Here we are again… How is it that weekends take so long to come, yet seem to be over before you know it? However, Sundays are for more than just rest and relaxation. Sundays are a time to reflect on the week you’ve had and prepare (mentally and spiritually) for the week that is to come.
I am officially at the halfway point of my practicum at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic School. The teaching staff is incredible, welcoming, and compassionate. The learning occurring within and outside the classroom walls is top-notch. The students are unique, energetic, and provide the spark that fuels the entire school. This school community truly is a wonderful place.
The community extends far outside of our immediate school as well. Our Lady of Mount Carmel is an urban school and has some needs that other schools may not necessarily have. For example, as I am sitting here writing this post, it is snowing like crazy outside (can someone please tell the weather that it is still November…). For some students, snow creates a sense of excitement – something they look forward to playing with. For others students, snow causes stress. When your family is unable to provide you with a new winter jacket because your current zipper broke off… When you have to choose between buying a winter jacket and snow pants because you are unable to afford both… When your boots and clothes from the day before remain wet and cold because you have no drier to dry them…
This is where the community plays a large role. This past week, the local Knights of Columbus donated a large number of winter jackets to our school. These jackets were brand new and of varying sizes, a gift that will provide comfort beyond belief to our students this winter. I still get goose bumps when I think back to the moment when these jackets were delivered to our school. In a world where we hear more bad news stories than good, its kind and generous gestures like these that shine light on the loving and compassionate people that truly care for others.
Now that I’ve opened up my heart, let’s talk about curriculum! This week, I launched a few units that seem to be off to a great start. Firstly, we started patterning in Math and the students truly caught on fast. At first I wasn’t sure if my class had all-of-the-sudden become a group of child protégées, but after speaking with their teachers from last year, I quickly learned that they had lots of practice before coming into my class. We’ve explored letter patterns, number patters and shape patterns, identified pattern rules, extended patterns by 5 or more terms, filled in the missing terms in a number pattern, created and solve problems using a t-chart, and even solved word problems… all in a week’s time! I am hoping to do another day or two of patterning next week and then administer a short quiz to use in addition to their culminating task.
In Science, I launched our unit on changes and properties of matter. Despite having to do some classroom management, the lesson when over fairly well. The students jotted down things that came to mind when they heard the term “matter”, watched a video introducing them to the topic, provided examples of solids, liquids, and gases found within our classroom (written on sticky notes and posted on chart paper), and completed a K-W-L chart about “matter”. The K-W-L chart in particular brought to my attention some misconceptions about what matter is and what constitutes a solid, liquid, and gas. I’m glad I started with this activity as a form of formative assessment so that I am able to clearly assess where their learning is at and how I should proceed with my unit.
Even in a school that has a great sense of community, bullying will always seem to surface. This week, we had a situation of bullying that involved a large number of my students. After dealing with the situation and having the students talk it through with the principal, my Associate Teacher showed the class this incredible spoken word poetry video that led to a great discussion. The opportunities for discussion are endless and, truly, the video speaks for itself:
On Friday, we had an in-school Professional Development day that was jam packed. We had a staff meeting, delved deeper in to the Mathematics curriculum, and explore the areas of Math that should be deep- and light-study for each of our grades. While all of this was a great learning experience, I had THE MOST FUN learning about coding and using some robots! Check out my twitter explosion about these cool gadgets:
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 information I’ve collected about your practicum class definitely informs my goal-setting and planning. There are a lot of considerations to take into account when looking at my classroom makeup. I have students who are new to the country and have very low levels of English. I have other students who are on IEPs in various subjects, including Language and Mathematics. There are other students who have medical considerations, such as ADHD, that sometimes acts a distraction for the student themselves and the peers around them. I also have students who, for one reason or another, come to school in a bad mood and find it hard to follow instructions or get excited about the learning at hand. As teachers, we are to take each of these “ingredients”, mix them together, and bake a healthy, well-rounded cake… or responsible students and citizens.
Knowing everything that I have learned about my class, my planning and goal-setting will most definitely be directed to meet the needs of my students. For example, there are some students who are reluctant to partake in group work, whether it be because of the people they are asked to work with or the task that they are asked to work on. A goal that my Associate Teacher and I have been working towards is developing a classroom culture that embraces group work. We have brainstormed different ideas of what positive group work should look like, discussed and role played different situations involving group work, debriefed with the class about how a period of group work went, and celebrated the successes that positive group work accomplished. With that being said, I will continue to work towards developing a positive culture of group work in my classroom while also remaining reluctant to avoid group work altogether.
My student’s academic levels vary widely from one another. For example, there is a span PM Benchmarks that range from 1 to 30+, which is essentially the entire system (most fall between 19 to 30). This is where differentiation is key. I will have to get creative with my planning, ensuring that all reading abilities are accommodated for during a singular task. This does not just account for Language class; reading comprehension is needed in all disciplines, including Mathematics. In order to account for differentiating my lessons for each student, I have adopted an inquiry-based, deep learning approach to education.
