Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Crushing Power of Standardized Testing

I’m new to Twitter but I follow/stalk a few people and recently I saw someone post about World Read Aloud Day 2015. I was immediately excited and ran to my principal and several colleagues to drum up enthusiasm and figure out how we could make this a reality at our school. I was already envisioning buddy reading opportunities, assemblies, storytelling, all sorts of inspiring literature being read aloud to students.

My few 'go-to' colleagues eagerly agreed that it was a great idea and I quickly ran down to the principal's office. I dropped a packet on his desk and exclaimed, “We have to do this!” He is used to placating me and having to put up with my hair-brain schemes. But this time, I had back up. Key players were on board. The ball was in the air. He looked through the packet, asked a few questions and said, "Let's do it!"

And now, it’s a no go. Not for a lack of enthusiasm. Not for a lack of trying. Not for a lack of participants. Standardized testing got in the way. On the day of World Read Aloud Day 2015, we are scheduled to take a state-mandated assessment.  And just like that a meaningful, engaging community building activity has just been stomped by the crushing weight of standardized testing.

Literature is such an important element in children's lives. We use literature to bring different cultures, different experiences, and different stories to the students. World Read Aloud Day could have been filled with reading stories that inspired compassion, belonging, acceptance of others and ultimately helped students to make the world a better place. But, instead, we’ll be demonstrating how college and career-ready we are.

There is not a mandated assessment that measures how globally aware students are, how compassionate they are towards one another, how much they feel empathy towards, or how much they advocate for change. Aren't these skills just was important to help students become global citizens?

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Zoo is Sad

Once you have a kid, it seems like everyone thinks you suddenly enjoy activities that were never part of your repertoire. It is assumed that suddenly water parks, zoos, and beaches have become the top destinations for spending your free time. I'm hoping to see how long we can hold out before we have to step foot in any of those places. Each of them is their own unique brand of hell. The zoo most of all.

I know that the day will come when the girl will want to go. I'm hoping there is a school field trip that exists for this exact reason. If I take the girl, she will not have fun. I can't even feign enthusiasm. The zoo makes me want to cry - cramped animals looking pitifully out of their cages. I know many people love the zoo and I have not yet figured out what makes them enjoy the experience so much. 

But, when the girl does ask to go to the zoo, I'm hoping that we can have a discussion about the pros and cons of keeping animals in cages. I think some of these books might help facilitate a discussion without going overboard. Okay, maybe a little overboard.

Mrs. Harkness and the Panda by Alicia Potter

I Know a Bear by Mariana Ruiz Johnson

Faithful Elephants by Yukio Tsuchiya

Good Night, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

I Am Amelia Earhart

"Ordinary People Change the World" is the title of Brad Meltzer's book series, which contains biographies of some of history's most influential individuals. The illustrations alone made me grab the book off the shelf and immediately begin reading. They are quirky and interesting - any reader will be immediately engaged in the text.

I happened upon Amelia Earhart and Albert Einstein in the series. I, of course, picked Amelia because I feel it's my responsibility to expose the girl to important, powerful, brave women of history. After all, they started out as just ordinary people.

There were just enough 'facts' weaved into the text that I felt like I was gaining more information without it feeling like a dry, boring biography. The illustrations and speech bubbles really move the story along and provide insight into Amelia's life.

I'll probably have to buy the rest of the books in the series. If they are all done as well as this one, I can see that they are going to be come household favorites. You can see all the books and read about the series here.

I am Amelia Earhart by Brad Meltzer

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Flora and the Penguin

Over winter break, I had the opportunity to bring the girl to the bookstore a few times. The bookstore is sacred space. It is the place I go to breathe, to relax, to recharge. I quickly realized that my 'space' and a two-year-old would not mesh together very well. She loves to pull things off of shelves and put them back (rarely in the correct spot). I could hear the quick inhalation of oxygen from the employee every time the girl put something back incorrectly. It was too much. We don't go to the bookstore together anymore.

However, the other night, I took off after bedtime and drove to the bookstore to do perusing while the girl slumbered away. It was lovely. I found several gems, including Flora and the Penguin by Molly Idle.

The story in this wordless picture book is so heartfelt and amazing. I love the idea that friends can be found in unusual places, even when you are not looking. I think that this story would be great to talk about how you can have friends who don't have all the same interests as you, but you only need to have one or two things in common. 

The illustrations are just gorgeous. I really enjoyed how the book focuses your attention on Flora and the penguin by keeping the backgrounds to a minimum. The movable parts of the book really help the story come alive. I can't wait for the girl to be old enough to read this without ripping the flaps off of the book. 

Flora and the Penguin by Molly Idle

Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Year of Rainbow & David

2014 is done. Over. Finished.

I always like to take a look through the books I have read each year to see which ones I marked as my favorites and which ones I disliked. 

2014 was the year I discovered Rainbow Rowell. I still get a smile on my face when I think of Eleanor & Park and Fangirl

I read Eleanor & Park first. I remember telling people, "This book will change your life." It changed mine. So I was sure that everyone would love it as much as I did. I passed that book around to so many different people that I eventually bought a second copy because I was having anxiety that it wasn't around when I wanted to look at it. Strangely enough, both copies are currently missing.

And then I read Fangirl. Twice. In a row. I wasn't ready for the story to end, so I figured the best way to keep it going was to reread it. Only after the second read was I willing to put it down. Again, that one is also MIA. 

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson was one of my other five star books for 2014. There is not much else to say about that. Winning the National Book Award sort of speaks for itself.

One of my other favorites of the year was Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan. So now, I have to go back and rename this post 'The Year of Rainbow AND David'. It seems only fair, since they both have two books on the list. I LOVED Two Boys Kissing and recommended it to anyone I came across. Luckily, that one is actually on my shelf. 

 My last five star book came in right at the end of the year. With winter break, I managed to have some time to read - mostly nap time. I ordered Will Grayson, Will Grayson on a whim and loved it. John Green and David Levithan are amazing. I couldn't put the book down and may have neglected playing with my child in order to read. I'm sure she will tell her therapist about that.

There were many four star books this year, and thankfully no one star books. I'm hoping 2015 brings me more time to read, but with the girl becoming more demanding of my time ("Mommy, sit here! Mommy, do art!") I am not crossing my fingers.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan