Making Matzah Balls

Today was a Snow Day. In our Board, when buses are cancelled, schools and administrative buildings are closed. We don’t pivot online. We don’t offer asynchronous learning options. We have a good, old-fashioned Snow Day.

While I had a little work to do today — especially knowing that I’m at the Board Office for a meeting tomorrow and not in the school — I was also able to take some time to read a good book, take my dog on a million walks, and do some shovelling.

Maybe one of the best things that happened today was a special moment before lunch. My mom was around and taught me how to make matzah balls. I’ve seen my mom and my grandma make matzah balls many times in the past, but I’ve never made them before. My mom had some chicken soup on the stove, and she was going to add some homemade matzah balls to it. She took me through how to make them super fluffy: including the importance of letting the mixture sit in the fridge for 20 minutes, washing my hands in cold water first, and making them nice and small. While she might have been able to write down the recipe or point me to a video to watch on how to make them, there was something incredibly special about spending this time together and learning beside her.

My grandma passed away many years ago now, and after a couple of strokes, she was no longer able to fly from Nova Scotia to visit in her final years. But one of the last times she came, she taught me how to make apple pie. She showed me how to work with the yeast, how to role out the crust, and what spices to add to the apples. I have many memories of my grandmother, but this opportunity to bake with her is one that I will always remember. I think that cooking with my mom today was just as special.

I share these stories because every time that there’s a Snow Day, I know that there’s always some concern about the learning that might be lost with us not being at school. There is often a discussion on social media about giving or not giving home learning suggestions. And I will admit, that when I was a classroom teacher, I always sent out Snow Day ideas. Families didn’t have to do them, but I shared them. Today’s matzah ball making memory reminded me that a Snow Day can be for a different kind of learning. A new experience. A new opportunity. Today, I learned to make matzah balls. What did you learn today? I hope that all of you had at least one moment today that was just as special, unexpected, and wonderful as mine!


A Move To Small Group Instruction: Part Of My Impact Story

Last week, as part of a professional blog post, I shared about how the Grade 1 teachers and I are developing a plan to support the roll-out of targeted, small group instruction in the classroom. It’s not that guided reading or other small group instruction is new to any of us, but after a couple of years of COVID and pivots online, we can all get out of our regular routine. Add to this the fact that we’re all learning more about the Science of Reading, and the impact that this might have on small group reading instruction. Report cards just went home on Friday, and all of the assessment and data collected and analyzed prior to writing report cards, meant that we could easily work together to form groups and determine goals for each of these groups. At our last Reading Specialist Meeting, we started working on our Impact Stories.

These stories include setting monthly goals, and as I shared with the Grade 1 educators — and now with all of you — the roll-out of this small group instruction was one of my goals.

Talking with the five Grade 1 teachers as well as my Reading Specialist mentor, here’s what we decided to do.

  • I blocked off Periods 1, 2, and 3 for four weeks. I would support two educators for the first two weeks and three educators for the second two weeks.
  • Each Grade 1 educator got to choose one of these periods, where they want to run their small group time. This varied a bit, as a couple of educators decided to split two periods (instead of choosing one) to better meet the needs of their students. Rules are meant to be broken … right?! πŸ™‚
  • The initial plan is that I would help to facilitate what the rest of the class is doing while the classroom educator runs their small groups. Then I can gradually move myself away from the need to facilitate as much, and could even run a group or two of my own. This past week, the most wonderful thing happened though, as the two Grade 1 teachers realized that the routines that they had already established with their kids led to increased independence, so we could quickly start to facilitate multiple groups in the classroom. We could also flip-flop roles to see the other student learning — and the small, targeted groups — from different perspectives. Again, I’m all for a little rule breaking. πŸ™‚

As I continue to reflect on this small group time and my Impact Story, I realized that maybe the biggest impact of all comes from a little flip-flopping. In both Grade 1 classes, the educators and I change groups every day … or every couple of days. This forces us to reflect and plan together. It also allows us to share our observations with each other. While many times our observations are similar, sometimes they are slightly different, and this new perspective can help with determining where to go next. My tweets tell a story of this learning and reflecting throughout the week.

