Learning Experiences

The words ‘learning gaps’ and ‘gap filling’ always give me a sense of urgency and dread. The word ‘gap’ seems so impossible – I get a visual of the Grand Canyon in my mind and think of how long it would take for me to fill it. It brings memories of rote worksheets and intensive pull out programs which seemed scary to me as a student and overwhelming as an adult. However, most recently in a conversation with a colleague, she gave me an alternative way of thinking about how to connect with student needs. The words “missed experiences” suddenly seemed like something I could do.

Think about the math learning continuum, for example. If students are working with multiplication and are relying solely on skip counting when multiplying, they have missed a few experiences along the way; perhaps they were away due to Covid, perhaps virtual learning was a challenge. Whatever the reason, they have missed a mathematical experience that they need to build their understanding. It might mean working physically with array models or the experience of sharing mental math strategies with peers. It could even be building and scaffolding questions that help to frame their thinking. Whatever the experience looks like, it should be meaningful for everyone.

A missed experience isn’t a deficit in learning. It is a circumstance that can be changed. If I got lost while driving to a new destination, I had strategies to use; I could consult Google Maps, I could stop and ask for directions. I knew how to navigate through the challenge and not just think I had to give up and go home or be stuck there until someone came to get me.

Changing my language from learning gaps to identifying missed experiences was empowering. It meant that I could provide intentional lessons and tasks that helped to meet their needs. It meant that I knew what my actions should be and that I could focus on what the students COULD do and build from there. Keeping an asset based mindset gave me a hopeful feeling and I felt that I could use the tools and knowledge I already had to provide experiences for all students to learn with and from one another.

Is there a space and time for intensive instruction? Of course there is! But that doesn’t begin and end in one session and teachers are a powerful force when it comes to helping students within the classroom, too. We have a great wealth of knowledge, strategies, and expertise. Providing meaningful experiences for students to learn and feel confident is what we all do best.

Supporting Intermediate Multilingual Language Learners in Reading

Reading a new language you are learning can be challenging, particularly for multilingual language learners (MLLs) – who are expected to read English texts in every area of the curriculum. Novels, textbooks and other curriculum resources are laden with academic language: verb tenses, words, and phrases that are rarely used in everyday conversations. Those in the early phases of English acquisition may spend a lot of time decoding, in addition to comprehending the overall meaning of the texts they are reading.

Intermediate English language learners are a unique group. As older elementary students, they may have already spent years developing literacy in another language. While their level of English language proficiency suggests that they need books with a level of text complexity different from their peers, it is unlikely that they will want to read picture books used by younger children.

Helping intermediate grade MLLs to gain confidence as readers does not require any sophisticated tools or reading kits. There are lots of strategies educators can use to support multilingual learners to become more confident readers of English. Of course, if you do observe a learner who continually experiences difficulty in reading with appropriate program adaptations in place, it is important to discuss their learning with the family and educator team to determine if further interventions are needed.

Here are some tips to help MLLs become more confident readers.

Help the MLLs you Teach Select the Right Books

When starting in a new classroom, newcomer MLL students may be eager to engage in the same texts as their peers, even if the text complexity is beyond of their zone of proximal development. How do you encourage students to choose other books without discouraging their enthusiasm?

To help newcomer students find books that are both challenging and accessible, provide opportunities for them to browse and explore several books at different levels. Hi-lo readers, non-fiction magazines, and graphic novels are great options for older elementary students. Your school librarian, MLL or ELL teacher, or Special Education team may have suggestions or books on hand to share. Always aim to share texts that are culturally responsive to the student and reflect their interests – if the text is not engaging, it will be much more difficult to read!

Encourage Students to Use a Digital Translator

Digital translators such as Google Translate, Microsoft Translate, and Say Hi are great tools intermediate students can use to get through a challenging sentence or paragraph. They are free, can be added easily to any mobile device, and are a convenient way to clarify meaning and build vocabulary. To get the best translation, encourage students to translate a sentence at a time. Consider that digital translators may not give an exact translation, or even capture the full meaning that the author may want the reader to understand.

As an educator, you may be wondering if reading with the help of a translation app problematizes the assessment and evaluation of reading. Can you assess or evaluate a student on their reading comprehension if they are relying on a translator? Keep the intention or the purpose of the reading in mind: is it to learn content or concepts? If so, then the use of a translator is an effective accommodation. Are you assessing their English comprehension skills? You will want to focus on helping the student to select texts that are within their zone of proximal development that they can read to build proficiency in reading in English independently.

Show MLLs How to Use Context

When students run into an unfamiliar word and do not have a dictionary or translator close by, they can try reading ‘around’ the word to see if they can figure out the definition. Model the process of using context to determine the meaning of words – this a great skill for all learners to practice!

When modeling the use of context, ask students to consider the sentence or sentences around the unfamiliar word. If the student is reading a graphic novel or a text with images, encourage them to use the graphic context to determine the overall meaning of the sentence or paragraph.

It may also be useful to ask students if they recognize part of the word. Identifying the root of a word can be revelatory. For example, the word origin sounds a lot like original or originate – which may be a clue that the author is writing about the start or beginning of something.

Encourage Students to Read Summaries

The internet is filled with book summaries, and MLLs may find that these summaries are easier to understand than the text itself. Book summaries share a short or brief explanation of what happened in the book, and can be found on sites like Good Reads, book blogger, and bookseller websites such as Amazon or Indigo. Students can also be encouraged to read summaries to check their understanding of a story.

Make Rereading a Regular Literacy Activity

Rereading a text is one of the best ways to support your comprehension of a book. Reading a chapter or even an entire book again will also help students to develop confidence in the language they are learning, as reading something a second time will often be easier than the first time. They may notice things they did not before, such as details about a character or an event in the story.

It’s OK if Students Don’t Understand Everything

When students are reading a challenging text in a language they are learning, it is important to accept that they may not understand everything fully. This is completely normal! It is more important to get the general idea of a text or the main events of a story. Encourage students to mark the areas you want to return to with a sticky note – they may even find the challenging parts easier to understand once you have explored the rest of the text. In other words, just keep reading.

The Picture

Photo by Fine 3d

You show me a picture and ask me how I feel.
What picture is this, I ask, uncertain.
A picture of you, of course, what do you mean?
A good picture at that, for look at all there is.

Of me? I say, but I still don’t understand.
Who took it? For what purpose? What is it meant to show?
I see faces and images that bear very little resemblance to mine.
But an image of me, my face, I do not see.

I recognize the subjects and am familiar with the names.
I hear them discussed in the hallways, the classroom, the office.
I search and search, and my silence prolongs.
You get frustrated because I haven’t answered your probe.

You tell me that this picture is the best ever taken.
A picture of human prowess and innovation.
You tell me that many others love this picture.
But I simply cannot see me in the picture you give.

My silence is not one meant to irk you, please believe.
I am not him or her or they or them.
I am me with nuanced experiences that shape my being.
So my silence prolongs because I know me.

I live me on the daily, with those who reflect me.
I know of the richness and depth of experiences in the spaces I occupy.
I know that my history is one that begins with human existence.
I know myself, my worth, my abilities, and my propensity for excellence.

So I keep quiet, I disengage, I walk away.
For I cannot give you the answer that you so crave.
For I don’t see me in the picture you give.

Yes, there are aspects I can identify with, aspects I applaud.
Overall it is a beautiful picture, one that belongs on a wall.
You chose this picture because you wanted it seen.
I appreciate your effort in sharing it with me.

But if seeing myself in a picture is what you seek, please know this.
The picture is one that should be about me.
Showcase my being, my culture, my experience.
Most importantly, center me as your subject, and learn the best framing for me.

Then I will be able to give you the answer you desire.
Because then, we will both be looking at a picture of me.

To the heart

I have never been so happy to hear the words ‘thank you’ in my life.

It was decades ago now, but I remember it as though it were yesterday. I had been teaching overseas a while at that point, and at times it felt like living in a different world. Waking up to a language that was not mine, slogging through one linguistic hurdle after another just to get through the basic errands in my day, and finally falling asleep at the end of it pretty much done-in. Please don’t misunderstand, I loved my job. It was an eye-opening and adventure-filled time like no other. But sometimes the exhaustion of continual translation and re-translation could tire me out in a singular way.

I was teaching in a city bordered by mountains to the north, and ocean to the south. Public schools there remained open for much of the summer, when temperatures reached into the high 30s. The school where I taught was perched just where the land began to rise. Below the school, the city stretched down towards the water. Behind it, the earth rose to towering green peaks.

Each weekday morning involved a train ride, followed by a trek on foot through hilly streets. In the heat of the summer, this slow ascent to the school gates was unlike anything I had ever experienced. It was the backbreaking humidity that usually did me in, the wall of watery air that refused to let anyone cool down. This particular day I had been standing at the front of the class, windows open to motionless afternoon air. I began to write something, trailing white chalk down the dark green board. But before I finished the first letter stroke, the chalk crumbled in my hand, breaking into clumps from all the moisture it had absorbed in the humidity, and fell to the floor in pieces. 

That image pretty much sums up the day I was having. 

I was hot. I was tired. I missed my family. All I could think about was getting home and hopefully waking up to more hospitable weather the next day.

After school I made my way down the sloping streets to the subway entrance. The car was nearly full when I entered, but I managed to get one of the last seats. 

As the train moved across the city, more and more people got on, the swell of commuters slowly building. At one of the final stops before mine, an older man walked through the sliding doors. He scanned the car hopefully but seeing no empty seats, he simply held onto the rail as the doors shut behind him. 

I got up to give him my spot, and once he realized what I was doing he began to say something, and then stopped. He looked off to the side, as if mentally going through his old high school English classes, and then looked up at me. “Thank you” he said, in clear, bright English.

Those words appeared so suddenly, so unexpectedly. I stood staring at him with what I now hope was a relatively calm and normal expression, but the truth is I almost wanted to cry. I never heard any English during my daily staff meetings, none during my daily commutes and chores, and yet here it was. An indescribable gift in the middle of a crowded train ride home. Like finding an old friend in a room full of strangers. The sound of those two familiar words was beyond wonderful. 

Years later and back in Ontario, I found myself at an ESL event at our school board. One of the guest speakers was a recently-graduated high school student. She spoke eloquently, telling us about her family’s journey from Somalia to Canada, and her own journey learning English from scratch as a teenager. I don’t remember how it came up, if someone asked her or if she volunteered the topic herself, but she began speaking about the things that had made a difference to her when she first arrived at her new high school, the things that made her feel welcome. She told us several teachers had made a point of learning a few words in Somali. When they first greeted her, she recalled thinking they might know even more Somali and asked them if they did. She laughed as she recounted one teacher saying “Oh that’s all I know!” From her story and her smile, it seemed to me it was a warm welcome indeed.

I am not the first to note that language, first language, is an inseparable part of identity.  I did not realize the loneliness its absence could create until I experienced it myself. And I am continually overjoyed to see the ways in which many teachers across our board have tried to meaningfully include and use the languages of their students.  From the teacher I saw having a basic conversation in Arabic with a newcomer family, to the teacher who takes language classes on his own time in the main languages of his students, to the thousands of friendly greetings and salutations in our schools, bringing a little bit of light and joy with each one … the multilingual framework continues to grow.

I was searching for a way to end this post that encapsulates the importance of first language, and what it means to all of us on a human level. In that sense, it seems only fitting to close with Nelson Mandela, who observed that when you speak to someone in a language they understand, it goes to their head; but when you speak to someone in their language, that goes to their heart. 1

To the heart, indeed.


1 paraphrased from a circa 1992 conversation excerpt in Nelson Mandela by Himself

antiques and collectibles

Recently, I had enough energy at the end of a work week to do something unusually out of character when it comes to my free time. What was it you ask? Nothing. I did nothing school related for an entire 48 hours. Well it was almost 48 hours, but who’s counting? What counts, is that it happened over that magical weekend of the school year when report cards are completed and next term planning, assessment, and fretting were up to date.

The ability to experience this “blue moon”occurrence was directly due to this cosmically-convergent educational allignment and allowed for some spontaneously spirited adventure. Energized, caffeinated, and curious I went to an antiques and collectibles store to browse their wares knowing there was nothing pressing in the backburners of my mind. I was free to roam. 

Full disclosure

I struggle with shopping and wandering through retail spaces without a specific purpose, most of the time, my visits are only out of necessity and not as a way to wile away the hours. On this particular day however, before I could keep on strolling past the entrance doors, I was on the top floor. With my spouse and son leading the way, it became very apparent that I was in for a treat.

Back to my story

This place had everything from china plates, old Tupperware, vintage clothing, vinyl records, VHS tapes, jewelry, and books crammed throughout its four floors. In fact, there were so many other items that another visit is definitely in the cards the next time the stars allign. It was as if collectors of odd memorabilia and retro housewares throughout time had converged in one space. (I’ll come back to this idea. Please read on.)

