I have to begin this post with a confession: I lost my exit card from yesterday’s PA Day sessions. Now I should mention that this exit card was a small slip of paper. One of our vice principals placed it in our mailboxes, and knowing my luck — or lack thereof — with paper, I probably should have left it there, but I worried that I would forget to return to the office to retrieve it. So I walked out of the office at 8:30 with the paper. I folded it up in my hands. I dropped by the staffroom kitchen to ask one of the vice principals a question, and I ended up helping her make coffee.
Then I went to set-up for my EdCamp-style session on sound walls, so needless to say, this paper could really be anywhere.
I could have asked for another one, or at least a list of the questions that I could respond to in another way, but I decided that I could create my own reflection instead. This blog post is that reflection.
It’s been a long time since I’ve facilitated an EdCamp-style session, but my fond memories of EdCamp Hamilton, had me really excited for this PA Day. Recently, there has been a lot of interest at our school around sound walls. I will admit that I’m very new to even understanding sound walls, and have many questions around them, including how students use them and how they connect with the pedagogy in the Kindergarten Program Document. My Twitter PLN came through with wonderful examples and ideas to share, and since an EdCamp Model is a conversation, I didn’t need to be an expert to facilitate the discussion.
Our amazing staff did not disappoint with the great questions and conversations that came out of the four sessions. My biggest learning came from two unexpected discussions. The first one was when two French teachers came to the session. Could sound walls be used in a French language classroom? What might they look like? Since French is often on rotary, how might they make these options portable? I wasn’t sure about sound walls in a French class, but I did send a tweet asking for help, messaged other reading specialists to see what they knew, and then did some investigating of my own. A Google search led me to a few options, including a tweet from a French teacher.
She pointed me to a resource to share.
Now the French teachers can look at how they might use these materials in the classroom. I know that they were thinking about a science board option, or even some individual file folder walls. I hope that they’ll share what they end up doing. As I was planning for different grade examples, I never even thought about a different language example. This conversation reminded me about the importance of planning with all learners in mind, and how language can intersect — and at times, be a main focus — in other subject areas.
My second big takeaway came from a great conversation with some educators who support blind and low-vision students in our Board. Over my 21+ years in education, I’ve taught students with a variety of different learning needs and accommodations, but this is my first year working with a few students who are blind or have low-vision. I’ve really had to push myself to think differently when it comes to planning for these couple of students. Initially, I thought about adding Braille to the words on the sound wall. While this option would be valuable, it’s not the only thing to consider. What about the glare from the laminate? Did you know that you can get some laminate with less glare? What about the space and size of the cards? What about the colour choices? We looked at many different examples of sound walls, including the most common ones with the Vowel Valley, but it was this example from Kate Winn, which these educators connected to the most.
They thought that the black background and the arrangement of the cards would make the images and text most accessible to blind and low-vision students. The comment about the background colour made me think about a conversation that I had with a Speech Pathologist many years ago. We were discussing a visual schedule that I had on my board for a child with autism. She said that it was important to consider the background colour, so that the schedule would stand out for this child. Thinking back to this discussion and the insights from the educator team yesterday, had me realizing that certain accommodations might be good for all, but necessary for different groups of kids.
The educators from the Blind and Low-Vision team, also wondered about a key chain sound wall. Could students then access the images and words as they needed them. Would this make the wall more portable and less visually overwhelming for some students? They even showed us these wonderful black, small velcro boards that could be used for a portable sound wall. Thinking about when students might use a sound wall and where they might use it in the classroom, I wonder if these portable options might make these connections to text and print happen in different spaces for different kids. Could this extend to even more authentic reading and writing opportunities? I’m thinking about a classroom environment where reading and writing is happening everywhere, and while I know that students can always go up to a sound wall, I wonder if portable options might be used even more by kids with less teacher push to access the wall. The materials would always be accessible to students, and at their level.
These possibilities intrigue me, and have me thinking about sound wall options beyond the Teachers Pay Teachers and Pinterest varieties, but maybe they’re too far removed from the original intent of the wall? Maybe they have to happen in conjunction with a typical sound wall to link the instruction more with the use? Maybe the organization and access of the materials would be harder to do than I imagine? I’m not sure, but yesterday’s conversations have me wondering. As K/1 educators begin to explore sound walls in some of their classrooms, maybe we can work through these wonders together.
Whether on an official exit card or in a blog post, I need time to reflect after PD. Yesterday I was reminded of the fact that even facilitators of learning can leave the day with new learning, new ideas, and new wonders. Rich conversations made this possible. Thanks to one of our kindergarten educator teams, who highlighted this in their tweeted reflection.
Here’s to another successful PA Day, with some unexpected ahas along the way. What did you learn from some recent PD? How did this learning change your teaching practices? I might not have a sound wall of my own this year, but I wonder what sound wall or quasi-sound wall options I might be supporting in the coming months, and the impact that these might have on student achievement.