Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Culturally Responsive Practices

I spent the day today in a workshop for mentor leaders in my school board discussing culturally responsive practices. It was very interesting and informative...I think I will be reflecting on my own teaching practice for quite awhile after today.

The first thing that we did was have an icebreaker type activity called "Who's in the room?" You can do this by either having people physically stand up to indicate their inclusion in a group or answer a question. For example, we stood up if we taught in the K-8 panel. We stood up if we were currently mentoring a new teacher. We stood up if we had been mentored by Bruce Wellman. It was very interesting because you could see who you had things in common with and who you might be interested in networking with to learn more.

The second activity we did was similar except that we used clickers to indicate our answers. In this case we were able to answer more sensitive question anonymously. Each participant had a clicker and we used it to answer yes or no to questions based on culture, gender, religion, etc without being singled out. Then we could discuss the responses based on a graph that was displayed of the results. (If you've ever played the trivia style game that is in some restaurants/pubs then you should know what I mean by clickers.) It was interesting to see the results of questions like-
"Have you ever been the target of racial graffiti in the workplace?"
"Have you ever felt unable to voice your opinion because of your gender?"
"Have you ever felt that someone was hired based on their gender/ethnicity/culture/religion?"

Everyone was able to "participate" in the discussion completely anonymously! And it made for some intriguing results....

I would love to get some of these clickers for my school! It would be a great way to see the pulse of your many are understanding a concept? It would enable to quieter students an outlet to "participate" in class without speaking in front of a large group. You can also type in response numerically or with letters. The possibilities are endless.

Once we had completed these two ice breakers we moved onto the nitty gritty of the day's agenda. The overall idea of the workshop was that we need to be aware of who we are culturally and our own beliefs and values so that we can confront and prejudices we might hold. Only then can we be open to creating a culturally responsive teaching practice. It's an important step to creating an inclusive learning environment.


We spent some time talking about how we can use culturally responsive practices in a cross-curricular way. One suggestion was made in regards to the types of word problems or story problems that are used in math class.

This is a Grade 4 example:

Instead of...

If you wake up at 7:30 a.m., and it takes you 10 minutes to eat your breakfast, 5 minutes to brush your teeth, 25 minutes to wash and get dressed, 5 minutes to get your backpack ready, and 20 minutes to get to school, will you be at school by 9:00 a.m.? (Taken from the Ontario curriculum document for Math)


Think about your morning schedule. What time do you wake up? What routines do you follow in the morning as you get ready for school? How long does it take you to do each of the tasks? How does your morning routine compare to the morning routine of a child in a developing country?

The same math expectations are addressed in both problems...elapsed time...but the second question also looks at the math through a cultural lens. And, it's not that hard to do!

I am very interested to try this in my own class. I do recognize that a question such as this would require some pre-teaching or schema development. It may be necessary to research the morning routine of a child in a developing country...but what a great opportunity for a rich discussion based on such a simple math expectation! As a Grade 4 teacher, I could also ask students in compare their morning routine to the morning routine of a child in the middle ages and it not only integrates culture but social studies as well!


The next topic of discussion was based around assessment and the work of Anne Davies. We discussed her ideas around the triangulation of assessment- observation, conversation, and products. Essentially these three ideas form the basis of your assessment practices, a triangle with the student in the centre. We brainstormed all the types of assessment we currently use in our classrooms and then placed them where we thought they best fit on the triangle. I was very proud of myself to see that my assessment practices have moved from largely product-based to a lot more observation and conversation. I think I have developed more confidence in my own abilities to assess my students that I don't always need to see a written product in order to give my students a grade!

When we are using conversations and observations it is still very important to have a checklist or a set of criteria based on the curriculum. In this way we can still differentiate our instruction/assessment, we can be inclusive and culturally responsive!

One very interesting strategy I learned that I am going to try out in my class tomorrow (and then tell YOU all about it!!) is Talking Pictures. Ask your students to draw a picture illustrating what they know about a topic. I am going to ask them to draw what they know about division. I am then going to assess their drawings using "Glow/Grow". If the student has demonstrated an understanding based on the question/topic you have posted then you use a symbol (smiley face, check mark, plus sign) that indicates that the student is glowing in this area. Any place that shows the students still needs to work or has some misconceptions you use a symbol (minus sign, question mark) where the student needs to grow.


Here are some books and resources that were also discussed today at the workshop:

Math That Matter by Davide Stocker

Maria the Remarkable by Tara Langlois & Patti McIntosh

The Guide to Effective Literacy Instruction- Volume 7, Media

Good Questions- Great Ways to Differentiate Math Instruction

Friday, February 24, 2012

Pictures! Anchor Charts! Freebies! Oh my!

