Are We Preparing Kids?

Over the 10 different years that I’ve taught Kindergarten — with three different program documents — one discussion point constantly resurfaces: are we preparing kids for Grade 1? I’ve usually responded in a similar way to this question, always commenting on “providing the best possible program for students this year” and mentioning that “maybe the environment needs to change in response to the students that are coming up to it.” The question lingers on if we’re doing a disservice to students by not preparing them to sit in desks, complete worksheets, sit and listen on the carpet, and adapt to a program that is far more “academically-focused” than Kindergarten. There always seems to be this underlying belief that “play is not enough.” This was the very discussion that I was having with someone yesterday on a drive into Toronto. During the conversation though, I realized that my answer to the “preparation question” could really be different than how I’ve answered in the past. In retrospect, my answer is yes.

  • Yes, we are preparing students on how to think and problem solve simple and more complex problems on their own. We’re helping them see the value in perseverance. We’re showing them that we believe in them and what they’re able to do on their own and with support from their classmates.
  • Yes, we are preparing students on how to socialize with each other: how to listen to what others have to say, respect different opinions, take turns during conversations, and solve some social problems on their own. We’re showing them the value in building positive relationships.
  • Yes, we are preparing students on how to self-regulate. We are helping them become more aware of when they’re too up-regulated or down-regulated, and what works for them to get to “calm.” We’re being supportive of diverse self-regulation strategies, and watching students move from co-regulation (with our support) to self-regulation (and the ability to independently recognize and choose what works for them).
  • Yes, we are preparing students on how to develop their literacy skills. We’re providing numerous opportunities for them to speak, listen, read, and write in meaningful contexts, and recognize letters and sounds in ways that work for them. We’re watching students develop along a continuum and providing mini-lessons that target their specific needs when they need them. 
  • Yes, we are preparing students in developing their mathematical skills. Students are recognizing numerals and counting through various play opportunities (e.g., talking about the number that they’re dialing on the telephone in dramatic play or counting the number of blocks in both piles to ensure that they’ve split them equally with their friend). They are developing their spatial skills and measurement abilities as they create mini-worlds in our shelves and reorganize the blocks to fit within the desired area. They are learning about shapes as they create Picasso-inspired art pieces, build structures with different blocks (and explore the properties of the 3-D figures), and create different art work with playdough and plasticine (discussing how their 3-D figures compare to the 2-D shapes). We are helping them label these math skills and start to bring math talk into their play.
  • Yes, we are preparing students on how to work with us and with others in small groups, for it’s in these smaller groups that we can really target instruction the most to meet individual needs. 

This is all of the background knowledge and skills that students need to be successful in Grade 1, and as a teaching team, my partner and I make these areas our priority. We are not preparing students to sit at a desk, complete worksheets, or engage in long carpet times, as these are not curriculum expectations and ultimately do not meet the developmental needs of our children. We’re not alone in this, and in fact, our finalized Kindergarten Program Document instructs us to use a play-based and inquiry-based approach that limits full-class instruction. So then what happens to students when they move past Kindergarten? Will they be ready for their future education? It’s then that I look at the blog posts from an educator such as Rhonda Urfey: a Grade 3 teacher in our Board. Have a look at what her students have done thanks to a growing interest in “water bottles” and the “environment,” and see what play-based and inquiry-based learning looks like past Kindergarten.

Rhonda is not the only educator beyond a Kindergarten one that’s embracing this type of learning environment, and just like us in Kindergarten, she’s preparing her students for what they need in the next grade. Maybe we need to question more, what is it that students need? What are we preparing them for? This is an uncomfortable conversation that I think needs to continue to happen if we want to see a real change in education. What do you think?


How Do We Measure Growth?

Recently, Donna Miller Fry shared a link to this blog post that I wrote many years ago about my aha moment.


Donna’s tweet made me look back on this post, but also think again about what I wrote. I wonder if my post simplified something that I’ve come to learn is far more complex. Learning these days so often seems to be associated with “meeting benchmarks,” but what about “demonstrating growth?” I’m not saying that benchmarks are bad: they help us measure success against a given standard. Since I wrote this initial post though, I’ve had various experiences that have caused me to pause and think.

  • I’ve taught in classrooms where many students come to me already meeting or exceeding year-end benchmarks.
  • I’ve taught in classrooms where many students come to me years below the developmental starting point of the curriculum expectations. 

In the first case, meeting benchmarks requires very little work on my part. Large percentages of success always look good, but who’s responsible for that success? Did I really help children learn? In the second case, it’s more challenging to meet benchmarks. If students start two or three years below grade level, how do I close the gap in a single year? If I don’t close the gap, does that mean that I’ve been unsuccessful? In both of these cases, I think that the true measure of success comes in focusing on “growth.”

