Super Reading World

Some of the first video game adventures that I can vividly recall were around the original, 8-bit Nintendo game system that showcased a mere 5 button controller. The star of this system took center stage in our living room, and ruled for many years after his debut to my brother, sister, and I. We formed a tight bond with Mario, his sidekick Luigi, and fought off his villains like they were our own enemies down the block. The writer, Shiguro Miyamato, created a story line that wove its way into everyone’s homes like Grimm’s fairytales, that stood the test of time. Mario is still reigning in the living rooms of children across America to this day, holding its ground while new platforms emerge and children seem less and less reminiscent of the generation they replaced, Mario threads them together.

When I came across Mario’s suit, at a thrift store outing with my friend and my sister, classroom transformation ideas started buzzing through my mind. I did not have the hat, gloves, or even a lesson to go with it yet, but I knew I had to bring Mario’s world to life in my classroom. I found the hat and gloves as a combo on Amazon. To create the backdrop, I hung blue butcher paper, and cut white butcher paper clouds that I hung from my ceiling tiles using binding clips. Two strips of green butcher paper were all I needed to crate the warping tunnels. (My students have already given me feedback that I need to make tunnels they could really travel through for next year’s version).

I purchased a birthday party kit of decorations and cut off the “Happy Birthday” phrase from the top, and this became the backdrop for the scene of characters that surrounded the QR code responses with rationales for one passage.

To start the challenge, I jumped out in full Mario costume, and shared the tragic news that Princess Peach had been captured, and it was their job to find her. They would only be able to find her by destroying the villains within this world. (I realize the mystery boxes aren’t a villain, so I plan to find another use for them next year). Copying the Benchmark that we had just completed the week prior, students had to find where their thinking had gone wrong, and correct any missteps in their thinking to destroy the villains. In order to protect their dignity, I did not return their actual Benchmarks to them with the answers they had chosen. Rather, their were unmarked passages at each station, and players had to think together to get to the answers. My objective was not for them to all get to the same answers, but to think about their thinking and share their reasoning with each other.

Each passage was housed inside of a large manila envelope with the villain or mystery box that went with the passage. This helped me keep the passages and answers sorted as players made their way through the game.

The flytraps were created by spray painting PVC pipes and three Dollar Tree Trash cans green . The flower of the flytrap was created (thanks Babe) by attaching three red colanders (also from the Dollar Tree) to the PVC pipes using 2 part epoxy. Side Note: These ended up needing some repairs before the transformation had wrapped up, and we added sand to the bottom of the trash cans to stabilize the stems. I velcroed the answers to the passage that went with the Flytrap to the teeth of the plant.

They mystery boxes were just boxes wrapped in yellow butcher paper, and I attached a large question mark to the face of them, which I cut out of white vinyl using my Cricut Die-Cutting machine. Each mystery box had answer keys to the passage that correlated with it, and players got to punch through the boxes to secure the answers. The part they punched through was the open end of the box, which I covered with yellow tissue paper, and taped it closed. They loved punching through the mystery boxes!

When I was reviewing the students Benchmarks, I noticed that a lot of my students had not taken many notes or highlighted as they read. I was hoping to redirect this pattern, and get the idea in their heads that they should leave evidence of their thinking as they read through a passage. This led me to create this prompt by Princess Peach.

I created dozens of Boo Ghosts by filling white trash bags with scraps of Butcher paper, and stuffing them with answer keys to the passage that went with these villains. I will probably hang the ghosts in some fashion, next year.

Bombs set the scene as a villain the students needed to destroy by blowing up black balloons, which held answer keys inside of them, and affixing two vinyl ovals about 3″ in length to the front of the balloons to create the eyes of the bombs. Using cardstock, I cut out a heart shape to create feet for the bombs, which I adhered to the balloons with double-sided tape. This also served to keep the bombs from rolling about “Mario’s World”.

