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Principal Mark Rinaldi-Ross and I have engaged with our staff during the instructional rounds process this season. Seen here Mark is on the floor observing. He is an amazing leader. Also involved is the impressive staff of Parkview under the leadership of Dave Simone. Our three schools partnered to build trust and cultivate our respective cultures of learning.

Observing. I profess this art is in limited supply in our classrooms today. The kind of observation I speak of is non-judgmental. It is exercised with what I call “interested neutrality.” It must be practised….. and critiqued. The best way is inside the protective environment that protocols can offer. When I say protective I simply mean controlled. Skilled facilitators lead teams of learners through the layered processes of instructional rounds.

I do not believe that observing is limited because our well meaning professional teachers do not want to observe as a value judgment. I suggest that they have not been coached how to, their efforts to do so have not been honoured or they have been too busy “covering” curriculum by virtue of their’s or their leader’s expectations. These obstacles are common derailers of becoming learning leaders.

Engaging with our staff in instructional rounds (IR) involved:
-visits to classrooms to observe student learning
-recording observations
-grouping and naming observation clusters
-dialoging through the process
-addressing strengths and next steps in alignment with school visions and plans

By partnering with our teachers and further with fellow schools through the IR process we, as leaders, address and overcome all three obstacles. The nature of IR reduces the threat of judgment as the focus is on how the students learn together by documenting what they say and do in descriptive ways. Feedback is delivered and teachers listen carefully for patterns, inconsistencies and celebrations. There is no intent to find fault or offer advice. Key here is that only the teachers being visited have the innate knowledge of the learning that has been happening in the room. Visitors simply offer descriptive observations.

The team is coming to Eastwood in two Mondays. We are excited to hear our partners observations. I am so pleased to be part of my school team and the greater team of three schools. I trust my learning stance and interest to sit on the floor and observe student learning will continue to support my teachers as lead learners.

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Our mentor text on Instructional Rounds.

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Friday’s I have decided to encourage others to engage in the reflective practise of blogging followed by my sharing of their work here at The Principaled Life.  Today I am honoured to include teacher voice on my blog.  That of Jodie Nardone.  Mrs. Nardone teaches and learns at Eastwood Public School.  She works with ELL students and students that access the Special Education Resource Room.  Mrs. Nardone has used class blogs for some time.  She is an active Ontario Educator on Twitter.  Most recently I challenged her to use her blog as a reflective practise tool.  The result of our Skype calls is the rejuvenation of her professional blog.  She shared this initial story with me as she most recently chaperoned her students, along with her teaching partner Mrs. Silvestri, to the Windsor Mission.  This trip was the result of her students digging deep to truly understand the need and process that our most vulnerable citizens go through for the basic necessities of life.  Enjoy.

Mission Inquiry by:  Jodie Nardone

I am pretty confident with the why and the what about Inquiry. I’ve been struggling a bit with the how, particularly how it looks in my SERR (Special Education Resource Room) classroom. Until recently, and quite by accident.

In keeping with the spirit of the season and at the same time respecting the many cultures in our building, my teaching partner @SilvestriESL and I decided to decorate our school Christmas tree.  It sat bare, save for a few strings of lights, at the main entrance of the school.  We would decorate it with mittens and scarves to donate to people in need in our inner-city.  We would call it the “Tree of Warmth”.  It became a provocation for inquiry.  Each day more items were added to the tree by the kind staff and students of our school.  My students began to ask questions.  Questions about why we are collecting these items.  Questions about what we were going to do with all of the items the students and staff had collected. This prompted us to do some research and watch some videos. Together we decided it would be a good idea to deliver the donations as a class to the local Downtown Mission and get a first hand look at the impact their kindness has on our own community.

Tree of Warmth

We packed up all the items that had been collected, hopped in the cars and headed to the Downtown Mission where they welcomed us with warmth (despite the fact that their furnace had broken that morning).

The Windsor Mission

The Students were given a tour of the building by MaryJo, the Community Outreach Coordinator, with an explanation of what happens there. When asked at the start of the tour what was special about Eastwood school, in typical Eastwood fashion, students responded with answers like “because at Eastwood we are kind”, and “people there are respectful to others”.  Our visit to the Downtown Mission has since inspired our class to do more and thus began individual student inquiries.  The students learned that the food items needed most are proteins like tuna and peanut butter as well as boxes of cereal.  They brought that data back to the school and used it to create what they called a ‘7 Day Cereal Challenge’.   They were on their own ‘mission’.  With minimal direction from teachers they researched more information about the Mission on their iPads, prepared a presentation to share with all classes in the school, designed and hung posters, wrote and read announcements, and created videos using iMovie on the iPad to advertise their challenge.   Students who are not easily motivated were engaged and students who ‘don’t write’ suddenly had a purpose.   Ali was inspired. He wrote, practised and delivered morning announcements to motivate his student colleagues to take part in the challenge.  Each morning they are collecting, tallying and graphing the total donations coming in.  This is just the beginning for us.  Our intent was to collect and donate hats and mittens to the Mission.  It sparked more.  While not a traditional inquiry, it certainly lead me to understand how student ownership of the learning increases engagement and the moral purpose of education.  Where will my students go next with investigations around poverty in Canada?

