My Active Literacy Project


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“In order for man to succeed in life, God provided him with two means, education and physical activity. Not separately, one for the soul and the other for the body, but for the two together. With these two means, man can attain perfection” – Plato


Last year our provincial leadership put in place an Education Sector Plan that set goals/targets for the year 2020. Within this sector plan the Hoshins were established. For those of you that do not know what a Hoshin is, simply put, it is a plan of action. Plan – Do – Act – Check. As our provincial leadership created goals and targets, each school division and school within the province set targets based on the Hoshins. The main Hoshins that we are focusing on in the next few years are; 1) increase First Nation & Metis graduation rates, and 2) implement a reading initiative at the grade 3 level. When I heard about the Hoshins and the Education Sector Plan at a staff meeting last Spring, I had a few thoughts running through my head, “What can I do, as a Physical Education teacher to support my students in these provincial goals”, and “How can I use Physical Education and Physical Activity to reach these goals?”. As a result, my research and plan of action began.

The Research

This Summer I read two amazing books; SPARK by John Ratey and Brain Rules by John Medina. If you have not had a chance to read these books, I strongly recommend it. Also, if you love giving presents to your staff and admin, both books would be a great gift! I learned a few important messages from SPARK and Brain Rules:

  • In order for your brain to function at its best, your body needs to move.
  • There is a biological relationship between the body, the brain, and the mind.
  • Exercise improves learning on three levels (SPARK, 53)
    • improves alertness, attention and motivation;
    • allows nerve cells to bind to one another, which improves the ability to process new information;
    • new nerve cells are developed from stem cells in the hippocampus. The hippocampus plays a big role in forming memories which supports learning.

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Why are these messages important to me? I have become more and more interested in the neuroscience of learning and I strongly believe that this information is key to my current research. This information shows me the benefits of movement on the body and the brain, and will be an important data piece when working through my project.

When the PEPLC project began, Joe McCarthy (@JoeMcCarthy09), and I started talking about how we were going to try to lead and facilitate our North American teams. I remember Joe telling me about the ZERO Hour program in Naperville and the book SPARK, and how they shaped his elementary LitPE and MathPE programs. I never thought much of it, as my focus that year was on Sportfolios and integrating tech into my classroom.

After the spring staff meeting and discussion of the Education Sector Plan, I knew I had to contact Joe once again.

Joe and I had a great Google Hangout and he explained his program to me once again – this time I was taking notes. From here the Active Literacy Project was born. Now I cannot take credit for the idea of this project (I just came up with the name). That credit goes to Joe, and his LitPE and MathPE programs. I am trying to model my approach and program similar to his.

The following statements are excerpts from Joe about his program:

Literacy Physical Education (LitPE) – Program designed to help students who are below grade level in reading, based on the state assessment.

  • The program introduces comprehension, fluency, and spelling into movement activities.
  • Data shows that students in the LitPE program have more than doubled their peers on the state assessment and up to 5 times the national average.

Literacy Physical Education is a program designed to help a specific grade level that is behind, based on the statewide reading assessment to each grade level standards. Our data shows that students who are in our 12 week class will more than double their peers and up to five the national average on the winter assessment. Students come to the gym every day, fifteen minutes for 12 weeks. Every class embeds fluency, comprehension and spelling into movement activities. Students in this class learn how to combat “learned helplessness” by the end of the 12 weeks. Students will use whiteboards, markers and towels as their learning tools. Paper and pencil is another option to use.

Learn more about Joe’s research on his school webpage.


The Project

My Active Literacy Project is an action research based project that will support elementary students who are below grade level in reading. I chose this Hoshin for my focus as this is where our students need the support. I feel it is my responsibility as an educator to support my students in their learning with programs that help them become successful. Based on the research, implementing movement into a program will improve alertness, attention and motivation for the students. This will provide the support for our students to learn. I was inspired to create the Active Literacy Project to create an environment where every child is successful in their learning, and as I know from research, these children will experience success through movement activity.

Here is what my program is going to look like…

It will be a 10 – 12 week program starting at the end of September (timeline details have yet to be hashed out). There will be pre-assessments and post-assessments completed to track where my students are at and their progress. We will use a variety of assessment tools to collect this data: RAD (Reading Assessment District), DLR (Diagnostic Leveled Reading) and Students’ Achieve data (report cards). The Active Literacy Program will run for 15 minutes everyday prior to the start of school (8:40-8:55am). The students will be participating in movement activities while focusing on reading, writing, spelling and comprehension. The Saskatchewan curriculum will be implemented into this program in the form of spelling words, grade level literature and more. I will be working with classroom teachers to discuss what they are teaching and build it into program.

I am very fortunate to have a principal who supports this project. After the Spring meeting, I gathered some data and went to his office ready to sell my idea.  Immediately, without hesitation he approved the program – I didn’t even have to convince him!


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Short/Long Term Goals

The Active Literacy Project will run from October to December. At the end of the program my goal is to present the data to my staff to show the growth and success of the students. The data will help me show that to have your brain function at its best, your body needs to move. My hope is that this will lead to implementing more movement into the classrooms to support our children in becoming successful learners. Based on the success the students will have in this 15 minute program, imagine the success in each hour long class if we can implement movement activities as a way of learning (This idea will evolve into its own blog series later on).

As we get into the project, I will invite my superintendents and director to visit our school to experience it in action. Within the next few weeks I will write a letter to our provincial leaders to come observe the Active Literacy Project.  They will see how we are supporting our students to reach our provincial, division and school goals/targets by using movement activity as a key component in successful learning.


Final Thought…

As Physical Educators we know that Physical Education and Physical Activity increase the focus to learn. This fact has been proven countless times in books, presentations, lectures, and in our own experiences. As Educators, we can take on leadership roles regarding provincial (e.g. state) initiatives. We cannot change the initiatives that are chosen, but we can show that Physical Education and Physical Activity can play an important role in addressing the problems the initiatives are created to tackle.


Do you have advice for me as I start my Active Literacy Project? Have you done a similar program in your school? I would love to hear about your experience in the comment section below!

19 Comments on “My Active Literacy Project

    • Michael, I plan on writing a more detailed post in the next couple weeks for what it will look like and how exactly it will be implemented. Stay tuned!

  1. I would love to hear more specifics about this! We have a learning strategies class in our building to help similar students. I would love to incorporate this info into the class. Congrats to you on such an awesome plan!!!

    • Thank you Gina! I will be writing about the specifics of the program soon once we have them all figured out. Your learning strategies class sounds very interesting!

  2. I too have become very interested in neuroscience and am planning on working with some of our classroom teachers in order to create multi-sensory learning experiences that will involve a lot of movement. Our first project will be Moving Multiples with 3rd and 4th grade student collaborating to develop math fact chants with movements and rhythm. These will become tools for the classroom teacher to use in transitions and at other times when she sees the students need a movement break. Good luck to you with your project. Another book you may want to read is Smart Moves – Why Learning Isn’t All In Your Head by Carla Hannaford.

    • Liz, your Moving Multiples project sounds very neat! Will you be blogging about this? I would love to learn more. I will definitely check out that book! Thank you for recommending it!

  3. Hi Naomi,

    I am also very interested in neuroscience and the amazing connection of movement and learning. Our reading specialist and I piloted a program called Minds in Motion for our 1st grade students. They only came one time a week the first year. The next year I did the program as a 7 minute circuit as part of their PE class two times a week and one additional time outside of PE. (see my website: ) The children definitely improved in their physical movements, but the initial testing of reading was different by the teachers so our results were hard to evaluate.

    This program focused on activities that strengthened the vestibular system. The vestibular system to the brain is what the CPU is to the computer. Four cranial nerves run through the vestibular system and control 1) the movements of the eyes, 2) neck musculature stabilizing the head, 3) muscle tonality 4) the affect of facial muscles.

    This program which is presented in a circuit was developed by reading specialist, Candace Meyer. It includes activities such as eye tracking and convergence ( sooooo important for reading . . . I would highly recommend this!!), spinning, swinging, tossing and catching, handstand, and pushing and stomping activities.

    I think a daily routine is necessary for improvement. Also, working only with those children who are behind would give them more of an opportunity to be successful.

    I’m happy to share more if you are interested.

    Good Luck and thank you for all you do to help children become more active. I have only been on Twitter for 2 weeks, but feel so validated and excited about all that is going on!!!!