Looking back on this week, I keep thinking about Jonathan So‘s blog post that Doug Peterson shared on his blog yesterday. Here’s the comment that I left on Jonathan’s post.

As a Reading Specialist, I have the power to set my own schedule. I could have arranged to take these small groups each day or even pull students together from multiple classrooms to maximize some targeted instruction. Maybe this would make things easier at times, as I can be more flexible with my schedule and I don’t have to worry as much about what everyone else in the classroom is doing. I could just focus on the kids in the groups. But then the power, the teaching, and the learning all rests in my hands. I love how the Grade 1 educators and I have planned, problem solved, and taught together. This has strengthened our relationships, while ultimately, benefitting kids. I know not every school and every grade has a Reading Specialist to support them, but I wonder if there are different ways that educators might connect, co-teach, and co-problem solve. When I was working with Paula back in kindergarten, this teaming meant everything to me. Now the team has grown and the focus has shifted a bit, but the benefits of these connections are just as strong. Thinking again about my Impact Story, impact might come with power, but it also comes with sharing the power. How do you do this? What have you learned as a result? This week’s move to small group instruction is a piece of my story, but I would also love to hear yours.


Could Play Build Stamina?

I’ve been thinking a lot about stamina lately. It’s a word that comes up in many conversations that I have with educators, particularly when it comes to reading and writing.

The Grade 1 teachers and I are working on a plan right now about how to best support small group, targeted instruction in the classroom. We all know that this instruction is valuable, but after years of COVID restrictions and pivots online, it’s easy to get out of this routine. In my Reading Specialist role, I can work with the different classroom educators to create a routine that works for them. All educators and students are different, and as such, I want to help support these differences and recognize that this small group instruction can exist in all classrooms, but possibly, with slightly different models.

As educators are considering a 40-minute block to support some small group instruction (with multiple groups during these 40 minutes), one concern that understandably comes up is, what will the rest of my students be doing for this time? Educators want to ensure that all of the learning is valuable, and a concern about stamina for independent reading and writing, often enters into this conversation.

I know that sometimes people think that play is to blame for the lack of stamina. As a previous kindergarten teacher, I often heard about “preparing kids for Grade 1,” and reducing this play was part of this requested preparation. Speaking recently with my Reading Specialist mentor, I had an epiphany. Could play actually be what’s needed to increase stamina?

When I say, “play,” I’m talking about open-ended, student led explorations, with materials out that will lend themselves to creative thinking, problem solving, vocabulary development, collaboration, reading, writing, and math. Having just left a kindergarten classroom back in October, I can tell you that my teaching partner, Paula, and I spent an inordinate amount of time discussing classroom design, provocations, material options, targeted instruction, and at the heart of everything, our students. Play takes planning time. When I say this, I don’t mean planning a game or a craft or a specific product. I mean planning a space, an inspiration, a collection of materials, an entry point for ALL students, and possible links to Program expectations. I mean considering how we might observe and enter into this play. With a long block of time, easy access to reading and writing materials that connect with each provocation (e.g., books on the topic, clipboards, whiteboards, and sticky notes), clear expectations, and consistent routines, students will develop the stamina that we want and hope to see when it comes to reading and writing — particularly as they progress throughout the grades.

For with a longer block of time to explore, students are not looking at the clock. They are not thinking about “what comes next,” or “when something is over.” They’re engaged, in control of their learning, and will receive enough feedback from peers and staff to extend it. I keep thinking about these outdoor play experiences from yesterday.

As Mrs. Deane and I were reflecting at the end of this play (Mrs. Brooks was away at the time), we noted that the students could have happily continued to play for another period. We could have looked more closely at the water flow and maybe started to dig into some different recipes and list of bakery items created. We want to try to support a double block for this play in the coming weeks. There’s no doubt that these kids were engaged and had the stamina to extend this play.

