Every classroom is full of students that are at different places in their learning, have varying learning styles, and display interest for different subject matter. It is for this reason that differentiation isn’t just another thing that teachers “have to do”; it is the very essence of teaching every student. Differentiation allows us to cater to a wide variation of learners, taking into account their:
Readiness to learn
There are many ways in which we can differentiate our teaching. However, I believe more important than the content of our lesson, we must ignite an interest in our students. I can think back to a number of times in my own learning when I was so unmotivated to try harder or think deeper. The underlying cause of this was that I felt no connection to what I was learning. I could not see myself using this content in my future and nothing about it excited me.
Now, as a teacher, I think critically about how I would respond to the “when am I ever going to use this information” question. Sometimes, I have an accurate answer for the students; a way to explain to them that they will, in fact, use this learning at some point in their lives. Most times, I encourage my students to discover an answer to that question on their own. “How can we apply what we’ve learned to our own life?” “What’s the takeaway?”
While these approaches to the dreaded “when will I use this information” question may lead to further learning, I much prefer to prove how awesome the content is to my students before it gets to that point. Motivational hooks, personal connections, and modern day social media references get the students to open their minds and persist with the learning to see how it all relates. Last year, I took a poll with my students about their favourite genre of music, which ended up being rap. The next day, during our poetry unit, I had a “poem” that we all read through. The students, as I expected, were bored because it was “poetry”. It was in that moment that I blew their minds. Without explanation, I turned on a song… Which just so happened to be a rap song… Which just so happen to be the “poem” that we just read. The students were fully engaged in the poetry unit from then on, once they saw that the music they listened to every day was, at its essence, a poem. Not to mention they thought I was pretty awesome for knowing modern rap music.
In some of my readings this year, Tomlinson (2004) spoke to the power of “change” in regards to differentiation:
“Change the content, change the process, change the product, change the environment, and change the assessment. Change the content, using varied text or media; change the level of complexity to be concrete (hands-on), representational (visual), or abstract (language); change the product (performance or project); change the environment (inside/outside, lab/classroom, and so on); change the assessment (oral, written, shorter, more complex, simpler, digital or not).”
In my own teaching, I am going to put a larger emphasis on thinking critically through my lessons, contrasting my approach with the ideas that Tomlinson presented. Additionally, I have started implementing more open-ended questions in my teaching, which allow the students to achieve a level through their answer, rather than by simply being able to answer a “level 4 question”. To accompany these questions, I am going to provide an “Idea Menu” that the students can refer to.
This approach allows students to focus less on how they are going to answer the question and more on actually answering the question. This also serves as a differentiation tool by allowing students to answer the same question in a variety of ways, or just by choosing the method that the student feels most interested in.
Differentiation encourages teachers to look beyond the content and focus on the students that will be learning it.
As someone who is just beginning my career as a teacher, I often wonder, “What is the most important thing that I can offer my students?” Can I provide them with an innovative educational experience that prepares them to become super geniuses? Can I ignite a sense of curiosity in my students that will later translate into the next best invention? Can I model for them what it means to be a responsible citizen that treats others with dignity and respect? Perhaps… But none of this is possible unless I first create a safe, supportive, and healthy learning environment for each and every one of my students.
I believe that creating a positive, safe and supportive classroom environment is one of the most important aspects of teaching. The one thing that I can guarantee for my students is an environment in which they feel safe, as we know not all students have a stable home life. Students want to feel comfortable to express themselves freely and not have the fear of rejection by their peers or their teacher. This not only benefits their self-image, but it allows them to take academic risks, which enhances their overall learning.
The way that I view a safe, supportive, and healthy learning environment is like a family. You may not have chose your siblings (your classmates) or your parents (your teacher), but you are all in this family together. As a family, you have each others backs in the hard times and always have each others best interests in mind. You support one another and want to see everyone succeed.
But how do we build the classroom community that houses our family? It is my belief that a safe learning environment must be based on mutual trust and respect and provide social and emotional support for students. This can be achieved by implementing practices that fosters support. Firstly, students strive on routine and stability. Most people are privy to the classic classroom guidelines, but it is important to take this one step further. As the facilitator of the classroom, teachers must take a step back and allow the students to create the classroom guidelines. Rather than telling the students what they ought to do and why, this approach allows students to collaborate in the process and feel a sense of responsibility and ownership. The teacher can prompt students throughout the process by asking questions like, “What helps to you learn while you are in class?”, “What stops you from learning?”, or “How should we respond if someone fails to keep these agreements?” but ultimately, the students should take ownership of their guidelines.
Another way to build classroom community is by developing personal relationships with each and every student so that they are understood as an individual and the teacher is aware of each student’s needs. I never liked it when my teachers or professors introduced themselves and shared all of their amazing life experiences and then never asked the students to share about ourselves. It sets the precedence that the teacher matters and the student doesn’t. It is important to provide students with the opportunity to discuss or share their backgrounds and cultures, expressing exactly what makes them the person they are.
I like to think of myself less as a ‘teacher’ and more as a ‘facilitator of education’. I do not transmit my knowledge to students; I learn far too much from my students to not have the learning be reciprocal. Rather, I provide students with learning environments in which they have responsibility for their own learning. Teacher facilitated, student-driven learning allows students to learn by doing, writing, designing, creating, making and solving, not just by listening.
Ultimately, when it comes to building a classroom community, believe in your students and they will begin to believe in themselves. It may take a while for you to instill this understanding in your students, but once students realize that we genuinely care for them, we know we are on the path to creating a positive and healthy learning environment.
Throughout my Bachelor of Education, I have come to learn that there are so many philosophies behind each teaching practice. Whether it’s about implementing the curriculum, student learning styles, classroom management, or student discipline, each teacher has the task of evaluating the many philosophies and adopting their own that guides their practice. When it comes to classroom environment and culture, I truly respect the idea of restorative practice. Although restorative practice gives the impression of being a reactive approach, when implemented properly and regularly, it has many proactive benefits.
As Bob Costello, Joshua Wachtel, and Ted Wachtel explain in The Restorative Practices Handbook for Teachers, Disciplinarians and Administrators, teachers must do things WITH students, rather than TO them or FOR them. By implementing a learning environment that uses both “high control” and “high support”, students will be both safe and supported in their learning.
There will be times in every classroom when conflict arises. However, the way we view and approach this conflict is very important. Conflict is simply a challenge that allows the opportunity to develop, learn, and grow through an exchange of different views and perspectives. As teachers, we have nothing to gain and everything to lose by arguing back and forth with a student, especially with other students as an audience. Even how we approach conflict between two students is important. The Restorative Continuum in The Restorative Practices Handbook provides insight for teachers about the various ways to respond to harmful behaviour.
Small impromptu conference
Group or circle
Rather than scolding the student for inappropriate behaviour, it is important to give the student control, allow them take responsibility for their actions, and rectify the situation. This is a different approach for many teachers, and I can tell you that it feels a little awkward at first, but prompting the students with questions like, “What happened?”, “Who has been affected by what you have done?”, and “What do you think you need to do to make things right?” will give students the opportunity to take ownership of their behaviour. It is important to remember that just like how students can make an error on a math test, students can also make errors in their behaviour. They are not “bad kids”, but they simply made a mistake.
I find that I remember to give the student ownership of their behaviour is by providing them with choice. I don’t believe that any student wants to misbehave; sometimes, students just don’t know how else to respond. By giving students choices, we allow them to take ownership of their response while also sending the message that we respect their decisions.
The main thing to remember when approaching harmful behaviour is to remain calm at all times. Students know when you are not happy, and they know when they can take advantage of your mood. When a teacher responds negatively to a student, it breaks down the trust that has taken so much time and work to build. It also disregards the concepts of a safe and supportive learning environment. Take a breath, smile, and set a positive mood for the learning environment.
There have been a number of practices that I have seen during my practicum experiences that help to contribute to positive learning environments. A restorative practice that I’ve seen is circle time at the beginning and end of each week. This time allows students to express their thoughts and ideas, share their feelings or apprehensions, build deeper relationships with their peers and teacher, and practicing collaboration. These circles, when implemented correctly, establish the classroom as a safe space and help to maintain emotional safety.
I am also a strong believer that collaborative learning is a practice that supports a safe and supportive learning environment. In my own teaching, I try to use pair work, as well as small-group and whole-class activities throughout the learning process. It is important to start this during the first week of school to help students get acquainted with one another and provide opportunities to from connections with students they don’t interact with as frequently inside or outside of the classroom. As I learned in the documentary #bullyPROOF, it is less likely that someone will bully a person that they know well. Therefore, group work supports both relationship building and academic achievement.
Within the walls of the classroom, we can engage in many actions that create supportive learning environments. Something as simple as displaying student work on the walls promotes student ownership of the room. When students look around and see their work and achievements, they feel comfortable and proud to be where they are. As I’ve said before, circle activities promote that everyone is equal and valued, and that we are all able to express feelings or solve problems. Circle guidelines such as a talking stick and the right to pass instill a greater sense of safety. When students need time to themselves to self-regulate, a predetermined safe space can provide that extra sense of safety.
The school itself can contribute to the overall essence of positivity. Initiatives such as “Caught You Caring” where school staff recognize students for their contribution to creating a safe and healthy school environment will encourage students to adopt their own positive actions. Assemblies that recognize student character and achievements sets the precedence that this is ultimately what the school values, not just marks or grades. Even something as simple as spirit points during intramurals or sports gives value to what is expected for everyone to win.
Safe and supportive learning environments can also be developed by extending the walls of the school to include the surrounding community. Engaging in community initiatives give students a chance to feel that they are doing something good, not for themselves but for others. This is especially important for students that feel they are being viewed as the “bad kid” at school.
