All About Me: Spanish Style

At the beginning of January, my students wrote an All About Me Book, only this book was in Spanish. They discussed their name, described themselves, and talked about some of their favourite things. As a way to make this activity more interactive, we decided to create an electronic, bilingual book. The students used the app book creator to select a picture, write the words in English, and then speak the words in Spanish. It was a fun activity, that they were all excited about, but the best part was when they showed their parents. Their parents were able to hear them speak another language, that they couldn’t, but could also understand what they were saying through the English words.

Here’s an example of one of their finalized projects:

About Me

I am currently a grade four teacher at the north east campus of Foundations for the Future Charter Academy in Calgary, Alberta.  I teach the core subject areas, as well as first year Spanish to our grade four students.  I also have my masters in Design Based Learning, focusing on incorporating the learning sciences into the classroom to provide a successful platform for all students to learn.  I am a member of our literacy committee, and the head of the technology committee.  I act as a liaison of technology information from our central office, to administrators and teachers, believing that communication is key to this role and pride myself on building strong relationships.  I am passionate about creating socially aware students who make a positive contribution to society and believe that they have an impact in the world.

Personally, I am an avid traveler and love to expand my knowledge of cultures and other languages.  To date I have visited four different countries in Africa, three in central America, four in Europe, China, and have traveled to places in Canada and the United States.  I am interested in environmental conservation and love the great outdoors.  Snowboarding, hiking, and enjoying nature with my dog are my greatest past-times.

I am a major foodie, and try as often as possible to recreate amazing dishes that I’ve discovered through my explorations: whether it be a local cuisine, or a faraway delicacy.  I consider cooking a form of art and expression, and love to experiment with new recipes, or try to create something from whatever is in the fridge!

Living in Calgary for over half of my life, has allowed me to see this beautiful city change but remain true to it’s “western hospitality.”  There are so many unique places, shops, and markets, where Calgarians can support their community.  This is often where you’ll find me!

I enjoy volunteering and try to as much as I can.  I am currently a member of the Educators Council for the Jane Goodall Institute of Canada, and the webmaster for the Calgary Reading Council.

As an educator I strive to be the best I can; to continuously learn, challenge myself, and provide my students with a safe and caring classroom environment. I hope to instill the same mentality in my students.

Adventures in Spain and Ireland

Teaching grade 4 at FFCA, I’m lucky enough to also teach beginner Spanish to the grade 4 students. In July, 2013, I was granted the Language Bursary Award from the Government of Alberta to study Spanish abroad. Through this bursary program, I was able to pick any Spanish-speaking country, and participate in daily language lessons, as a way to improve my own skills, as well as enhance the learning of my students.

From Spain, I also did a few traveling side trips to Morocco and Gibraltar.

Being that my boyfriend, Daniel, is from Ireland, we took it as an opportunity to also visit his family while in Europe. If you’re interested in reading more about both experiences, please read:
Adventures in Spain and Ireland

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Uganda: JGI Teacher Training

In July, 2012 I participated in a teacher-training workshop in Uganda, through collaboration with the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) Canada and JGI Uganda. I worked hand in hand with local primary-school teachers to develop lessons, activities, and games about the environment that children could understand. The Ugandan teachers then went back to their school to share and train other teachers on all of the information and strategies that they learned. To learn more about my experience in Uganda, please visit:
Erin In Uganda

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Do Students Only Learn?

The other day in class, my students were completing a word association noun and verb activity. Several nouns were provided to them, and they needed to add an interesting verb that would fit nicely with the noun. For example, one noun was lion, and several ideas for the verbs were pounce, roar, and stalk. As my students continued to complete and share their ideas, we approach the last noun, students. I was intrigued to see the verbs associated with students, and my students own understanding or reflection of themselves. I had a few yell, chat, and talk, however, the majority of my students used the word learn.

Although I was content with the idea that students “learn” I questioned why so many students chose this word and not many others verbs that could be associated with the word students. I completed a simple google image search on students to see the types of pictures that came up, and this was what I saw:

Google search of "students"

Google search of “students”

Happy students with books in almost every picture. Why were there no photos of students thinking or building things? Why are there solely smiling faces with books?

This led me to question if students and perhaps society in general has an image of students as learners, how can this idea evolve into something more? How do I encourage my students to be creators, thinkers, builders, and discoverers? How do I make them understand that they are more than a learner?

They are the thinkers that this world need. They can be creators of new and incredible ideas. They are the future designers and explorers. They are so much more than a learner.

Adventures in a Classroom Library

During the last year, I had a class filled of readers. Any chance they got, they were delved into a novel, picture book, fact book, anything that they could get their hands on. As I watched them riffle through our class library, I became aware that it wasn’t as user-friendly as I had once anticipated. Shelves of books, shoved in tightly, with a basic organizational structure, did not appeal to their reading needs. As a class, we decided to find a new way to organize our books. It was a massive undertaking, days filled with chaos, but their organization process and reasoning of why a book should go in a specific category was fascinating to observe.

After the books were neatly organized into bins, where titles and cover pages could be observed, the access and ability to find such diverse books in our classroom made reading that much more enjoyable. However, after a few weeks, the books became organized again, bins filled with varieties of genres, and I became to feel like we were back at square one.

