Teaching Grade 3 in 2020-2021

As term 3 begins I am taking a moment to reflect on the year in Grade Three so far. Time sure does fly when you are having fun. I cannot believe that I have already spent six and a half months with my classes and this is the first blog post I have written about being their teacher. The truth is I love teaching both my classes and I am doing all that I can to make sure they have a great year.

I have learned the importance of authentic tasks for students and teachers alike. Returning to school in September with covid restrictions in place was a challenge. I wondered how to get my students excited about learning as they sat in rows and worked independently. Oh yes, and not be worried about Covid either!

Science was the answer! I switched my teaching units around and started the year off studying soil. I could get the children outside, get them moving, and give them a chance to get fresh air. Little did I know that it would be the start of such a terrific year. The whole class got right into learning about soil, and well, we found a worm.

 

The learning then took a turn, and we started reading and researching about worms. We couldn’t believe how much they helped soil. We collected worms and started a worm compost. I was brave enough to hold some worms and not pass out, and the children loved it. We then dove into growing plants from kidney beans, and the children were excited. My students who found it challenging to sit still during class were fully engaged and loving learning.

Students who hadn’t loved school in the early grades suddenly wanted to learn and didn’t want to miss a class. Authentic tasks are the answer! I presented global math task challenges for students to complete. I connected with a fellow educator in Tennessee, and we got our classes together for a Mystery Number game. The students loved it, and they were completely engaged. The students also worked on Global Math Task challenges that Heidi Samuelson posts each week.

We had zoom calls with students in Tel Aviv, and we talked and learned from each other. We took part in a global Livestream event at the DigCit Summit: the students took turns talking about digital citizenship. My students also took a research project they worked on and shared the information with a class in Taiwan to learn about Ontario cities. All these tasks and projects have been authentic and have enriched the teaching and learning in my class.

I had learned that relationship is the key to getting students excited about learning. It was an important lesson that I took away from distance learning in the spring. I had started the year off trying to build those relationships as quickly as I could. The truth of the matter is I thought we would be in school for a few weeks, and I had to get to know my students fast. I am grateful that I spent 15 weeks in the class with my students before we had a month of distance learning.

I have been working hard to teach my students about digital citizenship over this year. Launching student blogfolios have been the next logical step in learning about being a good digital citizen online. It is crucial to teach children how to use the internet safely and learn about digital footprints at an early age, especially in this world of YouTubers and Tik Tok videos.

My students need to learn the same lessons about posting on the internet. I have watched how engaged and motivated the students are when they work on a blog post or connect with another class. I am excited to see how they will put greater effort into their work and pay special attention to detail. I believe the quality of the written work will improve and the students will work harder to edit before they publish a post. The students are reading classmates’ posts and making comments. It is so much fun to see the children connecting in this way. Perhaps some grandparents will even read a post or two and comment.

 

I also believe that the blogs will give my quieter students a chance to share their voices and shine. Blogs will also be a perfect place for students to own and enrich their learning. Students will reflect on their learning, document it, and make their thinking visible.

STEM challenges are inspiring students to be innovators and problem-solvers. We are working on a global Public Service Announcement with the Digital Citizenship Institute to teach people how to make good comments on blogs. We are writing a song about peace for the global World Peace Song Project. The Global Act Aloud will have us showing off our acting skills. We also working on a kindness initiative.

In this year like no other, my main goals have been to get the children excited about learning, connecting globally. It is safe to say that we are having fun and learning so much in Grade 3. I am excited to see what the rest of the school year has in store for us.

Student Blogging and Blogfolios

Student blogfolios was the main goal for my class this past year. I felt that the quality of writing and learning in each subject would improve through the use of blogfolios. Just a couple of weeks before the school year ended, students finally launched individual blogfolios. The students got a chance a customize their blogfolios and learn how to post their work. I am so happy that I had the opportunity to be part of the excitement myself. I also found it to be the perfect way to end my year with these students and to learn alongside them.

It was around this time last year that I attended the Building Learning Communities Conference in Boston with four of my colleagues. I came home inspired by all that I had learned at the conference, and I started a blog. As Silvia Tolisano explained to us in her workshop, if I wanted my students to reflect and think metacognitively about their learning, I needed to do the same. I started the blog and pretended it was my secret online journal. I wrote about how I would start my year. I also wrote about my hopes and wishes for teaching this group of children. It was also the place where I could document my learning and professional growth.

