One More Way To Make Your Students Love Books As Much As You Do!

Yesterday morning, I started out my Friday as I always do: reading Doug Peterson‘s This Week In Ontario Edublogs postOne of the posts that he highlighted was Stepan Pruchnicky‘s post on making your students love books as much as you do. He includes a wonderful list, but I wonder if there’s one more point to add to it: don’t level your library. 

For years, we’ve had two types of books in our classroom:

  • groups of books that are sorted by topic/interest.
  • groups of books that are sorted by level.

Most students only chose to read the levelled books as part of the Take Home Reading Program, but then this year, after many discussions and a lot of reading, we decided to change our Take Home Reading ProgramThis blog post by Fountas and Pinnell may have influenced our decision the most. We teach the youngest students in the building, and if their decision to explore a book is based solely on what words they can read in it, they may decide to never open a book. In the long run, what value does this have in producing life-long readers?

I understand why people level books, and I even understand the value in picking books that children can read on their own, but our very youngest readers are likely to need support with all reading materials. Often the easiest books are pattern-based, and as adults, we’re the ones that establish the pattern for the child. At times this may build confidence in reading, but how are we continuing to build reading skills?

  • There’s value in children telling stories based on the pictures.
  • There’s value in having children listen to stories and developing comprehension skills.
  • There’s value in reinforcing letter-sound skills within the meaningful context of a book.
  • There’s value in helping children understand that there are many reasons to read — from interest to information — and that even as adults we read items of varying degrees of difficulty. If we really want to read something, sometimes we’ll work that much harder at decoding and comprehending it, as the content matters so much to us.

Here are two things that I struggle with though.

  • If a child sees him/herself as a non-reader because even the text in the easiest book is too challenging for him/her to read.
  • If a child gives up on reading because the number (or letter) on a bin makes him/her feel as though he/she is behind in reading and/or less successful than his/her peers.

And so, a few days ago, we worked with a small group of children and we started to remove the levels from the book bins. 

Amazing things happened during this process. 

Students started to understand why reading matters. Why do we read?

Students started to access books that they wouldn’t have read before. Even though these books were challenging, they began to really use decoding skills to help read the words on the page. 

All students were drawn to the books. Children that spent the most time with the books were not the ones that usually do so. More children WANTED to read and to engage with text. 

Book sorting from today (for our at home reading program). #ctinquiry #iteachk #teachersofinstagram

A post shared by Aviva (@avivaloca) on

Students also got excited about reading and wanted to bring books home with them. The more they read, the more proficient they’ll become at reading. 

I’m curious to see the impact that removing reading levels has on children’s perceptions of themselves as readers and on children’s growth in reading. Would less focus on levels help increase reading interest across the grades, and ultimately, lead to more proficient readers? I’d be curious to know what others have tried and what they’ve observed. Like Stepan, my teaching partner and I want kids that want to read. How do levels support this, and if they don’t, is it time to start advertising them less in our classrooms? This does not mean that I will never read a levelled text with students, but it does mean, that I will not be discussing the levels with the child or the parents. Instead, I’ll be exploring ways that we can get the child reading and engaging more with books. This seems like a better focus to me. What about you?


It Started Online …

It’s so easy to listen to the horror stories of what happens online. There are many and they are scary. But then something like what happened on Sunday night to me, happens to you, and you get to see a different perspective.

When I wrote this blog post about my dad’s passing, I did so as a way to grieve. I also did so as a way to share with family, friends, colleagues, and parents about what happened, as I didn’t have it in me to take on the huge task of letting everyone know. I reached out personally to my closest of family members and friends, but what about everyone else? So, knowing the audience of my blog and my cathartic need to write, I composed this post.

What I didn’t expect was the huge outpouring of love and kindness from everyone I know … and even many people who only know me from Twitter and Instagram. I was overwhelmed with all of the offers of help, with the massive amount of support, and the many hugs — both virtual and in-person — that I received yesterday. If anyone wonders about the value of meaningful online connections, just look to this as an example. Yes, many of these relationships have started online and been further solidified by face-to-face connections … but the online interactions have been equally important and valuable. 

