Non Fiction vs. Fiction?

The majority of what I read and write daily is non fiction.  If I were to attach a statistic to it, I would hazard to say that 95% of what I read and write on a daily basis is non fiction.  I like to write poetry and narratives too but I seldom have the time to do that and it is only for pleasure.  I read fiction daily too.  I read about 2 to 10 pages each night before falling asleep with my kindle on my chest.  Many years ago I was introduced to the work of Tony Stead at a Reading for the Love of It conference.  It changed my practice as a teacher forever.  Tony made me realize that almost all of my classroom library was filled with fiction, all of my class read alouds were fiction and the majority of the writing that my students were doing was fiction in some form or another.  I was not exposing them to enough non-fiction text and I was not preparing them for adult literacy.  Using “Is that a Fact?” by Tony Stead and “Reading with Meaning” by Debbie Miller I began to create a literacy program for my primary classroom that had a much stronger focus on non fiction.  I also began using my Scholastic book order money to augment my classroom library with nonfiction texts whenever possible.

I began explicitly teaching how to not only use, but to create non fiction text.  This focus engaged those readers who had struggled most.  There is far more information that can be read and synthesized through pictures in non fiction texts which enables all students, including the struggling readers, to contribute to discussions and make sense of text.  Curiosity drove students to have a purpose for reading and authentic purpose is everything.  We created “Wonderboxes”, an idea from Debbie Miller of small recipe boxes filled with index cards where students wrote down their questions and wonders.  It wasn’t labeled inquiry teaching at that point, but in retrospect it is what we were doing.  The students also created “Non Fiction Text Feature Notebooks” in which they designed illustrations that demonstrated the function of the various non fiction text features.  More recently my grade 4 and 5 students used a screen casting app called Explain Everything in order to create short videos explaining non fiction text features.  After learning what these text features were used for, students were able to interact with non fiction texts more efficiently to find what they needed.  In addition, they began using these text features in their own writing, especially when uploading to blogs and creating Google Slide presentations.

I still value the world of fiction-especially for read alouds. I know the magic of getting lost in a book or a better yet a book series and I want my students to have that experience too.  Being able to connect with another person over the topic of a book that has been thoroughly enjoyed is why book clubs and literature circles exist.  However, I am also aware that it isn’t for everyone.  A few years ago a colleague admitted to me that she had never enjoyed novel read alouds as a student because she just couldn’t visualize what was happening in the story in her own head.  For whatever reason she was unable to provide the running movie that went along with the narration from the teacher.  My first reaction was, “How sad!” but then I began to wonder just how many students I have taught over the years that felt exactly the same.  My literacy program became a more balanced diet of fiction and non fiction.  I encourage you to look through your own classroom library and review the read alouds that you have planned for the school year and take stock of how much of it is non fiction.  You just may want to augment your classroom literary diet with something that includes diagrams, labels and a glossary.

Inclusive Education for All Students Including Those With Special Education Needs


As Ontario teachers, we know that there is a current challenge in addressing the learning needs of special education students with significant behaviour issues including violence against school staff.

The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario has developed a multi-year strategy to address violence in schools. This states specific goals and includes resources such as videos on how to address needs:

  • Lobbying the Ministries of Education and Labour to address violent incidents in schools and improve school board compliance with health and safety legislation;
  • Working with Ministry and school board representatives to improve workplace violence reporting and compliance procedures and develop training materials;
  • Building community advocacy to press the government to review its education funding formula and provide more funding for special education and support for students with high risk behaviors; and
  • Providing ETFO locals and members with enhanced education, training and resources on dealing with workplace violence.

Today, I read an excellent article by Caroline Alphonso  (The Globe and Mail, January 5, 2019) discussing how students with special education needs are being excluded from school due to their behaviour and violent tendencies. Alphonso cites Annie Kidder of People for Education stating that in 2018 “58 percent of elementary school principals and 48 percent of high school principals reported asking that a student with special needs not attend school for a full day” (Alphonso, January 5, 2019) due to insufficient classroom support. In addition, in British Columbia, special needs students miss up to 35.5 school days a year (BC Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils, cited in  Alphonso, January 5, 2019).

