Barbara Brann: Building blocks for literacy – a year on

A year ago our school implemented Barbara Brann’s framework – building blocks for literacy – which looks at identifying and addressing the skills necessary to be ‘curriculum ready’. This means that a student is ready to take advantage of the school curriculum, and has the skills necessary for this. Any gaps that existed prior to the programme have been addressed, similar to plugging the holes in a bucket before trying to fill it with water. 

Toys used as writing prompts, sorting prompts, oral language prompts, science prompts, play prompts…

This framework was started in its entirety by a very talented teacher at my school, after some PLD was provided to myself and her courtesy of the RTLB (resource teacher of learning and behaviour) service. I incorporated aspects of the programme with the older children I mainly focussed on, and tried to implement it later on in the year when I shifted to working with younger students. 

Now, a year later, the framework is still in use, although less intensively than it was a year ago. It has been incorporated far more naturally into our daily programme, with key aspects still being applied. 

  • Blocks for teaching spelling
  • Blocks/counters to help young students hold a sentence in their head as they write it
  • Blocks/counters to help students visualise a target number of sentences for writing
  • Casey Caterpillar – teach letter shapes and the order they go in to turn into letters – when kids are ready
  • Casey Caterpillar – Use a means of teaching skills such as differentiation and patterning 
  • Have physical objects handing as prompts for writing (and let the children handle them as they talk and write)
  • Develop fine motor skills and oral language – these are essential to success in writing
  • Explicitly teach oral sentence structure and questioning techniques – in a practical context
  • Shore up the foundation before adding to the building
  • Look at the stage not the age

Has it been successful?

This depends on your view of success. In terms of academic achievement gains it has a two year span, so the jury is still out. It has definitely not harmed/limited the students’ learning. In terms of teacher gains, it has been an outstanding professional development tool which has vastly improved my understanding of how students develop their literacy and what potential blocks or ‘holes’ are preventing their learning for moving forward. From that view alone, the training is worth goin through. 

Am I convinced? 

The jury is still out on that one too. The framework is absolutely valuable and worthwhile. I would be interested to see the results further down the track. 

I think adopting the framework in its entirety is outside my current headspace of working with year 0-3 students (pre-k to 2). In a situation where students were of a closer age/stage I can see myself implementing this in more detail. However halfway through last year we introduced play-based learning, which I believe complements this framework and has provided a means of covering the framework more authentically than previously. 

The Casey Caterpillar leaves me with no doubt whatsoever of it’s benefit. I wouldn’t want to teach it any other way (unless it was a rose by any other name).

I hope that this has been of some help to you if you are interested in building blocks. Even getting the giant chart which identifies all of the skills would potentially be helpful as a PLD tool.

Ethics

Finally, a return to ethics. Perhaps finally is the wrong word. I have just completed an assignment on ethics (actually I began this post a couple of weeks ago when I had just completed an ethics assignment).

Ethics are an extremely complex issue, although they seem relatively straight forward. Moving forward I still wonder what implications this has for teaching as inquiry – an embedded part of the NZ curriculum and as much an expectation of teacher practice as reflections and professionalism.

This inquiry into your teaching practice involves a reflective cycle, upon which you take focus and action your findings within the classroom. This could be called action research, although it may vary slightly.

If, however, we as teachers are doing research which we are sharing with our peers, do we not owe it to the students to involve them so they realise what is actually happening? Beneficence and non-malfiecience (I still struggle spelling those two) are pretty straight forward and almost go without saying. Deception – I cannot imagine this issue coming up as a deliberate part of any teacher inquiry. Yet, what are the ethical implications in terms of informed consent and anonymity/confidentiality?
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Informed consent carries with it the participant’s right to not just know what they are involved in, agree to be involved and the right to withdraw at any stage. How does that work when it is a professional obligation and, in some cases, you might be required to do an inquiry around a student? What about the power differential here? If I ask a child to do something like this, they are already in a position of being conditioned to comply* What potential consequences do they imagine if they say no? ** What are the implications for the teacher – do you go ‘tough’ and do it anyway or do you have to redirect your inquiry to focus on other students?

Screen Shot 2017-02-03 at 10.59.41 PM.pngAs far as anonymity/confidentiality is concerned, this is next to impossible in a small school community. In my school you know all the students (or just about all the students) and have taught or interacted with all of them at some point in time. Sharing results with other teachers on staff can be interrupted with … ‘is that______? I recognise that handwriting etc’. I have experienced this myself. An inquiry into behaviour featured a quote from me. My name was not attached but it was very obvious to all that I was the one who had written it. It was embarrassing
and felt unnecessary (even though the quote was apt and completely professional).

 

What about if, upon the completion of an inquiry, others from outside the school want to know about your results and have your information presented. What happens then? Is it this point that ‘research ethics’ become important when in fact they are important throughout the whole process? Or is this just creating work for work’s sake?

I read a statement which essentially said research is not research unless peer reviewed and published. If this is the case then the above debate is unnecessary. I would arg
ue that often these inquiries are research, even if they are only ‘published’ in a staff meeting, in which case if anyone has an easy answer please send it my way! I have found none amongst my readings.

 

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*I often present children with the opportunity to decide not to do a task, or for feedback about something. Often this takes considerable reassurances to get them to believe me. As they work more with me they do come to see that I mean it. Even then they will still check. A reflection on me and the system perhaps. After all, our very system is set up to teach compliance, socialisation, academic hierarchies and reinforce cultural ways of knowing.

 

**It can be very exciting when kids say ‘no – I don’t want to’ for the first time. They are beginning to experiment with choice. They feel comfortable and safe enough to step out  Sometimes that’s okay, and other times I will respond, ‘tough – it’s teacher choice,’ negotiate and alternative (or move into non-verbal cues (i.e. the teacher’s look) if they are just boundary pushing). Context!

Pulling it together

I am really really surprised but I think this is beginning to make sense….hold fire. For those who don’t know I am studying a research methodologies paper. I have had several challenges on the way through, including finding my way around campus. But the exciting thing is I think I’m getting it…that I am beginning to see how the different elements of research pull together. I am beginning to understand how qualitative data can be interpreted without turning it all to numbers. I am beginning to make links to teacher inquiry and ways I could better do that.

I have started this too late in the day…again. But my summary from today’s learning is below

  • An instrument in research is what you use to gather the data e.g. Survey
  • I now have a list of articles useful for designing questionnaires and interviews
  • Document analysis (gathering data from secondary sources and analysing it) can be used as research. In the context of grounded theory it can be used for a research project. 
  • I might be able to do research in a formal academic setting after all!

Getting Started with Schemas

Before I begin, I have woefully ignored this blog this year. I have just completed part time uni studies for the year, as well as recently introducing play based learning (with the rest of the teaching team I am in) into our classroom curriculum. More posts on this to come.

Today’s post is a notes summary. It comes from the text:

van Wijk, N. (2008). Getting started with schemas: Revealling the wonder-full world of children’s play. New Zealand Play Federation: Waitakere, New Zealand.

 

What are schemas?

At the simplest level, schemas are repeating patterns in children’s play. More specifically, a schema is a thread of thought which is demonstrated by Continue reading

Accelerating Literacy Learning

We are currently a part of the ALL PLD (advanced literacy learning professional learning development). This has helped to put the teacher as inquiry concept into a new light. Coupled with some university papers I am currently doing I am beginning to see it as having a purpose beyond another piece of paperwork to justify my practice. I am beginning to understand it as a means of interrogating practice with the ultimate goal of leading to social change. I have also come to see inquiry in loght of practitioner research. This is where a split is seen. Practitioner research as a means of interrogating practice and action research as practitioner research with a outcome of action which addresses social discrepancies.

2016 inquiry

As I write my first post of 2016 and begin to finally think about the upcoming term, I realise that I have not posted the results of my inquiry around phonics last year. I will address that once I return from holiday and have access to my laptop. The student exemplars I used when presenting still have some names on them. In brief: it was successful.
As to this year’s inquiry my thoughts include…

  • Something around strategies to engage students in meta cognition 
  • More formal investigation into effective use of technology-practical strategies and how we know it is effective
  • Something around MLE and how that works in a rural ‘school’
  • Something around Barbara Brann’s programme as we implement her programme with NE
  • Developing independent skills with juniors

I also have some readings to summarise.

The spiral of inquiry.

Last year we were given the reading: ‘The spiral of inquiry’ (Timperly, Kaser & Halbert) by our LwDT coordinator. I put it in a safe place. This worked, until I moved classrooms. It’s new ‘safe place’ is secure from me, something I’m sure everyone can agree with.

Regardless, after searching online and in my house, it finally popped up in ‘The Pond‘ (a NZ site established for educators to share resources etc). It is similar to, but different from the VLN – (virtual learning network).

This is an excellent reading, one that really clarified my understanding of the teacher as inquiry process (and one I need to keep revisiting – hence the blog). The biggest wrinkle I have had with the process is the sole emphasis on the priority learners. This is definately essential (and what my inquiries are focussed on). I can understand this better now. My biggest stumbling block initially was that this ‘inquiry thing’ seemed to put a roadblock between me doing my broader learning and readings. I have passed this, and perhaps better understand how the

I’ve been thinking a lot about the marginal middles – those that aren’t performing at their peak, but are just far enough inside the bubble to miss out on the detailed focus of these inquiries. I would love to do an investigation around this.

Phonics

Our phonics journey embarks. As a junior team we have decided to use Yolanda Soryl’s teaching method for phonics. Consequently we have the pre data and I have decided to do a mini-inquiry into this.

Observation: students are not making the connection between reading and writing, namely the spelling patterns. This goes across from beginner readers to fluent, beginner writers to fluent. 

Question: What effect does systematic teaching of phonics have on student spelling, when explicit teaching is made to help students transfer knowledge from reading to writing?

Assessments: Phonics entry and exit data. Phonics assessment conducted six weekly. Ten minute writing samples (done two times a term). BAS spelling assessment (completed terms 1 and 5). 

Methadology: students spread between four phonics groups, receiving fifteen miinutes phonic teaching at the start of each day. Lessons follow the format taught by Yolanda Soryl at her course, as set out in the accompanying manual, and lessons modelled on youtube. 

Observation: there are several struggling writers who view writing as a subject inflicted upon them by all the adults in their lives. Before they begin they have already given up. You can watch them visibly sigh, shrink back into themselves and sometimes grit their teeth. These students mostly have good oral language, are boys and have fantastic ideas that disappear into another realm when they are expected to put them to paper. The students are also writing intial and final sounds, with some writing CVC words. They know some high frequency words. These students are presently spending part of their day on ‘speedy writing’, when they record a dictated rhyming sentence, usually consisting of CVC words. The students’ attitude to this time is quite positive. These boys also enjoy time on the computer, including using kidpix.

Hunch: These students find the writing laborious, and already ‘know’ that they will not spell words correctly. Therefore they ‘know’ they cannot write. Obviously this is not the case.  

Question: will explicit phonics instruction, with its emphasis of transfer of knowledge from reading to writing, change these students’ attitude to writing?

This year’s teaching as inquiry

With the ever growing importance of tracking and monitoring and data gathering I have just been thinking about how I can monitor the effectiveness of different element of our learning programmes.

Longitudinal data will prove the effectiveness of moving to a team teaching model.

After doing paired writing last year I was intrigued by the in and out data it provided, particularly the words in ten minutes. I think that that is one really easy method to follow. I would like to use it in our generic writing programme every five weeks or so to monitor development. Continue reading