Helping Your Child Read – Creating Mental Images

I’m often asked for additional ways that my friends can help their children with reading. I would like to begin by noting that reading is highly complex and multifaceted. When reading with your child please remember that reading is not just about decoding words! Although being able to decode words is highly important, it will only get your child so far. Children and students need to be able to take those words and think critically about them. As teachers we call this reading for meaning; the ultimate goal is a high degree of critical comprehension. Being able to visualize and create mental images helps children understand the author’s message, i.e., why the author wrote the text.

So how can you help? Next time you snuggle in for story time, consider reading the story without showing the pictures. Allow your child to create those mental images for themselves. Stop a few times and have your child describe to you what they “see” in their mind. Encourage your child to use all their senses when visualizing. Some sentence starters may help support your child. See the poster below from Comprehension ConnectionsI also love having students quickly sketch what they are visualizing. If you have your child stop and do this a few times throughout the story, they can then see how their thinking changes throughout the story. Once completed, re-read the story showing the pictures. Children love comparing their representations to that of the author and illustrator!

As adults and proficient readers, we are constantly creating mental images to help us understand what we’re reading. This is just one little way you can help your child do the same.

The following books lend themselves nicely to supporting this reading comprehension strategy: 

The Napping House – Audrey Wood

Sunflower House – Eve Bunting  

The Listening Walk – Paul Showers 

Imagine A Day – Sarah Thomson 

Owl Moon – Jane Yolen    


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Moms Are Their Child’s First Teacher

Hello again! As you can see I haven’t written a blog post in a while and so much in my life has changed. I’ve spent the past year as an Instructional Coach for the Peel District School Board and loved every moment of it. I worked with an incredibly motivated and talented cluster of schools and administrators to improve the teaching and learning of mathematics, ultimately resulting in increasingly numerate students. During this time our work was guided by our board’s Numeracy Strategy, Engage Math, which focuses on comprehensive mathematics instruction from Kindergarten to Grade 12. When working with teachers and administrators we were truly co-learning. Co-learning is so powerful because we don’t need to have all the answers but rather figure them out together. After all it’s the learning journey that has the potential to create deeper understandings of how to best support our students.

So where am I going with all this?!? I mentioned that my life has changed and while I was supporting schools I was also pregnant. My beautiful baby boy has arrived. He’s three months old and his name is Nicholas. I look at him every day and think, “I’ll be your first teacher”, pressure’s on ;). All Moms are their child’s first teacher and I’m often asked by friends what they can do to help their child in the areas of literacy and numeracy (I was also an Early Literacy Teacher/consultant for two years prior to being an Instructional Coach). So, with that said, I’m going to use this platform, while on maternity leave, to share my ideas and little tidbits for helping your child. I’m going to be “combining the hats” of being a Mom and a teacher.

Happy Reading!

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Technology in the Classroom

The 21st century classroom is all about learning through rich tasks that are open enough to allow for the 6 C’s (i.e., collaborative inquiry to solve real and relevant problems, creativity and innovation, critical thinking and problem solving, communication, citizenship, and character education).  Technology is a great tool that we can use to engage students through rich tasks.

A teacher once told me the saying, “You do not teach pencil.  The same way you do not teach technology.”  As I reflect on this saying, I definitely see a connection.  We may need to teach a text form or model the proper formation of letters, the same way we may need to teach a student to take a picture with an iPad or how to create a new page using the app Book Creator.  However, we do not teach pencil or technology.  Our generation, as Prensky coins the term “Digital Immigrants”, can certainly learn a lot about using technology, however it’s the younger generations that have been born into it and their knowledge base and desire to use technology will most certainly be superior to ours.  I believe our students are leaders in using technology; we have a lot to learn from and with our “Digital Natives”.

There is no doubt that using technology as a tool is probably the single most effective way to engage our students K-12 and they need it!  Remember to integrate instructional technology into classrooms in ways that are meaningful and engaging for our students.  When planning lessons with integrated technology, I view learning tasks through the TPACK framework and SAMR model.

TPACK  in 2 Minutes

SAMR in 120 Seconds

I love using apps such as iMovie for library book reviews, Puppet Pals for character education presentations, Book Creator for narrative and report writing, and eduCreations or Explain Everything for communication.  I’ve also worked with many teachers who have used technology as a tool to improve oral mathematical communication skills using, blogs, wikis, and twitter.  Students would use the technology to help them record their thinking, then students would upload their work to a classroom blog or wiki so that their peers, parents, and the global community can comment on their learning, ideas, and opinions.  When students read responses, especially from other students around the world, we’ve created an opportunity for students that without technology would not be possible.

