Sunday, 4 May 2014

Identity Day

I have now experienced two Identity Days as a teacher, presented information about it at a school district meeting, and have shared this information with many colleagues, but I have not yet blogged about it!

When I first heard about Identity Day through teachers on Twitter, I was completely excited to try it.  It was one of the things that excited me about my move to elementary school; building a strong sense of community in a small school seemed like a very attainable goal.

Identity Day looks like a science fair; each student has a "booth" set up with various displays.  The difference is that students choose something that is important to them, which makes them who they are, to share with the school.  My lovely colleague Michelle and I worked to organize Identity Day for our two grade 6/7 classes and the other intermediate classes joined in.  The primary classes chose not to join, so we had our primary students explore the stations with "bingo cards" to encourage them to visit a wide of stations.  Each square asked them to "find someone who likes..." and Michelle ensured that each topic was covered at least once on four versions of the form.  We were really amazed at how proud and excited our students were that day; we had 100% student engagement and the kids absolutely loved sharing their interests with one another.  We couldn't believe how the social barriers broke down that day; students who never spoke to one another were engaging in long conversations over their interests.

One piece of feedback we received was that it would have been beneficial to have Identity Day earlier in the school year for the purpose of community building.  We agreed.  The following November, my colleague Erin and I held another one.  For the purpose of set-up and clean-up, we recommend holding an Identity Day fair between recess and lunch.  We enjoyed holding it in the gym, as the buzz in the room was incredible, but it could easily take place throughout a school if you have many students involved.  It would be interesting to hold Identity Day during an Open House at your school so that more families can attend and get to know students in the school community.

Links to Our Resources
If you would like to plan your own Identity Day, here are the resources that Michelle, Erin, and I created for our students.  Please feel free to use, edit, and share these.

Work Plan (completed by all students and sent home)
Letter for Parents (paper copy sent home)
Web Letter for Parents (website / e-mail with links)
Identity Day Reflection (completed and discussed after the event)
"Bingo" sheet (We made four versions, one of which had pictures for kindergarten students. Our students had stickers to give students when they came to their stations.)

Wednesday, 30 April 2014


The "Wonderwall" is alive and well in my classroom!  Here's what some students are "wondering."  I have students write questions in response to lessons/discussions and as they wonder things outside of formal class time.  Then, we use this board to spur ideas for class inquiry projects, as well as "Genius Hour" projects.  Thanks to Gallit Zvi for inspiring my "Wonderwall" during EdCamp Delta in November, 2012!

Monday, 7 April 2014

Who am I?

During the second term, we spent some time on some Health and Career activities which involved exploring students' personalities, strengths, and interests.  The goal of this time was to help students to explore their social and learning needs, as well as to encourage them to consider the needs of their classmates.

Last year, I used this in September to build a sense of community within the class.  Because I had many of the same students, I decided to wait so that they would have a bit more time to compare their previous results.

Many of these activities were used by Gerri, my teaching partner at PMSS in Planning 10; she introduced them to me and I am very grateful!  I managed to find these activities online and students completed them on their iPads.  I hope that my students see them again in secondary school so that they can reflect on how they have changed over a longer period of time.

True Colours - Students are grouped into "colour groups" based on the results of this test.  They read the descriptions of their "colour" and discuss the positive and negative ways that others might perceive them.  This was one of my favourites because it provided my students with a common language to use as they reflected on group work.  For example, a student might comment, "I'm the only gold in my group so I'm feeling frustrated because the oranges don't want to plan ahead."  Having this common language was very beneficial as we explored group work.

Introvert/Extrovert - Students explored the idea that introverts need to "recharge" by spending time along while extroverts need to "recharge" by spending time with others.  This was helpful as students reflected on their needs and the needs of the people they care about.  We talked a lot about how an extrovert might feel if an introverted friend wanted to work alone and how an introvert might feel if an extrovert doesn't respect his/her space.

Multiple Intelligences - This was significant, especially considering the number of students in our class who experience various learning difficulties. It was great to talk about how many different kinds of intelligence exist and how people with each "type" can bring positive contributions to our schools and communities.

Throughout all of this, I was sure to emphasize that many of us don't fit into just one "box" on these.  I'm a "blue" and a "gold," for example.

Before our conferences, students had recorded their "results" and we had explored these in the class.  During conferences, they shared their insight with their parents.  I created a big display with some of the "results" that students could get.  Students in other classes enjoyed thinking about what they might "be."  It was great to hear their parents react to these results and celebrate students' strengths.  They were also able to add insight about sibling conflicts based on some of these personality preferences.

The wall display included:

I also printed page 3 of this True Colours document.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Thoughts about Math

As a student, I was "good at" math.  When I took Math for Elementary Teachers during my undergraduate degree at Simon Fraser University, I realized that I didn't know WHY certain formulae exist in math.  I knew what they were, but not why they existed.

With my own students, I have enjoyed seeing them discover how to use Pi to calculate the circumference of a circle:

Many students were intimidated by "pi" before learning what it is and how it works.  Now, they are proud that they can use and understand it.  Breaking this activity down so that they could really figure it out helped them to feel more confident about a concept they previously thought was difficult.

As well, I have enjoyed seeing them realize WHY base x height / 2 = the area of a triangle

I love incorporating real-life and hands-on examples into my math classes.  As we do things like this, greater understandings of concepts follow.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Pro-D in Special Education

While I am not a support teacher, I am a teacher of students with diverse learning needs.  Some are identified by the Ministry of Education and some are not, but all are entitled to as much support as I can provide.

On Thursday and Friday, I had the opportunity to attend the Special Education Society of British Columbia's Crosscurrents conference.  With the make-up of my class and a strong interest in differentiated instruction, I decided to attend this conference last year and attended again in order to learn as much as I could from British Columbian Special Education teachers.

