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Another Way to Help Teachers

Here’s a thoughtful way for book lovers to help teachers and their students.

Ritter Ames--USA TODAY Bestselling Author of the Bodies of Art Mysteries & Organized Mysteries

We know teachers are the lifeblood of our education system. However, each year theyHelping Teachers must spend more out of their own pockets for classroom supplies they cannot get from schools’ depleting budgets. In the past, I’ve given teachers gift cards to office supply stores to help, but last week I found another way I’d never thought of before. Our small town has a wonderful and thoughtful used bookstore. I turned in a bunch of books and received an $80 credit for my efforts–but I’m not going to buy any books. Instead, I’ve turned over my credit to any of the county’s teachers who’ve signed up to receive children’s fiction books for their classrooms.

So, rather than refilling my bookshelves, my credit will help fill classroom libraries for students instead. I can’t think of a better way to promote reading for young people. Yes, I could have bought books and donated…

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Perfect Chapter Book for Beginning Readers

pedroAs a teacher of early learners, K-2 in particular, I was always on the lookout for useful books for the classroom.  I have found one that is great for students to read at home and at school.  I am not a fan of the “guided reading” programs currently pushed in many school districts.  A large number of the book selections are frankly boring. Reading should be fun!  Pedro, First Grade Hero is a book young readers will enjoy.  Its anticipated release date by Capstone Press is September 1, 2016, and I highly recommend it!  I personally would use it in reading groups and then send it home for kids to enjoy there as well.



Pedro, First Grade Hero

by Fran Manuskin

Pedro, First Grade Hero, is a delightful “chapter book” for early readers. Children usually want to read chapter books like their teacher models for them.  Unfortunately most chapter books are just too difficult for them to read independently. Pedro, First Grade Hero, however, comes to the rescue for the beginning reader.  It is actually a collection of four stories, all about Pedro.  The readability level, length of the stories, and interest level is perfect for first graders as is the focus of each story.

Pedro is a very likable little boy.  In the first story, “Pedro Goes Buggy,” Pedro has to find a bug to write about in school. Discussions about the best bug ensue in the classroom and at home.  Even his little brother Paco gets involved in the fun.  The story has a nice resolution and ends on a humorous note.  For the teacher who likes to integrate learning strands, language arts, math and science provide easy tie-ins.

“Pedro’s Big Goal” draws in boys and girls who love soccer.  This chapter has “bigger is not always better” as well as “keep trying” as its themes.  Children will enjoy the ending and teachers can help them appreciate the play on words.

Most people love a good mystery as do Pedro and his friends who form a mystery club in the third story, trying to find a missing locket and cell phone.  Good vocabulary words include sparkle, locket, and chirping.

The final story, “Pedro for President,”  teaches Pedro and his friend Katie Woo what is involved in being class president.  As they ponder what they have to offer the class, little brother Paco “helps” with the election poster and Pedro creatively turns that effort into a positive.  Pedro, who always encourages his classmates and promotes fairness in the election, is the obvious favorite for president.

The illustrations by Tammie Lyon are colorful, appealing, and depict well the characters’ emotions and reactions.  Teachers interested in promoting multi-cultural cohesiveness in their classrooms will appreciate the inclusion of children of various backgrounds.  At the end of this book are four pages of jokes in the riddle format that will delight first graders.

I would like to thank and the publisher, Capstone Press, for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an unbiased review.

I Am That Teacher Too (Letter 5)–Reading is a Passion, Not a Learning Objective


Dear Former Students,

What do I hope you remember about me?

Reading, of course! Together we fell in love with the books we read. If you were in my recent classes, you will remember the magical repetitions of Pete the Cat books. For a more sophisticated enchantment, we devoured several books in the Magic Tree House series, sneaking social studies and science into our day. Who could forget the adventures of Jamie and Tom at Dinosaur Cove or Dorothy and her friends in the Wizard of Oz? Some students may be reminiscing about the aliens in The Sand Witch and the mystery and history found in Help! I’m a Prisoner in the Library. Bunnicula, a great children’s mystery, was a favorite with some classes.

As a young teacher, I had experts tell me that first graders are not ready to sit and listen to chapter books. Not true! Storytellers have been recounting their tales without benefit of visuals since before the written word. Perhaps you were in the class that listened at story time to several picture books, at least one chapter in a longer book, and then BEGGED for more. I usually introduced classes to chapter books with Judy Blume’s short chapter book Freckle Juice followed by Chocolate Touch and Chocolate Fever.

We had many special literacy activities related to stories we read. For example, we discussed the meaning of Bill Martin Jr.’s Knots on a Counting Rope and made our own counting rope. In the 1st/2nd grade multiage class, we read the original version of 101 Dalmatians learning the meaning and use of many British words and enjoying playing with the unfamiliar words. We made a huge mural containing 101 Dalmatians just in time for the 100th day of school. Drama, dancing, art, music, and writing were all pulled into the process of learning to read and learning through reading. Activities did not begin and end because of the clock on the wall or the threat of an administrator’s possible walk-through. We had reading buddies once a week from the upper grades, working on social skills as well as reading skills and giving you the opportunity to read your favorite books as many times as you liked and have a positive emotional connection to reading. Our buddies benefited in similar ways with the addition of an opportunity to practice leadership and demonstrate maturity.

