Monday, March 30, 2020

Dull Mind, Sharp Mind; Dirty Spaces, Clean Spaces

When this blog post goes live (on Monday, March 30, 2020), it will be the start of the third week of the "new normal". Citizens are asked to stay inside, practice social distancing, wash our hands and reduce spreading or exposing ourselves to the COVID-19 pandemic. On Twitter, I've been keeping a daily micro-journal of how I spend my time. I've hashtagged it #MyCovidTwitterDiary. For several of my entries, I've mentioned "reading". I thought my blog might be a good place to share some more in-depth reflections on the reading I've done.

Here's the first twist: despite having almost all the time in the world to read, sometimes I find myself unable to focus. On certain days, my mind is foggy and just can't seem to hold ideas inside. On other days, my brain is full of snapping synapses eager to soak in information and consider how to apply concepts to my work and play. I've been working on my Reading Pile from January (that I wrote about on this blog). I finished Winnie's Great War, We Got This and The 36 Hour Day. Currently I have some articles I'm reading about pedagogical documentation and I'm on Chapter 9 (of 13) of A Guide to Documenting Learning that I started to read way back in 2018.

I was eager to participate in the March 12 Twitter chat about Cornelius Minor's book, We Got This, especially because I missed the first one in February.

Well, Thursday, March 12 was the day that the provincial government in Ontario announced that schools would close for two weeks after March Break. I jumped on the Twitter feed - and, understandably, no one else was there. Other provinces and states were facing similar shut-downs and educators were hustling to make arrangements and wrap their own minds around this new series of events. That was the second twist.

And then there's another snag, or a third twist: since I'm currently reading Tolisano and Hale's book, my mind has "cleared the cache" of all the things I wanted to discuss with Minor's text and is now filled with comparisons between scrapbooking to curated, annotated documentation and ways to respect privacy while amplifying student learning. (Aviva Dunsiger and I have been exchanging lots of tweets about the topic, especially now that she bought the Kindle version of #documenting4learning.)

That's not really fair to Minor's book, so I'm going to re-read my notes/highlights/scribbles and share them here. I vaguely recall that there's a tie-in to the messy/tidy dichotomy I allude to in my blog title. I hope I can work it back in. 
(5 minutes after writing the last sentence, and flipping through the book) - Thank goodness for documentation! I found the "note to myself" that led me to those initial thoughts about tidy and messy. This is the quote, from page 130.

As educators, sometimes we fail to act on our dreams because we fear that we cannot attain the perfection that we imagine. In truth, we won't find this perfection right away. Dream work is messy, but when faced with the choice between the sometimes broken reality of what currently exists and the messy reality of progress, it is better to live in the mess. If we choose to act, things can be different. They won't be radically different right away, but they can be incrementally better.
This is where I'm going to take a short detour. I snapped a couple of photographs before I left my school on Friday, March 13. They perfectly represent the idea of "dirty spaces / clean spaces".

I'm really proud of the results of the huge Library Learning Commons reorganization. I wrote about it in February and, unlike my usual modus operandi, I took no pictures of the process. It was too traumatic at the time. Now that I've had time to get used to it, I like it. It makes the library look bigger. Here are six photographs, plus a "before" and "after" map so you can get an idea of the entire space.

Near the front door, the main teaching area (mostly the same)

The right side of the library, tables then the fiction area

The left side of the library, now where the non-fiction lives

"Top" view of the library and the fiction area

The entire non-fiction area (and the reading tent)

One big social area instead of three little ones
The 2018 Library Map (excuse formatting; it was a Notebook file)

The 2020 Library Map (but I forgot to include the Dual Language area!)
It's quite lovely ... but not all is so immaculate and ready for my eventual return. This is what my MakerSpace area looked like when I left.

Why on earth would I share a photo that looks like this? Blame or credit Beth Lyons. She made a vow to herself to share the less-than-picture-perfect side of school librarianship, which includes mess.

I'll say it again. I'm not tidy. I pile things. However, Mr. Minor's quote - "Dream work is messy" - gives me a bit of comfort.

And that leads me back to my reflections on Cornelius Minor's book. I know this makes for a long blog post (but most people are not going anywhere soon, so they have the time to read this huge thing if they want).

I really liked the tone of this book; it felt casual despite the topic and was peppered with anecdotes from the author's life and career.  Nothing is impossible. There were several big quotes that stuck with me (that I tweeted earlier). In this reflection, I'll mention some other sections and how my brain examined them.

