Teaching children to read. Common questions answered!

Webinar:  March 11,  3:45 MDT

Join us as we address common instructional questions related to teaching reading and strategies to support students at different stages of reading development. Common questions to be discussed include:

• What are the differences between phonological awareness, phonemic awareness, and phonics and why are they important?

• How do children learn to automatically recognize words and read fluently?

• How do we teach children to comprehend texts they read?

A question and answer session will follow.

Participants are encouraged to click on this link and submit their questions in advance of the webinar.

About the Presenter Dr. St. Croix

Dr. Norma St. Croix is an educational consultant and researcher in the areas of assessment and data literacy, professional learning, literacy and numeracy. She has over 20 years of successful teaching experience and 12 years in educational leadership roles in rural and urban schools. For the past 6 years, she’s been working with The Learning Bar, focusing on developing educators’ skills assessing and teaching early literacy skills with the Confident Learners program.


The Learning Bar is passionate about reducing global vulnerability and giving all children the opportunity to thrive. To do this, we provide tools in three primary areas: The early identification of learning needs, the transition from learning-to-read to reading-to-learn, and evidence-based school improvement.


Read more

Are you going to the Reading for the Love of It conference in Toronto on 20-21 February?

We’ll be there! Contact Christine Hole to connect now.


How do children learn to read?

Webinar: March 4, 3:45: 5:00 EST – Common questions answered!

We’ll be following up the conference with a webinar led by literacy expert, Dr. Norma St Croix, addressing common instructional questions educators have about reading.


 For example, have you ever wondered….. 

  • if all phonics programs include phonemic awareness instruction?
  • if sight words should be taught by memorization?
  • what orthographic mapping is and how it enables students to recognize words?
  • if you should use levelled readers, decodable texts, or authentic texts to teach reading fluency?

Find out the answers to these questions and more. If you are a literacy lead or an educator responsible for teaching reading, this will be a great opportunity to engage directly with one of our experts. Have a question of your own? Let us know and we will attempt to address it in this or future webinars.

Read more

Educational Prosperity: Looking Beyond Equality to Equity.

By J. Douglas Willms, President of The Learning Bar Inc.

The educational prosperity framework that I introduced in a recent blog provides an essential structure for understanding the holistic and cumulative ways that children develop, learn and thrive. The benefits of the framework are hardly theoretical: they provide an important and practical guide for ways that monitoring data can—and should—be used to create smarter and more effective policies to help young people thrive.

It’s time to rethink our policy model until now, for no other reason than the less-than-impressive stagnation of global reading scores over the last 15 years. The educational prosperity framework advocates for reliance on monitoring data, as well as a frequent—and early—collection of indicators. These can be used to target policies at the local and national level that bring us closer towards the global education goal (SDG 4). We need to move away from a cause-and-effect model that tries to attribute outcomes to a specific intervention and instead recognize that multiple, nonlinear events lead to change. As education practitioners from around the world meet next week in Hamburg for the Global Alliance to Monitor Learning (GAML), it is critical to focus on the link between the smart use of data and policies that provide an opportunity for all.

Read more

Attending the QESBA / AAESQ Spring Conference May 24 – 25?

Visit us at booth 29!

We’ll be at this annual event alongside administrators from the English school boards across Quebec. We met some of you at our April OurSCHOOL Survey workshop at the Lester B. Pearson board offices and are keen to reconnect with you, as well as touch base with those who weren’t able to make it. We had some great conversations about how to dig into and share survey results with the aim of prompting informed discussions around data analysis and incorporating the resulting ideas into your success plans.

Bring your data along and come and discuss using OurSCHOOL to improve outcomes at your school. If you’d like to set up a specific time to meet during the event, please email me directly. We look forward to seeing you there.

Read more

The Learning Bar is an Award Winner

The Learning Bar is announced as the Large Business Award Winner as The Fredericton Chamber of Commerce Celebrates their Best and Brightest

The Business Excellence Awards acknowledges the accomplishments of businesses in the Fredericton area ‐ both members and non‐members of the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce. The Large Business Award recognizes a company with 51 or more employees that has been operational for at least five years and has demonstrated professional integrity, excellence in customer service, success through innovation and a commitment to the community.

The Fredericton Chamber of Commerce hosts the Business Excellence Awards gala annually to recognize and exemplify leadership in the city.

#BEA2018

Dr. J. Douglas Willms, Founder and President
of The Learning Bar
Read more

The Educational Prosperity Framework: Helping Countries Provide Foundational Learning for All

By J. Douglas Willms, President of The Learning Bar Inc.

On World Teachers Day, this blog presents an assessment framework, called Education Prosperity, that can be used to track the success of teachers, families, communities and public institutions in developing children’s cognitive skills and their social, emotional, physical and spiritual well-being.

As the president of the International Academy of Education, I am often invited to share ideas about school reforms. During a recent trip to Latin America, I found myself in a discussion focused on classroom improvements as a way to boost PISA scores. The conversation was illuminating, because the policymakers in that room—like so many others around the globe— had the best of intentions, but were nevertheless stuck in a model that had them looking in the wrong places.

As I told the group, the foundations for learning are established years before students sit down for the PISA exam or even enter a classroom. In a country that suffers from maternal and child malnutrition, where that particular meeting had taken place, understanding the ways that achievements in education are interconnected—and cumulative— is key to making policy changes that ensure our children are thriving.

These interactions form the basis of my new paper published by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), Learning Divides: Using Data to Inform Educational Policy. As the international education community prepares for the upcoming meeting of the Global Alliance to Monitor Learning (17-18 October in Hamburg), understanding the interconnectedness of children’s learning processes is critical to measuring progress towards key SDG 4 targets.

Understanding and using data to inform policy

Despite our best attempts, students’ reading skills have not improved over the past fifteen years and if we are to move forward and make real progress, we need a better way of understanding data to inform policy. Indeed, ahead of the GAML meeting, we need to be advocating for a comprehensive and holistic framework—what I call “educational prosperity”— that acknowledges the importance of the foundations for successful learning. Our framework increasingly needs to embrace a life-course approach that considers the impacts of various processes from conception through late adolescence—and we need to be using these data to craft more effective policies.

Traditional approaches to measuring education progress have proven to be insufficient and are failing to capture a critical nuance: Looking at exam results for 15-year-olds—or even 10-year-olds— is misleading. Many of the existing frameworks have misled policymakers for decades because they ignore the cumulative result of a number of factors that affect children’s development. As researchers would put it, we’re using test results to make causal claims and while assessment is critical, it only captures the reality of a specific moment in time, rather than the cumulative and foundational factors that led up to it. Poor reading results in fourth grade, for example, are often the result of poor foundational support for literacy in the early years—and so may be an indication of misguided early childhood development policy or insufficient family support and not necessarily school policy, poor infrastructure, or low teaching quality.

An alternative approach through the education prosperity framework

The “educational prosperity” framework presented in the new UIS papers offers an important alternative that can use existing monitoring data to track the success of families, communities and public institutions in developing children’s cognitive skills, as well as their social, emotional, physical and spiritual well-being. The framework provides a multi-dimensional understanding of development at each stage that looks at the role of families, institutions and communities. These ‘Foundations for Success,’ which drive outcomes along six stages of development, provide an important visualization of the ways that success can be cumulative and non-linear.

For example, prosperity outcomes for children in early primary school may include literacy and numeracy, but success is not dependent on institutional factors such as quality instruction and adequate learning materials alone. Rather, the framework operates under the understanding that success is also built on family factors such as parenting skills and family involvement, as well as community factors such as adequate resources and social capital. The framework uses a wider lens for understanding student outcomes—recognizing the reality that school factors and inputs alone are not the sole foundations for student achievement.

Focus on early reading

The educational prosperity framework is based on three interconnected premises. The first is that early reading needs to be the primary focus of educational monitoring systems. The reason is simple: literacy is a pre-requisite for later success in lower and upper secondary levels and provides the scaffolding for developing so many other skills, including numeracy, problem solving and socio-emotional know-how. Indeed, a failure to develop strong skills during the early years increases the risk of school failure.

Second, to better capture ‘school effects’, we can build an informative educational monitoring systems which incorporate the findings of over twenty years of research on the causal factors that lead to better student outcomes.

Third, results from the international studies need to be coupled with national studies and small controlled experimental studies, which can provide educational administrators with information for setting achievable goals, allocating resources, and creating policies for change. We don’t need to keep gathering data on things we already know and instead, should focus on the small-scale testing of reform and studies that focus on a small number of factors. We need to be measuring these in greater detail while tracking them longitudinally.

To be clear, I am not calling for the abandonment of large-scale international studies. Much of my research is based on PISA data, which has played a critical role in helping countries understand how well their students compare with students in other countries while generating the political will for investing in education. But it’s time to look beyond the international studies and consider additional ways to measure and guide our educational policies.

As countries decide to join cross-national assessments or continue to develop their own, I am hopeful that the “educational prosperity” framework will be an essential guide for individual countries—and the global community as a whole—to craft effective strategies that promote educational opportunity for all children.

Read more

New collaboration aims to make learning inclusive and accessible for all students

The Learning Bar and the Rick Hansen Foundation have teamed up to help educators assess the level of inclusivity and accessibility within their school environment. Through the collaboration, the OurSCHOOL Student Survey, developed by The Learning Bar, now includes questions of students’ awareness of the barriers facing peers with physical disabilities, and their willingness to take action. The data will enable educators to monitor the success of programs aimed at increasing awareness, accessibility and inclusion. Click here to find out more.

Read more

Using student data to reduce anxiety and enhance school climate at St. Dominic Fine Arts School, Calgary, AB.

Implementing the OurSCHOOL Student Survey at St. Dominic in 2015 allowed former Principal Kevin DeForge and Assistant Principal Joelle Marshall to learn that 32 per cent of students reported feeling medium to high levels of anxiety at school. Knowing it’s not just the data that matters, but what you do with it, Kevin and his team sought to understand what was driving this.

Read more