February 6

Successful Instructional Strategies and Teaching Practices

Reflecting on your teaching style is difficult. Choosing 5 specific practices to focus your reflection upon is even more difficult.

If you talk to any educator, they will tell you that self-reflecting is one of the most important aspects of education. It allows us to critically examine our self and our actions, determining what works well and what needs to change. I’ve only been formally teaching for a short while now, but I have complied a list of 5 practices that I have found to be successful in various aspects of day-to-day teaching! I hope that you find merit in learning more about these strategies and how I’ve implemented them into my teaching. As with any strategy, it is important to determine what works well with your students and to implement methods that lead to the success of all students.

As always, I am interested in learning from my peers and growing my PLN, so tweet me (@spencerburtonca) or leave a comment below outlining some of your successful instructional strategies and practices!

Choice Boards

A choice board is a graphic organizer that allows students to decide which method they will use to demonstrate their learning. Choice boards offer students a series of activities or tasks that the student can complete, focusing on their specific learning needs, interests, and abilities. Students decide which activity they are most comfortable or interested in completing, giving them ownership over their own learning. Choice boards are can be easily adapted for each subject and grade level, making it a reliable instructional strategy for all teachers to utilize.

Choice boards are a great assessment strategy to use, especially when designing a culminating task. The level of difficulty of the activities can vary or stay consistent, which makes it a great way to differentiate a project to meet the needs of all learners. There are also a number of ways that a teacher can facilitate a choice board: teachers can have students choose to complete only 1 square, complete 3 activities in a row (tic-tac-toe style), or complete all of the activities on the board. Another way to elevate the amount of choice available to the student is to leave one of the squares blank, allowing them to create and complete their own task that matches the difficulty level of the other activities.

I have found this to be an effective method of assessment in my own practice. The students that sometimes sit there “blankly” while they try to think of where to start are relieved to see the amount of activities they can choose from. This saves students a lot of time coming up with what to do and allows them to dive right into the work at hand, while still ensuring that their ability to choose is not negated. I have found that the final products are much more enjoyable to assess and provide feedback on, given that they are so varied and unique in their own ways.

Choice boards are truly an excellent way to increase student ownership of learning within the classroom. The Ministry of Education explains that “greater student involvement in their own learning and learning choices leads to greater student engagement and improved achievement” (Learning for All, 2013). The wide variety of student products ensure that the teacher is providing authentic feedback to each student, in that they must look at each unique piece of student work and critically examine it for what it is (rather than falling into the trap of comparing it to work from other students).

Brain Breakfast

Brain Breakfast is a strategy that I learned during my practicum experience at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Elementary school. This practice is a daily activation component of a Math or Language lesson (whichever occurs during the first period of the day). The theory behind the name is that we eat breakfast to energize our brains and to get our bodies activated for the day ahead. We this in mind, the Brain Breakfast activity gets the student’s brains thinking and ready to work for the school day.

Essentially, Brain Breakfast is a critical thinking warm-up activity. The activity is printed on a half-sheet of paper, glued into the students’ notebook, and completed by the student individually. The activity can take a number of different forms. In Language, the students could be provided with a quickwrite prompt that gets them focused on a new concept that will be introduced in the coming lesson or to review the material from the previous class. In Math, students could be provided with some computational questions (multiplication, division, etc.) to reinforce these concepts or a word problem that challenges them to use concepts from the previous class. In either subject area, EQAO questions could be used by removing the multiple choice answers, helping students to get used to the format and wording of these types of questions while also developing critical thinking skills.

The Ministry of Education encourages creating “an educational culture based on individual and collective ownership of the learning, achievement, and well-being of all students” (Learning for All, 2013). I believe the Brain Breakfast practice helps to achieve this culture in that it provides students with individual learning opportunities that teachers can easily collect, provide feedback, and use as assessment for learning. It also helps to protect the well-being for all students by giving students time to collect their thoughts and answer the question independently before the learning is consolidated as a class. Brain Breakfast not only activates the students minds, but it also provides them with a calm and consistent transition into the classroom at the beginning of each day.

