Ruby Bridges

Ruby BridgesAs Black History Month comes to a close, I end our study of the Civil Rights movement with the movie Ruby Bridges.  The struggle for equality, the marches, the sit-ins, the violence—all of this is far removed from my students’ lives.  But they understand school, and they can identify with Ruby Bridges.

  • Through Ruby’s family and friends, my students see the history we studied: the effects of desegregating the military, limited economic opportunity, the role of women, and the federal government enforcing the law in unwilling states.
  • Disney’s Ruby Bridges is educational and uplifting—but watching that period in history come alive is not always pleasant.  Ruby was taunted outside the school every single day, and the hate in those scenes is chilling.  Even after seeing the movie, my students have trouble believing it really happened—until they see the famous photographs.
  • Disney’s Ruby Bridges is appropriate for elementary school students.  It may upset some children, but the focus is always on Ruby and what she—and today’s elementary students—can understand.  Because the movie is a Disney production, teachers can show students what desegregation was really like within most schools’ media guidelines.

My kids enjoy reading books about Ruby.  One of their favorites is The Story Of Ruby Bridges.  Students can also read a book by Ruby herself—Through My Eyes.  I also take my students to Ruby’s website:

Note: I have a special presentation for my classes when we discuss desegregation.  My mother was in the first class that was desegregated in her school in Alabama.  Mom visits my class after we have learned about the civil rights movement.  Mom’s presentation usually is an open question session — the kids have lots of questions to ask about the most simple details of life back then.  The girls inevitably have questions about fashions of the day, which are answered by the Ruby Bridges movie we watch later.

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Posted in Academics,Social Studies by Corey Green @ Feb 25, 2010


How kids take standardized tests

boyswritingI wish you could see my third graders take a standardized test.  I wish policy makers could see what it’s really like during standardized testing week.

First, the classroom itself changes.  You have to cover the learning posters, so all you are left with is cinderblock walls.  You have to arrange the desks into rows, not tables.  This makes the room ugly, unwelcoming—and crowded.  (Often, there are so many desks in a classroom, the only way they all fit is when they’re arranged in tables.) With the desks in rows, the room becomes almost unnavigable.

The social environment changes.  Today’s classrooms are based on interactive learning, group work, and building social skills.  Suddenly, everything becomes silent. The life is sucked out of the room as the teacher reads aloud the miserable incomprehensible interminable long standardized test directions.

The kids generally experience a test security panic.  Students are told that we have to follow the rules exactly, and that any testing irregularity must be reported to the state.  Kids feel like the government is spying on the classroom, like it’s not theirs anymore.  Now, every move is suspect:

  • No one may be out of their seat, so the kids can’t even sharpen a pencil.  (Raise your hand and the teacher will bring you one.  Remember to give the teacher your old pencil—a kid can only have one thing on her desk!)
  • Why do students need to go to the bathroom?  (Here, let me hold your paper while you are gone.  Remember—only one student out of the room at a time!)

Finally, kids face the test itself.  My students are so confused!  Even though we practice, nothing prepares them for the reality of spending hours and hours on a confusing test.  No help allowed.  Teachers have to watch helplessly while their beloved students struggle.

No matter how you prepare kids, they really don’t understand the test format.  The kids are just trying to do their best in a confusing situation.  Their frustration level rises because teachers are not allowed to give any feedback or answer questions.  If kids go ahead to new test sections, they don’t realize they have created a testing irregularity.  If kids go back and reread their essay, they don’t realize they have created a test security problem.

In my state, students in third grade bubble the answer right next to the question.  Confusion is multiplied tenfold when a separate answer sheet is required, as it was for my fourth and fifth graders.  Just finding the right place to bubble can be an insurmountable challenge for a kid who has trouble coding (as in ADD/ADHD).

And that’s just the experience for an average student.  Consider the predicament of:

  • The student with a learning disability, struggling through a math test he can’t read
  • The student who doesn’t speak English
  • The student with test anxiety
  • The student with low blood sugar
  • The hyperactive student
  • The student with irritable bowel syndrome
  • The student who barfs halfway through the test  (And the rest of the class—how do they deal with THIS?)
  • The student who takes all day to finish (there is no time limit!)

