Celebrating Our Year

We often think that the last two months of school will be all about reflection and reviewing, yet with so many other demands outside of the classroom – our last weeks can feel rushed and frantic. Teachers are often asked to think about planning for the following year, before they can fully complete the one they are in.

To stay present and celebrate with your current classroom community, here are a few suggestions:

1. Consolidate learning – Spend two or three weeks in June reflecting on the students’ learning and giving them time and opportunity to make connections between topics or skills. As a class, you can can discuss the highlights of the year and chart them, or have students work in small group on their shared topics of interest. This may evolve to look like a yearbook that they make with words and images or a story they create in comic form on the computer.

2. Celebrate learning – Provide students with an opportunity to invite other classes, learning buddies, or parents/friends to the classroom before their projects are sent home. Students can make invitations, create portfolios of work, or set up the room for an open house. The celebration may look like a gallery walk, a dramatice presentation, a sharing of portfolios, or a relaxed poetry cafe.

3. Outdoor Classes – In the last week of school when you are sending home work and generally cleaning up your classroom, take students outside for activities that you would normally do inside. This could  look like a read-a-loud, visual art activities (such as sketching), visits to local parks or public libraries.

We are completing our assessments and writing reports now, but with a little planning for the next few weeks with reflective exercises and opportunities to make connections, the students will be more engaged and value their last weeks at school as meaningful and rewarding.

Building Inclusion through Oral Communication Activities

In the Core French classroom, building inclusion is a must. Students will only feel comfortable participating in an environment of tolerance, security and where they are not afraid of risk. In this type of atmosphere, creativity flourishes and learning French becomes interactive and a more authentic experience. I usually start with simple short dialogues involving greetings and exchanging information (ex. telephone numbers and emails). What makes the outcome so positive is that students infuse their skits with current expressions and it is simple enough that everyone can be successful.

Getting all levels of students to participate is also facilitated when you  have visible prompts for those who need more support. Likewise, I also make sure to always to include and model ideas for level 4 extensions using compound sentences with parce que, mais and alors.

Having read through the book, I found several suggestions which would lend themselves perfectly to encouraging inclusiveness through speaking activities. In particular, I thought I would try Carmen’s “Friend Venns” where kids exchange likes and dislikes. Also Shernett’s “Ten Things About Me” incorporated into inside/outside circles would be the perfect and always welcome kinesthetic activity!

Surviving beyond the First Week – the Beauty of a Well-Crafted Seating Plan

As a rotary teacher dealing with up to 180 students, building inclusion is naturally a different process than in a homeroom classroom. Establishing a rapport is definitely fundamental however, I have found that this goes hand in hand with effective classroom management. Eliminating the problem of constant chatting amongst groups of friends can go a long way to establishing order.

Instead of seating kids alphabetically or in random groupings, I have always let my students choose their seats for the first week or two. Taking this time to observe the dynamic of the classroom and work habits of the students ultimately allows me to make informed, strategic decisions about groupings. My decision is also based on the contact information form (see attached) which is filled out during the first week of school. The one side serves as a record of parent contact while the other provides me with invaluable insight into each student’s character. At the end, I have classes where the students are comfortable where and with whom they are seated. Preventatively dealing with the minor issues (that can quickly derail your class) allows me instead to focus on building an inclusive learning environment.


Additional tip: When implementing my seating plan, I put numbers on the seats and have students line up at the back of the room. Having called out their name and number, I have them find their seat. This way there tends to be less drama than in calling out the names which can sometimes lead to some raucous reactions. I also preface my announcement by stating that I had only their best interests at heart and therefore eliminate most forms of protest.

Go Slow, Go Deep

Like Roz and Sangeeta, I have returned to the classroom after working for seven years in a number of board and faculty professional learning positions. I found the work I did outside the classroom rewarding.  I was privileged to be a guest in 100s of teachers’ classrooms where I was inspired and motivated by the creative, purposeful learning opportunities these teachers planned for their students.   As I planned for my return to the classroom, I couldn’t wait to put many of these new strategies and routines in place.  I wanted to dive right in and start everything right away!

In the later part of our first week back at school, I received an email from a new teacher I taught in pre-service.  She was excited to let me know about her new teaching position and to share her long range planning ideas with me.  At the end of her email, this former student wrote, “ I remember what you always told us, go slow, go deep.”    Well, did I feel foolish! I was just “schooled” by my own principles!  My enthusiasm clouded my thinking.  If I want my students to truly grasp the strategies and routines I want to put in place, I needed to slow down and delve deep into a few skills and strategies rather than skim the surface of many.

