Category Archives: Learning

It’s the Little Things

Over the past couple of years, I have often questioned my abilities as a teacher. I have had a lot of rough days and a few occasions where I wondered if I could ever do enough. I think we all end up in this place once in awhile because it is truly a job that never ends and could always be done better. However, I have also been trying to focus more on the little things that bring us joy as educators. There are, of course, many moments related to academic learning that are super special, but it’s not these moments that I find most meaningful and it’s not these moments that keep me in this profession. It’s those little things that are about relationships that really get to me…

paper-1100254_1920

  1. That smile from that kid who just needed someone to talk to at recess.
  2. “Can I give you a hug, Ms. B?”
  3. The moment a child finally opens up to you.
  4. An email from a parent thanking you for your understanding.
  5. That kid who comes to ask you about anxiety after a lesson on mental health.
  6. The student who feels safe enough to share that their grandfather passed away during morning meeting.
  7. “I know you get it, Ms. B. You understand.”
  8. Watching a child develop a new friendship.
  9. Parents who let you know that their child is happy to come to school.
  10. Returning after an absence to: “We missed you!”

There are a million moments that we could reflect upon because we truly do make a difference in the lives of kids. They matter. We matter. Relationships matter.

When we’re feeling down, we need to remember that it’s the little things that matter the most.

2017: A Year of Intention

Last year, I couldn’t choose just one word for the year, so I chose 3 words that would guide me to be my best self: Balance, Strength, and Relationships. I cannot say that it went smoothly… In fact, with some long awaited consistency in my vie quotidienne, it seems I finally had time to delve deep into my personal struggles. Rather than a year full of balance, it felt like a year full of self doubt, overwhelm, and frustration. Side note: I’m sure this is only in part due to my inability to choose a single word…

However, these words also led me to make a few decisions in 2016 for which I am grateful. They were changes that were not sudden, but had a positive impact over time.

  1. Starting a gratitude journal. For real this time. I have successfully expressed gratitude for something daily, in writing, for the past 8 months. This allows me at least one moment of release from my anxiety at the end of each day.
  2. Spending time in nature. I didn’t strictly adhere to my #photoaday2016 aspirations, but the project did allow me to become more mindful of the world around me. Allowing myself permission to take a trip to Maui over Spring Break helped renew my energy and positive attitude in ways I wasn’t expecting. More time exploring this beautiful province reminded how grateful I am to live here.
  3. Devoting more time to friendships. Some people just make your soul feel good. Time outside of our own head can be a good thing. Enough said.
  4. Renewing my love of physical activity. I took rowing lessons, signed up for a barre membership, and even attended a couple of yoga workshops. All of these things have helped me focus on staying healthy outside of the classroom so I can hopefully be healthier in the classroom.
  5. Being vulnerable. This one was much less conscious, but powerful nontheless. Sharing my struggles with colleagues, friends, students, and strangers has given me a sense of freedom I wasn’t expecting. It has allowed others to see me as a whole person rather than the shiny version that I have typically tried to present to the outside world. I am now in a place of heathy contemplation about what really matters in life.

best-nine-2016

@beverley.bunker #photoaday2016

As we head into another new year, I’ve been inspired by the idea of an intention for the year. The idea is that an intention guides us in our daily lives but is more fluid and organic than a specific goal. It can change with us as needed. So in 2017, my intention is to simplify.

I’m not sure what exactly that means yet… but I think that’s ok. I know it speaks to my heart. I believe it will help me be more intentional in my actions, my words, and my decisions. What more can we really ask of ourselves than that?  Intentionalilty is what makes a good teacher a great one.

Wishing you love and joy in 2017.

The Importance of Modeling

When I was explicitly teaching language every day in French Immersion, modeling was a no brainer. It’s how we developed oral and aural language skills as well as conceptual understanding in various curricular areas. I still use explicit modeling when teaching Core French because it has become second nature to me in a language context. However, lately I’ve been reminded of the importance of modeling in all areas of learning.

Kids – heck, all people – need to see others lead by example. This means modeling how to problem solve, how to make healthy choices, and how to be kind and compassionate. It means taking risks ourselves in order to show our kids that mistakes are not a bad thing. It also means being authentic… because kids know when we don’t mean it.

Social emotional learning is complicated; there are so many factors that influence our lives and those of our kids. It can sometimes be difficult to model compassion, patience, and empathy when we aren’t feeling particularly compassionate, patient, or empathetic. However, these are qualities that will help our kids grow up happy and healthy; help them build strong relationships. Society needs to stop assuming that kids “should know” how to be respectful or kind. If we don’t show them ourselves, how will they know what it looks like?

So be brave, make big mistakes, and model the reactions and strategies you want to see in our kids. We tend to fall back on behaviours that are most familiar… so let’s make kind, compassionate, and empathetic more familiar. And when we mess up, let’s admit it. Model honesty and resilience.

Searching for Truth & Reconciliation

For too long, Canadian history books have painted a euro-centric picture of colonization. For too long, we have ignored our collective history in favour of a charming perception of Canada as a kind, respectful, inclusive country where we protect human rights and freedoms. We have glossed over darkness and ignored the needs of those who have suffered. I feel fortunate to live now in this time of transition where we can all play a part in truth and reconciliation. BC’s redesigned curriculum is founded on the First People’s Principles of Learning, and yet there are so many questions for teachers to navigate…

What are the principles? Where can I learn more? How do I teach perspectives authentically and respectfully? Is it about tackling the tragic history of residential schools? Helping students see the value in not just tolerance, but acceptance and respect for diverse points of view? How do we address sensitive topics like religion and abuse (especially at the elementary level) while still being truthful?

The only thing of which I am convinced is that it is now about so much more than content.

IMG_20160303_092836250

This year, I have made an attempt to learn more. I’ve attended workshops, read stories, and most recently, heard Wab Kinew speak about how the residential school system has impacted his family. First hand accounts of the inter-generational effects of disconnection and abuse have made me reflect on everything from anger to compassion and forgiveness.

Recognizing my own ignorance, I have a pile of books waiting to be read, including Wab’s The Reason You Walk, and I have made an attempt to involve my students in my learning journey this year. We have explored picture books and kid-friendly biographies about attending residential school, which were a beautiful way to introduce the topic.

We’ve also increased our emphasis on place-based learning. Through weekly nature walks, we try to learn from nature rather than simply bringing learning outdoors. So far, we’ve explored geometry, patterns, human impact, and physical education.

While I do believe these are steps in the right direction – my students are genuinely engaged in the history of residential schools and wanting to learn more –  I don’t feel they are anywhere near enough. I know that I will never understand enough.

We can never make things right, but we can continue listening and seeking people’s truth. I only hope we can find the courage to admit our ignorance, acknowledge the tragedy of our collective past, and open our hearts to those who need to be heard. I am no expert, but I will continue seeking people’s truth, as I believe this is what will lead us to reconciliation.

Communicating Student Learning: My Personal Journey

Three years ago, I wrote a post entitled Why I Hate Letter Grades. I figure it’s about time I write an update on my adventures…

In the fall of 2013, one brave soul (@BronwenHowden) decided to join me in the ride that was our district’s Communicating Student Learning pilot. We were two teachers in one of five schools that term to design our own report card template. We jumped on board very quickly and fumbled our way through implementation in first term. It was a very sudden shift for the community and in hindsight, there are many ways we could have communicated more clearly. However, we learned a great deal, and by second term, we were using feedback from parent surveys and a focus group to make changes to our template. By third term, we were finally gaining confidence in our methods of communicating student learning. While we knew all along that we were working to design assessment that promoted growth and learning, it was finally becoming more widely accepted in our community and we had evidence from students to support the shift that had taken place.

6044586156_5ed2048f98

cc Photo Credit: liquidnight via Compfight

We continued revising and using our template the following year alongside digital portfolios with Fresh Grade and approximately 8 more teachers and tons more schools in the district. We felt our confidence grow as we were more able to articulate our rationale for the changes and more students and parents began to see the benefits of assessing in alternative ways. Parents having access to ongoing communication of learning via Fresh Grade was hugely beneficial, and we referenced these learning samples in our CSL anecdotal assessment. We decided to maintain this formal paper communication in addition to the portfolios throughout the year, as we had already changed a lot in a short period of time, and it put many parents at ease. However, we did make some significant changes to our template, such as removing formal reporting of individual subject areas (other than Literacy and Numeracy) in favour of more cross-curricular approaches to learning and including personalized learning plans for each student. We also focused on improving the quality of our ongoing communication with parents.

