Turning Reading On Its Head!

I love how blogging provides an opportunity for discourse and a look at different perspectives. That said, often when we write blog posts, and provide questions to inspire debate — or even just conversation — there’s often a lot of agreement with the initial post. This is why I love what happened during dinner on Wednesday night.

After a jam-packed day of talking and sharing at Minds on Media, I was thrilled to go out for dinner with some fellow educators at the conference. I got to spend the night with Timothy, his amazing son, Max, who helped present on virtual reality at the Minds on Media event, and Michelle.

During our dinner conversation, we started to talk about reading. I made a comment that I’ve made many times beforethat it’s really sad to see the limited amount of “for pleasure” reading that happens nowadays. Very few children seem to read — and finish — books just for fun, and I continue to contemplate why this might be the case. Usually when I make a comment such as this one, fellow educators agree with me, but Michelle did something great on Wednesday night: she pushed back. She disagreed. 

Michelle gave an alternative perspective. She said that maybe the problem is how we view “reading.” We’re looking at reading as “finishing a book,” but what about the reading that happens in video gamesSome games require so much reading and thinking that completing a game would be equivalent to finishing an incredibly long book. And students need to read, and think about what they read, in order to meet with success, finish the game, and get the points. Michelle, Timothy, and Max all discussed different games where this is the case. As somebody that has very little knowledge of video games, I still cannot remember the names they mentioned, but they all agreed that the reading requirement was huge. 

Is this kind of reading good enough? I initially pushed back. Shouldn’t children have to read books? Aren’t they better? I shared my concerns about the amount of time in front of a screen — and I still have these concerns — but then Michelle mentioned how much reading is done on a screen. She’s right. As I spoke about the benefits of books, I thought about the great mystery novel waiting for me on my iPad that I was hoping to finish reading that night. This is the kind of reading that excites me, but maybe video game reading is the kind that excites other people: both adults and children.

I then started to think about the EQAO Reading Surveys that students complete in Grades 3 and 6. Often there are many children that articulate that they don’t like to read, but would these results change if children (and adults) considered video game reading under the “reading umbrella?” Even if these digital text forms are taken into account, I wonder how many children think about this when they complete these surveys. I wonder how many adults would consider “video game reading” as valuable reading time. Michelle asked me if this matters, and I think that it does.

My own concerns around video games and screen time impacted on how I viewed this kind of reading. This made me wonder though, what’s the message that I’m giving to kids? If children work through more difficult decoding tasks as part of these games, but struggle with some lower level texts, do they still see themselves as capable readers or do they see themselves as struggling? How do we perceive them? Michelle is making me wonder if our opinions on video games — and sometimes even our lack of understanding over how the games work and the skills needed to succeed at them — impacts on the message we give to kids and how children view themselves. 

Our deep conversation continued throughout dinner, and ended with Michelle sharing her thinking around media literacy as an “umbrella for all other literacies.” It’s really how we take in information and interpret the world. Michelle shared The Association For Media Literacy Website, which includes fantastic blog posts that really link reading, writing, oral communication, and media literacy. This made me think more about how I’ve addressed media literacy in the past. It was often an afterthought. Usually a quick viewing of a video with students or the creation of a poster, allowed me to assess this language strand. But what kind of disservice was I doing here for kids? Could a deeper, more critical look at media literacy, actually help address the reading goals that our Board is focused on achievingI wonder if it’s time to re-think reading and the impact that media has on reading AND on student success at reading. What do you think? Let’s extend this conversation that started on Wednesday night over The Falls!

A beautiful look at The Falls! They really do look like a dragon in the morning. #bit17

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A Need To “Drop And Blog”: My Growing Thoughts On Growing Success

Today is the second day of the Bring I.T. Together Conference, and both conversations and presentations over the past two days have made me contemplate various blog posts. As I sit down for a little quiet time at the end of lunch today, I realized that I needed to write one of these blog posts before the start of the afternoon sessions. A special “thank you” to Jamie Reaburn and Andrew Bieronski for inspiring this post and my growing thoughts on Growing Success.

I decided to attend both Jamie and Andrew’s sessions this morning: one was about giving students voice and choice in their learning, and one was about assessment. During their sessions — especially the second one — Jamie and Andrew discussed the triangulation of data, and how we can use observations, conversations, and work products to assess students. They delved into their own growth in these areas, and addressed how their high school students respond to classroom learning opportunities and feedback options within their rooms. I found out that I’m not alone in loving Growing Success, and it’s great to see these secondary school educators providing a more open model of education that we provide to our Kindergarten learners

While I cannot say enough positive things about the learning opportunities that these two educators are providing for their students, their story leaves me with a deeper worry.

Using Growing Success seems to be novel. 

  • Does it just seem this way because these educators are focusing on their professional growth and changes in assessment?
  • Is this “newness” as true for both elementary and secondary school?
  • What does this mean when it comes to the Growing Success — The Kindergarten Addendum? How long will it remain as “new?”
  • When might Growing Success no longer become “new?” How do we support this change on a bigger scale?
  • What impact might a bigger, total adoption of Growing Success have on how students view assessment, how they view themselves as learners, and how educators view them as learners?

I don’t have any answers to these questions, but I’m hoping that this blog post might continue an important conversation around assessment. #BIT17 is often viewed as a “tech conference,” and I love how this conference has made me contemplate programming, assessment, evaluation, and the full implementation of an important Ministry Document. Pedagogy is definitely alive and well at #BIT17.

