Is “The Pen” Mightier Than “The Tablet?”

I’m not a huge sports fan, but I’ve watched many people watch sports on TV before. There’s usually always somebody yelling at the screen. I’m often amazed by this: why talk to the screen? It’s not like the person’s going to hear you. Last night, I understood why people respond in this way though because I responded in a similar way – not to sports on TV, but to a Ted Talk on my computer.

Late last night, I saw a tweet and received an email from my new principal, Gerry, with this Ted Talk about “penmanship for the 21st Century.”

After a few minutes of watching it, some initial thoughts came to mind:

  1. I have no idea where I can find a pen at home. I’m not even exaggerating here. As I sat on the sofa viewing the video, I could pinpoint where I might find a marker and possibly where a crayon exists, but I honestly don’t think I have a pen. :)
  2. The “summer of cursive” continues. This is like the debate that never ends, and this Ted Talk had me thinking about it again.

The truth is that my thoughts on this Ted Talk evolved as I watched more of it. At first I was upset. I thought about the students that struggle with fine motor skills. In a world of “the pen,” how are we preparing them for success? One thing that people tend to notice quickly about me is that my hands always shake. I have a familial tremor, and sometimes this shaking is far more noticeable than others. Writing with a pen is a huge struggle for me. I have to put a lot of pressure to hold it still, and over time, this additional pressure causes me a lot of hand and shoulder pain. The computer completely changed my school experience! I still don’t know how to type “correctly,” but with the use of my thumb, one finger on my right hand, and two to three on my left, I can type up to 80 words a minute. Connect my computer to a projector, and now I can keep up with the thoughts that the students share with me and want recorded for others to see. A small device, but a big bonus!

That being said, I think that students need to see the modelling of cursive writing and/or printing. While writing may be a struggle for me, 14 years in the classroom have helped me improve, and my printing and cursive writing are neat even if I am a bit slower. I probably write as many notes on chart paper as I do on a computer because there is value to having certain items available for students to easily access later … even when the computer is in use. And while typing works well for me, it doesn’t work for everyone. In this Ted Talk, Jake talks about the creative process that happens as you write. I’ve heard about this before, and the value in cursive writing for remembering as well as developing ideas. The truth is, I’ve never experienced this though. When I type things, I remember them. I can take a piece of paper and try valiantly to compose a blog post, generate ideas, or write a letter, but it’s not until I get on a computer and start typing, that my ideas start flowing. Maybe I’m an anomaly. Nothing would surprise me. :) Maybe it’s because I often talk as I write: in fact, I find my mouth moving now as I compose this blog post. It could be the connection between hearing the ideas aloud and viewing them on the screen that helps with writing and recalling. Maybe it’s that everybody’s different, and one way — be it cursive writing or typing — doesn’t work for all. That’s why we need to use and model many options, and give students the opportunity to find out what works for them.

I also wonder, if as educators, we need to re-examine the connection between cursive writing and visual arts. Towards the end of the Ted Talk, I saw what Jake created – not just as a writer, but as an artist — and I really “saw” the elements of design. I started to think about visual arts and poetry, and what a wonderful link we could make between Language and The Arts by exploring the stroke of a pen. In many ways, I think that I have such an emotional response to “cursive writing” because all that I think about are the worksheets and the writing booklets, where students are not “writing” but merely “copying.” They start to judge their work not by the quality of their ideas, but by the neatness of their penmanship, which is only loosely connected to curriculum expectations. Copying is not creating, and just like I’m not an advocate of typing programs, I’m not an advocate of printing or writing ones either.

You see, in my opinion, a pen, just like a computer, is merely a tool. The tool is not what produces change: it’s how we use the tool that matters. And just like with tablets, laptops, and Smart Phones, we need to help our students make good choices about when and how to select different tool options. I may never write a letter, essay, or story by hand (this option doesn’t work for me), but I do print notes to students, I do write feedback with a pen (when I can find one :) ), and I do write To Do Lists by hand (often with a marker :) ) — for there’s something about that personal connection and/or the act of “crossing things off” that makes a difference. So as a teacher, just as I “think aloud” as I generate ideas for writing, maybe I also need to “think aloud” as I select my best tool for the task. (I think that I also need students to understand that it’s okay that everybody has a different “best tool.”) Hopefully this will help the students see the value in all tools – not as items, but as creation opportunities! What do you think? What role does “the pen” play in your classroom? Let the #summerofcursive — or maybe just the #summerofthepen – live on just a little bit longer! :)

Aviva

The Primary And Junior “Me” Trying To Come To A Decision

I’m about to begin my 14th year teaching. Twelve of those years have been in primary: from JK-Grade 2. For the past couple of years though, I’ve been in a junior classroom: both Grade 5 and Grade 6. I’m thrilled to be going back to Grade 1, and my mind is already on September. This is the first year that I’ll get a chance to teach students that have experienced Full Day Kindergarten, and I’m excited to get to extend inquiry into Grade 1. Among other things, what I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is teaching math.

Last year, I was lucky enough to have numerous conversations with my vice principal, Kristi, about teaching math. Kristi’s hard questions – which I always appreciate – made me reconsider the use of games in the math classroom (especially board games). I tried all year to make math meaningful, and as the year progressed, my Grade 5′s really started to understand why we use math and how different concepts interconnect. We still worked on computations, but also stressed thinking. As you can see from this guest blog post, the students enjoyed this approach, and continuing to work on real world math and teaching through big ideas were areas that I wanted to focus on for this year.

But as my mind wanders to a new school year, the primary and junior “me” conflict. I can’t help but think back to the last time that I taught Grade 1 three years ago.

  • I remember the rote counting.
  • I remember the skip counting.
  • I remember the adding and subtracting games.
  • I remember the use of various math tools.
  • I remember the math centres.
  • I remember the computer and iPad games.
  • I remember the manipulatives that changed with the seasons and changed with student interests (e.g., dinosaur ones for those that loved dinosaurs).

I know that the students enjoyed these tools and activities. I know that they learned new math skills, and I know that they could show me what they learned.

  • Did the students learn how to think though?
  • Did the students understand why they were learning what they were learning?
  • Did the students see the interconnection between concepts?
  • Did the students see math as more than just something that we “do” in school?

I’m not so sure that I could confidently answer “yes” to any of these questions. I know that Grade 1′s are young. I know that they’re learning new math skills that will be important as they move up in the grades. I know that students learn through play, and I know that games are “play.” But inquiry is about more than “play,” and real world connections make learning meaningful. We need high expectations for all of our students … even our youngest ones. With all of this in mind, I think that I need a new approach to teaching math than I had the last time that I taught Grade 1. I think that my junior experiences have influenced my primary ones, and it’s time to make a change.

Here’s to examining video provocations, books, home experiences, and school experiences, and making math more than just a series of expectations to cover. Contrary to what I did before, I now want to let the students see the value in their new learning. This is where I need the help of my PLN though: how do you use real world math in the primary classroom? I’d love to hear your suggestions!

Aviva – Determined To Make A Change :)

I Dream Of Desks

During the first week in July, I was lucky enough to meet with my new principal and go in and see the Grade 1 classroom. Changes are always so exciting, and a new room at a new school with new possibilities, makes me even more eager to go back to school. Here’s my dilemma though: all I can see is desks. I’ve even been dreaming about desks lately (don’t laugh :) ).

A Look At My New Grade 1 Classroom

A Look At My New Grade 1 Classroom

Last year, I tried something in Grade 5 that I thought that I’d never do: I had fewer desks than students. Students shared desks. We had a completely flexible room environment, and it changed throughout the year based on our needs. This was ideal for inquiry, and I’m struggling with going from all of this space to a more restricted space because of more desks. After reading Stuart Shanker‘s book, Calm, Alert, and Learning, I see even more value in open space to assist students with self-regulation.

But Grade 1 is the first year that students get desks. Usually they’re looking forward to this. If I were to arrange the room differently, and create “tables” with desks and a more flexible learning environment, would I be taking away something that’s important to students? Would the benefits help students see that it’s worth doing this? I believe strongly in not doing things just because “we’ve always done them,” and my reason to have 1:1 desks largely is because of this. I would even be willing to ask my Grade 1 students what they want – as I do believe in the value of “student voice” – but at the beginning of the year when they’ve never experienced desks before, is it fair to ask for their opinions? This might need to be a “voice” that comes with time.

Looking at student needs (with regards to self-regulation), the inquiry model (which I definitely embrace), and the transition from Full-Day Kindergarten and a more open area to learn (which is my students’ reality), maybe I need to take a chance and start reconsidering one desk per child. What would you suggest? I’d love to hear your thoughts … and maybe you’d also be willing to share some of your room arrangements (hint, hint :) ).

Many thanks!

Aviva

It Started With A Surprise Party!

