Make the walls talk

   

This “little” project actually took a lot of time to put together and the end result is the culmination of a great deal of student effort.

The final project brings together a unit’s worth of study in science and art. We started building French vocabulary in September with a science PWIM. This really is one of my favourite ways, especially in immersion, to help students build subject-specific vocabulary. It gives them a purpose for learning new vocabulary and provides an entry point for every child.

Through out the unit we referred back to our board.

I chose Abby Diamond as an artist study simply because she is an artist whose work I admire and whose techniques work on many levels. Her work appears simple but is actually technically difficult.

The art portion of our work started with two-minute sketches where each student was invited to look for the shapes within an animal photograph and to spend only two minutes sketching it. This work was personal. I told students that they would not be required to share with anyone. While I believe that feedback makes work better, I also believe that it’s important to have time to create without the pressure of sharing that work. Sometimes we need the freedom to just create for ourselves. The work pictured below is shared with student permission. 

    

   
   
After two-minute sketches, we did a five minute sketch of one animal followed by a viewing of Austin’s Butterfly and a discussion about how to provide specific, actionable feedback in the form of two stars and a wish.

   
   
Students created two drafts of the same animal. We spent a great deal of time with CPAWS and at Bow Habitat station discussing animal needs, where our chosen animal might fall on the endangered list and how we might help improve the security of our chosen animal.

  
Students then engaged in further study of Abby Diamond’s use of colour and colour theory and and watercolour techniques and, after creating multiple drafts of their drawings, they painted. The paintings were finally inked.
    

   
 After inking, students reflected on their work and recorded a video in the studio. On a personal note, the studio is a work in progress in my classroom. I think this is an excellent way to get students talking and creating in a second language but there is always a balance between the need for teacher supervision and the need for students to record in a quiet place. We have a pop-up studio that is simply a trifold where students post the materials they need to record.

  

In as much as possible, this work is managed by students. They do the final recording, write the final script and help each other with negotiation of meaning in the second language. I have been enormously impressed with student willingness to create multiple drafts. They watch themselves on video and resize they have missed information or want to improve pronunciation or fluidity and they have another go.

For the purposes of this project, I took the video off the iPad and put video together with image using the desktop computer for the sake of time. The process took me about an hour to upload.

The final product is a bulletin board that is scannable. Using a school iPad, students can scan the art work in the hallway and start a video, extending the learning beyond our four walls.

My goal is to have students create individual tags that will be laid over the art to create feedback loops for learners who will be able to scan and hear the feedback from their peers.

Lessons from this project: students ended up filming one another with screen rotation locked so all of our videos ended up being upside down and had to be fixed in post production. The technical aspects of video production need to serve the learning outcomes and I’m certain this is an aspect students will now check before filming! Thanks to @boyerclay and @mrsmaley for coming to our rescue on Twitter when I couldn’t resolve it on my own ;) My PLN totally rocks!
   

Formative assessment, feedback loops, and report cards… oh my…

I read a great meme on Twitter the other day and then lost track of it. The upshot was something like, “If you don’t like doing assessment, you’re missing the point.”

As someone who shudders at the idea of carting home a stack of notebooks to not mark at night while they sit in the corner and I ignore them for something (anything) more interesting, this idea struck a chord for me. I still don’t love “marking” but I’ve put a lot of thinking lately into how to improve student outcomes and I’ve come to think of it differently. It’s not marking… it’s feedback loops.

Formative assessment is one of those things teachers know we should be doing more of; it’s one the thing we do in the classroom that has the greatest impact on student outcomes. Feedback loops are essential to student improvement. Students need to be able to see the goal and they need to see where they are in relation to meeting that goal. But how do we go about doing it in a meaningful way in our classrooms?

I definitely don’t have it figured all the way out yet, but here are the ideas that I’m using this year:

Plickers: I have used this tool a couple of times this year. In math, I used it as an exit ticket type activity where I got immediate feedback about who had understood the concept and who needed to have another go. The beauty of this tool is that it’s anonymous for students as they answer in the classroom so they have no fear of making a mistake in front of their peers, but when I look at my teacher dashboard later I can easily see how each student answered each question.

In English, we used Plickers to review information from the previous chapter and I had students write questions for one another.

