Pedagogy, Pinterest, Professional Literacy Communities

Learning how to teach all children to read, within the context of a quality literacy program, is an evolving process. A tremendous responsibility, with new challenges and opportunities every school year.

Responsibility…in that all our children deserve access and joy with the written word

Challenges… in that many children will need adapted and alternate ways to learn to read

Opportunities… in that teachers are constantly searching for best practice and success

Having been a reading teacher my entire career, (now counted by decades, not years), I fully understand that we are on a continual journey to learn how to teach all children to read. Our world is changing, our literacy modes are evolving, and our children are entering school with new and differing skill sets and background knowledge.

Teachers are bombarded with instruction ideas based on well researched pedagogy, inspiration ideas shared on Pinterest, and wisdom ideas shared in Professional Literacy Communities. And so on…

All of these sources can be helpful in our pursuit to learn how to best teach children to read. Over the years I have used pieces of everything, but most importantly I have prioritized “what matters” first and foremost. I learn best from the children I work with, by observing and responding to successes and challenges. All the while being coached in the background with Pedagogy, Pinterest and Professional Literacy Communities. And so on…

Previous blog posts here have addressed these topics before, however as I evolve my learning and writing, new perspectives will be shared in upcoming weeks.










Beginning Again

Re-entry into the world of blogging comes with some hesitation, yet with an on-going need to reflect and contribute ideas beyond one’s portfolio. And for the simple reason that my audience and purpose need to expand. As is our current world of literacy.

My career is evolving, with more time now for consolidating, critiquing and reviewing previous practices, beliefs and inquiries. Literacy itself is evolving – rapidly.

Although we still want our children to learn to read and write, we also need to have them want to read and write. Early reading success still matters, but our purpose and practice are changing. We must now embed new layers – critical,  creative, collaborative and meta-cognitive thinking. Authentic purpose and audience for our young readers and writers. Engagement and ownership as an essential component of learning to read. Emerging reading with writing and writing with reading. Utilizing multiple forms of literacy and representation in combination with alphabetic text. More layers will evolve…

To ensure that early reading success occurs, we must challenge pieces of traditional practice, and work together to hold onto what works and what kids care about.

That is the purpose of this blog.



Summit 6 Take Aways

Wow – a reading conference of all reading conferences. Almost a week later I am still processing the information, the passion and the expertise.

I was impressed by the consistent belief from all speakers that all children can learn to read and write, with joyful (word choice of Dr. Janet Mort), dedicated and knowledgable instruction.

I was saddened by some of the statistics. We have more “vulnerable readers” entering Kindergarten now than ever before. From 23% in 2003 to 33% in 2013 (Dr. Janet Mort).

I was reassured that “high-quality supplemental instruction should not be a substitute for high quality classroom instruction and one should complement the other” (Richard Allington).

I was disturbed by the comment (Allington) that there still exists some lack of professional responsibility for our vulnerable readers, as some teachers do not think it is “their problem”, but instead belongs to special education and intervention specialists. Ouch.

I was in agreement that many of our vulnerable readers get fragmented and incoherent literacy instruction (Allington). We need to look at our intervention strategies as improving the quality of instruction and level of expertise for all teachers.

I was discouraged by the idea shared by several, that it may be “too late” for vulnerable readers by the end of grade three, and even grade two.

I was inspired by the ideas of Regie Routman, and will be reading her new book Read, Write and Lead as soon as possible.

I was reminded of the incredible impact that Kindergarten teachers have, and am so thankful I have started to work with these teachers and children this past year.

I was challenged to look much closer at the processing system that readers use while problem solving unknown words and meaning. Pat Johnson (Catching Readers Before they Fall) encourages us to prompt children to use all sources of information (visual, meaning and structure) in a network of cognitive actions.

And finally, although I was not surprised that most recommended “using what is known to work” (MariamThrehearn), I was surprised that not one speaker mentioned the use of technology to support our struggling readers.

We need to recognize and celebrate the strengths in our instructional literacy practices, yet continue to learn together how to best meet our vulnerable learners of today.

Vulnerable Readers Summit 6 Conference

I am so grateful to have the opportunity to attend the Vulnerable Readers Summit 6 conference in Calgary, Oct 27/28, 2014.

Among other literacy experts, I look forward to the wisdom of Richard Allington, Pat Johnson and Regie Routman. Their books continue to influence my teaching. Hearing them speak will either confirm my beliefs and/or challenge my thinking. I hope for both.

