"We don't send readers home in kindergarten....until [the student] demonstrates a good phonemic awareness"
Disclosure: My attendance at FutureSchools 2017 was under a media pass provided by the organisers.
Sarah then spoke about red flags for dyslexia by speaking about phonemic awareness. Research indicates that phonemic awareness is foundational to reading and writing and is one of the most important indicators for a student being learning to read and write, however, as many as 20% of readers may be struggling due to dyslexia.
Sarah then spoke about an aspect of her schools reading program that would do cause cries of disbelief in many schools; they do not send readers home with kindergarten students in Year One until they demonstrate a good phonemic awareness of the forty-six phonemes in the English language. This is in stark contrast to common practice where there is a new book every night sent home.
There has been an uproar in education and the media recently over the proposal to introduce phonics screening in Australia, however, Sarah spoke about some of the easy and quick to use options for screening that currently exist and are very useful as a diagnostic tool to allow early intervention for those that need it. SEAPART is a phonological awareness screening tool used for pre-school children, and which was written by the same authors as the SPATR. Additionally, there is the CTOPP, the Rosner Test (which is free), and PALS.
It struck me, as I listened to Sarah speak, that it seemed that a lot of what Sarah was espousing was aligned with the THRASS system of teaching spelling. Unfortunately I did not get an opportunity to chat with her and get her views on THRASS.
Returning to the phonics screening check that has been discussed in Australia, Sarah spoke about the UK's approach. The education department there mandated a synthetic phonics check nationally to ensure that all schools were teaching a structured synthetic phonics program. Only after that had been in place for a period of time was a phonics screening check mandated. In Australia, we seem, Sarah remarked, to be going about it backwards, mandating a national phonics screening check without having ensured that there is a structured synthetic phonics program in place. Do not mistake me to be saying that our schools are not teaching phonics, I have never been in an infants classroom that does not do explicit phonics teaching, however, the methods and programs used to do are widely varied and often include linguistically incorrect terminology and rules such as silent letters, bossy e, and the classic i before e except after c.
Sarah's talk was very interesting and I would have liked to have been able to hear her speak in more depth, however the time was up and I needed to shift to the next session.As an aside, Dyslexie font is a fantastic resource if you have a child struggling with dyslexia (or even if they are not). It was designed by a graphic artist who does have dyslexia and wanted to make it easier to read. I would definitely recommend looking at it.
If you have missed any of the previous articles in the FutureSchools 2017 series you can find them here.
“I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.”
― Attributed to Groucho Marx
This week's Friday Freebie continues the literacy theme. Last week's Friday Freebie was a template for marking and tracking students' writing and using it as assessment for learning and assessment of learning. In this article, I am sharing with you a template for tracking your Guided Reading Groups. As with last week's template, this one can be used with students of any age, but will require modification to suit your needs. You can find the Guided Reading Group template by clicking here or the link below.
To use this form, you need to fill in each section with the relevant details. I include the level of the book being read in the section with the students names. In the text title section for my more advanced students, where we are not reading a whole book, I also include what page we read from and read to. The orientation to text section is where you would record the phrasing you use, words or phrases you need to remember to include because they are high-frequency or challenging. The key words/phrases section is where you might record the focus word/phrase that you are focusing on. The observation section is fairly straight forward.
The bottom section is where you might make the most modification depending on the age. The word work section is where I record the phoneme that I am focusing on from the book and what I will be doing with that phoneme. For example we might be working with the /tʃ/ phoneme (as at the start of chair or the end of catch) and I might record that we are focusing just on the (ch) variation and so would record some words there to use with the group of students I am working with. The questions after reading section allows you to plan ahead for what you will be asking to check for comprehension. This allows you to plan for your differentiation ahead of time as you can plan the questions based around the needs of the group of students. For example, with students who are struggling, you might ask more literal style questions, with an inferential question at the end. However, with more advanced students, there might be none or one literal question and the rest are inferential or connection questions.
The response to text activity allows you to tie your reading to your writing by asking students to write something based upon the the story and can be adjusted to suit the focus in the class at the time. This could be as simple as describing the images in the story, or to write a recount of what happened, to write about a time the student did something from the story. With more capable students, you could ask them to retell the story from a different characters perspective, or as a different text type.
The response to text could also be adjusted vis-a-vis what the mode of response takes. It could be to create an artwork or sculpture if that fits with a unit of learning you are completing with students, to engage with a science experiment if that is appropriate, to research something from the story, to transform the story into a dramatic play or to compose some music to fit the story. These options would be used with older students.
I do also include, in each section, an indication in the margin as to what day my notes correspond to, regardless of whether it is a different book each day, or the same book being read over a few days.
