The Arts

Art is powerful. Whether through music, dance, drama, or visual arts, it has the ability to take us to other worlds, giving us a glimpse into the experiences of others. It also allows us to explore how we might share our experiences creatively through movement, sound and visuals. In this post, I’ll share a couple of upcoming virtual field trips you might be interested in participating in with students. 

The AGO Virtual School Programs

Students from kindergarten through grade 12 can experience the Art Gallery of Ontario’s collection through their virtual school programs. I’ve shared in the past that this was a hit for my students and this year, they’ve added something I haven’t seen before. On Fridays, there’s Artmaking 101! This is an opportunity for students – and yes, teachers – to try simple drawing techniques – inspired by the elements of design. It’s a practical way for students to engage with a work of art, discuss a particular element, and then have the chance to play around and/or practice. I love this idea! April is all about one of my favourite elements, colour.  Give it a try!

YOU Dance

Every year, The National Ballet of Canada provides students with the opportunity to learn with and from Apprentices and Ballet Teaching Artists. Prior to Covid, schools could register to have a Ballet Teaching Artist visit but now, with a virtual demonstration, more classrooms can have the opportunity to participate. Last year, I had students get up and move around, trying out some of the dance movements and it was a great opportunity for them to learn a new art form and to think about dance in a different way. The before and after questions certainly helped to create meaningful conversations around what the students would see and experience. This year’s performance is on Friday, May 20th, from 12:15 to 1:15 pm ET. There’s still time to sign up.

I know that Art has played an important part in my life. Music can bring about strong feelings of nostalgia and visual art is one tool that I use to help support my mental health and well-being. In what ways do the Arts impact your life? How might we consider this in our daily work with students? In what ways might we infuse more Art and in turn creativity? These are some questions that I am pondering.

no cape required

Have you ever seen or heard this one? “I teach. What’s your superpower?” It’s on shirts, mugs, plaques and all sorts of other tchotchkes. I’ve heard it at conferences and keynotes too and it never fails to make me chuckle when I do because it seems like a humble brag even though it is true. To continue the candy coated clichés then, it comes as no surprise that each educator possesses super powers that they use everyday.

You know the ones I’m talking about. Pivoting (easy stomach) to emergency online learning with little to no notice, covering classes while losing prep after prep due to a lack of available occasional teachers due to illness or quarantine requirements, putting on a brave face for students and colleagues who are showing the signs of anxiety at the edge of a nervous breakdowns, and facing a barrage of unrealistic expectations from system leaders who are decades between the classroom and the boardroom. I guess the capes these superpowers come with are back ordered due to supply chain issues like our HEPA filtration units, school nurses, RAT tests, and consistent policy. 

Cape or no cape, I guess it’s not bragging when it’s backed up with actions because I know that it is happening in classrooms in Ontario and beyond on a daily basis. 3 weeks into the new year and the shift is coming to relax restrictions rather than enforce measures to protect the public. Each day another classroom is emptied while caretakers “sanitize” because another student departs with symptoms. Each day our front office team deals with 20% more calls and reports of COVID related absences of students. Each day we prepare to accommodate learners who have stayed home able to choose the hybrid option. Each day the struggle to see something positive in every situation becomes more difficult even for the most enlightened optimists among us. 

That is why, this post comes with its own irony, as I write this month, because it is taking all of my superpowers as an educator just to get through each day right now. I truly believe that it is not normal to wake up feeling restless or trudging home with little left in the emotional tank for family let alone friends or additional school work such as planning and assessment. It is taking every ounce of my superpowers to find the air and the serenity right now. Each exit from school at day’s end feels like emerging from underneath water to finally draw an overdue breath of air. 

The move to online and then back to the classroom this month with little to no regard to the wellbeing of students or educators is once again due to negligence and dereliction of responsibility by the current government. There’s nothing better than making sure families start the year wondering and witnessing ongoing acts of orchestrated distraction, unchecked number vomit news pressers, and photo ops provided confusion in the media for the public. These stage managed wretched events only amplified how an out of touch premier and his party of gaslighting grifters are able to go to inconvenience a province and its 2 000 000 students and make it sound like they are doing their jobs.

It is political performance art at its worst through a series of non-messages, announcements about announcements and off news cycle timing intended solely to keep everyone stuck to a web of distraction and uncertainty woven by political incompetence. It is also the kryptonite that weakens education and civil society at the expense of future generations who are only learning about their super powers in our classrooms. 

Thank you for reading and for sharing your superpowers. 

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.

Here we go again…

Remote learning is here again and after three days of synchronous teaching this week, it feels like a deja vu of last year. I spent September to June teaching remotely from my office last year after being surplussed from my school. To be back in the same office teaching remotely is quite a challenging feeling, especially since we all know the toll it takes on kids to be out of the classroom.

For students at my school, being in the classroom is essential. That word has been used a lot in the past three years and it seems to hold a lot of weight. Being in the classroom is essential for so many reasons. Our food program provides the first meal of the day for many and is not available now that we are online. The connections in the classroom help students who have felt isolated for so long and they were so happy this September to finally start making these connections again. The ability to play on a sports team that is free and is developmental is so important for those in our community. Having a caring adult who is always there to listen and to help is a must during these times. Being online takes away most of those essential opportunities.

I have been reading many articles this week that spoke to me. My favourite read was this article:

https://www.macleans.ca/society/the-cruel-ridiculous-reality-of-virtual-learning/?fbclid=IwAR2iS0pFaMpavoWSZLi0MmGvNHaUHccAgc7s7IbbH4-cs8ymegSFjB4Bq_A

This article speaks about many of the problems with children learning at home, disengaged from their peers. It is really interesting to hear things from a parent point of view who try to juggle their children’s schedules while also doing their own job. Worth a read for anyone wanting to hear another perspective.

Last year, we made it work as the vaccine roll out started and many parents were uncomfortable sending their unvaccinated child into the classroom. This time, we have access to these resources and we have done all we can. It is time to stay in the classroom and never be taken out again.

However, I can celebrate some small successes this week as I always try to look for a few positives in a dark situation:

  • 18 of my 24 students were able to get access to technology and they signed in and came online
  • 3 out of my 24 students turned their cameras on which was great as I could see their reactions while I was teaching
  • Two of my students who rarely complete tasks in the classroom completed many tasks this week
  • One of my students who does not speak throughout the day connected online in the chat
  • One of my students with attendance issues signed in all three days this week

So even though remote learning is in no way the best option for children, some students thrive in this setting.

I am also taking advantage of this online time to begin coding with my class as this is the only time we will have 1:1 technology. We have started the Express Course 2021 on http://code.org The website tracks the progress of each student and lets me know who is online and learning. It covers both the grade seven and eight curriculum content for coding. The students can learn to code sprites to move, work with loops, functions and even design their own app. I am thankful for the devices that we are currently able to have since it would not be possible to start coding without them. Last year my students used Scratch and it was not that user friendly, especially since I could not walk into their homes and help them with their tasks. This program is much more reliable and easy to understand.

So all in all, it has been a long week with many ups and downs. At the end of 2021, I told my students there was really no way we could end up online and now here we are again. I hope that we can go back into the classroom soon as we all know the benefits that it provides to each and every student. I commend my fellow educators who are teaching at home and some with their own children home too. I cannot imagine juggling both. Keep at it everyone and we will get through this, once again.

The Covid-19 Pandemic has brought unique and unprecedented challenges to teaching. ETFO’s position on in-person learning remains unchanged. The union firmly believes that in-person instruction and learning in publicly-funded schools provides the best experience for learning, quality delivery and is the most equitable model for all students. In order to support educators during remote learning, several resources have been created to support members.

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.

Myth of Hybrid Multitasking

woman with multiple arms holds several pieces of paper

I decided to write this blog after reading an article in the Globe and Mail about getting off our cell phones. According to the article “Phone use depraves us of the quality of our sleep, our productivity, and our creativity. It is linked to heightened levels of anxiety and depression, diminished sexual satisfaction, compromised child-parent relationships and so much more.” (Leszcz, July 24th, 2021, Globe and Mail, Technology Section, p. 6-7). With phone in hand, we have established multitasking in our lives.

This got me thinking about how distracting teaching is during the hybrid model. Here, teachers must attend to students in class, students online, technology to run the class, and the lesson taught. In hybrid multitasking, teachers’ attention is pulled in many directions. The question is “How effective can teachers be in this environment?”

The Myth of Multitasking

There’s a myth that multitasking increases people’s ability to do many things effectively at once. However, after reading some psychology texts, I’ve found this myth is not true in real life.

According to Paul Atchley, Ph.D. (associate professor of Cognitive Psychology at the University of Kansas), “Based on over a half-century of cognitive science and more recent studies on multitasking, we know that multitaskers do less and miss information. It takes time (an average of 15 minutes) to re-orient to a primary task after a distraction such as an email. Efficiency can drop by as much as 40%. Long-term memory suffers and creativity — a skill associated with keeping in mind multiple, less common, associations — is reduced.”

This means, with multitasking, our ability to do work decreases, making us less effective. Even though the human brain has billions of neurons and many trillions of connections, humans are incapable of doing multiple things at the same time. Instead, what happens, is that human brains switch tasks choosing which information to process (Archley, 2010). When “you listen to speech, your visual cortex becomes less active, so when you talk on the phone to a client and work on your computer at the same time, you literally hear less of what the client is saying” (Archley, 2010.)

Technology Distracts Us from Our Life

Archley states that technological distractions make us unaware of the demands it puts on our information processing capacity. He also states that humans “crave access to more information because it makes us comfortable. People tend to search for information that confirms what they already believe. Multiple sources of confirmation increase our confidence in our choices.” Problems arise as more information “leads to discomfort, because some of it might be conflicting. As a result, we then search for more confirmatory information” (Archley, 2010.)

Multitasking Leads to Memory Problems

Overall, multitasking leads to problems with memory – which would account for the noted decrease in my executive function since teaching synchronously online and in the hybrid model.

What can people do to improve their ability to function? How can we prevent our brains from becoming overloaded?

  1. Do one thing at a time
    • Try to complete one task at a time or until attention fades (which is after about 18 minutes according to Archley)
    • If you need to go back to a task, write a note as a reminder – I do this all the time
  1. Work in a spot that has few distractions so you can focus
    • close the door in the room in which you are working (Archley, 2010)
    • set a time to work and provide yourself breaks as needed
  1. Realize that not all information is useful
    • information includes information sourced from phones, computers, radio, TV, etc. via blogs, posts, texts etc.
    • ask yourself if this information is worth interrupting your work
    • consider your use of social media and the time it takes out of your life and how it uses up your executive function
    • consider how your time on your tablet or phone is impacting your relationships with others
    • “know the difference between social networks, which are likely to confirm your choices and therefore make you feel good, and knowledge networks, which might challenge them, and therefore help you make a better decision” (Archley, 2010)

With regards to using our cell phones prudently, Benjamin Leszcz (2021) makes the following suggestions:

  1. Put down your phone when paying attention to others
    • When talking to someone, make eye contact, listen carefully, be present with the person
    • Leszcz writes “phones don’t just diminish our performance as friends; they also make us inferior parents” (2021) – ask yourself, How is your phone impacting your relationships with your children and partner?
    • During meals, phones should never be at the table, or a bar or even in children’s bedrooms.
    • People in our lives deserve our undivided attention – so put your phone away and pay attention to them!
  1. Put away all phones
    • Phones should be either face down on our desks or in a drawer, a bag, a pocket … away from our attention
    • Best place for a phone is in another room – I do this but then get complaints as to why I have not attended to text or answered calls
    • Don’t check your emails all the time – I also get complaints about not reading and responding to emails immediately … but consider in real life, if something is so critical it needs my attention, then someone will get a hold of me using another vector
    • At staff meetings, teachers should not be on their phones as it distracts them from actually hearing information conveyed
  1. Phones interrupt our capacity to learn and read keeping us in a state of hyperattention (Dr. Turkle cited in Leszcz, 2021)
    • Bite sized information make us weary of actually reading long text like books or newspaper articles
    • Marshall McLuhan wrote “A new medium is never an addition to an old one, nor does it leave the old one in peace.”
    • Phones distract us from written text and real life conversations, as Leszcz states, “Keeping a phone nearby while reading a book is like putting a plate of fries beside your salad”
  1. “When we are paying attention to nothing at all, we should put our phones away” (Leszcz, 2021)
    • Phones constantly distract us from life by keeping us connected
    • Even in our leisure time phones are present getting us to send another text or take another photo – instead of just enjoying the place we are in
    • “Phones rob us of the moments we can be free, letting our minds rest or wander” (Leszcz, 2021)
    • Phones have us using our executive function all the time and without a break our long-term memory can be diminished (Archley, 2010)

Leszcz warns us about the consequences of using cell phones and technology less … as withdrawal symptoms are likely. We may find breaks from technology give us the feeling of being on vacation. Technology vacations may result in building deeper relationships and reconnecting with our family and our partners in more ways than just talking.

In the end, this research shows that human beings were never meant to attend to so many things at once. Knowing this, I can make the following statements about hybrid teaching and learning:

  • Teachers should not have to attend to students synchronously at home and at school as it makes us less effective as teachers.
  • Teachers should not have to teach using the hybrid model as it is bad for our brains, our attention, and our relationships.

Collaboratively,

Deb Weston, PhD

References

Atchley, P. (December 21, 2010). You Can’t Multitask, So Stop Trying, Harvard Business Review Downloaded from https://hbr.org/2010/12/you-cant-multi-task-so-stop-tr (July 25, 2021).

Leszcz, B. (July 24, 2021). After the pandemic, let’s deal with our phone addictions. Here are three rules to follow, Globe and Mail, Downloaded from https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-after-the-pandemic-lets-deal-with-our-phone-addictions-here-are-three/ (July 25, 2021).

Before you click “End the call”

After 10 months of learning at the lag and speed of education during a pandemic, the end of this school year is at hand. Our students and fellow educators have been through so much. Considering the obstacles(emotional, physical, virtual), doubt, stress, isolation, frustration, and constantly shifting plans that elected and system leaders have laid before us, we made it. 

I guarantee that not a single soul wishes to do it over again either. It’s time to close the book on lockdown learning in a pandemic. We all get gold stars for our efforts along with some well earned time away from the screens to which we have stared and spoken too frequently. Although, the number of school days can be counted on one hand, I still need both hands and one of my feet to count the digital meetings ahead before logging out for a while. The thought of this got me very excited, perhaps my reward centre released some hormones in anticipation or something neuroscientific like that, but I think it is more likely a sigh of relief. An overdue exhale if you will. I wonder if CO2 levels will rise on the last day of school?

As joyous as this impending summer recovery and associated unstructured time will be for all of us, I wonder what that last day is going to be like for the hundreds of thousands of students we have been serving after we “end the call”? What are you going to do to celebrate? We have a lot to cheer about. I have been weighing that last Google meeting quite heavily this year, and it is understandable considering how many times we have all logged on and off this year.

For my class, I really want to spend time listening to the students, playing social games, and dancing out our time together. This is not unlike the last day at school in real life for me other than copious amounts of candy and snacks. Everything is on the table from Blookets to Buddy Board Games, and from Kahoots to Just Dance vids (see links below). I think that Karaoke (YouTube) might even be on this year’s schedule too. My class loves how well I can sing any song off key and not feel any shame. Anything to send the class off into their summer break with a smile. I want our last meeting to also make sure the students know how much they have been appreciated for their hard work and their commitment to making this year way better than bearable. 

So what’s your goto end of year guaranteed goodtime activity? Please feel free to share by adding your favorite to the comments below. However you choose to end your last online class of 2020-21 school, take an extra moment to reflect on what a year it has been for all of us. Celebrate the good that is in your students as you send them off for a safe and restful summer. I know that I am starting to miss my class already, but that we are all ready for a break to recharge our emotional and physical batteries. Before I click end the call maybe I’ll play one more song for us to dance out the year. 

Just Dance Choice Tracks
Turn Up the Love – Far East Movement

Dynamite – BTS

Old Town Road – Lil Nas X

Happy – Pharrell Williams

I’m Blue – Hit that electro beat

Animals – Martin Garrix

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.

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 🙂

Some days I don’t like teaching

The above title is not a lie, but it hasn’t always been like this. I have no intentions on adding on more unlikeable days either, even while there are forces beyond my control always at work. I am seeking to understand how and why it feels this way?

Prior to January 2020, it would have been easy to count the number of bad days I have had  over 11 years of teaching on one hand – that includes the Laurel Broten years as MOE. Okay, 2 hands #FireLecce. Sadly, a year and a third later, I am using the segments of my fingers too.* I am sure that this admission probably mirrors what many in our profession are feeling whether in class or in virtual school settings. For the sake of this post, I will stay in my lane and write for myself with the knowledge that this is common ground. 

Not that my students would ever notice, but there are numerous days when I find it hard to like what it takes to facilitate instruction of any sort. I am struggling to find any of the profound and prevalent joy that naturally occurs in the in-person classrooms in which I am privileged to teach. While emergency online education has occasional moments of brilliance, they seem more like faded flashes of light than beacons of lasting inspiration lighting the way forward. I perish the thought that this becomes acceptable in education beyond these “extreme and exceptional” circumstances. 

These moments pass through our cold screens as quickly as posts on a social media feed. Lately, it seems as if students have become conditioned to seeking out fleeting moments of happiness/joy while on-line – something akin to the addictive need for instant gratification. They need to know the answers now, and don’t want to wait for them. Are you noticing this happening in your lockdown learning spaces?

At a time when most answers are available to learners by simply opening another tab or pointing an app at a screen, it is hard for students to get excited about “the learning” when it comes without a healthy struggle or a need to problem solve. By being able to get what they need without any demand on their intellect other than Google skills, students are missing out on some deeply foundational learning right now. The issue comes when they are asked to apply some of this instant knowledge to something different that can’t be searched. 

At first, I wondered whether it was the type of questions I was asking. Were the answers googleable? Teachers can fall into that trap really easily, but it can also be avoided by asking students to evaluate and infer as part of their responses rather than to regurgitate the who, what, when, and where answers. I am a why and how guy when it comes to asking questions so most of the literal variables in questioning are out. I suggest reframing questions to help students respond to content in ways that ask for their opinions while using the lesson or text to reference and support their own ideas.

Then I wondered whether the pace of instruction was too rapid? Was I assigning too much? I teach a combined class and try to provide enough time built in for much shorter lessons with considerably more digital supports for students to reference when they are working independently. Providing time in-class, re-negotiating due dates, reminders, and check-ins are all part of the process.

Despite multiple hours of availability on and off line, students have still been struggling to complete work in a timely manner. With so much pressure to keep everyone engaged more content/lessons/assignments get shared over the course of a the instructional week, more check-ins for understanding happen, and the cycle of lockdown learnig online repeats itself. Adding more work was not the answer. Maybe variety is the answer?

