DigiLit Sunday: Real Vs. Fake News


This post is part of “DigiLit Sunday,” hosted by Margaret Simon at Reflections on the Teche. This week’s topic is Real V. Fake News. Please be sure to visit Margaret’s blog to read more Digilit Sunday contributions.

When I taught third grade, learning about our solar system was part of the curriculum. My students researched a planet to learn about its distance from the sun, length of year, etc. It wasn’t very sophisticated according to Blooms Taxonomy or Webb’s DOK, but at that time, it was the first “academic” experience my students had with research. I remember they were surprised to discover discrepancies in information. One book (yes, in the late 1990s, we used mostly books) said X, another said Y, and a third said Z. This was a good introduction for them into the importance of checking multiple resources and using trusted sources.

In my current role as Literacy Specialist, I spend most of my time with first graders who are finding it hard to remember the difference between short i and short e, so the topic of fake news hasn’t come up too much.

But the other part of my job does involve working with teachers to develop and improve curriculum. The Common Core State Standards clearly addresses the issue of valid and accurate sources:


Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of
the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.


Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility
and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.

Which means that being alert to “fake news” has been embedded into our curriculum for a number of years, and was even before the CCSS came out with these explicit standards.

But, as Thomas Friedman points out in his column, “Online and Scared,” we have reached a “tipping point” where “a critical mass of our interactions have moved to a realm where we’re all connected but no one’s in charge.”

Wow. That is scary. Friedman goes on to quote Alan S. Cohen calling for a “new social compact”  that will help reign in the wild west feel to cyberspace. Freidman states “work on that compact has to start with every school teaching children digital civics.” Not only do students “need to bring skepticism and critical thinking to everything they read,” a “basic civic decency” has to underlie “everything they write.”

This is a huge responsibility, but really not so different from how the school where I teach has operated for many years. Still, I feel I need more information and additional resources. A Google search for “teaching the difference between real and fake news” yielded “about 58,600,000 results (0.36 seconds).”

Where to begin? Right away, I started to filter these links using what I know about the “credibility of each source.” An NPR story from November about students’ inability to tell the difference between real and fake news was the top story, and the page included links to articles from PBS and the Wall Street Journal.

The New York Times Learning Network published “Skills and Strategies | Fake News vs. Real News: Determining the Reliability of Sources” in October 2015, which underscores the fact that this problem isn’t unique to 2016. 

Stony Brook University School of Journalism’s Center for News Literacy’s website has extensive resources, including articles on News Literacy, a Digital Resource Center, and an online course. Both of these resources, and more like them, are worth investigating.

The concept of fake news isn’t new. Clearly, its more pervasive and we are more aware of it. For these reasons, we have to be vigilant that our students have the tools they need to be informed consumers of news and information.

Back to those first graders. I’m not going to start incorporating information about real and fake news into my lessons. I do, however think it’s important to help children develop a sense of perspective, which is related to this issue, as early as possible. To help them with this, I am going to share Brendan Wenzel’s brilliant They All Saw a Cat (Chronicle Books, 2016). Helping them understand that everyone sees things just a little differently doesn’t mean that a person is wrong. There is a difference between making stories up (otherwise known as fiction) and looking at an issue from many points of view.  In fact, being open to the experiences of others makes our own view of the world richer. There’s nothing fake about that.

Slice of Life: Frost Petals


My OLW for 2016 was present. Part of my rationale for that choice was to not procrastinate. I have gotten better about this, but there is still plenty of room for improvement. Another reason I chose present was to be more aware of my surroundings in the moment, to be open to the gifts waiting there.

I have been much more successful with this connotation of the word. Finding “commonplace marvels” and writing #haikuforhealing along with Mary Lee Hahn and other bloggers during the month of December was a perfect way to end the year. But I’ve found that once I started really noticing, marvels were everywhere and being present to them is not something that I could stop. 

Although I have a pretty good idea of why my OLW will be for 2017, I haven’t completely decided. In the meantime, here is today’s commonplace marvel, which I found on my windshield this morning.

in dawn’s rosy glow,
a bouquet of frost petals

© Catherine Flynn, 2017


 Thank you to StaceyDanaBetsyBeth, KathleenDeb, Melanie, and Lisa for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

IMWAYR: Reading Resolutions


“Outgrow yourself as a reader.”
~ Lucy Calkins ~

Last January, a colleague and I decided to challenge our students to make Reading Resolutions. A few other teachers in our building adopted our idea. Although I don’t have statistics about our outcomes, getting kids to talk about and read books they wouldn’t have otherwise considered can be counted as a success. (By the way, I finished the Very Famous Book last February.)

