Best. First Month of School. Ever.

So the first month of school has come and gone… and what a month it was! Yet I have to admit, I had an internal struggle. The teachery teacher side of me kept saying “Hurry up! Move along! There is content to get to! You are behind your team! Report cards are coming!” While the inquiry-teacher side of me kept saying “Slow down. What’s the rush? Follow your students. Notice the learning that is happening everyday.” Thankfully the second voice won out, in large part because I kept constantly referring back to Finland’s model of easing into  the school year as a source of inspiration and reassurance.

So here is sneak peak of how my students and I spent our first month together:

Who We Are

We inquired into relationships…

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We inquired into each other…

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Sharing the Planet

We inquired to rights and responsibilities of students and children…

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We inquired into types of conflict, sources of conflict and solutions for solving conflict peacefully…

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We inquired into problem finding and problem solving…

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How We Organize Ourselves

We inquired into how to set up our learning space…

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We inquired into how homework will work this year…

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We inquired into our classroom schedule, systems, and jobs…

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We inquired into back to school night…

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How We Express Ourselves

We inquired into expressing ourselves on Twitter…

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We inquired into expressing ourselves on our class blog…

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We inquired into communicating through a backchannel…

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We inquired into communicating with each other via email…

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How the World Works

We inquired into why and how humans learn…

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Where We Are in Place and Time

We inquired into why, how and what we learn at our school… image

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We inquired into our perspectives at the moment about schools, teachers, reading, writing, math and UOI….

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We inquired into ourselves as learners…

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…. and sometimes we threw out the plans to follow student-generated inquiries! (Like water bottle flipping, why the Maldives are sinking, palindromes and the life of Ruby Bridges)

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All throughout our first month together I intentionally looked for learning throughout the day and documented it each night. I have learned so much about my students not only as readers, writers, mathematicians and inquirers… but also as humans.

Just for fun, I thought about everything that has happened this past month and wondered how many curricular expectations were authentically explored throughout our various inquiries… to satisfy the slowly disappearing teachery-teacher side of me… and anyone else who might ask!

Here is what I discovered:

Social Studies

Concepts – systems, community, relationships, perspective, choice, transformation, rights, democracy

C1.4.4 explain how groups of people make rules to create responsibilities to protect a safe environment.

C1.4.6 describe ways in which people benefit from and are challenged by working together, including through government, workplaces, voluntary organizations, and families.

C2.4.3 identify appropriate deliberative processes when making decisions or reaching judgments as a group.

C3.4.3 explain how procedures are developed to address community problems.

E1.4.1 identify the benefits and costs of individual choices.

G1.4.1 construct maps and other graphic representations of both familiar and unfamiliar places.

G1.4.2 use maps, satellite images, photographs, and other representations to explain relationships between the locations of places and regions.

Science 

Concepts – systems, balance, interdependence, behaviour

PS3.4.1 use evidence to construct an explanation relating the speed of an object to the energy of that object.

ED1.3-5.1 define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost.

ED1.3-5.3 plan and carry out fair tests in which variables are controlled and failure points are considered to identify aspects of a model or prototype that can be improved.

Reading

Concepts – meaning, perspective,  opinion

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.4.7
Make connections between the text of a story or drama and a visual or oral presentation of the text, identifying where each version reflects specific descriptions and directions in the text.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.4.7
Interpret information presented visually, orally, or quantitatively (e.g., in charts, graphs, diagrams, time lines, animations, or interactive elements on Web pages) and explain how the information contributes to an understanding of the text in which it appears.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RF.4.3
Know and apply grade-level phonics and word analysis skills in decoding words.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.4.10
By the end of the year, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poetry, in the grades 4-5 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.4.10
By the end of year, read and comprehend informational texts, including history/social studies, science, and technical texts, in the grades 4-5 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.

Writing

Concepts – audience, presentation, responding, text

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.4.2
Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.4.5
With guidance and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, and editing. (Editing for conventions should demonstrate command of Language standards 1-3 up to and including grade 4 here.)
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.4.6
With some guidance and support from adults, use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing as well as to interact and collaborate with others; demonstrate sufficient command of keyboarding skills to type a minimum of one page in a single sitting.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.4.7
Conduct short research projects that build knowledge through investigation of different aspects of a topic.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.4.10
Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.

