Category Archives: literacy

Catherine Snow talk

If you are in the Toronto area this talk might be of interest to you.  You can RSVP using this URL: RSVP (acceptances only): http://www.tinyurl.com/mccarthylecture

Image Catherine Snow talk

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Allegory as a Literary Device and the big Screen

Allegory as a literary device is a powerful tool in literacy development.  Beginning in the early years teachers use allegory to explore moral lessons and critical issues. How often do we read books with animal characters who experience significant challenges and how well do children respond to the texts?… very well!

Last week I (yiola) took my children to a birthday party at the movie theatre where they watched The Angry Birds.

Angry-Birds-final-quad

I had no idea what the movie was about although my 4 year son mentioned it had to do with birds protecting their eggs from pigs. Hmmmm, sounds… interesting.  As I sat in the movie theatre I watched and chuckled at the community of birds and enjoyed the simple characters of each bird… and then I watched as ships sailed onto “Bird Island” and a King Pig with a small entourage befriended the birds, showering them with gifts and new ‘treasures’ that were unfamiliar to the birds. Slowly the pigs began to take over the island and they stole all the birds’ eggs.  The birds then tried to rescue their eggs. Lines such as: “They stole our kids… who DOES that?” and later when the birds invaded “Piggie Island” to rescue the eggs the “King Pig” exclaimed, “what are you doing here? This is a civilized brunch” left me sinking in my seat and feeling uncomfortable. Without doubt The Angry Birds, to me, is an allegory of colonialism. After viewing the movie I began researching articles and critiques and while I found several interpretations very few note colonialism.

To my surprise, many an in-depth discussions have occurred over The Angry Birds. From story line to historical facts to critical literacy to media literacy, I am pleased to see how an animated film could spark such interesting discussion. Now, imagine how using popular culture like the popular video game The Angry Birds and combining it with popular media like a Hollywood movie and applying analysis and interpretation of the use of allegory in a middle school or high school setting to discuss critical social issues like Aboriginal history or immigration. Narratives are such powerful tools for thinking about life. Allegory as a literary device has the potential to raise significant awareness and heighten a love for literacy.

 

The Children’s Books That Took Our Breath Away in 2015 by Devon Corneal

I (Clare) was reading the Huffington Post education section and it listed some of the top books of 2015. I want to read them all! Here is the link: http://www.readbrightly.com/best-childrens-books-2015/?ref=72E6CF384C67

ImageHenkesWaiting

by Kevin Henkes

It seems funny to choose Kevin Henkes’s Waiting as the book that blew me away in 2015. Waiting is a quiet, gentle picture book about a group of toys on a windowsill looking at the window, each one waiting for something to happen. Henkes’s pastel illustrations and crystalline prose are enchanting. This is the perfect before-bedtime book. I can’t wait to read it to my 6-month-old niece.

Polar Bear’s Underwear

by Tupera Tupera

Image_PolarBearUnderwearPolar Bear’s Underwear shocked me by being a book about underwear I was actually willing to read to my children. It was so cute, clever, and fun without being crass or gross. I didn’t even know it was possible!

All the Lost Things

by Kelly Canby

A young girl follows her heart and changes the world she lives in. The gorgeous illustrations and hope-filled message are what make this one of my favorite books of 2015.

The Penderwicks in Spring

by Jeanne Birdsall

The Penderwicks in Spring is the fourth book in Jeanne Birdsall’s charming series about the adventures of four sisters. Nana gave my Penderwick-crazy 8-year-old a copy, and she promptly disappeared until she devoured the whole thing. My daughter bubbled over with desire to tell me what’s happening to all her favorite characters, and I shushed her right back, because I love them too, and I want my own turn to sit back and get my Penderwick fix.

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Lockwood & Co.: The Hollow Boy

by Jonathan Stroud

Jonathan Stroud books make me happy. I hoard them like a miser, waiting, just waiting until I can share them with my daughter and slowly but surely blow her mind. Stroud’s best works fall into the category of “supernatural YA,” which might be one of the most over-saturated genres in literary history, but his stories are so good, his worldbuilding so confident, his characters so vivid that they stand above the rest. In Stroud’s latest series, we follow a group of pre-teen ghost hunters trying to make a difference in a spirit-plagued London and, with the newest volume, The Hollow Boy, I have become as invested in this story as I have been for any beloved TV series that I’ve ever binged on Netflix or Hulu. I can’t wait for the next one.

