5 Things I Do More Now that I’m a VP

Change.  You know it’s inevitable. You know it’s good for you. You know it’s going to be a challenge.  But because change is unpredictable and surprising, organic and fluid, you can’t possibly anticipate its grip. You may visualize scenarios in an attempt to prepare yourself for change, but ultimately, it’s not until you are in the midst of it, that you can gauge its visceral impact. I feel that I have barely been hanging on for the ride.

stop stop stop

Having launched this school year as a vice principal with teaching responsibilities, I could not have accurately predicted how my first month might play out.  I’ve been off the twitter grid, I’ve had little contact with friends and colleagues. So in my first attempt to come up for air, I thought I might share just some reflections around the changes I’m experiencing in this new role.

1. I am on the run more. 

The day lasts 5 seconds. Which is why you haven’t had lunch. Yet. Ever. I know you’re thinking….everyone has 24 hours in their day. But no. They don’t. Someone stole the hours of my day between 9 and 4.
… except the time warp. That’s the time when I face the reality of some students who may be having a hard time in my class. Then, time stands still while you gauge the best response that will engage yet curb the current reality.  Teaching is problem solving, tweaking and experimenting.

2.  I laugh more.

From the unbelievable things students say to the equally surprising things they do, you can’t predict how the next day will go.  I’ve learned when you ask, ‘Tell me more about that,’ they will.  A LOT more. As a result, there are way more stories at the supper table! I dare anyone, including my husband, to ask, ‘how was your day?’ As my colleague Rose Walton has said, you can’t make this up!

3. I rely on others more.

The impact of a powerful and patient administrative partner cannot be overstated. He could most definitely run the show without me.  His mantra is ‘The best way to learn is to do it.’ In addition to all of his own responsibilities, he shares all my responsibilities from discipline, to professional learning to yard duties. Perhaps more importantly, he shares laughter. And when my cup overflows, he grabs the paper towels, hides the spill and carries on in stride.

4. I empathize more.

Teachers and support staff face immense pressure daily. Students keep showing up everyday!  Ready or not, they will be there.  As a teacher, it’s challenging to keep up the energy and attention to intentional planning.  As a vp, you will always be ‘interrupted’ but maybe it’s not an interruption. Maybe it’s a reminder that you are the ‘human’ touchdown station. That’s why you’re there. I even took to carrying a post it note pad the first 2 weeks just so I wouldn’t forget my hallway interactions.

5. I value more. 

Being a VP with teaching responsibilities means you have MANY classes. Your staff is your class, but so are all 5 other classes you teach. I’m still learning names of students and parents. And I consider it a personal challenge and privilege to learn them. It’s just a first step to building relationships and making connections with kids and parents.  I value that potential.  Likewise, I have surprising opportunities to build relationships with staff. As a literacy learning coordinator, I  may not have realized the gift I was given to share professional learning time with educators. When you are in a school and someone asks, can you help me with my practice? (Catch in throat) Why yes I can!

1 month in…

Would I do it again?

In a heartbeat.

Because I’m not very good at it. Yet.

Because I want to get better at it. Soon.

It’s a challenge. How can I reach that kid? That teacher? That parent?
Anything new is a steep learning curve. I anticipated that. Perhaps I wasn’t ready for the time it takes to become excellent and effective. Maybe I’d forgotten what it feels like to be new and not great at something. Humbling.
But tomorrow…I get another chance.


On Spaces, after reading Jason Reynolds’ As Brave As You

Ah cicadas! The harbinger of hot summers for me. I admit my family (well me mostly) have competitions for telltale signs of the seasons: the first robin, the first cicada, the first V of geese, the first snowflake…you get it. This week has delivered both the weather and the sights and sounds that invite you outdoors. As a teacher, the summer provides an escape from the demands on your time and the confines of your school as you rush headlong into a readathon to galvanize the escape. The season’s warmth and lack of routine ushers in the physical and psychological freedom, ie space, to explore reading and writing so I picked up a new read, As Brave as You, owing to the author.