Number Talks

In my opinion, number talks should be regular component of every Math classroom. Number talks are essentially a classroom conversation around a purposefully selected computation problem, lasting less than fifteen minutes. Students develop and use mental math strategies to solve their computation on their own before being asked to share with the class. When communicating their thinking to their classmates, the focus is less on the final answer and more on the strategy that the student used to reach that answer. When students present and justify solutions to the problem, it leads to the development of more accurate, efficient, and flexible strategies that their peers can use to solve future problems.

During most number talks, students gather close to a SMART Board or chart paper, on which the teacher presents the question. Students are given time to use mental math to come up with an answer and once they have, they display a thumbs up on their chest. This not only gives the teacher an idea of who has come up with an answer to the question, but it also provides some diagnostic information about the speed and efficiency to which students are able to come with an answer. Once a good amount of students have found an answer, they are encouraged to share their strategies with their class (as the teacher scribes) while also continuing to develop efficient strategies that others present.

I have found that number talks are an important way for teachers to learn about their students’ mental math strategies, which are not typically assessed in computational subjects such as Math. Mental math is crucial for being efficient when solving problems, ensuring that the students are not simply relying on memorized procedures and formulas. I also appreciate the model of number talks, in that it allows me to assume a different role in the classroom. A primary goal of number talks is to help students make sense of math concepts by building on mathematical relationships, which is accomplished by having them use their own strategies and building a repertoire of strategies from their peers. Therefore, the teacher’s role must shift from being the individual imparting information and confirming correct answers at the front of the classroom to assuming the roles of facilitator, questioner, listener, and learner.

A positive and respectful school community is essential for the academic and personal success of each student. This type of community is achieved when all students feel safe, included, and accepted and when teachers model and encourage positive behaviour. The Ministry’s resource Promoting a Positive School Climate states that the “principles of equity and inclusive education are embedded in the learning environment to support a positive school climate and a culture of mutual respect” (Promoting a Positive School Climate, 2013). Creating a cohesive classroom community is essential for facilitating an effective number talk, especially since we are asking students to take risks by sharing their thinking and strategies with their peers. Students should be comfortable in offering responses for discussion, questioning themselves and their peers, and investigating new strategies without the risk of failing or being ridiculed.


Circles are a simple and effective platform for students to learn while building positive relationships with their classmates and teacher. Rooted out of First Nation practices, circles have students sitting without desks in an arrangement that has them able to see and hear each of the people in the group. The use of circles within the classroom setting helps to support the holistic well-being of each student. Early on in the year, I have experienced circles that are used to outline what students need in order to be successful in their learning and how they can make those needs a reality. This essentially takes the place of a teacher outlining the rules and guidelines of the classroom, providing ownership to the students and asking for their voice and contributions. This works to ensure that each student is heard and that their environment is built upon the well-being of the student population.

Circles can also be used for those inevitable times when conflict occurs. The Ministry of Education promotes the use of circles during restorative justice/practice on the belief that humans are “more likely to make positive changes in their behaviour when those in positions of authority do things with them, rather than to them or for them” (Caring and Safe Schools in Ontario, 2010). By having students sit in a circle, they are placing themselves on an equal level with each other and the adults that are facilitating the circle. By allowing for each student’s voice to be heard, the students are able to reflection on the impact of their own behaviour on everyone else present. This helps to achieve the safe schools and positive mental health components of student well-being by providing the opportunity to develop empathy, mutual respect and shared accountability.

Students have many incredible ideas. By providing them with a safe and supportive learning environment to share these ideas, especially in the format of a circle, the class can learn to contribute ideas, build upon each other’s knowledge, encourage cooperation, and ultimately improve communication skills. If the students feel that a part of their well-being is not being met within the school environment, circles provide the class with an opportunity to not only voice this concern, but to collaborate and create solutions that directly impact their lives. In an overall sense, this encourages students to take greater responsibility for their learning and well-being.

