Shifting Practices(pt.2): Graphic Novels

When I found out that we would be reading graphic novels (7 of them!) for my Content Area Literacy class, I had mixed feelings.  Here were my initial thoughts on reading graphic novels for this class: First, I thought, “ok, that sounds pretty easy.  Comics are quick reads”. Second, I kind of groaned, “Ugh, I really don’t like comic books”.  Then I immediately assumed this was something that I wasn’t going to be able to use in my context of teaching pre kindergarten students.

I have to admit, I have really shifted my thinking on graphic novels.  Revisiting my initial feelings, I now feel: “Graphic novels are actually NOT easy reads. In a lot of ways they can be more challenging.  It took awhile for me to figure out HOW to read them.  There are panels, illustrations, and inserts to attend to.  I had to look back and forth to be sure I was comprehending.  Also, these graphic novels totally made learning more engaging.  Would I have picked up a text about the U.S. and Russia’s race to space ever? Um, no.  Set in a graphic novel though, this was interesting! And I learned stuff!

I realized that kids need these to help support what they are learning.  I love the idea of teaching science, history and math through graphic novels.  We want kids to learn, does it matter how? Actually, yes, in all different ways with many different modes of literacy.I am much more open-minded to graphic novels and comics.  When I use to see kids hunkered down and reading them, I tended to make judgments that they were slower or lazy readers.  Not at all now. screen-shot-2016-12-09-at-10-43-51-am

I LOVED John Lewis’ March.  I ended up checking out Book 2 and 3 from the library to read with my 11-year-old. This book’s way of depicting the injustices in the past-and prompting discussions of present day racial injustices was RIGHT ON TIME for current news and how to discuss it with my own children.

screen-shot-2016-12-09-at-10-44-30-amAfter my daughter auditioned and was cast as Miranda in her school’s production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, I found a graphic novel version of this to purchase for her class.  Her fifth grade teacher reported how using this book has resulted in the students better understanding the language in the play.

How about my earlier thought on not being able to use  graphic novels with my pre-k class? Well, I am looking at texts differently as a result of this study.  Pointing out speech and thought bubbles in the books I read to my students are preparing them for text they will encounter in their next years.  I have found some great books developmentally appropriate for my grade level that can be considered graphic novels.  A sampling of some of my favorites I have worked with this semester are:

Furthermore, our discussions of graphic novels have helped me consider the importance of other alternative texts I can use, like wordless books, books with labels, and the use of photography.

Stay tuned, I am hoping to blog about my use of photography to promote literacy in my class this spring.  Putting cameras in preschool hands!





Shifting Practices (pt.1): Responsive Approach

img_5091A major way my teaching practice has shifted* is in the way I attend and respond to my students’ thinking.  I am more focused on a “Responsive Approach” in my classroom which is guided by my students’ interests and needs both academically and socially.

(* Interested in seeing the “Ignite Presentation”(what is that?) I made to accompany my reflection of how my practice has shifted? See it here “Ignite” photos.)

Students learn best through social interaction.  However, they need to be explicitly taught social and emotional skills.  Modeling how to play games in a group is just as important as learning the academic skill practiced in the game.

I’ve learned to step back and observe when students have disagreements to help them develop and practice problem solving skills.  Then, in class meetings, we discuss solutions to problems that we’ve observed.

Giving my students more opportunities to practice these skills has helped foster a more inclusive environment.  I’ve implemented several different social experiences such as “play buddy” partner games, “listen and tell” story time, and the “let’s talk it out” friendship bench.

Integrating family participation in our classroom is another way I have focused on becoming responsive to my students’ learning.  One of my English Language Learner student’s parent comes in weekly to read a familiar book in Spanish to our class.  

Inviting parents in to share a story, help with our monthly cooking days, teach a song, or assist with a hands-on lesson are just some ways I am focusing on building a bridge from home to school in my students’ lives.  It is important to find ways to partner and involve my students’ families in our learning.  These partnerships help strengthen our classroom community and enrich our school culture.

From across the classroom one day, I observed some of my students taking “selfies”. Granted these were with old “wind and advance” cameras, but it reminds me of the need to be responsive to my students’ inquiries and multimodal literacies.

