On Monday, I transformed back into “Mr. Burton” as I started my final 6 weeks of practicum. Excited and anxious, I walked back into that classroom, prepared to accept the opportunity to teach the Grade 5 and Grade 5/6 classes at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Elementary School. For my first week, my goal was to reorient my mindset from student to teacher and establish strong connections with each of my students. In both of my classes, there is never a dull moment… never an end to the moments of learning.
Over the last two months, I have led my students in a Genius Hour Project for one hour a week. Now that I am in the classroom full-time, we have begun presenting our projects and teaching each other the innovative and passion-filled lessons we have learned. The students created projects about how to create origami, everything you’d want to know about the Stanley Cup, how video games are made, what the strongest animal is, explosive science demonstrations, and how to play the piano… And we still have more presentations coming! I truly enjoyed facilitating a Genius Hour; the students were engaged in their learning and they were passionate about presenting that information to their fellow classmates. Not to mention, there are SO MANY curriculum expectations that are met throughout the project!
Slideshow presentations, science demonstrations, and origami sunglasses… OH MY!
After two full (and admittedly tiring) days, I was fortunate to join the Grade 6 students on their trip to WE Day! This conference brings together world-renowned speakers (Paula Abdul, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Tragically Hip, Rick Hanson…), A-list performers (Hedley, Classified…), and tens of thousands of youth to celebrate a year of action that transformed communities and changed lives. WE Day is something that I always wished I could have attended as a student, but that opportunity has come full circle for me as a teacher. The speakers were inspiring and their messages were motivating:
I began a Health unit on the topic of alcohol for my Grade 5/6 class, which is off to a great start. We stared by watching a video, which helped us to understand the mindset of addition. The students really enjoyed analyzing the video and they came up with some interesting ideas of what the yellow blob could represent (we linked it back to alcohol for our unit).
The students demonstrated some great inference skills when they were presented with a number of alcohol-related terms, creating some mind maps and drawing some pictures of what they knew. This served as a great jump-off point for our unit, ensuring that each student understood the vocabulary that we will be using throughout.
Not only am I taking on this 6-week practicum, but I am also running the After School Program for a great group of Junior students. On Mondays and Wednesdays after school, we have a snack, enjoy a read-aloud (we’re reading one of my favourite books – “Wonder”), have 20 minutes or so to work on homework, and then we have some fun. This week, we had some low-energy games, such as board games, magnet centres, and puzzles, as well as some active time in the gymnasium.
Although I know that I am in for a challenge, I am looking forward to the next few weeks. I’ve already learned so much by working with my students and from the wonderful teachers at our school. This feels like the beginning of something great!
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.
“Motivated students can conquer all; unmotivated kids on the other hand, who hold back because they think they can’t change themselves are destined to a long and tedious trail through their school years.”
Today’s generation of students are very different than the last. Children experience a number of different influences each and every day, such as friends, family, and teachers, and when you combine all that with celebrities, social media, and advertisements, students have no choice but to look inward. Our self-talk is an important part of our well-being; are we confident with the person that we are and the talents that we have, or are we inadequate in the standards that others put on us? The stories you tell yourself and the things you believe about yourself can either prevent change from happening or allow new skills to blossom. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the difference between a growth and fixed mindset.
As teachers, we must look at each of our students and identify the potential that they have, even when they do not recognize it in themselves. Students can think that they’ll never be as smart as ____, or as athletic as ____, or as popular as ____. But this inability to even consider or explore their potential is extremely damaging. The worst part is that teachers all too often play into this mindset for their students. We assume that a student will perform well on a test because they always do, but we never acknowledge how much they study or pay attention in class. Alternatively, we assume that a student will act out in class because they always do, without wondering about why the student is not engaged or distracted. To combat this trend and help instill a growth mindset into our students, we must focus on praising student work habits, encouraging effort, and supporting students’ potential rather than focusing on natural talent and abilities. In other words, we must believe in each and every one of our students and their potential to be amazing.
“When a teacher has an astonishing impact on a student’s life, it is because of one and only one thing: his or her complete belief in that student.”
In my own teaching practice, I often find myself seeking opportunities to compliment or acknowledge a student’s work ethic, especially those who I often find do not get the final answer correct. For those students, it could feel as though they are never going to get the final answer correct, but by making an effort to compliment them on an aspect of their process or their work ethic in general, these students will begin to internalize their efforts as positivity.
