Beverly Cleary Memories: How Has Your Life Been Shaped By An Author?

Yesterday, Beverly Cleary passed away. Not only did I grow up reading Cleary’s books, but they were some of my favourite books from my childhood. I could really related to the Ramona/Beezus squabbles, the conversations around divorce, the animal connections, and the bickering that became staples in Cleary’s books. These are stories that I returned to many times. I don’t usually re-read texts, but I did re-read the Ramona books more than once, and even enjoyed the television shows and movies that came from them. I remember watching some with my own sister. I’m an avid reader now, and I know that my love for reading started as a child and was fuelled by Cleary’s Ramona.

One of my fondest memories as a child was going shopping with my grandmother. My grandma lived in Sydney, Nova Scotia, but she always came down to visit a few times a year. She used to take my sister and I to the mall. While my sister loved the clothing and shoe shopping with my grandma, I was most excited about the bookstore. This was at a time when Coles was the brand name bookstore, and those great little mall bookstores were the most wonderful places to go. Even as a small child — we’re talking kindergarten age here — I loved sitting on the floor of the bookstore and “reading” through piles of books. My mom always read to my sister and I when we were growing up — first picture books and later on, novels — and while I probably couldn’t decode the words in the books as this point, I would retell the stories to myself. Neither my sister or my grandmother enjoyed the bookstore quite as much as me, so my grandma always arranged for an employee to watch me read as the two of them went off to shop. This might not be an accepted practice nowadays, but at the time, this solo reading adventure is a strong positive memory and a story that I return to often. This is when my love for reading began and blossomed!

Beverly Cleary’s death has me reflecting on what we can learn from her books and reading experiences. These couple of questions of mine have stemmed from Beverly Cleary.

  • My first wonder is how are we ensuring that kids see themselves in the texts that we use and share in the classroom? As I think about the Beverly Cleary books that I liked and read the most, I keep coming back to how much I could connect with the characters. I saw a little bit of myself in them. I saw my experiences growing up. In some ways, these characters could express themselves in ways that, at times, I couldn’t. This is almost like the conversation that I had with Alanna King and Ramona Meharg about Judy Blume’s books.

Cleary’s passing has me contemplating how we can ensure all of our students — regardless of age — have these same connections with texts. Do we need to look at books differently? Do we need to expand our classroom libraries? What might be a good place to start? In many ways, this feels like a huge undertaking, but I’m also reminded of the fact that it’s an incredibly important one.

  • The second wonder is how do we create shared reading communities in our classrooms? Strangely enough, this wondering was one that my teaching partner, Paula, and I discussed after school yesterday before either of us knew about Beverly Cleary. We were both reminiscing about student reading in previous years, and the huge amount of connecting around books that happened at the eating table and on the carpet space.

With our COVID protocols, these social gatherings around books can no longer happen. Even just distributing books is a challenge. We’ve been trying to find books that we think our kids will like, and passing them on for them to look at in their spaces. If I think back to my bookstore memory as a kid, I wonder, how much value is there in having children select their own books? Is rifling through the books also an important component of the reading process? This is when you can connect with the characters, get excited about the stories shared through the pictures, and determine if the text is the right fit one for you.

Even as an adult, I love having different reading materials on the go. I might only be reading one book on my Kindle, but I often have a paperback version of an educational read nearby, some newspapers and magazines to look through, favourite children’s books out on the ledge at school or easily accessible in the cupboard, and blog posts, tweets, and Instagram posts for some shorter reads. How do we provide an eclectic selection to our students?

Paula and I started to chat about some more board book options. Board books are easier for many of our kids to read, they connect with many stories that children have heard before (and some favourite ones from the past), and they are simple to wipe down and sanitize. I never thought that sanitizing would be one of my considerations for reading materials. We continue to grapple with options on how to get students to safely self-select from these board books. What options have you tried before and what ones work well?

For our young readers, I wish there was a way to support social reading: from a distance, but still around a single book of interest. I was chatting today with a friend of mine about this, and he said, “Aviva maybe this isn’t possible.” I don’t do well with “not possible.” Neither does Paula. When we began to look at the distanced social dramatic play that’s been happening recently, we were reminded that more is always possible than we might initially think.

Beverly Cleary makes me want to find a way to make this kind of reading a reality, even if it might look different than it did in the past.

How has your life been shaped by books? How are we providing these same experiences for our kids? Thanks Beverly Cleary for many fond reading memories, and the push to keep making these memories for the young ones in our care.


