Educator Spotlight: Amber Kuehler

In the Educator Spotlight today –  4th grade teacher Amber Kuehler! 

Please tell us about yourself!

My name is Amber Kuehler and I am wrapping up my fifth year in fourth grade in West Des Moines, IA! Next year I will be moving into a new position in the same building and will be teaching fifth grade reading, science and math. I am so excited!

I have been married for four years and we have a two-year-old daughter that is as obsessed with books as I am (I LOVE IT!). I have always been a city girl (despite living in Iowa…) but we just bought an acreage outside of Des Moines and so far I am loving country life.

Teaching is a second career for me and switching careers to education has been one of the best decisions I have ever made. I love just about everything about my job. The kids keep life interesting on a daily basis, I regularly feel rewarded and valued and my job will always be a challenge because it is never done and always evolving.

I have always been a reader. From a young age, my parents fostered a love of reading and we were never left without books in our house. My childhood was filled with trips to the library and the bookstore and I am so grateful for that gift. I can still remember begging my mom to stop at the book store on her way home from work to buy me the latest Fear Street book (true story, right mom?).

As a child, I loved Amelia Bedelia and Encyclopedia Brown. From there, I discovered Charlotte’s Web and Roald Dahl after my teacher read aloud James and the Giant Peach. After that I discovered my characters could live longer in series and I fell in love with the Sweet Valley Twins (which continued with Sweet Valley High) and the Babysitter’s Club books. After that, I loved R.L. Stine (Goosebumps and Fear Street) and Christopher Pike books. I also went through a phase where I couldn’t get enough of Lurlene McDaniel books (and apparently crying my eyes out because they were so sad!).

Reading has always been a huge part of my life and is somewhat of a hobby for me. I love reading and collecting books and I especially love passing that love on to others.

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

Oh, boy.  It’s SO hard to pick favorites because I am such a mood reader. My favorite genre is historical fiction and I LOVE Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan, The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, and Some Kind of Courage by Dan Gemeinhart.

Other favorites are Sticks and Stones by Abby Cooper (I’ve read it aloud two years in a row now!), Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling and Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed. I like books with serious themes and that really stick with me over time  – which is probably why I love historical fiction so much!

I tend to read mostly middle grade, but I do read a few adult and young adult novels as well! I recently discovered Neal Shusterman and am floored with how good his books are!

Tell us about your classroom library!

My classroom library is constantly evolving. Books are my weakness and I love adding books to my library. Before I became a teacher, I bought a ton of adult books that just sat Screen Shot 2018-05-15 at 11.29.44 PM.pngon my shelves at home when I finished them and I rarely used the library. Now that I’m a teacher, I cannot justify purchasing too many adult books that just on my shelves at home. Now I tend to use that money for children’s books that will be used often! If I own young adult books, they always get sent to my friends that teach in the middle schools. In the past few years I have become really obsessed with getting books out and in the hands of kids or others. What is the point of them just sitting on your shelves at home?? Besides looking pretty of course…

My classroom library is organized by genre and I have three library helpers that help keep the library organized each day. I do use a checkout system, where the kids just fill out a form for what book they have and the librarians make sure it gets returned. My classroom librarians are amazing and are so organized!  

How do you stay “in the know” about new/upcoming books (are there tools, people, sites you regularly rely on)?

I love staying active on Twitter and Instagram. I’m an avid user of Goodreads as well. I love seeing what books other educators are talking about online and adding them to my own ginormous TBR (to be read) pile.

I found the majority of my friends online through Nerd Camp, which is an event every year in Parma, Michigan. After the first year I attended I felt the urge to maintain that momentum and spirit that I felt at Nerd Camp and keeping in touch with everyone online has really helped! I am so grateful to all the people in the Nerdy community because they have inspired me to be the best reading educator I can be!

How do you share your own love of reading with your students?

I post what I am reading and what I just finished on my door. This allows students to see what I’m reading and connect with me over books. Most of the books I read are books Screen Shot 2018-05-15 at 11.29.53 PM.pngthat will end up in our classroom library so it is not uncommon for students to ask me if they can have a book when I am done with it!

I constantly have books with me and there are piles of them around my room! My kids know that I don’t go anywhere without a book and they have even tried to do the same. I have even had to stop them from trying to bring books on their field trips!

What are some of your favorite read-alouds?  Why?

