Letters for Justice: Empowering Young Voices on Topics that Matter

There’s a lot going on in the world right now and it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the many current issues being debated and decided on in our country and around the world.  As a teacher librarian, it’s challenging because I want to support all students and families knowing that I might not personally agree with their perspectives.  I make sure that I step back and listen to the students, support their research and perspectives, and check my own beliefs.

Recently, Ms. Olin, 5th grade social studies teacher, came to me with an idea. She wanted to get students thinking about current US & World issues and considering what their own perspectives were based on the facts of the issues. She also wanted them to know that their voices mattered in the world and that they could get their thoughts out to local, state, and national representatives as well as the general public to have an influence on decisions being made.

Ms. Olin started this project in her classroom by sharing the book I Have  a Right to Be a Child by Alain Serres. This sparked discussion about basic human rights and current issues in the world. She also shared news sites with them so that they could start reading current articles about various trending topics, especially if they weren’t familiar with the current topics being debated. Through these sites, students began to choose a topic that they were interested in, curious about, or passionate for. Sites included Newsela, CNN Student News, PBS News Hour, and Time for Kids.

After two days of exploring, students selected their topic.

In the library, we focused on the importance of raising our voices when we have concerns. I read excerpts from Be A Changemaker by Laurie Ann Thompson.

“Don’t wait. Don’t wait to be powerful, to change the lives and communities around you significantly.”

I also read excerpts from It’s Your World by Chelsea Clinton.

“We can–and should–respectfully disagree with others who have reached different answers from ours” and “Even if we disagree with one another, it’s important to recognize what the facts are”.

Ms. Olin and I both encouraged students to look at issues from all sides and to gather as many facts as possible. With those facts, they could form their own opinions on the issues and brainstorm some possible actions they hope are taken.

We took some time to look at the Letters to the Next President project to see letters that were written by students from many location about a variety of topics. Students could sort the letters by their own topic and see what other students were saying.

As students looked at example opinions and continued to gather facts, they started filling out organizers to get their own thoughts together.  In class, they began writing letters, protest signs, and editorial cartoons to express the facts and their own views.

5th grader's editorial cartoon #editorialcartoon #cartoon #politicalcartoon #studentvoice

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5th grader's editorial cartoon. #studentvoice #politicalcartoon #cartoon #editorialcartoon

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Finally, students came to the library to begin sharing their voice.  We spent some time talking about how we can make our voice visible. We could of course mail the letters and artwork to their intended recipients, but how else could we share our voice? I was able to talk to the students about my recent recognition as an AASL Social Media Superstar for Sensational Student Voice and how social media and collaborative tools like Flipgrid allow us to spread our voices to an even larger audience.

We hope our voices are heard by our local, state, and national representatives, but even if they aren’t, we can share our voices with others and offer perspectives and actions that might encourage them to support our cause or make the world a better place.  As students finished their work, they recorded their voices in a Flipgrid so that others can consider their perspectives and possibly join their collective voice.

We hope you will take time to listen to each student. If one of the voices speaks to you, give them a response.  Better yet, if they inspire you, consider writing your own letter and adding your voice to our grid.  We invite your students to join our voices as well.

As we were closing our time in the library, some of the students spoke up and said, “I bet Mr. Trump won’t even read our letters.” This was a great opportunity for Ms Olin and I to repeatedly say to the students, “Your voice matters”. We talked about collective voice, and how sometimes a single voice isn’t heard by someone like the president. However, that single voice can inspire other voices who come together collectively around a common cause. This was a great closing because even as an adult I sometimes wonder why I should even take time to call or write my representatives. However, I was reminded that our individual voices do matter and collectively they make impact.

 

Announcing the 2017 Barrow Peace Prize with Flipgrid

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Our 2nd graders have been working on an interdisciplinary project since the beginning of January. The Barrow Peace Prize has become one of our favorite projects each year in 2nd grade.  Students select 1 of 6 people from history to research through online & print resources such as Capstone’s Pebble Go, write a persuasive piece about why that person represents various character traits, create art to accompany their writing, and record their work using Flipgrid. For the past two weeks, we have been inviting people to view the students’ work and vote on a winner.

Part of our tradition in announcing the winner of the Barrow Peace Prize is to connect with our friends at Flipgrid via Skype. Last year, we even had the great fortune of having Charlie Miller and Brad Hosack join us at our school for a red carpet event.

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Each year, Flipgrid enhances their product and it makes our Barrow Peace Prize videos even more powerful.  Ahead of the connection, the teachers and I select some student award winners.

