“I have been forced to celebrate Valentine’s Day all my life!”

As we enter a new month, we look forward to celebrating new things with our classes. I was so excited to do a group research activity with my class this week, not only to see how well they collaborated, but to see what they knew about as far as days we celebrate in February.

This is the list they came up with:

  • Black History Month
  • Valentine’s Day
  • Lunar New Year
  • Groundhog Day
  • Family Day

Students worked with their classmates to come up with some facts about the celebrated dates. Then, they shared these facts with the rest of the class. During this activity, I saw new students stepping up as leaders and a lot of interesting conversations occurred.

Black History Month

Out of my 24 students, ten can remember celebrating this each year. They had mentioned hearing about it on the announcements or at the beginning of the month from their teacher but not much more. Last year was an interrupted year so perhaps they cannot remember much. Without researching, one student could recall the importance of learning about Black History and how she was looking forward to learning more. Many students wondered why Black History month is just one month? The discussions that came out of this were great as one grade seven offered that we should celebrate Black History as part of our history curriculum. I let her know that I agreed with this and the curriculum is starting to become much more inclusive. Ensuring these important parts of history are captured during each unit rather than once a year is something we all need to try to do. My class voted that they would all like to learn and celebrate during Black History Month this year since they hadn’t been able to remember much from last year.

Lunar New Year

One student in my room mentioned that they celebrate Lunar New Year and that they would be having a nice dinner that evening. They also wore a nice dress shirt to class and will be eating as a family that evening. Other students were unsure about this celebration and I made sure to fill them. When we are back from our Snow Day, I hope to show them an article on how families celebrated this year. No students had ever heard about this or could remember celebrating as a class in the past. One student offered that they had made a lantern in grade one.

Groundhog Day

Many students knew about this day without hearing the research and knew that it occurred each year. They did not want to celebrate or learn about this day as a class this year as they did not find it that important.

Family Day 

The research group found out when Family Day started and that we all have the day off for this holiday. Although we have the day off to celebrate, only four students put up their hand when asked if they would like to do something fun with their family that day. A grade 7/8 audience is hard to ask that question to because finding joy in spending time with family may be challenging to admit to their peers. We learned about how this day was created so that people can spend time to honour the importance of family and to cherish them by spending time with them. Lots of questions were asked about why we needed to have the day off. Great conversations around this as well!

Valentine’s Day 

This was the first celebration that was mentioned when groups selected their celebration. They knew the date of this holiday and many facts about it, not even thinking they needed to do any research. When I asked students how many had celebrated in the past, all hands went up. Students had mentioned doing crafts, going to dances, sending Valentine’s, etc. When I rephrased the question to who would like to celebrate Valentine’s Day this year, only 9 of the 24 hands went up. Whether it be their age of their disinterest in this holiday, students who had celebrated in previous years would not like to anymore. One student made a comment that inspired me to write this blog post. Her comment was, “I have been forced to celebrate Valentine’s Day all my life!” This comment really shocked me as I know that in the past, I had brought in cakes, cupcakes, treats, organized dances, organized candy grams, played music, dressed up, etc. all to celebrate a holiday that may not have meant anything to my students. They may not want to celebrate a day that appears on the calendar each year. That is why when administrators mention to be careful how much emphasis you place on certain holidays, it is meant for the students who may not want to celebrate that holiday. This year, I will allow my nine students to find a way to enjoy this holiday with their peers. The other students will not have to give up any of their time on February 14th to participate in something they do not want to participate in.

Lots of food for thought with this discussion, try it with your class if you think they can respond appropriately!

Truth and Reconciliation Day Reflections

In my grade 7/8 class, we spent the month of September discussing residential schools, learning about how these schools horribly affected many people and their families to this very day. We spent the past two week doing an activity from a Canva slideshow that my principal shared with our staff. We listened to many residential school survivors tell their story and we commented on how these stories made us feel. During the time when these videos were on, my students were actively listening and not distracted by anything around them. I could tell that what they were listening to was important to them. We discussed and participated in activities from this link Canva Link

Then, during the week of September 27th to October 1st, we participated and listened to various live speakers from the Truth and Reconciliation Week activities. During these live videos and activities, my students once again were engaged and being respectful to the speakers. The events we participated in can be found by clicking on this link

After listening to all of the speakers and pre-recorded videos, my students made their own orange shirt out of felt that they could safety pin to their shirt if they did not have an orange shirt for our first Truth and Reconciliation Day on September 30th. This idea was shared with me by a fellow teacher in my school (who has done this every year with her class). My students wore them with pride on September 30th as they knew the significance and importance of wearing orange.

Some questions my students had about Truth and Reconciliation Week/Day were:

  1. Why do the government officials get a holiday?
  2. Why would anyone choose to put children in a residential school?
  3. How can we learn from this?
  4. What can we do to help?
  5. Why…just why?

One of my grade eights said it best when he was commenting on the total devastation a parent would feel if their child never returned home. This comment was met with silence from my students.

We also read an article about perhaps in the future moving to make Truth and Reconciliation Day a provincial holiday as well. This brought up a great discussion about why this year it was only for federal employees. One student made a comment along the lines of, “I wonder if those employees are taking the day to reflect.” A good question from a grade eight student.

I commented on the fact that even though we may not feel as if we can do a lot to change what happened, we can respect the time we take each year to remember those children in the unmarked graves and to learn and listen from all of those who were impacted by that. I can continue to teach my class during this month about this each year and my students can continue to remember the children who were found. I enjoyed looking at Instagram and Twitter to see how schools reflected and shared their learning on Truth and Reconciliation Day.

As we move into October and learn about Islamic Heritage Month, we need to do our best to remember how to honour and respect all that we heard during September for the entire school year.

 

Student-led end of the year conferences

As we wind down towards the final report cards, I find myself wondering how I will be organizing my yearly student-led conferences. Each year on June 1st (or the first school day in June), I met with students one on one to discuss their upcoming final report. This gives students time to ask questions that relate to their final report. This year, I was wondering how I could run these conferences as a remote teacher (and having never met these students). I decided to use a sign up sheet with five minute intervals and then use breakout rooms for my interview spaces.

To introduce this activity, I told students that they would have the opportunity to ask questions about their upcoming report and to work towards improving some of their learning skills or doing some extra assignments to add to their lower marks. This is how the interviews with my grade sevens went:

  • Students created multiple questions to guide the interview such as:
    • What is my best learning skill?
    • What is a subject I should look for an extension in?
    • How can I bump up my math mark?
    • What subject should I look to participate the most in?
    • Am I lower than the class average in any subject?
    • Can I add to my grades in certain subjects or is it too late?
    • Are there any next steps you have for me?
    • How am I doing in health?
  • Students were given a personalized action plan which we worked together on, to come up with additional tasks that they could complete to improve their marks/ learning skills
  • Students were beyond thrilled to have the opportunity to bump up their lower marks
  • Students that had been idle for a while came to life!

All 30 student interviews took place yesterday. I emailed families to make them aware that their child had an interview on MS Teams and that they would have an opportunity to bump up their marks in time for their final reports. Parents were thankful for the opportunity and mentioned that they would encourage their child to work on these activities.

Today (the day after the interviews) I noticed a few students that had been silent for the past few months were starting to participate again. One student even led the discussions today in history, science and math. This is something that occurred as a result of a little encouragement and a private five minute discussion. Having students actively interested in their learning and the outcome is so important, especially in remote learning.

Student led interviews and feedback sessions are something that I was taught in my first placement as a teacher candidate. My associate teacher called over a student one at a time and let them see their “lower” mark and encouraged them to bump them up. It didn’t work for everyone but for some students, I noticed it gave them the extra drive and determination to finish the year on a positive note.

I know that it is already June but I wanted to make sure that students are not surprised when their reports come. I tried doing this in May in the past but I find June works best as reports are around the corner and students are looking to showcase their learning a few final times. I am so excited to get to some fun activities this month but I know these interviews can get students to really care about their final reports. This turns it into a working document rather than a piece of paper that students never care to read. They are proud to show their parents their areas of improvement and their marks rather than throwing it in the nearest garbage.

It is still early in June so you could try it out in your class and see how it works! Not everyone cares about their “marks” but for those that do, this is a powerful tool to motivate them even a little bit further.

