10 Hooks for Reluctant Readers

 My own darling son is a take it or leave it kind of a reader; he loves to listen to stories, and likes to read, but all thing being equal he’d rather ride a bike, climb a wall, or draw. He didn’t see the joy in reading for fun until recently when he picked up Amulet, which was recommended to me by a colleague, and read for three hours straight! That got me thinking about my classroom reading hooks.

  

Book Pitch

Read a favourite chapter of a novel during your read aloud. That’s all. Sell the book a little. Better yet, have a student create a book pitch for a book they like and give them a minute of class time to present it.

The Highlight Wall

Leave out the books you share in class on a highlight shelf. There is something comforting about returning to a book students already know and love. Keep the highlight shelf down o a half a dozen books and limit the number of days a book gets to be there.

Reread

Especially with younger students,  a return to a book that’s already been shared allows the reader or listener to discover something new. This time let’s work on making a connection. Next time let’s concentrate on the author’s use of voice or conventions.

Graphic Novels

Many novels that are thick, intimidating novels also exist as graphic novels. This allows the reader to quickly absorb the story. If it’s good enough they’ll come back to read the long-form fiction version.

Thick Books with Limited Print

Bad Kitty is a good example as are Dav Pilkey’s Ricki Ricotta books, of a book that looks like a novel but reads like a picture book. It’s thick enough for those students who want to move on to the challenge of a chapter book but are not yet ready for that much text.

Change the Form of Writing

I have found that students who are good readers of fiction are not necessarily experienced consumers of non-fiction and vice versa. Exposing students to new forms of text takes away barriers.

Wordless Books

Wordless books fit into the graphic novel category in that stories are told visually. Reading a visual story is no less a form of literacy than is reading printed words. These multi-literateracies are increasingly important and students are exposed to different kinds of text than students of twenty years ago were. Often words and pictures are so interrelated that it’s important to develop an ease with reading the flow of a page.

Listen to Reading and Developing Multi-Literateracies

Listening to an audio book while following along with the print version is a way to develop that ability to “hear” the words we read. How many times as an adult reader have you heard someone say a word and are pretty sure they are actually pronouncing it wrong because you have only ever seen it in print? Seeing and hearing lows for multi-modal input. And listening alone while responding to literature is an important skill, too.

Read Instruction Manuals! 

Can’t hook a kid on books? Try a different form! Lego instruction manuals, Minecraft hacks, cook books, craft books: all a good way to blend text with images with student engagement and desire to learn about something of interest to them.

Model Reading Behaviour

One of the best things we can do as classroom teachers is model for students what gets us excited. Reading is fun! If we want students to believe it then we have to let them see us do it! Occasionally, spend your silent reading period curled up with a good book alongside students. Talk books with kids in the library as they browse. Listen to what they like about their books and tell them why you pulled the books you did!

Happy reading everyone! I would love to hear about how you hook your readers, too!

The Deskless Classroom: Environment as the Third Teacher

The grammar of the classroom tells us what is possible there, tells the learner what to expect, how to act, how to interact, what is important.

You know those teacher dreams that happen in the last few days of summer where a classroom full of kids just won’t sit and listen no matter what the teacher says or does? Those are the dreams I had the week of the big reveal where we created our room and I knew I was in for something different. Our space now is unlike any space I have taught in before; wholly owned by students. I love that it has truly taken me away from being the centre of attention and creating space for student agency.

This is a space where design follows purpose.

Visible: The Word Wall, The Share Wall (which students REALLY want to be a Lego wall, but budget constraints mean they will have to content themselves with the Learning Commons Lego wall), Student-created bulletin boards

 

I never would have imagined at the outset what an all encompassing project this would be (but, Tracy, you’d say, didn’t you plan it?) the answer is yes, but it took more effort and more time than I expected, but the payoff was also far greater than I expected.

 

Visible: The Art Gallery, The Tipi (currently a tent that will be replaced after consultation with an expert) The Dojo: where students become leaders

 

My students can do math about our space. My students can discuss our space in French. My students plan and own their learning and the products that will be made in our space. My students are excited to be here. My students own this space!

What did they learn?

The students built on the 21st century competencies outlined in the ministerial order on learning in Alberta.

They collaborated, problem solved, researched, and communicated solutions, all in French!

Collaboration Café: Knowing I wanted a sofa in the classroom, I haunted Kijiji for several weeks before scoring a deal on an Ikea loveseat that the seller had not even unboxed yet!

