Photo of Tina Ginglo

Timely Effective Feedback with Comic Building Website

I recently created an account on Bitstrips for Schools.  Bitstrips is a free website where students can create comics or other graphic texts.  Creating an account is easy.  Bitstrips provides you with an access code that you share with your students.  Students simply log in with the access code and they immediately have access to the different activities you create.   Their first task (and yours) is to create an avatar.  Students can then begin to work on the activities you create.

My Avatar

My initial activity was an introductory activity where students were asked to create a comic introducing themselves to the class.  The learning goal for this activity was for students to become familiar with the comic building tools.   After a week of in class work, Bitstrips is now an activity students have an option to go to when other work has been completed or they can work on activities from their home computers. Now, most of my students are completing the graphic text activities at home for ‘homework’.   Parents appreciate that their children are using the Internet to complete school activities rather than to play games and watch videos on YouTube.

A quick and simple activity to help students become familiar with the tools.


What I appreciate most about this website is that all students, regardless of abilities, can navigate the tools and create a piece of writing. Once students complete an activity, it must be submitted to me for review before it can be published.  I can access student writing from anywhere; smart phone, tablet, at home, or school and I can give them timely specific feedback on their written submission.   I am using Bitstrips to reinforce punctuation and spelling with my third grade students.  I spend a few minutes each evening sending students feedback on their submissions.   The next time students log in to Bitstrips they will see my feedback and they can immediately edit and/or revise their work and resend it to me for another review.



Below are some sample comments I have submitted to students:

Hi Charlie, 

This is a fun comic! Please make sure you begin each sentence with a capital and end with a period.

Hi Krisandrew,

I really like how you ended your comic! I am impressed with all your slides. Please review for punctuation. For example, sentences must begin with a capital. Example “Me too.” You missed a period in one of your thought bubbles. It is movies not movie. Otherwise, great effort! Please correct and resubmit.

Below are two activities I have assigned on

 Turning Narratives Into Graphic Texts

You are to select one of your personal narratives and create a Bitstrip.

You are to use speech bubbles for your dialogue sentences.
You are to use thought bubbles for your thinking and feeling sentences.
You are to use captions for your action sentences.

Your bitstrip should meet the success criteria for personal narratives!

Silly Story Comic

 You are to write a silly story!

You are to use the success criteria for a personal narrative. That is,
-Action, dialogue and thought sentences;
-Beginning, Middle and End;
-Correct punctuation and spelling;

But your story must also include the characteristics of a silly story:

-Strange and impossible events take place;
– Characters act as if everything is normal;
-You leave the reader with a smile on their face.

Your story should be a at least 5 frames long.
Dialogue sentences must be in speech bubbles.
Thinking/Feeling sentences are in thought bubbles.
Action sentences must be in captions a the top or bottom of the frame.

I am fortunate to have unlimited access to computers throughout the school day, but you can do this in a one computer classroom.  As I mentioned in a prior blog post, it is important to know what access your students have to the Internet from home before you encourage Bitstrips as a homework activity.  Bitstrips has helped me engage students in the writing process.  It forces them pay attention to writing conventions and it provides me with a manageable way to provide timely feedback to students.


Reading in Kindergarten

Literacy is woven into our day. We do not have “literacy centres”, but we do have learning centres that include literacy. We have shared reading, independent reading, formal writing times that look like a Writer’s Workshop, and purposeful writing that happens around the classroom such as writing cards, letters, making books and recording observations.

There is no “language block”, instead language is used in our morning circle to share our feelings and connect with one another. It is used during read a-louds to teach conventions of books, visualization, sequence, and voice. We learn how to spell familiar words and we learn how to use rich language to describe and express our ideas. Books are connected to our math lessons and science inquiries. We share books that enjoy reading over and over again, and we read new books on the computers and listen to stories using BookFlix.

When I started my new classroom in September, there were limited literacy resources. I acquired a variety of picture books from family and friends and I used the books from our school library to fill the shelves and reading bins. To organize the books, we designated one display rack for hardcover books and another for softcover books. I remember the day that we discussed how to tell the difference. Even now, some children knock on their book to determine which shelf it should be returned to. This also provides a daily opportunity for sorting – see how literacy is never a stand-alone in Kindergarten!

