Ontario Student Record Search

Wow, we are already into the second month of this school year and I am not sure I really know my students very well yet. I have a working idea of who they are as students and as people but need to gather more information to help me with my programming. That is where using their Ontario Student Record (OSR) can help you gather further data to assist me  in this process.

I typically do not complete my OSR searches until after the first month of school so that I can establish my own opinion about them as learners. The OSR is a cumulative record of them as a student since their entry into the Ontario education system. It is a legal document that travels with them from community to community and school to school in Ontario. It is a valuable tool for any educator who is working with a student.

There is a wide variety of information that exists in a student’s Ontario Student Record. First and foremost are the provincial report cards from their time at school. It is here that a teacher can gauge where a student has typically performed in the various curriculae. In addition there is often a wide variety of other sources of information specific to that student. For example, there could be documentation around outside supports such as occupational therapy, early intervention, psychological assessments, legal documentation around custody, Family & Children Services involvement, suspensions, Individual Education Plans and Safety Plans. When you look at the back of the OSR you can see a history of whether a student has had a stable education in one school or whether their circumstances show multiple schools with little or no stability. I have had one student who was entering into his 8th school and he was only in Grade 4.

There is a combination of hard data as well as data that has a subjective component and is based on the interaction and opinions of adults. It is important to differentiate between the two. I am not saying you should discount in any way or ignore that data, but rather understand that the circumstances in which that data was obtained may have been affected by many outside factors. For the student who was entering into his 8th school, his OSR showed that he had difficulty making friends. That data was accurate but was also impacted by his inability to be in a single place long enough to establish friendships or the fact he knew if he did make friends, he would probably be moving soon.

The OSR search is most valuable to me for my at risk students. Students who I know come with challenges either from an academic or behavioural standpoint are the first ones I search, as they demand my attention immediately. When I have a firm understanding of what level of achievement my students are displaying I then look at previous report cards to help me. If for example a student is obtaining a lower mark in mathematics then what has been previously reported it prompts me to further examine my assessment data to ensure my determinations are aligned with my criteria.

It is important to familiarize yourself with the proper protocol of what goes in an OSR, who can access an OSR, where that OSR can be viewed and the responsibilities a teacher has in regards to filing information in a student’s Ontario Student Record. A really rewarding aspect of doing my OSR searches is that I get to see how they have changed over the years with their annual photo. I have attached a template that I use when completing an OSR search.

 

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Kindergarten at a Thousand Miles an Hour

As I slump in a chair at the end of a day teaching kindergarten, I remind myself that, although I feel overwhelmed at times and unsure at others, I am learning each day. I was placed in this position without having any previous training or experience as a kindergarten teacher. I remember feeling very intrigued at the time my principal and VP suggested the switch from grade 3. I could have refused but instead I accepted the challenge. Now I cannot imagine teaching anything else. I’ve been a teacher for over 25 years, but not a kindergarten teacher. Kindergarten is a whole new ball game. Did I mention that it is a fast game, too? It feels as if the school year has slammed into the Christmas holidays and will continue to gather speed in January.

 
After four months, I am beginning to feel a teensy weensy bit more confident with the planning and activities in the classroom. Although we share and co-plan, I like to ask my ECE counterparts for their opinions about something I have planned because they are the ones with the years of training and experience at this age level. I may have a general theoretical notion of how and what may work, combined with my personal experience as a mother of two boys, now grown up, but really, that does not amount to much compared to what the ECEs bring to the planning table and to the classroom. It takes a team that respects and effectively collaborates to make a kindergarten class run well, and I feel privileged to be part of such a team.

 
And the kinder classroom is so very different from the grade 3 classroom where movement and noise could regularly be brought to a minimum during a learning period. My English counterpart often uses the term, “Birthday party behaviour” to describe behaviour we seek to curb in the kindergarten classroom – the kind of free-for-all party atmosphere usually experienced at the end of a birthday party.

It is an apt description. All the more so since the set up for a well-run kinder classroom feels rather like hosting a birthday party as you plan and prepare enough activities to keep the attendees interested, focussed, and engaged, and you circulate to make sure everyone is happy. Imagine hosting a birthday party for 27 five year olds every day… no other grade quite fits that description.

 
As we gallop along, trying to tie up loose ends, follow through on planning, assessment, evaluation, meeting the curriculum, and contacting parents about behaviour, speech issues, and hearing problems, the only thing that remains constant is each young student – little beings who need to play and explore, and whose emotions are so immediate. They are going at their normal, five year old speed when they come to school each day and we are trying to keep up with them. No wonder I am exhausted at the end of the day.

Sharing Expertise; AKA, How I Got Out of Teaching Dance

First, a brief introduction: I am a Grade 4 Middle French Immersion teacher in Ottawa. This is my fourth year as a homeroom teacher, third year as a permanent teacher. My entire (short) career has been spent at one lovely school in the heart of Westboro. I’ve never actually taught the same assignment two years in a row, but one thing has been constant since my first year at my school: I have never taught dance.

I started at this school in November of 2011. At the time, I was covering for another teacher who had taken parental leave. That year, dance had already been taught before I arrived, which suited me fine. I am not, you see, what one would call coordinated. At school dances, I was the type to stand around at the wall and pretend I was too “goth” for the dance and was only there to be snippy in the dark corner. At my wedding, I danced twice: once with my husband, then once again with family and friends.

Twice in my life, I’ve shown what I would consider minor, and I stress minor, proficiency in dance: Irish hard-shoe step dance (AKA have some rhythm and stomp your feet, no grace required) and Dance Dance Revolution (AKA understand video games and timing).

At the end of my first year of teaching, my principal revealed to the teachers at my school that she had purchased a class set of ukuleles for use in our (admittedly lacking) music program. None of us had the slightest clue how to play ukulele, but we were all pretty excited about the prospect of listening to a class full of miniature guitars (note: ukuleles are not, in fact, miniature guitars in any way) instead of a class full of recorders.

I took one home for the summer, watched a bunch of Youtube videos, more or less figured out how to play the ukulele, and was determined to have a successful second year.

Going into my second year of teaching, I was just so excited to have a contract, my own classroom, and a bunch of new kids that I didn’t stop to think about how I would, at some point, have to figure out how to teach dance to 27 Grade 5 students. It didn’t hit me, in fact, until I was sitting in the staff room one day at lunch listening to someone else talk about starting dance with their class that I realized (aloud, because that’s my style): “Oh god, I have to teach dance.”

Fortunately for me, I have a Grade 5 colleague who LOVES teaching dance. He has a knack for getting kids to buy into dancing – boys and girls, coordinated and uncoordinated, trained and untrained. It’s amazing! He happened to be in the staff room. He happened to hear the dread in my voice as I came to my realization only moments before. Without hesitation, he said, “I could teach your class dance.”

Wait, what? Can– can we DO that? Are we allowed? How does it work? All of these thoughts ran through my head, but the one that actually came out was, “YES, PLEASE.”

He explained, politely ignoring my desperation in favour of professionalism, that he had noticed my students playing ukulele in the hallways and would be interested in doing a class exchange so that I could teach his students how to play the ukulele.

Thus began our yearly autumn tradition of swapping classes one hour a week so that we could fill the hallways with awkward dancing and fumbling ukulele strumming without stressing either of ourselves out. He teaches my class dance, I teach his class ukulele, we report on these subjects for one another on the first report card, and the world continues turning. As an added bonus, I sleep better at night knowing that a bunch of ten year olds aren’t laughing at my remarkable lack of coordination.

I have since explored many other opportunities to trade classes with other colleagues so that we can benefit from one another’s expertise. It doesn’t always amount to reporting on another class full of students; sometimes we trade places just for a 40 minute block so that we can run an activity with a fresh group of faces and share some of our passion with them. What I’ve found, over four years, is that my students benefit from being exposed not only to other teachers and their unique teaching styles, but also from being taught a new skill by someone who really, honestly enjoys it.

I would strongly urge you to reach out to your colleagues and find opportunities to co-teach, trade places, or even swap classes regularly so that you can share some of your passions with them. There is room in the curriculum to connect your hobbies – and your life – with the students in your school, even if they aren’t “your” students. Their lives are richer for it, and so is yours!

