Tag Archives: literacy

Middle school and up – social media lesson to share

First of all what is a parody? what is a spoof? how are they same/different?


Who or what is being made fun of in this piece of writing- ? Does anyone use Pinterest? can we count the references to actual online boards? Let’s all make our own collection of boards to become familiar with internet use…I have made a number of sample boards here:

Guys, the person is suggesting only women or mainly women are the primary consumers of Pinterest- can you find ways in which guys are also using it? hint- chefs’ websites, sports, cars, guitars, movies, space… many home builders- what is soothing/ annoying about the site? Girls – which types of pins do you find yourself gravitating toward? For everyone in the room- please choose a “motivational pin” and then create your own.

How would you use it? what types of pins would you save? how would you get others to know your site exists? Does it matter? Do you think a site like Pinterest is more for “fun” and “relaxation” or for social media advertizing? why? why not? remember to backup your opinions with examples of/from other sites…

Take your time on the activity but be warned- pinning on Pinterest can become a real hobby…

Ali ūüôā

Note to educators- the original article can be offered in hard copy format to allow students to move between using a piece of printed material and reading/commenting on it and using the internet to source further material. This is an open ended project to enchance technology in the classroom and reading and writing skills.  In addition a blog posting could be created with students commenting and sharing their views about Pinterest on line.

Summer and active Learning

It is summer and as an advocate of library summer reading clubs and healthy relaxation activities – camps, stay at home vacations, family visits, road trips you name it…I am fully encouraging all to let the children self select the books, comics, graphic novels that they wish to read through;¬† I do however maintain that reading for pleasure is not for everyone- and this is ok.¬† It doesn’t change the fact that as an educator I will be encouraging students to understand how to read for facts- a skill they will require throughout their lives.¬† Reading for “fun” is liking doing anything for “fun”; each of us has some things we prefer to do over other things.¬† I am one who reminds parents that indeed not all will relax with a novel- or a movie, or a pair of skates, or a bike ride etc. As an educator with a focus on reading and writing, my goal is first not to scare anyone away from learning in general, then to encourage my students to grow in whichever aspect suits them best…

Active learning implies engagement on the part of the participant- which is one of the reasons we have a resurgence of formal endorsements to encourage everyone to “play.”¬† For some, reading is a form of play, when the novel allows the reader to imagine different situations and to become concerned about the characters in the story.¬† And this magical transference between author and reader is an activity which takes place inside the brain and which later translates into emotions, some more clearly understood than others.¬† But just as the body requires strength to do certain physical activities the leaps we ask the brain to perform when concentrating on mental or cognitive actions are also exercises, strengthening a particular type of focus.

Currently in Toronto, are the PAN AM games which will be followed by the PARAPAN¬† AM GAMES – when practiced athletes from the American hemisphere convene and demonstrate their courage and ability to perform live at an exercise they have not only honed through continuous practice but which many have simply felt they “had to do.”¬† Readers and writers can be like this too- needing to read more, needing to write more- and in time, needing to share more.¬† Our role as educators is to encourage our learners to take chances, within safe environments to stretch a little further, try something a little more challenging, and to help them, the learners “discover” who they might be and what they want to learn more of.¬† Having written this I realize that many are still hoping that school will be the place where all skills develop- even in 2015 where we as a society have begun to recognize how very much learning can and does take place in non-school environments.

Consider the multiple ways your child engages with life, and add a little reading to this package, then the reading to learn can become real when the child needs to inquire and recognizes some ( not all ) answers may be available through written ( or diagrammed, or graphed or illustrated…) sources.¬† Imagine though learning how to skip a rope via diagrams- or to play the drums, or to swim…and allow for the hands-on experiences which provide balance to the cognitive action.

Reading and the concept of literacy has expanded to encompass the multiple ways we do engage with the world around us- Enjoy the summer!

Answers and more questions

Groundhog Day- and being originally from the midwest I and my neighbours knew, regardless of what the groundhog displayed, there WAS going to be a lot more winter weather!

Still, this mini-event, televised and discussed, makes for reflection: halfway through a school year- the typical, “why do you teach?” question arises. ¬†

In a nutshell:¬†the reflection of pure thinking, joy in recognition of understanding, comfort when an idea registers, communication without guile-it is a total delight to hear a learner puzzling over an idea, considering a new concept, and when the struggling occurs- working through the problem towards some level of resolution. ¬† As¬†a result the joy I take in sharing my education, and the comfort learners experience when the lessons lead to results – here I will clarify- results on “standardized” tests – yes- but more importantly results in desire to learn more…

It is after all- that desire to learn more, that pushes the educators I have been blessed with meeting and working with to continue to not only teach but also-Learn. ¬†Yes, today I offer private lessons, based on years of accumulated instruction in public and private institutions, working with both children and adults. ¬†That statement was made to offset any suggestions that tutoring is “easier” than teaching to the class within a formal/traditional setting. ¬†In fact tutoring done well, is extremely challenging, for the student and for the tutor. ¬†Both must be prepared to recognize when challenges occur and to directly change direction if a particular course of study bogs down; for communication to be both given and received, an openness is necessary.

