Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Importance of Choice and Voice in Primary Grades.

I remember having a conversation with my son when he was in grade 9. His teacher had given him a self
directed project to do. He got to choose the topic and the format for the presentation, he even got to create the rubric for assessment. What a great opportunity right? He didn't think so and neither did many of his friends. Ï remember him saying "It isn't fair. We have NO IDEA WHAT THE TEACHER WANTS. How are we suppose to do the right thing if he doesn't tell us what he wants?" Instead of being happy about the freedom he had been given he felt frustrated, afraid and very anxious.

It isn't surprising either. Up until that point he had been taught that school was about creating a product that conformed to a series of guidelines determined by the teacher. He was told what was important to know, he was handed the information or guided to the information sources and he created very tidy projects to represent the learning he had been asked to master. He had learned to play by the rules and when he was told he was old enough to help write the rules he didn't feel he had any ability to do so.

If we are going to ask students to be responsible for their learning as teens (and I think it is important that we do) we need to make sure that as elementary school teachers we are setting them up for success. Students need to feel that they have a voice in their education early on. They need to understand that they have knowledge to share, add value to a classroom and most importantly have the power to learn not only from the teacher but from each other and from other resources.

My struggle as an early french immersion teacher is in trying to make that happen. How do we encourage this in those early grades? How do we give students the desire to "find out" and the tools to do that? How do we foster curiosity and encourage discovery? How do we help students make mistakes and learn from them? How do we help students understand that as learners they hold the power?

One way I've been trying to help students take responsibility for learning is through art integration. I've had the chance to be involved in an Arts Infusion grant these last two years. Working through projects with our visiting artist has been an learning process for me and my students. You can read about some of the projects here . You can read more about Art integration here. It's a work in progress for me and I still have a lot to learn.

Another interesting idea for teaching students that they can be independent learners is Genius Hour. You can read about it here: http://www.geniushour.com/   I haven't tried doing this yet. I'm still trying to figure out what it would look like in a grade 1 french immersion class but I've been inspired by Stephanie Bartlett  to give it a try for next year.

What did I learn at school today? Well I learned that I want to do a better job of fostering independence and creativity with my students. I want to find ways for them to feel empowered as learners. I want them to get to grade 9 and say "Yes! A project. I love projects!"  What about you? Are you already doing a good job of this? How do you help students in our classroom feel empowered to learn?

Shapes, shapes and more shapes

To start off our shape unit the students and I read "Tout le Monde est en Formes" by Ed Emberley.

After reading the book we went on a hunt for shapes with the Ipad camera. We had a great time looking around the room and the playground for shapes. We discovered that there are circles, squares, triangles and rectangles everywhere!

When we got back to class we decided that we wanted to make our own pictures just like the ones in the book. We used the scraps from our scrap paper bins to create our own pictures using squares, circles, triangles and rectangles.

Here are an online shape games we played when were were done our project.
Apprendre les formes

What did I learn at school today? Shapes are a lot of fun and students have a great time playing with them. What is your favorite shape based project? How do you introduce shapes?

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Dear Parent of the Average Child - One Teacher's Confession

Dear Parent of the Average Child,

I'm sorry. Your child is wonderful.  She is always at school on time, does her homework most everyday, works well on her own and is patient with those around her.  I really wanted  to go tell your daughter how proud of her I was of the work she was doing today.

I was about to but you see I had a young girl  over in the corner crying because she hadn't had breakfast. Another was tromping around the classroom in winter boots. It's May. When I asked her to change she told me she didn't have any other shoes. I needed to send them and my CEA down to the office to see if we had some food and any extra shoes in lost and found. 

Oh and over in the other corner there was a  boy screaming at the top of his lungs because, well no one is sure why. He is on a list to see a specialist, they hope to have a plan in place for him soon. Of course it has been 3 months, but the specialist teacher is overworked and only at our school a few days a week so we have to be patient. 

