Examining Literacy Through a Health and Wellness Lens

Area(s) of Focus: well being, curriculum
Level(s): Grade 6, Grade 7, Grade 8

We wanted to enrich reading/writing to teach health, wellness & well-being – and an inclusive support model for special education students. Results shown as Achievement, Equity & Well-Being to address the needs of the whole child – not just literacy.

As middle school teachers, we proposed collaborating to enrich our literacy programs by using reading and writing to teach health, wellness and well-being. We were eager to work together and challenge ourselves to explore concepts of health and wellness more deeply as we were recently designated a “Health and Wellness” school. We’d been reflecting on the need to diversify and integrate our programs to reflect the new vision in our board (with an inclusive support model for home-school students). We worked through challenges together on our inquiry journey to deepen our professional learning around health, wellness/well-being and best practices in literacy. In the end, we decided to scaffold our results based on how wellness is reflected in the the areas of our board improvement plan – Achievement, Equity and Well-Being. This way we really addressed the needs of the whole child and not just the literacy component.

Team Members

  • Grace Lim

    Toronto District School Board

  • Robin Lewis

    Toronto District School Board

  • Jared Baker

    Toronto District School Board

  • Geoff Onderdonk

    Toronto District School Board

Professional Learning Goals

  • Worked collaboratively as middle school teachers and took risks to challenge our professional practice
  • Inquired and shared best practices in literacy as it related to health/wellness/well-being and explored high-yield literacy strategies that allowed for deeper conversations
  • Explored various models for inclusion in the school and recommended by our board
  • Explored, read and shared newly purchased school resources that infused health, wellness and well-being into the materials we used in class

Activities and Resources

Our board’s Vision of Learning is broken down into the following areas, and we scaffolded our report to reflect our thinking and project in these areas:

Achievement – TDSB Vision: Providing students with an improved learning environment focused on authentic, real-world learning practices is critical for success as it will help students develop key global competencies and improve core learning skills, such as literacy and numeracy.

We attended professional learning by central staff about how to support struggling readers. We reviewed how to use the board-approved literacy diagnostic kits and how to effectively take/use running records to close the achievement gap for students. We ordered additional assessment resources so all teachers had access to materials as needed.

We shared best practices, explored high-yield literacy strategies that allow for deeper conversations, and tried out new resources/strategies in class with students (including Concept Chart, Thinking Theme chart, Roll on the Wall, character trait chart, etc.). These strategies were the same as our regular streamed classes, and we made modifications/accommodations as needed.

We met in formal and informal meetings (both as special education team and with our regular streamed teachers) to share progress in class, student work samples, complete moderate marking, and to plan next steps.

We utilized the knowledge of support staff (such as board instructional coaches) when learning about and trying out new literacy strategies.

Equity – TDSB Vision: This commitment to equity requires that we engage in challenging conversations, not only at the system level but at each and every school.

We read and explored various professional and student literacy resources that support the implementation of equity topics within an middle school classroom, and specific to meet the needs of all learners working at different grade levels. We also wanted to align what was happening in our special education classes (withdrawal model) to be similar to the topics being discussed in the regular streamed classrooms.

We created a safe space to explore possible program changes and all positioned ourselves as learners in order to have candid discussions with each other and about risk-taking.

We worked collaboratively as middle school teachers and met regularly to engage in critical professional discourse about our students in special education classes and what best fits their needs. We began to explore different models for integration of special education students, so all day learning is with their peers, with additional teacher support. We are trying out the strategies in parallel with our regular streamed classes, but planning for an integrated model for the 2018-19 school year. We changed our staffing model to reflect this change.

We explored and read newly purchased, rich school resources that infuse equity and various points of view into the materials. We evaluated the effectiveness of these resources for use in our classes/with our students, and the different reading levels available.

We researched and purchased new additional books for our resource room that support the wide range of reading levels for our students (but developmentally appropriate in subject matter), yet still following the same big ideas found in the core classes.

We shared best practices on how to use various novels in a classroom (moving away from a full class novel with “teacher guide”), to support differentiated instruction and meet students individual reading level/interest.

Well-Being – TDSB VisionWe need to promote positive mental health, safe and caring schools, healthy schools that understand the importance of physical health, nutrition and physical activity, and inclusive schools that are responsive to all as we celebrate the diversity in our communities.

We began to generate ideas about how we would make the school a “Health and Wellness” school – What does this mean to us? What do we want the kids to know/do? How would we be different than other schools/unique? Need for a mission statement and to involve programming to reflect new vision (ongoing)?

We created a health, wellness and well-being section in our resource room to support teacher integration of topics into literacy programming.

We reflected on the school nutrition program (already happening) and need to think about the lunch cafeteria and students leaving for lunch.

A health curriculum has now been timetabled into into “core,” and school is changing from a full rotary model to 50 per cent core and 50 per cent rotary. This will help to build stronger relationships with the core teacher and students will see less teachers within a day.

Unexpected Challenges

We encountered a number of challenges during this project that slowed our progress, but nothing so challenging that it hindered our project. Here are a few of the most significant challenges:

  • Unfortunately we had a number of unexpected personal challenges with the teachers involved on our team – illness, injury, etc. We had to schedule and reschedule several release days.
  • Our school goals also changed throughout the year, which caused our project timelines to shift. This also caused us to revise our focus.
  • There were a number of school initiatives that all seemed to be taking place at the same time, which caused some trouble with balancing in class time to try out new strategies with students and time out of class to collaborate.
  • We experienced great difficulty booking supply teachers for release time from March onwards, due to a lack of supplies in the system. In the future, we hope that the original project timelines are kept (with applications due in September and decisions made by early October, in order for projects to start earlier in the year).

Enhancing Student Learning and Development

We think our project will enhance student learning by integrating our identified students into core classes and using a more inclusive model throughout the building. We also have a more intentional plan for support through our integrated model that will support all learners. We are also building our resources to meet students where they are (especially in reading where we have a group of students reading three to five grade levels below their age level – now we have books that better reflect their needs).


Our project progress is being shared with staff now, as timetabling and staffing changes are happening.

We will update our parent council and community members about the wellness changes at our June and September meetings. We will also seek their input throughout next year as we continue with our school recommendations.

We will share our report with our superintendent, who is new to the area, about all the positive steps we are trying out to support students.

Project Evaluation

Overall we are very happy with the steps we’ve been able to take during our project, as we now feel ALL students will be better supported. Although we didn’t move quickly, we went deep with our needs/next steps and were able to challenge and change some of the bigger structural obstacles for students success in the building. Our next steps will include looking more deeply at the mental health data our school board collects (which is expected to be released to schools in June 2018).

We also tied in our work with our board’s vision, so other school can model this process and not feel it’s an “add-on.”

Our project is not done – we are ready to implement our plan and changes we’ve made. We will monitor the changes next year and seek more student/teacher reflections about how they feel about the changes.