Little is expected of that groundhog- it appears, photos are taken, and Nature continues its course regardless of what was “predicted”. ¬†And so I throw away the crystal ball, forgoing predictions and focusing on the student, the practical and abstract aspect of a lesson, the shy smile, the deep belly laugh, the drawings and sketches, doodles, and comments. ¬†Because one day at a time, change is happening, we need only be open to noticing it. ¬†And to reflecting anew on the questions our students offer, and to remembering that they in fact may be the ones who best supply the answers.

Increasing Literacy

I confess

writing poetry is how I digress-

and then, it leaves my desk

a mess!

Poem inspired by the simple examples in Lois Lowry’s¬† novel Gooney Bird is so Absurd – a story set in a Grade 2 classroom that invites both adults and children to view the inside of an elementary class in action.¬† For any adult who wishes to peek inside her child’s classroom, this story will provide many a chuckle and is “just right” for emerging readers to connect with character and plot.¬† It also works as a primer for how to increase Literacy at home; the simple use of couplets, the encouraging of the children’s efforts, the genuine enjoyment in demonstrating how the many voices in a classroom respond to direction.¬† Perhaps what I liked best is that in this day and age when we profess to being about “diversity” it is fun to read a story where the children’s comments are believable and the multiple perspectives simply expressed.

I immersed myself in children’s novels these past few weeks, marveling at how some managed to convey really “big ideas” and encourage a reader of any age to “care”.¬† Another book that impressed: Stealing Home by Ellen Schwartz.¬† This one is geared to slightly older children and set in 1947- with the story of Jackie Robinson as a backdrop for the main character developing and finding both himself and his own home.¬† Fans of baseball will be asked to consider the importance of radio (technology at the time) as well as being given insight into what is really behind major events like “Black History Month”.¬† Ms. Schwartz also shares insight into a Jewish family in Brooklyn’s 1940s – as a cross cultural novel the book displays understanding of “miscommunication” and suggests how inter-generational bonds can be formed.

The Secret Garden now this one is a step back in time and for readers who already possess a strong vocabulary and who read regardless of the dialects and who can become curious about the formal and very full descriptions of time, place, and characters.¬† It is important to remember that writers in the last century were focusing on sharing a story, not gearing their writing to a specific age group- so many of the books which I found in the “children’s” section of the library weren’t originally written with a particular genre in mind.¬† The book being about friendships formed and new beginnings, can definitely be shared as an in class study for junior and even senior high school students- in the older grades there would be the opportunity to look into the politics subtly expressed.¬† Too often it seems books with deeper social/cultural meaning are currently being relegated as “children’s stories” which has a double sided sword.¬† Children do indeed absorb the nuances in a story and the extra curious will try to learn more about a particular time period or why characters may have behaved or been expected to behave in a certain way.¬† But older students with the deeper knowledge base may shy away from reading a novel that is labelled “children’s” even if also called a classic and then become stuck between what is available in the young adult sections- and what is enforced- that is, chosen by a teacher for classroom study.¬† It is a bit of a truism that reading makes readers.

As an adult I continue to be thrilled when I can find a book on Project Gutenberg, or quickly use the internet to source a topic, and am all in favour of encouraging students to value reading in all its various dimensions however there is simply something intrinsic to the feel of a book- and to the value that can be gained through taking the time to connect with voices that travel across time and space and into one’s psyche; when a novel’s characters no longer appear as words on a page but indeed become examples of people worth caring about -this happens.¬† And that is what is meant by how reading may encourage empathy.

Next week: some classics reviewed

Using Visuals to Enhance Writing Skills



Sometimes it is the simplicity and the symmetry that draws the eye. When students are asked to create a story, offering a picture prompt plus open brainstorming together will allow students to recognize what is meant when asking for a written ‚Äúthick‚ÄĚ description and students may create a background or plot for?

Who might be coming to dinner? Is it an ordinary occasion? Where is the setting? At home or elsewhere? Could they add a mystery/suspense to their short vignette?

Image, plot, character study, setting, use of adjectives, vocabulary enhancer- all ages/levels, writing skills

Image from La vie et Belle hollymdunning.blogspot.ca spring eggrolls, Vietnam

Big picture concepts- otherwise known as “themes” & testing

Discussing Literacy is a good idea, but I know at least one reader would question what type of Literacy was the main point- Literacy as a broad concept encompasses so many areas- the top athlete in one field may be able to identify pictures of his competitors and all the others from generations earlier who helped develop the sport- yet be unable to read and decipher print. And it is this – being able to read and decipher print – that Educators discuss and countries brag about in regards to their populations. ¬†So we have devised tests that are meant to demonstrate just how literate a region, school, or state is. ¬†Students prepare for them, teachers fret about them, and I am told housing pricing rise and fall in accordance with an areas’ test scores. ¬†What then do they really prove?¬†

First of all, a student’s ability to identify theme, or main big idea within a piece of writing. ¬†Why? Because even when the actual question, “identify the theme” does not appear on a test, recognizing theme allows a reader to note when and where and how the writer supports this “big idea”. ¬†“Good writing” offers a point of view, a particular perspective about an issue, and then, regardless if the paper is a “persuasive essay” or an “exploratory” one, goes on to, within the writing, support this perspective. ¬†Story is no different- we suggest that each form of writing has a particular use and this may be true, however, within each piece is a story line that once unpacked has at its core a main idea focus. ¬†The old expression “can’t see the forest for the trees” is what can happen when students are told to read the questions first and then zero in on answers. – Backwards – ! ¬†Such students answer in the quickest manner, after speed only, and ignorant of the Big Picture or Theme within the piece are unable to notice when the questions themselves do not make sense. ¬†Reading through a piece, and noting both the Big idea and the ways the author supports his/her points, provides a student with the readiness when then given questions to immediately dismiss the obvious wrong answers; then, a return to the reading allows for finding the correct response. ¬†Yes. It is a slower process, and perhaps the real issue then is the time frame within which the testing occurs. ¬†Not all students quickly absorb material. ¬†For this reason, giving students an understanding of general ways to group a reading allows students to not only say “I can do this” but “this reminds me of something else”. ¬†

We constantly offer students material; it is imperative too, to allow students time to make sense of the material, and to- on their own-, suggest ways to classify what they have been reading. ¬†When a student can state: this one is about nature, this one is about rising above adversity, this one is about growing up and recalling personal experience…, the student is developing critical thinking. ¬†As Teachers, we ought not to be afraid of Ministry or state ordered curriculum evaluations. ¬†We ought instead, to focus on the thematic teaching that it is possible to create within a whole school- Math literacy, Financial literacy, Physical literacy, Emotional literacy, Media literacy… and encourage inter and intra-personal understanding. ¬†Writing, unless a fact based article- such as an encyclopedic offering, demands an affective* response. ¬†A reader is asked to care about the character, the problems the character encounters, and how the situation is resolved. Readers needn’t like the character, they must however recognize what the author is suggesting. ¬†

The recent Earth Day provides a case in point: questions relating to Financial Literacy may also touch on global dependency on certain fuels. ¬†Enter geography and cultural studies, with maps and media articles as source material for developing group and solo projects. The hands-on clean up of school grounds or if possible neighbourhood parks etc, providing an exercise in observation, a combination of art and science class, and the physical activity itself used to discuss the benefits of walking over riding- leading into a history lesson about the development of transportation. ¬†The unifying theme? You thought I would repeat Earth Day, and indeed this topic tied the activities together however the larger picture is Literacy- with pre- planing on the (various) teacher’s part to offer vocabulary, readings and written assignments. ¬†

It is almost a “taken for granted” that elementary teachers do plan their curriculum from a holistic perspective, but even within elementary schools some teachers (being individuals after all) have area strengths. ¬†And once junior and senior high teachers recognize the benefits of collaborative work, they rarely return to a closed door policy. ¬†We are so fortunate in this day and age to be able to access one another via internet, to share material and lesson plans and to commiserate when required- that it seems the lessons we can all learn from working with students pre and post testing is that the tests themselves are only one part of the BIG PICTURE- Education continues to be about how to encourage children to grow towards independence and claim their own. ¬†We may even be able to reduce “test anxiety” if we as educators return to enjoying our own lifelong learning process, and continue to brainstorm, connect, and share our stories. ¬†



*affective response The emotional response to a situation.

What we forget when we have learned to read:

Or why it can be difficult to be told to “just sound it out” : https://mytutoringspace.files.wordpress.com/2014/04/cbc4f-7mainpostersgifcopy.gif


Early readers begin with daily practice, preschool through grade 2 but which one of us, as adults, would easily make sense of this chart? Reading will continue to require a combination of oral help- teacher demonstrating, writing practice, and the blend of phonics with whole language.¬† It isn’t an either / or, it must be an interactive, comprehensive, approach to the “magic” which can happen when squiggles become words, words become ideas, and imagination inspires the reader.