Reflective Teaching – Day 21

Te@chThought‘s Day 21 Challenge is: “Do you have other hobbies/interests that you bring into your classroom teaching? Explain.

I have many hobbies and interests that I share with my learners! I hope that they feel comfortable bringing their interests to share as well. This can stem from the fun of #geniushour, or can come out of conversations as we build relationships.

The interests that I’ve shared include:

  • reading
  • Making sock monkeys
  • being outside
  • playing
  • hiking
  • raising and caring for animals
  • running
  • pretty shoes
  • developing my skills as a tea connoisseur
  • eating
  • baking
  • technology
  • science
  • games
  • writing

Every year begins with meeting all of the student in my pod, even the students that I will not directly be teaching. I share the stories of my life, hoping to provide some insight into Mrs. James as a human. The goal in our Middle School is to provide as many adult advocates for each learner as possible. Having visible, shared interests is one way to connect with our learners.


Reflective Teaching – Day 20

Te@chThought‘s Day 20 Challenge is: “How do you curate student work–or help them do it themselves?

Ah, this is the dream! The unfortunate answer is that I don’t curate student work. Our province has very strict rules about student privacy and we don’t yet have a plan for storage. I dream of eportfolios in my future!

We curate in limited ways. Before parent conferences, or reporting periods, I have my students identify works showing improvement, showing areas of strength, showing change. I have students self-select items for assessment. We use Social Media carefully in our class, and sometimes we share out moments or artifacts of learning that are meaningful.

I think that Middle School aged learners should be encouraged to curate their own personal learning artifacts. They can select items for their own purposes, and we should be listening to their reasoning about why they selected particular pieces. Curation can be on a large scale, such as eportfolios or on a smaller scale, such as scrap-booking or archiving. Sharing can be global through Twitter or blogs, or can be private between students/families/teacher.

Reflective Teaching – Day 19

Te@chThought‘s Day 19 Challenge is: “Name three powerful ways students can reflect on their learning, then discuss closely the one you use most often.

Three ways students can reflect on their own learning are:

  • in discussions with partners, parents, peers, or teachers
  • in writing: blogging, journaling, tickets in/out the door
  • self-assessments: pre/post activity, using similar language that the assessment tool will use.

I usually use the first two methods together for student reflection. Sometimes a students can be too critical of their work or have tunnel-vision about one element requiring attention. By discussing their thoughts (usually with a friend) first, they can check their reflection against someone else’s perception. I don’t get to meet with every student every day, there just isn’t time, so by having students complete tickets in/out the door, or blogging or journaling, I can have an ongoing conversation with them. I can not ask a student to stay late every day to continue a conversation about learning, but I can take all of those pieces of paper home with me and read and reflect on their thoughts. Then, I can take the time to respond to what they have shared. It takes time! A lot of time.

I am always impressed when students begin including more reflection as part of their other work. We complete a Math Problem Solving activity during the week, and several students this year spent more time reflecting on the process they took individually or in groups to solve the problem. They began to place more emphasis and importance on process rather than product.

I am curious about how others manage to build in time for reflection for their learners. How do you teach the value of this skill? How do you model it?

Reflective Teaching – Day 18

Te@chThought‘s Day 18 Challenge is: “Create a metaphor/simile/analogy that describes your teaching philosophy. For example, a “teacher is a ________…”

Teaching today requires teachers to wear multiple hats. It is no longer enough to coach from the sidelines, or lecture to large classrooms.

So in my thinking, a teacher is a collaborative engineer. Let me explain:

  • models collaborative skills by engaging in professional collaborative efforts
  • assists students in finding collaborative work partners and developing skills in working with others
  • engineers the conditions in which students can learn
  • engineers learning opportunities that make students WANT to learn
  • collaborates with students as a fellow learner
  • leverages the power of technology to facilitate connections beyond the classroom walls in order to provide rich learning experiences in areas students are actually interested in
  • ensures that learners do not feel alone on their learning journeys
  • fosters rich discussions with learners so that everyone has the opportunity to derive as much meaning as they can from lessons, readings, viewings, etc.
  • challenges learners to design their own meaningful investigations
  • engineers inquiry from rote facts

I see teachers as co-conspirators with their learners embariking on a great adventure!

Reflective Teaching – Day 17

Te@chThought‘s Day 17 Challenge is:”What do you think is the most challenging issue in education today?

I would like to see the issue of class size addressed. I usually have 30 students in a class and it is difficult to meet the needs of all learners each day. There are usually students who require more support, and others are very independent. And, occasionally students are in crisis and needing a great deal of time and attention. Effective pedagogy requires flexibility and a willingness to try new things, and be prepared for tangents. It can be difficult to even find enough resources to support all learners in a variety of academic pursuits.

My ideal class size limit for Middle School would be 21. Teaching grade six in our district means this is the first year for Middle School, a terrifying and exciting prospect for many learners. Middle School also marks the start of enormous class sizes for the first time for many students. With 30 students packed into a space designed for 24, there is not a lot of flexibility in how you lay out the space, how you proceed with transitions, and how regimented your “unstructured” time becomes – for safety reasons alone!

21 students in a class would encourage:

  • more one-on-one time for each learner
  • face-to-face meetings for feedback
  • opportunities to personalize programs
  • time to connect
  • flexible groupings
  • collaborative space design
  • every student could have a voice
  • partnerships in the school/community/global village
  • easier access to field trips
  • reduced anxiety and deeper sense of community and belonging

Our current model still seems to hold fast to the Industrial model of lecturing pupils sitting in neat rows. In reality, learning has become dynamic, messy, loud, and student centred. To do this effectively, we need to use our space and manpower respectfully.


Reflective Teaching – Day 16

Te@chThought‘s Day 16 Challenge is: “If you could have one superpower to use in the classroom, what would it be and how would it help?”

My original response to this was the ability to clone myself – to be everywhere at once, to be present wherever I was needed, to be able to meet the needs to all students as they arose. But, I think that Superpower would actually be a negative. If I was cloned, no one would get all of me. Everyone would only be entitled to a piece, and no matter how effective that Superpower was, my attention and care would still be divided. And everyone would know.

I think that I would like to be able to manipulate time. Childhood goes by so quickly! I would love for those exciting moments to last much longer, and to speed up the painful ones.

I don’t even think that this needs to be a Superpower. When we give our students more choice in their learning experiences, those exciting, joyful moments can become the bulk of their day. The more painful or tedious moments can be done in a supportive, collaborative fashion. I wouldn’t like to think  of our learners rushing through unpleasant tasks, so maybe the tasks change to reflect the needs of the learners? I don’t have an answer for how this can be done in a classroom of 30 students, but I believe that even small changes can impact the perception of how time flows in our classrooms.

Now, if only I can apply the same sense of flow to my own organization and task list!

Reflective Teaching – Day 15

Te@chThought‘s Day 15 Challenge is: “Name three strengths you have as an educator.

This is an awkward question. My strengths and weaknesses vary each year. I am a work in progress! Sometimes I make gains in one area, and another area begins to suffer. I am a learner.

Three things that I hold as important and feel proud of are:

  • relationships: I am not always successful, but I work very hard to establish relationships in our classroom. I identify our learning community as a FAMILY on the first day and I refer to that relationship often. It is a powerful feeling when our learning family begins to come together. The level of trust and willingness to take risks sky-rockets!
  • my own learning: I share my mistakes and my learning journeys with my students. We take time to share the process of learning together, and begin to develop understandings that we all learn differently and can benefit from learning together. I celebrate the many things that I learn from my students. I invite my student experts to teach me and their peers. #geniushour has been great for this!
  • reading: My parents gave me a love of reading. I have been very lucky to teach in schools that have diverse libraries and have enjoyed watching a few reluctant readers discover a joy in reading. I read aloud to my Middle School family. We exchange our personal favourites by title and by sharing actual books over weekends. Students will lend me their ownArchie comics after they learn about my own phase of reading Archie as “brain candy”!