What EQAO Doesn’t Know

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I’m encouraged by the current public consultation on the future of student assessments in Ontario which is being led by Dr. Carol Campbell. Her team’s task is monumental. I’m encouraged because the process is providing an opportunity for all stake holders in Ontario’s education to have their voices heard.

I offer my voice and experience simply as a classroom teacher. I have the unique perspective of having taught grade 6 for twenty-one years, since the inception of EQAO testing, at the same school, in the same classroom.  My teaching and assessment practices have evolved. What worked in my class 20 years ago, didn’t work 10 years ago and certainly would never work today. The only thing that really hasn’t changed during my teaching career is the Provincial Assessment. Over the years I’ve struggled with many questions about about the test and finally wrote my EQAO Test Questions that I simply don’t know the answer to.

But here’s what I do know….

I know that my assessment practices used to mirror that of EQAO. I know that I used the text and let it drive my teaching and my students’ learning. I’d teach from one lesson to the next and one unit or strand was followed by the other. Because I often taught a combined class, my math class was all about control and structure. My grade 5s would work independently on some math problems, typically following algorithms, while I took up homework with my 6s, followed by a textbook driven lesson, followed by textbook driven questions. Once I had the grade 6s working silently, I’d repeat the process with my grade 5s. My assessment was largely based on an end of unit test, a mark would be assigned and we’d move on. We HAD to move on. I had a full textbook of lessons to cover before the beginning of May so I’d have time to review everything before THE (EQAO) TEST…. the one that mattered the most! My Language lessons were similar to my math lessons; textbook driven, teacher centred, unit to unit, tests at the end.

The result of my teaching? We rocked the EQAO test! My students scored high above our board and provincial average in all areas. I was doing everything right! THE TEST confirmed and reinforced this. What EQAO didn’t know was that my first class of students to write the provincial test were conformists and rule followers. They were also a very academic group. Many had the support of their parents at home who sat down with them to do the endless hours of homework I assigned every night.

When our staff reviewed the results of our first EQAO test, we celebrated our success because the numbers looked great. Yes, 15-20% of our kids hadn’t met the provincial standard, but in general we had done great! We made some plans as to how we could improve our scores even further and dove into a new school year. This year’s group was different. I had many more level 1’s and 2’s in my class. But, I was confident, based on the “success” of last years class, that I could get them to that all important “level 3”, so our scores would once again look good. I had to push hard. I struggled and so did my kids. It was a stressful year with lots of tears, meltdowns and breakdowns.

The result of my teaching? We did pretty well on the EQAO test! We still scored above the provincial standard and even above our board average in writing. Yes, 25-30% of our kids were “Level 1 and 2’s”, but in general we had done well! What EQAO didn’t know was that I had many students with behavioural and emotional needs in my class that year. Many were not conformists and rule followers. Many did not have the support of their parents at home. Many came to school hungry and tired. I had students who had outbursts and meltdowns on a daily basis and our learning space was compromised often. I had six identified students who I struggled daily to get to; to help, assist and support. But, we had to push on, THE TEST was looming.

What EQAO doesn’t know is that three of my identified students, who were present every day  in our classroom, were exempted from the test; removed from our classroom and assigned a zero.

What EQAO doesn’t know is that one of my students simply refused to write the test.

What EQAO doesn’t know is that one of my student’s mom passed away two weeks before the test.

What EQAO doesn’t know is that one of my students who was identified and modified at a grade 3 level, wrote the test and did her absolute very best. She was so proud of herself and so were we. Upon leaving her school in grade 6 and entering senior elementary school, she would have received a report from the Ministry of Education stating she was a “Level 1.”

Throughout the next 7 or 8 years of my teaching career the same pattern continued. My teaching and assessment practises remained static. How and why would I change? My resources were limited to the ones on the shelves in my classroom and my “success” was reinforced by EQAO test scores that were generally quite positive. Sure there were some years that we showed big blips, but why change what wasn’t broken?

But there was a question that was constantly gnawing at me…could I do better? Not for the test or the results, but for my students? What kind of difference was I making in their lives? What was I doing to help the most vulnerable, under privileged students in my class? Were my teaching and assessment practices really HELPING kids? Was I getting kids excited about learning and coming to school?  I could do better. I HAD to do better.

Part 2

I know that slowly, over time, I stopped focusing on texts, tests and marks and started focusing on kids and presence. Let me explain.

I know that a total shift in my teaching and assessment practice occurred approximately ten years ago after straying from the math textbook, as I traditionally did once a year at Christmas during our annual fundraising efforts for our local Shelter House. As tradition has it, my students raise money via a yard sale and then go shopping to a local grocery store where they purchase food for the less fortunate and finally hand deliver the food (a truck full) to the Shelter. Math, during this time, became relevant and “real” to my students.  They work with the money we raise and figure out totals, percentages, budgets, unit pricing and manage and analyze the data. For me, teaching math this way proved incredibly rewarding and easy. My students really seemed to”get” the concepts we were discussing.

