Twitter time

Twittering is a new area to explore and considering the brevity of twitter posts compared to Blogs, I still found myself hooked into tracking conversations and checking in for more.
It took awhile to get started.  Initially, I was overwhelmed and only followed a few friends and the CBC.

Now, through recommendations, I’ve connected into  broader regions.  I’ve created lists, follow educators, authors, and futurists. These actions in turn are keeping me up to date with trends and innovations in my field of education. Two people in particular, Grant Wiggins and Gary Stager,  have postings that have helped further my inquiry with regards to using Understanding by Design in my classroom. Organizations such as Edutopia and Office of Edtech  regularly post references to articles, blogs, or videos on Twitter.  Considering the limited funds for professional development or trade magazines, I’ve found these on-line connections beneficial.

At this time I feel that the social networking aspect is a little lobsided.  I have been able to glean so much information in such a short time and haven’t felt that I’ve put enough back in.  Some useful resources that I’ve discovered in this process are:

YouTube Launches Site Specifically for Teachers

edutopia edutopia

[Popular Blog] Teaching Digital Citizenship in the Elementary Classroom #edtech

Gary S Stager

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


Jump right in!  What’s this?  Shake it! Smell it. Sort it. Stack it. Bend it. Will it change shape? What else can I do with it ? Would you like to play with it?

Who plays? What does play look like? Do people play in the same way? Play, in my experience, occurs in different ways depending on a persons age, personality, resources available, and environment.

In my intermediate class, play takes many forms. During recess or after lunch students ‘play’ outside in groups of various sizes and mixed gender.  The play generally revolves around a piece of sports equipment.  The children run, jump, chase, create rules then change them.  They are often involved in noisy gross motor activities. In my classroom, however, the style of play becomes more subdued and generally less physically active.  I design lessons where students have opportunities  to ‘play’  individually, with partners or groups.  The playtime activities range from something as simple as experimenting with numbers, exploring different ways to use cedar like the Coast Salish to creating characters for a skit.

I believe that play is essential for learning.  Through play, students are free to question, develop social skills, become aware of different viewpoints and build on experiences.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Pros and Cons of Using Cooperative Learning Strategies in the Classroom: Reflections

After a month of experimenting with a variety of cooperative learning strategies in my classroom, I observed some areas of strength and weakness.  Students eagerly met and conversed with others when using “Numbered Heads Together” but sometimes discussions got off topic.  Many students participated in “Roundtable” or “Numbered Heads Together” activities but once in a while I would notice a student off task or not participating.  The article,”Teachers’ reflections on cooperative learning: Issues of implementation” by Robyn M. Gillies and Michael Boyle, Teaching and Teacher Education, Volume 26, Issue 4, May 2010, helped me to address those issues with its’ informed references and pointed out other areas where teachers encountered problems.

Ten middle-year teachers were involved in the study.  They incorporated cooperative learning strategies into a unit of work for two school terms. Afterwards, the teachers were interviewed  by the researchers who asked a series of questions based around the use of those strategies ( i.e., groupings, classroom environment, motivation, cooperation, assessment).

In the study, teachers were reported to use a variety of groupings ranging from random, equal boy and girl ratio and by ability.  I have kept groups to 4 members, gender and ability mixed.   Some teachers explicitly or implicitly prepared the students for their tasks.  I’ve kept my groups the same for this period because I’ve found that I needed to give more explicit instructions and have students practice  teamwork skills in order to get better results.   Grouping desks in clusters of four has provided more floor space in my room and I’ve detected a more friendlier atmosphere.  In the study, teachers noticed that there was more opportunity for them to give feedback while students were engaged in activities.  I’ve found that with having students working on a cooperative learning strategy like “Numbered-Heads-Together” that I tend to circulate around the room and give more frequent input on their work or  ask questions about their activities.

The teachers observed students, “being positively engaged and not giving up”, and that students were, “working harmoniously in class because they had a common goal”.  I have a very active class and there are usually playground problems to solve after recess.  Over this past month, I have also noticed that my students will leave more of their personal problems behind in order to be a part of a successful team especially if they feel that the task is interesting.

My experience with cooperative learning strategies has been through trial and error.  As there are so many types of cooperative learning strategies to choose from, I had hoped that this study might mention which ones the teachers implemented.  I found this article helpful and concur with the authors that training in cooperative learning pedagogy is important.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

“Peer Instruction Improves Performance on Quizzes” (a review)

After starting to use cooperative learning strategies in my Grade Four classroom, I began to notice increased student engagement as evidenced by their discussions and written output.  Students appeared more attentive when I gave direct instructions and stayed on task longer when having the opportunity to work in teams.   I began to wonder what other researchers discovered when comparing the ‘lecture approach’ to using active-learning strategies and came across a study by Sumangala P. Rao and Stephen DiCarlo : “Peer Instruction Improves Performance on Quizzes” Volume 24: Number 1 – ADVANCES IN PHYSIOLOGY EDUCATION- December 2000.

This study involved 256  first- year medical students and their reactions when being tested after hearing a lecture and then tested after hearing a lecture that included breaks for cooperative learning strategies.  Data was collected from 10 classes.

What interested me primarily was the strategy that was used for this study. The researchers borrowed concepts from Mazur’s peer instruction techniques and Benson’s think-pair-share strategy to use as their focus instead of the many other cooperative learning strategies that are available.  I frequently use think-pair-share in my class because of  the ease of implementation and the ability to pair students by a variety of groupings (strong writer with weak, strong reader with strong, gender mix) as I see the need or as content matter requires.

The tests that were used were composed of one multiple choice question, of a single-best response type.  Three levels of questions were developed based on Bloom’s taxonomy. Level 1 was designed to test student’s ability to recall information.  Level 2 tested intellectual skills and Level 3 tested synthesis and evaluation skills.  I appreciated reading about this specific questioning breakdown as the type of testing that I’ve done is different.  Mine notes the amount of work produced by students before and after using cooperative learning strategies.

Their results showed that students performed much better on quizzes after discussions with classmates especially in the Level 3 areas testing synthesis and evaluation skills (by 26%).  To further explain how the cooperative learning strategies can enhance student performance the researchers referred to “Active Learning: 101 Strategies to Teach any Subject”, and quoted M. Silberman’s thoughts, “What I hear, I forget.  What I hear and see, I remember a little.  What I hear, see, and ask questions about or discuss with someone else I begin to understand.  What I hear, see, discuss, and do, I acquire knowledge and skill.  What I teach to another, I master.”  This simple statement also reinforced my rationale for using cooperative learning strategies as they would accommodate the variety of ways my students learn (e.g., auditory, visual, tactile, etc).

Rao and DiCarlo concluded that pausing three or four times during a 50 minute class to allow peer instruction of concepts increased the students level of understanding.  They noted that sustained lecturing assumed that all students learn the same information at the same pace and appealed primarily to auditory learners. I have students that have a great range of abilities in my class.  Behaviour problems both academic and social are becoming less frequent the more I focus on providing students with more time to discuss topics and to ask questions.  At the beginning of my inquiry, I had concerns about covering the curriculum and thought that active-learning strategies may detract from my planning and teaching time.  This study also showed that peer instruction took little time to implement and enhanced the depth and detail of the material covered.  My research is beginning to have similar results.

I look forward to designing questions using Bloom’s taxonomy as developed by Rao and DiCarlo in order to further develop my research.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Beairsto groupie transfers learning

I accidentally attended a lecture on Friday afternoon.   I was at our Delta District Day and  after completing sessions on Using a Mac Book and Financial Planning, I had time to view displays.  That’s when I overheard someone mention a guest speaker while I was in the hallway, an opportunity I didn’t want to miss, as it was Bruce Beairsto.  After reading his article “Engagement in Learning: Finding the Depth Beyond Diligence” I was curious to hear what he had to say and must admit I became a fan.

Looking around the theater I also noticed members of my cohort and was pleased that they were there too.  His presentation was informative and humorous.  Frequently he would stop and give the audience a chance to turn and discuss his concepts.  He posed questions and considered the feedback.  He modeled the “style” of teaching I am trying to do.

I now have a clearer understanding of the different levels of engagement and what to do as a teacher.  I misunderstood ‘attentive’ engagement and felt that the responsibility for ‘interesting’ lessons rested with me.  Students should have an interest in the subject matter, a purpose in learning. Bruce reiterated how important it is for the teacher to create projects where meaningful lessons could occur.  He mentioned how a lesson on punctuation may, as it stands alone, be boring for a lot of students but if a purpose like writing a letter to the superintendent to have the school day shortened was presented then students may want to learn how to punctuate in order to get their ideas across correctly.  I thought about units that I taught before and now have a different perspective on how to present them and to assess student learning.

The key phrase that stuck with me was “it’s not about filling their heads but changing their minds”.  He definitely left me thinking about how I “teach” in the classroom.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Confessions of a homeschooler

After our heated debate in class, whether to homeschool or not, I took time to reflect on the issue from the point of view of a mature teacher in the Delta school district in the year 2011.

I see that our education system is shifting from the ‘factory model’ and moving towards collaboration and a deeper exploration of curriculum.  Many teachers are using technology and opening up their classrooms to the global learning community.  However, many elementary school classrooms are still overcrowded and organized by age groupings,  limited staff are available to support students with their academic or behavioural struggles, and teachers are expected to cover a large curriculum in a specific amount of time with few opportunities to reflect or adapt lessons to their students’ needs.

Back in the 1980s, my partner and I decided to build a boat and go traveling with our children for three years.  We assessed the expenses and the risks.  One of those risks was to take our children away from the Canadian school system.  We were worried about compromising their education.  I asked a school principal how to reinstate my children upon our return, what tests would be required, and was told simply that they would be placed back in a class according to their age.

My partner summed up education in three words, “reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic”.  He felt if we focused on that, the rest would follow.  My daughters read all the time and traded books with other children in different ports.  I liked hearing the discussions over the trades, the ‘book talk’, as to why this book was worth two of those.  Long ocean passages were often broken up with starry night retelling of tales to keep Mommy entertained while she was at the helm.  My children diligently wrote letters to relatives, created stories and developed very complicated plays.  They added factual details to our ships’ log such as crew activities, weather reports, and notes about the ports we visited.  Loading three months of food onboard before major passages involved a variety of mathematical activities for them.  They helped count money and compared exchange rates, planned recipes and multiplied ingredients keeping in mind the number of crew to feed.  We checked expiry dates on products and stored them so that they could be consumed in a timely manner.

Daily life aboard a ship is a constantly busy time.  The children were always a part of the necessary duties. They checked the weather, monitored wind and hull speeds, took sun shots at noon to check location, helped ration fresh water and recycle containers, used radios to contact other ships, maintained sails and lines, observed patterns in waves, noticed sea life and the creatures that came aboard our vessel.

Making a landfall was always exciting especially when comparing and contrasting the geography.   All hands were on deck whenever we came into port.  The children met customs officials, families on other boats and in the towns, traveled into towns to markets, communicated in different languages, learned about the local history and saw how people were able to adapt to their environment using the resources at hand.  I realize now, after looking at my Grade Four curriculum that many of the prescribed learning outcomes were addressed.

My children had the advantage of  a ‘parent/teacher’ influence twenty-four hours a day seven days a week.  They also had visiting instructors in the form of crew and people from around the world.  My daughters were generally able to focus on projects without interruptions or limits.  I’ll never forget a play they created while we were in Panama.  They rallied local children, painted boxes to make dragons and turned a spinnaker sail into a castle.  The whole neighbourhood was invited and were very pleased with the performance.  The children planned, cooperated and produced a successful event.

Important questions came up in our Delta cohort after watching the unschool and homeschool clips…Where are those children now?  How are those children doing?  I hadn’t thought about how the traveling and homeschooling affected my children in the big picture until now.  I do remember that when we got back to Canada that my oldest daughter was teased because she didn’t know about a lot of the television shows and her clothes didn’t match the other students.  My youngest daughter wanted to be in a higher grade because she already knew a lot of the content and was thrilled when her teacher gave her independent projects to work on.

Where are mine now?  They are very focused individuals and are passionate about the things they do.  Both daughters have continued on with their education. One daughter has her masters in education and the other has a bachelor degree and is interested in starting her own business.  Both have planned, saved, and traveled on their own to a great variety of places like Nepal, France, Spain, Mexico, and New York.  They appear to be lifelong learners.

As a parent and now a teacher, I can see advantages and disadvantages to homeschooling.  I believe that the time spent with my children was worthwhile but realize that other parents may not be as fortunate and need to work outside the home, be less patient, or have limited academic training.

If I could do it over again, I would wish that the Internet and laptops were invented.  Then my children would have had quick access to information instead of waiting to get to port when we ‘teachers’ didn’t have an answer. I would have appreciated using some of the Math websites to find activities to support their learning.  I believe that children need to bounce ideas off each other in order to enhance their thinking.  Programs where my daughters could have communicated on-line with other students would also have been very beneficial.

My few years of homeschooling gave me the opportunity to get to know my daughters not only as children but as learners in a unique way.  I would still encourage parents, if they had the time and inclination, to try it.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

“Cooperative Learning: An Oldie but a Goodie” (a review)

This article by Kimberly Lightle,  provides a concise overview explaining what cooperative learning is, common types, why teachers should incorporate these strategies into their practice, and how to do it.

In cooperative groups students learn how to work as a team. Ms. Lightle suggests that five key elements are necessary for small-group learning to be successful.

1.positive interdependence – each group member has a specific role and responsibilities in the joint effort

2.face-to-face interaction – students discuss, share knowledge, make connections, and check comprehension

3.individual and group accountability- the smaller the group the more accountable the individuals are, observe student contributions, have students teach what they’ve learned to others

4.interpersonal and small-group skills- it’s important for the teacher to establish ‘group rules’ with the students  (ex., develop social skills such as decision making, communication) processing- group members need to reflect on their working relationships

There are a great number of learning strategies to utilize depending on the needs of the teacher.  They vary in structure, size of group, reward systems, and  member responsibility.  I appreciated the easy to follow instructions on how to set up “expert groups” by using the “Jigsaw ” teaching strategy and the web sites provided more information.

I look forward to applying some of the cooperative learning strategies suggested in the article and am curious to see if, as the author states ,”cooperative learning brings positive results, such as deeper understanding of content, increased overall achievement in grades, improved self-esteem, and higher motivation to stay on task”.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Grabbing Moments

Between FSAs, Student led conferences, illnesses, teaching , reading, and a field trip where the plans changed at the last moment it’s been an average week. Surprisingly, I was also invited into a fellow teachers’ classroom (after a discussion about a critical thinking workshop) to observe a lesson he was developing about “Self-Reflections on Self-Regulated Learning” with his Grade 5/6 class. I was really pleased that a staff member volunteered to cover my class so that I could grab this opportunity. It was wonderful to see former students reflecting on their learning. I noticed that the teacher utilized the ‘Think-pair-share’ cooperative learning strategy and had established a ‘safe/trusting’ environment. Inspired by a power point presentation, students began collaborating, expressing their thoughts and contributing to written work.  The questions and research work that I am doing on my inquiry is intersecting with other teachers at my school.  We are finding the discussions and experimentation very helpful.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Little Inspiration Along a Literacy Journey

Three years ago, I was handed a book and asked to read it in order to prepare an introductory speech for a guest lecturer who was to present at a professional development day.  I glanced at the cover and made no connection to the author’s name Adrienne Gear, but I did become intrigued by the title  Reading Power – Teaching Students to Think While They Read

The further into the book I read, the more I discovered how Adrienne had developed solutions for the concerns I too had been experiencing in my classroom.  Her questions arose from struggles she had been having while teaching reading in an elementary school in Vancouver.  Her concept of Reading Power evolved as she with worked with members of an Early Literacy Project, which focused on how to teach students to become better readers.
From what I’ve learned about Teacher Inquiry, Adrienne Gear epitomizes the model.  She developed an inquiry based on a question posed to her by a struggling reader, “What does thinking look like?”.  She explored the works of David Pearson who studied what proficient readers do and referred to research developed by S.Harvey and A.Goudvis who noted reading as being made up of two distinct aspects, decoding and comprehension.  Adrienne collaborated with other teachers to develop comprehension teaching strategies.  In the classroom she worked with students and collected evidence about how they responded seeing thinking modeled and noted the effects of using a common language to describe thinking.  She also created an extensive list of fiction picture books which were to be used to enhance her five reading focus areas: connect, visualize, question, infer and transform. In conjunction with her staff, Adrienne Gear developed a clear concise literature based reading program.

Needless to say, our staff was very impressed with Adrienne’s  presentation that day.  We have been using her program over the past few years have noticed a change in both ourselves as to how we approach teaching reading/thinking and how the students have been empowered with a common way to communicate their understanding of reading.  The discussions we have about literature reach deeper levels when the students make personal connections to characters or events.  Written work has also improved now that students are more aware of how their words can make pictures in readers minds.  I look forward to reading her thoughts about how to teach students to read non-fiction text.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Teacher Inquiry………..

Teacher Inquiry has become like a Pandora’s box for me.  Now that I’ve opened my mind to the concept, the questions won’t stop coming.

I’ve  always been  concerned with why some students “weren’t getting it yet”.  I would reread the teacher’s guides searching for that advice I must have overlooked and become more frustrated when nothing seemed appropriate.  Scheduled professional development days would introduce new ideas but rarely ones that would specifically deal with my issues.

After reading The Reflective Educators Guide to Classroom Research, I realize that I’ve been given the tools to address problems that arise in my class.   I can take positive action by formulating a specific question related to my classroom, incorporating different teaching strategies or activities, keeping aware of my intentions, noting students responses, collecting evidence, collaborating, researching the question, and reflecting.   The results may combine to give answers to enhance my practice.

It’s been interesting  to look at my practice from a different perspective, through the eyes of a ‘wonderer’.  Questions about the curriculum, classroom environment, and learning communities keep arising.  I’ve begun to utilize the resources I have at hand to find the answers, by communicating more effectively with my students and staff members.  Instead of just worrying about why things are the way they are  I am excited knowing that I can create an informed change in my classroom by implementing Teacher Inquiry.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment