Teaching The Teacher

I have a secret: I’m terrible at recycling! Okay, I said it. I can’t seem to sort the garbage correctly. I don’t take enough time to try. I just throw things out. This year though, as part of our Eco Schools Initiative, we have single-stream recycling. This recycling program is meant for me. It’s easy: there’s garbage and there’s recycling. That’s it. There’s no need to separate cans, bottles, newspapers, and cardboard. They can all go together in the same bin.

When I heard about this back in September, I was excited! This was a recycling system I could handle, or so I thought. It’s hard to re-train yourself though, and as I said before, I’m terrible at recycling. So even with the easiest system ever in place, I was still throwing everything in the garbage. Then about a month ago, things started to change. I didn’t make a change. My students changed me.

One day, I went to throw a stack of paper in the garbage, and one of my grade 2 students stopped me. She said, “Miss Dunsiger, doesn’t that belong in the blue bin?” She was right. So I put the paper in the blue bin, and I started to get better at putting paper in the blue bin. Students were constantly reminding me what to do. They weren’t being mean; they were being helpful. 

Then things got even better. If I made a mistake and put recycling in the garbage can, students quickly pointed it out to me, and we got some gloves and made a change. Both the students and I were being far more cognizant of what we were doing with our garbage. The results were incredible! Over the past month, we’ve reduced our garbage by at least half.

The impossible was achieved: thanks to six- and seven-year-olds, I now recycle. Today though was the real miracle:

My class received the “gold bin” for recycling! Thanks to the Eco Team, the students actually got to present the bin to me, as they were the ones that helped make the difference in our classroom.

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It may have taken me a while to get to this point, but I have my wonderful students and the incredible Eco Team to thank. Today I learned that anything’s possible. What have your students taught you before? I’d love to hear your stories!


I Wish I Had A Rewind Button

Yesterday our math facilitator, Kelly McCrory, came for another visit. She started by watching our review of math centres. One of the last centres to be introduced was a money activity on the computers in the pod. The students were using IXL to review coin amounts. I gave the Grade 2 students a choice of five different activities that they could do. One student came up to do a demonstration problem with the class.

As I should have expected, this student managed to get one of the hardest problems to demonstrate. I saw the question, and I was tempted to make him go back and choose another activity altogether. I resisted doing that, but what I didn’t resist doing was jumping in with help. I knew the problem was difficult. I anticipated that he didn’t know what to do, but I didn’t ask him if he was struggling. I didn’t ask him to explain what the question was asking. I didn’t ask him to pick a friend to help out. I didn’t ask him to tell me how he would start the question.

Instead, I did what I know that I shouldn’t have done: I gave him a strategy, and I told him what to do. I talked too much. I saw the timer ticking, I noticed the time on the clock, and I knew I had another adult in the room watching this lesson.

As soon as I opened my mouth, I wish that I had a rewind button. I should have stopped talking then. It was too late though. I made a choice — I made what I think was a bad one — but I just went with it. What would you have done then?

Today though, when I was doing some different math centres (many shared by Kelly — thanks Kelly!!), I made an effort to talk less. I still asked questions, but I tried not to tell the students what to do. I just let them talk, and in this talking, I heard the students explaining what they know in the best way that they know how.

Below are two videos from today:

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How do you think I did with my goal to say less? What would you suggest that I say or do differently the next time? As a school, we’re working on giving descriptive feedback to our students to help them improve. Please give me some descriptive feedback too, so that I can improve as well. I’d love to hear your thoughts!


I’m Sorry!

Sometimes as teachers, I think that we need to apologize, and tonight I feel the need to do just that. A couple of weeks ago, we had an indoor recess, and I told my students that they could use the iPod Touches, iPads, Nintendo DS’, and Livescribe Pens during the recess time. I only asked that the students that were on the iPod Touches and iPads, not go online.

When our morning indoor recess turned into an afternoon one too, I left these tools out for the students to use again. Just as I was about to leave to have my lunch, I noticed that one student that was using an iPod Touch, went into the camera app. I stopped her right away. I asked her not to use the camera, as I would not be in the classroom during the recess time. Okay, I admit it: I panicked. I started to think of all of the horror stories you hear of students abusing the privilege of taking photographs. In my head, I questioned what this student was going to do, and so, I said, “no.” She happily agreed to choose a new app, and this was the end of the conversation.

Tonight though, I was downloaded some pictures and videos off the iPod Touches, and I came across a collection of some that I didn’t recognize. I then realized that this student must have taken them during the first indoor recess when we hadn’t spoken yet. I watched every one of them. Wow! This student is really engaging in conversations with other students. She’s asking questions, she’s listening to responses, and she’s following them up with new questions.

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I immediately thought of a blog post by Carmel Crevola, an amazing educator and leader in oral language instruction. In this post, she challenges teachers not to repeat what students say. She encourages us to dig deeper in our conversations with students. In response to one of  the questions in this post, she suggests that students repeat what other students have said if there’s issues with hearing student responses. Carmel really encourages students to respond to what other students are saying. This is the part that really got me thinking.

When this student started videotaping and interviewing other students, she was forced to listen to what her peers said. She had to hear their responses, think about what they said, and decide what she wanted to say next. She had to do what I often need to do as a teacher. For this indoor recess, she was the teacher.