I love Dan Gemeinhart books for read alouds because the chapters always end on cliff hangers and keep the kids begging for more! My favorites to read aloud are Some Kind of Courage and The Honest Truth. Another favorite read aloud is Sticks and Stones by Abby Cooper. I just love the message in that book. The main character, Elyse, has a fictional disease where words that others say about her end up on her skin like temporary tattoos, but they itch like mosquito bites. It is such a good symbol for when we let others’ words hurt us.

How do you encourage less-than-enthusiastic readers?

I do my best to get to know students and offer suggestions without cramming it down their throat. I don’t want to be too overbearing, but I am honest with kids and they know my goal is to turn them into a reader. I noticed a “reluctant” reader on Friday finishing Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate and he had that focused look on his face that said I’m-reading-don’t-you-dare-mess-with-me and I about cried. When I went to pull another Katherine Applegate book for him, I realize he had already read The One and Only Ivan AND Wishtree and I about cried again! My job with him is definitely not done, but a little bit of a wall has broken down and that makes me so happy.

With kids that are less-than-enthusiastic I tend to pull out audiobooks and instead of small group lessons, we will spend time listening to the book and following along. I will often stop the audio to pull out a word or two (which they hate when I do that because they want to keep listening) but other than that, the lesson is truly just about enjoying a book. Strangely enough, playing an audiobook in the classroom with a small group while the rest of the class is working keeps everyone pretty quiet. You would think the opposite would be true (because we don’t wear headphones) but I think students like to hear the audio playing during reading workshop!

Audiobooks are always my secret that I’m really to share freely. They give access to students that would not have access otherwise.


Screen Shot 2018-05-15 at 11.30.43 PMYou can find Amber on her website Teachers Who Read  and connect with her on Twitter (@iowaamber), Instagram (@iowaamber), and Facebook.      

 

 

 

 

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Educator Spotlight: Aliza Werner

In the Educator Spotlight today –  3th grade teacher Aliza Werner! 

Please tell us about yourself!

My name is Aliza Werner (pronounced Aleeza) and I have been teaching since 2005. Currently, I teach third grade in Glendale, Wisconsin, in the district in which I grew up! I serve on the Wisconsin State Reading Association’s Children’s Literature Committee and I write for the collaborative education blog Classroom Communities (classroomcommunities.com). I am a Curriculum Writer at Milwaukee Film and do year-round work on their Education and Children’s Film Screening Committees. My husband and I love to travel the world…Indonesia to Ireland, Peru to Portugal. We are dog parents to the world’s sassiest wheaten terrier, Liffey. I am a reader, photographer, baseball fan, Boston U. alum, and hot sauce connoisseur. I am passionate about building diverse classroom libraries that provide all children with windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors, and I am a fierce advocate for choice, access, and time to read.

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

You should really sit down…this could take awhile! We are living in a golden age of children’s literature, which is getting more diverse and inclusive every day. My favorite middle grade authors write books that stay with me long after I’ve closed their covers: Katherine Applegate, Jason Reynolds, Kate DiCamillo, Dan Gemeinhart, Jacqueline Woodson, Nora Raleigh Baskin, Kwame Alexander, Laurel Snyder, Elana K. Arnold, Debbi Michiko Florence, Cynthia Lord, and Celia Perez. Some of my all time favorite middle grade books, including some very recent reads, are: The Honest Truth, The Wild Robot, Ghost (Track series), Because of Winn-Dixie, Tuck Everlasting, The One and Only Ivan, El Deafo, Brown Girl Dreaming, Three Pennies, and Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to The World.

What was your favorite book as a child?  Why did you love it so much?

The first book I ever loved was The Little Engine That Could. My parents claim I had it memorized by the time I was three. The repetition of lines, persistence of the characters to get over the mountain, and the “I think I can” mantra was engaging and inspiring to me. Everyone needs a steadfast friend like the Little Blue Engine, literally pulling for them. Most importantly, I heard this story over and over again sitting on the laps of my parents, who never told me I had to go choose another book.

How do you create a culture of reading in your classroom or school?