What might I expect from a middle grade novel by Jason Reynolds?  Does an author switch gears and voice to appeal to a younger audience? As co-author of All American Boys, he equipped we northerners with a glimpse into the thorny persistence of racism in the States as manifested in the ever present news coverage of racialized police practice and the black lives matter movement (more prevalent in the US but not to suggest its absence here in Canada).  To be sure, the weighty issues of mental health, divorce, gun violence, suicide, alcohol abuse are all still evident in this novel, but somehow Reynolds handles these with such delicate care and sensitivity that you see them as understood from a preteen’s life view.   The potential gravity is lifted by the spirited writing and dialogue tickling your tongue, begging to be read aloud; the tea-drinkin’, pea-pickin’, poop-scoopin’ daily chores of a couple of brothers from Brooklyn visiting their grandparents in Virginia for the summer. The vernacular is entertaining, matching the nunya bidness attitude of the characters. As a reader, you come to terms with the family’s history alongside the lead character, Genie.  The teacher in me could swoon about Genie’s obsession to document and number his inquiry questions. In fact, the story launches out of one such question that plays with words and gives bathroom humour its due respect (eg. poopidity). In this way we truly gain insight into the character by seeing, not only hearing, what he’s thinking; that black and white demonstration of making thinking visible. Across the book you’ll find a grocery list of inquiries that dog the character as events provoke analysis. They range from scientific to philosophical:

  • “Is the sun hotter in the south?”
  • “Is there an age limit for divorce?”
  • “Is who we are only based on what we do?”
  • “Would I fight for Ernie?” (his brother)

Genie returns to his questions often as urgent responses are required in order to see which ones are Google-able.

And the characters! Grandpop who’s blind but sees more than others, except himself. Grandma with her suitcase full of sorrows and her arms full of love. Ernie, Genie’s brother, with his cool-cat-with-shades swagger betraying his still unsure confidence as the oldest. And a town full of quirky folks whose connections are intricately tied to the family history. We, like Genie, witness the tenacity of history repeating itself across generations as the story unfolds to expose patterns of behaviour, passions, responsibilities that come with birth order, physical resemblances, and names.

But it is the relationship that forms between Genie and his grandpop that stays with me, that forced me to work out its complexity in writing. I’m probably not done thinking about this.

Are there themes and concepts to explore with students to gird them with new insights into the human experience? Yes, like empathy, forgiveness (EVERY character bears witness to this), letting go to move forward, coming of age, looking out for family, etc. Maybe it’s me as an adult reader who brings all my background knowledge into re-writing the story. I fell for the symbolism of the caged birds. You see, Grandpop’s blindness instigates his self-imposed house imprisonment. His refuge is an off limits space devoted to a Narnia-esque ‘outdoor indoor’ room brimming with trees, plants and 5 caged birds (named after the Jackson Five!) Grandpop has chosen a replica of a childhood scene tucked inside his home, trapping himself and the birds where it is safe. This closed off space mirrors not only his visual impairment but his impaired relationships, such as the invisible barrier between he and his son, the boys’ father. As Genie and Grandpop bond and learn to trust each other, Genie unlatches the psychological and physical door that empowers grandpop to bravely venture outdoors. At night. With Genie as his guide. What’s perhaps most compelling to me was that the introduction into the open physical space enables, indeed precedes, the psychological space that grandpop experiences. He literally has to get comfortable walking outdoors before his emotions can be revealed and relationships repaired.

And that made me wonder about ourselves.

I began asking questions in writing, like Genie: do you stay trapped, closed off because it’s safe? are open spaces a catalyst for open minds? to what degree does our physical space determine our psychological space? This idea of course resonates with the flexible seating and outdoor learning ambassadors in education. How much more vulnerable might we be in settings that were open and inclusive? How do we arrange our physical spaces to mirror our own comfort zones? How do public spaces nurture or negate relationships?


Luckily, I have lots of space and time coming up to explore some of these ideas.

When’s the last time you learned something new?

