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.

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!

Beyond One Day – Truth & Reconciliation through curriculum planning.

Orange Shirt Day
Orange Shirt Day Bead Work

September 30 has been earmarked as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Before this, most educators knew this day as Orange Shirt Day, which stemmed from the story of Phyllis Webstad, a Northern Secwepemc author from the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation, who shares the story of her experiences in a residential school. The significance of September 30 is profound as it calls for us all as a nation, particularly as educators, to pause and reflect on the effects and impact of residential schools on Indigenous peoples (children and adults) to this day. It is estimated that over 150000 Indigenous children attended residential schools in Ontario alone over the span of 100+ years (Restoule, 2013). We know that many of these children did not make it home, while many others still live with the trauma they faced within these schooling systems. 

Orange Shirt Day, now known as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, is but a starting point for us as educators. How can we collectively move beyond one day to infuse learning about Indigenous histories and present Indigenous impacts into our overall planning across different subject areas? In the ‘Calls to Action’ reported by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (2015), sections 62 and 63 emphasizes the need for an educational approach that centers Indigenous histories, accounts, and perspectives in the curriculum, not as a one-off event or as an interruption to learning, but instead as an integral part of developing understanding within Canadian education. 

Simply put, Indigenous history is Canadian History. Indigenous peoples continue to shape and influence Canadian society in meaningful ways. 

“In 2015, ETFO endorsed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action. ETFO understands that it is integral for educators to move forward into reconciliation with the Indigenous Peoples of Canada” (ETFO, 2022). Challenge yourself to learn more using the curated information provided by ETFO, and be intentional about infusing Indigenous representation in the various subject areas you may teach. Resources can be found and explored at etfofnmi.ca

Fostering further development and understanding (both in learning and teaching practices) of Indigenous accounts and narratives in K-12 learning communities not as an alternate focus or ‘alternative learning’, but as a central tenet of Canadian education is critical to moving towards reconciliation as we learn and teach about Indigenous peoples of Canada.

For more exploration and information, visit https://etfofnmi.ca/.

References:

Restoule, K. (2013). An Overview of the Indian Residential School System.’ Anishinabek.ca. Retrieved from https://www.anishinabek.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/An-Overview-of-the-IRS -System-Booklet.pdf.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. (2015). Reports – NCTR. NCTR – National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation. Retrieved from https://nctr.ca/records/reports/#trc-reports.

Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario. (2015). First Nation, Métis and Inuit (FNMI). Etfo.ca. Retrieved from https://www.etfo.ca/socialjusticeunion/first-nation,-metis-and-inuit-(fnmi).

Schooling or Learning?

For many, when presented with both, schooling is the same as learning, and learning seems to be something that only occurs in schools. Is this the case, however?

At ETFO’s Public Symposium titled ‘Generation Black: You’re Next!’,  Dr. Carl James highlighted why educators must pause and reflect on the similarities and differences between these two concepts. 

What is schooling? According to Oxford Learner’s Dictionary (2022), schooling is defined as “the education you receive at school”. When cross-referenced with various dictionaries (Marriam-Webster, Collins, and Cambridge dictionaries), they all provide the same definition – education received at an institution, whether at a primary, secondary, or tertiary level. 

Learning, however, is not as straightforward in its definition. Going back to Oxford Learner’s Dictionary, learning is given different definitions within various contexts. According to all the dictionaries mentioned above, learning is a process that occurs in multi-settings in multiple ways, beginning when an individual is born. 

“For educators, the ability to teach is a privilege, but in a broader sense, it is a privilege that runs parallel to the responsibility of teaching relative to the complete history of ideas and events that have shaped and continue to shape human growth and development” (Dei, Karumanchery, & Karumanchery-Luikb, 2004). 

Since learning is a continuous process, and schooling is one of the environments in which learning occurs, how can we, as educators, ensure that learning is facilitated meaningfully within the school environment?

Planning Matters:

In 2020, the Ontario Black History Society examined a Grade 8 history textbook and ‘blacked out‘ any information that did not mention or acknowledge Black people in Canada. Of the 255 pages of information, only 13 pages remained. Indigenous sovereignty, economics, and culture are rarely explored in the K-12 curriculum. Thus, students absorb this information, effectively being erased within their learning, and are expected to repeat this narrative in everyday Canadian contexts as acceptable discourse within society. The impact and contributions of people within the 2SLGBTQ+ community and other cultural communities are erased from ‘settler’ rhetoric and in curriculum/resources used to direct learning. Thus, students absorb this information, effectively being erased within their learning, and are expected to repeat this narrative in everyday Canadian contexts as acceptable discourse within society.