A culture of literacy starts with the lead learner…me. My students know from before day one, when they stop by at our late summer meet & greet, that “reading is what we do here”. As soon as my students enter my classroom, and see our library as the heart of it, they know that reading is more than a compartmentalized section of our academic day. Screen Shot 2018-05-15 at 10.56.01 PMAs they explore the classroom library and find that their lives, cultures, and experiences are represented there, they become a part of our community of readers. Above all, I value each reader where he or she is on their literacy journey. Some are voracious bookworms and others just haven’t found the right book yet. Children often value what we praise. So if we saturate our days in positive and engaging literacy experiences, more often than not, they want to come along for the ride. I share my reading life by displaying my current book by my “What is Mrs. Werner Reading?” sign, post book covers on a hallway display to track my reading throughout the year, share my authentic reading experiences with my students, post book covers of all the books we’ve read together, share student recommendations via Flipgrid, display student-created books in our library, give student-led book talks, keep TBR lists, use audiobooks and digital reading. We communicate with authors via Twitter and “meet” them through Skype sessions. We hold an annual Read In. We read picture books every day and end our day with a chapter book read aloud. We go beyond the curriculum to participate in The Global Read Aloud, March Book Madness, World Read Aloud Day, Mock Caldecott, and Poem in Your Pocket Day. We live and breathe reading moments into everything we do.

How do you make sure that the books your students have access to reflect the diversity of our world?

My number one goal as I continually build my classroom library is to add positive and diverse representations of my students and humankind beyond our classroom walls. It is vital that educators consider that diversity goes beyond race and ethnicity. Diversity includes religion, ability/disability, family structures, gender and sexual identity, culture, and more. I am inspired by the young people in front of me every day, and I reflect on this question: Do I have books in my classroom that are mirrors for every child? My Jewish and Muslim kids? The child whose parents are divorcing? The child with two moms? The child who immigrated? The child who has autism? The child who smashes gender norms? The child in foster care? My students’ lives and experiences motivate the new purchases I make for our library. Through my work on the state reading committee, social media, literary organizations and websites, and educator and author friends in my network, I learn about up and coming books, along with treasured titles. It is absolutely vital that the books we share and celebrate include #OwnVoices authors and represent more than a single story whenever possible.

Take a picture of something in your classroom and tell us the story behind it.

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This photo represents everything I love about my new morning routine this year. We call it “Spark & Shine!” After years of struggling with what to do for morning work, I heard about the concept of soft starts. This allows students the chance to start their day the way they want, collaboratively or individually. As adults, we start our day by grabbing coffee, chatting with colleagues, listening to music. Most of us don’t dive into work immediately, especially not with a packet of pre-assigned, undifferentiated work. If I need this daily warm up and wake up, wouldn’t the kids need it, too? Each day my students decide on a choice with the guidelines that they must “Read, Build, Create, Make, Design, Solve, or Explore”. Ever since starting Spark & Shine, my students are excited to arrive at school. They race into the room knowing they can build and create or have a quiet moment to themselves. Some things they have done this year: made slime, built a two-story cardboard castle, stop motion movies, made bath fizzies, origami, Tinkertoys, Legos, IO Blocks, dominoes track designs, cup stacking, making graphic novels, puzzles, spin art, and researching/observing animal bones found outside to identify an animal (as seen in the photo). This way of starting the day also gives me a chance to play and spend time with my kids, starting our day in a fun and positive way.

How do you encourage less-than-enthusiastic readers?

Encouraging our readers is all about patience, connection, and scaffolding. Often our students who view reading as a chore haven’t found a book yet in their reading
experience that grabs their heart, mind, and soul. It takes building a relationship with that student to research why they are resistant to reading. Is it because they need to hone their book selecting skills or reading habits? Are they yearning for a mirror book, but not finding it? Are life challenges causing them to neglect reading? Once I discover the root of the roadblock, it is much easier to seek out solutions. At any chance I get, I build up these students’ positive experiences around reading. I’ll buy a certain book I hope will hook them and select them as the first reader. Connecting a student to an author can often motivate them. Entice them with a shared reading to start a book, or a first chapter read aloud. Audiobooks and graphic novels are excellent ways to hook readers and bridge them to a world of reading.

What advice would you give new teachers?

I will never forget my first year of teaching. I remember the nerve-wracking interview process, getting the call that the job was mine, setting up my 7th grade classroom, and then thinking…wait, how do I do this?! How do I actually teach? When I look back on my first year, it was filled with countless mistakes, endless hours of prep and grading, and self doubt. But we all have to start somewhere, and teaching is an art and science that takes years to master, though we never do entirely. My advice to brand new teachers:

  1. Focus on relationships with your students first. With every single child. Academics second. It makes all the difference to invest in those bonds.
  2. Accept and embrace that you are always learning in this profession.
  3. Find your passion within the profession so you can do heartwork, not have-to-work.
  4. Read. Read. Read. And then read some more. And write.
  5. Self care, above all. Leave the grading at school. Don’t check your email before bed. Do things that make you happy and healthy. Go travel and have life experiences that fill you up. You’ll be a better teacher for it.

