READING CHALLENGES: The Grade 4 stall.

Since joining  the Section 23 team in 2011, I’ve noticed  that many of our students – grade 4 to 12, who struggle with reading, seem to stall at a grade 4 reading level. Why is this?

A variety of Reading Diagnostic assessments indicate that the majority of our struggling readers have acquired foundational literacy competencies that would suggest they should not be struggling:

kid frustrated with reading123RF Royalty free image.

Competencies students are demonstrating:

  • Alphabet knowledge – LN/LS letter names and letter sounds
  • Phonemic awareness – Phonemes are the smallest units that make up spoken language; they combine to form syllables and words.
  • Knowledge of high frequency words, “and”, “the”, “as” and “it”.
  • Ability to decode commonly used multi-syllabic words such as birthday, beautiful, different, experiment, invented, etc.

Competencies students are lacking:

The following 3 competencies seem to be emerging as contributing factors for the grade 4 stall. *Research has indicated these competencies are essential for reading proficiency as students move through the education system and encounter longer and more complex texts:

  1. Reading fluency – automaticity in reading unfamiliar, multisyllabic, content-specific vocabulary and complex syntax.  “The average fourth grader encounters 10,000 new words each year, and most of these words have two or more syllables (in Toste et al 2017).” Students are reading less and relying more on social media to communicate and get information.  As a result, along with reading rates, daily exposure to complex content and vocabulary has declined.
  2. Prosody– Prosody in reading refers to reading orally with appropriate expression and phrasing that reflects the meaning of text. Research has demonstrated a strong correlation between prosodic oral reading and silent reading comprehension. Proficient readers read with expression; less proficient readers often lack expression in their oral reading (Razinski 2017).
  3. Reading Stamina – the ability to stay focused while reading and comprehending longer and more complex texts. As students are reading less at home, reading in school may be the only reading they do over the course of a day. Therefore, if students  are not given time in school to read and process what they are reading, they may not be able to develop this crucial skill.


An extensive body of reading research concludes that explicit reading instruction needs to be intentional, intensive and consistent (Razinski 2017) – daily if possible, or several times a week. The following strategies are highly recommended.

kids choral reading.JPG

123RF Royalty free image.

  • expand vocabulary – daily work with high utility age appropriate words
  • teach morphology -common word patterns; high utility roots & affixes – this needs to start in kindergarten
  • pre-teach -subject specific terms and vocabulary; create subject specific word walls.
  • talk to students as though they’re grad-students – avoid using simple language in daily interactions with your students; make an effort to use complex vocabulary
  • model fluent reading – the reader listens to a text read fluently (preferably audio book or ebook with a professional reader) while following along with their own copy.
  • provide opportunities for repeated reading/rehearsal – poetry, plays, reader’s theatre, choir, lyrics and students’ own writing


Black teen

Alamy Royalty free image.

  • provide opportunities for students to talk about what they have read with other students, or respond to the reading through meaningful assignments such as art, sketchnotes, music, drama, video, etc.
  • wide reading – daily opportunities for uninterrupted independent reading of self-selected texts and also classroom texts.

According to Biancarosa (2012): Without explicit instruction in how to cope with the evolving complexity of texts, too many adolescents fall behind in their reading development and their ability to learn from texts suffers.  If reading continues to decline among students, then it is likely that the number of students with reading deficits will continue to increase. If these deficits are not addressed, they will continue to plague students throughout their academic lives and beyond.

*Research Describing Struggling Readers

Over the past two decades, researchers have explored
the nature of students who struggle in reading, using
the framework of the NRP. Valencia and Buly (2004;
Buly & Valencia, 2002) studied 108 fourth-grade students
who had scored at the “below proficiency” level
in reading according to the test thresholds of the
state in which they reside. The students were given
a variety of reading and language assessments to determine
relative strengths and weaknesses in their
reading and language processing. The authors were
able to categorize students by their performance and
found that only about 18% of “below proficiency”
readers exhibited reasonably good levels of word
identification and fluency (word recognition automaticity).
The remaining 82% of “below proficiency”
students manifested difficulty in word identification
and/or reading fluency. (Razinski  2017)


TDSS teachers, please contact me if you would like to receive full text of these articles.

  • Biancarosa, Gina. “Adolescent Literacy: More Than Remediation.”      Educational Leadership, vol. 69, no. 6, Mar. 2012, pp. 22-27.
  • Rasinski, Timothy V. “Readers Who Struggle: Why Many Struggle and a Modest Proposal for Improving Their Reading.” Reading Teacher, vol. 70, no. 5, Mar/Apr2017, pp. 519-524. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1002/trtr.1533.
  • Rasinski, Timothy V.  “is Reading Fluency a Key for Successful High School Reading?” Journal of  Adolescent and Adult Literacy. vol. 48, no. 1, Sept 2005.pp. 22-27.
  • Toste, Jessica R. et al. “Reading Big Words: Instructional Practices to
    Promote Multisyllabic Word Reading Fluency.” Intervention in School and Clinic 2017, Vol. 52(5) 270–278

Additional Resources:









Additional reading:

  1. How Kids’ and Teens’ Reading Rates are Falling, and What You Can Do to Help Kids Read More
  2. Why kids lose interest in reading as they get older
  3. So what if kids are reading less these days? They’re better off
  4. Do Teens Read Seriously Anymore?
  5. Sharp decline in children reading for pleasure, survey finds
  6. How can we stop the decline in kids reading for pleasure?  
  7. Study: The Number of Teens Reading for Fun Keeps Declining




A Few Key Points from:

  • Phonemic awareness helps beginning readers break the code. Pricilla L.Griffith and Mary W.Olson. The Reading Teacher. Vol. 45, No. 7. p.516
  • Word Boxes Help Children Identify and Spell Words. Laurice M. Joseph. The Reading Teacher Vol. 52  No. 4, p.348.
  • Using Sound Boxes Systematically to Develop Phonemic Awareness. Patricia A. McCarthy. The Reading Teacher Vol. 62, No. 4. p.346 

“..phonemes can be the most difficult for children to learn to detect and manipulate; however, phonemic awareness, along with letter knowledge, is needed for beginners to move on to reading and spelling (McCarthy).”
Reading intervention programs frequently use word boxes (also known as sound boxes or Elkonin boxes) to help K to Grade 1 students who have difficulty segmenting individual sounds in words.

Word boxes help learners:

  • become aware of the sounds in spoken language
  • become aware of the order of the sounds in words
  • match the sound to the print symbol
  • improve encoding of sounds and spelling ability

 word box is a drawn rectangle that is divided into sections corresponding to sounds heard in words. A pictorial representation of a word is sometimes placed above the drawn rectangle. Counters are placed below the divided sections of the rectangle.


Word boxes employ a scaffolding approach for developing phonemic awareness, word identification, and spelling skills.

 The teacher:

  • explains each task
  • models the tasks
  • guides a child toward completing the tasks independently
  • provides corrective feedback

The divided box itself serves as a scaffold in addition to the modeling and feedback provided by the teacher. The box sections  help children segment each sound heard in words and to help them sequence letter patterns.

  1.  First the teacher models the activity. As the teacher articulates each sound in a word slowly, s/he simultaneously pushes the counters into their respective sections of the box.
  2. The learner is then encouraged to participate. As the teacher pushes the counters into the box, the learner articulates each sound.
  3. Finally, the learner acts independently and articulates each sound as s/he simultaneously pushes the counters and then magnetic letters into their respective sections of the box.


Asound box


When appropriate, magnetic letters  replace the counters, and the child moves magnetic letters into a word box.

 Asound box2


Eventually, as the child articulates the sound, s/he writes the sounds in each box.


If you are TDSB staff you can request  the full text of these 3 articles from the Tippett Professional Library:


Staff and students spend hours each day surrounded by 4 walls, and what is posted on those walls and who created it, matters because it reflects how staff and learners use, interact with each other and learn within the space. Classroom walls can convey whose space this is: Does the teacher believe this is a shared community space –it belongs to staff and learners? Does the teacher believe this is my classroom  — students are guests in the space?

What’s on the walls tells a story of what’s happening daily in the classroom in terms of teaching and learning, student voice and choice, diversity and inclusiveness, who and what is valued.  With thoughtful planning, classroom walls can provide a dynamic welcoming, culturally responsive, collaborative, inclusive, and literacy rich environment that reflects the learning of all students and elevates learners’ critical thinking and problem solving skills.

21st century ed.JPG

 Thinking about the learning environment …
“Look at your Learning Space with 21st Century eyes: Does it work for what we know about learning today, or just what we know about learning in the past?” Sir Ken Robinson, The Third Teacher. Capacity Building Series #27


THEN – TEACHER CENTRED: Information that the teacher/school wants to communicate

STATIC AND UNCHANGING: Once the info was posted, it remained static –often for years, turned yellow with age.

  • Classroom/school rules, regulations, expectations, often negative – Don’t….. or No…. important to the teacher
  • Commercially published posters – focused on the 3Rs, selected by the teacher
  • Images depicting the dominant culture, selected by the teacher
  • School/Public service announcements (Bullying, Sexuality, Safety, College/ University/Apprenticeship posters, etc
  • Chalkboard or whitebaord– often with a stack of ancient raggedy textbooks/workbooks on the ledge right inside the door
  • Periodic tables, Maps, Charts, Graphs, Formulas, etc
  • Grammar and spelling rules
  • Project deadlines
  • Motivational/ Inspirational posters selected by the teacher.hang-in-there
  • Posters featuring famous “successful” people selected by the teacher

bill gates.JPG    albert.JPG

  • Finished, polished pieces of student work (A+ students) selected by the teacher
  • Teacher’s favourite nature or travel photographs
  • Bookshelf tucked in the corner overflowing with old binders, workbooks, magazines  and raggedy novels, donated or purchased at yard sales or thrift shops with books that the teacher liked and felt were “appropriate” for students.


NOW – STUDENT CENTRED: Information that is important to everyone sharing the space

DYNAMIC: Changed yearly/monthly/daily, depending on the theme, topic

  • Co-created Welcome Board with Inclusive Community Building Goals and Success Criteria for interacting, collaborating and learning with others in the community space
  • Co-created Growth Mindset Bulletin Board – brainstorm with learners

gm growth-mindset   the-learning-pit

  • Co-created What Success Looks Like– brainstorm with learners
  • Diversity – visible and invisible, in the images/photographs posted
  • Interactive whiteboad
  • Student work – includes work in all stages, in addition to finished pieces with all students represented – selected by students and teacher

student work.JPG

  • Subject specific and cross curricular space with visual representation /infographics/webs, QR codes of Themes, Topics, Subjects, Courses, currently being studied – contributions from staff and learners.
  • Word walls –subject specific, roots and affixes and trending words selected by students and teacher – not too many, 30pt+ plain font

Math WW.JPG word-wallWWw


  • Book display – featuring a wide range of books /magazines/graphic novels- fiction and non-fiction that appeals to a diverse population (not just diversity that is “visible” but others, eg sexual orientation,  mixed identities) covers facing out for students to browse or read during independent reading time.

book-display-2            book display 3.JPGbook-display

  • Co-created Transitions Space with info showing how students participate in: classroom/school/home/community/workplace/post-secondary education& post-school lives
  • Co-created Health and Wellbeing space that includes information on promoting physical and mental health and healthy relationships
  • Shelf containing current Trillium approved resources and student textbooks

Walls should not be jam/packed with every square inch covered. There should be blank space framing the displays, so that the walls are not so busy they create a distraction.


The Mindset of Culturally Responsive Educators

EQAO finds reading for pleasure boosts test results -Toronto Star

The Global Language Monitor: Trending Words

The Ontario Ministry of Education: Word Walls

Research on Word Walls,

Think Literacy –Subject Specific Word Lists

The Cognatarium: root words and affixes

Managing Stress

As frontline staff, Section 23 teachers and educational assistants are no strangers to a significant level of daily stress. Most of you, I’m sure already have  many strategies for managing stress. However, there is no harm in taking a few minutes now and then to remind ourselves to make a commitment to  healthy stress reduction and management in order to control, or minimize the long term negative heath implications of chronic stress.

A few key points from: How Successful People Stay Calm, by Dr Travis Bradbeer.

  • moderate, intermittent levels of stress are not harmful and as long as the stress isn’t chronic, it can keep the brain alert
  • the onset of stress stimulates the growth of new brain cells responsible for improved memory; however when stress becomes prolonged, it suppresses the brain’s ability to develop new cells.
  • chronic stress decreases cognitive performance and increases the risk of heart disease, depression, obesity
  • the good news is that stress is subjective and can be controlled

“Top performers have well-honed coping strategies that they employ under stressful circumstances. This lowers their stress levels regardless of what’s happening in their environment, ensuring that the stress they experience is intermittent and not prolonged.”

teachers under stress.

Photo from The Guardian

Ten strategies that successful people use to manage their stress:

  1. Cultivate a daily  attitude of gratitude 
  2. Avoid worrying about what might go wrong
  3. Make a conscious effort to shift attention away from negative to positive thoughts
  4. Reduce stressors by scheduling regular breaks from work, technology and mobile devices
  5. Limit  intake of caffeine 
  6. Make regular exercise & high quality sleep a priority 
  7. Squash negative self-talk
  8. Reframe unproductive thought patterns –or a tendency to catastrophize-that cause stress and anxiety to spike
  9. Focus on mindful breathing in stressful situations 
  10. Develop and tap into a work/personal support systems to talk things through when feeling overwhelmed

To read the Dr, Bradbeer’s full article:

Additional reading

Hill, Amelia, The Guardian. Depressed, stressed: teachers in crisis.


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Is there a Place in Language Arts for Spelling & Grammar Instruction?

Yes, but not the way they were taught back in the day, which was drill-oriented, involved rote memorization, and was taught in isolation of authentic reading, writing and oral communication. Completing worksheets, learning rules, rote memorization of random spelling words and weekly quizzes are ineffective. They have been shown to be time wasters and do nothing to improve students’ reading comprehension, nor their oral and written language.

“A century of research shows that traditional grammar lessons—those hours spent diagramming sentences and memorizing parts of speech—don’t help and may even hinder students’ efforts to become better writers. Yes, they need to learn grammar, but the old-fashioned way does not work (Cleary, 2014).”

“It is not enough for students to understand the complex grammatical features they encounter in their reading and listening; they must also be supported in using such language in their own speaking and writing…What this means today is that grammar instruction needs to be thoughtfully integrated into the language arts curriculum. (Gartland & Smolkin 2015).”

FROM Gartland & SmolkinGrammarTable

Please Pay

Implications for teaching spelling & grammar as an aid to writing

Schools that have moved away from teaching formal grammar using traditional methods, to teaching grammar through wide reading, studying mentor texts, sentence combining and authentic writing, “offer concrete proof that such approaches work (Cleary, 2014).”

To improve students’ grammar, teachers should:

  • Wide & close Reading: Give students plenty of opportunities and encouragement to read, read, read (Anderson 2014).
  • *Study mentor texts: Help students expand their syntactic repertoire by exploring “grammar in action.” Examine and discuss effective examples through mentor texts. Grammatical terminology can be used, but should not be taught as an end in itself. Students can then begin experimenting with style and syntax in their own writing (Anderson 2014).
  • *Sentence combining: Have students experiment with and discuss various activities in sentence combining, expanding, and manipulating (Kittle, 2009).
  • Authentic writing activities: students need plenty of opportunities and encouragement to write, write, write, about topics of their choosing for a variety of purposes and real audiences (Williams, 2009).
  • Just-in-time teaching in context: Teach only the grammatical concepts –through mini-lessons and conferences, that students need for exploring mentor texts, and for editing  and revisions of their own writing

Grammar table 2.JPG


To improve students’ spelling, teachers should:

  • *Word Study: This is an approach to spelling instruction that moves away from  memorization of random word lists and helps students learn about words. Students develop “orthographic knowledge and cognitive strategies” which creates a deeper foundation for spelling development. “Stage theory focuses on the consistent patterns in language, and views learners as pattern-seeking beings. Learners, then, can employ their understanding of sound or morphological patterns in known words to recognize unfamiliar words when listening or reading; this knowledge can then be applied to using these words accurately when speaking or writing (MoE  2012).”



  • Teach Morphology. “Morphological knowledge may begin with simple concepts such as markers to indicate plural forms, and then develop over several years to include sophisticated knowledge of derived forms, such as human /humane/ humanity/ inhuman/  humanist (MoE  2012).”
  • Word Walls. World walls are effective with all grades and for a variety of purposes: 1) spelling of new/difficult words; 2) frequently misspelled words; 3) content words; 4) words students can substitute for overused words, eg “said“; 5) forms that students find confusing eg. they’re, their, there,  “Children who learn in a classroom with a working word wall have a distinct advantage over students who don’t have such a resource in their room( Education World 2016).


*Example of Word Study Instruction in action (Williams et al. 2009)

A Brief Description of the Research In the first investigation (Beckham-Hungler & Williams, 2003), we used the words Title I students frequently misspelled in their journals as the basis for word study instruction. We organized the misspelled words into weekly spelling lists that focused on a specific orthographic feature or principle so that Diane (teacher-researcher) could systematize her instruction and focus students’ attention on the concept to be learned (see Fountas & Pinnell, 1996). For example, students frequently misspelled the words house, about, our, and now, so Diane developed a weekly spelling lesson on these two spellings of the /au/ sound. At the end of our project, we found that when students reused the target words in their journals, they spelled these words correctly 85% of the time. More importantly, we were impressed by the number of other words the children spelled correctly that contained the same orthographic features as in the target words. For example, after Diane taught the ack rime, Tyler (all children’s names are pseudonyms) wrote wacky in his journal, also using the y spelling for the long e sound, which Diane had previously taught. A few days later both Denise and Karla wrote the word snacks in their journals. After Diane taught the ay spelling for the long a sound, Daniel wrote the word pray and Denise wrote gray. After Diane taught the ow spelling for the long o sound, Austin wrote the word slow and Aaron wrote snowed. Our conclusion was that systematic word study helped the students learn the target words and apply the orthographic features to other words they were writing.

*Example of Sentence Combining in action (Kittle, 2014)

Combining Sentences In their meta-analysis of writing instruction, Graham & Perin (2007) cite combining sentences as one of 11 strategies that move adolescent writers forward. This strategy helps writers experiment with possibilities. I give students four sentences: Biff graduated #7 in his high school class and missed only three questions on the SAT. He was undefeated in tennis senior year. He received a generous scholarship in math. He was denied admission to three universities he hoped to attend. I ask them to combine the information into one or two sentences, applying their understanding of complex sentences. As students work, I teach in the moment to correct misunderstandings or reinforce smart choices. Issac says, “You’ll like this, Mrs. Kittle: It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. Biff was undefeated in tennis and graduated #7 in his class with a generous scholarship in math due to his stellar SAT performance; however, he was denied admission to three universities he hoped to attend.” He’s right. I love it.

*Example of Using Mentor texts in action (Anderson, 2014)

The importance of using mentor texts is in the analysis that naturally comes through the conversation that follows the reading, in the transaction with the text. When we talk about what works in the writing we read, we become more consciously aware of it (Eagleman, 2012). As students note what a writer does well, they are, at the same time, creating a menu of options they can use in their own writing. For example, when Jasmine notices that Leonard Pitts starts his editorial with a list of commands in second person, she now has another option for how to begin her essay.

Educators often separate writing and reading—not to mention the panicked Henny Pennies who run around squawking “Close reading!” “Grammar!” “Author’s purpose!”— but the truth is these activities are inextricably linked. We can teach them as part of one meaning-making endeavor. When Beyoncé sings, “If I were a boy” in her well-known song by the same name, young writers notice that she says “if I were,” not “if I was.” That’s close reading. The point of learning about the subjunctive mood,  isn’t so much to label it as to use it. The power of the subjunctive mood is to communicate something that’s contrary to fact. Students understand that Beyoncé sings “If I were a boy” precisely because she isn’t. And this new understanding that students gleaned from their reading will surface in their writing. Writing and reading are more than standards—they’re meaning-making itself. They are processes that can address the standards. Each application and discussion leads reading back to writing, and reading and writing back to grammar. It’s all connected.

FROM Gartland & SmolkinGrammar Take action




  • Anderson, J. (2014). What Writing Is & Isn’t. Educational Leadership, 71(7), 10-14.
  • Cleary, M.N. (2014). The Wrong Way to Teach Grammar. The Atlantic
  • Gartland, L & L.Smolkin (2015) The Histories and Mysteries of Grammar Instruction. Reading Teacher, 69(4), 391-399.
  • Kittle, P. (2014). Teaching the Writer’s Craft. Educational Leadership.71(7) 34-39. 
  • Leipzig, D. H. (accessed 2016) Word Study: A new approach to teaching spelling.Reading Rockets
  • Saddler, B. (2005). Sentence combining: A sentence-level writing intervention. Reading Teacher, 58(5), 468-471.
  • Williams, C., Phillips-Birdsong, C., Hufnagel, K., Hungler, D., & Lundstrom, R. P. (2009). Word Study Instruction. Reading Teacher, 62(7), 570-578.

TDSB teachers can request  full text Reading Teacher and Educational Leadership articles from the Tippett professional Library.

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Students’ interest in learning and their belief that they can learn are critical to their success (Growing Success p. 29).
Assessment as, of and for learning plays a critical role in teaching and learning because it provides teachers with a clear and detailed roadmap of the skills and knowledge that need to be taught.  Assessment provides students with a clear understanding of what they need to do in order to show that they have learned the required skills and knowledge. The ultimate goal of assessment is the development of students as independent and autonomous learners. As an integral part of teaching and learning, assessment should be planned concurrently with instruction and integrated seamlessly into the learning cycle to inform instruction, guide next steps, and help teachers and students monitor students’ progress  towards achieving learning goals (Growing Success p. 29).”


Learning goals clearly identify in plain language what students are expected to know and be able to do. Teachers develop learning goals based on curriculum expectations, which they  share with their students at or near the beginning of a learning cycle. Through discussion and clarification, teachers and students develop a common understanding of what is being taught/learned and what success looks like. Success criteria are used to develop checklists, rubrics, exit cards, etc., that clearly identify how the learning will be assessed and what evidence is needed to show that the student has acquired the knowledge or skills (p.33)

From Edugains:

Exit card.JPG


PURPOSE:   What needs to be taught/learned and what success looks like to the student and the teacher.

STUDENT needs to understand what goal s/he is trying to achieve, and specific steps that are needed to achieve the goal. How will I know that I’ve learned this?

TEACHER needs to determine what needs to be taught and specific actions needed to assist students in achieving their goals. How will I know that the student has learned this?

  1. UNIT PLAN: using your course/curriculum expectations identify the “big” unit learning goals
  2. MONTHLY PLAN: break down the “big” learning goals into a manageable subset of skills

include: knowledge/understanding, reasoning skills, communications, competencies, performance, products, etc.(See Growing Success Doc, Achievement Charts p.19-25)


  • What do students know, what do they need to learn?
  • What do I need to do to facilitate the learning?
  • How can I make success on this learning goal transparent and visible to my students?
  • Will students be able to explicitly link what they are doing to what they are learning?
  • ED.2

“Effective learning goals are based on the curriculum but expressed in a way that supports the learning needs of students. Students learn in different ways, in different increments, and at different rates. Some students need to learn in smaller increments than others; some need to “leapfrog, then circle back” (Popham, 2008, p. 28) in a non‐linear path  (Edugains)“

3.WEEKLY PLAN: What do students know, what do they need to learn?

From Edugains:

Based on your answers to the above questions, break the goals down further into “bite sized” learning goals for students

  • use plain language students can understand
  • conference with students to identify success criteria for each goal
  • co-create individual learning goals and success criteria with students if appropriate
  • success criteria should be explicit and observable
  • both teacher and student should have a clear idea of what is expected
  • LG4




  • Identify the knowledge and skills need to be taught
  • identify what segment students will be doing that day to work on their goals


PRE: student/teacher conference: before the daily/weekly segment begins

  • clarify students’ understanding of the learning goals and success criteria
  • identify what steps the student can take if they are struggling with work

POST: student/teacher conference: at the end of the segment

  • discuss with students the Learning Goal and whether they were successful in accomplishing it, refer to the success criteria.
  • encourage self-assessment and reflection
  • start a new goal or continue to work to complete the goal




  • refer to work/behavior/ attitude  that showed improvement;
  • identify an area where more work needs to be done

In order to improve student learning and help students become independent learners, teachers need to make a committed effort to teach these skills and provide all students in all grades with opportunities to practise them. Teachers need to scaffold this learning for students, using a model of gradual release of responsibility for learning. The ultimate goal of the process is to move each student from guided practice to independent practice, based on the student’s readiness (Growing Success p 35)

Gradual Release of responsibility model. The teacher will:

  • demonstrate the skills during instruction;
  • move to guided instruction and support;
  • have students share in the responsibility for assessing their own work;
  • gradually provide opportunities for students to assess their own learning independently.