More children trickled in. One girl told me that her backpack is at Mom's but she was at Dad's last night. He forgot to send a lunch. She also wanted to tell me about her Dad's new girlfriend but she told me I wasn't  to tell mom because it's was secret.  A young man tells me his cat died last night. Another lost a tooth! Exciting until he sees the blood, thenthe fear sets in.

A child came in a little late looking afraid and tentative. She watched carefully what was going on but was too afraid to join in.  Everyone agrees that the child's fears aren't normal and that she needs some counselling but there are only so many hours in a day. They might be able to see her for one or two sessions next month. I started to head over to help her. Your daughter, wonderful child that she is, helps her put away her things and leds her to her desk. 

I was about to head over and say thank you but I notice 3 boys in the corner playing rough. I ran over to stop them and have a conversation about expected behaviour at school. I also tried to throw in a lesson on non-violence while I was at it.

I turned back to look for your daughter. I haven't forgotten that I wanted to check in with her but I look up and realise I should probably begin teaching the lesson of the day. I told myself I would check in with her later. 

This was all before 9am. Many other things  happened during the day that made it very difficult for me to check in with your wonderful daughter.  Students with learning disabilities, diagnosed and not diagnosed. Students with special needs and with behaviour problems. Students who are needier or put up their hand more often. Students who yell louder.

I realised after a day of running from child to child and crisis to crisis, I never did get a chance to check-in with her today. I don't mean to leave your daughter alone but she seems to be doing just fine without me. I hope it is true. I'm sorry. I feel terrible. Would you mind telling her how proud I am of her? Let her know I appreciate her? I will check-in with her tomorrow.

From Your Child's Teacher

Authors Note:

I have 23 little treasures in my room. I care about them all. I want to teach them all and see them all succeed. I've had more days like this one than I would like to admit. When I think about a classroom without class limits or I think about a school system with even less specialist teachers and less services for our students, I worry. I wonder how many average kids go unseen everyday. I honestly don't think I can do this job under those conditions. Somedays I wonder how I do it now.  I know for a fact I won't be able to do it well.  

Please, please please understand how important this issue is.  I didn't become a teacher for the paycheck or the glory. I became a teacher because I wanted to help kids do amazing things with their lives.  I want that for all my students. I want to do my job well. That means that I need the tools to do that. This includes a reasonable class size and help from specialist teachers. That is why I'm willing to take a 10% pay cut and walk out inspite of the threats. For me isn't about the money. Its about the kids.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Using thought bubbles and speech bubbles to teach predicting.

We had a happy accident happen in Mme Hawtree's grade 1 class this week.  We have special guest come and speak to us about our feelings and thought and the words that we say. She used thought bubbles and speech bubbles to show the difference between the things we say and the things we think.

Later that day in science we were talking about predicting.  I asked the students to pick 3 items in the classroom and predict if they would roll or slide or do both. After they had made their prediction they were suppose to test the item and then record their prediction and what actually happened in their science journals.

One of my bright stars had a suggestion... "We could use thought bubbles for what we think will happen and speech bubbles to show what actually happened!"  Many of my students ran with this idea.  It became very clear for me and the student what was their guess and what was their prediction.

Using bubbles to show thinking
Predicting is often a tricky topic to teach in grade 1. Students have a difficult time sorting between I THINK and I KNOW.  The little perfectionists in my room are often on the hunt for erasers so that they can change their prediction to the correct answer. Using thought bubbles and speech bubbles seemed to help this a problem. Students were okay with thinking the wrong thing.... after all it was just a thought and not voiced yet. The really important thing, the thing they would say out loud was the right answer in the speech bubble.
Using Venn diagram to show thinking

What did I learn at school today?  My students continue to surprise me with their ideas and suggestions. I love the idea of using thought bubbles to show our predictions and speech bubbles to show our findings. I am thinking of  using this in math and in reading as well. What about you? How do you teach predicting? Have you ever had a student teach you a better way to teach something? Do you already use speech bubbles and thought bubbles?