    Thank you, thank you!

    Kathy Putta

    • Hi Kathy! That sounds like a great program. Are you doing the program again this year? It would be so neat to try to get your classroom teachers involved with the reading assessments. How powerful could your data be if you could show the progress in their learning! I am so happy to hear you are on twitter! What is your handle? I’d love to connect more.

  4. Naomi: Great post! The premise of your action research fits well with the goals of the provincial sector plan. Have you also considered doing a pre and post test with your group to measure their physical literacy? It is going to be interesting to follow the path of your research. Take care. Reg Leidl

    • Hi Reg! Thank you so much for reading it! I think that would be a fantastic idea to measure their physical literacy along the way. It would be great to see the data on a child that is low in reading and compare how physically literate they are, and then see if there is a connection between the two! What Physical Literacy tool would you suggest using?

      • Naomi: I would try using the PLAY Fun tool. It is comprehensive and examines a wide array of FMS skills. PLAY Basic gives a quick snapshot and is not as comprehensive. I will get you samples of both. Take care. Reg

  5. What a great post and program! The current project myself and my team (3 others) are working on in the Darling Downs South West Region of Education Queensland (Australia) is called iAIM – Increasing Activity & Intelligent Minds, with our brief to simply increase student levels of physical activity and decrease sedentary behaviours. We are looking at school wide implementation in many areas,some examples include active classroom literacy/numeracy blocks, active classroom transitions, active learning areas (linked to the Australian Curriculum), active breaks, sports programs, etc. and can strongly see the link to your Literacy Project. I would love to make additional contact to share resources and ideas. I can see your work being contextualised to school specific contexts and adopted throughout schools in Queensland – what an impact your work could make on students!

    • Hi Clinton! Thank you so much for the response! I am very excited about this project and where it will go. I LOVE your current project of iAIM (great name too.. I wasn’t very creative with mine). Let’s get in contact and share ideas and talk about this more. I would love to know the process of how you are implementing this! How can I go about contacting you?

      • Hi Naomi. Just starting this online part……..but can you follow me on twitter then I can direct message you my email? @whatsupwattsy

        I look forward to sharing some ideas and resources!

  6. Awesome stuff, Naomi and Joe! I would echo Reg’s suggestions regarding the PLAY tools – would be interesting. Additionally, I think comparing literacy data from grade levels below and above the grade that receives the Active Literacy would be a good idea. It might also be useful to compare your students’ increase (if there is an increase) with a local school the same grade level, similar demographic, with no active learning. This way, you can at least consider the hawthorne effect in your analysis. Of course, keeping your lesson activities in a google doc would be really valuable – for several reasons. I think you and Joe should publish it as a book for elementary classroom teachers (if you combined your lessons, etc.) and include information on how to research the programs’ effectiveness as well as an intro that references all of this awesome books and research studies that document what movement does to the brain. I imagine an inexpensive, soft covered book that can really helpful for pre-service and in-service classroom teachers. OR you and Joe could have a google doc crowd sourced document in which folks from all over the world contribute activities too ONLY once they have been documented to be effective. Ideally, your future doctoral work would really examine how much is related to a purposeful project which is integrated content and PE, or just PA, or just PE. Would be neat to see although that’s a big project! Worth it though! Fun times! 🙂

    Keep us posted Naomi and Joe! Let me know when I can buy the book!

    • Oh my Amanda, you have my brain spinning with these ideas right now! 🙂 I LOVE this idea! Book or crowd sourced document – either item would be a valuable resource for other educators to use. I am really interested in this and will definitely be talking to you about it more Amanda! Thank you for the response!

  7. Hey Naomi, I am setting up a kinesthetic learning lab at a Saskatoon school that will tie in with our Division’s Lit for Life initiative. It will be based on the work of Jean Blaydes at Action Based Learning. You may want to check out her website ( You will find lots of material that relates to your research.

    • Thank you for commenting Cole! I have her site book marked on my Research Information document! I will need to catch up with you on your kinaesthetic learning lab. Would love to learn more about it and your process for setting it up! Talk soon!

  8. Any updates on this? I would be interested to see how it went and maybe I could work it into my program.

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