Saturday, 8 August 2015

For the love of reading...

Ontario Overall Reading Expectations

Thank you Aviva @avivaloca and Pernille @pernilleripp, you've got me thinking about reading.

I've always loved to read. Much like Pernille recollects during her Ignite at Nerdcamp, I don't even remember proper instruction until much later. My mother recalls that as an early reader, I taught myself to read before starting school, my aunt had me read her Economics text book to prove it to them both. Although I'm sure they both had a huge part of my developing brain and Science can back me up on that.

Even when the reading homework was at its height, AP English Grade 12, I would spend hours, reading every page, annotating every thought in pencil as I didn't want to deface the book with pen, excited about the things I would bring up during our class discussions. Then during the discussion, I would take notes, which I still have to this day in case I ever get an opportunity to discuss those particular books in my own classroom. Reading is my favourite leisure activity.

My first year of teaching ten years ago I had a 7/8 and we were still doing the whole class novel studies. We read six novels that year for which we read aloud together, discussed, did some sort of written reading response, and a project at the end. Since as a student I had enjoyed conversations about books so much, my Language program was mostly that. The last two novels we did were in Lit Circle format, which was a rather "new" thing back then.

Fast forward to becoming a mother I chose to return from my maternity leave and teach Grade 1. I wanted to learn to teach kids how to read! Our class discussions were now based on picture books, which I read out loud to them every opportunity I had: Religion and Social Studies, to writing mini lessons and of course small group guided reading. How I loved seeing it click! It was magic: first letters and sounds to words and sentences. When my oldest daughter started reading on her own last year, I was so proud it came as easy to her as it did me. We continued to work on reading strategies with the same level of book coming home each week as well as with her library books. Since she was reading at grade level with proper fluency and comprehension, those levelled books did not return to school on a daily or even weekly basis, but that didn't mean we weren't doing lots of other reading at home - just for fun!

Last year I was teaching grade 7 again and I was shocked that in general my class didn't share my love of reading. I laugh when listening to Pernille's ignite. I gave plenty of options for self-selected reading, including reading on their device, eventually some did start to read for information but the unstructured reading time did not go well for quite a while. I wrote a post about how enthusiastic they eventually became. I wonder if it is the list Aviva writes in her post, of things teacher's do, that caused this disdain for books in this group. I also had a "struggling reader" who often would not get reading done for homework, but was the first to find information for any fact checking challenge I would throw at the class.

For the love of reading, like Pernille says, let's become "reading warriors" and not turn reading activities into written follow ups. Let students read what they want if possible, regardless of their "reading level." Make time for them to read and discuss their books with peers. There can be rich assessment from recording "book talks" and not just from written reading responses. Let's not have them make connections or predictions or inferences for every passage in every book. Let them experience the love or reading.

As a rotary team next year, we are hoping to assess reading in subject areas such as Science and Social Studies as that easily covers the first three reading expectations. I also hope Genius Hour will be an integral part of my Language program.

I do worry about them. I'm glad I'm not teaching Grade 8, not sure if I'm preparing them for high school. I'm glad I don't teach Grade 6 or 3, as I'm not sure I'm preparing them for EQAO. However, maybe in high school they will have a teacher who was inspired by this post by @JCasaTodd. If they leave my classroom loving to read again, I feel like I've done my job.

Last year's Christmas gift from a student who  "gets" me
and is herself a voracious reader.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Just keep connecting, however you can...

It's true, we've been saying it for a long time: conversations help us learn. Here's what students are saying. I'm sure there's Science behind it, neurochemistry of sorts, here's an interesting article about that. I know for me, meaningful conversations, however the venue make me feel good.

Yes social media has done wonders for my teaching practice but so have the face to face conversations I've had with colleagues, especially colleagues whom I have worked with in the past where we no longer teach in the same building. I'm a little bit intense, not all my former colleagues like to reminisce about what it was like to work with me, and if the conversation doesn't lead to teaching practice that's ok too, you need know your audience. I also talk to friends/acquaintances who are teachers and somehow the conversation leads us to our jobs. For example:

  • My neighbour, going back to work full-time with three very little ones at home, excited to talk to me about what social media she could do with her FDKs next year, what would the parents want? What would her purpose be?
  • Another busy neighbour, also a mom to little ones, thinking about starting blended learning with her high school students and perhaps something like remind for parent communication, but she's told me we will talk about it late August, she's not ready yet. Although if my iPad had loaded a bit quicker I think she would've politely looked at all the apps I had to show her...
  • A car ride to a 40th birthday party in Niagara Falls, where two of us decided to forego the party bus, so we could "talk shop" and I loved listening to her tell me about how Genius Hour was working with her grade 5s.
  • Visiting a former teaching partner on maternity leave, and somehow getting to the topic of how she was involved in a primary inquiry project and she can't wait to try innovative strategies when she goes back to work. Just this week, we had another conversation about how a small school is probably why I was able to just "run with things" as there wasn't so much pressure (from parents/admin/colleagues) to do what the other four teaching partners were doing. I really hope she's able to find support for what she wants to try.
  • Being at a board showcase/presentation last winter, just before Christmas break, on the verge of thinking that my intermediates were perhaps too old for inquiry, when a Curriculum Consultant, my very first itinerant teacher, took out a paper copy of the Science curriculum and told me not to stress about all the content as she showed me two thirds of the curriculum is the same every year. That's all I needed to just put expectations in front of that group of students and see where it went from there. I will be performing a similar exercise for parents, I just have to find my paper copies of the curriculum.
  • Family members who are retired teachers, some long retired some just retired, I always wait for them to bring up the topic. But a few weeks ago, I was telling one of them about the inquiry based FDK and she says, oh they're going back to that and went on to describe how she was taught that method in teacher's college. Forever the teacher, she's constantly working with my girls on their letters or their reading.

Even though I know people get tired of my shop talk, yes you would rather talk to me about your baby/kids/spouse/news/sports. That's ok. I also love listening, I like asking questions and finding out about people's passions. But, if you've been thinking about talking to me about your teaching practice, open up the flood gates!  I love having those conversations, in whatever venue is possible.

On twitter, I'm a self-proclaimed teacher on a mission to become a better educator #bignerd and #proudofit. Even though I haven't taken a course in seven years, I haven't stopped learning. Social media has been a huge instrument in that for me. Thank you to those who continue to engage in that professional dialogue with me.