Story, a powerful teacher

I’m not sure what to call what I’m attempting… maybe “author study plus” where the “plus” means more authors and more subject areas? The following is a list of the books I plan to read aloud with my Grade 3s this year as we work to find our place and tell its story. It is far from exhaustive and the work of planning is in another document. It’s a bit hard to say at the beginning where exactly our work will end up because there is always an element student questioning to drive the learning, but in planning for inquiry, there is a great deal of laying ground work for student and teacher understanding. I am using the Designing Worthwhile Work template available through the Galileo Network and would be happy to share or collaborate if you leave a comment or message me.

I started planning after having read a couple of foundational books. Foundational in that they influenced my thinking around what I understand to be true. This summer, I am participating in a Twitter slow chat surrounding the calls for Truth and Reconciliation by reading “In This Together; Fifteen Stories of Truth and Reconciliation” and discussing using the #2k16reads hashtag. The book and the conversation have pushed my thinking in a new direction and there were several “aha” moments.

I don’t claim to have the answers but I am willing to demonstrate that I am a learner, too. I begin with this:

North is not always up.

  

Richard Louv‘s Last Child in the Woods introduced me to the idea of “affinity for place”, which fits with the concept of situated cognition, in which what we know is directly related to where and how we know. I’m going to come back to this idea when I discuss Bouchard’s If You’re Not From the Prairie (Si tu n’es pas de la prairie).

The slow chat question asked was: In what ways do the TRC’s Calls to Action provide a roadmap for teaching and learning? How will you bring the discussion of #2k16reads into the classroom?

It took a really long time to come up with an answer. For me, the first step is creating empathy, which often starts in books. Bibliotherapy is a powerful tool in helping students to understand the perspective of others. I have deliberately chosen books written by First Nations and Métis authors because I want the perspective to be honest and authentic and I think the reading of these books will take the whole year. I deliberately chose bilingual titles because I want student thinking to happen in both languages. Many of the books I chose are also written in a First Nations Language.

What is the role of language in shaping our identity?

What does language have to do with “quality of life”?

I discovered David Bouchard by accident. Wandering through the library, the book Long Powwow Nights was on the top of a shelf and, knowing the question I was working on, I picked it up to read later. Later, it took my breath away. Literally. Which lead me to explore Bouchard’s other work. This reminded me of the importance of letting a question sit, sometimes for an uncomfortably long time. Answers come sometimes by accident.

An author study of David Bouchard plus others will lead into the work we will do for the year related to Canada’s 150th. Students will find their connection to these stories and my hope is that it will give them an entry point for telling their story and the story of their connection to this land and all of its people.

The first book, Voices From the Wild might be the most accessible of the ones I chose in that the subject matter, animals, is familiar to primary students, so I think this is where the work will begin. Inquiry, art and writing in French and English, and I see it continuing culminating in a year-end project that will include an interactive book and art project.

The Secret of Your Name begins with a message that it should be read without interruption an preferably in a natural place. Students will explore the power of a name.

 

Our author study will be a bilingual exploration of literature related to place. The beauty of these books is in the way they evoke emotion related to place. Visual journaling and the use of all of our senses to experience place will be a tool in our exploration.

The following books still need some planning on my part:

How do you create identity? What is the role of recreation in quality of life? How is this story the same as/ different from Carrier’s Le chandail de hockey?
  
  

What is the purpose of school? Who are teachers?
  

Where did your place get its name?

  
Long Powwow Nights by David Bouchard and Pam Aleekuk will provoke students to make connections (text-to-text, text-to-self, and text-to-world). Because it’s written as a poem, the meaning of it is not necessarily accessible on first reading and it will take a couple of reads with lots of patience to make inferences and connections. In addition, “See, Think, Wonder” would be a powerful inquiry approach to this book as the art and story are beautiful and complex. For me, Long Powwow Nights was the most beautiful of the books I read and one that literally took my breath away, but it might be one of the most difficult books at the same time because I think it requires a deep understanding of what it means to inhabit one’s culture.

 

The books by Tomson Highway contain beautiful art and tell the story of a family caring for one another and living their lives connected to their environment. I hope they will lead to a discussion about how environment contributes to our quality of life.


