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October 15
Why Reading at Home Makes Such a Difference for Children Learning to Read

                   

'When we read to our children, they are doing more work than meets the eye. "It's that muscle they're developing bringing the images to life in their minds"...researchers saw increased connectivity between - and among - all the networks they were looking at: visual perception, imagery, default mode and language.'  - Anya Kamenetz (2018) 


I am exploring the phenomenon of 'home reading' in this blog (see previous entries: 
 Strategies for Home Reading with A Child - What Makes Sense for a Parent? (Sept. 23/19)
Reading at Home with Early Readers (Sept. 29/19)
Hopefully, these entries will help families support this enormously important and relatively untapped resource for helping children develop  as lifelong, successful readers.


I am always hopeful children are being read to at home from the time they are infants - hearing a parents voice, being cuddled on a lap to share a story - are enormously important aspects of social-emotional development and, in an ideal world, extending these read aloud experiences into a more child-centered opportunity for learning to read is a natural progression. In an ideal world - but, in truth, how many of us get to live in an ideal world?


Transitioning from read aloud to reading independently often takes a few years, to be honest. Hearing the language is the start of something amazing as parents read aloud to their child, and once they begin to take on the tasks of making sense of text, parents' reading to them is like a magical magnet that attracts them to increasingly complex text, ideas and genres they initially have challenges making sense of on their own. There are four distinct brain networks that work together to help children make sense of stories and written information - visual perception, imagery, default mode and language (Hutton, 2018). 


When we read aloud to our children, their language mode is activated and when we share the pictures with them, they begin to develop greater visual perception. The brain naturally connects the two to build imagery skills and strategies so children can virtually begin to 'see' a story or idea in their minds as we read the words to them. These images might mirror the pictures associated with the text, or extend to include other images that remind them of what is in the story and, ultimately, allow them to create original images spurred by the words they are hearing but completely original and of their own creation. The default mode network describes areas of the brain that become active outside the task at hand when a child's attention strays from concentrating on a task or activity (in other words, what children are thinking of when they are not focused on using listening, visual or imagination strategies and skills). The act of reading to a child reinforces the importance of staying attentive to the activity at hand, and this is where we want the default mode to be strongest - with working to stay focused on a task. 


At the same time, when parents are reading to children, there is a natural 'dialogic reading' taking place as well. This is the act of pointing out specific words or pictures, asking questions of children (such as: 'where is the mouse now?') This exchange between parent and your child helps build significant bonding between both, both emotionally and physically, which is essential for a child's healthy growth and development. Reading to and with a child has many benefits, academically, emotionally and physically. 


The most effective reading aloud activities involve both reading and sharing pictures associated with a text. This offers children immediate and obvious connections between text and pictures or photographs, and begins to foster greater acuity with both visual perception development and imagery. Moving from the stage of reading to a child to beginning to connect pictures and words is how we make the first steps toward learning to read, and this may be the stage a child is at as they enter Kindergarten and the first rumblings about 'home reading' begin to surface. 


Research has shown us that of all the options available for sharing stories with children, a parent reading to them and sharing the pictures in the book is the most effective. While many other options exist today for children to engage in stories - including audio books or animated online videos and stories - the evidence clearly indicates the most effective read aloud experiences involve reading text and sharing pictures. Hutton's research (2018) indicates this is the most effective strategy for activating all four areas of the brain networks needed to develop as successful readers, and further states 'with animation, it's all dumped on them all at once and they don't have to do any of the work...the imagery and default mode networks mature later, and it takes practice to integrate these with the rest of the brain. With animation, you may miss an opportunity to develop them." Children who are consistently exposed to animation rather than reading text with pictures may be at risk for immature development of brain integration of the visual perception, language, imagery and default network mode connections essential to becoming a proficient reader as a child grows. 


Reluctant readers - or those children who balk at trying to read words or engage in self-reading strategies - are often those most overwhelmed by the demands of processing language through these four brain networks. They struggle to generate mental pictures of what they are reading or being read and are much less reflective about story content or information. Usually they need the most practice with bringing the visual, verbal and imagery clues together and their default network mode generally is more distracted by other things so they lose track of what they are doing. Reluctant readers often need much greater exposure to these transitional kinds of read aloud, read aloud with pictures and dialogic reading as they attempt to build brain strengths in making sense of language through practice, practice, practice. 


Once a child has demonstrated they understand the connections between text and pictures, either with a parent or older sibling or grandparent reading to and with them, concrete associations between text and words (such as drawing, labelling, re-creating a story with loose parts, acting out a story, beginning to sequence a story in pictures and then words) all lead the early reader to a sense making, connected way of gathering meaning from text. These are the early stages of the home reading experience and do not require a formal invitation from a teacher for participation. Early reading books abound in libraries and bookstores, available for parents to use independently at home as they begin to foster these early reading skills through less formal but still highly beneficial acts of home reading. The teacher does not necessarily need to select a book for a student - a child is quite capable of choosing a book they are interested in and would like to share with a parent. Repeating the patterns of 'reading' text as the child engages with the story in a multitude of readings and experiences are essential for developing interests in learning to read and skills that will eventually bring all the learning networks in the brain together to become a proficient reader.



Lorraine Kinsman, Principal ​​

October 15
What Do Parents Need to Notice and Know about Home Reading?

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"Reading is the most important subject in school. Why? Because a child needs reading in order to master most of the other subjects. It's extremely difficult to do word problems in math if you can't read the words. How can you answer the questions in social studies or science if you can't read or understand the textbook?"  

                                                               - Jim Trelease (The Read Aloud Handbook)



Although I think it is a great idea to involve parents with supporting the learning of reading at home, I am puzzled why there is sometimes an automatic assumption parents will know what to do to best support their children with home reading. Or, at least it seems to me that this is often the case - teachers send home numerous emails/letters/notes/etc near the beginning of the school year indicating what's expected of parents to support home reading and then there is the assumption all will proceed according to plan. But who's plan? And how? There is great potential in home reading, I think, but also considerable peril in assuming support at home is homogenous or even accessible. 


Over the course of this school year, my goal is to really explore options and possibilities presented by home reading opportunities - because I really do think this is a most exciting way for parents and children to connect in the pursuit of the most important learning a child might acquire.  Somehow though, I think we need to re-navigate the purpose and the practicalities of home reading to help all of us - parents, teachers and children - to see this as a valuable, engaging and beneficial learning adventure!


This is the time of year to begin exploring the home reading options schools offer, for not every school suggests home-supported reading while others have well-established expectations for both parents and students. Parents will need to take note of school or classroom expectations related to home reading, and might be interested in asking logistical questions of teachers, such as:

  • do you have expectations students will read at home?
  • if so, how often?
  • what are the requirements associated with home reading in your class?
  • where do the children get their home reading books? who chooses them?
  • how frequently should reading at home happen? are there page requirements, or specific chapters, that are required reading on a daily basis? 
  • what is the expected structure for reporting home reading - or is there one? do parents need to sign a reading log daily? do students need to write in response to what they have read? if so, how often?
  • what about busy nights at home - how do they get accounted for with home reading?
  • how are books borrowed and returned to school?
  • are children allowed/encouraged to read books from home?
  • who should read with the student? (any family member? different or same family members? 
  • is there a reading log to complete? who is responsible for it? what if it comes home unsigned by the school? or to school unsigned by the parent?
  • will participating in home reading improve the child's grade or is the expectation it will improve performance but is not given consideration as a grade overall?  



Once parents feel they have a satisfactory understanding of the logistics expected related to home reading, there are some other considerations that require attention before home-supported reading can proceed successfully. These considerations are primarily about your child and their current status and progress as a reader:


  • what is my child's relationships with books at home?
  • where is my child as a reader? What is a most favourite book they like to read or to have read aloud to them? Can they explain why they love that particular story?
  • Do they like to be read to already? Are they attempting any reading on their own? Or do they require a nudge to try reading on their own? 
  • Do they choose favourite books to read independently? Or are they reluctant to choose one on their own, for whatever reason?  
  • what is my relationship with my child regarding reading? Do we already struggle to find time to read together? Is reading a pleasant past time or a struggle? Do I find it frustrating to read with my child already?
  • has my child memorized any favourite short books at home, 'pretend reading' them to me? 
  • how accessible are books for my child at home? Are there children's books in our home? Do we visit a public library on occasion? Where does my child choose their books from - either to read independently or to listen to as a read aloud
  • does my child already listen to books digitally? 
  • are there favourite genres my child prefers (such as sports, adventure, how-to books, etc)



I believe home reading could become a considerable struggle with limited benefits for both child and parent if these pre-considerations are overlooked. While home reading is not, in my opinion, in any way an abdication of teaching responsibilities to parents (as I once was asked), it definitely has a much greater chance of being a successful support for students if it is invested in with care and attention prior to actually beginning to become an expectation between home and school.  This is the time of year to be attentive to exploring such pre-conditions - it is always better to begin an adventure when you have a good sense of the terrain ahead!


Lorraine Kinsman,

Principal



October 15
Strategies for Home Reading with A Child - What Makes Sense for a Parent?


 

"Reading can be a very fraught topic for parents, teachers and students...At its heart, reading is a way to access stories, which in turn make readers wonder about the world. In the race to get kids reading, it can be easy to treat reading like a procedure, instead of the complicated experience that it is."- Katrina Schwartz


I have begun exploring the phenomenon of 'home reading' in this blog (see previous entries: Snapshot: How Home Reading Became One More Thing on the 'To Do List' for Families (Sept. 8, 2019)  and What Do Parents Need to Notice and Know about Home Reading? (Sept. 15, 2019). Hopefully, they will help families support this enormously important and relatively untapped resource for supporting the development of lifelong, successful readers.


Parents who understand the expectations of their child's school related to home reading, and have explored the nature of book-finding and reading already established in their homes, have cleared the first hurdle in supporting the development of an avid, successful reader. They are ready to launch the home reading program, and are now faced with questions related to 'What do I now?  What does reading at home with my child look and sound like in actual fact?' or something similar. 

The 'what do I do now?' questions may quickly sink the best of intentions for supporting home reading if they are not answered and incorporated into the home routines appropriately - pushing kids to read without fully considering who they are in advance can lead to frustrations and arguments that may set a negative tone for parents or children that permeates and impacts reading experiences of children well into the future. But it doesn't have to be that way!

Some of the 'what do I do now?' responses are dependent upon the age and previous reading history of the child. Younger children with limited book reading experiences (either read aloud or independent 'reading' of texts) will look and sound quite different from children with established reading routines already. Either way, a good starting question for a parent might be 'How does my child respond during a read aloud experience?' If a child sits quietly and listens, asks questions or interrupts with stories, laughter, questions, etc, then s/he is already demonstrating keen interest in connecting with stories. If they are identifying words they recognize or pointing out particular parts of text (such as a ?) they are demonstrating they are ready to dive into reading with some awareness of text features already under their belts. Let's start with a very basic, not particularly engaged with reading child who may sit willingly for a bit but has not really shown any great interest in learning to read so far.

And, before we go any further, let's state the two DON'Ts for reading with children - not during home reading, choice of read aloud time, or any other time:

                           #1 - Don't cover up the pictures while reading books
                          #2 - Don't insist on accuracy of reading text every time -
                                   the ultimate goal of all reading is comprehension.

Strategies for children with limited read aloud experiences are intended to get the child interested in reading:
  •     encourage your child to choose a book (maybe offer 2 or 3 titles initially)
  •     ask: What do you think this story will be about? Talk with them about their ideas - why? 
  •    have your child hold the book, as they open it you might read the title aloud, pointing to the words; when the inside title appears, begin to read it again and pause to see if the child picks up on the title; if not, continue reading and pointing to the words 
  • when your child turns to the first page of text, ask 'where do you think we should start reading?' and have her point to that spot (hopefully the first word on the left hand side of the page; if not, simply put your finger there and say something like 'here's a good starting spot')
  •  read through the text aloud with your child, pausing to let your child show you in the pictures what you are reading - feel free to prompt with questions like "where is that happening in this picture?" or even just words like 'Really? That happened?' or something similar to get the child looking at the picture and making connections to your words
  • point to each word as you read
  • if your child interrupts to tell you something about the story - a word, a picture, a connection to another story, etc - pause and listen; affirm the connection, point to it with them, read on
  • when you have finished the story, read it again ('I enjoyed that story! Let's read that again!') 
  • through the second reading, pause 3 or 4 times to see if your child is able to follow through on thoughts and ideas from the story; if they are not jumping in with words or ideas from the story, just continue with reading to them 
  • record the reading of the book on the home reading journal if needed; if not, make note of it on an informal reading chart you can make yourself with your child - this helps affirm they are a 'reader'
  • talk about the book briefly: 'my favourite part of this story was.....What was your favourite part? I couldn't believe it when....., etc'
  • read the book at home at least two nights before returning it to school - the objective here is to create memories of texts so if you can keep it for a few weeks, do so
  • if your child wants, they might draw a picture from the story as a memory hook
  • or offer them the opportunity to print out their favourite word on a card you can attach to the fridge or a bulletin board in their room - a place to capture favourite words is always a good idea for future review
  • continue to build a collection of 'favourite stories' your child has chosen and become familiar with at home 
 Another idea for very young children is to post pictures/illustrations of animals or everyday items at a low level around your house (eg. on lower kitchen cupboards) children can identify. Words can be added to support building connections between items and labels and to develop a sight vocabulary. And color words can be added beneath pictures of particular items - written in their own colour would be additionally helpful.

The initial goal of home reading is to build familiarity with text in a non-threatening, welcoming environment. These strategies for early readers are just a few to get started with but will lay an important bedrock for becoming avid, successful readers at home.  

Next week we will visit strategies for supporting readers who are deliberately using text cues independently.

Lorraine Kinsman, Principal

October 15
Reading at Home with Early Readers

"Listening comprehension comes before reading comprehension. You must hear a word before you can say it or read and write it. If you've never head the word "enormous" in a meaningful way, you won't understand it when it's time to read or write it. There's a kind of  "word reservoir" in a child's brain and one of the jobs of a parent is to pour so many words into that it overflows into speech and then into reading and writing."  - Jim Trelease


I am exploring the phenomenon of 'home reading' in this blog (see previous entries: 

 Strategies for Home Reading with A Child - What Makes Sense for a Parent? (Sept. 23/19)

Hopefully, they will help families support this enormously important and relatively untapped resource for supporting the development of lifelong, successful readers.


Last week, the focus for parents was on strategies that could be used to support children with limited read aloud experiences, to help foster interest and enjoyment in reading.


Once children demonstrate familiarity and independence with text, pointing out particular words or sounds, 'reading' a book independently from memory, or attempting to read words on their own, there are many strategies parents can utilize to further support their children on their journey to becoming enthusiastic and competent readers. Here are a few considerations for parents:


-       Most of the time, have your child select the book to read – although this might be from a particular collection of books to ensure s/he is reading something manageable, the power of choice is a strong motivation for enjoying reading


-       Encourage your child to ‘read with you’ – try reading the text together, or in ‘echo’ fashion where you read and track the words while encouraging your child to repeat – or echo read – just behind you. This is great fun if you use different voices or tones, which your child will echo as well J


-       Before beginning to read, suggest trying to find particular words in detective fashion to introduce them to your child. Choose 3 – 5 words and go on a hunt for them in the text, repeating them as you point to them with your child.  This will build familiarity as you read through the text


-       Re-read texts several times to build familiarity with words, characters, story lines

-       If there are repetitive sentences in a story with just one or two words that are different (these are called pattern books and are a popular choice for early readers), play a game looking for what is the same/what is different on each page.


-       Find rhyming words and make up silly rhymes with them - children love rhymes and word families form a core part of learning to read


-       Talk about the stories your child has chosen to read – do they know why they chose a story? Did they like the characters? The setting? The action? What would they change in a story if they could?


-       Video your child reading the story the first time and then several times later; watch the two versions together and ask her what she notices?  Talk about it together.


- continue reading other stories with your children - stories they choose and are interested in - with new vocabulary, ideas or storylines they have not heard before to build up their vocabulary knowledge


Early readers are in a beautiful position to become interested and excited about the experience of learning to read - parents have an amazing opportunity to make reading an enjoyable experience during these months!


Next week's entry will focus on readers who are well launched into becoming avid and proficient readers, as they move into different genres, chapter books multiple forms of literature.


Lorraine Kinsman, Principal



September 09
Snapshot: How Home Reading Became One More Thing on the 'To Do List' for Families

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"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
Principal

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


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RT @6Yycbe: Beautiful sunrise at Haysboro School ⁦@haysboroschool⁩ ⁦⁦@yyCBEduhttps://t.co/AIR4Bj2HG0

Over the course of the 2019-20 school year, we will continue to have conversations with students, parents, and staff to learn from their experiences and to seek their input and suggestions for improvement https://t.co/1dxVU6AFky #yycbe

Earlier this afternoon Chief Superintendent Christopher Usih and Dr. Kent Donlevy presented the results of the independent bullying review https://t.co/eDEeG0t6tA #yycbe https://t.co/wtmXAfoF2c

There are no classes for students on Friday Oct 11 because it is a system-wide non-instructional day. All schools and offices are closed on Monday Oct 14 for Thanksgiving. Have a fun and safe long weekend! #WeAreCBE https://t.co/bDHlmyqQn6