The Most Mortifying Moment Of My Teaching Career — And What I Learned From It

The most mortifying moment of my teaching career, and what I learned from it.

Someone who’s taught for 11 years should have everything down to a science, right?

Nope.

My 11th year of teaching might have been my worst.

I had an excellent group of 5th graders.  I had a supportive team of teachers.  I had zero excuses every time I looked at my class data and saw meager (at best) learning gains.  In January, a veteran teacher walked into my room to pick up a student.  She was in my room about 30 seconds before she said:

“These kids aren’t working for you.”

It was the most mortifying moment of my teaching career.

Teachers get lots of negative feedback.  During my previous 11 years, several administrators lectured me about incorrect common boards, teaching one subject when my schedule said I should be teaching another, and not teaching the exact same thing as my teammates.  I’m pretty good about letting pointless criticism roll off me.

This was different.

“These kids aren’t working for you.”

I could not let that roll off me because I knew it was 100% true.

I can’t describe how much those words stung.  I felt embarrassed that another teacher saw how ineffective I was.  I felt angry at her for saying this.  Then I felt angry at myself for letting my students down.  Finally, I felt overwhelmed because it’s not something I could fix in one day.

After my emotions settled, I realized had never thoroughly reflected on how to be a better teacher.  That needed to change.

Here’s what I did.

First, I had to accept responsibility for this.  I couldn’t make excuses about my students, their parents, my administrators, testing, or anything else.

Next, I had to figure out a time to think about solutions.  So instead of listening to ESPN radio during my 45-minute drive home, I thought about everything that happened in my classroom that day.  I’d replay the day in my mind until I could remember two things that went well and one thing that didn’t.  I analyzed the good things until I thought of how it could help in the future.  I also analyzed the bad so I could prevent it from happening again.

Thankfully, I had an awesome team of teachers and administrative coaches that year.  I asked them for advice about how they motivate their students.  There are tons of awesome Facebook groups where you can get excellent advice, but I still recommend talking to other teachers at your school.

I also wanted to observe other teachers, but there was no time for that.  The best way struggling teachers can learn is by watching awesome teachers in action.  I wish districts allowed more time for this to happen, but that’s impossible when every day of planning time is full of meetings.

So after a lot of reflection, I realized:

I was drowning in all the fifth-grade standards.

There were several times that year when students corrected me during math class.  These students were not being rude.  They were respectful, bright young kids who wanted me to know that I was working a problem incorrectly.  I’m sure this caused students to lose confidence in me.  I realized I needed to take staff-development courses in math during the summer or persuade my principal to let us departmentalize.  Thankfully, my principal allowed us to departmentalize the next year!  I got to teach science, so I spent the summer researching science standards, labs to teach those standards, and how students would be assessed on them.  It took a ton of communication with my team during the summer to organize our first year of departmentalization, but it was worth it.  I finally felt like I could breathe again since I could focus on one subject.

If you’re an upper-elementary teacher who feels like you’re drowning in all the standards, I highly recommend departmentalizing.  You can check out my blog post here to learn why this revitalized my desire to teach.

It’s not about me.

I also realized I was too controlling.  I hate when administrators micromanage me, but I realized I was doing the same to my students.  I sapped all the joy out of reading class by requiring my students to use 1,352 strategies on every reading passage.  If they only used 1,349 of those strategies, I’d make them do the assignment over again.

I also spent way too much time telling my students how to do everything instead of letting them discover new concepts on their own.  I allowed them little time to learn from each other.

So I spent the first week of my 12th year showing my students how to work in groups.  I also covered classroom rules and procedures, but I focused on teamwork.  I told my students they were going to learn a lot from each other.  I looked for activities where kids worked together to deepen their knowledge about a topic.  I spoke to the whole class much less often.

The more I got out of the way, the more my students learned.

Allow students to learn from their mistakes.

I realized I was way too critical of small mistakes.  I’m not talking about the times a student willingly disobeyed me, I’m talking about conversations like this:

ME:  HOW could you confuse area and perimeter?!  I told you three times during class today that area is L x W while perimeter is the sum of all the sides.  THREE TIMES?!  How could you get this wrong?  Are you even listening?

Student:  Yeah, I just forgot.

Me:  Do 10 extra problems for homework and you’d better start listening in class!

Surprise…conversations like that didn’t exactly motivate my students.

Yes, it’s frustrating when students make the same mistake over and over again.  However, I realized I needed to change the tone of my conversation to something like this:

Me:  You keep confusing area and perimeter.  Why do you think that happens?

Student:  It’s hard.  I can’t remember it.

Me:  True, but you are responsible for remembering it.  What could you do to help you remember this?

Student:  I dunno.

Me:  Apparently you need to spend a few more minutes thinking of a solution.  Go back to your seat.  I will be back in five minutes and I will listen to your plan of how you will remember the difference between area and perimeter in the future.

My students responded way better when I changed my tone during these conversations to let them know I want to help them improve, not punish them for making mistakes.

Take time to laugh.

I realized I was so focused on keeping up with the pacing guide that I rarely took time to have fun during the day.  No one can be expected to work for seven straight hours.  So I started making corny jokes way more often.  I’d show a dumb 40-second YouTube video in the middle of class.  I’d allow the kids five minutes of free time at the end of class when they worked hard.  Sometimes I dumped candy on each kid’s desk while they were in the middle working on a difficult project.  Other days I’d surprise the kids with a fun STEM or team-building activity when we needed a break from the standard we had been working on for the last five days.  I needed these breaks as much as the students.

My 12th year of teaching was far from perfect, but it was much better than the year before.  My students made awesome learning gains.  I had a much better attitude about teaching every day.  There was even a teacher who observed my class and said,

“Wow, your students are really engaged.”

I knew it was 100% true.

 

 

The Perfect Book for Teaching Growth Mindset

Teaching growth mindset with Hatchet

Hatchet is the perfect book to help students understand the benefits of developing a growth mindset!  The story is about a 13-year-old boy, Brian, who survives a plane crash.  Then through sheer will power and determination, he survives in the wilderness for months until he is rescued.  Reading Brian’s story of survival gives you plenty of ways to teach your students growth mindset because Brian never gives up.  He forces himself to keep trying even when he fails.  The author does a brilliant job of illustrating how Brian talks to himself as he wills himself to accomplish tasks.  Brian is the perfect character for your students to read about as you teach them to develop a growth mindset.

