Today I was walking through the hall at recess and overhead one of the students saying they wanted to be in my class next year because I have cool furniture and we keep the lights off the majority of the day. The reaction my students had to this comment was pretty awesome.
“Miss A’s class is hard. It looks fun and comfortable on the outside but when you’re in it, she challenges you. We work hard. The couch is pretty cool though.”
That’s what I strive for my class to be – a challenge. It shouldn’t be hard to do, but I expect that my students work hard at their own level. Each activity is carefully designed for students to do at their own level. A student needs to make the choice if they don’t want to succeed in my class because they have the freedom to push themselves beyond where they think they can if they take the chance. The work isn’t the hard part, it’s the acceptance that you can always keep improving that is the hard part. Once they accept that, the results will show they are capable of much more that what most people expect of a 10 year old.
Yesterday I had the opportunity to be observed. Some really good feedback that reminded me that I can’t use the excuse of it only being the first few weeks of school anymore. We are almost done a month of school and students need to be aware of what they are learning and why they are learning it. I have decided to start building into my plans my 3 favourite questions from last year:
- What are you learning?
- Why are you learning it?
- How do you know you are doing good work?
I also realized that I need a bit more structure to the day so thanks to the advice of some veteran teachers, I am taking my plans and lessons digital – making a daily notebook for my SMARTboard. I already put the I Can statements on the board so I can just blend them in. Students willingly accept that they are required to do a task but this was the push I needed to remember that the need to understand the why as well.
Being a second year teacher is actually harder than being a first year teacher in some ways because despite the experience, you have to rely on remembering all the best practices.
Here are the observation notes – September 23 Observation
Recently I posted about teaching from my identity and learning about who I was as a teacher. My focus this year has been on my students and building them up as learners. This is only possible by encouraging my students to use the skills and strengths to their advantage. I am passionate about encouraging educators to embrace the power of a strength-based philosophy in their practice. While it is extremely important to help students recognize and develop their strengths, it is also important for students to recognize the strengths of others.
I’d like to clarify that strength based education is not about being the best at something. Chris Wejr writes about this in his post 10 Ways to Determine the Strengths of Our Students.
“An important activity is for students to understand that each and every one of them has strengths. These can come in the form of activities (ex. dance, hockey, math, etc) and in the form of character strengths. It is also important to share what these strengths could look like in each student; strengths are not something that a student needs to be the best at but more about personal skills, qualities, traits and virtues that students have developed”.
When I look at my students, I realize that we did not get to where we are by accident. We started slowly by getting to know who we were and what our stories were. I believe strongly that storytelling is the best way to connect. Together, the grade 5 team of teachers developed an inquiry to learn about our identities. We explored how our families came to Canada and/or how our family’s history has shaped who we are by where we live. We got to know ourselves and each other. One of my students shared with me that in his culture adults don’t ask each other about their jobs rather where they are from. It’s how they break the ice. He said it’s more interesting because it can open up some personal things about a person, but not something so personal it’s awkward. It’s lets you equate someone more with their life as opposed to their job.
As we learned more about our families, we also learned more about ourselves. We learned about the things we love and enjoy. We also learned our our families and experiences help influence those things. This caused me to shift from thinking I was there to teach curriculum to starting to believe that as a teacher my job was to facilitate learning experiences that students could find their strengths as well as develop their skills and abilities at the same time as their passions. I started to find ways to tie curriculum into the things they enjoyed.
Over the year so far, one of the things we discovered we had in common is that we all enjoyed hands-on activities and building or making in a variety of ways. We have started to bring that into science. For example, we are working on weather. I put out the challenge of trying to measure the wind speed and direction. This led to the idea of building our own wind machines. Using the inquiry process we are going to build a machine using recycled materials to measure the direction of the wind. The students are co-creating criteria for their machines this week and it is awesome to see the two science classes I teach take their own spins on the project. The students are so engaged in the whole process but also are trying to find out what roles they will play in their group’s work based on what they know they can each do well. They want each other to succeed.
Strength based learning goes hand in hand with the growth mindset. It is about learning from your mistakes, taking risks and having the confidence in yourself. Relationships are key. Start small and build each day. It can be as little as a 15 minute conversation with each of your students. I’ve learned that creating a community is the most important part. The time we spend coming together makes the world of difference. We are excited about the work we do and take pride in our learning. We want to share. We have realized that together we are stronger than apart.
On Friday afternoon, I planned an art lesson to start looking at the 4 process skills in art and how to reflect on their work. It will tie it into what will be a future LA writing piece in descriptive writing. In order to create more buy-in and excitement from the students, I used the Ikea Soft Toy Co-Creation Competition. The kids know how much I love Ikea and they love contests. They were instantly hooked and excited to plan and share. We put a 1 hour time limit on their own work, knowing that we would need a little bit more time to work on them on Monday.
We got to work and all 42 kids were immediately invested in their work. Our Vice Principal came in to ask the kids a question regarding their technology. He asked if he could interrupt for a moment, and before I could answer the kids yelled out “NO!”. Every few seconds, I had a student coming to me for feedback and suggestions on how they could create the best monster art that will hopefully become a soft toy at Ikea. They were even discussing which charity they would donate their prize. It was very cool! What I saw was pride in their learning. They want to learn and they see value in what they are learning. They were extremely eager to show off their learning. I saw their pride in their self-assessments/reflection as well. They were very aware of the criteria set out and what they could do to improve their work if needed.
In our class, Craig and I have very high expectations of the learning that occurs. The kids are serious about their learning as well. They are eager to explain their learning to anyone and if they aren’t sure how to answer the question, they aren’t afraid to say so but will try as well. One of my favourite phases I am starting to hear repeated by my students is “I don’t know, let’s find out!” when they are unsure of something. It tells me that I am starting to build the culture of risk taking that was one of my priorities going into the year.
There are some great things happening in our classroom and it is amazing to see what happens next.
This weekend I had the opportunity to visit my friend and her son who is in kindergarten. I remembered from EdCamp talking about the Design Thinking and being able to use it with kindergarten kids. I have used a modified version but I wanted to try the process again. I often had to write for him but there are some times that he also attempted to write.
- Identify the task: What to name Courtney’s new car?
- Understand the task: We went downstairs to the parkade and sat in the car, opened all the doors, honked the horn, and played with the lights. We couldn’t go for a drive because we didn’t have car seats
- Ideate: We made a web of all our ideas. Some I wrote and drew a picture next to, some I wrote and he drew a picture next to, some he just yelled out and I wrote and some he wrote and told me what it said and I re-wrote. Mom and I related this to brainstorming just like the Movers (apparently this is from the disney channel) do to plan what to do. We even included the names my students came up with in the morning sticky note question.
- Build on ideas: Why were some ideas better than others? We talked about if the car should have a human name or not. He decided the car should be a girl because it was pretty, so we focused on female names,
- Synthesize: We rewrote the names into a list and put a question mark next to the ones we were not sure about, crossed off the ones we did not like and put a star next to the ones we loved. He did the crossing and Mom did the stars and question marks. We then got it down to the top 3 stars – just like in hockey.
- Prototype, Evaluate, Refine: We were going to draw a picture but he wanted to just call the car the name and see if it sounded right. At 9 pm, the kid had a good point. we had Sketch, Molly and Rosey. Sketch was taken off right away. Rosey we were not sure about but Molly we both loved.
My car now has a name and I realize that the design thinking process is possible at any age. My grade 5s struggled with the idea but I realized that if I were to explain it like they were five, they’d get it. It was a very powerful exercise for both of us.