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Class Appreciation

As the school year was coming to an end I was trying to think of an idea for the kids to show their appreciation of each other. Some students will be continuing together and some are moving on to a new school. As a class, we had completed a few activities using an electronic wordle program. It made me think about doing a wordle for each student as a class.

I had each student write his/her own name of the paper asking them to make an effort in the design, size or colours. The students then passed the paper one to the right and the new student wrote one word about that student. I asked for no repetitions and the wordle moved throughout the class so every student wrote something on each student’s wordle.  The last student sitting to the left of the student on the wordle brought the wordle to me. I then matted the wordle on a little background. Tomorrow, I will be presenting the wordles to every student. The students know this is coming and are very excited to see their own wordle.

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Making a Difference

Recently, our school went to an overnight outdoor education centre. Parent/student/teacher relationships are developed and also expanded during these types of trips. I had three students with special circumstances. All were brought to my attention before we left for the trip. I had one student who had separation anxiety, another had social issues and a special family event during the trip, and the third was a student with Aspergers and mom was concerned about the socialization/routine for her.


Although most of my time was occupied with these three students, I still feel my time was spent in a very productive way. One night, I spent the time helping a student get to sleep. Distracting her thoughts, staying near her, making sure she was ok. She made it through the night. The second night, she didn’t need me at all. When we returned, the parents were very appreciative and gave me a very nice note and flowers. The flowers were a very nice thought and I really appreciate them but the note I will keep forever. The parent also went to my administration team and spoke to them letting them know how appreciative the student and parents were and what a difference I made. It was a very kind gesture which will always be remembered!


I had another parent who also thanked me through the student and with a small taken of appreciation. Her child ended up getting sick and her mother was very happy that I was there with her until her mother came to get her. The last parent showed up at the school and was all smiles. Again, I received another thank you.


We may not get thank yous for all we do but remember we make the difference in students’ lives. Whether it is a child who feels included, another who is happy to be part of an event, or the student who feels s/he has learned something new – all it takes is one effort to make a difference and change that child’s life for the better.



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Wait time

The other day I was reading through Professional Speaking (our OCT magazine). I came across a little piece on wait time and it reminded me of a situation and comment from a colleague last year. I was a model classroom for a combined grade social studies lesson. While I was teaching my lesson, I utilized my wait time with the students throughout my lesson. Upon completion of the lesson, during our debrief session, the Instructional Leader highlighted my wait time. Which developed a fantastic discussion amongst the teachers. Some of the comments were about how long I waited, thought no one was going to answer, how quiet the room was, how proud and surprised many colleagues were about the rich classroom discussion developed due to enough wait time.

Wait time is something which is very important. The first few students who are ready to answer the questions are the students who may not need wait time and are ready to answer most questions. However, by using wait time we allow many students (if not all) an opportunity to process the question and gather information to answer the question. We also know that most students are ready to move on in the lesson and are not left behind still thinking about the question or answer.

A strategy I use to help keep the students focused is I asked the question a second time, the third time I will rephrase the question. Also, sometimes I may need to help activate the prior learning by using some guided questions. Every year I use wait time. Some years I have to wait longer than others but all my students know they need to be engaged and paying attention to the lesson and classroom discussions.



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Connecting with Students as a Prep Teacher

It has been an interesting start to the school year. I have a change in my teaching assignment and for the first time I have ½ day of prep coverage. Getting to know all the names and developing relationships with over 100 students I see 80 minutes a week has been a challenge. Especially since most of my teaching position has me in the gym (no desks and regular seating plans).

To help me get to know the student names – I have the students change into gym clothes. At the beginning of the year, I had the students sit on the floor or bench in the gym and went through the class list calling out the student names and putting a face to the names. As the year has progressed, I have moved to having the students come up to me and showing me their clothes. I have them share their last name which still gave me time to get to know their names. To move things even faster, the students who have brought in their gym clothes regularly go a change right away and say hi to me as they come into the gym.

The student teacher relationship has taken some time to develop. I try to find a way to connect with each student. Some students, I ask about their extra-curricular activities (sports, dance, etc). Once I know what the student participates in, I try to ask the student about their extra-curricular once a month. For my ELL or students who do not have extra-curricular, I ask about their weekend or break plans. Sometimes, the kids go to the movies and I ask about the movie s/he saw.

Developing the relationships have really helped with the classroom management during the prep periods. The students have appreciated my effort to get to know them a little better and are making a larger effort to listen and to do their best during class time. It is great to have the kids walk up to you in the halls asking when we have your class again. I know some of that is because it is gym but also I have some classroom prep which kids are also inquiring about. Making the connection with students is something that helps to make a difference in student education.


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I have part of a new assignment this year. In the morning I am covering prep. Due to re-organization, my schedule is changing again for Monday. I have completed many get to know activities, learned students’ names and just found out some classes I still have and others are new for me. That being said, it will all work out! Everything does. The students get attached very quickly and now I will get to know even more students.

My afternoon, I teach English, Math, Health and Pool to a grade 6 extended French class. The grade 6 curriculum is the same for me but now I teach a smaller portion of it. I will be busy sharing my plans with the other teacher who now has my class for Science.

That is teaching; change and flexibility. My morning will work out and I have worked out my plans to have the next days covered. I just needed to adjust a few items and have been able to use my current plans. As a school, you may have to go through re-organization. It is difficult. Deciding which students will excel in which environment, which students need to be separated from each other, balancing the girls and boys, special education and ELL needs. It is a very difficult task which also needs to be completed after a long day of teaching a class of 52 kids.

As I need to get teaching (with the new classes) in order to have enough assessment for the Progress Report card, I have decided to incorporate my get to know activities with the curriculum. I am planning to find ways to incorporate these activities as much as possible with my new classes. I plan to start with appreciation fans to help build the community within the classroom. The students all know each other and many know who I am but I need to get to know their names (better).

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Getting to Know your Students

At the beginning of the year I complete some activities about the classroom environment. I look to build a community environment highlighting the classroom is as much theirs as it is mine. We completed a few activities but I wanted to share this particular one because the student responses really helped me understand and get to know them.

One of the activities we did this year was we talked about keeping the good in and the bad out of us in order to do well at school. We had a conversation about what helps us do well at school and what keeps us from doing well. Some responses about what helps us do well at school were: healthy eating, sleeping, completing homework, asking for help. Some of the responses about what bad things can keep us from doing well at school were: being late, not completing homework, eating bad, not getting enough sleep, bullying, people being mean, depression, anxiety.

The last two responses were comments which really made me pay attention to who said them. I immediately contacted the guidance counselor, informed the administration, and spoke to last year’s teachers. These two comments (from two different students) have helped me with my approach to the students. It made me remember, no matter what community you are in students could have a hard life and have a variety of family/life situations to handle. It reminded me of the need to make that connection as a person with the students.

Getting back to the activity; after our lesson, the students got into groups and traced one student in the group. Then as a group, they wrote what helps them to do well at school on the inside of the body and what keeps them from doing well on the outside of the body. The students really enjoyed the activity and every class (from grade 5 to grade 8) has asked to complete the activity. We have the final products hanging in the class as an everyday reminder. This year, I decided to not complete the activity with my prep classes but I will consider it for next year.

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End of the Year is Near!

Summer is almost here and the kids know it. Their lack of attention and wanting to be outside in the beautiful weather is hard to compete with. What do I do to keep the boys attention? How or what do I keep teaching when my reports are completed and in? No air conditioning or fan – my room is known as one of the hottest in the school. Why fight it – I take their learning outside and still teach curriculum.


I try to keep them inside as long as we can handle it; which means sometime between morning recess and lunch. At this point of the year, I am changing my day plan slightly. It is based on which lessons do I need the whiteboard or computer connection for? I teach those lessons first. For language, I take a book and read it to them while the boys are lying down under a tree. I ask questions about inferring, point of view, comprehension and relating the reading to their own life experiences. However, this is all completed orally, some questions are discussed in partners (while I go to every group and engage the students) and some are large group discussions.


For Math, I may take them on a walk looking for 3D shapes or angles in nature. This can also be done in your playground. I also may play a game with them related to probability or multiplication baseball. I look for ways to connect Math to their real world experiences. Having the students show me and themselves why we need Math in our everyday lives.


For Art, we have gone out into the community and sketched trees and flowers; items in our environment. We also have used digital cameras to take pictures of structures in our environment and used photoshop to add to their pictures.


