One thing I love about being a teacher in this online world is that I can connect to teachers everywhere! For instance, a teacher named Kelley sent me some lessons she put together, a product of a 3-year research project on learning skills in her school board. It came at the perfect time, the beginning of the school year when you are itching to try something new! What I found was that it fit beautifully with so many things here on ProDivas...the Problem Solving Steps in Mathematics, the Inquiry Cycle, that I had to try to put it all together. It also worked well as a Maths pre-assessment to see where my new class was when it came to Number.
This class also seemed preoccupied with finishing...for example "How many sentences do I need to be finished?" or "Do I have to fill the page to be finished?" I know it is all well-intentioned effort to do a good job on their part, but I thought this was a great opportunity to set the tone that we are here to learn, not just "finish"!
Below is a summary of our inquiry, with input from my new Grade 5 class during our first days of school. I am finding my new Grade 5 class to be delightful...they are a chatty and articulate group! I am anticipating a great year with them!
First off, this was a HARD unit to plan. This had been a mapping unit I did last year for How We Organize Ourselves theme. When I first looked at the unit plan, i saw that the central idea and lines of inquiry had nothing to connect it to the trandisciplinary theme. I did know that it had to stay a mapping unit....my solution was to really focus on how Maths came into play with mapping, since Maths is a system we use to make sense of our world. I had never done such a Maths focused UOI before, I was a bit nervous but it turned out alright
Finding Out was pretty teacher centred here. It was often an "I teach it, you practice it, I give you feedback" kind of thing. I did continuously try to link it back to the Maths aspect if this unit. I wanted them to see the connection between MATH and MAPPING. I found that they couldn't see the connection unless I showed them the Math in the textbooky, worksheety kind of way that they were used to. Then, I would say something like " You are doing THIS Mathy kind of thing so you can apply it to THIS Mappy kind of thing." Okay...I may not have worded exactly like that but that is the basic idea!
Eventually, we connected the Math and Map skills together in a T-Chart. I am still thinking about how to do this step of the cycle in a more student centred way....but then again, I suppose these methods still have a place as long as the purpose is clear to the teachers and students. It wasn't just busy work....I tried to make the objective and possible applications clear.
We thought we would Go Further by making sure we "got it" by working together to make a class map. The good old "taping the floor" trick came back again. It's fun to nudge the students with the right questions to make them think some things are their idea!
I didn't make a Sorting Out page.....I thought we were nailing that in both the Finding Out and Going Further. Also, we kept crossing off the Components of Maps list we made during Tuning in as we mastered various mapping skills. I could be wrong but I'm starting to think the Inquiry Cycle is just a guideline, not something that we have to chain ourselves to!
After we finished Going Further, the class was ready to make their own maps. They had been making their own at home and bringing them in...and also they always were practicing in their sketch books. It was great extra formative assessment, providing great chances to give feedback and tips. But now was the REAL DEAL! They had practiced all that needed to be practiced, found out all that they could! Now it was time to apply what they knew in Making Conclusions.
Before we could begin, we created our own assessment. It made sense to look at the Components of Maps list from Tuning In to base our rubric on. Also, dividing the descriptors by lines of inquiry really made sure we were hitting what we needed to hit. It led to a lot of lively debate. Think-Pair-Share was a great way to make sure everyone got to share their opinions.
I shared these questions below with the class before they began. They needed to be able to answer them in their websites once their map was complete. So, they needed to consider the answers before they got started. It helped to focus them. Also, questions such as "Why would you make a map of your bedroom? Don't you already know your way around it? Who needs that?" really made them think about the true purpose of maps.
I had the students look at all the pages I have posted here to answer these questions below. Action did happen throughout this unit. It was small but still showed that students were interested in this unit and were taking it home. Action included students:
I really wish I had included more GPS applications in this unit. Then again...this is Grade 2 and it was hard to find iPad apps that were age appropriate. I will look into it further. If you know of any kid-friendly GPS software or iPad apps, do let me know!
Altogether, I liked how this unit combined Math and Social Studies in a practical way. Also, combining Math into my UOI gave me loads of time to focus on reading and writing. When you integrate subjects, it really opens up your timetable! I got to do so much stuff in language that I normally wouldn't have time to do. It really sold me on the value of integrating subjects, it goes a long way towards that never-ending teacher woe of not having enough time to cover what we need to cover. A long way..but never all the way! If any of you have completely solved that problem, let me know how!
This is more of a "check this out" kind of post instead of the more practical stuff we divas are used to sharing. But I know I like poking my nose in other classrooms and I have reflected on classroom set ups before when I decided to ditch my desk. This one is particularly interesting and I thought you would think so too. A bit of background about this class before we get to the pictures:
At the end of the school last year, I am proud to say that I had a pretty strong group of little PYP inquirers! They were very adept at using all the lingo and had a well stocked toolbox of skills (well, at least I can hope!) So much so that I had forgotten that they worked really hard to get to that point. I was soon reminded that the skills that seemed so natural to my Grade 2's at the end of the year, needed some nurturing and focus at the beginning of the year. Thanks to the teachers that came before me, this new crop of inquiring minds is fabulous and more than ready for this challenge!
I wasn't quite ready to jump into a Unit of Inquiry yet so I thought I would spend some time practicing formulating questions. The class was excited to hear that they would be the ones coming up with questions throughout the year , but they weren't quite sure how to go about it. We started off by brainstorming some "question words." Once they got the hang of it, they came up with all kinds.
Now that they had the question starters, I wanted them to practice using them. I wanted something lighthearted and fun, something that was close to my heart and close to theirs, something that really mattered. The choice was easy......ICE CREAM.
I gave groups slips of paper and they madly scribbled away their questions about ice cream...while I milled about and dreamed of eating ice cream......actually I could go for some right now.
Anyway, we gathered all our questions together and I put them on either the THICK side of the chart paper, or the THIN side. After I read a question, I spoke about how I could possible find out the answer....some I just answered very quickly and stuck them on the THIN side. Every once in a while, I would allow the students to Think-Pair-Share about why I was putting some questions on one side and some on the other. Natasha once told me this sort of thing encourages concept attainment.
Some of the questions required a bit of elaboration and finessing to put them into either category, but at the end of it, the class came to a very encouraging conclusion:
" Thick questions need a lot of work to answer. There are many answers. Thin questions a fast and easy to answer."
Although I told them that both thin and thick questions are great, THICK questions help us find out the most. I will soon see if this lesson sunk in when I have them formulate questions for UOI tomorrow. After this though, I can't help but feel optimistic that they have a new skill under their belts already.
I was hoping to use a Prezi to inpack the central idea but you can't use Prezi collaboratively on the iPads. So, we did it in a more traditional way. I was pleased to see that the class remembered what "elements" of something meant from our last unit. I am noticing that using recurring vocabulary whenever possible and relevant in lines of inquiry and central ideas is very helpful! The student questions after this were right on track with my vision of how the unit was going to go...no surprises yet!
Many students thought that Drama and reading stories out loud had a lot in common. So, I collected a few videos of myself and some more illustrious personalities reading out loud. Robert Munsch is always good fun! Next to these videos, I included various dramatic performances. I tried to include a range of performances...silent performances that focused on body movements and facial expressions, minimalist stage and costume designs and some student productions. I wanted to see if I could challenge any preconceived notions of what "drama" is, I wanted to plant some inspiration and possibility for when the students would be creating their own plays. Also, I wanted the students to keep an eye out for answers to their tuning in question; "What are the elements of Drama?"
I also wanted the students to note what Drama and reading out loud had in common, and what may be different...I wanted comparisons, connections and contrast. Here are some of my favourites:
"When you read you do not move. But when you do drama you move."
"When you read you are exited. Also in drama you are exited." (excited)
"When you read a book you need a lawd voice." (loud)
"You need ikspreshon." (this is my favourite creative spelling to date...not a bad go of "expression" if you ask me!)
Afterwards, we brainstormed the elements of Drama the children thought were important based on the videos they watched. After we brainstormed, I gave each child 3 stickers. They had to choose the three most important elements from the list they brainstormed and put a sticker next to them. Some children chose to put ALL there stickers next to one element...and that was okay! I was surprised at how close their choices turned out to be compared to the elements of Drama stated in various books and websites. We seemed to be on the right track!
I've used this "sticker strategy" many times. It's a great way to refine a list from brainstorming. You can change the number of stickers each child gets and other rules (ie. you have to put your stickers on different points vs. you can spend all your stickers on one point).
Since STORY was decided to be the most important element of Drama, it was important to discuss this element in a bit more detail. All I did was listen to the children talk about their favourite stories and note down character conflicts....I was hoping they would pick up on this pattern. As usual, the class came through with a great definition of a what makes a good story.
This is where I was really surprised by my class. In my mental teacher pocket, I has the Creative Process all ready go for when the students were ready to start creating their own plays. However, a few students suggested that the Writing Process was a creative process (duh!). So, we talked about how to adapt the Writing Process to suit Drama a bit more. This is what they came up with! I was SO excited and a bit humbled....why didn't I think of this?
