My current role at The OJCS is part time grade 5 teacher, part time Teaching and Learning Coordinator. In the latter part of my job, I work with teachers and help them plan, create, revamp or simply brainstorm things they can do with their class. Often, this coaching revolves around different technology tools and Now Literacies.
I consider myself a pretty patient person, and like to believe that I am a good educator when it comes to children. But when discussing my goals for this year, I wanted to focus my attention to the coaching side of my job. How can I best use my time with teachers? Should I allow teachers to make meetings with me as needed and support them that way? Should I be having standing, check-ins with certain teachers with set goals in mind? Should these meetings continue for the entire year, or is there some form of “graduation”? With the support of my head of school, Dr. Jon Mitzmacher, I’ve decided to build a module with set skills, time, and lessons around Classroom Blogs. Jon asked the question, “What needs to change in our teaching when working with adults instead of children?”
During my Principal’s Qualification Program this past summer, I read When Mentoring Meets Coaching, by Kate Sharpe and Jeanie Nishimura. My partner and I ran a book talk, and I would say our main takeaway was that when working with adults, there needs to be a mix of supporting, listening and sharing of your own experiences and expertise while still allowing for these professionals to make discoveries on their own and grow their own craft based on who THEY are, not who YOU are.
This makes a lot of sense to me as I reflect to my own mentors who continue to guide me. They ask me questions, they challenge my thinking, and they push me to come up with my own ideas and opinions around education before ever sharing their own ideas with me.
But what about when we are creating learning modules specifically for teachers? How should they be organized? What skills should specifically taught? And how can we weave those moments of self-discovery and choice into the lesson so teachers are not simply doing something because they have to, but because they want to?
I contacted Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano to see if she had any advice or books she recommended. As someone who coaches for a living and has offered many different online adult learning opportunities through Ampeduca, she was the perfect person to start with.
I will start with one of these books and share my thoughts once I’m done.
I can’t believe we’re already into our third week of school and this is my first post. I take it as a good sign that we’re so busy and engaged in class that there hasn’t been any time for an update!
But that doesn’t mean we haven’t been documenting our learning!
One new addition to our school policy this year is the soft launch of our Bring Your Own Device initiative for grades 4-8. Understandably so, there has been lots of conversation about what this means in terms of screen time for our students. I thought a good first step would be to show you how we’ve been using the devices in grade 5 to help enhance our learning. Technology is being integrated in meaningful ways, not simply for the sake of using a device. While we may have these devices in our classrooms, they are by no means being used ALL the time, and we are pretty deliberate about what they are used for.
First, we’ve made a few additions to our weekly classroom jobs. This summer I read, Who Owns the Learning by Alan November. In this book, he talks about the Digital Learning Farm, and how by giving student’s jobs within the classroom that are integral to the learning, they will take more ownership of their learning and become meaningful contributors to the class culture. This fit in perfectly with the work I, and a cohort of OJCS teachers did, last year with Silvia Tolisano. This matches our own OJCS North Star that We own our own learning. Therefore, three new jobs in our classroom are the researcher, the documenter, and the habit finder. The researcher helps answer our questions in the moment when they come up. I am the first to admit that there is A LOT I don’t know. In our classroom, students are curious and if questions come up we don’t know the answer to…the researcher will find it for us! The documenter captures the learning happening in the room and in the school. They take pictures and videos of important learning. This is great practice for when we launch out Student Blogs (grade 5 students did this last year, if you’d like to read more about it. The habit finder pays special attention to how we are following the 7 habits in our classroom, captures these moments and documents it for us. These will be great examples to share with the whole school at our monthly Rosh Chodesh assemblies.
Let’s see what some of our documenters have captured so far!
We were introduced to EdPuzzle, a place where we can watch videos and answer questions to check for understanding. These “flipped lessons” will most often be watched at home, but we did a quick lesson in class to make sure everyone knew what to do.
We also spent some time practicing our Math critical thinking skills by choosing a question to answer, solving it with our partner, and then documenting our thinking process on Flipgrid. We used the video feature and also the new whiteboard feature to create tutorials. By focusing on what we learned and what we found challenging, we’ll be able to use that learning for next time!
We also started reading our first class novel, Wonder, by R.J Palacio. We’ve already had some great discussions about friendship, acceptance and kindness. Even though some of us have already read this book before, we know that books are like gifts (simile alert! We also started talking about literary devices 😉). You can find something new each time you open it!
Finally, today students started watching video feedback from me on their first paragraphs. Using Screencastify, I was able to record myself editing the students’ work, offering tips and suggestions for improvements they could make. This personalized feedback allowed students to focus on the specific skills they are working towards, and make any necessary changes at their own pace. Afterward, one student said she couldn’t believe how helpful it was to be able to have the video open in the corner of the screen, while her document was open as well. She was able to pause the video at appropriate times and edit her work as necessary.
This is just the tip of the iceberg! It’s so exciting to see how much we’ve accomplished in such a short period of time. It’s clear that this is going to be a great year!
Here is our newest Blogging Challenge. Students will add to their personal blogs, and are challenged to complete as many of these challenges as they can! We will also continue adding work based on other activities we are doing in class. Students are always allowed, and encouraged, to post about things they are doing in school, in all subjects.
It is my hope that we will have a mini student led conference, where you will come into school and your child will walk you through their blog, including all the artifacts of their learning. More information on this to come.
Please continue to check your child’s blogfolio and comment! Remember to leave your last name off when commenting to help keep the privacy of your child. Asking questions, adding information, and offering suggestions are all great things to include in your comment.
And as always, if you have any questions or comments for me, please leave them below 🙂
As I’ve mentioned before, we often ask students to write a reflection on their work and encourage them to set goals for themselves. But do we actually teach them how to look at their work critically?
As I’ve been learning, documenting FOR learning can be really helpful for students to see and compare their work over time, to see where they have grown, and what patterns they’re able to uncover. Sometimes though, reflecting on one piece of work is important too, and it is a skill that needs to be taught.
As a Language Arts teacher, I believe strongly in providing useful, detailed feedback for my students. I’ve spent hours creating rubrics, provide comments and tips throughout their work, and hand them back in the hopes that they will read what I’ve written, take it to heart, and then apply it to their next writing piece. And what happens when I hand back a graded assignment?? The students flip right to their mark, ignore all the comments, and then tuck their work into the depths of their locker, where it turns into a crumpled mess, only to reemerge at the end of the school year when we clean out their lockers!
As you can see, I also added a link at the bottom of the document. This linked to a Google Form to scaffold the reflection process for the students. I got this idea from Emily Aierstok from Read It, Write It, Learn It, who also gave me the idea to highlight areas where editing needed to be done, rather than correct it myself.
With these three additions, the students had much more interaction with their work than they normally did in the past. They actually had to read my comments to understand why something was highlighted, they actually had to make edits to their work, putting into practice right away what they needed to work on, and they then had to think about their learning and then write about it to make their learning visible.
With this grading format and editing procedure, I was also able to personalize the feedback and goals for each student as well. While some need to work on sentence fluency and figurative language, others are still working towards properly punctuation and capitalizing their sentences. With the digital rubric, I was also able to link to tutorials I created for different skills on EdPuzzle.
So now what? At this point, all the work I’ve done with my students around documenting learning have been isolated lessons that relate to each other, but aren’t all living in one place. I think at this point in the year, the easiest thing would be to create Google Documents for each student, where they will add their work so far, and then continue to add as we do more work and practice around documenting their learning.
I am at the very beginning of my sketchnoting journey. I have never, not even once, made a sketchnote. At this moment, I believe sketchnoting is drawing images to represent ideas we hear about or read about. They can be connected in various ways to tell a story and document what we know in a moment in time.
I’ve seen people participating in sketchnoting challenges on Twitter, but I have not yet delved deep into it. I am intrigued by it though, as I am on my other journey of personalizing learning. I have students in my class who I think, with my current understanding, will benefit greatly from sketchnoting. I have a feeling as soon as I start, I’ll be infected with #sketchnotefever!
To introduce us to sketchnoting, Silvia walked us through her sketchnoting tips, all the while, we made our own visual representations using Paper by WeTransfer. It took a few minutes to get into my groove…but I’m hooked.
So, without further delay, here is my first sketchnote:
Looking at my work, I can say that I can confidently and thoroughly explain each image that I’ve drawn. I can hear Silvia in the back of my mind talking through each of these tips. I know that I am a visual learner, and I believe I could look back at this image and summarize what I learned much quicker than if I was looking at a document of notes. I can only imagine what this can do for some of my students…and so instead of writing those ideas…I’ve made a sketchnote of it!
In one day I have realized that I find this tool very therapeutic and useful.
Although I’ve written some blog posts both here and on my classroom blog in an effort to document my learning and the learning of my students, I’ve never consciously thought about the actual process of documenting. Today, some colleagues and I, who are participating in an incredible learning cohort with Silvia Tolisano, focused in on the three phases of documentation: Pre-documentation, During Documentation, and Post-Documentation.
During the pre-documentation phase, we met with Julie, a grade 3 teacher, whose class we would be documenting learning in. (In hindsight, I wish I had taken some pictures of this step.) She shared her goals for the lesson, articulating the learning she was hoping to capture. First, she wanted to see if students could answer open-ended multiplication problems. She was curious to see if the students could show their mathematical thinking in pictures, numbers and words. She also mentioned how it was a class-wide learning goal for students to work together cooperatively, take risks and show leadership skills.
As was to be expected, the magic happened in the classroom!
Many groups gravitated towards using pictures to start off when solving the problem. Eventually, these pictures lead to math phrases and equations. All the while, there was a lot of discussion between group members about what to write and how. Although they may not have written it down on their paper, listening in to the conversation was evidence that many students understood their task. There were some groups that chose not to draw pictures and used numbers instead. There was only one group that clearly organized and identified their thinking as pictures, numbers and words, even though their question did not specifically ask for it.
Cooperative Learning and Risk-Taking
I witnessed an amazing moment of cooperative learning and risk-taking. Something I’ve witnessed in my own classroom is the reluctance for students to listen to each other’s ideas and try them out. There is often a desire to have their idea listened to, their example used, their writing on the sheet, that they often miss the point of the activity. Watch how these two students listened and ultimately cooperated to come to a conclusion.
Although this wasn’t necessarily one of Julie’s identified goals for her lesson, I chose to focus on this for my own learning, as this is the lens through which I am constantly looking in my own classroom. It was amazing to see students working on different questions depending on where they are in their learning. It was also interesting to see how they tackled such an open ended task. They each used their own strategies, tools and voices to tackle the problem in their own unique way. As mentioned above, some used pictures, some numbers, and one group even used manipulatives to help demonstrate their understanding. When I noticed some responses that didn’t quite make sense on paper, I was able to ask these groups for further clarification. With this extra step, students were able to show that although their writing did not convey the “correct” answer, they were more than capable of explaining their understanding thoroughly.
It felt new and familiar at the same time to be documenting another class’s learning. The pre-documenting phase of this process is the one I have overlooked in the past. However, I see now that this important step in this process completely organized what I wanted to capture, how I would capture it, and even organized this post long before I ever put it into writing. I imagine this may be the step that many tend to omit, but I see its value now and promise to at least try to do it more often in the future 🙂
I have always been an avid reader. I think it’s in my blood. If you’d ask me to draw a picture of my grandmother, it would be of her sitting on the couch, or on a chair, anywhere, with a book in her hand. Her purse always seemed extra heavy when I’d pick it up, because there was inevitably at least one novel tucked inside. The many bookshelves, drawers and cabinets throughout her house were packed to the brim with books. So I think I come by it naturally.
Reading is what I always make time for as part of my self-care and well-being. And I always strive to get my students to develop their own love of reading as well. I wrote this latest blog post sharing the Book Tasting activity I did with my class. I wanted to share some resources with parents and students to help them find those “just right” books, that meet the interest level AND reading level of each individual child.
I created the following screencast, which was also uploaded to the blog, to walk parents through the process of searching for the best books for their child, or checking to see if a book is appropriate for their child to read independently, using Accelerated Reader Bookfinder.
I wholeheartedly believe that students should feel free to read what interests them. I also recognize that while some books may be appealing to students, the vocabulary used can cause frustration, which is the opposite of what one should feel when they read. With this tool, if a child wants to read a book outside their ZPD, they can always look for other ways of reading that book, such as with an audiobook or reading together with a parent.
I have made screencasts before, however never on a Chromebook. So my first step was to find a compatible program. I ended up using Screencastify which has a free add-on for Chrome. It was really simple to use, and automatically saves your videos to Google Drive.
I made a quick outline for myself before I started, yet after the first couple of attempts, I realized I needed more information and kept adding to my outline until I came up with the image to the right. This helped me stay on track and ensure I knew what I wanted to include in what order. Even with this though, I still needed to stop and rerecord multiple times! I decided not to make a script as I wanted to sound authentic and less like I was reading off a paper. I may try this though for the next one, as I’m not sure I was as fluid as I could have been.
I really enjoyed making a screencast. I think having the visual will be helpful for students and parents as they get more used to this helpful tool. It also serves as a good example for my students of how they can teach their peers about a useful tool or topic in a succinct, clear and simple way. I hope that when students come back from the much needed break, there will be a few risk-takers who can model screencasting for their peers.
January 7, 2008 was the first day of my first teaching job in Vancouver. I graduated with my B.Ed in 2007 and started working towards my Master’s right away. After being away from the school setting for a year, I realized the best place to learn what I needed to learn was to actually be in the classroom. In university the message had always been, ‘Take whatever job you are offered and then figure out how you’ll teach it.’ I followed this advice and spent the first 6 months of my career covering a grade 1 Hebrew class maternity leave. I was definitely less than qualified to teach this class, but I took the job and did the very best I could.
I continued to wear many hats with various names in the first 10 years of my teaching: Morah Melissa, the Hebrew teacher, Mademoiselle Melissa, the French teacher, Ms. Melissa the P.E, Gym, and Art teacher, the Tech Integration Specialist, Ms. Anders, the grade 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, and 8 teacher, and now finally, Mrs. Thompson, the grade 5 teacher and Teaching and Learning Coordinator.
No matter what the students have called me, and no matter what I have taught, I have always striven to be the expert in one area for both my students and my peers: learning. Looking back, I can’t believe how far I have come, yet at the same time, I still feel like a novice with so much to learn.
This year in particular feels like one where I have stretched myself and will continue to push myself to learn. There are moments (many, actually) when I feel overwhelmed by all the ideas floating in my head, the to-do lists, the trials, and the errors. I’m sure this feeling isn’t new, and I wish I had something to look back on to say, How did I do this before? And so this post was born! It may be 11 years late, but better late than never!
What have I learned so far this year:
DOCUMENTING OF, FOR and AS LEARNING IS IMPORTANT – for myself and for my students! (Thanks, Silvia) This is one that I know in my heart, that I have felt for a long time, AND have not yet figured out how to best do it. I have started to write a few blog posts on this blog, as well as on my class blog, and I have also amped-up my use of Twitter to connect and build my PLN. I’ve participated in some chats, shared ideas from my own classroom, crowd-sourced for myself and for my colleagues, and never stop feeling excited when I have a new notification about someone acknowledging something I’ve shared! But I definitely have not been doing all this as much as I should be. Fortunately, my Head of School, Jon Mitzmacher, has a blog where he has documented his own blogging journey, and I have learned from some of his first posts, just how far I can go. I have now made a commitment to myself (and added it into my calendar) to blog at least once a week. I know that this will only enhance my practice as a teacher, and will allow me to continue playing the role of the lead learner. Knowing that this is a direction we would like our students to start following, I must take the time to figure out just how to make it a priority so I can then help them as they learn to find the authenticity and value in documenting their learning.
PERSONALIZED LEARNING IS IMPORTANT – it’s not necessarily easy to do at first, and I’m not great at it yet, but I am committed to figuring it out! I started by trying to understand who my students were as learners, and to help them to understand themselves to know exactly what they need to be successful. It was important for me to first build an environment in my classroom where students knew that being “different” was actually normal, and that fairness has absolutely nothing to do with being equal. This info-graphic from Brookes Publishing really helped me explain the concept to students in a way that made sense to them. Next, it was about creating opportunities in my classroom where students had more voice. I attempted to make Must Do, May Do lists in my math class, but after listening to these videos from Learning Personalized (this site has been a wealth of information for me throughout my learning journey as a whole), I realized that as the teacher, I still had too much of a role in what the students were doing. I am definitely differentiating, which is important, but students still do not have as much of a say in WHAT they learn, and HOW. The closest I have come has been introducing Genius Hour to my class, and they LOVE IT. Even though they know we only do Genius Hour on Wednesdays, they ask on a daily basis if we can do it during class. Today my students earned a class party as part of our Gotcha! reward system (I’ll have to write a post about this soon) and guess what they chose to do during their free time?…work on their Genius Hour Projects! They are interested, motivated, self-directed, reading, writing, creating, documenting and reflecting (on flipgrid) and *gasp* learning!
So where do I go from here?
I need to stick to my blogging goal. Not just for now, but for always.
I need to continue building my own understanding of what personalized learning looks like, sounds like, and feels like. I need to find out what I am holding onto from more “traditional” teaching or what the system I work in is holding onto, so I can better understand what needs to stay and what can go to make room for personalized learning. Math really seems to be the class where I am struggling the most. I imagine letting go of ‘teaching by the unit’ has something to do with it, but I need to research more, try more, fail more, and crowd-source more. I can imagine nothing better than students coming into every class, every day, with the same excitement and enthusiasm for every task as they currently do for Genius Hour. That’s when I’ll know that I’ve been successful…and I can’t wait!
I feel like I’m on a learning Merry-Go-Round. I learn something new, I apply it to my teaching, I reflect on it, I show my students my reflection, they share their thoughts with me, I learn something new, I apply it to my teaching, I reflect on it…and so on and so forth.
My “AHA” moment this week was after our first Math test. As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been trying to personalize learning in my classroom as much as possible. I attempted to that for our math test as well, in the best ways I could think of. I differentiated the questions and ways of responding for each student, I pre-recorded all the questions on the test for my auditory learners, I provided manipulatives, charts and other visuals for kinesthetic and visual learners. We had quiet spaces where students could work, I thought I had it all figured out.
After the students got their test back, I asked them to reflect on their learning and how they experienced writing the test. I got some excellent feedback that I hadn’t considered before. One of my students, whose first language is not English, commented that although he understands the math very well, the non-math language used in some of the questions was confusing. Another student told me that she learns best when she can talk things through out loud for herself and was wondering if an environment could be available to her the next time she writes a test.
As I’ve been on this journey of making my class personalized to each of my students, there have been many moments when I’ve been overwhelmed by the thought of needing to come up with all the different pieces for each individual child. But now I realize that by modeling my own needs and discoveries, my students are feeling more comfortable and able to identify and ask for their own needs and discoveries, which in turn makes my job so much easier because I am becoming less and less responsible for coming up with the ideas on my own…AHA!
My next step in my wonderful world of Personalized Math is providing an assortment of open ended math tasks (thanks to Marian Small‘s Open Questions for the Three-Part Lesson) and will be guiding students to choose the questions that will help them learn what they need to learn, and will allow them to show what they know in a way that matches who they are as a learner.
As I’ve been working towards personalized learning in my classroom, Math is the area where I’m struggling the most to ensure that I’m reaching each student at the place where they are as individual learners. While doing some research, I found Jennifer Gonzalez, from The Cult of Pedagogy, who suggested playlists, and All About 3rd Grade Blog, who suggested a Must Do May Do list. I took this idea first, and gave each student a personalized calendar with the tasks they “Must Do” on a particular day, after which they can choose the May Do task of their choice. As they LOVE Prodigy Game, they often choose to do that, and I feel like I’ve won the teacher lottery with that one!
While the students work on their Must Do May Do, I am able to conference with individual or small groups of students on more targeted skills and teaching. In the first few classes, these one on one sessions were often interrupted by other students who needed help with their task. A few things occurred to me; 1) the tasks are not level appropriate for that student; 2) the students aren’t comfortable problem solving on their own; 3) the students don’t realize that their peers can be helpful resources to them. No matter the reason, I was responsible for “fixing” the problem. As a class, we came up with solutions for times when they don’t know what to do on their Must Dos.
Read the instructions/problem/question again. Maybe it will become clearer
Ask someone else in the class if they can help you (good ol’ Ask Three Before Me)
Make a note for yourself that this is something you may need clarification on when it comes time for your one on one time with the teacher
Look it up online and see if there’s a video, or something else you can use to help you understand
These are all the real life, true skills they’ll need later in life. Giving up on the first go won’t get anyone very far.
After speaking with Silvia today, she brought up the point that personalized learning isn’t about the teacher creating 15 different lessons for each of my 15 students. The goal is to have students who are self-directed and self-motivated, who are able look at what they need to learn, decide on the tools they’ll need in order to learn it, and go for it! This is the route I’m exploring to discover! My students really enjoy the Must Do May Do list. So as not to throw the baby out with the bath water, I’m thinking it will be worthwhile to involve the students more in the making of the Must Do May Do list. I attempted to have choice in the lesson during the May Do portion, but that’s not where the magic happens. Students need to be the ones to choose the Must Dos – the lessons that are going to help them learn what they need to learn. With this new realization, I’m excited to see how this will evolve!