Graphic Novels – Engaging Learning for All Readers

Meeting with families was a little different this year due to job action.  Last month, I met with a family to discuss their child’s progress. Although we weren’t meeting about concerns, this was a very insightful meeting, as we spoke about engaging students in reading for enjoyment. I was a little surprised because this child always raises their hand to participate in reading activities in the classroom and this definitely got me thinking about reading overall.

After some reflection, I realized that as an educator, I’m constantly asking students to read for a specific purpose: to gather or organize information for research; to check for comprehension; or to sometimes aid in writing. Sure, I’ve told students to read for enjoyment but I started to think about whether or not I’ve taught them how to find books that they enjoy. Have I given them time to just sit and read without asking them to do something after? How do we navigate the space of having students read for a purpose while also honouring them developing their own love of reading? How do we help them to maintain this balance as the demands of reading increase through the grades? This also got me thinking personally about my reading habits. When picking a book, I usually go for the trial and error method.  I try a book, like it and find similar books by the same author or genre to continue reading. Or I hate it and stop reading anything similar. How do we help students to learn what is out there?

During the weeks before the break, while on trips to the library for our book exchange, I started to have more open conversations with my students about what I like to read and why. I spent some time pulling out different books that I liked and it was so neat to see students wanting to take a look at what I liked to read and who trusted my recommendations. This had me thinking about book reviews and how powerful they are. I’ve read books based solely on the word of someone I trusted. How might we foster spaces where students could freely share their reviews of books, not because they had to write a book report but because they wanted to have the opportunity to share.  I also realized that my students need to see me reading – more specifically what I am reading – which opened up opportunities for conversations that are authentic. While in the library, I started reading some of the graphic novels and realized that many of them were so packed with amazing themes and could also be great for book clubs with students. 

My three latest graphic novel reads are New Kid by Jerry Craft, Invisible Emmie by Terri Libenson, and Guts by Raina Telgemeir. While reading, I realized that each of the graphic novels could be used for deep conversations about the realities of navigating the very real difficulties of growing up. Conversations around race, fear, identity, and being valued could really be dug into by studying out these novels within the classroom setting. This got me thinking about this lovely section in our library that often gets so much use from students but not as much from the educators in our building. One question that popped into my head was, How might we use this section to engage all readers as they learn to identify what they enjoy reading?

Beyond these deep conversations, there’s a lot that could be learned from reading graphic novels. Similar to narratives, students can find the elements of a narrative within (characters, setting, plot, etc.). Beyond that here are a few ideas of how I think they might also be used.

Before reading:

  • Copy a few pages of the text and remove the dialogue. Have students infer what is happening in a section of the graphic novel and justify their thinking. 
  • Copy different parts of the text and have students piece together the sequence of events based on what they see. 
  • Copy an integral part of the text. Remove the dialogue and have students write what they believe is happening in that section of the text. Ask them to think of what led up to that part and perhaps what happens next.

During Reading:

  • Have students reflect on different features within the text. For example, how might the colours, shape, and style of the font and/or text bubbles influence your understanding of the text? 
  • Make predictions of what might come next. Have students draw the next few panels of the story. 
  • How does the imagery add to what is being “said” to the reader? Have students point out clear examples from the text.
  • Ask students to consider the inner or outer dialogue happening. How do you know which is which? How might this give readers an even deeper insight into the experiences of the character?
  • Panels in graphic organizers are oftentimes different sizes, why might that be? What can we gather about information within larger panels?

After Reading:

  • Extend the story. What might happen in a sequel? Draw the beginning 3 panels of the next part of the story.
  • Summarize the text in 5 panels. How might these 5 panels clearly show the plot within the graphic novel?
  • How did the art in the text contribute to your understanding of the characters or the overall story? What role did the colours play in evoking emotion?

These are just some of my ideas for using graphic novels with students. Since many students have graphic novels at home, I wonder if this might be something that we can use going forward in this new realm of continuing the learning at home as we perhaps use this time to help students identify what they enjoy reading.  Let me know your thoughts.

Say Less, Ask More

Sometimes the smallest change can make a huge difference, especially in education. Things such as greeting students individually upon arrival at school can set the tone for the entire day.  Small changes in habitual behaviours can improve communication and relationships with students.

