Welcome to December! As we enter into the most wonderful time of the year, I want to express appreciation to our students, faculty/staff, and parents for making Canyon Crest such a wonderful...
Canyon Crest Elementary School is renowned for excellence in education, due to its teachers’ hard work and dedication. One such teacher is Stephanie Merris, a second-grade instructor using the Wonders booklet lessons to create assessment-capable visible learners in her classroom.
It was a wonder to hear students chime in song to recant classroom management practices, watch them share booklets and read using their little pointer-fingers to follow the story beats, and verbalize success criteria while writing on organizers without prompting. The classroom decor gleamed like a sweet shop with sugar-hued papers and bright shapes. From the symbolic decor to the classroom management and reading comprehension techniques to how she accounted for differentiated learning and more, she seamlessly nailed every teaching component.
Her students– which she calls her “scholars,” are incredibly fortunate.
So, how does she do it? In this article, I’ll look at some best practices she leverages to make the most of the Wonders booklets, all with a singular intention to create “Assessment-Capable Visible Learners.” It’s a goal that our AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) classrooms set for students to increase post-graduation college enrollment and job placement; it’s a lifelong skill that transcends barriers. We can start by identifying what Assessment-Capable Visible Learners are and how the Wonders Program is aiding teachers and students in fostering literacy.
So, what is an Assessment-Capable Visible Learner?
An Assessment-Capable Visible Learner is a student who has developed the knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary to take an active role in their own learning. An assessment-capable visible learner is a student who is aware of their learning needs, has the skills to monitor their own progress, and can communicate their learning to others. These skills are essential for students to succeed in school, sure, but for the rest of their lives, too.
And what is the Wonders Reading Program?
The Wonders Reading Program is the latest research-backed, educator-created reading program used in many schools nationwide.
To quote the Wonders Program Mission Statement:
This program is designed to foster a love of reading in all children. Through the exploration of texts and the daily development of their skills as readers, writers, speakers, and active listeners, students experience the power of literacy. Our focus on teaching the whole child – and every child – prepares students to be lifelong learners and critical thinkers. Stephanie Merris has worked hard to implement the Wonders booklet lessons in her classroom effectively for her students. She uses many teaching strategies to keep all her students engaged and motivated and provides regular opportunities to reflect on their learning and set goals for themselves. In essence, she’s teaching students how to think critically and learn on their feet.
Her work has not gone unnoticed; her colleagues and administrators recognize her innovative and effective teaching methods.
Upon entering her classroom, students find themselves encircled by Frozen-themed symbolic decor. From the full wallpaper spread of Anna and Elsa to the Olaf-themed Learning Target board to the book corner containing Frozen novels, to the sprawl of character figurines and nameplates, to the inspirational quotes to the reading prompt reminders to the snowy frames of her student highlight corner– her room and its cheerful symbolic decor had the complete Frozen treatment.
Theming and symbolic decor is only part of the picture when it comes to teaching, but her students treated her class with special care, excited to enter her room. It seemed like care reciprocated; Merris cared to create a fun and inclusive learning environment, and her students returned the favor.
Merris managed her classroom with songs and hand signals: students sang and used hand signals to address extracurricular needs (and here’s an article on a similar utilization of classroom management hand signals, if any reading teachers are interested).
Students also learned through song and gestures: students made connections using sentence stems and hand signals, as mentioned above. When students made text-to-text, text-to-world, or text-to-self connections, they sounded off with an appropriate jingle, joining their hand’s thumb and index fingers in a chain– thus making a physical and verbal connection alongside their mental connection. Students increased learning using embodied cognition; using repeated physical gestures when encoding information allows students more effective information recall.
Even the unit success criteria and state strand had a chant. Students were learning about order and sequencing. Merris sounded off, singing, “First is order!” Students responded, “and order means sequence!” Merris said, “Here are the words that give our order!” Students called back, “First, Next, After, Last!” And the lesson continued; students had a rhyme for textual evidence and their reading strategies. Like a honey-bee hive, it was a room alive with active learners, fingers and hands floating in motion.