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You can find Aliza’s website at classroomcommunities.com and connect with her on Twitter at @alizateach

 

 

 

 

 

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Educator Spotlight: Andrea Childes

In the Educator Spotlight today –  5th grade teacher Andrea Childes! 

Please tell us about yourself!

Hello! I’m Andrea and I am currently a fifth-grade teacher. I have been teaching for six years. I have almost taught every grade, but there are still a couple I haven’t taught yet (at the elementary level). I started my teaching career as a long-term sub in a Kindergarten class and was hired as a teacher the following school year. I got to loop with my Kindergarteners to first grade. I then taught first grade for two years, then moved to sixth grade for two years, and landed in the fifth which I have been teaching for two years. WOW!!!! Now the most exciting part is I get to get my feet wet in fourth grade next school year!!!

I have been married to my husband for 2 years, but we have been together for 13 years. We have four children who keep us busy, so I always have a book on hand for what run we’re making to someone’s practice. My oldest loves graphic novels, my 10-year-old reads anything and everything, and my two little ones love their bedtime stories.

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

My favorite middle-grade authors are R.L. Stine. I grew up reading Goosebump books and loved all of them. I was a big fan of scary stories. Dav Pilkey and his Dog Man series because he has inspired some of my most reluctant readers to read.  Katherine Applegate because her books deal with situations that tug at the heartstrings and get the conversations stirring in my classroom. And, Kate Messner because all her books keep you guessing how the book will end.

Tell us about your classroom library!

My classroom library is literally the heart of my room. When parents and students walk into my room, they are amazed at the number of books and the set up of my library. All IMG_4466my books are separated into categories that range from subject, series, author, and genre. I like this setup because I can easily find where a book is in my library. My students think it is amazing how they ask if I have a book and I can tell them exactly where the book is located. I currently have around 60 ish different categories in my library. Every book is labeled with a number on the back of the book that tells my students where the book goes on the shelf. At the end of every school year, I like to weed out old books or books no one has touched to make room for new books the following school year. I have about 1,900 books at this time (this number will continue to grow each year). My library will continue to grow as long as my students request books and books continue to be published. I like to keep my library up to date with newly published books. I have funded my entire library. I try to order from Scholastic every two months and I have so far been able to get two Donors Choose projects funded to get new books into my classroom library. I believe the classroom library is so important. I could and would teach a college class on how to build, grow, and organize a classroom library.

 

How do you get books for your classroom?

I get a lot of my books from Scholastic. I also take advantage of the coupons my students don’t use, Scholastic points, and free book when you purchase a certain dollar amount. Some of my new releases come from Barnes and Noble (because sometimes it takes awhile for Scholastic to get the books) and Amazon because with Prime who could resist the free shipping.  Donors Choose is also a good place to create a project for new books. People out in the world love to donate to project for books. I have had two projects funded for new books in my classroom. I have also been very lucky to have a few authors contact me wanting to send a copy of their new book to my students. I like to let my students know that if they are ever cleaning out their bookshelves at home that I would be more than happy to have their books in my classroom library. So far, I have had students donate their old books to my library.

How do you stay “in the know” about new/upcoming books (are there tools, people, sites you regularly rely on)?

I follow several authors on Instagram and Twitter. They want to get the word out about the upcoming release date for their new books so I tend to stalk them :). I follow several book loving teachers and friends on both Instagram and Twitter. SO, social media keeps me in the know. Goodreads is a great place to find out when books are published. I search 2018 middle-grade book releases as an example and just scroll the list of books I’m interested in reading. Always remember to add them to your Goodreads list so you can come be them later once they’re published.

This is my current book stack of all the books I want to read 🙂 #TBRPILE

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What does your literacy instruction look like?