Upon returning to school this year, and spending much time online seeing how other teachers organized their libraries, labels and stickers seemed to be the best way. I created labels for every bin, with colour-coordinated stickers on each book according to genre. Green stickers for series, pink for fiction, and orange for non-fiction. On each label outside of the bin a sticker was placed with a code so students knew where each book was to be returned. This has eliminated books being placed in the wrong bins.

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I also ensured to have a “lost” bin so students had somewhere to put books if they couldn’t locate the correct place. Additionally, a “hospital” bin was also needed, so we could stay on top of keeping books in good condition.

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I think the biggest change that I made was giving up my personal “teacher” space. I had an L-shaped desk that took up the majority of a corner in my classroom. When I reflected on how much I was actually at my desk throughout a day, which is very limited, I realized I could make better use of the space. I want my classroom to encourage reading, and for students to have a place where they can feel at home and comfortable. I found bean bag chairs on kijiji, and had my handy boyfriend build me a wonderful reading bench.

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Although my classroom space isn’t perfect, seeing my students lounging and reading makes it pretty close!

*Making labels can be a tedious task, and I am more than willing to share mine with anyone. If you would like the file, please comment below or contact me on twitter*

Wild About Reading

As part of our school initiative on literacy this year, we dove into examining the book Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller and Susan Kelley, as it’s purpose is to instil lifelong reading habits in our students. The book is filled with tips, strategies, and stories about the ways in which the goal of lifelong reading can be established. As I read through the chapters, highlighting key points to refer back to, I thought that sharing these points may be valuable to others. They are the ones that stood out for me, and the strategies that I want to implement in my classroom. You may agree, or after reading, you may find ones that I missed. Regardless it’s a starting point, and hopefully a way to inspire you to encourage a love of reading with your students. Enjoy!

Chapter 1:
Kids need to build a stamina to read. When assigning 30 minutes of reading at home, ensure that they know it can be done in chunks, for example, 15 minutes before dinner, 10 minutes after dinner, 5 minutes before bed.
Mini-lesson – Bring a book everywhere for a “reading emergency.” Discuss with students time on the weekend when they were bored (i.e. waiting for a doctor’s appointment), and highlight how these few minutes of time could be used for reading.
Reading Itinerary – Throughout a week have students record where and when they read. “Focusing on reading habits for one week increases their awareness of their own reading behaviors and opens dialogue between readers using their observations as a launching point” (Miller & Kelley, 2014, p. 18-19).
Fake Reading – keep an eye on students who you notice to be fake readers, keep observations of them, have a conference, and try to determine whether it is a habit or a book related problem.

Chapter 2:
Read-alouds are important classroom activities that help build community, expose students to a variety of genres, support developing readers, and demonstrate that reading is an enjoyable activity.
Mini-lesson – Have students bring in their favourite read-aloud to school. Place them in groups, as they reread their favourite book and share the story with others. This helps to build community, and encourage book talks. This could even be applied to a reading buddy activity.
Box Draw – Increases excitement around classroom books, as you place interested students’ names into a draw to “win” the book to read. Be sure to establish rules surrounding these draws (see pages 57-58 for examples).
Checking out classroom library books – use the online organizer Booksource’s Classroom Organizer as a way to keep track of your books and which student is reading what book.

Chapter 3:
See if your principal will allow students, staff, or visitors to share their book recommendations during morning announcements.
Participate in the twitter chat #titletalk to learn information about instructional practices, resources, and suggested books to read.
Mini-lesson – Book Commercials: Have a select student sit in the teacher’s chair, write out the title and author of the book they’ve read, give a brief summary without any spoilers, and describe the kind of reader who would like the book. The teachers asks if any other students have read it, and what they’re impressions were.

Chapter 4:
Students initially need to set reading goals, especially over holidays, in order to ensure that they have a reading plan. Upon return, they can reflect on their goal, whether it was attainable, and to help identify the types of books they enjoy reading.
If students are struggling to finish books, recommend short stories and setting small goals in order to help them achieve success, and build stamina.
Mini-lesson – Have students share their must-read book lists and share why they believe these books are “must-reads.” This information can be shared on a classroom blog, or displayed in the classroom.
An outline of summer reading tips are provided on pages 154-156, and offer suggestions for encouraging reading over the summer break.
There was one point in particular that really spoke to me in this chapter:
“While the Common Core text exemplars collect a list of worthy literature that all students should read, I question the premise that any reading list meets the needs of all readers. Creating a list, anchored in a time or viewpoint driven by one group’s opinion of what literature is meaningful, marginalizes the personal aspect that we bring to what we read” (Miller & Kelley, 2014, p. 160).
I think that this is an incredibly valuable point to bring up around the ideas of a set list for novel studies!

Chapter 5
Encourage students to read from a variety of genres. Although it’s okay that they read fantasy books all of the time, challenging them to read from a new genre can help develop new skills and a new love for books.
Looks for ways to bridge the gap between school and life reading. The authors suggest changing the term “name” on forms/sheets to “reader” or “writer.”
Documenting books students are reading and the general level of those books can be valuable when recommending new books of them to read.
Mini-lesson – Challenge students to read forty books from a variety of genres throughout the school year. “Encouraging students to read what they want while exposing them to high-interest, engaging, quality texts of all kinds fosters their engagement and provides the diverse experiences they need to find texts that will meet their reading interests and needs both today and tomorrow” (Miller & Kelly, 2014, p. 192).

The appendix of the book is filled with chart, graphs, and resources to use to jump start your class to develop habits of reading in the wild.