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Dynamic Designers are students who create powerful art work to accompany their persuasive essays.  Outstanding Openers are students who created opening lines in their persuasive essay to hook their audience.  Prolific Persuaders are students who create the complete package of persuading their audience to vote for their person from history.  I print certificates for these students and send the list of names to the Flipgrid team to announce during our Skype.

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Also in advance of the Skype, I 3d print enough student-designed medals so that every student who researched the winner of the peace prize gets a medal.  Each classroom also gets a medal to display and the teachers create plans for how each student will have a chance to wear the medal.

When the Skype begins, the Flipgrid team gives the students a greeting and our students take time to explain the project to them.  We also take some time to look at some statistics.  I share the analytics map from Smore so that students can see on a map where people have viewed their work.

The Flipgrid team also share some statistics like how many seconds of engagement students have and how many views.  Then, we launch into awards.

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With 100 students, it is hard to individually recognize each student during the Skype, but we encourage students to consider the Skype and winner announcement to be a celebration of our collective work.  Even if  you don’t hear your name called, you should be proud to know that your voice was heard by people around the world and made an impact on individual viewers of the project.  Your voice came together with all of the other 2nd graders to create a  project that inspires.

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Joey Taralson at Flipgrid organized different members of the team to announce student winners.  Each person told a bit about what they do at Flipgrid and slowly announced each winner.  We had to take our time because of the roaring cheers and applause for each student. This was a powerful moment for us all because students really were cheering for and supporting their classmates even when they didn’t win themselves.

After individual students were announced, I introduced our student designers of the 2017 Barrow Peace Prize.

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Then, it was the moment of anticipation.  For the 2nd year in a row, the winner of the 2017 Barrow Peace Prize is…

Ruby Bridges!

We passed out 3d-printed medals to all Ruby Bridges researchers and then attempted to get a photograph of the winners from our perspective and Flipgrid’s perspective.

After the connection ended, the excitement continued as congratulations and pictures poured in from Flipgrid and Capstone, creator of PebbleGo.

These are the kinds of projects that I hope to continue to inspire in our school.  There are so many parts of this experience that I love.  Every student is involved.  Every student has a voice in the collective project. Every student gets to showcase an area of talent whether it’s writing, research, art, stage presence, design, and more. Every student’s voice reaches beyond our school walls to inspire projects in other schools around the world. Multiple teachers are involved in the success of the project from the classroom teachers to the librarian to the art teacher to the many support teachers in our school.  Finally, the company that gives us the tool that propels our voices into the world takes time to learn about, celebrate, and amplify our project.  Thank you, Flipgrid, for always supporting our work and for constantly thinking about how to empower the voices of students in bigger ways.  We look forward to next year’s project and the many projects that will develop in the future.

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A Visit with LeUyen Pham

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The American Library Association just held its annual Midwinter Conference in Atlanta, and that meant that some amazing authors and illustrators were in town.  One of the speakers at ALA Midwinter was LeUyen Pham.  Who has worked on over 80 picture books!  Her current picture book is The Bear Who Wasn’t There and it is one she wrote and illustrated.  We were so thankful when her publisher, MacMillan, reached out to Avid Bookshop to offer a visit with a local school to celebrate her new book.

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The Bear Who Wasn’t There is a hilarious tale that invites the reader along to look for a bear who has gone missing from the book. There’s evidence of a bear along the way, but the reader and the animals in the story just can’t seem to find him.  Meanwhile, the duck in the story uses the bear’s absence to show off some magic tricks and try to sell his own books.  This book has a lot of mischief and laughs along the way, and readers might just discover a bear if they look very carefully.

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We didn’t learn about the opportunity to host LeUyen until late December, so the prep time for this visit was very short. Normally, I try to have students make decorations, but it was tricky to pull off this time. Instead, we really focused on reading the books. I pulled all of LeUyen’s books from our library and showed lots of classes the huge range of illustrations she has created from Freckleface Strawberry to Vampirina Ballerina to Alvin Ho to Princess in Black and more.  We read several of her books as well including The Bear Who Wasn’t There.  Every class laughed out loud on every single page.  We also took time to learn how to pronounce LeUyen’s name by listening to it on TeachingBooks.net

With over 350 K-3 students in the audience, LeUyen was magical!  With her twinkle fingers, she sprinkled the room with focus and students were hanging on every word.  She took them on a journey by looking at some of her very first drawings to the drawings she does as an adult. Students learned about movies that she worked on before she became an illustrator such as Prince of Egypt and Spirit.  She did some storytelling as she recounted her journey to Africa sketching scenery and animals.  LeUyen pulled out one of her many notebooks and showed students how she sketches everywhere she goes.