And now I’m sorry that I stopped her during the second indoor recess. I have an EA (Educational Assistant) in the classroom. There was a teacher on duty. She was using my iPod Touch, and all videos were saved on it. I saw everything that she did. So what was I scared of? Why didn’t I trust her to do the right thing?

A few weeks later, I’m now going to say a big, “I’m sorry,” to this student and to any other student to whom I said, “no,” when I should have said, “yes.” You’ve given me a new perspective here. Thank you!

Has this ever happened to you before? How did this impact on future decisions that you made? I’d love to hear your stories too!


Why can’t Alex do it all?

On Thursday night, I read an article in the Globe and Mail that really bothered me. It’s called, Why Alex can’t add (or subtract, multiply or divide). The article discusses this new focus on problem-solving in math, and it says that students aren’t learning basic skills anymore because of this focus on problem-solving.

I disagree. As many people that read my blog know, I’ve been trying to incorporate more problem-solving into my math program. No, I don’t give my students long lists of addition and subtraction questions and get them to solve them. No, we don’t do “Mad Minute” or some other type of math drill activity. No, I don’t have weekly math tests to ensure that my students know all of the addition and subtraction facts off by heart.

Yes, I do teach my students these facts, but by having them understand these facts as well. My students know that 5 + 5 = 10 and 10 – 5 = 5, but they get what this means, and they can articulate their understanding in words too. Yes, I teach them about doubles with dice games and 10 frame activities. Yes, I make learning math more than about paper work, but I record this student learning with photographs and videos too. My students learn how to add and subtract and even multiply and divide, but along with these skills, they learn how to think and talk about math. Why is this a bad thing?

Below is a video of one of my students explaining his solution to a math problem. This student is able to share his thinking while also sharing his knowledge of basic facts:

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I think we can have both. What do you think?



A couple of years ago, Zoe Branigan-Pipe (@zbpipe) encouraged me to join Twitter. I’m so glad that I did! Thanks Zoe! The amazing educators that I follow here, inspire me daily with suggestions of rich, learning opportunities that connect the curriculum to topics that interest my students.

This week, I was definitely reminded of this! On Monday, December 12th, I saw this tweet from Karen Lirenman (@lirenmanlearns):

Karen’s tweet got me thinking. The holidays are coming up soon, and creating and tweeting Santa’s secrets might be an exciting activity for the class while also getting students writing. On Wednesday, some of my students worked together with their Grade 8 reading buddies to create some “Santa secrets.” They had to read the secrets that others had posted, and reply to these tweets too with follow-up questions to get people to share more. Other classes from the United States were tweeting at the same time as us, so my students were excited to engage with them as well. When lunch came, both the Grade 8 reading buddies and the Grade 1/2 students were sad to stop tweeting.

They were so engaged in this activity, that I started to think of other ways that I could use the hashtag #santasec2011. We’re working on “voice” in class, and I started to think that it would be great to combine voice with this Twitter chat. I would have my students tweet secrets about Santa Claus, but they would have to tweet them as an elf, Mrs. Claus, Rudolph, Santa himself, or a child that knows or thinks he knows, Santa. The results were incredible! Students were really taking on the voice of these different characters. Below are just some examples from the chat:

I definitely need to do more activities like this one! Had in not been for Karen and the inspiration to even consider this kind of Twitter chat, I would not be where I am with voice right now. Thanks Karen!

While all of this is happening with the “Santa Secret” Twitter chat, I read this great post by Jamie Reaburn Weir (@msjweir) about this fantastic experience that her English class had with Danika Barker’s (@danikabarker) English class. The two high school classes are studying Hamlet, and Danika’s class is actually “acting out” the part online with the use of Twitter. In 140 characters or less, her students are bringing Hamlet to life, but with a modern day twist. I just love this idea! Since Jamie’s class is studying Hamlet now too, the two classes connected using Adobe Connect and Today’sMeet to discuss the play.

As part of Jamie’s blog post, she mentioned that her students were having a backchannel conversation through Today’sMeet with Ophelia’s character. It was this part of her post that really caught my attention! When on Thursday, I had such success with the Twitter chat, I started to think about Jamie’s post, and I wondered how I could use something similar in my class. I was reading, The Gingerbread Baby, to my class on Friday, and at the end of the book, Matti rescues the gingerbread baby and puts him in a gingerbread house to stay safe. I started to think, wouldn’t it be neat if the students wrote from the perspective of the Gingerbread Baby or one of the other characters in the book, discussing what happened after the chase? What are these characters doing now? Students used their own name, but they took the voice of the character. Below is a screenshot of some of the chat (start reading from the bottom):

Independently, these Grade 1 and 2 students are conversing in character. They enjoyed this chat so much, that even when I told them that they could stop and have a choice of activity, almost all students continued to write. Had it not been for Jamie’s blog post and Danika’s idea to role play in 140 characters or less, I would have never done this activity. Thanks for inspiring me!

For the parents reading this post, what did your child think of this activity? How has this activity helped his/her writing? For the educators reading this post, how have other educators inspired you? I would love to hear your thoughts and stories!