Bringing Back the Class Read Aloud

If anyone out there can find Ms.Jordan from Brookmill PS in Agincourt, I want to thank her for reading aloud Island of the Blue Dolphins when I was in grade 5. I remember the intense emotions the story evoked. At one point, Ms. Jordan was overwhelmed and asked me to finish reading a heart-wrenching scene to the class. Here I am, decades later, cherishing that beautiful gift she gave us by reading aloud. You may have had a similar experience around that age with books like Charlotte’s Web, Holes, or Bridge to Terabithia. Nothing can compare to hearing a great story in person. It will entertain you, enrich your life, expand your vocabulary, ignite your imagination and give you food for thought.

I am also grateful for the many picture books I have shared with children over the years. They are one of the most powerful teaching tools. With books on every topic imaginable, you can use them to relate to every part of the curriculum. Educators know this, yet I’m left wondering if reading aloud to children is happening less often these days.

During the 2020-21 school year and much of 2021-22, educators had strict restrictions for physical distancing and masking. Reading aloud to students became very challenging. Instead, teachers turned to books online. With desks stretched across the classroom, it was easier to see illustrations on a large screen. Since wearing a mask made projecting our voices difficult, we saved our weary throats for a few minutes while the video played. I understand the need for playing read-aloud videos at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, but now students can gather together to listen to a picture book, view the illustrations, and discuss it.

Let’s get back to sharing more rich read-alouds with our classes.

Students will benefit from hearing you bring a book to life. Here are a few of the important reasons you should be the one reading to your class:

* You can model what it means to read with expression,

*The students will be much more likely to ask questions and share similar experiences while you are reading compared to interrupting a video, 

* You can stop and clarify word meanings, 

*You know your students and can explain the context when needed,

* You can relate your connections to the story,

*You will be strengthening the bonds in your classroom community.

Reading aloud opens a gateway to deep discussions with your class. There is a plethora of incredible books out there! Ask your colleagues and your teacher-librarian for suggestions of books available at your school or visit your local library.  Your students may end up thanking you decades later!

Here are a few of my favourites:

Picture Books

Thunderboy Junior by Sherman Alexie – Importance of your Name

I am Enough by Betsy Beyers – Self-Confidence, Identity

Stolen Words by Melanie Florence – Loss of Indigenous Language

The Bad Seed by Jori John – Self Awareness

Duck Days by Sarah Leach – Autism, Friendship

Tacky the Penguin by Helen Lester – Inclusivity, Humour

Not a Box by Antoinette Portis – Ingenuity

The Water Walker by Joanne Robertson – The story of Nokomis Josephine-ba Mandamin

Suki’s Kimono by Chieri Uegaki – Identity

Scaredy Squirrel by Melanie Watt – Anxiety

Junior Novels

The Secret Life of Owen Skye by Alan Cumyn – Humour, Family

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo – Believing in yourself, Love, Loyalty, Courage

Wonder by R.J. Palacio – Friendship, Choosing Kindness, Inclusivity

Intermediate Novels 

Fatty Legs by Margaret Olemaun Pokiak-Fenton – Residential School, Courage

Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes – Racism, Compassion, Gun Violence 

Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix- Friendship, Courage

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed – Bravery, Hope

 

Happy Reading!

Kindergarten Communication of Learning: Initial Observations

Kindergarten Communication of Learning:  Initial Observations

Are you looking for some help writing the Initial Observations report for Kindergarten? This post is for new teachers, teachers who have changed grades, and teachers covering prep in kindergarten. I have been covering Kindergarten prep for several years and recently had a year teaching Year One of the Kindergarten program. Since we have several Kindergarten classes at my school, I can bounce ideas off many educators regarding reporting. Getting support is extremely helpful, so I’ll share what I’ve learned so far.

Collaboration is key! Like all aspects of the Kindergarten program, collecting evidence of children’s learning for reports is a responsibility that teachers and designated early childhood educators (DECEs) can share. It is an essential conversation for the educator team to have early on so that observations are collected throughout the year to demonstrate each child’s growth. We had a shared Google doc for each student, organized by frames, so we could make notes, add pictures and keep the documentation all in one place. Some teachers prefer to use a slide deck. Educators need to select the practices and strategies that work best for them.

The Initial Observations report is intended to be an overview of student key learning and growth in learning during the first two months of school. I think of it as a snapshot and often remind myself that there is another report coming in about ten weeks that will have more detailed observations and cover a greater breadth of the Kindergarten program. In some cases, teachers have had limited time with students due to class restructuring and absences. In these cases, do your best to let the parents know how their child is adjusting to Kindergarten.

If you consult social media groups and other blogs, you will see a range of educators’ opinions about Kindergarten reporting. There is a consensus that the box on the Communication of Learning: Initial Observations is much larger than needed in Ontario. I have heard the message repeated for several years from many sources, “Don’t aim to fill the box!”

Ask yourself, what happens initially in the Kindergarten program? What is the essential information to communicate to parents? What are the most obvious strengths of the child? The following questions guide you through the child’s day at school and give you ideas to consider as you write the Initial Observations. You may wish to focus more on the Self Regulation and Well Being frame, but there is an opportunity to comment on the other three frames, especially if a child demonstrates strong skills in those areas. Choose a few areas to highlight about each child and support with real-life examples if possible. To avoid using jargon, educators should aim to refer to overall expectations in a natural way when writing initial observations about a child’s learning. Here are some prompts to help you in your writing. Do not try to answer all these questions! The variety in the list is to help you describe the strengths of different children.

Is the child:

– content to be at school?

– beginning to show more independence with their belongings as they unpack their backpack and change their shoes?

-engaging in conversation with peers and adults?

-asking questions of their peers and adults?

-answering questions with detail?

-beginning to follow routines?

-playing with a variety of learning tools inside and/or outside?

-participating in games and songs with the whole group?

-building, creating, role-playing?

-sorting? (e.g., when tidying up toys)

-making observations about the natural world?

You will have observed changes in many of the children, in the first ten weeks, as they have become more comfortable with the school environment.

STUDENT ONE

I’m writing this comment with a confident, enthusiastic student in mind. Here is a sample comment based on some of the questions listed above. I would personalize this comment with the correct name and pronoun when editing.

STUDENT ONE arrives at school content and excited about the day ahead. They have adapted to the morning entry routines and often greet other students by saying, “Hi!”. STUDENT ONE uses social skills when playing with their friends (e.g., at the blocks centre and when playing soccer). He/She/They often invite(s) other students to join him/her/them, especially at his/her/their favourite activities, which are: creating with loose parts or playing at the sand table. He/She/They can identify and print the letters in his/her/their name. STUDENT ONE is excited to play games that involve counting to ten and is working on pointing at objects to count accurately. Beyond the classroom, STUDENT ONE is willing to try new activities in different locations such as the gym, library or outdoors. He/She/They often take a turn with a sit-on bouncy ball during outdoor play.   He/She/They have/has recently expanded their design skills – they has been seeking out different kinds of tools and materials to construct with. When building a tower they said: “We need something to make it stronger so it doesn’t fall down”. STUDENT ONE often contributes during class discussions and is eager to learn more about animals.

STUDENT TWO

In contrast, STUDENT TWO has had some struggles adjusting to school and experiences sadness throughout the day. Since we have already communicated with parents extensively about this issue I am not dwelling on it in the Initial Observations. Instead, I deliberately frame the comments with positivity and a growth mindset.

STUDENT TWO has made progress in adjusting to the kindergarten program. He/She/They is/are independently unpacking his/her/their backpack each morning and joining the class for play. STUDENT TWO prefers the art centre where he/she/they enjoy drawing and painting. STUDENT TWO shows an interest in completing puzzles, especially when an educator is sitting nearby. She/He/They often build(s) a house using blocks or Lego. STUDENT TWO spends time outside observing his/her/their peers and often walks quietly with the educator, we will support them in making connections with their classmates. He/She/They have/has commented on the changing weather and fall colours and shows curiosity about the natural world. We look forward to helping STUDENT TWO adjust to the school environment and build his/her/their confidence and independence over the school year.  

Good luck to all educators with Initial Observations and with Progress Reports for grades 1-8. Make use of human, print and online resources.  ETFO has a website dedicated to Professional Learning in the Early Years where you will find videos and information from Kindergarten educators and their classrooms.  ETFO has also just published an engaging resource, Building and Enriching Partnerships in Kindergarten, which includes a chapter on planning and documenting.

Take care of yourselves as you take on the task of writing these reports while also planning, teaching, and assessing your students. Do a little each day to make it manageable.  I believe in you!

Key resources to assist you in this work:

The Kindergarten Program, 2016

Growing Success, The Kindergarten Addendum, 2016

Communicating with Parents about Children’s Learning: A Guide for Kindergarten Educators, Revised Draft, September 2017

ETFO’s website for Professional Learning in the Early Years

ETFO’s new resource: Building and Enriching Partnerships in Kindergarten

Cross-Curricular Robert Munsch Author Study K-6

Why Robert Munsch?

*Robert Munsch’s books are familiar to many students.

*His books are entertaining and make students laugh.

*The characters and settings are from across Canada.

*You will be surprised by the diversity!

It is still early in the school year, and your class is still forming as a community. You want students to feel excited by your read-aloud choices, and if your students are reading independently, these books are accessible to many readers. They are also widely available as recordings. I am old enough to have them on cassette and a CD, but some are available from the publishers’ websites. You may think Munsch is for the youngest students only, but I encourage you to try some of these ideas for students up to grade 6!

K-2: Listening and Reflecting on the Story and Illustrations

Young children identify with the ridiculous antics of the characters in Robert Munsch’s books. Mortimer will not be quiet at bedtime. Jule Ann has a mud puddle jump on her in Mud Puddle. Kristen’s parents bring home animals instead of her new human sibling in Alligator Baby. Tina will not change her socks in Smelly Socks. And the classic, Love you Forever, is about a boy who is deeply loved even though he misbehaves. The list goes on!

The stories have much to offer regarding humour, patterns, and analysing human behaviour. With young students, you can also look at the different illustrators. The books mentioned above were illustrated by Michael Martchenko, Sami Suomalainen, and Sheila McGraw. Each has its own unique style. Use them as an inspiration to create your own illustrations.  How would you draw a mud puddle jumping on a kid?  You could also use many different Robert Munsch books to discuss rules and responsibilities since his characters have a habit of showing how not to behave.

Studying Robert Munsch’s books with a young audience can lead to creating a class book. I also recommend writing to Robert Munsch. In the past, I have always received a kind letter and story featuring students’ names from my class.

Grade 3-6: Recording Read Alouds and Critical Analysis

Once you have modeled a great read-aloud with your students, you could ask them to record their read-aloud using a Robert Munsch book. If the material is familiar, they will not be as intimidated to make a video of themselves. You can watch recordings of Robert Munsch’s storytelling and see how he emphasizes sound effects and uses pauses and volume to be highly entertaining and expressive. If you have a reading buddy class, your students could prepare a read-aloud to pass a love of reading to younger students. This activity could allow you to cover drama, media literacy, reading, and oral communication expectations.

If you dug deeper behind some of the stories, you would see that Robert Munsch’s sense of compassion comes through. Sometimes you have to infer the details from the illustrations. In some cases, you can listen to Robert Munsch giving interviews about the motivation for a story. Here are a few examples with a brief description of the story behind the story.

Smelly Socks:  This story takes place at K’atl’odeeche First Nation. K’atl’odeeche is not named in the story itself, but it is in the dedication. The illustrations are based on photographs of the area. There are details to note in the story to discuss life at this First Nation in the 1980s. Tina’s family had no car. There was only one store. The bridge to town (Hay River) was too far to walk. Many Canadians have never visited a First Nation and are not aware of the difficulties some First Nations face. This story could launch your class into an inquiry about life on First Nations.

The current website for K’atl’odeeche First Nation details its history and cultural celebrations.

From Far Away:  Saoussan wrote to Robert Munsch in grade two. She had been in Canada for about 18 months. He made up this story based on some of her experiences. I like to read it close to Halloween because it can help students new to school in Canada prepare for the occasion. I also find it helps students think critically about what it is like for someone who does not know the dominant language at school. It also can be a starting point for thinking about people’s experiences with war. Read this story with an awareness of whether or not the content could be disturbing to your students.

Where is Gah-Ning?: Set in Northern Ontario, this story has colourful illustrations by Hélène Desputeaux. Gah-Ning is a girl who is inventive and determined, although not very safe in her travel choices. You will relate to this character if you have ever lived in a time or place where not much was going on! Older students can compare life in their area to the small town of Hearst. The child in this story became Robert Munsch’s pen pal for decades. This story could inspire your class to begin a pen pal program with a faraway school. There are websites to help you find a match. 

I encourage you to do some further reading, viewing, and listening about Robert Munsch. He is 77 years old while I’m writing this blog and is dealing with dementia. He has stopped making public appearances. He has been open about his struggles with mental illness. 

I have a personal story about Robert Munsch. In 1995 I was teaching grade 2, and my class wrote letters to try and win a Robert Munsch visit. We mailed our good copies to the Quaker Oats Company and hoped for the best. Alas, we did not win. I still had the rough copies. They were a little marked up, but I packed them into an envelope and sent them off to Bob, hoping for a reply. I got more than I bargained for! He sent a fun story and a poster as usual, but he also included a card saying:

 “Dear Miss McClelland, I like it better if you don’t correct the kids spelling. Bob Munsch” 

Lesson learned! If you are sending rough copies that have editing marks to anyone – explain, explain, explain!


Enjoy your Robert Munsch adventures,

Brenda

P.S. If you want more information about where some of Munsch’s characters are now, try this MacLean’s article. 

Scholastic has information about Munsch, including a mailing address at this website.

Munsch has his own website where you can send an email or learn more about him.

Hello! Bonjour! Aanii!

I am Brenda MacNaughton, teacher and first-generation Irish Canadian. I have lived near Lake Ontario most of my life in Williams Treaty Territory. I am grateful to be here at the Heart and Art blog with you as I write my first entry, and I look forward to your feedback.

New Beginnings

September begins with new relationships forming among staff and students in our schools. I’m starting a new role at work as an Early Intervention Teacher, which allows me to work with small groups on literacy and social and emotional learning skills. I’m also continuing a role I’ve had for many years, teacher-librarian and primary prep coverage teacher for kindergarten and grade one. I am excited to help our youngest learners feel welcome at our school as they enter a classroom for the first time. I’m looking forward to seeing students learn and grow over the year ahead. For many educators, students and families this is a very exciting time of year.

National Day of Truth and Reconciliation

September also brings the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation. This month can evoke traumatic memories for residential school survivors and their families. I am listening to the stories of survivors and their families and bringing that learning to the classroom. The Orange Shirt Day movement, started by Phyllis Webstad, helps us understand the reality of a child attending residential school. When she arrived at St. Joseph Mission residential school, Phyllis was stripped of her shiny new orange shirt. She went months without seeing her family. She was hungry and lonely. You can read about her experience in her books, one for younger children, “Phyllis’s Orange Shirt,” and one for grade 3 and up called “The Orange Shirt Story.” The Orange Shirt Day website has lesson plans for Kindergarten to grade 6 that will help students understand the truth that was swept under the carpet for a century in Canada. The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation also has a series of online events happening throughout the week leading up to September 30th. This year I found more resources online than I can possibly fit in one day or even one week!

Truth and Reconciliation Throughout the Year

There is much work to be done in Canada to listen to the truth and reconcile with Indigenous Peoples, so I will plan activities that include Indigenous voices throughout the year. I want to build relationships with local First Nations, Métis and Inuit Peoples. As I lay out my long-range plans, I’m looking for opportunities to incorporate Indigenous guest speakers and books and videos by Indigenous creators. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action call upon varying levels of government to collaborate with educators. Let’s ensure that the message is heard loud and clear, “Every Child Matters.”

Coping with Stress – Teacher Edition

Teaching is a beautiful career that I have put my heart into for 30 years. I love the challenge of getting a non-reader interested in books. I love helping students and staff feel welcome when they are new to the school. And there is nothing like seeing the satisfaction and pride a student has when they understand something for the first time. On the flip side of that positivity, it’s easy to get bogged down, even at the beginning of the school year. The TO-DO list seems endless!

At times, the workload can be overwhelming and stressful. I’ve found it’s constructive when I reflect on my feelings and physical symptoms. When I’m starting to spiral into unhealthy habits or thinking, I put some strategies into action to help me be my best self. I do not want to be in a situation where I stay up half the night planning what and how I’ll teach. And I do not need stress and negativity from work to spill over into my time with family and friends. Here are a few of the strategies that work for me.

Physical Fitness
As part of my proactive approach, I have found it beneficial to be involved in fitness classes. I’m online with a group of dedicated individuals three times during the work week at 6 am. I used to laugh at the idea of doing an early morning fitness class, but after 2 years- I love it, mainly because I can connect with friends from university who I don’t see often. For me, it’s more than the fitness aspect. Seeing my old friends is uplifting! Do you have something that you look forward to doing? Something for yourself?

Getting Grounded with Nature and Breath
Even after a great workout, there are times when I get upset about all kinds of things that happen in the school environment. Working with humans of all ages can test my patience sometimes! When any of those stressors get to me, I try to take a walk, observe nature, and reflect on what is happening. I use some of the same ideas I share with students about mindfulness. I let the feelings wash over me and get grounded while watching the ducks swim in the pond or the clouds forming in the sky. Some techniques like box breathing and meditation can help. It’s not always enough, though.

Support at Work
It’s been vital to me over the years to build positive relationships with staff at the different schools where I worked. Having colleagues who have become friends makes any challenging moments tolerable. We laugh and cry together. My current staff likes to gather regularly for food. We have soup lunch on Mondays and treats on Fridays. These weekly occasions get us out of our isolated work situations and make time for conversation. On these occasions, we get to know each other. Over the years, we’ve also had scavenger hunts, noodle tag, and special friend week, where people do acts of kindness for each other. I can’t emphasize just how important it has been for me to work in a place where I know my colleagues well, and we have taken the time to build a trusting relationship.

It is early in the school year to be thinking about the long winter nights ahead but wouldn’t it be great to have a variety of stress management techniques in place for those days when things are getting to be a bit much? I’d love to hear ideas about how you are proactive about taking care of yourself and what events happen at your schools to help you build great relationships among staff. Take care!