Feedback thoughts continued

In my last post I wrote about the importance of learning a new skill and the value of play time. I recently taught myself to crochet. It has been so much fun playing and not receiving any feedback from my peers. I have made five scarves so far. A few are a little wonky, but that’s okay. I wanted to have that moment of pride of doing something all on my own. So a few weeks in and now I feel I’m ready for some feedback. I know a few stitches but I’m struggling to complete a few projects. I tried to make a set of legwarmers for my dancing daughter. I ended up making a puffy sleeve but I learned a lot about my errors. I spoke with a friend who happens to crochet and we talked about a few important things that I didn’t previously understand about reading the patterns.

I was able to make a correction and redo the leg warmer. Well, it actually meant ripping out the rows many times and restarting again and again. It took me a while to get to the point of being able to rip out my work. I thought about the many times the bells ring in class and the students must ‘rip up’ their buildings and put away their towers. I have a little more empathy for those who have struggled to make something for the first time. I usually take a photo and then ask them to put away the blocks. As often as possible we leave up structures and put up signs. However, some days we need space and all blocks and creations must go away. I’m glad I have the recent reminder of how it feels to see your work taken apart.

My daughter provided a lot of feedback on the sizing of the leg warmer. I constantly asked her to try it on and together we figured out what was needed. So, I’ve had my big exploration time, now I need feedback. Hmm…

The other day, I was sitting in the back seat as my daughter drove and my husband sat next to her. She has been driving for many months now and she is currently receiving professional driving lessons from a licenced driving school. As I sat in the back and listened to the conversation I marveled at how the feedback cycle needed to change for my daughter. I recall our first driving session in the parking lot when she needed a lot of direction and confirmation. Now she just needs a few reminders about what to do. In this case the feedback is needed in the beginning of the learning and the feedback lessens as her skills develop. The reverse of what I needed when I began my crochet learning journey.

The feedback cycle might be different depending on the learner, the task and the skills needed. Now I understand why some teachers struggle with inquiry learning in the classroom. It presents a totally different feedback cycle. There is not a specific formula. We are always searching for one, but it doesn’t exist. That’s what makes our profession so interesting and so essential. We need to be constantly differentiating our feedback based on our learners, our tasks and our experiences.



Learning Something New

I have learned a lot by observing my students over the past two years. I marvel at how they can pick up new materials and just create. I have had to monitor how I provide feedback. I use prompting that asks, “what do you think you should do?” “What do you need?” “What other ways could we learn how to do…?” and “What do you need from me?” I have had to learn to not jump in and tell the students how to build or create. I sit back and watch and see their learning unfold. I do jump in when a knowledgeable other is needed. “Oh, you need to sew that piece to hold it together. How will we learn how to sew together? What do you need? How can we learn this?”

I have watched my students create doll shoes, duct tape creations, super structures, bird houses and much more. Rainbow looms were a big hit in the winter so I brought some in and left them at a table. I watched as the students explored and created. I watched as some asked their peers how to make a loom. I laughed when a group of students got an iPad and found a video on line and began creating. I enjoy watching the thinking and seeing those moments when it all comes together. I also love seeing the pride on their faces when they feel they have achieved their goal.

This summer, I wanted to experience that too. I am having a hard time ‘coming down’ from the school year. My brain is still swirling and I have a lot of thoughts about school. I usually do professional readings and learn new apps or I learn something specific for next year’s role. However, this early in the summer, I felt I needed to learn something that was not school related. I decided I wanted to learn how to crochet.

I wanted to learn in the way my students are learning in the classroom. I did not want to be told how to crochet. I did not want to attend a class. Well, at least not yet. I want to muck about. I want the pleasure of learning how to do this on my own or with my own resources. I set out to Pinterest and looked for steps and free patterns. I created an initial list of things I thought I might need. I went to Michael’s and bought some wool and some hooks. That day I settled in and searched through Pinterest and found some great videos on how to create stitches. The best thing about the videos is I could stop and replay and turn the screen so it displayed the way I was holding my hook. I found a video from the site I watched as Grandma Ann demonstrated the basic stitches. I tried and retried and finally got the hang of the stitches.  I then discovered a great tutorial on how to make a chunky scarf. Melanie taught me how to make a simple craft in a short time.  I watched and learned and then messed about.

