Are These Tweens Really Ready?

I still remember the first time that I had to look at children through a developmentally appropriate lens. As educators, we all know the age of the students that are in front of us, and we understand school rules and expectations, but what if our children are at a different developmental level? This was a reality that I faced a number of years ago. And it was this very topic that I thought back to again when I heard a very disturbing story yesterday.

I think often about this group of students, who caused me to really re-evaluate my teaching practices. I was struggling. Really struggling. I was not a new teacher, and I was not a beginning teacher in this grade, but nothing seemed to be working. I was spending my entire day dealing with one problem after another one. I felt as though I was constantly putting out fires, and just as I put out one, another blaze began. Ask any Kindergarten child, and he/she can probably recite the school rules.

  • No hitting.
  • No kicking.
  • No pushing.
  • No spitting.
  • We can look instead at the nicer option of, “Be kind to your friends and keep your hands to yourself,” but the overall message is the same.

For the most part, these students also knew these rules, but they didn’t follow them. How was I supposed to support academic gains, when I was split in so many directions dealing with social problems? At this point, I tried options that worked well in the past, and when these options still didn’t work, I broke down in tears. I went to the principal and asked for help. I wanted to bring in some consultants and Board teams and see what we could do to support these children, as the classroom environment was not working for anyone. I had a wonderfully supportive principal, who was quick to contact some Board supports, and we had a meeting. In the meeting, we talked about The ELECT Document, and where these students might be at a developmental level. I knew where they needed to be, but if they weren’t there, were my instructional approaches really supporting them? This meeting was eye-opening for me and challenging at the same time. I’m a teacher. I teach reading, writing, and math. But these consultants re-framed things for me: I teach kids first! So I walked back into the classroom, feeling partially defeated and partially inspired, and I had a really long talk with my teaching partner. If all of our students were at the developmental level of a toddler, what would a toddler room look like? We made a lot of changes after school that day, which continued into the next day.

  • We covered up shelves.
  • We switched materials in the room.
  • We replaced lengthy read alouds with board books.
  • We added more sensory options (from water to play dough), and even made the sink into a learning space.
  • We changed our schedule: reducing transitions and allowing for more of a flow in the day.
  • We responded differently to kids: modelling social interactions instead of punishing for hitting or grabbing, as this was the developmental stage that the students were at. 
  • We started to sing everything. As an educator that I admire reminded me, “Kids hear music at a different level than talking. They respond to it differently.” And they did!

The next day was the BEST day that I had at school in over two months. Our kids had their best day too. What initially felt like a very dysregulating environment changed to a very calming one. I could feel it, my teaching partner could feel it, and the children could feel it. This was a great reminder to all of us, that while we had our expectations for kids, we needed to respond to the children in front of us. By responding differently, the students also changed. They grew. They matured. And we could gradually address academic needs, as now these children were self-regulated and ready to learn!

I thought back to this experience yesterday when a teacher from a different school told me about a disturbing issue with tweens and social media. The details of this problem are irrelevant. We’ve all heard about these issues before. Be it inappropriate postings, language, or interactions on a social media site, we all know the horror stories or have experienced them. And this is when I started to wonder about elementary students bringing and using their own devices at school. Please don’t get me wrong. I’ve taught up to Grade 6 before, and I’ve used technology in all grades from Kindergarten to Grade 6. I see the value in using technology as a learning tool, and watching students use these devices in the classroom, I think that they also see the academic benefits. But when we add personal devices into the mix, we also potentially add more problems.

  • There’s the ability to text.
  • There’s the ability to upload to Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter (usually used less by students). 
  • There’s the ability to use Snapchat or Kik (a popular option with my Grade 6’s many years ago). 

We could argue that the rule is that the students are not supposed to use these apps in school, but rules are often broken. In fact, most of the social media platforms that these tweens are using are for individuals 13 or older, but many are using it much younger than that. And while, as a teacher, I always circulated and looked at the screens as students used iPads or computers, with hand-held devices it’s impossible to see every screen at every moment of the day. It takes seconds to publish a post, and these seconds can lead to many minutes of problems later. 

I’m beginning to wonder if students in this Grade 5-8 range are emotionally and socially mature enough to deal with the possible repercussions that come from the use of social media. Add into the fact that many of these students are starting to go through puberty, and at times, hormones lead to them responding in a way that may even be outside of their control. I get it. I’ve seen it. And these same students may be genuinely upset later with how they’ve responded, but it could be too late. I know that these individuals are likely to explore texting and social media applications at home, and maybe these same problems will surface, but I wonder if parents can catch issues even quicker. Can they support their tween even more? For these same parents may be watching a couple of kids versus a class of 30+ students. It’s the numbers that concern me the most. 

