The other night, I got involved in an online conversation with a group of Grade 1 teachers. They were discussing their reading program, and I noticed that much of the discussion was on decoding. As a teacher that taught K-2 for 11 years, I’ve been involved in many similar discussions, and in the past, my contributions would have been different than they were that night. When I contributed this time though, I contributed as a junior teacher.
When I taught primary, I often spoke about developing decoding skills. For as long as I can remember, I was told that when I started teaching young students, my job was going to be to “teach them how to read.” And yes, this is an essential part of teaching Grade 1, but it’s about more than just teaching students how to read: students need to understand what they read. They need to read for meaning. Now I have a diverse group of Grade 6 students, all of whom can decode at grade level, but many of whom struggle sharing deep thoughts about the texts that they read. As a Grade 6 teacher, I’ll be administering EQAO — a standardized test — at the end of May, and almost the entire reading component of this test is based on reading comprehension. Reading comprehension matters.
It is with this in mind that I started asking about developing comprehension skills. I asked how teachers got their students thinking deeply about texts, and sharing their learning in different ways with others. I asked how teachers connected reading and writing, and if they gave time for their students to write about what they read. As the conversation evolved, I asked about modelled and shared reading and writing time versus guided and independent reading and writing time: how did the teachers balance everything? How much time should be devoted to each component?
I got involved in some passionate discussions about what reading and writing should look like in the primary classroom. Looking back on my contributions that night, I realized something: if I went back to teach primary again, I would do it differently. I’d devote more time to reading comprehension. I’d make sure that students not just understood what they could read, but could reflect on what they read and make meaningful connections to what they read. I’d have students writing regularly about what they read, and I’d make sure this happened in a modelled, shared, guided, and independent setting. I would also rethink many of my full class lessons: were all of them necessary? Did all students benefit from them, and if not, how could I change that to make sure that they did? My junior teaching experience this year would definitely make me a better primary teacher now.
How would what you’ve learned teaching your current grade help you if you were to move to a different division? How do you share your learning with other grade teams to help make positive changes across the school ?
Aviva Dunsiger taught Junior Kindergarten to Grade 2 for 11 years before moving to Grade 6 this year. She’s passionate about using technology in the classroom to support student learning, and she’s presented on this topic numerous times both online and offline.
She enjoys maintaining her blog, Living Avivaloca: My Many Musings on Life and Learning. Aviva’s reflective writing about her professional practice inspires communication between educators, administrators and parents.