In this blog post, I’ll give you three ways your students can learn why it’s important to develop a growth mindset after reading Hatchet.  After that, you’ll see three discussion topics that you can use with your students after they read Hatchet to reflect upon the growth mindset lessons they learned from Brian that they can apply in their lives.

Growth Mindset Lessons

Brian is never successful at first when he tries something new.  But the harder Brian works to achieve something, the more pride he feels when he accomplishes it.  

Brian finds berries to eat within a few days after crash landing.  Then he figures out how to catch fish.  But nothing compares to the pride he feels when he cooks his first bird and eats delicious meat.  Several chapters give details about Brian building tools to catch animals.  Then he improves those tools over and over again until they work.  In chapter 15, Brian starts craving meat.  So he figures out a way to finally catch birds that he calls “fool birds.”  It takes him a long time to figure out how to catch one.  Brian fails the first several times he tries to catch a fool bird.  But he never gives up.  When he finally catches one to cook, he says the meat tastes better than anything his mother has ever cooked.  Brian feels tremendous pride because he worked so hard to catch it.  The author does a brilliant job of illustrating all the work that went into catching a bird and the immense pride Brian felt when he was eating it.  This is a tremendous example for your students to see that nothing compares to the satisfaction of working hard to accomplish something.

 

Brian is a normal kid, but he learns a lot about surviving in nature because he is willing to learn from his mistakes.

The text is clear that Brian is not a genius or expert outdoorsman.  Brian is used to living in the city.  He had problems doing simple bike repairs before the plane crash.  He survives because he keeps trying to learn new things and realizes that failure is part of learning. In chapter 14, a skunk sneaks into Brian’s shelter at night and steals food.  Brian realizes he was foolish to bury them in the ground where any animal can get it.  After this failure, Brian realizes he needs to store his food in a high place where animals can’t steal it.  He finds a place, then he has to use tree branches to build a ladder for him to reach this place.  Once he has his food out of reach, he feels extremely proud.  He never has any more food stolen for the rest of the book.  It’s an outstanding example of Brian learning from a mistake.  There are MANY scenes like this where Brian fails, then learns from it.

 

Facing problems head-on becomes a habit for Brian.

The story is full of challenges for Brian.  But instead of getting discouraged by them, he always forces himself to think of solutions.  In chapter 16, Brian was attacked by a moose.  Later that night, his shelter was destroyed by a tornado.  But the next morning, Brian started thinking about how he would rebuild his shelter.  He realized he was “tough in the head” because he had gotten so used to facing problems rather than getting discouraged by them.  It had become a part of who he is.  This is an outstanding lesson for your students.  Just like working out can make you stronger physically, forcing yourself to solve problems rather than getting discouraged can make you stronger mentally.

Discussion topics:

In chapter 18, Brian retrieves a huge bag of supplies from the plane that crashed into the lake.  The bag is full of incredible things that will help Brian tremendously.  But the text in chapter 19 said the pack “Gave Brian up and down feelings.”  Why would Brian feel “down” about the contents of this bag?

Possible response:  Brian had spent about two months surviving on his own in the wilderness.  Other than his hatchet, he built everything on his own.  He figured out everything on his own.   These supplies are like a bunch of shortcuts.  Nothing about the last two months has been a shortcut for Brian.  Students may also think Brian is sad that he didn’t have these supplies at first.  But I feel like most of the text evidence suggests that Brian is not fond of using supplies that will make things like hunting, catching fish, and starting fires, a lot easier.

 

At the beginning of chapter 8, Brian is attacked by a porcupine in his sleep.  Besides the pain of the needles in his leg, why does he start crying?  Then what makes Brian realize that crying accomplishes nothing and how does that help him during the rest of the story?

Possible response:  At the end of chapter 7, Brian falls asleep feeling more content than he has since the plane crash.  He has a shelter and he’s full from eating a lot of berries.  But in the middle of the night, a porcupine gets into Brian’s shelter and shoots several sharp needles into Brian’s leg.  The pain is bad, but Brian feels terrible because he hasn’t figured out how to make fire yet.  He wonders what will happen if a larger animal gets into his shelter at night.  Then he feels like he will never be able to survive and starts sobbing uncontrollably.  When he’s done, the text states, “Later he looked back on this time of crying in the corner of the dark cave and thought of it as when he learned the most important rule of survival, which was that feeling sorry for yourself didn’t work.  It wasn’t just that it was the wrong thing to do, or that it was considered incorrect.  It was more than that — it didn’t work.”  When Brian had problems later in the book, he didn’t cry.  He just kept thinking and trying new things until he found a solution.

 

After the rescue plane flies away in chapter 12, Brian feels like all hope is lost.  Then in chapter 13, the text states, “In measured time, forty-seven days had passed since the crash.  Forty-two days, he thought, since he had died and been born as the new Brian.”  Summarize what this means.  How has Brian become “the new Brian?”

Possible responses:  The rescue plane came a few days after Brian’s initial crash.  After Brian watched it fly away, he realized no one was coming for him.  He felt incredibly depressed and tried to kill himself.  But he didn’t.  The text states Brian returned to his shelter that night and realized, “He was not the same.  The plane crashing changed him, the disappointment cut him down and made him new.  He was not the same and would never be again like he had been.  That was one of the true things, the new things.  And the other one was that he would not die, he would not let death in again.”  This flashback that Brian has in chapter 13 happened 42 days earlier.  Students could also point to the fact that Brian never even thinks about quitting and never stops until he has figured out a way to accomplish what he sets his mind to.

I have created quizzes and writing prompts to help you teach Hatchet.  The prompts are excellent ways for your students to connect with the events in the book.  The quizzes are a quick way for you to ensure your students are comprehending the story.   Click the image below to see the novel study in my TpT store!

Teaching growth mindset with Hatchet

I hope your students enjoy this book and become more determined to get “tough in the head” just like Brian did!

 

Discussion Topics For 3 Books That Third Graders Will Enjoy

Books third graders will love

I taught third grade for nine years and it seemed that every one of my students loved reading books that involved animals!  All of the stories pictured include main characters who change because of a dog in the story.  These main characters also have to make difficult decisions based on their love for their dog.  There are also tons of great discussions you can have with your students as they read these books, so I’ve provided five ideas for each book.

