When Do We Discuss What?

I was in a PD session last week. We were talking about Class Act and how to develop phonemic awareness skills in our students. It wasn’t long before we started talking about teaching printing, as printing the letters is part of these skills we’re trying to develop in our students. I’ll admit that in my head I was asking, “Why do we always get hung up on printing? Why does it matter how the students form the letters? Is this really key to their success?” And that’s when the Speech Pathologist that was delivering the training, said some words that made me think differently (paraphrased here): Students need to be able to form these letters automatically without spending so long thinking about the actual letter-formation. Then the focus can be on the writing (i.e., the ideas) and not the printing. Excellent point!

I share this story because it connects with a great conversation I had online last night with Andrew Campbell: a wonderful teacher from a neighbouring Board. He wished that I hadn’t written a post yesterday on printing vs. cursive writing vs. typing, and his reasoning is shared below.

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I understand what he’s saying, and in fact, share many of his thoughts, but with a couple of exceptions: How do students have real choices in their learning if they haven’t been exposed to these choices? How do we only focus on “what we’re doing,” if students can’t get the ideas down to work with them in the first place? Overall, tools seem “easy” and pedagogy’s “hard,” but when you’re teaching students that are just beginning to read and write, both can be challenging.

  • How do you introduce the tool choices?
  • How do you keep the students focused on the learning and not on the tool?
  • How do you keep your professional dialogue focused on the pedagogy? Is it important that you do so, or are “tool discussions” also valuable? When might this be so?
  • How much direct instruction do you give, and how much do you let students explore on their own?
  • How do you decide on the best options for different students?
  • How do you help students later choose the “best option” for themselves? When do you encourage students to start making these choices on their own?

I would definitely rather keep our discussions focused on the students and on the learning, but I can understand how the tool also becomes a focus. I think that the problem starts when all we discuss is the tool without the pedagogy. How do you stay focused on the learning? What role does the “tool” play in your discussions? What role do you think it should play? Thank you, Andrew, for getting me to think more about this important topic!

Aviva

My Response To Finland …

I came home today to this tweet from Sheila Stewart:

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Without even clicking on the link, I knew that the article had to be about cursive writing: my favourite topic of discussion. I had to find out what it said, so I read the article, and then knew that I needed to blog my “response to Finland.”

Here’s my bottom line: whether we’re teaching printing, typing, or cursive writing, I think it’s how we teach it that matters.

  • If we replace the blackline masters of printing sheets with cursive ones, and then typing games, are we really changing our practices?
  • Are these practices we need to change? Why?
  • How can we make this “writing practice” more meaningful for students? What are the benefits and/or drawbacks to doing so?

As I’m thinking through these questions and composing this post, I saw these tweets from Andrew Campbell: a wonderful educator from a neighbouring Board. Thanks to him, my thoughts are now coming together.

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I think these points are important ones to remember for everything that students learn. If we’re trying to reach all students, and all students are different, then we can’t reach them all in the same way.

  • Maybe some students find that they can “create” and “write” more, using one form of writing versus another one. Cursive writing may work for some students. Printing may work for others. And people like me, may be more comfortable composing on a device.
  • Maybe some students learn “writing forms” in different ways than other students: some may be able to learn them through a full class lesson, some may need small group instruction, some may require tracing time and more practice, and some may learn these skills through meaningful writing experiences (e.g., creating signs in the classroom).

So maybe instead of more articles on printing versus cursive writing versus typing, we can have more articles on the pedagogy behind how (and why) we teach these skills.

  • How do we reach all students?
  • How do we give all students a voice through their writing regardless of how they actually form the letters?
  • What impact does correct letter formation actually have on “writing?”
  • What’s essential for students to learn? What is not as essential? Why?

What do you think?

Aviva

Dear Child …

Dear Child,

Today is the second day of Parent/Teacher interviews. It’s another chance for me to sit down and talk to your moms and dads about how you’re doing and where we need to go next. These are short meetings. They’re 15 minute opportunities for us to chat, and I can’t help but wonder what gets lost in such short talks. So today I write this note to you to share what I want to make sure you know at the end of these interviews.

I’m proud of you! You continue to do better. You are working hard. You are pushing yourself to do more, share more, and show me more of your incredible thinking. You’re showing me that school matters to you, and you’re coming in every morning with a smile on your face and an eagerness to learn. I love that!

You’re teaching me a lot! You are telling me about things that matter to you. You’re forcing me to think of new ways to make learning meaningful. You’re not afraid to tell me what you don’t understand, and you’re making me think of how I can help you understand more. You’re telling me when you’re interested, and you’re telling me when you’re not. Sometimes it’s hard to hear that you’re “bored.” But hearing this is making me think of new ways to excite you, and for that, I’m grateful!

