Building a Rich Literacy Culture in Your School Community and Classroom

Building a Rich Literacy Culture in Your School Community and Classroom

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.

Listening Tails

Listening Tails

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.

PISA Day 2016

PISA Day 2016

Superintendent of Schools – Today the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released the results of the 2015 administration of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). PISA is a two-hour standardized test that attempts to assess the competencies of 15-year-olds in reading, mathematics, and science. It is administered in 70+ countries / regions. This version of the assessment focused mostly on science but also measure literacy and mathematics as well.

PISA is not without controversy. Canada and Alberta traditionally has done quite well on the tests and these results are often cited by jurisdictions around the world where results are strong. It is often one of the measurements used to compare provinces and countries. In Alberta, the government states that “Alberta participates in international studies of achievement, along with other provinces and countries. These include: Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS).”

Recently the Alberta Teacher Association voted to urge the Minister of Education to withdraw participation in PISA, TIMSS and PIRLS. Here is some background on the issue as described by the ATA:

“The PISA ideology accepts that economic imperatives, growth and competitiveness are the primary aims of schooling, and assures that student achievement in math and science are used as the key indicators of the future economic health for a region or society. It fails to recognize that the role of education is much broader and includes (among a host of other responsibilities) the nurturing of social cohesion in rapidly changing complex societies, passing on our diverse cultural heritage and the promotion of civic engagement and citizenship.

The real issues affecting society at this historical moment are the rise of societal inequalities, the need for greater social cohesion among polarized perspectives, and the collective actions necessary to combat climate change and its impact on local and global economies.”

Canadian students are doing well on these international measures. We remain a very high performing system across the globe. Alberta continues to be a strong performer and the results demonstrate there is no need to panic. In science, Alberta (if it was its own country) would be the 2nd highest performing jurisdiction in the world. Our reading and math results are strong too. Reading remains very high overall and our math results continue to tell the story that we have work to do in that area. In science, overall, performance for girls and boys were equal which is good. In reading girls outperformed boys and in math the boys outperformed girls.

We need to empower and support our classroom teachers continue to provide effective classroom practice to improve overall student achievement, including aspects that are never tested on tests like PISA, PIRLS or TIMMS. Yes, literacy and numeracy and science are important but so are the arts, wellness, social studies, along with competencies such as critical thinking, problem solving, communication, citizenship, wide variety of literacies, etc. Truth be told, I’ve never hired anyone based on their PISA score, grade point average, or IQ test.

A number of countries have made PISA results the end-all and be-all. Students are subjected to repeated test preparation sessions and “drill and practice” to try and move up or maintain PISA results. In the end, is that the type of schooling we want for our leaners? I say “no”. We need our youth to be able to learn throughout their life and take on challenges that do not even exist today. They need a strong foundation of literacy and numeracy skills but it needs to extend well beyond just that.

In my humble opinion – our professional teachers, who know our students best, are in the best position to assess the achievement of students and support them on their own learning journey. Observations, reflections and classroom based assessments really tell the story. When we make learning real, engaging and visible it answers the questions about the effectiveness of our classrooms.

For more about the Canadian results see – http://www.cmec.ca/Publications/Lists/Publications/Attachments/365/Book_PISA2015_EN_Dec5.pdf

Greg

Let’s Take a Look

Let’s Take a Look

RVS Literacy Team – Dear Independent Reading Level Comprehension Benchmark Assessment,

It has been such an adventure to send you out into the world this August. You started out with the wind at your back, a document with a reputation for gathering valuable data about student reading comprehension.

With time, some teachers began to grow familiar with you, and made great efforts to incorporate you in their classroom practice as a tool that helped to guide the next steps in their literacy instruction.

It wasn’t always easy, Independent Reading Level Comprehension Benchmark Assessment, it wasn’t always easy. Teachers tried different strategies, and attended meetings to provide valuable feedback about how the relationship could improve. With growth and time, and the support of the RVS literacy team, a special bond has started to blossom between you and the teachers in grade 3 and 4 classrooms across Rocky View Schools.

As in all relationships, it is important to be honest and true to what the relationship is built upon, and teachers continue to do their part in providing feedback, and giving you a chance… a chance to be something great.

The RVS Literacy Team

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Middle School Literacy at CLMS – Let’s Celebrate!

Middle School Literacy at CLMS – Let’s Celebrate!

RVS Humanities 8/Reading Intervention/Drama Teacher, Chestermere Lake Middle School – Nothing brightens my day more than seeing kids learn a new skill or strategy and knowing deep in my gut that it will pay off in their lives for years to come. As a reading/writing workshop teacher in the middle school, luckily this happens regularly and my days are extremely bright!

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wuosFor all of you middle school ELA teachers out there, choosing a method/strategy/program… can be extremely frustrating. The ELA Program of Studies is extremely complex, and how can we possibly teach “the good stuff” that is going to stick, when all of those outcomes are so incredibly vague?? (Pet peeve #1) I learned long ago, that implementing a reading and writing workshop in my class was the only way that I was going to move kids forward in multiple strands and enjoy the ride along the way.


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I have had the pleasure of studying with Lucy Calkins and the Reading and Writing Project at Teacher’s College at Columbia University in NYC for the last two years. After teaching 23 years, I wanted MORE STRUCTURE with MORE STUDENT/TEACHER CHOICE in my reading/writing lessons and the new middle level Units of Study in Reading were exactly what I wanted. Unfortunately, these reading units for grades 6-8 weren’t available to the public yet, so I decided to save my pennies and take the plunge to learn straight from the masters at TCRWP and get my hands on those units!

In my grade 8 classroom, the first month is spent developing the students’ reading lives. Many students read very little outside of school time anymore, so I need to give them mass amounts of time to explore, investigate and analyze their reading interests, skills and goals. While building this reading life, I also focus on one aspect of narrative reading that is beneficial to them in later analytic endeavors – characterization. It is difficult for kids to analyze and interpret the themes in a piece, when they are still struggling to analyze and interpret the characters and their actions. Through a series of read-alouds, minilessons, conferences and mostly INDEPENDENT SELF-SELECTED READING, I see kids slowly reaching their reading goals (which were all based on growth mindset, of course), talking about books they are reading daily.firstfrenchkisscover2

Mentor Text for Unit 1: First, French Kiss: And Other Traumas by Adam Bagdasarian – Humorous memoirs of a boy growing up in the 80s…so many cringe-worthy, laugh out loud moments! This novel was exactly what I needed to motivate uninspired readers to want to search harder for more books that interested them.

At the end of the unit, I followed the lead of my colleagues at TCRWP and celebrated! This year, I decided to have a “Glow-In-The-Dark Reading Party” complete with toasts to their reading accomplishments (with water in champagne glasses) and gummy worms (to symbolize their status as bookworms, get it??). I don’t know about you guys, but after 25 years of teaching, I need to pat myself on the back more often for a job well done and the students need that boost as well. Candy is usually part of that celebration in my world!

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As part of a balanced literacy program, I alternate a reading unit of study with a writing unit of study, so my students have now moved on to building their writing lives and figuring out what moments of their lives they want to share in their first published memoir. Now how should we celebrate? I’ll let you know when we do!

Until next time,

Tracey Bowes

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