School Name: W.L. McLeod Elementary
School District: SD#91 Nechako Lakes
Inquiry Team Members: Sylvia O’Meara: firstname.lastname@example.org, Karen Boucher: email@example.com, Michelle Miller-Gauthier: firstname.lastname@example.org
Inquiry Team Contact Email: email@example.com
Type of Inquiry: NOIIE
Grade Levels: Primary (K-3)
Curricular Area(s): Language Arts – Literacy, Language Arts – Oral Language, Language Arts – Writing, Social Studies
Focus Addressed: Community-based learning, Core competencies (for example, critical thinking, communication, problem solving), Experiential learning, Formative assessment, Growth mindset, Inclusion and inclusive instructional strategies, Indigenous pedagogy, Land, Nature or Place-based learning, Self-regulation, Social and emotional learning
In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? Our focus was on strengthening oral language, writing & self regulation skills, as well as ecological & cultural knowledge by blending outdoor experiences with literature, nonfiction reading and storytelling using loose parts (Story Workshop).
Scanning: In these two primary classrooms (gr. 1-2 & 2-3), we have noticed the learners are very young and playful, and many are at the early stages of literacy & numeracy learning. A significant number often express their needs in ways that disrupt the learning environment. Staying focused and persevering with challenging tasks (especially but not exclusively academic tasks) is hard for many, and writing was a significant challenge for most.
We are noticing that with the right scaffolding (modelling, small chunks of learning) and supports (extra adults, small groups, work/break times) more learners are able to engage with tasks. They also LOVE having stories read to them. In addition, holding promise is the play-based approach of using loose parts for storytelling, especially when there are opportunities to learn about the local environment through visits to a nearby forest and its trails. When outdoor experiences are supported with read-alouds that involve learning about local plants, animals, and are peppered with Indigenous language, we have seen signs of increased use of specific vocabulary in oral stories, as well as increased engagement and curiosity on the part of Indigenous learners. Through learning about our place in a hands-on way, some of our Indigenous learners begin to shine by engaging with the learning more and sharing stories of trips to the forest with Grandpa or Uncle to hunt a variety of animals. They become local experts to the other children in the room, and are seen in a new way by peers and adults. Play-based and place-based learning seems to help our students use more successful self regulation skills and even when they face frustrations, most will persevere and adjust their strategies (when provided support), because they don’t want to leave the fun experiences.
We used the four questions to guide our own observations and thinking as we reflected informally each week and then more formally every second week in our collaboration time. When some learners struggled, we discussed what it was that may have caused the dysregulation and planned our next steps with adjustments. When learners were successful, we planned stretches to extend their learning accordingly. With the learners themselves, we embedded reflection questions that helped them give each other feedback about specific aspects of oral and written story telling they were noticing. Feedback included 2 specific positives and one stretch or suggestion.
Focus: The focus was on using a play-based and place-based learning approach to build self regulation, oral language and written skills in two primary classrooms. Specifically, we used trips to our local trails and river, stories (Indigenous, seasonal & nature-based), and loose parts from a ‘mobile’ story studio setting to inspire and strengthen learners’ skills.
Hunch: Traditional writing approaches are not often play-based. Learners often struggle for inspiration and ideas for writing. Personal impromptu writing tends to be the focus for writing assessment, not story writing, partly because it is more challenging to teach. When uninspired to write, learners can often fixate on their own writing skill shortcomings (spelling, stamina, letter formation), which then presents more roadblocks and stunts the growth mindset needed for sustaining difficult tasks.
New Professional Learning:
• Literacy Support Teacher visited some Story Studio locations in the Delta School District, to learn from the Literacy Coordinator Claire D’Aoust
• Biweekly collaboration time between the two classroom teachers & Literacy Support teacher was be used to explore self-regulation tools as well as to design Story Workshop opportunities
• We explored www.deltalearns.ca, specifically with regards to Story Studio
• Author visits from Cecilia John, local Saik’uz First Nation author, was a fun part of our learning
• Embedding the researched strategies about assessment for learning also strengthened our pedagogical approaches (learning intentions, criteria, peer & self assessment, descriptive feedback, engaging tasks & questioning)
• The Literacy Support Teacher enrolled in a National Geographic Certification course that contributed to thinking about new ways to approach storytelling, including using story maps, considering spatial and geographic perspectives, and enhancing the focus on human interaction with nature
• In two classrooms, a gr. 1-2 & 2-3, we used a play-based approach called Story Workshop to strengthen oral language and writing by using fun materials to help learners retell and create stories.
• We frequently incorporated exploring the nature trails by the river behind the school, to inspire storytelling after reading aloud a story (Winter in Saik’uz and Strong Readers from https://www.strongnations.com/ and other seasonal, nature based books).
• Teachers modelling the skills and behaviours we were trying to foster, happened at each new step in our learning.
• Often learners worked with a partner to co-create their story (supports collaboration & cooperation to remember the story, turn taking, creativity for those who might be stuck for ideas).
• We discussed the criteria for story-telling before students built and played out their stories (eg. vocabulary from the story, scientific or Indigenous words we learned from the story or from natural trail walks, beginning, middle, end, story has action that is described with words as well as acted out).
• We used materials from the environment, other loose parts and purchased items like Canadian animals, cotton balls for snow, etc.
• During story play, adults circulate eliciting strong story telling, problem solving with peers, and cooperation through questioning — “I wonder how it would go if you tried….” and/or “I wonder what your partner thinks could happen next?”
• During story play, we often pause & highlight the skills we are noticing students using, and if some need more ideas or support to create a cohesive story; we gather around a pair who could model this through their story and then give them feedback using the criteria. This helped show learners strong examples and revisited the criteria for strong stories.
• We usually held sharing circles for our author’s chair events after creating stories about our outdoor adventures.
• During sharing circle, listeners were prompted to attend to the criteria they notice, so they can provide specific feedback to the storytellers (our focus/criteria adjusts depending on what the learners need) — “I noticed you used three winter words from the story in your retelling.” (Teachers often model full sentence speaking and at first may even need to lead a learner through speaking a ‘whole idea’ in a full sentence, eliciting more formal conversation….taking the talk beyond a casual register for language).
• After a few weeks of oral story telling practice, writing our stories down was introduced through teacher modelling. Students helped the teacher write (shared writing) the retelling using the criteria we are focusing on. Modelling errors, editing, & a growth mindset is important here.
• Depending on the age & skill level of the learners, they might begin by co-writing their first few stories. Each partner had a different coloured pencil crayon so teachers could tell which learner wrote each sentence or section.
• As the routines became known and comfortable, learners began expressing a desire to write their own stories instead of co-write.
• Again, sharing circles were held where students read their stories or nonfiction pieces aloud, receiving specific feedback about their writing from peers.
• In January, the idea of using story maps for retelling sprung from the National Geographic Certification course. This took the storytelling to another level. The two stories we used were Curious George Gets a Medal: https://www.nationalgeographic.org/activity/mapping-storybooks/ and The Sandwich Mystery https://www.strongnations.com/search/?s=The+Sandwich+mystery
• Then students used community maps and Google Earth to think about our nature trails from an ‘eagle’s point of view’. We drew maps, and then added features as we explored and discovered landmarks out on the trail.
Then COVID hit.
• The next stage was going to be to take the learning to a regional scale and learn about the endangered Nechako White Sturgeon, through mapping our river and participating in the sturgeon release event.
Checking: Some of the strengthening we noticed in our learners and ourselves:
• We have been working all year towards building collaborative skills, and this process helped us become more metacognitive about this and more purposefully support our learners.
• These storytelling activities required our learners to practice collaborative skills during story building, retelling, listening, and writing. We set goals and built in descriptive feedback about turn-taking, sharing, and compromising. They had to share the workload of labelling and colouring the maps, and had to cooperate to take turns retelling the story.
• The inspiration learners had from their successful oral storytelling experiences motivated them to persevere with challenging writing. We supported, and they practiced, greater self-regulation by employing strategies and by focusing on their goals of recording their special stories. They loved sharing during circle which was also a motivating factor helping them to stick with the writing even when it was hard.
• Because learners were inspired to write, their writing improved, supported by their strengthened oral language skills.
• The descriptive feedback we wove into every learning session helped most learners to begin to know themselves better. Many are able to tell what they are working on or learning and what their next steps are with their stories.
• This approach to oral and written storytelling has helped us create more inclusive classrooms with greater success for a more diverse range of learners. The inspiration and motivation experienced by almost all learners helped them stay in the task, stay in the room, and develop their social and emotional communication skills. Being play-based was the important foundation and motivator in the beginning, and then experiencing success with spoken and written stories that resulted in positive, specific feedback from peers became the next motivator.
• Using maps for retelling improved the storytelling beyond our expectations. The visual nature of the map along with the toy animals or characters and props resulted in markedly improved retellings, especially in the areas of details, vocabulary and sequence.
• Exploring our nature trails and reading local books (Indigenous author) helped learners connect to ‘our place’.