Before the Activity
This activity will focus on differentiating between accommodations and modifications. Additionally, it will challenge the player to consider various ways the learning can be accommodated or modified for students with specific needs. It is important that the players are familiar with the terms “accommodation” and “modification” and their definitions. As per the document The Individual Education Plan (IEP): A Resource Guide:
- “The term accommodations is used to refer to the special teaching and assessment strategies, human supports, and/or individualized equipment required to enable a student to learn and to demonstrate learning. Accommodations do not alter the provincial curriculum expectations for the grade” (pg 25)
- “Modifications are changes made in the age-appropriate grade-level expectations for a subject or course in order to meet a student’s learning needs. These changes may involve developing expectations that reflect knowledge and skills required in the curriculum for a different grade level and/or increasing or decreasing the number and/or complexity of the regular grade-level curriculum expectations” (pg. 25-26)
After these terms have been reviewed and a brief discussion around their importance in our inclusive classrooms has occurred, the group is ready to play “Cash Cab”. The facilitator can choose to have each individual play the game separately on their own devices, or as one large group.
Instructions to Play
- Open the Cash Cab PowerPoint file.
- Begin the game. It is recommended that the players are given a specified time to answer each question to ensure that the group stays on track.
- To check if an answer is correct, click the cursor inside the question box and the answer will appear. If the given answer is correct (meaning that it matches the answer that is displayed), click the green button on the bottom of the screen. If the given answer is incorrect, click red button on the bottom of the screen. It will direct you to the correct slide, given the number of strikes accumulated. If a question is answered incorrectly, a strike will be given. The strikes will be displayed in the box on the left-hand side of the screen. Three strikes and you are out of the cab!
- If 8 questions are answered correctly in a row, then the player can attempted the Red Light Challenge. Click the red box in the top right-hand corner to begin the timer. The player then has 30 seconds to answer the question by identifying the environmental accommodations present in the list. If the player answers correctly, click the green button on the bottom of the screen and award the player additional points.
- At the end of the game, the player can either choose to take the points they have earned or go double-or-nothing on the video bonus question. Points being awarded are at the discretion of the facilitator.
After the Activity
This activity will provide a good opportunity to challenge individuals on their knowledge of accommodations and modifications. This challenge should spark a rich dialogue about how to identify when an accommodation or modification is required, what accommodations or modifications are effective in which situations, and which students in our own learning environment may require additional supports. It is important to remind the players that decision making around implementing accommodations and modifications are based on the child’s individual and unique needs. Additionally, it is important to mention that accommodations and modifications should consistently be evaluated after they have been implemented (Are they effective? Are more supports required? Does the student still require the supports being provided?).
Fisher, Stacy. “Free PowerPoint Game Templates for Teachers.” The Balance. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 June 2017.
The Individual Education Plan (IEP): A Resource Guide. Toronto: Ministry of Education, 2004. Print.
(The proper transitions and animations did not work once I converted the PowerPoint file to Google Slides. If you wish to see the proper PowerPoint version, email or tweet me!)
In the case of Hannah on page 125 of Special Education in Ontario Schools, we learn about the continual behavioural incidences that occurred between nursery school and her current grade 4 year. Hannah always seemed to be on the move and would run until someone or something stopped her. She regularly blurts out anything on her mind. Hannah has a history of borrowing things without permission and failing to return the items until she is explicitly asked to do so. Hannah has a difficult time making connections with her classmates and often interferes with their learning during group work. This is becoming an increasing social issue, especially because Hannah seems to be unaware of how her actions are affecting (and annoying) her classmates. She has even been rejected from class fieldtrips for her past behaviour, even with her mother as a mentor. In grade 3, Hannah was diagnosed with ADHD, however, she is currently not medicated. With the untreated ADHD and subsequent behavioural issues, Hannah has been identified as lagging behind her peers academically. Hannah’s classmates and their parents have categorized her as a problem and refuse to accept her in social circles or group projects, which has led Hannah to become very emotional and distraught.
