Waiting is worth its weight.

I wanted to share a post about the joys of waiting.

No it is not Health curriculum based so uncover your eyes and read on.
It might be worth the…time spent before something happens.
Ha! You thought I was going to write the word ‘wait’ there.
Dang it! I just did.

In the Tom Petty and the Heartbreaker’s song The Waiting the chorus goes, “the waiting is the hardest part” and in the classroom it is no different for teachers.

There are a lot concepts to cover. There are a lot of assessments (for, as, and of learning) to record. And yes, there are a lot of students to teach. One thing there does not seem to be enough of is time. So in an average, active modern learning environment, there is little time left to permit students to engage in anything but what Daniel Kahneman refers to as System 1 Thinking. Yet, what we need to be doing, more than ever, is allowing our students and ourselves to engage in System 2 Thinking.

Here’s a graphic comparing the two. Click to enlarge.


Understanding and implementing think or wait time in my classroom has changed the dynamics of learning for my students. It is no longer a contest to see whose hands can defy gravity the fastest or longest. It has increased the number of participants and ideas shared. It has deepened our discussions in many subject areas such as Science, Social Studies, and Literacy.

For my part, questions are crafted, whenever possible, that require the awkward silences achieved while learning and thinking beyond automatic or immediate responses. Letting students know before they respond that no hands will be acknowledged until think time has happened for the entire class has helped transition my instruction.

What about Math? Yes, even Math. Here’s an example to support think/wait time in Math from Kahneman’s book Thinking Fast and Slow that I share with students and adults alike:

A ball and a bat cost $1.10.
The bat costs $1 more than the ball.
How much does ball cost?

According to the book most people get this question wrong because they are engaging the wrong system of thinking. I did. So how can we as educators afford more think/wait time in all of our classrooms?

My suggestion is to slowly integrate it into your daily instructional routines. Be intentional with a few questions in specific subject areas to start. Be patient. The silence can be deafening at the start, but is worth it.

Want to know the answer to the bat and ball question?
Take your time. You’ll get it. It’s worth the wait.


The Power Of A Story

Story is a magical tool that can bring to your students exactly what they need or want at any time in your day, week, month or year. When my students need to laugh I find a story that brings us to belly laughing. When my students need to understand empathy, a story helps them look beyond their own needs to the needs of others. When my students need to learn a lifelong lesson, I find a story where we learn from the positive or negative choices of the characters. Story, whether it is bound with a beautiful cover or comes from the mouth of an 8 year old captivates all of us.

I want to share with you how a young, heroic young girl named Maya has helped change my students and I. Several years ago I met Maya as she entered our school in Grade 1. Maya has had to deal with the effects of a brain tumour all of her life. She has encountered the ill effects of chemotherapy and made hundreds of hospital visits that each time involved some kind of painful treatment. She has lost some mobility, has limited vision and struggles with learning new concepts. Yet despite all of those barriers to living a regular life she is this magical, bundle of positive energy that lights up a room. When you are around Maya you can’t help but smile and enjoy life.

I teach some very challenging students who have learned how to use aggression and violence as a way to deal with the struggles they face. Our first unit in our class this year was looking at heroes, both fictional superheroes and nonfictional everyday heroes. We established some criteria as to what makes a hero and have been examining a variety of characters and real people to determine if they will make it to our hero board. I told my class that they were going to be able to meet one of my heroes. They were all excited and made multiple predictions as to who that hero might be and what made them a hero to me. So on one quiet Thursday morning the call from the office came that our guests had arrived. I went down with our class receptionist and welcomed them. As you would expect, the excitement was at a peak as to who would walk through our classroom door. As Maya carefully and slowly made her way in to our circle area there was an absolute look of shock. How could this young girl be Mr. B’s heroine?

Over the next hour, Maya with the help of her Mom shared her story. The group was captivated as they went through a spectrum of emotions listening to the courageous story of Maya. Despite my knowing and hearing this story many times, the students noticed the tears in my eyes. By the time Maya was ready to leave, the boys had embraced her and made her an official part of our classroom.