Responsive teaching aligns with the idea of scientific practice.  Letting my students experience cause and effect and figure out how something happens in their own investigations is another way I have shifted my planning.

I am now realizing that I do not necessarily have to incorporate fancy technology tools to engage my students in multimodal activities.  I am providing various materials and asking questions to engage my students regularly in multimodal literacies.  Moreover, I am more knowledgeable in digital literacies and connected with external networks to get inspiration and to continue learning.

Being responsive to my students’ questions,  ideas, and observations has led to more excitement and confidence in our classroom.  My role has shifted from being the giver of knowledge to supporting, watching, and listening to student’s thinking to guide my lessons.

Like when my students showed great excitement over using a trail map on our field trip.  I followed this spontaneous opportunity to reshape our curriculum.  Although I had planned a different unit, I forced myself out of my comfort zone to try some new lessons to keep my classroom a community that is shaped not by my agenda, but by my students’ interests.

I continued to take the lead from my students’ questions about maps as we learned and practiced position words, drew maps of our classroom and routines, and went on a bear hunt in the dark!

Furthermore, after discovering my students’ obsession with superheroes, I used this theme to frame a positive self-concept unit.  We all can be super and have different powers that make us each unique.

Recording my lessons, receiving feedback, and reflecting on my students’ learning resulted in more intentional modeling.  Demonstrating my own participation in literacy through modeling is supporting my students’ development of these skills.

Modeling and giving students examples of why we use text and relating their own experiences to help them make connections is another way I have shifted my practice.  I find myself asking, “How can I show them this concept through their eyes?” to make it meaningful.

My focus is to encourage all attempts at reading, writing, and speaking by involving all my students varying abilities in literacy practices.  

Labeling pictures and events with marks or letter sounds or words is one way to accommodate all my students’ levels.

Finally, I have changed my focus from product to the importance of process.  My students are more involved in sharing their story ideas, talking about their observations, and learning through each other.  Being more in-tune and responsive to my students’ thinking is providing a more positive learning environment in my classroom.

* Interested in seeing the “Ignite Presentation”(what is that?) I made to accompany my reflection of how my practice has shifted? See it here “Ignite” photos.

Peer Storytelling = Pre, Pre-Writing

The majority of the “writing” we do in our pre-k class starts as drawings. At this important stage, my students are expressing their ideas and stories through pictures they draw.  I use “pictures” as loosely as I do “writing” here.  At four and five-years old, they are still experimenting with how to use (and hold!) various writing tools, copying and drawing simple shapes and symbols, and attempting to write their letters in first their names.  Though some come to school able to write letters and words and are already reading; they need practice telling stories and revealing their voices.  

I’m hear to tell you- writing during the preschool years is, well, messy! We scribble.  We paint. We throw letters and lines and curves all together. We staple pages and pages of paper with words or drawings or random dots and lines. We start over again and again.  This is all good stuff, important parts of the process.  The process of becoming writers.  First though, children have to experiment and  understand how writing works.  They need to see how  it connects in meaningful ways to reading and see how it communicates information through words and symbols.  

 Have you ever had training or a workshop mid-year and wish you could go back and start again “now that you know”?  Ever find something and feel that it’s a little too late? (Not too late, but sure wish you had it sooner?).  I am so inspired by this book a colleague tweeted on Twitter.  Horn and Gicacobbe’s Talking, Drawing, Writing: Lessons for Our Youngest Writers is about teaching young children the craft of writing.  The book’s lessons are organized by topic and include oral storytelling, drawing, writing words, assessment, and other ways to move writers forward.  Horn and Gicacobbe tell us to begin with what our students know best, stories.  Their stories!


At the beginning of the book, the authors explain WHY they feel that talking MUST come before writing. I am sure that all of us who are early education teachers have had this happen to us.  We do a great shared writing lesson with our students and get them all excited about writing their own stories. They head off to their tables ready to write and draw and we, as the teacher, are so excited to read the glorious stories that they come up with. We prepare to walk around the classroom all ready to praise and encourage our students for their first efforts and…… just as we begin our walk around the room, we hear “I’m done!” And then comes another “I’m done” and another…… sigh……… this is NOT the experience you had planned for your students!

