The Stories of Home

A Voice to tell Stories captures how a family’s stories are not only an integral component of a young child’s learning, they keep the family’s history alive.

A Voice to Tell Stories

Remembering when I wanted so badly

to have something to say

to have someone to listen to me

like they listened to my Uncle Scott

how his stories made everyone laugh

how everyone listened to my Grandpa

how his stories reminded everyone of the past

how I would listen to my Mom

how her stories would lull me to sleep

how I would listen to my Dad

he gave me someone I’d like to be


I wanted a voice to tell stories

but my voice was quiet and shy

I didn’t know too many stories

so I would make them up sometimes

I tried to mimic my Uncle’s stories

but they didn’t laugh the same way

I tried my hand at Grandpa’s stories

but they lacked history

I even tried my Mom’s stories

but I forgot them halfway through

and when I tried my Dad’s stories

he said, How ’bout a story about you?”


I learned that the best stories to tell

aren’t copied at all

if you’re patient you’ll have dozens

and a voice to speak as well

I’ve been taught ‘bout storytelling

it makes me who I am

my stories sound like my Uncle’s,

my Grandpa’s, Mom’s and Dad’s

my inflections come from them

some jokes I’ve borrowed just for laughs

and someday soon my son’s Jibreel’s stories

will sound like his old man’s.

Daniel Wicks, Bermuda 2010

Posted in Culturally Inclusive Classrooms, Effective Listening, Home Language: the Foundation Of English Language Learning | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Using Home Language as the Foundation for English Language Learning – A Win Win Situation

Home Language: The language to which children are exposed in their homes and communities; it is the language that they use as their primary means of communication, and identifies them with their community.

The benefits of English language instruction that builds on and encourages the development of a student’s Home Language are well documented. This sort of language instruction is based on the perspective of contrasting languages, rather than comparing languages. Why? Because contrasting languages acknowledges the differences and similarities between languages, while comparing languages may send the message of correct and incorrect usage of a language.


The following lesson ideas use both English and Home Language versions of Bill Martin Jr.’s book, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? illustrate how to bring Genesee’s research into practice.

First, have a listen to this engaging, highly predictable text.:

Brown Bear, Brown Bear is available as a big book, a student sized book, and in many online formats. The vocabulary includes many useful sight words used in a meaningful context that are well supported by Eric Carle’s beautiful and supportive illustrations. The structure of the book is built around a question-answer format that leads the reader from the beginning to the end and back to the beginning.

Brown Bear is short enough to be easily reproduced on chart paper or in electronic format in both English and Home Language. If you don’t share the students’ Home Language, invite a parent or community member with knowledge of the Home Language to help.

In this set of lesson ideas, Brown Bear is the anchor text for a variety of comprehension, grammar, and word work lessons. As children interact with both versions of the text, they “notice cognates, make educated inferences based on phrases and words they already know, access nuanced ideas, and navigate complex grammar and vocabulary from the start.” (Pillars 2017) Using a gradual release of responsibility model, teachers provide just enough support as students learn to use and build on their Home language to become more comfortable with English.

  1. Read Aloud: As an introduction to the story, read Brown Bear to the students. Read it first in the Home Language and then in English. Use the illustrations and colour blocks to link the animal names and colour words of two languages.
  2. Shared Reading: After the read aloud, encourage the students to read along with both versions as they feel comfortable. Point out animal names and colour words. Demonstrate the natural phrasing of each language.
  3. Create an “Our Languages Word Wall” to build a bilingual vocabulary. This word wall uses a double entry model. Words chosen for the word wall are presented in the Home Language and in English. Pictures supplement the words. For example, in the “L” section of the word wall, write the words lous* / bear and include an illustration. In the “B” section, write and illustrate word bear / lous. Note: After an example or two, break the class into small groups and assign two animals and two colour words for each group to illustrate and add to the word wall. (*lous is Haitian Creole for bear)
  4. Develop fluency with Readers’ Theater: To begin, create your own Readers Theatre, using the animal names and sounds. Each student has an image and picture of an animal, with a line of text, such as: The bear says GRRRRR, the bird says Tweet Tweet,  etc. As facility with the language increases, try a Readers’ Theater script such as One side of the class asks the questions, the other side of the class answers the questions. Repeat with the Home Language.
  5. Mini Lesson: Learning about the question-answer format. Draw the students’ attention to the word “what” and the as indicators of a question format. Throughout the day, highlight question words as they come up in conversation and contrast with the questioning structures of the Home Language. Samples can be placed in a “phrases” section on the Our Languages Word Wall.
  6. Sight Word Vocabulary: Brown Bear repeats several useful sight words (I, you, see, what, do, etc.), all presented in meaningful context. These words, can be located by students and added to Home Language / English double entry word walls or personal dictionaries.
  7. Phonological Awareness and Phonics: Teaching rhyme, segmenting, blending as well as letter sounds and blends is only meaningful when the student understands the word, so plan word work lessons that start with the known vocabulary of the Home Language and then link that knowledge to English.
  8. Linking oral language and art:  Art activities provide lots of opportunities for oral language development. In Brown Bear, Eric Carle’s masterful tissue paper collages provide lots of opportunity for contrasting the Home Language and English vocabulary of colour, shading, and shape. Provide students with pieces of tissue paper to overlap and hold up to the window and listen to their oral language develop.
  9. Linking Reading and Writing: The repetitive pattern of Brown Bear provides lots of support for students to write another question-answer book, perhaps using the names of their classmates as they search for different objects. To take this one step further, the use of quotation marks, not present in Brown Bear, Brown Bear, can be introduced and practiced.

For more professional conversations about education, please visit:Beyond the Apple . . . Reframing Conversations in Education or contact us at

Posted in Culturally Inclusive Classrooms, Educational Change, Home Language: the Foundation Of English Language Learning | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Looking and wondering: When does a line become an angle?

Take a walk with your students or your child. Search for a line that becomes in interesting shape. The stop, look, question and encourage students to wonder.

If it’s not a good day to go outside, have a look at this image and ponder the thinking questions below. All of a sudden, geometry makes sense . . .


When does a line become an angle?

Are all angles the same size?

When does an angle become a triangle?

Are all triangles the same size?

When does a triangle become a square?

Are all squares the same size?

When do squares become rectangles?

Are all rectangles the same size?

How many triangles fit inside a square?

How many triangles fit inside a rectangle?

Where is the biggest triangle?

Where is the smallest triangle?

How many triangles are in an X?

Are the angles the same size?

This tower is made up of repeating sections. Find a section of this tower. Can you draw it?

Now try making it:

making angles

One more thing to think about . . . which shape can carry the most weight? A triangle, a square, a diamond, or a rectangle?

For more professional conversations about education, please visit:Beyond the Apple . . . Reframing Conversations in Education or contact us at


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Becoming a Writer: What We Learn From a Child’s First Stories

My son’s first story consisted of a series wavy lines and curlicues written in black marker across the back of a leather sofa. Upon completion, he declared, “Look! I wrote my story in grown up writing!” And for those of you who are wondering, yes, it was a permanent marker.

With great pride, he read us his story. As he pointed to each “word” He shared an action packed and well developed account of Spiderman’s most recent adventure.  Although his first story was unreadable to anyone else, every other trait of writing (ideas, organization, voice, word choice, sentence fluency) was present. It was clear that my son was a writer, he just had to learn how to share his story with others. As a mother, I hoped that the formal school instruction in spelling, spacing, and letter formation did not overtake his enthusiasm for sharing his stories.

While my son’s first story was lost with the eventual replacement of the sofa, my daughter’s first piece of formal writing survived. Since she was making a card, she chose to draw her story. Have a look:



I think you’ll agree that my daughter’s card, written to wish her dad a speedy recovery from knee surgery, provides the reader with a clear sense of the event, the details of the event, and the impact of the event (yes, that’s just what her Dad looked like when he came home from the hospital).  My daughter was also using some of the conventions of text – a greeting at the top of the page:

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and a closing:

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This somewhat misplaced grouping of letters:

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Screen Shot 2017-03-21 at 2.52.43 PM    is actually evidence of an almost correct spelling of her name, which is Michèle. (Yes, the orientation of “L” is a bit wonky and there are a few extra horizontal lines in the “E”, but she had a clear sense of what she was writing)

Michele was also editing her work, which is clear when she realized she’d made a mistake:

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The point of this is to illustrate that as soon as children start telling, drawing, or writing stories, they are writers. It’s our job as parents and teachers to acknowledge these early forms of writing, encourage more exploration, and provide timely prompts about how to share their ideas and stories.

As children start to experiment with print, ask them to read the story to you. Ask questions about the details of the story and acknowledge their developing use of print to share the story. As a child’s writing develops, develop lessons and provide feedback that focuses on writing as a process of sharing ideas. Encourage children to explore and develop their ideas through interesting word choice and sentence structures as they learn how to spell. It’s important to remember that spelling is a component of writing, not a definition of writing.

But how can we track progress from early scribbles to readable print?

These examples, borrowed from Education Northwest Grades K-2 Illustrated Rubric K-2, provide a developmental look at how children go from the earliest to increasingly sophisticated forms of story writing.

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The process of learning how to write takes time, practice, instruction, and ongoing feedback about what’s been accomplished and what’s next. Effective support maintains the early joy of sharing a story by focusing on the student’s learning, interests, and voice.

For more about student writing, visit:

Appreciative Assessment of Student Writing Part 1  and Assessing Student Writing Part 2: An In Depth Look at the Process

For more professional conversations about education, please visit: Beyond the Apple . . . Reframing Conversations in Education or contact us at


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The Gradual Release of Responsibility: Canadian Style!

The gradual release of responsibility model requires an instructional shift from the teacher shift from assuming “all the responsibility for performing a task…to a situation in which the students assume all of the responsibility” (Duke & Pearson, 2002, p. 211).”

                To begin, lots of support . . . regardless of the age


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With less support, confidence grows . . . regardless of the age

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Until independence . . .

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and new directions are explored . . . regardless of the age!

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Know the Community; Know the Student

The term “funds of knowledge” refers to a community’s “historically accumulated and culturally developed bodies of knowledge” (Moll, Amanti, Neff, & Gonzalez, 2001). Regardless of the location, a school’s community has many funds of knowledge.

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Funds of knowledge are found throughout the community in the “lived text” of the community, such as:

  • text and oral biographies, stories, and songs of the community
  • home language of the community
  • names
  • local monuments
  • architecture
  • geography and geology
  • newspapers
  • signage
  • galleries and craft stores
  • occupations

A community’s funds of knowledge provide authentic anchors for lessons in all subject areas. We start with the familiar, link the familiar to subject area content, and engage learners in extended learning and applications of the familiar.

To learn about a community’s funds of knowledge, one must be present in the community, so take advantage of opportunities to:

  • walk through the community, notice the scenery, and listen to the sounds
  • buy your groceries at the community grocery store and chat with the folks in the store
  • attend local sporting and cultural events
  • read local publications
  • have coffee in a local coffee shop
  • ask questions

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Once folks are used to seeing you out and about, take some pictures of the community and bring the pictures into the classroom. Begin the day with a picture of a local monument, store, an empty space, playground, or office space and ask the students to tell you what they know about it and what they don’t know about it.  This provides the students with an opportunity to develop oral language skills by sharing information about something that’s familiar to them and to search for answers to questions about the unfamiliar.  Post these images on the class website and ask parents to contribute information and answer the student’s questions.

Search for community members who have knowledge of local history or search archival sites for historical photos of the area. Build these stories and images into social studies, reading, and writing lessons.

Ask community members or search the archives for biographies of community members. Link the person’s life experiences to a practical application of a curriculum area.

Ask community members to share songs or stories that were important to their families. Use these songs and stories as anchors for reading and writing workshop mini lessons.

Arrange for class tours or local businesses or industries. Ensure the tour includes information about the skills needed to find employment in those fields and what education is needed to achieve those skills. Develop a class chart of occupation / skills / education. Use the skills needed section of this chart as an anchor for mini lessons in science, art, health, etc.

Specific suggestions about linking funds of knowledge to curriculum areas is found in Engaging the Disengaged.

The benefits of using the funds of knowledge go well beyond anchoring learning in the familiar. Using a community’s funds of knowledge is the foundation of a culturally inclusive classroom.

Culturally Inclusive Teaching and Learning

  • Builds respect among all members of the classroom and school community
  • Honours the funds of knowledge of all members of the classroom community
  • Uses home language as a foundation for learning additional languages
  • Maintains high expectations for all
  • Focuses on effective communication: teachers and students develop their skills of listening through a appreciative perspective
  • Values oral language: time is provided for students to talk about topics that are authentic and meaningful to their lives
  • Understands the reciprocity of teaching and learning – everyone in the classroom community has a role as a teacher, learner, and provider of feedback
  • Uses information about a wide range of cultures in purposeful and authentic ways:
    • Fiction and nonfiction student reading materials are intentionally chosen by the teacher to provide a “sample of the world”
    • Classroom projects extend the sampling of the world to deep learning about the people of the world
    • Teacher read alouds reflect the literature of the world
    • Community members are invited to share their stories and knowledge
    • Global current event discussions do not perpetuate “single stories” about people and cultures
    • A wide range of oral and written languages are introduced, sampled and discussed in authentic ways
    • Genre studies include text and videos from a wide range of authors and cultures

For more professional conversations about education, please visit: Beyond the Apple . . . Reframing Conversations in Education or contact us at

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Re-framing Conversations About Disengaged Students

At a recent a professional learning session focused on re-engaging the disengaged learner, we greeted each participant and asked them to describe a disengaged student on a post-it note. After the completed post-it notes were attached to a white board, participants were invited to have a coffee and a morning conversation with their colleagues.

Here’s what it looked like:


As participants had their early morning coffee and introductory chats, we arranged the post-its on 2 sheets of paper and made copies for the participants.  Here’s what it looked like:

Left side comments included: gets distracted a lot, always late for class, work is incomplete,  disruptive to others, not focused, can’t read, work is incorrect, interrupts teacher by making a joke, not working, in conflict with classmates, goofs off, frustrated, leaves classroom, no sense of pride, never asks questions, goes to the bathroom a lot, frequent tantrums, has ADHD, poor writing skills.
Right side comments: thinks in abstract ways with strong communication skills, works well in a quiet environment, easily engaged in everything).

The number of comments on left side (focused on a student’s problems) outnumbered the comments on the right side (focused on a student’s potential). It was a clear illustration of how we  tend to view disengaged students with through a lens of “can’t” or “won’t” and we wanted to  change that perspective to “can” or “will”.

That lead to our Essential Question: How do we re-frame our perception of a disengaged student  from a student with a problem to a student with potential?

Thomas Guskey’s (@tguskey) words provide a powerful entry point to the solution:


First, we remember that students of any ability may be disengaged.

Next, we revisit the assessment data. Well designed and responsive formative assessments provide essential information about student learning, but only when the information is viewed from the perspective of building on the known, not fixing what’s wrong.  So we search the data for evidence of what’s been accomplished. Once we know what a student can do, we think in terms of how we provide feedback to the student and link feedback to next steps instruction. Then set high expectations for progress, monitor actual progress, and rethink instruction when progress falters.

Shifting from the perspective of student with a problem to student with potential requires more information than assessment data. To really know a student, there’s a moral and professional imperative to include information about who the student is as a person.

Building on Student Interests

Observations of the student and teacher-student conversations provide information about a student’s interests and the student’s community funds of knowledge.  Units of study, linked to all areas of the curriculum, can be developed around these interests. For example: If a student’s interest is hockey, the possibilities for curriculum linked, interest-based lessons include: counting the numbers of players on the ice (kindergarten), examining the physics of a body check (high school), determining the economic impact of hockey on the family budget, comparative studies of sports throughout the world, reading fiction and nonfiction accounts of hockey players . . .  the possibilities are endless.

For an example, click here for the story of T, a disengaged high school student who was repeatedly reminded and therefore firmly believed that he couldn’t read – until we discovered his interest in boxing and proved otherwise.

More examples of how to link student interests to the curriculum are available in Engaging the Disengaged. 

Creating Responsive Learning Environments

Teachers face a lot of pressure to have vibrant, busy, and conversation-filled classrooms where small groups of students rotate through a variety of learning activities. For some students, this is a wonderful learning experience; for others, it is a nightmare of too much noise, choice, and visual stimulation. So, design your classroom and instructional choices to be responsive and flexible. Here are some thoughts:

  • Small group work is only effective if every group member contributes and has an opportunity to demonstrate learning.
  • Whole group instruction doesn’t have to mean “stand and deliver”. Whole group instruction can be an opportunity for the class to share what they know and set directions for further small group or individual study.
  • A quiet classroom doesn’t have to impede sharing; times of silence can be focused on contemplative thinking that leads to individual or small group learning.

(NOTE: This is not meant to be a criticism of an educator’s practices. We know that wonderful things are happening in many classrooms. But, what’s wonderful for many is ineffective for some, so, as Guskey points out, we have to be willing to adjust our practice. )

Monitor Progress

Excellent teaching includes maintaining high expectations for progress, so a regular check in with accompanying feedback provides the teacher and the student with information about progress and next steps.  If progress isn’t noted, instructional format content and must be revisited.

Maintain a focus on learning, not helping

To offer help may send the message that we think the student can’t do it alone. So, rather than offering help, think of providing prompts.

  1. ask the student to tell you what he has completed thus far and exactly what he needs to know.
  2. provide lessons in how to develop questions
  3. teach students a variety of ways to search for more information
  4. be willing to reteach the content in a manner different than the original lesson
  5. ask the student to report back when he has gathered the information needed

This may sound like a lot of work – it is – but it’s the type of work that will make a significant difference to our students who are most at risk.

For more professional conversations about education, please visit:Beyond the Apple . . . Reframing Conversations in Education or contact us at

Posted in Appreciative Inquiry, Assessment, Culturally Inclusive Classrooms, Educational Change, Stories From the Classroom | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment