Bringing Back the Class Read Aloud

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* You can stop and clarify word meanings, 

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

* You can relate your connections to the story,

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

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

Here are a few of my favourites:

Picture Books

Thunderboy Junior by Sherman Alexie – Importance of your Name

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

Stolen Words by Melanie Florence – Loss of Indigenous Language

The Bad Seed by Jori John – Self Awareness

Duck Days by Sarah Leach – Autism, Friendship

Tacky the Penguin by Helen Lester – Inclusivity, Humour

Not a Box by Antoinette Portis – Ingenuity

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

Suki’s Kimono by Chieri Uegaki – Identity

Scaredy Squirrel by Melanie Watt – Anxiety

Junior Novels

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

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

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

Intermediate Novels 

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

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

Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix- Friendship, Courage

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed – Bravery, Hope

 

Happy Reading!

Lost in Translation

I was looking forward to showing Ali* the science video that day. 

Ali had arrived at our school several years earlier, when he was in grade 2.  If he found sudden immersion in a new country and unfamiliar language at all unsettling, this confident 8 year-old didn’t show it. Despite having only beginner English skills, each new school day saw him marching down the hall with gusto, his infectious grin naturally drawing people to him. In those early days, it was typical to enter his classroom and find him engaged in animated, gesture-filled conversations with classmates and teachers – which, despite being entirely in Arabic, were somehow basically comprehensible to all. Weeks slipped into months, and finally to years. He conversed easily in English before we knew it. We no longer heard the exuberant flow of Arabic; gestures were now stilled. 

When Ali began grade 6, both he and his mother expressed interest in his studying Arabic.  Our department had a series of English-Arabic science videos  – explaining the science curriculum topics he was studying in class no less. I was excited to show him the video, in both languages. 

I remember sitting at the round table in the book room, and pressing ‘play’ on the iPad. Ali watched the video in Arabic in silence. As the short, simple clip came to an end, he looked up.

“What did you think?” I asked expectantly. 

Ali hesitated. Then he replied, “I didn’t understand it.”

I was confused. The topic was relatively simple, and Ali’s teacher had told me earlier that day how solidly he had understood the science unit. 

“You didn’t understand the science?” I asked. 

“No. I didn’t understand the Arabic.”

***

Losing first language is not often talked about in school. We are usually so preoccupied with helping students acquire English, that thoughts of their home language may fall to wayside. Yet the more I learn about this phenomenon, the more it seems to me like an insidious disease. Slowly advancing, symptoms hidden, its progress out of sight and unnoticeable — until it’s too late. 

Multiple researchers have noted that first language development is arrested upon entering an English-speaking school environment. And it can regress, with English quickly becoming the dominant language. Indeed, web searches for “first language loss” produce an endless chain of heartbreaking stories. Recently I came across an article by Jenny Liao in The New Yorker, which began with the sentence “When I speak Cantonese with my parents now, I rely on translation apps.” The This America Life story RSV-Pa begins with the descriptor, “Larry speaks English. His dad speaks Chinese … After 20 years, with the help of filmmaker Bianca Giaver, he and his dad have their first conversation.”

Their first conversation.

I cannot imagine what it would be like, to be unable to communicate freely (or at all) with the people I love most in the world. I cannot imagine what it would be like, to be unable to communicate with my own child.

Many years ago, I heard an ESL specialist state that the majority of students who begin school in Ontario speaking another language will eventually lose the ability to communicate in that language, to varying degrees, with English becoming their preferred and most fluent language. I remember wondering at the time how that could be true, especially if parents and family members continue to speak first language to the child. This was certainly the case with Ali’s family, who spoke only Arabic to him. But as I later learned, the type of language used in school can be vastly different from the type used at home. Rich and varied vocabulary and grammatical structures are required (and learned) when reading novels, writing literary essays, and explaining cell structure. The language at home can be comparatively simple: “Get your coat”, “Come for dinner”, “What did you do today?”  These every-day exchanges include fewer vocabulary items and simpler grammatical structures. Additionally, students are typically not learning to read and write in first language.  No wonder language acquisition and proficiency leans heavily in favour of English.

As teachers we are in the position of working with families and students to help maintain first languages. From recommending home language classes, to accessing the growing number of free dual language book websites, to encouraging discussion of news events and complex topics at home in first language, there are a number of multilingual supports at our disposal. One of my new favourites is storybookscanada.ca, which contains simple illustrated audio books, written and narrated in English and many languages.

We know that students who maintain and develop first language tend to learn English more quickly and do better academically than those who do not. But the preservation of identity and connection to family offer a particularly urgent motivation for creating a multilingual framework in our teaching practice. To all educators tirelessly working to include first languages in the classroom, 

Дякую 고맙습니다  شكرًا لك  merci  谢谢  gracias ਤੁਹਾਡਾ ਧੰਨਵਾਦ شکریہ mahadsanid Cảm ơn thank you.

 

*student names have been changed

Pay Attention!

“Pay Attention!”

I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve said that to my students over the years. I’d bet many of you can say the same. We often think that our students come to school ready to learn and have all the necessary skills to be good learners. The reality is they don’t.
In today’s world, we are all inundated with stimuli. Although many of us as adults have the capacity to decipher what it is we want to pay attention to and how to redirect our attention when it drifts, we need to teach our students the skill of paying attention. We need to teach them how to learn.

So, how do we teach students to pay attention?

Paying Attention in Action:
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I love a good read aloud book! I hope you check out one or both of the great books highlighted and/or try the activities described below:

Books:

Puppy Mind by Andrew Jordan Nance is a picture book that tells a story of a young boy learning how to pay attention by becoming friends with, and subsequently training his active, wandering mind. Nance correlates the training of our minds to the process of training a puppy – with gentle, consistent effort.
In Breathe Like a Bear, author Kira Wiley uses animals, story and imagination to offer readers ways to explore different mindfulness skills including paying attention. In the “Focus” section of her book different animals describe activities that could be used at school or at home to increase breath and present moment awareness, an easily accessible and widely utilized method of learning to pay attention.

Classroom Activities:

Using natural and created sounds teachers can strengthen students’ listening skills. Listen For One Minute is a low risk activity I use often and also doesn’t take a lot of preparation or planning. In this activity, students simply sit still for one minute and listen to the sounds they hear. They are encouraged to only note the sounds they hear such as “creaking door” or “coughing” and to avoid labeling the sounds as pleasant or unpleasant; and not to generate a story about the sound. Following the activity, we discuss the sounds we each heard. Listen For One Minute is very repeatable, as sounds around us constantly change. It is a gentle way of introducing and strengthening the skill of paying attention through mindful listening. You could try it too; Simply listen to the sounds around you for one minute wherever you are reading this.
Another simple activity to cultivate mindful awareness is called Change Five. Change Five requires one or two students to leave the classroom for two minutes and change five things about their appearance. Students love the challenge of being the trickster by taking off a sweater; trading shoes with another trickster; tucking in a t-shirt or taking off earrings. When the tricker(s) return to class the other students have an opportunity to hone their observation skills by trying to identify the changes made.

Paying attention is a skill that can be learned; And as such, it must be explicitly taught and practiced in order for it to be strengthened. These short, simple practices and books I’ve shared here today can be utilized throughout the school year and can help your students to

“Pay Attention!”

Strategies for Squeezing Professional Learning into your Day

It’s no secret that teachers are incredibly busy. From planning, assessing, managing classes, and volunteering to support sports teams and other school initiatives, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. And yet, with so many new and exciting approaches to teaching nearly every subject, you may also feel like you are missing out on ways to be more responsive to your students or more efficient in your work.

