An Open Door

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Have you ever thought about what makes your class or school special? Ever wondered what makes the difference that makes the difference? These have been questions that I continue to look for and reflect on all of the time.

Today something sparked my thoughts even more. I was in a meeting today, with a bunch of staff, talking with our Superintendent about our wonderful school, when one of my colleagues made an interesting statement.

When I first came here I took a back seat to reflect on what makes this school special. Part of what I noticed was that everyone’s door was open….

She went on to further describe that having an open door showed her how open and comfortable we were with one another. I can go to anyone for help no matter what.

Now, I am slightly paraphrasing here but you get the understanding of this message. Even as I write this I am still struggling to find words to talk about my thoughts but I thought I would share some of these thoughts with you. You see, she hasn’t been the first person to mention that there is something special about Ray Lawson.   I have also noticed that things are different here but couldn’t figure out why. When my colleague made this statement it was a big aha for me. It never dawned on me how something as simple as an open door could help others see you were warm and there to help, it was something I just did.

 

As teachers, we want to create a culture where students are competent, curious, and capable. We also want to create a culture of love and understanding. But for that to happen it starts with us. The comment my colleague said, made me think about how I present myself to my colleagues and to my students/ parents. Do they see that what I am saying is put into practice? or do they see something different?

I never would have thought that something as small as an open door would make such a difference but it does. Here at Ray Lawson, we walk into each other’s classrooms all the time. No one ever bats an eyelash. We talk about best practices, we talk about students and we question our teaching, ALL THE TIME. Screen Shot 2017-11-01 at 6.48.57 PM

In Peel, this is one of our beliefs but how do we put this into practice? What do you do in your classroom that allows students, parents and other teachers to see you as open, flexible and responsive to their needs?  Love to hear your thoughts.

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Relationships Matter…I cannot stress this enough

The last couple of weeks I have been struggling with being a parent and a teacher. There has been many things lately that I haven’t agreed with but I have tried to stay calm and understand. It has been hard to sit back and find the right words to describe what I wish would be happening more in our profession. Then this tweet came across my feed today and it allowed me to center my thoughts that I have been struggling to communicate.

I want this quote to sit for a minute.

 

I know when I first started teaching I often neglected this very important piece. I often felt that I knew my students or that I was allowing them to be a part of the learning but the more I reflect the more I think I could have done more. Stuart’s work on self reg has been revolutionary for me. Reading his book was a breath of fresh air. The greatest take away I had was:

There is no thing/ concept as a Bad Child

I now firmly believe this but it is one of the toughest things that we have to realize as an educator. If you have been reading my blogs for the past I have often talked about the importance of relationships. I also have talked a lot about Stuart’s work and my daughter Izzy.

The latest update in Izzy’s school saga is that she has been formally tested and diagnosed with an LD, and ADHD. Now this wasn’t new information for me and my wife but it explains a lot of the problems that we have been seeing. The problem is Izzy is often misinterpreted. Izzy is not an easy child to get a long with. She is often difficult and stubborn. She has melt downs and high, high anxiety around school. These problems hinder her progress and have unfortunately labeled her as one of the problem children. However, there is a reason for her behaviour and she doesn’t do these things on purpose.

Izzy finds school hard, she finds learning hard and when she finds it hard she breaks down or is in a high stress situation. Like adults high stress causes her to be in a flight or fight mode, which in turn causes her to have behaviours.

For the past two years she has had two great educators who have taken the time to learn and honour Izzy as a person. They laughed at her quirkiness and joined in her loves. When she was stressed or struggled they often saw them even before Izzy did and was able to redirect and help her through them.

Now this relationship building takes time and I know oh so well that time is a very precious thing. As educators we often struggle with meeting all of the curriculum that we have to cover. There is so many things that we have to do that is not in the scope of teaching that we a lot of times forget about the most simplistic thing.

Teaching is not about teaching but about building

Our students know that we care. They pick up on our vibes, our stresses and our comments. This is for both the good and the bad.

Like most, if not all students, my daughter thrives on teachers who take a moment to see her for who she is. When you take the time to understand why she behaves the way she does, she actually has less bad behaviour and focuses more on the good. However, when she knows you think she is a problem then she tends to lean towards that. Students are pretty much the same. Relationships are needed and the time spent on them is time well spent.

