Forest of Reading and Literacy Award Programs

As school starts up again every January, I always look forward to the recommendation list in my public library ebook section for the Forest of Reading program, an annual initiative in Ontario to get kids reading from a wide variety of levelled books (picture to high school chapter reads).  There are so many new local authors I have had the chance to be exposed to from this program and I have yet to find a student that couldn’t find something that interested them either from the list of fiction or non-fiction books.

Much can be written about the positives and negatives of student incentivization to read more, but in this case I feel that the Forest of Reading and other programs in Canada and around the world strike the perfect balance of getting students excited about competing with others for reading the most books as well as getting the chance to interview with teachers about their completed selections. In our region, students get to accompany their classmates in the school board to a celebration at the local sports arena to hear from some of the authors in person as well as see arts presentations and hear the final winner in each category for Favourite Book.  The connection to seeing people talk about their inspiration motivated students to think about what ideas they could have that could one day be in a book, or how they could persist in not giving up in a variety of career fields.

One of my favourite aspects about the Forest of Reading is that it promotes equity in how the books are distributed.  If you can’t get a copy from the local library in print or digitally, school libraries receive funds to distribute multiple copies of some of the books to students where teachers can have them read independently or as a class so they don’t miss out.  Every year, I see that some authors have had another one of their books selected sometimes in the same series which shows their ability to connect with the committees and students.  Forest of Reading is also great at promoting diverse reads where even tough subject matter is communicated in a way that students can understand and relate to.

When I taught in a school with middle school grades as well as early elementary years, I always wanted to ensure that students were able to tell me something they learned or thought about after reading the book, even if it wasn’t one they would recommend personally.  In addition to ensuring students weren’t looking up crib notes as much, it gave me insight into how students felt about characters and what sparked their interests.  It also gave me insight into what other sorts of recommendations we could make to have them continue their reading journeys.

Given the state of the world these past few years, literacy is always something that we can encourage with our students to open doors as well as become involved with, as a family.  The Forest of Reading name is perfect in inspiring the image of children starting a lifelong journey into a world of possibilities, and reminding teachers to continue to read in their spare time as well.

 

Skills that the Dramatic Arts Teach Us

Whether I am teaching Music as a rotary teacher, Drama as a homeroom teacher, or integrated Arts, I strive to make the curriculum content meaningful to students’ learning. It is no secret that Language and Math are seen as the most important subjects by parents and boards of education.  However, I feel that if we focus on skills children learn from the arts, we can show the value of these programs in addition to providing a safe space to students with divergent needs and intelligences.

When I look back at my elementary school years, I regret not being involved in the drama department.  Due to coming ‘out of my shell’ I feel proud that I had the courage to get involved in amateur acting later in life. There were a lot of things I learned that I took back to my teaching in the classroom.  The acting teachers who also taught school age classes reiterated that focusing on these skills was how they got more reluctant students to open up.

Acting teaches students teamwork, listening skills, and focusing while multi-tasking. At one of the first classes I took as an adult, we spent the first hour just observing each other and commenting on what we noticed about the verbal and non-verbal communication of the group. Whether following a script or improv, students need to be able to think on their feet to move a dramatic situation forward or to get out of the common forgotten line lead-in or prop mishap. Working together for a common goal is something that occupations require in most fields.

Acting encourages risk-taking and patience. Sometimes it feels that everyday students and adults play roles in their lives, and it is important to recognize feelings in ourselves and others. I remember how transformative it was to finally see the audience reaction after two months of working on a play. I also acted with children in these plays and was excited at their confidence growth over the weeks of rehearsal.

A lot of education based early years programs focus on play-based learning, something that acting has at its core.  When acting, we awaken the imagination and learn how to recognize emotions in others, sometimes from just a look or body language.  Whether we encourage students to take drama to complete an elective requirement or pursue it as a career, we are giving them many tools that will help them to succeed across a wide variety of careers and social interactions for the remainder of their lives.