Here is an excerpt from the book about this phenomenon: “Any teacher of writing, it seems, has experienced a moment like that. It can happen for many reasons. One could be that we begin with our vision of the end, rather than building toward it over time…….” Isn’t this so true?

Talking comes naturally to children; so starting with talking makes sense. I know that when school starts for me in August, I still have a vision of how my students looked in May. I KNOW that I begin with the ending rather than the beginning and am often disappointed by the output of my students at the beginning of the year. I ALWAYS have to remind myself that I need to start slow and remember this is August NOT May!  This book stresses BUILDING on what children know before launching the writing/drawing process.   I usually start the year with drawing, (again, wish I would have read this in August), but  for now on, and to begin the year next year, I have started beginning our writing time with intentional talking…. partner talking and listening. One child is the ears and the other is the mouth.  

 I found these simple cards for each child to hold to define their roles as listener and talker.  I just started modeling this process last week, thanks to my assistant teacher that should have been an actor! Much to the childrens’ amusement, we modeled some scenarios that we thought we might see, like not paying attention to the story or going off topic.  

Then we practiced being the speaker and the listener using a timer to take turns.  It went pretty well, though a little loud as the kids were too close to other partner groups.  Also, I think I will give the kids a choice of fidget toys to hold while they listen/speak. I have a basket of various sensory ball, squeezy toys, wiki stix, etc. After this Thanksgiving break we will  add the next step, which is to go back to tables and draw their stories they told.  I’m a little reluctant of the length of this process and know that some students will finish way before or after others.  Should each student be a listener and teller in the same day? What if the second partner who shares is the only story that is remembered?  How much stamina will this require?

Finally, this book states that we must believe that every single one of our students has something to say, and we must believe in our ability to help them find it and say it.  Modeling, listening intently, giving back words, and allowing our students time will help even the most reluctant speaker.

I’m looking forward to seeing how my students’ experiences with storytelling and sharing will help inspire their drawings, and eventually their writing.

Does anyone else have experience with storytelling with peers in the youngest grades? I’d love to hear your advice and ideas!





Hope: Keep Looking Forward


I can’t fathom blogging about anything else today while my head’s still spinning from the shock I feel after Donald Trump has been elected as our next president of the United States. I mean really, just to put that in writing feels heavy.  

Returning to work Wednesday morning was hard. I wanted to take the day off.  I thought there was no way I could manage a smile or an ounce of enthusiasm that a teacher of young children HAS to have.  

Although my school did have a strange desolate quietness to it, I was met with open arms,  hugs, and a feeling of unity from my teacher family.  We all knew.  We all felt the loss and disappointment.  

One of my colleagues and friends stated one sentence that keeps ringing through my ears.  Laurie said, “I feel like 30 years of teaching just went out the window.”  

In a profession in which we promote and teach kindness, in a profession in which we emphasize equality and fairness, in a profession in which we strive to build cooperative classrooms with trust and empathy; how do we explain how a person who does not represent these values end up as our country’s leader?

Education, really, is not about teaching the skills of reading and writing, it’s about the skills of being human.  Being thoughtful, being willing to trust, being empathetic and, maybe most importantly, being able to admit when one needs help. Isn’t that what we want for our children as they grow and become the next citizens who make decisions in our world?

We all feared “The Trump Effect”.  “The Trump Effect” has been coined by the media as a gradual psychological effect and increase in bullying by school age children across the country since Donald Trump began his campaign.  Read more about the Trump here and  here.

Sadly, The Trump Effect is not a myth.  It is a terrifying reality. I have shed many tears over the last few days seeing the acts of hate and discrimination in blatant response to the presidential election.  Middle school students chanting “build the wall”, white high school girls telling students of color to move to the back of the bus, swastika graffiti on a Jewish store, and “Black lives don’t matter and neither do your votes” spray painted on the walls in my own city.  These are just a few examples of the hateful signs of the Trump Effect we are witnessing.

So now what? How can we turn this election cycle of insanity into a cycle of empowerment?  What can we do in our little corners of the world to empower ourselves and our students to stand up to these attitudes?