You’re making me laugh a lot, and you’re making me truly love my time in the classroom! Changing schools was hard. I wanted the change, and I was excited by it, but at the same time, I was also scared. I didn’t know what to expect. Have you ever felt happy and scared at the same time? This was like me! But you quickly made that scared feeling go away. You quickly made me feel welcome in a wonderful school with a wonderful community. Every day, you tell me stories and engage in discussions that make me laugh so hard that my stomach hurts, and you just love to giggle along with me. It’s great that we can laugh together! You make me feel like the luckiest teacher in the world to be your teacher, and I honestly can’t ask for more!

I know that the Progress Report is short. I know that it’s full of many adult phrases and levels of progression. I know that it’s easy to focus in on those “marks”: progressing with difficulty, progressing well, or progressing very well. Please look beyond these levels. Look at what you can do now that you couldn’t do before.  Celebrate this growth! And think about what you may still want to continue to work on, and we’ll work on these goals together. Goals are good! And I know that you can meet these goals because you understand the value in hard work, and you will put forth the effort because it matters to you!

And so, on this last day of interviews, I say to you, “Thank you for letting me teach and learn with you! I’m excited for the many months to come.”

Yours Sincerely,

Miss Dunsiger

Greatest Strengths And Weaknesses

This morning, one of our Board’s superintendents, Sue Dunlop, tweeted me the link to her recent blog post. It’s rare for me to read a post where I feel as though the author is talking to me, but that’s what I felt when reading Sue’s post. Within a couple of minutes, I tweeted her back and said,

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I really applaud Sue for so openly sharing her greatest strength, and how it can also be, her greatest weakness. I love how she didn’t just write about this weakness, but wrote about what she does to continue to work on it (and improve). Sue’s inspired me to write a post on the same topic: a post that’s hard to write, but a post that I think I need to write too.

I think that my greatest strength is that I care deeply about kids, and I really want to do everything I can to ensure that ALL of them meet with success. Even almost 30 years later, I still remember when I was in Grade 2 and identified with a non-verbal learning disability. I remember that psychologist saying that due to the large gap and my many needs, I would probably always struggle in school and never make it through university. Even back then, I wanted to be a teacher, and based on her assessment, this was not going to be a possibility. I was devastated! But I had teachers and parents that didn’t give up on me. They helped me learn strategies to succeed. They taught me how to advocate for myself. They showed me that a “label” could be changed, and they helped me change that label. I wanted to be a teacher. I became a teacher. And I was — and still am — determined to be that teacher that tries to change those labels for other students.

My passion for student achievement though is attached to other strengths, but also, weaknesses. While doing what I can to help students, I meet with successes, but also failures. I tend to blog about both. For me, blogging is about reflecting (and I think that’s a good thing), but I wonder sometimes if in an attempt to discuss my beliefs, I also come across as implying that I know how to teach and learn best. I don’tYes, I know what works well for the students in my classroom, but all students are different. Teachers are different too. I might feel comfortable with trying something that others don’t. We may all deliver the same content, but not all in the same way, and that’s okay. I think that I need to more often go out of my way to engage in discussions and learn from those individuals that may teach differently. They still do all that they can for students. I know that I can learn a lot from people that I may not already be learning from. I can then take what I learned to better reach the students that need it.

To do this though, I need to address one of my other weaknesses: initiating conversations. You see: I do want to learn from new people, but this means that I need to take the first step. What if the discussions don’t go well? Will I become upset? That’s another problem: often my passion, leads to tears. I try to plan out exactly what I’m going to say (before I say it), so that I won’t cry. I try to anticipate what others might say, so that I’m prepared with the responses, and again, don’t cry. I try to walk away before the tears come, but what if I’m not successful? Here I am speaking about my greatest strength as my drive to increase student success, and yet, knowing that this strength often makes me question my own success (in one way or another). 

What are your greatest strengths, and how do they lead to some of your greatest weaknesses? How do you address these weaknesses? Thank you, Sue, for causing me to reflect tonight. I’m interested in hearing what others have to say about such an important topic!

Aviva

The Comments That I Can’t Ignore!

Comments: utterances on numerous topics. At any given time, in any given conversation, so many comments are made. These comments are often innocent, and yet many times, these words hold value. I’ve often been told before not to let words bother me. I’m getting better at this. But there are some comments that I can’t ignore.

  • Play-based learning isn’t working.
  • Students only need direct instruction.
  • Inquiry is just a phase.
  • Students don’t learn in this “new way.”

I know that everybody comes at teaching and learning from a different perspective. I know that all students are different, and what works for one child may not work for another one. I know that there’s value to many practices in moderation, and it’s hard to dismiss something entirely, when it might benefit some students at some point in time. I know that often our “ideal” is not a reality, and sometimes we need to adjust our teaching practices based on a variety of factors.

And yet, saying all of this, it still makes me feel sad to think that play-based and inquiry learning are just seen as “phases,” and that direct instruction (which for some reason seems to equate to blackline masters) is the only way to help students learn. Please don’t get me wrong: I do a lot of direct teaching. This is rarely full class teaching though: not all students need the same instruction at the same time. But I also encourage students to think, explore, and problem solve, and I’m glad that I do. Today definitely showed me that!

