It’s All In How You Define “Party”

Here’s a little secret I’m going to share with all of you: I’m not a fan of parties. I am all about having fun in class, but I’m a fan of routine, and I know that my students like routine as much as I do. Over the years, I’ve been called a “humbug” or other such terms, and I’m okay with that. I cannot deal with an afternoon of chaos, nor can many of my students.  

Since I knew that I would not be celebrating Halloween with a typical party, I needed to come up with another fun way to celebrate. That’s when I decided to create six activity centres: some were Language ones and some were Math ones, and I even integrated the Arts too (click here to view an Animoto slideshow of these centres in action). Every centre met Grade 1 and Grade 2 curriculum expectations, all of the centres were differentiated, and every one of themwas fun! Over the course of the day, the students rotated to all six centres. They were focused and engaged all day long, and yet, when they left at 3:20 today, they told me that they’ve never had a better Halloween!

Based on this feedback, I’m okay with being a “humbug.” What are your thoughts on this? How do you add order to chaos? I’d love to hear about some of the different ways that you balance learning and fun!


Every “One” Counts …

Last night, I got an incredible tweet from a parent in Alberta, @judana70. I’ve connected with this parent through Twitter thanks to @gcouros. Yesterday evening, we had a discussion about education, and I mentioned how much I love to teach. I gave her the link to a guest blog post that I did on Pernille Ripp’s blog describing my “aha moment” in education. This parent left a lovely comment on the post sharing her personal story too. It really made me think.

As teachers, we usually have over 20 students in our classes that all come to us with a variety of needs. Some of the students need enrichment, some are working at grade level, and some need additional support. Our job is to meet all of these needs and create an environment in which all students can be successful. Sometimes we need to change our teaching style in order to do this. Sometimes one thinks, why am I doing this for one student? What about the other 19? That’s when I started to reflect on the changes that I’ve made for one student, and I realized that all of these changes really do benefit all of the other students too.

At the bottom of all of my school e-mails, I include the signature, “If they don’t learn the way you teach, teach the way they learn.” Every time I send out an e-mail, I am reminded of the importance of doing this. Right now in math, I am teaching the students how to make the same number in different ways. I’m going to think of the issue presented here not in terms of 19 students + 1 student, but in terms 1+ 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1+ 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1+ 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1+ 1 + 1 + 1 + 1: every “one” counts. If you had to make your class into a number sentence, what would it be?


There’s No Limit To What They Can Do!

I have been teaching primary-aged students for ten years now, and despite having seen so much over this time, I’m still amazed by how much my students can surprise me. There really is no limit to what they can do. 

This morning. the children were completing their regular writing routine, and one student asked me about the characteristics of a ferret. She wanted to write about one as her “animal choice,” but she didn’t know what one looked like. I said that I wasn’t sure either, and that was when another one of my Grade 2 students suggested that they use Google Images to find out. They went over to the classroom computer, and together they conducted a search, found out the information that they wanted, and my student was able to complete her writing activity. Amazing! This was self-directed reseach done by a seven-year-old. 

That got me thinking about this week. On Tuesday, for our Word Family and Word Wall routine, I showed my students how to use Twiducate. They wrote to each other using word family and word wall words. They had real conversations online. They asked each other questions, and they even replied to them too. The incredible thing is that night, many of them logged in at home and continued their conversations. I couldn’t believe how many postings came after 6:00. I didn’t direct this learning to happen, but the students were motivated to do this activity, and their attitude towards reading and writing in this way inspired them to write on their own time. Incredible!! 

Then on Thursday, I introduced my students to a new blog. Jared Bennett gave us the opportunity to blog as part of his Litcircuits Blog. My students will continue to post to their Kidblog blogs too, but this is a group blog that they will be using for various literacy and math centres. While I approve all of the Kidblog posts, this blog is different, as when the students press, “Post,” what they write appears immediately on the blog. This is a big responsibility, but my students embraced this responsibility. They worked hard to edit their work for spelling, punctuation, and ideas before posting anything. I know that what they have published online really is their best work, and for this, I’m thrilled! I am also so happy with how well the children have adjusted to logging in to this new blog. It is far more complicated than our other blog, but the Grade 2 students in my class that had me for Grade 1 last year, knew the process, and they helped everyone else. They were the leaders, and they were fantastic at what they did!

I have always believed in having high expectations for students, but seeing what they did this week, made me realize just how high to set the bar. If these six- and seven-year-olds are doing this now, I can’t wait to see what they will be doing come June. Please share your success stories here too. We can all learn so much from each other … and so much from our students too!


The Difference Technology Makes

In class on Friday, I asked each of my students to complete a writing activity based on The Librarian From The Black Lagoon. The Grade 1 students were focusing on beginning, middle, and end, and they could either share their ideas in short sentences or a list, and the Grade 2 students were focusing on story elements. They needed to write their ideas in sentences. For various reasons, two of my students completed this writing activity on the computer, and the rest of the students wrote using a pencil and paper. They all wrote for about 30 minutes, and they were all working hard at this independent activity.

I was amazed. While I know that the students were doing their best work, I could not believe the difference in this pencil/paper writing versus the writing that I get from the students on the computer. I reminded the children to check for capitals and punctuation as I always do, but many of them had capitals in the middle of their sentences, even though this hardly ever happens when they type their work. Most of the Grade 1 students forgot a capital letter at the beginning of their sentences, but many of them remember when they are typing. Numerous students from both Grade 1 and 2 forgot punctuation marks, but they almost always remember them when typing. So why the difference?

I think that for my Grade 1 students, they are still learning how to form the letters correctly, and this impedes their writing when they are writing with a pencil and paper. This same problem does not exist on the computer. I also think that when the students are writing on a computer, they are usually writing for an audience, so they force themselves to go back and check for punctuation, grammar, and spelling too. They knew that I was the only one reading this work of theirs, so the change in audience meant a change in their approach. It really is amazing, but when my Grade 1 and 2 students are blogging or using GoogleDocs, all of them are successful, and the quality of their writing largely increases from what they can produce with a pencil and paper.

I’m not saying that I will never use a pencil and paper with them. Students need to learn how to print, and they need to learn about correct capitalization when printing too. I know that last year’s Grade 1’s did both, and I did see far fewer convention errors with the Grade 2’s versus the Grade 1’s. My approach for printing might change though. If I said that I would take a photograph of their work and upload it to their blog, I wonder if the students would have gone back and edited their work differently. I will also use various writing tools (from chalk and markers and pens to pencils), so that the students get excited about writing too. I think that attitude makes the difference.

What about you? Have you had a similar experience to this? I would love to hear about it.


Students Writing

@grade1 Remains


Last week, I asked people about their opinion on if I should keep @grade1 as my Twitter handle now that I’m teaching a 1/2 split. I used a Tweetpoll to ask for feedback from others. The final results came through this morning: 65% of the voters think that I should keep @grade1 as my Twitter handle.

When I saw these results, I stared to think: is this what I wanted? Am I happy with remaining as @grade1? The truth is, I am. Over the past year, I have become @grade1. I now have over  1,000 parents and educators that follow me on Twitter, and all of them know me as @grade1. This does not make me any less of a Grade 2 teacher. I am definitely a primary teacher at heart, and @grade1 could easily be @grade1/2, @grade2, @aprimaryteacher, or any other combination of the above, and the name itself, does not change who I am or what I believe in.

As I was writing my blog post last week, I also thought to myself that this name issue is a good learning opportunity for my students too. When creating an online presence, we really do need to consider a lot of factors first. When I came up with @grade1 as a Twitter handle, I was merely considering using Twitter for an online agenda and nothing more. Now Twitter provides an awesome opportunity for me to connect with and learn from other amazing educators. My Twitter PLN (Professional Learning Network) is a very important one, and had I initially known the impact that Twitter would have, maybe @grade1 would have been @avivad or @avivadunsiger instead. I guess that hindsight is a wonderful thing.

While I do plan on remaining as @grade1, I will share this dilemma of mine with my students at a later time. They may be too young now to have a Twitter handle or a big online presence, but as they grow up, I hope that they’ll consider what I didn’t. Thank you all for helping me with this decision of mine, and I appreciate all of you supporting me regardless of my Twitter handle!