Two years ago, my PGP( professional growth plan) was to improve the academic skills and engagement in learning by having the students become guest bloggers on the class blog. My colleague Faye and I had similar PGPs, and we both started our work by teaching our students in grades three and four, respectively, all about blogging during the 2018-2019 school year.

Each class started by making a paper or google docs blog post and sharing it with their classmates. The students gained skills such as researching, putting thoughts into their own words, the importance of copyright, and using copyright free pictures. They also learned to read and make appropriate comments on their classmates’ blog posts, all while becoming good digital citizens.

The students also became guest bloggers of the week on our classroom blogs. I thought they would take ownership of their learning through this venue, but to be honest, they didn’t. My grade four classes did take part in the Edublogs Student Blogging Challenge. They loved getting comments from other students and teachers in other parts of the world. It made a difference when they realized other people were reading their work. They also loved visiting other blogs, making comments, and interacting with other students. I had hoped they would become motivated and engaged in writing their weekly guest posts. The students didn’t get as excited as I would have liked.

My original goal was to start blogfolios at the beginning of the year. We then hoped to launch in March before our school year changed course. Luckily we did launch before the end of the year, and what I observed and learned in such a short time has inspired me to make blogfolios an integral part of my teaching regardless of the grade I happen to teach.

The students’ writing did improve through the use of blogfolios. They paid attention to spelling, punctuation, and the quality of their writing. At the beginning of distance learning, we wrote persuasive essays. For many children, the assignment proved to be challenging. It took a lot of effort and encouragement to get them to write an essay. A few children wondered why they should write an essay when no one would read them. Writing speeches for public speaking proved to be difficult as well.

I then let the students write a blog post of their choice, and I told them it would go in their blogfolios. The students had the freedom to choose their topics. Something amazing happened; the students started writing and writing any chance they got. The writing flowed, the blog posts were interesting. Competitive skiing, Minecraft, and Electricity were a few of the topics. The amount of writing doubled and tripled, the quality improved as well. I got to know my students in a whole new way and to see what they what made them passionate. The thought of other people besides their teacher reading their work excited them too. The students presented their blogposts to the class and answered questions. Everyone was engaged and interested in what their classmates had written. These students needed to end of the year and remain excited about their learning.

We had a whole group discussion reflecting on our writing from persuasive essays, speeches, to blog posts. I told the students that I had noticed how excited and motivated they were when they asked to work on their blog posts, we talked about how much more they were writing as well. The students reflected how they found it so much easier to write about subjects that interested them. You don’t have to do as much research you can write about what you know. They talked about how they wanted to share what they were interested in with others. Writing for their blogfolios seemed effortless and came so naturally to them.

The students received their first comments, and they were thrilled that someone read their work. They were happy to reply. They also started to write in French and Hebrew too. I am pleased that they will get a chance to continue putting their work into their blogfolios and documenting their learning throughout the years. My hope is the students take even greater ownership of learning in a few years. I am excited to see where this platform can take them.

As for myself, I will be back teaching Grade 3 classes again. I will positively be setting up blogfolios for my students, having them do blogposts, learn all the skills, and take part in the student blogging challenge. I look forward to helping my students document their learning, think metacognitively, and share their voices with an authentic audience. I believe that the students will learn so much and be able to push the boundaries of the traditional grade three curriculum. Stay tuned! The 2020-2021 school year should be an exciting one.

Why do some students thrive in distance learning?

 The Sky is the Limit

This post has been a long time in the making. I intended to publish in the Spring, for the #BlogginThruIt challenge. If you have read my earlier post, you would know that I was quite busy teaching my classes during distance learning.

My students all did a great job with distance learning overall. Sure there were some challenges along the way, but for the most part, students rose to the occasion. Some students thrived during this period. They excelled in ways that wouldn’t have been possible in the physical classroom.

Focus and attention in the regular classroom presented a challenge for some students. I saw the same children paying attention, completing assignments, and participating actively during distance learning. They worked harder, met with success, and gained greater confidence as a student. One student had the quiet at home to read and focus on a chapter book. He started to love reading and was proud of his accomplishments. Another student found it easier to look at the teacher more on the computer screen and was not distracted by friends.

