Anti-Oppressive Education: Creating an Equitable Society for all.

In recent years, there has been a growing recognition of the importance of anti-oppressive practices in elementary education in Ontario. Anti-oppressive education aims to dismantle systemic barriers and address inequities within the education system. This reflection explores the significance of implementing anti-oppressive practices in elementary education in Ontario, highlighting the impact on students, educators, and the broader society.

In Ontario, as in many other regions, elementary education has not been immune to the effects of systemic oppression. “Historically, marginalized groups, such as Indigenous peoples, racial minorities, individuals with disabilities, and those of lower socioeconomic status, have faced discrimination and inequitable treatment within the education system” (Ontario Human Rights Commission, 2006). Such oppression can manifest in various forms, including biased curricula, discriminatory discipline practices, and a lack of diverse representation among
educators and staff, to name a few.

“Students who experience oppression in the education system may suffer from lower self-esteem, reduced academic achievement, and disengagement from learning” (Tuck & Yang, 2012). “Moreover, perpetuating oppressive practices can perpetuate cycles of poverty and marginalization, deepening social disparities and hindering social progress” (Freire, 1970). As educators, understanding and incorporating anti-oppressive practices in our praxis is crucial to disrupting and dismantling the many fibres of anti-oppression prevalent in the euro-centric teaching spaces we often occupy.

The Role of Anti-Oppressive Practices
Anti-oppressive practices are essential in elementary education to counter the adverse effects of oppression and create inclusive, empowering learning environments. “By integrating anti-oppressive principles into teaching strategies and curriculum development, educators can actively challenge stereotypes, promote diversity, and foster empathy and respect for all students” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2021).” Adopting inclusive teaching methods, which acknowledge and accommodate diverse learning needs, can also enhance student engagement and success” (Zhang & Carrington, 2019).

For example, using the seven competencies of the anti-oppressive framework as examined by ETFO, when educators are intentional about addressing biases, centring marginalized voices, challenging power & privilege, building inclusive communities, embedding intersectionalities to mobilize systemic change while connecting issues of mental health, learning environments that foster belonging, questioning, curiosity, and the ability to engage in meaningful uncomfortable is created for students, educators, and all staff. It truly creates a community where transformation can occur.

“Anti-oppressive practices encourage critical thinking and dialogue about social justice issues, helping students become active and informed citizens who can advocate for equality and fairness” (Shor, 1992). By challenging the status quo, educators play a pivotal role in shaping a generation of individuals who can create positive transformational societal change.

Learning as Educators
To effectively implement anti-oppressive practices, collaborative learning opportunities and dialogues with diverse colleagues can foster a deeper understanding of different perspectives and experiences. Anti-oppressive practices involve not only what is taught but also how the learning environment is structured. Schools must intentionally foster safe and inclusive spaces for all students, regardless of their background. “This may involve adopting restorative justice practices instead of punitive measures, implementing equity-focused policies, and providing necessary resources to support the diverse needs of students” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2020). Implementing anti-oppressive practices requires support from the broader educational system, including school boards, administrators, and policymakers.

Incorporating anti-oppressive practices in elementary education also requires collaboration with families and communities.” Engaging parents and caregivers in meaningful partnerships can provide insights into students’ unique needs and strengths, promoting a holistic approach to education” (Epstein, 2001). Building relationships with community organizations can also expand opportunities for students to connect with their cultural heritage and engage in real-world learning experiences. To achieve this goal, ongoing professional development for educators, support from the educational system, and collaboration with families and communities are all indispensable components.

“By acknowledging and addressing systemic barriers, the education system can create a more equitable platform for students and educators. This may involve reviewing and revising curriculum standards to be more inclusive and culturally relevant” (Ladson-Billings, 1995). As an educator, engaging in curriculum audits to ensure that I am reflecting my students’ experiences (as a mirror) and facilitating learning of the experiences of many others outside of my student’s communities/identities (as a window) empowers all students as they develop their understanding of themselves as global citizens. As educators, understanding and incorporating anti-oppressive practices in our praxis is crucial to disrupting and dismantling the many fibres of anti-oppression prevalent in the euro-centric teaching spaces we often occupy.

An Anti-Oppressive Framework

More work still needs to be done in incorporating an anti-oppressive framework and utilizing anti-oppressive practices in Ontario (and in all of Canada) schools. Implementing anti-oppressive practices in elementary education in Ontario is essential for fostering inclusive, empowering, and transformative learning environments. By challenging systemic oppression, educators can cultivate critical thinking, empathy, and social awareness among students, shaping them into active participants in creating a more just and equitable

Check out ETFO’s Anti-Oppressive Framework: A Primer which “provides an entry point for all learners and an opportunity for critical engagement, understanding and action planning on anti-racist education, anti-oppressive practices and equity initiatives” (ETFO, 2021).




Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario. (2021). Anti-Oppressive Framework: A Primer. Retrieved from

Epstein, J. L. (2001). School, family, and community partnerships: Preparing educators and
improving schools. Westview Press.

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. Continuum.

Ladson-Billings, G. (1995). Toward a theory of culturally relevant pedagogy. American Educational
Research Journal, 32(3), 465-491.

Ontario Human Rights Commission. (2006). Human rights and school boards: Obligations to address
racism and discrimination. Retrieved from nation

Ontario Ministry of Education. (2020). Education for all: A guide to effective implementation.
Retrieved from N.pdf

Ontario Ministry of Education. (2021). Anti-racism in education: A resource guide for Ontario
schools. Retrieved from

Shor, I. (1992). Empowering education: Critical teaching for social change. University of Chicago

Tuck, E., & Yang, K. W. (2012). Decolonization is not a metaphor. Decolonization: Indigeneity,
Education & Society, 1(1), 1–40.

Webb, J., Schirato, T., & Danaher, G. (2002). Understanding Bourdieu. Sage.

Zhang, L. F., & Carrington, S. (2019). Inclusive teaching in action: Supporting teachers and
pupils in mainstream classrooms. Routledge.


Using Foundational Literacy Resources with students in ELD Programs

It is no secret that the new Language curriculum in Ontario places a strong focus on the development of foundational literacy skills. In response to the new curriculum and the Right to Read report, elementary schools across Ontario have been engaged in utilizing resources, such as the University of Florida Literacy Institute (UFLI) Foundations, that focus on the explicit development of decoding skills. These resources work by teaching students the different letters and letter combinations that make different sounds in English. In most cases, they would be used from grades 1-3, when children are in the throes of learning how to read.

Given the effectiveness of such resources, many educators of multilingual learners have started to use the same strategies as part of ELD (English Literacy Development) programs. Students that receive ELD program adaptations have 2 or more years of interrupted schooling for reasons such as crisis or political conflict. Because many students in ELD programs have not had the opportunity to develop literacy skills in their home language, resources that teach decoding would seem to be ideal.

But are such resources appropriate for emergent speakers of English in ELD programs? Aren’t they primarily designed for students that already speak English?

Like so many other things in life, the only way to find the answer is to experiment, explore, and of course make mistakes along the way. I was pleased to discover with so many colleagues in different schools that teaching foundational decoding skills to students in ELD programs does work – but it is important to keep some important factors in mind.

Here are some key takeaways I have gathered from using foundational literacy resources to teach students in ELD programs.

Provide Opportunities for Newcomer Students to Build an Oral Foundation in English

If you are using decoding resources with newcomer students in ELD programs, be mindful of the cognitive load they have of learning to read in English while also learning the language. Decoding resources focus on sound and letter combinations, not communication and comprehension.  A lot of resources that teach decoding skills presume that the student is already familiar with the sounds and words of English.

Newcomer students are still in the process of building their speaking and listening skills in English, and need time to orient themselves in their new learning environment and develop social communication skills through play and interaction with other students. They should have exposure to the sounds of English and opportunities to build an oral foundation at the same time, if not before, they start learning English sounds and alphabetic code.

Adjust the Pace of Instruction as Needed

When working through a program like UFLI Foundations it can be tempting to move quickly to stay within the suggested time frames. With ELLs, you will want to be flexible and provide additional time for students to build vocabulary as they experiment with reading new words. Have a laptop or tablet with search engine at the ready for a quick visual dictionary. Ask students if there are words they do not know yet, and take the time to show them the meaning and practice using them in sentences. Again, be mindful of how different the cognitive load will be for early speakers of English, and stop the lesson early if it seems appropriate.

Use Decodables Strategically

When you use decodable books with ELLs, be sure to use ones that are illustrated for meaning-making. Some decodables on the internet are text only, which limits opportunities for vocabulary acquisition. The experience of reading even a decodable text can also be brought to life when the content reflects information or experiences that are familiar to newcomer students. I read a decodable with a newcomer student in an ELD program recently and she was excited to see pictures of seagulls. It turned out that when she first moved to Canada she went to Lake Simcoe with her family and watched seagulls at the beach. Connecting that experience to the book made the reading much more enjoyable and meaningful for her.

Leverage Your Students’ Oral Foundation in the First Language

Like any other language, English may have sounds that do not exist in others. English also has sounds that can be heard in other languages. For example, Spanish speakers have a rolling “r” sound that is not used in English, but both languages have a “d” sound. When practicing phonemes with newcomer multilingual learners, check to see if the same sound exists in their home language by asking the student or checking a resource like Some students may need additional practice saying sounds that are new to them.

Literacy is Empowering at Any Age

Many students in ELD programs tend to be older students (grade 3 and up). Students in the intermediate grades can feel self-conscious reading books that are designed for much younger learners, or learning concepts they perceive to be inappropriate for their age. A tutorial (one-to-one) or small group support model is much more conducive to teaching foundational literacy skills to older students. Furthermore, there are some publishers like Saddleback that have decodable texts that are designed for older learners. If you do not have these books at your school, consider using decodable texts with a non-fiction theme.

In my board we have many success stories of intermediate aged students in ELD programs learning decoding skills that have shared how impactful the instruction has been. These students similarly express the joy and excitement of being able to read a word “without looking at the pictures,” or feeling confident about spelling.

Summing it Up

Teaching English decoding skills through foundational literacy programs is a powerful way to accelerate learning for students in ELD programs. However, it is important to be flexible in your approach and to understand that their learning experience will be significantly different from their peers.

Finally, always keep in mind that students, particularly those in ELD programs, bring a variety of background experiences before entering the classroom. Newcomer students that have experienced separation, political conflict, extraordinary stress, and other traumatic situations may need to focus on other areas of orientation and development to be available for learning. Be in touch with settlement workers and staff that can help connect students to resources to support their social and emotional needs.

The loneliest time

Many years ago, I had the opportunity to teach overseas. I was hired as an assistant for public school English teachers, half a world away; my role was to team-teach grade 6-8 English classes with them. Each day was an adventure in which I learned more and more about this new country I was living in: how their school system operated, traditions and cultural norms, and what it was like to live in a place where I could not easily understand and communicate with others — sometimes at all. 

While each day came and went with many blessings (mostly in the form of kindnesses from kind people) life in another language could be flat-out hard —and sometimes lonely. And there was one part of every day that was lonelier than all the others …

It wasn’t back at my tiny apartment in the evening, when it was only me and nightly chores before sleep.

It wasn’t on solo train rides to work, crammed in with countless strangers, all of us silently looking down at books or phones or hands folded in laps.

It was the 15-minute morning staff meeting.

It always took place in the staff room, which was very different from the ones I was used to in Ontario. Here, staff rooms were filled with large, identical teacher desks, arranged into three groups down the length of the room. There were exactly six desks to each group, one for each of the teachers of that grade.  Seating within the group went strictly by order of seniority. This particular year I was assigned to the grade 6 group, and my desk was right at the end. 

And so each morning I would walk down the school’s corridor, slide open the staff room door, and get ready for the daily meeting. A chorus of “good mornings” would ring out, as was customary whenever anyone entered. Although summer months were scorching, the winter was chilly. On colder mornings a tall kerosene heater stood in the middle of the room, a large kettle perched precariously on top for the teachers’ tea. As the only source of heat in the room, it inevitably drew people near it, to chat and commiserate about the temperature. These social greetings and light conversations were usually within my language grasp, and were a nice start to the day. And the English teachers I worked with were there too, so I could always chat with them in English. 

But as the meeting time approached, everyone made their way back to their desks. The vice principal and principal sat at the front of the room, and in this way would call the morning meeting to order. We all stood up together, and once we had formally called out our greeting in unison, the vice principal would begin to speak.

And here is why those 15 minutes were the loneliest of my day …

I was surrounded by colleagues who understood every word the vice principal uttered. As the meeting progressed, I could see teachers nod, raise their eyebrows, exclaim, suddenly check handouts, all in response to his flowing speech. But to me it was just a continuous droning, a string of unintelligible sounds. Handouts filled with indecipherable characters.

Occasionally I would catch a phrase or two, though. Basketball at 5 o’clock. Exams next week. After-school clubs. And each time I did, a glimmer of hope would spark inside me, and I would strain to make sense of what he was saying. But the advanced vocabulary, intricate grammar patterns, and speed of delivery made it almost impossible to glean much else from his message. 

The pace of the meetings was snappy, designed to quickly impart information and get on with the day. Before I knew it, papers were shuffled and stacked, chairs pushed in, and teachers on the move to the first classes. On a couple of occasions, everyone left so abruptly I was worried I may have missed an evacuation notice. 