Please listen to MaryJo describe the Foodbank and the personal care room.MaryJo in the Food Bank

 Please consider following Jodie this #FollowFriday at @iteachELL .  Her newest Blogging venture can be followed and read at mrsnardone.wordpress.com

@iteachELL

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“Critical consciousness, they say, is anarchic. Others add that critical consciousness may lead to disorder. Some, however, confess: Why deny it? I was afraid of freedom. I am no longer afraid.” Paulo Freire

Last February myself and six teachers (Jr, Int) attended a local highschool PL session on Critical Thinking in the classroom. Garfield Gini-Newman is a Senior Consultant for The Critical Thinking Consortium, TC2, and an adjunct professor at OISE in Toronto, Ontario. While originally challenged by the space to learn in and the seating arrangement I slowly appreciated the value of sitting with 70 other professionals in a fishbowl in the welcome corridor of the high school. Students walked past and watched us listening, talking and learning from behind the glass.

Our reason for entering the room was laid in evidence from 8 years of performance on the grade 6 EQAO assessments (limited level 4 performances), results from our Stretch your Thinking questions of 2010-2012 and most importantly the professional opinions and anecdotal evidence of our expert teachers around students’ abilities with critical thinking. The perception: our students, en masse, have not been able to access level 4 performance tasks. The tasks that largely involve critical analysis, critical thinking and higher order problem solving. We decided as a group that this may not be because our students simply cannot present and perform this way but rather (and more introspectively) that we are not preparing lessons and activities that allow for students to illustrate or possibly access this level of thinking and thus practise the process. We asked the question: Are we using Critical Thinking as a framework for our learning activities?

We came prepared to be critical of ourselves. Each teacher brought with them a lesson or activity that we wanted to “Tweak and Fortify” (Gini-Newmans’s mantra for Critical Thinking prep). Garfield uses the “problematize the content” method to make learning happen in the classroom. He juxtaposes the “correctional method” and the “problematization method.” One stifles learning and thinking and the other instigates it. He calls this whole process “Additive Teaching.”

We began with a picture of Burnaby BC in 1942 and were asked to decide the month, day, and time of day from the evidence we had. We were left with the question, Why should you or should you not give the students the answer to the question posed? Many answers revolved around stopping the thinking, not highlighting the process, undermining the learning and talk, creating winners and losers.

Before coming to today’s event the teachers were sent a form in Google Docs asking questions about student performance, engagement and thinking. Questions also were asked of teacher learning need. Teachers were asked to watch an embedded YouTube clip of Garfield and were asked: Do you want/need more of this learning? The results were clear. We needed to attend the workshop.

Garfield stated a number of times this day, you can do this in your classroom tomorrow. The most practical of his ideas: Stop having students copy from the board or take notes and instead throw four statements on the board and ask them, “Which one of these statements is true and which ones are false?”

One of the watershed quotes Newman threw up on the screen was a poem from T.S.Elliot in 1933 in which he stated: “Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?” He specifically was referencing the role google, apps, iPhones and the lot have played in the classrooms and learning work of the 21st C teacher and student. With the knowledge that the answer is “out there”, instead of inside your head, he challenged all educators in the room to start framing problems and content differently. He challenged each of us to reframe our roles. Of specific practical interest was his work on a PBL matrix. My grade 5/6 teachers used this work to create the framework for a unit on Ancient Civ. the very next week! Garfield provided a 7 step process for designing critical challenges:
1.critique the piece
2.judge the piece
3. Rework the piece
4. Decode the puzzle
5. Design to specs
6. Perform to specs

(One example used was that students not only chose the most important items to carry into the woods with them but them they must rank order them. All this is done on a sea of talk–critical talk)

Garfield started to scare some people when he suggested flipping Bloom’s Taxonomy on its head. “What if we flipped on end the foundations for teaching and learning and made invitations to create products of value or solving meaningful problems the foundations of learning for all children?” He called this being a “little bit provocative.” Newman also juxtaposed Critical Thinking and Inquiry Based Teaching. His goal is to bring these two things together in the classroom and call it Critical Inquiry. As we discussed this process I was drawn to think about and reflect on the work of my Early Years teachers currently. Critical Inquiry is alive and well with 4 and 5 year olds when an adult knows how to probe with questions.

There were strong connections to my teachers’ current work on Visible Learning stemming from the work of John Hattie. Problem Solving teaching only has positive learning effects when students are taught the skills they need to arrive at an answer. He continued to develop these ideas by showing us his Engagement Taxonomy. Garfield asked us to consider: To what degree are the students: Empowered? Challenged? Entertained? On task? Are they asked to be actively involved? Are they required to use a high degree of concentration and committed to the process of learning? All of these questions were digested and discussed at table groups.

The Critical Thinking classroom involves a Community of Thinkers, Critical Challenges and the Teaching and Assessing of Intellectual tools. These tools include: background knowledge, criteria for judgement, critical thinking vocabulary, thinking strategies and habits of mind. This, in essence, is the TC2 Model of Critical Thinking.

Garfield was certain to share his website that houses many free Critical Thinking resources. http://www.tc2.ca is the home of the Thinking Teacher. Also included is the electronic source book. This work stems from Garfield’s work with the Alberta department of Education in which he problematized the social studies curriculum. Thoughtful Books is another resource that highlights mentor texts to engage the learners in thinking critically. Tools for thought requires a subscription in order to use ready made resources for specific topics. Again the lessons are created to build critical thinking skills. The teachers that subscribe to the service can add content from their experience. There is a cost to this material. (Sounds somewhat like the work of Ian Jukes with the 5 Fluencies, http://www.fluency21.com/, if you have not already you need to become a “Commited Sardine!”)

As days and months passed I came across this picture, that was shared on twitter, a couple weeks ago. It reminded me of Garfield’s opener and his critical thinking work. How might you use it?

Garfield’s work brings into question our roles as teachers. He challenges us to look more critically at our own processes. He asks us to “unfreeze” our current systems and free the students thinking. Releasing responsibility is always hard. It is definitely needed in classrooms. Let’s let our children think by provoking them with problems to resolve rather than providing them with answers to remember.

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Well I did it.  I started a Facebook page for my public school.  I don’t know whether this is a planned social experiment on my part or a new way of sending out morning announcements.  One thing is for sure though, the kids dig it! 

Here are the logistics so far.

  1. To follow the school facebook page you must send a request.  The school does not ask to be your “friend.”
  2. The school does not engage in conversations or chats.
  3. The school only sends out information that the public community would find helpful.
  4. Currently there are 27 members.  There are many suggestions of course but the school is waiting for those contacts to request access.

This is what I have noticed.  Simply by being “in the room” the content of the conversations has changed slightly;  Kinda like when the Principal is at the basketball game and everything simmers down a notch.  I think that almost every student past grade 5 may have an account.  Is it possible for the school to send information out to this “Student Learning Network” and be more effective than morning announcements?  I think it is!  I have been talking to every class about their digital footprint and their online citizenship.  Facebook is a great place for me to continue the messages.  I am very careful however.  I do not want to scare my followers off with corny messages of a kinder, gentler school and a thousand points of light like I am tempted and apt to do.  The power to use this medium for positive cultural and behavioural changes is evident.   I will continue to be very careful.

There is more to come on this front but for now I thought it necessary to mention my foray into the realm.  I have been holding out for some time.

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If you have not explored the world of Geocaching with kids….you are missing out on a great literacy / numeracy / cultural experience.  This is an all in one lesson folks.  All you need is curiousity, a GPS unit and a few kids and adults…and you will discover hidden treasure all over the world!  “It’s not nerdy its actually cool and you have to be smart!”

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The New Tag (thenewtag.wordpress.com) writes about happiness in a Blog entry entitled:  Want kids to be happy?  Teach gratitude. 
 
“The biggest difference between people who are generally happy and people who are generally not, is this: Happy people recognize, focus on, think about, talk about and attribute value to what is good in their lives most of the time. Unhappy people don’t. It really is that simple.”
 
This entry reminded me of a draft I started months ago and finish here.  It was after a tough day at school.  I asked two different kids these 2 questions:  Are you happy?  What makes you happy?   The first child responded “I don’t know. I am not really happy.”  The second child responded: “Yes I am happy. A lot of fings make me happy like. . .” and then she answered in this exact order in about 3 minutes:
 
popsicles
playing with Haley (friend)
sunshine
school
reading
spelling
playing
Mommy
Daddy
Having Tea
Gavin
Playing with Gavin
Helping Daddy
Counting and Math
Richie
My whole family
Avery the cat
Having dinner
Grandmas
Music and dancing
 
I learn so much from kids everyday.  Especially from the contrast between those at work and those at home. Thanks The New Tag for reminding me of this event in my life.  I attempt to bring the kind of happiness my daughter feels to the students I work with everyday.  We all have so much to be thankful for, to be happy about.  According to my daughter’s list they are one and the same I presume.

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