#WelcomeSyrianRefugees

imageOn December 10th, 2015, Tecumseh Elementary School paused to celebrate Human Rights Day and to consider the plight of Syrian refugees.  If you had a chance to read the Welcoming Syrian Refugees blog (Dec. 2015), you will remember that Marion Collins was reading Hannah’s Suitcase with her students and we had the idea to create peace art with the old wooden suitcase that my paternal Grandmother brought to Canada in 1947 to start a new chapter of life with her four young children.   With the help of the grant from Promoting a Culture of Peace for Children Society, the suitcase has become an inspiration for representing ideas through art, reading, writing, listening, speaking and caring.

One side of the suitcase is decorated with messages of welcome to the Syrian refugees. The other sides are decorated with Jackson Pollock inspired art by Grade 3 students. Each colour represents each individual in Canada with all of our similarities and differences.  The finished masterpiece is the representation of all of us coming together to create something beautiful.  Tanya Conley’s students also made flags of the countries of origin of Tecumseh students and of the suitcase.  A local artist, Larkyn Froese, came into help the Grade 3’s with applying the flags on the project.  Grade 6 students wrote messages of welcome on fabric squares and sewed them on items of clothing to be displayed coming out of the suitcase.

The artwork became a catalyst for more questions and an inspiration for the reading and writing of Tecumseh students.  With the help of a grant from ReadingBC (The British Columbia chapter of the International Literacy Association –ILA), Ms. Collins continued to expand the project to include a literacy component with the entire school.   The experience of leaving home and family behind is a difficult experience as an immigrant and as a refugee. Many of the parents in our school community have given up good jobs in their home country and work hard, often with more than one job, to provide better opportunities for their children in Canada.  Ms. Collins spearheaded a writing project with intermediate students to interview their parents and discover family stories of hardship and triumph.  Several albums have been filled with the interviews and photographs for display with the suitcase.

This same family history vein was pursued by Ms. Conley’s HumanEYES art based initiative that celebrates the diverse life experiences of young people throughout the Vancouver, Coast Salish ancestral lands.  This project documented inter-generational and inter-cultural storytelling and celebrates the importance of family and maintaining cultural roots.  The project culminated with an intergenerational cookbook filled with recipes, art and family photographs of her 4th graders that has been included in the suitcase as well.

Ms. Collins, her enthusiasm and the desire of staff to get involved resulted in almost all of the classrooms in the school taking part in the project.  Several classes stopped to consider the notion of taking flight in war-torn areas with very few belongings.  They learned many refugees leave home with a house key in the hope their home will survive the war or as a memory of what was.  Several intermediate classes of students designed hamsa handsan old and still popular amulet for magical protection from the envious or evil eye in many Middle East and North African cultures.  They created keychains with the hasma hand, a key and a fimo sculpture of what they pack if they needed to leave home in a hurry.  Primary students wrote and drew about what they would bring and have created albums of their ideas for inclusion in the suitcase as well.

The #WelcomeSyrianRefugees project was first featured at the United Way luncheon for Syrian Refugees that was hosted at Tecumseh Elementary school this Spring.  The most common reaction from the adults viewing the project has been tears.  In the barrage of negatives on mainstream media and social media, there is comfort that Canadian children are welcoming their Syrian children with open arms.  There is also the hope that there are many Canadian adults who are doing exactly the same thing.

Note:  The title #WelcomeSyrianRefugees came from the Twitter handle of the same name that expresses messages of welcome not just to Syrian refugees.  This project will be on display at the Vancouver School Board during July and August 2016.  Our goal is for it to be displayed at a variety of venues as a way to warmly welcome refugees as they begin a new chapter of their lives in Canada.

 

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Building a Community of Literacy Educators

The BC Literacy Council of the International Reading Association (BCLCIRA), commonly known as ReadingBC, has long been committed to improving student engagement in books and proficiency in literacy.  Members read journals such as The Reading Teacher, Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, attend conferences and get together to discuss things they have tried in their classrooms and communities and the things they’d like to try.  Coming together with people with like minds is an energizing experience and lends itself to reflecting on practices that are tried and true and substantiated with research in the field.  Members have readily embraced  The International Literacy Association’s quest to start a worldwide Literacy Movement.

image For the 2015-2016 year, Reading BC (BCLCIRA) is trying to broaden participation and the diversity of ways that literacy leaders in British Columbia can engage with other literacy educators both in person and online.

