In the spring of 2017, our middle school experienced an eruption of racist slurs and hate speech, from swastikas drawn on the cheeks of unsuspecting students at lunch, to “KKK” mysteriously appearing on the Google image linked with our school’s website. And we were not the only ones. Newspaper headlines highlighting intolerance at schools were popping up all over the country.
Our school community felt broken, and we knew we needed to do something. One idea kept coming up: an all-school read, where every student, teacher, and staff member reads the same book at the same time. We already knew that stories help readers develop empathy. Having everyone read the same story at the same time seemed the perfect opportunity to build school community and promote understanding.
With only a couple months left in the school year, we set our sights on the fall of 2017.
We walk through our classroom doors and want to relate to our students. We want to understand their challenges, thought processes, motivations, and fears.
But how do we develop empathy for our students who may struggle with challenges we never experienced?
How can we understand their reactions, fears, and priorities if their childhood or adolescence is so incredibly different from our own or the one we’re creating for our children?
Good teachers understand that practicing and growing empathy makes us great teachers.
As a teacher-librarian, I spend most of my days answering questions, teaching research, and helping students find good books. It’s the best job in the world.
Last spring, it seemed not a day went by when I wasn’t asked about the book Thirteen Reasons Why. With the premiere of the Netflix series, parents and teachers wanted to talk about their concerns with the show. Students wanted to get their hands on the book on which the series was based. Jay Asher’s book was not the first, nor would it be the last, to address bullying and the effects it can have on victims, bystanders, and the bullies themselves.
The beauty of books, more so than television shows, is that they can help us develop empathy or allow us to see inside a character’s head for awhile. Kids who are bullied may feel a little less alone if they read about a character being bullied in a book. Kids who are bystanders or bullies may be motivated to change, even just a little, if they see themselves mirrored in a paragraph or two.
Courtesy of the American Library Association
Banned Books Week (Sept. 24 – Sept. 30) was founded in 1982 by the American Library Association and Amnesty International to celebrate the freedom to read through highlighting banned or challenged works, and the authors who have been persecuted for writing them.
For school librarians, Banned Books Week has evolved into an awareness campaign that provides information about attempts to prevent students from accessing a variety of books and websites that could have a meaningful impact on their education.
Books featured during Banned Books Week have been scrutinized for a variety of reasons, including racist or offensive language, sexual content, or political views that challenge the establishment of the time.
- The Harry Potter series, a staple of many school classrooms and a favorite of even the most reluctant readers, offended some Christians because of its use of sorcery and witchcraft.
- Classic children’s author Roald Dahl has faced international bans of The Witches over claims of misogyny.
- Controversy stirs around William Stieg’s Sylvester and the Magic Pebble for the depiction of animals wearing clothing, including pigs dressed as policemen.
The list of challenged books, and the reasons for their status, is as long and varied as the number of communities in which these books appear. Defenders of these works, including school librarians, provide several reasons why access to these books should not be restricted for our students.
I came to writing books for kids through a very peculiar path. My journey began when my son discovered Minecraft.
According to Common Sense Media, “Minecraft is an open-ended, exploration- and creation-focused environment. Players can create items and buildings from scratch using materials they harvest from the world around them.” My son was very eager to be a part of this new phenomenon. In fact, if you asked him, he’d tell you he had to have it or he was going to die!
My wife and I put up a good fight, but our son was relentless. We ultimately caved and bought him the game. We were surprised and quite pleased with what he did with this new digital power. He built incredible structures, created cities and castles of glass, and floating giants. We’d never seen him so creative or engaged. It was fantastic.
As a sixth grade reading teacher, I’m always trying to think of ways to keep my students motivated. As a veteran teacher, I’m always trying to think of ways to stay current in my practice. This year, as a Teaching Channel Laureate, I decided that I’d experiment with blogging myself, then give my students the opportunity to become bloggers.
Earlier this year, I worked with my students to ask questions using Blooms Taxonomy in order to have deep discussions about text. My next goal was to have my students get those deep discussions into written form, without feeling as though they had to write a “paper.” Blogging seemed to be one possibility. Blogs represented a venue for my students’ writing, a way to solicit responses, and a move into a modern form of communication.
First, though, I had to learn more about blogging. Once I did, I brought my new-found knowledge into the classroom.
Our next installment of Tch Video Lounge is here, and we certainly have fun topics to talk about: middle school students and reading! 4th graders and fractions! Come on into the lounge where you’ll be able to watch, discuss, and learn with other educators. It’s a fun and easy way to deepen your viewing experience at Teaching Channel.
I’m always looking for a good book about education — one that can put words to the many feelings that are part of this work, that sparks my thinking and creativity for my teaching, and that challenges me and opens my mind to see my work in new ways. I was fortunate to come across a number of just such books last year, and here are five favorites from 2015.
As a kindergarten and 1st grade teacher, I loved helping kids learn how to read. The joy in their faces as they sounded out words was priceless. I lived to see kids exclaim, “I can read!” But it wasn’t just about learning how to read. It was even more important to me to help my students develop a love of reading.
I read rich and captivating stories to my class every day, hoping to show students that reading can be magical and entertaining. I encouraged parents to read with their kids nightly, creating more opportunities for kids to see reading as fun. For families who didn’t have books at home, I sent home picture books from our classroom library. Above all, my goal was for kids to read many different books in many different settings.
So needless to say, I’m incredibly excited about the Billion eBook Gift, of which Teaching Channel is a proud partner, beginning on December 1st (#GivingTuesday). It’ll be the largest gift of books in history, with a billion classic eBooks given to families across the nation. This will be a great resource to pass on to families at your school! This gift was created to ensure that all children have access to high-quality books at home. Every family who signs up at BillionBookGift.com can get a free library of 50 classic children’s eBooks absolutely free. You’ll be able to access the books via desktop computer, your Apple or Android phone, and via iPads and tablets.
There are lessons we teach and lessons that teach us. It’s especially wonderful when those two maxims intersect.
The request started simply enough: “Sarah, would you be willing to come to our school district and teach our students? We love watching you in your classroom, but our teachers want to see how those lessons would work with our kids.” I jumped. What an opportunity to think about teaching from such a unique vantage point. So, the partnership with Tulare County Schools began and we turned this request into an incredibly unique professional learning opportunity for their teachers.