  • Page 21: "How will mastery of this specific skill allow them to live, play, work, exist in ways that are measurably better?" = How easily can I answer this question? There are eight categories given a few pages prior (page 17-18) on why people learn; to help solve real problems, to get more freedom, to forge a chance to do something I want, to challenge yourself, to help me do good for others, to connect me to folks, to have fun and to survive threats to my well-being. I think read-alouds have potential only if students can understand how literature acts as windows, mirrors and sliding doors (Dr. Rudine Sims-Bishop). How will what I teach remotely / online for the foreseeable future help them do any of this?

  • Page 32: Disruption starts with "[Q]uestiong the rules, policies, procedures, practices, and customs that define my classroom culture / Identify any groups in my classroom that consistently benefit less from the ways things are / Change the way I do school so that the kids who belong to those groups have more opportunities to succeed" = What is interesting about this is that I had sort of started to do this as part of the Learning Cadre that superintendent Shirley Chan had organized. Later on in the same chapter, Cornelius Minor asks the reader to make a list of the students you worry about, and then group them to see trends. The trends I noticed with my own lists was that I worry a lot about our autistic students (note: I am aware that usually we use "person-first" language when describing students, but I have seen that the autistic community advocates for placing the descriptor at the beginning because it is a part of their identities). My action research project that I was going to do as part of my Learning Cadre involvement centered on the students with ASD and incorporating games-based learning. When the author asked the reader (on page 37) to explain in no more than 3 sentences what makes students successful in my class, I that students just need to a) try their best to do their job, b) communicate (with me and others), and c) care. 

  • Page 51: "research quickly, try courageously, fail reflectively, stand up and try again" = I feel like I've done a lot of this lately with regards to my use of loose parts and learning invitations and provocations that I've learned about in my Kindergarten AQ course. I've struggled, really struggled with some of these ideas. I consulted with someone I felt was credible in both realms of kindergarten pedagogy and school librarianship (Jennifer Brown), read what my wonderful instructors Gail Bedeau and Kenisha Bynoe have provided, and made several attempts. Last week's blog post shared some of the most recent reflections. There's still a long way to go and so many more things to try, but I see that I have been influenced, because my recent tweet to Klara Redford both encouraged her sharing (a la Tolisano and Hale) but also pushed back a bit on providing all the "to-do tasks" instead of allowing kindergarten children (who are competent and capable) and their families (whom we should include and see with an asset lens, see page 109 of the Kindergarten document) to explore and make meaning themselves of the open-ended materials they have in their own homes.

  • Page 81: "Part of learning is making mistakes and testing authority, and sometimes we do not allow for that. At all. So kids find ways to do it anyway." = This line makes me so grateful (or lucky) that in term one we focused on authority as a unit for Grades 1-6 and leading/following as a unit for the Kindergarteners. It made so many things explicit for all of us - like why students like to sit on the rocking chair, or how to confront authority that doesn't jeopardize your personal emotional or physical safety. 

  • Page 88-89: "When you deputize students to give you critical feedback, it means that you value them. ... the public sharing of power matters.". It's sometimes hard to remember to thank them for their feedback, because sometimes their feedback can be harsh and unfiltered but if it makes me a better teacher, then they deserve credit. The power-sharing happens in my class daily now that I put the period's agenda on the board and ask the students to alter/comment/agree on the items. They can say "we need to make time for Forest of Reading chats" and I can add it to the list or explain why it may not be possible that day.

  • Page 94: "I start by naming my expectations and my triggers to myself." = I'm placing this here because I want to remember to actually do this. "C" in Room 114 activates my triggers pretty regularly and I want to think about what the triggers are (aka the behaviour) instead of the instigator (aka the person). 

  • Page 105: "It is up to me to change my curriculum to fit the needs of my students." = This is so much more eloquent than what I said during an interview - "I am like a dog marking territory. I need to piss over a lesson or unit, to make it mine." The sentiment was similar. It's okay to not teach something exactly the same way the teacher down the hall or the teacher-librarian in the next school does, because we aren't the same and the students in front of us aren't the same. (I shout this out to a particularly irritated Faculty of Education student years ago who complained that the Tribes TLC training I provided was not identical to the Tribes TLC training my colleague gave. We taught the exact same curriculum and content but our approaches differed slightly because of who we are/were.)

