This past week was a great week.
It wasn’t perfect, of course. We are imperfect human beings working with smaller imperfect human beings. In the interest of transparency (and if you really wanted to know) I could make you a list of all the things that could have gone better, or of the behaviours that could have been better, but that’s not what this post is about. Just trust me, everyday there is something. And that’s okay…it’s the whole imperfect human thing. The main goal is learning from those mistakes, and as I read on Twitter this week: the only real apology is corrected behaviour. @zellieimani
Yet there it was. A great week.
We did several lessons on sketchnoting technique in ELA, a way of compiling main ideas from a speech, story, etc. using a combination of text, images, and connectors. It’s accessible to all students, as it can be as simple or detailed as you choose to make it. One student said how much he hates taking notes off the board (which to be clear, we never do!) and that he loved being able to put what he wanted into his notes. By the third lesson, the students listened as I read a story to them with the suggestion (but option) to sketchnote along with me. Every student participated. Every one.
I’m exploring more and more with the ideas of the thinking classroom, in particular having students up out of their desks and using VNPS (vertical non permanent surfaces, so in my room that’s whiteboards.) After having sat and observed for quite a bit while my intern was teaching, it was good to remember how hard that is on students. In another tweet I read, “Behaviour issues are often students just reacting to the difficulty of remaining in this passive position for too long.” (Ariel Sacks) And even it if isn’t causing behaviour issues, it certainly isn’t engaging, and if I’m not paying attention then I’m not learning. So my new mission is using VNPS almost every day in some way, and the kids are totally into it. Just this week we used it for our sketchnoting practice in ELA, in problem solving survival scenarios for a motivational set, and in social we brainstormed solutions (plus pros/cons) for our environmental issues from last week. I’ve added a mini gallery walk to the end of the activity, so the groups do a small loop of the classroom to see what other groups were thinking before sitting down and discussing as a whole class. My timing has been a bit off since returning to full time teaching, and our discussion got cut off by the bell on Tuesday. I apologized to the kids, saying that my pacing is still a bit off, and that we’d have to finish the next day. A boy piped up, ‘That’s okay. Class went by so fast!” The engagement of the thinking classroom at work!
To go backward one week, I want to mention that we also took the thinking classroom and combined it with the walking classroom to make a ‘walk and talk’ activity. There was a set of 10 separate questions on chart paper in the hallway. Students were in pairs and given different starting numbers. Then because our school is a perfect square, they literally walked a lap of the school talking about their question. When they came back, they added their thinking to the chart paper, looked at the next question, and started on their next lap. As I circulated, it was great to see students who wouldn’t normally talk to each other, walking and talking about the issues. Sometimes when students are to discuss something with their ‘elbow partners’ they will talk for a minute and then wait till the time is up, so I’m curious why it was easier to walk and talk. Is it because we do this all the time naturally? Was it because it was awkward to walk beside someone and NOT talk?
The next class, we put the papers back up in the hallway and students got to choose three different ones to read the responses on, plus a news article that I had added to the chart papers, before we debriefed as a whole class again. It was a success both days, as students were asking if we were going to ‘walk and talk’ the next lesson too lol.
So just to allay the idea that it’s a teaching utopia in the middle years, here is Arts Ed 8. We are doing some music skills right now, and I had the students choose an instrument to become a mini-expert in (as much as you can become a mini-expert in three hours lol.) Then I set up a schedule where the expert group teaches their classmates as learners. To be honest, it was a bit hit-or-miss. Some groups were well prepared and did a great job of instruction but there were kids not trying or had their phone out or were just generally not working with the ‘teachers.’ Wow. That was an eye opener for some of them to be on the flip side! But each time they taught a new group, they revised their instruction and got more confident, until this week it really clicked. I sat in with the ‘voice’ group as they had been struggling more. They finished a bit early, so I grabbed a boy in grade 12 who I knew enjoyed rap. He came and (without even realizing it) taught a whole lesson on rap music, giving a bit of its history, pointing out levels of language in the lyrics, explaining what an ad lib was, and more. The kids were captivated. And at the end of class, a boy from the piano group stayed to tell me that ‘it was so much fun today. I learned three different songs and I even remembered them!’ A great week.
Finally Friday. It’s the week before the week-before-Christmas. Every day I stopped by the office to say what a great day it had been. Kids are getting exponentially ramped up, and maybe I thought it couldn’t continue. Brené Brown calls that the ‘idea of foreboding joy’…when things are going really well you’re waiting for something bad to happen! We do games day in ELA on Friday’s. Students can choose who they are playing with and what game to play – lots of language based games like Apples to Apples, Scrabble, Anomia. Visual games like Pictionary, Blokus, and Tellestrations. A group of boys who’ve designed their own way to play Guess Who with four boards lol. And I brought a new game called Spice Road that I grabbed two kids and had them learn how to play it…it’s pretty complicated but they caught on quickly (and I totally lost!) As admin was doing a walkabout, I waved him into the classroom to see two things: the level of engagement kids had (lots of laughing and having fun) and the level of noise in the classroom (it wasn’t loud at all.) But mostly, I still love to see them interacting socially with each other – talking, taking turns, relationship-building, strategizing.
More than ever, I’m committed to having students move more, sit less, with as much engagement as possible in both strategies and content.
Yep. There it was. A great week.
Tervetuloa. Welcome. Tawâw.
Perpetual amateur. Lifelong learner. Vice-Principal. Teacher. Musician. Mom. Annnnd if you're reading this, then I'm still a blogger.