50 Books in 2020… #1

I mentioned in my “One Word for 2020” post that I set a personal goal to ready 50 book in 2020. The goal seemed a little daunting at first. One book into the challenge, and it still seems a little too ambitious. Now that the ball is rolling, however, it seems a little more attainable.

The first book I read for the new year is One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus. This is a thrilling mystery with twists and turns throughout. Five high school students are given detention. Only four come out alive, and everybody has a secret to hide… and a motive. It is very Breakfast Club – a jock, an outcast, a brain, etc.

One of Us Is Lying is not a genre I normally read. Typically I read either adult nonfiction, mystery, or thriller. I love anything by authors like Malcolm Gladwell and David Baldacci. One of my goals with this book challenge is to read texts outside of my comfort zone. So, for my first book of 2020 I chose a young adult novel. Granted, it is not exactly going out on a limb since it is a mystery/thriller, but it’s the first young adult novel I’ve read. Baby steps.

I got the idea to read new genres from a familiar place – my classroom. Throughout the school year I encourage my students to read books from different genres and try to get them into books they might not normally read. Students get a “What Genres Am I Reading?” form at the beginning of the year. As, they read a book they mark the genre they read. The goal is the fulfill the requirements for each genre by the end of the year. I check in with them periodically to see which genres they’ve completed and where they might need some encouragement or guidance.

Last year, I had one student who is a voracious reader. After completing a couple genres, she came up to me a little worried. “Mr. Rashid, I don’t really like poetry,” she said anxiously. We talked about this, and I introduced her to some Shel Silverstein books. The next week she was sitting with one of her friends laughing at some of his poems in Where the Sidewalk Ends. It’s not that she wouldn’t have found a love of poetry without the genre challenge but maybe not as early as she did.

Other students found books and genres which were new to them. I had an entire group of students become mystery fans because of the challenge. Do all students achieve the goal? No. Does every student love each genre? No. But even if they read half the genres I outlined and find one new genre they like, that is better than not trying. That way, we all win.

Field Trips

Today we had our field trip to the Pennsylvania Farm Show. If you’re not familiar with the PA Farm Show, it is the largest indoor agriculture expo in the United States. Basically, if it is grown in Pennsylvania, it is at the Farm Show – cows, horses, sheep, alpaca, bees and honey, apples, mushrooms, Christmas tress, and the extremely popular milkshake.

Field trips are an amazing opportunity for students to learn through authentic experiences outside the traditional classroom. They take students, literally, to places some might not otherwise visit or see. Field trips help build background knowledge and bring curriculum to life. They are fun experiences for students, but as I was reminded today, can be exhausting for teachers. Watching students experience new concepts for the first time, however, makes it all worth the energy.

My class was studying poetry the week before our field trip, so I felt it was the perfect time to write a haiku.

Students excited

Provides authentic learning

Teacher exhausted

Monday Morning Check-In

Recently I saw a viral post by a teacher named Erin Castillo. She has her students write their name on the back of a Post-it and place it on a chart each Monday. The chart had headings such as “I’m Great,” “I’m Okay,” and “I’m Meh.” After students placed their sticky notes on the board, the teacher can check in with them as necessary.

First, let me say, thank you Erin Castillo. This is such a wonderful idea. The social-emotional aspect of a student’s life has an enormous impact on their academic life. (You can’t get to Bloom unless you’ve taken care of Maslow.) This was such a powerful idea, I wanted to use it with my students. My only concern was a room full of 26 fourth graders all going up to the board in the morning to place their Post-its. Would they be completely honest when their peers were watching? (I don’t know that I would with my peers watching me.) Would students place their sticky note in the category where the majority of the other students did? I might follow the pack in such a situation.

The way I addressed this possible issue was to create a digital version of the chart. On this Google Form, I have a consistent eight questions students answer every Monday morning when they enter the classroom:

  • Name – This is a dropdown menu with students’ names already entered. (I’ve changed their names in the linked Google Form for privacy purposes.)
  • How was your weekend? (It was wonderful. It was okay. It was difficult.)
  • Today I am… (Great, Okay, Hanging in there, Struggling, I’m having a tough time and wouldn’t mind a check-in)
  • Is there anything you want me to know?
  • One thing you’re excited about this week.
  • What book are you reading right now?
  • Would you recommend this book to a friend?
  • What is the next book you’re going to read?

A QR code is projected on the board, so students can grab an iPad and get started right away. They usually complete the form in less than five minutes, and I can easily view all their responses in a Google Sheet or Excel document. It has worked really well so far, and it gives me a great insight into how my students feel when they walk in the door, how their weekend was, and their overall outlook.

I’ve also found this to be a conversation starter with my students. Here’s some of what they’ve shared the last few weeks:

  • I almost made it up the warped wall. (We have an American Warrior gym near our school.)
  • My stomach hurts.
  • I baked cookies with my grandma this weekend.
  • I went to my dad’s house yesterday.
  • I got 2nd all around at my gymnastic meet.
  • I love school.
  • My team won our basketball game 30-4.

Nothing is better to build relationships than asking a question about one of these responses when we are lining up for lunch, transitioning between subjects, or at another point throughout the day.

Feel fee to use, adapt, and make this work for you classroom.

Happy Monday!

One Word for 2020

I’ve seen many people sharing their One Word Challenge for 2020 and found so many inspiring. The idea is you choose a word to guide you through the year. My ten-year-old daughter even chose one for an assignment in school – positive. So I’ve decided to choose a word of my own for 2020. There are some big personal goals I’d like to achieve in 2020 – blog every day, read 50 books, run a sub-24:00 5k, etc. With this in mind, the word I’m going to choose for 2020 is intentional.

I want to be intentional with my time.

I want to be intentional with my relationships.

I want to be intentional with what I eat.

I want to be intentional with my sleep.

I want to be intentional with exercise.

Here’s to an intentional 2020.

Three for the Week

I’m going to use my post on Saturdays to reflect on what I read, heard, and discussed throughout the week. It will be sort of an “exit ticket” for the last seven days. So here are three ideas that made me think this week. (They are not in any particular order.)

1 – I love quotes. In fact, I literally have a notebook to collect quotes I find powerful, inspirational, or funny. My favorite quote is from Mark Twain. “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” So when George Couros (@gcouros) shared “20 Inspirational Quotes to Start 2020,” I couldn’t resist. One I especially liked was from UCLA basketball coaching legend John Wooden, “Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.”

2 – Reach Higher (@ReachHigher) shared an article, “Don’t Assume That Every Student Had a Fun or Warm Holiday Break” from PBS News Hour. While the article is two years old, unfortunately, the idea is still very real. For a growing number of students school is a safe place from an otherwise tumultuous life. The articles talks about a mother who struggles to find a place for her and her child to sleep each night. Despite this uncertainty, the student is consistently in school. “For this mother and her child, school means something more than just getting an education. School is food and shelter from the cold.” It reminded me of a student I used to mentor who told me he slept on a bench in the park for a few nights. His family was renting an apartment and the second floor tub fell through the ceiling. They had to move abruptly. The temporary housing didn’t have enough space for everybody in his family, so he did what he had to do and found a bench in the park. He needed the stability that school offered.

3 – Daniel Pink (@DanielPink) tweeted a quote from a librarian at the New York Public Library, Lynn Lobash. “Reading should be a pleasure, not a pain. The rule of thumb from one of the great librarians, Nancy Pearl, is to give a book 50 pages. When you read 50 pages, ask yourself if you’re enjoying it. If you are, of course keep on reading. If you’re not, then put it down and look for one that can educate, inspire or simply entertain you.” I talk to my students frequently about choosing the right book and knowing when to abandon the book you’ve already chosen. The 50-page rule of thumb might need to be adjusted for some of our younger students who are reading shorter texts, but it’s still a pretty good gauge. I also set a personal goal to read 50 books in 2020, so this might come in handy throughout the year.

Happy Saturday!

Joke of the Day

How do you stop a dog barking in the back seat?

That was the “Joke of the Day” in my classroom today. After our morning routine – lunch, attendance, etc. – we start each day with a joke. I generally get these jokes from a website, and my family even got me a Silly Jokes for Silly Kids book for Christmas.

This all started accidentally over a year ago. Before a math lesson, I shared a joke my then nine-year-old daughter told me the night before. My students loved it and shared some of their own. We spent the next few minutes telling jokes and laughing before our math lesson.

All of a sudden Joke of the Day was born. I didn’t think much of it at first. The jokes were just something to make us laugh before math. Then, after they had a substitute, I asked my students about their day. They told me everything was great except the substitute did not have a Joke of the Day. (I had to admit that it was an oversight on my part.) That was when I first realized this simple task meant something more to my students.

At the end of the school year, I had them write letters to my next group of students. It was the typical letter to the next year’s class – what they will like about the classroom, what they’ll learn in fourth grade, expectations, etc. I was shocked to read the letters. Almost every student mentioned something about the Joke of the Day.

This experience made me realize how important the “little” things are to our students. I say “little” because the Joke of the Day seemed like something trivial to me. To my students, however, it was something much more. The jokes helped ease anxiety for some, brightened the mood for others, and simply made a few kids laugh.

