Tuesday, 15 December 2015

5 favourite things

This is part of Peel 21st blog hop. The theme of this hop is our five favourite things.

1) Lost at School by Dr.Greene Ross

Though I have had a lot of favourite things this year my top one this year has to be Dr. Green's book, Lost at school. Learning about collaborative problem solving has been revolutionary; not only in my classroom management but with my personal parenting. CPS is an approach to managing all children. It is meant for those special friends we have but to be honest it works for all. Read more about this here.

2) Starr Sackstein: assessment books

If you have not read these books I highly recommend that you do. They discuss her journey as she has thrown out grades. This has been a big journey for me as I have really thought about why we need to have grades? What do they actually tell us? Do they really matter? These are the questions that I have been pursuing this year while I am attempting to not give any grades (except those mandated by the ministry). Check out the various books by Starr. The ones I refer too are: Teaching Students to Self Assess and Hack the Classroom: 10 ways to go gradeless in a traditional classroom.

3) Doctopus and Goobric

I know that many who read this blog or know me, know how much I love google. My main reason that pushes me to use it is the work flow possibilities. Doctopus and goobric allows me to push assignments to my students. It also allows me to differentiate for them by giving certain students one template and others another one. I can also attach this to goobric and give feedback right then and there within the assignments.  For more info click on this presentation I made.

4) Some of my favourite people on Twitter

This wouldn't be a favourite thing post without some amazing people to follow and share with. These people are some of the best educators that I have had the privilege to meet and talk to about everything and anything in education. There are many who I could have put here but these are just a few that I have had the privilege of interacting with. Of course there are also the amazing people in this blog hop who you should follow. All of them are amazing educators.

Matthew Oldridge (@MatthewOldridge)
Brian Aspinall (@MrAspinall)
Aviva Dunsiger (@avivaloca)
Peter Cameron (@cherandpete)
Rolland Chidiac (@Rchids)
Lisa Floyd (@LisaannFloyd)
Michelle Cordy (@cordym)

5) My Favourite Hashtags

Of course adding to following people is following amazing hashtags for learning. Here are a few of my favourite ones


These are just a few of my favourite things. To learn about more please look at the other amazing educators in this blog hop.



Jason Wigmore:

Jim Cash:

Tina Zita:

Pam Taylor:

Thursday, 3 December 2015

The power of a debrief

"An activity is just an activity unless you have a debrief!"

This was from a wise colleague of mine and what sparked this post.  I often hear in my many conversations about math that it is all about the kids voice and though I really agree with this statement I also disagree. I disagree because the role of a teacher is even more critical in Inquiry than any other time.

The act of inquiry, though innate in many of us, is not really that natural. Sure we wonder but often it stops at finding answers. We often need guidance to take any of our inquiries further, the same applies to our kids.

For inquiry to have a impact on our students we as teachers need to be planning thoughtful and critical questions to guide them through the learning.  This also includes a thoughtful and engaging debrief or consolidation phase.

This is the most critical part of any lesson. It is where the teacher really shines. Because you have planned and thought through kids learning, development and possible misconceptions you are able to guide the learning that you have seen in the lesson so far.

A debrief can be any length (a lot depends on kids and age). The key though is that as a teachers you are helping kids make connections to the big ideas and thoughts you planned or saw unfold in your lesson.  It is the place where you are purposefully guiding students through their tall and strategies. Students still have a voice but yours is the one that is really speaking.

Here are some of my consolidations.

I know for myself that I can tend to forget to debrief the learning but I have to remember "that an activity is just an activity without a consolidation."

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Let me Google that for you

This post has been in the works for quote some time.  In fact it started with a conversation with my good friend Michelle Cordy in China on a high speed train.

We were joking about a tweet on downloading youtube clips on chrome and I tweeted that I found this on google. This was then replied with: did you just let me Google that. My reply was yes.

This is a conversation that we are having more and more as the power of technology grows. Our students have in their hands a whole universe of knowledge and this is just what they are doing. Can you blame them?

However, just googling it is so much more and this was were Michelle ' s and I conversation went. When I google I don't just let the first response dictate the information I use, I don't just keyword something and believe the information, I curate.

The funny thing is curate means to be a priest in charge (a fact I didn't know till today and yes google told me this); however, to:

curate something (especially on the Internet) to collect, select and present information or items such as pictures, video, music, etc. for people to use or enjoy, using your professional or expert knowledge.

