Duck into Third Grade

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Powerful Picture Books-#Somethingforeveryone

Teaching is tough. Why? Demands are many and time is limited. What makes it worth it? STUDENTS!!! I challenge myself to read a picture book a day to my class. The good thing is if time restraints press in on us the class will remind me : )Habits are so powerful!  They look forward to the class read-aloud, read-to-self time, and even status of the class (telling the class what they are reading). The sharing of these books are their favorite times of the day! We connect all of our learning to the variety of books we share.

Our learning trait this week was EMPATHY, many students had given money for those pummeled by hurricane Harvey, so we talked about how sympathy is feeling bad but empathy prompts you to act on those feelings as Wilfred does in Wilfred Gordan McDonald Partridge, Mem Fox’s adorable book. When this big-hearted little boy hears his friend, age 96, has lost her memory, he attempts to help her regain it. We had read My Fantastic Elastic Brain and one of my students said, “I guess when you get old your hippocampus gets stuck.”

I have had many students return years later and talk about a book I read to their class and how they were moved by it in a big way. No one has ever returned to talk about how much a worksheet impacted his/her life. Lessons in literature abound! Let’s embrace the challenge of sharing powerful books and growing as learners right along with our students!




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Powerful Picture Books

Did you know that kids are naturally curious? If you’ve spent any time around them you know they can ask more questions than IRS tax forms. What happens to a naturally curious kid after they’ve been assigned worksheet after worksheet? My oldest son  didn’t work at a fast pace and when the worksheets kept coming he couldn’t keep up so he became overwhelmed and frustrated. His solution was to stick the papers in his desk.  His teacher soon became wise to his unsuccessful solution and sent the 23 papers she pulled out of his desk home with him for homework! Yikes!

As I reflect on my 35th year in education, I was blessed with another great group of kids. Note to self… Activity to definitely do again, simple-yes, easy-not.  It all started with a Nelson Mandela picture book and we took the powerful story about a man who never gave up and turned the information into a bio poem which evolved into them later doing their own bio poems that blew me away.

I carefully chose 7 or 8 picture books that were biographies I knew my students would be interested in. They made their own groups according to their interests. Each group read the book and wrote a bio poem to share with the class. They were engaged for longer than I had allowed for the activity and were begging for more time when I was attempting to draw things to a close. When they pleaded for more time to read, write, and discuss I was putty in their hands. The extra time given was time well spent because their first attempts to write bio poems without any help turned out to amazing. As the poems were shared I could tell my students had even impressed themselves! That day we learned about Louis Braille, Audrey Hepburn , The Day-Glow Brothers along with several others!

I have always encouraged  teachers and parents to read to their kids daily.  I have always read my students and with my own kids however I wish I would have added more nonfiction. It has only been in the last 6 or 7 years have I been collecting well-written picture books about real people that accomplished something great using grit.

I’m  learning right along with the kids, everyday was/is a learning adventure! I just got the Boys of Steel, it will be waiting for some eager readers next!

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Top Five Christmas Treats


Twas the week before Christmas break and all through the school,
some distracted children were attempting to break every rule,
Thank goodness for the magic of reading, it carried us through
those difficult days of waiting for you know who…

Silver Packages was a jewel indeed,
the class sat spellbound and listened to me read,
Night Tree
kept their attention as well,
Eve Bunting had a fabulous story to tell,
Little Match Girl, a classic that encourages empathy x 10,
the class made connections again and again,
Mr. Willowby
helped to lighten the mood,
in this rhyming book we meet many a resourceful dude,
Too Many Tamales was a treasure for sure,
these books were the ultimate cure,

We also memorized A Visit from St. Nicholas and performed it many times without delay,
This narrative poem taught the class persistence as they practiced day after day,

In the blink of an eye the party day was here,
with a final performance for their parents so dear,

Then they played Christmas Scattergories and Taboo,
Then holiday good-byes were said crying boo hoo!

Finaly the time for rest, reflection, and rejuvenation is here,
Merry Christmas to all and Happy New Year!!!

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Who IS Doing the Work? Scaffolding vs Carrying



Teachers tend to talk and talk and talk. Why? We know we can’t learn anything by talking. What should we be doing? LISTENING! Step back and listen…listen to your kids intently and get ready to learn LOTS of things.

Hector was a shy little guy that taught me it was okay to read tough books. Somehow he managed to plod through all of Avi’s Poppy series only because his desire was on fire. I wanted to suggest an easier read but he was in love with Poppy and he would have no substitutes. I was blessed to watch him evolve as a reader. Thank you, Hector, because of you, I will let my students grapple with texts they are passionate about.

Mandy was a struggling disinterested reader until she got hooked on Cam Jansen mysteries which jump started her reading! She taught me that it was possible to be a lopsided genre reader and still get advanced on the state assessment! She had been filling in her genre boxes at a snail’s pace but Can Jansen saved the day! Thank you, Mandy, because of you, I will let kids explode the genre box of their choice, an expert is a good thing to be.

Andrew was a voracious reader but he read easy texts and never pushed himself. He loved reading but he was a pajama reader, comfortable was his code. He taught me if a reader is reading, let them read. Was it easy, NO! Did I introduce many various texts in class, YES! Thank you, Andrew, for reminding me that choice is vital! Extremely tough lesson for this teacher to learn.

Burkins and Yaris have written a fantastic book! They remind teachers that there is a big difference between scaffolding and carrying students. Carrying is often done by conscientious educators every day when we do so much prompting and reminding students don’t even have to think. The result is learned helplessness, which does not help prepare kids for the real world. A talented cook adds just enough salt to make a tasty dish, we need to give just the right nudge to inspire our students toward success. We must let learners do the work because we do not want to deprive any student the joy that comes from learning something new. Burkins and Yaris call this the Grandmother method, “Wow! How did you do that?” followed by “What will you do next?”

Knock Knock My Dad’s Dream for Me by Daniel Beaty is a mentor text that illustrates why we don’t want to do too much for our kids. This is a beautiful story about a boy struggling to deal with his father’s absence. He doesn’t give up even though times are tough. The author’s note is powerful! Kids must be problem solvers in life, literature provides a safe place to practice!

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Sweet Summer Days!


Just as a juicy watermelon can quench your summertime thirst, a well chosen book can ignite the brain’s gray matter like the fireworks on the 4th of July. Yes, I know summer is for relaxing and rejuvenating but it is also a great time for growth, wonder, reflection and exploration.
Oft times, my students write me during the summer and it is always a treat to hear from them but I was a bit taken aback by the last letter I received. Carlos wrote that he had joined a book club because he thought they’d have a read-aloud and read-to-self time but the reading club turned out to be crafts and games.
Don’t get me wrong, I know of some summer reading groups that do just what Carlos wanted to do, a former student who is now dynamite teacher has a group of kids reading The Lemonade War this summer! Way to motivate real reading. Kudos to Tenille Shade! Unfortunately, Carlos can’t fly down to Mrs. Shade’s reading club so the he will be crafting away. I have nothing against crafts and games but I think it’s a slam against reading. It seems like ‘they'(aka well meaning adults) do not think reading can stand on its on two feet (figuratively speaking of course). Do they know about the magic of reading? (Mem Fox wrote a whole book about it!)
Today, my grandson and his mom read a stack of books for an hour, talk about stamina! He is only 13 months old and he didn’t want to quit.
I think we sell our kids short sometimes because our expectations are too low. Kids will rise to the level of our expectations however that street goes both ways. Adults need to be real. Why not call it the games & crafts club? Why the pretense? Adults can be confusing at times. Kids are unpretentious and bless their hearts for spreading their genuineness to as many adults as possible. Adults say what they think you want to hear or tout their agenda while kids simply tell it like it is. You seldom have to guess what they’re thinking : ) One of the many reasons why I teach third grade! #easytokeepitrealwitheightandnineyearolds

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Connections Abound!