Because of Winn-Dixie, by Kate DiCamillo (AR level 3.9)

Plot:  The main character, Opal, has just moved to a new town and is lonely.  Her mother left when she was young, her dad is always busy as a preacher, and she is having a hard time making new friends.  But her life improves as soon as she brings home a stray dog, which she names Winn-Dixie.  Opal makes several new friends of all different ages and backgrounds as a direct result of things she is doing to take care of her new dog.

Third graders will enjoy this book because Opal loves talking about everything that’s on her mind when she’s around Winn-Dixie because she feels like the dog listens to her.  Many other characters fall in love with Winn-Dixie as the book progresses, which helps Opal make new friends.  Winn-Dixie seems to have a knack for gravitating toward nice people.  This helps Opal become friends with an older woman whom other kids call a “witch” and a man who people stay away from because he has been arrested.  Thanks to Winn-Dixie, kids learn why we shouldn’t judge people.

Discussion or writing topics:

–Which of Opal’s friends do you feel are the most unlikeliest friends she made?  Why do you feel this way about these two characters?  How did Winn-Dixie help Opal become friends with these two people?

–Why does Opal feel closer with her dad at the end of the book?  What three events do you think had the biggest impact on this?

–Would you like to have a dog like Winn-Dixie?  Explain why or why not.

–Why do you think Stevie, Dunlap, and Amanda started acting nicer to Opal at the end of the book?

–If Littmus Lozenges were real, do you think lots of people should eat them or not?  Explain why you feel this way.

I’ve created quizzes, writing prompts, vocabulary activities, cloze passages, and character-analysis pages to help you teach this awesome book.  Click the image to see this product in my TpT store.

Books about animals

Shiloh, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (AR level 4.4)

Plot:  The main character is a boy named Marty who tries to keep a dog (Shiloh) away from an owner who abuses the dog.  Marty has always wanted a dog, but his parents say they can’t afford to take care of one.  But when Marty realizes that Shiloh’s owner abuses him, he does everything he can to keep the dog away from this owner.  Marty’s family lives in a rural area, so he finds places to hide Shiloh from his family while keeping him away from the owner (Judd).  He sneaks food from dinner and gives it to Shiloh.  Marty feels terrible that he lies to his parents, but he justifies it because he is keeping Shiloh away from a terrible owner.

Third graders will enjoy this book because it shows a young boy going to extreme lengths to keep a dog safe.  Marty bravely stands up to Judd by telling him that the way he’s treating Shiloh is wrong.  The author also describes how Shiloh acts happier around Marty.  At the end, Marty agrees to do odd jobs for Judd in exchange for letting him keep Shiloh.  Marty’s parents are still nervous about affording this dog, but warm up to him because he brings so much joy to their family.

Discussion topics:

–Would you lie to your parents to keep a dog safe?  Why or why not?

–How would the story have been different if Marty had immediately told his parents that he was keeping Shiloh at their house to keep him away from Judd?

–At the end of the story, why do Marty’s parents feel better about keeping Shiloh, even though they’re not earning any extra money?  Is there something in your life you think is this valuable, even if it’s really expensive to keep?

–Reflect on all the things Marty did to keep Shiloh safe throughout the story.  What would you have done differently to keep Shiloh safe?  What do you think is one thing Marty did that was a really good idea?

–After reading this story, what have you learned about why it’s challenging to stand up for what’s right?

I have created writing prompts and quizzes for each chapter of Shiloh.  Click the image below to see more!

Books for animal lovers

White Fur Flying, by Patricia MacLachlan (AR level 3.1)

Plot:  The main character is a girl named Zoe whose family often keeps animals who need help.  A family moves in across the street with a mother who hates dogs and a young boy who does not speak.  As Zoe gets to know this young boy, she learns he doesn’t speak because he blames himself for some family problems.  But Zoe learns this boy also loves dogs.  The story ends with people doing brave things, the young boy talking, and the woman changing her feelings about dogs.  Zoe’s pets contribute to all of these events.

Third graders will enjoy this book because the young boy, Phillip, has a lot of troubling thoughts on his mind.  It seems like he will never speak.  But once he starts interacting with Zoe’s dogs, he opens up a bit — not by his words, but with his actions.  Zoe’s family are experts with animals and show a lot of love and care to all animals.  Her dad is a vet and her mom rescues dogs who need a home.  There are lots of examples of Zoe and her family treating animals extremely kindly and respectfully.  But it’s the care that one of their dogs shows to Phillip in a dangerous situation that causes this young boy to open up for good.

Discussion topics:

–How did Zoe’s dogs have such a tremendous impact on the way Phillip’s behavior changed?  Do you think it’s possible for an animal to have a huge impact on people in real life like that?

–What do you think is the biggest reason why Phillip started talking?  Explain why you think this.

–Near the end of the story, Phillip calls Jack (Zoe’s dog) a hero.  Do you agree with Phillip?  Why or why not?  How would you define the word “hero?”

–Have you ever known someone like Phillip who doesn’t say much?  What would you do to help someone who is really shy?

–Describe what Zoe’s house is normally like.  Would you like to live in a home like that?  Why or why not?

These are some quizzes and writing prompts I’ve created for this book.  Click to see this product in my TpT store, where you can download a preview.

Books for animal lovers

Meaningful Assignments for Students Serving In-School Suspension

I always hate the assignments I send with students when they serve ISS.  I hate everything about ISS.  Obviously, when students are fighting or behaving extremely disrespectfully, they need to be removed from class.  But once he/she is taken to ISS, I despise gathering work for the student to do all day because I know I’m going to do a terrible job of doing so.

I always end up feeling guilty for the work I send.  I know I should have already prepared packets of work, but planning ahead is not exactly my strong suit.  So I end up grabbing workbooks and textbooks.  I spend about two minutes looking for things that will take this student a long time to complete.  Then I slap a few post-it notes with pages numbers to complete.  The entire time, I’m thinking, “This is such pointless work.”

These are the students who need the most support and I’m sending pointless work for them to do right after they’ve had a serious altercation with another student or teacher.  I always feel guilty, but I feel like I have no options because I only have a few minutes to find work because I’m in the middle of class.  The work also has to keep the student busy for a day without requiring too much effort from the ISS teacher who already has a million other things to do.

These are the students I’ve kept in mind as I’ve written over 200 passages about famous athletes.  As I research athletes like Kevin Durant, Tom Brady, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Usain Bolt, I look for stories about times they’ve made mistakes and how they overcame them.  When Kevin Durant was in high school, one of his basketball coaches was murdered.  Kevin was really upset because this coach was like a father to him.  Kevin’s performance on the court suffered because he started disrespecting opponents and hogging the ball.  Then Kevin realized his old coach would not want him to play like that.  Kevin stopped doing those things and his play improved.  The students who are sitting in ISS need to realize that huge celebrities like Kevin Durant make mistakes just like them.  Our students need to read stories of successful people who learn from mistakes and are determined never to make the same mistake twice.  Now, Kevin Durant is one of the most respected players in the NBA.

When I write these passages, I also include stories of how hard these athletes have worked to achieve success.  I describe how these athletes have put in years and years of insanely hard work to be successful.  When NFL quarterback Tom Brady was growing up, he hated that his sisters were better athletes than him.  He was determined to do whatever it took to be the best athlete in his family.  Now he is one of the greatest quarterbacks in American football history!  Here are some passages where the headline shows you the focus of the passage.

Meaningful work for ISS

I’ve written three sets of passages about most athletes.  For example, my set about LeBron James and Michael Jordan includes paired texts about their childhood, pro sports career, and charity work.

Meaningful work for ISS students

Each set of paired texts includes a quiz.  There’s also a writing prompt that ties all the passages together.  The first page, which you can give to the ISS teacher, explains which two passages go together.  Answer keys are also provided.  You can print a few copies of each set to have in a file folder for those times when you have to immediately send work for ISS.

Meaningful work for ISS students

Some teachers have told me the work for ISS should be boring busy-work, which I totally disagree with.  The punishment for the student should come in the form of isolation from his/her peers, not pointless assignments.

In addition to classroom teachers, I encourage ISS teachers to try a few of my paired texts. A few ISS teachers have left feedback on my paired texts saying they were helpful when kids in ISS finished the assignments sent by the classroom teacher.  They are also helpful when the student’s classroom teacher is unable to send work on time.

Click any of the images below to see all the paired texts I have available in my TpT store.  I’ve written passages on more than 70 athletes who compete in a variety of sports, so I’m sure you’ll find topics that will interest your students.  I also have passages written on a variety of reading levels to help you meet the needs of your students.

Paired Texts About Famous Athletes for Grades 5-6Paired Texts About Famous Athletes for Grades 3-4

Paired Texts About Famous Athletes for Grades 1-2

Feel free to email me at keithgeswein@keithgeswein.com or leave feedback in my TpT store to let me know how these work for you.  Thank you for the 5,236,823 things you do for your students every day!

Inspirational African Americans Your Students Need to Learn More About

 

 

Dr. Martin Luther King and Harriet Tubman

I taught third grade at an international school in China for four years.  Most of my students were Korean children whose parents worked in China.  Our big project every year was a wax museum presentation, where students would dress up as famous people and stand like wax statues, speaking only when people walked up to them.  EVERY YEAR, I had several boys ask to be Martin Luther King and several girls ask to be Harriet Tubman.  It was so cool to see my Korean students in China be so inspired by these two!

During my ten years of teaching the US, I tried to keep as many books about Dr. King and Harriet Tubman in my classroom library because my students loved reading about them.  It was a no-brainer for me to write informational texts about them.  I think it’s great for students to see how hard these two worked to help African Americans.  It’s also cool for students to compare the way they worked — Tubman often worked in secret to help slaves escape via the Underground Railroad, while Dr. King wanted most of his actions to be made publicly.  This leads to some excellent class discussions about how two completely different techniques can be used to achieve the same goal.

Here’s what my paired texts about MLK and Harriet Tubman look like.  Click the image to see the product in my TpT store.  From there you can download a preview to see more of this or purchase the set for $4.

Paired texts about inspirational African Americans

 

Edmonia Lewis (sculptor) and Garrett Morgan (inventor)

These two should receive more attention.  Edmonia Lewis is the first African-American woman whose sculptures received international recognition.  She attended college in 1859 to study art, but she had to leave before earning her degree because she was accused of crimes she didn’t commit.  Then she had to break into a profession that was dominated by white men.  She refused to take no for an answer and eventually found someone to mentor her.  She made a sculpture that helped her earn enough money to move to Rome.  But my favorite fact about Edmonia is how she carved her own marble sculptures in Rome.  Most other sculptors who worked in Italy made a model, then hired locals to do the physically-demanding job of carving the sculpture into the marble.  BUT NOT EDMONIA!!!  Even though she was about four feet tall, she refused to hire help because she didn’t want anyone to question the validity of her work.  Edmonia’s sculptures featured characteristics of her African-American and Native-American (Chippewa) heritage.  Kids who love art will be inspired by her story!

Garrett Morgan invented things that saved lives.  He saw problems, then invented things to solve them.  He noticed the firefighters sometimes died from suffocation when they entered buildings full of smoke.  So he invented the first gas mask in 1912 that allowed firefighters to breathe in smoky buildings.  This invention helped him rescue miners who were trapped in a tunnel in Cleveland in 1916.  Garrett’s gas mask helped him breathe long enough to rescue two men who were trapped.  A few years later, he witnessed a terrible car accident at an intersection in Cleveland.  So he invented a traffic signal that included a “warning” signal to give people time to slow down before the signal turned red.  It’s why traffic lights today have the yellow light.  Garrett’s story will inspire students who have a passion for creating things that help people.

Click the image below to see my paired texts about Lewis and Morgan.

 

Gabby Douglas and Simone Biles:  Olympic gold-medal gymnasts

Simone Biles dominated gymnastics at the 2016 Olympics like no one else has ever done before.  But in 2011, she missed making the US team by one spot.  She made the US team the next year, but she was a year too young to compete in the 2012 Olympics.  So that meant she was going to have to train for four years to compete in the Olympics.  Instead of getting discouraged, Simone got to work — and she did so with an amazing attitude.  Her story is a perfect example of how to handle disappointment and how years of hard work can pay off in incredible ways.

Gabby Douglas is one of the few US gymnasts to compete in two Olympics.  She became a superstar when she won the all-around at the 2012 Olympics.  She was disappointed that she didn’t win any individual gold medals in 2016, but she was more disappointed at all the criticism she received.  For some reason, Gabby has been the focus of lots of unfair, hurtful criticism on social media during both Olympics.  Some reporters in Rio seemed more interested in getting her reaction to mean tweets than asking about her gymnastics routines.  But I hope you show your students this quote from Gabby because it sets such a powerful example of how to respond to people who criticize you:

“When you go through a lot and you have so many difficulties and people against you sometimes, it kind of just determines your character.  Are you going to stand or are you going to crumble?  I have no regrets coming back for a second Olympic team.  It’s been an amazing experience.  It’s been teaching me a lot.”

My paired texts about Gabby and Simone are FREE!  Click the image below to download this free item.

Inspirational paired texts about African Americans

 

LeBron James and Michael Jordan (NBA)

When LeBron James was young, he moved a lot and was raised by his mother.  They didn’t have much money.  I think it’s powerful for young people who are living in a similar situation to realize they can grow up to be successful.  Sports played a huge role in stabilizing LeBron’s life when he was young.  When he started playing football and basketball, he met lots of awesome people who were great role models for him.  Maybe you have students who are in a similar situation…maybe sports can be the positive thing they need in their life, just like LeBron when he was young.

Michael Jordan is one of the greatest players in NBA history, but he didn’t make his high-school varsity team his sophomore year.  Lots of kids know that story, but it’s important for your students to read about his failed attempt at playing Major League Baseball.  Michael abruptly retired from the NBA in 1993 at the peak of his career.  He then tried out for the Chicago White Sox because he has always loved baseball.  But he wasn’t very good.  He spent his brief baseball career in the minor leagues, where he didn’t hit very well.  It was so strange to see one of the greatest athletes ever struggle so mightily on the baseball field.  Michael retired from baseball in 1995 and returned to the NBA.   It’s great for your students to read about one of the world’s greatest athletes TRYING something new, FAILING, then returning to DOMINATE the NBA!

Click the image below to see more of my paired texts about LeBron James and Michael Jordan.

Paired texts about inspirational African Americans

I hope your students will learn a lot by reading about these inspirational people!

Paired Texts That Will Have Your Students Begging for More

Engaging paired texts about famous athletes

When I think about my experiences in school, I remember being bored during reading class.  The stories in our reading book were always so boring.  I remember rushing through my work so I could read the things that I wanted, which were books about sports!

My best memories of school came during the Scholastic Book Fair because they had books about football and basketball!!  Every year, I eagerly bought all the books about my favorite athletes and teams.  Then I returned to class and rushed through my work so I could read them.   I credit these sports books for developing my reading skills because I was such a picky reader.  I bet some of my teachers considered me a “reluctant reader.”

Fast forward (more years than I’d like to admit) and I realize that several 5th graders in my class are just like me.  There are lots of kids who are desperate for something to read that they can relate to.  I feel like there are lots of great fiction books, but it seems a lot of students zone out when they read nonfiction.  There are lots of kids who are huge sports fans, but I’ve noticed there’s a shortage of high-quality, nonfiction reading material about sports.

That’s why I have written over 200 passages about famous athletes for grades 1-6.

Here’s what a set about Steph Curry and Kobe Bryant looks like.  (Steph and Kobe are famous basketball players.)  If you click the image it will take you to that product and you can download a preview.

Engaging paired texts about famous athletes

Students will perform better in reading class if they are reading about a topic they care about.  We have tons of kids who love sports, but it seems like there aren’t enough stories about athletes.  The passages I’ve written about LeBron James, Cam Newton, Lionel Messi, Usain Bolt, or Simone Biles will light a spark under some of your reluctant readers because they will finally be reading about a topic they care about.

I’ve been pleased to hear from many teachers that these passages engage even their most reluctant readers, students who sound just like me when I was in school!  Here are some of the things teachers have said after using my paired texts with their students:

“It really peaked the interest of my 4th graders, especially the boys…kids were asking to do extra!

“Students loved these and begged for more!”

“My students cheer when they see these selections.  The question that comes after is, ‘Can we have more?  We love reading about sports figures.'”

“All of the texts are full of great information.  Finally, I’ve found something that my kids will read!!”

“We used it for center time and they were talking about the players long after!”

“My students really enjoyed reading them which makes teaching a whole lot easier.”

“Boys in my middle school intervention class loved this!  Something they would finally read about willingly!”

“It really makes reluctant readers want to read.” 

“The kids loved how they could relate to the topic.  They’re much more engaged when they love the topic!”

“All of my students enjoyed the passages and they sparked lively discussions.”

I started by writing these passages on a 5th-6th grade reading level.  Then I had several teachers say they needed these passages written on lower reading levels.  So I have also created several sets for kids who are reading on a 3rd-4th grade reading level and 1st-2nd grade reading level.

The following three images show an example one set of paired texts written on a range of reading levels.  Click any of these three images to download a free sample that best suits your needs, or grab them all so you can differentiate!

      

If you’d like to see more, click any of the three images below to browse my selection of paired texts for the reading level you want.  Most sets are either $3 or $4.

If you need passages for Google Classroom, be sure to grab this free resource about LeBron James and Steph Curry (grades 5-6).  The passages are in a Google Slides file and the quiz is in a Google Forms file so you can assign these activities digitally if you have the resources to do so.

Paired passages about famous basketball players for Google Classroom

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I make sure to include stories about these athletes working hard, overcoming challenges, and dealing with criticism.  I also include passages about each athletes’ charity work.  I’m confident your students will learn a ton about hard work, perseverance, and helping others by reading about these athletes.

I spent 30-40 hours researching, writing, and proofreading each set of paired texts.  I ensure all of the quiz questions are aligned to new standards.  I triple check facts in the passages for accuracy.

I’ve been a huge sports fan my whole life.  These passages will help some of your students become a huge fan of your reading lessons.

 

 

Five Books About Determined Girls

Books about determined girls

I just finished reading five books that are awesome for the girls in your class!  Each book’s main character is a young girl between 10-13 years old who shows incredible determination in accomplishing an important goal.  These girls all overcome incredible challenges and don’t allow setbacks to keep them from accomplishing something they’ve set their mind to.  Even though they are hurt when people say rude things to them, they don’t respond with anger.  They are a great example of how to persevere when life gets difficult.   This drawing (not my original idea!) summarizes what each girl faces:

Five books about determined girls

Fish in a Tree, by Lynda Mullaly Hunt  (AR level 3.7)

Main character:  Ally, who is dyslexic and a brilliant artist.

Problem:  Ally gets teased often at school because she has problems reading.  She does not like herself and gets in trouble often.

Ally’s class gets a new teacher, Mr. Daniels, in the middle of her sixth-grade year.  This teacher helps Ally realize that even though she has trouble reading, she is talented at many other things.  Ally starts to believe in herself a little more each day.  She starts working harder in school.  Mr. Daniels tutors Ally after school and uses many different techniques to help her learn to read.

Ally always assumed that her classmates hated her.  But by the end of the book, it is clear her classmates have noticed how hard Ally has been working.  They respect her artistic talents.  They appreciate the way that she treats people kindly.  By the end of the book, it’s clear that Ally is one of the most respected students in the class.  She still struggles with reading, but she is getting better.  Her determination has helped her gain new friends and a newfound respect for herself.  She realizes she is a person who has many talents.  She stops defining herself as someone who can’t read.

Serafina’s Promise, by Ann E. Burg (AR level 3.6)

Main character:  Serafina, a girl who lives in Haiti.

Problem:  Serafina desperately wants to attend school so she can become a doctor when she grows up.  But her family needs her at home to help with the daily chores.

Problem #2:  Once Serafina starts school, she starts to dislike it because they are required to learn French, a subject that Serafina feels is pointless.

Hopefully, your students will gain an appreciation for their ability to attend school every day after reading Serafina’s Promise!  Serafina wants to attend school more than anything in the world.  Serafina has to persuade her parents, but she also has to help her family rebuild after a life-threatening flood and earthquake.  After she helps her family build a new home after the flood, Serafina learns how to plant an herb garden.  Instead of complaining that her mother won’t let her attend school, Serafina becomes determined to use this herb garden as a way to earn more money for her family.  Her parents eventually allow Serafina to attend school.  Her mother says how impressed she has been that Serafina has earned extra money while keeping up with all of her other daily chores.

But once Serafina attends school, she gets discouraged because they have to learn French.  I won’t ruin the story for you, but by the end, Serafina becomes determined to do her best during these French lessons because that will allow her to accomplish her bigger goal of becoming a doctor.

All Four Stars, by Tara Dairman (AR level 6.0)

Main character:  Gladys, who is an incredible chef and a talented writer.

Problem:  Gladys has parents who don’t want her to cook because they feel like that’s not something kids should do.  Gladys also feels like her interest in food makes her an outcast at school.

Gladys is determined to write a restaurant review for a major New York City newspaper!  She mistakenly receives an assignment from an editor.  Even though she’s in sixth grade, Gladys feels like she’s talented enough to write this review. But Gladys feels like if her parents find out about this, they won’t let her write it.  Gladys goes to great lengths to secretly get to this restaurant, but her plan hits lots of road bumps.  Ultimately, her kindness toward a mean girl enables Gladys to get to the restaurant and write this review.  By the end of the story, Gladys’s parents respect her culinary and writing talents and encourage her to cook more.  There were several times during the story when Gladys could have given up her desire to cook and write, but her determination helped her achieve her goal.

Gabby Duran and the Unsittables, by Elise Allen and Daryle Conners (AR level 5.4)

Main character:  Gabby, who is incredible with children and a talented musician.

Problem:  Gabby must take care of a child whose life is in danger.  Additionally, if Gabby can keep this job a secret, she will earn a lot of money that she can save to help her attend her dream college in London.

Gabby is a famous babysitter.  Celebrities around the world send limos and private jets so Gabby can babysit their kids.  But Gabby gets a unique job offer to take care of alien children.  Gabby is excited because this job pays extremely well.  She is being raised by her mother and knows the extra money would really help her family.  It will also allow her to save some money so she can attend an awesome music college in London.  But there’s one big catch — Gabby can’t tell anyone about this top-secret job of watching aliens.

This becomes even more challenging when Gabby is told to babysit an alien child during school.  Thankfully, the child can change forms.  But as the school day progresses, an evil person finds out and tries to hurt the kid.  Gabby’s love for this child puts herself in several dangerous and embarrassing situations.  But her determination to protect this child ends up saving the child’s life and helping Gabby accomplish her musical goals as well.

Half a Chance, by Cynthia Lord (AR level 4.5)

Main character:  Lucy, who is an amazing photographer.

Problem:  Lucy wants to use her photography skills to make a friend’s grandmother have a memorable final summer at their lakeside cottage.

Lucy’s family has just moved to a small cottage near a lake in New Hampshire.  Lucy becomes friends with her neighbor, Nate, whose grandmother suffers from a mental disability.  Lucy decides to enter a photo contest and donate the money to Nate’s grandma if she wins.  But there are many challenges for Lucy to even enter this contest, much less win it.  Lucy experiences many setbacks in her plan.  But through it all, she remains determined to help Nate’s grandmother have happy memories during her final summer at the lake.

Florida teachers — These books were on the 2016-17 grade 3-5 SSYRA list!

My goal is to help teachers read quality literature with their students.  I have created writing prompts and quizzes for all of these books.  Click the image below to check them out!

Novel studies for books about determined girls

 

Teaching Growth Mindset with Esperanza Rising

Students can learn so much more from novels than test-prep passages.  I know you’re under a ton of pressure to get students to pass multiple-choice reading tests.  But I hope you will find time this year to read awesome novels, like Esperanza Rising.  In addition to teaching reading skills, your students can learn to face challenging situations instead of giving up.

Teaching Growth Mindset with Esperanza Rising

Esperanza Rising is a wonderful story of a young girl whose life changes dramatically after a terrible tragedy.  The author, Pam Munoz Ryan, does a beautiful job of developing characters that students feel an immediate connection with.  This can really help your students develop a growth mindset.  I’ve taught so many students whose first instinct is to quit when faced with a challenging situation.  I hope you teach your students that challenging school assignments can help them grow academically.  Facing difficult situations in life can help them grow as a person.  We all know students are far more likely to remember these ideas from characters they connect with during a story as opposed to us lecturing them.  So here are three ways you can use the characters and events of Esperanza Rising to foster a growth mindset with your students.

