Living in Balance
By Jenipher Appleton
Balanced literacy for Ontario students
The latest and most unremitting thrust from the Ontario Ministry of Education is indeed the ‘balanced literacy’ movement. In a nutshell, balanced literacy in the elementary grades must provide opportunities for daily reading including: independent, guided, and shared reading, along with read-alouds. I won’t even begin to go into the definitions of the foregoing or how they are implemented. Suffice it to say that I have been training and practising balanced literacy over the past several years in my classroom at East Williams, and that as a result, my learning curve has continued to expand and develop along with the children. The reason for balanced literacy as an educational directive is to improve overall literacy skills in our Ontario students and to deepen their levels of reading comprehension. Sound dry? On the contrary, it is really quite exciting.
I’ll get to the point. Shared reading essentially means that everyone is looking at the same piece of text at the same time. It could be a big book, overhead projection, or any other piece of text that has been reproduced for all to see. Recently I have been using my own pieces of writing from the Grand Bend Strip for some of my shared reading experiences with the students. An integral part of the balanced literacy thrust is that teachers should model writing. I feel that the content of my articles, containing information about nature and ecology, is an appropriate model for the ten- and eleven-year-olds in my Grade 5/6 class.
Recent article “Owls – a guide to local hooters”
When my students read the article about owls, many made connections to owls they had encountered in our area. The students showed enough interest in our local species that they were inspired to do further research in our next computer lab. Not only did they find more information about owls, but also they wanted to draw pictures from the images they found on the Internet. The following are some quotes written by students about our local owls:
“I am an Eastern Screech owl. I eat insects, arachnids, small mammals and amphibians. One of my physical characteristics is my small ear tufts.” (By Kylee Arthur)
“I am a saw-whet owl. I eat small rodents, large insects, birds, and bats. I am only 20 cm long. I am named for my call which sounds like a saw being sharpened or whetted.” (By Carly Whitmore)
“I am a Great Horned owl. I eat house cats, skunks, porcupines and other animals bigger than myself. Some of my physical characteristics are my large ear tufts, and my massive length up to 64 cm, my 150 cm wingspan, huge, yellow riveting eyes, and my familiar ‘whoo-whoo!’” (By Jake Gregory)
The drawings included here, by Mackenzie Siddall and Evan Scott, demonstrate the greatest attention to detail and a wonderful sense of appreciation for these animals in their natural habitat.
Media literacy using the Grand Bend Strip
During independent reading, students are allowed to read other articles from the Grand Bend Strip. They show enthusiasm for the human interest stories and articles, but are especially taken with Casey Lessard’s fabulous photographs, candidly capturing community members of all ages taking part in a huge variety of activities. The photos are always informatively captioned, and my students are able to learn from this excellent example of media literacy.
The content of this family newspaper encourages knowledge of current events common to our community and stimulates conversation amongst students about such current events, basic science, and nature. It helps to develop a passion for exploration into different media, communication, and life-long learning. In short, the Grand Bend Strip provides a vehicle for students to be aware of the ‘balance’ between living and learning.