Book Cover - The One and Only Ivan



Make the merry month of May memorable! Teaching with passion all the way to the very last day of school makes for a fast month however this goal is about as challenging as dieting during December. After the colossal state testing frenzy subsides the trend is to wind everything down. The kids sense this too and they begin their vacation a month early, mediocrity is as infectious as the flu, talk about a summer slide in reading progress! We must forge ahead and utilize and savor each teaching moment. Kids are naturally curious, so when people say, “The kids are through, they’re ready for a break…” I have to wonder if their teaching to the kids’ interests. Literature can pave the road to keeping kids engaged.
This is a real life example, my class had read The One and Only Ivan earlier and now we were reading an oldie but a goodie, Charlotte’s Web, when suddenly one of my struggling readers made a great connection out of the blue and with mush gusto, “Mrs. Barnes, Mrs. Barnes, Ivan made a promise to Stella and Charlotte made one to Wilbur!” She was as excited as a 49er finding gold. Her excitement was contagious. Everyone was making connections like crazy, “Gooney Bird Greene told great stories and Charlotte tells stories” and “Brad in Fig Pudding was gullible and Wilbur is gullible…” They were focused like laser beams. I think the read-aloud gallery really has helped them to remember all the books we’ve shared and make great connections that deepen their understanding. My students amaze me daily! Their love of literature has engulfed them. I asked one girl, who made 3 years growth in one year, how she improved so much and she gave me a one word answer with a twinkle in her eye and a smile on her face,”Read”.
In reading Steven Layne’s book, In Defense of Read-Aloud, I must mention a treasure he shared in the picture book. More Than Anything Else introduces us to the world right after the Civil War, where we meet a young boy that must work shoveling salt all day but deep inside he has a powerful yearning to learn to read, more than anything else. He is young Booker T. Washington. Powerful! There are so many books and so little time, we will be reading up until the very last day, even with schedule changes and interruptions and kids being taken out to go visit Aunt Josey. Challenging, yes…but so worth the extra effort to ignite a love of learning that will last a lifetime!

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Thanks: Read Aloud Rock Stars, Mrs. Hager & Professor Watson

Bahaha!!! Funniest professional book I’ve ever read and also one of the most profound! Steven Layne pounds home the importance of read aloud in EVERY classroom k-college. The act of reading aloud is heavily research-based but sadly an unpracticed or at best sporadically practiced form of instruction. Many educators are opting to pelt their students with more test prep than is humanely conceivable. Worksheet after worksheet after worksheet, supplies our adults of tomorrow with so many more memorable characters that Ivan, Dorothy, Charlotte, Poppy, or Frindle ever could. It is mind-boggling how much impact students have being peppered with an endless mound of unrelated worksheets. Mind numbing, indeed!
I have been blessed with two rock stars of read-aloud. My third grade teacher, Mrs. Hager, would stand at the overhead and draw any unfamiliar words we encountered during our beloved read-aloud time, talk about an unscripted lesson in visualization! Professor Betty Watson was an amazing artist of reading aloud. She held the entire class of 20+ year olds in the palm of her hand. We laughed with her and cried with her and were ‘encouraged’ to read a MOUNTAIN of books from all different genre (causing many groans from yours truly). She stretched us all as readers and soon to be teachers and cramped our social lives a bit doing all her assigned reading,LOL! We left Harding University with a boatload of knowledge about all kinds of books and able to match any reader with something to entice their interests. These two rock stars have imprinted their love of literacy on all who entered their circles. I am blessed to have been one of the many they influenced.
Colleges should have classes not only on Children’s Literature but also on the art of reading aloud. It isn’t something teachers should have an option, “To read-aloud or not to read-aloud” does not have the child’s best interest at heart.