Lots To Think About This Week

This week has been one of much reflection. Usually at the end of a week, I want to blog about one or two of my reflections, but this week, I can’t narrow things down, so I decided to share all of my thinking here.

    • Math should be meaningful. Someone that I highly respect pushed me to think more about this during the week when the question came up about the value of creating board games to demonstrate learning. My students made their own games to show their understanding of mean, median, and mode, and while they certainly all understood how to solve the problems, they didn’t really understand the concept itself. When asked the question about why they would use mean, median, or mode in real-life, my students couldn’t answer it. That bothered me, so my student teacher, Yakira Smeltzer, and I backtracked a bit, and started to get students to apply their learning. This took time, but it was worth it! Students definitely have a deeper understanding now of mean, median, and mode.
    • It’s best when we can all work together. While I primarily teach Grade 5 at the school, I also do a couple of prep coverage periods each week. When it comes to providing prep, often the topic comes up of “reportable subjects.” Who is responsible for reporting on what subjects? I understand why this is a concern for people, but as someone that provides the prep coverage, I’ve realized that the flow of the program is so much more important. We can do more for students when we all work together. If not, you end up with the problem of topics dragging on forever, and that benefits no one: students especially. How do other people approach this problem in their schools? I’d love to hear suggestions!
    • The “flow of the day” is an important part of the inquiry process. As I start using inquiry more in the classroom, I realize the benefits of integration. Right now, I constantly feel as though I’m working to the bells, and it’s so much harder to get to that place of deep learning. I really want to re-look at my schedule come January, and figure out more ways to create an integrated program, where Language, Social Studies, Science, and The Arts are not taught in isolation. Could Math be included here too? I asked my vice principal, Kristi Keery-Bishop, more about this topic in response to her blog post from yesterday, but I’d also love for others to add to the conversation. How do you structure your day? What is the impact on student learning?
    • Inquiry increases student thinking. I really saw the benefits of this today, as students completed a math assessment. This was an assessment that came from a resource I’ve used before (and is used throughout our Board). I’ll admit that I made a mistake. I didn’t read through the questions well before I photocopied the assessment, and as I was previewing it with the class today, I realized the issues with wording. The interesting thing is that the students persevered … and not just one or two students, but every student! When the questions were difficult, they didn’t give up, but they started breaking the question apart, rephrasing the question to make sense of them, and trying different strategies to solve the problems. Looking quickly through the assessment papers tonight and listening to our math podcast at the end of the day, I was impressed with the results. Students showed that even though they’re not used to a “testing environment,” when given challenging questions, they have the thinking skills needed to succeed. Inquiry matters!
    • Sometimes it’s worth making a last minute change in plans. While eating breakfast this morning, I read a blog post by Heidi Siwak about an inquiry activity that she did with her class. I loved the talking and questioning prompts that she used during small group conversations. I was going to do an inquiry circle today to reflect on learning in Health, but I decided to change my plans. Initially I typed up the questioning prompts exactly as they appeared in Heidi’s post (getting more information), but then I got to thinking: do students need to cross off the prompts that they use? Will they be so focused on doing this, that they’ll forget to stop and listen to the other students in their group? That’s when I decided to change the title information for the prompts, and make enough copies for half the class (getting more information2). I put these copies in sheet protectors, so that students could reuse them. My plan was to put the students in groups, give them these prompts, and have them use the prompts to facilitate small group discussions. Then I thought that I would give each group a recording device, so that they could be more accountable for their talk, and I would have a recording of what was discussed. I also noticed that Heidi had students reflect on the use of their prompts, and while I was initially going to use this idea as well, I decided that I would rather have students reflect on their new learning that came out of their group discussions. So we had a short inquiry circle to share this new learning instead.

    • Even great lessons need tweaking. While I’m glad that I made the change and had students share in small groups, I need to make some changes for the next time. I think that students need more practice using the conversation and question prompts. As I went group to group and modelled what to do, I started to see the prompts used more in the end. Recording the conversations definitely helped keep the students accountable for their sharing. Unfortunately, the conversations are hard to share because there’s lots of background noise (with lots of conversations happening all at once). I need to work on spreading the students out more in their groups. I liked the idea of having students sharing something that they learned from someone else in their group, but I think that I may need a focus for this final sharing time. We did get off-topic, as students started to discuss “comas,” and I needed to bring things back to the curriculum expectations. Maybe I can give students some guiding questions, have them jot down some notes with ideas, and then share as a class. What do you think? What else would you suggest? 
    • Always take time to enjoy time with students, even if they’re not your own. When I started the school year, I did JK/SK Media Literacy Coverage once a week, and I got to know the Kindergarten students. Even though my schedule has changed and I don’t do JK/SK prep coverage anymore, I still say, “hi,” to the Kindergarteners in the hallway, and I even go by the Kindergarten classrooms periodically to join in on the learning. I taught Kindergarten for eight years before I moved up in the grades, and it’s hard to take a Kindergarten teacher out of Kindergarten. 🙂 So I was especially happy today when I got a special JK visitor during my prep this morning. As teachers, we’re here for the students, and it’s great that we can enjoy our time with all of them! (Now I need to prepare for my next visit from this JK student! :))

2013-12-06_22-22-39 What did you learn this week? Here’s to a great weekend of reflection and another wonderful week next week too!


4 thoughts on “Lots To Think About This Week

  1. Wow, what great learning. So many questions where so I begin. As you know I love math and I think it’s so important that we relate everything to a context that students can hang their hats on. I think that your game making allowed students to explore the ideas you were trying to have the students obtain. This kind of answers some of your other questions. I think that just like students need to be reflective on their learning, we need to be reflective on our practise. Also, I love your journey in inquiry, which again I am very passionate about. As to how you can balance it all, I think if you keep teaching through inquiry this can be so done. Also if you bring in social justice I think it may lend to math and language. Even science and social studies. Often when I taught juniour it allowed me to block the day I to three chunks, a language (read about and wrote a context), math (related to context) and then science, art, drama and social studies (again related to the context). Sometimes it didn’t work tout but I most cases in did.

    As to what I learned about this week I would have to say instructional rounds, which is an amazing way to collaborate with staff and bring your school together. I am also still learning about it. Sorry for the confusing reply but great post. Thanks for always being reflective and pushing my learning.

    • Thank you so much for your comment, Jonathan! I really appreciate you sharing how you broke up your day. I’m still playing around with this. I do love the idea of giving things context. I’m hoping that re-looking at the flow of the day will help with this!

      While I think that the board games helped students understand how to solve each type of problem, they didn’t understand why they would use it. This is the “deep meaning” that came beyond the board game. Next time, I would definitely give context to the learning.

      Your instructional rounds sound very interesting! I’m curious to hear more about them as time goes on. Thanks for always sharing and pushing my own learning too!


  2. I told you once I thought it was working I would share what our class is trying to do so here it is! My first grade class is almost all self initiated with idea of extending your learning as an overall big idea (for lack of a better word). I rarely assign something during literacy or content areas, although in math I often do. I have separated the day into literacy, math and guided exploration and the concepts we are working on in health and social studies we explore through read alouds and shared reading, especially in the conversations after each. I also attempt to make my writing mini lessons linked to what we are exploring by writing about the topics to demonstrate a skill we are learning. Math is trickier but if I can, I try and relate it in someway to something we are learning or something some of the children are inquiring about on their own. The children are aware they always need to be demonstrating their learning and in the past few weeks the evidence of extension of learning is growing but we spent the first 5 weeks of school practicing this. To our class you are extending your learning if what you are doing is linked to something you have done at school but this took time to establish and I was okay with that. In the beginning extending your learning meant if you did something such as build with LEGO and then extended it by reading and writing or doing math about it you were demonstrating learning appropriately. I’m not sure how the change occurred but I think as the children matured it just happened. Some of the brighter lights have figured out if they want to do something that is not linked to anything they can bring In a book or something to share and then now we have learned about it and they are good to go. Great learning has occurred that way!! We needed to develop an understanding as a class how being in first grade was different than being in FDK. Mostly this meant using a variety of materials and working with a variety of friends. I run into trouble when once in awhile a group engages in a real cool math activity right in the middle of our literacy time. I always bring them back to our anchor chart about demonstrating learning in reading, writing and word work during this time and they stop what they are doing and move on, but rarely come back to what they had established during guided exploration. I sometimes wonder to myself does it really matter??? They would have engaged in literacy at some point during the hour long guided exploration block and if they didn’t I could have “nudged” them toward it anyway. Some days I see the value of having that separate literacy time and other days I wonder what would happen if I just had a math block and the rest guided exploration. I keep thinking and hopefully the answers will surface as I move into the second part of the school year.

    • Thanks for your comment, Lori! I love hearing about what you’re doing in the classroom, and thinking about the logistics in a Junior classroom. I guess that it depends on how the expectations are outlined. With inquiry, there is definitely more student choice and voice. I’d love to have a big block of time with a free flow of learning, but I wonder if there needs to be more guidance. I’m not sure. I’m thinking partially here about student needs (including those students with autism and various other needs that really benefit from routine) and partially about expectations (and ensuring that students are really meeting all of these expectations). I’m thinking that I might go in more of this direction, thanks to Kristi’s response on her blog post. What do you think?

      I’m curious about how you run your math block. It sounds like it’s more structured than literacy. Why? Could it have the same flow as your literacy block? I’m not sure, but I’d just be interested in hearing more about your choices.

      Please continue to share how things are going! It’s great to hear other people’s ideas!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *