We have implemented our new behaviour management plan into my classroom and it has been working wonderfully! Granted, I have had to send a few students home because they were sent to the office 3 times, but many of my most difficult students have had a big turn around in their behaviour. Using this system has also highlighted the need for additional support for some students to be successful learners in our class.

Coincidentally (or perhaps not), my students have found a sudden passion for writing! They have been making books and stories based on some of their favourite characters, such as Scaredy Squirrel and Pete the Cat. It's great to see them focus on a task and flourish within our new, positive learning environment.

Having a better handle on my class and knowing that administration is supporting me 100% means that I'm able to teach the way I want to. I have been able to give more feedback to my students on how they are doing, we've had more time to share our work with each other, and I've been using more of the language the board expects, such as Learning Goals and Success Criteria. When we have our next showcase on Thursday afternoon, I'm confident that my students will have plenty of learning to share with their families.
 
 
I haven't posted for awhile because I have officially entered survival mode. Student behaviour has been declining dramatically over the past few weeks and I have been leaving work feeling frustrated and defeated. I've had discussions with my principal and our school's CYW about imlementing a new classroom management system, so I am hopeful that it will help turn the tide and start moving things back in a positive direction.

In the meantime, one of my colleagues suggested that I take time to reflect on one positive thing that happened each day and record it in some way. Working at a challenging school like ours, it is easy to get worn down and forget to take care of our own physical and mental wellbeing. I need to get back into my "stars and steps" reflections that I had been doing so I can keep in mind the good moments from the day and have an idea of where to go next.

With meetings and other commitments after school everyday this week, I might not get to it, but I'm going to try, starting tomorrow!

PS - I've started using stars and steps in my class to give students feedback on their writing, and so far I think it has been working well.
 
 
I'm really excited about some of the things we've been doing in science. We have been learning about living and non-living things, a unit that was initiated by my students' interest in how apples and pears I brought in for a snack were grown. We have watched a video, explored outside, read books, and had lots of discussions about what the students already know in regards to the needs of living things. In Language, we have also learned about non-fiction books and various text forms that are used in non-fiction texts. The students have asked to plant seeds and tomorrow we will be starting inquiry projects about a living thing that they will choose. It has been great to see them engaged in a topic and for me to begin understanding what learning styles they prefer; the video yesterday was definitely a winner.

I have three steps I want to work toward right now. One is getting a start on my progress reports. I already have ideas in my head, but when I actually sit down to do it there are always areas where I want more data for certain students before commenting. My other step is to take a good look at long range plans and get mine put together for the year. I have a few I have been using as a guideline, but the needs and interests of my students have sometimes made me make changes to the order in which we cover various areas of the curriculum. So, I will need to go through and adjust my long range plan to reflect the direction we are headed in and where I see things progressing as we move forward through the year. My last step is to incorporate more instructional strategies that target kinaesthetic learners. The more I can incorporate all three learning styles--visual, auditory, and kinaesthetic--the more engaged my students will be, particularly my busy, active boys.
 
 
Today marked the beginning of another busy week in Grade One! We had a great day today!

My first star is that we got through the whole day without any "free time." We did a formal Writers Workshop and Readers Workshop, and by the time we were through, it was time for lunch!  Our math time was broken up by gym today, so that cut into the amount of work time we had anyway, but the kids worked so well that again, by the time we were finished it was time for lunch. They worked so hard today and were great listeners...until the end of the day (more on that later).

My second star is that we had a great day in gym today! Before we left the room, I made sure to remind them of the consequence we faced on Friday when we had to come back early from not listening. We also reviewed some of the rules that had been broken, resulting in the consequence. Then, I made sure to wait until everyone was lined up quietly "flipped and zipped" to walk in the hall before we went to the gym. Today, they decided they wanted to try out the basketballs. Using equipment added another element of chaos to the mix of running bodies and  loud voices, so I made sure to review the rules a second time, particularly when it comes to listening to the whistle and using the equipment safely and responsibly. Then, my gym helper and I handed out the balls, I put on some music, and we practiced bouncing and shooting. Occasionally I would stop the music and blow the whistle to give additional instructions or reminders (and to practice listening to the whistle), then we continued until it was time to get ready to go. They did a great job!

My step is that I need to be cognizant of their attention span at the end of the day. By last period, my students were unable to listen at their desks or on the carpet, follow simple directions quietly, or behave responsibly. I was just going to hand out one thing for their mailbag, put a sticker in their planner, and have them circle the correct smiley face that corresponds to our behaviour management chart, then we were going to have a brief class meeting. It was absolute chaos trying to do these few simple tasks so close to the end of the day. We had no time for class meeting and by the time we were ready to go, it was several minutes past the dismissal bell (luckily we weren't the only class that was late today). In the future, I will try to put handouts in their mailbags myself, since I collect them anyway, and have my "runner" hand out the mailbags so I can help those that need it and manage disruptive behaviour. Anything I can do to speed up and streamline the end-of-day process should help.
 
 
Previously I discussed making 2 stars and a wish for giving critical feedback to students and for myself. A colleague of mine told me another version: 2 stars and a STEP. The difference is that a wish is something passive, something we hope for with no plan to reach it. A step is an action, a goal we actively pursue. So, from now on I will reflect on my practice thinking about 2 stars and a step.

My first star for today was our language block. I was able to fully implement the Reader's Workshop model and it worked wonderfully. We started with a mini-lesson, which was really a couple of housekeeping items I needed to review with the class and a short discussion about where we should start writing in a notebook (I had noticed that a few of my kids just flipped it open to a random page to write, instead of starting on the first blank page). After our little lesson, I sent them on their way to their literacy centres. We had made a list of acceptable reading and writing activities last week, as well as how many people could do each activity at a time. I also added a new activity today that built on something we did last week. While students worked independently at their centres, I was able to listen to a few of my students read. I was able to listen to about a quarter of my class to get an idea of where those students were in their reading level and the kinds of decoding and comprehension strategies they were using. This will help as I prepare to do formal Reading Records in the coming weeks. At the end of our block, we came together again and shared about what we did during centres. The whole block ran smoothly!

My second star for today was our very first gym class in the gym. Although the students wanted to run around and play games, I made sure I was very clear, consistent, and diliberate in teaching the routines and rules of the gym. We practiced the routines a few times and the students did a great job of being good listeners and following expectations. At the end, we were able to play a round of Freeze Tag before heading back to class. Tomorrow we have another period in the gym, so we'll hopefully have more time to play and less time spent on reinforcing rules and routines.

My step is to work toward planning further in advance. So far, I've mostly just been planning a day or two in advance, although in my head I always had at least a vague idea of where I was headed. It has been hard to plan in advance up to this point, because I'm still getting a feel for where the kids are at and what their needs are as learners. Now that I'm getting a clearer picture and we are all well versed in how the classroom in functioning day-to-day, I hope I can start planning a little further into the future and finalize my long-range plans for the year.
 
 
One week down, and what a crazy, busy, wonderful week it was! I think I learned more than the kids did! We're slowly settling into new routines, I'm building a rapport with my students, and I'm starting to get a feel for some of their strengths and weaknesses.

But boy oh boy, I'm exhausted! So, I'll leave it at that and try to relax a bit this weekend, although I do have some prep work for next week. Cheers!
 
 
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My second day teaching first grade went even better than yesterday. We were able to remember some of our routines from yesterday and build on them, as well as spend less time on free choice activities and more time working productively. Here are my "two stars and a wish" for today:

My first star is the writing we did in our writers' notebooks. I started with a mini-lesson in which I demonstrated how I thought about my ideas, sounded out my words, put spaces between words, and used a period at the end of my sentence. From there, the students went to their tables with their notebooks and began writing. They drew a picture at the top of the page and wrote a sentence to go with it. Some were only able to draw a picture and write their names, while others were able to write complete sentences that included all of the things I demonstrated in my mini-lesson. At the end, some of our friends shared their writing with the class, then we had some free time.

After school, I briefly assessed their work, making note of "praise points" and "teaching points." From here, I'll be able to formulate small groups to focus on specific skills, such as adding detail, using capitals correctly, putting spaces between words, or working on letters and sounds.

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Another star today was avoiding the need for free time entirely during the middle block of the day. We started math with some sorting bellwork. Afterward, I brought the class to the carpet to introduce them to a Venn diagram. We practiced sorting wooden letters a few different ways using the Venn diagram. Afterward, I sent them back to their tables to sort some words as a group using a rule I gave them (starts with T, ends with T, or both). After spending some time on that activity, I could tell they were getting antsy, so I brought them to the carpet for QDPA, before going back to tables to finish our activity and discuss our results.


My wish for tomorrow is to be more diligent in moving kids on the stop light, our behaviour management system. I have been giving out lots of warnings, since they are still learning the expectations and routines, but I need to be more firm now that they know what is expected. I need to give a clear warning that relates back to our class promise, then move them to yellow if they continue with the unacceptable behaviour. They get along well with each other, but sometimes they don't like when I am choosing the activities they are doing; they are still adjusting from Kindergarten.

 
 
Whew! It was a very busy day, but I think we started off well! Things didn't always go according to plan, which I expected, but we got through the basics, adjusted to new routines, and began getting to know each other.

The biggest thing that surprised me, although it really shouldn't have, is the time we needed to spend playing. My students have spent two full years in the FDK program, so they are used to having large blocks of time playing and doing activities that they choose. I didn't realize how much of an adjustment it was going to be for them to have more structured learning time. So, we spent 15-20 mins at some point during each block playing with a choice of activities. Hopefully I will be able to slowly shorten that time, or minimize the number of choices they have to guide them towards more structured learning.