What a way to show the world how much you have learned!

Posted in Academics,Classroom Management by Corey Green @ Feb 21, 2010


A typical elementary schoolday schedule

raisinghandsI thought this might be interesting to parents, children’s book writers, and anyone who wants a glimpse of a typical day in an elementary school.

Some people surmise that what is important to a teacher is taught early in the day, when students are fresh.  Well, the teacher doesn’t control the schedule!  Here are some of the influences on schedules:

  • Lunch time (Some are very early (10:30); others are late.  It takes a long time to feed 1000 kids)
  • “Special” class time (Music, PE, Art, etc.)
  • Pull-out classes: You might have to teach math at a certain time because this is when the math specialist can pull your students for remediation
  • Push-in classes: You might have so many English Language Learners, Special Education students, etc that a specialist teaches in your room for part of the day
  • Recess, if you are lucky enough to have it.  Recess times are staggered so the whole school is not on the playground at once

A typical schedule:

8:00 Announcements, lunch count, attendance, write the day’s homework in planners

8:10-8:30 Independent reading.  (If the library is available, send a few students at a time to check out books.)

8:30-9:00 Spelling and phonics

9:00-9:30 Specials Classes: Physical Education, Music, Library or Art

9:30-10:15  Language Arts  (Writing essays, revision, or planning our next writing project)

10:15-10:30 Recess

10:30-11:15 Math (review yesterday’s lesson, learn today’s lesson, practice with seatwork)

11:15-12:00 Reading (Use this week’s story to teach comprehension, fluency, vocabulary, study skills—you name it!)

12:00-12:35 Lunch and lunch recess (Teachers and students don’t get much time to eat or go to the bathroom!)

12:35-1:35 Reading groups (Teacher meets with small groups.  The rest of the class reads quietly, does seatwork, or works at literacy centers.)

1:35-2:00 Flexible time (Reading vocabulary, grammar and math lessons.  Some teachers might read aloud to the class or let students do teambuilding or character building activities.)

2:00-2:40 Social Studies or Science

2:40-3:00 End-of-day administration, prepare for tomorrow, pack up and clean up, dismissal

What a day!  There is never a dull moment.

Posted in Classroom Management,Classroom setup,Tips for Parents by Corey Green @ Feb 19, 2010


The Gingerbread Girl

The Gingerbread Girlby Lisa Campbell Ernst
AR Reading Level 4.4; 0.5 points
Available at

Summary: The gingerbread girl was made by the little old woman and man, who were feeling lonely.  The girl runs off, just like her older brother, gathering a crowd behind her.   When she comes to the river, she outsmarts the fox, using a piece of her licorice hair to tie his snout shut so he won’t eat her.  She brings the whole crowd to the little old couple to keep them company.

Activities:  Any age would enjoy this as a Read-Aloud, but primary students benefit most from the rhyme, repetition, and structure.  I would use it for prediction on the first reading.  I might give the kids a paper with the Gingerbread Girl’s rhyme, and let them practice it for fluency.  If the kids notice the feminist angle, well, that’s good for them to see!

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Posted in Book Reviews by Corey Green @ Feb 17, 2010


Great Books for Presidents’ Day

We honor George Washington and Abraham Lincoln on Presidents’ Day.  In the classroom or at home, you can enjoy great books about Presidents’ Day.

My favorite Presidents Book!!!!  So You Want to be President? (AR Reading Level  4.8; 0.5 points)  This Caldecott-winning book has witty illustrations that perfectly complement the clever premise: analyzing what it takes to become president.  (Hint: it helps if your name is James.  Being born in a log cabin helps, too.)

Presidents’ Day by Robin Nelson (AR Reading Level  2.4; 0.5 points)  A simple introduction to Presidents’ Day.  This is easily read by students in second grade and up.

Presidents’ Day by Anne Rockwell.  This is a cute book for younger readers, about a class that puts on a play for Presidents’ Day.

Fun with Presidents’ Day:

Stink: The Incredible Shrinking Kid (AR Reading Level 3.0; 1 point)  From the popular Stink Series, this book shows Stink, the shortest kid in second grade, learning about the shortest president as his class learns about Presidents’ Day.

Yo, Millard Fillmore! (And All Those Other Presidents You Don’t Know) (AR Reading Level 6.6; 1 point) A book of cartoons to help you remember all the presidents in order.  Kids love it!

Observation: Don’t let the reading level put you off.  This book is mostly cartoons.  Kids can read the mini-biographies of the presidents if they like, but most just want to see the cartoons and memorize the presidents.

About George Washington:

George Washington and the General’s Dog (AR Reading Level 2.5; 0.5 points) This lighthearted easy reader links two of kids’ favorite subjects: George Washington and dogs.  Children can learn little-known facts about Washington: did you know he named his dog Sweetlips?  Children will be impressed with Washington’s strength of character and how he could be kind to his enemies.

George Washington’s Socks (AR Reading Level 5.0; 6 points) An overnight campout turns into a time-travel journey to the Battle of Trenton.  Children will cross the Delaware River with Washington in a harrowing and thrilling adventure.  I love how this book shows the human side of war.  My fifth graders love it!  We have a class set.

About Abraham Lincoln:

Lincoln: A Photobiography by Russell Freedman.  (AR Reading Level 7.7; 5 points.)  This Newbery Medal winner is the gold standard.  Combining elegant yet easy-to-read biography with stunning photographs, this book teaches kids everything they need to know about Lincoln.  This book is entertaining, educational, and moving.  I cannot recommend it too highly!

Observation: Lincoln: A Photobiography has an  AR level of 7.7 but because of the pictures, the book is accessible to fifth and sixth graders.   Parents or teachers might need to explain historical context.

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Posted in Book Lists,Fun With Literacy,Holidays,Social Studies by Corey Green @ Feb 13, 2010


The Web Files

bookby Margie Palatini
AR Reading Level 2.5; 0.5 points
Available at

Summary: Ducktective Web and his partner solve crimes in nursery-rhyme land.  The tone of the book is film noir detective style.  The font is New Courier, like a typewriter, and the illustrations are simple but effective.

Activities: This book might be a cute Read-Aloud for primary, but older kids will appreciate the humor.  The film noir style might appeal to fans of Chet Gecko.  The connections to nursery rhymes are pretty sophisticated.  This could springboard into a writing assignment of your own Nursery Rhyme Mysteries, or it could just be fun, light independent reading for grades 3-6.

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Posted in Book Reviews by Corey Green @ Feb 10, 2010


Homework isn’t always graded

Teachers try to keep homework assignments reasonable.  Whether the goal is building skills, developing responsibility, or making efficient use of class time, homework helps the child grow.  Most teachers understand how busy families are, and how difficult it can be for working parents to supervise several children’s homework.

Here’s something you might not know about homework: it isn’t always graded for correctness, particularly in the primary grades (K-3).  There are several reasons for this policy, which may be dictated by the teacher, grade level, school or district.

  1. Between kindergarten and third grade, the primary purpose of homework is to build study skills and responsibility.  The emphasis is on building strong work habits, not assessing students on their homework.
  2. Many teachers feel that grades should be based on a child’s performance.  With homework, there is no guarantee that the work is entirely a child’s own.
  3. Not grading homework protects children who do not have strong support at home.   If these children can earn strong grades based on class work, homework should not harm their grades.
  4. Young children don’t understand grades.  They truly don’t realize that the work they do determines their grade.  Thus, grading homework often cannot motivate children in primary grades.
  5. Consequences such as missed recess spent making up homework are more motivating to children than a low grade.  Such consequences reinforce the idea that homework is about responsibility.

What this means for parents: If homework has become a struggle, talk to your child’s teacher.  The teacher may or may not tell you how homework is graded, but you should be able to form an idea of its level of importance.  If you find out that the homework is not graded, do not tell your child.  However, you now have a sense of when to insist that the work be completed accurately and neatly, and when simple completion will suffice.

