Sunday, June 30, 2013

ISTE 2013 - Reflection Part 2

The past two years I have learned over and over again that I never really know what I don't know until I learn something new.  And more importantly I have to be open to learn something new.  My time at ISTE was filled with moments like that.  As I take the time to reflect on the remaining days at ISTE, and I read others reflections on ISTE, I am reminded over and over again what an incredible opportunity I had in front of me, and as much as I tried to make the most of it, I know I still missed out on so much of what the conference had to offer me.

Monday morning I attended my first official session "Personalize Learning through Innovative Uses of Technology". I don't know if it's because my students already have so much "personalized control" over their learning, or that because I'm a connected educator and I am constantly reading about innovative ways to teach, but very little of what was being presented in this session was new to me. In fact I spent a lot of time thinking about using technology to give feedback and how that works with student achievement.  I, and my program specifically, is so much about personal connections and real conversations around learning.  Yes, a computer program can collect data, but can it really help guide a student forward with their learning.  I'm not sure I want my students personalized learning to be dictated by a computer program.

After the session I spent some time on the convention floor chatting with the vendors. Wow, the vendor floor was huge and as much as I tried to visit every booth, I must admit I moved quickly from vendor to vendor. I guess in my role as a grade one teacher I have very little voice when it comes to purchasing equipment for my school district.  I also know that money is really tight back home and so while I may have seen some really amazing products, I am working in a school that desperately needs basic tools like functioning laptops for students to use. However the absolute highlight of this vendor visit was meeting Peter Reynolds, the author of many amazing books including The Dot. Last year my class and I participated in DOT DAY and this year we will again too. It was great to chat with Peter. 

Peter Reynolds and I
Another highlight of Monday was meeting Julie Ramsay.  I was connected to Julie via Lara Zeises Deloza with the International Reading Association. Lara has been wanting Julie and I to connect both virtually and face to face for a while now. Julie and I snuck off the convention site and headed for coffee near by.  The conversation was great as we shared how we are transforming education with the use of technology. Transformation is key for both of us as we both get frustrated when we see people using technology as just really expensive drill and practice devices. The connection was good and I'm very thankful Lara pushed us together.  If I am able to get to all the conferences I want to attend next year Lara, Julie, and I will all be face to face at the International Reading Conference in New Orlenes.

Me and Julie
I returned from coffee to attend my first official ticketed session.  Some how I stumbled across these special free but ticketed sessions that required you to register in advance. I managed to register  in one for each day (you can only attend one a day) but unfortunately I was too late to register for any of the BYOD sessions - those must have filled up really quickly but next year I will make sure to register earlier and try to get into them - more on next year later).

My ticketed session was My Global Voice: Publishing with iBooks Author.  As a brand new ADE I know that what we will be focussing on in Austin is publishing with iBooks Author. Since I've never used it before I figured I'd better learn so that I wouldn't arrive in Austin completely clueless.  I ended up downloading their fantastic resource from iTunes U for using iBooks Author.  You can download it here too. There was way more than an hours worth of information in the course, but between now and July 13th when I head to Austin for the Apple Institute I will have some time to play with it. 

From there I headed to a session titled "Augmented Reality: Student-Created AR Fascinates and Engages Kids and Parents" .  What I failed to mention on the first post is that on Sunday I spent time with Drew and Brad from Two Guys with some iPads talking about this exact thing.   It is something I know I want to try with my young learners but the trick for me is to find ways that they can do it independently. I most certainly see a big buddy little buddy project with this.  A lot of what was shared at this session can be found here.

After a bit more F2F chatting in the Blogger's cafe I headed back for a quick change before making my way to an evening of get togethers.  That's the thing about ISTE, while there is a ton to do during the day, there is also a ton to do during the evening too.  I was fortunate to have heard about a variety of events and managed to attend some of them too.  So on Monday evening I made an appearance at the YEN Social Event, Showbie's Martini Monday, the Mindshare Learning Can-Am gathering.  I then met up with the entire Surrey School District crew for appies on the Riverwalk. It was the first time all eight of us where at the same place at the same time. It was great to be with my "peeps" from back home.