Communication

Concepts – message, meaning, audience, purpose

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.4.1
Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 4 topics and texts, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.4.5
Add audio recordings and visual displays to presentations when appropriate to enhance the development of main ideas or themes.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.4.6
Differentiate between contexts that call for formal English (e.g., presenting ideas) and situations where informal discourse is appropriate (e.g., small-group discussion); use formal English when appropriate to task and situation. (See grade 4 Language standards 1 here for specific expectations.)

Math

Concepts – data, number, statistics, interpretation, measurement, estimation

CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.4.OA.A.3
Solve multistep word problems posed with whole numbers and having whole-number answers using the four operations, including problems in which remainders must be interpreted.

CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.4.NBT.A.2
Read and write multi-digit whole numbers using base-ten numerals, number names, and expanded form. Compare two multi-digit numbers based on meanings of the digits in each place, using >, =, and < symbols to record the results of comparisons.
CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.4.NBT.A.3
Use place value understanding to round multi-digit whole numbers to any place.
CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.4.MD.A.1
Know relative sizes of measurement units within one system of units including km, m, cm; kg, g; lb, oz.; l, ml; hr, min, sec.
CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.4.MD.A.2
Use the four operations to solve word problems involving distances, intervals of time, liquid volumes, masses of objects, and money, including problems involving simple fractions or decimals, and problems that require expressing measurements given in a larger unit in terms of a smaller unit.
CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.4.MD.A.3
Apply the area and perimeter formulas for rectangles in real world and mathematical problems.

ICT

Creating –  learners are provided with an opportunity to innovate and test boundaries. Learners construct meaning, apply critical thinking and original ideas to real-world situations, and share knowledge through self-expression

Communicating –  exchange of information with various audiences using a range of media and formats.

Collaborating –  Learners are empowered through digital media and environments and through active participation in creating and sharing knowledge.

Organizing –  Learners make connections, transfer existing knowledge and independently explore new technologies.

Becoming responsible digital citizens –  using ICT to make informed and ethical choices while acting with integrity and honesty. In a globally connected digital world, learners are empowered to be responsible for their actions, to value others’ rights and to practise safe and legal behaviours.

PSPE

  • recognize that others have emotions, feelings and perspectives that may be different • from their own
  • solve problems and overcome difficulty with a sense of optimism
  • analyze how they are connected to a wider community
  • reflect on their own cultural influences, experiences, traditions, and perspectives and are open to those of others
  • identify casual relationships and understand how they impact the experience of individuals and groups
  • independently use strategies to resolve conflict
  • work towards a consensus, understanding the need to negotiate and compromise
  • reflect on their experiences in order to build a deeper understanding of self

One month… no “school work”… but lots of learning! 

Best. First Week of School. Ever.

I shared with you my plan for inviting students to help set up the classroom. I shared with you my reasons for inviting students to help set up the classroom. I shared with you my fears and worries about inviting students to help set up the classroom.

So now it is time to share with you how it went. Spoiler alert – it was AMAZING!!!

Here is where we ended…

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Here is where we started….

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And here is the story of how we got there…

The first morning…

When the students entered the classroom on the first day of school I knew there would nowhere to sit. So I created a few stations on the floor with options for building, creating, designing, making, reading and playing.

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It was a success! It automatically engaged students, allowed them to connect with one another and begin to build relationships and provided amazing diagnostic information for me about what they liked and how they interacted with one another. image

Our first community meeting…

Once all the students had arrived and had enjoyed ample time to play, discover, explore and connect we came together and sat in a circle. We played a name game. I shared my goals with them and then we jumped right into it!

Screen Shot 2016-09-02 at 8.30.47 AM Using the Simon Sinek framework Start With Why, we discussed as a class why students should be able to help set up their classroom.

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Then students chose what element of classroom set-up they felt most interested in and we were off!

