Author Archives: Sarah

About Sarah

Educator, writer, musician, baker, food and wine lover.


For The Love Of Reading


What can we classify as meaningful literature for today’s youth? Is it time for parents and educators to broaden their definitions of what they consider “reading” in our changing world of media?

I have many parents ask me for advice on how they can encourage their child to read more. When I ask them how often their child reads, many of these parents reply “She doesn’t read. She hates books and just spends all evening on the computer looking at One Direction websites…”

I see many of my students engaging with information contained in different forms of literature every day, including graphic novels, recipe books and the profiles of sports stars; but some of these same children will also grudgingly work their way through our book studies of popular novels. So is the student who enjoys reading print books and novels any more engaged with literature and the information contained within it than the student who spends two hours each night reading about the private lives of her favourite boy band members?

The way we share and convey information has evolved dramatically throughout human history, from cave drawings to oral storytelling to the creation of text to that text being available on a screen that fits in the palm of our hands. I think it is important for educators to also evolve by considering how our students are engaging with these different forms of literature. Students learn and retain information best when they find it engaging and meaningful, and some small tweaks to traditional literacy projects could help make material much more relevant for today’s students: perhaps using a book study to assess for literacy comprehension could extend from just a selection of novels to include multiple forms of literature, like blogs, graphic novels, or websites; maybe a spin on teaching students about dialogue could involve students conversing via instant messages; I can’t think of a better way to teach the value of concise writing than by challenging students to write a descriptive sentence in a 140 character tweet.

Don’t get me wrong – I have always loved books. The multiple bookcases in my office overflowing with picture books, novels, and textbooks is a testament to my unfettering love of books. I also believe that there is a great deal of value in classic literature – I still can’t see a spider web at a farm without a small piece of me wanting to believe that the resident pig and spider are somehow magically best friends. But I think we need to cut our youth a little bit of slack. With the massive changes in technology that our world has experienced in the past few decades, reading, storytelling, acquiring information, writing and literature now come in many different formats, and our children and students are trying to find which of these formats they find the most appealing and comfortable to engage with. Let’s not discount their attempts or discourage their journey, but rather let’s celebrate reading and literacy in all of it’s different forms.

kindergarten classroom

Totally Normal Chaos

Kindergarten has a bit of a reputation. I have had friends, family, and even other teachers say to me, “How can you complain about being tired at the end of the day? Don’t you just sing songs and eat snacks and read stories and finger paint and play all day? Don’t they just run around and play? What do children even learn in kindergarten anyway? It doesn’t sound like all that difficult of a job…”

I’m not going to lie – those things do happen in kindergarten, and they happen every single day. To the untrained eye a kindergarten classroom must resemble a disorganized battlefield of crumbs, legos, puzzle pieces, paint, books, doll limbs, and wounded soldiers. But I think it’s important to set the record straight that those kindergarten activities happen on a daily basis for purposeful reasons, and that the inner workings of a kindergarten classroom is totally normal chaos.

We sing songs because using rhythm, rhyme, and tune helps young children remember important information, like the letters of the alphabet and other foundations of literacy. We eat snacks because kindergarten brains are going through one of the greatest periods of growth a human will experience outside of the womb, and all of that growing needs a lot of fuel.

We read stories because children learn how to predict, feel empathy, identify with others, connect, explore, deal with life’s difficult moments, and imagine through picture books – all very valuable tools that we use throughout the rest of our lives. We play because young children create friendships, experience emotions like anger and jealousy and how to handle those emotions effectively, act out different roles, problem solve, and learn that the job gets done quicker when we share responsibility. Play helps set the foundation for healthy social interactions with peers as we get older.

We finger paint because exploring through touch helps create connections between sensory information and the brain, and because with a limited vocabulary art is one of the earliest tools children use to express themselves after graduating from temper tantrums. Not to mention that the feeling of paint squishing between your fingers is surprisingly satisfying.

