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.

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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! 

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.

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. 🙂 

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?