How often do you breathe?

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I am a busy person. I always have been. My mind or my body is usually in motion, and anyone within earshot will confirm that my mouth usually offers a running commentary for my unsuspecting audience. At the front of a classroom, this translates into a need for  more “Wait Time”.

It seems obvious enough that allowing wait time is important in the classroom; giving students time to think of answers before blurting out the right one, waiting for silence before continuing on with a lesson, making room for quiet reflection to ebb in the flow of a busy classroom.

But while this is true, I have also found that I, too, need to open myself to wait time in my own life. Instead of busily racing from Pre-internship into the madcap chaos of our last three weeks of studies, I have found a need for solitude, reflection, and the digestion of the last three weeks. I found myself asking questions and reflection upon the experience, over and over again:

What did I learn? What did I do? What was important to me? What am I proud of? What would I do differently? What kind of teacher do I want to be?

…and so on, and so on. My brain seems to suggest answers constantly, filtering and filing the good ones. Sometimes the answers come in the middle of the night. Other times they pop into my head when I am having a completely unrelated conversation with family or friends. And so my brain, my spirit, my body, and yes, even my mouth, continue to process this experience. I never would have thought that 3 weeks in a classroom could have such a profound effect on me.

As I pause this weekend, before returning to classes, a 5 word truth hits me:

Purposeful pauses provide profound providence.

I have come to appreciate the value of reflection. Reflection doesn’t always reveal immediately what messages are most valuable, but if you give it enough wait time, the cream rises to the surface.

So looking ahead to the next steps, I realized today that just because I am busy does not mean I shouldn’t breathe. Even though I have an aggressive plan for the remainder of my degree, the breaks and pauses now also have my attention. Perhaps this is the root of my next Health Action Plan… taking time to breathe.

So, I will leave you with a question – How often do you “breathe”? What form does it take – journal reflection, incessant rambling, spin class, or something else?

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Making room in the schedule for “teaching”

When I walked into my 3 week block this month, I thought my eyes were open. I knew that we only had 10 teaching days available because of extracurricular events. I knew I needed to be prepared, well planned lessons in-hand and ready for the class. Knowing all of this still did not prepare me for the fluidity of the classroom schedule.

I have enjoyed every minute in the classroom, but I have been surprised by the activities IMG_0484and interruptions that detract from “classroom learning”. There were the planned interruptions; a Grade 7-8 ski trip to Mission Ridge, a visit from the high school one day, followed by a tour AT the high school the next, the school-wide “Carnaval” Day, and of course the division PD Day and Teacher’s Conference. These things I knew about and planned for.

What I (and sometimes even my co-op teacher) didn’t anticipate were the other interruptions – half the class leaving mid-lesson for band practice, the Student Council members leaving to tally points in each classroom for Hawaiian Day, an impromptu pep rally for the Boys Basketball team before they headed to the City Finals, vaccination day (bringing with it a lot of drama and chatter in a Grade 8 class). Though a blessing to be in a school with many resources and funding, it can still be a curse in the classroom.

Students absences also created challenges; family vacations, extracurricular performances, sports and illness kept me on my toes.  Even when students are physically present, sometimes students are not mentally ready to learn, or the lesson doesn’t go exactly as planned.

Sometimes technology got in the way of my smoothly planned lesson. Wi-Fi can be sketchy, and buffering videos can be a dangerous game in Middle Years. Squeezing in the last 10 minutes of a video before a Friday ski trip worked!

And so, through the craziness of it all, I found my best weapon is flexibility. I have been thankful for my ability to go with the flow. Whether it was planning some differentiation in my lesson for those students at the head and the back of the pack, or a mid-lesson refocus because a concept needed additional explanation, I have been proud of my ability to react “in the moment”.

Whether the teaching occurred within my preconceived “lesson time”, or on the ski slopes, or during a brief interaction in the hallway, responding to student needs in the moment is one of my favorite challenges of this profession.