Students are hanging on every word from LeUyen. #avidevents #avidinschools #athensga #author #illustrator

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One of the moments I loved, was when she told students that she doesn’t spend too much time on one drawing. In fact she shared some pretty amazing drawings that she created in less than 15 minutes. She always draws in pen.  With a pen, you can’t erase your mistakes, so you can look back at those mistakes and learn from them.  That one statement has so many connections within and beyond art.  I want to bring that idea back up with students as we create together.

 

Next, LeUyen read A Piece of Cake, which is a perfect story for a big group read aloud.  There are so many unexpected things at each page turn and the kids had a blast shouting out what they thought mouse and bird would trade cake or objects for.

Listening to A Piece of Cake #avidinschools #avidevents #author #illustrator

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To close her time, LeUyen created some illustrations.  Students were selected from the audience, and she turned each of these models into an animal version of themselves reading a book.  While drawing animals with the features of our student models, she also took questions from the audience about her inspiration, her longest and shortest books, and more.

Turning kids into animals with LeUyen #avidevents #avidinschools #author #illustrator

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Animal kids with LeUyen Pham #avidevents #avidinschools #author #illustrator

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It was during this time that we heard about how a student at a school could suddenly become the inspiration for an illustration as one student did for Grace for President.    You just never know where your next idea may come from, so LeUyen is always watching, listening, and sketching her world.

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Our young readers listed to LeUyen for an hour, and I was so proud of their excitement for her.  She is such an inspiring and sweet person who is insanely talented at illustrating.  I know her books will fly off our library shelves, and I can’t wait to see what students create and talk about after exploring her books.

Personal drawing of my kids by LeUyen=AWESOME! #avidinschools #avidevents #athensga #author #illustrator

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As she left, LeUyen signed lots of books.  She lovingly included an illustration in each book she signed.  If you didn’t get a book at the visit, we have many books for checkout in the library or you can visit Avid Bookshop to purchase one.  As always, we are thankful to publishers like MacMillan for sending authors and illustrators to independent bookshops and schools.  Thank you, LeUyen, for spending part of your travels with us and sharing your talents and stories.  Thank you to Avid Bookshop for connecting with your community and enriching the reading and creative lives of students.

Hooray for LeUyen Pham! #avidevents #avidinschools #athensga #librariesofinstagram #author #illustrator

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Exploring Pigloo with Anne Marie Pace

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Today Ms. Skinner’s 1st grade class had the great fortune to Skype with Anne Marie Pace to celebrate her new picture book, Pigloo. This book began when Anne Marie was in 1st grade, and now it is a beautiful picture book for our readers to explore. Pigloo dreams of going on an exploration to the north pole, and thanks to some snow, his sister, and some imagination, he is able to make his dreams come true.

This Skype was made possible through a contest that Anne Marie Pace held for librarians and teachers of 1st grade.  Prior to our Skype, students watched the book trailer to get familiar with where the idea for the book came from.  Anne Marie also sent us coloring pages for the students to color.

During our Skype, Anne Marie had students think about times they have waited on something just like Pigloo waits on the snow.  We heard stories of waiting on pizza and Pokemon cards.  We also talked about weather in Virginia where Anne Marie lives and in Georgia where we live.  We certainly don’t have as much snow as Anne Marie has, so it was fun for the students to think about opportunities to get out and play in the snow which is rare here.

Ms Skinner's class is having fun with author Anne Marie Pace. @barrow21firsties #pigloo #author #skype

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Next, Anne Marie read through the entire book.  She held it up for students to see, but luckily a copy arrived in the mail for us just in time for the Skype.  I held up the book so that students could see it on the screen or on the physical pages.

One of the things I love about connecting with authors is the chance for students to chat with them one on one.  Anne Marie took time to let students step up and ask a question.  Many wanted to ask more questions about Pigloo.  Why did his sister “trick” him?  Where did he get his sled and hat?  However, we also got to ask about writing.  She encouraged students to keep writing even when it’s hard.  She explained that sometimes writing has fun parts and sometimes it has hard parts.  She wanted them to always listen to their teacher and realize that feedback was a teacher’s wish for them to each become better writers.  This affirmation is always powerful for students to hear and realize that we all need to push ourselves to do better.

Pigloo will now be available for checkout in our library, but students have a chance to order it from Anne Marie’s local bookshop, The Sycamore Tree.  She will sign each one and the bookshop will mail them to our school.

Connecting with authors in person and virtually is always a treat for our readers. Each experience reminds students that there is a person and lots of hard work behind the pages of each book on our shelves.  Thank you Anne Marie Pace for stepping into our school for the morning.

Community Collaboration: Book Making in the Makerspace

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I love opportunities to connect with community and bring expertise, talents, and interests to our students.  Recently, a parent contacted me to tell me that her child’s grandmother was traveling to Athens to visit and would love to do book making with some students at our school.  I immediately responded back that we would love to have this opportunity in our makerspace, and the planning began.

Grandmother Kathleen sent me a list of supplies we would need, so I ordered those from Amazon in advance.  She packed everything else on her flight from Texas.

I also communicated with Gretchen Thomas at UGA to let her know that her students could help Kathleen during this makerspace time.  I let teachers know the topic of the makerspace in advance and students signed up to participate across two days (Tuesday and Thursday).

When Kathleen arrived, her enthusiasm for art was contagious.  You could tell that she was an amazing art teacher in Texas.  She had multiple examples of books she had made from instruction found in Making Books that Fly, Fold, Wrap, Hide, Pop Up, Twist, and Turn.

So many amazing book making projects in this text. #librariesofinstagram #bookmaking #makered

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She had a different kinds of book planned for each group who visited the makerspace: 1st & 3rd grade, 5th grade, and 4th grade.

Before each group arrived, she put materials at each chair with the  help of Gretchen’s UGA students.  She gave very clear, step-by-step instructions for each group and me and the UGA students went around assisting students as needed.

Book making in today's makerspace #makered #librariesofinstagram #bookmaking

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A grandparent from Texas is leading book making in makerspace #librariesofinstagram #makered #bookmaking

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Because each project took more than 30-minutes, we reached a stopping point and then stored the projects for Thursday.

Each book had its own purpose and made me and the students think about so many possibilities. One book allowed you to record things from different perspectives. Another book allowed you to write your own Choose Your Own Adventure story with pull out cards.  Another book fanned out like a flower and allowed you to put poems, photographs, and more within the folds.

Each time Kathleen showed us a book, my mind was swirling with connections to each grade level’s curriculum.  Students were focused, productive, and buzzing with excitement about today’s makerspace.  I bet that when students are involved in the process of creating their own published books, they are more likely to fill those books with productive writing.  I know that when I personally made my own book during the final 30-minute session, I really wanted to go home and fill it with writing and photographs.

This book I made in makerspace today amazes me. #makered #bookmaking #librariesofinstagram #community #grandparentsrock

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I was reminded once again about how many interests and talents are hiding within our students, families, extended families, and community.  Alone, I would not have thought much about book making or how to attempt it with groups of students.  However, now that the expertise of a grandparent was shared with me and our students, I’m considering new possibilities with projects.

How many more talents and interests are just waiting for us within our communities?  How do we tap into these resources? This was an opportunity that was given to me, but I know that if I had a way of unearthing and organizing the wealth of talents and interests in our community that more opportunities like this would make its way to our students and teachers.

 

 

 

Students as Teachers: Exploring Text Structure with Flipgrid

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At the beginning of the year, I started talking with Melissa Freeman, 5th grade teacher, about exploring text structure in the library.  The very 1st unit in 5th grade language arts starts with text structure which explores the following standard.

ELAGSE5RI5  Compare and contrast the overall structure (e.g., chronology, comparison, cause/effect, problem/solution) of events,ideas, concepts, or information in two or more texts.

Melissa was wondering how to make the topic more engaging and wondered about the possibility of a library scavenger hunt.  We really weren’t sure where to go with the idea so we kept bouncing around possibilities over email and in person. She even came to the library and worked with me to pull books out of the nonfiction section and start sorting them into stacks.

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I continued this process so that we knew we had examples of compare/contrast, description, sequence/order, cause/effect, and problem/solution.  Then, I mixed them all up.  We knew that even though we personally picked a book for a specific structure that students might find other examples of text structure within the book.  We were also excited that students would have some one-on-one time looking through some nonfiction books that they might not know that the library has.

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In one of our brainstorms, I thought about the possibility of students recording their findings in a digital way that could be shared with one another and also other grade levels. I originally thought it would be a good way for them to agree or disagree with examples that were discovered, but we expanded the idea to be a way that students could teach other students in our school and other schools about ways text can be organized.