In a lighter sense, circles can be used as a fun time to introduce new activities and games, which I have seen as a great tool to start off the week. The quickest way to form a positive community is through laughter, so providing an opportunity for students to engage in a fun activity that can make them laugh will definitely have a positive impact on their well-being. These activities and games will also help to develop positive social and emotional skills, self-esteem, and a positive self-image. By starting off the week with a circle that allows students to share what they did on their weekend and giving them an activity to work on together, a cohesive and respectful classroom community can be formed and strengthened.

Co-Created Success Criteria

Success criteria are an important and successful way of communicating the academic expectations for a given task to students. This concept has developed by engaging students in the process of defining the learning goals and outlining what success looks like. This idea of co-creating success criteria is a great way to encourage students to use assessment vocabulary while also making them more aware of identifying what is expected of them given any assessment description. It also encourages the concept of students taking ownership of their own learning and deciding what the focus of assessment should be on.

A specific example of how I have co-created success criteria with my students is during a descriptive writing unit with a Grade 5 class. After exploring what the various facets of descriptive writing, I asked my students to define what quality descriptive writing looks like. Using their feedback, I created an anchor chart for the classroom that the students could refer back to throughout their learning. We took the concepts on an anchor chart and developed a chart that was included on the students’ culminating writing task outline. Additionally, I was able to adapt these success criteria into a self-assessment chart that the students could utilize throughout their writing and editing process.

I have found that this process helped my students and I to reach a common understanding of the criteria that they would be assessed on. This helped to focus my own assessment while also ensuring that the students were completely aware of what they were being assessed on and why. Rubrics have value when it comes to assessment, but they are sometimes difficult for students to identify what is expected of them and they may be overwhelmed with the varying levels. Co-creating success criteria provides students with a sense of ownership over their learning and a comprehensive understanding what quality work looks like.

The Ministry of Education’s Growing Success is a strong advocate of including students in the creating of success criteria. The document explains that “teachers can ensure that students understand the success criteria by […] directly involving them in identifying, clarifying, and applying those criteria in their learning” (Growing Success, 2010). By including students in the process, the wording of the success criteria is clearly understood by students and they are able to develop an understanding of what quality means in their own work.

January 17

Promoting Student Well-Being Through Sport

Extracurricular school initiatives are an important part of providing a holistic educational experience to our students. Schools have the ability to providing additional programming (outside of curriculum documents) that students would benefit from. I’ve seen many great programs run in schools, such as games clubs (develops social skills and critical thinking), knitting club (a new skill), and art club (visual art classes run by a professional). Each extracurricular program seeks to engage students on a new level and take their learning to a place that traditional classroom learning may not.

During my second practicum experience, I worked alongside my fellow Teacher Candidates and my Associate Teacher to implement an intramural program at our elementary school. This initiative was beneficial for all students (in more ways than one) and helped to foster a stronger sense of community within the school. If you haven’t introduced Tchoukball to your students, YOU MUST! It is such a fun and interactive game that helps to foster teamwork, collaboration, sportsmanship, and strategy without the requirement of too much athleticism.

A surface benefit of our intramural initiative was to promote health and well-being in our students. Giving a space to participate in or try various sports would ideally encourage the continuation of these activities outside of school.  In the school yard, it is a reality that some students may be excluded from participating in physical activities they enjoy because of limited space or age barriers. Our program sought to provide a safe and supportive environment for students of all ranges of athleticism. Our program aimed to instill characteristics such as teamwork, sportsmanship, communication, and perseverance. These are useful skills that we hope for all students to carry into the future, whether in classrooms, at home, or in the working world.