When you’re responsible for facilitating system professional learning, the key to future success is to build safety and relationships asap, and then leverage that culture to open up dialogue and push learning forward.  When you’re the ‘new kid on the block’ at a school, I wondered about doing the same thing.

Just one of the ways we’ve encouraged teachers to be open to learning has been to share the following Vimeo video clip:  LEARN. It’s a short clip that follows 3 guys across 11 countries over 44 days, 18 flights, 38 thousand miles…all in an effort to push the envelope around learning something new everyday.

LEARN vimeo

We talk about the clip and while it is an engaging, bucket list series of vignettes, it can serve as a provocation to ask:

When is the last time YOU learned something new? and how did it make you feel?

I know we think we learn new things everyday, but do we? And what does it mean to really learn?  Harvey and Daniels claim that you’ve truly learned when there is a change in behaviour as a result.

We love this video because it also serves to create some empathy for our students since we put them in the position of being a learner everyday. In fact, I shared this video clip just last week at my new school for the same reason. What does it feel like when you learn something new? How do you respond when you don’t ‘get it’ right away? What are the ideal conditions for learning? In collaboration? Independently? What role does the coach play? What do you notice the coach/teacher doing/saying in this clip? How does the element of fun leverage motivation?

An ideal way to try on the shoes of a beginner learner is to intentionally put yourself in a place of discomfort. And then reflect.

An additional benefit of doing something new also creates the illusion of the time lasting longer.  Recently on twitter, I read an article in the Science of Us that explores how seeking out newness provides rewards we may not realize:

To Make the Weekend Last Longer, Try Something New, by Cari Romm

Imagine we could do that all summer long! When we are immersed in new surroundings, new people, new activities, we are so focussed on processing information and trying to make connections to what we already know, that it makes the time seem to last longer.

So remember to ‘lay down’ some memories this summer by trying something new. What new learning will you chase this summer?


Why Shared Reading after Primary?

If I had to choose one component of a comprehensive literacy program that confounds teachers after primary grades, it’s shared reading.  We have a variety of definitions of what ‘shared’ means. We have nostalgiac ties that associate shared reading with choral reading. Sometimes I hear that students are bored looking at the same text for so many days.  My response?

  • What is your criteria for text selection?
  • Have you considered your definition of ‘text’?
  • How are you intentionally planning to help students unpack a text over the week?
  • Does your planning incorporate collaborative learning?

Shared reading can be a powerful learning time for students. Whereas the read aloud tends to be narrative, and student independent reading is also often fiction/non-fiction narrative, shared reading can be ANYTHING: image, video, audio, art, web-based, multimedia…and print.  It can be ANYTHING: descriptive, expository, persuasive or narrative, or any format: infographics, two page layouts, poems, songs, novel excerpts, photo essays, video clips, informational excerpts, news articles, opinion pieces, etc. Consider Scholastic’s Issues 21, Take Action, or magazine subscriptions like Scope or Action. Your library has collections of Boldprint and The 10.  Perhaps you’ll visit Teaching Kids News, or Wonderopolis. Yes even a critical look at a twitter moment! So long as your selection is rich enough to engage readers over days and relevant to the learning needs of your students.

Why do Shared Reading?

  • an exciting place to introduce a variety of texts that a teacher wouldn’t choose for a read aloud and students may not choose for pleasure reading; it’s a safe space to ‘try on’ reading many different text types since we are different readers depending on text.
  • an opportunity for explicit instruction around comprehension strategies, text features, unfamiliar vocabulary, etc.
  • **repeated readings, along with instruction, support struggling readers. As does access to Read and Write for Google!
  • contributes to a reading community through a shared experience
  • offers a scaffold in the gradual release of responsibility; it bridges the instructional distance from teacher read aloud to independent reading
  • offers opportunities for reading/writing connections
  • an ideal spot to integrate content

What is Shared Reading?

  • 15-20 minutes daily
  • all eyes on text, either on class screen or ideally within reach (could be shared between students on hard copy or on screens)
  • text revisited over 4-5 days
  • teacher does most of the ‘heavy lifting’ early on, then as the week progresses, students take on more of the responsibility. By Friday, each student should be able to respond in some way independently that demonstrates understanding.

How do I plan for Shared Reading?

Think about a 5 day plan that progresses:

  • hook or introduction (to pique curiosity and activate background knowledge)
  • comprehension, deconstruction (what are you noticing? how are you making sense of the text?)
  • interpretation (now what are you feeling? thinking?)
  • response, application (what do you want to do about it?)

Here’s a blank template for a 5 Day Shared Reading plan.

Best Tip: Don’t reveal the text on Monday.

Instead, create anticipation, activate background knowledge through connecting images or video clips, or grab some unfamiliar vocab…..a gazillion ways. Here are some:

Monday Shared Reading ideas

Sample Shared Readings

Even after considering these ideas, maybe you’d still like to see an example, right? Here is a link to a variety of shared reading lesson plans (based on texts in Issues 21, Take Action, Graphic Poetry series, a picture book) that might help you reflect on your practice. By all means, revise them to suit your students’ needs.


More ideas for planning…

If you’re a Thames Valley teacher, check out Literacy Online in your employee portal for tons of information around shared reading, like this:

What do I need to teach in shared reading

How do I assess?

  1. Ongoing observations as you eavesdrop on student talk.
  2. Leaving tracks of thinking: a written conversation between the reader and the text.  How do we really know if a student comprehends a text? Modelling and encouraging students to leave tracks of thinking gives us insight into what strategies and skills are helping them make meaning.  What connections are helping them? What predictions are they making? What questions arise while they’re reading? All of these are revealed when students annotate their text. I’ve shared the power of this strategy in an earlier post: Leaving Tracks of Impact and Thinking
  3. Student responses to the text by Friday:  What do they want to do as a result of reading this news article? What do they want to create as a result of reading this video or infographic? What do they want to write that uses this reading as a mentor? What more do they want to explore as a result of reading this song or this non-fiction text?

tracks of thinking

Let’s up our game around shared reading so students have access to a wide variety of text and have a chance to unpack more complex text safely because of your intentional moves everyday.

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5 More Books to Help Your Students Empathize with a Newcomer’s Journey


How could anyone have imagined that the Syrian refugee crisis would continue unabated for so many years? How is it that so much time has passed that we now have books about those Syrian families embarking on desperate journeys to ensure safety and futures for their children and themselves? What was a ‘current event’ has now become a human migration chapter in world history, dragging on with no resolution in sight. Thames Valley District School Board has embraced many newcomers over these past 24 months, not only from Syria, but indeed from other conflict zones. As an advocate of sharing stories with students that can act as mirrors, windows and maps, I want to bring  your attention to 5 more books to support your literacy program (In an earlier post, I shared some ideas and texts to support students in learning more about the refugee crisis).  These stories will not only build background knowledge, but will also build empathy…the true path to understanding and welcoming newcomers to our schools and our hearts.

Stepping Stones is a beautifully crafted picture book with artwork created from stones by a Syrian artist. The introduction tells of how the author, Margriet Ruurs, sought to find this artist to illustrate her story. These stone creations form images that mirror the photographs we find across newspapers and online. Stunning. The story is shared in both English and Arabic and follows a family’s journey, ‘a river of strangers… a river of people in search of peace.’

where will i live

Where Will I Live? is the newest photo essay from Rosemary McCarney. She uses vibrant moving photographs of families from all over the world who are forced to flee and find new homes.  The surroundings are gripping… pavement, railways, refugee camps, yet also cheerful as you scan the children’s faces, eyes, games.


stormy seas

Stormy Seas: Stories of Young Boat Refugees invites us to consider the historical context of refugees who flee by boat, from Germany, Vietnam, Cuba, Afghanistan and the Ivory Coast. Each of the 5 stories is told through a mixture of illustrations, photographs, maps, timelines, thought bubbles of quotes from the person fleeing, details of what happened and how their story turned out. Colourful layouts create visual appeal. The similarities and differences between these refugees’ journeys will facilitate connections for students and provoke a great conversation.

making canada home

Making Canada Home: How Immigrants Shaped this Country is a terrific collection of photographs, images, posters, timelines and stories of the incredible impact immigrants have had on this country.  The book begins with the First Nations as the first immigrants to the land and traces the myriad groups that have made Canada their home over the centuries. Shared stories of challenge, resilience and success all come together to support the message of inclusivity and diversity that is the changing face of Canada. A must have for social studies explorations.


