My Yearly Notebook

Each summer I buy a brand new spiral bound notebook.  Not the skinny ones that you get in the 3 pack from Hilroy with the flimsy cover that rips within a few uses. I am particular about my stationary.  It may be a kind of a problem.  I get the 8 1/2 by 11 solid cardboard spiral bound notebook.  It is where I keep my lists.  Lists of things to buy for the classroom.  Lists of things I want to change in the physical space of my classroom.  Lists of books I’d like to read or add to my classroom library.  Lists of things to get done before September.  Lists of the curriculum topics I’ll be teaching and in what months I plan to teach them.  Lists of special events each month that I might highlight or celebrate with my students.  Lists…of lists.  I use that big notebook all school year long to add notes from meetings, professional development sessions and of course, more lists.  I have many already filled spiral notebooks of new ideas that I’d like to try over the school year on my shelf in my office.  This summer I realized something.  After the school year is over I have NEVER opened those notebooks again.  There are lots of great ideas in there that I didn’t implement and then I feel guilty about that!  Teacher guilt never seems to stop, unless of course, I choose to stop it.

This summer I quickly read the book, “Ditch That Textbook; Free Your Teaching and Revolutionize Your Classroom” by Matt Miller. It has fantastic teaching tips for technology integration in the classroom.  Although I do not have the desire nor the access to the 1:1 technology to go completely paperless, I found a lot of wisdom and great teaching tools in Matt’s book.  I have also provided a link to Matt’s blog.  Matt helped me to break a cycle.  I haven’t bought a spiral bound notebook this summer and I’m not planning on buying one.  Among many pieces of advice in the book, Matt suggests picking two new things that you are really excited about to add to your teaching practice, being clear about your intention for using those practices and following through.  I’ve been guilty of overdoing the professional learning to the point that I overwhelm my students by doing a whole bunch of new things all at once and then don’t end up sticking to any of them.  I also get overwhelmed by the many great ideas out there and wonder if I do something else, what I’ll have to give up doing.

I’ll admit that I’m already kind of cheating.  Instead of just choosing two teaching practices I’m also choosing two new technology platforms to learn about for next year.  One of the practices that I would like to get in the habit of doing is adding more descriptive feedback to assignments that students do online and have multiple opportunities for the students to respond to that feedback and re-submit assignments with changes.  The second thing that I would like to do is educate parents on how to leave constructive feedback for their students online rather than a thumbs up or “Good job!”  I plan on exploring the video and audio creation tools, WeVideo and Voki.  I may explore more than these but these are the ones that I am committed to doing.  Since I have written my commitment here on the blog, I also commit to sharing what I thought about those tools in a review format.  If you get a chance to read Ditch That Textbook, I highly recommend it. It is a quick read with great already-made lists and hey, it made me “Ditch That Notebook”.


Twitter EDU

Over the last few years many people have become disgusted and disenchanted with the platform of Twitter.  I agree that it can be an echo chamber for those who like to hear their own voice.  However, I also know that it can be an effective Professional Learning tool.  I have created an entire Professional Learning Network on Twitter because of the people that I chose to follow and I am diligent about blocking people who are spreading unworthy tweets.  My Twitter account posts nothing personal.  It is about my own professional learning. With Twitter colleagues challenge my thinking regularly.  Questions that I have for my educational colleagues are answered immediately and without judgment.  Global connections are made easily and then I use these connections to learn with my students.

Let me give you a few examples of how I’ve used Twitter in the classroom.  One of my students brought in a rock with a fossil on it from his backyard.  We took a photo and tweeted it out to find out if anyone could tell us what it was and the approximate age.  Within an hour we heard back from a scientist at the ROM.  He had an answer for us and was happy to help.  In fact, he told us that corresponding on social media at the ROM as a scientist IS his job! One of the students brought in a mushroom from the woods near their house.  We tweeted out to our PLN because they wanted to know whether or not it was edible.  We were answered immediately and there were many links to other sites for information that sent us on a further journey into the wonderful world of fungi.  Consequently, the advice from our Twitter contact was to never eat anything you find in the woods unless you are a scientist. In music, we were learning the words to a song by the Alternate Routes band and the students asked to tweet the band. They tweeted us back thanking us for the support and encouraging us to keep singing.  We found some great classes across Canada to Skype with through Twitter and did mystery number finds with other grade 1 and 2 classes. You get out of Twitter what you are willing to put into it.

I have gotten more out of 15 minute Twitter education chats than I have out of some day long workshops.  The educators on Twitter chats are there by choice and they are passionate about education. The questions are specific and the answers are in 140 characters. The best part is, you don’t even have to comment if you don’t feel comfortable.  You can just sit back and learn.  I have also met these Tweeters in person at IT conferences and taken their workshops.  Knowing the presenters ahead of time and having a connection is like going to a concert when you already know the newest album really well; it makes the experience richer and deeper.

Here are a few EDUTweeters that I suggest you follow to get started:

@dougpete  @peterskillen   @brendasherry    @avivalova   @mraspinall  @sylviaduckworth  @Toadmummy (that’s me)

Here are a few #hashtags to follow

#EdchatON    #edtechchat     #teacheredchat   #bfc530

Twitter may not be your thing, but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it as your #PLN.  I guarantee you will find some ideas for #deeperlearning or #inquiryed.









Free Creation Apps to Show Student Thinking

I was asked to present a workshop about using technology in the Primary grades over a year ago and got into a debate with the Principal at the host school about apps.  The Principal was quite excited about the apps that he intended to purchase for his teachers to use with their students and he showed me his list.  I was surprised.  None of the apps were creation apps.  They were all “practice basic skills and keep kids quiet apps”. I showed him my list of preferred apps.  It was his turn to be surprised.

“These apps that you have chosen for the teachers are a lot like fancy worksheets for kids to practice basic skills.  Those skills are important, but doing a worksheet on an iPad might be a little more engaging, but it is still a worksheet, and an expensive one at that!  The apps that I am going to share with the staff today are all apps that students can choose from to show their thinking in a fun, engaging way that also provides opportunity for feedback and editing.” Unfortunately, he didn’t stay for the workshop.

The main difficulty that I have found with apps is finding something that you can use in schools that doesn’t cost a lot of money and isn’t just a free trial or have “in-app purchases”.  I don’t mind paying a few dollars for an app but when you get into the double digits for a school, it isn’t sustainable.  I thought I would share a few free creation apps that I have used with both the primary and junior grades.  I have also included some samples.  None of the samples are done by students, but I can assure you that each of these are quite intuitive and easy even for primary grades to use.  Each of the apps has a link to it in the App Store for further information.

Shadow Puppet EDU  The name is deceiving and the little white bunny on the app icon is too.  It basically provides a video of a slide show in which you can add voice and text.  Students can link to the already sourced for copyright pictures provided within the app or take pictures from their iPad or with the camera.  The students find this one easy to use but tricky to edit some of the text.  It uploads to Seesaw and other platforms easily.

Here is a sample of Puppet EDU:


Padlet  I have used this a lot in order to begin a new unit of inquiry on something.  It provides a place to put safe links and videos that I have sourced for the students as a starting point and reference.  In addition, the students can collaborate their thinking with sticky notes. You can share it publicly with other Padlet users, but we keep ours private at this point.  We may share our Padlets with other classes at our school through the use of the QR code and password.  The sign is uses a QR code which you can print out. We are using Padlet for our unit on the Olympics.  The students will then create their own Padlet to share with classmates on an Olympic event that they will research.  Students will be invited to provide feedback to one another.  This is a screen capture of our Olympic Padlet:


iBrainstorm  This app allows students to add sticky notes, text or hand written notes to templates like Venn Diagrams.  In addition, up to 3 other people can be invited to collaborate on the same template in real time. You can take a screen shot and save it to photos.  It also uploads to multiple platforms easily.


Digital Documentation


Documentation can be one of the most time consuming aspects of teaching Kindergarten and working with young learners. Especially in a program where there are no pencil-paper assessments, but rather the learning is something that is seen and heard.

I found a tool a few years ago that changed the way I document tremendously. Not only is documentation easy, natural and quick – it is inclusive of families and further builds our classroom community.