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While it is increasingly difficult to organize and facilitate larger scale meetings due to high costs and increasing demands on our time, the ReadingBC executive committee has come up with some exciting opportunities to develop a variety of possibilities to engage in professional development and engage in community focused projects to advocate for literacy.

  • Join a ReadingBC Book Club.  Choose one of the books selected by members.  Form a book club with peers.
  • Participate in the discussion about a Book Club selection with colleagues via a TWITTERCHAT.
  • Read Spirals of Inquiry (Judy Halbert & Linda Kaser) and decide on an inquiry question to pursue with a group of colleagues.
  • Form a ReadingBC Community action focus to encourage children to engage in literacy activities or educate parents.
  • Form a Literacy Committee if you have a well established group wanting to commit to regular professional development and advocacy in your area.

Check out the link below for ideas BCLCILA Projects.final (3) copy and opportunities to join the International Literacy Association .  If you are a member of the International Literacy Association and live in British Columbia, you currently have a free membership to the provincial chapter, BCLCIRA / ReadingBC.  We have designated funding to help members get started from a grant from the Lower Mainland Council of The International Association (LOMCIRA), a local chapter before it went into dormancy.  Please check out the opportunities and send applications for funding or questions to the provincial coordinator at carriefroese@gmail.com or any of the other contacts on the website.

Hopefully this will forge some of the connections to continue building a community of literacy learners in British Columbia, and perhaps beyond.

Raising a Reader

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I love this time of year when the Vancouver Sun Newspaper “Raise a Reader Campaign” guarantees that you can pick up the newspaper and participate in a very public celebration of parents, teachers, sports stars and children in the pursuit of reading. I love that on one Wednesday morning, it is possible for people in Vancouver to come together and raise $21,000 to support literacy programs in B.C.  It is a commendable yearly campaign but what captures my full attention are the stories.   I was thrilled when the hard work of the staff of Pacific Immigrant Resource Services (PIRS) was featured for The Vancouver Sun for the work they do with our preschoolers and caregivers in our school community on Friday mornings at Tecumseh Elementary School.  I thought the Man in the Moon Program was inspiring and loved reading about Moa and her Dad’s quest to become a storyteller.  I was encouraged to learn about programs like Books, Bags and Babies offered by the Downtown Eastside’s YWCA Crabtree Corner and Carla Mann’s efforts to engage her kids in reading books.  As an educator, I know these adults and children are on a path to cementing relationships and developing reading habits that will help them as they progress through all aspects of school life.

 

As a parent, it also is a time that makes me nostalgic about the time raising my own children and the significance of reading in our lives. Excuse my indulgence as I share some of my significant “reading moments” with my children.  Tyler was still in preschool and we were reading Franklin in the Dark by Paulette Bourgeois.  This was one of his beloved and battered rereads about his friend, Franklin the turtle. Tyler looked up from the book and said, “But Mommy, you’re not afraid of anything. (Big smile. Pause. Quizzical brow) Except for underground parking lots. You are VERY afraid of underground parking lots.” There was no conversation about why. It was just a stated truth. The conversation that ensued was about what makes people afraid and what makes them stop being afraid and what they do if they don’t stop being afraid.  Another conversation about life that flowed naturally in the course of reading together and learning about each other.

The next ” reading moment” was on parent teacher night. My husband was doing a contract out of town and I picked the kids up late from daycare. I was exhausted and wanted nothing more than to put my babies to bed!  The kids, not so much.  They were in the midst of action drama play and busy karate kicking the air dangerously close to one another,  just beyond my sight line.  My daughter, Larkyn, apparently jumped back to avoid contact. She caught the corner of the wall with the back of her head.  As the blood was gushing with the intensity that comes with a head wound, Tyler ran for her shoes and I grabbed a dish towel, my purse and Junie B. Jones by Barabara Park.  We had experienced the Emergency room before.  Tyler was racked with guilt and went in my purse to retrieve the Junie B. Jones book as soon as we were waiting in Emerg.   Normally not a big fan of oral reading, he didn’t stop reading to his sister until the doctor entered the room.    Once the stitching was over, Larkyn with her frightened eyes and little, white face looks at Tyler and says, “Keep reading”.  Larkyn needed a dose of the fearless and the irreverent Junie B. and she negotiated through the crisis with hero.

