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.

A Message to Heaven

The last few weeks have been intense. I ended the week feeling spent: mentally, physically, and emotionally. I was disheartened and easily agitated. Then, I saw a post on Instagram that immediately put things in perspective.

The caption: A message to heaven for a special teacher we were missing today.

Undoubtedly, it has been a tough year for all of us. It has been especially tough for this class. And yet, they have shown resilience, courage, compassion, and maturity beyond their years. These young students remind me that I can certainly face the challenges before me each day. They are faith and hope.

Meghan, you continue to teach and inspire. Your legacy lives on.

My fearless pursuit of happiness…

Last week my current job was posted. The news of my leave from my role with ECSD is ‘out there’ and feeling real to me now. Next year I will offer professional development, writing residencies, and parent literacy evenings across many school divisions. I will also carve out more time to write.

I’ve been excited about my decision over the last few months and yet as the days of this school year diminish, there’s been some anxiety, too. Are you sure about this? has crossed my mind on many occasions.

One of my administrator colleagues, who I respect for her literacy work within her school, emailed me after hearing my news and said, “I admire your fearless pursuit of happiness.”

This sentence gave me pause. Yes. My pursuit of happiness: doing what I love and doing it more often. She’s absolutely right about that. The fearless part may be more of a stretch. And yet, regardless of my trepidation, I’m doing it!

P.S. My view as I write each day:

Real-World Connections

Last week I taught persuasive writing to five classes of grade two students. Their teachers had done an excellent job with the lessons leading up to my visit. To up the ante, I decided to bring a real-world connection into their classrooms.

In this case, it was Lucy the elephant from the Edmonton Valley Zoo. I couldn’t bring Lucy herself but I did bring some videos and articles about Lucy with the underlying question: Should Lucy be moved to an elephant sanctuary to live the remainder of her life?

My observations of the students: engagement and passion!

Engagement? Students seemed especially attentive and curious about this topic. They watched the videos intently, spoke about the content with interest, and asked intelligent questions.

Passion? Students passionately shared their opinions (and their reasons) about Lucy’s fate. One student even stood up to voice her opinion which happened to be in stark contrast to most of her peers.

It’s not always possible to use real-world connections, but whenever we can, our students take notice.

Writing Creatively

Today I started writing a sequel to my novel. I was reminded how different it is to write fiction as compared to non-fiction. I tap into a different part of my brain. In fact, during creative writing, I might not always look like I am writing. In the moments my fingers aren’t clacking at the keyboard, my brain is spinning with ideas. I need those moments in order to write.

I suspect that my creative process is not unique.

When we ask our students to write narratives, we should remember that this process will be quite natural for some and quite challenging for others.

It is essential to provide our students with sufficient scaffolding and support before they begin to write creatively: mini-lessons, mentor texts, and plot patterns.

It is also essential that during creative writing, we realize that students may not look like they are writing; however, we cannot see what is happening within. If we’ve done our jobs well during pre-writing, their brains may be spinning with ideas.

Robert McKee once said, “Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world.” Write on!