The Why

I know that George Couros (@gcouros) and Karen Lirenman (@lirenmanlearns) have both tweeted and blogged on looking at the why of what we do. This week I have definitely done just that! I spent the week in my new Grade 6 classroom getting ready for the start of school on Tuesday. Starting a new grade has given me a great reason to step back and think about what I want to do and why I want to do it.

So here’s a look at my classroom over the course of the week, and the whys behind the decisions that I made:

1) This is my before shot. When I walked in the room on Monday morning, and saw the pile of furniture at the door, I knew that I needed to get the desks organized. I needed to see the big picture.

Piles, Piles, And More Piles

I decided to put the desks into three large groups. I need at least 30 desks, and I know that all of these big desks and chairs are going to take over the majority of the classroom. I believe in collaboration though, and I want to create the opportunity for students to talk and support each other. I need groups for this! While groups of 10 are large, if needed for specific activities, the groups can always be split apart.

2) I moved the guided reading table over into the back left-hand corner of the classroom, but slanted, so that it looks over the whole classroom. I want a quiet area to work with small groups of students, and moving away from both the door and the moveable wall to my teaching partner’s class next door, will help with this. That being said, I want to be able to see what all students are doing, and this area lets me have the quiet, but also the view of the entire room.

The Physical Layout At The End Of Day 1

3) I created a bank of computers on the wall overlooking the library. I chose this area because my teaching partner has her bank of computers on this same wall in her adjoining room, so when we open up the moveable wall, students can easily collaborate together, even between the classrooms.

Computer Set-Up In Miss Bucciacchio’s Room

I also chose this location because this is where the Internet chord is located. Yes, you can sometimes get it moved, but it’s not an easy thing to do. It made sense to look at these details when figuring out where things were going.

The Bank Of Computers

4) I made a Word Work and reading area at the side of the room near the moveable wall. I chose this area because it was removed from the groups of desks, so I thought that it would be a quieter place for the students to work. I wanted to create a comfy area where students will want to go and learn. Even as an adult, I don’t like to spend my entire day sitting at a desk, and I’m guessing that students feel the same way. Having a variety of furniture that allows students to have some options in their learning space is something that I think is important. Once the students come into the classroom, they can make this area their own, and I’m sure that it will change with student input: something that I definitely want to happen.

A Quiet Word Work And Reading Area

5) At the front of the room, I organized the classroom library. All of the bins are labelled, and the books in each bin have the corresponding label. Yes, I got some chuckles from friends with some of my groupings, such as Books About People or Animals, but I kept these open-ended categories for two reasons:

general categories allowed me to have fewer categories. I figured the less sorting options, the higher the chance that the books would be sorted correctly. Classroom organization is important to me, as it helps students take responsibility for the classroom. I hope that with this system, the books will still be sorted correctly at the end of the year.

our first science unit is on  Biodiversity, and classification is a large part of this unit. Michelle Fawcett (@michellefawcett), a fantastic Grade 5/6 teacher at a neighbouring school, shared some ways that she introduces this unit. Her suggestions helped me think that students could further classify the books, and then connect to further classifying animals and plants as well. Thanks for the inspiration, Michelle!

Classroom Library

6) This final decision made me think the most: I put a Thinking Book on each student’s desk. It’s not the decision to use the Thinking Books that’s had me thinking so much, but it’s the decision to put the names on the books, and hence, assign the desks. Many people have questioned my decision to do this. They said that Grade 6 students are older, and they need to learn to pick a good place to sit. If they can’t choose a good spot, then explain that they will be moved.

I understand this rationale, but here is why I made the choice that I did:

I know that if a student needs to move, it’s not going to be as easy as moving just one student. At least one more student is going to need to move to accommodate for this change, and this does not seem fair either.

I know that students are going to have lots of opportunities to pick where to sit and whom to work with, so my decision to assign desks, does not mean that I am taking away all decision making in the classroom. I want students to have this independence. I am just trying a gradual release of responsibility model.

Students have various academic and social needs, and pairing the students as I did, allows me to meet these different needs and ensure that all students meet with success. I am in a unique position here: this group of Grade 6’s is actually my first group of JK students at the school. Some of the students I taught in JK and SK. I have continued to interact with them throughout their school years. Other students I worked with through Reading Buddies and other school programs. I think there’s only three students in my class that I have not worked with at one point or another. So even when I created groups, I did so knowing the students well.

Groupings are only temporary. I am happy to change groups around throughout the year, and I am even happy to let students choose their spots as the year goes on. I want to ensure that they can all make these good choices though. This takes time.

And so as I left the classroom today, here is what I saw:

The Final Shot

a wonderful room that is ready for students to make it their own. I can’t wait until Tuesday. 🙂

How did you organize your classroom? Why did you make the decisions that you did? I would love to hear your thoughts!


Dissecting Desks

All week, I’ve been in my new classroom getting ready for Grade 6. As I’ve moved furniture around and organized the materials in the classroom, I can’t help but keep thinking about the desks.

As a teacher that’s taught Kindergarten to Grade 2 for the past 11 years, I was used to lovely clean desks, and I was amazed by all of the colouring and writing in these junior desks. The other day, I even tweeted out a question about how to get permanent marker off of desks, and I’ve spent hours attempting to do just that. Yesterday, I even went out and bought coloured inserts for each of the desks to not just add colour but to hide marks.

