Saturday, April 6, 2013

Classroom Visits - Another Great PD

Over Spring Break not only was I fortunate enough to meet face to face a small handful of my twitter friends in person, but I was also able to spend the day in a couple of their classrooms.   As nerdy as this may sound I  love to visit classrooms.  I began my career as an non enrolling teacher which allowed me to work regularly in other peoples classrooms but ever since becoming a classroom teacher  it's a lot harder to get those visits in.  While on vacation I was able to spend the day in  Kristin Ziemke and Kristen Wideen's classes and I'm very thankful for that.

Kristin Ziemke - Burley School, Chicago

Ms. Ziemke's students are using the iPad to draw an image to match the poem they just heard

Long before I knew of Kristin (Ms. Ziemke) I knew of Kristin's school, Burley.  They have an extensive amount of technology in their school and were one of the first (that I knew about) teaching 1:1 with iPads in grade one.  I was pretty eager to get into Burley School.

An inquiry project hanging from strings across the classroom.

Even before I walked into her classroom I knew things were going to be different.  In British Columbia we can have no more than 24 students in a grade one to  three class.  Kristin has 32 or 33 students in her class.  Yup, 32 or 33! In my mind that's just CRAZY!

Sharing writing with the class.

I clearly remember having discussions with her on twitter on how she can possibly meet their individual needs.  What I didn't realize at the time though was that they do something interesting at Burley.  For the first half of the day 1/3 of her class, and 1/3 of the other grade one class go and work with another teacher.  Kristin doesn't even see these students until lunch.  The teacher that takes 1/3 of her class and a 1/3 of the other grade one teacher's class does the same thing with the two grade two classes after lunch.  From where I come from all I can think about  is why don't they just make two grade one classes, a grade one/two class, and two grade two classes. But then I realized that ALL the classes at her school have very large class sizes and from what I'm gathering this temporary small class is only at the grade one and two levels. Everyone else just has extremely large class sizes all the time.

Inquiry project, anchor chart, and class specialists are hanging from the strings in Ms. Ziemke's Classroom

Kristin and I talked a lot about her large class size (and how large all the classes are in her school) and the way the school is trying to alleviate it.  We talked about having only 2/3 of her students for part of the day and how it impacts the rest of her day. It was an interesting discussion and to no surprise funding and politics has a lot to do with it.  But despite the situtation Kristin is teaching in she continued to inspire me with the manner in which she works with her students.

A finished special family project sent home nightly where each student adds a button to this sweatshirt.
Kristin's class is a real hub for learning, and it's obvious from the moment you walk in ducking under anchor charts and inquiry projects.  Her students are at the centre of their learning.  In addition each student has their own iPad.  There are in fact a lot of iPads in her school with the other grades either being 1:1 or sharing one full iPad cart between a grade level.

Technology is seamlessly embedded into her teaching but her focus is very clearly on student learning and not technology. It made me smile.

Kristen Wideen - Eastwood School, Windsor, Ontario

Later that same week I had the pleasure to be in Kristen Wideen's classroom at Eastwood School.  Like with Kristin Z, Kristen W and I have had many hours of conversation over teaching and learning both on line, and over the telephone.  Our classes have done collaborative projects together too so to say that I was excited to spend time in her class with her students was a given.

Kristen's teaching environment is quite different from mine as well.  She works in an open concept school with very few doors and even fewer walls.  In her area of the school there are three classes in a large open area.  While each class has it's own home corner, a lot of what is taught is taught together.  You can't hide behind your classroom door because there are no classroom doors. Collaboration is a requirement to work at this school.

Kristen and her teaching partners have one iPad cart to share between the three classes although they are housed with Kristen.  It was interesting to see the differences between being 1:1 in Ms. Z's room, and having 1:1 access in Mrs. W's room.  A few times during the day specific iPads needed to be tracked down from another home base to continue with lessons.  There is a whole other blog post to be written between having 1:1 access, and being truly 1:1 with technology.

Back to Kristen's class.  We spent the first part of the day in the dark as a part of  Earth Hour taking place that weekend. Not to miss a beat this crew of children started their day with "Flashlight Friday".  If you're not familiar with it, it is where children read by flashlight. While I haven't (yet) tried this in my classroom it was great to see her students so focussed on reading by light.

Reading by flashlight.  All three classes were scattered around the area reading.

Kristen's students were very independent. I loved seeing how her two "Flat Stanley" ambassador's took off around the school to capture images which they later blogged about.  I love how many different projects her students were involved with, and how easily they took to them.  I love how she had a student so eager to blog about his new puppies (kittens?) and how she recognized his strong desire to write and let him continue to do that  instead of the task that the rest of the class was working on.  It was all about the learner, each and every learner as unique individuals.  That's what teaching should be about.

Flashlight reading to Fin.

Kristen's students work through literacy and numeracy rotations that allow their individual needs to be met.  It also frees her up to meet 1:1 with her students.  I liked that too.

I loved this anchor chart in Kristen W's class.
I am very fortunate to have spent a day in both Kristin Z and Kristen W's classes.  They inspire me daily with their ability to find better ways to meet their students individual needs. They push my thinking and make me re examine what I am doing in my classroom and why.  And while my teaching style is a bit different from both of theirs I left their rooms with things I can, will and have implemented into my teaching practice.  What's better than that?

But while visiting I also noticed many differences that  were obvious from my one day in each classroom.  Some of the differences are because of our different education mandates, whether at the government or school level.  These  included but were not limited to student support services, length of school day, amount of "prep" time, and amount of breaks in the day.  I was surprised to find out that at Eastwood the students have two 40 min nutrition breaks (half time spent eating half time spent in free play outside), while at Burley there was only a lunch break.  Both Kristin and Kristen have far more non instructional planning/collaborative time during the week which makes my 100 mins a week seem almost pathetic.  No wonder I spend so much time after school getting my work done.  School leadership also plays a huge role in how a school runs, and how quickly it can change (for the better or for the worse) with a change in leadership.

I'm not sure what the ideal school would look like for me, but seeing so many different ones does have my head spinning around this topic.  I am thankful I took this opportunity to spend time in these wonderful teachers' classrooms and I look forward to learning and sharing more with the in the future.  And the coolest thing of all? Kristen and Kristin are also part of the Apple Distinguished Educator Class of 2013 so we'll all be together in Austin this July.  Exciting times a head for certain.  Oh and did I mention, later this month I'm spending a day in Kathy Cassidy's class! Crazy right? And so exciting.


  1. Wow, Karen you had a busy trip! We sure do have lots to share in our own classrooms and it is so great that you took the opportunity to get in other classes while on vacation. It looks like you saw and learned a lot. I wish I could have been there with you, but next best thing....reading your blog! Thanks for sharing and to Kirsten and Kirsten for inviting you in!

    1. Thanks Lora. I was very fortunate to get into Kristin Z and Kristen W 's classes, and to meet their students too. While I didn't TOC much, I did start my career as a non enrolling teacher and had a lot of opportunity to get into classrooms and see what teachers were doing. To this day I still do some of the things I learned from visiting other classes at the beginning of my career. While we can't visit all the rooms we'd love to visit, twitter has helped us get into many more rooms, even if virtually. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. :-)