Amplifying Minds

Learning and Growing Together

Archive for the category “Wonder”

Making Readers

My Mother helped make me a reader.  I remember being read to before I was 7 years old.  (I lived in W. VA until then and I have memories of being read to in the W. VA house.) So I got that early exposure to reading, and I’m pretty sure I was reading before I went to school. Then, we moved, and in our new house, I remember my Mom and I going to the library to get books every week. I walked out each week carrying so many books I could barely hold them. I remember going home with every book in a picture books series–back then it was books like Flicka, Ricka and Dicka and Snip, Snap,and Snurr. (These have been reprinted in the mid-90’s.)


50 years later, I could have told you (before I looked them up), that they were set in Sweden.  I knew they were books about triplets and that I loved poring over the illustrations.

I remember moving into chapter book series like Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys and then into Heinlein and Asimov (thanks to my brother, Rod.) All of this was done through the public library. (Thank you, Roanoke City for building a new one on the grounds of my Jr. High School!)

Then, I got more into science fiction and fantasy and in college and when I began to work, I began buying my own paperbacks–and so when I moved into my house, I had to have floor to ceiling bookshelves for those books I had been moving from place to place. I also have bookshelves all over my classroom and have spent way too much of my lifetime salary supporting my love of books.

I mostly spend on children’s books now–just to keep up with the upper elementary kids I teach. I introduced Out of My Mind and The One and Only Ivan and Hurt Go Happy to the kids in my school.  I read the Nerdy Book Club posts and often buy the books reviewed there. Just the other day I watched the Scholastic Spring Preview and immediately got some of those.

And I am still wondering why schools often don’t  make a lifetime reader.  I grew up on Lucy Calkins, Donald Graves, Regie Routman, Jane Hanson, and others of that era where we began talking about really teaching reading and writing like real readers and writers act. Yeah, I’ve read Donalyn Miller’s Book Whisperer and Reading in the Wild. I have kids who are readers…and I have kids who can read, but choose not to.  I have kids who HATE, HATE, HATE anything that has to do with Daily 5 or a literacy menu, because they see that as making reading boring.  Kids don’t mind discussing books–but filling out packets of comprehension questions doesn’t cut it with them. And, I’m seeing more and more of that coming back into our classrooms.

So I struggle with preparing them for the state tests, which gives them a passage and asks them to answer questions like those typically found in packets. I sporadically give them worksheets on making inferences and reading for meaning, and interpreting various kinds of reading (poetry, narratives, non-fiction, etc.) but those don’t make them a reader.  They support them becoming a good test taker. And, as a teacher, I do see that as part of my job–because taking tests is part of schooling as we know it now.

I spend most of my time with students talking books, sharing books, enjoying stories together and supporting them loving to read, thinking deeply about connections and meanings and themes. But it’s the talking that matters to my kids.  They have a lot to say, and most of them are really thinking. They have questions, they wonder, they ponder why an author did this or that, they imagine being in the story, they engage with the characters, they connect around similar plots and characters, and they share recommendations for good reads.

I wish they could prepare a portfolio for the state assessment.  I wish theycould write a testimonial to the kind of reading they do.  I wish they could share their blog posts of reading recommendations.  There are a ton of things my kids–and all kids–could do to show they are successful readers beyond reading a passage and answering multiple choice questions about it. But while my state requires that test, I’ll continue to do test prep–enough for the kids to do well, but not so much they begin to see reading as a test to pass, or as answering questions, or as worksheets to do.

And, in the meantime, we’ll continue to share good books, read together, cry and laugh together over events in the stories we co-habitate in, and we’ll look to finding the next great book that flies around my classroom because we just can’t put it down. Because while I am expected to do test prep, I believe making readers is more important.


Places and Spaces

Good teachers have always had comfy areas in their rooms, complete with a variety of seating, pillows, beanbags, etc. This big deal about redesigning learning spaces, though, IS a big deal–cause at least in our county , it comes with money to do some of those things that, in the past, have come out of teachers’ pockets. Teachers are decorating their rooms with seating choices, we’ve gotten new tables and chairs in many classes, and our library and our “Wonder Lounge” have some funky new furniture. One whole wall of our Wonder Lounge is idea paint, and our principal has already taken a bunch of pictures of different classes using it.

