A year of growth, change and thanks

This time of year things seem to just fly by. Field Trips, swimming, projects and test prep just seem to bring us to the end of the school year at an accelerated speed. The warm weather never helps because the kids just want to be outside and to be honest so do I. Reading outside in the sun is a great compromise lol.

This year I have invested a lot of my out of school time reading and looking into better ways to help my students develop great reading habits, some have commented on their increased reading at home whole others admit their home reading has not increased but they marvel at the amount of reading they have done in school. We have build stronger skills in reflection and I feel as a teacher I have improved in guiding my students as both readers and writers. My main source of educational inspiration asked me to share in an interview my experiences with her new book which I could say was definitely beyond my wildest dreams but if I could have imagined it I would have check off a huge bucket list item this week. My favourite part of this year has been the conversations with my kids about books but also about everything else.

I learned about the movie suicide squad, Roblox (still not sure about it), talked a lot of Hockey (not my sport but I learned a lot), chatted about horses and the unusual amount of weddings one of my students had to attend this year. We chatted about books and authors and annoying siblings and anything else they wanted to talk about. I had the most enjoyable humans to visit with everyday and I will never forget how much they would light up when I showed interest in their topics and how they sat on the edge of their seats as I shared some adventure from my youth that usually ended up with me facedown in a puddle or facing off with an angry beaver I thought was a floating stick on a river raft trip gone bad. This year was about learning but more than just academics. I feel like we learned about each other and it made for a great year.

With growth though comes change and in a few short week I will be leaving the school that I have called home for the last 5 years and beginning a new journey in a new school. I am excited beyond words for the new adventure but I will miss many that I have formed great relationships with. I will miss the families that have been so kind and supportive of me since beginning my time teaching there, I will miss the grade 2-5 students (still a little scary for the grade 1 kids) that tell me they hope I will be their teacher. But I am so excited to pursue what I am most excited about academically. To build on the skills I have learned from both my own studies and my peers. I will have a new set of students with a new set of stories and adventures, in a new town and a new school. I am grateful for the opportunity to grow.

I want to end with a thanks. With a few weeks left I know I will be too busy to get my thoughts out but I want to say a thank you to my colleagues that helped me to be a better teacher, to my idols in the teaching world that I know do not read my blog but they have changed me so much this year, to my wife of course for her support and helping me to get closer to my dreams, to the families that I have had the pleasure to work with and finally to my students. All my students that I have taught in the last 7 years. They all have had an impact on me and I am honoured that their parents allowed me to hopefully have a positive impact on them. As we all grow and change I wish them all the luck in the world on their new journeys as I begin mine.

 

Passionate readers are life long readers

Today as I was teaching at one point I just had to take in the laughter and smiles as we talked about Ancient Athens. I can’t remember what made me go on some tangent ( a regular occurrence) but the laughter that followed made it worth it. My passion for Social Studies comes out in the delivery of the lessons and conversations we have.

Regarding reading this is the same, my students know I love to read. They know I love to talk about books, the cool little phrases or powerful moments that come in a great book. I have modelled passionate reading to my students and I hope I have had a positive impact on their reading habits.

Parents you need to help out by doing the same thing. There is a quote about how no kids hate reading they just have yet to find a good book. When I hear an adult say I don’t read I often go blank for a moment. Like you don’t read anything? Reading is not just about novels, it is about news articles and magazines, comic books and instruction manuals. Reading is probably the most important life skill we can learn. This is why it is so important to model reading at home.

It is a lot easier in the summer, for me most of the day light hours are spent in a chair or laying on a blanket tanning while reading a great book. In the winter I have to set some time to read nightly if I have a good book. If I haven’t found one for that moment it is news articles and other texts but still reading.

If you want your students or children to be passionate readers (the impact on their other subjects will only be positive) you need to show them what a passionate reader looks like. Turn off the TV and read a great book and even better, read one with your child or to your students.

Reading can be the most engaging activity of the day if you give it the passion it deserves.

We use Reading Journals…so should you

 

Choice

There is a lot of discussion in the teaching world that centres around choice. Students having the choice in how to represent their ideas and what types of books they read is pivotal in student engagement. At the start of the year I decided that I was going to use reading journals as a way to get my students to reflect on the reading they were doing. I went away from the idea of choice and set up the way I wanted them to reflect and well the results were not great. Summaries a plenty but the depth and individuality of the responses were lost.

Reading Journals

Reading Journals are known in different classes as different thing. Double entry diaries, thought logs, reflection books, reading response logs. Some use them as page counters with a question and answer approach, others in book clubs as a way to collect “discussion points”. In my classroom it doubles as their strategy tool box, Any skills that we are practicing are written in the journal then, in class read aloud or their person reading books, they are given a chance to write down their thoughts. Like I mentioned earlier this started out as far more structured and less accessible to some of my readers. The journals themselves remained but the way we used them had to change.

The Return to Choice

Strategies a page turn away that each student had a different level of comfort using. Many going unused or used only when it was “Double Entry Diary Day”, or “Signposts Day” or “Visualization Day” I imagine you see the pattern. Then one day a student said “Can I just do BHH (another strategy) all the time I like it most?” followed by a table mate saying, “Yeah I would rather do Questions and Answers” or “I like highlighting” and finally “I really liked those Quadrants of Thought”. I decided that we would not have anymore set “this is the strategy you use” after the initial teachings. Every student sees a text in a different way and should have different ways to show that. So today I had them go through and find their favourite entries so far. It was really fun to see all the different ways they respond.

Assessing (How do we do it?)

This was and is my main struggle. I am moving towards a weekly checkin to go along with conferencing for next year. They can explain one of the mandatory 5 responses in the week. They will log the book and pages read and then, however they want to, show their thinking/responses/reflections. The best part lately has been the conversations, the Aha moments caught in the moment that are only aided by students tracking their understandings. Noting them and then reflecting on why they are impactful to them.

Next Steps

Next year I plan to have journals take a larger daily role in our reading, the skill level of the reader is not the measuring stick it is the thought they put in. One of my students struggles on the writing down of things, he likes minimal work but is a wizard at finding signposts and loves to talk about them. His minimal notes remind him of what he wants to talk about. For me the point of reading a great book is talking about it with others, journals help my students remember what it is they want to talk about. It is not always an easy road but it is most certainly a fun one. Take a look at some of their work.

Proud Day

We had a lot of fun today. The kids have been working on research projects to teach the grade 2 kids about different insects. I could talk about all the high yield learning activities we did but instead I want to talk about how great it was.

The presentations and games that the kids made were awesome and the grade 2 teachers and students were thrilled. I was thrilled because my students were leaders today. They showed a maturity that sometimes is missing (or at least not appreciated by most adults) in kids this age. The reassurance they gave kids as 7 year olds tried to answer the trivia questions, the patience they showed as they explained the tasks they made.

I grow tired often of “those darn grade 6 kids” comments I hear often, they are bigger they are louder but they are amazing. Today and everyday I am grateful beyond words to be their teacher. Today however others got to see why. What a great day.

World Book Day

Today is a bit gloomy and the perfect day to sit down and read a good book. I have focused so much of my personal professional  growth and teaching this year on the importance of reading. Not just reading but what we read and how we read. In years past I was very focused on teacher directed reading. Phrases like is that your level of book or did you take your AR test yet on that book? Were frequent, I was a teacher that was guilty of helping cause Readicide in my students, the death of the joy of reading. Reading had become a task for them to complete versus a tool to increase imagination, joy and creativity. So midway through last year I changed things up, I started having choice reading be less rigid more student directed. When students were free to choose what the wanted they were instantly more engaged and excited. After a few weeks of this, one of my struggling students who was reading a book way beyond her “level”, came to me and said,

Mr.Gilson I like that you just want us to like reading again, all my old teachers just worried about my level and so I didn’t like reading, look how huge this book is! And I get it!

In that moment I realized the power of choice reading in a development of a love of reading. This year I have focused more on choice and options, comic books graphic novels, poetry, picture books and novels. Whatever it takes to form a reader that reads for more than just a mark. Go find a great book and enjoy the adventure. #worldbookday2017

Every child a reader

I just finished the most amazing teacher support book entitled “Disrupting Thinking” the main premise is that when thoughts or ideas surprise us, confuses us or conflict with previously held beliefs that a disruption occurs and we should pay attention to those disruptions in our thinking and examine them.

This book has done exactly what it’s title suggests. Disrupting the thought that reading needs to be a certain way, that all kids should strive to read novels, that they should be excited to have a new adventure to go on by simply opening a book. Not all kids feel this way and some may never choose to spend their time on a rainy Saturday curled up reading a great new book. As teachers we need to make room for that thought and explore other ways to get our students exposed to text not because they need to be these prolific readers but because we want them to be thinkers, responsible and responsive to the things that are going on around them.

In a world where anyone can post a link about “Breaking News” on social media and instantly it is before millions we as teachers (and parents) need to make sure that those we work with are prepared to think about the things they read, not just the headlines but between the lines. In Disrupting Thinking the authors (Beers & Probst) put forward a framework for how we should or at least could think about a text. BHH stands for Book (what does the text say, facts, details, purpose), Head (What does the text make me think about?, what signposts are present and why are they important?) and finally Heart (How does this text effect me? How does it make me feel and does it change me in some way?) This type of thinking can be applied to all forms of literature.