Our proposed program was not only advantageous to our students, but it also allowed for personal growth amongst myself and my peers. Throughout this process, I gained valuable experience in coaching students, fostering sportsmanship, and facilitating an extracurricular activity. I worked with my Associated Teacher to set rules for safe-play, enforce the rules of the game during intramurals, organized the teams, and created a schedule of games. In this environment, I found myself more able to relate to students outside of the classroom setting, making interactions less formal and building a stronger, more holistic rapport with each student.

The driving force behind the initiation of our intramural program was a “healthy body, healthy mind” philosophy, where improving the students’ physical health will in turn increase their academic performance. This initiative also proved to diversify the students’ social circles (the teams were assembled with students from Grades 4, 5, and 6) and encouraged respect for each other, as evident in their cheering for one another. Being utilized at a Catholic school, this program was intended to guide students towards the fulfillment of specific Catholic Graduate Expectations. Examples of such expectations would be to develop students as collaborative contributors, caring community members, reflective and creative thinkers, as well as a self-directed, responsible, life-long learner.

Being in an urban school, many of the students do not have the means or access to extracurricular sports and activities. As such, our program allowed the students to participate in organized sports while at school. Ideally, attracting students to school through sports will make them more motivated and excited to come to school, giving them something to look forward to. We found that having intramurals also contributed to creating a deeper sense of community within the school; between classmates or individuals.

I truly enjoyed the process of creating and implementing an extracurricular program, especially one that fosters school community, student well-being, and ultimately fun! I hope to be able to engage in similar initiatives throughout my career and to be the driving force behind new and innovative ways to enhance our student’s educational experience.

December 20

45 Lessons I Learned from Student Teaching

I have a confession to make: I am someone who tends to reflect on the negative situations that occur before appreciating the positive lessons I’ve gained. I find that from negative experiences come valuable learning opportunities, that is, once you have deciphered them from the muddy situation at hand. I found this to be something I did often during my first student teaching experience… Why did that lesson not go the way I had planned? Why did that student talk to me the way they did? Why didn’t everyone finish their project today? These were all questions I pondered once the school day was over, as I tried to find reasons and explanations during my own personal reflection. However, thinking back now, I mainly remember the amazing moments I had during my student teaching placement: the lessons I taught that went over well, the many laughs I shared with my students, and the incredible projects that  my students submitted.

Reflection is a huge part of personal improvement. I try every day to be better than the last, especially when it comes to my teaching. That is why for my last student teaching experience, I challenged myself to write 1 takeaway lesson at the end of each school day – good, bad, or otherwise! Although there were obviously many lessons I learned throughout each day, I stuck to my initial challenge of 1 per day. Thus, my list of 45 lessons I learned from student teaching was born.


1) First days can be hard for both students and teachers.

2) Structure, expectations, and routine are crucial components of classroom management.

3) Physical Education not only gets students moving, but it gets them engaged.

4) Fellow teachers have AMAZING ideas – utilize their knowledge and experience!

5) Number Talks do not only strengthen mental math and efficiency, but also numeric vocabulary.

6) A staggering amount of students in urban schools do not, or are unable to, participate in after school clubs or activities.

7) ADHD can cause a learning impairment for the student and their classmates if not supported properly.

8) Dr. Seuss is a genius and his stories can provide valuable lessons to both students and adults.

9) Students recognize the difference between “strict” and “fair”. Even when you might feel like you’re being strict, the students understand where you are coming from.

10) If you can make students care about the subject matter, they will be more engaged, produce higher-quality work, and learn more.

11) Genius Hour is a great form of inquiry-based learning and fosters deep learning through student engagement.

12) Know your students – find out what their interests are and use those topics to generate examples that engage students and ensure comprehension.

13) Offering a variety of approaches to the same subject matter provides an engaging and holistic educational experience.

14) Out of seemingly nowhere, your students will produce something that blows you away.

15) A lot can be said about the importance of teaching and demonstrating time management skills.

16) When all hell breaks loose, there will always be something that ends of making you smile.

17) Despite being friends with almost everyone in the class, students still get nervous during presentations, and that’s OK!

