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Curriculum Night

Every year when curriculum night rolls around, I feel challenged. Well, let me clarify. I feel challenged in my hope to ensure that the evening is meaningful for students and their families. I understand that parents are interested in finding out how their child is progressing but with 4 weeks under our belts – and sometimes less than that – I know what I’ve seen so far is often just a tiny glimpse into a child’s potential. We’re still getting to know each other, learning routines and quite frankly, expectations that we may have of each other. So whenever the conversation starts about what we are doing for curriculum night, I ask myself three questions: 

  1. What works for our school community?
  2. How do I encourage students to move freely within our classroom space with a sense of confidence, showing their families what they have been learning?
  3. How can I help parents see this evening as an invitation to open communication and collaboration for this year’s learning journey?

In this post, I’ll share my thoughts on each of these questions.

What works for our school community?

Students, families and the community should be at the forefront of what we do in education. As such, considering all members of our community in planning curriculum night is essential. Being new to my school and school community, it was really important for me to understand what usually happens in order to determine what I might consider doing. I’ve been in schools where the expectations have been formal presentations during particular timeslots and in others where less formal meet-and-greets where handouts are provided. I have found that every school is different. Not only that, but the pandemic has also opened our eyes to what might be done virtually to support a variety of families. This year we went with a less formal, in-person, meet-and-greet where parents popped in and out of classrooms and were free to move around the school at their leisure. During the hour, I found that there were times when there were lulls and then periods when the room was packed and buzzing with excitement. Families felt free to come for parts of the evening when it was ideal for them and had the freedom to not stay for the entire time and I found that worked best for our school community. 

How do I encourage students to move freely within our classroom space with a sense of confidence, showing their families what they have been learning?

This year, I teach prep and although I have a fairly large room, it’s often hard to have student work from all classes on display. As of late, we have been working on design thinking projects that are all in various stages. The kindergarten students and the grade 1/2s all have their animal habitats built and those were on display but the 2/3s and 4/5s have most of their plans and work in piles together as many are just beginning to design prototypes. That said, I tried to consider how students could show parents that they have been learning skills to help them solve real-life problems in a way that was fun and engaging. Our Lego challenges at the beginning of the school year were a great success so I gave out another challenge to students and their families and the builds were on. Families created together and students walked them through their solutions with joy and confidence. It was really great seeing families working together to solve a problem and the rich conversations that came of it. I think it was an opportunity to lighten the pressure of coming in and meeting the teacher and gave students the chance to feel right at home with something familiar that they could share with their families. It was so nice to see some students return later in the evening to sit and build with their families.

How can I help parents see this evening as an invitation to open communication and collaboration for this year’s learning journey?

Being new, this was the first time meeting many families. Because of our Lego challenge, I did enjoy that there wasn’t the pressure of a formal presentation.  I chose to create a slideshow that was on a loop and noticed that many families – while building – were taking a look and jotting down information on how we could connect. I have a classroom blog that I use to update families on what we get up to in our classroom and many noted that it was a great way to start conversations about what students are learning and doing on a weekly basis. I also let parents know that my door is always open and that I look forward to working with them in supporting their children this year. For the few who were asking for specifics, I asked if we could set up a time to speak and also mentioned that progress reports and interviews are coming up soon and that would give me more of an opportunity to get to know their child and for us to have the chance to have a more meaningful conversation.

How does curriculum night work in your school? What considerations are made when planning the evening? Please feel free to share as the more we know and are able to consider, the better we become in our practice. Based on our curriculum night this year, I’m excited to work with students and their families for a successful year of learning.  Hope you are too!

smashing pumpkin spiced thinking – school edition

I can almost hear it now, the sound of the last pumpkin spiced anything be sold and the leftovers being shipped back to the warehouses for next year. I am positive that the chemicals that make up these products have a half life and will ensure it’s best before date does not expire for another decade or more.

Who buys this stuff? To my knowledge, I do not think anyone in my circle of friends has ever been excited about pumpin spiced goodies and drinks. Cue the relief. Not that there is anything wrong with it. We all go through a curious phase or two in our lives, but once the trance wears off it’s usually back to the status quo.

Have you ever been persuaded to try something that you instantly regretted afterwards? At first, you think you like it because how could all that hype be wrong? Once that fades and the taste kicks in you’re left to be alone with your decision(s). I mean where would we all be without the gift of knowledge regret provides us?

I’ll give you an example: Hammer pants  One of many the blessings of being a certain age is that any evidence of my bad decision making has not been digitally preserved. Case in point with this late 80s fashion craze. I am sure that it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Speaking of good ideas at the time

Starting out as an educator, all of those years ago, I came with my own set of bags packed full of the way that I was going to lead my class. Inside that luggage were many positive, and unfortunately, negative experiences and I was determined to repeat what worked and bury what didn’t. What could possibly go wrong?

What I quickly realized in those first years was there were already several well traveled paths to follow along that started to be seen as ruts rather than pathways to success. I found myself trying to shape my students around the resources in the building rather than the other way around. Things went well, teach, practice, test, and repeat, but it came with a cost. Those lessons never felt like they were relevant to my students. They lacked depth and scope for a number of reasons, some of which are on me as a new teacher, and others because they fell within the “We’ve always done it this way” space.

When my second year rolled around it was easy to follow along the well worn path once more, but instead of proceeding safely along with so many others, I made a decision to wander off to see what else was out there. Don’t get me wrong, I could still see the trail to provide some cardinal directions, but my detours began to provide us all much richer and diverse perspectives. It only took a year to realize that there were many paths to create and pursue that could edify both students and their teachers.

I began to seek out others who wandered off in their spaces and ended up connecting with an insightful and supportive global professional learning network or PLN. All these years later, I am thankful for the connections and kindness that helped me navigate off of what was the norm and around some other ruts that needed avoiding.

Where do I find these amazing folx?

For me, it started out at school board level events and edtech training sessions. It didn’t take long before I joined Twitter when it became a truly global cohort. Yes, Twitter can still be used for good and not evil despite its new owner and legions of misinformed malicious account holders exercising their free speech without facts or accountability. End rant.

I joined weekly discussions via #edchat and then #etmooc and then #CnEdChat to start and started following some of the more experienced and supportive educators on the platform. As time went on, I started a blog called What and Why are Everything to hash out some of my thoughts. Our weekly Q and A discussions on Twitter became sources of great perspective and growth which continue to inhabit my practice to this day. It was almost like I was given permission to be the teacher I wanted to be rather than another educator flattening the well worn path.

What started happening was the democratization of my classroom through student directed learning, Genius Hours, and the use of videos to enhance the scope of my instruction. What better way could there be to bring an expert into the class room with the click of a button rather than read through a text book that had been written years beforehand.

This shift in thinking helped me realize the static and fluid natures of knowledge that we have to balance each day for our students and ourselves. It also moved me past some of my negative experiences as a student. I appreciate how some of the things I went through empowered me not to repeat them just like I would never buy a pair of Hammer pants or pumpkin spiced anything again.

Remembrance and Reconciliation

As we approach Indigenous Veterans’ Day, November 8th and Remembrance Day, November 11th I will proudly wear my handmade poppy by Anishinaabe beader and artist, Erin Gustafson of Couchiching First Nation.


The poppy serves as a reminder to take time to reflect on the courage of those who fought and many who died to protect our rights. In doing so, I vividly recall the story of one particular soldier.
The day a typically soft spoken, mild mannered, young girl presented her Heritage Fair project and stood in front of her classmates and proudly and confidently shared a story about a man she admired was a day I wouldn’t forget. It was about ten years ago when I, along with her classmates, first learned about Francis Pegahmagabow, my student’s grandfather (in hindsight, perhaps it was her great or great-great grandfather). Nonetheless, the sense of pride she felt while speaking of her hero was evident.

While some stories of Sergeant-Major Francis Pegahmagabow or the lives of others like him can be easily found with a quick internet search, the resonating effects of hearing these stories from direct ancestors are astonishing.
Still today, I remember the smile that crossed that young girl’s face and the pride that oozed out of her as she spoke about her family. What stood out to me then, and still today is the fact that Pegahmagabow fought to protect Canada at a time when Indigenous People were denied the rights held by most other Canadians. Can you imagine being denied the rights your partner, child, sibling, family member, or friend risked their life to protect? That is the case for many Indigenous People of that time. And when Pegahmagabow returned from war, he continued to fight for the rights of his people. He fought for civil rights for Indigenous People within Canada.

In 2016, many years after his death, a bronze statue was unveiled in Parry Sound, Ontario honouring the Anishinaabe World War I sniper, Francis Pegahmagabow. Another pride filled moment for my former student to share stories about her ancestor. These stories and others like them must be highlighted within our classrooms, painting a more accurate picture of the contributions Indigenous People play in our country’s history.

As we move through the time of remembrance and reconciliation, please seek out opportunities to honour Indigenous Peoples by sharing stories like those of Francis Pegahmagabow. Go Show the World is a fabulous book written first as a rap song by Wab Kinew. In it he describes some of his Indigenous idols, allowing others, especially young people to see themselves represented in their heroes. I urge you to share your story and provide opportunities for students to do the same. It’s incredible what we can learn from one another.

the minutes in between

I think about time a lot. Most of the hours and minutes in between 7 am and 5 pm are spoken for by this passion called teaching. So that leaves me with 14 hours for the many other parts of my life, give or take, depending on whether I am trying to avoid writing progress reports in lieu of writing blog posts.

