Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Blogging With My Grade One Students

Whenever I get talking about my class one of the first things I'm happy to share is that my young students are blogging.  I owe the idea of having my students blog to Kathy Cassidy, a grade one teacher in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan that I have "friended" on Twitter.  While I have never met Kathy I have spent time reading her tweets and checking out her professional and class blogs.  Her class blog has a spot for class updates and a place for each child to have their own individual blog.  In September I checked out her students' blogs and I was impressed with what they were doing.  As someone always up for a challenge, I decided to give my students their own blogs too.

At first I was a bit worried that I wouldn't be able to do it, or more that my students wouldn't be able to do it.  I have several students new to Canada this year.  Many of my students speak a language other than English in their homes.  One of my students is a selective mute and does not speak or write at school.  Another student has extreme difficulty remembering letter names and sounds. Another is autistic.  I have a typical class in my school district with a variety of needs that need to be met. About 25% of my students do not have adequate access to the internet in their home  because they don't have a computer, or their computer does not work, or they do not have internet access.  So it wasn't going to be easy.

In all honesty it was tough getting started.  The link to our class blog where we have a link to our individual blogs was long.  But I really wanted them to go through our class blog because I wanted them to be aware of what was on it and how valuable it could be for them and their parents.  I think the first time we tried to find our own blogs it took nearly our entire time with the computers.  Nothing got published.  But I didn't give up.  I could see from Kathy's students' blogs how powerful they were.  With time we got better at logging into our individual blogs.  By Thanksgiving weekend (Oct 10, 2011) my students started submitting their first blogs to be published. I was ecstatic.

I also have a student that does not have permission to have her work published on the internet.  After a bit of searching on Kid Blog I discovered the publish privately setting.  I spoke with her mother and she was okay with her blog being published privately.  So now this one student is blogging too, her posts just aren't being published publicly.

As I write this post it makes me so proud to inform the world that my students have published 183 blog posts publicly and six privately, and have 34 sitting in draft mode.  My selective mute is an avid blogger.  My student that struggles with letters and their sounds is blogging.  My autistic student is blogging.  My limited English speakers are blogging.  EVERYONE in my class is blogging.  Many are blogging from home too - so far this school holiday I have published eight blogs written independently by students from home.

So why do I have them blog?

Blogging has provided my students with an authentic audience to write for.  I know some teachers feel the world is a scary place (and yes it can be) so they password protect the blogs that their children write.  I'm not one of those people.  My students know that what they write can be read by anyone who has internet access.  We've talked about how to blog responsibly and safely.  Many of my students smile knowing that anyone in the world can read their blogs.  Blogging gives them a voice.

Blogging has also helped them to get to know one another.  They have been encouraged to read each  others blog posts (see how I've snuck in authentic reading in there too) and comment on each others blog posts.   Speaking of comments they LOVE receiving comments.  I've made it my job to post a comment every time I publish one of their blog posts.  Yes, it takes time from me, but it's time well spent.  I've also utilized the private comment feature available on KidBlog to leave the specific feedback to help them improve for next time.

In addition each students' individual blog gives me a digital portfolio of their writing progression over time.  I am constantly reminding the children and their parents to go back and look at the older posts to see the change over time.  It's really quite incredible.

So what are some of the benefits I've seen from their blogging?

My students are writing.  Their writing is stronger, and they are much more eager to write.  They are authentic writers and they are telling their stories to the world.

My students' writing is getting read, and not just by me and their classmates.  They are receiving comments from parents, other teachers in our school, administrators both in our school and in our district, people higher up in our board office, and other students and teachers  around the world. Anyone who has taken the time to leave them a comment has taken the time to read their writing.

I have seen my new English language learners try to stretch their language learning with their blog posts.   My selective mute who is not yet comfortable enough to write in class is keen to blog from home and will even answer questions that are asked of her.  My student that struggles with letter names and sounds has gone from writing a string of letters (and then telling me what the letters say) to writing a sentence which can be read back to me.  The individual blogs have been a very powerful tool for everyone.

So where do I go from  here?

First off I want my students to remember to end their blogs with a question. By ending a blog post with a question you are inviting your audience to think about your question and hopefully make a comment to answer your question.

I also want my students to go more global with their commenting.  We follow some pretty great grade one classes and it would be wonderful for my students to read and comment on their blogs too.

I want to continue to encourage the parents of my students to comment more often on their children's blogs.

I want to teach my children more web based tools that they can embed into their individual blogs.

I want to continue to encourage my students to write longer, more detailed and meaningful posts.  I have many capable writers and it would be wonderful to see more of that excellent writing on their blogs.

I want my students to use their blogs to show all types of their learning. It can be a great place to store math, science, or socials learning too.

It's a good thing our school year is only one third over, we still have so much more to learn.

So if you've read this post this far you MUST be interested in reading and commenting on my students' blogs right? :-)  You can find them here.  I'm also curious to hear how your students use their individual blogs.  I know Kathy uses hers to have her students document all types of learning.  I'd love to hear suggestions of how I can better utilize our blogs.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Plea For a Projection Device

School has been out for almost a week now and I can't stop thinking about how I'm about to lose my portable class Smart Board and the projection device that goes with it.  I knew it was an extremely strong possibility that it was going to happen but a small part of me was hoping that others would forget. You see in my school of 23 Divisions we have two Smart Boards.  One is mounted in the lab and one is portable.  I have had the portable one stored in my room for first term.

Last year we decided as a staff that the portable smart board was not being used enough because it was such a pain to move from room to room.  Maybe it wasn't so much the moving of the board, but the re arranging of class furniture to get the board in and out of classrooms.  After a lot of discussion it was decided that each term we would store the smart board in one teacher's classroom.  Others could come and borrow it but the reality is once it's in a classroom it doesn't really  move from there.  When the discussions were occurring I had mentioned that I would like to have it in my room (after teaching in Australia in 2009 with one in my classroom there) but I didn't want it in term 1.  My students would be too young then and not ready to handle it.

Funny how things changed for me and my thinking.  Twitter totally changed that and so when I returned to school in September I quickly scooped up the white board and its accompanying paraphernalia (laptop, and projection device).  Things didn't go as well as I had hoped for the Smart Board though as the laptop brought nothing but trouble.  A lot of lessons were scrapped and a lot of time was wasted trying to get things working.  Two visits from the school district tech team and I think things might be working better now.  But, in reality it doesn't matter.  My term with the board is over.

I'm okay with the technology moving into a colleagues classroom.  It's good stuff and it needs to be shared. Others need to learn with it too.  But I have grown accustomed to having the projection device available to me at all times.  When we are learning a new concept I can quickly plug into the projection device and show a relevant clip.  When new blog posts are up on our class blog I can easily share them with the class.  When we are working on commenting on our blog comments, and other blogs we can easily do it together over the big screen.  When a twitter chat is on we can use it to project the feed.  The spontaneity of being able to quickly and easily project what's on our laptop or iPad anytime through out the day was a real treat.

So what am I going to do?  For one thing I'm going to start booking the portable projection device.  I want my Friday mornings to continue to be class commenting and blog review time.  That isn't a spontaneous use of the equipment, it is planned and we've done it a lot this past term.  The problem is when I can't get the projection device (or the rumblings start when people notice I'm booking it out EVERY Friday  morning) I need another plan.  Plan two is to book the laptops.  If we can't blog and comment as a class, we're going to do it in groups.  Laptops will do.  In reality either option will be fine.  I'm also going to do my best to think ahead and book the projection device at other times too.  In reality though this is tough to do and in all fairness I know we have a policy in place limiting how many times in a week, and how far in advance you can book the equipment.  I certainly want the equipment to be shared equally between those that are utilizing it.    But most of all I'm going to write a proposal to my administration to lobby for a projection device stored in my classroom.  I would OBVIOUSLY share it with others when we are not using it but it would be stored in my room at all other times.

