Contemplating Changes

In just over a week, we’re heading back to school, and as I get ready to plan for January, I’m contemplating a small change and a big change. What better time to start fresh than in a new year! 

My small change is to our entry routine. When the students come into class, I always have the agenda up on the SMART Board, and they write it in their agenda books, take a photograph of it and text it to their parents, or email it to their parents. Then I usually have them read quietly for a few minutes until announcements are over. The truth is though that most students don’t want to read quietly for these few minutes: they want to talk. They need to talk! I’m wondering if giving them this “talking time” would help with self-regulation and make them more ready to learn later. Let them share the story they need to share, so that they’re not thinking about this story or trying to share this story during the lesson in a couple of minutes. And for those students that don’t want to talk, why not give them the chance to read, write, or draw quietly? They’ve told me that this is what they like to do, and now they’d have the opportunity to do this. It’s only for five minutes, but maybe it’s the five minutes that they need get ready for learning. What do you think?

My big change is to our schedule. I’m really struggling teaching period by period. As we embrace a more inquiry approach to learning, these 40 minute blocks do not give enough time for students to think, question, and explore. We need more integration. Ideally half of the day would be for Language and half would be for Math, and Science, Social Studies, Health, and The Arts would be fully integrated throughout. I did this when I taught Grades 1 and 2, so I know that it’s possible, but there are some big shifts to consider:

1) The Schedule On The Board – Right now, I have all of the periods listed on the blackboard, and beside each one, I have a card outlining what we’re doing that period (e.g., Period 1 – Modelled Reading). While all of the students look to this schedule to figure out what they need to bring to class and what the day will include, this schedule is especially beneficial for my students with autism. They set-up their own schedules based on these plans, and they definitely need this routine. So how do I meet all student needs if the schedule now just says, “Language” and “Math” (with prep subject periods included where they occur)? Here’s my thought: what if beside the words “Language” and “Math,” I break down the periods into smaller chunks? I can show the students when we’ll be doing Shared, Modelled, and Guided Reading and Writing. The timing may not be exact, but it could add more structure to the day for those students that need it. What do you think?

2) AWARD (Applied Writing and Reading Daily) Time – This is our guided reading and literacy centre time. Based on a blog post comment from our vice principal, Kristi, we started to integrate Social Studies into AWARD Time prior to the Break. Students enjoyed reading, writing, and creating in different ways based on our Social Studies topic. Many students were concerned though as they were reading and responding to novels that they wanted to finish, but that did not tie into our Social Studies topic. We looked at how they could spend a portion of their time on these integrated activities and a portion of their time on these non-integrated activities (assuming that both helped them meet their reading and writing goals). The students really liked the compromise, and seemed to balance their time well.

While I’d like to continue this integrated approach in January (on our Science topic now), I also plan on making a change. To start AWARD Time, we’re going to have some mini-literature circle groups. In January, these groups will read various articles related to our new Science topic on the human body. The articles will vary by group. Each group will focus on various reading comprehension strategies that we worked on from September-December. Sometimes these strategies will be the same for everyone, and sometimes they’ll be different. It all depends on student needs. While the groups are reading and discussing their articles, I’ll also be working with a guided group on a different article.

I’m making this change because I want students to read and respond to their reading more, and these quasi-literature circles will help do that. This also allows me to take a guided group when all of the other students are reading: ensuring that I do not pull students when they are in the middle of a project with their peers. As we integrate more, students are creating more of their own group projects, and I hate pulling them from these. This approach also helps with integration, as the reading that students do will correspond to our Science topic: giving them even more information that they can use for other reading and writing activities. What do you think?

3) Layout Of Materials – Before the Break, I was talking to some teachers about the Full-Day Kindergarten Program. Many teachers were concerned that students would not learn what they need to learn in this new model. I said that this learning can definitely occur, but as teachers, we may just need to be more creative. For example, if students are learning about patterns, maybe there needs to be a pattern provocation at the cars, at the paint centre, at the blocks, and in the creative play area. Let students go where they want, but when they get there, they’ll see this provocation, and in time, they’ll respond to it in what they say and what they do. Maybe this is my own wishful thinking, but it makes sense to me. So why aren’t I doing this more in our classroom? I need to start putting books and writing materials out in more places. Possibly even laying out some sentence starters will get students to write more as they reflect on what they’ve read and what they’ve done. I’m hoping that making more deliberate choices about what I put out where, will get students to read, write, and think more (regardless of the subject area). What do you think?

I’m excited about all of these changes, but I know that they’ll probably require some tweaking throughout the year. Hopefully the students can help me with this tweaking as they share their thoughts on these changes. What are your initial thoughts on these changes? What initial “tweaks” would you suggest? I’d love to hear your thoughts!


16 thoughts on “Contemplating Changes

  1. Aviva, your tweaking ideas are well-considered and numerous! I’m wondering if there are too many, especially for kids with autism or ADHD? I wonder if you should slowly implement these changes in routine and schedules, based on your priorities? Rather than doing everything new on January 6, implement a month at a time?

