Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Update 26 November 2014 - Guest Blog Post by Tom O’Halloran - Reading to and with class

Kia ora,
Welcome to week six. What a huge week for the mailing list as we welcomed our 1000th educator.  This month has been a record for posts also, so thank you so much for you engagement and involvement.  With reports almost done for most of you, now could be a great time to explore the changes to the Instructional series recently. How are you using the digital copies of the Connected Series, School Journals and Junior Journals? Teacher Support Materials including those for the latest Ready to Read titles are now available online also. We would love to see your ideas shared in this Crowd Sourced Presentation - School Journals - Digital Copies.

Thank you to all who took part in the Ready to Read webinar.  
There are a number of documents we referred to during the webinar, you may like to take another look at these
Links to Teacher Support Materials on Literacy Online
Pages 28 - 31 Effective Literacy Practice

Recently in the Ready to Read webinar someone asked the question
“How are the new books introduced when they come into your school?”
“Are they shared in a syndicate meeting, displayed in the staffroom, or just quietly stamped and added to the bookroom?”
Please share your ideas!

This week I am delighted to share a guest blog post by Tom O’Halloran, Year 2-3 Teacher from Otatara School in the deep south. Tom’s approach to reading to and with his class is well worth reading about.  

Reading to and with class by Tom O’Halloran

This year as part of my inquiry into my practice I decided to have a look at the books I was using as shared books for reading to and with the class. Last year I had used the large books that are prevalent at schools, focusing on one book per week and revisiting it every day. The pattern would generally flow the same way each week; prediction, word work, rhyme, repetition, language features, punctuation, reading with expression, and often performing the book as drama. The books were very functional and did what they set out to achieve, but I must admit to finding it quite dull and repetitive. There was nothing in these books to inspire, or dive into creativity from.
Inspired by a Drama PD session with Evelyn Mann where we carefully selected a picture from a text, anywhere in the text, to inspire drama and emotional learning, I decided better use of this shared book time was in order. Initially using this "key picture" introduction we leapt straight into several books by Aaron Blabey.
Covering big themes such as difference and acceptance (great to start a class with), being new, friendship; with an emphasis on visual language, the kids were hooked straight away. The depth of discussion we got into on these texts, to me, was directly related to our revisiting these texts daily and the way we engaged with them. It began to feel a bit like I was in a room with a group of miniature philosophers, arguing over whether Noah Dreary deserved to have his head fall off for complaining too much, or if Sunday Chutney enjoyed being different to everyone and whether that mattered or not. We got straight into the author's purpose, which was particularly explicit in the visual language of the illustrations - using distance and size as big contrasts.
Inevitably planning for these experiences is quite time consuming, ie, selecting the right drama methods, or parsing the big themes from the texts and constructing thought provoking questions for 6 and 7 year olds. Add to that my knowledge of children's literature is only developing. I began to look around on the internet for teacher support for sophisticated picture books. Quickly I found a plethora of resources brimming with ideas and books ready to be entered into, I began accumulating books immediately!

And so the journey continued, with everyone in the classroom onboard. It became obvious immediately the different levels that the children engage with  these books at, and I became very encouraging of this "no right answer" view. Take this discussion relating to the book The Island by John Heffernan and Peter Sheehan, about a blind urchin living on an island populated by cold people who have their lives changed by a monster:
Teacher: Why do you think the author chose to say "He could feel his life slipping away like sand through his fingers"? What could that mean?
Student A: The monsters skin is all dry from not being in the water any more. When your skin goes dry it peels off in little flakes and falls on the ground.
Student B: Its because the monster is dying. He is fading away.
Student A: Because his skin is drying out and he needs to be in the water?
Student B: Its because the people on the island are using him, and it's killing him.
Student C: But I guess that's how he dies, all crumbly like old bread.
The monster didn't die but escaped with the blind boy and the islanders were left, ambiguously, alone. Student A was operating at the purely physical, literal level , looking closely at the picture of the monster and matching it up with his interpretation of the words. Student B had found the deeper meaning of "his life slipping away" and the way the author used it to represent the sadness of what was happening.
Reflecting as I went it became clear that all the books I was using were unabashedly post-modern in style. They utilised non-linear narratives or perspectives, narrators talking to the audience, borrowing from other literary genres or art categories (pastiche), contradictions between the text and the image, and often an ambiguous or unresolved ending. But it doesn't really matter what the books are, it is what can be done with them for learners. In order to engage with these texts and create meaning for themselves learners have to shift from a passive role (answering questions based on teacher questions with one major meaning) to an active role where they are faced with multiple interpretations and ambiguity (no right answer!).