I still remember, more than thirty years later, how my fifth grade teacher started each day with a riddle. They were these brain teasers he wrote on the board and gave us some time to ponder. It was so much fun trying to solve them before my classmates. I can’t tell you if I would have been proficient on any high stakes testing that year, but I can still recall some of those riddles and the sense of pride I had solving them.

It might not be a joke or a riddle. Maybe it is a high five you give students when they enter the classroom. Maybe it is asking them what they did over the weekend. Maybe it is playing kickball with them at recess. There are moments outside of the curriculum our students need – really need. Teaching is a critically important profession. Helping a student learn through quality curriculum, instruction, and assessment is unbelievably powerful and life changing. We ask a lot of our students throughout the day. Why not take one moment to tell a joke and make a student smile?

So how do you stop a dog barking in the back seat?

You put him in the front seat.

Happy National Introvert Day!

Today, January 2, is National Introvert Day. I didn’t know there was a national day for introverts. I probably should have, however, since I am an introvert myself. I would much rather spend a quiet night at home reading a book than at a busy restaurant or other social gathering. In school, I was much more comfortable working alone on an assignment than in a large group of classmates.

Last year, I read the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. The book discusses how introverts – those who are quiet – have to navigate a world set up and dominated by extroverts – those who are outgoing. For example, the business world views extroverts as the models of success, often promoting and rewarding the most outgoing individuals and those who are willing to take charge of almost any situation or group. (Try being a quiet, reserved person at the notoriously extroverted Harvard Business School.)

This business approach, which favors extroverts, has trickled down to our classrooms. Cain explores how our classrooms, following the lead of the business world, are structured to promote group work and peer collaboration. According to a nationwide study, “55 percent of fourth-grade teachers prefer cooperative learning,” and “42 percent of fourth-grade and 41 percent of eighth-grade teachers spend at least a quarter of class time on group work.” The younger the teacher, the more likely she is to place an emphasis on group work in the classroom.

While it is important for students to share their ideas and learn to work in groups, it is also valuable to consider how each child thinks and processes information. How can we balance the benefits of sharing ideas in groups with an introverted student’s desire to work in a quiet environment? Does engagement always need to be tied to discussions with peers or talking in a group? How do we find opportunities throughout the day to guarantee time for students to work individually and without talking? How often do we give students the choice of working with partners vs. alone?

The word balance is important in our classrooms. We need to ensure that we are thinking about the needs and preferences of all of our students. Group work is important, but you might have an introvert sitting in your classroom with brilliant, creative ideas which are more likely to come alive in a quiet environment. Cain shared a quote from organizational psychologist Adrian Furnham, who said, “If you have talented and motivated people, they should be encouraged to work alone when creativity or efficiency is the highest priority.” Imagine if Theodor Geisel, an introvert, had a teacher who never let him work alone. We might never have met The Cat in the Hat, eaten Green Eggs and Ham, or learned How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

I started giving students more choice in whether they work with a partner or individually. Yes, there are still times each day when collaboration is required, but I’m trying to create more balance. I have students sitting in groups, but they are often allowed to move around the room to a spot which is more “comfortable” for them. The interesting thing is that many of them choose to sit in a quiet spot and complete their work independently, and the quality of that work rarely suffers. Why should I stop a student from working quietly? He might just be the next Dr. Seuss.

New Year, New Blog

When I went to college my grandfather told me to take as many writing classes as possible. (I did just that, wrote for the college newspaper, and eventually finished as the Sports Editor.) He said, “Everybody needs to write, no matter what they do in life.” That was pretty good advice.

Other than grad school papers I haven’t written for an audience since my time at the college newspaper. That was almost twenty years ago. The last couple years I’ve had a growing urge to write again. Then I heard the author and marketing guru Seth Godin say everybody should blog everyday. He said on his blog, “For years, I’ve been explaining to people that daily blogging is an extraordinarily useful habit. Even if no one reads your blog, the act of writing it is clarifying, motivating and (eventually) fun.” This seemed like pretty sound reasoning, so I decided to jump into the deep end.

I’m going to start blogging today. This isn’t necessarily a New Year’s Resolution, because I’ve never had much success in that area. My goal is to blog every day for one year and see where it takes me. Some posts will be brief, and others will be longer. This will be a tool for me to reflect, explore, and share ideas about all things education.

Hopefully some read this and find it useful. Hopefully this helps clarify some ideas and motivates everybody in this blog community. Hopefully this (eventually) gets fun.

Happy New Year, and Happy New Blog!