It Might Look Different, But It’s Still Comprehensive Literacy!

Our Board, like other ones around the province, embraces the comprehensive literacy model for Language instruction. The other day, I caught part of a Twitter conversation with Valerie Bennett and Lori St. Amand — two wonderful teachers in our Board — that really got me thinking. The discussion made me question if comprehensive literacy can only be delivered in one way, and the more that I think about it, the more that I’m convinced that this is not the case.

I believe that we embrace comprehensive literacy in our classroom, but in a very integrated approach. Our classroom has changed a lot since the year began. When I started teaching Grade 5, I worked to the bells. I scheduled each period as a new block of time, and we rotated activities every 40-50 minutes. It was like clockwork. Yes, I had modelled, shared, guided, and independent reading and writing, but I was still getting frustrated. There wasn’t enough time for students to delve deeply into our Science and Social Studies topics. The Arts was getting lost completely. Inquiries were lasting forever, and the students and I were both getting frustrated and bored. So I spoke to my PLN on Twitter and conversed with my vice principal, and we made a change.

We now no longer work to the bells. In fact, my students almost ignore the bells, unless they have to go to French, Music, or Phys-Ed. Our day is now divided into large blocks of time, and 160 minutes is devoted to comprehensive literacy combined with Science, Social Studies, and The Arts. Does it look like the traditional model? Maybe not. Here’s what it includes though:

  • We often start the block with a shared reading text that corresponds to our current Science or Social Studies inquiry.
  • This shared reading is followed up by a modelled, shared, and/or interactive writing activity that focuses on a specific skill. These activities are based on my daily formative assessment and address student needs. Often this activity includes a small group component as well as an independent writing component.
  • Then students work independently, in partner groups, and in small groups (this often changes each day and throughout the Language block) on a reading and writing activity that aligns with our current inquiry. The Arts is often integrated into this activity. Word study becomes a part of this activity as well, but often based on Science and/or Social Studies vocabulary. There are many opportunities to work with words throughout the writing component of this program.
  • During this time, I take guided reading and guided writing groups. These groups are often not levelled groups, but skill-based groups. Usually we’re working on developing a specific reading comprehension skill (in guided reading) or expanding ideas, reconsidering word choice, examining point of view, and/or editing work (in guided writing). I don’t always work with these groups at the guided reading table. Sometimes I take them at different table groups around the room. Sometimes I work with students based on the groups that they’re already in, and sometimes I pull students from various groups. Sometimes I use the materials that they’re using for research, and sometimes I pull other materials that still align with the general topic, but may be more closely linked to the skill that I want to develop.
  • Three days a week, our Learning Resource Teacher also comes in during this time to work with groups of students. These are additional guided reading groups that tend to focus more on developing decoding skills.
  • We then end our Literacy Block with modelled reading. Students develop their listening comprehension skills by recalling and reflecting on what’s read aloud during modelled reading. Sometimes we focus on a specific listening comprehension strategy (e.g., making connections), and sometimes we focus on a choice of strategies (e.g., summarizing, visualizing, or asking questions).
  • Oral language is included as part of this entire literacy block. Students share ideas aloud, expand on the ideas of others, speak and listen for various purposes, and organize their ideas for oral discussions. Podcasts and videos are often used to record these conversations.

For our class, this becomes the hybrid comprehensive literacy/inquiry model that works well to address all student needs and have resulted in huge gains in student achievement throughout the year. What does comprehensive literacy look like in your classroom? How have you combined comprehensive literacy and inquiry and/or how would you suggest to combine it? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!


The 30 Days Are Over – Now What?

Thirty days ago, my vice principal, Kristi, challenged all of us to 30 Days of #Gratitude.

2014-03-26_08-03-30I was one of many people that decided to take this challenge. I did so for many reasons:

  • Being positive is one of my personal goals for this year, and Kristi’s challenge coincided with that.
  • I find this to be a stressful time of the year. The staffing process starts in schools, and it’s easy to get immersed in the negative. I didn’t want this to be the case.
  • I love my job! Teaching makes me happy, and working with students ALWAYS makes me smile! I thought that this 30 Day Challenge would be the perfect reminder of why it’s always worth being positive!

And now that the challenge is officially over, what did I learn?

  • There are lots of things to be positive about! Most days, I used the #gratitude hashtag multiple times, and probably could have used it multiple more.
  • Attitude matters. I know it sounds silly, but I actually found myself dreaming about what #gratitude tweet I would send out each morning, and starting the day with a smile, tended to help me end with one too.
  • We all need a support system. I really felt as though this #gratitude challenge was a “team affair,” and it was great to know that there were other people there being positive with you. After a hard day or a sad moment, I’d find myself checking out the #gratitude tweets just to help bring about a smile. This always worked!
  • A home/school connection is essential! A wonderful parent at our school also contributed to this #gratitude challenge, and it was great to see teaching and learning through her eyes. I’ve always believed strongly in supporting this home/school connection, but this challenge made me realize this even more!

A Look At Some Of These Parent #Gratitude Tweets!

This challenge was the perfect reminder that I’m one of the luckiest people in the world: I work in a wonderful school, with amazing educators and administrators, terrific parents, and outstanding kids, doing a job that I absolutely adore! As our principal, Paul, says every day on the announcements, “Make it a great day or not … the choice is yours!” I plan on continuing to make it a great day, everyday, as there’s much to be grateful for in education. Who’s with me?



Calling All Health Teachers: What Would You Do?

