OK, so perhaps not my most rational use of time ever the night before the last day of school, but…
Sweating my way through what was possibly my final set of report cards ever (!!!), I suddenly remembered the "teacher" report card I often give students to complete on me at the end of the school year; I managed to dig it up from the depths of the digital abyss that comprises the files on my computer, and made a copy for my students to fill out last week.
Reading student feedback is always an interesting learning experience; while most of it tends to be predictable, and -- if you're a purposeful and passionate educator -- much of it provides a healthy ego stroke, sometimes things can be a little surprising and/or strike a raw chord!
A few of my favourites are pictured below (click to enlarge)... Not many surprises this year, but a few funny bits, funnier, perhaps, when one has come to know the students and their individual quirks intimately over the course of a year!
I especially like the third one… You can probably guess what kind of kid wants me to stay "a little less in contact with parents", hehe!
Another good one is the one below… I'm pretty stellar at everything, according to this respondent, but somehow despite all that, my expectations are not clear, and I don't help kids learn, really. No specific feedback though, as you can see from the comments, I just need to generically "improve a little".
There's something to be said for specificity.
Perhaps my most fulfilling comment this year is the one below, from the first student I (knowingly) had that came from an LGBTQ family.
Frequent and brutal previous bullying, along with a few other personal issues, had caused this dear child to shrivel up somewhat, academically, and produce very little written product this year. But for this particular assignment, the student wrote even more than the minimum I begged for, continuing well beyond the five lines suggested, and giving voice to the internal hurdles faced by children growing up in a still somewhat unconventional (at least, in the suburbs where I teach) family.
I really felt quite vindicated reading this student's comment; I know that sometimes I feel as though I struggle to find the balance between the overt and covert curricula in my teaching practice, but it's students like this one, who can't get to the overt curriculum until they become comfortable with their own underlying learning roadblocks, that remind me of why it is so important to do what we do the way we do it.
If you've never asked students for end-of-year feedback, I encourage you to give it a try this week... you'd be amazed at what you can learn about yourself as a teacher!
My tech journey this year has led me through Edmodo to the Google suite. Recently, I have adopted with gusto a few GAFEs, and for those of you who -- like me -- are still newcomers to ed tech, I wanted to share a few ways I've used these resources in my Grade 6 classroom this term...
1. Science: Class-Wide Google Doc
Recently, we completed a study of Electricity in Science. Students read about and built circuits as well as simple motors. The latter were designed using a magnet, a battery and a wire. We used an experiment guide from U of T Physic Department, and consulted multiple YouTube videos for inspiration and guidance.
While students worked in pairs and small groups, I circulated the classroom, snapping photos, offering assistance and recording my observations. Afterwards, I posted a few of the photos into a Google Doc and shared it with my class, inviting comments on one or more photos. (And yes, I discovered you can change the background colour, and quickly availed myself of that feature, hehe.)
Communication is a critical component of the Science curriculum, and in my classroom, it's a particularly important part of the program, as so many of my students are either new to English, or have special learning needs, or both, and struggle with the academic language.
As the unit progressed, one of my occasional teachers (OT) co-created (with the students) a list of vocabulary relevant to the study of electricity. We added to said list throughout the unit, and it remained posted while the students completed this assignment.
I can see many applications for such an assignment, particularly as it includes visuals, which would be super helpful for students who may have been absent from school and missed the experiment/activity.
2. Global Digital Collaboration
Another way I've used Google Docs (and Slides) is to foster collaboration among peers beyond the physical classroom: Earlier this year, I met a teacher online, on Edmodo. She was from Australia, and was looking for a colleague from another English-speaking country to collaborate with on a financial literacy project.
After some initial mucking about online, our two classes got serious, and became involved in a two-month project that would encourage the students to research and compare taxes in their respective countries, develop savings plans, and more, using Google docs or slides to share their work. We co-created the assignment and rubric (and alternates for our modified students) to encompass math, literacy, media and learning skills.
We posted everyone's work on a Padlet, so that students could see one another's work and be inspired to do their best throughout the assignment period.
It's been exciting to watch the work unfold, and the results have been quite amazing!
Below are a few screen shots from various groups' projects... you will see how they have incorporated the use of tables to organize their work, and how they are developing their mathematical communication skills for various tasks.
I also love how they have started using the comments as a chat feature, and are developing real working relationships with their peers across the globe!
The time difference has made live chat a challenge, but every now and again, my Australian colleague and I will discover a few students who have been on simultaneously early in the morning or late at night in their respective countries, and thus are able to chat in real time.