My literacy instruction follows the workshop model. My district uses Lucy Calkins’ Units of Study for reading and writing. I start with my read aloud. Sometimes it’s a book my students have voted on and other times if the books that are used in the Units of Study. Next in my mini-lesson that lasts for about 10 minutes or less. This is where I teach my students what skill I want them to do while they are reading for the day. I give them time during my mini-lesson for them to try out the skill with a partner before going off to independently read. This also gives me a chance to see who is able to do the skill and who still needs guided practice with a small group. At the end, I send them off with a skill they can use to become better readers. Independent reading time in my classroom is the most important part of your literacy block. This is my student’s time to grow as readers and for me to bounce around to conference and pull small groups.

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

Amulet series, Book Scavenger, Wishtree, The War the Saved my Life, The Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus,  Bubbles, Tumble and Blue, Smart Cookie, Refugee, The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street, Dog Man

What are some of your favorite reading-related projects or activities to do with your students?

Book Stack Book Swap— This activity I got from a teacher on Instagram. After I get to know my students for the first couple of days of school, I can tell what books they would like to read (lol it’s my superpower). I go through my library picking at least five books for each student and place the books on their desk. They look through their stack and decide what books they want to read and what books they want to swap. Students can swap a book with another student or from the class library. At the end, they have built a TBR list and they choose three books to keep in their book boxes.

Classroom Library Scoot— This activity is from Stacey Riedmiller (Literacy for Big Kids). She has created an activity to get students familiar with their classroom library. This is my favorite activity because of all the different tasks the students have to do. One task being what published has the best smelling books! My students never hesitate to smell a good book :)!

Author Study Project–This project is part of Lucy Calkins’ If…. Then… Book for reading. I teach my students how to become a fan of an author. I teach this unit at the end of the year. Following the lessons, each student chooses an author to become a fan of and at the end they create a presentation for the about that author. Students all build their summer reading list off of the other presentations. Win Win!!!!

Book Talk Fridays— Every Friday during morning meeting we do a book talk. Students book talk a book they are reading that they think others should read. I also book talk any new books I have gotten for the class or ARCs that I have been sent! Students then add to their TRB list. 

unnamed-5.jpgYou can find Andrea on Instagram at @theliteracyjunky and on Twitter at @LiteracyJunky.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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 (www.novelengineering.org) 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.

 

 

 

 

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Educator Spotlight: Ginger Healy

Today we are excited to welcome 5th grade teacher Ginger Healy to the #MGBookVillage as part of our month-long celebration of educators! 

Please tell us about yourself!

Hello, everybody! I am an Los Angeles native and fifth grade teacher. I teach at an independent school in Los Angeles that happens to also be my alma mater. It’s such a privilege to contribute to our school community as a faculty member after spending my childhood learning, exploring, and growing up on the same campus. As a fifth grade homeroom teacher, I get to teach reading, writing, math, and social studies, as well as coaching my students through the many other life lessons and moments that young people face. Watching them grow leaps and bounds as individuals is my favorite part of the job. I am motivated every day by my incredible teaching team, who are three of my favorite people and some of my best friends. I’ve always identified as a reader and a writer. I have a million stories in my head and would love to [finish] drafting one of them one of these days to share my stories with the world. I am mommy to a 4-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter, and wife to my sweet and supportive husband. I mustn’t forget my kitty, who much prefers I focus on him rather than my books after the kids are in bed for the night.

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

Teaching fifth grade reinvigorated my reading life, as I rediscovered middle grade fiction. It helped me realize that my upper elementary years were when I read the most in my life. My parents had to drag me out of bed and away from my books in the morning to get ready for school. As a child, I loved Mary Downing Hahn’s spooky stories and read every single story in the Babysitters Club series.

As an adult middle grade fiction reader, I am particularly drawn to realistic fiction stories that focus on building empathy. Lynda Mullaly Hunt and Kwame Alexander’s books come to mind as favorites. My students and I have been captivated by Alan Gratz’s books. His stories are equal parts intense as they are relatable with painful historical moments as backdrops. Refugee absolutely knocked my socks off. I love the works of authors Elaine Vickers, Elly Swartz, and Abby Cooper, who have also become very sweet social media friends of mine. Each of their stories are sweet and poignant without being heavy handed, which I appreciate. Some other favorites are Wonder, The Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade, The Ethan I Was Before, The Thing About Leftovers, Ghost, The Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus, and The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street. All wonderful, delicious, powerful, meaningful stories.

What professional development book influenced you most as a teacher?

