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?