More information about this project can be found here and here.
3. Class Surveys Using Google Forms
My third and final use of GAFE this term has been the discovery of Google Forms. Using forms, I have created both assessment observation checklists and also full class surveys.
Recently, I created a survey about student involvement at school this year, both in terms of extra curricular and in-class leadership. More than 80% of the class completed the survey, and the data I collected was extremely helpful to me as I was writing my learning skills comments for report cards.
(click any image above to enlarge)
I particularly liked how one could include images within the survey; I elected to throw in a meme here in there to make the kids smile and to keep them motivated to complete the survey (it was quite lengthy, and a few needed help with reading/understanding the questions).
I even included a clever meme and silly "bonus" question at the end (which 90% of respondents answered "correctly", hehe)...
I'm now using forms to develop a survey to collect students' reflections on our use of technology as a learning tool this year, and I have already created two surveys to send out to participants in my summer programs, in order to plan better, more customized workshops for my colleagues.
I can see students using google forms in many capacities, particularly in the Data Management strand of math. Data collected is automatically disaggregated, or can be seen en masse, and Google instantly creates pie charts and other visuals. These could be analyzed by students in class.
Onwards with Technology
As I reflect on how my chosen profession has evolved since I began my career in 1998, excited when I got my own overhead projector and set of acetates in my classroom at the time, I am amazed by the leaps and bounds with which technology has changed the teaching and learning landscape.
While the plethora of tools and resources can sometimes be overwhelming, and navigating them requires a strong commitment to critical literacy, it is certainly an exciting time to be an educator. I'm excited to have had the opportunity to play with GAFE in my classroom this year, before heading to my next adventure in public education in September.
How do you talk to students about a homophobic Muslim walking into a gay nightclub during the month of Ramadan, and killing 50 people and wounding dozens more before being shot by police? This question holds particular significance if you yourself happen to identify as queer, and if you happen to be teaching in a class where a good chunk of your students are Muslim!
Today's average middle school is rife with both homophobia and islamophobia... and not just amongst the student body!! I have spent a great deal of time this year working with my students to develop a growth mindset that I hope will serve them well both as academic learners and as citizens of the multi-cultural, pluralist society we call Canada. An event like the one that happened this weekend in Orlando, FLA, will for sure test their mettle, so to speak.
Regardless of your teaching or parenting context, I think it's an important news story to unpack with students, and thanks to several colleagues who shared some timely resources with me, I would like to offer some ideas for how you might do this with your own students, Grade 4 and up...
Begin with a "Third Point"
After a brief introduction summarizing/acknowledging the events of the weekend, you might share a news article and brief video like this one, from CP 24. While students are watching, I would have them consider certain questions or ideas. Below are some examples I'll be sharing with my class:
Letting them watch the clip twice may be helpful in allowing students to dig a little deeper.
Provide Open Space for Dialogue
Classrooms come with a diversity of opinions and personal biases. Encourage students to consider their own biases as they explore their reactions to what happened. Building in structures like "think-pair-share" may allow students more opportunity to talk with others about their feelings.
While you want students to share authentically, it's also important to reinforce the respectful "talk moves" you've hopefully been teaching students all year. It's okay to disagree, but it must be done respectfully. Questions, rather than openly stated disagreements, can be powerful ways to find out more.
Inviting parents and families into the conversation helps to extend the dialogue at home.
Unpacking isn't enough... students need to feel empowered to do something. Taking the conversation further is one idea, especially for older students. Here is a newscast by Desmond Cole. In it, he addresses the massacre, and talks with various guests about the multiple facets of one's identity, and intersectionality. This might be assigned for students to share at home with family, thereby extending the conversation beyond the classroom walls.
Students might also be encouraged to write a letter to the survivors, encouraging them, or to the family members of some of the victims. Other ideas include researching homophobic laws in the US and Canada, finding out more about Islam to combat the stereotypes out there and reading up on prominent allies in the LGBTQ and/or Muslim communities.
Finding ways to celebrate diversity and challenge homophobia and islamophobia at school are additional important extensions to the conversation.
How will YOU be unpacking this with the young people in your life? I look forward to your responses -- feel free to leave a comment below, or contact me directly.
Today in my Grade 6 class, we had a moment like this, and it wasn't because the kids can smell the end of the school year:
The source of the excitement was an announcement about the arrival of a package that was "too big to fit in my mailbox", and could I send someone down to the office to pick it up, please.
I usually know when packages arrive, who they are from and what they contain, so at the look of uncertainty on my face, pandemonium broke loose. Some students jumped up and down, vying for a coveted courier position, arms desperately flailing in the air, while others mused aloud about what it could be...
As soon as the package arrived in the classroom, the mystery was solved: "It's from Australia --TimTams!!!" yelled one of the two delivery students, having looked at the return address enroute from office to classroom and remembering the promise our Austrialian friend Ms. Cross had posted on our virtual collaborative classroom a few weeks back.
And then they all insisted I tear open the package immediately!
Indeed, TimTams it was! TimTams, and Australian flags, and play money, and a whole, long decorative banner which three students immediately carried out to the hall to post above our lockers!
The pedagogy of a cross-cultural collaboration is important, it's true, but so is the fun of just receiving a care package -- sent by plain old snail mail -- from a class in another country. Thanks, Australian chums!!! For the fun diversion today!
Some readers may already know about these sessions offered through ETFO Provincial: 3-day sessions on a variety of topics, offered across the province. $75 gets you tasty lunch all three days, plus all the materials, handouts and 3 days of great PD!!
Registration is now open online!
There are grade-specific options, sessions for integrating technology and 21-C learning into your program, upping your Assessment game and more.
In my experience, the sessions are very practical, and are tailored to teacher need. This will be my fifth summer presenting, and I have attended sessions in the past five years as well as for several years beyond that. All good stuff!
If you click the top of the columns in the registration link shared above, you can sort by location, date, presenter, etc. to suit your need. (And yes, I will be presenting two sessions this summer - consider coming and spending 3 glorious days together!! Haha!)
Please feel free to share this post widely with your OT colleagues as well, as some of the sessions are specifically designed for them.
Some sessions fill up quickly, so don't delay -- make your summer PD plan, and sign up today!
Decided to kick off pride month by celebrating last weekend with Canadian Aviation Pride's "Northern Escape" in Toronto.
Friday's festivities included an aviation themed art show featuring the work of photographer Laird Kay, at Akasha Art Projects on Church St.
This was followed on Saturday with an aviation job fair and a cocktail reception at the 519. While Tats chatted up the HR folks at various airlines, I loaded up on swag for my students!
We opted to skip the late night at Woody's, and made it home to bed before midnight.
This meant we were awake and alert enough to enjoy the next morning's brunch at the Hothouse Grille, along with a little Sunday jazz.
Then it was off to the airport to admire the two planes that had arrived on the island, flown in by members in the US for the "Queen of the Fleet" Competition. (Actually, the were three entries, but the third was a Falcon jet, and since jets are not permitted to land at CYTZ, they had to park their plane at Pearson instead!)
Both planes on the apron were very nice, and one even had a custom made banner swinging from its propeller! In the end, it was decided that everyone was a winner.
While the first group of boys went up for a tower tour, Tats and I said or goodbyes to some new friends, promising to investigate the possibility of flying to their Province town event in Sept.
Then we forewent our own tower tour and the aviation themed drag show that was to follow, and headed to the city's northern region, to attend another performance instead; one of our sons was participating in a dance recital!
After grabbing a quick bite with a friend on Albert's Real Jamaican on St Clair after the show, it was time to head home, walk the dog and face the fact that this thrilling weekend was finally drawing to a close.
Happy Pride Month, Everyone!
Standing on the Go Train platform in Oshawa waiting for my train back to Toronto, I thought about an article I had read earlier in the day, about provincial payments to various Ontario teacher federations.
My own union, ETFO, had not accepted such monetary gifts, but had instead negotiated $600K to support professional development for our occasional teachers across the province.
To the untrained ear, $600 000 still must sound like a lot of money, and as I am in a bit of a unique position to be able to speak on this topic, I thought I would write a blog post clarifying where some of this money goes, so that naysayers may have a better understanding.
First it's important to understand that times have changed since I graduated from the Faculty of Education at OISE and sailed into my first teaching contract at a little country school in Caledon nearly two decades ago; today's average teachers' college grad spends several years doing daily supply work before perhaps being lucky (and good enough!) to land a long-term-occasional (LTO) for several weeks or months in a single school. From there, they may finally apply for a full time contract.
Until they land this much-coveted full time contract, occasional teachers (OTs) are generally not eligible for the same plethora of Board PD offered to contract teachers, including the Ministry-sponsored New Teacher Induction Program , or NTIP (though if they have been teaching for 97 consecutive days for the same teacher, they are eligible for some elements of the program).