I also am finding ways to take the kids on affordable field trips. While planning field trips, the boys have an input and have often asked for the trip to be just our class. We have one planned for the division to go to a Park, and my class want to go to a different area of the park. We are taking the TTC and exploring our city. Doing a walking tour of the city (while taking pictures) was one of the boys’ most favourite trips this year.


At this point of the year, I am finding ways to have fun with the class and also relate it to the curriculum. They seem to be enjoying it and even understand why we are learning certain aspects of the curriculum. The community environment we have developed is one I hope the boys will always remember.

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Planning for Next Year


As the school year is coming to an end I use this time to reflect upon my lessons and look forward to next year’s planning. What will I keep, what didn’t work, what needs to be tweaked for next year’s students? Some of this planning will be based on my next year’s students needs and learning styles. Where do I go for new ideas, support for planning and resources?


1)       I sit down with the previous teacher.

Most schools will have sheets or some sort of meeting to share information and build the new classes. Looking to evenly distribute the boys and girls, ESL, Special Education, HSP and which kids should be or not be placed together. The sheets are usually given to next year’s teacher to help understand the student. I find the information on the sheets give limited information and don’t always share who the student is as a learner. I listen to the information being given, take notes on every student and review all this information later. At some point, I go back to the previous teacher and ask for further information.  If the previous teacher is an LTO, I need to connect with the teacher before s/he leaves for a new school. If you are a new teacher to the school in the Fall, ask for the sheets and try to connect with previous teachers as soon as possible.


2)      If you are lucky to get the same grade, I look at my previous year’s planning.

Now I know a little more about my new students. What are they going to be interested in? What do I need to change? Everything should be tweaked for my new class.

If I am teaching a new grade, I still look at my previous year’s planning and build the new year from that starting point. I have learned more about my personal teaching strengths and areas of professional development which I will look into.


3)       Where do I get new ideas?

  • Most boards have teachers who specialize in curriculum areas and provide that support with ideas and resources. Some can even give field trip ideas, support with combined grade planning, will come to your class and teach a model lesson. If you are finding it difficult to locate a name, ask your librarian or administration.
  • Your board website should have some resources available to the teachers. Many board website resources are open to the public and are available for all to find information. There are Science and Social Studies units available for combined grades. I usually don’t use all the information available on the websites but it helps me gather ideas and lessons for my unit.
  • Sitting down with my colleagues to team plan. New people have new ideas. This year, I was the only grade 6 English teacher and my Extended French colleague had already developed his program and found it difficult to devote the time needed to team plan. But we still found smaller opportunities to team plan. I also found support on line, a volunteer who went to different classes throughout the board, student teacher and colleagues who were in the same board but in different areas of the board. Many people have ideas, I find ideas help get me thinking. Whether I take the idea as is or tweak it to suit my student needs, I find all ideas are helpful.


4)       Next year’s class – the students.

As we all know, students achieve more when their interest is in the lesson. At the beginning of the school year, I ask my students what you would like to do, what would you like me to teach you in language. This year, my students wanted to write a graphic novel using bit strips. I took their lead and used graphic novels to teach them about narrative writing and to help develop their plans for writing. I also share the Science and Social Studies units and give them an idea of when we are covering certain units.


At this point of the year, you are looking at finishing things off and planning for your next year. I personally prefer to reflect and think about my next year’s planning now. For some people, they need that down time before they reflect and plan for the following year. It is up to you and what suits your lifestyle best.

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Working with or as an Occasional Teacher

When thinking about occasional teacher planning many questions could go through one’s thinking process (what do I leave, how much, what do I bring?). If you are an occasional teacher you need to be able to teach for the time you are in the class with plans or not. If you are a contract teacher, you want the occasional to teach what you would do even if you were there. I just finished having a student teacher in my classroom and as her practicum was coming close to an end, the conversation of occasional teaching came up. She wanted to know how I decided what to leave for an occasional and how much but also what she should expect as an occasional teacher. Below is a summary of what I shared with her:


Planning for an occasional teacher

1) Make sure you leave a current seating plan.

2) Leave tips and notes about your students but remember to be professional as sometimes notes are left in the room for kids to see. Only phrase things in a positive language, leave strategies to help the occasional connect with your students, and 1 or 2 students who the occasional can ask questions about the routine.