Benchmarks are always about numbers. We tell our students to not focus on “the grade,” but then as educators, we stay focused on the percentage. What if we used a different measurement tool? If we want to see if every child is learning, why not use a portfolio to do so? Then we can see a starting point and we can see the growth. We can look at each child as an individual.

  • We can see the child that started by drawing pictures to communicate her thoughts that then moved to scribbles with no meaning, scribbles with meaning, random letters with meaning, and now some familiar words. That’s growth.
  • We can see the child that started by writing a single word or a short sentence that now writes multiple lines of text. That’s growth.
  • We can see the child (through video footage) that told us that she “can’t write,” that is now picking up a pencil, sounding out words, making connections to the letter-sounds, and writing down most of the initial and final sounds. That’s growth.
  • We can see the child (through video footage) that had no 1:1 correspondence skills that can now count groups of up to 10 objects and make the connection between the number of items counted and the numeral. That’s growth.

Yes, benchmarks help us gauge that child’s success against predetermined standards, but “growth” matters to me even more. I want to know that all of our children are learning, and I want to be able to prove it. For if not, I want to know what else we need to do to make that happen. Years ago, it was a group of amazing people — my parents and various educators — that did this for me, and now I’m in the position to do the same. What about you? Think of those children you know that may be struggling. How can we change their trajectory? What might our support mean to them? Every child needs a champion. I’ve had many over the years. Now I want to be that champion for others.


Learning To Let Go!

I often feel as though I see our classroom/school experience through my iPad. I’m constantly trying to document student learning, and when I put down the iPad, I’m always afraid that I’m going to miss something “great.” This afternoon, I took my iPad with me to the forest, and while we were there, a student came up to me and asked if he could record what was happening in the trees. I really struggled with letting go of the iPad. 

  • Should he be exploring nature instead of recording a video?
  • What experiences might I miss if I don’t have the iPad with me to capture them?

This is when I thought back to a tweet that I read this morning from my good friend, Jo-Ann. Jo-Ann retweeted a message yesterday from Dr. Justin Tarte


At this moment, I realized that when it comes to relinquishing control of my iPad, I call into question if anyone is trustworthy enough. But what message would I be sending to this child if I said, “No?” So, as hard as it was to do so, I gave this child my device.

While my actions might have conveyed “trust,” I feel guilty to say that I questioned how much useful footage I would get from a child’s recording. Would he jump around too much? Would he really listen to the conversation? Would he remember to press, “Record?” Tonight though, I shrieked in delight when I watched what he recorded … and I apologize profusely for doubting that this would work.

While there may be a few shaky moments, the same is true when I record, but this child did a few things that I rarely manage to do.

  • He knew how to stay quiet. A few times, he started to contribute ideas, but when the other children in the group continued with their play discussion, he stopped talking, and listened.
  • He didn’t interfere when small problems occurred. As adults, we tend to want to solve problems, and sometimes, I wonder if we get involved too quickly. The students had a few disagreements, but they worked things out among themselves.
  • He captured way more than me. Children know when adults get in their spaces, and while many students are happy to answer my questions or continue their discussions, they often don’t share everything when an adult is there. This child is a peer, and others saw him that way. This led to a very authentic conversation that gave me a great understanding of what the students know and what they think. 

As hard as it was to hand over the iPad, I’m glad that I did. This experience today makes me wonder about other “student documenting” opportunities. Thanks Justin and Jo-Ann for unknowingly inspiring me to give up some control and watch a student shine. Have others done this before? What are your experiences with doing so? As our Kindergarten Program Document reminds us, children really are “competent and capable.” Now our challenge is to always remember to believe in them. 


Popping The Top Off This “Inclusion” Can Of Worms

Have you ever read an article that you can’t get out of your head? This is what happened to me earlier this week when someone shared with me this article about the “illusion of inclusion.” This blog post is not going to provide a solution to the problem mentioned in the article, nor is it going to provide a one-sided viewpoint, but it is going to highlight a few different perspectives that have come to light since I read Blanch’s article

When I first read Time To Stop Hiding Behind The Illusion Of Inclusion In ClassroomsI felt angry. I think my own experiences of being identified with a learning disability have made me very vocal about the importance of programming for all students. I believe strongly that “every child can learn,” and when we provide the opportunities and environment for this learning to happen, we see student growth. Over my 15 years teaching for the school board, I’ve supported three students in attending special classes. These decisions were never easy. I wanted to believe that a regular class placement would meet their needs, but smaller numbers, more intensive support, and more individualized programs made special classes — in these cases — the better option. But is a special class the right option for all students with special needs? Would we see more growth in students if the number of needs did not exceed the amount of adult support?

I am very conflicted on the answer to this last question. Over my time teaching in the Board, I’ve been in situations where I’ve wondered about this.

  • I’ve questioned if the learning environment is best for everyone.
  • I’ve wondered if more E.A. (Educational Assistant) support would make a difference or if too many adults in the room is only counterproductive.
  • I’ve questioned how to meet academic benchmarks when the learning needs go beyond academic areas.

I’ve brought problems home with me, and I’ve felt the strain on my own mental health and well-being. And one day, in one of these situations, I made a decision that was incredibly hard for me (as someone who believes strongly in the value of curriculum expectations and wants to meet and/or exceed Board benchmarks): I walked into an administrator’s office and said, “My students may not meet the reading goals because developing self-regulation and problem solving skills, need to come first.” This principal understood. He supported me in my decision, and I think, slowly saw the growth in the students over the course of the year. 

I wonder if part of the problem is that we tend to define “learning” with only academic parameters, but what about the learning skills? At the Bring I.T. Together Conference the other day, I had a great conversation in the afternoon with three different educators: two from our Board and one from another Board. We spoke about the line that many of us have probably uttered before and many of us believe: “we teach children first.” I used to think that I supported this belief, but I’m now wondering if I really looked at the child first or just looked at the child under a curriculum-focused umbrella. I’m not saying that curriculum doesn’t matter. It absolutely does. But what if the children are not ready for the expectations of that grade? What if their other learning needs mean that we need to focus on something before academics? I wonder if we all need to give ourselves permission to do so, and in a mark-driven, data-driven system, is it a struggle to do just that?

As I wonder about this, I also think about the blog post that I read by Joanne Babalis this morning. In it, she talks about the hundred languages of children. This is something that I’ve heard a lot about as a Kindergarten teacher — especially one inspired by the Reggio approach — but rarely as a teacher of other grades. I can’t help but wonder if the hundred languages might help us out in these more complex classroom situations. Is part of the problem that we’re too limited in how students share their thinking? I wonder if more options might allow all students to show just how much they know, for if the view of the child in the finalized Kindergarten Program document is of “children as competent and capable of complex thinking,” would this (or should this) not hold true for all other grades?

Blanch shares some very interesting thinking in her article, and over the years, when student needs seem to have exceeded available supports, I’ve wondered about some classroom makeups. I also know though that these most challenging teaching situations have made me better able to deal with some smaller challenges that I face today.

  • They forced me to learn more about self-regulation: both for myself and for students.
  • They led me to see the value in modelling behaviour and making learning skills a priority. 
  • They helped me figure out what “differentiated instruction” really means: not just as a term, but as a way of life in the classroom.
  • They helped me realize the value in teaching empathy, and how much empathy students can show for each other.
  • They helped me realize that there are other ways to explain thinking beyond writing, and that we need to explore these other ways and allow children to do the same.
  • They helped me realize that we are not — and never need to be — working in isolation, and that by teaming with people online and in our buildings, we can better meet the needs of all students.
  • They gave me a new perspective that helped me redefine some future challenges as a little less challenging than I initially thought. 

Are these reasons enough to reconsider our current approach to inclusion (which I think aligns with much shared in this article)? I’m not sure … but this article definitely has me continuing to wonder about our current model, how we measure student growth and success, and how we can better support all students. What do you think? I think it’s time to pop the top off this inclusion can of worms.


Breaking At #BIT16: My Self-Regulated Conference Experience

Last night, I returned home from the Bring I.T. Together Conference. This was the first conference that I’ve attended since finishing the Foundations 1 course through The MEHRIT Centre. I didn’t realize that this course would have such a huge impact on my conference experience, but it did. 

I started to realize this on Wednesday night when the Mega Minds on Media session ended. I was not as busy as I’ve been in past years — with visits at the table going in ebbs and flows — but by the time that the last person arrived to talk about Explain Everything, it took every bit of mental energy in me to find the words to engage in a conversation about this app. I knew then that I was drained, and I needed a chance to relax my body and mind. I quickly packed up and headed to my hotel across the street, and spent some quiet time unpacking and watching video recordings from my teaching partner and supply teacher, highlighting the learning that happened in class that day. These videos made me happy and excited about some new possibilities. That’s when I checked my tweets about meeting up with Adele to finalize our presentation for the next day. We decided to meet over in her hotel room. Little did I know that making it to this hotel room would be a 40 minute quest full of many stressors.