 

Making the Maker Space: probably one of the classroom spaces the atudents are most proud of

 

 

 

The Stage: this space was supposed to be a raised balcony in the class with a reading space underneath but a budget of zero meant using what was already in the school. The stage will be the floor while seating is raised.

 

The Alphabet: some students still need support with letter formation and alphabetical order. The low placement allows students to interact with it.

 

The Traveling Trolley: contains our Daily 5 word work stations as I teach ELA in two classrooms.

 

The Genius Bar: a stand-up workspace with built-in storage

 

Teacher Space: an unexpected benefit of having no teacher desk: I have no place to leave my stuff out at the end of the day. My space is tidy(ish) and filed at the end of every day!

 

The reading corner/ collaboration café

 

The Low Table
If there is low seating it follows that there should also be tall seating, right?

 

A reflection at the end of the build on what might be possible here!

 

But what would you do differently?

The question was asked by a colleague who appreciated the space but wondered what I learned.

  • I would have owned less of it – let the students create more and solve more problems. Want a sofa but have $0? Let’s find a creative way to solve this… make it with cardboard, repurpose old furniture, have a bake sale…
  • I would slow down more. I felt pressure to have the space completed, but it was such a rich learning project that it could easily have been given more time.

This is a space that will need to be remade at regular intervals to meet our current needs. 

When we have a minute, I will have my students podcast about their learning.

On a related note: one of my students from last year dropped in last week to share his genius hour project where he read a novel, wrote a script, and filmed a stop-motion animation book trailer, and now my new group of students is fired up and ready to start creating!

Literature in the Math Classroom: Robert Munsch

This post was inspired by Darling Son’s bedtime stories, as my classroom lessons often are. This is our chance to catch up at the end of the day, but the teacher in me often uses what we read together in my classroom. Tonight, The Boy in the Drawer rang a bell for me as I’m working on measurement with my students through our classroom redesign project.

As suggested by Geri Lorway during last school-year’s math in residency, I’m starting the year with measurement as it integrates so many of the skills students will be using through the year. This post is just an odd collection of stories that I have used in the Grade Three classroom to support our math work. I developed a project-based unit, which I have been using to start the year, with a colleague, Isabelle Bujold, who I attended a PBL workshop lead by Charity Allen with in the spring of 2015.

More on that in another post.


Math and literature are made for each other; after all, story is everywhere and looking for math in literature is a good way to get students in the habit of looking for math in the everyday stories around them. When we are looking for rich, open-middle or open-ended math tasks, what better place than to begin with story.

What follows are just a few ideas and I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Usually as we read, I ask students what kind of math questions we might be asking, which they record using a mind map in their math journals (an unlined notebook. I like the unlined notebooks because it lends itself to students representing math thinking using the strategy that works best for them. Otherwise, I usually like to have students record math on graph paper as it helps keep things organized.)

Moira’s Birthday Party

Moira wants to invite the entire school to get birthday party! What math questions might we ask as we read? How did you estimate the total number of guests at the party? How many more cakes will come in the second delivery? What will be the total cost of the cakes? What information will we still need to gather to answer this question? What will be the cost of the pizzas? Where can we look to find the price of the pizzas? How can the pizzas and cakes be divided amongst the guests?

Materials: pencil, paper, fraction manipulatives, pizza flyers (or online), grocery story fliers (or online)

The Boy in the Drawer


In this story, a little girl is bothered by a little boy who shows up in her sock drawer. The more she tries mean tricks to get rid of him the taller he grows. She learns that kindness is the only way to get rid of him.

I used this book in the math classroom to have students work on measurement. They each chose a starting size for the little boy and each time he grows they add to his height.

Extension: have students estimate: how much water will it take to fill up a bread box? Estimate the number of socks in Shelley’s bedroom. What are you using to help estimate?

Materials: pencil, large paper, centimetre rulers, meter sticks, water and a breadbox (why not try it for real?)

Stinky Socks

For this little girl a new pair of socks is a big deal! What math questions might we ask about this story? What information do we still need to gather?

Materials: pencil, paper, catalogues, scissors, glue

Alligator Baby

This little girl’s parents end up making several trips to the zoo in the search for their own baby! What information do we still need to know to do the math? What distance will this family have covered in their car and on bike? What would be a good unit of measure to measure that distance? (mm, cm, km?) How tall is each of the babies? What unit of measure might we use?