The Year We Learned to Fly

I love a good picture book. When I get a recommendation or see a new book shared on social media, I often get excited to think about how I can use that book with students. Recently published, The Year We Learned to Fly by Jacqueline Woodson caught my eye. This time, I wanted this book just for me. Similar to The Day You Begin, Jacqueline’s powerful words are brought to life through incredible illustrations by Rafael López. This book is a celebration of oral storytelling; a reminder to “ believe in” and “dream a thing”; and the importance of living your truth. In this post, I’m sharing the impact of this book on my life.

Oral Storytelling

Oral storytelling is found in a variety of cultures and is a time-honoured tradition for many. In this story, the children’s grandmother shares advice, words of affirmation and of their ancestors. With gentleness and sage, their grandmother helps the children to understand the power of their beautiful and brilliant minds in order to help lift them out of boredom and new and challenging situations. With fondness, this book reminded me of my grandmother’s words of wisdom – old sayings that seemed to have passed down from generation to generation – as well as the words I find my own mother sharing with her grandchildren. The grandmother’s words are so powerful and transformative that while reading, I found myself feeling nostalgic for days of youth and missing spaces where I’ve had the chance to learn from elders. 

Believe In and Dream a Thing

Over the last couple of years, the pandemic has made dreaming and believing in a thing a bit challenging for me. While I’ve wanted to dream or envision future projects and/or goals, the question of possibility or probability often pops up and hinders the imagination. Early on when the children are bored, the grandmother guides the children with the words below:

With spring on the horizon, I think it’s time for me to lift my arms, close my eyes, take a deep breath, and believe in a thing. I don’t know what that will be but I’m looking forward to dreaming and imagining again. Who knows, I might even come back and share it with readers. 

Living Your Truth

At the end of the story, the two children move to a new street where they are not welcomed and are ignored. I love how the girl in the story stayed true to what her grandmother had taught her and encouraged her brother to do the same. They found freedom on their own rather than looking for acceptance from those around them. Even as an adult, I find this hard. In spaces where I feel unwelcomed and ignored, my tendency is to retreat into myself and I so loved the confidence with which these two children learned to fly.

These are just some of my thoughts in reading this book. I know that I will probably read it over again and perhaps my insights might change. I know a lot of us as teachers get excited about finding a new picture book or novel and sharing it with students. I’m learning to slow down and take some time to reflect on the words and how it resonates with me. I’m certain that I’ll share this book someday with students but for now, this one will just sit with me for a bit longer. Is there such a book for you?

Everything I need to know, I learn in Kindergarten

In our virtual Kindergarten class, my DECE partner and I value each teachable moment. We recognize that our students are constantly making meaningful observations and connections to the world around them. Something I always expected to gain from these 4 and 5 year olds was knowledge. One thing I did not expect was how profound this knowledge would be, or that it could so deeply resonate with me and my pedagogy. 

Here is what my students teach me every day in Kindergarten:

Unconditional Acceptance

One of our students showed up to class one day and announced to the large group that from now on he would like to be called by his new nick name. “What’s your name now?” one of the other students asked. “Willy” he replied, “W-I-L-L-Y” *. 

From that moment on his classmates called him nothing but Willy. 

He requested to be called something different from what we’d all been calling him since the moment we met him in September and they immediately took action. They listened to him, understood him and respected his wishes. They didn’t ask questions, raise concerns or challenge him.

They just did it.

All of them.

The more I think about this, the more amazing it feels. I imagine a world where everyone can be respected like Willy and is addressed by their preferred names and pronouns. This demonstration of kindness and acceptance from children is exemplary.

Patience

It is not me that has learned patience from being their teacher, but me that has learned how to practice patience from them. My students are incredibly patient and kind to each other, to me, my teaching partner and all visitors that enter our class.

I have had entire conversations with my virtual class while my microphone is, in fact, off (cue face palm). They continue to smile at me and remind me to turn it on before I try again. 

They remind me to approach each day with a smile and that it’s okay to make mistakes.

Finding the “Why” 

“Why?”