    When I was in the classroom, I would always give the students ‘talk time’ especially on Mondays! I found they didn’t need it as much on the other days. I gave them 10 or 15 minutes. This also allowed me to touch base with specific students, as needed. Sometimes they wanted me to hear their stories, other times, not ( high school students, remember? Lol) So I think this change would be a good one and fairly easy. I also told them… “You have this time to chat, but when it’s over, you’re mine!” They responded so positively to this, I wondered why I hadn’t done it sooner!

    Your integrating literacy idea is brilliant and something we try to do as we prepare students for the OSSLT within their various home rooms.

    Those are my thought…

    • Thanks for the comment, Janet! While I definitely see a number of changes happening after the Break, I agree with you that these changes need to be slow. I’d like everything to be in place come the end of January (ideally). Thinking about what you wrote here and the tweets that you sent, here are my thoughts:

      1) Begin with the “Talk Time” right away. This would not be a hard change to make, and I think that students would really benefit. Many students want this time anyway, and if anything, I was discouraging it before when I was giving other morning options instead. Now I’m listening to their voices and giving this a try. I think this will work well!

      2) The AWARD Time integration approach I was trying before the Break. I think that I’ll continue with this after the Break, as I already basically made the change. Now I’ll just have Science options instead of Social Studies ones, as we’re beginning a new Science unit.

      3) The schedule routine, I’ll make right away, as I’ll still outline the more specific activities, but just beside the general categories. Those students that need it can see what’s happening when, but they can also see this integration in place!

      4) The quasi-literature circle routine will be a slower transition for me. I’m thinking that I’ll do the first round of these literature circles (where students read the articles) with me in our regular guided group format. This will also allow me to check for decoding skills (if necessary) and to help check for comprehension. Then we can move into the literature circle routine after that, with all groups of students formulating questions and diving into different comprehension strategies, and with me still working with a guided group during the process. I can then let students know that this change is coming and prepare them for the new structure. What do you think?

      5) I’ll slowly begin adding writing materials and books to the different centres around the classroom, and I’ll see what happens. I’ll make this change throughout the month, and slowly start adding more/different materials depending on student responses. Maybe students can even suggest some materials to add (e.g., they might have read a book that they think would link to one of our activities, so can bring it out to share then). Would this work?

      Thanks for your help!

  2. Talk Time, I have started my inquiry groups with some talk time to let the students get it out of their system then down to work. Sometimes I would give them a topic to talk about. Always something they could share their own experience with and fun. My students meet before the first bell in our classroom library and chat for about 5 min. It makes a good start to our day. They know that when the bell rings they move to their seat.

    • Thanks for sharing your experiences, Tonya! I like the idea of giving students some time to talk before the announcements, and then knowing that they move to their spots to begin after announcements. I think that having students talk as part of inquiry is so important, but these conversations tend to be more focused ones. I think that I need to give a little “social talk time” to help ensure that students are ready to learn after that. This would only be about 5 minutes each day, but I’m thinking it’s 5 minutes well spent!


  3. Dear Aviva,

    Great questions and lots to think about! First, talk is important in a classroom and giving your students time to talk and share is ideal. It shows your students that you value talk and that you are willing to hear their stories.

    My next thought and wondering is around your schedule: why does it have to be different then when you taught grade 1 & 2? Since we started with the inquiry approach, we integrate all subjects. We run our day the way you want to do your AWARD time. We have large 3 block periods of focused time- 8:40 to 10:40 in the morning, 11:20 to 1:00, 1:40 to 3:00. These blocks allow for uninterrupted learning time for small group work.

    I have often claimed that all teachers have a lot to learn from the FDK model of learning and how many of our primary teachers run a classroom. Inquiry classrooms = play…we often hear our students talking about how much fun they are having AND from our perspective they are learning so much more then we ever expected. They are motivated and engaged in their learning. We always have a focused goal and present it in a way that provokes curiosity and interest.

    You’ve inspired me to write a post. Thanks for provoking!


    • Thanks for your comment, Louise! I’d love to read your post when it’s finished, and I’m curious to hear more about your day.

      I absolutely agree with “talk” is important, and I hope that this “talk time” shows my students that I believe this too.

      As for the structure of the day, I think that these changes will allow me to run things more as I did when I was a 1/2 teacher. There will certainly be more integration and bigger chunks of learning time. Even as a 1/2 teacher though, I always planned times for shared and modelled reading and writing, and I’d like to do the same now. Yes, with a more integrated approach, the periods run together, and we don’t start everything at the bell, but I would still quasi-structure these times (e.g., planning for a read aloud). How do you do this? What’s worked well? I’d love to hear more!

      Thanks again!

      • Hi,
        What does your shared, modelled, guided reading and writing look like in your classroom? Does everyone read at the same time? What are they reading? And writing? When you are working with a guided reading group…what are the other students doing? Can you teach language strategies within an inquiry?
        Just wondering,

        • Lots of great questions, Louise! Usually my modelled reading is a read aloud, and I often accompany that with a written activity of some sort (based on skills connected to our TLCP that students need to develop). I’ve been reading a chapter book that we finished before the Break. It connected to our “big idea” for our TLCP, but it was not linked to Science or Social Studies. Our shared reading and writing time is usually content-based reading and writing activities. This would usually include a short lesson, and then a follow-up activity. Students are doing these modelled and shared activities at the same time, but not necessarily in the same way (e.g., may be using different tools to share their learning). For guided reading and writing, I do this during AWARD Time. At this time, students are reading and writing, but not all doing the same task at the same time. AWARD Time has recently been changed to connect with our Science or Social Studies topics, and there is lots of student choice. This is fairly self-directed reading and writing, and it connects to students’ individual reading and writing goals. As for teaching language strategies with an inquiry, I’ve been doing so using ideas from the COMPREHENSION AND COLLABORATION: INQUIRY CIRCLES IN ACTION book. I really like the ideas there, and students have definitely benefitted from these mini-lessons.

          I do have some students that require routine and possibly a little more structure than a completely free-flowing block of time. I do LOVE the longer periods of time to explore inquiry topics, and I’ve found myself doing this more often (which is why I wanted to make a change to the Language and Math blocks). Adding in a bit of structure with a read aloud or a shared reading or writing activity though, may provide this structure that some of my students require. These times/activities are still open-ended enough to meet the various student needs though.

          All of this being said, I’m curious to hear what you (and others) do to make these open blocks of time work for your students. How do you accommodate for those students that need more structure?


  4. Wow so much reflection in this post. Your kids are lucky to have such a thoughtful teacher. Talk + play = learning. Have that in kindergarten, why does it get left out in upper grades. Play for Ks is “work” whether at art table, balance literacy, math, science or social studies. Whenever possible integrated curriculum is what we strive for. Going back on January 6th to #geniushour in the afternoon. We will inquiry, hypothesize, Talk, work, collaborate and learn.

    • Thanks for the comment, Faige! These past two years teaching junior grades have taught me that much that I did when teaching primary is beneficial for older children as well. Thank you for sharing how things work in Kindergarten. I’d love to hear how #geniushour works in your Kindergarten classroom. As I consider integrating Science and Social Studies more, I can’t help but think how #geniushour could overlap. So much to think about …


  5. I like all your ideas, Aviva. I do love provocations and tie ins between subjects and areas of the room. Giving talk time sounds like a great idea. I wonder if you could also tie in a content nudge in your talk time too with some kind of (voluntary) provocation? For those who just need to talk time to get things off their mind – let them go. But there may be others in the room who need that extra time to think about something coming up in the day and maybe this is a good chance to introduce a quote, picture or other simple provocation that they could use to start their talk (notice I said could…may not be for everyone). When I think of your murder mystery just before the break, a classroom provocation got some of them talking, and thinking, and more talking, before you had even placed any expectations on what they were to do with it. Talk is good. Free talk is good for some. Maybe provoked talk may also be good for some? Just a thought. My other thought is you work too much. Please spend some time this week relaxing!

    • Thanks for the comment, Kristi! I really like your idea of some voluntary provocations. I tend to have some out anyway for what we’ll be doing after announcements, so maybe students that need or want to might spend their “talk time” discussing these. As I’ve been using more provocations in the classroom, I find that students tend to discuss them anyway (even when no expectations/explanation have been given yet). It would be interesting to see what happens if these are out during talk time … who would discuss them? What might they discuss? How would this impact later? Always lots to think about …


  6. Aviva…a thought for your students with ASD….I have seen visual schedules set up in the way that you wrote about: the big heading of “language” for example and then beside/underneath the “subtasks” that might need to be accomplished (i.e. shared reading, journal writing, independent writing etc). It will all depend on where your students with ASD are at in regards to their visual schedules. Are they carrying their own schedules with them? Are they at their desks/work stations? Are they posted somewhere? Talk to the ASD team – this can definitely be done for your kids with ASD. And chances are…as long as you can be supported with their visual schedules in whatever form they may take…they will adapt to the BIG changes that you are proposing far better than you might think. Just my two cents from my new world of ASD. 🙂

    • Thanks Amy! I will play around with a few options and talk to the ASD Team when we return to school. One student carries her schedule (she has a tri-fold with words) and one student has a strip that she leaves on her desk (she’s using pictures but being transitioned to words). For both students, I write task analysis/social stories for every activity under each heading, so I think that this will also help. My big concern is that both students like to take off the cards signifying that a period is “over/done,” so I’d like to still give them this opportunity. It helps with transitions.

      Thanks for giving me lots to think about!

  7. Hope you had an awesome break!
    Great thinking in all of the responses above! I look forward to discussing the impact of the changes as we move through January. I think the students will respond to the changes positively, because of your approach and delivery …and your great ability to regroup when things need to be tweaked.
    As much as we all thrive on routine, we also enjoy some change and variety and I know that your students enjoy the best of both worlds.

    • Thanks for the comment, Paul! Yes, I had a wonderful break, and I’m also very excited to be back. I can’t wait to see how these changes work, and I’ll definitely be sharing my observations and/or any tweaks I make throughout the month (look for more blog posts :)).

      You make a good point here about people enjoying some changes along with routine. It’s good to ensure that students are always excited about learning and don’t get bored. I have to admit that I’m really excited about these changes too!


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