 1.  You can learn a lot about yourself during difficult situations

Chapter one paints Esperanza as a nice, but spoiled, rich girl.  Her father is a wealthy land-owner.  Esperanza spends time with her father in the fields but never has to actually do any of the work.  She has servants attending to her every need.  She lives in a beautiful home and has very nice things.  Esperanza has a wonderful, loving family.  But that all changes when her father is murdered. Esperanza and her mother are forced to leave everything behind and flee to the United States.

Esperanza’s new home in California is tiny and dirty.  She is thrust into a new life where she has to do many chores that servants had always done for her.  Esperanza is miserable.  Her father has just died.  She is living in a strange place.  She is going to have to work in a way that she’s never worked before.  It would be really easy for Esperanza to quit.

Things get worse for Esperanza before they get better.  One of her first chores is to sweep, and she fails because she’s never had to sweep before.  Other girls laugh at Esperanza’s inability to perform such a simple task.  She refuses to leave the house for a day because she is so humiliated.  Later, she has to take care of babies.  She feeds them plums, not knowing this would give the babies an upset stomach.  She also burns food that she cooks.  She has given these tasks an honest effort, but has failed.  Again, it would be really easy for Esperanza to quit.

But Esperanza decides to ignore the taunts of others and continue cleaning.  She continues looking after the babies.  She continues cooking.  Day, after day, after day.  SLOWLY, Esperanza learns how to accomplish these tasks.  I emphasize the word SLOWLY with my students to help them realize success does not happen overnight, as Esperanza finds out.

Later, Esperanza’s mother gets really sick.  She has to stay in the hospital for several months.  Now, Esperanza is forced to work in the fields.  Esperanza promises her mom to take care of the family.  I tell my students that Esperanza is probably not the best field worker, but she does well enough to keep her job and provide a little bit of money that her family needs to survive while her mother is sick.

The book ends one year after her father died.  During that year, Esperanza has done things she never thought she could do.  I have the students reread chapter one and think, “Would Esperanza have ever dreamed she could accomplish these things (cooking, cleaning, babysitting, farming, etc.) just a year earlier?”

Also, kids need to realize that there are times when life will be challenging.  But it is possible to come out of these challenging situations a stronger person.  Emphasize to your students that Esperanza went from a spoiled, helpless girl to a strong, determined woman who provided for her family – all in one year.

This is awesome for students who are adapting to a new school, city, or country.  You can say:

“I know it’s hard adjusting to life in this new school/city/country.  Remember Esperanza.  She fought through lots of challenging situations and after a year, she started to feel better about her new home.”

2.  Accept help

When Esperanza arrived in California, a young girl named Isabel greeted her.  Isabel was in awe of Esperanza.  Isabel had heard all about Esperanza’s extravagant life in Mexico before her father died.  Esperanza, on the other hand, looked down on Isabel for being poor.  Esperanza saw Isabel’s meager home and possessions.  She wondered how Isabel could be so happy with so little.

SLOWLY, Esperanza realizes that Isabel is a kind girl.  Esperanza also realizes that Isabel knows how to do things like clean and babysit.  So Esperanza drops her ego and asks Isabel to teach her how to sweep and take care of babies, even though she thought Isabel was beneath her.  Isabel is a huge help as Esperanza starts to learn how to tackle the day-to-day chores of her new life.  Esperanza eventually becomes friends with Isabella.

This is an outstanding reminder to students that everyone needs to accept help.  It’s also a good reminder that the people we look down upon may be the ones who can help us the most.

Tell a student:

“I know you’re struggling to learn this science vocabulary.  And I know you’re not getting along with (insert name or names of students), but I think the two of you could help each other learn this vocabulary and do well on your quiz.  Remember how Esperanza accepted help from Isabel.  I think (name of student) could help you just like Isabel helped Esperanza.”

3.  Remember the things you have to be thankful for

Esperanza hears her mother singing a few hours after they arrive at their new home in California.  Esperanza is furious.  How can her mother possibly be singing during such a terrible time?   They have gone from living in luxury to living in poverty in a very short time.  But Mama tells Esperanza to focus on what they do have.  They have each other.  They have a place to live.  They have people there who can help them.  And Mama has a job.  Mama reminds Esperanza that Abuelita would want her to make the best of her new life instead of dwelling on all the negatives.  Mama is not saying their new life is going to be easy.  But she reminds her daughter they still have a lot to be thankful for.

In my 14 years of teaching, I’ve taught many kids who have a difficult time focusing on the positives.  This story of Mama singing is great for students to think about during challenges they face.  Students need to know that it’s ok to get discouraged during challenging times.  Don’t tell students that they have to be positive, happy, cheerful people 24/7.  But Mama’s attitude helps kids remember that it’s possible to find a little bit of joy even during the gloomiest of situations.

Tell a student: 

“Sure you’re struggling with this math problem.  It’s really hard and that’s no fun.  But think about Esperanza’s mom when they first arrived in California.  Remember you have people around you who are here to help.  Look at this as a chance to grow and learn perseverance.”

I really hope you can read Esperanza Rising with your students.  You can use the story’s characters and events to teach reading skills, but the life lessons your students can learn are even more powerful.  These three ideas can start some discussions with your students, but there are many more ways this book can help your students develop a growth mindset.  I have also developed several activities for each chapter so you don’t have to worry about planning activities.  Click the image below for more info.

Enjoy this book with your students and remind them of these characters throughout the year.

Esperanza Rising Novel Study

 

Your Students Need to Read About Steph Curry’s Childhood

Steph Curry is doing things that no other basketball player has ever done.  More importantly, Steph is an excellent role model for young people to look up to.  Lots of kids wear his #30 jersey, which is great that they look up to an outstanding person.  But whenever I see a kid wearing a Steph Curry jersey, I want to ask, “Did you know Steph worked so hard on his shooting in middle school that he sometimes cried?!”  Or, “Do you realize Steph’s mother made him miss games if he forgot to do his chores?!”  Also, “Isn’t cool that a player as talented as Steph always asked his coaches how he could improve?!”  I have a feeling that these kids’ parents would not approve of a creepy stranger running up to their kid and asking these random questions.  So instead, I’ll write about three of the many life lessons your students can learn by reading about Steph’s life.

Lessons from Steph Curry's life

Success requires an insane amount of work.

Steph’s father, Dell, was an excellent NBA player.  When Steph was in middle school, Dell noticed his son’s shot was too easy to block.  So he spent an entire summer teaching Steph new shooting techniques.  And Dell didn’t teach him in a cozy NBA gym — Dell took Steph to the goal he shot at growing up.  When Dell was a kid, his dad nailed a goal to a telephone pole in their yard.  Dell’s father used a thick, steel rim.  So you had to shoot the ball perfectly through the hoop to score — there were no forgiving bounces with that rim!  And if you missed, you had to run far to retrieve the ball.  Steph said, “It was make it or chase it out there.”

So Steph spent hours that summer relearning how to shoot.  His grandmother remembers seeing Steph take lots of shots with tears in his eyes.  It had to be an incredibly frustrating experience for Steph, who was already a good shooter. Imagine running after the ball every time your shot isn’t perfect.  Imagine how tired he must have been!  There must have been times when Steph doubted himself.  There were probably a few times when Steph wanted to quit, especially since that was such an unfair goal to shoot on.  But Steph always dragged himself to the goal every day to learn from his father.

What a powerful story to tell your students!  Next time a kid feels like giving up, remind them that even Steph Curry felt so discouraged about his shooting skills in middle school that he cried.  But no matter what, he didn’t give up.

I also think this story shows the importance of challenging yourself.  I love that he spent an entire summer shooting on a goal that required a perfect shot to score.  Steph said making shots during games was much easier after spending so much time shooting at his dad’s old goal.

Steph realized no one owed him anything

Steph’s father was a really good NBA player for 16 years.  Steph was alive for most of his father’s NBA career.  Steph got to attend lots of NBA games.  He got to play basketball on fancy NBA practice courts.  He met lots of famous players.  It would have been easy for Steph to think that he was better than everyone else. But Steph realized that if he wanted to become an NBA player like his dad, he was going to have to put in a tremendous amount of work.  He did not want to be automatically handed a spot on a basketball team just because of who his dad was.  Steph always listened to his dad’s advice, but he wanted to earn success, not just be handed it.

Steph also worked hard in school.  He tried his best to do what his parents and teachers told him to do.  When he didn’t do his chores at home, Steph’s mom made him miss basketball games as punishment.  Steph always loved basketball while he was growing up, but he realized that getting a good education was just as important.  I love that even though Steph’s dad was famous, he remained humble, respectful, and hard-working.

Use your talents to make the world a better place

Steph is one of the best shooters in basketball history.  He made 402 three-pointers during the 2015-2016 season.  The next closest player had 276.  Steph has always been a good shooter.  When he was in college at Davidson, he started donating money to Nothing But Nets, which is a program that delivers bed nets to areas of Africa that have problems with malaria.  Steph was sad when he read that a child in Africa dies from malaria every 60 seconds.  He stepped up his giving when he got to the NBA, agreeing to donate enough money for three bed nets for every three-pointer he makes.

So, who will students most likely listen to:  Me telling them why it’s important to work hard, or these stories about Steph Curry persevering?  I’ve written a set of paired texts about Steph and Kobe Bryant that have more stories like these.  I was very impressed with Steph and Kobe as I researched them.  In addition to teaching reading skills with these paired texts, you can teach important life lessons as well!

Steph Curry Kobe Bryant Paired Texts

 

Teaching Growth Mindset With Wonder

Wonder is my favorite book to read with fifth graders! Students’ reactions during key moments are priceless. They pound their desks with frustration about Julian. They cheer when August wins an award at the end. Since students get so hooked on this book, my primary focus is to use the events in Wonder to teach important growth mindset principles. I teach many reading standards while we read this book, but I feel like those are secondary to the valuable life lessons kids can learn from the characters and events in Wonder.

Teaching Growth Mindset Using Wonder

1. Life is full of bad days, but I can get through them.

I’ve taught many students who get discouraged when tough things happen at school. I hate when students get a couple of assignments returned with low grades then immediately stop working. I feel bad for kids who get teased and feel like they will never make friends. When these things happen, I remind students about August. He wanted to quit school several times during the story. August felt horrible when he overheard mean things said by his best friend, Jack. August’s classmates would not touch him because they said he had “the plague.” August experienced so many challenging days, but he bravely marched to school every day and tried his best. Slowly (important word there), August’s classmates realized he had a great sense of humor. They saw the amazing way he handled the hurtful things people did to him. By the end of the book, August earned the respect of his classmates and teachers. He won an incredible award. He had several good friends. For the first time in his life, he didn’t think about his appearance. It took an entire school year to reap these rewards, so it’s a good thing August continued going to Beecher Prep, even on days he didn’t feel like it.

2. I will have arguments with my friends. But I will work hard to resolve these differences. Friendships with good people are worth it.

I love the story of Via and Miranda. Many of my students clap when Via invites Miranda over to her house after the play. I know students have arguments with their friends. I also know that I am probably the last person they would talk to about these arguments. So I periodically remind students about Via and Miranda. These two drift apart once ninth grade starts without ever having a big fight. Via feels awkward around her old friend because Miranda looks different and talks about different things. Miranda feels awkward around Via because she feels like Via is judging her. The girls never discuss these things and as a result, they spend most of the school year avoiding each other. During the school play, Miranda makes a huge sacrifice for Via and her family. After the play, Via realizes what Miranda has done and invites her over. Both girls realize how much they have missed each other. So I remind students that good friends are worth fighting for. Don’t allow unresolved issues to allow you to drift apart from a good friend.

3. I will think about the way I treat others.

Even the most reserved students show anger at the way Julian treats August. They can’t believe that Julian says rude things to August the very first time they meet. Kids can’t believe Julian would treat such a kind, funny boy like August so terribly. All kids realize that August’s appearance is no reason for Julian to say such horrible things to him. I remind students of their realization throughout the book. Eventually, I make the kids accept the harsh fact that they have probably treated someone badly at some point in their life. I ask them to reflect on that memory, and on Julian’s actions toward August. As fifth graders prepare for middle school, I remind them not to join a crowd of people who are teasing someone who is different. I remind them of their outrage over Julian as to why.

If you haven’t read Wonder with your students, I hope you will find a way to work it into your lesson plans. I know it’s challenging teaching novels because there are not always a lot of materials to use. So I hope these ideas have given you a few things to work with. There are MANY more events in Wonder that teach your students growth mindset. I’ve put together over 100 pages of activities that will help your kids connect with the incredible characters in Wonder.

Wonder Novel Study Unit