Bronwen and I came out of that second year feeling there was no way we could ever return to the “old ways” and confident we could now move away from report cards altogether. Although there were a million and one factors that influenced our decisions throughout those transitional years, there were five main principles consistently guiding our practice:

  1. Formative Assessment
  2. Competencies
  3. Student Conferencing
  4. Self-Assessment
  5. Ongoing Communication with Parents

Experiencing this transition as educators provided us with the time we needed to truly explore what quality assessment looked like in practice. Looking back, we can see that learning intentions and criteria guided all of our assessment, students were involved in the learning process through co-creation of criteria and regular self-assessment, and we were focused on developing competencies through content knowledge. We improved our communication with parents through the use of Fresh Grade, email updates, class blogs, social media, and conferences. One on one conferences with students lasting 15-20 minutes every term were invaluable. It was a lot of work – we had to completely rethink how we structured our days – but somehow it felt like less work than before, as it all became so much more meaningful. We knew our students’ strengths and challenges inside and out. Even more importantly, so did our students.

Now in a new school (and desperately missing my original partner in crime!), I have finally made the complete shift to communicating student learning through Fresh Grade. I don’t think anyone can argue that it is valuable to have regular updates about their child’s learning, but change will always be difficult. I remain focused on quality assessment in my use of Fresh Grade, as it is not really about the technology, but a shift in mindset.

18936012716_55e7e1e372_z

cc Photo Credit: SevenSeventyFive via Flickr

There are numerous Surrey Schools educators who have already put together guidelines about the what, why, and how of digital portfolios, so I will refer you to to their brilliant work. You can find links to many of them in Elisa Carlson’s blog post here. What I have done is put together a few key pieces of advice, educator to educator, for those who are moving toward ongoing communication of student learning for the first time:

  • Be transparent! Students and parents need to know what you are doing, why you are doing it, and how they can be involved. Let them know you are learning alongside them but also share resources to help them understand the transition. Ask them what they want and highlight connections between their input and best practice.
  • It’s all about the learning! If you are doing significantly more work than your students, STOP. Portfolios are not about including as much as humanly possible, but providing quality assessment of key learning throughout the year. Students should absolutely be involved in the process, no matter their age, and assessment should be moving their learning forward.
  • Learn to embrace change! Change is not meant to be comfortable but it should be meaningful. Don’t try to do the same thing in a new way; if you’ve committed to using portfolios or other alternatives to grades, you’ve committed to being a part of the change. It’s ok for your communication to look different… it should.
  • Be prepared to listen! Not everyone is ready for change at the same time. Focus on strengthening relationships by finding common ground. Actively listen to those who disagree with you. Take feedback for what it is – a learning opportunity. Remember that parents, teachers, and administrators all want what’s best for kids.
  • Find a partner in crime (or several)! Together, we are better. Collaborate. Share. Question. Collaborate some more. Support each other along the way.

I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to explore multiple ways of communicating student learning in my district. It’s been an amazing journey that I would not trade for anything. What are you doing to ensure quality assessment and communication of student learning?

CSL, Fresh Grade, and the draft BC curriculum provide me with so much flexibility in designing meaningful learning opportunities for my students. You can check out my visual presentation entitled “Redesigned Curriculum in Action” here as a sample of some things we do in Division 3.

Why My Comfort Zone is Not Important

Kids are amazing. Without fail, they exceed our expectations whenever given the opportunity to try something they’re interested in at school. Without fail, they step up to the plate and help each other learn in these instances so no one is left out. They usually do this when we have managed to shift their perspective of school from this thing they have to do every day to make it personally meaningful and relevant to their lives, passions, and curiosities.

This year, I’ve tried to have my kids learn things that make me uncomfortable. One example is coding. Not knowing where to start, we participated in the Hour of Code using tutorials from Khan Academy (available in French). The first experience was amazing for some and frustrating for others; however, they were all engaged in problem-solving and most were collaborating with a partner. Even though I know absolutely nothing about coding, I thought “Good, we tried it! I think we may do that again sometime.” What I learned 3 weeks later when we came back to it again was that the experience had sparked a passion in several of my students that I didn’t even know was there. One girl is pursuing coding daily in her spare time as part of her Genius Hour and thinks she may want to be a software developer. Another group of boys is trying to design their own video game using Scratch. How powerful is that? All because I was willing to give something that is outside my comfort zone a try.

It doesn’t take much effort, only a willingness to be the one without the answers. What have you tried with your kids lately that makes you uncomfortable?

20150425-124956-46196778.jpg

cc Photo Credit: Finn Vargas – Deviant Art

Oral Language – How and Why?

Oral language development is always a hot topic in French Immersion, or any second language classroom. I can’t count the number of times someone has said to me “I took French all through high school and can’t speak a word!” As a French teacher, there is nothing that makes me more sad or disappointed. What is the point of pursuing language learning if we can’t interact with anyone else?

