My wish for my students over the summer

As the year draws to a close, I start to think about my hopes for my students over the summer and into next year. So, dear students, here are some of my thoughts:

We spent a whole year together getting to know each other better. We definitely pushed each other to be better in the classroom. I think we all learned to ask better questions and to seek answers. We learned something about creating multiple iterations of our work. We read, we wrote, we laughed, we made beautiful messes while we learned. Here are some of my hopes for you over the summer and know that I will be doing the same.

Read a book

Jump in a lake

Stay up past sunset

Roast a marshmallow

Write something (a story, a book of awesome, a diary)

Ride a bike


Use sunscreen

Wake up early and listen to the birds wake up

Eat your veggies

Spit watermelon seeds

Play your favourite sport

Visit with someone you love

Meet someone new

Notice the way a campfire smells and sounds

Dig in the dirt

Climb a tree

Ask a question and find the answer

Recommend a book to a friend

Listen to a story

Wake up early, wrap in a blanket and watch the sun come up

Eat outside

Build something

Draw something

Hatch a plan



Walk through grass without your shoes

Find and name the constellations

Enjoy an ice cream cone

Discover a new favourite ice cream

Sit in a quiet spot outside and notice with all of your senses

Visit a museum

Take a swimming lesson 

Use your French!


Split a Popsicle with a friend

Take a long walk down a shady path


Plant something 

Go back in time

Watch a movie on a rainy day

Spend time upside down

Walk in the sand


Memorize a good joke

What about me, dear students? What would you wish for me over the summer?

You know that you become “my kids” when I get to know you and some of you I have had the good fortune for more than one year. I hope you will look me up again someday and we can look back on this time together!

10 Ways to Get Reluctant Writers Writing

 I suspect every writer has had the urge to create something (or an assignment to create something) without really knowing what to create. Part of what we do as classroom teachers is establish safe spaces for students to create and take risks in writing. Here is some of what I tried this year:

Give them an audience

I think students write work of higher quality when they know the final product is not for the teacher’s eyes alone. It’s important to allow students to publish and when and how is an important conversation to have together. In my experience, publishing fewer pieces but working them until they are of higher quality results in work that students are proud of and are most reflective of their ability. Publish on a blog like WordPress or kidblog. For more privacy there is always Googlesites and D2L blogs.

Allow them to work without an audience

As exciting as it can be to publish, I think it’s important to have work that exists for the students alone or for students to share with the teacher alone. In my room this year, we had a system: any piece that was not to be shared got a small note in the corner so I knew it was not for public consumption.

Give choice

It has been a powerful tool to allow students freedom to choose what to write and how to publish. Because I know and students know we are constantly working towards personal goals and “Je peux” statements, there must be a framework for writing before beginning. I used one standard rubric this year to measure all writing so students always knew what the finish line looked like. Some choices, like write a poem, write a travel brochure, write a journal entry from the perspective of the book’s main character were sprinkled with “if you have another idea, please check in with me” and some did propose writing a play to be performed with puppets. I think it was important to point out to students that they hold some creative power in writing and not everyone took me up on the offer of creating their own assignment but enough did to tell me that it’s worth offering to students.

Give a starting point: prompts and model texts

Too much freedom can be overwhelming. Respect student desire to create something but the frustration at not knowing what to create. Provide prompts, sentence frames, model books. Use the class website to provide links like this.

Write every day

Writers write. Simple enough. I used the Daily 5 strategies to help my students become better writers and students were expected to build their writing endurance, starting from only a few minutes of uninterrupted writing and working up to 12-15 minutes of uninterrupted writing time, which is pretty impressive to watch when a group of eight and nine year olds fall into such engaged writing that they don’t want to be stopped. The expectation in my room is clear though… Once we have had time to brainstorm and to talk through ideas, writing time is just that; writers write they don’t visit.

Model writing behaviour: be a writer

Students are inspired by teachers and writers. Be a writer with them! Occasionally, use student writing time to also engage in writing! You won’t likely get that great American novel written but it’s a good excersise use to put ourselves in their shoes; oh, yeah… Where do ideas come from?

Blog? Let kids know! Tweet as a class. Share old notebooks…

Invite an author into the classroom

Share books and ask questions. What are the writer’s habits? Brainstorm a list: what jobs involve writing? Invite some of them to share. While most of us write a fair bit in our work lives most of it does not look like writing narrative fiction. A Skype author visit is an awesome, low-cost way to flatten the classroom. This year I was tremendously lucky to connect with some writers over Twitter who were generous with their time and spoke with my students.

A new notebook

I know teachers who buy hard cover journals for students to give that writing a sense of being special. I know teachers who staple a few sheets of paper together and call in a journal. The book Make Writing has been inspiring for me these days. Sometimes just changing the tools is enough to spark writing.

Conversation before writing is a powerful tool especially in immersion! You might also try online collaboration tools like Padlet or google apps for education.

An old notebook

Sometimes stacks of old notebooks can inspire. I have a habit of keeping old notebooks that get messy as I fill them, sometimes with fiction, sometimes with research and notes for a paper or presentation… Sometimes it takes many notebooks and binders filled to get a single piece to publishable quality. Students need to know that good writing doesn’t happen in the first draft. Or the second or the third sometimes… Good writing takes time and effort.

Plan it/ don’t plan it

Concept maps and story boards can be powerful tools for students to produce organized drafts. Also be willing to let go of planning and write just because it’s fun. Free writing, journals, lists are all ways to throw off the shackles of carefully planned writing.

Paper planners are great. I also like comic life and Inspiration for planning webs. Google draw also does well as a collaborative planning tool.

Generally, when we start a writing project in my classroom there is a rubric. I like to know what I’m expecting from students before they start and I think it’s useful for them to have a target before beginning. That being said, I think there are times when we should let go of the evaluation part of the writing and write to express an idea or an emotion. Sometimes I think the most creative work happens that way.

And a bonus: use technology when it makes sense

Be prepared to allow students who struggle with fine motor skills or non-standard spelling to voice type a first draft and then to heavily edit the second draft. Typing can also be an awesome tool but takes time to build up the fine motor skills to do it proficiently so I think there needs to be some type of typing “homework”.

Tell stories in other ways… Oral story telling is a a fine art, put on a puppet show, make a short film!

Whatever it takes to inspire students to put pencil on paper! I would love to hear your ideas for inspiring writers.

Yes, Actually, We Can; Inquiry in Immersion

I don’t know why the false idea that immersion students can’t engage in inquiry persists and, to be frank, I get frustrated when I hear it. Honestly, guys, it’s filtering through to our students. The impression that second language students are not able to fully express their ideas and to explore deep questions is not true. In my experience it is not true that students need to revert back to their first language to engage in inquiry and many of our immersion students speak a language other than English or French at home, so right off the bat we need to get over the idea that it is even possible for the classroom to revert “back” to students’ first language for inquiry. 


So how do we as classroom teachers build the capacity of immersion learners to engage in true inquiry?


1. Build vocabulary

We do it when teaching literacy skills and we need to teach the language of inquiry as intentionally as we teach reading and writing. I have found that PWIM (or MIMI in French) is a powerful way to build subject-specific vocabulary. Make the language visible and refer to in often. Require that students use specific vocabulary and don’t accept a generic word where a specific word is needed. Demonstrate for students that language learners and inquirers are intentional seekers of information, including the right word for the situation.

2.Trust that there is translanguaging and interlanguaging

As much as we need to push students to learn new vocabulary we need to be aware that there will be some manner of translanguaging and interlanguaging as students build understanding of the language and of the inquiry topic. There is a fine balance between stopping a student’s rich expression of an inquiry topic to teach to correct grammatical structures. As immersion teachers we are keenly aware of this balance and keep it in mind; when are students translanguaging and when they are just not putting in the effort to use French?

3. Blend language arts with content areas

As immersion teachers, this is second nature. Building language skills goes hand-in-hand with building the skills for inquiry.

4. Engage students in Genius hour

When students have agency in their learning they have a purpose for undertaking the inquiry. Decide ahead of time what the non-negotiables are then allow students choice in their learning.

5. Stay in the second language!

Find resources in the target language and stay in the target language at all times; change your apps to French, change computer settings to French.

6. Be inspired by Vygotsky’s “more knowledgeable other”

Don’t be afraid to use buddies for fear that the buddies learn nothing as the big buddy. They can be modelling, improving language, opening and closing questions. Big buddies should come out of their learning with as much metacognitive growth as the little buddies. What do we know? How do we know that we know?