Hannah seems to be in a much better position to be successful in school, having learned some successful self-control skills at a camp specifically designed for individuals with ADHD. However, Hannah has a reputation now, and her classmates and the school community have an expectation of her negative behaviour. Given the information outlined above regarding Hannah’s behavioural issues, there are a number of supports and accommodations that must be put into place in order for Hannah to be successful:
It is important that classroom instruction is differentiated to meet Hannah’s current level of subject matter comprehension, ensuring that the work is not too advanced or unachievable given her current academic struggles. In an effort to capture and maintain Hannah’s attention throughout instructional periods, various forms of media (Chromebooks, magazines, YouTube videos) and visual aids (anchor charts, drawings, images) should be incorporated into lessons. Providing step-by-step instructions that are manageable and achievable within Hannah’s threshold of attention will ensure that she does not wander or become disengaged in her learning (Bennett et al, p. 126). It is also important to provide extra assistance at the beginning of a new activity so that she has goals and objectives outlined that she needs to achieve. Classroom instructions should be delivered in close proximity to Hannah so that the audio and visual distractions are limited and the focus is solely on the educator (Bennett et al, p. 126). Additionally, it is important that Hannah is provided with regular reinforcement and celebrations to motivate her, acknowledge her progress and achievements, and to show the other students that she is a valued member of the classroom community.
A suggested way that Hannah could appropriately channel her energy, especially during quiet work periods, is by having an exercise bike in the classroom or replacing her chair with a yoga ball. An important consideration when placing Hannah in the classroom is to ensure that windows or other highly stimulating areas in the classroom are considered and/or altered if distractions occur. It is also important that Hannah is placed in a location within the classroom in which she can stay focused at be successful, such as away from the classroom door and other areas of high traffic. However, it is also important that Hannah is not isolated from her peers in a study carrel or “solo” desk, given that she doesn’t have strong peer relationships as it is. It may even be of benefit to Hannah’s social connections to establish a peer mentor/buddy that Hannah could sit with. This student would naturally be a liaison between Hannah and the rest of her classmates, helping to reduce negative stigmas attached to her and to establish positive peer relationships. Following a discussion with Hannah about positive self-regulation strategies, an image of the Zones of Regulation could be taped to the corner of her desk so that she is consistently aware of her behaviour and is reminded of appropriate strategies (http://www.zonesofregulation.com). Hannah should also be allowed to listen to music during work periods in an attempt to keep her focused and avoid potential opportunities to distract her peers.
In direct correlation with the instructional accommodations, it is important to differentiate pieces of assessment to meet Hannah’s current level of comprehension. It is important to outline step-by-step instructions on all pieces of assessment so that Hannah has an outlined process that she must follow and items that she can check off once completed. In addition to the step-by-step instruction, the educator can create goals with Hannah in respect to deadlines and success criteria. A way to focus Hannah on the task at hand would be to assist her with organizing her work and thoughts at the beginning of the assessment (Bennett et al, p. 126). Frequent check-ins throughout the assessment process would ensure that Hannah is on task and understanding the content being explored. Incorporating visual aids would help to spark Hannah’s interest in the assessment and, ideally, engage her throughout the process.
There are a few other foreseen issues that Hannah may experience if these supports are not put into place. If a stable routine is not put into place, then the coping strategies that Hannah is working on may become difficult to utilize in unpredictable situations. However, once a classroom routine is established, Hannah will know when it is appropriate to do what (i.e. listen to music). It is almost important that while the educator must be flexible and adaptable given Hannah’s varying behaviours, firm expectations about appropriate classroom behaviour should be created and discussed with Hannah. This will allow her to become more self-aware of her behaviour and its ramifications, especially if teacher prompts have become exhausted.
This is a crucial time in Hannah’s academic development. It is imperative that her distractions are limited so that her academic achievement increases to a grade-appropriate level. Perhaps even more pressing is Hannah’s social development. As previously mentioned, she has established a negative reputation among her classmates and their parents. This can be very damaging for Hannah’s self-esteem and overall self-image. It is very important that the classroom teacher works with Hannah and her peers, through restorative justice and community building initiatives to mend Hannah’s relationships with her peers and provide her with a supportive and accepting social circle (Ministry of Education, p. 36). I believe that through the implementation of the suggested accommodations and considerations, Hannah can be set up for a successful academic and social development.
