Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Class Size Really Matters

I know, tell you something you don't already know, right? This post is just one more testament/rant.

I teach AM and PM kindergarten classes. I have just 5 less students in the PM class. There is not a big difference in the behaviours or special cases to deal with, and I have one full time assistant in each class. The difference in productivity and quality of learning is noticeable on a daily basis.

Being in Kindergarten, most of my assessment data is based on anecdotal notes, pictures, and one-to-one interactions. Clearly, a smaller class size lends itself to way more data collection per student. It's all accumulative too; what takes 2 days in my PM class can take 3-5 days in the AM. 

Social Interactions
Because the PM group started out so small, they have been able to develop very strong relationships with one another. They rarely, if ever, have disagreements and are extremely independent problem solvers for their developmental age. Because it's been so easy to foster the development of positive social skills and interactions, we've had more time to focus on the learning.

I know it sounds too businessy for a K classroom, but our productivity in the afternoon is significantly better than the morning. I can only attribute it to the size. Students receive a lot more immediate, personalized feedback and one-to-one instruction.

My Challenge
I often feel like my afternoon class is being held back by the morning class's slow pace, particularly when it comes to small projects such as crafts and art. However, I find it really difficult to run the classes on completely different schedules (which is what would end up happening in a matter of weeks). I do use our extra time in the afternoon for learning but when it comes to inquiry projects I face difficulty. I know both classes will likely look different and take things up differently and I am still not sure how to do this and keep my sanity!

Conclusion: Less is More
If all classes, particularly in early childhood, could stay 15 students or less, we would see a huge difference in student learning. I know it's just an opinion and not backed-up by any fancy data (just my own), but it creates such a strong argument for private schooling (which, by the way, I am not a proponent for!).

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Math fun!

Engagement makes my life easier. It makes students' lives easier too. Today I introduced a new math app to my grade ones. It's called Hungry Fish and they get to feed their fish a specific number and he's very fussy. They usually need to combine two numbers to make the desired number. The cool part was that they were so highly engaged by this game, as I was too when I first tried it, that you could hear a pin drop in the room for over 20 minutes. Circulating the room, ALL of them were on task and choosing an appropriate level for themselves. 

I always try to teach them how to select a level that fits them but I don't mind if they like to play with the less challenging levels. Eventually they will get bored and want that challenge. Ultimately, they end up in the right place for them. This is what real differentiation feels like to me: helping students to identify their sweet spot in their learning and understand what real learning feels like. Through this discovery process, they come to know more about themselves as a learner. The next step is going to be helping them to verbalize their learning needs. Easier said than done, I'm thinking.

The neatest thing about today's activity was that the kids discovered something in the game (within about 5 minutes) that I have never known about! They realized that, with enough points, they can change the colour of their fish and design where its fins go. I played this game a fair bit and I did not make this discovery. I'm feeling very humbled in front of these 21st century learners!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

It's time I blogged

So I've been meaning to get to this post since...oh about September. To say I'm "actively" engaged in my first year of teaching would be an understatement. Things are busy. Very busy. I'm not going to lie, at times I feel just plain overwhelmed and seriously question if I'm cut out for this job of teaching. There were days (most of them in September) where I needed to cry it out, just like the Ferber babies, for no apparent reason. Then there were other days, admittedly less of them, where I thought, 'hey, I got this, no problem!'

With all of these ups and downs going on, I've missed out on some excellent blogging opportunity. So I need to start now. I'm going to begin with a very summarized list of what's worked and what hasn't. (I realize that there is an argument here for focusing on the positives, but, frankly, this is for me to be able to remember everything!)

-songs with actions for teaching...well, almost anything.
-pre-assessments -so helpful and often they know more than I thought.
-reading strategies -I semi-use Daily 5 and direct teach these in whole group and on an individual basis with modeling. They model them for each other as well. I love how it brings learning to read to their consciousness.
-planning via Intelligence Online (IO) -I love this resource and consider it my saving grace
-tweaking other amazing teachers' unit plans for myself -I still do my own unit plans, but for every one I do, I borrow someone else's
-5 why's -learned this from a great teacher and it really helps with getting deeper into an issue without leading students
-reading picture books the whole way through without stopping to teach something -I reread it to them later if I want a lesson out of it but the first time is always for enjoyment of the story
-bringing people in from OUTSIDE -yes! We are not in a prison and people from the outside world can actually come and talk with your students and teach them something! They LOVE it and it leaves us with so many take-off points for continued learning
-dancing -we dance, everyday, and they love it. And, guess what, they prefer to do their own dance moves rather than follow the teacher. Strange creatures, those children. I use the dance "lessons" to promote creativity and bonding in our classroom community.

Not working:
-paper -I type faster than I write and it is so frustrating when that piece of paper you need got left somewhere else! I use dropbox and evernote so I can access important documents (including assessments) from anywhere.
-calendar -yes, it is the beloved calendar that we have all come to accept as mandatory. I don't know if it's more boring for them or me. True, my students may want to see when things are going to happen (a field trip, pizza day, birthdays, etc), but I don't think that justifies spending 15 minutes per day of boredom, especially when (GASP!) it's not even in grade one curriculum! I stop at the "Days of the Week" song (see first point in "working" above)
-home reading -if I get my own classroom next year I will use symbols (eg. Stars, birds, elephants, etc.) rather than letters to categorize reading levels. I am wondering, too, about the possibility of scrapping the leveled readers and letting students take home books they're actually interested in and enjoy reading -what a concept-. Perhaps parents might actually enjoy them too and read more with their kids! (okay, I'm patronizing the system now)
-daily 5 book exchange -I allow this weekly and they take 10 books. They can keep ones they want and switch ones they are done with. The problem is that it's too chaotic (books everywhere) and it takes up my teaching time. I have yet to find a way to do this more successfully. Suggestions gladly welcomed!
-homework -I tried this and hated it. Once a week students were taking home a duo tang with a word family and coming up with as many words as they could. For some reason I felt I had to do this because I see it almost everywhere, but I cannot see the value so I stopped it. None of the parents have complained :)

Well, that's what I have for right now. I'm going to repost things as I think of them. The bottom line here is that, when I actually get a moment to reflect, I LOVE this job. Yes, it's busy. Yes, I'm exhausted. Yes, I'm engaged!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Blogging Together

I'm blogging with my grade one students today! We can blog about anything we want to; it has to be something interesting because we know that a lot of other people read our blogs.

I read my cousin's blog this morning. She's 20 weeks pregnant with her first baby and she uploaded a photo of her growing belly. I think this is very exciting!

Friday, July 8, 2011

New and Exciting Times

It seems I'm beginning to take part in some classic "newbie" behaviour:
  1. It's not even mid-July and I've already emailed my principal with a list of annoying but necessary questions
  2. I've created and added all of my students to a class wiki and blog (can I just say that kidblogs is awesome)
  3. I've ordered my preferred phonics literacy system and eagerly await its arrival
  4. I spend my "free time" reading early literacy and mathematics books
  5. I've renewed my membership to Intelligence Online/Galileo Network and began seeking out inquiry projects
And, I'm not going to lie, this list is just going to keep growing. It's all so exciting though!
These are some of the resources I'm finding really helpful right now:

In writing this, however, I am beginning to remind myself about teacher self care and how that can impact teaching. I need to consciously make sure that I enjoy normal summer things before the hectic school year begins. It's exciting to feel this passionate about work though. I feel like the child in Vivian Paley's A Child's Work, which focuses on the importance of learning through play. I'm experiencing the adult version, learning through engagement.

Monday, May 30, 2011

How long till I'm an expert teacher?

I'm just making my way through Outliers for the first time (something tells me I'll be reading it again one day) and pondering Gladwell's implications for a newbie teacher. Gladwell talks about how everyone needs at least 10,000 hours of challenging, diligent practice to be an expert. If I generously include my student teaching hours and my work hours so far after graduation, I'm at a whopping 925 hours of teaching time.

Yikes. Could this be a deterrent for a potential employer? Perhaps. But what are the benefits of hiring a fresh-out-the-gates teacher? What do we have to offer students, families, and schools? What kinds of experiences do we have with educational technology and theory that characterize our pedagogy?

Just 9,075 hours to go!

Image source.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

When are you a Teacher?

I've been thinking a lot about this question recently. I just graduated from a teaching program and am now a certified Alberta teacher. But am I really a Teacher?

In recent encounters with new people, I've been asked the commonplace question, "what do you do?". I've found myself struggling with a particular answer. You see, I have a degree that says I'm a teacher but, in reality, I have not a classroom of my own or an actual teaching position. So I reply with "I'm in education". And then, the lets-get-to-the-bottom-of-this question, "oh, are you a teacher". "Well yes" I reply, "but I'm not working as a teacher right now. I'm working with special needs students in schools..." And round we go.

A kind of teacher. (image source)

So all this made me wonder, at what point can I justify calling myself a teacher?

Shouldn't the status of Teacher be reserved for those actually engaging in it on a daily basis? Those spectacular people designing activities for student learning, dealing with parents, going to meetings, thinking about the learning needs of each and every student in the class, and taking on the curriculum? I certainly engage in junior versions of many of these things now, but certainly not to the full extent of a classroom teacher. I cannot help but feel I would be devaluing what they do everyday by calling myself a teacher.

A revered teacher. (image source)

But what about the innate nature of a teacher? Surely many would argue that Ghandi was a great teacher, even though he didn't teach in schools or hold a teaching certificate. After all, are there not some people out there that are teaching that really shouldn't be? They usually know who they are, and have often ended up there for various reasons. Teaching is not for everybody. Degree or no degree, some people are just Teachers and others are not. In this sense, I am a Teacher. I should be loud and proud about replying to the question of what I do. I teach! It's hard not to feel like you're misleading someone though. God forbid they continue to question about what grade you teach...

A teacher in the making? (image source)

But then again, did I not strive for this over my 6 years of university education (and increasingly ridiculous tutition fees, I might add)? After all of that, have I not yet earned the right to call myself a Teacher? I had a dream and I fulfilled that dream! Well...I got the credentials I needed to be able to fulfill that dream. Hmmm.

Ultimately, I feel this push and pull over my changing identity. It's that sort of in limbo feeling that you can't wait to shake. A degree isn't everything, and rightly so.