Monthly Archives: October 2014

One Should Never Assume

I love books.  I am a voracious reader and am proud to say I follow most of the Nerdy Book Club people and lists religiously.  If they say there is a book I need to read and share with my students, guaranteed I will be at Indigo or Amazon getting it.  The thing I love even more is sharing my love of books and reading with my students.  So it was a given that I would again participate in Global Readaloud this year.  If you haven’t heard of it, it is the brainchild of this amazing educator from the US, Pernille Ripp.  Last year my students and I followed the journey of Melody in Sharon Draper’s book, “Out of My Mind”.  We laughed together, shared our outrage together and even cried together.  It was from participating in this activity that I made some wonderful connections with teachers across North America and gave my students some powerful and authentic learning experiences.

So when this year came around I was very excited to again join up with Global Readaloud with my new group of “littles”.  Even though this was a younger grade, I still thought it would be again the opportunity to open my students to some authentic learning experiences.  When I found out the book I would be doing would be the “Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane” I will not lie, I hesitated.  I thought how was I going to get my students to connect to the story of a china rabbit named Edward.  I had a rough and tumble group of boys, hockey playing, soccer loving boys.  I thought for sure “The 14th Goldfish” was my much better choice.  I have to give my connecting partner, one of my trusted inner circle in my PLN (an integral member of the #gelatoPLN) Zoe Bettess the credit because she was the one that convinced me I needed to give my students a chance.  I needed to trust that they would see Edward Tulane for the amazing story that it was. Even though deep in my heart, I still was unsure,  I took a chance.

Now I have to say  Zoe, you were right.  My students are in this for the long haul.  When they first met Edward they were like “Mrs. D. he is so selfish”  they actually decided his theme song should be “Fancy” by Iggy Azalea and would go around the class singing “He’s so fancy….” it was really hilarious. When we got to the scene with Lolly, they were upset with her treatment and again the connections and conversations were fantastic.  “Mrs. D., she is like the “old” Edward.”  And on Friday, we reached the end of chapter 14 which ended with the important line “Edward wished he could cry.”  The conversations that my little group of 7 and 8 year olds were having was amazing.  Throughout this journey, my students have been blogging and tweeting, sharing their thoughts and ideas about this story and how it has unfolded. We have discussed what potential names we would come up with if we found Edward on a beach, we have  made missing rabbit posters for Edward.  On Friday, we skyped for the first time with a class in California and I was so proud with the things my students came up with, the ideas they shared.  It made me realize how wrong I was to assume that they would not connect with this powerful story and its theme.

So to end this I say thank you to Kate DiCamillo for writing and sharing this story and character that my students are loving, thank you Pernille Ripp for picking this book for Global Readaloud this year, thank you Zoe for making me see the error of my assumptions but mostly thank you to my students for loving Edward as much as I do.

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What I Learned

For those of you not in Alberta, you might not have heard about the new government Student Learning Assessments otherwise known as SLA’s.  This is the pilot year where they rolled them out for all grade 3 students in Alberta and being that I moved to grade three this year, I was able to experience them firsthand.

Now Alberta Education went into these SLA’s with some pretty lofty goals.  They were going to replace the dreaded Provincial Achievement Exams of old with something new and better.   They would…..”better enabling parents and teachers to be aware of a child’s strengths or areas needing improvement. The SLAs are essentially “readiness” assessments that can be used to determine the programming needs for students for the school year, and support more personalized learning.” (Alberta Education Information Bulletin)

However, after being immersed in them for these last 2 weeks, I am now going to share what I have learned.

1. Awareness of Child’s Strengths/Areas of Improvement:  well, being that I spend 5 days a week and almost 8 hours a day with my gang, I already had a pretty good idea of where they were at, both with their strengths and weaknesses.  Funny enough, the first few days, I had a few tell me point blank “I am not really that good at reading, Mrs. D.”  or “I don’t really like writing, it’s hard for me.”  So those that were already walking in the door with challenges, both they and I knew this.  The thing is that they and I spent quite a bit of time those first few weeks building up their confidence in these areas – finding strategies to help them tackle the areas they found hard. I worked hard helping them realize that while it might not be something they were not that great at, I constantly reinforced the idea that they might not be good “yet.” If they and I worked together, maybe we might find ways to help them get better so they could change that statement of “I am not good at reading”  to “I am starting to find strategies to be a better reader.”

So then these SLA’s came with 4 different pieces of assessment that involved a lot of reading and a lot of writing and I saw those students who had started to see themselves in a different light, start to shut down.  The multitude of questions, with these expectations of higher level thinking was something my struggling students found challenging and I could not help them.  I had to say things like “try your best”   and “it’s okay, I know you are trying hard”   So now I am back to square one with some of them and I will have to try to again build up their confidence in themselves after feeling like they have failed. Some of my shy, quiet students who get quite anxious about things actually wrote sentences like “SLA’s I am done with you.” “If I have to write this again, I will freak out.” And yes, this would be even though I did not make a big deal out of all this, I kept saying it was just an experiment to see how we would all do and not to worry.

The other sad thing was that my more bright students, the ones I knew had a lot to offer, even they did not get the point of doing a task multiple times and then evaluating themselves on it again and again. I heard a lot of “didn’t we do this already with the last question?” and “why do I have to do this?”  So yet again, these students did not really show what they are truly capable of because even they thought “what’s the point of all this?” and did what they could to just get done.

2. An Informative, Reflective Piece:  so the point of all these different literacy and numeracy pieces was that this was going to inform and reflect my students to better guide my instruction. As well, I would be able to take these out and use them as something to talk to parents about.  I really look forward to these conversations in that if I show parents some of the numeracy questions with the self reflective pieces, I am sure I will spend more time explaining what the questions were actually asking and validating the point of this type of questioning.  With so many parents already questioning the “new math”  they don’t understand, this is probably not going to help me much.

The reflection I might have, if I was a new teacher to grade 3, is that I better prepare my students better for this type of assessment.  So instead of spending time those first few important weeks building relationships with my students, I need to start start practicing with 7 and 8 year olds how to self assess and/or how to reflect because gosh knows those skills come built in at the beginning of a school year in grade three. (yes that was a bit of sarcasm, my apologies)

3.  My Frustration – my biggest frustration was not the hours of extra work for myself – inputting students onto the system so they could actually do the test, figuring out the pieces and parts to administering these the best way possible, marking and going over each assessment piece. It was not how I put the rest of the school out at times – SLA’s meant no one could use the internet because doing the digital pieces took every bit of wifi bandwidth our school had.  No one could use laptops or computer labs because they were all booked up for us.  Don’t get me started on the amount of trees I killed photocopying everything needed. My biggest frustration was seeing one of my students lay his head down on his desk and cry because he just couldn’t get what the question was asking.  It was seeing one of my girls go “Mrs. D. I just don’t get what to do” and look so confused and disappointed, in me, in herself, in both of us?? It was seeing some of my students take close to 2 hours to get done on the computer because of glitches, freezing, having to shut down and hope it would not make them start from the beginning.

So to the powers that be, I have the following to say about what I learned… I honestly think this could have been done so much better.  I am not sure why you couldn’t trust that I am a professional, that I am able to find and use assessment pieces that will truly reflect my students’ abilities.  But I guess, like my students, I have areas of improvement too….