Monthly Archives: February 2014

Centipede and The Flu Bug

I woke up not feeling well today. I decided to give school a shot, though, on my way there, I realized it was not a good idea. I taught for a portion of the morning. And within those short two hours I was there, I witnessed two amazing things….

I was shifting through some stuff on my countertop as students were arriving, and lo and behold, out popped a centipede. A big one. I can handle most insects, but centipedes give me the heebie-jeebies. So I let out a little “Woah!” and backed up. Of course, most students popped out of their reading zones and came to find out what caught me by surprise.

“There’s a big bug— crawling on that container,” I pointed out. This only made them want to look closer, as the bug disappeared behind a stack of containers I had on the counter. I warned, “He’ll be coming around the other side.” So, they all gathered on the other side of the stack, and sure enough, the big sucker came wriggling out. This elicited many screams. The bug suddenly shifted gears and came at full speed toward the children. It was total pandemonium as the bug dove off the counter and onto the floor. It sped toward my teacher bag which was on the floor and I tried to step on it. This brought on more chaos, as my foot caused it to change directions. Students began pushing book baskets and chairs out of its path as though it were some sort of man-eating creature. I tried to raise my voice above all of the screaming, and I said “Someone step on it!” Thankfully, a brave soul (or should I say- sole?) stomped down and squashed the bug. 

Now, I know that it could have been a valuable lesson for me to pop a jar over the bug and release it into the wild, but with the way I was feeling and all of the havoc that was taking place, I knew what had to be done.

Everyone breathed a sigh of relief as the brave soul wiped the remains of the giant bug off of his shoe. 

“What was that?” one girl asked.

“I don’t know— but I know how we can find out!” another answered.

Without my suggestion or prompting, the students plunged into the non-fiction baskets in my room looking for any books that had any sort of bug references. There were not many, because I have a huge box of bug books at home that I pull for our project study on bugs in the spring. My classroom library isn’t big enough to house them there all year.

Students began digging through, and they would find obscure similar looking books.

“Do you think it was this, Mr. Teut?” 

“No, look closely at the caption- those bugs are only found in Africa.”

I knew very well it was a centipede, but I wanted students to figure it out for themselves.

“Oh! I found it!” 

There it was, in one of Scholastic’s “World’s Creepiest Animals” or something similar. 

Everyone gathered around and agreed- that was the bug in our classroom, the centipede. 

“It says here they are poisonous, Mr. Teut!” 

“Keep reading— it says that their poison is usually meant for killing other bugs to eat.” 

“We need more information on this bug! What if it had babies in the wall!’

“I bet it came out of the hole right there.”

“Does his shoe have poison on it since he stepped on it?”

I was amazed. And proud. We were 20 minutes behind schedule at this point, but I couldn’t give up this valuable experience.

I was also still not feeling up to par. We began our day, and as we transitioned into reading workshop, I had “I Wanna New Room!” by Karen Orloff ready to share as a mentor text for some persuasive writing. 

“You shouldn’t have to read that, Mr. Teut. Let one of us read it.”

I was not feeling up to reading, so I passed the book along to another reader, and sat back in a chair and joined the listeners. They listened well for him. He read well for them. 

I felt great joy- that the students cared so much about me and our community that they took responsibility over that moment. Students have sat in the chair to share special things they’ve found while reading, or some of their writing pieces, but no one has ever taken my place and read to the class. 

I went home a little later to rest and recover (I’m starting to feel much better). I am glad I was there to witness their curiosity- their knowledge that they need non-fiction– their willingness to contribute to the community.

These are lessons that a basal can’t prepare for you. These are lessons that you can’t even write in a lesson plan book. They just happen. And often, they are the best kinds of lessons. Real, authentic moments. 

I’ll be back tomorrow. I just found an entire book about centipedes in my bug book collection. I look forward to seeing what they do with it. I’m not going to write it in my plans.

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Right or Wrong

A few people are always surprised when I tell them that I put hardcover books in my classroom library. Hardcovers are usually about twice the cost as picture books- so I imagine they are thinking that since I spent good money on the books, I wouldn’t just haphazardly put them into the hands of first graders. 

I considered only briefly not putting them in my library. When it really boils down to it, I bought the books for them, not me, so it only seems right to add it to the library after I read it aloud. When I do a read-aloud, it goes to a special section of the library. Often, it’s too hard for some of the readers in my class, but I let them read it anyway. They sometimes pick up on repeated words or phrases, they can take a closer look at the pictures, or they can recall and retell the story.

Today I saw on Twitter a tweet that Donalyn Miller posted that quoted Richard Allington. It said, “If you don’t lose at least 10% of your library every year, you’re buying the wrong books.”

Now, I’m inferring that Allington meant that children found books so good that they “borrowed” them for an indefinite amount of time. But, I’m taking a spin on this- I lose about 10% of my classroom library every year because students cherish the books to bits and pieces.

The students love the books so much that they fall apart. I teach students at the beginning of the year how to take care of books, how to take care of the classroom library, how to turn pages so they don’t rip, etc. But a cherished book cannot withstand a group of even the most careful readers. 

Scholastic is wonderful for offering cheap paperbacks, but their shelf-life is not very long. Unless the binding is glued, the middle pages often come loose of the staples used to bound the book together, and it’s hard to repair the book. 

But, even some of my hardcovers have not stood the test of time in the library. As readers look closely at these books, the pages start to wrinkle, the binding starts to break. After the book has received so much love, it eventually takes a turn for the worse and may become unusable. 

And, like I said- it’s not because readers are being careless. They are loving the book, and sharing the book, and squeezing every drop of usefulness out of the book that they can. A book that’s falling apart usually indicates a favorite title among readers. 

One that I’m happy to invest in again, if need be. 

A few times, I’ve overheard a fight in the classroom library- two students tugging over the same book. It was both moving and made my teeth grind at the same time. I was happy to see that a book was receiving so much love that two students were battling it out, but I was sad to see that they were showing neglect toward the book. 

I don’t know if it’s right or wrong to put hardcovers in the library. But I do know that books that are falling apart must be a sign that they were the right books for some readers. 

Book Moments

These past two weeks, I’ve noticed very unique moments taking place in our classroom. To be honest, they’ve been occurring all year, but I’ve really just begun to really appreciate these moments as un-ordinary moments. Most of these moments happened during or immediately following a read aloud. Let me tell you what I mean…

Upon returning from Anderson’s Children’s Literature breakfast this past weekend, I shared a new book I got signed by Laurie Keller, Arnie The Doughnut. We laughed our way through the book as we read little comments Laurie inserted to the various characters throughout the book.I don’t know really what made this read aloud so special, but it was truly a “moment” 

Another new book I shared was Brimsby’s Hats by Andrew Prahin. There are so many good takeaways from this book, but I decided I was just going to read it and see where discussion lead without any probing. It leant itself to wonderful book conversations, and many connections to other books I had not even made. It was conversation that would have never taken place had we not shared this book together.

Today I shared What’s Your Favorite Animal? by Eric Carle and friends. I told students to watch and see if they recognized any artwork before reading the names. They loved Eric Carle’s story about his cat and a string bean. When we came to Mo Willems’ page, they all screamed, “MO WILLEMS!” We’ve really been reading Mo Willems books and celebrating him this month, so this was an instant connection. They also instantly recognized the Steven Kellogg page, because Steven Kellogg visited our school in November, and his artwork immediately caught their attention. Instances like these showed me that it’s not enough to simply read authors’ works to our classes- we must make connections with the authors. Students appreciate authors’ works better if they know more about the author. While I know this is impossible to do with every book, it is possible to connect them with at least some authors over the course of the year. We study a different author every month in my room, and celebrate his or her books all month. 

I also found out the reveal of the cover and publication date of Judy Schachner’s new book, Skippyjon Jones: Snow What . Again, many cheers upon hearing the news, followed by speculations of what this exciting new adventure might be about. “It’s going to be wonderful!” someone said. Yes! Of course it’s going to be wonderful. Judy Schachner wrote it! 

What makes these moments so unique is that they are so rich- the conversation has depth; it is not shallow. I see excitement I don’t see many other places. If there is one time I want rich conversation and excitement from deep down in the heart, it is during reading. 

Randomly, my students were talking about what life would be like without me in second grade. I assured them that life does go on after first grade, and there are many other teachers waiting to teach them other new things. Someone remarked, “Well, we’ll always remember him by the books he read.”

I am okay with that. I am more than okay with that. I hope they think of books when they think of me. I hope they think of books when they don’t think of me. I want books to be on their hearts and minds no matter where they are.

And it’s moments like the ones we shared this week that lead them to developing such a heart and such a mind.

My Memory of The Giver

In a video released today, some of my reading role models and favorite authors discuss their memories of reading The Giver. 

If Walden Media had interviewed me, here is the memory I would have shared with them:

I was in the 6th grade. It was 2001, a few years after The Giver had won the Newbery. Not to brag, but I was a good reader at that age. My school was using Accelerated Reader for its primary reading program, and I was a few levels above other readers in my class. At that time, the higher levels in our school library had fewer books- the higher the levels, the fewer the book choices available. I remember being frustrated because I had a hard time finding any books for me. I was a level black, and Frankenstein was one of the options. I skimmed through the first few pages, and decided I wouldn’t touch that book with a ten foot pole. 

And so I wandered aimlessly around our school library. Mrs. Paulsen, the librarian, must have noticed my cluelessness, and she asked how she could help me. I told her I needed a book that was at my level. (Oh, how I wished I could have kept reading books below my level- there were so many more choices). 

After we conversed, she pointed me toward The Giver. I remember thinking, “Is this something I could really like?” It was a higher level book. She thought I could do it. And so since she believed in me, I believed in myself. 

At the same time, the 6th grade teacher had also kicked off a reading contest. Whoever won the most points from Accelerated Reader over the next three weeks would get prizes, and anyone in the class who could get over 10 points in the next 3 weeks would be treated to something special. These contests meant nothing to me- 10 points was a breeze. In previous contests, I had always come out on top. The Giver should get me started.

And so I began what would be a four week journey with The Giver. 

As we neared the end of week one, I was just getting started. This was a deep book. I didn’t read it slowly because I was having trouble with it. I read it slowly because that was the only way I could handle the depth of the content. I remember laying in my bed, only getting through one chapter. It took me so long to digest what I was reading. 

Week two came up and at the end, I was only a little over half ways finished with The Giver. I knew the end of the contest was the following week, but if I finished the book, it would be over with. This wasn’t just any ordinary book- this was one I was going to savor. I was determined not to finish it in a hurry because I didn’t want it to end- it was a different world- so different than anything I’d ever experienced before.

And a day before the end of the contest, I had a few chapters left. I could have sped through the remainder of the book and taken my A.R. test the next day, and collected my points. But I wasn’t ready. I was still digesting this book. I finished it over the weekend and took the test on Monday- the day after the contest was through. 

The results of the highest point earners were plastered in the classroom- and there I sat, at the bottom of the list. I hadn’t earned a single point during the last three weeks. All because I was savoring The Giver.

For the record, on that Monday, I scored a perfect score (not that it mattered) on my A.R. test and harvested all of the points the book was worth. But it was too late to count them in the contest.

And so, the following Friday, the class held a celebration of their victories and accumulation of points over the last three weeks. I was happy for them. The top point winners collected their prizes, and then anyone in the class who earned more than ten points got a popsicle. The teacher told me, and one other boy who hadn’t earned his 10 points, to put our heads down while everyone else enjoyed their treat.

At the time, I thought it was unfair that I was being “punished” for taking my time with a complicated book. It probably was. 