So I mixed it up with TED talks, TED Ed lessons, discussions, visual Math, digital manipulatives, assessments with links to prompt and remind students, and some extra time be silly and do Just Dance. That moved the excitement and engagement needle in the right direction and then in the last little while, the cameras began staying off. 

Cue the dots

This is what teaching looks like during a pandemic yet this is the reality of virtual instruction right now. Despite the differentiation it is still hard to find joy or connection in these spaces. At least the sounds of voices and the occasional witty remark in the chat lighten things in the moment. I can only imagine how hard it must be on the students who have been thrust into this virtual maelstrom and expected to perform as if nothing has changed in their lives or the world around them. I am still working on making it better for all of us in the spaces we are forced to occupy right now. In the meantime I am want to make sure that our time is meaningful, fun, and mentally healthy in advance of a return to in-person instruction in the future. Maybe then I can stop counting the unlikeable days and resume counting the amazing ones again. 

Further reading
The Twitter Generation: https://tomprof.stanford.edu/posting/1182

https://medium.com/launch-school/the-dangers-of-instant-gratification-learning-d8c230eed203

Buiding an Inclusive Playground

I am having a lot of fun learning how to center issues of disability justice and equity throughout the curriculum.

Every week, during MSI (Math-Science Investigations) the Grade 2 students solve problems using a variety of building materials. As part of the Science curriculum, we are learning about Movement and Simple Machines. We started this inquiry when we were face-to-face and finished on-line.  We have integrated this learning with disability justice, equity and community activism. For example, we went on a walk and collected data about barriers and “bridges” in our local community. Then, the Grade 2 students designed inclusive playgrounds where everyone is welcome.

Here are some other examples of how we are deepening our understanding of Structures and Mechanisms, and making connections to the local and global community.

World Water Day:
We celebrated World Water Day on March 22, as part of our year-long inquiry about water. Throughout the year, we have explored a variety of texts, including resources from The Junior Water Walker website. After reading “The Water Princess” by Susan Verde and “Anna Carries Water” by Olive Senior, our class simulated the experience of carrying a bucket around the track for 1 km, to represent the journey taken by girls and young women every day.

 

Then, we used building materials to investigate: How might you move water from one place to another?

We learned about a simple machine that was invented to help families carry water in rural India. We watched a YouTube video about The Wello Water Wheel, and talked about the impact it might have.



Toy Day:
On Toy Day, the MSI challenge was: Design a structure that moves or helps your toy to move.

Freda made a wheelchair for her doll.  Svea made a sled.

After building, we watched this video:
Science Max: Simple Machines

Outdoor Learning:
One day, we collected materials to bring outside to investigate simple machines. We worked with partners to explore: How might you use ramps and different balls to investigate levers and inclined planes?

Before schools went back to on-line learning, we went on a Community Walk.  I invited students to think about: “How might we make our community more accessible?  What are some of the barriers and “bridges” in our community?”  Students worked together to draw, write and collect data on clipboards.  We found ramps made by StopGap Foundation, and followed up our walk by reading books about children with different abilities.



Inclusive Playgrounds:
The summative task was: Design and build a model of an inclusive playground that includes a simple machine. The equipment must move a person up and down, or round and round or back and forth.

Students used a variety of materials to build their inclusive playgrounds, including Lego, recycled materials, clay, and Minecraft. Before building, everyone was encouraged to make a plan and draw their designs. Everyone worked on their project off-line and came together to share their VIP: Very Important Projects at the end of the week.

Clem used a glue gun to spell “PARK” in Braille letters.  Avery included an elevator.



Oral presentations have been an effective way to connect, share ideas and feedback, and assess students’ understanding. Technology/Being on-line has created space to hear each other, share our screens and look at photos of our work up close, and invite others into creative Minecraft worlds.  These integrated learning activities were engaging, fun, creative, and provided meaningful opportunities to explore inclusive design and disability justice.