Now THAT’s a Good Idea!

As I begin my three week block of solo teaching, I’ve been asked if I’m ready, or if I’m nervous, or if I’m stressed. Surprisingly, I’m going into my block feeling ready, confident, and pretty un-stressed. I feel like I’ve been preparing for my solo teaching, but not really any  differently than I did for any of my subjects leading up to this point. Really, I’ve just had a great gradual increase of responsibility, and done good planning along the way, so nothing really feels that different.

In fact, prior to my block (so, early last week), on a night where I really didn’t need to do much prep for the next day, I sort of ended up planning my whole three week block in all subject areas…in one evening. Yup, I went from spending hours creating ONE lesson to spending 3 or 4 hours planning almost 4 weeks of content over multiple subjects. As a result of this, it really allowed my creativity to flow, to pull in pieces from all sorts of different ideas, and to really see how I could truly integrate the various subjects I teach. Now, is it perfect? Not even close. But, it’s a start, and I’ve got a very clear direction of where I’m going and how I’m going to help my students get there.

I’m really excited for the plans I have in place for my students. We have already begun to examine various types of power in our Social Studies unit, and next week will be starting to bridge that into our Literacy class. It is an idea that keeps growing. As I talk to more people, attend more PD events, and connect with more teachers my idea continues to grow and grow. Steven Johnson even suggests in his TED Talk video that this is exactly where good ideas come from. He suggests that ideas come from a network of ideas and connections, and they eventually become something larger, something great. I kind of agree! I feel like I’m just inspired to do great things when I see what others are doing, and have a chance to share my ideas with people too! Just this past weekend I came across some great Tweets from Aaron Warner, chatted with several awesome teachers at EdCampYQR, and it allowed me to add even more to my already great ideas for my unit!

Now, the test will be if I can pull it all off! I’ve certainly got the drive, but do I have the time and the resources to really make it work? While I do plan to use this long weekend to do a little bit of relaxing, I also hope to do some pretty intense planning. Although I have my outline and direction and flow pretty nailed down, I hope to focus more on exactly what each lesson will present, incorporate some of the great resources and ideas I’ve accumulated. Wish me luck!

And good luck to all of my fellow interns who are into, or close to entering, their three week teaching block! We got this!


Third time’s the charm…and sometimes the fourth is even better!

We’ve all heard that internship teaches you a lot. We’ve all heard that interns make mistakes and learn from them. We’ve all heard that there can be a lot of stress, and even tears, during internship. We’ve all heard that internship is challenging and some days you feel like you hit a wall. We’ve all heard that it can be a tough four months, but we don’t always hear the rest of the story.

What we don’t hear about is HOW interns learn, and what that process looks like.

Let me start out by saying that I’ve been really enjoying my internship. I have a great class, a wonderful co-operating teacher, and have been having a lot of fun. Sure, some nights I’m up quite late (or is it early…) planning things and making sure my lessons for the next day are just right, and sometimes I’ve stressed about getting the curriculum covered the way I think it should be, but overall it’s been great.

Now to the story…

Last Tuesday my advisor visited my class to do an observation of my teaching. I was beginning a brand new unit in subject I’d never taught before, social studies. I had worked with my co-op to make a great outline of the unit and I had a great concept for my first lesson. It was going to get the students excited about the unit, introduce the concept and be a lot of fun. Now, my class schedule is a little funny and on this particular day I had all of my students for half an hour and then the grade 6s went to band while the 7s stayed for more of the same subject. I thought the first part of the lesson went great. I did a bit of a modified think-pair-share concept as we explored the topic of our unit of inquiry, and all of the students were so engaged in the conversation. It was maybe a little noisy, but I don’t mind a kind of excited topic-related noise in the room. After the first half though, when I just had my 10 grade 7 students is where things started to go sideways.

I’ve struggled with management of my 7s before. They are just a loud and rowdy group; always blurting things out (subject related or not), and keeping them in check can be an issue. I moved them to a central point (which is usually a must with them), and we carried on with a deeper conversation that we had started with the whole class. For some reason though, my 7s thought that this period was one where they could just be silly and blurty and disrespectful to everyone in the room. I tried all my usual tricks – moving students, removing distractions, re-setting the focus of the class, and nothing worked. But hey, my advisor was there, what was I to do? So I tried to push on with the discussion, continually battling with a few students who were struggling to stay focused and on topic, and what should have been a 15 minute discussion took the entire 30 minute period.  I was exhausted. I knew I should have stopped, really addressed the issues, and then tried again to re-set the lesson. But I didn’t, and I felt so terrible.

Photo Credit: cyndisuewho Flickr via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: cyndisuewho Flickr via Compfight cc

Following my lesson, as it was the end of the day, my co-op and I sat down to de-brief. I knew I could have and should have done better. I tried to be strong, and explain why I did what I did, but I knew there was more I wanted to do. I tried to be brave and hold back my tears of frustration, but they came anyhow. I let it all out. Through it all though, my co-op and my advisor reminded me that I have the power in my class; I’m in control. I can stop things. I can start again. I can require my students to listen. I think the tears came more because I knew this was totally true.

Ironically, my unit and my lesson are all about power. Who has it in different situations and how we must work within a system of power and navigate amongst the good and the bad sources of it. I have the power in my classroom, and I need to use it. My students know that teachers have power and the authority to use it, I just have to have the courage to show it.

So, after 90 minutes of tears and realizations I tried to regroup and make a plan for action. Should I have used more power? Yes. But were my students still acting irresponsibly? Yes! So I made a plan for my next lesson to be about social obligations to others, about respecting those who have rightful power and authority, and taking ownership for their actions. I took a cue from my good friend, Amie, who had a very similar experience a few weeks earlier. She had her students write apology letters and explain their behaviour, and I tried the same with my students.

Photo by Simon Howden. Published on 22 February 2009 Stock photo - Image ID: 1004778

Photo by Simon Howden. Published on 22 February 2009 Stock photo – Image ID: 1004778

The next class was a VERY different one for sure. We discussed the previous class, why the behaviour they exhibited was not acceptable, considered what could have gone better, and establish an understanding of expectations. We even took a “field trip” to view the banner hanging in the front of the school that showcases the values that we are to uphold: I am responsible, I belong, I want to know,  I respect. Students were very sombre, realizing that they were not upholding any of these values in the previous lesson. Upon our return, students wrote formal letters outlining what happened and how they hoped to adjust their actions for future classes. I applauded students for being able to reflect on their actions, and shared some of my own reflections also. This hour long class went by quickly, and really helped set the tone with my students.

Now, the next class, that’s where things really changed. Just this Tuesday I had another shot with my grade 7s all on their own, again after a half hour period with the entire class. This time though, was great. I took the time to totally re-set the lesson, outline the expectations again, did a fun dance break, and got into a topic that was a little different than what we’d been doing with the whole class. Was it the most exciting thing? Nope, not even a little. We were looking at some sources of power, had some really good discussions about what they would look like, and recorded some student-created definitions of some terms. The class was very respectful, engaged in the discussion, and we got done what needed to be accomplished for the period. I was very proud of them, and of myself, for the turn around in attitude and outcome.

Photo by Danilo Rizzuti. Published on 17 November 2009 Stock photo - Image ID: 1009981

Photo by Danilo Rizzuti. Published on 17 November 2009 Stock photo – Image ID: 1009981

When I started writing this post after my lesson on Tuesday, and now it’s Thursday, and I’ve had another hour long class with my 7s. I thought that 3rd class with them was something pretty great, but today was even better! Today’s lesson was a look into some organizational power and  the levels of government in Canada. We played games, worked as a team, watched videos, answered questions, had discussions, had some disagreements, looked up answers, played more games, learned new things, and ALL of it in a very respectful, calm, yet totally engaging setting! It was a wonderful way to end out the day. I was so pleased with today’s class and am so proud of both my students and myself for really coming full circle on the issues we had been experiencing.

I start my 3-week solo teaching block on Monday, and after today’s lessons I definitely am going into things feeling more confident in my ability to get things done, and not only done well, but done with the cooperation and engagement of my students. I thought the third time was the charm, but today really showed me that sometimes the fourth can be even better.

Return of the Long-Lost Blogger

Before I started my internship I thought, YES, I will blog every week, even more, because I’ll have so much so say and want to share it! Well, yes, I have certainly found that I have learned an incredible number of things that I want to share, finding the time to actually share them is so difficult!

Now I think that I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again; you learn a LOT in internship. Every day. All day. So the fact that it’s been 2 weeks since my last post means 2 weeks of learning have occurred! And wow, have I ever learned some awesome things in the last two weeks! Let me re-cap and share my adventures!

  1. Lit Circles
    • My Lit Circles have been going really well! Students are really into their books, and for the most part are having some great conversations. The downside to being new to this set up, and new to teaching is that I haven’t had the time to really read all of the books my students are reading. I’ve read many summaries and information packages on them, heard from other teachers about them, and read snippets from all of the books, but it’s not quite the same as feeling confident in what happened in the entire book.
    • I think if I were to do this again (which I totally intend to!), I would definitely want to pick the selection of books in advance and have the chance to read them. I think that I would really love to do something with biographies/autobiographies like “I am Malala” and “Diary of a Young Girl” to incorporate some world issues along with a non-fiction style and getting the students to look at how they could write their own auto-biographies!
    • I’ve been adding in little bits here and there of how to improve the jobs that my students are rotating through, and how to have better discussions. These mini-lessons are going over great with the kids, as they’re just long enough to get the point across (15-20 min) and they they go right away and apply the concept to their jobs and discussions!
  2. Inquiry Project
    • The process of having students do research over the last 2 weeks has been awesome. Students already knew how to use Google Slides to make presentations (well, all but one, and he picked it up quickly), and I structured the requirements with some definitive guidelines for my grade 6s and a little less for the grade 7s.
    • We started presentations today! From what I’ve observed so far, here are some take-aways:
      • Kids are not confident in what they know. They insist on reading from slides or print-outs even though they really do know a lot when you ask them questions! This will be an area to work on improving confidence in throughout the year.
      • The structure was awesome for the grade 6s. So far the presentations have included all of the elements that we’d discussed in class.
      • The slightly unstructured was not as great for the grade 7s. So far the presentations have been hit and miss on including information that we had talked about in class. Some students hit it right on, one went over an above, and one missed the boat. We’ll see how the next round goes to get a good sense of what’s up with them!
  3. BreakoutEDU
    • I had the opportunity to partake in a Breakout with my 7/8s in my pre-internship, and also with my ECS311 class, and I can’t say enough good things about it! It’s engaging, really fun, challenging, and encourages team work like nothing else!
    • I hyped up the lesson that would be the Breakout for an entire week and the students were so excited about it!
    • The actual Breakout was super chaotic, but also super fun. Most of the students were really into the process of breaking the codes and working on clues, and it gave me a good chance to see some of the teamwork dynamics in our class. It also gave students a chance to figure out what works and what doesn’t work for solving clues and working with others.
    • There were some students who really “got it” and others…not so much, or so it seemed during the Breakout itself. I had students do a self-reflection afterwards and it helped me see what they were thinking and how I can address their triumphs and concerns in future lessons and future Breakouts.
    • Hoping to do another in a couple weeks!
  4. Substitute Teachers
    • My co-op was away for 3 days last week, giving me the opportunity to work with a substitute teacher. It was a great experience!
    • It was interesting to see how students behaved around a guest teacher, yet how they stayed the same with me. It gave me confidence that my students really do respect and trust me in teaching.
    • Receiving feedback from another teacher was also very helpful. He noticed things that my co-op hadn’t mentioned before, and also encouraged me and praised my teaching abilities, which was a real positive boost.
  5. PhysEd
    • I took on another subject at the end of last week, PhysEd. Certainly not my favourite, and a little intimidating as it’s such a different dynamic from subjects that are primarily classroom-based.
    • Our PhysEd is set up in a way that I’m really sure I enjoy. We combine with the grade 6 class, and split the boys and girls. One groups has PhysEd and the other does health. One class a week each group has a 45 minute class, and then the other time we do the flip, either the boys OR the girls get 1 hour of PhysEd (rather than trying to get each group in for half an hour, which would really be about 15-20 minutes with transition time). This set up makes it really difficult/interesting to plan units, as one group has 2 lessons a week and the other just one.
    • On the up side, my first double class was a success, and my first hour long class with the boys was awesome! I’m learning more about class management and how things change in a gymnasium, and also how to connect to students in a new subject.