When I search for information for friends or myself I use Google but I collect and select carefully. It isn't just any information that I use but ones that I feel are important for my research.

So how does this relate to today's classroom. Lately I have heard a lot of fear that we are raising a society that jusy google and that is not good enough. My fear isn't that I am raising kids who google but that we are raisin kids to memorize and not critically think about the facts they consume.

Information isn't like it was when we were kids, even when our parents were kids. Information is rapidly changing. In my lifetime I have used encyclopedias (book form), to digital Cds, to having it at my finger tips. Information changes so quickly that we have new phones every Six months. The information we are giving our kids will not serve them when they head into the work force. What will is being able to critically think and search for that information.

So I am fine that my students are googling, in fact they should be because my assessment and learning doesn't depend on the facts they find but how they use those facts. Googling is a tool that our kids should learn how to use. They should be curators of data and learn how to search, find, and use the data that is at their finger tips.

What do you think? Love to hear your thoughts.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

The Best Learning Moment this Fall: Peel21st Blog hop

I often wonder why I do the things I do? I know it is a question that many of us teachers ask ourselves. We are often in isolation and we often never get to see the same kids twice in a row. Well today was a validation moment.

One of our teachers came told me today that he had was having a discussion with one of my former students about multiplication.

The discussion went something like this:

Teacher: "multiplication is doing repeated addition."

Students: "That is not what, Mr.So told me."

Teacher: "What do you mean?"

Student: "Multiplication is using groups and when you are doing repeated addition you are not unitizing but adding."

This was in a grade 4 classroom and I taught the student in grade 2 when she was starting to learn multiplication. I have always tried my best to show the mathematics in everything that we teach. I know that many students may not get it right then and there but I expose them to language and big ideas as much as possible. For me it will allow students to understand later on as they develop the skills.

Now as I said before I have always wondered if what I do is correct but when I see that my students retain and then prove their thinking based on what I taught two years later, it does make me feel good, as well as, validate how I teach and why.

This is just one small moment this fall. In fact it was quite hard to think of the BEST learning has this year has been a whirlwind of learning but thought this was just one of those stories that make you smile.

What has been your best moment?

This post is one of many that are participating in Peel21st blog hops. If you want to read more check out these amazing

Are we reluctant to share?

Are we scared to share? Do we often feel like what we have to say isn't worth reading? I know that I do. But we have to remember that what may seem as silly to us is often not for others.

It reminds me of this video that I have seen numerous times: 

I was reminded of this a couple of days ago when I reluctantly posted this post on "What does it mean to be a Teacher?"

I say reluctantly because I wasn't too sure about the topic. I mean I loved the idea, it is why I decided to write but I wasn't too sure if anyone else would have cared, or even wanted to read it. It was more of a reflection or response to the comments I was hearing about our profession of teachers. However, I decided to post and the next day a good colleague David Petro posted my blog on his daily Math Reviews (on a side note if you are not following David or reading his weekly blog you are missing out). The funny thing was my post wasn't even about math but on what it means to be a teacher.  It did comment on teaching being more than telling, which I often think this is the preconceived notion of a teacher and why many think they can do our job but I digress.  The fact was that David saw something in my post and then felt the need to share it. Even though I didn't think that the ideas were decent someone else did. 

To be honest I think that as a profession of teachers we all have amazing ideas and need to share them. We only get better by reflecting and learning from one another. So if you ever feel like your ideas don't matter remember that an idea that may seem trivial to you, may not be for someone else. If you don't share that knowledge or thought than you are depriving the profession of some amazing ideas. 

So I encourage you all as teachers, readers, parents get out and blog, Share your amazing ideas and connect with amazing people. And a big thank you to David for reminding me about this.

5 Best Things that I have done this Year

This year I started a new grade and even a new division, grade 6. On top of this I have decided to do a lot of things differently. I have thrown out grades completely, I have no desks, I have gone 95% digital with my classroom, collaborative problem solving and I wanted to turn my grade 6 middle school classroom into a place of inquiry and learning. As the year has progressed I have gained more and more confidence in my decisions.  I am close to my 200 limit here but let me briefly share with you what those decisions have looked like.