Over the last few months I’ve been reading the work of Michael Bungay Stanier.  Most recently I’ve been reading “The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More and Change the Way You Lead Forever”.  I admit, that at first blush, it doesn’t sound as though this book has much relevance to elementary education.  However, as I was reading I kept making connections to communicating with students more effectively to encourage independence.  As learning becomes more inquiry based in many classrooms, teachers are having to move into more of a coaching role.  I think that the education sector as a whole has made some assumptions that teachers know how to be effective coaches and facilitators.  In my own teaching practice, there has been a huge learning curve.  Teaching through inquiry isn’t about leaving students to their own devices.  Students generally aren’t familiar with the curriculum and other than being children, they aren’t experts on child development.  Educators have to be guides for student learning.  But what exactly does that mean and how do we transition to this type of teaching?

For me the biggest change and challenge in becoming more of a guide in my classroom was talking less and letting the students do the learning. I am a problem solver, helper and rescuer and I’m sure many teachers can relate, which is why it is so hard to be quiet and back off.  I’ve also learned that asking questions might be easy, but asking effective questions is a skill for teachers and students alike.

So what did I learn from a “coaching” book that might help a classroom teacher? Keep in mind, these examples might be better suited for the older grades.  You might need to keep it a bit more simple for Kindergarten.  However, in most cases, better questions get better answers.  Here are some examples:

A student comes in from recess and is visibly upset.  Instead of asking, “What’s wrong? Did something happen at recess?  Can I help?”  Try asking just one question, “What’s on your mind?” and then be quiet and listen. The question “What’s on your mind?” is a focused question and invites someone to get into the heart of the matter. Sometimes all that is needed is a venting session and the child feels better.  You don’t always have to be a rescuer or problem solver. Most of the time, kids just want to be heard.

Normally in a situation like this I’ll ask, “Can I help?’ or “Would you like some help?”  However, the small change to “HOW can I help?” helps the student to articulate their request.  In addition, it gives them the opportunity to identify the solution and not have the adult jump in to solve things for them.

Tweaking the questions that we ask could improve communication and lead to more effective answers.  In addition, asking focused questions could empower students and lead to more independence. Michael’s work and questioning techniques are helpful for dealing with the people in your workplace.  You can sign up for Michael Bungay Stanier’s “The Coaching Habit” Podcast online and find other great coaching resources at Box of Crayons .


Create Success in Intermediate Math through Play….

“What are you doing in Math today?” the VP inquires of my grade 5,6,7 and 8 students.

“We’re playing games.”

“You’re playing games?”

“Yes, we always play in math.”

The assessments gathered from these classes provide me insight of where everyone is in their learning. My experience with assessments are that individual conversations to understand the thinking process provides the most valuable information. The range of each of my classes is from a low elementary level to a low secondary level.  This is quite a span. As a school we have been, “Landscaping” these students using; Fosnots– Landscape of Learning. This provides an great snapshot of where your learners are on a continuum. Our board has developed some very specific assessment questions for all grade levels which include strategic numbers to help determine the strategies individuals use.

How do I managed this?

It took me a while with the continuous disruptions to the daily routine. The way, I have adopted my assessment sessions this year is similar to how a reading group would be managed.  Provide the lesson, give the class expectations, then work with a small group on a rotating basis. The entire class already understands the rules and class expectations which have been familiar routines followed to date.

Now what?

I find creating a growth mindset is most important. This is developed through creating a comfort zone for all, including the teacher. Each year I am challenged to ensure my learners grow and develop forward on the continuum. I use a variety of resources such as Sherry Parrish’s-Number Talks This is a great beginning to each class.

I resource Dr. Small’s-Big Ideas for different activities to compliment the concept of study.

Presently I am using, From Patterns to Algebra, by Dr. Beatty and Dr. Bruce

Play, yes these resources include play which I implement on a regular basis.  The students enjoy learning with and from each other while I guide them. During my classes, Play creates a class dynamic for success.

Inquiry Project

As part of a board focus group I am involved with, I am exploring along with a group of six other teachers, the inquiry model in the classroom. Each group that has gathered together to focus on inquiry looks at how it works in their classroom in a different way. My group has selected questioning. We are looking at how and if students select better questions, they will become more successful.

