For a toy made from a sock, Métis Monkey sure has lots of stories for students to tell.
The stuffed monkey is a world traveller whose adventures are chronicled by the Grade 1 students in Tara Hayne's classroom during the 2018-19 school year. It's a unique writing project that sees each student contribute to pairing words to the pictures of the monkey's travels and then seeing their work published in a softcover book they can share with family.
Hayne, a teacher at Colette Bourgonje School, chose the name Métis Monkey during her time at Westmount Community School, where the little sock monkey was a classroom reading buddy for her students. She began taking it on her travels and photos of the monkey in different places sparked the idea of students creating their own story book.
"I thought by doing this type of activity it might interest my students because the monkey belonged to our classroom. At the time, they did not see themselves as writers, nor could they use their imagination or perhaps they did not want to share their imagination with others," Hayne said.
"I was trying to engage my students in the writing process. I wanted my students to share their own thinking with others in the classroom. It was a challenge at the time as a lot of my students were not ready to share their thoughts, feelings or ideas with others. I truly wanted my students to believe that they could work together to create a wonderful story about our friend."
The first book shared the story of the monkey's trip to Los Angeles with Hayne. Then, librarian Leslie Basky took the monkey along during a trip to Hawaii and later worked with Hayne and the students to write that book. The money's most recent adventure, Métis Monkey Travels to Disneyworld, is a story shaped around photos taken by the family of one of Hayne's students. The student's mother took the idea to heart by placing the monkey in spots where it would spark children's thinking, resulting in more than 20 photos of the monkey doing everything from catching its flight and presenting a passport, to sleeping in a hotel and meeting Buzz Lightyear.
"This project involves all students in one form or another," Hayne said. "As a class, we decide how to place the photos to make a story and we look carefully at the photos for clues to help guide our thinking. Once we finish making an order of his adventure that we all agree upon students are placed in small groups or pairs to write.
"I make sure every child has a say in the story that we create. Students wrote their thoughts on the page that contained the photo and we wrote the story page-by-page from the beginning after many hours going through possible ideas as to what could be happening in each photo."
The project took shape over the course of several months and allowed students to build skills ranging from something as simple as printing on a line to strengthening their phonological awareness. The process showed students how to write a sentence with punctuation and voice and how to structure a story with a beginning, middle and end.
Writing the book connects to curriculum in several ways including: using inquiry to explore a question or topic of interest related to the themes and topics being studied; representing key ideas and events, in a logical sequence and with detail, in different ways; and creating short texts including imaginative stories with the students' own ideas.
"I try to keep my students excited about the writing process and I always remind my students that it takes time and patience to create something marvellous," Hayne said. "We work on having a growth mindset and acknowledge when we make mistakes as it is all part of the process. I want my students to know right from Day 1 that we are a family of learners and together we will accomplish great things, but we need time and patience.
"I had my students working in groups of two so that each child could bounce ideas of one another. Together, they could change or edit their work. They relied on each other for support. Some groups may have had a stronger writer while other groups may have had a child with an active imagination. Some students who were learning English would receive a picture with lots of detail so that child would have success."
The finished book — which includes the name of every student author — were a hit not only with the students but also with parents and the younger siblings who had the book read to them.
"We were thrilled when William brought home the Métis Monkey Travels to Disneyworld book. The first thing he did was sit down and read the story to his sisters. He was excited to tell us that he and his classmates were the authors of the book," one parent wrote.
The book is a special keepsake of Grade 1 that families will hold on to and share in the coming years, but the responses Hayne received from many of her students' parents showed how much they recognized and appreciated the learning their child experienced through the project.
"It was so rewarding to see the progress of my son's writing throughout the year, where simple words turned into sentences and then into paragraphs," said another parent. "I am so proud of my son and his friends and the growth that they shared in their first full year of school."
For Hayne, the joy at seeing students hold, read and chatter excitedly about their book is the payoff for the time and encouragement invested in the project.
"It is in this moment they realize that all dreams are possible with a growth mindset, willingness to work hard and trying their best," she said. "I often show my students their first journal entries and compare what they wrote at the beginning of the school year to what each child wrote along with their classmates when creating the Métis Monkey book. This is where they finally see how their learning takes shape. I feel that a lot of what they have learned in language arts can be seen in this one book."