“We are story…”

Richard Wagamese calls it. It’s up to us to create “the best story we can create while we are here”. The celebration of relationships with the earth, family, community and spirits as well as the embedding of history and survival techniques in story is what sustained our First Nations people for thousands of years pre- contact. The importance of embedding story in curriculum has been explored extensively by Kieran Egan at Simon Fraser University and has become a mainstream truth. What is new, is the rediscovery of the fact that embedding memory and history in story to make it meaningful is part of the legacy handed down to our current society by First People’s cultures. Learning about and acknowledging and integrating these foundational truths from First Peoples cultures is how we can truly reconcile our relationship with Indigenous people that has been seriously compromised in the process of colonization and the subsequent quest for economic advantage.

The First Peoples Principles of Learning were written by fnesc (First Nations Education Steering Committee) and the British Columbia Ministry of Education .  Laura Tait did an amazing talkat The Changing Results for Young Readers Conference in 2013.  It’s well worth listening to her 15 minute presentation, complete with pictures and stories from her family and Tsimshian community to bring life to the words. image

For me, the concept that bounced out was the acknowledgement of more than one way of looking at the world. Imagine the wars based on religious intolerance that could have been averted if we had been able to grasp this concept. I think of all of the time it took me to grasp the concept of “sister- cousin” from my Indo-Canadian students.  And for me it should have been easy.  I grew up with a cousin who was more like a sister and even lived in the same house for a chunk of time.  When I finally “got it”, I had to tell Babita, the student who persevered and patiently explaining the relationship of “sister-cousin”.    She had persisted with the idea despite my insistent references to the definition of the word cousin. Her eyes were filled with the delight, or was it relief, of a teacher when a student finally understands the seemingly easy concept that has eluded them.  It didn’t just take my willingness to try to understand but her patience and perseverance in hanging in there with me on the journey of discovery.  We hold on to these little successes along the way.  To end where we began, with the words of Richard Wagamese:  “We change the world one story at a time.”  Babita changed mine.

Continue reading ““We are story…””

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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.

The Vancouver Kidsbooks Experience

Vancouver Kidsbooks is the quintessential Children’s bookstore. Phyllis Simon opened her first Kidsbooks in Kitsilano in 1983.  Since then stores have followed in North Vancouver and Surrey.  The constant has been knowledgeable and friendly staff who exude enthusiasm for matching books with kids.  I became an International Reading Association member (now International Literacy Association) as a first year teacher.  My administrator, Jack Corbett, at Dormick Park invited me on the staff trek to Schou Centre in Burnaby for a LOMCIRA session (local council of IRA).  He promised it would be fun and we’d all learn something along the way.  I learned early on that Phyllis Simon was the person we depended on to provide a wide array of high quality books to bring reading and writing to life for our students.  She generated a lot of excitement at events where she set up a table.

When my kids were young, we would make the trek from the suburbs to line up for author events  sponsored by Kidsbooks in the old Hollywood Theatre, book signings in the Kits store and to spend the day shopping for the very best read.  Fiscal restraint never included Kidsbooks because the store and staff were able to inspire such enthusiasm for the possibilities.  It was a favourite place to pick out birthday and Christmas gifts.  Phyllis Simon’s support for parents and educators has not waned over the years.

Each year, Elementary Administrators in public schools in Vancouver, host an event featuring a great recent publication of a picturebook.  The author and/or illustrator is invited to talk about the writing process to student representatives, librarians and an administrator from every school in the Vancouver School Board.  Each student goes back to school with a special addition for their school library and the author’s voice in their head.   This year, Phyllis Simon, continued as she has every year to select some of the finest new publications in British Columbia for our consideration.  Choosing one is always hard.  This year I have decided that I’m going to review these books for Inquire2Inspire because I can see a place for each and every one of her choices in my work and play with children.  You just might too.

If you are from out of town, be sure to include one of the Kidsbooks stores  in your travels.  If you are an International Literacy Member, an educator, a parent or a lover of children’s literature, you will not be disappointed.  Even if you don’t run into Phyllis, there will be a knowledgeable staff member to open some possibilities for your consideration.  I promise!

PILOT – Professionals Investigating Learning Opportunities with Technology

Four teachers at Tecumseh Elementary committed to working together on PILOT. Our job was to engage in an inquiry using technology with our students. We were provided with an iPad cart with 20 iPads for class use, 3 iPads for use of Resource teachers, 5 desktop computers in the library and Apple TV.

Students and parents in all of the classes were taught about iPad care and signed a use agreement.  For much of the term, teachers explored the technology with their classes with a focus on the tools. We had general discussions about developing writing and thinking skills but specific definition of an inquiry question was vague and the focus was how do you…

It was once we started to share what we were doing that our learning intentions became more defined. On teacher had started writing a Seasons Book with her Kindergarten students using Book Creator. Marion Collins started working with her Grade 6 students using keynote and Book Creator.

Virginia Bowden continued the work she had started with Kidblog with the Gifted students attending pull out Gifted programming in the district, used iMovie to have students create trailers on themselves and Prezi to develop research skills.

I continued the word I was doing with the Gifted students (in the district Multi-age Cluster class) during computer prep to develop their own blog on Kidblog and focused on having my Gr 3/4 class use Raz-Kids to support home reading and Book Creator to develop writing skills and explored search engines to answer questions.