Syria to Canada: A Boy’s Story closes the loop on learning about the refugee journey. Imagine that a boy who has recently arrived in Canada and is attending school here in Thames Valley has now published his story, along with illustrations by another Syrian newcomer! The story, in English and Arabic, follows this young boy’s life from hiding inside his home in Aleppo, through to selling items on the street in Jordan, and finally being invited to come to Canada. He shares his memories but also his dreams for the future. Black and white sketches enhance the story and will no doubt capture young artists’ attention. [These boys were part of TVDSB’s GENTLE program that offered reception services to newcomers in London, Ontario.  If you would like a copy of this book, please email Jenn.Shields@tvdsb.on.ca.]

This text set provides insight into the unimaginable hardships faced by refugees, but also reveals the unflinching spirit of hopefulness they bring. We all benefit from hearing their stories and welcoming them.

Ignite Your Passion for Reading: Hot Reads, Book Chats, Tech Tricks

Summer is fast approaching and if you’re a teacher, it’s the ideal time to make a summer reading list.  I want to encourage you to think about what titles might be just the ticket that reaches that reluctant reader in your class next year. Maybe you’re changing grades, changing schools or just need a little inspiration beyond the Chapters display. I also want to share some ideas to help you use the books you read over the summer to capture the hearts and minds of your students next year. In this blog, I’m going to share:

  • a sample book chat (for Orbiting Jupiter)
  • potential titles for your ‘to be read’ list (grades 4-8)
  • tech tricks to engage readers

Book Chats

Our portfolio has been peddling the strategies found in Steven Layne’s Igniting a Passion for Reading because we’ve witnessed their power.  In fact, you have experienced an extraordinary speaker who sparkles with passion if you came to TVLitCon16 last year where he was our keynote speaker. Layne’s idea of a Hot Read is a book at the students’ level that a teacher reads and then ‘sells’ to students. He talks about the power of a book chat to hook readers into wanting to read a book.  Now this isn’t just any book chat where someone drones on giving a summary and sometimes a spoiler alert of the book. Below you can find a book chat that I created for the novel, Orbiting Jupiter.  I have shared this title with many teachers this year who in turn have ‘sold’ it to many students. When you take a risk and become a character, the world is your oyster. Teachers AND students hang on your pearls of wisdom from a great introduction to a story…

Orbiting Jupiter, by Gary D. Schmidt

book chat orbiting jupiter.jpg


Structure considerations for a book chat:

  1. 6-8 minutes in length
  2. Hook: some way of engaging your audience: could be a question that is relevant to the class; could be asking a ‘what if’ question; could be you talking in accent/role; could use props or costumes
  3. Excerpt: brief reading aloud…does not need to be opening. But has to be a part that doesn’t require a lot of framing for people to appreciate
  4. Talking about the book can be done in one of 3 voices: 1st person; 2nd person; 3rd person


Have you ever been on the receiving end of some act of kindness you didn’t really deserve? Somebody, maybe a friend, or a teacher, maybe a stranger, they did some kind thing that just helped you out. I was a single mom of 3 youngsters when we headed up to Orillia for Christmas. We drove into a wall of snow in Barrie and with very near bald tires, I was a stressball! I just couldn’t make it up a hill and feared colliding with other cars dotting the highway and ditches. I pulled over at a side road and just parked. I probably cried. And through the snow this man walked towards us, an angel. He’d been shovelling in the midst of the storm and must have seen me. Once I rolled down the window, he took one look at my face and the 3 girls (7, 5 and 3 years old) and invited us home for supper.  A Muslim family whose house was brilliantly decorated for the season. We talked, shared supper and they invited us to stay overnight. But once the weather cleared, we set off again, a second chance to get to our destination. A gift of kindness from a stranger I will never forget.