A question our students ask often as they continue throughout their day as investigators, explorers and engineers. Each time they ask this simple but important question, it challenges me to think about my “why”. 

Why have I chosen to teach a lesson in this way? Why have I chosen to implement specific rules, boundaries or routines?

My students’ innocent question of “why” drives me to critically reflect on my practice. This ongoing reflection forces me to live outside of my comfort zone, try new things and make mistakes. Responding to the unique needs of of my students, allows me to demolish the ‘this is the way I’ve always done it’ mindset in order to celebrate individuality and strengthen inclusion in a world that is ever-changing. 

I’m lucky to be a small part of their journey, as my students continue through this school year and beyond. But, I don’t know if they’ll ever truly understand how much I learn from them.

 

* Students name was changed to protect confidentiality

Please note: ETFO’s position on in-person learning remains unchanged. The union firmly believes that the daily, in-person model of instruction and support best meets the educational, developmental and social needs of students, provides the best experience for support, and is the most equitable learning model for all students.

ETFO’s expectation is that elementary virtual learning in any capacity, including through hybrid models of instruction, will end once the pandemic ends.

Cooking up Fun with Students

It’s a New Year, and many people are making resolutions. Although this is not something that is commonly discussed among young people nowadays, as teachers I am sure that in addition to September end of term in January may be a time to coincide with the western New Year date to examine what you want to accomplish with your students.

Last year, I was lucky enough to receive some funds for my French program. As the only FSL teacher in the school, I am in the unique position of being one of the only teachers in charge of a sole subject, but that means I also take seriously having the decision on which activities to use with the allotted money rest with me. So after browsing the list of suggested experiences, I went about asking myself a few key questions:

*What were students able to engage with as an activity due to it being exciting in its novelty or ‘fun factor’?
*What activity would give the students a skill or interest that was useful and set them up for further curiosity?
*What experience would give students a chance to interact with their families in lockdown with low stress and have everyone have a chance to participate regardless of circumstances, etc.?

The choice was clear: the activity by Chef à l’école (Chef in School) would satisfy all three. Students would learn about French vocabulary for the recipe on making ‘langues de chat’ (cat’s tongue sugar cookies), a French Canadian recipe. They could send me photos of the recipe if they chose, participate in a Kahoot, and I even added steps on how to make a paper torque (chef’s chat) if so desired. During the lesson, students were very engaged despite us teaching online at the time and I could see some families setting up the recipe during the class instead of waiting until later to follow along like a TV program.

The students sent me photos and the accommodations were given on how to modify the everyday ingredients for vegan or religious substitutions. Chef Suzanne remarked that one advantage of the program was being able to offer lessons across Google Meet to students outside of her travel zone given the company’s quick adaptation to online presentations. Here’s hoping in the future they can visit our school in person!

As someone who struggles with cooking myself, I hope I was able to give students an opportunity to seek out what fun baking can be with other recipes from various cultures. And as our film viewing of Disney’s Paris set Ratatouille showed, it’s true that “anyone can cook!”

Psst…if you want to try for yourself and also practise some math skills with measurement, here is the English recipe: https://www.ricardocuisine.com/en/recipes/404-langues-de-chat-cookies-cat–s-tongue-shaped-thin-cookies-

misfires and dry spells

I have a problem with self-perception that needs explaining in this medium, and I may not be the only one with it. #fingerscrossed

Have you ever heard the terms “misfires” or “creative dry spell”?  I’ve experienced each of them, In fact, they happen in and out of the classroom fairly frequently. I am pretty sure that it happens to everyone at some point in time. If you’re nodding your head at this, does it come with bouts of self-doubt/loathing for you too? #stuffhappens

Since it is the end of the calender year. Lists are always fun. Here are 6 things that have been on my mind for you to ponder:

  1. Be positive about your skills and know they are always evolving
  2. Stop getting in your own way. Try new things.
  3. Learn that failure can be an excellent teacher. Don’t take it personally.
  4. You can’t control anything around you except how you respond to it
  5. Things will go wrong. Sometimes this will lead to something amazing and new.
    Other times it will require a restart. Educators are natural born problem solvers.
  6. Take time to see and enjoy the big picture of your impact on the lives of learners.