When I taught junior grades, I did encourage students to bring in their devices from home. Many did. This was what often gave us 1:1 devices in the room, and allowed us to blog and create online, collaborative presentations as frequently as we did. But if I was to go back and teach a junior grade again, I’m not sure that I would encourage these home devices as much as I did before. I’d still use the iPads, Chromebooks, and computers that we have at school, but maybe cellphones could stay in the lockers until after school. Would just this one change minimize the potential for problems and allow me to continue to model technology use for learning, but with Board devices in a classroom setting? These horror stories scare me, and not just because of what happens, but because I wonder if we can truly expect different outcomes from kids of this age. Maybe some kids, but most/all kids? It’s like my teaching story from years ago: when we respond to students at their developmental level, the learning and behaviour changes. I wonder if the social and emotional developmental level of these 10-12 year olds really allow for the independent, mature interaction with the platforms that they ARE using — and will likely CONTINUE to use — on their personal devices. Knowing this, do we need to respond in a different way? What might that way be? It only took one more disturbing story to have me wondering. 


What Makes A Journal Better?

The other day, I had a conversation that has been on my mind ever since. I was speaking with another teacher about writing in Kindergarten. I’m very passionate about authentic writing, and the value in using this writing to also support reading development. In my 17 years of teaching with the Board — and 11 years teaching Kindergarten — all of our children this year are reading and writing more than I’ve ever seen before. All of this writing is authentic.

  • It’s embedded in play.
  • It’s largely student-driven.
  • It takes place all day long.
  • It’s linked with opportunities to read, and supports and includes the development of new vocabulary (oral language).

Writing letters happens a lot in our class. When Brady wrote a note to @paulacrockett to get the milk, Wyatt decided to write a note to return the library books. My reply gave him another opportunity to do some reading. Love how he said the sounds aloud to help with reading the words. Then Brayden and Wyatt noticed that we got one less chocolate milk than we needed, so they wrote Mr. Berg to tell him. Brayden got so into letter writing that he wrote his friend in Grade 4, asking if he was in Mary Poppins. Evan wrote him back at lunch today (not pictured here). Brayden was so excited that he wrote Evan another letter. He read it and delivered it to Evan, who said that he would write him back on the weekend. I love authentic reasons to read and write! ❤️ SWIPE ⬅️ FOR MORE. #ctinquiry #teachersofinstagram #iteachk

A post shared by Aviva (@avivaloca) on

My teaching partner, Paula, and I could not be happier about the reading and writing that we’re seeing in our classroom, and we’ve received numerous emails from parents that express their gratitude for the growth that they’ve seen in their children. All of this matters immensely to me! This may have been why I was triggered when this same teacher suggested the use of notebooks/journals for some of our kids. What? Why?

I’m going to share here the same concerns that I expressed at the time.

  • Many journals are lined, and there’s information out there that shows how these lines act as “visual noise,” and can discourage children from writing more. I used lined journals for years with my Kindergarten and Grade 1 students, but as soon as I made the switch to unlined paper, I noticed a huge increase in the quality and quantity of writing. I’ve never gone back! This unlined paper also allows children to easily draw and label their work, which is something that beginning writers do frequently. Drawings are how many Kindergarten students communicate — especially initially — and our Program Document supports this with Visual Arts being one of the ways that children can communicate. 
  • Even if we can find unlined journals, as soon as we make writing about what happens in a notebook or a journal, we start to devalue the writing that happens in authentic ways. I don’t think that this is done intentionally, and maybe it’s not the case for everyone, but often there is far less writing happening around the room and through play when writing happens in a notebook. Maybe it’s in our attempt to make that notebook special that children receive an implied message about the importance of this journal. Maybe it’s because so many of our mini-lessons happen with the journal that the other writing is seen as less valuable, be it in the eyes of adults or children. But for years I’ve noticed that as soon as a journal is introduced, other writing gradually decreases. I think it’s worth exploring why this happens. 

I know that writing starts to look different as we move up in the grades. I’ve taught Kindergarten to Grade 6. Yes, these grades are not all the same. But while the pedagogy is explicit in the Kindergarten Program Document, it’s not explicit in the Language Curriculum. Reading and writing could still happen through play. When I taught Grade 1 at Dr. Davey, a Writer’s Workshop model totally changed things for my students. Kids were writing constantly and for long periods of time, and these were not children that started the year feeling as though they were readers and writers. I had grand plans for how I wanted to run our Grade 1 classroom, but I had to make changes because of the children that were in front of me. This Writer’s Workshop model was one of these changes, and it was a game changer. Even then, my children did not have journals. I did have writing folders, and encouraged students to organize loose papers in these folders, but writing was often done and displayed around the classroom. Signs and labels were used within the context of play, and it was when the interests changed, that children took these papers and began to put them in their writing folders. Perfect!

