Classroom Libraries

As you prepare for the upcoming school year, take some time to go through your classroom library with a critical eye. Our classroom libraries should entice students to read. Does yours?

Consider your library from your students’ perspectives:

  • Is it visual appealing, well-organized, and inviting?
  • Is it limited to one genre or does it have an adequate range?
  • Can you find the poetry, the picture books, the novels, the graphic novels, the non-fiction, and the magazines–no matter your grade level? Where are the gaps?
  • Are the books within your library truly diverse? Can all of your students’ see themselves represented?
  • How much of the library have you read? Can you easily talk to your students about the books within your library?

Classroom libraries can bridge the gap for students who don’t have access to books. They can broaden our students’ experiences and foster a sense of empathy as they read about the plights of others. They can help our students explore and confirm their identities and their places in the world.

Classroom libraries, just like the books within, have the potential to change lives. What will you do this year to intensify the impact of your classroom library?

You May Be the One

Over the last week, a few events have converged: I’ve watched snippets of the Olympics, I’ve been planning a session for an upcoming Mental Health Academy, and I’ve overheard my neighbour interact with his children.

You might not think these have much in common. However, they have all reminded me how important it is for children to have at least one significant adult in their lives: someone they can trust; someone who honours their individuality and supports their physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing; someone who stands by them as they make decisions and mistakes; ultimately, a stable, positive role model.

Josh Shipp has phrased it this way: “Every child is one caring adult away from being a success story.” Some children are fortunate to have many significant, caring adults in their lives. Others are forced to look outside their homes: a teacher or coach, for example.

These kids certainly don’t come up and ask us to be that significant, caring adult in their lives and yet most often we know which are craving a relationship such as this. They might be the ones acting out, making decisions that draw attention–any kind of attention–towards them. Or, they might be the ones that withdraw, attempting to make themselves invisible in our presence.

Have you considered that you may be the one? Is there a student, a player, or a neighbour child in your life who needs you?

A Summer Challenge

The school year is always incredibly busy. So… this summer I challenge you to read books that your students would read: whatever their age. Sift through those books on your classroom shelves, visit the library or bookstore, and make a point of reading a handful of books that your students would read.

Consider (at least) one from each category:

  • picture book
  • chapter book or novel
  • graphic novel
  • non-fiction
  • biography

Simply read and enjoy. Or, even better, consider which would make effective read-alouds and/or mentor texts. What could these books be used to teach within your classroom?

  • Did the author use effective dialogue?
  • Were you hooked by the story beginning… if so, why?
  • Did you notice interesting word choice, a creative use of sentence types, compelling rhythm or repetition?
  • Was the organization effective?
  • How did the pictures and words work together to create an effect?

Okay… get to it! What’s on your reading list?

Summer Literacy

I am often asked what parents can do to support their children with literacy during the summer months. The most important consideration is to ensure it does not feel like homework! (Teachers, feel free to share these ideas with the parents of your students.)

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Embed reading into your daily routine: 15-30 minutes each day when everyone in the family is reading. It doesn’t matter what: novels, graphic novels, magazines, newspapers, comics, cookbooks… anything!
  • Read aloud to your children as well. Bedtime is the perfect time for this routine.
  • Play board games together. Your children will be talking and listening, and reading too, depending on what game you are playing!
  • Subscribe to a magazine (in your children’s names of course) so that they have something to look forward to each month. Check out National Geographic Kids or Owl Kids for magazines appropriate for the ages of your children.
  • Going on a road trip? Buy a new book or magazine for each member of the family. Surprise your children by placing the books in their spots in the car!
  • Listen to an audio book together as a family. Discuss what is happening in the book, make connections, and predictions, too.
  • Read for real purposes: game instructions, recipes, road signs, scavenger hunts…
  • Write for real purposes: grocery lists, a packing list, postcards, letters/emails to friends, journal entries…
  • Visit the library to ensure there is an ever-changing selection of reading material available.

Just remember… “Reading is a passport to countless adventures!” Mary Pope Osbourne

A Lack of Fluency

The recent draft curriculum in Alberta concerns me for many reasons (which I won’t get into here). As a language arts teacher, one surprise was that fluency (which is an Organizing Idea in kindergarten to grade 4) is not included in grades 5 and 6. At yet, both research and experience indicate that fluency instruction is important at all grade levels, even beyond our elementary age students.

What is fluency? Fluency is the ability to read accurately, with automaticity, and with prosody. (Put simply, prosody refers to reading with intonation, expression, and attention to punctuation.)

So why is fluency so important? Ultimately, fluency assists readers with comprehension. If students can read the words on the page with ease and use punctuation to guide their phrasing, they will be able to focus on the meaning of the text itself.

On the other hand, consider someone who does not read with fluency: the reading is likely choppy and the reader may spend considerable time decoding the words on the page. This lack of accuracy, automaticity, and prosody, makes comprehension difficult.

How do we support our students with fluency, especially if decoding the text is difficult?

  • First and foremost, read aloud daily! Pay attention to your own fluency when you do. This modelling is essential.
  • Talk about the importance of fluency with your students to help them understand why they need to reread text.
  • Teach within a growth mindset: “I can’t read this fluently yet but with practice…”
  • Give students many opportunities to reread text. Readers’ theatre and choral reading provide natural reasons to reread. (When students know they will eventually have an audience, they are more inclined to practice.)
  • Practice rereading regular classroom texts including cross-curricular material. Instead of reverting to round robin reading (which draws attention to individual readers and likely causes anxiety for many), regularly pair up students to practice reading a passage, a page, or a paragraph out loud. Remind them of the purposes before you begin: fluency first, and ultimately, improved comprehension.
  • Intentionally embed regular fluency practice into your classroom each week.

One of the benefits of a focus on fluency becomes increased confidence in students! Why not include fluency instruction in your classroom?

What’s your ikigai?

I’m on a journey towards my ikigai. What is it? A Japanese concept meaning ‘a reason for being.’

The concept involves four components: what you love, what you’re good at, what you can get paid for, and what the world needs. When these four components come together, you find fulfillment and purpose in life.

Upon reflection, I’ve discovered that my ikigai is to change the world through words. Through my own words, yes, but by empowering others too: working with children, teachers, and parents. I’ve been working towards my ikigai for a few years even though I’ve only known the word for about ten days.

Yet this word, this concept, resonates with me. It’s been on my mind consciously and subconsciously since I heard it. (Viktor Frankl comes to mind, too.)

After some research, I’ve come to understand that this journey requires goal setting and persistence, a willingness to adapt and take risks. It is an ongoing process and not an end goal. I’ve also come to realize that my happiness, mental health, and well-being are worth the effort. Why not put in the work if it leads to a life of meaning and a sense of fulfillment?

If you are curious about ikigai, read this article by Chris Myers, check out this book, or spend twelve minutes listening to this TedTalk. Give it some thought… what’s your ikigai?

The Home Stretch

June is here and we’re rounding third. One last sprint for home… or are you too tired to sprint?

If we are exhausted, so too are our students. The ins and outs of in-person and online learning, the uncertainty and anxiety accompanying the year, the continuous learning curve as we invent new ways to do what we’ve always done: all have taken their toll.

Now that we’ve reached the home stretch, find ways for your students to document this pandemic school year. They are living history, after all.

Introduce the idea to your students and then give them choice in how to represent their year: in words (a poem, essay, or journal entries), in pictures, through numbers and statistics, through a video or slide deck, or a combination of these. What artifacts or music might accompany their creation? How might they document this unusual year? The possibilities are endless.

As Lin-Manuel Miranda has said, “History is entirely created by the person who tells the story.” Let your students tell theirs…

“I wish you more treasures than pockets.”

Between the spring temperatures and online school, it is increasingly difficult to keep our students engaged. Why not get them writing for an authentic audience?

Likely, there are staff members leaving your school at the end of this year. And, in a K-6 school, those grade six students will be waving farewell to elementary school soon, too. In the spirit of the book I Wish You More by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld, your students could write and illustrate their own book(s) to give as a gift!

If for a staff member, each student in your class could write and illustrate one page. If for the grade sixes, each student could write a short book so that all grade six students have a thoughtful keepsake.

Happy writing…

“You Matter”

I am a writer, yes. I am also a note writer. As a teacher in the classroom, I wrote notes to my students. As an assistant principal, I wrote notes to my teachers. I would keep track of who I had written to, ensuring I made my way through the entire class or staff.

I tried to make the notes as timely and authentic as possible. I didn’t start at the top of my class (or staff) list and work my way down. I would consider the context of the day, make observations, and comment on those.

If I noticed a student being especially kind to another student, he might find a note in his desk the next day beginning with, “You have an amazing way of….”

If I noticed a teacher’s new bulletin board display showcasing her students’ diverse work, she might find a note beginning with, “I was impressed to see….”

Everyone makes contributions and adds value to the world around them. Our words can help others see their own strengths and understand how they are appreciated. The underlying message: “You matter.”

In addition to the starters above, some of my other favourites to show how much we value someone:

  • It made my day when…
  • I appreciate the way you…
  • I admire your…
  • I am so thankful that…
  • Thank you for…
  • I highly value…
  • You are a blessing…

“Sometimes it takes only one act of kindness and caring to change a person’s life.” Jackie Chan

The Rise will Come

This week I was sent an article and these words have stayed with me since:

“Humans love a disaster, but only shaped and curated and set to music, not to live in. We want the fall to be followed by the rise.”

Kate Washington

When we teach narrative writing to children, we remind them to include some sort of problem. What’s a story without conflict, after all? We also teach them to make that conflict significant: layer the obstacles, provide atmosphere, let us feel what the characters feel.

It is also true that the conflict within the stories we read and the stories we write require a satisfying resolution. No one wants tragic, never-ending sadness or disaster. We read on for the rise, for the rainbows after the storm.

And yet this year, we are living within a real-world disaster with seemingly never-ending conflict. Every so often I sense an end-in-sight and allow myself to feel hopeful, but truthfully, it often seems short-lived.

I’m tired (as I’m sure you are). But I do believe the rise will come. And when it does, it will make the ordinary all that more treasured.

Yes, the rise will come.