Down the Drain  

Adam asks his father to buy him many items. What math questions might we ask about this story? Where will we find the information we need to finish our math story? What is the estimated total of what his father bought? What is the actual total of what he bought? Why do we estimate?

Materials: pencil, paper, catalogues, scissors, glue

Fun with Procedural Writing

We found inspiration in How to Train a Train, which my students enjoyed in spite of its very simple story.

  
After reading, we brainstormed the elements of procedural writing. Students determined that there had to be a title, an introduction, several steps that each started with a verb and an evaluation step so that the person following the instructions would know whether or not they had succeeded.

Then students headed off to try their hands at writing through the writer’s workshop procedure.

They had a blast brainstorming what their “how to” might be about.

The rest of the week will be very busy with innovation fair and celebration of learning so we have a few fun things planned for the spaces where we are not otherwise tied up.

Students will read and write recipes, which will support our work in ELA procedural writing and math fractions. We will be cooking but I haven’t yet decided what to cook as I think that will depend on how hot it gets this week… Maybe we’ll make ice cream!

I think we’ll finish off the week with this cute idea:

 
Procedural writing about how to blow a bubble and then we’ll blow some bubble gum bubbles and write our successful attempts as a fraction of the total number of attempts. 

Some days you just need to play while learning 😉

Literacy and The Power of Wordless Books

Wordless books are such a powerful source of inspiration in my classroom. As an immersion teacher, one of my primary concerns for students is always in building their vocabulary (it’s pretty hard to read, write, listen and speak without words), and increasingly, my immersion classroom is also a learning space for ELL students. As a budget concious teacher, I love that wordless books serve my classroom in both English and French.

I find that there is something magical about a book printed on paper and shared with a group of students sitting near enough to see the images. When sharing a book with my class I ask them to be patient as there are sometimes small enough details that it takes a minute for me to show the book around to the entire group.

For very young students, wordless books allow children to demonstrate reading behaviour as they develop the literacy skills to make sense of text.

But wordless books aren’t limited to only very young students. I have used wordless books with every level from Grade 1 to Grade 8.


Use them to talk

Wordless books are an excellent source of vocabulary. One of the activities we do is a PWIM (picture word induction method) type activity where students look through the book and “shake out” as much vocabulary as they can find. Students write this vocabulary on sticky notes, which we post in the classroom and use for writing later.

Use them to tell
Wordless books are a great way to take away the intimidation factor in getting students to use second-language vocabulary. As we read, I often ask students to turn and talk to a neighbour about the action occurring on the page. The key to success with talk time is to keep it short! 30-45 seconds max! After that, students tend to get into off-task discussions. This is a one sentence discussion. I will often ask students to make connections or predictions as we read. This is a structured response (In the book when ________ happened, I made a connection to ________ in my own life when______). I don’t use a “fill-in-the-blank” format, but I want students to use a formal structure for responding or predicting and to think critically about their reading.


Use them to write 

Asking students to write using wordless books is a great way to take out the intimidation factor of not knowing where to start. There are lots of ways to have students write:

1. Each student write a one-paragraph part of the story. In the end you have one coherent story to publish as a class.


2. Each student write the entire story. Each page can be one or two interesting sentences.


3. Each student write a well-developed short story about a single image and the class publish a collection of short stories at the end.



The Book With No Pictures 

Now for the complete opposite! The Book With No Pictures is an awesome way to illustrate the power of interesting language and effective punctuation for students. It’s funny and students love to play with the voice of the author.
  
After reading a book with students I will leave it out as a highlighted book in the classroom library for about a week or so. The highlighted book of the week becomes a hot commodity for a while and then I usually put it away to help it maintain its magic. When I put it back out again months later, students are delighted to “rediscover a book”.

Wordless books are an excellent way to integrate technology into the classroom, too. For me, there is something very visceral about opening the pages of a physical book and I think for children that turning the pages of a physical book is important, too. A good way to integrate technology at this point would be to use an iPad as a part of publishing student work. I have used book creator to photograph each page from the book and add student text directly onto the original author’s page. I have alternated pages (one from the author, one by a student author). This app also allows students to record their voices as they tell the story (good way to integrate speaking as story telling).

I think that wordless books really support the multi-literacies required of children in today’s classrooms. Today’s child is exposed to many types of text where not only the words on the page are important to understanding the message but where images have an equal importance in helping the reader understand.

