5 Best Things I Have Done This Year

Inspired by a recent tweet and blog post by +Jonathan So .

http://mrsoclassroom.blogspot.ca/2015/11/5-best-things-that-i-have-done-this-year.html

This year has marked many first for me, as I have moved from teaching mostly in the primary division to intermediate. With this change, has come tremendous personal growth. Every day is a new adventure! My students have come to recognize this as well - to expect the unexpected! Just last week we engaged in lip sync battles, created our own games in scratch, learned about the importance of giving credit to authors in digital and print texts, and debated the use of the carrot vs stick approach in history (with props). I will admit that the sheer amount of content to be covered overwhelms me at times, but I remind myself that substance and deep learning far outweighs "covering" the curriculum. Looking back over the past few months, here are the things I have come to value the most.

My Top 5:
1. Creating our learning space together
At the very beginning of the year, our physical classroom was a blank slate. We created our space together. I will admit that letting go of this control was a little scary at first - an organized and appealing classroom is important to me as I feel this influences the tone of the space. What I can speak to now, is how creating the physical space together has linked with the learning space. Students are responsible to and for what happens in the room. They have pride in our space and in each other. This links quite well with the Capacity Building Series: The Third Teacher article in which the environment is known as the third teacher in the room. The learning environment we have created reflects the values WE hold dear. Co-creating a value system in a classroom and continually reflecting upon this helps navigate any obstacles that we face.

2. I've made a lot of mistakes (and I'm okay with it)
Some lessons absolutely flop. It happens. That "hook" I was so excited about, sometimes doesn't grab the attention that I expect. I don't have all the answers. I am upfront about this. I don't apologize for it. I suggest ways we can find the answers together. I ask them for their honest feedback on learning activities and assignments. At the beginning, this was quite foreign to them and they were unsure how to respond. I told them it wouldn't hurt my feelings if they didn't think the activity met their needs- that offering (and excepting) constructive criticism is important for all of us. I vividly remember a math lesson earlier in the year where I was unsure of the accurate response and provided them with misleading information. I went to see my math guru down the hall and discovered the information that I should have shared. The next period I apologized and shared with them my mistake. This moment led to a power shift in our class - putting my pride aside was the best thing I could have done.

3.  Descriptive feedback (haven't totally thrown out the grades but see the benefits)
Does this count? This is a phrase that I am so tired of hearing. It disheartens me that by grade 7 students have learned how to 'do school'. They have perfected the art of doing exactly what it is that they think the teacher wants. This drives me crazy. It is hard to undo. Instead of viewing school as a place to master the art of learning, it is viewed by many as something to get through. I have tried to make small shifts in practice to shift this mindset away from the 'factory' model of schooling. Providing more feedback and less grades is part of that. Giving opportunities for students to provide feedback as reviewers and revise their own work is also something we are working on. Structuring supports for primary students became second nature to me, and determining supports for intermediate students is something I continue to learn about. More than anything I want students to feel their learning is relevant and timely. Maybe then, 'does it count?' will turn to 'what's next?'

4. Coding
I wish I had taken a picture last week of six of my students sitting side by side creating their own games in scratch. Keep in mind this was during lunch hour the day before Christmas holidays (wanting desperately to work on their creations). They were examining each others creations, sharing tips, making lots of mistakes and learning from them instantaneously. To apply understanding of the Cartesian plane, I used a fantastic slide deck from the  code.org- CS in Algebra resource. I created a scratch game where Santa slid down a chimney and was pretty impressed by my creation. Enter savvy and curious grade 7 students - they took this to a whole new level and the games they created blew me away. All I had to do was get out of the way. This is so true of coding. Students are ready, willing, and oh so capable to undertake coding projects. The links with the curriculum are quite endless - mathematics, literacy, even health and  phys ed (unplugged activities are awesome)!
In the last 6 weeks we have begun the CS First Storytelling course, experimented with Hour of Code activities, and coached grade 2 students with block coding.

5. Blogging
Blogging has become an essential part of my professional practice - it provides an outlet for me to express my thinking about teaching practices, curate resources, annotate notes from conferences and working groups, and add to my professional portfolio. I wanted the same for my students. I choose Kidblog for the security and ease of sharing and commenting between peers. I think next year I will try Blogger as the opinions are far greater. Students are able to embed media within their posts which they are really enjoying. Their voice is often palpable. What I have come to value the most is the authentic audience blogging brings. When we discuss purpose and audience for various writing forms, we can discuss it within our blogs and share examples immediately. Here is just a taste from a student's recent book review.

It's a start .... I have felt the joy of embracing change and experienced triumphs and failures in teaching a new grade level. I look forward to continuing this journey in the new year with new goals on the horizon!

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