Do We Need A Magic School Bus?

This week, we went on our first two field trips of the school year. On Thursday afternoon, our class went with another Kindergarten class on a walking trip to the Public Library, and on Friday morning, our class went with the same class to Eco House. Just as I reflected last year, I realized the potential for learning that can happen on these kinds of trips.

Click Here To View Thursday's Storify Story, Which Includes Our Trip To The Library

Click Here To View Thursday’s Storify Story, Which Includes Our Trip To The Library

Click Here To View Friday's Storify Story, Which Includes Our Trip To Eco House

Click Here To View Friday’s Storify Story, Which Includes Our Trip To Eco House

These field trips allowed for …

  • the development of oral language skills. Students spoke and listened to each other as they walked to the library. They played with rhyming words as they sang songs and played games on the bus and at Eco House. They developed new vocabulary thanks to the amazing guides at Eco House, and the introduction of new terms with the use of visuals and the hands-on learning experiences that accompanied them.
  • learning through The Arts. At both the library and at Eco House, I noticed the number of stories and concepts that were introduced and/or reinforced with the use of Music, Drama, Visual Arts (at Eco House), and/or Dance. I think that The Arts played a big role in the positive way that people responded to this new learning.
  • reading in context. On our walk to the library, I noticed the number of students that don’t usually choose books to read, but were reading the signs on the buildings and identifying the letters that they saw. The same was true as they looked out the window of the school bus. This is meaningful reading, and environmental text is so important for beginning readers.
  • meaningful math. I was amazed at the amount of math talk that I heard on the school bus yesterday. Students indicated the number of different vehicles that they saw (number sense), the size of different buildings (measurement), and the distance between places (measurement). They even sang counting songs, including Five Little Monkeys Jumping On The Bed, and showed their understanding of number sense and 1:1 correspondence, as they put a finger down for each monkey that fell off of the bed: discussing the new total. On the library trip, I heard many students talking about the distance back to the school (measurement) and the shapes that they saw in various structures (geometry). I only wish that I videotaped all of the great conversations!
  • the development of schema. If we want students to really inquire, they have to have something to inquire about. Building schema gives students more background knowledge so that they can make connections, ask questions, and dig deeper into topics of interest. While the children were tired at the end of our busy day yesterday, it was great to hear how much they remembered about the trip to Eco House and how excited they were to share their new learning. I’m excited to see where this learning takes us next week!

I can’t help but think now about our Board’s goal to have “all students reading at grade level by the end of Grade 1” (Early Years Strategy). What do students need to meet this goal? For some schools, I wonder if field trips need to be a part of this strategy. Is this where the authentic learning happens? Is this where we develop and reinforce the literacy skills that will allow us to reach the Board’s goal? I know that the cost of these trips sometimes stop them from happening, especially in the schools where the children may need these experiences the most. Funds are limited. I totally understand this, but I wonder if there’s a way to change this. How might we get the funds? Would investing the money in these field trips — with the teaching and learning that comes out of these experiences — help more children develop the fundamental skills (Oral Language being a key component of this) so that they can reach these reading goals? Sometimes I wish that I could be Ms. Frizzle and make The Magic School Bus our portable classroom. What do you think?


#2016MAM (Make A Memory)

As I’ve blogged about before, change can be a wonderful thing. This is my fifteenth year teaching for the Board, and over these years, I’ve taught JK-Grade 6 in some capacity at six different schools. I’ve loved all of these experiences and learned a lot from all of them too.

Next year, I’m ready to embark on a new adventure. This evening, I accepted a position to teach Kindergarten at Rousseau School. After 11 years teaching at very large schools, I will be moving to a much smaller school in a different area of the Board. I’m certain that this will bring with it some new learning for me, and I’m very excited to learn from/with the Rousseau team.

That said, as with any change, I’m also really going to miss Dr. Davey! I cannot say enough wonderful things about the staff, students, and parents at the school. I have learnt so much in these past two years, and I know that I’ve become a better, more patient, more understanding, and more creative teacher as a result. My time at Dr. Davey has been full of marvellous memories (I do love alliteration), and I’m determined to capture many more great memories before I leave in June. As an avid tweeter, I thought that I would hashtag these memories using #2016MAM (Make A Memory) to create my own digital memory book. Does anyone want to join me? Simply hashtag your tweets, and together, we can collect our memories of this year before starting our next great adventure!



Some Self-Reg Learning At A Synagogue Service

As I mentioned in my recent blog post, I now see almost everything through a self-regulation lens. I was thinking of that this weekend when I went to visit my dad at a nursing home in Toronto. Just before I left, I went with him downstairs to the basement to attend a synagogue service. Since it was the beginning of Passover, there were many additional people at this morning service, and all of the employees in the room were working hard to meet various needs.