Some resources:

Enchanted learning thought bubbles, speech bubbles
Speech bubble writing paper

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Activate for better learning or Fishing for Learners

Q: What is the difference between a fish and a piano? A: You can't tuna fish.   
source: http://www.jokes4us.com/sportsjokes/fishingjokes.html

I recently had the opportunity to participate in sessions led by some of the the Instructional Leadership Team  in our district including     .  I initially agreed to participate because I was promised coverage and time to work with my teaching partner on a project of our choosing. Every session followed the same format and began with something the team called an Activate.

Initially I was frustrated with the process. Why am I being blindfolded and asked to put a puzzle together? I thought I was here to collaborate with my partner. It quickly became apparent to me that the team was trying to model good lesson design.

I remember being told when I was a student teacher that every lesson should have a hook. I also remember being told by experienced teachers that no teacher has the time to put a wig on every time they start a new lesson. In all the craziness of my first years of teaching hooks became something I did at the beginning of units. They were something I added to socials and science lessons. I never really thought about hooks when I was planning math and reading ones.

After those first few sessions of blindfolds and 6 word stories I started to wonder what this would look like in my classroom. It ends up that adding lesson activates to your teaching does improve student learning  and engagement. The research says so and so did my students.  Additionally, for me it improved teacher interest too! Also, I realized that I was already using a lot of activating activities in my class but wasn't calling them that.

 Why is that there?
A Ghost appears in the class when we start talking about silent letters
A Canada display goes up just before our unit starts.


Lets read this great picture book I have! 
I wonder what we are learning about in Science next?

We get to play on the Ipads!   
Drawing pictures on the ipads for a writing activity.

Why are you wearing that?

    A little drawing to get us thinking.
Drawing 3 picture stories before we learn First, then, finally.

Some other ones I (re)learned over the last few months and have tried with my kids include....

What's in the box? 
I brought a box with something inside and my students had to guess what was in the box based on the clues I gave them. We used it to start a discussion about the importance of using descriptive language in our writing.

Picture clues
We showed students this Smartboard presentation to start our family unit and asked them what we would be learning about next.

Before we began talking about  jobs in our community, we gave students a copy of pictures in this notebook file and asked them to try and figure out what was going on in the picture.

Listen to this!
I've done this a few times now with sounds or music. I put it on and ask students to think about what they see, what they feel and what they think.
Finally a reason to use the 300 sound effects album I bought a while back!
or this app https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/300-free-sound-effects/id776891102?mt=8&ign-mpt=uo%3D4

What did I learn at school today?  I need to make a conscious effort to put some bait on the line and hook my kids before jumping into a lesson. There are lots of ways to do this and many really don't take that long for me to plan or execute. Those activate activities make school more fun for both my students and myself.

What about you? Have you given up on activates and hooks or are you a fishing wizard? What are you favorite activation activities?

Looking for some ideas?  Check these links out:

Teach Like a Pirate:
Lesson Hooks:
Activating Stategies

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

NCIS, The Rules and Classroom Culture

I was watching NCIS last week and heard a line about Gibb's famous rules   It got me thinking about my "rules" in my classroom.  I'm not talking about the "Raise your hand"  or "Speak French" types of rules but
more about the rules that define the culture of a class. The values I expect my kids to live by.

So I started thinking about what my students would tell you were "Mme's Rules".  What are the things that I am always telling them, hoping it will guide them in their learning. Here is a few I think/hope I would hear:

Mme Hawtree's Rules

Rule 1:  Work hard

Learning to read and write is HARD WORK. Learning to do it in French is even harder. My kids know that it is just part of the deal.

Rule 2:  Do YOUR best.

The rule is do YOUR best. Not do the best. Not be the best. Do the best you can do in any situation.

Rule 3:  Do MORE.