Granted, those 14 hours are not all free time as they include commuting, housework, personal care (relaxing, catching up on the Bear, Slow Horses, and Reservation Dogs, exercising, avoiding exercising, etc.), eating, brewing coffee, and sleeping. Chores, meals, shows, and self care carve at least 3 to 4 hours out of my day.

When you adjust for seasonal events such as extra-curriculars, report writing, assessment, planning, and errands another couple of hours come off of that free time daily. Then there’s my need for at least 7 hours of sleep which has become an irreducible minimum amount of time to disconnect, clear my head, and recharge for the next day.

Educators are often willing to sacrifice their sleep hygiene to burn the work candle at both ends. We come by this work ethic honestly though. Think back to when you entered your faculty of education and how hard you worked to get there. Many in our calling are predisposed to getting things done regardless of the hour of the day. The problem is that it is unsustainable and begins to effect your cognitive abilities and physical well being.

My advice to you all is to try to set a sleep schedule and stick to it. Your body and mind will reward you with clarity and energy if you do. Prior to the pandemic I was lucky to get 6 hours of sleep per night, and it was beginning to catch up with me. Since then I have upped that to 7+ hours per weeknight and 8+ on the weekends. For me, the result has been a gain in alertness, focus, and creativity.

Now back to those minutes

Okay back to the math; 14 hours outside of educator life less 7 hours of sleep, take away another extra 2 hours for school related work/correspondence, and another 4 hours for life at home leaves me an entire hour or two per day of relatively unprogrammed time if you are keeping track, and that is usually spent catching up with friends, parenting, marriage maintenance, family visits, or doubling back to one of my other daily tasks. If I’m lucky.

Despite having a fairly clear vision of how my days are filled, I find myself still struggling to separate my teacher brain from my Will@home brain and it makes me wonder whether anyone else is going through the same thing? How are you managing the minutes in between the prepping, the planning, the teaching, the counseling, the assessing, and all the other moments that comprise an educator’s day?

For me the routine(s) of school provide a decent frame to parse out my minutes. I am mindful that some days are going to be longer than others, but am also working to become more organized and efficient between the hours of 7 am and 5 pm. I admit that the first 10 years of my teaching career were not as streamlined as the last three. The first step was avoiding work related correspondence outside of work hours. That simple act took a lot of self-talk and restraint at first because I had become conditioned to the fact that teachers were on the clock from the time they wake up until bed time.

I have seen this effects of this play out with many new teachers who are fresh out of their faculties who struggle with parents who for lack of a better description are time thieves with daily requests for progress updates on their children. On numerous occasions, I have encouraged new colleagues to set those boundaries from the beginning at meet the teacher night or sooner. Weekly updates are more than enough when it comes to informing families unless there are significant extenuating issues above and beyond typical classroom learning. I could not imagine what it would be like for a JK/SK educator to respond to 30 families if they all expected daily updates after a full day at the speed of kindergarten. Yet, it is not uncommon for newer teachers to get pulled into that time suck.

Perhaps I can finally find something to be thankful for as a result of the COVID pandemic? Although mentally excruciating and physically draining, the past three years taught me to create some boundaries with my time. It taught me to say “no” and “not now” a little more often. Perhaps it has been that decision to self-preserve and prioritize which has helped maintain my decorum and drive. It is precisely these actions that have allowed me to return to my classroom with a better work-life balance and an excitement and energy for voluntary extra-curricular activities as well. Perhaps this post will encourage you in that direction too.

Has the pandemic changed your approach to your teaching and personal life balance? Please share in the comments what you’ve done to bring more balance into your days.
Thank you for reading.

Social Justice Through Visual Math

Make visible what, without you, might never have been seen.

– Robert Bresson

 

  I noticed Samira as soon as I walked into her classroom. Students were sitting in noisy clumps, some chatting over iPads, some jostling and joking. But Samira was silent. Although seated at a table with five others, she was visibly separate from the laughter and exchanges surrounding her. 

    Samira was a multilingual learner and new to English. Peer relationships are vital for all students, but Samira did not yet have the linguistic capital to easily join conversations. And on top of that, she now had to learn curriculum in a brand new language. This bright student faced many challenges — and isolation — in her new setting. 