The Jumbies

by Tracey Baptiste

My daughter was thrilled when Baptiste held a reading at a local bookshop — meeting a Black woman writer reminds her that she has the power to tell the stories she wants to tell. Then she heard an excerpt from this book about a courageous girl who takes on supernatural forces with flair, and that was it! She dove into the story (to the point where I was saying that “Put that book down NOW and eat/do your homework/go to bed” type of thing I’d thought I’d never say) and devoured it in what seemed like minutes. Then she hounded me to read it too — she wanted to talk about the chills and magic, yes, but was especially intrigued by the nuanced story of power, culture, and ownership that Baptiste tells. I loved that my daughter wanted to talk about the book with me; I picked it up, and yep, could NOT put it down. Left me breathless for sure, and thinking … and left both of us absolutely itching for a sequel!

The War That Saved My Life

by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Image_WarThatSavedThis wonderful historical fiction novel is a page-turning adventure set in England in World War II. The story centers on Ada, a 10-year-old girl born with a clubfoot who has been hidden away in a cupboard her whole life and led to believe she is worthless. When she escapes her apartment in London with other children being sent to the countryside due to the impending attacks from Hitler’s German army, a new world unfolds to her. There are so many important themes that come alive in this story — from what’s it like to live with a disability to what defines a family to the impact of war on our society. The many layers of this story, coupled with the intriguing characters and perfectly paced plot, took my breath away. I’ve been recommending this book to mature fourth graders and up who loved Number the Stars or other historical adventure stories.

Every Last Word

by Tamara Ireland Stone

Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone is a beautifully written story of a girl struggling to find herself and her own voice (literally and figuratively) while working through her OCD. Stone’s empathy toward the subject of OCD comes shining through in this gem of contemporary young adult literature.

Orbiting Jupiter

by Gary D. Schmidt

Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt is a heartbreaking story that still lingers with me months after reading it. It made me weep. It made me think. It made me see love in a new way. It also reminded me that each of us have a story, even a 14-year-old foster boy on a dairy farm, desperate to see the child he fathered by the only love he ever knew, a love that is now gone.

The Thing About Jellyfish

by Ali Benjamin

And me? I’m having a hard time choosing between The Thing About Jellyfish and The Marvels and since I get to compile the list this year, I don’t have to! The Thing About Jellyfish is a rare middle grade novel that realistically captures the emotional conflict of late elementary school and provides readers with a protagonist they can really relate to. Handling death and survivor’s guilt in a developmentally appropriate and compassionate way is no small feat, but Ali Benjamin manages it beautifully.

The Marvels

by Brian Selznick

In The Marvels, Brian Selznick continues to highlight his talents as both an author and an illustrator in a tale that covers generations of a single family and their adventures on sea and on the stage. The illustrations alone are extraordinary, but the story is equally engaging.

 

 

SAMR: Bloom’s Taxonomy for technology education

Dr. Ruben Puentedura developed the SAMR model as a way for teachers to evaluate how they are incorporating technology into their classroom practice.  Puentedura constructed his model in the form of a ladder and equates it with a student climbing the cognitive scale associated with Bloom’s Taxonomy.  (i.e. as a task moves from lower to upper levels of Bloom’s taxonomy, so does a task move from lower to upper levels of SAMR).

Below is a comparison of Bloom’s and SAMR:

diagram-puentedura

Puentedura’s model encourages educators to ask themselves if the student task is an act of substitution, augmentation, modification, or redefinition? The suggested threshold for moving from enhancing learning to transforming learning is between augmentation and modification.  As an example of this, consider a student writing a paper.  If the student writes the paper on a computer instead of on a piece of paper, this is an act of substitution.  If the student uses spell check and a formatting tool to assist with the writing process, this is augmentation as there is a slight change in the functional improvement.  Should the student publish the paper, perhaps on a wiki, blog site or through google docs, so other students can read it and give feedback, this is a modification of the process, for it now includes collaboration.  Lastly, in redefinition entirely new tasks are created which were inconceivable without computers and computer software tools.  In this level student transform their written stories into media productions using storyboards, filmed scenes and music.  Students can also publish these and receive feedback on the work.  In this level technology has redefined the task.

Working towards redefinition, is of course the goal for teachers who would like his/her students to be working in the highest thinking levels possible while using technology.

A short video introducing the SAMR model can be found at:                        https://www.commonsensemedia.org/videos/introduction-to-the-samr-model

 

Questioning the Benefits of Toddlers’ Digital Technology Use

Researchers at Boston University School of Medicine suggest toddlers’ overuse of mobile digital technologies could hinder their social-emotional development. While the researchers recognize “that educational apps on smartphones and tablets may facilitate some academic skills for children” they voice concern that the extended use of such technologies by toddlers could displace valuable play-based interactions. The researchers point out that “toddlers younger than two years are known to learn best via hands-on exploration of their physical world.” Their commentary published in the journal of Pediatrics reviews  existing literature, examines future research directions, and suggests preliminary guidelines for families. What are your thoughts on this topic?