Please don’t get me wrong. I know that sometimes the value of a journal is not in the writing (the expression of ideas), but in the printing practice (opportunities to form letters correctly and in ways that are readable to others). There is a time and a place for learning proper letter formation … and I realize that sometimes when learned incorrectly, this is a hard habit to break. That said, I’ve noticed that when children get hung up on how to form a letter, many of them stop writing. For some children, just showing them that they’ve made a mistake is enough to discourage more writing. It all comes down to knowing your students. 

  • If Paula and I notice letter reversals, we will often demonstrate how to form these letters correctly.
  • We might write children back a note based on what they wrote us, and even point out the differences in some of our letters versus theirs. 
  • We might encourage students to trace the letter that we wrote and try some of their own.
  • For a few children, we might remind them before they write to remember about uppercase and lowercase letters. 
  • And for some children, we might not say anything because just the very act of writing can be stressful enough, and we want to encourage and support, and not discourage the growth we’re seeing.

And so, we try to put out papers that are of various sizes: from small sticky notes to notepads in the dramatic play restaurant to papers on clipboards. We also put out different writing instruments: from Sharpies (the preferred one) to pencils. We want children to learn to write smaller and more exact, but we also want them to love writing and to understand that writing can be a very valuable and convincing way to express ideas to others. This is why we’ve also started to include technology as part of our writing, and using PicCollage is another way for children to write. They love sharing their PicCollages with a larger audience through Twitter and Instagram. We’ve also started to use Explain Everything in addition to PicCollage to give children a bigger voice in their writing, for often at this age, what children can express orally even exceeds what they can write down. 

Writing is complex and wonderful, and even now as an educator, I’m inspired by what I can share through text. Sometimes this text is a handwritten card (yes, even with the lack of a pen, I still do those 🙂 ), sometimes it’s a blog post, and sometimes it’s a Twitter or Instagram post. These kids that we’re teaching now will grow up to hopefully still be eager writers, who realize that writing can happen anywhere at any time. There’s still time to further perfect the size and formation of the printing, and while it might also matter, the confidence that comes from children realizing that they can communicate to anyone through the messages that they write is powerful. I don’t want to even inadvertently change these feelings by adding a journal into the mix. If children bring their own journals into class — which some do — we’re happy to support the writing that happens in these journals. This is now child-initiated writing that’s meaningful to that child. How can we not? But we’re reluctant to go the route of a journal for everyone — or even a handful of children that have not indicated an interestAre they really necessary? What do you think? I know that the teacher that mentioned this to me the other day got quite the passionate response — and I do apologize for that — but I hope that this post explains why this matters so much to me. With a Program Document that supports authentic writing, why move to a journal? I wonder how authentic this kind of writing really is for our youngest learners.


A Little Something We Can All Learn From Mrs. Raymond!

We all know that relationships matter. We may even talk regularly about the benefits of these strong connections between educators, parents, and students. But sometimes it’s really seeing the value of these strong relationships that make us realize just how important they are!

Yesterday was the last day for one member of our school’s Kindergarten team. Starting today, Janet is taking on the new-to-her position of a Reading Specialist in our Board. This is my second year of working beside Janet. I knew of her, and then had the pleasure of meeting her, a few years before I started teaching Kindergarten at Rousseau School. I was involved in the N.T.I.P. Program for our Board, and was mentoring an educator that wanted to see a Kindergarten classroom in action. Many colleagues recommended that we go and see Janet’s room, and so we did. I wasn’t disappointed! There were many things that stuck out for me on that visit, but one thing that I remember even years later, are all of the things that Janet did to connect with kids. From her gentle tone to sitting down and creating with a group of students, Janet was always about the kids first. She still is! There is not one child in the school that has not been impacted by Mrs. Raymond! In fact, I don’t think that there’s one educator that hasn’t either.

This point was highlighted for me yesterday. When Paula and I told the class that it was “Mrs. Raymond’s last day,” children were inspired to create things for her all day long. They made her cards, pictures, and notes of love and encouragement. These children are not in her class. Some of them just met Janet for the first time in September, and largely only see her during our outdoor learning time in the morning. But she’s made a difference for them! It was incredible to see how many kids gave Janet some of their very best work yesterday because they wanted her to know how much they cared. Even though Paula and I were already thinking about giving her our pink painting piece as a goodbye present (as she shared with us that it really was her favourite piece of artwork), it was the children that suggested giving her a painting. They wanted her to remember us with something special. Many children at this age are very me-focused, and this is true of numerous students in our class. This is developmentally appropriate, and we know this. But thanks to all that Janet has done for us, and for the school, even these me-focused kids made yesterday about her

So thank you, Mrs. Raymond, for reminding us about the importance of putting kids first. Thanks for always being there with a hug, a kind word, and some encouragement. You’ve made an impact on thousands of students, parents, and educators, including every single one of us in ELP 1What’s a little something that we could all learn from Janet? I’m very sad to see you go, but I’m thrilled that I got the opportunity to work with and learn from you. You’re going to continue to make a difference for kids and adults everywhere, and I wish you nothing but the best on your first day as a Reading Specialist!


What’s Not Pinterest-Worthy?

I always find it interesting to look at the Instagram #BestNine collages that people start sharing in December. What posts make it into the Best Nine, and what ones do not? Every year, I’m a little surprised by my collection. I don’t have a separate personal and professional Instagram account, and almost all of my posts showcase learning in the classroom. That said, my Best Nine rarely include these classroom posts, and for the ones that are included, they are almost always the ones that show the final product instead of the process of learning.

As educators, we speak often about the value in the process. It’s not always about what’s produced, but what children thought and learned along the way. I think that this is really important, as does my teaching partner, Paula. We actually spend the majority of our time discussing the process.

  • What have we observed?
  • What have we heard?
  • Where does the interest really lie?
  • If something is not working, why might that be? What could we try instead?
  • How can we better support growing interests?
  • What is each child’s next step? How can we facilitate this learning?
  • What materials might we include next? How will this change the learning?

Both of us are rarely concerned about the final product. At times, we’re hoping to produce something beautiful, such as these paintings that students created together for our June Art Auction.

That said, we were as committed to documenting the process of these creations, as we were to capturing the final products … maybe even more so.

I’m not a huge Pinterest user, but I do look at Instagram posts regularly for ideas. I like some inspiration. Paula and I both do this. When I just see the final products though, I wonder about the messy wonderfulness that helped get students to this point.

  • How did they start?
  • What problems did they have along the way?
  • How did they solve them?
  • What changes did the educator team make to the learning space during this project? What impact did these changes have on the final outcome?
  • What did the educator team learn from this experience? 
  • What changes might they make if they were to do something similar again?

A photograph or video of the final product rarely answers these questions or provides insight into the process. Thinking about my Best Nine though, and the likes and feedback that I get on my regular Instagram posts, I wonder if the final product may matter even more than we say. Do people want to see problems or do they want to see perfection? In the days of Pinterest, maybe there’s a bigger push for the beautiful photographs versus the messy process. Are there more people out there, like me, that wonder about what’s not shared? With all of the pretty pictures being posted, are many of us reluctant to share the less pretty ones? On this Snow/Rain/Ice Day, I can’t help but do a little thinking about what people share online and what they don’t. Have others also been wondering?


Imagine If The Year Started With, “You Are A Mathematician!”

There are many things that I love about our Kindergarten Program Document, but the way that math is embedded through play might be one of my favourites. It’s really about making math authentic. I think about the value of this as children continue to progress through the grades. As a Board, we’ve spent a lot of time looking and talking about Jo Boaler‘s work on Mathematical Mindsets. I can’t help but wonder if the key to changing children’s perceptions of themselves as mathematicians rests in noticing and naming the mathematical thinking that students engage in on a daily basis, while continuing to focus on the Process Expectations. This does not mean that we negate the value in computations and learning specific skills, but we also need to help children view themselves as mathematicians, so that they regularly think, problem solve, and approach life through a mathematical lens. 

I think of the math that happens daily in our Kindergarten classroom. For everything that we do, there’s a lot that we don’t do.

  • We don’t do math centres.
  • We don’t do a Problem of the Day.
  • We rarely use traditional math manipulatives, and even when we do, they’re rarely used in a traditional way. Just look at how the dominoes are used in this house. Mind you, there is still a lot of mathematical thinking in their design.
  • We don’t require the completion of specific activities for kids. 

This does not mean that we just wait for children to become interested in math, and then develop the skills. Nor do students just happen to stumble upon the math, and we wait (fingers crossed) for this to happen. We make a lot of deliberate choices around the materials we put out, the location of these materials, the questions we ask, and our morning meeting provocations, with the intention of developing math thinking and knowledge. Even the little finger plays we do each day are done with math in mind. Here is what we do to get children engaged in thinking mathematically and developing skills, all within the context of play, inquiry, and everyday experiences.

  • We spend a lot of time observing and listening to students. Most of our time is spent with kids. Recently, a teacher told me that I never sit down. I’m not sure about that. I think that my teaching partner, Paula, and I do sit frequently, but never on our own. We’re always with a group of children, or standing back, and listening carefully to what children are saying. It’s when we listen that we can often make the connection to math and can “name” this math for kids. Some might argue that this math talk interrupts the play, and at times, we both wonder if it does. But then we see how children take what we’ve named, and use this language and share this thinking in their play … without us being the push. This makes the observing and listening well worth it!

  • We make our outdoor learning time about way more than recess. When on duty at recess, it’s hard to do anything besides supervision, but with our outdoor learning time, a smaller group and a bigger space allow children to really settle into play. This gives us an opportunity to go around, observe, listen, and talk with kids. We do not structure this outdoor time. Students decide what they want to do and where they want to play (within boundaries of course), but even so, there is so much math that happens authentically outside. Measurement talk is often huge in this space, but sometimes, there are also discussions about geometry (particularly shapes) and number sense (often counting, addition, subtraction, and subitizing). Again, after naming what we’re observing, students begin to use this language on their own. 

  • We think carefully about our transitional times. We don’t transition a lot in our room. With a long outdoor time followed by a long block of play in the classroom, our biggest transition is around mid-day when we come inside and have our meeting time. (Since eating happens all day at an eating table, we don’t heed to the nutrition breaks, which also reduces the number of transitions.) Getting 27 Kindergarten children undressed and organized is a challenge in itself, especially with this never-ending winter, so usually Paula oversees this (she’s amazing), and I connect with the kids as they come into the room. We often use this time for some phonological awareness activities, but also, some math talk. When we noticed that our children really needed to develop their subitizing skills, we created this Google Presentation that shows examples of subitizing in real life. Discussing these examples provides a great opportunity to get children thinking about subitizing. We also play some simple games that have children considering subitizing. I like to use the finger play, “Open them, shut them, give a little clap. Open them, shut them, give a little tap. Open them, shut them, fold them in your lap.” Now I’ve changed the words, and give a specific number of fingers for children to clap or tap. For example, I might say, “Open them, shut them, give a two and three finger clap.” Initially, I focused on doubles, but one child suggested I try an uneven amount, so I changed to this. Children then tell me how many fingers they’re clapping or tapping. Simple, but effective! I also use fingers for children to show me different amounts. This only takes a few minutes, but it’s really worthwhile. Having children discuss how they determined the correct total also provides a great option for communicating math thinking.

  • We’re intentional about what we put out and where we place items. During the course of the day, just about everything in the classroom is moved around, but to start, Paula and I think very carefully about what we’re going to put out and what learning and conversations these materials might lead to. We had a Math Night a couple of months ago, and as a Kindergarten team, we decided to really showcase math through play. In this document, we highlight different areas of the room and how we connect math concepts to these areas. In our room, we try to make more authentic links to data management, and now students come up with all kinds of their own reasons to survey friends and interpret data. That said, this document still shares a lot of different examples of math in the classroom, as well as extension possibilities for home. This home/school connection is so important, as then parents can also provide these authentic math opportunities, and help children see themselves as mathematicians. 

As I think more about math in the early years, and really just math in general, I wonder if the traditional math manipulatives and tools make math learning any better. I had a conversation recently with various Kindergarten and Grade 1 teachers. They were surprised that I didn’t use ten frames. We may not use the traditional ones, but we explore the same concepts in different ways. Is a ten frame better than an ice cube tray with 10 spaces in it? What about a muffin tin with 10 cups? When our Kindergarten students first started in our class, many of them wondered when we were going to “do math.” Without a workbook, a blackline master, or a separate time for math learning, play didn’t seem like math. But now, with the amount of math talk that we do, more children realize that math can — and does — happen everywhere, even around the eating table.

And even better, children see themselves as thinkers and doers of mathtrue mathematicians. Isn’t this one of our goals as educators? I realize that embedding this authentic math through play can be harder as children move up in the grades, but then I see examples such as the many ones here what a Grade 6 teacher in our Board does — and I realize that it’s still possible. I wonder how many of these students view themselves as mathematicians. Does this change their mathematical mindset? Imagine if we all started the school year telling students that they are mathematicians, and helping them believe it. Would something like this make a difference to how students see themselves as mathematical learners? I know that I teach some of our youngest children, but maybe there’s something that we can all learn from the Kindergarten Program DocumentWhat do you think?