The Big Book of Literacy Tasks by Nancy Akhaven is targeted for grades K-8. As per the cover, it aims to give teachers 75 activities that are balanced and suitable for students to complete. This reference book is engagingly colourful, well illustrated and concise. It provides instructional plans that can be tailored or differentiated to the need of a teacher.
The book helps teachers to hand off the tasks to the student. It moves very much from, “I” to “You”. The book is well-structured to allow students to be challenged, and reduce teachers from dilly-dallying, which in an era of electronic media and distraction, helps a teacher try to engage a student deeper.
The author Nancy Akhavan, an assistant professor of Educational Leadership draws on her experience and dedication to professional development research to illuminate daily planning. The tasks can be divided into useful everyday skills, weekly practices and a few slightly more complex challenges. They are each applicable to reading circles, workshops or other literacy tasks. The book is loaded with tips, things to look out for and insights to allow English acquisition learners to progress into fully-fledged literacy learners. The author delivers far more than a lengthy book title.
This book offers Guru-like support, with practical advice and encouraging ideas that are easy to drop into the classroom. In a world often flooded by educational text resource, the bright cover with a climbing wall, Akhaven’s guide acted like a beacon for inspiration this week – and shall continue to be picked at until all is imparted and transferred appropriately.
224 words shaped so many bedtime reading sessions. Bedrooms around the world were greeted with a heart-warming tale of growth, albeit through humour and a spot of seemingly obesity. The story has radiated like the light from the moon, from pages in over 60 languages to beaming eyes looking at the colourful intricate nature of the tale.
“That’s something I learned in art school. I studied graphic design in Germany, and my professor emphasized the responsibility that designers and illustrators have towards the people they create things for.” – Eric Carle
Eric Carle didn’t just write that one book of course. His designs, illustrations and words have appeared in numerous texts. Having dropped his first drawings in 1965, Aesop’s Fables for Modern Readers (Peter Pauper Press), the new-to-the-scene and relatively young illustrator was spotted by educator and author Bill Martin Jr. One red lobster in an advertisement led to a lifetime of colour and creation.
“We have eyes, and we’re looking at stuff all the time, all day long. And I just think that whatever our eyes touch should be beautiful, tasteful, appealing, and important.” – Eric Carle
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? was an award-winning book collaboration with the late author Bill Martin Jr. Thereafter cardboard editions, die-cut holes, inflatables, plastic pockets and multiple versions of artwork with words began to grow and filter from Eric Carle to the world. Countless children have lived and learned through rhyming picture books and used string in one of his many creations.
“One day I think it’s the greatest idea ever that I’m working on. The next day I think it’s the worst that I’ve ever worked on – and I swing between that a lot. Some days I’m very happy with what I’m doing, and the next day I am desperate – it’s not working out!” – Eric Carle
The story of the story-teller is ever more remarkable. This was a man, who his wife Barbara Morrison, strongly believed had held a form of post traumatic stress disorder. He’d dug trenches on the dreaded Siegfried Line of a World War II battlefield. He’d seen death at first hand, aged only around 15 years of age. But then, darkness turned to light over the years: “One Sunday morning the warm sun came up and – pop! – out of the egg came a tiny and very hungry caterpillar.” Okay, it wouldn’t have been that simple, but Eric Carle refused to bow down and give in. Years of toil brought his mind to a place where writing was permitted. An audience was earned. From Germany in World War II, he returned to his country of birth, the U.S.A. and found his way from Syracuse to the New York Times as a graphic artist.
“Let’s put it this way: if you are a novelist, I think you start out with a 20 word idea, and you work at it and you wind up with a 200,000 word novel. We, picture-book people, or at least I, start out with 200,000 words and I reduce it to 20.” – Eric Carle
Via stints back in Germany, for the U.S. Army (during the Korean War) he went on to be an art director at an advertising agency. His collage techniques, rich in hand-painted paper, featured layers and slices of vivid imagination set out as tiny pieces of artwork. Nature and wonder have set tones throughout his simple stories. These stories have been warm and inviting, and give hope to children, especially those new to schooling and education.
Papa, please get the moon for me is a tale of great importance in my opinion. It shows us that imagination is wonderful, even if it is breaking something seen as impossible. Whoever told me that Father Christmas, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny weren’t real, or anybody for that matter, that breaks the dreams of a child, deserves a good long look at themselves. Reality and imagination can sit side by side, otherwise Neil Armstrong, or Elon Musk or Celine Dion would not be around. Ability and knowledge need the company of spark and dream – and that’s where imagination grows.
“They are deceptively simple. I admit that. But for me, all my life I try to simplify things. As a child in school, things were very hard for me to understand often, and I developed a knack, I think. I developed a process to simplify things so I would understand them.” – Eric Carle
As I sit typing words and reading about Eric Carle’s history, I recall flicking through glossy covers of his books, and the joy as my face beamed when I discovered a translated copy in Hengli, Dongguan. That beautiful familiar white cover with a caterpillar and a red apple missing a mouthful, all slightly imbalanced, as if to say, and to appeal, that things aren’t always neat and tidy. One day when COVID-19 passes and the world is a little more tidy, I dream to fly to Amherst, Massachusetts to see the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. That would be as good as finding another Uroballus carleion a trip to Hong Kong. The Caterpillar Jumping Spider’s Latin name is testament to the reach and pull of a world class picture book writer.
“My father used to take me for walks in the woods. He would peel back the bark of a tree and show me the creatures who lived there. I have very fond memories of these special times with my father and in a way I honor him with my books and my interest in animals and insects.” – Eric Carle
The Cafe Book: Engaging All Students in Daily Literacy Assessment and Instruction, by self titled sisters Gail Boushey and Joan Moser, attracted me in library. Or because of the literacy element. Nor so that of instruction. The word cafe stood out. Its abstraction and my liking of coffee met perfectly.
Hoisting the 204 paved softback down, I noticed the bump in the cover. A CD-ROM. I haven’t used a DVD or CD for so long. The Tungwah Wenze International School staff-issued iMac doesn’t come with a drive. I don’t have one on my personal laptop. The TVs at school, my TV at home and all the smart board systems at school don’t have a place for discs. Printed in 2009, I started to wonder if the contents would have dated as fast as the technology they employed. The longevity of books however remains stalwart.
Seven sturdy chapters opened before me. I skim read the acknowledgements, unable to connect to the names on the page, but fully aware such matters as teaching and writing needs a cast of many. Last Friday, Grade 4 had a COLA (Celebration of Learning Achievement). Mr Jaime, Mr Richard and Miss Aria with support from Miss Keats and Miss Belinda set our class on a good course.
Chapter one asks why and what are assessment systems. It refers heavily back to the authors and their previous book, Daily Five. The general idea being: students read to self, read to someone else, write something, use word work and then listen to reading. In an ideal and disciplined world, it makes a big difference. The appendix of the book I had in my hand though made more sense. I could see how CAFE system could be of use to the busiest of teachers. It is simple.
Notebooks are often overlooked in these times of electronic record keeping. These can be filled by simple strategy forms. Students set their goals and post to a classroom chart. Small group work is encouraged, much like what I’m trying, time and time again. Whole group instructions and flip charts caught my attention. I’ve neglected flip chart paper for far too long.
By the time I’d reached chapter two, the key details that came across were that teachers want to do more; the importance of scaffolding; and teachers take offence to be told to follow a set template. They want to find their own ways to adjust the scaffolding needs of individuals. Can’t say that I disagree.
The evolution of a calendar from post it notes and scribbles on paper has certainly met all the best teachers. Our methods evolve and practices adapt. Reading literacy takes time for monitoring. Tabs, pages and menus of reading form. A bulletin board showing comprehension, fluency, accuracy and expanded vocabulary certainly feels like it should be at home in every classroom. Just like a daily ongoing story book. A chapter and day helps work, rest and play.
To get students to know their target, classes often need exemplars. These set a clear visual goal for their work ahead. The CAFE book covers familiar grounds of observation, encouragement, tracking and how to push interest. It develops wall display ideas and recommends strategies to develop readers. There are bucket loads of suggested reading books, group activities and then reference forms. Before the evening expired, I had read the book cover to cover. Ideas will have sank in. But, first, just one chocolate Hobnob biscuit…
Superman IV: The Quest for Peace was a British-American superhero fantasy released in 1987. Lead actor Christopher Reeve penned it alongside Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal. It was bobbins. Proper crap. It was perhaps the reason the Superman franchise fell silent for 19 years. That and the unfortunate paralysis of handsome Christopher Reeve. The fifth movie followed Supergirl but slotted into the storyline arc after Superman III. The first four movies are good. Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, remains one of my favourite pieces of cinema. Superman: the Movie has been regular viewing since I was a kid.
“We were also hampered by budget constraints and cutbacks in all departments. Cannon Films had nearly thirty projects in the works at the time, and Superman IV received no special consideration. For example, Konner and Rosenthal wrote a scene in which Superman lands on 42nd Street and walks down the double yellow lines to the United Nations, where he gives a speech. If that had been a scene in Superman I, we would actually have shot it on 42nd Street Richard Donner would have choreographed hundreds of pedestrians and vehicles and cut to people gawking out of office windows at the sight of Superman walking down the street like the Pied Piper. Instead, we had to shoot at an industrial park in England in the rain with about a hundred extras, not a car in sight, and a dozen pigeons thrown in for atmosphere. Even if the story had been brilliant, I don’t think that we could ever have lived up to the audience’s expectations with this approach.” – Christopher Reeve, Still Me
The final appearance of Christopher Reeve was ill-received by fans. Movie critics washed their hands of it. Plot holes gaped as large as life and special effects looked very much out of place. That’s exactly how my fourth instalment of TESMC will be. Read on to be convinced that I am right to state this early on. I make no apology. It is, what it is.
Literacy and learning must be multi-dimensional. A topic can be talked about, in terms of content and theme. Talk serves as a bridge to writing. Talking about those written and supporting texts will only support the learning further. Our primary school years are crucial to allow us to develop literacy skills across the curriculum. A range and repertoire of skills can be born here. The key role of spoken language can furnish a student’s developmental progress. This is the path to critical literacy skills. New topics, new subjects, new teachers, new methods and the all round goodness of new experiences facilitate, under guidance, can bring meaning to it all. Talk is a tool for thinking and communicating. We’re helping students to make sense of the bigger (possibly daunting or exciting) world around them. In one blink of an eye we are seen as a facilitator, or in another flutter of the eyelids, we become the tour guide. Likewise we are an expert or a caregiver. We’re the U.N. Peacekeeper. We’re the negotiator. We’re a nurse. We’re an advisor. Then we’re a play figure. We shape our role in the classroom to the need of each or all students. Our interaction is important. We must be flexible and varied in our approach.
The four stages of the teaching learning cycle (negotiating the field; deconstruction; joint construction; independent construction) are part of our arsenal to allow us to bridge the gap between oral and written language. We work tirelessly to integrate spoken and written language. We add clarity to muddy waters, interweaving the teaching learning cycle to give students a balanced understanding of concepts. We engage. We inform. We educate. We give opportunity. We task students to predict. We task students to evaluate. We check their prior knowledge. The students own their lessons. This becomes their own learning. It should shape their methods. Metalanguage builds up over time. These shared understandings about language and text allow students to look back on Superman IV: The Quest for Peace and agree it was crap.
I can interact with classmates confidently. [I’m not afraid to try.]
I can interact with my teachers confidently. [I’m Superman or Supergirl.]
I can try to volunteer relevant information about the topic in class. [I can raise my hands.]
I can express my personal opinion regarding a topic, when asked. [I have a view.]
I can give feedback about the ongoing topic. [I can talk about something, over a few days.]
I can talk and give relevant inputs in a group discussion. [I like teamwork.]
I can try to use meaningful vocabulary / terminology for answering questions. [I can find big words that are useful.]
I can listen with sustained concentration and retell things. [You say it. I say it again.]
I can listen to and follow teacher’s instructions/explanations attentively. [I know what you said I should do.]
I can understand the different kinds of questions asked by the teacher. [I am clever.]
I can respond appropriately to my peers and adults. [I am respectful.]
I can listen and respond to audio tapes appropriately. [I understand more than music.]
Useful rubric? From the fourth module of TESMC, I believe the above rubric to be of great value to my student’s self-assessment. I shall edit it further until it is of more use.
Multiple activities can be effective in the process of learning. Students can use interests as a scope of discussion. They can use discussion as a scope of their interests. They can find common ground and talk openly. There will always be moments of excitement and times when familiar objects or foods generate a real buzz. One or two sentences by students beats no input and it is important to allow students a voice. Some may tend to hide. A teacher’s job is to encourage. Encourage. Stand tall. Perform. That’s the key to effectiveness. Tasks, however, must be relayed clearly, always based on the English as a Second Language (ESL) learner’s needs.
I’m going to go away and find a downloadable copy of the Superman IV: The Quest for Peacescript. Perhaps my grade four students can rewrite the script, and use a cast of garden peas. It can’t be any worse. Mark Pillow, A.K.A. Nuclear Man came from Leeds, Yorkshire (U.K.). Best forgotten.