    “All right everyone, let’s get started,” the teacher announced. Conversations trailed off and bodies settled.  After a brief review of the previous day’s math work, the teacher handed out paper, pencil crayons, and manipulatives to each group. There was one instruction: “Show 0.75.”

  The teacher and I had co-planned the day before, and decided to use visual math for the lesson. The question, “show 0.75”, prompts students to represent this number in as many different ways as they can. Some may write the fraction 75/100; others may plot it on a number line; some may colour in 3/4 of a pizza; still others may place three 25-cent coins down for the group to see. 

   Multiple studies have documented the importance of visual math, revealing a positive correlation between representing concepts pictorially and improved math performance.  On the YouCubed website, Stanford math education professor Dr. Jo Boaler describes some of these studies, as well as related neuroimaging findings. Remarkably, when people do math calculations using only symbolic digits (such as 6×3, etc), some of the neural pathways that light up in the brain are visual. As Boaler succinctly puts it, “our brain wants to think visually about maths.”1   So while visuals may help solidify conceptual understanding for all students, for multilingual learners like Samira there is an additional advantage.

    As Samira’s group attempted the question, there were several false starts. A couple of students weren’t sure what to draw. Some started sketching but then quickly erased their work. Samira however steadily jotted down fraction equivalents and drew connected visual representations for each. Before long the others noticed, and stared at her intricate work. “Is that right?” one of the boys finally asked. The classroom teacher leaned over, and smiled.  For the first time that day, someone looked at Samira and addressed her directly: “How did you know that?”

    In this simple, visual task Samira was able to demonstrate her math knowledge — free from the usual language-based constraints of our predominantly verbal linguistic classrooms. In the space of one group session, Samira had moved from near-invisibility to knowledge-holder. She had gained social currency and standing in the group.

    As the teacher bent over the group’s work, gesturing to pictures and numbers as she spoke, I could see Samira listening intently, mentally attaching English terms to math concepts she already knew. And while Samira needed this intentional highlighting of math language to learn English, all students in her group benefitted. I once heard during a seminar that 90% of the vocabulary used in math is exclusive to math. Although I have been unable to locate the original source of this data, when I think of terms such as isosceles, scalene, and divisor, anecdotally I am inclined to agree. In what other context do we ever encounter words such as these?  As for our lesson, both the visuals and vocabulary inherent in the math task were necessary for some, and undeniably good for all.

    At times, multilingual learners may be unintentionally viewed through a deficit lens.  “She can’t speak English” and “We have to help him” are common refrains. But when the bell rang that day and everyone grabbed their books for the next class, Samira rose and stood a little taller, a new confidence in expression. The task, which had been rich and beneficial for everyone, provided the first key towards unlocking her voice, and re-imagining her not as someone who needed help, but as a valued and contributing member of the class.  

 

 

 1. https://www.youcubed.org/resource/visual-mathematics/

 

(student names have been changed)

The Best October Student-led Project- Part Two

This blog post is a reflection of the student-created created drama shows that I blogged about earlier this month. 

One of the reasons I enjoy blogging so much is the chance to reflect. Teachers are always on the go and I sometimes miss the post lesson reflections that are so important. I will look back on this post next year when I start this task again.

The grade seven and eight students in my school came up with eight shows that were written, directed and acted by each other. They performed them over the course of the day yesterday and what a success it was! Of course, all successful events have a few glitches.

The Week of

This week was a four day week for my students so we did not begin to prepare our room for the shows until Tuesday afternoon. My students turned the classroom into a stage- making the front the stage and the back the audience. All desks were pushed back to allow for creepy monsters to hide underneath and to allows room for chairs and mats to be placed in front. They also covered the walls with table cloths and garbage bags. This part was rushed and could have been done better as each morning this week, I picked them up off the ground and re-taped them. Next year, we need to perhaps leave the walls blank and tape props to the walls. 

On Wednesday morning, students worked together to decorate the entire classroom. They made the door extremely spooky as well as all the walls. The director of each show gathered their props and costumes together in one bin. The door of our class also featured the posters from each show (advertising- media literacy piece).

On Wednesday afternoon, each group had about twenty minutes to rehearse their show with sound effects, settings (on the smartboard/projector), costumes, actors and all. This was hardly enough time as I forgot to remind students throughout the process that they would need to be adding the slide changes, sound effects and stage directions into their scripts. This is something I will do next year during the writing process. Also, twenty minutes per show was hardly enough. I timed each show during this practice to get an idea of how to schedule all the shows throughout the day.

Show Day

The day had finally come and it was show time! Students got into their costumes and had a little makeup added to increase the scare effect! We were all dressed and ready for the first show. Classes came two at a time and stayed for half an hour. This was the perfect amount of time as we usually got through 3-4 shows per viewing. Almost our entire school grades 1-8 ended up coming to see the shows.

