Sunday, August 30, 2015

Curiouser and Curiouser

The Back to School commercials and sales,  the thickening of morning traffic, and the last hazy days of summer are all signs that schools will soon be in session again. Teachers and students alike simultaneously love and loathe this time of year. They hate the idea that long summer days are coming to an end, but they love the possibility of a new beginning. 

Elementary and Secondary school teachers may dread having to justify and tailor their lessons to the Common Core, and having to teach to standardized tests. Many teachers want to just teach their students to love learning; to stuff their brains full of interesting information, not for the sake of high stakes tests, but out of the pure joy of wanting to know MORE. They want their students to be curious.

"Curiouser and curiouser," is what Alice said as she encountered the eccentricities and marvels of Wonderland. What teacher doesn't want their students to exclaim the same exact thing?

Ta-Nehisi Coates, in his much-buzzed about book Between the World and Me, writes, "...the schools were not concerned with curiosity. They were concerned with compliance." Is this what our schools have become? Places where we starve student curiosity, which is essential to personal drive and motivation, and force compliance upon them: Read this way, write that way, ask these questions, learn this stuff? The future is now, and we are not ready. Our children, our learners have to be prepared for whatever is coming their way. A closed mind won't help them. Tunnel vision aimed at test taking won't help them. Convergent mind sets won't help them. The blinders need to be removed so they can see more, think more, and ask more questions. They need to be curious, and they need to hold on to the sense of wonder we are all born with. 

As parents and teachers, our goals and motives are noble. We want what is best for our little ones. We want them to be super-duper smart, to have access to excellent opportunities and experiences. We want our kids to be the smartest. We sign them up for extra tutoring, and skill and drill them until their little fingers and minds are numb. But what if we are doing more harm than good? The road to hell is paved with good intentions, right? In his book, Curious, author Ian Leslie's writes: "To teach someone to be an engineer or a lawyer or a programmer is not the same as teaching them to be a curious learner--yet the people who make the best engineers, lawyers, and programmers tend to be the most curious learners."

How, as an educator or parent, can you help students keep their curiosity and sense of wonder alive? Well, for starters, you might want to awaken your own curiosity. What are the things you wonder about? And when a student comes to you with a genuine query, you might not be so quick to shut them down and dismiss them. Encourage them to go on that magical quest to find the answers, and to not give up until they do. It will be gratifying to see just how far down the rabbit hole they'll be willing to go.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Power of Words and School Bullying

With a new school year on the horizon, I was tapped to provide a few school bullying workshops at the early childhood and elementary levels. Yes, I said an early childhood bullying workshop. Preschool bullying is an actual thing.

So, by now, you all know me and know that I found a way to incorporate high quality, developmentally appropriate literature into these workshops. I am huge proponent of bibliotherapy, and I strongly believe in the power of words to change lives.

At the preschool and early elementary levels, I chose to focus on the teasing aspect of bullying. Again, it's about the power of words to affect our emotions and how we feel about ourselves. For preschool, the text was Llama Llama and the Bully Goat by Anna Dewdney. Spoiler alert: This bully goat is a bit of a jerk. He goes well beyond teasing and is actually quite aggressive. My many years as an early childhood educator confirms there are children who behave this way...and worse. In this story, it is the teacher who comes to the rescue. It is important for teachers to be aware of what is occurring in the classroom between students. We understand at this age the children are egocentric and are just learning the concepts of sharing and turn-taking and to expect a bit of bickering, but there is a big difference between this and being an overly aggressive and violent child. 

For the K-2 workshop, I decided to go with the classic Kevin Henkes text Chrysanthemum. In my mind, this is the consummate book of name teasing.  A different book I considered was The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi. While a very good story, The Name Jar isn't so much about name teasing, and is actually a story of diversity and acceptance. Chrysanthemum, on the other hand, shows the effects of teasing and the power of words. The reader sees the  protagonist go through changes throughout  the story as a result of the teasing she endures from her classmates. She goes from loving the idea of school to dreading it. She goes from loving her name to wanting to change it. Chrysanthemum again shows the role and responsibility teachers have with respect to school bullying. In the story, we see the passive role the classroom teacher plays which permits the teasing to continue, contrasted from the active role the music teacher takes in effectively shutting down the bullying.

For the 3-5 workshop, I addressed the idea of being a bystander to bullying. This is also about the power of words, and how powerful the absence of words can be. Those who stand around witnessing bullying in action but do or say nothing are actually a party to it. They are capable of stopping the bullying, but choose instead to be in the audience watching the show. The text I chose for this group was Say Something by Peggy Moss. I love this story because the narrator has an epiphany of sorts after being on the receiving end of some teasing. When she realizes what it feels like to be teased while everyone is around watching and doing nothing, she decides from that moment on that she will say something when she sees others being bullied.

It's my hope that the students who attended these school bullying workshops were informed and empowered to stand up for themselves and for others. Hopefully, they learned just how powerful words can be.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Reading for Moms

Okay, mommies, grab your tea and reading glasses. This week's reading recommendations are for you! Not that you need any parenting advice, because you're already fabulous, right? Sometimes, though, you just need confirmation that you are on the right track rearing your little ones.

There are, literally, a gazillion (maybe not literally, because I don't even know if "gazillion" is an actual quantity. Is it?!) parenting books to choose from, but listed below are just a few I've had the chance to peruse.