A Concept to Foster Self-Regulation & Emotional Control – Welcome. (n.d.). Retrieved May 19, 2017, from http://www.zonesofregulation.com/index.html
Bennett, S., Weber, K. J., Dworet, D., & Weber, K. J. (2008). Special education in Ontario schools. Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.: Highland Press.
Ontario Ministry of Education (2010). Caring and safe schools in Ontario: supporting students with special education needs through progressive discipline, kindergarten to grade 12. Toronto: Queens Printer for Ontario.
Can using labels and categories of exceptionality help move towards a more inclusive educational environment? Why are such labels important and needed by teachers? What are some of the issues with these labels of categorization?
When approaching the topic of labels and categories, I have conflicting feelings and opinions. Labels are used to help classify specific characteristics and behaviours as they relate to exceptionalities. This helps educators understand, predict, and support behaviours that are associated with the label given. I believe the main positive aspect of labels and categories is the understanding that follows. When educators are open to exploring the “background story” of their students, they begin to develop empathy and move towards a place of acceptance.
I have experienced situations where labels have either benefited or disadvantaged the person being labelled. Some students who have been given a label feel as though there is a neon light hanging above them with the name of that label; they feel as though that is all they are known as and are ostracized or viewed differently because of that. On the other hand, my cousin had been going through a very difficult time as a student both academically and socially, and was further conflicted because she didn’t know “why” she was different. When we eventually sought support and received her “label”, she felt as ease knowing that there was community of other students who were having similar experiences.
Last summer, I attended a conference with Community Living Cambridge where Norman Kunc delivered a keynote address about being different and how to support individuals who require it. Together with his wife, he created a Credo for Support which addresses how some people react to the labels and differences of others, and how you should respond instead. I highly suggest giving it a read here: http://www2.gnb.ca/content/dam/gnb/Departments/pcsdp-cpmcph/pdf/docs/CredoforSupport.pdf
When we make an effort to get to know each student on an individual basis, the label starts to dissolve and the true person comes into existence. Labels may help with the initial understanding of the student, but when we get to know them personally and are able to meet their needs, that is an inclusive education environment.
Once upon a time, many years ago, a young boy in Junior Kindergarten sat down at a table with his Kindergarten teacher. Together, they were filling out an introductory profile all about the student: everything from favourite colour, best friend, and names of family members. The final question the teacher asked the student was, “What would you like to be when you grow up?” Without missing a beat, the young boy said, “Teacher!” From then on, the boy stayed true to these words, doing everything needed throughout his life to make his statement a reality.
That young boy was me.
During the last three weeks, my life has come full circle. I walked back into the elementary school where I first said that I was going to become a teacher, but this time I was a student teacher. I was fulfilling my career choice that I said 20 years ago in this same building. With many of my past teachers cheering me on and welcoming me back into their community with open arms, I felt confident as I walked back into the same classroom that I was once a student.
I was fortunate enough to student teach in a Grade 7 classroom with a very energetic and innovative Associate Teacher. When I first walked into the classroom, the first thing I noticed was all of the great tools used by this active group of students. There were exercise bikes for the students to use, yoga balls that replaced the chairs, and even a plinko board!
Together, we co-taught some innovative activities that I hadn’t seen implemented in the classroom before. With both Grade 7 classes, the students were organized into small groups for an I3 project. I3 stands for Investigate, Invent, Innovate, and is essentially group-oriented Genius Hour. Students identify a problem or opportunity in their daily lives and then invent a product or processes to solve the problems, based on concepts they learn in class. The project has students integrate science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills and 21st Century competencies such as critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and communication in an effort to create an innovative product. These skills help students develop the abilities needed to succeed in a globally competitive workplace.
The students had some really great ideas! One group created a “Beard Bib”, which is essentially a disposable shelf that men can wear when shaving their beard so that the whiskers don’t fall all over the place. Another group created a felt bookmark that has a sliding arrow so that you can easily locate the page and the line that you left off at. Two students were working to create an electronic tape measure that records previous calculations so that you don’t have to remeasure or write your calculations down. These are just a few of the great ideas that the students were working on. This program will definitely help to spark the idea that will create the next generation’s Steve Jobs.