Violence against teachers is documented in a 2018 Canada wide study, Pan-Canadian Research Review on Violence in Schools. The study showed that rates of violence against teachers ranged from 41% to 90% and that elementary teachers working in lower socioeconomic locations experience the most violence (Canadian Teachers’ Federation, July 8, 2018). Key findings included widespread funding needed to provide resources, services, and training to address inadequacies in services for student mental health, behavioural, and special education needs.

To put this bluntly, the study stated that schools do not have enough trained support staff to deal with the increases in students’ needs and the result of this discrepancy is that students are not attending school.

I was prompted to write this blog after talking to a colleague. She regularly calls me to seek advice and support for her daughter, Rebecca. When I mentioned that I would like to write about Rebecca, my colleague wanted me to use her daughter’s name. In the most recent crisis, Rebecca was banned from taking the bus to school and regularly sent home early, due to her behaviour. On the bus, Rebecca broke a school bus window, was accessing her dirty diaper and playing with its contents, and attacking the teaching assistant staff. Rebecca is a highly autistic youth who functions at about a 3 year old child’s level.

The first thing I did was question why Rebecca was in a dirty diaper on the bus. The school staff told my colleague that Rebecca said “no” to getting her diaper changed. The school staff also stated that Rebecca was having regular meltdowns in the hallways at school so they could not take her outside. The staff also said they were not allowed to touch Rebecca. Rebecca’s outbreaks and violence often resulted in her being sent home. After further discussion, I wondered how much training the educational support staff had to address Rebecca’s specific needs. In addition, Rebecca was being excluded from attending school.

Rebecca’s mother asked me to do some research specifically to help advocate for her daughter’s needs and advice on how to address these needs with the school principal. I looked into the policies and laws dealing with students with special needs. I specifically cited Policy/Program Memorandum No. 119, Developing and Implementing Equity and Inclusive Education Policies in Ontario Schools, as it states that our “publicly funded education system is to support and reflect the democratic values of fairness, equity, and respect for all” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2013). Through Policy/Program Memorandum No. 119, school boards, and teachers, must address barriers to learning that fall within prohibited grounds of discrimination set out in the Ontario Human Rights Code.

Rebecca was facing discrimination against her right to attend school due to her disabilities. After filling my friend in on the details of Rebecca’s rights, I suggested to her that she ask questions on how Rebecca’s specific needs were being met.

Just after New Year’s day I got a call from Rebecca’s mother. The school’s principal started putting measures in place to ensure Rebecca’s needs were being met. The school brought in specialized trainers to train the teaching assistants on how to deal with Rebecca and her outbursts. The school bus windows were changed to unbreakable Plexiglas and Rebecca was fitted with a specialized body suit so she could no longer access her body while on the bus. The teaching assistants were instructed not to allow Rebecca to have meltdowns in the school hallway and told to promptly pick her up and redirect her. The teaching assistants were also told that Rebecca must have regular, daily physical activity, inside and outside of the school, as well as daily quiet time. The teaching assistants were also told to change Rebecca’s diaper immediately after a BM.

The result of this training was impressive. Rebecca stopped banging the bus window because it was too hard on her hands. Rebecca quietly stayed seated until the staff came on the bus to get her. Rebecca stopped having meltdowns because she no longer had an audience to watch her very brief outbursts. Rebecca stopped hitting staff. Rebecca’s behaviour is not perfect but it is manageable. And here is the best part, Rebecca started to ask when she was going to school. I cried when I heard that!

This story shows that with enough support and trained staff, students with behavioural issues and violent tendencies can have their needs met. With this approach, students, staff, and teachers can have good quality school experiences.

I would like to thank Rebecca’s principal for supporting Rebecca’s needs – because this girl wants to go to school.

I ask of all teachers, principals, and school staff to reach out to advocate for students who are not so easy to teach so they can attend school – because this is their human right.