The shows went about as well as they could with the amount of practice each show had! By the fourth or fifth performance, a few shows were flawless. The slides were controlled by one of my students who started to memorize when the settings would change. The sound effects were played live from a piano that has creepy sound effects. My student improvised when the sounds were not provided for her and by the second performance of each show, she had memorized them. Each audience was so captivated by the stories and teachers were really impressed with the students. Next year, I will tell students that a show around 3-4 minutes worked the best in terms of audience interest and transitions. The actors in longer shows had a hard time knowing when it was their turn and when they were off stage. 

Tips for Teachers who try this in 2023

I found as soon as I released the responsibility to each director- the show was theirs. Whatever happened happened and I did not feel automatically responsible when a show did not go as planned. It was incredible seeing the students take control of what they had created and very rarely did they need any assistance from me. I think the only question I was asked during the show day was “Can I go to the bathroom?” The student leadership, collaboration and responsibility was so impressive.

Taking on something like this may seem like a lot but the amount of curriculum connections are endless. I also heard a lot of students comment on how many memories they were making during this. Students who have issues coming into the class each day did not during our drama project.

What’s Next?

Students are already asking if we can do this again during the Winter months. I think it would be a great idea during December to show all the different ways people celebrate at that time of year. Perhaps instead of acting, we could try telling stories from various cultures. All things to think about and when you get a group of students who enjoy producing shows this much, the possibilities are endless!

Above is a picture of the live performance of “The Crooked Man”- Written and Directed by a grade seven student.

Lions, Tigers and Kinders, Oh My!

Let’s face it. We all have preferences when teaching a specific grade or division. For me, it’s the Juniors. I find that students in grades four to six have a degree of independence regarding task completion, while still being excited about school and learning. What sometimes feels out of my league are the students who are in kindergarten. Sure, I’ve walked past and seen the magic that is a kindergarten classroom and have even entered a time or two to engage in the fun but there’s always been the opportunity to retreat into the comfort of the Junior classroom. But not this year! I’m teaching STEM to 2 kindergarten classes and I’m learning so much. As learners, kinders are: capable, creative, and excited.

Capable

I’ve heard it said that you don’t know what you don’t know. I started the year off with all my classes learning about design thinking. With differing projects for K-2 and 3-5, it was an opportunity to see what students know and what they are still learning. For my K-2 students, we started off with magical envelopes that were dropped off and in them, we found different animals. Now we all know that an envelope is not a home for an animal so we quickly got to building habitats for our animals, learning along the way what each of them needs to survive.  When it came to the build, I quickly realized that some students already knew how to hold scissors and cut, while others needed support. But let me tell you, they quickly got on the scissor-learning train because there was a task to complete and they were eager to do the job. What I’m learning about kindergarten students is that when given a challenge and support with learning, they are capable. While building their habitats, I saw students that were giving each other ideas and supporting friends who needed a hand with glueing or cutting. At the end of our build, they were so proud to share their creations with each other. This was an excellent reminder for me that although they are little, they are capable of so much.

Creative

Kinders are creative. They design something and the stories they can tell based on a picture alone are wildly imaginative. We started our year reading some of the books from the If I Built Series. When asked to let their imaginations flow, students designed playscapes that would rival any playscape on the planet. Equipped with swings and slides that were inclusive of a variety of needs, they thought of their friends and family members and what they might like. While many used the ideas from the books, there were a number that made their own designs that were unique and out of this world. I enjoy so much that students at this age have not yet attached being “good at” art or drawing to their level of creativity. Everyone got a sheet of paper and everyone excitedly started drawing their creations with their crayons.  

Excited

These little people are excited about school and learning. Every challenge laid before them from building their habitats to coding our robots has been met with great excitement. They are eager to jump in and give things a try. I love the fact that they don’t yet feel as though they have to be perfect at something to be excited about doing it. I know that this happens much later in the lives of students and I often wonder how the process happens. At what point does the excitement of learning become scary and daunting or dare I say exhausting for students? It’s so refreshing to work with our youngest learners because of the excitement they bring even to tasks that I may perceive as simple. 

The start of the year has been filled with much reflection and learning for me. I’m looking forward to the other lessons I will learn from the kinders and to the experience becoming even more familiar.

Kindergarten Communication of Learning: Initial Observations

Kindergarten Communication of Learning:  Initial Observations

Are you looking for some help writing the Initial Observations report for Kindergarten? This post is for new teachers, teachers who have changed grades, and teachers covering prep in kindergarten. I have been covering Kindergarten prep for several years and recently had a year teaching Year One of the Kindergarten program. Since we have several Kindergarten classes at my school, I can bounce ideas off many educators regarding reporting. Getting support is extremely helpful, so I’ll share what I’ve learned so far.