The videos and instructions were available to me and they were essentially my knowledgeable other. However, I could go to them when I needed to see a step again at my own pace.  I wasn’t receiving feedback on my work. I could easily see when a stitch was too loose or too tight. It was all through trial and error.  I enjoyed the fact that no one could see me do this learning. I sat in the gazebo on my own and played. I did not have anyone telling me I was doing it wrong. No one was looking at what I was doing and telling me to use different materials. I was just exploring and learning on my own. I was so pleased with my first scarf that I immediately started on a second scarf and then ran out of wool. Another learning point for me is to figure out how much wool is needed per project.

I initially sought out a task that wasn’t directly related to teaching but in my mind I’m always making comparisons. This new learning task caused me to think a lot about the role of feedback. There is a huge emphasis on the importance of feedback in the learning cycle in our classrooms. I agree and use timely feedback but this year I have had to think more carefully about when I provide feedback. Some of my youngest learners will stop creating if I provide feedback or suggestions too early in the learning cycle. I have to know who needs feedback to continue and who needs access to new materials. I am often watching my learners and then running into our storage cupboard and without saying anything placing some materials on the table that might help them extend their project. I have to consider who needs a video to support their learning or who needs to be left alone to just create. This week I needed to be left alone. I wanted to create and be proud of what I was making regardless of what it looked like. I certainly do not want a pro inspecting my new scarf and pointing out what I did wrong or what I can improve on. As I begin my next project, I’m already figuring out what I can do to improve my technique. This is real self reflection or self regulation.  I am sure at some point in my crochet journey, I will seek feedback but right now I want to just muck about and explore on my own.

Some questions that are popping into my mind:

How often do we provide opportunities to muck about in class?

Do older students get regular time to just create?

Do we value different learning methods across the day? Do we provide step by step directions to some, let others explore and let others do a combination of both?

Do our classrooms have enough variety of materials to create?

How do we monitor our prompts in class?
How do we know when to prompt some students and when to sit back and observe others?

How much feedback do we provide on the final product verses the process?

Does inquiry learning require different timelines of feedback verses feedback in writing?

Do teachers set out with specific prompts for early in inquiry learning and then shift their prompts as the learning continues?

How can I store and manage different open-ended materials in a small classroom?

How will I set up more creation opportunities on a weekly basis for my learners?


Now, my son who is often mucking about with tools in his hand and a Youtube video near by while working on his truck, makes a lot more sense to me.

What are you mucking about with this summer? How will you foster mucking about in your classrooms?

Explicitly teaching 2D & 3D

Last year during a Duct Tape challenge, I discovered that some of my young learners did not understand how to create three-dimensional creations. This year as I began the year I intentionally designed some tasks that involved making two and three-dimensional creations out of art materials, found materials and classroom building blocks. My observations indicated that while some of my students could build 3D things using wooden blocks they struggled with transferring this knowledge over to creating 3D objects with art materials and recycled items. This year I conducted my own personal inquiry about how I could explicitly teach 2D and 3D building skills throughout the year.

I consulted with Aviva, @Avivaloca and others in my PLN on Twitter. I explained my observations and I sought out suggestions. What I discovered is I needed to shift my mindset and make thinking in 2D and 3D a habit of mind for my students. I looked for natural opportunities to demonstrated the differences between 2D and 3D throughout the entire year. I made it an underlying inquiry theme that I wove into the students’ and classes inquiries. As inquiries emerged throughout the year I found ways to suggest or provide materials for students to explore in both 2D and 3D. For example, in the Fall, two students brought in birds’ nests that they found on the way to school. We also saw birds’ nests in trees in our pond. One of the inquiries was how do birds build their nests. We read books, watched short clips and designed our own bird nests. I was fascinated to watch how students used materials and I also encouraged them to draw bird nests. I made sure I took time to show students the 3D and 2D nests and I taught them the vocabulary.