Collaboratively yours,

Deb Weston, PhD


Alphonso, C. (January 5, 2019). Educating Grayson: Are inclusive classrooms failing students? The Globe and Mail. Toronto. Downloaded from

People for Education. (September 4, 2018). Changes needed to make Ontario schools more inclusive: Ontario Human Rights Commission policy includes recommendations for province and school boards, People for Education. Downloaded from

Canadian Teachers’ Federation. (July 8, 2018). News release: Lack of resources and supports for students among key factors behind increased rates of violence towards teachers, Pan-Canadian Research Review on Violence in Schools, Canadian Teachers’ Federation, Downloaded from

Ontario Ministry of Education. (2013). Policy/Program Memorandum No. 119: Developing and Implementing Equity and Inclusive Education Policies in Ontario Schools, Government of Ontario. Toronto. Downloaded from

Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario. (2019). ETFO Action on Violence in Schools, Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario. Downloaded from

Coding with Microbits

Twice I have attended the Ontario Teachers’ Federation “Pedagogy before Technology” conference in the summer.  This year I attended a design workshop that the InkSmith company provided and would never have been able to predict the chain of events that would follow.  In the workshop we were grouped with people at our table to come up with a design concept and present it in the manner of a “Dragon’s Den” pitch.  As we discussed the concept and made diagrams on chart paper, I put the visuals together in a small Google Slide presentation and added an entertaining video.  I have my drama specialist and I’m not afraid to ham it up in front of a crowd.  When it came time for the presentation we wowed the InkSmith team and ended up presenting to the entire group.  We then went to lunch and I didn’t really think too much more about it.  However, because I had so loudly and visibly put myself out there in an entertaining way, I was contacted by the team at InkSmith and then connected with kidscodejeunesse team.  Kids Code is a federally funded program that helps students learn to code.  They provide free workshops to classrooms across the country using handheld, programmable micro-computers called micro:bits. The coding program is web based and is in the blockly format but can also be switched to html for more advanced coders.  When a workshop is provided to a classroom, the teacher is provided with ten microbits for the class to use and keep.  You can visit the website kidscodejeunesse to sign up for a workshop for your classroom.


                                                                                                                                 This is the microbit connected to a battery pack.

Kids Code Jeunesse provided me with training and as part of my job as an innovations consultant, I now go into classrooms within my school board to deliver workshops to students.  The only coding that I had done up to this point was with Spheros and Ozobots which was quite rudimentary.  I am now immersed into the coding culture. Which means that sometimes my kitchen counter looks like this:

IMG_6320 It was a little out of my comfort zone to be sure.  As I have gone into classrooms I have admitted to students that I’m not an expert on microbit   technology and I have learned from some of the students that have been engaged in complex coding on their own time.  With a quick conversation with   the classroom teacher I can usually make some decisions around differentiating the program to keep students engaged.

 You might be wondering what it is these little computers can do.  The LED lights on the front can be programmed to light up in patterns which create   animations.  Students can create dice or rock, paper, scissors games and with a few alligator clips and a small speaker or headphones, microbits can be   programmed to create music. With a little innovation and some adaptation it can be programmed to water plants automatically or become a pedometer.   It can also be paired with a robot called K8 which can be purchased from Inksmith and assembled.  The microbit website itself is where the coding takes   place and it has easy to follow tutorials and ideas for projects to code.

The initial workshop is only the beginning.  The only limit to these little computers is the limits of your student’s imagination.  Microbits would be incredibly useful in a maker space or genius hour environment.  The students develop design and critical thinking skills and problem solving techniques as they create and de-bug programs.  It is an amazing way to introduce coding to students-especially if you are a teacher who is brand new to coding.  Be warned: coding is extremely engaging and you and your students may have an inordinate amount of fun while learning.


The Almighty Meme

My teenage son is obsessed with memes. I remember my friends and I at his age, randomly quoting lines from John Hughes or Monty Python movies which confounded the adults around us but my friends and I would collapse into hysterics.  I am now the confounded adult but instead of movies, the quotes are from internet memes and vines.

As a teacher I always seek to leverage whatever is important to my students in order to make language engaging and authentic.  Last year I used their interest in Snapchat and connected it to “book snaps” in order to synthesize information about what they were reading.  Over the holidays I played a game called, “What do you Meme?” which is an adult version of “Apples to Apples” but with pictures.  Although the content was rather explicit (obviously not to be used in a classroom) and more than a little embarrassing to play with my 86 year old mother, I got to thinking afterwards about the language processing that it took in order to play this game and how could I turn it into an engaging teaching opportunity.  The idea around the game itself is rather simple, choose what you consider to be the best “caption” for the meme (photo) and then another person chooses their favourite of those put forth by the  players.  The idea is to make it “relateable”.

