Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Begin at the Beginning: Paper-Blogging with your Students

When I first began blogging with my students I made several blunders. But I didn't get it back then. To put it simply I really thought blogging was going to be a transition from paper to on-screen writing and not much more.  I was excited about the possibility of sharing and showcasing student writing with family but never imagined the places we could go or the ways in which we might connect.

Actually it wasn't until I began a parallel journey myself as a blogger along with pursuing my Master's and  researching about this particular practice that I began to perceive the potential for blogging and other social media in education.  I became more and more intrigued by the notion that there were "new literacies" being made possible by moving from the static of the screen to active participation with the Internet -Web 2.0.  I began to realize something had to change and it had more to with why I was doing certain things than just the activities themselves.

It was through reading Will Richardson's books, including Learning on the Blog that I understood the necessity of moving out of my comfort zone, of "unlearning" so many things I had taken for granted, and from absorbing what so many terrific blogging teachers had to say that I began to realize the importance of connecting with others in purposeful ways.

Pernille Ripp has been a source of inspiration and information when it comes to using technology to blog. Posts such as this and this certainly supported my changed thinking!  And when I read about Kathy Cassidy's work with Grade one students I was further motivated to expand what we were doing.

Which leads me to "one mistake" I have learned from.  I believe it is essential that students understand much more than Internet safety; they need to learn, through modelling and practice, how to communicate with others in the many online forums they now access.  Paper blogging is one simple but powerful way to do that.

But first show them this video from Mrs. Yollis Grade threes!

They give great advice that students really pay attention to...after all it's coming from their peers!

Once you discuss what a quality comment looks like, create an anchor chart with your class for future reference. 

Then pass out the paper and the colouring supplies so students can create their own paper version of a blog. Mrs. Ripp has explained paper blogging so well, why invent the wheel? (Isn't the sharing an amazing part of all this connectedness!)  After all she got the idea from Mrs. McMillan who first heard it elsewhere!  Read her post on paper blogging.

So I have started again... this year, I think, on the right foot.  My Grade Fives have done a round of paper blogging before setting up blogs with Kidblog.   

Learning to comment meaningfully and respectfully starts at home.  Building that sense of the other, the reader, is made more real when students respond to people they know before considering their invisible audience.

Carrying on conversations through threads of comments, providing feedback to other people's posts, even engaging in polite disagreements, will happen more readily by engaging in this important first step.

Have you tried paper-blogging yet? 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Pointers From the Playground

It's was one of those conversations that you're not meant to hear, though it was obviously not a private one. Some days sound really carries and this was one of those days.  I could easily hear the discussion between a parent and child at the playground across the street as I was near my fence doing some fall weeding on this quiet Saturday morning.  Though it wasn't until she was wanting to play on the structure nearer to me that I could hear the words of the girl and the replies of her father.

Image from here
This image is similar to the structure in the middle of our playground; I include it to help you visualize the choices this little girl had before her.  Unlike the 'kiddy' equipment she had been playing on, this piece has higher climbing surfaces, a fireman's pole and multi-levelled approaches to the various slides to accommodate the differing abilities and daringness of the older child.

At first I didn't notice anything except the laughter from a little girl who was moving around the various pieces of equipment with her dad following along behind.  They had the whole playground to themselves.

I was already struck by the fact that the father and child were talking a lot with each other; frequently parents sit on a bench and watch.  As they moved around to the front of the structure, I could easily overhear the interaction between parent and child. It went something like this:

Girl: Which one should I try?
Dad: Which one do you want to try?
Girl: The big pole.
Dad: Go on then.
Image from here
Girl: But I might fall!
Dad: Look, I'll do it first!
Girl: But I might fall. You've done it before.
Dad: I'll stand right next to it.
Girl: You won't move?
Dad: No, if you need me, I'll catch you!

Which he did the first few times.  
Through my fence, I heard her squeal of delight and the sound of her feet running up and around to try it again and again. 

Then I overheard something new; this next time she told her dad to stand back a little. He did. And she landed in a bit of a heap but un-fazed. Up she went again and again.
Her dad reminded her on how to position her body and use her feet but remained back and nearby.

"I did it! I did it!" 

I smiled and was struck by so many many thoughts:

*Isn't this the gradual release model we want for our kids in so many aspects of their lives, their schooling?

*Isn't it wonderful how he showed her first? (I think he enjoyed himself!)

*Don't we want our children to move confidently from the known into the less familiar, from the comfortably easy to the slightly more challenging?

*Isn't encouraging them to persevere part of our role? Isn't letting them know some things take practice, hard work, stick-to-it-ness? That sometimes there's bumps in life?

*Don't we want them to try new things they are truly interested in, even if they don't know how...yet? 

*Shouldn't they believe we (as parents and teachers) will catch them if they fall? Dust off their knees and help them with the next step?

*Shouldn't they know we have many ways to support them in their attempts ... pointers, information, ideas? 

*Isn't celebrating their accomplishments, especially the little ones, an amazing opportunity to show them we care?  

Dad (next to car): Oh, we said we were only going to be gone half an hour. We're a little late.
Girl: That's alright, Daddy. Mommy will understand when you tell her about the pole.

I'm sure hoping she does!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Well Worth It

We went for a walk this morning. The whole class kept fingers crossed, carried jackets and umbrellas and braved possible showers to visit the local museum. We could have easily stayed in the class and talked about artefacts, even examined a few that are coming in for our mini-museum but that would not have come close to the experiences we shared together today.

As 29 children and three teachers strolled along town streets, past the oldest documented residence in the province, past the harbour, past the dead bird, we had a very different opportunity to get to know each other than would occur in the classroom.

"Miss, that's my pop's boat!"
"Miss, did you ever go jigging?"
"Miss, that building is haunted...isn't it?"
"Miss, that's where my dad used to work."

Image from here

Discussing sheep's wool and old-fashioned skates, "pee" pots and bed-warmers, WW1 gas masks and rusty cannonballs provided so much more than 'teachable moments" or connections to the curriculum to be studied later. It gave us a chance to share our enthusiasm for learning, to be truly curious with the kids and to be just as impressed as they were about the stories embedded in this artefacts from the past. 

Watching them scour the museum for items on the scavenger hunt, listening to them ask questions of the interpreters, noting who was curious enough to ignore the "Do not touch" signs, seeing partners pull each other to the next must-see ... also gave us a little more insight into the very different learners we have this year.  

Image from here

Eating snacks together on the boardwalk next to the ocean on this warm fall day (Yup, crossing your fingers works!) before heading back also added to the day in unplanned ways.

Added time to ask more questions, to joke, to notice our surroundings.

"Miss, did you see the stuff dentists used to use back in the old days?"
"Miss, do you like cinnamon buns?"
"Miss, look at that dead fish stuck down between the rocks!"

Added time for the building of the relationships amongst each other and with us, their teachers, that will be so important in this new classroom community to which we now belong!

I would have walked in the rain for that!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Shining the Light

A lot has happened in the last few weeks! As a result of our principal taking a position that became available at the Board level (Congratulations again, Dan!), the names on the office doors in our school have changed.  Our former vice-principal was a natural fit for leader of the administration team (Kudos to  LeighAnn) and, after some scrambling to put together and submit my first real CV in over 20 years, I was asked to become assistant principal.

I have to admit I did hesitate for some long moments before deciding to apply. And not because I lacked confidence or doubted my ability to lead others.  As I started to compile notes for my resume, I was sort of surprised by just how often I had been involved in leading professional development at the school level and beyond.  But for me, those opportunities to share and learn with and from others has been a natural extension of being a teacher at Matthew Elementary. Our school has, for a long time now, emphasized teachers working together as grade level partners and across divisions.  The spark of an idea, the light in each others' eyes as we discuss the progress of a student, the warmth of  teachers' affection for each other and especially for their students...all visible in our school!  I was already part of a great team of dedicated teachers...why change direction now?

Image from here

I have always welcomed teachers into my classroom ...many have dropped in after school to ask a question, seek resources or discuss issues that arose.  (Being the "most-seasoned" elementary teacher on staff helps!)  Others have visited during the day to observe such things as a Writing or Reading workshop or to see grouping strategies being carried out. 

And I love sharing my passion for teaching.  I truly enjoy discussing the big ideas and the small details that go into making the most of the experience for everyone in the classroom. Being a sponsor-teacher to three student-teaching interns was one such experience that provided me with opportunities to nurture a love of teaching and model the reflective practice of life-long learning as a teacher. (One of those young women is my teaching partner this year!) 

Now I welcome the chance to expand my leadership role in our school in perhaps a little more formal way. I look forward to having the time to visit other classrooms and share in their commitment for the work they do each day!  I hope to support them in their professional learning as we aim to implement the best of what is changing about education and teaching practices. 

I also hesitated for another reason ...the position takes me away from the classroom, our classroom,  for part of each day.  I wondered about the relationships I strive to build each year with my students and how they might be affected by my absence. I work with students each year to build a caring classroom community...would that still be possible?

I thought about all the classroom experiences I would not be there for if I wasn't involved in teaching all the subjects.  I also considered the missed opportunity to carry through the full team-teaching model we had intended to implement in grade five this year. 


I reminded myself that many of the things that I love to do in the classroom with my students are in the Language Arts/Social Studies block! Book talks, writing conferences, Global Read Aloud, hands-on projects and so much more... I will have lots of time to get to know my students and them, me.  There will be many opportunities for learning/playing/working together!

I also know the teachers who are in the classroom are wonderful teachers in their own right and they will do amazing things with our students.  I will have some time to get to work with them and that's terrific!  

Image from here

I believe this year will be about opportunities to shine a light on the teaching and learning that occurs each day in our school.   I welcome the opportunity to go into classrooms and see (and share) more of what my colleagues are doing!  

I also thought about how my new role will provide opportunities to bring certain activities to more classrooms, especially as I can be there to help set them up! 

And by using part of my new position as Learning Resource teacher to help foster a love of reading and writing for various purposes, I also look forward to getting to know more of our K-6 students and see their zest for learning, creating and collaborating in action!  For example, I have ideas that I would like to put in place to engage our learners in making the most of the technology we have available.  

So yes, I am excited about this school year, in ways I hadn't anticipated.  I love the change of direction for me professionally and the chance for leading new learning opportunities for our school community!  Who knows where sharing those sparks of teaching and learning may take us! 

Image from here

 "Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire." --William Butler Yeats