Author Archives: krapier

Teacher Heart

Anyone else remember this?

Anyone else remember this?

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about teacher questioning and class discussion. I’ve been mulling over what it takes to get students engaged in what my literacy textbook calls a “lively discussion” about a text (which, as it turns out, is apparently the best way to enhance students’ reading comprehension). Those thoughts led me down the primrose path to Deep Thoughts about learning, memory, and the conditions required for obtaining new knowledge and retaining it. (I know you can feel your eyes glazing over, but please bear with me! I’m going somewhere good, I promise!)

buellerMy thoughts wandered to my own experiences as a student. I tried to remember if I had ever had a teacher who asked the kinds of questions that aroused my and my classmates’ attention enough to have even a halfhearted discussion about a text, much less a lively one. Lo and behold, I did have a teacher like that–my 11th grade Honors English teacher.

What stands out in my mind today is a vivid memory of discussions about The Great Gatsby–the symbolic meaning of West Egg and East Egg, the literary devices gatsby green light quoteFitzgerald used to foreshadow the disastrous outcome of Gatsby and Daisy’s ill-fated love affair, and what the green light really represents. (In case anyone else is doing the math, I was a junior in high school 24 years ago, so my remembering anything from any class is pretty remarkable.) Other, seemingly unrelated details come to my mind, like where I sat, the color of the louver blinds covering the windows, and the expression on my teacher’s face as she facilitated the discussions.

ad44As I reflected on how she taught, I wondered how she came up with those excellent questions. Back then I was a painfully naive 16-year-old, and I assumed she just dreamed up such wonderful questions on the fly, kind of like pulling a rabbit out of a hat. Now I realize that she spent time and effort designing questions with the express purpose of eliciting the kinds of responses that would result in lively discussions.

The thing is–and this is where it gets good, so hold on just a bit longer–this teacher was tina-fey_2more than just a teacher to me. She was the first person in my life who made me feel like a person and not just a dippy kid. She interacted with me in a way that affirmed my hope that I was becoming an individual who could and should make things happen for myself. She asked thought-provoking questions even outside of class and about the trivial details of my life, questions that forced me to begin thinking critically about what I believed in and what was important to me. What’s more, her interest in me seemed genuine, even though she taught 3 or 4 different English classes every day to at least 100 other students.

There’s this quote by Maya Angelou that I keep seeing everywhere, and she says it much better than I ever could: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” I guess what I’m saying here is that all the research-proven teaching strategies in all the world don’t mean anything if there’s no heart behind them.

  • Highly recommended, probably required, and perhaps mandatory reading for all who have not, yet: Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco. For the rest of us? The Secret Remedy Book by Karein Cates, delightfully illustrated by Wendy Anderson Halperin. I hear that with a small modification in paradigm, I can learn how to be that “teacher heart” I’ve mentioned.
  • (Read them! If you’ve already read both, read them again! You can thank me later.)

Posted by Karen Rapier, a senior in Elementary Education at Utah Valley University, in Orem, UT

Can’t Help Falling…

£££-Blown-Up-House

The state of my house since school started

Beloved reader, it has been six weeks since I last posted. Six weeks! According to the Internet, that’s how long it took Charles Dickens to write A Christmas Carol. (If it’s on the Internet, you know it’s gotta be true.) I hear you asking me, “What’s the deal? Why has it taken so long to write a new post???” Well, I’ll give it to you straight. School started, and life blew up. Kaboom! (From the looks of my house right now, this might literally be true.)

So much has happened since early August. There are countless tales of triumph and woe I could tell. The most exciting thing to happen, however, is that Fall Foliage Watch 2014 has begun chez UVU Forum on Engaged Reading. That’s right–here at FTLOR Central we’re anxiously scanning the majestic mountains of Utah Valley for blips and pops of scarlet and ochre. Fall could happen any day!

goodbye august, hello september

I adore fall. It’s always been my favorite season. (Confession: This might have something to do with the fact that my birthday comes around this time of year.) I know springtime is a favorite for many, but for my money you can’t beat the crisp air, vibrant color, and dappled golden sunlight of late September and October.