As the year progressed I kept the same teaching lens and provided art activities that compared and contrasted 2D and 3D items. In February after we had a Skype call with Ann-Marie Hulse’s class and learned about Chinese New Year,  our class made Chinese Lanterns. We discussed the stages of the lantern making and the students saw how a 2D shape can be folded to make a 3D shape.

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We revisited our bird inquiry in the spring and we built a nesting box and placed it in the front of our school. In class, students created bird houses out of 2D shapes. They decorated them and created lovely pictures. In the following days, I provided boxes, cardboard and other materials and asked them to create another bird house. We compared the 2D and 3D houses and discussed the merits of when it is best to use each type of design.

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I also looked for other building materials for students to explore throughout the year. I borrowed a set of Magformers magnets. These sets could connect in both 2D and 3D ways. I bought a set of Connecting straws and students build both 2D and 3D things from the straws. As always, each week the students make a fresh set of playdough. We ensured they had a variety of objects to use with the playdough. This year, I saw students making more 3D things from the playdough. Last year, it was standard for students to roll and make flat items. I now saw the children doing both of these things at the playdough area.

Photo 2014-06-22, 7 00 54 AM

My overall learning, is I need to be explicit in my instruction and I need to help students draw conclusions about the differences between 2D and 3D designs. I had to be intentional about weaving 2D and 3D into the children’s natural inquiries. I also had to carefully select a variety of materials for both the art and the building centers in our class. By doing so, I feel and have observed students who have a deeper understanding of what 2D and 3D designing and building. I loved hearing, “Mrs. Harrison, look I just made a 3D… at the art center.” Students took their new learning and incorporated it in their own play.  Thank you to everyone who offered suggestions or prompts to move my thinking forward.

How do you shift the thinking of young learners in this area?


What Can You See? How Can You Help?

What can you see? How can you help?


Last year, some teachers in our PLN engaged in a project titled What Can You See? Classes took photos of what they could see outside their windows and created a way to share their view. iBooks, Quicktime movies, Comics and blog posts displayed the things students could see within their schoolyard. Classes compared the photos and discussed the similarities. Over the course of the year, some classes engaged in SKYPE calls to further their questions and comparisons of schoolyards. As the seasons changed, students learned about the differences in a schoolyard in Ontario verses schoolyards in Mexico, Hawaii and other location. It was a rewarding project for both teachers and students. Teachers tweeted and blogged and students talked and shared their comparisons. Some of the interactions are posted on the We Can See Blog at


A reflection discussion occurred with Jocelyn Schmidt, Heidi Theis, Carmela Sita and myself, Angie Harrison. We reviewed how the project went and noted the benefits for our learners. We want to engage in the project again with our new group of students in the Fall. However, we feel a need to take this project one step further. We discussed ways to include a social justice lens that is appropriate for young learners.


Here is our                               Invitation to play for 2014-2015


Join us in a collaborative project that will engage your students and make a difference.


Details: At different points throughout the year, ask your students to create something that will show others what they see in their schoolyard. Use a format that works for your learners. eBooks, Quicktime Movies, Comics, picture books, audio files or any other method that is easily shared virtually.


Next, with your learners think of a way they can help. It can be as simple as helping people in your school or community. It might be participating in a food drive, helping in a seniors’ home or your class might be a part of a global project. One suggestion, your class could write picture books for your local Children’s Hospital. Your class might find an environmental issue to support or your class might respond to a crisis that is happening in your community or in the world.


A blog will be used to share what you see and ways you are helping. If you wish, you can connect with classes and SKYPE and talk about how you are helping others.



Classes could participate in this project once, or several times throughout the year. They could show progress of one way they are helping or they might show different ways they help throughout the year.


Our hope is this project will help students understand that we can all make a difference in the world. (no matter how old we are or where we live)


Here are some resources that might help launch the project.



If Everybody Did by Jo Ann Stover

How Full is Your Bucket? For Kids by Tom Rath and Mary Reckmeyer

Ordinary Mary’s Extraordinary Deed by Emily Pearson

Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts

Lily and the Paper Man by Rebecca Upjohn



Lots of other picture books and lessons listed at



Resources for helping:


Next Step:


Indicate on the blog that you are interested in participating. Use the blog post links to your class’ view of the schoolyard.


