The Brain Chemistry of a Positive Learning Environment

September, a time to set the foundation for a positive school year. There is an old adage, “Don’t smile until December”, but that is no longer thought to be the most effective approach.  We know that confident students are more willing to take risks and they will learn new routines and information more readily. Learning about brain chemistry we see that there are four chemicals produced in the brain that create happy feelings. They are dopamine, serotonin, endorphins, and oxytocin. Here are some examples that I’ve used with kindergarten to grade 8 students to help them feel happier and ready to learn.


“You did it!” Dopamine gives us a great feeling when we have a sense of purpose and can accomplish a task. Students with ADHD especially need help with dopamine. Many students will benefit from checklists, chunking tasks into small parts, and being given the opportunity to solve relevant problems. Taking on tangible tasks like helping a friend, organizing materials, taking responsibility to set up equipment…these tasks will help a student to be productive at school.


We all need a chance to relax, especially after a busy or slightly chaotic time like recess or a transition between classrooms or between teachers. Serotonin is produced when students take calm breaths, close their eyes, listen to calm music, or engage in an art like drawing. Teachers will feel the benefits as well!


By getting students’ bodies moving with physical education, daily physical activities, dance, and community building games you can help their brains release endorphins. Besides using online videos you can get them outdoors for a game or walk and take time to make scientific or social studies observations of your community.


 The love chemical can be released if we make stuffed toys available to hug or have a class pet or have animals visit the classroom. Some high schools have effectively used this strategy during exams to help students feel calm. While you have your class out for a walk, take time to observe and appreciate nature. Look for seasonal changes in plants and also in animal behaviour. Even if you are in an urban environment you can always watch the sky and observe weather trends. Another approach is to model how to give compliments and make it part of peer feedback.

I found it exciting to explore information about brain chemistry with my students. The kids are very curious about the brain and I found they used these techniques independently to focus, calm down or help one another.

Have a wonderful time getting to know your students and creating the best possible learning environment.


Radical Dreaming

The beginning of a new school year brings so much excitement. After all of these years, I still get butterflies before the first day. I look forward to seeing my fellow staff members, meeting new students, and creating a community together. During this time, I also think about setting goals. This year I’m finding it really hard to determine what my goals should be. To be honest, it usually consists of something unattainable (and boring), such as staying incredibly organized and eating healthy every day. These goals cause a lot of stress and worry…. And I think I’ve had those same two goals every year I’ve been teaching so far.

This year I’ve decided to try something different. Jamila Dugan talks about radical dreaming in her article Radical Dreaming for Education Now ( Radical dreaming isn’t a new concept; it’s been explored by many Black scholars over time. In this article, she states:

The idea of dreaming—and in many Black scholars’ views, radical dreaming—isn’t a fluffy notion. Being rooted in our dreams has served the most innovative leaders of yesterday and today. If we look at some of the people who have inspired generations and catapulted us forward, they have often been dreamers—people who had a vision for a world that did not yet exist.

So what does this mean as the educator in the classroom? I wanted to think about my dreams for school – not just my personal goals. What could school be for students? What is my radical dream for my children at home and the students in school with me?

I dream that they will have the support they need to make their dreams and goals come true. I dream that they have agency over themselves; that they feel safe and loved when they come to school. I dream of a space of respectful discourse and learning. I dream of a classroom that helps them to discover all the possibilities of who they are – and who they can be.

It’s not just my dreams that are important. The classroom is a shared space and we will need to create it together. The first step will be to ask students what they think the purpose of school should be and what they want to learn about while they spend their time here. I’ll need to listen to their voices and honour their truths if I want them to feel safe enough to advocate for themselves and for others.

Instead of having a list of goals for this year, I will choose to dream of possibilities. As Dugan reminds us, “Dreaming isn’t for the sake of dreaming. It spurs inspiration and new ideas as we help students build the skills necessary to turn hopes into realities.” There’s enough space in school for all of us to dream of the world that we want to live in.

It’s probably going to be slow. It’s probably going to be a lot of learning and growing together. It’s probably going to take a lot of trust in one another to build a place where our dreams can come true. But I think it’s going to be worth it.

Read Jamila Dugan’s article Radical Dreaming for Education Now on ASCD (

10 years later…

It is officially my tenth September starting the school year. I am so excited to blog once again this year and share the experiences from my grade 7/8 classroom. As I reflect on the past ten years, there are many things I have learned. Things I have stopped doing, continued doing and started doing. I have reflected on almost all of these in the past on this blog and enjoy reading old posts to see how far I have come.

Most importantly, I enjoy remembering why I got into this profession. I thought I would share that as my first post this school year.

Why Teaching is the best job on earth

Teaching is the best job on earth because I get to inspire and help students each day. That is something that means a lot to me because when I was in school, nobody ever did that for me. I used to get spoken to as a student if I was doing something wrong, not something right, which made me upset. Now that I am a teacher, I can make a difference in many ways. One way I would like to make a difference is by helping students with their mental health.

Mental health is so important because if students do not feel safe and happy, they cannot learn, so those are both needed in order to start teaching. That being said, it is easier said than done. It is important to spend the first few weeks of school helping everyone get to know each other and finding out what interests each student has. Then, you can begin teaching the curriculum. Thankfully, my school board created a wellness activity set for teachers to use in their classroom. We have over 100+ activities that foster a community in our classrooms and are encouraged to do one daily for the first six weeks of school. I have seen my class enjoy these activities and start to create friendships with students who they had not met before. Here are some of the activities we enjoyed the first eight days of school:

  • sharing about their identity
  • finding things that have in common/unique things within their seating group
  • two truths and a lie
  • sharing goals for the year
  • finding an inspirational quote that is meaningful to them
  • sharing one interesting fact about themselves

Another element about teaching I enjoy is coaching. I enjoy coaching because you get to see your students outside of the classroom, which for many is their favourite spot in the school. Coaching gives me a way to connect with students who may not build that connection inside the classroom. I also have always loved sports, so I enjoy coaching now that I do not play on as many teams as when I was younger. 

The last thing I love the most about teaching is creating leadership opportunities.  I have had many opportunities to be a leader and plan events as a teacher, so it is my turn to teach students how to create these events and help me run them. That way when they are older they can run them on their own. I am most excited for school spirit days, music events, sport events, Prom Project and more for the 2023/2024 school year.

Even though I could go on and on, I thought I would sum up my three favourite things about teaching so I can always reflect on these when I have a challenging day. I hope each and every one of my students find something that they are passionate about one day just as I have found. Ten years later, still loving this job!

Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain

“Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain” by Zaretta Hammond (2015) explores the intersection of culturally responsive teaching practices and brain research. The book delves into how teachers can better engage and support students from diverse cultural backgrounds by understanding how the brain processes information and responds to different instructional methods. It addresses the critical need for educators to acknowledge and embrace students’ cultural identities and backgrounds while fostering optimal learning experiences in the classroom. This book offers valuable insights into how educators can effectively engage diverse learners and create inclusive learning environments.

Cultural Diversity and Educational Equity:
The book begins by highlighting the importance of cultural diversity in the classroom and its direct impact on educational equity. It discusses how students from various cultural backgrounds bring unique perspectives, experiences, and learning styles, which educators can leverage to enrich learning. Hammond emphasizes the significance of understanding the cultural influences that shape students’ cognitive development and the role of educators in acknowledging and respecting these influences.

Neuroscience and Learning:
In the following chapters, the book delves into neuroscience and its implications for teaching practices. Hammond presents research findings that shed light on how the brain processes information differently based on cultural background and experiences. By understanding these neural mechanisms, educators can tailor their instructional methods to match the diverse needs of students, thereby optimizing learning outcomes.

The Cultural Learning Framework:
Hammond introduces the Cultural Learning Framework, a practical and evidence-based model designed to guide educators in implementing culturally responsive teaching strategies. The framework provides insights into understanding cultural norms, community dynamics, and the impact of stereotype threat on student performance. It also emphasizes the role of the teacher as a cultural broker, fostering trust and building strong relationships with students and their families.

Culturally Responsive Pedagogy in Practice:
The book explores various culturally responsive pedagogical practices educators can integrate into their classrooms. Examples include incorporating culturally relevant texts, integrating students’ cultural practices into the curriculum, and promoting collaborative learning to encourage cultural exchange among students. Hammond emphasizes the significance of teaching students metacognitive strategies to develop self-regulation and critical thinking skills. Hammond provides practical examples and case studies throughout the book to illustrate how culturally responsive teaching and brain-based strategies can be implemented in various educational settings. The author emphasizes teachers’ continuous growth and development in their journey toward becoming culturally responsive practitioners.

Implicit Bias and Stereotype Threat:
Addressing the prevalent issue of implicit bias and stereotype threat, Hammond highlights these factors’ negative impact on student’s academic performance and self-esteem. The book offers practical guidance on how educators can identify and mitigate their biases and create an inclusive and supportive learning environment that fosters student success.

Professional Development and Teacher Training:
The book underscores the need for ongoing professional development and teacher training to equip educators with the knowledge and skills necessary to implement culturally responsive teaching practices effectively. It advocates for school-wide efforts to promote culturally responsive education and create a collaborative and supportive learning community for teachers and students.

Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain by Zaretta Hammond is an indispensable resource for educators and educational stakeholders seeking to create inclusive learning environments and improve academic outcomes for diverse student populations. By bridging the gap between neuroscience and culturally responsive teaching, Hammond offers practical and evidence-based strategies to nurture all students’ cognitive, emotional, and social development, regardless of their cultural backgrounds. Embracing cultural diversity in education empowers students and contributes to a more equitable and socially just society.


Every summer there comes a point, in the middle of sunny slower-paced days, that I feel it. It usually happens in August, but sometimes sooner. It’s that little insistent feeling, as though someone is tapping my shoulder, gently nudging. September is coming, with all its excitement and challenges and learning ahead.

Over the break I usually centre on one area I want to brush up on, or even learn for the first time, to prepare for those first September days. Sometimes I just read up on these subjects on my own time, sometimes it’s more formal learning. Some years I have wanted to look into math, other years it has been social justice, or collaborative teaching … This year, it’s reading for multilingual language learners. 

Coincidentally, near the beginning of this summer, I heard a radio interview discussing phonics while driving to one of my schools. The child on the audio clip was trying to sound out a word, laboriously ploughing through, applying the phonics rules she had learned in an attempt to decode. Her tiny voice wobbled through all the correct sounds, a sweet staccato that let listeners know she had them all right, and would be able to blend them together into a word at any moment. I held the steering wheel and waited expectantly for it to click.

“Sa-sa-sa. Far-far. sa-fa-fa-r …. Safari!”

Her voice was jubilant on that last word. The letter sounds had finally come together and she realized in a flash, this was a word she knew. Safari! 

The radio guest who had brought the clip went on to describe that moment, the joy in reading, when students realize they can do it, decode and recognize a word, and from there begin to orthographically map it in their brains, and make meaning of the print on the page … It truly is an amazing moment. And I have some wonderings …

What if the student were a multilingual language learner, in the early stages of acquiring English? And what if that same student sounded out all the letters, applying all the phonics rules they have been taught (just as the child on the audio clip did) only to at last utter the word “safari” … and not know what the word “safari” means. No joy in recognizing the word, in realizing they know it … no increased understanding of the text …. no inclusion in the knowledge, enjoyment, and thinking processes inherent in reading that the child in the audio clip experienced. 

Earlier this year, I discussed some of the main considerations for literacy instruction for MLLs in my blog entry Equitable Phonics  including the importance of teaching and developing vocabulary and oral language, so that MLLs understand the words they are decoding.  With so many teaching resources now turning significant attention to the scope and sequence of phonics instruction, sometimes with little to no context for word meaning and oral language, I wonder how to make this process equitable for MLLs. How best to develop oral language and vocabulary alongside systematic phonics instruction, so that the process and purpose of reading is fully available to all students? How best to centre and affirm literacy development in first languages? After all, the benefits of doing so, as research tells us, are numerous and irreplaceable.

Wonderings are a constant in teaching, I think, and one of the ways pedagogical practice grows and responds to the needs and identities of students. So for my final blog of the year, I will end with these ones. May your own wonderings inspire fantastic journeys ahead.

The Pitfalls of Rolling Out the Curriculum Too Quickly

And just like that, an entirely new and significantly changed Language curriculum was released near the end of June 2023, with the unrealistic expectation that teachers implement it in September of the same year. Similar to the roll-out of the Math curriculum in 2020, this sudden release of a critical curriculum document has left many educators anxious and wondering how they will implement an entirely new curriculum in such a short amount of time – with the same resources they have from the year before. As ETFO commented on June 20,  “ETFO members are not opposed to updates and improvements to the current Language curriculum; however, we need to call out a troubling pattern. This is the third major curricula that the government has rolled out since 2020 at the last minute, expecting educators to implement it in an unreasonably short timeframe and without adequate professional learning and supports.”

At the end of a school year where the impacts of underfunded schools were evident in the increasing incidents of violence in schools, the expectation of implementing new curriculum in the foundational area of literacy and language is mind-boggling.

The problems with having a rushed implementation of the Language curriculum go far beyond the investment of time educators will have to make to align their work with so many new changes. Language learning goals are usually embedded throughout the teaching day; in other words, how we teach subjects like social studies and science will be impacted as well. And as I mentioned before, there are few – if any –  new resources in classrooms to support implementation. 

As a parent of elementary aged children myself, I cannot help but share my disappointment that my kids will be part of the cohort of students that will be the recipients of such an underfunded and abrupt attempt to “enhance” their learning outcomes. While I am confident that their educators are going to put their best foot forward, I understand how challenging it will be to develop high quality lessons and learning plans over time, and confidence in what they are doing. ETFO states, “these changes are significant and educators need sufficient time, dedicated resources, and sustained professional learning opportunities to properly implement any new or revised curriculum. To support this, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) is calling for a minimum two-year implementation period.”

Anecdotally, I can say that many of my colleagues have mixed feelings about the new curriculum. The Right to Read Report gave us a taste of what kinds of changes we could expect, such as the explicit teaching of phonemic awareness and phonics and the emphasis on decoding skills. My more experienced teacher colleagues are familiar and embrace the shift in literacy instruction, while many of my colleagues who are newer to the profession are embarking on a learning curve that is steep and challenging.  This would be less of an issue, of course, if educators could take the time to receive appropriate mentorship and training and and do the learning it takes to master something before implementing it en masse to students. Would you feel comfortable receiving services from someone who had just read the manual?

As an instructional resource teacher, I had the privilege of having the time to learn this year about elements of the new language curriculum, and though I did not know exactly what the curricula would look like, I worked with my colleagues to provide resources and professional learning experiences on building the literacy foundations of students, specifically English language learners. However, much of our efforts were weakened by chronic understaffing and the reality of classroom teachers dealing with extraordinary pedagogical challenges that are likely related not only to underfunding, but the aftermath of a life-altering pandemic. Rather than piling on more new professional learning, I strongly believe that educators need time to consolidate their learning and integrate all the new learning expectations and content changes in a meaningful way.

What Might Sustained Professional Learning Opportunities Look Like?

From an educator perspective, a new curriculum creates a significant change in our work flow since we must change – and in some cases transform – the way we work. In an ideal scenario, a new curriculum should be introduced through progressive phases that enable teachers to:

  • explore the curriculum thoroughly
  • acquire and develop resources and pedagogical strategies that support the new curriculum
  • collaborate to determine which strategies work most effectively
  • collaborate on instruction and assessment
  • identify the best practices for supporting diverse students with a new curriculum

When educators have the time to explore, collaborate, and share ideas and best practices, students benefit from having quality instruction that leads to more equitable outcomes. When we don’t have the time to engage in professional learning and planning, much of that quality is lost when we are developing new lessons and resources right before the instruction happens: “building the plane as we are flying it”, in other words. We are currently witnessing the impact that occurred with the similarly released math curriculum, with stories of parents protesting the destreamed math course. Indeed, many boards are starting to introduce “bridge courses” in math to support grade 8 students as they transition to grade 9, in an effort to ensure students have the mathematical readiness to be successful in destreamed, academic math and English courses. Would it have been better for students if such supports were available at the time of the initial implementation? Quite likely.

Students in Ontario deserve more than needlessly abrupt changes to their learning.


Ontario’s Children: Our Hope & Light

Photo by RDNE

In the heart of young minds, a world unfolds,
Where seeds of change and justice are sowed,
Ontario’s children, our hope and light,
Embrace the path of equality, shining bright.

In elementary schools, a sacred space,
Where lessons weave a tapestry, embrace,
A tale of courage, empathy, and grace,
Of breaking chains, to reach a higher place.

In classrooms where the laughter rings,
A symphony of voices, diverse things,
Their innocence, a canvas so pure,
Where colours of acceptance shall endure.

Oh, let them learn of struggles faced,
Of heroes who, with love, embraced,
The fight against oppression’s might,
To carve a future that’s just and right.

Teach them the power of unity,
That strength resides in diversity,
No voice too soft, no heart too small,
To stand for justice, one and all.

As whispers of the past float by,
Lessons of history, they can’t deny,
The pain of prejudice, we must reveal,
To kindle empathy, foster what’s real.

To understand the wounds that scar,
And strive to heal, near and far,
In this young realm, we plant the seed,
Of anti-oppression, urgent need.

In every story shared and heard,
A tapestry of humanity is stirred,
To weave compassion into the core,
And let injustice exist no more.

For as they learn with open hearts,
A world of change, this love imparts,
A generation, bold and wise,
Embracing truth, no compromise.

Ontario’s children, a beacon strong,
In their hearts, a justice song,
They’ll rise above, lift others high,
A future bright beneath the sky.

So let us teach with love and care,
Anti-oppression, always aware,
In elementary schools, the power resides,
To shape a world where all love abides.

Language Learning App Review

As an ESL/ELD resource teacher, I often get asked about what apps are beneficial for students who are learning English. This can be a tricky question! On one hand, I believe that spontaneous oral communication and interactions are the best way for students to acquire proficiency in an additional language. At the same time, I understand that teachers need resources to support their students, especially when they are in the early steps of acquiring English. While ESL accommodations and modifications may help to’level the playing field’ for newcomer students in the mainstream classroom, I think it is still important for English learners to receive explicit, targeted English language instruction, especially when they arrive in Canada during the intermediate grades. This is where language learning technology can play a huge role: many newer programs are designed to cater to the interests of learners, and follow a scope and sequence that aligns with international language acquisition continua.

Language learning technology has advanced significantly over recent years: there are a slew of fantastic options that make language learning fun and engaging. Let’s take a look at a few language learning apps that are fun for kids and adults alike to use. If any of these options sound intriguing, you can easily sign up for a week long trial to see if it will work for you or your students.

Drops by Kahoot

Drops is a fabulous language learning app that hails from the same company as Kahoot, a company whose app became ubiquitous in the virtual teaching world. Users of Kahoot will recognize the dark purple interface and illustration style, along with the same easy to use, immersive, and exciting virtual environment of their quiz games. I absolutely love this language learning app for the same reasons I love Kahoot: it is fun, intuitive, and has an element of urgency to keep you on your toes.

Drops is an app that is best used on a mobile device. The app works by feeding the user a steady flow of highly visual vocabulary learning activities. Once you have correctly identified the meaning and spelling of a word a certain amount of time, you have “mastered” the word or phrase and can move on to new ones. The app is great for supporting students who are getting regular oral practice in the classroom or through other immersive situations.

I could see this app being used by an older multilingual learner who enjoys games and is accustomed to using a mobile device. Drops does not have a dashboard teachers can see or monitor learning, so a teacher would have to check in with the learner regularly to see how they are progressing through the app.


Lingo Pie capitalizes on the access Netflix has to content from all over the world. You can watch multilingual shows and movies from all over the world, geared for different ages and levels of language acquisition. The subtitles are interactive, and the user can click on words they don’t know. After the content has been watched, Lingo Pie generates a set of digital flashcards the student can use to practice.

This is a fun app that enables learners to experience language through media and storytelling. I could see a teacher having a single subscription and sharing the media on a projector, pausing when a student or students identify an unfamiliar word. This app could have great potential with French or any international language app.


Mondly is Pearson’s contribution to the language app world, and it does not disappoint. Educators will feel comfortable using content from such a well known publisher, and the website does indeed offer purchasing options for schools and boards. Mondly presents basic vocabulary and phrases for multilingual students, and students can learn the target language using instructions and prompts from their home language (ex. there is an Arabic interface for those learning English as the target language; you could learn Romanian from Turkish, or French from Chinese). The app produces a daily lesson, and students can complete that lesson or move forward if they’d like. The app can be used on both mobile and desktop devices.

Another great aspect about Mondly is that there is a version for young kids with child friendly graphics. My daughter in grade 1 enjoyed playing it!

I could see this app being used widely by multilingual learners of different ages. It is a great way for students to practice at home, or in school during periods of independent work. In my dream classroom, my entire class would using it to learn the language of their choice!

Lexia for English Learners

Lexia, whose reading app has become widely used and praised, also has created a program for English learners. This app is designed for desktop use, and has culturally responsive characters that appeal to kids through storytelling and subject based learning. Students do not require literacy skills in the target language to start the app, as it is focuses on building oral foundations for students: much of the initial part of the app is based on listening and students speaking to the app.

To support its methodology, Lexia has published a series of rather informative and useful articles explaining the pedagogy of the program. As you might expect, the app is rather costly. However, the subscription package does offer some flexibility so educators can make the most out of it during the school year.

Which App is the Best?

As with all technology, it is more than worthwhile to give it a good test run before making the investment. Much of the effectiveness of the app will depend on how it is utilized and the extent to which it compliments the ongoing language instruction happening in the school.

On Supporting English Language Acquisition in the Mainstream Classroom: A Blog in 2 Parts

This summer I will have the privilege of facilitating a workshop with new teachers in my board at a New Teacher’s Conference. The topic is one that I know has stymied many teachers for a long time, including myself: how do you support newcomer students in acquiring English in the mainstream classroom?

Answering this question is a challenge – even with all the policy documents and resources out there, the reality is always more nuanced and complex than it seems.

In my own conversations with teachers, I have noticed a trend where there is decreasing support for English Language Learners (ELLs) in schools, as ESL support staff are being utilized all too often to cover classes in schools where there is a supply teacher shortage. Support for ELLs is critical, especially for newcomer students who need accelerated instruction in English to build vocabulary, speaking, and listening skills.

Another element that makes teaching ELLs a challenge in Ontario is the fact that ESL programming in elementary school is based on accommodations and modifications to the curriculum. Yes, accommodations and modifications are essential to adapting the learning environment to ELLs. These adaptations create an entry point for ELLs and make equitable assessment and evaluation possible for teachers. But there is still a missing piece: how do we actually do the work of teaching the essential, oral foundations of English?

Additional or Foreign Language classes are typically focused on teaching students the basics of the target language: how to greet others, to interact in practical situations, build vocabulary, or how to use different verb tenses. While the secondary curriculum offers specific courses that address the usage and mechanics of English, there is no specific ministry resource that provides a scope of learning expectations that address the unique needs of elementary English language learners. Sure, we have the STEP continua – but this document is more of a list of look for we might see as ELLs acquire English, and not a comprehensive list of learning expectations.

What I often see in schools is the expectation that newcomer students will acquire the oral foundations of English from interacting with other students or being immersed in the English saturated world of Canada. And for the most part, this is largely what happens. For younger children in Kindergarten and the primary grades, English acquisition happens through structured play, the explicit teaching of foundational literacy skills, and texts and lessons that are highly visual and graphic. Teachers may incorporate practices like language experience approach and picture word inductive model that support academic vocabulary acquisition for English learners.

Older students in the intermediate grades are in a much different position. Older ESL students may have completed the majority of their learning in another language, not to mention in another school system with a curriculum different from the Ontario’s. Entering a new classroom can be exciting for newcomer students, but also difficult if they perceive that their prior learning and language skills have no place in their new learning environment. Many students go through “silent phases”, or appear disconnected or disengaged from classroom activities. As a result, many classroom teachers often feel at a loss of what to do, especially if they are unused to working with newcomer students. In my discussions with many classroom teachers, they are often wondering:

  • How do I teach them to start speaking and understanding English?
  • Are they bored?
  • What more can I do for the student?

While I wish there was more specificity to ESL programming beyond modifications and accommodations, there are many strategies teachers can use to make the work of teaching ELLs feel more purposeful and intentional without adding additional weight to the current workload. In the next blog, I will focus on unpacking some ways educators can integrate English language instruction into their regular classroom teaching.

Cover Image Source: Magda Ehlers, Pexels

Book Choices

In the classroom, I spend a lot of time with my students on how they could choose books for independent reading. We go to the library or I set out our classroom library books and then we unpack the “IPICK” method from The Daily Cafe resource by Gail Boushey and Allison Behne. I love their framework for my literacy program and this method helps to give me the language to encourage children to make thoughtful reading choices. The acronym “IPICK” uses friendly language to elicit reflection when selecting books.

I – I choose a book (look it over inside and out)
P – Purpose (why do I want to read this book?)
I – Interest (does this book interest me?)
C – Comprehend (do I understand what I am reading?)
K – Know the words (do I know most of the words?)

I intentionally do a lot of modelling and practice with the students on how to select a book. For example, I show how I might open the book and read the first page to see if I understand the story; we talk a lot about what interests us (genres, topics, etc), and I model how I choose the same authors for my own reading choices; ones I know that I love their style or their genres. I do all of this to try and develop students’ desire to become lifelong readers and to have the skills to choose books that they will be able to feel successful reading.

Lately, I’ve been wondering whether my teaching does create lifelong readers; surely, the logistics of teaching students how to choose a book for themselves must make it easier to make a selection when looking at all of the vast possibilities that the library holds. Then why do I hear from parents the struggle to encourage their teens and pre-teens to read independently outside of school?

Recently, I read an Edutopia article by Kasey Short ( who was wondering the same thing. In this article, she writes that most engaging texts for upper elementary students:

– have the power to show early adolescent readers that they’re not alone in their feelings and circumstances
– provide positive examples for how readers can speak up for themselves and others
– offer understanding of those who are different from them
– provide insight into real-world situations
– serve as a mental health break and escape from the real world

This made sense to me and outlined some of the missing pieces in my thinking. I needed to think about the books that I was highlighting for students in my classroom. I needed to consider modelling my own, I’ll call them ‘emotional’ choices for reading as opposed to focussing on ‘practical’ choices for reading. Not just modelling the mechanics of looking at the first page to see if I could read the words, but thinking about what I think makes a book a ‘page turner’ for me and how that might change depending on my mood or interests. These criteria for engaging texts explain a little more explicitly the Purpose (why do I want to read this book?) and Interest (what do I want to learn about?) for which I was missing the language as a junior or intermediate educator.
As I begin planning for September, I keep these criteria in mind, and consider how to create space for these types of conversations about reading with students. Getting to know them as readers and helping them to reflect on their own identities as readers will be an interesting journey!