It’s All About Integrity

As I mentioned in one of my first tweets this morning, I really am the Halloween Grinch. 🙂 Halloween is not my favourite time of the year (for numerous reasons), but the last 25 minutes of today made me re-think things … at least a bit! 

Today was a fairly normal day for us until the last two periods. Period 6, the students participated in a Mummy Walk, and I was incredibly impressed with how well they worked together to “dress” our mummy.

After coming back to class and cleaning up the toilet paper mess, students chose to work on a math challenge (where they got to use Minecraft), play some board games, and eat their snacks. A small group of students also asked me if they could dress up our class hamster. The student that owns the hamster (that she’s lent to our class) brought in the materials for the costume and was eager to work on this special activity with her friends.

It was seconds after the girls went over to the hamster cage that I heard the scream and saw the tears. Our beloved pet had passed away. What a very sad ending to a happy day! But it was also at this moment that I saw the true character of the students in our class. Right away, they stopped what they were doing and went over to support their upset friend. They shared similar stories, listened to her grieve, and even made pictures and cards to tell her that they care. My amazing student teacher, Yakira, also took her down to the library with a friend to spend some quiet time alone and find a book to make her feel better (she loves to read).

Here we were surrounded by parties, but the feelings of a friend outweighed the desire to play games and eat special treats. Wow! I think that our vice principal, Kristi Keery-Bishop, summed things up best:

I couldn’t be prouder tonight of my AMAZING students, and while Halloween is still not my favourite holiday, maybe I don’t hate it quite so much after all! How have your students amazed you with their integrity? Let’s share these happy stories that remind us of just how special and wonderful our students are!


Taking The Time To Talk (And Listen)

It will come as no surprise to many of you that I’m a talker. I actually didn’t speak at all until I was four years old, and my parents and close friends like to remind me that I’m now making up for lost time. 🙂 As teachers, we talk a lot. We also need to listen.

Yesterday, I had a Directions Team Meeting at lunch. Part of our discussion was on inquiry: my personal professional goal for this yearOne important point that was discussed was that the inquiry approach often means trying something, reflecting, and trying again. It means making mistakes, and being okay with admitting them and learning from those mistakes. As we had this conversation, I started thinking back to my Social Studies lesson on Monday. We just started a new Social Studies unit on First Nations Peoples. I was so excited about it! Our provocations inspired lots of deep discussion, and students were eager to write and discuss wonders and questions.

There was a problem though. As we shared our wonderings on Monday, I noticed that many of the questions did not connect with our time frame. Most of the questions were also basic knowledge and understanding ones, and students weren’t digging deeply enough to get to the juicier questions. I had to start again! That’s when I thought of one of the sessions that I attended at ECOO, presented by Aaron Puley and Jennifer Faulkner. Inquiry was a large part of this workshop, and the introductory activity that they provided would be perfect for re-introducing this Social Studies topic! This activity would also help me address one of my goals after ECOO.

Just as I figured out how I wanted this activity to work, I happened to enter into a discussion this morning with our vice principal, Kristi Keery-Bishop. Kristi is passionate about inquiry learning and has an incredible knowledge of curriculum and assessment. When I was talking to Kristi, I mentioned that my next blog post might be on inquiry and assessment/evaluation. I’m struggling with how to evaluate inquiry. As I said to Kristi, I’ve offered students more immediate feedback than I ever have before, and without a doubt, they know how they’re doing and we both know about goals for improvement. I’m grading students less though. While I love the descriptive feedback approach, eventually I need to give my students marks, and I worry if I’m giving them enough. I use the Learning Goal and Success Criteria approach, and students realize that meeting the Success Criteria is a “B,” but do they need to see this actual grade more often? 

That’s when Kristi spoke to me about portfolios. Students could keep portfolios of their inquiry work, and at different points throughout the unit, they could share their learning and prove that they’ve met identified expectations. This doesn’t need to be done with a big project or a test, but instead, can be them pulling examples of work that support the expectations. As Kristi mentioned, it’s kind of like what I have to do as part of the Teacher Performance Appraisal (evaluation) process, and now the students get to do it too. What a great connection, and how very true! As part of these check-ins, students can receive marks, feedback based on Success Criteria, or both. They can also self-assess their work, as well as receive assessment data from me. I love this combination! Listening to Kristi gave me a new plan.

So when I introduced our new Social Studies activity today, I explained that I wanted to go back and try things again (and why). I also asked the students about assessment (feedback) and evaluation, and what they noticed with this inquiry format. They all agreed that they receive much more feedback, but fewer marks. That’s when I shared Kristi’s approach, and then I gave the students some responsibility: I said it was up to them on how they keep their work, but that they need to be prepared to show it to me and explain how they’ve met different expectations. Most students chose to use a folder to organize their activities, but some used electronic files (on their own devices) instead. Maybe this comes down to student choice: right?

The amazing part is that no matter what they did or how they did it, this new approach worked. I can’t wait to see where this inquiry takes us!

Where do we go from here? Surprisingly enough, it was talking and listening over dinner tonight that helped me with this. I was out with three friends from school — Jo-Ann Corbin-Harper (a Grade 8 teacher), Gina Bucciacchio (a Grade 6 teacher), and Karen Nowacki (a French teacher) — and we started talking about inquiry. I was so excited about this conversation, that I actually asked if we could go back and discuss it again, so I could record it for this post. 🙂 I’ll admit that the first part of the discussion was actually the second time sharing the information, but the last part of the discussion was new. I love that we can all talk inquiry, and set next steps with the support of each other.

We’re all still learning, but it’s nice to know that we can learn together. How have you used inquiry in the classroom? What thoughts, successes, and questions do you have to share? Let’s talk, listen, and share online!


It Started With A Question

I’m a blogger. I clarify my thinking by writing about it. When I grew up, I always said that I wanted to be a teacher and a writer, and I’m now in my thirteenth year of teaching, and with the help of this blog, I get to write regularly too. As someone that loves to blog, I’m always listening for questions that inspire me to write. This afternoon, I heard one of these questions.

As I’ve mentioned before, this is my Teacher Performance Appraisal year (i.e., I’m being evaluated), and today, I sat down with my principal, Paul Clemens, to go through the process. One thing that I discussed with him was my Annual Learning Plan. This year, I’m focusing on inquiry for my Annual Learning Plan, as not only is it a topic that I’m excited to learn more about and that I think will benefit students, but it aligns with our school’s focus on student choice, voice, and differentiated instruction.

Towards the end of our discussion about inquiry, Paul posed an interesting question to me: “With this focus on inquiry, how do we develop some less exciting skills, such as editing writing?” Now please excuse me here, as I probably haven’t quoted him correctly, but this was definitely the gist of his question. Just as I was about to reply to Paul’s question, his phone rang, so I told him that I’d blog about my answer instead. Here are my thoughts from what I’ve seen so far in the classroom:

  • Inquiry does not mean that I’m not teaching. Instead of giving long lectures on content that students can uncover for themselves (e.g., specific details about dates and details of historical events), I’m instructing students on different ways to show their thinking and respond to their reading. I use the T-Chart model a lot with the class (with special thanks to the authors of Comprehension and Collaboration: Inquiry Circles In Action), and now students are not just copying down random facts, but thinking about what they’re reading. It’s great to see so much deep thinking from all of the students!


  • Inquiry forces small group instruction. I have never spent as much time working with small groups of students as I have since I started using inquiry in the classroom. Now students are spending more time learning together, and I’m facilitating this learning by sitting down, talking, and helping the groups. It’s awesome! By working with these small groups, I can also talk to the students more about their individual needs, be it spelling, punctuation, developing ideas, or editing. I can pull students aside constantly to have mini-lessons as needed. I’ve never had much success teaching concepts to the full class: some need more instruction and some don’t need the instruction at all. Now everyone gets what he/she needs!
  • Blogs also allow students to share their inquiry learning with a real audience, and this audience, helps students with developing their writing skills. I’ve used blogs with students from Grade 1-Grade 6, and the results are the same. Students love knowing that other people are reading their writing, and they realize that the clarity of their ideas helps increase the possibility of responses. This realization helps students take the time to edit their work, as seen with this blog post example.

Now all of this being said, there’s one other point to remember, and I think that it’s an important one: as a teacher, you’re likely to only feel this way about inquiry if you use the time that students are working together to work with the students. I don’t have a desk in the classroom, and I’m glad that I don’t, as I’d never sit at it. I’m constantly, conversing with groups of students, helping them understand content, questioning them to determine where to go next, and assisting them as they re-explore what they’ve already done. This is crucial! So it’s rare to find me talking at the front of the room for more than 5-10 minutes, but you’ll always find me working with kids!

