Always A Purpose

I always get really excited the week before school starts. It’s great to walk into a nice, clean classroom (thanks so much to our wonderful caretakers for this) and start fresh. I love moving furniture around, sorting through supplies, and helping to create a start to our fantastic environment for the year.

This summer, I did a lot of reading on inquiry and how it could work well in the classroom. I blogged about many of my thoughts here and here, and I took time since writing these blog posts to think about how I could help make inquiry work for my students. A special thank you to my amazing PLN that pushed my thinking thanks to their comments and questions on these posts, on posts of their own, and on Twitter. It was due to these questions and comments that I made the decisions that I did.

Here is a video tour of our Grade 5/6 class.

Now that you’ve seen what the room looks like, let me explain some of my decisions:

1) Sharing large desks. When I went into the school on Monday, I didn’t intend to do this, but sometimes the class environment itself pushes you in a way that you didn’t seriously consider before. As I brought my first load of materials up to our new classroom, I noticed that I had 15 desks in the middle of the floor. This concerned me because I have 27 students. 🙂 Then I thought of a comment that Mary K. Goindi left me on one of my blog posts this summer:


Maybe I didn’t need one desk for each student. I started playing around with designs. I loved how fewer desks meant more space. Students need space. They can then work alone or in groups, and work in an environment that works best for them: be it on a pillow in the middle of the floor, on the sofa, at a table alone, or at desks with others. The possibilities are endless! 

Each student needs a spot to sit if I’m teaching a lesson, but I tend to spend more time facilitating small groups and working with individuals than teaching at the front anyway. With our new inquiry focus, I see this happening more and more. Even with sharing desks, students each have a spot to sit for these lessons, and they can then move themselves around for any work time.

2) I assigned spots for whole group lessons. You’ll see that there are sticky notes on each of the tables. I struggled with this decision, and even commented on Adele Stanfield‘s blog post, as she made a different choice. There are a couple of different reasons that I made this decision:

  • I teach a split grade, and perception matters. Students want to sit with their age appropriate peers (in most cases). I wanted to ensure that this happened. By assigning spots, I could group the Grade 5’s with the Grade 5’s and the Grade 6’s with the Grade 6’s.
  • I’m fortunate in that I’ve taught many of my students at least one year before, and some for three years already, so I know about their peer connections, their strengths, and their needs. As I said in the video, these desk assignments are only “temporary resting spots,” but I want to ensure that for full class lessons, students are sitting where they can listen and participate well. I helped with this … for now. Throughout the year, students will be learning more about how to make these good decisions for themselves, and then I expect that they will make all of their own seating options.

3) Students will not keep their supplies in the classroom. All of the students have lockers, and I actually went and took a photograph of one of the lockers today. On Tuesday, we’ll use this photograph and work together to figure out how students can store their notebooks and supplies in their locker (for easy access). This year is going to be all about collaboration and creative problem solving, and what better way to start than with a real class problem? We’re going to share all of the possibilities, and come up with different options that locker partners can work on together. In the spirit of differentiation, I do have some cupboard space and bucket options for students that struggle with organizing a locker. I’m okay with this other option too, as throughout the year, we can work together to gradually change from in-class storage to locker storage. We’ll meet this goal together!

4) Providing lots of alternative seating options. I think that learning should be fun, and for me, it’s hard to have fun sitting at a desk. Sometimes I want to sit on the floor and read a book, or work together on a project on the sofa, or pull up a chair and work on the computer. With less desks and more space, all of these options are now possible. Thanks to a generous classroom donation from Iris Duemm of a body pillow and a beanbag chair, we have even more seating options in the classroom! I hope that the students appreciate my sense of humour and the little note that I put above the collection of pillows: to please take “me” and find a comfortable spot to learn — Love, The Pillows. 🙂 I hope that the students do listen to the pillows though, and create this comfortable environment where they can work and learn together.

5) Leaving the bulletin boards blank. This classroom belongs to us, and I think that we should create it together. Thanks to my wonderful friend and fellow Grade 6 teacher, Gina Bucciacchio, the bulletin boards are covered (I don’t do heights :)), but that’s it. I want us to add content to these boards together, and figure out how best to display student work. Then we can all take ownership over the classroom.

6) Lots of colour-coding. I don’t know how well this came through in the video, but I really relied on colour-coding this year. Not only do the Grade 5’s and 6’s have different coloured notebooks, but question prompts, resources, classroom activities, and inquiry projects are all colour-coded, so that the Grade 5’s and 6’s can meet their own curriculum expectations and easily find the resources that they need to do so.

Is every decision that I made, the perfect one? Maybe or maybe not. But was there a purpose for each decision? Yes! Teaching is all about students, and I really tried to make my decisions around what’s best for the students. What do you think of my choices? What would you add? What would you change? What decisions did you make when designing your classroom? I would love to hear your thoughts!


Geometro: One Tool; Various Options!

At the end of last year, I was fortunate enough to connect with Aniceta Skowron: the person behind Geometro. The Grade 6’s just finished a math unit on 3-D figures, and so when the principal shared information with us on Geometro, the timing was ideal. Since Aniceta came and worked with the students, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about her product. We’ve emailed to discuss different collaboration options, and I’ve been contemplating the numerous values of this one tool.

Here are my thoughts:

  • Geometro is a perfect manipulative to use when studying two-dimensional shapes or three-dimensional figures. Students can work with the tool to create their own shapes. The individual pieces are also large enough for them to easily manipulative regardless of any fine motor difficulties. Not only can students build with these shapes, but they can discuss vertices, sides, angles, and symmetry. They can also use different shapes to create other ones (e.g., using triangles to create squares) to see the connections between the shapes. The possibilities are endless!
  • Geometro is perfect for inquiry in math. When I used this tool with my Grade 6’s last year, it only took a couple of minutes to get them talking and asking questions. They were problem solving as they moved pieces around, worked with each other, and explored different options. All year long, I worked on getting students to communicate more in math, but this was a difficult skill to develop. When using this tool, I saw students communicate in ways I never had before. This summer, after reading Comprehension and Collaboration: Inquiry Circles In Action and Role Reversal, I learned that standardized test scores often increase with the use of inquiry. I only see data though connecting the use of inquiry with increased results in Language test scores. I wonder if the same is true with math. Using Geometro would be one way to help develop this inquiry in math.
  • Geometro does not only need to be used in math. When Aniceta worked with the Grade 6’s, she had students create an object using the manipulatives, and then she had them write the directions for how to create this object. Procedural writing is taught in many grades from 1-8, and what a great connection to procedural writing. When Aniceta did this activity in my class, our time was short, so not all of them finished the writing component. Why not give them more time to build though, take a photograph of the completed work, and then go back and write? For students to see the value in their writing, you could exchange the instructions between classes, and have others build the objects that the students described. Students that struggle with writing, or even Kindergarten students, could orally record their directions. What a fantastic opportunity for oral language development!
  • Use Geometro to inspire artistic pieces. Let students build with the tool, and then draw a picture of what they created. What a great way to explore perspective and look at how shapes go together to create objects. Students could even take a photograph of the object that they built and the object that they drew, and then compare the two. They could use these comparisons as a way to reflect on their own artistic skills and set goals for future art projects. This connects to expectations in our Arts curriculum document.
  • Use Geometro at the conclusion of an inquiry project. In Comprehension and Collaboration: Inquiry Circles In Action, students used various ways to show their learning throughout the inquiry process. They could easily use this manipulative to build an object that represents what they learned. Taking things a step further, they could take a photograph and use apps such as DoodleBuddy, Skitch, or Pic Collage to label and explain their learning. Students could also take a video showcasing their creation and explaining their learning. What a great way to create a media texts using low-tech and high-tech tools!
  • Geometro works well for multiple grade levels. As someone that’s taught everything from Kindergarten to Grade 6 in one capacity or another, I can see the benefit of this tool across the grades. It’s easy enough to use that Kindergarten students can create with it, but sophisticated enough, to build and discuss objects meant for older students.
  • Geometro is perfect for differentiated instruction. As I noticed during Aniceta’s activity last year, this tool works well for all students. It’s meant to be played with, so children can easily manipulative their creations to examine angles, view shapes, and measure sides. It’s a great tactile option for students that cannot just look at the picture in the book or on the photocopied page and know what to create. Instead of guessing, they can take the tool, build the creation, and see for themselves! Moving from Grades 1 and 2 to Grade 6 last year, I realized that all students benefit from the use of manipulatives, and Geometro is a wonderful manipulative!
  • Geometro can help scaffold learning. Last year, the Grade 6 students created and mailed out a teapot box as part of a Social Studies and Math collaboration project. I want to do this project again this year, but with different expectations for my Grade 5 and Grade 6 students. While the Grade 5 students can demonstrate their understanding of constructing nets, the Grade 6 students, can show their understanding of surface area and volume. I can see how the students could use Geometro before building their boxes, as an excellent way of experimenting with nets, surface area, and volume.
  • Geometro is a great low-tech option. I love using technology in the classroom, and I participated in a couple of technology pilot projects at school last year to see the benefits of using technology to increase communication in math. The problem is that many math iPad apps and computer applications reinforce lower level skills. Manipulatives that allow students to create shapes and build objects are difficult to move on the iPads and computers and often have students making their own links between two-dimensional constructions and three-dimensional realities. Real manipulatives are just better (at least, in my opinion). Geometro allows for two-dimensional and three-dimensional building, and with students easily seeing the connections between the two.
  • Geometro is a sturdy, reliable product! This year, I’m teaching a 5/6 class, but I’m also doing prep coverage for JK-Grade 4. I hope to use Geometro as students create media texts and demonstrate their learning through various inquiry projects. If I’m using a tool with over 200 students, I want it to be a reliable one, and this is why I particularly like this tool. It’s easy to use, great to construct with, and a fantastic product!