SeeSaw is an online documentation tool designed for teachers to capture the learning of students through photo, video and audio recording. What makes SeeSaw unique, and in my opinion its best feature, is that it acts as almost a social media tool for engaging parents and families. Here are some ways that SeeSaw is working wonders in my classroom:

SeeSaw is easy and quick, allowing me to capture learning in the moment. I have the app on our classroom iPad as well as my own device. This way, I’ve always got my documentation tool at hand when learning happens. The interface is easy to use and navigate. SeeSaw allows you to create a folder for each individual child, which is visible only to that child and their families. For each entry, I can select individual children, groups of children or post it to the entire class’ journal. SeeSaw allows you to add multiple teachers to the account, which makes co-teaching and collaborating with prep coverage teachers even easier.

SeeSaw has tools that deepen and strengthen learning. After capturing a photo, I have the option draw on top of the photo (even record and replay this drawing), as well as record audio. If I take a photo of a structure a child built in the block centre, I’ll ask them to add a label or verbally describe their creation. I can also record how my students are thinking while writing and view it again later. The opportunities to capture much more than a written sample are endless!

SeeSaw can be used by my students to document their own learning. This takes a little bit of scaffolding, but children as young as Kindergarteners can independently use SeeSaw to document their own learning. In my classroom, we have a designated SeeSaw iPad that children know they can access to take photos and videos of something they are proud of. This is powerful because, even with two educators in the room, we can’t always see everything that happens. At the end of the day, I can scroll through what the children chose to document that day and “approve” their posts to the journal. This provides so much insight into what my students think is important. In the older grades, the opportunities are endless to use this as a tool for paperless assessment.

SeeSaw has become the guide to our “reflecting and connecting” discussions. My favourite time of day is just before we head outside for our second outdoor block, when we all sit down together on the carpet and “see what we saw” – a term coined by one of my year two students! During this time, we scroll through the posts to SeeSaw from that day and talk about them. We might view a photo of an art project done by some students, invite them to talk further about it and then ask the entire group if they might feel inspired to try something similar the next day. This way, my students have a chance to see what other children are doing during the day and be inspired by their ideas. It also allows us to have reflecting and connecting conversations about our experiences. This continues at home, when children and parents can do the same together.

SeeSaw is the “one stop shop” when it comes time for writing the Communication of Learning. When it comes time for assessment and writing reports, I’ve got all of my documentation in one spot. I simply open that child’s folder and then have access to hundreds of photos, video footage and notes that I have entered about that child’s learning and development. I also record my students during their DRA assessments so I can share this with parents and I can refer back to their reading behaviours. This allows me to easily include very personalised information into my comments, including direct quotes from their videos and audio recordings.

SeeSaw brings parents into our classroom and opens doors for family involvement. My favourite thing about SeeSaw is how inclusive it is of families. As I mentioned earlier, it acts almost as a social media platform where parents can view their child’s or class wide content, “like” it and even add comments. The comments build community between families but also acts as a communication line between the child and their parent. If a comment pops up during the day, shortly after I post something, I will share it with the child and then we reply to the comment together. Parents in my class are fully informed about what we’re doing in the classroom and what their child works on during the day. Many parents have told me that it has become a nightly ritual to sit with their child and look at SeeSaw together, discussing the events of the day. Parents love the app because it provides spark points for discussions about what their children are learning, rather than asking what they did that day and being told “nothing!”. SeeSaw also has a messaging tool that allows me to send announcements to families (for reminders, etc) and a private messaging tool that I use for all communication with our families.

SeeSaw is a wonderful tool for all grade levels. So far, I have used it with Kindergarten, 2/3 and 5/6 and have found new and wonderful uses for it in each setting! If you’re looking to try something new with the way you document your students’ learning, I recommend checking out this awesome – and free – app!


The Conundrum of Parent Communication

4 years ago I discovered the app Seesaw which is a digital portfolio for students but way more.  Recently it also added a direct parent communication piece which I absolutely love and I can also post announcements all at once to parents or just to a few by the click of a button.  The best thing about the app for me is that the students can upload their own work and comment on it and I can provide feedback.  I approve everything before it goes on the site. Parents LOVE it.  For me, it does everything that I need a communication app to do.  So what’s the issue?

3 years ago our school board got a contract with Edsby. I understand that as a school board it is accessible in many ways for all teachers.  There is system information that is on the site that can be accessed from anywhere.  There is a platform for staff room chat and places to post things on calendar etc.,  However I do not find that it is friendly for teachers nor students to use.  The mobile app is glitchy and I get frustrated at the stream of conversations that don’t seem to match up.   I have been told by our administration that we have to use it to communicate with parents.  All but two of my parents have signed up for Seesaw (internet access issues) and only a quarter have signed up for Edsby.  I don’t know why exactly, but I can only assume that they don’t find it as friendly to use.  I do paper copies for major announcements to ensure that everyone gets those in one way or another.  I use Edsby to comply to my school board’s request and I’m doubling my work in the meantime.

When I first began teaching it was a big deal to have a “monthly” newsletter and calendar of events go home to parents. Principals wanted to see copies and approve them before they went home.  Now we are in constant communication with parents and we are being told exactly what platform we are supposed to be using in order to do it.  There is a huge workload issue in parent communication and it creeps up on us daily.  With an increase in high needs students that deal with behavioural or mental health issues teachers are expected to communicate on a daily basis in a communication book with their families.  While I understand the need for documentation for myself and for the parents, the expectation is overwhelming.  I am fortunate this year that I have my preparation time at the end of the day and I can take the time to communicate with parents.  However, I don’t get to use my prep time for lesson preparation.  I don’t know what the answer is here.  I’m going to continue to use my professional judgement about how I communicate with parents however, hopefully this post will begin a discussion about communication overload.  I’m open for suggestions on how others are able to manage!




An easy to use student friendly assessment tool


After meeting my new NTIP mentor the other day, she introduced us new instrumental music teachers to an app called “iDoceo”. I had used this before but had never really gotten into it. Since hearing about it again recently, I have become so attached to it.

iDoceo allows you to assess students quickly on the go on your ipad. The app is free in the HWDSB catalogue and maybe in other boards as well. When commenting on the process or product of a certain student, you can use icons, recordings, comments or other notes. These icons are easy to use and you can copy and paste them. You can then add them to another student’s column with an easy double tap. For instrumental music teachers, this is helpful because you can add a small recording to your student’s file so that you can listen to it again if you missed it the first time.

Students can also always view their marks and I use the icons to record these marks. So if a student wants to see how he/she is doing with “attitude/behaviour/self control” he will view his name and see what icon is beside it. The options are a green smiley for always/level four, a yellow smiley for usually/level 3, an orange smiley for sometimes/level two and a red frown for rarely/level 1. Students have a quick and visual way to view their process or product marks in class. Of course during performances I will still use a rubric for them to take home but for everyday efforts, this app is amazing! I always have students coming up to me asking to view their marks. They are eagerly searching for those green happy faces.

I love the app so much that I have brought it into my 4/5 split class. I use it for their learning skills so especially while they are working in a group, I record their efforts for the day.

I think that children love to know how they are doing and something as simple as a coloured happy face is an easy check for them. Of course it is hard for me to always remember to keep the iPad in my hand but over time I will certainly get used to it.

iDoceo-available on ipads. Check it out!

Report Cards Are Coming: Professional Reporting

Growing Success K-12
Growing Success K-12

Elementary Report Cards … the mere mention of report cards can send some teachers into anxious ridden days and sleepless nights. Even after 17 years of writing elementary report cards, I anticipated that my levels of anxiety would be non-existent but, no, for me, the thought of report card writing still stresses me out. I know of some colleagues who are so anxious about report card writing, that they had to seek medical support.

The source of this anxiety is embedded in inconsistencies in how report card policy is implemented. And the source of the inconsistencies is rooted in the process of educational policy implementation. With each level of educational policy implementation gatekeepers, such as boards of education, superintendents, schools, administrators, and classroom teachers, all interpret and change the policy based on their own context and their own perspectives (Ball, Maguire, & Braun, 2012).

As report card policy initiatives are translated into real life, the policy stakeholders, like administrators and teachers, adapt and reinvent their interpretation of the policy into school contexts. Since the education policy guidelines tend to be abstract and non specific, confusion and disjointedness results (Ball, 1993), and teachers end up decoding and recoding the policy text such as the reporting policy, Growing Success (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2010). Even with the well written Growing Success document (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2010), the process of understanding and translating report card policy can result in various degrees of intentional and unintentional interpretations (Fuhrman, Clune, & Elmore, 1991). Or, in other words, there are inconsistencies in report card policy implementation. Competing theories between policy authors (i.e., governments and school boards) and report card implementers (i.e., principals and teachers) can cause conflicts between the vision of policy and the practice of policy (Timperley & Parr, 2005). This can result in gatekeepers’ experiencing “most carefully planned” initiatives unfolding in a “non-linear manner” (Timperley & Robinson, 2000, p. 47).

This policy implementation process results in the practice of report card writing that look different from the vision of the report card policy writers. Therefore, because of this flux,  report card formats and content can change from school board to school board, school to school, year to year, administrator to administrator, and sometimes even term to term (Note: this is strictly based on my own experience over 17 years). As noted earlier, at every level of implementation, each person put their own spin on the policy. The result is that teachers have to deal with changing report card writing expectations. Inconsistencies directly result in teachers having to spend a great deal of time trying to meet the expectations of different stakeholders. Teachers then have to use their professional judgement to interpret these expectations.

The document Growing Success (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2010, p. 152) states “ Judgement that is informed by professional knowledge of curriculum expectations, context, evidence of learning, methods of instruction and assessment, and the criteria and standards that indicate success in student learning. In professional practice, judgement involves a purposeful and systematic thinking process that evolves in terms of accuracy and insight with ongoing reflection and self-correction.”

Further, Growing Success states that “successful implementation of policy depends on the professional judgement of educators at all levels, as well as on educators’ ability to work together” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2010, p. 2). It is through educators’ collaboration that educational change becomes reality; it is how policy becomes practice. “Teachers’ professional judgements are at the heart of effective assessment, evaluation, and reporting of student achievement.” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2010, p. 8). So teachers, working with other stakeholders, using their professional judgement need “to clarify and share their understanding of policy and to develop and share effective implementation practices” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2010, p. 2).

Below is a breakdown of the Growing Success policy based on areas I have needed information on while writing report cards. This is not an exhaustive list. Please refer to the documents noted below for further information.

Growing Success Reporting Chart

Ontario Report Card Policy Breakdown with reference to report card writing

The Growing Success document notes the following “It is important that teachers have the opportunity to compose and use personalized comments on report cards as an alternative to selecting from a prepared set of standard comments. School boards should not enact policies that prevent teachers from providing personalized comments on report cards. It is expected that principals will support best practice and encourage teachers to generate their own comments.” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2010, p. 64)

Given the focus of encouraging “teachers to generate their own comments”, having a bank of pre-approved board-wide report card comments available to elementary teachers may or may not be forthcoming.

After the above analysis and reflection regarding report card writing and professional judgement, I ask myself “What has helped me the most in report card writing?”

My answer is collaborating with other teachers. It is in the discussion, co-creating, and sharing of report card comments that I have been supported the most in my writing of the Progress, Term 1, and Term 2 report cards. For me, sharing report card comments does not mean that I simply “cut and paste” my colleagues’ work. This does not happen because I write comments through the lens of my own teaching practice. My colleagues’ shared learning skill comments often inspire me to write comments especially for challenging students.

In writing report cards, I use my professional experience and knowledge that has resulted in the development of my professional judgement. So my advice to any teacher who is being challenge in report card writing is to reach out to your colleague … for advice, support, or debate.

I believe that when working collaboratively, teachers are better together … especially when writing report cards.

Collaboratively Yours,

Deb Weston


Ball, S. (1993). What is policy? Texts, trajectories, and toolboxes. Discourse, 13(2), 10-17.

Ball, S. J., Maguire, M., & Braun, A. (2012). How schools do policy: Policy enactments in secondary schools. New York, NY: Routledge.

Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario. (ETFO). (2016). The elementary provincial report card continued implementation update – Grades 1 to 8, Professional Relations Services, PRS, Volume #66, January 2016. Retrieved from

Fuhrman, S., Clune, W., & Elmore, R. (1991). Research on education reform: Lessons on the implementation of policy (pp. 197-218). AR Odden, Education Policy Implementation. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Ontario Ministry of Education. (2000). The Ontario Student Record (OSR) Guideline, Retrieved from

Ontario Ministry of Education. (2010). Growing success: Assessment, evaluation, and reporting in Ontario schools, First Edition, Covering Grades 1 to 12 Retrieved from

Timperley, H. S., & Parr, J. M. (2005). Theory competition and the process of change. Journal of Educational Change, 6(3), 227-251.

Timperley, H., & Robinson, V. (2000). Workload and the professional culture of teachers. Educational Management & Administration, 28(1), p. 47-62.

Wiliam, D. (2011). Embedded formative assessment. Solution Tree Press.

Finding Balance in a Digital World

When I first began teaching, over 20 years ago, I spent a lot of personal money on “resources”.  In teacher’s college I worked part time at The Teacher’s Store and spent the majority of my paycheque on black line master books, “units” and teacher’s guides, which took up space on my book shelves and in large plastic totes in my basement.  Now I can access free downloads, use Teacher’s Pay Teachers, Twitter, Pinterest or any number of educator websites.  It is difficult to deny that the use of technology is a huge part teaching.   I access the curriculum documents online on a regular basis. In fact, I don’t even own a paper copy of the curriculum documents.  Attendance, IEPs and report cards are now web-based.  Student portfolios are digital and parent communication is mostly electronic.  We communicate with our staff on Edsby and post our students’ triumphs using digital platforms such as Seesaw.  When I am away from school for the day, I book an occasional teacher online and send in my plans via email. As a parent, I pay for my son’s school trips online.  Almost everything we do in education seems to involve technology in some way.  It makes our job so much easier!  Doesn’t it?

Herein lies the rub.  As wonderful and “easy” as it all is, digital information and communication can also be suffocating.  For example, it is easy to ask a question of a colleague in my large school something by email or text and get an answer in seconds without having to take ten minutes to walk to his or her classroom.  However, it also may mean that I won’t see my colleague all week.  It is easy for a upset parent to send an email in the middle of the weekend and then I stew about it until I can take care of it when I am back at school on Monday.  It is easy to spend hours following the trail down an internet rabbit hole trying to find the “perfect” lesson plan.  It is easy to look at examples of art lessons on websites like Pinterest and then feel inadequate as an educator because mine didn’t go quite according to plan. It is easy to send an email in the middle of the weekend, just to get it done, when I should be spending time with my family.  It is easy to get into a chat on Twitter with educators around the world and learn all kinds of cool stuff, and then realize that I have missed going to the gym…again.  Digital information and communication is never done.  There is always something to check or answer or post.  Yes, I admit that it is a little ironic that I am writing this on a blog post, but wait…here’s why.

I have decided to try a few things so that digital information and communication will not suffocate me.  I have created “office hours” for communication.  I have told the families of my students that I will only respond to emails or messages on Edsby or Seesaw between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday to Friday. If I take the time to communicate something to families outside of office hours, then I will draft it and save it and send it during office hours.  If there is something urgent, families are instructed to call the school.  I have turned off notifications of email on my phone.  I no longer go on Pinterest and have stopped going on Twitter.  I will only check Edsby once a day.  If there is something of urgent importance, I have no doubt that someone will find me and let me know.  My students will update their own digital portfolios. I am going to try to be mindful of the amount of time I engage in digital communication and information for my job in order to maintain a healthy work-life balance.  It will take some practice and I’m sure that I will find myself getting into some old habits.  However, my mantra this year for my class is also for me…strive for growth and progress, not perfection.

Positive vs Negative Student Balances

When you look at your bank account you work extremely hard to ensure you always have a positive balance. By having a positive balance you are able to pursue so many options in how you may use that surplus. When you are not able to keep a positive balance, you become very limited in the options you have and may in the worst circumstance go bankrupt.

I look at each and every child and each and every family in that way. I start in September with a zero balance as I am just opening up that account. From the first minute I interact with each child as well as their family, I am either making deposits or withdrawals. Each and every positive statement I make, word of encouragement I offer, inflating vs deflating statement said, either builds that account or reduces that account balance.

When a conflict occurs (and it will) you are now having to look at the account you have created and will make a withdrawal as you help that child understand the choice they made and how to learn from it. If you have a built up a strong, positive balance with that child you are able to make that withdrawal without having any ill effects on the relationship that exists between the both of you. If it is a call home in regards to a negative scenario that occurred at school, the family’s reaction will be either supportive or defensive depending on the balance you have established at home with the parent(s).

I use a variety of tools to help foster a positive balance. The two most effective for me are ‘Sunshine Calls’ and rephrasing my comments when I react to the day-to-day events that unravel in my room. In a sunshine call I am truly just trying to send a positive message to each family about their child. It can be as simple as a comment about a great writing effort that occurred today, how their child read aloud for the first time in front of his/her peers or what a positive decision they made not make a small problem bigger. Over time I can actually hear the change in how the parent reacts to me once they recognize their child’s teacher is calling. Within a few months, the calls home are very sociable and appreciated by the family.

The second strategy took me a while to develop. I had to literally think about how and what I would say when events occurred. First I had to examine my approach and found that my initial comments were deflating or withdrawing from that account balance. For example if a student made a mess, I would say, “ You need to be more careful and not make a mess”. This type of statement always puts a student on the defensive. I am learning to rephrase my comments to be able to send a message but not put a student on the defensive. I now say “ Are you okay, accidents happen to everyone. How can we clean it up?”

A very unintentional but amazing benefit of this approach was that I was modelling for my students each day how to be respectful to each other in the way they communicate. Soon, this type of positive communication becomes the norm of the class. There are less and less conflicts between students simply due to the way they learn to communicate with each other and the people around them.


More Than Right or Wrong

“Did I get it right teacher, did I get it right?”. This I am sure you have heard over and over again when it is time for students to take up their work. I can go back to my elementary school years (way too long ago to provide a date for you) and remembering sitting there anticipating getting my paper back so that I could look at the top of the page and see my grade. Red on your paper was not a good thing. Either a smile or a sad expression immediately came across my face and I would be asked to get it signed by my parents, return it to my teacher and move on to my next unit of study.

Good assessment pedagogy now has taught us that the opportunity for learning is in examining the mistakes, looking at what strategies were being used and providing timely feedback that allows a student to learn from their own work. This approach helps facilitate their growth toward those target outcomes.

I have an anchor chart in my room that is used by both my students and by myself when we are looking at the work we have completed. On that chart are three defined types of mistakes that can be made. The first is referred to as ‘Careless Mistakes’ which are characterized by minor mistakes that are made as a result of miscalculations, rushing through work or more typically a student not looking back and checking their work prior to handling it in. When I am conferencing with a student about their work and find these types of mistakes it indicates to me that the student has grasped the key concepts and need feedback/strategies on how to avoid making those types of errors.

The second type of mistake that can be made are ‘Misconceptions’. These are characterized by a student’s understanding of a concept being inaccurate and thus as the student moves forward with his/her thinking, that student is immediately going down a wrong thinking pass that will result in his/her work being wrong. This will lead me to create a mini lesson for that student or a group of students that will help adjust their thinking by clarifying the necessary content to eliminate the misconception(s).

The final type of error is due to a ‘Lack of Knowledge’. In this scenario the student does not have the necessary background knowledge or sub-skills in order to accomplish the task at hand. This immediately indicates the need for me to assess where the student knowledge base lies and backtrack to that point in order to provide him/her with the necessary next step in his/her learning. I find this often is below grade level and thus requires me to modify the content to help that individual gain the necessary knowledge to move his/her learning forward. This scenario occurred just last week in my class as we moved into a unit on fractions. In my diagnostic task it became very clear to me that my students had little or no understanding of what fractions were despite being comfortable with using the word fraction. They could take an apple and split it into two pieces, describe each piece as a half but not quantify what that meant.

By sharing this understanding with my students, it facilitates their participation and role in the learning process. They now have more ownership over their work, over their effort and over their plan on moving forward with their own learning.