Get to know our principal and what’s going on in our school.
September 09
Snapshot: How Home Reading Became One More Thing on the 'To Do List' for Families

"Don’t feel, as a teacher, that you must tie every book to class work. Don’t confine the broad spectrum of literature to the narrow limits of the curriculum. Would you want everything you did all day tied to a sermon? The object is to create a life-time reader, not a school-time reader. That goal will never be reached if a student thinks reading is always associated with work or sweat."  

It's true (at least from my perspective) that our primary job as elementary school teachers is to introduce skills and strategies to students that will build confidence and support our young students to become proficient and capable readers.  We introduce letters and sounds, picture books of all genres, read aloud every day, encourage students to hold pencils appropriately as they shape letters, introduce new authors and subjects, make connections between fiction and non-fiction, organize books, share them and celebrate them every chance we get. This is the work we love and know will be invaluable as we launch your children into the world of formal learning.

It is also true that improvement and growth in learning is best attained when learning is practiced in authentic, comfortable and safe circumstances. Learning to read is not always easy for children as they struggle to make sense of "those squiggles on the page" (my favourite description of text that a former student shared with me as he struggled to learn to read). There are so many things to remember in a day as children spend their learning time engaged with multiple forms of text encountered in a wide variety of ways. So teachers encourage them to practice reading at home. Every day. Often for a set amount of time - like 15 minutes. Sometimes we even ask parents to report and record whether or not their child has engaged in this work. Over the years we have come to call this "Home Reading" and it begins, usually, sometime in Kindergarten. Why? Because home is usually a comfortable and safe place to practice authentic reading. 

30 years ago when I began teaching, asking young children to read at home every day was not a common practice, at least not one that I recall as a common practice. Sometimes we sent home work sheets to practice letters (since then we have figured out the transfer of understanding from worksheets to text is miniscule - being able to complete an alphabet or word work sheet is not an indicator of reading proficiency), but we rarely asked kids to read at home. That would have meant sending home "the readers" we all taught from at that time, and we simply didn't do that - at least, not in the schools I taught at. Gradually that began to change early in my career, as we came to understand reading as a much more complex process than simply knowing and sounding out words to make phrases and sentences. And through that expansion of awareness of what the actual act of reading truly entailed, teachers began to see that practicing reading was the most effective strategy for improving reading skills. We also began to understand children could read many things and "the readers" were not the only texts that honoured children's reading proficiencies and growth. Students could, in fact, read many texts other than "the readers" and that precipitated an enormous change in reading instruction. 

We moved into an era of 'levelled' reading as we moved away from basal reading series (which had been levelled as well, but with different criteria and less distinction between fewer levels). Several commercial reading tests and texts emerged on the market for teachers and schools to use to determine the reading abilities of students. Levels were intended to inform next steps in instruction for teachers but quickly morphed into much more - for a brief time, there were libraries that used leveling systems and students began to see themselves as capable readers 'only' at specific reading levels with identified texts noted within a level's text complexity. As student confidence began to fall and reading success became what level students were reading, the effectiveness of the levelled reading series began to diminish as a teaching strategy - we were not using the levels just to help us know what the next steps in learning would be, we were using them to define and frame readers in a way that had not previously happened. Students were developing proficiency as readers who could identify words and phrases and basic meanings; they were not, however, becoming avid readers who connected significantly with texts and wanted to 'play' with words. Reading had become a task or a chore rather than an intriguing and engaging activity. It was during the levelled reading era that home reading emerged as an important task for students. Reading at home was seen as an opportunity to have children engage with text in a comfortable, safe environment and therefore promote practicing reading as a positive learning experience. The challenge, however, was that schools began to send levelled home reading books as the text of choice for readers to practice at home. Instead of becoming an engaging time for children to see reading as a wonderful experience, children were often relegated to reading the same kinds of text repeatedly at home until they could test successfully at the next level. Home reading became an extension of the in-class levelled reading and students came to see themselves as replicating school at home, rather than finding ways to love reading at home. Home reading just extended the school day, at a time when kids found it quite long enough already!

Quite honestly, we have not fully yet moved beyond the levelled book phase of home reading, but we are gradually releasing children from the idea that their success as a reader is determined by an arbitrary level a reading researcher has contrived to establish as standardized. There are so many kinds of reading assessments and they are not all aligned in any way - similar on occasion, yet quite different as well. Each commercial test has it's own mandate and assessment criteria to support teaching decisions as readers develop and demonstrate success in learning to read, but these assessments were not intended to offer students the wide variety of genres, topics or interests available for them to experience from books and texts available today. 

We know children who are read to, who practice reading at home - even when they are repeating memorized text initially - become the most successful readers in the long run. We also know holding them to particular levels and texts assigned to those levels actually restricts their engagement in reading, holding them back from reading for interest. When children read for interest, they will naturally stretch themselves to read 'above' text that might typically be comfortable for them and this both nudges them forward in skill and strategy development while fostering confidence, enjoyment and risk-taking as a reader. Reading for enjoyment and interest promotes avid, lifelong readers in a way that tackling increasingly complex, levelled texts cannot. 

Home reading requires some effort on behalf of teachers, children and families. Teachers need to encourage and nudge children to read at home - sometimes teachers do this by tracking with parents when and what children read outside of school; sometimes there is just a stated expectation that reading will occur on a daily basis in the home. Children need to choose books they are interested in and willing to attempt to read outside of school. Families need to encourage their children to engage in reading that is not school-based, to help them choose books from home libraries or the community library, or to encourage students to bring books home from the school they are interested in reading. Schools often have a selection of books students can choose from to take home - while these may be levelled, schools are more likely to encourage children to select a home reading book from a wide band of levels that is of interest to them. And any child engaging in home reading should only repeatedly re-read a text if they indicate a desire to do so - reading different stories keeps reading interesting and fresh, inviting students into a new frame of learning every day.

Home reading sits on every student's do list at our school, and at most schools these days. Schools and teachers want children to practice the skills and strategies they have learned in school in an environment that is safe, comfortable and promotes strong relationships - exactly what homes have to offer in abundance for most children. As we learn more and more about how, why and how children read, our practices related to home reading will subsequently grow and change too, just as they have over the years. The important things to remember about home reading are that it needs to include choice for students, opportunity established by parents, and an overall attitude of promoting enjoyment and interest towards the development of lifelong readers.  Yes, it is part of the do list for families - and also an incredibly important aspect of fostering reading success for all children.

Lorraine Kinsman

June 17
ANTICIPATION!! ‘Looking Forward to the 2019-2020 School Year’

“I hope you will go out and let stories, that is life, happen to you, and that you will work with these stories... water them with your blood and tears and your laughter till they bloom, till you yourself burst into bloom.” 

― Clarissa Pinkola Estés

We have been reeling from the impact of the 2019-2020 budget cuts, mourning the loss of colleagues we have valued and levels of support we know are beneficial to children...budget reductions hurt schools on multiple levels...they do not destroy us, just shock and shake our souls...we will re-vision, re-think, re-invent and work with our families and students to ensure learning continues and thrives - maybe not as we have known and appreciated it but in some new, creative anticipated way...

The dust of change is still swirling, yet beginning to settle and we are making plans for the new school year with growing anticipation! There will be changes - no denying that! There will also be energy - how could there not be energy when 440+ children enter a building wanting to learn? There will also be opportunities - some familiar, like the Studio and the Learning Commons, and some new ones the students have not encountered before. There will be music, art, movement, climbing, building, creating, inventing, designing, hiking, exploring, thinking, trying, failing, trying again, laughter, tears and great joy, for we are a K-4 school where learning is the heart and soul of everything we do - and that is something to celebrate with great anticipation!

