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Teaching Symposium 2017

As the final capstone to our Teacher Education program at the University of Ottawa, we had the opportunity to choose from a selection of workshops over the course of a two-day Teaching Symposium. This conference allowed teacher candidates to learn from educators in the field, leading researchers in education, and community partners supporting education through different programs and initiatives across Canada. Below, you will find a description of the top three workshops (among many!) that I attended during the conference.


TRIBES: A Way of Learning and Being Together

During this workshop, Donna Bennett and Michael Eveleigh walked us through an introduction and overview of the TRIBES training program. This training offers teachers the strategies for: building a positive classroom and school environment; teaching specific skills for collaboration; using reflection to support learning; and much more. It is a democratic process that results in “a positive environment that promotes human growth and learning.” For example, the framework for a TRIBES Learning Community involves the use of TRIBES Community Agreements, which are summarized in the graphic below.

Tribes Community Agreements

It is important to note that the TRIBES training is:

  • Not a curriculum!
  • A research-based process
  • Useful in building a school-wide learning community
  • Applicable for K-12 students

I’m curious to learn more about this training program, and I will definitely be looking into this approach in further detail! In short, the TRIBES Trail can be summarized by the following quote and image:

“Someone to walk with and somewhere to walk to.”

The TRIBES Trail

Kirpans and Peanut Butter: Why and How We Teach Critical Thinking for Social Justice

During this workshop, trained lawyer and Education Coordinator for the Canadian Civil Liberties Education Trust Miatta Gorvie led a fascinating discussion on the topic of fostering critical thinking in schools for social justice. Through dissecting and analyzing various case studies (e.g. Kirpans, Peanut Butter), we explored the different components of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms (e.g. Freedom of expression, Freedom of religion, Right to peaceful assembly, Right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure) and how they impact our role as teachers.

As professionals who will be interacting with students in a school setting, one question was at the core of every discussion: how do we agree on what is a reasonable limit to people’s rights? Miatta suggested the “Acorn Test” for thinking critically about the measures we impose on our students to keep them safe. The Acorn Test includes the following questions:

Acorn Test

  1. Why? What is the purpose for the limit?
  2. Will it work? Will the measure benefit the student body and make the school a safer place?
  3. What else will it do? What are the costs and/or side effects of the measure?

This Prezi is a great summary of the Acorn test as presented by the Canadian Civil Liberties Education Trust.

In summary, she highlighted three key messages that we need to keep in mind as educators:

  1. There are no right answers: every situation is unique and there is no blanket solution to every situation.
  2. Conflict is a good thing: we often think about conflict as a negative thing, but respectful conflict and disagreement can be a good thing. This fosters independent thinking in our students so they can think for themselves.
  3. As teachers we are lawmakers: every day in every way we are lawmakers, through every decision we make (e.g. homework, bathroom, latex) and in every situation. As teachers, we thus need to embody ideas about democracy and societal values through our daily decisions.

Inspiring Global Citizens

Last but not least, my favourite workshop of the conference was facilitated by representatives from the Aga Khan Foundation Canada. Through various discussions and group activities, we explored ways that we, as educators, can integrate global citizenship and international development in our teaching and learning practices. We touched on five key messages during the workshop, which I have summarized below.

  • Quality of Life: What is quality of life? This is an important question to explore! One definition states that a person with good quality of life is “a person whose basic needs are met, who can act effectively and meaningfully in pursuit of his or her goals, and feels satisfied with life” (Aga Khan Development Network). In short, people with a good quality of life are able to reach their full potential.
  • Global Goals for Sustainable Development: the 17 Sustainable Development Goals or Global Goals are supported by the United Nations Development Programme in order to end poverty, inequality and climate change by 2030. Not only do they provide guidelines and targets for countries, they address the root causes of these interconnected global issues.
Sustainable Development Goals
  • Global Citizenship: while discussing this topic, we referred to an increased sense of connectedness, responsibility, and respect for people around the world. Fostering global citizenship should be a goal in every classroom in order to increase our students’ awareness of the disparities in quality of life from country to country.
  • Six Pillars of Sustainable Development: What does sustainable development mean? This question reminds us that we need to support people attain the knowledge and tools necessary to improve the quality of life in their own communities over the long term. According to the Aga Khan Foundation, sustainable development is characterized by the following six pillars:
  1. Embrace Complexity
  2. Build self-reliance
  3. Invest in the long term
  4. Work in partnership
  5. Foster gender equality
  6. Promote pluralism

For example, we used the following video as a starting point to discuss these six pillars of sustainable development. By drawing on specific aspects of the SESEA program, we were able to see how a successful sustainable development initiative makes a real difference.

  • Making a Difference: Now what? We wrapped up our discussion by emphasizing the importance of empowering our students to become agents of change through individual and collective action, whether big or small. The end goal, after all, is to help improve people’s quality of life and increase our connection with others across the globe.

Click here for the Inspiring Global Citizens: An Educator’s Guide in English, or here for French. I highly recommend you check out this guide! The Aga Khan Foundation Canada has also curated a list of excellent teacher resources, that you can find here.


Thank you to the Annual Student Teacher Conference Committee (ASTCC) for organizing this event. It’s hard to believe that this marks the end of my two years in the Teacher Education program, but I am excited to see what opportunities lie ahead for me!

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OCSB Learning Technologies SummIT 2017

Today, I had the chance to participate in the OCSB Learning Tech Department’s 2017 SummIT. As we congregated in the Learning Commons of Immaculata High School for the morning welcome, I was struck by the energy and enthusiasm of the teachers in the room. In addition, all of the presenters for the day were classroom teachers who use or have used the technologies that they were sharing in their own teaching practice. It was a great start to the weekend and I took away something new from every session I attended, as summarized below.


Session 1: Descriptive Feedback, Learning Journals and SeeSaw App

After hearing great things from a parent who is engaged with her child’s learning through the SeeSaw App, I decided to attend this session to get an idea of what it’s all about. Simply put, the SeeSaw App is a digital portfolio that can be used in the classroom to document student learning, facilitate descriptive feedback, and enhance parent communication. It is an efficient way to keep everything organized in one place for assessment and future parent conferencing. I definitely see this app as a potential tool for building and maintaining a strong school-home connection!

Check out the video below for an overview of how the SeeSaw App can be used as a comprehensive learning journal for students.

Although there are MANY cool features, these are a few of my favourite things about the SeeSaw App:

  • Students can upload new learning in practically any form (picture, video, drawing, link, audio recording, document, etc.)
  • The app works across devices- phone, tablet, laptop
  • It is not accessible to the public/web
  • You can use folders to organize class work by subject, assignment, etc.
  • Students can provide meaningful peer feedback
  • New items and comments are vetted and approved by the teacher
  • Parents can only view their child’s learning journal
  • Parents receive notifications when their child adds an item to their SeeSaw learning journal

Session 2: Using Technology to Enhance Social Emotional Learning

Self-regulation is at the heart of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and refers to energy expended when we respond to a stress and then recover. When we talk about self-regulation in schools, zones of regulation are often used to identify the student’s state of arousal (asleep, drowsy, hypoalert, calmly focused, hyperalert or flooded). The goal, of course, is to get back to a calmly focused state in order to successfully complete the task at hand. In the classroom, teachers aim to help their students develop self-awareness and to listen to their bodies in order to develop strategies to get back to that calm state. In order to enhance self-regulation, the following steps can be very useful:

5 Steps to Enhance SEL

  1. Read the signs of stress behaviour and reframe
  2. Recognize stressors
  3. Reduce stressors
  4. Reflect- help others identify what it feels like to be calm vs. dysregulated (see Apps)
  5. Respond- help others to learn strategies to return to calm (see Apps)

For a more detailed description of how our brain responds to stress, check out the clip below which describes the Hand Model of the Brain. Through his explanation, Dr. Siegel provides a model and the language for enhancing our emotional communication with students.