While at times, both Mrs. Deane and I were pulled to certain groups of students or facilitating a little problem solving, overall, the kids were incredibly independent and assisted each other. We could then connect more with different groups of children, and even support some reading and writing extensions for a few students. Although this was most certainly play in action, there was nothing scripted about this play. The amazing construction investigation took part without any provocations or pre-planning from us. Yes, we supported this investigation, but only because the mud and water inspired students to engage in it. We also didn’t pull anyone to this sensory play. Most students gravitated towards it, especially with the new materials and the wonderful sand space for them to use, but a few students do not like to get dirty. They wanted the gross motor experiences that come from lifting tires and kicking a ball in the courtyard pit. Mrs. Deane and I chatted about how we might slow down this play. Are there other materials that we could add that might get kids building with the tires? Could this then lead to creating and labelling some plans? Sometimes just one new item leads to a whole new learning opportunity.

I share all of this, for often, especially in the world of Teachers Pay Teachers and Pinterest, when we think and talk about play, we’re focused on an activity or a game. Many times, we want all students to be involved. This activity only lasts a short period of time before kids move to something else. An adult is also needed to facilitate this play or it breaks down quickly. I think that we use these games and activities with the best of intentions and with a strong belief that they are engaging. Likely they are, or at least at first and with the adult support. But as we have students quickly transition between different short activities, I wonder if this makes it even more difficult for kids to build stamina. They are constantly focused then on what comes next. One of the most valuable things that Paula ever taught me is the importance of time. Students need a long block of time to settle into play, and we need to give children this time before we make changes. This happens with open-ended play, but this does not always happen with games and activities.

Maybe for different kids and in different situations, a game or an activity might work — especially in a small group — but if we want to build stamina, do we need something more open? Do we need to release our control a bit? Maybe, contrary to what we might think, do we need to let kids play more? Have students make plans for this play. Expect them to label their creations. Get them to make signs, create books, or add speech bubbles to the characters that they make. Have them write notes for supplies they need and even try writing them back. Kids will be reading, writing, problem solving, exploring math concepts, and with periodic connections with educators, extending the play and targeting specific needs.

Beginning next week, the Grade 1 educators all have different plans to support some small group instruction in their classrooms. Some have more open-ended ideas (with a focus on reading, writing, and word work) in mind. Some have a combination of open-ended options and a few games and activities. A few educators are going to do two different shorter times for this instruction, with independent reading during one time and centres during another. Every single educator is considering their students, their current routines, their feeling of comfort with different possibilities, and the rest of their program, when deciding how to begin. Will ideas change throughout the process? Quite possibly. Will educators share what’s working and not working in their rooms and co-problem solve with me and with each other? I have no doubt. And somewhere, in the midst of all of this, I’m curious to continue our stamina discussions. Do our choices impact on student stamina, and if so, what else might we try? Why? This line on page 8 of the Kindergarten Program Document is one of my favourites: “The Kindergarten program reflects the belief that four- and five-year-olds are capable and competent learners, full of potential and ready to take ownership of their learning.” This sounds to me like a view of the child that supports the building of stamina. What do you think? If this is what we believe about four- and five-year-olds, should this not hold true for kids of all ages? Maybe it’s play that holds the key to this successful independence and deeper learning. Is anyone else wondering if this could be the case?


Learning From A Hit-And-Run

I know that as educators, we often speak about the importance of prioritizing skills beyond academics, particularly when we look at the Early Years. As a huge advocate for the Kindergarten Program Document and the pedagogy highlighted in this document, I can tell you that Kindergarten is definitely about more than reading, writing, and math. Yesterday, I had a personal experience that reminded me about why these other skills are so important.

