Monday, 9 February 2015

My One Little Word - Confident

My One Little Word (OWL) for 2015...drum roll, please...is..."confident"!

I came about this word fairly quickly during the last two weeks of 2014.

I started by making a list.

The first word on that list was "confident". Then, came a stream of words and short phrases - assertive, confidence, be myself, just do it!, health, communication, exercise, and change. My methodical but slow search for the perfect OLW for 2015, made me realize that the word "confident" addressed or subsumed all the other words on my list quite nicely.

In order to be assertive and stand up for myself, I need to be confident in my professional abilities and expertise. That way I can speak eloquently for whatever I want to accomplish in my job.

In order to focus on my health during 2015, such as exercising more, I need to be confident that I can develop a daily 30 minute exercise routine, whatever shape or form that happens to take.

In order to be myself, I need the confidence to trust in whatever gifts I can bring to the table and that these gifts will be welcomed by others. This last self-knowledge has always been hard for me; it's connected to communicating what I want and need in my personal and professional relationships.

"Just do it!" and "Be myself" are really about the same thing - going after what I want and deserve rather than sitting on the sidelines waiting for it to be delivered to me. An administrator once said, "If you want something, go after it. Don't expect others to come to you. It doesn't work that way."

After I chose my OLW, I searched for a dictionary definition of confidence and found the following three definitions - (1) the feeling or belief that one can rely on someone or something; firm trust; (2) the state of feeling certain about the truth of something; (3) a feeling of self-assurance arising from one's appreciation of one's own abilities or qualities. Of these three definitions, the third one was the one that resonated the most with me. My dirty little secret, according to my family, is that I don't have a full appreciation for my own abilities and expertise. In fact, I am in awe of people who seem to have this quality or at least pretend that they do. In the big scheme of things, is there a difference between the two? I read somewhere that "if you act as if", then that "acting" will become reality.

Therefore, a focus on building my "confidence" in 2015 will mean taking risks with the knowledge that if I want something, I better go after it. No one is going to give it to me on a silver platter.

Maybe 2015 will be the year that I focus on writing that professional book that has been incubating inside me for years? Who knows? The only way I will know is to confront my fears with confidence and grace.

There! I said it! Wish me luck.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Genius Hour

Four weeks ago I implemented Genius Hour with my grade seven students. As is wont to happen when I implement something new in the classroom, I read and think about it a lot before I finally do it. But, that doesn't necessarily mean I have a well-thought out plan for how I'm going to do something! It's more of a skeleton of what we're going to do and depending on how my students respond - I am rarely prepared for what they will say or do no matter how long I've been teaching - I will make modifications as we go along.

In order introduce Genius Hour to my class, we viewed a couple of motivational videos of Caine's Arcade. Then, we talked about finding something you are passionate about and using Genius Hour to work on that interest. In my eyes, this was enough to launch the first Genius Hour work session, so the week following the Caine's Arcade videos the kids got to work on their Genius Hour projects. I would address any unforeseen events or problems as they presented themselves.

On the first Genius Hour class day, I was surprised that so many of my students had come to school with a fairly good idea of what they wanted to do. Some had even brought materials for creating an Iron Man suit! However, even though they were enthusiastic and got to work right away, I felt uneasy. Shouldn't I have them prepare and plan their projects before they start working on them? Shouldn't they pitch their project to the class and me, first? Shouldn't I approve their projects before they start working on them? Shouldn't I put a limit on how many students work together? What should I be doing while the kids are working? How much should I probe? How much should I just stand back and watch? How can I be sure they are learning anything of value, including the mandated standards and benchmarks for my grade? (Even as I write this I know there is much learning going on, maybe more authentic learning than during a regular content area class because everyone is working on something they developed and are committed to seeing through from start to finish. However, since I am the only one in my school doing Genius Hour, I want to be prepared in case I am questioned about the educational value of Genius Hour.)

During the second Genius Hour class, I had my students respond on paper to the following three questions: "What am I not OK with? What do I have? (I interpreted this question as: "What skills, expertise, etc can I bring to this problem?) And, What am I (we, if working with others) going to do about it?" I found that these three questions allowed students to shift from the mentality of Genius Hour as "free time" to Genius Hour as "serious work/play/explore/learn time". I haven't talked to my students this explicitly about Genius Hour. However, yesterday (our third Genius Hour class), I had students determine the purpose of their project: to teach, persuade, or create something for others. Although some are clearly not seeing this connection yet, I trust that the more we focus on how a project is going to impact or influence others, they will start to see a clear and intentional purpose to what they're doing during this time.

I can already see that some of their projects are nearing their completion stage so when we get back after Carnival break, we will talk about getting ready to share their projects with others, namely their classmates for now.

So, although I should have probably followed a different progression to Genius Hour - viewing Caine's Arcade's videos, individual reflection and class discussion on the three questions mentioned above, and a write up of a project proposal - things have been going well. I am particularly encouraged by my students' self-reflections at the end of Genius Hour. Yesterday, they wrote these in their blogs and although this took longer than I had expected, it was time well spent as the kids learned how to navigate their blog, write meaningful entries and work with me to polish them and make them appropriate for publishing.

When I am nagged by doubts about whether or not this is valuable time taken out of a subject area like social studies or language arts, I think about all the planning, writing, reflecting, conflict resolution, and negotiation skills that my students are using in a project of their own choosing during school time. And, I am comforted and certain that this is a good use of one hour of our time during the week.

If you have implemented Genius Hour in you class, please leave a comment about your experiences below.

Note: The three questions mentioned above, plus many other great resources including videos, templates, articles, and posters, can be found in Joy Kirk's LiveBinder for Genius Hour.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Queen for the Year

One of my 7th grade students loaned me a crown shortly after the Christmas break. I'm supposed to wear it for the rest of this school year. You see, I've been proclaimed the queen of our class by my students. I've promised to be the best teacher I can be and to take their needs and interests to heart. I had to kneel down to take this oath.

Shortly thereafter, my students decided that they would like to wear the crown on their birthdays.Then, one student put forth a motion about what they named "Crown Day" and the rest of the class took turns amending the motion. Several revisions and lots of conversations later, my class drafted and voted on our first class law. This process took place during our social studies class and in between a fire drill.

It was a great experience in parliamentary procedure.
Here's our class resolution.


Crown Day!
On people’s birthdays they will be allowed to wear the crown during class time. If their 
birthdays are during a holiday, then Mrs. Elisa, our class monarch, must decide whether they
 get to wear the crown on the first day back from break or on the last day of school before
 break. Also, if your birthday takes place during summer, then you may celebrate it with the
 crown during class on a day of your choice, but you only have one day. In addition, if you’re
 sick on your birthday you may have the crown the day you get back. If two people are
 supposed to have the crown on the same day, then those two people must decide who gets the
 crown that day; the other person will get it the next day. Last, if you lose the crown, you must
 repay the owner of the crown five dollars. If you damage it, you must pay for fixing the
 damage.
-                 Signed by the student who proposed the motion.
             Approved on Thursday, January 08, 2015


I am really hoping that someone else chooses to put forth a motion, soon.
Democracy in action.
That's what it's all about.

Cross posted to Two Writing Teachers, A Slice of Life


Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Back to School - Five Highlights

Going back to school after a long vacation is always hard. For me the winter break is particularly challenging as it's one of the few times that all five of us are together. After the holidays are over and my daughters go back to the US, it takes a few days for me to adjust to that empty feeling that invariably engulfs me wherever I turn. However, this year, I've been able to manage the shift from being with family 24/7 and no alarm clocks to spending most of my time with students and getting up early by hiding out in my classroom. Before you tisk tisk my decision, let me say that it has helped me transition back into the routine of school life. I have had two good days with my students and we have accomplished important work.

Here's a list of the top five highlights of these past two days in no particular order:
  1. My 7th graders have started reading their books for our Mock Newberry Award. The teacher librarian at my school and I chose 15 books for my students to read. So far, the response has been great. I can't wait to listen in on some of the conversations my students will be having over the next few weeks about these books.
  2. My 7th graders are writing about their One Little Word (OLW) to be published on their newly minted blogs next week. This is my second year doing OLW and my first with my students. I will be writing about my own OLW, soon. So far, my students are choosing great words to help them focus their year. My 6th graders will be working on their OLWs tomorrow.
  3. My 6th graders started a mini research project about Ancient Egypt. They started out with a question and then added more related questions using the 5W's. They are taking notes on index cards, noting sources, and verifying information that they find. I will be writing about this process, soon. I am looking forward to their presentations about what they learned.
  4. I ran into one of my ESL students from last year who wanted to share that he finished Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper. I had started reading this book with my ESL students last year but we weren't able to finish the book. It was a challenging read for my students and it was taking a very long time to read aloud. So, we put the book down and students who were interested were encouraged to read it independently. Of course, this encounter made my day!
  5. I had lunch today with one of my colleagues. It was nice catching up after the break. We went to a nearby sandwich shop, had a delicious lunch, and relaxed.
Not bad for two days of school! 

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Reflection on a Day in Sixth Grade

Today was one of those days in my sixth grade class that I wished I could have recorded.

My students were on fire!

In the past, I've had to spend an inordinate amount of time disciplining students, and although today was not necessarily unique in that sense, it was qualitatively different. Although I had to stop every so often to interrupt one-on-one conversations and small lapses in attention, I began to notice that most of these were not off topic but, instead, were attempts to continue the conversation.

My students had comments, opinions, and questions about the book we're reading for #GRA14, One for the Murphys, and about the social studies lessons related to Early Peoples. I wish I could have recorded their comments (so insightful) and their questions (connected to the topic and digging deeper) so that I could savor the moment, over and over again.

Today I also made a short presentation for teachers at my school about what it means to be a connected educator. And, although I was nervous, much more so than when I'm teaching adolescents, I think it went well. I addressed social media tools that I use to become a better teacher.
It was a fast and furious session and, in some ways, I probably skimmed the surface of what being a connected educator is all about. If I would do this session again, I might zero in on one social media tool at a time and have teachers experiment by setting up an account and exploring its potential for themselves.

As I was telling my husband about my day, I kept coming back to my sixth graders. Even when class was over and it was time to go home, clusters of students stood about arguing a variety of issues. Who was more humane in their treatment of animals - the Natufians or modern day people? Was Carley, in One for the Murphys, a brat and mean to Mrs. Murphy or was she trying to defend her mother by her actions? How did the Early People's know that hunting animals would provide food for them? How are Carley and Esperanza, in Esperanza Rising, similar and different?

I could go on and on about my students' brilliance. However, the point of this post is to reflect on what was it that made my students so engaged in their learning, even as they were typically unable to sit still for long? As teachers we want to figure out what we did to help our students learn better and be excited about learning. We spend way too much time blaming ourselves when things don't go well but not nearly enough time pinpointing what we contributed to make a lesson go well. So, I'm going to have a go at this right now.

I think that what hooked my students in the learning is that not only were the materials engaging - One for the Murphys is just an excellent book for adolescents that touches on so many universal themes about life, and learning about our ancestors is something kids are curious about - but at the end of our discussion of One for the Murphys and before our social studies time, I commented that I was genuinely amazed at their thinking. I told them that they were brilliant because they were thinking thoughtfully and helping the rest of us understand the novel on a deeper level. I told them that they were teaching me things that I hadn't thought about until they shared their thinking. Now, what kid doesn't like to one up their teacher? More importantly, what kid doesn't like being recognized as "smart" by their teacher?

Yes, I know about Carole Dweck and others who caution against telling kids they're "smart" because this could lead to a fixed mindset. However, I really do believe that my students are brilliant. Every. Single. One. Of. Them. Some of them don't think they are smart or have never been recognized as such. And, some know they're smart but because they have quirky personalities, they get labeled as odd balls or even ignored by well-intentioned but misguided teachers.

I'm on a mission: to unleash my students' potential. To bring out their brilliance, as imperfect and tentative as it may be. It's going to be a wonderful year! As I said in a previous post, the reason I became a teacher is to inspire and be inspired. Today was one of those days.

Here we go!

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Being a Connected Educator

I am preparing a brief session for teachers at my school on what it means to be a connected educator. I plan to talk about social media in general as a segue to discussing PLN's. I am going to talk about particular sites (Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc) by sharing how I use each of these sites to enrich my own learning. I thought this might serve as a useful introduction. My hope is that teachers will participate in an internal Twitter chat to support each other in this process. I am looking for suggestions, cautions, aha moments, reccomendations and any other useful insight you can offer. Pleae leave these in the comments section below. I will share your wisdom with my colleagues.