A Few Key Words: Improving Reading Comprehension

February 4, 2016

During my years in the classroom, literacy was evident in everything we did however I am learning now that there are key elements that have considerably more impact than others. Vocabulary was never something I “taught” explicitly however research shows that teaching vocabulary has a great impact on students’ ability to comprehend text.

This morning I was enlightened again regarding vocabulary through a blog post that a colleague shared with me. The message that struck me was that teaching vocabulary does not consist of me telling students what it means or having them looking up the words in a dictionary, teaching vocabulary requires students to interact with the words multiple times in order to develop their own understanding of the new words. Again, the explicitness of teaching vocabulary rather than incidentally touching on new words for students is what is crucial in developing students understanding of what they read.

Beth Fertig shares her thoughts on the importance of teaching vocabulary in the following blog post, as you read and watch the video consider, “How can I begin to explicitly teach vocabulary with my students? What opportunities can I give students to begin interacting with unfamiliar words?”  To Improve Reading: A Few Key Words

10 Do's and Don'ts for Effective Vocabulary Instruction - Dr. Kimberly Tyson @tysonkimberly

Categories: Literacy, We are all learners!.


February 2, 2016

Finding the passion in what we do daily is what pushes us to be better. As an educator, supporting others in learning is my passion and what inspires me to push myself to always improve in what I do.

There are times when the going gets tough but the challenges then push me to search for a better way for those that are learning. Articulating my passion has always been difficult for me but this video of a local sports hero and the detailing of his success against all odds is truly inspiring. Take a peek and think about what inspires you….

Red Bull – “Mark McMorris: Inspiration” (FULL LENGTH) from Saints Editorial on Vimeo.

Categories: We are all learners!.

Planting the Seed – Literacy at Home

June 9, 2015

Here are some great suggestions to share with parents as they begin to understand the importance of literacy and how they can support at home what is being taught at school. Helping parents understand their role in their child’s literacy development is the first step in their child’s literacy success. Let’s plant the seed!

baby stage

Toddler stagePreschool stageEarly Elementary stageUpper Elementary stageSupporting successSuggested books to read

Categories: Literacy, We are all learners!.

Family Literacy Impacts Lives

May 23, 2014

This excerpt was taken from the ABC Life Literacy Canada site and has some powerful stats as to the importance of families reading together. Please share your comments and how you encourage literacy in your family!

Family Literacy Impacts Lives

  • Simple things like reading and telling stories to a child at 18 months are powerful stimuli for brain development in the early years (Early Years Study Final Report: Reversing the Real Brain Drain, Government of Ontario, 1999).
  • Reading to children more than once a day has a substantial positive impact on their future academic skills. In addition, research indicates children with early exposure to books and reading are better at performing mathematical tasks (National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth, Statistics Canada, 1996-1997).
  • Children aged 2 to 3 who are read to several times a day do substantially better in kindergarten at the age of 4 and 5 than youngsters who are read to only a few times a week or less (National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth, Statistics Canada, 1996-1997).
  • Some experts say that for 80 per cent of children, simple immersion in reading and books will lead to independent reading by school age (How to Make Your Child a Reader for Life, Paul Kropp, Random House Canada, 2000).
  • Increased literacy levels among parents mean more reading and literacy-building activities in the home, preparing their children for success in school and encouraging a lifelong love of reading and learning.
  • Establishing a culture of learning encourages an exchange of ideas, enriches family relationships, and bolsters confidence and independent thinking.

Categories: We are all learners!.


July 1, 2013

So often students see themselves as not able to learn. Education has changed such that it isn’t about learning content as it was thirty or even 15 years ago. Today education is about being critical thinkers, collaborators, communicators, and innovators (21st century skills). How can we support our students to develop these skills so that they are ready for the work place when they leave the system?

Here is a great post about developing mindset in our students by Sarah Sparks.

Growth Mindset

Categories: Future of Education.

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To Change or Not to Change, That is the Question….

July 1, 2013

Sometimes we help out friends by taking in their son or daughter while they attend an eight week course at SIAST. One night at the supper table Coulton, our guest at the time, started a conversation about change. He began by telling us about a conversation he had with his grandfather who is 91 years old. It went something like this:

Coulton: “Wow Grandpa, you have seen a lot of change in your day.”

Grandfather: “I haven’t seen nearly as much change as you will witness in your lifetime.”

Colton: “But you have seen the invention of the automobile.”

Grandfather: “Yes, but that hasn’t changed much over the years. They still have 4 tires, a motor, etc. You are witnessing much more than that. And you will continue to see things continually change.”

This conversation got all of us thinking. At first I would have thought the same as Coulton with his grandfather witnessing so much change, but then after reflecting on the grandfather’s wise words I began to look at the change in my lifetime and began to see what he meant.

We are witnesses to a lot of change in our world and it is change that happens quickly. Take technology for example, my android smartphone that I purchased 2 years ago, was cutting edge at the time. Today it is obsolete, not even 2 years later. My new iphone 5 will be derelict in 3 years when it is time to renew my contract. Change is happening and I wonder if we truly realize it and whether we are ready for it?

There are always several questions for me when I think about ‘change’. In thinking about Coulton’s story I wonder how this change continues to move forward at such a fast pace? I also wonder if Education is changing at the same pace as the rest of the world? If our world is so different today than when we grew up, according to Coulton’s grandfather, is education different as well? How is it different?

Change is constant. It isn’t stopping because we’re not ready. Therefore, begin to think about change…how do I deal with change? What tools do I need to equip myself with so I can be successful with this inevitable change? How can I be a part of change? As my my favourite quote states by Mahatma Ghandi, ” Be the change you wish to see in the world.” All said, let’s be leaders of change.

Categories: Technology, We are all learners!.

Behaviour Challenges: What do I do?

December 1, 2012

As an educator, the 21st century is exciting because education and learning are changing. Students enter our system as digital natives with a skill set that we didn’t have but yet at the same time, many students enter lacking some of the readiness skills that we did have, including behaviour that is conducive to learning in a classroom environment. Pencil and paper tasks and ‘sit and get’ classes can create issues for those students that need more interaction and movement which leads me into the purpose of this post….Behaviour Challenges: What do I do? I’m going to attempt to make the connection that if we foster a positive learning environment, focusing on Marzano’s strategies, behaviour challenges may decrease because students are experiencing success, feeling safe to take risks therefore, are motivated and on task.

For the most part, the needs that our team has been called upon to support have been to deal with behaviour challenges. As I sit with teachers listening to the struggles with behaviour challenges that they encounter on a daily basis I am cognizant of the frustration of the teacher. The question then becomes, if they are frustrated, what are the students feeling? The thought that crops up is… changing the child is beyond our circle of influence, so if we focus on what is within our circle of influence, can we look at what it is that we (the adults) are currently doing and how that can adjust to support a struggling child? Believing that all children are worthy and want to learn, but because of situations beyond their control are currently unable to, encourages teachers to attempt various strategies. Teachers with this belief will embrace every child with the certainty that they are capable of anything they set their mind to. The strategies that these teachers employ not only foster student success but it also increases student motivation and engagement. These strategies look something like this…

1. Setting objectives
This strategy provides students a target that allows them to know where they are headed which in turn motivates them as long as they understand the target and it is clear and achievable for them. The key to the success of this strategy is that the students have a clear understanding of what the target means and what it will take to get there. Keep in mind that the target may be different for some students but they still have a target and it is attainable. A great metaphor for this is a trip to a destination (i.e.Grandma’s house). When we provide the “destination” (Grandma’s house), in the form of a learning outcome, students are then aware of where they are headed. They are able to determine the steps needed (i.e.landmarks along the way to Grandma’s house) in order to reach the destination. The clarity of knowing the target and what it takes to get there reduces anxiety for the students which in turn encourages them to take learning risks.

2. Providing Feedback
As with the other ‘non-negotiable’ strategies, providing feedback is crucial to keeping students on that road to their destination. Without specific, timely and corrective feedback students will venture off the road onto side roads and get lost. A teacher’s job to keep them from getting lost through feedback. Feedback should look something like this, ” I really like how you used descriptive words in your writing. Could you go back and revisit the organization of your piece? I see you are missing the general statement we discussed in class. What would be a general statement for your piece of writing?” Success relies on the fact that this happens for all students, everyday and in every lesson. It is what will continue to move them forward in their learning while staying on the right road therefore keeping them focused on the target.