Collaboration is key! Like all aspects of the Kindergarten program, collecting evidence of children’s learning for reports is a responsibility that teachers and designated early childhood educators (DECEs) can share. It is an essential conversation for the educator team to have early on so that observations are collected throughout the year to demonstrate each child’s growth. We had a shared Google doc for each student, organized by frames, so we could make notes, add pictures and keep the documentation all in one place. Some teachers prefer to use a slide deck. Educators need to select the practices and strategies that work best for them.

The Initial Observations report is intended to be an overview of student key learning and growth in learning during the first two months of school. I think of it as a snapshot and often remind myself that there is another report coming in about ten weeks that will have more detailed observations and cover a greater breadth of the Kindergarten program. In some cases, teachers have had limited time with students due to class restructuring and absences. In these cases, do your best to let the parents know how their child is adjusting to Kindergarten.

If you consult social media groups and other blogs, you will see a range of educators’ opinions about Kindergarten reporting. There is a consensus that the box on the Communication of Learning: Initial Observations is much larger than needed in Ontario. I have heard the message repeated for several years from many sources, “Don’t aim to fill the box!”

Ask yourself, what happens initially in the Kindergarten program? What is the essential information to communicate to parents? What are the most obvious strengths of the child? The following questions guide you through the child’s day at school and give you ideas to consider as you write the Initial Observations. You may wish to focus more on the Self Regulation and Well Being frame, but there is an opportunity to comment on the other three frames, especially if a child demonstrates strong skills in those areas. Choose a few areas to highlight about each child and support with real-life examples if possible. To avoid using jargon, educators should aim to refer to overall expectations in a natural way when writing initial observations about a child’s learning. Here are some prompts to help you in your writing. Do not try to answer all these questions! The variety in the list is to help you describe the strengths of different children.

Is the child:

– content to be at school?

– beginning to show more independence with their belongings as they unpack their backpack and change their shoes?

-engaging in conversation with peers and adults?

-asking questions of their peers and adults?

-answering questions with detail?

-beginning to follow routines?

-playing with a variety of learning tools inside and/or outside?

-participating in games and songs with the whole group?

-building, creating, role-playing?

-sorting? (e.g., when tidying up toys)

-making observations about the natural world?

You will have observed changes in many of the children, in the first ten weeks, as they have become more comfortable with the school environment.

STUDENT ONE

I’m writing this comment with a confident, enthusiastic student in mind. Here is a sample comment based on some of the questions listed above. I would personalize this comment with the correct name and pronoun when editing.

STUDENT ONE arrives at school content and excited about the day ahead. They have adapted to the morning entry routines and often greet other students by saying, “Hi!”. STUDENT ONE uses social skills when playing with their friends (e.g., at the blocks centre and when playing soccer). He/She/They often invite(s) other students to join him/her/them, especially at his/her/their favourite activities, which are: creating with loose parts or playing at the sand table. He/She/They can identify and print the letters in his/her/their name. STUDENT ONE is excited to play games that involve counting to ten and is working on pointing at objects to count accurately. Beyond the classroom, STUDENT ONE is willing to try new activities in different locations such as the gym, library or outdoors. He/She/They often take a turn with a sit-on bouncy ball during outdoor play.   He/She/They have/has recently expanded their design skills – they has been seeking out different kinds of tools and materials to construct with. When building a tower they said: “We need something to make it stronger so it doesn’t fall down”. STUDENT ONE often contributes during class discussions and is eager to learn more about animals.

STUDENT TWO

In contrast, STUDENT TWO has had some struggles adjusting to school and experiences sadness throughout the day. Since we have already communicated with parents extensively about this issue I am not dwelling on it in the Initial Observations. Instead, I deliberately frame the comments with positivity and a growth mindset.

STUDENT TWO has made progress in adjusting to the kindergarten program. He/She/They is/are independently unpacking his/her/their backpack each morning and joining the class for play. STUDENT TWO prefers the art centre where he/she/they enjoy drawing and painting. STUDENT TWO shows an interest in completing puzzles, especially when an educator is sitting nearby. She/He/They often build(s) a house using blocks or Lego. STUDENT TWO spends time outside observing his/her/their peers and often walks quietly with the educator, we will support them in making connections with their classmates. He/She/They have/has commented on the changing weather and fall colours and shows curiosity about the natural world. We look forward to helping STUDENT TWO adjust to the school environment and build his/her/their confidence and independence over the school year.  

