Assistive technology is a great way to provide support to students within the framework of the same learning task. In my teaching experience, I have only had students on IEPs that are modified at grade level. Therefore, the assistive technology that I use helps these students to “perform and complete” the same, or very similar, tasks as the rest of the class “with efficiency and independence” (Assistive Technology Tools, pg. 1). As I look at my class list for next year, I know that I have students on alternative programs and modifications at various grade levels, so the study of assistive technology is one that will greatly benefit my teaching practice for many years to come.
In my primary classroom, students incorporate the use of technology to share their understanding or learning of a topic in a variety of ways. I am big on using Google Applications on a regular basis with my students. This proved to be very beneficial as we transitioned into distance learning this past school year. Students in my class were proficient in using Google Docs to type out their thinking, Google Slides to present their information in creative ways, and Google Forms to answer comprehension questions. Each of these platforms provides internal supports for students, such as voice typing capabilities (Tools > Voice Typing), as well as spell check. We also were able to utilize Google Read & Write, which allows students to use voice-to-text or text-to-voice to help them with their reading and writing. When creating products of learning with these Google Apps, students were also able to freely share their assignments with others for real-time collaboration and feedback. By providing immediate feedback, especially with Google Form’s self-marking abilities, students are able to adjust their thinking and make corrections.
Students also used various digital libraries and online literacy activities to assist them with research and/or their daily reading tasks. Programs such as GetEpic, Raz-Kids, and Lexia, contained many assistive tools, such as “read-to-me” capabilities, highlighting text when reading, and immediate definitions of unknown words. These programs definitely helped my struggling readers to be able to learn and perform grade-level tasks independently.
I also found that when my students used technology in new and innovative ways, their typical performance levels changed. For example, when using Scratch coding to create 2 sprites and have them teach each other about something we’ve recently learning in our Social Studies unit, the students who would normally struggle with brainstorming ideas and communicating their thinking in words were able to enter the task at various points and use images to drive their communication and thinking. It was very interesting to see how the “playing field” leveled when we tried something out of the ordinary.
Assistive technology can enhance the learning and ultimate sharing of your students’ thoughts by providing supports for students that would otherwise be hindered from success. By using voice-to-text or text-to-voice, students are able to focus on the content, rather than the spelling of words, typing on the keyboard, etc. Assistive technology helps students to be more independent in their learning, in situations when they would normally be sitting and waiting for teacher support. Not only that, but the integration of technology creates a learning environment in which the learning isn’t so “assign-and-complete” oriented. Technology can provide opportunities for deeper learning. When time is given for students to work on meaningful tasks that cover multiple curriculum expectations, it allows students to truly demonstrate their passion for the subject and a willingness to share their learning with others.
Student voice and choice is of utmost importance in our classrooms, whether you teach the younger primary students or the oldest senior students. Student voice is valued in classrooms where the student and teacher roles are flipped, in that students are becoming the experts on a topic and teaching their peers what they have earned. With technology, teachers no longer have to be the “keeper of wisdom” and teach their students in lecture-based lessons; students have the world available to them online and are able to research, discover, and share their learning with others. Student voice can also be fostered through a partnership between the educator and students by co-constructing success criteria. This can, in turn, go one step further and lead to student choice by having the students have some control over the assignment itself (e.g., How would you like to demonstrate your learning on this topic?). This allows students to choose their medium for communicating their learning in a way that satisfies the co-constructed success criteria. These are all ways that we can continue to foster student voice and choice in authentic ways in our classrooms.
This is a Grade 3 Probability lesson taken from the Math Makes Sense textbook. This lesson explores themes of conducting probability experiments, which include the use of tally charts, number cubes, coloured counters, marbles, and spinners. The lesson is divided into 4 parts: Explore, Connect, Practice, and Reflect. Some suggested activity differentiation is outlined next to the lesson instructions.
In conclusion, there are multiple ways for each part of the lesson to be differentiated for different students, given their specific academic and behavioural needs. Many parts of this lesson require hands-on manipulatives, which provide students with concrete tools to help with their learning. Visual examples and cues would be beneficial in communicating and retaining the vocabulary necessity for understanding and completing each activity. Many of the lesson activities could be differentiated by reducing the number and complexity of expectations to assist students with their operational sense, time management and ability to attain to a task. Small groupings or pairings are a beneficial way to assist students in completing each task, using the unit terminology in their vocabulary, and sharing strategies with each other. Check-ins and rephrasing of expectations are useful strategies for whole or small group comprehension.
The mathematics classroom environments of the past consisted of textbooks, worksheets, and rows of desks. This model catered to the rote learning model that killed student creativity and neglected the students’ ability to problem solve using their own methods and strategies. As an educator entering the teaching profession in the 21st century, I hope to bring a wave of fresh ideas and new approaches to learning that engage students, challenge their thinking, and promotes a positive growth mindset.
Role of the Educator
As an educator, I embrace the opportunity to create a learning environment in which students are able to flourish as learners and as people, developing into positive and active members of society. I think of myself as a ‘facilitator of learning,’ where I provide authentic learning opportunities for my students to inquire and discover as I continue to learn alongside them. By providing opportunities for guided experiential learning, rather than structured rote teaching, students learn by doing, writing, designing, creating, making and solving, not just by listening.