As well, I've been taking a BC CASE course, which focuses on Special Education, through my school district.  I wanted to learn as much as I could about codings, acronyms, and supporting the diverse learners in my class, so this seemed like a great opportunity to soak up more knowledge from experts within my district.  I really value the opportunity to discuss student needs with a diverse group of educators within my school district.

As I reflect on all that I've learned through these experiences, and my experiences as a teacher of a very diverse class, I have as many questions as answers.  I've been thinking a lot about adaptations and personalized learning, as I have spent the past few years seeking to meet the needs of all learners in my classes, whether or not they have ministry identifications.  My priority is increasing students' engagement and their opportunities to succeed.  As well, I have been reflecting on how my understanding of Special Education, and the needs of all learners, has evolved throughout my teaching career, thus far.

Some of my wondering includes:
  • How might my teaching change if I worked through the creation of an IEP document with every student and parent in my class in September?  (Not just coded kids...everybody!)
  • Why are adaptations usually associated with Special Education?  Shouldn't they be an integral part of education?  (I know that they are for many teachers but I have heard some teachers say that they will not adapt unless an IEP calls for it.)
  • How can we better educate pre-service teachers on adapting for diverse learners?  I feel that my skills in this area were weak when I began teaching and wonder if others felt the same way.
  • How can we better educate new teachers about the role that School Based Team meetings, counsellors, special education teachers, teacher-librarians, administrators, youth workers, Aboriginal education workers, speech and language pathologists, school psychologists, and other specialist teachers play in our school system?  I don't feel that I was aware of these important roles when I began teaching.
  • I am currently completing my Master's in teacher-librarianship.  How could the role of a TL be integrated with the role of a support teacher?  How are they similar?  How are they different?  The more I learn about both positions, the more I think they could be integrated to provide student support across a school.
Teachers can (and should, in my opinion) adapt for any student at any time.  We should know our students well enough to do this, particularly as the year progresses.  The more I learn about Special Education, the more convinced I become that many of the approaches used by Special Education teachers should be integrated into the practice of all teachers.  I feel badly about my lack of knowledge in this area when I began teaching and remain committed to learning as much as I can about Special Education so that I can meet the needs of my students as effectively as possible.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Bringing Elementary to Secondary

People often ask me what I think of elementary school after spending six years as a secondary school teacher.  Honestly, I love it!  The more I think about the elementary school system, the more I realize how limited I was by the timetable and structure of the secondary system.  I didn't realize it at the time, but I was restricted by the fact that the bell rang and students had to leave, and by the fact that I was in charge of one subject in its time slot.  The opportunity to facilitate cross-curricular learning opportunities has really opened my eyes to the possibilities that could exist in secondary school.

Through cross-curricular projects and learning activities, my students are able to meet learning outcomes for many subject areas at once.  I love the ability to integrate curricula and feel that it provides me with an opportunity to engage students in learning which connects with the world around them.  As well, this allows students to delve into one project and meet learning outcomes from a variety of areas.

It's no secret that I'm a fan of inquiry-based learning.  I used inquiry in secondary school but I feel that opportunities for this type of learning could be improved by an examination and restructuring of the secondary school system.  One suggestion I have made in my discussions with colleagues is the possibility of enrolling students into cohorts for some of their studies.  I know that this does happen in some schools.  Science Co-op was a program when I was a student and involved combining science courses and work experience so that students could use their time more flexibly for the semester, attending field trips and work experience opportunities.  I think it would be fantastic to combine English courses with elective courses.  Students could explore areas of interest alongside a teacher with the same passions.  They could build their literacy skills while reading and writing about their elective course theme.  What if these courses incorporated mathematics, as well?  Or Social Studies?  Health and Career?  I can imagine how well English 10, Social Studies 10, Planning 10, and a grade 10 elective would fit together.  I know that some cohort-based programs are offered in secondary schools, but would love to see this become a more available option so that students and their teachers can explore the same cross-curricular learning opportunities that I am enjoying as an elementary teacher.  (I am aware that it would be a timetabling nightmare, of course!  I can dream, though!)

The longer I teach elementary school, and learn about my students' lives and interests, I realize how little I knew about my secondary school students.  At the time, I felt that I had strong connections with many students and their parents, particularly if I taught them for multiple years.  Now, I realize how much there is to know about my students.  The advantage of having students in cohorts at the secondary level would have relational benefits, as well.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Integrating Aboriginal Culture

In a master's course I took, my group explored Aboriginal literature and the impact of integrating Aboriginal culture into schools.  From cultural tolerance to success for Aboriginal students, the impact of integrating Aboriginal literature, art, and heroes into schools is significant.  This is an area that I began to feel personally convicted about; do I really focus on bringing Aboriginal culture and literature into my classroom?  I like to think that I do, and this is part of the BC curriculum, but I know that I could make a greater effort to add depth and frequency as I explore Aboriginal culture with my class.

Last year, I read Fattylegs by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton aloud to my class.  Fattylegs is the story of a young Inuit girl who lives at a residential school.  It promotes awareness of and discussions about residential schools in an age-appropriate manner.  My class had many questions about the residential school system.  The beautiful artwork throughout the book also provoked many discussions.  I was surprised to find out that many students had never heard about residential schools; this made me feel more convicted about increasing my students' awareness of these issues and other social justice issues.

This year, our district's Aboriginal Culture Mentor came into the school to work with our grade 6/7 classes.  They really enjoyed exploring Aboriginal painting and the stories behind the animals.  I'm looking forward to an upcoming Salish weaving workshop offered by this program, as well.  When I mentioned this in my online master's course, many teachers across Canada commented that their districts didn't have programs such as this.  I really want to make greater use of these opportunities in the future; we are very fortunate to be in a district which supports Aboriginal education in this way!