I always give kids a line but I always encourage them to do a little more... to push themselves a little further. For example.... Your goal today is to read for 5 minute or MORE.... do you think we can do that?

Rule 3:  We are all teachers.

My kids know that they are going to learn as much from each other as they are from me. I want them to share what they know with each other and treat each other with respect. We are also ALL responsible for helping each other out. If you know how to do something I don't then you can teach me how.

Rule 4:  We are all students.

I always learn something new from my kids and I make sure I tell them that often. I let them know I am still learning, that I make mistakes and that there is always more to know. They always know when Mme is going to "Teacher school" (ProD) to become a better teacher.

Rule 6:  Listen with your brain.

This one is tricky to teach but so important for all of us to learn. My kids know that I expect them to be THINKING about what they are hearing. Asking themselves questions about what they are hearing, making connections with it.... thinking about what is being said.

Rule 7:  Tell the truth.

The students in my class all know that they will get in way more trouble for telling me a lie then they would ever get for taking responsibility for their own actions.

Rule 8:  You are responsible for you.

This one applies to a lot of things. You are responsible for your things. You are responsible for your learning. You are responsible for asking questions when you need answers.  Most importantly you are responsible for your actions. No matter what is happening around us we have some choice about how we act and react.

 What did I learn at school today?  We all have unwritten rules or expectations for our students. These are a few of mine. It also got me thinking about what kinds of rules are missing? Are there things I say I value but I am not teaching my kids?  What other rules should I have?

 What about you?  What are your "Rules"?   What is important to you? What are the values you expect your students to live by when they are with you?

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Have you met Tagxedo - Wordle's much handsomer brother?

Tagxedo does everything that Wordle does... and  a little more.

It allows you to  use shapes and words to create word clouds with a little extra style. There are many preset options for quick creation but everything is editable and customizable too. You can save your work in a variety of formats or share online.

My favorite Tagxedo feature allows you to upload your own images and lets you create word clouds using them.  Here is my Twitter profile picture that I made using Tagxedo. Aren't I lovely?

Kids could us this feature to make an "All about me" style poster using key words. Or they could use a picture of a famous person or animal and use words to describe them.

Looking for an idea for a great mother's day or father's day card? You can use one of the many built in shape templates to make a word cloud full of compliments. With my grade 1 students we have done this as a group activity. We have brainstormed words for our fathers and picked a few shapes and fonts we liked. I then printed out a few different styles for students to choose from to use as their cards.

You can find a presentation on 100 ways to use Tagxedo here.

To get some inspiration on what you can create with Tagxedo check out their Facebook page.

One note:  When I retested Tagxedo for this article  I was able to use the "Create" tab to make the images above but the search box on the first page seemed to be broken.  I wasn't able to use search terms or twitter feed to create a picture. Hopefully this feature will be fixed soon.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Problem with Pink Shirt Day

Don't get me wrong. I think what those young boys did in Nova Scotia was amazing. Standing up against bullying takes guts and they did make a difference that day. If you don't know the story you can read about it here:  Inspite of this I have a real problem with the what Pink Shirt day has become.

I want to tell you a story about what I saw last year in my school.  It was Pink Shirt day. Students were all decked out in there pink gear (many shirts had been bought specially for the occasion) one of my little guys came in to my class a little late, looked around and looked down at his shoes. I watched as everyone turned and waited for him to take off his jacket so they could see his pink shirt. He wasn't wearing a pink shirt. Suddenly he was surrounded by 4 or 5 students. "Why aren't you wearing pink?"  "You have to wear pink today!"  "Don't you care about bullies?" The Pink shirt message had not gotten through with those kids.  We talked about it as a group that day but it wasn't the only time I saw similar conversations and situations throughout the day. It happened in grade 6 as much as it did in grade 1.

Here is a great video from the Young Actors Studio that acknowledges the problem and shows how NOT to celebrate pink shirt day.

