After school yesterday, I happened to catch a tweet sent by my principal from an EQAO event that he was at in Toronto.
I found this tweet very timely, as this was something that I was actually contemplating. Yesterday was a different day in our classroom, and it made me wonder how many more of these “differences” I can incorporate into our regular routine.
Things started to change for me on Valentine’s Day. I went to go and pick up some stuffed animals from a friend and fellow teacher, Shirley-Anne. She collected these stuffed animals with other teachers and students at Ancaster Meadow School. Originally, her class was going to collect stuffed animals to send to mine as part of a pen pal activity, but before long, students were making announcements and collecting stuffed animals from everyone in the school. I only expected to pick up one or two bags of toys, but I ended up coming home with almost 14. What was I going to do?
That’s when my Toy Store idea started to take shape. I decided to blog about some of my initial ideas, and before long, my previous vice principal chimed in with some thinking of her own.
Her comment helped me think differently, as you can see in this reply.
With these thoughts in mind, I went into school on Tuesday curious to see what the students might think, say, and do. They eagerly embraced the idea of an Adoption Centre, and quickly started developing plans for displaying animals. They explored different sorting options during our Math Block, and even started thinking about proportional reasoning and non-standard units of measurement when looking closely at different sized toys and what this might mean in a real world context.
Then on Wednesday, we looked at the signs that we would need for our different stuffed animal displays. There was a lot of good thinking and talking about when spelling is important or not as important and why. It was great to hear student thinking as the children began envisioning the displays at our Adoption Centre. During our Math/Science Block, we started to think more about how we could store and display all of these stuffed animals. Students worked together to create shelves and boxes to hold ten or more toys. While creating the structures aligned with our Science expectations, there was lots of good math thinking and talking as well, on topics such as non-standard units of measurement and geometry.
This led to Thursday, and our exploration of Adoption Certificate options. Students decided on categories for the certificate, and looked at how to use classroom resources, familiar words, and letter-sounds to complete their own certificates. They knew that we likely wouldn’t be able to create certificates for all of the animals -- there were just too many – but students thought that if the K-2 students saw some of our certificates, they may even be inspired to create their own. Interesting thinking! During our Math/Science Block, we looked back at many of the shelf and box creations from yesterday, and students started to think why these display options might not work for our store. They also looked at how to fix them. From there, they made some new structures, and began to create displays for the grand opening of our Adoption Centre the next day.
And then came Friday, and the opening of our Adoption Centre. Students set the agenda for the day. First thing in the morning, they made our To Do List, and quickly realized that we needed to count the total number of stuffed animals to determine the number of students that we could invite to the store. They chose to count by 10’s, and the created the piles of ten to count. They also realized that we needed to figure out the number of students in each K-2 class and compare this number to the number of stuffed animals that we had. So they chose tools — from clipboards to iPads — and they went off to collect the data. Then students realized that they could use their knowledge of counting by tens to figure out the total number of students in all of the classes, so that’s what they did. When we realized we had enough stuffed animals for everyone — with some also left over – the students worked together to arrange their displays, make the additional signs, and invite the other classes. Without a doubt, yesterday the students were “directing” and “owning” their learning. They were in-charge. They supported each other. They made the decisions, and so many students left the building happy yesterday because of them.
Were there things that I would do differently? Yes!
- I wish that I got some of the students to write the To Do List. They gave me the ideas, but I did the writing. I think that they could have taken even more ownership if they did it.
- I wish that I got the students to come up and do some more of the writing for the math calculations. Again, they gave me the ideas, and I recorded their thinking, but it would have been nice to share the pen more with them. I think this would have helped visually show more “ownership” of their learning, as well as show me the math thinking that’s happening in their heads.
- I wish that I incorporated more reading options. Students read tags on the stuffed animals and some resources around the classroom to help them with their signs, but I felt as though there could have been more. Maybe this could have been a good time to bring out the poems that Shirley-Anne’s class wrote for the stuffed animals and see if the students could match the poems to the animals. The “adopters” could have brought home a poem and an animal. I’m thinking now of how to use these poems next week to help with inferring skills, and maybe even see if any of them align with the animals that we have left over.
- I wish that I could have taken more guided reading groups. There was so much amazing thinking and learning happening in the classroom that I felt badly taking students from this to come and read with me. Since I only had 10 students at school yesterday, I decided to read and write with them in more of a 1:1 format instead of in guided reading groups. For most of my students though, I find that the intensity of the guided reading group helps more. I recently started using more poems as part of guided reading. Maybe I could look at different text formats (e.g., even a modified toy catalogue) that allow this guided reading time to align more with the learning that is happening elsewhere in the classroom.
- I wish that I had a “reflection on learning” time at the end of the day. By the time that the last class visited our room, we needed to quickly go and get ready for home, so this reflection time was lost. I’d like to use the photographs and videos from the day to help with this reflection on Monday. When students are learning through “play,” I think that it’s especially important that they think about their learning, reflect on how they did, and look at areas to focus on next, as they may not necessarily realize all of the learning that took place.
While our classroom schedule normally allows for long blocks of learning time, the schedule was especially fluid on Friday. Would this type of schedule work for all of my learners? Maybe not. I think that some of them might struggle with a little less structure. Although I realize that it’s important for all students to learn how to handle unstructured time, I also realize the value in scaffolding this learning for students that need it.
- Maybe we could work together to help define specific tasks for the day.
- Maybe we could determine specific jobs during the Adoption Centre Pick-Up Times. (My students yesterday decided to spread out and help people at each table area, but maybe we could have a greeter in the pod, or a person responsible for tally marks to keep track of the number of students that leave with stuffed animals.)
This week, and particularly yesterday, helped me see what play-based learning is all about and the value that it has in all classrooms … not just Full-Day Kindergarten. It made me further see the value in authentic tasks, and how much students can learn from each other and learn together in the classroom. It also made me think more about Learning Skills, and how students need multiple, meaningful opportunities to practice these skills. Sometimes, as the teacher, I need to sit back, watch the struggle, and wait for the students to figure out the problems on their own. When this happens, the learning is powerful. Yesterday’s learning was powerful, and I can’t thank Ancaster Meadow enough for being the spark that allowed this learning to happen!
How do you give students ownership over their learning? What impact, if any, have you seen on student achievement? I’d love to hear your stories!