CSL Journal Entries: Nov-Dec 2015

By: Alex Adam

Oct. 28th: No Desk Day

Today when I walked into the classroom I was surprised to see all the students’ desks pushed to one side of the room. I asked my AT about it –she said that yesterday they had a ‘no desk day’. They had been working on large posters, so it was easier to do this on the floor. Then they just kept the desks aside for the rest of the day, doing everything on the floor. I really liked this idea. I think it is important to change things up and provide students different environments for learning. Some students might benefit from being allowed to spread out and lay on the floor to do their work, for example. I also see this as a way to make the day a little different and ‘fun’.

For the morning we left the desks to the side and they sat in a circle in the middle of the room as the teacher had them do a reader’s response activity. I saw how they enjoyed the freedom they had to work wherever they wanted.

Nov. 4th: Songs

My Associate Teacher incorporates a lot of music in the classroom. She does this through songs. The students are always learning different songs to sing along to and accompanying actions. There is usually a song written out on the chalkboard. Today they sang a song called Beneath the Towering Pines. I like how this song fits in with the curriculum in terms of thinking about different environments and also countries and continents. Here is the chorus:

Beneath the towering pines
On a deep green mountain side, side, side
Way up in Canada
In northern North America
On the earth near the moon
That's spinning round the sun
And floating in the Milky Way

The students also have a morning song that they sing often called Rise and Shine. I enjoy watching them sing this song because they know it so well. They are all so happy and lively when they sing it together. It is a great song to play first thing in the morning to get the students awake and ready for the day.

I like how songs can be used to transition from one activity to another or as a short activity when you have a bit of time to fill. My AT often has the students sing songs just before going out for recess. Seeing how songs are incorporated into the day has been great to observe.

Nov. 18th: Assessment

I felt very productive this morning! Today my AT asked that I create an assessment tool to assess the students' monthly creative/guided writing pieces. After we discussed what assessment criteria she was looking for, I decided a checklist would be the most useful tool. Checklists are simple to make and quick to use. Since I would then be marking all of the students stories (30 in all), having something that would be fast but effective in showing their writing skills was important.

At the top was the title and a spot to write the student's name and the title of the piece. I had a column with the criteria, a column to put a checkmark or x, and a column for comments.

While developing the checklist I thought about these things:

Is this checklist clear? Is it comprehensive? Can others use it without explanation?

Nov. 25th: Lego Cars

Earlier in the week, the class learned about simple machines, specifically wheels, axels, and inclined planes, and built a vehicle out of Lego blocks. Once students had built their vehicles, they shared them with the rest of the class. Then they did some tests; they set up an inclined plane and estimated how far they thought their car would go. The students then rolled their cars down the ramp and put a piece of tape on the floor to mark where they landed. They counted the number of tiles on the floor (a non-standard unit of measurement) to determine approximately how far the cars travelled and wrote that down on the tape. As a group, they discussed the qualities and strengths of each car; some cars were very ‘stable’, others were ‘fast’, or had a ‘fashionable’ design, for example.

Today, while I was in the class, we continued to work with these cars for more math and science exploration. Using their 3D Lego car, they had the task of creating a 2D model of the side view of their car. The students each received a large page of graph paper. The student’s first task was to look at their car and recreate a sided view of it with small squares of coloured construction paper. During this, the students had to think about what parts of the car they would or would not be able to see from the side view.

Later in the day, we did another activity using the Lego cars. It was now time to race the cars down the ramp, this time in the hallway, and measure (with a meter stick) and record how far the cars travelled. I really liked how this lesson integrated the math curriculum (measurement) and also the science curriculum (movement and mechanisms).

I was amazed at how successful the activities were with the students and I liked how they were creative and also purposeful. I really saw the endless possibilities that the original activity of building a car could have. The students showed a strong interest in Lego, their cars, and measurement, and I could see them wanting to continue to do other investigations involving these things.

Dec. 11th: Puppets

Today I ended up performing a short puppet show for the students – something that is generally out of my comfort zone. They were to write a December story about a dog character that they each developed at the beginning of the year. In order to introduce this activity, I used puppets to come up with my own dog character, Night, and shared a simple story with them. I stood at the front of the room, with them seated on the floor in front of me, a large dog puppet on each hand. As I performed, I had their full attention. It was great; they were watching intently and you could see the excitement on their faces. They laughed at the character’s voices and were hooked on my story. At the end, I asked them to think about what they would like their dog to do in their story for this month. You could see the creative ideas bubbling in their minds and they were eager to share their ideas with me. I think the puppet show inspired their imaginations. I feel really pleased with how it went.

I think that part of the reason it went smoothly was due to the fact that I prepared a story outline ahead of time. I chose names for each dog puppet and wrote a brief outline of the story/dialogue I would share. As well, likewise with children, I think the puppets helped me to be less shy and sillier. Since I was speaking via the dogs, the attention was off me and on the puppets. I found I was more focused on engaging and entertaining the students –really capturing them with the story– rather than worrying about myself and my teaching skills. I think that the attention that the students paid was different. It got me thinking about how a puppet could be used as a co-teacher, in a way, in the classroom. For example, you could have a puppet introduce a lesson or go around and help in the room as students work. My AT has a whole trunk full of puppets, so I want to keep them in mind as I plan my lesson in the future.

Here is an article I found that that highlights how puppets can be teaching aids for students. http://www.teachmag.com/archives/5618

New Students/Ranges in Abilities

A few weeks ago we had two new students (twin boys) join the class. It has been interesting to observe them and get to know them as learners. They were in the French immersion program previously and had been struggling, so they were switched into the English program. It was suggested in kindergarten that the students should go into the English program, but the parents chose to put them in the French program nonetheless. Unfortunately, the boys have really suffered due to this. They are both very behind in all areas of learning, but especially reading and writing. They are both non-readers and they need individual support to complete any reading and writing activities. They are the youngest ones in the class –born in late December, which also has an impact on their development in comparison to their peers. Yet, it is still surprising for me to see how they are functioning closer to a kindergarten level, rather than grade 2. It is going to be very difficult for them to catch up.

At this point in the school year, my AT has discussed with me how she really cannot spend the time necessary to catch them up (e.g. she cannot go over all the spelling words, phonics and reading and writing activities that were done in the first three months), she needs to focus on continuing on with the material for the other 13 students in the class. I think it is really too bad. They will likely get labelled with learning delays and require special support, just because they did not go into the English stream that was suggested to them. I do understand that we cannot re-teach them everything that we have done so far, but I do not want to give up on them. This is such a crucial time for emerging reading and writing skills and I feel that if they do not catch up now, they are going to be struggling the rest of their schooling.

Overall, I am finding it difficult to figure out how to meet the broad range of abilities in the class. It is difficult to give these students the attention they require, when you also need to challenge students who are ahead. I often work one-on-one to support the students performing at a lower level during tasks, and in those instances I feel I am doing a good job in scaffolding them. However, when I am given the task to lead a lesson, I find it hard to remember to think about how I might differentiate instruction or modify the activity to meet each child's needs when I am the only teacher available.

Dec. 7-11th: Stressful Week

Honestly the first week of the two week placement block was very stressful and overwhelming. I taught the majority of the day all week –something that I did not have planned. I never discussed with my AT how much she wanted me to teach, but was not expecting to take over so much at this point. I am happy to have the opportunity for all this experience, however, I did not feel prepared for that! She just threw me into it.

Monday did not go well. During an activity I completely lost control of the class; they were not listening, they were talking, standing up and moving around, and being silly while I tried to do the lesson. I had to keep stopping and trying to gain their attention. I really need to gain the respect of the students. I looked to my AT for help, but she said, “how are you going to control this?”. I felt very overwhelmed and unsure what to do. She said I need to be more firm with them. Eventually she stepped in and told them how they were acting was not acceptable and that they needed to do this activity –it was not an option. I felt frustrated with myself for not being able to maintain control. I find that I am still struggling with my place in the classroom and my role with my AT. I found that throughout the week one of my biggest issues was not knowing what the plan was for the day and what the students would be doing once I finished the lesson I was leading. Should I have them tidy up their writing work or will they continue it later in the day? There is 5 minutes to kill before getting ready for recess, should I do a quick activity with them or will my AT be stepping in?

I think it is important to allow for spontaneity and I am a firm believer in following the students’ interests, however, I am struggling when I do not know what the plan is for the day. I am unsure of when and what I will be teaching –I want to be prepared and do my best and I feel that I cannot do that when I do not know the plan.

My AT has many years of experience so she is able to fill in time and plan or alter activities on the spot. For me, I feel much more comfortable (at this point in my career) when I have a plan. I do not mind if that plan is somewhat loose or has many possible options –but I like having time to think about what I will teach ahead of time.

Yoga Chronicles

I love doing yoga and I think it is something that is wonderful for children to do as well. Yoga has many health benefits; it teaches mindfulness, helps students relax and calm their bodies, and also gives them an opportunity to practice balance and strengthen their muscles.

Today the students were high-energy and having trouble listening and being quiet so my AT decided they would not get to go down to the gym for gym class; they were not showing her that they could manage. So instead, she asked me if I would do some yoga with the students in the classroom. (Aaah!! I wish I had a chance to prepare for this)

In the past, I taught children’s yoga workshops every week at a Montessori school with children in grades 1-3, so it is an area I am comfortable with. However a) I always taught small groups of 5-6 children, b) I have never taught these students yoga before or c) seen my AT do it with them, and d) I had about 4 minutes to plan what I was going to do as they tidied up their work. Figuring it all out on the spot was not ideal. I felt very stressed as I sorted out how I would go about it.

First, I had them move all the desks to the sides of the room and then find their own space in the room. That was a challenge in itself. Then I began with a simple breathing exercise, and right away I had students complain: "I don't want to do this", "this isn't what we normally do", "we do [this pose] first". This is what I had been worried about --not having their interest, and not knowing what they normally did and how much they knew. Rather than getting overwhelmed I simply replied: "I know you might to something different with Ms. C, but this is how I am going to teach our yoga today". I was really happy with my response to their complaints and they seemed fine with it. I reeled them back in and overall it went fairly well. Some were hopping around and being a bit silly, but many were focused and trying their best. I was able to teach them 3 new poses they have never done. Not too bad.

My AT gave me feedback after saying that the manner in which I was teaching is what I need to channel when I am teaching all my lessons. She noted that I was comfortable and had a calm but firm voice -it was clear I was in my element. I liked hearing this feedback. I, too, had noticed that I felt calm and comfortable leading the yoga once I got into it --I want to try to recreate that feeling when teaching in all areas. While I think the yoga itself did not go as well as I know it could, I like that I had the opportunity to try it out. Now I know what I would do differently next time. For example, remembering to put on the calming music at the beginning of the yoga, not half way in (oops).

Dec. 14-15th: Reindeer Mural

These past two days have been much better than last week! On Monday I planned an a Christmas mural activity which ended up being very engaging. In the morning I read The Night Before Christmas as a read aloud. Then I told the class about the mural we would be creating. I showed them a rough sketch I had done of what it would look like. I also showed them the reindeer cut-outs and explained that they would get to decorate them with oil pastels in the afternoon.

First, I had the students make their reindeer. I had them gather around a table as I modelled how I would colour in my own reindeer and we talked about different decorations they could draw (coats, saddles, collars, bells) and colours they might use for the reindeer's body and antlers. I also made sure that all the students coloured in the same side of their reindeer so that they would all face the same direction to pull Santa's sleigh. I told them to place their reindeer on their desk with it's nose pointing to the right. When students were done I had them paint a portion of the night sky. I had 8 smaller pieces of white paper cut out to fit on a large roll of brown paper for them to paint (this was a strategy I came up with so that all students could paint the sky, but in a more manageable way than having them all on the floor working on one paper). It ended up working well. As students finished their reindeer they got a container of paint, a paper towel and a brush and then I gave them a paper to paint. As more students finished they joined others to work in pairs to paint the background. It went very smoothly.

On Tuesday, I put it all together. I added the Santa and sleigh, stars, and the houses along the bottom and attached yarn for the reindeer reins. I would have liked to get the students more involved in gluing all the pieces on, but it was not realistic with the time. At the end of the day I taped it up on the blackboard. The students were so excited to see the finished product when they came in from recess. They all pointed out their reindeer to one another and exclaimed how beautiful they thought it looked. I thought it turned out beautifully too. I am really proud of it!

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Dec. 16th: A great day

Today my AT was away and there was a supply teacher. My AT left behind a detailed schedule for the day with all the materials, handouts, books, etc. laid out and labelled on her desk. I felt much more comfortable, prepared and confident teaching and managing the day. I did not have the anxiety of arriving at school and finding out what I might teach, or what we might do in the recess before doing it.

I taught several lessons throughout the day and they went extremely well. The students were amazing all day. There were four students missing, so that had a big impact on the class dynamic. Nonetheless, they listened well, stayed on task, and helped one another. I did not feel the pressure of trying to manage the class or repeat myself all day. As well, I felt very supported by the supply teacher; we worked well together.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I really enjoyed being there for two weeks. I like that CSL was designed that way. I think it was useful to have the consistency of being there each day. I was able to build stronger relationships with the students and continue activities from one day to the next. As well, I was able to see the routines on different days and observe different subjects being taught –for example, I had never seen a gym class taught by my AT before this week.