During my first practicum, I did an activity with my students that centred around self-image. You can read about it in detail HERE. Essentially, I wanted my students to figuratively throw away all of this external, negative rhetoric that is spewed at them and focus on their internal, positive self-talk. This leads students to feel more in tune with their intrinsic motivation; the drive behind why they do anything at all.
I really like the idea of the TESA Studies: Teacher Expectation, Student Achievement. I believe this concept find a good balance between teacher’s having expectations of their students, with that of student achievement. Yes, students are expected to do certain things, but the students are also acknowledged for complying. Here are 15 TESA expectations:
Equitable opportunity to respond – Ensuring every student has equal chances to respond
Affirmation or correction, coaching, and feedback comment
Proximity – Nearness to students for managing behaviours
Individual helping – One-on-one tutorials
Praise – For the learning performance or effort
Courtesy – Polite manners, good etiquette
Latency – Wait time, let students think
Reasons for praise – Why, not just what
Personal interest statements – Notice
Delving, rephrasing, giving clues
Listening – Attention to student comments
Touching – Hand on a shoulder to encourage or affirm
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.
“For most of us, teaching is not just what earns our paycheck. Teaching is what we were put on earth to do.”
~ Robert John Meehan
Tuesday marked Mr. Burton’s return to the classroom, as I officially started my second year practicum! I am beyond fortunate to have the opportunity to be at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Elementary School, teaching alongside two incredible teachers. In the mornings, I will be teaching in a Grade 5 class, and I’ll have a Grade 5/6 class in the afternoons. From the moment I walked into OLMC, I was blown away by the positivity and faith-filled atmosphere that the school emits. This school and its staff are committed to faith-based education and creating a safe place for students to be.
For my first week of practicum, I had 3 goals outlined for myself:
LEARN about classroom routine formation from my associate teachers
Begin making meaningful CONNECTIONS with my students
Experience a MEMORABLE moment
I knew my first goal would be achieved during the first week, given how important establishing structure and routines are for classroom management and, ultimately, student success. Morning circles, icebreaker activities, team-building challenges, and student-involved guidelines were all important aspects of the first few days of the school year. When it came to curriculum, the teachers eased into the subject matter, while also establishing some routines (notebooks for each subject, participating in group work, etc.). The first few days of school are truly a unique time of the year, and very valuable for a teacher candidate like myself to experience.
In a matter of days, I realized that the teachers at OLMC are so creative with their lessons and they display a willingness to try new things, the latter being so important after teaching the same grades/subjects for prolonged periods of time. When it comes to teaching, I’ve already seen knowledge-building circles, placemat activities, turn-and-talks, Number Talks, and think-pair-shares. The thing that I am really fascinated by is the school-wide Brain Breakfast initiative. Every morning, students are given a grade-appropriate word problem, either in Mathematics or Literacy, to jump-start their thinking and learning. This serves as a great introduction to the day’s lesson, or just as a stand-alone critical thinking question. I am very interested to see how this initiative progresses throughout the year and how the students’ learning develops overtime.
This placement also marks my return to the Catholic Education system. I only ever attended Catholic school growing up and I really appreciated my experience. I missed the prayers on the announcements. I missed the prayers before lunch. Most importantly, I missed continual attention to teaching morals, ethics, and the Catholic faith. Already this week, our students brainstormed way that they could fulfill the Catholic Graduate Expectations. A graduate of the Catholic school system is expected to be:
A discerning believer formed in the Catholic Faith community who celebrates the signs and sacred mystery of God’s presence through word, sacrament, prayer, forgiveness, reflection and moral living.
An effective communicator who speaks, writes and listens honestly and sensitively, responding critically in light of gospel values.
A reflective, creative and holistic thinker who solves problems and makes responsible decisions with an informed moral conscience for the common good.
A self-directed, responsible, lifelong learner who develops and demonstrates their God-given potential.
A collaborative contributor who finds meaning, dignity and vocation in work which respects the rights of all and contributes to the common good.
A caring family member who attends to family, school, parish, and the wider community.
A responsible citizen who gives witness to Catholic social teaching by promoting peace, justice and the sacredness of human life.
I am excited to immerse myself in the Catholic curriculum and teach a few Religion lessons of my own!