3) Leave as much information about your class as possible but remember all information will not always be read. Don’t forget to highlight the allergies in the class and if epi-pens are used (if so, where the epi-pens are stored).

4) Leave lessons which your students will be able to complete. Usually, I still leave my lesson (as if I am there), I make sure I am prepared to complete an assessment for learning when I immediately return. The reason for this is the classroom teacher understands how each student learns, the comfort is there for the student to ask questions and clarify misunderstandings. Also, sometimes occasional teachers don’t have enough background information to connect the lesson for the students, students sometimes behave differently with occasional teachers and lessons are taught differently; the full lesson might not have been taught. I can’t tell you how many times I have returned to my class with a note stating the effort was made but the redirection of behaviour took up too much class time. That being said, I make sure lessons are connected to the curriculum but sometimes I may need to do something different than following my unit plan. It sometimes helps to make the occasional teacher’s day a little more fun.

5) Schedules – leave them in the supply folder. All resource, yard duty, classroom schedules need to be available for an occasional to view.

6) If you need items for a science experiment or art lesson, leave items out or in one location and share the location of items with the occasional teacher.


Working as an Occasional Teacher

1) Arrive as early as possible to give yourself time to review notes and lessons left by the classroom teacher.

2) Be familiar with the grade curriculum (if possible).

3) Try to connect with the neighbour teacher and ask any questions you may have.

4) Have a Language, Math, Science lesson in your bag, as a back up. On very few occasions you may walk into a classroom which has no lessons available for the day. If you have a lesson for each of these subjects, you can fill the day. Based on the grade, have some addition, subtraction, multiplication, division review fun sheets in order for the kids to complete (begin with asking the students to complete any 5, then to pick another 2, and so on). If no photocopier is available, write the questions on the board or display them on the smartboard and have the students record the questions and answers in their math workbooks. For Science or Language, you can have a story book related to the environment. “Where the Forest Meets the Sea”by Jeannie Baker or “The Lorax”by Dr. Suess are two great examples which can begin discussion on environmental issues, based on a situation you give them have the students develop different endings. Another Science activity might be a recycle sort — go through the classroom garbage bin (bring plastic gloves) and sort out what can be recycled or put in a compost. Again, there are many story books you can tie this theme to. For Language, you can use the newspaper and have the students discuss an article you feel is age appropriate. You can also have the kids write down 3 truths and a lie about themselves — then each student presents the 4 statements to the class. The class has to guess which is the lie. The students really enjoy this activity and it does take up an hour and sometimes even more (if the class size is bigger). Please don’t forget about your diversity of learners and adjust your lessons as needed.

5) Don’t forget about yard duty.

6) Try to deal with classroom behaviour in the class. But of course, if safety of yourself or other students is/are at risk, make sure you immediately contact the administration. Having a little reward planned for the end of the day helps students to look forward to something. Making the connection by saying hello/good morning to every student as they enter helps to start off the day well.

7) Say good bye to the administration and thank you to the office assistant(s).

8) Most of all…enjoy the day!

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Addressing Student Needs

After returning to the classroom, I have been introduced to a wonderful computer program which supports student learning. Read and Write Gold is a computer program which is used to help student read and write. Anything on the computer can be used with this program (Internet sites, email, scanned reading selections, electronic books/resources).   If you teach for the Toronto District School Board all students have access to the program through every school and the program can be downloaded on a home computer for free. Other boards may offer the same support, please check with your administration.

Read and Write Gold is a text to speech, easy to use toolbar which sits on top of any open Windows application (it also works with MAC computers). Not only is it great to help organize information for students with learning disabilities, students without learning disabilities like the structure of the program.  To give you a quick overview of the program:  the students highlight a selection to have read to them. The speed, passage, volume and voice of the reading selection is determined by the user. The students can also highlight important information using 4 different colours. The program will sort the colour coded highlights and merge (into fact folder) all highlighted information onto a word document. The program even sites the sources for the students.

You can check out the program at:

I have used the program with my students for their research projects. In order to support the students with learning how to use the program, our school held an evening learning session for parents to learn how to use Read and Write Gold. At first, it wasn’t about the research, the assignment was about learning how to use the program. The students have a better understanding of gathering research and compiling it for a paper or presentation.