What Are Your Magical Fairy Moments?

Seven years ago, I taught Grade 5 at another school. It was during that year that I connected a lot with Jo-Ann Corbin-Harper, a current principal in our Board who at the time taught Grade 8, and Kristi Keery-Bishop, another principal in our Board who at the time was our vice principal. This was the year that the inquiry-based Social Studies Curriculum Document was released and first used widely in schools. The three of us loved — and continue to love — inquiry-based learning, and in many ways, we made sense of this document through our conversations, shared wonderings, and classroom experiences.

It was during this school year that Kristi taught my class the Game of Challenge.

Not only did it make all of us better thinkers, but it totally changed the way that I’ve looked at questioning ever since. I have no doubt that it did the same for my students that year. I share this story, as when Kristi, Jo-Ann, and I taught at the same school, there was an ease in sharing ideas, co-teaching when possible, and connecting over what to do next. It was at the end of this school year that I left this school and moved to another one. As Kristi and Jo-Ann continued their administration journeys, they also moved to other schools. We’ve not had the opportunity to be in the same building since 2014, but we’ve still had the opportunity to connect.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that this week, for it was on Tuesday night that Kristi sent me a message asking if she could drop something off to me — safely outdoors of course — for our class. Early on Wednesday morning, she appeared at our school with a paper bag and this incredible present.

While my teaching partner, Paula, and I are definitely planners when it comes to our provocations, Kristi’s surprise actually fit in perfectly with student interests, new learning, and even our planned provocations for the day. How did she do it? Although I would argue that there’s a little something magical about the amazing Mrs. Bishop, I also think that it’s more than that. You see, thanks to Twitter, Instagram, and our class documentation blog, Kristi can see and hear our daily learning.

The past week made me think a lot about why we share so openly especially during the time of COVID. No longer is it as easy to connect with fellow educators, even at the same school. When we were off after the winter holidays, I received a couple of emails from different teachers at our school. I know that we’re colleagues because they have access to the same email list that I do, but I have absolutely no idea who they are or what grade they teach. This has never happened to me before. During our recent PA Day, we were put into breakout rooms online. Due to my questionable luck, πŸ™‚ I was the facilitator for both breakout rooms.

In the second one, not only did I not know 2/3 of the other participants, but one person job shares with another individual, and I didn’t know the other educator either. This is one of many strange outcomes of our current COVID restrictions and the safety precautions that I choose to take to eat alone and not go into the staff room. But it also means that if I was teaching a grade other than kindergarten, I could go weeks and see nobody besides my students, the other teachers for my class (as we trade off the classroom space), the teachers on duty, and possibly the office staff.

I can’t help but think back to Doug Peterson‘s post about daily blogging. It’s the ability to connect and not have to wonder/question alone that has been so key for both Paula and I these days. Sometimes this reflecting happens through social media (i.e., Twitter and Instagram) and sometimes if happens through my professional blog, but either way, our sharing, wondering, and modifying of plans have often been inspired and supported because so many people can easily see what we do ad why we do it.

Thinking about Kristi’s fairy house and the magic that it’s brought to our indoor and outdoor classrooms this week, I’m reminded of the fact that even though we might not be in the same school anymore, we can still benefit from Kristi’s hard questions and idea sharing. March Break is my favourite holiday of the school year, and this past week would have been March Break if it wasn’t for the move to April. With Kristi’s fairy house and our new block additions, there was just enough change — and enough joy — to reinvigorate both us and our students.

How might you find some much-needed magic as March comes to an end? Is there someone online that might give you this necessary boost? A special “thank you” to Kristi who made this magic happen for us. As the principal of a neighbouring school, not only did we love your fairy house, but we loved how this was an unexpected way to build connections before some of our students join you for French Immersion in the fall. While we might need to stay six feet apart, do we need to teach and learn alone?


Social Play: What IS Possible?

I recently read Beth Lyons’ #oneword blog post for Marchwhich Doug Peterson featured in his Friday post — and it has me thinking more about my new word. In February, I focused on patience. We were all returning to school after seven weeks at home, and as much as my teaching partner, Paula, and I wanted to jump right in and capitalize on the wonderfulness that often happens in January in kindergarten, we wondered if we all needed more time to adjust to being back. We focused on a slower start.

  • A chance to reconnect because we’re all back together in one space.
  • Opportunities for more sensory play because we know that this play is calming for so many of our kids.
  • A little extra time for any of the transitions that we do have — if it’s in the movement outside to inside or packing up at the end of the day — to reduce the stress that can come with a fast pace.