That Wednesday morning that I was feeling like hiding at home and not going into school, I ended up feeling a lot of support and hope by the end of the day.  Parents of our students brought in coffee and supportive words.  Our administration offered encouragement.  Our local school system left the following message on our home phone in English and Spanish. (see it here):  DPS message to families  .   I looked into the eyes of my preschoolers and saw hope and love.  They distract me and remind me that what we do everyday in our classroom can change the way they look at themselves, each other, and the world outside our classroom.

I found this article to be a powerful, helpful perspective on what to share with our students who are hurting and confused.  It also helped guide my conversation of the presidential election outcome with my own children.


So, what actions do we, as both educators and parents, take as a result of the presidential election outcome? First, we talk to our students about it.  We have to discuss it.  In this article Ali Michaels (2016) wisely suggests,

Tell them, first, that we will protect them. Tell them that we have democratic processes in the U.S. that make it impossible for one mean person to do too much damage. Tell them that we will protect those democratic processes ― and we will use them ― so that Trump is unable to act on many of the false promises he made during his campaign.”

“Tell them, second, that you will honor the outcome of the election, but that you will fight bigotry. Tell them bigotry is not a democratic value, and that it will not be tolerated at your school. Tell them you stand by your Muslim families. Your same-sex parent families. Your gay students. Your Black families. Your female students. Your Mexican families. Your disabled students. Your immigrant families. Your trans students. Your Native students. Tell them you won’t let anyone hurt them or deport them or threaten them without having to contend with you first. Say that you will stand united as a school community, and that you will protect one another. Say that silence is dangerous, and teach them how to speak up when something is wrong. Then teach them how to speak up, how to love one another, how to understand each other, how to solve conflicts, how to live with diverse and sometimes conflicting ideologies, and give them the skills to enter a world that doesn’t know how to do this.”

My fellow educators, let’s continue to be active, even more consciously so, in building communities in our classrooms that reflect respect and empathy.  

Inspiration I retweeted today:


Keep looking forward.

My Box of Kindness-is that enough?


I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to promote a respectful community in my preschool classroom.  Most often in my preschool world this consists of “using kind words”, “taking care of our supplies and toys”, and “talk it out to solve the problem”.  These are pretty universal and the majority of my students and their families understand, agree with, and enforce these same goals out of the classroom.

However, there exists another type of respect I want to model as I provide my young students guidance in learning how to be part of a peaceful, positive community.  These goals are not always shared and taught (or agreed upon) at home or in our larger communities.  Sadly, this curriculum is (unintentionally) overlooked and downplayed in my experience in various school systems and environments as well.  This type of curriculum and modeling is often grazed over or avoided.  Teaching this kind of respect and understanding of others can be messy, and sometimes risky.

I’m talking about the inclusion of an anti-bias approach in my curriculum for young students.  It “consists of confronting and eliminating barriers of prejudice, misinformation, and bias about specific aspects of personal and social identity” (Edwards & Sparks, 2009).  This means actually calling attention to our differences, looking closely at how people are treated, and even discussing words and names that are hurtful or hushed.

It’s safer to stick in our same box of promoting kindness and friendship. But is that enough?

Some may be surprised to know that preschool students are already asking questions about racial identity and gender identity.  It is apparent that they are also already developing attitudes about people with disabilities, different genders and races. Some of my students just this week recently expressed that another student in our class couldn’t be Bat-Girl for Halloween “because he’s a boy” and another time, “Princess Tiana has black skin, you have to be Sleeping Beauty”.  Bias in our society are affecting them- they bring them into school and it affects the way they think, play, and think of themselves and others.  Surprisingly, nothing in my preparation for teaching (until my present graduate work) prepared me for how to teach or respond to my students’ biases, or to promote an anti-biased curriculum.

Sure, I have a lot of experience with a “multicultural” curriculum. Though looking at that now, my schools have mostly taught multiculturalism in a “tourist’ approach. We have celebrated diverse holidays, looked at various traditional dress, foods,and symbols for a little while and then “go home” to our classroom not integrating it into the daily life of the classroom. I have to ask, does this process of learning about different cultures also teach stereotypes? Especially if we often look at the traditional foods, customs, and holidays-not the everyday present lives? It’s not enough.  It has to become NORMATIVE in our classrooms.  We don’t need a new curriculum, we do need to integrate various aspects of personal and social identity in our classroom continuously.


I found This film through Teaching for Change, which includes interviews with educators who support and are using an anti-bias approach in their classrooms.  TOTALLY 80’s WARNING! Although the classroom scenes were filmed in the late 1980s, they still provide useful examples for development, reflection, and dialogue of a classroom of anti-bias education in action. You’ll see real life examples of how classrooms are taking:

Steps to take in creating a un-biased approach with students:

  1.   Acknowledgment of differences, (denial can create a deep seeded fear of the  differences we find in others)

      2.    Recognize unfair behavior and empathize with the recipient

       3.   Teach children how to actively change a bias situation


This is challenging in my teaching context.  With preschoolers, discussions have to be short and meaning has to be within the children’s everyday lives. So, I aim to approach a more anti-bias curriculum and discuss issues through stories that help me do so.

Stories are very powerful.  They may come in and not remember a thing I said, but they will remember the story.  I see it when they “reread” and fill in the words they remember , when they use a conflict in a story in their imaginative play, and when they associate a new book to one previously read.  Since stories are powerful, it’s important that as we choose books, we critically examine their words and their images to nurture our students’ sense of self, positive attitude toward others, and motivation to act for fairness.

This website is an invaluable guide in selecting Anti-Bias Children’s Books






The Teach for Change site also has great anti-biased book lists with themes ranging from gender identity and economic class to racial identity and family structures.

Lastly, I think one of the most difficult and scary elements in activating this curriculum is how to inform and involve parents. What do you do if/when parents disagree?  If this were an issue, I plan to engage in thoughtful dialogue which would respect other’s opinions and diversity, but communicate that biased behavior and actions are not to be accepted and allowed in my classroom.  This is where the messy part comes in..and luckily I have not been in this situation yet. Has anyone else had a positive experience or have a great way to partner with parents in implementing an anti-bias curriculum?

As educators, we all have the wish for every child to develop to their fullest potential.  We also do need to acknowledge though that the existence of bias in our society does not allow that to happen.  

What ways are you promoting an anti bias approach in your classroom?

When the Map Stole the Show…


When the map stole the show, I knew I was going to have to change our next few weeks around.

In my last blog post, I wrote about how important and beneficial it is to create a community in our classrooms.  I acknowledged that this shouldn’t be just a few beginning of the year lessons and games, but a conscious commitment to make, model, and strengthen student/teacher relationships on a day-to-day basis.  My goal in this blog is to reflect and write about ways I can build a strong sense of community in my preschool classroom, one experience at a time.

This week I took my class on a field trip to the Eno River to experience a day of “camping”.  It’s amazing how many of our pre-kindergarten learning objectives this field trip covered (but don’t tell them, to these guys they were just having a super fun time!).

Activities at the Eno:img_4227img_4291

  • Map/location skills-Following a map down the trail.  Pointing out locations depicted on map (river, bridge, crossing trail, cabin, camp site)
  • Environment- camp/fire safety, Leave No Trace, pollution
  • Changes- exploring seasonal change, animal adaptations, how humans adapt
  • Cooking -following directions to cook our lunch (hot dogs), assembling s’mores, cooperating in a group
  • Reading/Observing- nature scavenger hunt, classification, physical properties
  • Listening/Speaking- enjoying a story in the tent, making predictions, singing around the campfire

The list of what we did at the Eno and how it relates to our learning objectives could go on and on, but what the majority of my students LOVED the most was following the trail map!

A crucial part in developing a community in my classroom, is being flexible and intuitive enough to see what excites my students and CHANGE my plans and expectations to fit their needs and curiosities.  Because my class is so fascinated with maps, I have been thinking about how to support this inquiry into my classroom. (Disclaimer:  I kinda have our next two months planned out, and they did NOT include mapping activities!)  This is the point that I, teacher, have to force myself out of my comfort zone to try some new things to keep my classroom a community that is shaped from the students’ interests, not my agenda.

In my reinveting planning I have found these books, so far,  to use which are developmentally appropriate for the students in my class.