Tweet using the hashtag #WCYseehelp




A chain blog? or Getting to know you better?

This is my professional blog where I do my best to post my reflections on learning. I don’t usually post anything personal on this blog. So if you are looking for a reflective post about teaching scroll to an archive. If you are curious and want to know more about me read on.

I was ‘tagged’ in a blog post by my dear friend Karen Lirenman. I had just been warned by my husband that he was tagged earlier and he figured it was only time before I would be tagged too. Thanks Karen, my twitter twin for bringing me in the loop, I think.

11 Things you might not know about me.

1. I love to look at flyers. This is the most wonderful time of the year because I can sit back and look at all of the ads and see what kind of deal I can get.

2. I can bake a good pie.

3. At Christmas time, I make cookies. I bake continuously from November to the end of December. Gingerbread cookies are my best, but I’ve recently discovered a new recipe called Ginger Snap Crackle cookies. I usually don’t bake cookies at any other time of the year.

4. I was a gymnast and competed in the OFSAA. (Ontario finals in High School)

5. I’m a certified Gymnastic Coach. I coached for many years prior to going into teaching.

6. I have two twitter twins. One is exactly the same age, same years teaching and wishes she had a cleaning fairy too. The other twitter twin is another kindred spirit that lives in Philadelphia.

7. I have two younger brothers.

8. I like watching Days of our Lives. Yes, I watch one soap opera. It’s my way of escaping the day to day life of school.

9. I have twins.

10. I make homemade soup every Sunday. I package up the soup for lunches and freeze some for the following weeks.

11. I love reading mystery novels. James Patterson and Harlan Coben  novels are goodie, goodie books for me.

Karen asked me some questions. Here are my responses:

1. What is your favourite season and why?
I love summer. I need the sun. It fills my bucket. I love sitting and reading in the sun.
*2.  If you could travel any where, where would you go? Why?
I would like to go to Australia but I’d settle for anywhere warm.
3.   Runner or walker?
4.  What scares you?
The thought of losing my husband or children. I couldn’t bear that kind of grief.
5.   What is one accomplishment you are proud of?
I am proud to be a teacher. I feel like teaching has purpose and I make a difference in people’s lives.
6.  What have you been served, that you ate out of respect, but really didn’t like it?
Nothing, people usually ask what I like prior to eating at their homes.
7.  Water  or snow sports?
When I was younger it was water sports. Now it’s snow sports.
8.  Have you broken any bones? If so which ones? How?
My baby finger broke when I was young. My orbital bone and cheek bone were broken while playing a co-ed baseball game.
9.  Where’s the furthest you’ve been away from home?
10. What is/are your comfort food(s)?
Popcorn and Sour Cream and Onion Chips.
11. What’s the biggest surprise of your life?
Finding out I was expecting twins.
So here’s the nitty gritty….

  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers.
  5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.


Here are the people I would like to nominate to answer questions. I apologize in advance for this, I know it’s a busy time of year but it’s a fun way to get to know our PLN. I’m modifying it to have 5 people and 5 questions. Please still provide 11 random facts about yourself.

1. Jocelyn Schmidt

2. Colin Harris

3. Joanne Babalis

4. Laurel Fynes

5. Ann Marie Hulse

My questions to you.

1. What is your favourite picture book?

2. What is your favourite TV show and why?

3. If you could recommend one professional book what would it be and why?

4. Provide a recipe for a great Christmas drink.

5. What makes you tick?

So here’s the nitty gritty….

  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 5 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers.
  5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.


Post back here with a link after you write this. Go on, you have homework to do.

Shoe inquiry- design update

As you may recall, my students created shoes for our babies at the house center. The DECE  and I observed some very interesting things. We noticed the students struggled with the concept of 3D and many students made 2D (flat) shoes. They glued or taped the shoes right on the doll and couldn’t remove them. Over the last few weeks we have created some weaving and sewing activities. We have worked with groups to investigate fasteners such as safety pins, thread, wool, glue and tape. Today we provided another design challenge.
“It’s cold out. Our babies need some new items. What can you design for them?” Students immediately said, “mittens, hats, scarves, neck warmers and coats.” They quickly began creating items.