Good luck to all educators with Initial Observations and with Progress Reports for grades 1-8. Make use of human, print and online resources.  ETFO has a website dedicated to Professional Learning in the Early Years where you will find videos and information from Kindergarten educators and their classrooms.  ETFO has also just published an engaging resource, Building and Enriching Partnerships in Kindergarten, which includes a chapter on planning and documenting.

Take care of yourselves as you take on the task of writing these reports while also planning, teaching, and assessing your students. Do a little each day to make it manageable.  I believe in you!

Key resources to assist you in this work:

The Kindergarten Program, 2016

Growing Success, The Kindergarten Addendum, 2016

Communicating with Parents about Children’s Learning: A Guide for Kindergarten Educators, Revised Draft, September 2017

ETFO’s website for Professional Learning in the Early Years

ETFO’s new resource: Building and Enriching Partnerships in Kindergarten

Cross-Curricular Robert Munsch Author Study K-6

Why Robert Munsch?

*Robert Munsch’s books are familiar to many students.

*His books are entertaining and make students laugh.

*The characters and settings are from across Canada.

*You will be surprised by the diversity!

It is still early in the school year, and your class is still forming as a community. You want students to feel excited by your read-aloud choices, and if your students are reading independently, these books are accessible to many readers. They are also widely available as recordings. I am old enough to have them on cassette and a CD, but some are available from the publishers’ websites. You may think Munsch is for the youngest students only, but I encourage you to try some of these ideas for students up to grade 6!

K-2: Listening and Reflecting on the Story and Illustrations

Young children identify with the ridiculous antics of the characters in Robert Munsch’s books. Mortimer will not be quiet at bedtime. Jule Ann has a mud puddle jump on her in Mud Puddle. Kristen’s parents bring home animals instead of her new human sibling in Alligator Baby. Tina will not change her socks in Smelly Socks. And the classic, Love you Forever, is about a boy who is deeply loved even though he misbehaves. The list goes on!

The stories have much to offer regarding humour, patterns, and analysing human behaviour. With young students, you can also look at the different illustrators. The books mentioned above were illustrated by Michael Martchenko, Sami Suomalainen, and Sheila McGraw. Each has its own unique style. Use them as an inspiration to create your own illustrations.  How would you draw a mud puddle jumping on a kid?  You could also use many different Robert Munsch books to discuss rules and responsibilities since his characters have a habit of showing how not to behave.

Studying Robert Munsch’s books with a young audience can lead to creating a class book. I also recommend writing to Robert Munsch. In the past, I have always received a kind letter and story featuring students’ names from my class.

Grade 3-6: Recording Read Alouds and Critical Analysis

Once you have modeled a great read-aloud with your students, you could ask them to record their read-aloud using a Robert Munsch book. If the material is familiar, they will not be as intimidated to make a video of themselves. You can watch recordings of Robert Munsch’s storytelling and see how he emphasizes sound effects and uses pauses and volume to be highly entertaining and expressive. If you have a reading buddy class, your students could prepare a read-aloud to pass a love of reading to younger students. This activity could allow you to cover drama, media literacy, reading, and oral communication expectations.

If you dug deeper behind some of the stories, you would see that Robert Munsch’s sense of compassion comes through. Sometimes you have to infer the details from the illustrations. In some cases, you can listen to Robert Munsch giving interviews about the motivation for a story. Here are a few examples with a brief description of the story behind the story.

Smelly Socks:  This story takes place at K’atl’odeeche First Nation. K’atl’odeeche is not named in the story itself, but it is in the dedication. The illustrations are based on photographs of the area. There are details to note in the story to discuss life at this First Nation in the 1980s. Tina’s family had no car. There was only one store. The bridge to town (Hay River) was too far to walk. Many Canadians have never visited a First Nation and are not aware of the difficulties some First Nations face. This story could launch your class into an inquiry about life on First Nations.

The current website for K’atl’odeeche First Nation details its history and cultural celebrations.

From Far Away:  Saoussan wrote to Robert Munsch in grade two. She had been in Canada for about 18 months. He made up this story based on some of her experiences. I like to read it close to Halloween because it can help students new to school in Canada prepare for the occasion. I also find it helps students think critically about what it is like for someone who does not know the dominant language at school. It also can be a starting point for thinking about people’s experiences with war. Read this story with an awareness of whether or not the content could be disturbing to your students.

Where is Gah-Ning?: Set in Northern Ontario, this story has colourful illustrations by Hélène Desputeaux. Gah-Ning is a girl who is inventive and determined, although not very safe in her travel choices. You will relate to this character if you have ever lived in a time or place where not much was going on! Older students can compare life in their area to the small town of Hearst. The child in this story became Robert Munsch’s pen pal for decades. This story could inspire your class to begin a pen pal program with a faraway school. There are websites to help you find a match. 