Anyway, even thought the students decided that SCRIPT was an important element of Drama...I wasn't sure how much I wanted to emphasize script writing. So, I cobbled together this graphic organizer to help they students organize their play. It was based on they elements of Drama they decided on during Sorting Out. I couldn't find one that I liked online so I had to do it the old fashioned way...scissors, glue and markers!
The class spent a lot of time creating their plays. They spent a LOT of time sharing and revising their plays based on feedback. One of the big lessons of this unit was the importance of spending time sharing and revising their work. Many students often blew through this part of the Writing Process, needing a lot of reminders and conferencing to ensure they spent enough time on these steps. This unit really showed them how important it was....it also made the connection between feedback and revising much clearer. It is a point that gets brought up again and again in our writing lessons by the class.
After they had spent some time making their plays and considering the feedback from their peers, it was time to think about assessment. I was wanted to include student voice in the creating of their assessment. But, I was worried if I had them do this too early in the unit, they wouldn't know enough to have the vocabulary to express their assessment criteria effectively. We brainstormed what was important and we saw that it connected to our elements of Drama...awesome! You may also note that our class favourite word is "relevant".
I took this list above to type up a checklist that the class used to assess each other's final plays. I also videoed their final performances and placed it on our class website with a online version of the checklist. That way, parents could also be involved in evaluating and commenting on the plays. The class wanted to have the largest audience possible and since scheduling did not allow a time for parents to come in and see the plays, the class was happy with the online option.
Based on how the unit went, I created some reflection questions that the students answered in writing and orally...I gave them a choice. I was surprised that so many children chose to write their responses...maybe they were tired of speaking out loud after 6 weeks of oral expression!
Again, it was a great integrated unit! I look forward to doing it again next year.
I've really enjoyed getting started at my new school and applying what I have learned with ProDivas in new Units of Inquiry. I was a bit spoiled for technology in my previous school...but my new gig had allowed me to start a love affair with anchor charts and have rekindled my romance with Sharpies! There is a bright side to everything.
I have also started teaching Grade 2, the youngest I have ever taught. They also are relatively new to the PYP and I was not sure how they would go with it. Turns out my fears were unfounded...after all, young children are the original inquirers of this world! What I will share are the summaries of how these units unfolded. These are meant for the children to use as they reflected on the unit so they are worded simply. They are also screen shots of documents so I apologize if it is not the clearest. Below each screen shot, I will explain things in a but more detail, and probably add a bit of reflection here and there...I never know how these blog posts will go! I wasn't sure how to format this so I took the idea from Kat Murdoch's "split screen" thinking. It will have to be a horizontal split so you can see the pictures better but you get the idea!
Before I split the screen, let me say that sharing an inquiry cycle with no white board to take screen shots from is HARD! Also, creating an inquiry cycle for Grade 2, with no projector/whiteboard set up was a challenge after having these tools available in the past! So, please be gentle with my first attempt! Also, I was conflicted about how much I was going to guide this inquiry...since it was their first one using an inquiry cycle, I took a bit more control than I would usually do. I laid off the Transdisciplinary Skills for this unit as well, I felt I was introducing them to a lot of things in this first unit and I was concerned if I started in too high of a gear, we would all be left behind!
I was not quite sure about this central idea. I probably will be revising it before we do this unit again. First UOI's are always some of the hardest for me, perhaps it has something to do with shaking off the summer cobwebs!
The class had a lot of fun trying to figure out how I came up with the Central Idea using the Transdisciplinary Theme. Even though the words are complex for Grade 2, they didn't need to understand the meanings of all the words to notice that words from the Transdisciplinary Theme popped up in the Central Idea. From there, I asked them if words from the Central Idea came up again in the Lines of Inquiry. That is why certain words are underlined here.
The discussion was a great way for the class to begin understanding how a Unit of Inquiry comes to be. Some of the classes observations after the discussion:
"We can't learn ALL about Who We Are...so we just do it bit by bit."
" Who We are is big, the idea is small and the line things are tiny, and they stick together."
The Graffiti Posters are a familiar strategy!
In the previous years of doing this unit, my new co-teacher had the children bring in items that the students felt represented aspects of their culture. I thought it would be a great Tuning In activity to see what they children already identified with and what was available to them at home already. Also, often the teacher brings in things to spark discussions at the beginning of a unit....so I thought it would be fun to have the students supply the conversation starters.
To start the conversation, we brainstormed question words as a class. We also looked at the difference between "thick" questions and "thin" questions (those that have one word answers). Students were them put in groups so they could practice their newfound questioning skills to ask about the items their peers brought in to share. It was a fun, relaxed way to get them to practice formulating questions.