Homework in grades 4-6:  In the intermediate grades, homework is usually unfinished class work.  It is very important that children complete this homework.  The assignments are designed to solidify new knowledge and practice new skills.  If your child does not do the work, he can expect to fall behind the rest of the class.  In the intermediate grades, homework is generally graded for correctness or completion.  Either way, zeroes and low grades will bring your child’s average down quickly.

If your child has a lot of homework: It often means that he is not working during class time.  Another possibility is that your child finds the work very difficult.  Unless your child has a learning disability, do not accept the “it’s too hard” excuse until your child has spent about a month doing homework in earnest.  Poor study habits likely are the problem.

If your child has no homework: There are two likely scenarios: either your child is so bright that he completes all work at school, or your child simply does not tell you about homework.  The completes-it-all-at-school student has straight As and spends a lot of time reading.  Most other students fall into the second scenario of hiding homework from parents.  Online grading systems like Snapgrades or a quick email to the teacher can uncover this problem.

There is a third, very unlikely scenario: the teacher never assigns homework.  If this were true, the teacher probably would have told you.  It is very unusual for intermediate level teachers not to assign homework.

I hope this helps you understand how teachers approach homework.  Remember, the goal is always to help the child learn.

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Posted in Tips for Parents by Corey Green @ Feb 9, 2010


…And the Dish Ran Away with the Spoon

bookby Janet Stevens
AR Reading Level 2.6; 0.5 points
Available at

Summary: The characters from “Hey Diddle Diddle” need to reassemble so the story can be read again at bedtime tonight, but Dish and Spoon haven’t returned.  The other characters search for them through fairy tale/Mother Goose land.  Eventually they find Dish and Spoon, and the rhyme can resume. 

This book is very witty and kids will enjoy the references to the nursery rhymes.  That is, if they know the nursery rhymes.  The wit is the main thing to study in this book.

Activities: This is a good Read-Aloud for 1-3, but only if children know the original nursery rhymes.  Don’t assume children know traditional nursery rhymes!  Read the nursery rhymes to younger kids; Mother Goose, in particular, is good for phonemic awareness.  Older kids can read this book independently and appreciate the wit and wordplay.

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Posted in Book Reviews by Corey Green @ Feb 3, 2010


Award-winning titles to feature for Black History Month 2010

Coretta Scott King Book Awards 2010

Author Award WinnerBad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U. S. Marshal, written by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, is the King Author Book winner.  The book is illustrated by R. Gregory Christie.  AR Reading Level 5.2; 0.5 points.

Illustrator Award WinnerMy People
, illustrated by Charles R. Smith Jr., is the King Illustrator Book winner. The book was written by Langston Hughes.  Visit Amazon’s Langston Hughes page.

Author Honor BookMare’s War by Tanita S. Davis.  AR Reading Level 4.9; 12.0 points.

Illustrator Honor BooksThe Negro Speaks of Rivers, illustrated by E. B. Lewis, written by Langston Hughes.  Here is a video clip of Langston Hughes explaining the origin of his poem and then reading it aloud:

John Steptoe New Talent Author AwardThe Rock and the River, written by Kekla Magoon.  AR Reading Level 3.9; 8.0 points

Coretta Scott King – Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime AchievementWalter Dean Myers is the winner of this first-ever Coretta Scott King Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement.  The award pays tribute to the quality and magnitude of beloved children’s author Virginia Hamilton.

Myers’ books include: Fallen Angels,  (AR Reading Level 4.2; 11.0 points),  Monster, (AR Reading Level 5.1; 5.0 points),  and Sunrise Over Fallujah (AR Reading Level 5.3; 11.0 points).

From the American Library Association website:  Given to African American authors and illustrator for outstanding inspirational and educational contributions, the Coretta Scott King Book Award titles promote understanding and appreciation of the culture of all peoples and their contribution to the realization of the American dream of a pluralistic society.  The award is designed to commemorate the life and works of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and to honor Mrs. Coretta Scott King for her courage and determination to continue the work for peace and world brotherhood.

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Posted in Book Lists by Corey Green @ Feb 1, 2010