  • Page 127: "Gloria Ladson-Billings has reminded us that as educators, 'if we stop growing, we will die, and more important, our students will wither and die in our presence' ... I've got to embrace the unknown by engaging in professional study and then try new things ..." = Wow, what a strong statement. What does this mean for teachers who refuse to take AQ courses or push their thinking in terms of pedagogy? I know that for various reasons (financial, time constraints, etc.) teachers aren't always interested in taking AQ courses, and AQ courses aren't the be-all and end-all of professional learning; so much of my own professional learning has occurred in the hallways of conferences instead of in the workshops, or on Twitter instead of in lecture halls. How do we protect students who might "wither and die" in the presence of teachers who are no longer interested in becoming better teachers? It's like that Gordon Korman book, The Unteachables

Monday, March 23, 2020

4 Teachers + 80 minutes = Powerful Learning

Even though I am not in school right now, I want to think back to an in-school moment from Tuesday, March 10, 2020. I promised Francine Schwartz on Twitter that I'd share the details of this lesson. A promise is a promise, so here's my reflection.
As regular blog readers know, I had a student-teacher with me for February and March. I was not the only teacher in my school with hosting duties. Brenda Kim, our Grade 4-5 teacher, was one of four other staff members who accepted the additional role of associate teacher. Brenda's student-teacher was SM; one interesting fact about SM is that she attended Agnes Macphail P.S. when she was a youngster.

Due to our work-to-rule stipulations, we were no longer permitted to meet for board-led professional learning, such as PLCs. Our PLC time was during the instructional day, so the solution was to have teachers who usually covered classes go in to support regular instruction, so no one received any extra prep time during this period. Brenda approached me about the possibility of using our converted-PLC time together to practice our work with using critical thinking questions. Brenda and I had attended a workshop together in November 2019 and we were keen to practice these simple-but-challenging tweaks to our programming. After all, we had a special opportunity: how often does a class have four teachers available simultaneously? We could involve both of our teacher-candidates and SC (my teacher-candidate) could get a glimpse at how teacher-librarians collaborate with other teachers for planning, teaching, and assessing. We also wanted to use all four educators in useful ways - it was critical that everyone felt that they could play a significant part in the learning. We decided that each teacher would be responsible for a single group and would use documentation in the form of extensive anecdotal notes and photographs to capture the learning during the entire process.

The four of us chatted about what the potential focus could be and Brenda recommended we use this to help wrap up the class novel study of Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes. We decided to be big risk-takers and incorporate some of my recent learning about loose parts into the final task. The two big critical thinking questions we designed and used were:

(Morning) How effective is the book at honouring Sadako’s memory/story?

(Afternoon) How might we design, using loose parts, an authentic memorial to peace?

Brenda and SM worked very hard prior to our four-teacher extravaganza to ensure the students had lots of background information and understanding. Ms. Kim found a great non-fiction article that offered the point of view of Sadako's brother. The brother expressed concerns about how accurate his sister's story was portrayed and how Sadako's image was morphed into a easily-consumed narrative. Brenda even rewrote the article so that it would be more accessible to some of her students. Brenda and SM used the strategy we had been taught about locating 15 significant words or phrases in the article that helped communicate the main idea. The two of them really initiated the thinking about the Children's Peace Memorial in Japan.

The plan for our double-period block of time was
1) to unpack the word "authentic" [about 5 minutes]
2) to review the group challenge (and highlight the "look-fors") [about 10 minutes]
3) to provide plenty of time for the students to build a memorial with loose parts [about 45 minutes]
4) to admire and examine the memorials each group created [about 10 minutes]

I have to confess, I spent about 3 hours planning for my tiny 5 minute segment! I think it's because I missed teaching so much. I wrestled with how to make the term "authentic" easily understood. It just so happened that I had already planned to bake some chocolate chip cookies for my family that week. I decided to create an activity that formed the groups that the students would be working in for that large chunk of time and generated interest in both the word and the idea. Students received puzzle pieces that they had to try and complete. These puzzle pieces, colour coded into four groups, all spelled the same word: AUTHENTIC. Ms. Kim scribed while the students offered their understanding of the word. I snuck in a Canadian Black History reference - the "real McCoy" while we established that authentic meant things like "genuine" "real" and "true to what it's all about".

How did the cookies play a role? Well, each group had a plate with 5 different cookies and the small groups had to discuss which cookie was the most authentic chocolate chip cookie. That led to some great, in-depth discussion about what "the essence" of "true chocolate chip cookie-hood" was all about.

We didn't have time to discuss what each group thought, but praise goes to SC, my student-teacher because she made time the next day during our community circle time to pick up on this conversation, and it was fascinating! For instance, this is a partial transcript of what my group members said during their enthusiastic chat:

I = #4 [is the most authentic] ... made earlier, like the olden days, so it's more common
A = I think #4 [is the most authentic] because making a perfect circle is hard, it's challenging
Ra = Yes, #4 because #5 looks like a cookie that you would buy at a store, #4 looks like it was made at home
S = #4 because of the colour. Because #4 was baked more, and more tastier. When you open a store bought cookie ... #5 is not baked as long
Ru = #4 because #5 is what you buy in a store. In the olden days, they improve their work. ... #4 looks more original and better improved
M = #4 [is most authentic] because the shape and size are different. #5 is a circle but #4 is like an oval or a heart and looks crunchier and darker

(By the way, both #4 and #5 were home-baked cookies, both with pre-mixed cookie dough from the same company. #1 was dismissed right away because it was a plastic, pretend cookie and inedible. #2 was a red velvet cookie with white chocolate chips and most students rejected its authenticity because of the colour. #3 "was an Oreo" and the brand disqualified it according to most students.)

#4 came from the top, #5 from the bottom
I was completely blown away by how the students took to the task. I have four pages of scribbled notes as well as many, many photos and videos of their process. Now that I've had the experience of hearing Michael Mohamed talk about pedagogical documentation (and reading more AND talking to my dear, wise friend Denise Colby), I may take my original idea of writing a thank you letter to each of my group members (because I was so impressed with their perseverance and creativity) and extend it into a ped-doc exchange with the students.

This was the loose parts set-up for each group

This is a glimpse of what SC's group was doing.

This was SM's group in action, with her recording.

What I loved about staying with my small group for the entire time (like I shared in the debrief that Brenda, SC, SM and I had afterwards) was that I was able to see how their ideas shifted and changed based on discoveries and input from others. My group claimed that they fought; they really didn't - they just took a while to figure out a common vision. If I had just bounced in and out of their build time, I would have missed the incredible interaction where I, M & A discussed the history of the peace sign and if there were any other icons or images that preceded it. I would not have been witness to when Ru & Ra discovered that the paper changed colour when it was scratched. I might have mistakenly believed that M was causing trouble when he was sorting out his background knowledge and tinkering with concepts individually. I would have neglected to notice how the struggled and solved their no-scissors and no-pencil dilemmas. They were amazing.

Ru & Ra discover the scratch technique

Experimenting with jewels

Regrouping together

M said "I'm not making an entrance, I'm making a statue"
These were the final products, but the process was the really impressive part. The group I had the honour of shadowing eventually created a wreath with a peace sign centre. What we hope to do is to have the students annotate the images so they can explain the significance and symbolism in their art work and explain how "authentic" (to the idea of peace) their memorials were.

Big, big thanks go to:

  • Brenda Kim for initiating this partnership
  • SC and SM for their willingness to try new things
  • All 3 teachers for their exceptional note-taking skills and observations
  • The Grade 4-5 students of Room 111 for their collaboration, creativity and thoughtfulness
  • Francine, Stephanie, Byron, and Andrea for getting us started on amplifying our question-making skills

And in the end, we got to eat the extra cookies. The students were so engaged that it took several calls before they'd stop admiring everyone else's work and line up for their treats and to go home. This was one of those "this is why I teach" moments.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Social Distancing vs Quarantine - the Power of Words

I promise this will be a short post because
a) I don't want to write about COVID-19 (but how can I avoid it?)
b) I don't want to write about schools in Ontario closing down for two weeks after March Break (yet that's on my mind a lot)
c) I don't want to write about my student-teacher (although last Friday was her last day - congratulations SC on a successful, albeit weird, placement!)
d) I am just not up to it (no links, no supporting documentation)

The original title of this blog post was "The Danger of Being Bored". I'm worried that I will run out of things to do during this extra-long "break". I don't do well with unstructured time because that's when I start coming up with odd plans. I've seen the posts on social media that claim that during enforced isolation, Shakespeare wrote King Lear, and Newton invented calculus. Knowing me, I'd do something ridiculous and unsustainable - like buy a dog. (My husband lives in fear of this scenario coming true. Before you dog-lovers chime in to say what a wonderful thing this would be, realize that after a few weeks, most of the burden of care would fall on hubby, who is NOT a pet person.) When I last had spare time, I applied for a second, part-time job. (Luckily, I didn't get hired.) Before that, I offered to babysit twin babies. I know there are many posts out there about things to do and ways to segment your day so it doesn't seem like forever. I have a few plans for me and my family: playing a few role-playing games together, reading some books from my pile, finishing my Kindergarten AQ online course work, cleaning the house, trying some new board games from my closet, and working out at the gym (if it is still open).

And this leads to my point about words. 
James (my husband) was arguing against the use of the term "social distancing", in favour of the word "quarantine". He complained that social distancing was a "weasel word" that lacked clarity. People under quarantine know what's expected of them, unlike those who practice social distancing.

I was more in favour of the term "social distancing" because I felt that the word quarantine had too much history and weight to it and that using it would lead people to panic more. 

His retort? People don't take social distancing seriously as much as quarantining. Plus, people panicked quite thoroughly when it was announced that all Ontario schools would be closed. Try finding toilet paper in stores right now. 

I read an article (I think from The Atlantic) that supported his point. The author consulted with several experts and there were no consistent answers to questions such as "Should I stop visiting my elderly relatives?"

