Exploring Identity: How do I see myself? How do others see me?

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Exploring identity, and beginning to understand who we are and who we are not as individuals and as a community, is a huge part of my teaching. I start this inquiry on day one and continue it throughout the year. One big project we do is with skin color.

When it started to come up in our conversations, I read a few books that explore skin color. The Colors of Us, Shades of People, The Skin You Live In, Chocolate Me and All the Colors We Are, are a few of our favorites. We learned about the science behind skin color and played around with mixing paints that match our skin color. Based on the beautiful language in The Colors of Us, we chose our words for what we would call our skin color. We made up colors like, “whipped cream peach” and “cocoa caramel mocha” and “honey gingerbread”. We mixed the paints and made our self-portraits.

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Our big questions that guided this inquiry were:

Why is our skin different colors?

How do I see myself?

How do others see me?

Who am I? Who are we?

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We read books, had lots of conversations, made art and played around with self-portraits in many different mediums – using paint chips, buttons, empty picture frames, ribbons and assorted loose parts. We interviewed our friends and asked them, Who am I to you? and How do you see me?. In our completed self-portrait paintings, we wrote the answers to these questions. We also created and drew a symbol that represented who we are in the world.

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This exploration into skin color and self-identity was a celebration of who we are and who we are to our friends and to each other. It made our community even stronger and helped us explore, appreciate and celebrate the differences and the similarities that make us special. We will continue to go back and revisit our thinking, revise our thinking and celebrate who we are as a community this year.

Reading Magic

Thursday was picture day. The kids arrived in their beautiful dresses, tiny bow ties and an air of excitement. Spring pictures are always fun as they get to pose together as a class and then take the individual pictures. I passed out the individual cards for the photographer and then waited as the kids went up one by one.

“I’m not a principal. I’m not a teacher. I’m a student! Please give this card to the photographer. I’m going to give it to him when I get there!” 

I heard these words coming from a little guy standing next to me, holding his card. Huh? I looked closely at the card he was holding and realized he was reading the words on the card! There was a checklist that listed, “principal, teacher, student”. He was reading the checklist and making meaning from it. The words “please give this card to the photographer” were printed at the top of the card.

But here’s the thing. This little guy has been struggling learning to write his name. He’s been struggling with getting 1:1 solid. He’s been reluctant to read with me in his guided reading group or in conferences. He recently tested at a level 2 on the DRA assessment.

After our pictures, we went back to the classroom and started readers workshop. I asked my friend to come over and read with me. I pulled out a book about a giant gingerbread man who actually chases after the old man and woman who made him. I invited him to read it with me, telling him it was a crazy twist on the other gingerbread man stories we had read. He devoured it, reading fluently, laughing and making predictions, connecting it to the other stories we had read. It was clearly an easy text for him. It was a level 10 book. He wanted more books, so I let him pick some more to put in his book box and sent that happy, excited reader off to enjoy his reading. He was absolutely glowing.

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That 10 minute conference left me with much to think about. Was I holding him back as a reader? Did I have him locked into a level instead of constantly looking for what he was doing well? Was he bored with the level 2 and 3 texts? Did he not see any value in this reading thing? Did he not see himself as a reader? Was he reluctant because he preferred building in the block area instead of reading with his guided reading group during Explore? Were my expectations too low? Was I not looking at him closely as a reader? Did I not really know him as a reader? It gave me much to reflect on, and a renewed commitment to knowing each and every reader in my classroom at an even deeper level than I already do.

Thank you, reader friend, for letting me hear you read that picture card and for reminding me of the importance of looking closely, listening carefully and celebrating the magnificent work our young readers do.

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Day 11

We are readers!

Retelling the story Owl Babies with props

My kindergarteners are readers. Every single one of them. Every day we read poems and songs together on charts, we read art, we read the morning message on our SMARTboard, we read labels in our classroom, we read books that we write, we read on the iPads, we read Tweets and blogs, we read books by ourselves and with buddies and we listen to lots of books read aloud. The kids are learning to read the pictures, read the words and talk about the books. We retell and act out our favorite stories with toys that go along with the books. We spend a lot of time talking about authors and what authors do. Some of our favorite authors are: Mo Willems, David Shannon, Eric Carle and Eric Litwin. I refer to my students as “readers” throughout the day. I am helping build  and create that identity and have them see themselves as readers. It’s the foundation we build in kindergarten that will carry our readers through to a lifetime of reading.

Who are some of your favorite authors? How are your readers building their identity?

Readers’ Statements

During my first year of Literacy Collaborative I was introduced to “Readers’ Statements”. They made a huge impact in my teaching, and carried over to writing, math, and science in my classroom as Writers’ Statements, Mathematicians’ Statements and Scientists’ Statements.

A readers’ statement is basically a sentence or two that states what readers do. Notice I’m not saying “good” readers. As Peter Johnston writes about in Choice Words, (an absolute MUST READ, if you haven’t already) when we identify someone as a “good” reader, it implies that there must be “bad” readers. “It leaves open the question of who the bad readers are and how you can tell.” I think this greatly impacts the identity our kids have as readers. I want all of my students to see themselves as “readers” – not as “good” or “bad”. So I choose to leave any qualifier off and simply use the term “readers”.

I use the readers’ statements as I plan my instruction, as I teach my focus lessons, as I meet with small groups and one-on-one with children, and throughout our day as I model what reading looks like and what readers do to make meaning from texts. Having a clear readers’ statement helps me stay focused on what I am teaching and allows the students to know what our focus is. When phrased in this way, “readers….” it helps students see themselves in the task. It creates an identity as a reader. They are readers (writers, mathematicians, scientists…) and this is what they do.

I typically choose one or two statements each week or so to focus on.  I write them on a chart or on a sentence strip and have them out in a place where we can see them and I can refer to them constantly. I plan this focus by looking carefully at my students and what they need next as readers. I may have one statement as our whole class focus that we look at through interactive read-aloud, shared reading and community writing. I then choose statements for each of my guided reading groups as well as the focus for my one-on-one conferences. Often, the statements I use in small group or 1:1 are ones we have used in the whole class that some students need additional time and practice with as they begin to internalize the strategy or skill we are focusing on.

In kindergarten and first grade, I’ve found it’s very helpful to use the readers’ statements with photos to connect to prior learning and to help the children read and remember what our anchor charts say. Below are just a few examples of readers’ statements I’ve used this year. Take a look at your standards, the strategies you are teaching and what your students need next as readers to come up with your own statements.

Readers think about what they read.

Readers make sure what they read makes sense.

Readers get a picture in their head to help them understand what they read.

Readers notice that a book reminds them of something.

Readers look for words they know in their books. 

Readers think about what the characters are feeling.

Have you used readers’ statements? How do you see them supporting the readers in your classroom?