Initially the focus was on learning how to use the tools and it looked like each of us were taking some very different directions. We narrowed the common elements down to the focus that each of us had taken in developing literacy skills.

Our discussion and questions were great:

  • How can we develop fluency in writing?
  • Adding pages encourages younger or less proficient writers to extend their writing. What about older and more proficient writers?
  • Does a lack of a keyboard limit the amount that students write?
  • Are templates available for report writing in Book Creator?
  • Is Book Creator more conducive to writing picture or poetry books?
  • Is the best way to teach note taking still having students write phrases with facts on paper; outlining / sort facts into groups, and creating their own paragraphs?
  • Are library books still the best way to match ELL students with reading material at their own level?
  • How can we get students to question the source of the information they read online? Hear on media or read in books?
  • Does using iPads break down gender barriers in oral communication?
  • Does adding sound clips lend itself to developing expressive reading skills?

Our inquiry question is still broad enough to let us pursue our individual interests but narrow enough to focus our discussion on how we are using the tools to support the language development of our English Language learners. Our intention is to make observations and reflect on the ways that technology is being used in our classrooms to develop oral language skills, reading skills, writing skills and the ability to represent ideas in visual formats. We have a general direction. The thinking and focusing continues. We’ll keep you posted.

Talking Technology Tools

I am currently working with a team of teachers in my school, Tecumseh Elementary, on a Technology pilot project: PROFESSIONALS INVESTIGATING LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES WITH TECHNOLOGY. Our tools include 20 iPads for classroom use, 3 iPads for Resource teacher use, 5 desktop computers in the library and apple TV. Have we gotten over talking tools yet? No so much.

We are immersed in the grand quest to learn about logistics of the technology use- all of the possible Apps and a myriad of questions.   Although we are all familiar with iPhones, iPads, and/or Apple computers, the technology is not intuitive. We have all committed to attend the after school technology sessions where we are introduced to the educational possibilities and provided with tech support. The sessions are a challenge due to the significant range in background knowledge in technology of all of the groups and individuals attending.

All four of us involved in PILOT at Tecumseh agreed that we would start with teaching responsible use of the iPads to our students, who range in age from 5-12 years old. One of the teachers created an agreement to be signed by students and parents and posted on the iPad cart. What are really interesting are our various approaches after that point.

I assigned each student a number and an iPad and gave students the opportunity to explore. When one student had discovered something interesting, I stopped the group and showed them what a specific student had done and asked how many other kids knew how to do it. (Note to self – Figure out how to use the Apple TV so I can do a better job of this sharing with a group.) Students became the teachers/mentors for other students wanting to try. Lots of dialogue. Lots of engagement.

My first assignment started with a goal of focusing my Grade 3/4 students on observing the change of seasons and creating a book using Book Creator that included:

  • The ideas from the sense poetry we had just created by webbing in our “Thinking Books” (I see, I hear, I smell, I taste, I fell… Stems are used to collect ideas, create an image, remove stems for finished poem)
  • 6 of the 12 photographs taken with the iPad when we did our “Sensing Fall” walk around the school (art work) and playground (signs of fall)
  • Book cover with a title, author / poet and 6 pages minimum.

As I was handing out the iPads, several students went to Drawing Pad to record the Book title, their name and start to decorate the cover of their books. We decided as a group that this was a great idea and the criteria would also include the use of Drawing Page to create the book cover.

My Grade 4 students who came from Tecumseh Annex and Moberly Elementary used Book Creator last year, so as students needed help adding pages, pictures or audio-clips, they came to me or one of the “teachers”.  This way we avoided the wait time of line-ups or everyone stopping to step through the process at the same time.

One problem some students encountered was the fact that their initial writing had ideas that were not matched with the pictures they took on our sense walk. It became an option to download photos from Internet to match the text. The storage room in the classroom became the “sound room” to add the audio-clips.  Lots of time was spent reading and re-doing the clips to ensure the sound clips sounded “good” (  Good was defined as reading with expression).

Finished products emerged over the course of several sessions (3-6) with the iPad.   What was surprising was the huge difference in the books including:

  • Poetry books with one line of poetry per page and one picture
  • An entire poem per page with a picture
  • Several pictures on a page, text on another page
  • A sentence with an observation (using the original stems) on a page with a picture
  • A fact about the picture on the page
  • One book that had nothing to do with the change of seasons, our sense poetry or the pictures we took. (The student let me know that he erased that book because he wanted to write about something else and all of the illustrations were done in drawing pad.)

Assignment #1 and reflections on a whole bunch of new questions including but not limited to:

  • Naturally stimulating oral language in English Language Learners
  • Apps to develop fluency in writing
  • Vocabulary development
  • How to set up Showbie for saving work for viewing at home and on different tools
  • Commenting on work electronically with “electronic post it notes”
  • Creating book trailers
  • Using Keynote
  • note taking for research – pen and paper vs. online

This is what I love about education – Always so much to learn. Always someone who wants to have the conversation about the learning.

59th Annual IRA Conference in New Orleans

Reading…The Teachable Moment

I can’t recommend attending this conference enough.  It is always such a rewarding experience.  Participants are friendly and eager to discuss sessions and what’s happening in their classrooms.  New Orleans is an amazing host. They certainly know how to throw a party and celebrate.   

Conference –  May 10-12, 2014

Institute Day – May 9th

Early Registration ends April 14, 2014  

Go to reading.org to register