One of the things I most enjoyed as an English and social studies teacher was finding the perfect children’s book to illustrate, both literally and figuratively, my point. Yes, I used children’s books in the high school classroom.
In fact, one of my favorite lessons happened on the very first day of school when I read The Teacher From The Black Lagoon to my 10th and 11th grade U. S. History students. This book is all about one student’s preconceived notions about a teacher and school in general. I’d read it (sending what I hoped was the first hint that “things will be different in this class” to my students) and then ask kids to share what they thought my class would be like that year. And inevitably, they’d eventually say, “BORING.” Then, I really had them. But that’s another story…
We progressed on through the year, researching our own family immigration stories after seeing family history passed on in The Patchwork Quilt. My students learned Mrs. M was likely not to make it all the way through The Wall by Eve Bunting without crying in recognition of her dad’s Vietnam experiences.
That kind of open sharing is what makes teaching powerful, and it certainly made our discussion of how the Vietnam War influenced foreign policy and social discourse a little more accessible to high school students.
Because of my experiences incorporating children’s books into my teaching, I’m always excited to learn of new, outstanding books to share with children of any age.
This morning, I attended a professional development session on using a writer’s workshop approach with young children. Each day, the teacher shares a mini-lesson to provide something for students to think about as they begin their writing. Think less of a prompt than an inspiration.
Two of the books shared by the presenter resonated with me. The first is Snow by Cynthia Rylant. This book brings beauty to the classroom through both its language and its illustrations. I know many out there have seen all the snow they can take this winter, but this book might just make you wish for a little more. One of my favorite parts of this story talks about how memories are really the only thing that lasts. I can’t imagine a better way to get kids started on writing about an important or special memory.
Another book reminded me that children’s experiences are at once both very different and very much the same. Night Shift Daddy by Eileen Spinelli captures the love between a father and his daughter, even though their day-to-day life may play out in a way that is different from that of many of our families.
I’ll end with one of my favorite books, one that would fit in appropriately with science and ecology lessons as well as in the bedtime story repertoire. The Salamander Room is a beautiful book that inspires kids to dream and to protect the earth that we’ve been given.
As readers of this blog know, at times I get bogged down in the day-to-day challenges of my job in school administration. It’s days like today that help remind me why it’s all worth it. Helping students grow into writers, real writers, is exciting. And what’s even more exciting is seeing the enthusiasm of a room full of teachers just waiting to get back out there and make it happen.
I’m a lucky person to have the opportunity to work in a field that changes lives every day.