Within the classroom, the educator should circulate around the learning environment, checking in with each student or group of students to assess their learning, write anecdotal notes, and challenge or extend student learning. They can also identify which students require more academic assistance, especially those with math IEPs, and work with the students to find activities that develop specific learning goals.
More than anything, it is the role of the educator to build strong, positive attitudes towards math. As outlined in the Ministry of Education’s Parent Guide to Doing Mathematics with your Child, “When children feel positively engaged and successful, they are more likely to stick with an activity or a problem to find a solution” (pg. 2). A positive growth mindset will help students to exceed their own expectations!
Manipulative allow students to engage in experiential learning opportunities in which they can be hands-on and physically experience the mathematical learning. They should be readily available to students to use during any math task, thus providing a consistent and hands-on aid to their learning. Students should have access to a ruler and calculator for everyday use, both of which can easily be stored in the students’ desks or supply bins. Here are some examples of manipulatives that could be available in containers or shelving units within the classroom:
- Base Ten Blocks: great for showing differences in quantities, helping students when counting, visually showing multiplication, and reinforcing proportional reasoning
- Centimeter Cubes: used for counting, creating bar graphs, and measuring perimeter, area, and volume
- Tangrams: reinforce themes within geometry, such as shapes, sides, angles, and vertices
- Measuring Cups: used to practice measurement and comparing volumes and quantities of these measurements
- Tape Measures: valuable practice measuring tangible items within the classroom environment while using different metric systems (i.e. mm, cm, dm, m, etc.)
- Thermometers: applicable real-life measurement, students can measure the temperature of various items (outside temperature, classroom fish tank, bowl of snow, etc.) and track measurement overtime
- Money: great for teaching financial literacy, reinforcing adding and subtracting, and promoting play-based learning
- Fraction Strips: assists students with proportional reasoning, provides a visual representation of various fractions, and students can stack them on top of each other to view differences in quantity and size
- Pattern Blocks: promotes geometric concepts and allows for creativity (i.e., building shapes using smaller shapes)
- Protractor: used to measure angles of objects, assists students in developing geometric comprehension
- Graph paper: can be used for graphing data, measuring perimeter and area, and designing floor plans
The use of technology within the mathematics classroom can help to engage students in their learning, while also providing opportunities to work with different aids throughout their problem solving. Here are a number of ways in which technology can be integrated throughout the math classroom.
Kahoot is an online tool that engages students in a class-wide quiz about a certain topic. The quiz can be on any topic, including multiple concept areas in mathematics. Students read a question, choose the correct multiple choice answer and their results are recorded. Even with so much learning taking place, Kahoots always seem to bring out the fun and excitement in the lesson. The students are happy because they get to use technology and they also feel a sense of competition, which in my opinion furthers their overall performance.
— Spencer Burton (@spencerburtonca) November 22, 2016
Another digital tool that can be used within a math classroom is Quizizz. This program is very much like Kahoot, but students work through the quiz independently, at their own pace, and the order of the questions get randomized so students don’t shout out all of the answers. It still ranks the students based on the number of answers correct and generates reports for the teacher to review. Quizizz is a great tool!
Osmo has a number of different kits that you can buy. As long as the school has an iPad and can download the corresponding app, all that will need to be purchased are the Omso kits. These kits come with the iPad stand, the curved mirror for the camera, and the tangram pieces. They also have other kits about numbers, coding strings, and word tiles.
There are a number of online math games that students can easily access to help promote concepts being taught in class. An example of a game that students can access is Prodigy. This game allows students to create a profile, design an avatar, and complete multiple levels. Students have to complete math questions to battle other characters and progress through the levels. More times than not, students will be so consumed with the game that they won’t even realize how much math learning is taking place!
Coding is a great cross-curricular connection between Math, Science, and even Language. Coding has students create sequences of commands that lead to a specific action or outcome. When using robotics technology, such as a Sphero, students are able to code the robot to move a certain distance, rotate a specific way, and even travel at a certain speed. Robotics and coding would typically fall under the category of Science and Technology, however, there are many different and creative ways in which it can have a math focus. For example, students could use angles and rotations to maneuver the robot through a maze that the students create. There are also some valuable Language expectations met when coding, predominantly procedural writing. Even without robotic technology, students can practice coding online at Code.org, a free website that providing coding tutorials and challenges for students. Coding and robotics are great ways to bring a math problem to life, while also teaching the students valuable and applicable 21st century skills.
— Spencer Burton (@spencerburtonca) November 18, 2016
— Spencer Burton (@spencerburtonca) November 18, 2016
— Spencer Burton (@spencerburtonca) November 18, 2016
Khan Academy is an online learning platform on which students complete different modules and assess themselves by completing different tasks. The students’ profiles are linked to the teacher’s account, allowing the teacher to see how much time has been spent on Khan Academy and how much progress they have had in each module. The various tasks and instructional videos provide students with supplemental learning that can be accessed both within and outside of the classroom. Once or twice a week, students could come into the classroom with a Chromebook on their desk and a new module on Khan Academy assigned to them. From what I was told, this resource is based out of the USA, so there are some issues with measurements (gallons vs. litres), but for the most part, the curriculum standards and expectations are concurrent with Ontario’s curriculum.