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, to each and every one of you! These words come no where close to doing my feelings justice, but they are words that I have to say. You matter, and your outpouring of affection does too! With all of the negative thoughts around social media, I think it’s time to remember the positive. What about you?



How does this happen?

Tonight my dad passed away. It was totally unexpected, and I’m still in shock. When I spoke to him last night, he seemed a little more tired than usual. This was the downward spiral that led to a trip to the emergency room, a plan for surgery, and then cardiac arrest. How does this even happen? Two weeks ago, I was in the nursing home celebrating his 73rd birthday with him, and now, I realize that this is the last birthday I will be celebrating with him.

My dad and I were never that close, but I loved him. Since he went into the nursing home a couple of years ago, I called him every day: usually at the same time every night. I was thinking about that when contemplating the Reading: Part 1 course that I start tomorrow. When could I call him instead? Would it be too late to phone once the course was over? Now I won’t have anyone to call, and this seems so very strange to type. 

Today’s heart-breaking experience has reminded me of something important: savour the small moments.

  • From the phone calls …
  • To the chorus of “happy birthday” at the nursing home …
  • To the newspapers to discuss together …
  • To the hug and kiss goodbye …
  • To the laughter with me and his friends from the nursing home …
  • To watching him lead a portion of the synagogue services …
  • To listening to his many discussions about bridge and Masters Points (a game that I still do not understand) …
  • To the many talks about sports (I think that I listened to these more than I contributed) to world events (that I could talk about more) …

It is these many moments that stick with me tonight.

Dad, I love you, and I miss you, and my heart really does ache this evening. It’s these moments that I know will be the special memories in the weeks, months, and years to come. So tonight everyone, hug your loved ones a little tighter. Give one extra kiss. Share a smile. Make a memory. For as I was reminded today, life is sometimes far too short and way too devastating.


Do we use it as a “resource” or as a “program?”

This year, we were all given Marian Small’s Open Questions For The Three-Part Lesson: Measurement, Patterning & Algebra to read, discuss, and contemplate as we plan for math learning. I started reading it over breakfast the other day, and I shared this photograph just before I began.

While I’ve only read the Kindergarten section of the book so far, I think that I may have figured out the answer to my wonder. 

In our Kindergarten class, we don’t set-up these questions for our students to answer, but we do purposely place objects around the room and provide items for children to play with that will lend themselves to this kind of math learning. Then my teaching partner, Paula, and I spend our day observing, talking, and playing with kids. It’s as these math learning opportunities happen through play that we insert the kinds of questions or extensions that are suggested in this book. So, for example, we might not start by putting out two different-sized containers and asking how they compare, but when students start to fill one container with sand, we might present another one and ask a similar question. Or, when it comes to patterning, we might not use the same materials, but as students create patterns with the Perler beads, we’ll often ask them to create patterns with the same number of red and blue beads or more red beads than blue beads. This would just extend the learning that’s already being shared using these materials.

For me, Small’s book is not about activities to set-up to do with every child at the same time, but a list of great suggestions to extend the math learning that’s happening through play. By starting with the play, the students understand the context for this learning, and we can then bring the thinking to the next level. I know that this can certainly be true in Kindergarten, but what about in other grades? Do we have to start with the activity, or could we begin with the child instead? One thing that I love about the Kindergarten Program Document is that it’s explicit that we observe the child, determine interests, and link the expectations to what the child is already doing, instead of starting with the expectations and planning the activity to go with them. This was a very backwards approach for me at first, but I think that it speaks to the child being at the heart of the document and the heart of the learning. Shouldn’t this be true in all grades? 

