What I learned in a dojo

I firmly believe in the importance of pushing limits, and for me that usually means putting myself in the slightly uncomfortable position of learning something new. Think about it: as teachers, we often ask students to do something that is hard for them because we KNOW in our hearts that they can do it. But when was the last time you placed yourself in the position of knowing for a fact that you couldn’t do something and having someone gently nudge you towards doing it anyway?

I am certainly no expert when it comes to martial arts. I spent one term learning Aikido in a family lesson and I have so far spent one semester ferrying Darling Son #1 to lessons. Most of what follows are my observations with a large grain of salt because I am actually a total newbie to the dojo.

1. The grammar of the dojo

After the warm up, students break into groups; there are 5 lessons going on at the same time in a space no bigger than a school classroom. Every lesson is completely different and a very targeted practice. Part of the expectation is that more knowledgeable students will teach less experienced learners. Purple belts teach white belts, green belts teach yellow belts and so on. As I watch, I can see that the expectations are different for each group of learners. The inexperienced white belts have a hard time sitting on their knees for long and their patterns are imprecise, while more experienced learners have very precise patterns and are used to sitting in seiza for long periods of time.

2. Construct your own understanding

Sensei asks for a learner to come to the front and suddenly I find myself volunteered to demonstrate a new move.

“Who… me…? You know I don’t know this, right?”

We bow and before I know it I find myself thrown to the mat. Suddenly I have a very clear understanding of what my goal should be. Then Sensei breaks us into small groups for practice.

In the beginning there is a “wink, wink, good job, you got it!” vibe. Many of the newbies in my group play it very safe and we are very much about the choreography of getting the patterns right. But after a few lessons the learner is expected to actually be able to perform the pattern. With other beginners I found that we were all very tentative learners, but once I was paired with more experienced brown and black belts I found that they didn’t go quite so easy and I was thrown to the mats several times before I was finally able to bring a 230lb man to the mats. The sense of accomplishment in that was huge.

This made me think about the heterogenous and homogeneous groupings teachers  do in our classrooms. There is a time and place for both types of groupings and the value of each is completely different.

3. Freedom to fail

Sensei and the more experienced learners help students learn the patterns, the routines, the grammar of the dojo in such a way that there is freedom to fail for less experienced learners. All students have to do is repeat. There is some explicit instruction but there is definitely the motivation to learn. In every lesson there is some intrinsic motivation because learners see that this is fun and useful. There is an element of play in every lesson but there is also the underlying expectation that students must be actually “good” not just “good enough”.

I also see Darling Son against the wall discussing with a partner just how much work it will take to get to the next belt. There is extrinsic motivation: belts with increasing levels of learner expectation. This expectation is clearly expressed and visible to students at all times.

Some of the lessons I learned in the dojo can definitely be transferred to the classroom. Maybe chief among them is the value of putting myself in the shoes of my students.

Learning by Making

This post is not about Integrating Technology Within the Communicative Approach to Language Teaching. This post is about making a film about Integrating Technology Within the Communicative Approach to Language Teaching.

I started by researching and making fairly extensive, referenced notes about my research project. Next, I broke into the Darling Husband’s stash of story boarding Moleskines and began the process of planning out my film. This part was exciting! It’s been a long time since I wrote a creative piece and I found it interesting to be able to exercise my creative muscle.

Even after storyboarding, I wasn’t really sure what the final project would look like and had to spend a few evenings brainstorming what kind of figure I could use to easily move around and create the action. I had a couple of simple rules for myself: it had to be something that wouldn’t normally move on its own (which would kind of be negating the purpose of stop-motion animation in my opinion) and it had to be simple (no need to have to add the complicating factor of facial expressions to an already difficult assignment).

A quick stop at Colours Art Supply delivered what I was looking for: art figurines!

I started filming using NFBStopMo, which unfortunately, I have to say is ultimately a do not recommend. (Edited to add that the good people in charge over at the NFB took the time to respond to my tweet asking for help, which I thought was pretty impressive).

I spent a great deal of time in the planning stages, ensuring that my shots were well-aligned and focussed. I ensured that the photos I took within the app were also saving to the iPad’s camera roll, I did a small test video and exported it to the photo roll easily.

Imagine my frustration after 6 hours of filming when I attempted to export one minute of film and the app wouldn’t do it! I knew after about a minute that my film was getting long and I didn’t want it to crash the app. My plan was to export my video in several small chunks and stitch them together using another program.

No luck…

I tried for about an hour to get the video off the iPad to no avail. Knowing that I was kind of stuck with what I had or would have to start over and re-create the many hours of work, I carried on with the app and planned to simply film the screen with another camera. Kind of bush league…

Time to start film making!

In the end, I was happy enough with the video that I created and I see value in making something to share learning, thus embodying the “constructionist” theory of learning that students learn by doing and actively engaging in their learning. I feel that the theory was thoroughly understood by me by 9 am after having made notes and story boarded my video, but I ended up not completing the project until well after midnight.

Some frame-rate calculations… Real-world math!

The “Studio”

Some wins on the project: I wanted to quit and didn’t. I wanted to ask for an extension and didn’t. I most definitely learned what NOT to do. I would do it again, but now I know I can do better the next time around!

The more I reflect on the project the stronger I feel about it as a way for students to express learning. I have spoken with many people about the ups and downs of making and have also discussed the academic content. I have an artifact in the end their I am proud of and have returned to watch several times (many more than I would re-read an essay). And I have definitely retained the learning and used it in subsequent learning. 

Fun with Procedural Writing

We found inspiration in How to Train a Train, which my students enjoyed in spite of its very simple story.

  
After reading, we brainstormed the elements of procedural writing. Students determined that there had to be a title, an introduction, several steps that each started with a verb and an evaluation step so that the person following the instructions would know whether or not they had succeeded.

Then students headed off to try their hands at writing through the writer’s workshop procedure.

They had a blast brainstorming what their “how to” might be about.

The rest of the week will be very busy with innovation fair and celebration of learning so we have a few fun things planned for the spaces where we are not otherwise tied up.

Students will read and write recipes, which will support our work in ELA procedural writing and math fractions. We will be cooking but I haven’t yet decided what to cook as I think that will depend on how hot it gets this week… Maybe we’ll make ice cream!

I think we’ll finish off the week with this cute idea:

 
Procedural writing about how to blow a bubble and then we’ll blow some bubble gum bubbles and write our successful attempts as a fraction of the total number of attempts. 

Some days you just need to play while learning ;)

Genius Hour

Genius hour has been around for a long time and it’s a project that has had several different iterations in my classroom over the past few years. This year I would say has been one of the most successful for me.

I introduced it by reading a couple of picture books, which I think work well at every level. The first, one of my latest favourites, Rosie Revere, Engineer, is about a girl inventor who’s inventions turn out to be a “fabulous flop”, but she doesn’t let failure intimidate her.


The other, What do You do With an Idea?, was shared with me by my Assistant Principal @shafinad about a child who has an idea that keeps niggling at her until she pays it some attention.

We read the books together and talked about how genius hour might be an extension of the inquiry work we had already undertaken as a part of the BP Energy project we had undertaken as a school.

Every student, in consultation with the teacher, wrote an inquiry question that would guide their work. We were clear at the start that this might be a research project or it might be a different way for them to demonstrate energy and natural connections to empowering learning.

As a class, we brainstormed a rubric that could be common to all projects. Because I couldn’t guarantee that all projects would fit into the science curriculum, I was more comfortable pulling objectives from the language arts curriculum and in integrating some work from the new ministerial order.

Students were given one hour per week, which has quickly become their favourite hour! Many have chosen to work in Google Slides and to share their work with me online. An unexpected benefit to this was that students are able to see each other’s work in the shared folder and have jumped into providing each other with positive feedback and edits. A little surprising to me is that we have not had a single incidence of students vandalizing other students’ work, which tells me that we did a good job at the outset of the year talking about digital citizenship.

Other interesting projects include a student practicing a violin solo, a representation of our school in Minecraft, a stop-motion book trailer, and a tri-fold poster.

Many students are inspired by other projects they have seen and are excited to take it on again next year. I have not had students balk at having to go back over their project and edit or revise and some students. Who were initially reluctant to engage have taken on interesting projects like Chemistry in the Kitchen, which I personally cannot wait to see!

Looking forward to sharing links when we have some completed projects to share!

Literacy and The Power of Wordless Books

Wordless books are such a powerful source of inspiration in my classroom. As an immersion teacher, one of my primary concerns for students is always in building their vocabulary (it’s pretty hard to read, write, listen and speak without words), and increasingly, my immersion classroom is also a learning space for ELL students. As a budget concious teacher, I love that wordless books serve my classroom in both English and French.

I find that there is something magical about a book printed on paper and shared with a group of students sitting near enough to see the images. When sharing a book with my class I ask them to be patient as there are sometimes small enough details that it takes a minute for me to show the book around to the entire group.

For very young students, wordless books allow children to demonstrate reading behaviour as they develop the literacy skills to make sense of text.

But wordless books aren’t limited to only very young students. I have used wordless books with every level from Grade 1 to Grade 8.


Use them to talk

Wordless books are an excellent source of vocabulary. One of the activities we do is a PWIM (picture word induction method) type activity where students look through the book and “shake out” as much vocabulary as they can find. Students write this vocabulary on sticky notes, which we post in the classroom and use for writing later.

Use them to tell
Wordless books are a great way to take away the intimidation factor in getting students to use second-language vocabulary. As we read, I often ask students to turn and talk to a neighbour about the action occurring on the page. The key to success with talk time is to keep it short! 30-45 seconds max! After that, students tend to get into off-task discussions. This is a one sentence discussion. I will often ask students to make connections or predictions as we read. This is a structured response (In the book when ________ happened, I made a connection to ________ in my own life when______). I don’t use a “fill-in-the-blank” format, but I want students to use a formal structure for responding or predicting and to think critically about their reading.


Use them to write 

Asking students to write using wordless books is a great way to take out the intimidation factor of not knowing where to start. There are lots of ways to have students write:

1. Each student write a one-paragraph part of the story. In the end you have one coherent story to publish as a class.


2. Each student write the entire story. Each page can be one or two interesting sentences.


3. Each student write a well-developed short story about a single image and the class publish a collection of short stories at the end.



The Book With No Pictures 

Now for the complete opposite! The Book With No Pictures is an awesome way to illustrate the power of interesting language and effective punctuation for students. It’s funny and students love to play with the voice of the author.
  
After reading a book with students I will leave it out as a highlighted book in the classroom library for about a week or so. The highlighted book of the week becomes a hot commodity for a while and then I usually put it away to help it maintain its magic. When I put it back out again months later, students are delighted to “rediscover a book”.

Wordless books are an excellent way to integrate technology into the classroom, too. For me, there is something very visceral about opening the pages of a physical book and I think for children that turning the pages of a physical book is important, too. A good way to integrate technology at this point would be to use an iPad as a part of publishing student work. I have used book creator to photograph each page from the book and add student text directly onto the original author’s page. I have alternated pages (one from the author, one by a student author). This app also allows students to record their voices as they tell the story (good way to integrate speaking as story telling).

I think that wordless books really support the multi-literacies required of children in today’s classrooms. Today’s child is exposed to many types of text where not only the words on the page are important to understanding the message but where images have an equal importance in helping the reader understand.

Permaculture/ Community Garden Project: part 2

I really had a lot of fun teaching today and just want to reflect on the successes we had in the classroom today.

My teaching partner organized a guest speaker today who is the grand-parent of one of our students. He put a lot of time into organizing our guest for the day and preparing the links to King George’s community garden/ ecology project.

We started off our inquiry by asking a question: what do bees contribute to our ecology?

As soon as students entered the room there was a different energy as they noticed that many artifacts had already been set up around the room. Our guest speaker was a francophone, so it was interesting for students to hear another new accent and learn lots of vocabulary.

While Burt presented, Robert and I took notes in a way that students are accustomed to seeing: on chart paper.

After the presentation, students had the opportunity to explore the artifacts and taste fresh honey.

They took a short break for recess and were then ready to organize their ideas. We began with an open reflection in their visual journals where students were invited to reflect through images and words about what they remembered or most enjoyed.

After the initial reflection, we gathered students to reflect together and to organize notes into 4 student-chosen categories. They colour-coded their notes and organized them into a concept web, which they will use in the following days to write a well-organized essay.

Part of the purpose of this modeling is to guide students in their genius hour work. While we had only planned on an hour for the presentation and reflection, the lesson actually extended all morning and unfolded rather organically. It was so much fun to play off of each other’s strengths and to build a lesson that was so rich for our students.

Poetry Month

  April is poetry month. This month we celebrated by reading and writing poetry and playing with figurative language.

The poetry of Shel Silverstein inspired us to write many different kinds of poetry: list poems, concrete poems, rhyming poems and epigrams.

Today we read the book “Green” by Laura Vaccaro Seeger, which inspired us to explore color and to create interesting imagery. I read the story and students took talk time to tell one another an interesting sentence about what they saw. Then students used paint cards to write a colour-inspired poem. I was really excited to see how engaged they were in writing.
   

 

 

I would definitely say that this was a success.