I just recently came back from Disney this Christmas break and I was overwhelmed with the many posts on instagram telling me what cool food I could find at literally every inch of the parks. There were so many options and I had to try them all and take pictures of them all. This has been an interest of mine for some time now, finding a really cool looking item of food and taking a picture with it. I came home from the trip feeling inspired and thinking, I can explore this phenomenon with my class of motivated grade eight students.

At first I posed it to them as a question, what are the most trending items right now on instagram. They came up with a huge list and then I made them create the questions. They came up with a few deep questions: Why do things trend? What makes an item trend-worthy? How can we explore a trending item in our classroom? What item could we produce as a class? It took us a while to get there but we figured out that it would be cool to market a food item as a class and then create it and sell it.

Since we were just finishing up our data management unit, we talked about how can we gather results from our student body about what item would be a hit in our school? First, we asked our office staff for advice about this exciting project. We were given the okay to market and sell an item as long as proper food handling techniques were followed. We then talked about what are the top six trending food items right now? We came up with six as a class: donuts, cookies, cupcakes, bubble tea, smoothies and the Harry Potter beverage. My students paired up, created a google survey and added all these options to the survey. They emailed every teacher in the school setting up meeting times to survey their class.

Before we analyzed our results, on our inquiry wall we came up with ways our project hits every subject we study. We talked about the literacy connections to marketing, advertisements, etc. We talked about art connections when designing logos, posters, maybe even creating a wall that would be a backdrop for a cool photo with our finished product. We talked about math connections when coming up with the cost of the item, the cost of ingredients, the profit calculations, etc. We made large lists for each subject so we can see how wide this one small question covers.

We have now gathered all our results and the top choice for our school was smoothies. We have now created a list of what to do next. It is on our inquiry wall along and our team leaders will check off our ideas as we complete them.

I would love to say we work on this six periods a day, which we very well could since it covers many expectations in each subject, however, grade eight is such a huge year that there is always so many other things that we have to be working on. Currently, we work on this project one period a day. We have 25 entries for logo ideas, 10 entries for company name and probably over 100 smoothie ideas. We will be narrowing down our choices on Monday.

I will keep you all posted on our progress! It is turning out to be a great project and the engagement level is incredibly high. We all sit around the back inquiry board and the hands that go up for ideas during this project are not up for any other time of day. My students are excited about the possibilities that this project presents. It is fun turning over everything to the kids and seeing how it all ends up!

Taking the time to collaborate and learn how to bridge the gap

Once a month, my colleagues and I go to a highschool to look at a math sample from each of our “marker students”. There are a group of about ten of us which is made up of highschool teachers, elementary teachers and math facilitators. We take time to identify what the student knows, what they are struggling with and how we know this. The main point of these meetings that occur each month is to bridge the gap between elementary and high school. We are trying to review the necessary skills that kids in grade eight will need for next year and then we will spend large amounts of time focusing on these skills in addition to the topics we currently are expected to cover. It is very helpful to know which topics to spend the most amount of time on so I will look forward to the times in the future when we will be discussing those items.


At these sessions, we talk about what the student’s work shows us, if they are struggling with something, what does that tell us about how they are learning. We call this section of debriefing the interpretations.

The next part involves looking at next steps for students and teachers. It is a great use of time and helps us as teachers look at students we need to help further and then, we directly review how to help them reach these next steps.

All teachers get to share their marker students and then we spend time talking about how these students can get some help to further understand the questions and the overall math concepts.

The challenges we face when planning and attending these sessions include selecting a rich task that we can really dive into once we gather as a group. We tried using past EQAO assessments but couldn’t find any open ended questions. We then turned to some other test questions. I also find it hard to find the time to pull these students aside to help them once we find out ways to do so after the fact. The skill is so specific once we find out what they need help with that it seems hard to just discuss it as an isolated math skill.

The benefits to meeting like this is the amount of minds on tackling the questions and looking at helpful next steps. I really look forward to all of these educators coming into a classroom with me to help the students who are struggling in a real life setting. That will be great for all of the students, especially since they would then have at least ten educators in the room to help them grasp the challenging topics.


David Suzuki’s message to us all

Today the grade seven and eights at our school were invited to attend the Eco Summit at Mohawk College. It was an exciting opportunity where we got to listen to motivated students from around Hamilton speak about the change they were making in their school community and beyond. Local poets, musicians and activists spoke as well about the changes we could be making and how the earth desperately needs our help.