While our students may be currently using strategies that work for them, teachers often need to explicitly share strategies that will help students return to a calm state. This is where we can leverage digital technologies (apps!) to help our students develop their social emotional learning skills. Here are some key apps that were presented during the session:

Go-to Apps to Enhance SEL

  • Zones of Regulation: while there is a cost associated, this app helps students to identify and decipher emotions that are associated with the different zones of regulation through an engaging game format.
  • Healthy Minds: created by The Royal Ottawa, this amazing app is geared towards older students (Grade 6+) to help them understand the challenges they may face throughout their day and how they can respond appropriately to them. It includes a tracking component that they can use to identify how they’re feeling, connect their feelings to antecedent events or stresses, and pick a strategy to cope with their feelings. This allows students to see patterns and draw connections between situations in their daily lives and reflect on how they deal with them.
  • MindMasters 2: this is a free resource developed by CHEO that is designed to help K-3 students master emotional regulation. It incorporates mindfulness techniques through various activities that help students tune into their emotional states.

And finally, both teachers and students (and parents!) could benefit from watching the movie Inside Out. While we can’t necessarily tell what states other people are in, this movie demonstrates how we can work to identify certain indicators in order to connect with our students.


Session 3: Who is the expert? Exploring and Connecting Students with Real World Projects

The final session I attended was a whirlwind discussion led by Rola Tibshirani that introduced me to a wide variety of resources and ideas for connecting students to real-world projects and experts outside the classroom. The opportunities truly are endless with this approach to learning and I will need to spend lots of time exploring how to meaningfully leverage it for learning in the classroom. Yet, it is immediately clear that building these types of global connections sparks student engagement, provokes student inquiry, helps students develop problem-solving skills and guides them in appreciating and respecting diverse world views. This is summarized through the “KWHLAQ” chart below, which represents the 21st century version of the classic KWL chart.

Who is the expert?

As part of the session, we had the opportunity to virtually connect with Leigh Cassell using Google Hangout (so cool!). Working as a teacher in Western Ontario at a rural-based school board, Leigh recognized the lack of real-world connections between her students and wider, global communities. As the costs of field trips were astronomical, she started to explore video conferencing as a means of facilitating connections-based learning with her students.  After connecting with numerous experts and becoming “addicted” to this type of learning, Leigh founded the Digital Human Library in 2011 to connect Canadian teachers and students in rural or remote communities with experts around the world. This Digital Human Library gives access to hundreds of experts in all curriculum areas (K-12) and all you have to do is register as a teacher. Once your account is approved, you can search the library for experts based on who your students would like to connect with. It is designed to readily support student inquiry and, accordingly, 95% of the experts offer their connections for free. If you’re looking for other classes to connect with worldwide, check out Leigh’s list of global learning partners. She certainly inspired me to start thinking about how I could bring the field trip experience into the classroom, and it was a treat to be able to hangout with her from Ottawa!

Where do I find the experts?

As a starting point, here are some links to check out for fostering global citizenship in your classroom by connecting with experts around the world. There is a lot out there, so I would suggest picking one resource to start with and taking your time by exploring it in detail.


Wrap-Up

All in all, it was a jam-packed day of inspiring workshops and I am excited to further investigate how to leverage these digital tools to enhance student learning in my classroom. It was awesome to see so many educators show up on a Saturday to share, learn and reflect on learning technologies. Thanks OCSB, I had a blast!

Blog, Forest School

Ottawa Forest & Nature School

For my final three-week placement in the Teacher Education program, I had the opportunity to work with the teachers and students at Forest and Nature School in Ottawa’s Greenbelt. This program is offered through the Child & Nature Alliance of Canada, which supports educators in developing play-based learning in nature as part of their practice, and also builds a youth nature leadership program. The Ottawa Forest and Nature School is located on NCC land (currently leased by the Wesley Clover Foundation) and was established in 2014 as an early childhood education option that connects students with nature.