Inquiry… then and now

I have lived through my fair share of “inquiry-based” learning, as a student and as a mom of 4 kids. Back in my school days, science fairs seemed to be presented in a way that gave students permission to delve passionately into a particular inquiry of their choosing. For me, this happened in Grade 8.

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Microfiche Reader, old-fashioned inquiry

I remember creating my Science fair project on the Human Eye and how we perceive colour. Back in those days, we didn’t have the internet to provide prompts and inspiration. We didn’t have a computer in our house and research meant looking through our 1965 (or thereabouts) version of Encyclopedia Brittannica. If I found the data antiquated (which I usually did), I would peruse our local library, or in dire  circumstances, I would even go to the Mississauga Central Library branch, which had far more resources; even video tapes and microfiche! It was a lot of effort for limited information, which we took for “gospel”. In the Education program, we often hear of the importance of teaching children how to properly research, choose credible sources and question intent. Resources are vast and diverse of worldviews. 30 years ago the data was harder to find, but we took it for face value.

 

But I digress. When I was judged on my colour project, I distinctly remember one of the judges asking me about the difference between tan and beige. I suspect his inquiry was based on the clothing trends of that decade. My display was visually appealing and colourful, but not as innovative or controversial as some other projects, such as dissolving nails and teeth in a glass of Coke. Looking back, I can’t tell you what the rubric looked like or how we were assessed. I investigated, I learned, I presented information. But was it inquiry? By definition, yes. But inquiry can be so much more.

I like how this video relates inquiry based learning to this Australian school’s mission to foster a desire in all students to make a difference; a personal, communal, national and global difference. This is something that I truly believe is the key to inquiry – why do I care and how can I make a difference?

So how can this impact how we present inquiry in the classroom? Consider for a minute differentiated learning. This is a topic that my fellow teachers Kendra, April and Emma are exploring with me for our own current inquiry-based learning. There is a wonderful variety of students that present themselves in any given classroom; different types of performers, “high” or “low” achievers, hands-on learners, EAL students, struggling readers and writers.

A Science Fair project can set up all sorts of successes, or challenges. Just look at this project designed by a frustrated mom a few years ago:

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One mom voices a common sentiment among parents and students

My son’s Grade 6 Science project is one example of lack of motivation. A few years ago, he, along with a partner, created a display that showed how solar panels could power a small computer. They enjoyed the hands on challenge of making it work, however they did not see the connection to real world problems that they hadn’t experienced. If they had explored a community that had scarce power, would this have deepened their inquiry into how this could provide a viable alternative for remote communities or countries? Would this have seemed more meaningful to expand the hastily written journal or reflection?

Also, this brings up the point of choice in presentation style. I am sure that if they had been given the opportunity to video blog their reflections, they would have been able to produce much deeper, meaningful reflections on their work. As someone who (for the first time ever!) did my very own video reflections this past term with my teaching partner, April, I am a firm believer that giving a choice of method will increase the content and understanding tenfold.  Here are 72 ways students can show what they know!

As I approach my 3 week block, I am planning for a Unit in ELA – Short Story Writing in the Suspense genre. I think of the students in my class – the same brilliant mix of students I mentioned above, and I wonder – How will inquiry based learning help them to achieve success in this unit? How can I, as an educator and a facilitator, motivate them to share their creativity with others?

My ultimate goal is that the students will want to share their finished products. Not only does this step complete the inquiry process, but it opens the experience up to not just personal, but rather, communal learning as well. I will keep you posted!

And so, readers, I ask you: What topics excite you? Does inquiry follow naturally in these areas, and does this always translate to sharing with your community, and beyond? How do you foster inquiry in others?

 

Reading between the students

… AKA “The Emotional Exit Slip”

I have been working with children and teens in various roles for the last 9 years; Sparks/Brownies, soccer coaching, math and reading tutoring, reading volunteer, and as a parent of 4 kids of my own. Currently I have the privilege to work in a Grade 8 classroom as a pre-service teacher. I have seen the dynamics of the schoolyard, a classroom, a gymnasium full of little girls. I have been the shoulder that my own kids have cried on through the ebb and flow of popularity and belonging.

