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.
No longer do we limit writing, reading or technology to a set time block in our schedule. Children learn best when they are using writing for authentic purposes and making text-to-self, text-to-text, and text-to-world connections in their reading. When they write about what they are doing in school, they will automatically make connections to the text that they’ve written since it was a lived experience. The same is true for makerspace. It is most definitely cross-curricular.
Makerspace is a huge trend in education today. It can be as low tech as creating cardboard towns or as high tech as coding and robotics. Makerspace enables all children to participate in hands-on learning. It also acknowledges a child’s natural inclination toward imagination and play. But don’t stop there - integrate the making with reading and writing.
Last week, we created a doodlebot aka a wigglebot. It’s one step up from a spinbot (see last week’s blog post), and a precursor to more high-tech robots like Ozobots. The children experimented with motors, batteries, electricity, balance, weight, and vibration. There are lots of examples on Pinterest and YouTube on how to make a doodlebot so I won’t go into how to make one. Just do a search.
However, I have to say it was a good lesson on grit and growth mindset when looking for all the parts and trying to make it work. You will need a DC toy/ hobby motor and some batteries. Hobby or electronics shops might have them, if you have one in your town. Sometimes you can find cheap or old, broken toys and take the motor out. Apparently, you can order them on Amazon but pay attention to what size battery (volts) it will need to work. I finally found two motors at an electronics and cell phone repair shop. I had a 9 volt battery already, which one of the posts said I needed. The guy at the shop said that that was too many volts for that motor. So, I bought 4 AA batteries from him and a battery pack to hold it all together. The original doodlebot plan was a cup and three thin markers as legs. Well, the battery pack was way too heavy and it wouldn’t move. Oh, by the way, if the motor doesn’t have wires connected, you will also need to buy some alligator clips with wires. They look like mini booster cables. I was ready to give up.
So, then I saw the plan for our doodlebot online and went with that. You will need:
After playing around with it and creating abstract art, the kids decorated it as a cow, since we had cow patterned duct tape. They even named her Clara the Cow! The googly eyes move around like crazy too when it’s turned on. (The kids are even trying to come up with a lightweight udder that won’t slow her down and a tiny cow bell.) Lots of questioning, discussion, and laughter occurred throughout each phase, and the play inspired more creative thinking. We picked her up and moved her to other parts of the long sheet of paper; we set up an obstacle course to see if we could change her direction; and experimented with colour combos. While some students continued to play with Clara and create more doodles, others began writing about their experience.
Throughout the week, we drew more out of this experience. We wrote down some inquiry questions that arose from their interest and curiosity. We also enjoyed the storybooks “The Most Magnificent Thing” by Ashley Spires and “A Squiggly Story” by Andrew Larsen.
As we move along, other ideas have evolved. One student created her own abstract art with “Clara” and is now building a fall poem (thank you, Angela Stockman!) in her journal. Hailey is using sticky notes with phrases that she can then move around till she finds the right flow. Then she plans to write the poem in black marker on her doodle art.
Today, poor Clara became the cow that Jack has traded for a measly five magic beans. She led us to read various fractured fairy tales based on Jack & the Beanstalk, create a giant beanstalk with key words on the leaves, and talk about how a change in setting and/or character affects the story. Long live Clara! She just keeps giving and giving.
We made some spinbots in class this week. They're precursors to doodlebots (aka wigglebots) that don't need batteries or motors. It was a huge hit!
To start, we read Happy Dreamer by Peter H. Reynolds. There's a line in the book that goes like this, "Sometimes, I'm a colorful dreamer ... painting my own path full of surprises at every turn." We linked this to our "I am" statements, which connect to the Personal-Social core competency that we've been focusing on. We reflected on these questions: Which kind of happy are you? What kind of a dreamer are you? What are your dreams? Which path are you on?
To make a spinbot, all you need is:
Then, the children wrote some of their attributes from their "I am" statements along a path on their abstract art. We displayed them in the hallway with a poster showing students how they can make their own spinbot at home. Our final step was to create a Wonder Wall for possible inquiry topics in the future. We plan to make a kit to loan out to other classrooms in the school and have some of my students demonstrate and assist.
It's an easy makerspace project that you could try in your own classroom. There are so many cross-curricular connections that could also fuel an interest in many related topics.
*Note 1: Most of my students have an SLD in reading and/or writing. I also honour and encourage emergent spelling.
**Note 2: When I asked the students, "What are your dreams?", one boy responded with, "My dream is to read." ... I just about cried. I've seen many learning miracles throughout my career. I have hope and believe in his dream.
I love books by Peter H. Reynolds! In fact, I think everyone does. The Dot, Happy Dreamer, Playing from the Heart ... they're all wonderful! Today, we read Ish in class. The kids have all heard it before but no on ever gets tired of it. Why? Because of its simplicity. We can all relate to being laughed at and feeling embarrassed, of giving up and then being encouraged to try again. And we also love the liberating idea of being okay with doing things ish-fully ... kinda but not quite. In my classroom, we are free to practice reading-ish, spelling-ish, learning-ish, writing-ish and yes, even teaching-ish. It doesn't have to be perfect but it can still be great!
After the story and discussion, I put out a tinker tray with various loose parts. The children were free to create "objects-ish" or "creatures-ish" with the materials. They loved it! It was fun to watch them move the materials around, change their minds, and create parking lots, dogs, trees, ducks, light sabres, and hovercrafts. They shared and asked questions all along. Then they wrote their "ish" words in their journal and had to do a quick little sketch beside at least two words.