The “game” took place across two days, and students were on point the whole time. I had to redirect behavior twice across two days THE WEEK BEFORE CHRISTMAS BREAK! This had to have been my most successful classroom transformation to date. I sought feedback from my students at the end of the lesson, and they provided dozens of ideas for next year that I CANNOT wait to implement. In addition to their suggestions, I already decided I needed to end the game as Princess Peach, herself, so I have added to my many costumes!

Come Back Next Year for more adventures in Mario’s World!

Jessica

VISION #OneWord2020

January 2020

I leave behind a decade, but I refuse to not look back. When we look back, we reflect upon what worked, what didn’t, and what worked but needed tweaking. I look back, not with rose colored lenses, but with a clear view behind me of some huge successes, and some failures that were equally large. I see a career that has moved from a kindergarten, to first grade, to fifth grade teacher.  I see my own three children rising from a couple feet above the ground to closing in on my own height and one now towering above me. I see a family that has grown stronger in spite of job losses, yes plural, and job changes that brought our vision into clear focus of what matters most. I see a love for my husband that has deepened every day of the last ten years we have shared together, and I look with anticipation of the next ten years alongside this man, who seems to not see the wrinkles, gray hair, and age spots I have added to my reflection that I continue to see in the mirror. I see 232 students upon my roster, whose names and lives I will forever see upon my heart.  As I look back, I see the past decade moving forward pushing to this goal of reaching into 2020 and nudging me to look ahead. I look ahead with hope. I look ahead with lenses of wisdom that help me to see things a little broader and clearer than before.   

Photo by Golnar sabzpoush rashidi on Pexels.com

As I stand in this current space in time, I look in front of me, with a renewed hope to see what is right in front of me with 20/20 vision, able to see what I haven’t before. I seek to see the life in the darkness. I seek to see the strengths over the weaknesses. I seek to see the solutions before the problems. I seek to see the best in everyone I encounter. This is my VISION for 2020, and this is my vision for my present and my future. 

There are times, I may need correction to my life’s lenses, and my “bottom hands” are given full invitation to call me out on what I don’t see, and help point out the life in a situation I may overlook. When I get narrow in my vision, and look back at my mistakes too long, I ask them to remind me to tilt my eyes forward and keep plodding along. When I look for the pat on the back from others instead of from The One who gave me the vision, I invite the hands that hold me to adjust my vision. I seek to hold hands with those who do not see what is in front of them, along with those friends who do not need their vision enhanced, and lean into collective efficacy, with a broadened VISION for the life that 2020 holds.

Looking ahead with hope,

Jessica

Thanks to my sis (who I affectionately call Super Sister) for the inspiration of my #OneWord, along with faithfully being the one who calls me out on looking back and looking “small” too long. My VISION is more clear because of your influence in my life.

Are Leaders Born? Are Leaders Made?

Are leaders born, or are they made?   Yes, and Yes. Leaders are born, AND leaders are made, is my response. Some believe that only some of us are made to be leaders.  I would argue, that we are ALL made to be leaders.

I had the privilege of working underAmy Erb, an amazing leader, at my last school, who was working to transform our school into a Leader In Me Lighthouse School. She threw up a bulletin board at the beginning of a school year, reminding her students and staff of this design for leadership with the saying displayed, “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall – There’s a Leader in Us All.”  The truth of this saying resonates with me, because I believe each one of us is a leader by design as we are leading our own lives. It’s from this position of self-empowerment, that I can encourage my students to take charge of their learning, as they rise up and lead their lives past their current circumstances. If left uncultivated, it’s like a seed unplanted, or planted and not watered.  My friend, Don Sturm, described leadership as a seed that we water and nourish. Education, he likens, is the way of nurturing that seed for our students. This leaves me to wonder, am I keeping the weeds out of my classroom? Am I providing ample light to shine on the seeds I am charged to nurture? How can I move beyond being a watering can for my students, to setting my students up for success in an Artesian aquifer system, where they are not dependent on me for their sustenance? Educators, like parents, are trying to work ourselves out of a job. We want students to step into the highest level of leadership for themselves, as self-actualized humans. The only way they can get there, is if we help them find their leadership capacity to begin. This is my desire. I want every student to leave my classroom family believing in their leadership over their own life, which will change the world.

We don’t have to have a line of people following us or a microphone in our hand to be a leader.  Sometimes leadership is just the quiet kindness in sitting next to a heart who felt lonely and invisible, as Trudy Ludwig described in The Invisible Boy.  The motive for leadership should not be in getting others to follow us.  The motive should be in leading our lives to pursue what is right for us, and realizing that the world will be better if we act beyond our own desire for comfort.  This is what Jen Betton touched on when she wrote Hedgehog Needs a Hug.  

To me, this looks like kindness.  Kindness is not something we are born leading in, but its capacity IS within each of us.  We are not born thinking of others, and leading with empathy, like a muscle, it must be trained, but nonetheless, the muscle is there.  We all are capable of leading with more kindness, empathy, and helping others to find their voice. If I hold the notion that it’s someone else’s job to be a leader, and it’s someone else’s calling to call out the best in others, I will miss my impact on this world.  Yes, some of us may have a greater level of influence, with a larger following, or a louder microphone, so to speak; this should not stop any of us from finding our own seed to nurture, and just watch as the buds of leadership bloom from our lives. How will you call out the leaders around you today?

Leading with love,

Jessica

My Treasures

Books are missing.  I run my classroom library on a trust system, but I ask that students sign out the books they borrow and kindly return the books when they are finished.  This past week, we were preparing for an event, and looking for specific titles, which were not on the shelves, yet they had not been checked out either. I always said, a stolen book was okay, because at least it may get read.  I had to question my belief this past week, when a favorite book from my classroom library went missing. It’s a picture pop-up book, and let me remind you, I teach fifth grade.  What does a fifth grader need with a picture pop up book?  I don’t know what they need with it, but I am committing to quit worrying about the matter. At each section, when my students arrive, after I have greeted each one of them at the door with a hug, high five, or our special handshake (many of them have chosen a unique handshake between the two of us) I greet the entire class with the same phrase EVERY DAY, “Hello, my treasures,” I say.  This daily greeting, pronounced over my treasures three times each day is not just a verbal affirmation, but I want it to be an echo of my heart. Yes, I was connected with that book. Yes, I have memories of sharing that book with every class I have ever taught, with each of my own children, and during my internship at Stephen F. Austin. My shelves seem a bit bare without that prized book. I had it since college, and it still bore my maiden name on the inside cover, but the book is just a book.  I want my students to know, that when I call upon them each day with the affirming greeting of “my treasures” that I mean it. THEY are my treasures. Yes, I am a bibliophile, through and through, and I will probably miss the book for a long time, but I need them to understand that they are the prize that I have already earned, and greater than any treasures of this earth, pouring into their lives is my greatest gift. When I step through my doors to #CelebrateMonday, I most importantly, celebrate their lives, and the beauty of impacting their lives.  I will let them know that I still hope they will help me find my prized book, but most importantly, I will let them know that if it is never found, my heart is still full because THEY TRULY are MY TREASURES.

Gratefully,

Jessica

#OneWord2018 in Reflection

Fire

As I reflect on the seminal events of 2018, I  hold my #OneWord2018, fire, dear to me, and feel that it served me well, but it did not start out with strong hopes.  

The year began with me finishing my winter break, and with new year voracity, I proclaimed my #OneWord2018 to my #PLN on Twitter with excitement and high hopes, but to my chagrin, a series of events left me wanting to rethink my word.  My son wanted to warm the house and build a fire for us while his daddy was at work and we were soaking up the last of our break from school. Realizing we were out of kindling, he decided to put his chopping skills to work, and the hatchet found his hand instead of the wood for kindling.  This led us to the urgent care for stitches to ring in the bloody new year. Just a week later, school was back in session, and I needed to get a meal together quickly. The ignitor was out on our grill, so I had to manually light the grill using a lighter, which is not something you want to take too long to do. Distracted by my phone call, I lost track of how long I had spent between turning the propane on and striking the lighter, flames jumped out of the grill several feet, and singed the front of my hair and the sweater that I later had to toss into the trash.  My hair was pretty trashed, as well, but I had to remedy that problem in another way, so I donned some bangs for a few months. It seemed I was taking my #OneWord2018 too literally, so I inwardly pledged to keep the rest of my “fire” commitments to an emblematic sense, and I believe I managed to do so!