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Some kids often feel left out

That is why when the below story popped up on my facebook feed from 2 years ago, it was a welcome reminder of one teacher’s method that has stuck with me since I first read it. It speaks to the very heart of the “connectedness” that I believe is key to a child’s success in the classroom, and in life. Rereading this article, I was reminded that the teacher in the story started using this strategy right after the Columbine shooting. In the wake of the LaLoche tragedy last month, I believe this type of “emotional exit slip” is a way that teachers can keep a pulse on their students’ mental health.

Below is an excerpt of the original article published in 2014 on www.momastery.com:

“Every Friday afternoon Chase’s teacher asks her students to take out a piece of paper and write down the names of four children with whom they’d like to sit the following week. The children know that these requests may or may not be honored. She also asks the students to nominate one student whom they believe has been an exceptional classroom citizen that week. All ballots are privately submitted to her.

And every single Friday afternoon, after the students go home, Chase’s teacher takes out those slips of paper, places them in front of her and studies them. She looks for patterns.

Who is not getting requested by anyone else?

Who doesn’t even know who to request?

Who never gets noticed enough to be nominated?

Who had a million friends last week and none this week?

You see, Chase’s teacher is not looking for a new seating chart or “exceptional citizens.” Chase’s teacher is looking for lonely children. She’s looking for children who are struggling to connect with other children. She’s identifying the little ones who are falling through the cracks of the class’s social life. She is discovering whose gifts are going unnoticed by their peers. And she’s pinning down- right away- who’s being bullied and who is doing the bullying.”

Having two of my own kids in middle years right now, this speaks volumes to me. The recent RAP training that I completed spoke of the four quadrants of the Circle of Courage – Belonging, Mastery, Independence and Generosity. As a middle years teacher, I believe that using the above strategy provides a safe “emotional check-up” with each student in a non-threatening way. But this is only the first step. By looking at the patterns – the lonely, the outcasts, the students who may be bullying or bullied – a teacher can find where a student’s circle is broken, and develop one-on-one and classroom strategies that enable those students to connect with someone. Maybe it’s a classmate, a reading buddy in a younger class, an older mentor, or a teacher. Connectedness and positive self-esteem can make a huge impact on a student feeling like an important part of the class, school and community. Ultimately these are the experiences that our students will remember, and without these connections, learning cannot begin.

So teachers, how can you foster connectedness in your classroom? Do you see other ways to use the data this activity collects?

Parents, do you check in with your kids who they connect to in the class? Does it change week to week? How might this help your understanding and connectedness with your own child?

The riddle of the English language

Below is one of my favorite poems that demonstrates the ridiculousness of the English language. We use words that originate from Latin, French, Germanic roots – it’s a fascinating read if you are interested. Being in the Middle Years B.Ed program, I sometimes feel like I am trying to piece together my own pre-existing knowledge and experience with the new theories, pedagogies and practices that we are learning about.

Much like the PFL perspective of transfer that we learned about this week in ECS 410, I know that I am learning for long term application. I may resist stripping away past knowledge and beliefs that no longer work in the new paradigm, but this Negative Transfer is important to analyse. Do I let go of past learnings? Do they still hold value? Do I marry them with new ideas to create something unique, perhaps my teaching philosophy?

So, I invite you to do two things:

  1. What have you read or learned lately that you are still processing? Have you old ideas that are getting in the way of embracing this new knowledge? By comparing and contrasting the old with the new, you open yourself up to a deeper, stronger understanding once you truly reflect and resolve this within yourself.
  2. Just for fun, read the poem below aloud. How many words can you confidently pronounce? How might you use this in the classroom?

Spelling - Teaching Spelling - Spelling Rules

If you can pronounce correctly every word in this poem, you will be speaking English better than 90% of the native English speakers in the world. After trying the verses, a Frenchman said he’d prefer six months of hard labour to reading six lines aloud.