About a month ago, I heard rumblings from a couple of my Grade 5 students about an upcoming surprise party. I honestly didn’t think too much about it. When three of my students helped our principal present the “goodbyes” at the year-end assembly, I figured that this was the surprise. I was wrong! On the last day of school, I was treated to the most incredible “goodbye” by an amazing group of Grade 5 students – my fantastic class – that many days later, made me realize how much this surprise party truly summed up my learning from this year. And so after much thinking about this party and Jonathan So‘s end of the year reflection post, let me share my own year end reflections.

Give students a voice. Not only did the students know what they wanted to do for this surprise party, but they felt confident enough to make it happen. I learned from some students afterwards that they went and met with our vice principal and even elicited her help to get me out of the classroom so that they could set-up for the surprise. They also spoke to the EA’s in our classroom, and worked with them for photograph help and lunchtime supervision assistance. The students used their voices to make this party possible, and all year long, they used their voices to share their thoughts on learning and help create the classroom environment that would meet their learning needs.

Never underestimate what students can do. Even though I heard about the possibility of this party before it happened, I think that I didn’t believe that it would happen because it was such a huge undertaking for a group of Grade 5 students. The whole class needed to work together to make this possible. There was a lot of planning to do. Much of the work needed to be done at home as I was always in the classroom. But now I apologize, as I completely underestimated what students can do! This party was a good reminder to me that we need to set expectations high, and support students (and allow them to support each other), so that they can all be successful.

Relationships matter. I’m a big believer in knowing curriculum expectations and ensuring that classroom activities align with these expectations. And the curriculum does matter — a lot — but relationships matter too. As I sat back on Friday and watched the students coordinate the party plans and socialize with each other, I realized that we really do have a “classroom family.” Yes, we have our share of disagreements, but we also have a lot of love and respect for each other, and this is something that I always want in a classroom.

Make math real. Thanks to our vice principal, this is something that I’ve been focusing on all year, but even as the year came to an end, I saw the value in meaningful math. Students used multiplication and division to figure out snack amounts for each student. They used fractions as they sliced the cake, and they even discussed what would happen to the size of each slice, if we cut the cake into fewer pieces. Students also used measurement as they figured out the dimensions for the card to fit on the classroom door. I don’t know if they realized that they were using any of this math – and shhh … I won’t tell them if you don’t :) — but even on the last day of school, math may not happen in a textbook, but it can happen naturally.

2014-07-02_12-43-59

Let them problem solve. This was really my first year embracing inquiry learning, and asking questions and solving problems, are such huge components of inquiry. As students spoke to me about planning and executing this surprise party, I realize how many problems they solved. From changing their speech plans to figuring out how to get me out of the classroom, the students worked through these issues together, and on Friday, they saw the incredible outcome of what they did. Students learn as they solve problems, and I’m so glad that these Grade 5′s saw the value in problem solving!

Learning is a community affair. As many of my blog readers know, I’m a huge advocate of home/school connections and a big believer in developing meaningful relationships with parents. On Friday, I was overwhelmed with the number of parents that came in to say, “goodbye,” stayed for some of our year-end party, or even emailed me their goodbye notes. Looking at parents and students interacting together in the classroom, I was reminded that learning really is a community affair, and I’ve been fortunate to work in a community that’s taken such an active role in student learning. I’m excited to work with new families and continue to build this “community” that I believe is so important in education! (This may be hard, and it may be a slow process, but it will be worth it!)

Read From The Bottom, Up: The Perfect End To A Perfect Year!

Read From The Bottom, Up: The Perfect End To A Perfect Year!

During the last week of school, I blogged to thank parents and staff for such a great nine years at Ancaster Meadow School, but now I blog to thank the students. You’ve made me laugh. You’ve made me cry. You’ve taught me something new every day. You’ve forced me to think of new ways to help you learn. You’ve helped me see what “success” is all about. And you’ve even helped this Grinch‘s heart grow a few sizes bigger than I ever thought possible. :) Here’s to many more wonderful years of learning (for all of us)!

Aviva

How do you say, “goodbye?”

Today’s the second last day of school, and it’s my second last day at Ancaster Meadow. I’m not the only person leaving the school this year, and starting yesterday, the “goodbye emails” began. I wanted to write my own, but I just couldn’t do it. Maybe the Queen of the Internet would write a “goodbye card” instead, but then I couldn’t find a pen, so I decided against that idea. :)

And that’s when I decided that for me, a blog post would be the best way to say, “goodbye.” Blogging is what I do. It’s how I share what I think and feel. It’s how I reflect. And it’s how I connect with others — through the follow-up comments and the tweets.

Today, I blog to say “goodbye” to a staff that I’ve worked with for as many as nine years. Today, I also blog to say, “thanks.”

  • Thanks for the laughs! 
  • Thanks for the support!
  • Thanks for the “kid talk!”
  • Thanks for the new ideas!
  • Thanks for the inspiration!
  • Thanks for the many games of “Challenge!”
  • Thanks for the hard questions!
  • Thanks for being you!

I’ve made many friends and formed many connections here at Ancaster Meadow, and I will miss this great school community! Thank you all, in each of your own ways, for making me a better teacher! I hope that next year brings many incredible changes and challenges for each of you. I know that I’m excited about what lies ahead … even if I’m a little scared and sad as well! :)

Here’s to a wonderful summer and a great new school year!

Aviva

Here’s To The Parents!

2014-06-25_21-19-47

Today was our Volunteer Breakfast, and for me, it was the last Volunteer Breakfast that I’ll help organize as a teacher at Ancaster Meadow School. As I sat back this morning and listened to conversations around the room, I thought about how lucky I was to connect with so many amazing parents over my nine years at the school.

  • Here’s to the parents that take work home to help prepare classroom materials.
  • Here’s to the parents that come in to read and write with the students each week.
  • Here’s to the parents that count lunch money and organize lunch forms.
  • Here’s to the parents that photocopy and sort materials to go home to students.
  • Here’s to the parents that work one-on-one with students.
  • Here’s to the parents that work in small groups with students.
  • Here’s to the parents that organize fundraisers.
  • Here’s to the parents that help coordinate special school events.
  • Here’s to the parent that emails me at 7:30 at night and offers to come over to the school and help me pack (this parent deserves a special thank you).
  • And here’s to the parents that might not be able to volunteer, but still spend hours supporting their child at home each morning and/or each night. You read together. You write together. You work through math problems together. You collaborate. You debate. You struggle, and you succeed. You are, and will always be, your child’s first teacher!

I will never forget my Methods Professor in the Faculty of Education. She told the class these words that have stayed with me over the years: “Parents give us the best that they have.” Thank you for all of the extras that you do at home and at school to not just support your “best” (your child), but to support all of the “bests” out there. I’m fortunate to work and learn with all of you!

Aviva

Today I Needed A Social Story!

Over my 13 years in education, I’ve taught many students with autism, and I’m incredibly passionate about working with students with special needs. I’ve definitely written more social stories than I can count, and sometimes I’m amazed by the number of them that just naturally go through my head. I’ve learned over the years that students with autism often struggle with changes in routine, they like structure, they need visuals, and they sometimes have various sensory needs. I’ve worked with the Autism Team, Learning Resource Teachers, and Educational Assistants (EA’s) to meet all of these needs in the classroom, and maybe that’s why today, I recognized these needs in myself.

At the end of the year, I’m moving schools and grades, and as classes are moving around the school, I’m feeling an increased need to get packed up and organized for the move. With the help of my vice principal, I organized a packing challenge for today, and students worked with me to maximize space in the boxes and pack up the classroom.

Other Volume Challenge For Tuesday

Other Volume Challenge For Today

As the students were working together to pack, I couldn’t help but stare across the room. There were boxes everywhere. Bins were tipped out on the floor as students sorted materials. Surfaces were covered with paper, pencils, construction paper, and tape. Students from other classes were coming to deliver supplies for next year and pick up supplies to bring to the new Grade 5 classroom. And as I looked at the mess and realized the changes that were happening, I was totally overwhelmed! That was when I sent out this tweet …

2014-06-24_17-33-18

The truth is, I don’t have autism, but I needed a social story.

  • I was overwhelmed with the change.
  • I was overwhelmed with the mess.
  • I was overwhelmed with the visuals.
  • I didn’t know what to do or what to say.
  • I was ready to cry.

And at that moment in time, I gained a new appreciation for my students with autism and their needs. I also realized how the strategies that we use for students with autism can benefit so many other students (and adults) as well.

When I left the classroom at lunch today, I happened to stop in at the principal’s office, and I shared how I was feeling. As my eyes filled up with tears, I watched what Paul did:

  • He let me talk.
  • He remained calm.
  • His tone was even. 
  • He asked what he could do to help, but he also reminded me that everything would be okay. Maybe without even realizing it, he gave me the start of a social story.

In just a few minutes, I was feeling better. After lunch, I even managed to get my amazing students and EA’s to help me organize the classroom and contain the chaos. I feel like I can breathe again!

Today reminded me of the impact that change can have on all learners (young and old), and the importance of remembering and addressing all of these needs – especially at a time of year when there might be the most change of all. How do you prepare for change? How do you support your learners when changes occur? I’d welcome any insight on this, as I’m sure that the coming days will have me working through many changes.

Aviva