Long Range Plans – Are they ever really done?

Some teachers dive right in over the summer and plan their whole year out! I have never been that kind of teacher. Not only do I not have the patience, I am simply not organized enough to get everything laid out in advance. I find it especially difficult to get long range plans together before I have met my students.

I have tried doing a spreadsheet with a few words in each box to outline what will be happening and have each cell represent a 1 or 2 week block (pictured above), I have tried doing all of the different strands on their own page with the whole year laid out, I have even printed the curriculum document for each strand I teach and cut each expectation out and then paired them with similar expectations (i.e., in Grade 2 Science the students look at the changes of states between solids, liquids and gases, this could be paired with measuring temperature in the Math Measurement Strand, and even volume). Then I tape them all down in groups and go from there.

Last year I went with a template that gives a full 2 page spread with a row of cells for each week. At the beginning of the year, I planned out general ideas for each month/week (i.e., I would focus on data management – graphing for the first 2 weeks, picking a just right book, and writing a retell to be connected to the Social Studies curriculum of Celebrations). Each page started out very general. As the year went on, I could use each page as more of a detailed planning spot where I would go in and “beef up” the plans for that week. Adding in the specifics of what I was going to be doing. I found this was excellent, as it acted as a long range plan and my general daybook. In many cases I would even write in the strands that we had accomplished as we finished them up for my own records.

Handing in my long range plans was difficult, as they were very thin to start. I sat down with my principal and walked him through my plan. I had taught Grade 2 before so I was pretty familiar with where the curriculum would fit together, and I had worked with my grade partner to pair up on some things and make sure we were not overlapping on others (i.e., we didn’t want to both be working on certain strands at the same time as we shared resources, but others we would want to do at the same time to bring our classes together, etc.). My plans were not overly detailed, but they had genera ideas for when I would be working on different strands, etc.. I explained to him that they are not really, “done” yet. He demanded that I finish them and submit them. It took some explaining, but in the end, I was able to create my plans the way I wanted and share them digitally through Google Drive. This way, he could pop in at any time and see where my class was headed and it was always up to date.

Not only did this format work exceptionally well for me, my principal was quite pleased in the end because my plans were the only accurate ones he had by May! We change where we are going with our teaching all the time, it is just what happens in a classroom! You get an email from a local theater company that they are putting on a show in January that would fit perfectly with something you were going to teach in May: you change your plans to accommodate. You find out that they materials you needed for your awesome unit are booked up for the month you were planning to teach it: you change your plans to accommodate. Long Range Plans are as much a living document as any other document we work with! Let it be organic and know that there will be times where you planned to work on something for 2 weeks and at the end of 2 weeks, they still don’t get it! Accommodate and move forward!

Below are some pictures of the plans I submitted last year to my principal as they looked at the end of the year – they were changed A LOT between September and the end of the year! If a box was left empty, it was because I would be continuing what we had started the week before.

At the beginning of the year, the page for these weeks might have said: Days, punctuation, predicting/retell, writing routines, read numbers and locate on number line, and 2D geometry. When I got to that week, I beefed those weeks up a bit, elaborating on what I was going to do each specific week to build on the concepts, etc.

Mike Beetham

Shared Learning – Not Competition

In a learning community the focus becomes a shared learning, teamwork and helping each member to reach their potential. This collaborative classroom design creates a community of risk takers, where talents blossom and are shared for the good of all over time. Now, lets shift the scene to a school staff. It is made up of a wide variety of individuals with unique talents and levels of experience. A diverse talent pool that when shared creates a school portfolio that meets the needs of all of its learners.

I share this blog topic based on my many years of teaching in a wide variety of schools and communities. My early years of teaching witnessed classrooms as separate entities within a larger building where the only sharing that took place was at staff meetings. The most rewarding settings were always where classrooms were not a competition between teachers but rather a continuum of grades that were seamless in their beliefs and goals. Teachers seeking help from each other was encouraged and not frowned upon. The sharing of resources should be common practive and not items to be hidden. Mentoring, teaching partners, grade level planning are all significant enhancements to teacher planning pedagogy. Regardless of your level of experience, I highly encourage that you make time for colleague collaboration for it will become a regular part of both your learning and planning. “Even Einstein asked questions!”

The Unit Plan: The Timeless Form of the Pyramid

This may seem redundant, but I found that unit planning comes up frequently as a topic of interest during workshops for beginning teachers. This is probably due to the overwhelming nature of the job and all of the simultaneous demands coming at you. Consequently, a weekly (let alone a daily) plan is as forward thinking as one can muster at times. It is tempting to use the plans included with some of the resources or someone else’s. However, designing your own is really helpful because you’re forced to really organize your thoughts and direction. The best format of a unit plan that I have ever come across was given to me by a friend at the Halton Board and was the template used by French teachers there. As someone who is very visual and relies heavily on graphic organizers, I immediately put it to use. Without getting bogged down by detailed descriptions, it is very simplistic and allows you to clearly chart a course of action.

 
Shaped in the form of a pyramid, the base is the featured language structures. What follows next are the diagnostic assessments and activities leading to the formative assessment. Finally the peak is your summative assessment. I always begin with the base of curriculum requirements and move on to create the summative assessment related to those. I then plan out the individual activities/lessons that students will need in order to be successful in the final task. What I really like about this format is it allows you to plot out everything and to foresee any possible gaps. In the end you’re left with an efficient, simplified yet cohesive vision that relieves the stress of incoherent and random planning. Both you and your students will benefit. I have included a blank template as well as one of my sample units. Strangely enough, unit planning can be as satisfying as cleaning out one of your messiest closets.

 
pyramid unit plan – sample
pyramid unit plan template

Reinventing the Wheel – Improving Past Practice

One advantage of entering your second or multiple year(s) of teaching is being able to go back and reuse materials you had previously gathered and created. The mad and desperate scrambling for resources during the first year of teaching a subject is what many would attribute as being the most stressful part of the job. Having a bank of lessons/activities/assessments allows you to devote more energy and thought to the many other aspects of teaching.  As everyone is aware however, the need to consistently update, revise or in some cases, entirely revamp your program is a necessity. Apart from being an obvious benefit to your students, it is a way to push your own limits of creativity. I’ve found that this task is much easier and productive if undertaken sooner rather than later. It can be particularly tempting when your best plans and intentions go awry to want to immediately block out the experience or at least relegate it to the realm of distant memory with “well, I know I won’t be doing that again”. Without belabouring the “reflective process”, I try to efficiently take stock of the success or failure of activities and assignments as soon as they are completed by jotting down impressions on a sticky note and then adhering them to my printed master copy. At the same time and using the same sticky note procedure, I also solicit the input of students and ensure that everyone has the chance to comment at some point during the year. At the end of the process, I have a bank of input available when it comes time to plan for the following year. Sometimes, “reinventing the wheel” can be as simple as changing the assignment pairing (from an individual to small group) or restructuring the order in which things were taught or assessed. Of course, this process can be more stimulating and interesting if you have the opportunity to debrief and compare with your grade team or teaching partner, all of whom will bring a different perspective and insight to the table.

Planning for Next Year

 

As the school year is coming to an end I use this time to reflect upon my lessons and look forward to next year’s planning. What will I keep, what didn’t work, what needs to be tweaked for next year’s students? Some of this planning will be based on my next year’s students needs and learning styles. Where do I go for new ideas, support for planning and resources?

 

1)       I sit down with the previous teacher.

Most schools will have sheets or some sort of meeting to share information and build the new classes. Looking to evenly distribute the boys and girls, ESL, Special Education, HSP and which kids should be or not be placed together. The sheets are usually given to next year’s teacher to help understand the student. I find the information on the sheets give limited information and don’t always share who the student is as a learner. I listen to the information being given, take notes on every student and review all this information later. At some point, I go back to the previous teacher and ask for further information.  If the previous teacher is an LTO, I need to connect with the teacher before s/he leaves for a new school. If you are a new teacher to the school in the Fall, ask for the sheets and try to connect with previous teachers as soon as possible.

 

2)      If you are lucky to get the same grade, I look at my previous year’s planning.

Now I know a little more about my new students. What are they going to be interested in? What do I need to change? Everything should be tweaked for my new class.