When you take the time to honour students voices, who they are and what they like, they give it back to you. So I encourage you learn the stories of your students, understand who they are as individuals, recognize that they all of potential to do amazing things. I know that we all came into teaching to do just that but I think some times we loose site of it and get bogged down in all of the politics or curriculum.

If you spend the time building relationships I promise you will not be let down. My daughter is an amazing little girl, who I know has difficulties and causes a lot of stress in the classroom. But when she knows she is loved, she will do anything for you. I’ll end with this quote from Peel’s Modern Learner.

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School should be….

To borrow a phrase from my good friend Matthew Oldridge, “School should be a place of excitement and constant wonder!” I don’t really have any way of putting it so nicely and yet school is often a place where many students dread.

I want to share a personal story. As many of you know my daughter has had her fair share of difficult times at school.  I have often blogged about her difficulties and what they have taught me. But nothing pains me more when I hear her tell me she hates school and doesn’t want to go back. It has been very interesting to see her natural development around this concept of school and where her divergence went towards that famous, “I hate school” line. When Izzy was young and in preschool she absolutely loved it. I mean this was a girl who ended up being potty trained because she wanted to go to school so badly. During preschool, she couldn’t get enough. She would wake up early and eagerly wait for her time to go to school. Even the very first day of JK you could see her face beaming with excitement. But unfortunately, that was where everything seemed to change.

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It broke my heart, as a parent and as an educator, to see my happy child go from the above pictures to this.

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Now, I know that my daughter is not the easiest child to get along with. She has her many downfalls and is full of energy. In JK, she got into a lot of fights and a lot of discussions with her teacher about how we could help.  She struggled with the academics and what the teachers wanted her to do. We now understand that learning is very hard for her. She has a low working memory and ADHD. It’s not an excuse but it does explain why school is hard. It also explains why she sometimes seems like she gets it and then all of a sudden doesn’t.

But what changed?

When you ask Izzy, why she doesn’t like school she can’t really pin point it but when you explore further it is often because she has to follow certain rules or when she interprets something as fun and told to stop she doesn’t want to. Or according to her, is viewed as a “problem child”. She often tells me that her teachers don’t like her or that she feels like they pick on her.

As a teacher, I understand that places have rules and in the “real world” there are things we must follow but at the same time shouldn’t the purpose of school, especially in younger grades, be a place to foster the excitement of learning? Shouldn’t we foster growth and natural wonder and curiosity?

School for a long time has been a place meant to conform our young ones to the “way of the world”. It was made to have workers who could work the lines. But the world has changed and yet school hasn’t. We no longer need to have kids be little robots that do exactly the same thing. Is it important that we have students doing exactly what we want them to do or is it more important that students see themselves in the learning and want to be a part of it. In the bigger picture of the world, is it vital that students walk in a straight and orderly line down the hallways or do we teach the students the value of not disrupting others thinking but just being quiet. Do we stop the learning of our students because the bell has rung or we must move on the the next period/ curriculum expectation or do we foster the love of learning by allowing our children to naturally explore.

As a parent, my goal for my kids is that they love to learn. I am glad that school fosters academics but I also know that will come with time. Nurturing that natural wonder will allow students to want to learn and I think as educators we have a big role to play.

So I ask you, is your classroom a place of natural wonder and curiosity? Or is it a place that students dread to come?

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Accountable Talk in the Classroom: Practical Advice for the Classroom

I have recently finished one great book and one great article on Accountable Talk and Classroom Discussions. 

Stein, M. K., Engle, R., Smith, M. & Hughes, E,  Orchestrating productive mathematical discussion: Five practices for  helping teachers move beyond show and tell. Mathematical Thinking and Learning, 10313-340. 

Chapin, Suzanne, O’Connor, Catherine, & Anderson, Nancy. Classroom Discussions: Using         math talk to help students learn. California: Scholastics. 2009.


Accountable talk is one of my passions as I have spent the last four year studying the impact it has on my classroom.  I highly reccomend these two readings for anyone interested in learning more about accountable talk.  However, I also know that in teaching we really don’t have time to sit down and read.  For this reason I thought I would summarize them for you and include them in my blog (I appologize in advance as this will create a rather long post).  These ideas come from the two resources above and my own thesis work.  I hope they are practical advice for anyone in their teaching practice.

