Let’s stop ranking what we consume!

I’m going to treat this post like an Easter egg, and come back to open it later. It contains the seeds of some ideas that need further developing at a later stage.

Something interesting happened this weekend – I got caught up on my marking!

Somewhere in this marathon session, I was abruptly reminded again of a literacy misconception that I’m getting pretty tired of hearing. Here is my attempt at explaining this.

When considering WHAT we consume, this can be broken into the categories of reading, listening and viewing media texts. Within these silos, there are a range of different media types. The misconception comes when people rank these medias in terms of difficulty, and it is as such:

  1. Literary texts – with novels being the ultimate
  2. Informational texts
  3. Graphic texts
  4. Listening
  5. Media texts

I came across this misconception (?) again and again in my marking. I don’t know where it came from. I don’t know how it is perpetuated. And it frustrates me.

There are so many skills required to critically consume these different kinds of texts. And I have no doubt that there are complicated skills required to consume a novel – thus the reason there are entire university degrees devoted to understanding this text type! But to then demote the others texts – I have a problem with that.

I think it goes back to the purpose for consuming. And who doesn’t need to consume these. I’ve mentioned before about my profound sadness walking into a classroom a few years ago (again, I appreciate the privilege of being able to go into other classes) and saw an entire intermediate class with novels in their hands. They were required to all read a novel – and I understand the motivation. The teacher wanted the students to do better in reading – so they had to read novels to make them better readers.

I’m continually haunted by this objective: preparing our students to be literate in the world of tomorrow. Novels have a place – but not for everyone, and not in every situation. The reality is that (most?) people may not read novels in their adult lives (which is a shame, because great fiction teaches us how to be better humans!) so they need to be literate in a variety of text forms.

So in my dreams, when I get the chance for higher study, I’ll look into the complexities involved in consuming these different texts. So now I’ll leave it here.




Consuming Content isn’t Passive!


I’ve been considering this idea for a while, and though my thought process was my triggered by a tweet not quite related, I’ve seen this thought expressed a few different ways.

The prevailing thought seems to be this: Consuming content is passive, producing content is active. This dichotomy makes sense, but I think it is wrong. And I want to explain why.

Traditionally, consuming content seems to be like silent reading: a room full of kids, silently (and mindlessly?) reading. Often teachers participated in this, modelling good reading behaviour too and silently reading. Walk into any room participating in this practice and you’ll see a quite group, blessed calm! I see it in my room too. My students love to consume, and the room is quiet, while they read, listen and view media texts. Compare this to the noise and rumbling that inevitably happens when my students are producing: writing, speaking or representing media texts!

What’s missing from this narrative is all the incredibly complex thinking that is going on while consuming! In our Ontario curriculum within the reading, there is a Reading for Meaning strand, that focuses on, among other things, complex strategies to make meaning while consuming: comprehension strategies, demonstrating understanding, extending understanding, making inferences and interpreting texts, analyzing texts and responding to texts. These are complex skills, and tuning into these processes are extremely difficult. Having students pay attention to their thinking – to think about their thinking – is even more difficult!

This complex and active thinking seems to happen so quickly, its tricky to map it out. However, you can clearly see what you’ve produced because your writing, for example, is right in front of you, clear proof of the active work you’ve been doing. It is more difficult to document and prove your thinking while consuming.

This week, my students have been working on strengthening their Extending Understanding skills. Traditionally, this skill has been called Making Connections, but it is much deeper than that. My students have been learning to connect, compare or contrast to other texts, experiences or issues in order to extend their current understanding. This is some pretty deep and sophisticated thinking, that happens in a matter of seconds!

We watched the full Pepsi commercial that is currently getting criticized for it’s tone deaf approach to current protests. My intent was to watch the commercial and discuss whether students could make sense of the outrage against it: do they have any knowledge or schema on the BLM protests, for example? I was hoping that a few students has a cursory knowledge of these protests, along with maybe a knowledge of the Khardashians. If some students did, they would be able to extend their understanding more deeply than students who didn’t.

We watched the video once and then discussed what was going on. Some talked about the different characters: the musician, the photographer and the model, and how they each joined in the protest. What were they protesting? My students didn’t really know – which we then figured was on purpose. One brave student presented her conjecture: Since there was a sign that one protester was carrying said “Join the Conversion!”, this was a protest that was about LGBT rights, since Kendal Jenner, and her family… you know…

This was fascinating! Some students could keep up with her thinking. Others had no idea. Look what her brain did, all in a matter of seconds! Though she mis-read the sign (it is Conversation, not Conversion), she worked hard to construct meaning of this commercial and extend it further by making connections to what she already knew. She actively worked to deeply understand this text, including details about Caitlyn Jenner.

So though we may not easily see it, the brain works very actively to make meaning, regardless of what we are consuming: listening to music or a podcast; reading a novel or a YouTube comment; or viewing a movie trailer or Instagram picture!

So I leave this here for others to consider. I believe both consuming and producing are very active!


Co-constructing our Writing Targets

We’ve just started our third writing pathway, and I’ve shifted our targets!

Teaching Grade 7, I sometime struggle to find exemplars to use for our interactive wall. For our first two pathways, I ended up using Grade 6 EQAO samples to be our levels. Grade 6 gives us 4 different codes (10, 20, 30 & 40) which can be translated to Level 1, 2, 3 & 4. Posting these, it provides a target for the students to work towards.

Now, halfway through our year, I don’t think it is reasonable to keep striving for a target that they should have hit last year. However, the next provincial writing assessment comes in Grade 10 with the OSSLT language assessment, which they must pass in order to graduate from high school. High stakes testing, for sure!

So to launch this latest writing pathway, I had the students attempt a Grade 10 writing task. We then examined the scoring guide in groups. For writing (topic development and organization), EQAO provides 6 different codes: 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, & 60. Our challenge was to align this to our expected Grade 7 expectations: Which code would be a Level 3?

So the target moved, and we decided where to put it. After a long discussion and debate, we decided that a code 50 would be a level 4, code 40 is a level 3, code 30 is a level 2 and a code 20 is a level 1.

This challenged some of my writers to pursue this excellence. This also motivated some of my writers to up their game. And I’m going to be honest, this also overwhelmed some of my more reluctant writers. My job is to monitor and support these students to strive towards these targets.

I’m excited, and so are the kids!


Negotiating Writing Goals

I love teaching writing.

We had a fascinating conversation in class yesterday. We are currently just starting our third writing pathway. We’ve completed a writing assessment, co-constructed our interactive wall and completed a self-assessment on our planning and writing skills, and I’m working my way through my challenge of conferencing with each child to establish writing goals. Yesterday we talked about our writing goals:

Producer’s Workshop

By March 3rd, we will have produced AT LEAST ___ sophisticated written texts:

  • 1+ must focus on research
  • 1+ must involve voice & word choice
  • 2+ must focus on point of view
  • 3+ must be revised.

As of this writing, this gives us about 4.5 weeks to complete these pieces.

Now, I have a really interesting mix of writers in my room. I have some who are just now taking risks in their writing, trying out new and innovative texts. This came out of our conferences in our last pathway. I was so excited to talk to these writers about the pieces they wanted to create and the excitement/anxiety surrounding this risk. I also have a few writers who simply need more practice. They are just now engaging with the writing structures I have in place, and need more practice to get stronger.

So in terms of a magic number, how many texts should we be producing? Some need a smaller number, to allow them the chance to stretch their writing muscles and take the risks that would make them better. Some need a larger number to both keep them motivated and to keep them getting stronger.

So we ended up with 5 as our magic number. However, I am open for re-negotiation for this number. Some I will monitor and ask for more, some will present a case for a smaller number. All part of the process!





Just a little bit of intervention

I’m a little bit competitive. This year, I was challenged (and goaded) into being the FIRST to complete my BAS reading assessments. Well, of course I had to engage (and it was too easy to engage me). Now I’m not proud of my behaviour, but it has given me some really useful information.

BAS class wall.JPG

This is what I discovered. Now, I teach Grade 7. Students should be reading at Level Z. The red squares indicate their current reading level.

So I have a few kids who aren’t currently reading at grade level. However, in conversation with some of these students, it made sense. They didn’t like to read (boring, difficult) and/or didn’t really care to read. For most, the last time a teacher had read with them (with this type of assessment) was in Grade 3. This makes sense. A running record is expected in Primary grades. In Junior, not so much. In intermediate, practically unheard of.

So I am responding with just a bit of intervention. My biggest intervention is telling them where they are currently at, along with where they should be. I be sure to stress a Growth Mindset: this is something you can change. With hard work, your reading abilities will improve. With these students, I feel that there isn’t an underlying learning issue. I think they just need to read. So I get them to read. I given them leveled books, along with their own choice, and get them to read.

I’ll re-do the assessment in November, and adjust my interventions accordingly. So far, though, things are going well. The reading groups I’ve established are collaborative and are working together to improve. With little guidance from me.

So we’ll see how this works out!