About Me

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Reflections on Starting the School Year

I'm 6 years away from retiring. It's only taken me 24 years to come to some great realizations. I made a decision before the first day of school that my goal was to make the kids want to come back to school. Forget rules and routines, procedures and policies, I want to make the beginning an enjoyable experience.

One of the things I've always been proud of myself for is not succumbing to giving mundane tasks to kids just to prove I was covering the curriculum. If there's a way I can make lessons real for the children, I like to dive in. It gets messy sometimes and I make a tonne of mistakes, I may have a few more grey hairs because of it but I wouldn't have it any other way. I teach my kids that we should learn from our mistakes so I better be able to put my money where my mouth is. As I was interacting with my class on Friday afternoon, I had a moment of reflection as I looked around my room and listened to the buzz of activity.

This year has been one of the best start ups ever, and I've been at this awhile! I planned less, put nothing on the walls and left the bulletin boards stripped. I want the kids to create their environment, build the classroom and take ownership of it. My grand plan for the first week was to make a music video, play math games and get the kids logging into their Google Classroom account. Doesn't seem like much but I didn't get through it all AND had the best week ever!


Since then, we have been working on building the room and making it their own with meaningful things on the walls. We've started a bulletin board about "reading stuff". (Love kid language.) The kids are making the posters.....and they refer to them.....never had that happen before! Here's how they've started the bulletin board:

I was in a gift shop recently and found this wall hanging. I immediately thought that would be an excellent sign for my classroom so I hung it up the following day. The kids noticed it as soon as they sat down and they loved it. I told them it made me think of our class already and it's funny how when stuff happens, they point to the sign and say things like, "We do mistakes!"

In my quest to build confidence and independence, I decided not to set my classroom up for a painting activity. I was going to get them to do the set up and get materials, show them where I stored things and how we put things back. It went so well! That's when that moment of reflection hit me.

In this video, I am sitting between 2 children. One has asked me to play a math game with her and the other wants to read his story to me and have me record him reading it. I had to laugh at this, he is so sweet. The class has finished their painting project but because they were all finishing at different times, I gave them 3 choices of what they could do until everyone was finished. Many chose to play math games with each other, some chose to write in their blank booklets and then 2 found the globe and were making up their own game of travelling to different parts of the world. As I listened to the buzz and the conversations, I smiled to myself, if anyone walked in, I'm sure they would think it was far too loud and chaotic. Me...I was embracing it!

• build relationships
• play games
• laugh
• release control, build independence (in other words, stop taking yourself so seriously!)
• stop wasting your money on store bought stuff to decorate with
• let the kids take ownership over their learning space

Monday, September 25, 2017

Terry Fox - A Canadian Hero

I love Dale Kalhood's song about Terry Fox and undertook the same activity he did with his class, except I left out the playing of the guitar while the class sings the song. I wasn't blessed with that talent! The children love the song and I hear them singing it often with each other since I taught them. They drew great pictures here to depict Terry Fox and the Marathon of Hope. Well done grade 2's!

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Writing From A Blank Canvas

It all started last year when I randomly stapled some manilla paper together to make an 8x10 blank booklet. I gave each of the children in my class a blank one and suddenly, I watched their writing take off! Whaa happened? (no spelling mistake, say it just like that)

For years, I've used different methods for writing. One year I would try a notebook with red, blue, blue, red lines because I was told this is what they should be using. The next, a notebook with solid lines and that dotted line in the middle to encourage them to print neatly and know where the half way mark was, why....because someone told me that's what they should be using. The next, I read gurus' "stuff" that said, no notebooks, just loose paper so the kids don't stop at the end of the page, they'll just keep going. I could go on about all the things I've tried to encourage creativity in the children's writing.

All these things worked for some but not all. Time to trust my own instincts, observations and experiences. Like I said, on a whim, I literally took large sheets of manilla paper, 18x9, folded them in half and stapled them together. This blank canvas suddenly sky-rocketed the children's writing. Again, whaa happened?

Here's my thought......a blank canvas spells freedom. Freedom to draw, label, write and create uninhibited. Suddenly there was no pressure and confidence in writing grew. Brilliant! Exactly what I've tried to encourage for so long.

So yesterday, with my grade 2's, I pulled out my homemade booklets to give to the students. With a dramatic introduction to the booklet, eyes lit up and there was lots of excitement. I showed them the booklet and asked them all to look at it.

Me: I have to show you this really cool booklet I made, I know there's nothing on the cover but on the inside is something really incredible! (I slowly turn the page to reveal 2 blank pages.)
Kids: It's blank!
Me: Oh! It must be on the next page, it's really cool, just watch! (I slowly turn the page to reveal 2 more blank pages.)
Kids: Mrs. Lang! It's still blank!
Me: Oh my goodness! I know it's here! (I slowly turn the page and reveal more blank pages.)
Kids: (laughing now) Mrs. Lang, they're all blank!
Me: Ohhhh! Now I get it! The cool part is when YOU fill these pages with things you want to write about!

Excitement! They all start talking and I'm hearing, "Cool, I'm going to write about....", "Can we draw pictures?", "Can we colour?", "Can I write about anything?"