Also, it is important that we first consider our students.  We need to discover their strengths, and how they feel about themselves as learners.  Only then can we align the best strategies with the right kind of learner.     I have used many of the strategies and activities in Heart and Art to help build community in our classroom and learn about the individual learners in our class.   I provided students with opportunities to share their feelings and ideas through oral activities, the arts and written responses. One of my favorite activities was the goals and strengths t-chart that Jim shared in the Heart and Art book.   After modeling my own t-chart that included my personal, social and academic goals and strengths, and my personal beliefs about “life”,  I had the students complete their own t-chart.  Once completed, students then shared their t-charts with each other. The students learned that they have similar skills that needed work such as being tidier at home!  They also discovered that they all cherish their family and that friendship is important. I  learned that all of my grade 3 students want to be successful at school and want to be accepted by their peers.

I have to thank Rose for her email.  Daily 5, literature circles, and all the other great programming ideas will be established in time, but for now,  I will continue to go slow to grow, and remember that depth is better than breadth.

Choice in the learning environment

Returning to the classroom after working at a central level for 6 years has been an awesome experience so far…I feel like a beginning teacher all over again!

One of the interesting questions that I thought about when planning my first week had to do with choice: how do we know when to involve our students in decision-making and which decisions need to be more teacher-driven?

So, I set out to experiment on the first day of school, by letting my Grade 4 students determine which configuration would work best for the classroom desks. I knew this experiment would tell me a lot about my students, such as their problem-solving skills and how they worked together with their classmates.

It was a new feeling for me, always having had student desks already set up for the first day!

To prepare, I came up with some conditions:

-certain areas were to remain as they were (e.g., the reading corner, the conference area, my desk)

-each group had to present their model and the thinking behind it

-the desks were to be arranged in groups, but the number at each group could vary (e.g., there could be some groups of 6 and some groups of 3)

-they would need to include a space where students could go to work quietly on their own, if needed

-when we add to the room (e.g., new students, a SMARTBOARD, etc.), we may need to revisit the plan

After sharing these conditions on a chart with my class, they organized themselves into groups and set off to plan! It was exciting to see how each group had their own unique style. One group  first calculated how many students we had and thus, how groupings could work. Two other groups drew in the conditions first, then planned from there.











Would I do this again? Absolutely!

I learned that as teachers we cannot underestimate our students’ capabilities. Giving them choice in creating their classroom environment empowered my students and the interest they took in actually moving the desks to reflect the plan we chose was amazing to watch.

The fact that I had written the conditions ahead of time led me to realize my students benefitted from knowing that sometimes when we make choices, there are structures and boundaries we need to work within…

Next up, settting up our reading corner!!!


Starting Anew

Every school year is an opportunity for a new start for all teachers. Whether it is getting to know new students, new staff and teaching partners, or even a new classroom. This September I am experiencing all three, and after the first week of school I am just beginning to reflect on all the change. I am welcoming the renewed energy (after a very relaxing summer) and the challenges that teaching brings.

In the last week of August, I took the time to think about the classroom environment and what changes I could make to create an inviting and inclusive environment for the children and for me. Although it is a Grade one and two class, I want the students to have areas/learning centres that will encourage inquiry and collaboration. So, I started with a new layout that includes a reading corner, an art studio, and a math centre using cozy corners and spaces with shelving along the walls. Then I made two groups of six desks, one group of four desks, and added two round tables (I would have preferred round tables for all the students, but had to improvise with what was available). There is a place for individual book bins and pencil/materials trays for the students to access easily, so they don’t have to keep anything in their desks (allowing for flexible seating throughout the day). On the first day of school, I let the children sit wherever they want and place their “portable” name card at their desired spot. It was interesting to observe that all of the children, except one, kept the same seat all week!

Our first weeks together in Room 3 are important for creating an inclusive space and building our classroom community. We are learning about one another with Tribes activities, such as passing an inflatable globe and sharing “What’s important in my world?” Last week, we read the book One, by Kathryn Otoshi, which recognizes differences and encourages kindness and inclusion (already deemed a favourite by the kids). In their tribes, the children used watercolour paints to demonstrate their own feelings and connections to colour. These paintings are displayed in the classroom to remind us of our own similarities and differences. Otoshi’s book continued to inspire us through the week as we shared personal experiences about feelings at the carpet before writing about them in our Writing Workshop.

Despite a few hiccups for the grade ones learning new routines and adapting to a full day of school (a few tears at lunch time), I think the first week was a good first step for the new school year.