Words impact how we think. If there are 25 different words for "snow" (as I have heard claimed), it leads you to think about snow in much more nuanced ways.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Record as much as you can

I was really stumped at first about what I could reflect on and write about for my blog.
My student-teacher is now 100% in charge of all the teaching during the day, so lately I spend the majority of my day watching her and writing things down. It's very different from a typical day. of the recent past.

It's hard to not be teaching and learning alongside the students like I usually do. I "miss" them and they miss me. I need to supervise my teacher-candidate but I don't want my presence to negatively influence the lesson; after all, it's natural for the students to come to me with questions, even though SC is the one in charge. So, I tuck myself into a corner, try to be as "invisible" as I can, and I write notes for and about SC.

Before SC was responsible for the full day, I'd hand-write my observations with different coloured Sharpies, but I knew my hand would tire, so this week, I switched to making notes on my laptop in a Google document. I've been averaging about 5 pages a day of notes.

What do I write? Almost anything and everything. I write down the questions she asks. I write down what she does and the conversations between her and the students. I write down what I see the students doing. I write down the conversations the students have with each other. I write down the classroom management techniques she uses and the results. I write a lot. I've asked SC if my copious note-taking bothers her, but she reassured me that it doesn't. She reads over the feedback each evening and I notice that she makes adjustments to her question tactics, or pacing, or whatever I might have observed and wondered about the day prior.

If you can get over the semi-evaluative nature of this process, it's actually great to have an extra pair of eyes to see things you miss and an extra scribe.

I realized that this theme, of the benefits of recording as much as possible as soon as possible, echoed in other ways throughout this week.

In my Kindergarten Additional Qualification course this week, we had Kvitka Holman come in to talk about math in the early years. As part of her session, she asked us to take notes on what we saw some of our classmates doing as they explored the learning invitations they had set out. I will edit this post to include a JPG of the notes I took. There was so much going on and so much to capture that my pencil and paper couldn't keep up!

Kvitka pointed out that, if we look closely enough to the play and thought that happens while students interact with a learning invitation, we can see evidence for many of the expectations in the Kindergarten Program guide. She right; I saw so much but I was frantically trying to preserve as much as I could as quickly as I could. My scribbles look like a mess - hopefully I can recall what I meant when I made them. I'm looking forward to Michael Mohammed's session on Pedagogical Documentation next week (especially because I was planning to see him at the STAO conference but that has been cancelled due to concerns regarding the current work situation as well as COVID-19).

Recording has become important in my personal life as well. One of my Lenten promises this year is to visit my parents much more regularly. Three times a week, I go to their house. To give myself and my visits a sense of purpose, I decided that I would record all the stories my parents have told about their lives over the years. Why write it down? There are several reasons. I've heard some of these stories so often that I could probably recite them by heart myself, but forcing myself to write them down means that I listen much more attentively. I pay attention closer. I double-check that I'm capturing their ideas in the most accurate way possible. I ask clarification questions, which sometimes leads to details that were previously not mentioned in past retellings. Also, even though I've sworn that I'll remember these stories forever, I won't. My parents won't. Sometimes, they don't. Some of the names are starting to fade away from memory. The tales from long ago are still as clear to them as they were when they happened, but other stories are becoming lost. I don't want to lose those stories like other things that are in danger of disappearing.

This photo, for instance, was taken as my parents explained why they chose to bring certain items in their suitcases with them when they emigrated from Guyana to Canada. My mom is holding a real, stuffed (as in taxidermy) caiman in this picture. My parents brought some very odd things with them, from a cutlass to a caiman, from a turtle shell to a plastic garden gnome. They explained why, and it made for an interesting and enlightening story.

So, to conclude, there are many good reasons why it's important to record as much as you can as soon as your can.

  • you won't forget
  • you won't be disappointed if you rely on your memory and it fails
  • you can pay close attention to what you are capturing and why
  • you can share your observations / stories with others easier
  • you can notice things that you might overlook in your regular interactions
  • you can learn from your recollections and make positive change
  • you can ensure you don't unintentionally ignore something vital happening
  • you can make people you are recording about feel valued and important
  • you can use it as a method of assessment or evaluation for students (or yourself)
Record it while you can, when you can. You never know when you might not have the chance.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Trying Thrice - Loose Parts & Learning Invitations

One of the best things about being a specialist teacher is that you get the opportunity to try lessons more than once, with different classes. This is helpful because, after reflecting on the lesson's successes and failures, I can modify / improve the lesson and try again.

I see three kindergarten classes for library time and media literacy instruction. A couple of weeks ago, I taught a simplified version of this lesson, posted on the AML website, about the 2020 winner of the Best Animated Short Film, "Hair Love".

I wanted to dive in a little more into some of the ideas and themes from this fantastic film. I also wanted to try out some of the approaches and techniques advocated in the Kindergarten Additional Qualification course that I'm currently taking with Gail Bedeau and Kenisha Bynoe, especially loose parts and learning invitations.

These aren't "100% ideal learning invitations" (I said this to Gail or Kenisha who questioned me on this - I don't mean that they aren't perfect, but that they deliberately don't completely follow some of the guidelines for creating learning invitations as we've been shown in our course.)

First Try - Monday, February 24, 2020 with "K2"

This was my first attempt at organizing some learning invitations designed on my own. The hard part was that it was during the second period of the afternoon, which meant I couldn't set up in advance. (We were using the tables for another purpose with a different class immediately before this lesson.) The set-up felt very rushed, even though I made plans so that at least two of the adults in the room could be free to fix the items up strategically by having the students re-watch the film. The lucky part was that Jennifer Balido-Cadavez, amazing ECE teacher, actually had loose parts that she was able to quickly bring from her kindergarten class to the library to supplement my meager supplies. (I wish I could buy more but Phase 6 of ETFO's current work-to-rule stipulations states that we are to temporarily refrain from using our own personal funds to supplement our classrooms.)

I have a paper called "A Guide to Planning An Invitation for Learning" (created by Kenisha Bynoe and Angelique Thompson) and the second step is to select a text, photo or artifact. I chose a trophy (artifact) for one of my invitations and the actual book "Hair Love" (text) for the second invitation. I was nervous about my third media text choice. I picked my cherished puppet doll. I've noticed that toys aren't often (or ever?) part of a learning invitation, but I was uncertain how to explore hair without something with hair. (Jen Cadavez solved this within days, but more on that later.) I also wondered if only having a single head of hair would cause disagreements between the children. I debated with myself and others and brought out a "second head". This invitation, of all of the ones I attempted to design, felt the most limited in scope and possibilities.

The third step to planning an invitation for learning is to develop a question. This is the hard part for me. The question has to be open-ended, offer many possibilities for play and learning, and more - all of this, with the chance that students might not attempt to read the question and that it wasn't 100% required to read the question to the students. The questions were "How might we celebrate?" / "How might we help Zuri?" / "How might we show love?"

I know that, in my Kindergarten AQ course, we aren't getting around to the topic of pedagogical documentation until March 11, but I was determined to try and observe and document (via anecdotal notes, photos and videos) as best as I could. Thanks go to SC and Mrs. Cadavez for quickly capturing as much as they could.

Three big things that I noticed were:
1) Many of the students had no clue what to do at the learning invitations. Some just stared and froze.
2) The students who chose the "hair-focused" learning invitation ignored the young black figure in favor of the adult white blonde figure. When I made a suggestion that all four students presently at the invitation didn't have to limit themselves to one figure, they just looked at me. I discretely rushed over to Mrs. Cadavez to share my observation and ask her what to do. We "traded" spaces to watch and once she started playing with and interacting with the black doll, then other students followed her lead.
3) At the hair centre, the students really enjoyed digging through the supply bin and discovering some objects I hadn't even considered them using. It gave me a lot of insight into their extensive background knowledge and schemas.

This is a birthday cake from the "celebrate" invitation

Second Try - Thursday, February 27, 2020 with "K1"

As you can imagine, I spent a lot of time discussing with SC and Mrs. Cadavez discussing what we saw and what our next steps should be for K2. In the meantime, I had my AQ class on Wednesday, February 26. The guest speaker was Angelique Thompson and her topic was "Comprehensive Literacy Programming in Play". She said a lot of fantastic things during her presentation, but one of the most powerful for me was helping students learn how to interact playfully with loose parts.

Thankfully, the class I was going to try this with for the second time had their kindergarten media period immediately after lunch - which meant I had time to carefully set up the learning invitations in a much less-rushed, more thoughtful way. I was going to pull the blonde "Barbie head" out of the invitation, but Mrs. Cadavez asked me not to; she said it could be an interesting comparison and wondered if the other class would react in similar ways to her students.

For "How might we help Zuri?", I added iPads for potential photo documentation (plus, in the book and video, Zuri uses some sort of electronic tablet device to look at her mother's vlogs to understand how to style her hair). I tried to minimize the supply box's presence (but was still interested to see if they wanted to explore its contents, so I left it there). For "How might we celebrate?" I was much more deliberate in how I set items up, with symmetry, patterns, and objects. (I desperately wanted the containers to match, but didn't have enough of the same type.). For "How might we show love?" all objects had containers.

We also tried a modified version of Angelique's steps to becoming comfortable with using loose parts for play. (She said to Observe / Think / Explore / Create / Document. Her guiding questions were "What do you see? What can you do with it? How might you use the materials?" and I used the first and third questions with the students.) I recorded their ideas on a paper I left at an empty table.

There's no such thing as "wrong play" (at least, I hope not) but this time around, things seemed to go smoother. To my great relief, both dolls were used as part of the play, although a certain subset of girls showed an obvious preference for the blonde head. I loved that both boys and girls gravitated to all three invitations. The presence of the iPads had an odd effect - one of the students took one, turned it on and started flipping through it. When I asked her what she was going to do, she said "Go on YouTube". I'm not sure if it was connected to the film, when Zuri looks up her mom's videos, or if it was just a "this is what we do on an iPad" reaction.

J put clips in her own hair

Built at the celebrate area

Third Try - Friday, February 28, 2020 with "K3"

My concern for this class was that it is a smaller group without an Early Childhood Educator present; this meant one less adult present to help with pedagogical documentation. (We have a SNA with this class but she had her hands full with the student who needs her help and couldn't spend time taking notes.) I made fewer changes to the learning invitations but still tweaked things a bit. Once again, this class occurred immediately after lunch so I had time to carefully set up the learning invitations. I tried to make the writing tools more interesting in the "How might we help Zuri?" by placing some of the hair bobbles in the clear cup with the pencils. I also placed some of the hair ties in the black puppet's hand.

I wish I had video taped or captured the audio when I gave this group a tour of the learning invitations. One student in particular loudly and delightedly made many positive comments and connections between the invitations and the film had just watched, saying things like "That doll looks just like the girl in the movie! And look, there's the book that looks just like the movie! And oh, the markers are in a pattern - see, it's red, blue, red, blue!"

I asked SC to watch the "How might we help Zuri?" invitation while I attended to the other two. It was hard to capture everything, because there were SO many examples of the students demonstrating the four frames (Belonging and Contributing / Self-Regulation and Well-Being / Literacy and Mathematics Behaviours / Problem Solving and Innovating). SC told me that she was so touched by how sweetly some of the students treated the puppet in particular.

Only one student at the "How do we show love?" invitation struggled. "What do I do?" she asked. Another student arrived at the invitation and promptly started making a heart. By the end, she created four hearts with four different sets of materials. The student who was initially befuddled took inspiration from this other child and made her own heart.

A's picture combined chalk and jewels

D, with 4 different types of hearts

S's patterned heart, inspired by D
What also wowed me was the ingenuity and problem solving of K and D. They weren't satisfied with the limited colours of wipe-off markers I had set up in the "How might we celebrate?" learning invitation - so K grabbed my bin of Sharpies that I had elsewhere. At first, I freaked out a bit - Sharpies don't come off whiteboards easily! Then, I thought I shouldn't limit them, so reluctantly I gave back the Sharpies I initially confiscated. K and D tried to erase it but it didn't come off, but then D yells out, "Wait, see this works! Colour with one of these markers on top and it'll come out!" (And it did - not perfectly, but it did!)

Remember the first group, K2? Jennifer Cadavez was busy contemplating how to address this potential bias around hair types.

Not only did she create a learning invitation (which was, no offence to me, way more awesome than mine), but she CO- CREATED it WITH THE STUDENTS! I asked her to tell me all about it and she texted me this description:

The students helped me co-create this learning invitation. After our media class, we found a book in our class library about hair. I began to set up the table for the invitation and one student said, "What are you doing?". I said, "I am planning to make a loose parts invitation for the class." The student began to start cutting pieces of coloured yarn. "If you spray paint your hair, it can be green like this string." "If you use pipe cleaners and twirl it around your finger, it can be like the curl."

Talk about being a responsive educator! Jennifer helps me and inspires me so much, and not just me. The loose parts learning invitations and the observations helped shape SC's upcoming kindergarten media lessons (because she'll be teaching 100% of the time for the next two weeks).

Monday, February 24, 2020

Celebrating my student teacher - respectfully

Aviva Dunsiger understands me. In a blog post she wrote in response to last week's entry of mine, she said,
Diana’s posts are always complex, and usually involve a few different topics connected together in the most wonderful of ways
That's very perceptive. I actually make an effort to combine several thoughts swirling in my head together because I only write once a week. Thinking and writing about events helps me sort things out, and for the reader, it means that if someone isn't drawn in by one of the topics, they might be by one of the others.

My original intention (based on the last sentence of last week's blog) was to talk about my new student-teacher. As is my usual practice, I told her my plans and asked if it would be okay if I wrote about her and shared some photos of her on my blog. She gave some parameters, which I have respected in this post.

That gave me a new tangent to explore - what Jennifer Casa-Todd calls creating "a culture of consent". (Read her blog about the topic at

Thank you Farah Wadia for taking this photo of me
As you can imagine, I'm pretty comfortable with sharing information and images of myself online - although I don't share everything. (This post of mine, from 2017, talks about what I choose NOT to share.). Having said that, I think it's important to still check in with people, even "public people", to see if they are okay with you posting things featuring them. I don't want to pat myself on the back, but during OLA Super Conference, I took what I felt was a fantastic photo of three wonderful people (Lisa Noble, Amanda Williams, and Angela Stockman) enjoying some aromatherapy. After taking a few shots, I asked Lisa, Amanda, and Angela if they were comfortable with me sharing the photo on Twitter. Angela was taken a bit aback. "I've never been asked about this - thank you" was (an approximation of) her response.

I was surprised that she was surprised - and disappointed too. It must be very common that the act of obtaining consent is completely ignored. I've written about consent before (in 2018) and my views on the issue still remain consistent. Ask. If people ask for boundaries or limits, listen to them. When it comes to children, ask them too, but err on the side of caution - they may not be aware of how long-lasting an image, video, or comment linked to their name might remain. (That's why the photos I took of students reading for I Read Canadian Day have no faces. Sonia Singh, who also took photos of her students, also respected the balance between her students' privacy and their desire to be captured on film and celebrated.)

And if you forget and post without permission, own up to the error, check in with the person, and make changes if necessary. For instance, I posed a tweet and a photo about a wonderful colleague of mine, Farah Wadia, and the interview she gave during our strike on Friday. I didn't check with her first; thankfully when I contacted her, she gave me her consent to keep the tweet up. (Sorry for the slip-up, Farah!)

This leads me back to my student-teacher. She mentioned that in her Faculty of Education training, they were cautioned repeatedly about using social media. (The teacher-candidates are quite aware of the Ontario College of Teachers guidelines around the use of electronic communication and social media - I just wish the take-away for many of them wasn't/isn't to avoid it completely.)

I know how important it is to have a good associate teacher / host teacher. I was in the Concurrent Education program at the Faculty of Education at York University. I had three year-long placements with three different locations during my teacher formation time. Most of those experiences were extremely positive, but I contemplated quitting the Faculty of Education because of one of those placements. While in that particular teacher's room, I felt like I couldn't do anything right. I was belittled and treated like a second-class citizen. I wasn't allowed to sit in the "teacher's chair" until my month-long teaching block in May. Some of the habits I developed as coping mechanisms and/or part of that teacher's advice took years to undo. I told myself that if I was ever fortunate to be a host teacher, I would be different.

SC is a Year 2 Faculty of Education student at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto. When she graduates, she will have her Junior-Intermediate qualifications and she plans on gaining her Primary qualifications shortly afterward. I have learned so much from SC already, and it's only been a week! She was the one who introduced me to a term I had never heard before (TPR - Total Physical Response). SC explained to me that  ELL teachers use this technique to increase understanding for their students and she noticed that some of the ways I talk to my students include TPR techniques. I'm going to have to investigate this further. I had no idea.

SC helping a student with tech for a project

There are many things I really appreciate about SC. She likes and responds to feedback and is keen to try new things. Simultaneously, she is aware of and able to establish her comfort level and isn't afraid to say "no" or "not yet". Boundaries are good and healthy!

SC reading a book to a kindergarten class

SC is a hard worker who has stepped up quickly to the demands of teaching in a school library space, reading several books from the Forest of Reading list for 2020 so she can be prepared to chat with junior and intermediate division students like I do.

SC is prepared and her first whole-class lesson (a STEAM session with Grade 2s) went well. I can hardly wait to see the cardboard cabinets that the students make with her.

There's a lot of information to take in, especially because most of SC's prior placements have been in Grade 6-8 and she is now interacting with K-8. I've noticed that she is working on building rapport with as many students as she can, which is no easy feat. The current work-to-rule situation makes it doubly challenging, because we can't talk leisurely after school or plan / set-up early in the morning.

As a new host teacher, I have other concerns too, none of which centre on SC. I worry that this unusual circumstance (i.e. SC's first teaching week was only three days, because of Family Day on Monday and the province-wide strike on Friday) will deprive SC of some of the full experience of being at my school. I also worry that SC will feel the need to model her teaching on mine - my teaching is a reflection of my training and identities and although I stand by the methods and techniques I use, I hope SC doesn't employ them just because I do. Then there's my modified teaching priorities - I'm doing a lot less information literacy and research skills with the upper grade students than I've done in the past, because we need to use the time during the instructional day to address the literacy goals related to the Forest of Reading. This may give SC a skewed image of the school library as "just about books and reading". I'll need to let go of my worries and go with the flow. I hope SC enjoys her placement as much as I already have.