Yes, we have a lot of fun in kindergarten; but our day is also organized to provide children with the greatest opportunities for learning delivered in the most effective ways. Kindergarten exists in it’s own world within a school – it has it’s own rules, it’s own schedule, and a very delicate balance that not everybody can understand. If you ever have a chance to be accepted into a kindergarten classroom, you will see that it is a world full of wonder, whimsy, innovation, imagination, curiosity, love, exploration, fun, tough lessons, and teamwork. It’s not for the faint of heart, but it will surely give you a renewed sense of appreciation for just how special our world is. Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll go have some cookies and a nap…


Hooked On Phonics “Learn To Read Classroom Edition” Review

In June, Hooked On Phonics released their entire Learn to Read Classroom Edition free of charge for tablet users. Purchasing all of the program components can cost upwards of $100.00, which is no small price tag. I was able to download the free edition and give it a multiple month test run – hopefully this review will help you decide whether it is a product worthy of your limited classroom budget!

My "Hooked On Phonics" lesson with one student quickly prompted interest from all of her siblings!

My “Learn To Read” lesson with one student quickly prompted interest from all of her siblings!

I use many different literacy strategies and activities in my classroom with great success, consisting mostly of play-based activities, learning centres, and inquiry projects. I wanted a program that I could use on my tablet for whole, small or individual group literacy learning to incorporate more technology and media into my classroom. I decided to download the Hooked On Phonics Classroom Edition – why not, it was free! – and test it out with individual students that I was scheduled to tutor for 8-week programs.

So how does this app work? There are 12 units in total, and each unit is organized into three lessons. The lessons are structured around a word family, so for example lesson one aims to teach “-at” words, lesson two “-an” words, lesson three “-ap” words, and so on. Within each lesson, the students work on multiple skills including studying individual letters, working with all of the sounds of the alphabet, blending sounds, becoming comfortable with the various word families, and reading simple books using the skills that they have acquired through the lessons. Each lesson builds on the last, introducing new skills slowly while ensuring that the students are frequently practicing skills from previous lessons. The students are also introduced to common sight words throughout the units.

The program has many “bells and whistles” that made it very appealing to the children I worked with. There are songs and music videos in every lesson, which will inevitably get stuck in your head for days, verbal positive reinforcement for correct answers, the activities varied frequently to keep the children engaged, it was interactive so the students had to touch, turn and shake my tablet to work through the lessons, the graphics and voices were appealing, and the books had fantastic visual cues to help with the reading aspect of the lessons. The app itself was also quite user friendly, as all of my kindergarten students learned to maneuver the app and it’s various components within a few lessons. A recent update addressed one of the only complaints I had about the app, which was the inability to create a “sign in” for different students or groups of students. For example, each time I opened the app I had to refer to my notes to remember where each student had left off. Now, you can sign in/out and save the progress of multiple users. Perfect.

I personally liked being able to move at varying paces with different students depending on their ability level. One student whizzed through two lessons each week, completing nearly 6 units, 16 word families, and 32 books in total, while another student was able to comfortably work through four lessons and eight books by the end of the summer, which was an incredible milestone for this student. I also found the nature of the program made it easy for me to assess if the students could transfer the lessons to other literacy situations. For example, I had the students use letter tiles to recreate words they had learned during their Learn To Read lessons, and read levelled texts containing similar words. All of my students were able to successfully transfer the skills they had learned from the app to these new settings, which was a terrific indicator for me of the success of the program.

I will continue to use this program in the classroom, particularly with small groups of students. The easy usability makes it a fantastic learning centre choice, as the students can work through the lessons at their own pace under the supervision of a teacher, aide or volunteer, and you could very easily run through a lesson in a whole-class setting in about five minutes to review or introduce phonics skills in an engaging way. Now, back to my original question. Is this program worth the hefty price tag for those who weren’t lucky enough to score the free edition? In my opinion, yes. I believe it could be a valuable investment for schools that have tablets as a part of their media centres, it is current enough that it will not be outdated for quite a few years, and I think that people who tutor or read with their children at home would have use for it individually. But word on the street is that the program is offered for free every few months, so keep your eyes open and maybe you can score a free edition too!