Breakout EDU

Breakout EDU is like an Escape Room in a box. The players use teamwork and critical thinking to solve a series of challenging puzzles in order to open a locked box. The first time I experienced Breakout EDU with my students I was not the designer of the game.  Another teacher had designed the Breakouts and we were using it as a provocation for an inquiry on the Olympics.  I was amazed at how much I wanted to help my students.  It was difficult to watch them struggle and yet, that is where the learning happens.  We want our students to BE “gritty” and we need to provide opportunities for students to develop that grit.  Breakout EDU is a great way in which to have the students experience “the struggle”.  The kit looks like this:

The kit itself is quite pricey and unless your school already has one, it is quite an investment.  However, you can make your own with a tool box and locks purchased from a variety of stores.  You can also create online digital Breakouts that create the same kind of collaborative, problem solving activity just without the cool locks.  Here is the link to some curated online “digital” breakouts.   I haven’t looked at all of these for curriculum alignment, but it will give you some ideas to use to create your own digital breakouts.

“Breakout” is sort of a misnomer.  You are actually “breaking in” to the box using a number of clues students solve puzzles in order to open the various word, number and key locks.  This can connect to the curriculum in a number of different ways and can be used effectively as an introduction, provocation or summary for learning.  You aren’t going to get too terribly deep into content when students are busy trying to solve for clues.  For me, Breakout EDU is far more about developing the 6 C’s; collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, communication, citizenship and character building.   It is fascinating to have students work in groups to solve problems with a common goal.  Breakout EDUs provide opportunities for students to practice developing their learning skills and gives the teacher the opportunity to collect data as the learning is self-directed.  The activities lead easily into self-reflection of learning skills. Below are some of the questions that I find valuable for the consolidation portion of a lesson after a Breakout EDU activity:

Questions for Reflection

1.  How did you determine roles in your group?

2.  What did you find most difficult?

3.  What did your group do really well together?

4.  What would you do differently next time?

5.  How did you contribute to the group?

6.  How did you work to include everyone in your group?

Once students are familiar with the Breakout EDU format (depending on the age/grade level) they can then create their own Breakouts for their classmates.  The students interact with the learning from a different perspective and have to find the most important information to highlight for the clues in the development of the Breakout.

So what are the drawbacks?  Breakout EDU is competitive.  The students are working against each other and/or against the clock.  You have to know which students can handle that type of pressure. Working in groups on a common task may be difficult for some students with self-regulation issues so you have to know your students well and plan accordingly, as you would for any group activity.

Finally, Breakout EDU is also a great tool to use with your staff.  If you have a lot of information to get through and you want the participants to get to some salient points and the Google Slide presentation just isn’t cutting it, using a Breakout EDU will make for an interactive, team building staff meeting!  It is also great to have the adults experience the struggle that we all want students to go through to develop grit and resilience.

Like with any tool, it takes time and research to ensure that it is right for your classroom.  The more I use Breakout EDU in my teaching,  the more I think of ways to use it!

Report Cards – FSL Comments

To date, I’ve written two posts (here and here) with sample comments for the Learning Skills section of the Ontario report card. Those are arguably the most difficult comments to write, but I’ve also found French language comments to be challenging. I change my style and choices every year, it feels like, so these are by no means perfect, but I thought some of you may like to see some of the comments I use for reporting on French Immersion and Core French. Use bits of these, adapt them, share them – these are here for your reference and to help you out!


Program: Middle French Immersion (year 2) – Term: Progress Reports – Profile: Progressing With Difficulty (D-level)

(NAME) is making some progress in the grade 5 Middle French Immersion program, although she requires considerable encouragement to engage with the class during instructional time. With frequent support, she is beginning to speak in French with her teacher and peers. She should strive to make use of in-class supports (e.g., anchor charts, notes, word wall) to assist her with her learning. Continued reading at home (preferably aloud) will help her to develop stronger reading skills.

