Support for Our Emerging Writers

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!

Relationships First

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.

Yup, I like this gig.

World Read Aloud Day 2023

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?

Check out these sites for specific ideas and links to author events: World Read Aloud Day Activity Hub, Scholastic, Cardinal Rule Press.

#WorldReadAloudDay

@litworldsays

@litworld

Avoiding Assumptions

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!

Inspiring Student Words

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!

My One Little Word: 2023 Edition

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?

Giving the Gift of Literacy

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.

Or, if you’re able, give money. Consider donations to programs such as Ready. Set. READ! with the Edmonton Public Library, The Young Alberta Book Society, the Centre for Family Literacy, Project Adult Literacy Society, or ABC Life Literacy Canada, or a literacy initiative in your area.

If you’re wondering if a donation such as this makes a difference, remember this quote by Fisher, Frey and Hattie: “Literacy is among the major antidotes for poverty.” Literacy matters. Books matter.

Happy holidays everyone! See you in the new year…

Brave

Last week I saw Michelle Obama, Amal Clooney, and Melinda French Gates interviewed on CNN by Sara Sidner. They were talking about Michelle Obama’s Mission: Empowering Girls. At one point, they were asked about self-doubt. When I heard these powerhouse women speak about their own self-doubt, my own felt normalized and acceptable.

As I said to a group of teachers earlier in the week, teachers have an incredible opportunity to influence and empower their students in so many ways. How powerful to talk about our own vulnerability in front of students. How powerful to admit our failings or regret. How powerful to remind students of these messages, shared by the women in the interview, that can become ongoing, internal self-talk: “I am worthy.” “Pay attention to that flame in you.” “Believe in yourself.” “Seek knowledge.” “Keep on. You’re getting there.”

At the end of the program, Sara Bareilles sung her song Brave. I was thinking about how many of the lyrics in this song can be messages shared with students, too:

“You can be amazing.”

“Let the light in.”

“Be Brave.”

Messages for all of us, teachers and students alike.

Seasonal Mentor Texts

Whether a classic or new release, leverage your seasonal books as mentor texts. Of course, read and enjoy them first. But then, study the craft of the author!

Here are a few ideas to get you started…

The Polar Express – Explore the first few pages to see how Chris Van Allsburg develops mood and mystery. Point out the phrasing on the first few pages and the intentional alliteration with the ‘s’ sound. Consider the verbs he chose throughout the book and what they are describing (the lights flickered, the wolves roamed, the train thundered).

Dasher: How a Brave Little Doe Changed Christmas Forever – This charming story by Matt Tavares is ideal for discussing sentence fluency: sentence type and length, phrasing, and the use of dialogue too.

And of course, this is THE time of year to discuss those transformation stories: How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Crippled Lamb, and A Christmas Carol, being my favourites.

What are your favourite seasonal mentor texts?

Genre Challenge

Today I read my first manga book! I have never read anything from right to left or what seems to me, back to front, with the spine on the right. It was an enjoyable experience. Not only was I thinking about the content but I was conscious of the logistics of reading it, especially at first. I was surprised how quickly I got used to it though.

The experience got me thinking… students often gravitate to one genre or another. Why not propose a genre challenge in your class?

Begin by asking students to brainstorm a long list of genres, as specific a list as they can. Then, ask them to circle their favourite two genres or whatever they read most often. Perhaps there’s something on the list (like manga or a graphic novel) that they haven’t read before. Or, perhaps there’s something that they don’t typically read (nonfiction, mystery, poetry, a novel in verse). Challenge them to choose a genre outside their norm and then support them in finding a book that fits. Perhaps classmates could share recommendations, too.

What will you commit to reading? How will you motivate your students? How might they share their experiences with you and their peers during the process? Could they make predictions before they begin and then freewrite to reflect on the experience afterward? (“At first I thought…” and “I’ve realized….”)

Regardless of what you decide in your classroom, have fun!