Our Transforming Classroom

Last Friday, Doug Peterson featured Peter Cameron‘s “Transformed Classroom” in his This Week In Ontario Edublogs post. Peter’s initial blog post and Doug’s post highlighting it, led to the creation of an #ourlearningspace challenge. Doug recently tagged me to participate in the challenge. How could I resist?! For the past couple of days, I’ve been determined to videotape our classroom space when I arrive in the morning, but somehow, I never quite make it to this item on my To Do List. This evening I was doing some thinking, and I thought that being a bit of an “educational troublemaker,” maybe I could break the rules just a tad. You see, possibly my greatest learning from our transformed classroom is that it’s constantly transforming

Just before school started this year, my teaching partner, Paula, and I recorded this video tour of our classroom space.

There are still elements of our room that have stayed the same, but with the help of the students, many other elements have changed.

    • Our Lego table remained as one, until fewer students took an interest in Lego. Many more students demonstrated an interest in creating, so often this larger table is used for various creation options. Covering it in brown paper allows students to draw and write right on the table. Students have already created the landscapes for Toronto and New York City. Their prior knowledge about these locations is amazing! We realized that pulling the table slightly out from the wall allows more students to gather around it, and this often becomes a quiet, popular area for them to work. Sometimes we add a small chair or little bench near this table to hold various supplies, such as recyclable items for building.

    • We still have the lamp near the bigger table and another lamp over in dramatic play. The use of the lamps plus the natural light from outside allow us to turn on fewer overhead lights. The brightness from the lights can be dysregulating for some students (and adults). These brighter and darker areas in the classroom also become great micro-environments that can meet different needs of different students at different times of the day.
    • The snack table remained. We rarely sit down to eat as a full class. Students eat when they’re hungry. They’re responsible for eating twice a day: once in the morning and once in the afternoon. Paula is incredible at keeping track of this eating — with the help of the students — and reminding those students that need it, that they have to eat. Most students are great at this now and can listen to their bodies: determining when they need to take a break and eat. Not only is this area great for self-regulation, but usually eating is a quieter option. With 33 students in the class, having six students almost always sitting down to eat, usually brings down the classroom noise level. This benefits all learners: educators and children.

    • The sand table is not always a sand table, but the table itself, remained. Sensory play can be a great self-regulation option for many students, and we find that at different times of the day, children flock to this area. Many children seem to like water the most and soapy water is their favourite. Water beads are another popular option, and the addition of some scoops and pails, allow for great math connections. Loose parts added to a sensory bin often results in math talk as well. We frequently talk to the students about what they want in this area, and sometimes they even co-create the space with us (e.g., a few students decided to add paint with shaving cream to create art in the sensory bin — they not only put out the supplies, but instructed students on how to use them and supported students with their use).

  • The bead table is not always for beads, but beads always make an appearance in the classroom. Our students have recently taken to the use of iron beads, and while these little beads may be the bane of my existence — the big mess on the floor always stresses me out — they are an incredibly popular option that help many students self-regulate. The oral language and math skills that come out of these beads continue to amaze me. Students regularly create incredible works of art with just some small beads. I’m learning to breathe through the mess. 🙂 

  • We still have an easel, but it’s changed locations slightly. The easel is now closer to the Book Nook area. We found that painting was very calming for many students, and having this painting option in a quiet area seems to work for students that need this quiet to think and create. We also add a little piece of paper towel to the easel. Students learned that Van Gogh used to wipe his brush, and the colours naturally blended into each other. Now they “paint like Van Gogh,” and we get a lot less water on the floor. Sometimes we use water colours at the creative table and this provides a slightly different painting option. 
  • The Book Nook area is in the same space, but many components changed. We noticed that no matter how we used the light table many students did not use it when in this location. We moved it into our dramatic play area, and now students tend to bring more items over to it and use it in conjunction with the items in the dramatic play space. The pillows that we both love became very problematic. They take up a lot of space between the Book Nook area and the carpet, and when all of our students gather together, they become more troublesome than useful. We put away many pillows, and we tend to bring them out with the students when needed. Children often take the cushions off of the sofa and the chair to act as pillows when they want them. Sometimes things that look pretty are not always successful. We also added some “adult colouring books” and some larger puzzles to this space. These options are great for self-regulation for many students, and it’s wonderful to see students self-selecting them as needed.

    • Our carpet area is more open now. The pillows and the bench made the area look cozy, but there was not enough space for all students to comfortably join our morning meetings. We’ve recently moved the bigger bench off the carpet and along one of the edges. Our V.I.P.s (Very Important People), sit here each day, and they enjoy this special seating.
    • Dramatic play continues to evolve. It started as a house, turned into a restaurant with the help of the students, and is now slowly becoming a recycling centre, based on the children’s current interest in the environment. We figured out that we had way too many items in this area to start the year, so we reduced the amount, and the materials seem to be used more purposefully. 

    • Our drawing and writing table became a lot bigger. By moving the light table into the dramatic play area, we could move the half table from dramatic play and connect it with the smaller writing table. We shifted the shelf a bit, and now we have a full table in this space. Students are so interested in drawing and writing, and this table is often over-full. The children showed us that they needed a bigger writing space, and they helped us move the furniture around to make that happen. 

  • The shelves stayed the same. We don’t have many shelves in the room, but the ones that we have, continue to hold similar items in a similar space (some building materials changed and we added some extra art supplies too). Not only do these shelves help make materials accessible to students, but they also act as small barriers that define spaces in the room. Along with lighting, this also helps in creating the micro-environments that we mentioned earlier. 

You’ll notice that while we have technology in the classroom — including a SMART Board and iPads — they’re not necessarily an important part of our learning environment. (I never thought that I’d say this before and I’m actually struggling with writing it down.) The technology though is used primarily to capture learning (through documentation done in conjunction with the students) or inspire learning (e.g., a video provocation). Our youngest learners definitely seem to benefit from the face-to-face interactions and problem solving skills that happen without a screen. This doesn’t mean that we don’t use technology with them (e.g., we use it to further investigate areas of interest), but we’re very purposeful about when, why, and how much of it we use, and this can vary according to the child, the day, and his/her needs. 

The Reggio Approach often talks about “the environment as the third teacher“: creating a space that’s truly responsive to the needs and interests of the students. Maybe one day I’ll manage to record our classroom, but I have no doubt that it will continue to “transform” from there. What about your room? I hope that you’ll share your transformations. I think that we can learn a lot from each other.


Could “Kindness” Be At The Heart Of Classroom Management?

Sometimes it takes a number of seemingly unrelated experiences to make you view things differently when seen together. This is what happened to me this past week. It all started when on Thursday, I went back into the classroom during Second Nutrition Break, and I saw my teacher partner, Paula, taking some “selfies” with some students in the class.

One more lunchtime selfie with our fabulous Grade 3 milk helper. #fdk #earlyyears #iteachk

A photo posted by Aviva (@avivaloca) on

As I watched Paula interact with the students, I was reminded of the value of “relationships,” and how taking the time to have fun with children can also show them how much we care. Not only did I have to capture these “selfie moments,” but I needed to take my own selfie with my photographer helper.

Of course the photographers need a selfie too. Connections with kids matter! #iteachk #earlyyears #fdk

A photo posted by Aviva (@avivaloca) on

These selfie experiences made me think back to the #BIT16 conference from a few weeks ago. I am not a fan of taking selfies, but as I met up face-to-face with some different educators for the first time, I managed to get involved in a number of selfie moments. Andrew Campbell, a fellow educator in a neighbouring Board, made note of these selfie moments during Thursday’s keynote address.


Strangely enough, it was almost as though the keynote speaker, Shelly Sanchez, was reading our tweets, for within minutes of this discussion, she made note of an “epic selfie adventure.”


She started discussing “us-ies,” which not only became a big topic of discussion at the conference, but also is exactly what Paula started doing in the classroom. This makes me think about Helen‘s comment on “us-ies” in her BIT16 follow-up blog postThe “friendship power” of a photograph is really quite remarkable, and I think this holds as true for children as it does for adults. 

I share all of this because I was actually thinking about these experiences today as I commented on Doug Peterson‘s blog post on classroom management. While I believe in everything that I wrote in my comment, I started to wonder about those times when even after “building relationships,” behaviour is still a problem. What do we do then? 

  • Do we become firm?
  • Do we reiterate expectations?
  • Do we consider the value in proximity?
  • Do we use a reward system?
  • Or do we find another way to connect? Could this be when that student needs this connection even more?

I couldn’t help but think about a strategy that an EA at my last school spoke about all the time. She said, “If you’re ever tempted to yell at a child, don’t. Instead, sing it!” Put your thoughts into music. Create your own tune. She always stood by the fact that the singing will make you feel better and will have a more positive impact on the actions of the child. I used to hear her singing with Kindergarten and Grade 8 students, and the approach never failed to work. Could a made up song help build relationships? Maybe again, it comes down to the value in being “kinder than necessary.” 

