E is for Equity (part 1)

I’m a new teacher.

I’m always looking for books to add to my library that support the inclusive, equitable and culturally responsive environment I strive to achieve in my classroom. This school year, I have been investing in books that celebrate diversity to ensure that all students see themselves reflected within the Kindergarten program. I have been in search of stories by BIPOC authors, stories that celebrate differences, and stories that share messages of inclusion to add to my collection. I decided to create an A-Z list of stories that I love. This list is far from exhaustive and there are MANY amazing books I could have added. The stories below from A-M are stories that were appropriate for my Kindergarten class, but could definitely be read to students beyond Kindergarten as well.

If you are a new teacher looking to begin your picture book collection, this one’s for you!

A – Alma and How She Got Her Name

By: Juana Martinez-Neal 

B – Black is a Rainbow Colour

By: Angela Joy

Illustrated by: Ekua Holmes

C -Bilal Cooks Daal

By: Aisha Saeed

Illustrated by: Anoosha Syed

D – Don’t Touch My Hair

By: Sharee Miller

E – Eyes That Kiss in the Corners

By: Joanna Ho

Illustrated by: Dung Ho

F – Forty-Seven Strings: Tessa’s Special Code

By: Becky Carey

Illustrated by: Bonnie Leick

G – The Gift of Ramadan

By: Rabiah York Lumbard

Illustrated by: Laura K. Horton

H – Hair Love

By: Matthew A. Cherry

Illustrated by: Vashti Harrison

I – I am Enough

By: Grace Byers

Illustrated by: Keturah A. Bobo

J – Just Ask! Be Different, Be Brave, Be You

By: Sonia Sotomayor

Illustrated by: Rafael Lopez

K -Suki’s Kimono

By: Chieri Uegaki

Illustrated by: Stéphane Jorisch

L – Love Makes a Family

By: Sophie Beer

M – My Heart Fills with Happiness

By: Monique Gray Smith

Illustrated by: Julie Flett

Using Short Stories for Literature

When I was in junior high, my dad travelled to Australia and brought back a short story collection for me: “UnReal” by Paul Jennings.  He thought I would enjoy it because each ending was a twist and the stories were funny and unusual.  When I was getting ready for my first week of teaching I thought that the students may enjoy them too.  Every since then, we have gone through a few of the stories at the start of each year to get a lay of reading comprehension and writing activities. You can find listings here: The “Un” books: https://www.pauljennings.com.au/index.php/en-au/books/latest-book-releases/unreal

Novels can be tricky to use in the classroom due to the increased needs of students: some fall out of favour over time due to re-examining content, they can be intimidating for students in early ESL stages or on IEPs, and it can be hard to take a novel adapted into a movie without the inevitable comparisons to the big screen version.  Short stories also allow for the reader to not have to worry about missing days and being confused by the story, or being bored and feeling stuck with finishing listening to an unmotivated tale.

In the “Unreal” short stories, I allow the students to be creative in doing activities that integrate other subjects.  We have done everything from drawing a scene, creating a drama sequel, and writing a diary entry from a character’s perspective.  Many students that are reluctant readers find they are more easily able to digest the content and get motivated to be involved in thinking up predictions to the endings.  Every year I enjoy seeing a new point of view from someone that I haven’t considered.

Another advantage for short stories is that with a variety of topics, you can also get students to vote on their choices, or perhaps find other pieces similar to the style of an author (think of the “we recommend” section of a book store).  I try to look at what has been selected in my book clubs, and the operative is that: not “novel” but “book.”  Gone are the days of long texts and only fiction; in fact, my book clubs look at memoirs which coincides with research that non-fiction that attract more reluctant readers.  In bringing this into the class, there are some great selections out there, like ‘YA friendly’ versions of adult books like Michelle Obama’s “Becoming”.  Students also enjoy the “Who Is/Was” books which is a great connection: if they liked “Diary of a Wimpy Kid”, they might enjoy reading about the author Jeff Kinney.  Once again, the illustrations assist students with visualizing the biographies of celebrities from the past and present.

The other short stories I would recommend include “Sideways Stories from Wayside School” by Louis Sachar.  There are a wide variety of characters with different personalities that can be re-interpreted in a variety of races and backgrounds.  Many students nowadays consume media in ‘chunks’ like short Tik-Toks and quick Youtube clips.  It may be time to take a look at how we engage using 21st century learning in the classroom  as well.

 

S.T.E.L.M.

STELM: Science, Technology, Engineering (Literacy?!) and Math 

STEM activities are unmatched in our virtual Kindergarten class this year. STEM challenges are the perfect storm for beginning conversations, exploring inquiries, answering questions and challenging new ideas. In addition to the academic learning happening through these challenges, students also have opportunities to practice patience, persistence, problem-solving strategies and critical thinking skills while engaging meaningfully within their classroom community. 

Recently, I have been on my own exploration. I have been investigating how to purposefully incorporate literacy connections into STEM activities. Here are some of our literacy inspired “STELM” challenges students have worked through: 

10 on the Sled – by: Kim Norman, illustrated by: Liza Woodruff

STELM Challenge: Create a sled that can hold ten animals.

Our students were so excited for this challenge. They used materials that they could find around their homes to build a sled and found objects of their choice to represent the ten animals. Students engaged in conversations about the number 10 and how they could group the seats for all the passengers to fit on the sled. In the picture above, the student wrote themselves into the story and shared they would also like to ride on the sled. They shared that now there would be 11 seats because “10+1=11”.

Not a Box – by: Antoinette Portis

STELM Challenge: What can you make your box into?

This one feels like a classic. So simple, but so open-ended and thought provoking. The experience of creating something from “nothing” seems to come so naturally to Kindergarten students. No matter how many groups of students I do this activity with, I am always learning from them. I feel like this challenge gives me a window into student’s imaginations and undoubtedly strengthen’s my view of them as competent and capable learners full of wonder.

The Most Magnificent Thing – by: Ashley Spires

STELM Challenge: What is the most magnificent thing you can make?

Similarly to the challenge of creating something from a box, students thoughts and ideas were not limited to using a box. We did however, challenge them to use recycled materials found at home. Before beginning the process, we listened to the story ‘The Most Magnificent Thing’ by Ashley Spires and asked students to draw a plan before beginning construction. Students entered this activity at their own level. Their plans consisted of pictures, words and symbols to represent their ideas. Not all of their plans matched their finished products – but this was part of the process. The changes and challenges students faced while building their magnificent ‘things’ were a springboard for conversations about different ways to solve problems. One of my favourite moments of learning that happened during this task occurred after I shared my own frustration with my tape that “just would not come off the roll in one piece”. “That’s ok Ms. Turnbull” one of our students shared, “That happened to me once too”, “me too!” other students exclaimed, as we talked about different ways to solve this problem effectively.

The Very Cranky Bear – by: Nick Bland

STELM Challenge: Design a bed for the cranky bear to get some rest in.

We have all experienced the feeling of being tired, cranky, upset or frustrated. So many wonderful conversations of empathy and understanding came from this challenge. Students amazed us with their kind words towards this cranky bear as they constructed cozy beds. They were excited to test out their beds made from LEGO, Play-Doh, blocks and more by using their stuffed animals or dolls. They began acting out the story, snoring and roaring like the bear.

The Mitten – by: Jan Brett

STELM Challenge: How many ‘animals’ can you fit inside a mitten or sock?

The story ‘The Mitten’ by Jan Brett has endless possibilities in regard to follow up activities. For our group of Kindergarten students, we challenged them to think about capacity after listening to this story. We asked them to find something to use as ‘animals’ (with some of the top choices being LEGO or toy animals), and a sock or mitten to put them in. Students explored concepts of counting, spatial sense, and sequencing while they created their own versions of the story.

I am excited to continue thinking about ways to provide my students with meaningful and literacy rich learning opportunities while they engage in hands on experiences that challenge their thinking.

In what ways are literacy experiences imbedded into your STEM activities?

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.

So What’s Your Story?

Many moons ago I was gifted a wonderful book by a student and her family. Good Night Stories For Rebel Girls is a collection of stories about 100 extraordinary women, including beautiful illustrations from female artists. Over the years, the team at Rebel Girls has created other books. This month – being Black History Month –  I was excited to gift their book of 100 Real-Life Tales of Black Girl Magic, to a friend. In my inscription, I shared that her story also needed to be added to the book. This got me thinking about the stories that we share – particularly during Black History Month – and how we as teachers, go about sharing these stories. Often, it’s a select few well-known people whose stories we feel are worthy of highlighting for one reason or another. Within our schools and communities, I wonder how many equally incredible stories are waiting to be heard? How might the stories that we as a community learn from each others’ experiences, ultimately make our school community even better? In this post, I’m sharing a few ideas that are buzzing around in my mind.

Create Your Own Anthology

Based on the stories within this book, creating a class or school anthology is the easiest idea that comes to mind, but is also one of the hardest. I think of the incredible stories that students, school staff and community members could share about their lives and experiences. There could also be a team of illustrators or the person who is sharing their story can create their own self-portrait. There’s so much power in seeing how one views themselves. The stories within the book are short and powerful. Examples can be shared to give writers an idea of how they might choose to share their stories. 

Seems easy enough, right? But what conditions do we have to cultivate in order for people to feel comfortable in sharing their stories? If students, staff and/or members of the community don’t feel as though they are a respected part of the school community, we may never know what story they may have to tell. Further, if by chance we are privy to any part of the story of another and decide to ask for a contribution, we might in fact be causing further trauma by asking for the story to be revealed. There’s a delicate balance when it comes to the telling of stories and I firmly believe that it starts with creating spaces where people feel seen, heard and valued. Without that, creating this sort of anthology will cause more harm than good. 

The 3 Prompt Podcast

Some time ago, I shared a post on podcasts for students. In the post, I shared ideas on how podcasts could be used within the classroom and since then, I’ve shared other posts on how we’ve incorporated them in both literacy and science activities. Most of what I shared has been about fictional stories but why not have a podcast dedicated to sharing the real stories of students, staff and members of the community? Rebel Girls has its very own podcast that might spark ideas for listeners too. 

One thing that I’ve learned is that podcasts don’t need to be long. They just need to share interesting information about a specific topic and listeners will be hooked.  In podcasts, I think that the interview questions are crucial and make them flow.  Students can take turns interviewing people who are willing to share their stories, coming up with 3 prompts to guide the conversation. Interviewing is an art. Years ago, I learned about the TED method of interviewing. I’ve used it in design to understand the story of the user and that’s really the goal of this type of interview – to understand the story of another, rather than to lead. In the TED method, we use 3 sentence starters to guide the interview.

The sentence starters are simple enough to tweak into meaningful prompts once you know a little about the person you are interviewing. Yet another reason why it’s so important to build a space where people feel seen, heard and valued. 

These are just a couple of ideas stemming from these incredible books. Perhaps start by considering where you are at with building classroom or school community. Do members of this community feel seen, heard, and valued? If not, take stock of what changes need to be made by listening to stakeholders and developing a plan of how to implement change.  If so, consider how you might like to share stories. Consider whose stories often get told and whose don’t. Consider why that might be. Have discussions on how you might create – whether through writing, art, a podcast or any other method. Stories are powerful and can be inspirational. When the time is right ask, “So what’s your story?”.

Notable Black People in Canada – A Breakout

Last summer I had the privilege of working with a school around meaningful uses of technology to spark creativity with students. It was an incredible half-day session where participants had the opportunity to play and get creative themselves, all while considering how the use of tech tools could further support students in learning and creativity. 

As you probably already know, I’m an avid user of G Suite For Education Tools. For years I’ve been using Slides, Forms and Sites to create breakout rooms for students as an interesting way to deliver content and to help further develop the skills of communication and collaboration. For our session, I created a Breakout on Notable Black people in Canada. As this is Black History Month, I thought I would take the opportunity to share it here with readers. 

This Breakout is a series of puzzles designed to help people to learn about the history, experiences, and contributions of a few notable Black people in Canada: The Maroons, William Hall, Hattie Melton, Molly Johnson, and Michaëlle Jean. I had a blast building this Breakout because it gave me an excuse – if you will – to learn more about the contributions of Black people, using tools that I was already familiar with. 

While I’m not sharing the answers to the breakout here, I encourage you to take some time to learn and answer the questions prior to sharing this breakout with your students, if you so choose. You know your students best and I think that it’s always great to have rich conversations both before and after deciding to jump into any new learning. Slide #2 has some great instructions to help guide you if you are not already familiar with breakouts. Do you have what it takes to breakout?

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?

Infographics – Hands on Learning With Technology

In my timetable this year, there are periods where I work with teachers and students around the use of technology. Excitingly, over the last month or so, I’ve had the opportunity to partner with a Grade 4 teacher, to consider the skills that would be important for students to know at this grade level. In this class, students have 1-to-1 technology and we were pretty excited to help students further develop their proficiency. Our board uses Google and we thought we would start with exploring Slides to see what students might create. 

While there are many different ways of learning to use Google Slides, we thought it would be fun for students to jump right in and play. There really is nothing like being a part of the experience, rather than watching someone tell you how to use a tool. As such, we decided to adapt a Google Scavenger Hunt that was shared online by Caitlin Tucker some time ago. While we thought we would fly through the scavenger hunt in a session or two, we realized that we really needed more time to make sure that students were able to play and discover as they were guided.  Since the Google Suite for Education Tools are so similar, we also wanted to make sure that students were able to transfer their skills from one tool to the next. Navigating from Slides to Docs, students quickly realized that the similarities in the menus in each of the tabs and the toolbar. 

Students were also learning about infographics with their teacher and once finished, they had the opportunity to create their own infographics on any topic of interest. Students learned that infographics are visuals used to easily represent information or data. They learned that they could have charts or diagrams to display information or images that would help the reader understand in a deeper way. We took some time to explore infographics found online and in magazines and quickly realized that they have key features:

  • Titles and subheadings
  • Clearly organized information 
  • Important statistics
  • Bold or bright colours are used to capture the attention of the audience
  • Graphics and images that stand out and draw the reader in

Before creating their own, we wanted students to use the Explore feature to conduct research and we also had a brief mini-lesson on how to cite information. Students quickly understood the importance of rephrasing the learning from websites but also making sure that they credit the author of the information they are using. They were so eager to start.  From Snakes to countries of family origin to cute pets and Fornite, students created some incredible infographics, helping their readers to understand the topics in a clear way. It was clear that the skills that we learned during the scavenger hunt were being put into use now when it was their turn to create. 

I’m so grateful to have had the time to collaborate with this teacher because it gave us the opportunity to sit and consider what skills we wanted students to walk away having learned and how we could facilitate the learning of these skills in a meaningful way. Pausing and supporting students in learning how to effectively use technology is so important. Moving forward, I know that I will continue to ask and consider “the why?” behind using technology and whether or not students have been supported in learning how to use the tool prior to expecting them to complete a task.

Milo Imagines The World

This year I am teaching a prep teacher. In this role, I am teaching a Grade 1/2 class virtually and it’s so interesting for a variety of reasons. Firstly, it’s been years since I have taught a primary grade. Secondly, in the past, I have had the opportunity to teach in person and when we’ve had to switch to virtual, we had already established our classroom community. Seeing these students virtually for only 40 minutes, 3 times a week, I’m slowly getting to know more about them and their interests. Last but not least, I’m teaching STEM and it’s been interesting thinking about access to materials when students are virtual and making sure that I keep in mind that STEM isn’t a specific subject or thing but rather a mindset that includes the development of a variety of skills, over time. 

As I have for years with many of my classes, I started this year with a picture book. This year’s book was Milo Imagines the World.  The publisher’s website describes the book as follows:

Milo is on a long subway ride with his older sister. To pass the time, he studies the faces around him and makes pictures of their lives. There’s the whiskered man with the crossword puzzle; Milo imagines him playing solitaire in a cluttered apartment full of pets. There’s the wedding-dressed woman with a little dog peeking out of her handbag; Milo imagines her in a grand cathedral ceremony. And then there’s the boy in the suit with the bright white sneakers; Milo imagines him arriving home to a castle with a drawbridge and a butler. But when the boy in the suit gets off on the same stop as Milo–walking the same path, going to the exact same place–Milo realizes that you can’t really know anyone just by looking at them.

We took our time digging through the pages and the imaginations of Milo as we read. I found the teacher’s guide helpful when it came to posing questions at different parts of the story and also being able to address Milo visiting his mom at the correctional facility. I found the rich conversations around families and our perceptions of others based on their looks so interesting because of the age of these students. Once again, the little people of the world rose to the occasion and we were able to have conversations about these important issues.

As a culminating activity for this book, students – like Milo – created their own images about their lives. We called these posters and spoke about how they share key information with our audience. Once we learned about colours and the size of our font, students got to organizing their own posters that shared different things about themselves with the rest of the class. From their family structures to things they like and are of significance to them, the students had the opportunity to present their posters to the class. Given the option to do it digitally or on paper, many choose to do their own drawings on paper and it was really neat to see their own stories come to life on their pages. It was a great way for me to get to know the students as they eagerly shared about themselves. 

As the year progresses, I’m hoping to continue to build on the classroom community we have already started. Critical and essential conversations around identity can be had at any age. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to start off the year this way and  I also look forward to working with students around building skills in creative ways. This is totally new for me and I’m interested in seeing where this takes us.

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.

Final Reflections from a Remote Teacher

Wow, what a year it has been! And to think, we didn’t think things could get any wilder than 2020. I have taught grade seven online since the first week of school and am finishing up next week. I have learned so much this year about myself as a teacher and about the things that children go through each and every day. Taking away the physical aspect of school has been challenging for some students yet so beneficial for others. For most of the students in my class, it was an overall positive experience. I was so lucky to have my 29 incredible students for this online experience. 

As I mentioned in my last blog post, my students participated in an interview with me where they asked questions about their efforts in certain subjects. 

I am pleased to say that many of them took the opportunity to hand in extra assignments or to bump up current ones. My students also had a chance to reflect on the learning skills they were most proud of and ones that they hope to work on in the future. They also had great final reflections about their year online. I posed the question to them, “What are you most proud of about your grade seven year?” Here were their responses:

  • The fact that I am in a class full of kind people
  • I am most proud of my marks and grades. I have been working so hard and it has paid off
  • Not getting distracted 
  • Staying on task and asking questions if confused 
  • Attendance and coming on time 
  • How to use different websites, finishing my work on time and kind of mostly everything because online school can be hard sometimes
  • My participation
  • I think I am proud that I did everything on time and proud that I did well
  • Improved on tech. skills 
  • I try my best and that’s what I’m most proud of
  • Doing my assignments on time, coming to class on time and being respectful to others in the chat or either the mic
  • I’m proud of staying in class and working on difficult work
  • Participating, even if I get the answer wrong
  • I’m proud that me and the class did a whole year of online school
  • How well I did even though I was nervous starting
  • I’m proud of my first term report
  • Doing online learning and enjoying it even though I thought it would be boring
  • Work through the MS teams platform, virtual activities and enjoying the whole experience
  • I’m happy with my marks
  • For making it through the year 
  • Not losing focus from the IRL transition to online learning
  • The fact that i can learn both in this environment and outside in an actual school
  • Being nice 
  • Online learning in general 
  • Finding a really good friend 🙂 

As you can see, it was an overall positive experience as my students learned how to see the positive in almost all situations, especially, learning remotely.

I have also learned many things throughout this year. I have discovered some incredible new programs and have developed some new teaching strategies in math and literacy. I have also discovered some game-changing activities and routines that I hope to keep as a permanent part of my program.

Math:

 I would like to keep using the virtual whiteboard in the classroom, having six (or however many iPads I have) students using the iPad during math. These students will share their strategies with their classmates after solving on their whiteboard platform. This will be a leadership opportunity and I am hoping as time goes on, all students will want to share their strategies. This was my favourite math teaching style that occurred this year as many “ah-ha” moments occurred as a result of the students sharing their work. I think it is much more exciting working on the whiteboards rather than coming up to write on the physical whiteboard. This will also ensure that students can work in their own space if we still need to worry about physical distancing. Other students will work in their notebook or physical whiteboard until it is their day to have the whiteboard app.

 I would also like to save Fridays for games in math as a way to summarize the learning from that week. The games my class loved were: Kahoot and Gimkit (which offers about 12 different types of games within). 

Language

This year I loved meeting with a small group one day a week to teach a lesson and then they would have the rest of the week to work on that activity. I received the most amount of participation during the small group sessions and by the following week, students always had their test completed. Many students commented about how their favourite part of the day was the small language groups. Having that small group size allowed all students to share and have a turn. This was actually the only time where I heard from students that did not participate in the main call. The setting of the small groups made them feel more comfortable.

I also want to make sure I have another class novel next year. I would love having students as the readers once again and they would pass the book to the next reader after they read a page or two. This was a great way to cover all the reading expectations which I would post as questions that would follow that days reading. They would answer these questions in the chat and in the classroom I would love to have this continue either by them raising their hands or by documenting it in a notebook. 

Routines/Activities:

  • Saying hello to each student in the morning
  • Spending every Monday morning sharing about our weekends and creating a goal for the week (and if they met the goal from the week before). These goals contributed to their self regulation mark.
  • Having student shoutouts at the end of each week. A student would raise their hand and give a shout-out to a specific student who went above and beyond that week or improved in something, etc. It could really be for any reason
  • Independent work periods once or twice a week as catch up periods and instead of breakout rooms, having the middle table open for students who need one on one support
  • Asking how everyone’s break was when they come back in from break 
  • Morning music until the announcements start
  • Student-led movement breaks where students design and lead a 20 minute DPA activity on the days without physical education
  • Discussing current events rather than hoping they didn’t hear the news 
  • Openly talking about all board holidays, special weeks or months in the year and celebrating in our class 
  • Cooking lessons led by students

Teaching online is an experience that I found very rewarding as it really tested all of us to see if we could handle this change. I know that as a teacher I appreciated the challenge and I know my students definitely rose to the challenge. I look forward to blogging about my in-class experiences in September!

Have an amazing summer everyone! 

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.

Point of View

This month, we are exploring different points of view through reading and writing a variety of texts. This “big idea” has many possibilities for critical thinking and cross-curricular integration with Media Literacy, Social Studies, Science, Visual Arts, Music and Drama.

In my Grade 2 class, we have used point of view to explore issues of accessibility, anti-Black racism, Indigenous sovereignty and homophobia. Here are some of the texts that Kindergarten-Grade 8 educators can use when learning on-line and in class:

William’s Doll
During Gender Splendour Week, we read “William’s Doll” by Charlotte Zolotov, to explore gender stereotypes and homophobia. We also watched a video from the movie, “Free to Be You and Me” that sings the story as a song. “William’s Doll” is about a boy who wants a doll to play with, but he is told that he cannot have a doll because he is a boy.

Young children receive powerful messages from family, media, clothing and toy stores about what is expected of “boys” and “girls.” These binaries reinforce heterosexism, and often cause harm and exclude students who do not fit into these boxes. It is important to give children the opportunity to name, question, and challenge these gender binaries, and create space for more possibilities.

Before reading “William’s Doll”, I asked students to share their ideas about what it means to be a “boy” and a “girl.” We talked about what a “stereotype” is and how these ideas might not include everyone. Students easily made connections to their own personal experiences of shopping, and described how different products are sorted and sold, (e.g., pink Kinder Eggs for girls). After reading, we used a graphic organizer to support our ideas with evidence from the text.  Then, students wrote about different points of view expressed in the text.  

Of Course They Do!
On the International Day of Pink, we continued to have courageous and critical conversations about how schools can be more inclusive, and how we can take action as allies. After reading texts such as, “Of Course They Do! Boys and Girls Can Do Anything” by Marie-Sabine Roger and Anne Sol, and “10,00 Dresses” by Marcus Ewert, students talked about their experiences of being told they couldn’t do something because of their perceived gender. For example, boys with long hair shared their experiences of being challenged in the washroom. We focussed our discussion on how we might respond to questions and/or suggestions that we don’t belong. We used Drama and role-play to practice naming and responding to behaviour.

Hey, Little Ant!
“Hey, Little Ant” by Hannah Hoose and Phillip Hoose, is a story about a kid who is about to squish an ant. The story is told from two different points of view. On each page, we hear the voice of the kid and a response from the ant. The story ends with a question, which is a great prompt for discussion and writing, “What do you think that kid should do?”

This story is a great opportunity to explore empathy and compassion, and students’ relationships with animals. “Hey, Little Ant” also includes a song, which can enrich the text. After reading, students wrote about the different points of view in the story, and then wrote about their own point of view.

The Tree
“The Tree” written by Dana Lyons is written from the point of view of a tree in the Pacific Rainforest. After writing and sharing the story, the author learned from elders of the Lummi Nation, the original inhabitants of San Juan islands, that he has written the tree’s song. Every tree has a song.

We listened to “The Tree,” drew pictures and shared stories about trees that are important to us. Then, students wrote their own poem or song from the point of view of a tree. We used sentence prompts, such as: “I live….” “I hear….” “I have seen….” “My favourite season is…..” “I wonder….” “I hope…” I found a video of Dana Lyons singing the text as a birthday present for Jane Goodall. I hope we will be able to turn our text into songs!

The Council of All Beings
I am always inspired by my teacher friends! Maria Vamvalis is currently working on her PhD, and shares her learning about climate justice with Natural Curiosity as a mentor coach. We took a course together at OISE, and Maria shared how she has used “The Council of All Beings” to allow students to connect with land and speak in-role from the point of view of other life forms, including animal, plant or natural feature, (desert, forest, etc). This article written by Joanna Macy describes the process.

I am learning that the purpose of the Council is to listen and give voice to land, which includes animals, plants, air, water, soil, etc. The process honours our shared responsibilities and relationships with more-than-humans, and helps us to remember and reconnect with land. It requires guidance and thoughtful facilitation. It sounds like a powerful teaching and learning experience.

Joanna Macy explains: “The Council unfolds in three consecutive stages. First, the beings address each other, telling of the changes and hardships they have experienced.” The second stage creates space for humans to hear from the more-than human beings directly. A few students remove their mask and are invited into the centre of the Circle to listen. The third stage of the council involves the other beings offering gifts to the humans. “As ritual guide I might cue this stage by saying, “Many humans now realize the destruction they are causing; they feel overwhelmed and powerless in the face of the forces they have unleashed. Yet our fate is in their hands. O fellow-beings, what strengths of ours can we share with them, what powers can we lend them?” With this invitation, the beings in the Council begin spontaneously to offer their own particular qualities and capacities. After speaking, each leaves their mask and steps in the centre as humans to receive gratitude and gifts. There is opportunity for singing, dancing and release, as well as reflection and stillness.

I think “The Council of All Beings” would enrich any Earth Day celebrations, and/or National Indigenous Peoples Day. I believe it could be adapted for on-line learning, and would be a powerful collaborative and creative experience for all members of the school community, including families.

People’s Tribunal on the Coronavirus Pandemic
I have a new subscription to “Rethinking Schools”, which is an excellent magazine about social justice education. In the Winter 2020-2021 issue, Caneisha Mills describes how she organized a tribunal with her Intermediate students to explore responsibility for the COVID-19 crisis in the United States. Some of those on trial include: Mother Nature, Racism, the HealthCare industry, Capitalism, and the U.S. government. You can read the article, “Who’s to Blame?” here.

Caneisha Mills honours student voice and engages students in a collaborative and critical process of exploring the global pandemic from different points of view.  She honours student voice, and creates a brave space for students to “grapple with profound social injustice” and imagine different possibilities. Mills explains that the “most important part of this lesson involves students writing a 10-point program — inspired by the Black Panthers’ 10-point program, adopted in 1966 — on how to prevent crises like this in the future.”

The article includes a clear teaching plan and provides information for educators who might want to implement the People’s Tribunal on the Coronavirus, on or off-line. “This people’s tribunal begins with the premise that a heinous crime is being committed as tens of millions of people’s lives are in danger due to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus — COVID-19. But who — and/or what — was responsible for this crime? Who should be held accountable for the spread of the virus and its devastating impact?”

The teacher plays the role of the prosecutor. Students are assigned different roles, and the “defendants” are supported to work in small groups to develop a defense against the charges outlined in the indictments. A jury is selected, and each group shares their arguments at the trial. There is only one rule: They may plead guilty, but they must accuse at least one other defendant of being responsible. After the jury deliberates and explains their verdict, all students are invited to reflect on the experience. Then, they use their voice to demand and create change.

The tribunal sounds like a meaningful learning opportunity for older students to explore different points of view. I am curious to think about how this might be adapted for younger students.

In your point of view, what are some powerful texts and/or dramatic conventions that you have used in the classroom and on-line?  Please add them to the Comments below.