So today I was greeted by one of my dear students at about 8:45am as I was wandering out to the playground. I simply smiled and said good morning and asked how he was doing today.
"Ms. Mac, this is the worst start to Monday morning ever...again! Last week it was a bad start to the morning before I got to school and today is too."
My response to the student, "Well I certainly hope we can change that before our Monday time together is over. We did last week once we got into class. Don't you remember we did our inquiry investigations and place value rap? What will make it better today?"
As he rubbed his head and thought very intensely about his answer he responded, "Ya... you're right. We had fun that day. But today is going to be different I can feel it. I don't know what will make it better. Well... you're going to say no. I know you're going to say no if I say this. It's not going to happen."
Curious of what I was 'so sure to say no to' was as I have basically jumped on board every idea a student has suggested this year (something I'm trying to do more of - letting the students guide the learning), I said, " Give it a try - what would make your day better?"
I took a second and thought to myself for a second and said, "Yes!"
I'm pretty sure my student just looked at me in disbelief. He had asked for free time and I had agreed to it. It was clear it was not a common thing for him. "We will make sure you have a designated time for free time if that's what will make your day better."
To be honest, I had the best Monday morning of the year with my students. Maybe it was coming off the EdTech Team Singapore Summit conference this weekend or maybe it was me just savouring every moment with my kids but to me, it was a great morning too.
First thing, I ditched my chair and we just sat in a circle talking. It was a different vibe being on the same level as them as we discussed our weekends in connection to our learning from the past week. Last year I would always ask my kids about their weekends and hear all kinds of wild tales but this year by just changing the question slightly, I feel my students are enhancing the connections they make from in class learning to everyday experience.
Then I literally gathered every book from our classroom and put them in the middle of our circle (with some help from the students of course). I received a few looks of being a bit crazy as I completely disassembled our class library.
"We need to figure out a better way to sort the books. I was going off what we used last year but I think you all could find a better system that works for you."
I have never seen kids so excited to sort books! I turned my back for a second to grab my camera and by the time I turned back, each child had a pile of books trying to figure out which one went together. I saw students creating lists of categories on the board, scratching out ones that could be combined and renaming others. Students began questioning which category a book would fall into - it was non-fiction but could go into science and habitats - which was better? Or why a book would fall under poetry if it was written as a picture book with a storyline. The discussions were amazing, the teamwork and collaboration was so evident and me... I was standing on the sidelines. I kind of just stood there watching for a few minutes before I jumped back into action and started to join in the fun asking questions to challenge their thinking. Don't get me wrong, there were a few kiddos that would wander into another mind space and need to be redirected back with specific jobs they could achieve but for the most part they were running themselves. A successful class library was created. Is it the way I would sort them? Not completely but that doesn't matter. The fact they were able to do that together was most important. And of course when I asked what they thought of their new library, "It's much better our way Ms. Mac" was all I needed to hear for a chuckle.
Our next challenge - how to get the books out of the classroom and into homes. We decided as a class by brainstorming and combining our ideas on how we would make our book sign out procedures most effective. Each student created a page in a book for their individual sign in/out log but then we also had a wish list page so students could wish to receive books others already had out. Seemed simple enough but let's see how this works in practice.
Then the good stuff, presents! Over the summer a friend and I had created some book bags for the back of chairs. Students are going to use these to store up to 5 books they want to read at any one time. This will give them no excuse when it's time to read. My kids were so excited by their presents.
" Did you really make them just for us?" they questioned as their little eyes looked up at me.
My favourite email of my day (one from a student doing their writing homework for the week) said,
"Today was really fun. I really like to read. I have one question did you make the present you gave us? I really like the idea because I'm a bit lazy so I don't need to walk to get a book now." Laughter again - my kids crack me up constantly.
Now that little boy who had 'the worst Monday morning start...again" was doing some independent reading and I said to him he was free to do whatever he wanted until break (about 10 minutes) as I had promised that time. To my shock, he just shook his head.
"Actually Ms Mac, I think I'd just like to keep reading."
"You sure? This can be your free time and you really can do anything."
"Ms. Mac, I was hoping when I woke up we would get to read today, so I just want to do this."
Speechless. It's incredible how often my students do that to me these days. By the end of the day, I had done nothing different in my classroom for this one student as he chose to do what we had already decided to do. But yet, he thanked me as he ran off at night. Sometimes it's not the academics that make the difference it's your attitudes towards the students. Showing the slightest bit of compassion towards them can make a bad day turn upsidedown.
I can't wait until next Monday morning at 8:45am...wondering what my next worst start to a Monday morning challenge will look like next.
I'm not a Primary, Middle or High School Teacher. I'm not a homeroom teacher, but also not a single subject teacher. I attend planning meetings, staff meetings but yet teach no specific classes to call my own. I am an EdTech Coach.
