tinker with text
Literacy-Based Maker Education
I’ll be honest - the first time I heard the term “loose parts,” I thought, “What the …?” It’s not the kind of thing you like to think or talk about as a middle-aged woman, especially not in mixed company. It brings to mind all the jiggly bits that we struggle to get rid of, even though it’s just a war against time and gravity. Even now, I still chuckle inwardly or cringe just a little when someone mentions it.
What are loose parts?
However, in the field of education, it means something quite wonderful. As explained in this article, loose parts are “open-ended materials that can be combined, transported, and transformed.” They can be re-purposed, found or acquired objects. These objects can be used as a springboard for inquiry or makerspace and are a staple in Reggio or Montessori classrooms. Although loose parts have typically been incorporated with Early Childhood Education, literacy lessons, or outdoor education, there’s really no reason not to use them across the curriculum and across the grades.
Connecting to the core competencies
At the beginning of this term, I delved into Laura Fleming’s latest book, The Kickstart Guide to Making Great Makerspaces. The book includes a planning map. At first, I was going to use it as a poster in my classroom but then I thought, “No, use it.” So I set to work and added sticky notes with notes that were relevant to my practice, place, and students.
All good design begins with empathy. The first section I tackled was called, “Understand your learners.” I’m a reading intervention teacher based in an elementary school. Almost all of my students have a learning disability (LD) in reading and/or writing or have an LD profile. Some also deal with anxiety, ADD, lack of self-confidence, or speech/ hearing/ behaviour/ social issues.
So I took a look at the BC Core Competencies and decided that I really wanted/ needed to dig deep into these competencies with my students:
The next steps are what I’ve used as my framework throughout this inquiry process and what I’ve explained since the inception of this blog.
We devoured these books through read-alouds, read-to-self, shared reading, and book talks. We examined these books as mentor texts and used favorite or repeating lines to help us shape our own writing. We wrote journal entries and “I statements.” We drew, we read some more, we wrote some more, we talked lots. And in the midst of all of this, we used loose parts to explore what we thought, felt, heard, learned, understood, and questioned.
Loose parts allow students to “mess about,” set the imagination free, and create visual representations of their learning. Tinkering with text allows children to grow as readers, writers, and compassionate learners who believe that love and kindness is all around them.
Moving sucks. It's exhausting. There are endless trips to the thrift store or recycling depot to get rid of stuff, and to U-Haul or the grocery or liquor store for more boxes. You also need an arsenal of bubble wrap, packing paper and tape, and cleaning supplies.
Of course, there is a pot of gold at the end of this rainbow ... a new place that you love, furniture shopping, settling in and making this house your home. However, no one actually likes all the packing, cleaning, and paying thousands of dollars to real estate agents, lawyers, and movers. Moving sucks.
For some, learning to read is kind of like moving. It's hard work and you're wondering how you'll ever get there. You're tired of living in a mess. For some, the act of reading is constantly being in this state and never getting to the "new place." Check out this paragraph about someone who struggles with dyslexia. Then click on the red link on that page or this one to experience how a person with a learning disability may see text.
Eye opening, isn't it? Let's get back to my moving experience for a minute. Imagine that I would receive report card comments for my "moving skills" (a task that I don't enjoy and am frustrated with) that are similar to the ones we regularly give to struggling readers and writers.
I'm not trying to be facetious or cavalier about this at all. My point is that some activities are really hard work and much harder for some than others. So, when a student says "reading sucks," believe them and empathize. The bookshelves in our classrooms may be their equivalent of the mountain of boxes in the corner of my living room.
Vicki Den Ouden is an Elementary Reading Intervention Teacher from BC, Canada. She loves to dream, learn, teach, and create.