My classmates had been rewarded with popsicles and other sugary treats, but I had been rewarded with the satisfaction of knowing that I got to deeply enjoy The Giver. I hadn’t wasted time, and my reading rate of that book had nothing to do with how good I was at reading.

Sadly, an experience like that could have crushed some kids. It could have turned kids off to reading for the rest of their lives. It could have done the same to me, too, but it didn’t.

The Giver stuck with me so strongly, that I couldn’t let my experience with it end my career as a reader. Not earning a popsicle didn’t ruin my experience with The Giver. I don’t associate bad reading memories with the book.

I just remember that I found a book unlike any other I had ever read before. It challenged me. Made me think. Helped me experience life in a way I wouldn’t have experienced otherwise. It sticks with me to this day. It also made me wonder what else is out there that can bring me on such a journey? It only made me want to read more.

I just happened to have the privilege of meeting Lois Lowry this past weekend. Hearing her tell the story behind The Giver and getting her signature in my copy was like coming full circle. 

I think I was a winner after all. 

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Starstruck

I admit it: I stalk authors.

It’s not hard to do. Follow them on Twitter…. find their fan page on Facebook… look at their website…. check your local bookstore’s calendar of events…. watch for conferences and special events in your area…. and, there are other ways.

And so, over the past few years, I’ve had the privilege to meet quite a few. 

I saw Eric Rohmann 3 times over the course of 2013- and he accused me of stalking him after the third time (I think he was only half-kidding). 

This past Friday evening, I got to meet Lois Lowry. I heard about the event via a retweet on Twitter. So, I made the journey, drove about an hour and a half to Madison, WI, and got my two Newbery winning books signed by her.

You’d think that after meeting authors for quite a few years, I’d be a little less starstruck when I met an author. Not the case.

When I’m in the signing line, I always rehearse in my head what I am going to say to them. How much I enjoy their books. How much my students enjoy their books. What an honor it is to meet them. Thank them for doing something so important for children. And, of course, don’t forget to ask them if you can take a picture with them.

But, it usually all falls apart by the time I get to the author and I am lucky if I cam mumble something that is coherent. The same thing happened when I met Lois. I was gutsy enough to ask for a picture, but I didn’t get to tell her about my experience with her book in the 6th grade (which is a different blog post in itself). 

And, my starstruck-ness must be apparent. I met Judy Schachner this past fall at the PCCLF. My voice trembled, my heart began beating fast, and my palms were sweating. I sat in the front row of her sectional, and she said, “Are you afraid of me, Dylan?” 

Gulp. No…not afraid. Just extremely starstruck. 

At the same festival, I got to be an autograph assistant for Kevin Henkes and introduce him at his sectional. Kevin Henkes is one of my favorite authors, and has authored some of my favorite books. So you can imagine how nervous I was sitting right next to him. 

Again, I was looking for the right words to say to let him know how much I loved his work and was able to weave it throughout my curriculum in first grade. As we walked to his sectional, I just blurted out “You’re probably my favorite author.”

Now, Kevin Henkes is one of the kindest, sincere, and humblest people I’ve met, so he took this well. And as we chatted, I began to relax, though the whole experience remained seemingly surreal. 

This past fall, I also was in charge of a literacy event at our school which brought four authors and illustrators to our campus. I had the privilege of driving Anna Dewdney and Steven Kellogg from their hotel to our school. I was nervous the whole time they were in my car, but we had delightful conversations. 

And yet, I have learned something from all of the experiences. Authors are humans just like we are. They put on their pants one leg at a time just like we do. And, they are usually just as excited about meeting teachers and readers as we are about meeting the authors. They love hearing from children and interacting with the readers of their books. 

Other people have athletes, movie stars, musicians, and others whom they may chase after. I have authors. I am usually more in awe about them and their works after meeting them. If you ever have a chance to attend a signing, festival, conference, or other special event with an author, go! Bring your children. Bring your friends. Bring your books and get them signed. it is a rewarding experience and one you will treasure for a while.

And don’t worry about being starstruck. They’re used to it. And as you interact, you’ll see how nice they really are.