This fall I have made a real effort to integrate technology into my classroom.  I have been avidly learning from others via Twitter.  I have created a class blog, given my students their own individual blogs.  We have used technology to help us with our reading, our writing, and our math skills.  We have read and commented on blogs around the world.  We have exchanged postcards and Christmas cards with students around the world.  We have taken part in and started twitter chats with other primary classes.  Technology has helped us learn how to share and to take turns.  And we are only just beginning to embrace our technology.  It has taught us how to think about things differently and show our learning in less traditional ways.  There is still so much more I want to do with my class.  So to take a step backwards by losing technology is breaking my heart.  My class and I have grown too accustomed to it.  With the introduction of the class iPad the last two weeks before school holidays (and it's accompanying attachment that has made it simple to project onto a screen) there is now even more that I want to do with it.

Hopefully my plea will fall on the right ears and I will be able to get a projection device stored in my classroom.  Fingers crossed everyone!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

iPod and iPad Apps I'm Using in My Grade One Classroom

Although I have only had an iPad in my classroom for two weeks  I am being asked to share the apps that I have discovered.  Here is a small collection of some of the apps I have used or plan to use with my grade one class.  Hopefully over time I will continue to update this table.

If you are using some apps that feel would be great for my grade one students to use too please feel free to suggest them in the comments section of this post.  A huge thank you in advance if you do.

You can find my list  here.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Pushing Boundaries

As I started to leave a comment on one of Aviva Dunsinger's blogs I couldn't help but stop to think about how discovering twitter for educational purposes has really changed me as a teacher. Prior to twitter I was a hard working teaching who questioned things and looked for ways to make things better. But with the discovery of educational twitter and connecting with such incredible primary educators my questioning and desire to get better has exploded.

For example two weeks ago Aviva @grade1 posted on twitter that her 1/2 class was going to have a game of I Spy using the hash tag #Ispy2011.  It was a way to get her students to write for an audience as they provided clues describing common objects around a classroom.  Aviva invited the rest of the world to try to guess the answers, and write clues for her students to try to figure out.  Seeing that on twitter finally prompted me to create a class twitter account @MsLsClass so that my class could play along.  While Aviva had her students do this activity on their own as part of a literacy rotation, we did it as a group activity.   My students loved trying to guess what was being posted. It was our very first twitter experience.

Aviva's activity made me think about what I was doing with my class and how I could integrate technology into it.  Each year  around Christmas time I have my students create secrets about Santa.  I have a little paper form where we write and illustrate our secrets.  We post them around the room and some years around our school so that others can read our secrets.  Having just played I Spy with Aviva's students on twitter I decided to create the hash tag #santasec2011 to have my students share their secrets about Santa.  I posted it on twitter and invited the world to join in with us.  The world came, or at least a few other primary classes came.  Twitter is a powerful tool and I look forward to getting my students more involved with it.

This past week I set up a closed facebook group for my class to help encourage more of my students' parents to be involved.  The facebook group will not replace the classblog It will only provide another avenue to the blog.  I figured if my parents are regularly checking their facebook accounts for their day to day lives why not connect them on facebook and provide them with a direct link to our class blog every time it gets updated.  So far I have three families in the group but the notice only did go out yesterday and we have just started school holidays.

In addition, with the iPad that I was given to use in my classroom, my use of technology integration continues to explode.  In the two weeks that I've had the iPad it has constantly been in the hands of my students.  As I said in another post we are using it to read, write, do math, create, explore, and discover. I even took it on our field trip and we practiced math facts as we waited for the performance to start.   I have discovered wonderful apps that will help my students with their individual learning needs.  For example I have one student that is a selective mute. I've down loaded Talking Tom as a way to get her to speak at school.  Granted the speaking will be done in complete privacy but if I'm lucky the motivation of having the silly cat repeat her words may help her take that first step of talking at school.  Right now she is giggling like crazy when others talk to and are repeated by Talking Tom.  Then there's Dragon Dictation. I have another student with severe speech language issues and a severe learning disability.  He will be using Dragon Dictation to practice speaking clearly.  If he is successful with his speech he will be rewarded with personalized typed text that he can then use to write his journal entry.

My list of examples of change and growth because of inspiration or knowledge I've gained from twitter goes on and on.  Just getting me to think like this has been 100% inspired but what I've learned and read on and via twitter.  The connections I've made with like minded educators  has introduced me to so many new things I would have never known about without it.  It is pushing my boundaries far further than I every thought I'd want to go.  It has made me realize that twenty years into the best profession in the world, I still have so much more to learn and discover.  It has reminded me that need never be a dull moment in my career.

With that in mind there are still several things I'd like to integrate into my teaching or classroom.  This list is far from complete but it is a place for me to document what is spinning in my head these days.

I want to...

- use our big buddies to teach and help us learn how to use storybird (with hopes that my students will be motivated to use it on their own)
- show my class audioboo and use it to digitally document their oral reading and post it on our class and/or their individual student blogs
- revisit Voki as a tool for demonstrating our learning
- create QR codes for my classroom books stored by author providing direct links to the author's website to hear stories read by the author or to learn more about the author
- introduce Voice Thread, ShowMe, ScreenChomp, Explain Everything,  Puppet Pals, Toontastic, Sock Puppets, Wordle, as a way of documenting and sharing our ideas with others
- get my students tweeting our class happenings independently
- *find ways to get more technology permanently into my classroom
- create a google doc list of apps I use for teaching and provide the link to other educators and to the parents of my students
- continue to expand my Personal Learning Network and find a way to stay on top of all the amazing information coming my way
- continue to share my learning with anyone who will listen, and provide support to others where ever I can

As  I begin my well earned two week school holiday I will continue to ponder, discover, explore, and push my boundaries.  I'm curious to know how your teaching has changed either because of your interaction with other like minded educators, or your experiences on twitter.  I'd love for you to share too.

*Right now I have my school's one portable smart board and projection device in my classroom but I am only allowed to keep it for one term.  That term has just ended and I am pretty bummed to know it will be gone (but happy to know that other like minded educators in my school will get the chance to use it).   I will canvas my new administration for my own projection device to use with the ipad I've been given, but if I'm not successful there I will be looking at other avenues to get a permanent projection device into my classroom.  Having to sign out the school's shared one will totally mess the spontaneity we've had with having the portable smart board in our class.  Knowing that I'm about to loose it makes me realize how valuable it has been.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Teaching Children to Read - Keeping It Simple

Sometimes I think we over organize our reading programs with literacy rotations, guided reading sessions, and many must do jobs for our students. In the past I was one of those teachers rotating students through a weekly rotation, planning different activities for my different levelled learners.  I think I spent so much time making sure my students were on task doing the right thing that I had little time left to actually teach my students.  This year I've tried something different, and so far I like it.

This year I am trying to start every reading session with a read aloud.  Sometimes the read aloud is purely for the sake of enjoying good literature, but more often than not it's used as a tool to teach my students a specific reading strategy. I try to make sure that all my students are in my class during the read aloud.  This isn't really new for me, but ensuring that all my students are present for this lesson is.