We are making Reading Resolutions again this year. Here are our suggested reading resolutions for 2017, adapted from Scholastic’s “100 New Year’s Reading Resolutions”.


We’re encouraging kids to pick books from at least two categories, but there are so many books I want to read, I didn’t have any trouble choosing a book for each category.

  • A book written by someone from Connecticut–Connecticut author and poet Leslie Bulion’s The Universe of Fair (Peachtree, 2012)—Leslie visited our school last fall and gave us a copy of this book, which was inspired by the Durham Fair. Other teachers have read it to their students, but I haven’t gotten ahold of it yet.

                                                  516cy2xhfsl-_sy344_bo1204203200_     220px-thesnowgoose

  • Best friend’s favorite book— This was hard. My dearest friend and I read many of the same books, and I’ve already read her very favorite book, Little Women. While we were talking about something else, she mentioned The Snow Goose: A Story of Dunkirk, by Paul Gallico. Anything about World War II is always interesting to me, so this was an easy choice.
  • A book of poetry/novel in verse—I will probably read dozens of books in this category this year. I finished Jeannine Atkins lovely Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science yesterday, and have One Last Word (Bloomsbury, 2017), by Nikki Grimes on my desk. Maybe I should modify this to be one book from this category every week.
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  • A book set in a country where I do not live—There are so many possibilities for this category. I haven’t read Symphony for the City of the Dead, (Candlewick, 2015) M.T. Anderson’s book about Dimitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad. Given my penchant for books about WWII, this seems like a good choice.
  • A book published the year I was born—Somehow I never read The Cricket in Times Square, written by George Selden and illustrated by Garth Williams, even though I still have the copy I bought at the book fair when I was in 4th grade!

  • A graphic novel or comic book—Another category with so many worthy choices. I love Matt Phelan’s work, and his reimagining of Snow White (Candlewick, 2016) set in Manhattan during the Depression intrigues me.
  • A nonfiction book about a topic I know nothing about—Last summer I heard Ed Yong speak about his book I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life (Ecco, 2016). I read about half the book in August, but was distracted once school started. I resolve to get back to it and finish it.
  • Newbery Award or honor book—I’ve read all the recent medal winners, but there are many honor books I’d like to read. I will definitely read whatever wins this year if I haven’t already. Stay tuned.
  • A book written this year—As I skimmed through the January/February issue of The Horn Book, I quickly came up with at least half a dozen titles for this category. I want to read Isaac the Alchemist: Secrets of Isaac Newton, Reveal’d  (Candlewick) by Mary Losure, coming out in Feburary. Then there’s Rachel Vail’s Well, That Was Awkward (Viking), or Me and Marvin Gardens (Levine/Scholastic), which are both also out in February.
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  • A book in a genre I’ve never read before—How about a genre I don’t like? Horror is probably my least favorite genre, but I don’t read too much science fiction either. I have an ARC of Fuzzy, by Tom Angleberger and Paul Dellinger, so for now, that’s my choice.

What books are you resolving to read this year? Please be sure to visit Jen Vincent at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee Moye of Unleashing Readers for more book recommendations.

Poetry Friday: “Words are Birds”


January 5th was National Bird Day. I have been a bit obsessed with these feathered flyers for several years now, so I hope you don’t mind if I extend the celebration and share a bird poem or two today.

“Words are Birds”
by Francisco X. Alarcón

are birds
that arrive
with books
and spring

the wind
and trees

some words
are messengers
that come
from far away
from distant lands

for them
there are
no borders
only stars
moon and sun

Read the rest of the poem here.

by Srivatsa Sreenivasarao via unsplash
by Srivatsa Sreenivasarao via Unsplash

Alarcón’s poem and these little birds inspired this #haikuforhealing:

white-rumped munia:
poem perched on a puddle’s rim
birds are words

© Catherine Flynn, 2017

Please be sure to visit Linda Baie at Teacher Dance for the first Poetry Friday Roundup of 2017!

Slice of Life: Things We Prize


My husband and I are gearing up for a big renovation project: new kitchen, new living room, new patio. It’s all very exciting, but a little daunting as well. I don’t think I’ve crossed the line to hoarder yet, but I am not good at throwing stuff away. But with the upcoming construction, I’ve been trying to get organized and get rid of some clutter. While I was going through a box over the weekend, I found some pictures from sixth grade. They stirred up quite a few memories and inspired this poem.

“Things We Prize”

Prizes weren’t meant for me.
Other kids won prizes.
Kids who could run fast
or spell “mountain”
or knew that 7 x 8 was 56.
No, prizes weren’t meant for me.

Until one day I decided
I was tired
of not winning a prize.