I never expected to be in a role such as this (though enjoying every second of it). It has been a whirlwind of excitement, challenges and fun the first month back in action. But after a day of professional development dedicated to inquiry in the primary classroom, it does get me thinking in a way I haven't before and I'm stumped.
I've sat all day in a workshop with ideas filling my mind of things I could do slightly differently with students in my classroom, how I could try different strategies to make my lessons more inquiry-based. Then it dawned on me... I don't exactly have a class of my own to try things out on like I have in the past.
I've always come back from professional development excited to test my ideas on my guinea pig students. I'd jump in Monday morning with new tricks, strategies and projects to try. My students would work through things alongside me and figure out how to make them work in our given environment. Usually, my students would build on my ideas and make them better than my original ones and off we went flying.
Now I've got ideas. But no class of my own to try them out on. It's a lot easier to try an idea on a large scale in your own class and be okay with whatever direction it takes (even if it is not the most favourable and you have to find a way to redirect it). It is a lot riskier to do the same thing in someone else's class when at the end of the day someone else is accountable for documenting the student's growth and process.
Professional development has to change for me now. How can I take my learning and use it to support the teachers in their classroom and planning? How can I take my learning and use it to change the way I facilitate professional development? How do I still use these ideas that I develop at professional development sessions and still be able to try them in a classroom that is not my own? Change is good and sometimes it just takes time to wrap your head around how to best go about new situations. It's not that it's not possible - just thinking about how to best make the connections from learning to application in different avenues.
As I read the article by Hume (2009), I thought about how I have my own students reflect on their work. I agree with Humes that a more structured format with guidelines is often needed in order for reflection to have depth. This makes me think of my Year 5 class and their e-portfolios. For their e-portfolios, each student needs to choose a number of pieces (I ask them to choose a minimum of 8) to include in their e-portfolios for each unit of inquiry.
Similarly to Hume, when I first began teaching Year 5, I just had students reflect and I was getting very surface level reflections such as “I chose it because I did well and I had fun.” After the first unit, we talked about making our answers like big juicy hamburgers rather than skinny grilled cheese sandwiches in order to get some meat into our work and show our thinking. It was amazing to see how the visual comparison of the sandwiches really helped the students as well as the discussion of questions that should be answered. We created a sample reflection example together as a class for an activity we had done as a class as an exemplar as well. For every piece they reflected on, they would have to answer the following questions:
- What was the piece of work you chose?
- What were you trying to achieve/learn?
- What did you learn?
- Why did you choose to include it? (challenge, growth, best work, etc)
- What transdisciplinary skills did you develop/use?
- What attitudes did you demonstrate and how?
- What learner profile attributes did you demonstrate and how? (We are a PYP international baccalaureate school (IB)
- Can you connect this learning to something else from the past? How will this help you moving forward?
The other thing that also motivated students about their reflections was when they knew their reflections were going to be read. In the beginning, it was just me (their teacher) reading their reflections but I also spent a fair bit of time commenting back to them. My goal was to help to extend their thinking by asking at least one question back to them to make them think about what they had learnt. From there we started to get the parents involved in the reflection process. At the end of every 6-week transdisciplinary unit, the students were required to share their e-portfolio with their parents and the parents were required to comment on a minimum of 5 pieces. This opened the dialogue at home about what was happening at school and often would lead to more conversations and inquiry about the unit itself. The students always wanted to show their parents quality work so it helped them maintain a higher standard knowing their parents would see their work whether it was finished or not. Lastly, we started to share the e-portfolios with peers. This was a more challenging task as not only did you have to have students reflect on their work but you were asking students to reflect on the reflection and work of someone else. This was also a skill that had to be modelled through examples and repetition. By creating a diverse authentic audience, the student placed more pride in reflecting more thoughtfully. From there, it was all about feedback. When students showed me their reflections, I would ask if their reflection was a juicy hamburger or grilled cheese? If it was a grilled cheese, they knew they needed to spend some more time on it. My students were allocated time in class to do the reflections at least once a week plus often when they finished a task they would add it directly to their e-portfolio. This allowed them the ability to succeed as suggested in Humes article.
One of the things I appreciated about the journal article by Hume is that she was essentially doing what she had asked of her students. She was reflecting on her learning and thus providing everyone who reads the article an exemplar of a reflective journal entry. I believe it is important for teachers to model what we are expecting our students to do as teachers. About a year ago, I began blogging online and reflecting on some of my teaching practice. When I began having conversations about reflection with my students in my second year of teaching Year 5, it had more meaning for me as well. Seeing as I was doing frequent reflections, I could talk about my own experiences of reflecting, the challenges I would face and why it was something I chose to do on my own accord. I even showed my students a blog post or two giving them examples of when they would use their reflective skills outside of the classroom. By giving reflecting a ‘real world’ setting, it helped many of the students continue to push their reflections further. It was evident Hume had reflected regularly throughout the process and changed her thinking and action plan accordingly to best fit the needs of her students - a sign of a good teacher.
Hume, A. (2009). Promoting higher levels of reflective writing in student journals. Higher Education Research &Amp; Development, 28(3), 247–260. http://doi.org/10.1080/07294360902839859
Year 3 is a unique year group at our school. It is the time when students transition from the early years programme to the junior years programme in the PYP. But to our students, it also means the transition from using iMacs and iPads to laptops.
The introduction to MacBooks can be challenging at any age group but there is no lack of enthusiasm amongst this group of 7 and 8 year olds. Students in Year 3 share a laptop cart amongst the three classes, thus, it is simply a teaching tool like any other resource in the classroom.
After sitting down with the year group teaching team, it was clear we needed a plan in place to help our students transform this teaching tool into a functional part of the classroom.
We've created Year 3 EdTech Boot Camp for the entire year where students will develop technical skills to be applied in class and instruction on a regular basis. The lessons will be linked to the units of inquiry throughout the year wherever possible with the goal of moving towards a full one-to-one laptop programme in Year 4. It is exciting to have a regularly scheduled lesson with each of the year three classes every week and to be able to see their progress.
We started by reviewing the Acceptable Use Policy as a class and how we could demonstrate role model behaviour through our interactions with the laptops. This is something that is to be also reviewed by parents with the child before signing and returning. It was no surprise that the forms were back in quickly as they forms had to be returned before the laptops came out of the cart.
And then today happened...the students finally got their laptops. Beaming with excitement, they eagerly found their way over to the laptop cart and retrieved their numbered laptop hugging it with two hands and showing it love all the way back to their desks. As they patiently waited, there was chatter amongst the students until I finally gave the magic word to open the laptop and turn on the laptop.
It's been a few years since teaching the younger year groups and it was evident that quick thinking to have hands behind the back, or on the head as an instruction was key. The students first learnt how to '1/2 way down and turn them around' with their laptops (and yes, there is a new dance move that goes with that). The eagerness was oozing from the students. As a class, we established a secret word that would replace 'go' and instantly students were more patient about waiting for the instructions.
The first thing we did was find the spotlight search and then have a little fun finding PhotoBooth to take a picture or two. It was important to start off with something that not only the students would have success doing but also would be fun. By allowing them the chance, we were able to also talk about some necessary skills such as searching for apps and how to close apps when we were finished. We then wanted the students to be able to become familiar with some of the terminology such as launchpad, dashboard, and home screen. The students also had fun figuring out how to move between application screens on their MacBooks.
I also wanted to them to be able to have tools they could use immediately in their classrooms so I targeted two applications: the dictionary for language and the calculator for mathematics. It may seem simple but if students are able to locate and use these functions regularly, we will be able to easily build off these. First we looked up the word role model using the dictionary. We had a great question with one student unsure of what one of the words meant in the definition and we had a discussion and trial of how we could further expand our vocabulary by double clicking on the word and defining it as well.
Then we moved over to calculator. I asked my students to use the calculator to find the solution of 25x25 (a mathematical equation not easily solved by the average Year 3 student). Students began figuring out some of the symbols on the calculator and patiently waited to whisper the answer.
The session passed in a split second and it was time to head home. I asked the students in small groups to return the laptops to the cart. I was impressed to see they hadn't yet forgotten about hugging their laptop with two hands as they carefully placed their laptop on the shelf and charger plugged in. One thing I did realize doing this lesson was that it takes time to put the laptops away. Again, it seems silly to think about but it takes a long time to get the students to go from shutting down to closure and finally to their laptop cart.
I walked out with a smile and riding the high of their excitement. I may not have covered everything I had wanted to but what I did do was feel confident in the students' introduction to MacBooks and laptops.
I can't wait to see them next week to see how much information was retained as well as how we can continue our learning as we log into our emails for the first time.
How quickly we forget when we get our degrees, diplomas and certificates what it really feels likes to be a student.
How quickly we forget that time management is always a challenge as a student as you balance homework, life and other responsibilities and sometimes have an all-nighter to finish whatever is due the next day.
How quickly we forget what it feels like on that first day of school, unsure of what's ahead with excitement, nerves and a little fear all wrapped into one.
How quickly we forget what's it like to have to take notes, review, and apply what you have learnt.
Even when you become a teacher and you are helping your students build the skills they need to be successful you often forget what it is like to be the one who is learning.... until you find your way back to being a student.
As I begin my masters, I realize how long I've really been out of the academic world. Learning at the graduate level is so different but so much the same as learning with my Year 5 students. It is not necessarily about the content but the skills you use to help you to be successful. It is not about the grade you receive but the challenges you overcome as you work through it. It is not about the outcomes but rather the choices you've made along the way. It's not about the perfect score but rather what you learnt from the mistakes along the way.
Most importantly, you learn a lot more if you have fun along the way.