The 2 plus hours we spent pacing the aisles of this place came with all of the kitchy over-stimulation that accompany musty books, retro clothing, milk crates brimming with albums, and constant trips down memory lane from the relentless onslaught triggering my fond and fading memories. Given my unusually relaxed state of mind, I also found myself taking inventory of my life when it came to things that were held dear and things that have been allowed to disappear unless dug out through deep sensory recollection.

Cue the thoughts about being in the classroom 

Now I have not spent two hours in one indoor space, other than work or home, voluntarily since COVID 19 broke out. So this day was very different from most in the past 3 plus years. As I wandered the store, I started to ask myself what needed to be thrown out, gifted to someone, or recycled in my teaching space? Maybe it was seeing all of these items occupying space throughout the store that created this thought ripple?

I know that it is easy to accumulate resources in this profession and I have gathered and then lugged my share of boxes from class to class and school to school, but recently I find myself taking a different approach to my, let’s say, hoarding nature by going through each resource and deciding whether it is time to keep it, gift it, or toss it. My goal here is to reduce the clutter that might be getting in the way of new ideas and resources coming into my classroom. If I am only holding on to the same ones because they are comfortable and known, I might not be doing any favours for my students. 

Just like that antiques and collectibles shop revealed that day, there are somethings worth hanging onto because of their value. This could be a tried and true unit plan or favourite resource that is used on regular rotation throughout your career. In other cases, it might be a dust collector that never took off. As we seem to be shifting away from text books, and in response to changing curricula, it is probably best that teachers take inventory of what they have been carrying around in the hopes that someday it might be useable in the classroom.

Other than Math manipulatives, art supplies, and novels, I have learned that everything in my classroom should only be a temporary fixture that can be replaced or retired when it comes to instructional resources. If reading that makes you uncomfortable, that’s okay. I am not talking about wasteful consumption along the lines of fast fashion, but my thinking is that we can become stuck in the safe and familiar. It is in our nature to stick to our favourites at the risk of missing out on something unknown, possibly more relevant, without realizing it. 

I had a Fables unit for Gr 4 that I wrote about 12 years ago. It was beautiful, comprehensive, so descriptive, and complete. It was a show piece sitting in its binder and although I worked hard on that unit, I never used it again. As I was going through my resources, I opened it up again only to realize that this work would be counter-intuitive for me to share with my students. The fact that it was laden with worksheets to copy and lacklustre lesson activities made me realize the amount of changes that have occurred in my own pedagogy. I pulled the pages out of the binder and blue binned them back to the recycler in the hopes that something better will be printed on them next time. It was hard to accept that most of that work was no longer relevant, but it was an important reminder about how we have to shake off the love/bias we have for our own ideas in order to get better. In other words, leave the antiques and collectibles behind sometimes. 

I have held the walls of that box up even while outside forces were trying to pull them down for me to try something new. As teachers we develop a sense of what will and won’t work through our experience(s), what walking through this shop made me realize was that what worked from the past is not guaranteed to work in the future. We are using resources and methods that were used to teach us when we were students in grade school. Sure we have tech and access to every truth and lie via the internet, but that should not preclude us from taking stock of what we use on a regular basis or to boldly seek how to change it all up on a regular basis. 

Thank you for reading. Please share and leave a comment if you would like to continue the conversation.


Report Card Feelings

Last post, I discussed mental health activities and one was discussing report card feelings. I went further into the topic with my class and thought I would share the results of how that went.

Today was the day that report cards went home with students so I took a moment to re-read their brainstorm list of ideas about how they felt regarding report cards. I also asked today that if they felt comfortable, they could raise their hand to show how they were feeling. I thought it would be important to look around and see who was raising their hands for the positive feelings vs. the negative ones. It was not what I expected. Students who put up their hands for the negative responses were not necessarily the students who had reason for concern. We cannot always assume that the students who participate the most/ try the extensions etc. will feel positive about seeing their report cards. They may have the highest expectations for themselves of everyone and with that, their parents may share those expectations.

It will also be important to talk to my class Tuesday after they have read their reports, discussed them with family and have had time to reflect on them to see how they feel. One number/comment to summarize all their efforts in a subject can often feel defeating so I want to address those feelings next week.

I thought it would be meaningful for all educators to see the results of the question “How do report cards make you feel?” My class sorted all of the feelings into either positive feelings or negative feelings.

Positive Feelings:

  • I feel good
  • I feel okay- I like knowing my grades
  • I love them
  • It’s okay
  • I get proud of myself to see how I did
  • Exciting
  • I feel proud of myself when I get good marks
  • I like reports because it shows how good you have been doing
  • Decent
  • I feel excited to see what to improve on
  • I feel good about it
  • I feel okay seeing my marks
  • It’s okay I guess
  • I feel good and alright

Negative Feelings:

  • I feel bad
  • I feel nervous
  • I hate them
  • I do not care about them
  • I am scared
  • I feel terrible, it’s scary
  • I am scared about when I get my report card
  • It is horrifying because I do not want my grandparents to judge me

We agreed as a class that we were happy there were more positive feelings than negative. We know that these feelings resulted from past experiences and could change based on what to come. But, as their teacher, I need to think about where to go from here. There are so many great podcasts, inservices, articles and books about how to approach report cards. The negative stigma around them will always be hard to shake because so many students struggle with feelings proud of their efforts. I hope this year to help shake those feelings and help students feel proud of what they are doing, regardless of what it all averages out to be.

Anti-Black Racism to Change Pedagogy and Practice

In the fall, I was fortunate enough to take the Additional Qualifications course Anti-Black Racism to Change Pedagogy and Practice, Part 1. In one of our reflections, we were asked to think about a six word teaching philosophy. Mine was: All bring knowledge. All can learn.

I based those words on what I believed to be recognizing all students and their ways of knowing and being. I always felt that I wanted to acknowledge who students are, their learning styles, the things they liked/disliked that helped to make up their identities. My goal was to know each student personally, especially to help them feel like a part of the classroom community.

Now through the lens of dismantling anti-Black racism, I consider the biases that I have brought to the classroom and the learning community. I acknowledged colour and racial identities; probably a much easier task as a racialized woman myself. However, I also think about how I considered representing racial identities in the classroom. Often, I considered teaching and learning around racial identities as a way to acknowledge injustices happening to equity deserving identities and the systems of oppression that surrounded them.

Teaching to dismantle anti-Black racism requires learning about Black identity and the understanding that Black identity is vast and varied. Black identity was erased so intentionally throughout history, including the loss of language, traditions, and even families. Black children deserve autonomy over their identities and that my role is in creating space that affirms their identities (even when fluidly evolving) and sustains their identities (even in the face of oppressive forces).

Thinking back to the factors that influence affirming spaces, I am reminded of the importance of acceptance and genuine care. To create a space that is Black affirming, we need to acknowledge and accept different identities with unconditional love and joy. In schools, this can sometimes be complicated for Black students as often educators are seen as the symbol of a larger system of oppression. However, educators can always offer radical and unconditional love to students by continuing to be present, honour student voices, and student experiences and by creating conditions allowing them to explore, share, and develop their own identities. Our own work, as educators, comes with building our own understanding of the systems of oppression that influence each of us and also engage in dismantling our own actions and belief systems that uphold them.

Revisiting my original teaching philosophy “All bring knowledge. All can learn.” I realize that I want to revise my words into actions as a reminder to myself to be an intentional anti-racist educator. Including verbs to create a call to action while centering students and understanding that they bring a myriad of experiences and perspectives, I revised my philosophy to: Know students. Affirm students. Sustain students.

This spring, ETFO will be offering part one of the three part series Addressing Anti-Black Racism to Change Pedagogy and Practice. For educators who are wishing to build and extend their knowledge of how to dismantle discrimination and encourage transformational change, I highly recommend this course offering. You will have opportunity to learn about intersectional Black identities, historical constructions of Black identity, and the space to reflect on how our actions as educators can create culturally sustaining educational spaces.

The Benefits and Joys of Learning a New Language as a Teacher

There is always so much new learning we are encouraged to engage with as teachers – much of it with the specific aim of enhancing our pedagogical practice. And yes, it is critical that we expand our teaching repertoire – but it is also essential for us to pursue our own interests for our own mental health and well-being. Finding time to balance both personal and professional learning can be tough!

If you have been considering learning a new language for personal reasons but have struggled to make time because of a busy teaching schedule, you might want to consider the benefits learning a new language can have on your teaching practice. As an English language teacher with a passion for learning languages (or me, it has been Spanish, Tagalog, Portuguese, and Serbian), I can wholeheartedly say that the experiences have informed my teaching practice in so many ways.

Here is a list of some of the best reasons teachers should learn a new language, for both work and fun!

You’ll Better Understand the Multilingual English Language Learners in the Classroom

If you have ever wondered what you English language learners are experiencing as they learn in the classrooms you teach, there is nothing quite like actually being a language student. You will get a sense of what it feels like to decode a text or consume media with limited vocabulary, and which resources are comprehensible at different phases of language acquisition. Learning a new language can be an exercise in empathy, and will inform the way you approach instructing newcomer multilingual students.

You may even be surprised to find learn what resources work, and which do not. For example I am always amazed at how much new vocabulary and confidence I gain just by talking and listening to people who are communicating in the language I am trying to learn. Much information goes way over my head, and other times, if the conversation is going slow enough, I can hear the different verb tenses and familiar words. The takeaway for me as a teacher is that opportunities to talk are so important for multilingual students!

It’s Great to be Taught

As teachers, we often spend so much time planning and facilitating learning that we forget how great it is to be a student. Sitting back and letting someone else teach you feels shockingly luxurious! Imagine someone else planning learning experiences and doing all the photocopying while you get to sit in class and chat with classmates. It’s pretty amazing!

Being a student can also an incredible source of insight about different pedagogical strategies. One thing that surprised me in Spanish class, for example, was how hard it was to read a novel even though I was in the “Intermediate Advanced” class. The experience really made me see how important it is to offer a range of texts to students. I also realized how fun group work actually is, and how stressful it is to write a pen and paper exam. Entering a classroom as a student and being on the receiving end of learning activities, group work, and assessments just feels different as an educator.

Make Cultural Connections while Travelling

One of the best parts about being an educator are the summer months where we can not only prepare for the new school year ahead, but rest and make time to travel and explore. This is where having another language under your belt comes in handy: being able to communicate with locals in the countries you are visiting enriches your experience while also making exploration much easier. It is wonderful to be able to order exactly what you want in a restaurant, to understand directions, and to be more aware of your surroundings.

Travel is also a great way to immerse yourself in the language you are learning and truly accelerate your acquisition. You’ll get a sense of how quickly you can learn with spontaneous social interactions and having to use your language skills in practical, real-life situations.

Reconnect with Your Cultural Heritage

Like many second generation kids in Canada, I grew up in a multilingual home but developed a very limited ability to communicate in the language my parents and elders spoke. Taking online Tagalog classes with my kids has helped me to understand my relatives better and feel much more connected to my heritage. If you have a home language you want to learn more about, you may love how identity affirming and relevant it is to make the time to study it.

Develop a New Teaching Skillset

While it may sound farfetched in the beginning, it is certainly possible to develop a whole new set of teaching skills by learning another language. I was obsessed with learning Spanish as an additional language from a young age, and while I would never describe myself as fluent, I loved being able to teach the basics of Spanish to younger learners in weekend and after school international language programs. Making some extra income not only helped to fund my language learning hobby, but gave me some new teaching experiences I would not have had otherwise.

Set Your Personal Learning Goals

Your personal growth matters, and making the time to pursue your interests is truly a radical act of self-care when you are in a career that seems to constantly demand more of your time and mental energy. Whether it is learning a new language or learning any new skill, you can enrich yourself both personally and professionally. So don’t hold back on following your interests!

Book Tastings

Remember that saying, “You can’t judge a book by it’s cover?” Well, up until a few years ago, I actually still did that in bookstores. It is overwhelming to enter a place that has so many possibilities and to have limited time to choose something that I used the easiest and most accessible strategy I had!

Just shortly after Covid restrictions were lifted and we were able to go physically to the local library, I felt like I had much more time to think and explore different types of books and genres that I might be interested in reading. Our library is such a cozy and child friendly place that my kids could go to their section and I could wander the stacks. I would use my phone to read reviews, read the first page or so, maybe think about the synopsis, the author, and really think about the books I was choosing to read. Sometimes I would even consider my state of mind – did I just come out of a heavy story? Did I need something lighter? What was I in the mood for?

As school started this year, I really wondered how much time I had spent teaching these reflective strategies to students. I know I taught strategies for choosing a ‘good fit’ book in primary (I can read the words, just right vocabulary, interesting), but I didn’t really pull apart strategies for junior and intermediate grades. I know I didn’t give them enough opportunity to think reflectively about their relationship with reading and their identities as readers.

Enter book tastings. This fun and engaging way to introduce new books to students allows them to try out some strategies for book selections and reflect on themselves as readers.

A book tasting is an activity that allows students to ‘get a taste’ of different texts. There are a few different strategies for setting up a book tasting and here I am going to outline my own thinking around the activity. Remember though, like any good meal, if you choose to try it in your classroom, add your own ‘flavour!’

Set the table first. Some educators really work to create an atmosphere, including tablecloths and place settings, but the essentials are a ‘menu’, a pencil, and a high interest selection of books that best suit the readers. You might want to find out prior to the book tasting what types of books they are interested in reading (e.g., graphic novels, non-fiction, dystopian, fantasy, etc.) or perhaps a topic they are interested in learning about (human rights, climate change, famous people, etc). It’s great to have this take place in the library where they can check the books out right away or to use books that you plan to have students engage with for activities like literature circles in the classroom. The ‘menu’ would have the list of books to be sampled and space for writing notes or rating their preferences in order, depending on your purpose for hosting the book tasting.

There are lots of ways to ‘taste’ the books. The whole activity should take about one period or less to keep the time moving quickly for the students. It should be enjoyable and honour that it can be a long time for some students to sit still and focus. Plan on students spending about five minutes exploring each book.

The actual ‘tasting’ can be done in different ways, depending on your purpose.  If you want to have students freely engage with a variety of books then set each table with a few books and students get the opportunity to sample them at their own leisure.  Explicitly explaining some strategies would be helpful, for example, look at the cover, read the synopsis, read the first few pages, think about your current mood, is this an author you enjoy, etc. If you want to try a more guided approach, have the same books at each table and lead some conversational dialogue.  Ask students what they think of the cover and what type of book they think this would be.  Take a moment to read the first few pages together. If possible, look up the author’s website for information about who is writing this text and what is their message or intention for greater depth.  

The specifics of hosting a book tasting might look different, depending on the educator’s style; however, the purpose of hosting a book tasting is most important.  A book tasting is a fun vehicle to have students reflect upon and practice their strategies when choosing a book to read.  It’s promoting conversation about reading, to think about ourselves as readers, and to build a reading community together. 


From Consumption to Creation – Media Literacy

Over the while, I’ve noticed that content creators are getting younger and younger. While many of our students are consuming media, many are also creating on a variety of platforms, often in their spare time. Keeping this in mind, I’m realizing more and more that my media lessons of creating a poster or a cereal box also need to evolve. While there is still value in these lessons, this year, I’ve been trying to see how I can support students in using technology tools that are board approved to extend these lessons. One tool that I have found great success in using this year is Adobe Express. In this post, I’m sharing what we’ve been working on and how I’m hoping to support students in creating media connected to curricular areas.

Media is all around us. Simply put, media can be described as words, images, graphics and/or sounds working together to convey a message to the reader. When teaching Media Literacy, I often start off by having students identify the purpose, meaning and audience for a text. Almost every time, I start off with print media which is probably something that I could expand on since there are so many different forms of media. We often do move into commercials. From there, we often create a list of conventions and techniques associated with media and how they are used to create meaning. Finally, students often are asked to demonstrate their learning by creating their own media work; speaking to the specific conventions and techniques they have used. 

This year, I had students design a new menu item for a fast-food restaurant. The item had to be something that would be appealing to a specific audience and would have to be in line with the identity of that specific restaurant, but elevating its existing offerings. Some students picked well-known fast food places in our school community, while others chose local less-known places where they enjoyed meals with their families. They designed their menu items and then we jumped into Adobe Express to learn about how they could create a short commercial, pitching their item. The idea of being able to create their own short commercial took the activity to a whole new level of excitement. Once I helped students to log in and showed them a couple of features, they were off to the races. With limited tech, we’re taking turns and have used it as an opportunity to get feedback from peers.

The results so far have been incredible. Students have added sound effects and some tried to create their own music to add to their commercials. All of the images they have used have been their own creations and some have even worked on creating clay images to represent their food. Many of their commercials have far exceeded my expectations and it’s been a pleasant surprise. While there has been great value in my lessons of the past with posters and cereal boxes, this has been a reminder of how extending this work and using tech can really spark some great ideas that far exceed my expectations. While students enjoy consuming media, they’re really excited to create and share with others.