In fact, she tweets out pics all the time of our school activities and classrooms.  To get a feel for our school, follow @gcrummie on Twitter, and check out all the pictures she tweets.  We also populate both our kid account, @Crozetkids and our school account, @CrozetElem, as well as a Facebook page, a website and several of us here at Crozet are  bloggers, and even more of us participate on Pinterest and Facebook.  I would say many of our teachers are pretty connected, overall. But I have to give credit to Ms. Crummie for being the most faithful about blogging about school–she really uses hers to keep the community informed (  Check here for some great pictures of our new-to-our-school-community spaces and places!

Wonder Some More

Last year I was doing some demonstration lessons in my 2nd grade classrooms and we decided one of our first ones would be based around Dot Day. This is a day many, many educators celebrate creativity, courage and collaboration.  It’s based on Peter H. Reynolds’ The Dot, a book about a young girl whose teacher encourages her to “make her mark.”smDot

Since Dot Day is a Sunday this year, my school is celebrating it tomorrow.

I’ll be heading into second grade again to do a great lesson using the thinking routine, See-Think-Wonder.

We based a series of  lessons around dots–and our first lesson was one of perspective and looking closely at artistic endeavors using dots. I found some great dot art for the kids to wonder about and explore and I created this page of pictures.

We would show one picture, such as this:


and ask the kids, “What do you see?”  In this routine, this part is for them to be very literal, describing what is in the picture.

Then we ask, “What do you think?”  Here, they can become fanciful, predictive, thoughtful, whatever, but here is where they often make connections to their prior experiences.

Then we ask the kids, “What do you wonder?”  Sometimes we ask that BEFORE clicking on the picture and sometimes after–because if you click on each of the pictures, you go to another version of what they have been exploring and wondering about.

The ooohs and ahhhs are awesome to hear!

Want to have some fun wondering today?  Go check them out!





click on the picture,

then wonder some more!

We Want Them to Wonder

In my last post, Great Questions for Learning, I talked a bit about questions.  In the post prior to that, I shared a story about homework. This one will pull both of those together in some ways.

We want our students to wonder.  Learners–lifelong learners–never stop questioning.  They never stop looking at the world–or at least parts of it–with awe and a multitude of feelings–delight, sadness, confusion, affirmation, etc.  Lifelong learners never stop being curious, wondering about inconsistencies, about oddities, about beautiful–and not-so-beautiful– sights, events and objects, both man-made and natural.

My students, over the years, have learned to be critical thinkers about the “facts” I give them and the questions I ask. They know I am going to ask questions that may lead them down a distracting path so they do a lot of skill practice that leads them to doing more.  I want them to be critical listeners to listen for discrepancies, connections, new information and details.  I want them to be attentive, to be active listeners, to know when to ask clarifying questions and especially when to ask for help and when to try something on their own. So, I ask questions that will scaffold them, but also give them practice being thoughtful consumers of information.

Full disclosure: I really don’t believe in a lot of homework. I want kids to go home and enjoy their families, being outside, reading for pleasure, and exploring their world through a variety of activities they cannot do in  the 6 or more hours they are in school.  I want them to have time to learn to clean their rooms, stay organized, help around the house, know their brothers and sisters and play and use their imagination. So any homework I am a part of sending home will generally NOT be worksheets or drill and skill work.  It will be something that helps them make connections, think more deeply about something they have talked/learned about that day, or an extension of our learning here at school.

So, homework in my classes is more like

  • Develop 2 or 3 “Henry questions” as you enjoy your evening.
  • Practice some factor trees–you choose the numbers.
  • Ask someone at home when they use estimation and when they use exact calculations–make a list if you need it to remember which is which.
  • As you go places this week, look for mathematical signs that might encourage you to ask more questions. (They know they can get a picture of it and send it to me if they want, so they can share in class.)

and as far as literacy?

  • Connect something in your book to something that has happened to you in real life.  Be ready to share tomorrow.
  • As you read tonight, think about whether this author is one you’d recommend to your classmates. Be ready to talk specific reasons why you would or would not.
  • Can you find any words in your reading tonight you think would stump the class?  make sure you can use it in  a sentence and give synonyms or antonyms in case you need to help your classmates figure it out.
  • Think about the theme in your book and be ready to share a “text set” of books with that theme if you have read others like it.

Or, if we have a great discussion, and the kids come up with their own questions, we challenge them to go home and answer them.  They often ask, “Can I work on this at home?” and that’s, of course, a delight to us.

The bottom line is that we try to incite and encourage and stand in awe of the wonder our kids have and develop, and we try to set up situations where kids will never lose that sense of curiosity and delight in the world most of them bring to their first experiences in school. We want our students to wonder!

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