You amazed your parents with your beautiful poetry recitations—poems that move the soul like “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” and poems that giggle the spirit like “The Purple Cow.” You recited the poems by yourself before the whole class exploring the sounds of language and gaining self-confidence. You learned to appreciate language by playing with rhymes, patterns, meter, and figures of speech. Often whole families memorized the poems, and some can still recite their favorites. Reader’s Theatre and musical Reader’s Theatre provided fun opportunities to practice reading with fluency and expression.

My philosophy was “I teach reading all day long.” It worked. I had parents tell me that their child loved reading because of me. I hope you were one of them.

Interested in World War II ? Dobryd is a good read!

dobrydThe period known as the Holocaust is a frequent topic of books for both adults and young adults. The book Dobryd is different in that it does not focus on characters who are arrested or imprisoned. In fact most of the story occurs in the years following the war. Told in the first person, this story details the struggles of a five year old girl as she emerges from over two years of hiding in a space too small for a standing adult. Most of her family is dead, but she still has her mother and an aunt. The reader is soon absorbed by their relationships as they begin to integrate into a Poland that is very different from the one they hid from. Their rescuer is Yuri, a Russian soldier who plays a pivotal role in helping young Ann relate to her new world and provides stability for her. Dobryd shows us the best and the worst of people and how they have a long lasting impact on Ann and her family.

Dobryd is classified as an autobiographical novel as the author was very young when the story begins and much is retold from the memories of others. It reads like fiction, but has the authenticity of history. Dobryd would be an excellent addition to a unit on the Holocaust or World War II. It invites comparisons to books such as The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank that are typically enjoyed by students in learning about this period. Dobryd offers opportunities to feel with Ann the discrimination she experienced based on religion and her family’s former social standing. We get to learn of her rapidly disappearing Polish heritage and of the geographical struggles Poland underwent as a nation being divided by its neighbors as one of the spoils of war.

I Am That Teacher Too (Letter 3) Thematic Learning—Where the Pieces Work Together

Dear Former Students,chicks_fr

What do I hope you remember about me?

Reading, Math, and Science, Oh My!

Social Studies, Art, and Music, Oh My!

I hope you remember the special activities and projects that made learning so much fun—different activities for different years. Some of you raised calves and others hatched baby chicks or silkworms. We grew plants. Lots of you will remember our parakeet and our gerbils. You took turns letting Little Bird sit on your shoulder. You cleaned out cages and pens and learned a lot about life and a little about death. Some first grade classes researched dinosaurs and created individual reports on their work producing the most fantastic books.

Our whole day was about learning how to read, but you didn’t know it. Reading was in everything we did. I cocooned you with the look, sounds, and feel of language. When you emerged from that cocoon at the end of first grade, I had succeeded if you loved to read and to learn. I had succeeded if you had found a passion in some of the many things we explored: math, science, social studies, art, music, and of course language itself. We sprinkled in movement, drama, and dance. Was there anything you couldn’t do? I remember one of you telling me, “I am UNSTOPPABLE!” When the year began, your behavior was unstoppable, but when the year ended, your desire to learn was unstoppable. That was success for both of us.

Should a Child Exit Kindergarten Reading?

Common Core Answer: YES! Otherwise he or she is a failure and needs “intervention.”

Common Sense Answer: Maybe. It depends on the child and his or her readiness for reading.

jumping-girl-mdTo most teachers, the common sense answer seems like a no-brainer. The creators and enthusiasts of Common Core State Standards are either ignorant of the concept of “readiness” or have chosen to ignore it.

As a reading specialist with thirty-four years of teaching with a focus on literacy, I will gladly proclaim what most teachers know. There is such a thing as readiness for various academic, physical, and social skills. Readiness for those apparently disparate skills are often tied together. You can teach children who are not ready for a certain activity how to do it, but until they are actually ready to learn it they will not master the skill. Mastery means being able to apply it in new situations and store it in long term memory. Additionally the learning process for that skill is much harder than it needs to be. Depending on the teacher and the process, it may result in negative views on learning that skill and subject, on school in general, and even on his or her own self-worth.

Reading instruction is very important in Kindergarten and the other Early Childhood grades (1-3), but it should not look like or feel like reading instruction in the upper elementary grades (4-6). Literacy activities should be so much fun that children are begging for reading time. Students should be immersed in stories, rhythm, and rhyme. They should read chorally and use predictable texts. They should have read alouds and silent reading, time to devour books in groups, in pairs, and by themselves. They should express their ideas in art, drama, music, movement, and writing. Students should learn thematically so that science and social studies are an integral part of the day with exciting projects. Reading should be taught all day in whatever students are engaged in. It should be as natural as breathing.

Surrounding students with these opportunities is giving them the gift of reading. They will learn how to read when they are ready and they will love to read.

The following posts are recommended reading for those who are looking for the best in education. Decide for yourself which is right for your classroom or your child. According to one grandparent speaking of her previously happy grandchild when subjected to the Common Core: “On the fifth day of kindergarten he refused to go to school, locked himself in his bedroom, and hid under his bed!” Perhaps you would rather be the parent who said to me: “Thank you so much for being our child’s teacher. Because of you, she loves to read.” Believe me, that did not happen under Common Core State Standards.

Reading Instruction in Kindergarten: Little to Gain and Much to Lose

Report: Requiring kindergartners to read — as Common Core does — may harm some


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