A laptop to call my own

I’ve been trying to teach for the last 3.5 weeks without a laptop. I love using technology so this was quite the exercise in going old school for me. I’ve had a teacher laptop and SMART Board since my first time having a contract position so I’m not used to teaching without technology like this. But we made it through, even with my not so great, slow handwriting on the white board and my not always understandable drawings, we’re back to me being able to type out our morning messages and accompany them with pictures and drawings to explain words. We’re back to being able to play games as a group on the smart board and to watching French videos and songs on the internet.

And now I can look forward to doing things that I haven’t tried before. For example we used Plickers for the first time the other day. It’s an interesting way to quickly (relatively quickly) poll the class on a topic or do a quick quiz to check for understanding. It’s kind of like the Sentio machines that hook up to our smart board somehow (I’ve never used them because they’re too complicated to set up in my opinion for what they can do) in that you create a list of questions that are either multiple choice or true or false questions. The questions can have one right answer or more than one or an opinion question with no right answers. The students hold up their cards with the letter that they think is the answer on the top of the shape and then I use my phone to scan the class and then whether or not they have answered the question shows up on my computer.

plickers

Stock photo – This is not my class.

We tried it out on Thursday and on Friday to see how well it works. It worked pretty well. I did one opinion question and then 4 multiple choice questions. What I liked about it was that it is relatively easy to start. Students don’t need to sign in to anything or remember passwords or anything like that. Once they got over the excitement of trying out something new and seemingly magical because how on earth can the computer recognize their shape verses everyone else’s and the position it’s pointing in, they did pretty well holding up their shapes the right way. We learned a few things like, if any part of their shape is covered by a finger, it isn’t recognized or if it’s back-lit by a window or anything. The other thing I would like to streamline is the passing out of cards. With 28 students it can take a while. I think eventually the students will know their numbers and that will help speed up the process. I’m excited to try it out for things like opinions on, for example, which novel read aloud should we read next?

The other new thing I’d like to try out this year, speaking of novels, is the Global Read Aloud I have no idea how it works exactly yet but the concept sounds interesting so I’d like to give it a try. That and Mystery Skype for Schools. I want to try to connect more with the outside world in general this year in our classroom.

And of course, having a teacher laptop means that it was much easier for me to type up this blog post tonight. Hopefully this will mean I’ll be able to blog more often now as well.

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It’s all about them

I’ve been reading Pernille Ripp’s blog Blogging Through the Fourth Dimension for quite some time now, in fact, I’d say she’s one of my biggest influences in terms of blogging and teaching. I recently bought her book Passionate Learners and have been reading through it. I just read the second chapter yesterday and have been reflecting a great deal on making sure that my classroom is one where I would want to be a student and making sure that the learning that happens in my classroom is centred around my students, not me.

Would I want to be a student in my classroom? Probably but I was very much an “in spite of” child who just loved learning and loved school and rarely had any conflicts with my teachers until I was in high school and even then, I only disliked the worst and most lazy of teachers. But of course most students are not quite so independent with an intrinsic desire to learn like I was/am so I have to think about other kinds of students and whether or not they are happy and learning in my classroom.

I would like to think that my students are happy and learning in my classroom but I know that there is not 100% buy in. I know that there are students who are bored some times and there are students who have developed a dislike of French and a dislike of school in general, even by grade 5 I have a lot of baggage to work around. I have students who aren’t sleeping properly, who aren’t getting enough good food and who aren’t getting enough exercise or attention outside of school. And I have students who are new to Canada and just learning English. And of course, I have many students whose parents dislike the Intensive French program or dislike school in general so I have all of that working against me.

I am very extremely lucky at my school we have a wonderful school/Home connection with lots of parents who volunteer at our school, who fundraise, who come in to read in classes. We have a lot of community events at our school and our parents are generally very involved. I feel generally that parents are willing to work with us for the benefit of our students which is fantastic.

But I teach Intensive French. This has its advantages and disadvantages. First of all, it’s not a universally popular program. Let me say right off that I like the program. I agree with the idea that language needs to be taught by using the language and hearing the language, not by memorizing lists of words. I love the emphasis on oral language and focus on authentic themes where we talk about ourselves rather than learning subject material. It’s great to see how much students progress in 5 months, so much more than with the old core French program. But many parents seem to feel that the program was brought in without enough consultation and they worry that their children will be behind in their learning because they will have 5 months in French. They are resentful that it is not a choice and that all students in grade 5 other than Immersion students, must take IF regardless of desire or ability. 

I can sympathize with their issues even if many of their fears are unfounded. Learning a new language is incredibly helpful in so many ways. It helps grow connections in your brain to help understand the world in a different way. It can help better understand a different culture. It helps you understand your own language and culture in a better way. It can even help offset dementia and other issues later in life. Is it without issues? Absolutely not. Should it be a choice? Maybe. But then, should music or gym be a choice? Some students struggle with those subjects and yet it’s a given that all students in elementary take those subjects because we know that it’s good for them. I worry that some of the backlash against the program comes from the dislike that exists between the French and English communities in New Brusnwick. Growing up in Nova Scotia, I never expected to experience this kind of fighting and dislike between cultures when I moved to a bilingual province. It blows my mind and makes me very sad to see how resentful of each other both communities are.

So how do I take all of these factors increase student buy-in? How do I make sure that the learning is all about them? How do I make sure that mine is not the most heard/loudest voice in the room? How do I make sure that my students are listening and engaged because it’s interesting and important, not just because I’ve told them they have to listen? A few things that I try to do are things like using lots of music and videos so that it’s not just my voice we’re listening to. I try as much as possible to give my students time to practice new phrases that we’re learning with each other. A couple of things I’d like to try are making sure to have more body breaks and maybe try some mindfulness/yoga practice each day and I’d like to have the students create a video showing and explaining what we do in Intensive French to give parents a better idea of what we do each day. I have made videos of students in the past that I show to my classes but I’d like to do something geared more for parents to help have them buy-in to the program so that they will help encourage students as well. I’d also like to try out Edmodo again so that, with such a large class of students, some of my quieter students will have more of a chance to converse with each other in French. I have a few students who don’t have access to computers at home but hopefully our ipads will be fixed at school so we can have some time to use Edmodo at school.

If you are a teacher what do you do to make sure your students are engaged? Any ideas you think I can use?

Back on the horse

It happened finally last week; I applied for the job that I wanted most and so as of last Thursday I’m officially back to being a grade 5 teacher at my favourite school. I’m not back in the same portable classroom as last year, I’m in the other one, but that’s okay. I’ve spent this week getting to know my students and slowly bring my many boxes of teaching stuff and books (so many books) into my new classroom. I hope very much, like I always do, that this will be the last time I have to move it all.

I have a big group this year. There are 28 in my class and 28 in the other class as well. They’re pretty well behaved though and I’m pleased with how the first week has gone. We’re building routines and relationships. One of my students reflected that it feels like September again. To me, it may as well be September. Luckily, they have many routines and expectations already figured out so it’s just a matter of continuing to reinforce them. We came up with class expectations that were similar to the positive learning goals they had decided upon with their previous teacher. One interesting idea that they asked about was getting a class pet. I’m considering it. I’ve never been asked to get one before but they were realistic in their expectations, wanting a lizard or turtle or something easy to maintain. So this weekend I’m going to look around and see if I can find something.  I’m hoping I’ll get my teacher laptop soon so it’ll be easier to write blog posts.