It was awesome to see how they had built up resilience over the past month. They all believed they could create something and they attempted it with confidence. We did observe one student who made a one sided mitten but otherwise all students created items that had a front and back and could slid on and off the babies. No one glued their items to the dolls. I was impressed with the sewing techniques of some of the learners. A few students choose tape because it’s faster. Almost all created items that could easily slip on and off the dolls.

The final products were not my focus. I was interested in how they processed the steps, what strategies they employed and whether or not their level of persistence had increased. I was delighted in what I saw today. It certainly reminded me that we need to provide formative tasks, figure out their missing pieces of knowledge, scaffold their learning with mini lessons, small groups and explicit instruction and then provide another task for students to attempt. I learned a great deal about my students through this process. Designing, building, creating and reflecting is so important for all of our learners.

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Photo 12-12-2013, 2 31 11 PM



Shoe inquiry update

Inquiries in the classroom are absolutely fascinating from the teacher perspective. While inquiries engage students in learning, inquiries also engage the educators in focusing on their individual learners. I learn so much about my student by watching them engage in inquiry tasks. I quickly figure out what they don’t know, what they already know and of course what they skills they need to move forward. But I also feel it goes deeper than that. I feel I get a true opportunity to see my students persevere, problem solve and demonstrate their level of critical thinking. I am not hung up on the final results of an inquiry. I am enthralled with the process and where an inquiry will lead or fade out. I never fully know what will happen throughout an inquiry and that sometimes scares me but it also keeps me engaged and excited about the next pathways.
If you have read my previous posts you know that I provided some provocations for a shoe inquiry for some of my learners. We read and watched Pete the Cat loves White Shoes. The students absolutely loved the videos and songs and still ask every day for some “Pete the Cat”. The challenge provided was authentic. Can we make shoes for our dolls in the house center? The students struggled and made many attempts at shoes. Flip flops were the shoes of choice due to the ease of putting on and off the doll. I was able to observe who gave up quickly and who persevered. I reflected on the reasons they were or weren’t successful. I have thought long and hard about what to do to fill their gaps and help them through the process. Do I care if we have shoes for our dolls? Not really. That wasn’t really the purpose. The purpose was to find a task that would engage a group of students who I felt were ‘stuck’ at the art center. They were not engaging in problem solving tasks and continuously were created 2D art work over and over. I wanted to extend their learning and increase their ‘tool kit’ with more experiences in 3D creations and problem solving.
A few things happened that surprised me. One of my ‘focus’ students initially was excited and started on the journey of shoe making. She had a few failures and then I introduced sewing techniques. I’m not a strong sewer. My husband (@Bharrisonp) actually does the button mending in our house. I sew ballet shoes twice a year and that’s only when I can’t get the shoes to my friend Karen Dance  (@CBCListener) to do it due to time restraints. I introduced sewing and realized the students didn’t have the lacing or weaving concept yet. I then spoke to one of my colleagues, Mrs. Greenham who comes in during my preps. We discussed ways to demonstrate weaving and sewing. I hole punched some foam bears tied on a piece of ribbon and put out cotton balls. Students learned the lacing technique and created some 3D bears.  Mrs. Greenham showed the students some purses her young daughters created and discussed the lacing/sewing involved. Students were provided with hold punches and wool and invited to create whatever they wished.

Photo 11-30-2013, 10 55 44 AM


On our walk to the pond we saw many bird nests and the students investigated nests and the weaving involved. Some students created mini nests using the weaving technique taught by Mrs. Greenham. (@GreenhamJenn)  We will continue to provide opportunities for our learners to engage in weaving and sewing and then present another challenge and see if the children can incorporate their new skills into the challenge.

I believe the inquiry is not about the end product or solely about the culmination of knowledge. I believe the inquiry is a way for teachers to discover, reveal and extend student learning. The inquiry is a process and teachers need to view it as such and take the time to observe, assess, reflect and extend. It was never about the shoe, it was about perseverance, uncovering skills that are missing, scaffolding learning and extending opportunities for new learning. We might try shoe design again or we might try a different challenge that incorporates their new abilities. The inquiry process is such a wonderful vehicle for teacher learning.

Inquiries and reflection

This is my professional blog for my own reflections. My class blog is a space in which I blog for my families and other K classrooms. I try to make our classroom learning as transparent as possible. This blog lets me reflect and get feedback from my PLN, my critical friends online.

Today I posted a blog entry about whole class inquiry and small group inquiries. We are at the beginning stages of the inquiry and a lot of my own questions are emerging. I ask that if you haven’t already read my post please do so at

I originally planned out the shoe inquiry because I have a group of students who spend most of their open choice play time at the art center. They create and make many different things every day. I do worry that they are not experiencing the problem solving or designing that happens at block center or building areas. I have tried to find an inquiry that will engage and push this group of learners into a new direction.

I know trains are not of any interest to this group, so I introduced the provocation of Pete the Cat Loves his White Shoes  video and story. To my surprise almost all of the students jumped on board and began creating and designing shoes. I had originally thought about one group in particular while I was selecting materials for the challenge. Many students have attempted this challenge and I ran into a similar experience as when I conducted our Duct Tape Challenge last winter. Aviva @Avivaloca and I discussed the obstacle of thinking in 2D and 3D for my young learners. I was amazed to see that once students used a plan our youngest learners created a flat creation and not a 3 dimensional object.

The group that I had intended to bring forward with the shoe inquiry are designing 3D shoes that actually go on and off the dolls. Our youngest JKs are struggling with this because they are thinking in 2D. They drew shoes and then cut them out and couldn’t figure out how the shoes would fit on the dolls. While this is funny to watch and I have to say I did chuckle in the classroom, I also took it as a time to reflect. This week, I’ll make more materials available and encourage 2D designs in order for students to experience success at making a shoe design. Then I need to think of ways to help the learners think and create in 3D. This is where my challenge is and where I seek help from my PLN. What tasks do you do to help bridge this thinking? I think about playdough and how students immediately crush the playdough to the table and then use cookie cutters or their hands to flatten it. It is rare for students to create 3D objects in playdough. Hopefully we will have snow soon and we can do some 3D snow creations. We use sensory bins and students work with 3D objects and experience different textures. What more can I do to help the students move from 2D to 3D?


Parent Communication and accessibility

I had the pleasure of attending Aviva @avivaloca and Aaron @bloggucation ‘s session at ECOO 2013 on parent communication. Aviva is very passionate about her students and works very closely with her families. She blogs, tweets, emails and does weekly phone calls. Her junior class is also involved in broadcasting from the school and they use   Aviva also described how she uses LiveScribe pens to record planning sessions and shares those sessions with her families.  She finds multiple ways to engage with her families.

I also engage in daily emails, a class blog, hand written notes, biweekly newsletters, SKYPE and phone calls as methods of communicating with my parent community. I have a lot of success in emailing out a quick photo of a child learning and sending it to their parents at work or home. I receive a lot of positive feedback from families. “It makes my day, when I get a photo of … while I’m working at my desk.” “I love showing my colleagues what my daughter is doing at school.” I think all educators will agree that parent communication is essential and an important aspect of our role as educators.

As I attended ECOO 2013 I heard a lot of wonderful conversations, presentations and keynotes. The emphasis was always on students learning and the technology tools were secondary. However, there was one thing I noticed that was not always in the forefront of our conversations. Accessibility for all parents, specifically parents of those who are English Language Learners was not a focus in our discussions. Karen Lirenman @Klirenman recently posted a blog entry and she talked about how she now included a translation widget on her blog. I have been reading and trying to figure out the best way to include translation widgets on my class blog and have not yet had success. I’m sure I’m missing something obvious. I welcome suggestions but at this point I can locate a link but my wordpress class blog does not make it easy for me to create a widget. I consider myself pretty techie and this simple process is a stumbling block for me. I wonder why as educators we are not demanding our blog sights to include translation widgets in the list of choices to add to our blogs. Why is it we can add cluster maps but not translation widgets?

I am sure in time I will find an easy way to add the widget to my class blog. I welcome any suggestions in the comment area. However, that’s not the focus of this entry. I ask educators to please consider all families of the students in your classrooms. How can we use technology to make it easier to communicate with everyone?  How are we being equitable in our communication methods? I know I will ask myself each time I create something for families, I will question how can I ensure this meets the needs of all of my families. Will you too?


update- Thank you to the support team at Edublogs. I contacted their help email support and received a quick reply. The support team even put the translate option on my blog. Thank you!

Now I need to figure it out for my class blog.


Gears, gears, gears (The components of a literacy block)

I have worked in various roles including curriculum consultant, literacy coach, Literacy@School teacher and oral language steering committee member. The focus and the components of a literacy block is always at the forefront of all of my work. I strongly believe in the Gradual Release of Responsibility model. (Modelled, Shared, Guided and Independent practise)

Often in conversations I hear people refer to the pieces of the puzzle of a literacy block. Yes, I agree there are many pieces of a literacy block, but I also know that a teacher can have all the pieces but still not be utilizing the components effectively. Over the years I have heard, “Yes, I do a read aloud everyday, we are working on an author study. Yes, I also do shared reading, we have a poem a week. Yes, I do interactive writing, it’s about the child’s buildings.” These are just a sample of comments that have made me reflect on the professional development messages that have been relayed to teachers. I believe that it is much more than having the components of a balanced literacy, it’s about linking the components together. I don’t mean by theme or topic, I mean explicitly linked, so the skills that are being addressed in the read aloud, match or compliment the skills in the shared reading, which scafffold the learning for the guided reading and interactive writing lessons. These skills are then transferred and scaffolded during the independent reading and writing times.

This might seem obvious but I have seen colleagues work so hard in preparing lessons in each of the areas of the literacy program but not yield the results of their hard work. I was recently watching a student use the app Geared 2! That graphic had me thinking and reflecting on my current practice.

The image struck me as more appropriate to use when referring to the gradual release of responsibility then a puzzle image. I current teach a full day everyday kindergarten program and I am seeing the importance of connecting each of the gears together to create effective readers and writers. One of the joys of teaching Kindergarten is you get to see the moments when the  lights go off and hear the immediate connections young learners make in the moment.

Here is an example of how consistent instruction is threaded throughout the gradual release of responsibility in our classroom. Our read alouds this week have been about seeds in order to assist us in our wonderings about seeds. The read aloud focus has been on understanding how the title matches the story and the picture on the cover. My prompting has been on understanding that the author selects a title that makes sense for the book. For example, we have a book about the lifecycle of a dandelion and the photo on the cover is of a dandelion not a photo of a dinosaur.

In shared reading we are looking at a simple pattern text about the life cycle of a pumpkin. The focus is on looking at the picture thinking about what we see then tackling the text. Students are learning that the text matches what is happening in the picture. We also do interactive writing daily in our block and currently we are learning that our words must match the photo or drawing we have selected. We are doing writing about the photos of the seeds we have collected.

The interactive writing is posted in a wall story format and later students independently reread the wall story and work on matching the text with the picture. In guided reading students are learning how to look at the picture first, think about what would make sense, then read at the text.

Independently students are writing/drawing responses to the read aloud. Our prompting is “make your picture match the story we read today.” During independent reading the students are doing their picture walks and thinking about the meaning, then reading the text.

The common thread is making sure the children understand that authors and writers match pictures with the words. The topic may be seeds but that is secondary to our instructional foci. Seeds is just the vehicle we are using to generate interest, but the focus is still on making the text match the photo. Some young children do not know this obvious connection. They need it explicitly taught. This is a very simple example, but for our youngest learners they need us to guide them and help them make these connections. Educators need to be very explicit about linking the focus of each component of the literacy block.  We have gears that need to operate in conjunction with each other.

photo 1

Thank you for reading my reflections. I welcome comments and feedback.