Aboriginal Storywork in the classroom

Not My Story: the title for this one has been in my drafts folder for well over a year as I struggled with the how and why of making space for Aboriginal stories in my classroom. Every time I sat down to write and organize lesson plans I got derailed: ‘These are not my stories.’ ‘Why does this matter to me?'”How do I make space for these stories in particular?”

This year I got to take part in UBC MET’s ETEC521 Indigeniety, Technology, Education and I think I finally have it straight in my head. The course work challenged my thinking; I said many times over the term that the reading was only a small fraction of the work that went into this term. The reading took hours, as masters course work does, but the thinking took days. Some days I dug into conversation with anyone willing to bat around ideas and some days I got pushback and a reminder that a soapbox is not a helpful platform.

I won’t rewrite here everything I put in the academic paper because the link to there work is in my Website. I spent 50 hours on the final project and feel good about what I will be taking into the classroom in the fall. The catalyst for inquiry is Danielle Daniel’s Sometimes I Feel Like a Fox. I would love your feedback and hope that it can be carried into other classrooms, too. The student side of the project is an ever evolving project, so if you have stories you feel I could include to make the site even better I would love to hear from you!

Seek Joy

Dear Students,

Welcome to Grade 3. It’s two days before you get to walk into our classroom and see its unadorned walls and furniture that doesn’t seem to quite be in the right place. I did it on purpose. It’s hard though. I look around at teachers’ classrooms who are clearly excited to meet their students and their walls already wear student names, they have prepared notebooks, they have hung posters. Their excitement to meet students is electric!

So it’s hard for me to open the walls to a classroom that looks unfinished and I want you to know that I left it this way on purpose in an effort to know you better. This space belongs to you as much as it does to me. We will spend the first week planning our space together and making it something that meets the needs of everyone. I can’t wait to create with you!


I know I find joy in so many things: in stories, in coffee on Friday morning, in riding bikes, in my family, in my students, especially when we’re making productive messes. I cannot wait to learn about where you find joy! I want to know what you like to read, where your gaze falls when you get to wander, what you wonder, what makes you so excited you can’t wait to share? In this room, we will be learners, teachers, readers, designers, writers, questioners, mathematicians, engineers, scientists, film makers, friends, seekers of joy! 

Our classroom is ready for you and I hope you are as excited as I am!

Mme Evans

Student feedback and a thought about being an “expert” with lots to learn

I’ve been reluctant to write lately. I think this is partly due to being mid-masters degree and knowing what academic writing looks like and this blog being a weird hybrid between academic and “hey, friends, here’s what works for me…”

I write partly as a reminder to myself of what works, partly to share and seek feedback from my peers, and partly just because I think writing is fun. 

Here’s a feedback strategy I have started to use for student writing, which is the latest iteration of my many varied methods of providing students with feedback over the years. I find this one suits my needs right now and is accessible for my young learners.

Highlighter & sticky notes

I use bright sticky notes with a highlighter in a matching colour. The goal of this colour-coded feedback is for students to be able to identify the error and how to fix it. For the moment, I am trying to stick with two stars and a wish, both of which should be specific. The sticky note feedback is a new iteration of my old colour-code system where I just marked with five highlighters the types of errors students were making without providing much for written feedback.

Use pencil

I have a love affair with coloured pens and many teachers I know do. I always sort of figured I wanted my words to pop out for students so they would find them, but the more I reflect on the purpose of feedback, the more I think pencil makes sense. Students generally want work that looks tidy and reflects their best work. When parents come in and thumb through their notebooks the thing that stands out should be the student’s work NOT the teacher’s. Those with anxiety or a bit of perfectionist tendencies can remove it and have “perfect” final work. My fear was always that students would erase it… “But it won’t show parents what I told the kids…” What is the purpose of the feedback? It’s for students not for parents.

Iris and student process portfolios

As I mark, I keep student profiles open to make notes. This helps with providing students feedback, meeting with parents, and providing next steps on summative reporting like report cards. If the stickies do get lost I have a copy of the next steps for each student, although I don’t take the time to copy everything into the portfolio.

Mark it twice

I have been trying to provide students with this actionable feedback and then allowing them time to respond to it and improve their work. This often leads to a mini-lesson but sometimes the written feedback is enough.

I certainly don’t have it figured all the way out and I’m feeling a bit lax for not providing citations for my writing here… it’s just a personal reflection and nothing more.

Happy teaching, colleagues. I’d love to have your ideas for feedback,too!

A Good Fit Book

“How do you know if a book is a good fit for you?” I honestly asked the question to my class and quickly lead a conversation about how a good-fit book was a lot like finding a good fit shoe. The “five finger” rule was discussed. Then off to the library we went.