Shin-shi’s Canoe and Shi-shi-etko by Kim LaFave explore residential schools in a way that’s accessible for young learners without being too frightening or overwhelming. I think they will lend themselves well to a conversation about home and education and what contributes to a good quality of life when paired with the documentary film Sur le chemin de l’école.




  

Tant que couleront les rivières (As Long as the Rivers Flow) by Larry Loyie is a touching true story about a young boy in the forties sent to residential school.

   

 Wilfred Burton, an educator I met while working in Regina, Saskatchewan, wrote these stories that explore the Métis perspective and introduce the importance of dance and music as a part of identity.

A beautiful picture book that explores the what and how of peace, Hiawatha and the Peacemaker, will hopefully inspire a conversation about how we are better together.

How will we integrate technology?

I think that digital tools need to follow the learning. As I start to plan, I see the following being useful with lots of leeway for additions and subtractions. We will use:

  1. Digital portfolios
  2. Podcasting
  3. Augmented reality
  4. QR codes
  5. Books, ebooks, audio books

I don’t know if I’ve done justice to my thought process here and there is still so much planning to do. This is just an overview as I start to plan and far from being a complete unit plan but it’s a starting point for me. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about this work; my intention is not to provoke a political conversation but to evoke empathy for myself and my students. There is enormous power in experiencing the story of others and in finding your connection to those stories.

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.

Exemplars 

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!

Mind: blown

How do I even begin to consolidate my learning over the past three days? There is Just. So. Much. My mind is left feeling completely full.

You know that amazing feeling of being amongst your tribe? That.

Probably the most valuable part of the conference is the people. Reconnecting with former colleagues, growing my PLN, meeting presenters, watching kids own their learning. I feel like I thought I was a techie teacher before attending the conference. I used to work in a classroom where I had the luxury of 1:1 access 100% of the time and it was good but I now feel like I know so much more. I got some confirmation that I’m on the right track, but there is still so much growing to do.

There were so many times when I had to stop someone and ask them to clarify the vocabulary they were using… So many acronyms, and platforms, and software, and hardware… Oh my…. But this was a place where it was ok to do that and I never once was made to feel dumb for asking a question.

A wise colleague, @shafinad, said before I left home to concentrate on learning one thing and to focus my efforts there. Thank goodness for that. Her advice kept steering me in the right direction every time I walked into a playground or a poster session and didn’t know where to look. There is a ton of money to be spent in the expo and the pace of technological change is overwhelming, but I feel that not being able to drop money on every cool new gadget forces us to be more creative and to make something better in the end.

I really used my technological tools as a learner in addition to being a teacher. I photographed, Evernoted, Skitched, Tweeted, and blogged. I am left with so many tools to learn and to try.

For me, ISTE has been not only about technology integration, but also about making for learning, student engagement, and iterative design in classrooms.

I am leaving ISTE with a ton of great ideas and knowing that my classroom next year will be something I have never tried before. This is an idea that really occurred to me last night as I was attempting to fall asleep: I ask my students to try all the time and expect them to make mistakes but to try again, but I don’t often allow myself the liberty of failure. The next school year will look different, and I’m not sure what it will look like in the end. I know my students will learn. I am certain that I will learn, too.

Over the coming weeks I will put some ideas together for what that might look like and look forward to sharing the results with you!

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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.

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.

 

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.

Eric Carle Artist Study

I have been working over the past few weeks on an author study on Eric Carle with my grade ones. We have been working on the needs of plants and animals in science, so his books fit in nicely. This art project took place in three parts:

1. Tissue paper painting. This did not work so well for me. A half a dozen of my students created beautiful pieces but most had a hard time understanding what the final project was to look like. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

2. Eric Carle butterflies. Students each painted four sheets of paper. The instruction was to use vibrant colours that were neighbours on the colour wheel.

3. Cut out the shapes to form a butterfly and glue them onto large white background paper. I liked the result so much that I decided to use the same style for our classroom collaborative art project that will be auctioned off in a school fundraiser this spring. I cut small papers 3″x3″ and had students create butterflies, houses, community buildings, and people and plants we see in our community. They were allowed to let the art escape the confines of their paper and the effect was beautiful. I will choose enough art so that each child is represented in the auction piece and the remaining “inchies” will be matted and sent home as Mother’s Day gifts.

Eventually the art will be linked via QR code to the students’ blogs, which will host their related inquiry work on Alberta lakes and animals.

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