This location offers various programs, including:

  • Half-Day Forest Preschool: for children aged 2.5 to 4, this program offers an early opportunity for kids to wonder, question and experience the marvels of the forest. Students improve their strength, coordination and self-confidence, and definitely develop grit as they adventure through the woods in all weather conditions.
  • Full Day Forest School: the full day program is for students aged 4-12 and allows for a deeper exploration into the mysteries of the paths, rocks, trees, and creatures at Forest School.
  • Parent and Child Nature Mornings: this is a two-hour drop-in option for parents and caregivers to connect with their children, the outdoors, and other like-minded parents and educators. It is an awesome opportunity for families to get a feel for Forest School, and many take advantage of these mornings as a fun way to get outside on a weekly basis!
  • OCDSB Partnership: the Ottawa Forest and Nature School has a partnership with the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) to support public school students in discovering play-based learning outdoors once weekly for 6 consecutive weeks. Some of these school groups complete their 6-week experience at the Forest School site, while other Forest School staff travel to schools and bring a class to a nearby-nature location.
  • PD Days, Summer Camps: while I did not participate in these program offerings, the Forest School does offer programming for OCDSB PD Days for children aged 4 to 10 years old. You can also register your child for a week-long summer day camp at Forest School, although the wait list is already full for this summer!

While I got to experience many of these programs during my placement at Ottawa Forest School, every day was different and I feel like I only got a taste of everything that this type of learning has to offer! I would be keen to experience similar programming during other seasons (e.g. winter) in order to learn how to handle other challenges and mitigate risks. For example, some students had to really push themselves to deal with the wet, muddy conditions of spring- I would be interested to see how they would respond to a similar day outside in the dead of winter, when there is snow on the ground and frost on your eyelashes. Having said that, I felt so fortunate to be able to engage with the inspiring educators at Forest School and observe their philosophy of education in practice. It was a unique and thought-provoking experience that will influence my future practice as a teacher.

Blog, Forest School

Top Tips for Play-Based Learning in Nature

The best advice I got from a seasoned Forest School educator was to continually ask myself: what is the reason behind what I’m doing or saying? This is a pivotal question for teaching in general, as it forces us to reflect on our role as teachers. Learning when to step in and when to take a back seat is the essence of teaching, whether inside or outside of the classroom, and I know this will take time and experience to develop! However, I did learn a few key tips for facilitating play-based learning in nature during my time at Forest School…

  1. Assess the risk: there are many potential risks associated with Forest School, and a successful outdoor learning plan needs to include a daily risk assessment. Potential risks or hazards could include: access to site; boundaries; other people; animals; canopy, shrub, field and ground layers; structures; weather conditions; group issues and activities; etc. You can find several sample risk assessment templates here. For a more general discussion of embracing risk, check out this blog post from a Forest School in New Brunswick. I found that the most important factor was to ensure that all adults and children on site are aware of the risks and the controls that are in place to mitigate them.
  2. Three pairs of socks: there is no bad weather, only bad gear! It is not only crucial to make sure that you have the appropriate gear to keep yourself warm and dry, you will also need to be cognizant of the type of gear that your students have access to for playing outdoors. For example, at Forest School in April we had many students that arrived in the morning with full-piece rain suits, waterproof boots and two spare sets of clothing. This level of preparedness may not necessarily be the case for your group of students, so make sure you consider and stay prepared for the moment when the weather (inevitably) turns on you. Hint: plastic bags in boots will become a go-to strategy during soggy spring conditions!
  3. Follow your students’ interests: As teachers, we often feel the tugging need to direct, to probe, or to guide our students towards certain learning objectives that we feel are important or valuable. However, the kids we are working with may or may not agree! Rather than dictating a task or proposing an activity, see what happens when you take a step back and let your students discover the forest around them: the rocks, the moss, the trees, the bark, the sounds, the sights, the creatures… there is a LOT to discover, and you will probably embark on a learning experience that you never could have planned!
  4. Get lost: another category of risk when it comes to outdoor play is the danger of children getting lost. Whether through hide and seek or venturing into unknown territory, playing where students can get temporarily “lost” is an important component of outdoor risky play. It allows them to experience thrilling feelings of risk and danger associated with exploration, which is a major part of children’s play. Check out this article for an interesting evolutionary perspective on risky play as an important part of child development.
  5. Reflect, reflect, reflect: reflection was a key strategy that was particularly useful when working with public school students to consolidate the learning that occurred during their time in the forest. “Sit spots” were one tool that we used for this type of reflection. As you might guess, this quite simply requires students to find a forested spot to sit for an extended period of time and observe their immediate and distant surroundings. We started with 8 minutes in our sit spots, but more experienced forest school participants could no doubt stay engaged for longer. We had a circle to share the things we saw, felt, heard, and felt during sit spots. Students could also use a Forest School Journal to communicate their reflections through writing or drawing. And finally, one of my favourite projects was when the students collaboratively created a map of our forest school site on a large piece of cloth. It’s not quite finished, but see below for a picture of the map in progress!

At the end of the day, our children and students are capable of more than we sometimes allow them to show us- you’d be amazed at what happens when there is a little freedom for them to explore, imagine and create!

Creating Healthy, Safe and Supportive Learning Environments

Birch Bark Canoe

Last week I had the opportunity to learn about a project towards reconciliation that is taking place in the University Centre at uOttawa. As part of our PED 3110 (Teaching in Roman Catholic Separate Schools) class , we took a mini-fieldtrip to visit Marcel Labelle – an Algonquin and Métis artist and canoe-builder. His teachings and stories were particularly moving as he shared so much of his own personal history. It set the context for understanding where he was coming from and what motivated his journey towards reconciliation through canoe building.

 

As luck would have it, our morning workshop with Marcel was also being documented by CBC.

When Marcel Labelle decided to chart a new career course building birch bark canoes 13 years ago, it was a journey that would help him reconnect with his Indigenous heritage while taking his craft to universities across Ontario, which has brought him to the University of Ottawa this winter to lead a hands-on canoe-building project (Jessie Park, CBC News).

Check out the full CBC news article with pictures here. You can also listen to the CBC Radio clip that aired on the Ottawa Morning show to get a sense of our wonderful experience!

Inclusive Classrooms

A new perspective

During today’s class,  some fellow teacher education students delivered a  workshop exploring how to support blind and low vision students in inclusive classrooms. A variety of resources were provided, and I’ve shared some of the highlights below.

What Do Blind People See?

Imagining a life from a blind or low vision perspective can be challenging for people who have always had sight. The video below gives a glimpse into how a blind person might experience their surroundings, and reminds us that there are many different ways for people to “see” the world!

 

Revisualizing art

Art is one subject that may be intimidating for teachers to tackle when considering the needs of blind and low vision students. The key message of the workshop was to re-imagine your art program for all students- not just blind and low vision students. One example would be to use physical models (e.g. C-3PO) and ask your students to recreate the model using plasticine and their sense of touch. This can be a powerful exercise in exploring the role of our other senses (e.g. touch)  in creative arts. Check out this post for some other considerations for making art accessible to all your students.

Revisualizing art

A beautiful resource

This book was provided as an exemplary resource that uses raised illustrations and Braille letters to help students imagine living (and reading) without the use of one’s eyes.  It would be a valuable addition to any teacher’s library!

The Black Book of Colors by Menena Cottin and Rosana Faria
The Black Book of Colors by Menena Cottin and Rosana Faria

For more information on what the assessment data and specialized education plan might look like for a blind/low vision elementary student in Ontario, check out this sample Individual Education Plan (IEP) provided by EduGAINS. While this may not be a challenge faced in every classroom, teachers must be aware of how to support every learner and foster a climate of inclusion throughout the school community.

Grade 8 Practicum

Power of PowToon

Looking for a simple tool to help you create engaging animated videos and presentations? Search no further! PowToon is a presentation tool that offers awesome comic-style graphics that are easy to create and manipulate in order to communicate content in a captivating way. With various styles to choose from (ranging from professional to cartoon), PowToon emphasizes the creation process as building a story or narrative and makes it super easy to navigate by setting up the user interface as a storyboard. Powtoon could be used by students and teachers (and administrators!) in an educational setting for a variety of purposes, such as …

Students

  • Creatively communicating their learning;
  • Presenting research findings;
  • Consolidating information in the form of an infographic;
  • Pitching new initiatives;
  • Getting their peers excited about an idea;
  • Exploring digital story creation…

Teachers 

  • Inspiring and engaging students;
  • Eliciting curiosity (i.e. ‘Hooking’ students in);
  • Introducing a new topic;
  • Differentiating learning process or product;
  • Bringing curriculum content to life;
  • Reviewing big ideas;
  • Celebrating achievements;
  • Presenting new initiatives (e.g. in the classroom, at staff meetings)…

These are just a few ideas illustrating how PowToon could be used in the classroom, but the options really are endless!


Strategy in practice

For example, on the last day of my grade 8 practicum, I wanted to celebrate the achievements of my students and thank them for all their hard work (and patience!) during my time in their classroom. Since I wanted to avoid the risk of getting too emotional, I thought an animated video would be a short and sweet way of showing them my appreciation (you can view the finished product below).

*Make sure you watch the video with sound, the music is the best part! 

The students loved the personalized messages and we shared a few laughs as we bopped along to the video’s music.  It was quite meaningful for us (myself included!) to take a look back and review all the things we had accomplished during our six weeks together.  As teachers, sometimes we get so wrapped up in moving on to the next lesson/topic/unit that we forget to recognize all the hard work our students are putting into their education on a daily basis. For something that took me a short time to create and 1 minute to show in class, videos like this one are a powerful reminder to our students that they are, indeed, AWESOME. I will definitely be adding this tool to my teaching toolbox! 🙂

Grade 8 Practicum, Inquiry-Based Math

QR Code Treasure Hunt

During my practicum in a grade 8 classroom, my associate teacher shared various techniques for increasing student engagement during math problem-solving. One such technique allowed students to use their own devices to scan QR codes that were posted around the classroom and hallways. By scanning the QR codes, students were able to access multiple different questions and work through them at their own pace. The order of the questions didn’t matter, so students (working in pairs) could disperse and travel freely to the question locations.

While they were working on solving math problems, the simple act of getting students out of their desks and moving between different locations kept them engaged and motivated to work diligently with their partner. *Side note: this class was used to working with visually random groupings, and we often used playing cards to determine groups of 2, 3, or 4 for different activities. 

This “QR Code Treasure Hunt” functioned best when guidelines were clearly communicated to students before the activity began. For instance, consider the following:

  • Devices to be used (classroom devices? student devices?)
  • Availability of QR code reader (app already downloaded on devices?)
  • Groupings (individual? pairs? small groups? visually random groupings?)
  • Range in difficulty of questions (simple to increasingly difficult? similar in difficulty?)
  • Number of questions (length of working time?)
  • Materials to bring (clipboards/paper/pencil?)
  • Teacher supervision (monitoring throughout halls?)
  • Consolidation techniques (select examples? group sharing?)

To create your QR codes and associated questions, check out this awesome tool- the QR Code Treasure Hunt Generator.

Overall, the students seemed to appreciate this break from routine and their level of engagement noticeably increased (which was especially obvious during this 8:00- 8:55 AM period)! I will definitely be adding this strategy to my teaching toolbox 🙂

Grade 8 Practicum

Learning about students and their learning

After reading, discussing and analyzing the trends in practicum observations among colleagues, I have identified several useful strategies to gather information about students and their learning before a new unit, term or school year.

From an academic standpoint, many teachers used diagnostic or before-instruction assessments to gauge students’ prior knowledge and learning styles. For example, math and reading assessments were frequently mentioned, as well as “What I did last summer” writing assignments. While these assessments can be very useful to the teacher and can inform instruction practices, it is important to remind students that they are for planning purposes and should not be viewed as tests. They should be supplemented or triangulated by observations and student-teacher interactions as well (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2010).

For example, in Learning for All (2013), the Ontario Ministry of Education identifies personalization – education that puts learner at the centre – as a key component of effective assessment and instruction. With this element in mind, it is crucial for teachers to have a strategy for getting to know their learners early on. Many of my peers shared “get-to-know-you” or “all about me” activities that they used to get a more complete picture of their students’ home life, social skills, interests outside of school, circle of friends and behavioural characteristics. Some examples included:

  • “All About Me” or “My Amazing Life” posters
  • “Facebook profile” worksheets
  • “Bag of 5” activity, where all learners (including the teacher) present 5 items that represent something about themselves.

You can find some great ideas for getting to know your students (and introducing your subject) at Teach Hub.

One of my colleagues described a particularly unique strategy and I would add her “My Brain” activity to my toolkit for practice. She explained that the teacher conducted a basic lesson on the areas of the brain and then instructed students to draw their own personalized brain. I would extend this activity to include a discussion of growth mindset, described by Carol Dweck (2014) as the idea that we can grow our brain’s capacity to learn and solve problems. This brain activity would reveal the personalities and various interests/hobbies of each student (e.g. the teacher could circulate and have informal interactions with students), as students label their “brain” drawing with the different components of their lives and areas of their brain that they hope to “grow” over the year. I believe this would not only communicate the shared belief that all students can succeed (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2013), but would also recognize the unique starting points and patterns of learning for each student. Armed with this insight into the students’ preferences and interests, I (as teacher) would be better prepared to differentiate instruction accordingly.

At a deeper level, I would add to my toolkit a strategy that strives to foster a safe, healthy and supportive learning community in the classroom. One such strategy mentioned by a colleague described an open-ended “class banner” activity for the start of the school year. By providing students with the opportunity to come together and decide how they would represent their learning community in banner form (e.g. flags of students’ countries of origin, digital or print format), the teacher transfers ownership of planning (and subsequent learning) to the students. This activity sets the tone for a learning environment that is student-driven, collaborative and inclusive. It would also provide a valuable opportunity for the teacher to make observations about the socio-affective and interpersonal characteristics of students, which could contribute to the creation of a class profile (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2013). While the class profile is a living document, it can be used to inform planning, instruction and assessment for all students.

I think these types of activities go a long way in helping a teacher to become acquainted with the learners in his or her classroom at a personal level. Furthermore, they help students to understand each other better and they work to create a learning community characterized by mutual respect and support. As emphasized in the Ontario Ministry of Education’s Learning for All (2013) document, every student has unique learning and motivational needs, and the teacher has a responsibility to put the learner at the centre of assessment and instruction practices.

 

Grade 8 Practicum

An intermediate introduction

Homeroom, six periods, over a hundred students in a day… While it is infamous for being a difficult year for students, grade 8 can definitely be a whirlwind from the teacher perspective as well! As a second year Teacher Candidate, I am excited to be in a grade 8 math/science placement for this semester.

“The three most important words in education are: relationships, relationships, relationships. Without them, we have nothing.” (Couros, 2015b)

My focus for the first two weeks of school is developing a strong foundation upon which to build positive relationships with students. The video below serves as an excellent reminder for educators to intentionally create learning communities where every child feels heard and valued. In the words of George Couros (2015a), “[w]e need to put ourselves in our student’s shoes before we can create better opportunities for them in our classrooms.” This is a message that has guided me through the first week of classes, and my observations led to three interesting take-aways:

  • Watch how students interact with one another, and pay special attention to how they choose to divide up when given the opportunity (e.g. Who gravitates towards whom? Which students do not get along? Who is alone?)
  • Be aware of students with older siblings/family members that you may have taught (e.g. How does this influence their expectations of the course?)
  • Be purposeful and explicit about your expectations for the year, with particular emphasis on how partner/group work should be completed

While much of the week was dedicated to administrative details, introductory concepts, and establishing routines, we took a few moments with several of our classes to reflect on the coming school year. They were asked to complete one or more of the following sentences on a post-it:

  • School is important because…

  • Math is important because…

  • Science is important because…

  • In order to be successful this year, I will…

There was some variability in responses, but in general, our students highlighted the importance of school (particularly math and science) in providing future opportunities and contributing to their career paths. They recognized the role of education in increasing their understanding of the world around them and preparing them for daily life (e.g. sports and recreation, job duties, finances, grocery shopping, caring for the environment, etc.). But, perhaps most importantly, many students pointed out the importance of school for building strong social skills and developing positive relationships. This resonated with me, and reinforced my belief that creating healthy, safe and supportive learning environments is the first step in fostering a productive thinking classroom.

Couros G. (2015a). 8 Characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset (Updated). The Principal of Change: Stories of learning and leading.

Couros G. (2015b). The Innovator’s Mindset. San Diego, CA: Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc.