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!
   

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!

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.

How can I use technology in my classroom: blogs

I have used edublogs for some time now with lots of success. I like that it meets the CBEs tools 2.0 guidelines (this is key!) as everything can be locked down and moderated by me with lots of freedom for students. There is an app, which makes it easy for students to access. There is a cost for the pro version ($39 for a single classroom with a max of 50 blogs or a bulk upgrade that works out to about $8 per classroom), but I consider one of the costs of doing business. I have always allowed myself a certain budget for classroom extras like smelly stickers, coloured sticky notes, etc… whatever makes it fun to be in my classroom, but have recently begun to allocate my personal budget to technology-based expenses, like blogs. Our Calgary Public students also have the option to blog using D2L, which I think could be fairly easy, but requires students to log in, adding a small layer of complication for young students, but also adding a layer of security.

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Students have quickly developed the habits of good bloggers. They visit often. I often use blogs as enrichment work, where students who are “done early” can go and write. In grade one, we use them often for sentence writing using dictée words. In grade four I used them for movie and book reviews, book reflections, and word work.

My students have developed the habit of taking pictures of work that cannot be recorded otherwise (for example, building with shapes) and posting to their blogs. This way students can mark up their work and tag it so that they can easily find it and reflect on it later.

Students have the ability to read and post on other students’ work, which requires some pre-teaching around good Internet citizenship, but even after all these years, I have never had a student post an inappropriate comment.

My tips:

1. use a common login name and password and make it as short as possible especially for young learners.

2. Set up the edublogs app on your ipad and plug in all student names so that when they go to login all they have to do is find their name and click on it.

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3. Name blogs with a common name and link all blogs from your class page. This way students can easily find each other’s blogs.

4. Don’t force it. If you have students who are reluctant to blog you can’t force them to share. My feeling is that we need to respect the feelings of students who feel self-concious about sharing. In the past, I have had these students keep a paper journal when their peers were blogging on the computer or to have them blog, but to lock their page with a different password that was only known to me and her parents.

5. Decide how you want to use the blogs. I have a class blog, which students are welcome to post on, and individual student blogs, which students tend to use most often.

6. Use the blogs OFTEN! I have found that by sharing the fact that I blog, blogging often with students, and frequently sharing their blogs in class, students have become excited about their blogs. It is a way to make their learning explicit and they enjoy sharing.

But aren’t I just making extra work for myself?

I think it’s true that what you do in your classroom must follow your own personal interests and students tend to adapt from year to year. There are teachers who love music and students spend a year learning through music, there are teachers who love art and students spend a year learning through art. Technology is no different. Students in my classroom tend to get an immersion in technology for a year but it’s no different that any other creative extension in our classrooms. It allows students to speak, to photograph, to make movies and to express their learning in ways other than pencil and paper. I find moderating blogs and providing feedback no different than when I sit down at my desk with a basket full of journals and a purple pen (I love my purple pen!) except that I know my students are more likely to read the feedback and questions written on their blog and making edits and revisions becomes simple.

Moderation generally takes me a few minutes per week for comments and the same amount of time I spend marking journals per week. I have everything tied to my own smart devices and tend to moderate “as I find the time”… a few minutes after school, recess time, a few minutes before school.

With blogs, students know they have an audience and I find the quality of their work tends to improve as they know they are being read.

I generally use the blogs for the year I am with students and leave them open to my students for the year following. Most students lose interest in their blogs after leaving my classroom, but there are always a couple who continue to publish without prompting.

I personally blog at the value of wonder to share ideas and keep a record of my “good” ideas. I don’t know about you, but the last time I changed classrooms I moved 10 large Rubbermaid totes. Which is ridiculous. Time to start keeping a digital record of what works and what doesn’t. I love that my posts can be tagged for easy finding later on. Looking for a quick idea to throw in a math centre? I just have to look at my tags.

Excellent examples of teachers using blogs in primary schools include Kathy Cassidy and Danielle Maley.

Eric Carle Artist Study

I have been working over the past few weeks on an author study on Eric Carle with my grade ones. We have been working on the needs of plants and animals in science, so his books fit in nicely. This art project took place in three parts:

1. Tissue paper painting. This did not work so well for me. A half a dozen of my students created beautiful pieces but most had a hard time understanding what the final project was to look like. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

2. Eric Carle butterflies. Students each painted four sheets of paper. The instruction was to use vibrant colours that were neighbours on the colour wheel.

3. Cut out the shapes to form a butterfly and glue them onto large white background paper. I liked the result so much that I decided to use the same style for our classroom collaborative art project that will be auctioned off in a school fundraiser this spring. I cut small papers 3″x3″ and had students create butterflies, houses, community buildings, and people and plants we see in our community. They were allowed to let the art escape the confines of their paper and the effect was beautiful. I will choose enough art so that each child is represented in the auction piece and the remaining “inchies” will be matted and sent home as Mother’s Day gifts.

Eventually the art will be linked via QR code to the students’ blogs, which will host their related inquiry work on Alberta lakes and animals.

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