Google docs: Students write a draft as they always have in their notebooks. This first draft is shared with one or two other students who have developed the ability to give constructive feedback in the form of two stars and a wish (two things that are great about the writing and one thing that might be improved in the next draft). Students write a second draft of the work, making any major revisions they see fit. After having a second go at it, I read their work briefly and give a positive comment and highlight three to five things the student can change independently (add punctuation, look up spelling). After this draft, students write a draft on the computer using google docs, which they submit to me. I use the comment function to send the student two stars and a wish. Students must then use my comments and the computer’s tools to write a final draft that will be taken for marks.

Math lab: once a week, students have a problem-solving “math lab” in which they solve an open-ended problem with more than one solution. They are invited to share their solutions with a partner and to explain how they found the answer. We use an assessment rubric and I ask students to rate their work using the same rubric that I use to assess their work. I mark the rubrics using a colour code (red for first attempt, orange for second attempt, yellow for third, etc. – rainbow order. Students are getting used to “having another go” at math work the way they are with language arts work.

As I take this with me into report card writing in the coming weeks, I’m not entirely sure what it will look like, but I am certain that I have a better idea of who my students are and what they are capable of than I ever did as a teacher with a grade book FULL of numbers.

10 Hooks for Reluctant Readers

 My own darling son is a take it or leave it kind of a reader; he loves to listen to stories, and likes to read, but all thing being equal he’d rather ride a bike, climb a wall, or draw. He didn’t see the joy in reading for fun until recently when he picked up Amulet, which was recommended to me by a colleague, and read for three hours straight! That got me thinking about my classroom reading hooks.

  

Book Pitch

Read a favourite chapter of a novel during your read aloud. That’s all. Sell the book a little. Better yet, have a student create a book pitch for a book they like and give them a minute of class time to present it.

The Highlight Wall

Leave out the books you share in class on a highlight shelf. There is something comforting about returning to a book students already know and love. Keep the highlight shelf down o a half a dozen books and limit the number of days a book gets to be there.

Reread

Especially with younger students,  a return to a book that’s already been shared allows the reader or listener to discover something new. This time let’s work on making a connection. Next time let’s concentrate on the author’s use of voice or conventions.

Graphic Novels

Many novels that are thick, intimidating novels also exist as graphic novels. This allows the reader to quickly absorb the story. If it’s good enough they’ll come back to read the long-form fiction version.

Thick Books with Limited Print

Bad Kitty is a good example as are Dav Pilkey’s Ricki Ricotta books, of a book that looks like a novel but reads like a picture book. It’s thick enough for those students who want to move on to the challenge of a chapter book but are not yet ready for that much text.

Change the Form of Writing

I have found that students who are good readers of fiction are not necessarily experienced consumers of non-fiction and vice versa. Exposing students to new forms of text takes away barriers.

Wordless Books

Wordless books fit into the graphic novel category in that stories are told visually. Reading a visual story is no less a form of literacy than is reading printed words. These multi-literateracies are increasingly important and students are exposed to different kinds of text than students of twenty years ago were. Often words and pictures are so interrelated that it’s important to develop an ease with reading the flow of a page.

Listen to Reading and Developing Multi-Literateracies

Listening to an audio book while following along with the print version is a way to develop that ability to “hear” the words we read. How many times as an adult reader have you heard someone say a word and are pretty sure they are actually pronouncing it wrong because you have only ever seen it in print? Seeing and hearing lows for multi-modal input. And listening alone while responding to literature is an important skill, too.

Read Instruction Manuals! 

Can’t hook a kid on books? Try a different form! Lego instruction manuals, Minecraft hacks, cook books, craft books: all a good way to blend text with images with student engagement and desire to learn about something of interest to them.

Model Reading Behaviour

One of the best things we can do as classroom teachers is model for students what gets us excited. Reading is fun! If we want students to believe it then we have to let them see us do it! Occasionally, spend your silent reading period curled up with a good book alongside students. Talk books with kids in the library as they browse. Listen to what they like about their books and tell them why you pulled the books you did!

Happy reading everyone! I would love to hear about how you hook your readers, too!

The Deskless Classroom: Environment as the Third Teacher

The grammar of the classroom tells us what is possible there, tells the learner what to expect, how to act, how to interact, what is important.

You know those teacher dreams that happen in the last few days of summer where a classroom full of kids just won’t sit and listen no matter what the teacher says or does? Those are the dreams I had the week of the big reveal where we created our room and I knew I was in for something different. Our space now is unlike any space I have taught in before; wholly owned by students. I love that it has truly taken me away from being the centre of attention and creating space for student agency.

This is a space where design follows purpose.