VoiceThread is another online tool that’s great!  It allows users to have an ongoing conversation.  I’ve used this to create a discussion around important issues.  In social studies or a history classroom, you could use this tool and ask students framing questions from the curriculum.  For example, “Is history always positive?  How do we determine the nature of its impact?”  The possibilities are endless.

Putting technology in the hands of students gives them voice and choice in how they would like to engage in their learning.  This could be during the process of learning new content or when creating a final product.  Not every student needs their own laptop or iPad.  We want students to be working together, solving real and relevant problems, this creates opportunities for them to collaborate with each other.  Our board has a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policy and many students do bring their own device.  This has more easily allowed for the teaching of digital citizenship and created more access for students. However, not every student needs to bring a device to work in a small group; it’s one device per group.

Using technology as a tool, in the 21st century classroom, is crucial.  Anytime we can integrate technology we should be!  This will ensure that our students have voice and choice in their learning, preparing our students to be 21st century life-long learners long after they leave our buildings.


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Memorization or Learning?

I believe that there is some value in memorizing facts but it is limited.  There is an excellent article written by Marian Small (a K-12 mathematics professor and author) that focuses on this exact issue.  Her opinion, and I would agree, is that teaching students facts allows them to be more efficient when solving rich mathematical questions.  However, teaching just facts without teaching through the mathematical processes (i.e., problem solving, communication, reasoning and proving, connecting, representing, and selecting tools and computational strategies) does not allow students the opportunity to develop deep mathematical concepts.  If a student can successfully multiply 9×9, this is math; if the student can explain their thinking or the strategy they used, then this is numeracy.  We need to make our students numerate, just as we need to make our students literate.  In literacy, we can teach decoding but, without comprehension, there is no understanding.  In history, students can memorize facts, the dates of important battles, etcetera, but will not be able to think critically and articulate the historical significance, historical perspective, and the cause and consequences of these events.  We need to be focusing on the Big Ideas so that students can begin to make connections between what they are learning and previous knowledge.

So, when do students learn these facts?  Maybe at school, maybe at home, or maybe it can be just on their “cheat sheets” or in their notebooks.  Cheat sheets need to be renamed!  We are not teaching and assessing memorizing; we are teaching and assessing deep and applied comprehension in all subject areas.  A basic fact can be asked as a “level one” question.  This is a question that can be answered by Googling it.  We want our students to be able to answer much more complex questions.  Questions that allow them to analyze, synthesize and evaluate; creating new ideas, imagining and forming opinions; you cannot Google an answer to that!

I believe that the best way students learn is through comprehensive balanced programs, where Assessment for Learning is at the forefront.  Teachers need to find a balance between direct instruction and inquiry-based learning.  The Gradual Release of Responsibility model is true differentiation.  Teachers need to be a facilitator and a coach.  We need to plan lessons that are appropriate for modelled whole group instruction, small group (shared and guided), and individual (independent) instruction.  As teachers we need to plan supports that are good for some, like the use of  “cheat sheets”, and the supports that are good for a few when we look at our students with special education needs.  We need to created frequent flexible groupings based on readiness, interests, and/or learning styles.  This will ensure that we are engaging our 21ST century learners.  There is no doubt that inquiry-based learning or project-based learning is engaging for students.  However, in order for students to be successfully creating new knowledge, that is rooted in our curriculum, then teachers need to know when to step in and directly teach a necessary concept and when to let the students struggle and persevere.  Students are engaged when they are working in groups, solving real relevant problems, thinking critically, and having voice and choice.  However, it’s the balance that’s key and they need our guidance.  As they are working in these inquiry-based groups, the teacher’s role is very clear.  We are gathering evidence of learning and asking intentional probing questions, to name a few of our roles.  It’s this hands-on tangible inquiry-based learning married to direct instruction that allows students to learn best…in my opinion 🙂

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Building Background Knowledge Prior to Student-led Inquiries

I recently had the opportunity to hear Garfield Gini-Newman speak to the staff at Whitehorn Public School (PDSB).  Garfield is a senior national consultant with the Critical Thinking Consortium.  Please click on the link below to learn more about this consortium.  There are also some excellent resources you can download for free!

We began by discussing the four variables that impact educational initiatives.  Garfield highlighted that, in order to teach for deep understanding, we needed to ponder what we thought we were doing well and where we thought that we could improve. 