And some students still had a hard time picking a book. So I thought some more about how to pick a book. After all, finding a good-fit book is a lot like finding a good fit shoe, but you don’t wear the same shoe to run a 5k as you wear to your best friend’s wedding.

Students loved this book by Oliver Jeffers!


Browse

For many of us there is a visceral pleasure in walking book stacks and browsing titles. Being the first to discover a new book with the still uncracked spine or stumbling accross a well-worn tome with someone else’s annotations in the margins. But for many kids, the library or book store is too full of books and overwhelming or a place where magic simply doesn’t live. So we need to support them as a community of readers.

 

Book sell

In my classroom, when students read something good they are encouraged to share. We save a few minutes each week for students to read aloud to one another and tell why the LOVED a book. Not for marks. Just because books are awesome and need to be shared. I also stock the classroom library with books from the school library, carefully curating for my students so that there is a little of everything. My goal in the coming months is for my students to take over the job of curating. How should we organize the library? What kinds of books should we include? What do the children in the stories look like? Where are the writers of the stories from? Why should we care?

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This project involves students by having them create an “art card” book review for a book they loved. They create a small work of art to represent the book they read and then an audio clip where they review the book. The art card becomes a trigger for the audio file by using the Aurasma app.
Ask a friend

In addition to creating formal time for sharing books (we do a breakfast book chat 4 times a year where students eat breakfast together and talk books), I think there needs to be a network of readers built into our classrooms. We come to know one another’s tastes in books and know that Kevin enjoys funny books while Jane loves sweet stories about animals. If you’re looking for your next great read ask a friend.

Keep a list

My students keep a book box and I’m asking them to keep a TBR (to be read) list at the back of their Daily 5 journals. It’s a nice way for them to keep track of what they are reading and what to read next.

Find a topic, character, or author you love

When students are looking for something to read I often send them of in the direction of an author they already know and love or to check out a section of books on a related topic.

Try a new genre

Take a risk! You might find something you love! I always knew I loved wordless books but never considered reading graphic novels. Until I did. I’ll never look back.

Read to learn

Some kids really just don’t get into fiction. And that’s ok. If a made up story isn’t turning their crank how about a good non-fiction or a historical fiction. There are so many to choose from. So what are you wondering right now?

Read for fun

We have to let students read because it’s fun and interesting and not because they will be required to report on their reading.

Use technology and social bookmarking

Social platforms allow for interaction about reading. This is to be used carefully with young readers but they can easily use a classroom “tweet” wall where they share a thought through a sticky note or a quick book talk on a closed website.

Story many ways
I have had more than one student come to me in tears because their ability to decode text did not match their ability to understand story. Wanting to read a novel but unable to access the text they felt helpless. So we tried many ways, finally settling on reading the book with the support of the audio book. This can be an especially powerful tool for our immersion students who benefit from hearing words at the same time as they see them.

Book shop

Pick a book off the shelf. Turn it over in your hands. Read the back cover and the about the author. Read a sample chapter. Give it a chance, but know that…

It’s ok to quit a book
Please don’t plod through a book you hate. If the book jumps the shark or just plain peters out it’s ok to walk away.

A word about the five finger rule

I respect this general guideline, but that’s all it is. In the end students need to understand that the goal of reading is to understand the text and I’m not sure many of them understand that, haltingly decoding their way through a book that exceeds their reading ability and confidently declaring their level but unable to talk about their book! It’s not about the number! Please let kids love books. When they stumble through it they enjoy it in a different way than when they read it for the fourth time fluently and with expression. I am living proof that I can read a book with fluency and expression and have no idea what the book says… hello bedtime stories. Sometimes I love them. Sometimes I have no idea what I just read… take chances. Read way above your level. But also take chances and read below your level and find a book that speaks to you in another way.

Happy reading everyone! I’d love to hear your ideas on how to hook kids on books!

Give them words

The further I dig into Regie Routman’s Read, Write, Leadthe more I feel that The 2 Sister’s (also hereDaily 5 and Café literacy structures help teachers meet the criteria of an effective literacy classroom. My own interest is technology-supported second-language literacy, lately with a focus on disciplinary literacy.

Read. A lot.

I always hesitated to do Daily 5 in French and English in my classroom (Grade 3 is the first time students get English Language Arts in addition to French Language Arts) because it felt like too much time “lost” to reading, but Routman suggests that teachers don’t allow students enough time to engage in uninterrupted reading. That being said, the independent reading students do must be supported by the teacher. This is a fine balance;  careful monitoring and support of student reading but not so micromanaged that it takes the joy out of it. That is the precise reason I am not a fan of home reading logs – tracking number of minutes and number of titles read in exchange for anything takes the innate joy out of reading. Reading is for fun and for information and I want my students to see it that way.

That being said, I conference with students about once a week about the books they are reading to ensure they are a good fit and that students are aware of and working towards their logical next steps.

Talk even more

In immersion, the cognitive load of students is double: not only are they acquiring the ability to interpret text, but they are also working to acquire a second language. Primary school students acquire language the same way any speaker of a language does (listen to small children learn language – every time I do I remember my love for linguistics). Students need to hear language but they also need to USE language. In our language classrooms, teachers need to ensure ours is not the only voice being heard. He who constructs the meaning does the learning; let students do the talking.

Agency and authenticity

How do you pick your next read? Are you aware of the cognitive processes that go into it? We listen to friends. We browse book stores and libraries. We dig into book reviews on Amazon. Sometimes we catch them in the wild. Sometimes we track our reading using social annotation or social reading sites like Goodreads or the local library’s tracking feature. We as teachers need to provide students with these same opportunities. The purpose of tracking reading cannot be accountability to the teacher but accountability to one’s self and working towards one’s goals. Let’s not forget that the ultimate goal of teaching literacy is to develop students who are able to interact independently with text for multiple purposes.

We must know our learners as readers, but, more importantly, our learners need to know themselves as readers. This is where learning management systems such as the Calgary Board of Education’s IRIS are invaluable. Students need a place to reflect on their learning and they need agency.

Translanguaging is not interlanguaging

Translanguaging involves allowing students to access their full language repertoire. Many bilinguals are not even aware that they speak multiple languages. There are simply the words used with one audience and different words used with another audience. As immersion teachers, we tend to tamp out the use of a student’s maternal language in favor of the immersion language. Immersion tends to ignore the fact that students speak other languages but if we intentionally teach them metacognitive comprehension strategies that draw upon their first language student’s literacy skills will be enhanced. We do it in our first language, amassing vocabulary throughout our lives and building upon our understanding of linguistic structures as we learn. We need to leverage this for our second-language students.

A well-stocked library and accessibility options

Learners need access to high-quality, high-interest texts that will engage them in reading. While there is a time and a place for leveled readers, I am not a fan of them personally outside of teaching specific skills. I personally distinctly remember two events in my “learning to read” life:

  1. When I was about 8 or 9 years old, I dug up a copy of W.O. Mitchel‘s Who Has Seen the Wind at my local book mobile (remember the old days when library books came to rural areas on a bus?) because I remember my mom talking about how it was an important book in Saskatchewan. The librarian made me put it back because she didn’t think it was a good fit for me. Crushed, I put it back. I hadn’t actually intended on reading it but on having my mom read it to me. To this day, I have not read that book.
  2. When I must have been about 10 or 11 my mom went back to university and read Margaret Laurence’s The Stone Angel. I found the book on the bottom shelf of the living room book shelf and settled in with it, reading the book and enjoying my mom’s annotations in the margins. Did I understand it the same way she did? Surely not. But I loved that book.

Just because a book looks like it might not be a good fit doesn’t mean that readers can’t access the story. As an adult, roughly 50% of my reading is audio books. I participate in endurance sports (and for many years participated in endurance commutes) which means that if I want to read, I have to do it while I do something else. One of my family’s favorite things to do on long road trips is to plug in an audio book. While we may not engage in close reading while doing so, we do engage in shared story. If we as teachers know that approximately 10% of our learners have difficulty accessing text, then we need to find accessibility options for our students to engage.

Above all else, our classrooms need to make space for joy in reading! If we take pleasure in books and help our students find the happiness in shared story everybody wins!

 

Classroom grace in small things

Today I reflected on not having blogged in a while and what keeps me inspired lately. Here, in no particular order, is a list of things I’m loving right now:

Teaching art. When I get to look at a piece of art for a long time with my students and just talk about it. They have such interesting and unexpected ideas.

Teaching reading and writing. I’ve been concentrating lately on disciplinary literacy – teaching reading in math, science, and social as intentionally as I teach it it language arts.

Remembering what it’s like to be an author. I decided instead of writing a throw away piece like I often do when modelling for students that I would write a piece I was actually working on. I think it might actually be something and that’s a fun place to be in.

Watching my students run the classroom routines. Seriously, this time of year the classroom just thrums like a well-oiled machine.

New books.

Student portfolios and reflecting on just how much they have learned.

Comfy shoes stashed behind my desk (and the student who comments how she likes them so much better than the other ones I had on – I confessed they were a bit pinchy.)