For the full fall experience, one of the most beautiful places in all the world in mid October is Park City, Utah. I’m not a skier so I can’t comment on its beauty (or lack thereof) during the winter months, but the beauty of October in Park City and the surrounding area takes my breath away! The scrub oak turns shades of crimson, and the aspens shimmer with burnished gold.

October 6, 2013: Fall colors on Pinecone Ridge near Park City, Utah

October 6, 2013: Fall colors on Pinecone Ridge near Park City, Utah

alternative-health-care-choices-for-chronic-painAs luck would have it, there’s something wonderful happening in Park City toward the end of next month. That’s right, it’s the Fourth Annual Forum on Engaged Reading on October 23-24 at The Chateaux Resort in Deer Valley! On account of my connections with some Extremely Important People, I managed to get a sneak peek at the program, and as I read over it I began sweating bullets. Why? Well, based on what I read, each session is jam-packed with charismatic presenters and irresistible ideas. How will I possibly choose one presentation when I need to be at all of them?

hermione-granger-galleryUnless I stumble upon a Time-Turner over the next month and manage to split myself several ways a la Hermione Granger, I think the obvious strategy here is to divide and conquer. So who’s going? Let’s divvy up the schedule and draw straws. I’ve got dibs on Gene Nelson’s Books 4 Boys presentation!

All In The Family

What could go wrong?

Yesterday my brother and his wife welcomed their sixth child and my parents’ 20th grandchild into the world. I’m the mother of four of those 20 grandchildren, which makes me an aunt to 16 smallish people. I love being an aunt! Compared to parenthood, it’s a trip to Disneyland. As the oldest of five children, I feel it’s my sacred duty to recount to my nieces and nephews all the hairy details of their parents’ early years. I might embellish a bit from time to time, but it’s mostly all true.

I’m still learning how to be a teacher, but I’ve been a parent for almost 18 years now (how time does fly when you’re having fun!). In thinking about families and teaching, Super Genius 1it occurs to me that families are a child’s first teachers and home her first school. The instructional methods vary widely; there’s no prior-year CRT or curriculum map for a kindergarten teacher to review. Nevertheless, children learn a great deal from their families, and a smart teacher is mindful of the many ways students’ family backgrounds affect an individual student’s educational outcomes and, in a broader sense, the classroom dynamic.

Calvin and Hobbes, by Bill Watterson

The summer is fast winding down to a close, and that means it’s time for family reunions. In fact, I’m scheduled to attend one next week. I’m looking forward to watermelon, green grass, delicious salads, sticky children, and clusters of chatty grownups.

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Thinking about the reunion reminded me of one of my favorite children’s books! I read this book for the first time about five years ago, when it came in a group of Newbery-award-winning books I had purchased through school book orders. It’s called The Relatives Came, and it was written by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Stephen Gammell. 

I don’t think it’s the kind of book I would ever have picked up on my own, but the first time I read it to my children, I knew it meant something special to me. The story, told from the perspective of a first-person omniscient narrator, begins by detailing the narrator’s relatives’ long trip from Virginia to visit. The joy experienced by each member of this extended family as they see and greet and love each other again is plainly evident through the pictures and the words.

I can envision this book used as the anchor text for a first-week-of-school lesson plan for language arts. First, ask students if they have ever attended a family reunion, especially during the previous summer. Invite several students to share their experiences. Next, play this YouTube video for your students–it’s a read-aloud of The Relatives Came. Ask the students how the relatives felt about each other and what words the author used to communicate those feelings.

edoutreach_1Next, have the class participate in a graffiti shared-writing experience; you might have different writing spots where students share what family reunions look like, smell like, and feel like. Then assign the students to write about a family reunion they have attended using as many descriptive details and words as they can. Ask them to include a “family picture” that would have been taken at the reunion.

Once the students have completed the assignment, don’t forget to allow a few students to share their stories and artwork with the class, and while they do, emphasize that everyone’s family is different and special because of its unique ways. This lesson is especially effective at the beginning of the school year because some students experience new-school-year jitters, and thinking about their families can bring feelings of comfort and security. Moreover, our students’ families play a dramatic role in shaping their identities, and when we honor their families, we demonstrate that our classrooms are safe places for our students to learn and grow.