Needless to say, the letter writing we did that afternoon was some of the most powerful I had experienced with this group of students.There are so many stories out there that can and need to be shared to help all of us become better people.


What Elizabeth Taught Me About Spec Ed

(This is a story about a student I had several years ago. Her name wasn’t actually Elizabeth. Teaching her taught me a lot about Spec Ed – how to tackle problems in steps, how to work with students to find what works for them individually, and above all else, how incredible it feels to know you really helped someone learn how to be successful.)

I heard about Elizabeth before my job even started. She was one of those students. If you haven’t had one yet, you will: the kids whose reputations precede them. The “hard” kids.

Let’s backtrack, shall we?

Fresh out of my teacher education program, I had just accepted a position teaching a full-day kindergarten program at a private child care centre. At that time, the OT lists for my board (OCDSB) weren’t open, so in order to pay the bills and get some money for AQs in the hopes of one day getting into the board, I took this job.

Because this was a child care centre, my class was small: 10 students total, with 2 more transitioning in partway through the year. This was starting to seem like a pretty easy assignment… until we got to Elizabeth.

“Oh, she’s going to give you a run for your money.”

“She’s vicious.”

“Good luck with her, she’s a nasty one.”

Those were all things people actually said to me about this child. A five year old. I have something of a stubborn streak in me, so right then and there I decided I was going to make it my goal to change Elizabeth’s experience at school.

Elizabeth was a bright, articulate girl who loved story time more than anything, needed you to know her opinion on something, and readily shared facts about things like the moon because she was always reading books and learning new things. She loved art, and she really loved success.

In the classroom, however, Elizabeth seemed to act out. It didn’t take long for me to see what other teachers had warned me about: she hit, she threw things, she had a hard time working with her peers, she couldn’t sit through circle without making at least one other student miserable, and she would have meltdowns during seatwork time.

Other teachers had tried positive and negative reinforcement strategies with her, their success limited. Her parents seemed defeated and were obviously reticent to even ask how her day had gone when they picked her up at the end of the day. I couldn’t figure this kid out: she really enjoyed learning, she really enjoyed arriving at school every day, and she loved her peers, so where was her behaviour coming from?

So I asked her. No one had ever asked her why she did these things. After a particularly trying circle time, I took her aside and calmly asked her why she had trouble sitting through circle time without rolling on the floor, taking out books from the shelves, or touching everyone and everything around her.

And at the tender age of five, she said, “Sitting still hurts.” Her tone was serious. She was distressed. “When I sit still for too long it hurts so I move around, but then I hit people and they get mad.”

It was clear that she felt compelled to move, and that asking her to stop moving was having a detrimental effect on her ability to engage with the class. Together, we discussed some strategies to help her through circle time. As a starting point, we tried fidget toys; she was partial to two bits of LEGO which had been put together with a hinge, so she could move the pieces back and forth while she sat and listened. Most of the time, just having that small toy was enough to keep her physical body occupied while she focused mentally on circle time. Some days she needed more than that, and in those times, we had an arrangement where she could get up and walk around the classroom as long as she didn’t play with anything and was still participating.

So that’s what she did. I sat with the rest of the class, going through our daily calendar work, reading stories, singing songs… and she did everything we did, she was just walking around while she did it. When she had something to contribute, she came to the edge of the carpet and raised her hand just like her peers. She waited to be called on. And when she felt she needed to get up and move again, she would show me a peace sign with her hand, I would nod, and off she would go.

These two small strategies completely changed her experience at circle time. After a month of success, we decided together that we would start tackling seat work next. It turned out that seat work was just as simple to “fix”: she just needed breaks where she could get up and move. She would work on her printing/reading for five minutes, go to a centre for a few minutes, come back to her seat work for another five minutes, go back to centres, etc. Some days she was able to get her seat work done all in one shot, other days she needed to break it up repeatedly, but she always finished it. I used a small timer (which I taught her how to operate) so that she could manage this herself.

There were other things I did to help, of course; I tracked her behaviour relentlessly to see what was and wasn’t working, I tried other strategies like an exercise ball to sit on, I worked with her parents to maintain consistent language and discipline between school and home. But the circle time and seat work strategies were really the key.

