Literacy Across Subjects

Ensuring that literacy activities occur in all subjects can seem overwhelming but is often easier to implement than we think! As a Student Support Teacher, I spend most of my non-English Language Arts time teaching math and health concepts. Our current Gr. 1 health unit focuses on healthy choices, relationships, and mindsets and I wanted to tie it back into our phonemic awareness learning – identifying initial, final, and medial phonemes in CVC, CVCE, and CCVC words. Today we worked on phoneme identification when completing a healthy eating word search. The word bank had healthy fruit and vegetable words. I would state the word that we were searching for and the kids would tell me what sounds they heard at the beginning and end of the word; some learners would pick out the medial sounds. Then students would point to the word in the word bank that they believed was stated, before working together to search for the word. I was able to differentiate the activity so that those learners working on alphabet sounds could focus more on the individual letter sounds and identification. Using health content to work on literacy skills was both beneficial and fun for the kids.

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Learning is healthy and fun with this spelling and word recognition practice! Be sure to check out Education.com for more learning resources.

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Gratitude

My students have been learning about growth mindset and self-regulation. For Bell Let’s Talk Day on January 30th, we focused on gratitude. We discussed the things in our lives that we take for granted but are thankful for and in some instances, couldn’t or wouldn’t want to live without. The questions to guide our discussion included:

  • What are you grateful to have learned or be learning about?
  • What are you challenged by?
  • What is something that you use everyday and couldn’t live without? What toys are your favourite?
  • What person or thing makes you smile?
  • What do you like to smell, taste, touch, hear, see?
  • What do you appreciate in nature/outside?
  • What are you thankful for in your community, at home, at school, etc.?
  • What do you appreciate about yourself? About your friends?
I am Grateful for...
I’m pretty proud with what they came up with and the kind things they said to each other during the discussion. We learned that we can use words and a listening ear to brighten someone’s day – truly a lifelong lesson!

Amygdala, Hippocampus, and PFC on Grade 1 Terms!

My Grade 1s have been reviewing the five senses and applying this knowledge to the parts of the brain. We are learning about the amygdala (safety guard), hippocampus (memory), and the prefrontal cortex or PFC (decision maker). We did lessons on mindful seeing, listening, and touching. Today the students had a lot of fun learning about mindful smelling and tasting. I put 9 food items in brown bags and numbered the bags 1 through 9. Students got to smell an item and track their guess on the whiteboard tables. At the end, I revealed each item and we discussed how our hippocampus reminded us of a time we had smelled a certain food. Some students were reminded of a person or place. We also discussed how the amygdala can signal us that it was scary to not be able to see the foods and that students had to make the decision to trust me. The students agreed that it was easier to do mindful seeing than mindful smelling. The next step was to have students taste the food. We discussed salty, sweet, savory, bitter, sour, and spicy foods and students got a chance to categorize the foods and explain why.
During mindful smelling, she easily identified pickles and connected the smell to family meals in the summer.
“This is sour, Ms. Gorham!” – Student “Do you like it?” – Ms. Gorham “I like that it makes me think of my family… but can I eat something salty?” – Student
Honestly, I was a bit worried about teaching parts of the brain to Gr. 1s but they have surpassed my expectations and are easily labelling the terms and learning about how they can use their brain and senses to explore the world around them!

Legs Up The Wall

We have been learning about strategies to use when we are in the blue, green, yellow, and red zones. Yoga is a strategy we often use in the blue or yellow zones. One of our favorite poses is called Legs Up The Wall. In this position, students lay flat on their backs with their legs against a flat surface, like a cupboard or wall. Students can put their hands on their heads, by their sides, or on their body. Their legs can be straight up and down, bent into a butterfly pose, or open in a V-shape. The benefits of this pose include calming the nervous system, quieting the mind, reducing stress, releasing pressure and tension in the lower body, and inversion benefits without a lot of effort. It is quick and easy and students love it! One of my students told me about how she was practicing at home and her mom wondered what she was doing. While it may look silly, it is totally worth it!

– Try with classical music for added calming benefits.

Sask. Reads Instructional Approaches in My Classroom

The Saskatchewan Reads: A Companion Document to the Saskatchewan English Language Arts Curriculum – Grades 1, 2, 3 is a document that every Saskatchewan teacher should familiarize themselves with. It highlights curriculum connections, learning environments, big ideas of reading, assessment for, as, and of learning, instructional approaches, and interventions. Today I want to focus on how I use the instructional approaches in my classroom. There are four instructional approaches aligned with the Gradual Release of Responsibility (GRR):
  • Modeled Reading – “I Do”
  • Shared Reading – “We Do”
  • Scaffolded/Guided Reading – “We Do Together”
  • Independent Reading – “You Do”
Utilizing the GRR allows the teacher to “gradually transfers increased responsibility to the students” (Saskatchewan Reads, 2019, n.p.). It is an evidence-based strategy that allows for student growth and achievement. Modeled Reading involves verbalizing reading strategies and thought processes in a planned way while reading to the class. Basically, the teacher is repeatedly practicing the reading skill(s) that students will eventually be expected to do. This can be accomplished through various forms of literature across any subject matter. It extends beyond a simple read-aloud because reading behaviors are emphasized, modeled, and then practiced by students afterwards. Modeled Reading in My Classroom: One of my favorite modeling lessons involves fairy tale stories. I like to use fairy tales because students are often familiar with them and there are many different versions. During a reading of the Three Little Pigs, I modeled ‘skippy frog’ (skip the tricky word, read to the end, and then go back and try again) and ‘chunky monkey’ (chunk the words into smaller parts that you know). The comprehension strategies that I focused on were retelling in order (sequencing) and using prior knowledge. I am expecting my students to start using these strategies more independently and modeling them is the first step. The next day I modeled another version of The Three Little Pigs and emphasized comparing/contrasting in addition to the other strategies. Shared Reading involves using different genres to share in reading and strategy use. It goes beyond choral reading or round-robin reading because the students and teachers are working together and the teacher continues to model their thought process. Shared Reading in My Classroom: My students love poems and this genre is often perfect for shared reading. We read the poem “Straw, Sticks, and Bricks” which also supported their comprehension. I modeled the poem the first day utilizing ‘stretchy snake’ (sounding out the words) and ‘flippy dolphin’ (changing the vowel sound). Then the next day we reviewed the events of the poem together and any phonics generalizations. Students then got a chance to share in the reading. Afterwards, students practiced the reading strategies that we had been focusing on with our reading strategy cards.
Decoding Strategy Cards purchased from: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Decoding-Strategy-Task-Cards-Includes-7-Strategies-Posters-and-More-3395143?aref=1rpj2ve4
I also will be completing this sentence strip One Pig, Two Pigs book with the students to further practice our strategies in a shared way. Sentence strip stories lend themselves nicely to all four instructional approaches, especially when repetition occurs.
Scaffolded/Guided Reading involves targeted reading instruction in flexible groupings based on student needs. Students practice reading and reading strategies through a variety of content areas and leveled books. Instructional time and lesson focus varies based on group needs and teacher observations. This extends beyond round-robin reading because students can work at their own pace and the strategies taught apply to reading opportunities beyond that specific text. Guided Reading in My Classroom: For Guided Reading (and Levelled Literacy Intervention), I used different levels of The Three Little Pigs based on student needs and we read them in their flexible groupings. Students got a chance to practice our previous reading and comprehension strategies, such as compare/contrast. We always read the books two days in a row before students take them home to share with their parents. On the second day, students will write about their reading to solidify their comprehension. The second reading also helps develop their confidence and fluency. Independent Reading involves students selecting “just-right” texts and then applying their reading strategies independently. This differs from silent reading because of the discussions, written reflections, and goal-setting that occurs between students and their teacher. Independent Reading in My Classroom: My independent reading time is scheduled alongside guided reading typically. I have a classroom library of over 500 books that students can choose from. Students read for 7-10 minutes and then conference with a peer for 3-5 minutes about what they read. They can also engage in a shared read or read-aloud at this time. I leave five minutes at the end of each guided reading lesson to check-in with students about what they read and what strategies they used. I use the attached document to conference with students about what they read and if it was the right fit. Sometimes I need to ask further comprehension questions but I like that this document ties back to our classroom anchor chart. It can be this simple to use the four instructional approaches in your classroom! This concept can be applied to other genres, countless subjects, and any story (whether the reading materials connect or not)! I am planning to repeat this structure when reading Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Be sure to check out Saskatchewan Reads and please feel free to leave a comment about how you use the four instructional approaches in your classroom!

Sight Word Easter Egg Hunt

I’m not sure who loves game-based literacy activities more – me or the kiddos! Today we enjoyed hunting for Easter eggs with sight words inside. Each student was assigned a colour so that everyone would get a chance to find eggs. Assigning colours also allowed me to put specific words inside each egg to target each of their needs. Once they read me the word I replaced the plastic egg with gum, chocolate, and candy-filled eggs. It was a win-win for all involved!
– Smiling faces after the sight word Easter egg hunt!

Reading with Ms. Gorham

Bringing carpet time to your home! Come enjoy a story with Ms. Gorham!

Bringing carpet time to your home! Come enjoy a story with Ms. Gorham!

Westmount School YouTube Channel

Our school has a YouTube channel for announcements. During this “learning-at-home” phase, teachers are using the channel to read books and continue to update our student body. Check out this reading of “There is a Bird On Your Head” by Mo Willems. Remember to subscribe to our channel! Stay safe, stay home! We miss you, kiddos!

Tell Them Tuesday

February 11th, 2020

Dear Greg Lawrence, Lyle Stewart, and Gordon Wyant of the Saskatchewan Party,

Today, as we vote on sanctions, I reflect on the conditions within our classrooms in Saskatchewan. I think about the way things are and how far that is from how they should be. Mostly, I think about how much I love my job and care about each and every student that I’ve had the privilege to teach. I worry daily that I am not doing enough for them, but with the current conditions there is no way I ever could be.

This is not about money – even though educators should care that our salaries are not increasing at the same rate as the cost of living, thus reducing our spending power. This isn’t about the ploy to give us $1,500 of our own surplus health plan money that would then be taxed. It’s a little bit about not covering our 1.5% wage increase last contract and forcing divisions to cover the cost, leaving 24 out of 26 divisions with a deficit budget. But that’s only because this decision ultimately resulted in less teachers and educational assistants in our classrooms. We’ve accepted 0% before. We didn’t become teachers for the money. We are merely asking for decent working conditions. We want to work in an environment where we do not feel overwhelmed, understaffed, and muzzled. We want to work in a system that allows us to meet the needs of all our learners. We want each student to achieve to the best of their abilities. We shouldn’t have to ask for this and we certainly shouldn’t have to fight for it.

I dream of working in a learning environment that I would want for my nephew, own children, friend’s children, your children, and all the children in Saskatchewan. That dream starts with a discussion around classroom composition. We need a contract which ensures that the kids who need support get it, in turn helping all children have the learning environment and supports they need to succeed. Something so crucial to the success of our province should be on the bargaining table, yet the Saskatchewan Party refuses to discuss it. We don’t need another committee to tell us that there is no money (read: education is not a priority). If we want a healthy Saskatchewan, education should be high on the list. We don’t need another committee to tell us what we already know: chronic underfunding has left education in a dire state.

Education Minister Gordon Wyant said himself, “our students need our teachers in the classroom.” I couldn’t agree more. Yet, even though enrollment has increased by 20,000 with 6,000 additional English as Additional Language (EAL) learners, less than 200 classroom teachers have been hired and only 21 EAL teachers. We lack educational psychologists, educational assistants, counsellors, speech therapists, and occupational therapists in our schools. While some divisions lack these roles in terms of numbers, others do not have the means to hire these professionals altogether, leaving students with unmet needs that teachers are trying to fill with no additional time or resources.

Imagine a split class of 30 students. Some are First Nations with relationships that we need to mend from previous injustices. Others are EAL with past trauma and limited English proficiency. There are a handful of students on Inclusive Intervention Plans (IIPs) who may or may not have diagnoses – anything from Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Learning Disabilities (LDs), Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD), etc. Others are struggling but are waiting to be assessed, and thus they are not being supported by outside agencies or being represented on intensive support lists. Some have been assessed but there are no available school professionals or outside agencies to provide support. A couple of students have behavioral plans and violent outbursts that evacuate the classroom and compromise staff and student safety. We have students who are homeless and haven’t had lunch for days. We have students with Child Protection Services (CPS) involvement, those on the run from abuse, and those with mental health and addictions in their immediate lives. There are students with medical needs that need to be monitored. We have students who threaten to bring weapons to school and others who we worry about sending home at the end of the day. There are the students who rarely attend. Academically, there can be up to 8 levels of reading, math, and writing in one room. There is no educational assistant in this room and minimal outside agency support. It’s just one teacher, being asked to manage it all.

This isn’t fictitious – this is the new norm.  Do the math: teaching 30 students in a 7-hour day equates to about 14 minutes with each child. Trying to meet these complex needs within that time frame is mindboggling, without even planning for the curriculum. Between the extra-curricular activities, trying to teach all outcomes to all children despite the aforementioned concerns, rewarding positive behavior, deescalating violent outbursts, creating classroom materials, marking assignments, implementing differentiated instruction and adaptations for all three tiers, lesson planning and goal setting, following multiple behavior supports plans (often with conflicting strategies), documenting our every move, taking data for behavioral support plans, assessing each and every outcome and indicator, lunch duty, increasing parent engagement, and so on, you start to realize the absurdity of what we expect our teachers to do.

I wouldn’t be surprised if you stopped reading. I also feel like it’s too much. It’s no wonder that close to 50% of teachers quit within the first five years. Enrollment is up, inflation is up, but why aren’t our priorities keeping up? We can’t keep guilting teachers to do more and be more with less. In this system, we will never be enough. I became a teacher because I believe in inclusion, but our funding model is leaving everyone behind.

You have the opportunity to change the trajectory of education in Saskatchewan. The financial decisions you make will impact the future of this province. We need a stable fiscal plan for education and that includes discussing classroom composition and making our students the top priority, as they should be. Yes, we need responsible spending as taxpayers work hard for their money. But prioritizing education is money well spent. The government needs to be held accountable for student success and the standard of education in this province. Teachers are burning out and that should scare us all. Teaching conditions are the learning conditions of our students and our students are the future of this province!

Sincerely,

Kourtney Gorham, B.Ed.

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom has to go down in history as one of the best primary books! My students enjoyed listening to the song, reading the story, adding letters to our stuffed coconut tree, making their own themed name trees, and seeing their support teacher dressed up as the famous tree for Halloween!
See resource at: https://www.pinterest.ca/pin/535506211938406485/