On Display: CIRR National Reading Recovery and Early Literacy Conference

Canadian Institute of Reading Recovery
National Reading Recovery & Early Literacy Conference 2013

Thursday, February 28th, 2013
Friday, March 1st, 2013

Last week I had the honour of presenting alongside one of our Early Years-Grade 3 curriculum consultants Rita Alati, and another kindergarten teacher named Shara-Lynn Fraser at the above conference.  We presented about "Authentic Literacy Instruction."

According to Victoria Purcell-Gates in the resource Real Life Literacy Instruction K-3, "authentic literacy is the reading and writing  of real-life texts for real-life purposes in the literacy learning classroom."

Photographed above are Rita and I at the conference, and below is the environment as third teacher that we created in our presentation room.

I thought for this Friday's On Display feature I would share with you my section of our presentation:

As many of you already know, our students have a pet rabbit that they care for and learn about each day.  Although this was intentional on the part of the educator team, we never imagined all that we'd learn!

The questions that we decided to focus on for our Pet Rabbit Investigation were: 

  • How can we show empathy and become responsible for our new class pet, to ensure that she is happy and healthy?
  • If rabbits are living things, then what is their life cycle and how do they grow?

We were hopeful that bringing in a real animal would spark the students' curiosity and ignite their wonderings.  According to Georgia Heard's resource A Place for Wonder, "wonder and curiosity are the doors into the world of writing." 

With this in mind, we setup the rabbit cage on a table with sticky notes to record wonders and non-fiction books for the students to peruse through.  After this provocation was created, Mrs. Ham and I waited and observed the students interactions.  We began to notice that they were talking to the rabbit, conversing with each other about their discoveries, reading books to learn to care for the rabbit, and recording their thinking in writing. Finally, one student painted a portrait of the rabbit and placed it up to the cage for the rabbit to see.  Talk about a real purpose to write, and an audience!

Students were also sharing their learning at home and as a result, families were becoming involved by sending in healthy foods that the rabbit liked to eat. (Thank you to all the families who continue to support our learning in this way!)

We continued to listen with our hearts and document what the students were saying, doing, and representing.  Eventually, this lead to the creation of Bunny World:

Honouring our students wishes with Bunny World proved to be a huge success, and we challenged them to plan and create a more complex world for the rabbit.

Here is a taste of our pet rabbit's first adventure in Bunny World.  You can hear the engagement in the students' laughter.  This engagement lead to their motivation to learn, which we feel is an essential element in our their journey of becoming literate lifelong learners.  The students were committed to their work and many of them had clipboards to document this experience. 

Einstein believed that play was the highest form of research.  Determining an appropriate name for our pet rabbit was research that we were all personally involved in.  One student and her sister brainstormed over fifty possible names for our rabbit.  As a class we decided that our rabbit deserved three names, a first, middle, and last name.

We felt it was important to create a space to make visible our research.  In our new Pet Rabbit Inquiry learning area we hung any data that corresponded to the process of naming our pet rabbit.

Here are the steps that we took to name out rabbit:

  • Students and families brainstormed possible names
  • We sorted the brainstormed names by number of letters
  • We sorted the brainstormed names by the first letter of each name
  • We sorted the brainstormed names by number of syllables (wanted the first name to have 1 syllable, middle name to have 2 syllables, and last name to have 3 syllables)
  • Discussed which names appropriately described the way the rabbit looked and behaved
  • Voted using a "rabbitmocracy" where students were given rabbit stickers to place beside their favourite names (first, middle, and last)
  • Students recorded their names on a clipboard when they finished voting to ensure that everyone had a fair chance to add their input
  • Graphed the results using pictographs and bar graphs
  • Charted the results and analysed the data by counting the totals 
Each step allowed the educators to explicitly teach about letters, sounds, phonological awareness, and mathematical skills.  

Our rabbit's official name became Hop Coco Butterscotch, and the students were so pleased that they could call her something other than "Bunny" or "Rabbit."

This Pet Rabbit Inquiry also allowed us to explore some problem-based learning to solve the problem our rabbit was experiencing when using the washroom.  This real problem gave students the opportunity to think critically, communicate orally, write their ideas, and explore experts' blogs about rabbits alongside the teaching time.  We were all puzzled and found many suggestions online.  It was a collaborative learning process.

Our learning continues each day with our new Teacher Candidate Marietta Sofos from York University. Some extensions that she has explored include:

  • Winter read-alouds about rabbits
  • Discussions about whether rabbits hibernate or camouflage
  • Life-Cycle of rabbit
  • Empathy and exploration of rabbit's feelings and drawings of the rabbit's family that hang in the cage
  • Feeding and cleaning up after the rabbit
  • Rabbit vocabulary
  • Rabbit related artistic experiences

Students continue to be interested and show their engagement by coming to school wearing rabbit clothing and brining in their own pet rabbits.

Finally, Marietta created a video about money using some images of Hop, our rabbit.  She found and downloaded a song on iTunes called "Hey, Honey Bunny!  I know My Money Money!" from the Brainy Beats Album.  How creative!  The students absolutely love this song and we appreciate her time, efforts, and dedication to our important ongoing investigation.

Students wonder daily about our rabbit and we are hopeful that this authentic and meaningful learning will continue well into June!

Thank you to Rita and Shara-Lynn for the opportunity to co-present with the two of you.  
I hope that we can do it again soon!

I will leave you all with a final quote taken from another excellent resource entitled The Literate Kindergarten Where Wonder and Discovery Thrive by Susan Kempton:

 "What we think we can say.  What we say we can write.  What we write we can read" (p. 86).

Share your thoughts :

  1. You inspire me beyond words Joanne! Every time I visit your blog I leave 'wondering' about the endless possibilities....thank you.

  2. Thank you Bianca!!!

    You encourage me to continue to share our learning journey with all of you!

    I appreciate this more than you know!!!

    And you're right the possibilities for all of us in education are simply endless!!!

  3. Truly inspiring! Amazing to see where an inquiry can take you. I loved the " Hey, Honey Bunny! I know My Money Money!"

  4. I enjoyed reading about your pet rabbit inquiry. What an authentic learning experience that engages students and motivates them to read, write, think and talk! I am interested in hearing about the rabbit's new class and their experience with the rabbit.

  5. What a great way to bring an authentic experience to the children, and to teach them so many different things! I loved how the inquiry lent itself to curriculum so naturally, and how it taught students life skills as well. I would love to do something like that in my classroom...I do not think I'm ready for the responsibility and work just yet!

  6. I know that this was a long time ago but I am considering getting a classroom pet rabbit. I have had a pet rabbit of my own so I know that they require about an hour or so of "free" t I'm me out of their cage. How did you go about doing that in your classroom?

  7. I know that this was a long time ago but I am considering getting a classroom pet rabbit. I have had a pet rabbit of my own so I know that they require about an hour or so of "free" t I'm me out of their cage. How did you go about doing that in your classroom?

  8. I know that this was a long time ago but I am considering getting a classroom pet rabbit. I have had a pet rabbit of my own so I know that they require about an hour or so of "free" t I'm me out of their cage. How did you go about doing that in your classroom?