Dearest creature in creation,
Study English pronunciation.
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse, and worse.
I will keep you, Suzy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy.
Tear in eye, your dress will tear.
So shall I! Oh hear my prayer.
Just compare heart, beard, and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word,
Sword and sward, retain and Britain.
(Mind the latter, how it’s written.)
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as plaque and ague.
But be careful how you speak:
Say break and steak, but bleak and streak;
Cloven, oven, how and low,

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Teaching starts at home

I recently read an article about a special one-day parent conference organized by the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board and its parent involvement committee. This conference was designed to bridge the gap between what happens at school and home. As a parent, I can totally relate to the struggles that parents have when faced with their children’s homework. With busy lives and the pressures of work, it can be tempting to hope that your kids finish their homework during classtime, or at the very least, know how to tackle their homework independently. But more important than ever, our kids need us to be present in their lives – emotionally, physically, spiritually, and yes, also mentally. Parents, as well as other key adult figures in a child’s life, model attitudes about learning, questioning, communicating, compromising. This got me thinking, “What kind of attitudes do I model for the children in my life?” If you ask yourself this question, as a parent, a teacher, or any role model, what attitudes come to mind?

Since a new year tends to be a good time for reflection, I invite you to take a minute to consider a few more questions with me:

  • Have I embraced the new day with excitement and enthusiasm? Here are 5 positive ways to start the day.
  • What kind of ripples am I sending out for the rest of the day – for myself and for others? My emotional state reflects on those around me. Our mirror neurons, as I have learned this week in RAP training (Response Ability Pathways (RAP) and Circle of Courage), offer us a way to directly influence the attitudes of those around us, especially our students. Here’s an article that shares how mirror neurons can influence perspectives in the classroom.
  • Am I present in the moment? This goes for time spent with family or friends as well as in pre-intern classes, at work, church or volunteer experiences. Living in the moment; putting down the cell phone, closing my laptop, and focusing on the interactions around me – this is the biggest focus for me in the new year.
  • Lastly, am I looking at my experiences in a mindful way? Also tied to living in the moment, this can help me to model for others the ability to focus on the things I can affect. For some ideas on the Art of Now, visit this blog.

I look forward to asking these questions often in the next few weeks, and sharing any new revelations they bring. Do you have other questions you are asking yourself this year? Please comment below with your own questions, comments or resources! Happy beginnings!

Persuasive or reactive – Changing the plan midstream

Ok so this week I taught a Halloween-themed Persuasive Writing lesson for the Grade 8 class that went over really well!

After critiquing my own persuasive writing example of why Lifesavers are the best Halloween candy, the students were able to choose one of the following topics:

  1. Should students be allowed to celebrate Halloween at school? Why or Why not?
  2. Should parents get to eat candy their kids bring home from Trick-or-Treating? Why or Why not?
  3. At what age should kids stop Trick-or-Treating? Why?
  4. What’s the coolest Halloween costume anyone could ever be? Why?
  5. What is the best type of Halloween candy? Why?
  6. Scientists have discovered a way to turn people into zombies. Write a letter to convince your parents why you should become one.
  7. Write a letter to your principal explaining why there should be a day off from school for Halloween.

To hear about how our day went, feel free to watch the video reflection below that April Hoffman and I have recorded for our Pre-internship experience this week (#3). Take a look and let me know if you have any questions or feedback about our day!

I also had the pleasure of reading the great math lesson on my lunch break! Frankly, Ryan Tisdale had me as soon as he mentioned Jimmy Fallon, but when he planned a Fractions and Probability discussion around Egg Roulette with David Beckham, that’s when I knew that Ryan was speaking my language.

We all know that keeping current is huge when getting kids engaged in school. Any time I can bring in an entertaining video to appeal to the kids, I will take it!

Even without a funny video today in ELA, I was quite happy with the engagement level of the class. Nothing captures a kids interest like Halloween and candy, and I think the calm of the students working foreshadowed their enthusiasm to share their persuasive arguments relating to Halloween, candy and zombies. Overall, it was a recipe that we were all able to sink our teeth into today.

Stay tuned next week when I plan part 2 of the ELA lesson to follow up with this and help them really polish their draft into a finished product… kind of like these Lifesavers.