Ever wonder what it would be like to keep 30 little kids engaged during story time? This week’s Q&A guest, Samantha Lewis, knows first hand how the right children’s book can capture the attention of an entire classroom. As a primary school teacher, Samantha started her career in the kindergarten classroom and now teaches grades 3 & 4. She is a wonderful teacher, travel enthusiast, self-proclaimed foodie, and most importantly, my best friend. I’m excited to feature "Miss Lewis" in this week’s Q&A blog!
Q: You started your career in corporate HR. What was the pivotal moment/experience that made you leave your job and go back to school for a career in teaching?
I’ve always had an itch to travel, so when I finished university and was working in corporate HR, I found an opportunity to teach in Cuba. I took a leave of absence from my job and decided to take part in this program. Teaching in Cuba was one of the most satisfying and rewarding experiences of my life. When I returned home, I made the decision to leave the corporate world and pursue teaching. I haven’t looked back since!
Q: How did you decide that primary school was the avenue you wanted to pursue (versus high school or post-secondary teaching)?
Initially, I wanted to teach high school and never thought I would be a primary school teacher! But in order to teach high school, you must have two teachable subjects and I only had one. So I decided to teach primary school while I got my certification to teach high school. Once I began teaching the younger ones, I felt a great deal of satisfaction being able to help mold young minds. I decided that I would continue in primary school because I believe that’s where you can have the most impact.
Q: I know the classroom ambiance is important to you. How does the set-up of your classroom impact your students’ engagement? Furthermore, how do you foster a reading environment within the classroom?
Classroom setup, in my opinion, is essential to student engagement. I’ve always had centres in my classroom where students are able to explore areas of the curriculum through inquiry-based learning. My classroom also has a book centre which is dedicated to literacy. I make sure it’s inviting to students, so it includes an area rug, a lamp for lighting, book displays, and plants. Every month, I display a new theme of books. For example, I have books that honour prominent figures during Black History month, including African-Canadian icons. Sparking their interest is key!
Q: Are there any standout children’s books that kindergarten students seem to love? What about your 3rd and 4th graders?
Robert Munsch books were always a favourite with my kindergarten students! They loved his humour and style of writing. With my 3rd and 4th graders, we read chapter books such as Charlotte’s Web and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The classics! I still read picture books to my students at this age, and they love it.
Q: How important is page length, illustrations, and overall message of the story to your students? In other words, how the heck do you keep 30 or more kids sitting quietly and happily during story time?
People often think that young children only have the attention span for short books. That isn’t necessarily the case in my experience! When I taught kindergarten with a class of 30 children, my days were often hectic and chaotic. But the one time of day where they were attentive and focused was during story time. As long as the book engaged them, they were listening! Illustrations are definitely important because many students require visuals. The pictures in a book really bring the story to life.
Q: As a primary school teacher, do you see a gap in today’s children’s books that could be filled? Any topics that could help primary school students?
I find that there’s a book for almost every topic nowadays! That’s probably why I can spend hours at Chapters Indigo in the children’s section. It never ceases to amaze me just how diverse children’s books are.
If there is one topic that I feel could help primary students, it is exploring the theme of acceptance. I recently read a novel to my students called “A Boy Called Bat”, where a young boy named Bat has autism. It details how his perception of the world around him differs from other children. My students were intrigued by his character and wanted to know more about the Autism Spectrum Disorder. As a teacher for 9 years, I’ve seen the number of children with special needs increase over the years. It is so important that students recognize each other’s differences and also celebrate them. Incorporating literature that brings these issues to the forefront and creates an opportunity for discussion is essential in today’s classrooms.
Q: Any advice for parents who want to encourage literacy at home, but struggle with time constraints or children who may not be interested in reading?
Read, read, read! Study after study shows that young children who read for 20 minutes a day perform better in school than their counterparts who do not. I truly believe this because I see these results in my students! I understand parents have busy schedules, but making the time to read with your child may be one of the most important things you do for them. If parents are really crunched for time, try online reading programs (Raz Kids is a favourite of mine), where children can learn to read based on their reading level. Some public libraries also have free online reading programs.
Q: What is your favourite children’s book from when you were a kid?
My favourite children’s book as a child was "The Paperbag Princess" by Robert Munsch. A close second is "The Giving Tree" by Shel Silverstein.
Q: What was the last book you took on a trip?
I just started reading "Brain on Fire", a memoir by Susannah Cahalan. It will likely join me on my upcoming vacation!
Q: Speaking of vacations. We've been fortunate enough to share many memories across the ocean on exciting travel adventures. Remember our trip to Portugal, specifically the lookout point in Cascais?
How can I forget?! We're on top of a beautiful mountain overlooking the Cascais coast in Portugal, and practicing our best smiles for the hundredth photo that day. Your uncle is setting the camera, we're adjusting our hair, and in an instant a huge gust of wind pulls up your dress...and you are frantically trying to battle the wind against your aerodynamic dress! I believe a few dozen tourists and half of Cascais got to know you better that day. Your uncle managed to get a candid photo of us laughing hysterically after the fact. A picture worth a thousand words?!
Q: I know how much you love hypothetical scenarios, so here’s the last question…if you had to choose one vegetable to eat for the rest of your life, what would you choose?
Zucchini! You can fry it, bake it, grill it, zoodle it, or even turn it into a dessert by making chocolate chip zucchini bread!
[Yum! You've inspired me to look up a recipe to make with the kiddos...]
Courtesy of Chef Savvy...
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamonpinch of nutmeg
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup light brown sugar packed
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup plain greek yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup zucchini shredded
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Butter and flour a 9 x 5 loaf pan and set aside.
3. In a large bowl mix together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg.
4. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, oil, both sugars, greek yogurt and vanilla extract until combined.
5. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and fold gently. Do not over mix.
6. Fold in the zucchini and chocolate chips.
7. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 40-50 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
8. Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan for 20 minutes.
9. Take the loaf out of the pan and allow it to cool completely on a wire rack.