March Break often brings with it memories of COVID since it was two years ago that the world shut down on March 13th. Last year, March Break was delayed to an April Break, but once again, it also marked the final time that kids stepped foot in a school building for the year. For me though, the March-Break-That-Wasn’t last year brings with it a happier memory of The Fairies of Dundas. It’s been almost a year since these magical fairies have made their way into our classroom and our hearts. Whether in-person or online, our students look forward to the daily fairy notes, and some amazing intermediate students have made these fairy experiences even better this year. While Francesca the Fairy was around early on, our fairy pen pals have introduced us to other fairies, including Ivy (a favourite one due to the name similarity with a child in our class) and Picasso (an artistic fairy, who shares our love for The Arts).
Our Fairies of Dundas routine usually includes reading two notes each day: one before going outside in the morning and one during our indoor meeting time. The fairies leave us with provocations to inspire classroom learning, and sometimes, special surprises to further support this learning. Recently though, the fairies made a small change. In addition to the two notes, they often leave a short, four-line note on top of one of the supplies that they leave out for us in the morning. The greatest thing has happened thanks to this extra note.
Students have started looking for this note when they come in each day. A few of our SK students are particularly excited to find this additional letter. While I’m out on duty, my teaching partner, Paula, supports the reading of this fairy note. While a combination of kids will come around to listen to this note reading, and maybe chime in with some of the oral blending with Paula, it’s just a handful of students who look to read this note. This is the perfect challenge for them! By videotaping the initial reading of the letter, and then any additional reads of it, Paula and I can later reflect on how the Fairies of Dundas might further support this oral reading. Maybe it’s with the addition of new sight words, an emphasis on certain vowel sounds, or possibly a repeat of a more challenging word.
I can’t help but look back on a couple of these note reading experiences from last week.
It was incredible to see how kids could support each other, and how opportunities for repeated reading helped build fluency. These students are not just reading the text, but through conversations with Paula, thinking more about what the text is saying.
This Fairies of Dundas experience has reminded me of some important things in the past few weeks.
- Set high expectations for students, and provide them with the background knowledge and skills to meet these expectations. Many of the students reading these notes, started JK just recognizing a few letters by name. No sounds. Their growth has been incredible, and these authentic — and regular — opportunities to read and write have helped further develop their skills and confidence.
- We can learn a lot from observing students and reflecting on these observations. There’s often a lot of talk about standardized forms of assessment, but what about the power of pedagogical documentation? Every word in these notes is placed deliberately to support the students reading them. Listening to the reading from the day before and reflecting with Paula on where to go next, allows us to deliberately target certain vowel combinations and specific sight words. While these notes could be picked up by any child, we know the children that are drawn to them and can then plan accordingly.
- Provide opportunities to read and write in many different settings. If children are only supported in reading books, they are unlikely to tackle reading opportunities that present themselves in other ways (e.g., through notes, text on the SMART Board, text on signs, etc.). We need kids to see that they can apply their skills in different contexts. Reading is about risk-taking, especially for young readers, and I wonder if they will take these risks if they don’t see themselves as readers.
There’s nothing fancy about these fairy notes, and the set-up is hardly Pinterest-worthy, yet every day, children are drawn to them and excited to make sense of the text.
These notes help get our kids eager to read, and as educators, this is something that brings Paula and I joy each day. What are some different ways that you support reading and writing in class? How do you reflect on growth as part of this process to help further develop reading and writing skills? Maybe we can all share different ideas to inspire each other for when we return to school after March Break.