Here's what we do know:

  • There will be one Kindergarten Pod, with 4 classes, 2 AM and 2 PM, with an average class size of 20 students
  • there will be 7 grade 1/2 classes, one Pod of 4 classes and one Pod of 3 classes, with an average class size of 24/25 students
  • there will be 7 grade 3/4 classes, one Pod of 4 classes and one Pod of 3 classes, with an average class size of 27/28 students
  • we will continue to have a PE specialist (Mr. Der), a Music specialist (Mrs. Coulson) and an Art specialist (Mr. Kelly); although all of them will only be part-time, they will work with all the students over the course of each school week
  • the STEM Before/After School Program will move out of the gym into three of the current Joy Pod classes, and there will be a Kindergarten Program as well
  • the School Council will be fundraising to support artist-in-residence experiences, still to be determined & finalized 
  • our three pillars of focus - Peace Education, Place-Based Learning & Design Thinking - will continue to guide our work
  • we will be using Power School regularly to inform parents of student success, as well as for Report Cards
  • we will continue to foster community spirit and growth through our collaborations with Tuscany School & Twelve Mile Coulee School
  • Peace Education will guide our programming choices (such as Roots of Empathy) and our student leadership opportunities (such as Peace Ambassadors, Families Helping Families, etc)
  • We will have another extraordinary year of learning at EHS as we enter our fourth year of operation!
As we close out this school year, I wanted to share with you an email from a teacher  who recently visited our school during Ignite Your Learning time in the morning:

Oh Lorraine....
Ignite Your Learning is brilliant. I am not sure said much more than "Hello" to (Mr. Simmons), as the students had so much going on (and, well, he was busy teaching 😉)

It started with 3 boys running (at a safe and eager speed) to the learning commons to continue writing their books in hopes of getting them published before the end of the year (the best - love these books!!). And then the maker area flooded with students who all had plans and reasons and intentions. "My sister and I talked about it on the weekend and ....", "I have an idea that might work for improving my house in Wonder Time, so I wanted to try out a few different things..." I know that if I come here and just get started, an idea will come to me and I will build something great!" (He says as he is building amazing cardboard goalie pads for street hockey...maybe.

This was my entire 30+ minutes there. Everyone was happy to talk and share, because they all had so much to say....it was a privilege and a good learning experience to be in this space, see it in action and talk with (Mr. Simmons).
Thank-you for allowing me this time with you school. It was just what I needed. 

Sometimes it's important to see things through someone else's eyes, just to remind ourselves how amazing our place of learning truly is:)

Life will always happen to us, regardless of what we think should be happening instead! Our work in schools is to teach resiliency and persistence in learning despite the greatest or most hidden barriers - there is nothing we cannot accomplish together! We are looking forward to an amazing fourth year at EHS with tremendous excitement and anticipation - now that we have had some time to mourn the changes, shift our mindsets and look to the future with the same bright and shining eyes our children bring to school each and every day.

Lorraine Kinsman, Principal​
June 05
Anticipated Significant Changes at EHS for 2019/2020 School Year due to Budgetary Constraints

"Teaching is a profession of hope, optimism and living in the delightful moments of discovery with children."

(Lorraine Kinsman)

I am, at heart, a very hopeful person - I actually consider 'hope' to be a very productive strategy for thinking forward and as a tool for active planning. I believe 'hope' is most effective for transforming thinking into reality and I strive to live every day with a hopeful approach to all I do and say. Some days this is an easy position to take, while other days prove to be much more challenging - for any number of reasons!

I want to begin this blog entry with huge appreciations for the staff who will be leaving us this school year, for personal as well as budgetary reasons. Opening a new school is a huge privilege and honour and I have been extremely fortunate to work with an absolutely outstanding team of teachers over the past three years - I could not imagine a more exciting, dynamic and visionary team with whom to open and shape a brand new school!  As the 2018/19 school year closes, we will be saying good-bye to some favourite colleagues, even as we anticipate the return of others in the fall.

Ms. Wendy Campbell, our Assistant Principal, will be retiring at the end of June. Ms. Campbell opened Eric Harvie with us three years ago, teaching Kindergarten as part of our initial, 6-class large group of Kindie students, as well as taking on numerous AP responsibilities in this new school. She has sustained a strong connection to Kindergarten (definitely her passion!) over the three years and her contributions to our school have been greatly appreciated, including our Artist-in-Residence programs and grants. We wish her well as she begins her new life journey!

Mr. Brian Simmons is relocating with his family to Vancouver Island, a return home for both he and Mrs. Simmons and their children. Mr. Simmons has had a significant influence at EHS, spearheading the establishment of our Maker Space 'Studio', guiding the work on playgrounds that led to the Grade 1/2 Conoco Phillips Grant, the Open Minds work the grade 1/2 classes have engaged in this school year and the purchase of our 3D printer - among many other accomplishments. He will be greatly missed, even as we wish him and his family many exciting new adventures on the west coast!

Mrs. Kathy Ross is also relocating with her family, to Kelowna BC, as they embark on a new life adventure. Mrs. Ross was also part of our initial 'opening team' in 2016, helping to develop the multi-age teaching teams and literacy focus that continue to underpin the learning environment that is EHS. Her dedication to students and effective learning has clearly helped shape our school and we have greatly valued her amazing work with students. We wish you all the best in the sunny Okanagan, Mrs. Ross!

Mrs. Sarah Le will be relocating to another CBE school as a result of the budget constraints described below. Mrs. Le joined us briefly as we opened our school at the Tuscany location, leaving after just a few weeks, when her son was born. Following a year's maternity leave, Mrs. Le returned to EHS in our new location, re-joining the Grade 1/2 multi-age, team-teaching group. Over the past two years we have greatly appreciated her strong efforts to support all learners, her willingness to help out wherever needed in the school and her warmth and sense of humour. She will be greatly missed and we wish her every success in her future school.

Ms. Jenn Chang will also be relocating to another CBE school as a result of budget constraints. Ms. Chang has been part of our school-opening journey from day one at Tuscany School, teaching grades 1/2. Ms. Chang has been a leader with the ECO Team and an active supporter of the Calgary Young Writers Conference.  As she undertakes new teaching adventures, we wish her well, knowing her contributions to EHS have been greatly appreciated.

Mrs. Heather Sigurdson joined the Grade 1/2 Joy Pod in the fall of 2018.  An experienced, knowledgeable and deeply caring teacher, Mrs. Sigurdson's commitment to the Joy Pod students has been highly valued. She will be transferring to Terrace Road School as a result of budgetary constraints for the fall of 2019. Although her time with us has been brief, we have appreciated her wisdom, humour and commitment to EHS students. We wish her every success at her new school!

Mrs. Coreen Blenkhorne joined our staff in the fall of 2018, as a part-time Grade 1/2 teacher in Kindness Pod and as a support for Music with our Peace Assemblies. Mrs. Blenkhorne's time with us was brief due to a medical leave that began in January/19. She will be relocating to another CBE school as part of budget constraints, and we wish her well as she takes up a new learning challenge in the fall. 

Ms. Asra Khan will complete her full-year, temporary contract as our Kindergarten teacher at the end of June, replacing Mrs. Joanna Mask while she has been on maternity leave. Ms. Khan has been much-loved by the Kindies and we will miss her enthusiasm and warm sense of humour as she awaits future deployment within CBE.

