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 CafĂ© 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!

 

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.

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.

The “Studio”

I began working with puppets in the primary classroom many years ago when I first attended a workshop on francisation and how to encourage the use of French among children who were born of Francophone parents but who’s families no longer used French at home. Paul et Suzanne were introduced to me! Two simple puppets who I used in the classroom all the time to demonstrate a back-and-forth conversation. My students at the time really connected with our “special guests” who often expressed happiness or disappointment, depending on my needs 🙂

Fast forward a few years…

I have been slowly integrating puppets back into my grade one classroom. My school has had a focus on Lister’s approach to intensive French and I was looking for a way to model a conversation for my students. After modelling, my puppet would travel the classroom.

I asked the first student: qu’est-ce que tu as mangĂ© ce matin?

Student: j’ai mangĂ© une pomme.

Puppet: ah! Tu as mangé une pomme?

Student: oui! J’aime les pommes! Et toi? Qu’est-ce que tu as mangĂ©?

Puppet: j’ai mangĂ© trios carottes!

Student: ah! Tu as mangé trois carottes!

Puppet: oui! J’aime les carottes!

The conversation took a couple of weeks to build using the intensive French model, but in the end my students were able to have a fairly organic conversation. I think it’s still a work in progress, but I’m excited to see where it goes.

Following this, we opened a “production studio” in a corner of our classroom. It required three people on a team: two puppet masters and a director to work the camera (we just used photo booth). In the video you can hear me coaching a bit, but following this, I left the studio open during literacy centres and listened in on their conversations. Pretty exciting to hear and I had a hard time keeping kids out of the studio when I wanted them to sit back down!

Our current plan is to leave the studio open and share the results during a school assembly.

A technical note: I found that the classroom has to be quite quiet to make it work so that we can hear the dialogue. We might try opening the centre during reading time and using a couple of mics. My class generally reads silently for 10 minutes after lunch while I work on guided reading with a small group. I don’t see why I couldn’t also have a small group working in the studio at the same time.