Book Spine Poetry

For students, creating a “found poem” (words not their own but found in other sources) is often novel and fun. There is a buzz of excitement as students sit on the floor, browse through classroom book titles, find connections between titles, and then stack the books to create a poem.

Embedded within this challenge are the opportunities to read aloud and revise. How? Students stack the books in an order they like and then read the titles out loud as a poem to see how it sounds. They are encouraged to add, remove, or rearrange books to create the most pleasing sounding poem. Revision at work!

I love this time of year!

Along with the melting snow and the return of the geese, National Poetry Month has arrived! Have you pulled your poetry books off the shelf, brought them to the top of the pile, or visited the library for some new finds?

Although poetry is fun to read with students all year long, this is the time to read and enjoy poems each and every day! Invite students to share thoughts and feelings evoked by the poems you read. Explore the figurative language and alliteration, the rhythm and phrasing, the dive into sensory language.

This week, let your students read and explore the poetry in your classroom and then ask them to choose a favourite. Give them time to read the poem repeatedly to become more fluent and expressive. (There is no need for memorization.) Students can then share this favourite poem with their reading buddies, their family members, or another class.

Stay tuned for poetry ideas all month long…

By the way, which poetry book is your favourite for the classroom?

Expert Jugglers

I recently heard a comment that infuriated me: a flippant remark about the perceived realities in our classrooms implying that everyone has low and manageable class sizes.

Sometimes numbers don’t mean much. 25 students in one class is not the same as 25 students in another. The needs, challenges, and behaviour of the individuals within a classroom certainly change the dynamics.

Regardless of your class size, wouldn’t you like to invite a politician into your class? Not just for a short visit but to hand over the curriculum and watch them teach your students for a few days… considering the needs of each individual student, managing student behaviour, planning engaging instructional tasks, preparing materials, assessing and ensuring student understanding, communicating with parents, responding to the social, emotional, and physical needs of students the whole day through. And then, just when they think they’ve survived the day, remind them to spend their evenings and weekends preparing for the implementation of three new subject area curricula (first understanding it, and then planning, finding resources, and developing assessments).

I wonder… how long would it be before they decided to postpone the implementation of the draft curriculum?

When comments are made about teaching and teachers without an understanding of the realities of our work, I get a tad defensive. I certainly wouldn’t want to be a politician and I don’t think I’d be very good at it either. But, don’t take a swipe at teachers. Teachers are amazing and they often juggle much more than seems plausible.

For many of you reading this, Spring Break is almost here. And when it arrives, be sure to take some time away from the classroom and away from your work. You deserve every moment of down time.

Don’t forget to push!

I’m in the middle of a writing residency. The other day, one of the teachers asked if she could speak to me after school.

She showed me the writing of a few of her students and asked, “How can I push these writers?” This was the work of her strongest writers. She recognized their strengths and wanted to challenge them.

We talked through what I noticed and what could be a logical next step. Her plan now is to meet with these writers as a small group: to teach a mini-lesson using some mentor texts and then challenge them to practice and apply what they learn.

My heart smiled at her question. Typically I’m asked about those who struggle with writing. But let’s not forget to push those who have a natural aptitude or gift. They too deserve our time!

A Cautious Approach…

As I was planning for my upcoming residency with students from K-6, I was reminded of the importance of including all strands of language arts–listening, speaking, reading, writing, viewing, and representing–within our lessons. In many ways, I can’t teach one without another.

These strands support each other… they build off of each other… one is often the foundation for another. Ultimately, the interconnectedness of these strands is essential for student success with language.

When I consider the new Alberta ELA curriculum scheduled to be implemented this coming fall, it is divided into Organizing Ideas which seems to imply the teaching of language in silos. We cannot be deceived by the structure of the curriculum and revert to teaching these elements in isolation from one another. Doing so would be in direct opposition to what we know about effective language learning.

