Monday, September 24, 2012

The Success Inquiry Experiment

Last week, coupled with my rant about Bill 115, I shared my attempt to create a "road-map" type of long-range plans. I thought I'd mention how things have progressed with my intermediate division lessons that were inspired by @gcouros on his blog that suggested we begin the year focusing on success instead of rules, giving students the opportunity to share what they want to learn and how the education team can help. I PDF'd the lessons I've taught so far with this inquiry in mind and posted them on my education wiki. I have two Grade 7-8 classes I see for library and ICT (a fixed collaborative time with their classroom teachers), so my reflections will revolve around both classes.

1) Week 1 - I seem to plan more than I'm able to cover in a single lesson. I had to interrupt both groups as they were working on their Success 3T charts because we ran out of time. I was pleased by the differentiation options I made available to the students (they could work in groups of any size, using any means, such as SMART Boards, chalk boards, chart paper or scrap paper, to record their thoughts on what success looks, sounds, and feels like). One student asked if they could just talk. I asked to have some physical evidence to show they were on task - they could've used the school library computers to record their oral discussion, but neither of us thought of this option at the time. The students summarized Mr. Couros' blog post well but were very cautious about expressing any opinion about which approach (rules first or success first) was better.

2) Week 2 - As I wandered the library listening in as the groups discussed success, I was surprised to witness how much trouble they were having defining it. The students were able to articulate how success feels (satisfaction, accomplishment, etc.) but struggled to explain success in other ways. If I engaged in discussion with small groups, that seemed to help a bit. For instance, one group had a good talk about whether success always equals wealth. Another group got excited about considering the relation between collaboration and success and how successful individuals are treated by their peers or society (the notetaker wrote "jealousy" on their chart with glee). The other fascinating observeration was the results of the SMART Board anonymous clicker survey on what I could do as the teacher-librarian to help them be successful. I posted the results of the survey charts on my wiki for people to examine. For instance, the majority of both groups stated that they wanted 50% of the period to be devoted to book exchange and 50% to lesson/instruction. The funny thing about this request is that very few students use this time to actually borrow books - they'll say "I already have a book I'm reading" or they'll share books among themselves and take out the middle man (me), which is why I take my circulation statistics with a grain of salt. How much of their decision for 20 minutes of book exchange was inspired by their quest for success or their desire for free time?

3) Week 3 - Making our discussion of success more concrete by using real-life examples helped a lot. My "5 minute Research Task" was willingly undertaken by the students, especially because they could work in groups of 1, 2 or 3, and they could simply type their findings in the chart on the SMART board. I was pleased to hear comments by the students as we created a list of people they considered to be successful:

 "Hey, there aren't any female names on there!", stated a female Grade 7 student.
(Awesome observation!)

"Do you think Albert Einstein would count? He's dead."
(I said Harry Potter's Voldemort would be the only one to consider death to be a lack of success.)

"Can it be someone Chinese? Like the only female King of China?"
(This was asked by two of my ELL students. Absolutely, was my reply.)

My mini-lesson on using Boolean operators while using search engines went well. I think every group used "and success" as part of their search terms to narrow their results. One of my students wanted to know why these words were called Boolean, and I didn't know the answer. I better look that up in time for our next class. I expected that every group would race to the computers and I was right. For the one or two teams that didn't get a computer right away, I took the opportunity to remind them about using our print encyclopedias. Several teams searched YouTube rather than the Internet as a whole (as a chance to watch videos of their favourite athletes or musicians, I suspect). Some spots in the chart weren't filled in, so we may need extra time to give the slower groups time to finish. I've ordered a copy of The Seven Habits of Highly Successful Kids to read to the students and let you know how it progresses, as well as my junior and primary inquiry paths.

Monday, September 17, 2012

A very different year - Plan with questions

This is going to be a very different school year. If you read my blog post from last week, you'll remember that many of my students are looking forward to the many clubs and teams I run. Unfortunately, it won't be possible to run things status-quot like previous years. My fellow teachers and I gathered late last week after the provincial government worked on Bill 115 (the "Putting Students First" bill) and after our unions met to decide on a response. We want to be consistent in our school with the actions we take - in situations such as this, it can be very divisive if some teachers choose to use certain tactics and others do not. It was a respectful but solemn conversation. We voted as a group to "take a pause" on running any clubs, teams or programs that do not directly deal with our core teaching assignments. We had serious discussions about what we felt were required tasks and made some decent compromises. No one came out of this dialogue bubbly or happy. The teachers at my school LIKE running clubs and teams. We like helping with fundraisers so that our classes can have things we would usually have to do without. When faced with very limited ways we can indicate our displeasure with the lack of negotiations, we must turn to methods we don't enjoy, in the hope that decision-makers may reconsider.

One of the items our staff felt was a requirement of the job = long range plans. The form these long range plans take are now up to the discretion of the individual teacher, be they lists of expectations and topics we plan to cover or "road maps". I decided to experiment with the Big Ideas Road Map. I read the ministry documents on inquiry and crafted my question and the pathway based on a planning template supplied by our superintendent. I found the process a bit challenging because:
a) as a specialist teacher, not a classroom teacher, I have less subjects to teach but more groups
b) based on my courses on inquiry from my Masters of Education program with the University of Alberta, my understand is that the inquiry questions should come from the students, not from me
I ended up modifying the template and creating three "road maps", one for each division. I'll post them here and see what you think.

Monday, September 10, 2012

"Hurry up and start ..."

We survived the first week! A mere four days of schooling has passed, and what I find fascinating is what my students have already started to ask for (and in some cases, demand). In order of frequency and urgency, here is a list of things my students have requested:

1) Book Exchange

"When does book exchange begin?"
"Can I come after school to get a book?"
"Can you save me THAT one?"
"Why can't book exchange start sooner?"

Actually, I'm not 100% sure why we can't start borrowing books right away - I suspect it has something to do with settling the class lists and including the new students. I'm bending to popular demand and starting book exchange this week, at least for my students in Grades 1-8. (Each kindergarten class has 30+ kids, with many new to the school with no English speaking skills. We're going to take it a bit slower so we instill some firm rules and good habits.) When the new students heard about our credit system and how they can earn the privilege of borrowing large numbers of materials on the same day, their eyes gleamed and I swear some started to salivate.

2) Just Dance Club

Just Dance Club began last year and is a simple club to run. Every Friday at noon, my colleague and I would gather by the back doors and if anyone in the junior grades was interested, they'd follow us in. We'd go to the Dance-Drama Room, where a TV with a Wii was already set up, and we'd all play Just Dance together. It was a drop-in club and we didn't take attendance. It was meant for us to have fun and get a bit of exercise. When kids became too busy and the teachers were too inundated with meetings, we ended the club. Kids want us to expand it to Grade 3s; we'll see if this is doable based on some of the songs we use.

3) Library Club

 My school library is clean right now. Really clean. Of course, this is because we haven't begun book exchange and I spent the week before school started cleaning it up. My dedicated high school volunteer came in this week and was so desperate to work that we began tackling the Scrapbook Club supply bins and the file cabinets in my office - so now at least my office looks like it usually does.  He's not the only one keen to shelve books. Several students have asked me when I'll make the application forms available. It's a pretty rigorous process and not all applicants are accepted but many people, especially Grade 4s who are in their first year of eligibility, are eager to try their chances.

4) Minecraft Club

Intermediate students don't gush and they don't beg, so when they make a request, even if it's half-whispered and as an aside as they're leaving the library, I need to pay attention. I've had a couple of these "so, uh, when's Minecraft Club startin' Miss?" queries already. Combined with the "We get to be in it again next year, right?" and "WHAAAT? Whaddaya mean we might not be in it?" comments from the late spring, I know that there will be a large list of interested players for this popular club. I hope the TDSB Minecraft server will be ready for us to use soon.

Do you notice a pattern to these requests? No one is asking me when I'll start giving homework. These are the activities that mean the most to the students. The specter of "work to rule" may be on the horizon and I hope things settle down before it reaches that point, because in a work-to-rule scenario, clubs and teams are not supposed to be available (am I right?) and this will disappoint both me and the kids. Hurry up and start the good stuff, Mz. Molly!

Monday, September 3, 2012

What did YOU do this summer?

Tomorrow is the first day of school for the 2012-2013 school year and the typical question will be asked many times: what did you do this summer? I'm a mother as well as a teacher-librarian, so I know that sometimes when I hear that question, my mind can draw a blank (just like my own kids). What DID I do with all that time? That's why in the last couple of weeks of August, I make my own children create a summer scrapbook. (I'm a pretty laid-back parent, in my opinion, and I don't force my children to do many things, but creating this scrapbook is one of the few tasks I insist they attempt.) We develop photos, choose the paper that fits the topic, and write little journal entries. I find this a good way of easing their way into a routine of writing and seat work, and for my poor memory, it's a great way to actually recall what we did.

As they compiled these photo journals this year, I started to question the practice of spending so much time on the first day of school sharing the events of the summer. I can see both sides of this issue.

Share the summer - yes

  • Acknowledges the students' most recent & past experience
  • Gives class time / opportunity for them to share (because they'll chat about it anyway)
  • Helps to transition people from what they were doing to what they are doing now
Share the summer - no
  •  Classism and economic disparity highlighted (e.g. kid X went traveling out of the country)
  • Pressure to "have a good story", even if their summer was boring
  • Judgements made on summer activities (e.g. you wasted your summer just playing video games?)
I'm seeing a grade 4-5 class (with 33 students, but that's another story) on the first day of school, because our prep rotation begins on the very first day, and I think and hope that the lesson I have planned will help address the concerns in the second list while reaping the benefits of the first list. I'll post the lesson plan on the MzMollyTL Share Space so that anyone can use the lesson. I hope everyone enjoyed their summer vacation and that this school year will be fruitful and fun.