In subjects where the language of instruction is French, (NAME) consistently needs one-on-one assistance to understand the material being taught and complete her work. Going forward, she would benefit from developing listening strategies to help her understand what is being taught (such as listening for key words, watching the speaker, using visual supports).


Program: Middle French Immersion (year 2) – Term: Progress Reports – Profile: Progressing Well (C-level)

(NAME) is progressing well overall in the grade 5 Middle French Immersion program. With one-on-one or small group assistance, he is usually able to demonstrate an understanding of the material discussed in class. He makes good connections between what he is learning in class and his personal experiences. Oral communication is an area of need for (NAME) as he requires frequent support when speaking spontaneously. He would benefit from using a variety of speaking strategies (e.g., hand gestures, visual supports, rephrasing) to communicate his ideas without substituting English words. (NAME)’s writing strategies are developing well, and he makes good use of classroom resources (e.g., Word Reference, anchor charts, notes) to complete his work.


Program: Middle French Immersion (year 2) – Term: Progress Reports – Profile: Progressing Well (B-level)

(NAME) is progressing well so far in the Middle French Immersion program. He is beginning to speak with more confidence in rehearsed situations, such as prepared presentations. When speaking, he is usually able to communicate his thoughts and ideas effectively, although he sometimes needs encouragement to persevere in French when the vocabulary is less familiar. He can work on improving his communication skills by using speaking strategies (e.g., using gestures, finding another way to say a word, using anchor charts) to avoid resorting to using English in class.


Program: Middle French Immersion (year 3) – Term: Progress Reports – Profile: Progressing Very Well

(NAME) is progressing very well so far in the Middle French Immersion program. She is a highly effective communicator and speaks with confidence in both spontaneous and rehearsed situations. When writing, she is able to use the self-revision checklist (POMMES) to correct any errors in her text. She can work to improve her speaking skills by striving to speak only in French during class time.


Program: Middle French Immersion (year 3) – Term: 2 – Profile: Significant difficulty, little progress

(NAME) continues to demonstrate significant difficulty in French-language subjects. She has missed a large amount of French instruction time this term due to late arrivals and absences, which has hindered her development as she has missed many opportunities to practice her French skills in class discussions and group work. (NAME) is reluctant to speak French in class, rarely even using common phrases such as asking to use the washroom, though with encouragement she will sometimes form short sentences when speaking to teachers. She consistently requires one-on-one support to understand lessons. When reading, she shows surface-level understanding of texts at the Grade 6 level when supported by the teacher or her peers. Engaging (NAME) in French subjects has been a challenge this term, as she often needs reminders to stay on task. (NAME) will need to put much more effort into French subjects next year in order to catch up to where she should be. Her immediate focus should be on developing her oral communication skills, particularly speaking.


Program: MFI (year 3) – Term: 2 – Profile: B level

(NAME) demonstrates a high degree of comprehension during listening activities and discussions. She is able to follow complex instructions without assistance from her teachers.  When speaking, (NAME) usually communicates her thoughts and ideas clearly. She is developing a good accent and pronounces most familiar words correctly. Overall, she speaks with some ease in spontaneous and rehearsed contexts. Going forward, she would benefit from building her confidence when speaking, which would help to develop her intonation and fluency.  (NAME) is developing good writing skills. She has a wide vocabulary and is able to apply most conventions with success when creating written texts. When given feedback, she is generally able to apply that feedback and make revisions to her writing. When reading, (NAME)’s decoding and comprehension skills consistently meet the grade 6 expectations. She generally identifies the main idea and important details in a text, though at times she requires some encouragement to provide evidence from the text to support her ideas. (NAME)  is encouraged to continue reading French books at her level over the summer to continue developing her reading skills.


Program: MFI (year 3) – Term: 2 – Profile: A level (shockingly similar to the B level comment… to show you how I adapt it but don’t overdo workload by completely changing wording)

(NAME) participates actively in all aspects of the French program. She demonstrates a high degree of comprehension during listening activities and discussions. She is able to follow complex instructions without assistance from her teachers.  When speaking, (NAME) nearly always communicates her thoughts and ideas clearly. Her confidence allows her to speak with considerable fluency in both spontaneous and rehearsed contexts. She is developing a good accent when speaking and pronounces most familiar words correctly.  (NAME) is a strong writer. She makes great use of a wide vocabulary and a good understanding of French conventions to create a variety of written texts. When given feedback, she is able to apply that feedback and successfully make revisions to her writing.  Overall, (NAME) is a strong reader in French. When reading independently, her decoding and comprehension skills exceed the grade 6 expectations. She identifies the main idea and important details in texts with ease. (NAME) is encouraged to continue reading French books over the summer to continue developing her reading skills.


Program: Core French – Term: 1 – Profile: Strong academics, good engagement

(NAME) participates actively in all aspects of the Core French program. She has strong communication skills and consistently speaks in French during class activities. She has demonstrated leadership in the classroom by helping her peers when she is able to. When writing, (NAME) makes good use of classroom resources (e.g., dictionaries, models, anchor charts) to complete tasks independently. Going forward, she is encouraged to speak in French with her peers during class time to further develop her skills.


Program: Core French – Term: 1 – Profile: Good academics overall, solid B-level achievement

(NAME) is an active and enthusiastic participant in Core French activities. She uses many comprehension strategies (e.g., context clues, mots amis) to help her understand what she is hearing and reading. Using models, she can produce a variety of text types with familiar vocabulary and sentence structure. She often tries to use new vocabulary in her writing and enjoys finding new ways to say something. Overall, her oral communication skills are developing well, though she would benefit from making more of an effort to only speak in French during class activities. When speaking spontaneously, she can usually communicate her thoughts and ideas clearly. That said, she has a tendency to switch to English if she is not certain how to say something. For next term, she is encouraged to persevere and try to finish her thoughts in French without reverting to English.


Program: Core French – Term: 2 – Profile: Good effort but lower achievement, C/D level

It has been a pleasure to teach (NAME) this year. She is always ready to learn and approaches Core French activities with enthusiasm. She has made some progress with her communication skills in French this year, although she continues to need considerable assistance to complete reading and writing tasks in particular. She is starting to make good use of listening strategies to follow along with lessons and complete tasks using simple French vocabulary. (NAME) typically needs reminders to use classroom resources to help her complete her work, such as word walls and models. For next year, she is encouraged to work toward participating more frequently in class discussions and striving to use what she has learned in the classroom on a more consistent basis.


Program: Core French – Term: 2 – Profile: Limited French exposure before this year, good progress, B level

It has been a pleasure to teach (NAME) this year. He is always ready to learn and approaches Core French activities with enthusiasm most of the time. He has learned many useful listening strategies which have helped him tremendously in the class. With some assistance, he is able to understand lessons, follow instructions, and complete tasks using simple French vocabulary. He is learning quickly and puts great effort into using the language skills he has learned on a daily basis. He makes good use of classroom resources such as word walls and dictionaries, although he occasionally needs help finding the correct words to put his ideas into writing. For next year, he is encouraged to work on adding expression to his French reading now that he recognizes most common spelling patterns.

More Learning Skills Comments!

One of the most popular posts I have written over the past few years was a collection of Learning Skills comments I put together. It continues to get views and comments regularly, but like most of us, I cringe when I look back on what I wrote three or four years ago. They’re not bad comments, I just feel like I’ve learned so much since then.

So I’m back! With more comment samples for you! You’re free to use these – modify them, mix and match them, grab one or two sentences, whatever you like! These are here to help you and give you an idea of how one teacher in Ontario writes their comments. I’ve also posted some FSL comments for the Core and Immersion teachers out there.


Profile: strong learning skills, good leadership qualities, regularly engaged in class, working on developing more confidence

It has been a pleasure having (NAME) as part of our classroom community this year. She is an enthusiastic, hard-working student who always strives to do her best. During lessons, she listens attentively and regularly offers her insights, although at times she seems unsure about her answers. As her confidence builds, her active participation increases, and she should be very proud of her accomplishments to date.

When working independently, (NAME) makes good use of alternative workspaces (e.g., the library, the hallway) to provide her with a quiet space for working. While she occasionally allows herself to get distracted by socializing with her peers, a quick reminder is often all that is required to return her attention to the task at hand. She makes good use of success criteria and learning goals to ensure that her work is meeting expectations. 

Collaboration is one of (NAME)’s strengths. She often takes on leadership roles when working with peers, such as organizing what needs to be done and creating a plan to ensure the group is successful. Her kind, open-minded personality allows her to work with any student without issue. On the rare occasion that conflict arises, she is always able to find a solution without assistance.

(NAME) has become a strong role model for her peers. Her dedication and cheerful disposition are great assets to our school community. Keep up the great work!


Profile: weaker learning skills, not fully engaging in French Immersion program, finds academic demands challenging, tends to shut down when encountering difficulty

(NAME) is a kind, compassionate student who is beginning to develop more confidence in his abilities. When he feels certain that he is on the right track and understanding the material, he is an active participant in class discussions. Much of the time, however, he requires frequent reminders from teachers and peers to engage in respectful listening behaviour, as he is often chatting with friends or playing with objects during lessons. Given that he often seems to feel overwhelmed by the expectations of the Middle French Immersion program, particularly during subjects where French is the language of instruction, he would benefit immensely from listening more attentively to his teachers and peers.

(NAME)’s independent work has been inconsistent this term. Much like during class discussions, when he feels confident about his abilities, he is able to complete his work with some support and extended time limits. Most of the time, however, he is quick to become frustrated if he encounters difficulty. Once this happens, even with encouragement and one-on-one support, he often refuses to complete his work. Next term, he is encouraged to seek opportunities to work with his teachers (such as sitting at the round table during independent tasks) where they can more easily check in with him and assist him with his learning.

Collaboration is similarly inconsistent for (NAME). He is most successful when working in groups created by the teacher, as he is less likely to become distracted by socializing. When working with friends, however, he needs frequent reminders to return his attention to the task at hand. He would benefit from reflecting and making careful choices about who he chooses to work with for collaborative tasks.

(NAME) is developing some self-regulation strategies to assist him with his learning skills and habits. When he chooses quiet workspaces away from friends or makes use of classroom tools like noise-cancelling headphones, he is more successful. He is encouraged to continue making use of these accommodations over the second term to help him focus on his learning.



Profile: strong learning skills, good leadership qualities, tends to go overboard on projects

It has been a pleasure to teach (NAME) this year. She is a cheerful, kind student who demonstrates great curiosity for learning. She is an active participant in class discussions and collaborative tasks, quick to make connections and think critically about what she is learning. Her leadership, reliability, and flexibility have all been wonderful additions to our classroom community.

Collaboration is one of (NAME)’s strengths. While she strongly prefers to work with her friends, she is able to work with most students without conflict. Her conflict resolution skills are well-developed and she is generally able to resolve any interpersonal conflicts without needing to involve her teachers. She is a good leader who tries to ensure that all members’ ideas are included in the planning of group tasks.

When completing projects, (NAME) is usually quick to come up with creative, outside-the-box ideas to extend her learning. That said, sometimes these ideas become too large or complex to complete within the given timeframe. When this happens, she has a tendency to ask for additional time rather than adjusting her plans. Next year, she is encouraged to plan in such a way that she can adjust and scale back the plan rather than requesting extra time, as additional work time for one project results in lost time for other instruction.

All the best next year, (NAME)!


Profile: student who tends to rush, engages in discussion on topics of high interest, needs to work on collaboration

It has been a pleasure having (NAME) as part of our classroom community this year. She is a creative, enthusiastic student who always brings a unique perspective to our class discussions. She participates actively in most class discussions, although at times requires reminders to put away her book in order to give her full attention to the lesson. 

When working independently, (NAME) is at her best when she is highly engaged in a task, such as tasks involving environmental issues. When her interest in the topic is high, she puts significant effort into her work and eagerly shares her knowledge with her peers. Conversely, when the topic is less interesting to her, she has a tendency to rush through her work in order to finish quickly and move on to something new. Overall, she takes feedback well when it is about specific criteria that she overlooked, but she is reluctant to go back to add more detail or expand on her thoughts. She would benefit from taking time to review her work, ensuring it is detailed and meets the success criteria for the task.

When collaborating with others, (NAME) strongly prefers to work with her close friends and requires considerable encouragement to engage fully in other groupings. She occasionally needs redirection to stay on task during group work, as she sometimes goes to find her friends’ groups to chat. She is encouraged to approach collaborative work with a more open mind next year, as she is a valuable group member with a wealth of knowledge to share.


And a few other snippets you may find useful:

During independent work periods, (NAME) can generally be counted on to stay on task, though he needs occasional reminders not to get caught up socializing with his peers. His willingness to seek assistance or clarification has increased since the beginning of the year, and we hope that he continues to come forward when he needs guidance with a task. Though his resilience is improving as the year progresses, (NAME) continues to become frustrated with himself when he finds a task difficult. Once this happens, he is sometimes receptive to teacher assistance and feedback to help him work through the task. Next term, he would benefit from taking advantage of opportunities to work nearer to his teachers (such as at the round table) during independent work periods to provide him with opportunities to check in more regularly while working.


(NAME)’s greatest area of need this term has been in developing positive collaboration skills. She strongly prefers to work with her friends and is reluctant to fully engage in group tasks with some students, sometimes going as far as to ask to work on her own or switch groups rather than work through conflict. She is highly motivated to do well, which sometimes leads to clashes with other students when they have different plans for how to approach a collaborative task. Next year, she should continue to work on “guiding from the side” by helping her group to stay focused and on task while also allowing her peers’ ideas to take the spotlight more often.


I’ll also try to put together some of the comments I’ve written for other subjects, particularly things like French. I find it can be very challenging to know where to begin with Language comments for French Immersion – especially for smaller programs like the one I teach (Middle French Immersion). Hope these are useful to someone out there!



Does Homework Work?

The Purpose and Politics of Homework



After teaching for over 18 years, one topic which is frequently addressed in parent/teacher interviews is homework. Often parents see homework as being critical to academic success. It’s a topic often debated and never really resolved, even for me as a teacher and as a parent.

In my teaching practice, parents consistently ask me for homework. They believe that doing homework, such as math sheets, makes their children smarter and better students. Parents often feel that “busy” work, such as math and language sheets should be provided by teachers.

Alfie Kohn, an American author and lecturer in the areas of education, parenting, and human behaviour has examined this topic on many fronts. According to Kohn, “no research has ever found a benefit to assigning homework (of any kind or in any amount) in elementary school {i.e. grades 1 to 6).  In fact, there isn’t even a positive correlation between, on the one hand, having younger children do some homework (vs. none), or more (vs. less), and, on the other hand, any measure of achievement” (Kohn, n.d.). In other words, homework is not linked to academic achievement in the early grades. Kohn does mention that in middle and high school, homework does impact math and science achievement, especially in higher socio-economic communities.

As a teacher, for homework, I usually assign 30 minutes of reading every night. But parents often scoff at my suggestion that reading is homework, probably as it produces no visible work. In addition, when assigning journal writing, for homework, it usually does not get done. Parents find it hard to get their children to write a journal … parents state “it is a lot of work because my child resists writing”. Now they have a glimpse into my job as a teacher. I believe that parents want homework to keep their children busy and it reminds them of the days when they did their homework.

I find it frustrating that when I do assign homework like bringing in materials for class projects, it does not happen. Often collecting homework is more work for me, especially when I have to chase after students for it. Ironically, I do not use homework for assessing students because it is completed away from school and may not have been done by the student.

So what is the purpose of homework?

1. Practice: Is the purpose of homework to promote practice of concepts?

Yes, homework can be useful in practicing math concepts or writing in the form of journals. In this case, it is important for homework completion to be advocated by the student. Teachers or parents cannot force a student to do this work. When parents ask me how to make their child complete homework, I often cite the phrase “you can take the horse to water, but you can’t make him drink”.

In my own parenting experience, with all my encouraging and some threats, I could not make my son complete his homework. I state this after spending hours working beside my son to get his homework done. In using this strategy, in the end, the responsibility of completing his homework was passed on from him to me … and it was not my homework! When my son entered high school, I gave up on the homework battle and he proceeded not to do his homework on his own. He completed high school and went on to post secondary school where he did not do his homework. My daughter was a different story. She had solid learning skills and a strong work ethic. I only got involved with her homework when she needed help. As a hard worker, she exceeded her brother in her academic success as university is about being smart and working hard.

When I assign homework, as a teacher, I wonder what level of stress I am putting on parents who try to help their children with homework I send home?

2. Completion of work not completed in class: “Work not done in class is homework!”

As a middle school teacher, I have observed two types of students – those who complete work in class and those who socialize in class. The middle school years are an exciting time for students as peers become very important in their lives. Hanging out with friends becomes the main reason for coming to school. Returning from holidays results in many hours of catching up with peers. Due to this very social time in students’ lives, individual and group work assigned in class is not always completed in the timeframe assigned by teachers. This means teachers need to allow more time for work.

As a teacher, it has been suggested by parents of not keeping middle school students on task or not giving enough time to complete assignments. The bottom line for me is that I give plenty of time for work to be completed and do my best to keep students on task. I challenge anyone to keep 30 grade 8 students, with varying academic abilities, on task while helping several other students in need. It’s like trying to herd 30 cats. When parents complain to me about their child’s incomplete work, I state that the student simply did not use class time wisely and needs to finish the work at home.

In my middle school experience, often students need to complete work at home because they did not complete it in class. Several times, students have returned essays and assignments to me that is completed at the “university level” and it is clear that the student did not complete the work on their own.

In the end, homework still remains a contentious topic. As a middle and high school student, I did homework to complete assignments and practice for math tests. I was not an A student at the time, but my homework routine allowed me to develop solid work habits for my future education.

After writing this blog, I still have no clear answers as to the effectiveness of assigning homework probably because each student is different. This school year, I will be assigning math homework as my grade 4/5 students are as keen to do it as their parents are to see it assigned. I’ll reflect on how this year progresses and see if it impacts my teaching and their learning. And I won’t make it too hard so the parents understand it too.

Below are some resources you can share with parents to help them support their child’s learning.


Doing Mathematics with Your Child

Reading and Writing with Your Child


Alfie Kohn Comments about Homework

Reflecting on Reporting

After spending the last week or two working on reports, I have asked myself what I can do to make the reporting process more efficient next time. My dining room table was covered in piles of workbooks, an array of notes, observations, and my assessment binder. More than enough right? Well, maybe because I am very visual, (and thorough), I needed something more to assure myself that I had considered the “whole child” as Tina had referred to in an earlier post. So I went to the computer and opened my file of photos from the classroom. Here were some images that captured demonstrations of learning skills and showed understanding of the curriculum in a different form.

This photo of the girls weaving makes teamwork visible, as they share the task of weaving with one piece of fabric.

Another photo (see below) shows a student demonstrating independence in her learning. She is using both the text and the world map to find information about a community in Pakistan.

Photos like these are a form of documentation. Documentation can be used for reflection as well as planning. Documentation can be shared with the children, the parents, or colleagues. We see children in the classroom every day demonstrating learning, and often don’t think of taking photos of such every day events. However, during report card times these photos are an invaluable part of the assessment process. Next term, I plan on using my camera every week!