Reflecting On Reflection

When I was in the Faculty of Education, we did numerous assignments on the importance of reflection. Reflection became almost like a joke. We all knew that good teachers reflect, but we didn’t think that we needed to keep on reflecting on reflection.

Eleven years later, and I now definitely know why there was this emphasis on reflection. As I’ve mentioned before, one of my professional goals for this year is to improve my math program by incorporating more problem-solving into it. I’ve really taken this goal seriously, and I’ve made many changes to my math program since September. With my students discussing their math thinking more, I’ve been using my flipcam even more to record my interactions with them. And this is where I’ve really started to reflect …

During math centres yesterday, I recorded these three videos of students solving some money problems:

As I was recording the videos, I was really pleased with how things were going. Students were explaining what they were doing, and they were showing me that they understood combining coin values. Then I went home to watch the videos last night. I couldn’t believe it. Why did I need to jump in so quickly to help the student in the third video solve the math problem? Why didn’t I give her a chance to figure it out on her own? Why must I always end with, “good job?” What could I say instead?

This morning, I was talking to our math facilitator, Kelly McCrory, and she really helped me out. She suggested that if this were to happen again that I stop the recording, walk away, give the child a chance to continue to play with some options, and then come back and record again. Then I wouldn’t be the one doing the problem-solving: the child would be the one doing the problem-solving. What a great idea! Thanks Kelly!

Today, the problem presented itself again. Instead of doing what I did yesterday, I did walk away, and then when I came back, here’s what the child explained:

She did figure out the problem, and correctly too, but again, I can’t help but reflect. Why did I need to jump in prematurely and show her that she counted the coins incorrectly? What would have happened if I didn’t interrupt? Would she have noticed? Would she have gone back and corrected the error on her own? I also noticed that she ended up jumping from 13 cents to 18 cents. I know that she got the correct answer, but does she really know that 13+5=18. If I had her rearrange the coins and count them a different way, would she have shown me that she could still get the same answer? Would this have helped me see how she “counts on” different coin amounts? Yet again, I notice that I still end with the, “good job,” statement. Will I ever be able to change this?

Oh, the power of reflection! I feel myself analyzing every word that I say as I say it, and then again, as I listen to myself on the recording. The power of technology lets us double our reflection time. 🙂 And I’m glad that it does because I know that this additional time both watching my students and listening to myself will ultimately have the biggest benefit for my students. Am I perfect? No. Will I ever be? No. But will I get just a little bit better every time I try? I sure hope so! 



Just Let Them Write

Royan Lee, a Grade 7 teacher in the York Region District School Board, constantly inspires with what he does in his classroom and what he shares online. The other night, just as I was heading to bed, I came across this post that Royan did on writing. He really made me think … so much so, that I barely slept that night.

I love to give students choices in writing, and I encourage “free writing” when I can, but I usually still include a number of different requirements as part of my writing activities. I rarely have students just “play” with writing. Since I do encourage, “play” in many other parts of my program, it seemed important that I encourage this for writing too.

Today, I changed my morning writing routine to a completely free write exercise. Students could write on any topic that they wanted, using any form that they wanted, and any tool that they wanted. All that I required was that they write. Here’s a short video of the results:


Important Note: When I said that this must because because of our focus on “letter writing,” I meant that students have been writing to other students in the class. They are doing lots with the different names of the students in the class. This is why I thought that they’d want to write lists and sentences including their friends’ names.


I love seeing how engaged each of the students were in their writing. All of them spent the entire time writing. They used resources around the classroom, including their dictionary and the word wall, to help them with spelling. More importantly, they took some risks in their writing. They had fun writing. They even edited their writing when they were done. It was great to see that the students loved to write. I’ll definitely be doing this type of activity again!

Thank you, Royan, for inspiring me to try something new. Have others attempted Royan’s “challenge” too? What were the results? I’d love to hear your stories!


So Simple: Just Learn Their Names

I was just standing by the classroom door as the primary students headed out for recess. As the Kindergarten children were walking by, I started to say, “hello,” to them, calling as many as I could by name. I don’t know all of the Kindergarten students’ names, but I’m pretty good at remembering names, and so I’ve learned most of them. Just as the children were almost out of the door, I heard one of the boys say to his friend, “She knows my name. She really likes me!” Such a small comment, but really it had so much power. It’s amazing how students respond to us just by learning their names. They believe that we care about them because we’ve taken the time to learn who they are. This boy’s comment made me think: I need to remember to call more and more students by their names.

Have you had a similar experience before? What impact did this have on you as a teacher? I’d love to hear your stories too!


Trying To Find A Good Balance

Every year, the teachers in our Board write an Annual Learning Plan where we set our own goals for the year. This year, my goal is to use problem-solving when teaching all of the different math strands. I want to continue to improve my math program.

I have never been a fan of worksheets, and I don’t use a math workbook either. I do believe in providing open-ended activities where students can apply what they’ve learned in class. I know the benefits of communication in math, and I try to get my students to orally share their thinking or to share their thinking in written form. I learned about the three part problem last year, and throughout the year, I tried out numerous three part problems with my students. I really tried to make problem-solving a big part of my math program.

