Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Teaching Inference-Activities and Links

I am so excited to share with you two amazing books I have recently shared with my students while teaching Inference. I find skill-based work difficult to contextualize with my students, but I feel these two hit the nail on the head! I will also share a link to a video of one of the books that I had the students watch prior to reading the book.

An inference is a conclusion reached on the basis of evidence and reasoning.

First, I have my students watch this 15 minute video on The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. 

The best part of this movie is that there are NO WORDS, so the students must use their inferential skills to deduct what is happening in the movie. I caution you to watch it first, because I cried the first time I watched it. 

Next, I had a conversation with them about what happened in the movie. Here are some sentence starters I used-
  • When the question mark appears on the book, and the rest of the pages are blank, what does the author infer is happening in Moriss' life?
  • What happens when Morris hands a book to someone? What can you conclude about the author's feeling toward books?
  • When the book is being fixed by Morris, what is the only way the book is saved? Use two specific pieces of evidence that support your conclusion.
  • What happens at the end of the story? How do you know what happens to Morris? What clues does the author give you? Did your prior knowledge help you come up with this conclusion? 
  • Whose picture will end up next to Moriss' on the library wall? 
 Then, I read the book to them. 
Discussion points were found here.
Discussion Points-
Why were books so important to Morris? Do you love books as much as Morris?
How did this book make you feel?
Describe how color is used to change the feeling of the book.
How does this book mirror life? Find examples of multiple meanings.
What examples are there in the book about being positive and negative? Explore the idea of how positive thinking can effect how we react to situations.
“Everyone’s story matters”. Explain what this means.
When Morris flew away, why do you think he changed back to the way he used to be?
“Sometimes Morris would become lost in a book and scarcely emerge for days”. Describe what this means to you. Have you ever felt ‘lost’ in a book? If so, which book?

Every student in your class will love this book. It is phenomenal! If you are a reader, it holds even more power to change you. Encourage your students to see books to have the power to change their life, and their "life" stories, just as Mr. Morris Lessmore did!

The other book is Grandpa Green and you can find all of the information for that book  here.





Wednesday, March 26, 2014

How to Survive a Defiant Student

Anyone recognize this? It is the tell-tale body language of a defiant student. It may just be that I am getting older, and perhaps more aware, or is it that we have seen an uptick in defiant student behavior? You'll hear the seasoned vets tell you that kids are "different" than they used to be. Parents do not help like they used to 10, 15, 20 years ago. You get the picture, right?  Teachers struggle daily with defiant students who do not seem to want to work with them, or comply with directions or instructions. I'm going to devote some time helping teachers understand and cope with defiance, because I think our schools would be a much better place to be! Remember, in order for there to be a conflict, there must always involve two parties! That means that when a student is in conflict there's another student involved, or a teacher.

Understanding Defiant Behavior
  •  Students may act out in order to mask limited academic or social skills.
  • Students can become defiant or confrontational if they lack the necessary skill to ask for help,or have not been modeled or taught how to approach conflict. Often another's words and actions are not read properly by the defiant student. 
  • Confrontational behavior has paid off for them in the past, or has been rewarded by giving them power or authority
  • Generally "ambiguous" behavior has been seen a provocation, and the student receives a reprimand which is unnecessary. Take the "Boy Who Cried Wolf" as an example. They're usually the ones in trouble. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

Top tips to start building a proactive vs. reactive classroom:
  • Always, I mean always remain outwardly calm. The student must not be aware that they are provoking you. This incites them, and encourages the power struggle to continue. Maintain a professional perspective when approaching the student.
  • Approach the student privately and use a quiet voice. Other students in the class should not be privy to your conversation with a defiant student. If they are, rest assured, the student will try to "save face" and will say or do things to make it look as if you are not in charge.
  • Establish eye contact, and begin by stating the student's name and what they need to do. For example, "John, you need to start the math assignment now." Make the request, and allow for a reasonable amount of time for the student to respond to the request. (5-20 seconds). Seriously, time yourself! I will bet you do not wait very long for them to comply with your request.
Okay, I waited 5-20 seconds. They still didn't do what I asked them to do. Now what? (P.S. I'm not surprised!)
  • Repeat the exact same request again, "John, please start the math assignment now." and wait a reasonable amount of time (5-20 seconds) for them to comply. Again, time yourself! If the student fails to comply with your request and you've asked in a professional, non-threatening manner, impart a 2-part choice. "John, you can start the math assignment now and receive a positive note home or receive a referral to the principal for failing to begin your math assignment as I've asked you to twice now. It is your choice." Wait again...(you'll receive your angel's wings for this level of patience)
  • Impose your selected negative consequence and ignore all student complaints or comments designed at engaging you in a power struggle. Offer them one last "face-saving" out. Tell the student calmly, "is there anything I can do to help you, or anything I can do to earn your cooperation?" 
I hope this helps all of your wonderful teachers out there! You have the hardest job, and this is an area of discipline I know we all struggle with. Is there any insight you have to offer on defiant behavior? I'd love to hear from you! 





Monday, March 24, 2014

Stay Where You Are and Then Leave by John Boyne




"The day the First World War broke out, Alfie Summerfield's father promised he wouldn't go away to fight—but he broke that promise the following day. Four years later, Alfie doesn't know where his father might be, other than that he's away on a special, secret mission. Then, while shining shoes at King's Cross Station, Alfie unexpectedly sees his father's name on a sheaf of papers belonging to a military doctor. Bewildered and confused, Alfie realizes his father is in a hospital close by—a hospital treating soldiers with shell shock. Alfie isn't sure what shell shock is, but he is determined to rescue his father from this strange, unnerving place. . . ."

Alfie Summerfield is just about as charming and precocious as you'd want to see in a young character in a book. This story warmed my heart from the start, as Alfie takes the place of his father while he is off to war. This precious child sees the world around him falling apart while his father is off fighting. To help make ends meet, Alfie takes to skipping school in order to shine shoes at the train station. Alfie hasn't seen or heard from his dad in ages, and with soldiers arriving with bad news on the daily, Alfie's sure his dad has surely been killed. But alas, he finds out through one of his customer's missteps that his dad, Georgie Summerfield, is at the local hospital suffering from "shell shock." I think in modern times, we would call this severe PTSD caused by the trauma of war. Alfie decides that his home is a much safer place for his dad to be. Will home be the best place for Georgie? One will need to pick John Boyne's Stay Where You Are and Then Leave  to find out what really happens. I enjoyed the realistic portrayal of this period in history, and think the author has done a fine job writing this book for middle grade readers. 

The Parent Pair 

Home Front by Kristin Hannah
"Like many couples, Michael and Jolene Zarkades have to face the pressures of everyday life---children, careers, bills, chores---even as their twelve-year marriage is falling apart. Then an unexpected deployment sends Jolene deep into harm’s way and leaves defense attorney Michael at home, unaccustomed to being a single parent to their two girls. As a mother, it agonizes Jolene to leave her family, but as a solider she has always understood the true meaning of duty. In her letters home, she paints a rose-colored version of her life on the front lines, shielding her family from the truth. But war will change Jolene in ways that none of them could have foreseen. When tragedy strikes, Michael must face his darkest fear and fight a battle of his own---for everything that matters to his family. At once a profoundly honest look at modern marriage and a dramatic exploration of the toll war takes on an ordinary American family, Home Front is a story of love, loss, heroism, honor, and ultimately, hope."

This book truly opened my eyes to the tragedies of war of which I was blithely unaware. A truly honest look at the toll that war takes on a family. Her gripping description of amputation, and what happens to your body was memorable and haunting. I gained a deeper understanding and appreciation for the plight of a soldier and his or her family. It was a phenomenal book. I zipped through the pages of this book, and have been a long-time Kristin Hannah fan. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

SALT by Helen Frost

A Story of Friendship in a Time of War
The War of 1812 sets this novel about an unlikely friendship between an American boy, James, and a boy from the Miami tribe named Anikwa into motion. The story itself is written prose-style, with James' text resembling the stripes on the American flag, and Anikwa's resembling a pattern of the Miami tribe. The beauty of this book is that it will not only give readers the historical background on the War of 1812, but it is also engaging, providing the reader with the perfect balance between history and humanity. There is little human connection when reading through the pages of a history book, but SALT gives the reader a front line account of what happens on the human side of war. Living conditions were terrible, and the human toll was immeasurable, and I think Helen Frost captured that sentiment with the delicate nature that only a children's author can do. A surprising delight!

