Could “eating dinner together” be the best kind of homework?

I have a lot of fond memories of growing up, but one thing that I enjoyed the most over the years, is eating dinner as a family. For as long as I lived at home, we ate supper together. Yes, there were times that I was out with friends or my parents were away, but on most nights, this was our special time together.

  • We always turned off the television.
  • We always put electronics away.
  • Nobody answered the phone or the doorbell.
  • For 45 minutes to an hour, we gave all of our attention to the people in front of us.

Our conversations varied over the years, but we often used this time to discuss special moments about our day, talk about what we were reading or events in the news, enjoy many laughs together, and really open up to each other. We all had opportunities to share. 

As a teacher now, I think back on how much I learned from these family dinners.

  • I learned social skills: taking turns, problem solving, and respecting different opinions.
  • I learned oral language skills: including speaking, listening, and developing new vocabulary. 
  • I learned reading skills: particularly connected to reading comprehension and critical literacy (discussing various texts).
  • I learned metacognitive skills: thinking back on what happened during the day, reflecting on how I did, and setting goals for improvement.
  • I also learned the value in developing relationships and the power in doing so. I continue to be very close to my parents, and I know that these family dinners played an important role in this.

I realize that all families have different schedules. I’ve taught children that have parents that work shift work, and other families, that have children involved in extracurricular activities that overlap with mealtimes. Busy is the new normal, and maybe family mealtimes every night is an unattainable goal. But what is possible? Even if just some family members sit down, talk, and eat together, what value might this have for children? 

The other day, I saw a tweet that mentioned a Grade 2 teacher’s new “homework policy”a letter which has gone viral on Facebook — that includes “eating dinner as a family.”

Imagine if all students completed this “homework.” I wonder what impact this might have on a school’s social and academic learning environment. What do you think? 


Better Together … From The Very Beginning!

Today was the first day that our school was open to staff members, and my teaching partner and I were both in the classroom at around 7:00 this morning getting things organized. For a variety of reasons, this was the first year that I’ve ever set up the classroom with somebody else, right from the very beginning. What an incredible experience!

Always good to start with a ‘before’ picture.

A photo posted by Aviva (@avivaloca) on

We worked non-stop in the room for eight hours today, and we had such rich dialogue throughout the process. All of our conversations connected back to children.

  • How might students use the different materials?
  • How are we making materials accessible to them?
  • How might we create micro-environments in the classrooms: with quieter and louder, and brighter and darker areas? What value might this have for students?
  • Are we putting out too many materials? Not enough? Are they open-ended enough? What are some loose part options? What might be best considering our students, and their strengths and needs (based on what we already know)?

What was amazing though is that not only did we have this discussion with each other, but also with the other two educators on the Kindergarten team. Our classrooms connect, and at different times throughout the day, we moved between the rooms, helping each other decide …

  • what to throw away.
  • what to keep.
  • what to put out.
  • what to store.

We also started talking about how the our classroom environment considerations align with the finalized Kindergarten Program document, and what other changes we may want to consider. (This is a discussion that we plan on continuing tomorrow.) While we all realize that the environment will continue to change with the help of the children, we want our initial set-up to feel calm and welcoming, and it was terrific how we could do this as a team.

Today’s set-up experience made me realize that while I often speak about the value of collaboration, I’m used to making many decisions on my own. I may reach out to other educators via social media (especially Twitter), but even so, these same kinds of rich conversations don’t seem to happen in 140 characters. I know that having a strong team is really important in a Kindergarten classroom, but I realized today, how valuable this partnership is from the start: in the initial classroom design. The fact that our school is small enough for these team discussions to extend easily beyond our classroom to the Kindergarten educators right next door, is even more powerful.

It’s the challenging questions, the variety of opinions, and the rich dialogue that helps all of us improve. How do you collaborate with others in classroom design, and what impact do you see this having on the learning environment? The Kindergarten model — with two educators working together and sharing a classroom — is definitely ideal for this kind of collaboration. That said, as I walked around the school today, I loved seeing so many teachers connecting with others in their classrooms and in the hallways. They were exchanging ideas and asking for feedback. I wonder if this happens more easily in a small school. What do you think? What’s needed for this kind of collaboration to happen everywhere? I would love to hear more about your experiences. Today really made me think about what’s possible.


What Role Could Parents Play In Assessment?

The other day, I read this great blog post by Sue Dunlop, where she talks about parent engagement and what that might really mean as we get ready for the start of school. As someone that’s very passionate about parent engagement, I definitely took an interest in Sue’s post (and even commented on it), but it also made me think more about our finalized Kindergarten Program document. Parents (and when I use this word, like the document, I also mean guardians and family members) seem to play a bigger role in the current learning environment than even in the previous document. I love the fact that parents are encouraged, in different ways, to …

  • join in with the classroom learning.
  • share their skills with the students.
  • share their culture as part of the classroom.
  • communicate regularly with the educator team.
  • and extend classroom learning at home.

It was this final point that really got me thinking differently. It’s not a new idea to get parents to try “to extend the classroom learning at home,” but it is a new idea to use these examples of learning as proof of children meeting an expectation. Now the home environment can play an important role in the assessment and evaluation piece that happens at school.

At first, I’ll admit that I wasn’t sure how I felt about this. I’ve become so accustomed to the idea that homework cannot be used for marks, as we don’t know how much support the children received with it, and the finalized document made me feel as though I was going to be doing just that. This was, until I read the expectation examples, and then my thinking shifted.

  • Maybe a dad shares that his son counted each of the plates as he helped set the table.
  • Maybe a mom shares that her daughter read the street signs as they were out for a walk, and then made connections between the letters in these signs and the letters in the names of her friends.
  • Maybe parents share that as they were out playing at the park, their children invited other children to join in their game of Simon Says, and they took turns being the leader.

It’s through these types of examples that we see how children apply what they learn at school out in the real world. And, if as educators, we really believe in these home/school connections, what role does “trust” need to play in our relationships with parents? I also wonder if the fact that there are no marks in Kindergarten, changes how we view these anecdotes from home and the role that they may play in assessment and evaluation.

Thinking more about the updated “parent role” in this finalized document, made me think about the home/school connection in other grades. It was then that I thought back to conversations that I had with parents when I taught the junior grades. A couple of moms regularly shared with me what their children did at home and what supports they provided to help them learn. These conversations helped me …

  • explain more about successful approaches we used in the classroom, and how these same strategies might work at home.
  • learn new ways to support learning in the classroom, especially for these particular students. 

While the anecdotes shared didn’t make it in a subject box on a report card, often these examples formed part of the dialogue in the Learning Skills and helped when determining Next Steps. It’s with this in mind, that I can’t help but wonder how much more “reciprocal sharing” is possible between home and school and the value that this may have for students. 

In my recent post on The MEHRIT Centre’s blog, I speak about my shift in thinking thanks to the finalized Kindergarten Program document. Along with this academics/social skills shift, I wonder if I also need to make a home/school shift. While I’ve always loved strong parent/educator connections, and worked hard to develop these positive relationships, I think that I drew the line when it came to assessment: seeing educators as solely responsible for this component of learning. Now my views are changing. What role might parents play in assessment and evaluation? What could this mean for students and educators? As I get ready to go back to school, I’m thinking about these questions and eager to discuss them more with my teaching partner. I’d love to hear your thoughts on these wonders of mine. What have you tried already? What might you try now? I’m excited about a school vision that really does have families and educators working together to support children.


Making Sense Of Two New Documents, Together!

This summer was a very exciting one because after much anticipation, the Ministry released the new Kindergarten Program as well as Growing Success — The Kindergarten AddendumSince we’ll be implementing these starting in September, I wanted to take some time before summer ends to read and think about the documents. I’m a social reader (when it comes to professional reading especially), so not only did I read the two documents, but I shared a lot of my thinking, questions, and connections through the Twitter hashtag #framingfdk, which has been used by many to discuss these Kindergarten documents. After three days of curriculum reading, I finished both documents — at least for a first read through — and I thought about all of the great discussions I’ve had online about them. I think that these documents are incredibly powerful, for not only do they share what we need to teach and how we need to assess, but also a shared view of the child — as “competent, curious, and capable of complex thinking” — and a shared pedagogy — with the belief in the value of play-based learning and an inquiry mindset for children and educators.

As someone that’s taught every grade from Kindergarten to Grade 6, I’ve read many curriculum documents in the past, but I will admit, that in most cases, I’ve just looked at the list of overall and specific expectations. I may have skimmed the front matter, but I rarely spent time reading it. After I finished reading these new Kindergarten documents though, I realized just how much I would miss if I only looked at the appendix of expectations. I also realized how many people — from educators to administrators — are trying to do what I did this summer and make sense of these new documents and the philosophy embedded within them. That’s why I decided to Storify all of my tweets and discussions related to this curriculum reading because I’m hoping that they’ll be just a part of more conversations to come.

I wonder what others are thinking about these documents. 

  • What classroom changes are you considering? Why?
  • What excites you about these new documents? 
  • What benefits do you think that this approach (play-based learning) will have for children?
  • What questions or concerns do you have about these new documents? 
  • How are you planning on collaborating with others on the implementation of these documents?
  • I think that there’s an even bigger focus on parent engagement in the new Kindergarten Program 2016. What are some different ways that you hope to engage all parents? What impact do you think that these might have on students?
  • How do you plan on approaching prep time? How will prep coverage teachers extend the learning in the classroom, and how will they document this learning? What role might they play in reporting?

These are just some of my bigger questions that I have after reading and thinking about these documents. What are your thoughts and questions? I know that people are tweeting their thinking. I know that Joanne Babalis has already blogged about many of her takeaways. This is now my addition to the growing discussion. I hope that others will blog, tweet (#framingfdk), and/or comment with their thoughts, questions, connections, and ideas, for as we try to make sense of these new documents, it would be great if we could do so together!


Wednesday, August 17, 2016 – One Addition

I think that the learning around these documents continue to evolve, and so while I don’t usually update a post after publishing it, I wanted to add this note. After attending an inservice at the Board office today on pedagogical documentation, I had a great discussion with two members of our Early Years Team, Sarah Roarke and Mary Elliott. Our conversation made me think about an important point in the Kindergarten document around teaching, learning, and expectations, and this point led to a number of new questions. 


A special thank you to Nancy Niessen, a retired Kindergarten teacher, for sharing a great modification to my final question.


Nancy’s question and a message from an educator that I really admire and respect, made me re-think all of my “questions in blue” from yesterday. Here is my updated thinking.


What are your thoughts on these wonders? Does this way of linking expectations to classroom learning give you other things to think about? I would love to have a conversation around this important topic!

My Three Measures For Success

A week ago, I received this comment from Sue Dunlop on one of my previous blog posts, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. 

Screenshot 2016-08-10 at 14.39.35

In my reply, I told Sue that I really liked her idea (which I do), and that I was going to think of some measures and likely write another blog post (which is what I’m doing now).

Usually I would have blogged a long time ago in response, but it’s taken me a while to really narrow down my measures. Likely unbeknownst to her, Sue mentioned one of my greatest weaknesses in her reply: I often have too many goals, which makes it difficult to accomplish everything. This is never my intention. I usually start with a goal or two, but each experience and reflection seems to multiply my number of next steps, and pretty soon I need to slow down and really focus on where to go. I’m hoping that by blogging about these measures and taking the time throughout the year to come back to them and reflect, I will stay more focused in my goals and achieve greater success. Considering all of this, here are my three measures for “success.”

1. Have students successfully self-regulate so that they are ready and able to learn. I have blogged a lot about self-regulation over the past couple of years, and I do believe that it’s an essential skill for students and adults to develop. Self-regulation is also part of one of the four frames that are outlined in our new Growing Success – The Kindergarten AddendumThis shows the importance of it and the need to focus on this area.

Speaking to my new teaching partner for this year, and having met some of the new JK students that will be joining our class, I can see that many of the students are currently co-regulating. With help from adults and other children, they’re able to get to “calm.” I think that the next step is to give students a chance to find out what self-regulation strategies work for them, and continually give them opportunities to choose and use the strategies that work. This seems easy when outlined in writing, but is a lot more challenging to do in a classroom context — especially considering that there could be a wide variety of strategies that work. Likely this will take time, patience, and various amounts of support for different students. A home/school connection could also be really important here, both in terms of allowing for similar self-regulation options at home and at school, and finding out what works in the different environments.

2. Meet and/or exceed the Board’s reading benchmarks by the end of Kindergarten. While I’m new to this school, having met with parents and talked to students at the Kindergarten Orientation evening, seen some soon-to-be SK work samples around the classroom, and spoken to my teaching partner about her experiences, I can tell that many — if not all — of the students are ready to read. Some are already reading. The children have the oral language and vocabulary skills necessary to move to this next step. Working with my teaching partner, I want to help nurture and develop these skills, so that the students can meet with continued reading success. 

3. Help develop independent problem solvers. While I’ve taught Kindergarten more than any other grade, I have teaching experiences up to Grade 6. I know that for students to continue to grow as learners, they need to become more independent (not just looking to an adult for support) and solve many complex problems (many of which require multiple attempts and critical thinking skills). Even just playing with the JK students on the Kindergarten Orientation evening, I could tell that they’re already solving some simple problems, showing some confidence in their own ideas, and interested in doing things on their own. Now we need to nurture and develop these skills in the classroom. 

While these measures are a start, I’m not done yet. Once I’ve had a chance to talk more with my teaching partner and meet the students, I can get a better idea about percentages for each goal. What is a reasonable number of students that can meet this goal, and for the students that can’t meet this goal, what can they meet instead? These percentages will give me some targets as I track progress throughout the year. 

I’m also thinking about what I will use to measure growth in each of these areas. I really like Growing Success, and the focus on the triangulation of data. Based on this model, we assess students with the use of observations, conversations, and work products. If this works for students, could it also work for educators? I think that it could, and with this in mind, noting growth in my goal areas may involve …

  • looking at anecdotal records.
  • looking back at documentation (photographs, videos, podcasts, and written notes).
  • conversations with my teaching partner, with parents, and with students about their observations and experiences.
  • exploring the self-regulation options that children choose to use.
  • running records and DRA data (which could almost function as a “work product” in this case).
  • reading shared during play and individual and/or small group reading experiences.
  • looking at perseverance and success during building and/or coding challenges in the classroom.
  • examining work connected to classroom inquiries.

I think that this list is likely to grow as I delve into my goals more, talk to my teaching partner and other colleagues online and in person, and read some new resources, including the one that I ordered today: Miriam Trehearne’s Multiple Paths To Literacy: K-2. I can use the ideas in the list above to track growth over time though, and looking at the resources, strategies, and ideas we choose to use, see for myself — am I making a difference? 

Thank you, Sue, for pushing me to think in this way. What are your measures (or goals) to see if you’re successful? As a new school year approaches, maybe we can all share what we might be tracking as we continually look at how to improve.