That being said, I think that I was more successful in certain strands than in other ones. Since September, I’ve joined in on numerous Twitter chats about math. I connected with Kassia Wedekind (@kassiaowedekind), a teacher and the author of Math Exchanges: Guiding Young Mathematicians In Small Group Meetings. I read her book, and I regularly read her blog posts too. Math talk and problem-solving are key features of her excellent book! I also spoke to Angie Harrison (@techieang) about how she teaches math. She spoke to me about Fosnot’s Contexts For Learning. I found out that our math facilitator has one of the kits, and she has loaned it to me to use in class.

At the end of last week, I really started to make a change in my math program. I read through the teacher manuals in the Fosnot kit, and I tried out the Day 1 activity in the “organizer problem.” It was great! I really enjoyed walking around and taking video footage of the students discussing how they were counting the objects in the different bins. You can see a selection of these videos below:

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Throughout this process, I learned that I really need to think about the questions that I ask. I need to ask more open-ended questions and provide fewer possible answers to the students. Listening to the students discuss their thinking has helped me set some goals for our next mini-lesson, and I’m glad to see that the Day 2 activity in the kit will easily allow for me to address these goals too.

I love how these activities give me more small group and one-on-one time with the students. I love how much documentation I was able to get from this single activity, and how this documentation has helped me set some class goals too. I love the focus on problem-solving and on communicating in math. I love that these activities are hands-on ones, and easily meet both the Grade 1 and Grade 2 math expectations. I love all of the different suggestions for extensions, and I love that these activities are differentiated. I love that all of my students can be successful when doing these activities.

Now comes my concern though: I usually have a math centre time each day. These math centres include the use of games and math problems, and they address numerous expectations in math. I work with individuals and groups of students during these math centres, and this time really seems to benefit my students. They’re excited about math, but they’re also learning a lot too. I’m concerned about time though. If I do one of the Fosnot activities each day, I don’t think that I’ll have time for the math centres too. I don’t want to rush either one, as I see value in both. Do both types of activities need to be done every day?

How are other people structuring their math program? How do you get time for everything? I would love to hear your ideas! Thanks for your help!


Anytime, Anywhere!

Riding school bus to cloud 9

Sometimes I have reservations about field trips. I know that students love going on field trips, and I think that there’s some fantastic places to take students, but I often worry if we have time for them. As teachers, we always seem rushed for “time,” and sometimes field trips just make us feel this pressure more. Today, I got a different perspective though.

Mrs. Money, a fellow Grade 1 teacher, and Mrs. Ledroit, the music teacher, coordinated a field trip to Hamilton Place for the Brott Music Festival. As we loaded our buses today, I started to think: oh no, we didn’t get literacy centres done. We’re probably going to miss math time too. How will we get caught up?

Just as I was contemplating logistics, I looked over and watched the Grade 1 and 2 students. They were using their fingers on the bus windows to write words. They were helping each other spell different words. They were even experimenting with long lists of names. Wow! What a great word work activity! Then I looked in front of me, and I saw a group of students singing, Canada In My Pocket: our shared reading activity from last week. The students started talking about the names of the different coins and the values of them too. Yeah! They were doing math.

Then we unloaded the buses at Hamilton Place and got settled in our seats. It was then that I heard the students whispering about the different instruments that they saw. They were naming so many of them: many of which I wasn’t sure of the names. The students were more than happy to teach me though! 🙂

As one of the opening activities, students were asked to compare the sounds of different instruments. They were supposed to say if the sound got lower or higher as the size of the instrument got smaller. Throughout the audience, you heard many people say, “lower,” but my students quickly told me, “No, Miss Dunsiger. We learned that it gets higher.” Oh my goodness! I was so impressed.

I don’t teach my students music, and I have very limited musical skills myself (in school, I was demoted from the tuba to the bells … but that’s for another post :)), so I rarely get to see or hear my students talk about music. Today made me realize just how much the students know. I have to thank Mrs. Ledroit for all that she’s taught my students and the other primary students too! Our children are lucky to have you as their music teacher. Listening to them on the trip today made me realize just how much they know about music. Today was the ultimate music class!

Then to end off the trip, I watched a group of students on the bus ride home. They decided that they were going to play the “number game.” They were going to start at one and keep on counting, but every tenth person would be out. Initially only two students played. I was going to interrupt the game and tell them not to bother, as I knew that they’d never get past ten, but I decided to just wait and see what happened. They got to 10, one student won, and the student suggested that they play again. This time, they flipped the person that started. Sure enough, the person that started counting, also won the game. The students quickly figured out the connection. They wanted to see if it worked the same way if three people played. What about if four people played? Would the results change if every fifth person was out instead of every tenth person? You should have heard the “math talk” on the bus. I couldn’t have planned a better math lesson!

While I was initially questioning the value of field trips, I came back to the school excited by just how much the students learned today and just how much they shared. What a great surprise!

Have you ever had this field trip experience before? What happened? I love how much we can learn by listening to and watching our students!