Beyond Aesthetics: The Third Teacher and the Literate Learner


The Third Teacher takes a close look at how the design of learning spaces can impact learning. Beyond mere aesthetics, which are undoubtedly essential, the set up and organization of a learning space impacts the learning that they are able to achieve. This is particularly true for literacy. The ability for students to be able to read is perhaps the most important thing that students need to be able to do. Reading is the foundation of all other literacies. If students are not able to read, then they will not able to demonstrate literacy in multiple areas that will lead to real choice and the ability to think critically within the world. I tried to show that in this diagram – with reading as the foundation for other literacies, and the ability to think critically, make good choices, and achieve personal success.



I believe that the physical set-up of the classroom can have a significant impact on how we implement strategies that promote reading success. Based on the new document from the Ministry of Ontario: The Third Teacher: 

According to this document, there are 4 roles of the Literate Learner:

  1. Meaning Maker
  2. Code User
  3. Text User
  4. Text Analyzer


With these 4 roles in mind, I want to know how my learning environment can support literate behaviours? How can the Third Teacher help students to effectively manage texts in appropriate ways and help students to become literate learners?



Based on this document, I created this checklist of some of the things that we need to think of to support our existing instructional strategies that create literate learners.


To support Literacy in your Learning Space, do you have evidence of the following?


I also added culturally relevant symbols to this checklist. Culturally relevant symbols (without cultural appropriation) that help reinforce the mandates of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and promote FNMI perspectives on literacy and learning.

Further, I would ask questions pertaining to how this environment provides effective feedback toward our learners.


I am very curious to see and learn about examples of learning spaces that promote literate learners, and that can also be created on a lean budget. What design features have you found to work well in your learning space?


Deborah McCallum

C 2015

Supporting Intermediate Struggling Readers

I find that supporting struggling readers in Intermediate is very difficult. It is difficult to support with a classroom library or school library collection, difficult to run guided reading, and difficult to preserve self-esteem because using websites and books that may be at appropriate reading levels are also often for ‘little kids’. It is important to me because I see the Intermediate grades as the last opportunity to improve reading before high school.

Here is what I know about supporting struggling readers:

  1. We need to provide opportunities for connected reading, and not just focusing on instructional skills. If we just focus on instructional skills, we miss opportunities to help students make meaningful connections to their reading. Among this is the importance of digital reading. If we focus too much on skills, then they likely end up actually reading much less than their peers too.
  2. We need to move beyond the basic knowledge and skills associated with reading and move to new levels of critical thinking and analysis. For instance, comparing and contrasting, analyzing characters etc.
  3. Pairing audiobooks with texts really helps with phonemic awareness, and recognition of key sight words.
  4. Tracking texts with highlighters can help chunk down the reading into smaller and more manageable parts.
  5. Our curriculum planning and development of implementation strategies and frameworks for reading instruction needs to be based on assessed student instructional needs within the context of Differentiated Instruction AND universal design.
  6. We need to identify, access and integrated all forms of print and digital resources that relate to reading instruction.
  7. We need to implement strategies that use students’ own personal interests and experiences.
  8. Our learning programs need to be accepting and safe and promotes equity for all students.
  9. We need to conduct our own research to identify, integrate and adapt research-based strategies that promote reading and ethical teaching practices.
  10. With all that said, we also need to be flexible.
  11. Use High-Interest/Low Vocab, with illustrations to support the text, carefully chosen vocab, simple sentences, compelling stories, interesting characters, and invisibility to ensure that struggling readers are not identified and stigmatized by their reading materials.
  12. Provide choice, but really understand the reasons why students choose their own reading materials. This can include recommendations from peers, tv and movies, interesting covers and blurbs, interesting authors, eye-catching displays.
  13. The complexity of available texts and a wide variety of background experiences of the students, makes it very difficult to match texts with readers in upper grades.

What I have done in the past is this:


2.  I have also got Intermediate classes set up on twitter, and have engaged in excellent discussions online. I have also started @SCDSBbookclubs but not sure how to take it to a new level.

3.  I have used sites like Newsela and TeachKidsNews, however, the mathematical forumulae used to simplify news texts often leaves the texts choppy, and with difficult vocabulary. Now don’t get me wrong, they are excellent, and I want to keep using them. However, when Intermediates are struggling, much more must be done.


So what I want to know now??

  • What resources do you need to support this?
  • What classroom reading strategies work best with Intermediates?
  • How do you deconstruct and teach comprehension and key reading skills with digital literacy?

What do you do to support struggling readers in Intermediate?

What resources do you stock in your Library?

Deborah McCallum



SAMR, Collaborative Inquiry & Tech enabled Learning


Earlier this year I began a collaborative teacher inquiry that would set up a technological framework for supporting literacy in the lives of our students, and increasing knowledge.

My framework fit very nicely with Ruben Puentedura’s SAMR model. The following is an example of one way I am incorporating the SAMR into literacy.


Different Entry Points into Learning


What is the SAMR? Framework for integrating technology into practice. Possible entry points. Just an organizational principle, but does not have to follow this plan. Just suggestions/framework, then we can decide where we want to go next. Examples embedded.

S: Substitution –

Taking the literacy already being done with the Forest of Reading and substituting what students are already doing with traditional literacy, with  for example, reflections on a blog, book trailer on iMovie (if you have access to an iPad) or book talk on Prezi. Any web-based platform accessible from school laptops.  Other ideas??
A: Augmentation –

Include something new – enhance the presentation with audio, images, links, sound effects, animations, background music etc.
M: Modification –

Elicit feedback from other students in the class – tweeting the information and commenting to each other. Sharing blog posts, tweeting links to prezi for book talk, etc. other ideas??
Sharing tweets of blogs and links etc. with other students and teachers, authors, illustrators, publishers, Ontario Library Association to make more connections.
R: Redefinition –

Previously unimaginable
Perhaps using Google Hangouts to connect with other students at other schools and teach them how to do the same thing
Students can see themselves as the creators and producers of their skills and their work

My framework included a blog, website, and twitter accounts: @SCDSBforest and @SCDSBbookclubs, and now also @forestofreading as the organizational structures in cyberspace. A way to organize connections between students and knowledge across diverse communities, environments, cultures, and people. A technology supported learning environment and growing connections between students and staff that would help students to step outside of the micro-cultures that exist within our classrooms, and find their voices and passions.

We used twitter, blogs, iMovie, and held an online book club on Skype between 2 different schools within the same school board, facilitated by @mswift with subsequent google form data.

But the technology was applied to an already ‘well-oiled literacy-machine’, with the purpose of not just incorporating technology-enabled learning environments to our literacy programs, but also to add opportunities for promoting student voice.

More importantly however, I believe that literacy is directly connected with knowledge building and knowledge creation. This is because literacy is designed to support students to organize information in meaningful ways that creates new knowledge. It is important to move beyond the technology, and address the key pedagogical traits that we must apply to help us truly understand whether students are able to retrieve and apply their knowledge in meaningful ways. It is also essential to provide the virtual structures to help organize the entire literacy process.

Literacy has the potential to go far beyond book knowledge and basic literacy skills. There are opportunities and possibilities through technology that can help with the integration of more complex tasks that foster knowledge building and development.

Social & Emotional Development

There are additional opportunities for linking the social and emotional development as well. Opportunities for the students to connect with the characters and storylines, and then in turn use technology to connect with the creators of the characters and stories, other students from diverse backgrounds, and other educators, the list goes on. Then, students are able to share personal connections, and pulling together the different pieces of knowledge from various aspects of their lives and create new knowledge.

This also promotes digital citizenship.

I also believe that through the use of technology, we can supplant positive interactions and collaborative environments that may be lacking in our own classroom micro-cultures – one classroom, one teacher, and one group of students will never be the best environment for all students. Therefore, I believe that we can increase the likelihood of helping students to increase their personal learning, growth, understanding of themselves, and ultimately their performance in multiple literacies.

Please check us out! Get involved! Let us know what you think!

Websites to promote our collaborative inquiry:

Twitter Accounts: & &


@forestofreading that I am helping to manage for the OLA

In addition to: Facebook, Tagboard, Storify, and the list will continue to grow and evolve!


Last but not never least, feedback is essential. The organizational structures need to have embedded feedback throughout. Feedback is the glue that links everything that you have been doing. It links essential skills, digital citizenship, learning skills, overall expectations. It validates student voice. It enhances student  voice. Further, we recognize that feedback can come from others – via online book clubs, online Forest of Reading, via students or teachers across Canada, via Authors, Illustrators, and Publishers.

Self-assessment, teacher assessment, can help students to understand what they are looking at, and go beyond the basic principles of learning and reinforcement.

Teachers can use technology in a myriad of ways to purposefully engage in all of the important components of literacy. I look forward to continuing on this journey, and adding depth and breadth to this inquiry in the years to come!

This inquiry is something that I will most certainly continue to build with @mswift! She is a fantastic partner @mswift with whom I will be continuing to work with throughout the upcoming school year.

Come learn more about this program at the BIT conference in Niagara Falls this November with a wonderful partner of mine and one who greatly helped out with this project: @mswift – We are very excited to be presenting this information!

I would love to hear your feedback, and would also hope that you will connect with us in the upcoming school year!

Deborah McCallum