Literacy Specialist – This year’s RVS Battle of the Books tournament on February 15 could not have had a more dramatic and exciting conclusion with Mitford’s “Readasaurus Rexes” tied with the “Indus Irony” at the end of regulation time in the championship final round. Parents, teachers, coaches and students were on the edge of their seats as Sigmund Brouwer, our guest presenter and celebrated author, took over question master duties in overtime to eventually determine our winner… but that wasn’t the best part.
The best part… it was a day all about books, students and the celebration that reading deeply about a text and sharing that learning with peers can bring. It was a day full of joy, laughter and excitement for all those involved.
Students talked about books. Students laughed about books. Students made new friends through their book conversations and shared experiences with their books. Students dissected and reviewed books. Students were intimate with the characters and connected to the stories and perspectives told through these books. Students were collaborative and competitive in demonstrating their knowledge of these books. It is these books that brought the students new insights, new accomplishments, and new connections with others. It was a powerful day celebrating learning and all because of books!
For those of you who do not know, the Battle of the Books is much like a sports competition, where teams of six face off against each other in tournament-style rounds to determine which team has the strongest understanding of the 15 preselected titles.Students spent countless hours not only reading, but rereading the texts. They were prepared to answer questions that went far beyond the trivial facts held within the pages, but reached to understand the intricacies buried in the diverse plots and themes of each book. Impressed by the level of competition, Leslie Waite, Assistant Principal of East Lake School said, “In order to answer diverse comprehension questions about all the books, students have developed deep knowledge of each text. They discuss each text, create questions and quizzed each other. It is amazing how well they know these books!” And KNOW these texts they DID; not only with accuracy, but with speed and confidence.
“You get to read a bunch of books that you normally would not choose yourself. You get to make new friends at the event. You – It’s just – It’s just fun! It encourages you to read a whole series or new authors that you like and you want to keep reading,” Bella from Meadowbrook shares. “Like I said before, you get to make new friends. Having my teammates in different grades was cool because I can walk down the halls now and say ‘Hi’ to them and feel like we are equal.” The Battle of the Books facilitated opportunities for RVS students to harness the power of literature – the ability to share a common experience, create new understandings and foster relationships that may not otherwise have occurred.
This shared literary experience had students across the Division talking. In fact, in the Battle’s first year, 72 students were involved from nine middle schools. These numbers do not take into account the additional hundreds of students that were involved in each school’s home battles, where members were seeking to become part of a team, and they do not reflect the spin off events that have been inspired by the day. One group of inspired middle school students plan to organize and facilitate a Battle of the Books for their Grade 3s because it was so much fun! This pay it forward attitude is infectious, and encourages students to come together in establishing a strong foundation for a culture of rich literature and authentic literacy conversations in our schools.
The good news is that the Battle of the Books is here to stay. If you are interested in knowing more about or participating in this literacy initiative, please do not hesitate to contact Erica Legh or Jody Moore.
Oh, and by the way, our champions for 2018 are… Mitford’s Readasaurus Rexes! Congratulations competitors!
Literacy Specialist – Many teachers in Rocky View Schools have started to explore the benefits of incorporating the Lucy Calkins Units of Study in Writing and the Units of Study in Reading to elevate, enhance and engage students in their writing. These Units of Study were developed through the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, from the Teachers College at Columbia University. This process approach to literacy instruction introduces carefully scaffolded skills and strategies, through sequenced mini lessons, to support students in developing and sharing their written ideas, and in accessing new information. Through the Gradual Release of Responsibility, skills and strategies are introduced and modeled for students using mentor texts and expert thinking strategies. Teachers can serve as the in-house experts to model how mature readers and writers think. Using these examples, teachers can identify and support students as they begin to transfer effective writing techniques, styles and devices from the pros into their own writing; therefore, enhancing and elevating student writing. While the Units of Study in Reading and Writing focus on building student independence through the gradual release of responsibility, there are many parallel structures that help students to learn important literacy skills. These structures include the cycle of workshop, the four part mini lesson, and the structures for conferring with students.
The Gradual Release of Responsibility plays an important role in the development of literacy skills and behaviours. The structure of “I do, we do, you do” promotes the introduction of new concepts through modelled thinking and learning strategies, then guided practice, with intentional time for independent consolidation and practice of literacy skills. This structure allows for teachers to work with small groups, or individual students, while students work independently, and facilitates differentiation of instruction. The level of student independence required to optimize this model takes time. To build independence and stamina with students, intentional focus can be given to routines and environmental structures, like anchor charts and stamina graphs.