In the past, I haven’t used this blog for advertising, and I’m not being paid to advertise in this case either. I have just been playing with Geometro and exploring the possibilities, and I think that they’re worth sharing. Have you used Geometro before? How can you envision using it in your classroom? I would love to hear your ideas as well!


What’s Best?

I’m very fortunate that this year in addition to teaching a Grade 5/6 class, I also get to provide prep coverage for Kindergarten to Grade 4 students. What a great opportunity to experience so many grades! 

For the first time ever, I’m going to be teaching Media Literacy to one of the Kindergarten classes. When I went to look more closely at the Full Day Early Learning Kindergarten Document yesterday, I noticed that there are only two media literacy expectations. Knowing the number of Media Literacy expectations in the Grade 1-8 Document, I was shocked by the small number in the Kindergarten Program Document, and I tweeted that I thought I would need to link Media Literacy with another curriculum area — I was thinking The Arts.

It was after I sent out my tweet that things got interesting. Within a few minutes, I received tweets from Bill Forrester and Angie Harrison explaining how these two expectations could be addressed all year long. Soon after, others chimed in with similar thoughts. What really got me reconsidering things was when Angie tweeted her thoughts on prep coverage in Kindergarten (and I think maybe something that should be considered for prep coverage in general):


So I started re-looking at my schedule. I cover Kindergarten right after the second nutrition break. As Angie mentioned, the students likely have a routine that they follow when they come in from the break. It’s important that I talk to the teacher about this routine and attempt to keep it in place, so that the students adjust easily to me being there.

Then I also needed to expand on my definition of “animated works,” and what it means for students to respond to media texts. I needed to start thinking like a Full Day Kindergarten teacher. If students are supposed to learn through play, and if student interest should also drive instruction, then what I do in the classroom should reflect both of these important areas. I have to get students “playing” with media. When I went to bed last night, I had this on my mind.

Early this morning, I saw Angie’s tweet about a terrific blog post, which highlights how to make the day seamless in a Kindergarten classroom. As this post emphasizes, what’s best for students is always at the forefront of any decision. This is what I believe should happen, and this is what I want to happen this year!

Keeping this in mind, I created this GoogleDoc this afternoon with a list of my ideas for this Media Literacy Prep Coverage. I’ve allowed editing on this document, so please, if you have any questions, comments, or ideas, add them here. I would love to hear your thoughts, and I’m hoping that by sharing ideas, I can help create the best possible program for these Kindergarten students.


ROLE Rotation

On Friday, I met for coffee with two amazing Grade 5 teachers in the Board — Michelle Fawcett and Adele Stanfield — to do some planning for this year. Just as we were about to begin, Adele mentioned a book that she read called Role Reversal that really had her thinking. Thanks to the wonders of Amazon’s “one-click” shopping, I had the book downloaded in seconds and started reading it that night.

Now that I’ve finished reading it, I’m left with many mixed feelings. Numerous ideas shared in Mark Barnes‘ book excite me!

  • I love that a ROLE (Results-Only Learning Environment) classroom emphasizes the importance of collaboration, the importance of feedback throughout the learning process, the importance of using feedback to make changes to work and develop “mastery,” and the importance of doing all of this without the use of grades. Students learn because they are intrinsically motivated to learn. Reading anecdotes about students that went back to correct their work, even when there was no mark assigned, makes me incredibly happy as a teacher. This desire to push themselves to do better is something that I want for my students as well. 
  • I love the year long assignments. As I reflected on last year, two areas that I really wanted to focus on for this year were having the students read more and having the students write more. Mark’s book challenge and diary activity would allow for both increased reading and increased writing. I can also see how these assignments would align with my desire to increase the use of inquiry in the classroom. Many of the ideas mentioned in Comprehension and Collaboration: Inquiry Circles In Action could be used for these assignments: from reading with a question in mind to sharing their learning in various ways. The possibilities are endless!
  • I love the emphasis on self-evaluation. Mark shows different ways that students can evaluate their own work and eventually determine their grade in the class. Having options for student conferences as well as written feedback allows all students to share their thinking behind their evaluation. (Please note that in the book it appears that “assessment” refers to a mark and “evaluation” refers to feedback, where in the past, I’ve been taught the opposite. I use the terms here as I’m used to hearing them, with assessment meaning feedback and evaluation meaning a mark.)
  • I love moving away from worksheets, workbooks, and textbooks. These open-ended projects allow for such meaningful student work. By using various resources and taking control of their own learning, students can dig deeper into a variety of topics. As Mark mentions, learning can be “fun,” and I love having fun at school with the students!
  • I love the idea of eliminating tests and quizzes and replacing them with assignments. Especially as it’s described in the book, these assignments move away from regurgitation of ideas and onto application of facts. Last year, I only gave tests occasionally and only in math. Often though, even in math, I would assign projects instead, that would allow students to show me what they learned and de-emphasize memorized details. Could I teach without the use of any tests? Maybe.
  • I love that the teacher talks less and the students talk and work more. Yes, I like to talk, and I probably talk more than I should in class. I started to videotape my lessons to see how I could reduce my “talking time.” As I started to get students working on more projects last year, I started to talk less to the class and work more with small groups. I loved it, and I think that the students benefitted from the extra support. I’ll definitely do this again!
  • I love the use of technology for documenting learning and sharing learning with others. I am already thinking about how our HWDSB Commons Blogging Platform could be used for similar documentation options. I love how public blogs allow for an authentic audience for student work, and I’m wondering if Desire2Learn and private comments could allow for public sharing of work but private feedback.
  • I love hearing Mark’s positive news about standardized test results. As mentioned in Comprehension and Collaboration: Inquiry Circles In Action, standardized test scores increased with the use of inquiry in the classroom, and Mark’s results were the same. As a Grade 5/6 teacher in Ontario, some of my students will be writing EQAO this year, and I’d love to have similar results. When e-mailing my principal this summer about inquiry, I jokingly mentioned that this could be a focus for my Annual Learning Plan. Considering the statistics shared in the books, maybe it will be!

