My Vision

Today really got me thinking about what I think a classroom should look like. During one of the Language periods today, the students were working on a reading comprehension/summary writing activity that they began yesterday. Here is the outline of the activity:

Today, all group members were on Task #3 or #4, so during our independent reading/writing time, the students grouped themselves around the room to work on their summaries. A few minutes into the activity, I looked around the classroom and thought, this is what I always want to see in the classroom.

I grabbed the iPad and created this very short video highlighting what was happening in the classroom:

I love that the students can find the space to work that works best for them and choose the tools they need to be successful. It’s great to see students helping each other and it’s great to hear students talking on task.

While all of the students may have been working on the same basic activity, they were choosing ways to write their ideas so that all of them could be successful. Since students were supporting each other, I also had lots of opportunities to conference with small groups and individual students. Below is a video clip of one of my conferences:

I think it’s fantastic that conferencing can happen anywhere in the room. I sat down on the floor to meet with this student, who not just shared what he was doing but where he was going next. It’s amazing how just a few minutes talking to students can even make an impact on what they produce.

Thinking back on today, here is my classroom vision that I have tried to make a reality:

1) Students have a flexible learning environment. They can find different areas to work where they feel comfortable, and they can choose what area works best given the assigned task. From desks, to tables, to chairs, to the floor — students work everywhere!

2) I have regular opportunities to work individually and in small groups with ALL students. Small group instruction allows me to tailor the learning to the specific needs of my students at the time. This is powerful!

3) Students can access the information in the way that works best for them. I had students listening to the Nelson text on CD, reading it independently, or reading it aloud with a peer. All students chose the method that allowed them to get the most information from the text. We don’t all learn in the same way, and that’s okay.

4) I talk less and support more. This year, more than any other year, I have really cut down on my “teacher talk.” I try to not spend more than 5-10 minutes a period speaking to the full class, and sometimes I spend no time doing so. Depending on what I observe during the working time, sometimes I’ll stop the class, reconvene, and elaborate on my initial explanation. Sometimes I just do so with a small group of students. This new approach has given me more time to work with groups of students, while also allowing students to be more involved in their own learning, and even support their peers more during the learning process. We have a true “community of learners,” and I love this!

What’s your vision of what a classroom should be like? How do you structure your classroom to align with this vision? I would love to know more!


Using Today’sMeet To Inform Instruction

Something happened today when using Today’sMeet and 105 the Hive that I did not expect. Students not only shared what they know, but they shared what they don’t know.

On Friday, we have a quiz on number patterns and solving equations, and my teaching partner, Gina Bucciacchio, and I decided that we would host a radio show today to help students review for the quiz. Four students between our two classes volunteered to host the show. They were each given questions to discuss on the air, and while we met together twice to prepare, much of the preparation was done on their own time as well.

The hardest question by far was the last one on the review. While the small group of students discussed the answer, and one student agreed to share her thoughts on the radio, I could tell today that she was still trying to figure out what to say. We agreed to work through this question together. While talking about the question certainly helped her understand it, the incredible thing that I noticed was that many other students shared in the Today’sMeet Room that they still didn’t understand the question.

Thanks to Jersie for recording today’s radio show using the Livescribe Pen.

Usually students are hesitant to admit that they don’t know the answer. Rarely do I see students raise their hand in class and express that they are having difficulty. It’s different online though. There is almost an anonymity to this way of sharing that encourages all students to tell what they do know, and tell what they don’t. In the Scribd Story below, you’ll see that one student tried to help answer this question with some questions of her own, but it was still clear that many students were confused.

Math Review

This Today’sMeet session helped inform my own practice by knowing what we still need to look at together. While I’ll definitely go over this problem in class as well, and answer any other questions that students have, I thought that I would make a pencast that attempts to explain the solution too. Hopefully this pencast will eliminate confusion and assist students that are still struggling.

A very special thank you to all of the Grade 6’s for willingly sharing your learning online, and helping me help you! Have other educators ever had an experience like this before? I hope that you’ll share your stories!



Changing At The Speed Of Social Media

In class today, we continued reading, Tunnels of Treachery. Students started to learn about indentured servants from the text, and then they furthered their own knowledge, by working in groups and researching this topic. My plan was that the students would share what they learned in our Today’sMeet Room. Our principal, Paul Clemens, made this plan even better.

brought to you by Livescribe

Thanks Alley for recording this read aloud today.

After the students completed their research, I decided to show them my blog post from last night on our radio show discussion. I wanted the class to see how I share their work, and let them know that I planned on sharing what they produced today as well. When I pulled up my blog post, I noticed Paul’s comment. Together, we read what he wrote, and we thought about his suggestion.

I pulled up our Today’sMeet session from yesterday, and we discussed the different comments. What did the comments look like that helped move the thinking forward? How could we write more comments like this? It was then that I wrote in the Today’sMeet Room the top comment that appears in the Scribd Story below.

Indentured Servants

Students then started discussing and adding their contributions to Today’sMeet. They really thought about what Paul said. They tried to not just share their research, but reflect on the implications of what they found out. We can now use these comments to ask and answer some quality questions. I love when backchanneling becomes a reflection of deep thought and not just interaction with peers, and Paul’s helped push this “deep thought” to the forefront of our backchanneling. Thank you!

It really is amazing! In the past, to get a principal’s feedback on a lesson or thoughts on an activity, I would have to wait for the principal to visit the classroom. Even after the visit, we’d have to arrange a time to meet and discuss the principal’s observations. Blogging changes this! With videos, pencasts, and audio recordings, my administrator can have a daily glimpse into my classroom. He can leave a comment and offer immediate feedback, and I can make immediate changes to my teaching practices. Change comes quicker thanks to social media, and this is a good thing.

I think my reply to Paul’s comment sums up my thoughts best:

What impact do you see professional blogging having on teaching practices and student learning? I would love to hear your thoughts on this!


It’s Okay Not To Understand

Today I really experienced a “first” in my 12 year teaching career: students asked me a question, and I didn’t have a clue how to respond. Please don’t get me wrong. There’s many things that I don’t know, but usually I at least understand the basic content. I was completely stumped today.

We’re beginning a new unit in math on data management, and students were working on a graphing activity from Leaps and Bounds: this math program that we’ve just started using in Grade 6. I was working with a guided math group at the back of the room, and the rest of the students were spread out at the desks. All of a sudden, we get to this stem and leaf plot question, and one of the students in my guided group explains to me that he’s confused. I have a look. I don’t understand it at all.

When I planned the activity, I looked at stem and leaf plots, and to me, they looked like line plots. I didn’t think much of them. Today, I really needed to examine the data though, and I was stumped. What did all of these numbers mean? Nothing seemed to add up correctly. As far as I was concerned, I was staring at a bunch of random numbers, and I needed to try and make sense of them.

I explain to this student in my group that I’m confused, and then the student at the table group in front of me hears this, and he expresses his confusion as well. This leads to a chorus of students that are all struggling with this concept. I think to myself, I guess this is time for some problem solving. One of my students goes to grab an iPad, and we’re about to start a Google search, when I decide to ask, does anyone in the class understand stem and leaf plots? A couple of hands go up, and so I decide to try something new. I ask a student to teach the class (and also teach me) about stem and leaf plots.

Here’s a video of her lesson:

At the end of the lesson, not only do I understand what stem and leaf plots are, how to create them, and how to read them, but the students in the class do as well. This student got a leadership opportunity, and I got the opportunity to show my students that teachers don’t know it all. 

An amazing thing happened after this as well: students that are usually reluctant to ask for help, came to tell me what they don’t know. They saw that it’s okay to admit when you’re struggling, and that together, we can learn something new. What a great lesson for all of us!

Has this ever happened to you before? What stories can you share? Today reminded me that it’s okay not to understand.


Reconsidering Modelled Reading

For years now, I’ve heard the saying that, “reading is thinking.” I’ve even used this saying in class. Today though, I really started to think about what this means.

In class, I just started reading a new book to the students: Tunnels of Treachery. My plan was to read Chapter 2 in class today, but on the way to school, I had an idea. I thought about reading the book on the radio. When I got to school, I messaged Andy Forgrave (@aforgrave), and he thankfully agreed to give me some air time on 105 the Hive. Below is a recording of the read aloud. A special thank you to Alley, who agreed to use the Livescribe Pen to capture our discussion.

While I was reading aloud, I asked the students to share their thinking in a Today’sMeet Room or on Twitter. You can see a transcript of the conversation here.

Tunnels of Treachery

Looking back at what was shared, I can’t help but think about the connection between reading and thinking. In the past when I read aloud, students were passive listeners. I might have asked them a question or two, and maybe I even gave them an opportunity to reflect afterwards, but basically I was doing all of the work. With the use of the radio and the backchannels, students are really getting a chance to show that, “reading is thinking.” They are making their thinking visible in what they share and how they reply to others. I can push this thinking forward by reading their comments and asking them questions. I can also stop periodically during my read aloud to get students to share their contributions orally: creating a scaffold for those students that need to hear what others are thinking, what the information means, or what points are important. I can also provide more small group support as I read the comments in the backchannel: seeing what students are choosing to share and asking questions to those that I think need to expand on their ideas. Modelled reading is now becoming more than just a full class activity, but instead, another opportunity for small group support.

How do you use backchanneling in your classroom? What impact do you think it has on students? I would love to hear your thoughts!