Do Students Only Learn?

The other day in class, my students were completing a word association noun and verb activity. Several nouns were provided to them, and they needed to add an interesting verb that would fit nicely with the noun. For example, one noun was lion, and several ideas for the verbs were pounce, roar, and stalk. As my students continued to complete and share their ideas, we approach the last noun, students. I was intrigued to see the verbs associated with students, and my students own understanding or reflection of themselves. I had a few yell, chat, and talk, however, the majority of my students used the word learn.

Although I was content with the idea that students “learn” I questioned why so many students chose this word and not many others verbs that could be associated with the word students. I completed a simple google image search on students to see the types of pictures that came up, and this was what I saw:

Google search of "students"

Google search of “students”

Happy students with books in almost every picture. Why were there no photos of students thinking or building things? Why are there solely smiling faces with books?

This led me to question if students and perhaps society in general has an image of students as learners, how can this idea evolve into something more? How do I encourage my students to be creators, thinkers, builders, and discoverers? How do I make them understand that they are more than a learner?

They are the thinkers that this world need. They can be creators of new and incredible ideas. They are the future designers and explorers. They are so much more than a learner.

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Adventures in a Classroom Library

During the last year, I had a class filled of readers. Any chance they got, they were delved into a novel, picture book, fact book, anything that they could get their hands on. As I watched them riffle through our class library, I became aware that it wasn’t as user-friendly as I had once anticipated. Shelves of books, shoved in tightly, with a basic organizational structure, did not appeal to their reading needs. As a class, we decided to find a new way to organize our books. It was a massive undertaking, days filled with chaos, but their organization process and reasoning of why a book should go in a specific category was fascinating to observe.

After the books were neatly organized into bins, where titles and cover pages could be observed, the access and ability to find such diverse books in our classroom made reading that much more enjoyable. However, after a few weeks, the books became organized again, bins filled with varieties of genres, and I became to feel like we were back at square one.

Upon returning to school this year, and spending much time online seeing how other teachers organized their libraries, labels and stickers seemed to be the best way. I created labels for every bin, with colour-coordinated stickers on each book according to genre. Green stickers for series, pink for fiction, and orange for non-fiction. On each label outside of the bin a sticker was placed with a code so students knew where each book was to be returned. This has eliminated books being placed in the wrong bins.

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I also ensured to have a “lost” bin so students had somewhere to put books if they couldn’t locate the correct place. Additionally, a “hospital” bin was also needed, so we could stay on top of keeping books in good condition.

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I think the biggest change that I made was giving up my personal “teacher” space. I had an L-shaped desk that took up the majority of a corner in my classroom. When I reflected on how much I was actually at my desk throughout a day, which is very limited, I realized I could make better use of the space. I want my classroom to encourage reading, and for students to have a place where they can feel at home and comfortable. I found bean bag chairs on kijiji, and had my handy boyfriend build me a wonderful reading bench.

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Although my classroom space isn’t perfect, seeing my students lounging and reading makes it pretty close!

*Making labels can be a tedious task, and I am more than willing to share mine with anyone. If you would like the file, please comment below or contact me on twitter*

Wild About Reading

As part of our school initiative on literacy this year, we dove into examining the book Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller and Susan Kelley, as it’s purpose is to instil lifelong reading habits in our students. The book is filled with tips, strategies, and stories about the ways in which the goal of lifelong reading can be established. As I read through the chapters, highlighting key points to refer back to, I thought that sharing these points may be valuable to others. They are the ones that stood out for me, and the strategies that I want to implement in my classroom. You may agree, or after reading, you may find ones that I missed. Regardless it’s a starting point, and hopefully a way to inspire you to encourage a love of reading with your students. Enjoy!

Chapter 1:
Kids need to build a stamina to read. When assigning 30 minutes of reading at home, ensure that they know it can be done in chunks, for example, 15 minutes before dinner, 10 minutes after dinner, 5 minutes before bed.
Mini-lesson – Bring a book everywhere for a “reading emergency.” Discuss with students time on the weekend when they were bored (i.e. waiting for a doctor’s appointment), and highlight how these few minutes of time could be used for reading.
Reading Itinerary – Throughout a week have students record where and when they read. “Focusing on reading habits for one week increases their awareness of their own reading behaviors and opens dialogue between readers using their observations as a launching point” (Miller & Kelley, 2014, p. 18-19).
Fake Reading – keep an eye on students who you notice to be fake readers, keep observations of them, have a conference, and try to determine whether it is a habit or a book related problem.

Chapter 2:
Read-alouds are important classroom activities that help build community, expose students to a variety of genres, support developing readers, and demonstrate that reading is an enjoyable activity.
Mini-lesson – Have students bring in their favourite read-aloud to school. Place them in groups, as they reread their favourite book and share the story with others. This helps to build community, and encourage book talks. This could even be applied to a reading buddy activity.
Box Draw – Increases excitement around classroom books, as you place interested students’ names into a draw to “win” the book to read. Be sure to establish rules surrounding these draws (see pages 57-58 for examples).
Checking out classroom library books – use the online organizer Booksource’s Classroom Organizer as a way to keep track of your books and which student is reading what book.

Chapter 3:
See if your principal will allow students, staff, or visitors to share their book recommendations during morning announcements.
Participate in the twitter chat #titletalk to learn information about instructional practices, resources, and suggested books to read.
Mini-lesson – Book Commercials: Have a select student sit in the teacher’s chair, write out the title and author of the book they’ve read, give a brief summary without any spoilers, and describe the kind of reader who would like the book. The teachers asks if any other students have read it, and what they’re impressions were.

Chapter 4:
Students initially need to set reading goals, especially over holidays, in order to ensure that they have a reading plan. Upon return, they can reflect on their goal, whether it was attainable, and to help identify the types of books they enjoy reading.
If students are struggling to finish books, recommend short stories and setting small goals in order to help them achieve success, and build stamina.
Mini-lesson – Have students share their must-read book lists and share why they believe these books are “must-reads.” This information can be shared on a classroom blog, or displayed in the classroom.
An outline of summer reading tips are provided on pages 154-156, and offer suggestions for encouraging reading over the summer break.
There was one point in particular that really spoke to me in this chapter:
“While the Common Core text exemplars collect a list of worthy literature that all students should read, I question the premise that any reading list meets the needs of all readers. Creating a list, anchored in a time or viewpoint driven by one group’s opinion of what literature is meaningful, marginalizes the personal aspect that we bring to what we read” (Miller & Kelley, 2014, p. 160).
I think that this is an incredibly valuable point to bring up around the ideas of a set list for novel studies!

Chapter 5
Encourage students to read from a variety of genres. Although it’s okay that they read fantasy books all of the time, challenging them to read from a new genre can help develop new skills and a new love for books.
Looks for ways to bridge the gap between school and life reading. The authors suggest changing the term “name” on forms/sheets to “reader” or “writer.”
Documenting books students are reading and the general level of those books can be valuable when recommending new books of them to read.
Mini-lesson – Challenge students to read forty books from a variety of genres throughout the school year. “Encouraging students to read what they want while exposing them to high-interest, engaging, quality texts of all kinds fosters their engagement and provides the diverse experiences they need to find texts that will meet their reading interests and needs both today and tomorrow” (Miller & Kelly, 2014, p. 192).

The appendix of the book is filled with chart, graphs, and resources to use to jump start your class to develop habits of reading in the wild.

Coding: The Next Generation

“We live in a world that is changing more rapidly than ever before. Today’s children will face a continual stream of new issues and unexpected challenges in the future. Many things that they learn today will be obsolete tomorrow. To thrive, they must learn to design innovative solutions to the unexpected problems that will undoubtedly arise in their lives. Their success and satisfaction will be based on their ability to think and act creatively. Knowledge alone is not enough: they must learn how to use their knowledge creatively.” Mitch Resnick

When thinking about setting up our students up for success in the future, what kind of skills do you feel they need? A few ideas come to mind: How to problem solve, how to work cooperatively together, how to persevere, and how to think outside of the box. Keeping these ideals in mind, has caused me to reflect upon my own teaching in the last year. Do I provide opportunities for these skills to develop to my classroom?

Through my master’s course, I have been exposed to a lot of the current research in the learning sciences, and am continuing to find ways to challenge my own thinking. If the research says students need opportunities to play and discover, how can I ensure I provide these in my class?

Today, my students participated in the Hour of Code, a global movement designed to introduce students to computer programming and making it possible for all students to learn the basics of coding. I initially showed my students a couple tutorials and then just let them play. What happened next was something I dream of as a teacher. My students were 100% engaged, they collaborated and helped one another out, they shared their skills and taught each other, they problem solved, they persevered, and they were creative! However, the most powerful piece of this lesson was when it ended and the responses I heard:
“This was the best class ever!”
“Oh my gosh, that was so much fun!”
“Ms. Petley, can we please do this again?”