It is a little bit our fault.  The announcement say "Wear Pink to stand up against bullying"  The video's say "Make a difference and Wear Pink."  Our school even showed students a video promoting Pink Shirt day where the participants poked and prodded a student until he got the message and wore pink. The Pink has become more important than the message.

Kids need to hear us talk about what bullying is.... and what it isn't.
Kids need to learn about how to can treat each other in positive ways.
Kids need to understand the bullying is wrong.
Kids don't NEED to wear pink to show they understand.

This Pink Shirt day I challenge you to find a real way you can fight bullying in your schools. The Pink shirt worked in 2007 because it showed that particular bully that the boy wearing pink wasn't alone.  How can you show each other you support each other this year? How can you help the victims of bullying in your school feel like they aren't alone?

What did I learn in school today? I need to think about the message I am sending out to my kids when I put in their agenda or newsletter saying "Wear Pink".  Are they learning the lesson I hope they are or are they just going through the motions because it is what is expected of them?

What have your experiences been like for Pink Shirt day?

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Partner Time: Learning while we partner up.

I'm a big believer in partner talk time. My students get a chance to discuss new ideas, teach each other new vocabulary, read with a partner and work together often during the day.  With little ones making partner groups can be tricky.

Ask 6 year olds to find a partner and you will quickly see who is friends with who, who no one wants to work with and who really really wanted to work with someone who doesn't want to work with them.

I tried pair generators on sites like the one on Superteachertools  and they can be great at times but give you very little control of your pairs and also are a little boring for the kiddos at times.

One of the best ways I found to create truly random pairs (that I can still control a little) is match-up cards.

Match-up cards are sets of things that come in twos. Students have to find the person who has their match-up card pair. That person becomes their partner.

Examples of match-up cards:

Uppercase and lowercase letters  (I have A and you have a? Great we are partners!)
Number pairs (I have 1 and you have one? Great lets talk!)
Sight word match (Hey look we both have the word  "maman" guess we are are working together)
Color words and color swatches (I have the word blue... do you have a blue card?)
Cut up equations ( I have 5+5 ... I'm looking for someone with the answer 10)
Word and picture cards ( I have the word cat. Who has a picture of a cat?) - Hint use pre-made vocab cards and cut in two. Example
Question and answer cards (Use these to review information)
Word puzzles ( Match the rhymes for example)

What I love about this method:

1) It is random but also controllable.

I can hand out the cards any way I like. I can also make sure that two students don't end up together (or do end up together) by mentally keeping track of what cards I gave them.

2) A little learning with your pairs

The cards give my students a chance to do a little reading, math, or vocabulary building while they are looking for a partner.

3) Peer teaching opportunity

As the kids wander around you will hear students tell each other.. that says CAT you need to find someone with a cat picture.  or "I don't think 5+6= 19  because I know 5+5=10  I think the answer is 11"

4) It gives me a use for those cute classroom cutout shapes.

I seem to collect cut out shapes or apples and frogs and leaves. Every year my collection grows but I never had a really great reason for owning them. Now I can write my match-up cards on them. It takes very little time and the kids love them.

The whole process takes about 5 minutes when students get good at it. They get a chance to walk around a little and they don't complain about their partner choices because they know it was "random". Students also know that the person we end up with is our partner until the next time we play partner match. We don't need to pick new partners every time we talk. Once a day or even once a week is enough.

What did I learn at school today? Picking pairs can be as fun and educational as working in pairs. Making match-up cards is quick and easy and is a great way to get students to practice skills while getting paired up. What strategies do you use to match-up partners?

Friday, January 10, 2014

Favorite book to teach for Art.... "The Dot"

I was a terrible artist as a child.  I couldn't cut, stay in the lines or make anything that looked anything at all like what the teachers and other students seemed to be making.  I was terrible at art and I didn't much want to do it. It wasn't until university that I discovered the cookie cutter reproductions of teacher created projects wasn't what being an artist was suppose to be. It was about exploring and playing and creating and making a mess and getting better at it a little at a time.