Implementing Classroom Discussions
Establishing and Maintaining a Respectful, Supportive Environment:
·         LAY DOWN THE LAW (in a collaborative manner):
o   that every student is listening to what others say
o   that every student can hear what others say
o   that every student may participate by speaking out at some point
o   all have an obligation to listen
·         neither student or teacher will participate in bad environment.  Everyone needs to feel comfortable.
·         Emphasize the positive and forestall the negative
·         Establish classroom norms around talk, partner work, and discussions (what does it look like, sound like and what should we be doing)
·         everyone has the right to participate and an obligation to listen
Focusing Talk on the Mathematics:
·         During the discussion time you need to focus the talk on math:
o   plan your questions carefully
o   Have good formative assessment happening at all times
o   Make a plan as to what big ideas you want to cover
o   Anticipate problems and possible solutions
Providing for Equitable Participation in the Classroom Talk:
·         Here are some strategies that will assist you in making it all equitable:
o   Think-pair-share
o   Wait time
o   Group Talk
o   Partner Talk
o   Debates
o   Random  Choice on who Talks

 

Types of Talk Moves:
Talk Moves That Help Students Clarify and Share Their Own Thoughts
·         Say More:
o   Here you literally ask the student to explain more.  “Can you tell me more?”, “Tell us more about your thinking.  Can you expand on that?”; or “Can you give us an example?”
o   This sends the message that the teacher wants to understand the students’ thinking.
·         Revoicing:
o   It is sometimes hard for students to clearly articulate what they are trying to say by revoicing or having a student do this it allows the original student to check and make sure what they said is true or to hear it in a new way
o   It is not just repeating but more of paraphrasing the students ideas
·         Model students thinking:
o   This is not so much a talk move as it is a way to help talk
o   As students talk record what they are saying without comment.  When they are done ask them , is this what you meant?
o   This allows students to reflect and think about what they said in comparison to what was written
·         Wait Time:
o   Wait time is so important.  I cannot stress this enough.  The longer you wait the better responses you will get.  It allows students to process what you or another student asked and be able to formulate their thinking
Talk Moves That Help Students Orient to Others’ Thinking
·         Who can Repeat?
o   I would classify this under the first category but it also helps students with understanding what their peers are saying
Talk Moves that Help Students Deepen Their Reasoning
·         Press for reasoning
o   Here you are basically asking students to think about why they did this.  This can be done by asking:
§  Why do you think that?
§  What convinced you that was the answer?
§  Why did you think that strategy would work?
§  Where in the text is their support for that claim?
§  What is your evidence?
§  What makes you think that?
§  How did you get that answer?
§  Can you prove that to us?
o   Not only are these excellent talk moves but excellent questions that push students beyond their thinking and make excellent mathematical connections.
Talk Moves That Help Students Engage with Others’ Thinking
·         These are excellent questions that help students build upon their own thinking and the thinking of the community
·         Do you agree or disagree…and why?
o   This really brings students into direct contact with the reasoning of their peers
o   You can do this by:
§  Thumbs up or thumbs down
§  Why do you agree or disagree?
·         Who can add on?
o   When you ask this question make sure that you wait for answers as this may need time to develop connections.
1: Anticipation (P.322)
The first thing is for the teacher to look and see how students might mathematically solve these types of problems.  In addition, teachers should also solve them for themselves.  Anticipating students’ work involves not only what students may do, but what they may not do.  Teachers must be prepared for incorrect responses as well.
2: Monitoring students’ work (P. 326)
While the students are working, it is the responsibility of the teacher to pay close attention to the mathematical thinking that is happening in the classroom.  The goal of monitoring is to identify the mathematical potential of particular strategies and figure out what big ideas are happening in the classroom.  As the teacher is monitoring the students work, they are also selecting who is to present based on the observations that are unfolding in the classroom.
3: Selecting student work (P.327-328)
            Having monitored the students, it is now the role of the teacher to pick strategies that will benefit the class as a whole.  This process is not any different than what most teachers do; however, the emphasis is not on the sharing, but on what the mathematics is that is happening in the strategies that were chosen. 
4: Purposefully sequencing them in discussion (P. 329)
With  the students chosen, it is now up to the teacher to pick the sequence in which the students will present.  What big ideas are unfolding, and how can you sequence them for all to understand?  This sequencing can happen in a couple of ways: 1) most common strategy, 2) stage 1 of a big idea towards a more complex version or 3) contrasting ideas and strategies.
5: Helping students make mathematical sense (P.330-331)
As the students share their strategies, it is the role of the teacher to question and help  them draw connections between the mathematical processes and ideas that are reflected in those strategies.  Stein et. al. suggest that teachers can help students make judgments about the consequences of different approaches. They can also help students see how the strategies are the same even if they are represented differently.  Overall, it is the role of the teacher to bridge the gap between presentations so that students do not see them as separate strategies, but rather as working towards a common understanding or goal of the teacher.