However, upon returning to school in January, after Christmas Break, I would reluctantly return to the math textbook and math once again, felt mundane and teaching it often felt like pulling teeth. One day, in the middle of January, after returning from recess I asked my students to take out their math texts and turn to their new unit on Geometry. As my kids extracted their texts from their desks, I once again felt more like a dentist than a teacher, I was back to pulling teeth! It was at that pivotal moment that Erin let out I sigh and implored, “Mr. C, when are we going to do some real math again?” Her question stopped me in my tracks. I felt the same way and so did the rest of my class. However, I also felt conflicted. I knew the text like the back of my hand. The questions, assignments, black line masters  and unit tests were all laid out for me. The path was familiar and easy to follow and navigate.  But at the same time my students wanted more. The text didn’t provide the same opportunities for learning math that they desired. They wanted to do real math.

So I took a deep breathe, told my students to put their math textbooks away and put their outdoor clothing back on. Once outside I instructed them get into teams of two and construct a rectangular prism out of snow. The math talk and problem solving immediately began. I brought out the camera and took pictures of their learning. We brought all the prisms back inside and I challenged them to find the perimeter and area of the base of their snow cubes. From there we worked on the volume and I figured, while we’re at it, I could introduce surface area. The kids decided they could draw nets to IMG_2590help them find the surface area. The students were completely engrossed in their math and really seemed to be getting it. Their computations were based on something that was relevant, tangible and real to them. We decided that the following day we would compare our prisms, work out the mean and medium and graph and analyze the  data collected. As their rectangular snow prisms began to melt and my students prepared to leave for the day, Erin approached me with a huge smile on her face and thanked me for returning to real math. I thanked her for the challenge and for having the courage to speak up. As the kids walked out the door, I reflected on the number of expectations I had covered in one single lesson because we weren’t confined and limited to the content of the text. We had the freedom to explore many different math concepts, traveling down some familiar paths, as well as new and unexpected ones.

I know that over the course of the following years I slowly strayed further and further from the text and stopped stressing about preparing my students for the EQAO test. My focus was steadfastly on my kids and teaching them that they had the power to make a difference for themselves and others. While still working within the confines of our curriculum, I used what resources I had to let my students passions drive our learning.  The data I was most interested in was my attendance rates and getting my students excited about coming to school every day.  By moving away from being test and marks focused and to being present in my students’ learning, I had the freedom to move from student to student; to listen, prompt, question, reinforce and redirect. In doing so, I gained a much clearer picture of where my students were at and where they needed to go. Assessment became a much more fluid process in my classroom. Feedback and modelling was “just in time” and usable. Students no longer were marks focused; they became learning focused. They thirsted for my feedback and that of their peers. I knew that this is what teaching and learning was all about.

What EQAO doesn’t know is that some of my students who couldn’t wait to get to school every day throughout the school year stopped coming to school during the week of the test.  

What EQAO doesn’t know is that some kids who are used to getting feedback often and having their teacher present during their learning tend to shut down during provincial testing.  

What EQAO doesn’t know is that kids who are encouraged to collaborate and “think out” solutions feel limited and restricted when writing THE TEST.  

What EQAO doesn’t know is kids who are normally very engaged in their learning become quite disengaged when writing the EQAO test.  

What EQAO doesn’t know is that my students read texts that are self selected and are given much choice in their writing. Ample time is given for students to reflect on their reading and writing. Time constraints greatly inhibits the quality of student work.  

What EQAO doesn’t know is that my students’ learning is relevant and real. There’s very little that is relevant and real about EQAO testing.  

What EQAO doesn’t know is that I also teach and model resilience and determination throughout the course of the school year and my students always try their best regardless of factors. 

What EQAO doesn’t know is that I worry deeply about my students, who, regardless of how hard they try, still “fail” the test. What impact does that have on their learning?

Part 3

I also know that I came to another cross road in my career approximately seven years ago. This road led me to a more personalized type of learning and assessment and allowed me to reach students in ways I had never dreamed possible. I know that the thoughtful integration of technology into my classroom has completely transformed my learning space.

I know that technology has provided my students with an abundance of tools that allows them to demonstrate their learning in ways I never before imagined. For example, my students use Explain Everything and QuickTime to explain their thinking in math, iMovie to turn their narrative stories into video and YouTube to share their ideas in many different subject areas. Google Classroom and GAFE tools provide endless opportunities for students to demonstrate and share their learning. Paper and pencil are still tools utilized in my classroom, however, they have become only one of an endless number of tools in my students’ toolboxes.

I know that these tools also afford me the opportunity to provide effective, meaningful, “just in time” feedback that my students seek and require to take their learning to the next level.  Technology has allowed me to be present in my students’ learning; to listen, observe, question and prompt. Google forms allow me to record my anecdotal observations and feedback immediately (I often use the voice option) and in a time sensitive manner. Technology also allows me to effectively model and share student exemplars which helps to push my students learning to the next level

I know that technology allows me powerful means by which to differentiate my instruction to most effectively meet the needs of all the learners in my classroom. Google Read & Write is an example of a multitude of tools my students access daily to meet their different learning needs and styles.

I know that technology also allows me to personalize my instruction to tap into the passions and interests of my students. Pursuits such as Genius Hour  or the ability to take my students on “math journeys” wouldn’t be possible without it.

I know that technology allows me draw upon resources I never before had access to. It allows me to tear down the walls of my classroom to give my students a voice that permeates far beyond our city and our country. Technology gives us the ability to learn from and with people all over the world.  My students are involved in projects that make a difference and matter.  They are incredibly engaged, active learners and show up to school ready and eager to learn.

Technology allows me to build an incredibly powerful network of educators to call upon, to collaborate with and share best practices. It has given me the ability and connect, to self direct my own professional learning; to become a better teacher for my students.

What EQAO doesn’t know is that my students demonstrate their learning everyday with tools that are real and relevant in their lives. They work on meaningful, rich tasks. They wish they could share that work with EQAO. 

What EQAO doesn’t know is that my students are uninspired by THE TEST. They work collaboratively all year in a learning environment that is rich with tools and resources. During testing week all that is stripped away.

What EQAO doesn’t know is that there are many great teachers who leave grade 3 and 6 because of the pressures they feel from “the test”. 

What EQAO doesn’t know is teachers put very little stock in the data from EQAO tests. We feel that too much time is taken up talking about data when all we really want to talk about is kids.

What EQAO doesn’t know is that teachers crave the gift of time, to collaborate and share; to talk about kids and what works for each individual student.

What EQAO doesn’t know is that regardless of all of these facts, most of my students do very well on “the test”.  But I have a difficult time celebrating this fact, because I always worry about those who don’t and the impact it has on them.

So, we are at a cross roads. It’s time to look seriously at assessment and reporting in Ontario. Based on everything we know, how can we make it better?

I have my thoughts and my ideas? What are some of yours? You are welcome to share YOUR thoughts here.

….to be continued.

P
-P

 

 

 

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The Power of Presence

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There is no more powerful tool in the assessment for learning cycle than presence.

Let me explain.

This summer my seven year old wanted to learn how to tie his shoe. He had tried on many previous occasions but hadn’t been successful. Perhaps he just wasn’t ready or perhaps I just hadn’t given him the necessary support he need to succeed.

On the first day, we sat down together and I watched and listened to him talk out the steps to tying his shoe. He wasn’t very far along in his learning. He knew he needed to start by putting the right lace over the left and do “the pull through” but was having trouble making the loop. I sat with him and tried to explain the process and he attempted the loop again. After more careful observation and discussion, I modeled how I make the loop on my own shoe. This led to Kai being successful at making a loop but he wasn’t ready for the “wrap around”. After about 30 minutes of learning we were both done. I couldn’t push any further. I praised Kai for his success and reiterated where we were “at”. I didn’t provide him with a mark. (What was he… a level 1 or a low 2?) But he and I both knew what he needed to do next to succeed at his ultimate goal of tying his shoe. Throughout the day I observed him practicing the loop and attempting the wrap around.

The next morning, after breakfast, Kai came to me wanting to take the next step in tying his shoe.  I was quite busy at the time, but put my job on hold so I could be present in Kai’s learning. We sat down again and reiterated what we had learned and where we were at. Kai knew “the wrap around” was what he had to tackle next. He did the first three steps with more confidence and speed. The wrap around would come today, I just knew it. But it didn’t. Regardless of how hard Kai tried, he just wasn’t getting it. I modeled. I had him talk through the process again and again. There were tears and frustration. I told Kai that I was proud of his effort and determination that he was learning and learning takes time. I didn’t provide Kai with a mark. (Where was he at? Level 1 or low 2 or low 1…. he did require much assistance). He and I both knew what he needed to do next to succeed at his ultimate goal of tying his shoe. Throughout the day I didn’t observe him practicing the loop or attempting the wrap around.

On day three, Kai didn’t come to me wanting to continue to learn to tie his shoe nor did I suggest it. Perhaps he needed a break.

The following day, after breakfast, I suggested we try the wrap around again. Reluctantly, Kai went to put on his shoes, but I suggested he keep them off today as we practiced. With his shoes in front of him, Kai talked out the left over right and the pull through, the loop was made with ease and now for the wrap around and…. FAIL! What was going on? Why couldn’t he get it? I was getting frustrated, never mind Kai! Again and again we tried. Again and again I modeled. Finally, after watching one more time, I realized that when Kai was doing the wrap around his smaller fingers were slipping. A small readjustment and BINGO.

At that time, Kai’s friend Sam had come over to our trailer (we were on a six week camping trip together) for a visit. Kai was eager to show Sam everything he had learned about tying his shoes. Sam watched patiently and praised him for his work. Sam and I both knew (and I think Kai knew too) that he was close to reaching his goal of tying his shoe. Sam slowly modeled to Kai how he ties his shoe and I left the kids to their own devices.

I GOT IT! Kai soon yelled from the interior of the trailer. After some quick modeling and different feedback from his older friend Sam, Kai had moved from the “wrap around” to the “push through” and pull! When I reentered the trailer I watched Kai tie his shoe independently for the first time! By no means was it perfect, but Kai had tied his shoe! I didn’t provide him with a mark. (What was he… a high level 2 or a low 3?) He had tied his shoe, but was done with some assistance and it certainly wasn’t perfect. But he and I both knew what he needed to do next to succeed.

I watched Kai throughout the course of that day independently practicing tying his shoe. Many a passerby walked by but I’m not sure that they thought he was a very proficient shoe tier. In fact, I’d argue that most thought he couldn’t tie his shoe at all. But he was getting there. He was getting better and better with practice and little bits of help, advice and support from his mom, friend Sam and myself.