Do you need to know how to code in order for your students to learn? Model learning together. Model problem solving. Let them experiment and teach you. Let them be creative. Let them code!

Helping each other out during the #HourOfCode

Helping each other out during the #HourOfCode

We participated in the #HourOfCode

We participated in the #HourOfCode

References
Resnick, M. (2014). Give p’s a chance: Projects, peers, passion, play. Constructionism and Creativity conference, opening keynote. Vienna.

Optimising Students Learning

“Educators often talk about the importance of higher-order thinking skills, but educational programmes that emphasise thinking skills are often not based on scientific research. Instead, they are based on one or another intuitively-based taxonomy of thinking skills, with almost no scientific justification of why this specific set of skills should be taught in schools.” (Sawyer, 2009, pg. 5)

When I think of higher-order thinking skills, I immediately think of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Although, it has gone through several modifications, the basic understanding has remained the same, with the goal of supporting students to achieve a high level of creativity and evaluation. There are two thoughts that come to mind when I envision how this would look and play out in my classroom: Is it essential that students reach the top of Bloom’s Taxonomy (which I would agree is), and if so, academic language and learning support is essential in this process.

I teach in a high English language learner (ELL) populated school, where 60% of my students this year alone were coded ELL. As I think about the support and scaffolding that they need, yet the urgency of language skills in order to be successful throughout their school career, this leads me to disagree with Sawyer’s statement above. If schools and businesses desire our students to be prepared to enter the workforce, we need to teach them these higher-order thinking skills in order for that to happen. However, to reach these levels I believe that students need to be proficient in academic language.

Since 2012 through our AISI project, the school district that I work for has turned to the aid of Hetty Roessingh to assist in developing academic language for our students. Roessingh has recognized that a critical threshold of learning occurs around the age of nine, as students begin to shift from learning to read to reading to learn (Roessingh and Elgie, 2009). Being a teacher of grade four, at this crucial age level, I can’t help but wonder how to support students in improving their language skills. Our district took on the challenge whereby each grade/subject level selected around ten academic words that they would be responsible for explicitly teaching their students in hopes of improving their academic vocabulary. Although our project is currently still in progress, from personal anecdotals, I have noticed substantial improvement in students understanding. It has shifted from a surface level to a much deeper and thorough level of comprehension.

With ELL students’ inability to read at the appropriate grade level, these students become at risk learners (Roessingh and Douglas, 2012). Roessingh’s research supports the idea of teaching a specific skill set in order to achieve higher-order thinking skills. I would agree that these thinking skills are essential for student success and will continue to assist my students in reaching them. If we want our students to be creators, and use evidence to support their critical thinking, they first need to have a deep understanding of these academic words.

Sources:
Roessingh, H., Douglas, S. (2012). English language learners’ transitional needs from high school to university. Journal of International Migration and Integration, 13(3), 285-301. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.lib.ucalgary.ca/docview/1024202389/fulltextPDF?accountid=9838

Roessingh, H., Elgie, S. (2009). Early language and literacy development among young English language learners. TESL Canada Journal, 26(2), 24-45. Retrieved from http://www.teslcanadajournal.ca/index.php/tesl/article/viewFile/413/243

Sawyer, R. K. (2009). Optimising learning: Implications of Learning Sciences research. Paris, FR: Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. Retrieved from http://www.oecd.org/edu/ceri/40805146.pdf

“Rat” Removal and Transformative Learning

In the first chapter of Contemporary Theories of Learning, by K. Illeris, he outlines the four types of learning that individuals can experience: cumulative, assimilative, accommodative, and transformative. The one that peeked my interest and the level that I would like my students to attain is the transformative, as this is where reflection, perspective changing, and thorough learning occurs. Yet, after reading the chapter, I struggled to understand how exactly this would look in the classroom and whether or not it is attainable. Can we expect our students to have these transformative moments as learners? Or is this process that occurs throughout a school career?

I came across an article by K.P. King that deepened my understanding of transformative learning. Although her article emphasized this learning through adult educators’ experiences with technology, it provided insights into what this would look like at the elementary school level. Below is an outline of the stages of transformation as summarized by K.P. King:

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From reflecting on this chart, one idea of what it would look like in the classroom is through genius hour. Through genius hour it is obvious that students experience several moments of uncertainty, but through exploring, reflecting, and problem solving are able to rationalize new ideas that change their perspectives. However, I am still grappling with other examples of how this transformation learning would occur in elementary school children.

Throughout chapter one, another concept that stood out for me was the difference between defense learning and resistance learning. I initially was puzzled with how to distinguish between the two. A student could come to class disengaged because he/she does not understand a concept, or it could be from an earlier event that occurred in his/her day. In the busy and always lacking time day of a teacher, how do we find means to discover whether a student is demonstrating defense or resistance learning?

During the last school year, I read a wonderful book called, You Can’t Teach Through a Rat, by Marvin Berkowitz. Berkowitz acknowledged the idea that students come into classrooms with “their lives,” thus are not always ready to learn and instead can put up defensive learning mechanisms. As teachers, we are responsible to remove, what Berkowitz called “rats” in order for learning to occur, and through the process listed below:

Berkowitz, 2012, pg 17

Berkowitz, 2012, pg 17

Although this may seem like a daunting task, if we ultimately want our students to be active learners, we need to set them up for success. We need to show them that we care not only for them a learner, but also as a person. I think only then can true learning occur.

Sources:
Illeris, K. (Ed.). (2008). Contemporary Theories of Learning: Learning Theorists…In Their Own Words. Florence, KY, USA: Routledge. Retrieved from http://site.ebrary.com/lib/alltitles/docDetail.action?docID=10296951 (Introduction, Chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, 14 and 15 [5 and 11].

King, K. P. (2002). A journey of transformation: A model of educators’ learning experiences in educational technology. In J. M. Pettit & R. P. Francis (Eds.). Proceedings of the 43rd Annual Adult Education Research Conference, (pp. 195-200). Retrieved from: http://www.adulterc.org/Proceedings/2002/papers/King.pdf

Berkowitz, M.W. (2012). You Can’t Teach Through a Rat. Boone, NC, USA: Character Development Group Inc.

The Science of Learning

Recently, I have been exposed to a number of books and articles for my master’s program, and have been intrigued by the notion of the science behind learning, and how we can help learners and our students succeed. In the first two chapters of The Cambridge Handbook for the Learning Science by R.K. Sawyer, there were a number of ideals presented, as well as questions that came to mind. In chapter one, there was a quote that stood out for me:
“By 2000, no studies had shown that computer use was correlated with improved student performance. When researchers began to look more closely at why computers were having so little impact, they discovered that computer use was not based on the learning science; instead, they were being used as quick add-ons to the existing instructional classroom.” (Pg. 8)

As an advocate for technology in the classroom, this quote outlined my biggest fear. Technology is a wonderful tool to enhance student learning; to allow them to become owners and creators of their own work. However, all too often devices are being used as a substitute for lecture style or a previous, capable task. Although this is a good starting point for some teachers hesitant to use technology, I truly believe that in order for it be effective, it must create a task, project, or other learning medium that previously was difficult without it. With that in mind, how do we train teachers and provide them with the knowledge and support to use technology as a way to improve student knowledge and empower them?

In chapter two, Sawyer discussed explicitly about instructionism verses research from the cognitive sciences, as shown in the image below:

I believe that both of these have a place within the classroom, and view the two on a continuum. We are moving away from the traditional instructionism approach and more towards developing a deep understanding for students in all aspects of their learning; allowing them to ask question, self-assess, collaborate, and reflect. I agree with the fact that having a deep understanding of a concept is obviously a better way to approach teaching, but the question that I still have is as a teacher, how are you able to assess whether or not a student has that deep understanding that we desire? Yes, we can have one-on-one conferences with students, teach them how to reflect and analyze their personal learnings, but when do we truly know that their understanding has evolved? Is it when they start making connections outside of the classroom and share their knowledge with others? What could this look like at the elementary level?

As a read one of the articles, the children’s book Fish is Fish book was shared and I recommend all teachers to read it. It shows how personal background knowledge, socio-cultural influences, and assumptions can lead learners to think and form thoughts a particular way, without them really knowing. Teachers need to be aware of their students, the knowledge that they hold, and how to help them form new ideas. The idea of metacognition within the classroom, as presented in the book, How People Learn:Brain, Mind, Experience, and School is something that I strive towards as a teacher. I want my students to be able to reflect and self-assess themselves. I want them to be advocates for their learning, and experience failure, but see it as an opportunity for growth. After reading the book, Fish is Fish, I felt that the message or moral that the author was sharing was for children to stick with what they know and be comfortable in “your own pond.” However, I could also see the opportunities for discussions with students, and to use the book as a platform to delve into preconceived notions. Among discussion, this novel allows students to be challenged, learn new ideas, and embrace new things; something we continue to strive towards as teachers.