One of the first things I noticed was how rough the children were with the books. It took months of reminders and practice for the children not to throw the books, step on them, or pull at them and rip pages. You would assume that by Kindergarten children would know how to handle books, but for many children in the class handling the books in a gentle and respective manner was not familiar to them. To assist in their practice, we modelled then asked the children to “close your books gently, carry them like a cake, and place them face out on the appropriate book rack”. Now the children are much more aware of the condition of the books, and often come to me with concern that a page has ripped or torn, and ask that it be fixed with tape.

Back in September, there were no (maybe a few) levelled readers for the Kindergarten classrooms. This was the biggest concern for me, as I believe in the consistent use of levelled books to develop readers in the classroom. Through the suggestion of an instructional leader, I was able to order paper copies of what are considered replacement books and use these for a book borrowing program and for work with individuals or small groups in the classroom. These books have been invaluable for my students. Although I do not assign homework in Kindergarten, I do set up a book bag program that allows children to take home a book at their level and write about their book in an accompanying journal. There are not assigned days to take or return a book, therefore it is a program that can suit the families and their schedules. I have some students who return their book bags every day or every other day, while other students may return their bag within a week or two. All of the SK students (and a few JK students) have moved up in levels, but most importantly they feel successful as readers. The levelled readers have not been a “requirement” of the childrens’ day or have they felt pressure to read. By providing them with a book at their level (mostly all at level 1 in September) they felt excited to take a book home and then felt successful because they could actually read it. This encouraged them to continue with the program and become independent readers!






Levelled books for Book Bag Program

Photo of Alison Board

Homework and Parent Communication

While reading the previous post by Samantha, I was thinking about my own students, the homework they do, and the requests or concerns from the parents regarding homework. In my Grade 1 and 2 classroom, there is a definite connection between homework and parent communication.

At the beginning of the school year, there was no assigned homework. However, unfinished work would often be sent home with the students for completion. One student in particular welcomed this opportunity, as she said her parents wanted her to have something to work on while her older sister was doing homework. Other students were rushing to complete their work so they didn’t have to take it home. This resulted in a large gap in completion time from the “rushers” and the “procrastinators.” Since it is usually the same groups of students, I have since been encouraging the rushers to go back and take a little more time, while encouraging the procrastinators to use their time efficiently and giving time for completion at the end of the day. All of this echoes Samantha’s comment about “the importance of differentiation in the classroom.” Not all students will need the same skill practice or review. Some just need more time, and others may need more support or practice.

I communicate to parents using our classroom website, emails, and the agendas – depending on the type of message I am sending. Every week when I write a journal entry on the website, I let the parents know what we are currently working on in class, for example addition and subtraction. I then provide an idea or resource for homework that the parents can use at their convenience, such as a link to an on-line math game or a game of concentration with sight words. For many of the parents it gives them concrete ideas for supporting their children in fun or interactive ways, without the pressure of completing a paper and pencil task while making dinner. I also review the children’s work during the day or when conferencing with them, and make a list of the students who may require more skill practice at home. By recording a particular task in their agenda, the parents are aware that this is specific to their child’s needs. Communication with the parents has provided a consistent extension of support from school to home. It has also helped when a student is distracted or having difficulty, and the parents are able to communicate what might be going on at home as an explanation. To be purposeful and effective, homework should be differentiated to the student or group of learners. At a Grade 1 and 2 level, good parent communication will support the learning at home.

Heart Picture

Philosophy and Practice of Homework

Recent posts about assignments and parental involvement had me reflecting on  my own dilemmas about homework assignments and how my philosophy  toward student homework  has  evolved depending on the students, the grade that I am teaching and my own experience.  There are many  factors that can influence the kind of homework students could/should receive, and that can be the students’ grade-level, ability, community access, level of support at home, the management of the classroom environment and extracurricular commitments, to name a few.  It’s up to the teacher’s professional judgement to decide what is appropriate. For me as a teacher, additional influences such as experience (or inexperience) with a grade level, access to resources, ability to plan ahead and knowledge of what is actually ‘useful homework’ versus ‘make work’  influence  the type of work that is sent home with the students.  I am discovering that all of the factors contribute to the continuous shifts and swings in the planning and pacing of class work and assignments.

In my first year of teaching, homework only came in the form of research for class work and completion homework.  The intended outcome of this kind of homework was to ‘help the students keep up with the classroom program’ (Heart and Art, p.80), which often backfired.  Some of the same students who consistently did not complete their work in class also had evening commitments, parents with little spare time to supervise them and were forgetting to bring work back to school, resulting in further disruptions.   Frustrations mounting, I quickly learned the importance of differentiation in the classroom and learning a better system for staying on top of the students’ progress.

In my second year of teaching, with little time and knowledge of how to access building materials  for a unit that required the building of bridges, ‘Building a Bridge’ became the month-long home assignment.  My assessment of the assignment required a lot of thought (weighing and grading the different aspects of the assignment) and planning, as most of the bridges that arrived in my classroom were worthy of a passing grade in an architectural course. The students’ grades were heavily derived from their classroom research and ability to orally explain the mechanics behind their work.  While it was a successful assignment that enabled the students to work with and learn alongside their parents, I felt conflicted knowing that the parents/caregivers also sacrificed their evenings and weekends to support their children.

So much of what we as teachers learn is through trial and error, and most of what we learn, remember and refine is from the ‘errors’ that we make along the way.  Now, the homework that I assign falls in the categories of practice, preparation and extension, which I discovered through my trials and errors, and also from the partnerships that I have this year (i.e., learning from what other’s have discovered to be successful).  Weekly, my students are sent home with a language activity that reinforces and extends a concept learned in class, and a math activity (that is intended for family participation and problem solving). The math activity reinforces the skills of explaining thought processes (e.g., pictures, numbers and words to explain their solution), and is intended to prepare the students for the continued expectations through the grades.   Preparing these materials isn’t too taxing of my lesson planning time, the homework is encouraged but not mandated, and through this, I hope to be considerate of ‘family time and commitments’ while giving the students (and their parents) means to practice and support classroom learning at home.

I realize that the next grade I teach will require more re-working and re-programming to find a good-fit homework outcome, and I am learning that this is normal.  In planning the kind of learning that takes place outside of the classroom, I will continue to consider the many factors that influence successful ‘homework outcomes’ and utilize the tips and insights of my trusted colleagues who also continue to work and re-work their methods and planning.




Photo of Roz Geridis

Positive reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is the best classroom management you can use. You also need to be consistent with your promises and any consequences you mention. Many classrooms have reward systems and over the years, I have tried a variety of suggestions. Some suggestions you may have heard about or seen are: group points, behaviour charts/logs, reward systems, and a few more. I have combined systems I have used in the past and found a way to make it work for my class. If I haven’t mentioned it before, I have a very energetic, talkative all boys class. They are great kids and are very easily distracted by each other.


At the beginning of the year, I introduced Ms. G bucks to my grade 5/6 class. I used the WORD business card template and used a variety of denominations to help the boys with their multiplication and addition skills. I also initial each buck I give out in a colour marker. The bucks were and are given out for students following classroom routines, handing in paperwork, anything I want the rest of the class to do. I sometimes give them out for handing in homework. It is amazing to see how quickly the students will pay attention when I mention I am giving out Ms. G bucks.


The students helped me to develop a list of what they can buy with the bucks. This is where the program is different from many out there and the kids did buy into the concept of program. They were involved in decision making process; I didn’t tell them what happened with the money, they told me. The kids made suggestions and if it was feasible, I would add it (but some suggestions had to be guided). For example, the kids suggested buying the ability to be a teacher for the day; we tweaked that and end up with being teacher for a lesson. All ideas were included; the students’ ideas were realistic, and again, some needed to be guided. However, I did add pencils/erasers; when students can get a new pencil/eraser the next day; you will find many are left on the floor or in the hallway. Not anymore!


I also left the ability to fine students to the teacher’s discretion. Fines to students happen after a couple of reminders, routines are still not followed. Fines are usually used to remind students of the rules. Consequences for inappropriate behaviour are based on the behaviour, not fines.


Although the students have only bought pencils and erasers with their bucks, this program has worked out very well. The excitement of saving up the money and being able to buy something big is really building in the class. At first, the class was saving for a field trip but not anymore.


You may use this idea as is but I would suggest adjusting the program to suit your students and style. As I mentioned at the beginning, this idea came from a combination of a variety of systems utilized in the past and some I have heard about. Some programs have points recorded on a large chart for the whole class to see and some are recorded by the teacher, with students also tracking points. You have to know your students. My class has students who like to separate themselves from the others and therefore individual bucks works great. Also, with individual bucks, you will find students from every table will be more focused which helps focus the attention of the rest of the class.

Photo of Roz Geridis

Connecting with Parents

As the busy school year develops, parent communication is very important. All parent(s) want to know what his/her child is learning at school. Having a 5/6 all boys class made me find ways to involve the boys and open the communication for the family and to the school. To describe my class a little, it all boys with over half of my class on IEPs; 1 gifted, 2 HSP kids, 1 Aspergers, some identified LD and some still on the wait list for an assessment. Also, many boys have anxiety which some have been medically diagnosed and others are not. Agendas are a routine we are working to develop both for parents to read and for students to use them.

Communication I have used:

– started a bi-weekly newsletter, written by the students;

The writers are a job assignment and hands regularly go up to take on the job. I do give some content to include such as curriculum information, projects and areas of curriculum we are working on. The writers are able to add their content also and I do give a final approval. Once edited and published, I was impressed that the boys all took them home, not one was left in the classroom!

– meetings for IEP;

Most of my parents requested a meeting to develop the IEP so I had to find some time to meet with approximately half of my class. I scheduled all meetings with student entry time as an end time and gave parents 20 minutes to discuss the IEPs. This allowed me to meet with all parents who had requested a meeting, leaving me enough time to input the added information into the student’s IEP. I did keep in mind if parents had other concerns to discuss, another meeting would have to be scheduled.

– use of the agenda;

Many parents have asked for me to communicate through the agenda. At times, it seems like limited communication, I still take the time to develop a routine where students place their agenda on my desk and I initial every morning. I do not sign agendas at the end of the day as I am trying to help the students to build the routine of utilizing the agenda. I do give agenda time at the end of the day and write on the board the evening’s homework and reminders. The students are aware I will look at the agendas the next day therefore the routine is beginning to develop. If there is a need to write a note in the agenda at the end of the day, I do so.

– phone calls home;

Although there are limited phones and phone lines in the large school I am in, I have developed a routine. I take one prep period a week to make phone calls giving parents an update. I try to call every parent once a month.  If there are no concerns from myself or the parents, I start to give strategies to help with homework routine and learning skills. I also inquire about items getting home and inform parents about the class newsletter used as my way to keep parents updated.

– parent meetings;

Many parents have been calling to set up meetings. I am in an involved parent community; this is the norm in my school. Again, due to the early start of the year, I schedule the meetings with an entry time as the end point (i.e. 20  minutes before school or at the end of lunch). Some of my parents are colleagues and I do schedule those meetings for after school. All meetings have gone over 20 minutes but we are also discussing education related issues not just the colleague’s child.

– email;

I do not give out my email unless it is asked for. If parents do email me, my email reply consists of a simple acknowledgement of the concern and asking to set up a phone call meeting or face to face meeting to discuss the concern. Email is very easy to misunderstand and often I am in rush to read all my emails and do not have the time to finely craft an email response to a parent’s concern. If you do decide to use email, please save your email in draft and take another look, either a few hours later or the next day. Often, a discussion with an experienced colleague or time away from the concern gives us a different perspective.


What I have done are just examples of parent communication and have changed for me based on the school I am in or the students in my class. In some schools I have seen parents daily, even in upper junior grades, regular parent communication is quick. You have to do what works for you and your community. Most of all, remember to document your parent communication. Get some labels, print off a sheet with all the students name, record the parent communication and stick it on a paper in your communication binder.