Could We All Come To Love Report Cards?

It’s report card season in Ontario. It’s also Communication of Learning time. There’s a significant difference between the two, and it’s this very difference that makes me always call what I’m writing, Communications of Learning, even if these longer words don’t roll off the tongue as nicely as reports. While I’ve blogged about the differences between the two before, this post is about more than that. 

Not that long ago, I had a wonderful conversation with some colleagues about Communications of Learning. These educators are not Kindergarten teachers, and they mentioned the concerns that I actually blogged about last year during my first Communication of Learning writing experienceWhile I was overwhelmed with the amount of time it took me to write them in February 2017, looking back now I will say that the extra time is worth it when what we’re writing ends up truly reflecting the child. Imagine if you could write a report card …

  • that doesn’t include edujargon.
  • that doesn’t make you question if you used the right qualifier, or even need a qualifier in the sentence.
  • that actually makes you picture the child in your head as you read it.
  • that isn’t about what the child can’t do, but celebrates what they can.
  • that can include examples such as climbing trees, finding worms, playing in the mud, and problem solving how to catch a bumblebee.

I know that our Kindergarten Program Document with the use of the Four Frames, and a Communication of Learning that does not include marks, allows me to easily put the child at the centre of the learning. It makes reporting truly about each kid. But what if I ever did go back and teach another grade? Could I come to love the Grade 1-8 report card format as much as I love the Communication of LearningMaybe I’d be lucky enough to have some updated curriculum documents at my disposal, and maybe even less of a focus on marks, but even if I didn’t, I think that I’d have to find a way to merge the two formats. Nothing prevents teachers from personalizing comments, from including specific examples, and from making the wording parent-friendly. In fact, all three of these things are often encouraged. I realize that with fewer lines, smaller boxes, and more expectations, this is a challenge. What is possible though? We can let the problems prevent us from trying, or we can find a way to work past these problems. I’d prefer to do the latter. What about you? Imagine if report card time could truly become enjoyable for all educators.


Decoding, Comprehension … And What Else?

As many of my blog readers know, I’ve struggled with reading assessments in the past. I’m not always convinced that a formal assessment is better than the day-to-day observations and conversations that we have with kids. I truly believe that we know where our kids are at in terms of reading levels, and as I’ve sat down to do more formalized assessments with kids lately, the standardized data is definitely aligning with our day-to-day documentation. While there were no surprises in terms of the scores, my surprise came in the form of something else this year. 

A few days ago, I sat down to do a reading assessment on a child. Instead of selecting the level of text for the child, I gave him three texts to choose from: one that I thought would be slightly too easy, one that I thought was just right, and one that I thought would be slightly too hard. I asked him to look through all three and choose the text that he thought would be “the hardest one that he could read independently.” One of the questions on the DRA scoring sheet is if the text was “teacher or student selected.” I think it’s important for kids to be able to self-select books, so if there’s time to do so, I prefer an approach where children try to pick the book that they think is right for them. I’m always curious to hear how they reach their decision. In this case, the child sat down and look at the words. He scanned the pictures and the amount of text on each page. Then he told me about which book he thought was easiest and which one he thought was hardest. He felt as though he could read “the hardest book.” We started with this one then. I went through the previewing questions with him, and then he started reading.

In theory, this child was right. He read most of the words correctly, self-corrected some errors, and on the scoring page made it into the “independent level.” His reading was choppy though. He picked up speed as he started to read more, but his fluency was more word-by-word or in short phrases. I wondered about his comprehension, but he did have fantastic retell. When I asked him to make a connection to the text, he told me, “I can make one, but it’s not very good. I can make a much better connection to this book.” That’s when he pointed to the one that I thought was at his independent level. Now I had a decision to make. I could have just scored him on this level and moved onto another child, but I really felt as though he would meet with more success at the level below. Should I have him read another text? 

This is when I thought of how we decided on the book in the first place: I got him to do so. I did the same thing now. I asked him, “Would you like to read this book?” He enthusiastically said, “Yes,” so I replied, “When you do, I want you to think about which book is a better fit for you. We can talk about this afterwards.” He agreed. The child read this next book with far better fluency and fewer errors. He was still in the independent level, but with a slightly higher score. This is a student that always pushes himself to do more and be better, and I wondered if the draw to the harder text would make him select the other book as the better fit. Technically, I could have assigned him this higher level, but my gut said that the second book was the right one for him. Both texts were above the benchmark level for Kindergarten, and his next steps remained largely the same, with increased sight word knowledge and higher level comprehension skills being the key areas for support. In the end, how much does the level really matter?

When he finished reading though, and we went through the comprehension questions together, I asked him my question from before: which book is a better fit for you? He thought for a minute and said, “The second one. I could read both, but my reading was slower with the first book, and I really had to work on it. I could also connect much better with the second book. I think I’m almost there, but this last book is a better one for me.” Wow! What a great understanding of his strengths and needs. I was so moved by what he said, that I wrote his words down as soon as he finished so I wouldn’t forget them. 

This is a child that gets it. This young child — this kindergartener — knows where he’s at and what he needs to do to move forward. He made me realize that as we work with students on decoding and comprehension, we cannot forget about the importance of metacognition and reflection. As our youngest students develop their reading skills, we also need to continue to build their thinking skills. There’s not always going to be an adult there to pick the book, tell the next steps, and set the program. As our Kindergarten Program Document explicitly states, we need to view the child as “competent and capable of complex thought.” This reading experience, to me, was a perfect example of this. Kids regularly do amazing things, and when we believe in them, support them, and develop their thinking and self-reflection skills, even more children can do what this child did. 

How do we support the development of decoding, comprehension, metacognition, and reflection? Do we always remember to listen to kids enough to find out just how much they do know? I’ve done the DRA, or similar reading assessments, for too many years to count, but never before have I asked the question that I asked this child on Wednesday. I wonder how much I could have learned if I did so more often, but I also wonder, if before this year, I always provided the conditions to make this kind of answer the one that I would have received. I can’t change what I did in the past, but I can change what I do — and how I teach — from now on. What about you?


Are There Times When Even Adults Choose Not To Comply For The Sake Of Self-Reg?

While most of my professional blogging happens here, I also enjoy sharing monthly blog posts on The MEHRIT Centre’s blog. Back in March, I was inspired to blog there after an experience in our music class. I have music as one of my prep periods, but due to a lack of additional rooms, the music teacher comes into the classroom to run her program. Music happens at the end of the day twice a week, and I usually use this time to sit over at the eating table and upload documentation. On this particular day, I noticed three children that chose to remove themselves from the program. Music is usually quite loud and exciting, and while the students love the regular songs and dances, sometimes it’s too much for a few of them. Sitting out, watching, listening, quietly clapping along, and even reading and writing instead, seemed to be calming options for these children. While I loved, and appreciated, that our music teacher realized what these students needed and respected their decisions, I wondered if not complying would always be seen as a self-regulated choice. There is quite a discussion in the comments on this blog post, and it’s one of these very comments that inspired my post today.

Cheryl, the commenter, shared a concern that I think is quite a common one.

Both Stephanie and I replied, explaining how these kinds of choices at such a young age may not necessarily impact on adulthood. 

While I stand by what I shared here, an experience from the other day has me wondering if there’s even more to add to this discussion. On Thursday, we had the opportunity to have Groove EDGEucation come and visit our school. While Groove worked with classes all day long, after school, the dance instructor worked with the staff. We all got to “groove,” just as the kids did. I’m not going to lie: this was a very dysregulating experience for me. Even though I said aloud the comment that everyone else made, “I can’t get it wrong,” I still felt as though I could get it wrong. I’m not a confident dancer.

  • I find it a challenge to keep with the beat.
  • I was afraid that I wouldn’t know all of the moves.
  • I worry about everyone looking at me. 
  • And the stress is just compounded by being so close to everyone else.

In the classroom, with kids, I can happily dance and have fun with music, but it’s different in a room full of colleagues. I tried though.

  • I kept near the back of the room. 
  • I stayed near my teaching partner, Paula, who knew that this was a challenge for me and was incredibly supportive. Talk about an awesome co-regulator!
  • I made some jokes and shared some laughs. This always makes me feel better.
  • And I tried to give myself a little space … I think this helped me breathe!

But then we got to the part of the dance where we have to “swing our partners.” Ahh!! First of all, the directional component to this worries me. This is something that I really could “get wrong!” Then there’s the fact that swinging around in circles makes me feel dizzy. I worked at it. I swung around with two partners … and didn’t hit anybody or anything. Then though, I moved to the sidelines. 

  • I took a drink of water.
  • I watched from the corner.
  • I still shared a few laughs with friends.

Like the kids in our class though, I opted out, and just like them, this was the self-regulated choice for me. As adults, we actually opt out all the time.

  • We send text messages and emails in meetings.
  • We step out of the room to make phone calls.
  • We sit in the lunch room, but read a device, write a note, or even look at a book.

This opting out may not look the same as it did in our Kindergarten class, but it’s still a way of self-regulating, giving ourselves a break, and doing what we really do need to do for us. Now some may argue that these are “rude choices,” and maybe at times, they are. But is this something that we also might need to re-frameFor when many of us choose to make these decisions, we do so — whether intentionally or not — to find the calm that we need to tackle our next big challenge or to exist happily within the space where we’re at. 

I’d like to think that I’m a “functional adult” because of some of these very choices, and on Thursday, I think a bit of my own opting out was exactly what I needed to do. What about you? Even as this fabulous TEDx Talk implies, the look of self-regulation may vary as we grow up. Maybe not complying is still a good option at times, but just in a different way than our four- and five-year-olds chose to do so. Are there times when, even as an adult, you also choose “not to comply” for the sake of Self-Reg? I guess the troublemaker in me continues to exist.


DPA, Self-Reg, And Transitions: How Do You Marry It All?

This is not a post full of answers, but instead a way to share questions/wonders, and hopefully start an important discussion. It’s a conversation that I began yesterday morning with an individual at school (I’m not going to name this person here, as I didn’t ask for permission first), followed later by a discussion with my teaching partner, Paula: another person that I really respect. I decided that my goal for this year is “questioning,” and maybe blogging about this topic is a way to voice my questions, and hear various perspectives. My wonders stem around the connection between DPA (Daily Physical Activity), Self-Reg, and transitions.

I started doing some of this thinking on Thursday, when our whole school had the opportunity to partake in a Groove EDGEucation experience. As I was observing the children dancing, I found it interesting to watch those that were participating, and those that eventually sat out. 

  • Why did they do so?
  • Was this demonstrating their ability to self-regulate?
When the noise became too much, some children sat around the outskirts of the gym and plugged their ears. Our instructor was fantastic though, and when asked, she turned the volume down, which helped reduce this stressor for kids. It was interesting to watch when some children chose to go to the sidelines. It tended to be during more exciting dance times, when the desire to get silly with friends became too much. I found it amazing that at the times when Paula or I were tempted to go and speak to a child, that child actually removed him/herself. Did the child know that a break was needed? That said, by sitting at the sidelines, kids could also re-enter as desired. Many did … especially as the music and movement started to calm a bit. When it was time to do some body poses, and then cool down at the end, everyone was involved again.

Thinking then about Self-Reg and the need for Daily Physical Activity (DPA), how might Groove connect — or not connect with both? My wonder stems from the fact that Shanker’s Self-Reg is so personal: what dysregulates one person, might calm another. The ability to move and express themselves through dance was fantastic for some of our kids. They stayed involved the entire time, and even though our outdoor learning time was cut short on this day, they came back to the classroom calm. For others though, the opposite was true. A few children actually had to engage in Self-Reg — from creating with the plasticine to reading a book — before they could join the morning meeting time. And here is where I’m stumped, for students in Grades 1-8 are supposed to have 20 minutes of DPA a day, but …

  • How do we meet the diverse needs of kids within this 20 minute time frame?
  • How do we get heart rates up, without dysregulating our students and negatively impacting on their other learning time?
  • Within this 20 minute time frame, how do we gradually reduce the type of strenuous activity that we provide for kids, so that when we transition to a more sedentary activity, they can also complete it successfully?
  • How do we work in these 20 minutes without providing too many quick transitional times that can further dysregulate our neediest of students?
  • How do we also make DPA part of our regular schedule — in a regular way — so that the consistency of it also helps reduce the stress for our learners? Routines matter …

In my conversations yesterday morning, I wondered about providing options. Could we have various types of DPA options available for kids, so that they can choose what works best for them? If needed, we could also support them with making this choice. Maybe connecting with some other educators might assist us with providing more of these options. We could even try mixing the groupings of kids. But this does not address the need for an additional transition due to this 20-minute time frame. As a Kindergarten educator, I can’t even imagine adding in this kind of quick transition, and even when I taught Grade 5 and tried to reduce transitions, I would have struggled with adding in such a short one. So what then?

Please don’t get me wrong: I see the need for and value of this movement. Our class is outside for almost 1 1/2 hours every day, rain, snow, or shine. We embrace it all! And our kids spend at least 20 minutes engaged in this type of big, heart-raising, gross motor play, including many opportunities to run and climb. Our situation is different though. With our longer time outside, the transitions between this active play and calmer play can be more gradual, but this is certainly an easier option to consider in Kindergarten. What about in other grades?

This thinking led to some of my other wonders.

  • In classrooms with more flexible seating options, which might include exercise balls and stationary bikes, how does this connect with DPA? Does this sometimes change the need?
  • What about at times when we read kids wrong? Sometimes we consider DPA when we notice children getting restless or becoming more energetic, but do they need to get their energy out or is this when Self-Reg is necessary? How do we decide?
  • DPA often seems to be shown as a full-class activity, but what if there was a space in the room where DPA could always exist? I remember reading some tweets about when Maria Marino, a teacher in our Board, collaborated with her students to help design a gym in their Grade 1/2 classroom. This made me wonder, what if we created spaces in our classroom for this type of active movement as required? Maybe these spaces even include an iPad with earphones for some dancing options. They could also include some Yoga cards or Brain Break resources to help children quiet back down after moving around. What if there was a time timer in here, so kids could set the timer for 10 minutes and see it counting down? The thinking is that every child needs two, 10 minute sessions in this space during the day. Students could choose the times when they require it. It’s kind of like what we do with our open lunch table: if our Kindergarten children can choose two times to sit down and eat, then it stands to reason that older students could do the same when it comes to exercise. Then the movement in this space is more fluid. The options can be targeted for the different children. The teacher can help support this space as needed, but knowing that kids should become more independent as the year goes on. Then too, if some children need more time here, they could have it, or even group their two 10-minute times together. This might also allow for smoother transitions, and some high impact exercise that happens throughout the day. The location and support of this space would take some time to coordinate, but I see a lot of potential here. I also wonder if some of the recent DPA suggestions could be incorporated into this area. Has anybody tried something like this before and how does it work?

I know that we all want to create the best possible learning environment for our students, and I think that DPA, Self-Reg, and minimal, smoother transitions are all part of this. The hard part is making all of these things work together. I’ve never been somebody that backs down from a challenge. Please help me out here then, and maybe in turn, we can also help each other. My questions are numerous, the answers probably aren’t easy, and a solution might not be the same for everyone. What do you think? What have you tried? As the school year comes to an end, and it becomes the perfect time to experiment with a few new things, maybe we can all experiment and share together. 


How Do You Solve People Well?

Sometimes experiences stay with you. This is especially true of what happened yesterday.

I was on duty when one of the lunch monitors came out to see me in the hallway. There was a problem in her classroom. I went to the room, and I saw a child that was definitely angry and visibly upset. I know the student went, and his ability to express himself (through words) is a challenge, which often increases his frustration. It turns out that he finished eating his lunch, and he decided to draw a picture on a whiteboard. He had a green marker. He loves green! He put the marker down to go and get something, and one child took his green marker while another child erased his whiteboard. This was not intentional on their parts. They just wanted to draw a picture as well, and they thought that he was done. Imagine his frustration though when he came back to the table, and saw both the whiteboard and the marker gone. He screamed, and cried, and totally melted down. The child that took his whiteboard gave it back to him right away, but the other child handed him a different marker. It was green, but it wasn’t the green marker that he had before. He wanted the other marker. And that’s when he really lost it.

I went into the classroom, and got down low. He knows me, and he often likes walking with me in the hallway on duty. I thought that maybe he’d leave with me and go on a walk. “I don’t want to walk with you today!,” he screamed. “Okay, you don’t need to,” I said. Let me help you get the marker back. I asked the other child if he could change markers, and he did, but the student was still quite upset. I started to think about Stuart Shanker, Susan Hopkins, and Self-Reg. There was no doubt that this child was incredibly dysregulated. If I had him sit with the other children to draw, it wouldn’t take long for him to react again. I needed to help him find his own space. 

I thought that maybe he could sit out in the hall with me and draw, while I walked. “I just want to stay!,” he screamed. He definitely wasn’t going to leave. Maybe a table of his own would help. It seemed that he wanted some control in the decision, so I gave him a choice of empty tables. Wahoo!! That worked. He chose one. He actually sat down, wiped away his tears, and started drawing. That’s when another child in the class made the comment that I will probably always remember.

At that moment, I actually felt as though I made a difference. But then the bell rang, and the student broke down again. “I need to tidy up! I won’t have time to draw. I don’t remember what I want to make!” He was screaming. He was crying. He really couldn’t control himself. I told him that I had a prep and would stay with him. I said that he could keep drawing until he was done. I tried to get him not to worry about the bell, but he was focused on it. “My teacher needs me to clean up,” he said. I know his teacher, and I knew that he would understand, but this child was focused on the bell and the need to tidy up. That’s when the worst thing possible happened! Another child yelled, “Your marker goes here!” It was an innocent enough comment, but he lost it. He went running for the child with his green marker pointed out ready to strike him. And I got in the middle of it. I got down low. I went in for a hug, and he stopped.

He was still crying, but he wasn’t moving. This is when his teacher came back. The other children were off to another class. He offered for this child to join them, but he wasn’t ready. I offered to stay. The teacher tried hard to get him to explain what happened, but the child was just too upset, and everything that ever bothered him merged with this marker issue from today, and it all came out.

  • “Somebody broke my tower.”
  • “Somebody took my blocks.”
  • “[Name] broke my backpack.”

The world was definitely against him … or so it seemed

It was at this point that his teacher said, “We need to pack up your lunch.” The child shouted, “I can’t do it! The zipper’s too hard.” Oh wait! I could help with this. I sat down by his lunch. I started to zip. I got about half way, and I said quietly, “You’re right. It is hard. Can you come and help me.” He came closer, and we worked on the zipper together. “You need to do the bottom,” he said. We worked on this part as well. He was now sitting down beside me, and while he wasn’t happy, he wasn’t crying anymore.

I had my iPad with me, so I said, “Do you want to see some pictures and videos of my kids?” He replied, “You have kids?” I said, “I have lots of children in my class, and I have pictures and videos of what they did today. Do you want to look?” Oh yes! He definitely wanted to. He moved closer, and we looked at the pictures and videos together. We talked about what was happening in them. He really liked the worm videos, and wondered about what else our students could add to Worm City. I told him that he could help if it was okay with his teacher. I said, “We need some signs for the city though. Could you help with those?” He said, “Oh, like a stop sign. Or a hospital sign. I could make those!” At this point, the period was almost over, as was my prep, and the kids were coming back to class. The student told everyone about Worm City, and the teacher said that he would look at a time that they could help.

Worm City continues. They are working on the flow of water. Wyatt said that he needed some water for his mud. Trinity squirted out some juice, and said, “See: mud!” Then Wyatt directed her at where to squirt the juice. Some teamwork in action here! There were a lot of muddy hands and bodies here, but so much great oral language and problem solving! We want to bring out our sign book tomorrow with some popsicle sticks and sticky notes. Based on what they made today in Worm City, what signs might they add? I wonder if we can get a reading and writing connection here! Mya ended by proudly showing off that she was “the cleanest girl here!” Even my skirt was covered in mud, and Leah was pretty muddy too. I think that Mya was right! 🙂 ❤️ (Please note that we did a lot of hand and bottle washing at the end of this!) SWIPE ⬅️ FOR MORE. #ctinquiry #iteachk #teachersofinstagram

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As I stood up to leave, this child came up to me and gave me a big hug. He said, “You’re nice! I like you.” Less than an hour ago, he was yelling at me and angry at everyone, but some time to calm down and connect made a difference. It turned the day around.

  • Yes, I had a lot to do on my prep.
  • Yes, at the height of the problem, when our principal was walking down the hallway, I was tempted to call for help. I almost did.
  • And yes, while I offered to stay, I didn’t intend to do so for the prep.

But do you know what? That moment made my day! 

  • I made a difference.
  • I was able to help turn things around for a child.
  • And despite all of the dysregulation at play, I was able to see the incredible success that comes from Self-Reg.

Relationships are at the heart of Self-Reg. Yesterday worked because of the connection I was able to make with this child … and maybe when he needed it most. It was actually the comment from the other little girl in the class that made me stick with this child and with the solution. Maybe our job really is about “solving people well.” How do you do this? Thanks to this student who believed in me, and I think changed the end of the day for all of us. No matter how much school work I may have had to do, maybe it was this work with this kid that was the most important of all!