When I think back to my Faculty of Education experiences, “kindness” was never discussed as a classroom management strategy. I’m wondering though, if it could be at the heart of classroom management. What do you think? As I head into another school week, I’m thinking about “challenging behaviour.” Maybe it’s time to take a few extra us-ies, sing a few more songs, share a few more laughs, and see the benefits for kids. I have my plan for the week ahead. What about you?



Of course, I also managed to get my us-ie. 🙂

How Do We Create A “Window” That Reflects Everyone?

Over the past couple of weeks, something incredible has started to develop in our classroom. It all began when my teaching partner, Paula, mentioned to me that a student in our class has a concern. He’s really passionate about saving the environment, and he noticed how many items go into the garbage that could be recycled. He thinks we need to do a better job recycling. Even his parents have mentioned that he discusses this at home, so we know that this topic is important to him and could lead to some meaningful learning. This year, an EA (Educational Assistant) in the school works with one of her students to collect and empty the recycling bins in the afternoon. We thought that we could encourage this child to help sort the recycling prior to the collection process. Our hope was that he would help gather some other students to help, and eventually, the desire to make a difference would spread. 

After our initial planning discussion, I came in from nutrition break one day, and asked this student if he would like to help me sort the recycling. Not only did he say, “yes,” but other students gathered around too, and pretty soon we had our own Garbage Crew. 

Reading, writing, and math skills were all evident as students helped sort our recycling bin and decrease the amount of garbage that we threw away each day. We even started to use a calendar for a new, meaningful purpose and track how we did at sorting items and reducing garbage.

One student even brought in some gloves from home to use when sorting garbage and decided to get students to sign-up if they wanted to help. He created a meaningful reason to write and to collect data.

Pretty soon, this child wasn’t the only one developing lists of people to help with garbage. He inspired others to make a difference. Recently, we’ve started going outside in the morning to the forest that links onto our school property. Students noticed a lot of garbage in the forest and some of them decided that they wanted to help. Earlier this week, this child created a My Little Pony Pick Up Team to pick up toys and garbage.

Then yesterday, two students were outside exploring the forest, and they were so upset by the amount of littering they saw. They went back to the classroom and grabbed our garbage can, walked it out to the forest, and started to collect the garbage. They filled almost an entire can. This led to them doing some problem solving about how to reduce littering.

One child decided that our principal, John Gris, could get us some garbage cans for outside. She thought that writing him a letter would help. As soon as playtime started, she went to the table and started writing. She spent almost two hours writing, and started over at least five times, before she ended with the letter that she wanted.

During the process, we worked together, and she reflected on one of her drafts and what made it challenging to read. I then modelled an option that might help solve her problem, and she used this method to complete her final letter.

While “grit” is not my favourite word, this child definitely demonstrated grit because she was passionate about the subject and the change that she wants to see happen. She confidently walked this letter down to the principal, and will be thrilled on Monday when I show her his tweet that a reply is forthcoming. 


As some of our students work to make a difference outside, others work to make a difference in the classroom. The child that initially inspired this environmental inquiry, noticed that while we’re getting better at recycling, we still have a lot of food waste. “We need a grin bin, Miss Dunsiger.” I happened to have a mini-green bin at home, so I brought it into the classroom this week. The students have just started our “food waste recycling.” They drew and wrote about what items can go inside the green bin, they help sort garbage each day to find more items for our green bin, and they police one another to ensure that non-food items do not end up inside. I may have been asked to scoop out a couple of straws this week. 🙂 

Our plan is to partner with some parents to bring home the green bin each week. This then helps become more of a “community initiative.”

While our students may only be three-, four-, and five-years-old, watching this inquiry evolve, I’m reminded about the important belief that underlies the finalized Kindergarten Program Document: that we view children as “competent and capable of complex thinking.” There are so many components of our Four Frames that become evident through the observations, conversations, and work products that have happened throughout this evolving project. Students contribute to this inquiry in different ways, but they all play a role in one way or another. 

I share all of this because we have just recently concluded our Parent Observations. During some conversations with parents over the past couple of weeks, I’m reminded about how they view our ongoing communication with them. Many parents made comments to me that are similar to the ones that Aaron Puley made during our presentation at #BIT16speaking about how they’re ultimately interested in what their own child is doing in the classroom. I’m saying this because when I document learning, I don’t always do so through this lens. Yes, at the end of the day, Paula and I look over the photographs and videos that we’ve taken, and we think about who wasn’t included and who we may need to spend more time with the next day. But we also look at the evolution of learning that happens in the classroom. We look at how ideas emerge again, how thinking changes, and where we might want to go next based on current interests. Sometimes, as much as I may notice other things happening in the classroom, I want to spend more time with some students because of their work related to our current inquiry. These students will change day-by-day, but I share this because my conversations these past couple of weeks remind me that we all view things differently. I don’t have my own children, so I don’t tend to see this documentation with a parent hat. 

This weekend, I’m left wondering, is there a way to capture everyone while still following some conversations more in-depth? How might parents use photographs and videos of other children to still find out more about what their child did during the day? I’m curious to know what others do and also hear how parents feel about different options. I see the amazing things that happen when we leave it to kids to solve some real world problems, but I’m also aware that every child may not equally make it into our documentation. Since this documentation can really be that “window into the classroom,” how do we create a window that reflects everyone? 


My Blog Reflections … What About Yours?

As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, I always start off my day by reading Doug Peterson‘s blog posts. He publishes daily at 5:01 am, which happens to coincide perfectly with my wake-up routine. This morning, Doug did some reflecting on blogging, and as I shared in a short online discussion with Doug, Vicky (an educator in Switzerland), and Jen (a fellow Ontario educator), he inspired me to do the same.


Based on the 10 criteria mentioned in Doug’s post — five from this Lifehack post and five of his own — here’s how I think I fare.

1. Having a plan is essential for making your blog a success. I think that my plan is an ever-changing one. When I started blogging back in 2009, my blog was largely about technology use in the classroom. Then I slowly started to change to classroom practices. After that, my blogging evolved to reflections on big ideas in education. Now my blog is more of a personal/professional reflection tool. The main topics of my posts have varied over the years from more technology-focused ones to self-regulation, supporting students with various needs, classroom environment, school experiences, and inquiry and play-based learning. While I may not stick with a consistent overall “blog plan,” I do plan for each of my posts. Post topics usually come to me based on experiences that happen during the day. I let the ideas peculate throughout the day, and I often discuss these topics with friends and trusted colleagues. I may jot down some key ideas — always on a device, as I never have a pen 🙂 — and then I start to write. Most of the time, I publish soon after I write the post. Sometimes I let the post sit in Draft for the night and publish the next day, and occasionally, I delete the post after writing it. Sometimes just getting the ideas down is enough for me. But all of this is part of my plan … when I have an idea, I think, I write, and then I decide what comes next.

2. Your blog is more likely to succeed if it is social. I definitely promote my blog on social media. I tweet out the links to posts, and more recently, I’ve started promoting my posts on Instagram. Different people seem to take interest in the posts on the different platforms, and I do like the discussions that develop on both. I also email out links to my posts to the parents in my class as well as to my principal. I have for years. I love getting different perspectives on the ideas shared, and I feel very fortunate that both parents and administrators have commented and/or had discussions with me based on these blog posts. It’s these conversations that push my thinking forward. 

3. Content is king! Just like Doug, I think that my focus was too narrow in the beginning. I’ve been blogging at least once a week for the past seven years. This will be my 831st blog post, and that’s a lot of writing. While I have some favourite topics — from parking to self-regulation — I am not committed to a single topic. This blog is all about reflection, and sometimes that means opening up a few cans of worms. I’m okay with that! A wider scope means always having something to write about.

4. You may have to learn some basic Search Engine Optimization. I probably could learn more in this regard. I keep thinking about this post of Doug’s on Analysing Titles. Since reading it and analysing some of my own blog post titles, I’ve started to write longer titles and include more questions. I don’t know if this matters to the search engines. Either way though, just like Doug, I’m grateful for the many people who regularly share my blog posts through Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook (even though I’m not on Facebook). I know that more people read my posts because of them. I’m also thankful for Doug and his This Week In Ontario Edublogs posts and his Ontario Edubloggers Livebinder. I know that he’s helped bring many people to my blog, and for that, I’m grateful.

5. Relationships matter. I definitely appreciate comments on posts and/or the discussions that happen online based on what I’ve written. It’s often these conversations that help me think differently, solve problems, or view future experiences in a new way. I’m always amazed by the number of people I’ve connected with thanks to my blog, and it’s because of these strong online connections that often initial face-to-face interactions seem like meeting up with an old friend. Blogging connects people.