We will be welcoming back a large contingent of teachers who have been on maternity leave this year, for fall 2019, include Mrs. Joanna Mask in Kindergarten, Mrs. Jennele Coulson in Music/Fine Arts, Mrs. Sarah Day to Grade 1/2 and Mrs. Jackie Bates as Learning Leader. Mrs. Kallie Campbell will remain on maternity leave for the first few months of the school year.

Over the past couple of weeks, principals all over CBE have been grappling with budgetary constraints that are still ambiguous, given that the new provincial government has not actually presented a budget for the province yet. Constraints at the school board level have been influenced by the platforms of the recent election and the suggestion to be prudent in financial planning from Alberta Education. Although there have been no budget cuts per se, the removal of funding for growth in student numbers, and the anticipated introduction of the Education Act that will increase the ceiling for high school completion to age 21, with no additional funding to support this move, are, as I understand the situation, the most significant influencing factors on the proposed CBE budget for 2019-2020. Despite being apprised of the situation, I was nonetheless taken aback when I realized the real dollar impact on our school would be a reduction close to 14% of last year's school operating budget.  For our school, this will mean approximately the same number of students, but 4.5 fewer teachers to meet their learning needs. 

We are beginning to sift through possibilities and options, considering where we are able to consolidate programming supports, if there are any opportunities for streamlining or eliminating programs and where we may be able to reduce but not eliminate student support. Class size is, of course, a huge consideration and we are working hard to keep our class sizes below 23 - 25 in grades 1 - 4, and no more than 20 at the Kindergarten level, if at all possible. We are not just thinking outside the box, sometimes we are ignoring the boxes altogether. We have established EHS as a centre for student learning that engages students in work that is meaningful, supported as needed and offers multiple entry points that appeal to students' interests, capabilities and curiosities. We have every intention of sustaining this approach, even as we understand it may mean a much different road map to learning.

What we do know is that the Pod system will continue, with fewer teachers attached to each Pod but with the focus still on meeting the learning needs of students. We do know we will do our best to sustain a high level of additional learning support for our complex needs learners, although that may look/sound differently than it has during our first three years. We will sustain a Phys. Ed. specialist and a Music/Fine Arts specialist, although reduced times may be a factor. Details are still blurry and, indeed, the Leadership Team will be on a full-day 'retreat' June 13th as we try to bring some of these details into sharper focus. 

As we work out details, we will share them with families, knowing all of us - teachers and parents alike - will continue to work as a large village to meet the needs of all our students. We appreciate your patience and understanding and look forward with great hope to a successful, albeit somewhat different, school year in 19/20. 

I remain hopeful the new provincial budget expected in the fall will include additional funding for schools, and I am confident the outstanding teaching team remaining at EHS will develop strategies to best meet the learning needs of all our students to the best of our abilities.

Lorraine Kinsman, Principal 

May 13
Play, Learning & Fun: Why Schools Are Different!

"We don't stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing."  

- George Bernard Shaw

This past week we held our annual 'Welcome to Kindergarten' Open House for parents of incoming Kindergarten students in the fall. It is always so much fun to welcome new families to our school, and I was reminded again that we present quite differently as a school than the schools the parents of our incoming Kindie students likely attended.

Usually when people visit our school for the first time, we get a lot of comments about how different our school looks from when parents (or grandparents!) went to school, or many questions about how students learn without desks, what our Maker Space has to do with learning, why the climbing wall isn't in the gym.  We get a lot of questions about being organized as a multi-age groupings school, and about co-teaching in multiple classrooms and why our Learning Commons doesn't use the Dewey decimal system to organize our resources - how can children ever find what they are looking for, adults wonder, if the whole place is genrified? What does genrified even mean?  We don't get these questions from children - these are questions that come from adults. The children are pretty busy getting stuff done all over the school, but the questions asked by adults are good questions that we are happy to answer!

The things we get asked about are the visible differences between this school and what adults have traditionally thought of as 'school'. But school should be different than it was 5, 10, 15 years ago - so many things have changed it is critical that schools change too, just enough to ensure our children are ready for whatever the world may offer as they progress through their years of formal learning. Most of us don't go back to elementary schools very often between the time we leave them as students and when our own children begin Kindergarten, so I would be more taken aback if parents said we reminded them of their schools growing up, to be honest - nowhere else looks exactly the same as it did years ago - not even our homes where digital rules the roost!  What I hope the adults we talk to about our school take away, however, is the understanding that learning happens all the time, everywhere, for children when curiosity, relationships and investigation are encouraged, fostered and become the reason to go to school.  My favourite question arises when someone says, "It all looks like so much fun - when do kids learn?" 

All the time, friend, kids learn all the time! 

Yes, this looks like fun - learning is fun!! Yes, this looks like play - play fosters learning!!  And, yes, we believe school should be a place where learning looks like play and is fun. Actually, we think all three terms - learning, play, fun - should be interchangeable anytime we are talking about schools and children:)

I was reminded of this on Friday at one of our Peace Assemblies - Peace Assemblies are a lot of hard work that kids take very seriously. Children want to share their best work with parents and peers when they present their classrooms' work in Peace Assemblies. Twice a year, each learning Pod is expected to share their learning at a Peace Assembly.  These are scheduled approximately every second or third Friday morning, always at 11:00 am, an hour before early dismissal. Peace Assemblies require the students and teachers to consider what they are learning, how they will share that successfully with their families and peers, and then get to work making it happen. Often they take a sharing format that includes MCs, speakers, student-created videos, artwork, music, dance, writing, reading, mathematical thinking, etc. but we have also had Peace Assemblies that were Open House style events where students celebrated their learning in a less formal arrangement and also shared videos, artwork, music, dance, drama, writing, reading, mathematical thinking, etc. What happens in Peace Assemblies utilizes design thinking with even our youngest students to help them use the tools in their Learners' Toolkits to represent and shape the sharing of what they are learning. Nothing is expected to be perfect - design thinking is generous in recognizing every prototype can be re-shaped as needed - and learning is always a work-in-progress. When a learning Pod offers their work to be shared with parents and peers, it is a heartfelt offering of their learning through play and fun - they test and try and practice and re-shape right up to the last minute, guided and encouraged by teachers who have travelled the learning journey with them. And, as we share in their beautiful work, we appreciate, value and are grateful for the hard thinking, the multiple tries, the collaboration, negotiation and compromise, the idea generation and research and heavy toll that pushes their learning to expand constantly from curiosity and investigation and building relationships. This is learning at it's best, when it is done in the spirit of play and fun together with others on a similar yet somewhat unique learning journey. We will not find perfectly formed, cookie-cutter projects or repetitions of work when learning comes from the collaborative work that nudges every student to work a little harder, think a bit differently and know they are showcasing new understandings they truly appreciate conceptually together.  

Play, fun and learning happen when people come together in relationships and, as only humans can, encourage each other by our presence to be better - kinder, more generous in spirit, to try a new thing without fear or judgment. This is what we are aiming for in schools - learning is not a competition but a collaboration, a meeting of minds that leads all of us towards a future we haven't imagined yet. And it does look and sound different than it did a few - or many - years ago. As it should!

Lorraine Kinsman, Principal

April 23
"Why does school for my child look & sound different than it did when I went to school?"

"Change is the only constant...A baby born today will be thirty-something in 2050. If all goes well, that baby will still be around in 2100, and might even be an active citizen of the twenty-second century. What should we teach that baby that will help him or her survive and flourish in the world of 2050 or of the twenty-second century? What kind of skills will he or she need in order to get a job, understand what is happening around them, and navigate the maze of life?" 