A Need for Accessible OT PD
Welcoming a cohort of teachers into the profession to languish on supply lists for three years or longer without a plan to support and promote their professional learning is not a super wise idea. It's no secret that OTs earn considerably less than contract teachers who have been teaching for a few years. And they are not eligible for the same health benefits plan.
Expecting them to pay for expensive AQ or other privately offered courses when they may already have a heap of student debt from their undergrad and teaching degrees is unreasonable.
This is where teacher federations have been helpful.
Union - Offered PD
Occasional teacher unions have long offered professional development; they are closest to the ground, and are best poised to understand the needs of their members. As these needs evolve in the current job market, teacher unions seem like reasonable organizations to partner with to provide funding for continued in-service training.
Typically, this PD is offered after the school day, so that OTs can still pick up a job during the day, and then come for a workshop after school somewhere.
Unique Needs of OTs
Professional learning opportunities for occasional teachers are by necessity different from those offered to contract teachers. Daily OT work can be isolating, especially for newer OTs, who have not yet built up a professional network.
Student behaviour management is constantly on the radar, and occasional teachers want and need practical strategies to get through the day in a possibly unfamiliar classroom or school. A workshop for contract teachers may focus on longer-term planning, whereas a session for OTs may be more likely to focus on individual skills, concepts, lesson plans... while still addressing the latest trends in education. This prepares the OT for their daily job tomorrow and next Thursday while also offering them an opportunity to build their professional knowledge in preparation for a job interview.
Math for OTs: A Joint Effort
A significant chunk of the $600K mentioned near the top of this blog post went to a project that saw several mentor teachers, including experienced OTs and contract teachers such as myself come together to collaboratively plan a full day of professional learning in Math. I know, because I am one of those teachers!
Under the guidance of an experienced federation professional learning leader, the team of us then prepared to go out into the field and facilitate these full day math/teaching sessions with OTs across the province. This year, I have visited 3 locals: Thunder Bay, Waterloo and Oshawa, and will be facilitating a fourth session next week in Hamilton. Each of the sessions has been well attended, and the participants actively engaged on multiple levels.
In addition to doing math, we spend the day learning about and using a variety of apps and software commonly found in classrooms across the province over the past two years, which participants may not have been exposed to in their pre-service training.
We also do some professional reading together, and engage in many formal and informal conversations about classroom management techniques.
To be honest, it's a bit of a presenter's dream: Even though it's only a day (I always prefer a multi-part workshop, for retention and capacity building), it's a FULL day, DURING the day, when participants are fresh and alert. In addition, we had a budget we could spend per participant, so I was able to purchase some excellent resources to share at each session and then raffle off as prizes at the end. Thanks to this, many teachers walked away from each session with with either a practical teacher math reference or a student-friendly, classroom-ready, math-themed picture book.
The best part of these days is that the OTs get paid to attend, so that they don't have to give up a day of paid work to come learn with colleagues.
Paying a room full of teachers for each session, plus paying my own release time and travel expenses as a workshop facilitator, and providing supplies and resources for the workshop is not a cheap venture. But it's am important and effective one, and the investment in our province's teaching force, who directly impact student success, is well worth it, in my opinion.
Good Things Lie Ahead
In addition to facilitating math sessions for OTs, I have also presented 2-part classroom management workshops aimed specifically at Occasional Teachers and 3-day summer institutes for OTs. Each time, no matter where in the province I present, I have been amazed at the caliber of teacher who attends. These OTs are committed, passionate and professional.
If this collective crew is any indication of what lies ahead, Ontario's students are in for a real treat in the next decade as those of us who are further along the continuum either retire or move on -- as I will come September -- to other, out-of-classroom education positions, freeing up space in Ontario's classrooms for these more recent teacher graduates to take over 21-century education!
So, now you know where at least some of the money goes.
After writing for several teacher and multiple birth publications, including ETFO's Voice Magazine, Multiple Moments, and the Bulletwin, Vera turned her written attention to prolific blogging for some years, including BiB, "Learn to Fly with Vera!" and SMARTbansho . Homeschooling 4 was her travel blog in Argentina. She now spends more time on her Instagram (@schalgzeug_usw) than her blog (pictures are worth a thousand words?!)
The views expressed on this blog are the views of the author, and do not necessarily represent the perspectives of her family members or the position of her employer on the the issues she blogs about. These posts are intended to share resources, document family life, and encourage critical thought on a variety of subjects. They are not intended to cause harm to any individual or member of any group. By reading this blog and viewing this site, you agree to not hold Vera liable for any harm done by views expressed in this blog.