6. Commit to post regularly. This was a commitment that I made when I started blogging back in December 2009. At the time, I said that I was going to post once-a-week. I’m still committed to posting at least that often, but I usually post three or four times a week, and sometimes I blog every day. I’ll admit that I like to be “inspired to blog,” so I struggle with doing what Doug does and posting at 5:01 each day, but if (or when) I want to blog, I will often stay up to do so. And in seven years, I’ve stayed committed to my blogging goal. Blogging is now often the way that I self-regulate, and I can’t imagine not blogging.

7. It doesn’t have to be in print. For me, blogging is about writing ideas down. I talk through my fingers. While I’ll admit that my mouth is usually moving as I write my blog posts — I think that I speak every word that I type — it’s after I write everything down that I can really go back and edit it. Yes, I like to catch my spelling mistakes, typos, and grammatical errors, but more than that, I want to ensure that my message is conveyed in the way that I want it to be. How might others interpret what I wrote? How could I modify things to have them interpret my words differently? I often spend as long editing a post as I spend writing it, and I don’t think that I would edit as carefully with a vlog. While I admire people like Susan Hopkins that communicate so passionately through video blogs, I think that I’ll likely forever stick with the written version.

8. Take risks. In many ways, I think that I take risks more easily through blogging. I’m willing to share what scares me and I’m willing to do something about it. Maybe it’s because I can take the risk while still sitting behind a computer screen. I will admit that I went through a period of time in the past couple of years when I struggled more with this “risk taking.” This was when I found out just how many of my colleagues read my blogs. I know that my blog posts are public, I know that many people in the Board read them, and I know that I always consider my audience when blogging. But somehow I convinced myself that I didn’t spend so much face-to-face time with my blog readers, and when I knew that I did, I started to second guess myself. Now my reader had a face, and each risk that I wanted to take, became a lot scarier. I still blogged during this time, but I noticed something interesting: I received a lot less feedback on what I wrote. Why? Because I think that I was less passionate, less real, and less willing to take risks. I think that’s when my “old blogger” returned, and I’m happy to say that it’s stayed.

9. Reciprocate. I definitely believe in the value of this. I read a lot of blogs and try to comment on many as well. I always visit the blogs of the people who read my posts, and I support them as they support me. All bloggers appreciate support!

10. Look for a niche not already done. I’m not so sure that I’ve found this niche, and maybe that’s because I don’t just stick to a single topic. Probably the only topic that I write about that other bloggers don’t is “parking,” but I’m not so sure that counts as a niche. 🙂 Maybe my niche though is giving that “teacher/classroom perspective” on some topics that are dealt with more theoretically (e.g., self-regulation) or maybe I just haven’t found my niche yet.

What about you? How would you respond to these 10 criteria? I would love to hear your reflections. Thanks again to Doug for inspiring me to write my own.


What If We Asked These “Why” Questions When Things Go Well?

Yesterday, I was on duty outside, and a student in another grade came to get me. He wanted me to see what he could do on the playground equipment. I walked with him over to the equipment, and he climbed up the steps that lead to the monkey bars. When he got on the top of the platform, he looked at me and said, “You can come up here too.” I looked at him and replied, “I can’t. I’m scared of heights.” Even just the thought terrified me. That’s when he did something that I didn’t expect: he told me to take a deep breath in and breathe out.

The student walked me through this deep breathing three times. For these couple of minutes, I was his student. At the end of this, he asked me if I felt better. While I still never made it on to the monkey bars — a broken arm as a child has scared me ever since — this experience really got me thinking. You see, this same child that was so great at helping me calm down, is a child that often struggles with self-regulating. When I asked him later if “deep breathing helps him feel calm,” he mentioned that it does, and he asked me if this also makes me feel calm. Together, we were actually able to discuss self-regulation: a conversation that he’s never engaged in with me before.

This got me thinking about the questions that Stuart Shanker often asks, “Why this child? Why now?” I realize that for him, these questions are often asked in response to stress behaviour. What if we also ask them at the opposite time: when a child is not demonstrating stress behaviour? What might these questions tell us about what’s making this child successful?

  • Could it be because he was calm enough to recognize the stress in another individual?
  • Could it be because we’ve connected over the past couple of months, so he wanted to help me feel better?
  • Could it be because he could relate to how I was feeling, so he could offer a suggestion that works for him?
  • Could it be because I showed a genuine interest in hearing his thoughts, so he was more apt to offer them?
  • Could it be because he has heard this same suggestion so many times that he decided to share it with someone else?

This child surprised me the other day, and now I’m left wondering what made the difference? Can you think of any other possible ideasI would love to see this “co-regulation success” also lead to some “self-regulation success.”