tinker with text
Literacy-Based Maker Education
Don’t we all get more than a little bit excited when the sign at Starbucks says that pumpkin spice lattes are back? That creamy, dreamy, spicy, sweet coffee is as much a sign of a new season as colourful leaves and a brisk wind. What makes it even more special and welcome is that it’s only available at certain times of the year.
Teaching practices are bit a like that too. I’ve been teaching long enough to know that many strategies last for a season. The “season” may be short-lived or long lasting. Sometimes schools or districts have bought an expensive program that we are strongly encouraged to use, or there have been extensive workshops offered to train teachers. There have been times when the fit was good for me and felt as welcome as pumpkin spice; other times, I’ve endured it like a mug of lukewarm milk … it’ll do, but it’s not what I’m after.
I’m kind of at this point in my journey with literacy-based makerspace right now. I know what I want, and I know what it should “taste” like. It’s humbling to admit that it’s not working out the way I had envisioned, but I also want to be truthful and vulnerable on my blog. It would be easy to post colourful photos and cute anecdotes, but it isn’t like that every day. It would also be easy to give up and go back to my tried-and-true teaching strategies, to write it off as a fad.
So many of my students also have ADD or written output issues and it takes them forever to get anything done. I swore that I wouldn’t use the making as a carrot or a stick, but it’s so tempting to have something to hold back so that they get the reading and writing done. Or once we get started on a makerspace project, that’s all they want to do. It also feels like I’m trying to do too much in the amount of time that the students are with me. Add to this that my computers are old and don’t work great, and I still don’t have a CEA. So, I’ve put the making on hold till I get through my term assessments and reports.
My learning has had its highs and lows this season. For now, I’ll sit back and savour what has been accomplished; then tweak the recipe some more. I’m not there yet, and that’s okay.
I love to meet up with friends and colleagues for a coffee and a chat. The warm ambience and the aromatic brews of trendy coffee shops are so welcoming on a blustery November afternoon. Sometimes, it’s not possible to get together though, due to conflicting schedules and full calendars.
Developing a Professional Learning Network
So, over the past year, I’ve become engaged in several online educational communities on Twitter and Facebook. I’ve “met” amazing people from all over the world and learned from them, as they have from me. To a certain degree, we’ve even become friends and I hope that I will have the pleasure of meeting them some day.
Schools in British Columbia (where I live and teach) now have a redesigned curriculum. We are teaching and learning about core competencies, as defined by the BC Ministry of Education:
Core Competencies are sets of intellectual, personal, and social and emotional proficiencies that all students need to develop in order to engage in deeper learning. The Core Competencies include thinking, communication, and social and personal competencies.
Communication is Key
One of the Communication competencies is to “connect and engage with others (to share and develop ideas).” Not only do our students need to develop this competency but so do we as educators. I’m thankful for the connections I’ve made and all that I’ve learned from others, locally and globally. Now, I’d like to share some of my work, especially with the BC educators who have expressed interest in the posters which I’ve posted previously.
I’ve created these posters based on the sample “I statements” for the Communication core competency. Please keep in mind that these statements are meant to be “progressive and additive,” which means … don’t stop there! Change the wording to fit your class, your community, your teaching, and your students’ learning needs. Remember, the competencies and the statements were never meant to be a checklist. You might post one or two of these posters for a month or for a whole term and use them as talking points or check-ins. (How are we doing with this?) Or you might wish to post them by your desk or in your plan book as reminders to yourself and to help you focus your planning. (How might I incorporate this CC in ELA or STEM?)
I’m learning too and feel like I’m developing a clearer concept of what this is all about. I’d love to hear how you are teaching the Communication competency in your classroom, what you’ve seen in your students, and how you are practicing it yourself within your own Professional Learning Network (PLN), locally and online.
N.B. The image is Creative Commons and the sample statements are from the Ministry website. I created these posters myself and am offering them to BC educators for free. They are not for sale and never will be. You are encouraged to edit them and make them your own. Once you’ve made a template, it’s easy to just change the “I statement” and the CC at the bottom. Other free Creative Commons images are available through Pixabay, or a Google search and click on Tools > Usage Rights. Within Microsoft Word, click on Insert > Online Pictures > Licensing > Creative Commons only.
For the past week, I've had excruciating back pain. I had to stay home from work for a few days because I could barely walk. While at home, I had a lot of time to watch "Beat Bobby Flay" ... and think. Of course, I thought about my new adventures in teaching and learning. I believe in the idea of literacy-based makerspace but I was starting to doubt myself. I was wondering if this new way of teaching was making a difference for the students. Were they indeed learning, or was it a whole lot of Lego, Play-Doh, and duct tape and not enough reading and writing?
An educator that I follow on Twitter and Facebook (who has become a "distant teacher" for me) is Angela Stockman, author of Make Writing. She posted the model below on her blog and it came across my newsfeed. It's brilliant! I had spent lots of time empathizing with the students and knew they needed and deserved more. And I felt like I had moved through the other stages but perhaps not with enough intention. Where I felt "stuck" was at the prototype and test stages.
So, I decided to take Angela's advice and "gather consistent feedback from [my] students." Most of my feedback was observations, notes, and intuition. It occurred to me that I hadn't even asked the kids what they thought of it, let alone to do so consistently. So, today I asked them the question, "How does making help?" The answers are quite profound.
The Grade 3 students said:
The Grade 4 and 5 students have really found their "flow" in the classroom. This group is operating pretty closely to what I had envisioned. Their responses floored me. They said:
I'm so glad I did this and will use the feedback to continue to tinker with my curriculum framework. I'm still a believer!
The graphic novel, "Jak & the Nano Beans," was the springboard for our next stop along the journey. It's a fractured fairy tale based on Jack and the Beanstalk. My group of Gr. 4/5 students loved it and the book led to all kinds of ideas of where to go next. We decided to make a beanstalk to the ceiling and there are key words on the leaves. I gave several questions for them to ponder and write about on green index cards or in their journal, such as, "How does the story change if the characters are different?" The kids also have plans to make a huge cloud on the ceiling with the giant peeking through.
We decided that Jack might need a safer way to get down the beanstalk with the golden eggs. So I gave them a design challenge to build an elevator. We looked around the room for available materials and they could bring extra materials from home.
I'm currently reading Launch by John Spencer & A.J. Juliani and LOVE it! Here are some quotes that really spoke to me recently:
Keep in mind that these students all struggle with reading and/or writing. They have been called "at-risk" or "reluctant" learners by some. The next day, they came rushing into class; they all excitedly reported that they had looked at some videos at home and they knew exactly what they wanted to make. So engaged, so happy, so eager! I know from experience that assigning reading as homework never got this response. These kids are curious and innovative; they want to learn and create. While it is my responsibility as a reading intervention teacher to help them improve in reading, it's just as important to introduce them to other ways of learning and knowing.
Vicki Den Ouden is an Elementary Reading Intervention Teacher from BC, Canada. She loves to dream, learn, teach, and create.