Please feel free to share with your network and to adapt to suit your needs.
“10 Steps to Becoming a Better Writer
Write even more.
Write even more than that.
Write when you don’t want to.
Write when you do.
Write when you have something to say.
Write when you don’t.
Write every day.
― Attributed to Brian Clark
Teaching students to write can be both incredibly painful and incredibly rewarding (and rather amusing!). The process of knowing where to next can be somewhat daunting, and determining how to manage each student's progress so that everyone is having their individual needs addressed, but that everyone is moving forwards can be quite challenging.
One method that works quite effectively is to use the writing sample that a student has created today as the basis for what you ask them to work on tomorrow. For example, if Jill is in Year Two, then when marking her sample at the end of the day, you would look for a pattern of things that need to be addressed and have her focus, in the next writing session, on rectifying the issue that is the most important. Professional judgement is required to determine whether it is letter formation, capital letters, full stops, spelling, grammatical issues or for older students, structural or thematic issues.
Across the class, however, there will be some clear groupings of issues. You would have students sit in groups during the next writing session, and let each group know what it is that they need to focus on. The issue will vary depending on the age and the context and a range of other factors, however, there will typically be four to five groupings around common writing areas.
This week's Friday Freebie is a template that I have been using this year for this purpose. In the topic/focus column, you record what the topic and focus for the writing samples you are marking was. Then, in the other columns, you create groups based upon trends you see in a student's writing. In the partially completed example I have included below, you can see that I identified five common issues. These are based upon your professional judgement as to what the most important area that needs development was. For some students it was using capital letters and full stops. For others, it was purely about length, that they need to write more in order to allow a judgement to be made on what they need to work on.
You do not have to have five groups, however, you need to allocate each student to a group based upon what you identify in their writing as being important. The next day, when you send students to do their writing task, you have group one sit together and tell them that they need to focus on capital letters and full stops and you have an explicit teaching moment. Then you move to group two and give them their explicit teaching moment and so on until you have spoken with each group. At the end of the day, you go through the process again, and your groupings, both the students in the groups and the area that group needs to focus on might be the same or it might be different.
The table on the second part of the page allows you to record, from the writing sample, a word that they need to practice spelling. This could be anything from a sight word to a theme word and it will vary depending on the age and needs of the student.
I have uploaded the blank template as a PDF to my Public Resources folder on Google Drive for you to download and edit. Alternatively, you can download it below.
“Phonics is one essential part of a comprehensive reading program that includes good literature and the development of literacy in the broader sense, but it must be taught well.”
–Jennifer Buckingham, The Australian, 8 December 2015, Retrieved from http://www.acara.edu.au/news_media/testimonials_2015_12.html 5 June 2016
In 2014, I was in the final year of my initial teacher education (ITE) and thus was required to complete an internship. In my program, that meant a ten-week stint during Term Three. I had completed two professional experience placements prior to this (four weeks each in a Year Six and a Year One class) and was looking forward to this next opportunity to embed myself into a school, learn from a supervising teacher and perhaps actually see a unit of learning through to completion. When I walked into my classroom for the first time there were a lot of things that surprised me; each student had an iPad under the school’s Bring Your Own Designated Device (BYODD) program, the room was in a non-traditional format utilising beanbags, stairs, low tables and cushions rather than rows or groups of tables, and they were using a system for teaching spelling that I had never heard of previously, but which, after having the underlying concept explained to me, I wondered why that was the case.
The system is known as THRASS (Teaching Handwriting, Reading, and Spelling Skills) and the two-day course was led by a teacher from Melbourne. The underlying principle of THRASS is an explicit understanding of the phonemes (speech sounds) in the English language and the graphemes (spelling choices) chosen to represent those phonemes in writing. As a child, I was taught, like most of us, that within the English language, there are twenty-one consonants and five vowels (a, e, i, o and u), with a number of spelling rules such as i before e, except after c. This understanding of what a consonant and a vowel is is actually incorrect. Additionally, many of the spelling rules have more exceptions than they do words that conform to the rule.
THRASS utilises the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) which follows the primary definition of what is a consonant and a vowel, which I have shown in the below image. There are in fact twenty-four consonants and twenty vowels within English. Additionally, THRASS posits that there are no spelling rules, only patterns in the language which we can use to help us in understanding how a word is spelled and pronounced. This requires a significant shift in thinking and some people, myself included, struggled to wrap our heads around this new knowledge.
THRASS takes the forty-four recognised phonemes in the English language and places them on a chart, divided into a consonant section and a vowel section, with the most common graphemes (spelling choices) for each phoneme shown with a pictorial example. You can see what that looks like in the below image.
