When does a unit end?

As I’ve shared many times before, I’ve been focusing a lot on my math instruction this year as part of my Annual Learning Plan. Today, I was part of a discussion that bothered me. We’re continuing to get closer to the end of the school year, and as always, there’s still lots of math left to teach. Particularly in Grades 2 and above, the math units become more extensive, and certain units take longer to teach than others. In Grade 2, teaching the students how to add and subtract with and without regrouping is a very difficult unit. I consider this one of the key math units that I teach though, as students understanding these concepts directly impact on so much more of their math learning. So yes, it takes a while to teach this unit to ensure that all students understand it, but I think that it’s worth the time invested.

In the staffroom today, I was talking to some teachers in different grades about math, and one teacher mentioned that she’s finishing one of these “key units.” She said that the students have a test today. They’ve been told to study all week, and she’s been reviewing the material in class all week. This teacher commented that as of today, this unit is over, as the test will be done. This bothered me!

I explained to this teacher that I’m also nearing the end of one of my key math units, but that while I’ll move onto other things, I’ll continue to review addition and subtraction with and without regrouping for the rest of the year. As I said to her, I need all students to understand this. This teacher did say that there will be some review of her math unit as well, but no more “teaching” of it.

This is a colleague that I highly respect, and one that I dialogue with frequently. We have a difference of opinion here, and I understand why, but I can’t move past the idea that we can stop teaching a concept that not all students have mastered. After some time thinking about this, yes, I think that full class lessons need to stop now, but maybe this could be a small group focus. Possibly we can look at other ways to have parents support this learning at home for struggling students. What do you think?

I know that as teachers, often tight time lines dictate the schedule, but in this case, I think that the learning needs to dictate the schedule. How do you go about balancing the long list of expectations with student achievement? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!


This Made Me Think!

Today I did something that I’ve never done before. I worked with Jared Bennett, the 21st century fluencies consultant for our cluster, to help my Grade 1 and 2 students create Claymation videos. I’ll admit that I was excited and nervous all at the same time. I like to know what I’m doing before having my students do it, and today, we really were learning together. Jared was the expert though, and it was fantastic to have him there and to learn from him today.

Before today’s Claymation activity, the students worked in small groups of two, three, and four students to plan their stop motion movie. The Grade 1 students had to create a movie on ways to save energy and/or save the environment, and the Grade 2 students had to create a movie on the butterfly life cycle. These topics relate directly to our current TLCP on the environment, as well as to the Grade 1 and 2 science expectations. Students completed a planning sheet to guide them in their movie today, and then they expanded on the ideas in their journal, to assist them throughout the different scenes.

After first nutrition break today, Jared showed the students how to use the iStopMotion app to create their stop motion movies. Then the students got into groups to make the playdough characters for their movies, and get started. Jared’s stop motion shadow box idea helped the students easily manipulate their characters for their scenes, and even work against “gravity” by letting the characters fly without ever leaving the ground. What a great idea!

Students quickly realized that they needed to take hundreds of pictures for a movie that was anywhere from 12-20 seconds. They learned the importance of slowly moving their characters in each scene and working together to ensure that the final product looked the way that they wanted it to look. One group learned that it was better to just delete frames by themselves, as when they asked me for help, I ended up deleting the whole movie instead. Oops! I can’t believe how close the buttons are for “delete frame” and “delete all frames.” I definitely learned that trying to multi-task and delete is not a good idea! 🙂

The Grade 1 group that lost its movie was fantastic though, and instead of getting upset, the students worked together to start again … and created an even better movie than before. I guess that all things really do happen for a reason.

@mrjarbenne working with one group to publish their movie.

Students especially loved after the second nutrition break when Jared had uploaded all of the completed stop motion movies to iMovie, and then they could work together to add a title, add credits, pick a song, and add sound effects. In an effort to reinforce what the students have learned all year about being safe online, you’ll see in their movies that all of the students held up a card with their initials on it instead of their name. This seemed like a good alternative!

Once the movies were done, I loved having the students watch them and reflect on their work as well. They started by doing a knee-to-knee discussion on what they did well and what they would do differently the next time. After their oral discussion, students wrote this descriptive feedback and added it to their planning sheets, as reminders for similar future activities.

Looking at their feedback and watching the videos tonight, here’s what I would do differently the next time:

1) If dealing with the same topics, I would get the Grade 1 students to think of some key items to put in their background to help explain what the different characters are doing. In some videos, it’s hard to tell. Some students actually suggested to add in text and just give people long enough to read it. This sounds like another good alternative!

2) Make and post specific success criteria for this activity. Yes, I think that the students knew what was expected. We spoke about this a lot, and the students could explain what they were doing and why they were doing it. And yes, this activity relates to my current Grade 1 and Grade 2 TLCPs (Teaching Learning Critical Pathways) and matches up to the success criteria for them, but there almost needed to be more specific expectations for this lesson.

3) Get students to make a title page to use in iStopMotion. This would make things even easier when putting the stop motion movies into iMovie. It would also give the option not to put them into iMovie, although I love how the groups could easily add music and sound effects.

4) Get the students involved in the Twitter chat. This morning when I was tweeting about how excited I was for today’s activity, I decided to add the hashtag, #claymation2012. Soon enough, others were taking part in the conversation. Throughout the Claymation process today, Jared and I could share photographs and updates about what was happening in the classroom, giving the parents and the world a view of the process before the final product. As I was creating the Storify of the tweets tonight though, I started to think about the blogging station that Aaron Puley (@bloggucation) had at the Board’s Eco Fest, and I thought that a similar set-up would have been great today. As the students finished their Claymation projects, they could work together to tweet about what they did and even share their thoughts on the process. This could be a great way to add a writing component to this activity!

Now having read about the process and seen the tweets and videos, what are your thoughts? What did you like about this activity, and what would you suggest changing for the next time? I would love to hear your ideas!


I Was Wrong!

More and more, I’m enjoying being wrong, for it’s through mistakes that the learning happens. I definitely felt this way this week. On Tuesday afternoon, I went to an inservice about success criteria, learning goals, and descriptive feedback. This was a networking session with another school, and the focus for the session matched up to our school self-assessment focus as well.

I have to admit that before I went to the session, I had some reservations.

1) I’m not a meeting person. I never have been. I take minutes at all staff meetings to keep myself focused, and I was concerned that this would be a whole afternoon of lecturing. This wasn’t what I wanted.

2) I have been out at a number of inservices recently, and as we get closer and closer to the end of the year, I feel the pressure more and more. I know that there’s still a lot to do, and I really wanted to be in the classroom teaching and working with the students.

When I saw the agenda for the afternoon though, I was feeling better about the inservice, and once it got started, I was glad that I was there. The afternoon session was run by Susan Pasian and Kristi Keery-Bishop, two program consultants from the Board that I’ve had the pleasure of working with and learning from many times before.

I loved how the inservice was a practical one. It wasn’t about theory. Susan and Kristi gave us some great samples of learning goals and success criteria, and how they could be adapted across the grade levels. The a-ha moment for me though was when they showed how you take the learning goal to develop the success criteria, and how this success criteria can then match up to the anchor charts and checklists in the classroom. We’ve heard before how success criteria, anchor charts, and checklists are not the same thing, but seeing the development of each, helped me see how they differ.

I was actually sitting beside one of my grade team partners, and at the exact same time, we turned to each other, said we need a “learning goal,” and modified the success criteria right there. All of a sudden, it made sense. And then to make things even better, Susan and Kristi circulated around the room during our work time, in addition to our wonderful LIPT (Literacy Improvement Project Teacher), Lesley Reed. They all helped us tweak our learning goal and TLCP (Teaching Learning Critical Pathway). When we left the inservice, we all felt as though we knew more and could really do something great with this upcoming TLCP.

So yes, we need to explain to our students that what we thought was success criteria, was actually a combination of success criteria and a checklist. That’s okay though. I think that telling students that we were wrong, and showing them how we’ve improved, helps them accept their mistakes as well and figure out ways to get better.

At the inservice, Susan and Kristi showed this fantastic descriptive feedback video featuring Dylan William:

After this video, the teachers at the inservice spoke about their reflections. One thing that came up at the different tables was that some students don’t do well with feedback. They see it as criticism. They don’t necessarily want to hear about their next steps. This got me thinking, as I have the opposite experience in my classroom. My students want to hear about what they did well, but they ask for their next steps. They are even giving themselves and others some good next steps to further their learning and help them improve.

This got me thinking about why this might be the case. I think that we need to create a culture in our classrooms where students know that all of us can always do better. I talk to my students about my own next steps, and I think that there’s value in them knowing that even teachers can improve.

I’m so glad that I was wrong, and that this was such a valuable afternoon of learning. Even though I learned a lot, I know that the learning isn’t over. In William’s video, he speaks about the good job and great work comments that I know I use far too frequently. I get excited, and these words just escape. I’m aware of this though, and I do hope to improve. I did so in math, so I can do so in language as well.

I also know that my success criteria and learning goals will need to continue to be tweaked throughout the school year. I need to use this same process in more subject areas. I need to continue to model for the students to use this success criteria as they offer descriptive feedback to each other, and I need to continue to do so, as I offer descriptive feedback to them.

Our school self-assessment is at the end of May, and I just hope that in the next five weeks, I continue to improve and my students do as well. I was wrong, and I’m sure that I will be wrong many times more, but if I learn from my mistakes and get better as a result, isn’t this what really counts? I think so!

Thank you, Susan and Kristi, for reminding me of this and helping me make a positive change in the classroom and for my students!


What An Impact: A Special Goodbye For Mrs. Chabot!

In September, Deb Chabot started as principal at our school. I’ve had the pleasure of working with and learning from Deb well before she came to Ancaster Meadow. In fact, I knew of Deb long before she knew me, as my mom, a retired Speech and Language Pathologist, used to work for the Board and worked closely with Deb. My mom always had such incredible things to say about Deb, and I was very excited when I finally met her many years ago when I was a Kindergarten teacher. I’ll never forget demonstrating the SMART Table to her and discussing with her how this tool could best be used in the classroom environment. Even then, Deb’s questions pushed my thinking, and they continue to do so now.

It is therefore with much sadness that I say, “goodbye,” to Deb after she announces her retirement. Even though she’s only been the principal at the school for eight months, her impact has been tremendous. Here’s what Deb has taught me:

1) Students always come first. I love that Deb really does make the school all about the children. She truly wants what’s best for them, and will do everything she can to support the staff and the parents, as we work together to help all children learn.

2) Always set high expectations. Set these same high expectations for yourself and for your students. Deb continues to show me that as educators, we really are the models for our students, and showing them how we can push ourselves to learn and grow has tremendous value.

3) There’s value in a smile. As long as Deb is at the school, she’s also outside every single day greeting students as they come in each morning and saying goodbye to them as they leave each night. She’s constantly smiling. Deb reminds all of us about the importance of making connections with students, staff members, and parents, and she never fails to take the opportunity to do so. It all starts with a smile!

4) Be genuine. I respect Deb so much because she is always genuine. She really does care about all students, staff members, and parents, and she shows this constantly in her interactions with them. You know that what she says, she means, and I appreciate her honesty and integrity.

5) Be open to change. Change can be hard, and as adults, it always seems to be even more so. Deb’s helped me see the value in trying new things, and believing that I can do them, even when I’m unsure. As someone that was a system principal for years before she came back to the school, Deb’s been through change. She approaches all new situations with a positive attitude though, and this approach can’t help but inspire others to change too.

Deb’s not just made an impact on the staff, but on the students as well. My class was thrilled to work with Gina Bucciacchio’s Grade 4/5 class to create this PowerPoint presentation for Deb. While Gina and I wrote the introduction and conclusion together, the rest of this presentation was written, filmed, and photographed by the students. They were thrilled to create something special for someone that they admire. We all hope you like it!

Please join me in saying a heartfelt, “congratulations on your retirement,” and a big, “goodbye,” to an amazing administrator and a dear friend! Thanks for everything, Deb!


Powerful Words

On Thursday this week, a student wrote me a lovely Photocard. It was the kind of writing that was so sweet and thoughtful that it actually brought tears to my eyes. Here are two lines that I just loved though:

As you know, I’ve really been focusing on my math delivery this year. I’ve taken a new approach, and provided lots of opportunities for problem solving and inquiry. Reading these lines made me smile, as I taught this student last year in Grade 1, and math was always her least favourite subject. Look at how things have changed!

As teachers, it’s easy to be focused on results. I want to see students learning. I want to know that they have a better understanding of concepts. In math, I want to see evidence of strong computations and explanations. With this focus on results though, it’s easy to forget that attitude matters too.

This child’s attitude towards math has changed, and as a result, she’s willing to take more risks in her learning, share her successes as well as her failures, and enjoy the learning process throughout. There’s a lot to say for this, and seeing this student’s note, made me realize the importance of finding out what students think and why they think it.

What role do you think attitude plays on learning? I’d love to hear your thoughts!