Over the next two or three days Kai continued to practice and learn how to tie his shoes. He was motivated not by the praise he received from me (and certainly not by the marks) but by the shear love of learning and the empowerment he felt as a result of it.

My role in Kai’s learning was to be present.

I believe our presence is the most powerful tool a teacher has.

 

 

 

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Going with the Flow: Mystery Skypes and Bucket Lists!

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Sometimes you just have to go with the flow and recognize an opportunity for learning when it presents itself. Brodie is an exchange student from Australia who has come to live with our family for 2 months. He’s only been with us for ten days but we all have learned so much from one another already.

Yesterday Brodie had some time unexpectedly freed up in his high school schedule so I invited him to join me at St. Elizabeth School for the first hour. He accepted the invitation immediately.

When my students entered their classroom a buzz of excitement filled the room. They knew who Brodie was, I had told my students about him. They giggled when they heard his accent and immediately wanted to ask him questions. It stuck me that this was probably the first time they had meet someone from a different continent. So… what t do next? I really didn’t have a plan.

After the initial excitement and introductions may kids settled into their books while listening to waves crashing on the beach. I had the technology to bring the ocean to my classroom, so I did. The tone was set.

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While Brodie was getting comfortable and check our learning space  I noticed that many of my students had chosen to read their National Geographic Almanacs and were directing each other to the pages on Australia. BINGO! Any opportunity for a real time Mystery Skype/Hangout presented itself! With their almanacs in hand and Google Earth cued on the SMART Board, we began our quest to find out where Brodie lived! (My students recognized this as another opportunity to learn through adventure. We had already travelled with Paddle through our Great Lakes while reading Paddle to the Sea” and were currently travelling with Olemaun from Banks Island  across the Beaufort Sea and down the Mackenzie River to Aklavik.)

The questions came quick. While referencing the map of Australia in the almanacs the kids asked Brodie if he lived on the coast, in a large city, in the north or south, on a peninsula and in which state. As we narrowed in on Brodie’s home city of Adelaide, each question brought forth great discussion.  Adelaide, as my students could see, was far different from Thunder Bay! The kids even marvelled at the different money that Brodie pulled out of his wallet to show them.

“Hey Brodie”, one of my students asked, “Have you tried maple syrup, persians and poutine?” “What about Tim Hortons hot chocolate?” “Have you visited the Sleeping Giant, Kakabeka Falls or the Terry Fox monument?” “Oh! What about the Escape Room and Both Hands Pizza?”

Brodie said that he had already tried persians and maple syrup and  heard of many of the places they had suggested (in fact we had planned a Christmas holiday trip to Sleeping Giant Provincial Park) and many were on his “bucket list.” As much as we wanted Brodie to stay, our hour was up and he had to head over to St.Pat’s to attend period two. As Brodie was saying his good byes someone can up with the idea of creating bucket lists for Brodie…. so that’s exactly what we did!

Our family will enjoy sharing my students’ bucket lists for Brodie this weekend and checking many of the ideas off over the course of the next two months!

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What opportunities for learning are presenting themselves to you?

Update:

This week Brodie came back to our class for another visit! We helped him fulfill another one of our “bucket list for Brodie” ideas by having him join us in a game of King’s Court. It was an intense game of good fun! Brodie made a connection with one of my students and inspired him to run (for the first time) during warm ups. He also joined the young boy at recess time and played catch with hm. During third block, Brodie spoke with my students about Australia’s Indigenous peoples and we compared and contrasted their culture to the FNMI cultures of Canada. He also spoke of Australia’s “lost generation” and we told him about what we had learned about residential schools in Canada. We had a lot to share since we had just finished reading “Fatty Legs”.

Brodie also shared a couple Australian dreamtime stories and we learned, through legend, how the kangaroo got its pouch. Finally, we learned about traditional Australian dot art and we were eager to try our hand at it!

Thanks again Brodie for visiting our class. We love learning with you!

 

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Dear Margret

Dear Margret,

We are a class of grade 5 and 6 students attend St. Elizabeth School in Thunder Bay, Ontario. We grateful that your daughter-in-law Christy wrote the book “Fatty Legs” to share your story.  We have learned so much from you and your family. We would like to share our learning with YOU!

November 13, 2017

Today we had a very lengthy discussion about this quote, the words your father said to you, before agreeing to let you go to residential school:

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We were able to relate the advice your father gave you to our own lives. We think that your father understood that he wasn’t going to be able change your mind about wanting to go to residential school to learn to read. He knew that the school would change you, just as the water in an ocean changes a rock and wanted to make you aware of this. By telling you this story he gave you the determination to not change.

We are faced with many things and people in our lives who try to change us as well; some for the better and some for the worse. Your father’s words reminded us to be mindful of how we are being shaped by the influences in our own lives. We also understand that it is not fair and wrong to try to change someone when they don’t want to be changed. We’d like to share what your father’s “story of the stone” meant to each of us…

 

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November 14, 2017

Dear Margret,

Today we made a connection between your story and a book we just finished. Paddle to the Sea is about a young Ojibwe boy named Kyle who carves a canoe and places it in the Nipigon River. We travelled with Paddle, through the great lakes on his journey to the Atlantic ocean. Both Paddle and you (Olemun) want to go on their journeys. But the difference is that your father didn’t want you to go, Kyle, Paddle’s creator has a hard time letting Paddle go, but in his heart, he wants him to go.

