Archive for the ‘storytelling’ Category

playful storytelling at Tomsett

Posted on: February 21st, 2015 by jnovakowski

Salima Parvez, kindergarten teacher at Tomsett Elementary, received an Innovation Grant this year to investigate playful storytelling through the First Peoples Principles of learning. Drawing from our experience with the Quality Teaching and Learning project (QTL), we have planned some story retelling and story creation experiences for her students. Salima is using some of the TTOC release time provided through the grant to visit Diefenbaker and Steves classrooms that are involved in the QTL project.

Salima has read The Little Hummingbird with the students and they have enjoyed retelling and re-enacting the story. During my visit last week, we talked with the students about Richmond might have looked like thousands of years ago (before Costco, Superstores, cars and roads etc) and how the land and river was shared by Aboriginal peoples for fishing as well as food and plant gathering. I read them several pages from the book Sharing Our World, which explains the significance of many animals important to Aboriginal culture of the Pacific Northwest. The students were then asked to think of a story involving the animals and to create a scene or setting for their story.

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As the children created their scenes and chose their animal characters, Salima and I sat alongside the students, listening to and documenting their stories. We took photographs, video clips, used the notes app to scribe students’ stories or the SodaSnap app to capture a photograph and short story. The focus of the project is to focus on oral storytelling and finding ways to capture the students’ stories is an important part of the process, so that we can see how the students’ sense of story and use of language is developing.




Here is a link to a short video of some of of the students’ stories HERE.


place-based learning at Diefenbaker

Posted on: February 7th, 2015 by jnovakowski

Diefenbaker was one of the four schools that began in the Ministry’s Quality Teaching and Learning project last year around our district focus of playful storytelling using natural materials and weaving in the First Peoples Principles of Learning. Three of the teachers and one new staff member are continuing in the project this year which is also meshing nicely with a school-wide professional learning focus on the First Peoples Principles of Learning, Aboriginal education and indigenous knowledge.

On Friday, I spent the morning at the school and a block of time in all four classes. A teacher from Tomsett joined me in the classroom visits as she is working on an Innovation Grant project based on the QTL project.

We began in Jaclyn Cruz’s kindergarten classroom where they are just beginning to engage in playful oral storytelling. Today, the students were focused on building and creating scenes for their stories. A variety of materials were provided for the students to choose from. The classroom teacher and ELL teacher both recorded students’ descriptions of their story scenes using their iPads.

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This student explained, “The bears are going to go in the forest and eat things. Here are trees and water and this is a log with grass in case you fall off.”

We then visited Michelle Hikida’s grades 2&3 classroom where the students spent the fall learning about the Fraser River. This week, they have begun to consider the stories that the Fraser River has to tell. The students created their story scenes, incorporating their factual and historical knowledge of the Fraser River – its depth and speed, what animals would be living in and near the river, what plants and trees would be near the river and how people interact with the river.

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The classroom teacher paused the students so that a student could share his story. The students gathered around and watched and listened as he told his story. His classmates had thoughtful comments noting his expressive voice and a learning message about forgiveness built into the story.

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After recess we visited Margaret Choinski’s grades 2&3 classroom where the students have written stories based on story scenes they created using photograph backgrounds.


The class has read the story Yetsa’s Sweater by Sylvia Olsen and the students have learned about the history of the Cowichan sweater.


Margaret has shown them a video documentary about the process of making the sweaters and the students have become well aware of the social justice issues involved with how these sweaters created huge profits for owners of tourist stores, particularly on Vancouver Island. The video of The Story of the Coast Salish Knitters can be found HERE.

On Friday, the students were creating border designs for a toque for one of the students’ new baby brother. Margaret is an expert knitter and is going to use of the student’s designs to create this special gift. Margaret shared knitting patterns she was able to find and provided the students with grid paper and some tips on creating a design that could be replicated. The students often chose elements from the artistic animal tiles that Margaret has in the classroom

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Our last visit was to Kelly Hink’s kindergarten classroom. Here is the area in her classroom full of storytelling materials.


On each table was a plat of materials ready for students to select from.


The students had previously read the little book Raven and the Box from Strong Nations and retold that story. Today they were reading the little book I Spy Raven and retelling it, using their own choice of characters. Kelli modelled choosing characters and using the language from the book, demonstrated how to change the language to make sense for the characters they had chosen and the materials they had available. The students were paired together for their story creation and telling.




As in Michelle’ class, Kelli paused the class to listen to one pair’s story, to inspire students with their own stories.


Here is a link to two students sharing their story – HERE.

So much playing with language for five year olds!




a visit to Opal – January 2015: reflections

Posted on: February 2nd, 2015 by jnovakowski 3 Comments

As I reflect on my three days visiting the Opal School in Portland, I go back to one of my tweets that kind of sums things up for me – “values, humanity, joy” and of course #playfulinquiry. The focus of the visitation days was looking at questions and playful inquiry. As a team we wondered about how we might make sense of Opal’s interpretation of playful inquiry for our context.

We knew we were going to see beautiful environments. We are fairly well versed in Story Workshop and the use of loose parts. As fellow pacific northwesterners, we too embrace our outdoor learning opportunities year-round. We also knew we were going to powerful teaching and learning. And we did.

I think the most powerful practice I observed was a pedagogy of listening enacted by both teachers and students in every classroom we visited. I have never seen such patience and kindness and strong trusting relationships between teacher and child but also between the children. During class meetings, the students often sat in circles so that they could all see other. They each had a turn to speak and respond as needed. The teachers genuinely listened to the children and responded with a prompt or question to continue the thinking and discussion. When there was a conflict, and of course there were conflicts as these are real children we are talking about, the teacher kindly coached the children through the conflict. In a classroom of 9-11 year olds, we witnessed the children doing this for each other, with no need for adult intervention. The students have experienced this way of being in a community, many since they were three years old or in kindergarten and the teachers commented that the students often take the language of listening home to their own families. I never heard a raised or cross voice the whole time we were there and I never observed a sense of being rushed, or needing to wrap things up to move on to the next thing, whether during solving a conflict or during a class meeting. There seemed to always be time to listen to each other. What a gift. What an important priority.

At the core of what we saw was shared values amongst all community members – teachers and students, the sense of humanity in all that was done and a sense of joy that filled the classrooms and spirits of those who lived in those spaces.

Outside of each classroom, there was an introduction to that classroom community and a sharing of the values and principles. Within classrooms, there were often prompts posted such as “What does it mean to be together in this community?” that focus on the sense of community that was so evident in every classroom we visited.



We wondered what it would be like to teach in a school community where everyone shared the same principles and values about children, learning and teaching? We have experienced pockets of that in our schools but along with the right of autonomy in our system, sometimes comes quite disparate views on what it means to be a teacher and how children are viewed.

Throughout our visit, the power of story kept resonating and reminding us that we all have a story to tell. The Opal teachers and students look for the stories that live within materials, ideas and concepts. They create stories to think, to learn, to understand and make sense of the world. They share their stories. It was not surprising that one of our last acts on the last afternoon of our visit was to engage with studio materials and create a story of our experience at Opal. All four of us created very different stories, but with similar themes.



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During our visit, we were also struck by the way teachers position themselves as teacher-researchers. Now being a perpetual student myself, this has probably always been how I see myself although I have not articulated it that way. I think positioning yourself as a learner and with a stance of inquiry yourself is a very powerful model for your students. The Opal teachers carefully jotted down students’ comments, diagrammed their creations and transcribed discussions on both clipboards and using iPads.

The documentation that teachers engaged in was visible in all of the classrooms and hallways. We found out that the staff has a professional learning meeting every Wednesday afternoon from 2-4 and also meets with their grade group teams twice a week after school for planning, collaborating and reflection. We learned that the staff all uses Evernote to share their transcriptions and documentation, with teachers all having a different colour to comment and reflect within their shared learning documents. Whereas some of our teachers might spend time photocopying or “unit planning”, the Opal teachers seem to invest their time in discussing their students together, thinking about what is at the essence of the stories that are emerging in the classroom and how to negotiate an inquiry-based curriculum that connects to their state standards but builds on the students’ interests, stories and questions. Documentation that makes both thinking and learning visible is an essential part of their process and reveals what has happened so far in the students’ stories and what might come next.

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I truly felt I was in the presence of brilliance.

In terms of a negotiated and inquiry-based curriculum, the teachers referenced Loris Malaguzzi and the notion of the “ball toss” where teachers may toss a ball out to the child/class and in a way provoke or invite engagement but then the child/class tosses the ball back with their own meaning, ideas and questions and so it goes, back and forth. For this game to be successful, so many things need to be in place and we talked a lot about this in our team. Relationships, trust, care, community. And for many teachers, an uncomfortableness may be caused by a letting go that is needed to negotiate and plan alongside and in response to students.

Many of our schools have seen evidence of the power of a common vision when they choose a school goal and all focus on that, using consistent language and working towards a common goal. Examples are many of our schools who use the language of Adrienne Gear’s Reading Power or our schools that our focusing  on mental mathematics strategies. There is power for all involved, teachers and students, to have some consistency and community around the way we talk about thinking and learning together in a school.

How might we choose to live with our required curriculum? The Opal teachers have state standards, Common Core and testing. Here in BC, we have mandated curriculum and learning outcomes but have much autonomy as to how that curriculum is enacted in our classrooms…we can choose to live with our curriculum in a manner that is less restrictive for our students and ourselves and is more connected, purposeful and meaningful.



As we move towards our redesigned curriculum here in BC, I see this as an opportunity for shared understandings and working together towards some common goals. The competencies, inquiry-based approaches, focus on personalized learning and teaching and learning through big curricular ideas will all need to be a common focus of all our K-12 staffs as we move forward together to support student learning.

In Richmond, our core belief statement is “the focus in on the learner” and I felt many connections to this at Opal School and felt that focus enacted and lived by both teachers and students. The child as learner, the teacher as learner. A focus on learning and making that learning visible. It was a rich professional learning experience to reflect on our own beliefs and principles of teaching and learning. By living in a different context, even for a short time, you are able to hold up a mirror to yourself and reflect on where we are in our own story.


*all photographs were taken at the Opal School with the Museum Centre for Learning at the Portland Children’s Museum, with permission to share here

a visit to Opal – January 2015: an introduction

Posted on: February 1st, 2015 by jnovakowski

I was part of a team from our district that visited the Opal school in Portland, Oregon at the end of January. I was already acquainted with Opal school, having attended events where teachers from the school shared their experiences and I have many of their published resources. Teams of early learning & Kindergarten teachers from our district have visited Opal. Marie Thom, our Early Learning and Full Day Kindergarten teacher consultant, has continued to nurture learning environments in our district’s classrooms that honour the child and Reggio-inspired practices. All of our StrongStart classrooms and many of our kindergarten classrooms have been influenced and inspired in this way. We have beautiful, inspiring classrooms we can visit in our district and many of our kindergarten teachers are investigating Story Workshop with the support of Marie and Lisa Schwartz, one of our literacy teacher consultants. Story Workshop is a foundational piece in Opal classrooms and videos sharing the Story Workshop experience at Opal can be found HERE. Many of our early learning and  kindergarten teachers are also exploring natural spaces, gardens and outdoor classrooms with their children. A Museum Centre for Learning video created  about the importance of nature play can be found HERE.

This time, our district team was comprised of myself, Michelle Hikida (grades 2&3 teacher at Diefenbaker), Braunwyn Thompson (grades 3&4 teacher at Woodward) and Hieu Pham-Fraser (teacher-librarian and resource teacher at Blair). Our professional focus of our visit was to look at the systemic big picture and structures that were in place to nurture and support inquiry-based learning for primary grades and beyond. We wanted to consider what might be needed in order to grow the practices that are taking hold in our early learning and Kindergarten classrooms to classrooms with older students. What might be the perceived constraints that teachers are feeling? What aspects or interpretations that are “fitting” for our younger learners might also fit with our older students, or what adjustments might be needed?

Michelle and Braunwyn are math mentor teachers in our district and we were also looking for examples of mathematical inquiry and mathematics teaching and learning that is based on the practices, principles and beliefs we know the school is known for. Having been a teacher-librarian and resource teacher myself, I know the influence this role can have in a school and is one of the rare opportunities we have in our system for teacher teaming and collaboration which is the lens Hieu was looking through during our visit. We came to realize that teacher collaboration was such an essential part of what we experienced at Opal.


More information about Opal School, including its guiding principles, can be found HERE.

*all photographs were taken at the Opal School with the Museum Centre for Learning at the Portland Children’s Museum, with permission to share here

Our first evening at Opal, we were drawn together in the theatre space at the museum and provided with an overview of what our experience would be. With the thinking frames of noticing and wondering as well as collecting, connecting and sharing…we set off to the classrooms. Of course, we loved what we saw but we also had many wonders. We made many connections to things that were already happening in our district and connections to our redesigned curriculum in BC and its focus on competencies, inquiry and personalized learning.

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We then spent two full days at Opal. The mornings were spent in classrooms while the children were in attendance. We relished these times, being a “fly on the wall” and having a glimpse into classroom life at Opal and what it meant to be in those classroom communities. In the afternoons, we reflected, listened to Opal educators share their stories and thinking and had time for group discussions.

Part two of this series of blog posts will share what I think are the essential elements of what we experienced and I will make connections to our Richmond context.


primary teachers study group: session two

Posted on: January 26th, 2015 by jnovakowski

Our second session began with some sharing. Gillian Partridge shared a project she did with her grades 2&3 students, inspired by the Mix It Up book. The painting on the left is an abstract representation of salad and the one on the right used mixing of colours (focusing on prairie colours as the class is studying Canada) and creating circles and understanding fractions.


Margaret Choinski shared how she used the book What Do You Do With An Idea? to inspire students to create building plans during their study of structures. She has a parent visit the class who is an architect and he explained that the architect is the “idea person” being buildings which was a great connection to the book and the process of creating.

magnificent thingOur new picture book was introduced – The Most Magnificent Thing by local author Ashley Spires. I shared how I used this book with two primary classes at Lee.

We talked about the great messages around habits of mind and dispositions that are highlighted in this story – perseverance, determination, trying something another way, seeing things from different perspectives.

As a science focus for our district this year is Creativity and Innovation, we are very happy that Destination Imagination has donated two copies of this year’s project guide to each of our schools. Even if schools don’t choose to enter into DI’s competitions, the manuals have a wealth of great ideas, including instant challenges, to develop creative thinking in the classroom. We tried out a series of mini-challenges from the book. Each challenge had a specific set of materials to go with it.

#1: Create a device that will move the egg across the table without any team members directly touching the egg.

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#2: Build a bridge between two chairs that will support the weight of the egg.

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#3: Build a tower that will raise the egg above the table as high as possible.

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#4: Tell the life story of the egg non-verbally using gestures, words or drawings.



Each challenge had the constraint of time – 4 minutes. We talked about how that has its pros and cons but creates an urgency that some students need. We also discussed how some students would love the challenge and problem-solving of the building challenges while others would flourish in the final storytelling challenge. We always need to be thinking of creating opportunities for all of our students to shine and be successful.

We also looked at the draft information for the Critical Thinking Competency. Richmond has a long history with critical thinking so for the teachers in our group, the description of critical thinking was not really new information but the idea of the profiles of students will be a new way to assess students’ competency in this area.

IMG_0660We shared some of the resources from the Critical Thinking Consortium (TC2) which has been creating resources for teachers for years.


Thank you to the Blair team for hosting us!


celebrating winter with stories

Posted on: December 11th, 2014 by jnovakowski

I have visited the two new schools I am working with on our playful storytelling project (QTL) this year and shared a lovely new book by Terri Mack called Mouse Celebrates the Winter Solstice available here. This story highlights principles and themes like community, celebration, the role of elders and family and the power of stories.

After reading and discussing the themes in the story, the children had an opportunity to create their own stories about the winter solstice. Some stories focused on winter and the forest while others focused more on celebrations and bringing a community or families together.

At Steves, the K and 1&2 class looked at the cover of the picture book and predicted what the story might be about. The students loved looking for the mouse and her footprints in the snow. They also were quite interested in the illustrations of the “star pictures” or constellations. The students also enjoyed the illustrations showing all the animals from the forest coming together to celebrate and were proud to name them.

The students then created their own stories, taking time to carefully create their settings. The students take such care in creating these small story worlds, paying attention to details. Many of the students incorporated the photo blocks the students had created, using photographs of their local environment along the dyke.



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The students also used story stones that they had made.



At Ferris we began our time with the K and K&1 classes by sharing some materials to help the students think about the story.


The students were quite excited to learn about how pinecones open and close depending on the weather!

We spread out some materials for students to create their own wintery story scenes.


As we listened in on their stories, we noticed that the students were developing a stronger sense of story development with some sort of beginning and ending. Some students continue to describe their story scene while others are beginning to use dialogue between the characters and have some sort of action or activity in their story.

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The students in all three of the classes at Ferris liked having photographs taken of their stories and would often call me or their teachers over to take the photos. I would then ask the students to “tell” me their stories and audio-typed them on my iPhone. Although the focus of this project for our young learners is on oral language development, that concept that “talk can be written down” and that their stories can be captured in different ways to share with others has become an important part of the project.


introducing playful storytelling at Ferris

Posted on: November 21st, 2014 by jnovakowski

The three kindergarten classes (one is a K&1 class) and their teachers are participating in our Quality Teaching and Learning (QTL project this year. We are looking at how playful storytelling experience support oral language development and understanding of story. Using natural materials and animals and stories from local, place-based contexts we are exploring how the First Peoples Principles of Learning can inspire our teaching practices.

For this project the principles we are focusing on are connection to place, the power of story and awareness of self-identity. The big idea is that we all have stories to tell.

The students were introduced to the materials in the “starter kit” that will stay at the school. We passed around the animals and read a simple story, Good Morning World.


The students were then able to create a place/setting for their story and choose some animals to help tell their stories.

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The following is the documentation panel that was created with student comments and reflections from the three classes responding to the question What is a story?

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introducing playful storytelling at Steves

Posted on: October 29th, 2014 by jnovakowski

We are continuing our work with the Quality Teaching and Learning project with early primary classes and teachers this year. Our district’s inquiry is looking at the role of playful storytelling experiences in students’ oral literacy development.

Information about our work in the QTL project last school year can be found here:

Grades 1&2 Storytelling

 An introduction to QTL

Kidd, Diefenbaker, Blair and Blundell are continuing their work in the project and Steves, Ferris and Cook are joining the project this year.

Last week, I visited the Kindergarten and Grades 1&2 classes at Steves. Before my visit the teachers, Kathleen Paiger and Ellen Reid had taken the students outside to forage for materials for story settings/animal habitats.

good-morning-world-by-paul-windsor-640I shared some of the animals I had brought with me and their significance to local Aboriginal cultures and read the students Good Morning World. The students then chose their materials to create a setting for their story and then chose animals.

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What happened next in both classes was pretty special. A calm overtook the classes and the students were engaged with their materials and stories.

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Some students focused on building and creating while others enjoyed having their animals talk back and forth to each other. Some students were happy with a limited supply of materials and animals while others amassed quite the collection in front of them. Students naturally merged their materials and stories together. For some students, sharing their stories with an adult seemed very important, especially if it was captured on video.

