Creativity Thursdays

A few weeks ago, I asked my students:

“Do schools kill creativity?” 

It was interesting to hear their different perspectives on the topic. Then together we watched Sir Ken Robinson’s famous Ted Talk on the matter and specifically analyzed this quote:

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So we decided to calculate how much class time is dedicated to the development of literacy skills, and match that amount of time for the development of creativity skills. We discovered that 1/5 of our time should be dedicated to creative pursuits – in the form of Creativity Thursdays.

Before jumping in with both feet, we took some time to unpack the concept of creativity. What it is? What are the different forms? What is it connected to?  Then we put together a menu of creative endeavours that students could choose from each week:

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The day before our first “Creativity Thursday” the students were abuzz with excitement! Trying to decide what to do… who to do it with… how long it would take… the materials they would need…. it was amazing to watch! There was so much thinking, planning and – well – creativity, even before the actual day started!

For the first few weeks I decided my role would be to “look for learning”. I wanted to walk around and document evidence of learning that was happening through their creative endeavours. What I noticed was amazing! Not only were students developing their Learner Profile attributes, PYP attitudes and ATL skills, but there was also rich, authentic engagement with literacy, math, humanities and science!

Here is what I saw:

Learner Profile

Students were being caring, thinkers, reflective and risk-takers.

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Attitudes

Students were showing appreciation, enthusiasm, creativity, confidence, commitment, curiosity and independence.

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ATL Skills

Students were making group decisions, accepting different roles, cooperating and resolving conflicts. (social skills)

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Students were develop gross and fine motor skills and practicing safe and informed choices. (self-management skills)

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Students were listening, speaking, presenting, viewing, reading and writing. (communication skills)

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Students were asking questions, planning, observing, recording data and interpreting findings. (research skills)

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Math

Students were exploring the exchange of money.

img_0990Students were experimenting with lines and angles.

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Students were engaging with measurement.

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Students were playing with patterns.

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Students were manipulating shapes and spaces.

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Literacy
Students were writing for authentic purposes.

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Students were writing for creative purposes.

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Students were consuming texts.

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Science

Students were exploring states of liquids and solids.

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Students were observing the processes of boiling and evaporation.

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Students were inquiring into chemical reactions.

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Students were playing with properties of movement and motion.

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Humanities

Students were reflecting on and changing their choices of materials and processes to minimize their impact on the environment.

From using new paper to protect a space, to using already-used paper…

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From using tissue to tidy up a mess, to using a reusable cloth…

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From buying new things to use, to repurposing things we already have…

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From using disposable wipes to wash hands, to using soap and water…

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From pouring out water when the bottle is needed, to moving it to another container…

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Reflections…

To make sure that the connections weren’t only explicit to me, at the end of the day students reflected on the learning that was happening.

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I’m glad Creativity Thursdays have turned out to be such a success! And although I try to allow for and encourage creativity in all of the regular learning that we do, I think it is important to carve out some protected time purely for the development of student’s creativity as well.

… especially when doing so seems to lead to so much thinking, wondering, imagining, exploring and discovering! 

A Recipe for Successful Three-Way Conferences

This year, three-way conferences went really well! Upon reflection, I believe there were a few specific reasons as to why.

1. Conferences came before reports

For the first time, my school decided to have three-way conferences before sending home written reports. This was an amazing adjustment to the typical school calendar! It allowed for the conversations during three-way conferences to be exclusively focused on learning, as opposed to grades.

2. Parents knew the purpose and expectations

The week leading up to conferences I made sure to include information about both the purpose and structure of three-way conferences on our class blog. In the post I explained how conferences were going to work and I also included a screenshot about three-way conferences from Making the PYP Happen.

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3. Students knew the purpose and expectations

I also shared the information about conferences from Making the PYP Happen with students. We read it together and picked out the parts we thought were important. I also explained to them the structure we were going to use and provided time for them to practice it with a partner.

4. An open-ended, learning focused structure

This year I tried a different approach to the structure of the actual conferences. I wanted a structure that guided the conversations, but was open enough to allow for reflection and discussion from all three perspectives (student, parent and teacher). Yet at the same time I wanted to ensure the short time we had together was not bogged down with writing. So I decided to use the “Stars and Wishes” structure which would guide reflective conversations about what the student had done well and also areas for growth and improvement.