Random acts of kindness remind us to pay it forward.  Sometimes second chances in life can be even more powerful. We all have personal stories that might surface when thinking about second chances.  I would invite you to share a story that echoes an unexpected kindness , or second chance, with your class and then ask them to think of a time.

Because … this story is about second chances. It’s about a family that gives a boy a second chance …as his foster family.

Excerpt: Opening pages

Becoming the character, 1st person perspective:

“I’m Joseph. I’ve seen my share of crazy. I’ve lived a whole lifetime and I’m not even 14 yet.  My family, well, my dad…he’s an angry man, doesn’t want me around, well unless he’s got a point to prove. He doesn’t really know how to be a dad.

But then I met Maddie. She gave me hope, she gave me purpose. I’d walk miles just to see her through the window.  I mean yeah, she was way outta my league…rich people…but I knew it would work out…because we loved each other.

But then shit happened. The world just fell apart. I don’t know. One minute you’re planning a life and planning for a baby, and the next, you’re on a wild ride and you’re in juvie. I don’t know why Jack’s family took me in, or why they believe in me. But now all I gotta do is get my daughter. All I want to do is get a piece of what Maddie and I had. You know?”

Themes the story explores:

Grace and forgiveness, the power of love, assumptions about people, quiet strength of the father, loyalty, the ‘I got your back’ mentality. Something unique about this story is the brooding mood vividly matched by the harshness of winter. In fact, it’s like the setting is a character in the story, intertwined with the events.  Kids will appreciate the age of the characters, the raw emotions and events (bullying, teen pregnancy, etc). You will cry.

Hot Reads for YOU!

The benefits of reading a book and doing a book chat before sharing with your students is…you know your students best.  My colleague Jane and I were just talking about this today.  We pondered: when do you know if a book is appropriate for a particular grade? What cues do you look for when deciding its target audience?  I have just finished Ibi Zuboi’s American Street which is a jarring raw story of family ties with strong complex female leads.  Its characters face immigration, detainment, loyalty, drugs, loss of life, domestic abuse. You might think this is not a grade 8 novel. But I would answer: you have to read it because I don’t know your students.  I don’t know your community. I do know that kids need to see themselves reflected in our stories, and we can use story to launch conversations about worlds different from our own.

Here’s my current list of Hot Reads, but they’re not all recent. However, if you’re looking to grow your classroom library, perhaps this list will help you.

Tech Tricks

I’ve used book chats, padlets, video clips, podcasts, connected with authors via twitter…any means to wrap around a book that will inspire students to read the book. They augment my passion, not replace it.

You can find padlets for a selection of Hot Reads from a project I collaborated on with Jen Aston, Sabrina Tyrer and Ryan Matthews a couple of years ago.  We each generated a handful of padlets and then created QR codes to affix to the front cover so students could pick up a title and learn more about the author, the story, the background while deciding whether to read it.

A quick google search can sometimes provide nuggets like this podcast from The Yarn which offers an interview with Gary D. Schmidt, author of Orbiting Jupiter. This is a podcast that I’d save until after reading the book as it gives valuable insight into the genesis of the story.  Did I say you’ll cry already?

Perhaps you’ll find a video clip of a favourite author that gives you just a little more insight to who they are, why they write, where they’re from, like this clip of Ibi Zoboi, author of American Street.  Maybe it will inspire your students to create their own video…something to let their readers know a bit more about who they are as writers.

Students can connect with authors via twitter. Maybe you and your students might consider doing a video book review. Don’t be surprised when the author responds! Here is a clip from Woodland Heights.


Imagine students walking into your class in September and seeing a Hot Reads display with the titles of books you’ve read over the summer to now share with them.  Create some excitement around reading. We have had different projects devoted to Igniting a Passion for Reading using Steven Layne’s book. Here are the most recent:  Day 1 and Day 2.  Our goal is to inspire teachers to be the lead readers in their classrooms so we can inspire a generation of readers.

I’m also compiling  a list of books to read over the summer.  What might you suggest for me? What’s been getting a lot of buzz in your classroom recently? Have you used some engaging tech platforms to turn kids on to reading a book?

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Leaving Tracks of Impact and Thinking


Do you have a book that you associate with a particular time in your life? Maybe a saying that when you repeat it, you think of a friend? Do you have a strategy that, for the rest of your career, you’ll associate with a colleague? Me too. I want to share some work I’ve done around ‘leaving tracks of thinking’ but I can’t truly do it justice without also paying due respect to my colleague Niall Cooke.

This is Niall.  Today.


We shared our Adolescent Literacy Gap Closing results in a Regional Network for Brantfordconsultants in Brantford. This was work we had engaged in with elementary and secondary teachers from four communities of schools in Woodstock.


Niall and I share many common interests: we’re news addicts, we devote as much time to twitter moments as our twitterfeed, we teach with editorial cartoons, we (think we) are humorous, we share a penchant for devouring YA novels. We incorporate those passions into our work. And we are both desperately interested in getting to know students so well that we can put a book in their hands and then discover if they comprehend it. Our guiding question is:  how do you really know they comprehend text?

Our go-to strategy, the lynchpin, for determining whether students make sense of text has been: leaving tracks of thinking.  Perhaps you know it as annotating (in high school), or reading with a pencil. Whatever you call it, this strategy gives teachers insight into how kids are making sense of text by making their thinking visible. (For more info, please refer to Cris Tovani, So What Do They Really Know, or Stephanie Harvey and Harvey Daniels, Comprehension and Collaboration)

I like to model the strategy with a pen under the doc camera. I keep learning more about the importance of choice of text.  We’ve tried this strategy with narrative, with informational, with graphic, all as a means to inform when students, and teachers, benefit from it most. We vehemently oppose killing students’ love of reading by engaging in this strategy with their independent reading of self-selected text.

This year in our cross panel work, Niall and I collaborated with Karen Masson from our spec ed portfolio to equip teachers to see the power of annotating text in Google Read/Write. With me, she simultaneously modelled the strategy in real time. This chrome add-on provides accommodations for students to type in text or offers speech to text capabilities in comment boxes, and is an invaluable tool for students to make their thinking visible on a piece of text.

leaving tracks.jpg

Niall and I stake a claim that end-of-chapter comprehension questions deceive teachers into thinking their students understood what they read…since we can ALL fake read depending on the depth of questions. Instead, when annotating, students record what they’re thinking as they’re reading, whether questions, comments, connections, etc. Imagine the insight educators gain from leveraging this information to inform their next step with a student?

Of course, none of us invites vulnerability, so it can require coaxing and ‘trying it on for size’ when we initially model the strategy for teachers. You see, teachers are all proficient readers and barely notice what we’re thinking anymore while we’re reading. It takes persistence to slow down the process while reading to record exactly what you’re thinking. To remind myself of its power, I encourage and practice taking a cold read (text unseen) and leaving tracks of my own thinking.  In fact, I tried it again last night in Chapters…

amy tan leaving tracks

I’m consistently reminded of the insights I gain into how I make sense of text by forcing myself to leave tracks of thinking while I’m reading.  What strategies do I rely on? Where does my thinking break down? Which parts do I re-read to check for my own understanding? How does my background knowledge enhance or deter from my comprehension? Slowing down the process to record my thinking helps me pay attention to the text.

In our Adolescent Literacy cross panel project this year, we asked teachers and students to share their reflections on the impact of leaving tracks of thinking.  Teachers shared their own reluctance with modelling the strategy but found they not only learned more about how students were making sense of text, but they noted the unintended consequence of students sharing their thinking helped them build relationships.

Today was the last time Niall and I will present together. His expertise in visual literacy has transformed any power point presentation my portfolio has created, as evidenced in our slide deck from today. There are tracks of his impact across my work. And everytime I see students and teachers leaving tracks of thinking, I’ll think of him.

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