Don’t go around it — go through it.
Amy Krouse Rosenthal
I remember the morning after the Orlando nightclub massacre. I sat around the kitchen table quietly chatting about the horror of it with my parents, who were visiting from western New York. My mom recounted how she was a young high school science teacher in 1963 when a class of students came into her room, anxious with rumors about President Kennedy being shot. They begged her to go to the office and find out what was going on. My mom was hesitant — as a new teacher, the biggest rule of all was that you never left your class unattended. The students solemnly promised they would sit still and behave perfectly till she returned.
As she walked down the quiet hall, the only thing she could hear was the distant tinny murmur of a transistor radio. She entered the office to find a half dozen staff members all sitting on the floor, listening to a radio account of ongoing updates. Mom had barely entered the room before she heard the announcer say, “We can now confirm that President Kennedy has been killed.” She turned around, walked back to her classroom, and as promised, every student was sitting silently, looking at her expectantly. Unable to speak, and afraid of bursting into tears, she turned to the chalkboard and slowly wrote in large letters, “President Kennedy is dead.”
Over 50 years later, the memory is still that vivid to her, as I’m sure it is to every student in that classroom alive today. I have similar memories of teaching in 2001 and turning on the television for a class of young teaching interns in a school library on a beautiful September morning, after we heard rumors of something terrible happening in New York City. We watched the second tower fall together. But there is the difference — 50 years ago, it was a long walk to a grainy radio broadcast. Sixteen years ago we turned on the television. Today students get instant images and updates on their phones and laptops, sometimes even before the adults in their midst have heard tragic news. This week, it was Charlottesville. We wait in dread for what’s next.
Images of violence are no less powerful because they are so prevalent and accessible. Even though the speed of delivery and sheer quantity of the updates from a tragic event are much greater, the advice for teachers helping students through shared loss is timeless:
We all thrive by adhering to the regular routine (as much as possible).
We need to create art and express our feelings through drawings, words, and song.
We need counter-images to the horror we’ve seen (which will also come from the routines and artwork created during our regularly scheduled workshops).
Sometimes you don’t have a choice. You have to take a deep breath, fight your tears, and turn around. Because sometimes you’re the only adult in the room, and you’ve got the impossible job of letting the kids in front of you know the only way forward is through. I am so grateful for what each of you do to help children get through these extraordinary times.
This week we look at using whole-class texts to build community. Plus more as always — stay strong.
Founder, Choice Literacy
Free for All
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Mandy Robek shares her favorite texts for building understanding early in the year of writing workshop with young writers. These books are ideal for launching discussions about how writers find ideas:
When teachers shift to a reading workshop model, sometimes they struggle most with the move from whole-class novels to more individualized reading. Shari Frost has advice for helping teachers work through the transition, as well as ways to ensure students still have some shared reading experiences with their classmates:
Here are some excellent resources from Edutopia on dealing with personal and shared grief:
For Members Only
Christy Rush-Levine finds a community of new teachers bonds over a text highlighting addiction struggles. The experience leads her to think through what elements are essential for whole-class texts in her middle school classroom:
Jillian Heise shares advice for teachers who want to try a #bookaday challenge of sharing at least one picture book each day with older students. She gives criteria for book selection, as well as examples of books to read at the start of the school year:
In this week’s video, Bitsy Parks uses read alouds from earlier in September to teach the key building block of comprehension — connections:
Gretchen Schroeder is frustrated when a novel that has worked well for many years doesn’t appeal to her current high school students. Letting go of it is hard:
In an encore video, Tony Keefer demonstrates how he makes his read-alouds interactive, and explains why he selected Percy Jackson to use with this group of fourth graders:
That’s all for this week!