A little about the War of 1812:  In the War of 1812, the United States took on the greatest naval power in the world, Great Britain, in a conflict that would have an immense impact on the young country’s future. Causes of the war included British attempts to restrict U.S. trade, the Royal Navy’s impressment of American seamen and America’s desire to expand its territory. The United States suffered many costly defeats at the hands of British, Canadian and Native American troops over the course of the War of 1812, including the capture and burning of the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., in August 1814. Nonetheless, American troops were able to repulse British invasions in New York, Baltimore and New Orleans, boosting national confidence and fostering a new spirit of patriotism. The ratification of the Treaty of Ghent on February 17, 1815, ended the war but left many of the most contentious questions unresolved. Nonetheless, many in the United States celebrated the War of 1812 as a “second war of independence,” beginning an era of partisan agreement and national pride.



Saturday, February 1, 2014

Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt


From the case files of, "what the heck took you so long to read this?", comes Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt. June is a typical shy teenager, left in the shadow of her dramatic older sister. The year is 1987, and anyone who was around during this time knows about HIV/AIDS. There was a huge stigma attached to the virus, and there were people saying, "be careful drinking out of someone's cup-you could catch it! Don't sit on the toilet seat, you could pick it up off of the seat." Looking at it in retrospect, it seems so archaic to think that way, but I don't think our society has evolved all that much since 1987. mean, we have controversy over a biracial Cheerios commercial for goodness sake! In the book, June's uncle Finn, a famous painter, has AIDS. He also has a "boyfriend" who surfaces as a mystery man at Finn's funeral. When June befriends this man, and finds out more about her Uncle Finn, she finds the one true thing they have in common-their love for Finn. The story is so nuanced, complicated and perfect, it really satisfies the reader's thirst for an amazing book. 



Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Whole Golden World by Kristina Riggle

The Whole Golden World by Kristina Riggle

It's not often that a book makes you think about the difficult and taboo subjects that plague our society, and threaten to ruin families, but that is exactly what Riggle's newest novel does. It brings to the surface a societal taboo-the inappropriate relationship between teacher and student. The Whole Golden World details the inappropriate relationship that develops between TJ Hill, and his student Morgan Monetti. What began as a platonic exchange between the two quickly progressed into a sexual relationship that left Morgan reeling. TJ had to cover his tracks to avoid his wife finding out, and Morgan lacked the maturity to understand his rejection. Cast on the road side like discarded trash, she still sticks by his side. Morgan's family is devastated by what happens, and her father, the school's Assistant Principal is assumed to have "known better". How could he have allowed his daughter to become involved with the teacher and not know about it?  It's amazing to think if the many lives that are affected when something like this happens. It is not just the parties involved, but their families, friends, and their lives are shattered. It was a very intriguing story that I won't soon forget.The story at times was maddening, and my outrage was tangible. That being said, I sailed through the pages in no time at all. If you are in the mood for a quick and engaging read that will leave you, or your book club with a lot to talk about, then look no further than The Whole Golden World. 