Here are two short video clips of some kindergarten stories:



These classes had collected rocks, twigs, leaves and acorns on their school grounds. As the students began to build their settings for their stories, one student in the grades 1&2 class was holding a twig with attached leaves in his hands, standing it up like a tree. I asked him if he could think of a way to make the twig stand up on its own…he thought of play dough. His teacher had plasticine in the class and he used that to stick his twig in and voila…a tree was standing. Other students noticed this and we had forests popping up all over the classroom.


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The synergy that emerges is one of my favourite parts of this project. The students collaborate, build on each others ideas  and co-create their stories…and forests.


animal storytelling with grades 1 and 2 at Diefenbaker

Posted on: January 19th, 2014 by jnovakowski

On Friday, I visited Margaret Choinski’s grades 1 and 2 class at Diefenbaker to hear and see the stories the students have been working on. This class is part of our district’s QTL project looking at playful storytelling and oral literacy.

The class had read the book Sharing Our World: Animals of the Native Northwest Coast by Garfinkel Publications during which they learned about the importance of different animals in local Aboriginal culture. Each student chose an animal that was important to them and this was a character in their group stories.

The students went outside and collected various materials to create their settings. They wanted to be able to create forests, beaches and tree top settings.

Margaret gathered paper box lids for the students to create their settings in. This gave the students a defined space and also made the settings portable and able to be “saved”.

The students then created their settings – one of their favourite parts of the project. They thought carefully about the types of habitats their animals would live in.

The class chose the themes of friendship, family and helping others for their stories. Margaret provided some guiding prompts on a chart to help the students frame their stories and keep them focused (I am, We live in the, One Day…). The students practice their stories orally many times before sharing them and having them Margaret record them on the iPad. During my visit, several of the groups presented their stories to me. You could tell they knew their stories were well, were proud of their work and had fun moving the animals around in the setting as they told their stories.
At the end of my time in the class, Margaret connected her iPad to the projector and shared a few of the groups’ recorded stories. The students loved seeing and hearing their stories on the big screen!

A short animoto with parts of the stories:

The students were so proud of their stories and told me they thought the best part of the project was creating their settings and presenting their stories.

playful storytelling: an introduction to QTL

Posted on: January 14th, 2014 by jnovakowski

Richmond is one of six districts to have been selected to take part in this year’s iteration of BC’s Quality Teaching and Learning Project (QTL). Representatives from the six districts meet throughout the year to share their projects and learn together. We also have meetings for the teachers involved at the district level. The proposal we submitted was several pages long but in brief the project looks at the role of playful storytelling in the early primary classroom, using natural materials and animal toys and stories. The main areas of focus are on oral literacy and on teaching through the First Peoples Principles of Learning. Kits were provided to each school team and each school has its own focus, such a personal stories or stories about self, environmental awareness, place-based learning and Aboriginal cultural awareness.  In Richmond we have four schools involved: Blair, Blundell, Diefenbaker and Kidd. Marie Thom (Early Learning Teacher Consultant) and I help to facilitate the project.

Our first district meeting was at the end of November and school teams shared what they were doing at their schools and teams also received some new materials to add to their kits.

Marie and I spend time at the schools, capturing and collecting data for the project and documenting the schools’ experiences. Last week, I visited both Diefenbaker and Kidd.

At Diefenbaker, Michelle Hikida hosts the project work in the library. Last week, teachers Linda Radford and Kelly Hinks brought their K/1 and K classes to the library. A story from the kit, Just a Walk by Jordan Wheeler, was read and then the students were asked to choose an animal character and think about what adventures it would have when it went on a walk. Different materials were set up on the tables in the library and the students were very engaged with the materials and their stories.

We video and audio recorded some of the students’ stories and the students also enjoyed sharing their stories with their classmates.

And a short little animoto video of some of the playful storytelling experiences with the K and K/1 classes at Diefenbaker:

At Kidd, I did an introduction to the kit with Penny Nakamoto’s grades 2 and 3 class and Laura Birarda’s grades K and 1 class. Each class was then given time to explore the materials and books in the kit, beginning their storytelling experience.

This project has so many connections across curriculum areas and engages students in many of the core principles of the new BC Transforming Learning curriculum frameworks.