Teaching it busy, (It took me 4 days to write this post!) but I’m having so much fun! I’m going to really try to write more in the next couple weeks leading up to my 3-week block, as I find it such a great way to reflect on my thoughts.

It’s Been a Monday

Photo Credit: Silver James

Mondays are rough. They’re even rougher when your field trip is cancelled, you were sick on Sunday and couldn’t get to the school to prep for the new literacy unit you’re starting and now have only 30 minutes to get it all together and somehow pull it off, you are fielding crazy students who are bummed that the trip got cancelled and aren’t really prepared for the day, the photocopier runs out of paper and you have to find some in another part of the school, the projector isn’t working properly, students left their notebooks at home because they thought we were going on the field trip, and oh yeah, you’re still feeling sick.

Today was a tough one. I’ve had a few tough Mondays actually. I think it’s because I’m trying to get myself back into gear for the week, and so are the students. There’s some of that tired unwillingness to be there, wishing that the weekend was just a tad longer, but also the sort of itch to get into doing something “good”, with a nice rhythm and flow. It takes time and practice to get there I’m learning.

The literacy unit that I’m beginning is with Lit Circles. This is a concept I heard about and wanted to try, and my co-op was most willing to let me go for it, as he has had great success with them in the past. I’m working in themes of Identity, Peace/Conflict, and Standing Up for What you Believe in and Doing One’s Best, which fit within the grade 6 and 7 English Language Arts curriculums. I did a lot of looking around to see how other teachers do Lit Circles, and there’s sure a lot of methods out there! I chose to start with something pretty basic, and helped students create a reading schedule, and assign tasks for each section of reading. The introduction was a little rocky as the students were just a little “off” still, but the second portion, after recess, was really great, and helped me get an idea of how students would work in their groups, and what the dynamic of the classroom would be like. While I was a little down on myself for not settling the class in better, it was a decent start.

In Science, we started our Inquiry Projects, which I introduced on Friday. I’m SO EXCITED to be able to do a project like this near the start of the school year. I really tried to set it up so that there could be a gradual release of responsibility to the students, which will make future inquiry projects, and perhaps even Genius Hour projects can be possible in the class. The students worked quite well, despite a LOT of questions about where to search, how best to set up their research and slides, and a lot of monitoring of the class. I think it was a really good start to the project, and I’m glad that I was able to partially set it up last week, as it made today’s lesson much smoother. While there were a few small bumps in getting things going off of Google Classroom, showing a student who had never used Google Drive before how to navigate and create slides, and dealing with some glitchy internet,  it was really great, and certainly made me feel more confident in my abilities.

By the end of the day, I was a mixture of emotions. I was happy to have made it through, frustrated that I could have done better, sad that our field trip was officially cancelled and unable to be rescheduled, and totally exhausted knowing I still had more work to prep for tomorrow. But tomorrow is another day, and another opportunity for me to do better, to make more connections with my students, and to continue on my journey of becoming the best teacher I can be.

Big Picture, Small Screen

I’ve always thought in really broad ideas. I see the world of teaching as one giant canvas, and each unit and subject area plays a part in a masterpiece; their lessons and projects contributing delicate brushstrokes and colours of various hues.

Photo Credit: via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: via Compfight cc

While seeing the big picture in all its masterful glory is certainly a great tool for a teacher to possess, it becomes increasingly difficult to live in a “big picture world”, when you have to live your day to day life with the reality of the small window of time that you have to execute anything in on a given day. Living in the small screen can be really difficult, as you want so desperately to fit enough of the big picture in that you don’t loose the memory of it, but small enough that you can actually understand what you’re looking at.

Photo Credit: TheTruthAbout via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: TheTruthAbout via Compfight cc

I’ve written about this before, and yet it is still something that I struggle a lot with. This past week in my internship has been a great reminder of just how much I struggle with this concept of narrowing the day-to-day while having the big picture in my mind. The great problem comes not even in breaking down that big idea into tangible pieces, but in actually executing the small piece in a way that students will “get” the point of the lesson while being able to connect it to the much larger picture. Far too often have I come across a lesson plan, whether it is online, in a teacher guide, or from another teacher, and I struggle to see how you can either get all of it in one lesson, or how to get students to connect it with the previous days’ lessons, and the lessons you will have coming up.

In the science unit I’m currently teaching I also have the added challenge of teaching a split grade classroom. We have a rather challenging schedule too, where I sometimes have just one of the grades and sometimes both, so I must find ways to link their units together at some points, but also keep them separate!  Then if that wasn’t enough, there’s also the constant problem of not always being able to get everything you want in a lesson, but not being able to move on until you do!

I’ve been running into this collision of worlds all last week and into this one…trying to think of the day-to-day lessons, while trying to fit everything into the unit that is needed, while also planning ahead, picking up more subject areas, and finding a way to keep it all together. I also keep thinking that it’s only going to get worse before it gets better, as I still have more subject areas to add to my schedule!

Photo Credit: SammCox via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: SammCox via Compfight cc

Maybe I need to start looking at things a little differently? I don’t think I’ll ever loose my big picture mindset, but I think maybe I just need to slow things down a little, and step back for a moment. If I’m really going to do this teaching thing right, I’ve got to. I need to find some time to think about things other than school. I need to have fun taking the time away from doing school things and not be stressed about the school things I “should” be doing! I think it all comes back to balance. There’s lots of talk about a good work-life balance, but maybe I also need some future-present balance too. Perhaps I need to take the time to remember the saying, “You can only do what you can with what you have.” If I only have an evening, or even an hour to plan a stellar lesson, then I will make it the best I can in the time I have with the materials that are available.

This is my goal for the rest of the week. Do what I can with what I have. All I can do is all I can do, and there’s no need to over-work and over-stress about it all. Tonight I will plan a fun lesson for tomorrow, and go in with my head held high, knowing that it will all work out in the end, because I know that I have the ability to take those kids on their small screens and show them the big picture.

Huff Post

Photo Credit: Huff Post


A week in the life of a teacher

It’s been a week (and a day) since we first met our students.

It’s been a week of teaching every day.

It’s been a week of ups.

It’s been a week of downs.

It’s been a week of building relationships.

It’s been a week of being tested by 11 and 12  year olds.

It’s been a week in which I have learned so much!

The first day of school, just like the kids, I was both really nervous and really excited! I was really curious to meet all of the children we would be working with, and for whom we had been planning for all these weeks.

Let me just say that I’ve thought more than once this week that we’ve got a GREAT bunch of students, and other teachers have also commented on this, so it’s gotta be pretty true! It’s a really great mix of strong leaders, hard workers, creative types, kooky ones, quiet kids, and the ones that kind of get on your nerves and know how to push the limits. I’ve really been enjoying getting to know the kids and making connections with them both in class, and through little conversations in the hallway, during work time, and on the playground.

In the classroom, I started out the first few days doing a bit of an art lesson. It turned out really well, and many of the students are really proud of their completed pieces, which are now hanging on our lockers (well almost all of them are)!
Self-Portrait Locker Art

Tuesday I began my science unit. This will be the subject (along with social) that I will teach throughout my internship. My co-op has it set up so that we focus more intensely (with 4 classes a week!) of a science unit, and then flip to doing a social unit, and so on. I actually really like this, as it gives us the opportunity to easily pick up from the day before and have more consistency. I’m working on a life science unit on the Diversity of Living Things and Interconnectedness of Ecosystems. Content wise I have a good handle on my unit and where it’s going, and I’m looking forward to working through it!

Photo Credit: BobboSphere via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: BobboSphere via Compfight cc

My first couple of lessons went pretty well. Tuesday was more of an introduction to science and the scientific process, which worked as a pre-assessment so I could know where students were coming from. Wednesday we did some fun games, and ended with a bit of an outdoor observation session. While I don’t think that they were perfect lessons, I think they went really well; all the students were engaged and on task. Thursday, yesterday, however, was a bit of a different story. I only had 8 students (the 6’s were at band and two students were away), so you’d think that might be a pretty sweet class, and so did I! I went in thinking it was going to lead to some great discussions and engagement, but it took a pretty drastic turn part way through the lesson when one student decided that it would be super great to argue with the class about a point we were discussing, and any disagreements only fuelled his fire. Try as I might to divert the attention being given to him back to the lesson, nothing I did really made it work, and though we finished the lesson on a decent point, I certainly was not really happy with the overall impression left by it.

In conferencing with my co-op it became very apparent where I’d gone astray in my classroom management, and we discussed some strategies on how I could have corrected the mistake once it happened, and also how to avoid it in future lessons. I could really see what things I could have improved on, and felt really supported in being allowed to have those things happen so that I COULD improve for another time. We had a really great discussion, and I left feeling confident that I could take some of those ideas and strategies and apply them to my lesson the next day.

Today was a brand new day, and I had the grade 7’s again (now 10 as the students who were away had returned). Last period of the day. On a Friday. It could have been a total gong show, but it was actually amazing! I laid out the expectations right from the start, the class was in on the rules that we established together, and we carried on! We got through the work we didn’t have time to finish the day before, shared some stories, looked at some alternative world view perspectives, read more stories, did some reflections, and really had a great, relaxing and chill sort of class! It was just the best way to end a Friday! I wasn’t stressed, or taxed by the students, and I really think we had some great conversations. It was a completely different class from the day before. I felt really proud that I could show that I could really handle the class and all of its characters and have an engaging lesson where everyone contributes and we do some great work.

I’m now really looking forward to next week!

Photo Credit: glendon27 via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: glendon27 via Compfight cc

…and it begins!

Tomorrow’s the big day, the day I will meet the 26 young, enthusiastic children that I will call “my kids” for the next four months!

I’m ready.
I’m confident.
I’m excited!

The months (and years!) leading up to this point in time have been stressful, and there have been many tears, but they have all helped shape the person, the educator, that I am at this moment. Will it all have been enough? Will it all have been worth it?

No matter what happens tomorrow, or in the months to come, I am trusting myself to say, yes, they have been enough. I am enough. I have enough knowledge, skill, and talent. I have enough ideas, and I can do enough planning. I can be enough of everything that these students need and deserve.

Photo Credit: kyleabedalov via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: kyleabedalov via Compfight cc

While I don’t think I’ve got quite as much totally laid out as I may have originally thought I would have by now, I know that there is a reason for it. I know the outcomes I will be teaching in science, my first, and longest-lasting subject for the next four months. I know where I want to lead my students, guided by the outcomes, and I know several other assessments I’d like to do along the way. I know the fun and engaging things I want to share with the students, and the adventures I would like to go on with them. Do I have all of my lessons totally planned out? No, and that’s ok! Even just six months ago I would have been freaking out that I don’t have my lessons firmly planned yet, but today I am not. Why the change? It’s the change in me! I have learned a lot from my pre-internship, and from my adventures over the summer, and even from my co-op already, and I know that it’s ok to be a little loose until I know the students, and can begin to build those relationships with them to know how to get them to where they need to go.

Will I have a classroom full of eager students who are interested in inquiry-based learning? Will I have students who need a lot of guidance, and perhaps need more structure? Odds are there will likely be a combination of these, and I’ll have to adjust my plans and goals accordingly. Right now though, I’m focused on the now, and about building for tomorrow.

Going into the first days of school I really thought that I’d be freaking out, yet tonight, on the eve of the school year beginning, while I’m excited and have a smile on my face, I’m actually very calm! I feel that even in the last three days of preparations with my co-operating teacher that I have already found a comfort zone at the school, with some of the other staff, and certainly with my co-op, and that comfort makes it way less scary going into the first day of school. I know that my co-op is there to help me, and to encourage me to be the best that I can be. If I mess up, oh well, try again tomorrow. If a lesson doesn’t really fly, then I can take more time to work with the students; no big deal! I think that this type of comfortable relationship is exactly the type that I hope to foster with the students too. We’re all there to learn, we all take unexpected turns, and we all need second chances, extra time, and support from those around us that all of that is ok!

I am really excited to get going in my science unit, where I’ll be working with the 6s and 7s rather separately as we investigate ecosystems, classification of living things, interconnectedness of living things, how humans impact and are impacted by ecosystems around us, and how First Nations and Indigenous perspectives of the natural world can be considered and appreciated by everyone. While it is a little unsettling that we don’t totally have our daily schedule confirmed yet, I know that I will use whatever time I have with the students to share my enthusiasm for this subject area, and broaden their awareness and spark their curiosity about the world around them. I think that science is such a fun subject, and though I’m certainly not a biology expert, I’m looking forward to adventuring alongside my class through these engaging topics. I am really hoping to do a guided inquiry project as a major assessment in the unit, and though I’m still working out the details of how to get there, I’m sure we will make something fun happen no matter what.

Tomorrow it begins. I’m ready for whatever turns this internship adventure takes me on! Bring it!

Photo Credit: Cox Academy

What Happens When You Fail?

What happens when you don’t make the right choices?

What happens when you don’t do the things you should have?

What happens when you break your promises?

What happens when everything you hoped for comes crashing down around you?

What does it look like to fail?

Yes, these are some pretty heavy questions, but they are ones I’ve had to face in recent weeks. You see, I’ve let a lot of people down, but most importantly, I’ve let myself down. I promised I would read two books each month this summer, I was dedicating myself to living an active and healthy lifestyle, and I had made a goal to blog at least once a week.

I have done none of these things.

I did not make the right choices.
I did not do what I should have done.
I broke my promises.
I had hoped so many things for this summer, and it is all falling apart.
This is what failure looks like.

Exactly two months ago, I was finished my 3rd year of my education degree, I had two great jobs lined up for the summer, I was just finishing up a great year of rhythmic gymnastics, I had the best summer reading list lined up, and I was so pumped to get outside, get moving, and make this summer fantastic. Well, half way through my summer already and I have nothing to show for it. I feel pretty bummed about it. I’ve cried once or twice about the frustrations with my jobs (one of which I nearly quit), I haven’t finished one teacher-type book (although I did read 2 novels in a week, so that’s at least something), and despite living two blocks from Wascana Park I seem to have only made it out for a stroll two times in the last two months. Brutal.

To some this may not seem like much, and really, I can admit that all of these woes are very “first world problems,” and I’m fortunate to have a job (let alone 2!), the ability to read, the means to do it, the means to walk, and the proximity to such a great park.

So why complain?

Because students will.

It is inevitable; students will fail. Students will fail at the most simple tasks. For some, they will barely even notice, but for others, even small failures can seem devastating. So what do we, as educators need to do with this failure?

  1. Acknowledge it
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      Failure may be new to some students (and parents!). We live in a world with instant gratification, and failure may not be something kids have really experienced. Some may even come from a home where “failure is not allowed” (This type of parenting style has it’s own problems!).

    • Teach resiliency. This may be new to many students, so be patient, and take steps one at a time to work through things when they don’t go the way that was intended.
  2. Model it
    • Let students see you make mistakes (here’s a brief bit from a great-sounding book).
    • Walk through the process of picking up the pieces and going another way
    • Teach students to reach beyond the “expectations”, to take risks, and to be ok with the outcome
    • Show them examples of others who have failed
  3. Encourage it

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I love this video, and how the speaker reiterates that failure is not the opposite of success, but part of the pathway to it.

At the end of it all, our job as teachers is to help our students gain the skills that will help them as they journey in life, right? So isn’t failure part of life? Don’t students need these skills?

elon musk quote

If a brilliant innovator like Elon Musk can live by this, then we all can. Photo from @ajjuliani, another great innovator and supporter of education.

I sometimes forget that in my own little world. I forget that sometimes, as someone, somewhere, once said, “When things are falling apart, they may actually be falling into place.” This is a great thing to remember, and one that I was recently reminded by a little piece of paper posted on a back wall at a shop the other day. In just looking up that quote I found several articles written in response to it, but I really enjoyed this one. It really spoke to the idea of making failure part of your journey. I have to remember how much failure I’ve had in my life, but it has all brought me to this point, and where I am is exactly where I need to be.

So, where do I go now?

Well, I still have exactly 2 months left to go in my summer. I still have time to read, to blog, to enjoy the beautiful weather that is to come, to enjoy time with my family and friends, to have so much fun teaching engineering summer camps to kids, to plan the best science unit that any grade 6/7 class has ever seen, to get out and get active, and to remember that everything that happens in my summer and the years to come will only help to shape me as an educator, and as a person.

Believe, make plans, fail. Believe again, make new plans, maybe fail some more. Believe some more, try those plans again, and find success.

And…if all of that doesn’t do it for you, take a trip back to the 90s, and remember the timeless words of one, Mrs. Frizzle, “Time to take chances, make mistakes and get messy!” Oh, Magic School Bus, you definitely had a hand in making me the educator I am today!

Why am I still blogging?

School’s out for summer! Woohoo! While I am glad to have made it through another tough, thought-provoking, soul searching and gut wrenching semester, I’ve still got one more year to go before I finish my Bachelor of Education degree. I know it’s a lot more work ahead, but I  must say I’m very excited for it! I’ve got my internship coming up this fall, followed by one more semester of 3 classes. It’s going to be great!

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So, if the semester is finished, why am I still blogging? Isn’t this blog part of a requirement for my classes? Why would anyone continue to do something that’s not for marks? Why would someone keep blogging just for fun? Is blogging even any fun?

I have been asked this question several times in the last couple weeks. I’ve been mocked for continuing to want to blog. I have been laughed at when I  suggest that I want to read, and to keep up with my involvement on Twitter through chats, posting and sharing. People say “We’re not in school, so why do you keep doing all of those things?” or, “You know you don’t have to do all of that, right?”

My question is, Why not?! Why wouldn’t I take the time to put my thoughts and ideas out there, to connect with others, to read new books, to be inspired, to work towards being a better educator? I’m in this for the long haul, and I think that it is part of my job to always look to improve and expand upon my ideas and to work towards becoming a stronger educator.

So this is why I blog:

  1. It’s a great way to get ideas out of my head and explore them.
  2. It encourages me to seek out new ideas and share them with others.
  3. It allows me to consider the thoughts of other writers and teachers and look at how I might incorporate their ideas into my own pedagogies and philosophies.
  4. I’m a pirate – yup, a pirate. If you’re not quite sure what this means, check out Dave Burgess’s book, and other books by Dave Burgess Consulting Inc. Oh, and look for an upcoming blog post on my pirating philosophy!
  5. It’s fun! Really!

So, like many other educators out there, I will continue to blog, and read, and Tweet, and I encourage others to do the same! If you need some convincing, here’s a short article with some more great reasons teachers should blog!

My Summer Reading

My Summer Reading

My goal this summer is to blog at least once a week, and to read  at least two books every month – at least one “teacher book” and one novel. Here’s a picture of my summer reading list so far (not sure if I’ll make it through all of them, but I’m going to try!).

What’s on your summer reading list and why do you keep blogging?


The Road to Success

When I began this semester, and my ECS 410 class, I thought that I had a somewhat reasonable understanding of assessment. I understood that assessment was important, that it should often be one of the first things that is planned when creating a lesson or unit. I knew that while formative assessment is needed in the classroom on a daily basis in every subject area, summative assessment should be provided only after students have had time to adequately understand the content, and are ready to be assessed on their overall understanding, knowledge, and ability to apply the concepts learned. What my ECS 410 class has since taught me is that assessment is not only required, but that it is imperative in helping to increase students’ ability to succeed in the classroom.

So, what does this look like? Well, that’s what I’m hoping I can explain to you in this post. I believe that my understanding of assessment is much more than what it was just a few short months ago, and that I now have a much better understanding of how it will impact and influence my teaching. I have learned that while there are literally hundreds of different tools, strategies, and opinions on ways to assess, there are also many ways to appropriately utilize feedback to optimize student engagement, enhance students’ learning experience, and to adjust the ways we teach to meet the needs of the students. I have gained new understandings of quizzes and tests, of homework, and I have developed opinions on how I see assessment working in my classroom to improve the experience for everyone.

Assessment is in many ways, a holistic endeavour that brings together feedback and student engagement. Without one you can’t truly have the other. If students (and teachers!) do not know how they are performing on a given day, then it seems to give them permission to “check out.” Students also need to know where they are going if they have any hope of getting where you want them to be. So, I have learned that you need to be open with students, share your learning goals with them, and perhaps even have them create their own goals within the path that you are guiding them on! This is the first key strategy that Dylan Wiliam‘s presents in his book, Embedded Formative Assessment, a book that we read in our ECS 410 class, and one I really learned a lot from. Wiliam goes on to discuss that students also need to know where they are relative to the learning objectives, so that both students and teachers have a base to start from and can then generate a clearer picture of how to get where they are going. It’s all part of creating a really solid “map” for learning. It’s pretty impossible to assess anything if you don’t know where you’re starting or where you’re going! Thankfully, these two concepts are ones that I had begun to understand in the fall, and have enjoyed working with the Understanding by Design (or Backward Design) style of lesson and unit planning.

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The UBD template for both unit and lesson planning puts assessment first. After selecting what it is you want students to learn by unpacking the curriculum outcomes, the ways in which you will assess students is determined. At first I wondered why you’d need to do this first. Why would you pick how to assess students before even deciding what they will do? Well, it’s because assessment informs and directs the learning. This is something that I really began to understand in this class, and throughout the semester. Previously, I’d thought that assessment was just a way to check that students “got” what you were trying to get them to learn, but now I see that it really can let you know where students are at, what areas they are struggling in, which students need to be challenged, and where you should take the learning in the days to come. This is because assessment is all about feedback.

Feedback, as I’ve learned this semester, is vital to the learning process. But how does one provide effective feedback? Well, Grant Wiggins, one of the co-creators of Understanding by Design, wrote an article about how to do just that. In his article, “7 Keys to Effective Feedback“, Wiggins explains the best practices and reasons behind providing feedback to students. He explains things like making sure that feedback is goal-oriented, so that it can help students make progress towards their personal learning goals, actionable, meaning that students can really take action on the things you tell them, and consistent, so that students are constantly receiving feedback to have a continuous understanding of where they are and where they need to go. The other keys that Wiggins mentions, I feel, really align with the ideas that Douglas Reeves presented in a video chat that we were privileged to have with him in one of our classes. Doug uses the acronym, FAST, saying that feedback needs to be fair, accurate, specific and timely. In this video, Doug explains how his FAST feedback can really be a powerful tool in the classroom (he also wrote a book on this concept).

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Assessment as feedback can be done in countless ways in the classroom. I created a resource of just 50 ways to formatively assess students in the classroom, but there are hundreds of ways to do this. The important thing is really not even how you do the assessment, but what you do with it. How will the assessment help students improve? How will the assessment help you as a teacher improve? As I created this list, these were things that I thought a lot about. I also started to think about those “old school” methods that we use to assess students, namely quizzes and homework. Are they of any benefit to students or teachers in the long run?

I did a little extra investigating into these two assessment methods that often get a lot of flack from students and parents, because quite often they seem to have little purpose and result in little feedback. As Doug Reeves presented in another video, quizzes do in fact, actually have the ability to provide great, instantaneous feedback to students. They can be very informal and stress-free, which can lead to students feeling a sense of accomplishment. In this respect, I realized that there are actually several methods, like Poll Everywhere, Google Forms, and the incredibly fun Kahoot! game that certainly lend themselves to a quiz-based assessment. If you’re looking for some “lower tech” yet still fun options, Plickers, class created flashcards, or even a class race to answer a set of questions may be great options. The thing about these methods of quizzing, is that the feedback is in real-time, and quite instantaneous, which is why they can be quite effective. The tech methods even allow you to save data so that you can go back afterwards to analyze trends of find students who may still be falling behind.

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It is this instant feedback that is often lacking in using homework as a type of assessment in the classroom. Homework needs to not only be checked for completion, but for understanding. If students simply get a mark for completing the work, how is that an accurate reflection of what they’ve learned? It’s not. Our friend, Doug Reeves speaks to this a little in his videos, but another educator, who’s opinions I really agree with is Myron Dueck. In his video clip about his book “Grading Smarter Not Harder“, and this great article, “The Problem with Penalties“, Dueck explains how so many students often don’t do the homework because it’s either not interesting, too challenging, not challenging enough, or because they know that there’s nothing the teacher will do if they don’t do it. The problem is that penalties don’t really work, what Dueck suggests is motivating to students is the chance to improve. He suggests that students really do want to improve, but some students perhaps just don’t know how to go about doing this. Homework and in class work can be helpful in this aspect, but as Reeves pointed out in his video, that homework needs to be something that students want to do, something that they understand how to do, something that has a purpose, and something that is at the right level of difficulty for every student. I’ve seen this backfire in the classroom, even in my short time of teaching, and at that point I didn’t really see the point behind homework. If I gave students homework, the ones who really needed the practice didn’t do it, and the ones who didn’t need the practice often finished it in class time. I now can see how the “right” kind of homework can really be more motivating to students and empower them to be in charge of their learning.

This ownership and power over their own learning is something that Wiliams talks about in the last chapter of his book, and is something that I have begun to feel really passionate about. Really, who doesn’t want their students to feel proud of their learning and want to continue to learn more? Isn’t that every teacher’s dream? The problem is, it’s a challenging thing to actually achieve as I am very quickly finding out. It takes a lot of practice, persistence, and perseverance as a teacher to help students achieve ownership of their learning. Wiliams (2011) suggests that, by outlining what you’re wanting students to learn, promoting the thought that student success and ability is always increasing, making it difficult for students to compare themselves to others, providing feedback that will help them in their journey, and empowering them to be in control, that students will begin to see their own potential and take more ownership of their learning (p. 152). I think that these thoughts also really align with Paul Solarz, author of “Learn Like a Pirate: Empower Your Students to Collaborate, Lead, and Succeed“. In his book, and on the website, Solarz explains practical methods to encourage students to take charge of their learning, even leading the direction of the learning for the class. It all comes down to that concept of making sure students WANT to learn by creating opportunities for them to engage with relevant topics, allowing them to work collaboratively, and of course, providing a lot of feedback. I am not quite finished reading this book yet, but I am very excited to try out some of these strategies in my internship experience in the fall.

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These understandings of student ownership I think can be made even more powerful by reinforcing the idea that growth is constant and that one grade doesn’t make or break a student. This was a concept that we discussed in our class quite a bit, and is one that I have really taken to heart. Why should we penalize students for not understanding the concept at the start of the unit, but being confident with the same material at the end? Why do we often just take an average score across all of the work the student has done, making it look like they have only achieved an average score, instead of acknowledging the growth that they have shown? These are questions that I think still need to be examined in many classes, including our university settings. It seems to be a mindset that we have to take the average scores in any situation. Why is that though? Is it to create a more “even” field? To make everyone “average”? I’m really not sure at this point, but I do know that it is frustrating. It is frustrating to a student who receives a 20% on an assignment, and perhaps is then given the chance to improve upon his or her score, and receives an 80% on the second try, but when those scores are averaged only receives a 50%. This really just doesn’t even seem fair! So why do we do this students? Why, after our attempts to build them up and show them how successful they can be do we take away their success? I unfortunately do not have these answers yet, but they are ones that I am beginning to work through as I create my own assessment philosophies and strategies. The trouble is that during pre-internship and even our internship in the fall, it is difficult to really stamp out your own understandings, as you have to work within the format that your co-operating teacher has for his or her class. So, while I am beginning to create a vision of assessment that includes showing a students’ growth and putting more emphasis on the process and end result, this may not always align with other teachers that I work with.

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The awesome thing about feedback though, is that it is most powerful when working with a team of other teachers. So, while I may work with other teachers in my internship, it is going to be those relationships and professional learning communities that are not only going to have an impact on me, but to my students too. While I had the chance to work with one really great teacher in my pre-internship, I really hope to be able to work with even more teachers throughout my internship this fall. The idea of collaborative teaching is one that I think can be really powerful. I have found that The Teaching Channel is a great resource, and this video on collaboration amongst teachers is really great. Many of their videos look at how teachers work together to plan and reflect on lessons and units in order to improve the learning of their students. They are really taking the assessments that they give their students and reflecting on how to improve their teaching. This was something that I found out very quickly during my pre-internship. I really had to stop and take in the information that I was getting back from the students in their work and use it to guide where I would take them next. When we had previously just taught single lessons this was not nearly as important, but I have now really realized just how important it is to use all of the feedback to design the next learning steps. When working with other teachers I think this has the potential to create even better lessons for students, especially if you have teachers of a variety of experience levels. Everyone brings different ideas, insights and opinions to the table, and that’s what makes us all better teachers.

Collaboration with other teachers is something that I have really enjoyed doing in the last year or so, and my love for connecting with other educators I think is just continuing to increase. I have established a wonderful PLC within my cohort at the University of Regina, I have a great group in the #saskedchat Twitter group that discusses new topics every Thursday night, and it is through these many avenues that I have created real collaborative power with many educators that I know will help me plan, reflect, and continue to learn. Opportunities like EdCampYQR are also great to help make those new connections, hear new ideas, and collaborate on future projects. The main idea is that we can always learn from each other, and this will make us better educators, which in turn, will hopefully make us better teachers for our students as we empower them to take charge of their learning experiences.

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What I have realized over the last few months is just how much there is to learn about assessment, and what an integral part it plays within the classroom. While I once thought that it was just about tests and projects, I have now come to the realization that assessment truly is everything! It is what shows students how they are doing, it is what shows teachers where students need help, it is what encourages students to learn more, it is what drives the classroom. While I had spent the first two months of the semester just trying to digest all of this information, in my pre-internship I had a brief chance to try and put some of this learning to the test. Although I don’t feel like I came even close to where I wanted to be in terms of assessment, I certainly learned from the experience. Assessment is complicated, but only because it encompasses so much. It is my hope to continue to learn more about assessment throughout the summer as I prepare for my internship in the fall. I hope to be able to put all of my “book knowledge” to use and be able to inspire students and activate them to wanting to learn. I know that this will be a challenge, but I’m excited for the uphill climb, because the view from the top is going to be spectacular!

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