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Accountability for Literacy and Numeracy Skills in the Primary Years

5 Mar

On February 19th, 2014 the EQAO (The Education Quality and Accountability Office) posted a news release – MOST ONTARIO STUDENTS CAN READ, WRITE AND DO MATH WELL BY THE TIME THEY ARE IN HIGH SCHOOL. MOST WHO CAN’T DO SO HAVE A TRAIT IN COMMON—THEY COULDN’T IN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL EITHER.  This release outlines statistics suggesting that students who failed the OSSLT were the same students who failed the EQAO testing in grade three.  Anyone who has attended teachers college could have predicted these statistics because the most important lesson learned during your primary/elementary teacher training is that the skills taught between kindergarten and third grade will be the basic platform in which all learning after is based. Essentially, up until grade three students are learning to read and after that they are reading to learn.  Simple.

During my primary training I had a fundamental problem with the process in which teachers in Ontario are allowed to approach literacy and numeracy – there is very little accountability.  The EQAO tests were developed as a diagnostic approach to understanding literacy and numeracy gaps – great.  We have been collecting data and making some positive changes to our education that has demonstrated some improvement.  But why do we still have high school students who cannot read, write or do basic mathematics?

While working collaboratively to develop engaging lesson plans for our future primary aged students I struggled with the lack of accountability in terms of which specific skills needed to be mastered – particularly in regards to reading and writing.  I do not believe in standardizing education by any means. I think we need to support the individuality of each of the students we are given in the moment but when it comes to basic literacy and numeracy there are very specific skills that must be mastered before students can feel confident and capable of learning independently through reading and expressing their learning through writing.

In case you are not an educator, please take a look at the curriculum documents that teachers are given to guide their lesson planning –

Grade 1-8 Language Curriculum

To me, this is not specific enough.  When I was completing lesson-planning assignments, I wanted a list of specific skills that progressed from kindergarten to grade three that I could check off as students mastered each skill.  Based on the research, my training and basic common sense we need a system that is going to ensure we are not just simply passing students through grades but is actually dedicated to ensuring all students are capable of applying these very important and basic literacy and numeracy skills that we already know will hold them back as they get older and older.  As an alternative high school teacher I have seen what our system has done to students who were not successful in the primary grades.  Most of my students will tell you that they have struggled through school since grade three and that now they are “bad” students who are too “stupid” to learn anything.  This is unacceptable.  It is unacceptable that we have young people who feel this way about themselves and it is unacceptable that we then dump them in alternative programs when they are too hard to deal with (that is another article all together).

There seem to be some very obvious answers to these problems; whether you agree or not these are my suggestions.

1)    We need to address the issue of passing students onto higher grades before they have mastered needed skills.  I have spoken to several parents in the past who have removed their child from our public schools because they did not feel their child had mastered the needed skills but the school refused to hold them back.  I get it – there can be developmental differences and emotional issues involved in holding a student back.  I can tell you from experience that those students who were passed on feel worse about themselves later in life when they are in grade ten and taking essential level classes because they are not “smart” enough to complete an applied level class.   This student was not given a fair shot.  When students do not have the skills to complete even an applied level course we are removing pathways for them (again, another article all together).  We need to either adopt a preventative frame of mind and accept that students need to be held back in grades one to three if they don’t have the basic reading, writing and math skills needed to progress or we need a new system all together.  I prefer the second option.  We already know that teachers working collaboratively is effective and schools are beginning to experiment with team teaching and rotation teaching, but there needs to be a fundamental change in how much focus we put on age.  A student’s birth date really does not tell us much about their abilities to learn. Even developmental theories don’t categorize development by specific year but rather larger developmental stages, so we should be more fluid with this idea when it comes to education as well.   I imagine a system where play-based learning is the center of the day.  The class is run by a team of teachers who can then divide the class into smaller groups based on varying levels of difficulty.  When a student is ready to move on, they do.  This kind of model would allow for teachers to focus on social-emotional learning in the bigger group, play-based settings while focusing on very specific skill based learning in smaller groups where those basic literacy skills can be practiced and mastered before moving up.

2)    I think there should be very specific checklists of skills and assessments that teachers must use to ensure each student has mastered certain specific skills between grade one and grade three.  If we know that students need certain specific skills before they are capable of learning through reading and demonstrating their learning through writing then we need to make sure they have those skills before we set new learning expectations for them.