As they move through the cycles of Readers and Writers Workshop, students focus on developing the strategies and skills that will elevate the confidence and independence with which the are able to access and communicate ideas. Elements of choice, whether students are reading or writing, are important for student engagement within the workshop. Sessions are scaffolded in such ways that allow for students to connect their reading and writing to personal experiences and expertise. While there is an obvious difference between the two Workshops in terms of instructional content, (ie. reading-based instruction vs. writing-based instruction), many elements remain consistent. “If you have taught within a writing workshop structure, the reading workshop structure will be very familiar to you… the structure upholds the tenets we all know are necessary to teach children to read (and write)” (Calkins, 2015, p.27). The cycle of workshop begins with a quick mini lesson, consisting of four parts. This is an opportunity for teachers to explicitly introduce and model new writing or reading strategies. The four part mini lesson is only meant to span about 10 minutes, and is broken down into the following components:
Connection: Connecting to prior teaching and learning.
Teaching: Introduction and modelling of strategies through teaching.
Active Engagement: Active consolidation with classmates before independent practice.
Link: Connect back to teaching point. This sets students up to leave with a plan for the independent component of workshop.
After the mini lesson, students move to the independent reading or writing stage in their cycle of workshop.
The independent phase of the Cycle of Workshop is important for students to consolidate, practice and build confidence with skills and strategies that are introduced through mini-lessons and small group work. Students need this time in order to grow independence in using and transferring new strategies to support them in accessing and communicating their ideas.
To ensure successful and productive student work during this time, teachers can intentionally introduce and model expectations for independence. By taking time to build routines for sustaining stamina for both reading and writing, teachers ensure that they have time to confer with students, and host small guided sessions with students, to focus on differentiated needs. Class discussions and modelling of behaviors to support independence, and setting and keeping track of goals as a class can support successful stamina building.
While students work independently, there are many flexible opportunities for teachers to support students with their writing. During this time, teachers are able to gather formative assessment data, and provide feedback to students. By conferring with small guided reading and writing groups, targeted strategy groups, and individual groups of students, students and teachers set goals, and identify strategies to elevate student reading and writing.
After students have had an opportunity to read or write independently, and to practice learned strategies, it is important for them to share their growth with others in partnerships and then as a whole class. Together, partners share and show how they have incorporated strategies into their ongoing reading and writing practices to enhance their communication. After partners share with one another, the whole class comes together once more for the Teaching Share, bringing the Cycle of Workshop to a close. Here, the class celebrates together how students are making use of the focus strategies and skills introduced at the beginning of the cycle, or perhaps from a past day’s mini-lesson. In both Readers and Writers Workshop, this is an important component of the cycle, as it will be the connection point, or base of reference, for the next day’s mini-lesson.
The parallel Cycles of Readers and Writers Workshop offer support for teachers to explicitly model and introduce strategies, in a scaffolded fashion, and then to work with students to support their differentiated needs. To ensure that reading and writing instruction occurs as part of a Comprehensive Balanced Literacy diet, the instruction within the Cycles of Workshop is specific and targeted to diversify student learning, and to maximize student literacy growth.
Literacy Specialist – In order to understand students as readers, it is important for teachers to collect information data about their reading and plan from there. In the first weeks of school, this can be a bit daunting; however, it is also a valuable opportunity to get to know students as individuals and to start building relationships.
Being able to make the most of this valuable time with students requires the rest of the class to work independently. This would allow teachers time to meet with students and gather information about student reading. The beginning of the year is a great time for teachers to work with students to establish routines and expectations. Together, they illustrate and practice strategies for independence to incrementally build stamina around sustaining classroom routines. Over time, students are able to work with increasing independence, providing teachers with the time they need to gather information about the readers in their class to drive student instruction.
To build independence, students and teachers need to clearly establish and practice routines and expectations for the literacy block. It is important to take time to illustrate what following the expectations does and does not look like, and to outline the roles of all class members. Co-created class anchor charts are a great way to remind students of agreed upon expectations and routines. Other classroom structures directly support student independence in the literacy block, including student specific book boxes, environmental print, and readily available materials for reading and writing.
Taking time to embed formative assessment opportunities in classroom practice helps teachers to determine the next steps for instruction. The data gathered through assessment can help to inform the focus of whole group instruction, as well as small, more guided activities like Guided Reading, one-on-one conferences and targeted strategy groups.
Over time, ongoing formative assessment becomes a running track record of student reading growth, which translates into anecdotal data for sharing with parents and students through online student portfolios and report cards. The RVS Literacy Profile is a great place to record and collect this data. Teachers can use the RVS Assessments for ongoing formative assessment to understand the needs of their students, rather than periodically taking chunks of time away from instruction to assess readers for report cards. Using this data, teachers are then able to plan their whole group and small group instruction to target specific areas of need as indicated by students.
Literacy Specialist – The research is very clear about the rewards of motivating kids to read, to think deeply, to talk about what they have read and to find something new. After all, practice makes perfect so that means read, read and read.
