A year without worksheets

I’m not a big resolution maker, but I was surfing around Facebook this morning where I spied a really cute back-to-school new year package of worksheets. “So cute!” I thought, zooming in for a closer look. “And free! Great!” Then I took a close look at the work the worksheet actually asked of students, and… “ugh.”

Just because it’s cute doesn’t make it engaging. Sure, it fills time… print out, pass out, go back to enjoying that coffee while the kiddles work. But what if there were something better?

…and, here’s a poorly kept secret, there is…

Let this be the year of no more mindless worksheets. Instead, try:

1. Digital Technology

If your first foray into using digital tools in the classroom is to substitute a technology tool for a worksheet then congratulations! You just waded into the SAMR pool! Replace a worksheet with an app or a G-suite fillable worksheet. Great! Step one done! Keep going until you’re swimming in the SAMR deep end! Invite a guest speaker via Skype. Play mystery Skype. Have students blog or podcast. Use a padlet! How about all-student response systems like Plickers or socrative?

 2. Visual journals

Usually if it’s a worksheet it can be adapted to a visual journal page. Yay! That’s step one! Now… go beyond adapting worksheets by trying sketch noting, or visible thinking routines like see, connect, wonder, concept webbing, or a visual journaling technique.

3. The everything notebook

Write a journal entry. I get it… a blank page can be intimidating. But it can also be creatively freeing. Instead of writing on a photocopied worksheet, let students work in their journal or in their everything notebook. If they need a prompt, I still think it’s not a horrible idea to photocopy a prompt or a cloze paragraph starter. But photocopied pages of blank lines? That’s called a notebook.

4. The everything binder

Looking for a way to move beyond a storage device for worksheets? Try interactive journal pages and personal practice. At first glance, an interactive journal page looks a lot like a worksheet. Don’t be fooled. The difference is that students come back to the interactive journals later for practice while they complete a worksheet and never look at it again. The interactive journal pages I have made so far have the “I can” statement at the top in student-friendly language and then there are 4-5 questions that demonstrate that the student, in fact, can. These often involve some kind of flap so that during personal practice time students can use the pages to review the “I can” skill. Personal practice time is only about 5 minutes each day reserved for review of skills, but I know that each child is reviewing skills relevant to them and I can work during this time in math conferencing.

5. Really think about why it’s being written instead of discussed.

Think about whether or not it really needs to be written down. A well-planned discussion might be a better use of student time than the time spent filling in a worksheet, especially for our second-language learners! They NEED more talk time!

I’d love to hear other ideas! How are you making the photocopier obsolete?

The everything notebook for students

My everything notebook took a long time to perfect for my personal needs, but it’s something I’ve adapted for my classroom needs. The everything notebook is just that: a place to record everything. Scholar and writer @raulpacheco has written about his everything notebook here. I would say, draw from example and tailor for your needs. When I first heard of bullet journaling I thought it would be a brilliant idea to try with students but it didn’t work for me at all.

The reason my everything notebook works for me is I know I have one place to keep everything: reading journal, writing, journaling… I used to be the teacher with buckets of notebooks I mostly kept out of student hands because I didn’t like them to get beaten up in desks. Upon reflection, I think students benefit from being in charge of their own notebooks. I always provide some instruction on organizational skills: how to organize a page and how to track work inside a notebook, but ultimately the work has to belong to students and I have seen them become proud owners of what’s inside their notebooks when they are in charge.

The student version looks like this:

Personalized cover: I wanted to buy hard cover notebooks but those are EXPENSIVE! And given that most students go through a couple of notebooks in my classroom, we opted for less expensive but still personalized covers stapled over the store bought cover.

Front: the first pages are reserved for an index. Each page gets a month and each line is numbered by date. As we work through the notebook, students are asked to go back to the index and make a running record of the work we complete.

Inside cover: I printed out a copy of our reading/ writing routines and asked students to glue it here.

Colour coding: I asked students to highlight the top corner of the page: blue for French green for English. As we move through the year I have found that we don’t really need this; we divided our day instead. If it’s before lunch work is in French. After lunch: literacy work is English.

Write: write every single day! Writing is often choice work for my students. I offer a topic most days with front loaded vocabulary and sentence starters, but students are always welcome to write something else, too.

Respond: I try to respond to written work as fast as possible (my goal is 24h but that’s not always possible) and to conference with my writers while they are working and feed forward can make a difference.

Final pages: Students create TBR (to be read) and TBW (to be written) lists. This is to support them in those moments when they want to write but are just not sure what to write.

Personal dictionary: I have found a personal dictionary effective in support of writing routines. Students are expected to add new words to it and refer frequently to it. It is separate from the everything notebook for now.