Recently, in our classroom, we’ve had a lot of success with a “drop and draw” space. 

Thanks to Jamie and Andrew for inspiring me to create an adult version of this space today and “dropping and blogging.” Some topics call for immediate sharing. What would you add to this assessment/evaluation discussion?


Are The “Basics” Not So Basic After All?

I just happened to stumble upon this recent article by Stuart Shanker entitled, Why Does My Child Hate Math? It was in reading this post that I had an aha moment: maybe the basics aren’t so basic after all.

In Shanker’s article, he talks about the time that his daughter asked for, “two pieces of toast.” This may not seem so monumental, and yet, for a beginning mathematician, the thinking involved in this kind of understanding is big. 

  • She’s demonstrating a concept of number.
  • She’s subitizing.
  • She’s viewing her world mathematically.

It’s basic — and amazing — experiences like this one that I get to see regularly as a Kindergarten educator.

    • It’s the child that counts, “1, 2, 3 blocks,” and then finally tells me on Friday that there are “3 blocks.” It’s no longer just, “1, 2, 3.”
    • It’s recognizing small amounts without always needing to count them (subitizing).

    • It’s the math stories that show me a beginning understanding of subtraction.

    • It’s the estimating and measurement that make their way into design discussions outside.

    • It’s the addition and subtraction thinking that make their way into the creative play in our forest.

    • It’s using measurement terms in conversations, and showing their understanding of measurement in everyday experiences.

There’s criticism of the “new math,” and a need to go “back to basics.” But Shanker reminds me that “the basics” are not being forgotten, and when we see these basics in the everyday — and the thinking that leads to many student realizations — maybe these basics are actually far more complex than we thought.

What I love most about the anecdotes in Shanker’s article is that he was always being responsive to kids. He watched and listened to his daughter, and then he extended her learning as he observed what she shared. She demonstrated new skills, but he also supported the development of additional skills based on what she knew. The Kindergarten Program Document is very responsive to students, and actually puts children at the centre of learning. This is also what Shanker does.

If we always saw children first, and addressed expectations in response to a student’s demonstration of skills, would we be having different conversations around math? What about around other subjects? Basics matter, but is there complexity in basic skills, and is some of this complexity in knowing when children are ready for these “basics?” Shanker’s article reminds us that we really need to watch, listen, and connect with kids, and truly celebrate the joy that is math!


Where Do You Look? A Shaky View Of Our Classroom World!

During my summer position at Camp Power, I had many opportunities to go into different classrooms and work with children and instructors. I love to document learning, and when I was in these rooms, I often did that. It was after I recorded some videos of campers that an instructor made a passing comment to me that I’ve thought about ever since. 

This instructor spoke to me about how I record videos, and he mentioned that even when the iPad is recording, my eyes are always on the child. Was he right? All of a sudden I started to reflect on where I look as I’m recording, and yes, it’s almost always at the student.

This makes me one of the worst videographers of all time! You can get a little seasick as you watch my longer recordings, and I almost always slide off the page or end up focusing on a corner of the floor or a section of the table. But, as someone who spends my day taking photographs, recording videos, and documenting learning, I realized that I do not live my life staring through a screen. As much as I start to ignore the camera, the children start to as well, and that’s when we’re both able to get lost in the learning.

One of many examples of my “shaky” videos (swipe to see it).

My choice may not have been a conscious one at the time, but now I’m consciously trying to continue to stay focused on the child, not the camera. Where do you focus as you record videos? Do these choices matter? I want to give parents a window into our classroom, a look at the learning, and a chance for my teaching partner, Paula, and I to reflect on this learning and determine next steps. Just because the moment is being captured, doesn’t mean that we’re doing so at the expense of our relationships with kids. Maybe there’s something to be said for a shaky view of our classroom world.


The Time I Forgot About Halloween …

The funniest thing happened to me when I got to my Reading Part 1 course tonight. I was a few minutes early, and sat down at one of the tables with some other teachers talking around me. The instructor came up to join us, and people were chatting about their busy day on the day before Halloween. Oh my goodness! I took out my iPad and quickly texted my teaching partner, Paula. I can’t believe what we forgot as we planned ahead for tomorrow: we totally forgot about Halloween.

There’s a little “interesting” in this forgetful moment.

  • Very few students today discussed Halloween. We didn’t prohibit the topic of conversation. We just didn’t start it. A couple of children spoke quietly to their friends about costumes and a few children brought some special Halloween treats in their lunches today. That was it though. Nobody painted pumpkins, drew bats, made scary costumes, or wrote Halloween stories. It kind of makes me wonder, how much of an interest do they really have around this holiday?
  • As others discussed the “craziness” of today, I had to admit that our class was actually quite calm. In fact, it was one of our best Mondays yet! It was a very routine day, and seemed to possess the right combination of sensory options, problem solving possibilities, and choice, to make the day pretty close to perfect! 

Reflecting now though, I can’t help but wonder about Halloween (and really holidays in general). Is it sometimes our mentioning of the holiday that produces the dysregulation? If children indicate a limited interest in the celebration, why do we push it? I know that tomorrow, all of the students will show up in costumes, and many are eager to partake in the parade. But what happens after that? Maybe the students will be just as eager to settle into routine, or maybe the conversations will change to Halloween, and the play will also change. As Paula mentioned in her follow-up text to me tonight, “I guess we just need to go with the flow.” There’s something to be said for that. With a little luck and a few deep breaths (likely my own), maybe Halloween won’t be so crazy after all!