At my school I am extremely lucky.  I have an excellent Learner Support Team (LST).  Typically as I finish the read aloud and the mini lesson someone from our grade one LST team appears at my door.  They are there to collect my struggling readers.  They come four days a week and my struggling readers are slotted into one of three groups.  You see, there are three LST teachers that work with our grade one students at the same time.  The three of them take a look at all the struggling readers in our four grade one classes and create reading groups depending on the needs of our students.  Their groups are fluid  and the children in my class that require additional support are also fluid.  The LST teachers work with the low of the low, the medium low of the low, and the high low of the low freeing me up to teach the reading to the rest of my students.

When those students are taken from my room the rest of my students turn to their just right book boxes.  These boxes are filled with books at their just right reading levels, along with books that they are keen to learn to read, and/or old favourites.  We keep our past guided reading books in these boxes too.  With their book boxes in hand they find a comfortable, safe place to read around the classroom.  Once everyone is settled I start a timer.  During this time most students read independently on their own.  I have read over and over again that one of the best ways to become a better reader is to READ.  During this time my students READ.

While most of my students are reading I pull a small group for guided reading.  I find in term one I tend to pull similar reading level groups as we are all new to reading strategies for comprehension, accuracy, and fluency.  During these small group sessions I always have a focus, and a reading strategy to teach (or review).  As I begin term two I think I will have more of a balance between similar levelled reading groups, and strategy specific groups to encourage my groups to be more fluid. While I am teaching this small group of children the rest of my class is on task reading.

Sometimes the timer goes off before I am done with my group sometimes it doesn't. It doesn't really matter though.  My students that have been reading books from their just right book boxes know that once the timer goes off the students are free to "free read".  In my room "free read" can include pretty much anything as long as the  main focus of the activity is reading.  Some children head on line to Starfall or Tumblebooks.  Others play with our word blocks to create sentences. Some share their book box books with friends.  Some continue to read on their own.  Some explore the literacy centres I created in the past.  With the introduction of our class iPad some are reading there.  But really, the goal of this time is to continue to have my students practice their reading and to be perfectly honest I don't really care what they are reading as long as they are reading.  A favourite activity this month is playing the oops game - focussing on reading our weekly word wall words. Last month they were into reading a silly story starter book that as you flipped the pages you created different (funny) sentences.  It's amazing how easy it has become for me.  Instead of me gearing my students to read this, or complete that reading activity, they are happily choosing what they want to read.  It's also cool to see my stronger readers share their knowledge of reading with my less able readers.  My goal is to have my students read and by giving them this "free read" time, they are reading, what they WANT to read. It's huge, and so simple to do.

As I finish up my guided reading group those students also join the rest of their classmates at "free reading".  During this time I am free to have one on one reading conferences with my students, or to rotate around the room and chat with my students about their reading.  It's a magical time and provides me with so much insight into my students reading.  It's invaluable time spent teaching and learning with my students.

We end each reading session with Reader's Chair.  Depending on time we have at least one student read to our entire class.  We provide feedback on their reading, and provide suggestions to help them improve.  It's powerful learning/teaching.   I think in the coming term I may  look at perhaps having more reader's share their reading.  I'm thinking about maybe having a different reader's chair take place in the four corners of our room so that more children get a chance to share their reading to their classmates.  Not exactly sure how it will look but it is something I'm thinking about.

So my question to you is how do you teach reading? What have I forgotten in my reading session or how could I make it even better?  I look forward to hearing from you.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Teaching with an iPad - Four Days In

On Tuesday, December 6th, for the first time in my teaching career I began teaching with an iPad.  With virtually no experience I let it go into the hands of my grade one students.  In four short days this is a small snapshot of what it allowed my students to do:

• write and publish personal blogs
• read and listen to on line stories
• practice basic subtraction facts in a variety of game  settings
• work collaboratively to solve math problems
• work collaboratively to create animation movies

Needless to say the ipad has been a hit with everyone in the class.  It engaged my students with special needs by allowing them to work at their just right level. It helped my selective mute socialize and collaborate with a classmate which made the student feel safe enough to laugh out loud.  It instantly became a vital tool in my classroom and I know I haven't even begun to tap its potential for teaching and learning.

With a school holiday coming up in a little over a week I am super excited to be able to spend some quality time getting to know my iPad better.  Already I know I want to use it to allow my students to document their learning in a way that seems right for them.  I want to use it to help enrich my students, and provide additional support where it's needed.  I want to go through the many apps that have been recommended to me by my Twitter PLN as I know I have barely scratched the surface in that area.

Here is to exciting times ahead.

Monday, December 5, 2011

An Incredible Opportunity

I'm in shock.  Really.  I have been given an opportunity that I never ever expected and I'm still in shock that it has actually happened.

This evening I was given the opportunity to join a local high school during their training on ipads at the local apple training centre.  This wasn't an opportunity open to anyone, and certainly not someone like me, a grade one teacher at a completely different school.  From the moment I was asked a couple of weeks ago I haven't stop thinking about it.

This summer, after discovering twitter, I set some goals for myself.  I wanted to move my teaching into the 21st century and I wanted to use technology to get there.  At first I was completely over whelmed with twitter, but with time and patience it all made sense to me.  I found a way to make it work for me and along the way I "met" some incredible educators.

One person that I met is Elisa Carlson.  Elisa is Director of Instruction with my school district.  She has a lot to do with the technology in our district and is providing educational opportunities to many.  She is breaking new ground as she attempts to take our district into the 21st century.  It's no easy task with close to 70,000 students and many administrators and teachers.  Elisa has been  closely following what I have been trying to do with  my grade one class this year and she liked what she saw.  It was Elisa who made this opportunity happen and I can't thank her enough.

Another important person I met is Orwell Kowalyshyn.  He is one of our district helping teachers, and he has done a lot to help me.  Orwell has answered many of my tech questions.  He has helped me arrange   the district loaner set of ipods and ipads into my school.  He has given me a lot of his time - and with a district the size of ours, I know that it was probably above and beyond what is expected in his role.

So why is this opportunity so special?  Not only did I receive excellent training from Bryan Hughes but I also received my very own Ipad 2 to use with my class this year.  I feel like I'm bouncing off the walls I'm so excited.  Already I've come up with a few ways that we will be using it in my class tomorrow! It isn't so much the tool that I was given, it's all the amazing learning that we will be able to do with it.  Teaching my students is still my number one priority, but with this new toy, the teaching (and learning) just got a whole lot more fun.

To Elisa and Orwell, and the staff at F.H. High School I am very thankful for this opportunity that I've been given.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Playing with Audio Boo

A while back  I told my students about a tool I had heard about on the internet called Audio Boo.  I told them that one day we'd be able to record their reading and post them on either our class blog or their individual blogs.  Anyhow I've just realized that I haven't yet tried Audio Boo myself.  So this evening I did just that.  I can't wait to try this with my students. I know they are going to love it and what a great authentic way to document their reading progress through out the year.  Now if only I had recorded them back in September. They have already made so many gains.

Trying to Find Balance

I love my job, I always have, and I hope I always will.  I get excited about a lot of things my students are doing and I love learning new things myself.  However I find these past few months I am constantly being over whelmed by how much is out there for me to still learn.  Don't get me wrong, I've never felt that I've known it all, nor did I ever think I would know it all.  But little has changed since I wrote this blog post back in July.