I also have numerous questions after reading Mark’s book.

  • Mark said that a ROLE classroom works well for students with various learning needs, but when he shared stories about these students in his book, I read about more problems than success stories. Some students mentioned that they didn’t understand the assignments. Other students struggled with the freedom in this kind of classroom environment. How is this environment be successful for them? 
  • Mark mentioned earlier in the book that he successfully taught students with autism in a ROLE classroom. This really interested me, as I have a student with autism in my class this year. If this environment would be successful for her, I’d love to know more about it. He didn’t share a specific story about a student with autism though, so I don’t know the specifics of how this classroom environment met his/her needs. My concerns would be that ROLE classrooms can be louder and less-structured than other classroom environments, and many students with autism struggle with increased noise and decreased structure. How is a student with autism successful in a ROLE classroom?
  • While I love the independence that a ROLE classroom provides, it sometimes seemed like there was a lack of parent/teacher communication. Students may not be completing their projects on time, but the teacher is not communicating this information to the parents. While, come report card time, students know that they deserve a C or a D because of their work performance, parents are surprised by low marks or even decreased marks from a previous term. Is there a way to give students autonomy while also communicating student performance regularly to parents? 
  • While I see tons of value in small group and independent work, I’m confused by Mark’s comment about the problems with guided reading. Wouldn’t this type of reading support be perfect in this small group environment? Even if students are reading different books, they can be in the same guided group based on reading strategies. Guided groups don’t need to be levelled groups. While working one-to-one with students is great, it takes much longer to see and conference with all students. I think a teacher can give fantastic support in a small group environment. Maybe a balance of small group and one-to-one is ideal. Why would teachers want to eliminate guided reading? I think that I need more information here. 
  • I struggle with giving students complete control over their marks. While I know that Mark has strategies to help students realize an appropriate grade value for the work that they’ve submitted, what about that one student that is insistent on a A even if he/she deserves a C? Mark mentions a similar situation in his book, and things worked out well, but that may not always be the case. Grades may not be as important as feedback, but they do give parents an impression of student achievement and next year’s teacher an impression of student achievement too. Shouldn’t this impression always be accurate? If feedback indicates a certain grade, is there ever a reason that grade shouldn’t match?
  • I love the emphasis on feedback, and students using the feedback to improve their work, but how do they know the focus areas for their feedback? I’m thinking now about the importance of Success Criteria. This Success Criteria is based on expectations from the curriculum document, and the feedback is based on this Success Criteria. With this approach, students always know the “look-fors,” and can even check and improve their work before it’s submitted to the teacher. Is there posted Success Criteria in a ROLE classroom? If not, is there a similar option?
  • I’m struggling with the “no homework” component of a ROLE classroom. In Mark’s book, homework comes across as just being meaningless worksheets, and I understand why we would want to avoid these. Homework can be more than this though: it can be book talks and open-ended writing prompts and math questions. Students are not marked on this homework, but receive feedback on it. It also contributes to their Learning Skills, especially under the area of “responsibility.” I try to keep a homework routine that is not too taxing on time, but allows for meaningful review of what the students have learned in class. Students have a week to return all homework, and I’m very flexible on deadlines. Parents and students loved the predictability of this homework routine, and they appreciated that it was meaningful work. As teachers though, we need to be responsive to student needs, so if there’s a reason that some students cannot complete homework, then I’m happy to explore other options. How do other teachers deal with homework? How would the parents in your community respond to eliminating it?
  • I don’t think that I can tell the students that there are no rules in the classroom. The funny thing is that I agree that we don’t need a long list of rules and that students can be trusted to act responsibly in class. Mark’s follow-up statement to his “no rules” announcement is about the need for respect, and in my mind, being respectful is really the only rule. Could I avoid saying that there are no rules, and instead say, that in our class, we need to respect each other so that we can learn together? Thoughts?
  • While I can see this ROLE classroom environment being very successful in a Language Arts, Social Studies, and/or Science class, I wonder about math. I loved the use of open-ended projects in math, but can students just “uncover” their learning? Are projects enough? I’m curious to know what others have tried, and if anyone has made this format work in a math class.