  • First, I watched three nurses sit down with residents and help them finish their breakfast. All three nurses, whispered quietly to the residents as they reminded them how to hold utensils and how to chew food safely. The nurses gently touched the residents on their arm or rubbed their back. I can’t help but wonder if their quiet voices and gentle touches helped these residents feel calm.
  • Then I watched two nurses that were worried about one resident that wasn’t eating his breakfast. Apparently he hasn’t been eating a lot lately. One nurse mentioned that his wife — that used to live in this nursing home with him — recently passed away. I wonder if he’s grieving. Could this be a hidden stressor? Could his interest in food be declining because of his emotions?
  • After that, I saw the rabbi go up to the different residents and ask them what they would like to drink for the service. He had a large selection of different juices in front of him. One resident looked at him and said, “I’ll take a vodka.” When the rabbi mentioned jokingly that, “Liquor wasn’t being served until after 10:00,” he said that he’d settle for an orange juice … but would ask for the vodka later. 🙂 I keep thinking about the benefits of humour, and how this resident’s joke might not only help him feel better, but might relax some of his peers too. On my most challenging days, a chance to chuckle — especially a great big belly laugh — always makes me feel calmer. I also think though about this man’s request for alcohol. Recently I read this blog post by Stuart Shanker on the “Self-Reg View Of Obesity.” I wonder if junk food could almost be replaced with alcohol for similar reasons, and if again, we need to “reframe the problem” in order to get to the reason for this craving in the first place. Why might he have wanted the vodka?
  • Finally, I saw the residents that were reluctant to accept help. I saw one man that barely had the strength to pick up a mug, but was determined to drink his coffee on his own. The nurse kept asking if she could hold if for him. She kept trying to support the bottom of the cup. But he refused all of her help, and in the end, she cleaned up many spills and changed a tablecloth too. I saw another man that was determined to lead part of the service. He was in a wheelchair, and the rabbi tried to tilt the bimah, but it wouldn’t go down far enough for him to read the prayer from his chair. He wheeled his chair up, and propped himself against the bimah so that he could read the prayer. The rabbi tried to support him. Another visitor tried to help, but this resident pushed both of them away because he wanted to stand up there on his own. In both of these cases, you could tell that the “caring adults” — if they were a nurse, a rabbi, or a visitor — were feeling stressed because the residents were ignoring their requests. As a teacher of young children, I understood. Isn’t this how I feel if a student ignores me? A conversation with some nurses afterwards gave me a different perspective though.

While I could make so many connections between what happened here and classroom/school experiences, there was one very important difference: the residents in this nursing home are adults. They could do before what they maybe can’t do now. Imagine what they’re thinking and feeling. What does it mean for them if they give up control? I think about how residents might self-regulate at a nursing home. What might they do? What impact might self-regulation have on quality of life? Just before I left the nursing home yesterday, one of the residents turned to talk to me. We’ve met each time that I visit my dad, and she’s always very kind to me. Yesterday, she squeezed my hands and said, “Don’t ever get old. It’s no fun being old.” I had to choke back tears. How could we change this perspective? Is it possible? I’d like to believe that it is.


The Day “Ish” Drowned, And I Started To See Things Differently …

I know that I’ve been blogging a lot about self-regulation, especially since reading Stuart Shanker’s book, taking The MEHRIT Centre’s Foundations courses, and starting to moderate Portal Plus for The MEHRIT Centre. All of these experiences have given me a better understanding of self-regulation for myself and my students. I’ve learned what I’m good at doing and where I struggle, and making self-regulation a part of my professional inquiry, has allowed me to focus on it even more. With all of my self-regulation aha moments, it was actually what happened this week that was truly an awakening for me.

It was near the end of the day, and our students were engaged in their free exploration time. It was the final twenty minutes of my prep time, and I was working with a child on emptying the sensory bin. Why did we have to empty it? The bin was full of water, but this child took a big squeezable bottle of white glue and dumped it in there. When I asked, “Why?,” this student explained that the glue bottle was the perfect bottle for the doll. “And all babies need bottles … right, Miss Dunsiger?” How could I argue with this logic, even though the gluey, sticky mess was stressing me out?! As we were emptying the bin, another child was at the sink filling up a little container of water. “I’m making a cake.” Then this child decided to bring the “cake” over to a friend, but dropped the container on the way, and there was water everywhere. I decided to move over to help this child clean up the flood, and I told the other child to feel free and go and work with some friends. This child decided to go and do some beading, but accidentally knocked over the entire container of beads — probably close to 200 — and they rolled across the table, chair, and floor. I asked this child to pick up the beads, but when doing so, this student noticed a book on the art table. It had some paint on it. This child decided to clean it off for me, brought it to the sink, turned the taps on full blast, and submerged the book in the water. I heard the taps running, turned around, saw my book drowning, and said, “Stop, stop, stop,” as I rushed over to the sink to save the drowning literature. When I got there, I’ll admit I was feeling angry, but then the child spoke to me: “Miss Dunsiger, there was paint on your book. I’m cleaning it for you.” Oh my … Now I have all of these mixed feelings. I have to throw out one of my favourite books — waterlogged Ish is now more book-ish than anything else, but this child didn’t do this on purpose. This student is staring at me with wide, teary-eyes and explaining the rationale for the soaked book, and it makes so much sense. As Shanker would probably say, “This is when the reframe happened.” This wasn’t misbehaviour. The child’s intentions were the best. And I feel terribly for feeling angry and not understanding “then” what I understand “now.” I tell the child this. I apologize. I said that I realize this child’s desire to help, but next time, maybe just bring the book to me and we can problem solve without water. I said that books don’t like water. This worked, and we managed to get all of the messes cleaned up and all of us went home happy.

