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.

 

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.

What’s My Number? Mystery Number Call Math Warm Up

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  Emptied photo credit: Darwin Bell via photopin cc

Last week I happened to come across a Tweet in my Twitter feed that talked about ‘Mystery Number Calls’.  Having done a number of Mystery Skype calls with my students my curiosity was piqued and I began to follow the conversation thread. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that it was just like a mystery Skype but the classes would be guessing each others numbers. I opened a sign-up document from a Tweet and promptly forgot about it until the next day when one of my students said “Mystery number call? Cool! When are we going to try it??!”  A few others heard the comment and my class all got excited at the prospect of a new Skype game. That sealed the deal I just had to see if we could try this out!

I tapped into my PLN and @tegesdal agreed to do a mystery number call with us! We decided our classes each would pick 3 numbers between 0 – 99 and take turns asking questions to guess each number one at a time. I am very lucky to have a great coworker (@jennmarieco) who is always willing to try things out with me and agreed to have her third grade class join us in new our math game. After we explained the premise of the game and chose our numbers we eagerly awaited the start of our mystery number call. We had 2 students who were in front of the camera while the rest of the students listened and suggested what questions to ask. Oh what fun it was!

Some great things that I saw happen during the call:

– Having done a number of Mystery Skype calls this year our students all knew the expectations and exactly how to behave. Life is good when things work smoothly!

– Hearing the other classes questions helped our students become more strategic in what questions they asked.                                                                                      Is it even or odd? Is there a 9 in the tens place? Is it a multiple of 5? So many great ways to narrow down what the number is!

– It forces students to draw on their wide mathematical knowledge.

– Being asked about their number forced our students to think critically about the characteristics of our chosen numbers. It also forced them to keep track of what questions we asked and what the others class’s number could be.

– It takes team work to narrow down the number.

– Everyone was successful and we were able to guess all the numbers in the game!

– The game only took 20 mins and is a great warm up for a math class!

Some changes for next time: 

– I would have students pick numbers between 0 and 10 000. (fits with the grade 4 curriculum)

– I would play the ‘low tech’ version of guess my number a few more times to practice our question asking strategies.

– I would give each student either a number line or a number chart of sorts.

– I would do small groups or pair rotations to allow everyone to get more involved.

Our experience with the mystery number call was very positive and I can’t wait to try it agin! If you are interested in connecting with us just let me know!

Not a reading log to be seen in our grade 4 classroom

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‘Books have knowledge, knowledge is power, power corrupts, corruption is a crime’ photo credit: » Zitona « via photopin cc

Over the summer before I started teaching I began to think about what kind of climate I wanted to create in my new classroom. My instinct told me I didn’t want to do reading logs or book review sheets. I instead wanted to do as every teacher aims to do: create an atmosphere that inspires and nourishes children’s passion for reading. As I thought it over I decided the best approach would be to ask my students what they thought because every group is different some love doing those types of activities and others detest it.

Once the school year started and we began creating the classroom we wanted. I asked my bright-eyed bushy-tailed grade 4 students if they wanted to do reading logs this year. To say the response was strong is an understatement. My students almost visibly cringed when I asked them what they thought about reading logs.

Here are some of the responses:

  • The time you spend filling out a reading log takes away from actually reading. – Valid point.
  • Book review sheets feel like busy work. Who ever gets to see them? – Valid point. Without an authentic audience they feel like they are just being done in a vacuum.
  • I always forget to fill out what I’ve read and then feel like I get in trouble for it. – Makes sense.
  • We read all kinds of things like on the computer or in video games that aren’t counted in a reading log.
  • It wastes paper.

Here are some of the reasons I as a teacher chose not to do reading logs or book reviews

  • I want reading to bring joy and pleasure to the lives of my students. I don’t want it to be done for the extrinsic motivation of pleasing the teacher or receiving a pizza coupon.
  • Many of my students are still emerging readers. Grade 4 is a critical stage in their reading development. If they don’t make gains this year it will keep getting more and more difficult to make up the gaps as they move up through the years. Tying a task such as reading to an extrinsic motivator takes away from the simple pleasure of reading for pleasure and growing in competency.
  • When I was a student my reading logs were routinely done 5mins before we got to school. I am sure it annoyed my parents to no end. What does a reading log really tell me? Simply that a parent signed a piece of paper not that Student A really read 40 pages and Student B really read 15 pages.
  • I prefer having conversations about great books. Students are encouraged to share great reads with their peers and if they feel passionate about a book they can write a review for it on their blogs.
  • Do I really want to spend my time checking through reading logs?? Would a discussion not be a better way to gauge what my students are reading?

medium_4923742116 ‘Life’s simple and priceless pleasures.’ photo credit: NYC.andre via photopin cc

So how has it turned out?

As a class we agreed that we would not do reading logs or weekly/monthly book reviews but rather would make time for reading each and everyday. Students are encouraged to read and recommend great books to the class. We read for 30mins everyday (part of our Daily 5 routine). If we miss that time I hear complaints and grumbles. I purchased 2 boxes of books over the summer  from garage sales and once or twice a month I pull 2 or 3 books and intro them to the students to read. I have made a monthly budget to buy beautiful books and to share them with the class. I find these books are well-loved and read over and over again by my students. I have also made a point of reading great novels to the class: The One and Only Ivan, The Tale of Desperaux and Silverwing. These great novels have helped us deepen our conversations around reading and books.

My students understand that there is an expectation that they each read every night. Once they started to see the gains they were making many have made a point to read at home. I will be honest and say that there are a few that I suspect are not reading every night as much as they should but those are the same students whom would likely struggle filling out the reading logs. (Maybe not who knows though).

One of the most surprising developments has been during our participation “I love to read month”. Part of our responsibility in reaching our school reading goal is to record how much we have read in our classroom. Although every student reads everyday I have found they haven’t embraced recording how much they’ve read. I suspect it has more to do with our group culture and the focus on intrinsic motivation that it is hard for them get motivated to tally up the pages they’ve read. One student pointed out that they read lots on the computer and in video games. He questioned how that would be recorded in the reading tally we were keeping.

Does this mean we won’t be doing book reviews this year? Certainly not. As I am writing up this post I remember a teacher from Twitter mentioning that they had their students write book reviews for Amazon. Another thing I would like to try out would be to have students create book trailers for their favourite books. It takes skill to create an enticing book trailer without giving way the whole story.

I am also hoping to jump into the world of Literature Circles with my class. I ran literature circles last year during my practicum block but found the structure was too rigid – the one with all the jobs and duties. This year  I am looking to move closer towards a more book club like structure based off of the book: Grand Conversations, Thoughts Responses: A Unique Approach to Literature Circles. More student choice and student voice.

I won’t claim what we do is perfect but it fits for our class this year. It may change with my group next school year but until then I think we will stick with no reading logs.

How do feel about reading logs? Do you make time everyday for reading in you classroom?