Amazon Link to buy: The Whole Golden World     


Monday, December 2, 2013

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion


The Rosie Project was a book I had looked forward to for many months, and garnered a ton of great press prior to its publication date. I saw it everywhere-5 stars! 5 stars! I was surprised when it took me a while to get into the book, but once I became accustomed to the idea of a man approximating everyone's BMI prior to launching into their relevance, I enjoyed the book. Don Tillman is a professor who has Asperger's (although at a book club discussion there was some dispute regarding whether or not he had this form of Autism himself. I tend to think he has Asperger's). Don encounters Rosie, a psych student who is on the lookout for her biological father. The whole meeting was arranged by Don's philandering colleague, Gene. Rosie's mother was a doctor, and died before revealing the identity of Rosie's father. Don is a renowned genetic scientist, and agrees to help Rosie test "samples" of all possible fathers. I'd be lying to you if I told you I didn't truly loved Rosie. I wanted her to find her father, but was ultimately puzzled by her unwavering trust in Don. His character can be obnoxious at time, but that may be my interpretation. I found many of the things he did endearing, and his commitment to help Rosie won the affection of my heart. I have to say, I don't think I would be as understanding as she was about Don's quirkiness. This book is not lengthy, and it really is a great story which I will be shocked if it is not picked up as a movie. I was casting characters in my brain while reading it. A solid 4-star book!
Melody, teacher, approximate BMI 20. (hehe)

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

It's Wednesday-What's in the Little Free Library?

Today, I'm starting a new feature where I drop a book into my Little Free Library for someone to snatch up, and share it here. That way, you can decide if it is worth the trip or not. The book I am putting in the L.F.L today was a true page-turner. It was featured on She Reads, and you'll want to get your hands on this one as soon as possible, and pass it on to your friends. Today's LFLW (Little Free Library Wednesday) selection is The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty. Here's my take on the book:


This is the first book of Liane Moriarty's that I have read, and I'm a fan! Do you believe in the idea that everything is destiny? Do you believe that your fate can be decided in a moment's notice? I believed that before reading this book, and realize just how many moments in my life could have been changed by an instantaneous decision. Would I be able to resist the temptation to read a letter addressed to me, to read only upon my husband's death? That's exactly how The Husband's Secret begins. With a letter. A letter that Cecelia's husband does not want her to read until he is dead. When Cecelia decides to open the letter even though John-Paul is not dead, what unfolds is a story so complicated that you won't want to do anything else until you find out what happens! Rachel Crowley is a widower who has also lost her teenaged daughter. Janie Crowley was murdered, and Rachel is convinced she know just who the murderer is. She'll see to it that Janie's death is avenged if it is the last thing she does. Does Rachel have the right suspect? Tess O'Leary has been shattered by a revelation by her husband, and sends her running into another man's arms. Does Tess have the courage to reunite her family? Is she choosing what is best for her? Or, will she make a decision simply to appease her family life?  The lives of these families are woven together so precisely by the author that you are invested in the outcome. You can readily see yourself in their shoes, and dare to imagine the possibilities of their scenarios in your own life.  A superb read! 

E-mail me at mellsimons@gmail.com for the address to my LFL! xo 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Report Cards-3 Do's and some Woes

It is that time of year, report card time. Ahhhh...the age-old report card. Our children are deemed worthy or unworthy based on that letter or numerical grade that you see while sitting in front of your exhausted teachers 3 times a year. I've written enough report cards to know that there is so much more to your children than a grade or a number, but yet we have never moved away from this system. Do I believe the system is flawed? Yes. Do I wish there was a universal way to express difficulties and strengths? Yes. However, here we are, still requiring teachers to submit grades. Here are some do's and woes of writing report cards.

1. Do-Be specific. Saying that Johnny is a "really nice boy" not only prevents the parents from intervening and helping, but it is essentially null and void to the teacher who ends up with Johnny in their class next year. Saying he is a "nice boy" won't help the teacher who tests Johnny the following year, and sees that he is 2 years below his grade-level, and has a D- in Reading from you the year before. Oh, Johnny is 3 grade-levels behind in reading? Well, being a "nice boy" should make up for that, right? NO!
If you are going to give a child a grade, be specific in your comments, so the parents and future teachers will have a clue as to how the child received that grade. It is a huge pain in the rear to be overly-specific, but it is a public service, really.
Here is an example:
Johnny is receiving a D- in reading.  Report card comments with some specificity benefit all stakeholders!
Johnny struggles with reading comprehension and fluency. His early assessments reflect that he is reading at a ______ reading level. Typically, students in our grade level read at a ____ to ____ reading level. He has performed poorly on tests, and in-class assignments, which resulted in a grade that does not meet grade-level proficiency. In the classroom, I alternate between reading whole-class, and in small groups. I have modified Johnny's reading by including the following interventions: (List any and all modifications). Johnny's reading proficiency would be greatly benefitted by being read to at home, as well as following along with an audio version of a text while reading. Please have Johnny read 20-30 minutes at home.
This gives the parent something they can specifically do, and also gives anyone else who views this report card a tangible idea of who this child really is, and what they struggle with.

2. Do-Start with a positive. I know it seems obvious, but it isn't. We as teachers loathe when your students use the word "nice" in writing, or "sweet", but teachers are the worst offenders! Try to find something redeeming to say, even if you have to search to the depths of your soul for that comment. Starting out with a "Peyton has always been there to lend a helping hand, and I truly appreciate that" goes a long way with parents. The parents who have a tyrant know it, and they know you're going to bring it up during the conference. Buy yourself some brownie points, and start out with a wonderful pat on the back. Then you can get down to the nitty-gritty.

3. Do-Be honest. I think it is important, as uncomfortable as it may make the conference, to be honest with parents. I want to go back to #1, where we talked about specifics, because I think it applies here. Saying that Michael "constantly disrupts class" is one thing, but saying "Michael disrupts class by throwing things, becoming physical with classmates, and defies authority" really allows parents the opportunity to understand what "disruption" is in your opinion. Allow the parents and future teachers to understand what is at hand. Elaborate on the reasons why the child is having difficulty at school, and why a "U" for behavior is justified. Saying Mark has difficulty "keeping things in order" is true, but telling the parents "despite repeated attempts to work with Mark on keeping his desk and notebook clean, and free of debris, we have been unsuccessful. I have used my time during lunch and recess to assist him in cleaning his desk, and folder out. Mark and I have discussed the urgency in keeping his desk and folder clean, and I encourage you to do the same with him. This has impeded his progress, and may account for the loss of points due to missing homework and classwork assignments."

Woe-The things you wish you could say are not listed on the report card.
There are no boxes to check for repeat offenses.
Messy Desk
Off task behaviors (a percentage may be helpful here 0%, 10%, 100% etc.)
Interrupts teacher (a percentage may be helpful here as well!)
Defies authority
Disrespectful
Number of missing assignments______
Restroom usage per day (Parent: you may want to consider funding a classroom restroom for your child)
Number of notes parent has written to excuse assignments _____
Number of excuses heard for why something cannot be done this trimester ____

I love my job so very much! I wouldn't trade it for the world, and only now can I look back at my report cards (the terrible ones I wrote...hundreds!) and realize what parents should have been told, rather than what I really said. It is important at this time to laugh about some of the things that go on in our world as educators, and not allow it to break us. We are all learning together. It's what makes it a journey worth taking. That, and Thanksgiving break is just around the corner. 9 days to be exact. But who's counting?






Friday, November 8, 2013

The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty


This is the first book of Liane Moriarty's that I have read, and I'm a fan! Do you believe in the idea that everything is destiny? Do you believe that your fate can be decided in a moment's notice? I believed that before reading this book, and realize just how many moments in my life could have been changed by an instantaneous decision. Would I be able to resist the temptation to read a letter addressed to me, to read only upon my husband's death? That's exactly how The Husband's Secret begins. With a letter. A letter that Cecelia's husband does not want her to read until he is dead. When Cecelia decides to open the letter even though John-Paul is not dead, what unfolds is a story so complicated that you won't want to do anything else until you find out what happens! Rachel Crowley is a widower who has also lost her teenaged daughter. Janie Crowley was murdered, and Rachel is convinced she know just who the murderer is. She'll see to it that Janie's death is avenged if it is the last thing she does. Does Rachel have the right suspect? Tess O'Leary has been shattered by a revelation by her husband, and sends her running into another man's arms. Does Tess have the courage to reunite her family? Is she choosing what is best for her? Or, will she make a decision simply to appease her family life?  The lives of these families are woven together so precisely by the author that you are invested in the outcome. You can readily see yourself in their shoes, and dare to imagine the possibilities of their scenarios in your own life.  A superb read!