Monday, January 28, 2013

what's new in nonfiction?

The American Library Association announced a number of awards this morning (including - among others - the Caldecott, Newbery, Belpré, Geisel, and Printz Awards), and The National Council of Teachers of English announced the Orbis Pictus Awards last week. I get pretty excited when the announcements are made, though I am usually woefully behind on my reading and rush to get the books ordered so I can be prepared to discuss them with other nerdy bibliophiles.

For this post, I’m going to focus on high-quality nonfiction resources, so I’ll focus on the Orbis Pictus and Sibert Awards, as well as some awesome nonfiction resources out there for you.

The NCTE Orbis Pictus Award recognizes excellence in nonfiction for children. The award’s name honors Johannes Amos Comenius and his work Orbis Pictus—The World in Pictures, the 1657 children’s book considered to be the first of its kind. Children’s books that are reviewed for the award include biography, (excluding textbooks), historical fiction, folklore, or poetry, and must have been published in the United States during the previous calendar year.  The Orbis Pictus winner this year went to Monsieur Marceau: Actor without Words by Leda Schubert and illustrated by Gérard DuBois. The 2013 Honorable Mention books include: Citizen Scientist: Be a Part of Scientific Discovery from Your Own Backyard by Loree Griffin Burns, photographs by Ellen; Electric Ben: The Amazing Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin by Robert Byrd; The Mighty Mars Rovers: The Incredible Adventures of Spirit and Opportunity by Elizabeth Rusch; Those Rebels, John & Tom by Barbara Kerley, illustrated by Edward Fotheringham; and We've Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March by Cynthia Levinson.

The Robert F. Sibert Award is awarded by the American Library Association, and named in honor of Robert F. Sibert, the long-time President of Bound to Stay Bound Books, Inc. of Jacksonville, Illinois. The 2013 winner of the Sibert Award is Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon, written by Steve Sheinkin. Three honor books were also selected, including: Electric Ben: The Amazing Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin, written and illustrated by Robert Byrd; Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95, written by Phillip M. Hoose; and Titanic: Voices from the Disaster, written by Deborah Hopkinson.
So, these are some places to go to find high quality nonfiction. But what do you do with them once you have them in your classroom?

The thoughtful teachers at the blog Teach Mentor Texts have started a new regular feature on their site: Nonfiction Wednesdays. This is a place they discuss some current nonfiction for children, as well as some uses for each text. The site in general is a fantastic resource, and I’m very excited about the Nonfiction Wednesday addition.

There are many great lesson plans at Read Write Think to help teachers plan to incorporate nonfiction into their teaching.

The Teaching Channel has some videos posted to help teachers see how different instructional strategies can be used with nonfiction. Here’s a link to one on using an inquiry-based model to discuss nonfiction.

Another place for good resources are the professional organizations for your content area. Check out posts I've written about all content areas here.

Nonfiction has gotten a lot of buzz the last couple years with the adoption of the Common Core State Standards, standards that MN has adopted and added to for the new 2010 MN ELA Academic Standards. There has been some misinformation and misinterpretation of the CCSS, particularly around the recommendation for nonfiction texts. Carol Jago, past president of NCTE,discusses the misinterpretation here in an article for The Washington Post. It’s good food for thought about the role of all teachers, both ELA and all other contents, to meet the requirements for the CCSS.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

disillusionment - keep it simple

A couple weeks ago, I posted about disillusionment, a phase that many new and experienced teachers encounter at some point during the school year. Something to keep in mind during this time is that many others have and are experiencing this phase, and that it is completely normal to feel down, hopeless, disappointed, and frustrated in your first years.

There is a lot of advice on the internet to help teachers thrive through this phase. I'll try to share some ideas that have helped me in the past and that have helped other new teachers I know.

Find a mentor. You may have one assigned to you through your district mentor program for new teachers. Or your district may not have a mentor program in place. Now is a great time to connect with that person. If you don't have an assigned mentor, find one in your building. Ask your principal to help you if you don't have an idea of someone you'd like to approach. It can be so helpful to share your feelings with someone in your district/building who knows what initiatives are in place and the testing schedule and the committees you've been asked to be a part of for the year. Now is the time to ask the questions that have been brewing in your head but perhaps you feel as though you should already know the answers (you shouldn't. you need to ask).

Simplify. It is never too late to simplify your routines, your management strategies, your parent newsletter. Part of simplifying might be to schedule specific prep times or before school/after school/evenings to grade papers. Once you have a schedule, you might not feel so overwhelmed staring at the stack of papers on your desk. You'll get to them on Tuesday prep and Thursday night from 7-9:30. And decide which assignments need deeper levels of feedback and which assignments don't. And stick to it.

One thing that I try to do when I start feeling overwhelmed is to find the small, easy tasks and start clicking them off my list. If you handle these small tasks immediately, your to-do list will stay manageable. Just reply to that email right away instead of reading it and moving on. Recycle papers that you've read and don't need to hang on to - instead of putting them back in your in-box, only to have to be read again.

Also, consider: What can students be responsible for? Are there some things that you're doing that really should be the responsibility of students? Taking even a small thing off your platter ('cuz let's be honest, it's bigger than a plate) can help you feel less disillusioned.

Be mindful of progress. When you start noticing things that aren't going the way you want them to, this can be a sign of progress. You're starting to think about new and more effective ways to help students learn, and you want to do the best job you can to support students. Teaching is a continuum, one that is always in a state of change. Once you begin to master X, Y starts to nag at you. And once you have an action plan for Y, you discover issues Z, A, B, and C. There is always room for improvement, but as you reflect on ways you'd like to improve, keep in mind what you've already done to get you there.

Tell us: What are some ways you thrive through the disillusionment phase?

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Happy 2013! Are you feeling disillusioned?

I have always felt that the new year begins in August. January feels like an odd time for teachers to celebrate a new year, since our year begins in late August and ends in June. But the official, internationally recognized New Year can also provide a time of reflection, rejuvenation, and renewal for teachers also.

However, the darkness of winter and the fact that the school year is not even half over can lead new teachers to experience a phase of disillusionment. This phase typically hits new teachers (and experienced teachers too!) sometime in the middle of the school year and can last for quite a while. Stress is a major factor in leading new teachers to feel disillusioned. Sickness, which seems to be going around big time this year, can make a stressful job more stressful. You're run down if you can get to school, and planning for a sub if you can't is always more work than being in schoolo to begin with. And sickness might have hit you over break, too, which might have made you feel tired and unrefreshed when you headed back to school this week. The learning needs of your students feel urgent, especially in the spring testing season staring you down, but classroom management issues might be getting in the way of accomplishing what you want to academically with your students. Observations and evaluations by an administrator or instructional coaches, which add a lot of stress to an already stressful job, can lead new teachers to feel uncertain in their competence as a teacher. The reality of the commitment to teaching is finally clear, and during the disillusionment phase teachers might question their decision to become a teacher.

But know this - this is a common phase of teaching and you are surrounded by others that are experiencing this too. It might not help to know that others feel this way, but it might help you know you aren't crazy or alone. Even after years and years of teaching, I still experience this feeling, sometimes for only a few days or weeks, and sometimes for longer. This phase (like all things) does pass, but it can help the time pass more quickly if you seek out or reach out to a supportive network of other teachers with whom you can talk about these feelings. Maybe this is the time to contact a teacher you went through your preservice program with that you have been meaning to communicate with but just haven't made the time. Or find the other new teachers in your building and/or district and suggest a happy hour to talk things through. Other supportive folks, like family and friends, can definitely help too, but sometimes you just need to talk to another teacher that might be feeling the same way. This feeling of disillusionment can be a very difficult challenge to get through in your first years of teaching., but talking with others can help.

The bottom line is that it is helpful to find some way to acknowledge these feelings (if you're having them) and talk with others about them. I'll return to this topic soon with some advice to help you get through this period. In the mean time, you can check out the post about this from last year.