We Are Better Together

Posted on: March 8th, 2014 by lschwartz

I am in and out of different schools weekly.  I see people working really hard.  Educators doing all they can to meet the needs of the their students.  But, more and more I see people working hard, alone.  I see classroom teachers working in isolation doing their jobs.  I see ESL/Resource teacher pulling students out and working in their own rooms.  And what I see is a lot of very tired people.

We all know teaching counts.  The heart of the matter is truly believing that we can teach all the kids we have – and we will – and others can work with us, because collectively we know enough to make a difference.

My best teaching years were the ones when I had someone to collaborate with, to plan with and to teach with, side by side.  This meant all students were in my classroom with two experts, not one. When things didn’t go quite as planned, we would share a look and as the kids cleaned up, talk about what we could change to make it better next time.  When things went well, we joyfully celebrated.  And for those moments, I want to say thank you to Heather, Julie, Dee-Ann, Colleen, Louesa, Faye, Michelle, Brooke and Jeri.  Thanks for being my plus one, my plus two, my better half in teaching and learning, at some point in my teaching and learning journey.

I urge teachers to find their plus one in their schools.  An educational assistant, teacher librarian, ELL/Resource teacher or anyone else to team with, plan with, teach with and learn with because I know in my heart, we are all better together.



Finding Joy in Teaching Reading

Posted on: January 26th, 2014 by lschwartz No Comments

I have not updated this blog since November as I consider the voice and vision of this blog.  I want it to be just right.  Tonight, as I read through the first chapter of Daring Greatly by Brene Brown, I realized my neglect of this blog has a lot do with fear of what other people will think about what I post and disengagement.  Because if I disengage from the process of blogging, I cannot fail.

But in the past few days, I have been inspired by people and events.  First I was inspired by Jen Barker and her blog post about her one little word for 2014, JOY.  Her post connected me to a post about finding joy in school and learning by Chris Kennedy.  Today, with my colleague Marie, I spoke to parents about reading with children and the focus of our session was making reading joyful.

I think sometimes the pressure we feel to get all those students reading at level xyz by a certain date, darkens our vision and makes the joy of reading harder to see.

 Find Joy in Teaching of Reading:

1. Joy is contagious.  Share your own love of reading with your students.

2.  Read out loud to your students, daily, no matter what age.

3. Build a community of readers who share books, make recommendations and talk about books.

4.  Put phonics and phonemic awareness in their place.  There is a place for both of these pieces of the puzzle, but they are just that, pieces of the puzzle.

5.  Focus on meaning.  Reading is making meaning and interacting with text.  When we teach for meaning and teach students to think while their reading, this allows them to interact more freely with text and come to a better understanding of what they are reading.

6.  Let there be choice.  Time to read just right books (fluency level) and time to read just right books (passion level).

“Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.” -Maya Angelou

A Reader is Someone Who….

Posted on: November 13th, 2013 by lschwartz No Comments

I was blown away by this grade 2/3 class that created this anchor chart.

This anchor chart made my heart sing.

Beyond Sound it Out: What Readers Do?

Posted on: November 1st, 2013 by lschwartz No Comments

Ask a student what they do when they come to a word they don’t know and most will say, “I sound it out.”

But the truth of the matter is that sounding out is not the best strategy because the English language is not consistently phonetic.  Forty to fifty percent of words in the English language cannot be solved by sounding out (Johnson and Keier, 2010). There are other sources of information that can provide clues to solving an unknown word.  It is important that students are taught these word-solving strategies explicitly and be given opportunities to practice these strategies with feedback.

The three sources of information for word solving are:

MEANING: Meaning includes our background knowledge, clues used by looking at the pictures and any ideas gathered from the context of the story.  A cue used by teachers to help students use meaning when reading is, “Did that make sense?”

STRUCTURE:  When using structure as a source of information,  a reader uses their knowledge of sentence structure, spoken language and how things sound to make predictions about an unknown word.  Structure can be a difficult source of information for English Language Learners (ELL). A cue used by teachers to use this source of information is, “Did that sound right?”

VISUAL: Visual cues include sounding out and the knowledge a reader has about letters and sounds.  A cue used for this source of information is, “Does that look right?”

Our goal is to support readers so they learn to use all sources of information.

One lesson that I often do when I first visit a primary classroom, is an explicit lesson that gets students thinking about the habits of a good reader.  Together we create an anchor chart about all those things that good readers do when engaging with text.  Once our chart is created, I do a read aloud where I  think aloud as I am reading the text to explicitly model some of the habits of a good reader.  At the end of the story, we revisit our anchor chart to see if there is anything the students noticed that I did while sharing the story, that they would like to add.

The next part of the lesson gives students a chance practice, practice, practice these habits while reading.  The students engage in fifteen to twenty minutes of reading time.  I bring in all my favorite books to get the students really excited about enjoying books.  As the students are reading, the teachers in the room move around the room reading with students and giving feedback about their reading and what they are noticing about their reading.

After our reading time is over, we come back to the carpet and in a sharing circle, each student shares one thing they did as a good reader.  This is the beginning of the process of developing meta-cognition in students about their own reading and word solving skills.

This post was inspired by the book Catching Readers Before They Fall.  By Pat Johnson and Katie Keier.  I recommend this book over and over again.  It is a comprehensive and user friendly book about reading instruction and practice.

Story Writing: What Happens Next?

Posted on: September 21st, 2013 by lschwartz No Comments

This week I had the pleasure of working in a grade one/two class.  We did a writing lesson that involved using one of my favourite picture books Duck and Goose by Thad Hill.

Our goals for the lesson:
I can talk about pictures from the story to predict what the story might be about.
I can draw a picture to share my thinking and build a story to write the ending.
I can use pictures and words to tell a story and share that story with someone.

The focus on oral language at the beginning of the lesson gave the children a chance to hear other people’s ideas, build vocabulary and borrow ideas from others.  We also gave the students choice in the kind of paper they used to build their story.  Some paper had many lines and a small spot for pictures and other pages had more space for pictures and labeling.  This allows the children to show their ideas in different ways and all children can share their story.

Here are a few samples from the session we had together.

This student had a very clear idea about how he wanted to present his story.  He wanted to create a book so he asked for several pages.  He put them all together and stapled them.  His cover was detailed and had the title of his story and his name as the author.  Below is just the first page of his story and he has characters talking, with quotation marks and I really like his word choice of “replied.”

“Look at that egg goose” replied Duck.

As students finished their stories, they read their stories to a classmate.  To close the lesson we celebrated being authors and read some of the stories to the whole class.