The concepts of problem-based learning, inquiry-based learning, and deep learning are all practices that I hope to implement into my own teaching. I am passionate about teaching student to enjoy learning and fun, engaging, and innovative approaches to education are what draw this passion out of students. “Doing to learn”, rather than “learning to do” is such an important perspective on education. Student-driven learning is deep learning, which my why currently in my practicum, I am implementing a Genius Hour. For 1 hour every Wednesday that I am there, the students get to learning whatever they want! Well, as long as it has been proposed and approved by me. The students are just started to research answers to the questions they had about their chosen topics and are documenting their learning in a research log book. Eventually, students will create a presentation or a product and teach their peers about their chosen topic. Students thus far have been engaged and are learning to learn on their own; they pose a question and answer it on their own. This will be a truly immersive learning experience for the students that hopefully equate to deep learning.
My second week of practicum was full of creative instructional lessons, some “interesting” student behaviour, and many learning moments. I was fortunate enough to experience a school assembly that introduced the Terry Fox Run to our students, and I even got to participate in my first Meet the Teacher Night! Let’s go through my week moment by moment.
My first takeaway from my week is just how creative my associate teacher is with his lessons. He is able to take a concept and introduce it in a number of ways to ensure that every student understands and succeeds, while also having fun. An example of this is how we was able to integrate Math, Language, and Religion into one lesson. First, he taught the students how to find a reading in the Bible by looking up the book, chapter, and verse. Next, the students were to read two parables, each discussing the topic of loss (Luke 15: 1-10). This led to a discussion about the meaning of the parable and the lesson we can draw from it. Following this discussion, students answered math questions that combined the religious parables with our fraction unit.
Finally, to integrate it into our Langauge lesson, students used chrome books to write a story about their own experiences of “loss”. Talk about an integrated and well-structured lesson!
Later in the week, my associate teacher created Language stations that revolved around stories from my favourite author: Dr. Seuss! He formed 6 groups of 4 students and had them read together through a different Dr. Seuss book. At the conclusion of the book, students were given a handout to fill out which had them practicing their narrative writing skills by describing the beginning, middle, and end of the story. As with all Seuss books, there are important (and genius) underlying messages that the students had to discover. Lastly, to tie the lesson into Religion, the students had to choose a character and identify whether they exhibited a Catholic Graduate Expectation or not. Pretty comprehensive lesson if you ask me!
This week also marked my first time teaching a lesson while using the full functionality of a SMART Board! The students seemed to be engaged and remain interested in the topic throughout the duration of my lesson. The SMART Board allowed for students to participate in the lesson, and in all honesty, it forced me to make my teaching more student-centred in that they were able to write on the board and teach their peers. The extra student engagement even allowed me to go deeper into equivalent fractions, a concept that we were exploring for the first time, than expected.
Another neat little tidbit I learned from my other associate teacher is that the Ottawa Catholic School Board released a series of “Language wheels” that outlined the variations among each grade level. Board members found that with there being so many different types of writing that needs to be covered each year, teachers were focusing on some more than other. In theory, this is fine; however, when teachers year after year are focusing on the same types, then students find the others more difficult later in their educational careers. Therefore, these wheels were developed to outline which types of writing should be focused on (In-Depth Study) and which should be reviewed (Light Study) for each grade. Here is an example of the wheel and how writing should be varied between Grade 4 and Grade 5:
Meet the teacher night was a great experience, especially as a Teacher Candidate. These are the types of events that you aren’t taught about in school and are usually left to figure it out on your own. I loved getting to see how teachers prepared their rooms throughout the week in anticipation of the parents. With our school being more in the urban setting, teachers were unsure of how many parents would actually attend. However, I was pleasantly surprised when I saw a crowd of parents and students join us for our welcome barbecue and later wandering the halls of our school. It is definitely an interesting thing to meet the parents of your students. It allows you to gain a holistic idea of the student, seeing where they came from and who they go home to. It’s almost like meeting the students’ “other parents”.
You might have noticed the little numbers on the books above. These books are part of the PM Benchmark system that my school uses to determine student reading level and comprehension. It is a great system that has students to read aloud to a teacher and answer some recall questions about the story. I have continued to complete these assessments throughout my Wednesday visits to the school and its a great way to develop a deeper understanding of the student’s Language ability.
Another great moment from the week was when Mrs. Pickett came into our Grade 5/6 split class with her keyboard and amazing vocals. The students sang along to “Open The Eyes Of My Heart”, which had both English and French sections. It was great to see just how engaged the students were, and how memorized they were with the keyboard. I look forward to seeing our students have more music classes in the weeks to come!
Many people have the same question when it comes to discussing education: What is assessment and what value does it hold? Christopher R. Gareis and Leslie W. Grant, authors of “Teacher Made Assessment”, speak to the value of assessment and why it has merit in the education system. Curriculum is an important part of teaching, in that it outlines the specific learning expectations per subject in grade-level increments. Instruction is where the teaching comes to life. Teachers take the curriculum topics and provide opportunities for students to learn this knowledge. But how do we know that the students have truly learned from these lessons? To what degree have they learned the topic? This is where assessment comes in.
Figure 1.1 displays the three components of student learning (curriculum, instruction, assessment) in a simple metaphor: a stool. Curriculum is what information is being taught, instruction is how we teach this knowledge, and assessment is the nature and degree of student learning. The imagery of the stool metaphor speaks volumes in that student learning can only be stable when all three components are present. Without assessment, education becomes a one-way, teacher-to-student transfer of information with no expectation or accountability of actually learning.
In my experience as a student, I always feared assessment, but understood its value. Assessment typically becomes a grade, which can be intimidating and stress-provoking for many students. Without assessment, though, how does a teacher know we’ve learned? Also, what is the point of learning if we don’t put it into action? Assessment provides us with that opportunity to use our learning to complete a task.
Now, as a teacher, I find myself spending a lot of brain power into creating the assessment component of any lesson or unit. What do I actually want my students to get out of this? How are they going to show me that they’ve learned the information? How can I assess my students without scaring the you-know-what out of them? Assessment serves an important purpose. Let’s continue to explore assessment so that our students learning remains as stable as a stool.
As I enter into the second year of my Bachelor of Education, we are further deepening our understanding of curriculum and assessment. Curriculum and assessment are at the core of the teaching profession; without competency in this realm, students will not have the most fruitful education. Growing Success, a document released by the Ministry of Education, outlines seven fundamental principles of assessment. In our class of Teacher Candidates, we explored the possibilities of these principles and shared our experiences relating to each principle in our own teaching.
Teachers use practices and procedures that…
What are the possibilities?
What did you see in the classroom?
Are fair, transparent, and equitable for all students
· Fair does not necessarily mean equal
· Differentiation is key
· Criteria-based assessment, both for- and of-
· Supporting students
· Learning goals and assessment criteria
· Student-made expectations (displayed in an anchor chart)
· Examples of past work that students will be working towards
· Graffiti activity for Catholic Graduate Expectations and how students will achieve these
Support all students, including those with special education needs, those who are learning the language of instruction (English or French), and those who are First Nation, Metis, or Inuit
· Providing additional support
· Additional time to complete tasks
· Create diverse learning spaces
· Modified curriculum and tasks
· Varied teaching practices and assessment
· Speech-to-text learning
· Centre-based learning
· Environment: Seating charts and modifications (exercise balls, body breaks)
· Tools: Diagnostic (PM Benchmarks) and reading IEPs
Are carefully planned to relate to the curriculum expectations and learning goals and, as much as possible, to the interests, learning styles and preferences, needs, and experiences of all students
· Backwards design, well-prepared lessons
· Knowing your curriculum
· Student-driven learning
· Relate Geography lessons to the locations that the students are from
· Class shows a strength in Language, use to advantage in subjects like Math
· Cross-curricular lessons and activities
· Writing on topics related to students that ties in literacy concepts
· Providing manipulatives and various ways to solve a problem, while also providing extensions for the students that can take their solutions further
Are communicated clearly to students and parents at the beginning of the school year or course and at other appropriate points throughout the school year or course
· Open communication
· Good rapport with parents (leads to ongoing communication)
· Remind App to communicate directly with the students’ parents
· Google Classroom, Calendar, and Mail that the students and parents both have access too
· Regular use of agenda
· Use of school board personnel that can translate during conversations with parents who do not speak English
· Family Math activities that are sent home to build learning environment with family
Are ongoing, varied in nature, and administered over a period of time to provide multiple opportunities for students to demonstrate the full range of their learning
· Variety of teaching methods
· Staggered units and assessment to avoid overwhelming students
· Seeing the student’s work change with further instruction during unit (structures changing based on concepts discussed, i.e. use of triangles)
Provide ongoing descriptive feedback that is clear, specific, meaningful, and timely to support improved learning and achievement
· Anecdotal records
· Preparing students for the summative assessment
· Success Criteria (met/not met yet feedback)
· Gradual Release Model
· Comments on work that students turn in (strengths, next steps)
· Being aware of the students’ learning process and how they came to their end product, rather than just evaluating their final assessment
Develop students’ self-assessment skills to enable them to assess their own learning, set specific goals, and plan next steps for their learning
· Student-centred learning
· Class Survey: Thumbs up if the student understands
· Refer back to anchor charts for the learning processes
· Students editing or critiquing each other’s work
· Students building off of each other’s ideas during class discussions
“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!