I use this professional blog for different reasons: sometimes it’s for reflection, sometimes it’s to share learning, and sometimes it’s to ask for advice. Today I’m asking for advice. While I primarily teach Grade 5, I also do two prep coverages a week: one for Grade 3/4 Media Literacy and one for Grade 3/4 Health. For both of these prep coverages, I’ve really tried to use inquiry and/or project-based learning (it tends to vary somewhat) to give students more control over their learning and to develop thinking skills. This has been a great experience, and the Grade 3/4 students seem eager to come and learn with me for 100 minutes each week. But now I have a problem: my last Health unit for this Grade 3/4 class is Growth and Development.

Here are the Grade 3 expectations …


and here are the Grade 4 expectations.


OPHEA has a wonderful resource for both of these grades, and I definitely plan on using the ideas shared. My problem is that many of these materials are blackline masters. They share important information, and I need the students to learn this information, but these worksheets will not work well for all students. I have students with varying needs, and I want to be able to address these needs.

Given any other unit, I would use the ideas from the resource as a starting point, and then move from there. I know though that there are components of this unit that can be more difficult/sensitive for some students, and I want to respect this. So do I just go with the worksheets and scribe for students that need it? Do I have students use assistive technology to help with reading and/or writing for the given activity pages? Do I use the information on the worksheets and try to create my own materials? What would you do and/or what have you done? I’m open to ideas and would welcome any suggestions! I’m reluctant to use the blackline masters and am hoping for another good choice.


My Drive Home: How Inquiry’s Changed Things For Me!

I don’t have a very long drive home every day, but even in my 10-15 minute ride, I’m always thinking about something. This change is weather is causing quite the migraine for me tonight, and while some of my thinking this evening was along the lines of, “Please don’t throw up!,” 🙂 I was also thinking about math. Why?

Today, my student teacher, Ashley, introduced the students to our Teapot Box Challenge (evaluation here). When she asked the students about calculating the perimeter of the net — one of the expectations — she noticed that some students had questions. She said that she’d do a mini-lesson tomorrow on this as the class was off to music.

During our prep time today, we spoke about this perimeter expectation. We thought that students need to realize that the perimeter is found by adding up the lengths of the sides along the unfolded net. Easy, right? This option definitely makes sense if we think of the net in the “unfolded” sense, with the prism or pyramid being the “folded” option.

Could the “net” also be referring to the prism or pyramid? If so, I have more questions:

  • Would the perimeter refer to just the perimeter of the base as the “area around the outside” is really just impacted by the size of the base?
  • Would the perimeter change depending on how the prism or pyramid is placed (e.g., in a rectangular prism, would the perimeter change if the prism is laid flat versus standing tall)?

I really don’t know the answers to these questions, and I’m hoping that one of my blog readers might be able to help me out. What do you think? How would you get students to uncover this learning? Is there just one right answer here or could there be many? Inquiry doesn’t just get my students thinking more, but it has me thinking more as well! Thanks, in advance, for sharing any thoughts (and maybe helping lessen at least some of my migraine). 🙂


Is The Teacher At The Helm? Further Reflections On CALM, ALERT, AND LEARNING

Over the years, I’ve read many educational resources, but few have made me stop and think as regularly as Stuart Shanker‘s Calm, Alert, and Learning. This weekend, I finished reading Chapter 3 in Shanker’s book in preparation for our upcoming Book Club Meeting on May 5th. Chapter 3 focused on The Cognitive Domain, and while this chapter resulted in numerous notes and many a-ha moments for me, I think that I was left at the end with the biggest question of all: Does the “teacher” play the most powerful, pivotal role in a student’s success or failure?

I put the word, “teacher,” in quotation marks because I think that students can have many teachers at school – from classroom or prep coverage teachers to educational assistants to DECEs in the Full Day Kindergarten Classrooms – but I’m starting to wonder if all of them really are the keys to student success. Please don’t get me wrong: I always believed that teachers played a valuable role in student achievement, but now I’m thinking about the extent of this role.

Just like in the other chapters in Shanker’s book, this one is full of examples to highlight his main points. Here’s what I see from these examples:

  • When students are playing in the classroom, it’s up to the teacher to know when to intervene, when to stay back and watch, and how to interact with the students to help scaffold their learning, while also allowing them to self-regulate their behaviour. (pages 49-50)
  • We want students to persevere during difficult tasks, and we want to give them time to do so, but if they’re given too much time or if the challenge is too much, the students will go from engagement to disengagement. Teachers really need to know their learners to create an engaging environment that allows all of them to succeed. (pages 52-53)
  • Students with learning needs may need different strategies and/or different supports in place to meet with success. Teachers need to know about these student needs and strategies that can allow for increased self-regulation. (pages 54-55)
  • Teachers can play games in the classroom, such as Simon Says, to help increase attention. While these games can help students follow auditory directions, for further classroom learning, teachers also need to put into place options for students that cannot remember long lists of oral instructions (such as visuals or written cues). Small changes can lead to big success. (pages 58-59)
  • There’s definite value to DPA (Daily Physical Activity) in the classroom. Whether this is done through classroom obstacle courses, digital dance and movement activities, or even fun games, students can develop both self-regulation and listening skills. Again, teachers knowing their students and their needs (e.g., students that may become upset with “out” options and ways to work around these) will help make these activities successful ones. (pages 60-61)
  • Rules are important, but they can’t just be given to the students. Children need to take ownership over these rules, and that comes with co-creating them. The teacher acts as the facilitator in this important activity. (pages 63-64)
  • Teachers need to avoid a self-fulfilling prophecy. If students have always struggled, and teachers believe that they won’t succeed, then this will happen. Instead, teachers need to provide scaffolding and meaningful choices that will result in success. They need to get the parents involved, and teachers need the parents to also see this success. Working together is essential. (pages 65-68)

Looking back on these examples, I can’t help but focus on the role of the teacher. What we do and how we do it seems to be crucial for student success. Teaching is a HUGE responsibility — and a wonderful one — but how do we ensure that we meet the needs of all students? What do you suggest? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!