Almost Reading

This weekend, we were fortunate to have our grandchildren sleepover. Three and five years old. As I was reading to the five-year-old, I noticed a new behaviour: she was echoing my voice as I was reading.

If it was a familiar book, she was quietly saying the words she knew along with me. If it was an unfamiliar book, her voice still echoed mine but not necessarily with words: perhaps a sing-songy murmur best describes it. She paused when I paused and she mimicked my changes in expression and intonation.

She asked for multiple rereadings of all books. As she became more familiar with the stories, her sing-songy murmur became more recognizable. I even overheard her reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar to her brother shortly after we had read it numerous times.

Although not quite reading, she now recognizes that groups of letters form words. She can track simple sentences and she is also beginning to recognize a few written words. (The word red seems to be her favourite at the moment.)

As I’ve said many times before: kids have an intense desire to enter the world of the literate. Annabella is awfully close…

Always Learning

Last week I entered a grade four classroom to teach a lesson. Four other teachers followed me into the class and the students were surprised to see so many adults in the room. When the classroom teacher introduced me, she explained that I was there to teach both the students and the teachers.

As I sat at the computer to pull up my documents, a student close to me whispered, “Who teaches you?”

I love that she asked this question! My answer?

“Well, sometimes books are my teachers, sometimes other teachers are my teachers, and sometimes students are my teachers, too.”

The look on her face was priceless as she said, “Really?”

“Really.”

She smiled and said, “Hmmph.”

Whether I am reading, attending PD, planning and facilitating sessions, working one-on-one with teachers, or teaching students, I am always learning.

For the record, I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon… there is always more to learn!

Creating a Culture of Literacy (with LOVE)

At the end of last week, I was fortunate to attend the International Literacy Association Conference. I have been before and thought I knew what to expect: expertise on the teaching of reading, writing, assessment, and the importance of oral language. And then I heard this: love. I did not expect to hear this word time and again during a literacy conference. Literacy, yes. Love, no. And yet I did.

One of the keynote speakers – Hamish Brewer, a principal – challenged us to love ’em. Love all of them. Tell them we love ’em. Recognize that each one of our students deserves our love. See every child as an opportunity and not an obligation. Leave no one behind.

This love, these relationships, become the foundation for our literacy classrooms. When students know we love them, they are much more willing to work hard for us, to respect us. When students know we love them, they understand that we engage them in literacy pursuits because these pursuits can change their lives. When students know we love them, they feel our confidence in their abilities and learn to believe in themselves.

Author Renee Watson, another one of the keynote speakers, spoke of the role of story. Our choice of literature, the books in our classrooms, can say: “I see you. Your story matters. Where you’re from is important.” Again, love.

This week, consider the culture of literacy in your school. Consider the importance of relationships within this culture. Is a passion for literacy evident when you walk into the building or your classroom? Is this question the norm within your school: What are you reading? Do you value and empower your student voices? Do you show your students that you love them – daily? Do you ever tell them?

Hamish Brewer. I can’t convey his energy and passion through words. If you want to rekindle your passion for teaching and have twelve minutes, watch this video. If you don’t have twelve minutes, just watch the first few.

Set out to create a culture of literacy in your classroom. Do so with love.

A Writing Teacher

When freewriting, I encourage teachers to write with their students. The tone and atmosphere in the classroom changes when we do: both during writing and after.

Together we can explore the emotions when we write: apprehension, joy, frustration, delight. Together we can examine mentor texts and experiment with techniques within our writing. Together we can work to enhance the artistry and clarity of our work.

If I’ve ever been in your classroom, you’ll know that I refer to students as writers. They aren’t trying to become writers, they are writers. This is true for us as teachers, too.

Are we writers by profession? Most of us, no. But do we write? Yes! We write on most days, in fact, in one context or another. Writing is a skill we continue to use day after day. But if we as teachers don’t see ourselves as writers, how can we expect our students to see themselves in this way?

I don’t expect masterpieces from teacher or students. But I do expect regular writing practice and subsequent literary conversations. These conversations are most effective and more meaningful when we write with our students.

Are you a writing teacher?