I am one that thrives on change and growth.  I like to attempt to do what others believe can't be done - heck I've completed five Ironman distance triathlons with very little natural athletic ability.  But professionally this has been a real struggle for me this year.  Again, don't get me wrong, I am really happy with what I'm accomplishing with my students this year. They are a constant source of amazement for me which makes going to work so much fun.  I know I'm doing a better job teaching grade one this year than I did last year.  But, the more I read the more I learn there is so much more I could be doing with my students.  I don't like dealing with the fact that I can't do it all.  I don't like feeling like I'll never be as good as I think I can be.

In all honesty sometimes I wish I was like some of the others I know, those that are happy with where they are already.  Things would be so much easier then.  I would be able to find balance and peace in what I'm doing.  But I have never, nor will I ever be that type of person.  I like doing the hard work, and getting that feeling of satisfaction when I see my hard work pay off.  That's something I'm trying to instil in my students too.  I actually like working hard, and being challenged, and constantly challenging myself.

So where does this strong desire to achieve and this struggle of knowing I'll never really get there leave me?  It leaves me trying to find balance.  The big question is how do I find this balance?

Playing with QR Codes

One of the goals I set for myself back in August was to learn and use as many web 2.0 tools as I can.  Today I've been playing with QR Codes.  I can't  believe how easy they are to create.  I can't wait to teach my students how to make them and what we can share with them.  Another exciting thing to add to the list.  Check out my very first one.


Monday, November 28, 2011

My Students Made Me Proud Today

Today I started my official student bench marking in reading by administering the Fountas & Pinnell reading assessment.  I feel as though I have a pretty good idea of where my students are reading at because of the reading I do with them, the books they are taking home for home reading, and the many conversations I've had with them.  But there are still things I'm curious about despite having all this data.  By administering this "official" assessment I feel as though I gain "authentic" data which can be compared across all grade levels in our school (we all have access to this assessment kit).   It also helps confirm for me, what I think I already know.

Today I worked with five students.  I was not surprised to see that they tested out pretty much exactly where I thought they would test out. What did surprise me was the number of strategies that I've taught them this year that they are using while reading.  One student made a prediction about the story as soon as I read her the title.  Another was inferring as she was reading, showing me that she was obviously using her brain.  One of my English Language Learner (ELL) students understood everything she read in her story, until the story pattern changed because a skunk entered the picture.  She has no prior knowledge on skunks but instead of reading on, she stopped and asked me to tell her about skunks.

It's moments like these that make me really proud to be a teacher.  Have you ever experienced moments like this? I'm curious to hear how your students have made you proud.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Fostering Independence in Grade One - A Few Examples

I teach grade one. I teach five and six year olds (who in the new year will start turning six and seven).  They are young children.  Many believe that they need to be hand held each step of the way.  But I disagree.  In my classroom I do my very best to teach independence instead of dependence.  It starts early and it continues all year long.

To begin with I set up routines that are easy to remember.  My students know what they have to do when they come into my classroom each morning.  They know what to do and they do it.  They also know where our classroom supplies are so if they need a new pencil, or a pair of scissors they know where to go without my help.  Having simple routines set up allows my students to be responsible for themselves.  These simple routines help foster independence.

During writing my students are also independent.  I teach whole class, small group, and one on one  writing lessons, but they are independent writers.  What I mean by that is I do not tell them what to write, nor do I spell for them.  From time to time I will give them suggestions of things they could write about but I never tell them what to write.  I am trying to foster authentic independent writers, and so I want the writing that they do to come from them.  In the past I have found when I tell my students what to write, they constantly ask me what they should write.  If I tell them how to spell their words (before they have tired it first on their own) they constantly ask me to spell for them.  This ends up creating students who can't write (or spell) without me telling them what to do.  This year I've broken that dependence by encouraging my students to write what is important to them.

My students are also independent with their problem solving.  That doesn't mean that I won't get involved when I'm needed but most of the time I'm not needed.  My students use their words, and more specifically their "I messages".  I teach them how to use their voice when they don't like what is happening around them.  I teach them how to listen to one another.   I also teach then to use their voice when they like what's happening around them.  My students make mistakes, and hurt one another's feelings just like any other five and six year olds would, but most of them have the tools to fix up the situation when misunderstanding happen.  They problem solve with clear communication, which I believe fosters their independence.  Most of time my five and six year old students can independently solve their problems on their own.

These are just a few examples of how I foster independence with my students. I'd love to hear how you help foster independence with your students?

Teaching A Comic Lesson I Learned on Twitter

This afternoon I showed my class a YouTube video of a student in Ontario, Canada teaching his former class how to draw a cartoon character.  I've never met this student but I actively follow his previous teacher on Twitter.  I think at first my class was a bit skeptical to be learning from a boy in a classroom across the country but they were just as curious to see what he had to share.  The way the teacher filmed the video of her "young teacher" made us feel like we were sitting on the floor with her class too.

In the end it was probably one of the best directed drawing lessons we've done this year.  They were so curious to see what he was going to do next.  They remained on task at all times, and the language between one another was music to my ears.  In the end each made their own special "peanut" person and they were all so proud of their final products.

This lesson is another big change for me.  In the past I have rarely utilized YouTube with my students.  I always thought it wasn't worth the time and it was too much of a hassle to set up.  This lesson confirmed for me that I've got to use the resources available to me to their full potential.  I will once again credit this change in my teaching to my new love, Twitter.

If you're curious to see what we did please check out our class blog post here.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Technology Frustrations

It's been over a month now since I wrote my last blog post. It was never my intention to go so long between posts. There really is a lot I want to share.  I've been struggling with something which has made it difficult for me to write a positive post.

Since joining Twitter in July (yes, a line I seem to use over and over again because its impact has been that huge on me and my teaching and learning) I have jumped in with both feet to utilize technology with my class to the best of my ability.  I've created, for the first time, a class blog which includes a direct link to  individual student blogs; I've utilized our school's laptops and extra computer lab time; I've integrated our school interactive smart board; I've signed out our district ipods and ipads; and I've helped those at my school to utilize technology too.  I'm proud of all those things.

My school district is really keen on getting us technology savvy to help better meet the needs of our students.  I love that about my district.  I have been attending a technology dinner series entitled Engaging the Digital Learner Series listening to some amazing speakers.  I've put my school on the list to get wireless technology sooner rather than later.  I work in a forward thinking district and I'm really happy about that.

My biggest source of frustration is the technology that is available to me in my classroom.  I've adopted four iBooks.  The iBooks were saved from a trip to computer heaven and are long past their due date, so I don't complain about them at all.  We can use them for very basic things but not much else.  I don't expect them to perform consistently because they are so old (notice I wrote iBook, not MacBook).  I also have an eMac which is a bit better than the laptops, and an iMac G5.  The iMac is the best computer in my room.  I've managed to wiggle a lot of computers into my classroom which is a good thing. I've also been able to get the school's one portable smart board to be stored in my classroom for this first term.  It comes with a brand new MacBook laptop and its own projection device. I thought I was really l lucky to have this interactive white board in my room.  So why am I so frustrated?

My computers are constantly crashing.  When I open up our class website on the iMac G5 more times than not it crashes and quits Safari.  It's a hit or miss if I can open it up any other computers in the classroom.  My students are keen to blog during their writing time but by the time we get a page up and running way too much time has passed because they are so slow! My school board also has control of what goes on our computers.  When we received new PC computers in our lab they installed an old version of Microsoft Word so any document created in a newer version of Word won't open at school.  I am constantly being told that my software is out of date and any upgrading has to come from the district.

And the interactive white board.  The board itself has been awesome but the laptop that accompanies it has been nothing but trouble.  While it is brand new, it freezes all the time.  It's been re-imaged and while things improved for a while it is still totally unreliable.  I've planned so many lessons utilizing it to have to scrap them because my technology has failed me.  I now get excited when the lessons on the interactive white board actually work because it is such a rare occurrence.  