1. The 10 Habits of Happy Mothers: Reclaiming Our Passion, Purpose, and Sanity by Meg Meeker, M.D.

2. The Self-Aware Parent: Resolving Conflict And Building A Better Bond With Your Child

3. The Hurried Child: Growing Up Too Fast Too Soon by David Elkind, Ph. D

4. How To Raise The Next President: A Parent's Guide To Giving Your Kid The Secrets of Success by Sally Sacks, M. Ed.

5. Giving Your Child the Excellence Edge: 10 Traits Your Child Needs to Achieve Lifelong Success by Vicki Caruana

Monday, May 4, 2015

May the 4th be with you!

Happy Star Wars Day, folks! And in honor of this magnificent day, I present to you some fun and out of this world reading choices for your little storm trooper! 

For your preschooler, there is Star Wars ABC. What a cool way to learn the alphabet and the characters of this awesome franchise! D is for Darth Vader, H is for Han Solo, and L is for Luke!

For your kindergartener, we have the Star Wars Phonics set, which includes 10 books and 2 workbooks. With the wisdom of Yoda, your little one will be reading in no time! 

For your early elementary children, we have fun beginner graphic novels by Jeffrey Brown. These little books offer a fun tongue-in-cheek look at fatherhood from Darth Vader's perspective. 

Not pictured here are preschool through 2nd grade Stars Wars workbooks that touch on shapes, colors, math, writing, and more. These are available through

Enjoy this fun day, and May the 4th be with you!!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Black Like Me

Whether at home or at school, children of color need to see people who look like them in their storybooks. This not only promotes their interest in reading, but it also helps build their self esteem. 

A few of my favorites include (and you can see they're well-worn from repeated use): 

Cherish Me by Joyce Carol Thomas
Jamal's Busy Day by Wade Hudson
Bright Eyes by Cheryl Willis & Bernette G. Ford 
I Like Myself by Karen Beaumont
Daddy Calls Me Man by Angela Johnson

One of my absolute favorites is Black All Around by Patricia Hubbell. It is a wonderful tribute to the color black. Many of us grow up associating the color black  with all things negative and evil. In this book, Hubbell successfully helps us see the importance of black things. For instance, would we be able to play a beautiful melody without the black keys on the piano or the black notes on sheet music? The answer is a resounding no.

Black All Around by Patricia Hubbell

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Ninja Week!

Just when you thought nothing could be more awesome than Wolf Week, I give to you Ninja Week!! 

One way I get my students to be quiet as we walk the halls is by pretending that we are ninjas. I tell them that ninjas creep and are stealthy. It works, for the most part. 

Ideally, Ninja week makes more sense in the beginning of the school year, when you're teaching students the rules and routines of the school and classroom. However, seeing that I have only just come across these books, Ninja Week begins tomorrow. Can't wait! 

Ninja, Ninja Never Stop by Todd Tuell
Nighttime Ninja by Barbara DaCosta
The Boy Who Cried Ninja by Alex Latimer
Wink The Ninja Who Wanted to Nap by J.C. Phillipps 
Wink The Ninja Who Wanted to Be Noticed by J.C. Phillipps 

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Wolf Week

Last year, for one of our Family Movie Days, my dad showed The Grey, a movie starring Liam Neeson and a pack of crazy wolves. That movie inspired a week's worth of wolf stories in my class. I called it Wolf Week. The kids loved it, especially the boys. 
So, now I'm planning for our 2nd Annual Wolf Week, and I am so excited! I've been chanting "Wolf Week! Wolf Week!" since I woke up this morning. I am so sure my excitement will be contagious when I get to school tomorrow. 

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Technology for Early Learning

I'm a hardcore bibliophile, and believe wholeheartedly that young children need to be exposed to high quality literature. Especially underprivileged children who are at risk of the million-word-gap. However, I also understand the importance of exposing young children to technology, specifically if it is technology with an aim to educate as opposed to strictly entertain children. 

One recommendation I can comfortably make is LeapFrog. From their computer games to videos to e-readers, LeapFrog has a plethora of developmentally appropriate technology for young children that teaches them literacy and numeracy skills.

Children need to feel comfortable using technology and LeapFrog is a great way for young children to gain entry into the tech world. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Boy Whisperer

I'm beginning to feel like I should change my name to "The Boy Whisperer" because so much of what drives me as an educator and parent has to do with getting our boys to succeed in life. The following book recommendations sort of answers the questions "What happens when being book-smart isn't enough?" and, "How powerful a role does the environment (i.e., neighborhood, community) and peers play in the success or failure of our kids?"

The first book I want to recommend is The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs. 

The second recommendation is America's Massacre: The Audacity of Despair and a Message of Hope, which is a memoir by Tewhan Butler.

Both books are very engaging, relatable and eye-opening. Personally, they both struck a chord because these young men grew up in Essex County, New Jersey, like me. 

Take a gander at these books and drop me a note or two. I would love to hear what you think!

:) Jameelah

Friday, January 2, 2015

Boys & Books

One area of interest I have as an educator is boys; how they learn, how can be successful in the classroom and in life. And then, a passion I have as a human, in general, is books. So, as a human, as an educator, and as the mother of a young boy, I find myself often thinking about the kinds of books boys might find interesting. Linked below is a short video I did a few years back discussing books for boys. Enjoy!