I printed out and laminated a placemat


and I printed out and laminated little cards that contained both how we had been learning and what we had been learning.


I organized the cards into smaller categories:

  1. IB Learner Profile, PYP Attitudes and ATL skills that we had been working on
  2. Flexile seating, planning their own, choosing where they learn, choosing who they learn with
  3. UOI concepts
  4. Literacy Skills
  5. Math Skills


During the actual conference we followed the same three-step process for every group of cards. First, the student took the cards and sorted them into stars and wishes based on whether they felt it was something they had done well, or something they wanted to get better at. After they had laid out the cards for that group, they explained the reasoning behind their placements.


Second, parents were invited to either agree with their child’s placement or make changes based on what they had seen or heard at home. If the parents made any changes, they were invited to share their perspective about their child’s learning.


Finally, I as the teacher, was able to make any changes and share my perspective about the student’s learning based on what I had seen and heard at school.


This structure provided a robust and holistic overview of the student’s learning. There were times when the student, their parents and I all agreed on the placements of the cards. And there were times when we all had different perspectives. There were times when the student felt something was a strength of theirs and the parents and I felt there was more room to grow, and there were times when the student felt unsuccessful at something but the parents and I perceived it as a huge strength of theirs! The cool thing was that no matter whether we were in agreement or disagreement, everyone’s perspective was welcome, honoured and respected as part of the discussion.

My reflections…

  • it was amazing!
  • the majority of the talking was done by the students
  • all three perspectives were equally valued in the conversations
  • the focus was entirely on learning – not one mention of grades!
  • the students did an incredible job reflecting on and verbalizing their reflections about their learning and themselves as learners
  • parents were proud to hear their child share their successes
  • parents had many valuable insights about their child’s learning
  • conversations were focused on growth, goal setting and action plans
  • it felt like all three parties were on the same team, working towards the same goal

I know there are probably many amazing recipes for successful three-way conferences! I would love to hear your feedback on my approach, as well as other, different approaches to structuring conversations about learning that honour and involve the three perspectives of student, parent and teacher. Please share! 

Parent Report Cards

For years I’ve asked my students to write progress reports about how I’m doing as their teacher, but I’ve never thought to ask my students’ parents for their feedback as well.

…until this year!

One of my goals, heading back into the classroom, was to create more of a learning community that involved, valued and respected the parents’ voice. So as part of that goal, I asked the parents to write a short report card for me about how I’m doing so far as their son or daughter’s teacher.

In order to collect their feedback I used the Visible Thinking RoutineCompass Points” and created a Google form where they could share their honest feedback.

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I’m so glad I asked! I learned tons of valuable information and had much to reflect on in order to improve:

Needs

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Excitement

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Worries

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Suggestions

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It was such an enriching experience that I’m looking forward to going through this process again later in the year, hopefully improving in the areas identified in this round of feedback and then finding new ways to improve even more!

Assessment done with students, not to students

I strongly believe that assessment is something that should be done with students, not something that is done to  students. So this year, being back in the classroom, I wanted to put that belief into practice. We have just finished our first Unit of Inquiry and here is how our summative assessment went.

  1. An open discussion about assessment

As a class we discussed the difficulty of trying to measure a human’s learning and I shared that there are many different approaches to trying to figure out what a student has learned in school.

2. Trying out multiple approaches

We discussed a handful of approaches for measuring learning and then we tried each of them out within the context of our unit.

Students showed how their thinking changed throughout the unit by completing “I used to think… Now I think…”

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Students synthesized their own big idea from the unit by completing the VTR “Headlines”

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Students added new knowledge to their transdisciplinary concept  time capsule

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Students applied the concepts learning in our unit to their own life

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3. Self-Assessment

I’m also a strong believer that the learner themself best understands what they know and don’t know, so it was important to me that they had the first opportunity to assess their own understanding. Students took the four different assessments they had completed and using those learning artifacts, marked on the rubric where they felt they were on our learning spectrum.


4. Teacher Assessment

The students then gave me their 4 summative activities and their self-assessed rubric and I looked through the same learning artifacts and I added my perspective to the rubric.


5. Summative conference

Then, I conferenced with each student individually…


and one of three things happened. Either we had the same perspective and that became their final mark for the unit. 


Or if we had different perspective, we chatted to figure out if they new more than they were able to show on the activities, or if they thought they new more but after our chat discovered they actually had more to learn. And in some cases I needed more information because I felt I was unable to assess their understanding based on the activities they completed, so we we chatted about the concepts in the unit and the central idea to find out if they knew more than they showed.


For students who had a competent understanding, we talked about how to extend themselves next unit. For students who were still developing their understanding, we reflected on what blocked their learning this unit and set goals for next unit. For some students that meant changing some learning behaviours (where they sit, who they learn with), for other students it meant applying more effort, and for other students it meant organizing time in addition to class time, for extra learning support from me.


6. Share with parents

After the conferences were complete, I sent home to rubrics so the students could share them with their parents. I also included information about our summative process on our class blog. Parents were also invited to set-up a three-way meeting with me and their child if they wanted to discuss anything about this particular summative.

 

All in all, it was a great process! I think my students felt empowered to have a voice in their learning and in the measurement of their learning. I think students felt their perspectives were respected and valued. I think that going through this process after the first unit of inquiry will have positive impacts on the learning that happens in our second unit of inquiry.

And on a personal level, it felt much more humane and much more like a partnership in supporting their learning journey!

A Different Approach to Reading Buddies

In the past I have always partnered up my students with another class and once a week we did “reading buddies”. Students would read with their buddy and it was wonderful.

However, this year I wanted to put all the decision making in the hands of my students and I realized that if I organized reading buddies with another class I was making that decision for them.

So I took a different approach this year…

First, I emailed all of our Pre-K, KG1, KG2 and Grade 1 teachers to who would be interested in having a Grade 4 reading buddy come read with their students. I had about 2-3 teachers from each grade level sign up.

Then, I shared my vision with my students and offered an optional meeting for those students who were interested in being reading buddies this year. About 3/4 of my students attended.

At that point I asked my students which grade they would be most interested working with and matched them up with a teacher. Then I provided each student with their reading buddy teacher’s email address. The students did an amazing job consulting our schedule in order to send an email with possible dates and times.

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Students were clear about how many times they would be willing to come each week. Some students chose once a week, others chose every day. Then they sent of their emails and excitedly waited for a response!

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Once students heard back from the teachers they solidified dates and times. Students have independantly kept track of their scheduled dates and times and done a wonderful job emailing the teacher if a conflict comes up and they are unable to make it.

Now reading buddies is up and running and it has been awesome so far! Sometimes they read to one or two students, sometimes they listen to a younger student reading to them and sometimes they read to the whole class!

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Here are my reflections on this process so far:

  • emailing the teachers provided an amazing authentic opportunity for functional writing
  • students are practicing their fluency and expression when reading to their buddies
  • students are developing their confidence as readers
  •  students are developing empathy and compassion by working with younger children
  • students are developing the organization and time management skills by making and keeping scheduled appointments
  • students are loving every minute of it!

I look forward to watching this progress grow and change as the year unfolds. I’m hoping word will spread and more Grade 4 students will want to become reading buddies and more early year’s teachers will want to host Grade 4 reading buddies!

How Back Channelling Transformed Our Class Read Alouds

During class read alouds it is not uncommon for us teachers to shush our students, redirect them to raise their hand, ask them not to shout out, move their spot on the carpet if they’re talking, give them a hand signal that means stop…

Yet the very thing students are “shouting out” or talking to their friends about, are the very things we are trying to get them to do as readers! So we incessantly shush them when they are organically making a prediction, connection or inference about a story… then later on in the day or week we give them inauthentic reading comprehension activities to try to illicit the very skills we shut down earlier!

So when I started the year this year I vowed not to shut down the thinking that was being shared during a read aloud, but after the first few times refraining from shushing and redirecting I realized 23 students sharing their thinking out loud at the same time made it very difficult for everyone to hear the story.

Then I remembered a post I read about back channeling in the classroom so I decided to give that a try. I was transparent with my students and told them I wanted them to be able to freely share their thinking about the story we were reading, but in order to do that in a way where everyone can still hear the story we will be communicating our thinking not with our voices, but through something called a back channel. We tested out back channeling in a low stakes way by chatting about our Eid vacations.

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Once students were comfortable with back channeling, we tried it out during a read aloud. The results were amazing!

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Students shared their personal connections:

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Students shared their connections with other texts:

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Students shared their opinions:screen-shot-2016-09-23-at-5-07-20-pm

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Students shared predictions:screen-shot-2016-09-23-at-5-07-49-pm

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Students shared inferences:

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Students shared their questions:screen-shot-2016-09-23-at-5-08-29-pm screen-shot-2016-09-23-at-5-08-38-pm

At the end of every day I would go through the back channel and document the learning that had taken place. After a few days I had learned SO much about my students as readers:

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Outside of sharing their thinking about stories, it was also great to see student interacting with each other:

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And communicating their meaning with multimodalities – not only words, but using emojis too:

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Now anytime we do a class read aloud, students hop on the back channel! We have also branched out to using a back channel when watching films and analyzing photos. It has been amazing way for student to share their thinking with one another and an amazing way for me to capture their thinking in an organic, authentic way.

I shared this openly with my students. I told them the back channel was allowing me to learn so much about them as readers that we would probably never have to do a “reading comprehension activity” this year.

They cheered.

So did I.

An inquiry into homework…

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It comes as no surprise that the issue of homework in elementary classrooms is quite the hot topic these days. In thinking about starting my year back in the classroom I decided that I – like many other teachers around the world -was going to outlaw homework!

… then I began to reflect on my decision and wondered if choosing for everyone not to have homework, was any better than choosing for everyone to have homework. Either way you slice it, I as the teacher, was the owner of that decision and that was something I was no longer comfortable with in trying to achieve more democratic classroom.

So I decided to take a collaborative approach and invite students and parents in on the decision making. Here is how it went!

Tuning In

Before delving too deep I wanted to tune into what students already thought about homework. So I posted “agree”, “disagree”, “sometimes” and “I’m not sure” around our classroom and I projected the following quote:

“Homework is essential to learning”

There were a range of responses and as students shared the reasoning behind their opinions, many students shifted from one group to the next.

Provocation 

Then I invited students to watch this Alfie Kohn interview to provoke their thinking about homework. They backchannelled throughout the video to share their thoughts, questions and connections.

Finding Out

After that, I told them that they would be deciding if they had homework – together with their families – but in order to make an informed decision we had to explore all the perspectives surrounding homework. To help with this we used to Visible Thinking Routine – Circle of Viewpoints.

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Then we divided into teams that would each inquire into a different perspective. Each team had a different approach to collecting data:

The “student” team posted a Twitter poll and collected tallies at recess.

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The “parent” team sent a Google Form home to all the parents.

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The “teacher” team walked around the school and collected quotes from teachers about homework.

The “administrator” team sent the principal, assistant principal and superintendent an email.

The “media” team explored articles and videos I shared with them.

The “other schools” team browsed this school’s blog about their homework inquiry.

The “our school” team looked at the homework policy in the school handbook.

Sorting Out

Once all the teams had their data they had to go through it and decide what was important, what was worth taking note of and how they were going to consolidate and display it.

Some wrote a summary:

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Others used graphs:

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Some used statistics:

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Others used quotes:

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Some used hyeperlinks:

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Others used photos:

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Making Conclusions

Then we put it all together and emailed this Google Slideshow home to our families. From there, families explored all the perspectives together and made a decision about whether or not they wanted homework in Grade 4.

Final results: 9 chose homework 14 chose no homework

Taking Action

I pulled together the 9 students that opted to have homework this year and together we used the Start With Why framework to make a plan.

First students focused on why they wanted homework, then how they wanted it to work, then finally what specifically they would do to accomplish those goals.

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Some students made themselves choice boards:

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Other students planned out each night of the week:

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Next, I provided feedback about their plan and then they brought it home to get feedback from their parents as well.

Now we are finally ready to put these differentiated, student-led, family supported homework plans into action!

My Reflections

  • there was so much math and literacy in this inquiry
  • it was a great way to explore the concept of perspective
  • the format allowed for students to express their discovers using new literacies and multimodalities
  • the parents were amazing partners in this inquiry

Now that it is all over, I can rest assured that the students and families who want homework have it and the students and families who don’t want homework don’t have it. Everyone is happy and the ownership and control rests with the learners themselves… as it always should.