3. Reinforcing effort
“When teachers reinforce effort, they translate the belief that all students can learn into actions that help make that belief a reality.” (Dean, Hubbell, Pitler & Stone, 2012) If the goal is to motivate the student then this is one strategy to implement. So often we hear “Good job, you are so smart!” The message that statement sends is that brains and smarts are something we are just born with or without. Showing students the relationship between effort and achievement is crucial for them to understand that this isn’t the case. Everyone can succeed but that it takes effort. Once they understand the relationship, students can begin to self assess between their degree of success and effort.

4. Providing Recognition
Dealing with a lack of motivation is another factor cropping up in classrooms. Providing recognition, in addition to reinforcing effort, is a strategy related to motivation. Through recognition that is based on student successes on the road to their target promotes student engagement. This is referred to as mastery-goal orientation (Dean, Hubbell, Pitler & Stone, 2012). Simply put, if the focus is on what the student can do and what they need to work on next to move towards their goal they will feel empowered and thus intrinsically motivated. In short it makes their environment predictable. To clarify this approach even further, the opposite of a mastery-goal orientated approach would be to compare student performance to other students’ performances rather than just to themselves. “If students don’t succeed, they can examine their effort and achievement to determine what else they need to do to improve their performance.” (Dean, Hubbell, Pitler & Stone, 2012)

5. Cooperative Learning
When I first started teaching and heard the term ‘cooperative learning’ my first thought was “chaos”! However, over the years I have learned that isn’t the case at all. Providing students will multiple variances on cooperative learning develops skill that will enable them to succeed in the 21st Century workforce. A key factor here, so that it is a positive learning experience, is to explicitly teach the expectations of cooperative learning. Students need to know what it ‘looks like’, ‘sounds like’ and ‘feels like’ when they are in various group situations. Why is this strategy important? According to Dean, Hubbell, Pitler & Stone, 2012 “it provides opportunities for students to interact in ways that enhance and deepen their learning.” In order for deeper learning to occur students need opportunity to dialogue and question each other about a topic. This process motivates students because relationships and ideas are built together.

A practical resource that not only makes the connections for you but also provides classroom practice strategies as well as tips for teaching each strategy is “Classroom Instruction that Works” (Dean, Hubbell, Pitler & Stone, 2012), you will find it on my Shelfari list. This truly is a great resource! Creating a positive classroom environment through using the ‘non-negotiable’ strategies listed above may decrease behaviour challenges as well as create motivated, engaged learners who feel successful and above all are learning at a deeper level!

Categories: Differentiation, We are all learners!.

Teaching to Learning

October 23, 2012

This past year has been a year of huge growth for me. As many of you know I was a classroom teacher last year and took a position with the Division as the Learning Consultant for the Pre K – 8 Moose Jaw Schools. For the past ten months I have learned more than I thought possible from my colleagues in the office and out in the classrooms,

The biggest shift for me has been from the role of teaching students to learning along side students. It has always been my philosophy to facilitate student learning but as I said in a previous post “Who Controls the Learning?” I realized that maybe I wasn’t as focused on student centred learning as I could have been.

Having said that, what have I noticed about myself that infers the lack of student centred approach? Everything done in my classroom was heavily planned by yours truly. If students were exploring a concept, it was guided and set up through planning by myself so they would reach the desired outcome. Now I still facilitate students toward the desired outcome but through concepts that are of interest to them and of their choice. It is still important to have a road map of where the students will go but detours along the way are totally acceptable.

For example, in planning previously, I would have started with the outcome, then the assessment, but then I focused on planning the activities that I thought would get them there. Once again, this has been at the core of our profession for many, many years. We decide what and how students reach the outcome. As teachers, we need to release the control to the students and let them develop the best way to reach the desired outcome. If you were asked, ‘What is it that takes the majority of your time and effort daily?’, probably you would reply planning or planning so as to avoid behaviours from getting out of control. PBL may be scarey but it is much more powerful for student learning. It forces them to think deeper and apply the knowledge which they have accessed through the process. The side benefit is that they are so engaged and having fun learning that behaviour issues fall to the wayside and your planning is less! Transfer the ‘cognitive load’ aka. planning, to the students! (see post on Who Controls the Learning?)

Another aspect of student focused learning is concept focused learning or inquiry. When presented with a broad concept, students work through positives , negatives and therfores which guides them to creating essential questions to drive their learning. In the experiences that I have witnessed in classrooms where we modeled these strategies, the one thing I noticed was that all students were engaged. There were no behaviours that needed to be dealt with! The main concern was that students were worried that they weren’t doing it right! That is the beauty of PBL and Inquiry, as long as they are showing that they are meeting the co-constructed criteria they are doing it right! The challenge becomes the ‘unlearning’ of doing it the way ‘I’ want it.

Making this change from teaching students to learning along side students doesn’t come without it’s challenges. Be prepared for frustrated students and frustration yourself, but keep in mind that this is a huge change not only for you but for your students. We are asking them to learn in a way that is unfamiliar to them, therefore it takes a lot of dialogue, problem solving about what works and what doesn’t work. Through this process they begin to see the possibilities of learning through collaboration, communication and critical and creative thinking. Take the time to work the students through this problem solving process, it will pay off three fold in the end!Designed by Tim Sainburg from Brambling DesignDesigned by Tim Sainburg from Brambling Design

Categories: We are all learners!.

Nothing New

August 31, 2012

Welcome back everyone! I am excited for another busy year of learning, which brings me to the topic of my post today.

“Nothing new….”

This was teachers’ answer to my question “What do you think about today’s session on Classroom Instruction That Works?” My first thought was oh that’s not what I wanted to hear but after more reflection, I began to think….’faaaaabulous!’ This is the best answer ever! Why, you ask? It means that our students are receiving quality instruction. But as with anything we do we must always reflect on how can I be better? There in lies the power in today’s session.

Classroom Instruction That Works (CITW) is nothing new. It is based on research from Marzano’s nine instructional strategies that have been proven to be most effective. Now I’ll be honest with you, I knew about the strategies, used them throughout my teaching and thought I was effective with them, but the breakthrough for me was the framework with which the second edition is now presenting them. Stone, Hubbell, Pitler, and Dean have recognized similarities within the strategies. It was these similarities that have become the foundation for the framework and made me realize that I wasn’t using them as effectively as I could have.

The first component, which was the focus of the day, was Creating a Learning Environment. Within this component are the social strategies, setting objectives and providing feedback, recognizing effort and providing recognition, and finally cooperative learning. One thing I never realized was that these strategies are ‘non-negotiable’. They apply to every student, every lesson, every day. This is how you foster a positive, growth mindset atmosphere in your classroom which is crucial to the succes of the strategies in the following components.

The next two components we did not cover in our session but here is a brief overview. Developing Understanding consists of strategies that support students to learn the content. They focus heavily on building background knowledge and help students make connections with their learning. Strategies such as cues, questions & advanced organizers, nonlinguistic representations, summarizing & note taking, assigning homework and providing practice. One can pick and choose which one bests fits the learning for the students.

The third component is Extend & Apply Knowledge. These strategies allow students to extend their knowledge by applying their learning to real life situations. Metacognition happens in this component. Identifying Similarities & Differences, and Generating & Testing Hypotheses are the strategies that help students extend and apply their learning.

Yes, this is nothing new however, what really made sense to me as a teacher is not only the framework but now I see the connections between all the strategies and how they can work together to create a positive learning experience for students. Before I viewed them as individual strategies in a bank that I could pull from, now I see the purpose and flow between them. So even though this day didn’t present anything new, we can always glean new learning from hearing it in a different way. I would suggest buying the book Classroom Instruction That Works 2nd Edition-Dean, Hubbell, Pitler and Stone, it is full of examples and steps on how to blend the strategies into your daily instruction. I’m not sure what others took away from the day but would love to hear about it through your comments on this post!

Categories: We are all learners!.

Find Your Style

July 1, 2012

As the year winds down and summer is upon us, reflection is the last thing one wants to do. The students are wired for sound, classrooms need to be put into summer mode for the janitors and some people are moving on. Needless to say, a very busy time in the life of a teacher.

In the mail today arrived my subscription of House and Home and on the cover was the title, “Find Your Style”. Upon reading that I immediately thought of summer reflection. Even though it is a busy time, as the days wind down and summer holidays begin, taking the first couple of weeks to reflect on what worked amazingly well this year will help in the winding down process. In thinking about what went well and why it went well, hopefully the challenging areas of the year can be easily solved by ‘Finding Your Style’ in the successes and applying that style throughout. If you are struggling with finding your style, take some time to read Michael Fullen or some of the other books I have listed on my book shelf. Hopefully through the process of finding your style, you will rejuvenate yourself and enjoy the rest of summer and return refreshed and renewed in the fall! I know I will! So rest, relax and enjoy your well earned days ahead, may we all grow in our profession as we take time to find our style.

Categories: We are all learners!.

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