Creating a Community of Joyful Readers, Writers and Thinkers

Updated: Mar 19

Recently, teachers from Newbridge Academy attended the POPEY 2020 Conference in Richmond, BC. POPEY is the Provincial Outreach Program for the Early Years from the BC Ministry of Education. We have attended several of their literacy workshops. This conference was entitled Creating a Community of Joyful Readers, Writers and Thinkers and was led by Dr Gravity Goldberg, an educational consultant and author who specializes in literacy, special education, curriculum, assessment, and learning with technology. We were all eager to be inspired.

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Dr Goldberg began the day talking about happiness, well-being, and motivation. We started with an exercise in expressing gratitude because we need to start off each day in a positive way. Mindful practice helps lower stress and anxiety and happy people learn faster. Mindset matters and a growth mindset helps children develop a greater sense of control by valuing effort and progress over ability. When one primes oneself at the start of each day with belief in one’s personal power, it increases confidence, self-trust, and a sense of control over one’s destiny. This is why each of our teachers start the day with a morning meeting.

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Dr Goldberg advised teachers to approach readers with an admiring lens. This starts with focussing on the positive, on what students can do, not what they cannot. All students are readers, able to make purposeful choices, and they should also be admirers of their own work. Independence matters. Learners need to be left to a “productive struggle” because the reward that comes from great effort is powerful and is internal.

Motivation matters but perhaps surprising to some, external rewards decrease motivation for creative endeavours. If play is defined as anything one chooses to do, and work as that which is done for a reward or to avoid a punishment, then rewards turn play into work. There have been many studies to support this view. We don’t want students to read books in order to get points or stickers, we want students to find the reward in the reading itself. Literacy involves more than a set of skills, it involves habits of mind such as thinking, wonder, reflection, clarification and tolerance for failure, ambiguity, and uncertainty.

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Teachers need to be their authentic selves if they wish students to do the same. All of us need to know our core beliefs and why we are doing what we are doing. We also apply this approach to positive discipline in helping children reflect on their behaviour and the choices they make. Dr Goldberg advised us to keep a question journal of open ended questions about teacher and learning in order to continually challenge ourselves to reflect on our practice.

The final session of the day gave teachers more practical ideas for their classrooms. Goal setting is important for students to direct their learning and goal setting reading conferences with students help them to clarify their understanding and where they want to go next in their development as readers, writers and thinkers. Strategies for reading, writing and thinking must be taught explicitly to students, but it is always important to keep in mind that the strategies themselves are not the goal -- increased understanding and independence is. Teachers can help students by “mining” for student understanding, “mirroring” what they say and “modeling” how to move from thinking to goal setting. This needs to be done one step at a time, in order to help students understand when and why to use strategies, always with an admiring lens.

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The following reflective comments are from three of the teachers that attended the conference:

Sabina Pasini - Kindergarten teacher

As an Early Childhood Educator, I am a strong believer in the value of play-based learning. Children need positive reinforcement in order to feel good about themselves. I respect children’s physical space by creating an environment to enable them to confidently work on tasks both independently or in groups, without the teacher hovering over them. I give the children opportunities for choice and play because it allows them to feel like they are in control of their own learning. I try to build a classroom where there are balanced relationships. It’s important to me to have children who feel comfortable working with each other because the environment is inclusive and built on positive character traits such as respect and kindness.

I would like to implement one minute of gratitude everyday during my morning meetings. I think that it’s important for children to always have something positive to say and bear in mind before starting their day. I would like to improve on creating awareness through mindful practice because it is not easy to be able to let go of everything that is going through your mind and focus on just one task at a time. I think that having children create a mantra that makes them feel powerful that they can always refer back to is a great idea to help boost children’s self-esteem during times when they may be struggling and need some time to do some personal reflection activities.

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Setting a goal and having a celebration I also think is a great idea. I’d like to be able to give children more goal-setting strategies to create categories for themselves and then set a goal within that category. From there, children can then take the time to reflect on their choice to then help them achieve their goal. I’d also like to do more to help a child reflect back on their answers and see how they may be able to add more to their initial answers.

Karen Ringness - Grade 4 teacher

I had several inspirational moments throughout the various sessions with Dr. Gravity Goldberg that caused me to reflect on how I am as a person, and as a teacher, and I had to ask myself what and when I need to do something about these moments.

I think I will begin by starting with gratitude. At the beginning of our session Gravity invited us to start the day with “gratitude”. It struck me that while I do this in my daily personal life I don't do it daily in the classroom. A positive atmosphere can change much in our class and hopefully promote a healthy habit for students to draw from throughout their own lives.

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The second adjustment I plan to make immediately is specifically and only looking for the positive in student’s reading and writing. I want to do a better job at looking for what they are already doing “right”. My goal is to promote a greater sense of adventure and risk-taking in their reading and writing. In a video we watched, a student glowed as Gravity mined understanding of his writing and then mirrored what he had written back to him. I want to help students glow!

Joshua Davenport - Grade 2 teacher

The keynote address that was delivered by Gravity Goldberg was both interesting and informative. It is always good to hear from other experts in the field of education who bring with them not only a wealth of experience, but also the data and research that we teachers are not always aware of. I was very pleased to learn that many of the practices I have implemented in my classroom are indeed backed up by the research: practices such as not offering extrinsic rewards for tasks or behaviours as extrinsic rewards have been shown in studies to actually be demotivating factors in the long run; or that kids should struggle a bit when reading or writing, and that quick and easy rules like the “Five finger rule” (if there are five words on a page that you don’t know, then the book is too difficult for you) are not always appropriate criteria for determining a child’s reading level.

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Going forward, one thing that I gleaned from the conference that I would like to implement further in my classroom is giving the students more choices. This would include not only giving them more options for what they are reading, but also more options in how they might represent their thinking, rather than just the standard written response. This might include choices like acting out the story, modelling the story using manipulatives like clay, or through other visual representations such as drawing or painting. I want to allow my students to tap into all of their talents and skills when demonstrating their thinking, and allowing more flexibility in how they do that will, I think, benefit the entire class.

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