I also know that not all teachers teach in the same way and that a ROLE classroom is not going to be embraced by everyone. Showing its success though is a great way to get others to try it out. So I may not be ready for a complete ROLE reversal, but I am ready for a ROLE rotation, and embracing at least many of the concepts. This is going to be an exciting year!


Comprehension, Collaboration, Inquiry: So Many Answers And Questions

I have a confession to make: I don’t usually read professional resources. Peruse them? Yes! Really read them? No! But this year, I know that our Social Studies Curriculum Document changed, and I know that there’s a big push through this document for inquiry. I’m excited by this change, but I also realize that I need to know more about what inquiry really is and how I can make this approach work in the classroom.

With all of this in mind, I was especially excited on August 4th, when I caught a tweet from Louise Robitaille during #1stchat. As part of this chat, teachers were sharing inquiry practices and “wonder activities,” and Louise posted information about this professional resource called, Comprehension and Collaboration: Inquiry Circles In ActionTeachers in the chat shared that there are great examples in this book of inquiry in action from Kindergarten to Grade 12. I knew that this was one book that I needed to read!

Since I had difficulty finding a hardcopy of the book that could be delivered before school starts, I decided to buy the Kindle version. For three days, I spent every free minute I had really reading this book. Usually I don’t take notes when I read — I just read the text, and if I need to, I use the Table of Contents to later go back and find information that I want. This time though, I took hundreds of notes! As you can see in the screenshots below, my notes did not just mention interesting ideas, but also made me ask questions, reflect on my own teaching practices, make connections, and wonder on my own.



So now that I’m done reading the book and have had some time to reflect, here is what I learned:

  • Inquiry is a fantastic way of having students apply their reading comprehension skills across subject areas. Explicitly teaching these reading comprehension skills is so important too, and it’s really something that I need to devote time to even in the upper grades.
  • Inquiry provides lots of opportunities for practising writing skills. Students can write in many different ways, and apply what they’ve learning in language across other subject areas. Maybe more reluctant writers will be more eager to write because of the subject matter.
  • Student choice is so important. Give students a chance to take ownership over their learning and decide how they’re going to share their learning with others. Having these choices also benefits students with Special Needs, for now all students can find ways to be successful.
  • Inquiry gives students a great opportunity to practice using their own ideas and evidence from the text to support their answers, which will benefit them during standardized tests. As a Grade 6 teacher, I can’t help but think about preparing students for EQAO, and inquiry is a great way to do so. In fact, there’s much data presented in the book that supports increased test scores with the use of inquiry.
  • Inquiry can work well in split grade classrooms, as I’m not teaching the content; students are uncovering it. As a teacher, I actually spend more time modelling the specific reading comprehension strategies, writing skills, thinking skills, and collaboration skills that I want students to use during the inquiry process. These skills are applicable for all students. If groups of students do not choose specific topics that I still need to teach, I can either help link these topics to other ones when meeting with the small groups, or I can model the inquiry process using these topics (and even just bring the students from that grade together in a small group to do so).  
  • Teaching of skills can happen during the inquiry process. When I started the book and realized how much students needed to learn about thoughtful inquiry projects, I wasn’t sure how I was going to teach all of the skills and give students a chance to inquire as well. I love though that comprehension, collaboration, and inquiry skills can be taught and supported throughout the process.
  • All students can benefit from this instructional approach. This year, as I have in many previous years, I’m teaching a student with autism. As I plan ahead for September, I was thinking about this child’s needs, and I doubted if inquiry would work well for her. Now I’m reconsidering my opinion. Using the inquiry approach outlined in this book, means that we begin with building prior knowledge. This means the opportunity to look at lots of photographs, read lots of books at various reading levels, explore different magazine and newspaper articles, and watch numerous videos and/or listen to numerous audio recordings. Providing this background information with a heavy reliance on visuals, I think will benefit a student with autism. There are also many charts in the book that look at the teacher and student roles. These charts could be easily turned into simple social stories that outline expectations. The varying ways of sharing thinking throughout the project will also allow this student to capitalize on her strengths, helping to eliminate undo stress. Best of all, the inquiry process follows a predictable routine, which will also benefit a student with autism. I’m excited now about the possibilities!
  • Learning Goals and Success Criteria will be perfect when it comes to assessment of inquiry projects. This book really focuses on the importance of Big Ideas, and Learning Goals and Success Criteria align with these Big Ideas. Students can self-assess based on Success Criteria, and I can give them feedback based on this Success Criteria as well. This helps provide a focus for inquiry projects.
  • Planning time is important. I used to give students a deadline for projects, and I constantly reminded them to keep this deadline in mind, but I didn’t help them plan to meet it. This was a mistake. I love the suggestions in the book for how students can work together to divide up their work, make a plan that spans a period of time, and reflect on and change their plan accordingly. Now I’m not just expecting students to be responsible, but helping them be responsible.
  • I can see a meaningful way to focus on cursive writing. I’ve nicknamed this summer, the “Summer of Cursive,” which may make people chuckle if they used to watch Seinfeld and know about the “Summer of George.” 🙂 At the end of the school year, I wrote this blog post for the We Inspire Futures blog in response to an article in the paper about the detriment of schools no longer teaching cursive writing. This blog post and numerous articles that appeared in newspapers after it, started a huge discussion on Twitter about teaching or not teaching cursive writing. Even from the parent surveys that I sent out at the end of last year, I know that I have parents that want their children to practice their cursive writing skills. I want to be able to reinforce these skills, but in a meaningful context. This book made me think about how I could encourage students to use cursive writing even just for their notetaking throughout the research component of their inquiry project. Then if some students need more cursive writing instruction (and I think that this is valuable), I can model this for them as they write. Perfect! 🙂
  • The ideas in this book align with the literacy structure that I want for this year after reading 100 MinutesThe truth is that I rarely read professional resources because every time that I do read them, I want that kind of classroom, and the ideas never seem to align. Then I end up re-thinking everything that I re-thought after the last book that I read, and I never end up making all of the changes that I want. This time though, the ideas did align. Now I see how I can continue with the AWARD (Applied Writing And Reading Daily) from Lisa Donohue’s book, while also supporting students through inquiry projects in Language, Science, Social Studies, and maybe even Math. Students may even choose to read content area books during independent reading time (through their AWARD Time), and this is great as well. What wonderful opportunities for integration!
  • Allow for group and individual assessment. I’ve had students working in groups for years, but often, all group members received the same mark on work. While I would constantly work with individual groups and look for involvement of all members, I’m sure that I’ve missed things in the past. With the help of this book, I see how students can work together and work alone at the same time. Through conferences and written reflections, individual contributions to group projects become clear. This is so important!

I still have questions though:

  • I love the description of the learning environment in this book, but how do I create this physical space with limited physical space? While I have moved classrooms for this year, and my new classroom is slightly larger than my old one, I’m guessing that my 28 desks will take up the majority of the room. I have decided to not have a teacher desk, and use that room for a small sofa, some chairs, and a beanbag chair, as an alternate space for students to work and learn. I want to arrange the desks in groups of four for optimum group work options, but I’d love to have a meeting area as well. I don’t think that there’s room. Can chairs be moved into a group for full class inquiry circle meetings? What have others done when space is limited?
  • I really enjoyed the chapter on Assessment and Evaluation, and I agree that evaluation needs to happen multiple times throughout the inquiry project. I wonder about how to design a rubric though that meets with the project expectations and the achievement chart (i.e., Knowledge and Understanding, Thinking, Communication, and Application). You see, this book is a little different when it comes to evaluation, as it’s American, so the process is slightly different. Last year, I had students look at curriculum expectations with me. When we co-created Success Criteria and rubrics, we looked closely at the achievement chart, and we made sure that we had at least one specific expectation for each level of the chart. Is this a realistic expectation though when looking at each component of the inquiry project that I’m going to evaluate?
  • I love the multitude of anchor charts suggested in this book, and they all seem like student friendly ones, but where would they all go? As I’ve mentioned in blog posts before, I’m always cognizant of various student needs, and I’m concerned about too many anchor charts becoming visually overwhelming for some students. Maybe some anchor charts could go in duotangs around the classroom, where students can access them when needed. Possibly they could also go on the class blog for easy access from a device. How do others address this problem?
  • I love the Inquiry Notebooks, but I’m thinking about my students that exclusively use laptops because of their IEPs. Could they have a version of these Inquiry Notebooks on the computer? I initially thought that they could just have a Word Document that they email me, but maybe a GoogleDoc that they share with me is a better option. Then they could have a separate folder for any articles that they collect and annotate. What have other people used for digital Inquiry Notebooks?
  • I love the idea of written discussions, but I know that I have some reluctant writers that take a while to write. What options would allow them to contribute all of their thinking to these written discussions? I’m thinking about iPad apps or assistive technology that could allow for digital written discussions (with even some speech-to-text options), but I’d love to know what others have tried. I want to encourage writing, but I don’t want decreased written output to impact on group contributions.
  • I really liked the idea of working with the librarian for these inquiry projects, but we don’t have a full-time librarian. How have others worked around this? My first thought was to explore the library for resources on my own and then talk to the librarian about some of her ideas. Maybe students can go down during Open Library for some time with the librarian. Any other suggestions?
  • I love the idea of project-based assessment versus testing — especially in the content areas — but what if my grade team partners want to give a test? I want to align my evaluation methods with them as well. I think that this book helps explain the benefits of doing these inquiry projects, but I’m curious how others respond to those that are still more in favour of testing. I know that with EQAO students need to become accustomed to taking tests, and I do some in Math for this reason, but I think that these inquiry projects show much deeper understanding of content. What do you think?
  • This book outlines numerous amazing resources for classroom use, but how do you access all of these resources? I can imagine that the cost to purchase all of the books, magazines, and newspapers are huge. I get three newspapers delivered daily, so I plan on bringing these in, and I’m also going to look through the library and bookroom for more resources to use with my students. What else would you suggest? What resources do you see as “must-haves?”
  • In addition to teaching a 5/6 class, I also do prep coverage. One of my prep coverages is a Grade 3/4 Health Class, and I’m contemplating using inquiry with these students. I see lots of potential, but I only see the students once a week. Is it possible to use the inquiry process given such long periods of time between each class? How could I make this work? I think that this would lead to a greater understanding of the health topics, but I want to ensure that it’s beneficial for students as well. Thoughts?
  • While I definitely see the benefit of this inquiry method, I know that the results of my parent survey did not align with this approach. I think that parents and students need to learn more about inquiry. I was going to write parents about what I’m doing and why. I was also going to discuss this approach with them through face-to-face conversations and phone calls. How do you share the benefits of inquiry with parents and students?

And then there’s this last thought that is not really an answer or a question, but more of a wish:

  • Imagine if each student had his/her own Livescribe Pen for an Inquiry Notebook. The large Livescribe Pen notebooks each have pockets for additional handouts or articles. With Livescribe, students could not just record their written notes and pictures, but also their thinking behind each one. What a wonderful paper and digital portfolio of student work! I know that the cost would be huge, but what an intriguing idea! Has anybody ever tried this before? What are the benefits or drawbacks of this “wish” option?

It’s amazing how a great book can give you as many questions as answers. I would love to hear your thoughts on inquiry, and if and/or how you plan on making it work.