It does not matter so much if you become an avid novel reader as long as you read and think. As adults we don’t all read novels, some of us just read the paper everyday or week, others click those infamous “You won’t believe this” facebook links, Sports Illustrated or Muscle and Fitness, comic books or graphic novels. Whatever it is you choose to read just do so with your mind open to new ideas, new curiosities. As Beers and Probst say innovation never would occur if we all just sat idle in our thoughts and positions without acting on and looking for ways to improve.

While as a teacher and a reader I love when my students are excited about a great book they are reading, I am equally excited however to hear about some cool news article they have read (or even listened to) or the new superhero they discovered in a comic book. Reading is so very important but even more so is thinking about that reading and no child forced to read a text they don’t choose or care about will put in the time to really think about the text and let it strengthen or change their opinions.

 

New teacher book means new thoughts

As a class this year I have taken us on a journey to become better readers. At the start of the year I wanted to focus on all sorts of different strategies and skills. I wanted to fill their toolbox so that they could really enjoy their books and achieve deep levels of thinking and have “Grand Conversations”. We have read a lot and learned a lot this year. Most have enjoyed it but a few have struggled with keeping their reading endurance up. A few have said “Why do I have to write about my reading” or “If I can read with you and talk about it why do I have to answer all these questions and write a summary and find the main point and….” All these comprehension strategies begin to make the kids see reading as a task. Do they need to be able to read and understand what they have read? Of course but once they do what does adding more tools and making them practice these tools do? Simply put, it takes something that kids enjoy and make it more a task, they are not reading as much for joy and listening to how a text makes them feel. Readers begin to read for answers to the impending questions not to explore how Brian and his isolation in Hatchet reminds them how overcoming challenges is possible. They read to only look for main points to discover a theme and not for the thrill of discovering new characters that they can relate to. I asked my students a question today, “What was it like when you were read to as a kid” I think they thought it was an odd question but it got them thinking, one even said, “It was better because our parents didn’t stop every so often to check if we got it and we liked the stories more.” So I said to them fully aware it could backfire, “Why do we read now I was prepared for all the typical I am 12 and don’t like school answers like, “You force us to” or “So we can get good marks” but it was interesting to here the answers of the few willing discuss their thoughts.

Why do we read?

It helps us learn vocabulary, like new words for our writing.

Nice to do when we want to relax.

Sometimes we start a book and don’t like it but it helps us find the ones we do.

Increases our imagination.

I like reading but some times I can’t find the right book , it is all about finding the right book.

They (a good book) hooks you in.

Books teach us things.

I like to read but I don’t like doing activities.

Reading keeps my mind off other things going on.

No one said because we have to, or for a grade, or for points on A.R (Thank heaven because I would have died) but the message I did receive was clear. What they do not like about reading is that it is becoming less and less about how the books make them feel and think about and more and more about assessment. The interruption of the reading flow caused by “tasks” was mentioned a few times. The conversations are going to become a larger focus in our class, sharing about books and talking about our experience with them. There is a place for writing and reflecting but like all things we need balance.

The journey to being responsible, reflective readers continues 🙂

 

Achievement Beyond Report Cards

Report cards are going home for term 2 already. It feels like just yesterday was November and if you look outside the window…well it looks like just yesterday it was November. All that aside report cards are going tomorrow and as I look mine over I have some thoughts to share on assessment and why all of it is important but not what we should all be putting all of our focus on.

First lets start with report cards themselves. The jury is still out on what the best way to go about reporting student progress is. Objective based report cards may very well be making their way school division wide and I would welcome that but as of now there are many different things floating around. Some schools have a set way of reporting for all grades others do not. Some use outcome based reporting, actually stating where each student is according to the program of studies, others the classic grade system others still a progress report. In the end the report card is really only as good as what it is measuring and how much it informs the parents, students and other teachers.

So what about that information? What does a 4 out of a 4 point scale in math mean? What does “Developing” mean when looking at an outcome based report card and the outcome “represent numbers concretely”? Really it means nothing without the conversation with the teacher. A monthly progress report is great but it does not replace a conversation because the power is in the discussion on achievement not just the number scale or descriptor.

A 4 in art for example could be excelling in all Art but that hardly does justice to the student who crafts beautiful paintings while the rest of the students just achieve the outcome. Achievement needs to be more than a number, more than a descriptor. Achievement should be a celebration.

The student that makes incredible gains in reading deserves more than a letter or number on a report card, they deserve a celebration of their achievement. A superior athlete should not be limited to the same grade as those who just put in the effort, athletes work hard and deserve to be celebrated for their skills. The same can be said for gifted musicians, mathematicians, history buffs, actors and all other types of students.

By taking the focus off the score on a report card and placing it back on the achievements, great and small, we will build students confidence and in doing so motivation and ability. Now just to find a way to report on that 🙂

The Case for Comics in the Classroom

I grew up reading comics every time we went to my grandparents, we would sneak into the storage room and go through my uncles old DC comics. We would read stories about the Justice League or Superman or Batman even Sgt.Rock. As I got older I started my own little collection. My flavour of choice was always X-men (still is to this day) I have my first purchased comics still. Some great Uncanny issues that kicked off the Jim Lee Blue/Gold X-men days. I was not a big novel reader as a kid but I have read thousands and thousands of pages of comic books.

I am not sure why this concept slipped my mind but i have boxes and boxes of comics that no one ever gets to read, I don’t read them they just sit in a box and collect dust. So why not bring them to school? Why not give my students a chance to really get into characters and their stories the way I did?

So I brought some in, just a box to start. Some Superman, a bunch of X-men, some old Spiderman stuff. A pretty good little mix. Comic books are not just about superpowers and heroics. Sure that stuff is all there in spades but there is also messages of tolerance, equality and empowerment. While I think the costumes could probably be a little less revealing and maybe we could throw in a few more realistic body types, Wonder Woman is one of the most powerful characters in the DC Universe. There are more and more characters of prominence now a days that reflect the world we live in.

The largest bonus that I have realized in these few short days since the comics arrived is that it has got kids back to reading that are feeling a little novel fatigued. They are asking if I have certain characters they are interested in or if they can just keep reading instead of some other tasks. It is fun and sparking an interest in reading in this last 3rd of the school year.

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One Thousand Reasons to read thought provoking literature.

I preface this post with the statement, “It is important to read for fun and enjoyment” I am a strong believer in this and I want my students to have time every day to read books they like and want to read. Sometimes these books are fun: Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Captain Underpants, Dork Diaries, I survived. The list goes on and on. Sometimes though books that make us think, that make us consider other points of view are not only important they are necessary.

I don’t have 1000 reason to read thought provoking literature but I do have a few.

  1. Exposing ourselves to experiences outside what we know. I just finished reading one of the most interesting books I have read in a long time. One Thousand Hills is a recounting of the time leading up to the Rwandan genocide and it has me completely engrossed. The final chapter and seeming epilogue had me so gripped I lost track of time. I had some background knowledge of the Rwandan Genocide but the scope of it’s enormity I had no idea. The parallels that could be drawn today to other crisis around the world are simply chilling. I am currently reading A Long Walk to Water with my class and it lightly discusses the crisis in Sudan. This text is another example of how we can use stories to explore topics like refugees and genocide in a way that is both informative and engaging. I hope to use One Thousand Hills with my class. Edited a bit but as close to the material as possible.
  2. Picture Books serve a purpose far beyond “looking at nice pictures”. Peter Reynolds writes and illustrates wonderful stories about inclusion, creativity and kindness. Tango makes Three by Justin Richardson explores family beyond the “traditional sense”. My wonderful wife found me the most wonderfully touching story titled “Out“. The story of a refugee family leaving a war torn area and adjusting to their new lives. The ending is a tear jerker but the story helps the reader to be in the characters shoes. My classroom has no refugees but we do have kids that deal with tough things in their lives they can relate to this character in a different situation with that connection.
  3. Critical Thinking is a life skill we will use forever. If we are never challenged in our thinking, if we are only exposed to literature that agrees with our mindset we will not grow. A book that discusses issues of race, poverty and religion that are contrary to our thoughts does not necessarily change our thoughts but it hopefully will make us look at them further. Questioning and thinking about our own positions should lead us to new conclusion. We will either strengthen our positions with evidence or we will realize there is perhaps a better position to take. Reading can bring us to this in a way that not many things can. Just the other day my Trump supporting students (they are in grade 6 so cut them some slack) read an article about the restrictions Trump placed on immigrants coming from primarily Muslim nations. The article did not say it was wrong just simply discussed the impact on those seeking asylum or those coming to see family or even legal residents returning home from vacation. After reading, their stance was challenged that his decisions are all “GREAT” and they wanted to learn more about why he did what he did. It will lead to further conversations.

Thought provoking articles, picture books and novels, all literature, helps us to develop more as individuals. Reading a book like Diary of a Wimpy kid is great. My students love them, I have not read them so I can’t say they are not thought provoking, but I feel safe in saying stories like it serve a different purpose than books like One Thousand Hills, Child Soldiers, Tango Makes Three or Freak the Mighty. Reading serves many purposes causing us to think is just one of the best ones. Until next time.