The /b/ phoneme is typically represented by one of two graphemes, (b) or (bb). Though there are other graphemes, such as (pb) as in cupboard, these are not as common, and so are represented on the THRASS Chart with an asterisk and are referred to as Grapheme Catch-Alls (GCAs). This means that some phonemes have only one grapheme on the THRASS Chart, whilst others may have several, depending on the commonality of the phoneme and the related graphemes. Take the below image as an example.
Please remember in reading this, that we are concerned with the phoneme, the speech sound in our understanding of the THRASS Chart; we are interested in what we hear rather than what we see. As indicated in the previous paragraph, /b/ only has two graphemes on the THRASS chart. However, the above image is of the most important phonemes in the English language, the schwa (which surprisingly does not have its own letter representation). The graphemes shown in the above image are the most common spelling choices for the schwa phoneme. Again, as with /b/, the graphemes in the schwa box are not a conclusive list of potential graphemes. Indeed, in the THRASS Phonics Handbook (page eighteen of the catalogue), there is a total of seventeen different graphemes for the schwa phoneme, including those on the THRASS chart.
We were shown some videos of students who have been learning with THRASS, and the confidence and abilities of those students were incredible for their age. TO see some amazing examples of what students as young as Kindergarten can achieve with THRASS, please visit the THRASS Institute – Australasia & Canada’ Facebook page.
THRASS represents a tool that can provide students with skills and strategies to build confidence and competence within literacy. If students are spending less time trying to work out how to spell a word, they can focus on their writing. If students are able to confidently work out how to pronounce a word and understand the meaning of it, then they are able to focus on reading and comprehending the text as a whole and make various connections. THRASS, as part of a balanced literacy session, utilising the Four Resources Model as outlined by Luke and Freebody in 2002, can assist with this.
I began using THRASS with my students at the beginning of the year. However, it was not a strongly embedded component, as I did not quite understand how to utilise it well enough. Since attending the course, I have embedded it as a core part of the class literacy session, and the students have begun to grasp the system and see the benefits. We are very much still in the process of learning the chart, however, I have seen some lightbulb moments occurring already.
There has been a conversation in the media about the need to return to phonics-based teaching for literacy (for example; here) and THRASS represents a fantastic way to achieve that. However, we cannot return to explicit phonics instruction, as it has never left. Explicit instruction in phonics often underpins the pedagogy of foundational teaching in reading, writing and spelling.
If you have never heard of THRASS prior to this, or want to find out more, I strongly recommend visiting the THRASS website and attending a Foundation Course. The two-day course is fast-paced but well worth attending to gain a solid foundation from which to embed THRASS as a strategy in your class. I have seen the potential of what THRASS can allow students achieve and understand, and while it has elements that may be sour to many that profess a progressive education philosophy, it works. There is a longitudinal research project beginning next year with Murdoch University, including the THRASS Foundation course within that institution’s ITE program and tracking the learning outcomes of those pre-service teachers and their students over the coming years, as well as other research supporting THRASS from previous studies.
I hope that this article has sparked a curiosity within you to at least investigate what THRASS is about by visiting their website and doing some research of your own. I have included below some links to other useful resources and websites, and I would be happy to engage in a discussion with anybody who is genuinely curious about learning more. Additionally, there are a number of schools who have implemented THRASS as a whole school system and I daresay that a school visit would be able to be arranged through THRASS to see how they are implementing it (I would also be happy to arrange for interested educators to come and visit my classroom).
“Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope. It is a tool for daily life in modern society. It is a bulwark against poverty, and a building block of development, an essential complement to investments in roads, dams, clinics, and factories. Literacy is a platform for democratization, and a vehicle for the promotion of cultural and national identity. Especially for girls and women, it is an agent of family health and nutrition. For everyone, everywhere, literacy is, along with education in general, a basic human right…. Literacy is, finally, the road to human progress and the means through which every man, woman, and child can realize his or her full potential.”
― Attributed to Kofi Annan
How do you structure your morning literacy block with your students? How do you choose your texts for guided reading, independent reading, and how do you choose the tasks to be completed by students while you are reading with the other groups? Mrs. W. and I are going through a process of refinement as we work to find the balance between structure and student choice, between finding texts that are interesting and engaging, yet also have a purpose behind their selection, and tasks for our Must Do / Can Do list that engage whilst also serving the educational purpose that we want. as a side-note, as you read, be aware that I am writing this on Monday afternoon, and thus any references to yesterday, today or tomorrow are made within that context.