In Math, we explored fractions using a number of different approaches. We looked at lowest common multiples, greatest common factors, equivalent fractions, converting fractions into decimals and percentages, ordering fractions from least to greatest, and adding and subtracting fractions. The students have been working through an online learning program called Khan Academy which the students seem to really enjoy! Students work through various modules and complete challenges to gain points and, ultimately, learn.
Another digital tool that we used to teach fractions was Quizizz. This program is very much like Kahoot, but students work through the quiz independently, at their own pace, and the order of the questions get randomized so students don’t shout out all of the answers. It still ranks the students based on the number of answers correct and generates reports for the teacher to review. Quizizz is a great tool!
One of the highlights of my three-week placement was when we facilitated a classroom “breakout”, courtesy of BreakoutEDU. We printed off different clues relating to an alien invasion, used some invisible ink, posted some QR codes, and had maps scattered around the classroom. Using the various tools and clues, students had to discover the combinations to 4 different locks that were preventing the students from entering the box at the front of the room. We gave the students 45 minutes, played some “invasion” music, and watched the students problem solve and collaborate to find solutions to the riddles. We may have given the students a few extra minutes, but once they broke into the box, they were elated to find the candy that awaited them inside!
— Spencer Burton (@spencerburtonca) April 14, 2017
It is a weird feeling to walk through the halls of the school that you essentially spent 10 years of your life growing up in. You reminisce about your own educational experience as a student, the great teachers that you had, the fun activities that made you fall in love with learning, the sports that brought life to your school days, and the friendships that forever shaped you into the person you are today. School is way more than a building… more than an institution that we must attend. School is an opportunity for us to grow into the best possible version of ourself. I am so thankful that my vocation in life is to guide students on their personal journey of becoming the best version of themselves.
By: Spencer Burton, Louise Yeon, Chris Bannon, Graeme Shaw
Our group sought to discover more about the trends in education surrounding the topic of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples, as it is currently taught in the Ontario school system. Through our research we have recognized the importance of educating students about FNMI people, culture, and tradition. We found this topic to be very important to intermediate students, as they are in a period of their lives in which the formation of positive self-identity and self-esteem are at the forefront. We conducted research, distributed surveys, and interviewed education professionals to discover more about what is being taught in schools about FNMI culture, how it is being taught, what practices are being used in schools, and what else needs to be done to accurately and respectfully educate the next generation of Canadians about this topic.
In an attempt to find the answers to our questions, we created a documentary-style video about the current level of FNMI education in Ontario’s public school system. We selected a number of different individuals that we interviewed. This provided us with a holistic representation of our research. We spoke with students, asking what they knew about FNMI people and how they learned the information they knew. These student recordings demonstrated possible gaps in our students’ education on FNMI issues. We found student responses focused on cultural artifacts that were historically stereotypical of FNMI people and that students did not know about current FNMI issues. Secondly, we spoke with current teachers in the field about whether or not they teach about FNMI in their practice and how they communicate this information. From these written responses we found that teachers were divided evenly on whether the Ontario curriculum allows sufficient space for teaching current FNMI issues in the classroom. Lastly, we spoke with members of the Faculty of Education at the University of Ottawa regarding what they are doing to adequately prepare their Teacher Candidates to confidently incorporate FNMI education in their practice. These responses were optimistic about the initiatives being undertaken at the University of Ottawa, but also noted that there is still lots that can be done and lots that needs to be done for FNMI education.
In order to create a successful video we gathered information from the Museum of History. We participated in the construction of a birch bark canoe on the University of Ottawa’s campus in support of the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions Call to Action with an Elder from Mattawa. Members of our group also participated in a Indigenizing and Decolonizing the Academy. All of this information proved to be valuable in learning about the topic, and the testimony that followed allowed us to complete the video and develop a greater understanding of FNMI in Ontario Education.
To strengthen our knowledge we administered a survey to teachers to see how FNMI students and culture is represented in their classrooms and how it could be improved. We have compared teacher answers to students’ knowledge in regards to how FNMI are represented in their school, and what students know about indigenous culture. In order to educate students, the Faculty of Education at the University of Ottawa is trying to shift away from the colonial approach to education and allow student teacher to decolonize education.
From gathering recordings from students, teachers and faculty members, we found that there is still a significant need for further education on current FNMI issues in Ontario schools, and in the University of Ottawa Teacher Education Program.
