Friday, May 29, 2020

First Chapter Friday - Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper

Happy Friday! You know that that means... I'm here to share the first chapter of an amazing book. Today's selection is Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper.

Over 1.5 million people have read the #1 New York Times bestseller Out of My Mind and discovered the brilliant mind of Melody Brooks.

Out of My Mind spent two years on the New York Times bestseller list!

“If there’s one book teens and parents (and everyone else) should read this year, Out of My Mind should be it.” —The Denver Post
“A gutsy, candid, and compelling story. It speaks volumes.” —School Library Journal (starred review)
“Unflinching and realistic.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Uplifting…This moving novel will makes activists of us all.” —Booklist (starred review)

From award-winning author Sharon Draper comes a story that will forever change how we all look at anyone with a disability, perfect for fans of RJ Palacio’s Wonder.

Eleven-year-old Melody is not like most people. She can’t walk. She can’t talk. She can’t write. All because she has cerebral palsy. But she also has a photographic memory; she can remember every detail of everything she has ever experienced. She’s the smartest kid in her whole school, but NO ONE knows it. Most people—her teachers, her doctors, her classmates—dismiss her as mentally challenged because she can’t tell them otherwise. But Melody refuses to be defined by her disability. And she’s determined to let everyone know it…somehow.

I hope you get a chance to read the rest of this awesome book! You are more than welcome to share this with your students.

Friday, May 22, 2020

First Chapter Friday - Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Hey Friends! Here is my First Chapter Friday selection for May 22, 2020... Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys.

#1 New York Times bestseller and winner of the Carnegie Medal!

"A superlative novel . . . masterfully crafted."--The Wall Street Journal

Based on "the forgotten tragedy that was six times deadlier than the Titanic."--Time

Winter 1945. WWII. Four refugees. Four stories.

Each one born of a different homeland; each one hunted, and haunted, by tragedy, lies, war. As thousands desperately flock to the coast in the midst of a Soviet advance, four paths converge, vying for passage aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that promises safety and freedom. But not all promises can be kept . . .

Enjoy! Also, feel free to share with your students, although I am sure that I will be a poor substitution for YOU!!

Monday, May 18, 2020

Virtual Classrooms During Covid-19

Another week of quarantine means another week of distance learning. I know that many of you are starting summer break right about now, but here in NJ we still have a solid month of school remaining.

I wanted to share with you a cool thing that I added to my Google Classroom. I'd been seeing these really neat Bitmoji Virtual Classroom tutorials (check this one out!) and I wanted to create my own. Bitmoji isn't really my thing, but I used the same idea to create this Virtual Classroom Library*.

To show you how this works, I used Screencastify to make a video tutorial:

I'm sharing a black version of my template with you here. All you need to do is download a copy to your Drive. Then, open a new Slide and set the template as your "background." Finally, type in your name at the top, add your links, and share with your students!

If you've created a Virtual Classroom, I'd love to see it! Share it with me on Facebook!!


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Friday, May 15, 2020

First Chapter Friday - Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You

Here is my First Chapter Friday selection for May 15, 2020... Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi.

A timely, crucial, and empowering exploration of racism - and antiracism - in America
This is NOT a history book.
This is a book about the here and now.
A book to help us better understand why we are where we are.
A book about race.
The construct of race has always been used to gain and keep power, to create dynamics that separate and silence. This remarkable reimagining of Dr. Ibram X. Kendi's National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning reveals the history of racist ideas in America, and inspires hope for an antiracist future. It takes you on a race journey from then to now, shows you why we feel how we feel, and why the poison of racism lingers. It also proves that while racist ideas have always been easy to fabricate and distribute, they can also be discredited. 
Through a gripping, fast-paced, and energizing narrative written by beloved award-winner Jason Reynolds, this book shines a light on the many insidious forms of racist ideas - and on ways listeners can identify and stamp out racist thoughts in their daily lives.

You are more than welcome to share with your students. But, I'm sure they'd rather being seeing your face and hearing your voice. They miss you! I know it.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

First Chapter Friday - COVID-19 Version

I can't believe that I haven't been sharing these on my blog!! For the last seven weeks, I've been sharing a first chapter Friday with my kids via YouTube. I'm going to post the videos here. Feel free to share with your students, though I probably will be a poor substitute for YOU!! I assure you, they miss their teachers. I live with four young kids... trust me on this!!

Stay tuned to another one next Friday! I hope you are all hanging in there through these crazy times. Take care!

