“I want to write about what happened at the school in Florida,” is the phrase that started the conversation today with my fifth graders.
I’ll let this email to my classroom families explain the rest.
Dear Classroom Families,
I’m writing to let you know that we had a whole class discussion today about what happened in Florida. It was not planned- it came up naturally.
During our morning meeting, I asked the kids to think about an issue they care about for our argument writing pre-assessment later today, which is a regular part of our fifth grade curriculum (we call these on-demand writing assessments). The kids started to share out their ideas: Pollution, global warming, and then one student said she wanted to write about “what happened at the school in Florida.” Suddenly, hands flew in the air, and the kids really wanted to express their thinking around the topic, which turned into a talk about what they think and feel about school safety and even the issue with guns. Please know that I completely kept my opinion out of the conversation and just made sure they had a safe space to express their thinking. We actually have a lot of differing opinions and beliefs in class, and the kids did a beautiful job listening to each other and talking out how they feel. I’m very proud of all of them.
I told them I was going to write to you to let you know that this issue came up in class, and that it is a conversation they should also share with you when they get home today if they still wanted to talk about it. Please, do not hesitate to let me know if you have any questions. Again, this wasn’t planned, but I am glad we had the conversation because many kids in class desperately wanted to share their thinking.
Did I say and do the right things? I think so. I hope so. I’m not sure. However, one thing I know for sure is that kids these days are just incredible. We, adults, could learn a great deal from them. They listened to each other, they actually heard each other, and when one had a differing opinion from another, they tried to understand where that person was coming from as opposed to trying to convince them otherwise. It was refreshing to listen in as they lead the honest, mature conversation.
If dialogue like this continues to happen in our schools and in our homes with the younger generation, our future as a country is in good hands. We need to start listening more to our kids rather than telling them what we think. They have a lot to teach us. I hope our present leaders take note.
I’ve been thinking lately that my fifth graders need more opportunities to talk about books that they are reading and learn about books that may be new to them. We often do book talks as a whole class and partner talks, but I wanted to incorporate a more fun and casual way to chat about books. So, last week in class we started a new activity to get us moving and quickly talking about books. We call this activity The Fifth Grade Book Mingle! Book Mingling happens in a few simple steps.
Step 1: Students come in at the start of the school day and get right to our morning soft start (thank you, Sara Ahmed!). During soft starts, students enter the room, put their things away, and settle into reading a book of their choice for 15-30 minutes. It is a great way to start the day! All of my students read and I get to confer with them as they do. We do this every single day.
Step 2: I ask students to come to a good stopping point in their books and then announce,”Get ready to mingle!”
Step 3: Music starts and students move about the room while holding up their books in view of their fellow minglers.
Step 4: Music stops, students talk about their books and ask each other questions! To get students going with this, I modeled talking about my current read, Love by Matt de la Peña, with a couple different students. I talked about what I really liked about the book and how it made me think and feel. I also asked questions about the books my temporary book mingle partners were reading.
Step 5: Repeat steps 3 and 4 a few times!
Book mingling is such a fun way to get kids up and moving, talking about their books, and then learning about new books their friends are reading- which will grow their to-read lists. My goal is to do this with my fifth graders two to three times each week. With book mingling, engagement is high and the talk around books is natural and authentic.
Today, one of my fifth graders came in with this piece of paper. She spent time on her own last night looking up Swedish words and phrases so she could communicate with her kindergarten reading buddy who just moved here from Sweden. She did this completely on her own. I love that I get to work with kids. I see the good in the world, firsthand, every single day. Imagine if more adults in the world made choices like this?
Small Writing/Big Idea
Think back to your days in school. What is it that you remember most as a student? Field trips, assemblies, friendships, great teachers, reading, writing?
You might be wondering why I tacked on reading and writing to the end of this list. Recently, in casual conversation at school, a couple people were mentioning that kids don’t remember the academics of school, but rather the “fun” stuff like field trips or field days or festivals. While I don’t disagree with this idea (who doesn’t love field trips?), I have to say that it is only part of the truth.
If academics are presented to kids in ways that both engage and empower them, that is
Making writing engaging and memorable with Heart Mapping inspired by Georgia Heard
exactly what they’ll remember. The most powerful teachers are those who effectively inspire students to learn, wonder, create, and take chances. Kids remember being engaged in learning.
Nothing warms my heart more than when a former student writes a letter or comes back to visit and tells me that he loved reading in my classroom or that she never knew the power of writing could be so strong. Better yet, nothing is better than when they tell me that they still love reading or writing.
What do students remember? They remember what we value as teachers. They remember the passion, excitement, and community around what we choose to deem important. I know what I deem important. What is it for you? What will your students remember?
Falling in Love With Books
Reading: It’s Just What We Do!