“Think Cold” reads the title of Marilyn Singer’s first poem about Humboldt Penguins, creatures who inhabit the hot, dry coastal deserts of Peru and Chile in her 2012 collection: A Strange Place To Call Home: The World’s Most Dangerous Habitats& The Animals That Call Them Home. Although, “newly published poetry collection” and “State Standards” seem to be phrases at odds, bright teachers and children show how creativity lives among the standards. Are you a parent or teacher worried that newly adopted public school learning standards will crush our children’s spirit as much as “No Child Left Behind” which should have been called, “Test the Children As Much As Possible”! Is there room for fun in the newly mandated Common Core State Standards? Veteran literacy coach and current classroom teacher, Kim Eiler of Killingly Public Schools would answer this question with a most enthusiastic, “Yes, of course there is fun in standards!” Kim’s language arts curriculum has been developed over the past fifteen years for grades K-6, however my co-teacher, Lynne Rudolph-Farrell, a veteran Certified Special Educator and I are excited to adapt Kim’s work to suit the needs of older struggling readers and writers.
Working as a high school reading specialist presents me with the challenge of teaching students who are reading at the primary level, alongside others who may be reading on their current grade level, but who have simply failed to excel on reading or writing sections of state standardized tests, and/ or reading and writing assignments in their other content area classes. I decided to use inspirational non-fiction texts as the main content for the reading class. So far we have read Ten True Tales, Heroes of 9/11 by Alan Zullo and The Code “Five Secrets of Teen Success” by Mawi Asgedom. Sometimes, even these materials, which are considered to be young-adult content written at the elementary level, prove to be too difficult for some of the students. As all public schools move from state to national standards, referred to as “Common Core State Standards” most educators are applying these ideas to their current curriculum. The standards from the Common Core (which have been adopted by public schools in nearly all of the fifty states) such as "speak audibly, and express thoughts, feelings and ideas clearly" can be traced from K to 12th grade. Nobody could possibly argue against these being important life skills for students of all ability levels. In order to practice proper speaking and listening skills, some students need to be presented with an alternative text.
Recently I was given the opportunity to represent Workingmother.com at the annual CABE/CAPPS convention for the State of Connecticut’s Superintendents and Board of Education Chairs. While discussing how “professional/staff development” has evolved to be called a “professional learning community” with Sarah J. Barzee, Ph.D., a top official from Connecticut’s State Department of Education, I immediately thought of Kim Eiler, master mentor teacher who develops inspiring workshops using real literature, instead of pre-packaged testing materials, for both Eastconn (A Regional Education Resource Center) and The Connecticut Reading Association (The State Affiliate of The International Reading Association, Promoting Literacy World-Wide). Barzee discussed that instead of public school systems bringing in outside “experts” who instruct teachers by using the old fashioned stand and deliver method that simply wash over us and down the drain like a warm bath, “professional learning communities” allow master teachers to share their expertise and love of their subject with other educators within their own town or city. Not all towns have leaders who seek the funds for literacy coaches, whose salaries are usually funded by grant monies and not the town’s tax revenue. Had I not been a member of the Connecticut Reading Association, I would never have learned about Kim’s work.
Kim introduced the workshop attendees to over a dozen new picture books that are aligned with the Common Core State Standards, and shared dozens of exemplars from her third grade classroom. Kim introduced the 2012 picture books to us by unit:
The Art of Miss Chew by Patricia Polacco
Bully by Patricia Polacco
Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson
Just Ducks by Nicola Davies
Creep and Flutter – The Secret World of Insects and Spiders by Jim Arnosky
Buried Alive! How 33 Miners Survived 69 Days Deep Under the Chilean Desert by Elaine Scott
Life in the Ocean – The Story of Oceanographer Sylvia Earle by Claire Nivola
Mrs. Harkness and the Panda by Alicia Potter
A Boy Called Dickens by Deborah Hopkinson
Poem Runs by Douglas Florian
Bug Off! Creepy, Crawly Poems by Jane Yolen
A Strange Place To Call Home: The World’s Most Dangerous Habitats& The Animals That Call Them Home by Marilyn Singer
If you are an educator or a parent interested in experiencing Kim’s language arts workshop, please visit the website for The Connecticut Reading Association, www.ctreading.org. Ms. Eiler, who is the mother of one adult son, will be introducing us to at least ten more high-quality, newly published picture books. Joanne Bell, Reading Consultant for Brooklyn, Connecticut Public Schools and President of the Eastern CT Council of The CT Reading Association will be bringing Kim back to Killingly Intermediate School in early May. Parents who want ideas for summer reading might want to attend this fabulous presentation and be able to witness a master teacher in action. I look forward to reflecting upon how I used her curriculum in order to meet the needs of my teenage students at Hale-Ray High School in East Haddam, Connecticut. Joanne Bell, wonderful spirit builder to myself and so many other educators posed with Kim Eiler before her November Workshop, which was well attended despite being rescheduled due to Storm Sandy.