I am forever indebted to my close forever friend and fellow fifth grade teacher Stacy who first introduced me to Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer. She read it over the summer one year and told me about it with true wonder in her eyes. I quickly ordered both The Book Whisperer and Reading in the Wild and the rest is history. My teaching hasn’t been the same since. Donalyn’s philosophies of cultivating readers rather than teaching dry and abstract teaching strategies was transformative. All of a sudden, something clicked and I realized that my goal needed to be focusing on Donalyn’s principles and helping my students achieve the following: to carve out time for reading, to self-select their own reading material, to make reading plans, and develop reading communities. These ideas go hand-in-hand with lots of overlap from one to the next. Infusing your classroom with a culture of reading is much easier than it seems thanks to the almighty Book Whisperer. Talk about a life-changer!

How do you share your own love of reading with your students?

As soon as I rediscovered the magic of middle grade books as an adult, I started reading a ton, finishing one or two books a week. Collecting, sharing, and recommending books with my students brings me serious joy. I keep a sign on my classroom door stating the book I’m currently reading and a short TBR (“to be read”) list of four books on deck. Also on this sign is a count of the number of chapter books I have read so far this school year. My students see that I maintain strong reading habits and that I have an active reading life. As I finish new books, I bring them into the classroom, book talk them to an excited class of students who then scramble to put their name in the book raffle that I conduct. The students then pass the book from person to person, and talk of these many books buzzes around our class, our reading community.

During the early weeks of the school year, I conduct reading interviews with my students and take notes of their reading preferences. That gives me a baseline of information about each of them as a reader. I spend the rest of the year keeping note of the books they’re reading and having casual conversations with them about their books. In my classroom is a constant discussion about books.

On Fridays, I read aloud the first chapter of a book, a ritual we call “First Chapter Fridays.” My students beg me to choose their favorite books for FCF the rest of the week, and I do my best to accommodate their requests. I choose books that are not in wide circulation, or books that have been highly anticipated.

The goal, of course, is for students to be able to select their own books and in order to do that, they must have a strong sense of their own reading preferences. These casual and formal conversations about books are aimed to strengthen this skill set and self-awareness.

How do you make sure that the books your students have access to reflect the diversity of our world?

 

This is the most important part of our work as teachers. Representation is everything. Every single one of our students needs to see themselves in their classroom library. As Donalyn Miller says in her books, the classroom library is like a 512oDHMswYL._SX389_BO1,204,203,200_garden. It needs tending. That means I make every effort to remove books that have gotten stale and are no longer exciting to the students. I make sure that new editions to the classroom library represent a diversity of narratives and viewpoints. We Need Diverse Books is a fantastic initiative that I fully support. I love the lists WNDB puts out regularly and add those books to my library. Marley Diaz’s book Marley Diaz Gets it Done: And So Can You is a hot book in my classroom. Marley discusses the importance of representation in classroom libraries and motivates young people through her guide to activism. She’s an inspiration. I have learned that it is important to make the implicit explicit to students. We talk about representation in our books and why it’s critically important.

How has your philosophy of teaching changed since you first became a teacher?
When I was just starting out as wee-20-something-year-old teacher, I stuck to strict schedules for myself and took notes on every little thing. I expected that every lesson would be perfect. I was tough on myself if my lesson didn’t go as well as planned. Over the years, I still take copious notes and have high standards for myself, but have learned not to sweat the small stuff. When getting to know my students, I see the long-term and short-term goals for each student and focus on those. In becoming a parent, I saw firsthand how powerful positive messaging from a teacher can be. Parents and students need to know their teacher is a team player and that we care about them, above all else. If the lesson doesn’t go as planned, it’s okay! There will be many, many lessons to follow. We don’t expect perfection from our students, so we shouldn’t expect perfection from ourselves. Constantly reflecting on what works and what doesn’t, what’s important and what isn’t, alongside my team, makes me proud of the work I do.

How do you encourage less-than-enthusiastic readers?

Graphic novels! They are the magic wand that get reluctant readers to read, read, read. Not only do graphic novels provide fun and colorful reading experiences, they are fast reads. Students who are not excited about reading see that they are capable of finishing a book in a day, which boosts their reading confidence. If a student struggles with reading comprehension, the picture is right there to help them interpret and think deeply about the story. Win-win-win. Every fall, I meet students who don’t love reading yet, and every year those students grab onto graphic novels with enthusiasm. These same readers transition to traditional prose, and oftentimes they reread Raina Telgemeier’s novels over and over again. As long as they’re reading, it’s all good.

