Last week I hosted another Parent Literacy Evening at an elementary school. I enjoy meeting with parents in this context and listening to the questions they pose. I share favourite books for various ages. I provide simple, effective strategies to support young readers and writers. I talk about the importance of the attitudes shared by parents and the environment created in the home.
Sometimes school staff are disappointed that more parents don’t attend. And yet, those that come, want to be there. Those that come, ask important questions. Those that come, positively impact the literacy lives of their children.
What more can we ask, really?
“Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.”
I’m in the middle of convention season and I’ve been meeting teachers and administrators across the province (with many more to come)!
I love educators who share a passion for learning and improving their practice: those who ask questions, refine their work, strive to be their best selves for their students. Those who know they can never stop learning.
Consider this convention season a mid-year opportunity to learn and reflect:
Do you capitalize on your instructional time with students?
Are your practices based on strong pedagogy?
What should you stop doing in your classroom? What could you start doing?
How are you a positive leader in your school?
How do you ensure that your students know they are safe and valuable in your classroom? Each and every student.
Our work is important work. We have the responsibility and the opportunity to impact student learning, self-concept, and well-being. As John Hattie has said, “Know thy impact.”
Your work matters. You matter… perhaps even more than you realize.
I ventured into the last class of the day during my most recent residency: Kindergarten.
After reading the students a mentor text, I was scaffolding their representation of transformation stories. Students were hard at work illustrating the middle of the transformation story when they spontaneously broke into song: This Little Light of Mine. It began at one table but quickly spread to all. Soft, beautiful, precious five-year-old voices.
This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine. This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine...
When the weight of the world feels heavy, I will return to this moment.
When we consider our newest writers, it is essential that we provide them with the tools they need.
One of the easiest–and yet most important–tools we can provide them with is an alphabet on their desk or table. As our young writers are learning the letters of the alphabet, they need a visual as a reference. Even if they recognize the sounds, when writing, they are now attaching print. Yes, the letter h says /h/, but what does an h look like again? For many, looking up to the alphabet on the wall is one step too many. Whether on a name plate or simply an alphabet on its own, this tool is vital.
With the popularity of sound walls, in some classrooms, word walls have disappeared. And yet, the presence of a word wall–built together with students throughout the year–is another way of empowering our young writers. High-frequency words in particular can be included on the word wall for quick reference. Then, students can spell the other words they need phonetically.
Without these tools, students may seem reluctant to write. With these tools in place, students have an effective starting point, giving them confidence to take risks. The writing follows!
Last week during one of my residency days, I was reminded of the importance of relationships.
I walked into one school (my fourth visit) and a grade four student noticed me in the hallway. She said, “I’m so happy to see you today!” I immediately felt welcome and excited for the day.
One of the morning announcements mentioned the birthday of a teacher assistant. When she walked into the grade three class I was in, the kids stopped to wish her happy birthday. They asked if they could sing to her but the teacher was worried about losing out on my limited time with them. I insisted we sing. People first.
During my time in grade one, a little one leaned into me as if for support or security. He was teary but reluctant to say what was wrong. Despite all of my efforts to coax him to his desk to work, he was back at my side before I could blink. I realized that ‘writing’ was not what he needed that day. He had other needs taking precedent and stay glued to me for the rest of class.
I’m often asked if I miss being in a school–one school. I don’t actually. I feel fortunate to meet many students in many schools. The relationships may not be long-lasting, but I hope our short time together still has an impact on students. The students certainly have an impact on me. I am fortunate to still get cards and pictures, hugs and “I love you’s”. More important, I have the privilege of watching students change their attitudes towards writing.
Did you know that February 1, 2023 is World Read Aloud Day? Join with children, teachers, and families around the world and celebrate the power of story!
How will you and your class participate? Will your students read aloud to younger students in the school? Will you invite a local author to your school? What about accessing some of many the free online events?
Last week during a lesson on dialogue with a grade four class, I was referring to a store clerk. I didn’t explain what it meant–inadvertently assuming that all students would know. Instead, a brave girl asked me what it was. It was a reminder… don’t assume!
Have you had this experience? For me it happens with both students and teachers. Whoever it is we’re working with, it is essential that we avoid assumptions. Better to err on the side of clarity than presume understanding.
Why do we assume to begin with? In the interest of time… an oversight… a little of both maybe. And yet, each of us have different experiences and have journeyed different paths. When I know there are new Canadians in a class, I am a little more cognizant of slowing down and ensuring clarity. When I’m working with new teachers, I tend to be more explicit with my explanations. But really, we should try to keep this front of mind, always.
If you’re looking for a way to explore this idea with students, try the wordless picture book Gold by Jed Alexander. An unexpected spin on Goldilocks and the Three Bears that challenges our assumptions. Check it out!
The new year is a time of optimism… if we choose! We can dwell in daily frustrations or we can begin the year with a fresh outlook. Choosing a word for the year helps determine our perspective. The same is true for our students.
If you ask students to choose a word to guide their year, provide them with inspiration in the form of picture books.
Try one of these to get students talking about words: The Word Collector by Peter H. Reynolds, Stacey’s Extraordinary Words by Stacey Abrams, or The Boy Who Loved Words by Roni Schotter.
Try one of these to talk about goal-setting: Because by Mo Willems, Jeremiah Learns to Read by Jo Bogart, Ruby’s Wish by Shirin Yim Bridges, or Salt in His Shoes by Deloris Jordan.
After student words are chosen, use their words as the basis of an art lesson. How might the word be written on the page? How might they represent their word in images? How might they use line, colour, or pattern to emphasize the meaning of the word?
Through art, students tend to think more deeply about their word and how it may guide them. Displaying the artwork afterwards can serve as both inspiration and a reminder too.
One little word can make a big difference… give it a try!
I often choose a word to guide my year. Some of my previous words have been balance, gratitude, write, joy, live (the verb), becoming, and last year, persistence.
Some of those words were easy choices given what was going on in my life. This year, it’s taken me more time to land on the word that feels just right. To help me decide, I’ve been thinking about the upcoming months; they are going to be demanding and busy. But in a good way. A really good way.
When I resigned from my school district, I was nervous about the road ahead: Would I have work? Could I support myself? Could I balance the time to write with other work that provides a more immediate income?
The answers have pleasantly surprised me: yes!
I’ve even had to turn work down: sometimes because I was already scheduled and sometimes because the work didn’t align with my purpose.
All this to say, my word for 2023 is authenticity. I want to be true to myself. To continue to do what I love. To bring the passion I feel to the work I do. To make decisions that feel right for me. To do work that is meaningful and supports my belief in the power of literacy.
Authenticity. My word and my goal for 2023.
What about you? Did you choose a word for the year? Have you ever asked students to decide on one little word?
With increasing food costs and a rising cost of living, this year has been tough for many. For some families, books are an extra they just can’t afford. If you are able to donate this season, consider joining me in giving the gift of literacy.
Give books! Where? Check the guidelines of your local women’s shelters, public libraries, children’s hospitals, seniors’ residences, or simply add to the little free library down your street. Keep in mind, some organizations require new books but some accept used, too.