More books for celebrating extended families:

Aunt Claire’s Beehive Hair by Beborah Blumenthal, AuntCLAIREillustrated by Mary GrandPré (2007, Pelican);

What a Family! WhataFAMby Rachel Isadora (2006, Putnam)

Me and My Family Tree me & famTREEby Joan Sweeney, illustrated by Annette Cable (2000, Dragonfly Books)

In My Family/En mi familia by Carmen Loma Garza, In-My-Family-En-Mi-Familia-9780892391639illustrated by Annette Cable (2000, Children’s Book Press)

 

Posted by Karen Rapier, an elementary education major at Utah Valley University in Orem, UT

Tiny Gardens, Young Minds

I think I went to school with that guy...

I think I went to school with that guy…

Earlier this week I tweeted and posted a thing or two on Facebook about fairies–books that describe them, gardens that welcome them, and adventures in finding them. Since then I’ve been thinking a lot about how to incorporate a study of fairies into the classroom. Hold on a second! I know what you’re thinking: “C’mon, are you serious? If I started teaching about fairies, I’d have a flood of parent complaints. If I’m going to do that I may as well enroll a chimpanzee as a student in my class and call it an ‘educational experience’!”

Bear with me for a minute. Without question, the first order of business would be to send home a well timed and carefully worded note that clearly explains the unit you have planned and details the pedagogical value of the unit on fairies. You’d be sure to make clear that you can neither confirm nor deny the existence of fairies to your students, which is best handled by your students’ families. Now you’re asking what I might possibly find in a study of fairies that could have pedagogical value, and that’s a valid question. The following is my answer, which I hope you will find not only legitimate but persuasive as well.  

MiniFairyGarden_top1

The Utah Core Standards for social studies in kindergarten, first, and second grades state that students will be able to use geographic tools and skills, including maps and globes, and 1364782980_1understand map legends and directions. Now, because of that wonderful semester I spent in Educational Psychology (I’m serious! It was hard, but it was also really fun) learning about Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, I know that some students’ learning styles are better suited to visual/spatial, bodily/kinesthetic, and naturalist approaches.

I think you know where I’m going with this one. That’s right, a fairy garden is little more than a diorama of a physical (either real or imagined) space, combined with soil, plants, and other living and nonliving natural features. Because it is a 3D representation, it benefits visual and kinesthetic learners. Its use of plants, rocks, and natural objects facilitates learning for those who lean in the naturalist direction. A fairy garden can include houses, streets, signposts with directions, water features, even tiny human people. Depending on how the garden/city is laid out, students can gain a clearer sense of Core Standards concepts such as “grid,” “landmark,” and “compass.” Moreover, because it’s a fairy garden, the unit satisfies a science Core Standard with regard to examining living and nonliving things (such a multi-tasker!).

moreI think I’ve made a fairly strong case for this idea, but I’m not one for resting on my laurels. That’s why I’ve come up with even more applications. In Writers’ Workshop, why not encourage students to write stories set in the class fairy garden? Instruct them to visually examine the garden and then include those details in their writing, so that someone who hasn’t had a chance to see the garden personally can still imagine what it looks like.

Here’s another idea–as a class, identify a tiny object that can be moved within the fairy garden. Explain to students that as soon as they get to school tomorrow they will want to search for and find the object. Then, after students have gone home for the day, hide the object in a particular place in the garden. For bell work the next morning, have students find the object and write a short paragraph describing its specific location in the garden. Emphasize that they should use directional and measurement words. Collect the responses and pull them randomly to read aloud. The first student whose response correctly describes the location of the target object can have the chance to hide the object for the next day.

Once upon a time in a quiet, peaceful village lived a....

Once upon a time in a quiet, peaceful village lived a….

At this point you’re probably thinking you might be able to do this with your class, but you’re not sure where to start. How about this–collect students’ milk containers, rinse them out, and have students make them into houses and other buildings in the fairy garden. In the note you send home explaining the project, tell parents that students are welcome to contribute craft supplies, plants, and other small objects lying around the house. Ask students to gather pebbles, twigs, acorns, pinecones, and other interesting items in nature. Consider writing a grant proposal and submitting it to local garden centers, asking for donations of soil, plants, and a large container for your garden. More than anything, keep it simple and cost-effective, and as a teacher, you’re already really good at that!