We retraced Paddle’s route again; the land of the Ojibwe, Huron, Iroquois and Sioux.

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Then we traced the route you would travel from your home on Banks Island to Aklavik; the land of the Inuvialuit.

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This also led us to a conversation about what life would be like on Banks Island so we tried to put ourselves in Olemaun’s kamiks. Just like living in Thunder Bay, there would be many pros and cons.

Below are a few of our pros and cons lists…

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As we continued to read, we could only imagine how felt when you finally reached Aklavik. You must have had so many mixed emotions. We wonder how your feelings changed when you first saw your new school and home.

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Did you feel any of these emotions?

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November 15, 2017

Dear Margret,

Yesterday we finished the day with Mr. C reading the next part of “Fatty Leg” we felt terrible when your long, beautiful hair was cut and discussed why the nuns at the school would do such a thing. We were wondering how they could do such a thing which also led us to a discussion about how they felt as well. 

Today many of our classmates are away from school for a variety of reasons. As much as we wanted to continue reading, we only felt it was fair to wait for the rest of our class to return. We were really curious about the Inuvialuit culture and its history. Mr. C shared this video which gave a great timeline, from 800 years ago to the present. 

We discussed how your land and its people were forever changed when the European’s (Tan’ngit) arrived.  

Mr.C gave us the chance to take a “virtual” journey from your home on Banks Island to Aklavik. 

It must have been a very long and arduous, yet exciting and beautiful journey. You come from a land of immense beauty. We were excited to begin our photo albums of our virtual trip! Below are a few “snap shots” of pages from our photo album. 

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November 20, 2017

Dear Margret,

Today we travelled with you, during your first few days at the residential school in Aklavik. It must have been a very difficult experience for you to leave your home on Banks Islands and start a new life at your new school. We had a hard time even imagining how different and difficult life must have been. As we listened to your story we began to compare and contrast your two “homes”….

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November 22, 2017

Dear Margret,

This week is “Bullying Prevention Week”. We attended a presentation on bullying giving by our community police officer. As we continued to read “Fatty Legs”, we recognized that the Raven was most likely a bully. We listened for evidence from the text and used our own schema to write opinion pieces on whether or not we believed The Raven was a bully.

Below are a couple of our completed opinion pieces…

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We could help but realize how Sister MacQuillan was so different from The Raven. It must have been a great comfort to have the beautiful “Swan” watching out for you.

We loved how, in the end, you used your strength and determination to stand up to “The Raven”. We were very proud of you!

November 23, 2017

We received this email from your daughter in law, and co-author Christy, today!

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We would LOVE to be able to talk with you “in person” via a Google Hangout or Skype call! We would like to tell you how you have inspired us and helped us to learn and grow! Please let us know when we can chat!

Love,

Mr. C’s Class

… to be continued!

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WHAT IF we #TeachLikeGord?

Gord Downie’s music has simply been ever present in my life from my teenage years and onward. His music makes me happy, it makes me think, it makes me reminiscent…. it makes me proud to be Canadian. But Gord also makes me want to be better and to do better. Last year Gord helped me tell the story of Chaine Wenjack to my students and to my own child. It wasn’t an easy story to tell but it was an important one. In fact, it was arguably the most important story Gordie ever told. By Walking the Secret Path, my students changed, they became better people, and so did I. Gord changed lives by telling stories… Canadian stories.

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(Vision: Isaac Moore and Josh Geddis Artwork: Steve Dawe)

Gord Downie was a teacher. He wanted to educate his students about the past and present, both good and bad, to help make a better future. He used his position as a musician to captivate his audience; to teach, motivate, question, inspire and empower.

Gord’s lyrics live in the heads and hearts of many. Anyone who grew up in Canada in the 80’s and 90’s in Canada probably knew Gord and the Tragically Hip well. Our generation was his students. But what will come of Gord’s music; Gord’s teachings? Will they slowly fade away?

I find it interesting that Gord’s last work was accompanied by a graphic novel and lyrics that were quite easier to follow and understand. Was Gord writing The Secret Path for a different audience than his typical followers? Was he singing for our children, the ones with the potential to make the greatest difference? If, in fact, the answer is yes then we can help Gord in his cause and with his vision for a greater, better Canada.

Teachers welcome an eager audience of children to their classrooms everyday. They don’t stand on a stage, but they do stand amongst children who are ready and willing to learn. They are capable of changing the world; of making it a better place. WHAT IF we all #teachlikegord, not just for a day, a week or even a month? WHAT IF Gord’s spirit became part of the fabric of the Canadian educator?  What if teachers didn’t just teach about Gordon Downie but LIKE him? WHAT IF we understood our undeniable ability to make a difference with the people in front of whom we stand every day? WHAT IF we not only listened to and told Gord’s stories, but sought to tell our own stories as well? WHAT IF we took up causes that were meaningful, significant and challenged the status quo? What if we celebrated our country for all its greatness but sought ways to make it an even greater (“cooler” in Gord’s words) Canada? What if we lived our lives with a sense of urgency, to do good, to do better?

To honour Gordon Downie and to insure his dream for a better Canada comes true, let’s all #teachlikegord together, everyday.