EDUGAINS (Ontario Ministry of Education)has a library with 6 videos and viewing guides for an indepth look at  Learning Goals and Success Criteria.  CLICK HERE TO VIEW:


Ontario Ministry of Education (2010), Assessment, Evaluation & Reporting in Ontario Schools. Grades 1-12.    GrowSuccess document.


Data Show Positive Outcomes Associated with Mindfulness Practice

By Coleen Clemens, Feb 08, 2016

The article states:

  • there are compelling anecdotes supporting the efficacy of mindfulness practices in schools
  • mindfulness practices e.g., learning to control attention and emotions, help students, particularly students from low-income households, cope with challenges so they can learn better
  • in one study, mindfulness practice led to a dip in inattentiveness, symptoms of hyperactivity for a period of at least two months.



One of San Francisco’s toughest schools transformed by the power of meditation

By Anne Leach, November 2015

Surrounded by drugs and gang violence, the kids were who attended Visitacion Valley Middle School in San Franscisco  (500 students aged 11-13), were frequently stressed out and agitated. Starting in 2007, the school implemented a meditation program, which has led to reduced staff and student stress and improved student achievement. A meditation program called Quiet Time, was brought in to meet some of the challenges that students and staff faced every day.  Within 1 month of implementing the program, school staff began to notice a positive difference. Students worked harder, paid more attention, were easier to teach and the number of fights fell dramatically.

Barry O’Driscoll, the school’s head of physical education stated: “It’s provided a lot of stability to our school, helping staff and kids get through the stress they have in their lives.”

Benefits listed: 

  • In 2007 suspensions were reduced by 45%
  • 2009-10, attendance rates were over 98% (some of the highest in the city)
  • In 2014, California Healthy Kids Survey from the state’s education department found that students at Visitacion Valley middle school were the happiest of all San Franscisco schools
  • By 2015, 20% of graduates were admitted to the highly academic Lowell High school



Bringing mindfulness to the school curriculum

More and more kids across Canada are learning meditation techniques. Not everyone thinks it’s a good use of time.

By Kate Lunau, June, 2014. 

In 2014, Dr. Norman Bethune Collegiate Institute in Toronto, introduced lessons in mindfulness meditation that encourages awareness of the present moment, in a non-judgmental way. All of its 200 Grade 9 students participated in six workshops over a two-month period.  According to Principal Sandy Kaskens, the response was overwhelmingly positive. 

At Bethune, interested teachers started practicing mindfulness together over the lunch hour in November 2013; after a full day of training in January 2014, they launched student workshops a month later. “It’s become really clear that if you want to do this in schools, you have to start with teachers,” says Willem Kuyken, professor of clinical psychology at the University of Exeter, who has studied mindfulness programs in U.K. schools, where they’re more established. “The teacher needs to embody the qualities [of mindfulness] they’re trying to teach.”

The practice is spreading to schools across North America at the Elementary and Secondary level. Not everyone is onboard with Mindfulness Meditation, however. Teachers sometimes feel it’s just one more thing to deal with in addition to all their other responsibilities. Some parents in the US have also expressed concerns about perceived overtones of Eastern religion and the valuable time it takes away from education.



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  • Slowing Down to Learn: Mindful Pauses That Can Help Student Engagement, Mindshift, February 2015.
  • eye
  • Zenner, C. et al (2014) Mindfulness-based interventions in schools—a systematic review and meta-analysis. US National Institute of Health.

The Mindset of Culturally Responsive Educators

One definition of culture is that it is a way of life and learned ways of acting, feeling thinking and communicating based on a group who share common language, beliefs, values, traditions, social norms, and identity in a society (Canadian Hearing Society, 2016).

The Ministry of Education Monograph, Culturally Responsive Pedagogy: Towards Equity and Inclusivity in Ontario Schools (MoE 2013) states that culture goes much deeper than typical beliefs about ethnicity, race & religion, or traditional understandings of “multiculturalism,” with its emphasis on food, festivals, clothing, traditions and celebrations. Culture “encompasses broad notions of similarity and difference and it is reflected in our students’ multiple social identities and their ways of knowing and of being in the world.” In order to serve the increasingly diverse cultures and communities in Ontario, therefore,  it is crucial for teachers to understand what Culturally Responsive and Relevant Pedagogy (CRRP) is and how it applies to teaching and learning (MoE 2013).