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Bulletin Boards

The students who signed up to do the bulletin boards took many different approaches. Some measured first before getting paper. Some got paper first and realized they did not have enough or had too much. Some did trial and error.

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Lots of interesting problem solving took place throughout this process. When students couldn’t reach the top they found sturdy chairs. When the stapler broke some students choose to use push pins in the meantime. When one of the smaller bulletin boards fell off the wall, some students realized it was easier to work on it when it was on the floor anyway. image image

And voila! Aesthetically appealing bulletin boards ready for whatever we decide to use them for!image

The Map

Students decided it would be easiest to project a real map and trace the lines.

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Then the went over the pencil lines in black marker so they would still be visible once the paint covers them.image

Then some interesting discussions occurred about what the colours on a map mean and how to choose which colour for which country. image

Then when it was time to label the countries one student thought it might be helpful to use the globe as a reference. image

We soon realized that making a map was no small task! So we decided to post what we had, paint it when we felt like it and label the countries when they came up in a discussion or inquiry.

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The Library

Students took all the books off the shelves and worked together to try and organize them.

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This resulted in what the class took to calling “Book Mountain”!

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Students quickly realized this was a massive project and asked if everyone could help. So we sat as a class and discussed ‘the why’ behind organizing a classroom library.

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We decided to sort the books into three groups. Story books, information books and chapter books.

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Having all hands on deck made this process much more enjoyable and less overwhelming. This process also sparked some INCREDIBLE questions and conversations about books.

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Some students used clues from the titles and cover pictures to make decisions.

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Some students even read through the book before deciding where it belonged.

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Then we sorted each table into smaller groups.

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The students decided what the groups should be.

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And which bins to use.

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Students also realized that the post-its were not staying on the bins, so they decided to place clear tape over top of them.  image

The final result was a masterpiece!

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After sorting and organizing for three days we just had to know how many books we had in our library! So we took inventory.

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The Shelves and Cupboards

Students sorted through all of our learning resources and consumable learning supplies and decided which we should display on shelves because we will use them frequently and which we should store in the cabinet because we might not use them as much.

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It was interesting to see that every single day students made changes to the organization as they realized that some things placed in the cabinet were needed more often than they thought, and that the more organized the shelves were the easier everything was to find as you needed it image

One student even thought to move some supplies to the big desk because these were the things you would be most likely to need for the types of thing you would doing at the big desk.

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Student Supplies

As a class we brainstormed why it was important to organize our personal learning supplies.

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Then students choose which materials they wanted to use to organize their supplies.

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The estimated and tested out the spacing of the cupboards. image

They took stock and sorted through what they had brought in.

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And the coolest part was that so many of them made modifications to what was available to better suit their needs

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The final results were fascinating.

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And at last, all of our supplies were organized in the unique way that worked best for that individual. image

The Layout

One of the most amazing transformations of the week was the layout! We started with a relatively blank slate.

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Our first attempt was my worst nightmare. In a complete stroke of irony my students had decided they wanted the desks in rows! A warning bell of inquiry. But I had to keep my word and respect and honour their choices, so I bit my tongue and waited. image

It was interesting to see that after only one day of desks being in rows students started to identify problems. “What if all the students don’t like being in rows?” “The classroom is too crowded. Rows take up too much space.” “It is really difficult to walk around.” So we had a class discussion and I introduced them to the idea of flexible seating. They instantly loved it and wanted to be risk-takers and try it out! So we started with why…

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Then students researched flexible seating online and visited other classrooms to see ideas and draw inspiration. Then we took inventory and created our wish-list.

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Some students wanted to reorganize the desks and chairs. image image

Some students wanted to see if we could find a bigger carpet somewhere in the school.

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Some students wanted to check the prices of the things on our wish-list so they browsed Amazon.com and converted prices on xe.com image

Some students wanted to sketch a mock-up of what the classroom might look like when it is done. image

Some wanted to draw a potential floor plan.

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Some wanted to build a 3-D model.

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And some wanted to email the parents to see if anyone would donate what we were looking for. image

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Then donations started to roll in… exercise balls, yoga mats, stuffies, bean bag chairs and even a diwaniya set!

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Finally we had found a layout that worked to support our learning!

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The Question, Problem, Idea Wall

One of the coolest parts of the week for me was seeing the evolution of the Question, Problem, Idea wall. I knew I wanted to have a space where students could always write down these things, but it started off pretty slow. Most of what was written on there came from me.

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But then once the students realized that their questions, problems and ideas were actually valued and taken seriously the popularity grew. image

After a few days the board was overflowing so we got in the routine of taking time each morning as a class to address the questions, problems and ideas from the day before.

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The Schedule

One of the ideas on the idea wall was a to make a schedule so everyone knew what was happening throughout the day. The class loved this idea, so the student who came up with the idea took action.

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He chose a spot in the room that he thought was best. At first he tried to free-hand it. image

Then he realized he could draw straighter lines with a ruler. image

Then he realized it was more efficient to mark of all the measurements first, then to go back and draw the lines. image

Finally he covered the erasable marker with green tape. image

And presto! Our class now has a schedule!image

Student Action

Another cool element of the week was student-initiated action. One student had the idea to collect bottle caps for a project his uncle is involved in. He created a bin and chose a location to keep it.

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Then he realized he was not getting as many caps as he had hoped for, so he emailed all the other classes in our hallway to invite them to participate as well.

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All work and no play?

No way! We made sure to take lots of breaks to recharge our batteries, build relationships with one another and most important just have fun!

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Feedback

It was really important to me that after this process was finished I asked the students to share their perspective of what it was like to help set up the classroom. I had planned for students to complete a Google Form, but I was also ready with paper copies for the students who did not have a device.

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I learned some really interesting things from reading what they thought about the week.

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100% of the student responses indicated that the students enjoyed setting up the classroom better than walking into an already setup classroom. And 99% percent of the responses indicated that I should do it again next year. The one student who disagreed, said I should do it again but on a smaller scale, maybe not the whole room – which gave me something to reflect on.

Reflections

At the end of the week I asked them, “Who thought we were soon busy setting up the classroom that we forgot to do any learning?” Almost all of them raised their hand. So I told them I was going to try and change their perspective. I posted chart paper around the room with the IB Learner Profile, ATL skills, literacy strands and math knowledge and skills. Then I gave them stickers and asked them to think about everything they had done that week and try to look for the learning that was within it.

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They were surprised to see just how much learning had taken place throughout the week. This brought up a great discussion about the difference between work and learning. image

Report Card

Finally I asked the students if they wouldn’t mind filling out a report card for me. I told them to think about the goals I told them about at the start of the week and honestly tell me how I am doing so far. Again I created a Google Form, but was also ready with paper options.

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This truly helped me understand what I am doing well and the areas I need to focus on to become a better teacher.

What I learned…

  • everything I would have planned for/set up in an artificial and preemptive way (schedule, flexible seating, fire drill practice) came up authentically throughout the week out of need, reflection, reason or consequence
  • setting up the classroom library probably allowed students to explore half of our curricular reading standards
  • students came up with better and more creative ideas than I would have
  • some of the jobs were easier when we did it altogether as a class, as opposed to having smaller teams tackle it on their own
  • at first students were setting up the classroom based on what they thought I wanted or what they thought school should be in stead of how they wanted and what they thought helped their learning
  • there was a role for me to play with provocations and challenges to their perspective
  • the process of identifying problems was crucial to constantly reflecting on and revising our design
  • common agreements were needed for safe and gentle use of many of the flexible seating options

All in all an amazing first week with an amazing class! Would I do it again yes year? Absolutely! With some modifications and improvements to the process of course. 🙂 

Less Marking. More Documenting.

A few weeks ago I shared my plan to inquire into my students as people and document what I discovered about them. Then I wondered why stop there?  So drawing inspiration from early year educators, I decided this year to also dedicate time and energy to looking for and documenting learning.

