Communication, Communication, Communication

If you had asked me three years ago how I would rate my communication skills, I would have given myself an 8 out of 10. I felt confident that I could share ideas clearly and listen to gather information. I consistently had good and productive relationships with parents, colleagues and students. I was confident in these skills until I entered my current role as the teacher in a class with 10 students who all have exceptionalities. Wow, my communication skills were really put to the test. In my new role, I was now communicating daily with 3 Educational Resource Facilitators (TAs), administration, parents whose children have limited communication, Speech and Language Pathologists, Occupational Therapists, 10 students who have all have some form communication impairment, etc.

I have learned a lot over the past year about effective communication and although our system is far from perfect, it seems to be working for us. I learned that trying to verbally tell all of the ERFs in the room something, quickly became a game of broken telephone. Throughout the day all of the ERFs have a one-hour break so that means that all the staff are together in my classroom for a total of only an hour a day.  We learned throughout last year that communication has to be visual and accessible for everyone in the room so we came up with two ways to help keep everyone in the loop.

The 2 areas of the classroom where our communication is evident is on our whiteboard and our filing cabinets. The whiteboard is an all-around place to go for information regarding the upcoming week in our class. Last year, I learned that information is often shared with teachers first so the whiteboard became a place to go to keep everyone up to speed on the events in our class and school. We also realized that when supply TAs and teachers came to the school, it was so much easier to refer them to some of the information on the whiteboard.

The other place that has worked so well this year is our two filing cabinets right inside my classroom door. One filing cabinet is labeled “Work with Teacher” and the other “Independent Work”. Inside each filing cabinet each one of my students has a section of activities that they need teacher support for and another section in the other filing cabinet that contains activities that they can do completely independently. In daily conversations with ERFS and data tracking of progress, I make decisions about what activities each student will be doing in the upcoming weeks and add or take away activities for a student to work on. It is also an easy place for all staff in the room to know which activity the student is working on.

In addition to the staff in my classroom, communicating with parents has reached a whole new level. I have probably chatted with each one of my families a minimum of 5 times on the phone already this year and I write home every single day in their communication book. I have learned that writing long messages in 10 books every day is very time consuming. I have just made a new form that I am using this year that captures some of the information that I need to communicate every day but in a more efficient way. Below is the example of my current daily communication form that I use. I highlight what activities that the student has completed that day, circle what they need and write a quick note about their day.

Finally, communicating with my students has also evolved over the course of the past year. All of my students use individual visual schedules which I think is quite common for many students with exceptionalities. Our communication board helps students know what is coming up and where they should be in the classroom throughout the day.

Communication is definitely a work in progress for me but it is getting better every single day!



Feedback on Descriptive Feedback

Sometimes the latest educational trends sound good in theory but oftentimes tend to be less than fruitful in reality. After thoroughly marking ninety assignments and including lots of suggestions, positive reinforcement and constructive criticism, I couldn’t help wondering if the writer’s cramp was really worth it. Were these kids really going to follow the advice so painstakingly offered? For that matter, were they even going to take the time to read what was written or were they just going to zero in on the mark and disregard everything else? I decided to candidly ask one of my grade 8 classes some pointed questions. They were more than happy to participate in an official “study group” and this is what they had to say on the subject.
“Do you read the comments your teachers provide or do you just look at the mark and disregard them? “ It’s true, the mark is what they look at first but all of them take the time to thoroughly read any feedback.
“Do you try to follow through with the suggested advice?”  Most said yes but there were a handful (and you know who they are) who stated that realistically, if it required a lot of effort (example – to redo something entirely), they would not.
What form of descriptive feedback do you feel is the most valulable?”
This question kind of depended on the type of student they were. The ones who tended to be self-motivated and driven were able to take written feedback, internalize it and apply it. In all cases, students really found that a one on one meeting (however brief) where they had a private moment with the teacher was the most valuable. The verbal feedback provided them an opportunity to better absorb and ultimately respond to advice/suggestions instead of reacting defensively to critiques.
In sum, is the time and writer’s cramp worth it? Yes, it is above all, an opportunity to engage and connect with your students which does not go unrecognized.