The children receive regular, structured, timely and ongoing feedback that is aligned with teacher and student chosen learning objectives. We take standard assessment tasks and bring them alive for children.
Once we have carried out reading assessments with the children we share the findings with the children straight away. We point out what we have noticed in their reading.
Zoe: So I noticed when you wondered what the word was you stopped and used the pictures to help you. That is a strategy that seems to be working well for you. I also noticed that you keep reading until you run out of breath and don’t stop at the full stops. That is something you could work on. What do you think you are good at as reader? What would like to work on as a reader?
Child: I like the pictures. It tells you the story. I use the sounds to say the word. I want to use more sounds.
Zoe: So you want your reading goal to be about getting better at using sounds. How about if you work on using the ‘sh’ and ‘ch’ sounds in words like “ship”? I will type this for you and you can have it in on your book box and reading log.
When the children read at home or at school they can refer to their reading goal. We revisit their goal each time we read and children explain their progress. We also add a list of the next steps in reading for the parents and children to see. We talk to the children about these and mark off when we notice reading strategies. We also add questions in English and where possible in the home language, to prompt understanding of the text and build inferential understanding.
We carry out an assessment to learn which spelling patterns children need to work on. We believe children learn best from applying skills from their actually writing, not unconnected spelling lists. Each writer’s workshop folder has the next stages of spelling. The children also pick commonly misspelled sight words they want to work on. The children refer to them as they write.
We use a numeracy diagnostic interview with each child and discuss the results with them. We then give the children a numeracy learner profile. It targets the next stages they are working on. The children choose what they will work on each day and make a tally mark against the learning they choose that day.
Video of children taking control of their learning using their numeracy learner profile. Although the children have only been doing this for two weeks you can see how independent they are becoming and the decisions they are making about their own learning.
We start our day with a personal greeting. A small moment to connect with each child. We look at each other and say hello. The children now come in and make this connection by themselves. These are intentional acts to develop personal bonds built on mutual respect and trust. We give time to this because we value these connections. The children realize this is part of our classroom culture and copy it.
Children quickly realize what a school and teacher value. We intentionally and explicitly create our learning culture. We give time to what we value An example would be the morning meeting. A child often runs the meeting and the teacher sits on the floor with the children. At first the teacher modeled the format and now the children listen and navigate the “no hands up” class.
This sometimes means children putting fingers on their shoulder every time that have an idea. They also have a symbol if their idea is the same as someone else. This gets everyone thinking and not just the same people holding up their hands. Their is an expectation everyone will be trying to think of something.
Children are encouraged to add their name to the agenda and share any ideas or concerns. Today’s items included Miu telling us that children were not looking after pens and tops neede to be looked after. Sohee who shared her picture that had a mistake on it and so she turned it into a “beautiful mistake”. The children decided to use this picture as a front cover for a book about the value of making mistakes and learning from them. Finally Greyson had further questions about Fresh Fruit Friday, a grade 5 initiative to feed the homeless of Yokohama. He wanted to know who set this up and what made them do it. The children offered suggestions, but the teacher remand silent.
How we negotiate coming together as a group
The children sit in an informal group for morning meeting. The children have negotiated 7 different ways of being in this group. Some children sit on their bottoms, some stand, some hold a squishy toy in their hands and some kneel. We want the children to be in control of themselves and find the best way for them to concentrate. It is an expectation that children think about how they learn best.
These are just two examples of intentional acts designed to build a classroom culture based on trust and mutual respect. We wonder if this is seen outside the classroom at home?
Our year long writing goal was to motivate children to write for intrinsic purposes. We noticed the children’s passion for graphic novels and observed them making their own comics in Free Inquiry Time and at home. The children were often taking graphic novels out of the library. As we were reworking our units of study for writing we decided to develop a graphic novel unit, which complemented our year long unit about illustrations. The children agreed this was a very good idea. This was not an easy option, writing graphic novels is a complex process and mentally challenging.
What special things do you notice about graphic novels?
The children wrote down everything they knew about graphic novels. We had a pile of books in the class which we had curated with our librarian Katy Vance, who came to our planning meetings. The books sat for a few days in a big basket, the children were desperate to read them. Once we gave them the books they quickly took them off and started discussing them. We read the graphic novels out loud and the children read them to each other.
We watched this video about graphic novels so the children could see the complex process involved in making a final product. We asked them whether they felt they could sustain this amount of effort. The resounding answer was YES!
The whole thing is interesting, the process starts at 1.36
The children have had an idea folder for most of the year. They developed this after watching a video about an author of the month, Oliver Jeffers, who shared his creative process. We believe in giving children time to doodle and draw. High quality ideas need time to grow and develop. We can not expect children to suddenly be creative and develop high quality pieces.
The children quickly developed a story line because their idea folder was full of ideas. Some children brought in ideas they developed at home.
The most surprising part of the process for the children was writing the story before they drew it. We gave the children an A3 piece of paper and asked them to use a graphic organizer they had used twice before. The sequence Brainframe had three boxes: the setting and problem, trying to solve the problem and solving the problem. The children then added to their basic outline using: descriptive, emotion and sound words shown as circles coming off the boxes.