To make this happen, I started the year with a Google Sheet that had all of the students’ names and a tab for the Learner Profile, attitudes, ATL skills, UOI concepts, Literacy and Math.

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Throughout the week I would add to it when I noticed evidence of something. This could be at recess, while students were playing, while students were setting up the classroom… anytime, anywhere!

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I tried to pay close attention to what students were saying and asking before, during and after our read alouds or when we were testing out our new classroom library for fun…

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I analyzed any writing samples I came across – report cards I asked them to write for me, feedback forms about setting up the classroom, thinking post-it notes, letters they wrote to me…

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Of course there were days where I didn’t have the time or opportunity to sit down and reflect on what I had seen or heard throughout the day, so at the end of the week I scrolled through the pictures I had taken which helped to jog my memory of things I may have forgotten.

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The best part is that if you asked my students if we did any “school work” this week they would all say “no!”. Yet because I was looking for learning in anything and everything I learned so much already about their attributes, attitudes, approaches to learning, understanding of concepts, reading, writing and math skills.

This is a practice I hope to continue throughout the year, and eventually invite the students to participate in too!

If it works for KG teachers… why not Grade 4 teachers?

‘Twas the Night Before School Starts

‘Twas the night before school starts
And the classroom was bare
Nothing was set up yet, not even a chair

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The schedule empty, no activities planned
And typical first-day-of-school worksheets are banned

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This year will be different, a first time for me
Where the classroom is set up, not by I, but by we
Instead of hours spent planning without voices of students,
This year, I think, including them is most prudent
They are the ones who will be using the spaces
Letting go, in return for happy minds, hearts and faces
Yet although I know this is what I believe in my heart,
I am nervous and scared for this school day to start
So although I won’t sleep, I tuck myself into bed
While visions of floor plans swirl in my head

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I’m not sure how it will go, yet my hope remains
For a first day of school where the kids take the reigns
So, on Risk-taking! On Failure! On Doubts and on Fear!
Happy first day to all, and to all a good year!

Reaching Out to Families

The beginning of school is still a week away and since I don’t need to spend any more time on classroom set-up, I have decided to instead invest my time building a strong foundation for relationships with the parents of my students.

I want the parents of my students to know they are an important part of this learning community. I want the parents of my students to know that I value and respect their input and perspective about their child’s education. I want the parents of my students to know their voices matter and are welcome.

As usual, I sent an initial email home to parents introducing myself. But this year I also decided to share the same information via a YouTube video to hopefully reach those parents who are unable to read English or who prefer millennial forms of communication.

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In this email/video I invited the parents to schedule a pre-school year, informal, get-to-know-you style meeting with me, where we can discuss their hopes, dreams, goals and fears for the upcoming year. If parents are unavailable to meet face-to-face I also offered options to schedule a phone call or complete a Google Form.

Whatever the method, I am hoping to ask the following things:

  1. What would you like me to know about your child?
  2. What are your hopes for your son/daughter this year?
  3. What do you need from me to support those hopes?
  4. Is there anything you are nervous or worried about this year?
  5. Is there anything you would like me to know?

I’m not sure how many families will take me up on my offer, but I hope most – if not all – do! I think this would be a great way to start the year as a team and I think this will help  me get to know my new students better.

I’m optimistic that this will be a much more rewarding use of my time the week before school starts than decorating the classroom ever was…

Wish me luck!

Classroom (un)Set-Up

In my previous role as PYP Coordinator I shared my perspective about why I think it is important to involve students in setting up the classroom. Now that I am back in the classroom is it time to practice what I preach!

This does not mean I plan to arrive the same day as the students, turn the key for the first time and say “have at it”. That would mistakenly be along the same lines as the common misconception that inquiry teachers do not plan. We do plan, we just do it a little differently…

So instead of spending the days before students arrive setting-up the classroom, I will instead use my time unsetting-up the classroom. And equally as important, thinking deeply and purposefully about how I will support students in the task of working together to set up our learning space once they arrive.

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This process have involved three simple steps: Purge. Sort. Wait.