Happy June everyone and enjoy your weekends 🙂

OAME Math Conference 2021: Equity Counts

I am very excited to write today’s post as I had the pleasure of once again attending the OAME math conference this year. The conference ran from Monday, May 17th and ends today Friday, May 2st. There were over 160 sessions to select from so it was hard to narrow it down to three per evening. I was offered a volunteer position with OAME to assist with moderating 3-4 sessions. This gave me access to the entire conference and as usual, this year’s conference did not disappoint. I would love to tell you about the exciting sessions I went to and some details about them. I also attached resources that were made publicly available and some ways I have already used my learning inside my grade seven math classroom.

Session Name: Supporting the new Elementary Math Curriculum: Educator Learning Modules
Presenters: Moses Velasco and Chantal Fournier
Summary of my learning: Moses and Chantal shared their presentation about ELMs. They shared a great resource as well! This presentation was geared towards more of a math coach audience which as I am not was not able to connect with much of their content. The ELMs were from 2017 and I know there were some questions about making new ones with the new math curriculum. Moses let the audience know that they will be coming out soon. The examples that we saw on the website were great! Feel free to explore their resource.
Resources: https://sites.google.com/view/operation-sense/home
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Session Name: Assessment that Moves
Presenter: Jordan Rappaport
Summary of my learning: Jordan was a gifted speaker and he had so many important things to share. Many of them I implemented in my class the very next day. Jordan spoke a lot about virtues in math:

  • Being creative
  • Being a thinker
  • Curiosity
  • Perseverance
  • Willingness to take risks
  • Ability to collaborate

Jordan shared that these virtues are important to people who hire mathematicians and essential in every math classroom. We also looked at a forward thinking rubric which had three boxes and a large arrow on top. He talked about using this so students can see where they are and where they should move towards. For the topic of collaboration, on the left column on the rubric, you would put terms like excluding, not being supportive, etc. and on the far right you would put the expected behaviours (opposite of the left side). You would then circle the place where the student was at. Jordan mentioned that building a rubric should be a collaborative process and he starts jamboards and shares them with his students. They generate ideas together when talking about a specific math virtue, what you should see and not see.
How I used this in the classroom this week: The day after hearing from Jordan, I posted the virtues on my slide and asked students to share what their best math virtue is. This allowed us to engage in conversations about why they take risks, why others may not, etc. This conversation was so meaningful and I loved hearing from my students.
Resources:

https://www.francissu.com/ 

https://buildingthinkingclassrooms.com/ 

https://www.peterliljedahl.com/ 

http://fractiontalks.com/
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Session Name: Designing Classroom Explorations that Engage All Students
Presenter: Gail Burrill
Summary of my learning: During this session, Gail spoke about many exciting topics. Gail shared that in her math classroom, she has her students complete various math tasks such as: book reports, research reports (math in art, etc.), write stories from graphs and many more. This connects math to many other subjects and is meaningful for students. Some other key takeaways included:

  • Data driven tasks are important in the classroom
  • Connecting math to student’s lives
    • Gail gave an excellent example where students had to find the problem with Fred VanVleet from the Raptors as his shooting percentage was in a rut. They had to solve if there was a rut or not and look at percentages with his shooting statistics.
  • Following instructions doesn’t mean your students have learned anything
  • Turning procedures into problems because then students will want to solve them and remember them
  • Vertical non-permanent surfaces
  • Visibly random groups
  • Comments before grades; feedback should be for thinking

Gail also mentioned a great resource where you can visit https://censusatschool.ca/ and have students answer: What do you notice? What do you wonder? These real life statistics engage her students for the first fifteen students of her class and she looks at real life scenarios. Gail also left us with some things to think about:

  • How much time do your students spend..
    • in silence?
    • talking to peers?
    • listening?
    • presenting?

Resources: https://censusatschool.ca/
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Session Name: Building Math Residue with Lessons That Stick
Presenter: Graham Fletcher
Summary of my learning: Graham shared many ideas that help students engage in explorations and lessons that really make students wonder, what is the answer to that question? I loved this idea from Graham:

  • Estimation Waterfall: asking students to wait until they hit enter so that they are not just copying the student who always gets it “right”

Of course, the focus of the session was what makes a good task? Here were Graham’s steps:

  1. Simple: Is it accessible? Avoid language due to any language barriers
  2. Unexpected: Does it fire up the guessing machine? Do students actually want to know the answer?
  3. Concrete: Do your students have any prior knowledge to connect to?
  4. Credible: What validates the math?
  5.  Emotional: Does it create an ah-ha moment?
  6. Stories: How will the math story be told?

Graham also mentioned the following ideas which are important to know and to understand:

  • Anyone can be good at math
  • Listening to a student’s thinking is more important than the answer
    • Graham showed a video of him working with a student and he was so patient, waiting to hear the student get the answer and listening to their process
  • Right answers should only matter at the end of a unit (assessment/test). The journey along the way is for making mistakes and for building understanding
  • A good math question makes you excited for the answer
  • Teachers shouldn’t jump on their students when they see a wrong answer, they should question them and wait for them to have that ah-ha moment

How I used this in the classroom this week: The day after hearing from Graham, I asked my students join a jamboard and I posed the above statements to them. I had them disagree or agree and if they wanted, they could share their reasoning on the mic. Students had such incredible things to say about all of the statements and we even got one anxious student to admit that making mistakes along the way is okay!  A huge breakthrough for this student.
Resources: https://gfletchy.com/Be sure to check out the tab “3-Act tasks” for some engaging lessons that stick!
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Session Name: Math, Social Justice and Actions
Presenter: Robert Berry
Summary of my learning: Robert Berry brought up incredible conversations that need to be had in our math classrooms. Robert shared a provocation for us: Who are our essential workers? What do you notice, wonder and how does it impact your community? Robert shared a lot of insight on how to create your own social justice math lesson:

  • Learn about relevant social injustices
  • Identify the math
  • Establish your goals
  • Determine how you will assess your goals
  • Create a social justice question for the lesson
  • Make student resources
  • Plan for reflection/action

There should be conversations about connecting math with students cultural and community histories. This was a great session and I was so engaged in his presentation, I did not take many notes!
Resources: https://padlet.com/rqb3e/sjmathresources Attached are incredible social justice mathematics resources
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Session Name: Some of my Favourite Problems
Presenter: Mike Eden
Summary of my learning: Mike is from the University of Waterloo and he shared many engaging math problems from various contests and from challenging math lessons. He asked people in the chat to share their answers and we looked at many ways to solve these challenging problems. I am sure you are all familiar with “Problem of the Week” from the University of Waterloo, well Mike took us further with these incredible problems!
Resourceshttp://: https://www.cemc.uwaterloo.ca/ https://www.cemc.uwaterloo.ca/contests/past_contests.html
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Session Name: Slow Reveal Graphs as Social Justice Provocations
Presenters: Kyle Pindar and Jennifer Fannin
Summary of my learning: This was such an engaging session that used the website https://trends.google.com/trends/ to design slow reveal graphs. The focus of the lessons are asking the questions these key questions: What? So what? Now what? Also, what do you notice? What do you wonder? Slow reveal graphs are innocently framed as hard hitting social justice questions. Kyle explained how to make these slow reveal provocations using these steps:

  1. https://trends.google.com/trends/?geo=CA Make sure you are using the Canadian trends (setting on top right should say “Canada”
  2. Download the image (graph) you want to use
  3. Open up a blank google sheet
  4. Upload the download and re-size the columns
  5. Delete the top two lines
  6. Create slide show

Then, show your students these graphs, slowly revealing new features on the graph such as: the actual data, x axis information, y axis information and then eventually, the title (trend). Kyle and Jennifer discussed generating expected students responses so that you can be prepared to have these discussions as a class. They had great examples, specifically a graph showing the googling of “BLM” and you could see the spike on the day that George Floyd was murdered. Both presenters discussed how you would have that conversation with the class of what made these search results spike up in May of 2020? These are such great ways to have social justice discussions in class!
Resources: https://trends.google.com/trends/?geo=CA https://www.statcan.gc.ca/eng/start

Overall, I am so grateful for the opportunity that was this year’s OAME Math Conference. I wish I had been able to attend/moderate more sessions but as an OAME volunteer, I have the ability to listen to recorded sessions I could not attend. I will listen to some over the next few weeks and post anything else I gather. I hope this post provides a snapshot of such incredible math presentations and all of their wisdom that they wished to pass on to math educators! I know it is late in the year to take in this much incredible math information, but this post will be here to refresh your memory after a well-rested and well-deserved summer vacation!