"21 Lessons for the 21st Century" by Yuval Noah Harari (2018)

I've been reading "21 Lessons for the 21st Century" by Yuval Noah Harari - I highly recommend it to anyone who would like to explore the historical pathways that brought us to this particular time/political/economic place, and authentic possibilities for the future. I read a fair amount of research and history around this theme, and I found this one refreshing because it acknowledged all the possibilities coming at us - including AI, climate change, immigration, religion, nationalism, terrorism or bio-technology - while also noting:

"So what should we be teaching?...Most important of all will be the ability to deal with change, to learn new things, and to preserve your mental balance in unfamiliar situations. In order to keep up with the world of 2050, you will need not merely to invent new ideas and products - you will need to reinvent yourself again and again." 

Teaching looks and sounds much different than it has in the past because the world has changed so much that the very foundations of what we have always counted on in the world are no longer holding - as Harari points out in his book, for centuries people have been able to count on two phases of life - a learning phase and a working phase. Whether that was learning in the home or the fields or early factories or the schools of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries we still emulate today, every person could more or less count on that progression. That has been gradually eroding in the past few decades with people changing careers two or possibly three times in a lifetime, partly because of the speed of advancements in technology, health and lifestyles as well as the extending of life expectancies. The speed of technological developments is now changing our lifestyles so drastically fast that the road maps we have followed are no longer sound. And the two-hundred year old structures of education must change accordingly because our foundations are no longer solid either.

This doesn't mean we need to change everything right now - particularly since there is no replacement map to follow! We will need to navigate this new territory thoughtfully and without certainty, with a great capacity to manage change and ambiguity without panic. We still need to understand the structures, patterns, systems that inform basic knowledge of science, mathematics, geography, history - and the processes associated with language, visual arts, drama, music, media. This need for knowledge structures grounds our understanding of how various aspects of life interact and connect and inform understanding, and we still need to offer these understandings to our children. We also, however, need to prepare them for fluid thinking, applying new ideas in familiar and unfamiliar situations and getting ready for a future that will have a receding certainty.

We do this by offering a hybrid of experiences, instruction and application in schools today. And we know this will continue to change and morph every single year to reflect new events, understandings, discoveries and theories as they emerge. Teaching still has elements of the last two hundred years - a teacher facilitating learning of specific skills and strategies. It also offers multiple layers of experiences for children to practice their skills and adapt them to different situations and demands, both in-school experiences and experiences outside of school. Finding strong connections between school and the real world and encouraging our students to take scaffolded steps to innovate, create, consider, apply and evaluate the impact of their ideas are the kind of learning experiences that didn't exist when I was a student, nor when I began teaching, for the most part. The nature of the learning is grounded in firm foundations but has changed, grown and morphed to invite, support and encourage students to take risks in applying their skills in novel situations - this is how we gradually prepare them for the uncertainty of a future that we can only know one sure thing about: it will change constantly in ways we cannot predict or control. 

When parents ask why school has to look and sound different than it has in the past, these are the reasons I offer for discussion. There are no certainties for sure; preparing the children to manage successfully through uncertainties - large and small - is the twenty-first century goal of education. Because they will need to seamlessly change to respond to whatever their world has to offer - and, more importantly, work to manage and shape that world to the benefit of all people in the world. 

Tall order for big work! And we have an outstanding group of educators working diligently to ensure our students - your children - are ready for whatever the next thirty years has to offer :)

Lorraine Kinsman, Principal
Eric Harvie School 

April 15
What will the election mean for schools, students and families? Making sense of too much information!


“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.”  Carl Sagan

​There is an election on Tuesday that will have significant implications for schools, students and families no matter which political party is elected to govern the province for the next four years. 

As a principal in the springtime, when I would normally be trying to establish plans for the next school year through the manipulation of budget figures, class configurations, etc., I am strangely not engaged in the budgeting, staffing or organizational activities that would usually be occupying every waking moment of my life this time of year. The election has frozen our budget work and, at this point in time, we are not certain when we will have any actual numbers to work with as we begin to consider the 'next school year' planning process. 

I have, instead, focused my attention on listening and reading everything I can get access to about education policies across the numerous parties fielding candidates in the election, hoping to develop a clearer understanding of some of the possible implications of strategic policies they are offering, and how these might impact our small part of the Alberta Education landscape. 

Having been a principal for almost 16 years, and a teacher for nearly 30 years in Alberta, I have lived with the impact of many political policies on schools over the years. Based on these experiences, the political policies I read and the political discussion forums I attended, I thought I would try and capture some potential impacts on our school and families.  These are the primary considerations that I believe could impact learning at our school, based on what I have both seen and not seen in the four main political party platforms:

1) Class sizes - depending on which party is elected, and with our current school population, class sizes could remain pretty much the same as they are or we could lose the equivalent in funding for anywhere from 1.5 to 4 full-time teachers in our school

2) School fees - depending on which party is elected, school fees for basic supplies could remain free of cost to parents or be reinstated, or increased. Field trip and enrichment experience fees (such as artists in residence) would continue to be paid by families.

3) Transportation Fees - depending on which party is elected, busing fees could remain similar to what they currently are or they could increase as funding is decreased from the government, possibly as much as double what they currently are

4) Curriculum changes - depending which party is elected, Alberta students Kindergarten to Grade 4 (the configuration of our school) will begin to learn under the guidelines of a brand new curricula that has been over 10 years in development and planning (this work was started in 2008), or it could be delayed and an older version of the School Act enacted instead, or it could be cancelled and the process could start all over. Currently, the newest curricula that guides students' learning are 20 years old and the oldest curricula are almost 40 years old.  

5) Complex Learners - depending on which party is elected, support for complex learners (students with identified learning, medical or social/emotional needs) could decrease significantly, stay about the same or increase somewhat at some point, following consultation with teachers and parents. At least one political platform made no reference to either complex learners or English Language Learners at all, so it is hard to know what might happen to funding if that party is elected. 

6) The GSA controversy -  depending on which party is elected, students may have the option to join clubs as they choose or they may not, particularly when it comes to GSAs (just to clarify, under the current legislation there is no obligation for teachers to tell parents if their student joins a GSA but every teacher is able to contact any parent if they have any concerns about a student - academic or non-academic, including social/emotional concerns)

From my perspective, every possible implication identified above will have an effect on every child in one way or another, whether it is directly through decreased funding for complex learners or increased transportation and school fees or limiting the scope of possible preparation for future learning and employment in a rapidly changing world or limiting students' freedoms of engagement.

Every school will, of course, live with whatever the outcome is - I have lived through many years of leadership telling parents the hard news that supports that were in place one year have simply disappeared the next even though their child's challenges have not, and I have worked alongside teachers in many situations where we were as creative as possible to engage students in learning when the funding reductions meant we were conjuring learning activities from dryer lint if need be. Education survives because children must be taught and become future-ready. Do I truly believe the children who went through schools in the 'lean years' got the same quality of education as those who went through school in the 'giving years'? Well, I will leave that to your imagination and ability to recognize the bamboozles when they are offered as a choice. 

Education funding in Alberta receives fewer dollars per student than it did in 2011, despite funding for growth over the past four years. We have experienced many significant cuts since 1993 and even the increases put in place in the early 2000's were not enough for us to gain ground and actually catch up to where we should have been. We have been making do with less for almost as long as I am able to remember across my teaching career. That is not, nor should ever be, acceptable for our learners and the future of our province and our world.

Please vote and, when considering your vote, please consider these five essentials of elementary education when you are exploring your candidate's platforms. Don't be bamboozled - be informed :)

Thanks so much - and happy voting!

Lorraine Kinsman, Principal

April 05
It's the Last Term of the School Year - What Should Parents Expect?

Each school is a unique organism comprised of the collective struggles, history and hopes of the community it serves. There's no sweeping 'fix' for education, just as there is no curriculum that will work for all students. The only 'fix' is getting knee-deep in the humanity of it all!"

Dr. Amy Fast

Following several months writing hiatus (since December/18), I have found my way back to the Principal's Blog, a place where I can share some thoughts about learning and the school in greater detail on particular topics :)  I am happy to be back!

Also happy to be entering the final term of what has certainly been a very busy and productive school year at EHS - our third full year of operation. As we finished with our second set of parent/teacher/student Conferences just before Spring Break began, I was delighted to listen to the stories from the students and parents as they spoke of the tremendous learning experiences they shared, bringing so many of their moments of learning together in projects and exemplars that delighted, baffled and amazed - and occasionally all at the same time! As we enter the final three months of this school year, there are many things on our horizon, so I thought I would take this opportunity to sketch a bit of a road map of what EHS families might expect in the coming 12 weeks.

Calgary Campus/Open Minds Full Week Off Campus Learning for Grades 1/2 students
Beginning April 1/19, all of our Grade 1/2 students will be participating in numerous (8) week-long, off-campus learning experiences, all associated with concepts and ideas associated with the idea of 'play' and explored through multiple curricular lenses. Because of our flexible Pod structure, students have been able to participate in whichever CC/OM experience they are most interested in - the Glenbow Museum, Telus Spark Science Centre, the Calgary Zoo or VIVO across both the Kindness and Joy Pods. Mrs. Ross will be taking the first group to the Glenbow this first week back, and Mrs. Sigurdson will be taking the first group to the Telus Centre. While these groups are away, the remaining students in the Pods will continue with their daily learning endeavours under the guidance of the teachers remaining at the school (in this case, Mrs. Bowles, Mr. Kelly and Ms. Chang in the Joy Pod). The students have been working very hard to prepare for their time at each learning centre and we can't wait to hear all about their adventures and new understandings!

WP Puppeteers
Our final Artist in Residency experience for this school year will take place in early May for 12 days when WP Puppeteers comes to visit and spend time with us bringing our stories, our documentaries and our imaginings to life using puppets! We are in the process of planning for this exciting experience and look forward to seeing the students thrive as they continue to develop their extensive artistic skills and attitudes!

Our 4 Kindergarten classes will bring our swimming lessons for this school year to a close towards the end of April when they participate in their postponed swimming lessons at Shouldice Pool. Swimming is always a delightful experience for the students and the Kindies are very much looking forward to getting wet and learning to swim with style!

Wonder Time, Science Olympics, Peace Assemblies
Wonder Time offers students opportunities to pursue interesting opportunities using design thinking they would not necessarily attain in their classroom learning. It happens Friday mornings - at least, the Friday mornings when we don't have Peace Assemblies or other events scheduled!  Mr. Simmons has taken the lead with the Science Olympics while Ms. Huebner is away on leave and the students will be meeting every Monday & Wednesday over the lunch hours as they prepare for their busy and exciting event in mid-May! Peace Assemblies continue, with our next event planned for Friday, April 12/19, presented by the Hope Pod.

Guest Author Sheree Fitch
Poet and author Sheree Fitch will be the Keynote Speaker at this year's Calgary Young Writers' Conference on April 27/19 and she is visiting our students on April 26th! We are the only school she will be visiting in Calgary this year so we are delighted to be able to welcome her warmth and humour to our school! There are 15 students from grade 4 who will be attending the Conference at Robert Thirst High School - an amazing experience every single year for students!

Grade 4 Students Transitioning to TMC & Farewell
Our Grade 4 students begin their transition to TMC and Grade 5 this month with a morning visit on April 11/19. This will be followed by a few more visits and shared events, including the Grade 4 Farewell Adventure day with Tuscany Grade 4 students - watch for details to come! Parents will be invited to TMC at a later date with their children to become familiar with changes in programming and how to prepare for Grade 5 as well. And our Diversity Team will be meeting with TMC's Resource and Leadership Team to ensure smooth transitions for all our students, including those with complex learning needs. It's going to be a busy three months for sure!

Welcome to Kindergarten Open House May 2, 2019
Information has been sent to families with children entering Kindergarten in the fall regarding our Welcome to Kindergarten Open House for parents on May 4/19. Children are not invited to this event since it is definitely adult-oriented, but there will be a day in June for all the new Kindergarten students to attend school briefly and begin to become aware of the realities of their new world of learning!

Student-Led Learning Walk, May/19
Our final Student-Led Learning Walk will take place in May - we are finalizing the date very soon and will let families know ASAP.  All our SLLW events are intended to invite parents to see the progression of learning across the Kindergarten - Grade 4 span of learning and students are always so excited to share their understandings and projects with each other as well as their families!

Celebration Of Learning - the Year in Video!
Students have been building skills in their Learners' Toolkits of reading, writing, mathematical reasoning and applying critical thinking skills all through the school year. Included in this learning has been developing skills with videotaping, script writing, framing photos, etc. under the expert tutelage of Mr. Kelly as well as our enormously talented teaching staff. On June 20/19 we will be hosting our Video Celebration of Learning and look forward to welcoming you to the school to celebrate your child's amazing abilities to pull everything together into an outstanding representation of their skills and knowledge - and this includes all students from Kindergarten to Grade 4!

Summer Sports Day & Steve Harmer, Peaceful Magician
Our Summer Sports Day is scheduled for June 25th and we are hoping for a gorgeous, sunshine-filled day where we can try out all our summer sports equipment (including, perhaps, our new Big Blue Blocks!). On the last day of school, Wednesday, June 26/19, we have a half day and, as always, will welcome Magician Steve Harmer to send us on our way with messages of kindness, peace and summer joy!

Anticipated School Changes to Watch For...
Over the next three months, we will be working to make more effective use of Power School within our elementary school to better inform parents about what students are studying, learning about and trying to develop skills around as the school year unfolds. This is in anticipation of significant changes to how we assess and report using Power School in the fall, the long-anticipated changes to curriculum and the resultant changes that will come about to the report card in 2020-21. 

For the remainder of this school year, we are very happy to announce Mrs. Chrissy McLean has returned from maternity leave to teach Gr. 3/4 in the Hope Pod, and that Mrs. Kate Shepherd will continue to teach in the Kindness Pod through to the end of the school year, replacing Mrs. Blenkhorn who is on an extended leave. Ms. Asra Khan, we are happy to report, will be staying on through to the end of the school year in Kindergarten as well, since Mrs. Mask's maternity leave has been extended through to the end of June. We are sad to say farewell to Mr. Kai (Beaudette-Hodsman) and want to say a huge THANK YOU! to him for all the amazing work he accomplished with the students in the Hope Pod while Mrs. McLean was home with her family. We wish him well and hope we will continue to see him often at EHS!

As we move into the planning stages for the next school year, there are many, many unknowns. No budgets or timelines have been finalized yet, having been placed on hold once the election was called. Once we have a budget and timeline, we will hopefully begin planning in earnest for next school year. As families know, this year we introduced the Pod system to support students and are very pleased to report that our individual student achievement indicators show significant improvement in student learning in reading and math as a result of this structure. However, there have been some glitches and concerns that we are hoping to address as we begin to plan for fall. Class lists are started to be created until mid-June when many variables have been sorted through, and families will not know whose class a student has been assigned to until Friday, August 30/19 after 1:00 pm so we are best able to accommodate all incoming and outgoing students accurately and fairly. We do not know yet which teachers will be staying and which will make moves to different schools or teaching assignments, but we do know we will be welcoming back Mrs. Bates, Mrs. Day and Mrs. Mask from maternity leaves for September, and Mrs. Coulson and Mrs. Kallie Campbell sometime later in the school year.  That's about the best we can do at this point, to make guesses for the fall :)

It is going to be a busy and productive three months and I now those months will fly by as quickly as the winter months did! We hope to see our families volunteering in the school and at our many events over the coming months.  Wishing everyone a lovely spring!

Lorraine Kinsman
December 03
​Getting Schooled in the Wonders of Play :)

"Through play, children learn societal roles, norms, and values and develop physical and cognitive competencies, creativity, self-worth and efficacy. Play has been described as the work of children which helps them develop intrinsic interests, learn how to make decisions, problem-solve, exert self-control, follow rules, regulate emotions, and develop and maintain peer relationships. Risk taking in play helps children test their physical limits, develop their perceptual-motor capacity, and learn to avoid and adjust to dangerous environments and activities." (Mariana Brussoni, Ph.D.)

"To provide for and allow children to play rough without injury, teachers need to understand how rough play is different from aggression, as well as about how to offer it in a safe and supportive environment." (Carlson 2009)

Every school year brings new learnings for me as a principal - I call it 'wonder learning' because I never get to pick the topic!  It seems like each school year brings a whole new set of challenges not encountered before - and this year, a great deal of my new insights have been about play - who knew there was so much to learn!

I confess that play is something I have always pretty much taken for granted - I was pretty good at it as a child (at least as I recall :) and have always loved the various forms of play my children and grandchildren have engaged in over the years - particularly when they invite me to play too! As a teacher, play has been an integral part of learning and I have long been a strong advocate for playgrounds, playing fields, outdoor ice rinks and any sort of gymnasium, climbing walls or other apparatus kids could have a good time with in every community. Growing up in Nova Scotia, there was no shortage of places to play - including a large community playground, ball fields and both an ice rink and curling arena in my small hometown. I cannot recall a time when play wasn't an integral part of my life, nor my children's lives, both inside and outside of home.

As a teacher, I have supervised play, directed play, fundraised for and built playgrounds (7 of them!), planned for and accompanied kids on many kinds of play-related field trip experiences and, on rare occasions, had to interrupt play that simply became too aggressive. I've regulated play and unregulated play and believe in my heart play should not be regulated. Yet it constantly is - don't slide down these hills, don't climb on the playground equipment with your eyes closed, wear a helmet when you ride your bike, for example - for safety.  Which brings us to this school year and how my education has been expanded yet again!

With our focus on Peace Education, our school has a history of very few school ground issues - certainly we are never conflict free as our very human children interact with each other, but the number of physical incidents are usually few and far between since students usually negotiate the school grounds with a high level of success, given the number of 5 - 10 year olds that are gathered in one place all at the same times of the day.  However, this year, it has seemed like there are more instances than usual of physical contact than ever before, sometimes with someone feeling hurt or intimidated, and that has caused us to take a careful look at what is happening - at first, we were worried our school ground was beginning to be a place of negativity and we wondered why - were we somehow promoting an increase in physical contact inadvertently? Did we need more rules around play? Were our expectations of kindness and care suddenly not enough?

We convened a meeting of teachers and thought we would quickly be able to generate a list of 'don'ts and do's' for students. Within 5 minutes, it became very clear that was not going to happen - and here's why: play is not about rules, it's about learning.  And it looks and sounds differently for every child.  We can't fairly restrict play anymore than we would fairly restrict learning. So we embarked on a learning journey that is still ongoing, and here's what we've discovered so far:

1) There are many kinds of play on school grounds

This is probably not a shock to anyone but it is amazing how many different kinds of play happen over an hour on the school grounds!  Some children are very happy to play on the playground equipment and they work out sharing/taking turns quickly. Others want to quietly engage in imaginative play, inventing games and stories with one or two other like-minded friends that sometimes last several days - or maybe just several minutes! Still others want to be involved in organized games like soccer or capture the flag or tag - an excellent endeavour for sure - but one fraught with different interpretations of "the rules" in the absence of skilled referees.  A few are more interested in active play with trucks or shovels, digging and moving dirt and snow, building roads and 'bases' and forts and such. Others are highly interested in free play - chase and tag games that have few rules and involve running around, sometimes shouting at each other, sometimes playfully pushing or jostling each other in the course of the undefined 'game' - a time of competition and fun in the competition (think 'King of the Castle' type activities). 

2) Rules are not the solution

When we first began our discussions, we sought to curtail some forms of play - outlaw aggressive play, frame the way the students interacted with each other as rules of play - a list of Do's and Don'ts.  The problem is - what kinds of play do you overrule?  Andrew Lawson, one of our teachers, studied Boys' Education as the theme of his Masters degree and shared some huge insights with us - about how important active play - or what is known as rough and tumble play (R & T) - is to the healthy development of some boys and girls (about 60% of them) for learning. This was enormous information for many of us - me included - to digest. Some of the research he shared with us included:

•Scientists have proven that boys’ motivation to move is biologically based. During fetal development the male brain becomes wired for movement by their genes and sex hormones from the very beginning. (Brizendine, 2010)

•Boys have more difficulty listening, get more easily bored with the lack of stimulants while learning, require more space when they learn, and need movement to help stimulate their brains and relieve impulsive behavior. (Gurian, 2011)

•Significant brain development differences in boys and girls include, from birth to age six, girls develop faster with habit learning, language processing, fine motor skills, and social cognition, while boys, on the other hand, develop faster with spatial-visual discrimination, executive planning related to gross motor movement, visual targeting, and accessing stored information. (Hanlon et al.,1999)

We quickly realized we needed to broaden our perspectives on play - if we had a preponderance of children who needed this physical release through play, how could we foster this safely?

3) Children need to take calculated risks for healthy development

Mrs. Conley & Mrs. Watterson recently attended a Conference on Play featuring Dr. Mariana Brussoni, one of the developers of the website "Outside Play.ca"  https://outsideplay.ca/

 Dr. Brussoni explains:

"What is risky play?

Outdoor play is a basic childhood need and taking risks is a necessary part of play. Whether jumping in a pile of leaves, climbing a tree, or playing street hockey, children are often happiest when playing. These kinds of experiences are a lot less common for kids today. Our worries and desire to protect our kids can result in setting too many limits on them, which can interfere with healthy development. Risky play can have many different shapes but always involves the thrill and excitement of testing yourself and finding out what happens.  Ways kids can engage in risky play include play with heights, play at high speeds, play with tools, play near elements, play with a chance of getting lost, rough and tumble play.

More and more research is showing that risky play is important for children’s health, development and well-being – kids can build resilience, self-esteem, become more physically active, develop their social skills and self-confidence and learn how to manage risks and keep themselves safe."

There is a fascinating virtual journey on the Outside Play.ca website at https://outsideplay.ca/  that parents and adults can engage in that has us examine our own experiences with play and how they developed, as well as how we can encourage our children's full development through play without incurring unsafe risk. I would encourage every parent to go to this website and take the journey - it is a fascinating process of discovery about ourselves and our children!

4. Healthy play rarely translates into aggressive play as students learn to negotiate and speak up

 One of the most interesting statistics we have encountered so far on our school's learning journey about play relates to how seldom rough and tumble play, when engaged in by children who enjoy this kind of play, translates into aggressive play:

•Play fighting escalates to real fighting less than 1% of the time (Schafer & Smith 1996).

•When R&T play does turn to real fighting, escalation typically occurs when participants include children who have been rejected. (Schafer & Smith 1996; Smith, Smees, & Pellegrini 2004)

•More injury occurs during playground play then R&T play

We are still on a learning journey about play at Eric Harvie School. Our Lunchroom Staff have been working hard to develop some new approaches to the lunch hour organized games, as well as working to recognize what is appropriate play and what is not, as are the teaching staff. We are developing a set of guiding ideas for happy, healthy play that we are going to print on posters around the school and for the website, as well around the school grounds.  From these guidelines, we intend to work with our students to help them understand how to join in play successfully and also to say 'no' successfully when they do not want to play a particular kind of game at all.  Part of successful play is for children to understand what kinds of play exist and what they like to do themselves when they are on the school grounds.

As we learn more, we will share more with our parents and families. For our Parent Information Night in February, Play will figure prominently alongside Literacy and Math - who knew we all had so much to learn about play?!

I want to thank Andrew Lawson for his contributions to this blog, and to Brian Simmons for checking out Dr. Brussoni's website for us and getting our attention around how own experiences and attitudes influence how we perceive play amongst children.  We've been reading many different sources related to the intricacies of play with our 21st century children as well, and hope you will find this topic as interesting and stimulating for prompting conversations as the teachers and staff at EHS have over the past few weeks :)

Lorraine Kinsman, Principal

November 19
Why we don't tell you the level of reading your child is at anymore :)

"It’s hard enough to be a kid. They have lots of things to worry about: parents, friends, sports, grades, etc. Reading can be an escape from those worries, just like it is for adults; it’s a way to relax and plunge yourself into someone else’s world for a little while. But what happens when a child finds out that they’re not reading on the “same level” as the other children? What does that even mean to them? It’s not good, they know that. Reading has now become another worry to add to the pile of worries."  Fountas & Pinnell Blog

Testing is not teaching. 

Why do we teach reading?
To perform on a test?

My goal in teaching reading is always to establish a foundational life skill that will enhance life and learning forever.

Children deserve no less.

Students do not learn to read from teachers' testing their reading so we, as teachers, need to carefully consider how much time we are investing in testing when we could be teaching. What information are we trying to collect from the test that will help the student learn going forward? Is it information that could be collected incidentally as we work with them, or is it information that can only be determined from a test? 

If we treat testing like it is more important than learning, children pick up on that message and do not value the joy of reading as much as their performance on the test. 

Perhaps the greatest challenge has been in broadening our perspectives about what reading actually means. 

Most of us who are already adult, accomplished readers immediately identify knowing letters, sounds and phonics (how we put letters and sounds together to make words) as fundamental to learning to read. We would be partially right - it's pretty hard to read unless you can recognize letters have sounds and that putting letters together makes words that carry meaning.  But reading is so much more than identification of words because reading must include meaning. 

Keeping this understanding of reading as a balance between recognizing letters/sounds/words and making meaning of text is essential to developing readers who are skilled at saying the words as well as making sense of the text. 

When we focus overly on decoding, children understand that is what is the most important skill and they focus their energy on trying to sound out the word, often interrupting their thinking about what came before the word they are struggling with, and then any meaning they might have had is lost. And there are many strategies that support making sense of the letters/sounds/words that do not require actual decoding - partly because the strategy of decoding letters/sounds is only reliable about half the time. However, when students don't know their letters/sounds or how to put them together into words, they rely overly on other clues such as pictures, limited, known sight words, or a 'take a guess' strategies that are unreliable for extracting detail and understanding from the text. 

It is when we approach reading from the perspective of making sense of text using a wide variety of strategies and allow children opportunities to interact with each other and share reading that we foster best environments for growing successful, accomplished young readers.

The history of teaching young children to read is long, varied and controversial - even defining what reading actually is can be controversial and certainly how success in learning to read is measured can spark heated debate amongst educators, parents, researchers and anyone who has ever learned to read!  Studying the history of teaching reading (something I have been doing seriously for the last twenty years!) reveals the impossibility of the task - there are literally hundreds of thousands of research articles, opinion articles and books that have been written and published over the past fifty years alone - all offering advice on the 'best way' to teach a child to read.

The problem is not the research, nor the opinions, nor the personal stories of those who of us who have all experienced the 'learning-to-read' process ourselves.  The problem, as I have come to understand it, is that learning to read is always a highly personalized experienceand does not look nor sound like the journey of the person sitting beside you in school or at the hockey game or on the bus. There are similarities for sure, but there are usually more differences in the journey - and therein lies the problem - too much research, opinion, story-telling is focused on trying to generalize what is clearly a non-generalizable, very specific and personalized experience.

Over the years, teachers of young children (and Eric Harvie teaches pretty much only young children as a Kindergarten - Grade 4 institution) have long sought out the 'best' ideas for teaching reading as researchers have tried hard to narrow down and pinpoint the exact best practices. There have been literally academic and societal 'reading wars' over how to think about and teach reading - which speaks to how extraordinarily important learning to read is for both human and vocational success in life. 

This isn't a hit-or-miss endeavour - young children need to get this right, for learning to read is simply the most important and basic academic skill required to advance the quality of life for humanity. There is no 'oh well, try something else' - reading is an 'IT' skill - every child needs to be a good reader to succeed in virtually all areas of our modern life.

My experiences with teaching reading formally spans a 30-year career and 3 academic degrees, as well as over 40 years parenting, and my own experiences of learning to read.  I am passionate about teaching reading - I can't imagine anything else I would rather do, learn about or spend my life doing. And I don't have any answers - can't find them anywhere - that generalize well enough to meet the needs of every child.

This is where the problem of labelling students as readers at a particular level has emerged - the impact of being labelled with a level has ultimately created a much greater detrimental effect on students than the simple act of trying to determine what level of books are appropriate for them to be reading. In fact, there are numerous studies that repeatedly demonstrate telling students what their level of reading is causes them to lose interest in reading, reduce self-confidence, give up trying to learn. 

Perhaps of greater importance is the fact there are no universally determined reading levels that are standardized and applied to the commercially produced reading assessments used so prevalently in schools across North America - reading levels are idiosyncratic to the developers of the particular leveling systems being used and are not generalizable to curriculum or social expectations in geographic areas of the world. They are arbitrary and carry impact for learning only to the extent we allow them to with our students. What has meaning with one type of assessment in one school does not carry the same meaning in another school or with another test. When we put value on the assessment rather than on the learning being accomplished by the child, we are implicitly saying this test is more valuable than this child's learning journey. As teachers and parents we need to be very cautious with this approach - it is not the level that has value, it is the learning that has occurred.

In 2004, when the Fountas & Pinnell Levelled Reading Assessment system was first introduced to me as an Assistant Principal in a K-6 school, it seemed like the most important information for supporting student reading I had encountered in the 15+ years I had been teaching. Finally, there was a way to say 'at/above/below' grade level, a way to identify where the strengths/challenges were and what to teach next that was based on what children were doing rather than a structured basal reading series. It seemed like the 'answer' to the reading assessment questions that had been swirling around for years!

And some of that has held up over the years - it is is still one way to identify the strengths/challenges and what to teach next, but there have been many other strategies developed that are just as useful for identifying these as well.  What has become abundantly clear is that the F & P levels are idiosyncratic to their own assessment system (which is also very costly); they are based on American student research, not Canadian; and the levels do not correspond to the Alberta - or any other - Canadian program of study or curricular expectations.  So when we test a child using the F & P system, identify that child as reading at a particular level and then describe that child as being at/below/above 'grade level' we are actually basing that assessment on data obtained from tests that do not measure what they are supposed to measure according to the Alberta Language Arts Program of Study - in the same ballpark but not the same game. 

And then there are the notably harmful effects of 'leveling' readers as noted above by Fountas & Pinnell themselves - the effects that snuff out the enjoyment and passion for reading, do not acknowledge the personal nature of each person's learning to read experience, limit risk taking with choosing to read unfamiliar texts and cause all of us - teachers, parents and students - to over-rely on the implications of the reading levels rather than truly dig deep with children to build strong, independent, skilled readers who do not care about levels but are enthusiastic readers.

The Fountas & Pinnell Reading Assessment System is, of course, only one example of several 'levelled reading' programs available for purchase and use as reading assessment tools by schools. At EHS, we continue to use the program as part of an overall larger, comprehensive collection of reading assessment strategies, but we no longer share this information with parents as a summative assessment statement - it is, instead, part of our ongoing formative assessment work with students and is used much more judiciously as needed than a few years ago when we arbitrarily used it to test students quite frequently throughout the school year.  

Children who choose books on topics or adventures or relationships they would like to learn more about are interested in the content of the story and use whatever reading strategies they know to make sense of the story structure, vocabulary, events, characters, setting, charts, graphs, maps and other text features. They are making connections, asking questions, predicting, analyzing, inferring, synthesizing and approaching reading as an intrinsically valuable, interesting thing to engage in on multiple levels. 

When we limit a child's reading to books written in a particular set of parameters that limit vocabulary and text complexity to fit within a 'level' we are saying to them that to be fluent and accurate with words is more important than being engaged in the meaning of the text. And this is a dangerously slippery slope if we truly want to develop readers who will read for life as an enjoyable experience as well as a learning experience.

This is not to say that knowing a child's reading 'level' - regardless of the assessment testing system - is not a valuable tool in the teaching toolkit because there is definitely value in this from a teacher's perspective. We need to know a students' accuracy, fluency and approaches to decoding and making sense of text.  We need to know they can track text from left to right, be attentive to punctuation, make sense of unfamiliar words, identify fiction from non-fiction, understand genre, recognize when graphs or charts or captions are used in a text and why.  And a test can quickly allow us to locate the approximate skill level of a student when we need this information. 

Often, so can sitting beside them and listening to them read. Or observing them as they read with a partner. Or self-select a text to read independently from the classroom library. The reality is that children send us bits of information all the time about their reading at school and at home - from recognizing the environmental print of the McDonald's sign at the local mall to reading a headline at the supermarket checkout to noting the ingredients of the recipe for Saturday's dinner to choosing a book independently in the Learning Commons or local library or selecting tonight's read aloud before bed.  

Learning to read is a highly personalized experience and no two children take the identical route at the same time. Learning to read is also a highly social experience of reciprocity - children who share stories and make sense of text together are able to make the most of what the collaborative experience of reading together and sharing ideas, expertise and strategies has to offer. Generalized, communal learning across a classroom or group of students is undoubtedly vital, but there must also be much room for focus and specificity for what each child needs next to continue growing as a reader. 

Testing for reading levels has now taken it's rightful place as one of the tools a teacher may choose to use to inform the next best teaching for a particular child, along with multiple other approaches to understanding those needs as well. What parents and students need to understand is a much bigger picture - the progress a child has made already and what their next steps are in becoming more accomplished as a reader, their level of interest in reading and how they choose texts to interact with, how students approach text for meaning and what strategies they are using to make sense of the text rather than just decoding the words.  

When we don't talk about levels, we talk about the child and how s/he is progressing, what strategies they are using, what the next steps are in developing reading proficiencies (usually an array of letter/sound and text strategies), what their interests in reading are, what they understand about how text is organized and how to make sense of it as they read. This is the important information we need to share about our students, not how they performed on an arbitrary test.

Lorraine Kinsman
November 11
Why Our Kids Need to Honour Remembrance Day

"Our society must make it right and possible for old people not to fear the young or be deserted by them, for the test of a civilization is the way that it cares for its' helpless members." - Pearl S. Buck

"I try to understand what it is that we have gained. We can be who we are We can reach for the stars And be anything... We can go anywhere we want Have any friends we want... These are here for me because of you. What can I do to say thank you? I'll remember you." - Diana Ward (Remembrance Day Child)

This week our grade 3/4 students will present a 2018 Remembrance Day Ceremony on November 9th, one of the most powerful moments of the school year for me.

As a child growing up in Nova Scotia, we held school ceremonies as well, and our family visited the local cenotaph each year for the official Remembrance Day Ceremony too - it is a significant memory for me, with a dad who was in the military. Those were formative years and instilled in me a sense of gratitude for the sacrifices and losses that ensured I had the good fortune to live in a democratic country where choice was something I could take for granted.

Flash forward many years, five children and six grandchildren later, and the subject of Remembrance Day has come up numerous times across the generations. The concept of soldiers dying to protect our freedom in Canada has lost some of it's potency, buried in the milieu of a world smothered in so many instances of violence for numerous, often unfathomable reasons that's it's hard to imagine a time when things seemed as simple as understanding soldiers died fighting to guarantee we remained a free country. It is actually because we inhabit this world full of complexities that I believe it is essential our kids need to continue to honour Remembrance Day as simply and forthrightly as possible.

While imagining a war fought with very limited technology, in hand-dug trenches, and with weaponry systems that included horses, is the stuff of imaginations today, the freedoms attained through the sacrifices of the men whose reality was exactly that, are very real to the children of today. Freedom to choose their own friends at will, pursue a career of choice, where they want to live, the music they will listen to, the books they want to read, the clothes they want to wear, to travel anywhere they can imagine, the games they want to play - these are tangible benefits of quality living that would all be in jeopardized without the sacrifices of two wars fought in Europe a century and well over 7 decades ago. Children may not be able to identify fully with the realities of those wars but they are certainly able to understand and appreciate all they have in their everyday lives.

In a world where outward expressions of hatred, violence, intolerance and injustice are becoming more and more mainstream, it is important to take a moment to remember there was a time when the world was fighting against the very social actions that are now championed in many parts of the world. Democracy appears to be changing - rather than a way to embrace acceptance of all, it seems to be now more like a vehicle for erecting boxes of correctness and exclusion; no longer does democracy imply inclusion. This means there is much room for continued fighting - hopefully not in wars, but through actions of peace and acceptance, spread by individuals who understand the value of loving, valuing and appreciating each other because all humans are different, not because we are in some artificial ways, the same.

This is why our children must never forget - in fact, their futures depend on never forgetting - why two great wars were fought, sacrifices were made and the world was changed for the better. Because the work is not complete - as long as humanity survives, there will be work to do to promote acceptance, to foster love and bring humans together in common effort, shared joy and open embrace.

Lorraine Kinsman, Principal

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 Lorraine Kinsman

Lorraine Kinsman

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