The first thing I did was go through EVERYTHING. I took everything out of drawers, out of boxes, and off shelves. While I was doing this I was careful to purge things that were in poor condition, out of date or no longer needed.

Then, I sorted things into piles in different areas of the classroom.

I temporarily tucked away the desks and chairs…

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I put all the books in one place…

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I put all the furniture that could be used to display frequently used things in one place…

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I put all the furniture that could be used to store rarely used items in one place…

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I put all the bags, bins and boxes that could be used for organization in one place…

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I put all the learning resources in one place…

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I put all the consumables in one place…

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Now I wait. I wait for students to arrive so they can take ownership over the rest of this process and hopefully design a learning space that meets their needs as learners.

The cherry on top? This took 4 hours start to finish. In the past, setting up a classroom has taken me at least 20+ hours.

So what will I do in my spare time? Think. Think about how to orchestrate the process and support students to make this a success.

Will it be a success? I have no idea. I’m terrified… but also excited and hopeful!

Wish me luck! I’ll be sure to share how it goes along with my reflections on the process, what I learned and how my thinking changed after actually trying this will students.

An inquiry into my students…

This year, I am really hoping to create a classroom learning community that is inclusive and culturally responsive. I know that in order to do that I need to really know my students. So for that reason I have decided that the first inquiry of the year will not be theirs… it will be mine! I want to approach the first weeks of school as an inquirer – inquiring into my students.

My goal is to be able to fill in this student profile chart by the end of the first two weeks.

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Here is how I plan to do it:

Tuning in – What do I already know about my students?

Since I have been at this school for the past three years in a variety of roles I already know many of the students or at least the students’ families, so first I want to make sure I tune in to what I already know about them – or think I know about them. To do this I will try to fill in as much of the student profile as I can before the year starts.

Finding Out – What do I need to find out about my students?

Once I have documented as much as I can about my students I should be able to see the gaps and figure out what I still need to find out. This will be helpful because I will be aware of certain students or certain aspects that I need to focus on more intentionally.

Sorting Out – How am I going to keep track of what I learn?

I plan to use this post by Kath Murdoch and these examples from my colleagues to structure an inquiry-based first few weeks of school where students can actively participate in learning, playing, exploring and setting up the physical space and daily structures and systems. While they are actively engaged in these learning experiences, I plan to be actively engaged in observing them, talking with them, learning with them and playing with them. Then at the end of each day I will take time to reflect on what I learned and document my new discoveries about my students on the profile.

Going Further – How can I push myself to learn even more about my students?

In order to build a strong learning community I plan on designing an opportunity for students to inquire into each other – what they want to know about their classmates, how they can find out, how they can record what they’ve learned and how and with who they plan to share what they’ve learned. In order to dive deeper into my own inquiry I plan to participate in this alongside my students. This will give me a chance to hone in on what I still need to learn about my students and provide me with the time to do so.

Making Conclusions – How will I share what I’ve learned?

I’m not sure about this stage yet. I want to share my discoveries with my students, but I don’t have a concrete plan yet as to how I want to do this. My original thinking it to have an individual conference with students and show them what I’ve learned about them to gain their perspective and give them them the chance to correct any misconceptions I may have and tell me more about themselves.

Reflections – How will I reflect on my inquiry experience?

Expect a reflective blog post coming soon!

Taking Action – What will I do with what I’ve learned?

After I have the completed student profile, my intention it to use it as a guiding document each and every day to inform my approaches to planning learning experiences and offering social, emotional and academic support for my diverse and unique group of learners. I hope to “live it, not laminate it” as the saying goes, and amend and update it throughout the year as I learn more about my students – and also as my students grow and change.

For me, this plan is less about filling in boxes on the spreadsheet and more about being purposeful and committed to really understanding my students as humans. It’s about holding myself accountable for getting to know all of my students and ensuring that none of my students fall through the cracks or become overlooked. It’s about intentionally spending time in the first weeks of school getting to know my students and intentionally building in time for my own consolidation and reflection about what I have learned and how it will help me support their needs holistically throughout the year.

How do you inquire into your students?

What feedback and suggestions do you have for me about my plan?