“Let Me Play,” Said Adults Everywhere!

Yesterday was an incredible day! I got to meet and spend time with three of my biggest educational inspirations: Helen Chapman, Laurel Fynes, and Julie May. Through blog posts and tweets, these three have taught me so much about the Reggio approach, the value of play-based and inquiry learning, and the remarkable capabilities of even our youngest learners. While there is so much that I could blog about from yesterday, our visit made me realize something that I’ve never really thought about before: the benefits of playing/tinkering/creating are not just for kids.

It was just after arriving at Helen’s house yesterday, that I started playing a game of Ultimate Tic-Tac-Toe with her six-year-old daughter. Wow does this game get you thinking! While playing, I could help but make the links between this game and spatial awareness and patterning skills.

Thanks Helen for the photograph of our Ultimate Tic-Tac-Toe Board.

Thanks Helen for the photograph of our Ultimate Tic-Tac-Toe Board.

During our game time, Laurel happened to make this comment — originally Plato’s words — which Helen reminded me of this morning:

Helen created this in Word Swag/Fragment.

Helen created this in Word Swag/Fragment.

In many ways, this quotation was put to the test yesterday, as we continued to play and tinker. After finishing this Ultimate Tic-Tac-Toe Game, Helen’s younger daughter showed me how to play Fox and Hounds. This game has the fox trying to move across the chess board as the hounds try to block its way. The fox can move in both directions though, and the hounds can only move forwards. Again, thinking and spatial awareness skills are required, as both the fox and hounds strategize to win.

Helen surprised us by purchasing enough blank game boards for each of us to create our own Fox and Hound Game. She even drew out a sketch to help with determining the correct measurements to use. With a table full of loose parts and art supplies, we got immersed in playing/tinkering/creating.


Thanks Helen for this photograph of your table of supplies.

While we did spend some time just talking, it’s amazing how much more we learned about each other and how the conversation continued to flow, as we played. It was even interesting to see our approaches to the same problem. We all wanted to create one of these game boards, but what supplies would we use? How would we attach them to the board?

  • Helen decided to use the coloured tape with a backing, so that she could measure and cut the tiles, and then peel them off to put on the board. She figured out that the tape was 2 inches wide, but the tiles needed to be 1 inch. No problem! She just divided the amount in half, and cut the tape through the middle. There was some extra room around the outside of the board, but a little extra tape (this time a different colour) made a lovely border.
  • Julie went with a similar approach. She wasn’t sure that her measurements were quite as accurate, but she started in the middle to affix the tiles, and then checked and measured, and checked again, to make a pretty border for her board as well.
  • Laurel used ribbon to map out a board to start. When she got a feel for what she wanted her board to look like, she used a ruler and a pencil to accurately draw each of the squares. Then she used markers to colour in the squares, creating a final board much like a real chess board.
  • I was not as accurate or patient as my friends. Instead of waiting for the ruler, I took the tape and measured the full length of one side of the board, and then I doubled this to get enough tape for the whole board … and maybe a little extra. I then folded the tape through the middle because I knew that I needed 1 inch tiles instead of 2 inch ones. At this point, I asked Helen for one of her tiles, marked off the size of it on the back of my tape, and then folded the tape back and forth so that the whole row was 1 inch squares. I cut along the lines — or kind of close to them — to create my tiles. Helen helped me find the middle of my board, with the help of a ruler, but I must have made a mistake somewhere, for despite starting in the middle to affix the tiles, my borders along the outside were not the same size. I’m going to call this board, Fox And Hound-ish. 🙂 It’s a good reminder of why standard measurement may reign supreme. 🙂
My Fox And Hound Game Board

My Fox And Hound Game Board

The amount of math, thinking, and problem solving displayed and explicitly discussed during this creation time was amazing. The truth is that I’m not much a tinkerer. While Helen has rooms full of supplies to create and experiment with, I’ve never even thought of spending time at home doing this. Now I’m starting to wonder the value in adults playing/tinkering/creating more.

Look what Helen created just after I left! Thanks for tweeting this out, Laurel!