1) Throwing out grades: 

In the past I have done this for the most part but this year I have not given one grade to a child. Instead, I have written monthly reports or updates about students strengths and weaknesses. Students have then written down what they think their strengths and weaknesses are and next steps for improvement. This goes home to parents (well actual in their drive). Students are more engaged, they ask questions not about marks but what they can do better. I have students who are now conferencing with me without my prompts. It has been great.

2) I have no desks: 

As part of making my space inquiry driven and "play-based" I have no desks, just work stations. Kids choose where they want to sit. The carpet, desks, under desk, wherever they feel comfortable to work. This has given me more freedom to worry about the learning. Kids have also become more independent as they have learned to move where they will be getting work accomplished not just with their friends.

3) Going Digital: 

I honestly keep forgetting the photocopy code. But having google drive it has allowed me to open the classroom walls and share every file with my students. They want a note or homework taken up its there. Want to share a video with parents, its there. No more paper, no more mess all online.

4) Collaborative Problem Solving: 

I have been blogging about this for quite some time and I am in no way an expert but this has single handily been the best thing that I have done this year. For those that are unfamiliar with CPS, it is basically working together to get our difficult kids to not be difficult. I started it because my daughter is one of those difficult kids. It is not because she wants to be or because we have really bad parenting but because she doesn't know how and needs help to learn it. This year I have done it with certain kids and the whole class and I really don't have problems in the classroom. I don't have to be the mean, strict, yelling teacher but one that can talk to my kids and work through a solution. Just a fair warning CPS like any method is not a immediate fix. It will take time but it is time well worth it.

5) Inquiry in a Middle School

Some may think this isn't possible but again another great moment. My kids are driven to work on projects because they care. I have gotten some of the best writing and learning from them all because of inquiry and allowing them to invest in a big idea versus checking off curriculum. The funny part, all curriculum is done.  Now if you have been reading my blog I absolutely love inquiry but I have often heard that it is hard to do in middle school. I would like to challenge that notion as it has been amazing.
Take a look at these writing samples (please remember that my kids are all ELL): https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B_euA7pkOAyXeERZTnMyNjd3ZU0&usp=sharing 

What has been some of your best things that you have done this year?

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Can we truly have a student led lesson?

My students hard at work on a class project. Focus: Why do people Come to Canada?

I have heard these terms (student led and Student choice) being used and it has started to make me do some thinking. My biggest problem that I am having is if we as teachers are making detailed and thoughtful lessons, can we truly have student led lessons?

Now I know I may be questioning or going with the flow but, hear me out. I understand that as teachers we need to have the voice and ideas of the students at heart of our lessons. Teaching is no longer about the wise old sage on the stage giving all of their knowledge to their students. but should be more about facilitating the learning that is happening. If that is what you mean by student led then I am all for that. However, let me push some thinking more here.

In the last three years I have been highly influenced by Stein et al. article titled: Orchestrating Productive Mathematical Discussions: Five practices for helping teachers move beyond show and tell.  In this article they showcase five practises that all teachers should be doing.

11: Anticipation (P.322)
The first thing is for the teacher to look and see how students might mathematically solve these types of problems.  In addition, teachers should also solve them for themselves.  Anticipating students’ work involves not only what students may do, but what they may not do.  Teachers must be prepared for incorrect responses as well.

2: Monitoring students' work (P. 326)
While the students are working, it is the responsibility of the teacher to pay close attention to the mathematical thinking that is happening in the classroom.  The goal of monitoring is to identify the mathematical potential of particular strategies and figure out what big ideas are happening in the classroom.  As the teacher is monitoring the students work, they are also selecting who is to present based on the observations that are unfolding in the classroom.

3: Selecting student work (P.327-328)
            Having monitored the students, it is now the role of the teacher to pick strategies that will benefit the class as a whole.  This process is not any different than what most teachers do; however, the emphasis is not on the sharing, but on what the mathematics is that is happening in the strategies that were chosen. 
4: Purposefully sequencing them in discussion (P. 329)
With  the students chosen, it is now up to the teacher to pick the sequence in which the students will present.  What big ideas are unfolding, and how can you sequence them for all to understand?  This sequencing can happen in a couple of ways: 1) most common strategy, 2) stage 1 of a big idea towards a more complex version or 3) contrasting ideas and strategies.

