It could be that Katie Egan Cunningham’s book, Start With Joy, hooked me from the start because she begins with an exchange between Christopher Robin and Pooh. You might know the one. It’s when Christopher Robin asks Pooh to promise never to forget him. And then, Katie asks us to think about what we really want for our students. What do you really want for your students? She names and validates the learning and thinking goals, but she also nudges at the importance of sustained happiness.
Start With Joy is set up in three parts: Happiness Pillars, Invitations, and Appendices. In the first part, we learn about Katie’s seven pillars for joy, always from the lens of literacy instruction. Because she names these pillars– connection, choice, challenge, play, story, discovery, and movement– it’s easier for readers to follow and relate to the types of activities and ideas within them. Furthermore, Katie is a self-described designer, and each chapter in Part 1 ends with “Design for ______.” (Fill in the pillar!) This recurring text feature gives readers specific and doable tasks and strategies for building that pillar in their own classrooms. Concept, research, unpacking of ideas, and specific strategies for implementation…how great is that!
I have many favorite parts of this book, and one of them is within the pillar of challenge. “The only competition students should be in, especially in a literacy environment, is with themselves (80).” With an emphasis on a strength-based approach, Katie suggests monthly guiding questions, and if I had a classroom of my own, there is no doubt, I’d use these or create ones like them! Here’s a sampling:
- September: What is a strength of mine you cannot see?
- January: What is a new strength I hope to have this year?
- April: When something is hard, how do I try again?
She offers questions for each month, and reminds readers that that “one of our challenges as educators is to shift their thinking about strength to something that comes from within and that is the result of effort rather than a false sense of natural ability (81).” I love that Katie uses research, and she does throughout the book. She also provides practical ways for the research to impact students in classrooms.
Another favorite part of this book for me are Katie’s reflections around the pillar of discovery. “When children are positioned as ambassadors of their own learning, they feel trusted to try, ask for help when they need it, and extend their learning beyond the page and into the world (122).” I think about many “cycles” in my educational work– the writing cycle, inquiry cycle, research cycle… but Katie’s idea of an action cycle was new thinking for me. I think we all should think more about how we empower students to take action and teach them to reflect on the results.
Part 2 of Start With Joy digs further into the realm of practicality with specific workshop-oriented lessons that teachers can use as is or tailor for their own classrooms. With connections to many different texts and picture books, these lessons will enhance reading and writing units as they emphasize habits of mind such as knowing and appreciating ourselves, paying attention to the world, asking important questions, and listening. While I first read them with the lens of the beginning of the year, I envision many of these lessons intertwining with units throughout the entire year.
As with any great lesson, Katie leaves us with Part 3, a series of appendices designed to get readers to do some of this work themselves. How do I plan a lesson designed to prioritize happiness? She leaves us with tools and templates. What are some conversation prompts, story frames, and journaling prompts? Those are in Part 3, as well.
Even if you don’t win the copy of Start With Joy as a giveaway from us, I hope you will consider adding it to your collection of professional books. Students face so many pressures and challenges in their daily lives, both in and out of school. Ultimately, we want them to learn, for sure, but we also want them to find joy in the process. This book not only reminds us of the importance of happiness, it also provides ways to design for joy.
- This giveaway is for a copy of Start With Joy by Katie Egan Cunningham. Many thanks to Stenhouse for donating a copy for one reader.
- For a chance to win this copy of Start With Joy, please leave a comment about this post by Tuesday, March 3 at 11:59 p.m. EDT. I’ll use a random number generator to pick the winner, whose names I will announce at the bottom of this post, by Thursday, March 5. You must have a U.S. mailing address to enter the giveaway.
- Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win. From there, my contact at Stenhouse will ship your book out to you. (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.)
- If you are the winner of the book, I will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – START WITH JOY. Please respond to my e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. Unfortunately, a new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.