As I come to the final few weeks of my Bachelor of Education, I have been reflecting a lot on what I have learned over the last two years. In my classes, from my professors, during my practicums, within books/documents, and (of course) on Twitter, I have been exposed to a number of important educational practices and theories. As I enter into the period of my life wherein I am able to actualize my vocational journey and enter into the classroom as a full-fledged teacher, I knew I had to write down a few of my thoughts about my own practice.
Every child is a unique individual that requires a safe, supportive, and stimulating environment in which to grow and mature emotionally, intellectually, physically, and socially. As an educator, I embrace the opportunity to create a learning environment in which students are able to flourish as learners and as people, developing into positive and active members of society. I think of myself as a ‘facilitator of learning,’ where I provide authentic learning opportunities for my students to inquire and discover as I continue to learn alongside them. Teacher facilitated, student-driven learning allows students to learn by doing, writing, designing, creating, making and solving, not just by listening.
I strongly believe that creating a positive, safe and supportive classroom environment is one of the most important aspects of teaching and learning. If students do not feel safe in my classroom, whether it is emotionally, physically, or socially, their defense mechanisms will go up and learning will be difficult. Students want to feel comfortable to express themselves freely, without the fear of rejection. This not only benefits their self-image, but allows them to take academic risks, which enhances overall learning. It is important to me that my students, as well as their parents, other teachers, administrators, and people in the community, see me as someone they can approach in any situation.
As I reflect on my beliefs regarding teaching and learning, I find that my mission as a teacher is threefold:
- to promote positive learning;
- to spark enthusiasm for learning;
- and to provide a strong foundation for lifelong learning.
The classroom and school environment should be a place of positivity, where students are celebrated for their accomplishments. In order to achieve positive learning, I welcome and embrace themes of inclusion, cultural diversity, and student voice. Students must be interested in what they are learning and see the relevance of that learning to their own life. Student-driven and inquiry-based opportunities not only allow students to take ownership of their learning, but it also incorporates differentiation instruction to meet the needs of all learners. This, in turn, ensures that students feel confident in their ability to succeed. Through these types of positive learning opportunities, I am able to provide authentic feedback to each student and prepare them for further learning extensions.
In my teaching, I try to make learning as fun and interactive as possible for my students. I find that this helps to spark enthusiasm for learning, which leads to an increase in attention, retention, and performance. I implement a variety of engaging teaching methods and approach topics in a number of ways. Tactile, hands-on learning catches the students’ attention and helps to solidify the concepts being explored. Movement throughout the classroom during learning, through gallery walks, group discussions, graffiti activities and other Embodied Learning instructional strategies, helps to stimulate the brain and concretize learning. As a Google Certified Educator, I am also a strong advocate for integrating technology during student learning. I believe that technology helps to spark students’ enthusiasm for learning and maximize the learning taking place.
I believe that in order to promote positive learning, students must first want to learn and feel comfortable doing so. I am a firm believer that in every mistake, there is a potential for growth. I try on a daily basis to instill a growth mindset in each and every student, as I believe that this mindset is the root of all academic achievement and excellence. By teaching my students to be resilient in every difficult situation, they will see that perseverance will lead them to great things. I recognize that my students are people first and I focus on developing positive self-images and enriching my students’ self-esteem through character building and positive interactions. More than anything, I hope that my students learn to be comfortable in their own skin, feel a sense of pride for all of their accomplishments, and develop a passion and love for learning.
It is my belief that a good education is the most important thing that we can provide the younger generation. It is a very rewarding experience empowering children to grasp the foundational knowledge and skills that they will use for the rest of their lives. As a lifelong learner myself, I hope to instill a love of learning in my students that will prepare them for successful and happy lives. I believe that teaching is my vocation and I am appreciative every day that I am able to fulfill my life’s purpose.
Reflecting on your teaching style is difficult. Choosing 5 specific practices to focus your reflection upon is even more difficult.
If you talk to any educator, they will tell you that self-reflecting is one of the most important aspects of education. It allows us to critically examine our self and our actions, determining what works well and what needs to change. I’ve only been formally teaching for a short while now, but I have complied a list of 5 practices that I have found to be successful in various aspects of day-to-day teaching! I hope that you find merit in learning more about these strategies and how I’ve implemented them into my teaching. As with any strategy, it is important to determine what works well with your students and to implement methods that lead to the success of all students.