The four variables:

  • Create a Thinking Environment
  • Provide Opportunities for Deep Understanding
  • Build Capacity for Thinking
  • Provide Guidance for Thinking

We had a lot of discussion around the fourth variable and what we meant by the term “guidance”.  We came to a shared understanding that this term encompassed more than “feedback”; as teachers we need to look beyond the descriptive feedback we provide to students, and make sure that we are truly “guiding” students to ensure they continue to improve, meet goals, and reach high levels of achievement.     

Then we moved into looking at some of John Hattie’s research.  For me,  this is where it really got interesting!  Hattie’s research shows that the effectiveness of inquiry-based teaching increases when teachers teach content so that students have some background knowledge about their topic of inquiry. 

You may be thinking, “How do we begin teaching students background knowledge on the content in the curriculum?”  For years I’ve been discussing with teachers how to best do this.  We know that all students bring with them some background knowledge, but what happens when that knowledge does not align with the content in the curriculum?  I think…you need to teach it!  However, rote learning isn’t what this is all about; you need to provide opportunities for students to make opinions and think critically!

Garfield showed us an example of a lesson that he had done in a Grade 4 class.  I’ve minimally adapted the ideas in the lesson and created a Flowboard.  Flowboard is a free app and a website that allows you to create vivid presentations.  You can access the Flowboard by clicking on the link below. (The link does not open in the web browser Internet Explorer)

Begin by telling students that we are going to be travelling through time!   You can click on the watch tab to incorporate some “back to the future” music.

  1. Pose the following question to students, “How similar or different was life in Medieval Europe to life today?” Make a “dial” like the one that Garfield describes and revisit it often to adjust your opinion as students think critically throughout their inquiry. 
  2. Display the “future” picture (it would be great if you have a Smart Board and could annotate right on it), and as a whole class compare the similarities and differences.
  3. Provide students with facts and have them discuss if they think each fact is “Trivial” or “Important”.
  4. Use pictures to build background knowledge.  As a whole class, discuss what they see and talk about the similarities and differences between life then and life today.        
  5. Don’t forget to revisit the “dial” often as students build on their understanding of the content being learned.

Hattie’s research reinforces the need to create opportunities for students to create background knowledge by thinking critically, prior to jumping right into an inquiry rooted in the Ontario curriculum. 

Happy Knowledge Building!

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Starting an Inquiry into Early Societies

In Grade 4, when getting started with inquiry I suggest starting with the curriculum. The new Ontario Curriculum Grades 1-6, have overview pages that are meant to provide you with a starting point for planning instruction. Within this overview, there are Big Ideas and Framing Questions that can be presented to your students to stimulate their natural curiosity and get them asking questions that require them to think critically. The follow ideas are meant to be implemented over a developmentally appropriate amount of time. You know your students best!

First, present the students with the following Big Idea, “Not all early societies were the same.” For this Big Idea, the related concept of Social Studies Thinking is Significance; focus on that. Deconstruct this Big Idea as a whole class. Have students discuss, with a thinking partner, how they might be different.

Read students the picture book Westlandia by Paul Fleischman and illustrated by Kevin Hawkes. This is an excellent book to use as a provocation for this inquiry. I’ve attached the description below.
Enter the witty, intriguing world of Weslandia! Now that school is over, Wesley needs a summer project. He’s learned that each civilization needs a staple food crop, so he decides to sow a garden and start his own – civilization, that is. He turns over a plot of earth, and plants begin to grow. They soon tower above him and bear a curious-looking fruit. As Wesley experiments, he finds that the plant will provide food, clothing, shelter, and even recreation. It isn’t long before his neighbors and classmates develop more than an idle curiosity about Wesley – and exactly how he is spending his summer vacation.

After reading the picture book, ask students to work in groups and list as many discoveries and ideas that Wesley used in creating his very own society, e.g., what did he grow, make and eat? Once completed, compile all students’ ideas and create a list as a class. It should look something like this:

Wesley’s society includes:
A new language
A new alphabet
A number system to 8
A new way of keeping time
Food and drink
Economy (he sold suntan lotion and insect repellent)

Explain to students that, although Wesley lived alone, his friends did come and visit him. Ask students to think about the following questions:
-What would Wesley’s society need if people lived with him? Who would be in charge of making rules? (Government)
-How would Wesley’s society need to change if it were winter? (Relationships with Environment)

Display a map of the world and explain to students that, although the physical world remains the same, the borders and countries were different between 3000 BCE and 1500 CE. Circle some areas where early societies were. For example, ancient Mayans, ancient Greeks, or First Nations in what would become Canada. Don’t worry about labelling a whole map! Leave it open ended for the students to uncover.

Provide students with a Q-Chart and have them record their questions about early societies. They, or someone else, may be able to answer some of their questions throughout their inquiry.

Use the framing questions in the Ontario Social Studies Curriculum to spark students’ natural curiosity.

Framing Questions from the Ontario Social Studies Curriculum:
1. What are the most significant differences among early societies?
2. In what ways did the environment influence early societies? Does the environment have the same impact on Canadian Society? What has changed? Why has it changed?

I would suggest starting with the first question. In pairs or groups of four, ask students to research and read about one early society. Ask them to record jot notes of what that society used that was similar to Wesley’s in Westlandia. In addition, have them record new findings (transportation, new technology, government, environment, art, religion, etcetera).

Once students have collected enough information, have students share their findings with the class. Hopefully, the groups have chosen different early societies (you may want to guide them in this direction if possible).

Here are some helpful sites that the students can explore to begin their inquiries!

If you are a Peel District School Board employee, don’t forget to check out the eResources on the Peel Board Library Support page. There are many resources that the students can access to begin their inquiries.

Don’t forget that the Big Idea is “Not all early societies were the same.” This is to be the focus of student learning. Teaching through the inquiry process allows students to investigate events, developments, and issues; solve problems; and reach supportable conclusions (The Ontario Curriculum, Social Studies Grades 1-6, page 22). To read more about the Inquiry Process, click on the link below and go to pages 22-23.

Finally, remember that, when teaching through inquiry, it’s the process that’s important and just as valuable, if not more valuable, than the final product! Don’t forget to gather and document evidence of learning along the way. Happy Inquiring!

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Building Successful Pathways from Kindergarten to Grade 1

I was recently asked a very thought provoking question by a FDK team that I support.  I was asked to help them create consistency when discussing their Kindergarten and Grade 1 students, specifically in the area of self-regulation.  The FDK team expressed their challenge that what they considered to be a “high student” was not considered to be a “high student” in Grade 1, and this was presenting challenges when beginning to build classes for next year.  They also asked me if there was an equivalent document of Growing Success for Kindergarten, that might help them.   I’ve included my response email below.  I would love to hear your ideas and suggestions!    

“Wow, this is a very thought provoking question and please know you are not alone!  There are many questions that arise when seeking consistency and I don’t have an easy answer for you.  These are my thoughts.

There is not an equivalent document of Growing Success for Kindergarten.  This is because we are not evaluating Kindergarten students on expectations of a curriculum, but rather gathering evidence of student learning throughout a two year program.  When you write a SOP (Summary of Progress), you are commenting not on how well students are doing an expectation but rather whether they are doing it consistently, sometimes, or need more time in order to develop a skill.  On the other hand, in grade one you are now reporting on how well a student achieves an expectation. 

There does seem to be a discrepancy in our idea of what self-regulation looks like, feels like, and sounds like.  If you read the self-regulation section of the FDK program document, then it’s clear that we are trying to teach students to regulate with internal motivation.  The program document says, “Children demonstrate social self-regulation when they are able to regulate their behaviour.  For example, they can focus their attention, follow instructions…”  So, in Kindergarten this could mean that students can focus when engaged in play (for a developmentally appropriate amount of time) or maybe they can follow instructions like, “Hands on head, that means stop”.  

When students move to grade 1, and if that grade one program is not inquiry based, then it is not surprising that we would encounter these challenges.  Let’s picture a young boy, a student who was self-regulating and engaged in his self-directed learning in Kindergarten, who then moves to grade one and is expected to be able to sit on the carpet for longer periods of time and complete work that maybe wasn’t of his choice.  This would be a challenge for him.  As you are well aware, there are some challenges that we face when building successful pathways for this transition.  This is a work in progress. 

Let’s reflect on these questions before our meeting:

What does self-regulation look like, feel like and sound like in a Kindergarten play based/inquiry based program?

What does self-regulation look like, feel like and sound like in Grade 1?  

Is it possible that a student’s self-regulation can differ from year to year?

What would success criteria look like for self-regulation in Kindergarten and then in Grade 1? (This should help you when building your classes.)

Maybe the grade one teachers would like to join us? 

In addition, there is an excellent blog for building connections between Kindergarten, Grade 1 and Grade 2.  Check it out!

As I continue to reflect on my response, I continue to think about what self-regulation looks like, feels like and sounds like in Kindergarten and then in grade 1.  I would love for you to share your ideas for criteria!  



Posted in Full Day Kindergarten, Pathways | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments