An inquiry into homework…

screen-shot-2016-10-20-at-4-09-17-pm

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.

screen-shot-2016-10-17-at-5-19-41-pm

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.

screen-shot-2016-10-20-at-4-09-26-pm

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

screen-shot-2016-10-17-at-5-30-39-pm screen-shot-2016-10-17-at-5-30-51-pm

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:

screen-shot-2016-10-17-at-5-29-20-pm

Others used graphs:

screen-shot-2016-10-17-at-5-29-35-pm

Some used statistics:

screen-shot-2016-10-17-at-5-29-42-pm

Others used quotes:

screen-shot-2016-10-17-at-5-29-48-pm

Some used hyeperlinks:

screen-shot-2016-10-17-at-5-29-56-pm

Others used photos:

screen-shot-2016-10-17-at-5-30-01-pm

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.

image image

Some students made themselves choice boards:

image image

Other students planned out each night of the week:

image image

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…

final-class

Here is where we started….

photo 1

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.

image image image image image

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.

Screen Shot 2016-09-02 at 8.31.03 AM

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

Screen Shot 2016-09-02 at 9.14.04 AM

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.

image

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.

image

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.

final-map

The Library

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

image

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

image

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.

Screen Shot 2016-09-02 at 8.31.48 AM

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

image  image

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.

image  image

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

image

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

image

Then we sorted each table into smaller groups.

image

The students decided what the groups should be.

image image

And which bins to use.

image   image

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!

image

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

image image

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.

photo%202 photo%203

image image

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.

desk-supplies

Student Supplies

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

Screen Shot 2016-09-02 at 8.32.00 AM

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

image

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

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

image

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

image image

The final results were fascinating.

image image

image image

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.

photo 1

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…

Screen Shot 2016-09-02 at 8.33.11 AM

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.

Screen Shot 2016-09-02 at 8.33.29 AM Screen Shot 2016-09-02 at 8.33.23 AM

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.

image image

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.

image

Some wanted to build a 3-D model.

image

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

Screen Shot 2016-09-02 at 9.47.58 AM Screen Shot 2016-09-02 at 9.48.09 AM

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

screen-shot-2016-09-08-at-3-53-28-pm

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

final-class

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.

image

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.

image

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.

image

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.

image

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.

image  Screen Shot 2016-08-30 at 1.41.36 PM

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!

image image image image

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.

image image

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

Screen Shot 2016-09-03 at 6.07.32 AM

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.

image image

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.

image image

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.

photo 1

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…

photo 3

I put all the books in one place…

photo 2

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

photo 4

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

photo 5

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

photo%201

I put all the learning resources in one place…

photo%202

I put all the consumables in one place…

photo%203

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.