Throughout this process we meet as a class and had daily minilessons where we taught the conventions used in this format, these included: panels (the boxes the action takes place in), gutters (the space between the panels), speech and thought balloons, sound affects and captions (show, time, place and events). We used the work of published authors as examples. The children also found examples to share.
On a spare piece of the BrainFrame the children developed their characters drawing how they: moved, felt and dressed.
This was the draft of the final piece. This proved quite challenging for the children as they had to use their visual spatial skills. The children added perspective and movement to their drawings.Working out how to fit in the panels, the characters, captions and speech. The hardest part of writing a graphic novel is being succinct. It is hard to write less! The primary method of conveying meaning comes through the characters using speech to tell the story. The captions also need to be concise and tell the story or indicate time. The children inventively drew clocks to track time. The piece was edited by the child, a peer and a teacher.
The final piece penciling, inking and coloring
The final part of the process was to reproduce the graphic novel with no errors. They then reedited the work and inked over the drawing, adding backgrounds and color. The children found it easy to convey emotion through color as they had explored this in art class with Aaron Reed. The children also needed perfect spelling and lettering. This meant rewriting words, retrying spellings and getting the letter size correct. We used A3 paper as these are younger children who are learning to write. One child developed a ‘think paper’ to practice spelling, handwriting and developing characters expressions in a consistent form. We liked this idea so much we added it to our planner.
This was a highly challenging undertaking for the children. They had to persist with the process and redraft in three different forms, yet they kept going. They often sustained their concentration for 50 minutes when writing. We hope the children keep writing their own graphic novels. They show every sign of doing so.
Excellent books for teaching graphic novels
MUST HAVE Adventures in Cartooning James Sturm, Andrew Arnold and Alexis Fredrick-Frost
Adventures in Cartooning Characters in Action James Sturm, Andrew Arnold and Alexis Fredrick-Frost
Understanding Comics By Scott McCloud (A more academic book, only if you are geeky)
Published texts we used to mentor the children
The Big Wet Balloon By Liniers
Bean Dog and Nugget The Ball Charise
Little Mouse gets Ready Jeff Smith
Otto’s Orange Day By Jay Lynch & Frank Cammuso
Benny and Penny The Big NO-NO! By Geoffrey Hayes
Mr Badger and Mrs badger #1 The Meeting Brigitte Luciani Eve Tharlet (simple at children’s level)
The Zoo Book Ariel Cohn Aron Nels Steinke (very simple at kids level)
Mr Wuffles By David Weisner
Hippopotomister John Patrick Green
Silly Lilly and the Four Seasons Agnes Rosenstiehl
Luke on the Loose By Harry Bliss
Benny and Penny in Just Pretend Geoffrey Hayes
Mr Badger and Mrs badger #3 What A Team Brigitte Luciani Eve Tharlet
Tippy and the Night Parade Lilli Carre
Bird Cat Dog Lee Nordling & Meritxell Bosch
Squish Game on! Jennifer Holm & Matthew Holm
Stinky Eleanor Davis
Try an adult graphic novel for yourself
Zoe’s pick of adult graphic novels, they are a little dark. If you want something lighter and fun go and ask Katy Vance in the library
Persepolis Marjane Saprati Growing up with the rise of the Islamic state in Iran
Maus Art Spielman’s Recount of growing up with holocaust survivors and relationship with parents, heartrendingly wonderful. Very manageable.
Blanket Craig Thompson Coming of age in an evangelical family and first love
Watchmen Allan Moore I love Moore, but this could blow your brains, it is highly complex panels, but is is BRILLIANT, more like a traditional comic
V for Vendetta Allan Moore, More doable, excellent story
Batman The Dark Knight Returns Frank Miller The dark side of Batman, exquisite illustrations. It made me love Batman graphic novels. Dark and moody, flawed hero.
The author of the month is Oliver Jeffers. We have chosen him because he creates beautiful stories from simple text, but very challenging ideas. The stories are poignant and convey emotion through words and illustrations. He is a great mentor author as his books offers us the opportunity to deconstruct fictional texts.
One of the areas of writing we will be focusing on will be creating fictional texts. We have begun to have discussions about elements of a fictional texts. The children are focused on character and Jeffers books will help us explore the narrative devise and problem and solution. The books will also help the children develop the vocabulary needed to convey emotion.
A wonderful video about the day in the life of an artist. How he captures ideas and creates books.
We are beginning to think about a new genre of writing, narrative fiction. The children were rightly proud of all the forms of writing and book making they have created: poetry, illustrations and personal narrative.
Each month we take inspiration from other authors. This month we have chosen Leo Lionni. We have guided the children through a series of mini-lessons about what authors do to make their books interesting.
The children noted that Leo Lionni:
Uses illustrations such as think bubbles,repeating images, white space and cutting off an image.
Some pages have few words and some have lots of words.
“From time to time, from the endless flow of our mental imagery, there emerges unexpectedly something that, vague though it may be, seems to carry the promise of a form, a meaning, and, more important, an irresistible poetic charge.”—Leo Lionni
Lionni started to write children’s books in 1959. He was on a train journey where he wanted to entertain his grandchildren. This turned into a new career. He said it wasn’t always easy to get ideas but these are some of his ideas:
Picking a strong hero to begin with.
Starting with the end and making a suprise beginning
Pick a conflict or a big problem.
Doing a drawing which turns into a story
Sometimes words come into your mind and make a title.