I have never been a fan of math textbooks, and when we use resources as just lists of activities to do, I wonder if we’re truly considering the diversity of our learners, their interests, and the meaning that this math can have for them. But when we use a resource as just that — a resource — and link our observations of learning with the extension questions suggested, does this become more meaningful? I think child-centred, interest-based learning would benefit students well beyond Kindergarten and still allow educators to meet expectations and observe learning. Small’s book makes this possible, but is this how people are using it, and does that matter? For me, this is a case of not just what children are learning, but how they’re do so. What about you?


Taking On This Four-Letter Word One More Time!

Play. It’s a four-letter word that continues to have a negative connotation, or so it seems. I’m not talking here about teacher-directed play, or contrived play scenarios. I’m talking about free play. Truly free. Letting children do what they love to do, and watching them, talking with them, and trying — when appropriate — to extend this play or make links to other expectations. In Ontario, we have a Kindergarten Program Document, and it’s one that I absolutely love, for play is at the forefront of it. The second sentence on the first page of text makes it clear that this document is about more than expectations, but also pedagogical approaches.And yet, as clear as this message is, as wonderful as it is, and as amazing as this program can be, I find that there are so many of us out there that find the need to justify the value and importance of play. This truly makes me sad, for I wonder what impact these pedagogical approaches would have on ALL learners: not just the ones in Kindergarten

Yesterday afternoon, I read this wonderful blog post by Janet Raymond: a fellow Kindergarten educator and one of the terrific people who teaches next door to us. I love Janet’s focus on “building brains,” and the value in open-ended tasks that are beyond just memorized learning. Please don’t get me wrong: I believe in the importance of teaching children how to read, and supporting them in developing their academic skills. I also think that when we teach these skills in context, their ability to remember them and apply them in other situations, increases. The Kindergarten Program Document actually discusses the importance of this contextual learning, and I observe the value of this every single day in the classroom. 

So how can we combine this risk-taking, problem solving, whole body movement, and academic expectations? I can’t help but think back to this example from Friday. While I published this post on our class blog, I’m also going to share it here, for I think that it helps outline how problem solving and gross motor play can also connect with reading, writing, math, and meaningful mini-lessons happening ANYWHERE.

The Bug Graveyard

(Note that the comment that’s in this video happened after the initial comment that I wrote in the PicCollage. I asked Evan to explain it to me again, and his word choice changed slightly.)

Next Steps??

This whole experience is such a wonderful example of empathy. I wonder how we can get these children to inspire others — even in different grades — to be just as empathetic.

From a literacy viewpoint, I see the possibility for more mini-lessons on vowel sounds and comparing different vowels (in both reading and writing). In terms of math, we can look at how to form different numerals, and provide even more number printing opportunities in meaningful contexts.

Making these links isn’t always easy, and it doesn’t always look the same for each child. But when we teach skills in context, students don’t just learn the rote knowledge, but they understand the importance of these skills and can apply them in different situations. I think of this fantastic conversation that happened a few days earlier as the students made their initial bug graveyard. They had another sign on this graveyard, but then they had to engage in a lot of problem solving to determine where and how to affix the sign. During this discussion, you can hear the concern over other people not being able to “read the words.”

A day later, and in a different situation, reading is what inspired this same student to create pictures to go with the words.Our classroom program is just about as play-based as you can get. We spend our day playing outside and inside, and we only meet for a short period of time as a class. That said, we don’t expect that our students learn by osmosis, and we do support learning, but without sacrificing play. In the end, I hope that our children will leave Kindergarten with strong problem solving skills, independence, a willingness to take risks, some “major grit” (as this previous student shared with us last year), as well as the foundational skills in language and math. I keep reminding myself that for academics to continue to flourish, students also need these other equally important skills: problem solving, independence, risk-taking, and perseverance.

Real learning happens in Kindergarten, and play is an important part of this real learning. This is not my first time blogging about play, and I’m sure that it won’t be my last, for I think that it’s a conversation that needs to continue. When we share concerns about play, do we do so because of our fear of students not learning enough or our own discomfort on what this learning could look like in the classroom and/or how to support this learning in unconventional ways? Sometimes it’s good to be uncomfortable. What do you think?