The school laptops have also been a source of trouble.  On some of them there are some strange restrictions that won't allow my students to log into their personal blogs.  Sometimes they pick up the wireless network available for me, and other times they don't.  This is so frustrating.

I don't want to complain any more because I know that I have it better than most in my school, and most in my district.  My school is not yet a needy school because we have a full 30 computer PC lab, and 30 laptops available to us. However when you look at our technology, and how out dated it is becoming, I can't see how we'll ever be in the 21st century.  What we could use, and what we can actually afford are way too far apart.

So I will continue to do what I can with what I have but a big part of me will continue to dream about the day when the technology works as it should.  My question to you is how do you deal with your technology frustrations?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Before I Was a Good Teacher. Now I Hope I'm a Better One.

Before I had a class website where I posted information.  Now I have a class blog where we post items together and we (and the world) can comment on our posts.

Before my class website was used by the parents of my class. Now my class blog is looked at by people all around the world.

Before I talked about teaching and learning with the people that I worked with, my fellow teaching friends, and the people at the workshops I attended.  Now, through Twitter,  I'm having conversation with amazing educators from all over the world.

Before I told my students what to read. Now they chose what they want to read.

Before I felt we couldn't afford technology.  Now I'm finding ways to get it into my school.

Before I thought we could only have physical education when we were in the gym.  Now I know we can have it every single day.

Before I worked in isolation only sharing with my close friends. Now I'm sharing with the world.

Before I had no place for my students to write on-line. Now my students have their own individual blogs.

Before I told my students what to write. Now I let my students write about what's meaningful to them.

Before my students wrote in notebooks or on paper. Now they write where they want including their notebooks, papers, white boards, computers, blogs etc....

Before my students sat in their own desks and always did their work there. Now my students are free to work with whom ever, and where ever in the room they'd like (most of the time).

Before I didn't think my students could handle technology.  Now I know that they can.

Before my students went up and down during reading time constantly changing their books.  Now they have their own just right book box with books they are interested in reading.

Before I felt that I had to do what everyone else was doing.  Now I do what I believe should be done.

Before I told my students how many sentences to write in their journals.  Now I just encourage them to write.

Before I was afraid to bring laptops into my classroom early in the year.  Now I can't imagine not bringing them in.

Before I set goals for my students but they didn't know what they were.  Now we set goals together.

Before I kept the student's individual goals  private.  Now I share them quite openly.

Before I needed to be in control of everything that my students were doing.  Now I give my students a lot more freedom to explore while they learn.

Before I asked for student volunteers to share their ideas.  Now we turn and talk to one another so we all have a chance to share our ideas.

Before I taught the whole class to read at the same time.  Now I work with small groups, and individuals too.

Before my lessons in the computer lab were done in isolation.  Now what we do in the lab the children can easily do at home with the links provided on the class blog.

Before I was expecting everyone to do the same thing at the same time.  Now I'm differentiating my activities so everyone is doing their own thing at the same time.

Before I taught the whole class to write at the same time.  Now I work with small groups, and individuals too.

Before I just taught, never really thinking about what my individual students already knew or needed.  Now I use my assessment data to help structure my lessons.

Before I was a good teacher.  Now I hope I'm a better one.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

A Look Back at My Year in Australia

In 2009 I spent the year teaching in Melbourne, Australia.  For me, spending the year working and living in Australia was a way to mix up things in my life.  It was an interesting year for me because while I had seventeen years of teaching experience, I felt like a first year teacher all over again. The systems were different, the rules were different, and the structures were different.  But the kids, the kids were the same.  One thing that I know, no matter where in the world you are, six and seven year olds are six and seven year olds.  Some of the biggest differences I noticed included how the day was scheduled, the number of meetings I attended in a week, the amount of administration/leadership roles, the amount of technology available to me, and how I was expected to teach.

The day was structured around five one hour sessions per day.  There were two sessions before recess, a thirty minute recess, two after recess, a one hour lunch break (15 min for eating followed by 45 min for playing), and one session after lunch.  It was expected that my first two sessions per day were reading, followed by writing.  Maths was typically session three. The remaining sessions of the day were left for "topics", school wide buddies, school wide assembly, and my specialists - library, art, and p.e.

I must admit I loved the two hours of structured literacy time in the morning.  I could actually get a lot of reading and writing done in that time.   Here in Canada I *typically have  approx. 97 min before recess (15 min) and I find the time flies so quickly that as much as I have a great structure to cover a lot of reading and writing, it's really tough to fit it all in.  I *typically have 90 min between recess and lunch, and 114 minutes after lunch.  At lunch time my students go out to play first for 25 min, then come in and eat for 15 min, before we start the afternoon lessons.

While in Australia I also loved the 180 min a week I had for planning/prepping lessons.  My students had p.e. for one hour a week, art for one hour a week, and library for one hour a week.   Here in Canada I have 100 min a week for planning/prepping lessons.  My students have two 30 min music sessions per week, and one 40 min library block per week.

What I didn't like was all the after school meetings we had.  Most weeks we had a meeting Tuesday, Wednesday, AND Thursday after school.  Tuesday was typically a staff meeting, Wednesday I attended either professional development type meeting with the entire staff or a Welfare meeting with a quarter of the staff, and Thursday the year 1/2 team met. During the 1/2 meeting I had to share what I learned at the welfare meeting while others on my team shared what they learned at their Wednesday meetings.  To me it was completely crazy how many  meetings we had.  At times I felt like I was meeting to talk about why I was meeting, so that we could plan a meeting, to meet.  In Canada I typically have one staff meeting a month, and one primary meeting every six or so weeks.  Most of our communication is done via on line weekly messages from the principal, or through our on line conference. Of course we meet when there is a need but we don't meet for the sake of meeting.  There is always a purpose to our meetings.  In Australia, I did like that the 1/2 team met regularly and if we had used the time to actually discuss what we were doing in our classes and plan together the meetings would have been great. But they didn't really work that way, and they became more about keeping us in a meeting for the required amount of time than actually using the time wisely.  In Canada, while we meet as a primary staff far less often, when we meet we have an agenda, and we get a lot accomplished.  Maybe it's a difference between Canadians and Australians, or maybe it was just the school that I was in, but those Aussie meetings sure did suck a lot of my time.

Another big difference that I saw between my school here in Canada, and my school in Australia was the amount of people involved at the leadership level.  Here in Canada I teach at a school of 500+ students.  We have a full time principal, and a part time vice principal.  That's it, that's the leadership team.  In Australia I taught in a school of around 300 students.  We had a full time principal, a full time assistant principal, and the equivalent of 2.5 teachers removed from the classroom each week to fill a leadership role in the school.  The leadership team met on Mondays, so they had meetings four of five afternoons a week.  I'm not really sure what they met about though because I have to say with that many people trying to lead a school there seemed to be a lot of confusion of who was doing what.

The level of technology was also quite different for me in Australia.  My Australian school had an interactive white board (IWB) in every classroom.  Yes, every single classroom had an interactive white board.  When I left for Australia my school had NO interactive white boards. That's right, none.  When I returned we had one in our school lab, and we got it because we donated space to a program and in turn they purchased the IWB for us.  Last year the school purchased a second portable IWB.  So now we have two IWBs in our school (and the portable one just happens to be stored in my classroom).  My Australian school also had a bank of 15 computers in the library which could be booked out, and we (the 1/2 team) shared eight computers between our four classrooms. Here in Canada I have two so so computers in my classroom.  I have a 37 min time each week in our school lab (30 computers), and I can book out the class set of laptops when ever I like (assuming they are free).  I'm also housing four really old ibooks (the board wanted to take them away when they were being upgraded but I wanted to keep them for my students and so far I've been able to keep them).

Finally the biggest difference I noticed between my Australian school and my Canadian school was what I was expected to do. In my Canadian school we are given a lot of freedom to cover our required curriculum.  In my Australian school  I was expected to do a lot of things, whether I believed they were educationally sound or not.  Thankfully a lot of what was imposed on the teachers the year I was there were things I had already introduced myself because they were things I was already doing in Canada.  For example in my Melbourne school I was mandated to have a class library (which was so strange to me that there weren't any books when I arrived in my 1/2 classroom).  I was mandated to have a class word wall word (again, some thing I had already set up upon my arrival to Australia since mine is an integral part of my classroom in Canada).  I was also mandated to have just right book packages for each of my students (again something I implemented when I arrived because I felt they were so valuable in my classroom in Canada).  It was expected that I had reading, writing, and math guided sessions each and every day.  As it turned out I had five reading, five writing, and five maths groups running all year long. It was crazy insane for me as I had way less resources than I was used to in my classroom in Canada (I left my personal and professional resources for my exchange teacher but I was left very little), and the other teachers at my grade level were so busy with their own students needs that little was shared between us.  That part of the exchange really sucked because I actually worked with a couple of really fantastic teachers, and we could have accomplished so much more if we had utilized our team meetings to our advantage.  There were many other things that I was expected to do to cover the required Australian curriculm.  And I was expected to do what the others were doing.  Here in Canada, while I work with two other grade one teachers, we all do our own thing.  We all let our strengths shine through in our teaching so while each grade one class is doing something different, we are all doing great things with our students.  In Australia, I couldn't do many of the things I wanted to do because we all had to do the same things.

For those of you that have only taught in one school system I'm hoping as you read this post you are starting to compare the system you know, with the ones that I've gotten to know.  I'm really curious to hear how your day is set up.  What is your leadership team like? How many minutes a week are you given to plan/prep your lessons while your students are being taught by someone else?  What type of technology do you have access to? Are you expected to teach a specific way or with a specific program? I'm curious to know.

*This year our recess had to be changed to allow member of the school board to arrive at our school to cover recess supervision as we, the teachers, are in job action.

Monday, October 10, 2011

My Students Are Blogging!

I can't tell you how excited I am right now.  This afternoon I logged onto my computer to see a request to approve a blog written by one of my students on our  kidblog .  I've set up a class kidblog so that every student has their own page to blog, password protected and all.  Not only did they blog from home, on a long weekend here in Canada, but they even added a family photo.  No sooner than I had posted a comment and approved her blog for the world to see, did I receive another e-mail letting me know that there was another blog to moderate from a second student.  Then, a few minutes later a third blog from a third student.

In the past I've had a class website through our district server, but this year I took the step even further by having a class blog.  Snooping around other class blogs I realized what I wanted even more was a place for my students to do their own blogging - whether they were at home or at school.  Two weeks ago I gave them their individual passwords, and I showed them their individual blogs.  This week we headed back to the lab to try and write on our blogs, but it was taking us forever to log on so I decided to use the time to go over internet and blogging safety. Don't worry we had already talked about it but I had a great video that I wanted to show them too.  I then snuck back into the lab after school and set up a quick link to our class blog so we would no longer have trouble getting to our blogs.  So this week, the plan was (is) to utilize all the computers we have access to in our school lab so that everyone could write their own first blog.  I figured after that everyone would start blogging from home.  We of course would (will) continue to blog from school too.

You can imagine how excited I am right now knowing that three of my students have already blogged from home.  And to make things even better, after I shared this exciting news with my PLN on twitter (I love you guys) each student received three additional comments from  amazing grade one teachers in other parts of the world.

My class schedule is set up so that my students have time in the day to do their own self directed writing. I know once they see the audience they have with their blogs  everyone else in the class will be excited to blog too.  Ideally I'd love to be able to offer a computer to anyone that would like one but my reality is I have one (possibly two) class computer(s) that they will be able to do their blogging on.  Not ideal of course, but we will make it work.

I  don't think I've ever been this excited to see my students after a long weekend.  I am so glad I'm doing this with my class. So very, very glad.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Changes, Changes, Changes

As I keep saying, this summer I discovered Twitter and the incredible people learning and sharing with one another.  So much has changed for me in such a short period of time and I'm super excited about all the changes.  I've always loved what I do for a living, but I feel like my enthusiasm for my job is just growing and growing.  There is so much I want to do with my class this year.

On August 2nd I set the following goals for myself after attending  RSCON3.  So far I'd say I'm heading in the right direction.

I will set up a class blog with my grade one class this year. I hope to have a blog that the parents of my students can go to see what we are doing in class, and that the rest of the world can check out too.  DONE!  My class blog is up and running.  Today we wrote a blog together as a class.  There are still so many more things that I want to do with the blog, but I don't want to over whelm anyone - including myself.  I've also taken this goal one step further by creating individual blogs for my students.  We are writing on them even though nothing has been published to the world yet.

I will take the time to learn as many Web 2.0 tools as I can that can either benefit my teaching, my students learning, this blog, or my class blog. I've learned a ton of new tools which I hope to use either for myself or with my class.  I've also shared my knowledge at two professional development days with my staff.  

I will continue to differentiate my teaching because I believe so strongly about it, but I will look even more closely at how I go about differentiating. This isn't new for me, but I'm going to look for even more ways to differentiate.  

I will provide more opportunities for my grade one students to show me what they know in the manner that they are most comfortable with. Still working on this one, but I know it will come.  So much of my time at the beginning of the year is focussed on setting a proper tone for the rest of the year. I'm really pleased with the tone that we are setting together.

I will book the “free” lab time more often as well as bring the laptops into my classroom much earlier than term three. Each week I'm looking at when the free blocks in the lab are.  Obviously with a large school I have to be fair with the extra blogs but so far even adding one extra block in the lab makes a difference.  Today it was for a math lesson, next week, if the time is available it will be for a big buddy lesson- can't wait to get our big buddies to help us explore Voki. As for laptops, I've managed to get a small set of the older laptops into my classroom.  These laptops are at the end of their life span, but they are good enough for us at the moment. It's so exciting to see my students so excited to get on them.  Of course, I still have the laptop carts that I can book, which once I feel like our programs are really up and going, I will book them - perhaps next week during our math block?  Using technology in my first grade classroom does not scare me.

I will look for grants to get more technology into my classroom, and into my school. I haven't been able to get anything permanent into my school however I have been in contact with the "right" people in my district.  At the moment my school has a class set of ipod touches on loan and we are scheduled to receive  ipads into our school for a few weeks too.  While these are just temporary additions of technology (three week visits), they are (or hopefully will) help my staff realize how amazing these tools can be for teaching and learning.

I will read as many blogs as I can, and comment as often as possible. I have been and will continue to read other professional blogs. I'm making a real effort to write comments too.  I love what I'm learning from others and how it questions what I'm already doing.  I also love reading other people's "Ah Ha" moments.

I will be willing to help anyone that can use my help. I still stand by this one and I have helped out a few people in the process.  I'm hoping I can help out more but even if they don't ask for help, I'm hoping that by sharing what I'm doing I'll maybe help them take a second look at what they could be doing.  I really want to bring down the fear factor for as many as I can.

I will have my class fully participate in the Post Card Project. I love this project but I still haven't written a post card despite receiving three. But I will, or at least my class will, write postcards soon.

I will try my best to instill in my students that they can feel, imagine, do and share. This is and will be an on going process which I will not give up on.

I will be a change agent.

I'm really eager to see what the next couple of months have in store for me.  It's going to be an exciting ride.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Engaging the Digital Learner - a Look Back

On Thursday Sept 29th, I had the privilege of attending a workshop put on by my school district entitled "Engaging the Digital Learner". The key speaker was Chris Kennedy of the West Vancouver School District.  Chris inspired all of us with his stories of what is happening in his school district. He talked about how every staff member is receiving digital training, how all his principals are blogging, and how every student has a platform to write and share with others. It was truly inspiring.

During the session we had to turn and talk with our table about how we are doing with digital literacy.  I was happy to report that I was feeling pretty comfortable with it.  I shared how I've started blogging with my grade one classroom, and how my grade one students have their own individual blogs as well.  I think I surprised my table - mainly upper intermediate teachers with their administration - with what I was doing with my grade one students.  I was trying to show them that the age of the child is irrelevant, we all can be digital learners.  Of course as comfortable as I am with what I'm doing now, there is still so much more I could be doing.

To attend this workshop I needed to sign up with a buddy.  I'm really glad I went with my good friend and work colleague.   However, I really wish one of my administrators was able to join me too.  I am super charged to use technology as a tool for learning with my grade one students and I'm doing everything I can to charge the rest of my staff.  But it's not easy.  Having an administrator as equally charged as I am would go a long way.

There are still four more sessions and I can't wait to attend them.  In the mean time I will continue to share what I'm doing in my classroom with anyone that will listen.  I will continue to support those on my staff.  I will (and have) arranged to get more technology into my school - even if it's just on a short term loan - to hopefully (fingers crossed) inspire more people to help me convert more staff members to the benefit of technology in our classrooms.  My ultimate goal is convert everyone on staff to the benefits of using technology for learning, because really that's where the world is heading.

Until the next session, I'll keep learning and sharing.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

September: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Now that September is finally over (yes, I said finally as I find it one of the hardest teaching months of the year) here's a look back at September's good, bad, and ugly.


My Class

Late August every year I start to wonder and worry about who will be in my class. It's not that I don't think I can handle any student that walks into my room, it's just that I'm curious about the challenges I'm going to take on for the year.  Last year the kindergarten teachers at my school grumbled a little more than usual as they dealt with several challenging issues.  I don't know if it's just that the children are a year older, or those that caused the grumbling moved away, but I'm really loving my class.

My class does have its issues but I feel I can handle what I'm dealing with.  One issue that is more prevalent this year than in the past is anxiety.  I have a few (far more than usual) students that suffer from anxiety but I am doing my very best to help ease their fears.  We are using a chime several times a day to calm us and help us focus on our breathing.  I have also begun using the Fun Friends social emotional program which I was trained in last year.  In addition I'll be using the Mind Up and Vancouver Canucks Fin's Friends programs.  All three work well together and will hopefully (fingers crossed) give all my students more tools to deal with life.

I am going to have a great year with my class this year.

My Class Blog

I'm really happy to report that I have my first ever class blog up and running.  I've sent my parents some information about the blog, and most  have signed permission slips to allow me to post their children's work on the blog.  We are starting to get comments on our blog and my class is super excited to respond to the comments.  We are even starting to check out other class blogs and I think my class thinks it's pretty cool that other classes are doing what we are doing.

Just this past week I introduced my class to their individual blogs.  While we have spent some time writing on our individual blogs,  nothing has been submitted to be published yet, although I know that it's coming.  I've sent home the children's individual passwords too and I'm encouraging them to blog from home.

I'm really happy to be blogging with my class.

My Personal Learning Network (PLN)

I am so thankful for the people I've "met" on Twitter.  If there is something I'm curious to know about I just ask and the answers come to me. I'm still working hard at reading professional blogs written by others, and commenting too.  One of my favourite blogs is written by a fellow primary teacher Aviva Dunsiger. She teaches a few provinces over from me but what she says resonates with me.  What I like about what she's doing, is that she's pushing the boundaries of what primary students should be able to do with technology.  I love it.  I totally thought of her when I was at a Digital Literacy dinner session with other educators.  The table I was sitting at was surprised that I was attempting blogging with my grade one class, and that my students had their own individual blogs.   I explained what I was doing,  and why always keeping what Aviva does in my mind.

I'm also thankful for #1stchat - the grade one chat on Twitter.  Every Sunday afternoon (5 pm Vancouver time) I read and learn from fellow grade one educators.  I really appreciate what the "regulars" have to say.  We all come from different school systems so we are  able to share what works well, and not so well for us.  The chat also allows me to really think about what I do and why.  It always surprises me when something I say is retweeted by others.  I really look forward to this chat each week.

I am a different, hopefully better, teacher because of my PLN.


Job Action

All the public school teachers in my province are in phase one of job action.  I don't like job action. I don't like that our contract talks have gotten us here either.  Without having a political debate on my blog I hope that all parties involved could figure out what is truly right for the people involved in educating students, and what is truly right for students.  It makes me so angry that politics gets in the way of true progress.


Postcard Project

Okay, I love the postcard project.  We've only been back at work for one month and already we have received three post cards.  So why have I posted this in the ugly?  Well.... (as she drops her head down in shame) we haven't written anyone yet!  I'm hoping I can blame it on the fact that we have only been together for one month, and really we've only been a class for two weeks.  I'm still trying to figure out where my students are at, and I'm still training my students.  I'm also on the hunt for postcards from Surrey because if I can't find any everyone will be getting postcards from Vancouver, the closest major city. Surrey is a city in Greater Vancouver, but it isn't Vancouver.  I'm quite certain my students will want their postcards to come from Surrey, not Vancouver.

So, those are the good, the bad, and the ugly from the my month of September.  What are yours?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Pendulum Swings But There are Somethings I Won't Change

This year marks the start of my 20th year of teaching. In my previous 19 years I've seen the pendulum swing in so many different ways.  This year is no different.  One thing I've learned that helps keep me enthusiastic about what I do as a teacher is that things are constantly changing.  However despite all the changes there is a small list of  things I strongly believe in inspite of what the educational pendulum is doing.

Constants I believe in until I am proven wrong:

1. Children respond best to high expectations. I have, and will continue to always push my students to be and do the very best that they can do in everything that they do.  Yes, we all have our good days and our bad ones, but as a general rule you will only get better at something if you give it your all.  Now, I do not, and will not expect that everyone meet the same expectations.  Each child in my classroom comes with special talents and skills, and it's my job as their teacher to push them to their individual best. I am constantly letting them know that their best will more than likely look differently than their neighbours and that's okay.

2. Children need a safe environment where mistakes are not laughed at but learned from.  I have zero tolerance for children laughing at other children when they make a mistake.  ZERO TOLERANCE!  We all make mistakes, and it's from the mistakes where we learn the most.  I set up my room so that it's safe to give something new a try, to possibly fail, but to learn from the experience - all without fear of being ridicule.

3. Children have the ability to communicate their personal needs and I strongly encourage them to use that ability.  In my room I highly stress and model "I Messages".  I teach my students to be advocates for themselves. When they are not happy with what's going on around them at recess (or in class)  I teach them to use their voice and say something.  It's amazing how at the beginning of the year the children in my class expect me to solve their problems, but over time they learn how to solve them on their own.  The amount of tattling in my room is very little, yet they know that I am always available if they can't solve their problems on their own.  Most issues between people - children or adults - results from mis-comunication. I will do everything in my class to help teach my students to communicate with one another, and the people in their lives.

4. Children can succeed without external motivation.  External motivation such as stickers or rewards has never sat well with me.  I've always wondered why I need to reward my students in order to get them to do better at this or that. The past several years I stopped providing external motivation.  Don't get me wrong, I still constantly praise my students for their effort and achievement but I no longer give any type of prizes for this success.  What I do instead is catch the children doing things well (or working hard on something that is challenging for them etc..) and I ask them how it makes them feel.  I work so hard to get them to see that when they work hard at something that is difficult the feeling of success is the best reward out there.  I keep this individualized too because obviously different things are easier or harder for others to achieve.  I also tell them that they should be doing their best for themselves, and themselves only.  I let them know that the only person they live with their entire life is themselves, and so they  might as well be the very best they can be - for themselves.  My one constant is that I am ALWAYS looking for things I can praise my students for, and in turn make them aware of their achievements and successes.

5. All children can learn.  Nothing makes me more angry than walking into a staffroom and hearing teachers talk poorly about their students.  If we can't stand up for our students who will?  Yes, I have had my share of challenging students over the past 19 years of teaching, but what type of teacher would I be if I gave up on them? Often poor behaviour comes from either an undiagnosed mental illness, or from a less than functional home life - neither of which are the student's fault.  It will always be my belief that my students can learn, I just may have to find a unique way to reach them.  Sometimes that's not an easy task, but it is my job as their teacher.

As I start my 20th year of teaching I will keep these five points front and centre in my teaching.  I'd love to hear what  you strongly believe in.

Monday, August 29, 2011

How Do I Fit It All In?

Anyone who knows me, knows that I have trouble sitting still.  It's not just a physical thing, it's a mental thing too.  As the 2011/2012 school year start comes near I'm trying to figure out how I'm going to fit it all in.  Here are some things I'm contemplating.


Obviously as a grade one teacher my job is to get my students reading and writing. Reading Twitter the latest buzz program is The Daily 5. I have read both The Daily 5 and The Cafe Book. I like what they have to say, and much of what the books are saying were already part of my literacy program. But I'm not sold on the actual structure of the program.  From reading the books I think it's okay that I don't use their structure.  

In recent years I have set reading and writing goals with my students - sometimes directed by me, sometimes in collaboration with my students, and sometimes directed by my students.  Each student has individual needs, and their learning goals reflect that.  This year I once again want to use my literacy blocks as efficiently as possible.  I want to continue my guided reading groups but I also want to have strategy reading groups. I want to continue my one on one conferencing too.  I want to continue my community read. I want to continue to allow my students to do their reading and writing where ever they want in the room, and in most cases with whom ever they would like. I want to continue Reader's Chair  where students share their reading with the class. I want to continue using my literacy conference books to document their learning and have that documentation open to parents - instead of in a private binder for my eyes only.

In writing I want to implement a lot of what I've read in No More "I'm Done!" Fostering Independent Writers in the Primary Grades. I want to have guided writing groups based on need and I want those groups to be fluid. I want to do more writing mini lessons and give my student more choice in what they write about.  I'll be moving away from theme based writing.

Social Emotional Learning

Last year I was a School Advisor for a Teacher Candidate in the Bachelor of Education Program of UBC.  She was part of the Social Emotional Cohort which allowed me to attend a Mind Up training session.  I was also trained in the Fun Friends program, another social emotional program.  While I don't yet know who will be in my class this school year I have been told that I have a few students with anxiety issues.  I also know that I will have a selective mute in my classroom.  I would really like to utilize both of these programs in my class this year.

Numeracy Learning

This year I'll take another stab at having open ended math lessons when ever possible.  I'll continue to do stations/centres approach.  I have a few units that I'd like to continue to tweak too.

Integrating Technology

If there is one thing that I learned this summer on Twitter is that technology is the bomb.  I want to be able to provide my students with as much access to technology as I'm able.  I want it to be integrated into everything we do.  Now, I only have one some what decent, and one only sort of decent computer in my classroom.  We do have a full computer lab, and last year there were open blocks throughout the week.  We also have laptop carts which can be signed out to individual teachers.  I've always kept the laptops out of my room until term three, but this year I want them in sooner, much, much sooner.  I want to get my class blog up and running as quickly as possible, and I want to use the blog as a way of sharing with the world what's happening in our classroom.  I also want to find ways to get even more technology into my classroom, and into my school.  I'm hoping I can get other primary teachers on board. There is a lot I want to do with technology.

Daily Physical Education

As a retired Ironman Athlete I strongly believe in physical education.  Thankfully I teach with another grade one teacher who feels the same way.  In addition to our two gym classes a week, she and I take our students on a 1.2 km walk/run twice a week.  Our goal is to accumulate enough kilometres to walk/run us all the way across Canada - Run Across Canada. We always seem to make it just outside of Ontario, but it would be great if we could make it even further.

So, how do I fit it all in?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

How Twitter Continues to Inspire Me

I returned from my trip to NYC a few days ago and I'm right back into following educational tweets on Twitter. While I was I away I did work on a couple of my goals by exploring new (to me) Web 2.0 tools; and by checking out, reading, and leaving comments on other peoples blogs.  I didn't post much while I was away except I did manage to be at my computer during the #1stchat on Sunday evening.  Now that I'm home I've been doing a bit more research about the class blog I'm wanting to set up this school year.  I must confess that I'm REALLY excited about this class blog.  There are so many incredible AUTHENTIC learning opportunities just waiting to be tapped into.

Yesterday I saw a link on Twitter recommending "we" check out two grade one class blogs from Adelaide, South Australia. How perfect for me.  I immediately checked them both out and commented too.  What great blogs they were.  They didn't intimidate me and it seemed that everything (or almost everything) they did on their blog I could do on mine.  The two classes were also excited to see someone from Vancouver, Canada checking their blogs out.  They went as far as to google earth my school in Surrey, BC and then asked me questions about what they saw.  It's times like this that I actually wish I was in the middle of the school year instead of being on summer vacation - don't get me wrong I LOVE my summer vacation and I truly LOVE the LUXURY OF TIME that it brings me.  I am so excited for my class to meet these two classes, even though we are close to 18,000 km apart with a 16.5 hour time difference, I know they will be just as excited as I am. Here are the two blogs I've been communicating with Year 1 @ Craigburn PS and Mrs. K's Class.

I also asked on Twitter for links to other grade one class blogs.  The links are coming in and I'm checking them out, book marking them, and adding them to my diigo account for later reference.  Along the way I met Kathy Cassidy and she shared the link to her class blog. I asked her a question about her blogging platform (I'm still not sure which platform I'm going to be using for my class blog) and she shared this excellent google document explaining the features of the different blog platforms.

So yah, Twitter is still having a huge impact on my professional growth, even though it's my summer vacation.  I can't thank the amazing  people I've met on Twitter enough.  I'm hoping one day in the not too distance future, I'll be able to help others too.  In the meantime, please feel free to share your grade one class blogs or other great tips with me.  If you know of any grants out there for Canadian (or BC) schools to apply for to get more technology into my classroom (or school) please feel free to share them too.  Since I've been following Twitter I have been made very away of how poor technology is represented in my school.  Obviously I'm NOT going to let that stop me from doing what I want to do, but it sure would be nice to have more technology to turn to.