Then the Harry Potter era begins with new releases, costumes, the late night “party” during the long line-ups in the local Chapters and the family reading events. By this time, the kids were old enough to read on their own, but the choice was for me to read with practiced intervals by the kids and occasionally Dad. Larkyn was particularly masterful at English accents from retelling taped versions of Sherlock Holmes stories en route home from Los Angeles one summer.  From this one series, we discussed pretty much every major life event we could encounter – life, death, sorrow, betrayal, fear, friendship, romance…  I think back fondly to skiing up Grouse Mountain on a Sunday afternoon and the kids deciding that we should just go home and read Harry Potter and drink hot chocolate. It wasn’t until the last book of the series that we didn’t have the time or patience for a read aloud.  We had a lottery to decide who got to read the book first. I infuriated both kids by reading all night so I didn’t have to wait my turn. Yes, all of us LOVED the books and the kids even committed to take turns carrying the latest hardcover edition when we travelled.  By the time the final movie came out, the kids were old enough to visit a pub after the movie.  The characters, the challenges, the responses, the discussions and the quotes were all part of growing up and family history.

My inclination is to continue to share more of these reading stories.  My point is that in none of these cases were we practicing reading.  Starting before pre-school, reading books was part of family life.  It was hypothesizing about favorite characters;  Connections with our own lives;  Empathizing with people who were very similar or very different from us;  Encountering new experiences or adventures or tragedies.  Reading as a child is much like the experience of reading as an adult.   We become more proficient readers with better vocabularies throughout our reading lives.  Researchers have told us for years that the best way to develop reading skills is by reading.  I certainly am in favour of students developing reading proficiency.  I strongly believe that this needs to happen as children are reading, as opposed to “practicing” for a time when they will be reading in the future.  My hope is that all children will have positive experiences and conversations that make them feel good when they curl up with a good book, which leads to another book, and another…

Book Review: Nine Words Max By Dan Bar-el

Written by Dan Bar-el
Illustrated by David Huyck

Tundra Books 2014 

Dan Bar-el brings his strength as a storyteller to audiences of young children to his work as an author.  He works magic captivating young listeners.  Max, the main character of his story, is every bit as verbal as the author but less successful at captivating his audience.  Maximillian, is a young prince with many questions, the background knowledge to draw on and the tenacity to drive his brothers crazy.  A magic spell limits him to quick jolts of only 9 words at a time.  Sometimes less is not more and the book opens the discussion of the power of language.  David Huyck’s love of cartoons is evident in the illustrations of the book.  The illustrations provide as much information as the text.  Good fun  and lots of laughs for capable primary readers and intermediate students. IMG_0085

Book Review: Taan’s Moons A Haida Moon Story

By Alison Gear
Felt Illustrations by Kiki van dee Heiden with the Children of Haida Gwaii

mckellar & martin Publishing Group Ltd. 2014

This book made me want to go back to the Haida Gwaii.  It is a beautiful book and a celebration of the children of the Haida Gwaii who helped to make it.  The felt work is unique and a fitting representation of the BC Northwest coast.  Alison Gear has lived on the Haida Gwaii since 1996 and tells one version of the Haida moon cycle.  Each page has text in English with titles in both Skidegate Haida and Old Masset Haida.  It is very cool that there is a full written translation and audio recording in the Skidegate Haida dialect upon request.  Initially the book looks like a book appropriate for early primary but the poetry of text makes it just as appropriate for use with older students.  I shared this book with Grade 3/4 students.  They loved the artwork in the illustrations and how you could “almost feel” the texture.  They also liked how the animals that they know quite a bit about, followed the cycle of the moon.  The students currently researching British Columbia and the Haida Gwaii were also thrilled that they were able to garner information to include in the books they are currently writing using BookCreator on the iPads.  Taan’s Moons is an amazing way to consider Aboriginal ways of knowing and understanding that are evolving into written text after being passed down through oral traditions for centuries.

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Lit Circles Meet iPad Revisited

My grade 3/4 students were given a new assignment posted on Showbie.  I love being able to post the text and then add the voice note.  The assignment was inspired by the article “Literature Circles Go Digital” by Karen Bromley , and her several grad students at Binghamton University in New York, ” in the November 2014 edition of The Reading Teacher (Vol.68 Issue 3).

I’ve have usually framed four roles for Literature Circles: Discussion Director to encourage global understanding of the text; Word Wizard to focus the reader on vocabulary; Friend of a Character to encourage a focus on characterization in the novel; and Connector to activate background knowledge and relate to the text. Each reader would prepare for one role for the literature circle. The next time, he/she prepared a different roles until all roles have been experienced.

Karen Bromley et al, offered a greater range of roles to their students:  Discussion Director (3 thinking questions); Illustrator (picture, diagram or graphic organizer with at least 5 words as labels to show something that happened); Investigator (Find information about the story, setting, author, illustrator or something important); Literary Luminary (funny, favorite, powerful, or special parts to read aloud); Mapmaker (create an action map or diagram that shows plot or describes setting); Connector (connections between the book and the outside world); Vocabulary Enricher (find interesting or unfamiliar words and find the meanings in a dictionary); and Summarizer (Write a paragraph or make a list that is a brief summary or overview of the main ideas and events in the story).

Leila Khodarahmi, my teaching partner (Wednesday to Friday) has worked extensively with our Grade 3/4 students using R5 strategies to respond to text.  I have worked with students (Monday, Tuesday) on developing their ability to express themselves in the writing process.  My expectation was that with the motivation of the technology, they would be excited about generating a response that was thoughtful and perhaps even “better” than what I would generally receive in a typical response log.  My goal was to prepare students for small group discussion by completing tasks to deepen their comprehension.   The technology allowed them to quickly generate a response that took a small piece of the text and generate a response, that may or may not have involved critical thinking skills.  For example,

Response 1:  Literary Luminator

Text is cut and pasted into BookCreator.  The student reads the text aloud and downloads pictures.  Their is no rationale for why the piece was selected  or why it is important to the global understanding of the text.

Response 2:  Illustrator

The student draws a picture on Draw and Tell.  The audio is used to briefly describe the picture.

Response 3:  Discussion Director

The student uses WORD to write three questions about the text.

Response 4:  Connector

There is one phrase written on BookCreator loosely referencing a personal connection with the book.

Response 5:  Vocabulary Enricher

Several unfamiliar words are listed with dictionary definitions and downloaded pictures.

During the literature circles, the responses on the iPad were presented to the group and students were impressed with the features of the technology but the responses did not generate discussion.  The response was generally “easy, peasy, done”.   I prompted students to share their thinking and make connections to the text.  It wasn’t clear whether all of the students had read all of the text or understood it.

My intention was to utilize technology to achieve a greater amount of engagement in the task which I hoped would result in a higher level of critical thinking and understanding of the text.  This was not the case.  Students took the path of least resistance to do the minimal amount of work to fulfill the assignment.  They reported they liked doing responses this way because “It was really easy” and “It was SO fast.”  It did not reflect an understanding of the text or an engagement in the task.  They were proud of their responses because the technology included audio or pictures that they could use the technology to get the work done and they thought were pretty impressive.  The focus was using the technology rather than understanding the text.

Dr. Ruben Puentedura and Dr. James Paul Gee have both given me a good starting point for reflection.  I have heard Dr. Puentedura speak on the SAMR model twice.  Although the academic description was interesting, it was having Dr. Puentedura working through the possibilities of applying the SAMR ladder to a series of lessons that I had completed, that was most thought provoking.  Essentially I had not redesigned the literature circles with the technology in mind.  Although students were familiar with the APPS and with responding to text, their focus was on completing the assignment.  I had simply substituted written response with APPS.

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Dr. James Paul Gee has done a lot of writing and presenting about creating smarter students through digital literacy.  Gee discusses the importance of “talk, text, and knowledge (TTK) mentoring” required to use digital tools effectively.   Obviously I need to provide more scaffolding for students to learn about creating meaning in the digital world.  The question is how?

What are the applications that will require my students to use technology to create meaning in complex and thoughtful ways?

What will allow them to create connections with others to help them in finding the answers to their questions or ask new questions?

Are my expectations of digital technology based on the best responses that I was able to cox out of my most responsive students during Lit Circle?

The process of learning continues…