Posted by Karen Rapier, an elementary education major at Utah Valley University in Orem, UT

Is This Going In My Permanent Record?

Lately I’ve been thinking about biographies and why it’s important to select quality children’s biographies, and I had a horrifying thought: What if a children’s biography were written about me? What kinds of details would be included? How about my “loose” housekeeping style, or my inability to get dinner on the table before 7 o’clock? I’m positive I remember sitting down to dinner at 6:39 p.m. one evening in early June!

On the other hand, what if the author only portrayed me as a goody-two-shoes Mormon miracle mother and wannabe schoolteacher who selflessly put her children’s needs above her own all the days of her life? Yuck! That’s not the kind of drivel I’d want written about me either. You see where I’m going with this, right? In a way, a biography is someone’s Permanent Record.

Is there one of these with my name written on it somewhere?

Is there one of these with my name on it somewhere?

I’m reflecting back on a simpler time in my life–the 1980’s–when my loving and well-meaning parents subscribed to a series of pseudo-biographical books called ValueTales. The one I’m looking at right now is entitled “The Value of Compassion: The Story of Florence Nightingale.” Here’s a direct quote for your reading enjoyment: “Florence knew this was not going to be easy, but she welcomed the challenge” (p. 41, for anyone who wants to see it with their own eyes).

I have a few questions for the author of this book. Were you there with Florence during the Crimean War? Did you hear her say, “This isn’t going to be easy, but I welcome the challenge, by gum!” LAMPAre you actually her trusty oil lamp Lucy, who fanned the flames of Florence’s desire to alleviate suffering and save lives? (Note: Lucy is actually a fictitious talking oil lamp, a character invented by the author in an effort to “simplify” difficult concepts for children’s immature minds.)

Fortunately for us, it’s a new century: We now know that children don’t need simplified information. In fact, their minds crave the retelling of complex, genuine experiences. FlorenceLAMPFurthermore, they engage and understand much more readily when the information is presented in a fair, unbiased manner; when the historical figure is presented as a whole person, rather than a caricature of evil or a paragon of virtue; and when the illustrations that accompany the text complement the book’s theme. 

As luck would have it, a Florence Nightingale biography was published for children earlier this year, written and lovingly illustrated by Demi. I’ve perused it online, and I look forward to reading it in person sometime soon. Curiously, the book’s Amazon preview fails to show any images of Florence talking to an oil lamp.

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Florence Nightingale, by Demi. 2014: Henry Holt & Co.

Posted by Karen Rapier, an elementary education major at Utah Valley University in Orem, UT

Don’t Let Core Standards Bug You!

I attended elementary school in the early 80s, and I have been wracking my brain trying to remember learning anything about insects during those years. If I did, I sure don’t remember it now.

insect_wallpaper14

“Take me to your leader!”

Earlier this week when I started thinking about reading and bugs and books and teaching, only the most basic insect ideas came to mind. My brain was bringing up only boring, factual kinds of things, like insects’ exoskeleton, their head/thorax/abdomen body structure, and the six-leg requirement. But as I thought more deeply, it occurred to me that factual lessons about insects (or about anything else, for that matter!) aren’t going to cut it for today’s elementary and secondary students. They’re growing up in a far more complex environment than the one I grew up in.

When I started kindergarten in 1979, a Japanese telecom company began offering analog cell-phone service. That same year, Usenet, a predecessor of the World Wide Web, was born. The compact disc was invented. The Atari 400, an early computer gaming platform, was made available to consumers. (Side note: I’m old!) Fast-forward to today. We carry portable, handheld computers in our pockets. (These computers also function as phones–a fact my teenagers conveniently forget whenever I need to talk to them.) My kids play video games on a system that wirelessly connects to the Internet and responds to voice commands. Old CDs are reused in children’s crafts. The world has changed dramatically since I was a kid, and it continues to evolve at breakneck speed.

Could we have a moment of silence for this now-useless communication device?

Could we have a moment of silence for this now useless communication device?

Many positive outcomes can be directly traced to the new Common Core Standards. I applaud its implementation because of this: it forced us to start paying closer attention to the educational needs of the students growing up now. Because of these highly demanding standards, we all started thinking and talking and doing something about what it takes to compete, survive, and ideally thrive in a time of historic technological and social change.

When the students of today become the adults of tomorrow, they’ll need critical-thinking skills to solve problems brought about by climate change. They could develop solutions to solve the mysteries of phenomena such as honeybee colony collapse disorder. They might also be forced to come up with creative food sources (mealworms for dinner, anyone?).

Fortunately for teachers and students alike, authors and illustrators continue to write and publish books that spark engagement and pique curiosity. When combined with careful and focused lesson planning, these titles can provide students with quality learning experiences that will stick with them. Some of the best bug books out there include The Beetle Book, written and illustrated by Steve Jenkins, which can be used to get students thinking about the “jobs” beetles do in different ecosystems, not to mention its abilities to inspire close-up observation and a great deal of scrutiny in telling and writing description! Then there’s The Case of the Vanishing Honeybees: A Scientific Mystery by Sandra Markle, or The Hive Detectives: Chronicle of a Honey Bee Catastrophe (from the Scientists in the Field Series) by Loree Griffin Burns and Ellen Harasimowicz, either of which (or both of which) can be paired with other books (or each other), like What Is Pollination? by Bobbie Kalman or What If There Were No Bees?: A Book about the Grassland Ecosystem by Suzanne Slade to introduce a science unit on cause and effect.

The Core Standards definitely require teachers to up their game, but that’s nothing to get antsy about. With the help of quality nonfiction titles like these, it’s hard to go wrong.

Posted by Karen Rapier, an elementary education major at Utah Valley University in Orem, UT

 

Living Green, Teaching Green

A few weeks ago, my seven-year-old daughter had an unusual request: “Can we grow something I can eat?” (This is a child who loves fruits and vegetables as long as they aren’t touching any other foods.) mother-daughter-kitchenI asked her which foods she thought might be good to grow; her reply included carrots, strawberries, and grapes. Here’s my confession: When I asked her the question about which foods we should try to grow, I was buying time and hoping she’d get distracted and forget all about growing food. I didn’t know what to say!

It seems like such a simple request, but just thinking about it makes me feel overwhelmed. I’ve tried growing vegetables once or twice, and it was a bust every time. Who knows why–maybe I didn’t do it right. Maybe I overwatered or underwatered. Or maybe the planets just weren’t quite aligned and karma decided that gardening and me were not to be. Regardless, I’m pretty sure I missed out on inheriting any of my grandma’s talents for growing a healthy, abundant vegetable garden. I can grow flowers fine, A young girl planting some strawberry plants...but my vegetable gardens of the past have looked nothing like hers. Instead they end up looking sad and bedraggled, and my plants develop these tiny appendages that resemble alien babies more than food.

backyard-vegetable-garden

Not really my grandma’s garden, but hers looked a lot like this!

My daughter’s request got me thinking, though, about the food we eat–where it comes from, how it’s grown and harvested, and whose hands touched it before ours did. It’s obvious she’s curious about how food becomes what it is, and it’s important for children to have experiences that help them learn that food grows in the ground before it ever gets to the grocery-store shelves. Here’s a teacher in Arizona who is doing that by growing food with her students (YouTube clip): Teaching kids where their food comes from

While planting and growing a class garden would certainly engage students (dirt! worms! rocks! yay!), it’s a big project that takes considerable planning, commitment, and time. Teaching Responsibility Through GardeningBut you don’t have to grow a garden with your class to get them thinking about sustainability. How about a unit on trash and recycling? Use the book Where Does the Garbage Go? and end the unit with a field trip to clean up a public park. Here’s another idea–in a science unit on sunlight and energy, students carry out an experiment by growing vegetables using varying amounts of sunlight and water and record the results. Once the students have gathered their data, invite a local farmer to the classroom to evaluate the students’ findings and talk about the complexities of growing food for many.

The wonderful thing about designing lessons around sustainability is that the issues are pragmatic and timely. Students are already aware of the importance of conserving resources, and they’re eager to do their part. What’s more, most sustainability initiatives incorporate elements of science, social studies, math, and literacy, providing an engaging, authentic, and memorable learning experience. For my money, it doesn’t get more green than that.

Posted by Karen Rapier, an elementary education major at Utah Valley University in Orem, UT