I also have found these following sites to be helpful in creating activities to bring mapping to life inside my classroom! Map making in prek and 3D Penny Maps

Also, another great resource I’ve found: The Early Math online environment.  It’s full of ideas to support real-world teaching. One of their goals is to “provide resources that have practical implications for teaching, affecting attitudes and practices as well”. Find lesson ideas from pre-k to 3rd grade. Check it out!Awesome Math Resource

So,  inspired by my students excitement about maps, I am off (and excited too!) to bring these new lessons and ideas to my classroom.  Because my students had an authentic experience with using maps at the Eno this past week, we will have a lot of vocabulary and memories to scaffold upon!

If anyone has tips or suggestions in mapping in early grades that you tink might benefit our pre-k classroom, I’d love for you to share with me your ideas!

Building Community & Cookie Jars…

Whew, what a difference 9 months make! No matter how many times I remind myself and lament with my colleagues, I am still surprised at the beginning of each year at the realization of how much our students change (and learn!) in such a short time.

As I anticipate and excitedly start preparing for my new students each school year, the image of my students back in June must still permeate my memories and expectations.

Wake up call, twelve new little four-year-olds come in September not knowing our routine, how to line up, the difference between names, or how to function in a room with others.  This really highlights to me how much the previous classmates learned, grew, and changed!

So, here we go again to water and nurture these precious seeds…

I spend a lot of time strategizing on how to build a community in my classroom.  It is a constant goal (and struggle) to create a community in which my students feel genuinely connected to each other, to the teachers, to the environment, and to the processes we explore throughout each day.  The NAEYC states:

“Classrooms with a strong sense of community help children feel welcome, secure, and competent. And with security and the feeling of competence, children explore, take risks, form meaningful relationships, and learn “ (p.6).

Because this is a goal of mine to work on ALL year long, not just in the beginning of my school year, I have sought out resources and inspiration on how to build a strong community in the preschool years.

I found this blog and love the way Deborah lists building trust and being genuine as important steps in creating a supportive community in our classrooms.

Simple things like making eye contact on a child’s level and responding thoughtfully to a child’s efforts are critical in helping students feel comfortable to “put themselves out there”.

How does all this connect to LITERACY you may wonder? The steps I take in building community are crucial steps to prepare the students to take risks, share their thoughts, collaborate, and ask questions: all pre-literacy expectations we have in a preschool classroom!

I will use this blog to share and reflect on some of the ways I am doing this throughout the year because I believe these efforts will help and overlap in our literacy skills as well.  It’s an everyday goal and process, but the meaningful lessons I prepare can help support those efforts.

The following activity was used to both help my students learn each other’s names and promote a way for students to share in an engaging experience with one another.

  1. First, I read Who Took the Cookies from the Cookie Jar? By Bonnie Lass and Philimon Sturges.  My class loved the repetitive text and mystery of who had taken the cookies.  screen-shot-2016-09-30-at-11-28-02-am2. The next day I passed around a cookie jar filled with enough animal cookies for       everyone to take one.  As each child took a cookie, I started the chant (from the text) “Who took the cookie from the cookie jar?” The child responds with their name and  then the class repeats the chant…(see example below).img_4045

3. Next, each student completed their own page for a class book by writing their name,              gluing their photograph, and drawing a picture of themselves.

4.  The compiled class book is already a well-loved (twice accidentally torn) book in our             classroom that the students are “reading”it to each other over and over.  img_4011

I also have noticed that the use of this book has prompted students to engage other children they don’t normally interact with.  An example of this is when Addi and Leo were reading the book in the reading corner and announced, “Hey Benji, I’m on your page..come say your part”.  Benji, who is most often on the floor with blocks, wandered over and “read” his part of the book. Later that day, I noticed Benji reading the class book at our “book look” time.

Do you create class books with your students that promote community and collaboration? What ideas do you have of books or class-community projects that students love and interact with?

To (finally) conclude this post, I just want to acknowledge that I know building a community is not just a lesson.  It doesn’t happen by reading one book about friendship or playing some get-to-know you games. Instead, creating a sense of community is a year-long commitment we make, model, and strengthen on a day by day basis.

So, I am consciously working on these goals ALL year long and incorporating them into everyday, not just the start of school.  One experience at a time.


National Association for the Education of Young Children. Cooperative games for preschoolers. Teaching Young Children, 4(2), pp. 6–7. Retrieved from TYC_V4N2_9Xgames.pdf (free template for where are the cookies class book pages)