My Literacy Observations

 Literacy Observations

Speaking

  • When my Mentor Teacher takes attendance in the morning, she calls each person’s name and they say “Good morning.” She then responds “Good morning” to each student and uses his/her name. This stood out to me because I think this helps build community in the classroom.
  • My Mentor Teacher does a lot of “think/pair/share” activities – she said she believes it is important for the students to have opportunities to speak/use their voices and be heard (not necessarily just by her but also by each other).
  • I have been thinking about how speaking can differ between cultures. For example, when I was working in Indigenous education and health last year, I would introduce myself by saying my name, what my ancestry is and acknowledging my gratitude for being on this land. Also, when discussing an issue, I (and the people I was working with) often tried to speak from my heart and personally/authentically , rather than citing peer-reviewed or logic-based evidence to support my point of view.

Reading

  • I played a game with my Wednesday class in which each person wrote a fact about himself or herself on a scrap of paper, then crumpled it up and threw it across the room. Next, each person had to find a crumpled piece of paper that was not his/her own and read the fact written on it. The last step was to find the person who had written the fact and ask him/her a question about it.
  • One of the students in my Wednesday class is always reading behind his desk when he is supposed to be listening to the teacher.

Representing

  • In my Wednesday class, we played a team-building game where each student was given a cup of Smarties. Depending on what colour he/she pulled out of their cup, he/she had to tell a different story. For example, an orange Smartie represented a story from his/her childhood. A green Smartie represented a place he/she would like to travel. A blue Smartie represented a skill he/she has or something he/she is good at.
  • Students in my Wednesday class raise their hands to signal that they want to say something and to prompt the teacher to call on them.
  • My Wednesday Grade 6 class did a math lesson where the learning objective was to understand different strategies used to solve math problems. My Mentor Teacher asked each student to represent the strategy he/she used to solve the problem on a small whiteboard. For example, when they were multiplying 4 x 3, some students drew this:
X X X X
X X X X
X X X X 

Listening

  • My Wednesday class did an exercise in Language Arts where the students were asked to bring in artefacts that were important to them. They then had to write about why they chose those items. After they finished their “prewriting” step, each student met with a partner to whom he/she told the story of the artefact. While the owners of the artefacts were speaking, the partners listened carefully and wrote down anything they heard that was not already in the prewrite to add to the artefact descriptions.
  • Last year I did several interviews with patients at a health clinic. I spent the majority of time listening rather than speaking (although I had to be actively listening so that I could guide the conversation to get the answers to the questions I had).
  • The patients I interviewed last year were all accessing Elders at our clinic as a form of mental health / cultural support. They talked about how listening to stories from the Elders helped them clarify things in their own lives and helped them think about what path they wanted to take forward. They also talked about the positive impact they experienced from listening to the Elders drumming and singing and also from being listened to by the Elders and other staff in our program.

Writing

  • The grade 6 class I am doing my Wednesday visits with did an assignment called “Writing Territories.” They had to write down things that are significant to them and describe their idiosyncrasies. Each student then ended up with a unique page of writing. It was sort of like a “stream of consciousness” type exercise. It also helped build community because everyone in the class got to learn more about each other.
  • Most of the writing assignments my Wednesday class does help students get to know themselves and others better. One week they each found a rock outside and had to write a paragraph to describe the rock and why they picked it. This was after they read a piece called “Chocolate Swimming Pool” (reading strand) and discussed the “so what” of the poem (speaking strand).
  • In my own life I do a lot of different kinds of writing. I participated in a professional development series on Indigenous ways of knowing and being and wrote personal reflections about what struck me from our readings and conversations. I also write a grant application every year that is submitted to the government. In this grant I use more formal language, remove my voice and try to persuade the government to fund the proposed programs (by tying them to government goals and supporting my assertions with evidence from peer-reviewed literature).

Viewing

  • In our art class, we engage in “nonjudgmental critiques” during which each student brings their work to the centre of the room and we all view each other’s art. Then we describe what we notice about each piece.
  • In my Wednesday school visit class, we watched a Kid President movie to inspire us and to help us start thinking about how we would change the world if we were President.

Reflection on Literacy Observations:

One of the things that has struck me most during my Wednesday visits is that all the writing the students do is personalized and helps them discover who they are, who their classmates are, and what is important to them. I particularly liked the “Writing Territories” exercise I described in my observations above, because it puts the self/identity at the centre of learning (which is also consistent with the First Peoples Principles of Learning). Many of the poems and stories the students write are based on things that are important to them and provided some insight into who they are as people.

Writing Territories reminds me of something I observed when working in Aboriginal (post-secondary) education, which was that students often shared their life stories orally and would speak from the heart (without notes or a pre-scripted plan of what they wanted to say) – they brought their full and authentic selves to their interactions. I have noticed a lot of discourse around creating “authentic classrooms” since I started my teacher training program and am interested to research what this really means. I am particularly interested in authentic communication within the classroom and how I can use some or all of the 6 literary strands to make my classroom more authentic.