Permaculture/ Community Garden Project: part 2

I really had a lot of fun teaching today and just want to reflect on the successes we had in the classroom today.

My teaching partner organized a guest speaker today who is the grand-parent of one of our students. He put a lot of time into organizing our guest for the day and preparing the links to King George’s community garden/ ecology project.

We started off our inquiry by asking a question: what do bees contribute to our ecology?

As soon as students entered the room there was a different energy as they noticed that many artifacts had already been set up around the room. Our guest speaker was a francophone, so it was interesting for students to hear another new accent and learn lots of vocabulary.

While Burt presented, Robert and I took notes in a way that students are accustomed to seeing: on chart paper.

After the presentation, students had the opportunity to explore the artifacts and taste fresh honey.

They took a short break for recess and were then ready to organize their ideas. We began with an open reflection in their visual journals where students were invited to reflect through images and words about what they remembered or most enjoyed.

After the initial reflection, we gathered students to reflect together and to organize notes into 4 student-chosen categories. They colour-coded their notes and organized them into a concept web, which they will use in the following days to write a well-organized essay.

Part of the purpose of this modeling is to guide students in their genius hour work. While we had only planned on an hour for the presentation and reflection, the lesson actually extended all morning and unfolded rather organically. It was so much fun to play off of each other’s strengths and to build a lesson that was so rich for our students.

Poetry Month

  April is poetry month. This month we celebrated by reading and writing poetry and playing with figurative language.

The poetry of Shel Silverstein inspired us to write many different kinds of poetry: list poems, concrete poems, rhyming poems and epigrams.

Today we read the book “Green” by Laura Vaccaro Seeger, which inspired us to explore color and to create interesting imagery. I read the story and students took talk time to tell one another an interesting sentence about what they saw. Then students used paint cards to write a colour-inspired poem. I was really excited to see how engaged they were in writing.
   

 

 

I would definitely say that this was a success.

How can I use technology in my classroom: Googledocs

These days I have been challenged to integrate technology in a classroom where I am not in charge of all of the technology. In the past, I have run a one-to-one classroom and found it easy to integrate technology all day long everyday. Now that I am sharing with the school and have to very deliberately book technology time for my students, it has changed the way we use it.

I have recently begun using GAFE with my students and with some other groups around the school. With my students in third grade, I found that it was easy to integrate by training up a few students and then using them as my “expert” students to get everyone going.

I find that Googledocs is one of the easiest places for my students to work, as they then have immediate access to their documents at home. In addition, I ask that my students share documents with me when they are ready to for teacher feedback. I can use the comment function in the student document and provide students with an immediate, just-in-time, mini-lesson related to their work and they are able to integrate the feedback immediately without having to copy out their entire document a second time.

This has been a good way to interact with students and I feel that it has improved the quality of their work.

 

The wonder wall

The wonder wall came about quite by accident one day. To be honest, open house was coming up so I hastily threw a hand-made “tableau de découvertes” poster up on the blank bulletin board, not knowing really what I had in mind but knowing that I wanted it to be an organic place for students to ask questions and share answers.

Then after parent night, the board was left alone until we went outside to observe the soundscape around our school. When we came back in we discussed what we had observed with all of our senses. One of the students remarked that she had seen pussy willows. My teaching partner noted that it was impossible for pussy willows to be out because it was the wrong season.

This was the question that constructivists seek: that moment where a learner’s understanding is challenged and the paradigm is forced to shift. I was just so happy to see the moment come so organically.

If it was impossible, how had our student made such an observation? The next time we went outside we looked for pussy willows… And sure enough they were there. Not because they were ripe and had opened on their own but because students had stripped them off the branches and had dropped them on the ground. We took one of the stripped branches and stuck it up on our bulletin board. Next, the questions started to come fast and furious: what would happen to the plant if all of the pussy willows were stripped off? Would birds eat them? Immediately, we needed a place to organize our questions. I stuck up three large sheets of paper for “my questions”, “what I think I know”, things I have learned” and the side of the board was reserved for “ideas that turned out to be mistaken”.

As the weeks passed, students were welcome to add questions and to add answers they thought they already knew. The wonder wall has been quiet over the last few days, but we are ready to give it another boost next week when we begin some student-lead research. My assistant principal @shafinad has shared the brilliant app aurasma with me and I’m so excited to have the students start creating videos that link directly from the wonder wall to videos of their learning! In the past I have created similar “off the wall” projects that linked from QR codes, but I think the Aurasma will be much more dynamic and students will be more inclined to scan one another’s work.

I would love to guide students to linking their work from last year on animals to their research this year. I think it would show them that the work they do never has to be entirely left in the past. In addition, it takes the work out of the four walls of the classroom and into the up-and-coming-learning-commons.

More to come!

How can I use technology in my classroom: blogs

I have used edublogs for some time now with lots of success. I like that it meets the CBEs tools 2.0 guidelines (this is key!) as everything can be locked down and moderated by me with lots of freedom for students. There is an app, which makes it easy for students to access. There is a cost for the pro version ($39 for a single classroom with a max of 50 blogs or a bulk upgrade that works out to about $8 per classroom), but I consider one of the costs of doing business. I have always allowed myself a certain budget for classroom extras like smelly stickers, coloured sticky notes, etc… whatever makes it fun to be in my classroom, but have recently begun to allocate my personal budget to technology-based expenses, like blogs. Our Calgary Public students also have the option to blog using D2L, which I think could be fairly easy, but requires students to log in, adding a small layer of complication for young students, but also adding a layer of security.

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Students have quickly developed the habits of good bloggers. They visit often. I often use blogs as enrichment work, where students who are “done early” can go and write. In grade one, we use them often for sentence writing using dictée words. In grade four I used them for movie and book reviews, book reflections, and word work.

My students have developed the habit of taking pictures of work that cannot be recorded otherwise (for example, building with shapes) and posting to their blogs. This way students can mark up their work and tag it so that they can easily find it and reflect on it later.

Students have the ability to read and post on other students’ work, which requires some pre-teaching around good Internet citizenship, but even after all these years, I have never had a student post an inappropriate comment.

My tips:

1. use a common login name and password and make it as short as possible especially for young learners.

2. Set up the edublogs app on your ipad and plug in all student names so that when they go to login all they have to do is find their name and click on it.

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3. Name blogs with a common name and link all blogs from your class page. This way students can easily find each other’s blogs.

4. Don’t force it. If you have students who are reluctant to blog you can’t force them to share. My feeling is that we need to respect the feelings of students who feel self-concious about sharing. In the past, I have had these students keep a paper journal when their peers were blogging on the computer or to have them blog, but to lock their page with a different password that was only known to me and her parents.

5. Decide how you want to use the blogs. I have a class blog, which students are welcome to post on, and individual student blogs, which students tend to use most often.

6. Use the blogs OFTEN! I have found that by sharing the fact that I blog, blogging often with students, and frequently sharing their blogs in class, students have become excited about their blogs. It is a way to make their learning explicit and they enjoy sharing.

But aren’t I just making extra work for myself?

I think it’s true that what you do in your classroom must follow your own personal interests and students tend to adapt from year to year. There are teachers who love music and students spend a year learning through music, there are teachers who love art and students spend a year learning through art. Technology is no different. Students in my classroom tend to get an immersion in technology for a year but it’s no different that any other creative extension in our classrooms. It allows students to speak, to photograph, to make movies and to express their learning in ways other than pencil and paper. I find moderating blogs and providing feedback no different than when I sit down at my desk with a basket full of journals and a purple pen (I love my purple pen!) except that I know my students are more likely to read the feedback and questions written on their blog and making edits and revisions becomes simple.

Moderation generally takes me a few minutes per week for comments and the same amount of time I spend marking journals per week. I have everything tied to my own smart devices and tend to moderate “as I find the time”… a few minutes after school, recess time, a few minutes before school.

With blogs, students know they have an audience and I find the quality of their work tends to improve as they know they are being read.

I generally use the blogs for the year I am with students and leave them open to my students for the year following. Most students lose interest in their blogs after leaving my classroom, but there are always a couple who continue to publish without prompting.

I personally blog at the value of wonder to share ideas and keep a record of my “good” ideas. I don’t know about you, but the last time I changed classrooms I moved 10 large Rubbermaid totes. Which is ridiculous. Time to start keeping a digital record of what works and what doesn’t. I love that my posts can be tagged for easy finding later on. Looking for a quick idea to throw in a math centre? I just have to look at my tags.

Excellent examples of teachers using blogs in primary schools include Kathy Cassidy and Danielle Maley.