Breaking the cycle of erasure and omission within the classroom is linked to the planning stage. Before planning, take the time to know your learners. Become familiar with the communities in which they live. Foster a classroom environment wherein their experiences inside and outside of the classroom are valued and can be welcomed in their learning space. Cultivate incorporating student input, perspectives, ideas, and resources into Unit and Lesson planning. Develop connections with community members and partners inside and outside the school that can broaden your familiarity with resources that reflect the society in which we live. Approach your planning intentionally, using an anti-racist, anti-oppressive lens, which creates a window for your students to engage with often omitted members of their society and a mirror whereby they see themselves reflected in their learning.

Representation Matters:

“Dialogue is the encounter between men, mediated by the world, in order to name the world. Hence, dialogue cannot occur between those who want to name the world and those who do not wish this naming—between those who deny others the right to speak their word and those whose right to speak has been denied them. Those who have been denied their primordial right to speak their word must first reclaim this right and prevent the continuation of this dehumanizing aggression” (Friere, 2005. p. 88).

In short, representation matters. Recentering multi-representation in learning is one of the vehicles for transformative change that can begin to shine a light on learning our whole in constructive ways.

  • Think about the resources you use and share with your class. Who is reflected? Who is erased? Who is tokenized? Who is omitted?
  • Reflect on your interactions with parents, guardians and members of your school community? Who is made to feel welcome? Who is kept at arm’s length? Whose experiences are valued? Whose experiences are often invalidated?
  • Conduct an inventory of your learning and resource plans. Are you ensuring that your plans reflect the learners in your classroom? How have you challenged yourself to plan and facilitate learning from a social justice, equity, and inclusive lens? Have you included your learners’ interests, backgrounds, and experiences as integral to planning and lesson facilitation?

Assessment Matters:

As stated in the Growing Success policy document put forth by the Ontario Ministry of Education regarding authentic assessment, “Our challenge is that every student is unique, and each must have opportunities to achieve success according to his or her own interests, abilities, and goals” (Ontario Ministry of Education Growing Success, 2010).

Assessment and Evaluation practices in Growing Success (2010) state that “the seven fundamental principles lay the foundation for rich and challenging practice. When these principles are accepted, implemented, utilized, and observed by all teachers, assessment becomes a tool for collecting meaningful information that will help inform instructional decisions, promote student engagement, foster meaningful demonstration of student understanding, and improve student learning overall.

 

References:

Dei, G. J. S., Karumanchery, L. L., & Karumanchery-Luikb, N. (2004). Chapter Seven: Weaving the Tapestry: Anti-Racism Theory and Practice. Counterpoints,244, 147–164. http://www.jstor.org/stable/42979563

Freire, P. (2005). Pedagogy of the Oppressed: 30th Edition (M. B. Ramos, Trans.). The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc. (Original work published 1921).

Ontario Ministry of Education. (2010). Growing Success: Assessment, Evaluation, and Reporting in Ontario Schools. Retrieved from https://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/policyfunding/growSuccess.pdf

Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries. (2022). Learning. Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries.
Retrieved from https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/.

Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries. (2022). Schooling. Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries.
Retrieved from https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/.

Why Representation Matters in Your Teaching Practice

Growing in Ontario as a second generation Filipino largely involved learning someone else’s histories and stories – voyageurs, cowboys, settlers, fur traders, and a whole slew of white protagonists. I didn’t know that I was missing any perspectives, and happily read my way through Shakespeare, Salinger and Austen, dreaming of studying English literature in university.

When I started teaching, I dutifully used whatever resources were provided, excitedly poring over the details of England’s glorious wars and conquests. I genuinely believed I was sharing alternative perspectives through ‘multicultural’ or ‘social justice’ texts written by white authors. I firmly subscribed to the idea that creative works of fiction could be viewed separately from an author’s lived experience, and that a text did not need to be questioned if it contained all the elements of ‘good’ storytelling.

Despite my best efforts to serve my diverse group of students, I was ultimately serving up the same perspective and worldview I had been raised with: Euro-centric, Western, and woefully one-sided.

Like many other educators over the last 5-10 years, I felt the need to decolonize my work and critically reflect on my own perspective. And while I am still largely on a journey to understand my own complex relationship with Canada and my family’s cultural ancestry, I am certain that we have the capacity and resources to ensure that the students we teach don’t have to be instilled with a worldview that undermines their own sense of identity by ignoring and devaluing their cultural assets.

Use Culturally Responsive Resources

Representation matters. When you don’t see yourself represented in the media you consume or what you learn in school, you can feel alienated from your own community or surroundings. Seeing yourself and your culture in what you learn is engaging, empowering and exciting.

Teachers today likely have access to the most diverse range of authors and stories in the history of publishing. Black, Indigenous, East Asian, South Asian, Latinx, Southeast Asian and 2SLGBTQ+ authors are writing some incredible books for kids and young adults. And no, you don’t have to read every young adult novel or picture book that hits the shelves of your local bookstore: ask the library resource, support staff or consultant in your school or board to suggest some titles, and divide the reading up with your teaching team. Build literature circles or reading units with the titles that reflect the range of identities of the students in your classroom, co-planning and co-teaching as much as possible to save time and energy.

Beyond language arts, there are so many ways to make your programming more culturally responsive and representative of the students you teach. Incorporate the voices and histories of different communities in your social studies, history, or geography teaching. Make independent research and inquiry a regular practice, scaffolding learning by providing prompts or ideas that encourage learners to discover different perspectives and to consume historical and social discourses critically.

If the class or classes you teach is monocultural, students will still benefit from learning diverse perspectives and narratives. Such texts can dispel stereotypes, enable students to develop a more balanced perspective of society, or spark interest and engagement.

Change Isn’t Easy

Doing the work of disrupting the way you teach is not easy and will certainly not happen overnight. It is easy to get triggered by ideas and perspectives that don’t align with the worldview you have held for much of your life. And it can feel onerous to invest time and energy into changing your program. So start with small changes: a new text or approach to assessment, tweaking your discussion questions to provoke a more critical discussion, or connect with other teachers that are intentionally changing their programming to be anti-racist and anti-oppressive.

The effort you place into making today’s learning environment a more inclusive place will pay off when you see students feeling seen, engaged and connected to the place they learn.

Students as Teachers: a Culture of Inquiry and Learning

“I am just going to check in on everyone and see how they’re doing” – one of my Kindergarten students said as she led her peers through a step-by-step challenge where they created a DIY ‘marble run’ out of paper tubes and tape. 

My DECE partner and I were blown away by her kindness, patience and commitment to the success of her classmates during this process. 

We have been trying to keep an open invite for all students in our class to have the opportunity to be the “teacher” or the expert on a topic of their choice. Through online learning, fewer natural moments of teaching happen from student to student like they would in a physical classroom. Hands on collaboration between students virtually can be tricky, as they lack the opportunity to share space and materials. We decided it would be more equitable to schedule these student-led activities ahead of time, in order to allow all students time to prepare the proper materials. As I move to in person learning in the fall, it is my goal to continue this practice as a means of supporting students belonging and contributing in respect to the Kindergarten program. It is my hope to further explore the benefits of fostering students confidence as teachers in the classroom as I continue to learn from my competent and capable young learners. Here are my initial thoughts:

The classroom community

  • Inviting students as teachers creates a culture of learning, respect and curiosity
  • Students teaching their peers builds community and invites students to be vulnerable and make mistakes

Through the lens of a child

  • When our students stepped into the role of educators, it provided my DECE partner and I a unique opportunity: to see the world through their eyes. Through their ideas, descriptions and step-by-step processes we were able to develop a deep understanding of the way they view the world, the way they solve problems and the way they persevere through challenges. 
  • Many children enrolled in Kindergarten programs are immersed in their first experiences of formal schooling. For some of my students, my DECE partner and I are their very first examples of educators. The way that children go about giving instructions, gaining the attention of others and providing words of encouragement can be reflective of what they see. It can be very powerful to listen to a student recite an encouraging phrase verbatim, such as “You are a problem solver!”.

Benefits for students

  • Teaching their peers provides students with the space to take risks while gaining confidence in their own ideas and abilities 
  • For the students involved in this practice as the learner, it allows them to explore new ideas or approach learned concepts from a different perspective than my own or that of my DECE partner. 

Inviting students to perform a new role as a teacher is inclusionary, culturally responsive, relevant and meaningful – which is the basis of everything I hope to cultivate in Kindergarten. 

The Kindergarten/Grade 1 Dichotomy

“Control + F” on my keyboard allows me to search the word “play” with The Kindergarten Program (2016) document. This magic word comes up 566 times. 

Five HUNDRED and sixty-six times. 

Play is referenced over and over again throughout the document as a vehicle for learning. Examples of play and the power it holds are woven through the Kindergarten document with references to past and present research from literature around the world that supports play. Play is highlighted as being the highest form of learning for young children and the best way for students to take ownership and responsibility over their own ideas. 

The Grade 1 curriculum gives no such importance to play. These two programs lie at completely polar opposite ends of the spectrum in regard to the varying discourse used surrounding the view of the child.

If you have followed my posts, you know I have a passion for Kindergarten (Celebrating Kindergarten;  Everything I need to know, I learn in Kindergarten) and that I am an advocate for keeping the current model of Kindergarten in Ontario intact (Protect Full-Day Kindergarten). So, what’s the problem?

Bridging the gap

Naturally, those who teach Grade 1 work tirelessly to ensure students continue to have a positive and hands on experience that results in growth and learning. However, the transition between Kindergarten to Grade 1 shouldn’t have to be such a gigantic leap for students, families and educators alike.

The value of wonder

Though we are beginning to see the introduction of social and emotional learning (e.g. the new math curriculum), the Grade 1 curriculum can feel rigid in the sense that students wonder, interests and inquiries are not prioritized within the documents. Educators create this space of wonder for students within their classrooms, but wonder itself is not reflected within the curriculum documents, assessments, or the evaluation of students overall learning (e.g. the report card).

I dream of a world where the Kindergarten and Grade 1 curricula compliment each other rather than repel each other.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if….

  • Play and the benefits of play-based learning were prioritized beyond Kindergarten?
  • Report cards beyond Kindergarten were designed to allow educators space to reflect on the whole child and their development as learners within a classroom community?

Pop Culture in the Classroom

The first week of May has two important pop culture events: May the Fourth and Free Comic Book Day.  These fan celebrations are great ways to connect to student learning and camaraderie both in and out of the classroom.  More and more, students are interacting actively with media in terms of their interest in characters and immersive communities.

When I was growing up, the May 4th “Star Wars Day” existed only as a pun and has exploded over social media the past 10 years.  Most of my colleagues knew of my fondness for this space franchise and when the day began to be celebrated with fun tie-ins for kids both young and old, I naturally incorporated it into my classroom.  I was particularly excited for this year’s being the first in person occasion in three years and the first since arriving to my new school two years ago.  I was pleasantly surprised when colleagues showed up in some Star Wars hair and shirts with stuffies of various characters, and since our principal encouraged us to be inclusive and call it “Space Day”, there were many star and moon ensembles as well.

Students enthusiastically showed up at nutrition break to my room wearing various outfits, including some in costumes.  They participated in word searches, Mad Libs, and fun poses against a galactic backdrop.  What pleased me the most was that many years ago, mostly only boys would have these shirts and plushies on hand.  The fan culture has catered more and more to all genders with various characters and positive representation that appeals to a wider variety of fans.

Free Comic Book Day is a wonderful opportunity to check out the local comic book store and begin the journey to learning about superheroes and villains in graphic novel form.  Students enjoyed drawing using step by step videos of characters from their favourite cartoon shows and were encouraged to check out events at their local library.  Once again, more inclusivity in terms of characters’ backgrounds and ethnicities leads to more children seeing themselves represented on the big and small screen and in the pages of books that are a great resource for a variety of reading styles.

The terms ‘geek’ and ‘nerd’ can be used to negatively stereotype both neuro-divergent and neural typical children with interests and personalities that don’t ‘fit’ into society norms.  It’s empowering to see students embrace ideas that being a fan, whether comics or sports, is something that can introduce lifelong friends and talents.

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.

 

Critical Consciousness Lesson Plan Template

If you are not following her Twitter, you are seriously missing out! The incredible judy mckeown is an Equity Resource teacher in the Peel District School Board and frequently shares her resources online. Earlier this month, she shared her Critical Consciousness Lesson Plan Template and once again, I was reminded why I so appreciate the work that she does. In this post, I’m going to be digging into this resource and reflecting on some of the questions from the template.

I’m certain that we all remember lesson planning at the Faculty of Education. The tedious work of planning out each part of every lesson and the pages upon pages that you were going to share with your Associate Teacher. I know for me, my favourite part was finding my hook or the minds on but was often unsure of where the lesson might go from there. While I had my plan in mind, I found it difficult to include what I might say or specifics on our consolidation of the lesson because you never know how students might engage with the material. I remember one associate teacher who wanted to know my script for each lesson and it terrified me to think about what if I went off-script. Over the years, I changed the way I visualized my lessons and honestly got rid of the lesson plans that were pages long. 

When I saw judy’s Critical Consciousness Lesson Plan Template, I immediately thought of the 3-part lessons we might be familiar with but what blew me away were the questions contained within. In every section, there are deep and meaningful questions that guide you in developing lessons that are truly student-centred.  As if that wasn’t incredible enough, the checklist on the right really prompted me to think about how this lesson relates to social issues potentially affecting students and others in the world around us.  Below I share my thoughts on a question posed in each section.

Learning Goals: How have you involved students in determining these goals?

This question is huge! When I think about learning goals, I think of taking them from the curriculum and turning the words into student-friendly language. Ultimately, it’s me looking at what they “need” to learn; deciding what we’ll be learning at that particular point in time; and posting it for them, in hopes that they understand where they are going. Upon reflection, this in no way involves students in determining these goals. Imagine the difference that could be had if students understood what they “had to learn” from the curriculum and were a part of determining what they felt ready to tackle and how this new learning might connect to recent or past learning. How might this change the learning process for that group of students? How might this also connect to student interest in terms of subject areas?

Materials: What will you need to provide for your students to create the best conditions for learning?

I consider this often when doing Science experiments in order to make sure that I have everything that I need but what about materials or resources needed for other subject areas? We know that resources are often limited in some schools. How might we get creative in using math manipulatives to help students take ideas from concrete to abstract? What are ways in which we can work together to ensure that what is available creates the best conditions for student-centred learning? How do we create environments for students to be able to retrieve materials that are readily available, when they need them, without fear of being looked at as different?

Before: Minds On: Before starting your lesson, what conditions have you created so that students will have the skills needed to engage in the learning in both meaningful and respectful ways?

It can’t just be me, but this question wowed me. I know that many times, I have walked into lessons making assumptions of what students should know without making sure that I have prepared them with what they need in order to succeed in the action portion of the lesson. I’m not saying that we automatically jump into big, brand new learning with expectations, but often there are things that I expect a Grade 5 student to be able to know, without making sure that they do know it, which leads to frustration on their part with learning new material. How different might the experience be if I really sat down and made sure that what I was planning was learning that they were ready to engage in? Might this involve extra time to make sure that there is success in the lesson? Yes and I think it would provide for deeper learning when we get there. 

During: Action: Where will you create intentional pauses for students to think through and absorb their learning?

This is huge! When planning units, I think of intentional opportunities for students to reflect but within each lesson? I can’t say that I do. The goal here isn’t for students to reflect and to show the teacher what they are learning but it’s for them to be able to absorb their own learning. To make sense of it. To process it and understand what it means for them. This might look different for every child. Some may write. Others may draw. Others may enjoy the opportunity to talk things through with peers. How might we slow down and offer more of these opportunities along the learning journey? How might this lead to an overall richer learning experience for our students?

After: Debrief and Consolidation: How can you build in ways for students to direct how the lesson is debriefed?

Another great question that takes me back to the question for the learning goals. I wonder if this is something that we talk about from the beginning? As a facilitator of the learning, I wonder how we can help students to think about different ways of debriefing or consolidating the learning. I know that many are used to gallery walks or whole group discussions, but what if we allowed students to share their ideas on methods that work best for them? Sure, it might not necessarily turn out the way in which we envisioned our lesson plan or what we think students would “get” out of the lesson but I think it could be incredible to authentically see what students have learned and have them share that with peers. 

Extension: Next Steps: How can you also find ways to follow the lead of your students and support them in the action(s) they wish to take?

I’ve always thought that the sweet spot for authentic learning is at the intersection of the curriculum and real-world experiences. When students are able to see the relevance in what is being learned, they are able to determine what, if any, action they may wish to take. This question isn’t about us as teachers thinking about the direction or action we want to take lessons or projects but following our students and supporting them. This also reminds me that I don’t need to be an expert in every issue but learning with and alongside my student is important in the role of supporter. I also love that this is more than just the lesson being over and done with in the classroom but more about thinking of using that learning for personal or social good. 

Critical Consciousness Checklist: Include the material conditions and realities of your students’ lives?

Although all of these questions are essential, this question stood out the most when I think of student-centred lesson planning. I also think that it is imperative for us to be conscious of the ways in which we bring in our bias about the realities of our students’ lives, particularly when they are not our own. So much damage is caused when we think we know something about our students but haven’t taken the time to listen to or understand members of our school community through their own sharing. By bringing the community into the classroom, and being open to learning from students and their families, we stand a better chance of creating spaces that are truly inclusive. When done correctly, I think this moves away from so much of the tokenism we see online to actually creating opportunities for students to show up as their whole selves within learning environments. 

This post is really just the tip of the iceberg of this incredible template. Since reading it, my mind has been going about my own teaching practice. I know that I will be using the questions within to reflect and interrogate why I choose to do what I do within the classroom, in hopes of becoming a better teacher. Thanks for sharing this, judy! 

Interested in finding more of judy’s incredible resources online? Check out her Linktree. I promise you’ll find some incredible resources that will help you reflect on your teaching practice and grow, if applied.