Quechee Public Library Trip

For the past week I have enjoyed walking and, on some days, taking a bus to the Quechee Public Library with all OQS students to discuss their summer programming, learn about all the wonders their library has to offer, and to get some students library cards of their very own!

Handouts regarding the summer programs offered at any of the four Hartford Public Libraries will go home this week.  You’ll see me and my kids at many of the Quechee programs on Tuesdays at 4 o’clock, especially the kickoff June 18th for a hilarious puppet show!

From movie rentals to national park passes to CDs to online books to potatoes (yes! I said potatoes!), your public library has it all!  Don’t forget to visit yours this summer and keep those kids reading!

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Being The Change

I can’t even begin to describe how proud I was yesterday to bring the 5th grade students to the Norwich Bookstore in Norwich, VT, to take the research they have been doing for over a month throughout our Diversity Audit and turn it into action.  We took the data from the infographics the students created and used those recommendations to formulate a plan for what types of books we were looking for at the Norwich Bookstore.

When we arrived at the bookstore, Ms. Liza Bernard, the owner, had a display ready and at least 20 books on hand to booktalk to the students about what makes them diverse.

She talked about the importance of buying and reading books with diverse characters in them, books written by diverse authors, and how books can be both doors and mirrors for the people who read them!  She is a Diversity Detective in spirit!  She had books with autistic characters, books that celebrate cultures and religions around the world, books with characters in wheelchairs, characters of diverse races and books written by diverse people.  It was a diversity smorgasbord!

I wish I had taken more pictures of my students and their book choices but I was inundated with student questions, excitement, and requests to buy more than their allotted one book!  It was the best kind of way to be inundated by student engagement!

In the end, we purchased 23 new books for the library based on student recommendations from their infographics.  Each group had an index card with their recommendation, as well as a recommendation from the fourth grade, who couldn’t come with us.  We made a huge contribution to future OQS students and readers!

My only regret is because that it is so late in the year, these amazing 5th graders can’t take these books home and read them for themselves! I’ve encouraged them to come down and borrow them for DEAR time, and they read them while waiting for their buses after STEAM.  They feel amazing knowing that their research and voices mattered, and they have taken a huge and powerful step in improving the diversity of stories being told in our library!

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Perspective & Data Collection

The past two weeks have been full of big ideas and powerful conversation as we take time to focus on the why of our diversity audit, and I try to instill empathy in our students for marginalized groups whose stories may not be being told in our library.  We welcomed Mr. John Hall, Chair of the Hartford Committee for Racial Inclusion and Equality, here to join in our discussion on telling someone else’s story.

After unpacking the norms for these sometimes difficult conversations using the Four Agreements of Courageous Conversations , I asked the students to turn to a partner and in one minute tell that person’s story.  After all, they had been classmates together for 9 months now, they must know each other very well!

After “storytelling,” I asked the students, how did it feel to hear someone else’s perception of you? How accurate was it?  What parts of you were left out? Was it your whole self?  Here were some of their responses when I asked how accurate the other person’s perceptions were:

  • “I didn’t know if I should tell them what they wanted to hear.”
  • I don’t want to make anyone feel bad.”
  • It was odd.”
  • The facts were wrong.”
  • “I don’t know about his home life.”
  • He only talked about my physical appearance.”
  • It would be easier to talk about someone I know really well.”
  • I just focused on giving compliments, focused on the positives.”
  • She only knew a small bit of me.”

When I asked them what parts of them were left out, they said:

  • “It was superficial.”
  • “It was only me on the outside.”
  • “It was just what I look like.”
  • My personality.
  • My family and home life
  • What I love
  • My passions
  • “They didn’t get the true ME.”
  • My religion

This led nicely to the conversation about the role of marginalized voices in publishing, because it’s all well and good for a white person to write a story with a Native American main character, but if they don’t truly know that person’s experience, how can they ever get to the truth of that story?  It was a worthy conversation.

This week, we read the picture book Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpre. Belpre, the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library, has a book award named after her, which is presented annually to a Latinx writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth.  This book recognizes Belpre’s feelings that there were no stories that celebrated her Puerto Rican heritage in the NY Public Library, no Puerto Rican voices, so she took it upon herself to write the cuentos folklóricos of her abuela down and share them with the world.

We then discussed the ideas: Our library should look like us.  Does it? Are you represented? If we are all (mostly) the same race, and our books reflect only us, is that a good thing?  Again, students had insightful conversations and through some anecdotes of my own about being a young adult in the world with limited experience with diverse cultures (think Mrs. Whitney’s first trip to New York City when she was 18, my goodness!), they are beginning to understand that we need diverse stories to help create a worldview that is well-rounded, authentic, and empathetic.  These social justice lovers are very on-board with that!

Lastly, I gave them data, publishing statics on children’s books about and by people of color and first/native nations  from the Cooperative Children’s Book Center.  Students then took that data to create a visual representation, such as a graph, to prepare them for our work making infographics.  We had limited success, but after a gallery walk of their classmate’s ideas, I think the students have a much stronger understanding of how to incorporate their diversity audit data into a meaningful presentation.  They’ll begin creating these Infographics on Friday in STEAM!

Looking forward to a few weeks of data collecting and reflection!  I can’t wait to see what the students uncover!

Let the research begin!

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Be Internet Awesome!

Second and third grade are beginning a unit on Digital Citizenship, using the amazing resources available from Be Internet Awesome and Peardeck.

To make the most of the Internet, kids need to be prepared to make smart decisions. Be Internet Awesome teaches kids the fundamentals of digital citizenship and safety so they can explore the online world with confidence.

Click the photos to read more!

 

This week’s lesson is about what is safe to share online, what is personal vs. private information, and digital footprints.  The lessons are very interactive and the kids had a blast while learning about how to be safe online!  Upcoming units include cyberbullying and making secure passwords.  Talk to your kids about what they’ve learned and how you can apply these lessons to their screen and media at home.

Storybird

2nd and 3rd grade are finishing up National Poetry Month exploring the website Storybird, which combines beautiful art with the opportunity for poets to add their own words to the images.

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I’m disappointed that Storybird is no longer free (I used a free trial), which I realized this week, but it might be a worthy subscription considering how engaged the students were and the awesome poetry they created.  I always love when students find an early and strong appreciation for poetry, as I have observed they lose it with age.

Diversity Audit: Whose Story Are We Telling?

As the culminating project to this year, 4th and 5th grade have begun a Diversity Audit of the OQS library.  This stemmed from many things: a Newsela article about the lack of diversity in both authorship and characters in children’s books,  Marley Dias’s 1000 Black Girl Books book drive, to just a general awareness that in our quiet corner of Vermont, our children need to be raised as global citizens, with an understanding and appreciation of the common threads that tie humanity together, which are greater than the differences that can be so divisive.  I decided to acknowledge, celebrate, and raise awareness about diversity in literature, and wonder with my students, Whose story are we telling in here?

The first questions we considered were Why is it important to see yourself in books? and Why is important to see people who have differences from you in books?  With responses such as fiction creates empathy, reading broadens the world around you, it makes you realize you’re not alone to see books with characters like yourself in them, and it helps you learn about other cultures and see the similarities and differences to your own, I knew my students were ready to rise to this challenge.  We skimmed through the book A Poem For Peter by Andrea Davis Pinkney, focusing on Keats’s feelings that none of the people in his life in Brooklyn, NY appeared in the children’s books at the time, nor did those books take place in urban settings.  Children in those settings didn’t see the beauty of their lives reflected in the books they read, which inspired him to write the celebrated children’s book, The Snowy Day.

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After our read-aloud, we discussed our focus questions: How diverse is our school library? Whose story is being told, who is telling it, and who is left out? I was surprised to see a mixed bag of feelings about how diverse our library already is–I wonder if some of that feeling of confidence comes from my effort to have ever-changing and very diverse book displays.  I wonder if they will feel the same after they do their research!

Next the students discussed the definitions for some terms they will have to be familiar with to continue in this effort.  Our formal definitions are as follows:

    • Diversity–differences
    • Age–how old you are
    • Language–what you speak, the way you communicate
    • Culture–the customs, arts, beliefs, characteristics of a group of people
    • Appearance–the way you look
    • Disability–a condition that impairs, limits, or interferes with certain tasks or interactions
    • Race–physical differences and similarities between people considered to be socially significant, for the benefit of a particular group
    • Ethnicity–shared culture, perspectives, and distinctions among a group of people that set them apart.  Ethnic differences are not inherited, they are learned.
    • Religion–a particular system of faith or worship

Having the students understand that race is a social construct, not something based on genetics, was very important to me and I think eye-opening for my students.  One fifth grader said, “So, race is like when someone makes up a game then makes up the rules so they win.”  I was so proud that these young people, who can be so much more eager to understand, learn about and accept new concepts than adults, were coming along for the ride with me on this critical way of thinking.  If that in itself is the only thing they take away from this unit, I will be thrilled.  But of course, I want more!

From this point on, students will be Diversity Detectives and will choose a focus for their research.  In small groups they will create infographics such as this one to represent their data.

The Diversity Gap in Children's Books, 2018

Lastly they will make recommendations of stories, authors, illustrators, etc. that we need to increase the diversity of our OQS library.  It’s a BIG, ambitious, exciting project, and I know my students will be up to the task!!  I will keep posting over the course of the next few weeks to update our progress.  I am very looking forward to seeing what they discover!

Having Fun With Mo!

It’s too bad that we don’t enjoy Mo Willems at all in the OQS library.  Nope.  Not at all.

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It’s too bad that Mo Willems himself isn’t absolutely hilarious and watching YouTube videos by him is so boring.

The kids don’t enjoy reading Piggie and Gerald books AT ALL.  Good thing we don’t waste any time on those characters and their amazing illustrations that give the students so much to analyze and from which to draw great inferences.

Okay, you caught us! Did you notice the sarcasm? We LOVE Mo Willems here at OQS!!!  We’ve been having so much fun reading all of his different titles over the past three weeks!  It’s really one of my favorite times of the year!