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I encourage you to check out the #teachlikegord hashtag (created by educators Isaac Moore and Josh Geddis) to be inspired and to gain and share ideas. You may also come to realize that you already are teaching like Gord, but didn’t even realize it. Gord thought it would take one hundred years to create the Canada he envisioned. Together, as Canadian teachers, I believe we can help make his dream a reality in much less time.

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Here are some of the initiatives I do (or have started to do) with my students to #teachlikegord

Gord greeted his friends with a hug and a kiss. I am now greeting my students every morning with a smile and high five.

Gord loved Canada and celebrated its rich history by telling great stories. I read the Canadian classic novel “Paddle to the Sea” with my class. It chronicles the path that a canoe, hand carved by a young Ojibwe boy in Nipigon country, takes through the great lakes in its journey to the Atlantic. Along the way Paddle meets many diverse people, experiences beautiful geography and rich Canadian culture.

Because Paddle to the Sea was written in 1966 we discuss “what was, what is and what could be”. As Gordie, we celebrate Canada, but don’t deny that it could be better. The story inspires my students to make action plans to “keep our great lakes GREAT.”

Gord left us with “The Secret Path”.  Together with Gord’s music and book and my board’s Native Resource teacher, Tesa Fiddler, I introduced my students to Chaine Wenjack. The learning journey was powerful for everyone involved. My students wrote letters to Chanie, did math based on his journey down the railroad tracks, initiated a #WalkwithChanie and created a social justice project called M.A.D (Make A Difference) 4 Chanie. It should be noted that there are many sensitive issues discussed in the Secret Path and one should know the novel and their class well before introducing the book.  Two other novels, “Fatty Legs” and “A Stranger at Home” tell the story of a young girl’s experiences at residential school in the Canadian Arctic and about her difficulties when she returns home. The books are more appropriate for a younger audience.

In keeping with Gord’s story telling and honouring of our Indigenous people, this year my students and I, along with Mrs. Shaughnessay’s grade 6 class and Lila Cano are working to tell the story of Anemki Wajiw, through the arts and technology.  We are working in consultation with Native elder, Laura and Gail Bannon and have visited Anemki Wajiw. We are looking forward to further interviewing both ladies to share a story that very few people know.

My students have come to know Gordon Downie well over the past few weeks. In preparing to interview Gail and Laura, we watched Gord’s interview with Peter Mansbridge shortly after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Below my students share some things they’ve learned from Gord:

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Thank you Gordon Downie for being a great artist, a great Canadian and a great teacher.

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Additional Resources and Ideas:

Downie Wenjack Fund’s Secret Path Learning Resources The video is a MUST watch!

*** Please share links to your resources!

 

 

 

 

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On Connections and Being Connected: Reflections and Takeaways

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The discussion on “connections” and “being connected” is getting richer and deeper! A couple days after my initial blog post ‘On Connections and Being Connected’ and even more reflection and input from my PLN and my students, I’ve had some “brain break throughs” and established some “takeaways”. Here’s what’s transpired after my initial post and podcast with Derek Rhodenizer.

I did a little podcasting of my own….

Derek did a follow up podcast with Brad Shreffler this past Sunday.

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I really liked how Brad added “interactions” to the mix. I also found it interesting to listen to the piece about Brad and Derek discussing connections as finite vs infinite. He articulates well what I have been grappling with; as we become more and more connected are we at risk of becoming DISconnected? Derek and Brad also go onto discuss what a “connected” educator means. I highly recommend a listen.

Stephen Hurley and Doug Peterson offered some thoughts and insights on my blog post on VoicED radio. It was cool for my students to have had the opportunity to listen to two educators talk about a piece they had helped me to write on live radio and I certainly appreciated their input as well.

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After a year or more of really grappling with  concept and the word connection, my PLN (it ranges from people who I am extremely close with, such as my wife and mother, to many whom I’ve never met), by sharing in one form or another, has helped me arrive at some takeaways.

I have interactions with hundreds of people, places and things every day but this doesn’t necessarily mean that a connection has been made.

Connections need not be reciprocal. If I am impacted by another person, place or thing a connection has been made.

A relationship is the result of a connection that is deeper and more meaningful. It is reciprocal and develops as a result of mutual respect, trust and understanding.

Love is an intimate relationship between two people. It is those people who we are closest to whom we love.

An interaction can lead to a connection which can lead to a relationship which can lead to love. One builds on the other but doesn’t necessarily have to.

Many connections are in virtual form but they need not be.

Connecting takes time. I believe that as we become more and more connected it is important to find balance, set limitations and establish priorities.

If we are not mindful of how and why we are connecting, we risk becoming DISconnected.

In our ever connected world we must have a true sense of ourselves. We must understand what is important and connect accordingly.

Being a connected teacher means we have a wealth of information, tools and resources at our fingertips to best meet the needs of our students. Connected teachers see themselves as part of a connected team where we work together to improve the lives of our students and affect a positive difference on the world. 

A connected class is close. They know themselves and one another. They see themselves as an important part of  their school community. A connected class doesn’t exist within the confines of four walls. They understand the positive power of technology and use it to learn from and with people throughout the world . They make a difference for themselves and others. 

Thanks to everyone for helping me learn, reflect and learn again. I’m glad we’re connected.

What are your thoughts on connections and being connected. I’d love to hear your ideas!

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On Connections and being Connected

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There’s been a lot of talk about connections these day. It’s the one word that has given me pause for reflection more than any other in the last few years. The term is widely used, but how are we defining it? Do we have a common understanding of what it really means to be connected? How is the term “connection” being defined in our classrooms? What/who is a connected teacher, student, or classroom?

Last year I wrote a blog post: “The Power of Connections”  and I’ve presented workshops and was a spotlight speaker at CONNECT 2016 on the very subject. I thought I had a pretty good grasp of the word. However, recently Derek Rhodenizer  invited me to join he and Stephen Hurley on voicEd Radio to help break down the word as part of Derek’s #WordinProgress weekly radio show.  Our conversation can be heard here:

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After the show, and some time for reflection, a few questions were still gnawing at me. So I direct messaged Derek and Stephen on Twitter…

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I think what I am having difficulty understanding is the difference between how be define a “connection” and a “relationship”. We know that a relationship needs to be reciprocal, but does a “connection”? Can a student make a connection to a book? Can one be connected to nature? Can a parent be connected to my class? Can I say that my class in connected to our community, to the world? Is it technology that has led to the new term “connection”?

Today, I did a writing lesson with my students. I asked them to share what, in their opinion, the word “connection” meant to them. First, I simply said the word  connection and had my students write words that came to mind. Next, we did a visualization activity, using our five senses to help dig deeper into the word. I had my kids close their eyes and visualize what they “saw” in their mind’s eye when they thought of the word connection. They then recorded their thoughts. I did the same with each of the other four senses. We have done this activity many times and the kids really have become quite good at it.

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We took a break, got active with “Go Noodle”, did some mindfulness and then came back to our assignment where I had my students review all the ideas they had generated. Finally, they wrote their definitions of the word “connected”…

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Thanks to my great class for sharing your amazing and thoughtful insights! You have given us all more food for thought.

What are your thoughts on connections and relationships. We’d love to hear your thoughts!

 

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EQAO Test Questions

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I’ve been teaching grade 6 for 21 years and I’ve been struggling with some “EQAO Test Questions” of my own:

1. Are high test scores good indicators of effective, creative, collaborative, problem solving, innovative, powerfully connected, globally aware  students, teachers and schools?

2. If the EQAO test is just a “snapshot” why is there so much focus on it?

3. How does my student who leaves grade 6, finally walking with self confidence, feel when she settles into grade 7, at a new school, only to find out she’s a “1” or a “2”….below provincial standard?

4. Where does EQAO provide feedback and next steps?

5. How does my “exempted” student feel during the week of EQAO?

6. What will a grade 3 or 6 student remember about their year other than the test?

7. Is standardized testing inhibiting innovation and risk taking in our Ontario classrooms?

8. While preparing my students for the test, what else did I miss out on preparing them for?

9. Is there really a crisis in math education in Ontario? What data are we using to determine this? Is it relevant? Is it reliable?

10. What good comes from making EQAO test results public? What effect does this have on our most disadvantaged school communities?

11. Why do we continue to assess our 21st century learners with a 20th century tool?

12. What if EQAO allowed our students to demonstrate their learning based on curriculum based, open ended questions using 21st century tools such as ePortfolios, podcasts and videos?

13. If I am opposed, in principle, to the EQAO test, should I allow my own child to write it?

14. What if EQAO assessors visited schools and watched, listened and observed students in their natural classroom setting?

15. What if we used student and school attendance rates as benchmarks for success in Ontario schools?

16. What if half the money spent on provincial testing was reallocated to address children’s mental issues? Would this improve academic success?

This blog post has been sitting in the “Drafts” section of my blog for over three years. Recently I was encouraged to hear that Premier Kathleen Wynn is set to announce a sweeping review of how students are assessed in Ontario and that an expert panel will be established to help explore ways to more effectively assess students. I trust the panel will be made up of a large cross section of all stakeholders in the Ontario education system, including our students. I also trust the panel will be open to questions. In my class I encourage tough questions because good discussions, plans, learning, solutions and answers are often the result.

What EQAO questions have you been struggling with?

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Setting the Tone for Learning

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The first day of school is all about setting the tone. Escort your students to their new classroom. Have them find their assigned seats. Do a little icebreaker. Review and write down the classroom rules. Read the code of conduct in student hand book. Have students write a paragraph about what they did over the summer holidays. Now, time for math. Hand out worksheet with a variety of questions covering all operations. Students work independently and silently (call it a diagnostic test) so teacher can determine where students are “at”. Teacher marks worksheet and hands back the following day. Now, time to crack open the math text and turn to page 1…. The tone has been clearly established for a give and get style of teaching; one where compliance and following rules reigns. It’s the kind of learning I remember as a child and modelled as a beginning teacher.

Things have changed…. 

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The first day of school is all about setting the tone. I meet my students outside on the playground to chat and break the ice while keeping a look out for new and anxious kids. Prior to doing a roll call, I welcome all students and insure them that all the feelings they are experiencing are natural and that even I am feeling a bit are nervous. Being nervous simply means I care.

Upon arrival at their new classroom door, I encourage my students to find a “home base” where they think they’ll feel comfortable and will work well. I talk about the set up and routines of their new learning environment, where there is much freedom of movement and choice. There are no “rules” posted in my classroom. RESPECT is the only “rule” we need.  We have a discussion about what respect means. I share my “I am” statements with my new class and give kids time to reflect upon and share their own. Screen Shot 2017-09-01 at 8.51.17 AMThe agenda has been replaced with a class blog and the “Remind” App to engage and inform parents and to make our learning visible.  I encourage my students to ask lots of questions and to provide me with feedback about their new classroom. At this point, I want to get the kids moving, so we head outside for an ice breaker which usually includes a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors  and time for kids to sit and chat and to learn something new about their classmates.

After Nutrition Break, I have my students self select a book of their choice and give them a chance to find a different place in their new learning space to enjoy it. During this time I play some quite nature music from Calm while I circulate around the room to chat with my kids, listen to them read and allow time for them to ask me questions or to tell me something they haven’t yet had the opportunity to do so. As the students are reading, they may also be reflecting on a single word that will guide them as their “One Word” Screen Shot 2017-09-01 at 8.53.29 AMgoal for the year.  We transition to using the technology and I establish “norms” for its use. Kids find a new place in the room to work; some may sit at a variety of different desks, others will stand and others may even use a mat in our room to lay down (what)!? Kids fill in a Google Form which will allow me to get to know them even better. Upon completion of the form, kids log into Google Classroom and begin their One Word assignment. During this time I continually circulate to listen, prompt, and question. Time for a body break! Time for Go Noodle! We may begin our read aloud “Paddle to the Sea” to develop a sense of adventure and exploration and to introduce our new Social Studies unit OR we may break out a variety of board games…. I’ll let the kids dictate that, based on their energy.  More can be read about I use a variety of cross curricular resources to build a sense of connectedness and global citizenship in my classroom: ‘Building Global Citizens’.

Now, time for math! I want to hear my students talking and learning. I want to hear them questioning and explaining. I want my students to be excited about conquering math problems. I want them working on problems that are meaningful and relevant. I want them to realize that math problems are multifaceted. I want my students to understand that math problems are not confined to the pages of a math text and that math is literally all around them.

One of my favourite places to do math is in the gym. Run for a quarter of a minute. Do jumping jacks for 60% of a minute. Jog for 2 whole minutes and 3/5 of the third minute. Divide into two equal teams. Arrange the 96 beanbags into 5 equal piles….

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But I digress. Back to the first day. Perhaps I’ll get my kids thinking about how many days, minutes and seconds they’ll spend at school this year. It could lead nicely into a writing assignment or discussion about how they’ll make “Every Second Count” this year. I might jump right into my “Back to School Math” problems which helps to have my students see the relevance of the 5 math strands in their daily lives. Perhaps I’ll pull out the K Cups and challenge the kids with a few KCups4Classrooms problems.

Regardless of what I decide to do, I’ll be sure to be present in my students’ learning. I’ll work with them, ask questions, prompt, probe, redirect and support. But most importantly, I’ll be listening. Listening to each of my students “talk math”. It is in listening that I will learn. I’ll learn what they’re thinking, I’ll learn where they’re strengths lie and where they struggle. I’ll learn about their attitudes towards doing math and how each one of them “thinks math”. I’ll learn new and interesting strategies myself. And together we’ll grow.

The tone will be set and the learning will begin.

See this storify where a number of teachers have weighed in on how they “set the tone” in their math classes and Laurie Azzi shares how she does the same with her students identified with learning disabilities.

Would love to hear how you set the tone for learning in your classrooms! Please #SharesEase

-P

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How Are You Going to Solve Your Problem?

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Are we disabling our kids without even realizing it? When a child comes to you with a problem what is your reaction? Do you solve their problem for them? In doing so what message are we sending our kids? What are we teaching them? Are we really helping them?

At the beginning of the school year I always brace myself for the “Mr. C, can you…..” questions:

Mr. C, can you open my snack? 

Mr. C, can you tie my shoe?

Mr. C, can you fix my computer?

Mr. C, can you open the iPad cart?

Mr. C, can you sharpen my pencil?

To which I answer: “Yes I can! Can YOU?” “How are you going to solve your problem?”

I also brace myself for the “Mr. C, he/she….” statements. You know the ones….

Mr. C, he budded.

Mr. C, she took my pencil.

Mr.C, he’s bugging me.

Mr. C, she took my seat.

Mr.C he cheated. 

To which I reply: “How are you going to solve your problem?”

Then there’s also the “I can’ts”:

I can’t find my book.

I can’t run.

I can’t find my pack.

I can’t log in.

I can’t do this!

To which I say: “How are you going to solve your problem?”

Don’t get me wrong it’s not that I don’t want to help my students. I truly do! I want them to learn to help themselves. I want them to be problem solvers. I want them to realize they can do anything they put their minds to.

If I solve all my kids problems what am I teaching them? My students quickly come to realize that “problems” aren’t necessarily bad things, they are simply  opportunities to learn and they understand that I am there to assist and support them in the learning process.

Slowly, over time, I begin to hear the following  in my classroom:

“I’m going to try to solve my problem by….”

“How can we solve our problem?”

“We can solve our own problem.”

“Can I help you try to solve your problem?”

“Let’s try this strategy.”

“Mr.C, can you help me solve my problem? I’ve already tried….”

“Mr. C, can you give me some feedback on how I’ve solved my problem?”

It’s music to my ears!

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