My Big Mistake

Tonight, I realized that I made a big mistake. I was driving home this evening and thinking about my Math/Music activity from todayI kept replaying the comment that I made about 4 beats in a bar. I had this nagging feeling that something that I said or did related to this music activity wasn’t right. I tried reasoning with myself that I was correct. But I just couldn’t be convinced, so when I got home, I sent out this tweet:

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It wasn’t long before an English teacher from Kitchener, Callie, replied to my tweet (and then our conversation unfolded).

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I can’t believe what I did! How could I have made such a huge mistake?

Now I felt stuck. It was during our Math/Music activity today that I realized that many students did not understand the connection between a half and a whole. I was speaking to my amazing EA, Melissa, after school today, and she had a great idea involving Lego and fractions. I then started to look at different block and shape options that would help students see that two halves make a whole. I left school totally prepared to have students create different combinations of four beats using half notes and whole notes: using visuals to “see” what fractions really mean in a meaningful context.

I kept trying to convince myself that despite the fact that half notes are actually two beats, whole notes are actually four, and there are only really four beats in a bar (and not 16), that I could still make my activity work. But it wasn’t long before my discussion continued with our terrific Arts Consultant, Karen, and I knew that as much as I wanted this plan to work, it wouldn’t. Based on this realization then, I need to go to school tomorrow and tell my Grade 1 students that,

  • I made a big mistake.
  • I was right that there are four beats in a bar, but completely wrong about the value of each note.
  • I will be correcting my mistake, and we will learn the right way, but first, I need some help. (I’m meeting with Karen next week, and I will be getting this help.)

I know that we learn a lot from failing. I know that we learn a lot from trying again, and I know that I will learn a lot from this experience. But you know what? Failing isn’t fun, and thinking that I may have caused confusion for my students, definitely upsets me. I’ve made many mistakes in my teaching career, and I’m sure that I’ll make many more, but hopefully I won’t make this same one again. I hope that my Grade 1’s will understand when I tell them about my mistake tomorrow. Today was a good reminder that we can all make mistakes … even when we think that we may be doing the right thing

How do you admit to students about your mistakes? How do you learn from these mistakes? I’d love if we could share our stories, and share the learning that comes from them!

Aviva

Hearing All Voices

Twitter is often perceived as an echo chamber. I get that. Depending on whom you follow and what conversations you participate in, it’s easy to just do a lot of head nodding as people share the same thoughts. That’s why I appreciate following educators like Andrew Campbell. While Andrew and I live fairly close to each other, we teach for different Boards, and the majority of our conversations happen online. Andrew’s always causing me to think. He thinks about topics differently than I do. I’m more of a “small picture” person, and Andrew gets the “big picture.” Lately, he’s been blogging regularly about his thoughts — something that I truly appreciate – and while I don’t always agree with what he says, he forces me to think more deeply about what I do believe.

I share my thoughts on Andrew here because I think it’s important to have people like “Andrew” in our lives: people that don’t echo our ideas, but give us new ones to consider. Based on my online and offline interactions, I feel lucky to have many of these people around that cause me to think, question, reflect, and see things differently. Some of them are fellow teachers. Some of them are administrators. Some of them are superintendents. Some of them are educational assistants. Some of them are consultants. Some of them are parents. Some of them are students. In various ways, each of these people push my thinking. 

I feel fortunate to have colleagues and friends that openly offer these opposing viewpoints, and challenge me (in a good way) to reconsider what I think. But the problem is, I don’t think that the only echo chamber is online. I think we have our own echo chambers in schools. How often do we hear one view expressed and see others nodding along? Do they do so because they agree, or do they do so because they don’t know how else to respond? Is there maybe another reason altogether? I happen to think that we all learn a lot from each other. Teaching differently and thinking differently is good. We need to hear various voices. How do we “hear” more voices in schools and online? How do we encourage hard conversations about challenging topics? I’d love to know what you do, or what you think would be worth trying. I can’t help but wonder what voices are missing from the conversation, and what these people would contribute!

Aviva

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