At this point, the literacy block on my days looks something like this:
We are finding mixed standards across our class, both in regards to the quality and the quantity of what is being completed and handed in, and thus far, we have worked on finding a structure for the morning that provides independence to students to carry on with their tasks without needing our guidance every step of the way.
Initially, we provided a list of the tasks that must be completed and those that are then able to be worked through afterwards, whilst we were with the guided reading group. This seemed to be too much independence, at this point in the year, as we found we were constantly having to answer questions from students about what they needed to do next, what they could do when they were finished etc. and it was completely ruining the flow of what we were looking to achieve with the reading group.
Following this, I had students decide in advance the order they were going to complete tasks in, thinking that having a plan of attack would allow them to focus on completing the tasks, give them confidence that they knew what they were doing, and allow me to focus on my reading group. This also failed, as some students spent far too long vacillating about the order in which they wished to complete tasks.
Last Wednesday I tried a different scenario and it worked very well, with students on task, engaged, and asking each other questions rather than disturb the reading group I was with. Today, I thought that I would use the same structure, given that it worked well last week, and discovered something that veteran teachers probably are well aware of:
Last week I structured reading groups loosely akin to reading groups that you would find in an infants classroom (indeed, they were very similar to how reading groups were structured in the Year One class in which I completed one of my professional experience placements). I put on the board the order in which I would see the reading groups, and the tasks that the other groups were to complete whilst I was with each group. I suspect that it failed today, whereas it worked last week, as today I attached group names to specific tasks, indicating what I wanted them to start on first.
This cause issues as some of the tasks required less time than I was with a reading group, and those students were left, apparently, floundering, not knowing what to do, and unable it seems to take the initiative to move on to the next tasks on the board. Having thought about it this afternoon, I know how I will structure things tomorrow to hopefully resolve that issue.
Tomorrow, when I indicate to students to move into reading groups, I will put on the screen the exact tasks and the order in which they are to be completed. In between each group, I will take a few minutes to quickly circulate and check students’ progress through the tasks (something I did not do today, which I think compounded the issue), signing off on each student so that I can track how they are progressing through the tasks, knowing that I am spending approximately ten minutes with each reading group. This will also help me gauge the appropriateness of the tasks they are being asked today in a certain time frame.
I feel, upon reflection on the term thus far, that I was so frustrated by lost time early in the year due to a variety of factors (some of which I wrote about here) that I forgot to spend time bedding down good structures and process in the class in an effort to catch up to where I needed to be according to the scope and sequence documents, and am now paying the price, with structures still somewhat loose which is having repercussions in regards to what we are achieving.
I would very much like to hear how you structure your literacy block and reading groups, so please, leave a comment either here or on Twitter, and as always, thank you for reading. I am unlikely to post an article tomorrow (Wednesday) as I will be attending the FutureSchools expo and conference. If you are going, let me know. It would be great to catch up with some Tweeps. If you have not heard of FutureSchools before or are unable to make it this year, you can find the review articles I wrote from FutureSchools 2015 by clicking here. This year’s reviews will appear over the week or two post-FutureSchools.
“The best advice I ever got was that knowledge is power and to keep reading.”
– Attributed to David Bailey
As a child I would read at any opportunity, even if it was only a few lines, I would grab the book of the moment, read the few lines I had time to read and then keep going. This often occurred, much to my mothers frustration, in the morning when I should have been getting ready for school, and would conveniently forget that fact, and become absorbed in the story. I grew up with a plethora of solid Australian authors to choose from, with my two favourites being John Marsden and Morris Gleitzman. Mum introduced me to Jeffrey Archer, Wilbur Smith, Frederick Forsyth, Robert Ludlum. Eventually Timothy Zahn re-introduced fans world wide to the Star Wars universe with the release of his Heir to the Empire trilogy, which for me served as a re-ignition of a much loved saga.
Somewhere along the way, between then and now, my reading habits changed. Growing up, I was a voracious reader and would often fall asleep with an open book late at night. At some point, my habit of reading for a while before bed every night changed to a habit of reading if I had time before bed, which evolved into it being too late to read, maybe tomorrow night. I still read, just not as often. I found that I had fallen too far behind in the release schedule of the Star Wars novels and I did not know where to start in order to catch back up. I dived into Middle Earth, reading The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion and the various titles in the Unfinished Tales from Middle Earth series.
Then I got to university, and my reading habits changed again. I had to read. The texts that I was required to read in order to complete tasks were often written in dry and dense language that is often associated with academia, and I began to churn through three of four journal articles a day, purely for the purpose of completing the assignment. Though I (occasionally) found the various texts I was reading interesting in themselves, they often simply served to aid in the completion of an assignment. Reading for pleasure became something that I did not have time for.