As Elizabeth’s behaviour in class improved, her relationships with her peers also improved dramatically. Because she wasn’t upsetting them at circle time any more, they were more keen to play with her and call her to join them at centres. Their forgiveness of her past behaviour was total and almost immediate. Even though they had known her for years and had nearly all been hit, pushed, bit, or yelled at by her, they were willing to set that aside and give her another chance.

By our 100th Day Celebration, I wasn’t tracking her behaviour any more because there wasn’t any need. By the end of the school year, all of our strategies were so second nature that I wasn’t even aware of them any more.

I saw her once a few years later when I was working as a daily OT at her elementary school. I said hello, we shared a smile, and off she went with her friends. She seemed to be doing well!

So, what’s the point of all this? I mean, it’s a nice story, sure, and we probably all have a student or ten like this…

1) Identification isn’t everything. Because this was the private system, I didn’t have any specialists to call on and I couldn’t refer her for any assessments to determine whether or not she had an official diagnosis. I could have suggested that her parents get her tested privately, but I was too new to feel that it was my place to make any comments like that. The thing is, even without being “identified” as Spec Ed, I was able to implement several accommodations which ended up helping her immensely. I didn’t need a legal document telling me that she needed to break work into chunks; I just went for it.

Now, as a public school teacher, I do the same thing: from the first day, I put strategies into place based on my students’ needs, even if they don’t have an IEP. If I think it’s going to help, I do it. I still flag students of concern, don’t get me wrong – but I don’t sit around waiting for those flagged students to actually be assessed. There is a LOT you can do while waiting for your concerns to be addressed.


2) Class size is important. I was teaching a full day kindergarten class with ten students. I was managing several other challenges in that class, but because I only had ten students, I was able to give each of my students a significant portion of my time and energy. It was easy to track behaviour and implement strategies because I only had ten students. I can’t imagine trying to identify, address, and follow up on students of concern in a full day kindergarten classroom in our public boards because they have two or three times as many students as I had. This is part of why we are fighting for smaller class sizes in Ontario.


3) Your students can tell you a lot about their needs. We spend a lot of time drawing on our own past experiences, training, and psychology in order to come up with strategies to help our Spec Ed students, but sometimes we forget that sometimes the best source of inspiration is the student him- or herself. I have made it a point, ever since teaching Elizabeth, to work with all of my students (not just the ones with IEPs) and have them identify their strengths and needs. I make them advocate for themselves: if they need to sit closer to the board, or not near their friends, or have a seat totally away from their peers during lessons, then they tell me that and I make it happen. The results have been astonishing and have dramatically reduced the amount of behavioural problems I deal with on a day to day basis.


Make them take ownership of their learning needs. You won’t regret it, I promise. 🙂

Assessment for Inquiry Projects

Alison_BoardTeachers are encouraged to use inquiry in all subject areas. Using inquiry is not necessarily a set of steps to follow or instruct, but an approach to guide student learning. It usually results in greater engagement and can easily be differentiated to individuals and groups. What is often the biggest challenge for teachers is the assessment piece.

Here are a few ways to support your assessment:

  • determine check-ins with students as they complete specific stages of the process, such as planning, research/recording observations, interpreting and communicating (use rubrics for these stages as provided in curriculum document – Continuum for Scientific Inquiry)
  • use mini-lessons to teach skills and content to the whole class that support the Inquiry subject area
  • use whole-class discussions or small group discussions to make observations about student knowledge and understanding (this also builds knowledge among the larger group)
  • provide access to a computer for each group or a notebook to record their questions and plans and stay accountable. Communicate with them to further their thinking and provide next steps (Google Docs works well for this)
  • Keep observations sheets handy to make notes and take photos
  • Inquiry work provides an excellent opportunity to demonstrate the learning skills
  • Provide students with a checklist to ensure specific learning, such as “Show impact on environment” or “Determine best solution for power generation at our school” – when assessing effectiveness of final task/project that students may present in a variety of ways (poster, video, website, etc.)

There are some great project based learning guidelines and assessment tips/strategies on the website http://www.edutopia.org/ or follow edutopia on Twitter.

Mike Beetham

Accountable Talk

Students love to talk and some students love to talk more than others. That isn’t a bad thing! Talking is and should be an essential component of every classroom. The key is to help students understand the different types of talk that will take place at school. I teach my students the term ‘on task talk’. That means that if it is math we are working on, then it is math we are talking about or if it is science then scientific conversations are taking place in my room. This creates a win-win situation as humans are social beings and talking is a huge part of both the socialization and learning process. This is part of the routines and expectations that are established at the beginning of your year.

A second type of talk is question and answering or as I phrase it ‘inquiry talk’. This is different in that there is a key person who is explaining or justifying their solution or work to a group of peers. The students asking the questions need to be taught what thinking questions are, how to create them and what respectful dialogue looks and sound like. The person receiving the questions needs to understand that the questions are not meant to be negative but rather to evoke thoughts and express opinions.

The final type of talk in the classroom is social talk. This is just friend-to-friend conversations that take place. I will often interject these sessions as transitions in the room. For example we have just wrapped up our writing and I will tell my students to take a two-minute social break. During that time they can get up and move or talk with a friend or friends.

The key is to help students develop an understanding of what each type of talk is as well as when and how to use it. This is specific to each teacher and their style of teaching. Embrace the power of talk in your classroom

Looking Forward to January

While I am enjoying a holiday from the classroom, from time to time, occasional reminders creep into my thoughts that we will shortly be back at work with only a few weeks before the end of the first term. To quiet these reminders, I think about a few of the activities which I am looking forward to and which I will be able to comment on in my reports.

One activity all my grade 3 students are excited about is producing a puppet show of Robert Munch’s “The Snowsuit”. Before the holidays, students brought in old socks so that they can create sock puppets to be used in the play. The first week back at school in January, my students will be busy at work creating their puppets and props while learning their lines for the puppet show. The holidays can be a stressful time and after 2 weeks of a disruption in routine, many students (and teachers) have a hard time switching back to school mode. With some management and support, a collaborative activity which is student centred, like a puppet show or a play, gives students independence and structure and can be a nice way to begin the New Year. It is also a good alternative to seatwork right after the holidays.

Something else I put in my plans for the first weeks back at school is to be outside everyday with my class. With a little preplanning, I make sure I take my students outside for math – building and measuring snowmen and monitoring temperature changes; social studies – snowshoeing around the school yard imagining we are visiting Wendat, Anishinaabe and settler communities; science – observing plants in winter; language arts – using the 5 senses to describe a winter day; and phys. ed. – playing in the snow after a fresh snowfall. A letter home to inform parents that we will be going outside on a regular basis helps to have students come to school prepared with proper gear or a change of clothing in case they get wet. To guarantee accessibility, however, the school always has a collection of extra gear students can use if they are missing something warm and dry to wear.

It’s not always easy to look forward to heading back to school after the holidays. Drama and outdoor activities are perfect for January because they help with getting back into the groove and break up the daily routine with a little something different.

Blogging in the classroom

As a way to help students represent themselves in a positive way online, at the beginning of my LTO I introduced a program on my blog. It is called the weekly five and it encourages students to choose three of five weekly activities.

On Monday they can answer the question or complete the task under the heading on my blog entitled “My Blog Mondays”. This question will relate to a subject or task that is the focus that week.

On Tuesday, students have the chance to post a video under the heading “Tube Tuesdays” as they are encouraged to find meaningful and inspiring youtube videos to match a topic. For parts of a  story, the students were encouraged to choose a video that captures one of the parts of a story. This encourages them to look for videos that suit a specific purpose and will also inspire them to be better identifiers and writers for different parts of the story.

On Wednesday, students are asked to come in to class and be prepared to discuss a topic or a project that they need help with. Starting this Wednesday, I will select the students and help them get on track and stay organized for a topic or subject I see them struggling with.