Once we were finished interviewing, we shared the questions that we asked each other. Then, we sorted them out into thin and thick questions categories. I wish I had the anchor chart to show you ....but we had a ceiling leak down one of my walls and it was a casualty before I got around to photographing it! Sigh. But it is basically a T-chart...nothing fancy!
This primed the children for them to brainstorm the thick research question pictures above. We used the PYP concept of FORM to guide them to the question "What are my culture's beliefs and values?" This was going to be the question they would FIND OUT about in the next stage of their inquiry.
The Inquiry Cycle
Speaking of nothing fancy....check out my first post-tech inquiry cycle below. Two anchor chart sheets and a pile of tape. Yeesh. I shared this with the class so they could see where we were going. It's pretty battered because it got taken on and off the wall a dozen times, leaked on and the students pointed to it and fiddled with it a lot (a good thing!) I learned here that Grade 2 is not too young to share this sort of plan with them. They were constantly looking at it, referring to it and noticing connections to other things. This was my favourite...one of my particularly bright students notices something about the Tuning In, connecting it to Prior Knowledge (for reading) and PreWriting (the Writing Process)
"Tuning In, Prewriting and Prior Knowledge are what you do BEFORE you start something for real. And they are all red! I think they are all the same kinda thing but you just name them different."
Not going to lie, I almost died and went to heaven when he said that! I'll share my little "Inquiry Circles" at the end...they're pretty handy and are a simplified take on Kath Murdoch's Inquiry Cycle that the children can refer to.
The class needed to do a lot of research to answer their question. We brainstormed where they could get this information and came up with secondary questions that would help as well. Then, it was off to FIND OUT using the 3-2-1 Notetaking strategy.
3-2-1 Notetaking is an AWESOME strategy that Natasha (miss you girl!) showed me and I have used it with the students again and again. The brilliant thing is, it is a skill they can use over and over, across so many disciplines. It is truly transdisciplinary!
#3 Read a Sentence
When reading, make sure you go through a text a sentence at a time. Just one! Don't read more than one.
If you are watching a video, watch the whole thing. Then watch it again but PAUSE it. This is easier to do if the video has close captioning.
If you are interviewing, record the interview. Then PAUSE it to consider each point afterwards.
#2 Trash or Treasure?
Does the sentence you read/heard above answer your question? If not, it is trash! Trash isn't a bad thing, it just means it is not relevant to what you need to find out. By the way, the word "relevant" is the new favourite word for Grade 2 now. Everything seems to be measured by its relevance to something or other lately! It really makes it difficult for me to go on any kind of tangent during class discussions because I get called out for not being relevant. Ouch.
Anyway, if the sentence is relevant to your question, then procede to the next step. If you really don't understand the sentence...it's okay! Just trash it and don't stress about it. Keep the research going!
#1 NO SENTENCES!
If your sentence passes the relevance test, then note it! However, it is important that you do not use sentences. This discourages just copying the sentence from a text without understanding it. Notes can include pictures and diagrams too.
This strategy requires practice and modelling. I showed them how to do it using books, voice recordings and videos. Some children took to it very well while some needed a bit of extra help to get more confident. For this to work, the students need access to a wide range of resources at school to research from. Also, by brainstorming interview questions for families that linked to their key question, the children made sure that most, if not all, of their interviewing would gather relevant information from first hand resources.
Once the children had their notes, we looked at all the different ways we could organize our treasure. It was fun to have the children name the graphic organizers... they even noticed that the Inquiry Cycle was a type of graphic organizer. They called it a "topic wheel"...again, I almost died and went to heaven.
This stage was interesting...the children who did not take a lot of notes quickly realized that they should have used their time more wisely during the Finding Out stage. This showed up in their reflections after the unit.
This anchor chart, along with the 3-2-1 Notetaking anchor chart are permanent fixtures in the classroom. To help with wall space, I put them on the ceiling!
I am very lucky at our new school to have not only Music, but also Dance covered by a specialist teacher. That leaves Visual Arts and Drama to be integrated on my side of things...luckily those are the two strands of The Arts that I feel the most comfortable with!
Also, in class discussions, the children expressed an interest in creating a drawing to show what they had found out about their key question. We looked at the Elements of Art, focusing on Line, Colour and Shape. We had a lot of fun experimenting with these three elements. However, once the experimenting was done, we had to use the elements to represent the values and beliefs of our cultures.
We used hand silhouettes to focus our drawings...another awesome idea from Natasha (did I mention that I miss her?). I was originally going to do this using silhouettes of the childrens' heads...but I was starting to feel a time pinch so hands were smaller and easier. Next time, I will give the children a bit more time for Going Further so we can fill up a head or two!
Here are a few of my students' hands and how they explained their use of Line, Colour and Shape:
Now it was time to eat some food and present our hand art! Parents were active audience members because they were assessing the students using the checklist above. In class discussions, students had come up with this criteria by looking at the Transdisciplinary Skills of Communcation. It was the first time I had explicitly talked about these skills to the children. I wish I had done it earlier since they seemed to take to using the Communication Skills very well to craft their presentation checklist. Also, we discussed the importance of explaining why and how they used line, shape and colour to answer their key question.
We honestly never got there on a formal level! However, the skills they acquired such as using graphic organizers and note taking have been used again and again throughout the year so far. At first, I reminded the students that we have learned this in Who We Are. Now, they are saying things like "We can use a graphic organizer!" and "Ms Fitch! You are notetaking right now...no sentences!" This unit made me realize that Action is not always applying content learned in a unit, but also skills. I will be posting my next units soon....thank you for being so patient with me!
It's been awhile since I've posted. Natasha and I started the school year full throttle so blogging fell by the wayside. One way I started things off was by finally getting rid of my desk. The first few weeks of school I confess that I did keep my desk around, although it did seem to stare at me accusingly as I went about my day. Then, I finally dragged the thing out. It was strange, it felt like I was doing it on a whim, but the act was a culmination of months of thought and realigning how I see my room. I think the longer you let things incubate in your head, the easier it is to finally follow through on those big sweeping changes you want to do.
As soon as my desk was gone, all of the positive things I was hoping for quickly popped up. I was naturally circulating around the room more often. Also, I was firing through paperwork a lot more efficiently....funny how that happens when you have no large place to stack marking and admin work! More importantly, the space left from my desk is now filled by an inviting reading nook. My room has started to look a lot more student-centred and spacious, it is by no means perfect but I am quite pleased with it, take a look!
Another side effect of my desk getting pitched was I felt I was finally practicing what I preach to my students about how we share the classroom. I always told my students that we share the room and each other. There are no desks that belong to anyone, because we say be sitting with different people on any given day. No such thing as "my chair" or "my desk". They do have a personal drawer to keep their belongings but I have tried to keep the majority of the classroom space a completely shared environment. With my desk gone, it is even more so! I know work on the same chairs and tables where everyone else works. I even curl up on the couch in our reading nook!
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the window into my classroom. I do enjoy coming into it everyday. I was a bit nervous posting pictures of it...I underestimated how personal it is. I think I would be more comfortable posting pictures of my home!
I had an "I hate everything!" moment in my classroom and set out to purge all the excess that was blocking me from the lean, mean learning machine of a classroom of my dreams. Turns out, it was not as easy as I thought! Luckily, I had some inspiration to help me along.
Have you even seen that show, Clean House? It's a show where this helpful group of cleaners and organizers go to scandalously cluttered homes and convince the inhabitants to sell, toss and give away their excess belongings. If you have seen the show, or one like it, you can see out of control these poor hoarders can be.
When I watch the show, I usually ask myself "What is wrong with these people? Just get rid of it!!! Can't you see what a mess you're living in???" When these poor souls protest when asked to give up 3 of their 5 blenders (which are still in their boxes), I can't help but roll my eyes and feel very righteous....I certainly am not like that! Thank goodness for that!
Then....I came across this book:
It is a fabulous book. I haven't gotten through all of it yet but it certainly got me thinking. The rubrics inside are for teachers to assess their own classrooms and for administrators to take a look at the school environment as a whole. I liked how the book stressed that these rubrics are meant to enlighten and inspire teachers, not make them feel penalized. The authors gentle and encouraging tone makes me feel that they are certainly teachers who have made mistakes and learned from them and know that no one is perfect...the kind of divas we like.
Another thing I like are the "Ponder Boxes" that are scattered throughout the book. Here is one that grabbed my attention....the parts about my desk. This lone little ponder box really set the spring cleaning in motion!
These two questions hit me hard:
"How much room does your desk take up in your classroom?"
Hmmm....looking at my area of the classroom, I actually took up a lot of space...and I mean a lot. It hardly seemed fair, that one person could take up so much space when others (my students) where given so much less per person. Whose room is this anyway? That led to the next question...or actually, the beginning of the question really stopped me in my tracks.
"If you eliminated your desk....."
What? Really? I could do that? I had no idea! The more I thought about how I use my desk, the more possible it seemed. I have a laptop after all so it's not like I need a desk. Plus, although I have an unhealthy penchant for heels, I'm on my feet or sitting with the students most of the time anyway. The more I thought about it, the more it made perfect sense. Think of the space that would free up! Why, I should just get rid of my desk RIGHT NOW!!!
I realized that my desk was not the only thing taking up a lot of space...it was the stuff around my desk. Resources, books, files...just stuff. A dawning and gloomy realization came over me....I had too much stuff.
THE SOLUTION....well, the start of one.
To have a lean, mean, classroom machine, some serious purging had to be done. Feelings of tension, dread and mild hyperventilation ensued. I started to realize how those people on Clean House felt. I will never look at that show the same way again. I know what they must feel when they have to give up their collection of blenders. I looked at every resource, black line master, you name it... and asked myself these questions:
Have I used this during this school year? - No....then on to the next question:
Will I use this...like really? - This was a tough one. I had to come to grips with some feelings of failure. Centre activities I had meant to use, wonderful things I has found and were storing for the time I will be organized enough, good enough, whatever enough to get the ball rolling. Or that great, new thing I had tried to do that fizzled...maybe if the new, better me would try it again, it would be amazing! I had to be honest and brutal here and frankly, it sucked. Yet I knew deep down that these things had to go. As the host of Clean House often says "Take a big-girl pill and move on".
Can I get this/store this online? - Seriously, why...oh why...do I have so many copies of blank blackline masters that I already have stored digitally? That's like having infinite copies all available to you at the press of a "PRINT" button. So, why the need to hoard these hard copies?
Could someone else use it? - Yes? Then it was put in the resource room. No? Toss it.
If I got rid of this, what is the worse that could happen? Usually I couldn't think of an answer. Well, maybe "I'll have to find/borrow/buy a new one". Hardly catastrophic.
You know what? Once I got going, it got easier. I thought about it less, my "Keep/Toss/Resource Room" choices came to me quicker...with the last two choices becoming more and more prevalent. It was liberating! It was elation! It was nauseating.....I was getting rid of SO MUCH!!! This is NOT in my comfort zone AT ALL!!!!
But I did it. The next day, I actually felt giddy when I walked into my room and saw my new lean, mean space! The compliments from my colleagues were also heartening. The lingering feelings of loss and tension slowly, but surely started to lift.
After all that drama, I still have my desk...but I will be getting rid of it for the next school year. I am not ready to make such a change with only 7 weeks left in the current year. I also need time to process what I had done. It seemed so simple when I started...get rid of the extra stuff. However, it was emotionally exhausting! I really learned what was truly important for my practice and embraced the teacher I am right now, not the one I will be when I am whatever enough!
Her classroom is lean and mean! It made me think "I want that for myself! What's stopping me?"
Not only did the book she co-authored get me started, I had the privilege of attending one of her reading workshops recently. It's where I got the book! Her humility, and understanding that we are doing the best we can was so validating and encouraging.
Bonnie Campbell Hill
I have not met her personally but not only did she help create a great, approachable book, she also posted some wonderful photos on her website featuring inspiring classroom environments. The pictures are featured in the book as well. Check them out here!
This is a story of how my class dealt with the tragic events that have been happening in Japan. Having students in my classroom and school community from Japan, and having lived in Japan myself, it was important to acknowledge what was (and still is) happening in a way that emphasized the gravity of the situation, while allowing their natural exuberance and hope empower them to take action. It meant that many plans and activities had to be shuffled, or set briskly aside for another time. Yet I truly believe that the most important lessons were learned and the students exceeded not only my expectations of what they were capable of, but their own as well.
On the Monday after the earthquake and tsunami, I waited anxiously for my students to come in. I was thinking of two girls in particular....Nao and Jasmin. Were their friends and families okay? Would they even be here today? Would I be able to keep my mind focused if this was happening in Ontario? Probably not. I had only lived in Japan for 2 years but the recent events had shaken me. So, how could I expect them to listen to me babble on about double-digit multiplication? Could anything be more insignificant than multiplication today?
I was still struggling to find meaning in multiplication when my class came in. Well, they actually BURST in. They came at me all at once, talking at the same time, about the same thing. Tsunami! Earthquake! Japan! The class knew, they were up to speed, and they all had something to say about it. Above the fray, I managed to find out the Jasmin and Nao's family in Japan were all present and accounted for. Also, judging by their demeanor, they seemed to be coping well and were just as eager to talk about what had happened. I honestly couldn't keep up with them, I had soon given up on getting them to sit down and I already realized that my first lesson of the day would be loooooong gone....heck, the whole morning was looking like a lost cause at this rate.
I didn't mind so much though...mainly because above the chatter, I was hearing some wonderful things:
"We could make coin boxes.....like for Haiti..."
"...sell flags of Japan...."
"Why don't we have a bake sale?"
" ....I know! A dance!"
"Origami! Like at Jasmin's sleepover..."
"POSTERS! POSTER ALLLLL OVER!!!!!!"
It dawned on me that I had a little group of crusaders on my hands...they had the weekend to process what had happened, had already talked with their parents about it and were now ready to act.
The key was to get them organized or even better, to get them to organize themselves. I asked a few questions, I already gathered that they wanted to raise money but they needed to consolidate their plans:
What activities could we do to raise money?
The class had a catalogue of ideas. I quickly wrote down anything and everything they came up with.
Which of these activities easy and quick to organize?
Students had already decided that they wanted to help Japan RIGHT NOW. They felt a sense of urgency and agreed that immediate action was imperative. So, I stressed to them that elaborate projects that required a lot of rehearsal (such as a concert..which was suggested), although good ideas, may not fit our desire to get something going quickly. This question alone eliminated a lot of ideas!
From here, I decided to add my own two cents and suggest:
Maybe we can do a theme of some kind? I don't know....maybe a Japanese theme?
That further narrowed and refined their brainstormed suggestions, and added a few new ones. For example, origami and ikebana (Japanese flower arranging) popped up. I found out later that this was mainly due to a sleepover that the students had together weeks before, where the Japanese mother had organized these activities for the students to do.
When will the students of the school be available for these activities?
This was an important question. To get the highest level of student involvement, we would need to choose a time when they would all be free. I also wanted them to understand that volunteering and taking action involves not only giving money, but also giving time. This realization caused the students to suggest lunch. In the end, the draft of our fund raising plan looked like this:
I admit this is not pretty, it is raw! We had circled the ideas that we liked best and decided that we just couldn't narrow it down to one thing! Which is why we decided to do the activities over a week during lunch times. I was surprised and impressed at how adept they were at seeing ahead to possible issues and concerns in implementing their plan. I would like to think that this was due to a previous Unit of Inquiry they had completed earlier in the year. It had students running a business, they had decided to sell ice cream at lunch. Erin, one of my students, commented that our fund raising endeavour was similar and "Our class is the best to do this because we know what we're doing!" Comments like that make my day! Not only was she recalling a unit we had completed months ago, she was thinking of how it would apply to our current situation. So, we decided to make this fund raising a "Phoenix Cafe" endeavour since it was the logo of our previous class business. Anyway. further discussion and refinement brought us to that flyer below very quickly:
Before I knew it, our proposal was approved by our principal, this letter was sent out to parents and the following week, we were ready to go! The week was a resounding success, I was incredibly proud of my class and touched by the support from the parent community. Our class raised over $1500!!! Here are a few pictures of our whirlwind week!
After it was all over, I thought "How can I get the class to sum all this up? To reflect on it?" I felt that we had done so much, so fast and felt so many emotions over what we had done, and what was still unfolding in Japan. I decided to keep it simple. I thought of the "How To" poem that I had learned about during a 6-Traits Writing workshop. Sidenote: If you ever get a chance to go to a 6-Traits workshop..GO!!!! Here is the poem as it was given to me:
What I love about How-To poems, is they can be used for so many different things. As in this shark poem, it can be used as a Language Arts/Science integration...or Language Arts/Anything integration! For example, if you look at Natasha's blog here, you will see how she used it to make Promise Poems. These really focus on the writing trait of Word Choice and are a great way to review or introduce the concept of verbs. It is also a great way to challenge students by creating sentences with word order that is out of their usual comfort zone, while making them think of compelling verbs. After all, verbs are the centre of this poem format so they'd better be well chosen!
In my case, I decided to tweak this into a How to Take Action poem. To start off, we brainstormed what we did over the week to raise money for Japan...warning: another hasty, raw flipchart!
We pointed out what the verbs were and reviewed what verbs are. My class had prior knowledge about what a verb was so this part went very smoothly. After that, I introduced the How to Be A Shark poem and had the class see if they could figure out rules to writing this poem. They came to these rules:
#1 The poem doesn't have to rhyme.
#2 The sentences should begin with verbs, most of time.
#3 It's okay to begin with "Never" or "Always"
#3 It's a good idea to highlight the verbs in some way.
#4 The poem should be about 10 sentences long.
Once the conventions of a How-To poem were agreed upon, they set to work! Using the the brainstorm we did already, the students already had a bank of ideas to work from. They still managed to add their own thoughts and I was pleased to see their personal touches shine through. Take a look!
I found it a very interesting task, by asking the students to be concise and restricting the format a bit (as opposed to a straight journal task), they had to choose words that really mattered and resonated with them. I was also pleased to see some PYP Learner Profile and Attitudes creep in. On reflection, I should have reminded the children to look at these to enrich their poems. I bet this poem format would work with the Profile and Attitudes, "How to Be Cooperative" or "How to be a Risk Taker"...see, these poems fit with anything!
I thought this was a great way to cap off a successful week! I am always looking for different ways to reflect and this is now another tool for the reflection toolbox!
Before I start, I would like to begin with a disclaimer! From what I have read about Independent Reading, researchers are hesitant to give a complete endorsement of independent reading routines in the classroom. However, research has consistently shown that time spent reading lines right up with reading achievement (Reutzel, Jones, Newman: 2010). It's something that some teachers include in their planning, and some don't. I've always tried to schedule it in, but this year, I've been trying to think of ways to get the most out of it.
Research or no research, there is nothing more satisfying than seeing my class sprawled out over various parts of the classroom, with their nose in a some sort of reading material. I’m not going to lie, on more hectic days, 20 minutes of quiet, hushed atmosphere is balm for the nerves. I honestly think the students appreciate the peacefulness as well!
Independent Reading is where students read alone. In Year 4, most students have reached a point in their reading development where they can choose books on their own interests. That in mind, Independent Reading is different from, and provided in addition to, instructional reading. All students at every age need experience with independent reading at some point to improve their reading fluency. (Cooper, Kiger: 199) I’ve heard some teachers call it Drop Everything And Read (D.E.A.R) or Sustained Silent Reading (S.S.R.)
Students should be allowed to read anything that interests them, that includes magazines, comics, graphic novels and newspapers. I have given them tips and ideas to help them decide if a text is appropriate for them independently. Right now, I am using the “5 Finger Rule” that I have included here. I honestly can't remember where I got this from! If anyone recognizes it, please put the source in the comments:
Nonfiction books are a bit more flexible with this rule since there is a lot of content vocabulary in them. The decision we came to as a class is: Read a page and use the vocabulary cues (glossary, pictures, captions) provided by the book. Then read the page again following the 5-finger Rule.
Some students had a hard time choosing books they wanted to read. That is where conferencing came in. Most of the time, the problem was that they didn't quite believe me when I said "anything" was okay. Soon enough, the more reluctant readers where bringing in comics and magazines.
Getting these reluctant readers to branch out into chapter books was easier than I thought! The last 5 minutes of Independent Reading was designated for sharing. Students would show a friend what they were reading, usually pointing out their favourite parts or showing whatever interested them about the book. I noticed that the bookworms are naturally good at selling books to the more reluctant readers and soon, I noticed changes in what was in their hands.
I learned a lot about how engaged the students were (or not!) in their reading by eavesdropping on these short sharing sessions. Most of the time, I can get in a couple quick interviews with the students about what they are reading as well. After this, I gather the class together and ask if anyone would like to summarize and evaluate a book for the class. Students use the bookmarks that I mentioned in Eight Reading Comprehension Skills. I give about 10 minutes for this and it is rarely enough time to accommodate everyone who wants to present! If students present, they get a reading star to go on this chart:
If students prefer not to present in front of the class, they are welcome to write or create a podcast of their summary and evaluation. The class is also welcome to ask questions about the book. If they get a star, they also get a merit...which is our school-wide reward system. If they do more than the evaluation and comprehension bookmark, they get two merits! Basically, it is bribery to read but the students are enthusiastic and eager to share and recommend books...how can I argue with that?
The next question is "What next?"
Above is the format Book Club, where students are put into reading groups to discuss text. It is like Literature Circles but I use the Eight Reading Comprehension Skills as the structure for the discussion. Students were assigned a skill and were meant to come the Book Club with their assigned reading finished and ready to speak about their reading through the lens of the given reading skill. In the past, the text and groups have been decided by me based on ability. I plan to give it a try with student selected texts and groups. Currently, I have told the class that they have a week to decide a group and a book that everyone agrees on. Groups can be between 2 and 4 people. I have also suggested books that have multiple copies available in the class and school library. I am looking forward to see what they bring me this coming week. We will still be using the Eight Reading Comprehension Skills as a structure for discussion but I am going to ask them to assign themselves their weekly skill, and decide how much of the book will be expected to be read before the next meeting. I am a bit nervous about leaving so much of this in their hands, even with my guidance. If anyone out there has tried something like this before, do email me your suggestions and experiences at email@example.com or post them here in the comments! I will probably update this post soon as this experiment progresses!
Thanks for reading! Below are the sources I sited.
Leigh Ann Fitch
Thank you for visiting! I am a Canadian who teaches and lives in Oman. My goal for this blog is to improve my teaching by learning from fellow colleagues all over the world and sharing my reflections!