The only way we will see our students’ reading improve is to provide them with literacy-rich environments where they have access to copious numbers of books; they are surrounded by adults and peers who model strong reading behaviours; they are provided opportunities to question, wonder, make connections and have authentic conversations about what they have read with the people in their lives; and they are taught to read for joy, pleasure and purpose. Literacy researchers such as Allington, Calkins and others tell us that if we provide these environments, students will do better in school, achieve higher results and most importantly become successful, lifelong learners.
But motivating students to do what is good for them can sometimes be a challenge. Here are some suggestions to cultivate a culture of reading in our schools and classrooms:
Have students help to curate classroom libraries. Let them categorize, group and organize your library and in turn provide them with ownership over the collection. Use student librarians to help keep classroom libraries in order, organized and returned.
Create Personal Reading histories about books that matter and that have had a significant influence in their lives.
Organize book talks about summer readings or organize monthly discussions.
Show that you are a reader: create teacher book clubs, write your own book reviews, facilitate student/teacher breakfast book clubs and encourage parent/student book clubs.
Create a “buzz” around book selections by reading snippets of books that are funny, serious, sad, dramatic, strange or mysterious. Kids and adults love to be read to. There is a book for everyone; helping students find it is the key.
Host a book tasting or speed dating with text.
Create a Battle of the Books team to compete in the RVS Battle of the Books competition on Feb 15.
Use QR codes and Image Mapping AR apps like Aurasma to make reading and vocabulary activities come to life.
Have authentic conversations about reading with students and encourage them to have them with one another. This is a way to explore the deeper aspects of reading comprehension with readers.
Meet with students in different contexts (one-on-one, guided groups, small targeted strategy groups, partnerships) to target and support their growth in reading, introduce strategies, and to set goals.
Become a book champion! Share what makes books great and why students need to read them!
Invite the support of community members and organizations through Rocky View Reads partnerships.
Incorporate podcasts that can hook reluctant readers while boosting critical thinking and comprehension.
Vocabulary Parade: Students and staff dress up to illustrate vocabulary words in interesting ways (think of a roving cardboard rowboat full of sailors for the word nautical).
So, as the school year begins, let’s all roll up our sleeves and work together to create literacy-rich environments that will open our students’ worlds to new vocabulary, new ways of thinking, new perspectives and new understandings. Let’s continue to build a culture of reading in Rocky View so that our students can reap the rewards of a literate life. For more ideas and information check us out at http://schoolblogs.rockyview.ab.ca/makingliteracyvisible.
Child Development Advisor – Chestermere Therapy Dogs Society (CTDS) was created in 2014 from the heart and vision of an amazing individual, Steven King. He believes that animals, particularly dogs, can add tremendous value to our lives. From this vision, several programs have been developed. The one I would love to introduce you to is Listening Tails!
The Listening Tails program is designed to help children improve their reading skills and confidence by reading out loud to a therapy dog. Each student will read for 15 minutes once a week for six weeks. Prairie Waters Elementary School is so blessed to have two dogs (Shadow and Atlas) and two handlers (Tanya and Sheldon) once a week for an hour and a half. This allows for 10 students each week to participate in the program.
Listening Tails has been running strong at Prairie Waters Elementary School since the Spring of 2015. We have been lucky enough to provide this opportunity to approximately 75 students. The program’s success stems from the fact that dogs love the attention they receive when children read to them. Another key to the success of this program is that dogs are non-judgemental listeners. There isn’t an adult looking over their shoulders correcting them, and no added pressure of an audience of people.
Steven King quotes that “being a volunteer-driven organization, nothing could have happened without the dedication and commitment of the volunteers in Chestermere and surrounding areas who, from day one, have embraced the idea of help through therapy dogs. As an organization, CTDS understands that the dogs are the centre of attention, but nothing happens without the loving care of their dog handlers who give selflessly of themselves each time they attach the CTDS bandana around their dog’s neck.”
Our students absolutely love being chosen to participate in Listening Tails; choosing which child gets to have a coveted spot on the list is one of the hardest decisions to make. Every student who has participated in this program has nothing but positive things to say. Many students ask to partake regardless if they are an emerging reader. The connection our students feel towards the dog is magical.
Our school is a happier place when Shadow and Atlas are here. The dogs bring a positivity to the hallways that is difficult to describe. Prairie Waters is thrilled to have the Listening Tails program at our school and is so appreciative of the dedication and commitment that Tanya and Sheldon have for bringing the dogs once a week from September to June.
The Listening Tails program is truly a win-win situation. The students love the time they spend with the dog, the dog loves the one-on-one attention they receive from the student, and the handlers leave our school feeling they have made a difference in the lives of a child. If you have any questions about this program, please do not hesitate to contact me or visit the Chestermere Therapy Dogs Society website.