Can We All Say Goodbye To, “What’s Your Favourite Colour?”

I have taught primary grades for 13 years, and I cannot tell you the number of times that I’ve had students survey others about …

  • favourite colours.
  • favourite foods.
  • modes of transportation.
  • mittens, gloves, or bare hands.

And then this year happened, and our updated Kindergarten Program Document made me see things differently. The document explicitly states that we start by observing the child, and then make the links between his/her play and program expectations. That’s when I started to wonder, is this the kind of data that matters to childrenMy teaching partner, Paula, and I talked about this, and we decided to wait, watch, and link data collection to student interests.

In the past, data collection was always something that I introduced early on in the school year. This year, we waited a lot longer. It’s hard to wait. Sometimes I wondered if the interest would ever be there, and if not, how could I speed things up? But then students started to orally collect some data at the snack table. They began to ask questions like, “Do you like …?,” or “Who else likes …?” These are the kinds of questions that tend to slow down eating, but to me, this is less troublesome when you see the connection to math. Now the students provided us with a reason to introduce how to conduct more formal surveys and keep track of data. This is what the “noticing and naming” component of math in the Kindergarten Document is all about: the math is already happening, and now it’s up to us to help students “name” and extend this math behaviour.

This is what we did here, and slowly students started to develop their own surveys. The questions that they asked were meaningful to them. Not only did they collect the data, but they also began to analyze it: commenting on total numbers and why people may have made the choices that they did.

As the survey interest progressed, we were able to structure some mini-lessons around our observations. Paula noticed that students were using checkmarks to keep track of student responses, so this is when she introduced tally marks and counting by 5’s.

This led to students changing how they kept track of their responses. We continued to also reinforce having children reflect on their findings and make sense of them.

Students also started to think more about why they might want to collect information, and they made tally charts when they wanted to find out what people thought about different topics, when they wanted to find out the most popular answer, and when they wanted to convince adults about something new to try (e.g., using GoNoodle at the end of the day).

While I realize that collecting data about library groups, computer options, and toilet names, may not seem like particularly deep topics, they are ones that are meaningful to this group of Kindergarten children. They also allow our students to move from collecting the data to analyzing it and making decisions based on the results. When I think back to what I had students collect data on in the past, I wonder if this was always the case. How often did we just stop at collecting the information? Did all of the topics lend themselves to much more than that?

I share this thinking now because on Friday, I saw this tweet from one of our instructional coaches, TJ Rooth.

This tweet came out of a Board in-service for Junior teachers. My thinking is that these “favourite colour surveys” should be reconsidered for all grades. Are they really enough? What do you think? How do we make data collection more meaningful for all students? I would love to know what you’ve tried and what you’ve observed. 


It’s Time To Speak Up: My “White Ribbon” Blog Post!

Yesterday morning, I started off my Friday as I always do by reading Doug Peterson‘s This Week In Ontario Edublogs post. The first blog post link that I clicked on to read was this powerful post by Rusul Alrubail. Her post really hit me hard for many reasons. As terribly as it makes me feel, I realize that I am one of the people that she discussed in her post.

I use Twitter primarily to share about and connect on education and classroom related happenings. I’m always reluctant to tweet about anything else. I know that I have Twitter followers from educators to administrators to parents, and I’m always very aware of this diverse audience. What will others think about my tweet? Is this topic too political? It was with these very thoughts in mind that I didn’t tweet about the Muslim travel ban.

I thought that I was doing the “right” thing by avoiding such a politically-charged topic. But after reading Rusul’s post, I realize now that being silent also sends a message … and not the kind of message I want to send. I cannot even imagine feeling as Rusul felt: that she could not attend a conference because crossing the border put her and her family at risk of being detained.

In our schools, we speak regularly about “acceptance.” We work hard to create classroom and school environments where everyone feels welcome. And then something terrible like this happens, and many people start to feel scared. They start to question if they really are welcome. When I read about the Quebec shooting, I started to think about my school from last year. We had a mosque down the street. So many students and families went there, sometimes even during the school day. How would this news impact them? Would they come to school the next day? Would they feel safe in the building?

It breaks my heart to think that anyone would not feel safe or welcome — at a conference, in a school, at a place of worship, or in a country — just because of their religious beliefs and/or cultural background. I have not experienced this feeling and I cannot even imagine how it must feel, but I can stand up and show support. I can speak up! Please consider this blog post my “white ribbon”: my way of saying, “All faiths welcome.” These are politically-charged conversations that we have to have for change to happen. Thank you, Rusul, for inspiring me to talk. What else can we do?


Is it time that we all “walked like a penguin?”