Despite these moments, when nothing flows or moves forward, things manage to get accomplished in some shape or form. At times, I have little to no recollection of how, but accept that going through the highs and lows whether they are in the creative process or in teaching have allowed me still do many things despite the voices of discouragement telling me to give up or that the work is not good enough. #justkeepmoving

In past iterations of my practice, I chose to internalize my inabilities as a personal failure. That was until I accepted that failure was a natural part of the creative process and that every so called failure of mine was actually a lesson as well when looked at objectively. I found this to be quite liberating and began to look at failure without the fear that may have clouded my thinking around it from the past. #learnfromfailure

A few years back there was a poster in my classroom that read FAIL meant Frequent Attempts In Learning. It was accompanied by a Chinese proverb that read, “Failure is not falling down but refusing to get up.” These two thoughts guided our year and ultimately helped students to value their efforts at all times in the process rather than stressing about the mark(s). It was during this time that I confronted my own demons getting in the way of my own creativity and abilities. The first thing to do was stop trying to be everything to everyone and start being myself. #confrontyourdoubts

The next was to not worry about the temporary obstacles placed in my path because they were just that, temporary. This meant learning to move around, under, over or destroying them with a lot of creativity, patience, and an occasional strategic surrender to regroup. I have become comfortable in retracing my footsteps, although it may cost a little time or necessitate starting a journey along a different path if the old one needed to be abandoned in the process. Kind of like teaching in that way isn’t it? #stickwithit

All of this got me thinking about how my “misfires and creative dry spells” might actually be good for my teaching practice. #donotmissthelearning

Teachers by nature are problem solvers. I am no different. This is one of our super powers. Yet, even with these incredible skills to adapt within everchanging spaces, we find it difficult when something goes wrong whether it was within or beyond our control. I have come to love what comes of the inevitable mistakes that occur in my classroom, and have seized upon making my mess and my mistakes a bigger part of my message as they reflect a truer version of myself as an educator. #teachingismysuperpower

I may not be able to control all of the outcomes or actors, but I can definitely control how I respond to them. Accepting that every lesson and class will not be perfect, but will still move us to someplace where we might see things more clearly or at least differently is a great place to start. #teachersashumans

We juggle and manage dozens of moments simultaneously. We are constantly prioritizing the wellbeing and needs of our learners/selves throughout each instructional day. We are adapting to variables with a depth of skill that would astound a chess champion. Teachers make real time course corrections as they navigate students through their learning. In all of this there is bound to some incredible learning occuring in each of these moments. #teachersmakethedifference

And then at the end of the day, we reflect on our reflections about the day and prepare to do it again the next.* It’s okay to nod. #reflecttogrow

Happy Gregorian Calender New Year. May 2022 be good to us all. In safety and solidarity. Thank you for reading. #gratitude

*I remember telling the dean at my faculty of education that I have become a mirror after so much reflection. She laughed.

My first experience as an official mentor

Yesterday began my first official day as a student-teacher mentor. So for the next six weeks, I will be blogging about the experiences of having a student-teacher in the classroom.

Since I have been teaching for longer than five years now, I am eligible to have a student teacher in the classroom. Since I was remote last year, I did not jump at the opportunity as I thought it would be more beneficial for that student teacher to learn in a physical classroom. This year, I could tell I have an incredible class who would give that teacher candidate a lot of experience and I was excited at the opportunity! Not only is having a student teacher an amazing opportunity to inspire the next generation of teachers with new ideas and methods but it also allows for all students to get an extra adult in the room. That is an incredible opportunity for all for those six incredible weeks.

My student teacher started yesterday and was visibly excited to start her practicum. She had been waiting for her placement to begin as her experience in the physical classroom got cut short last year as we switched to virtual. I could tell right away that her positive attitude and attentiveness would do so well in my 7/8 classroom.

The day started well with introductions, routines and the basics. As the day unfolded, I could see her getting to know the students and having chats with them. This was great to see as this is the best way to get involved right at the beginning. Almost immediately, a student shared about how they hadn’t slept the night before and how they were feeling upset. Right away, my student teacher got to see how if a student isn’t feeling mentally healthy or ready for the day, they cannot succeed in the classroom. I let my student know that they were heard and that we would support them at school and look to help them at home. Mental health and student well-being will be and should always be the main focus in the classroom so it was important for my student teacher to hear that discussion on her first morning.

During our planning time, we had great discussions around why she had decided to go to school for teaching, her teachable areas, any aspects of her placement that she was feeling anxious about, any extra-curriculars she would like to be involved in and a few more questions to get our journey together started. These answers are important to set the foundation for her placement. I also asked her to complete a small task for homework, to write out the seating plan and to write down any small comments or observations that she had made about the students on her first day.

This morning, when she shared all the observations she had gathered, I was shocked with how much she had learned about my students after she had only met them for five periods. I mentioned how knowing the learners, their needs and learning habits will ultimately determine the way that she teaches for the next six weeks. I cannot stress enough how thrilled I was to hear all she had observed in that short amount of time.

After school today she came to assist with volleyball, which was great to see. Funny enough, we have the same coaching interests so it will be great to see her get involved in these activities as well. I am so excited for this journey as I can tell she is an eager university student who was meant to be a teacher. I am happy to pass on all that I know and of course, guide and help her through this journey. I was so fortunate enough eight years ago to have two associate teachers who did so much for me. They made me the teacher I am today and allowed me to explore so many aspects of this profession. I can only hope I will do the same for her.

Tone Policing

Over the last few years, I’ve noticed more and more that it has become easier to vilify the messenger and the way in which the message was delivered, rather than to listen to and reflect on the message. While tone policing has been around forever, the experience of having my words discredited because of “how they were delivered” is something that is relatively new for me. Perhaps this is because I have been speaking up more or simply because others are tired of hearing about their discrimination. 

I remember being in a meeting and after having asked a question about an issue of equity, being yelled at by the meeting organizer because that wasn’t the place or the time for that type of question. Believe me, it’s never the time for a Black woman to ask for equality. I remember another person in the meeting coming up to me after to ask me to share my vision with her, so she could go and deliver my vision to the meeting organizer. They mentioned that I seemed angry when asking the question and that I should have been calmer when speaking. This was highly insulting because, at that moment, I realized that it wasn’t really about the message, it was about who delivered the message. My question, no matter how nicely or calmly asked, would not have been well-received because it highlighted a “problem” in the group. The other person saw my question as being valid in the meeting and rather than in that moment speaking up, they chose to capitalize on my “vision” and consider how they might better be able to communicate my simple question. To this day, years later, this question still has not been answered. To my knowledge, no steps have been taken to implement the much-needed action related to my question. The deflection worked. 

This is just one example of the way in which tone policing works to keep the status quo. It happens in many environments and also happens in schools when issues around changes in practice or policy are brought up. Often those choosing to bring up an issue are racialized and/or marginalized, and it is through our lived experiences that we try to shed light on what is problematic. In these moments we are often perceived as angry, enraged, or upset – which we have every right to be – without actually considering that we already know: that being angry, enraged or upset at work is not permissible for us. We school our words and manage our temperament to ensure we are not perceived negatively and still, any challenge to the status quo, can easily give us these labels. The focus shifts to our perceived behaviour rather than the “problem” at hand. 

In a profession that calls itself a practice, shouldn’t there be room to grow? If we are all on a “learning journey”, why are some so offended at the thought of having something to work on? If ever you find yourself getting defensive by the words of a colleague, someone you work with, or a student, might I suggest you try the following? 

Sit With the Discomfort

Take some time to sit with what you are feeling and consider that perhaps what you are feeling in this moment, might just be a fraction of what the other person might be experiencing on a more frequent basis. If ever I have highlighted a racist or discriminatory practice, know that I have probably experienced this practice many times before – both as a child and an educator. Having to experience it again is uncomfortable for me. No longer can I sit through this discomfort nor will I silently allow for students to sit through the discomfort so that others will be comfortable in their “fun”.

Understand that in education, once we become teachers or administrators, the learning doesn’t stop there. There are always new things to learn and ways to reflect on practices that are harmful and exclusionary. The discomfort that you might be feeling can lead to action and change, if you decide to do something about what was discussed. 

Consider the Message

What is it that the other person wants you to hear? Why or how might this information be valid to your practice and/or growth as an educator? What steps do you need to take in order to bring about change? Consider thinking about where you might be able to do your own learning about this issue. Remember, it’s not up to the person who brought the situation to your attention to relive the experience and teach you how to change. Change comes from doing your own work. 

Act

I can’t tell you how many people have said that they are reading and learning, with little or no action. This reminds me of the James Baldwin quote, “I can’t believe what you say, because I see what you do.” It’s through action that real change occurs. If there’s all this reading and learning, shouldn’t action accompany it? Shouldn’t there be a shift in practice that is evident? It’s through your actions, that racialized and/or marginalized people will know that you have truly heard the conversations we have been trying to have. 

I do want it to be said that I am not condoning disrespectful dialogue. In no way do I believe that people should be disrespectfully spoken to by others. As someone on the receiving end of some pretty disrespectful and harassing comments, I understand this all too well.  Rather, I’m speaking to the intense need that some have to immediately discredit the words of another when they are called on their discriminatory language and/or actions. It’s easy to say that the person didn’t say what they had to say in a manner that was “nice”. For example, I’m really not sure how you tell someone “nicely” that their words or actions were racist or xenophobic. 

Sadly, tone policing is also often the precursor to campaigns of intense gaslighting in order to make the messenger consider the way in which they delivered their message and to detract from much-needed work to improve workplace conditions for all. When a conversation is one that is uncomfortable, please consider the message, rather than focusing on the messenger. Sit with the discomfort. Do your own learning and act. 

SERT= (joy + journey) x job

Fall 2021 marks the start of my 5th year as a co-SERT (Special Education Resource Teacher). Please, no gifts. Although, you can read on if you’re feeling generous?

2021 is also the first year that I finally feel comfortable in the position. Up until now, I’ve felt competent, somewhat confident, but never comfortable. If your school is like mine, there is a lot going on in SERTLandia as I fondly call it, and a lot at stake. Thankfully, I have been really blessed to have a patient and savvy mentor to work with throughout this time. There haven’t been many days when I didn’t need her wisdom, experience, and support to keep me on track while growing in the role. 

First, some background info

I never wanted to be a SERT. I initially took the course so I could be more adept in my work with students in the classroom. After completing Level 1, I figured a little more wouldn’t hurt so I enrolled in Pt 2. Did you know that many school boards offer their own AQ courses, and as luck would have it, my board provided an affordable option for staff. ETFO does too. The learning, although difficult to keep up with while teaching fulltime was worth it in resources, stories, and deeper understandings about how to truly support students whether they were identified or not in my classroom. Once Pt 1 and 2 were done, I retreated back to my comfort zone and began to apply ‘the learning‘. Or so I thought. 

“I will quit if I ever have to be a SERT.”

I actually said that to a superintendent during a conversation over needing her signature on an application for my SERT Specialist(pt 3). I know, as well, that the role of SERT looked different from school to school and board to board based on a number of things such as allocation of resources (human and financial). I know that many schools have 1 SERT lifting the weight for an entire community as well. So I count myself lucky to work in a team environment.

My ‘never’ was now a yes, but what I didn’t factor into that impetuously made statement was how the experience and knowledge gained from parts 1 and 2 began to take hold in such tangible ways in my classroom. My classroom management improved along with my ability to differentiate more for students who struggled but were otherwise not identified. I learned the value of growth plans and asking for help. Suddenly, it made perfect sense to go for my specialist to finish the learning I had started. It was nothing short of an incredible experience. Yet, I still did not have my heart or mind set on becoming a SERT. I did have some fun writing my own IEP with accommodations though. I think every teacher should do this at least once in their career.

SERT certification in hand, I retreated to the safety and comfort of my classroom once again. With new knowledge and perspectives in the tool box, things seemed to click even more. Throughout the entirety of the 3 AQ courses for Special Education Specialist I developed an even deeper respect for the SERT team in my schools. I witnessed the wonders that they worked everyday and the students who they supported. They made it look so easy, but I saw how much work they put in each day. I struggled to see myself in their shoes.

Qualified, but terrified

I was so terrified of the responsibilities, the paperwork, and the meetings that seemed endemic to the job. I love being in the classroom. I also feared making mistakes and letting students slip through the cracks. I was convinced that being an ally was a great way to support the awesome SERTs in my schools. However, the more I learned, the more I was able to apply outside of the classroom to help student teachers and fellow educators. Then the call came with an offer to be a co-SERT. 

New school. New Role. What was I thinking? 

As I have shared in past posts, I am a huge proponent of educators switching schools to explore new teaching opportunities and to stretch outside of their comfort zones. I believe that moves to new schools open educators up to new learning experiences and provide excellent ways to learn from others. This can lead to discomfort as well, but that is usually where the best growth happens for you personally and professionally. As a result, in 2017 I started teaching at the 4th school of my 12 year career – so far. In each case, I did not have a single reason to leave such wonderful colleagues and students behind, but for no other reason than to learn more. 

I can clearly recall the disorientation that came at the pace of SERT life and trying to balance out my instructional obligations those first weeks. I questioned whether my decision to join a new school was going to coming back to bite me. Thankfully, a supportive admin, co-SERT, and staff alleviated most of that stress. I wanted to do a good job, but I wasn’t even sure what that looked like. That was how new it all felt to me. That meant a lot of silent observation followed by a lot of questions. By October that first year, things seemed much clearer. Clearer, yet not clear. 

Fastforward to 2021

100s of IEPs, growth plans, IPRCs, SEA claims, academic tests, in-school meetings, student support sessions, teacher consultations, CPI calls, and parent convos later have all contributed to a very incredible set of insights into the needs of learners. I am not sure whether I will be a SERT in the future or not, but I will never regret taking the AQs or this job. They have been incredible tools in my growth and practice as an educator. My experiences as a SERT have been transformational and I wouldn’t go back in time and talk myself out of this opportunity even if I could. *  

So whether you dip your toe in the water and do SpEd Pt 1 or dive in for a 5 year swim, I encourage you all to take join me. The water is fine. 

If you would like to share your own journey about becoming a SERT or if you want to chat more about becoming a SERT please add a comment below and I’ll pass it on to my mentor. She still has all of the answers.  

* Well I might go back and buy some shares in Tesla, but that is a story for another dimension.

 

Reflection as Learning

As elementary teachers, I think that we can all admit that we like a good project. As a culminating task, projects can be a great way for students to demonstrate their learning of the content of a unit. When open, projects can allow for students to share this learning in a variety of ways. In the past, I’ve offered students an opportunity to get feedback at certain points in their projects but I would admit that the larger reflection piece would happen at the end. I often felt good about them sharing what they would have done differently but this year, I’m trying to switch things up a bit. I’m wondering what a difference it would make if students were given time to sit and reflect on their work at multiple opportunities throughout the process, and then use those moments of reflection as jump-off points for further learning. How might we offer students meaningful opportunities for reflection throughout the learning process, in order to further inform their learning? In this post, I’m sharing my thoughts about what I call reflection as learning.