Another strategy is handing them The Crossover by Kwame Alexander. A novel in verse (ie, also a quick read) that pulls at the heart-strings with basketball as the throughline? Come on. It’s a slam dunk every time.


IMG_2737You can find Ginger on Twitter at @books_ghealy and on her website here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Educator Spotlight: Katie Reilley

Today we are excited to welcome 4th and 5th grade teacher Katie Reilley to the #MGBookVillage as part of our month-long celebration of educators! 

Please tell us about yourself!

I am a fourth and fifth grade ELA teacher from Elburn, Illinois, a proud mom to two amazing daughters, ages 13 and 9, and have been married to a wonderful husband for 17 unnamedyears. I’m a member of the group #bookexpedition , a group of teachers, librarians and authors who read and review ARCs and newly released middle grade books. I’m also happy to be part of the #classroombookaday community, and I love to learn alongside my students and fellow educators. I have been teaching for twenty-one years, and my passion is getting books into the hands of my students. Recently, I was nominated for the Kane County Elementary Educator of the Year. This summer, I hope to see fellow nerdy friends at the Scholastic Reading Summit in Chicago, nErDcampMI, and at the NCTE convention in Houston in the fall.

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

My favorite middle grade books and authors vary from year to year depending on my students’ reading lives. This year, Alan Gratz’s Ban This Book and Refugee were very popular with my fourth and fifth graders. I can’t keep anything by Kwame Alexander on my bookshelf. Leslie Connor’s All Rise for the Honorable Perry T Cook and The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle were also well-loved by my fifth graders, and my fourth graders could not get enough of Victoria J Coe’s Fenway and Hattie series. During October, Lindsay Currie’s The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street was perfect for students to read. My fifth grade book club devoured Aven’s story in The Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling. Students who loved how Wonder was told with multiple perspectives liked the same style in Rob Buyea’s The Perfect Score. My fourth grade students are just discovering Phil Bildner’s Rip and Red series and blowing through it. Both grade levels have loved the Track series by Jason Reynolds and are begging me to buy Sunny so they can continue. Graphic novels are always a hit, and favorite authors include Raina Telgemeier, Judd Winick, Dav Pilkey, Jennifer L Holm, Ben Hatke, and Kazu Kibuishi.

 

What are some of your favorite read alouds? Why?

We started the school year with Abby Cooper’s Sticks and Stones because she was coming for an author visit in September. Students loved the magical realism aspect of this one and enjoyed watching Elyse grow and change throughout the story.

Next we read The Wild Robot by Peter Brown for our Global Read Aloud. Students loved the idea of a robot with wild animals as friends and family and could not wait for its sequel, which we are currently reading aloud. They also loved connecting with other classes who read this for GRA and have continued to be postcard friends with students at a school in Canada.

Then we read Katherine Applegate’s Wishtree, and students fell in love with Red and her animal companions. They especially liked how the animals were named and the message of acceptance that the story wove.

Another favorite read aloud was EngiNerds by Jarrett Lerner. What’s not to love about a farting robot who shoots out turd missiles and a dog named Kitty? Students could also relate to the “stemmy” feel this book had and are anxiously awaiting book two.

Just Like Jackie by Lindsey Stoddard was really loved, too. Students had great conversations about Jackie’s behavior and choices in the book, and they learned via Robinson, what Alzheimer’s disease can do to a family.

How do you stay “in the know” about new/upcoming books (are there tools, people, sites you regularly rely on)?

I am so grateful to the Nerdy Book Club for keeping me in the loop with new “must-reads.” I heavily rely on their daily blog posts for book suggestions and author interviews to share with my students. I also use John Schu’s Book release calendar to help guide my new book purchases. Other must follows in the bookish community include Pernille Ripp, Colby Sharp, Donalyn Miller, the BooksBetween podcast, and MG Book Village. I’m also very grateful to be part of the #bookexpedition group as we read and discuss advanced reader copies of new middle grade novels. Being part of this group as helped me communicate, collaborate, and create in a way that I was not able to do before, and it is truly benefiting my students.

Take a picture of something in your classroom and tell us the story behind it.

IMG_2655

This is a photo of my #classroombookaday table. The images that created it came from last year’s #classroombookaday board that hung in the hallway. Near the end of the year, each of my 5th grade students chose two of their favorite picture books that we had read. I added a few books to cover the black spaces, then we arranged them onto the table and Mod Podged it all together, adding a final coat of epoxy spray paint to the top. It has held up well this year, and my current students love to look at the books on it, and my past students love to come back to visit it!

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This is a photo of our classroom wishtree. Last year I had a student named Nola whose favorite book was The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate . Early on in the year, we read Home of the Brave, and Nola said it changed her as a reader. When I got a copy of a Wishtree ARC, I knew Nola would be the next reader after me. After Nola had finished the book, she asked to meet me at a local ice cream place to give me something. That something turned out to be a large wishtree (on poster board) that she had created for my next year’s class. Fast forward to this school year, and both Nola and I were fortunate enough to hear Katherine Applegate speak. During her talk, she asked the audience to make three wishes: one for themselves, one for someone else, and one for the world. I loved that idea so much, that after I read Wishtree to my students, they did just that. The result is our beautiful classroom wishtree that was started for me by Nola, a great reader and an even better kid.

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

IMG_2646I feel so fortunate that my students are able to connect with many authors and illustrators via Twitter and Instagram. Each time we read a book for #classroombookaday , we tweet the author and illustrator with our thoughts about the book. Most times, we get a response by the end of the day, and students are so excited to hear what the authors and illustrators have to say in
reply. Authors and illustrators are incredibly generous people, and many have sent my students book swag such as bookmarks and buttons, as thanks for reading their books. These connections make students feel as if they know the authors personally, and I’d say students are now so much more invested in looking to see if they recognize author or illustrator names on the books we read based on those connections. It’s great to hear them say things like, “When is Ame’s next book coming out?” or “Can you ask Josh to tell us more about the third Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast book?”

Skyping with authors is also something my students love to do. Jarrett Learner read a book (via Skype) with both my 4th and 5th grade classes during World Read Aloud Day, and that was IMG_8599incredible. Later this month my 5th grade students are going to Skype with Diane Magras who wrote The Mad Wolf’s Daughter, and they are very excited about asking her questions about her story.

We’ve also been very fortunate to have authors come talk with the fourth and fifth graders at myschool. Last year Liesl Shurtliff came and spent the morning sharing her writing process and information about her books Rump, Jack and Red. She even gave students a tiny hint about what her next book in the series would be about (and now they can’t wait to read Grump!) This year we had both Abby Cooper and Lindsay Currie come visit in the fall, and Jarrett Lerner stopped by in the spring. It really is incredible; students view these authors as rock stars and are so thrilled when they come talk to them about reading and writing.

IMG_2703You can find Katie on Twitter at @KReilley5 and on Instagram at @katie.reilley

 

 

 

 

 

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Educator Spotlight: Lisa Langlois

Today we are excited to welcome educator Lisa Langlois to the #MGBookVillage as part of our month-long celebration of educators! 

Please tell us about yourself!

I have over 15 years of experience teaching grades 2-8. I’ve taught in the South, the East Coast, and the Southwest. My favorite grades are 4th and 5th. My most favorite subject to teach is math. I am that teacher who will read aloud during math class. (Ex. Math Curse, Anno’s Mysterious Multiplying Jar, Grandfather Tang’s Story, or One Grain of Rice.) However, my most favorite activity is reading and sharing books with others, especially my students.

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

Some of my favorite books read so far this school year are: Just Like Jackie by Lindsey Stoddard, A Boy Called Bat by Alana K Arnold, Perfect Score by Rob Buyea, Rain Reign by Ann Martin, The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Bradley, Ban This Book by Alan Gratz, and Sunny by Jason Reynolds.

What was your favorite book as a child? And why did you love it so much?

A book that I recall reading over and over as a young child is Are You My Mother? By P.D. Eastman. I could read it myself and I was fascinated by the little bird who searched for his mother. I was also comforted every time he found her at the end.

Who is you favorite fictional teacher?

My current favorite fictional teacher Mrs. Woods from Perfect Score. (It goes without saying that Professor McGonagall is always #1.)8450bb8ae282859d3e3ce600a85d48fb52493183_00

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

Graphic novels are hot. All the graph novels!

What advice would you give new teachers?

Do what you know is best for your students. Ask lots of questions. Breathe, deeply.

Teaching can be stressful. What do you do to keep yourself going?

 

Read of course. I also enjoy outdoor activities like cycling, fishing, camping, hiking and star gazing.


lisalangloisYou can find Lisa on Twitter at @llangloisteach.

 

 

 

 

 

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