Reading the Anne books of LM Montgomery made me a Canadian.” (Adrienne Clarkson)
It was the first “teacher conference” I had been to, and I was very impressed with the size and the scope of the event.
Over the years, I have attended RFTLOI several times, and I continue to be very impressed with this 2-day conference. The presenters and key note speakers are numerous and varied, and the exhibitors' display is an enormous conglomeration of the expected and the eccentric. Freebies and prizes are in abundance at the latter; food for thought is made available in abundance at the former.
Now at such events, I see many people I have met and/or worked with other the years. It is fun to learn new things, rediscover old favourites, meet new people, and reconnect with, well, more "old favourites" from various points in my teaching career thus far.
It’s been a while since I attended a literacy workshop. Especially with this year’s TLLP project focus, there seems to be little time for much else. But I decided to attend this year’s event, just to broaden my narrowing horizons a little, and also to socialize with colleagues I don’t always get a chance to talk with in great detail (6 teachers from our school attended this year’s event!)
What follows is a synopsis of the sessions I attended, for anyone interested in reading about what I got out of them. (Please note my attention span is fairly limited, and I am easily distracted, so in many cases I took only very cursory notes, or I focussed mainly on the beginnings of sessions, before my mind wandered to my classroom, my teaching practice, the focus for my math project, an upcoming workshop I have to facilitate, preparing for Argentina and home-schooling my own two kids next year, flying, the concert I am going to this weekend, PEI, etc., etc., etc.)
Over the two days, I attended 7 sessions including, but not limited to, Sharon Taberski, Karen Hume and David Sousa… I have included relevant links below, i.e. to speakers's sites, so that the reader can pursue more on his or her own, if so desired.
- Sign and tool functions (Vygotsky) of language; so a word holds more meaning than “just” the word, based on what schema we bring to it, and also, we can use language as a tool to communicate, and to generate ideas
- Prompts/sentence stems to get them thinking and talking (grand conversations); this promotes further thinking
- connection between reading and writing: write to read (Carnegie report 2000)
- directed reading thinking activities; predict, then read to dis/confirm, while talking (one question I had was “what about the introverts?!” Must I use this in a guided reading format? Can I not just do this one:one with students when I conference during Daily 5/Lit CAFÉ time?!)
- use of key words:
then use the words to write a summary
- pre- expose them to vocal from the text, write a predictive sentence,
then read and check prediction
Next, it was off to hear Elizabeth Coelho, who spoke about the challenges and opportunities in a multi-lingual classroom. Four of the six colleagues from our school attended this session. It was nice to work together in a group, and to have a chance to chat about Coelho’s presentation and its application to our particular student population.
One thing Coelho spoke about was Language Experience, a powerful tool I have often used with early language users. It surprised me to hear her say that as we scribe students’ “stories” (sentences) for them after the shared experience, we should write it just as they say it!
Her point was that the work really needed to be the student’s own, authentic work. The only exception to this was if the student’s grammar was corrected by a peer, then the teacher could ask for the student's consensus to make a change to his/her sentence.
Apparently, students would self correct over time, and marvel at their original work compared to more recent language acquisition.
Coelho also spoke about these ideas:
- recordings for picture books -- Maria carbo
- reading lots good for spelling; leaving little need for spelling lessons (Crashen)
- graded readers for ELL: Cambridge, Oxford, penguin readers (Pearson) eng lang teaching
- Lit circles for ells (multiple books on a theme in class, but some easier to access, text-wise, for the ELL group)
- intensive (revisit text, dig deep with it) and extensive (read often, read a lot!) reading
Some specific, practical teaching ideas Coelho shared for whole group or small group guided reading…
After an extended lunch and a visit to the much-touted publisher’s display (where I obtained numerous free posters to raffle off to my eager students when I return to school on Monday morning), we decided to spend our final hour of the day with Larry Swartz, my old Literacy instructor at OISE.
It was fun to be in his audience once again, after so many years, and I enjoyed introducing my colleagues to the man who had inspired me as a lover of great picture-books (and a sharer of same with my students) throughout my teaching career.
Swartz did not disappoint, entertaining us with humorous and practical self-reflections (“what’s on YOUR bookshelf?"/textual lineage) and teaching ideas. And of course, he shared a few of his favourite books. An overview follows:
- new book of poetry: "the Bully, the Bullied, the Bystander and the Brave"
- Green by Seeger (great to use with visual art, intro to paint; mixing colours!)
- using nonfiction; pull main ideas/keywords, then turn into free verse poem (I am SOOO going to do this with my students, and blog about it next year!!!)
- John boyne-the terrible thing that happened to Barnaby brocket
- mr stink (David Williams) -- the new Roald Dahl?
- War Horse (a bit older? grade 6?)
- Home of the Brave (especially good for immigrants from Africa)
- The One and Only Ivan (grade 6?)
- Each Kindness (picturebook)
Despite my colleague’s trepidation about “wasting an hour on pseudo-science” (he is frustrated by the brain people’s claim that neuroscience informs teaching; says it’s all bunk, that we already knew this stuff from cognitive science, and that these people don’t actually offer any “so what” in terms of classroom application), he agreed to come see David Sousa with me.
At the very least, he was entertained; Sousa is a masterful presenter, holding the audience captive with his gregarious presentation style.
I personally got nothing new but many good reminders from this session, including the following:
- Importance of incorporating movement into the day
- Early second language learning facilitates further language learning later on
- Need to consider “typical” boys and girls in lesson design (i.e. use of visual/spatial/temporal and also language rich)
- English is a language with deep orthography, which makes spelling patterns and reading incredibly challenging to learn
The second speaker on our agenda was Lori Jamieson, who was to speak on using non-fiction text with guided reading groups in grades 1-3
- Non-fiction tends to be preferred by boys, but we rarely spend time on this (NB - I disagree… we read a lot of non-fiction in my room now, Nelson, SES links, pamphelts and brochures, etc. I suppose I could add "kids's news"....)
- Good readers know when they’ve made a mistake, and know how to “fix up that mix up” (reminded me of the importance of teaching self monitoring and CAFE strats.)
- 3-4 day guided reading lesson with same text
BEFORE – preview (“This is a book about snails.”), prior knowledge (activated what they already know or think they know; “What do you already know, purpose (set a focus for reading “today as we’re reading…”
The Home Stretch
After lunch with a moving keynote speech by Madam Adrienne Clarkson, who shared with us delightful snippets of her own love affair with books and libraries and her memories along the way, it was time for the final session of the day. Though much of our group had dropped out by this point, one of my colleagues and I trundled on, spending the last hour of the conference with Karen Hume, who spoke to us about student engagement.
Specifically, she spoke about competence, creativity, and 3 other Cs I can't remember now, and how we can develop these in students to make them more “assessment capable”. That is, we want our students to seek feedback, ask themselves questions, and use feedback to improve their work.
Paying attention, she pointed out, is critical. Students need to consider “how do I feel?” and “am I interested?” in order to become focussed on a topic so that it can be moved into short term memory and processed
Emotion drives learning. The old “high challenge/low threat” adage from Caine and Caine holds true, apparently.
She did point out that engagement is not the same as entertainment, and also reminded us that “group work” need not be a long-term relationship; a short, “turn and talk to a partner about…” can be a very effective way to maintain engagement. Hume also noted that we have much to learn about gaming, which continuously engages students by increasing the challenge as the player becomes more masterful.
A few things that can help to provide engagement:
- Rich questions
- Synectics (using metaphors of action rather than noun; “how is teaching like/not like preparing a grourmet meal?)
- “let’s hear 4 ideas” (so they know the goal and can work with you)
- Choice (within a framework; teacher-structured: “this, or this?”)
Relevancy is Important; Hume reminded us that ensuring that the learning goal is clear to students is critical to relevancy.
Giving a reason, even a vague reason, apparently increases people’s immediate engagement. So explaining relevancy (why are we doing this?) enhances students’ ability to pay attention.
Perceived Ability: For successful student engagement, our learners must be able to answer this question in the affirmative: “Can I do this?” Author Carol Dweck writes about fixed vs. growth mindsets, and the ability to move from the former to the latter.
As teachers, we have to help students see that even if they cannot yet do something, they will be able to succeed in the future. We must make the connection for students between effort and success, which sometimes means setting very small, short term goals so that they can see their own growth.
When students succeed, we need to comment on the fruit of their hard work (ie doing well on a French test as a result of having studied) rather than their abilities in a certain area (ie being “good at French”).
Conferences are a Necessity for Sustaining Great Teachers
As educators, we are expected to know and apply great deal of pedagogy. And yet, we rarely have time to engage in rich, meaningful conversations. A 2-day conference like this one allows for sufficient time to both hear/see relevant speakers, and debrief with colleagues about.
Although my brain is full to the point of overflowing, and I didn’t have nearly enough time to process everything I took in, I feel inspired, and am keen to try out some new ideas and “golden oldies” in my classroom next week.