Feedback From Peers

In all of my design projects with students, there are opportunities for them to gather feedback on their ideas from their peers. Usually, after they have brainstormed their ideas and come up with the design that they are most passionate about, they create short storyboards to share their ideas with others.  This often allows for students who are a little more reluctant to share all of their ideas, the opportunity to sit with one, further develop it, and be ready to share it in pictures and words with others.

This year, since part of my assignment, is Media Literacy through STEM, I have been working with the Grade 2s and 3s on a building challenge that focuses on movement (Grade 2) and strong and stable structures (Grade 3). For our challenge, students have been asked to create a structure that can move objects from one place to the next, using a force – either a push or pull. They also can’t use their hands to move the objects onto their structure.  Along the way, we have had lessons about different types of movement; simple machines; structures and their purposes; and stable shapes and materials. From there, students used this knowledge to develop an idea for what they would create for their challenge. When it came time to share their ideas with their peers, it was great to hear the buzz in the classrooms as they spoke about their designs and heard from others about theirs.  For the first time in a while, I heard one student ask another if they could take a part of their solution and change their idea. The student was ok with the sharing of their idea and I watched as the other student quickly made changes to their design. This happened several times in one class and in this first opportunity for reflection on their projects, I saw just how much these students were willing to change around their ideas in order to make them even better. Often with design projects, I have found that students are reluctant to change their ideas and almost stick with what they first designed, even after getting feedback from others. This was not the case with this group. I was excited, to say the least. 

Time to Implement

I’m willing to admit that this is one of the areas that I need to grow in as an educator. Offering students the time required to successfully implement the changes needed to demonstrate learning from feedback given. Most times, I feel like I won’t have enough time if we have a project that goes on for months. Instead, I’ve settled for students sharing with me at the end – either in writing or an exit interview – what they would have changed, rather than allowing them the extra time to actually do the change.

With the Grade 2s and 3s, after students finished their designs, we did a rapid paper prototype. Given a piece of paper, glue, tape, and scissors, students were tasked with creating a 3D model of their structure in a limited amount of time. It didn’t have to be perfect but the goal was to see if what they designed would be easily built (feasibility) and what it might require as they also consider the found materials available. During the rapid prototyping, I quickly got a sense that some students were stuck on where to begin. A few were stressed, thinking about the fact that they had limited time. For some, they quickly got in the zone and began building, creating and making changes as they went. Once finished, it was time yet again for the students to reflect.

Guiding Questions

When reflecting, both orally and in writing, I use guiding questions to help students to think about their experience and also think about their next steps. After our paper prototyping, this was no different. 

This time, students were asked the following six questions:

  1. In the space below, tell me about the structure that you built.
  2. What was the easiest part of building your paper prototype?
  3. What was the most challenging part of building your paper prototype?
  4. If you could build your paper prototype again, what would you do differently?
  5. Now that you have built a prototype of your structure, what steps will you take when it comes to building your real structure? What do you have to keep in mind?
  6. List the found materials that you will need to build your structure.

Some of the answers were fascinating.

  • One student was surprised at how anxious they were about building “the perfect structure” and that when it came time to build, their anxiety prevented them from starting to actually build what they wanted. Their next step is to look back at what they hoped to design and see whether or not it is feasible and to plan out the steps of what they will do first, second, etc. 
  • Another student realized that materials are limited. While they were unrolling large amounts of tape for their paper prototype, they realized just how much they were wasting and are considering what else they might use instead to strengthen their structure. This led to us having a conversation about the use of materials for building projects and why we were mainly trying to reuse materials that were around the school. We also discussed other ways of fastening materials. 
  • One student thought that what they built for their paper prototype was much better than what they had designed and will be taking some time to re-draw their design prior to building. They want to make sure that their thoughts as they built were being captured so that they would remember them later. The paper prototyping for them was an opportunity to build with concrete materials and gave them more ideas as they worked with the materials. 

The students have been building their actual structures for the past week and it’s been such a pleasure to watch. Next, we will be moving into the Media Literacy part of our work which will see them creating commercials for their structures. I can’t wait to see what they come up with and I do know that through reflection – both for students and myself – the learning will continue.