Books have always been a way for me to approach tough topics and start important discussions with my students. This week, as we prepare for The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on Sept. 30th, here are some books that might help you launch those discussions. While there are more and more books being written each year about residential schools, these are among my favorites:
This book tells the true story that inspired the movement of Orange Shirt Day. When author Phyllis Webstad was a little girl, she was excited to go to residential school for the first time. Her Granny bought her a bright orange shirt that she loved and she wore it to school for her first day. When she arrived at school her bright orange shirt was taken away, along with so much of herself.
Powerful graphic novel that tells the true story of Chanie “Charlie” Wenjack, a twelve-year-old boy who died while trying to walk home from the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School, 400 miles away from his house.
Fatty Legs – Christy Jordon-Fenton & Margaret-Olemaun Pokiak-Fenton
A true story of Margaret Pokiak, an Inuit girl who, longing to read like her older sister, begs her father to be sent to school. Eventually he gives in, sending her to a residential school in Northern Canada. Her dreams are crushed when she soon faces terrible hardship and humiliation from the nuns.
A young First Nations’ girl asks her grandmother why she does things the way she does – wear her hair long, wear happy colours, hang out with her brother… The answers are as heartbreaking as her grandmother tells her about life in a residential school a long time ago, where all of these things were taken away.
This is a heartbreaking book about Shi-shi-etko, a young native girl, this time in Canada, who must leave her home and family to go to a residential school. As she prepares to leave, she gathers memories during the last few days, first with her mother and father, then with family and her grandmother.
Heartbreaking, gentle story about a young girl and her grandfather. Her grandfather’s language – Cree – was taken from him as a child at residential school and now his granddaughter wants to help him reclaim it.
I loved Braiding Sweetgrass so was thrilled to learn Monique Grey Smith had adapted it for young adults. I loved it equally, if not more than the original. Through the author’s lens, we see nature and its impact on all of us, is clear and pure. The message of this book is simple; if you open your heart to it, nature will guide you and change your life in ways you cannot imagine. LOVE!
An excellent overview of the history of residential schools, their terrible impact, and what all Canadians can do to begin to repair the harm through acts of Reconciliation. Written for middle-school aged readers but also appropriate for adult readers. I especially liked the reflection questions the author asks, the additional resources she suggests, and the calls to action she provides.
The Witness Blanket is a living work of art, created with hundreds of collected items from Canadian residential school. This is the story behind the collected items and the making of the blanket as a first step in the journey of healing.
I like to think that Orange Shirt Day is a hopeful step towards healing. So I end my list of books with Monique Gray Smith’s gorgeous new book. Written in English and Cree, this is a lovely story of hope and love and a reminder to be kind to all those around us, including our earth.
I love that more and more children will be read stories about the legacy of residential schools in the classroom this year and that these books opens up a space for important conversations in your classrooms and homes. Thanks for stopping by. I hope that you found one or two new titles to add to your collection.
One of my favorite lessons in my book Powerful Understanding is the lesson that introduces children to their “moral compass” – that internal voice inside each of us that can help “give us direction” when we are trying to make a moral decision. We often experience moments in our lives when we are faced with the age old question: Should I or shouldn’t I?
Here are my top ten books to teach the concept of “paying attention to your moral compass”. In each story, the character is faced with a dilemma, and a choice to make. All of these books invite conversations about the stages of a moral dilemma: the temptation, the choice, the guilt, taking responsibility, and finally, the restitution or making amends. Great books for reading aloud, pausing, and asking the students – “What would you do?”
Hilarious story of a little girl is told NOT to eat the cake her mother just made. The temptation becomes too great and she ends up eating the entire thing! She makes amends by owning up to her decision and baking a new cake.
When Sarah breaks her mother’s favorite necklace, she tells lies to cover it up. But everytime she tells a little ghost pops out of her mouth! Every new lie Sarah tells, another ghost appears. Not until she tells the truth do the little ghosts disappear.
A young boy and his friends completely destroy a lonely neighbour’s vegetable garden while playing baseball. I have read this book to countless of intermediate students and each time, there are gasps of horror when Mr. Belavista walks in on their game and sees his beloved garden destroyed. An excellent story about taking responsibility and making amends.
Finders keepers, right? When Ruben picks up someone’s lost money, he discovers how hard it can be to do the right thing. Another well read book in my collection, I love how this book really explores and acknowledges the complexity of emotions one faces when faced with trying to do the right thing.
Oh, the temptation of magic, pasta, and adoration of others! In the beloved classic tale, we experience, first hand, Big Anthony’s moral compass pointing in the wrong direction when it comes to not touching Strega Nona’s magic pasta pot. Poor Anthony will never eat pasta again!
Ruthie loves teeny tiny things. When she finds a teeny tiny camera on the school playground, she can hardly believe her luck. She wants to keep the camera in the worst way, but there’s one little problem: It isn’t hers. And so she lies. An endearing story and an even more endearing character!
The Emperor gives all the children in the land a seed and tells them that the one who grows the most beautiful flower will become the next Emperor. A young boy works tirelessly to tend his seed, but nothing grows. He returns to the king, among the other children’s beautiful flowers, with an empty pot. To his surprise, he is rewarded for his honesty. I LOVE this book for introducing moral compass, integrity, honesty and courage.
Thanks for stopping by! I hope you found one or two new titles to add to your classroom or library collection! Have a happy reading week, everyone!
A few weeks ago, I posted Part 1 of my list of favorite middle grade chapter and graphic novels with a focus on upper middle grades (mature grade 6 – 8) You can read that post HERE. I intended to post Part 2 last week, but 7 workshops and webinars in 5 days got in the way! So here is Part 2 – which features books I would recommend for lower middle grades (grades 4-6). And once again, I had trouble counting to ten!!
Very excited about this first book in a young middle-grade series about nine-year-old Abby as she navigates all the chaos that can come from growing up. I loved Judy Blume books when I was growing up and this one certainly had a modern Judy Blume vibe! It’s a great book to introduce the topic of puberty as I feel it offers a realistic portrayal of the emotions, experiences, and feelings of a young girl. I appreciated the understanding doctor and the un-embarrassed mother.
Another coming of age theme in this cute graphic novel that includes topics like homeschooling, theater, friendship, summer camp, OCD, and anxiety. They say “books are mirrors” and I really like that there are so many authors this year writing “connect” books for middle graders who are trying to find their place in the world and be proud of who they are.
This is the second “Marisol” book in a new series (I haven’t read the first one) featuring the quirky, unathletic Marisol Rainey. Marisol Rainey’s two least-favorite things are radishes and gym class. Well, I made so many connections to this book! I was the kid in elementary school who was terrified of gym class and picked last for every class sport. Basically: I was Marisol. Turns out Marisol has more spunk and grit than she thinks! Humorous and heartfelt story of friendship, family and fitting in for fans of Clementine, Judy Moody, Billy Miller, and Ramona the Pest.
Canadian icon Deborah Ellis has written a collection of short stories featuring children who are all about to turn 11-years old — and how that event changes them. The series of stories are about children from all over the world and feature magical and mysterious themes. I LOVED this book and thought of so many wonderful ways you could use it in a classroom! A perfect book for an interactive read aloud to model questioning, connecting and transforming!
Sea Otters + Katherine Applegate + a novel in verse = middle grade gold! How can you NOT fall in love with this adorable sea otter? Like her other books, beloved author Katherine Applegate knows how to weave important issues into her books with such respect and grace wrapped up in gorgeous writing and endearing characters. This book could stand alone as an amazing read aloud. But I could see it being the anchor to a class inquiry unit around endangered species, conservation, climate change, ecosystems, animal surrogates – the list goes on! Great information included in the back notes. This book will be released on Sept. 22nd.
I love Kevin Henkes books so was excited to see this continuation of his Billy Miller series, told from Billy’s younger sister Sal’s voice. Henkes, once again, writes from the voice right of a nervous child worrying about trivial things that are very important to her. The whole story takes place over the course of a single day but with lots of space to explore Sal’s many emotions. The book is illustrated in black and white and a great choice for fans of Ramona, Ivy + Bean, and Dory Fantasmagory. A strong grade 2 reader would enjoy this story, up to beginning grade 4.
A funny new graphic novel series (this is #3) about Max – a Knight in Training by the author of Nate the Great. This book is jam packed with action and adventure, pictures and personality, fantasy and fun!!! In this continuation of Max’s story, she meets her twin Mary, and the two journey (along with the other Midknights) to learn what happened to their parents. We also learn how Max got her name!
Nat Enough is a coming of age graphic novel (first in a series) about a young girl finding her place in middle school. Her best friend from elementary school is hanging out with the ‘cool kids’ now, and Natalie feels like she is “not enough”- not pretty enough, not talented enough, not cool enough. Certainly a lot of connections will be made with this one!
Such a clever and original idea! This book is a collection of six short stories in a variety of genres and settings, all featuring ice cream! I enjoyed how each of the stories were a different genre, great for introducing genres to your class and great anchors for writing! Kids will make lots of connections to the book. I appreciated the author’s notes at the beginning and end of the book so don’t forget to share those if you are reading this story aloud.
I so enjoyed this colorful graphic novel featuring two unlikely friends – a nervous squirrel and a carefree bird, who join together to escape the menacing cat that wants to eat them. Kids will enjoy the silly humour and colorful illustrations. LOTS of fun!
Another fun graphic novel – this one is about the first day of grade four and everyone is nervous — even Mr. Wolf! Despite the characters being colorful cartoon animals, the book had a realistic feel to it. All the student animals are unique and have their own challenges, hopes, goals. I think kids will really enjoy this first book in a new series.
I enjoyed this book by the author of Amal Unbound. In this book about injustice in education, young Omar gets accepted to a private school on scholarship but is expected to work for free, cannot play in extracurricular events, and must maintain an A plus average. Most scholarship boys do not make past their first year so Omar decides to challenge this unfair system. An uplifting story about working together to make a change; the story is hopeful and empowering.
Surprised by how much I enjoyed this book! It’s about a funny, slacker kid who gets himself fired from his summer job at the pool and then gets sent to a farm in the middle of nowhere. But before long, magical things start happening at the farm. It’s weird, wonderful and whimsical! Would make a wonderful read-aloud.
This is a eco-mystery is about making friends and saving endangered turtles – perfect for animal lovers everywhere! Strange that a mystery can also be heart-warming – but this story was. I think because of Miles, the loveable main character, who I was cheering for after the first page. A great mystery with important environmental lessons and a great characters.
Thanks for stopping by! Hope you found one or two new books to add to your classroom or school library! Happy reading, everyone!
I don’t post about novels very often because it takes me so long to read enough books to make a post! But a new school year is always a great time to highlight some of my favorites of the year so far. In my experience, one of the best way to inspire your students to read is to get them excited about books! I love having a few new “hot picks” to share those first weeks of school. Giving book talks and sharing “book trailers” or choosing that perfect “read-aloud” book to launch the new year can be just the thing to inspire your students to dive into books this year! Many of these books are also excellent choices for reading aloud, whole class novel study, or to add to your Lit Circle choices.
Trends this year? I’m noticing authors tackling tough topics such as homelessness, poverty, activism, and bullying. There are also many “coming of age” stories with tweens navigating emotional and physical changes as they mature. If you teach those middle graders or are a teacher librarian – here are my favorite new novels (so far) of 2022:
I have divided this post into two parts. This week, I am featuring books I would recommend for UPPER middle grades (mature grade 6 to grade 8) and next week, I will share my favorites for LOWER middle grades (grades 4-early 6). As with ANY book you bring into the classroom, PLEASE READ FIRST to ensure it is an appropriate fit for your students.
Themes of grief, loss, community, hope, friendship, and first crush run through this post-apocalyptic story inspired by Anne of Green Gables. (sounds weird, but it works!) Set two years after a global pandemic, twenty survivors, most of them children, have moved from their coastal town to a smaller island where they all live in a mansion. During Gabe’s turn to look for survivors, he finds Relle Douglas and brings her home. That new friendship, coupled with another tragedy, spurs him to wonder if there are other survivors out there and he sets out to search for them. Anne of Green Gables fans will see many parallels, others will enjoy the light romance and COVID connections.
Swim Team is a middle grade graphic novel that follows Bree, a girl who moves with her dad to a new state and has to begin at a new school. Bree is a math whiz but ends up having to take swimming class because all the other electives are full. Bree knows nothing about swimming, but thanks to an older lady in her building who was once a swim champ, and a little tenacity, Bree ends up competing in the state swim meet. A powerful coming of age story that explores sports, the meaning of friendship, family struggles, bullying, and the stereotype of Black people not swimming.
An important, eye-opening look at homelessness but filled with gentleness and hope. Told in dual perspectives, A Duet for Home shares the stories of June and Tyrell, two biracial tweens currently living at the Huey House homeless shelter whose stories are intertwined by a prank gone wrong. Full of community, family, music, activism, and speaking out against injustice. This is a must read middle grade novel that will make both a great read aloud and Lit Circle choice.
No middle grade novel list would be complete without the latest from Canadian author Kenneth Oppel! Once again, Oppel creates a creates a fast-paced, spooky fantasy set in Canada (Toronto) with GREAT characters. This story follows Gabe who lands a summer job giving a ghost tour of a lighthouse. While telling ghost stories to tourists, he accidentally connected with Rebecca, the ghostly daughter of the former lighthouse guardian, who asks Gabe for help to kill the evil ghost-eater Viker before he starts killing again.
WARNING: This book includes some scary descriptions and themes and I would recommend for 13 years and older.
Get ready for a high-seas, coming-of-age adventure set in a Thai-inspired fantasy world! Sai pretends to be from a wealthy family in order to get an apprenticeship with a mapmaker. She hides that her father is a criminal, and uses her skills as a forger to help the mapmaker copy maps and documents. When the mapmaker goes on a sea voyage to explore new regions of the world, Sai is eager to leave her past behind and start a new life. Compelling girl-power fantasy, great adventure, and don’t forget the dragons!
What could be more horrible than trying out to be a cheerleader in front of the your entire grade seven class? Not to mention, having your best friend say she doesn’t want to be your partner for the tryouts! This graphic novel, based on the author’s childhood, captures the many cringe-worthy moments of middle school life while shining a light on the challenges of being biracial and dealing with racism. A great addition to the MG graphic novel world that invites LOTS of connections!
The latest by Canadian great Gordon Korman weaves themes of friendship, first crushes, loyalty, promises, consequences, and regret mixed in with a little magic and time travel! WOW! The story follows seventh-grader Mason and and his best friend Ty, who in order to save their friendship, make a pact to avoid their mutual crush on classmate Ava. But when a freak storm brings Mason and Ava together, Mason breaks the pact and loses his best friend. Five years later, Mason is lonely and friendless — until he gets the magical chance to change the past with a “do-over”. Great for “What would you do?” discussions!
This powerful novel-in-verse is full of both sadness and hope. It’s told from the perspective of Lacey, a young girl escaping domestic violence with her mother and sister. I love how this book explores the range of emotions that Lacey and her family go through. Great parallels of Lacey learning to garden, growing a seed into a sunflower, just as she is starting to grow and heal herself. This is such an important book for everyone to read.
Set in one of the poorest communities in Mumbai where access to clean water is limited, this story is about how one girl makes a a positive difference in her family, her community, and her own life. Minni, our wonderfully strong heroine, “struggles to juggle” when she has to temporarily take over her mom’s responsibilities while keeping hold of her dreams to get an education and make something of herself. Lots of important themes to unpack with older students including: the inequalities surrounding access to water and education; poverty; theft and corruption. Recommended for mature grade 6’s and older.
Set in the northern mining town of Sudbury, Ontario in the 1980’s, this is a tender, powerful story of Wolfe and her three best friends, on the cusp of turning 13 and all the changes that brings, trying to save their town’s trees and a historic site they discover. This is debut novel by Canadian indigenous picture book author Danielle Daniel has many themes including friendship, environmentalism, activism, and indigenous teachings about nature.
Jennifer Chan is the new quirky girl obsessed with aliens, making her the subject of ridicule. At school, she is rejected by the cool clique and even the nerds. And then she goes missing. WOW! This book takes a deep dive into the mentality of bullying, belonging, and popularity. It is so, so thought provoking, real, and powerful. A gripping magical-realism plot that flips between “Then” and “Now” chapters. Every middle schooler needs to read this book! Based on the author’s own experience with bullying, this book would make an amazing read-aloud, whole class novel, or literature circle choice. One of the best middle grade books I have read about friendships and bullying, ever.
Thanks for stopping by! I hope you found one or two new books to add to your class or library collection! Leave a comment and let me know which books caught your eye! Stay tuned for PART 2 next week, where I will be featuring middle grade novels for grades 4-6.
Anyone who knows me knows that “making connections” is in my blood! As one of the five “reading powers” I have taught hundreds of “connect” lessons to students, helped hundreds of teachers know the difference between “deep” and “quick” connections, recommended thousands of “connect books” over the years, and made dozens of “connect” book lists.
Earlier this summer, I received an email from an educator in school district #69 (Qualicum, Vancouver Island) asking me for a recommendation for a “Re-connect” book. At first, I wondered if it was a typing mistake! “What do you mean by Re-Connect book?” I asked her.
She explained that at the start of a new school year, the staff selects a picture book that is read in every classroom. The theme of the book becomes the unifying school theme for the year.
Past themes the school explored included courage, generosity, independence, stewardship, and caring communities. This year, her school will be exploring the theme of “belonging” and she asked if I knew of any books I could recommend. (I did, of course!)
To build the school community, every class reads the book, then joins in an art activity around the theme during the first few weeks of school. The art is hung in the entrance hallway of the school to mark the school theme. Hers is not the only school in her district that carries on this tradition each fall.
Here is a photo of one of their school-wide art projects based on one of their past themes: Reach for the Stars. The “Reconnect Book” they used for this theme wasDREAM: A Tale of Wonder, Wisdom and Wishesby Susan V. Bosack.
She also shared past themes and corresponding picture books they have used:
Well, of course, my brain started swirling with “Re-Connect” themes and corresponding picture books and I felt so inspired that I just HAD to create a new TOP TEN TUESDAY book list! With her permission, I am sharing this amazing idea with you in the hopes it may inspire your school to begin the year with a RECONNECT book!
Below are my top ten “RE-CONNECT” book recommendations and the possible school theme connected to it.
Thanks for stopping by! I hope you feel inspired to “RECONNECT” with your students this fall by sharing one of these books with them! Huge shout out to Karen Monstad and the entire staff at Nanoose Bay Elementary School the staff for sharing their “RECONNECT” book idea with me! Happy reading, everyone!
As much as it’s hard to face – back to school is on the horizon. Many have enjoyed holidays, much anticipated travel, and time with family and friends this summer. Some may already be heading back to class soon, others have a few weeks left of summer bliss to enjoy. Whatever stage you are at shifting into school mode, it’s never too early or late to start exploring a few new “back to school books”. Starting school with a good collection of “back to school” themed books to share with your students during those first few weeks can really help spark important discussions and help to start building your class community. These books also are a great way to model and practice making connections to the range of feelings associated with heading back to school.
Here are my top 10 favorite new “back to school” books for 2022, along with a few old favorites! (And yes, I have trouble counting to ten!)
A book celebrating school not just as a building, but all that it signifies and represents: all the people who work and learn together, supporting each other to create a caring community. A perfect book to start the school year, to practice “Transform” (Knew-New connections!), but also one that would make a wonderful anchor book for writing about your special school!
NOTE: If you are a GearPicksPack subscriber, this book is included in your Fall box (Primary). For those who are subscribers, because many of these titles are ones you would want to share in the first days and weeks of school, no other books listed here are included in the fall GearPicks Packs as we don’t usually ship the first boxes until the end of September.
Super cute book about following class rules! Lupe is a spit-fire, drum loving Kindergartener who loves to drum on everything! But when she gets to school and discovers the “no drumming” rule, this little rock star is not ready to put down her drum sticks. Eventually she decides to listen to her teacher, and makes a few new friends along the way! Love the addition of Spanish words throughout this energetic story, reminiscent of Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse.
Mae refuses to go to school and makes up many reasons why she should not go. Upon entering the schoolground, she decides to avoid entering and climbs a tree. Another girl who is afraid to go in decides to join her in the tree. Then, the teacher, also afraid of the first day of school, climbs the tree, too! I love the humour, along with the connections kids will make about why Mae doesn’t want to go to school.
A young girl sets off with her dog to go explore the world to meet new people. She asks questions, connects to people, listens to their advice, and learns along the way. A perfect analogy for starting school and a great Reading Power anchor book for practicing asking questions!
I LOVE books about names and this new one is SUCH a wonderful addition to my collection. Mirha is so excited for her first day of school: she can’t wait to learn, play, and make new friends. But when her classmates mispronounce her name, she goes home wondering if she should find a new one. Such a great book about the importance of pronouncing people’s names correctly.
A sweet companion to The King of Kindergarten(I think I might even like this one more!), this book follows MJ as she starts kindergarten. Lively, colorful and heartwarming and I LOVE that there is a focus on kindness and helping others. A must-have for your school library collection!
Blue Flower – Sonya Hartnett
I got a little teary reading this one! A perfect book for making connections to feelings of not fitting in, feeling different, making friends, and anxieties associated with starting school. I love the simple, small moments of self realization, perseverance, and resilience. Stunning illustrations. LOVE this one!
I’m a fan of this author/illustrator, so was excited to see her new book! A very sweet story about a about a bear cub soothing a little girl’s fears about starting school. The story is sprinkled with a little magic and adorable illustrations. Would make a great read-aloud and perfect bed-time story.
This book came out a few years ago, but I only just discovered it, so thought I would include it. This is a true laugh-out-loud picture book about a group of animals who are all tense about the first day of school. The sloth worries about being late, the mouse about being too small, the kangaroo about leaving mom’s pouch, the parrot about too much repeating, and so on. The creatures are adorable and I love the message of reassurance of starting school mixed with humour. A PERFECT read-aloud for the first day of school!
WOW! I’m so in love with this book! Such a great book to discuss the importance of culture and food. Four students are teased by “the sandwich kids” for bringing culturally-specific lunches to school. Readers follow each student as they learn to manage their first “lunch box moments”. Love how this book inspires everyone to stand up and be proud of their food and culture and encourages empathy and respect. This is a PERFECT new book to add to my Powerful Understanding “Others” book list!
Another delightful addition to the graphic novel series for beginning readers. In this story, Narwhal and Jelly become substitute teachers! They teach their “school of fish” some interesting subjects, including “Wafflematics”. Surprise bonus in this book are all the TRIPLE SCOOP WORDS! Every time a fish responds to a question, the other fish respond in synonyms! Sweet, silly and great for vocabulary building! Available in FRENCH.
This book came out last year but it is definitely worth a second mention. SO much to love about this heartfelt, honest letter from a teacher to her/his students. A perfect back to school book to highlight a teachers purpose and to help build a positive classroom community. The illustrations are beautiful and inclusive. This book is also now available in French.
By the same author as A Letter from Your Teacher, this is one of my favorite books for helping to build a positive class community at the start of a school year. In it, the teacher compares the class to different families both traditional and non-traditional and how, like their family at home, a family environment in a classroom means making sure everyone is accepted, cared for, and loved.
Last, but certainly not least, you can’t have a “back to school” book list without including this one! This is one of the best books on diversity and inclusion you can find – and sends a warm message to all children that no matter who they are, what they wear, what language they speak, and what they eat for lunch – they are all welcome at school. A perfect back to school read aloud but an even better book for a principal to share at the “Welcome Back” assembly! There is even a SONG written from this book!
Thanks for stopping by! I hope you have discovered one or two new titles to add to your “back to school” book collection! Happy reading and sharing book joy with your class this year!
Last week, I was contacted by two journalists students from UBC (University of British Columbia) to contribute to an article they were writing for the UBC Thunderbird Newspaper about how the pandemic has impacted reading skills, interests, and instruction as well as my thoughts about online reading platforms. What started out as answers to a set of questions, quickly turned into a bit of a manifesto! While they took only a snippet of it for their article (you can read the entire article here), I have decided to post my thoughts in their entirety here as I thought it might provide some insight and possibly lead to some important discussions in your school. Huge thank-you to my literacy soul sisters, Lisa Wilson (VP at Mar Jok Elementary, SD 23) and Dr. Donna Kozak (adjunct @UBC and UBCO) for their wisdom and insight!
I have included some of the journalist’s questions so you can see how they led to my rather lengthy response (of which they extracted three sentences for their article!)
How effectively do you think technology-driven learning tools (audiovisual responsive books), can help students cope with the hybrid online-offline school conditions?
I think it was effective and particularly helpful for continued learning at home. In terms of online reading platforms, I think as long as kids are reading, whether they are reading on a device or from an old fashioned hard-covered book, whether they are reading independently or being read to, we should celebrate that. Reading platforms gained traction during the pandemic as they provided a place for students to practice reading when schools were shut down or working in a hybrid setting. There are many online reading platforms where students are encouraged to “read more books more often” and motivate users with gamification and incentives like points and badges. While I’m not a huge believer in rewarding reading, I have come to accept that if it motivates kids to read more – that’s all that matters. What I do like about some online reading platforms, Simbi:Read for Good, for example, is that they offer students bimodal or trimodal methods of reading. Readers can choose to either read along (listen to a voice read while you follow along with the story), narrate (read aloud and record your own voice, allowing for playback) or read silently. Many of these platforms have features which allow for words to be highlighted as students read along, helping those who may have difficulty tracking words as they read and provide a less intimidating setting to practice reading aloud. The AI on these platforms allows provides great features for teachers to track their students’ reading progress and provides feedback to help them be more responsive to individual students’ needs. A win-win, as far as I’m concerned. A unique feature of theSimbiplatform, and what sets it apart in my opinion, is that it offers a unique “read for good” option where readers can choose to contribute their voice to the global library to help other readers around the world. A win-win-win.
How do you think the pandemic has affected students’ reading attitudes both inside and outside the classroom?
As a teacher, how do you think teaching methods should change to make up for the year lost in in-person learning and incentivize young students to engage in pleasurable reading?
In your opinion what should other players, like the provincial government and school boards do to inspire reading habits in young students?
As I am not currently working in a school directly with children, I can’t really speak to the children’s attitudes towards reading but I can speak to teachers’ concerns. First and foremost, teachers are trying their best. They have worked tirelessly over the past two years adapting to endless changes in restrictions, policies, online learning, hybrid models, mask mandates, school organizations, school closures, vaccine status, cohorts, staggered lunches, coughing kids…. the list is endless. Secondly, and understandably, teachers are tired. They are tired of teaching in a pandemic and trying to cover a curriculum in the midst of all these restrictions and changes. But most of all, teachers are concerned. With so many students missing so much school and the huge gaps in instruction, they are concerned that their students are behind where they should be which adds an enormous pressure on them.
But if we take a few steps back, we can possibly look at this from a different lense. While there is a huge concern that students are “behind” – I ask myself “behind what?” The reality is, our students are behind a standard benchmark that was developed before the pandemic. So, measuring children’s achievements in reading or any other subject now against their achievements 3 years ago is not realistic. It is not the children’s fault they have fallen behind, nor is it their teachers’. (Blame that bat!) What’s important to remember is that they have fallen behind on mass. So rather than continuing to try to assess a grade 2 student, for example, against a grade two benchmark that was set prior to the pandemic and feeling stressed because “they aren’t where they should be”, perhaps the answer is why not just figure out where they ARE and go from there?
The positive thing that may come out of all of this, from my perspective, is that it might encourage more teachers and districts to move away from starting with grade level standards and trying to fit students into them, but starting with the child and creating a standard more suited for them. To be clear, benchmarks are important. We need a ‘universal assessment’ to help us all understand where each child is and what they are developmentally capable of doing. Without that, we might swing too far the other way and our systems of assessment, differentiate, and teach would be lost. The universal benchmarks help us all speak the same language and support children in a class and at a school level. They are a target to help us – however we have to be thoughtful – as we always have had to – about how we use the targets.
Whether pre or post pandemic, every student develops reading skills at different times and in different ways – they always have and always will. No teacher will ever have a class of children who are all reading at the same level. It doesn’t exist. There are countless factors that impact the reading development of a child – from what month their birthday falls, to whether their parents read to them before they started kindergarten, to whether they attended pre-school. And now we need to add “learned to read during the pandemic” to that list. I think teachers are finding it more challenging now because they are facing far more children they need to differentiate for.
Every child is on their own personal reading journey and an educator’s job is to determine first, where each student is on that journey and second, how they can help them move along that journey. Not towards an arbitrary grade level but towards the goal of reading proficiency. So, instead of asking, “How will they ever catch up?” or “How will they ever be ready for grade ___?”, perhaps we should be asking, “Where is this student on their reading journey and how can I help them move forward?” All of the great methods of explicit instruction in reading will still work and assessment is more important than ever. A ‘’typical’ grade 2 class may not be so typical anymore, so assessing students early better ensures that we can meet each child’s needs.
Blaming children for being behind in their reading does little to help them feel better about themselves as readers. Measuring them up to an arbitrary level of reading success won’t help become better readers. There will always be kids who love to read and those who don’t; there will always be kids who read more proficiently than others. In my experience, kids who say they don’t like to read are often the ones who may not feel confident in their reading skills. Attitude is often directly linked to confidence.
So what can we do? Do we throw up our hands and say, “It’s no use! They will never be where they are supposed to be!,” Yes, teaching reading is hard. Yes, learning to read is hard. But rather than surrender, I choose to fight back. Assess, be responsive, meet the students where they are at, regardless of where they “should” be, and target instruction to fill the gaps. This will mean differentiating instruction through small reading groups, regularly listening to kids read (either in person or through reading platform “listen back” features), and focusing on the goal of reading proficiency rather than grade level. Assessment, thoughtful and purposeful planning, urgency and differentiation are as important as they have ever been.
I truly believe, if we want kids to love to read, then we need to bring the joy of reading into their lives at home and at school. Read great books aloud to them every single day. Get excited about books with them. Read with them, to them, beside them, in front of them, on the couch, on the floor, on the grass, on the bed. Encourage them to practice reading, with books and reading platforms. Don’t turn reading into a chore for a score. Don’t make kids fill out reading logs. Don’t give out prizes for reading because reading is the prize. Just meet kids where they are at and help them grow from there to ensure they each have an equal shot at winning the prize.
I originally created OLLIs (Online Learning Lesson Ideas) when schools first shut down at the start of the pandemic in the spring of 2020. It’s hard to believe that it is now 2022 and we are STILL enduring the “chaos of Covid” in our schools! While some provinces are continuing “in person” learning, I know there are many districts across Canada who have moved to virtual learning. (Shout out to my teacher friends who are working online at the moment!) These OLLIs can be used both in person and virtually person. Either way, I hope you find some ideas that you can use with your students to lighten your load just a little with one less lesson to plan!
Here is a list of the previous OLLI lessons and anchor books in case you missed any of them:
Across British Columbia over the past few weeks, particularly in the Lower Mainland and the Interior, we have just experienced an unusually LARGE dump of snow. For those who know me, know I LOVE snow! To me, snow always brings a sense of magic and beauty to the world. While the icy roads may be slick and the shoveling a back-breaking nightmare for many adults, most children associate snow with outdoor fun with family and friends. So why not bring some of that fun into the classroom and use snow to help younger students learn to write similes?
A Thing Called Snow is a charming story of a fox and hare who were born in the spring and have never seen snow. They set about asking various Arctic animal friends what snow is. Each animal, in turn, uses a different simile to describe snow for the two friends: “Snow is white, like your fur.” “Snow is fluffy like your tails.” “Snow is sparkly like your eyes.” “Snow is cold, like your noses.” Lovely story of friendship, community, and snow!
Ask students how many of them enjoyed some time in the snow over the holidays. Model your own “snow story” – sharing something you did in the snow.
Invite students to share a snow story with a partner. Invite some to share out with the class.
Tell the students to imagine someone who had never seen snow before. How might you describe it to someone?
Write the words “Snow is…” on the board.
Invite students to think about how they might finish this sentence. Create a list of describing words, recording their suggestions. (i.e. Cold is: white, cold, fun, slippery, icy, slushy, dangerous, sparkly, beautiful, quiet, wet)
Explain that these are called “describing words”. Describing words help to add interesting details when we are talking or writing about something.
Tell the students that you are going to read a story about two animals who have never seen snow before. Invite them to listen for the different ways their friends describe the snow.
After reading, invite students to recall how each animal described snow. You might need to go back to the pages to review.
Record the descriptions on the board or shared screen
Snow is white, like your fur.
Snow is cold, like your noses.
Snow is fluffy, like your tails.
Snow is sparkly, like your eyes.
Ask students what they notice about the way the animals described snow. (they used the word “like”)
Explain that this is a special thing writers sometimes do when they are describing something – they compare it to something else. When they do that, it’s called a simile. You can make similes by thinking of something similar!
Let’s see if we can write our own similes about snow! I might not say “Snow is white, like your fur” because you nobody here has white fur! But let’s try to think of other things that are white. Who can help me?
Model a few examples: Snow is white, like eggshells. Snow is white, like marshmallows.
Invite the students to try add some other similes.
Continue with the other adjectives (cold like… fluffy like… sparkly like…)
Invite students to create their own similes – Snow is slushy like a slurpee. Snow is quiet like the night.
Snow Stories are excellent topics for personal narrative writing. I call these retelling of personal experiences “Event Stories” because they are sequential events and most often begin and end within a single day. Studentscan use this template to sequence their snow stories. Remember to have them fill in box ONE (How did the event start? i.e. I went to the park to play in the snow) and box SIX (How did the event end? i.e. We walked back home) before filling in the sequence of events that occurred in between. For complete lesson, including introducing transition words – see Powerful Writing Structures – pages 60-66.
“How to” writing – works very well with snow activities (see Powerful Writing Structures – 95-104) Students can write instructions for “HOW TO” do different snow activities. i.e. How to Make a Snowman (see anchor book below) How to Have a Snowball Fight, How to Make a Snow Angel, How to Make a Snow Fort, How to Toboggan Down a Hill, How to Get Dressed in Winter.
Here are some additional snow books, all of which I recommend for the beautiful descriptive language. Remember to check YouTube for the read-aloud if you don’t have a copy with you. Always choose the author reading their own book, if available!
I originally created OLLIs when schools in my province of British Columbia shut down last spring due to Covid19. While we are now back in class, I know there are many districts still juggling virtual and in-class support. These OLLIs can be used both in class and virtually person. Either way, I hope you find some ideas that you can use with your students to lighten your load just a little this year!
Here is a list of the previous OLLI lessons and anchor books in case you missed any of them:
It doesn’t often snow on the west coast of BC, but this past weekend, a rare winter storm blew through our neck of the woods. Likely not a “storm” by East Coast standards, but for people in the lower mainland, even a few centimeters results in a whole lot of snow joy! Since Covid restrictions have been put in place, there aren’t many opportunities for community gatherings. This past weekend, however, I think every single person, young and old, two legged and four, emerged from their indoor bubble and ventured outside to walk, pull or ride a sled, build a snowman, or make a snow angel. To add to the snow excitement, the stars aligned with the snowfall occurring on Family Day long weekend and Valentine’s day. Pure magic. So I thought it best to capture this rare occurrence in this week’s OLLI!
This story follows a girl on a walk to visit her grandma the morning after a big snowfall. Her grandmother is loosing her sight and Lina is going over to help her make some traditional Lebanese food. Along the way, she notices various ways to hear the new snow that’s all around her. I love anchor books you can use for several different lessons. SO many curriculum connections in this book including awareness and attention to nature, onomatopoeia, empathy, family and cultural traditions, cultural food, and connection to grandparents. This 2020 release is definitely being added to my Reading Power “connect” list, as well as my Powerful Understanding “SELF” – grandparents and “OTHERS” – empathy.
Sweep, crunch, swoosh, scrape . . . All night long, snow falls silently, blanketing the world in white—and a creating a very noisy day! This very simple story is told using only sound words. A perfect anchor book for teaching onomatopoeia and highlighting the sounds of snow.
It was hard to choose just one lesson to for this anchor book – it could be used for multiple different purposes. I decided to focus on the sensory details because I liked the idea of the different sounds of snow.
Ask students what snow fun they experienced over the long weekend. Invite students to share some of their experiences with a partner or to the whole class. Don’t forget to share some of your own snow stories!
Reflect on the fact that you had been focusing on snow activities, but that you now wanted to narrow the focus to snow sounds. Explain that, when you first think about “the sound of snow”, most people might say “Well snow doesn’t make any sound.” But invite students to think of sounds connected to the activities they just shared. (ie Action is sledding – sound is “whoosh!”, action is walking – sound is “crunch!”
Explain that a sound word is not the action but the sound connected to the action. Depending on your grade level, you can introduce the term onomatopoeia (when a word describes a sound and actually mimics the sound of the object or action)
Invite students to share some of their action-sound connections. Record them on the board or chart stand
Tell the students you are going to read a story about a girl who discovers 10 different snow sounds.
After reading, invite students to add the sound words from the book to your list. Point out that some of them aren’t actual words but groups of letters that make the sound. Invite students to add new sound words to the list you started before the story.
Pass out Snow Soundstemplate and invite students to brainstorm snow “actions” and “sounds”
After their templates are complete, model how to use some of the sounds to write a Snow Sounds poem:
Snow Sounds – A. Gear
Pssssh! Snow falls gently to the ground
Crunch! Crunch! Boots make noisy tracks
Beep! Beep! Cars shout at each other
Wheeeee! Kids sled down the slippery hill
Ouch! Someone falls on the ice.
Sccccrrritch! Screept! the shovel clears the sidewalk
Option 2 – The Six Senses of Snow
While the previous lesson focuses on only the sounds of snow, this lesson expands into all of the senses. It can either be taught by itself or as an extension to the previous lesson.
Ask students what snow fun they experienced over the holiday. Invite students to share some of their experiences with a partner or with the whole class. Don’t forget to share some of your own snow stories!
Ask students what the five senses are. List them on the board or chart stand.
Explain that the five senses are used in science when we are describing how humans receive sensory information. Explain that the five senses are also used in writing when a writer wants to create a visual image. Writers often add a 6th sense by adding emotion and feeling into their writing.
Create a 6 box chart on the chart stand or board – label each box with one of the senses, including emotion.
Begin with sight and ask the students to think about what things they saw while outside in the snow. Brainstorm and record words into one box.
Move to the next box and ask students to think about the sounds of snow. What sounds do you remember hearing when you were outside in the snow. Record their ideas in the box. Depending on your grade level, you may introduce the technical term for a sound word is onomatopoeia.
If you haven’t already read the story, tell the students you are going to read a story about a girl who discovers 10 different snow sounds.
Review the sound words from the story. Add them to The Six Senses of Snow list
Depending on your grade, you can either continue brainstorming the other senses or invite the students to continue independently. You can download the template “Six Senses of Snow” here
These sensory word collections can be used for turning into a short descriptive paragraph or a sensory poem.
For poetry, students can select one idea from each of their senses plan and add details to it:
The Six Senses of Snow by A. Gear
I see the snowflakes fall, covering the ground with a blanket of white.
I hear the whoosh of the sled and my sister’s squeals as we fly down the icy hill.
I taste the cold metal of snow melt on my tongue as it turns into water
I feel the sting of cold, wet mittens on my fingertips
I smell the cold air, crisp and fresh and damp.
I feel the sadness that the snow won’t last forever.
Or students can create more of a list poem with their snow senses:
Snow Senses – A. Gear
Other Snow Lessons (see additional snow books below)
After the rain and slush have washed the snow away, our memory pockets remain filled with new snow stories ready to share. So this week, why not spend some time making connections and capturing those memory pocket snow stories? Read any of the books listed above or below and invite students to make connections to their snow experiences.
