W.L. McLeod Elementary SD#91 Nechako Lakes

School Name: W.L. McLeod Elementary

School District: SD#91 Nechako Lakes

Inquiry Team Members:Sarah Barr: sbarr@sd91.bc.ca
Krista Wruth: kwruth@sd91.bc.ca
Karen Boucher: kboucher@sd91.bc.ca

Inquiry Team Contact Email: mmgauthier@sd91.bc.ca

Type of Inquiry: NOIIE

Grade Levels: Primary (K-3)

Curricular Area(s): Language Arts – Oral Language, Language Arts – Writing

Focus Addressed: Indigenous understandings (for example, Traditional Knowledge, oral history, reconciliation), Experiential learning, Formative assessment, Inclusion and inclusive instructional strategies, Land, Nature or Place-based learning

In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? We hope to enrich our students’ creative writing, scientific learning and their development of oral language vocabulary in French and English and Carrier.

Scanning: • In a grade 2 French Immersion class, we have been noticing that many learners are hesitant to use and experiment with French language (orally & in writing). When we ask them about their learning, many respond by saying “I don’t know.” Many either speak first in English and with reminders will haltingly attempt to use new French vocabulary with the adult supporting several times in a short interchange. This hesitancy with the skill of speaking French is also paired with some visible emotional stress (nervous looks, few smiles, off task behaviours).
We also have noticed that learners in this class, are much more engaged when learning about things they are interested in. Like so many young learners they are very playful and excitable, and animals seem to be a strong learning hook. Our curiosity is leading us to wonder how powerful embedded learning about the importance of local animals and ecosystems would be to support the development of strong oral language (in French, Carrier & English).
• In the grade 3 English class, students struggled to come up with ideas for writing, and they were challenged to stay focused and remember what they had planned to write. Writing was not an enjoyable process for many.

Focus: Inspired by the work in storytelling using ‘loose parts’ and Story Studio in Delta School District (B.C.), our intentions are to improve the development of oral language vocabulary in Carrier, French, and English by infusing our writing with land and place based learning, Indigenous content and play-based storytelling. Our district no longer provides English as a Second Dialect services for Indigenous students and yet we know there are needs for the development of school success English language. Writing is a struggle for many and we aimed to strengthen both oral and written language (including second language learners).

Hunch: Often we give too much help, give them the idea to write about and provide too much guidance. We often expect the final outcome without spending enough time practicing the skills to develop them. As well, we often use the traditional approach to inspiring story design and planning, using webs, brainstorming, and sometimes a story. This seems to have stalled in it’s effectiveness, leaving many students largely uninspired and lacking confidence. They can generate word banks, but putting their words into sentences and stories is very challenging.

New Professional Learning: • Professional collaboration & co-teaching
• Read research articles, visited websites and shared them with each other.
• Used and learned about local First Nations practices through locally created books
• Visiting the outdoors and learning about the plants and animals in our area.
Websites: https://deltalearns.ca/thehive/
Books: Plants & Medicines of Sophie Thomas by Jane Young & Alex Hawley; Strong Nations Readers; Stories of Saik’uz by Cecilia John; The Six Cedar Trees by Margot Landahl; Pacific Northwest Plant Knowledge Cards (Strong Nations Publishing)

Taking Action: We often spent time outside after reading the trilingual books, Fall, Winter and Spring in Saik’uz (Cecilia John) as well as other books in her series and the Strong Nations Readers sets. The walks in our neighbouring McLeod Trails next to the Nechako River are teaming with birds, plants, berries and evidence of various mammals at work, like beavers (tsa, les castors). We practiced saying the Carrier and French words before and during our walks, identifying beaver chewed trees, birds, insects, medicinal plants. Sometimes we collected tea makings (rose petals, red willow, clover). We practiced speaking sentences in French, English and tried to add Carrier words in preparation for writing down stories about our walks. We often collected items from the forest floor that would help us retell our experiences. Upon returning to the classroom, we initially worked in partners or small groups to build our re-tellings or creative stories with our found materials. As time went on, we added store bought materials. Students rehearsed their collaborative oral stories together, supporting one another to use the ‘juicy’ seasonal vocabulary and to make their oral sentences make sense. Students were thrilled to be able to share their oral stories with the class. (“Friends, let’s gather around because this group is ready for us to hear their story”). They would go from group to group, excitedly listening, laughing when there were comedic parts, and giving specific feedback to the storytellers.

After a few of these experiences, we began writing our stories. In the beginning, students collaboratively wrote, helping each other with sentence structure and vocabulary. Each student in a group used a different colour pencil crayon so we and they could remember which student wrote each sentence. They read their stories aloud in the Author’s Chair and we could see pride and confidence growing. One reluctant writer in grade 2 French Immersion, began the first writing exercise with the statement “I can’t do it.” His partner supported and helped him (sometimes trying to take the pencil). By the second writing session, he was heard saying assertively “I can do it!!” as he took the pencil back from his partner. As students gained confidence with speaking (and using French language in the immersion class), their writing improved. Soon they were super excited to build and write their own stories and take creative control!
Key Instructional Pieces:
• Co-teaching to help each of us feel supported as we tried new things
• Using the framework from Delta Story Studio: Inspire, Create, Share
• Partner stories (oral and written) to help learners feel more confident with the language needed to be successful
• Connecting with the land
• *Retelling & rewriting short simple stories before writing their own (either stories from our walks or stories read aloud eg. Come and Play –Strong Nations Readers). This was critical for helping students learn to sequence their stories with a beginning, middle & end
• Used lots of fun materials (store bought and found) to inspire storytelling.
• Author visit Ceclia John read her book Berry Picking with ‘Atsoo
• Carrier Language Teacher Karen Thomas shared knowledge about foraging and food preservation and fed us smoked & canned salmon
• Single point rubrics for feedback about written work (peer assessment that led to editing)

Checking: Students who were unable to write much more than one sentence are now able to tell a complete story and write some of it. Students with special needs were able to tell a simple story with a beginning, middle and ending when an adult supported them.

Other students’ language blossomed and they were able to tell and write stories we did not know they had in them (some needed assistance with the physical act of writing).

Student confidence and engagement grew. They often asked to present their stories to the class, and some of our shyest students were able to present with joy and confidence to many people at our school’s Grow and Show celebration at the end of the year. It was a rare day when a student did not engage fully with the play, building and telling of a story. Some needed adult support to sequence the stories and tell it in a format that could be written down instead of filling it with dialogue like a play. They all learned that narration was important if the story was going to make sense.
This process also helped us identify students who may need deeper assessments to determine whether they have learning differences, partly because we listened closely, observed closely and intervened/supported more frequently with this approach to writing and storytelling.

Reflections/Advice: We learned we need to spend more time inspiring writing in novel ways, and then give students time to practice their writing (as much as we provide for their reading development). We also learned students writing improved when they talked/played it out first. Reading their written stories in the Author’s Chair also helped them notice when they’d made mistakes and they jumped to make changes in their writing.

Next Steps:
We begin the year with more of an oral language component before writing, using fun materials to play with and to inspire the storytelling and retelling or describing a scientific processes.
Visit Delta Learns website, use the Story Studio poster for steps to help sequence the learning more effectively.
Continue co-teaching to make all new learning processes a more supportive journey.
Set up an area in the school that classes could visit to borrow or use Story Studio materials (library, resource room) We need good storage and display materials. Garage sales are great places to find inexpensive containers for displays.

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