20140204-211541.jpg

Photo Credit: illustir via Compfight cc

Often we mean well, but there is a lack of understanding about how students best learn a new language. I would like to share my strategies for developing confidence in oral language amongst my Late French Immersion students.

Identify the Learning Intention

If we are not clear about our objective as teachers, how will students know what they are supposed to learn? I’m not talking about vocabulary here, either; I’m talking about what we want our students to be able to do. Try structuring your intention in the form of an “I can…” statement. For example, “I can use passé composé to share what I did on the weekend.” This will help provide you with context in which you can teach the language structure.

Context

Vocabulary taught in isolation is almost never meaningful for students; it relies on memorization and is not representative of any authentic communication situation. Grammar in isolation can be even more troublesome; what is the point of knowing how to conjugate the past tense (passé composé) if we have no idea when or how to use it in a real-life situation? Focus on what students want to talk about in the past: their weekends, their vacations, or what they did before coming to school that day. These are meaningful learning opportunities because students are actually applying the language structure in an authentic way.

Model

This step is so key! Teachers must model the language structure they want their students to learn before they ask students to use it or write it down. This means providing multiple examples along with actions and/or visuals to help cue students’ vocabulary. Using a simple structure repeatedly in context is most effective. For example, I might point to what I am wearing when I say: “Je porte un chandail bleu. Je porte des pantalons noirs.” Obviously the structure you choose to model and practice depends on the level of your students; in our class, we often focus on a specific verb tense or expression (e.g. passé composé or “J’ai hâte pour…”) The key in modeling is to avoid translating in favour of contextual cues and to take reading out of the equation; that can be learned later once the structure is internalized.

Partner Practice

Once we have modeled a language structure in a meaningful context and supported our model with actions or visuals, we can move on to offering students the chance to practice. However, this should be done in a very structured way. I will often share my model and then ask students to share their own personal phrase with a partner. This allows them to practice in a safe way as it does not put them on the spot in front of the whole class.

Once students have practiced in partners, I model a question such as “Qu’est-ce que tu portes?” and call on anywhere from 1-5 students to answer the question. This is the time to correct any errors in the targeted structure.

Developing Independence

Have the class repeat the question, such as “Qu’est-ce que tu portes?” chorally to ensure correct pronunciation. Then allow them the independence to practice the question and answer format with their peers. Inside/outside circles is a strategy that works really well with most students. It allows me the opportunity to circulate and formatively assess students’ abilities very quickly and easily; it also gives students the opportunity to practice the same language structure multiple times to increase

Know When To Intervene… and When Not To

With new language Learners, it is very easy to become intimidated or anxious. While of course the purpose of structured oral language practice is to target specific language structures, we need to know when to intervene or correct and when fluency is more important. If passé composé is what I am modeling, then that is the structure I will openly correct in students’ communication. Correction of errors is necessary and important, but building confidence is even more important! Don’t forget that it’s ok to leave them to fumble through expressing their thoughts as well, as they are developing different skills at different times.

20140204-212312.jpg

Photo Credit: Kris Krug via Compfight cc

How Morning Meetings Have Transformed Our Learning

This year, for a variety of reasons, I decided to try morning meetings with my grade seven students. Every morning, we sit in a circle and one by one, we share how we are feeling that day. We rate our feelings on a scale of 1-10 and provide some reasons why we are feeling that way if we are comfortable doing so. This has been an incredibly powerful experience for me as an educator, as it provides us with dedicated time to listen to each other, builds trust within our classroom, and encourages students to take risks in sharing in a new language. It has also provided us with an avenue for oral language practice. Each day, we target a specific language structure. For example, Mondays are usually practicing past tense as we share what we did on the weekend and Fridays are a great opportunity to talk about “J’ai hâte…” It is amazing how many errors can be corrected when they are class learning intentions. Over time, students have become more comfortable correcting themselves and others as well. We are able to laugh about some of our mistakes while we develop common language understanding. Several initially shy students have come out of their shells during morning meetings! It’s been a wonderful experience that has greatly increased students’ confidence in French. I can no longer imagine not having morning meetings in our classroom.

I believe oral language development is essentially the most important skill we can help develop in our students. Without speaking and listening, they will always lack the ability to communicate meaningfully with others in real-life situations. By targeting specific language structures and modeling oral language on a regular basis, we can help our students open doors to new experiences.

20140204-211828.jpg

Photo Credit: bitzcelt via Compfight cc