Learning something new everyday!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Continuing to Reflect and Refine

It has been a long while since my last post for sure and there are several reasons, or just one... LIFE!
Things (professional readings, workshops, and my PLN) are continuing to push my thinking as an educator and therefor my classroom evolves to reflect my beliefs of what is important. Some of these changes are readily observable like the switch from desks to tables and pencil boxes to tool trays and others are less observable and more fundamental, like the move from well planned thematic units to trying to study my students and plan curriculum in response to their experiences and needs (emergent/responsive curriculum), or creating my own report card to communicate my student's learning in meaningful ways.

The need for reflection is strong, and as I'm learning, necessary for true learning and growth. It takes time and effort for me to remove myself from home life for some much needed "think" time. This year I'm working on taking that time at home and in the classroom. I've been reading much on the teaching philosophy in Reggio Emilia, Italy. It is beautiful and causing a fundamentally changing view of the child as an independent and capable individual, worthy of directing their own learning. This is very much a learning experience that I'm working through in my classroom. I'm currently participating in a series of after school workshops focussing on documentation as well as involved with a group of colleagues working on an inquiry project looking at how Pedegogical documentation can direct student learning and curriculum. This documentation requires effort during the day to stop being busy and observe the students. 

Here's what documentation means to me at this point:

  • Observing - taking note of "ordinary moments" (this has been our challenge from our workshop homework), recording them, interviewing the student about their thinking, reflecting on the moment, sharing the moment with both colleagues and parents.
  • Revisiting the moment with the class. I think this gives value to the experience of the moment and shares the learning perhaps providing scaffolding to students who didn't experience the moment.
  • Provides a "spark" to ignite further exploration or a problem to solve that becomes part of our social responsibility.
  • The spark or problem provides me the opportunity to weave in the curriculum in a way that is relevant and connected to student's experiences.
A recent "ordinary moment" documented…

This was a moment of unstructured exploration time where this student was concentrating on his building. I noticed he was positioning the planks differently than previously built structures. I sat and watched. As the tower became taller he drew the attention of other students who came to join him. I observed his reaction to the loss of his solitary experience as it became a shared structure. As the structure grew so did the noise. Then I heard him sternly command that everyone "don't shout because the sound vibrations will cause the delicate tower to fall". While I took note of his words and asked him to elaborate, not many of the 6-7 year old students did. I then grabbed my phone and asked for a further explanation to video. As is the case with all class towers, this experience ended with a truly "epic" crash.

I was excited to have witnessed this moment, but I was further excited when I shared the written documentation with colleagues who shared my excitement and encouraged me with descriptive feedback. They asked questions "Had I noticed …." and suggested possible directions for further experimentation using sound vibrations.
This moment has sparked our current investigation. We revisited this moment on video with the class and formed the theory to be tested as a group. Many students are involved in testing this theory. Results to date show that our voices (even at maximum volume) are not capable of crashing the delicate towers. Students are not willing to admit defeat and are committed to experimenting with varying "delicate designs". I am working on supporting them with good questions and soon new materials that we might see the effects of these sound vibrations on.

What I'm learning
  • this takes time, but is extremely valuable
  • this helps me know and connect with my students in deeper ways
  • I need my supportive group of colleagues to share collaborate with
  • students are amazingly capable of directing their own learning when given the opportunities and supported appropriately
  • I need to refrain from trying to recreate experiences of others' learning, but observe my own students daily to support their needs
  • I need to know the curriculum well in order to pull it into daily experiences
  • It is hard to take the time to let students experience the cognitive struggle to make sense of the experience and truly learn instead of me feeding them the solution.
I have questions

  • Is this type of documentation realistic in a classroom where time is precious and needs are many? There are things I don't get to in the day in order to spend time listening and documenting.
  • What is the best way to display this documentation that makes it relevant to students? I'm experimenting with digital methods (the Keynote app is working well), printing it and posting on walls and in folders in the class library.
  • Will these investigations come to a natural conclusion or will I have to move it along before it's concluded? Currently students are spending much time on them, but the learning is deep.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Listening to my heart

Two of the best things about my job….

1. Working with young learners 
2. Being a lifelong learner

It seems that I always have a large pile of professional readings that are reaffirming or challenging my beliefs about my practice. I am continually inspired by others in my profession and am so thankful for my PLN on social media, but this summer my readings have brought me to a quiet, peaceful sence of right. Yes, I'm inspired, excited, and nervous about the start of the new year, but I also have a newly found strength in my passion for the Reggio Emilia approach.
My current reading list
My newest readings
I have been listening to colleagues, Charles Jungclaus, Niki Leech and Sandra Succamore who last year took part in the "Self Regulation Series" in my district and I read Calm Alert and Learning by Stuart Shanker. Through these, I have  a greater awareness of the role of the environment on learning. In fact, Loris Malaguzzi, states that the environment is the third teacher. 

The common thread in all of these readings and works is the emphasis on quieting the environment and providing real, quality and natural items and tools for student use. The more I think about this and understand the philosophy behind it, the more I know in my heart it is right. When I look around my home I see a neutral calm grey on the walls and signs of nature in the plants, sticks, tree, wood, stone and fabrics. Why then is my classroom full of bright colours everywhere? Colourful borders on bright papered walls that interferes with student artwork, some store bought teaching materials and lots of plastic containers and materials. I need to quiet the classroom environment and turn to nature and natural items where possible.

The Reggio approach speaks about strengthening children's connections to the natural and local environment partly by the relationship created with the materials we choose in the classroom (stones, pine cones, shells, sticks, water, sand, light...). Another part of the Reggio philosophy is based on the strength of using loose parts for children's play and art. These items such as stones, gems, buttons, petals are more open ended and provide for greater children's creativity than some of the more commonly purchased materials that are geared for a specific use.


Sooooo... my goal, (as soon as I can get back into my classroom), is to edit. I plan on taking down my colourful borders, paper and commercial materials and leave the neutral boards for displaying student work and documentation. I plan on 
  • Editing the materials on the shelves (thankfully I have some storage room at home) to make space. Empty shelf space for the creations students make. Having a space for them highlights the importance of student's work.
  • Paring down the materials that are out at a time to make more space to move and collaborate. 
  • Replacing plastic bins with wicker and wood
  • Switching some plastic manipulatives to natural loose parts
  • Making some quiet independent spaces as well as large, collaborative spaces


I intend to teach through play based inquiry. I will set up some provocations and observe and listen to students through their use of and play with the materials. I will follow their interests and strengths and challenge them where they are at. I have many possibilities of where we might go in our studies mapped out on paper as this is somewhat new for me, but I intend to teach the curriculum through the children's emerging interests. Yes, I will still directly teach guided reading, writing and numeracy concepts. No, I will not teach thematic units laid out by me in advance as in previous years. I know the big ideas in the curriculum and will incorporate them into our inquiries, provocations and daily explorations.


This will be the most difficult task for me, I anticipate, because I plan on taking a large amount of time at the beginning of our year to listen, observe, and record what I see. I usually rush to get formal assessments done and start implementing my plans, but now I want to slow down and truly know my students first. I understand this will take time and knowing my own strengths are not in going slow as I tend to rush, this will be difficult. Yes I will still do formal evaluations to individualize student learning, I just don't want to rush into this. Possibly this will be easier because I am likely rolling over some of my students from last year in a 1-2 combined class.

My heart says these are good things and I am listening!

In preparation for the coming year, I have amassed more than a collection of reading. I have jars of sticks and stones and gems, flowers and leaves and petals pressing in my children's heaviest books, baskets of pinecones, and plants newly divided and planted ready for the love and attention of little hands. My family and friends have also been helping me in this endeavour. My husband has cut logs and drift wood for building blocks, made shelves and a light table, Hilary found some much coveted wooden bowls at a local yard sale, grandparents have donated baskets, fabric, jars, wood, and tiles. While this is an exciting start, I plan to have the children begin our collection with found treasures of their own and then add some of mine as needed. 

Now, I am anxious to hear your thoughts and get into my room to begin!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Embracing the chaos...

The thing about change is that it breeds more change.  We recently began renovating our "new to us" home and what began as a kitchen reno led to moving a wall and rebuilding a staircase and... you know what I mean.

Same thing in the classroom. Having access to some new tools (iPads and SMARTboard) has provided the impetus for a progression of changes in my teaching practice. As has been mentioned several times at my district's Engaging the Digital Learner series by Will Richardson , Suzie Boss and many others,  it is not good enough to do the same things as I have always done with the new tools.  If it looks like a worksheet in the app, or on the screen it likely is and is not making the best use of the tools available.

My classroom has changed much in the last 2 years and I have learned a few things...

  • change is messy
  • change is often chaotic
  • change is not always successful the 1st, 2nd, or even the 3rd time (ie: Fred Banting who discovered insulin as a treatment for diabetes), but is worthwhile
  • change leads to more change
I have become more comfortable with giving up some of my control on the classroom environment and learning to the students, I am adjusting to a noisier, more collaborative environment where students are learning from each other as well as others around the world. I am comfortable with having students making some choices for themselves about where they will work,
what they will work on and when. This means that often throughout the day my students will be working on different projects, in different spaces, at different times.
Yes, there are times when it seems like it is chaos.  Like when I am working with a small group at the writing table on their next goal and the wifi goes haywire for those posting on Kidblog 
and someone else who is testing to see if pumpkins float or sink spills the water. But students are amazing and are learning to help each other (we have 4 students who are our resident iPad experts) , 2 others who know where to find everything and so on. My students now know that if they lose wifi there are several options as we are always working on similar things in different ways. They are learning to solve problems and be persistent and take responsibility for their own learning.

Change is not easy or neat or clear. It is exciting and my students and I are loving learning!


It has been a long time between posts here. I've been struggling lately.   I'm struggling with maintaining balance in my life and with the parts of my life that are the most important. This is difficult because I, like so many others, want to do it all and it is just not possible.

I have my faith that keeps me grounded, my husband that is my voice of reason and my rock, 3 kids that that are my light, and a profession that I love. Beautiful right?  Yes.

My difficulty is coming to terms with the many pulls on my time. I am a wife, mom, daughter, sister, friend, believer, teacher and learner.  I love my job and I love learning. So, while I am passionate about sharing my learning on this blog, it does take time and I am working on how to make that time in my schedule. I want the same for my kids and my students alike.  I worry that today's children will have even more demands on their time and choices to make of what things/people get their attention. Therefore I want to provide for them a joy of learning within a balanced program. I want them to think for themselves and understand what is important to them. To be able to make difficult choices thoughtfully and to understand that each one of us has the moral responsibility to do the very best we can not just for ourselves, but for others too.

Children need to learn to make choices by doing! 

They need to choose which books they read.
They need to choose which research project is most important to them.
They need to choose where to play, where to work,  and where to read.
They need to learn to work, play, talk, and learn with others. To disagree, argue and solve the problem.
They need to lean what excites them and what is calming.
They need to identify their passion.

I am learning that they can and will do that given opportunity. Yes, some may need more support than others, but that is my obligation and opportunity as the teacher to scaffold their experience. I need to provide a few choices for some and allow them to make mistakes and then try again. Other students are able to make choices for themselves without me first narrowing the field for them. We learn more from our mistakes than our successes. I know this from personal experience, embracing the opportunities provided by our new digital tools have not come easily, but have been enormously worthwhile!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Using TodaysMeet

This week we tried a web site that I have used a few times before at workshops, but new to our class. It is TodaysMeet. We have been reading the novel Clementine by Sara Pennypacker, and I wanted to see what my students were thinking as we read. We have been practicing visualizing and making connections as we read and I wanted a quick look....

In TodaysMeet each student had an iPad and made comments during my reading.  The comments were posted in a chat room I had made. We had the "room" open on the SMARTboard to see during the story and students were encouraged to share their thoughts. Some students made one comment and some made many.

My students are 6&7 so I made logging into the web site easy by preparing a QR code for students to scan which sends them directly to the right site.

While I've heard a lot about QR codes and different ways of using them, I've not always seen them as the "best" option. They have seemed like a "gimmick" to me. Fun, but why? I like the "save to home screen" option on the iPads. However, since every time you set up a TodaysMeet you get a new URL that option doesn't work. So QR code is the way.

Guess what? It worked and not only did kids love the scanning, they got to the right site very quickly and were ready to go in no time. I've since used it a few times with the same results.

I used this site to create the QR code.

Because this was the first time using TodaysMeet with my students, I stopped various times while reading the chapter to let kids catch up their typing and read each others comments. When I finished the chapter we reviewed all the comments. Even my most reluctant writers and distracted students were successful.

We will definitely be doing this again!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Should there be screen time in the classroom?

This is a question that has been coming to my mind often this year and I keep pushing it to the back and continue on. It is not that I want to ignore it, I believe this is a valid question and one that I debate in my own home as well as the classroom, but I am not sure there is just one answer.  I was reminded last week by Bill Ferriter as he spoke at a district workshop, that using the tools available to us (what many refer to as technology today) should be about good teaching and what is best for students.  I try to be cognizant of this as I plan lessons and provide my students choices (to some extent) in the activities they do, ways they show their learning,  and where they work/who they work with. It is not about creating lessons for the latest tech tool, but rather which tool will best support the learning and connections of my students.

My students are 6 years old. They are energetic (13 boys / 7 girls). They are active. They can be loud. They are creative. They are impatient. They are sweet. They are demanding. They love to learn! They deserve to be provided the opportunity to learn in a way that is best for each of them in each circumstance. Often, but not always this involves using a screen of some sort.

  • We practice letter formation on the iPads, but we also practice on personal white boards and paper

  • We listen to authors and illustrators tell about their trades online, again we also look at paper books and have real authors/illustrators visit (though usually only once per year as it can be difficult to arrange)

  • We communicate with other classes to share our learning on google hangout and Skype. We have also used the 'snail mail' to communicate and arranged a face to face visit at our school with a couple other grade one classes from our district.

  • We share our learning and tell our story on our own blogs. Yes, this takes a commitment of time for grade ones to learn keyboarding and build the skills to navigate the blogging platform, but students help each other out of necessity (and a desire to share their story). Read hear about my first experience with Kidblog last year. We are currently loving the Draw&Tell app for the flexibility to add photo and voice at the same time. Students also have paper writing books that they record their thoughts in.  

  • We teach each other how to use the new tools whether they are digital or otherwise.

  • We use manipulatives to build and explore mathematical relationships and then students can record their learning on the iPads.

  • We use drawing apps to create art, but we also use a lot of paint, play dough, plasticicene, paper and glue, fabric etc.

I believe the answer is different for every classroom and each teacher and each student. It is about balance and choice. It is about knowing your students. It is about taking risks and learning along side students. It is exploring. It is asking questions. It is using the tools available to you.  There are many screens in my classroom, but I am always questioning the purpose of using them.

I would love to hear your opinions on the issue of screens.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Is it meaningful?

This post is more about the questions I am mulling over in my mind right now, than it is about sharing my learning....

A few nights ago I attended the third event in the "Engaging The Digital Learner: Going Deeper" series. There were a couple of teachers from my district sharing ways that technology is improving teaching, sharing, and assessment in their classrooms.Thanks @M1chelGagnon and Brette Galy. I  enjoy hearing about the great things happening in classrooms around me and am inspired to be creative and share as well things that are happening in my school. Later in the evening we were inspired and challenged by Bill Ferriter as he spoke about Teaching the igeneration. 


I believe my students are actively involved and engaged in my room most of the day (maybe most of the day is not good enough?),  but I wonder if being engaged and actively participating is "it".  Can I rest easy knowing that engaged learning is happening in my room?

  • Does the learning meet the curriculum expectations?
  • Are the activities meaningful? Does it matter if the snowman has 2 or 3 or 4 body parts? Is it meaningful to talk about snowmen in winter if there is no snow on the ground?
  • Is it important for 6 yr olds to use technology?
  • Is blogging actually creating an authentic global audience for my students?
  • Is giving my students access to iPads, (even in a centre style as we have 5 iPads in our room) increasing their screen time, beneficial?
  • Is having a word wall the best use of space?
  • Are my guided reading sessions truly targeted individual instruction?
Yes, these are some of the experiences currently going on in my grade one room and yes my mind is spinning with justifications and alternatives. I can answer yes to these questions and tell you my thinking, but am willing to hear suggestions for improving my "best practices".  Some of the games, crafts and apps we use/do may seem frivolous at first glance, but they all have a greater purpose. I am working at making this purpose better known to my students.

I am also thinking of how to 'build a bridge' as Bill said, between what they know about digital tools and how to use these tools for better learning. Many of my students use their tech tools at home for gaming, a few of them are beginning to blog and comment from home as well. We use many more tools in the classroom on a daily basis, but I struggle to ensure it is not about the novelty of the tool, but about the best tool for the job.  

The challenge I was left with on Wednesday evening -  Is It Meaningful? - is an important responsibility to keep at the forefront of my ongoing planning.