SNOW DAY!!! Well, not really. The weather people predicted a ridiculous amount of snow for pretty much all of Ontario. We go....none of it really. At least, here in the GTA but the scare was enough that the school board cancelled all the busses and when you work at a school that is 98% bussed...well, not much happens. In case I haven't mentioned it before my school was built for 675 students...we currently have close to 1300 students!! WHAT? HOW?? I know, that's what everyone says. Well, we have 25 portables outside the main building. Yup, an entire school outside. There are 85 permanent staff working at my school everyday, K-8.

So, to get back on track with the busses being cancelled there were very few students at school today. My teaching partner and I combined our classes and we did a little art, a little geometry jeopardy and some movie watching. It was a relaxing day. It fit in well with the rest of my week where I have not brought my teacher bag home a single day and I have caught up on my hobbies. I think after a whirlwind few weeks of reports, assessments and strep throat I just needed some down time...BUT that doesn't mean we haven't been busy in my classroom.

Here's what we have been doing!

Learning about the benchmark angles. I used these great posters from Mary over at Guided Math.

We also brainstormed everything we knew about quadrilaterals- angles, sides, vertices, parallel name it we thought of it. I was super impressed with my class on this day! Everything I wrote on these anchor charts was straight from them!

We've been working on these tessellation art projects since we were working on patterning during math. I like how they turned out but next year I will make sure to insist that my students stretch a little farther and attempt to create an object out of the tessellation shape they use. I found an amazing lesson plan online here...Go check it out! The kids can be sooooo successful with this. 

In writing we have started working on Narrative Writing and I have mainly been using the unit plan I purchased from Jen Runde's TPT store- Runde's Room. This is a FANTASTIC unit! The kids and I are loving it. 

My teaching partner had never seen the Somebody, Wanted, But, So, Then strategy and is loving it. I have used it many times in the past and was once again happy with how effective it is for helping students understand the plot of a story.

This is our anchor chart about memorable characters. I'm not sure I agree with everything they said BUT at least Harry Potter, Anne Shirley and Laura Ingalls Wilder made the list!

And last but not least...

I found an amazing activity on this blog and decided to try it in my class. It turned out great!!!!

Last week when I introduced our Medieval Times unit I started with a time line of important world events to help my students gain a frame of reference for when the middle ages occurred. One of the events was the death of Martin Luther King which really caught their attention. So today we took a break from the middle ages and made these amazing MLK portraits and dream writings!! So proud!

Here is the small sheet I prepared for my students (FREEBIE) so they could write their own "I have a dream..." statements after we read a few picture books and watched some videos on MLK. Enjoy! The font I used is Scribbled for Sugarfrog Fonts. 

I hope you weathered the "storm" if it hit where you live, and if not I just hope you had a great Friday!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

So I bought some professional books...

First of all, I would like to apologize for how long it has taken me to post about Reading for the Love of It! While it was an amazing conference and I had a great time...I also came home that night with strep throat. So here we are, a week or so later, a round of antibiotics done and... 10 lbs lighter! It's amazing what not eating can do in a short amount of time. But I am healthy, back at work and ready to share!

This post will be mainly about the professional resources I bought while at the conference and then I plan to share my thoughts on the workshops I attended in a separate post.

1. This is a set of reading comprehension cards I purchased that are aligned with the Fountas and Pinnell reading levels. As a former Grade 7/8 teacher I know VERY little about guided reading and am not proud to admit it's rarely done in my class. I just don't know what I am doing! So, I made it a goal to work on this area and this is one step towards that. These cards are both fiction and non-fiction and come with questions to discuss with the students. I figure if I start out small and get my feet wet I will feel a lot more confident when trying to do guided reading.

2. This is a book I had been eyeing up for my Medieval Times unit. It's full of monologues and dialogues of various people in the middle ages. What a great way to learn about the way of life and to integrate some drama!

3. These are my two big resource purchases! I saw both of these authors speak- Tony Stead and Lori Jamison- and loved every minute of it! I have heard Tony in the past and knew it would be great. I really enjoyed hearing Lori on the first day and went back to a second workshop on the second day of the conference but due to the settling in of strep throat I was forced to leave a little early.

Tony's book- Good Choice! is all about reading response in Grade K-6. Again, I am relatively new to Grade 4....only have taught until December last year and then going off on mat leave with my daughter. So here I am back in January feeling like a brand new teacher again as I make up everything as I go. (Thank goodness for Pinterest and blogging!!). I have done a lot with Reader's Notebooks in the past with my 7's and 8's but really felt like a lot of what we did couldn't be brought into a Grade 4 classroom. I am hoping that this book will give me some ideas and insight about how to do reader response with my Grade 4's.

Lori's book- Guiding Readers is a another steo towards my goal of learning how to do guided reading. She provides some great example mini-lessons and activities that she does with the students. The book is written very clearly and outlines how guided reading should/could look with readers working at different reading levels and stages of development. I am very excited to dive into this one!!

4. I also purchased The New Dramathemes, 3rd edition to complement my ongoing drama program. I have read through the previous editions but did not own a copy for myself.

Ahhhh. books! Gotta love them!

Saturday, February 11, 2012


I met them. I took a picture! They wrote down the name and address of my blog so they can visit! They really liked the name of my blog.

It was so exciting!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

An update from Reading for the Love of It!

Well I am sitting in my second session and I am loving everything so far. I heard "the sisters" talk this morning and am currently in a session with Tony Stead. Can't wait to tell you all about it!!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Assessment Series: Part 1


After posting about my learning profile sheet (which was really just a procrastination tool as report cards need to be done!) I thought it might be interesting to do a series on assessment and my thoughts surrounding this topic... plus I received a bunch of comments and requests to see my learning profile.  I have been teaching for 8 (gasp!) years now and I must say that this is one area that I feel I have probably grown the most professionally. And, obviously, it's such an important topic!

This is the original profile sheet that I created back in September and have used through out first term. My former principal and a colleague and I had done some reading of Damian Cooper and his thoughts on assessment and I was interested in trying a learning profile sheet.

Here in Ontario our assessment is based on four categories that are found on the Achievement Charts in each curriculum document- Knowledge and Understanding, Thinking, Communication and Application.

Here is an example taken from the Language Arts curriculum.

If you are interested in seeing more of the Ontario curriculum it can be found here.

A few of my colleagues have been assessing their students by marking each of the achievement categories individually and I wanted to see how it would affect my own assessment practices. Many people I had talked to were mainly using this in math but I felt that I was going to try it I was going to go the whole way and use it with all the subjects I taught. Plus, when I explained it to my students and their parents it would make more sense if all their assessment pieces were graded using the same method.

Here is an example of how I would build a rubric for an assignment using the achievement categories. This particular rubric is for a measurement assignment where the students were given the task of designing a backyard using their knowledge of area and perimeter.

I have found that by assessing my students using the achievement categories that I really understood my students strengths and areas of need. For example, I have a student in my class who is very good in math and can do any kind of math computation but when it comes to explaining his understanding in his math journal he is usually lacking details and has difficulty using math terminology to explain his ideas. So by using the achievement categories I can now talk about this with his parents and him in order to help him improve. My grade book shows that he can achieve a Level 4 (A) in Knowledge and Understanding but  often earns a Level 2 (C) in Communication. Although it is a lot of work to put together my rubrics this way I honestly believe that my assessment is more valuable and data driven for my students and their parents.

So how does it all look on a learning profile? Well, instead of have a mark sheet per subject area with all of the students in my class on the sheet, each student now has their own profile. This way I can see the academic achievements of each student in a single glance. I can see if a student is struggling in more than one academic area, or in one achievement category. Like in the example of the boy who struggles to express himself in Math and has been receiving a low mark in he also receiving a low Communication mark in other subject areas? I have found that I know a lot more about my students academic progress my marking this way and am better prepared to speak to how they can improve!

But the big question I like the learning profile? In theory, YES!! In practice, no. That is, I do not like the one I created back in September... but that is my preference. Seeing as this post is already so long already I am going to leave this for another day.

In the meantime, check out my original learning profile and let me know what you think. I would love to hear any and all comments on assessment. Bring it on!!

Some things to think about:
1) Do you mark using the Achievement Categories (if you are in Ontario) or a similar system?
2) Do you think a learning profile would work for you?
3) What other assessment practices would you like to talk about?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Geometry Freebie

We have started Geometry in my class and I created a vocabulary sheet to help my students keep track of all the new terms we will be learning and using on a daily basis!

The font I used for this freebie is from Sugar Frog Fonts- Scribbled and the clip art is from Scrappin' Doodles. 

Click the picture above to download the freebie.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Reading for the Love of It

Did I tell you where I am going this week? No, oh you are going to be soooooo jealous!

Reading for the Love of It!!!!

This is an amazing conference held here in Toronto every year and you are not going to believe all the speakers that will be present.

Click here to check out the programme book to see the whole line up.

I have been to this 2-day conference twice before and loved every minute. There are a whole bunch of open workshops hosted over the 2 days and the entire hotel is just crawling with teachers who love teaching literacy. It spans the entire elementary and secondary (K-12) system and covers not just reading, but writing, media, drama and much more!

