Now is the Time!

During the first days of school, much of our time is spent establishing routines and setting expectations. As part of these new beginnings, it can be helpful to develop a weekly language arts schedule. Rather than plan each day at a time, a weekly schedule can ensure that we target all strands of language learning and alleviate some of the daily pressures of planning.

As for writing, the first two weeks of school are a perfect time to introduce three forms of low-stakes writing: journals, reader response, and freewriting. These forms of writing can then be embedded into your weekly schedule. Each serves a different purpose and accomplishes a variety of outcomes. Most importantly, if introduced effectively, they can help break down barriers to writing. Then, when we want to teach specific skills, students are more receptive.

Now is the time! You have a marvellous opportunity to affect the mindset of your students. Happy…

A Delicate Balance

In my area of the country, those in year round schools return to school this week. There are others that know once mid-August hits, yet another summer break quickly comes to a close.

Most teachers I know love going back to school and the firsts and news that come along with it: first day back with staff, first day with new students, new clothes, new school supplies, new beginnings. And yet even if we love those firsts and news, there is often regret that another summer has come and gone, and some anxiety too.

Each Sunday, Maria Shriver’s Sunday Paper graces my inbox. Today’s issue concluded with this Sunday evening reminder: “You can look at the week ahead with fear, anxiety, and apprehension. Or you can decide to simply be grateful that you are here, that you are alive, and that you have the power to choose how you look at life. Choose hope, choose to rise above whatever scares you. I’ve got you. Let’s go!”

Regardless of who we are or what we do, these words may resonate.

Today I am grateful to be alive. I am grateful to sit and watch the birds at the feeder as I write this. I am grateful to spend my days with family and friends that I love. Yes, there is loss and grief. But I am learning to hold those alongside the joy and hope. There is room for it all.

Changing Habits

We’ve had a summer of loss. As I’ve been grieving one death and then another, I’ve noticed something about my reading habits. They’re in flux. I still crave time reading but I’ve been much slower and rereading the same line or page many times over.

What I crave to read has changed too. Typically, I have both a non-fiction and fiction book on the go. I’ve realized that non-fiction has been challenging for me over the last six weeks. I read what I need to for research, but I can’t seem to focus on non-fiction for long.

Last week I wanted to escape into a book of fiction as I often do. Instead of something new, I returned to an old favourite series where the characters and setting are familiar. Opening the book was comfort, a feeling of going home. In the middle grade novel Alone, the main character says this about rereading favourite books: “Old friends to smooth the hard edges of being frightened and alone.” Old friends within the pages of a book. That’s what I craved.

In the literacy sessions I give to parents, I’ve had many share their concern that their children gravitate to one particular series, a series that they’ve read before. I reassure them that, in time, they will move onto something else. This summer has confirmed for me that perhaps, our children too, need these old friends. They will eventually stumble upon something else… perhaps something that we conveniently put in front of them. They will find new favourites and their habits will change–throughout their lives.

There is certainly nothing wrong with finding solace and comfort within the pages of a book, whatever the book. In fact, isn’t that precisely what we want books to provide?

Capturing a Moment

I’m feeling nostalgic today for a combination of reasons:

…looking through old photos to find something specific for a friend… thinking of my dad (it’s been 22 years since I’ve spent Father’s Day with him)… and a family member hospitalized…

I’m grateful for the photographs that capture moments in our lives, some obviously significant and others deceivingly less so at the time. If we’re lucky, these pictures spark joy and memories, too.

As the end of the school year approaches, help your students capture some moments from the year. Provide these prompts and let students move between them as they freewrite:

  • My favourite part of this year was…
  • The funniest moment was when…
  • My teacher…
  • What I learned most about myself…

What might they respond? What might you respond?

Don’t rush this one… enjoy both the process and the moments captured on paper.

Yet Another Example…

I saw a video on Instagram the other day that once again confirmed the power of words. Students who were about to write a state exam were each given an envelope with a letter from a loved one: parent, teacher, sibling, or grandparent. The surprise, joy, and positive energy in the room was palpable.

If I was currently teaching grade six, or an administrator even, you can bet that my students would have a letter waiting for them on the day of their first PAT. Or, just as powerful… why not a letter on their first day of school–no matter the grade–when nerves and anxiety are often high?

A little coordination on the part of the teacher? Yes.

Worth the effort? No doubt.

Resonating Still…

First published in 1908, Anne of Green Gables has been translated into over 30 languages, and is still selling well! The dream of an author to be sure.

I visited the site of Green Gables recently; my second time there, in fact. As we walked through the large tourist centre, fellow visitors spontaneously shared fond recollections of reading L.M. Montgomery’s books. During the summer months, they get over 2000 visitors each day!

Why is it that Anne of Green Gables has become so widely popular?

I recently delivered a session entitled Finding Ourselves in the Stories We Read. Is that what so many of us were able to do with Anne? Do we see ourselves in Anne as she questions her identity and searches for belonging? Do we connect with her desire for friendship–a kindred spirit as she calls it? Are we smitten with this unconventional family or Anne’s mischievous nature?

Whatever it is, this piece of literature is one that resonates. We never truly know what our students will connect with: keeping reading aloud! By exposing students to as much as possible, we are more likely to find something that resonates with each of them…

Words of Appreciation

Today, on this Mother’s Day, I am grateful for my mom. She is an incredible example of selflessness, kindness, and compassion. She instilled in me my love of books and all things literacy. We continue to share a passion for words, literally sharing our manuscripts back and forth–encouraging, polishing, and pushing–back and forth.

I am grateful for my grandmothers, no longer here with us, and yet with me every day. I hope to mirror their strength, spunk, and joy of life.

I am also grateful for teachers today. In so many ways, teachers fulfil a mothering role. From bandaids on knees to words of encourage, from steady support to inspiring hope.

Happy Mother’s Day to all who give a mother’s love, regardless of your role.

Inspired by Sport

If you’ve ever been to Edmonton during the NHL playoffs, you’ll know what I’m talking about: it’s hard not to get caught up in the swell of excitement. Last week, I saw a family–or likely an extended family: three adults and six kids–standing on a street corner adorned in Oilers’ jerseys, chanting “Go Oilers Go!” prior to game time. Thousands upon thousands head downtown to watch the away games at Rogers Place or one of three outdoor watch parties.

You can’t go anywhere without seeing flags waving from vehicles or people wearing jerseys, even in 30 degree heat. Heck, even my dog is sporting an Oiler bandana.

Rewind four decades or so and I was a student in a third-grade classroom during a similar wave of Oiler excitement. My teacher capitalized on the opportunity for learning, and still today, I remember the fun going to school during this time. She had us analyzing statistics, making predictions, creating graphs, writing opinion pieces and letters, anything she could think of inspired by the times. We ate it up.

Even if you are not a big hockey fan, if you live somewhere caught up by playoff action, why not capitalize on the hype?

Evidence of Learning

One of the best parts of a writing residency is when I ask students what they’ve learned about writing. Here’s a sampling from last month’s residency:

  • “I’ve learned that writing is actually fun!”
  • “You don’t have to be perfect. You can always fix things later!”
  • “I learned that it can take a long time and you can make lots of drafts.”
  • “Reading books helps us to be better writers.”
  • “You can find mistakes when you read to the wall!”
  • “Erasers can be our best friend!”
  • “We can do the same things other authors do.”
  • “When we’re writing, we get to create things from our own imaginations!”

I wish I could convey the enthusiasm of these grade 1-4 students. Their words will have to suffice.