If you wish to learn more about OAME or how to attend the conference next year, visit their website: https://oame.on.ca/main/index.php

Toxic Positivity in a Brave New World

I am a huge science fiction fan and was excited to start the new TV series “Brave New World”.  I read the book for my “The Science in Science Fiction Literature” course (I know, cool course right?) in University and I was looking forward to the TV series. In the futuristic “Brave New World”, society has developed mood altering drugs that everyone is required to take to maintain their “levels” so that they can have calm, happy dispositions all of the time.  The result is that the characters don’t really have to “feel” anything deeply.  If there is discomfort or grief they can take a “soma” from their Pez dispenser-type tool and go on with life in peace and harmony.  The struggle for the characters is that once they discover the power of feeling true human emotion they want to experience it, thus going against the social norm.

The “Brave New World” narrative parallels the dangers of toxic positivity.  Psychologygroup.com defines toxic positivity as: “the excessive and ineffective overgeneralization of a happy, optimistic state across all situations. The process of toxic positivity results in the denial, minimization, and invalidation of the authentic human emotional experience.”  Think of it like too much of a good thing can be bad for you.  Phrases like, “It could be worse,” or “Focus on the positive,” “Don’t worry, be happy,” may seem innocuous, but in fact reject, repress or deny negative emotions. The message is that it is not OK to feel anything except positive and happy.

So what does this have to do with education?  First of all, teachers excel at wearing stress and being busy as a badge of honour.  I’m guilty of doing it. I’ve heard myself say that I worked all weekend preparing for the upcoming week. We have established this as a norm in educational culture.  Human beings work best when they give themselves time to rejuvenate.  Teacher burn out is a real thing. I honestly think if I walked into a staff room and announced, “I totally relaxed all weekend and just read my novel.” I would face sneers and hear “Must be nice,” muttered around me. Not because teachers are bad people, but because as a culture we don’t value taking care of ourselves as much as we value productivity. Being positive about being overworked and stressed out is toxic positivity, and it is rampant in education.

The problem isn’t with genuinely upbeat and effusive people. Those people are rare.  Treasure them. The problem lies in people denying, repressing, minimizing or invalidating negative emotions.  Keeping calm and carrying on can be counterproductive and harmful to mental health.  While there are well intentioned people providing “just do it” kind of strategies and messages about being positive; those intentions may end up making people feel bad about feeling bad, adding guilt and shame to the mix of emotions.

So, what can we do?  We can try to shift the narrative to value and validate the real emotions that people are feeling.  We can try to give ourselves permission to say, “You know what, I’m not ok right now. I’m grieving the way in which I used to work and live.  I’m hoping that it will soon change.” It is OK to be sad and yet still feel positive about the future.  You can feel both things.

When someone shares their sadness, anger, grief or frustration with you, try to sincerely validate those emotions.  True empathy is saying, “I’m here to embrace the suck with you,” not minimizing the emotions of others.  You can be curious and ask questions, “That must be frustrating, tell me more about that, I’m here to listen.”  Then, do that.  Just listen.

I try to give myself grace and forgiveness.  I have not learned to knit, bake bread or trained to run a marathon during the pandemic. Some days, just putting two feet on the carpet beside my bed is a big win.  I have to remind myself daily that is OK not to be the “Quarantine Queen.” It is OK not to be productive beyond my wildest imagination during a global pandemic. I try to avoid offering platitudes about positivity. I try to validate the feelings of the people around me. I will try to give up “soma” in my Brave New Covid-19 World, throw out the fake positivity, and feel all of the range of emotions – good, bad and ugly.

 

 

Engaging with Indigenous Knowledge as a Non-Indigenous Educator

Over my teaching career I have been fortunate to teach in schools with high populations of Indigenous students and to learn from the knowledge keepers and elders in the communities that our schools served.  Admittedly, I haven’t always said or done the right things but I have learned from those mistakes.  As a non-Indigenous educator, I know that I will continuously be on a professional and personal learning journey.  I acknowledge that it is my responsibility to do this learning.  There are resources that I have used along the way and I hope that by drawing attention to the following resources, I can assist others in their learning journey.

In order to avoid cultural appropriation, to honour and respect Indigenous culture and history as a non-Indigenous teacher, it is important to have the appropriate resources. We can’t avoid teaching about residential schools because we don’t feel comfortable.  It is a part of the Ontario Curriculum.  It isn’t just about “history” either.  Current events draw attention to the pervasive issues faced by Indigenous peoples.  These are teachable moments that are authentic and relevant to students.  Students will be asking questions and forming opinions. As educators we have a responsibility to assist students to find accurate and culturally respectful information.

If you are looking for a place to begin in your learning journey, visit ETFO’s First Nations, Métis and Inuit Education website.  It is filled with cultural protocols, resources and Ministry Documents.  It is a treasure trove of information on treaties, land acknowledgements and avoiding cultural appropriation.  Throughout the literature are hyperlinks for explanations of concepts and lexicon.  Through ShopETFO you can purchase the FNMI Engaging Learners Through Play  resource created for elementary educators which provides play based activities that engage all students.

A quick resource can be found on code.on.ca (The Council of Ontario Drama and Dance Educators). This resource provides a quick chart of protocols on what to do, what to avoid, why to avoid and what to try in order to bring learning about Indigenous culture and history into your classroom.  This document also provides links to videos about Indigenous Arts Protocols, and a quick reference guide for what to think about before engaging with Indigenous Knowledge.

The website helpingourmotherearth.com is filled with tools and resources for educators including videos of Indigenous Knowledge Keepers telling their stories.  There are free educational resource kits with lesson plans for primary, junior and intermediate students.  In addition, you could sign up for professional learning or a workshop on the site.

Like me, you might make mistakes.  However, my Indigenous educator friends have coached me that the worst mistake that non-Indigenous educators can make is to do nothing.  I hope that highlighting these resources will help you along your professional learning journey.

Overwhelming Resources

As we engage in distance/remote/online/emergency learning Educators are being inundated with resources and tools to use in their virtual classrooms.  It isn’t easy to decide which would be most effective and which ones are safe for teachers and students to use.  There is no one size fits all answer to this but there are a few things that I do in order to narrow down my choices of whether or not to use a particular digital tool or resource:

  1.  I search for tools that are designed by Canadian or better yet, Ontario Educators and where possible, data is housed in Canada.
  2. I look at whether or not the tool will still be free after the COVID crisis is over or whether it has always been a free tool.  I honestly don’t mind paying for a tool from the outset but I don’t really like the whole free trial thing.  I also don’t want to pay some kind of a monthly fee.  One time price, please!  I don’t want to love a tool so much while it is free and then have to pay for it when I go back into the classroom.
  3. I look at whether or not it is a one time fee or negative billing.  I won’t give anyone my credit card to start a free trial for a tool.
  4. I search for tools that I know will be supported by my ICT department.  Anything that wants access to email contacts in my school board is a non-starter.
  5. I search for tools that inspire collaboration and creativity.  I’m not one to sign up students for a gaming platform that is really just an engaging math drill.
  6. I look at bang for my buck (even if it is free).  Is it a versatile tool?  Does it allow for different forms of communication?  Can I embed audio and video?  Is there an opportunity for a variety of feedback methods?
  7. I look at the Privacy statement.  Although I am no expert in this, I can generally tell when something has red flags.  Anything that is attached to third party social media platforms like Facebook is a non starter for me.
  8. Right now while there are so many sign ups and passwords for students, I stay away from platforms that want to create student accounts and want information apart from an email.
  9. I look to see if it is a Microsoft or Apple Education certified product?  I know that for the most part, those tools are trustworthy.
  10. I look at user reviews and YouTube tutorials.  I want to know what the pitfalls are of something before I invest time and/or money.

At the end of the day no tool is perfect and few tools are unlikely to meet the specific needs of each and every student in your classroom.  However, I hope that what I do when choosing a tool might guide you to the most effective tools in the over abundance of resources that are floating around out there.

Graphic Novels – Engaging Learning for All Readers

Meeting with families was a little different this year due to job action.  Last month, I met with a family to discuss their child’s progress. Although we weren’t meeting about concerns, this was a very insightful meeting, as we spoke about engaging students in reading for enjoyment. I was a little surprised because this child always raises their hand to participate in reading activities in the classroom and this definitely got me thinking about reading overall.

After some reflection, I realized that as an educator, I’m constantly asking students to read for a specific purpose: to gather or organize information for research; to check for comprehension; or to sometimes aid in writing. Sure, I’ve told students to read for enjoyment but I started to think about whether or not I’ve taught them how to find books that they enjoy. Have I given them time to just sit and read without asking them to do something after? How do we navigate the space of having students read for a purpose while also honouring them developing their own love of reading? How do we help them to maintain this balance as the demands of reading increase through the grades? This also got me thinking personally about my reading habits. When picking a book, I usually go for the trial and error method.  I try a book, like it and find similar books by the same author or genre to continue reading. Or I hate it and stop reading anything similar. How do we help students to learn what is out there?

During the weeks before the break, while on trips to the library for our book exchange, I started to have more open conversations with my students about what I like to read and why. I spent some time pulling out different books that I liked and it was so neat to see students wanting to take a look at what I liked to read and who trusted my recommendations. This had me thinking about book reviews and how powerful they are. I’ve read books based solely on the word of someone I trusted. How might we foster spaces where students could freely share their reviews of books, not because they had to write a book report but because they wanted to have the opportunity to share.  I also realized that my students need to see me reading – more specifically what I am reading – which opened up opportunities for conversations that are authentic. While in the library, I started reading some of the graphic novels and realized that many of them were so packed with amazing themes and could also be great for book clubs with students. 

My three latest graphic novel reads are New Kid by Jerry Craft, Invisible Emmie by Terri Libenson, and Guts by Raina Telgemeir. While reading, I realized that each of the graphic novels could be used for deep conversations about the realities of navigating the very real difficulties of growing up. Conversations around race, fear, identity, and being valued could really be dug into by studying out these novels within the classroom setting. This got me thinking about this lovely section in our library that often gets so much use from students but not as much from the educators in our building. One question that popped into my head was, How might we use this section to engage all readers as they learn to identify what they enjoy reading?

Beyond these deep conversations, there’s a lot that could be learned from reading graphic novels. Similar to narratives, students can find the elements of a narrative within (characters, setting, plot, etc.). Beyond that here are a few ideas of how I think they might also be used.

Before reading:

  • Copy a few pages of the text and remove the dialogue. Have students infer what is happening in a section of the graphic novel and justify their thinking. 
  • Copy different parts of the text and have students piece together the sequence of events based on what they see. 
  • Copy an integral part of the text. Remove the dialogue and have students write what they believe is happening in that section of the text. Ask them to think of what led up to that part and perhaps what happens next.

During Reading:

  • Have students reflect on different features within the text. For example, how might the colours, shape, and style of the font and/or text bubbles influence your understanding of the text? 
  • Make predictions of what might come next. Have students draw the next few panels of the story. 
  • How does the imagery add to what is being “said” to the reader? Have students point out clear examples from the text.
  • Ask students to consider the inner or outer dialogue happening. How do you know which is which? How might this give readers an even deeper insight into the experiences of the character?
  • Panels in graphic organizers are oftentimes different sizes, why might that be? What can we gather about information within larger panels?

After Reading:

  • Extend the story. What might happen in a sequel? Draw the beginning 3 panels of the next part of the story.
  • Summarize the text in 5 panels. How might these 5 panels clearly show the plot within the graphic novel?
  • How did the art in the text contribute to your understanding of the characters or the overall story? What role did the colours play in evoking emotion?

These are just some of my ideas for using graphic novels with students. Since many students have graphic novels at home, I wonder if this might be something that we can use going forward in this new realm of continuing the learning at home as we perhaps use this time to help students identify what they enjoy reading.  Let me know your thoughts.

Say Less, Ask More

Sometimes the smallest change can make a huge difference, especially in education. Things such as greeting students individually upon arrival at school can set the tone for the entire day.  Small changes in habitual behaviours can improve communication and relationships with students.

Over the last few months I’ve been reading the work of Michael Bungay Stanier.  Most recently I’ve been reading “The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More and Change the Way You Lead Forever”.  I admit, that at first blush, it doesn’t sound as though this book has much relevance to elementary education.  However, as I was reading I kept making connections to communicating with students more effectively to encourage independence.  As learning becomes more inquiry based in many classrooms, teachers are having to move into more of a coaching role.  I think that the education sector as a whole has made some assumptions that teachers know how to be effective coaches and facilitators.  In my own teaching practice, there has been a huge learning curve.  Teaching through inquiry isn’t about leaving students to their own devices.  Students generally aren’t familiar with the curriculum and other than being children, they aren’t experts on child development.  Educators have to be guides for student learning.  But what exactly does that mean and how do we transition to this type of teaching?

For me the biggest change and challenge in becoming more of a guide in my classroom was talking less and letting the students do the learning. I am a problem solver, helper and rescuer and I’m sure many teachers can relate, which is why it is so hard to be quiet and back off.  I’ve also learned that asking questions might be easy, but asking effective questions is a skill for teachers and students alike.

So what did I learn from a “coaching” book that might help a classroom teacher? Keep in mind, these examples might be better suited for the older grades.  You might need to keep it a bit more simple for Kindergarten.  However, in most cases, better questions get better answers.  Here are some examples:

A student comes in from recess and is visibly upset.  Instead of asking, “What’s wrong? Did something happen at recess?  Can I help?”  Try asking just one question, “What’s on your mind?” and then be quiet and listen. The question “What’s on your mind?” is a focused question and invites someone to get into the heart of the matter. Sometimes all that is needed is a venting session and the child feels better.  You don’t always have to be a rescuer or problem solver. Most of the time, kids just want to be heard.

Normally in a situation like this I’ll ask, “Can I help?’ or “Would you like some help?”  However, the small change to “HOW can I help?” helps the student to articulate their request.  In addition, it gives them the opportunity to identify the solution and not have the adult jump in to solve things for them.

Tweaking the questions that we ask could improve communication and lead to more effective answers.  In addition, asking focused questions could empower students and lead to more independence. Michael’s work and questioning techniques are helpful for dealing with the people in your workplace.  You can sign up for Michael Bungay Stanier’s “The Coaching Habit” Podcast online and find other great coaching resources at Box of Crayons .

 

Create Success in Intermediate Math through Play….

“What are you doing in Math today?” the VP inquires of my grade 5,6,7 and 8 students.

“We’re playing games.”

“You’re playing games?”

“Yes, we always play in math.”

The assessments gathered from these classes provide me insight of where everyone is in their learning. My experience with assessments are that individual conversations to understand the thinking process provides the most valuable information. The range of each of my classes is from a low elementary level to a low secondary level.  This is quite a span. As a school we have been, “Landscaping” these students using; Fosnots– Landscape of Learning.  http://thelearningexchange.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Creating-Conditions-for-Learning-Math-Viewers-Guide.pdf This provides an great snapshot of where your learners are on a continuum. Our board has developed some very specific assessment questions for all grade levels which include strategic numbers to help determine the strategies individuals use.

How do I managed this?

It took me a while with the continuous disruptions to the daily routine. The way, I have adopted my assessment sessions this year is similar to how a reading group would be managed.  Provide the lesson, give the class expectations, then work with a small group on a rotating basis. The entire class already understands the rules and class expectations which have been familiar routines followed to date.

Now what?

I find creating a growth mindset is most important. This is developed through creating a comfort zone for all, including the teacher. Each year I am challenged to ensure my learners grow and develop forward on the continuum. I use a variety of resources such as Sherry Parrish’s-Number Talks http://www.meaningfulmathmoments.com/number-talks.html This is a great beginning to each class.

I resource Dr. Small’s-Big Ideas https://search.library.utoronto.ca/details?7785153&uuid=5d3e7d21-dfef-4e3a-a3d3-9f33f13418b9 for different activities to compliment the concept of study.

Presently I am using, From Patterns to Algebra, by Dr. Beatty and Dr. Bruce https://school.nelson.com/from-patterns-to-algebra-book/

Play, yes these resources include play which I implement on a regular basis.  The students enjoy learning with and from each other while I guide them. During my classes, Play creates a class dynamic for success.