KIAT Book Club: Classrooms That Work Ch. 6

Hello again! We’ve made it to chapter six in Classrooms That Work! Discussed briefly in the previous chapter was incorporating subjects such as Science and Social Studies into reading. Here, our chapter is titled “Science and Social Studies Matter to Struggling Readers” and follows the path one would expect; talking about the importance of subjects other than English for struggling students.

Of course, the centrepiece for the chapter comes from the fact that children are often very interested in Science and Social. They yearn for knowledge and information and simply lack reading skills. Here, we as teachers need to be creative in our teaching strategies to reach all students. Indeed, when kids have a higher desire to access more information on topics of their choosing, they are more likely to want to read and write on the subject at hand.

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The chapter discusses having as much hands-on learning as possible, including field trips and bringing presenters into the classroom.

Additionally, informational texts, including newspaper articles, computer research, textbooks, encyclopedias, and other interesting materials should make up the base of instruction. These are texts kids are drawn to in their desire to learn more on topics of interest.

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Also an interesting suggestion is something called “integrated days”. I find this interesting as I am an advocate for doing away with rigid subjects and integrating them all. On integrated days, the book discusses dedicating the entire day to a topic of interest rather than to designated subjects. I like the idea overall and would be interested in incorporating it into the classroom.

If you’re interested in looking further into the book, here’s the link to it on Amazon. We’re nearing the close now, back again in two weeks with chapter seven!

KIAT Book Club: Classrooms That Work Ch. 5

Guess what?! We’ve reached the inevitable phonics chapter in Classrooms That Work! We all knew it had to come; the chapter all about what the book itself has had enough of. Of course, the book has not been telling us phonics is useless in itself; it’s been telling us that the way in which so many teachers have been teaching it is flawed. Here, we’re given different (fun!) ways in which to teach kids letter and letter-group sounds.

One of the big things this chapter discusses is word walls. As you may have read in my past word wall post (link to that post here), you know I’m a fan of word walls. A fan of word walls that are built with students. I already feel as though my wall is quite strong, but Classrooms That Work has given me even more helpful ideas that will (hopefully) make it even better.

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It discusses things such as colour coding and throws in a lot of fun and helpful word wall games and activities to do with the children in order to make it an active tool in the classroom.

Another fun activity written about is a bit young for my kids to incorporate entirely but seems fun: having a student of the day at the beginning of the year to get to know all of the kids. It might not be great for phonics in grade four but it would be a fun intro activity for the first couple of weeks of school.

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Some activités are discussed which can be done during class reading or during Science, Social Studies, or other non-Language Arts courses. There are also some great activities for counting syllables and decoding words of various syllables.

I continue to not only enjoy this book but actively sing its praises to coworkers and teacher friends. I can’t wait for chapter six! If you’re interested in the book, here’s the link to it on Amazon.

KIAT Book Club: Classrooms That Work Ch. 4

Hello again! We’re onto chapter four in Classrooms That Work and it’s another good one! This one is all about children’s writing and thinking. Like reading, it focuses on thinking while writing to improve not only students’ writing but also their reading skills.

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The chapter notes that the best thing we can do as teachers to improve students’ writing is to provide them with ample time to write, allow them access to materials that they need for writing, and to model the writing process and the importance of writing.

As with our previous chapters, we are also given a nice handful of useful tools and activities to use in the classroom to effectively teach the writing process. Some ideas presented are group and shared writing, in which kids are privy to modelled writing both by the teacher and by their peers.

Writers workshops are helpful for reluctant writers as they get to choose their own topics and are thus more likely to become passionate about writing. Also hi lighted as being particularly important in the publishing process as kids need to feel like their work is important.

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I, again, enjoyed this chapter particularly because I am always looking for new ideas to bring into the classroom and enjoy reading about the step-by-step process of utilizing them, not just the broad ideas. This book has been great for that exact purpose thus far. This chapter has proposed tons of lessons and ideas that are perfect for classrooms between K-6. I’m additionally finding it useful because of the unique make-up of my classroom; some kindergarten activities will be useful and some 6th grade activities will be useful; they just need slight modifications.

If you’re interested in purchasing the book, the link to it on Amazon is here. Stay tuned for chapter five!

KIAT Book Club: Classrooms That Work Ch. 3

In the last two chapters of Classrooms That Work, we’ve discussed what doesn’t work and strategies to garner kids’ enthusiasm for reading. This chapter discusses comprehension and how to teach students to actually think about what they’re reading.

Everyone thinks you should read this book!
Everyone thinks you should read this book!

