The “Studio”

I began working with puppets in the primary classroom many years ago when I first attended a workshop on francisation and how to encourage the use of French among children who were born of Francophone parents but who’s families no longer used French at home. Paul et Suzanne were introduced to me! Two simple puppets who I used in the classroom all the time to demonstrate a back-and-forth conversation. My students at the time really connected with our “special guests” who often expressed happiness or disappointment, depending on my needs 🙂

Fast forward a few years…

I have been slowly integrating puppets back into my grade one classroom. My school has had a focus on Lister’s approach to intensive French and I was looking for a way to model a conversation for my students. After modelling, my puppet would travel the classroom.

I asked the first student: qu’est-ce que tu as mangĂ© ce matin?

Student: j’ai mangĂ© une pomme.

Puppet: ah! Tu as mangé une pomme?

Student: oui! J’aime les pommes! Et toi? Qu’est-ce que tu as mangĂ©?

Puppet: j’ai mangĂ© trios carottes!

Student: ah! Tu as mangé trois carottes!

Puppet: oui! J’aime les carottes!

The conversation took a couple of weeks to build using the intensive French model, but in the end my students were able to have a fairly organic conversation. I think it’s still a work in progress, but I’m excited to see where it goes.

Following this, we opened a “production studio” in a corner of our classroom. It required three people on a team: two puppet masters and a director to work the camera (we just used photo booth). In the video you can hear me coaching a bit, but following this, I left the studio open during literacy centres and listened in on their conversations. Pretty exciting to hear and I had a hard time keeping kids out of the studio when I wanted them to sit back down!

Our current plan is to leave the studio open and share the results during a school assembly.

A technical note: I found that the classroom has to be quite quiet to make it work so that we can hear the dialogue. We might try opening the centre during reading time and using a couple of mics. My class generally reads silently for 10 minutes after lunch while I work on guided reading with a small group. I don’t see why I couldn’t also have a small group working in the studio at the same time.

Reading Buddies

The best way I ever heard professional learning from our peers put was “steal something good”. It’s always very intimidating to have our teaching peers in our classroom when we feel that we are being “evaluated”,  but sharing something successful always comes more easily. My reading buddy structure is something I stole from @TSpasoff when we worked together #Hawrylak in Saskatchewan. I was always the big buddies and she was always the little buddies.

Each student in my class has a magazine box ($1 per 2 boxes from the dollar store) and each student has a pencil case ($1 ea from the dollar store). I could use plastic ziploc bags, but the canvas pencil cases are more durable and I have used the boxes and pencil cases for the past 4 years for various purposes.

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I spent one 30 minute session with the Grade 4 students, teaching them the routine. I walked them through the routine and modeled with them. The Grade 4 teacher, M. Corbeil, came to my classroom and spent the half hour with my students. After this initial training session, the Big Buddies know how to be a “teacher” for the Little Buddies.

Inside the pencil cases, I have placed flash cards that are leveled for my students. Some begin with letters of the alphabet, some with sounds taken from the “Village des sons” kit, and some are working with the first 100 sight words for Grade 1 French Immersion in Alberta, which I took from @Shannon_Wiebe who has her blog here. (I initially met Shannon online via Twitter when I first moved to Alberta and was looking to make professional connections)

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Inside each box is a pencil case for sight words, two or three books from our home reading program, and a notebook. You might notice that I’m slightly obsessive about numbering my students. That way it’s easy to put any missing pieces back in the right place. When I was a grade 4 teacher, I even had my students number each of the words in their pocket just in case of words that were dropped on the floor.

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The Big Buddies are in charge of running students through their flashcards and know that I only want them to give students positive feedback. When a word is read correctly, the Big Buddy puts a check mark on it. If it is read incorrectly, the Big Buddy reads it, the Little Buddy repeats it, and it goes into another pile for more practice. Once a word has three check marks the Little Buddy has mastered it and it goes home. When the pile of flashcards gets low the Big Buddy lets me know and I refresh the pile with the next level up.

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After working through the flashcards, Big Buddies help their Little Buddies move on to reading the books. Little Buddies are responsible for reading and Big Buddies are responsible for “helping” to read by using reading strategies (sound it out, use the picture cues, what sounds do you recognize).

After reading, big buddies must provide feedback, both by “telling” their buddy and by “writing” their feedback so that I can see it. I have trained the Big Buddies to share two stars and a wish: two things their buddy did very well and one thing they might keep working on for next time. This feedback is valuable for me and my mentor teacher also had big buddies prepare a feedback sheet for parents at the end of the term. My hope is to have big buddies prepare this to share with one of our “Sharing my learning” sheets for parents, which my Grade 1 team sends home approximately once per month.

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Little Buddies are then asked to write and draw about the story that they read that week by using words that they know, that they find in the classroom or that they have in their pencil cases.