Students had plenty of lead time to prime learning with Merris’s hook question and activity. The opening slide read, “Touch your nose if you’ve ever felt sick before. What was it like? How did it feel?” Students collaborated in a think-pair-share on the experience before Merris called them to attention. Students again sang and made the chained-finger hand gesture to signal their text-to-world connection before they verbalized their connections. Merris then shared her sick-day experience, modeling her made connection. The hook brought students into the success criteria and the lesson’s body.
Students repeated the Success Criteria for the lesson: I can ask and answer questions to describe the sequence of events in a story, with ask, answer, and describe being the Bloom Verbs to practice and assess skills for the lesson. (For those unfamiliar with Bloom’s Taxonomy and Bloom Verbs, Bloom’s Taxonomy is, to quote the popular teaching website, teachthought.com, a “hierarchical ordering of cognitive skills that can, among countless other uses, help teachers teach and students learn.”
The verbs are used nationwide for teachers to create assessments, lesson plans, structure socratic seminars and discussions, gauge assignment complexity, plot curriculum maps, and much more. The skills the students learn here aid students in their ability to understand, analyze, and apply their knowledge– all of which will serve as the bedrock for their future skills evaluating and creating in their near futures.
As is best practice, Merris and her students brainstormed why these aforementioned skills might be essential and applicable in their daily lives; students discussed how stories make up their everyday lives and how the skills would not only improve their ability to learn but to empathize and understand others.
After reviewing the lesson outline, students grabbed their textbooks and partnered to read a short story from the Wonders booklet called “Mr. Putter and Tabby See the Stars.” To quote the Google Books summary:
After Mr. Putter eats exactly twenty-one of Mrs. Teaberry’s delicious pineapple jelly rolls, he ends up with a grumbling tummy– and a bad case of insomnia! A midnight stargazing stroll with Tabby is just the cure. But could it be that Mr. Putter and Tabby aren’t the only ones still wide awake? In I Do / We Do / You Do fashion, Merris read first, modeling her close-reading strategies. Before reading, she looked over the cover, attempting to make predictions about characters, events, and the sequence of events that might happen in the novel. Students then think-pair-shared to generate some predictions, too, before Merris started reading. The lesson primed the students to read, activating relevant prior knowledge with the opening hook of the class and asking students to make inferences and predictions about the text from the title and story cover.
Students read aloud alongside Merris, answering questions as a class (which is the second portion of I Do, We Do, You Do). Once they started the novel, Merris modeled some during-reading questions, making jokes and engaging readers with distinct act-outs and voices. Students again made connections using hand signals.
In the later questions, all her students raised their hands with an answer. Merris, then, called on students according to an online tool called the “magic-hat-picker,” in which an animated magician pulls a student’s name randomly from a hat– thereby calling on students equitably. Students who demonstrated exemplary class behaviors received tickets for a prize raffle after class.
Once students started answering questions, Merris instructed them to use their graphic organizers to ask and answer questions to separate the sequence of events. Her class was ready to start reading independently, so she grouped students for reading. The Wonders booklet outlined a way to differentiate learning for readers at different levels: students approaching reading level would reread prompts in small group time after class reading, allowing Merris more one-on-one time with students who needed extra support. On-level readers paired up, and beyond-level readers read independently.
I’ve done my best to sum up and link a few of the many teaching strategies that Merris uses daily, but I can’t overstate how comprehensive her approach to teaching is– she nails education in every way, differentiating and supporting literacy for every student, creating a culture of learning that is infectious.
Thank you, Stephanie Merris, for making Canyon Crest and our district a special place.
(This article was originally posted on the Provo City School District website at https://provo.edu/stephanie-merriss-wonderful-wonders-lesson-at-canyon-crest/ )