5: Helping students make mathematical sense (P.330-331)
As the students share their strategies, it is the role of the teacher to question and help  them draw connections between the mathematical processes and ideas that are reflected in those strategies.  Stein et. al. suggest that teachers can help students make judgments about the consequences of different approaches. They can also help students see how the strategies are the same even if they are represented differently.  Overall, it is the role of the teacher to bridge the gap between presentations so that students do not see them as separate strategies, but rather as working towards a common understanding or goal of the teacher.

If we follow these practise as teachers we are thinking about good contexts that will create huge discussion in our classrooms. We are anticipating results and answers so that we as teachers can ask the right questions at the right time. We are planning and sequencing work so that the end results end up close to the Big Ideas that we were hoping to accomplish and we as teachers are prodding, questioning and revoicing so that the Big ideas are brought to the students attention. Finally, we then create similar problems so that students have the opportunities to try these ideas out again.

Now I know that this article is a math article but these practises can be and should be for all subjects. So if we follow this line of thinking, who is really leading the lessons? Is it the students? or is it the teacher? If we as teachers are putting in this much thinking and planning do we truly have student led or based lessons? or is it because we have put all of this planning into our lessons that students feel that the lesson is student based and that is really all that matters?

Love to hear your thoughts.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Global Awareness Projects: Grade Six

I have started a new grade this year and moved up to six. Its been a lot of fun. The social studies curriculum in six has the students learning two things: 1) Global Issues and how Canada and other countries deal with them and 2) The Canadian Identity and the various parts that have made it up. 

My teaching partner and I felt that Global Issues might be to big of a topic to start with as many of our students don't really know what happens beyond their neighbourhood. However, we decided to start broad, then go closer to home and eventually go back out to the world. We felt that the students needed to understand various problems that are out in the world to than see how the world has impacted us as Canadians. 

To do this we developed a Global Awareness project. The students had to pick a global issue in the world and research.  They had to figure out what the issue was and why we should care about it. I knew that being August (we are a balance calendar and teach in August) my students wouldn't have a lot of research back ground so we also turned it into a unit to learn how to research and write smaller reports. 

The focus of the centers was on asking critical questions, taking jot notes and writing paragraphs. Students also had to create short movie trailers for their global issues. 

Once this was done students wrote a mini report about their global issue. Here is their writing: https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B_euA7pkOAyXeERZTnMyNjd3ZU0. 

It has been amazing because I was able to team up with Peter Cameron from Thunder Bay and Barb VanHatten from Lakehead University. Together the two of them have been giving feedback through the ConnectED project that Peter started. 

My students have loved the impact that their writing has done and they have loved the real feedback, instead of just my thoughts to them. 

We plan to revisit these global issues again at the end of November and revise the learning that has happened from their other units. Please remember that these projects where their first attempts at writing longer report writing pieces and making videos. 

Just thought I would share this project and if you have any thoughts or feedback for my students please message away, they would love it.

Friday, 30 October 2015

My journey with Collaborative Problem Solving

It has been two month since I started my journey with community circles and just over three using it with my own daughter and it has been amazing.

For those that are new to reading this blog post in August I was introduced to Dr Green's book, explosive child and lost at school. His book mentions many strategies to deal with trouble students. He calls for collaborative problem solving model. It is a model that works both on solving the problem but teaching students the skills to change their behaviours. The book predominately deals with those "troubled" students; however the more I read the more I realized that this strategy is best for all students and so my journey began.

At least once a week we as a class have a community circle. In this circle we discuss how the week has gone and if any problems have occurred. At times we have spent more it all depends on what is needed and how severe the problems are.  It has allowed my students to feel like they are a part of the classroom and have a place inside of it. When I say that they are in charge of their learning it is true they are and they know it.

Community circles have also given me a time to voice my concerns in a positive manner. If something was bothering me as a teacher I can address it. Now you may say can't you do that anyways and the answer would be yes but now its not me lecturing and telling them but voicing a concern that I have. Because I have let them tell me their issues, they have more respect for mine. In addition to this we as a class solve them and it isn't just me lecturing them about what I expect.

At home my daughter's episodes have calmed down. She has now been able to communicate her feelings. I get more "Daddy, I am tired and need to rest!" or "Daddy, I am getting hungry can I please have a snack?" At the same time, my partner and I are able to recognize certain situations or her triggers. We avoid those situations so that her episodes don't happen. 

If you haven't read this book or started Community Circles and Collaborative Problem Solving I highly recommend that you too. It will change your practise and your life. 

What does it mean to be a teacher?

In Ontario we are currently in a work to rule situation  we haven't had a contract in over a year and it doesn't seem to be getting any better. 

Whenever we are in contract negotiations it is always lovely to hear how everyone feels about the profession (being sarcastic here). The problem is I am not too sure why? I mean I understand what people see, two months off as kids have breaks in the year, our job is seen as baby sitting and anyone can teach. This is especially true if you follow the saying those that can't do, teach. However, teaching is so much more.

I know that I am preaching to the choir about this as most of my readers here are teachers but it is nice to be reminded about all the great things that we do as professionals.

1) Teachers take their job seriously:

Teachers take their job seriously. I have not met a teacher who does not stay up late marking, is in to school early to plan and stays late for school concerts and meet the parents. I know that many of you may think that this is part of the job description but it is not.  I also know that all teachers are here for students success. This means that we will do whatever it takes to make a student successful.  Buying books, buying school supplies or even supplying lunches from our own money is not out of the possibilities. Many teachers put their own families second behind that of the school and students. Teachers are always the constant learner. They want to do better and will because it makes their students better.

You know this is true because no matter what your story is presently you have had that one teacher who has made a difference in your life.

2) Teachers are more than babysitters:

There is more to my job than babysitting. Yes I watch 25-30 young students but I don't just give them an activity to pass the time. A good teacher motivates, they encourage and they teach. This brings me to my next point.

3) There is more to teaching then tell kids what to do:

Teaching is a gift. As much as we all think we may be able to teach, to truly teach a skill it takes more than telling students information. Real teaching takes planning, understanding what motivates and how students learn. Learning is a developmental process (though I know many may argue with this) but learning takes time. It takes a teacher to know that development so that they move students a long a continuum of learning.  When a student is stuck, it takes a teacher to know where they are stuck and how they can help them. It takes a teacher to know in what way a child may learn best. It takes a teacher to know how to show the information to get the best out of their students.  For example, this year I was able to go to China to help teachers learn about Problem Based Learning. I was given a class of 30 students, who I had never met and spoke little English. We were expected to have them ready to be showcased in 3 days in front of 1000 teachers. If teaching was just about reciting knowledge then I wasn't needed but it took my teaching partner and myself real teaching to get them to understand the physics of flight.

A teacher knows when and how to scaffold information, they know how where a child needs help and when to help.

4) Teaching should be an honoured profession:

I have no idea when teaching became a disdain on society here in North America. I understand that the grass is always greener on the other side and what teachers have as a contract may not be the same as the rest of the world but teaching should be an honoured profession. Teaching is the only profession that trains all other professions. We as a profession see children and raise them the same amount of time as their own parents.

Yes I am a teacher, Yes I have a bias but never have I thought that education, and teachers are not worth the money that we pay them. Teachers have a hard job, they have worked hard for the job they have and deserve the respect for it.

So as labour negotiations head into a critical weekend think about your child's teacher or teachers in general. Thank them for what they do and who they are.

If you are a teacher keep your head up high and remember that you are amazing.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Love every student

I still remember my associates teacher words in teachers college, love every student. I know its simple but it is also hard to follow up on sometimes.

Now I am not saying that as teachers we don't, we all came into this profession because we love kids but I also know that as the year goes on there are students that can just bug or irritate us just so and we cannot wait to the year ends.

Lately I have been reading some books by Dr Greene Ross, the explosive child and lost at school. This has been mainly because of my daughter who I know is one of those kids that by the end of the year we just can't wait to have a break from. I mean I want that break and she is my kid. However, as I have been reading my daughter has a lot of lagging social skills that need to be developed. We all know that ALL kids want to be good.

Take a look at this sheet.

It was developed by Dr. Greene to help identify the types of problems that a child may have. This is the first step to Plan B as he calls it.

Plan B is where you collaboratively with the students to solve problems. Once you identify the problems you can then start the empathy stage. Here you seek the students perspective. It is important that we do not force our perspective. At this stage we are just hearing the child out. It is also important to note that this stage may take time. Many kids are not familiar with being asked what they think is up. Once you identify the concern, re-voice to see if it truly is the problem. Then state your concern and seek help to solve it. The last note is that this does take time but in the end you save time because you are solving problems.

This year I plan to do this with my whole class and have a whole class collaborative problem solving period every week and maybe more if we need it. 

I think about all of the students that I have had in the past and how even though I thought I was talking it was me telling. So as you start your week out, getting to know your students academically don't forget the social side. Remember that ALL students want to be good just many don't know how.

Monday, 24 August 2015

That chaotic student....

We have all had them. The one student we often tread, the one we are always on pins and needles waiting for something to happen......

.....The problem is that student has turned into my daughter and I have had a paradigm shift (a huge one). Its amazing how these shifts happen when you can closely relate too the problem.  

Let me introduce you to Izzy. Izzy is one of the most enthusiastic, funny, entertaining and joyful kid you will ever meet; unless she is having a melt down.  It feels like I am in constant Jekyll and Hyde movie. One day she is amazing and the next its a melt down. Izzy hasn't always been like this and yes she is five and still learning social skills but these melt downs are a lot different than normal. 

Now you may be thinking why am I writing this post and no it is not to vent and get some thoughts out (though this is quite therapeutic). Because of Izzy my partner and I have been doing a lot of reading and thinking. 

Lately I picked up a book called "The Explosive Child" by Dr. Rosse Green. 

I will admit that I am only a third of the way through this book but it has already changed my thinking about dealing with children that have these explosive tendencies. 

When we first had to deal with Izzy we dealt with her as I did most of my students, hard nose and draw the line. I mean it worked quite well for the most part with many students in my classroom.  It is also what most parents and our own told us. Be firm, she just needs to know where the line is. This of course would pretty much work in the classroom. I mean occasionally, I would have blow-ups or there was always that one student but I chalked that up for being those rare occasions where you get that student. I never thought that it was me or what I was doing; until Izzy. Of course this hard nose approach didn't work with my daughter and it ended up making it worse. We had more severe blow ups and it just ended up making my partner and I more and more frustrated. 

Reading this book as made me see that my daughter has a problem with thinking and communicating when in highly frustrating situations. Now you may all think don't we all and that statement is true but we also have learned adaptive skills to help us cope and these particular students have not.  I mean when I first heard this I too had my doubts, as far as I know there is no real diagnosis for this but seeing this first hand makes me want to bring this more to the attention of others. 

As I am reading this book I cannot help but think that my own classroom management strategies have been misguided. I have always felt that a firm hand is needed for most if not all students. Draw a line that students know where it is and you won't have problems. To be honest this works for most kids but what about the ones that it doesn't.  What about Izzy? I have seen the impact it has on her. She doesn't like school anymore (yr 1). She had a hard time making friends. The teachers (bless there hearts) where drained and tired (as we were as parents). It was a tough go for her as I am sure it is for many.

Now it is important to note that Dr Greene mentions that if all is fine then normal classroom management and parental skills still work and will work. But when you have many unsolved problems and run into walls it is time to rethink, for both you and the child.

The book has three plans: 

1) Hard nose and see where it goes

2) Collaborative Problem Solving: Where you work with the child to solve problems together. This is the one that he recommends and the one that to be honest has had the greatest impact. 

3) Dropping some expectations so that you can work on the important ones. This strategy has been working at times but it is a strategy that we use to get to the bigger problems and deal with them in a collaborative way.

I am only writing this post because I cannot help but think and fear how Izzy is going to do in her school life. She has already had a rough first year and not at the fault of the teachers she had. We have had amazing teachers who have only had Izzy's best interest at heart. I mean Jen and I do too but we still have our difficulties and we still struggle with dealing with her. We all have these kids in our classrooms and many of us may feel just as helpless as my wife and I. 

Hopefully this post may shift some thinking for you and if it does I would recommend that you read this book. It isn't just about parenting but also has many connections to our teaching and classroom management.

Any thoughts feel free to leave them here, love to read them. 

Monday, 27 July 2015

What it is Like to be an ELL Learner?

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be an ELL learner in your classroom?

For me I would have to say I never really have.  Not that I haven't thought about how I could help but that the perspective has always been from the other side. Me the English learner, teaching English with good pedagogy. But never really with the lense of what it was like to receive a foreign language.

I will have to say I have never experience life as an ELL learner until I was in China. I mean I knew what it was like to be a teacher of ELL students, I know the pedagogy and the approaches that I need to do in order to engage and help my ELL students but I have never felt what it was like to be one until two weeks ago.

It is probably safe to say that the majority of us in North America as teachers can say the same thing as I did just above. Born and raised as an English speaker, in an English country I have never known what it was like to not understand the language around me. Well that changed dramatically when I went to China for the Global Education Summit.

Even though this summit was a Global Education Summit it was predominantly meant for Chinese teachers so it was predominantly or pretty much all in Chinese. In addition to this our interpreters didn't understand English that well and there was not enough of them to go around for all of the English speaking teachers.

This meant that I spent the majority of my day listening to the cadence and rhythm of random words and sounds. Though it was pretty and every now and then I picked up a word or two it was quite frustrating and often times I tuned out and wasn't engaged in the conversation. I mean why would I want to be when all I heard was the Charlie Brown teacher. WanWAA WANAA

This was quite a frustrating experience. My brain was able to comprehend what was going on but I wasn't able to communicate all of my thoughts in a manner that was acceptable to the audience I was talking too.

To help with this there was a lot of hand gestures, asking questions, visual cues, lot of review of english and Chinese, repeated practise or listening and talking, etc. But in the end many of times I was just bored and lost interest.

This got me thinking about my own classroom. Is this how my students feel? Is this what they are going through as they learn a new language?

In my head I was thinking no way, my classroom is amazing! but to be honest it is most likely the reality that many of my students have just tuned me out.  Can you blame them? It is a lot of work to listen intently, to try and pick up words that you think have meaning. I mean I wanted to learn, I wanted to be there, I wanted to participate but I just didn't know what was happening. Even with translators it was hard work and after a day of it my brain wanted to explode.

I know as teachers we do amazing things in the classroom to engage our ELL learners but it was truly humbling to be in the other shoe ( so to say) and really shifts your paradigm and perspective on your own classroom.

What do you do in your classroom to help engage the ELL learner? What strategies do you find work best? 

This post s more of a umm...I never thought about this. I have more questions than answers but wanted to put this thought out there. I would love to hear your ideas and thoughts.

Global Education Summit: China 2015

This has been a well over due post but after two weeks away from my family, they were my first priority.

This summer I was given the opportunity to go to China for their Global Education Summit (GEC2015). Basically, the Chinese are embarking on a path of discovery and trying to analyze good teaching practises. Professor Guoli Lang decided to bring Project Based Learning to Chinese Classrooms. In order to do so he started a GEC community three years ago with teachers from the United States, Finland, Australia, Singapore and now Canada. He has also teamed up with Ann Lieberman from Stanford University who was the person to bring my teammate Michelle Cordy and myself, along a with two teachers from Butler University and Lab school in the States.

As I stated the point of the conference was bring Project-based Learning to China. This was a totally new experience for many of the Chinese Teachers; even after three years the teaching that the other GEC countries brought was a total new phenomenon.

The conference lasted two weeks, during which time we were asked to develop a project on Flight or bridges and then model a lesson from that unit. We were given three days to meet and greet with our students and then 75 minutes to teach the lesson, which was broadcasted over a huge screen to about 200 teachers.

The first day was a little rough as I was still getting over jet lag and being 12 hours ahead of everyone. However, during this day we got to see parts of the school and I was able to play some sports with the kids on the play ground. There is nothing in the world that can put a smile on a Teachers face then being with students. I know that many of you understand, there is no word to describe it but one of the biggest learning moments I had is no matter where you are in the world kids are kids.

I absolutely loved the atmosphere of the schools that we were at. The first school was in Beijing. Supposedly it was the number one school in the whole city but that aside, even though in a gated community it had a welcoming vibe. I say parents and kids coming and going and doing all of these amazing activities together.  The Chinese value good physical education and culture in their programs. There is a lot of facilities for activities and the students even learn the culture of serving tea.  

They have three wings a K-1 wing, 2-3 wing and a junior wing. Also in the school are various cultural and physical spaces. I saw at least two band rooms, with numerous practise spaces. Some of the classrooms became specialist music rooms as well. For example there was a room dedicated to violins and one for a cello. They had a ballet section as well as the whole outside was for sports (basketball, football, volleyball, track and a jungle gym).  From what I have seen and heard there seems to be a really good balance between school, the arts and physical education; then again students go to school for a long time each day so it is a little bit easier to fit that into their schedule.

Before I knew it I had a huge line of students. In fact they asked if I was the new Volleyball Coach.

Library Reading area
Hallways of the School
Tea Classroom
Music Room and Band
More from the Library

The school from the outside

The only thing that I was not a fan of was the differences in classrooms. The picture above is the American classroom. Students sit in groups there is paper and "stuff" all over the wall. It is a visual nightmare. The Chinese classroom are all in rows with very little visual, in fact nothing except for the socialist tenets and rules of the school.  It made me reflect on my own space and how effective the "scholasticy" posters are (Caveat: I have nothing against scholastic. I use that name as a verb to describe all store bought posters).  I have been thinking about this for a while but I wonder how effective these posters really are. Sure they make our rooms look pretty and full of information but do the students really view them? If we just put them up on the wall and never refer to them then what good are they? (Caveat: I know that many teachers use these posters quite effectively and they do have great content on them.) All I am really trying to question is the purpose for our posters. Is it to make our room look amazing and special or is it for educational purposes? For me I would rather see student generated success criteria, performance rubrics, and student work samples on the bulletin boards.

The school in HangZhou was even more artistic. They had a sculptures yard, outdoor playgrounds, ponds and a track in the middle. Quite an amazing design.  

Makes me think about our own school design and classroom design. What can we do to make it more inviting? What can we do to make it a true learning space? What is a true learning space? What makes it a learning space?

Sorry a lot more questions than answers. 

However, back to the teaching.  We finally got to our Demo's and it was really great to see all of the teachers in action. Here are some of my thoughts:

First I want to start off by saying that no matter which group was teaching it was interesting to see some commonalities between all three. 1) the interaction with students is a key for problem based learning. In all three groups the teachers spent time talking to students, working closely with them, giving them feedback and helping them to improve. 2) Kids are kids. In all three groups the same behaviours that I would witness in my classroom in Brampton happened here. Kids are kids and they are just happy to be learning. They want to talk, they want to feel honoured and they want to have fun. 3) Good pedagogy is good pedagogy. In all three classrooms there was wait time, good questions and a reflection process.

Here are my thoughts on the Chinese group:

The Chinese teachers designed a ball launcher. It was interesting to see how even though they had three teachers in the classroom, each one work as a separate unit. The teachers seem to have specific roles to play. Afterwards I found out that they actually do. There was the Chinese teacher, the math teacher and the physics teacher.  Each of them were looking for different things and taught different parts of the lesson. Where I do think that specialty teachers have their place I would rather have teachers know their content super well and be able to teach it effectively than having three teachers out of sync with one another. The best world would be where these teachers could teach together fluidly, which would serve the best interest of the students.

Here are my thoughts on the American and Finnish Teachers:

I loved the connections that the teachers made with each student. They knew who and what each students was. This connection is very important because it makes the students feel that they are honoured and feel important. This may not have any statistical value but it does have quantitative value.  We were given three days to work with these students in order to bring the best out of them. Having a good connection and making them feel honoured is key to this success. These students did amazing work and I attribute this to being the key to success. I was also amazed at all of the good teaching pedagogy: the scaffolding, the good thinking questions, student voice, and observations where tremendous.

Overall, good teaching is still good teaching no matter where you are in the world. Kids need many things to be successful. Scaffolding, clear expectations, clear assessment and honouring their voice. I was truly honoured when they asked the students what did they learn and they said: 

"that learning can be fun, mistakes are okay as long as you are learning, and that they have a voice and ideas."

This is really what our kids want, they want to know that they matter. When they feel that they matter, they will learn and do amazing things for you as a teacher. We had three days to get students who spoke very little English to basically perform and learn about flight the biggest key was making them see the value in learning; of course also tied into amazing teaching pedagogy and learning.

Need I say that this was quite an interesting experience. However, in the end meeting some great people from Finland, the United States and Australia was truly remarkable and the best part of my two weeks. Take a look at all of the photos: https://plus.google.com/+JonathanSoMrSo/posts/MAi31hCZrBS.