On Thursday, students are asked to come prepared with research for a topic on my blog. The topic is posted in the form of a picture and they are asked to discuss the progression from that older item to the item that we have today. An example that the students really loved was the old version of a phone. They came prepared with discussion related to the progression of phones worldwide.

On Fridays, which is the most popular post of all, is when students are asked to post on the “Feeling Instagood Friday” section of my blog of a photo taken or chosen by another student. They are to post a suitable caption for the photo and the best caption will be chosen as the following week’s photographer. This encourages students to use our blog as a practice tool for when or if they have instagram. They should be posting meaningful comments and appropriate comments to other’s photos.

This is just one way I use technology in the classroom. By making my blog an active daily tool, students will also use it to remind them of updates and events going on in the classroom. If you would like to view my blog the link is missmclaughlin7.weebly.com



From Teacher Directed to Student Directed Learning


As a new teacher or a teacher with many years experience, you hear about the importance of planning for student-directed learning in the classroom. Keeping this approach in mind as you plan in all subject areas benefits student learning and also benefits the teacher. Benefits include:

  • Engaged students – most students want the opportunity to talk as they learn, not just listen. When made to only listen, they look for distractions and classroom management issues often arise. If students are provided time to collaborate on a topic that interests them, they are engaged in the process and positive learning outcomes are the result.
  • Student interest – this leads to the content. Provide students with choice and select topics within the curriculum expectations that are of interest to your group of students. Students will demonstrate more initiative and take more responsibility for their own learning if they have choice of relevant topics. For example, in my grade 6/7 class, I modelled writing a monologue from the perspective of a character. Then, the students were all provided with a rubric to create their own dramatic monologue based on a character of their choice from a book from their choice.
  • Differentiated instruction – allowing choice of topic or type of presentation/project differentiates for the range of learners. Again, as an example from the monologue assignment, struggling readers selected books like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, while others selected more challenging texts like Journey to Jo’burg. Similarly, students will select an option for a project on what they are comfortable with (creating a slideshow vs. a video). By allowing students choice, you are more inclusive, not lowering your expectations for those who can surpass them, or challenging your lower level students to frustration. And as a result, the students who select the more accessible choice, often learn from the students who are demonstrating success with a more challenging topic or type of presentation.
  • Assessment – student-directed learning allows time for ongoing assessment. I have spoken to teachers who plan detailed lessons and present to the class in a lecture style format with little time for collaboration or independent research. These teachers lament that student’s aren’t “listening” enough. They also wait until the end of unit to assess students with a paper/pencil task. By facilitating students in a more self-directed approach, teachers can support student where they are at with resources and mini-lessons for those who need it. Why provide the same lesson to the whole class if they do not all need it? When students are working in small groups or pairs, or even independently, the teacher is provided the time to interact with students, find out where they are in their understanding and provide the necessary support (assessment for learning).
Student-directed learning isn’t students learning on their own. It is more like students learning within a framework set up by the teacher, and supported by the teacher. It benefits all those involved!






Becoming an Ally in the Classroom

At a recent staff meeting, I was asked to present and discuss the contents of an Indigenous Resource Bundle issued from our school board. The ‘bundle’ consists of about 20 beautiful books written by Indigenous authors and educators. Topics vary from learning about your ABCs and colours in English, French, Inuktitut, Cree and Algonquin, as well as, the residential schools legacy, legends, famous First Nations, Métis and Inuit history makers, and treaties.  I was given 10 minutes to present the books and to offer suggestions on how they may be used in the classroom.  For the amount of material to be discussed and the volume of information contained therein, the time was far too short, especially considering that so many teachers are new to this reality. Because the fact is, although the reality has always been there, it was never taught to Canadian school children until very recently.

Will these resources, beautiful and rich as they are, be used in our school? I am not so sure. Like the substantial LGBTQ book collection the school board presented to us last year, these books will likely be signed out by only a few teachers who remember they are there or who are motivated to include them in their lesson plans because they attended the in-service or because they have a genuine interest and personal connection with the material. This does not mean that teachers don’t care. It does mean that they may not know how to find the time to include this perspective in their lesson plans.

Our lives as teachers are already quite weighed down by new literacy and math initiatives, new curriculum documents, new strategies to increase levels of engagement of our students, etc., and when someone comes along and expects us to teach, on top of all we are doing already, something we have never learned, we feel overwhelmed.  No wonder so many of us ask, ‘If we don’t understand it, how can we help our students to understand it?’

My only suggestion is that you begin by taking a book with an Aboriginal perspective and reading it to your class. Your journey will begin with the students’. You will not be expected to know all the answers to their questions. But you will have empathy and show, by learning and discussing, that you are willing to bridge the enormous gap that was the status quo for so very long. By reading one book with your students and asking what they thought while you were reading it – in my case, 8 year old urban students in 2014 learning about 8 year old Aboriginal students being removed by the government from their families and communities to go to school – you will never look back. Your perspective will change.  It will mean that you will have to bring up the c-word – colonization.  It is OK to tell them that because of colonization, you never learned about treaties or the Seven Grandfathers or residential schools when you were young. It may be a challenge to start such a dialogue, but this is our collective history as Canadians, and as educators, we are beholden to transmit history as accurately as possible, with the help of new curriculum, new resources, and new understanding. As the title of the book so clearly says, ‘We are all Treaty People’, we just may not realize how.

Reading one book may then make it easier to consider contacting the Métis Nation of Ontario, or a local Inuit Centre or First Nations’ Friendship Centre to invite a Métis Senator, or an Inuit or First Nations’ Elder to your class to talk to your students about something you would like to learn more about. Reach out. Ask questions. Read books to your class. Once you do, you become an ally. Becoming an ally, means you become part of a community for a mutually beneficial reason. Indigenous history is intrinsically part of Canadian history. Learning about it will enrich everyone’s lives.

Some titles to consider:

For Primary Students – When I was Eight and Not My Girl by Jordan-Fenton, Christy and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton

For Junior Students – Fatty Legs and Stranger at Home by Jordan-Fenton, Christy and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton

Arctic Stories by Kusugak, Michael Arvaarluk

Shin-Chi’s Canoe by Campbell, Nicola I., with illustrations by Kim LeFave

Shi Shi Ekto by Campbell, Nicola I., with illustrations by Kim LeFave

Rabbit and Bear Paws Series

As Long As The Rivers Flow by Larry Loyie

My Name is Seepeetza by Shirley Sterling

On-line resources:

-Metis Nation of Ontario Education Kit


-Residential School Legacy Exhibit resource for junior/intermediate students


-Ontario Book Company offering Indigenous educational resources


Feedback in the Shape of a Tree

     Providing effective and timely feedback to students is a constant goal for a teacher, particularly when there seems to be so little time during the day. With a crew of 20+ students, it can be a challenge to find the time to sit down with each student and explain spelling and various goals targeted in writing. Often, we get really good at correcting the same errors over and over again without very much evidence of growth or improvement on the students’ part.
     For my grade 3 students, I like to use a quick and effective feedback tool someone shared with me long ago. It is fast, effective and easy for primary students to recognize and utilize.
     Here’s what I do on written work which has been either hand written or typed on the computer; as I read, I underline or circle common spelling errors or errors in syntax such as forgotten capital letters or periods. When I have finished reading the text, I choose a few spelling mistakes or goals that may be missing and write them, correctly, in a list on a corner of the student’s work. Any more than 2 – 4 items in the list can be overwhelming for a student, so I keep it short. Then, I draw a tree around the words so these corrections represent the area of growth for the student. On the page beside the tree, I make sure to write a response or a positive comment such as; “Good details!” or “great ideas!”, etc. When students write the next time, they can conveniently flip through preceeding pages in their journal to check the words in the trees.

Using this feedback strategy, students have a concrete example of how they can improve the content and syntax of their written work, and each time they write in their journal, they have a mini dictionary of some of the words or tips they can easily refer to. A tree is a simple, friendly image to use to offer student-specific feedback. I have found that this strategy encourages students to proofread their work before they submit it, helps  the ‘unlearning’ of some fossilized errors, and sets small, attainable goals for students to improve their writing.