Monday, November 18, 2013

OEYC and Families Learning Together in the Library

I love it when people advocate for the school library program and it pays off in big ways. Our school is fortunate to have the Rouge River Ontario Early Years Centre operating several times a week in a portable in our school yard. In the past, the site coordinator, Kitty, and I would arrange to have a weekly time where the 3-year-olds could come to the library for story time or computer time with their caregivers. Last year, my full-prep schedule made it impossible to arrange these visits and Kitty pleaded with my principal to make me available so we could renew this partnership. I have a more open schedule this year and so we are working together again.

Even though this partnership is not new, I discovered that it needed some tweaking. I realized that some of the stories I used before would not work with this new group of younger learners. (For instance, Clifford the Big Red Dog was a flop.) Many of the parents and grandparents speak very little English and the children are hesitant to share their ideas orally. I consulted with Kitty, as well as with one of our kindergarten teachers, Diana Lung, and our dance/drama teacher (who also teaches ESL at his other school), Francis Ngo, and they helped me to come up with a new approach. Along with the revamped strategies, we've expanded the time the OEYC participants and I spend together to twice a week. Below is a brief summary of our school library-linked program with the Rouge River OEYC.

Tuesdays - Storytime

Objective: to practice kindergarten-ready conduct (e.g. sitting down to listen to a story, raising hands to give responses), to listen to books read aloud, to predict and comment on stories, and to enjoy reading time

New/Improved Elements:

  • including more predictable, call-and-response opportunities
  • incorporating Chinese and Tamil words into the lesson
  • choosing books with fewer words and more active / non-verbal ways to be involved
Sample Lesson
- the adults and children line up outside the library until I open the door to let them in
- children put their coats on the chairs and sit in front of the rocking chair
- I say "Good Morning" and gesture to myself
- I make the same gesture to them so they can say "Good Morning" back
- I say "Jo Sun" (Mandarin for "Good Morning") with a gesture and they repeat
- I say "Vanakum" (Tamil for "Good Morning") with a gesture and they repeat
- Together we read the poem on the Cheryl-Thorton-acquired Story Bag (thanks Peggy Thomas for it!)
- I ask who would like to look in the bag and see what's inside (students raise their hands)
- Students pull out the book of the day as well as a related object
- e.g. on November 12, 2013 I had a stick and the book Not a Stick by Antoinette Portis
- I read the book, stopping often to ask children to either predict what the pig was doing with the stick, or for children to try and copy what the pig was doing with the stick
- I ask the parents for translation of key words (e.g. "How do you say stick in Mandarin or Cantonese?")
- I try saying the words and the parents correct me (so we are all learning from each other)
- at the end, everyone gets a chance to use the story-related object

Wednesdays - Jolly Phonics Instruction

Objective: to make letter/sound connections so children can decode words when eventually reading independently, to learn how to hold writing instruments

New/Improved Elements:
  • very structured, predictable routine
  • occasional translators to explain the reason or purpose behind activities
Sample Lesson
- the adults and children line up outside the library until I open the door to let them in
- children put their coats on the chairs and sit in front of the SMART interactive whiteboard
- I use the same "Good Morning / Jo Sun / Vanakum" greeting as on Tuesday
- I tell a short story related to the letter of the day (e.g. on November 5, 2013, I talked about a tennis match and how the t-sound works) and use the Jolly Phonics recommended gesture with the sound
- When a translator is available, he/she retells the short story in Cantonese, Mandarin, or Tamil
- I ask for volunteers to raise their hand to try the SMART Board activity related to the sound 
- e.g. on November 5, the child came to the SMART Board and made the tennis ball bounce back and forth between the two rackets while making the "t" sound
- We listen to the Jolly Phonics song related to the letter once, then sing it together twice (on video)
- The parents/grandparents help their child write the letter in their Jolly Phonics workbook, then allow the child to colour the picture themselves
- When it is time to leave, each child is encouraged to repeat the sound of the day after I say it to them individually; if they do, they receive a sticker (usually beginning with the letter sound we are focusing on) and if they don't, I model the desired behaviour with the adult and the adult gets the sticker (with the suggestion to try to get the child to repeat the sound so they can earn the sticker later)

These changes have made a positive difference for the children and the adults. The structure is so firmly entrenched that, when I did not have time to set up the song video in advance and skipped it, the parents asked me why I wasn't singing the song at the usual time. The adults are modeling risk-taking behaviour, like pronouncing the letter sounds, because they see me clumsily attempting to speak Cantonese, Mandarin, and Tamil - I'm sure they know they can do a better job with English than I can with these other languages! I am seeing more participation from the children, and less "back-seat driving" from their caregivers (who used to tell them what to say when they were asked questions). Now that we see each other twice a week, we are getting to know each other better. The adults were delighted with the "Kids of the OEYC" hall display I made and one asked me to email her photos of her son that were up on the board. Although it can be exhausting, I am really enjoying our time together and I hope it pays big dividends when the children start kindergarten next year.

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