Every year in September when we go to do out first art project I look around and know that somewhere in the class there is someone who just KNOWS they are terrible at art. Someone who dreads taking out the paints. Someone who would rather be doing anything else.

That is why every September I read "The Dot" by Peter H. Reynolds to my students. If you don't already know that story you can listen to it here:

I always tear up a bit when I watch Zoé pass on her teachers words the the little boy who admired her work. A lesson well learned is a lesson shared.

After the students and I play with paint and paper and pens and felts and make dots. Lots of dots.  We have fun with the supplies and we learn that sometimes we like what we create and sometimes we don't. We also find out that art can be pretty easy and fun too. For our big finally we make a "Dot without making a dot." I love seeing the different ways students do this. I always learn a lot about my students when I look at their finished product.

 The book exists in French. It is called "Un bon point pour Zoé"   I love the little video above so I often turn off the volume and read my french version of the book as the movie plays on my smartboard.  What about you? Do you have a favorite art story or any other book you just love reading to your students?

PS - If you haven't seen it already check out http://kellyhines.wordpress.com/blogging-challenge/

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Connecting with Students - Better Teaching for 2014

Todays #Kinderchat prompt is One resolution for 2014. @Math_Johnson asked the same thing a December 29th.

At the time I had posted "Have a meaningful one on one interaction with each student every day"

@Math_Johnson had responded with "Great One. That is the heart of good teaching."  

He is right, connecting with our students is important for good teaching. It isn't always easy though and it requires some thought and effort on my part. The question is how do we do it effectively? What does a meaningful one on one interaction look like? How do we find time to do this on a daily basis? Also, as a second language teacher is it harder to make connections when you can only speak to students in the target language?

One thing that I try to do everyday is to meet every student at the door in the morning. This is something I learned from Harry Wong's "First Day of School." I stand at the door and greet everyone as they come in.  It is a quick interaction, good morning, how are you good to see you today but I get a chance to talk to everyone. I also do the same thing at the end of the day making sure that I say goodbye to all my students individually. One challenge here is to make sure I connect with my students who arrive late or leave early.

Another idea for a quick interaction is the daily compliment. Try to find one thing positive to say to each of your students every day.  Research shows that well given, honest compliments help build relationship and increases retention of information too. Article:  Receiving Compliments has Positive Effect.
Here is a blog article on tips for giving effective compliments.  One of my challenges here is remembering who I haven't complimented yet in a day. I'm considering using Class Dojo to record this interaction for myself. I don't use Class Dojo to track students behaviour but I could use it to track mine! 

My favorite way to connect with students daily though has to be student conferencing and this is the area that I really need to work on too. I use Daily 5 in my room which in theory should give me a chance to meet one on one with all my students often.  I track my interactions with students using CONFER. I blogged about why here. My goal for 2014 is to make those conferences a priority in my schedule.

So what did I learn at school today? Relationships affect student learning.  There are some easy things I can do to connect with students on a daily basis. They aren't without challenges and I need to be conscious about making them a priority. What about you? How do you connect with your students on a daily basis? Do you have issues building relationships with students in your target language? How important do you think it is to connect with students on a daily basis?

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Resolutions, blogging more and the #Kinderchat challenge.

I saw this tweet this morning

It lead me here: http://www.kinderchat123.net/2014/01/introducing-2014-january-post-day-blog.html

As I read the post I could hear my inner Barney Stinson say "Challenge Accepted!" So I took a look at the first assignment. Easy enough 1. Wordless Wednesday "A photo to represent 2013" Well actually not as easy as you might think. Here is my contribution. it is one image file... so what if it is a photo collage! Don't judge me! As for being wordless... well as these words don't count. Not really. Right?

What did I learn today? Wordless blogging and symbolic pictures are hard for me. Are you planning on blogging more in 2014? Check out the #Kinderchat blogging challenge. Do you know of any other blogging challenges for teachers out there?