I knew I had to prepare my students for in their mind what could have been a boring day listening to speakers. I needed to create an interest in them before they sat down in Mohawk’s auditorium. I shared with them a BBC article I had recently read about the key things we can do to keep the earth’s temperature from rising beyond what it can handle. I shared with them how we need to cut down and eliminate certain things or places such as Portugal (as I felt this summer) will be uninhabitable very soon.

I soon saw that this trip was a bit mature for some of our younger grade sevens and even for some of our eights. They did not quite have in them the interest in climate change. Only a few of our eights were brave enough to ask the student guest speakers some questions such as: how did you get your teachers or people in general to pay attention to your causes? How can we make a change? What is the most important issue facing us at the moment? Etc.

I did however find a few key takeaways in the main keynote address of the day. We were VERY fortunate to hear from David Suzuki via video conference. I wrote some notes regarding his message to our group today. Here are the main points:

  • we need to radically reduce our use of fossil fuels
  • we should research and read more about the blue dot agenda and we can do so by going onto
    • once there, you can click take action
  • we can learn more by reading about the David Suzuki foundation
  • we can email the MP in our area and ask them to sign the MP pledge for environmental rights
  • anyone 18 or older needs to vote in the upcoming federal election for the most environmentally conscious leader
  • fight for the IPCC recommendation
  • it is important that we as educators offer solutions to our children without scaring them about the future
  • shift to what is called a biocentric view rather than what our world currently has, the human centric view
    • we need to see us a part of a web of living things
  • our students are the heroes of the future


That last point really stuck with me. Sure they may have been zoning off during David Suzuki’s talk or not listening to the inspirational music videos, but we cannot give up hope on our heroes of the future. Even if just a few of them take a stand, we can hope that they will be the change we need to see in this world. I encourage everyone to try to do some of the points as listed above. Also, a great read is this BBC article that challenges us to start making changes as well:
Also, here is an amazing message to get a conversation started with your class about doing their part to make the world a more liveable place

Unless someone like you cares a whole lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s NOT. -Dr Seuss

Innovation Collaborative Inquiry

I am currently starting a really exciting journey which involves myself and a group of 10 teachers. We are choosing a topic that interests us and going on a year long journey to discover the answers to this question. We are currently thinking about our question having to do with student led learning and how can we get students to take the lead with their learning and how to make meaningful tasks that will inspire action.

We are meeting 3.5 days this year and we are able to work alongside these other teachers to discuss our findings and see how we can put this plan into action in the classroom.

The first meeting involved getting to know all the teachers. We did this by mingling with the crowd based on which card in the deck we had (all sixes went together, the tens went together..) and then we met up with the same suit cards and then we had a few different challenges after that. When we met with our random groups, we answered the question how have we seen or used innovation in our classroom. It was amazing the chats that we had when this question was posed to us. I felt happy explaining my students current inquiry projects where they research a question of their choice which they will then present to the group it relates to. I also shared about selecting meaningful projects that will somehow create change or an action in our school. We discussed all of our innovation ideas and then we were asked to go back to our seats.

A teacher across the room shared about something that someone had said to her that will change and solve all problems involving math: going gradeless. She mentioned there would be various levels in math like when children go to swimming lessons and they wouldn’t be able to move onto math level two until they finish level one. In a way it sounds like an IEP but it would be in place for all students.

The rest of the morning we had to find a group of people that had a common area of focus as us and that is how I ended up in the student led learning group where students guide themselves to tasks that they find to be meaningful and essentially are 21st century learning tasks. This group will meet next week to discuss our plans.

After going to this exciting learning opportunity, I went back to my class and made a self reflection for our drama haunted house that the students had just finished planning, creating, presenting and then cleaning up. I had them assess themselves using four words: not engaged, somewhat engaged, engaged and very engaged. I told them to circle which word best described their involvement before, during and after the haunted house. It was incredible to see that the word they had circled lined up with the way I would assess them. If they had done this same self assessment and I had put marks or levels on the page, I am not so sure they would have been as successful with their assessment.

I am excited to continue learning with my inquiry group and keep trying out things that we learn as a group. The gradeless self assessment was just one small thing that I know will come of this exciting learning opportunity. It is very fun being apart of a group of like minded people that are really hoping to see a positive change in our classrooms.

More to come!

School year start up

Well we are already four weeks in and hopefully it has been a great start of the school year for everyone. I am now teaching a grade eight class, teaching math, science, history/geography, language, art and drama. I was overwhelmed at first thinking about all of the subjects I would be responsible for but I have such an amazing grade team so I am truly thankful for all of their support and activities that have been shared.

September is an important month to get to know your students for not only their likes and dislikes but just honestly, do they enjoy school? Every student has their ideas of teachers, rules, subjects, reading, the list goes on and on. Just listening to them talk to other students during class teaches you so much about their interests and about how they have been affected by various things in their past school years. By grade eight students either LOVE or HATE being in a school. I am now faced with the task of continuing to develop that love or trying hard to turn around the hate.

I have been looking at new apps, reading exciting activities for my class to try, looking at fun trips, trying to think of new clubs/teams and I am hoping that I will engage some students who have been disinterested in the past. It is definitely a year long task to try to engage and involve all students so I hope to continue on that journey each day.

On a personal note, as teachers we often feel many emotions at the end of each day. There are questions we ask ourselves and things we always wonder. The one I have been asking myself a lot lately is, “Did I get to everyone?” I feel that is the hardest thing to go home with at the end of each day. That is why I am trying this year to make a few notes on who to go to first the next day and then actually following up on those plans. I am fortunate to finish early at the end of my school day so I can finish all my school work around 3:30/4:00 pm. That gives me roughly six hours of “me” time! That time is so important for our mental health and it is something I am also hoping to focus on this year. Shopping. stair climbing, doing the laundry, making a fun dinner, watching an episode of my favourite show…just a few examples of things I can do each night to stay positive and enjoy each day to the fullest.

I am hoping to talk to my students tomorrow about how to use our after school time wisely to better ourselves and to really add to our day. Our day isn’t over after school and we should really do our best to enjoy the time we have to keep ourselves positive and to make the most of our day.

These are just a few things I have thought about as summer ended and our school year begins. These four works have not been the easiest as being permanent now full time in a very different setting has made me think differently but I am staying positive and really reflecting on the good at the end of each day and looking forward to working on new things the next day.

I am looking forward to posting every few weeks about exciting ideas that occur in my class as well as all the ways I am staying positive and making the most of each day!


Why Coding is Important Part One

I consider myself a fairly techie teacher.  However, until recently I hadn’t really tried my hand at coding or robotics.  Well, I had, but I had lost interest as I quickly felt as though I was out of my depth.  So, I did what I always do when I really want to learn something about teaching, I go to a colleague that has the knowledge and I try it WITH the students.  Collaborative inquiry.

Until recently, I didn’t see what the big deal was or why it was important to teach coding to students.  Yeah, playing with robots is fun but what does that have to do with curriculum?  When I started working with and learning coding along side students I had a change in mindset.  There is a lot of math, strategic planning and visualization in coding. Coding may not always directly relate to curriculum content-that is true.  However, in terms of teaching students about the deep learning competencies, coding is key.  If you aren’t sure what I mean by the deep learning competencies; they are referred to as the 6 C’s.  Here is a link to the New Pedagogies for Deeper Learning paper but I have extracted a summary of the 6 C’s for a quick reference:

Character: Character refers to qualities of the individual essential for being personally effective in a complex world including: grit, tenacity, perseverance, resilience, reliability, and honesty.

Citizenship: Thinking like global citizens, considering global issues based on a deep understanding of diverse values with genuine interest in engaging with others to solve complex problems that impact human and environmental sustainability.

Collaboration: Collaboration refers to the capacity to work interdependently and synergistically in teams with strong interpersonal and team-related skills including effective management of team dynamics, making substantive decision together, and learning from and contributing to the learning of others.

Communication: Communication entails mastery of three fluencies:digital, writing and speaking tailored for a range of audiences.

Creativity: Having an ‘entrepreneurial eye’ for economic and social opportunities, asking the right questions to generate novel ideas, and demonstrating leadership to pursue those ideas into practice.

Critical Thinking: Critically evaluating information and arguments, seeing patterns and connections, constructing meaningful knowledge and applying it in the real world.