Every teacher should create a safe, healthy, and supportive learning environment, but they cannot do it alone. Students must drive this movement and know that the classroom is their environment to create. I am just starting my teaching career, but if I continue to explore ways in which I can promote a positive learning environment for my students, then I know that I am doing what matters most for our next generation. I have a lot to learn and a lot to practice, but students are my focus and I will do what needs to be done for each of them to feel valued and successful.
The JUMP (Junior Undiscovered Math Prodigies) Math program was developed by John Mighton, who lives in Toronto, Ontario. John create the JUMP Math with belief in mind that any student, despite whether they are gifted, average or have a learning disability, has the potential to excel in mathematics. The underlying philosophy of the program is that by breaking down math concepts into their smallest components and combining them with activities to build mathematical confidence, the differences in students’ abilities will be minimized and all students can be successful in math.
There are programs available from grades 1 through 8 and provide workbooks and teacher resources that are to be used every day in the classroom for the full year. They are available for purchase on www.jumpmath.org.
The JUMP Math program prides itself on being an Ontario curriculum-based resource. JUMP Math covers the full curriculum for both Ontario and Western Canada through student workbooks, teacher’s guides, and a range of support materials. Despite satisfying the standards of multiple curriculums, it still covers the requirement outlined in the Ontario document.
There are many ways in which the JUMP Math program aligns with the principles underlying the Ontario Mathematics Curriculum, as outlined in the curriculum document. Firstly, the curriculum states that “students learn mathematics most effectively when they are given opportunities to investigate ideas and concepts through problem solving and are then guided carefully into an understanding of the mathematical principles involved” (p. 4). In a typical JUMP Math lesson, the teacher works with the whole class to lead students through a process of “guided discovery” while allowing them to adapt the lessons to their own level of understanding. These whole class lessons allow students to experience discovering knowledge about the concept together, as a collective rather than in an individual, competitive nature. The program’s method of “guided discovery” is very different from rote learning in that students are expected to take the steps themselves with the teacher as a guide rather than a lecturer.
Secondly, the Ontario Mathematics Curriculum states that the transition from elementary school mathematics to secondary school mathematics is very important for students’ development of confidence and competence. This concept of confidence in mathematics is pivotal for the JUMP program. The program starts with a 2-week long confidence building exercise that has demonstrably changed children’s perceptions of their abilities. In connection with JUMP’s approach to whole class lessons, the program promotes the idea that by following the program, students will feel more confident in their math abilities and thus will succeed in the subject
Lastly, the program aligns with the views of the curriculum in recognizing the diversity that exists among students who study mathematics. It provides teachers with resources to differentiate the learning of students. These resources include additional questions and multi-modal approaches to solving math problems, among others.
To further the conversation on differentiation, the Ontario Mathematics Curriculum explains that it is important to make valuable accommodations or modified expectations for students of varying exceptionalities. The JUMP Math program aides with differentiation by providing multiple representations of the same or similar concept help to reach a broader number of students. On the JUMP Math worksheets, concepts and skills are introduced one step at a time, with lots of opportunities for practice. The teacher’s guide suggests that struggling students can complete all of the questions on a worksheet while students who excel can skip some questions and do some extra work or bonus questions. The teachers’ guide even provides teachers with a 7-step process of making appropriate bonus questions for advanced students.
Lastly, the JUMP Program takes into account the fact that children are easily overwhelmed by too much new information. Students also require practice to consolidate the skills and concepts being taught and they benefit from immediate assessment and careful scaffolding of ideas. The program is mainly structured around the scaffolding model, in which students practice inquiry in manageable steps, mastering a concept before moving on. This proves to help immensely with student confidence and concept consolidation.
While the JUMP Math program describes itself as a complete resource for the classroom mathematics period, there proves to be a number of weaknesses in the program. First, let’s outline some of the generic weaknesses of the program. JUMP Math only offers programs for grades 1 through 8, which may prove to have a negative effect on students once they transition into the high school grades. If students get used to this singular framework of learning math, then they may struggle with the new structure come high school, especially if their classroom adopts a critical thinking and discovery-based method rather than scaffolding. Additionally, the program seeks to minimize the differences in students’ ability by having them work on the same material at the same pace. By using materials and methods that minimize differences, teachers can cover more of the curriculum and can narrow or close the wide gap in student performance that exists in most classrooms. While this may prove to make it easier for the teacher, it might not translate into the students’ learning. The scores of the low-level students may rise with this approach; however, it could be at the sacrifice of lowering the high achiever’s scores.
Arguably one of the largest downfalls of the JUMP Math program is that many of the process expectations are not fulfilled. Problem solving requires students to develop problem solving strategies. Even though the program has a “guided discovery” approach, they still provide students with the way to solve each problem. Pedagogy teaches us that students’ best learn mathematic concepts through practical exploration and critical thinking. The heavy reliance on workbook material goes against this research. Reasoning and proving requires students to develop reasoning skills and use them in during investigation. There are very few reflection questions present in the student workbook, thus emphasising that the focus is on mastering the skill rather than comprehending the concept.
Through the scaffolding model approach to learning mathematics, the JUMP Math questions are very direct to one aspect of a concept and the workbook provides spaces for students to write their answers. These spaces only allow students to complete the question using the method introduced at the top of the page (Appendix A). As such, students are unable to fulfill the selecting tools and computational strategies expectation. The workbook is organized into sections by curriculum strand and is to be completed in a linear fashion, completing pages in order within those strands. Students who struggle in one area must experience that strand, and only that strand, until it is completed. Additionally, this does achieve the connecting process expectation, in that cross-strand integration of knowledge is not achievable.
The communication process expectation is very much concentrated on the students’ ability to write their mathematical thinking, rather than orally or visually present their understanding. Even when students are asked to communicate work visually, the students are only given one way to do so (i.e. Draw a number line to communicate…). This does not allow students the ability to practice or perform the skill of demonstrating understanding by freeing communicating in whichever mode they chose.
Many aspects of the specific expectations in the Ontario Mathematics Curriculum are not fully achieved. Specific expectations that require the use of a “variety of mental strategies” are not fulfilled in the scaffolding method. In the JUMP Math program, students are expected to master one concept at a time using the strategy provided to them in their workbook. This also means that expectations beginning with “select and justify” or “create and analyse” will also not be achieved, since students can only use the strategy expected of them for that given question.
Students also fail to achieve specific expectations such as “through investigation using concrete materials, drawings…” and “determine through investigation using a variety of tools”. While the workbook sometimes asks students to draw when answering a question, the specific image to be drawn and method of drawing it is outlined for the students (Appendix B). Also, at the end of the day, students are only using one concrete tool: their workbook.
Admittedly, the JUMP Math program is enticing, especially for a newly hired teacher. The program contains a complete, year-long resource that allows the teacher to facilitate learning without the planning. It comes with a full workbook for each student, a detailed teacher manual, and SMART Board material that corresponds with each lesson.
Although the program prides itself on covering the entire Ontario Mathematics curriculum, the pedagogy in teaching methods and critical thinking prove to be ill-aligned. There will be a select few students that truly enjoy having a workbook as a focus for the majority of the lesson; however, there will be more students that would prefer to discover the concept through hands-on problem solving rather than pencil to paper.
The fact that the specific expectations are the focus on the program is practically irrelevant when looking at how many process evaluations are not fulfilled. Communication, reflection, and making connections are extremely important to the student’s learning, especially when working with a subject as complex at math. Critical thinking is a powerful way to promote student’s ability to use many different pieces of information to come to unique solutions to problems. However, the JUMP Math program introduces students to one concept at a time, instructing them how to achieve the required result before moving on to the next component. This scaffolding method, while important for understanding the essence of the concept, does not allow students to think critically about why that method works or how it can be used in another way.
With all this being said, I believe the program has merit in introducing students to the specific skills needed to understand a larger concept. Therefore, it would be a beneficial program to have as a supplementary material to activities, problems, and math games. If these two concepts were used in conjunction with one another, it would allow students to learn math in a variety of ways while also taking them through the learning process of scaffolding skills and utilizing them in practical situations. Based on the information outlined in the Ontario Mathematics curriculum, I do not believe that JUMP Math should be used as the only resource.
Mighton, J., Sabourin, S., & Klebanov, A. (2009). JUMP Math 6.1 (2009 ed.). Toronto: JUMP Math.
The Ontario curriculum, Mathematics, Grades 1-8 (Rev. ed.). (2005). Toronto: Ontario, Ministry of Education.
Many people have the same question when it comes to discussing education: What is assessment and what value does it hold? Christopher R. Gareis and Leslie W. Grant, authors of “Teacher Made Assessment”, speak to the value of assessment and why it has merit in the education system. Curriculum is an important part of teaching, in that it outlines the specific learning expectations per subject in grade-level increments. Instruction is where the teaching comes to life. Teachers take the curriculum topics and provide opportunities for students to learn this knowledge. But how do we know that the students have truly learned from these lessons? To what degree have they learned the topic? This is where assessment comes in.
Figure 1.1 displays the three components of student learning (curriculum, instruction, assessment) in a simple metaphor: a stool. Curriculum is what information is being taught, instruction is how we teach this knowledge, and assessment is the nature and degree of student learning. The imagery of the stool metaphor speaks volumes in that student learning can only be stable when all three components are present. Without assessment, education becomes a one-way, teacher-to-student transfer of information with no expectation or accountability of actually learning.
In my experience as a student, I always feared assessment, but understood its value. Assessment typically becomes a grade, which can be intimidating and stress-provoking for many students. Without assessment, though, how does a teacher know we’ve learned? Also, what is the point of learning if we don’t put it into action? Assessment provides us with that opportunity to use our learning to complete a task.
Now, as a teacher, I find myself spending a lot of brain power into creating the assessment component of any lesson or unit. What do I actually want my students to get out of this? How are they going to show me that they’ve learned the information? How can I assess my students without scaring the you-know-what out of them? Assessment serves an important purpose. Let’s continue to explore assessment so that our students learning remains as stable as a stool.
As I enter into the second year of my Bachelor of Education, we are further deepening our understanding of curriculum and assessment. Curriculum and assessment are at the core of the teaching profession; without competency in this realm, students will not have the most fruitful education. Growing Success, a document released by the Ministry of Education, outlines seven fundamental principles of assessment. In our class of Teacher Candidates, we explored the possibilities of these principles and shared our experiences relating to each principle in our own teaching.
Teachers use practices and procedures that…
What are the possibilities?
What did you see in the classroom?
Are fair, transparent, and equitable for all students
· Fair does not necessarily mean equal
· Differentiation is key
· Criteria-based assessment, both for- and of-
· Supporting students
· Learning goals and assessment criteria
· Student-made expectations (displayed in an anchor chart)
· Examples of past work that students will be working towards
· Graffiti activity for Catholic Graduate Expectations and how students will achieve these
Support all students, including those with special education needs, those who are learning the language of instruction (English or French), and those who are First Nation, Metis, or Inuit
· Providing additional support
· Additional time to complete tasks
· Create diverse learning spaces
· Modified curriculum and tasks
· Varied teaching practices and assessment
· Speech-to-text learning
· Centre-based learning
· Environment: Seating charts and modifications (exercise balls, body breaks)
· Tools: Diagnostic (PM Benchmarks) and reading IEPs
Are carefully planned to relate to the curriculum expectations and learning goals and, as much as possible, to the interests, learning styles and preferences, needs, and experiences of all students
· Backwards design, well-prepared lessons
· Knowing your curriculum
· Student-driven learning
· Relate Geography lessons to the locations that the students are from
· Class shows a strength in Language, use to advantage in subjects like Math
· Cross-curricular lessons and activities
· Writing on topics related to students that ties in literacy concepts
· Providing manipulatives and various ways to solve a problem, while also providing extensions for the students that can take their solutions further
Are communicated clearly to students and parents at the beginning of the school year or course and at other appropriate points throughout the school year or course
· Open communication
· Good rapport with parents (leads to ongoing communication)
· Remind App to communicate directly with the students’ parents
· Google Classroom, Calendar, and Mail that the students and parents both have access too
· Regular use of agenda
· Use of school board personnel that can translate during conversations with parents who do not speak English
· Family Math activities that are sent home to build learning environment with family
Are ongoing, varied in nature, and administered over a period of time to provide multiple opportunities for students to demonstrate the full range of their learning
· Variety of teaching methods
· Staggered units and assessment to avoid overwhelming students
· Seeing the student’s work change with further instruction during unit (structures changing based on concepts discussed, i.e. use of triangles)
Provide ongoing descriptive feedback that is clear, specific, meaningful, and timely to support improved learning and achievement
· Anecdotal records
· Preparing students for the summative assessment
· Success Criteria (met/not met yet feedback)
· Gradual Release Model
· Comments on work that students turn in (strengths, next steps)
· Being aware of the students’ learning process and how they came to their end product, rather than just evaluating their final assessment
Develop students’ self-assessment skills to enable them to assess their own learning, set specific goals, and plan next steps for their learning
· Student-centred learning
· Class Survey: Thumbs up if the student understands
· Refer back to anchor charts for the learning processes
· Students editing or critiquing each other’s work
· Students building off of each other’s ideas during class discussions
Last year, I took a course called Teaching Language and The Arts in the Junior Division and our professor expressed her adoration for using picture books in the classroom. The wonderful combination of visuals and textual stories that picture books offer is a valuable literary experience. However, picture books do not have to be used exclusively during literacy; they provide valuable learning opportunities in a number of disciplines.
Our professor asked us to explore the world of picture books, in addition to novels that could be used cross-curriculum, and create an annotated document containing information about three different books. Together with those provided by classmates, a resource bank of picture books and novels was created! Below is information about the three books I happened upon:
Title: The Other Side
Author: Jacqueline Woodson
Illustrator: E. B. Lewis
Genre: Picture Book
Subject Area(s): Language, History (Social Studies), Art
Grade(s): 4 – 8
Summary: The Other Side is a story of friendship across a racial divide. Clover is a young, African American girl who lives beside a fence that separates her town into a white section and a black section. Her mother tells her that she is not allowed to climb over the fence because it is unsafe on the other side. Clover regularly plays with a group of friends, in view of a lonely white girl. Eventually, Clover starts a conversation with the other girl, Annie, thus initiating their friendship. They both recognize that they can’t cross the fence, but they get around the rules by sitting on top of the fence together, an area deemed no man’s land.
Significance: This book is a great resource when it comes to introducing complex subject matters in an engaging and creative way. The Other Side presents the history of racism, yet it takes a positive approach to a heavy topic. This story can be used in a number of different subject areas, including Language, History, and Art. The pictures can spark a Visual Arts lesson focused on analyzing the images (What types of images were used? Why did the illustrator use that type of art?), and exploring the cultural contexts of the art. Many discussion topics can be explored after reading the book, such as the history of racism and the role of each character in portraying the significance of the subject matter, among others. These discussions can lead to assessments that fall under a number of Language and History overall expectations.
Title: My Life as a Smashed Burrito with Extra Hot Sauce
Author: Bill Myers
Subject Area(s): Language, Religion
Grade(s): 4 – 8
Summary: As the first novel in the Incredible Worlds of Wally McDoogle series, we are introduced to twelve-year-old Wally McDoogle. Wally dreams of being a writer, being a superhero, and most importantly, writing about a superhero. His father registers Wally for camp, insisting it will make him a “real man”. Wally’s fears come true before he even makes it to Camp Wahkah Wahkah: he gets picked up and thrown against the roof of the bus by Gary the Gorilla, a humongous bully. As Wally continually gets bullied for being dork-oid, how he writes a story about a superhero defeating a villain, closely resembling the situations he is facing in real life.
Significance: This novel is a great resource for teachers in the Catholic school board that are looking for an age-appropriate story that teaches valuable life-lessons. Written with a comedic approach, Wally is a relatable character for many students in elementary school. He references God and the values and morals used to overcome tough situations. This provides a way to introduce students to morality, consciousness, and religion. Wally also dreams of becoming a writer and is in the process of writing his own superhero story. This concept alone presents many opportunities for further study, such as writing their own life stories in the creative outlook of a superhero character. There are 27 books in the series, which presents an interesting opportunity for group collaboration: if each student is able to read a different book in the series, the class can engage in Knowledge-Building Circles discussing the similarities and differences among the lessons learned in each of the novels.
Title: The Giving Tree
Author: Shel Silverstein
Illustrator: Shel Silverstein
Genre: Picture book
Subject Area(s): Language, Religion, Art, Social Studies
Grade(s): 1 – 8
Summary: The book tells the story of a boy and an apple tree who are able to communicate with one another. As a child, the boy enjoys playing with the tree, climbing her trunk, swinging from her branches, and eating her apples. As the boy grows older, he uses the tree for purposes other than play. As a teenager, he picks and sells the tree’s apples to make money. In adulthood, the boy cuts the branches off of the tree and takes them away to build a house. When the middle aged boy wants a boat, the tree allows him to cut its trunk to make a boat. The boy returns to the tree as an elderly man, however, the tree tells him that it has nothing left to give. Surprisingly, the boy only wants “a quiet place to sit and rest,” which the tree’s remaining stump can provide. After every occurrence of giving throughout the entire story, the story reads: “And the tree was happy.”
Significance: As both the author and illustrator of The Giving Tree, Shel Silverstein serves as an example of cross-curricular connections. This story at its very essence details a relationship built on selflessly giving what we have to others and not expecting anything in return. In the upper elementary grades, this relationship can be interpreted and explored in many different ways: a parent and their child, God and humanity, the environment and humans, and two friends. Whether the picture book is treated as an introductory hook to a lesson or the basis of a lesson, these relationships can lead to discussions in a number of different subject areas, such as Language, Religion, and Social Studies. The simplicity of the illustrations allows the reader to internalize the story without being distracted by the images. The connection of the images to the plot of the story would make for a great Visual Arts discussion, and the lessons gathered from the story can lead into other areas of The Arts (Music, Drama, and Dance).
Authors: Spencer Burton, Louise Yeon, Devin Hollefriend (2015).
Society has a major influence on the current school system. There are a variety of issues that contribute to the overarching theme of society’s effect on schooling, specifically in social, cultural, and political contexts. We will explore the social implication of bullying and its various effects on students. To support this topic, we will emphasize the need of creating a culture of acceptance for promoting mental health. We will conclude our paper by discussing the political contexts of the multifunctionality of the school system.
Bullying is a prime example of a social issue that has a profoundly negative impact on the school system. Bullying can place a large stress on students that could lead them to develop various mental illnesses such as anxiety or depression, which in turn would have considerable negative social implications within the school system. There is a multitude of ideas for ways in which to approach the treatment and prevention of bullying. PREVNet (Promoting Relationships and Preventing Violence Network) is a Canadian organization that unites leading researchers and professionals who focus on the topic of bullying with the goal of presenting the issue of bullying as a “relationship problem that requires relationship solutions”(prevnet.ca, 2015). This way of thinking about bullying underscores the social aspects of the issue of bullying. As a result, the negative implications of bullying as a social issue call into question the role of the school climate in its impact on bullying.
Generally, the idea of a strongly positive school climate is used to describe an ideal method of bullying prevention. One factor that could have a large impact on the positivity of school climate is the treatment of acts of bullying. The idea of a restorative approach as opposed to the traditional punitive approach as a response to acts of bullying is largely identified as a way to treat those involved in acts of bullying in a way that promotes a positive school climate. The restorative approach holds students accountable for their actions and aims to provide meaningful consequences for their actions (ref.? david smith article). Thus, the restorative approach to the treatment of acts of bullying aims to promote a positive school climate, which will hopefully reduce the negative impacts of bullying on the school system.
We have made great strides in creating conversations about mental health issues within a school climate. It is more widely talked about, accepted, and understood. That being said, the stigma has not disappeared and feelings of shame and guilt by those affected by mental health issues are still widely experienced. Depression, chronic stress, sleep issues, eating disorders, and thoughts of suicide are all possible mental health implications that are experienced by many students throughout their educational career. Thus, mental health in the school system is an issue that needs to be addressed.
It’s one thing to create a culture of acceptance around mental health. It’s another to accept this as a baseline of what students will experience during their time in school. For stigma around mental illness and for attitudes and behaviours surrounding the topic to be truly erased from our culture, the school system needs to be proactive and take action. As educators, we must foster a safe and accepting community so that someone who is struggling can feel comfortable starting a conversation about mental health issues. Students should not have to experience feeling overwhelmed or as if they have to fight their battles alone; they should feel safe to open up about their conflicts to school staff and in turn receive relief efforts and resources.
Educators must assume a new approach to the topic of mental health that views it as an aspect of an individual rather than a dysfunction, in an attempt to rectify the stigma that continues to linger around mental health. Positive psychology is an approach that does just that; it introduces and encourages “simple behaviors in which a person can engage to improve [their] own well-being” (Biswas-Diener, 2013). This framework will allow students to feel better about themselves, feel more confident in discussing their issues, and promote a sense of acceptance surrounding feelings and mental health.
As discussed above, students are feeling the pressures of performance in education. Both social structures and academic requirements have created a high-stress environment for students. The trends seen in the expansion of curriculum expectations, growth in class sizes, and ever-increasing teacher responsibilities can be interpreted as a political cry for generating human capital. Whether it is formally intended or not, students feel pushed to the point of obligation to pursue post secondary education as they feel their worth calculated in terms of competition and report card marks.
Due to the custodial function that has been adopted by teachers and the inherent social control that takes place in schools, students are vulnerable to the established social relations that are taught and experienced. This creates as much potential for a wonderful and enriching environment as it does a harmful and limiting one. As educators we need to move beyond teaching critical analysis and focus more on fostering critical, independent, and innovative thought in order to allow for students to drive their own learning. As children are naturally curious and have a strong desire to learn, this holistic approach is paramount for putting the student and their interests first.
While research and literature surrounding effective and inclusive instruction strategies to promote student learning rather than political desire is rampant, putting it into practice will require a true and widespread shift in thought and action. Successful institution that already employ this model are already in existence and much can be learned from their example. A.S. Neill’s Summerhill School is a prime example of an alternative to the mainstream system. By advertising their school as a democratic learning experience, students have a strong voice in deciding the path of their individual education. Students graduate from this school having met the same requirements of the regular school system but have had an enriched and organic and most importantly engaged learning experience (Summerhill School, n.d.).
Allowing students to take initiative and drive their own education promotes a positive and effective learning environment that allows students and teachers as co-learners to work towards a common goal. Moving away from the top-down approach of imposition and resistance can foster a much healthier and more effective learning experience.
Through an attempt to make the unintended functions of schooling intentional, with a larger emphasis on character building, we expect that there will be a more comprehensive development of positive mental health among the students population. This development of positive mental health climate in schools will promote and create a positive and accepting environment in which students feel safe, thus reducing the occurrence of bullying. In summation, the social, cultural, and political contexts of Canada’s society prove to have immense impacts on the school system.
A.S Neill’s Summerhill School. (n.d.). Retrieved November 16, 2015, from http://www.summerhillschool.co.uk
Biswas-Diener, R. (2013, August 17). What’s So Positive About Positive Psychology? Retrieved November 16, 2015, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/significant-results/201308/whats-so-positive-about-positive-psychology
PREVNet, (2015). Retrieved November 16, 2015, from http://www.prevnet.ca/
Smith, David. Improving School Climate to Reduce Bullying. (2012). Canada Education, 65-68.
Taylor, M. (2015, September 28). Session 3: The Functions of Schools. Lecture presented in University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario
8 weeks ago, I walked into Pinecrest Public School to begin my first student teaching placement. Pinecrest is talked about as one of the “roughest” schools in all of Ottawa, with many of its students living in shelters or subsidized housing projects. Everyday brought a new challenge, whether it was related to academics, bullying, mental health, nutrition, or another area of concern. However, after 8 weeks of teaching fulltime, I truly came to know and understand each of my grade 7 students and their situations. Their life stories made me want to try harder and be better for them.
What does it mean to be a good student? Does it mean to have good marks? Does it mean being polite and kind to other students and teachers? Does it mean to be involved in extracurricular activities?
There are many times in the teaching profession when teachers fall into a trend of praising the small successes of the students who are struggling, while failing to praise the great successes of their “top” students. My goal for this week, especially as it was my last week of practicum, was to celebrate the success of all of my students, including those who I expect nothing less from.
I was definitely more attentive throughout the week to my students’ academic successes, giving more vocal and written praise. I believe that this truly had an impact on my students’ effort and work ethic, since it allowed them to realize that someone else recognized their achievements. Also, for the last day of my placement, I wrote each student a personalized card thanking them for welcoming me into their classroom and for all of their effort over the past 8 weeks.
Speaking of my last day of practicum…
Today was my last day with my class, and one that I will never forget. When I walked into my classroom, the students had drawn a chalk mural on the floor recounting all of the lessons and topics that I taught them. This blew me away; maybe they had learned something after all! Afterwards, they sang me a song they wrote, gave me a few cards they made, and presented me with an incredible cake, none of which was expected! Lastly, my associate teacher gave me a framed poster that was absolutely hilarious.
I am truly going to miss 7A and I’m thankful to have been their teacher. In reality, they taught me way more than I could have ever taught them. Until next time, 7A!
There were many times when I was in elementary and secondary school where I would question the teacher about the relevancy of the work we were doing. How or when am I going to use this in the real world? Now as a teacher and young adult, I can definitely see the merit in the content being taught to the students, however it still remains true that much of the work we do in the classroom may not be like the real world. Wouldn’t it be great if it were?
Including real-life applications into the curriculum may not always be the first thing that comes to mind when planning how to teach a lesson, but it should definitely be intertwined with everything we do. Allowing students to interact, manipulate, explore, collaborate, and discuss openly about real-life applications leads to a greater depth of reasoning and creativity. Essentially, it’s learning that sticks.
This week, I achieved my goal of making more real-world connections in my teaching in multiple ways. In our health unit on alcohol, students created and displayed public service announcement posters related to the topic of teenaged alcohol consumption. They were engaged in their learning, they actively researched various facts, and they were motivated by the fact that other students would see their work once it was posted. They turned out great!
After the success of the alcohol public service announcement posters, I challenged my students to encourage others to live more sustainable lives, thus extending our environmental units in geography and science. They did this in two different ways. Firstly, they demonstrated their understanding of subject matter by writing a letter to the local newspaper. They discussed human effects on the environment, why living more sustainably is a good thing to do, and how people can change their behaviours. Not only did the students learn the subject matter, but they exemplified a real-world social justice application of their learning. Secondly, the students created public service announcement posters related to the topic of sustainability.
This shift in my teaching was apparent in all subjects, especially in math (measurement). Not only where students more engaged in their learning, but I found myself doing less ‘formal’ teaching and more coaching, which was also beneficial for me! When students are engaged in real-world problems, scenarios and challenges, they find relevance in the work and become engaged in learning important skills and content.
Who knew teachers got just as excited about March Break as the students? More than anything, the week-long break was a time to unwind, regroup, and re-evaluate everything teaching and education related. I’ve noticed so much growth in myself personally and professionally since the beginning of practicum, but without taking a moment to sit back and reflect, it is difficult to fully appreciate the experience and everything that it is teaching me.
Over the last few weeks, I have noticed that the same group of students raise their hands to answer every question. In any classroom, there is always that one group of students that consistently raise their hand and compete with the others to get called on. Not only do these students have the magic ability to literally hold their hand up for hours, but if we could let them talk all day, they would. My goal for the week was to promote every student’s engagement within the classroom. I chose this to be my goal for this week specifically to reorient students’ motivation for learning following March Break.
Students learn when they are engaged within the classroom, but what is engagement? In my opinion, students are engaged when they are actively thinking about the topic. For some students, it takes a little longer to think about the topic. For this reason, I now wait between 8-10 seconds after posing a question to the class before calling on a student. When I notice that students are disengaged with the lesson, I start to count the number of hands I see; this seems to encourage students to engage with the lesson and encourage their peers to do the same.
March Break wasn’t just a time to reflect as a teacher, but students reflected over the break as well. One of my more difficult students seemed to have a revelation during some reflection that led to him writing myself and two other teachers a letter. Here is a photo of the letter I received:
After he gave the letter to me on Monday, he has been a pleasure to teach ever since. I am not exactly sure what caused this change of attitude, but I can only hope that I helped to play a small part. Moments like these are why I hope to teach the middle school grades; teenagers are in such a critical period of their lives and as a teacher, you never know what role you might play in their life story.