Take for example Anthony Browne's You and Me; a retelling of Goldilocks simultaneously showing the perspective of Goldilocks as a poor child lost from her mother and increasingly desparate (told only in pictures), and the bears as middle class and affluent. Was Goldilocks' course of action understandable with  the extra information given? Could the bears have been more understanding? Was it them in fact who wronged the other? It forced a rethink of the class' preconceptions about a story they all knew. There is no clear answer and so we are forced to listen to each others ideas and opinions and attempt to take them on board.
There have definitely been challenges for the children, especially accepting the endings of some of the books. I think they are used to stories wrapping themselves up neatly and this change has caused consternation for some. Sometimes children refused to buy into ideas wholesale. In the book Hey, Little Ant; an ant is about to be squashed by a boy when the ant starts arguing that the two of them have many similarities. The book ends with the author questioning, "What would you do?" While the class generally accepted the author's idea of respect for other creatures, one boy just could not accept that he shouldn't be able to squash ants whenever he wanted. Some hilarious arguments ensued, "They steal our food." "One chip can feed their entire village!" and so on.
The process has raised questions for me about what we read in our guided reading programme. Books are generally all linear until we get into the school journals, even then they are rarely truly experimental. What tools do learners need to create meaning as they grow? Could these sophisticated picture books help us develop more divergent thinkers? As they progress up the school information is coming from more and more angles, could the active role taken in understanding these books help them with this? Underneath it all is the enjoyment both the class and I have had in dissecting so many wonderfully written and illustrated books.
Some academic writing about post modern books here:
A nice site for stimulating discussion in the classroom:
A google search for "teacher notes" or "teacher support" usually returns some positive results.
Some nice books we have read (that I can remember):
Aaron Blabey - The Ghost of Miss Annabel Spoon, Stanley Paste, Sunday Chutney,              Noah Dreary, The Brothers Quibble, The Dreadful Fluff
Anthony Browne - Me and You, The Tunnel, Piggybook, Voices in the Park, Willy                the Wimp
Denise Whitmore - Pepetuna (NZ)
Gay Hay - Fantail's Quilt (NZ)
Margaret Wild - Fox, Tanglewood, Puffling
Jennifer Beck - Nobody's dog
Narelle Oliver - Home
Melinda Szymanik - Song of the Kauri (NZ)
Mem Fox - Wilfrid Gordon MacDonald Partridge
Sheena Knowles - Edward the Emu
Robin Kahukiwa - Taniwha
Tom O’Halloran Y2/3 Teacher, Otatara School,

A HUGE thank you to Tom for sharing the journey through sophisticated picture books with your learners.  We would love to welcome discussion around books to ‘read to’. I have added Tom’s list to the ‘books to read to’ section in Literacy Online Book Recommendations.  Which books could you use from this list?  What could you add to this list?


Children’s authors around New Zealand:

The purpose of this resource is to find out from professional authors what their tips are for writing and growing writers. These tips could be helpful for planning your new year. This week are showcasing Philippa Werry.          

From the VLN:

Anne’s Literacy Links and Look ups…

  • Flipgrid Teachers create grids of short discussion-style questions that students respond to through recorded videos. Flipgrid boosts community and social presence in face-to-face, hybrid, and online classrooms, as well as enterprise organizations around the world.
  • Lucidpress - Create stunning documents in less time than ever before. We've eliminated the frustration of traditional design and layout tools—make flyers, brochures, newsletters, magazines, and photo books without breaking a sweat.
  • What Kids Are Reading: A Renaissance Learning Report - An interesting summation of reading in the US for your information.  
  • How Libraries are Advancing and Inspiring Schools and Communities - It’s well known that public libraries are no longer just about the books — even e-books. Many community libraries are receiving 21st century digital-age makeovers: Numerous digital technologies, maker spaces to invite creation, even video production suites and 3-D printers now inhabit many libraries across the country. What’s going on in a library near you?

Have a fabulous week!

Ngā mihi nui
Anne Kenneally
Literacy Online Facilitator
CORE Education

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