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!


10 Hacks for Reluctant Writers

I recently put some thought into how I motivate reluctant writers. Sometimes a pencil and a blank page is overwhelming for students.

Introduce a collaborative element

Teach students how to collaborate on writing projects. This can happen on paper or it might happen through collaborative writing platforms like Google. Sometime students just need to know that the work they create will get outside of the notebook and be read to get things started.

Use a frame

Sometime students need a starter to get their creative juices flowing. It’s less intimidating to know what the writing expectation is.

Don’t use a frame

That being said, don’t use a frame for every single writing activity. Writing is creative and I think it should remain so. Wile students sometimes need a framework they also sometimes need to run without a fence.

Use inspirational books and short films

One of my favourite sources of inspiration is wordless books, which we talk about to to build vocabulary before sitting down to write. Lately, I have discovered that short, wordless films are fun to write from, too. Don’t be afraid to stop the film often to shake loose vocabulary like a PWIM-type activity but also watch the film as it’s intended to be watched to catch the artistry of the film making. Generally shorts are only a few minutes long.


Students need models of what good writing looks like. It’s hard to reach for exemplary writing without knowing the elements of good writing. I think this is also an important place to let tudents have another go. I have found that discussing a draft with a student and comparing it to exemplars and then inviting them to revise and edit has improved the quality of their work.

Model writing behaviour

Students need to see what writers look like when they do their work. There are times during Daily 5 literacy activities where I also sit down and write. When I do, though, I work with pen and paper because I want students to know I’m writing and not checking email or surfing for lesson plans.

Be a writer

Similar to model writing behaviour, but I think we need to discuss purposes for writing with students. As adults where do we write? Shopping lists, blogs, emails, book reviews for Goodreads? Share! Students need to see that we are lifelong learners.

Write like a Pirate! Use a hook!

(To borrow a phrase from Paul Solarz’ book Learn Like a Pirate.) Students need a reason to write! Help them find one! A teaching colleague recently shared his hook: the classroom mascot had gone missing! Students wrote wanted posters and morning announcements that for the entire school talking!

Journals, blogs, scripts, lists! Change the mode!

What did you do on the weekend?” Worst. Prompt. Ever. I think students need to be exposed to different formats to find the joy in writing. What about instead of a narrative recount of the weekend students wrote a script about the funniest moment? What about a blog with hyperlinks? How about a visual journal? Or ditch the weekend in review and seek a more interesting topic! Ask what questions they have asked lately! This one takes habit to cultivate. We get so in the habit of ignoring curiosity or resorting to Google. What if we just “wondered” and then wrote about where that took our imaginations?

Provide alternatives

Talk to text can be a powerful tool. I witnessed a student this week who got frustrated by not being able to tell his story in print. He gabbed an iPad, used Pages to dictate the story, edited for errors, and exported the text to Google to share. That child knew what he needed and was able to fully express his idea (and you should have seen the pride on his face)!

I’m always on the lookout for more ideas! Let me know how you encourage writing in your classroom!