It was on this day that I really started to see things differently.

– The glue in the water was just a desire to get creative with a bottle (that happens to fit perfectly in the baby doll’s mouth).
– The spilled container of water was just a desire to extend dramatic play and share a “cake” with some friends.
– The spilled beads were just a case of a child not realizing the closeness of his/her arm (I’m being purposely vague here as the gender of the child doesn’t really matter) to the container of beads.
– And the drowned book was just a case of a child trying to be helpful and not realizing that water doesn’t work the same with books as it does with people.

Sometimes classroom problems seem to multiply. Sometimes it’s hard to resist our own urge to react or even listen to our own feelings, which sometimes show through even when we don’t want them to. But since this day, I find myself thinking about problems differently.

– “This child is struggling because it’s the end of the day and he/she needs to move more. How can we give him/her this opportunity?”
– “This child is struggling because it’s getting too loud in the room. How can we bring the volume down?”
– “This child is struggling because of a combination of social interactions. How can we change this social dynamic?”
– “This child is struggling because clean-up time seems too unstructured for him/her. How can we provide more structure for this child that needs it?”

These are just some of the thoughts that are going through my mind. I don’t know all of the answers, and even when I think I know what might work, sometimes it’s easier said than done. But I think of the idea of “soft eyes,” and I realize that this child the other day helped me look at more interactions with softer eyes, a kinder perspective, and just a different outlook altogether. It’s almost like seeing classroom interactions through a different lens: a movie in my mind at the same time that I’m living it. Have you ever had this happen before? What impact has this had on your teaching, parenting, and/or interactions with children? The more that I learn about self-regulation, the more that I realize how it impacts on everything I do, see, and experience. I wonder how many others find the same thing.


Are Your Students Problem Solvers and Innovators?

During Period 1 today, I got the chance to join Nina Wallace for a very special learning opportunity. Three people from McMaster University (MCYU) came in this morning to work with 15 students: five Grade 4’s, five Grade 5’s, and five Grade 6’s. These students learned about smoking and the impact on the body through a combination of direct instruction and hands-on learning. I was only able to observe for about the first 30 minutes, so I’m not sure how things ended, but here are my takeaways.

    • There is a place for direct instruction. MCYU gave the students lots of opportunities to share theories, explain their thinking, and make predictions, but they also gave them the facts. In order to dig deeper, we need content … and accuracy matters. The group leaders planned the lessons well though, and kept the mini-lessons short so the exploration time could be longer. Direct instruction does have to equate with a long lecture.
    • Schema matters. This was a mixed grade grouping, and at least for the time that I was there, the students in each grade worked just with their peers in that grade. As Nina and I discussed, the Grade 6’s finished the initial task the fastest and seemed to be the most independent. The Grade 4’s took longer, and needed more support. The Grade 6’s would have learned about smoking in Health in previous years. Would this prior knowledge have made a difference? Would mixed grade groupings have been more beneficial, or would the older students have dominated the discussion?
    • Activate prior knowledge. Determine a baseline. I think of this almost as an initial assessment task. This can be done in many ways. This morning, I saw the MCYU leaders ask the class to make a list of the short-term and long-term effects of smoking. Then the leaders shared all of the lists, and used this as a way to address misconceptions and add additional information. 
    • All students need an entry point. I really liked how the activities allowed the students to share orally as well as in writing. Ideas were more important than conventions, so even struggling writers could feel confident sharing their thinking. Students were encouraged to take risks, but in a safe enough way that they could comfortably do so — and they did.
    • Developing thinking skills is a must! When the MCYU leaders facilitated their first activity, I had a chance to go around and talk to the groups of students. I realized that when faced with a challenge, we need to help students become critical and creative thinkers. Can they explain their thinking? How do they determine the answers when they’re not sure and don’t have access to resources? 
    • This final point, makes me think of the Four Frames of the 2016 Kindergarten Program Document. The last frame discussed is Problem Solving and Innovating.

      Screenshot 2016-04-20 at 21.13.21

      How are we helping students develop these skills? If they do struggle in certain academic areas, how can they still learn to problem solve and innovate? I wonder if the answers lie in giving students …

      • longer blocks of learning time.
      • more opportunities to try, make mistakes, and try again.
      • more small group mini-lessons to target areas of need.
      • more open-ended activities, and reconsidering worksheets that might limit thinking skills and/or not allow for differentiation.
      • more opportunities to collaborate with others (including reflection opportunities to help support future learning).
      • play-based and inquiry-based learning opportunities in all grades.

        I can’t help but think back to one of my favourite blog posts by Kristi Keery-Bishop. If developing these skills matter, then we likely need to “let something go.” What might you let go? What might you add? What benefits do you see this having for kids? I’d love to hear your thoughts!