 

Trouble Shooting Talk in the Classroom

My Students won’t Talk:

v  First ask yourself: our my students silent because they have not understood a particular question? –> sometimes they need to hear the question a few times and have time to think
§  if this is the case then give students time to think  (wait time is very important)
§  also revoice it or have another student revoice the question
v  Second they may be shy or unsure of their abilities:
§  If this is the case you may need to revisit strategies for talking
§  Think-pair-share is an excellent way to get kids comfortable to talk
§  it will also take time to get kids comfortable.  Wait time again is important as it holds students accountable.  Also making them feel comfortable and that mistakes are okay will assist with this difficulties
The same few students do all the talking:
v  Wait-Time:
§  I know that I say this a lot but it allows the other students to think and then participate while making the ones who always participate  (it will feel awkward at first but wait as long as you can)
v  Have students Revoice:
§  This is good strategy to bring validity to students answers and encourage others to talk
v  Conferencing with the ones who talk a lot:
§  You also don’t want to ignore the ones who talk  all the time.  You can talk to them and let them know that you are not ignoring them but are just trying to allow others to participate.
v  Turn-Taking/ Random presenters/ group discussions:
§  These are all roughly the same strategy.  It allows you to have certain presenters share their thinking without offending or allowing others to take over the conversation
Should I call on students who do not raise their hands?
v  there is research to suggest that students will learn by listening but you will also hinder the class progress in discussion.  To help try creating a positive space that allows all students to feel comfortable and willing to participate.
v  “right to pass”: 
§  allow students at the beginning of the year the right to pass.  You’ll notice that they may do this at first but as you build the community they do this less and less
v  Call on reluctant to students after partner talk:
§  Often when you give them a chance to share first they are more willing to share or at least have a response from their partner
My students will talk, but they won’t listen
v  Set the classroom Norms:
§  remind each students that they have the right to be heard but that this also means an obligation to listen
v  Students Revoice:
§  When students need to revoice then they have to listen
Huh?” How do I respond to incomprehensible contributions?
v  The temptation is to simply say, “Oh, I see.  How interesting….” and quickly move on to another student.
v  Try Revoicing or repeating what they have said.  After you have done this ask them is this what you meant?
v  Record their strategy on the board and ask them is this what you meant?
Brilliant, but did anyone understand?
v  Repeat what they said, then have another student repeat what they have said (if really important have many students repeat)
v  Break the explanation up into small chunks and revoice or have the students
I have students at very different levels
v  Pair students in ability groups:
§   Similar abilities with similar abilities.  This allows students to contribute at their level and to also struggle at their level.  In addition, it allows you as the teacher to differentiate as needed.  When you scaffold you can do so by group not by individuals
v  Parallel Tasks:
§  Give students similar tasks but with varying degrees of difficulty (still around the same big idea)
What should I do when students are wrong?
v  First ask yourself is there anything wrong with having the wrong answer?  Sometimes wrong answers provide rich and meaningful discussions
v  Need to establish Norms around respectful discourse and discussion with wrong answers
v  Mistakes are always an opportunity for learning to happen

This discussion is not going anywhere or Students’ answers are so superficial!
v  This may be happening because you are asking to many students to share or revoice the ideas that are happening in the classroom or in the case of superficial classroom  norms have not been established or the types of questions have been simple and direct
v  Use the working on phase as an opportunity to direct your bigger discussion:
§  As you are walking around and looking at work, look for the progression your students are taking.  This will lead you to a group discussions.  What questions are the students asking themselves?  What problems are occurring?  What big ideas are they trying to work out, have worked out or are struggling with?
v  Look at the type of questions that you are asking:
§  As teachers we are comfortable asking questions but do our questions already have responses?  Are we leading the kids to OUR thinking or our we allowing the students talk to LEADthe thinking.  Yes you are very much in control of the discuss and have to lead but it is not YOUR thinking but THEIRS that should be articulated.
§  Higher order questions build-upon or go beyond the thinking that is being presented.  As a teacher we need to help with the connections in mathematics.  Compare student work?  Compare strategies, Pros and Cons, naming and identifying.  We need to go beyond just show and tell



Hands on Learning

 We had a lot of fun this week with some great hands on learning.  Sorry no pics my hands were full of crisco…  Confused, let me tell you about it. Part of the grade two science unit is learning about how animals change in order to survive. It doesn’t go into too great of detail as in grade four but the students learn that their are adaptations that animals need in order to live.  We talk about how some of those adaptations are physical and some are behavioral. To help with this we did two experiments with the kids this week.  

The first is call MACKI Hunters: For this game the students became hunters of macaroni, which I had about hundred or so in different colours.  I threw these MACKIES onto the field and told them that in order to survive they had to get at least ten in two minutes.  Of course they all survived.  We talked about why that would be and what could possibly make it harder.  The next time, I split the groups up into the three colours (red, blue, green) and then told them to get ten.  This ended up having some of the students not surviving. The last time I did it I had three of the students become hunters of the children.  All of the students only had to get five but they couldn’t get touched and had to make it back to me in order to be safe.  This ended in only three of the students surviving.  We had some great discussions about how animals survive and what animals need in order to survive. 

 The next experiment was understanding physical adaptations.  For this experiment you need Crisco, gloves, ice and two buckets of water.  You first put the ice in the water and put the crisco in one glove.  Side Note: I do find it easier to put the Crisco in a ziplock bag and then another ziplock bag over top of this.  This way the child’s hand just goes inside of the clean bag.  However, the kids have fun getting messy.  Next the students have one hand in the ice water and one hand in the crisco bag/glove and that is in the ice water.  Students soon discover how cold one hand is versus the other.  They start to make the connection between how polar bears have blubber to keep them warm just like the Crisco does to their hands. As you can tell I couldn’t take any pictures as my hands where also covered in Crisco; however, it was a lot of fun and worth the experience.

Using pasta for a butterfly art project

 Thought I would share this really cool art activity.  After having a pretty cool talk about our butterflies and their life cycle, my students had to do an art activity with dried pasta.  I never thought that pasta would apply here but it certainly does.  All you need is the butterfly pasta, the small rice looking pasta, macaroni and curly pasta (apologize for butchering the names).  Each of these pastas represent a stage in the caterpillar/butterfly’s life cycle.   We used small paper plates and the kids broke them into four sections and decorated these areas anyway they wanted.  Here are some samples:  

SAMR

I was recently at a peel tech conference #tldwpeel, it was a truly amazing experience. We have so many talented people working in peel and the amazing ideas for 1:1, is st truly remarkable.  One of the guest speakers Dr. Ruben Puentedura http://www.hippasus.com/rrpweblog/, came up with a model for teaching and planning tech called the SAMR model.  Basically, each letter stands for stage in a proverbial ladder of planning.


S: substitution. This is when the teacher basically is substituting a paper task for a written task.  Unfortunately, I do believe that many teachers are at this stage and see tech as just a way do something different.

A:augmentation.  This is when teachers use it augment the program. At this stage it is often use for engagement, or hooking students.  You might play a YouTube video, have them use a website, or video tape.

M: modification. This is when a teacher is using tech to modify, so that the task is redefined.

R: redefinition. This is when the task can branch out and become something totally new.  Connecting to other classrooms, reflecting on a task, teaching the next year or the previous.

We were challenged to make our practise more on the modification and the redefinition components. So I am challenging you the reader to do the same.  Also if you have any great tech ideas please let me know or fill it in the comment section.