At the edge of the playground,
that sea of asphalt,
scene of so many embarrassments,
Mr. Fletcher raked the dirt smooth,
ready for us to jump,
fling ourselves as far as we could,
and make our mark.

When it was my turn,
No one expected much.

I stood tall,
feet planted,
courage growing.
Bent my knees,
Pushed off.


Propelled myself
farther than any kid
in sixth grade,
farther than any kid
in the whole school.

The prize was mine.

© Catherine Flynn, 2017

Thank you to StaceyDanaBetsyBeth, KathleenDeb, Melanie, and Lisa for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

IMWAYR: Celebrating Friendship


At the risk of being late to the party for these books about love and kindness, I want to share them here because, let’s face it, the world needs all love and kindness we can give.

Last August I had a terrible time choosing a theme for my Picture Book 10 for 10 list. I had two or three ideas, and over thirty books to choose from. One that didn’t make my list of books that feed our imaginations was Best Frints in the Whole Universe (Roaring Brook Press) by Antoinette Portis. This book is on Betsy Bird’s list of “The Best Picture Books of 2016” and was chosen as a Kirkus Reviews Best Picture Book of 2016. Last summer their reviewer called it “cosmically delightful” and I whole-heartedly agree.


“Yelfred and Omek have been best frints since they were little blobbies.” But, as anyone who’s ever had a best frint knows, the course of true friendship, like love, never does run smooth. Of course Yelfred and Omek work out their difficulties and discover that “best frints are the best thing of all.”

Portis’s joyfully wacky planet Boborp language will entertain all PreK-first grade readers, but why should they have all the fun? I’d share this book with second grade and beyond both for pure enjoyment and for the theme.

A Hat for Mrs. Goldman: A Story About Knitting and Love (Schwartz & Wade, 2016) by Michelle Edwards and illustrated by G. Brian Karas stole my heart. This book is also on Betsy Bird’s list, and I would have included this on the list of knitting books I shared early in December, except I hadn’t read it yet. Mrs. Goldman knits hats for “the tiniest babies” and  “Hats for small, medium, and large friends and neighbors.” Her young friend Sophia makes pom-poms for all of these hats. One day, while they’re walking Mrs. Goldman’s dog, Sophia notices and worries about Mrs. Goldman’s bare head. She decides to “make Mrs. Goldman the most special hat in the world.” What follows is as much a story of perseverance and inspiration as it about love and friendship.


This story of intergenerational friendship reminded me of Eileen Spinelli’s Sophie’s Masterpiece and A Gift for Tia Rosa, by Karen T. Taha. Be warned that reading Edwards’s heartwarming tale may inspire young knitters to try their hand at creating their own “Sophia Hat”. Thankfully, Edwards and knitter Theresa Gaffney have teamed up to design a pattern that novice knitters should be able to knit without too much trouble.

Please be sure to visit Jen Vincent at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee Moye of Unleashing Readers for more book recommendations.


Over a month ago, my friend, Margaret Simon, asked her #DigiLit Sunday compatriots to write about gratitude. This is my response.


“You’ll never know everything about anything, especially something you love.”
~ Julia Child ~

Baking is one of my passions. I have a repertoire of favorite desserts that family and friends have come to expect at holidays and get-togethers. Cooking shows are just about the only TV programs I will actually sit and watch. So Tejal Rao’s review of The Great American Baking Show in the paper last week caught my eye. The review was mixed, but these words struck a chord with me:

Maybe it’s because, with any ambition, there is often a gap between what
you want to do and what you actually achieve. A miserable, insurmountable
abyss in some cases. I admire the way the American bakers will dust off their
apron and walk up to the judging table where [the judges] are waiting, even on
a bad day, with a wonky, toppling, broken, undercooked thing. And they stand
by their work and invite criticism.

Yes, there is a gap.  With any ambition. Including, or maybe especially, writing. Writing stories or essays or poems is hard. I cringe to think of how many years I didn’t write because of my fear of falling into that “insurmountable abyss.”

Yet, thanks to the Internet, I found Two Writing Teachers and Poetry Friday. These communities of amazing, smart, talented educators and writers welcomed me, no questions asked. No one laughed at my “wonky, toppling, broken, undercooked thing.” In fact, the opposite occurred. Everyone offered support, encouragement, and praise. Kind words made me brave. They gave me the courage to try anything, even if I had no idea what I was doing.

Over the years, like ripples in a pond, my circle of online writing friends has grown. I’ve been lucky to meet many of you in person. Through all of this, I have learned so much. Thanks to all of you, I am a better writer and a better teacher. For that I am forever grateful.

I’m looking forward to another year of writing and learning with you all. Happy New Year.