Blog Relaunch!

It has been a long time since I have posted on this blog, but I thought the time was right to relaunch and share my insights, thoughts, classroom ideas and experiences with literacy education.

I am currently teaching grade four and I thoroughly enjoy every day with my fantastic students. Being at a different school this year has been very refreshing and it has allowed me to learn with and work alongside a new group of teachers and students.

My classroom

My classroom

I plan to post on a variety of literacy topics, but there are six main areas I focus on in my classroom. I look forward to sharing my thoughts on these key elements in the coming months.

My Literacy Education Program – The Big Six


I have been using the CAFE approach for the past five years and I love the way it focuses on the explicit teaching of specific reading strategies. I particularly enjoy the way that CAFE allows students to see what strategies are important for successful reading and they are continuously improving their comprehension, accuracy, fluency and vocabulary through focussed independent reading.

2. Writer’s Notebook

My school has worked with a literacy coach this year to implement Writer’s Notebook into our literacy program. Students have enjoyed writing entries and the greater freedom of writing what students are interested in has been very beneficial. Integrating the Six Traits of Writing into the Writer’s Notebook approach has made our writing program very comprehensive.

3. Using mentor texts

Using mentor texts to model quality writing has been a feature of my reading and writing lessons this year. As a school, we are using the Six Traits of Writing and I regularly model the traits using excellent picture story books. We have rich discussions on the author’s purpose, the meaning behind the text, the writing craft and the role the illustrations play. Mentor texts have assisted students improve their skills in both reading and writing.

4. iPads

The introduction of 1:1 iPads for grade four students has been really successful. Integrating technology into literacy is something I love to do. I enjoy thinking of creative ways for students to benefit from technology during our reading and writing lessons.

5. Class Blog

I have been blogging with students for about five years. There are so many benefits to having a class blog, and I use the blog in my literacy block every day. Blogging is all about literacy – students read posts and write comments to reflect and have “commenting conversations” with others. I would be lost without my class blog!

6. Words Their Way

I have been familiar with the Words Their Way approach but this is the first year I have fully implemented it with my students. Grouping students into like needs “word study” groups (as opposed to spelling groups) allows for a high level of differentiation. I also like how Words Their Way promotes vocabulary growth and generates rich discussions.

A literacy board in my classroom

A literacy board in my classroom


Do you use any of these approaches in your classroom?

What is your “Big Six” in literacy education?

A New School Year

With the new year comes a new blog theme and a resolution to post more frequently! I am constantly thinking about education and how I can best meet my students’ needs, I just need to blog about it more often!

With just a few days of holidays left, I have been thinking about school quite a bit and considering what the year ahead will bring. While this post is not focussing on literacy education, I thought it was worthwhile to briefly share what I’ll be doing in 2012…

What am I doing this year?

As you may know, I teach at Leopold Primary School, in Victoria, Australia. I am teaching Grade Four this year. Having only taught Prep, Grade One and Grade two in my career to date, I am looking forward to the challenge. I will again be team teaching with Kathleen Morris and it is great we have been given the opportunity to continue the partnership.

I have 26 students this year and I have taught a number of them in previous years. It will be terrific to continue the learning journey with these kids and get to know my other students too.

I am the Grade Four leader in 2012. There are four classes in the Grade Four area and none of us have taught the year level before. I am feeling positive about this fact. It will be great to have a fresh outlook for Grade Four and we’ll be able to go in our own direction, taking into consideration our school goals and the Victorian Essential Learning Standards (VELS) of course!

What am I looking forward to?

A change in year level means a change of classroom. Kathleen Morris and I have left our lovely, big, open classroom for two smaller connecting portables. While we will have less space, we’re making the most of our new surroundings. We have spent a lot of time cleaning, organising and decorating our “new” rooms over the holidays. Our students will be in a great learning environment from day one and we are determined to train our students become as organised and orderly as we are!

I am really looking forward to blogging with my Grade Four students. As you probably know, blogging is a big part of my curriculum and my Grade Two students achieved so much from the experience. My new Grade Four students will really be able to extend their literacy skills and develop more tech knowledge throughout the year. It will be great to see what they can do! Some of them will be familiar with blogging and I’m sure the others will catch on quickly. Kathleen and I are hoping to have a lot more students earning their own blogs throughout the year.

Literacy is one of passions in education. My experiences in Prep, Grade One and Two mostly focussed on teaching young students strategies for reading, writing and spelling. I am looking forward to teaching more advanced students and really extending their learning, understanding and skills. Using more complex and interesting texts, honing in on skills to really develop their writing and having more sophisticated and mature conversations will be terrific.

New challenges…

* Becoming familiar with the expectations for this year level

* Extending students who are already working at or beyond Grade Five level

* Teaching “joined” handwriting

* Adapting the Daily 5 and CAFE models for my new students

* Team teaching in two connecting portable classrooms instead of one open room

* The Bike Education program


What year level are you teaching this year?

What are you looking forward to and what challenges will you face?

Using my Class Blog in Literacy

Over the past couple of years, Kathleen Morris and I have presented at quite a few conferences and staff professional development sessions. One of the main topics we focus on is educational blogging and we often find ourselves saying that blogging is all about literacy.

Our class blog is a big part of our daily program. For that reason, I thought it was time to describe how we use blogging as a platform for our literacy teaching.

Blog header

We begin our two hour Literacy Block with a 20 minute blogging session. The structure we usually follow is:


Literacy Block structure 2


Check out the slideshow below to see how we integrate blogging into our Literacy Block every day


How do you use your blog in Literacy?


A Digital Pensieve for the iPad

This is a guest post by Jonah Salsich, a grade three teacher in Connecticut, USA. He and his students love buddy blogging with 2KM & 2KJ!


Starting this September, I will be implementing The Daily 5 CAFE model as the key component of my literacy instruction.

The Daily CAFE

The Daily CAFE

While I am very excited about the model in general – especially the potential for increased student independence, giving me more time to confer with students and get to know them as individual readers – one thing I’m not terribly excited about is “The Pensieve” – the name for the conferring notebook that is essential to the CAFE approach.

The Pensieve

I have never been good with keeping papers organized. Digital files and folders just make more sense to me. My computer desktop is incredibly neat and compartmentalized, while my actual desktop can be a scary sight. I also like to be able to move lightly around the room. So, while I love the idea of having everything in a big binder that even I couldn’t lose, personally I’m not crazy about spreading it out on a desk and flipping between different tabs while conferring with a student.


So, this summer I set about trying to make a “digital pensieve” for the iPad. My first thought was to use Evernote (much as Russ Goerend details here). I love the automatic syncing and the ability to access notes from any device that Evernote provides. However, I wanted to follow the conferring template from The CAFE Book, and currently Evernote doesn’t support any kind of rich text formatting or tables on the iPad so all the notes would have to be in plain text.


After playing around with various apps and formats, I found that the pdf forms that come on The CAFE Book’s CD ROM are fillable. This means that text can be entered directly into the form’s fields by typing. PDF Expert is a fantastic universal app for reading and annotating pdf files. It is also the only app that allows you to enter text into fillable forms.


Below is a slideshow tutorial of how I used PDF Expert and the fillable forms from The CAFE Book to make a digital pensieve:

(View in fullscreen for best resolution)


While it may not be a perfect solution, I am hopeful that this set-up will meet my needs of; ease of use, portability, and access from any device. Here are what I see as the pros and cons:


  • Light and small – easy to work with in a variety of spaces
  • Universal access to folders and files through Dropbox
  • Can email forms for sharing with parents or colleagues
  • Can add notes on desktops and laptops using Preview or Adobe Reader
  • It’s cool! – more like Dumbledore’s magical pensieve


  • Light and small – easier to misplace?
  • Can’t include audio files in folders like you can in Evernote (but you can’t do that with a paper notebook either…)
  • Can only type text into fillable forms


Do you have any suggestions or questions?

How have you modified “the pensieve” to meet your needs?

Using Technology in the Literacy Block

A couple of weeks ago Kathleen Morris and I were busy preparing for a presentation we’re giving to our staff next term. The message we are trying to get across is


The illiterate of the 21st century will be those who can only read and write across traditional platforms.

In our classroom we integrate technology into our daily Literacy program to cater for our students. Technology is not an “add-on” and we don’t feel pressured to include one-off ICT lessons. Our lessons are designed to include technology. Our planning sessions always involve us brainstorming how technology fits into the lesson focuses.  We find websites, web 2.0 tools, apps, stories and activities that help our students achieve their individual learning goals, in both Literacy and Numeracy.


We are lucky to have access to some great technological devices and our students are reaping the rewards while being engaged with their learning. Here’s a snapshot of what you might see if you wandered into our classroom during the two hour Literacy Block.


iPod Touches


– The iPod is the “Listen to Reading” component of our Daily 5 program. Students listen to stories (we like Story Home on iTunes) and write/draw a response.

– Students complete listening/following instructions activities, such as origami, which has proved very popular. We like How To videos on HowCast (through iTunes).

– Students test their comprehension skills by listening to a podcast or watching a video. They then complete a follow up activity, such as sequencing activities (eg. correctly sequencing the steps in a recipe). Again, HowCast has some great videos for students of all ages.