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When students are ready for a new book, I have them make the exchange during a quiet reading time – 10 minutes after lunch recess – students know their reading level and are responsible for making the exchange. The books come from the baskets I have organized for our home reading program. I have the good fortune to be teaching in a school and in a classroom with LOTS of leveled books in our reading program. As a part of our home reading, the Grade 1 students take home 3 books per week. There are generally lots of books left over in the classroom to put another 2 or 3 into each reading box.

During the 30 minute buddy period,  M. Corbeil and I circulate, ensuring that all students are on task and giving Big Buddies feedback. So far we have found this to be very successful and we have had very little trouble keeping students engaged. The Little Buddies get good one-on-one practice and Big Buddies get to review reading techniques, modeling and mentoring their Little Buddies.

In addition, I find that the reading boxes are easy for me to pull out if I find that I have a quiet few moments in the class; it’s easy to pull a student and their box and do an intensive 10 minutes of practice.

The Day the Crayons Quit

As sometimes happens, I was absent from my classroom two weeks ago for a morning and there were no subs available, so my students were divided up and sent to work in various classrooms. I was stunned by some of the art work some of my boys brought back to class! The teacher they worked with, Valérie, who always does such a good job of integrating literature into her classroom, shared this story with me.

“The Day the Crayons Quit” is a story about crayons who, frustrated, write a letter to their owner in the hopes of having him change the way he uses them.

Lesson plan ideas include using the story to start a conversation in Character Circle about the importance of teamwork. Valérie then had the kids create their own drawings. There were only two rules: all of the colours had to cooperate to create one picture and there could be no white space left on the pages.

With older kids, I would also use this book to teach about letter writing and voice.

Any other ideas are welcome!

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Blackout Poetry

I don’t even remember how I was introduced to the work of Austin Kleon, but I have done blackout poetry with my students every year since. I was incredibly proud of my students today, pouring over books and newspapers, searching for the poems hidden within. My vice principal even dropped in for a minute for another reason and said, “Look how engaged your kids are!”

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CREATE: The Value of Art in the Classroom

Today my students completed the final session of three sessions with CREATE artist Tanya Rogoschewsky. Tanya looked at paintings by Emily Carr with my students and talked about her influences. My students then created paintings, drawing on her for inspiration.

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Full disclosure here: my students don’t get to paint as much as I would like them to, mostly because of the mess factor. We are in a classroom in the portables and are a long way from a sink for clean-up, making painting a big undertaking every time we do it. It was fun watching my students paint, though. Some who are not generally artistic or drawn to the arts really got into it and it was fun to see the visceral painting style of students who are generally more athletically inclined.

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I believe in arts in the classroom, not only because it complements other areas of the curriculum (in this case: Canadian heritage), but also because I think students should be exposed to art and be encouraged to make beautiful things. How sad would the world be if we streamed kids at such a young age and asked them to put themselves in rigid categories?

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What being a student taught me about being a teacher

Recently, I found myself in a “Yoga for Runners” class and had an “aha” moment about my teaching. How often as an adult do we find ourselves in the position of learning something new? Not nearly often enough is my answer, especially if we are teachers.

I have been a runner since I was a teenager. I don’t claim to be very fast or to be able to go very far, but I do LOVE it. I decided to add yoga to the routine because all I was doing was pounding my body with the same old same old four times a week. I have done yoga before but it never really “took”. I do love the dim lights and the quiet, the incense and the chanting, but I am the kind of girl who needs a runners’ high. I want to feel like I have worked hard. I never really felt like I was amongst my tribe.

Yoga for runners blew my mind:

I showed up in my running tights and thought, “meh… They’ll do the trick.” Little did I expect every other yogi and yogini to look like me! The room was full of Nike and Sugoi and not the hemp and bamboo I had expected. They all had feet like me: rough, and bent. Every other yoga class I had been to was full of people who seemed to respect their feet more than I did, but this class seemed to be full of people more interested in where their feet could take them. I found power in knowing every one of those runners had a tight front body and a weak back body. Camel pose that goes straight up and down at best? Yup, that’s me. There is power in finding people with like interests.

I found myself wanting feedback rather than wanting to disappear into the background. The teacher demonstrated, described, and provided feedback. She used words, a demonstration, and sometimes a hands-on realignment of our position. I was not afraid to get it wrong! Rather, I was more concerned with getting it right. There is power in being allowed to make mistakes.

Several times she said, “There is no judgement only practice.” That right there? That blew my mind! I was not right or wrong but on a continuum towards my best me. How freeing to not be afraid to get it wrong! She provided us with feedback and then let us try each position again. The feedback came in the middle of the practice, not at the end where I would have forgotten before the next session. There is power in just-in-time feedback.

She guided us to the ropes and wall hooks where I was incredibly intimidated: what torture device is this? But she made it fun! My first inversion! Did I look like a fool on the outside? Probably. Did I feel like a five-year-old on the playground on the inside? Absolutely! Let’s not forget the value of play in the classroom! There is power in fun!

The class was Robin Hilton’s Hips and Hams at the Bodhi Tree and I highly recommend it. I also highly recommend putting yourself in the student role occasionally and experiencing the slight discomfort of learning something new.