I had long disdained e-books, I am not entirely sure why, other than a love of the smell of books and the feeling of holding a book and turning the page, but I had not engaged with Kindles and the like at all. I then discovered, quite accidentally, fanfiction.net and turn to it for five minute bouts of reading while I ate breakfast. I have, over the last twelve months, made a conscious effort to return to ensuring I read for pleasure. I have worked through the Magician series by Raymond E. Feist, and I have read through each of the immense books that George R.R. Martin has published thus far in the Song of Ice and Fire saga.
I was left with a dilemma. I had engaged in various avenues of ongoing professional development; attending FutureSchools in March of this year and participating semi-regularly in various education chats on Twitter however, I had not made any effort to engage with literature for professional development. Something about the nature of reading journal articles for university assignments had deadened an enjoyment of reading for professional development, and though I had skimmed a handful of journal articles, I had not engaged fully with any form of professional development through reading.
This term I am making a commitment. I purchased a copy of Invent to Learn by Gary Stager and Sylvia Libow Martinez whilst at FutureSchools, and had started to read through it on the train ride home that afternoon, yet having just been offered a temporary contract, I began to focus what spare time I had on developing a program to suit the specific role I had been assigned, and had, unfortunately, not returned to it. I also recently purchased a copy of Hacking Education by Mark Barnes and Jennifer Gonzalez, which I have not even opened. So in order to return to reading for both pleasure and for professional development, I commit to reading through a chapter a week, beginning with Invent to Learn, and using this platform to solidify my learning, the ideas and inspiration, the challenges and the professional avenues I wish to explore, as a result of the reading, with one blog article each week, beginning next week, devoted to the previous week’s reading.
“Art is the overflow of emotion into action.”
– Attributed to Brian Raif
As my regular readers would be aware, I have been utilising a short burst of creative writing, called quick writing to provide my students a more engaging way of practicing their typing skills. The students have been overwhelmingly enjoying the time. I have been trying to find a way to make it a more rigorous learning opportunity and to encourage them to improve their creative writing as well as their typing.
I had begun to provide four images as options, to allow for those students who did not connect with the initial image that was provided, and this has helped a number of students engage with the process and enable them to write more than they had previously, and those students whom are more advanced writers have an opportunity to extend themselves, through the challenge of connecting two or more of the images. What I have been noticing with the writing that students have been doing is that although they are writing at length, their output is quite surface-level, with very little detail enabling the reader to visualise the scene they are writing about.
The engagement of the students has created a situation where I have been able to sit and join them in completing some creative writing, something which I have not done in a great while, and have missed. Yesterday I listened to a few of the students read their writing out, as I have been doing, and decided to model to them what I meant when I have been asking them to provide more detail in their writing, and read out a few paragraphs of what I had written.
Having done so, I asked the class if they could visualise the scene in their heads, and then we had a discussion about the use of language to paint a picture for the reader, and how the use of language can play a role in determining the interest level of the reader. The challenge was then put back onto the students to revise their writing, to use their language to paint a picture of the scene and the characters they were describing.
For a number of them, it was a light bulb moment, and they immediately dove back into their writing to improve it, and I hope that this segue will pay off in the long run with higher quality writing. The other challenge I laid down for them was to remove the boring words, such as said with more interesting vocabulary, and we had a brief discussion about how to find more interesting vocabulary.
Thank you for reading, as always, and I would like to hear from anyone about how you have encouraged students to make their writing more interesting and more visual, while removing the boring words.
“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”
– Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
I have tweeted a few times recently about doing an activity with students called quick writing. In this activity, students are told that they will have fifteen minutes to compose any text type they like; poem, recount, description, short story, introduction to a longer story etc., using the supplied image as the writing prompt. I have presented this task to students across years three to six thus far, and all students have enjoyed it, and engaged with it honestly and wholeheartedly.
I have been doing a fairly simple Google Image search, using writing stimulus year x, where x represents the year group of the students. The activity’s primary purpose is to stimulate creativity and encourage students to use their imagination, and students have, on the whole, engaged with the task at higher rates than I thought I would, and created, without prompting from myself, a silent classroom filled with the sound of pens scratching across the paper and the hum of the computer projector.
The other way that I have been utilising this task is to provide students with an opportunity to practice typing, by using either the school bank of laptops or their own tablet, and, again, all students have engaged honestly. I was concerned that students would spend time playing around with font types / colours / sizes but that proved to be unfounded as students dived right into the task.
I have included below two samples of the writing that have been composed in this fashion, both from year six students. Students have given their permission to put the writing online, and I would ask that, while reading these texts, that you remember that these are off-the-cuff compositions that have not been edited or proof-read at all.
Zmaya and Callum created the following compositions using this writing prompt.
The House by Zmaya
It all started the day I went home
When I saw a huge dome
I loved the look
so I went and took
The thing that it belonged
I was wrong
To do what I did
Now my house flew to a bridge
Then to a rock were I now live
I have a boat to go to school
I live near an island
I live on an island
In my house
I have a pet mouse
I love the view my sky high
I love my house you should to
Random Story by Callum
My mum bought a new house on the weekend and I went to have a look but I couldn’t get in because it was on top of a little island than I saw a person in a little dark door way at the bottom of the mountain and there was a ladder on the bottom tide to a boat. They started waiving and it was my mum.
When she stopped waiving someone puled inside she started screaming so I was stupid enough to jump out of the boat and swim to her safety but I was to slow she was gone in a flash I was scared but l had to be brave to run after her. I herd her screaming but could not keep up with her.
Suddenly I has getting pulled back by something and I yelled whos there [time ran out here].
The other technique I have heard of being used is to provide a range of images and allow students to select three or four images to use to link together as part of their story. I would very much like to hear from anyone who has used this method, and hear how you have found it as a literacy tool.
“The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.”
― Attributed to Mark Twain
Today’s professional development day opened with a session about Focus on Reading. Part of that discussion was around the drop-off in students’ engagement with reading, the so-called fourth grade slump and what we, as teachers, could do to re-excite and reengage students with reading.
There are, I believe, a number of things that we can do. Some of them are simple, and others will take a little more effort, while some will open up doors for lessons or discussions that you would be doing or having, at some point any way.
The first idea is, I think, fairly obvious. Select texts that will engage readers. You may have a text that you have been using for the last ten years with every cohort you teach. Look at retiring that text and trying something new and more contemporary. Consider the cultural context withing which that book was situated when it was published and taken up as being a quality text and ask yourself if it is still relevant. I certainly am not advocating removing all old books, just suggesting that we be more selective about the texts which we ask our students to engage with.
When doing class reading, or readers theater, encourage, strongly, the use of expression, or where appropriate, character voices. My supervising teacher whilst I was on my internship was reading The Hobbit as the class text. It was an over and above novel deliberately chosen for the complex language structure, the rich vocabulary and imagery and as something separate to all the learning that was going on, as an enjoyment read. When Gollum had dialogue, the students were required to read it in their impersonation of Gollum’s voice, as made famous by Andy Serkis in the Lord of the Rings movies. Expression and character voices can liven up the often monotone sounds of class readings.
Another option is to ban a word for a week (or a different time frame appropriate within your context). For example, I might ban the word said for a week. The word is not part of the permissible vocabulary in writing or speech for that week. This then requires a conversation about what are our alternatives – synonyms and antonyms, and understanding what the various words mean and how they can be used, and why whispered and muttered are not the same, even though they are both synonyms of said. Create a word wall, or have students create their own word wall in the back of a writing book or somewhere similarly easily accessible.
I wrote recently about using newspapers in the classroom. They are also tools that can be used to increase engagement with reading, and some of the strategies I discussed in that article will be relevant here.
I would love to hear from people about what ideas they have about how we can excite our students about reading. Please leave your suggestions in the comments section.
“A good column is one that sells paper. It doesn’t matter how beautifully it is written and how much you admire the author… if it doesn’t sell any papers, it’s not a good column. It’s a terrible yardstick to use, but in the newspaper business, that’s the whole thing.”
-Attributed to Herb Caen
Many newspapers apparently provide copies, daily and for free, of their output to schools. I know this only because I walked into a classroom towards the end of term one this year, where I was due to provide some relief time for the regular teacher, and the teacher was trying to work out what to do with the newspapers. There stack of newspaper that she had received stood around half a meter high, and she pointed to a build-up of the stacks in the corner of the room. They had been receiving them all term, for free, every day during the week.
It got me thinking, how can the newspapers be utilised, genuinely, in today’s classroom, when many of us seek our news online, where we can quickly flick through the headlines to find the ones that capture our interest? Here are a few of the ideas that the teacher gave to me, and some others that I have thought of. I sincerely doubt that any of these are original ideas, so please do not think that I am claiming as such, and so here are my top ten (cue David Letterman music). Not all of these ideas will be appropriate to all stage groups within education. Most of them can be utilised within the primary sector, but some would be secondary.
Those are the top ten things that I think newspapers can be used for in today’s classrooms and is certainly not an exhaustive list (another one that just came to mind is to teach how to understand the weather report, and the difference between weather and climate).
Many of these uses can also be leveraged to create links with the community. Want to talk about ethical writing and reporting – contact the local newspaper and see if they have someone who can come and visit and talk about the journalism code of ethics.
If you have another use for the humble newspaper in your classroom, let me know via the comments section.
Until next time, happy teaching.
“I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! — When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.”
- Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
I have finished the theoretical part of my planning for this term, and now I am up to the practical part, the recording. The way that I will be structuring my flipped classrooms will involve a lot of reading of books for the students. Essentially, the majority of the students will be engaged with the flipped lesson (a book study) whilst I focus on a small group of students. Over the course of a few weeks, I will have seen all of my students and can then move onto the next part.
As part of getting ready to record all of the flipped lesson videos, I spent a significant amount of time in the local library, wandering amongst the bookshelves, looking for suitable titles. It was then that it struck me, how out of date I am with junior literature. I was able to pick out an assortment of books that I think will be suitable for each of my classes, but it started a train of though.
Who are the ‘go to’ authors for junior literature these days, and which books in particular are part of your core literature repertoire? I recall, growing up, that Morris Gleitzman, R.L. Stine, Mem Fox, Duncan Ball, Roald Dahl etc were considered essential reading.
If I was to pull a book from your classroom (or personal) book shelf to teach with, for any class from kindergarten to year six, what book, or which author would you be recommending, and why?
“The smart phones and tablets that our students have now are the most primitive technology they will ever use.”
– Ian Jukes
The fourth and final session of the day began after the mid-afternoon break and saw Ian Jukes speaking under the title Strategies for teaching digital learners in today’s classrooms. I was looking forward to this, as based on the title, I was expecting strategies for engaging students who were otherwise disengaged. I found Ian’s talk to be like a whirlwind; fast and furious with lots to be aware of and take in.
Ian started off by commenting that student expectations about learning are fundamentally changing the way in which we teach. There was little elucidation as to what, exactly, he meant by this, but it seems, intuitively, to be reasonably accurate when you take a cursory look at the way in which teachers are adopting, piecemeal, various technologies and new pedagogical techniques. Ian went on to comment that children are currently maturing, physically, at an earlier age, but that neurologically, they are maturing differently to how we, or any previous generation matured due to the constant digital bombardment to which children are now subjected, and that occurs mainly outside the school context.
My generation (according to the image above which is from this article, as a 1983 baby, I’m the tail end of Generation X, or The Baby Bust generation) and those that came before me, were textual learners, wherein we learnt from the text,whether it be on the blackboard, the textbook or our own writing. Any images used in the text, were used to compliment and provide some additional information or context to the information in the text.
Those born since 2000 have grown up in an age where they are constantly bombarded by digital and visual stimuli, whether it be advertisements on TV, the internet, electronic signboards at sporting events or in the cities. These advertisements, being designed by marketers to capture attention and deliver a short and sharp message, are highly visual, with limited text. Ian posits, and I’ve read articles elsewhere to support the claim, that this has resulted in the brains of today’s students being wired differently; where they seek the bulk of the information or learning from the visual communication, and only then look to the text to get some complementary information.
This has an impact on teaching practices, wherein teachers now need to ‘rewire’ their pedagogical techniques to account for this. A Google search using the terms Literacy crisis yields over sixty-nine million hits, with some of the excerpts seeming to echo the shift from textual to visual, but without the realisation of what has occurred. Some of these excerpts include:
What the search results tell us is that as a society, we are yet to recognise the shift in our children’s communication preference, or understand why it has occurred. Ian talked about how the digital generation find it natural to communicate visually through images, as seen with the explosion of image-driven social media such as Facebook, Tumblr, Flickr, and Snapchat, amongst others, and that this change is what is driving the shift to visual expression, away from textual expression. From this, and I must point out that this is my inference, not what Ian said, the shift to preferencing visual communication over textual may be a partial explanation for the apparent ‘literacy crisis.’
This shift is also seen in the way in which the generations read. Mine, and those before me, traditionally read, and learned to read, in what is termed a z-pattern whilst the digital generation it seems are reading in what is termed an f-pattern. This has significant connotations for teachers when they are creating lesson plans and setting texts for reading etc, as the f-pattern appears to be more conducive to skimming, which Ian commented is fast “…becoming the new normal.”
