Inspiring Hearts and Minds

In September 2005, Exshaw School began a new Literacy Model based on research and best practices in teaching. We continue to work towards improving, adapting, and updating our Literacy Model. The goal of this Literacy Model is "Improve Learning for All".

There are seven key elements in the Literacy Model:

I. Balanced Cross Graded Literacy

Our Literacy Model includes 5 vital Blocks of literacy education. 

These 5 Blocks are as follows:

  1. Guided Reading
  2. Independent and Buddy Reading
  3. Word Work
  4. Writing
  5. Listening and Expressive Skills

Grade 1 - 4 teachers instruct cross graded groupings using the 5 Blocks of Literacy Model.  In addition, this year our Literacy Model includes a cross grade overlap between grades 4, 5 & 6 that will also incorporate the 5 Blocks of Literacy. The grade 7 & 8 students are also cross grade grouped during their literacy blocks.

Block 1: Guided Reading

Guided reading occurs daily with students grouped in a cross graded manner. The learning expectations are set based on the needs of the students. The teachers work with small groups of students who are reading at approximately the same level and have similar needs. The books and instruction for guided reading is organized by the teacher and is set at the instructional level (90%-95% accuracy) of the students. 

During guided reading the teacher listens to 1 or more students from the guided reading group and takes a running record, or a miscue analysis, of the child's reading. The running record is very important as it tells the teacher what strategies a child is using and neglecting to use when reading. It also provides the teacher with what the next teaching focus for each child should be.  After the students have read, the teacher shares with the group the activity they will be doing based on the book they have read. These activities will have specific areas of focus depending on the students' needs.

Often while the teacher is working with a group, the other students will be involved in Block 2 (independent reading), whether self directed or under the supervision of the classroom EA or teaching partner.

Block 2: Independent and Buddy Reading

Every day children read independently and practice the reading strategies they have been working on in their guided reading groups. In addition to reading independently the students read with a buddy.  Buddy reading helps the children develop fluency. The students read their books at school, at home and to a buddy. We want children to read their books at least 3 times to help build fluency, sight vocabulary skills and confidence.

Five years ago, in our Professional Learning Communities, we developed school-wide reading strategies that have been displayed on feathers and bookmarks. The reading strategy feathers are placed around a medicine wheel which shows the blocks of literacy: reading, speaking, writing and listening. Teachers place reading feathers around the wheel as they teach the strategy, providing students and teachers common language that can be referred to throughout the year to support mastery of reading goals. As students move up in literacy levels and grade levels they will find the same strategies, in addition to new ones to work on. This provides our students with a smooth transition.

The reading strategy bookmarks are provided to each child as a reference guide to use when reading at school and at home. The bookmarks have strategies and picture cues printed on them to help remind the students of the reading goals they are working on at school. 

Students get to take home a book bag daily that contains a reading log, reading strategy bookmark and grade level appropriate reading book. The younger students receive a sticker for every book read at home and after they read 10 books they receive a prize. If a student reads 100 books they are awarded a t-shirt that was designed by a former grade 4 student.

For those students (gr. 1 - 4) whose parents are unable to listen to them read at home, we have teaching staff, lunchroom supervisors and adult volunteers, listening to them read during literacy time. This is a very important part of our program as it is crucial at this young age for children to have an adult sit beside them and listen to them read every day. The more children read, the more confident and independent they become as readers. 

Block 3: Word Work-Working with Words, Vocabulary and Spelling

Working with "Priority Words" (AKA Word Work) always starts with a focus on the sounds in the word and then moves on to the letters. Word work is done on a daily basis for ~10 minutes. Each class will have one or more word walls displayed that include the words taught weekly. On average 4-5 new words are introduced to the students each week. Literacy teachers select words from their priority word level list, based on the students' level of understanding and prior knowledge.

Word Work involves students participating in learning activities such as:

  • phonemic awareness activities
  • letter names and sounds activities
  • cutting up letters and making words
  • building word families
  • blending words together
  • learning high frequency words
  • developing vocabulary
  • developing word walls
  • working with pronounceable units
  • breaking words up into syllables
  • making and breaking words
  • rhyming activities
  • onset and rime

Block 4: Writing Time

Every day students participate in various writing activities that run for 20-30 minutes. The students remain in their cross grade groupings for this time, unless the teacher feels there needs to be movement due to a student's level of understanding and writing ability. This writing time may be shared writing, independent writing or guided group writing. The smart board and netbooks are sometimes used as tools to support student engagement in the writing process.

For K-4 literacy groups/time, the methods of instruction may be based on our previous book studies: 

  • Ruth Culham, 6+1 Traits of Writing
  • Lucy Calkins, Small Moment Stories
  • Barbara Mariconda, Most Wonderful Writing Lessons Ever

Teachers may use graphic organizers, writing tool boxes, writing folders, student rubrics, and student created dictionaries/priority word reference sheets to support the child with their writing. After a writing process/guideline has been taught it is set as a writing goal that the students are expected to follow and apply when writing, along with correctly spelling power words taught to date. 

Grade 1 and 2 teachers may occasionally use the resource Wee Can Write: Using 6+1 Trait® Writing Strategies with Renowned Children's Literature by Carolyn McMahon & Peggy Warwick, to support their writing program. This book is linked to the 6+1 Traits of Writing with suggested storybooks to read and use to guide writing projects. 

Block 5: Listening and Expressive Skill Development

Listening and Expressive time assists students with their speaking, listening and comprehension outcomes. It can be instructed in various ways including teachers reading quality literature that is above the students' reading level. At the beginning stages of reading, children read simple books with high frequency words and practice their decoding skills – these books are not rich in vocabulary and world knowledge. Therefore, it is necessary for the teacher to read aloud stories well above student reading level for the development of vocabulary and world knowledge.  Students can move from "learning to read" to "reading to learn".

Listening and Expressive time occurs daily and can be scheduled outside of our literacy time. However, the literacy classes that are working on Kindergarten to Grade 2 learner outcomes attempt to provide an additional 10-15 minutes Listening and Expressive Skill development during our allotted literacy time.

We also take the opportunity to provide additional Listening and Expressive skills through the use of Reciprocal Teaching, Story Crafting, partner reading with older students or other group reading activities. 

Reciprocal Teaching

We use 5 different puppets to help instruct the philosophies and ideas behind reciprocal teaching. Each puppet has an important job in helping the students understand and discuss the books that have been read. These puppets are:

  • Princess Storyteller - helps make the long story short
  • Wizard - helps make predictions
  • Quincy the Questioner - helps asks questions
  • Clara the Clarifier - helps clarify what has been heard
  • Connector Owl - helps make connections with the text/story idea

Story Crafting

Kindergarten, Grade 1 and Grade 2 students receive Story Crafting twice a week as part of our literacy model. Storytelling is an integral part of our lives. Telling and listening to stories helps us to understand and interpret important events in our lives. Young children learn to tell stories at a very early age as they listen to older members of their families.  Over time, they begin to recount their own experiences and begin to understand what a story is. An understanding of story and the ability to tell stories is important to the long-term literacy development of all children. Research has shown that development in storytelling influences later literacy learning, such as story comprehension and story writing. 

Story Crafting has many benefits. Through illustrations, children experiment with their imaginations without being hampered by an inability to read and write. Students develop an understanding of the components of a story. They are able to identify problems, solutions and character feelings. Students develop self confidence by sharing their stories with others.  

The Listening and Expressive Block of literacy learning is designed to promote language acquisition; it must be an integral part of literacy instruction and one that augments the instruction in the other 4 blocks. 

II. Assessment


Every day teachers listen to children read and perform a running record, or a miscue analysis, of individual children. After the student has read, the teacher shares with the student what they are doing that works and something they can work on next. This running record tells us what strategies a child is using and neglecting to use when reading; it tells us what our next teaching focus for each child should be.   

Every 10-12 weeks we also use standardized tests for summative reporting. In our assessment process we are assessing for learning and making assessments of learning. Based on this assessment and feedback from teachers, literacy groups are reviewed and reorganized for optimal learning for all.


We are entering the second year of our Division Wide Assessment 3 Year Plan. Late last year we decided to redo our writing rubrics. They will still be based on the 6+1 Writing Traits; however, they will be divided into sub-categories of each writing trait and levelled and designed specifically for each literacy group. We look forward to seeing how our methods of assessment change and adapt this year with regards to literacy. After completing our writing rubrics we will work on methods of assessing and reporting on oral language skills.

III. Reading Specialist and Learning Support

Their roles include:

  • Instruction to students: one-on-one, small group or whole class instruction
  • Program development and coordination
  • Providing in-services for staff
  • Modelling of literacy teaching practices in the classroom
  • Providing resources to teachers, support staff, parents, and community
  • Communication with administration, school board, parents, and community
  • Assessment
  • Data collection

We have a new reading program called Levelled Literacy Intervention that will enable these teachers to work with 3-6 students at a time while instructing an intensive reading program that incorporates word work, writing skills and independent reading skills. This program is similar to Reading Intervention and is done on a daily basis for 30 minutes/day. The programs we have are for students working at kindergarten, Grade 1 and Grade 2 reading levels.

IV. Professional Development

All staff participate in:

  • In-services on the 5 Blocks of Literacy
  • Professional Learning Communities to discuss Literacy
  • Reading current research on Literacy
  • Meeting with Reading Specialist and Learning Support Teachers to discuss Literacy needs of students

V. Resources

We continue to build and add to our resources. Recently we received donations that allowed us to purchase Levelled Literacy Intervention (LLI) supplies for Kindergarten, Grade 1, and Grade 2. This program allows our reading specialist and Learning Support Teachers to work with small groups and provide an intense, literacy based reading and writing program. We have numerous levelled reading book sets for all grade specific reading levels to support our guided reading program and to continue to add to our home reading book selection.

VI. Involvement of Parents and Community

Caring for, and teaching the students at Exshaw School is truly a collaborative effort between school board, staff, parents, community, and students. Some of the ways we have these parties involved with our Literacy Model are:

  • Reading Volunteers visit our school regularly from surrounding communities to listen to our students read
  • Bonnie and Rose form the Big Horn Library provide students with books to take home regularly and stock our take home book shelves regularly
  • Students in lower grades visit the Big Horn library to borrow books and learn about a community library
  • Literacy Backpacks have been created by teachers and funded through the Lions Club of Canmore

VII. Full Time Kindergarten

In September 2006 we added a seventh key element to our Literacy Model: Full Time Kindergarten. 

Each day students in Kindergarten are involved in Literacy Centers planned, instructed, and supervised by the Homeroom Teacher, with additional support provided by an EA. The main focuses during this time are phonemic awareness and early literacy skill development. During this time, students will be introduced to letter sounds and names, initial sounds, rhyme identification, onset and rime, and for those students that are ready: blended phonemes, sound isolation, sequencing of sounds and sound segmentation.

The Reading Specialist will provide additional literacy support to students one-on-one or in small groups. We will also have an EA offering phonemic awareness and beginning literacy skills development 30 minutes each day to students.

Additional language learning opportunities are also provided through the following activities:

  • Buddy Reading with a Grade 7 buddy
  • Weekly visits to Big Horn Library
  • Weekly visits to our school library
  • Group readings of:         
    • Poems
    • Songs
    • Nursery rhymes
    • Morning Messages
    • Big books
    • Repetitive books
  • Reciprocal Teaching
  • Book bags (later in the year)
  • Easy readers (photocopied, teacher created books that go home)
  • Literacy based smart board activities