I remember the excitement of my first 5 years of teaching and wanting to sign up for every professional learning initiative possible, from social justice to anti-bullying and eco-friendly schools. By the end of it all, I was working way later than I wanted to and exhausted from the job. My marking piled up, my to-do list grew exponentially, and Sundays became a ‘prep’ day.  What I was doing was not sustainable.

What I have learned to do since those overwhelming and hectic years is to make my professional learning much more efficient and targeted. I prioritize what I know is important: an area of teaching I don’t feel 100% comfortable in, a goal that my board or school has, or an additional qualification that I need to take my career a step further. It may be a single thing that I focus my learning on, and I scale up or scale back depending on what is happening in my life at the moment. There will be times where all you can focus on is getting through the week or month, and that new book on assessment or pedagogy will have to wait. Educator-selected professional learning is always best – you know what you need, and what aligns with your interests and schedule.

It’s also healthy to remind yourself to honour the time it takes to learn and grow. A new practice or pedagogical skill I learn this year, for example, will make it into my teaching in the following year. Professional learning is a long game, and it takes time to incorporate a new strategy or new way of thinking meaningfully into practice.

Here are a few strategies that I have found very useful for squeezing new professional learning, even in a busy school year.

Watch a Presentation at Your Local or Board

There is something special about attending a live presentation from a guest speaker or expert. Good guest speakers are well versed in the art of communicating complex ideas clearly, know how to get their listeners engaged, and may even bring new perspectives from outside your local context. They will focus on the most important ideas in their area of expertise, and tailor it to the audience. Speaker sessions condense a whole lot of insight into a short period of time, and can be inspiring or even transformative.

Live, in-person workshops can also be high-impact, as you are learning with peers and sharing ideas in addition to receiving new ones. I recall attending a workshop on assessment and Growing Success at my local years ago, and using the knowledge and insights I gained from that one event long after it ended. The opportunity to network is also important: you can make long-lasting professional connections with colleagues from other schools you would not have met otherwise.

When these sessions take place after school, they usually finish by dinner time, and if they are virtual you can tune in while you do other things. The best format for professional learning, however, is always during the school day: it is important to honour the work that you are doing and the valuable time you have after school to prepare, fulfill personal commitments, or simply unwind.

Take Advantage of Audio

Is there a new education-related book you would love to read but simply don’t have the time for? A new practice you want to hear more about? There are so many great podcasts being released by educators that you can tune into using apps you likely already have on your phone. Audiobooks are also a great way to ‘read’ a book while taking a walk or commuting. Check to see if your board subscribes to an app like Destiny Discover: you may already have a professional audio library at your fingertips.

Start a Book Club

Book clubs are an amazing way to ‘divide and conquer’ a larger text. Bring a group of colleagues together, choose a text that relates to an area everyone is interested in, and assign each reader or pair of readers a chapter to ‘present’ at meetings. This way, if reading a whole book is too daunting you can get a sense of which parts are worthwhile. Of course, you can read the whole book if you prefer but when you are only responsible for one chapter the task is much more realistic. Book clubs are a really fun way to connect with colleagues and brainstorm ideas to improve teaching and learning in your school.

Join a Professional Learning Network

While social media certainly has its downsides, one of the great things is that you can follow authors, educators and administrators that share lesson ideas that you may find useful for your own practice. There are dozens of Facebook groups, Twitter threads, Instagram and Tiktok pages where you can see educators being creative and even sharing pedagogical strategies. Not sure where to start? Try searching a hashtag like #etfoeducators or #ontarioteachers that may lead you to some great accounts.

Attend a Conference or Workshop

While it can take a bit of paperwork to organize going to a conference, attending one can be a wonderful break from your regular routine. Conferences usually have influential keynote speakers, interactive breakout rooms, and are an easy way to network with professionals outside of your board. ETFO hosts amazing conferences and workshops for members throughout the year, and you can find great options in the fields of Edtech and literacy such as Reading for the Love of it. Who knows, maybe you will be inspired to share your own practices as a presenter one year!

Conference funding can typically be accessed through your local and possibly even through your board. Check with the treasurer at your local to find out what is available to members.

The Fall Months

The fall reminds us all of many things. The beauty of nature as leaves change from greens and browns to vibrant reds, yellows, and oranges. The wonder of the fall seasons that we get to partake in every year. The dominance of ‘Pumpkin Spice Lattes’ and all things pumpkin to consume. The excitement of new school sessions that are marked by the “ber” months. The fall months (September to November/December) bring richness, newness, and a sense of adventure. However, for some, there is a ‘sadness’ that fall brings with it.

According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D) affects 35 percent of Canadians. “Another 10 to 15 percent have a mild form of seasonal depression, while about two to five percent of Canadians will have a severe, clinical form of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It often starts with fatigue, then symptoms of sadness, lethargy, apathy and depression, said Dr. Robert Levitan, the head of depression research at CAMH” (Kwong, 2015).

The Canadian Psychological Association references “Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), or Depression with Seasonal Pattern, as a condition that comes and goes based on seasonal changes, appearing in the fall and going away in the spring/summer. If you have SAD, you may find yourself feeling many symptoms of depression, especially irritability, and you may be more sensitive in interpersonal relationships. People often report unusually low energy levels, causing them to feel tired, heavy, or lethargic” (Canadian Psychological Association, 2020).

This disorder may often be regarded as the ‘winter blues’ which can affect many educators who are juggling back-to-school, new schedules, classes, and sometimes responsibilities with little or limited energy to do so (let’s not yet add any home or community responsibilities teachers may have as well). How can one cope when everything just seems so S.A.D? First, it is important to note that you are not alone.

Mental health & wellness resources such as those found on the Ontario Teacher’s Federation website (titled ‘Useful Links for Wellbeing’), as well as resources and services offered by your board are ways in which educators can combat S.A.D. Some boards offer counselling, mental health professional, and community services at low or no cost to educators. These services enable educators to work with a mental health professional to develop strategies, tools, and/or action plans to mitigate/navigate Seasonal Affective Disorder. Similarly, there may be options to connect with paramedical professionals.

Part of the Building Better Schools Plan by ETFO Provincial recognizes that “As the heartbeat of public education, teachers and other education professionals play a critical role in helping to shape the system and develop our students to be the very best they can be. Ontario’s future depends on all of us to protect and build better schools” (ETFO, 2022). There is a richness, a newness, and a sense of adventure that the fall months bring. Part of ensuring Ontario’s future is using available resources and services to protect and capacitate educators’ mental well-being.

Resources to consider

 

References:
Canadian Psychological Association. (2020). “Psychology Works” Fact Sheet: Seasonal Affective Disorder (Depression with Seasonal Pattern). Canadian Psychological Association. Available at https://cpa.ca/psychology-works-fact-sheet-seasonal-affective-disorder-depression-with-seasonal-pattern/
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. (2022). Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Mental Illness & Addiction Index. Available at: https://www.camh.ca/en/health-info/mental-illness-and-addiction-index/seasonal-affective-disorder
ETFO. (2022). Building Better Schools: A plan for improving elementary education. Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario. Available at: https://www.buildingbetterschools.ca/the_plan
Kwong, M. (2015). Sad Science: Why winter brings us down, but won’t for long. CBC News. CBC/Radio Canada. Available at: https://www.cbc.ca/news/health/sad-science-why-winter-brings-us-down-but-won-t-for-long-1.2981920#:~:text=About%20two%20to%20five%20per,effects%20of%20our%20chilly%20moods%3F

Photo by: Iyanuoluwa Akinrinola

Centering Joy

Many teachers I work with recognize the importance of representation. The difference it can make for students to see their cultures and identities reflected in curriculum and educational spaces they occupy each day is undeniable. They feel welcome and they recognize school as a space they belong. A student’s relationship with education can be positively influenced once they know that this is a place where they are seen and celebrated.

Lately, however, I am consciously reflecting a little more intentionally about the types of representation I am including in the classroom. What guides your decision making? What are some of the considerations you have when choosing a text to analyze or share with the class?

Many typical titles I see in classes are books like The Breadwinner (Deborah Ellis, 2000) or Thirst (Varsha Bajaj, 2022). These types of books always centre identities from “far away places” that often face hardships and oppression. When we only share texts that centre stories of oppression, poverty, or underprivileged experiences, we run the risk of confirming stereotypes and biases students may already have about others. Chimamanda Adiche reminds us, “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story” (Adiche,Ted Talk, 2009).

For me, I’ve decided to start with centering joy. Finding texts that celebrate the joy of identity is necessary. Intentionally using texts in the classroom that centre around people and communities that are living their lives proudly and joyfully can help to debunk certain stereotypes. As a person with Filipino heritage, oftentimes my childhood classmates only knew the stories that came from the media; a country that is poverty stricken, no running water, oppressive or corrupted government systems, etc. As an adult, I imagine what I would have wanted them to know; the smells and flavours of our food, big extended family parties and get-togethers, traditional dances, wardrobes, and ways of being. Yes, parts of the Philippines may not have access to running water and electricity and some people there do live in poverty, but that is not all there is to my identity and that is not all there is to my culture.

Of course, it is important to recognize that there are societal structures and systems of oppression that are in place and strongly affect many different identities. I’m not suggesting that we ignore or gloss over injustices, but I am considering how to humanize stories so that students will be able to respectfully appreciate cultures and identities of their own and others. I don’t want any child to think that the only time their identities will be explored in school is when it is centered in oppression. Instead, let the message be that their culture and communities are valued, that I respect and recognize that there is no one single way of being and no single ‘right’ way to experience joy.

Looking for some ideas of texts that centre joy? Preview a few of these titles that might be used to frame the joy in identity:

Eyes That Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho
In My Mosque by M.O. Yuksel
Ana on the Edge by A.J. Sass
Black Boy Joy by Kwame Mbalia
Planet Omar: Accidental Trouble Magnet by Zanib Mian

Fluent in Math

Somewhere along the way in my early days of teaching ESL, I heard the phrase “math is a universal language”. At the time, that statement seemed perfectly reasonable to me. After all, math is comprised of numbers and computations, and surely that would be much easier to navigate than a verbose English or Science lesson. Math is math. 

Over the course of my career, researchers, colleagues, and students have taught me otherwise. 

The following is a short list of some reasons why math may not be as ‘universal’ as we think it is. None of these are my original findings. Rather, I am indebted to numerous educators over the years for making the language of math visible to me.

1. Vocabulary. In my last blog I recounted learning that a significant number of words in math are exclusive to math. “Divisor” and “tetrahedron” really aren’t going to come up in many other contexts. So intentional vocabulary instruction is crucial for multilingual learners (and all learners for that matter).

2. Multiple Meaning Words. Math is packed with them. Let me introduce you to some of the duplicitous characters lurking in our math lessons: Expression, Operation, Odd, Even, Order, Plot, Mean, Prime, Rational, Block, Meter, and Right. Just when a multilingual learner thinks they’ve learned the meaning of a word, they are walloped with a new definition. And I will say that the math word “Table” is more than duplicitous: times table, data table, water table, end table, off the table, under the table, table the bill … this word alone stresses to me how much language work is necessary for math. 

3. Word problems. They can be long, overwhelming, and difficult to extract salient information from, even for native speakers of English. And multilingual learners have the added burden of translating the language first before they even attempt the math.

4. Different algorithms and notations. The procedures and steps for math computations can vary widely internationally. If you have a copy of Van de Walle et al’s Teaching Student Centered Mathematics, the authors display some interesting differences in subtraction and addition algorithms. Simple web searches for “long division algorithms by country” yield fascinating variations. 

5. Different expectations of student role. Some students may not be familiar with group work, explaining their thinking, or working with manipulatives. They may be more familiar with memorization, mental math without showing their work, and deference to the teacher. 

6. Culturally-embedded word problems. It is not uncommon to see a student, skilled in math, freeze up and be unable to complete familiar computations — simply because the context of the problem was unfamiliar to them. Calculating the area of an ice rink when you have never been skating may be a more daunting task than one might think.

7. Exhaustion. This one may be original data from my own experience. I have lived and worked in a country where I did not speak the language. And one of the things that shocked me the most was the amount of time and effort everything took. Even the simplest tasks, that would take me seconds to complete in Canada, would take ages to complete overseas. I shudder to think how long it took me to make a simple withdrawal from an ATM the first few times, simply because I was trying to read and understand the characters on the screen. At times, I was worn out by mid-morning, as a full-grown adult. I cannot imagine the fatigue some of our students must feel. 

So what do we do with all this? Again, skilled educators have shared plenty of strategies with me over the years, and the following are a few of my favourites: Slowing the rate of speech, gesturing to visuals throughout lessons, explicitly modelling the use of manipulatives, initiating student-created dual language dictionaries of math terms which multilingual learners can refer to throughout math units, using sentence stems for participation in math discussions, and learning about the diverse algorithms and math experiences students may have, to capitalize on their strengths and celebrate multiple ways of doing math.

The above list only scratches the surface of possible support strategies. To this day, I find myself still on the journey of becoming “fluent” in math approaches for multilingual learners. May we continue to learn from each others’ travels. 

Works Cited

Van de Walle, John, et al. Teaching Student Centered Mathematics: Developmentally Appropriate Instruction for Grades 3-5. Pearson, 2014, New Jersey.

What is Translanguaging?

A few years ago I had the pleasure of welcoming Maryam (student’s actual name has been changed), a grade 8 newcomer student from Afghanistan. She had multiple years of interrupted schooling due to the political situation in her home country, and arrived in middle school speaking a very emergent level of English while being fluent and literate in Pashto and Urdu. At the time, I was working as an ESL/ELD teacher in the school, supporting all classes in the school with programming for English Language Learners. Her homeroom teacher raised the inevitable question: how do I program and assess a student with such unique needs?

One of the best ways to accommodate newcomer students with literacy and oral communication skills is to use translanguaging strategies. So what exactly is translanguaging?

Translanguaging, as academic and educator Ofelia Garcia states in EAL Journal, is “the act performed by bilinguals of accessing different linguistic features or various modes of what are described as autonomous languages, in order to maximize communicative potential.” Translanguaging is all about students using all of their linguistic resources to explore new learning, making connections with prior knowledge, and communicating their knowledge and lived experiences. It is asset-based and honours the rich linguistic resources multilingual learners bring to the classroom.

Sure – there are moments during instruction where accuracy, concision and proficiency in English will be the focus. But translanguaging practices should be encouraged in areas where the work is content-based. Language acquisition is a journey, and learning should always be accessible no matter what part of that journey a student is on.

How Can I use Translanguaging in the Classroom?

Start by creating a translanguaging-friendly learning space by encouraging students’ use of home languages at the start of the year. Take a language survey to find out what students are speaking at home and with friends and relatives, who has literacy skills in a different language, or who is taking heritage language classes. Once you know the linguistic and cultural assets students are bringing to the classroom, you will also be better equipped to be more culturally responsive. Keep multilingual dictionaries in students’ languages in the classroom, or teach a lesson on how to use digital translation tools like Microsoft Translate, Google Translate, or SayHi. Show students how to set multilingual captions on sites like Youtube. While students may find that digital translations are not always accurate, they can help students who are in the earlier steps of English language acquisition to understand new content.

Use multilingual word walls, media, signs, and posters in your school’s or class’s top languages. If you are multilingual, model translanguaging by communicating with students that also speak the same language. Pair same language speaking students strategically in seating plans or group work. Once multilingualism is seen as an asset and a norm in the learning environment, you can start to see translanguaging occur organically in academic and social contexts.

Translanguaging from Instruction to Assessment

Embed translanguaging throughout your teaching cycle, from instruction to assessment. Encourage multilingual language learners (MLs) to take notes in their home language and/or English during class: it is common for newcomer students think that they are only allowed to use English in class, which should never be the case. Offer multilingual content whenever possible, encouraging the use of subtitles when video content is being shared. When labeling diagrams or visuals, MLs can have the option of using multiple languages, which helps to build critical academic vocabulary for content based subjects.

Text sets are another great way to scaffold and differentiate learning in content-based areas like Science, History, or Geography. To create a text set, gather a set of materials related to one area of learning that enable students to engage with the content in different ways. For example, text set might include similarly themed articles at different reading levels, content in languages used by students in the classroom, related diagrams and photos, photos, and links to different sites and videos. Creating text sets can take time – team up with other teachers to create different sets you can use throughout the year or a teaching cycle.

Finally, offer students opportunities to complete summative learning tasks or assignments in the language or languages they feel most confident using in addition to English. When students with more confident in their first language have the opportunity to use it in school, it can be empowering and create an opportunity for families to engage with their child’s learning. If you do not speak the same language as the student, you can ask a colleague who does to help with assessment, or ask the student to complete a secondary task to translate their work using dictionaries and translators. Make sure your rubric and success criteria are adapted to reflect the curriculum expectations and the student’s STEP: keep in mind that their learning goals may be different from that of their non-ELL peers.

Interested in taking a more detailed look at using multiple languages in your teaching? Check out Classroom Assessment in Multiple Languages (2021, Corwin Press)  by Margo Gottlieb for a comprehensive guide. There are so many ways for multilingual students to share their knowledge beyond writing and speaking in English. Once you identify the best strategies for enabling MLs to express their ideas and learning, you will see their growth and confidence flourish.

smashing pumpkin spiced thinking – school edition

I can almost hear it now, the sound of the last pumpkin spiced anything be sold and the leftovers being shipped back to the warehouses for next year. I am positive that the chemicals that make up these products have a half life and will ensure it’s best before date does not expire for another decade or more.

Who buys this stuff? To my knowledge, I do not think anyone in my circle of friends has ever been excited about pumpin spiced goodies and drinks. Cue the relief. Not that there is anything wrong with it. We all go through a curious phase or two in our lives, but once the trance wears off it’s usually back to the status quo.

Have you ever been persuaded to try something that you instantly regretted afterwards? At first, you think you like it because how could all that hype be wrong? Once that fades and the taste kicks in you’re left to be alone with your decision(s). I mean where would we all be without the gift of knowledge regret provides us?

I’ll give you an example: Hammer pants  One of many the blessings of being a certain age is that any evidence of my bad decision making has not been digitally preserved. Case in point with this late 80s fashion craze. I am sure that it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Speaking of good ideas at the time

Starting out as an educator, all of those years ago, I came with my own set of bags packed full of the way that I was going to lead my class. Inside that luggage were many positive, and unfortunately, negative experiences and I was determined to repeat what worked and bury what didn’t. What could possibly go wrong?

What I quickly realized in those first years was there were already several well traveled paths to follow along that started to be seen as ruts rather than pathways to success. I found myself trying to shape my students around the resources in the building rather than the other way around. Things went well, teach, practice, test, and repeat, but it came with a cost. Those lessons never felt like they were relevant to my students. They lacked depth and scope for a number of reasons, some of which are on me as a new teacher, and others because they fell within the “We’ve always done it this way” space.

When my second year rolled around it was easy to follow along the well worn path once more, but instead of proceeding safely along with so many others, I made a decision to wander off to see what else was out there. Don’t get me wrong, I could still see the trail to provide some cardinal directions, but my detours began to provide us all much richer and diverse perspectives. It only took a year to realize that there were many paths to create and pursue that could edify both students and their teachers.

I began to seek out others who wandered off in their spaces and ended up connecting with an insightful and supportive global professional learning network or PLN. All these years later, I am thankful for the connections and kindness that helped me navigate off of what was the norm and around some other ruts that needed avoiding.

Where do I find these amazing folx?

For me, it started out at school board level events and edtech training sessions. It didn’t take long before I joined Twitter when it became a truly global cohort. Yes, Twitter can still be used for good and not evil despite its new owner and legions of misinformed malicious account holders exercising their free speech without facts or accountability. End rant.

I joined weekly discussions via #edchat and then #etmooc and then #CnEdChat to start and started following some of the more experienced and supportive educators on the platform. As time went on, I started a blog called What and Why are Everything to hash out some of my thoughts. Our weekly Q and A discussions on Twitter became sources of great perspective and growth which continue to inhabit my practice to this day. It was almost like I was given permission to be the teacher I wanted to be rather than another educator flattening the well worn path.

What started happening was the democratization of my classroom through student directed learning, Genius Hours, and the use of videos to enhance the scope of my instruction. What better way could there be to bring an expert into the class room with the click of a button rather than read through a text book that had been written years beforehand.

This shift in thinking helped me realize the static and fluid natures of knowledge that we have to balance each day for our students and ourselves. It also moved me past some of my negative experiences as a student. I appreciate how some of the things I went through empowered me not to repeat them just like I would never buy a pair of Hammer pants or pumpkin spiced anything again.

Remembrance and Reconciliation

As we approach Indigenous Veterans’ Day, November 8th and Remembrance Day, November 11th I will proudly wear my handmade poppy by Anishinaabe beader and artist, Erin Gustafson of Couchiching First Nation.


The poppy serves as a reminder to take time to reflect on the courage of those who fought and many who died to protect our rights. In doing so, I vividly recall the story of one particular soldier.
The day a typically soft spoken, mild mannered, young girl presented her Heritage Fair project and stood in front of her classmates and proudly and confidently shared a story about a man she admired was a day I wouldn’t forget. It was about ten years ago when I, along with her classmates, first learned about Francis Pegahmagabow, my student’s grandfather (in hindsight, perhaps it was her great or great-great grandfather). Nonetheless, the sense of pride she felt while speaking of her hero was evident.

While some stories of Sergeant-Major Francis Pegahmagabow or the lives of others like him can be easily found with a quick internet search, the resonating effects of hearing these stories from direct ancestors are astonishing.
Still today, I remember the smile that crossed that young girl’s face and the pride that oozed out of her as she spoke about her family. What stood out to me then, and still today is the fact that Pegahmagabow fought to protect Canada at a time when Indigenous People were denied the rights held by most other Canadians. Can you imagine being denied the rights your partner, child, sibling, family member, or friend risked their life to protect? That is the case for many Indigenous People of that time. And when Pegahmagabow returned from war, he continued to fight for the rights of his people. He fought for civil rights for Indigenous People within Canada.

In 2016, many years after his death, a bronze statue was unveiled in Parry Sound, Ontario honouring the Anishinaabe World War I sniper, Francis Pegahmagabow. Another pride filled moment for my former student to share stories about her ancestor. These stories and others like them must be highlighted within our classrooms, painting a more accurate picture of the contributions Indigenous People play in our country’s history.

As we move through the time of remembrance and reconciliation, please seek out opportunities to honour Indigenous Peoples by sharing stories like those of Francis Pegahmagabow. Go Show the World is a fabulous book written first as a rap song by Wab Kinew. In it he describes some of his Indigenous idols, allowing others, especially young people to see themselves represented in their heroes. I urge you to share your story and provide opportunities for students to do the same. It’s incredible what we can learn from one another.