7. Provide more think time

Slow down. I have been trying to ask all students to reflect before anyone has a chance to share. I find this gives time for everyone to find an answer and for those with a quick answer the time to reflect on it and improve it. I ask students to give me a sign when they are ready to share; sometimes this means put up your hand, sometimes it’s just a nod, sometimes I tell the students I am a very good lip reader (I’d say I’m pretty average, actually😉 and have them “say” without making a sound.

8. Share! 

The authentic purpose for language is communication! Students MUST share their learning in order to give inquiry and language purpose! Blog, tweet, host a learning fair! Don’t let the best part of the learning stay in the classroom!

I would love to hear how others are supporting additional-language learners. I think ELL teachers and immersion teachers have a lot to teach each other in this area. I’m still looking for good resources, so if you have anything to share please let me know!

A More Beautiful Question

(A follow up post to The Wonder Wall 2.0)

Inquiry is a way of approaching classroom learning not a box to check off in a long list of classroom “to do’s”. I think the quote is mine but I have done so much reading lately that I may well have appropriated it without realizing it. This post is a reflection on my year as we draw to a close, in which we imperfectly inquired and I learned as much as my students, although we learned decidedly different things.

(A More Beautiful Question, Warren Berger, P214)

There is a false impression that when teachers engage students in inquiry all we are doing is a free for all, unplanned, lesson. This is not the truth; what I may have written in the day book is short hand for the deep planning we’ve already done. Planning for worthwhile tasks leads to a day book entry that just says “ask questions” but that doesn’t mean that there was not deep, careful planning before undertaking inquiry with students or careful scaffolding of the skills both the teacher and the students need. In inquiry-driven instruction the teacher must “be willing to give up control to allow for more questioning” (Berger, p6)

What if we brainstormed in questions instead of answers?

Berger quotes John Seeley Brown in that “‘what if…’ questions tend to free up the imagination because they allow you to see things other than as they currently are.” The following questioning process by Rothstein and Santana for K-12 classrooms (p65) proposes an interesting process for guiding questions towards those most worthy of spending real time investigating:

I have attempted to use the process with my students together with a guide for asking more interesting questions, which I originally learned of from @frank_ferrante:

Google “question chart” and you’ll find lots of tips on this, where the green questions are level 1, the red level 2, the blue level 3 and the purple level 4 (careful not to equate these with the 1, 2, 3, 4 on CBE’s current report card), but I’m still attempting to track down the original source. (For the record, can we state Pinterest makes it really hard to track down original sources?!)

We have been using the chart to help create questions but I have been finding that questions become a little forced that way as every student aims to ask a million dollar question. A better way to use it might be to ask authentic questions as they occur to students and then to sort them out into where they fall. Berger suggests having students work with their questions to boil them down to what it really being asked. Open the closed questions. Close the open questions. Sort them and group them until students determine what it is that is really worth the effort to pursue.

It has been interesting to watch my students become questioners and to watch them interact with one another’s questions. It has become common for students to state that they “think they know the answer to that question” and to back up how it is that they know it. The metacognitive piece has been an interesting bit to grow with students – and yes, they sure do know the word “metacognitive” and “distributed cognition” – will they remember it in a year’s time? I doubt it. But I hope the habit of questioning and of thinking about thinking sticks with them.

Berger suggests that questioning “why” without “what if” and “how” is just complaining and that to move toward actionable questions and research that questions move to “why, what if, how”. This has been a habit we have tried to develop especially in our science work lately to make for rich “maker challenges” in which students are really thinking about the why of their work.

Kandinsky: Artist Study

Sometimes you run across a book that could easily be extended a million ways but there just isn’t enough time to take it as far as you’d like. This post is a fairly quick share because this lesson is already getting cold in our memories of Grade Three.

We used this template to observe Kandinsky’s work and then students were each asked to create their own work of art that represented a feeling and included math.

We read The Noisy Paintbox on the recommendation of a friend and colleague @fiteach. The students really enjoyed the juicy vocabulary and were drawn in to the specific vocabulary used to describe sound. The book includes a short biography of Wassily Kandinsky and they were delighted to learn that he had synesthesia, where senses cross and Kandinsky heard colours.

We extended it to include colour poetry. The book Green by Laura Vaucon Seeger was good inspiration for using specific vocabulary to describe colour. Students are working hard to include all their senses in writing to evoke an emotion in their reader. 

I’d like to note how proud I am that my students know the difference between fiction and non-fiction and they readily discussed how Kandinky’s Noisy Paintbox, historical fiction, married elements of both.