Classroom Computers 


– During our Reading Groups, we have a computer group each day. This is the “Work on Writing” component of the Daily 5. Students write a blog comment on our blog, reply to a comment or write a comment on one of our blogging buddies’ blogs.

– The focus of the computer activity is that the students carefully read the post they are commenting on and respond. They need to include questions in their comments and editing their comment is crucial. We often read these comments as a class during share time.


Interactive Whiteboard


– When we incorporate the interactive whiteboard into our Reading Groups, we use it as the “Word Work” component of the Daily 5. Check out this post I wrote recently for some word game ideas students enjoy.




– We have two iPads in our classroom and we’re experimenting with how to best use them. We’ve used them in Reading Groups several times, taking advantage of some great free apps for young students. We’ve used word games, stories etc and the students have also watched videos/shows with a particular literacy focus.

– Recently, we’ve been focussing on having the students ask questions during whole class sessions. For example, after we watch a BTN episode, rather than asking questions myself, the students come up with questions for the class about the episode. They’ve been encouraged to do this after watching a show or episode on the iPad too. It’s a great way to tune them in, develop their metacognitive skills and keep them engaged and focussed on the task.




– We are very fortunate to have recently received a bank of 20 netbooks in our classroom. Our students were so excited when they started using them in the last week of term! Kathleen and I are completing an “action research project” with the netbooks and we’re excited about the possibilities.

– Our new student bloggers have been using the netbooks to get started with their blogs.

– When school goes back we are going to train up a few students who will become “techxperts”. They will help troubleshoot problems, assist students with difficulties with the netbooks etc.

– We’ve had the students use the netbooks for publishing stories, completing research and looking up definitions of words while reading.

– I set up a Livebinder which had the websites our students would need for the week. This is a good way to save sites and students can easily access them during the Literacy Block (and also for Numeracy).

– We’re also helping the students improve their typing skills. We had a session in the last week of term where the students used a few online typing activities, including Dance Mat Typing, Keyboard Climber and Type for Gold, and the room was absolutely silent! They were so engaged and keen to develop their typing skills and speed.

– We are looking forward to having our students work on projects and use a variety of web 2.0 tools on the netbooks next term. We have a great opportunity with these netbooks and we can’t wait to see what the students learn and create!




This is just a brief overview of how we incorporate technology in our Literacy program. And, it goes without saying, our students read “traditional” books every day and regularly write with paper and pencils. Our priority is providing our students with a Literacy program that includes texts across all platforms. We are making them transliterate learners, that is, helping them to become literate across multiple forms of media.

We teach ICT skills explicitly and incidentally every day, and it is so rewarding to see our students’ using technology to further develop their reading and writing skills. As we often say, we’d be doing our students a disservice if we didn’t integrate technology into our program!


Do you have any tips for integrating technology into Literacy?

What is your favourite tech device to use with students in Literacy?

Do you have any ideas for how we can use the netbooks next term?


Interactive Whiteboard Activities During Reading

I first got an interactive whiteboard in my classroom in 2008. I was teaching Prep at the time and it was a steep learning curve to discover how I could best use it to engage my students and improve learning outcomes.


Fast forward three years and I am teaching Grade Two in an open classroom with Kathleen Morris. I love the enormous range of interactive websites and tools available for my students, and while I could manage to teach without an IWB, I wouldn’t want to! It is difficult to think of any lessons where Kathleen and I don’t utilise the IWB and our planning documents include many links to websites each week.


We use the IWB during our twenty minute blogging session every day, and it is often used for our CAFE reading strategy too. We also regularly use the IWB during our reading groups each week. We find websites for the children to use that either link to our weekly reading strategy or reinforce an ongoing skill. Thus, our literacy focuses are reinforced and practised consistently. These sites are saved in our favourites folder on the IWB, so students can access them at other times too.


Below are just a few of the games our students have used this year.


Read Write Think (Construct a Word) – This was used by some of our weaker readers, who were focussing on using beginning and ending sounds in words when reading.

Read Write Think


Wall of Words – This game focuses on sequencing sentences correctly and adding correct punctuation. There are two levels of difficulty.

Wall of Words


Alphabet Soup – Students need to read and comprehend a question and think of a possible answer using jumbled letters.

Alphabet Soup


Synonyms Sam’s Lab – Great for extending students’ vocabulary by having them think of synonyms for a range of words.

Synonyms Sams Lab


The Magic Key (Code Calling) – Another good synonym game where students need to replace words with similar meanings.

The Magic Key


Stories of the Dreaming – Our Integrated Studies topic this term is “Aboriginal Australia”, so we had students watch some dreamtime stories and formulate questions about the stories to ask each other.

Stories of the Dreaming

What websites do your students use during Literacy?