Just One Desk … 🙂

This got me thinking: why are the state of these desks so important to me? Why am I determined to remove these marks? I think it comes down to the issue of respect. When students keep their desks clean, they show respect for these school materials. Respecting school property often transfers to respecting their own property and the property of others.

Despite my best of attempts to do so, I can’t go back and undo what’s been done in the past, but I can make a change now. This year, I want all of the students to see the importance of “respect,” and this will begin with colouring on paper, not on desks. I may be teaching junior students now, but I think that this is an achievable and important goal for all. What do you think? What can we all learn from this “desk lesson?”


A New Blog Is Born :)

The more I interact with people online, the more I realize what great ideas can evolve from these conversations. Jamie Greenway is a new Grade 6 teacher at a neighbourhood school, and I’ve been fortunate enough to talk with him both online and in person. Sharing ideas has certainly benefitted both of us.

Yesterday, I met with Jamie (@6greenway) to help him set-up a new blog, and during our meeting, he shared an idea that he had to have his students rotate taking a daily photograph to showcase what they’re learning in class. Jamie’s idea got me thinking. Last night, I emailed my teaching partner, Gina Bucciacchio (@_missginab), and we spoke about how we might be able to manage a daily photo blog.

Gina and I both believe strongly that expectations have to come first, and we wanted curriculum to be at the forefront here. We both thought that this blog would be a wonderful way for the students to create a media text: taking a photograph and then using a caption to highlight their learning. We also thought that students could consider different audiences when writing their caption: be it their parents, other teachers, or even their peers. Not only will students now be able to reflect on their learning, but also meet other curriculum expectations when doing so.

Since our class will be using Twitter as a learning tool, we thought that the students could tweet out their photograph and caption, either using the Twitter app or using Instagram. Then we could capture these tweets in the blog: giving people multiple ways to view and comment on the photographs. 

Now that we had a plan, we contacted Jared Bennett (@mrjarbenne) to create the blog. When talking to Jared though, the idea evolved even more, and now we have an area where we can share our photographs, but other schools in the Board can share theirs too. Thank you, Jared, for making this work and giving us a chance to collaborate with others and help our students showcase their learning as well.

A Screenshot Of The Blog And The Test Post

If you’re part of the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board, I hope that you’ll follow along and contribute to our Daily Shoot Photo Blog. To think that this blog all started with a single conversation. Oh, the power of connecting! 🙂

What do you think of this new blog? What suggestions do you have for what we share and how we share? I’d love to hear your thoughts!


Redefining “Team”

I have been doing a lot of thinking about “teams” this summer. I’m absolutely thrilled to be working with an incredible teaching partner, Gina Bucciacchio (@_missginab), and I’ve loved planning with her this summer. I know that it’s going to be a great year! A great “team” is a wonderful thing!

In the past for me, a “team” was always about those people I worked with at school, but now I’m starting to think that it’s much more than that. On Sunday, Gina and I met with Michelle Fawcett (@michellefawcett), an outstanding Grade 5/6 teacher from a neighbouring school. It’s funny: our schools are about as close as two schools in our Board could be, and yet, we have only met face-to-face a couple of times. That’s going to change starting now! 🙂

Michelle brought along two other Grade 5 and 6 teachers at her school: also great educators that have lots to share. Along with them, we met up with Moojean Seo (@moojean_seo), a wonderful Grade 6 math and science teacher at another Ancaster school. Then, as a fantastic last minute addition, Andrew Campbell (@acampbell99) came to join us. Andrew teaches a Grade 4/5 class in Brantford, and I’ve actually never met him in person before, but I love following and learning from him on Twitter, and I was thrilled that he joined us too.

For 3 1/2 hours, seven of us sat at Starbucks and shared our learning with each other. We asked questions. We spoke about our plans. We figured out ways that we can collaborate together. We looked at how activities can be modified to meet different learning needs and abilities. We explored split classes, and how to meet these different learning needs as well. We connected!

We may not all teach the same grade, but maybe that’s what makes a team like this even more powerful. We are looking across grades. We’re seeing the similarities between the curriculum documents, and we’re seeing the differences. We’re learning how to look ahead to where students will be in a couple of years, and we’re learning how to look back to where they started.

On Sunday, the seven of us formed a “team,” and whether through face-to-face meetings, tweets, or emails, I hope that this team continues to work together throughout the year. Sunday’s meeting reminded me that together we’re better, and I know that I’m better by working with these six other amazing educators!

So what do you think? What defines a “team” for you? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!


Just Because …

Shortly after 11:00 last night, I received this message from Jennifer Faulkner (@learninghood):

I quickly logged into my email account to see what Jen sent me: I had to see. I love surprises! 🙂

This was the BEST surprise ever! Jen heard from her husband, Aaron Puley (@bloggucation), that I was trying to create a header for my updated professional blog. When Jen was doing some work on her family blog last night, she made me a new header and emailed it to me. I was so excited! The design was perfect! It was exactly what I wanted and couldn’t seem to create.

Here’s someone that I’ve only met a handful of times, but who went out of her way to help me out last night. Amazing!

So then today, in an unrelated event, I’m tweeting with Miss Night (@happycampergirl) about this wonderful post on her blog, and she sends me a link to an updated post. In this updated post, Miss Night shares how Danielle at My Tiny Universe helped her create what she was looking to create from the day before. Again, someone went out of her way to do something nice for someone else!

I love stories like these. They remind me of the importance of giving to others with no expectations in returnHave you had something similar happen before? I hope that you’ll share your story here. Let’s celebrate those wonderful people that do something special just because