However, when I say structured learning, I don't mean sitting at their desks listening to me blab or doing endless worksheets. I'm a strong believer in inquiry learning, 3-part math lessons, Readers' Workshop, and other collaborative learning models. The challenge will be to offer them choices that will satisfy their need to play and explore, while they also learn about particular concepts I want to focus on. They are not used to having significant periods of time learning as a whole group, so even spending 15 mins on the carpet explaining routines or collaborating on our classroom rules was difficult for them.

Overall, the day went remarkably well! I'm looking forward to doing it all again tomorrow!
 
 
I originally wrote this post several months ago back in the spring and never got around to polishing it off and posting it. This is one of my favourite examples of inquiry learning from this past year.
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The flash of lighting. The boom and rumble of thunder. The splish splash of rain. The majesty of a thunderstorm.

Is it any wonder that my students were highly intrigued by the passing storm yesterday afternoon?

I was reading a book to them after returning from the library, when one of my students blurts out "Why is it so dark outside?" as he gazed toward the window. I stopped reading and looked, along with the rest of the class. The light was so dim is seemed to be dusk. I knew trying to regain their attention on the book would be useless, so I stopped reading and put the book aside, instead addressing my student's question. We had a discussion about what might be happening outside, looking to see if it was raining (which it was), then amazed as lightning flashed in the sky and thunder rumbled a short time later. We stopped and listened and observed intently, waiting for the thunder and lightning to strike again. Then we quietly talked about storms, what made the thunder and lightning, and what we were observing out of the windows. Some of my students had brilliant ideas! One of my little JKs said that lightning was "electrics coming from the sky and that makes the thunder." One of my SKs observed it was windy; when I asked her how she knew, she said she saw the trees moving.

We had made our own storm on Monday afternoon, using our bodies as sound effects, so I suggested we do it again, since they had enjoyed the activity. I had a student man the lights for the lightning, and the rest of us started by rubbing our hands together to make the sound of wind in the trees. We then began snapping our fingers and/or clicking our tongues, slowly at first, then getting faster, to imitate the sound of raindrops falling. Then we began patting our thighs to sound like a heavy rainfall. Finally we added stomping feet and the flickering lights to replicate thunder and lighting. The effect was awesome and for a moment I almost thought we had a real storm in the room! Then we slowly went backward through the list of actions as the storm passed away, just like the storm outside as the sky began to brighten again. We actually made a storm twice and probably could have done it several times until home time because the kids really enjoyed it.

All the talk of storms reminded a couple of students of some songs that they knew, so we sang "It's Raining, It's Pouring" and "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" (with a twist about screaming for a crocodile, instead of life being a dream), and made up our own actions to go along with each song.

This is a great little snapshot to illustrate the essence of inquiry learning. Through an hour of simple activities and discussion, generated and directed by the students, I was able to touch on curriculum expectations from science, drama & dance, and music. But that never would have happened if I had instead insisted on the students quieting down and listening to the rest of the book I had been reading. Inquiry learning requires the teacher to be flexible and willing to put aside her own plans and jump into whatever the students show an interest in. It requires improvisation and quick thinking to facilitate the learning and guide the inquiry toward meaningful observations, discussion, connections, questions, and experiences that extend the students' interests beyond the surface and dig deep to generate higher level thinking and learning. Perhaps next week when my red class is back, I'll be able to extend their thinking further on this topic...but as my neighbour is fond of saying, "A lot depends on the weather."

 
 
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I want to start off by saying a big thank you to everyone at Northlake Woods this year...staff, admin, students, families, everyone! I had a fantasic year and I will miss you all. I particularly want to thank everyone for the lovely gifts. My favourite was from one of my SKs on the very last day of school who said, "I don't have a present for you, but I can give you a hug!" and he gave me a great big bear hug. I have already read the cards, dug into the tasty treats, and made a trip to Chapters. What I appreciate the most are all of the kind words from parents and children alike, and all of the support from the school community throughout the year.

The end of the year was a bit of a whirlwind and I'm sure I'm forgetting about a few things, but I can always add updates later (so don't forget to check back through the summer). Jumping ahead for a moment, I know many people have asked what I will be doing next year. For those that don't know, the hiring process changed this year, for better or worse. This year, those of us on the 'LTO list' had to apply for jobs, then were placed by seniority into one of the jobs we applied for. When all was said and done, I was placed at Howard Robertson teaching first grade for the full year in an LTO (temporary contract). I am very excited to head to Howard and get to know a new group of students in the fall! I think grade one will be a good fit for me as I have already had some experience teaching this grade at Manchester and I'll get to start the year with my own class, with students who already have some experience with school. I think it will still be a bit of culture shock for all of us to move up to grade one though, with desks, a more formal curriculum, letter grades, and all of those sorts of things! I have a lot of professional reading that has jumped to the top of my to-do list for the summer and a lot of planning and preparing I will need to begin thinking about as well. I'm ready to take on this new challenge, but for now I will enjoy my summer! I hope you do too and take advantage of all the time to learn and grow and relax outside of the classroom. Cheers!