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!
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!
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!