Students at Russell High School (RHS) wrapped up an initiative that turned students into authors and mentors, while at the same time tackling social justice issues connected to the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s Right to Read inquiry.
The initiative involved 49 Grade 7 and 8 students, who learned about the importance of decodable texts and then wrote their own books for primary students. With a focus on students helping students, the decodable book project is designed to support literacy in Kindergarten to Grade 3 students. Decodable texts are carefully sequenced books to help children with letter and sound relationships, which are used to support new readers.
“I didn’t know writing decodable books would be so much fun,” says Grade 7 student Carrie-Anne Murton, who enjoyed working with the district’s learning partners and her classroom teacher to develop a new skill and to help younger students read. “Decodable texts can help kids learn to read because it mixes words and sounds they may already know with ones they may not in order to crack the phonetic code. It was also good practice and reminders for us too.”
The real-world learning project sparked a strong passion for the two intermediate classes, and they had several meaningful conversations about the right to read. With the idea of students helping students, the Grade 7 and 8 students learned that not everyone is a born reader and in order to become a reader one must be able to crack the phonetic code.
For this project, RHS students were provided with a limited number of letters and heart words – also known as high-frequency words – to create short storylines for younger readers who would be able to easily decode based on the letters and phonics patterns previously taught.
“Being a part of this project has been incredibly rewarding. The empathy and understanding displayed from these Grade 7 and 8 students when discussing the fact that learning to read is a human right has been heartwarming,” explains Megan Radley, one of the Upper Canada District School Board Learning Partners on this project. “They demonstrated amazing perseverance when writing their stories with limited phonetic code, ensuring their books were decodable for the younger students to help them crack the code.”
In all, 33 books were created and published by students over the course of 12 weeks, with the guidance of the learning partners and classroom teachers.
Grade 7 student Violette Bisson says she learned a lot during the process, including the diverse ways that people learn to read and admits to discovering some things about herself throughout the project.
“I had no idea that I would have learned so much about reading,” Bisson explains. “I thought I was done learning how to read until this project and I also learned that there’s not a certain age where you stop learning, you’re always learning something new.”
Bisson wrote about a cat named Drag and his human, Pat, who do activities together.
“I thought it would be an easier read for younger students to understand and relate to because Pat and his cat kind of go together with the decodable text constraints,” she says, adding that the goal is to inspire others to want to read books and learn something new, as “our generation doesn’t really read as many books in our free time as we used to, which is pretty sad…hopefully, this encourages younger students to want to read, and also write books.”
The project culminated on June 24 with an official book launch celebration at the Russell Public Library. The young authors from RHS and Kindergarten to Grade 2 students from Russell Public School and Cambridge Public School came together for book readings in one-on-one and in small group settings.
“This has been a great experience,” says Grade 8 student Andrew An, one of the authors who read to the younger students. “It was fun to see the kids read our words, see our images, and engage with what we did.”
Another intermediate student adds that it was awesome to see the younger students learning from what they made and that he “learned a lot about how the younger mind works.”
“The collaboration between our students, teachers, and learning partners who have all worked so hard with the common goal of creating something to help students learn to read, has been inspiring,” says Peter Onstein, Principal of Russell High School.
Each author will get a copy of their book, and there will be copies available at Russell Public School, Cambridge Public School, and the Russell Public Library for young readers to enjoy.