Thursday, May 29, 2014

End of Year Testing

Success comes in many different forms. In education we often focus on test results for the wrong reasons. In testing we often lump all the students together to make decisions about education agendas rather than individual students.

I have finished testing each of the students in my Grade 5 class for their reading skills. I used the Heinemann Benchmark 2 Assessment System. In this system students read a passage, I record errors, Self corrections and fluency. I also ask them questions about the text.

I have to say that I am proud of each and everyone of them. Their reading levels have improved. I have six students reading at late Grade 5 level. 7 Students are reading at mid to late Grade 6 level and 8 students reading at Grade 7 level or above. All of this was done through using SOLE as a point of teaching with a limited amount of traditional teaching.

One of my students improved three reading levels this year. He has been working on his self control issues and worked to become more focused on his assignments while gather self esteem and personal respect. Two of my students needed glasses all year, finally receiving them in the last couple of weeks. If the work they have shown since is any indicator I suspect their reading levels would also improve dramatically. Another boy recently informed me he has finished the first good book he has ever read. As he has learned to control his add + adhd he has been turning his strong mind towards more positive things.

As they have discovered learning is a two way street. We work together to make them more successful in what they do.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Untrustworthy Internet Sites

“The internet does not have the answers. It is simply a place that is in support of or against whatever argument you wish to develop. The answers come from you, as you explore the possibilities and make decisions.“

I had to have this discussion with my students this week. They seem too intent on taking whatever page comes up first and running with it as if it is gospel. One group discovered that some work on the internet is so misleading that they had to rethink what they were doing. Yes boys and girls, we have to think about what we are doing.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Change in Education

Education is in a vacuum at the moment. While everyone acknowledges that a 19th  century educational system does not work in the 21st century, no one is able to stand up and say what the new paradigm is. There is a lack of vision and focus. Some people see it in flipped classrooms, (or any other name you want to give it) SOLE, on line learning. And so on. Down in the educational trenches teachers are waiting for someone to provide the definition and example. For the last 30 years this direction has come from the leadership in the Ministry of Education and school boards. So far they have given information that only protects the status quo. They feel there is a need to reach towards the testing they require to assure everyone they are doing their job.
Most educational reforms make an assumption that there is a deficiency, not strength in educational systems. This is why politicians and other uninformed people make the demand for reforms. They don’t see the successes but dwell on the failures presented by the press. There is a great strength in education. More and more students are graduating every year. We have been replacing the retired people in the workforce with competent people who are investing time and energy towards making improvements. Are we reaching everyone? Not at the moment but we are starting to move in that direction.
No longer are we in a world dominated by manufacturing. We are now in a technological world. We are training students for jobs that are coming down the pipe. As we continue to teach children to be lifelong learners and use their new found knowledge, that will create jobs and make the world a better place. Lifelong learning outside of school is taking off as evidenced by MOOC’s, online courses, and search engines. People have a stronger access to resources than they have ever had in the past. More people are learning through using search engines to learn about their interests. This helps them to grow as individuals.
Teachers need to create a personal vision of where the path of education might lead, with a strength and purpose. Many have a glimpse of the future and are walking towards it with an open mind and willingness to experiment. This willingness to accept technology and have students use it to inform their learning is beginning to provide a basis for change.
What does this all mean?
The day to day education of students is in the hands of teachers. Teachers control the ways and means of reaching students and influencing their learning. In the past we had nice structured environments, with ample textbooks and knowledge that we were the impetus for their learning. We had the information. They took it from us and grew with it. In today’s society that does not happen. Children gain their learning from a far wider variety of sources other than teachers. So now teachers need to adapt their ways of imparting their information that is more in tune with the student’s needs.
In order to do this, teachers need to ask themselves: How am I changing my teaching style to meet the interests of the students? What am I doing to improve the quality of the teaching in my classroom in a way that all students can succeed? How am I encouraging the weakest student to follow his/her interests and grow? It is not about how the teachers present their information. It is about how the students absorb it. Put it into their hands and let them run with it.
Teachers must focus their time and energy to create change and make a difference. They must accept that change is moving forward and get ready, be a part of this change. They need to make it happen. Teachers also need to stay informed about what is going on around them. They need to talk to their fellow teachers and share and develop programs that will change the face of education. They must find ways and means to empower themselves to learn and grow.
This all requires a change of mindsets. No longer can we keep ourselves hemmed in by the structure of what classrooms are supposed to look like. We need to move ourselves towards what classrooms should look like for our students to be successful learners. We need to change our structures and challenge ourselves to make their learning more meaningful and personal. This may mean that every classroom will be set up differently, so much so that our parents will not recognize it as a classroom. It will be a place of learning where every student is motivated by what they want to learn about.
Teachers need to realize that they are the ones who can make these changes. Teachers must dare to dream. Teachers must take risks and create a vision. It is the only way to change education.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Project Reaching Forward

This is an outline I developed for my Principal. I have received approval for it with a caveat: it will be with my regular Grade 5 class rather than a multi-age class. If all goes well we could be looking at that for next year.


This project will be a yearlong project that will cover the curriculum as well as helping students to develop an understanding of their world around them. It will engage them and take their learning to a higher level. It will be fusion of research and practical skills. It is aimed at having 24, Grade 5 – 8 students in one classroom.
The project will be split up into three segments: Art and Design, Drama and Dance and Social Justice. The overall theme covered from beginning to end will be a focus on developing an understanding of social justice, creating information pieces to highlight their knowledge and use the other pieces to express their message. All subjects will be covered through the three areas mentioned.
The final outcome of their work will be a celebration of their knowledge with all facets being presented. All partners will be invited to attend this celebration of their work. The location and date are yet to be determined.
We will incorporate a full program with the help of partnerships to be developed with the City of Oshawa, Region of Durham, the universities and community college within Durham Region, the Robert McLaughlin Art Gallery, businesses and individuals from within the community. Having experts in the field come to the classroom to discuss experiences and techniques, helps the students to understand the connections that can be made. This in class experience and field trips allow the students to explore and connect with others who share similar interests and  provide opportunities for discussion. It allows them to explore concepts and to develop and apply skills. Community Partnerships are a must for children to achieve a level of success beyond what we have experienced in education up to this point.
In education, our goal is to provide high quality learning for all students. The need for this high quality learning can only be met by providing each student with the opportunity to learn by meeting his or her individual needs. Through this process we will help each student reach their potential by allowing them to synthesize information, make informed decisions and communicate effectively. This program sets about to meet those needs while providing the basis for lifelong learning.
Education has become more than the pencil paper books activities of old. Today we need to engage the students in larger scale projects that will use all their knowledge gained so far and incorporate it into a framework that is meaningful and profound. Students will challenge themselves to be strong thinkers, better analysts, and more productive with their belief in what they are doing.
Experiential learning has deeper meaning when paired with real life situations. While I propose to begin by using arts as a base for learning, the reality is that many different areas of interest could be used as the beginning point to reach students who have difficulty learning or are consciously removing themselves from the learning process. Giving students meaningful topics to develop their understanding demands a deeper involvement in the topic by the student. Further research and following their questions and insights increases their ability to develop a more meaningful relationship and a clearer understanding of the topic. For the child to achieve greater success it is important that the instruction of the skills necessary be provided on an as needed basis. The students will be taught the curriculum but it may not be in the manner we now teach it. Teaching through arts activities helps support the various learning styles, interests, and strengths of individual students. With cross curricular learning, research and hands on experience children can be encouraged to generate new connections and to expand their existing understanding. It is important for students to see how the knowledge and skills developed in one area can be relevant to other areas.
SOLE, Self-Organized Learning Environments, is the basis for teaching the students. In a SOLE, students develop the question, form groups of 4 to research the question using a laptop, make point form notes, rewrite their notes into interesting sentences and paragraphs and present it to the class. I have used SOLE for 16 months. In my experiences the students are more focused, there are fewer behaviour issues, their reading scores all improved by at least 2 reading levels with everyone approaching or well above grade level. The students take a greater pride in their work. By allowing the students to become personally involved in their education they gain confidence in themselves.   
Art and Design
1.         Drawing and Sketching
2.         Acrylic and watercolour painting
3.         Design
4.         Sculpturing
Final Outcome: 5 pieces of art. Once from each area that reflect strong artistic and design qualities.
A redesigned Rube Goldberg presentation
Social Conscience
  1. Homelessness 
  2. Soup Kitchens
  3. Food banks

Final Outcome
Develop and film a documentary about each of the 3 areas by groups of students.
1.         Theatre Skills
2.         Improvisation
3.         Drama skills
Final Outcomes
1.         Improv night
2.         A self-written, directed and acted play with music.