Learning centres allow students the freedom of choice when it comes to their learning. These centres are readily equipped for students to go to and begin a task. They also provide many inquiry-based learning opportunities, especially since the centres are student-driven.
As outlined in the previous section, technology provides many great learning opportunities that may not otherwise be available. Computers, iPads, robotics, and other applications truly add to the learning environment and help students to gain imperative 21st century technology skills. Having technology learning centres available to students provides continual exposure to these important concepts.
In addition to the technology centres within the classroom, there should be some sensory stations that allow students to be hands-on with their learning. For primary grades, water and/or sand tables provide students with an environment in which they can play and explore, while using multiple math concepts, such as measurement. In the Junior grades, students could use scrap pieces of wood and various tools to practice applicable building and woodworking skills. These activities would also promote math learning through geometry, measurement, and number sense.
Games help to encourage play-based learning and show students that math does not have to be dry and scary. A variety of math games could be available at a learning centre in the classroom. Possible games could include playing cards with a binder of multiple card games (each game is strategy chosen to reinforce a mathematical concept), dice for probability games or operation races (i.e., first to multiply the numbers of the rolled dice together), and flashcards to quiz each other and race to be the first to answer the question correctly.
The classroom should be organized in a way in which each area is used effectively and is organized. Bins and shelving units are a great way to store manipulatives and electronics so that they are safe and easily accessible for the next person. The different areas of the room should be labelled so that students know what is available to them and where they can find things within the classroom.
There should be a variety of learning areas in which the students can choose to work at, such as:
- Classroom carpet: centred around a SMART Board or whiteboard for introducing a new topic, consolidating a lesson, having math discussions, doing number talks, or other group activities, such as Which One Doesn’t Belong
- Student-teacher conference area: area assigned for check-ins and working with specific students (such as students struggling with a concept or needing extra assistance)
- Tables: promotes collaboration, teamwork, and communication
- Cushions on floor: can be used for both individual learning and group work
- Standing tables: considers embodied learning by providing an area for students to stand while working
- Study carrels: an individualized quiet area that limits distractions and provides a safe space for students
The classroom will have evidence of student learning up on the walls for students to reference. This gives a sense of ownership and agency to the students knowing that their work is being displayed. It also allows students to reflect back on what they have learned and refresh themselves about strategies to complete a given task. In addition to student work, a word wall can be used to reinforce conceptual language and knowledge.
Success criteria are an important and successful way of communicating the academic expectations for a given task to students. This concept has developed by engaging students in the process of defining the learning goals and outlining what success looks like. This idea of co-creating success criteria is a great way to encourage students to use assessment vocabulary while also making them more aware of identifying what is expected of them given any assessment description. It also encourages the concept of students taking ownership of their own learning and deciding what the focus of assessment should be on. The success criteria should be explicitly labeled and posted in the classroom for students to see.
Problem solving questions, specifically in math, provide opportunities for students to practice their learned skills in applicable and relevant situations. They challenge the students to reflect on what they have learned theoretically and apply this knowledge in practical, thought-provoking applications. It is very important that we teach students to embrace problem solving, treating it like a puzzle to be solved rather than a brick wall preventing us from achieving success. When we adequately prepare students with the tools that they need during problem solving, they come to learn that they are able to problem solve and they can achieve success. This, in turn, develops a positive disposition towards problem solving for our students.
The Guide to Effective Instruction: Grades K to 6 – Volume 2 – Problem Solving and Communication teaches us that rich and engaging problem solving questions not only teach students through problem solving (practicing conceptual understanding), but they also teach student about problem solving by learning applicable learning skills (Guide to Effective Instruction, pg. 6). By teaching student through and about problem solving, we are able to see if the student has grasped the concept while also exploring the strategy they used throughout the process. When we are able to see both aspects, we then know that we have created a rich mathematical question. It is also important that we ensure the questions are relevant to the students by using real-world situations that are linked to their specific interests.
Conversations around problem solving help to teach students to be cognitive about their own strategies, while also being able to learn from their peers and adopt new and perhaps more efficient strategies. As Marion Small says in the video Open Questions and Contexts, “[Different strategies] enrich the conversation; it does not detract from it.” Math talks and bansho consolidation presentations are great ways to verbally explore these strategies in a whole-class setting. Other ways to communicate their thinking could be in a math journal, in which the student explains the strategies they used throughout the day’s lesson, or by creating a video/voice recording of their verbal explanations (for those students less inclined to share with the class).
As Doug Clements said in his talk about Intentional Play-Based Learning, the best type of learning including all kinds of learning experiences, including both play-based and guided learning. We should prompt students and give creative challenges that develop high-caliber mathematical thinking and reasoning while the students are engaging in play-based learning. This model of inquiry-based learning also provides the teacher with multiple opportunities to check-in with students throughout the learning, help to reinforce mathematical language, and develop the student’s ability to explain their processes and strategies. Students develop higher levels of social skills, emotional skills, and self-regulation skills when they emerge in guided play-based learning.
My goal when providing students with inquiry-based learning opportunities is to achieve multiple curriculum expectations, while also working on many learning skills. The 6 C’s are a great framework when considering the learning skills that students could work towards in a given task. The 6 C’s outline some important 21st century learning skills that each student should work towards developing.
As I come to the final few weeks of my Bachelor of Education, I have been reflecting a lot on what I have learned over the last two years. In my classes, from my professors, during my practicums, within books/documents, and (of course) on Twitter, I have been exposed to a number of important educational practices and theories. As I enter into the period of my life wherein I am able to actualize my vocational journey and enter into the classroom as a full-fledged teacher, I knew I had to write down a few of my thoughts about my own practice.
Every child is a unique individual that requires a safe, supportive, and stimulating environment in which to grow and mature emotionally, intellectually, physically, and socially. As an educator, I embrace the opportunity to create a learning environment in which students are able to flourish as learners and as people, developing into positive and active members of society. I think of myself as a ‘facilitator of learning,’ where I provide authentic learning opportunities for my students to inquire and discover as I continue to learn alongside them. Teacher facilitated, student-driven learning allows students to learn by doing, writing, designing, creating, making and solving, not just by listening.
I strongly believe that creating a positive, safe and supportive classroom environment is one of the most important aspects of teaching and learning. If students do not feel safe in my classroom, whether it is emotionally, physically, or socially, their defense mechanisms will go up and learning will be difficult. Students want to feel comfortable to express themselves freely, without the fear of rejection. This not only benefits their self-image, but allows them to take academic risks, which enhances overall learning. It is important to me that my students, as well as their parents, other teachers, administrators, and people in the community, see me as someone they can approach in any situation.
As I reflect on my beliefs regarding teaching and learning, I find that my mission as a teacher is threefold:
- to promote positive learning;
- to spark enthusiasm for learning;
- and to provide a strong foundation for lifelong learning.
The classroom and school environment should be a place of positivity, where students are celebrated for their accomplishments. In order to achieve positive learning, I welcome and embrace themes of inclusion, cultural diversity, and student voice. Students must be interested in what they are learning and see the relevance of that learning to their own life. Student-driven and inquiry-based opportunities not only allow students to take ownership of their learning, but it also incorporates differentiation instruction to meet the needs of all learners. This, in turn, ensures that students feel confident in their ability to succeed. Through these types of positive learning opportunities, I am able to provide authentic feedback to each student and prepare them for further learning extensions.
In my teaching, I try to make learning as fun and interactive as possible for my students. I find that this helps to spark enthusiasm for learning, which leads to an increase in attention, retention, and performance. I implement a variety of engaging teaching methods and approach topics in a number of ways. Tactile, hands-on learning catches the students’ attention and helps to solidify the concepts being explored. Movement throughout the classroom during learning, through gallery walks, group discussions, graffiti activities and other Embodied Learning instructional strategies, helps to stimulate the brain and concretize learning. As a Google Certified Educator, I am also a strong advocate for integrating technology during student learning. I believe that technology helps to spark students’ enthusiasm for learning and maximize the learning taking place.
I believe that in order to promote positive learning, students must first want to learn and feel comfortable doing so. I am a firm believer that in every mistake, there is a potential for growth. I try on a daily basis to instill a growth mindset in each and every student, as I believe that this mindset is the root of all academic achievement and excellence. By teaching my students to be resilient in every difficult situation, they will see that perseverance will lead them to great things. I recognize that my students are people first and I focus on developing positive self-images and enriching my students’ self-esteem through character building and positive interactions. More than anything, I hope that my students learn to be comfortable in their own skin, feel a sense of pride for all of their accomplishments, and develop a passion and love for learning.
It is my belief that a good education is the most important thing that we can provide the younger generation. It is a very rewarding experience empowering children to grasp the foundational knowledge and skills that they will use for the rest of their lives. As a lifelong learner myself, I hope to instill a love of learning in my students that will prepare them for successful and happy lives. I believe that teaching is my vocation and I am appreciative every day that I am able to fulfill my life’s purpose.
Reflecting on your teaching style is difficult. Choosing 5 specific practices to focus your reflection upon is even more difficult.
If you talk to any educator, they will tell you that self-reflecting is one of the most important aspects of education. It allows us to critically examine our self and our actions, determining what works well and what needs to change. I’ve only been formally teaching for a short while now, but I have complied a list of 5 practices that I have found to be successful in various aspects of day-to-day teaching! I hope that you find merit in learning more about these strategies and how I’ve implemented them into my teaching. As with any strategy, it is important to determine what works well with your students and to implement methods that lead to the success of all students.
As always, I am interested in learning from my peers and growing my PLN, so tweet me (@spencerburton) or leave a comment below outlining some of your successful instructional strategies and practices!
A choice board is a graphic organizer that allows students to decide which method they will use to demonstrate their learning. Choice boards offer students a series of activities or tasks that the student can complete, focusing on their specific learning needs, interests, and abilities. Students decide which activity they are most comfortable or interested in completing, giving them ownership over their own learning. Choice boards are can be easily adapted for each subject and grade level, making it a reliable instructional strategy for all teachers to utilize.
Choice boards are a great assessment strategy to use, especially when designing a culminating task. The level of difficulty of the activities can vary or stay consistent, which makes it a great way to differentiate a project to meet the needs of all learners. There are also a number of ways that a teacher can facilitate a choice board: teachers can have students choose to complete only 1 square, complete 3 activities in a row (tic-tac-toe style), or complete all of the activities on the board. Another way to elevate the amount of choice available to the student is to leave one of the squares blank, allowing them to create and complete their own task that matches the difficulty level of the other activities.
I have found this to be an effective method of assessment in my own practice. The students that sometimes sit there “blankly” while they try to think of where to start are relieved to see the amount of activities they can choose from. This saves students a lot of time coming up with what to do and allows them to dive right into the work at hand, while still ensuring that their ability to choose is not negated. I have found that the final products are much more enjoyable to assess and provide feedback on, given that they are so varied and unique in their own ways.
Choice boards are truly an excellent way to increase student ownership of learning within the classroom. The Ministry of Education explains that “greater student involvement in their own learning and learning choices leads to greater student engagement and improved achievement” (Learning for All, 2013). The wide variety of student products ensure that the teacher is providing authentic feedback to each student, in that they must look at each unique piece of student work and critically examine it for what it is (rather than falling into the trap of comparing it to work from other students).
Brain Breakfast is a strategy that I learned during my practicum experience at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Elementary school. This practice is a daily activation component of a Math or Language lesson (whichever occurs during the first period of the day). The theory behind the name is that we eat breakfast to energize our brains and to get our bodies activated for the day ahead. We this in mind, the Brain Breakfast activity gets the student’s brains thinking and ready to work for the school day.
Essentially, Brain Breakfast is a critical thinking warm-up activity. The activity is printed on a half-sheet of paper, glued into the students’ notebook, and completed by the student individually. The activity can take a number of different forms. In Language, the students could be provided with a quickwrite prompt that gets them focused on a new concept that will be introduced in the coming lesson or to review the material from the previous class. In Math, students could be provided with some computational questions (multiplication, division, etc.) to reinforce these concepts or a word problem that challenges them to use concepts from the previous class. In either subject area, EQAO questions could be used by removing the multiple choice answers, helping students to get used to the format and wording of these types of questions while also developing critical thinking skills.
The Ministry of Education encourages creating “an educational culture based on individual and collective ownership of the learning, achievement, and well-being of all students” (Learning for All, 2013). I believe the Brain Breakfast practice helps to achieve this culture in that it provides students with individual learning opportunities that teachers can easily collect, provide feedback, and use as assessment for learning. It also helps to protect the well-being for all students by giving students time to collect their thoughts and answer the question independently before the learning is consolidated as a class. Brain Breakfast not only activates the students minds, but it also provides them with a calm and consistent transition into the classroom at the beginning of each day.
In my opinion, number talks should be regular component of every Math classroom. Number talks are essentially a classroom conversation around a purposefully selected computation problem, lasting less than fifteen minutes. Students develop and use mental math strategies to solve their computation on their own before being asked to share with the class. When communicating their thinking to their classmates, the focus is less on the final answer and more on the strategy that the student used to reach that answer. When students present and justify solutions to the problem, it leads to the development of more accurate, efficient, and flexible strategies that their peers can use to solve future problems.
During most number talks, students gather close to a SMART Board or chart paper, on which the teacher presents the question. Students are given time to use mental math to come up with an answer and once they have, they display a thumbs up on their chest. This not only gives the teacher an idea of who has come up with an answer to the question, but it also provides some diagnostic information about the speed and efficiency to which students are able to come with an answer. Once a good amount of students have found an answer, they are encouraged to share their strategies with their class (as the teacher scribes) while also continuing to develop efficient strategies that others present.
I have found that number talks are an important way for teachers to learn about their students’ mental math strategies, which are not typically assessed in computational subjects such as Math. Mental math is crucial for being efficient when solving problems, ensuring that the students are not simply relying on memorized procedures and formulas. I also appreciate the model of number talks, in that it allows me to assume a different role in the classroom. A primary goal of number talks is to help students make sense of math concepts by building on mathematical relationships, which is accomplished by having them use their own strategies and building a repertoire of strategies from their peers. Therefore, the teacher’s role must shift from being the individual imparting information and confirming correct answers at the front of the classroom to assuming the roles of facilitator, questioner, listener, and learner.
A positive and respectful school community is essential for the academic and personal success of each student. This type of community is achieved when all students feel safe, included, and accepted and when teachers model and encourage positive behaviour. The Ministry’s resource Promoting a Positive School Climate states that the “principles of equity and inclusive education are embedded in the learning environment to support a positive school climate and a culture of mutual respect” (Promoting a Positive School Climate, 2013). Creating a cohesive classroom community is essential for facilitating an effective number talk, especially since we are asking students to take risks by sharing their thinking and strategies with their peers. Students should be comfortable in offering responses for discussion, questioning themselves and their peers, and investigating new strategies without the risk of failing or being ridiculed.
Circles are a simple and effective platform for students to learn while building positive relationships with their classmates and teacher. Rooted out of First Nation practices, circles have students sitting without desks in an arrangement that has them able to see and hear each of the people in the group. The use of circles within the classroom setting helps to support the holistic well-being of each student. Early on in the year, I have experienced circles that are used to outline what students need in order to be successful in their learning and how they can make those needs a reality. This essentially takes the place of a teacher outlining the rules and guidelines of the classroom, providing ownership to the students and asking for their voice and contributions. This works to ensure that each student is heard and that their environment is built upon the well-being of the student population.
Circles can also be used for those inevitable times when conflict occurs. The Ministry of Education promotes the use of circles during restorative justice/practice on the belief that humans are “more likely to make positive changes in their behaviour when those in positions of authority do things with them, rather than to them or for them” (Caring and Safe Schools in Ontario, 2010). By having students sit in a circle, they are placing themselves on an equal level with each other and the adults that are facilitating the circle. By allowing for each student’s voice to be heard, the students are able to reflection on the impact of their own behaviour on everyone else present. This helps to achieve the safe schools and positive mental health components of student well-being by providing the opportunity to develop empathy, mutual respect and shared accountability.
Students have many incredible ideas. By providing them with a safe and supportive learning environment to share these ideas, especially in the format of a circle, the class can learn to contribute ideas, build upon each other’s knowledge, encourage cooperation, and ultimately improve communication skills. If the students feel that a part of their well-being is not being met within the school environment, circles provide the class with an opportunity to not only voice this concern, but to collaborate and create solutions that directly impact their lives. In an overall sense, this encourages students to take greater responsibility for their learning and well-being.
In a lighter sense, circles can be used as a fun time to introduce new activities and games, which I have seen as a great tool to start off the week. The quickest way to form a positive community is through laughter, so providing an opportunity for students to engage in a fun activity that can make them laugh will definitely have a positive impact on their well-being. These activities and games will also help to develop positive social and emotional skills, self-esteem, and a positive self-image. By starting off the week with a circle that allows students to share what they did on their weekend and giving them an activity to work on together, a cohesive and respectful classroom community can be formed and strengthened.
Co-Created Success Criteria
Success criteria are an important and successful way of communicating the academic expectations for a given task to students. This concept has developed by engaging students in the process of defining the learning goals and outlining what success looks like. This idea of co-creating success criteria is a great way to encourage students to use assessment vocabulary while also making them more aware of identifying what is expected of them given any assessment description. It also encourages the concept of students taking ownership of their own learning and deciding what the focus of assessment should be on.
A specific example of how I have co-created success criteria with my students is during a descriptive writing unit with a Grade 5 class. After exploring what the various facets of descriptive writing, I asked my students to define what quality descriptive writing looks like. Using their feedback, I created an anchor chart for the classroom that the students could refer back to throughout their learning. We took the concepts on an anchor chart and developed a chart that was included on the students’ culminating writing task outline. Additionally, I was able to adapt these success criteria into a self-assessment chart that the students could utilize throughout their writing and editing process.
I have found that this process helped my students and I to reach a common understanding of the criteria that they would be assessed on. This helped to focus my own assessment while also ensuring that the students were completely aware of what they were being assessed on and why. Rubrics have value when it comes to assessment, but they are sometimes difficult for students to identify what is expected of them and they may be overwhelmed with the varying levels. Co-creating success criteria provides students with a sense of ownership over their learning and a comprehensive understanding what quality work looks like.
The Ministry of Education’s Growing Success is a strong advocate of including students in the creating of success criteria. The document explains that “teachers can ensure that students understand the success criteria by […] directly involving them in identifying, clarifying, and applying those criteria in their learning” (Growing Success, 2010). By including students in the process, the wording of the success criteria is clearly understood by students and they are able to develop an understanding of what quality means in their own work.
Extracurricular school initiatives are an important part of providing a holistic educational experience to our students. Schools have the ability to providing additional programming (outside of curriculum documents) that students would benefit from. I’ve seen many great programs run in schools, such as games clubs (develops social skills and critical thinking), knitting club (a new skill), and art club (visual art classes run by a professional). Each extracurricular program seeks to engage students on a new level and take their learning to a place that traditional classroom learning may not.
During my second practicum experience, I worked alongside my fellow Teacher Candidates and my Associate Teacher to implement an intramural program at our elementary school. This initiative was beneficial for all students (in more ways than one) and helped to foster a stronger sense of community within the school. If you haven’t introduced Tchoukball to your students, YOU MUST! It is such a fun and interactive game that helps to foster teamwork, collaboration, sportsmanship, and strategy without the requirement of too much athleticism.
A surface benefit of our intramural initiative was to promote health and well-being in our students. Giving a space to participate in or try various sports would ideally encourage the continuation of these activities outside of school. In the school yard, it is a reality that some students may be excluded from participating in physical activities they enjoy because of limited space or age barriers. Our program sought to provide a safe and supportive environment for students of all ranges of athleticism. Our program aimed to instill characteristics such as teamwork, sportsmanship, communication, and perseverance. These are useful skills that we hope for all students to carry into the future, whether in classrooms, at home, or in the working world.
Our proposed program was not only advantageous to our students, but it also allowed for personal growth amongst myself and my peers. Throughout this process, I gained valuable experience in coaching students, fostering sportsmanship, and facilitating an extracurricular activity. I worked with my Associated Teacher to set rules for safe-play, enforce the rules of the game during intramurals, organized the teams, and created a schedule of games. In this environment, I found myself more able to relate to students outside of the classroom setting, making interactions less formal and building a stronger, more holistic rapport with each student.
The driving force behind the initiation of our intramural program was a “healthy body, healthy mind” philosophy, where improving the students’ physical health will in turn increase their academic performance. This initiative also proved to diversify the students’ social circles (the teams were assembled with students from Grades 4, 5, and 6) and encouraged respect for each other, as evident in their cheering for one another. Being utilized at a Catholic school, this program was intended to guide students towards the fulfillment of specific Catholic Graduate Expectations. Examples of such expectations would be to develop students as collaborative contributors, caring community members, reflective and creative thinkers, as well as a self-directed, responsible, life-long learner.
— Spencer Burton (@spencerburtonca) November 22, 2016
Being in an urban school, many of the students do not have the means or access to extracurricular sports and activities. As such, our program allowed the students to participate in organized sports while at school. Ideally, attracting students to school through sports will make them more motivated and excited to come to school, giving them something to look forward to. We found that having intramurals also contributed to creating a deeper sense of community within the school; between classmates or individuals.
I truly enjoyed the process of creating and implementing an extracurricular program, especially one that fosters school community, student well-being, and ultimately fun! I hope to be able to engage in similar initiatives throughout my career and to be the driving force behind new and innovative ways to enhance our student’s educational experience.
I have a confession to make: I am someone who tends to reflect on the negative situations that occur before appreciating the positive lessons I’ve gained. I find that from negative experiences come valuable learning opportunities, that is, once you have deciphered them from the muddy situation at hand. I found this to be something I did often during my first student teaching experience… Why did that lesson not go the way I had planned? Why did that student talk to me the way they did? Why didn’t everyone finish their project today? These were all questions I pondered once the school day was over, as I tried to find reasons and explanations during my own personal reflection. However, thinking back now, I mainly remember the amazing moments I had during my student teaching placement: the lessons I taught that went over well, the many laughs I shared with my students, and the incredible projects that my students submitted.
Reflection is a huge part of personal improvement. I try every day to be better than the last, especially when it comes to my teaching. That is why for my last student teaching experience, I challenged myself to write 1 takeaway lesson at the end of each school day – good, bad, or otherwise! Although there were obviously many lessons I learned throughout each day, I stuck to my initial challenge of 1 per day. Thus, my list of 45 lessons I learned from student teaching was born.
1) First days can be hard for both students and teachers.
2) Structure, expectations, and routine are crucial components of classroom management.
3) Physical Education not only gets students moving, but it gets them engaged.
4) Fellow teachers have AMAZING ideas – utilize their knowledge and experience!
5) Number Talks do not only strengthen mental math and efficiency, but also numeric vocabulary.
6) A staggering amount of students in urban schools do not, or are unable to, participate in after school clubs or activities.
7) ADHD can cause a learning impairment for the student and their classmates if not supported properly.
8) Dr. Seuss is a genius and his stories can provide valuable lessons to both students and adults.
9) Students recognize the difference between “strict” and “fair”. Even when you might feel like you’re being strict, the students understand where you are coming from.
10) If you can make students care about the subject matter, they will be more engaged, produce higher-quality work, and learn more.
11) Genius Hour is a great form of inquiry-based learning and fosters deep learning through student engagement.
12) Know your students – find out what their interests are and use those topics to generate examples that engage students and ensure comprehension.
13) Offering a variety of approaches to the same subject matter provides an engaging and holistic educational experience.
14) Out of seemingly nowhere, your students will produce something that blows you away.
15) A lot can be said about the importance of teaching and demonstrating time management skills.
16) When all hell breaks loose, there will always be something that ends of making you smile.
17) Despite being friends with almost everyone in the class, students still get nervous during presentations, and that’s OK!
18) Field trips, like We Day, are great opportunities for students to learn outside of their classroom.
19) Revisiting a lesson that didn’t go over well the first time allows the teacher to correct their mistakes and the students to correct theirs.
20) Celebrate your victories and successes, no matter how big or small.
21) Some days, your students will blow you away when you least expect it.
22) Mentor teachers can build you up, make you feel confident, and prepare you to be a great teacher!
23) A built rapport with your students takes time, but pays off by saving time on classroom management.
24) Racism happens at all ages. Sexism happens at all ages. Bullying happens at all ages. Teachers must be ready to educate their students about these sensitive topics.
25) Coding is a fun and interactive way to teach Math and Science to students of any age.
26) You can still be a fun and easy-going teacher and expect respect from your students; one does not negate the other.
27) Each teacher has their own approach and philosophy of teaching; none are wrong, but it is about finding one that works for you.
28) Games in the classroom can get rowdy, but that just means that they are having fun while learning.
29) Many students struggle with transitions, so make sure you educate and prepare students with the skills necessary to make them as smooth as possible.
30) Teaching students to celebrate other students’ successes is difficult, but a necessary life skill to know.
31) Teachers must be very adaptable and be ready for anything to happen or change at any time.
32) Snow days are a whole new kind of crazy, but they make you reminisce on how AWESOME they were as a kid.
33) When you don’t feel your best, you cannot be your best. Self-care is so important.
34) Being evaluated only makes you better, even when you are a teacher.
35) Preparing an assembly for the entire school takes a lot of work, but the students (and teacher) feel so fulfilled when it’s over.
36) Don’t shy away from telling the class what you thought of their behaviour – good or bad – and holding them accountable.
37) Catholic liturgies and masses supplement the students’ education with faith, morals, and purpose.
38) There will be days that make you feel defeated; vent, find a silver lining, and laugh at what got you so down in the first place.
39) Physical Education should promote a healthy lifestyle, but through fun and play. Kin-Ball is the ultimate example of this!
40) What makes students want to learn? Kahoots!
41) Bus cancellations give you the opportunity to connect further with each student, allowing for more individualized attention and teaching.
42) The bond and respect gained through helping a student through a difficult situation is invaluable.
43) There are no bad kids, just kids to who sometimes make the mistake of doing bad things.
44) Don’t allow yourself to get caught up in the politics of teaching. Remember why you are there and what your passion and purpose is.
45) Kids are AWESOME! Teaching is a privilege and the best vocation in the world.
Just like that, the final week of my evaluated practicum has come to an end! It has been a long journey getting to this point, full of long nights of planning and marking, and many visits to the online world of education. I guess this is what being a teacher is all about!
— Spencer Burton (@spencerburtonca) December 12, 2016
The week started off with a bus cancellation… Welcome to Ottawa! We joined two classes together and worked on some language throughout the morning. The first thing the students did was read an article and answer some comprehension and inference questions using the website readworks.org. This is a very neat tool in that it lets you assign a specific article and the teacher gets to view the responses and success rate for each student.
Later in the morning, we gave each student a chromebook and had them begin writing a story about the Christmas/winter season. In 5 minute intervals, the students would write and then pass off the chromebook to someone else. That person would continue the story and so on and so forth until we’ve had about 5 students write on the same story. We wrapped up the activity by reading some of the final products and it was fun to see how the story took a different turn with each new contributor.
This week in particular was full of culminating tasks. I had the students work on a descriptive writing task that had them creating and describing their own robot, something which I had modeled for them a week or two earlier. Their creativity was definitely flowing and their robots turned out really well. I made my way around the classroom and allowed the students to read me their descriptive writing to see whether or not I could draw their robot, which proved to be a great way to enforce editing and revision in their work. Here is the task description and the success criteria that I provided to the students:
Another culminating task that we worked on in Science was a hands-on, inquiry-based experiment. We surprised the students by taking them out of the classroom and visiting the “secret science laboratory” in the school: the staff room! The students were so excited to enter into the staff’s territory and conduct their own messy experiment. I had step-by-step instructions, a P-O-E chart (predict, observe, explain), and materials set up in stations around the room and the students worked in groups of 3 to create Oobleck Slime. I found this task to be very intuitive for the students, since the slime is a solid when pressure is applied and a liquid when there is no pressure. THIS is what science is all about!
This week was filled with advent-related activities! I facilitated an advent lesson where students in groups of 4 read one of many advent stories from the bible together as a group. They discussed its meaning and at what point during advent it took place. As a group, the students created a placemat with 4 sections: re-tell the passage, God’s meaning, a Catholic Graduate Expectation that is present, and a picture of the scene.
Students also performed for their parents in a wonderful presentation of Once Upon a Starry Night. There were lights, costumes, actors, and a choir… It truly felt like we were at a theatre performance!
We celebrate Advent with Father Jessie#ocsb pic.twitter.com/8dRH5ZKr9i
— OLMC School (@OLMCOttawa) December 14, 2016
On the last day of my placement, I was given a wonderful gift from all of the students that I had taught throughout my placement: my morning grade 5s, my afternoon grade 5/6s, and my after school grade 4/5/6s! They gave me a copy of my all time favourite book “The Giving Tree”, which had lovely messages written inside from the students and my associate teachers.
Reflecting back on my final practicum and feeling thankful for all of the opportunities, relationships, and learning that I experienced! pic.twitter.com/p8hnl8fQyy
— Spencer Burton (@spencerburtonca) December 19, 2016
I am very thankful for every experience that I had at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Elementary School. There were some tough days and many good days. There were some moments where I felt down-and-out, and some moments where I felt incredible, like I was making a difference in the lives of others. There were some days where I experienced some tough situations of bullying, and some days where I laughed with all of my students. This is growing up. This is education. This is teaching.