Yes, yes, yes and yes! I gave them each a booklet and so it began. We only had 10 minutes left by this time and when we had to tidy up, there was a lot of "Whaaaat? I want to keep writing!" Music to my ears!

Some of this writing will remain as is. Pictures, misspelled words, finished, unfinished, abandoned, etc. Other writing will be turned into published works where we'll make sure the spelling is correct and kids will demonstrate their best work. This is writing that will evolve and become more elaborate as the year goes on.

My view on draft writing and published writing.....drafts should be uninhibited by the adult demands of correct spelling, neat printing, punctuation, etc. These are keepsakes. (Nothing gives me more pleasure than looking back on my own children's writing and having a good laugh about how they used to spell.) Published writing should look more professional, right? Spelling is corrected and best work is put forward for the world to see.

I have good vibes about this. I can't wait to see how their writing will evolve!

Monday, September 4, 2017

No Homework? Whaaat?

It's been many years since I assigned homework. It all started when my son was in grade 3 and came home at the end of the year with three grocery bags full of photocopied paper.....Ummm, for what? All it managed to do was cause stress in the evenings for our family. We had a nice campfire to celebrate the beginning of summer that year. It really made me question and wonder what the purpose of homework was.

First off, homework was a big pain in the neck because it interrupted our family time. Here we were, 2 working parents with 2 young school age children. By the time we got home, made dinner and did the dishes, it could be 7:30pm. And now we have to sit down and complete assigned homework? And those were the nights the kids weren't involved in some extra curricular activity. No thank you. The last thing my husband and I wanted to do was have a battle over getting homework completed.

Then there was the year my daughter was 7 and is suddenly, in June, given 2 book reports that needed to be completed as homework after not really having much over the course of the entire year. I called the teacher and explained that it was a very busy time of year and we would not be completing those reports. I'm sure she could appreciate that as a teacher, June is a very demanding month and both kids had just started soccer. I thought we had a lovely conversation. I really could have cared less if her language mark suffered a bit, she wasn't aiming for university at this point. A week later I find out through conversation with my daughter, that she was made to stay in for recess until those reports were done. I'm not going to lie, I was a little more than annoyed. I slept on it and decided to let it go. What really got me in the end is that those 2 reports never made it home, hmmm, more recycling perhaps? It made me wonder if they were ever really marked.

The next thing I contemplated often is what the purpose of homework was. Kids are in school 6 hours a day, did their evening need to be filled with endless math questions, comprehension, etc? I saw no value and looking at my own children, I don't think it was benefiting them. How many adults want to have to do work for their employer in the evening? Isn't this supposed to be wind down time, time spent cuddling with loved ones or chatting over the dinner table?

Further to those personal experiences with my children, I also listened to a lot of chat among teachers, frustrated with kids/families who never completed their homework. As I listened, I thought about those families. The playing field is not level. Some children are very busy with sports, some parents don't get home from work until late into the evening, some children are going home to instability of which we have no idea their circumstances. And then they're shamed for not getting their work done in the evening? No way!

Lastly, I haven't quite been able to grasp why a teacher would plan for classes all day long, 5 days a week, and then want to assign homework on top of all that? That sounds like a make work project for the teacher, although I do know for a fact that the homework isn't always marked and often dumped into the recycling bins.

These are all my personal observations and experiences in the last 24 years. Only recently did I do a little digging to find out if I was completely wrong and should I be rethinking this homework thing. Well I can't find any research that says that homework is essential for kids and their learning. I found a lot of like minded friends! As a matter of fact, it's even suggested that homework can be detrimental for some.

Evenings should be spent with family, there's so little time in this busy world. Play games, read together, cuddle, watch a favourite show, play outside!

Now don't get me started on weekly spelling lists!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

3 Part Math with Google Slides

Grade 2 math is going to be a little more interactive this year as I'm slowly beginning to incorporate Google Classroom. Admittedly, I just didn't know how or where to begin. With a little help from my friends, I'm learning!

I created this little template to present the 3 part math lesson to my students. I designed it to give instructions. Students still work with paper and manipulatives as much as they can, hands on the materials is a part of their learning experience. They will be able to access instructions and keep a record of their work through Google Classroom which I'm very excited about on many levels.

Each lesson is its own separate file. The link is shared with the kids through the classroom. The Action part of the lesson is done in pairs and as students are working, they will have those instructions in front of them. Once they've completed their task, they'll add a picture of their work to the file. This way, when manipulatives are used, we'll have a picture copy of their work for display. They can add text to attach their names to their work and add any other comments they want to.

Here's an example of what the kids will see and do:

No connection to the actual lesson but it's all I had, no judgement!

Wow! This is brilliant! Now my lesson has their partner work stored and I'm able to access it through My Drive for assessment and growth purposes! The children will still display their work around the classroom but I now have a record of it long after the lesson is over and we've moved on!

This will also be a useful tool when connections are made to previous lessons and I can pull up their work. And as my mind is spinning, this will be great for the kids to SEE their own growth when conversations arise regarding their growth as learners.

Once they've completed their partner work and we've consolidated, their Exit Ticket is completed in their notebooks. I don't feel a need to have them add those pics as their notebook is an assessment tool as well.

It won't take long for them to learn these simple steps to adding their work and I see many possibilities! Thank you Google!