The everything notebook goes into the book box, which I’ll post about later. As always, I’d love to hear other solutions for organizing in the classroom. 


The value of off

In my life I make a lot of digital things: blogs, short films, Web sites, podcasts, and ebooks, oh my… There are bits of ideas scattered all over the Internet. I LOVE reading and writing about teaching and learning, but I occasionally need a break from screens to make a thing I can hold in my hands. 

It’s so easy in classroom work to be pulled madly off in all directions; 24 people are all priority one and networks of support spring up… and every one of them a meeting to attend.

It’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of busy.

It’s so easy to forget to breathe when everything on the “to do” list is “urgent”.

But an interesting thing happens when we let off the gas for a minute…

Sometimes time off rolls around and stillness has the opportunity to sneak in. And in the stillness comes creativity and fresh ideas. Like a sponge wrung fully dry that must come to a full stop in order to draw in as much liquid as possible in the next squeeze.

Athletes know that intense training sessions are followed by nourishing the muscles and resting for repair. (I do like flogging a tired triathlon metaphor…) Remember to rest, teacher friends. Do more of what calls your soul. 

Draw, write, read, run, play.

Enjoy the last few days of light getting shorter! 

Word of the week: Lendemain

Forgive me, here. I’m trying something new… I have long suggested that explicit vocabulary instruction is essential for students in learning how to read. In her book, Proust and the Squid, Wolfe discusses the importance of developing oral language in support of developing literacy, especially for second-language learners. She was speaking specifically about English Language Learners and I am applying her ideas to my context: French Immersion. My students, most of whom French is a second language, but some of whom are acquiring it as a third or fourth language, participate in a weekly PWIM exercise in which we use an image to shake loose as much vocabulary as possible and then use the vocabulary in context.

I recently had the opportunity to work with a teaching partner to team teach a PWIM lesson that lead into a beautiful math discussion, so I HIGHLY encourage the use of PWIM in support of learning. Mathematical discourse.

I have played with the idea of how to help the discussions from our PWIM work continue to live on so that students can access it later.

As a learner myself, I used CBC’s C’est la Vie podcast to learn French vocabulary. I liked that it provided a single word each week and provided multiple ways of using it. Information presented in English with word use in French. I’m going to try that context here and see what happens with not promises that I won’t adapt it at a later time…

So with that, the first of a (weekly) podcast series for my personal use with my students. If it’s useful to you in your context then I’m more than happy to share.

 

Show Notes:

Bonjour! Welcome to The Value of Wonder! The podcast where we look at new French vocabulary for the Primary French Immersion classroom!

Today we’ll be looking at the word “lendemain”. Lendemain is a word that is used to mean “the next day”, so imagine telling a story in the past… “En vacances, je suis allée faire du ski. Le lendemain, c’était plus relaxe! J’ai pris in café avec ma mère, puis nous avons magasiné au centre d’achats.”

It might also be used in the sense: the day after. For example, if I were talking about a ringette tournament I might say, “le lendemain du tournoi de ringette j’étais fatiguée!”

If I were thinking in bigger terms I might want to use “Pensons au lendemain”, which means, “Let’s think about the future.” In this case, I’m not talking about a day in particular but a general sense of “the days that come after this one”. “Pensons au lendemain” might be used if I were trying to make a big decision… “Je pense à acheter une voiture très dispendieux… un Lambourghini… Mais je dois penser au lendemain… si j’achète un Lamborghini je n’aurais pas les fond pour acheter du café.”

The phrase “les lendemains” might be used to mean consequences. “Les lendemains de ses actions aujourd’hui seront grave.” As in “Les lendemains d’acheter un Lambourghini aujourd’hui seront grave! J’ai besoin de mon café!

The most commonly used way students in primary school will use it is the first meaning, “the next day”. We read the book together, “un dragon sur l’eau” where a little girl goes swimming with her class. She didn’t want to go because the water was cold, but “le lendemain elle est allée à la piscine avec ses amis.”

If you can use “le lendemain” in a sentence to mean the next day, then you will already be a master of its basic meaning. Donc, à la prochaine, les amis! Je vais rendre visite à mon amie vendrendi et le lendemain, j’ai invité ma mère chez moi!

Au revoir et à la prochaine!

Resources: Thoughtco

The tired time of year…

December really is long, and dark, and cold, isn’t it? So, a personal recipe to push back on the tired…

1. Drink coffee. Bring one for a friend.

2. Immerse yourself in real things: crayons, knitting needles, books. Back away from digital things for awhile…

3. Engage in meaningful professional conversations with amazing educators.

4. Hug.

5. Put on something nicer than your mood feels. Your mood’ll catch up.

6. Run. 

7. Play a song you love really loudly and sing along unapologetically. Enthusiastically wave to anyone who catches you. “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is to sing loud and clear for all to hear.”

8. Sound a barbaric yawp.

9. Find humour.

It’s the tired time of year, teacher friends, take time for yourself and the things that make the world a little brighter.

I’d love to know know where you put your focus that makes the world shiny when it feels tired.

The Wonder Wall (continued)

How do you keep a year’s worth of inquiry visible?

‪As we make our way through our year long inquiry, I have been struggling a little with how we can track a year’s worth of learning and keep it present and visible.

I wrote here about the wonder wall, which has evolved over the years. This year, the wonder wall evolved into a project where the entire bulletin board evolved into an augmented reality (AR) target that triggered a video about our reflection. I used the living bulletin board for two reasons:

  1. I didn’t want to spend the time creating an AR trigger related to each image
  2. I didn’t think each learner’s process video would be that different than the others

This resulted in a final AR bulletin board that triggers a video of a class discussion about our process. I have yet to have parent feedback but I’m not surprised parents haven’t really checked it out yet. I’ll leave it up through parent-teacher-student conferences and encourage them to try it then.

But… I have been stressing about taking the wonder wall down because it is physically an AR target. Once it’s gone the trigger is gone. The goal has been to track our learning through a year-long inquiry into connection but I have been stumped as to how to track a year’s worth of work and keep it all visible in a room that has no walls (seriously… one wall is smart board and white board, one wall is windows, one wall is a curtain between my classroom and my teaching partner… which leaves one wall) Enter a digital solution! The solution for now is to print the photo graph which we can keep on our blog and catalogue via tags, post beside the bulletin board as an evolving wall, and, at the end of the year (maybe, maybe, I’m not sure on this one yet) print an AR capable photo album that links back to our learning reflections.

*the featured image on this site functions as an Aurasma target (although, as a technical glitch I have not entirely solved yet, I think you need to follow our channel to view it. We are at: tcevans)

 

Developing Creativity: Give Them Agency

What if a classroom looked more like an artist’s studio?

I have spent a lot of time lately thinking about student agency related to creativity in the classroom. Too often art supplies get shut away in a cupboard, or worse yet, rolled down to the storage room, only to be dragged out for art lessons.

This year, I’m trying something new to me: I moved art supplies out of the cupboard and onto the counter where they are accessible to kids as they need them. In our classroom set up we talked in depth about how to use materials responsibly and, in turn, they are given freedom to use them as they see fit. This means not only are they encouraged to create during art period, but they are also encouraged to use art to express understanding in other curricular areas.

Our classroom art cart includes:

  • A variety of paint brushes
  • Water colour paint
  • Tempra paint
  • Glue
  • Tape (masking tape, painter’s tape, clear tape)
  • Pencil crayons
  • Water colour pencils
  • Art pencils of variable softness
  • Mark makers (including bamboo skewers, straws, pipe cleaners, used-up ballpoint pens, q-tips)
  • Markers (Sharpies, Crayolas, Mr. Sketch)
  • Pastels
  • Pre-cut artist trading cards in a variety of paper textures (water colour paper, bristol board, construction paper)
  • Print making supplies (foam blocks, ink)
  • Texture plates and stencils
  • Our “maker space” includes a variety of materials (bits of paper, cardboard, yarn, etc.)
  • Table supplies include scissors, pencils, glue and erasers

I collected supplies over the years, holding on to bits and bobs forever (teachers are the worst hoarders, aren’t we?)

In preparation for art making, we spend time analyzing art work, being clear that it’s good to critique artist, style, and piece of work. In analyzing work, we have discussed line and colour theory and students picked out shade and tint as being something they wanted to work with.

Inevitably, almost, some students don’t use supplies properly, not out of malicious intent, but because of inexperience with the supplies (there is a technique to using a paint brush…) Students have been good about giving each other constructive feedback about art work how to use and care for supplies. I have been stunned by their willingness to make multiple drafts of work and take risks with technique and colour. We watched Austin’s butterfly, a video about using feedback in building excellence in student and the Class Dojo videos about Growth Mindset. Students have been thrilled to look at the results of their drafts.

We spent a lot of time setting up students to use their visual journals as their own. I often demonstrate something and ask that they try it but then they are free to make creative decisions about their own work.

All feedback is made in pencil or on sticky notes so that students are free to move or erase as needed. I have noticed that many students want a “perfect” draft without teacher marks on it and I respect that.

The sign for me that they take ownership is the number of them that ask to take their work home to work on it or share with parents.

If it matters that there is colour then it matters that there is artistic decision making.