There is something about ice that makes me want to warn children to “be careful.” I have often been a proponent of keeping students in at recess time when it’s too slippery and sectioning off parts of the playground to decrease access to slippery sections. Then last week, I had an experience that made me see things differently.

After a combination of freezing rain, regular rain, and snow, our playground became very slippery. I joked that it was “National Walk Like A Penguin Day,” as waddling seemed to be the only way to move around without falling down. My teaching partner, Paula, has helped teach me about the benefits of outdoor learning, so even though Paula was away sick, I was still determined to head outside. Due to the icy conditions though, I decided not to take the students to the forest, and instead, have them play between the outdoor classroom and a small section of the junior playground.

This playground section includes a large, steep hill. There was a pylon at the top of the hill though, so I told students that they could go to the pylon. This was a great plan until the pylon started sliding further down the hill. Each time it moved down, so did the students. I initially called the children back up, saying it was too slippery, but then I decided to stand back, listen, and watch. Some amazing things happened.

  • Children that usually “give up” inside were persevering outside as they determined ways to get up the hill. There was such great problem solving as students crawled, found less slippery sections to climb, and used sticks to support themselves as they walked up the hill. 
  • Children screamed in delight as they made it up the hill and rushed back down to try again. 
  • Children supported each other in getting up the hill. Amazing teamwork happened here, and without the suggestion from an adult to “help your friends.”

Students were so proud of themselves for making it up the hill. They couldn’t wait to try again the next day, and even got some children from the other Kindergarten class involved in the fun.

Dean Shareski often speaks and writes about the importance of “joy” in education. This was truly a joyful learning experience. It was also one that I almost stopped from happening … and have stopped numerous times in the past. I think about my “one word” — perspective — and how I just needed to change my perspective to view sliding differently. Maybe we all need a different perspective every once in a while. What do you think?


This Is My Story. What’s Yours?

I started my Friday morning by reading Doug Peterson‘s This Week In Ontario Edublogs post. I already read some of the posts that he featured this week, but one of the first new ones that I clicked on was Debbie Donsky‘s post, Listen with Compassion and Act with Love. After reading this incredible post, I tweeted out the link and said that I thought it would inspire a post of my own. For the past couple of days, I’ve tried to write this post, but with no success. A few minutes ago, I decided to comment on Debbie’s post instead.

It was Debbie’s reply to my comment that inspired this blog post.

She said that she would “like to hear the thinking it sparked” for me, and so, here is my thinking. 

The part that really got to me in her post was when Debbie spoke about her own children struggling in school. I was also one of these children. When I was in Grade 2, I was identified with a non-verbal learning disability in visual spatial skills. In elementary school, my parents were the ones that helped advocate for me. They spoke to my teachers about accommodations that I needed.

  • They got me extra time on tests.
  • They advocated for having diagrams drawn for me, so that I could do the calculations based on the drawings.
  • They figured out ways for me to learn to read (or at least, memorize) maps, and they shared these strategies with my teachers.
  • They voiced the need for me to use a computer for various activities, and they got me the use of this computer.

As they advocated for these accommodations, they helped prepare me to also speak up.

  • They had me practise talking to teachers about my learning disability and what I needed to succeed, and they got me to voice my needs.
  • They spoke to me about the I.P.R.C. process, and they had me attend my I.P.R.C. every year. In high school, I was sometimes the only person that went to the I.P.R.C..
  • They made me aware of what I needed to get these same accommodations in university, and they had me voice the need for an updated Psych Assessment. I wrote a letter to the Board, and I fought to have this assessment done. My letter didn’t work at the time, and my parents eventually paid for a private Psych Assessment, but they supported me in advocating for this need at the school level. They let me take responsibility for this because they wanted me to understand what I needed and why I needed this support.
  • They also let me take the lead in talking to the university resource department about my needs. They went with me to the initial meeting, but they let me do the talking. They encouraged me to follow-up later. They also let me advocate, on my own, for the continued use of a computer and additional time on exams when the university wanted to remove these supports. This time I was successful, and I got both of these things!

My parents helped me understand what having a learning disability meant: that I was of “average to above average intelligence.” This became an important reminder for me when I went into teaching and taught numerous students with learning disabilities. I saw them as I wanted teachers to see me!

I share this story because my parents could have continued to take responsibility for my needs.

  • They could have dealt with the resource departments at my high school and university.
  • They could have made me feel as though I could not function without their support. 

But they didn’t! They realized that at some point, I needed to do the talking, to be the advocate, and to become independent. Without these skills I would not have been able to leave home and go away to university. As extreme as it may sound, I probably wouldn’t be where I am today.

I may not be a parent, but as an educator, and one that struggled in school, I can understand those parents that speak up. I know that parents want what’s best for their child and will do everything they can to make that possible. I know that this is what my parents did for me. But I also know that there is a time where we have to move from “parent advocate” to “student advocate.” There are individuals that may always need some degree of a parent voice, but it is important to explore what people can do on their own and when this change can start to happen. How do we support parents and students in this gradual release of responsibility? What is the value in doing so? I would love to hear your stories!


Sharing My Thoughts On These Recommendations

This morning, I started off my day as I always do, reading Doug Peterson‘s blog post. After reading his post, I sent out this tweet.

Doug soon replied with this tweet,

and I assured him that I was planning on blogging. After doing some thinking this morning, here are my thoughts in response to Bill Ferguson‘s Recommendations Follow-Up post

After five years, every teacher graduating from Teacher’s College should have a Masters Degree.

I echo many of Doug’s thoughts on this one. While I know that there’s value in learning more and bettering our practice, extra qualifications do not always equate to better teaching. A Masters Degree would be very expensive for a new teacher, and would put a lot of additional pressure on a teacher that is still trying to work on planning and assessment skills. Teaching is not a 9-5 job, and for those that remain in teaching, they know that and are happy to put in this additional time for the many additional benefits that it brings. But with this in mind, I cannot even imagine trying to add master level courses to an already full schedule of planning and prep work. I worry about this as a person that has taught for 15 years. What about a new teacher? Instead, I wonder about the possibility of a system that looks at ongoing professional development. This happens somewhat through schools already, but a monthly, hour-long staff meeting is not necessarily long enough to learn about new practices, share ideas, discuss struggles, and determine next steps. What are some additional PD possibilities, and what might these mean for teacher professional growth? I think ongoing learning provides even more value than an immediate Masters Degree. 

Every memorandum/correspondence from the educational body should reflect a positive attitude demonstrating support for their teachers and schools. Parents need to become aware of this too.

I think that there’s a lot of value in being positive. When we share information in this way, it really changes the culture of a school and a community. I think this also has to extend to how we talk about kids. The new Kindergarten Communication of Learning aligns with this thinking by removing weaknesses, and instead focusing on key learning, biggest areas of growth, and next steps. Seeing children through an asset lens is so important, just as we want to see staff members and schools through this same lens.

Assessments should in the area of application of knowledge. When this occurs we can better understand the students growth.

Like Doug and Bill, I do agree with this, but I also think we need to consider the Achievement ChartAre we looking at all categories in this chart? How are we ensuring that we do? What knowledge is key, and how do we link this knowledge to a meaningful application of it? As much as I question the use of tests/quizzes that are solely knowledge-based, I know many educators that talk about the value in skills. We still have standardized tests that focus on some of these skills. I’m curious to know how people balance these different needs. I also think that if we’re looking at “application,” a test may not be the best option, but how many tests are still happening in schools? While there are definitely pockets of people that are exploring different options, I wonder what the norm is in schools. Are more changes necessary, and how do we make them?

That schools should become the home base of social services that children can receive all the support the need to succeed. This should include parental support where necessary. If schools are the soul of the community then all the resources to ensure the success of children should be found there.

I agree with Doug that this is something that makes a lot of sense, but may take time to full implement. Last year, I taught in an inner-city school in Hamilton, and it was great to see the amount of community supports that were in place at this school. A breakfast program, snack program, Food4Kids, after-school Running and Reading Club, clothing donations, and social work services to support families were all a part of the school environment. Yes, sometimes the needs exceeded the supports, but things were definitely happening. It was also wonderful to see staff members and administrators supporting families and actively looking for more support options when needed. “It takes a village to raise a child,” and this village is definitely hard at work in so many school communities!

Every school should make inquiry research the basis for their education with the interests of the children being the springboard for their education.

I totally agree with Doug on this point. I think that this is happening on a small scale, but what’s needed to take this to the next level? Sometimes I wonder how we continue to balance the focus on the child with the focus on curriculum expectations. In the past couple of years, our Board has had teachers develop a professional inquiry, where we explore a “problem of practice” (for lack of a better word) and determine our “next best step.” I wonder if this kind of approach might help make this fifth recommendation more a reality. 

That two years of special education training should become mandatory to help teachers understand how to help weaker students become the best they can be.

I do agree about the need to focus on special education. That said, even after taking some additional qualifications in this area, I found that it was the practice of working with children with special education needs that made the biggest difference for me. We all need these experiences, and then we need opportunities to collaborate with others, share ideas, and learn various strategies, so that we can better support all of our students. This is where that ongoing PD that I mentioned under recommendation number one, makes so much sense to me. 

What are your thoughts on these recommendations? I would love to hear what parents, educators, support staff, and administrators think. Various viewpoints could make a big difference here. Let’s extend the conversation that Bill started here and Doug continued here