Monday, December 1, 2014

Reading for Joy

Reading for Joy


Like most schools across our province, we are concerned about vulnerable readers and how to support them most effectively and efficiently.  We have tried many different methods of assessment and intervention, searching for those that will give us the biggest “bang for the buck.”  We know that there is no one perfect approach that will work for all children. What seems to be having the most impact upon learning in our school is the practice of the Case Study. 

As part of the Changing Results for Young Readers Project for the third year, our primary teachers have been focusing on one child for a Case Study, and with the permission of the parents, they thoughtfully examine that child’s learning strengths and needs in the area of reading.  Teachers meet once a month with the other participating schools and talk about their practice, sharing their inquiry questions, strategies and resources that have worked, and those that were not so successful.  We also weave social-emotional learning, self-regulation, and Aboriginal Ways of Knowing into our work with children.  As we have learned from our colleagues across the province, the case studies have resulted almost without fail, in students having increased self-confidence, a self-image as a reader, and most importantly, a growing love of reading.

Last year, this increased enjoyment of reading tweaked our curiosity.  We know that students need to spend big chunks of time with text, preferably text they have chosen themselves.  As Richard Allington states in his article “Every Child, Every Day” (Educational Leadership, vol. 69, Number 6, March, 2012), “The research base on student-selected reading is robust and conclusive: Students read more, understand more, and are more likely to continue reading when they have to opportunity to choose what they read.”  We asked ourselves, doesn’t it make sense that if students can choose what they read, and are taught to choose “just right” books, that they will enjoy it, read more and become more proficient readers?

Our staff decided to shift our school improvement inquiry from, “Will Tier 1 and 2 interventions help do decrease the number of grade 3 students who are at risk in reading?”  to “How can we foster a school -wide joy of reading? What could we do differently to ensure that students are reading more, expanding their literary horizons and having fun in the process?”  A report we found, written for the UK Department for Education: Research evidence on reading for pleasure (May 2012), was encouraging.  Key findings included the following:

·        Evidence suggests that there is a positive relationship between reading frequency reading enjoyment and attainment (Clark 2011; Clark and Douglas 2011).

·        Reading enjoyment has been reported as far more important for children’s educational success than their family’s socio-economic status (OECD, 2002).

·        There is a positive link between positive attitudes towards reading and scoring well on reading assessment (Twist et al, 2007).

·        International evidence supports these findings; US research reports that independent reading is the best predictor of reading achievement (Anderson, Wilson and Fielding, 1988).

To support our inquiry, we wanted to gather school data from a number of sources and triangulate it to tell a story about our students and their attitudes toward reading.   We started with a student survey administered to grades 3 through 7.  When the results came in, we learned that 61% of the grade 3 girls and 53% of the grade 3 boys said that they read often or “all the time” for enjoyment.  In grade 5, 85% of the girls and 63% of the boys read often or “all the time” for enjoyment and 50% of the grade 7 girls and 35% of the boys.  They also gave us some ideas for how we can help students  love reading even more at home and at school, including buying more books, having comfy chairs or beanbags in the library, books clubs, more time with the teacher-librarian, more time to read during the school day, and field trips to the public library to name a few.  That data combined with other assessment results, began to inform our practice and lead to change.

Obviously, staffing, supporting and maintain the school library can be costly, but when children speak in favour of more librarian time and more books, it is hard to say no.  With the help of our PAC, our teacher-librarian was able to offer three Book-to-Movie clubs, including a dinner and encouraging parent participation.  We budgeted to open the library at 8:30 every morning so that students would have extra time for book exchange and reading.  We got bean bag chairs for the library and reconfigured the space to create quiet reading corners.  Most classes walked to the public library at least once during the school year and the Children’s Librarian came to us to promote the Reading Link Challenge.  We were very proud of our students who competed against other city schools and won.  This October, our PAC once again gave us the funds to purchase Red Cedar and Chocolate Lily books.  We pump up reading in our newsletters, in Morning Announcements, and with the tireless efforts of the teacher-librarian, who passionately promotes and supports students and teachers with all kinds of literacy.
We were elated to receive our BC MoE Satisfaction Survey results in the spring.  In 2010, 72% of grade 4 students answered “many times or all the time” to the question “Are you getting better at reading?”  In the spring of 2014, it was 93%.  The grade 7 results went from 77% in 2010, to 80% in 2014.  In the parent survey results, 100% of parents said that they were “satisfied with the development of their child’s reading skills,” as opposed to 57% in 2010. 
We have recently repeated the Reading Survey with a sample of students in grades 3 – 6.  In answer to the question, “How often do you read for enjoyment?” 78% replied “Often” or “All the Time.” When asked how often they visit the school library, 71% said that they go once a week or more. One hundred percent of the students surveyed feel that they are getting better at reading, and when asked how they know, many answered that they gauge their progress by the thickness of the book, but others said things like, “It’s getting easier,” “I’m reading faster and more often,” and “I am challenging myself.”

 In our most recent meeting of our District’s Changing Results for Young Readers team, all four of the schools reported that giving student choice in their reading material is becoming a key aspect of their literacy programs.  One colleague said, “I had to give up control over choosing the texts for them, and it worked!  They love what they are reading.”  We praised her courage, as that giving up of control can be scary. 

Sometimes it takes a shift in practice to shift our beliefs.  Teachers have always believed that reading should be an enjoyable thing. In the words of our teacher-librarian, it’s the often unspoken “nirvana” that we’re all trying to move the kids toward! What may be lacking is the purposeful teaching towards that end. In our Case Studies this year we will keep this notion foremost in our thoughts and in our actions: the necessity of joyful reading practice, to model a love of reading, and hopefully inspire our students to be readers for life. 

Friday, November 28, 2014

This Week in Pictures: November 24th - 28th

This week students created some lovely art!  Mrs. Lapointe's class celebrated all thing Australian, including Tiger Toast (Vegemite Grilled Cheese) and we ended the week with our awesome Annual Writing Day.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Cross Country Running 2014

Coaching cross country is my favourite thing!  I am so proud of these runners!  They braved rain and mud and finished with smiles on their faces.  Way to go, everyone!

The Cross Country Team!


Monday, April 28, 2014

The Teenage Brain

I recently read Brainstorm: An inside guide to the emerging adolescent mind, ages 12 - 24, by Daniel J. Siegel, MD.  He is also the author of The Whole-Brain Child and Parenting from the Inside Out.

One of the first things the author does is dispel four myths about the adolescent brain.  The first is that raging hormones make teenagers "go crazy" and lose their minds.  It is actually brain development that affects behavior.  The second myth is that adolescence is a time of immaturity, and that we are waiting for them to grow up.  The third myth is that growing up during adolescence requires moving from dependence on adults to total independence from them.  In fact, the attachments teenagers have with adults are still important, even as they desire more independence and may seem to value their friends more than family.

Seigel goes on to talk about four features of the adolescent brain's growth. 
  1. Novelty seeking emerges from an increased drive for rewards in circuits of the adolescent brain that creates the inner motivation to try something new and feel life more fully.
  2. Social engagement enhances peer connectedness and creates new friendships.
  3. Increased emotional intensity gives an enhanced vitality to life.
  4. Creative exploration with an expanded sense of consciousness.

Each of these aspects has an upside and a downside.  For example, when seeking novelty, an adolescent may partake in dangerous behavior.  At the same time, novelty-seeking can lead to a sense of adventure and "fascination for life." 

In between the chapters, Seigel offers "mindsight tools" for adolescents themselves,  These mindfullness exercises aim to help adolescents be more aware of their thinking, balance their minds, breath awareness, and reflection practice (good for "grown-ups," too). 

This book is not a super-easy read, but the "real life" anecdotes help ground the theory.  It helped me understand that one needs to have an open mind set about teenagers and young adults.  If one looks at this time of life as an exciting phase for activating creativity, courage and empathy, not a time to just "survive."

It is available at the Squamish Public Library.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Eagles Among Us

Our students have been learning about eagles this month. Meg Toom from Eagle Watch came and presented to students in our library. The we went out to the Eagle Viewing are in Brackendale. Lots of learning took place both in and out of the classrooms.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Carrots and Sticks

As you may have heard, our Sea to Sky Board of Education recently made the decision to move Squamish's Grade 7 students to Don Ross Secondary in September 2014. Our students are pretty excited about being able to join a Middle Years program and have access to hands on learning: wood work, metal work, sewing, cooking, computers, and so on, a year earlier than anticipated. We know that change is hard. We know there will be some growing pains among students, parents and teachers, too. There are still questions we do not have answers for, but hope that over the next six months, the district teams will create a solid plan for transition. One of the first questions I was asked after the decision was made was, "Will the Grade 6's get year end awards?" That got me thinking. In recent years, the teachers and I have been feeling uncomfortable about the Grade 7 awards. We wonder: What values do the awards (withing academia, citizenship, athletics and music) represent? What values are missing? What impact do awards have on the recipients? What impact do they have on the rest of the students? Leaving one school and moving on to another certainly requires some rite of passage. How can we create traditions that are genuine and inclusive? Here is a blog post by a principal in Alberta who spoke at a conference I attended last month. I especially liked his words about family. If we are trying to create a sense of family in our school, why would we praise and acknowledge only a few? I am a firm believer in the futility of using rewards and punishments to motivate people. Carrots and sticks, as we call them, might work for a very short time, but they do not bring about lasting change or growth. In fact, researchers tell us that rewards are actually demotivating over time. A basic need all children have is to be loved unconditionally. As Alfie Kohn says, "All children have a deep need for their parents' approval. That's why praise often "works" in the short term to get them to do what we want....Rather, the child comes to see her "whole self" as good only when she pleases the parent." (p. 40 Unconditional Parenting, 2005) As a staff, we have not made any decisions about year end awards, but we are beginning to think about it and would welcome input. More thoughts to come...

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Adult Learning for Student Success

I'm spending this weekend at the Connecting Leaders Conference in Richmond.  I have enjoyed listening to several speakers so far, two of whom have focused on how to make human connections using technology.  What a concept.  Sometimes we think of technology as de-humanizing and isolating.  These speakers have told us countless stories about how Skype, blogging, tweeting, etc. can actually bring us closer, both with our neighbours and with the global community.

One story was about how an 80 year old grandmother, who immigrated from Greece decades ago but had never learned English, began to use email to write to her son, coached by her grandchild, practicing her English and learning to use an iPad all at the same time.

Another story was about a class of grade 5 students in Alberta, connecting via Skype with a class in New Jersey, just after Hurricane Sandy.  They were teaching each other about all kinds of things like extreme weather, emergency preparedness and response, even the difference between metric and Imperial measurement.

When I think back over the past five years at Squamish Elementary, I am struck by how we have evolved in our thinking about technology, including cel phones.  We used to see devices as a threat to teaching and learning.  We had students hide away their phones and feared the worst.  Now we are not so wary, more trusting. Sure, some misuse may still happen, but now we are trying to take advantage of these powerful devices: all of human knowledge in the palms of our hands.

Now we have the task of coaching children in digital citizenship, in critical thinking, so that they can navigate the internet with the ability to question and analyze what they read and see, and use technology with personal integrity.  School should be like a basecamp: the place where you prepare for great adventures, where you come back for coaching, where you are safe and nurtured, but also fully equipped with the tools for success.