TDSB Expectations of Practice states: The classroom environment, instructional strategies and program content must reflect, respect and validate the lived experiences and social identities of the students and the greater global community. This means that our schools and classrooms need to reflect the current reality of our students and move away from representing and maintaining the values, beliefs, curriculum, instructional strategies and resources that reflect the dominant culture of a bygone era  (Accessed Feb 3, 2016).

Culturally Responsive and Relevant Pedagogy (CRRP) is a term that was first introduced in 1994 by Gloria Ladson-Billings (MoE 2013). Culturally responsive pedagogy recognizes that:

  • all students have multiple social identities, unique perspectives and ways of knowing, of being in the world and of learning.
  • differences may be connected to background, language, family structure, ability, LGBTQ, mental health, socio-economic status, or cultural identity, etc.


There are three central principles:

  1. high expectations for all students,
  2. assisting students in the development of cultural competence
  3. guiding students to develop a critical cultural consciousness.

Theorists write about three dimensions which comprise culturally responsive pedagogy. All three dimensions are foundational to the establishment of an inclusive school culture.

  1. Institutional

This highlights the need for school leadership to critically examine educational practices that may reproduce particular patterns of marginalization. School leadership needs to also engage families, communities and other stakeholders and establish collaborations with community agencies whose mandates include serving school-age children, youth, and their families (OISE).

  1. Personal

This encompasses the mindset of culturally responsive educators and the practices they engage in, in order to support the development of all students.Culturally responsive educators are self-aware, and reflective in their professional practice. They are motivated to really get to know their students and allow students to connect with each other. They accept, value and respect their students as individuals and seek to understand how their students learn and how to inspire, motivate and engage them.

  1. Instructional

Culturally responsive and relevant pedagogy  means that teachers create an inclusive and respectful environment and are mindful of, and sensitive to how curriculum, instructional strategies and classroom resources impact the conditions for student learning and student experience. Culturally responsive educators provide students with choice and voice, multiple ways of learning, personalized learning and the opportunity to demonstrate their learning in a variety of unique and personal ways.

The MoE Monograph states: Culturally responsive teachers share a particular set of dispositions and skills – a mindset that enables them to work creatively and effectively to support all students in diverse settings.


In a culturally responsive classroom, teachers are mindful of how critical their role is in setting the tone for learning by providing a safe and supportive learning environment that is learner-centered and embraces students’ diverse backgrounds. Students strengths are identified, nurtured, and utilized to promote student achievement. In a culturally responsive classroom the following are carefully and thoughtfully selected to reflect diversity, support student learning and contribute to student success:

  • curriculum/course content
  • diagnostic assessment
  • instructional strategies
  • classroom design and layout
  • assignments and projects
  • pacing and timelines
  • learning and play materials
  • posters and wall charts
  • textbooks and teacher guides
  • online and print resources
  • technology, including assistive technology
  • educational apps
  • novels and reading materials
  • assessment & evaluation
  • interventions
  • feedback

To download and read the full  Monograph, Culturally Responsive Pedagogy : Towards Equity and Inclusivity in Ontario Schools, SECRETARIAT SPECIAL EDITION # 35 click here: CBS_ResponsivePedagogy


Additional Reading:

The following pages can only be viewed after TDSB teacher login:

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Early Reading Instruction: New Research

A Few Key Points from: Reutzel, D. R. (2015). Early Literacy Research Findings Primary-Grade Teachers Will Want to Know. The Reading Teacher. 69(1). 14–24.

  1.  Phonemic Awareness VS Rhyming and Alliteration Activities
  2. Alphabet Knowledge LN-LS – Instruction and Pacing
  3. Alphabet Learning Order-What the Research Shows

Early literacy development is among the most fleeting yet vitally important phases of literacy development. All primary-grade teachers intuitively know that if young children get off to a good start, they will rarely stumble along the path of academic progression. On the other hand, if they do not, these young learners often struggle throughout their school careers (in Reutzel, 2015).


 Phonemic Awareness VS Rhyming and Alliteration Activities: What the Research Shows

  • reading skill is better predicted by phonemic skills than rhyming skills
  • 4- and 5-year-old children taught segmentation and blending experience significantly greater gains in phonemic awareness and letter-sound knowledge than children taught with rhyme and alliteration activities.

 Phonemic awareness instruction has been shown to produce greater improvements in awareness and future reading achievement in young children than time spent on rhyming and alliteration.  Despite the allure and fun of rhyming, songs and poetry activities in the kindergarten classroom, research has not yet uncovered any strong evidence to show rhyming as a “developmental precursor of young children’s full phonemic awareness.” The author does not argue that rhyming and alliteration activities be abandoned, rather that the focus and emphasis should be primarily on phonemic awareness instruction –blending, segmenting, and manipulating phonemes.

teaching sight words

 Alphabet Knowledge LN-LS – Instruction and Pacing

Alphabet knowledge is the single best predictor of later reading and writing success (National Early Literacy Panel).  

Research has shown that letter-a-day instructional pacing was significantly more effective than letter-a-Week pacing in promoting students’ mastery of the alphabet letter names. Reutzel states that the most effective alphabet knowledge instruction requires no more than 12-15 minutes per day and is multicomponential, meaning that lessons should include learning activities that require letter recognition, naming, associating the symbol with a sound, writing, discriminating the letter to be taught from other letters, and categorizing letters into upper- and lowercase. (For more info on letter a day see previous post New Insights into Letter Learning )


Alphabet Learning Order-What the Research Shows

Recent Research has also identified new findings about the order(s) in which young children develop their knowledge of the alphabet and how teachers can most effectively help them to do so. Six evidence-based alphabet letter learning orders have been identified, through which young children may acquire knowledge of alphabet letter names and sounds.

 1. Own-name effect.

States that young children most easily and quickly learn the letters found in their given or first names. The strongest effect is for the first letter in the first name, such as J for Jamal.

2. Alphabetic-order effect.

Letters at the beginning or end of the alphabet are learned more quickly and easily than those letters ordered in the middle of the alphabet.

3. Letter-frequency effect,

The more frequently letters appear in printed materials, the more quickly and easily they are learned.

4. Letter-name pronunciation effect.

Occurs when a letter’s sound is heard as the letter’s name is pronounced.

5. Consonant phoneme acquisition order effect,

Young children learn consonant letters’ names and sounds easier when they are mastered earlier in children’s oral language development.

6. Distinctive visual features letter-writing effect.

The letters of the alphabet are recognized through detection of a smaller set of distinctive visual features, which include (1) terminations, (2) straight lines, (3) curved lines, (4) diagonal lines, and (5) intersections

Teaching students to fluently produce this smaller set of distinctive visual features before teaching them how to write all of the alphabet letters has been found to lead to quicker mastery of letter transcription. The production of handwritten alphabet letters activated areas of children’s brains identified as the “reading circuit” more than any other sensorimotor training.

Lesson Template from The Reading Teacher page 17.


Reutzel, D. Ray (2015). The Reading Teacher. 69, (1) pages 14–24
Lesson Template for Teaching 12-Minute Letter Name and Letter Sound
Lesson Objective
Students will learn the name, the sound, and how to write the symbols for the upper- and lowercase letter T/t.

  1. Bag of mixed alphabet letters
  2. Washable markers and lapboards
  3. Copies of enlarged print page
  4. Highlighter tape

Today, you will be learning to name, say the sound of, and write the upper- and lowercase letter T/t. Learning the letter name, the letter sound, and how to write upper- and lowercase letter T/t will help you to read and write many new words.
Letter Name Identification
This is the uppercase letter T. (Write and show the uppercase form of the letter.) This is the lowercase letter t. (Write and show the lowercase form of the letter.) Let’s practice naming this letter. What Is this letterT/t? (Point in different order to upper- and lowercase letter T/t at least three times.)
Letter Sound Identification
The letter /t/ makes the/t/ sound. Say the /t/ sound with me: /t/,/t/,/t/. What is the sound of the letter /t/? (Point to upper- and lowercase letter  T/t/ at least three times, asking students to make the sound of  the letter.)
Sort the Letters
Here are some upper- and lowercase letter T/t (Show bag with 6-8 upper- and lowercase T/t magnetic letters, foam letters, or dye cuts.) They are all mixed in this bag. We need to sort these letters into upper- and lowercase categories. (Begin with a closed sort, and in subsequent review lessons, use an open sort.) I’ll put each letter on the board, and if It is an uppercase letter T, you say, “Uppercase T” if it is a lowercase say “Lowercase /t/ ” (Place letters on whiteboard one at a time for students to identify and sort.)
Find the Letters
Now, let’s see how many letter ts we can find on this page. (Be sure to pick short pages of enlarged  print with no more than four lines of print. Run a pointer underneath the words in each line of print.)  When you see a letter t point to the t. (Call on one student to come up and place a piece of highlighter  tape over the letter t on the enlarged print page. You can also pass out a copy of a 3- or 4-line page from a  children’s picture book and ask students to find a certain number of letter ts on the page using a highlighter pen or crayon. (Using a timer or stopwatch to increase intensity, pacing, and motivation is also advised.)

Write the Letter

Name and demonstrate the proper formation of the uppercase T.

The uppercase letter T starts at the top of the line and goes straight down to the bottom of the line. Then it has a straight line across the top.

Name and demonstrate the proper formation of the lowercase t .

The lowercase t also starts at the top of the line and goes straight down to the bottom of the line. Next make a line that crosses the other line between the middle-and top of the line.

Distribute white boards, gelboards, or lap boards. Ask students to write 3-6 uppercase and lowercase T/t letters and also quickly review any other letters learned. Note which students were successful and which may need additional help in small group settings.)



To request a print copy of the article (TDSB teachers only): Reutzel, D. R. (2015). Early Literacy Research Findings Primary-Grade Teachers Will Want to Know. The Reading Teacher. 69(1). 14–24. Please contact the Tippett Professional Library (TDSB)






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