I realized that there was a great deal of inferring going on while we were matching the statements to the pictures.    We had to read the facial cues, look for other clues in the picture and then also relate what was happening in the picture to some kind of an emotion or shared human experience.  I’ll give you an example.


“When you have beaten your big brother to the last piece of chocolate cake.”

In order to come up with that statement, I had to make some decisions.  I really had to think about the photo and determine what was happening. For me, it looked as though the cat was laughing and feeling rather satisfied with himself.  Then I had to think of something that would cause that reaction in someone to which other people might relate.  It is rather complex thinking.

In the classroom before any writing would take place I would provide many examples of popular (and appropriate) meme photos that are being used in different ways and discuss these with my students over a period of time.  What makes it funny or something with which people can relate?  What about the human experience is being shared in this meme?

Then I would provide a photo something like the one above on the Smartboard for students at the beginning of the language period. Just one at a time at the beginning so that we can take the opportunity to break down the thinking.  Students could then invent their own statement for the photo and justify their idea when they share it with others. In order to scaffold for some students, I might provide a variety of statements like the game itself and have them choose and justify their choice.  Students could also take or choose their own photo and create their own memes using apps such as Canva or Pic Collage.  This could also lead to an authentic digital citizenship opportunity with how to search and use photos that are public domain. In addition, these memes could then be shared on a class blog or social media to receive comments from others which provides feedback to students on their creations.

To take the idea of the memes further, the students could then use them as story prompts and create a narrative around the meme.  I might also ask the students to create some memes like book snaps which relate to the books that they are reading. See the example below:


“When Fudge ate Dribble.” 

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing-Judy Blume

A meme that needs an explanation isn’t a good meme, just like you shouldn’t need to explain a good joke.  There is a kind of sophistication in the thinking process involved in the creation of memes and they connect us as human beings.  Memes are this generation’s political cartoon, headline in the newspaper or funny birthday card from “The Far Side” creators; a visual paired with words that connects a shared human experience.  Know what I Meme?

Why Coding is Important Part One

I consider myself a fairly techie teacher.  However, until recently I hadn’t really tried my hand at coding or robotics.  Well, I had, but I had lost interest as I quickly felt as though I was out of my depth.  So, I did what I always do when I really want to learn something about teaching, I go to a colleague that has the knowledge and I try it WITH the students.  Collaborative inquiry.

Until recently, I didn’t see what the big deal was or why it was important to teach coding to students.  Yeah, playing with robots is fun but what does that have to do with curriculum?  When I started working with and learning coding along side students I had a change in mindset.  There is a lot of math, strategic planning and visualization in coding. Coding may not always directly relate to curriculum content-that is true.  However, in terms of teaching students about the deep learning competencies, coding is key.  If you aren’t sure what I mean by the deep learning competencies; they are referred to as the 6 C’s.  Here is a link to the New Pedagogies for Deeper Learning paper but I have extracted a summary of the 6 C’s for a quick reference:

Character: Character refers to qualities of the individual essential for being personally effective in a complex world including: grit, tenacity, perseverance, resilience, reliability, and honesty.

Citizenship: Thinking like global citizens, considering global issues based on a deep understanding of diverse values with genuine interest in engaging with others to solve complex problems that impact human and environmental sustainability.

Collaboration: Collaboration refers to the capacity to work interdependently and synergistically in teams with strong interpersonal and team-related skills including effective management of team dynamics, making substantive decision together, and learning from and contributing to the learning of others.

Communication: Communication entails mastery of three fluencies:digital, writing and speaking tailored for a range of audiences.

Creativity: Having an ‘entrepreneurial eye’ for economic and social opportunities, asking the right questions to generate novel ideas, and demonstrating leadership to pursue those ideas into practice.

Critical Thinking: Critically evaluating information and arguments, seeing patterns and connections, constructing meaningful knowledge and applying it in the real world.

I reflected on these 6 C’s as I wrote the learning skills for my grade 4/5 students this year.  I spend the most time on my reports creating the Learning Skills for each student.  They are personal and they reflect each individual student.  As a parent, it is what I am most interested in reading about my own child.  The 6 C’s are competencies not only for school, but for life.  While students were exploring coding I had them working in pairs or small groups to give them the opportunity to communicate, collaborate and show leadership.  When the code didn’t work, they were able to go back and find the error and correct it and try it again with results right away. Sometimes they found it painstaking and I had to let them work through that and they were glad in the end when I didn’t give them the easy way out and they solved things on their own.  When they learned something in coding, they quickly wanted to share their learning with other students.  I gave basic instruction about the program to start using a youtube tutorial and then let the students go.  Students who often don’t do well in groups with “typical” academic tasks often excelled as leaders in coding because it is a divergent way of thinking and they had a self-check strategy built into the task.  It was incredible to witness the amount of learning that was taking place.

You don’t have to have robots to code.  There are online coding websites that teach kids to code such as and Scratch.  The students even as young as grade 3 are easily able to use these sites to code.  Scratch Jr. is available for younger students.  The sites have great tutorial videos and somehow the students seem to just start discovering and creating things intuitively.  They begin helping each other when they see that someone has created something cool and ask the creator to show them how to do it too.

I am proud to say that I can now code a square, star and a small obstacle course using blocks and a Sphero robot.  My students discover new things every day and share them with me.  It is definitely a new age in teaching.



Deep Learning in Inquiry (Part 2)

In reading part one of my inquiry blog, one might think, “That’s all lots of fun, but building a bee house isn’t exactly something that I can write on the report card.”  You would be absolutely right.  The learning is imbedded in the exciting things.  It is intentional and it is authentic.  Connecting with a local expert, using technology for research and having hands on activities with students engaged scratches the surface of inquiry.  Our deep learning with this unit began with the types of questions that we were asking.  I noticed that when the students began asking questions on Padlet that Siri could have easily answered many of their questions with one or two word answers.  This lead to a series of lessons on “THICK” vs. “Thin” questions.  We added better questioning to our goals.


The students also noticed that I had included a lot of infographics on the Padlet.  Infographics are seen everywhere in social media to communicate information efficiently and visually.  However, students need to know how to use this information, how to synthesize it, how to put it into their own words and how to source it.  We spent a significant amount of our language periods on reading and interpreting infographics.


Our learning goals and success criteria went way beyond making houses for bees and honey tasting.  Students wanted to DO something to help bees.  We created our learning goals and criteria together:

 D9EDA370-1138-49B8-965E-051FCD44D0A4     8AB3D3E8-C7F1-4B2B-8E49-BD8E4FE8068F     CD26AF15-F831-470F-9522-D17D415D0A33

Early on in the inquiry we watched an informative YouTube video called, We Can Save the Bees Together.  Sarah Red-Laird, bee enthusiast and scientist, gave us a number of ideas of actions that we could take.  The students decided that one of the things that they wanted to do was to call for stronger legislation about mono cropping and pesticide use in farming.  They wanted to write letters to politicians and change makers.  In addition, when Susan Chan, local bee researcher visited, she “planted the seed” about creating a non-stinging bee friendly garden in our school yard.  This prompted students to write letters to local school officials to solicit assistance and guidance.  One of our students from Curve Lake First Nation decided to write the Chief and Band Council to ask them to consider building a bee friendly garden in their community. The desire for letter writing lead to a series of lessons on how to write a professional letter, how to proofread and how to edit in a meaningful and authentic learning context for students.  The students also felt that educating others about conservation of  bees was important so they are now working on developing presentations that they can take to other classes as well as media advertising to share their learning and call others to action.

In math, we had been focusing on data management.  It fit in perfectly to what we were doing with our inquiry!  There is an incredible amount of data about bees on the Statistics Canada website.  We read real graphs with information that the students cared about, we labelled the important parts of the graphs and we will be creating our own surveys and graphing the information from different areas of our inquiry.


Statistics Canada

Honestly, the best part of inquiry is when the students start to direct their own learning.  I guide them.  I provide thought provoking questions and “what if” scenarios.  They make choices and feel good about doing something that is affecting real change.  Inquiry is empowerment for students.  This students aren’t done with this inquiry yet-they have many more plans ahead!  Stay tuned.

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.


The Virtues of Non Fiction Reading and Writing – Part 2

Our Journey

We began by identifying the books in our book bags as fiction or nonfiction.  The students justified how they knew if a book was fiction or nonfiction.  In small groups the students compiled lists of nonfiction text features that they noticed in their stack of chosen books.  As a class we went through the Scholastic Book order and they decided which books were fiction or nonfiction and explained their choice.  The students discussed whether there was a realistic photo, the title and if there was a synopsis about the book.  We explored the “Explain Everything” app and played with it for a short period before getting into the project.  I find that a “romance period” with a new tool helps to keep them on task when they begin their work. The app was fairly new to me but the students found it to be mostly intuitive.  They were really stoked to use the feature that points to the words using a “light sabre”.  There were a few glitches with accessing text edits but eventually they got the hang of it.  We have the free trial version.  The actual app is quite expensive.

Establishing a Purpose

I explained to the students that our younger “buddies” were going to be learning about nonfiction and their teacher was looking for an engaging presentation about nonfiction text features for her students.  By setting up an authentic purpose and audience for writing, the students were engaged immediately.

These are the learning goals, success criteria, project checklist and anchor charts that we developed over a period or two.  We added and changed some things as time went on as well.

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The students really had to think about the information that a nonfiction text feature gave them as a reader.  The learning was much deeper by creating a teaching video than if they had just identified the features in texts.  Students referred to the success criteria and checklists throughout the project.  Before they came to me they had to have some peer feedback.  They put their first draft on Seesaw and I provided some feedback online.  The students edited and adjusted from peer and teacher feedback and then posted for parents to see on Seesaw.  Below the blog, I have included three different examples of projects from both grade four and five.

Assessment and Evaluation

The integration of technology with a presentation provides an opportunity to assess many different curriculum expectations in language:

-ability to critically analyze the purposes for nonfiction text features

-ability to create a piece of media for a specific purpose and audience

-ability to oral communicate coherently and expressively

-ability to write clearly using appropriate conventions and their ability to edit their work

-ability to use success criteria, anchor charts and feedback in the creative process

In the area of learning skills:

Independent Work

-adhere to timelines and guidelines

-use class time appropriately to complete a task

-monitor, assess and revise plans to meet goals


-provide appropriate feedback to peers; being considerate of the feelings of others

-have their materials ready


-find answers to questions and materials they need on their own

-find ways to make their work better


-set up their work so that the ideas are communicated and the audience understands their thinking

-prioritize what needs to be done


-uses politeness and kindness when providing feedback

-shares resources, information and expertise

Self Regulation

-asks for clarification about feedback

-uses mistakes as a learning opportunity

-provides evidence that they think about their thinking

Kindness and Gratitude

My hope in asking for a junior division assignment was that the students would be more independent however, I also knew that in exchange, I would be likely dealing with the issues of the tumultuous “tween” years.  My expectations for this group were particularly high because I had taught nearly half of them for two years in grades 1 and 2 and I felt as though I knew them pretty well.  Unfortunately, we have been having social issues in our classroom and the students are having difficulty treating each other with kindness.  I wasn’t prepared to have to “teach” kindness and gratitude at this age.  After 20 years in the primary grades, I suppose I assumed they would already know how to be kind.  Let me be clear.  They are not horrible kids and having raised two kids through the “tweenage” years I know the behaviour is driven by hormones etc.,  Kindness becomes more complicated in the junior grades as the social constructs change and being popular and fitting in becomes that much more important.  What I’m trying to get across to the students is that kindness is actually more powerful than being mean but they aren’t yet all buying into it…yet.  I’m not giving up.

We started by reading the book “Wonder” by R.J. Palacio together as a class.   After every few pages there was so much to unpack in discussion with the students about empathy, “precepts” for living and loyalty in friendship.  In discussions, the students were easily able to empathize the injustices suffered by Auggie and were angered by the actions of the antagonist, Julian. We also went to see the movie in order to compare the stories and they thoroughly enjoyed the experience and were thoughtful in their assessment of the themes and the major differences.  In reality, however, they were having a hard time putting all of this knowledge into practice with one another.

I needed to dig a little deeper and do some research and I happened upon a great website connected to the book; #choosekind is a campaign attached to Palacio’s book and it started us on a journey of kindness.  We’ve also been using lesson plans from the Random Acts of Kindness website and have begun daily gratitude journals.  We started restorative circles using our talking stick using Restorative Circle prompts. We have created our rules and agreement for our circle.  It has been a slow start because we are starting with topics that are allowing students to relate to one another and are not value or character based sensitive topics yet as we work to build trust in the circle.  Our first couple of prompts were, “What are 3 things that you cannot live without?” and “Who is your hero?” Not everyone is able to come up with something right away and sometimes we have to circle back, but it is a beginning.

We also wanted to do something as a class that was more global and would make an impact on people whom we didn’t even know.  In Peterborough, we have a store called Under One Sun.  They are part of a larger organization that supplies crafts from artisans in Haiti, “Restoring Dignity Through Artistry”.   We decided to participate in a Christmas ornament fundraiser which helps to create jobs and sustain families in Haiti. Some of the money goes to the artisans for healthcare, childcare, education and materials and some of the money comes back to the school.  Our class of 22 students alone sold more than $1000.00 worth of ornaments.  This fundraiser makes a difference in our community and for families living in Haiti and broadens our student’s awareness of global issues of poverty.  In addition, we are going to learn how to make paper bead jewelry ourselves as gifts for our own families.

As we move into the holiday season, December is a great month to think about giving, gratitude and kindness.  We are going to be working with the Senior Centre down the street, hanging our art work, singing songs to entertain and presenting a dramatic re-telling of “A Promise is a Promise” written by Robert Munsch.  We have created a kindness calendar which includes random acts of kindness for each day that do not cost money.  Hopefully, day by day, discussion by discussion the students will come to realize the power of kindness.

Connecting Area and Perimeter to Art-Piet Mondrian

Whenever possible, I search for ways to integrate the curriculum to create deeper learning opportunities for students and connect to the world around them.  It has always been easy to make connections between geometry and art.  Measurement and art wasn’t something that I had integrated much before.  However, in working with my Teacher Candidate from the Trent University Faculty of Education program, we were excited to see what the students would create.  It only goes to show you that when teachers are able to work collaboratively, wonderful programming ensues for students.

We have been working on perimeter and area for a little while, but students were still having trouble figuring out the difference between the two concepts.  We started by giving the students 9 square tiles.  Students were asked to create a 3 x 3 array of square tiles and determine the perimeter and the area.  The perimeter was determined to be 12 and the area determined to be 9.  From there, students were given a number of different challenges to reduce the area but maintain the perimeter of 12.  The challenges grew increasingly difficult.

1.  Reduce the area by one square unit but maintain the perimeter of 12 units.

2.  Reduce the area to 7 square units while maintaining the perimeter of 12 units.

3.  Reduce the area to 6 square units while maintaining the perimeter of 12 units.

4.  Reduce the area to 5 square units while maintaining the perimeter of 12 units.

5.  Reduce the area to 4 square units while maintaining the perimeter of 12 units.

6.  Reduce the area to 3 square units while maintaining the perimeter of 12 units.

After having the students share their different solutions we thought we would show the students artwork that Ms. Marchiori created inspired by Ellsworth Kelly’s “Colors for a Large Wall”.  In a guided math lesson the students figured out the area and perimeter of different parts of the artwork.  The way in which students figured out the answers to the area demonstrated that they had a much better understanding of the difference between area and perimeter than they had previously.

artworkmath                   artworkmath2


At this point, we wanted to get into the artwork and considered the work of Piet Mondrian.  Piet Mondrian is famous for the work that he created using primary colours, horizontal and vertical lines and squares and rectangles.  Perfect for working with area and perimeter and for incorporating the different elements of art.

Ms. Marchiori showed the YouTube video of Piet Mondrian’s artistic life in a nutshell.  Afterwards, the students then created their own Mondrian inspired artwork using chart sized grid paper (6’X6′) and crayon.  To continue our math focus, the students then had to calculate the area of each of the colours that they used and write that on the back of their art “plan”.  From there, the students used acrylic paint on canvas with grids drawn in pencil to recreate their “plan” for their art.

artwork3 artwork 4 artwork 1

A few of the finished artwork samples;

IMG_4067  IMG_4065 IMG_4064

This artwork would also connect to fractions.  Students could express their colour content in a fraction, reducing it to it’s simplest form and then compare which colours covered the largest fraction of the area of the painting.  When the artwork is complete, the students will be adding an artist’s message about what they learned during the process about area and perimeter, about the elements of line, colour and shape and about Piet Mondrian.  This week we will be creating Mondrian inspired artwork while exploring balance and colour in art using much of the same grid technique but with the medium of crayon resist and watercolours.