This afternoon, I shared this math problem with my students. I was amazed! At many times, plans didn’t work, but not one child gave up. Students modified their plans. They changed their materials. Some students even started again. And not once did a student come to me for help. They asked their friends or they worked through the problem on their own. Direct instruction can allow us to teach many skills, but play-based and inquiry learning is what teaches students to think, try, reflect, and try again. I want this for my students!

What do you want for your students (or as a parent, for your child), and what approaches allow them to achieve these goals? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!

Aviva

Home/School Connections: Does The “School” Need To Be The “Teacher?”

It’s no secret that I’m passionate about home/school communication.

  • I complete a Daily Shoot blog post every day and email it out to parents.
  • I update our class blog at least once a week, and add a newsletter every month (to give an overview of the month).
  • I usually call parents every week to touch base, answer questions, and share important information.
  • I invite all parents into the classroom every Friday afternoon from 2:45-3:05 to share in our learning (read more about this here).
  • I talk to parents every morning when they drop their children off at school, and again, at night when they pick them up. 
  • Minus our new Friday classroom visits, these home/school connections are ones that I’ve maintained for my 14 years in teaching (across various grades from JK-Grade 6).

I don’t do these things because I’ve felt obligated to do so. I communicate with parents because I enjoy making these connections, and I believe that ultimately, they benefit students. I will never forget in the Faculty of Education when my Methods Professor said, “Parents give us the best that they have.” For parents, they really want what’s best for their child, and they know their child best. Talking to parents has helped me learn more about the children I teach and how I can help them the most. Not all parents want or need the same type of communication, and this is why I think various methods matter.

Our Positive School Climate/Parent and Student Engagement Consultant, Aaron Puley, helped me further think about parent engagement at one of our last speaking sessions. He mentioned that not all parents want to connect in the same way, so now I ask parents what they want. Many parents want me to phone them, but not all do. Most parents like emails, but some prefer paper copies of notes. Almost all parents like the quick opportunities to touch base in the morning or after school, but some would prefer a longer time to connect when it’s not quite so busy. I try to listen to what everyone wants, and I try to follow through. This often results in positive interactions with parents, and I think this matters.

And while I do strongly believe in the benefits of teachers connecting with parents, I also think that home/school connections can include students connecting with their parents. I thought of this more today when reading this blog post by a wonderful teacher and great friend, Jo-Ann Corbin-Harper. When reading Jo-Ann’s post, I can’t help but think about why parents might want to hear more from teachers. My guess is that they want to know how their child is doing and they want to be able to support their child more at home. Does this information need to come from teachers? Not necessarily. Students can tell parents how they’re doing. They can explain what they’re learning in class. They can even indicate their goals/next steps, so that parents can further support them at home. This doesn’t mean that teachers should never communicate with parents, but I wonder if this means that home/school connections can mean more than parent/teacher connections.

Self-reflection is so valuable for students of all ages. For my Grade 1’s, I think of the number of times that I’ve recorded these reflections in podcasts and videos, and I hope as the year goes on, more can be written down. Maybe the question prompts on the Daily Shoot Blog Posts allow for my young learners to extend learning at home: making a home/school connection that may have started with the teacher, but can then continue with the child. Yes, I still want to continue connecting with parents, but now I’m thinking about how students can connect with them more. How do you communicate with parents? What role do your students play in home/school communication? For any parents reading this post, what would be your ideal home/school communication system, and why? I’d love to hear your thoughts as I continue to reflect on home/school connections!

Aviva

Is Curriculum A Choice?

This afternoon, I happened to catch this tweet by Heather Theijsmeijer.2014-11-15_14-05-06Heather is sharing one of the slides from Will Richardson: one of the speakers at today’s #STAO2014 conference. I was supposed to be at #STAO2014 today, but circumstances changed and I wasn’t able to go.

While I agree with so much on Will’s slide, these points about curriculum bother me: “Curriculum should be a strategy. Not orthodoxy.” and “Curriculum is a ‘best guess’ as to what our students need.” I haven’t had a chance to hear Will explain the points on this slide, so I apologize in advance if I misinterpret them, but when I read them, I can’t help but think that curriculum is seen as a choice. Is it one though?

I’m a big believer in the fact that curriculum should play a large role in our classrooms. Yes, we teach students. Their needs and interests may vary from those in the curriculum document. But if we know the curriculum well, we can see the different entry points for our different students. We can see the links between expectations and interests. We can figure out how to make these expectations engaging, so that students will want to learn more.

Curriculum doesn’t need to equate to photocopies of blackline masters, hundreds of questions in textbooks, or the same activity for everyone. Student voice, student choice, and inquiry can all intersect with curriculum expectations. We just need to figure out how … or at least this is what I believe. I’d like to say,

  • Curriculum is our starting point. We need to figure out where to go from there.
  • Curriculum is not a checklist, but an important guide.

What do you think? What role does curriculum play in your classroom? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic!

Aviva