I hope to learn about meeting the needs of vulnerable readers in 2014. Our children are changing, their background experiences differ, and what it means to be literate is continually evolving. Learning to read is still an essential component of schooling, yet I want to know what is working better for our modern learners.

I hope to be re-assured that what I am doing is research based, engaging and meaningful for today’s children.

I hope to understand why some children only grasp portions of the components of reading, and how to help them integrate the complexities to find meaning and enjoyment.

I hope I am reminded of the teaching techniques that “don’t work” and we should avoid.

But mostly I hope to walk away with even more enthusiasm, expertise and enduring understanding of how to best help kids learn to read.

Assessment for Planning

When teaching a Literacy Support program (also known as RTI or Reading Intervention in our school), we are always mindful of our provincial curricular outcomes at each grade level. What are the students expected to learn?

We know that our children needing literacy support are not yet meeting grade level expectations for many of the reading and writing outcomes, and need more time and help somewhere along the curricular continuum. Teacher awareness of current and previous levels of the curriculum are essential, as well as a solid understanding of the components of reading/writing. As well, recognizing some of current definitions of what is means to be literate must also be considered (NCTE). In today’s classroom, that must translate into carefully planned and orchestrated learning opportunities for all students.

For our learners missing some of the foundational pieces of literacy development, what matters the most is understanding individual strengths, areas for improvement and instructional next steps. Assessment for planning works for these students. The evidence of what these learners are successful with (or struggle with) on a daily basis, determines where we go next.

At a week long assessment conference with Anne Davies several years ago, I was struck by these wise words: “Do we assess what we value or value what we assess?” That question continues to guide my decision making each day. How do we find evidence of what we value with our literacy learners? How do we use that evidence to plan our next steps? Unfortunately, as teachers, we may have “evidence” of student learning that gets filed away and forgotten, as it does not get used in any planning for learning. Unless that evidence is strictly a summative piece, used at the “end of the learning” or for reporting purposes, all other formative observations, conversations and performances/products are essential to planning for instruction.

We must know what we value, and assess accordingly. And then use that information to plan our instruction. Assessment for Planning.

Six Weeks In

It is so hard to believe we have just finished the first 6 weeks of school. For some grade one students, that also means one month of Literacy Support. And for the teacher, it is time to reflect on what we have done, how we are doing, and where we are headed.

With end of kindergarten data, and an early September book conversation, our small group pull-out support program is well under way. Students eagerly arrive daily in a book filled room ready to explore, share and engage in early literacy concepts. Welcoming students in a kid-friendly environment that allows for movement, games, enlarged text (Smartboard) and places to read to self is important.

We started with a “Chicka, Chicka Boom Boom” big book and Youtube variations. Our goal of learning the names and sounds of the alphabet was made clear to the students right away. We matched objects and small toys with letters, sorted items by beginning sound and played a “mix-up” game where discrimination of initial consonants was needed. We used tactile letter making tools and played with magnets. All along the way children “played with sounds”, to ensure phonological awareness skills were practiced. Informal assessments show increased knowledge in both letter recognition and sound awareness, with some children needing more time and support (as expected).

Interestingly, I asked the students a few days ago why we needed to know the letter names and sounds. “Why are we learning this stuff?” I inquired. “To learn the alphabet”, was the obvious answer for all students. I quickly discovered that they had made no connection with knowing alphabet names/sounds and learning to read….

Onto our next focus. Print concepts and early reading behaviours. As students were unaware of our bigger outcome How do we become good readers?, it is time to explore an essential question, “How do words work?”.

Over the next few days, we will be read together enlarged text using Raz-Kids on the Smartboard, along with paper book copies. I will also re-write the text into sentence strips to cut and manipulate words, match with illustrations and focus on the beginning sound clues. Some children are ready to explain how they know the difference between “cow” and “car”- transfer in action!

Recognizing individual high frequency words by sight also now needs to be practiced (more on this in a later blog).

As well, we will start to focus on stamina and sustainment with individual book choices and re-reading of familiar text: “How do we build reading stamina?”

Although those critical skills of phonological awareness and phonemic awareness are essential for beginning readers, and do take up a lot of instructional time, we must also not forget the “why”. Offering daily opportunities to examine and explore books independently is what good readers do- even when we are just starting the journey!


