPvrOiLL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_working on moving from a trauma-informed to a trauma-responsive school and this book has been recommended over and over by my coworkers. Although I love reading books about reading instruction and conferencing, I am learning what a huge role trauma and stress play in the lives of my students. I would love for my students to learn how to deal with some of their trauma by watching how the characters in their books respond.


You can connect withunnamed-1 Rachel on Twitter at @rbharder and on the NErDCampKS website.





Want more inspiration? Check out the other #MGEducators interviews and guests posts!






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