I have visions now of a Maker Staff Meeting. Imagine a set-up much like Helen’s house. Would the ability to make things, take them apart, and add light or sound help inspire educators to see what else is possible in the classroom? Coding could even be a component of this. As we play, we can also discuss the curriculum links and the links to learning already happening in the classroom. I wonder what we might bring back and try out with our students. 

I’m thinking now of Paul Hatala‘s introduction to our Board’s recent Summer Institute Technology session. He spoke about the roll out of the Board’s Transforming Learning Everywhere initiative, and the importance of putting iPads in the hands of the teachers first. They need to see what’s possible and feel comfortable with the technology before using these devices with students. Maybe the same is also true for playing and tinkering. Do we need to engage in this time first to see the value for our kids? How might this change our practices? What do you think? Many thanks to Helen, Laurel, and Julie for giving me an opportunity to think, play, tinker, create, and learn!


I Said. They Replied. Now What?

Since Valerie Bennett introduced me to Dr. Ross Greene’s ideas in June, I’ve been inspired to make changes to my practices. I’ve been even further inspired after reading Greene’s bookLost At School, and listening to him speak last week. I see such tremendous value in really listening to students, and working collaboratively with them to solve problems. I’ve connected so much with Greene’s ideas that I guess I expected others to make the same shift in thinking when they heard them, but I realized that things don’t always go as we expect. Interactions recently with some friends really have me thinking, and I share this dialogue below because I’d curious to hear your views.


Aviva: Tells the others about Dr. Greene’s approach by sharing one of the examples in the book.

Person A: I sometimes try to find out what the student’s thinking.

Aviva: That’s great!

Person A: Then I tell them what they need to do. Or, I guess, sometimes I give them a choice of what to do.

Aviva: Do you ever work with the student to develop a solution? One that both of you agree on?

Person B: Now the student gets to decide what we do?

Aviva: It’s not about the student deciding. What about coming to a solution together? One that could work for everybody?

Person B: What about the real world? It’s like inquiry. Now the students make all of the choices?

Aviva: What do you mean by “the real world?”

Person B: I hear from my friend that students aren’t as responsible anymore. They don’t take their responsibilities seriously. They cancel appointments. They don’t show up on time. They do what works for them.

Aviva: Wouldn’t Greene’s approach, just like inquiry, teach more responsibility? Wouldn’t it help students take a little more ownership over problem solving and their own learning?

Person B: I’m not sure. What about when they grow up and get a job? Don’t they need to learn to listen to others?

Aviva: What about learning to be critical thinkers? What about learning to collaborate (work together)? Even with Greene’s approach, students need to listen to the adults, but also work with them. Aren’t these skills we need?


Our conversation continued from here, as we spoke more about Greene’s approach and about inquiry. It was a very good discussion that showed the two different sides of a couple of timely issues in education. This discussion left me with the following thoughts:

  • We all want what’s best for kids. We have varying views on what this “best” may be. Could these “best approaches” vary depending on our students and their needs? Do they need a combination of our different approaches? How do we decide?
  • As educators, we’re used to hearing, “You’re already doing something similar.” This is then followed by the small changes that we need to make. Greene’s approach isn’t about small changes. It’s a whole different way of how we solve problems. I think in many ways, inquiry is also about big changes in practice. When change is hard, how do we become comfortable with some big, uncomfortable changes? How do we know that they’re the best ones to make?
  • It’s hard not to look ahead to the future. We may be teaching the students now — in my case when they’re very young — but we still hear about what they need when they’re older. Will these needs change? What’s the “real world” that we need to be concerned about, and are we preparing students for it? 
  • I totally agree that “listening skills” are important. In fact, my new “one word” goal for this school year is listeningIf we want students to listen to us though, do we also need to listen more to them? 

What do you think? I would love to hear your responses to this shared dialogue as I continue to think about problem solving, teaching, and learning!


For My “Joey’s”

I’m very excited to attend the HWDSB CPS Summer Institute on August 20th and 21st. After making the commitment to go, I decided that I was going to read Dr. Ross Greene‘s book, Lost At School, to really understand the thinking behind the C.P.S. (Collaborative Problem Solving) philosophy. I’m so glad that I did!

At the beginning of June, Greene’s belief that, “kids do well if they can,” made me rethink rewards in the classroom and my approach with more challenging students.

While I hadn’t read Lost At School at this point, I really thought that I understood Greene’s thinking. Maybe on a superficial level I did. Now I realize though that there’s so much more. Greene’s book made me think about how I’ve addressed challenging behaviour in the past. I thought that I did a good job.

  • I tried to remain calm.
  • I tried to offer choices.
  • I tried to be proactive.
  • I tried to involve all stakeholders if/when necessary (i.e., students, parents, support staff, administrators, educational assistants, etc.).
  • I documented what we tried, I reflected on how our solutions worked, and I tried to make changes as needed. 

When reading Greene’s book though, I realized something: I always used a Plan A approach to problem solving. I wasn’t as good as I thought.

  • I determined the options and/or solutions.
  • I presented the options and/or solutions to the students, and while I tried to include choice, the ultimate choice was always my choice
  • While I love to question why we do what we do in the classroom, I don’t think that I ever questioned enough why these problems happened in the first place and how we could work together to solve them.

Year after year, I’ve seen students of all ages get sent home and suspended. I know that the problems that are resulting in suspensions are major ones. I know the importance of keeping all students safe at school. I know that we have to consider positive learning environments for all students. But what happens when it’s the same students getting sent home again and again? We can question the home life. We can wonder about the need for a diagnosis. We can question if there’s a need for medication. Maybe though, there’s something more, or something different, that we can do. 

The truth is, it breaks my heart when a student is suspended. In Lost At School, there is a story woven through the book. I keep on replaying the initial problem with Joey and his teacher. When Joey reacted as he did at the beginning of the book, I cried. I’ve had that Joey (or at least a student similar to him). I reacted as his teacher did. I saw a small problem escalate to a bigger one. And I’ve gone home thinking, “how could I have changed (or prevented) this?” 

I think Plan B is the answer. I want to find out more about what my students are thinking, and I question if their involvement in a solution — one that works for both of us — would ultimately change the classroom and school dynamic for the better. As someone that’s teaching Senior Kindergarten this year, I wonder about what Plan B will look like in reality.

  • What images can we use to support the students that are lacking the language skills to share their problems?
  • If language needs are impacting on how much the children can express, then is Collaborative Problem Solving, really collaborative?
  • I see the value of using this approach with the full class, but I question long carpet times and too many full class discussions (with maybe only input from some students). How might this approach be used with small groups instead? 
  • How have people used Collaborative Problem Solving in young primary classes? Does it work for all students? Is there anything special/important that should be considered?

Reading Greene’s book, I can’t help but get swept up in the potential of this approach (Collaborative Problem Solving). I think that it would definitely help me become a better listener, and ultimately, allow me to make even stronger connections with kids and parents. Collaborative Problem Solving is definitely a big shift in how we handle problems, but it has the potential to make a big difference for children and their success at home and at school. Maybe we can reach that child that hasn’t been reached before. Maybe we can have even more “Joey” success stories. I think C.P.S. is worth trying for this alone. What do you think?



“Guide” Vs. “Sage”: Is It As Easy As That?

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about some edu-jargon:

  • Guide On The Side vs. Sage On The Stage.

I’m going to admit that these terms often make me laugh. I think that we’ve all become so immersed in terminology in our schools that we can’t help but use the words. I definitely I do. I wish though that I spent more time thinking about these terms instead of just using them. This particular example of edu-jargon seems to come with this sense of the “right approach” versus the “wrong approach”: we need to avoid being the sage, and instead, be the guide. While in theory, I embrace this philosophy, I wonder if in practice, it’s a lot more difficult than that. 

I think of the classroom.

  • Every time that we meet with the full class, are we being the sage? Do we ever have to meet with the full class? How do we decide? How do we get more student talk, and less teacher talk, even during full class meetings?
  • If we just meet with a small group, are we being the guide? What if we’re still directing the conversation? How do we again get kids talking more?
  • What if we’re observing? Does being a guide count as watching, thinking, and planning ahead for future learning? Can we guide learning even without talking?
  • How do we ensure that we actually guide and not just stay on the side? Are there times when it’s okay to be off at a desk or doing planning? Is it too easy to fall into this habit if we’re not “teaching” in the typical sense? Does everybody know what he/she can be doing if not teaching at the front of the room? I wonder if certain grades and/or individuals are more comfortable with this guide on the side approach than others, and if so, how can we change this? Should we?

I have a secret to share. For the past couple of years especially, my administrators have visited my classroom regularly. They visit all classrooms. They might not come in every day, but usually at least once a week. Their visit may just be for a minute, but it happens. After they come in, I always think, what was I doing when they were there? What were my students doing? Is there a better way that we could have been spending our time? Maybe the timing was such that they always came in when we were sitting on the carpet, but if so, I can’t help but wonder, are we spending too much time doing this?

Here’s what I want my administrators, and other visitors, to see and hear when they come into our classroom:

  • Students talking.
  • Students working together.
  • Students working independently.
  • Students creating.
  • Students solving problems.
  • Students demonstrating skills in meaningful and purposeful ways.
  • Students sharing their thinking, learning, and future goals in ways that work for them.
  • Students doing different things and in different ways.
  • Students persevering through challenging tasks.
  • Students having choices, and students making these choices.
  • Students thinking … and being willing to share their thinking.
  • And me observing, documenting, playing, and interacting with small groups and individual students.

If I always kept these thoughts in mind, I wonder if they would change the classroom dynamic. Seeing the ideas in this list, I think that I more often hope to be a “guide.” I wonder how often I actually am. As I work on “listening” more this year, I really hope to watch more, think more, question better, and talk less. Maybe my new teaching experiences will also help me figure out some answers to my many guide/sage questions. What do you think?


D.I. For The Adult Learner

I am that kid.

  • The one that fidgets if I have to sit still too long.
  • The one that takes almost nothing in without a visual: talk to me too much, and I can’t tell you anything about what you said.
  • The one that never comes prepared with a pen or a pencil, although I always have numerous devices.
  • The one that misplaces just about every paper I’ve ever received … one of many reasons that I love my devices.
  • The one that knows what I need to succeed, and am not afraid to speak up to get it. 

Some people find me outspoken. Others applaud my honesty. I think that I’m okay with both, as I don’t think that change happens if we sit around quietly. 

I’m a huge believer in differentiated instruction in the classroom, and using assistive technology, hands-on learning experiences, open-ended questions, and inquiry to really help reach EVERY child. These approaches work for children. They also work for adults.

I just came home from a full day of workshops about Kindergarten. This morning, we discussed inquiry, observation, and documentation, and this afternoon, we focused on supporting social and emotional development in the early years. All of the presenters were eager to share. They had lots of information for us, and they provided us with opportunities to talk and learn together. This afternoon though, I started to feel overwhelmed. Why? 

2015-08-11_16-18-40 2015-08-11_16-18-50There were so many handouts. I know the thinking behind giving them out. At our table, at least half of the teachers said that they preferred paper, and they wanted to have copies of the presentation and the ideas. I can understand this thinking, but I think differently.

  • It’s not about the trees … although I’m happy to help save the environment. 🙂
  • It’s about seeing how much there is to read.
  • It’s about seeing the small print and the number of words on the page.
  • It’s about the worry of where to store these papers so that I can find them again.
  • It’s about not getting distracted by the handouts, and still being able to focus on the speaker.

As I’m sitting at the table, taking some deep breaths and trying to calm down (and I’m serious when I say that I was doing this), I couldn’t help but even think about my personal reading habits. It’s no secret that I love to read. Here’s something that not everybody knows about me though: I read almost exclusively on a device. Why? 

  • Because then I’m less overwhelmed by the size of the book.
  • I can focus on one page at a time.
  • I can set the print size and font. 
  • I can read calmly … and reading should be a calming experience.

Now just like with my handout comment, I know that not everyone agrees with me. Some people love reading a “real book” and almost never read on a device. They have the choice for this option though. Are we giving the choice in our PD sessions? What if the learning was shared online — through a GoogleDoc perhaps — and then those that want a hardcopy can make one, and others, can use the electronic copies? 

Our Board is looking at transforming learning everywhereHow do we do this in our professional learning? We’ve done a lot of talking about the SAMR Model and how teaching and learning has changed, or needs to change, in our classrooms. What about professional development? I wonder what impact consistently modelling this change would have on creating this change in the classroom environment. What do you think? What would you suggest?