Some of the presenters I am looking forward to seeing this year are:

Gail Boushey and Joan Moser (That's right, the sisters will be there!!) They are putting on 2 workshops- The Daily 5: What New, Tried and True; and Exactly How to Have Assessment Inform Instruction for Greater Student Achievement by Using the Cafe Menu

Janet Allen- Get Real: Instructional Strategies to Support Reading and Writing Non-Fiction

Patrick Reilly and Melodie Picco- Are Your Students Really Comprehending What They Are Reading?

Lorna Earl- Rethinking Assessment with Purpose in Mind

Lori Jamison- Guided Reading: Making the Most of the 18 Minute Lesson

Don Jones and Jill Staple- Using Descriptive Feedback: Assessment For and As Learning

And....if that isn't enough! I am also going to a luncheon where Erin Gruwell (Freedom Writers) will be speaking on "Becoming a Catalyst for Change".

I will try to take pictures, notes and report back to everyone all about my 2 days in literacy heaven!!

Friday, February 3, 2012


I've been tagged!! Super fun. Thanks to Haley over at Following Optimism and Kim at The Teacher's Lane for including me in this fun game. 

1. You must post the rules.
2. Post 12 fun facts about yourself on the blog post.
3. Answer the questions the tagger set for you in their post, and then create 12 new questions for the people you tagged.
4. Tag 12 people and link them on your post.
5. Let them know you've tagged them!

Twelve Fun Facts

1. I am addicted to coffee. I have a Keurig machine her at home that I just adore and I can barely drive past a Tim Horton's or Starbucks without stopping.

2. I am a VERY proud Canadian. I love my country and will talk about how great it is for hours. I even have a maple leaf tattooed  on my right ankle.

3. I am a knitter. I started during my mat leave..same as blogging...and like blogging it has become a major love.

4. I taught Grad 7 and 8 for 7 years before I moved to Grade 4 last year. I don't miss it!

5. Last year was the first time in my teaching career I ever taught was super scary but I have discovered that I like it.

6. I have a puggle. A pug and a beagle mix. He's pretty awesome.

This is a picture from last January when my baby was just born.

7. I am a curler. I used to competitively curl and thought I might try for the Olympics. Now it's few and far between and just for fun.

8. Football is my favourite sport to watch. 

9. I will read almost anything because I always have to have a book on the go! My favourites are historical fiction and fantasy.

10. My mom and my sister are two of my very best friends and I would rather hang out with them then almost anyone.

11. Being a mom is the hardest and most wonderful thing I have ever done. Every day is a stress-filled blessing....but look at this face!

12. The above picture was taken with Instagram which is my new iPhone obsession.

My questions from Haley:

1.  What is your favorite place to eat?
Any place Italian or Mexican

2.  What is your favorite accessory?
Purses. I have a ridiculous obsession. I even have vintage purses framed on my bedroom wall.

3.  What is your favorite game to play?

4.  When you aren't blog stalking, how do you spend your time?
Playing with my baby, knitting or reading.

5.  Do you pack your lunch, or do cafeteria food?
Pack it...and I hate it everyday. I wish we could just get rid of lunch.

6.  Do you prefer a paper book, or a Nook/Kindle?
Both actually. I have a Kobo...the Canadian version of an e-reader and I like it more than I thought I would.

7.  How long do your morning announcements last?
10 minutes.....too long!

8.  If you could have any car, what would you have?  (this is for my hubby)

9.  Do you have more boys or girls in your class?
Even actually! 11 of each.

10.  Biggest indulgence?
Books...I have so many.

11.  Are you a cat or dog person?
Huge dog person. I am actually afraid of cats. It's a long story.

12.  Any big plans for "our summer off?"
I am excited about having the summer with my baby now that she is up and walking. Plus we have two weeks at the cottage and my cousins wedding...PLUS!!! My sister is having a baby in August!! Bring on the summer.

So now I am supposed to tag 12 people goes! (I hope there are no repeats)

2. Melissa- Dilly Dabbles
3. Heather- Heather's Heart
5. Stephanie- Teaching in Rm 6
8. Jen- Runde's Room
9. Elizabeth- Fun in Room B

And my questions....

1. Will you watch the Superbowl?
2. Coffee or Tea?
3. The Daily 5?
4. Do you have a favourite type of pen?
5. What's your must see TV show?
6. If you could go anywhere tomorrow where would you go?
7. Winter or summer?
8. What hobbies do you have?
9. Shoes or purses?
10. Mac or PC?
11. iPhone or Blackberry?
12. Describe yourself in three words.

Okay...have fun!!!

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