Take a moment

Today I finished two books. I started them both before school set in but I have been so busy. Between the gym, school day, walking the dog, night work to get ready for the next school day I find myself having less and less time for just sitting down and reading a book. Last night I decided to just turn off the TV and read, because reading is fun. I finished PAX which was spectacular and then remembered I had another started but unfinished story to complete. So tonight after the dog walking I finished that one as well.

My busy schedule and students voicing how tired they were today (Monday’s are always the worst) made me wonder why they were so tired. I asked why and the list of things kids have to do some times is staggering. Most of it they want to do, heck I want to do everything on my list too. I love the gym, they love hockey, I love my job, they love soccer, I love walking the dog, they love dance. Just because we love doing something doesn’t mean we don’t need to take a moment and realize when we need to just have some wind down time.

I needed my moments today to reset. Give my brain a break from busy and enjoy a few good books and remember that it is nice to just relax and fall into another world. Take a moment everyday and enjoy it either reading or just relaxing. We all need it. Especially the kids.

Perseverance-An Essential Skill

I think the number one phrase I hear from parents is, “What can I do to help my child at home?” My answer previous to this year has always been, “Read more, read to them, read with them, talk about your reading and practice the basic math facts.”

While I do strongly believe this is true and it certainly will help I had the thought today that the main issue that gets in the way of success is giving up. I told my students the other day that it is ok to lose. Progress is built off failures. Too often though when people fail, kids and adults, we just say well this is not for me.

The consequences of this mindset when it comes to school work is that when students are faced with a challenge in reading, and they are not prepared to do the work to solve the problem, they read less. When it comes to math they develop the “I am not good at math” attitude. Learned helplessness or the lack of perseverance I think is the biggest hurdle that is faced in the classroom and really even in adult life. We must learn that challenges make us stronger, make us better…as long as we are willing to get up after we fall, push through the hard parts and realize that we can do it!

I want my students to know that they can accomplish anything if they keep trying. I think that really is, deep down, what all teachers want their students to know at the end of the day. I can read the books that interest me, I can solve this math problem, I can do anything, if not today maybe tomorrow. That is what I want help with, getting that message to my students that they can climb a mountain if they want to, they just have to keep putting one foot in front of they other. Help them with that.

Reading to them/with them sure doesn’t hurt if you want to add that to the list as well ūüôā

-Mr.G

International Literacy Day

Today I sat down and read a picture book with the kids. It was the brilliant “What Do You Do With An Idea?” and it was fun talking about what we were taking from the text and wondering why there was an egg with a crown and chicken feet and how that could possibly represent an “idea”. We went on from that to introduce Genius Hour but that is a post for another day.

Thursday September 8th is International Literacy Day so I wanted to take a few minutes to share my general thoughts on reading and literacy.

We started our Class Read Aloud with the highest votes going to my favourite book and now 6G classic “The Graveyard Book”. Not only is this story at times a nail biter it is also rich in imagery, opportunities to ask questions, make predictions, visualize…you name it. It is scary at times which I think is what catches the kids right on the first page as the the man Jack creeps through his victims home to finish the job not knowing his final victim an 18 month old has found refuge with the ghosts of the graveyard across the street. Nobody Owens as he soon becomes known is a fantastic character that is surprisingly relatable for being raised in a graveyard with a Vampire as his guardian.

There is nothing better than walking into a classroom with  readers deep in their books or writers putting their thoughts and ideas to paper. This year will be a test for me in letting go of the reigns, giving more freedom and choice and in turn more motivation and passion to pursue the books they want, the ideas they want to put to paper. We will be doing all these thing but we still have work to do. Refine the tools we need for reading with not just a readers eye but a thinkers. Why did the character make that choice? What message does the author want us to take from this story? These questions are rarely explicitly stated so when meaning is lost in our reading what do we do? An increase in reading time is great but without the proper tools a struggling reader will not likely reach their potential. Think about if you are lost in the woods with no understanding of the map, you can read it over and over but if it makes no sense you are only guessing. You need tools to learn and some of those tools are our fix up strategies.

This year we plan to focus on 7 Fix Ups

  1. Ask Questions and Infer
  2. Make Predictions
  3. Recognize Connections: Self-Texts-World
  4. Retell and Summarize
  5. Visualize
  6. Reflect in Writing
  7. STOP and Think

We will be investigating each of these fix ups in the next few weeks and revisiting them constantly over the year.

My goal for this year in literacy is beyond levels on an assessment, I want my students to love reading as much as I do, to find their own Graveyard Books that they read over and over again and one day can share with others and inspire them to read as well.

 

Day 1 done…It was Glorious

There is something about new faces, new ideas and a new school year that are just awesome. Today we had a lot of fun starting to get to know each other, getting organized and reading.

Many requests for the theme song to be played while we worked. Tomorrow we are going to be picking a class read-aloud and coming up with a design for our class flag. Tomorrow marks the start of genius hour as well so stay tuned for more on that.

We had some fun with letters and numbers trying to make 100 dollar words (it is harder than you think)

Great first day. So much more to come!

Here We GO!

It has been a beautiful summer and the break has been glorious. I am excited for a new year with some familiar faces and a few new ones.

This year I am trying a few new things in regards to literacy and I will keep you updated on this. I am very excited about Notice and Note as a way to drive class discussions. We will be starting the year by introducing the “signposts” that students will be learning to “notice and note”. Along side this we will be having a fun reading challenge throughout the year. In the book, “The Book Whisperer” the author introduces the idea of a 40 book challenge. We will be doing a 24 book challenge to ease in but there will not be a limit to the books we can read.

I am going to try and keep up with small videos to introduce math topics so you can help at home. Stay tuned for those.

I am very excited for the year so here we go. Check out the classroom so far.

Why I teach

As I lay out tanning on one of the last free days of summer I was reading a fantastic book. “Because of Mr.Terupt” focuses on a fictional teacher and the difference he makes in the lives of a set of students in his class. The story is told in the perspective of the kids. It really made me ponder if I have the impact on the lives of my students that this fictional character has on his.

I teach because I love to see new connections being born. Helping to guide my students to examine a topic discuss it and come to a conclusion. Helping them in the early stages of critical thinking. I am blessed to get to work with 6th grade students. They are right at the beginning of a new stage in their thinking, things become less black and white, they are breaking away from what they are told and starting to examine what they think. This last year we debated many topics. The kids looked forward to learning our debate topic for the week and discussing in their table groups then with others who had a similar stance before we would discuss as a class. Things would get heated at times. But they knew where the line was and everyone respected the rights of others to have an opinion different from their own. This is why I teach.

I teach because seeing students break through and understand something they could not reach before is the greatest thing and I get to see it often. This past year I started using reading journals for the first time consistently. Not the take home logs that parents would rather not sign…I know, it is ok. We use reading journals to record our thoughts, predictions and pretty much anything else we want to related to what we read. One student in particular used hers a ton, she referred back to it often and her comprehension increased as a result. Even better though her love of reading increased. Not all kids, heck not even all adults are great readers but all kids can still love to read it might just take them a little longer to get through the book. This is why I teach.

I teach because not everyone has someone who they can talk to. Who gives them endless chances to succeed. I can do that for my students. Every year I have a few students who struggle with behaviour more than their academics, if it is making friends, controlling their temper or just the regular everyday behaviours we sometimes take for granted become challenges for them. I teach because they need someone who will understand them and not give up. They are why I teach.

Going into this school year I am excited for the new challenges, the new firsts, the new adventures.

This is why I teach.

Why Choice Matters

The most memorable things I did in school were the things I was interested in. My most memorable reading experiences as both a child and now as an adult are the books I chose to read. Choice is such a powerful motivator for both children and adults.

When it comes to reading I have heard it said that you should have a balance between academic reading and recreational reading. As teachers we have professional development to help us be better teachers. It may come as a surprise but those academic texts and PD sessions are far more powerful and useful for us adults when we actually get to choose what to read or what to pursue. If it is true for us it is also true for the students in our classes and this leads me to…

Choice this year is going to be a larger portion of the classroom. We are told by the curriculum what we must cover in the classroom and we are even given some suggestions as books that would best meet outcomes we have to teach. So many times kids seem bored either with the content or the text they have been assigned. I have dabbled in the past with ways to get around assigned texts. Last year we had a list of books they could pick from, I was sure this would eliminate the whole issue of choice but it did not because kids still did not want to use their coveted reading time to read a book I decided they should read, even if they had 20 titles to choose from. Different this year? There will be an assigned text still because the conversations around the text can be rich but it will never take away from their choice reading time. We will be increasing the reading time available to the students. Some will be assigned study but the majority will be choice books.

Now what about that curriculum? I can’t do anything about that, we must teach what we are told to teach but we can still work some choice time into our schedule and this is where Genius Hour, Discovery Hour, Personal Interest Projects, whatever you want to call them come in. This year I hope to dedicate one hour a week to this student lead, student directed, student chosen project work. If they want to explore a science concept, or look at Canadian History or even what ingredients make the best cookies. They will be given time to explore their own ideas, thoughts and interests. This will not take away from the curricular time but will replace some of the “down” time that happens between one subject to the next.

Just like adults I feel children are far more interested in doing things they want to do. The fact of life is we all have to do things we don’t want to do. I don’t like emptying the dishwasher but yet I have to do it, most kids don’t like learning about Cartesian Plane but…they do it. This year I want to explore how much more of their potential is activated by doing things they want to do between doing the things we have to do.

Just for the record, the things we have to do are going to be really fun too.

The learning community

As a new teacher right out of University I felt like I knew everything. I was fresh out of school armed with all the new strategies that were guaranteed to create well rounded students that would thrive in a literacy rich environment and be numeracy geniuses. I mean some of the text books I read back in 2010 even had plans for how to set up my classroom in the most effective way possible. Spoiler alert it was not rows.

I have found over the years that all the text books in the world can’t make a classroom successful. It is the people involved in the learning community that make it a success, the students, the teachers, the administrators, and the parents.¬†We all play a role.

 

Your learning community needs to made up of people that elevate you and push you to be the best.¬†They do not have to teach the same thing as you or even do the same thing as you. My wife who is my number one sounding board for teaching does not teach at my school or my grade but she does push me to be the best I can be. My first go to at work does not teach the same grade as me but we work fantasticly together and she improves my learning community. My grade teammates both are very different teachers than me but I have learned that what makes us different makes our team¬†better. Their skills improve my learning community. My students every year push me to be the best teacher I can be. Not because a text book tells me to or a new program is out or a new test has been developed or a …the list could go on and on. I want to have the best learning community I can and that can only happen if my students see that goal as important as well. I have been incredibly lucky in my career to have fantastic parents as a part of my learning community. I know this is not always the case, personalities may clash but if parents, teachers, students ,colleagues and everyone else you interact with contribute to your learning community, help build it up you will always be more successful.

We talk about a chain only being as strong as its weakest link. Sometimes I think we allow others to tell use who the weakest link in without checking its strength ourself. I am guilty of that. Going back to the fresh out of University me (sometimes still the today me) and I looked down my nose at the “old school” teachers. I would think why can’t they get on board “the new school”¬†way of thinking. Having worked with one of the best teachers I know who would definitely include himself in the “old school” category I know my thinking ¬†was flawed. While new research and countless text books definitely can improve your learning communities it is the people that really make it what it is.

We should all be supporting each other to be the best us we can be. I do not want other teachers, students, parents to do things just because I said we should or a book says we should. I want  them to do whatever it is they can to make my learning community better. I am going to strive to do the same. One goal in mind. Improving every day.

 

You must hold close to courage

Do not fear the night. This is a quote in The Night Parade. A great spirit tells this to the main character as her challenges seem to be too great. In the story a darkness is threatening to destroy the spirit world. I find the quote is so applicable in teaching life.

We ask students all the time to work in partners, read a section of the book or text aloud, give a presentation or even to take a test. All of these things require courage. Many people myself included suffer from anxiety. Having to speak in front of a group, work with others, be observed by other teachers or in the kids case to be assessed by their classmates can be a huge burden to overcome.

It is a fine line but we need to push ourselves and others to hold close to courage, and not fear the night. I feel that “night” here can mean unknown. I am a firm believer in the idea that asking students to cold read a passage that may not be their level in front of the class is cruel and unusual punishment but giving a student a text you know they can read, giving them time to practice that text and then asking if they would be comfortable trying to read it for the class gives them a chance to hold close to courage without the deck stacked against them.

We need to let our kids or students know it is ok to fail. It is ok to not get it perfect or even remotely close to perfect as long as it does not mean they won’t try again. We must remind them to hold close to courage. To tackle challenges and take risks. They don’t always pay off but when they do those are the moments we remember most.

I think I want this to be my motto for next year. My personal blog once had a post. “I can do hard things” this goes hand in hand with that thinking. Hold close to courage and we can do hard things.

-Mr.G

 

This Thing called Literacy

I bet you have heard the term literacy and thought ok this teacher is talking about reading and writing. If we are looking at the bare bones of literacy that is exactly what it is, reading and writing. But more than that it is really how we as adults and how our students or children interact with language. When I was going to school I would sit in class and do these workbooks, we would have to read a little story like Mr.Mugs (which I have on my shelf) and then do some questions. At the time I think this was thought of as “engaging” literacy work. My friends kids took some of my Mr.Mugs antique work books home and spent days working with them and loving it. I think that if I was to use those in my classroom still many a teacher would give the side eye because I was not doing all sorts of¬†acting and shared reading, and readers theatre, tableau, different hats, visualizing, summaries, tough questions…the list goes on and on. You can do a million different things to exercise your literacy muscles but what I am finding more and more is that for most kids 2 things are true.

1.Kids like to read– Read without interruption, without all the extra stuff that shows how much they “get it”. They love to be in the books and relating to the characters they are reading about. They love to imagine their own endings, talk to a friend after they have read the book and maybe even write down ideas for their own sequels. Having to read a chapter and constantly show their thinking interrupts what some refer to as the “reading flow” (Gallagher). My students this year proved my little theory when I gave them more time to just read and less time to have to tell me everything they understood or “connected” to. More time to find a great book and less time cold reading some story that is uninteresting while I mark down their every error. More time having a conversation about the books they are reading and less time answering convoluted questions on a computerized reading test. Kids like to read and if you give them a chance to get into the reading flow and love a story, talking about it is no longer work, it becomes fun.

2.We choose what we read so they should too– There is not an adult I know that is told you must read this because, “You are not the best reader, so this one is a good fit for you” It is appropriate to make sure your child or student is reading a text that they understand and can read with minimal errors but more than that it is important they get to choose a book that appeals to them even if it is a little hard. I think they try harder to understand the text when the text is one they want to read versus one they are assigned. I had two students this year choose to read the first book in a great series Fablehaven by Brandon Mull. Technically this book was more difficult a level than either of these girls were assessed at and it took them a long time to read it but they used every free moment they had to read to each other, help each other through the hard parts and their confidence and motivation to read increased dramatically. I like the practice of them having an “any level” text at their desk and a “good fit” book so they can work on skills and also have a book they really want to explore.

6 years in to teaching I am still learning a lot on what exactly “literacy” is and how to teach it better but I have not worked with anyone that I would consider an expert in the field because the field seems so different when looking at the individual student. Imagine telling your child who can relay all the twists and turns of the most recent RPG on their Playstation or the child that will read graphic novels and write their own, or the child creating websites or youtube videos in their room that they need to work on their literacy because you have not seen them reading enough. I have to work on this more in my classroom. Literacy includes so much more than just reading a book or writing a story but it does include just reading a book and thinking up an amazing story. We can’t let ourselves get so caught up in the technicalities of what literacy is or what literacy instruction is because if we do we will forget the magic that comes with reading and it all becomes so mechanical.

Back to the beginning I think so many established teachers and parents are told the “old” ways of doing things are not good enough anymore but for some they are. Literacy should be an individual exercise in how we interact with language if that is the quiet reader in the corner or the aspiring actor who wants to perform scenes from his book my job is to foster their desire to read and that is what I intend to do.