Ian provided us with some strategies for leveraging this knowledge. To get students to read the full text, he said, get a real image (a real photo, not a clip art or a stock photo) and put it in the bottom right-hand corner, and rotate it so that it ‘slingshots’ the reader back to the top of the information. This is a strategy commonly utilised in advertisements, particularly for tobacco or alcohol, where they are required to put disclaimers in the advertising. These disclaimers often appear in the bottom left or right-hand corner, above or next to which is an image that ‘slingshots’ you back to the top of the ad, wherein you’ll again be exposed to the brand name, brand logo, or brand slogan.
This can be seen in the advertisement below, where the brand name is in the middle of the image with the disclaimer, consisting of two words (live responsibly) is in small font in the bottom left-hand corner. A much larger block of text, in a large-size font sits in the right hand corner, to which the western-eye, (being that we read left to right) eye is naturally drawn, above which the rippling water catches and draws the eye in, taking you back to the image in the centre. I suspect that in those countries where reading is done right to left, that the contents of the bottom corners would be switched.
was a bit surprised by his casual dismissal of this, however, when he explained what he meant, it made perfect sense, as I have felt the same way when playing computer games.
Ian stated that gamers’ are required to make a decision every half to one second and are punished or rewarded for those choices every seven to ten seconds. Anecdotally, as a gamer on various platforms and of a range of different genres, this sounds about right. This is the immediacy of reward and punishment – the instant gratification/punishment system. But note that there is also a significant amount of choice involved.The drop in gaming platform prices has resulted in many children owning their own gaming platform, whether it be console, PC, or mobile device. Many of these games offer instant gratification or rewards for doing certain things, and you gain trophies/points/upgrades and feedback about the achievement along the way. Gaming is certainly a vehicle for instant gratification. I currently own an Xbox 360 and love seeing the little icon pop up when I hit an ‘achievement’ in a game. Additionally, as someone who plays Bioware’s Star Wars: The Old Republic, I love the instant nature of, again, seeing the icon pop up that I’ve hit an achievement, or leveled up – instant gratification.
Gaming also encourages delayed gratification and effort. One of the games I engage with is EA Sports' FIFA, a football/soccer game. To win the various trophies and competitions within a football/soccer season takes a significant investment of time and effort, to not only play the individual matches, but to make choices about manage the team. It also requires constant decisions-making, for which I am instantly punished or rewarded (do I pass the ball this way or that, shoot or not shoot at goal, passes intercepted, or completed, shots made or saved etc). Playing Star Wars: The Old Republic also requires a massive investment in time and effort to work my way around the various worlds, complete individual missions, solve puzzles, find objects, and collaborate with other players to take on large-scale missions and high-level enemies.
All of this results in, over time, me gaining access to the highest level abilities, armour, weapons and missions. It provides delayed gratification, and finally getting to the highest level, or defeating a certain enemy that you’ve been struggling against over a period of time, and have attempted to defeat multiple times as you increase your abilities provides a huge sense of satisfaction, at finally after all this time and the choices made around tactics/weapons/abilities etc finally pay off.
So whilst yes, gaming does provide instant gratification, it also encourages effort and delayed gratification (amongst a range of other benefits, a topic which itself has been the source of much discussion. You can read one paper for gaming here) and as such digital learners are capable of, and display, delayed reward acceptance. The other aspect of gaming that is vastly different to current education systems is the feedback. Feedback in gaming is an ongoing affair, with continual feedback coming from the game as a result of choices that you make as a player. Currently, in education systems, feedback might consist of a tick, a stamp and/or a sticker in the student’s workbook, maybe a comment, maybe even a few sentences, and then the half-yearly and end of year school reports. It has been my experience, both as a student, and yes, I’ll own up to being guilty of this, as a teacher, that feedback is not often ongoing in a genuine and constructive manner, unless it is negative. A two-way dialogue is rarely engaged in, it seems.
Ian closed his presentation with a few final thoughts that tied everything together. He pointed out that students, outside of the school environment, are largely engaged and in charge of their own learning. Students then have to come to school where they have no control of influence over their learning, and that often when they ask, quite genuinely, “why do I need to know this?” and when the answer is “because it’s on the test” it only serves to further disengage them. Ian pointed out that “…digital learners are highly developed critical thinking, social people and are driven learners, it is just that they are these things in ways different to that which is currently recognised and accepted,” which alludes back to his point about the need to ‘rewire’ our pedagogical techniques and teaching practices..
Ian’s final thought was a question, which struck me as being quite a meaningful, insightful challenge to the conference delegates: “If we keep trying to force students to do what we want them to do do, when it does not work, who has the learning problem?”
I’ll stop here, as this has been a much longer article than I anticipated. My next article will be around the first session of Day Two of the FutureSchools ClassTech conference.
As always, thank you for reading, and please, leave a comment with your thoughts on the article.
See here for the list of articles in this series.