Friday, June 10, 2016

Things I Want to Do... But When?

     It seems like I have been preparing to get back into the classroom from the moment I left the classroom. I know that it will be a huge adjustment returning to work and trying to balancing work requirements, extra curriculars, my M.Ed classes, and the day-to-day life chaos with wanting to spend all of my available time with Jaxson. I can't help but think long-term about all the things I want to implement in my classroom and am wondering when the best time would be to explore these areas.

     One huge aspect at play is that  my husband and I want to continue growing our family, which means that I could end up taking another maternity leave after one year back in the classroom. I'm not sure what kind of big plans I want to implement at work if I end up having a one-year-on one-year-off pattern for the next few years.

     My classroom plans range from small-scale to large-scale and cover everything from classroom set-up and instructional methods to classroom transparency and pedagogy. Here are just some of things floating around in my head right now:

1. Flexible Seating

I want to grow the flexible seating options in my classroom. I am lucky enough to have tables rather than desks but I have been very drawn to the "Starbucks" feel of flexible seating; living room furniture, small individual work spaces, larger collaborative spaces. In my first two years in the classroom I had our classroom "Chill Out Space" (as the kids would call it) which featured a futon & basket chair that had previously served as my own university dorm furniture as well as a comfy carpet from Native Reflections.

Instructional time in my classroom features a lot of collaboration and small-group centres so this was one area where students could meet to work on a group project, complete a centre, or just chill out before the bell rang for class. I also provided clipboards by this area for the students who decided to sit here during large-group more traditional lecture classes. This area, however, was in addition to sufficient table seating and didn't necessarily replace anything; we often just moved the tables around to meet our needs

I would love to be able to begin replacing some of our tables and add in a full size couch, a standing desk, an exercise bike, and some different styles of chairs; not to mention adding some plants and moving away from flurescent lighting. I believe that having flexible seating provides a more comfortable environment for students, allows them to pick an environment that works best for them (which may change day-to-day), encourages collaboration amongst students and encourages me to change my instructional methods.

The problem is that when I left for my maternity leave this past year I had to pack up the "non-traditional" furniture; partly because it was mine personally and the school didn't want to be responsible for it when I wasn't there and partly so I could leave a blank slate for my replacement to build her vision for her classroom. So is it worth building this idea if I just have to pack up and find storage for all these options each time I leave on maternity leave? Perhaps it would be better to wait until I know I am in the classroom permanently before tackling this goal...

*I have been inspired by Erin Klein and Ms. Rocheford

2. Classroom/School Social Media Accounts

I want to start sharing and communicating with parents, family members, students, and the community about what we are doing in the classroom via social media. Ideally I would love to have a classroom Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook page that are synced and sharing things like:
- daily classroom activities
- student projects
- school/classroom reminders
- special events, etc

I feel that transparency is a huge thing in education and that having open communication about what we are doing helps build relationships and foster an education community that doesn't end at the classroom/school doors. Websites are great but they are more or less static and not visited regularly. The number of people who use social media regularly and even have constant access through a device is huge and I feel that we should meet the people where they're at. I think its important to share all of the positive things happening in classrooms; if you aren't telling your story, someone else will do it for you.

Unfortunately, our division currently has social media websites blocked through our school network and the idea of using social media to share about students is not always met with positivity. I would like to work towards getting social media sites through our school filter and working with staff on how to use social media for communication and as an instructional tool. This might not be feasible in a year time frame....

*I have been inspired by Andrew Mead and the sharing he does with George Waters Middle School.

3. Student Blogging

In my first two years in the classroom I blogged with my Grade 8 science and math students regularly regarding what was happening in our classroom. We rotated classroom scribes and blogged almost every science class as a means of documenting our classroom activities, creating a student-authored textbook,  networking with experts in the field, and more.

I Think, Therefore I Blog. (2012). Uploaded to Flickr by MarsmettnnTallahass. Available online at:

To be honest, those first two years were very much experimental and I'd like to say that our blog was in the "beta-stage" of development. When I return in the fall I will be blogging with my Grade 11 Canadian history students (who were my first set of students I blogged with when they were in Grade 8) and this activity is now much more purposeful and focused. Their posts will not only serve as a form of summative assessment for me in regards to historical content and critical thinking but I have collaborated with their English teacher so their posts will also serve as some of their writing pieces for her (with requirements regarding type of writing piece, grammar, formatting, etc). You can get the student package I will be giving them here.

This is something I am implementing for sure... but only with one class. I would like to see how this different approach goes and then develop the activity from there. Ideally I would like to be blogging with all of my classes but for this upcoming year I am accepting that we are just in round two of beta-testing.

4. Digital Literacy Continuum

One of my passions is technology and I feel it is increasingly important to develop students' digital literacy skills. You can read some of the things I've written about digital literacy here, here, here, and here.  In our school/division we have a wide spectrum when it comes to teacher's personal comfort level and perspective towards technology (which I think is reflective of most schools/divisions). As such, we end up with a lot of confusion and discrepancies when it comes to digital literacy:
- when do we introduce ____?
- whose job is it to do _____?
- shouldn't students already know ______?
- we don't know how to do _____
- how do I teach ______?

This is frustrating for the staff and its frustrating for the students, especially when they reach middle school and high school and discover that, for example, what is acceptable in one class counts as plagiarism in another class. I would love to be able to sit down with our staff and work through the MB Literacy with ICT continuum and some of the resources from MediaSmarts and Common Sense Media to develop a school continuum where we are all on the same page regarding expectations for staff and expectations for students.

I have already mentioned this idea to both my principal and superintendent but don't feel that it is something that we will be able to implement large-scale (K-12) in a short amount of time. I am hoping that we can begin the conversation this upcoming year but I know that this will be something I will be working towards for quite some time.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Summer Reading

     Summer is right around the corner and that means its time for summer reading. professional and otherwise. Our school is awesome about being quite focused when it comes to the professional development of our staff. You might remember the book study I completed last summer on Dr. Jennifer Katz's book, Teaching to Diversity: The Three-Block Model of Universal Design for Learning
Teaching to Diversity Cover. (Accessed 2014). Uploaded to Amazon; Portage& Main Press.
Available online at:
 You can read my posts on this book by exploring the UDL blog hashtag

     This summer I will be exploring, Classroom Assessment for Student Learning: Doing it Right - Using it Well, by Jan Chappuis, Rick Stiggins, Steve Chappuis, and Judith Arter. At approximately 400 pages this book covers the "5 Keys" of classroom assessment:
Key 1: Establish a clear assessment purpose to meet information needs of all intended users
Key 2: Base instruction and assessment on clear learning targets
Key 3: Design or select all assessments to meet standards of accuracy
Key 4: Communicate summative and formative results effectively
Key 5: Involve students in the assessment process and in using the results to further learning
* and includes LOTS of end-of-chapter activities to assist reader's with their understanding

Classroom Assessment for Student Learning Cover. (Accessed 2016). Uploaded to Amazon; Pearson Education. Available online at:
     So, over the summer months I will be posting regularly as I make my way through this book. If you'd like to follow along with this journey I will be labelling these posts with an assessment tag that you can access by selecting it from the Labels heading on the right-hand side of the page.