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Teaching During COVID-19

Welp, it's been six weeks of "distance learning" here in NJ. Our governor hasn't made the call yet to cancel the remainder of the school year, but considering how the rest of the states are trending, my guess is we will be closed, too.

At this point, my feelings are so mixed. I'm ready to get back to "normal," but also I'm scared of this disease. I want us to be as safe as humanly possible before we get back out there.

I've been hemming and hawing on writing this post. I've started it so.many.times only to just abruptly hit "delete" and shut my computer down. I just can't bring myself to sit down and offer advice on how to handle this situation. My guess is because I don't actually feel like I'm "handling" it. Every single day is a roller coaster of thoughts and emotion. Some days are beautiful and I feel so grateful for this time and period of "slow." But, then there are (many!) others where I'm crying in the bathroom and drinking way too much wine and failing to shake the elephant sitting on my chest. And what gets me most on those days is the guilt. It does not escape me - ever - that I am so blessed to live in a household where neither my husband or I need to leave the house AND our income has not been affected by the shut down. My kids are warm and safe and well-fed. Aside from complaining of being "bored" during the hours when they are not allowed screen time, they eventually figure out how to play with (and enjoy!!) the insane amount of toys, games, puzzles, sports' equipment, bikes, etc. we have and move on with their day.

I have nothing to complain about... and yet...

This is hard.

No other word for it. THIS.IS.HARD.

Teaching online is hard. Not seeing your students in person is hard. Zoom meetings are hard. Teaching your own children is impossible hard.

It's all hard.

And, I'm not sure it's all that effective either. There. I said it. Distance learning is blah, at best. Take it from someone who is educating four kids at home.

My oldest, who is 10, is autistic. He is highly-functioning, but school is a struggle. While most 4th graders are doing 4-6 hours a work a day, he has about three due to his modifications. However, a 15-minute (modified!) assignment can easily take him an hour because of all the scaffolding, bribing, coaxing, and crying he does. While we know he is capable and he’d be doing it for his special education teacher, we understand that our home is nothing like his classroom. And the relationship he has with his father and me is nothing like the ones he has with his teachers. We need to take multiple breaks, provide lots of snacks and opportunities for movement and “rewards,” and quiet time each day just to keep him going. Also, he cannot be left alone to work. One of us needs to be by his side, keeping on talk at all times. Needless to say, we get about 1.5-2 hours of his 3 hours finished each day. And both he and I are crying by the end 

My twins are bright and energetic. They love school and learning. They happily come to the table every day with big smiles, ready to go! However, they are six. They are just learning to read. There is nothing, absolutely NOTHING! that they can do by themselves. And, being six, their attention spans are about 90 seconds at most. So, while they gladly do their work and love that my husband and I are their teachers, we get about 2 hours of actual work done in the 6-hour window we are using for “school time.”

My only kid who seems to be doing fine is my middle child. She is completely self-sufficient, remembers to charge her Chromebook each night, and runs her own class meetings each day with her friends. And because she reads several grade levels about where she should and is gifted in math, she has needed zero help from her father or me. But, when an 8-year old is completely running her own show, is real actual learning even happening?!? Is she being challenged and frustrated and thinking critically if she requires zero help from an adult?

(Please know, I am not being critical of anyone here! EVERYONE - teachers, administration, parents, kids - are all working to the best of their ability. We are all trying and doing our best job!)

Anyway, because of my experience with my own kids AND because I'm a stickler for equity AND because I'm blessed to work for a district that has encouraged us to come from a place of calm and compassion, leaving the rigor and pace of our regular curriculum for activities that foster community and support, I haven't been bending over backwards to teach online.

Most of my "work" time is spent conversing with students online, talking to them and their parents on the phone, and providing feedback on the work kids are doing. I'm not making videos of myself lecturing, holding class via Zoom, grading till all hours of the night, or converting all my regular lessons to be compatible with Google Classroom.

Nope. Nope. Nope.

Now, I've refined my assignments since the beginning, but have stuck with the following over the last two weeks and I'm pretty sure I've found the "sweet spot." Thinking it will stay this way till for the remainder of quarantine. It just seems to be "enough." The kids can do it on their own (because so many of my kids are home alone during the day), it's not overwhelming, and it's engaging enough.

Weekly ELA Assignments for Distance Learning:
  1. Twenty minutes of self-selected reading per day - books, magazines, the newspaper... just read!
  2. Two Newsela articles per week, along with the quizzes, Power Word activities, and writing prompts 
  3. Twenty minutes of free writing per day
Not too bad, right? I know that for some of you, it probably seems too light. You'll also notice that there is no new "instruction" happening, rather, the kids are just practicing everything we've been doing all year. That is purposeful. Knowing how hard it is to get work done in my own home, where there are two parents present, a device for each person (at least!), and dependable WiFi, I want to be fair in my assignments and expectations for my students who might not have all that.

So, I'm not sharing this with you to compare. Not trying to spark any type of debate over what distance learning should look like. If you are doing what works for you and are meeting your district's requirements, kudos! 

But, I've been getting so many questions about what I'm doing during this time and I wanted to respond. I wanted to wait, though, till I felt like I was getting it right. And this work load feels "right."

Later this week, I'll be sharing some of the things that I use for free writing. But, this post is long enough, so I'm signing off!

I'd love to hear about your assignments during quarantine, so feel free to reach out over on Facebook or Instagram!

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Full-Stop! Some Words on COVID 19 and School

Oh, friends.

Is this ever a TIME or what?!

I'm not even sure what to say.

So many of you have reached out for guidance on what "distance learning" should look like. And more than anything, I want to help you! But, I am struggling with it all myself.

We are in our fourth week out. On the last day of school (March 16th), our kids took home packets that contained two weeks worth of work. So, we are "technically" only two weeks into distance learning.

I am making mistakes. I am overwhelmed. I am worried. I am crying (daily!!). And... I am teaching my own four kids every day.

I want to tell you that I have an answer. That I know just what to do... but I don't.

I am right there with you in the trenches, trying to figure all this out via Zoom!!

Anyway, as of this week, I *think* I have a pretty decent plan and I will share it with you next week.

Until then, I am leaving you with the most BEAUTIFUL words written by fellow blogger, Jaime Ragsdale. Jaime is a relatively new blogger and I've watched the viral spread of her amazing post. Unfortunately, Jaime isn't necessarily getting credit for essay, so please visit her page and give her some love!!

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From Jaime's blog

What if instead of “behind” this group of kids is advanced because of this? Let’s talk about helping our kids during social distancing.

Hear me out.

What if they have more empathy, they enjoy family connection, they can be more creative and entertain themselves, they love to read, they love to express themselves in writing.

What if they enjoy the simple things, like their own backyard and sitting near a window in the quiet. What if they notice the birds and the dates the different flowers emerge, and the calming renewal of a gentle rain shower?

What if this generation is the ones to learn to cook, organize their space, do their laundry, and keep a well-run home?

Helping Our Kids During Social Distancing

What if they learn to stretch a dollar and to live with less? What if they learn to plan shopping trips and meals at home.

What if they learn the value of eating together as a family and finding the good to share in the small delights of the everyday?

What if they are the ones to place great value on our teachers and educational professionals, librarians, public servants and the previously invisible essential support workers like truck drivers, grocers, cashiers, custodians, logistics, and health care workers and their supporting staff, just to name a few of the millions taking care of us right now while we are sheltered in place?
What if among these children, a great leader emerges who had the benefit of a slower pace and a simpler life. What is he or she truly learn what really matters in this life? Let’s talk about helping our kids during social distancing.

What if they are ahead?

Thank you for joining me for this time of reflection. If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to share it. You can learn a little about me over here.
I love connecting with my readers. Please leave a comment, subscribe to my email list, or find me on social media: Facebook or Instagram.
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You are so right, my friend. What if...
Thank you, Jaime!

A Little About Me – Jaime Ragsdale

Jaime and the Mr.
My Passions Include:

  • Finding Delight in Children
  • Money
  • Debt-free Living
  • Happy Marriage
  • Cooking and Baking
  • Cozy Minimalism
  • Organization
  • Home Design
  • Strategy and Goal-setting
  • Reading and Learning
  • Nature
  • Amateur Photography
  • Developing People
  • Learning Self-Care
  • Simple, Peaceful Living
  • And Getting is Altogether Mostly

I believe that every single person has a gift to share with the world. I love encouraging friends to live their best life so they can share that gift. I’m passionate about grace, justice, mercy, second chances, empathy, compassion, joy, and beauty. I use empathy and a little tough love to bring out the best in people.
We are passionate about our calling to be the parents we can possibly and we love helping others do the same. Here you’ll find encouragement and inspiration to become your best YOU.
Respectful Parenting
I have a Bachelors Degree in Theology, Masters Degree in Organizational Leadership.  I also earned a Certified Trust and Financial Advisor (CTFA) Certification and served in business in the financial services world for many moons before becoming a Work-from-Home mom.
I live in the Midwest United States with my amazing husband and wonderful children.

What if our kids are ahead after quarantine?