This week has been one of much reflection. Usually at the end of a week, I want to blog about one or two of my reflections, but this week, I can’t narrow things down, so I decided to share all of my thinking here.
- Math should be meaningful. Someone that I highly respect pushed me to think more about this during the week when the question came up about the value of creating board games to demonstrate learning. My students made their own games to show their understanding of mean, median, and mode, and while they certainly all understood how to solve the problems, they didn’t really understand the concept itself. When asked the question about why they would use mean, median, or mode in real-life, my students couldn’t answer it. That bothered me, so my student teacher, Yakira Smeltzer, and I backtracked a bit, and started to get students to apply their learning. This took time, but it was worth it! Students definitely have a deeper understanding now of mean, median, and mode.
- It’s best when we can all work together. While I primarily teach Grade 5 at the school, I also do a couple of prep coverage periods each week. When it comes to providing prep, often the topic comes up of “reportable subjects.” Who is responsible for reporting on what subjects? I understand why this is a concern for people, but as someone that provides the prep coverage, I’ve realized that the flow of the program is so much more important. We can do more for students when we all work together. If not, you end up with the problem of topics dragging on forever, and that benefits no one: students especially. How do other people approach this problem in their schools? I’d love to hear suggestions!
- The “flow of the day” is an important part of the inquiry process. As I start using inquiry more in the classroom, I realize the benefits of integration. Right now, I constantly feel as though I’m working to the bells, and it’s so much harder to get to that place of deep learning. I really want to re-look at my schedule come January, and figure out more ways to create an integrated program, where Language, Social Studies, Science, and The Arts are not taught in isolation. Could Math be included here too? I asked my vice principal, Kristi Keery-Bishop, more about this topic in response to her blog post from yesterday, but I’d also love for others to add to the conversation. How do you structure your day? What is the impact on student learning?
- Inquiry increases student thinking. I really saw the benefits of this today, as students completed a math assessment. This was an assessment that came from a resource I’ve used before (and is used throughout our Board). I’ll admit that I made a mistake. I didn’t read through the questions well before I photocopied the assessment, and as I was previewing it with the class today, I realized the issues with wording. The interesting thing is that the students persevered … and not just one or two students, but every student! When the questions were difficult, they didn’t give up, but they started breaking the question apart, rephrasing the question to make sense of them, and trying different strategies to solve the problems. Looking quickly through the assessment papers tonight and listening to our math podcast at the end of the day, I was impressed with the results. Students showed that even though they’re not used to a “testing environment,” when given challenging questions, they have the thinking skills needed to succeed. Inquiry matters!
- Sometimes it’s worth making a last minute change in plans. While eating breakfast this morning, I read a blog post by Heidi Siwak about an inquiry activity that she did with her class. I loved the talking and questioning prompts that she used during small group conversations. I was going to do an inquiry circle today to reflect on learning in Health, but I decided to change my plans. Initially I typed up the questioning prompts exactly as they appeared in Heidi’s post (getting more information), but then I got to thinking: do students need to cross off the prompts that they use? Will they be so focused on doing this, that they’ll forget to stop and listen to the other students in their group? That’s when I decided to change the title information for the prompts, and make enough copies for half the class (getting more information2). I put these copies in sheet protectors, so that students could reuse them. My plan was to put the students in groups, give them these prompts, and have them use the prompts to facilitate small group discussions. Then I thought that I would give each group a recording device, so that they could be more accountable for their talk, and I would have a recording of what was discussed. I also noticed that Heidi had students reflect on the use of their prompts, and while I was initially going to use this idea as well, I decided that I would rather have students reflect on their new learning that came out of their group discussions. So we had a short inquiry circle to share this new learning instead.
- Even great lessons need tweaking. While I’m glad that I made the change and had students share in small groups, I need to make some changes for the next time. I think that students need more practice using the conversation and question prompts. As I went group to group and modelled what to do, I started to see the prompts used more in the end. Recording the conversations definitely helped keep the students accountable for their sharing. Unfortunately, the conversations are hard to share because there’s lots of background noise (with lots of conversations happening all at once). I need to work on spreading the students out more in their groups. I liked the idea of having students sharing something that they learned from someone else in their group, but I think that I may need a focus for this final sharing time. We did get off-topic, as students started to discuss “comas,” and I needed to bring things back to the curriculum expectations. Maybe I can give students some guiding questions, have them jot down some notes with ideas, and then share as a class. What do you think? What else would you suggest?
- Always take time to enjoy time with students, even if they’re not your own. When I started the school year, I did JK/SK Media Literacy Coverage once a week, and I got to know the Kindergarten students. Even though my schedule has changed and I don’t do JK/SK prep coverage anymore, I still say, “hi,” to the Kindergarteners in the hallway, and I even go by the Kindergarten classrooms periodically to join in on the learning. I taught Kindergarten for eight years before I moved up in the grades, and it’s hard to take a Kindergarten teacher out of Kindergarten. So I was especially happy today when I got a special JK visitor during my prep this morning. As teachers, we’re here for the students, and it’s great that we can enjoy our time with all of them! (Now I need to prepare for my next visit from this JK student! )