We decided to use Flipgrid for this task.  I created 5 separate questions: one for each type of text structure.  Then, I linked them all on a Symbaloo that Ms. Freeman could share with her students via Google Classroom.

In class, Ms. Freeman introduced each kind of text structure and students started exploring books on Tumblebooks for each structure.

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Each class came to the library for a 50-minute session.  We did a quick mini-lesson to review the structures, show how to use Flipgrid, and share what we hoped students would include in their video. This included things like the book title, author, text structure, and a concrete example from the text to justify the structure chosen.  We also setup the idea that these videos could be a teaching tool for the rest of 5th grade, the school, and other schools.

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I spread the books out at tables and students worked in partners to browse the tables for a book to start with. As they discovered one of the 5 text structures, they prepared to make a video.  Students used their own computers to record a Flipgrid, and then continued exploring for their next book example.

Ms. Freeman, Ms. Mullins (gifted teacher), and I all walked around and chatted with students as they searched through books.  One of our immediate noticings was that students were guessing the structure simply based on the title, topic, or cover of the book.

They weren’t even opening the book to read the text.  While this was a great predictor of what kind of structure might be inside, students were missing the point about looking at the organization. We clarified this in conferences and adjusted our mini-lesson with each class to put a stronger emphasis on explaining.

To close each class, we showed a few of the videos and had student offer noticings about what they heard. I love that in the new Flipgrid, you can actually respond to each video response.  I showed students how the comments they were making could actually be added right onto our Flipgrid.  I also encouraged each person who made a video to think about how they might add to their original video by posting a new video as a response.

The plan is for students to continue using these Flipgrids in class to post additional examples and respond to one another. We hope that eventually there will be some strong examples that can be shared with other classes in our school as well as with schools we collaborate with.

In the meantime, it’s a work in progress.

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Celebrating Poetry Through Book Spine Poems

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One of our favorite kinds of poetry to create each year is book spine poetry. It is a kind of found poetry where the words found on the spines of books create the lines of a poem. Every 2nd grade class came to the library for a one-hour session to create book spine poems individually or in pairs.

To begin our time, I briefly explained found poetry and then told a story about how I created my own book spine poem. The story was meant to serve as a model for how students might craft their own poem, but they certainly didn’t have to go about the process the exact same way as me.

Book spine poem #poetrymonth #poetry #poetryreading #bookspinepoetry #writing #librariesofinstagram

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I started in the everybody section of the library and started reading the spines of all the books on the shelf from the beginning. I was looking for a title that jumped out at me as a starting place. I happened upon Quest and Journey by Aaron Becker. I loved how those two words sounded together and I decided to start looking for titles that seemed to go with those two words, which meant looking for titles that were about traveling in some way. I passed by many titles that didn’t fit, so I left them on the shelf without pulling them off. I continued this process until I had found I Took a Walk, In My Dreams I Can Fly, and Goin’ Someplace Special. I also had the book The Ride but I decided that I didn’t like the sound of those words with the others in my stack so I put that book back on the return cart. Next, I tried several ways of arranging the books until I had a sequence I was happy with. After practicing a few times, I recorded my poem with my phone and uploaded it online to share with the world.

Time for more book spine poems #poetry #poetrymonth #bookspinepoetry #pocketpoem #librariesofinstagram

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After my short story, we went back through the steps and put them into a concise list on the board for students to reference. Then, students got to work. They wandered the shelves looking for that first book and then went from there. As was expected, some of them found their own strategies for creating the poems. Some struggled with finding that first book. Some wanted the support of someone walking with them to look for books. The teacher and I wandered around too and talked with individual students until they started reaching the recording phase.

Book spine poems in progress. #foundpoetry #writing #poem #poetry #pocketpoem #librariesofinstagram

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Once students recorded using an iPad, they brought the iPad to me and we immediately plugged the iPad into my computer and uploaded to Youtube. They also went to the teacher to take a photograph of their book stack that could be printed and put into their poetry books they are creating in class. All books that were used went onto a cart parked in the middle of the library, and students were welcome to read those books while they waited on classmates to finish.

When students finished, I pulled all of their work into Youtube playlists which I emailed to teachers to share with families. We concluded our time by sitting together and snapping for each poem on our playlist. I hope you’ll take a moment to listen to, enjoy, and snap for the poems from each 2nd grade class.