Joyful Literacy

Recently, the Powell River Elementary School Principals and the Director of Instruction attended a two day seminar on “Joyful Literacy Interventions” in Vancouver. They described it as the best Pro-D they have attended in a very long time. They came back excited and eager to share what they’ve learned. A meeting of all primary teachers and special education teachers of two school in Powell River followed soon after and a pilot project was proposed.

Janet Mort is the author of  Joyful Literacy Interventions: Early Learning Classroom Essentials. She was a teacher, principal and superintendent and is now retired. In British Columbia, on average, 70%-75% of students are reading at or above Grade level by the end of Grade 2. When Janet Mort implemented this program in a native community in Gold River, the success rate rose to 93%. This success has been matched by many other school districts within B.C. who have piloted this program.

The premise behind this program is that our most vulnerable students often come into Kindergarten delayed. There is no time to waste. The research has shown that if students have not learned how to read by the end of Grade 3, the chance of catching up to read at or above Grade level is 20%.

Traditionally, Kindergarten teachers focus on teaching one letter per week. Janet Mort states that we can’t afford to teach one letter per week, we need to teach one letter per day. Moreover, these letters are rotated on a continuous basis so each letter is reviewed and learned continuously throughout the year. As well, each letter is learned in four ways: letter name, letter sound, ability to find the letter in print, and an ability to identify items that start with the letter sound. By the end of Kindergarten, students should know all of the letters in four ways and they should have the first set of sight words mastered.

A typical Kindergarten class schedule includes daily center time, or free play. Janet Mort states that our most vulnerable students cannot afford this free play. The intent behind all regular classroom activities must be learning. Sounds like we would have a lot of unhappy, overwhelmed children? Absolutely not!

The part that is most exciting to me is that all learning and teaching should be FUN! The FUN is the most important part in all of this. Learning takes place at teacher driven and student driven centers that are hands-on, engaging and most of all fun! Students should not realize that they are working/learning and cannot be accomplished through worksheets. One example of a center is “Spaghetti and Meatballs.”  Laminated cardstock meatballs, which have letters and sight words written on them, are mixed up with cooked Spaghetti in a large pot. The students dig out the meatballs and use the cooked spaghetti to form the letter or letters of the sight word. It’s gross and fun!

Centers are taught on a gradual release model. The teacher models what to do at each center, then share the experience with the students, guide them and then let them work at the center independently. It is recommended to start off giving the students 5 minutes to play at the center. They need time to explore the material, to stick that pipe-cleaner or noodle up their nose if need be, and get that part out of their system.

Circle Charts are used to track student success on a daily basis during center time which gives teachers a visual where the gap is. This allows teachers to group students according to the need to have an extra “blitz” session where the skill that is lacking is explicitly taught in a very fun, play-based manner. This circle chart is also available as an app on an Ipad and the data can then be put in a graph.

What is most exciting about this program are the pictures and videos that were available from classrooms all over B.C. at the summit which show this program in action and prove its success. I’m excited to be a part of the pilot project to help get this program under way at one of the schools that I work at.


Mort, Janet Nadine (2014). Joyful Literacy Interventions: Early Learning Classroom Essentials. A Research-Based Approach. Pre-K to 3. Printed by CreateSpace