It was conversing after school today with Jo-Ann Corbin-Harper, a fantastic Grade 8 teacher at the school, that helped me figure out what I think is my bottom line answer to Paul’s question: spend all of your time listening and working with kids (meeting them where they’re at), and you will see success (even in the less exciting areas)! What do you think? How do you combine inquiry and direct instruction? I’d love to know your thoughts on this!


How Having A Student Teacher Benefits Me

This year, I’m very fortunate to be the associate teacher for a teacher candidate from Redeemer University College. Yakira began her placement in our class today. I’ve worked with teacher candidates for many years now, but today, I really realized the benefits of this experience for me.

During AWARD (Applied Writing and Reading Daily) Time today, I started with a guided writing group and then moved on to a guided reading group. As I was working with my groups, I saw Yakira observing my sessions, and here’s what I thought:

  • I really wish that I had the students start the writing activity on their own first. They could have done the first part independently, which would have given me an opportunity to circulate around the classroom and help other students.
  • I should have written out the guided reading instructions on a white board. Then students would have had a place to refer to when they forgot what to do next.
  • I should have started my guided reading session by going over the activity with the group and ensuring everyone understood what to do. I usually do this, but I was a little short on time today, and I tried to skip this step. That was a mistake!
  • I should have given the guided reading group some sticky notes to write down their questions and thoughts while reading. This would have helped them recall their ideas during our group discussion. With a longer text, as today’s text was, this would have certainly been beneficial.

Now I may have had the same reflections even without Yakira being there, but knowing that she was looking to me as a model, made me even more aware of what I was doing and why I was doing it. I was also more aware of my mistakes. And I spoke to Yakira today about these mistakes, and about the changes that I would make for tomorrow. Then we sat down and planned a guided reading session that Yakira is going to do tomorrow, and we made sure to “bump up” my work to make tomorrow even better for her.

Having a student teacher reminds me of best practices. It allows me to reflect aloud on my lessons and look for my own ways to improve, as well as look for suggestions to offer someone else. It shows me the benefits of sharing the classroom and sharing the teaching with someone else, and it makes me excited to think about the possibilities for the next six weeks.

How has having a student teacher benefitted you? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!


Let’s Stop Talking Tools

I often joke with my vice principal, Kristi Keery-Bishop, that we tend to publish similar blog posts at just about the same time. It’s because we often converse about various topics, and these conversations inspire the posts. So it definitely made me laugh out loud on Wednesday night, after just facilitating a full day at Minds on Media, when I received this tweet from Kristi:


Even though I was beyond exhausted at the time, I had to read the post, and I’m so glad that I did.

Kristi’s message actually resonated with me throughout the rest of the ECOO Conference, and entered into various conversations I had with different educators, including Kim Gill and Gillian Madeley. The bottom line is that I love using technology in our classroom because it helps students learn. It often helps narrow the gap for students that have difficulty accessing information or sharing their learning in different ways. I know that someone else has said this before, and I apologize now for borrowing the words and not knowing whom to credit, but, “Technology does not change lives. People change lives.”

This is my plea to all of you now that the ECOO Conference is over: if we haven’t already, let’s start changing our dialogue at school. Instead of asking for more computers, iPads, or SMART Boards, let’s start our discussions addressing these questions instead:

  • How are we going to ensure that all students can read?
  • How are we going to ensure that all students can write?
  • How are we going to ensure that all students can answer math problems and explain their thinking when doing so?
  • How are we going to support inquiry in the classroom?
  • How are we best going to meet the needs of our struggling students?
  • What supports do we need in place to help narrow the achievement gap and ensure success for all?
  • How are we going to use those tools to best support those students that need them?

Now our conversations are moving away from the tools, and moving on to how to use these devices to support our kids. If, when we introduce new tools in the classroom, we can also start with the learning goals and curriculum expectations, and then show students how these tools can help us achieve these goals, we’re changing the focus in our classrooms as well. I think that this is a good focus to change!

As someone that is getting evaluated this year, I’d love for my principal to mention my use of technology in the classroom, but not because I use computers, iPads, a SMART Board, and a Livescribe Pen, but because I use them to help students learn. It’s the second part here that matters. When I chose workshops to attend at #ecoo13, I did not choose ones that just discussed the devices, I chose ones that discussed the pedagogy.

How do we discuss the pedagogy more at the school level? How do we move beyond the glitz and glamour of the devices and onto the why behind these devices? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!