It all started when Adele mentioned that if I happened to have “crackers,” I could bring them over. I didn’t, but I hate to go anywhere empty-handed, so I decided that there must be a place to buy some. I called down to the front desk, and found out that there’s a convenience store a block away. I started heading there, but then wasn’t sure which direction to take, so thought that I could find something in the lobby of the hotel to buy. I found a Starbucks at the Marriott, and thought that nuts and bagels are kind of like crackers: they at least belong to the same family of foods. I bought them and headed upstairs to Adele’s room. I knocked … three times, no answer. Did I have the room number wrong? I decided to check my iPad, but realized that I forgot it back over at my hotel. No problem. I’d ask at the desk. The problem was that Adele wasn’t registered there, and I couldn’t remember the last name of her roommate. Aargh! It was time to haul all of the goodies back to my hotel and check. When I got there — of which, now it was 25 minutes past when I should have been in Adele’s room — I decided to take the elevator that I thought was closer to my room to save some time. It turns out though that this elevator went to the same floor as mine, but somehow, the hotel rooms on this side of the building didn’t connect with the ones on the other size … and I was now in a maze of hotel rooms, searching to find my way back to the elevator. When I managed to do that, I went down, walked across the lobby, and took the other elevator up to the floor. Then I found my hotel room, and thankfully, my iPad. Now I had a new problem: the room number that I went to at the Marriott was the same as the one that Adele messaged me, so why didn’t she answer the door? Thirty-five minutes into this hotel adventure, I write Adele again, and she says that she’ll meet me in the lobby of her hotel. That’s when I think back to a couple of years ago, and vaguely remember that there are two Marriott hotels right near each other. Did I go to the wrong one? I look back on the name of the one that she sent me, and I realize that it’s similar to — but not exactly the same — as the one that I see outside of my hotel room window. I get downstairs and ask the parking attendants where I can find the right Marriott. Their response: “turn the corner.” I do … and about 40 steps from where I’m standing is the hotel that I tried to find 40 minutes ago. 🙂 Can you feel my stress? 


While this story provided many laughs throughout the conference, that night, I realized how draining it can be to get lost in so many different ways. By the time that I went through the presentation with Adele and enjoyed dinner out with her and some other conference goers, I was exhausted. Dinner ended around 8:30, and I was invited back to the room with the others, but I knew that I needed a chance to unwind. In previous years, I would have socialized anyway, but on Wednesday night, I thanked everyone for a wonderful time, and headed back to my hotel (thankfully without getting lost).

Then comes Thursday: the day that I have two presentationsWhile both presentations seemed to go quite well, it was definitely a non-stop day full of way more talking than I’m used to doing in a day. Plus, the Bring I.T. Together Conference is full of many opportunities to socialize and meet new people in-person that you may have only connected with online. As I mentioned in a recent post on The MEHRIT Centre blog, all of this small talk can be a social stressor for me, so while I loved the opportunity to connect, I was definitely feeling it at the end of the day. That night, I was supposed to go to two different social events, but instead, I went back to the hotel room, watched some more video uploads from my teaching partner, and took a nap. I then went out for a quick and quiet dinner with some friends, and happily went back to the hotel room early to go to bed. I needed this low-key evening to help self-regulate after a very up-regulating day. 

Early the next morning, I caught a tweet from Jonathan So about his Ignite presentation that I missed the night before. That’s when I engaged in this Twitter conversation with him.


screenshot-2016-11-12-at-15-13-50 I realized that in past years, I would have forced myself to go out. I would have come back exhausted, and I probably would have struggled with learning anything the next day. By thinking about what I needed first, and giving myself permission to take the time for me, I was able to go into the final day of the conference ready to learn.

It was on this final day, that I realized that I’m not the only one finding ways to self-regulate. The second session that I attended on Friday was about tech-enabled teacher leadership. As the presenter, Camille, had us orally share some ideas with the group, I looked up and noticed a fellow educator, Kristy, crocheting. Watching her crochet throughout the session, I realized that this was helping her stay calm, stay focused, and stay engaged in the learning. I later had lunch with Kristy, and she let me take this photograph and share it with others. 


Our conversation with her over lunch made me even more aware that as adults, we all find ways to calm down during “stressful times.” 

  • We may choose to crochet.
  • We may choose to doodle.
  • We may choose to tweet (something that many people at this conference chose to do).
  • We may choose to catch Pokemon … of which, apparently, Niagara Falls is full of them. 
  • We may choose to journal or blog.
  • We may choose to fidget with our own adult fidget toys … which, as Kristy pointed out to me at lunch, was the toothpick that I broke apart in so many different ways.
  • We may choose to hum, to tap our foot or fingers, or to move back or forth in our seat. 
  • We may also choose to take a break or create our own mini-sessions, where we can enjoy some quiet conversation and maybe a little less cognitive strain.

Thinking back to previous years at this conference and other ones, I wonder how many times I was in a state of high energy and high tension, and if I ever tried to get myself back down again. Last night, I saw one of my favourite vlogs from Susan Hopkins at The MEHRIT Centre, and I realized how much I could relate to her thinking.

When you’re on this Self-Reg journey, it’s so hard not to see everything through a Self-Reg lens, and constantly reflect on how much more learning you have to do. As challenging as it can be at times, this conference was a good reminder for me, that to be at my best, I need to find some alone time. How do you take this time for you? What might be the benefits in doing so? May we all have those wonderful opportunities to learn, to engage, to socialize, and to take a break and self-regulate.