3)    We need more money invested in human resources.  There needs to be a greater focus on team teaching.  One teacher cannot possibly manage classroom behaviour, teach and assess student learning with the same effectiveness as several teachers and educational assistants working together.  Every class is going to have children who need more social-emotional support. Students should not be removed because they are “too” difficult but they also shouldn’t disrupt and take away from time that the class could be learning.   Having more educators and assistants who are properly trained to de-escalate and support a disruptive, disengaged and distracted student is vitally important.  These are the students who need the most support to ensure they learning and mastering those specific literacy and numeracy skills.  When there is only one teacher and (often times) no Educational Assistant, these students can interfere with learning for themselves and other students.  If the goal is to make sure every child can read and write and understand basic math concepts by the end of grade three (and it should be the goal) then we need more people in the classroom to address behaviour and have the time to focus on tracking and assessing student learning.

4)    Our Ministry of Education needs to stop putting money into hiring consultants and writing documents.  They need to invest that money into grass root programs that allow teachers who have highly successful primary programs to meet with other teachers and to recreate the same success in other schools.  Teachers in this province are doing great work and are successfully ensuring that their students are leaving grade three with the skills they need to be successful learners.  Reading a long-winded document full of research findings is not nearly as helpful as observing a successful teacher, deconstructing their program and allowing teachers to collaborate with each other.  Teachers need the time to do this work, so money should be invested into more professional development that is organized and planned by teachers for teachers.  I am curious to know if the EQAO is able to track which teachers the most successful students had during kindergarten through grade three?  If there are correlations between student success and specific teachers, then we should be learning from those teachers.

What has your experience been with our primary education system in Ontario?  What have you seen that was successful? What have you seen that was troubling?

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Quotes for the Classroom

26 Feb

There is nothing that I love more than a good quote.  I often use quotes as a way to introduce a lesson or spark a morning check-in.  Enjoy.

Here are a few of my favourites on the topics under the umbrella of literacy!

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”
Dr. Seuss, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!

“The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.”
Oscar Wilde

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
Stephen King

“Let us read, and let us dance; these two amusements will never do any harm to the world.”
Voltaire

“Books are mirrors: you only see in them what you already have inside you.”
Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Shadow of the Wind

“Today a reader, tomorrow a leader.”
Margaret Fuller

“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”
Frederick Douglass

“Reading without reflecting is like eating without digesting.”

– Edmund Burke

“My bursting heart must find vent at my pen.”
Abigail Adams

“No two persons ever read the same book.”

– Edmund Wilson

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”
Philip Pullman

“Writing is a way of talking without being interrupted.”
Jules Renard

“Half of writing history is hiding the truth.”
Joss Whedon

“But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”
George Orwell, 1984

“The limits of my language means the limits of my world.”
Ludwig Wittgenstein

“It’s only words… unless they’re true.”
David Mamet

“Any fool can know. The point is to understand.”
Albert Einstein

“The more I read, the more I acquire, the more certain I am that I know nothing.”
Voltaire

“Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.”
Socrates

Using Manipulatives to Encourage Literacy and Numeracy Learning for Children

13 Nov

It is no surprise that parents with primary aged children want to participate in their schooling.  Most parents I have spoken to tend to use workbooks because that is what is available, and they do have good exercises for children to practice the skills they learn at school.

The thing is, parents can be using items around the house to support their child’s literacy and numeracy development in a more meaningful way that simply using work books.  Here is my suggestion:

At Home Lesson Plan for Parents
Supplies needed:

  • a variety of items that are a solid colour (balls, toys, cups, socks, boxes, paper clips, crayons, ect.)
  • Pencil and Paper
  • Graph Paper and Crayons

*NOTE:  Only focus on one s

Steps-

Sorting:

  1. Place all of the items on a table, make sure all of the items are mixed up.
  2. Engage in a number of sorting activities:
  • Sort the items by colour
  • Sort the items by size
  • Sort the items by shape
  • Sort the items by texture
  • Sort the items by weight

Counting and Graphing:

  1. After sorting the items into a category (for example colours) ask the child to count each of the categorized items.
    Questions to ask: How many items are red? How many items are blue?  Can you tell me which colour has the most items?  Can you tell me which colour has the least items.
  2. Using the graph paper and stickers, create a simple graph using the squares to represent each of the items in the sorted categories.

Writing:

  1. Choose one of the categories and work together to create a list naming each of the sorted groups and practice writing the words on lined paper.
  • Colours:  Red, Blue, Orange, Green, Yellow, Pink, ect.
  • Shape:  Circle, Square, Triangle, Rectangle, Diamond, ect.
  • Texture: Soft, Rough, Smooth, Bumpy, Fluffy, ect.

Reading:

  1. Using a variety of texts (books, newspapers, magazines, packaging, ect) ask your child look through the texts and find the words on the list created in the writing step.
  2. When they find a word, read the sentence together and make personal connections to the context of the sentence.
    (For Example: In The Important Book by Margaret Wise Brown, one section reads,  “It is yellow in the middle, it has long white petals…”  When your child spots the word Yellow, read the sentence out loud together.  Ask your child what they think the sentence is about? Ask them to look at pictures and take a guess.  Read the sentences before to clarify and ask your child what they know or understand about, in this case, daisies, or flowers.  What other colours can a  flower be?)

Once you get into this activity you will experience a number of authentic teachable moments where you can engage your child’s curiosity and discover they’re strengths and challenges!

Try it out!  Let me know how everything went by commenting below!

Supporting Literacy and Numeracy at Home…

27 Oct

You don’t need expensive educational toys to engage and educate children.  Making opportunities for purposeful conversation and learning through everyday tasks is more meaningful and fun!  Remember; monkey see, monkey do.

Try these activities with children to support their continuing development of reading, writing, and math skills…

  • Find objects around the house that start with any chose letter of the alphabet (Ex: “C” – couch, cat, car, chair, clock) Discuss the phonetic sounds that the chosen letter can make).
  • Find objects around the house that rhyme (Ex: Cat, Hat or Lamp, Stamp or Bed, Red)
  • Identify a few sight words (the, is, are) and have your child circle the words in the newspaper.
  • After grocery shopping, sort foods by colour, size, weight, food group.
  • Sort, count and roll coins.
  • While washing dishes, fill a cup with water and have them guess whether or not the next cup or bowl to be washed will hold the same amount of water.
  • Measure how long a piece of furniture is by counting their “feet” (toe to heel), have them guess if a table is longer or short by their “feet”. (Do the same with perimeter)
  • Cut out sticks and half circles from construction paper and ask your child to create different letters using the shapes (EX: one stick and two half circles make a “B”, or three sticks make an “H”.
  • Read with your child everyday.  Ask questions such as, “How would you feel if you were this character? Is it fair that ‘this’ is happening the character? Why or why not? What is your favourite part of the book and why?)
  • Count the days on the calendar. Ask questions like, “How many days until the end of the month?”

Celebrate Literacy Month

1 Sep

As an educator, I have become all to aware the of literacy skills that our students lack.  It is the reason I am offering literacy and numeracy programming!  Here are some of the initiatives and tips for Literacy Month!

Peel Region is offering a series of workshop for parents and children under the age of 6.  The workshops are free, and each provide refreshments, story time and strategies for parents!

Register for the workshops at this link.

UNESCO is celebrating International Literacy Day on September 8th and this year the theme is Literacy & Peace.  The website states…

“Literacy contributes to peace as it brings people closer to attaining individual freedoms and better understanding the world, as well as preventing or resolving conflict. The connection between literacy and peace can be seen by the fact that in unstable democracies or in conflict-affected countries it is harder to establish or sustain a literate environment.”

Here are their suggestions how to participate…

  1. Donate books and reading materials to your local school or community centre
  2. Start a reading club
  3. Volunteer to teach literacy classes in your community
  4. Become a mentor of a non-literate person
  5. Send your literacy stories to joinliteracy@unesco.org

Check out their articles, videos and resources on the UNESCO website…

http://www.unesco.org/new/en/unesco/events/prizes-and-celebrations/celebrations/international-days/literacy-day/

ABC Life Literacy Canada is encouraging families to participate in everyday activities that support everyday literacy practices.  Here are their suggestions…

  1. When making your grocery list, have your child write out the items you need to buy.
  2. At the store, ask your child to count out the money to make the purchase.
  3. Make it a habit to always read a story together at bedtime.
  4. When cooking dinner, involve your children in measuring the ingredients.  This helps them understand fractions and measurements.
  5. Driving is a perfect opportunity to practice literacy.  Read signs, billboards and license plate together, and show your children the proper way to read a map.
  6. While on the internet, make time to research something new that your family is interested in. Research skills are important and help with reading and comprehension.
  7. In the car, sing along to songs on the radio. Singing encourages learning patterns of words, rhymes and rhythms, and is strongly connected to language skills.
  8. When playing board games, read the instructions aloud to each other or count how many spaces to travel the board.
  9. Involve yours kids when you pay the bills.  This will teach them strong financial skills early on in life.
  10. Children follow by example, so ensure learning and reading are part of your daily life too!

They are celebrating Essential Skills Day on September 21st and have focused their campaign on adult literacy and work place skills.

Check out their resources and website…

http://abclifeliteracy.ca/essential-skills-day

The Idealistic Educator – Business Website

23 Aug

Please check out the new website and thanks for all of the support!

www.idealisticeducator.com