18) Field trips, like We Day, are great opportunities for students to learn outside of their classroom.

19) Revisiting a lesson that didn’t go over well the first time allows the teacher to correct their mistakes and the students to correct theirs.

20) Celebrate your victories and successes, no matter how big or small.

21) Some days, your students will blow you away when you least expect it.

22) Mentor teachers can build you up, make you feel confident, and prepare you to be a great teacher!

23) A built rapport with your students takes time, but pays off by saving time on classroom management.

24) Racism happens at all ages. Sexism happens at all ages. Bullying happens at all ages. Teachers must be ready to educate their students about these sensitive topics.

25) Coding is a fun and interactive way to teach Math and Science to students of any age.

26) You can still be a fun and easy-going teacher and expect respect from your students; one does not negate the other.

27) Each teacher has their own approach and philosophy of teaching; none are wrong, but it is about finding one that works for you.

28) Games in the classroom can get rowdy, but that just means that they are having fun while learning.

29) Many students struggle with transitions, so make sure you educate and prepare students with the skills necessary to make them as smooth as possible.

30) Teaching students to celebrate other students’ successes is difficult, but a necessary life skill to know.

31) Teachers must be very adaptable and be ready for anything to happen or change at any time.

32) Snow days are a whole new kind of crazy, but they make you reminisce on how AWESOME they were as a kid.

33) When you don’t feel your best, you cannot be your best. Self-care is so important.

34) Being evaluated only makes you better, even when you are a teacher.

35) Preparing an assembly for the entire school takes a lot of work, but the students (and teacher) feel so fulfilled when it’s over.

36) Don’t shy away from telling the class what you thought of their behaviour – good or bad – and holding them accountable.

37) Catholic liturgies and masses supplement the students’ education with faith, morals, and purpose.

38) There will be days that make you feel defeated; vent, find a silver lining, and laugh at what got you so down in the first place.

39) Physical Education should promote a healthy lifestyle, but through fun and play. Kin-Ball is the ultimate example of this!

40) What makes students want to learn? Kahoots!

41) Bus cancellations give you the opportunity to connect further with each student, allowing for more individualized attention and teaching.

42) The bond and respect gained through helping a student through a difficult situation is invaluable.

43) There are no bad kids, just kids to who sometimes make the mistake of doing bad things.

44) Don’t allow yourself to get caught up in the politics of teaching. Remember why you are there and what your passion and purpose is.

45) Kids are AWESOME! Teaching is a privilege and the best vocation in the world.

December 17

Year 2 Practicum Reflection: Week #8

Just like that, the final week of my evaluated practicum has come to an end! It has been a long journey getting to this point, full of long nights of planning and marking, and many visits to the online world of education. I guess this is what being a teacher is all about!

The week started off with a bus cancellation… Welcome to Ottawa! We joined two classes together and worked on some language throughout the morning. The first thing the students did was read an article and answer some comprehension and inference questions using the website readworks.org. This is a very neat tool in that it lets you assign a specific article and the teacher gets to view the responses and success rate for each student.

Later in the morning, we gave each student a chromebook and had them begin writing a story about the Christmas/winter season. In 5 minute intervals, the students would write and then pass off the chromebook to someone else. That person would continue the story and so on and so forth until we’ve had about 5 students write on the same story. We wrapped up the activity by reading some of the final products and it was fun to see how the story took a different turn with each new contributor.

This week in particular was full of culminating tasks. I had the students work on a descriptive writing task that had them creating and describing their own robot, something which I had modeled for them a week or two earlier. Their creativity was definitely flowing and their robots turned out really well. I made my way around the classroom and allowed the students to read me their descriptive writing to see whether or not I could draw their robot, which proved to be a great way to enforce editing and revision in their work. Here is the task description and the success criteria that I provided to the students:


Another culminating task that we worked on in Science was a hands-on, inquiry-based experiment. We surprised the students by taking them out of the classroom and visiting the “secret science laboratory” in the school: the staff room! The students were so excited to enter into the staff’s territory and conduct their own messy experiment. I had step-by-step instructions, a P-O-E chart (predict, observe, explain), and materials set up in stations around the room and the students worked in groups of 3 to create Oobleck Slime. I found this task to be very intuitive for the students, since the slime is a solid when pressure is applied and a liquid when there is no pressure. THIS is what science is all about!

This week was filled with advent-related activities! I facilitated an advent lesson where students in groups of 4 read one of many advent stories from the bible together as a group. They discussed its meaning and at what point during advent it took place. As a group, the students created a placemat with 4 sections: re-tell the passage, God’s meaning, a Catholic Graduate Expectation that is present, and a picture of the scene.


Students also performed for their parents in a wonderful presentation of Once Upon a Starry Night. There were lights, costumes, actors, and a choir… It truly felt like we were at a theatre performance!

We also had a advent mass in our gymnasium, which was beautiful and set the mood for the advent season.

On the last day of my placement, I was given a wonderful gift from all of the students that I had taught throughout my placement: my morning grade 5s, my afternoon grade 5/6s, and my after school grade 4/5/6s! They gave me a copy of my all time favourite book “The Giving Tree”, which had lovely messages written inside from the students and my associate teachers.

I am very thankful for every experience that I had at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Elementary School. There were some tough days and many good days. There were some moments where I felt down-and-out, and some moments where I felt incredible, like I was making a difference in the lives of others. There were some days where I experienced some tough situations of bullying, and some days where I laughed with all of my students. This is growing up. This is education. This is teaching.

December 10

Year 2 Practicum Reflection: Week #7

To think that these next two weeks will be the last evaluated teaching experience I’ll have until I’m actually employed… I’ve come a long way as a teacher and have learned so much about education over the last year and a half. I’ve had my high points, where I have made a personal connection with a student or have seen a student exclaim, “ I GET THIS NOW!”. I’ve also had my fair share of lows, with periods of self-doubt, with phone calls home, and with personal prayer and reflection. Teaching is like a rollercoaster: the climb is nerve-wracking, the twists and turns will make you second guess your decision, but the thrill is something that you cannot find elsewhere.

At the After School Program, we had the Junior and Primary students team up again, but this time they were going to make festive decorations for the hallway. We gave them lots of paper, objects to trace, glue, and scissors, and they came up with some amazing creations. Now our hallway feels like a winter wonderland, complete with snowmen and reindeer.

We put a lot of emphasis on patterning this week so that we could wrap up that stand for now and move on to another concept. The students reviewed everything that we had learned in preparation for the assessment. On the morning of the test, we had a interactive activity that had students working in teams to identify a pattern rule and extend it as far as they could in a 2-minute period. After the 2 minutes were up, the timer rang and the students rotated to the next station and extended the previous team’s work. They had a blast collaborating and seeing how far they could extend each pattern.

Later that morning, while the students were out for recess, a little elf (Mr. Burton) went around to each desk and left a little something for each student to calm their nerves before the test.

This week in Phys. Ed., I was exposed to a new game by my Associate Teacher. She spoke about this massive ball that the kids could throw around and immediately I was in. The game is called Kin-Ball and there are a number of different variations of what you could do with this (trust me, it came with an activity manual). To get the students used to the ball, we had them lay on their backs and pass the ball to the next person around the perimeter of the gym. There were some kinks with students getting to excited and throwing or kicking the ball, but that was all part of the process of getting them used to accomplishing a task with the ball.

Next, we had the students work together in teams to move the ball from one side of the gym to the other without using their hands. There were some very interesting strategies, but nevertheless, the students had to work together to accomplish a goal which always makes for a beneficial Phys. Ed. and life lesson.

In Science, I wrapped our lessons on matter and its changes by demonstrating some chemical and physical changes. I started with the typical baking soda and vinegar experiment, but I put a balloon on the top of the bottle to show the students that a chemical change did occur, since a gas was created and inflated the balloon. Next, I did a demonstration of elephants toothpaste, which had the students very intrigued. I made sure that my ingredients were a little calmer than called for in the recipe so that I wouldn’t have to mop up the classroom, but then I showed them the video of what it could look like:

The next class, we discussed physical changes and how they differed from chemical changes. We talked about crumpling up paper and cutting it into pieces and how this depicts a physical change, since the paper is still paper. Next week, we will move into a culminating task where the students will conduct an experiment on their own. I can’t wait to see the student-directed, inquiry-based learning that takes place!

I still cannot believe that next week will be my last 5 days of practicum… I am thankful for these experiences and the practical learning I’ve been exposed to. Seeing other teachers thrive in their element is inspiring and I cannot wait to be in their shoes one day.

December 3

Year 2 Practicum Reflection: Week #6

This week was busy, busy, busy! Let me jump right in to my weekly reflection…

The Primary and Junior students in our After School Program teamed up to decorate for the winter season. The room that we run this program out of is used by a number of different programs and clubs, so we wanted to make sure that it was nice a festive, especially leading up to the Christmas holidays. All of the students did a wonderful job creating intricate snowflakes that we hung around the classroom to make it look like it was snowing inside. Such a simple project with such wonderful results!

A week or two ago, our staff had a professional development session about coding, courtesy of Dr. Flinn from the Ottawa Catholic School Board. This week, she spent her days instructing our students on how to use the various coding equipment that we have available to us. And let me tell you… THEY LOVED IT! I’ve never seen a library so energetic and vibrant in my life! Our students rotated through stations and as a team, they worked together to code Spheros, build robots, solve puzzles, and accomplish tasks. I am really looking forward to seeing how far their learning will go with the use of coding.

Our alcohol unit is coming along nicely. The students have learned the important vocabulary and have sorted through the various short-term and long-term effects of alcohol. This week, we explored to topic of peer pressure and how it related to alcohol. The students knew what peer pressure was, but have never really thought of how it could influence someone to make a bad decision and drink underage or irresponsibly. I gave each student a piece of paper that read, “Have a drink!” and then gave a different reason, such as, “Everyone else is doing it!” or “No one is going to find out!”. The students paired up, and for 2 minutes, tried to pressure their partner into drinking alcohol. The other partner had to listen to the arguments and respond to them so that they could get out of the situation. After two minutes, the roles reversed. The discussion afterwards was rich and a lot of deep learning took place.

For the first time this year, I got to watch my Grade 5/6 students read with their reading buddies in Grade 2. They were enthusiastic about the opportunity and I was impressed at the bond the pairings made. Every student engaged in some great literacy development, especially when the older students encouraged the younger students to read on their own. It was an all-around great experience.

For our descriptive writing unit, I created a slideshow presentation of my student’s writing from a task they completed last week. I kept the students’ work anonymous and typed it up so that they all looked uniform. We read each of the descriptions, which was of the same scenic picture, and discussed how each piece of writing could be improved. We correlated this information with our hamburger rubric that we used when discussing the difference between a Level 1, 2, 3, and 4. This exercise produced some valuable learning for the students, especially since it was personal for them (being their own work).

I followed up the evaluative portion of my descriptive writing lesson with an interactive component. I had created a descriptive paragraph of a robot I found online. I read the description out loud to my students and, without showing them the image of the robot, had them draw it based on my writing. Afterwards, I revealed the image and we critiqued my descriptive writing based on how similar the robots looked. The students LOVED this activity – they got to draw AND critique the teacher’s work! Hopefully they keep their critiques in mind as they continue to work on their own descriptive writing.

The highlight of my week was our Friday assembly. Our class had the task of creating and delivering an assembly to the entire school introducing our Catholic Graduate Expectation that we will be focusing on in December. The difficult part about this was that, unfortunately, my Associate Teacher was absent for a lot of the planning, due to an illness. That meant the supply teacher and I would accept the task with open arms and do the best that we could.

I don’t want to toot my own horn, but I was really happy with the way that the assembly turned out! Our students had scripture reading about lifelong learning, having trust in God, and fulfilling our potential. We also had students sharing their own goals and aspirations, showing that you are never too young or old to want to accomplish something. We taught the school about adopting a growth mindset and welcoming the power of “yet” into our lives. The big finale was a video that our students recorded and put together! They went around the school and asked students and staff about something they would like to learn one day and something that they have learned recently. This truly made the assembly feel like a school community, shining light on everyone’s goals and dreams.

November 28

Year 2 Practicum Reflection: Week #5

Another week in the books! This week will be a memorable one for me for many different reasons. Firstly, my Associate Teacher had to get an operation done, meaning that yours truly is the full-time teacher for a two week period. While this came with some added apprehensions and stress, I feel like I transitioned well into the role and truly became a classroom teacher. And the best part is that the students have started to view and accept me in that role too!

This week, my Grade 5s have delved deeper in our patterning unit by identifying, extending, and predicting term patterns and numbers. I put together a patterning Kahoot that the students absolutely loved! Even with so much learning taking place, Kahoots always seem to bring out the fun and excitement in the lesson. The students are happy because they get to use technology and they also feel a sense of competition, which in my opinion furthers their overall performance.

On Tuesday, Our Lady of Mount Carmel started their intramural program, which is something that the student teachers at our school are taking the lead on. For the Grade 4-6 students, we’ve created a Tchoukball league. Tchoukball is a team sport that involves balls and trampolines… In other words, the students have a blast! I am looking forward to continuing the intramurals throughout the rest of my practicum.

In my health unit, our class has put together a lovely anchor chart that defines the key terms we have been working with. The students have had some really great input during our class discussions, which has furthered the learning in our unit.  An engaging lesson that I facilitated involved giving each student an effect and having them decide (with the help of their peers) whether the effect was a short-term or long-term effect of alcohol use. They did a great job differentiating between the two types of effects and together we created a lovely visual to refer back to. Next week, we will explore the concept of peer pressure, as it pertains to alcohol use.

In preparation for an assembly that my Grade 5s will be facilitating for the entire school, we explored the Catholic Graduate Expectation of being a “lifelong learner”. The topic of lifelong learning opened many opportunities for learning in our own classroom, including introducing “growth mindset” to the students. We watched some online cartoons, courtesy of Edmodo, that spoke about concepts like grit, the power of “yet”, and learning from your mistakes, all of which tie in wonderfully with lifelong learning. As a way to assess the students’ knowledge of the Catholic Graduate Expectation, I created a placemat activity that the students used to display their understanding. The results were impressive, so I had to take a few pictures to share:

Classroom and behaviour management is definitely something that I am getting a lot of exposure and experience to this practicum. For instance, there was a student in the hallway during class time that was clearly upset. He was walking from hook to hook, pulling off jackets and dumping the contents of backpacks on to the ground. Naturally, I stepped in, getting down on the student’s level and asking him what was going on. When the student didn’t respond, I asked him if the cartoon on his shirt was from Minecraft. Suddenly, the student’s eyes came back to life, and he explained that his shirt had superhero characters that were animated as if they were in Minecraft. Immediately, you could tell that the student felt remorse for the mess that he had made, but also knew that I was not going to get him in trouble or yell at him for what he had done. Together, we started to clean up the hallway and put things back where they belong. The principal and resource teacher, who were called to help out with the situation, saw that it had been deescalated and felt comfortable with me continuing to address the situation. This will definitely be a moment that I remember where I chose to first pay attention to the person before I made attention to the action.

November 20

Year 2 Practicum Reflection: Week #4

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:

And here’s me almost getting a Sphero to do long jump!

November 11

Year 2 Practicum Reflection: Week #3

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!



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!

November 1

Different Brains, Different Learners

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
  • Learning needs
  • Interests

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.