The year dawned, with Victor Hugo’s words ruminating about my mind, “To learn to read, is to light a fire; every word spelled out is a spark.” To light a fire I did, as students made leaps before my eyes and made the quantum jump from the stuttering stage of pre-phonemic blending to emergent readers in a matter of months, and the fire was almost palpable.  In May, I left this fire to be tended by other educators, and passed the torch of early childhood onto my most trusted peers, and prepared to step into a new flame for the upcoming school year, which I quickly learned must be tended to with great care, because the retardants of life were trying to squelch these flames quicker than I could kindle them. I accepted the position of a fifth grade reading teacher, and discovered many a ember, barely still burning, and began to gingerly blow on these flames, trying to arouse the desire to read within students’ hearts who had succumbed to the cold ashes of life as non-readers and forsaken the hopes of literary flames as not for them.  Some students, it seemed, had no desire to light a fire to learn, when they were still trying to find the warmth of food, shelter, and belonging. In my zeal to light their fire to learn, I have to help them first learn that they belong and that they matter. I do not hold optimism with ignorance, because I am aware of the daunting challenge before me. Witnessing the pain of this emptiness again and again is a blow to one’s own fire, but messages like this student’s keep my flame burning.


Not all of the fires were dim, thankfully, some students came to me already on fire for learning, and we fed on each other like wildfire. My own fire burned brighter than ever, as I encountered many readers who came to me with flames already burning brightly, and my task was to increase their impenetrable energy.  

The flames of teaching have nearly burned out in my own life in years past, but have been burning stronger than ever since I became a connected educator.  On days, where every setback brings a cool rush of despair, I know where I can go to fan the flame in me. I am especially thankful for my friends on Twitter and my #PLN, with whom I connect daily on Voxer through #4OCFpln.  I met this fiery league of colleagues through a series of book studies, #2MenAndABook, led by Matthew Larson and Ricardo Garcia on Voxer, where a band of educators unite with the common goal of becoming stronger for the students we serve through literary discussions and burning up the status quo.  These friends have all found the fuel of connection, and fan my flame daily. If I did not have these connections, I am certain that in my aim to teach with passion, I would lose all of my breath fanning my students’ flames, and my own fire would turn in on itself until ashes to ashes, I would fall down. My fire will burn brightly with me as I embrace 2019 with the tenacity with which I warmly accepted 2018, and the year goes out as we step into 2019, but this fire will not die within me.  

Warmly,


Jessica Chandler

All I Have to Fill My Gratitude Plate

             

 

Coffee is my love language, and my husband faithfully tells me he loves me every morning before my eyes even open. His hard-working feet hit the floor at least thirty minutes before mine stumble on the ground in pursuit. Straight to the kitchen I trod, but the stumbling stops, and this day I pause to think on the blessing that awaits me each day. I am so thankful for this little token of love, but I haven’t always been so thankful. How can anyone lose sight of this blessing that rises like the faithful sun each day? I don’t quite know how, but I have. Sometimes, it seems like I have a checklist going of everything I need help with, of everything I am falling short in, and of my lack, which leaves my heart and eyes no space to focus on the blessings.

 

I fear the idea of gratitude has become so commonplace that it has slipped into the markings of a platitude. Or so it has been the case for me, as of late. I am turning my eyes around to see the long list, not of all I have to do, but of all I have to fill my gratitude plate.
How can you ensure that gratitude is being passed down to your students? First, with all things, we must model it. Gratitude does not happen by accident. My friend, Barbara Gruener says, “Gratitude is circular like that, creating a win-win, touching both the giver and the receiver in tangible and intangible ways.”. While I hope to nurture it within myself, my modeling will transcend beyond me. The brain is a fabulous organ, and I love its ability to CHANGE. I implement brain games into my classroom in each subject, empowering my students to make new connections, and to celebrate the new pathways being formed. Our brains are programmed to keep us safe from harm, but sometimes that means we are focusing on the dangers and the places to avoid, rather than focusing on the blessings that help us. Dr. Greenberg out of California shares some fascinating points from research on gratitude that reveals gratitude levels are tied to one’s level of happiness. In this same article, Dr. Greenberg shares tips to increase our gratitude such as keeping a gratitude diary.

Gratitude is shown to be the common thread among studies of people who reported an elevated level of happiness. Not only will we increase our students’ gratitude quotient, we will grant them access to increase their happiness! Sounds like a win in my book.

I use a variety of mentor texts to build upon the character traits I’m hoping to foster in my classroom family. I read Those Shoes to my students, and we discussed the character traits of Jeremy.

                                           

 

“He needed to be thankful for what he had.” And, “He is being greedy,” were some of the remarks from my fifth graders. I was proud of my students, who used their skills in character analysis to watch Jeremy’s heart stretch in kindness and gratitude; in turn, their hearts were doing the same. If we don’t build in time to point our students towards these character lessons, often, they will fall short of finding the tools they need. I don’t want blessings to pass them by, or a prepared pot of coffee to greet them like it’s commonplace. I will hunt for those blessings with them, and help them to see the blessings, as we train our eyes together, to focus on the positive.

Hailey Bartholomew, in this Ted Talk, shares her gratitude breakthrough, and the spillover of blessings it brought in her life. By retraining her thinking, she began to look at life through a new lens, and captured the images which evoked gratitude. Some of the things that made that list were the color green, a beetle that landed on her daughter’s chest, and hugs from her children.

I encourage you to look around and fill up your list, not with all of your to-dos, but with the makings of a gratitude list with me. Let’s fill that list up, so our eyes will see everything through a lens of gratitude.

With Gratitude,

Jessica

Resources:

Dr. Melanie Greenberg, How Gratitude Leads to a Happier Life, Psychology Today, November 22, 2015 https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-mindful-self-express/201511/how-gratitude-leads-happier-life

Boelts, Mary Beth. Those Shoes. Cambridge, Candlewick, 2009.

Ted Talk

Barbara Gruener

What Love Looks Like

 

Tomorrow, I’ll turn the page on the second week of school.  My heart is so full. I have 46 fifth graders and have given away my heart 46 times in the last two weeks.  “I love you,” came off of my lips before the objectives were even discussed.  I am driven by the belief that I have to reach these kids before I can teach these kids.  I am not trying to convince them of my love for them as a ploy to get them to pay attention. I NEED them to know that I love them. It’s a message that is as important as the content.  I need them to know I believe in them.

I had a teacher who was struggling with classroom management compliment me once at how kind my kids always are.  I am honored by the compliment, but I want to share the secret: I’m not lucky; this kindness is intentionally built into my classroom.  

sunset hands love woman
Photo by Stokpic on Pexels.com

I’ve spent a lot of time observing patterns, and I have been able to identify some predictable responses.  When the classroom begins to take shape, and celebrations are shared, complimenting a child for the appropriate behavior, a trigger reaction predictably follows with, “I did it too” or “What about me?”  Knowing these reactions are slated to follow, I now stop them before they arise. Like a mind-reading soothsayer, I announce, “instead of whining that you did it too, what would love look like?” Puzzled faces usually follow my probing, as a confused audience stumbles to figure out how I read their minds.  After a bit of a delay, answers begin to organically arise, and the formation of what “love looks like” begins to make its mark upon my classroom family. The boos are replaced with cheers, and I introduce my favorite classroom cheers, that have taken shape over the years, many being passed down from the generations of our family before them.  As these cheers layer upon each other, a culture of love begins to weave its way into the walls of our classroom, and walls around hearts are torn down as we all begin to trust each other and realize this IS a safe place. The layers of love and trust go too deep to share them all in this post, but I urge you to find what “love looks like” in your classrooms, and allow the members of your classroom family to have an active voice in what that looks like.  

With a full heart,

Jessica