My own report card (part 1)

I started this post right after I finished the lengthy report cards about my 11 students in my class. And never posted it. Now I felt the need to scrap what I had written, and start over.

The report cards we write in the primary school contain the following sections:

  • Units of Inquiry
  • Language Development (English and Italian)
  • Mathematical Development
  • Music/Art/PE
  • Teacher Comment

So where have I developed this year? I will start with the “teacher comment”, a general section on motivation and other bits.

New things tried this year:

  • Gave over more control to students: I have really made the classroom a more equal place for the class community. I let students have a lot more input in what is going to happen and how. I still think I could work in this more, but as with the students who struggle with having this “freedom”, I think one step at the time.
  • More technology used: Despite the limited access to computers and other technology, I have used a lot of different technology. And I believe that, looking at the SAMR model (here on Tech Transformation), that I moved from enhancement to transformation quite a bit over the year.
    One of the tools I enjoyed using was Voicethread with my Grade 3/4 in Pisa, where they were able to share their work and developed a new culture of feedback. I also enjoyed using ToonDoo as part of the first unit in Modena. I found this to be a challenge, as students used new ways to express their ideas, and this required substantial rethinking on my part as well. The ideas expressed in some of the cartoons were huge, but too much time was also lost on it by “messing around”. and the time “messing around” made the students more comfortable with using technology and new tools like that! Lastly we used Glogster to create posters. The idea was simple at first – substitute the normal offline poster with an online version. But again, students were transforming the task much more, commenting on each others work, sharing ideas, embedding videos and creating much more than “just a poster”.
  • Making connections: Both in Pisa and in Modena, we made connections and flattened our classroom walls. We used emails and skype to connect with people around the world. We used Twitter to find experts and people who helped in disasters. There were many lovely people who were willing to help and connect with Grade 3, as they explored why people take action and help in disaster zones. The idea of resources being limited disappears with flattening classroom walls. Often in the case of the PYP, the units of inquiry deal with concepts that publishers don’t consider important for the primary years. This makes books a hard-to-get resource. Information on the internet can also be limited, so we need to rethink our resources and consider “user-created knowledge”, sharing ideas and connecting to people. It certainly made learning more meaningful in my class.
  • The five essential elements of the PYP: The IB defines the five essential elements of the Primary Years Programme as knowledge, concepts, skills, attitudes and action. This year I have tried to make the elements more visible in my classroom, so that I would pay equal attention to them. I found that it worked, on top of making the learner profile central to everything we do. I still struggle with the action component, and can definitely improve in the skills area, but I think it helps to make the areas you chose to develop during a unit explicit, and to develop them in all areas of the curriculum.

Writing stories (in a different way)

As a follow-up to the post Perspective and Stories, I am going to tell you how I used the video of Frederick to facilitate story writing, to think about perspective and diversity. The current unit of inquiry is How We Express Ourselves and the central idea is “The arts help us to discover and appreciate diversity”. The lines of inquiry pre-define the arts as language, visual arts, dance, drama and music.

I used “Frederick” for the language elements, but instead of having all the kids write their own story, I made it a real challenge: Group-writing. This was the first group-writing experience, and the beginning was difficult. We had kids sitting back and not knowing the story, we had others writing the whole things, and we had a lot of fights. But with patience and discussion (and some reflection and guidance), we finally got there. Everyone shared their ideas and they melted together, really nicely.

Recently the students also used another story in music to create soundscapes together. They didn’t make much of a connection between the two, so I was wondering if I should have used the same story to start with.

But “Frederick” worked well. The stories were very different, but common in other ways. It really helped us to make initial art connections to the central idea.

Once the stories were written, we shared them on the interactive white board while the groups read out there stories. I was amazed that one group broke the sequence and moved back and forth in the video, creating an even more individual story. The experience was great, it took them over 6 hours to get there, but it was worth it!

Try it out with your students and tell me how it went!

But where are the toys?

room 018 Recently I read an article about the shocks that Kindergarteners go through when they enter Grade 1. Now, no matter where you are in the world, and what you call your grades, the story is usually the same. As soon as “formal schooling”starts, we replace toys with books and often, fun with drill. Education is serious, after all.

What amazes me is the fact that I know sooooo many adults who love to play. Computer games, sports and generally they have a great sense of fun. Most of us work in jobs we enjoy, we have fun at work.
Why is it then, that a lot of students don’t have fun at school?

I am not an expert on play, but I know that letting kids play¬†occasionally, even in Grade 3, is exciting and informative. They develop a variety of skills, esp. social skills. I love observing the 11 students in my class engaging in a session of Lego. The usual “boundaries” are broken down, boys and girls play together, shy students become leaders and everyone gets to share and implement their ideas. Play is probably the one area where true collaboration happens, and we need to make time for it.

So why do we replace toys with “serious stuff”? Why don’t we make more time for play?

Independent, life-long learners

The IB sets out Standards and Practices that all IB schools have to meet, with special requirements for every programme, the PYP, MYP and DP.

They recently changed, and the Educational Leadership Team at my school is reviewing the changes and adapting the school’s action plan accordingly. Some of the changes were quite significant, one whole standard has been integrated into the others and generally the new document reflects learning from the previous year, as some practices are more defined (for example it now states that the classroom teacher needs to be responsible for at least the language of instruction, math, science and social studies – something which I have seen not happening before).

The standard C3 deals with the Teaching and Learning at IB schools, and in the 2005 version used to state:

Teaching and learning at the school empowers and encourages students to become lifelong learners, to be responsible towards themselves, their learning, other people and the environment, and to take appropriate action.

And I remember that this standard had me thinking about HOW I can design my classroom and class time to ensure that students become life-long learners who take responsibility for their own learning. Because even though it sounds like common sense, I have always found that students don’t want to do so. Or, lets put it another way, that students have learned it can be comfortable to just get by, and as a teacher is it quite a challenge to make them become more active and involved.

The new standard C3 definition is simpler:

Teaching and learning reflects IB philosophy.

A good look at the practices reveals the following two as the most important for the idea of “independent, life-long learning”:

  • Teaching and learning engages students as inquirers and thinkers.
  • Teaching and learning supports students to become actively responsible for their own learning.

What do we do to make sure our students become actively responsible for their own learning? Here are some things that I already do that I believe support and encourage the practice:

  • Students regularly reflect on their learning (on the HOW, on the WHAT and also on the WHY of their learning)
  • Students set themselves goals (and review them regularly)
  • Students take shared responsibility for their portfolio as a way to document their learning
  • Students are encouraged to follow their own curiosities: I try make time to let them follow and investigate their own questions and wonderings even when they are not related to our “set-out classroom learning”
  • Students are actively engaged in setting criteria for assessment or at least informed about the criteria
  • Students are regularly involved in self- and peer assessment

Recently, I have been taking some more risks when it comes to taking responsibility and making choices. It relates back to practices that we used at my school in Berlin, but unfortunately I wasn’t at the same stage then as I am now, and struggled with the implementation of such a progressive and amazing programme. However, now I am taking the elements I find useful back on board.

The idea of sharing learning goals and letting students work on them in their own time, is no rocket science. But still, a lot of teachers have timetables that make all students work on Math from 8.20 to 9.15 and then a quick switch to Art, then Language Arts, etc.
What I have tried recently, is letting the students choose what they want to work on. Surely, this could be better, in terms of more freedom, but lets look at yesterday:

I was doing a Math pre-assessment, so students could work on that independently. We had started to think about our central idea, and the word diversity was hard to understand for some students. So I encouraged them to find out what it really means, and what others think it means. They visualized their findings, some made mind-maps, others just wrote down quotes.
The third option was to reply to an email from Grade 1 at the ISZL in Switzerland.
The kids were engaged, busy and I had time to help those who needed it. But sometimes I was not needed at all.

What else can we do to make students more independent and actively responsible for their own learning?


Helping other students… far away.

Yesterday my class received an email from Grade 1 at ISZL. When I told them that there was an email from them, they were eager to reply right away. But time has been taken over by other things: Our winter spettacolo (Pinocchio, the Musical).

I had to promise them that they can reply today. The fact that they were so keen to answer questions from someone else, to help their inquiry. Two girls stated that “first we asked Megan and Adrienne questions, now someone can ask us”.

Connecting classes is so important, yet I feel we are so unconnected.
So, here are some goals for the new term:

– Start blogging (I am not keen on using Studywiz for that, so will see if I can get permission to blog on a more open platform)

– Connect classes via email and Skype

So, if you are up for this, and want to connect, let me know!

Perspective and stories

Just found this, unpublished, from June 2010.

Just found this on KE’s ICT at ISOCS blog. It reminded me so much of an activity we did during a workshop at my old school. A picture story (no words) was given to two groups. One was asked to tell the story making music, the others were to write a story, in Italian! (Two Italian teachers were part of this activity, one -also the music teacher- was in the Music group, the other in the story telling group). It empowered them, but what I want to say about the activity now is something different. It is a great idea to share perspective. And, of course, creativity.

I haven’t used this in my classroom at all, but can you imagine the different and interesting stories the children could create? While some of us might think that in the above story, Frederik gets yelled at and embarrassed, the other group might interpret it entirely different. I really want to do this a lot in my next class, and I look forward to writing about it then again!