Pull-in or Pull-out?

In response to meeting the needs of vulnerable readers, our school is currently using both a “pull-in” and “pull-out” approach.

Which is better for student learning?

It depends.

Meeting the needs of our readers must come first. However timetable considerations (and limitations) for 12 grade 1-3 classrooms in a large school with differing literacy instruction approaches must also be considered.

As a Tier 3 Literacy Support teacher, my role is to help teachers ensure continuous growth and success for our beginning readers. With a range of current formative and diagnostic assessment data, the task of deciding who gets support, when and where, is an ongoing and flexible process.

For some classrooms, a traditional “pull-out”, small group approach for targeted instruction works best. Teachers must ensure that missed classroom learning activities are non-essential, and that ongoing communication keeps us both informed on student progress, strengths and needs. Literacy support assessment is on-going, however every 6-8 weeks a DRA2 or Fountas and Pinnell tool is administered and communicated to determine further instructional next steps.

For other classrooms, a “pull-in” support allows an opportunity for an additional teacher to join the regular literacy program to provide students “what they need”. In this scenario, the classroom teachers must ensure this time is valued and organized in such a way that small groups of instruction or individual book conferencing run seamless. Teachers can share the same language of instruction, expectations and assessment procedures.

In my experience, there are a few factors that do not work in the best interest of students. Too much disruption in a child’s daily routine, “hit and miss” intervention where other activities compete with the time allocated, and lack of common understanding of a child’s literacy profile (areas of strength, areas of need and instructional next steps) are roadblocks for successful intervention. Other factors such as activity noise level, movement or other distractions that might interfere with a student’s efforts must be considered. When given a choice, my students always prefer a quiet corner that allows for less distraction and room for more thinking and conversation.

Most importantly, a whole school focus on ensuring quality literacy instruction for all learners is essential. Meeting the needs of individual literacy learners in most effective ways requires on-going examination and informed professional judgement.

Kindergarten end of year screen

This past spring I had the privilege of working with kindergarten students and teachers in a Literacy Support role. Our objective was to create an end of kindergarten literacy profile to help transition and target our beginning readers in September.

I introduced myself to the children with a book, Say What? and a puppet. As a new favourite mentor text, this book helped introduce the concept of name (animal) and sound. As well, the delightful rhyme was a perfect introduction to begin individual literacy conversations and assessments.

Between the classroom teachers and myself, we ended the school year with 8 pieces of data including:

Teacher Observation and Conversation

Alphabet Recognition: Upper Case/Lower Case

Sound/Symbol Knowledge

Blending Sounds

Segmenting Sounds

Rhyme Identification

Rhyme Generation

Patterns began to emerge, and we were able to identify areas of strength and areas for improvement (or further assessment in September). Grade one teachers could target instruction for whole class, small groups and individuals.

Now, in our first weeks of grade one, I re-introduced myself with another favourite text, Duck! Rabbit! Again this easily led to comfortable conversations with individual students new to our school, or ones we had noticed in June that might need some literacy support. Using a beginning levelled text, we had a “Book Conversation” to examine early concepts of print; another essential understanding for beginning readers.

Some interesting observations were discovered during this early assessment process:

1. Children might not be able to identify rhyme (match objects), but were easily able to generate rhyme. I thought identification would come first…

2. Although attempt was made to use everyday objects or toys for rhyme identification, a few children were not able to name the object or hold onto the word. That presented a vocabulary challenge… not necessarily a rhyming task.

3. Blending and segmenting sounds in words were easily accomplished by many students, yet for others it was a complete unawareness, even with prompting examples to start. We will definitely be “playing with sounds” in grade one!

4. All children understand top-down, left-right directionality when reading a beginning text. Although one to one correspondence is less secure, these children are ready to learn to read.

Have we “caught” all of our vulnerable beginning readers? Probably not, however we are well on our way with providing supports for many who need it. Our classroom grade one teachers will continually watch and talk, read and write with all of their children in the coming weeks, as we continue the journey of becoming good readers.

Six Components of Reading

Learning to read is a complex, multi-layered task comprised of numerous skills, techniques, strategies and understandings. Listed below are six components of reading. These organize the various learning processes used to assess and plan for reading instruction within my Literacy Support program. Five of the components are the traditional ones used by many reading teachers. “Engagement and Ownership” has been added, as this component is essential for reluctant readers.

Included with each component title is a transfer goal statement that attempts to define “what really matters” for all readers. As well, various topics that have been a focus of my classroom and intervention instruction are listed. Italicized words describe the language used with the children.

Proficient readers blend these components together – intentionally and automatically. Making meaning, either for enjoyment or a purpose is what emerges.

Struggling readers often need specific areas of the components explicitly taught, re-taught and practiced in isolation. However opportunities to connect, apply and merge all reading strengths and abilities with authentic reading experiences is equally as important. Then true “transfer” goals may be achieved.

Engagement & Ownership: Developing Ability and Desire to Read

1.  Personal Preferences and Favourites: Find Favourites

2. Choose from a Wide Variety, Appropriate for Purpose: Choose a Good Fit

3. Before, During and After Reading: Regular Routines and Re-Read

4. Sustained, Independent, Quiet (silent) Reading: Build Stamina

5.  Collaboration with Text: Shine Together

6. Set Goals & Celebrate Accomplishments: Success Criteria

7. Metacognition (self-determine what works- knowing and applying): What works for me?

Phonological Awareness: Understanding & Manipulation of our Speech Sound System

8.  Syllables, Phonemes- blending/segmenting, deleting/isolating: Play with Sounds

9. Rhyme: Rhyme Time

Word Recognition: Building and Using a Repertoire of Word Identification Techniques

10. Concepts about Print: Book Chat

11. Alphabetic Principal: Letter Recognition and Formation: Learn the Alphabet

12. Sound and Symbol: Say What?

13. Decoding/Encoding-Phonics: Work on Words

14. High Frequency/Sight Words (regular/irregular): Regular and Weird Words

15. Word Analysis (syntax, semantics, picture clues, context etc.): Figure it out

16. Self-monitor, Self-correcting: Fix-it

Vocabulary: Learning about Words and Word Meanings to Communicate Effectively

17. Concept words, content words, relationship concepts, multiple meanings: Word Collecting

Fluency: Bridging Word Recognition with Meaning

18. Performance of word work and interpretation of author’s meaning: Practice Fluency      

                                                (Pausing, Phrasing, Stress, Expression, Rate)

Comprehension: Constructing, Extracting & Creating Meaning of What is Read                                    

19. Reader Response- Notice and Share (What do you notice? book, thinking, wonders)

20. Revising, Repairing, Clarifying Meaning- Read Deeply

21. Book Conversation (based on Fountas and Pinnell)- Book Talk                                                

Within the Text: Literal meaning of text/visual information

Beyond the Text: Synthesizing Information and implied meaning

About the Text: Thinking about author/illustrator work

Later posts will explore various components with planning and assessment possibilities. This list has been revised many times – and will be revised again.

Recognizing individual student’s areas of reading strength and areas for improvement is now the next step. Welcome to a new school year!



How do we become good readers?

With a life long career evolving how to best help young learners become good readers, along with an acceptance that this journey is far from complete, further learning is invigorated. An invitation to others to explore “what matters” and “what works” is the purpose of this blog. I hope to share, reflect and collectively contribute possibilities throughout the upcoming school year.

“How do we become good readers?’ is our overarching essential question for literacy learners and literacy teachers. Some answers must be directly taught, some must be discovered by the individual learner, and some will take a lifetime to develop. (for example, I reluctantly attempt to “read” documents from Revenue Canada, and often leave this task to my husband).

Our literacy lives continue to change and expand. New definitions and experiences are occurring, with multiple literacies readily accessible and expected. In Alberta, the Inspiring Education curriculum development recognizes these changes.

Yet for 10-20% of our beginning readers, the text of written language remains difficult and complex to learn. “How to become a good reader” can be a mystery. And yet it remains an essential piece of a child’s education. Even though learning opportunities are rapidly expanding, children still need to learn to read.

This blog is dedicated to the 10-20 percent, who are “vulnerable” readers. They need time, support, and our continual reflection, collaboration and dedication. They need our “evolving expertise”.

My goal this school year is to share the journey of working alongside students in grades K-3 in our (RTI) Literacy Support  Program. Various settings are used;  including working alongside teachers within the class (WIN time: What I Need), pull-out small groups in a quiet setting, and one to one support in the classroom or common area of the school.

I invite others to follow and contribute in this inquiry and journey: