What if your homework was to make a snow angel?

When I come home from school, one of the first things that I usually do is finish writing our Daily Shoot Blog Posts. After our snowfall today though, I decided to shovel the driveway first. I’m glad that I did. As I was outside shovelling, I realized how much fun it was to be out in the snow. I kept thinking about the fantastic time that our students had outside today … and even though they were playing, they were also learning.

Thanks to our School Climate Consultant, Aaron Puley, we always include an extension activity at the end of our daily blog posts. Usually this is an open-ended activity that aligns with the learning from the day. Many students today loved creating with various classroom materials, so initially, our extension was going to align with that. Then I thought of the snow.

Today was one of our first big snowfalls of the year. The fluffy, light snow is perfect for shovelling, fun to create with, and calling for some snow angels. I must say that I resisted the urge — just barely — to lie down and make my own snow angel outside today. ūüôā How could our nightly learning extension not involve the snow? This is when I wrote this:

Enjoy the snow tonight by going outside to play together. Children can create snow structures (Science), count piles of snow that they make (Math), or even try making letters, numbers, shapes, words, or various objects in the snow (Math and Language). Even try singing and making music as you move together through the snow. Building together is a great way to develop oral language and gross motor skills. Being outside and moving also helps students with self-regulation! Children are welcome to talk to their friends tomorrow about the different things that they did in the snow.

I can’t help but think about some conversations that I’ve had in the past about homework.

  • Does homework need to be a pencil/paper task?
  • How can we make homework open-ended enough to meet the needs of all of our learners?
  • If all subject areas are important, how are we including subjects like Phys-Ed and The Arts in homework suggestions?

While our at-home learning extension is not required homework, I still think about my answers to these questions as I determine this nightly activity. How would you answer these questions? What impact does this have on your home learning options? When it comes to homework, I see the potential to engage parents in the learning process. How do you do this? I’d love to know!

Aviva – Happy to spend a little extra time outside tonight! ūüôā

Contemplating Equity: Seeking Advice For When Others Want A Chair Too

The other night, I had a very interesting Twitter conversation with Lori St. Amand: a Grade 1 teacher in our Board. Lori contributed to the discussion on my last blog post about colouring, and then, decided to make a change in her classroom: providing colouring pages to students that expressed that this might help make their “brains and bodies ready to learn.” As we were discussing this change, we got to the problem of students that started changing their minds because of what others were doing. Our conversation began to link what Lori noticed about her students (this time in regards to the desire for fidget toys) to how adults might react in similar situations.

As our conversation evolved, I thought about how I’ve taught students about “equity” in the past. I always explain that I give everybody what he/she needs in order to succeed. We’ve talked about how these needs may be different, so what’s required may also be different. This makes sense to me.

But then I started to think about times in the past, that as an adult, I’ve felt left out.

  • Maybe others got to attend a conference, inservice, or school visit that I wanted to attend.
  • Maybe others have received a tool for their classroom that I also wanted to receive.
  • Maybe others received a note of thanks or a showing of appreciation that I also hoped to get.

I can usually rationalize why things may have been different, but there’s still a part of me that may feel hurt, angry, upset, and/or jealous. And if I’m an adult feeling this way, how does a four-year-old feel?

This week, I’ve spent a lot of time watching, listening, and “hearing” our students. While we really don’t teach lessons to the full class on the carpet, during transitional times, we often regroup as a class over at the carpet and sing some rhyming or counting songs or play some quick phonemic awareness games. This is only for a couple of minutes, and the students gradually join the group as they complete their play and finish tidying up. A couple of students really struggle with sitting on the carpet, but are successful when sitting on a chair. They pull a chair up to the carpet in order to join the group. Since returning from the holidays, my partner and I noticed more students choosing chair options. At one point on Friday, there were about eight students surrounding the carpet on their chairs.

  • They weren’t causing problems.
  • They were participating.
  • But they don’t all need chairs … or do they?

Does it matter how many students are sitting on chairs? If they’re still participating, do I need to tell them to move? These other students that have chosen chairs have expressed a desire to “sit the way their friends are sitting.” I’m trying to see things from the student’s perspective. If I saw my friends sitting on a chair — a far more comfortable option than the carpet — would I also want one? Now replace the phrase “sitting on chairs” with …

  • writing using computers or tablets.
  • choosing an alternative seating option.
  • listening to music while working.
  • using assistive technology.
  • colouring in order to calm down.

These are often options that only tend to be offered to some students. Experience has shown me though that often what works for our neediest students, may benefit a lot more people than that. As educators though, what do we do? Do we stand by our decision to say, “no?” Do we evaluate on a case-by-case basis? Do we see what happens and then make changes as needed? Life isn’t always fair, but could it be more fair? Are we the ones that could make it that way, and if so, how? During transitional times this week, I’ve stood on the carpet, watched the students, and wondered, what should I say? What should I do? Am I making the right choice? I’m hoping you can help.


Who Is Colouring For?

I always start off my day reading through tweets, blog posts, and newspaper articles while enjoying a morning coffee or two. This morning, I happened to catch this tweet from fellow educator, Doug Peterson.

I’ll admit that when I saw the title of this post, I thought back to a Staff Meeting that I had at my last school. In the meeting, our principal, Paul, talked about colouring. He specifically spoke about colouring in maps —¬†the bane of my elementary school existence¬†— and the value in doing so. He got all of us thinking about richer learning opportunities beyond colouring …¬†and I’m grateful for this.

In the last few years, I’ve had a “colouring awakening.”¬†Have I had students colour before?¬†Yes. I’ll admit that it was usually a time filler. For example, the student would cut out the coins for the math worksheet, and then colour them in. An activity that could take two minutes could now stretch to 15 or 20 quiet minutes.¬†Quiet can be a wonderful thing.¬†But Paul’s Staff Meeting conversation and my evolving learning has made me start to question this kind of colouring.¬†Why not create a store and let students purchase items with toy coins? What not photograph student work and/or record student thinking versus filling in a worksheet? What’s the reason that students are cutting out and colouring in coins, and do they really need to do this to show what they know? Does a worksheet meet everybody’s needs, and what might be a better option?

Now while I stand by and believe everything that I’ve shared so far, I’ve also been doing a lot of reading, thinking, and conversing about self-regulation in the past three years. This article¬†is not suggesting that colouring helps develop fine motor skills or artistic abilities, but instead, looks at the benefits for self-regulation.¬†Colouring calms some people.¬†It calms some adults as well as students, which Laurel Fynes¬†alluded to¬†in her tweet this morning. This is likely the reason that I always found colouring to be a “quiet activity,” as for those that it benefits, it’s¬†probably¬†helping them self-regulate.

This was never my colouring experience. I couldn’t stay in the lines —¬†ever.¬†I had more maps and worksheets thrown out by my teachers because they were never good enough, and just the thought of colouring now, causes me stress. I think though of a Kindergarten student of mine. Yesterday, she came back from the holiday break, and when she walked in the room, she saw a table of empty water bottles and two bins full of Sharpie markers. Our¬†class was inspired by Darla Myers¬†and the chandelier that her class made out of recycled water bottles. They wanted to use our empty water bottles in a similar way.

Screenshot 2016-01-05 at 20.09.43

This student went over right away to the table, sat down, and focused intently as she coloured the bottles. She used various colours. She tried going around in a circle as well as up and down. She was calm and quiet, and this is a student that often appears up-regulated. During the day, when she was feeling stressed, I noticed her go back to this table and colour another bottle or two. It calmed her down. 

This wasn’t a colouring page, and students were encouraged to experiment with different types of lines and designs, as well as create patterns, but in many ways, it was just colouring. For this child though, it was a fantastic option for self-regulation.¬†Did it work for everybody?¬†No. But I think that Peter McAsh has the best response to that.

Screenshot 2016-01-05 at 20.18.57

Maybe with colouring, we just have to stop pretending that it’s Art, and instead, explore its potential for self-regulation. Maybe those students that need it most will choose a colouring option when they need it, and for others, it doesn’t have to happen at all.¬†What do you think? Am I being too hard on “colouring,” or is it just a matter of re-purposing it to maybe meet a different need than I intended to meet many years ago?¬†I’d love to hear your thoughts!


I Spoke. I Listened. I Heard. And Now, I’m Wondering.

Last week, I decided on my one word goal for this year. I want to focus on hearing. With it being the first day back after the holidays, I decided to spend some time really listening to the students in the classroom, but also, really listening to — and hearing — myself.

During our transitional time this morning — from Free Exploration to Recess Time — we gathered on the carpet and sang, Down By The BayWe’re working on rhyming (phonemic awareness skills), and students are starting to create their own rhyming verses.

I initially noticed that some students were singing more than others, so I thought that I would encourage more singing by using a technique that I’ve used before: “I really like the way that _________ is singing along.” Usually then, others start to chime in more so that I’ll call their name. Something interesting happened today though …

After I made a couple of comments about how students were singing, one child that was sitting down next to me said, “Miss Dunsiger, Miss Dunsiger, don’t you like how I’m singing?” At the time, I thought, “Well she isn’t singing right now. She’s talking to me. That’s why I didn’t call her name.” But then I started to look around and I realized how many other students were singing nicely, and how many students I missed. I quickly started to call out more names, and I may have even made a general comment about the singing, but I know that I missed many names.

Hearing what this one child had to say has me thinking more tonight. For years, I’ve encouraged students with the use of a similar technique to the one that I used this morning. I never thought twice about it. Now though, I wonder about the students that I miss. I wonder what students are thinking when their names are not called.

  • Do they start to give up?
  • Maybe they struggle with this kind of activity. What if they question their ability to succeed?
  • In my attempt to encourage, am I really discouraging some?

Aligning with my one word goal from last year, I’m learning that sometimes it can be very uncomfortable when we take the time to really “hear” ourselves and others. Maybe it’s time for me to reconsider the approach that I used today. What do you think?


How Do We Make Coding A Real Choice?

Over the holidays, I had the opportunity to meet with Enzo Ciardelli: a fellow teacher in the Board and a strong advocate for coding (and computer science) in the classroom. It was during our discussion that I had an epiphany: coding may not be for everyone, but all students deserve the opportunity to have coding as a real choice for sharing their learning. Now I say that this was an epiphany, and yet, last year after EdCamp Hamilton, I actually blogged about a similar topic. This recent epiphany though takes my thinking from EdCamp Hamilton a step further. It actually brings me back to a blog post that I wrote on cursive writing.

How does coding have to do with cursive writing?¬†It’s actually not about the writing itself, but about some words of wisdom that Valerie Bennett, a fellow educator, shared with me many summers ago during our “summer of cursive” discussions. Valerie explained to me that if we’re going to make cursive writing a real option for students that we have to model the use of it. If we only print or type,¬†what are we saying about the value of this other option?¬†I think that the same question could be asked when it comes to coding.

Yes,¬†I run a Coding Club, and I have some¬†junior students that are expert coders. They could probably see how coding could be used as a way to share learning, but then again,¬†if coding isn’t used in the classroom, how are we promoting its value, and giving students the courage to speak up and ask for it as a choice?¬†I also think about those students that don’t know what coding is yet, but if exposed to it, might find a new sharing option that works for them. Maybe all they need from us is a little bit of modelling and an opportunity to play.

It’s with this thinking in mind, that I wonder about this approach to coding:

  • Spend a couple of periods exposing all of your students to coding. While I’m certainly in favour of the Hour of Code, if we want students to see the creation possibilities for coding, we also need to explore different coding options. I think that experimenting with Scratch, Scratch Jr., or Hopscotch may be best, depending on the age and abilities of your students and the resources available (i.e., computers versus iPads). Some students are going to struggle with coding, but maybe they can pair up with others or you can provide some additional scaffolding. For students to “choose” coding, they need to have some experience with it first and see its potential as a way to share thinking and learning.¬†
  • Let students share their learning with others.¬†You don’t have to be the teacher in this case. Have a look at what different students create, and let them share their creations with others:¬†inspiring their peers to try something new or explore a different option for the tool or program they were already using.¬†
  • Give coding as a choice.¬†When you start to create your assignments in class, suggest coding as¬†one way that students can communicate their findings. Maybe they can make a digital storybook using Scratch Jr., create a program using Scratch, or show their new math learning using Hopscotch. Even just sharing one or two open-ended possibilities might make a student in the classroom realize that coding doesn’t just have to be a lunchtime activity.¬†

While I may be the teacher that runs the Coding Club at our school and codes —¬†at least periodically¬†— with her primary students, the truth is that coding is a real challenge for me. There are lots of connections with spatial sense, and I struggle with visualizing these spatial moves in my head. I have yet to¬†write a successful program, and just about all of my students —¬†past and present¬†— are more advanced¬†coders than I am. But I’m a huge advocate for student choice and voice, and I wonder,¬†are we really giving our students this choice and voice when it comes to coding if we don’t at least introduce it to them? If we’re not, what students might be losing out on an option that works best for them?¬†I would hate to think that we’re missing an opportunity for¬†increased student success —¬†for any number of students.¬†What are your thoughts?