We will continue with this tomorrow by fleshing out more writing ideas. They will then be free to write about their representations or an idea they've been thinking about that was sparked by the book, "Ish." They may write about it in their journals, in Google Docs (older students), or using the WriteReader app (younger students). While some students are writing, I will be doing reading conferences with other students and help them find new books to read that may be "Ish" inspired - perhaps other Peter Reynold books, poetry books, art books, or STEM books.
My main focus for this lesson was to build the Core Competency of creative thinking. I'll be focusing on the following "I Statement" throughout the term: I get ideas when I play. My ideas are fun for me and make me happy. This encompasses what I hope the students will discover about themselves and what Tinker with Text will become.
Here are some wonderful quotes by Jean Piaget and Seymour Papert, along with photos from my classroom. I first heard about tinker trays, tinker totes, and tinker tins from Angela Stockman. You can find lots of examples on Pinterest. I've added a few more ideas ... tinker tables, tinker tins, tinker tubs, tinker trolleys, building bins, and textile tubs. I just love the alliteration; it's so catchy! Lots of fun storage for everything from popsicle sticks to Ozobots, but it's also a way of teaching kids to work within constraints (i.e. only use pre-selected materials from the tinker tray).
Every time we teach a child something, we keep him from inventing it himself. On the other hand, that which we allow him to discover for himself will remain with him visible for the rest of his life.
- Jean Piaget
Rather than pushing children to think like adults, we might do better to remember that they are great learners and to try harder to be more like them.
- Seymour Papert
Play is the work of childhood.
- Jean Piaget
We imagine a school in which students and teachers excitedly and joyfully stretch themselves to their limits in pursuit of projects built on their vision.
- Seymour Papert
I was feeling disheartened this week. It’s been a slow start-up to my program for several reasons and so this week, I finally completed my required student pre-testing. Seventeen Level B reading assessments and seventeen fluency tests (ugh). Thank goodness the LAT offered to do all of the Level A screens and we did the necessary paperwork together.
The scores were low. I’ve seen some of these kids for two years and some scores never change. No one ever gets past #25 on a certain subtest. After the testing, you input those numbers into the computer to produce reports with standard scores and percentiles. Print the reports, attach them to the protocols, analyze, plan accordingly, file. These numbers used to interest me and I actually enjoyed making charts for comparison … but no more.
Now, let me say something about the fluency test. They get 3 shots at reading 3 different passages in one minute. The passages are at grade level but I already know from the previous test that they are nowhere near grade level. They’re supposed to keep going, even if they skip words. So, there is no context clues or meaning because the key words are too difficult for them. It sounds something like this: “The ____ lived on the _______ _______. They _________ meat for the _______.” That’s not reading, people! Thanks, this test just confirmed again that this child is not reading at grade level.
When I met a new student and I explained that I needed to do some testing with him, he said, “Is it reading?” And he said it like there was something disgusting in his mouth. It killed my spirit. What are we doing?! What have we done?!
It reminds me of the quote by Mem Fox, “When I say to a parent, "read to a child", I don't want it to sound like medicine. I want it to sound like chocolate.” The same goes for how a child responds to reading.
Then I started telling him about the drive from his school to my school. I said, “You’ll drive past farms with horses and goats and llamas. Oh, and there’s lots of orchards with bright red apples that you just want to pick! The airport is right there too and sometimes it looks like the planes are taking off out of the trees.”
“What are we going to do at my school? Well, we’re going to make stuff with Meccano or K’nex to give us ideas about writing. Then we’re going to read our own writing and share it with other people. We’re going to use the computers with a headset so that you can dictate your writing, if you want, and then print it or post it online. We’re going to read instructions on how to make a stop motion animation movie using Lego and my phone. We’re going to check out some YouTube videos about building a cardboard town and then read Iggy Peck, Architect.”
The eyes … I wish you could have seen his eyes. They got bigger and brighter. He was spellbound, as if I was telling a story of a magical land. He’s hooked and I bet he told his parents the same story at bedtime that night, at least I hope he did.
You ask how I plan to work makerspace into a reading intervention program and still have time for the reading and the intervention? Well, I’m not sure about all the in’s and out’s of it yet; but I’m reading, writing, reflecting, noticing, learning, and connecting with those wiser than me that are walking down this road too. And I know it will work out over time and be something special. How? Those wide eyes told me something. That’s my data!
I love to go shopping at Winners, which is the Canadian equivalent of TJ Maxx. This popular store sells designer items at bargain prices, and their advertising slogan a few years ago was, “Winners. You should go.” Which I did … often!
I finally got my copy of Launch: Using design thinking to boost creativity and bring out the Maker in every student by John Spencer and A.J. Juliani in the mail the other day, and I can’t wait to dig into it deeper this weekend. My mind has been swimming in ideas about literacy-based makerspace but I’ve been feeling kind of “fuzzy” on how to make it all work.
I don’t know about you but for me, most of my “brilliant ideas” don’t come while I’m sitting at my computer willing myself to THINK … c’mon, just think. They come while I’m about to fall asleep or walking my dog. I had one such epiphany the other day while driving to work. It was so great that I didn’t even mind the road the construction and traffic.
Many teachers give design challenges to students when integrating makerspace and design thinking. So, I was thinking, “Why not also give reading and writing challenges too?” During reading and/or writing conferences, ask your students what they think they need to work on in reading or writing. They know. Now ask them to write a challenge task card for that skill. Talk through how they will achieve that and how you can help them get there. Assign and scaffold tasks; and schedule the next conference to talk more, check progress, and adjust accordingly.
It might look something like this:
Stay tuned for real life examples and samples from the kidlets.
Vicki Den Ouden is an Elementary Reading Intervention Teacher from BC, Canada. She loves to dream, learn, teach, and create.