The amazing thing was that, overall, the January magic happened even without us being in a physical building together. When we returned to school, students that might have struggled online were back at their prime in the classroom. Some children changed so remarkably in their actions that Paula and I continue to question, why? What’s making things better now than they were before? We think that they might just be happy to be back together at school again.

Along with some of the academic changes that we noticed in our kids — from letter-sound awareness to reading, writing, and math growth — we also noticed social changes. Students are really seeking out opportunities to socialize with others outside. Even if it’s through live action versions of Pokemon Games or cheetah families, they are constantly looking at ways to play together. Since children are now masked outside, and there’s a caveat in our restrictions that say that they must remain in masks if they cannot ensure 2 m. of physical distance, we can support more of this socializing outdoors. We are also play in a huge open field space with limited materials beyond nature, so we don’t need to worry too much about sanitizing objects. Kids can be kids and play together. There’s something wonderful about this!

In the last little while though, we’ve noticed that students are also starting to look more for each other in the classroom. Inside, they have to stay at their individual spaces. Many of our kids have become amazing at independent play, as this is how they spend a lot of their day. Since almost the beginning of school, there have been pockets of interaction as kids talk together from their own spaces, but usually the classroom is quiet. Like really quiet. Almost silent. Paula and I miss the hum that comes from kids socializing.

Then on Wednesday of this week, we started to hear some of the talk that we would have heard in previous years — but this time from a distance.

It really got us thinking about what kids want and what they need. It is with this in mind, that I picked my #oneword-ish for March: social play. How can we make this type of play work in our classroom considering COVID protocols?

For all of the academic learning that happens in kindergarten, social learning is also huge. Kids learn how to …

  • negotiate play,
  • enter play with others,
  • share materials,
  • share ideas,
  • and solve problems.

We know that some of this learning is happening outside, but is it out responsibility to support this learning inside? How can we do so safely?

Our thinking around social play really came to a head on Friday afternoon. As usual, many children were into buckets of blocks come the afternoon. Most students were using tracks and dominoes to create variations of marble runs and Rube Goldberg Machines. We’ve been looking at these for months, but the play has started to stagnate. Maybe we need to explore some different provocations to incite new learning here, but both Paula and I find that if we’re not there to continue the discussion with kids about their runs, the block play is short. This leads to students packing up one set of bins and moving to another one. It’s a lot of really quick play that tends to lack the deep thinking that we know is possible.

As Paula and I observed the play in the classroom, we looked at each other and agreed, “It’s time for a change.” What if we got rid of the tracks, ping pong balls, and marbles? Would this change the play? Often we help inspire new thinking by adding materials. This time, we decided to do the opposite. Paula comically became The Grinch, and with a big plastic bag as her sack, she went around the classroom and got kids to help pack up some of the building supplies. They found this amusing, while it also had them looking at materials differently. Watching this castle creation had us re-packing block bins after school, sanitizing new materials, and doing a little ordering of our own.

Will this play be for everyone? No. But with the addition of some loose parts, mixtures of blocks and KEVA planks, and even some peg people, maybe we can start to inspire more distance dramatic play and storytelling. We then plan on listening to one of our favourite writing stories — The Signmaker’s Assistant (thanks to Kristi Keery-Bishop for introducing it to us) — to inspire some writing connections and authentic reading opportunities to go along with the building.

Paula and I also thought a lot about how dramatic play is often richer and deeper thanks to the social nature of this play. How can we support this social play from a distance? We wonder about inspiring some parallel building of sorts: let kids see how they can each build in their own spaces, but talk to each other along the way.

Even for those students that are less interested in block play, we can still support these social interactions and storytelling through a little parallel LEGO play and plasticine play. A shoebox space or shelf space could be perfect for small world possibilities. Our hope is that as students combine materials (e.g., adding LEGO or plasticine figures to blocks, and then creating signs to go along with both), we’ll see more storytelling evolve.

While the possibilities here are exciting, they also bring with them uncertainty.

  • Will this work as we anticipate?
  • What impact will this type of play have on the volume in the classroom?
  • What impact might this volume have on student behaviour?

On a positive note, we also wonder if this change in play might bring with it less of a reliance on us to be the sole source of extending learning and connecting around learning. Right now, with limited movement in the classroom, Paula and I become the playmates for kids. This means that almost all of our interactions with kids are quick and often involve a chant in the background of “Dunsiger” or “Crockett,” as other students look for one of us to come and see what they’re doing. Now they might be able to look more to each other, even while staying physically apart.

As we both got ready to leave on Friday evening, Paula reminded me, “It’s going to take time for this play to settle. We can’t make changes right away.” Another opportunity for “patience” perhaps?? But maybe March will also bring with it the chance for the impossible to become a little more possible … and that is just the kind of happiness that I need right now. What about you?


Social Workflow Revisited: What Do We Do Now?

I’ve blogged many times now about our workflow. It was Doug Peterson’s comment on my August blog post that helped us revise our plans once again.

Doug made us think more about why we share so openly and socially, and the possible unintended message to others that might come with hiding everything behind a firewall. It was with this thinking in mind that we changed our class blog to a Daily Documentation Blog, and share most of our photographs, videos, and learning stories through a Twitter/Instagram combination. Everything is then embedded on the blog. This workflow has worked wonderfully for us and for our families until this week.

On Tuesday, Instagram wouldn’t let me publish any videos. It didn’t matter about the size or number of the videos, I continued to get error messages. I had mixed experiences publishing photographs through Instagram as well. Since most of our parents access our class documentation through Instagram, we usually publish the stories there, cross-post to Twitter, and then embed on the blog. Ugh. No matter what I did, this was not working. Hoping that the problem was a short-term one, we decided to create some videos and upload them directly on the blog: using the captions in iMovie to record our reflections much as we would in an Instagram post.

Unfortunately, the problem persisted, and on Wednesday, videos would still not upload on Instagram. This time, we decided to post some photographs on Instagram (they would upload), some videos on Twitter, and upload others directly on our blog, just as we did on Tuesday. This workflow was okay from a timing perspective, but it was less valuable to us based on how we actually use the content that we share. Every day, Paula and I pull Instagram posts to re-look at with students during our class meeting time. The conversations around these posts inspire further learning in the classroom as well as outside.

The videos that we create for the blog are longer and incorporate more photographs and video snippets, as they are more time-consuming to create and upload. The videos that we posted directly on Twitter are better in terms of length and content to re-explore with kids, but they are more finicky to share. One wrong click, and you’re out of them.

We were back to the drawing board again when the problem was still not fixed on Thursday. This time, we tried threaded tweets with photographs and video snippets that unpacked the entire story of learning.

We love the way that the story flows here, but this is a way more time-consuming process. Usually on Instagram, as the videos start to publish, we can publish the next one. With threaded tweets, we need the first tweet to publish to add a second one and so on and so forth. With videos included here, it can take a while for each tweet to post. It ended up taking until almost 11:00 to publish everything on Thursday night and embed everything into a blog post. This might not be sustainable in the long run. Plus, there is still the Twitter issue of accidentally getting out of the post when reviewing it with the class.

We could choose to publish less, but even with all that we share, we have other moments that we don’t post. What we publish really does share an overview of the day and gives families a look into our classroom, which we love. Parents often use the learning that they see as entry points for further conversations and extensions at home.

We could also choose to publish predominantly photographs instead of videos, but it’s the listening back to our video conversations that often have Paula and I reflecting the most. We not only gain further insights into student thinking, but also into our questioning and responding to kids. We regularly set goals and support each other in growth based on video discussions. Even if we take the videos and don’t publish them, I wonder, will we listen and reflect on them as much as we do now?

Seeing as though Instagram is still not allowing me to upload videos, I’m stuck as we look ahead to a new week. Do we continue with the Twitter option, reduce sharing until Instagram works again, upload directly onto the blog but with less user-friendly choices, or explore a new option altogether? What would you suggest? Since we learn and share so much socially, we’re hoping that this problem solving could also be done in a social way. Thanks, in advance, for your advice!


What Are Your “Normal” Moments?

I know that this year is anything but “normal,” but sometimes I really crave those moments that remind me of what things used to be like. If it’s …

  • the conversations between kids,
  • the outdoor dramatic play,
  • the strange scientific discoveries,
  • the #avivaarriva parking tweets,
  • or the many things that make me laugh … πŸ™‚

I find myself incredibly excited by each of these experiences. COVID changes many things, but maybe it doesn’t need to completely change them all. What are this year’s moments that bring you joy? I never thought that “cat dramatic play” would make me smile, but in these strange times, I guess that I can even embrace a little cheetah fun.

What about you?