I often use books about seasons and weather when I’m teaching or practicing visualizing. Choose any of the recommended books below, cover the cover, read the story and invite students to visualize while you read. Pause after a few pages and invite them to either turn and talk about what they visualize, or they can do “quick pics” on a paper.
Event Stories –
Personal narrative stories that retell an event are often how I teach students about transition words.
After reading one of the snow books, invite students to think about their “snow day” activities. Invite them to list them in order and tell their partner – retelling their day in the snow.
Students can then use a 6 box or 4 box paper to record their day in sequence – ie – got dressed in snow gear, walked to the park, went sledding, fell off the sled, went home, had hot chocolate.
Model adding transitions words to each box – Then, After that, Later on, etc.
This plan can then be used for re-telling or writing their event stories. See the full lesson in my Powerful Writing Structuresbook – page
Additional Snow Books:
There are dozens of snow themed books, but for this particular lesson, I wanted to focus on more on realistic “memory pocket” stories of a recent snow fall, rather than the more imaginative “Snowmen at Night” types of stories.
September 30th is Orange Shirt Day and the first National Day of remembrance: a day to acknowledge and honour the victims of the Canadian residential school system. Leading up to this day, it is important to begin the conversations around Truth and Reconciliation, no matter what grade you teach. As with many classroom conversations, picture books provide an access point into the discussions.
Here is a short video by CBC Kids News to explain “indigenous” that might be helpful to support the conversation. https://youtu.be/CISeEFTsgDA
While not all the books on residential schools may be age appropriate for younger students, Nicola Campbell’s book Shi-Shi-Etko is a gentle way to begin the conversation. It is a beautifully told and illustrated story about the four days before a young Indigenous girl must leave her family and go to residential school. Her mother, father and grandmother, each in turn, share valuable teachings that they want her to remember, while Shi-shi-etko carefully gathers her memories to remind her of home.
• Write the word “home” on the board. Invite students to think about the word – ask them what connection, feeling, and visual image do they think of when they see this word. Invite students to share with a partner or share out with the class. • Ask the students if they have ever been away from home? Discuss going away from home with your family vs. going away by yourself. • Introduce the book Shi-Shi-etko by Nicola Campbell. Tell the students it is a book about an Indigenous girl who is leaving her home to go away to school. But she is young and she doesn’t want to go and she is going without her family. Ask the students what that might be like? What feelings would she be having?
NOTE: At this point, you may want to introduce the subject of residential schools. This would depend on your grade level. If so, explain that many indigenous children were sent away to school. In the schools, they were given English names, their hair was cut short, and they were not allowed to speak their own language or talk about their culture. Discuss what that might have been like.
• Explain that before Shi-Shi-Etko goes to school, she is trying to collect memories of her home. Her mom, grandmother, and father are telling her to remember her home, her land, laughter, dancing when she is away at school. • Invite the students to listen carefully to the way the author uses the senses to help us get a feeling about the girl’s home and what are some of the memories she collects. • Read the story. • Discuss some of the “memories” she was keeping. Explain that a memory is a connection she makes between an object and something from home. • Draw a large “bag” on a shared screen or chart paper. As students respond, draw and label the items inside the bag: fireweed, paintbrush(flower), sprig, leaf, columbine, sage, pinecone. (If possible, show images of these plants on your ipad or smart board) • Pass out “Memory Bag” paper. Invite students to draw Shi-Shi-Etko’s memories inside the bag. (see sample below)
NOTE: You will need to prepare for this lesson by gathering objects from your home that you would put into your memory bag – to help you remember home. If possible, hide them inside a paper or drawstring bag.
• Review story of Shi-Shi-Etko. Remind students that in order to remember her home, her land, her family, Shi-shi-Etko collected “memories” for her memory bag. • Ask the students to imagine having their own memory bag to store things to help them remember their home. • Explain that you have collected some items from your home that you have strong connections to. They help you remember your home. (If possible, bring real objects from home for this lesson) Take each item out of the bag and explain why you chose it and what it reminds you of. Example: sprig of lavender – my grannie’s favorite flower and the smell reminds me of her knitting needle – reminds me of my mom because she loved to knit maple leaf – reminds me of the maple tree in my front yard which was a wedding gift (reminds me of my husband) piece of fur – from my dog to remind me of her heart shaped pebble – reminds me of my sons
• Have students talk with a partner about some of the things they might want to put into their memory bag. Discuss how a toy may be something fun to play with but may not help them remember their home. • Pass out the blank memory bag (same as part 1) Invite students to draw and label things inside their Memory Bag. • On the back, they can list their items and why it is special to them.
End the lesson • Ask the students to compare their memory bags with Shi-Shi-Etko’s. What do you notice? All of Shi-Shi-Etko’s memories are connected to the land. Explain to students that Indigenous people believe that the land connects us all.
The original book that started the Orange Shirt Day movement. Geared for older students. Watch the author, Phyllis Webstad, talk about the book. (As always, please preview the video before sharing with your students) https://youtu.be/E3vUqr01kAk
Tragically Hip front man, the late Gordon Downie collaborated with illustrator Jeff Lemire to create this graphic novel picture book that tells the true story of Chanie “Charlie” Wenjack, a twelve-year-old boy who died trying to walk home after fleeing from the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School. Gordon Downie wrote 10 powerful songs to go along with the book. Recommended for older students.
When I was a student in elementary school in the early 70’s, I had never heard of residential schools. None of my teachers mentioned it. In my early years of teaching, I didn’t talk to my students about residential schools because it was not in our curriculum, and no teacher mentioned it. Hard to admit that, but it’s true. Thank you to all of you for mentioning, acknowledging, and honoring this important truth. Every child does matter.