Although I have given feedback to the government about my concerns about the curriculum structure, I don’t expect this aspect of it to change. That being said then, we must remember the importance of the interconnectedness of the strands when we tackle that new curriculum. I look forward to working with teachers in the process!

Teachers are Amazing!

We are nearing the end of convention season in Alberta. Over the last month, I have had the opportunity to connect with teachers from around the province.

My conclusion from this convention season: teachers are amazing! Despite being fatigued from this second pandemic year, I see and hear invigorated teachers inspired to return to their classrooms to share their learning with students.

Our students always need teachers, of course. But they need us now more than ever. And motivated, inspired teachers? Well, those are the best kind!

Thank you for continuing to learn and hone your practice. Thank you for sharing your own growth mindset with your students. And thank you for leading your students on their learning journeys with both enthusiasm and joy!

‘Mushed into a Book’

During a recent writing residency, a student suddenly exclaimed: “A novel is like a movie mushed into a book!” I smiled, discreetly jotted down his words, and then asked what he meant.

I don’t remember his answer word for word, but it led to an interesting conversation about genre. Movies, after all, are a form of text. Students often think of text as print and only print. But really, the definition of text is much broader.

One of the things I love about genre comparisons with students – especially diverse genres such as movies and novels – is that the conversations quite naturally turn to craft: the decisions made by the writers and creators of whatever genres we are discussing.

Discussions about craft are important. When students learn that writers make deliberate decisions about their writing, we can empower our students to make decisions about their own writing, too. My favourite question when teaching writing: “Do you think the author did this on purpose?” Yes! “Now let’s explore why…”

And if a student happens to exclaim a thought or realization they’ve made (like the student in my residency), take the time to explore their thinking. You may be surprised where the conversation leads!

Freewrite with a Twist

During February we often read books about love and kindness with our students. These are some of my favourites: Love by Matt de la Pena, My Heart by Corinna Luyken, What is Given from the Heart by Patricia C. McKissack, and Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson. This week, after you read one of your favourites, put on some music and ask students to freewrite to someone.

Instead of the regular type of prompt, use “Dear ______,” and then “I want to tell you…” or “Did you know…?” Remind students that they do not have to share this writing (with the person they are writing to or with you) unless they choose.

Reading the book beforehand, and with music playing, you may find that your writing and that of your students, is a little more raw than usual. Let it be. Go where it leads…

And if you and your students choose to share, appreciate the beauty of the feelings in the room.

Humbled

Earlier this week I set up a new email address to connect to this website. Easy right? I thought so. I confidently moved through the first few steps and then suddenly I was confronted with language I did not understand. Was it English? It was. But the technical terminology was completely foreign to me. I felt both frustrated and overwhelmed as I attempted to decipher the instructions. Ultimately, I couldn’t complete the next steps because I didn’t understand what I was being asked to do. (Thankfully I knew who to call…)

The experience made me think of the students in our classrooms who don’t understand the written or spoken words we are using. They too must feel frustrated and overwhelmed.

How can we ensure that our words are being understood by all? Which students might need more explanation of the tasks at hand? What scaffolds and supports do we have in place to prevent frustration and ensure understanding?

Remember, fair isn’t everyone getting the same thing… fair is everyone getting what they need.

Checking In…

Our dog is almost seventeen. He is now completely deaf and his sight has deteriorated significantly. As with most dogs, he likes being with his humans. If we’re in the living room (the kitchen, the bedroom), so is he. If one of us happens to be in another room though, he will always check in. Sometimes he splits his time between us, but regardless, he checks in periodically.

He reminds me of the importance of checking in with our students. To get a general sense of how they are doing, class discussions can be effective especially after a read-aloud such as Today I Feel by Madalena Moniz, In My Heart by Jo Witek, I Am Human or I Am Courage by Susan Verdi.

There are often students who need a more personal check in, too: questions within their journals, private conversations, or perhaps surprise notes in their desks.

The gesture of checking in can lift moods, provide encouragement, and offer hope. Sometimes a kind word is everything…