As always, I am interested in learning from my peers and growing my PLN, so tweet me (@spencerburton) or leave a comment below outlining some of your successful instructional strategies and practices!
A choice board is a graphic organizer that allows students to decide which method they will use to demonstrate their learning. Choice boards offer students a series of activities or tasks that the student can complete, focusing on their specific learning needs, interests, and abilities. Students decide which activity they are most comfortable or interested in completing, giving them ownership over their own learning. Choice boards are can be easily adapted for each subject and grade level, making it a reliable instructional strategy for all teachers to utilize.
Choice boards are a great assessment strategy to use, especially when designing a culminating task. The level of difficulty of the activities can vary or stay consistent, which makes it a great way to differentiate a project to meet the needs of all learners. There are also a number of ways that a teacher can facilitate a choice board: teachers can have students choose to complete only 1 square, complete 3 activities in a row (tic-tac-toe style), or complete all of the activities on the board. Another way to elevate the amount of choice available to the student is to leave one of the squares blank, allowing them to create and complete their own task that matches the difficulty level of the other activities.
I have found this to be an effective method of assessment in my own practice. The students that sometimes sit there “blankly” while they try to think of where to start are relieved to see the amount of activities they can choose from. This saves students a lot of time coming up with what to do and allows them to dive right into the work at hand, while still ensuring that their ability to choose is not negated. I have found that the final products are much more enjoyable to assess and provide feedback on, given that they are so varied and unique in their own ways.
Choice boards are truly an excellent way to increase student ownership of learning within the classroom. The Ministry of Education explains that “greater student involvement in their own learning and learning choices leads to greater student engagement and improved achievement” (Learning for All, 2013). The wide variety of student products ensure that the teacher is providing authentic feedback to each student, in that they must look at each unique piece of student work and critically examine it for what it is (rather than falling into the trap of comparing it to work from other students).
Brain Breakfast is a strategy that I learned during my practicum experience at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Elementary school. This practice is a daily activation component of a Math or Language lesson (whichever occurs during the first period of the day). The theory behind the name is that we eat breakfast to energize our brains and to get our bodies activated for the day ahead. We this in mind, the Brain Breakfast activity gets the student’s brains thinking and ready to work for the school day.
Essentially, Brain Breakfast is a critical thinking warm-up activity. The activity is printed on a half-sheet of paper, glued into the students’ notebook, and completed by the student individually. The activity can take a number of different forms. In Language, the students could be provided with a quickwrite prompt that gets them focused on a new concept that will be introduced in the coming lesson or to review the material from the previous class. In Math, students could be provided with some computational questions (multiplication, division, etc.) to reinforce these concepts or a word problem that challenges them to use concepts from the previous class. In either subject area, EQAO questions could be used by removing the multiple choice answers, helping students to get used to the format and wording of these types of questions while also developing critical thinking skills.
The Ministry of Education encourages creating “an educational culture based on individual and collective ownership of the learning, achievement, and well-being of all students” (Learning for All, 2013). I believe the Brain Breakfast practice helps to achieve this culture in that it provides students with individual learning opportunities that teachers can easily collect, provide feedback, and use as assessment for learning. It also helps to protect the well-being for all students by giving students time to collect their thoughts and answer the question independently before the learning is consolidated as a class. Brain Breakfast not only activates the students minds, but it also provides them with a calm and consistent transition into the classroom at the beginning of each day.
In my opinion, number talks should be regular component of every Math classroom. Number talks are essentially a classroom conversation around a purposefully selected computation problem, lasting less than fifteen minutes. Students develop and use mental math strategies to solve their computation on their own before being asked to share with the class. When communicating their thinking to their classmates, the focus is less on the final answer and more on the strategy that the student used to reach that answer. When students present and justify solutions to the problem, it leads to the development of more accurate, efficient, and flexible strategies that their peers can use to solve future problems.
During most number talks, students gather close to a SMART Board or chart paper, on which the teacher presents the question. Students are given time to use mental math to come up with an answer and once they have, they display a thumbs up on their chest. This not only gives the teacher an idea of who has come up with an answer to the question, but it also provides some diagnostic information about the speed and efficiency to which students are able to come with an answer. Once a good amount of students have found an answer, they are encouraged to share their strategies with their class (as the teacher scribes) while also continuing to develop efficient strategies that others present.
I have found that number talks are an important way for teachers to learn about their students’ mental math strategies, which are not typically assessed in computational subjects such as Math. Mental math is crucial for being efficient when solving problems, ensuring that the students are not simply relying on memorized procedures and formulas. I also appreciate the model of number talks, in that it allows me to assume a different role in the classroom. A primary goal of number talks is to help students make sense of math concepts by building on mathematical relationships, which is accomplished by having them use their own strategies and building a repertoire of strategies from their peers. Therefore, the teacher’s role must shift from being the individual imparting information and confirming correct answers at the front of the classroom to assuming the roles of facilitator, questioner, listener, and learner.
A positive and respectful school community is essential for the academic and personal success of each student. This type of community is achieved when all students feel safe, included, and accepted and when teachers model and encourage positive behaviour. The Ministry’s resource Promoting a Positive School Climate states that the “principles of equity and inclusive education are embedded in the learning environment to support a positive school climate and a culture of mutual respect” (Promoting a Positive School Climate, 2013). Creating a cohesive classroom community is essential for facilitating an effective number talk, especially since we are asking students to take risks by sharing their thinking and strategies with their peers. Students should be comfortable in offering responses for discussion, questioning themselves and their peers, and investigating new strategies without the risk of failing or being ridiculed.
Circles are a simple and effective platform for students to learn while building positive relationships with their classmates and teacher. Rooted out of First Nation practices, circles have students sitting without desks in an arrangement that has them able to see and hear each of the people in the group. The use of circles within the classroom setting helps to support the holistic well-being of each student. Early on in the year, I have experienced circles that are used to outline what students need in order to be successful in their learning and how they can make those needs a reality. This essentially takes the place of a teacher outlining the rules and guidelines of the classroom, providing ownership to the students and asking for their voice and contributions. This works to ensure that each student is heard and that their environment is built upon the well-being of the student population.
Circles can also be used for those inevitable times when conflict occurs. The Ministry of Education promotes the use of circles during restorative justice/practice on the belief that humans are “more likely to make positive changes in their behaviour when those in positions of authority do things with them, rather than to them or for them” (Caring and Safe Schools in Ontario, 2010). By having students sit in a circle, they are placing themselves on an equal level with each other and the adults that are facilitating the circle. By allowing for each student’s voice to be heard, the students are able to reflection on the impact of their own behaviour on everyone else present. This helps to achieve the safe schools and positive mental health components of student well-being by providing the opportunity to develop empathy, mutual respect and shared accountability.
Students have many incredible ideas. By providing them with a safe and supportive learning environment to share these ideas, especially in the format of a circle, the class can learn to contribute ideas, build upon each other’s knowledge, encourage cooperation, and ultimately improve communication skills. If the students feel that a part of their well-being is not being met within the school environment, circles provide the class with an opportunity to not only voice this concern, but to collaborate and create solutions that directly impact their lives. In an overall sense, this encourages students to take greater responsibility for their learning and well-being.
In a lighter sense, circles can be used as a fun time to introduce new activities and games, which I have seen as a great tool to start off the week. The quickest way to form a positive community is through laughter, so providing an opportunity for students to engage in a fun activity that can make them laugh will definitely have a positive impact on their well-being. These activities and games will also help to develop positive social and emotional skills, self-esteem, and a positive self-image. By starting off the week with a circle that allows students to share what they did on their weekend and giving them an activity to work on together, a cohesive and respectful classroom community can be formed and strengthened.
Co-Created Success Criteria
Success criteria are an important and successful way of communicating the academic expectations for a given task to students. This concept has developed by engaging students in the process of defining the learning goals and outlining what success looks like. This idea of co-creating success criteria is a great way to encourage students to use assessment vocabulary while also making them more aware of identifying what is expected of them given any assessment description. It also encourages the concept of students taking ownership of their own learning and deciding what the focus of assessment should be on.
A specific example of how I have co-created success criteria with my students is during a descriptive writing unit with a Grade 5 class. After exploring what the various facets of descriptive writing, I asked my students to define what quality descriptive writing looks like. Using their feedback, I created an anchor chart for the classroom that the students could refer back to throughout their learning. We took the concepts on an anchor chart and developed a chart that was included on the students’ culminating writing task outline. Additionally, I was able to adapt these success criteria into a self-assessment chart that the students could utilize throughout their writing and editing process.
I have found that this process helped my students and I to reach a common understanding of the criteria that they would be assessed on. This helped to focus my own assessment while also ensuring that the students were completely aware of what they were being assessed on and why. Rubrics have value when it comes to assessment, but they are sometimes difficult for students to identify what is expected of them and they may be overwhelmed with the varying levels. Co-creating success criteria provides students with a sense of ownership over their learning and a comprehensive understanding what quality work looks like.
The Ministry of Education’s Growing Success is a strong advocate of including students in the creating of success criteria. The document explains that “teachers can ensure that students understand the success criteria by […] directly involving them in identifying, clarifying, and applying those criteria in their learning” (Growing Success, 2010). By including students in the process, the wording of the success criteria is clearly understood by students and they are able to develop an understanding of what quality means in their own work.
Extracurricular school initiatives are an important part of providing a holistic educational experience to our students. Schools have the ability to providing additional programming (outside of curriculum documents) that students would benefit from. I’ve seen many great programs run in schools, such as games clubs (develops social skills and critical thinking), knitting club (a new skill), and art club (visual art classes run by a professional). Each extracurricular program seeks to engage students on a new level and take their learning to a place that traditional classroom learning may not.
During my second practicum experience, I worked alongside my fellow Teacher Candidates and my Associate Teacher to implement an intramural program at our elementary school. This initiative was beneficial for all students (in more ways than one) and helped to foster a stronger sense of community within the school. If you haven’t introduced Tchoukball to your students, YOU MUST! It is such a fun and interactive game that helps to foster teamwork, collaboration, sportsmanship, and strategy without the requirement of too much athleticism.
A surface benefit of our intramural initiative was to promote health and well-being in our students. Giving a space to participate in or try various sports would ideally encourage the continuation of these activities outside of school. In the school yard, it is a reality that some students may be excluded from participating in physical activities they enjoy because of limited space or age barriers. Our program sought to provide a safe and supportive environment for students of all ranges of athleticism. Our program aimed to instill characteristics such as teamwork, sportsmanship, communication, and perseverance. These are useful skills that we hope for all students to carry into the future, whether in classrooms, at home, or in the working world.
Our proposed program was not only advantageous to our students, but it also allowed for personal growth amongst myself and my peers. Throughout this process, I gained valuable experience in coaching students, fostering sportsmanship, and facilitating an extracurricular activity. I worked with my Associated Teacher to set rules for safe-play, enforce the rules of the game during intramurals, organized the teams, and created a schedule of games. In this environment, I found myself more able to relate to students outside of the classroom setting, making interactions less formal and building a stronger, more holistic rapport with each student.
The driving force behind the initiation of our intramural program was a “healthy body, healthy mind” philosophy, where improving the students’ physical health will in turn increase their academic performance. This initiative also proved to diversify the students’ social circles (the teams were assembled with students from Grades 4, 5, and 6) and encouraged respect for each other, as evident in their cheering for one another. Being utilized at a Catholic school, this program was intended to guide students towards the fulfillment of specific Catholic Graduate Expectations. Examples of such expectations would be to develop students as collaborative contributors, caring community members, reflective and creative thinkers, as well as a self-directed, responsible, life-long learner.
— Spencer Burton (@spencerburtonca) November 22, 2016
Being in an urban school, many of the students do not have the means or access to extracurricular sports and activities. As such, our program allowed the students to participate in organized sports while at school. Ideally, attracting students to school through sports will make them more motivated and excited to come to school, giving them something to look forward to. We found that having intramurals also contributed to creating a deeper sense of community within the school; between classmates or individuals.
I truly enjoyed the process of creating and implementing an extracurricular program, especially one that fosters school community, student well-being, and ultimately fun! I hope to be able to engage in similar initiatives throughout my career and to be the driving force behind new and innovative ways to enhance our student’s educational experience.