Link to CBC article: http://www.cbc.ca/m/news/topstories/toddlers-overusing-mobile-tech-may-stunt-development-1.2940848

Creating an Audit Trail

During one of my final practicum visits, I (Cathy) was excited to see one of my student teachers had created an audit trail.   When I mentioned this to her, she replied, “I thought  it was just a bulletin board.” But it was far more than ‘just a bulletin board’.   The student work Melissa had beautifully displayed represented an entire science unit of learning from pre-diagnosis to final summaries.

Audit trails were popularized by Dr. Vivian Vasquez, in her ground breaking critical literacy work with 3-5 year olds.  Vasquez says,                                                                                                             An audit trail or learning wall, as my three to five year old students called it, is a public display of artifacts gathered together by a teacher and their students that represents their thinking about different issues and topics.  This strategy is useful for creating spaces for students to re-visit, reread, analyze, and re-imagine various topics or issues. It is also a powerful tool for connecting past projects or areas of study to newer projects or areas of study. Further, it can be used as a tool for building curriculum as it visibly lays out the journey of the group’s thinking and learning over a period of time.

http://hwcdn.libsyn.com/p/c/f/3/cf355fe54466c4e0/Audit_Trail.pdf?c_id=4270455&expiration=1418946485&hwt=2cc91c9a05310c5ca082ae4a61c9c725

more walldiagnostic molecules

Inspiration from Pinterest

I (Cathy) find one of the most popular social media sites used by my student teachers is Pinterest.  They rave about the interesting and engaging ideas they find on the site for lessons.  I saw evidence of this just recently while visiting a school.   My student teacher, Melissa, had found a writing exercise on the site entitled, If I Was  Trapped in a Snow Globe.  It involved the students creating a snow globe scene inside of a white plastic container and then describing the adventure in writing.   The associate teacher was so excited by the results, she lead me into the hallway to see what  her young students had accomplished.  The associate declared, “This student never writes anything, but look at this!  Two pages!  They loved this writing assignment.”

Often, good writing results by students are the results of a good inspirational ideas. Luckily educators have many more resources to access now, due to social media.  I highly recommend Pinterest for many ideas in variety of subjects.

http://primarypunch.blogspot.ca/2013/01/thank-you-pinterest.html

globesstory

FDK Update: Assessment and Communication

Full Day Kindergarten (FDK) Blog #4  tells the literacy teaching story from the perspective of a first time Full Day Kindergarten parent (Yiola).   In this post I share elements of the assessment process and how my child’s development has been communicated.

Here in Ontario it is “Parent-Teacher Interview” time. First term report cards have been written and parents and teachers, and sometimes students, are meeting to discuss student progress.  There are a number of ways the interviews are conducted: student-led conferences are now quite popular processes and the more traditional teacher-led conference sans student are still in effect.

When I received the school newsletter and read that report cards and interviews were about to take place I was surprised and a little anxious; I felt it was too early to have the teachers share my child’s development… I knew my Sylvia Clare was learning a lot but to put in writing her ‘levels’  or acquired learning after 8 short weeks of school seemed far too soon.  Well, I was right. The report cards and formal interviews were meant for students in grades 1 and up, not for kindergarten. Phew! That made more sense to me. As a parent of a child in kindergarten it makes good sense that children in the early years are not formally assessed … well, too early.  From a parent’s perspective, I wonder  if I would feel the same way if my children were in first or second or third grade?

What the FDK program has established is an “observation” time where each parent/guardian is invited to visit the classroom in action, to observe the daily life of the classroom and their child in the classroom. During the observation time the teacher offers some time to discuss questions or concerns with the parents/guardians. I was thrilled with the sounds of process as I was feeling so very curious about the sounds and vibes of the classroom and how Sylvia Clare got on inside that environment. A first hand eye-witness makes such good sense.

A short note arrived home a week before the observation. We were assigned a half hour observation time the following Monday morning.  This worked well for me, but I did wonder, how do full-time working parents without flexible schedules manage the observation?

Monday morning arrived and off I went to visit the classroom. Alive with children’s voices, questions, and energy I walked into a vibrant room filled with learning. I was welcomed by the Teacher and Early Childhood Educator. Sylvia Clare’s face lit up when she spotted me as she hustled over with excitement. I quickly slid into the flow of the room and began to learn what it was my child did in the FDK room. Sylvia Clare was working with another student building the 100s chart on the huge carpet area. She had the 70s cards and while the Senior Kindergarten student was building from the 40s, she watched and waited patiently for the 70s to turn up so she could add to the massive chart… a wonderful, collaborative learning experience.  When done, she showed me around the room:  building centres, reading nooks, sand table, art table, writing table, snack table and well organized low rise shelves embodied the room. The room was as I remembered it back in August (neutral colours, natural light, natural materials) but now evidence of student learning lined the walls; drawings, colourings, writings were on display and I could see Sylvia Clare’s work.

Sylvia Clare's portrait of "Woody", the tree the class adopted from the neighbourhood forest.
Sylvia Clare’s portrait of “Woody”, the tree the class adopted from the neighbourhood forest.

Children working in pairs, in small groups, independently on a variety of tasks throughout the room. The room was bustling yet highly organized. The room was loud but not noisy. I was thrilled to see so many “languages” brought to life (Reggio Emilia’s notion of the 100 languages in the classroom) ~ art opportunities everywhere; all purposeful and engaging. Everyone, including my Sylvia Clare had a place in the space and was engaged in the life of the room. The teachers encouraged Sylvia Clare to show me her portfolio (a binder with evidence of her work). Then Sylvia Clare led me to her interests where we explored and worked together.  Once well settled into the observation, the teacher sat down next to me and asked, “Do you have any questions or concerns?”  This was such an open and  welcoming way to start our discussion. My questions:

Is Sylvia Clare happy at school?

Does she have friends and is she social? Who does she play with the most?

Where does she spend most of her time in the room?

I see she is learning a lot from all that she shares at home. What do you think?

The teacher provided specific description of Sylvia Clare’s work in the classroom: what she talks about, who she plays with, what she enjoys doing, and how she interacts in the classroom. It was clear to me the teachers have a good sense of who Sylvia Clare is, what she likes, areas she has shown significant growth already and areas for improvement. Then I asked:

What can we work on at home to support her learning? 

Continued literacy development, focusing on sound/letter recognition.  I realize now, as a parent of a child who is developing their reading skills just how complex the process is for children. It takes time. Some children acquire skills faster than others; some struggle  but all children need time, exposure, practice to basic skill development. In theory, I knew this. To witness it through the lens of a parent however is somewhat different.  Experiencing literacy development in one young child in live time, watching her gain letter recognition, one letter at a time, one sound at a time, is quite fascinating.  Sylvia Clare is getting there. Beyond the daily read alouds and story telling I need to work through phonic games and drills with Sylvia Clare.

After our brief conversation I felt comfortable and confident that my child has adjusted to full day schooling and getting along well.  Sylvia Clare then ushered me over to the snack table and we chatted while  some of her friends came over to meet me. Shortly after, I said my goodbyes and was on my way.

It was remarkable observing my child in this setting; a setting outside our home, a setting in which I am but an observer and Sylvia Clare is the participant. The observation experience provided very clear, detailed description of my child’s work at school, far more than I would have gathered from a formal report card.

 

Explaining Explain Everything (App)

I (Cathy) find that one of the exciting aspects of teaching is learning from my students- especially about digital technology.    One of my student teachers, Drake, taught a lesson last week using Explain Everything.  With the aid of this app he successfully taught  a lesson in French which enabled his grade 6 students to engage in conversations about sports.  How he used the app was definitely key to the success of his lesson and I gave him full credit for cleverly scaffolding the sequence of the questions and answers so that that student conversations were set up for success.  Yet, Drake insisted it was the app that enabled him to teach the lesson so clearly.  Below are pictures of how Drake set up the lesson on his ipad and then mailed it to himself as a handout for his students.  Well done Drake!

Drakeipad

Intrigued, I began to play with this app myself.  I discovered it has a wide range of  applications. It feels like a cross between a power point and a smart board, but completely doable on an ipad.   Very convenient.  Below is an link to a you tube video that demonstrates how students can use the app in a classroom.

 

 

 

Literacy development and genres: The graphic novel

When I (yiola) first began teaching  (in 2008) I asked student teachers if they knew about graphic novels.  The response was that few students were familiar with the genre or how and why it may benefit learning in the classroom. With each passing year more and more student teachers indicate they are familiar with graphic novels and more and more student teachers recognize the genre inside classrooms.

Some use the term graphic novels interchangeably with comics with others differentiate the two as distinct styles. In either case there are strong arguments for why the graphic novel is a powerful genre for literacy development.

http://thoughtcatalog.com/lauren-perry/2014/04/6-reasons-you-need-to-start-reading-comic-books/

http://neillcameron.blogspot.co.uk/2014/09/comics-and-literacy-part-1-why-reading.html

I introduce student teachers to David Booth’s book “In Graphic Detail” and I share the graphic novel “In a Class of her Own” to demonstrate how critical literacy and language acquisition can be developed in meaningful and interesting ways.

Unknown

 

http://www.theguardian.com/childrens-books-site/2013/mar/19/review-in-a-class-of-her-own-kathleen-gould-lundy

The sharing of the graphic novel as a useful genre in the classroom is a highlight in my course. Many student teachers become inspired to use graphic novels once they are introduced to why they are effective and how to use them in a classroom setting.

Please share any great graphic novel titles that you know to be outstanding.