I encourage you to do some further reading, viewing, and listening about Robert Munsch. He is 77 years old while I’m writing this blog and is dealing with dementia. He has stopped making public appearances. He has been open about his struggles with mental illness. 

I have a personal story about Robert Munsch. In 1995 I was teaching grade 2, and my class wrote letters to try and win a Robert Munsch visit. We mailed our good copies to the Quaker Oats Company and hoped for the best. Alas, we did not win. I still had the rough copies. They were a little marked up, but I packed them into an envelope and sent them off to Bob, hoping for a reply. I got more than I bargained for! He sent a fun story and a poster as usual, but he also included a card saying:

 “Dear Miss McClelland, I like it better if you don’t correct the kids spelling. Bob Munsch” 

Lesson learned! If you are sending rough copies that have editing marks to anyone – explain, explain, explain!


Enjoy your Robert Munsch adventures,

Brenda

P.S. If you want more information about where some of Munsch’s characters are now, try this MacLean’s article. 

Scholastic has information about Munsch, including a mailing address at this website.

Munsch has his own website where you can send an email or learn more about him.

The Best October Student-led Project

This is my ninth year teaching which means it is my ninth October with a class. October is one of my favourite months in the classroom as it lends room for so many exciting activities. For the past seven years, my class has created some sort of Halloween related show or haunted house at the end of the month. Sadly, I missed one year while I was teaching online. I wonder each year if it is something I am doing because I enjoy the tradition or if students are genuinely interested in this activity. So this year, I asked students if they had any ideas rather than share what we could do.

My class of 27 students all celebrate Halloween so we were all set for a brainstorm session. Here are the ideas my students came up with:

  • Escape Room
  • Haunted Gym
  • Student skits in a classroom
  • Student activity centres in the gym

After discussing it with a student-created drama committee, my students came up with student-created skits in a decorated classroom as their favourite idea. Then, we went about discussing how the planning process works. This is what my grade 7/8 drama committee came up with:

  1. Decide on a date (October 27th)
  2. Ask the other 7/8 classes if they would like to participate
  3. Ask permission from our school administration if grade 7/8 classes can show their skits to the other classes
  4. Send an email to all staff
  5. Start to advertise our idea
  6. Sign up classes for the viewing of each show
  7. Come up with a schedule

Yesterday, my four students who had a meeting with admin. were approved for this idea and were reminded to have a fall activity such as a word search or other for students to work on if they do not celebrate Halloween. As teachers, it is important that we use this opportunity to help students and even challenge them to think critically. With our support/modelling they will recognize the importance of being inclusive when the activities are being planned for all students in the school. We can challenge our students to plan alternatives that are equally valued and engaging and still connected to the curriculum. 

Then, we focused on the actual drama part of the project. In our language class, we are working on short spooky stories. My students (along with the other grade 7/8 classes) are working on creating a story where they need to identify the characters, the setting, the problem and the solution. My students presented their plot ideas today to the class and two were selected to be turned into scripts. The rest will be writing short stories and which will be one of their writing marks this term. This was such a fun class activity today as I put on some spooky music and students read their ideas.

During drama class, we came up with seven exciting roles that students can sign up for to be involved in this class project:

  1. Acting in the shows (there will be five shows total)
  2. Script writing (working with the students who had their plot selected)
  3. Sound effects
  4. Set design (how to transform a classroom into a haunted stage)
  5. Costumes, hair and makeup
  6. Classroom sign up
  7. Advertising the event (email, posters, imovie trailer and announcements)

Almost all of my students signed up for three or more roles and are excited to get started on this right away.

Each year, I look forward to this project so much as it includes so many curriculum connections in all of the below listed subjects:

  • Art
  • Drama
  • Language- writing, media literacy and oral communication
  • Learning skills- collaboration

Overall, this is a tradition I really look forward to each year but of course, would not proceed with it if students were not interested.  Learning that is integrated like this, with student voice and leadership at the core and has strong curriculum connections does not have to be limited to a holiday or season. A big idea, social issue or other relevant theme helps to connect and motivate the students’ learning. Knowing your learners, who they are and what is important to them will guide you on selecting themes and connections for your students! I am lucky my students want to make such an impact in their school community as each year even in June, I hear students in the halls still talking about the haunted house/stories. I look forward to this year being better than ever as we are not limited to staying within our cohorts, etc. I look forward to sharing about how it went and perhaps even sharing some spooky photos!