It’s Their Education. Not Mine.

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 Zippo photo credit: liber via photopin cc

As the months have ticked by and my students have slowly grown into the big shoes that Grade 4 holds I have noticed something interesting happening in my classroom. My students absolutely love teaching each other. Now I know this is nothing new but we are currently experiencing a major shift in my room.

It all started earlier this year when one of my students came to me asking when we would be studying the Canadian government. You see, he had heard via the grapevine that it was something that Grade four’s always learned and he couldn’t wait to get started. I let him know that we would be exploring the government in January – February and thought that’s where the matter would end. Well, I was wrong. Almost on a weekly basis after that I was asked when we would be starting and why we couldn’t start sooner. Clearly I had a Canadian government aficionado on my hands.

One day as I was peppered with more questions about what we would be studying I had an idea: would he want to kick off our unit with a presentation? I posed the suggestion to him and he jumped on board but before he started he had two questions for me: 1) What should he do his presentation on? 2) What were we ‘supposed’ to  cover? I pulled out my curriculum document and said: “You have free rein on what you want to present on and here are the topics we are ‘supposed’ to cover. He asked if he could add in extra topics: the privy council, how supreme court judges are nominated and the history of the various positions within parliament. Sure, why not? If it interested him I said and it is within the big topic he could go for it! With a route to follow and a spark of inspiration off he went ready to do his research!

The weeks ticked by and I watched him diligently research and tinker with his presentation. Every now and then I was asked if I could look over his work and perhaps give him another look at the curriculum document. As things starting winding down to winter break I let him know it would be time to present in January once we got back from our break. I could see the excitement and nervousness building. I too was excited to see how this would all pan out.

When the day arrived and as he walked up to the front of the room we both took a deep breath. As he worked through is presentation, I was blown away. The depth and level of research was incredible. Best of all, he spoke at the level of his peers and in terms they would understand. (He even had a full bibliography. Something I had worked hard on with them earlier this year. Yay!) As he wrapped up his peers cheered and clapped. They asked insightful and thoughtful questions. This was the best kick off I could have asked for.

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Fast forward a few weeks and another member of my class approached me. He was wondering when we would be studying rocks and minerals and, if he could do the same as his classmate and kick off our unit for us. Cue a repeat of the same process: careful preparation, curriculum consultation and another presentation that blew me us of the water.

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These two presentations have sparked something in my students. They now know that if they would like to teach each other something they are most welcome to. Since then we have had more presentations on rocks and minerals, birthstones,  star formation, sea life and one of the most in-depth video game analysis I’ve seen. And, just because they can and know how, a group of boys are building a website all about rocks and minerals.

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Now as I sit thinking about the events of the first few months I have begun to realize something. Yes, I have incredible students. And yes they love learning. But like every single student in our classrooms it is their education and not ours. This is their schooling experience and the learning journey of their lives. They deserve to explore their curiosity and follow their interests. With the right tools, freedoms, guidance and empowerment they are the most incredible resource in our room. They can teach each other anything and with me as their guide, I can help make it happen.

 

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It need not be perfect..

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 Public Order photo credit: Tal Bright via photopin cc

As a teacher it is quite easy to become sucked into the  vortex creative teacher sites that show endless pictures of cutesy bulletin boards and other classroom decorating ideas. You know what I am talking about, images that make you think over spring break you really can and should, collect and convert milk crates into reading chairs. Or a beautiful set of book marks you can create with your kids in a snap. One of the things you will often see online is beautiful bulletin boards that have amazing borders, colour coordinated backgrounds and fancy fonts. Things that seem like they could go up in any store for display. These beautiful exhibitions as lovely as they look, always seem a bit too perfect, too pretty, and dare I say are often lacking something quite important: that touch that lets you know that it really was made by a child in the process of learning.

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As a result, the combination of my strong feelings and only so many hours in a day, my bulletin boards often look,  how do I say this nicely, a little rough around the edges. (Who has time to put up borders and create these elaborate displays?!) They look like kids created them, because well they did. They look like we are using them to learn, because we are, we leave notes on our boards to help connect our learning. Yes we still use store-bought posters but these are used in connection to what we are currently working on. They are works in progress. The work isn’t perfect, it isn’t a competition to see who can produce the most beautiful stuff, it’s our learning and we are proud of it. So next time you ask a child to redo a piece of work for display ask yourself: ‘Does it really need to be perfect?’

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P.S. I should probably add that we do create beautiful pieces that we proudly display. But they all have those distinct marks that a child has made them.

Books That Touch Our Humanity

I have been struck down with Strep throat and am currently sitting in bed with my orange juice reading an amazing book called “Teach Like a PIRATE”. (Ironic because my voice sounds just like that of a gruff pirate right now..)  It’s just the kind of book I need: something to inspire me to do great things. As I was reading through this book I started thinking about the impact that amazing literature can have in the lives of our classrooms. I want to share with you two books that I have read with my students that I truly believe have touched our humanity and made us a better community of learners.

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The first book is The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. My students and I loved reading this book. It was our first novel study of the year. The story centers around Ivan who is a gorilla that lives in a mall. The story is told from his perspective as he remembers his past and fights for his freedom from the big top mall. It helped build empathy and understanding during that crucial first two months of the school year when we were carefully building our classroom community. The text is simple but the characters and story are so profound they move you in ways you cannot imagine.

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The second book is Wonder by R J Palacio. The story is about August Pullman who is entering school for the very first time after being home schooled his whole life. August is a very special boy who has a facial deformity that makes him look extraordinary when he really is ordinary just like all the other kids. The book chronicles his struggles as he navigates his way into life as a middle schooler. It brings up topics that all kids can relate to: being new, exclusion, bullying, the power of friendships and acceptance. I am in love with this book and the conversations it has brought into my classroom.

So if you are looking for two great books to read with your students, I would recommend these two books in a heart beat.

The Bliss of Being

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Happy girl Hopschotch in Strawberry photo credit: Pink Sherbet Photography D Sharon Pruitt via photopin cc

After being away sick two days this week it was wonderful to back in the classroom on Wednesday with my students.  They were so excited to tell me about the sculptures they had made in their Outdoor Ed block and how they couldn’t wait to paper mache them!

Today was the day they got to get their hands sticky and bring their animal sculptures to life.   As I sat watching them working away talking, laughing and happily creating with their hands. I couldn’t help but relish the joy and happiness of simply being together and learning.

Today was a good day. Pure Bliss.