Visible: The Word Wall, The Share Wall (which students REALLY want to be a Lego wall, but budget constraints mean they will have to content themselves with the Learning Commons Lego wall), Student-created bulletin boards

 

I never would have imagined at the outset what an all encompassing project this would be (but, Tracy, you’d say, didn’t you plan it?) the answer is yes, but it took more effort and more time than I expected, but the payoff was also far greater than I expected.

 

Visible: The Art Gallery, The Tipi (currently a tent that will be replaced after consultation with an expert) The Dojo: where students become leaders

 

My students can do math about our space. My students can discuss our space in French. My students plan and own their learning and the products that will be made in our space. My students are excited to be here. My students own this space!

What did they learn?

The students built on the 21st century competencies outlined in the ministerial order on learning in Alberta.

They collaborated, problem solved, researched, and communicated solutions, all in French!

Collaboration Café: Knowing I wanted a sofa in the classroom, I haunted Kijiji for several weeks before scoring a deal on an Ikea loveseat that the seller had not even unboxed yet!

 

Making the Maker Space: probably one of the classroom spaces the atudents are most proud of

 

 

 

The Stage: this space was supposed to be a raised balcony in the class with a reading space underneath but a budget of zero meant using what was already in the school. The stage will be the floor while seating is raised.

 

The Alphabet: some students still need support with letter formation and alphabetical order. The low placement allows students to interact with it.

 

The Traveling Trolley: contains our Daily 5 word work stations as I teach ELA in two classrooms.

 

The Genius Bar: a stand-up workspace with built-in storage

 

Teacher Space: an unexpected benefit of having no teacher desk: I have no place to leave my stuff out at the end of the day. My space is tidy(ish) and filed at the end of every day!

 

The reading corner/ collaboration café

 

The Low Table
If there is low seating it follows that there should also be tall seating, right?

 

A reflection at the end of the build on what might be possible here!

 

But what would you do differently?

The question was asked by a colleague who appreciated the space but wondered what I learned.

  • I would have owned less of it – let the students create more and solve more problems. Want a sofa but have $0? Let’s find a creative way to solve this… make it with cardboard, repurpose old furniture, have a bake sale…
  • I would slow down more. I felt pressure to have the space completed, but it was such a rich learning project that it could easily have been given more time.

This is a space that will need to be remade at regular intervals to meet our current needs. 

When we have a minute, I will have my students podcast about their learning.

On a related note: one of my students from last year dropped in last week to share his genius hour project where he read a novel, wrote a script, and filmed a stop-motion animation book trailer, and now my new group of students is fired up and ready to start creating!

Literature in the Math Classroom: Robert Munsch

This post was inspired by Darling Son’s bedtime stories, as my classroom lessons often are. This is our chance to catch up at the end of the day, but the teacher in me often uses what we read together in my classroom. Tonight, The Boy in the Drawer rang a bell for me as I’m working on measurement with my students through our classroom redesign project.

As suggested by Geri Lorway during last school-year’s math in residency, I’m starting the year with measurement as it integrates so many of the skills students will be using through the year. This post is just an odd collection of stories that I have used in the Grade Three classroom to support our math work. I developed a project-based unit, which I have been using to start the year, with a colleague, Isabelle Bujold, who I attended a PBL workshop lead by Charity Allen with in the spring of 2015.

More on that in another post.


Math and literature are made for each other; after all, story is everywhere and looking for math in literature is a good way to get students in the habit of looking for math in the everyday stories around them. When we are looking for rich, open-middle or open-ended math tasks, what better place than to begin with story.

What follows are just a few ideas and I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Usually as we read, I ask students what kind of math questions we might be asking, which they record using a mind map in their math journals (an unlined notebook. I like the unlined notebooks because it lends itself to students representing math thinking using the strategy that works best for them. Otherwise, I usually like to have students record math on graph paper as it helps keep things organized.)

Moira’s Birthday Party

Moira wants to invite the entire school to get birthday party! What math questions might we ask as we read? How did you estimate the total number of guests at the party? How many more cakes will come in the second delivery? What will be the total cost of the cakes? What information will we still need to gather to answer this question? What will be the cost of the pizzas? Where can we look to find the price of the pizzas? How can the pizzas and cakes be divided amongst the guests?

Materials: pencil, paper, fraction manipulatives, pizza flyers (or online), grocery story fliers (or online)

The Boy in the Drawer


In this story, a little girl is bothered by a little boy who shows up in her sock drawer. The more she tries mean tricks to get rid of him the taller he grows. She learns that kindness is the only way to get rid of him.

I used this book in the math classroom to have students work on measurement. They each chose a starting size for the little boy and each time he grows they add to his height.

Extension: have students estimate: how much water will it take to fill up a bread box? Estimate the number of socks in Shelley’s bedroom. What are you using to help estimate?

Materials: pencil, large paper, centimetre rulers, meter sticks, water and a breadbox (why not try it for real?)

Stinky Socks

For this little girl a new pair of socks is a big deal! What math questions might we ask about this story? What information do we still need to gather?

Materials: pencil, paper, catalogues, scissors, glue

Alligator Baby

This little girl’s parents end up making several trips to the zoo in the search for their own baby! What information do we still need to know to do the math? What distance will this family have covered in their car and on bike? What would be a good unit of measure to measure that distance? (mm, cm, km?) How tall is each of the babies? What unit of measure might we use?

Down the Drain  

Adam asks his father to buy him many items. What math questions might we ask about this story? Where will we find the information we need to finish our math story? What is the estimated total of what his father bought? What is the actual total of what he bought? Why do we estimate?

Materials: pencil, paper, catalogues, scissors, glue

The Deskless Classroom – part 2

Close your eyes and imagine a classroom. What does it look like? What furniture is there? What colour are the walls? What does it smell like? How do you feel in this space? If you’re like me the image that comes to mind is of paper-lined bulletin boards, colourful borders, tables and desks neatly arranged, shelves full of books. I can practically smell the wax crayons.

This classroom in my mind is Pinterest-perfect. As a teacher, it’s kind of a nerdy heaven. Most teachers I know are experts at creating an inviting space. But I think this space, even with the addition of a computer or two is designed for a different kind of learning than is done in modern classrooms.

What if a classroom looked less like a classroom and more like an artist’s studio? Go ahead and close your eyes again… My image is that of a messy space full of artifacts and materials for making. It’s a space for something completely different, isn’t it?

This is what greets most teachers when we walk back into schools after summer. Clean (although usually we put a little elbow grease into getting it back to the bare bones). This year, this is the same place that greeted my grade 3s. 

I was only mildly nervous over the first few days and only became really nervous the night before kids came  back for the fall when I read one of those “Dear Teacher” posts on FB. You know the kind I’m talking about… “Dear Teacher, I see how hard you have worked putting your room together over the summer, the boards neatly papered, the shelves full of books, organized for reading…” and I panicked a little. “OMG, parents are going to think I just traipsed in this morning without any thought to my environment!” when the opposite was true.

I actually spent a lot of time over the summer reading The Third Teacher, talking with my PLN and thinking and sketching. On the days of prep, I also put a lot of elbow grease into this space. Even when it’s “empty” it takes a lot of work to get a classroom to a blank slate.
  

I had an idea of what I was going for and it took a lot of self restraint to keep myself from creating the corners and “zones” that I had created in the past. “But how will they know where to find a pencil? Where will their agendas go in the mornings? Colour-coded notebooks… where will I put them…??”

In the end, I went for as blank a slate as possible. I pushed everything out of the way. I welcomed students in to what looked like a familiar meeting place. The benches in front of the computer and we worked from there.

“Does this room look like it might be missing anything??” I asked. And students quickly rattled off a litany of things that they were missing in this space for learning.

We worked through a google presentation prepared by Shafali, a teacher at another school, who I connected with via my Assistant Principal @Shafinad. We created empathy for students. What kinds of things might we include in our space? What might we be able to accomplish in this space if it looked different than a traditional classroom? What do we want to create here?

Students began the ideation process by breaking into five groups and recording their ideas on sticky notes. This, I might add, is not always an easy task with second-language learners at the beginning of grade 3, but I refused to do the work for them. They invented spelling, they drew, they collaborated to communicate ideas, and in the end, I scribed a few ideas. Very few.

   
 From there, I had students begin a sketch in their journals.

  
Then they put their heads together and drew a large poster.

   
 Then they cut out pictures.

We put our ideas together and grouped all of the ideas into categories.

Then we broke the categories down by student group and decided who would represent which part in the maquette. They knew that we didn’t have a million dollars to make this space. We would have to be  creative.

   
 Then students brainstormed about how to represent and measured our classroom, which told me more than I expected about them as learners.
We are not done yet but are starting to get close. Looking forward to sharing our final product!