It was a jolting experience for me. Words had always been a vital source of connection to others, a source of expression and belonging. Now they only thing they brought was isolation. Everyone in that room understood what was being said. But not me. Everyone in that room could contribute. But I could not. Everyone in that room belonged. I did not feel as though I did. Not during the meeting, anyway. I may as well have been invisible.

And of course, none of this was was anyone’s intention. I was welcomed warmly and treated well by many colleagues, and had some of the best teaching experiences of my life. It was just that the days were moving along as they always had, with no one really aware of how isolating and uncertain that little part of it was for me, not realizing the erasure that can come with not understanding what is being said. 

And I always think of those 15 long minutes when I consider instruction for multilingual language learners.  Except instead of 15 minutes, they have an entire school day stretched out in front of them. Which is why I am so thankful for dedicated teachers who do all that they can to make sure these students are included: that they are not sitting in silence, unaware of what is being said; that they have access to the lessons and ideas and information that everyone else does; that they have a means of contributing. In every class, it looks a little bit different, and a little bit the same. Some teachers take a few extra seconds to translate the lesson topic for the students before it starts, so students know in advance what the teacher will be talking about. Some have pictures up, in every lesson, that they point to as they speak. Some have translated and adapted worksheets, so that MLLs have access to the same rich curriculum content and class work as everyone else. Some use sentence starters and stems for the whole class, so that speaking in groups becomes structured and achievable for MLLs. 

I could fill a page with strategies and supports I have seen educators use to chip away at the barriers that MLLs face, that instead draw them into the learning community. But for now, please accept this blog entry as a little love letter to all of those educators who make sure every student is included and heard. Because if even one child is not understanding the way they deliver that lesson, those teachers change the way they deliver their lesson. Relentlessly. 

And yet again, I must concluded with a familiar quote, which always seems to perfectly reflect what these educators know:

“Inclusion is not bringing people into what already exists; it is making a new space, a better space, for everyone.”

– George Dei 

Micro Presses: Unveiling Literary Treasures from Unconventional Sources

In the vast publishing landscape, micro presses stand out as literary diversity and innovation beacons. While mainstream publishing houses dominate the industry, micro presses offer a unique avenue for discovering lesser-known voices and unconventional literary works. This article delves into the world of micro presses, exploring how they unearth hidden literary resources in less-seen places and enrich literary culture.

In recent years, micro presses, indie or small presses, have gained momentum as alternatives to traditional publishing models. These intimate operations often specialize in niche genres, experimental writing, and works by emerging authors who need help finding footing in mainstream publishing. Unlike their larger counterparts, micro presses prioritize artistic integrity, literary merit, and community engagement over commercial viability. Consequently, they play a pivotal role in diversifying literary landscapes and amplifying voices that may otherwise remain unheard.

One of the most compelling aspects of micro presses is their commitment to exploring literary resources in less-seen places. While major publishing hubs like Toronto, Vancouver, New York City and London receive considerable attention, micro presses actively seek out voices and stories from overlooked regions, marginalized communities, and underrepresented cultures. By tapping into these diverse perspectives, micro presses enrich the literary canon and challenge dominant narratives, offering readers fresh insights into the human experience and the world.

Micro presses are steadfast champions of diversity and inclusion, showcasing works that reflect the multifaceted realities of contemporary society. Voices from racialized, marginalized and underrepresented communities and backgrounds are highlighted meaningfully, providing a platform for diverse voices to resonate authentically with readers. In doing so, micro presses foster an inclusive literary landscape where all voices are celebrated and valued.

In addition to promoting diversity and inclusivity, micro presses are incubators of literary innovation and experimentation. Not constrained by high sales pressures, these independent publishers embrace risk-taking, boundary-pushing, and unconventional storytelling techniques. From hybrid genres to multimedia formats, micro presses encourage writers to explore new creative possibilities and challenge traditional notions of what constitutes literature. As a result, they contribute to the evolution of literary art forms and inspire readers to engage with literature in fresh and exciting ways.

In an age dominated by mainstream publishing big houses, micro presses offer a breath of fresh air in the literary landscape. By illuminating hidden literary treasures from unconventional sources, these indie publishers enrich our literary experience with diverse voices, innovative storytelling, and inclusive perspectives. As readers, writers, and literary enthusiasts, we stand to gain immeasurably from exploring the offerings of micro presses and supporting their mission to amplify marginalized voices and expand the boundaries of literary expression. In doing so, we nurture a vibrant and resilient literary culture that continues to inspire, challenge, and unite us all.


Micro presses to explore:

A Different Booklist

Annick Press

Another Story Bookshop

House of Anansi Press and Groundwood Books

Knowledge Bookstore

Unique and independent bookstores in Ontario


Built on Trust

At the beginning of the school year in each class, we always spend a lot of time getting to know one another. The first term starts with engaging in conversations with the students and asking them to trust me, learn with me, and learn about themselves. We’re doing team building activities and I’m giving them time to explore who they are in this new space together.

But, there’s also something special about the second term in elementary school. It’s a time when I feel like we’ve built a classroom community, know one another, and the students are ready to dive in. Maybe because the days are starting to get brighter or maybe it’s because I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on each students’ strengths and next steps while writing report cards, but I always feel like we’re in a different stage of our relationship. We’re building a trusting relationship with each other where we can all feel comfortable and safe.

It’s so important to build that trust. In times of challenging learning, the student-teacher relationship can be key to students feeling like they are not alone in their learning journey. Educator Zaretta Hammond, author of Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain, likens this trust to another familiar relationship. When we are with a physiotherapist, they give us exercises to help our bodies to move better physically. Sometimes those exercises stretch us to our limits, but we trust our care to these professionals. They assess and watch how we move and encourage us to continue getting stronger. Much of this ability to grow is based on trust; I know that I trust this person to do the best for me and provide care for me. Similarly, we help students to learn in class. We ask them to stretch their thinking, learn and attempt to master new skills, and take risks for their own growth. They trust us to guide them, provide them attainable next steps, build on their strengths, and be the person who helps create a safe place for them to learn.

Lately, I’ve also been thinking about the importance of building a space where students also trust each other. It’s difficult to host any space where there are so many different people together; many who come from different backgrounds and experiences and whose personality traits differ greatly from one another. How do we build trust between all of these students?

First we can define what that safe, trusting space looks like, sounds like, and feels like for each of us. We might have already done this activity together, but term two is a great opportunity to revisit those ideas. We might look at the original ideas if I’ve got a copy on chart paper or digitally and see how everyone feels as a whole or allow students to reflect individually and anonymously. I might ask if there’s anything to add, perhaps students have better language or understanding of what they are looking for in the learning space.

As the educator in the room, it’s also time for me to reflect personally on the ultimate goal of this learning community. This year, I’m radically dreaming of the possibilities for our classroom communities. I want students to feel safe and cared for by me, but I also want them to feel safe and cared for by each other. I want less division amongst social circles and more inclusion of everyone not because they are simply present in the space with us, but because we trust that we all belong here. I want all students to feel safe sharing their thoughts and to know that they don’t have to be perfect. This, too, all seems built on trust; that students trust one another to be respectful and trust that they will be kept safe.

Teaching is so challenging. There are so many things to think about; meetings, curriculum, deadlines, and more. It’s hard to trust that building belonging is essential for learning and wellness. In my year of radical dreaming, I’m remembering that at the centre of each day is a trusting, positive, and exciting experience for students in my care. I wonder what that looks like, sounds like, and feels like for all of us.

Forest of Reading Part 2 – Silver Birch, Yellow Cedar and Red Maple

For the second part of the series I’m going to focus on the Forest of Reading book clubs intended for independent readers. The Ontario Library Association created several categories based on age and reading ability. These clubs differ from Blue Spruce as the students read the books themselves in order to qualify to vote for their favorite book. In each case there are 10 Canadian books nominated and students are required to read at least five of the books to vote.

Silver Birch Express for grades 3 and 4

The list of 10 Silver Birch Express books often includes a combination of detailed picture books, graphic novels, nonfiction, and early novels. I absolutely love how accessible this book club is for readers who are beginning to read independently. For students in that age range there can be a great variety in the ability to read and yet this club makes books accessible for students to read on their own even if they are not as advanced in their reading as some of their classmates. I highly recommend a previous winner from Silver Birch Express called Meet Viola Davis. It is a very well-written overview of Davis’ life and includes the racial segregation she experienced and fought in the courts of Canada.

Silver Birch Fiction for grade 5 and 6

For readers in grades 5 and 6 there are 10 new Canadian novels nominated for the Silver Birch award. Again, students must read at least five of these books to qualify to vote. There have been many excellent books the nominated in the past and this year is no exception. The 2017 winner, OCDaniel, has been in constant circulation at my library. 

Yellow Cedar Non-fiction for grades 4-8

The Ontario Library Association recognizes the importance of non-fiction with the Yellow Cedar award. There is always a range of topics from animals to the world wars. Some students collect fascinating facts from these books and their horizons are broadened. One of my very favourite non-fiction books, Hannah’s Suitcase, was introduced to me through the Forest of Reading and I used it with many classes over the years.

Red Maple for Grades 7 and 8

Nominees in this category have included well known novelists Kenneth Oppel and Eric Walters. Having new Canadian books purchased for your school or classroom library always brings excitement to the literacy program. For some intermediate students, the Red Maple book club reignites their love of reading.

Tips for Running a Book Club

Giving students time to read is one of the greatest gifts we can give. These programs can be run in classrooms or as an extra-curricular activity. The OLA provides checklists of all the nominated books so it’s easy to track which books have been completed.  There are virtual visits with authors and illustrators if you register with the forest of reading as well.

Start early. The nominations come out in October and voting happens in April. If you can organize your funding and get the books right away then your students have more time to read!

Sometimes it’s hard for one adult to read several lists of books so this is a great opportunity to team up with colleagues and ask them to read some of the books too. In order for students to validate that they have completed reading a book they would visit the staff member who read the book and discuss the book with them.

Acknowledging reading accomplishments, such as completing a book, reaching voter status etc., can be done with announcements, posters or even a rewards program. School council, local businesses or your administration may be able to sponsor incentives such as food, stickers, or book fair credits. 

Celebrate by holding a special event. For example have an arts day with your school and get activity ideas from the nominated books.  When the OLA announces the winners you can attend in person or virtually. Your students can participate as ambassadors. It’s an energizing experience with music and great speakers.

I highly recommend participating the Forest of Reading. Students get excited about the new books and the fact that their votes decide the winners.  It’s also wonderful to support Canadian authors and illustrators!

Happy Reading!


Exploring the Language Experience Approach with Sentence Strips

Program adaptation for emergent speakers of English in the elementary grades has a lot of challenges. Educators have to adapt their classroom programming to make content comprehensible, set appropriate goals for language output, while also providing opportunities for the student to learn English.

This is where the Language Experience Approach, or LEA, comes in. LEA will not be a new strategy to many experienced teachers – it has been practiced for years in classrooms. It is a fantastic strategy for teaching literacy skills to English language learners (ELLs). Though you can find explanations all over the internet, Denise Nessel and Carol Dixon’s 2008 book “Using the Language Experience Approach with English Language Learners” remains a quintessential resource on the subject.

LEA combines experiential learning, oral communication, writing, and reading skills in fairly straightforward and textbook-free lessons. While many iterations of LEA exist, the central principle, as the Nessel and Dixon state, is to use the “student’s own vocabulary, language patterns, and background of experiences to create reading texts”.

At the core of LEA is building English vocabulary (or any target language you are teaching) through experiential learning. Through experiences, students naturally start connecting the words they hear with meaning. The experience can be something as simple as a classroom activity; as an educator, your role is to enrich that experience by explicitly teaching related words and their meaning.

For example, you might label items in the classroom, while also making a point of referencing those words during the day. When giving instructions to to students, explain the meaning of the action words as much as possible through movement and facial expression. The early learners of English in the classroom might receive flashcards with frequently used nouns, and be provided with opportunities to say those words in simple statements with common word patterns that have been modelled by the teacher.

There are a number of ways you can utilize LEA, but in this blog, I will focus on using LEA using sentence strips. This would be a great way to provide focused instruction to ELLs while other students are engaged in their own writing or drawing.

The Process

Start using LEA by taking students through an experience – it can be a day outdoors, an afternoon of playing games, or even exploring a picture or video if that is what you have done. The activity that follows is best used with ELLs that have acquired a basic oral foundation and can communicate using simple sentences (Ex. STEP 2).

When the experience is over, there are a number of different starting points you can work from. For early learners of English or primary students, you can start by having the class illustrate what they have experienced, whether it was playing a game or visiting a zoo. Students that are already writing sentences may choose to write about their drawing if they feel comfortable doing so.

While the class is drawing, start with one student and ask them to say a sentence about the experience or what they have drawn. Scribe the sentence exactly as the student says it. It’s important to use the student’s exact language so they will recognize their words when they reread their own writing, and they will also feel encouraged in creating dictated accounts.

If you want to gently encourage a revision, you might ask questions to help the student adapt their statement on their own. But you will want to make sure that the student has stated the words you scribe – avoid changing the text or they may not recognize the vocabulary or language pattern.

For example:

Teacher: What happened during the basketball game? Tell me one thing.

Student: I got a basket and scored a point.

Teacher: Oh, so you shot the ball in the basket and scored a point?

Student: Yeah, I shot the ball in the basket and scored a point.

Teacher: How should I write that down?

Student: I shot the ball in the basket and scored a point.

Teacher: (writes the sentence exactly as the student has said it).

Once you have scribed the student’s sentence in their notebook or journal, take a long strip of paper and write the sentence on that strip using a marker. Cut each word on the strip.

Example of student work using sentence strips with LEA.

Then, ask the student to put the words back in the correct order using the sentence that has been scribed for them. Ask the student to read the sentence back to you. Repeat twice. Once the student has mastered the sentence, you can ask them to read the sentence to a friend or partner.

Then, you can move onto the next student! You might use sentence strips again, or provide more advanced feedback to students who are already independently writing.

Picture by C-B studio

The Art of Cursive Writing: A Valuable Journey.

In the bustling world of elementary education, where the focus often lies on specific subjects and foundational skills, including cursive writing might seem like a quaint notion. However, delving into the art of beautiful writing from an early age brings forth many benefits.

Alright, picture this: little ones in elementary school getting into the groove of cursive writing. You might think, “Wait, isn’t that more for grown-ups?” Introducing cursive writing to the kiddos early on is like unlocking a treasure trove of skills that go way beyond just pretty handwriting.

Primarily, cursive writing serves as a nuanced exercise in fine motor skill development. The meticulous movements required to craft elegant strokes with a pen or brush contribute significantly to the refinement of hand-eye coordination. As students navigate the intricacies of cursive writing lettering, they concurrently enhance their motor control, laying the groundwork for improved dexterity in various academic and extracurricular activities.

Moreover, cursive writing imparts invaluable lessons in patience and focus. The deliberate and measured approach demanded by the art form instills a sense of meticulousness in young learners. In an era characterized by constant stimuli and distractions, instilling the ability to concentrate on a singular task becomes a transferable skill that can positively impact a student’s overall academic experience.

But it’s not all serious business. Cursive writing is a way for kids to show off their personality. Scribbling becomes an art form, a canvas for expressing feelings and ideas. That creative outlet isn’t just about making pretty letters; it’s about feeling proud of what they create and boosting their confidence.

Within the language arts domain, cursive writing uniquely combines visual and verbal communication. As students engage with this art form, they naturally develop an enhanced appreciation for the aesthetic aspects of language. This heightened sensitivity to the visual nuances of letters and words can elevate their understanding and enthusiasm for written expression, transforming language arts into a more captivating and enjoyable subject.

The advantages of learning cursive writing extend beyond the academic sphere, reaching into the realm of mindfulness and well-being. This art form’s deliberate, meditative nature gives students a serene space to explore creativity. In navigating the rhythmic flow of ink on paper, students can cultivate mindfulness, offering a valuable respite from the frenetic pace of contemporary life.

The integration of cursive writing into elementary education transcends the mere enhancement of penmanship. It represents an investment in the holistic development of students, fostering skills that span from refined motor control and patience to enhanced creativity and an enriched appreciation for language arts. The early introduction of cursive writing catalyzes comprehensive student growth, leaving an enduring impact on their academic journey.

daring 2024 – dragon edition

Au revoir janvier. Cue the fireworks as we look forward to the year of the Dragon along with many of our students. What a natural segue to a follow up to my earlier post daring 2023 where I unpacked what was daring in my classroom last year. For now though, let’s talk about dragons.

In the spirit of transparency, I am not a huge fan of fantasy books, neither of games with the word dungeons in them, nor into television shows where dragons are used as war machines in by gone Scandic empires. I am a fan of the book Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke and of the mythology, stories, and art about dragons in Asian culture. Most of what I have learned about the latter with regards to the cultural significance of the Chinese Zodiac has come from my students, and their families. As a result, I am always gifted with something new from those interactions. Whether it is during an in school celebration of Lunar New Year when students dress in traditional new year’s clothing from their culture, or a retelling of activities shared at home with extended family.

I may have also wondered whether the 12 year cycle animals and their respective traits correlates at all to what goes on from year to year in the classroom. Would I know well enough to differentiate with such limited experience? I was born in the year of the Horse after all. In a nutshell, I am adventurous, energetic, and independent, but lack academic intelligence. This really means I am going to need the whole village to point me in the right direction, but I’ll get there at my own pace once I know the way.

For reals this time: a bit more about the Year of the Dragon – 2024.
“Years of the Dragon include 2036, 2024, 2012, 2000, 1988, 1976, 1964, 1952…
People born in Dragon years usually possess natural courage, tenacity, and intelligence, often displaying enthusiasm and confidence. In Chinese culture, the Dragon holds a significant place as an auspicious and extraordinary creature, unparalleled in talent and excellence. It symbolizes power, nobility, honour, luck, and success.” via Year of the Dragon:

Talk about daring 

If the characteristics of a dragon are not filling your thoughts about the work we do as educators, take another look at the list of traits above. Even with my horse-like tendencies, I can relate to the exciting, daring, and dignified descriptors used to define dragons, I mean educators. As we move forward through the Year of the Dragon, let’s all be daring enough to recognize the incredible courage, determination, and energy we all bring to school each day.

The fact that only 1/12th of us are born in the Year of the Dragon is not being overlooked. If we look at the other years/animals of the Chinese Zodiac we will find numerous positive traits that educators possess as well.

Let’s dare to acknowledge and celebrate the work we do and the accomplishments of those around us. Let’s hold our heads high even when time’s get tough. Let’s dare to try new things and take chances without fear of failure. Let 2024 be the best Year of the Dragon ever- unparalleled in talent and excellence”.

Beginner ESL Class: Fluid Dynamics and Bernoulli’s Principle

OK, not the topic we generally envision when planning instruction for students new to English. Nonetheless, this is exactly the lesson a classroom teacher and I planned for her STEP 1 MLLs a couple of weeks ago.

Ah, I can hear my teachers-college self exclaiming from 1998: “What?? How?!? This topic is advanced, with complex language! Don’t students new to English need simple topics to start? Is there an ESL workbook anywhere?”


Well, Diane of Yesteryear, you’ll be happy to know that we have had the good fortune to work with Multilingual Language Learners quite a bit in our career, and the equally-good fortune to collaborate with dedicated ESL colleagues and educators. Here’s a bit of the learning that happened along the way:

We learned that even if MLLs have a withdrawal instruction period each day, there are roughly 5 additional periods in the day that they have with their full class. That’s 5 periods of math, science, music, health, history, geography, Language, phys ed, or French …

We learned that MLLs need access to grade-level curriculum content and learning, just like everyone else …

We learned that just because English language ability is in the beginner stages, that doesn’t mean background knowledge, skill, and ability is …

We learned that MLLs consistently tell us that they want to contribute in class, belong, talk with their friends, and understand the lessons happening around them …

And finally, we learned there are effective ways to do all of that.

So.  Here’s how we taught fluid dynamics and Bernoulli’s principle to an entire grade 6 science class, in a way that meaningfully included the teacher’s STEP 1 MLLs. And bear in mind, I was present for the initial planning stages and one in-class support support session. Kudos to this teacher for the amazing program she developed for her students.

The classroom teacher and I briefly discussed the curriculum, in which students learn about the four forces of flight and Bernoulli’s principle. We located two educational science videos on the topic, one in Arabic and one in Spanish as these were the students’ first languages (what did we ever do before YouTube?). Using simple English and some strategic translation, we told them we were learning how airplanes fly. I took the students aside briefly and showed them the videos, to pre-teach content in first language. The classroom teacher then gave the entire class a picture word bank of key vocabulary related to the unit: flight, lift, drag, thrust, weight, air, pressure … Each of us worked with the MLLs to practice the terms, in English and first language. And the pedagogical bonus of having visual word banks such as these? They can be projected or posted during whole-class lessons. The whole class (not just MLLs) can then warm up each day by chorally repeating key terms attached to visuals – a quick 30-second focus and review exercise for everyone that has the added advantage of giving MLLs critical speaking and listening practice with target English vocabulary. These types of visuals are also great for pointing to throughout the lesson, allowing MLLs to more easily follow what the teacher is explaining. Finally, students had sentence starters and stems to write and speak about what they learned, in English and first language.

And learn they did.

When I returned, the teacher showed me how the week had progressed, with these few simple strategies. The students had sketched and labelled diagrams of the forces of flight, as all of their classmates had. They had practiced the same vocabulary the other students did. They had written simple sentences with support to describe the four forces, and they had accurately demonstrated through visuals, gestures, and first language their understanding of how those forces worked.

Have I mentioned lately that teachers are superheroes? Because when I think about lessons such as these, with the access to curriculum knowledge, the belonging and inclusion, the learning of English vocabulary (just a few terms and sentence starters each day, but adding up over time), I am reminded of the dedication that abounds in this profession, that inevitably leads to student success.

Take that, ESL workbook.