If I am teaching a new grade, I still look at my previous year’s planning and build the new year from that starting point. I have learned more about my personal teaching strengths and areas of professional development which I will look into.

 

3)       Where do I get new ideas?

  • Most boards have teachers who specialize in curriculum areas and provide that support with ideas and resources. Some can even give field trip ideas, support with combined grade planning, will come to your class and teach a model lesson. If you are finding it difficult to locate a name, ask your librarian or administration.
  • Your board website should have some resources available to the teachers. Many board website resources are open to the public and are available for all to find information. There are Science and Social Studies units available for combined grades. I usually don’t use all the information available on the websites but it helps me gather ideas and lessons for my unit.
  • Sitting down with my colleagues to team plan. New people have new ideas. This year, I was the only grade 6 English teacher and my Extended French colleague had already developed his program and found it difficult to devote the time needed to team plan. But we still found smaller opportunities to team plan. I also found support on line, a volunteer who went to different classes throughout the board, student teacher and colleagues who were in the same board but in different areas of the board. Many people have ideas, I find ideas help get me thinking. Whether I take the idea as is or tweak it to suit my student needs, I find all ideas are helpful.

 

4)       Next year’s class – the students.

As we all know, students achieve more when their interest is in the lesson. At the beginning of the school year, I ask my students what you would like to do, what would you like me to teach you in language. This year, my students wanted to write a graphic novel using bit strips. I took their lead and used graphic novels to teach them about narrative writing and to help develop their plans for writing. I also share the Science and Social Studies units and give them an idea of when we are covering certain units.

 

At this point of the year, you are looking at finishing things off and planning for your next year. I personally prefer to reflect and think about my next year’s planning now. For some people, they need that down time before they reflect and plan for the following year. It is up to you and what suits your lifestyle best.

The Power of Co Teaching

I have heard about the power of co teaching for some time now, but I have only had the opportunity to experience co teaching first hand in recent weeks.  I am sold!  Co teaching mathematics with my teaching partner and Family of Schools Math Coach challenges me and engages me in authentic context based professional learning.   For those who are not familiar with co teaching, co teaching is not synonymous with team teaching. In team teaching, the students basically have two teachers teaching them a lesson.  Each teacher takes a turn leading a specific part of the lesson.  When co teaching, one teacher is the Lead Teacher and the other is the Co-teacher.  The Lead Teacher teaches all parts of the lesson and the co-teacher is the “kid watcher” as well as “teacher watcher”.  For example, today I was the co teacher for a third grade number sense lesson.  In addition to paying close attention to the strategies my students were using to solve an addition word problem that required them to add two large numbers, I was also paying close attention to the probing questions the Lead Teacher asked the students.

Valuable learning occurs at a number of levels.  First, I value the opportunity to observe my students closely, recording every noteworthy observation, what challenged them, student “aha” moments, and evidence of understanding or confusion.  I am free to concentrate fully on my formative assessment.  On another level, I am also gathering data on the questions and instructional strategies the Lead Teacher used while teaching the lesson.  During the debrief (which usually occurs during lunch or a common planning time) we first focus on what the students were doing.  We assess the problem we presented to students, analyze the different types of responses students provided and we determine where we are going to go next.  For example today, we concluded that our students are ready to move on to adding and subtracting larger numbers.  We also noticed that many students use place value algorithms to solve addition math problems, but they don’t understand why they are “carrying a 1 over.”  We decide that we need to review grouping and tens and ones with my class.

After we have decided on our next instructional steps.  We then reflect on the Lead Teacher’s instruction.  How were the questions?   Is there a different way we could ask students a particular question?  How might we phrase questions in our next lesson?  On the days that I am part of a co teaching experience, I leave for home feeling confident about where I am headed in my math instruction and committed to following through on the next steps that were collaboratively planned.  For the next co teaching lesson, teaching roles will be reversed and I will be the Lead Teacher.

My teaching partner and I both value this professional learning and instructional strategy.  We are now looking for creative timetabling ways to make co teaching part of our literacy program as well. If you have an opportunity to participate in a co teaching experience, I strongly encourage you to go for it!