What do teachers REALLY do on P.A. Days?

What do the teachers do when P.A. Days are called? As a student, this question would cross my mind from time to time over the course of the school year. “Do they get the day off too?” “Is it like a long weekend for everyone?”, I would wonder as I slept in and spent most of the morning in my P.Js and relaxing. However, as it turns out, P.A. Days are a busy time for teachers, and my recent Practicum experiences have given me direct insight into this topic.

Today, I had the opportunity to attend a P.A. Day at my host school, my second time doing so as a professional. As a whole, I can honestly say that I found today’s sessions to be a meaningful chance for me to both gain new knowledge, and to reflect upon my personal reasons for entering the teaching field. We started the morning by sharing recent examples of success in the school, using the app called SeeSaw. This app allows educators to upload photos that they have taken of their students during moments of connection, engagement, accomplishment, etc., and to comment on these pictures throughout the entire school year. What I love most about this system is its capability to capture and store all of the “little victories” that are so often overlooked and taken for granted during the hectic and demanding daily lives we lead as teachers. The pictures remind us that we ARE in fact making a positive impact on the lives of children, and in taking photos and celebrating with students in the moment (no matter how briefly) we can help them to develop a stronger sense of confidence and self-efficacy. Even if the school I end up working in some day does not use SeeSaw, I can definitely see myself incorporating it into my own practices.

After some review of recent Professional Learning initiatives taken on by the staff, we used a gallery walk exercise to explore the idea of play-based approaches to Numeracy. Each table center made use of a different game or manipulative to teach students various Mathematics skills and concepts, and they were very similar to the strategies that have been discussed in length within my curriculum course (which was comforting and very reassuring!).

Finally, the Principal shared with us some recent stories of hope and student success, and read from an article that is now circulating online called “Dear Parent: About THAT kid”. It was incredibly touching, and the emotion in the room was very evident as the session concluded. And as I sit in my empty host classroom, now working away at some lesson plans and photocopying for the week ahead (and praying for no snow days! *fingers crossed*), I am filled with a refreshed sense of hope, optimism, and excitement to see my students tomorrow and to let them know, in small, subtle ways, that they matter to me.

**Here is  the link to the original article, if anyone is interested. It’s definitely worth a read! http://missnightmutters.com/2014/11/dear-parent-about-that-kid.html

 

A Brief Reflection of My First Direct Lesson

After a first two weeks of unexpected circumstances, bus cancellations, long weekends and lots of busy days, I finally was able to present my first lesson to the class on Thursday afternoon. To say I was excited and nervous simultaneously would be a colossal understatement. I was buzzing with energy as I opened the PowerPoint and got ready to address the students.

I had recently been asked to introduce the class to poetry, with the Four Elements (air, water, fire, Earth) as a topic. I have been writing poetry since I was in Grade 6 myself, so I accepted this assignment without any hesitation. After a bit of brainstorming, I decided it would be good to present the class with three brief forms of poetry: Acrostic style, Haikus, and Chinquains. I even wrote the exemplars of each poem myself.

At the start of the lesson, I began by hosting a whole-group brainstorm based on the following question: Why do we write poetry? I asked the students to do a “Turn and Talk” with a partner, and then we consolidated the ideas as a class. In a pleasant surprise, I had much more hands shooting up than I originally had predicted I would. I accepted every response with enthusiasm, and created a mind map to display the children’s thinking. Next, we did a brief re-cap of the Four Elements, and I went through my PowerPoint, explaining the basics of each poem, and having student volunteers read the exemplars. I know that this technique is often hit-or-miss, but my placement class is a high-engergy group who absolutely LOVES to talk, so I wanted to give them as many opportunities to share and communicate with both myself and each other during this lesson (and I had several brave volunteers each time, which was awesome to see). When the presentation was over, I used a Gradual Release of Responsibility strategy, and had the class co-create a poem of their own, which I added to the slides as an example later that night.

Overall, I got both a high level of engagement, attention, and participation during this lesson. I was not sure if this was due to genuine interest in what I was saying, or because of the reminder from their classroom teacher to be respectful during my lesson. In retrospect, I think it was a combination of both, with an emphasis on genuine interest. I moved on to an Art activity at the end of the lesson, because there was not enough time in the period to send the children to start  working on poems of their own. Again, the class seemed to be engaged, and I even had one student approach me during cleanup time and say “Miss Leonard, thank you for this opportunity to learn” in a very sincere and serious manner. I was beyond touched, and very relieved that my first teaching block had been successful as a whole.

 

After having the class write poems yesterday, I can see that they still have a long way to go in terms of adding creativity and detail to their writing. I have been assured by my Associate Teacher however, that this is common at the start of a Poetry Unit, and I am determined to help the students improve the quality of their poems in the time that I have left in this classroom.

Circle Time in the Classroom: Session #1

For my Action Research Project this year, I have decided to implement circle process as both an instructional tool and a classroom management strategy.

After hearing of the breadth of research supporting the use of circles in the classroom, I was highly intrigued, and curious to see if it would work with the Grade 6s and 7s in my placement class. Circle discussions have frequently been found to be extremely beneficial for the emotional, social, and academic well-being of children. Students also have a unique opportunity to bond with one another, and to increase their self-confidence in a safe, non-judgemental space.

I recently pitched the idea of circles to my afternoon Associate Teacher, and was thrilled to learn that she too was on board. Although the children in this class often do not handle transitions between activities very well, we agreed that we would be able to find a time of the day to make circle time less hectic, and decided to host the first discussion at the end of the afternoon last Tuesday.

Armed with a small and soft Spiderman ball as a talking piece, I got the class quiet, and explained the basics of circle time.

  1. This is a safe space, and we will be respectful of all of our classmates when they are sharing. This means no put-downs, judgements, or hurtful laughing during someone else’s answer.
  2. We will only talk when we are holding the talking piece, in order to give every student a chance to respond.
  3. You ALWAYS have the right to pass.

For my first go at circle time, I hosted a short, very simple sharing circle. I asked the kids to describe how they were feeling using one word, to name the best part about the school day, and to share one thing that they learned during the day (school-related or not). Overall, I think that this first try went relatively well. There were a few children who passed every question, but most of the class participated, with the majority offering one or more answers. Additionally, the rules of circle time were respected, with the exception of a few brief interruptions.

I personally feel as though this particular group of students can greatly benefit from the connection and ownership over their ideas and learning that circle process can give them, and I am very excited to try it again with them in the upcoming weeks.

My First Experiences with Collaborative Problem Solving

Although it is still early in my Practicum Block, I have already had a few chances to practice the Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS) skills that were discussed in my At-Risk Children courses, and so far, the results have been very positive. Over the past couple of weeks, I have been working with the students to finish their projects for a school-wide Science Fair, which took place yesterday morning (stay tuned for a more detailed post regarding this!). It has been a fun, chaotic, very busy time, and it has given me a lot of great teaching practice.

The first time I tried CPS, it was with a Grade 6 student who I had noticed doing nothing whatsoever when the classroom teacher gave the group a chance to plan out a rough draft of their projects’ information, using a graphic organizer. I approached his desk, got down at eye level, and said “I’m noticing you’re having some trouble getting started here. What’s up?” At first, he was relatively unresponsive, so I asked him some more questions about how he was feeling at the time.

“Are you feeling tired today?”, I asked him.”

“Nope,” he replied. “Are you feeling sad at all?”, I tried. “No, I’m okay,” he told me.

“Hmm. Well, you look a little frustrated. Is that right?” I asked, hoping and praying for something a little less monosyllabic. “Yeah, a little bit,” he admitted. Finally I had a hook, so I fished for more information.

“Is it because of the worksheet?”, I asked him. “Are you frustrated by the amount of writing that you have to do?” “Yeah, I don’t like writing stuff down,” he answered.

“I totally understand,” I responded. “Writing can be hard to do sometimes, and that’s definitely frustrating. But you know, you won’t be able to finish your board for the Science Fair if it has no information, and that wouldn’t be good, because it’ll be pretty disappointing if you don’t have a finished project.” He gave me a slight nod, so I asked “How about we make a deal?”.

“Okay, I guess,” he said. “Here it is: I will do the writing part of the worksheet, IF you tell me all about your Science project, and tell me which ideas you want me to write down. Then your rough work will be finished, and you can type it up on a laptop. Does that sound good?” “Yeah, I can do that,” he answered. Eureka! The write-up was eventually complete, and it felt really great to help a previously struggling child to accomplish a task.

 

A couple of days later, I got to try my hand at CPS again, in a similar scenario with a student who just did not seem interested in the Science Fair process at all. I approached his desk and said something along the lines of: “Hey, I’m noticing that you seem to be having some difficulty with your project. What’s up? Are you okay?”

He shrugged his shoulders and looked the other way. “Are you feeling tired today?”

“Yes!”, he admitted. “I got no sleep last night.”

“Oh no!,” I said. “That must be really frustrating. Are you frustrated right now?”

“Yeah,” he said. I assured him that it was completely okay to be feeling this way, and expressed my concern about his lack of a finished product for the fair. “Would you work on your Science Fair project if I helped you?”, I asked. “Maybe it will be easier to finish if we work together.”

“Okay, sure,” he told me. In that moment, I felt a huge amount of relief, and for most of the rest of the morning instructional block (and for a short time the next day as well), I worked with this student one-on-one, through each stage of his project. We tested the experiment, took a picture of it with a classroom IPad, and I supported him during the write-up too, explaining each step and asking prompting questions to help get his ideas flowing. By the end of the second day, his project was finished entirely, and all that was left was to paste it to a poster board.

I felt great about this in the moment, because there is almost nothing more rewarding to me than to be able to engage and support a student who needs extra help. I live for lightbulb  moments and instances of clarity, and nothing makes me happier or more fulfilled than to see students feeling confident and capable during the learning process. However, I felt even better about my efforts with this student after a discussion with the class’ Educational Assistant a few days later.

She told me that this student has a history of not connecting well with adults. He is incredibly quiet, barely spoke to anyone during the previous school year, and also had no completed Science Fair project last year. The EA said that she was very impressed with how I had interacted with him, and that I would make a fantastic teacher some day.

I don’t tell this story to brag– in fact, I attribute most of the success in this case to the student. He is more than capable of completing work, and in speaking to him about his project, I found that his understanding of the topic at hand was far more advanced than he he had originally let on. All he needed in this case was an extra push, a system of support and some individual attention in order to complete the assignment that had been given. CPS proved to be an effective tool for me to be able to provide him with this support, and knowing that I had impacted him in a positive way, helping him to reach a goal that he hadn’t come close to last year, was more rewarding than I can effectively express in this now very long post. I will without a doubt be using CPS in the future, and will continue to build up my competence in putting this theory into practice.

 

 

 

Reflecting on my 1st week of Practicum

Wow! I can’t believe how quickly this last practicum block is going by already. While it’s been an incredibly busy, unexpected sort of first week, I have to say, I am having a great time so far. And to say I’m relieved and excited about it would be an enormous understatement.

On Tuesday morning, I woke up feeling more nervous about a student teaching placement than I think I ever have in my nearly five years of post-secondary education. Why? Because for the first time, I would be student teaching in a Grade 6/7 split classroom. I’ve tutored several students in this age group, but have never been responsible for teaching to a classroom full of them. Slowly but surely however, I felt my fears dissolving one at a time. My first day was definitely not ideal, considering the snowpocalypse that took place the night before. At the peak time, there were five students in my host classroom, and as the weather worsened, they began to trickle out. The school began calling parents and guardians to pick their children up around lunch time, and after catching a ride with the school’s French teacher and struggling through the tiny mountain of snow covering the driveway to my apartment, I was home and happy to have at least met a few of the students that I would be teaching for the next four weeks.

Due to other unexpected circumstances, the kids had a series of supply teachers for most of the rest of the week (side note: I have two different Associate Teachers at this placement– one teaching Math and Science in the first instructional block of the day, and one teaching Literacy, Social Studies, Art, etc. for the rest of the day). However, I still found this to be a valuable experience; it provided me insight into the life of a supply teacher (which I will soon be living), and it gave me valuable time to get to know my new students. For some strange and unexplainable reason, I had the unfortunate misconception that Grade 6s and 7s would be as tall as my 16 year old brother (who’s now almost six feet tall), and intimidating to boot. But to my surprise, the class seems like a wonderful group of kids (most of whom are shorter than me). They are a very high energy bunch, but the majority of them are friendly, incredibly curious, and very eager to learn and share ideas with one another.

Each day during the morning block, the class has been busily preparing for a school Science Fair, which is taking place this Friday. The excitement in the room is undeniable, and talking to each of the students about their projects has given me some great insight into their unique interests. It has been so much fun being able to help out, and the little memory notes I’ve left for myself this week have been nothing short of amusing. Some examples include: “Don’t forget a ziploc bag for [insert student’s name here] slime!” and “Buy Skittles and M&Ms for Science experiment.”

Overall, I am incredibly excited for what is in store for the rest of my Winter Practicum block. I have a feeling that it is going to be another invaluable learning experience, and a fantastic opportunity for me to learn and grow as a teacher.