From there a few of us headed to the Gaggle Party which was a ton of fun too. It was a late night and I had to be mindful of the time because I had scheduled my official ISTE photo and video shoot for 9:00 am the following morning.

The ISTE photo and video shoots went well so I'll be curious to see if any of my photos (or video clips) show up any where on the ISTE website or in their publications.  It was a fun experience although I will admit I was very nervous before hand.  

Immediately after the photo shoot I met Dr. Garry Bitter,  He is an active ISTE member and  set up the Kay L Bitter award in memory of his wife.  He was the most fascinating man to speak with -bright, kind and very genuine.  A real highlight of the entire time in San Antonio.  He shared stories about his late wife Kay and how she went above and beyond to get technology into the hands of her young learners.  I certainly hope I am continuing her passion with my integration of technology in the early years.  Our time together was short  but I enjoyed every minute of it.  I couldn't help but smile as we chatted.  I will do my very best to keep in contact with him too. 

From there I headed to the poster sessions again as there were several tables I wanted to visit.  It was here that I once again realized that I could easily be behind one of the tables presenting what my students are doing with technology.  It has me thinking about actually submitting to present at ISTE next year - perhaps a hands on workshop, or a poster session, or a lecture type session. The more I saw at ISTE the more I realized that I have things to share that others could benefit from too. Particularly those that work with young learners.  

I was suppose to attend another session but ended up back in the blogger's cafe meeting and talking with the ISTE board. It was an official session but pretty informal in nature. It was great though because the board was really keen to hear what we had to say, to take our suggestions, and listen to our feedback. It was here that I met all the ISTE board members. It was a very good session in fact and the best part of all is that I won the final door prize of complementary conference fees for ISTE 14! Yup, that's right it looks like I'm heading to Atlanta for ISTE 14!

Between winning my ISTE 2014 conference registration fee and attending my second ticketed session I was interviewed by  Robert Martellacci from MindShare Learning.  You can view that interview here. 

I then attended my second ticketed session Learning Superheroes Connect: Innovation Collaborative Project Design.  Here they shared many projects that they are doing at the district level. I loved seeing same grade students across the district involved in collaborative projects together.  But again while the session was good, my students are already doing many similar projects but taking them even further.  Being a connected educator really has its benefits and working in my school district has allowed me try new and innovative ways to learn.

Joan, Krissy, Cheryl, and I
After this session I had lunch with the most amazing ladies ever. Cheryl Steighner, Krissy Venosdale, and Joan Young and I are all part of the #eduparty group which meets  regularly via google hangout.  We all live in different parts of the world so it was quite amazing to have us all together.  The only regret was that Ann Ottmar and Celina Brennan (also part of our group) couldn't be at ISTE. As you can imagine lunch was filled with wonderful conversation and tons of smiles. I am so glad we were able to arrange our schedules to make this work.  And while I had spent time with most of them on their own at other times during the conference it was really great having us all together.  They are truly amazing ladies and I am VERY FORTUNATE to be able to call them my friends.

Matt and I, finally meeting face to face
From lunch it was back to the blogger's cafe to finally meet Matt and Dan from Kidblog. I say finally because Matt and I have had many conversations and e-mail exchanges. I've been featured on their blog and I can't say enough about how wonderful they have been to me and my students. When I have an issue or concern they are quick to find a solution.  Meeting them was another highlight.

I spent a bit of time back on the vendor floor and met Moby from Brain Pop.

I also had a meet up with my Global Collaboration friends Melvina, Louise, and Paula. And while waiting for us to meet up I had a wonderful time talking to Rodney Turner from Arizona.

I caught the third and final ignite session as well which was filled with many fast paced presentations.  I liked the ignite sessions a lot. Basically you get 5 minutes to share 20 slides. I'd think for a presenter it's 5 minutes of pure torture. Well maybe not during the 5 minutes but definitely the minutes before you begin.  It's funny though because as much as this totally freaks me out I kind of think it would be a fantastic challenge for me to do.  If you know anything about me, taking challenges and pushing limits is something that I thrive on doing. It's doing something that my logical brain says is impossible, and I prove to the other side of my brain that it is possible.  Hmm...

Tuesday night I had some time at a Discovery Education Canadian tweet up, and then played tourist a bit as a hung out on the River Walk and took one of the boat tours.

I was suppose to go to the EdTech Karaoke party but I went back to my hotel to moderate blog posts from my students back at home. Their posts were all directed at me, how much they missed me and loved me. They were tough to read because I was missing my class a lot too.  I'm leaving my school after 18 years and so I will not see these students again. Needless to say by the time I responded to all their posts I really wasn't in the mood to join in the Karaoke fun. I was also completely exhausted having slept very little running non stop since before I left for Texas.

I think I've now written more than enough but still have more to share. Stay tuned for the third and hopefully final post on my time at ISTE13. 

Saturday, June 29, 2013

ISTE 2013 - Reflection Part 1

I am extremely fortunate to have attended ISTE 2013  in San Antonio, Texas.   Extremely fortunate.  As an enrolling classroom teacher in a country where school  doesn't get out until the last Friday in June, it is almost impossible to be released from my grade one classroom to attend a conference such as this.  But this year it was  different because  this year I was going to ISTE to receive the Kay L. Bitter Award.  According to the ISTE website it is "for individuals who demonstrate vision and creativity in a project or program that effectively integrates technology in a PK–2 classroom."   Since this may be one of only a small handful of times that I can get to ISTE it was my mission to make the most out of my time there.

San Antonio River Rock at Night

I arrived in San Antonio late Friday afternoon and was quickly greeted by warmth and sunshine.  After being in rain for the past week it was a wonderful change.  Once I checked into my hotel Sara Hunter , a 2013 ISTE Emerging Leader invited me to join her and her friends for dinner. Sara and I had only ever met on Twitter but what I've learned over and over again is that most of those friendships I've fostered on Twitter, are equally as real in person.  Sara was no exception.

Sara and I on the ADE Photo Walk
Almost immediately I was feeling comfortable with Sara and her wonderful friends.  Selena Ward, Angela Batten, and Rurik-Rory Nackerud were so awesome to be with.  I'm not officially sure what the table brilliance was but I can assure you it was very high, with an equal amount of love for life. Great conversations, great food, and great company. My first night was excellent and besides meeting this awesome crew of emerging leaders, I met Adam Bellow and Jerry Blumengarten face to face too.   A perfect start to this wonderful adventure.

Joan and I at Hack Education
On Saturday morning  I registered for ISTE.  What an incredibly organized registration process right down to different coloured carpets depending on if you were a presenter, a vendor, or a participant.  But despite the incredible organization the best part of the registration process was when  Joan Young came up to me.  She  and I,  along with four other amazing educators,  meet regularly for an "eduparty" in google hangout.  While Joan and I have had many conversations, this was our first face to face one.  Needless to say there were smiles and hugs! 

Melvina, JoAnn and I on the ADE Photo Walk
Together Joan and I headed to  Hack Education.  It's a free conference the day before the "official" conference. It's set up very much like an ed camp where the sessions are determined by the people in the room suggesting topics and then voting on them.  Even before we got into the room I heard a familiar voice, that of Jen Wagner from Projects by Jen. It was great to finally meet and connect with her face to face. I also met Michelle Cordy and Paula Naugle at this time.

My first session was on Global Collaborative Projects. I shared what my students were doing, and how it doesn't always have to be a "big scale project" to have a meaningful impact on student learning.  I also met Melvina and JoAnn.

From there I headed to a session on Social Media. It was here that I realized how very different my school in Surrey, BC Canada is from so many in the US.  In my district innovation is embraced, and most barriers to innovation have been removed.  Every school in our district has an open wireless network and I have yet come across any blocked websites that I use in my grade one classroom. We can tweet, blog, and video conference on a very regular basis without fear of "big brother" watching us.  I also work in a district that has an active district hashtag #sd36learn created for teachers and admin by teachers. It was a very interesting session to be in. It was filled with inspiration too. Listening to Todd Nesloney use his document camera and personal phone to connect with the world was inspiring and helps remind me to keep pushing limits with my students if it is what is best for them.

Linda Yollis and I at the Blogger's Cafe
I also attended a session on Deeper Thinking with Technology. Here we talked about ways people are using technology at the most basic level and then had some examples of how technology can be used to promote higher level thinking. I shared how my students add voice to their work and share that work on their blogs. My example may not have been the best as I forgot to mention that the voice that they are adding is actually talking about the thinking that they are doing with their learning, the reflecting and synthesizing of their learning and not just retelling facts.  I think eventually that point was made but all the while I was thinking to myself that I should have shared more clearly.  It was a great session and had me thinking about what I do and why.  Any one who has seen me teach (or asked me about my teaching) knows that the "why" is really important to me.  During this session I also reconnected with Jackie Gerstein, and met Linda Yollis.

Over lunch I spent time with Joan and Jackie and loved every minute of it. Jackie had a techno ball that came with apps on her iPad. It was a time filled with lots of giggles. I was very thankful for this time with Jackie and Joan.

I also sat in on a couple of sessions during the mobile technology sharing session.  I listened to Jennifer Bond share how she is leveraging BYOD with her grade three students.  I think a lot like her in the sense that the tool (or app) is some what irrelevant and that it's more about having our students show their learning in ways that work best for them.  I wish I had more time to talk with Jennifer because her students are doing some really incredible things with what they have available to them.

Vicki Smart
In the evening I attended the Hack Ed after party, reconnected, and met many more people. It was great to see Matt Gomez and Heidi Echternacht from the #kinderchat crew again.  It was lovely meeting Vicky Smart from Australia.  I actually met quite a few Aussies that evening and enjoyed talking to each and every one of them. In fact I was one of the very last to leave as I was in a great conversation with Keryn Hempel and Sandra Orr from down under.

Drew, Me, and Brad
On the way back I ran into Drew Minock and Brad Waid from Two Guys with some iPads. They were a ton of fun to chat with and it was awesome seeing them all week long. If you're not already following them on twitter I highly recommend you do. Tons of great energy and a lot of information re augmented reality.

If you know me at all I didn't get back to my room with out a few more stops and meeting a few more people. So far I was loving ISTE and it hadn't even officially started yet.

Krissy and I
Sunday morning I woke up early. As much as I was excited to take part in the ADE ISTE Photo Walk (open to everyone) I was even more excited to meet Krissy Venosdale.  Like Joan, Krissy is also part of my #eduparty crew. And like Joan she is a truly amazing educator and I feel honoured to be able to call her my friend. I think we were both equally excited to meet one another before the photo walk. Meeting her face to face was like I had know her for a long time already. That's the thing with twitter, most of the relationships you start there, are just as real when you finally do get to meet face to face.  Anyhow Krissy and I along with about 180 others headed out for our photo walk. Here are some of the photos I took.

The photo walked didn't last too long because Krissy and I got into conversation.  It isn't every day that we get to spend time together so it was important for both of us to enjoy this 1:1 time.
Jen Wagner, Me, and Sue Waters

Anne Mirtschin and I

 After the photo walk I headed into the convention centre to learn the lay of the land. With poster sessions, playgrounds, spotlights, workshops etc I wanted to have a better idea of where everything was. I also managed to find myself in the Blogger's Cafe where I once again saw Jen Wagner, and finally met Sue Waters from Edublogs.  In addition I met Anne Mirtschin from Australia and a member of a group I belong to called Hello Little Skypers. 

I also met Andrew Vanden Heuvel  and chatted to him about his Google Glass. He even let me try them on.  They were very cool but certainly would take some getting used to.

Andrew and I
Me wearing Google Glass
I then headed back to the hotel to get "gussied up" for the official ISTE Awards Ceremony.  I also made sure to wear the very special bracelet that the parent group at my school gave me. It was the way I could include my students in the ceremony because I still believe that the award should go to them, and not to me because THEY are the rockstars here.

Reflecting back I can't believe how nervous I was for ceremony. I had heard the main ballroom was huge and all I could think about was standing infront of so many people and being singled out.  Thankfully Sara Hunter was also receiving an award along with several other super kind people so the waiting wasn't too bad.  Dean Shareski and Michelle Cordy were also back stage and had a lot more to be nervous about because they were part of the ignite session which followed.  It was great to have Dean back stage with me and to have a little Canadian possie to hang with too.  Here's a small glimps of what the ballroom looked like empty. That big grey rectangle is the first of at least a couple of screens that went back. If you haven't figured it out the room was huge!

My time on stage was actually very quick and I was off the stage just as quickly as I got on to it. They shared this video while we got on the stage and once it was over we left the stage.  I was super glad that  Martin, Shelagh, Kevin, Orwell, JB, and Carolyn from my school district were in the room when I received my award. I really wish Elisa Carlson could have been there too. She has been a HUGE supporter of what I've been doing with my students. Without her support, I would never have won this award.   Here's the movie ISTE showed of all the award winners.  

Once rushed off stage we headed to another part of the conference centre for photos. After photos I felt way better. I didn't realize how worried I was about the actual award presentation. Unfortunately while I was out getting photos I missed Michelle's ignite session but I did managed to catch Deans.

From the awards session I headed down to the Global Education Conference where I met Louise Morgan. There I shared our pages in the global scrapbook and passed it on to Anne M to take back to Australia with her.

Still in my "fancy clothing" with my heels switched out to flipflops I headed back to the blogger's cafe and met up with some more "edu rockstars". It was great to see Maria and Amanda (two previous Kay L Bitter award winners) but I was also sad that Kathy Cassidy wasn't there. Kathy has played a HUGE role in my journey with technology and young children. She's helped me find my feet, and with them I've gone running. Like Elisa Carlson, Kathy plays a huge role in me winning this award.

Me, Amanda, Sue, Wes, Maria, and Jen
I also  met (finally)  Tina Photakis from Australia.

Me and Tina Photakis

From the Blogger's Cafe I headed over to the ISTE SIGs (Special Interest Group) tables for a bit of networking. It was great to see what SIGs were available to be apart of.  Before I got there I saw Vicki Smart again and she was kind enough to get a photo of me holding my Kay L Bitter Award. Once there I saw Heidi and Matt again, and the Global Classroom Crew.  It was great to meet Louise and Preston, along with Julie Lindsay from Flat Classroom, and Anne again.

#Kinderchat Rockstars Matt and Heidi, and I

Preston, Lousie, Me, and Anne

I then met up with my Surrey crew (less Jordan and Carolyn) for a group shot.  I still need to get a copy of that photo and once I do I will add it here. We walked around a lot and headed over to the tower. They all went up the tower but I headed over to the president's reception.

The highlight of this particular reception was meeting Kathy Schrock.  She is a total tech ed rockstar and if given the chance I would have chatted with her all night long. She has so much knowledge and is a super kind person too.  I must admit I was pretty nervous speaking to her but I am so glad I did. She is a very bright lady. I was also able to thank her for putting one of my blog posts on her iPad blog. I told her the impact that has had on that post of mine.

After the reception I headed back to my hotel to crash for the night. It was a pretty exhausting and emotionally draining couple of days. My head was spinning from conversations, and my heart was smiling from connections.  I was in a really good place and so happy, and thankful to be at ISTE.

This ends the first part of my ISTE 2013 Reflection. There is still much more to come.

Ahh, just realized I totally missed talking about the  keynote session with Jane McGonigal and the benefits of gaming. The highlight there was when the entire room had thumb wars.  Here's the ISTE short video on Jane's keynote.  

Sunday, June 9, 2013

How is Technology Transforming My Teaching?

As a teacher of young children there are times when I  face resistance to the use of technology with early learners. People often assume that I am all about technology but if you've had the opportunity to spend any time in my classroom you'll know that while we use technology a lot in my classroom the focus has been and will always be on the learning.  Our technology really is just a tool, but a very powerful tool.

In my classroom technology has allowed my students to have way more choice in how they learn, show, and share their learning.  The creative apps available to us have revolutionized things in my room.  My students are far better able to talk about their learning because they are constantly adding voice to their digital and non digital work. They are (by choice) explaining the thinking behind what they are learning.  Technology allows me to hear this thinking even when I'm not in the classroom because they are sharing it on their blogs.  And yes, I often hear errors in their thinking but because of technology I can hear these errors and do something about them.  Technology has provided me with way more authentic data for formative assessment which in turn is allowing me to better meet the individual needs of my students.

In my classroom we learn with out technology too. We learn outside and we learn with hands on objects. We PLAY and explore in unstructured ways.  We ask questions,  lots and lots of questions, and we find ways to answer those questions.  Choice is key in all of this too.  I can't stress enough in  my classroom it's not about the technology it's about the learning.

But access to technology has also transformed the way I teach.  Technology, and my school districts' open wireless policy, has allowed us to literally learn with the world.  If my students are curious about something we can google it, or even better skype in an expert.  Technology has allowed my students to connect with their favourite app developer, meet a published children's author, and learn from a video game creator .  It has allowed them to learn with other children both in 1:1 and whole class situations.  It has continued to allow them to be curious.  This type of learning has been engaging and powerful for my students.

Access to technology has also broken many learning barriers for my students. As I've written about before my quiet students seem to be okay with finding a quiet private space to share their thoughts about their learning in a voice recording app.  My students who struggle with written output can add voice to their drawings or images and can explain their learning in words instead of being held back with limited writing skills. I find with technology most students are way better able to demonstrate their learning.

I also believe my students  co create  more with technology. While we can co-create with out technology (it's a waaaaaaaaay slower process) , with access to technology we've been able to create voice threads, iBooks, and iMovies with children in other part of Canada. But really we could have done this with children in other parts of the world.  Apps like BookCreator , with its combined books feature and dropbox, make co-creating globally quite seamless. Voice threads are just as seamless.

While my students are very independent they also collaborate more, often over shared technology.  When one child discovers a secret feature of an iPad app, or website they are quick and eager to share it with their peers.  This sharing is happening over and over again in my classroom both with and without technology. A more developed reader helps a developing reader read.  A more developed artist helps a developing artist.  A more developed mathematician helps a developing mathematician.  Peer assessment is happening all the time in the way they speak with one another and the comments they leave on each others blogs. It's like we are all doing what we can to make everyone be at their best.  I honestly think technology has played a huge roll in this because unlike pre tech days where the teacher had all the answers, I no longer do. My students know this and our classroom is such that it's celebrated when you are able to support and share with others.

I try not to use my technology as expensive worksheets. I always wonder when I see people so excited to have their non digital worksheet in digital form on an iPad as a way to cut down on paper. I don't really get that though because in my eyes it's just a very expensive piece of paper.  But I have noticed that we do use a lot less paper in my room because so much of our work is done digitally.  And I'm thankful that my students have blogs/digital portfolios to showcase and share this learning with their families and beyond with the world. This couldn't be done as easily with out access to technology.

These are just a few of the ways technology has transformed my teaching. I'm curious to know how it's been transforming yours?

Saturday, June 8, 2013

What Does My Literacy Program Look Like?

This year I have changed  my literacy program by providing more choice for my students to learn, show and share their learning.  Recently I was involved in a discussion on how I use Daily 5 and the Cafe in my classroom.  While I do Daily 5 in my room I'd say I do a modified version of the program.  Below is an insert from the e-mail I sent to a fellow colleague explaining my version of the Daily 5.  I am posting it here with hopes that it may help others but I am just as eager to hear how you are using Daily 5 in your classroom.

In a typical day I do three rounds of daily five two before recess, and one between recess and lunch, followed by math before lunch.  What that does is  allow me to focus on literacy and numeracy before lunch, and other topic areas in the afternoon (which most often also include literacy or numeracy).

 I do a modified daily five because I dictate the focus of the rounds but provide choices with in each round. Our first round of the day is word work and my students have a ton of choices with in that. Sometimes I will start the round with a mini lesson either on our weekly word wall words, or a letter pattern, word family etc but these mini lessons are quick.  Then everyone is learning in their own way, getting what they need from what they are doing. It frees me up to 1:1 conference with kids re their writing or reading. My room isn't silent at this time but the conversations are those of children engaged in learning and helping each other. My kids also do their planners and change their home reading
books at this time. Typically this is 20 - 30 minutes.

My second round is reading. I begin it with a story and a learning focus.  Here is where I introduce Reading Power and Cafe strategies in a whole group setting.  Then I set my class off to do read to self.  At this time my LST kids are also pulled for reading instruction, and I do student swapping with another grade one teacher at my school on Thursdays.  All my kids have to read to self for at least 12 minutes (sometimes longer). My kids are well trained here and they know the room has to be quiet. During this time I typically work with a guided reading group either strategy based or reading level based.  I may actually do less of this next year because kids have such different needs and 1:1 conferencing is just the best way to meet those needs and have those strong connections with your kids. After about 12-15 minutes I let my students know they have free read - which for me includes listen to read, and/or read to someone. Actually they can read what ever they want as long as they are reading.  Again this isn't always a silent time but it is an on task and focussed time.  I will continue working with my group or start more 1:1 conferences.  My students read from their just right book boxes during read to self but are free to read from any classroom book or digital books during free read. This brings us to recess.

After recess we meet again for another story (writing focus) and/or mini lesson. I tend to teach a new writing concept each week so Monday/Tuesday often has the longer a mini lesson (still no more than 10 minutes) while the rest of the week the mini lesson (review)  is quick followed by more time to write.  I get a lot of my mini lesson ideas from the book No More I'm Done by Jennifer Jacobson. It's a really great book. It is here that I can also teach new forms (which can also be pointed out during the reading mini lesson time). For the most part my students have free choice on what and where to write. There are times where I structure what they need to write but this is few and far between.  We deal with non fiction writing both here but it is also gets covered during our science/socials inquiry in the afternoon.  When we are studying fairy tales we learn about writing stories, and for the most part they write them too. If I don't see something that I need to see I'll ask a student  to demonstrate that they know how to do that. So when I need to I will highly encourage kids to write what i need them to write when I need them to write it to demonstrate learning but again this isn't often. Most of the time though my goal is to foster a love for writing, because with that love writing forms just become different ways to show the love of writing.  This year was certainly a year of experimentation on my part of letting go of telling my kids what to write but my students have surpassed all expectations I've had.  I have truly engaged readers and writers. 

My students also write two mornings a week, and read with a friend every day after lunch. We have families in to read twice a week too.  Twice a week I do a structured phonics lesson (McCracken) and we add poems to our poetry book once a week too so there is word work/writing/reading at other parts of the day.

During my small group instruction I focus on reading strategies (cafe strategies). We talk about reading and writing strategies in many different contexts because they are beneficial in all parts of learning. I figure the more tools I can give my young learners the better.

As for kids that have more trouble working independently creating a team of learners has been key for me.  I have kids who take care of those that are struggling so I rarely have to intervene. It has a lot to do with class culture in my class. I also refocus when I need to. We use the mind up chime for calming and being mindful. We talk a lot about expectations and how if your behaviour is affecting the learning of others then your behaviour has to change. 

Grade one is a huge year in terms of learning to read and write.  I take the "learning to read and write" challenge very seriously and I  do what I can to create authentic readers and writers who can think and problem solve on their own.  Literacy is engrained into everything we do but this modified Daily 5 time does play a key part in  my students literacy instruction. 

My afternoons are a lot more free for child centred inquiry studies.  This afternoon block allows my students to use these skills in other authentic/meaningful ways.

Now I'm curious, how do you teach literacy skills to your young learners?  

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Strength to Change

Photo Credit: h.koppdelaney via Compfight cc

This past week I made a major decision that was one of the hardest things I've done in a long time.  I applied for a job in a different school.

You see when I was first out of university I was hired at my present school. I loved everything about it. It has an amazing community of students and parents and a super supportive staff.  I felt like I was the luckiest person ever to be hired at this school.  But at the end of that year I was laid off, and placed at a different school.  I also liked this school but it never felt like my home.  My home was where I had begun my teaching career.  So two years later, with a little seniority under my belt, I was able to apply back into my first school and I have been there ever since.  Did I mention I'm about to finish my 21st year of teaching?

My career at this school brought me many exciting opportunities. I saw staff come and go, and administrators do the same.  And if you know me at all my teaching continued to change. I taught ESL K-7, K/ESL K, K/1, 1, and 1/2.  For a long time I never taught the same grade more than two years in a row.  It was good. It was a happy fulfilling place for me.

But then things started to change and I was seriously contemplating leaving about eight years ago, that is until a now very good friend of mine joined the staff.  Having her there was the change I needed at the time. Others joined the staff too and my desire to leave became less and less. It once again felt like my home.

In 2009 I left the safety of my home school and ventured off to Australia to teach for a year. I was alone, with out any of my teaching supplies, or my friends.  It was a brave decision for me to make but it was one I am so thankful I made. It pushed me out of my comfort zone and helped me see what I was capable of doing on my own if I was willing to take the risk.  It helped pacify any concerns I had with my own school.

When I returned I realized that I had changed a lot.  I went through so many incredible and not so incredible experiences while I was away (it felt to me that) so little had changed in my home school.  Perhaps it was then that I realized that I needed to change but I wasn't quite ready to listen.

Photo Credit: TarikB via Compfight cc

Fast forward to July 2011, and the wonderful push on to twitter by Tia Henriksen, and my world really did start to change.  I was excited and inspired by what I was learning from others and I couldn't wait to share it with my staff.  I work with a lot of great teachers doing great things just in different ways than how I run my classroom.  I'd try to share the things that made me so excited about teaching with my colleagues and for the most part they'd give me their time. But after a while I realized I wanted more.

Photo Credit: Nanagyei via Compfight cc

I made the most of the technology I had available to me and even though I had just one computer that took 15 minutes to get running I didn't give up trying to integrate it into my teaching program.  I used the lab time that I was given, and I signed out extra lab time when ever I could.  I booked our school laptops and even though a bunch of them didn't work I found ways to make things happen. I booked our district iPads and iPods and shared those with my staff too.

I was also very fortunate at the district level too.  People were noticing what I was trying to do with my class, how I was trying to teach in the 21st century.  They found ways to support me and so my growth continued to explode, despite feeling along in my change effort.   I know my presence on social media helped people see what was going on in my classroom and that presence connected me with district people such as Elisa Carlson. She saw, supported, and believed in me. She is who has gotten me through some of my more challenging times at my school. I can't thank her enough. Our school district is VERY LUCKY to have her.

Last year I thought seriously about leaving my school.   But I couldn't.

Things have changed this year but it's no longer enough for me. I'm tired of being the teacher at the end of the hall doing the "crazy things" with her classroom.   I am tired of teaching, for the most part,  on my own.

This past weekend I had the privilege of attending ConnectEd in Calgary on my own dime.  It was there that I realized I needed more. It is there where I saw staff excited about embracing change and moving forward with their teaching and learning. The conversations were rich and exciting yet still filled with the realities that we all deal with on a day to day basis. It was real, alive and exciting and it was then that I realized that I want way more from a school. I needed more support and connections from a school. I need to be and feel part of a team growing together.

After a total break down during my session on Sunday morning, I realized I had to make a change. I was losing my spark for teaching, and if I wasn't careful I was going to lose a little piece of my soul in the process.  Being a teacher is who I am. It is the driving force behind so much of what I do with my life.

And so the very next day I found the strength to change.  I applied to teach at a new school.

Thankfully my interview went well and I was successful at obtaining a job at a new school. With in 24 hours of being hired I  had two teachers from my new school looking forward to collaborating with me next year (which I am so excited about). A second early primary teacher was also hired in the past few days and we have already been in contact about next year too. We are both excited to be working with one another.

So now, after 18 years in my present school it is time that I pack up my classroom and move on.  Will I miss the staff, the community, and most importantly the kids OF COURSE! But at this time I need to do what's best for me. I need to be brave and move on.  I need to embrace my new home.