Sure enough, I see very often that kids have had phonics drilled into them and know letter sounds, but have no idea what they’re reading. They’re under the impression that reading is just sounding out words and saying them properly; they’re unsure of what else it entails because no one has really told them.

This chapter was a great read for me because it was absolutely full of different activities to do with large or small groups that engage kids in active reading.

The beginning of our latest chapter!
The beginning of our latest chapter!

I have a basic set of ideas and activities to do with kids for reading activities, but many of these were things I had never heard before, or put creative spins on activities I was already utilizing. For example, there’s an excellent beach ball activity which can be used after reading in which a beach ball is thrown from student to student which has broad questions (which will work for most stories) for them to answer.

The Beach Ball Game
The Beach Ball Game

I also often struggle with guided reading. Currently, my students are at such different levels that many of them need to read in a group of only one or two. Even with centres every morning, I wish I had more one-on-one time with them. An excellent solution is the “Three Ring Circus” for reading, which could easily be added in two or three times a week for a bit of extra guided reading time.

The Three Ring Circus reading activity
The Three Ring Circus reading activity

I am truly finding this book to be one of the most helpful I’ve read. It’s full of ideas that are new to me (perhaps because they’re innovative, perhaps because I have a secondary background, perhaps both) and I highly, highly recommend it to all teachers. Here’s the link on Amazon if you’d like more information about it.

Margaret Atwood in the Classroom

I have been struggling with ways in which to teach Margaret Atwood in the high school classroom without resulting in a slew of teenagers running wild-eyed out of the classroom, razors in hand, ready to end their lives on account of reading such depressing literature (or what my mom like to call “slit-your-wrist-books”).

Personally, I am an absolutely massive Atwood fan. It took awhile to come around, but once I did, I became a fan for life.

Unlike many teens, I never read The Handmaid’s Tale in high school. I was in the International Baccalaureate program and they prefered to saddle us with pretentious literature generally reserved for first and second year university (think things like L’etranger, A Doll’s House, and Heart of Darkness).

Instead, I got my first taste of Ms. Atwood in a Canadian Literature class in second year university, in which we read Surfacing on account of it being (this is verbatim what my prof. told us) “the shortest of Atwood’s novels, because I didn’t want to torture you all too badly”. I went in with negativity in my heart.

Unsurprisingly, I was not a fan of Surfacing on first read and for the rest of the term, I avoided all paper topics in which we may have to reference it.

However, on a three-month trek around Europe, I found myself falling into the  ever-clichéd role of post-graduate Canadian tourist, and swapping novels at every hostel we stayed at. When I was low on English options at one such hostel, I came across Atwood’s The Blind Assassin.

Not wanting to go through the shame I felt in university of attempting and horribly failing to learn Spanish, I decided that I would just have to try my hand at Atwood’s work again, it being my only English option.

Much to both my surprise and joy, I found that I enjoyed The Blind Assassin. No, let me rephrase that, as “enjoyed” is far too much of an understatement. I absolutely LOVED it. The novel was beautifully written, full of deep and meaningful characters, and the story itself was unbelievable. In fact, when I finished, I picked it right back up again and read it once over.

After my breakthrough with Assassin, I decided to try my hand with Atwood once more. I finally read The Handmaid’s Tale. I re-read Surfacing (and enjoyed it much more the second time around). I read everything of her’s that I could get my hands onto. When The Year of The Flood was released, I went to my local Chapters and lined up behind throngs of people while on a short break from work (which I dragged out substantially), where I could barely catch a glimpse of Atwood, just to hear her speak.

And yet, despite all of this, I simply cannot find a way to incorporate Atwood into the classroom. Even with novels that are typical in the high school classroom, like A Handmaid’s Tale. I find myself unable to utilize them in my own practice.

Perhaps it stems from the fact that I recognize myself as someone who liked English Literature of all sorts from a very young age. I was one of the few students who (not just liked) loved reading Shakespeare in high school. Thus, if I was not a fan of Atwood until y early twenties, how can I expect my students to, not simply enjoy her works, but also appreciate them?

The short answer of it is this: I can’t. I pride myself on making my classroom not only fun, but also useful, meaningful, and practical. If students have no interest in Atwood, it doesn’t matter how important her themes are, they won’t be meaningful to them.

Thus, the only conclusion I can come to is to address the common themes that Atwood plays with (feminism, power) through texts which students feel more of a connection to.

Sad, but true.

KIAT Book Club: Classrooms That Work Ch. 2

Chapter Two in Classrooms That Work is all about reading and writing. Titled Reading and Writing Real “Things”, one of the first sentences which struck me was:

“[c]hildren who are successful at becoming literate view reading and writing as authentic activities from which they get information and pleasure, and by which they communicate with others.”

An excellent chunk of text!
An excellent chunk of text!

I believe this corresponds to, essentially, all subject matter. If we as people, not even as students, do not find a topic useful, interesting, or meaningful, we will almost always, inevitably, be unsuccessful in it. People who do not feel passionate about their work perform much poorer than their eager counterparts. Thus, the question which arises in this context is a simple one, but one that can be difficult to answer: how can we make reading and writing engaging for students?

The book touches again upon high involvement homes versus low involvement homes which, the vast majority of time, brings into play the socioeconomic disparities in our classrooms. I first read this chapter on a relatively long airplane ride in which I was bouncing back and forth between various books, television shows, and cellphone games to keep my easily distracted mind from boredom. I had just finished the chapter in Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point in which he discusses the phenomenon of teen smoking and that, when most smoking adults look back on their first memories of smoking, they see it as sophisticated.

Perhaps it was because I had literally just put that book down when I picked this one up, but Classrooms That Work discusses that many students come from homes in which they are exposed to huge libraries and parents and siblings which read and write constantly; they see the usefulness and enjoyability of reading. I immediately thought of my childhood; indeed I never saw smoking as sophisticated, I saw reading, writing, talking, and creating as sophisticated. How can we garner this idea of sophistication in children who may not be exposed to such things. Who see being adult as smoking, drinking, watching TV, eating junk food, and staying up until whenever they want (just a few examples)? It obviously needs to be done in the classroom.

The authors give us some great examples of how to turn our classrooms into models of homes in which literate children are raised. Our classrooms allow students an assortment of books to choose from, allows them to share what they’ve read, and allows them to go through the basic steps of learning how to write. This book is excellent because it actually provides a plethora of useful and logical ideas which are easy to incorporate into classrooms and teaching.

A great example from the book!
A great example from the book!

It talks a lot about how to show children that reading is enjoyable and necessary for them to learn new things, thus driving their desire to learn how to do it. I am finding myself drawn to the ideas proposed the further and further I get (and I’m only on chapter 2). I highly, highly recommend this book for some excellent examples; particularly if you’re a new teacher or if you have a challenging classroom composition.

If you’re interested in the book, here’s the link to it on Amazon. Happy reading!

Teaching Roald Dahl’s “The Witches”

What’s everyone’s favourite Roald Dahl book? It’s hard, I know, because they’re all perfection on a page. I’ve spent years reading and re-reading and teaching all of his novels and short stories and have finally decided that “The Witches” is my favourite. It’s especially fun to teach and read aloud just to do the voice of the Grand High Witch!

The Witches

Teaching at a school in which none of my students are able to read at grade level and many have comprehension and memory issues, I had to be creative about teaching my favourite Dahl novel. I didn’t want to skip teaching it in favour of something simpler because I feel like it’s a disservice to students who would otherwise love the story, to not get to learn it because of their learning struggles.

Overall, all of my students enjoy and understand the story; I just need to be create about assessment and activities for the book. I decided to create an activity book to anchor my class through the novel and then add various activities throughout.

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I’ll read each chapter of the novel to my class and have them follow along in their own books (very, very few are able to follow along, but I still insist on this as they know many sight words which can help them follow along and catch other common words as well). After each chapter, I have all students draw a quick picture to help them remember what happened in the chapter, which I use as comprehension assessment later (I’ll have a mini interview with them about what has happened in the novel and they get to use the drawings from their activity book as a guide).

The book also has chapter questions, some are basic comprehension questions, but mostly I want to have the students think deeper about what we’re reading so I like to include a lot of “how would you feel if…” or “what do you think will happen next…” type of questions. I’ll also try to mix in more aspects of curriculum, such as having them think of adjectives to describe various characters or having them compare and contrast.

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I like to also include other activities outside of the activity book to get students away from basic pen and paper, in-desk activities. I’ll have them act out scenes, or play hangman games to try to stump their classmates, or make The Witches-themed art projects. As with all of my activities in all of my units in all of my subjects, the thing I most want to accomplish is student enjoyment and passion about learning; it’s just all about making sure they’re learning and that I’m finding creative ways to assess along the way!

If you’re interested in my Witches activity book, you can find it here in my Teachers Pay Teachers  store. I also have a similar Matilda activity book, which you can find here if you’re so inclined. Happy teaching!