St. Boniface Literacy Project
WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED SO FAR?
Our focus on learning about the children through close
and systematic observation has helped the teachers become
much more aware of the children's avoidance and anxiety behaviours
and to intervene more quickly in supportive ways. Their increased
focus on observation has raised the need for developing new
record-keeping strategies which in turn has raised questions
about instructional strategies in general.
- The behaviour of our at-risk students demonstrates a
high level of anxiety and avoidance. This anxiety/avoidance
takes many forms: withdrawal, acting out, inattention,
defensiveness, dependence. Sometimes a child demonstrates
a predominant anxiety/avoidance behavior, sometimes a range.
We've become more adept at noticing and identifying these
behaviours. We've begun to develop a list of such behaviours.
- Being able to observe and identify the children's anxiety/avoidance
has made it possible to engage in instruction that seeks
first to diminish and subsequently to eliminate the anxiety.
We have explored a range of ways of providing instructional
support to discover what works with each individual child.
Different strategies are needed for different children.
- We have observed the children's anxiety/avoidance behaviours
in one-to-one settings, in small groups, and in whole group
instruction. The teachers have discovered that the opportunity
to work with the child individually has enhanced their
own ability to pick up on anxiety/avoidance behaviours
in the classroom and, rather than attempt to deal with
that behaviour directly, they are now becoming more adept
at providing support which allows the child to engage.
They have learned that not every child needs the same support.
- Since the beginning of the project (in late September)
the teachers have identified a marked decrease in the children's
dependence. The children are all now much more able to
initiate literacy activities and to sustain engagement.
- By changing their focus from "fixing the child" to "learning
from the child" the teachers have discovered how to
respond to the individual child's needs in ways that lead
to less avoidance and more engagement on the part of the
- The teachers' observations of their individual case study
children has proved beneficial with all children in the
classroom. The teachers have learned to be more observant
of all their students and are now more knowledgeable about
their individual strengths and their learning strategies.
- We've discovered it's important to record behaviours
that are no longer happening as well as new ones that are
emerging. The absence of anxiety/avoidance behaviours is
as strong an indicator of engagement as the development
of strengthened learning strategies.
The teachers have been exploring ways of putting the learner
in control of the learning. They've learned to start with
the children's vulnerabilities, finding out what they are
and ways of compensating for them. What they've found is
that this sort of support has relaxed the children to an
extent that all of their parents have commented on it and
the children are demonstrating considerably increased engagement
with and success in literacy activities.
- We have worked to discover exactly what the case study
children are capable of doing independently. Being able
to identify their independence level is crucial because
it provides an indication of what engagement looks like
for a particular child. It offers a baseline against which
to assess their anxiety/avoidance behaviour.
- Once we've located what the child can do independently,
we have explored increasing the complexity of the literacy
task with an eye to providing just enough support to help
the child sustain his/her engagement. We've discovered
various ways of keeping the child going in one-to-one instructional
situations and then attempted similar strategies in small
group and whole class situations. We're learning that judicious
attention to what the children are attempting to do and
offering support as quickly as possible has allowed the
children to function more independently for longer in the
- We've extended our exploration to situations which are
beyond the students' current level of functioning in order
to discover ways of helping the children participate and
learn from complex literacy activities although they are
yet incapable of engaging in them on their own.
- We've explored ways of creating a balance, both for the
individual case study children, as well as for the classroom
as a whole, between activities which the children can engage
in independently and those which require some or a great
deal of support.
- We've begun to identify and describe various kinds of
- working at a task together—shared reading,
shared writing, working collaboratively, then offering
the child an opportunity to attempt the task independently
(being ready to 'share' again if it should be needed)
- providing practice within a group context and for
a real audience (not just teacher as examiner); i.e.,
readers theatre creates a situation requiring repeated
readings of a difficult text in a group context as
well as for subsequent performance for a real audience
- asking the learner if help is needed, then asking
the learner to identify what help would be useful
- asking questions
- to help the learner analyze the task situation
- to help the learner verbalize the strategies
- to help the learner verbalize other potential
- to find out "How did you do this?"
- providing the learner with some choices for the outcome
of what they're doing
- making it legitimate and encouraging the children
to work with partners
- demonstrating and verbalizing our own strategies,
talking about how we engage with reading and writing
- providing the children with exemplars and a range
of printed resources
- pointing out when the children are successful
The teachers have learned a great deal about learning and
teaching. They've learned to slow down, to give the child
time, to take their lead from the children at the same time
not losing sight of the complex tasks they want them to be
able to handle independently. Most important, they've begun
to learn from the individual instruction how to keep the
child in the classroom and to learn in small group and whole
- We've learned to shift our gaze from teaching to LEARNING.
Our emphasis on learning to observe, on making inferences
and interpretations from our observation, serve as a basis
for instructional decisions and has shifted our attention
to learning from the learner.
- We've discovered that the children have a range of productive
learning strategies at their disposal but that our instructional
activities haven't always permitted the children to use
them. We're learning to make openings for the children
to use and extend their strategies.
- We've found that growth can be very uneven. Gains can
be made in one aspect of literacy and not with others at
a particular time. Growth in reading may not be mirrored
by growth in writing; and the converse—growth in
writing can outstrip growth in reading.
- There is no one path to literacy proficiency. Some of
the children have engaged with reading more easily; others
have taken off with writing.
- We've explored ways of more closely integrating reading
and writing activities. We've found the children become
more independent readers/writers when the reading is supported
with writing and the writing supported by books.
- We've learned the importance of not lowering the goals
for the at-risk children. We've learned not to be afraid
of keeping them in challenging situations but to find ways
of supporting them so they can be successful.