Quieter students also thrived during distance learning. Their voices were louder through blogs, speeches, and projects. They were quite expressive readers and took a more active role in class discussions. Three of my shy students gave eloquent speeches and made it to the public speaking finals. They also found it easier to reach out and ask questions through google hangouts.

Students with anxiety found it easier to be at home and concentrate on lessons through Google Meet. The day to day stresses of being in a noisier classroom and interacting with more extroverted classmates was gone. They found it easier to reach out to teachers and get individual help when needed. They also connected more with their teachers.

Student voice and choice took on greater importance. Genius Hour, Stem Bingo, and Blog post challenges let the students take their learning into their own hands. They loved the freedom and unstructured time in the afternoons to pursue subjects and projects that interested them. Some students learned about coding, 3D architecture, stop motion animation. One student worked on putting electricity into his treehouse and building a go-kart. Another student coded a raptor into a Minetest( Minecraft like) game.

There was one student in particular who had distance learning challenges. His mother was worried if he was ready for Grade 5. This student decided to make his drone for his Genius Hour project. I met with him individually to discuss his project. He told me how he had ordered motors and wires. He told me how he had learned about electricity and how he was thinking about designing the propellors. His older sister arranged a meeting with a friend studying engineering to help problem-solve drone building. As he talked and reflected on his project to date, he stopped and told me,” I have learned so much already by working on this project.”

Our class had also made a connection via Flipgrid with students in Taiwan. The children made videos to learn about each other and our different countries. There was one student in my class who had been attending Chinese school on weekends to learn Mandarin. This boy took the opportunity to practice his Mandarin and make bilingual videos to share with the students in Taiwan. He also took the time to learn and create a Stars Wars-themed bilingual video for May 4th. This global connection provided him the perfect venue to personalize his learning through these authentic tasks. The students in Taiwan loved learning and practicing their English with us.

The majority of my students become more self-directed. That is not to say that we didn’t have our challenges at the beginning with Roblox or watching Youtube videos. Some difficult conversations with parents and students took place. The students realized schooling came first, and they were in charge of getting their assignments done. The students became adept at navigating the schedules following the links and sharing their completed work.

Students took advantage of the unstructured time in the afternoon to pursue their interests in writing stories and blog posts. It is funny how much harder they worked on assignments they chose themselves. Some students wrote epic stories, and some worked with a partner to create a terrific blog post. The quality of the work improved as the students became self-directed and owned their learning.

Distance learning allowed the teacher greater freedom too. I had the time to personalize programs so students could extra help, a small group lesson, or enrichment. The key was to keep all of the students busy and engaged. In the physical classroom, I always had someone or many students needing help. In distance learning, I could offer more individualized teaching during office hours or in the afternoons. I could send a quick message to a student on google hangouts while continuing to teach the lessons.

I will be reflecting more on how the students thrived in the Spring and will embed these lessons learned into my planning for the upcoming school year. All students should have the opportunity to thrive and reach for the stars each school year. It is my job as a teacher to create the environment to make this happen for my students.

 Update December 6, 2020
I chose remote learning for my own quiet 13-year-old this fall. She has focused on her learning and has been able to reach out to her teachers. I am happy to report she is thriving in virtual school.

I have been teaching in the classroom for the last 13 weeks. I have made a point of connecting with my quieter and anxious students a little more. I check in with them more frequently throughout the day and give them a chance to share their voice. I am happy to report they are thriving as well.

Relationships Matter in Distance Learning

It has been two weeks today since the school year ended. I find myself reflecting on the school year and the distance learning portion of the year. All of my students did a terrific job of adapting to learning from home. I am a big believer in developing strong relationships with students at the best of times. I acknowledged the importance of developing relationships in a reflective post earlier this year. I think it is even more important in distance learning. Students need to maintain contact and relationships with their teachers and their classmates. All relationships matter during this uncertain time. It was such a gift to spend more time with students and talk to them individually. I have loved seeing all the pets and siblings the students have talked about throughout the year.

                                                       The School Day

I was lucky to see all my students throughout the day. Our school, the OJCS, offered a full day trilingual program online. I taught both my classes virtually in the morning. My students learn French and Hebrew and English. Half of the day consisted of live online lessons for each language. The afternoon schedule allowed for more self-directed learning with Art, Gym, and Genius Hour. I had the opportunity to work in smaller groups and one on one with students during the afternoon. I helped students with reading, practice multiplication tables, and work on math problems step by step. The opportunity to meet with students and talk to them individually was valuable. 