I was able to make connections with a few students throughout the week, and I am proud to say that I know all of their names (which always seems to be a challenge for me at first). I’ve had students ask if I am Superman, if I am my associate teacher’s younger brother, and if I am a scientist – all of which are false, but it made for interesting conversations nonetheless! Through establishing theses connections, I was able to experience a memorable moment this week. On the first day of school, we had a new student that had moved from the Philippines two months prior. He was scared, crying, and latched on to his family. I had a conversation with him about how it was my first day at a new school and that I was scared too, but that we would both have a great year and meet so many new friends. Seeing the progression in this young boy from crying with his family on Tuesday to joking around with friends on Friday was truly a testament to how important a safe and positive educational environment is.
There was so much learning in week #1 and I am looking forward to the learning that is to come!
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).
Throughout our lives, we experience these “light bulb” moments that enlighten us in ways that we could never purposefully encounter. These moments can stem from a conversation, an interaction, or simply out of thin air. They can teach us something about others, open our eyes to new possibilities, and allow us to see beyond what simply meets the eye. The sheer number of “light bulb” moments that I have experienced while working with Extend-A-Family is a testament to the amount of possible learning, and potentially life changing, moments available through our work.
A specific “light bulb” moment that I’ve retold countless times occurred last summer during a swimming trip with Summer Program. A non-verbal individual who was typically the first to jump into the pool was very hesitant for reasons not yet known. Through continued conversations with the participant, I could see that he really wanted to swim and he continued to make it way to the side of the pool, yet something was hold him back from taking the plunge. After a few minutes of exhausting all possible reasons for the hesitations, I was beginning to feel defeated; I knew that there was something wrong, but I was unable to figure it out.
In that moment of deflation, the participant lightly pushed his head against mine and stared me in the eyes. VOILA! The participant showed me through his actions the reason for his hesitation. He had forgotten to put on his headband that protects his ears from the water, something that he wears every time we go swimming. It wasn’t until he placed his head against mine that the “light bulb” flicked on.
To this day, I still get chills thinking about how this individual was able to communicate to me his needs to me in his own unique way. This moment taught me that there is a solution to every problem just waiting to be revealed. Working with the Summer Program also opened my eyes to the sheer amount of different ability levels that everyone has, including both participants and our staff. Summer Program has truly opened my eyes to the fact that we are all able in our own special way.
And just like that, my first year of my Bachelor of Education is complete! I learned so much this year about teaching, learning, and the education system, but most importantly about myself. I am so glad that I chose this program and the University of Ottawa to study for two years.
Recently, I was contacted by the Faculty of Education’s communication and marketing team to share my experiences in the program. These responses may be used in promotional material as a student testimonial! I have posted the questions and my responses here for you all to read.
What led you to pursue a career in teaching?
Teaching has been my vocation throughout my entire life. I can remember the moment when my kindergarten teacher asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up and my response was “teacher”. I’ve never wavered from this choice. 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. This is why I’ve dedicated my life to teaching.
Why did you choose uOttawa?
As one of the largest Bachelor of Education programs in Ontario, I felt as though uOttawa would be able to provide me with the education, support and resources required to be an innovative and adequate teacher. Additionally, the large number of students in the program forms the basis of my personal learning network in the field of education, which has great merit in itself. Ottawa as a city features a diverse demographic of students, therefore providing myself as a teacher candidate with a holistic experience of what it means to be a teacher.
What was your favorite moment at the Faculty of Education this year?
My favourite moments at the Faculty of Education this year were the various professional development opportunities provided. Aboriginal Education blanket exercises, LGBTQ+ Allyship training, Math Camp, and Let’s Talk Science workshops are among many learning opportunities that the Faculty of Education provides to their teacher candidates. These professional development workshops allowed me to take what I had been learning in my courses and practicum placement and supplement it with specific tools taught by experts in their field.
What did your experience in practicum added to your studies?
The practicum experience adds the practical learning opportunity that cannot otherwise be achieved in a university classroom. For weeks at a time, you get to fully experience what it is like to be a teacher by being in a classroom, working with students, and co-teaching with an Associate Teacher. The amount of learning that occurs during practicum is invaluable. Despite how much you think your students are learning from your teaching, you will be learning so much more from them.
What advice would you give to a prospective student?
In the world of education, there are a number of different philosophies and styles, many of which will be taught to you throughout the program. It is important to not get overwhelmed by your learning and practicum. Remember why you decided to become a teacher and have that be the driving force behind everything that you do. To your students, you are more than just a classroom teacher; you are someone that is able to have a positive impact on their journey through life.
If you could describe your experience at uOttawa in 3 words, what would they be?
Comprehensive, holistic, innovative.
I experienced a lot of learning and growth in my first year of the Bachelor of Education program and I look forward to continuing this growth in my second year!
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.