On my way home from school on Friday, I decided to stop at a local bakery to pick up some bread. I was seeing my parents right after, so I texted my mom from the parking lot to tell her that I just arrived at the bakery and would then be heading over. Between this text and the one that I sent to her next, 8 minutes elapsed. Walking to the bakery and then walking back out to my car, was probably about 2-3 minutes in total, so I was likely inside the store for five minutes. In those five minutes, this is what happened and what I sent my mom in my second text.

My car was in a hit-and-run. Thankfully nobody was hurt, and the damage, while overwhelming to look at, seems primarily structural. The car does drive, and I will be getting it fixed. As upsetting as it was to walk out of the bakery and see this, what upset me the most is that the person responsible took off. From witnesses who saw the accident take place, the driver knew that he hit me, and he sped out of the parking lot to get away fast. I get that accidents happen, and I can understand how the vehicle that he was driving can be hard to maneuver in a busy parking lot. But I’m a teacher. Every day, I work with children on learning to take responsibility for their actions and owning up to their mistakes, even when both can be hard to do. This doesn’t mean that every mistake has to be punished harshly (quite the opposite), but it does mean, that sometimes we all need to learn to do difficult things, and admitting that you did something wrong, is one of those things.

  • I can be understanding. I just want to get my car fixed and back on the road again.

Thankfully, I connected with many other people, who reminded me that there is so much good in this world.

That Uber driver was one in a million, and deserves the biggest shout out today! He didn’t know me. I didn’t even see him outside at the time, and he could have left the scene without doing anything else. But he didn’t. Even into today, he worked on viewing the license plate, so that I might be able to figure out the driver of the vehicle. Regardless of if I ever do, I have to thank this remarkable human being, who was truly all about people first.

There is such an important “people component” in education and in life. Likely one day, many of our students will be in the position to help someone or walk away. I hope they choose to help. Don’t you?


Sharing Our Stories

Today was our monthly Reading Specialist Meeting at the Board. As part of our afternoon session, we watched some of the Right To Read Inquiry Public Hearing.

This video segment is a powerful one, and while we probably watched less than 10 minutes of it, I don’t think that there were any dry eyes in the room. As educators, hearing about this student’s experiences in school and what she needed to be successful really had all of us thinking.

When our PD was over today, I was chatting with another Reading Specialist and one of the consultants. Listening to them discuss a few personal experiences made me realize that so many of us have stories to share. I have one too. I didn’t share all of this story with them at the time, but I have blogged about this before and I decided to do so again in light of this inquiry and Ashley Judge’s story.

My story is not the same as Ashley’s because my struggles were not in reading. I learned to read with ease, and I’ve always loved books. I was an avid reader as a child and as an adult. But as I’ve shared before, when I was in Grade 2, I was identified with a nonverbal learning disability in visual spatial skills. While I was identified with my learning disability well before Ashley was, I was could still connect with much of what she said around academic success and struggles. I was not a child who failed at school.

  • I worked hard, and like Ashley, my grades were often in the B and C range.
  • I had the support of both my mom and my step-dad — two educators — who helped me find strategies that worked, while advocating for me and teaching me how to advocate for myself. Just like Ashley’s mom who sat beside her during this inquiry, my parents were always beside me.
  • I also needed many similar supports to Ashley, including copies of notes and additional time to write tests.
  • Like Ashley as well, with the supports in place, I was successful. I got a couple of scholarships to university, and I continue to live my dream of being a teacher.

Listening to this video today, and then thinking more about Ashley’s story on the drive home, I realized that I had to share this story of mine again. Sometimes, it’s when we share our struggles, when we connect to the importance of accommodating and the success that happens as a result, and when we refocus on kids (from our own childhood experiences to our educator ones now), we see students in a different light.

  • We understand more.
  • We connect more.
  • And we want to try something different because the human element of education changes education.

What are your stories? How do they impact on your views of students, learning, and success for all? It’s hard to listen to Ashley and not be inspired to reflect and to act.