Time To Grieve

This is my professional blog, and I really do try to keep the posts on here professional. But sometimes the personal and the professional overlap, and tonight I am not blogging about education … at least not directly so. Tonight, I am grieving the loss of my uncle. He passed away this evening after a brief illness and a number of complications. I knew that this was coming, but it doesn’t make it any easier.

My Aunt And Uncle

My Uncle Benny was a wonderful, kind-hearted man that always made me laugh. He was almost like a big kid. He’s been teaching overseas for years now, and I never saw him often, but any time I did see him or any time we spoke, he never failed to make me feel special. Benny was a teacher — a terrific teacher — that always put kids first. When he was a boy, he used every excuse imaginable to get out of going to school. He even trained his dog to follow him to Hebrew School every Saturday, so that he would have to walk him back home again. That was Benny. As he got older though, Benny came to love education and love teaching, and the students loved him as well.

Tonight, my sister and I lost an uncle, my mom and her older brother lost their younger brother, my grandmother lost her youngest son, my aunt lost her husband, and my cousin lost her dad (mere months before she’s supposed to get married). Tonight, we’re all grieving, and we’re all hoping that Benny really is in a better place now. I’m trying to think back to the last time that I saw my Uncle Benny: it was at my sister’s wedding over 5 years ago. I know that I took the time before we left to hug him and to tell him that I love him, and I hope that he knows that I really, really do!


Don’t Steal The Struggle

Last weekend, I published a blog post in which I shared some notes that Anne-Marie Tipping, a fantastic Grade 8 teacher at my school, shared with me after attending the OAME Conference. In our discussion last week, Anne-Marie spoke of Ben Hazzard’s presentation. One key point of Ben’s is that as teachers, we need to let students struggle. We shouldn’t “steal their struggle.” It is through this struggle that they learn.

I really thought of this when designing one of my math problems for this week. My Grade 1’s and 2’s are finishing off a unit on fractions, while my Grade 1’s continue to review addition and subtraction, and my Grade 2’s continue to review multiplication and division. I wanted to create a math problem that would get the students thinking, that would allow for multiple entry points depending on the needs of the students and the two different grades, that would produce multiple solutions, and that would allow the students to apply many different things that we’re learning or have learned in math this year.

Here’s what I came up with:

Students worked in partners to solve this problem. They could use any resources in the room that they wanted to help them out. Here’s what I said to them before they got started:

1) This problem is a challenge. I can’t even think of all of the possible solutions, and there are definitely lots of them.

2) It’s okay to struggle. If you find this hard and make some mistakes first, this shows how much you’re learning. Don’t give up. Keep on trying!

This is exactly what the students did. The amazing thing is that not one group of students came to me for help, nobody gave up, and everybody got at least one answer that made sense. Students made lots of mistakes, but everybody persevered. For our Math Congress, I shared these three different solutions with the class:

One Possible Solution

Another Possible Solution

A Third Possible Solution

Students then discussed the different answers and how they came to such different conclusions. Unfortunately, the batteries in my flipcam died in the middle of the second explanation, but below is a video of at least part of our Math Congress. Please note that the last two students in the video did figure out the answer to the different questions on their own, but just after the battery died. 

Seeing the various solutions and hearing the different groups’ explanations show me how much they understand about fractions, addition, and even multiplication. Letting the students struggle throughout the process though, helped them truly understand the content, and take ownership over their learning as well.

This makes me think, how do you let the students struggle while still supporting them in their learning? I would love to hear your thoughts on this!


Never Say Never!

Today I did something that I NEVER thought I would do with Grade 1 and 2 students. I relinquished control, and the students officially have their very own WordPress blogs through our HWDSB Commons blogging platform. These seven- and eight-year-olds are administrators on their own blogs. How did this come about? Well, it all started with a student.

Earlier this week, one of my Grade 2 students asked me if he could keep his Commons blog for next year. I didn’t quite know how to respond. Not all of the teachers at the school blog, and not all of them that do, use the Board blogging platform. I didn’t want to say, “no,” to this student, but I wasn’t sure that I could say, “yes,” either. Instead I said, “I’ll ask Mr. Bennett.” 🙂

Jared Bennett (@mrjarbenne) is the 21st Century Fluencies Consultant for our cluster and one of the creators of the Commons. I was hoping he would have a suggestion for what I could do. I messaged him to ask, and in reply, I got the suggestion that I could make individual blogs for each of my students. Then the students would be administrators on their own blogs, and their parents could help monitor their blogging activity at home. Best of all, the Commons is a community, so the other educators and students in the community can help model good blogging practices and continue to act as an audience for the student work.

What really convinced me to make this change though was the attitude of the students. When I mentioned the idea of individual blogs to them, my class was beyond thrilled. Never have I seen the students more excited about writing. This blog would be their own. They could write on it all summer long, and continue writing on it all next year. They were thrilled that Mr. Bennett and I trusted them enough to let them have these new blogs.

Together, we looked at examples of student blogs. We discussed different themes. We looked at what made these posts well-written ones. We looked at how the students could keep a general blog, or make it more specific. We even discussed naming options. Then I showed the students how to request their own blogs, and they logged into their Commons account and made their requests.

Requesting Blogs

By the next day, Jared had created all of their blogs. I didn’t say anything to them about the new blogs, as I thought that I would introduce them on Friday. Some students signed into the Commons on Thursday for writing time though, and they discovered them on their own. One student even figured out how to change his theme, add a title, and create new posts on this new blog.

The students were so excited that last night I stayed up late, exported all of the student blog posts, and imported them onto their new blogs. Jared is coming in the middle of June to help the students move over their video and other media posts. Thanks again, Jared!

With this plan in place and the blogs established, the only thing left to do was to have the students design their own blogs. I’m going to be honest: I’ve used WordPress for blogging for a couple of years now, but it still confuses me, and my skills are limited. I let the student that figured out what to do, teach the rest of the class, and then the students experimented. They logged in. They pressed buttons. They tried things, realized they didn’t work, and tried again. They asked me for help, figured out that I didn’t know the answer, and asked a friend instead. 🙂 They problem-solved together, and the results were amazing!

Naming Our Blogs

I had a couple of students away today, but all students that were at school for the day, picked a theme, decided on a title, and published their first official post on their new blogs. All student blogs are linked along the side of our group blog. While I initially never would have considered letting Grade 1 and 2 students control their own blogs, I saw posts like these three below, and realized that maybe I have nothing to worry about.

Set high expectations, believe in your students, give them the tools that they need to be successful, and never say never, as even the impossible can truly be possible! When have your students surprised you? I would love to hear your stories too!


Connecting With Parents Through Music

Tonight, I had the pleasure of attending the Primary Choir Concert at our school. Under the wonderful direction of Stefanie Ledroit and Paul Mitchison, the Primary Choir won the gold medal at our Board’s Choirfest this year, and listening to the students tonight, I definitely understand why. What got me most of all though, and actually inspired this post tonight, was how the concert began. Instead of having the students standing up and singing to start, the students sat in the audience with their parents. Then, as a group of parents, grandparents, siblings, staff members, and choir members, we all sang together. Wow!

Earlier this week, I blogged about the importance of the home/school connection, and how we can truly work on parent engagement. Then, days after my blog post, Aaron Puley, the educator that inspired my initial post, reposted what I wrote and contributed some fantastic additions. As always, Aaron got me thinking again about other ways to engage parents, and tonight I saw a fantastic example of a new way: engage them through music.

Maybe, instead of just being spectators at the many school concerts we have throughout the year, we need to have families and the community get involved, just like Stefanie and Paul did tonight. What a wonderful way for family members to not just “see” what happens at school, but “live” what happens too.

How have you used the Arts to connect the home and school? Thanks Stefanie and Paul for a terrific evening and for giving me so much to think about!


Bridging The Gap Between Home And School

I strongly believe that as teachers, we can’t teach in isolation. The home, the school, and the community need to be working together to really help students learn. I’m constantly reminded of this when I interact with Aaron Puley: a fantastic educator and parent and student engagement consultant for the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board. 

Over the years, my approach to parent engagement has changed. When I started teaching 11 years ago, I used to send out a monthly newsletter to parents. I still do. But this used to be all that I did. I told parents what was happening in the classroom, but I didn’t get them involved. Slowly, these monthly newsletters changed to website updates, and then eventually, emails and blogs. These latter two options started to get parents more actively involved in the classroom. They have a voice now. Parents comment on blog posts. They email me their thoughts. They even take part in classroom polls using a free service like Tweetpoll.

And then came the most low-tech, and maybe the most meaningful option of all. I started calling parents every week or two. The phone conversations aren’t long, and sometimes I just leave a message for them, but through these phone calls, we’ve been able to really talk about school. Parents share their observations with me. I share what I’m noticing in the classroom, and we often set “next steps” together. Students benefit when we talk.

Calling parents also tells parents that I want to talk to them. It makes them aware that their opinions matter. And this is so important, as no matter how many hours I see the students at school, parents know their children best. Sometimes even the smallest insight can have a profound impact.

These past couple of weeks though, I’ve really realized the benefit of strong home and school connections. Just the other day, I was talking to a mother about a great presentation that her daughter did in class. I mentioned that her daughter really applied the feedback that I gave to her. The mom started to chuckle a bit, and mentioned that every time she practised at home, she asked her mom and dad for some suggestions on how to do better. Then she used these suggestions, presented again, and asked for more ideas. In class, we’ve been working a lot on descriptive feedback, and it made me smile when I realized that this child applied what she’s learned in the classroom to her conversation with her parents at home. In her own way, she’s teaching her mom and dad about descriptive feedback, and best of all, she’s getting them involved in the learning process. Awesome!

Then there’s the parents that have started emailing me videos of their children applying what they’ve learned in the classroom to activities that they do at home. One mom even mentioned to me that her son taught her how to use the tools they had at home to record the video. She’s so impressed with how comfortable her son is now with using technology, and how he really does use it as a learning tool. He’s also teaching his parents new ways to use technology as well, and now all of them can learn together. It’s videos like these ones that make me happy:

So as we get closer to the end of the year, I want to take this opportunity to thank all of the amazing parents in my classroom. Thank you for working with me to help your children learn. You teach your children every day, and you’ve helped me teach them better.

For the teachers out there, how do you bridge the gap between home and school? What are the results? I’d love to hear your stories as well!