Primary Literacy at Ray Lawson

Professional Learning Through Collaborative Inquiry

Student Work Study, Pedagogical Documentation and Collaborative Inquiry

The Student Work Study Initiative provides an opportunity for Collaborative Inquiry to take place. Classroom teachers use an inquiry stance and pedagogical documentation to construct professional learning in order to impact student learning.

"When teachers document student learning, they are able to compare what they intended to do with what actually took place, and use that information to make decisions about what happens next.(cf. Black & Wiliam, 1998)" (Krechevsky, 2010)

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Collaborative Inquiry and Pedagogical Documentation are having an increasing impact on student learning in Ontario.

Beginning with Efficacy

The school population predominantly consists of Canadian born English Language Learners of a similar culture. Although a comprehensive balanced literacy program* was in place, an area of need that emerged was that some grade one students continued to struggle with learning to read. How could we respond to our students so that they could continue to progress on their journey of learning to read?

We began our inquiry with the guiding question, what will make a difference for these particular readers? Our overarching learning goal was to have students experience reading as an enjoyable, meaning making experience. Our learning goals were to have students use a variety of reading comprehension strategies and to make student thinking more visible during reading in the classroom.

Classroom teachers strongly believed that they could impact student learning. As culturally responsive educators, we reaffirmed our beliefs that we view "the social identities of students as assets rather than as deficits or limitations". (Culturally Responsive Pedagogy Towards Equity and Inclusivity in Ontario Schools, 2013)

We began our inquiry grounded in Dr. Cathy Bruce's research on the interactive relationship between teacher and student efficacy. Watch the short, powerful and informative Web Clip here .

Theory of Action

The school's theory of action for literacy is pictured on the right. Grade One teachers came together to create their own specific working theory of action as a response to student need.

If we provide students with targeted instruction from the 2 roles of the Literate Learner (e.g., Meaning Maker and Code User) then students will be more confident and enjoy reading and making meaning from texts.


In an effort to continue to be responsive to all our student learning needs, we reflected on literacy instruction within the classroom.

How could we leverage our literacy structures that were in place to maximize the impact for student learning?

What would happen if we tweaked some of the timing of our literacy centres and incorporated student choice?

What would happen if we revisited and reemphasized some of the components of a literacy program such as the effective use of the word wall?

Reading Buddies

One of the great assets that we had observed was the relationship between the grade four class and the grade one class. The junior students demonstrated earnest responsibility for reading with their primary partners.

Classroom teachers decided to incorporate documentation in this literacy structure in a variety of ways. The classroom teacher recorded a reading 'session' with the SWST where the teacher modelled using reading strategies. Both classes watched the video. Reading buddies were then able to present cues to their primary buddies by pointing out strategies for decoding and comprehension that they had observed in the video.

Additionally, junior students then recorded the primary students reading to assist grade one students' self-monitoring of reading strategies, comprehension and fluency.

Integrated Reading and Writing

In, Teaching for Comprehending and Fluency, Thinking, Talking, and Writing About Reading K-8, Fountas and Pinnell describe the 'reciprocity of reading and writing". "Beginning readers find writing to be a great resource. It slows down processing so that they can attend to the details of print. Saying words slowly to write them helps beginners hear separate sounds in words and connect them to letters....As readers mature, they become better able to extend their thinking about reading." (2006)

Students responded to Read Aloud texts through writing and/or drawing. The words for the word wall were then drawn from the student reading response. "Comprehension is even more powerful when students have the opportunity to discuss their reading or to use writing or drawing as a tool to reflect on it." (Fountas & Pinnell, 2006). We experimented by placing emphasis on writing in the class in the form of reading response. Students had greater opportunity to see themselves as meaning makers.

"Students need to engage in three kinds of thinking in order to process a text with understanding: thinking within the text, thinking beyond the text and thinking about the text... We can infer these all three kinds of thinking are occurring simultaneously before, during, and after reading." (2006)

The word wall was recreated using the words students were providing and re-emphasized through various activities. Teachers were able to look at the student writing to gain information about student thinking. Fountas & Pinnell make the distinction about students' connections that the connection must be grounded in evidence from the text for it to be considered thinking beyond the text. When students make random connections that are not connected to the text this is not considered evidence of thinking beyond the text.

Integrated Digital Learning

Classroom teachers continued to be reflective about the literacy framework. One classroom teacher wondered about the timing of the Daily 5 centres and decided to ask her students for input. Students expressed that they would like to work at a fewer number of centres during the literacy block. The Classroom teacher reported that the students preferred this learning experience as they felt less rushed.

Another classroom teacher decided to experiment with having the students choose their literacy centres from the variety they had experienced over the year. All the activities that students chose were technology based. Classroom teachers had been using digital centres such as Raz-Kids and introducing new apps such as Ooka Island, Tell About and Write About as well as vocabulary apps.

As inquiry is an iterative process, we continued to have questions. How do we continue to leverage digital technology while at the same time incorporating other valuable literacy centres? Is there a way to continue to honour student choice and balance digital technology and traditional literacy centres? How do we continue to incorporate student voice within our literacy framework in our classrooms?

Observable Reading Behaviours

The collaborative inquiry enabled us, as a team, over an extended period of time, to engage in professional discourse on reading instruction. We discussed the use of reading levels within the classroom and what the evidence could be that students were progressing with meaning making while reading. We discussed how to move some students from simply repeating reading strategies towards authentically using the strategies.

Fountas & Pinnell stress the importance of using observation of children's reading behaviours as a key tool for assessment of reading. They suggest the following important behaviours to notice;

  • "noticing and correcting errors
  • working at difficulty
  • initiating problem solving
  • searching for and using information
  • solving words in a variety of ways
  • using language structure as a support for and a check on word solving".(2006)
In the documentation below the first video shows a student near the beginning of our inquiry and the second video shows the student later in the inquiry.

In the first video the student can be seen reading a level 'A' text. We can observe that the student has acquired concepts of print, directionality and one to one word matching. It is important to note that early levelled texts are for students to attain one to one word matching. Once students have grasped matching they can and should move on to the next level of texts as higher level texts enable more opportunities for decoding, use of high frequency words and meaning making.

In the second video we can observe that the student has made progress. We can observe that he is attending to the words with his eyes. He sometimes uses the picture for clues and problem solving. He can be seen using his phonemic knowledge to decode words. He appears to be attending to the fact that meaning is being constructed while he is reading the text which is a marked difference from the reading in the first video.

Key Learnings

Inquiry is an iterative process allowing us to revisit the cycle of instruction and student learning in a non-judgemental manner. We can reflect upon the intention of instruction, it's outcomes and make changes. Decisions are based upon demonstration of student learning (triangulation of data; observations, conversations, products). Through inquiry we can explore answers to the question, "What happens when ...?" .

Using pedagogical documentation is an essential way to learn about student learning. For example, even within the focus of a small range of students, the students present differing profiles. Viewing recordings can reveal student strengths.

Students can be included through the use of pedagogical documentation to increase the ownership of their learning.

Literacy instruction that is intentionally taught in an integrated manner, such as the integration of reading aloud and writing/drawing response for students results in meaningful learning for students. It enables teachers to teach meaning making as integration of systems. Fountas & Pinnell suggest minimizing the emphasis on reading text levels and talking less about specific reading strategies as this modifies the act of reading itself. (pg, 95,2006)

*Comprehensive Literacy Program

Language Curriculum

We focused on the following overall and specific expectations from the Ontario Language Curriculum.

Curriculum Expectations (Overall and Specific):

1. read and demonstrate an understanding of a variety of literary, graphic, and informational texts, using a range of strategies to construct meaning

3. use knowledge of words and cueing systems to read fluently

reflect on and identify their strengths as readers, areas for improvement, and the strategies they found most helpful before, during and after reading

1.3 identify a few reading comprehension strategies

3.1 automatically read and understand some high frequency words and words of personal significance

Steps to English Proficiency

The STEP document is a framework for assessing and monitoring the language acquisition and literacy development of English language learners across The Ontario Curriculum. You can access the STEP document here.

Four Resources Model

Click here to access an overview of the Four Resources Model.

Levelled Literacy Intervention & Observations of Reading Behaviours

A reading intervention program offered by Fountas and Pinnell.

The Daily Five

Daily Five by the Boushey Sisters.

Research & Resources

A Student Work Study Collaborative Inquiry 2016

Shelley Dennis Grade One teacher

Amanjot Grewal Grade One teacher

Jennifer Pagniello Grade One teacher

Olivia Valtas Grade One teacher

Janet D'Silva Student Work Study