I reflected on these 6 C’s as I wrote the learning skills for my grade 4/5 students this year.  I spend the most time on my reports creating the Learning Skills for each student.  They are personal and they reflect each individual student.  As a parent, it is what I am most interested in reading about my own child.  The 6 C’s are competencies not only for school, but for life.  While students were exploring coding I had them working in pairs or small groups to give them the opportunity to communicate, collaborate and show leadership.  When the code didn’t work, they were able to go back and find the error and correct it and try it again with results right away. Sometimes they found it painstaking and I had to let them work through that and they were glad in the end when I didn’t give them the easy way out and they solved things on their own.  When they learned something in coding, they quickly wanted to share their learning with other students.  I gave basic instruction about the program to start using a youtube tutorial and then let the students go.  Students who often don’t do well in groups with “typical” academic tasks often excelled as leaders in coding because it is a divergent way of thinking and they had a self-check strategy built into the task.  It was incredible to witness the amount of learning that was taking place.

You don’t have to have robots to code.  There are online coding websites that teach kids to code such as and Scratch.  The students even as young as grade 3 are easily able to use these sites to code.  Scratch Jr. is available for younger students.  The sites have great tutorial videos and somehow the students seem to just start discovering and creating things intuitively.  They begin helping each other when they see that someone has created something cool and ask the creator to show them how to do it too.

I am proud to say that I can now code a square, star and a small obstacle course using blocks and a Sphero robot.  My students discover new things every day and share them with me.  It is definitely a new age in teaching.



Deep Learning in Inquiry (Part 2)

In reading part one of my inquiry blog, one might think, “That’s all lots of fun, but building a bee house isn’t exactly something that I can write on the report card.”  You would be absolutely right.  The learning is imbedded in the exciting things.  It is intentional and it is authentic.  Connecting with a local expert, using technology for research and having hands on activities with students engaged scratches the surface of inquiry.  Our deep learning with this unit began with the types of questions that we were asking.  I noticed that when the students began asking questions on Padlet that Siri could have easily answered many of their questions with one or two word answers.  This lead to a series of lessons on “THICK” vs. “Thin” questions.  We added better questioning to our goals.


The students also noticed that I had included a lot of infographics on the Padlet.  Infographics are seen everywhere in social media to communicate information efficiently and visually.  However, students need to know how to use this information, how to synthesize it, how to put it into their own words and how to source it.  We spent a significant amount of our language periods on reading and interpreting infographics.


Our learning goals and success criteria went way beyond making houses for bees and honey tasting.  Students wanted to DO something to help bees.  We created our learning goals and criteria together:

 D9EDA370-1138-49B8-965E-051FCD44D0A4     8AB3D3E8-C7F1-4B2B-8E49-BD8E4FE8068F     CD26AF15-F831-470F-9522-D17D415D0A33

Early on in the inquiry we watched an informative YouTube video called, We Can Save the Bees Together.  Sarah Red-Laird, bee enthusiast and scientist, gave us a number of ideas of actions that we could take.  The students decided that one of the things that they wanted to do was to call for stronger legislation about mono cropping and pesticide use in farming.  They wanted to write letters to politicians and change makers.  In addition, when Susan Chan, local bee researcher visited, she “planted the seed” about creating a non-stinging bee friendly garden in our school yard.  This prompted students to write letters to local school officials to solicit assistance and guidance.  One of our students from Curve Lake First Nation decided to write the Chief and Band Council to ask them to consider building a bee friendly garden in their community. The desire for letter writing lead to a series of lessons on how to write a professional letter, how to proofread and how to edit in a meaningful and authentic learning context for students.  The students also felt that educating others about conservation of  bees was important so they are now working on developing presentations that they can take to other classes as well as media advertising to share their learning and call others to action.

In math, we had been focusing on data management.  It fit in perfectly to what we were doing with our inquiry!  There is an incredible amount of data about bees on the Statistics Canada website.  We read real graphs with information that the students cared about, we labelled the important parts of the graphs and we will be creating our own surveys and graphing the information from different areas of our inquiry.


Statistics Canada

Honestly, the best part of inquiry is when the students start to direct their own learning.  I guide them.  I provide thought provoking questions and “what if” scenarios.  They make choices and feel good about doing something that is affecting real change.  Inquiry is empowerment for students.  This students aren’t done with this inquiry yet-they have many more plans ahead!  Stay tuned.