                                                                   It takes a Village

Good relationships with parents also play a vital role in the teacher and student connection. I have always worked hard to maintain good partnerships with parents. This pandemic brought the parent-teacher relationship to a new level. Parent-teacher conferences took place in the evenings during the first week of distance learning. My grade-level team and I met the parents in Google Hangouts and spoke about the children. We saw parents in the dining room, living room, and the bedroom. Looking back now, I realize how crucial to meet at that point to maintain and strengthen the partnerships we had established earlier in the year. The conferences were relaxed and so meaningful. 

 Parents became trusted and respected partners in this journey. They gave us valuable feedback on the distance learning schedules during Phase 1 and Phase 2 of our program. They were patient with us as we learned to make Google Meets and have learning materials ready to print on Sundays. 

During the first few weeks, I received some emails from parents letting me know their child was having a tough day or needed extra help with an assignment. I took the time for a virtual visit to talk about rough days, and made the time to offer additional help in the afternoons. Time was also set aside for afterschool meetings to discuss challenges students were facing with distance learning. I was able to personalize, enrich, and modify programs for my students. One parent told me that her son shared that he felt the teachers cared about him and encouraged him, which made him want to do better, which in turn made him love school.   

 Parents became trusted and respected partners in this journey. They gave us valuable feedback on the distance learning schedules during Phase 1 and Phase 2 of our program. They were patient with us as we learned to make Google Meets and have learning materials ready to print on Sundays. I am so thankful for the open communication, collaboration, and support that we received from our parents.

   

                                                            Classroom Community  

My teaching partner and I worked hard to create a supportive and engaging classroom community this year. We took extra care when our classrooms became virtual. The students learned how to reach out through google hangouts to ask questions or let us know if they were having any difficulties. Google hangouts turned out to be the perfect way for my quieter students to contact me. I think they reached out to me more in distance learning than they ever did in class. 

Students were able to message me directly and let me know they didn’t understand part of a lesson. They didn’t have to ask a question in front of their classmates. I had the opportunity to get to know my quieter students on a whole new level. There were times when a few students stayed behind at recess so they could talk about their parents (doctors) working and dealing with COVID-19. I needed to stop and listen to them. Strong relationships mattered so much. Students know if teachers care about them, and it makes all the difference. It means a lot when teachers take the time to listen to them and help.

I made sure that there were also opportunities for students to work with a partner or small group in google hangouts and continue to maintain friendships with all of their classmates. Math Olympics, math escape rooms, and small group projects had students working together and having fun. Laughter and excitement filled computer screens. Classes came together for speeches, celebrating special holidays, and taking part in weekly live-streamed Kabbalat Shabbat from our school Facebook page.

 I was amazed by the kindness and care the students showed each other. I think many of them realized what a unique and challenging experience this was. We had many honest and open conversations about distance learning and how to handle the challenges. My students encouraged each other, helped each other and listened to each other. Some of my spirited students in the physical classroom were more focused during virtual school and showed great leadership with their classmates.

 

                                Creating a school-wide community

The school did a terrific job of going forward with all of our scheduled school-wide events online. We had the pleasure of welcoming grandparents from all over the world for virtual Grandparents’ Day. We spent a beautiful morning with them. Our Maccabiah games( Sports Day) went on as planned: our teams loved completing their goose chase missions. Each team consisted of students from across the grades. They spent time learning a song and special cheers.  

 

A virtual talent show was held one night for the 4th and 5th-grade students and boy what a night it was. The students showcased hidden talents, and some families got in on the action and performed together. It was so neat to see so many smiling faces in the little boxes on my computer screen and see the positive comments in the chat in the Google Meet. One student told me that she would only perform if I did, so I did. I signed up and performed a song with three of my colleagues. It was a perfectly imperfect talent show, technical glitches, and all! 

We came together for the public speaking finals, and end of the year assembly as well. These moments of being together helped make our school and class community grow stronger. I can honestly tell you that the students, my teaching partner, and I were not ready for the school year to end. We all lingered in our Google Meet after the final bell rang on the last day of school. We just weren’t ready to say goodbye to each other yet.

 

Global Connection

This post was originally supposed to have been published in early March right around the time our report cards were due. According to my PGP(Professional Growth Plan), I was to share out my plans for my global connection projects for the rest of the year. I was so excited about the plans and projects that I had in store for the last term of the school year.

My projects had my students launching their blogs, taking part in the Student Blogging Challenge, writing, and recording, a trilingual song for the World Peace Song Project. I also wanted my students to make a connection with students in Taiwan through the use of Flipgrid. My culminating and final project of the year was to have the students make their podcast about one of the UN SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) that they were passionate about. I had been teaching my students about the SDGs through the use of picture books and novels this year. These projects were meant to personalize learning for my students, give them a voice, hopefully, let them shoot for the stars. I envisioned my students taking greater ownership of their learning and excited about the whole process.

I postponed writing this post, I was busy with report cards, I was busy with Innovation Day, I was busy with life. On March 12th my life changed, my teaching job changed, and my plans and projects were put on hold. My colleagues and I started planning for distance learning at our school. I vividly remember my teaching partner looking a little scared during one of our virtual planning meetings on March 13th. She looked at me and asked if I thought we could do this, and teach from our computer. I was confident that we could pull this off and that our whole school would function beautifully online.

Many of our teachers had taken part in big school initiatives over the last two years with No Tosh and Silvia Tolisano. Our teaching and learning practices had changed. The OJCS became more innovative and more aligned for teaching 21st-century skills. We were so ready for this moment, our head of school, Dr. Jon Mitzmacher was almost giddy with excitement for the moment of transitioning to an online school. I was excited to start teaching this way as well. I had prepared my students well over the last year and a half. They could work online and share google docs, they had attended research workshops, and could locate information on the internet. The students had learned about blogging, copyright, hyperlinking, and digital citizenship. I remember feeling so thankful for putting so much time and energy into my professional growth over the last two and a half years. I was ready to leap online learning as well.

As I update this post after five weeks of teaching online, I am reflecting on my experience with global connection and my teaching practice. My projects have been put on hold except for one, connecting my students with students all over Taiwan via Flipgrid. I had met an English teacher from Taiwan through #GridPals in February, and our students starting connecting on March 12th, our last day at school. The students kept making videos and got to know each other during our first weeks of distance learning. One of my students surprised us all by speaking English and Mandarin in his video and holding up English and Mandarin speech bubbles he had written. The students in Taiwan were so excited to see this bilingual video. I was thankful that I had met Jyun De Lee. He helped me navigate my way in the first few days of distance learning.

I have also had the good fortune of making another global connection with Gali Lev Ari, a teacher in Israel. A chance post on Facebook brought our two classes together. It has been amazing to watch our students in zoom meetings talk about their lives and distance learning.

I am hoping that my students are getting a sense of how they are part of a larger global community and how meaningful connections can be made even during a pandemic. I know that I am grateful to be connected to a global teaching community. Some questions remain about my other teaching projects. Will my students ever get blogs? Will they make a song for the World Peace Song project? Will they ever record a podcast? Only time will tell.

 

 

 

 

 

Launching Student Blogfolios

Tomorrow I will be sending home a letter to parents about launching student blogs in Grade 4. I am excited for my students to take greater ownership of their learning and have a platform for their work. I think the students will be more motivated to do their best work and post it to the blog to share with a greater audience.

I have been working hard to teach my students about digital citizenship over the last year and a half. We have gone to workshops in the library and gotten the first-hand experience with guest blogging and our student blogging challenge. I feel that student blogs are the next logical step in learning about being a good digital citizen online. It is crucial to teach children how to use the internet safely and learn about digital footprints at an early age, especially in this world of YouTubers and Tik Tok videos.

I always told my children that whatever they put out on the internet would have to be appropriate for their grandmother to see. They would laugh at first and then be amazed that their grandmother who wasn’t on Facebook or Instagram would always see the latest pictures and happenings of all their cousins. My children were careful of what they posted as they learned about their digital footprints.

My students need to learn the same lessons about posting on the internet. I have watched how engaged and motivated the students are when they work on a blog post or connect with another class. I know they will put greater effort into their work and pay special attention to detail. I believe the quality of the written work will improve and the students will work harder to edit before they publish a post. Perhaps some grandparents will even read a post or two and comment.

I also believe that the blogs will give my quieter students a chance to share their voice and shine. Blogs will also be a perfect place for students to own and enrich their learning. Students will reflect on their learning and document it over the years. The students will get to make their thinking visible.

I started this professional blog in the summer with my students in mind. I was at a workshop with Silvia Tolisano and she said that if we want students to have their blogs, we should go through the process of having our own blog first, so that is exactly what I did. Anyone who knows me knows that I only do things with my students’ best interests in mind. I have enjoyed writing different posts to capture thoughts and reflections about my teaching. However, I have only shared this blog with a select few people as I am shy and quiet by nature.

I am ready to share this blog with a greater audience, with the hopes of sharing my journey of teaching and launching student blogfolios in Grade Four. I know it will be a terrific learning experience for my students and myself.

 

Starting to connect globally

September 9th was the day I sat in the office talking about my professional growth plan for the upcoming year. Little did I know then how much my teaching life would change for the better and all because of global connection.

After my meeting, I initially thought about changing my topic for growth. Luckily I stuck with global connection, and I started to connect with others; through twitter, twitter chats, direct messages, Google hangouts and Facebook. I became excited and energized with teaching and tried new activities and lessons with my class.

My students were motivated and engaged each time we made global connections. They became excited about learning and sharing with others. We worked on the Student Blogging Challenge and put our work out there for others to enjoy. We loved visiting other blogs and leaving comments for other students taking part in the challenge.

As a teacher, I took part in the Student Blogging Challenge by becoming a volunteer student commenter. I was motivated to volunteer after seeing how excited my students were last year when they received comments on their blog. I wanted to be able to get other students excited by seeing comments about their work. Each week I had the opportunity to visit many different blogs and encourage students to keep up their blogging. Through visiting so many different blogs, I discovered a terrific school in Vancouver that delivers a unique and amazing program for their Grade 8 classes. Some of the students in this program have visited our blog, and my students have visited their blogs.

The Global Read Aloud Project was another project that had the students and I connecting globally. We participated in two Google hangout sessions and found out about each other and where we live in North America. The students and I loved seeing the other classes and exchanging our thoughts and feelings about the book.

I think the connection that my students have loved the most is Global Maker Day where we watched a live stream throughout the day. My students loved watching the students from Scheck Hillel Community School make their presentations. They also loved creating and designing their projects and sharing them with other children via Flipgrid.

Twitter remains by far the most instrumental part of my global connections. I joined my first twitter chat in September and immediately felt comfortable with the whole process. I get to participate in the comfort of my home and share resources with veteran educators. I like to call a twitter chat a virtual staffroom where the ideas flow. I have participated in chats on math, maker spaces, virtual field trips, Google slides, and the hour of code.

I have also kept in contact with people I have met at BLC’19 and made wonderful new contacts because of them. These contacts have let me know about special events happening; I got to watch some sessions on digital citizenship from Russia and Texas. I had the chance to connect with a school from the Netherlands and get in touch with them to help with blogging. Global Maker Day came to me through twitter as did so many other virtual summits and chats.

Global connection helps teachers and students learn about the world around them. It makes everyone excited to learn and share their work with others. I am hoping that the rest of this school year is filled with global connections in fourth-grade. The students and I have some great ideas and projects planned and we could not be more excited to connect.

Global Connection

Global connection in the classroom didn’t resonate with me a year ago. The only real experience I had was having my class become penpals with Brian Kom’s class in Japan many years ago. Our classes exchanged a few letters and a video, and my students (the current grade 7 class) loved the exchange.

I am happy to say that global connection means a great deal more to me now. The idea of connecting my classes globally for all subjects is so appealing. The students will get a better sense of geography, gain different perspectives about the world around them, and see how much in common we have with others. They will also get to learn about new cultures and languages.

I can offer my students all of this right from the comfort of my classroom. My classes have had the opportunity to connect with other students via blogs, and mystery skypes, and book talks. Each connection has had my students engaged, motivated, and excited about learning. I must admit that I have been equally excited during each of these connections. The students have loved talking with other students about the book they have read or the work they have produced. I daresay the students listen more attentively as they talk and share over skype.

I plan to continue connecting my classes globally throughout the year. We will talk to scientists and work on number chats with other classes. The ultimate goal is to connect with another class from a different part of the world to learn about a new culture and language. Perhaps we will collaborate on a project together. These authentic experiences will enrich the curriculum, motivate my students, and make school so much fun. The students will become better digital citizens who hopefully want to change the world one day.

For the love of reading

This post has been swirling around in my head ever since I started teaching in the older grades four years ago. By older grades, I mean Grades Three and Four. I have been surprised at how many words students do not understand. Words that I thought were common often stumped my students. My students now do online reading assessments throughout the year. I have seen students panic over the vocabulary while completing the assessments. I have been reflecting on how I can shine a light on vocabulary this year and help my students acquire richer vocabulary.

In my own family, vocabulary and reading have been important focuses. My husband and I wanted our children to love reading and have rich vocabularies. We vowed to make this a priority. Our children were exposed to sophisticated vocabulary in family conversations. Books were also a priority and we spent valuable hours reading good books and talking about them.

As my children reached Grade Four they lost interest in reading. We let them buy lots of comics and magazines, anything to get them interested in reading on their own. It worked! My children started reading for pleasure on their own. We visited libraries and bookstores and let them choose whatever books they wanted. The bookshelves at our house are overflowing and my children have rich vocabularies. I have the same expectations for vocabulary and reading for my own students.

Last year was my first year teaching Grade Four and I noticed how some students lost interest in reading. I signed my class up for the Ottawa Senators reading program in conjunction with a school-wide reading challenge. I wanted to get my students interested in reading again. We won a pizza party from the Ottawa Senators for reaching our reading goals for one month. Many of my students were voracious readers and continued to read all year. Sadly, a few of my students did not start reading regularly.

This year I have made a concerted effort to make reading a priority in my class. I have my students entered the same Read to Succeed Program with the Ottawa Senators. We are also taking part in a school-wide reading challenge. I hope that all my students will learn to love reading this year. I have even donated our family collection of Archie comics to the school library so children can read something quick during morning care or their recess time. Our amazing school librarian Brigitte and I have talked at length about ways to get the students to fall in love with reading and read good books with rich vocabulary. I am going to start taking lots of different books to the class to encourage the children to pick up during the quiet reading time. We are going to try our best to get them away from graphic novels and encourage wonderful chapter books instead. My original plan was going to involve collaboration from the administration but I have not approached anyone yet.

We started the year off with a bang as we set a goal for reading 5000 pages in September. Most children thought it was an unattainable goal at first but we broke it down to about 225 pages a student. Everyone agreed to do their part for the class community. The looks on my students’ faces when they realized they had surpassed their goal by 12,000 pages were priceless.

Our November goal was to read 20,000 pages and the students have read over 54,000 pages.

All of my students are trying their best to read each night and contribute to our reading goals. Some students are reading hundreds of pages and some are reading 15-30 pages. I am happy that they are all reading. I hope the two reading challenges will help all my students become avid readers this year.

 

I am also reading novels aloud to my classes and using richer vocabulary in class daily. I am hopeful that vocabularies will expand and students will be talking about all the different books they are reading. I will keep repeating The more you read the more you learn and hope for the best. I will keep up my high expectations for reading and hope my students strive to meet those high expectations.

Reflecting with my students

I am finally writing about reflection. My students have had the chance to really reflect on their learning. The reflection process turned out to be very meaningful and empowering for my students. I introduced the activity by letting students know that I also stop and reflect on my teaching and learning twice a year with my Head of School. I explained that we all have areas we need to grow in, and it is good, to be honest about where our strengths and weaknesses lie.
Both of my classes were honest and open with their reflections and so many meaningful conversations took place. I had the opportunity to really get to know and understand my students on a different level. Shy and quiet students admitted on their papers that they don’t seek assistance from teachers when they need it. Students who were strong in the area of science and math opened up that reading and writing does not interest them too much. One student talked with me and let me know that he really has trouble getting his ideas into writing. The most powerful reflection came from a student that has had a difficult time getting along with classmates in the gym and at recess. I have been going the extra mile for this student for the last year and a half. She came up to me and showed me her sheet and pointed to the word flexible and told me how being flexible is so hard for her. We talked together and I told her that I would help her work in this area and she smiled the biggest smile.
I am so pleased with how this reflection went so smoothly with my students. They felt safe, to be honest, and open. Hopefully, this first reflection sets us on the right path with growth mindsets for a terrific year. Will I be doing ongoing reflection throughout the year? Absolutely!