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Glows, Grows and Where to Goes

As August is winding down my mind is now shifting to getting ready for back to school.  Thinking about how I will set up my classroom this year.  Every year I change a few things based on what I learned the previous year.  Asking what worked and what didn't and why is a very important task.  How can we grow as teachers if we are not willing to work on improving and this, in my opinion, starts with some personal reflection.  Here are my glows, grows and where to goes for the upcoming year.


  • Inquiry: in science and social studies but especially in language.  I just couldn't believe how much my students learned and developed as writers by using this approach.  Organizing them into inquiry writing centers really helped too.  
  • Math: still a big fan of this always happening in the morning. Continue to use my morning math pages to frame our three part lessons and give differentiated ways to support students in developing math skills.  
  • Mentor Paragraphs/Sentences: these were great during our literacy centers as a way for student to practice editing and proof reading skills.  I noticed a drastic improvement in many students in this area which transferred to their own writing skills. 
  • Technology: Using technology as an accessible tool with a BYOD philosophy was important.  This allowed for google classroom, explain everything and other apps to be seamlessly integrated into our day.  The students capacity for innovative thoughts and actions surrounding technology was important. 
  • Independence: with such a large class I didn't have time to see all of my students as frequently as I would have liked. This had some negative consequences for students who needed more hand holding or anxiety however for many this allowed them to learn to rely on themselves and increased their autonomy and independence in learning which will ultimately benefit them later.  
  • Parents: I have to be honest this is the one area that fell apart for me last year.  As I felt I was growing leaps and bounds in my pedagogy and instructional practices parents were simply left behind.  Add to this a work to rule situation between the teacher union and the government and my hands were tied as to my normal pathways to communication.  Parents were left to feel in the dark about what was happening in the classroom.  Used to a traditional model of instructional delivery we were just not on the same page.  Add to that a large class of 36 students and 36 sets of parents all clamoring for attention and information and I was easily overwhelmed with delivering this to them in a timely manner.  This is one area that I will attempt to improve upon for the upcoming year. 
  • Reading: With my focus on writing this year my reading instruction just wasn't on par or to my satisfaction.  This is a change since a few years ago it was the opposite.  I liked many things, I loved the books we read (Fish in a Tree) and I loved this discussions that we had about this book and others.  However the students ability to respond to reading and independently analyze different elements in a text through writing lacked the growth that I was seeing in other areas.  To combat this I will be going back to reflective journaling about the stories that we read.  Students will write their reflections to stories that we are reading together and to stories that they are reading independently.  As I ponder the format of this in the next week or so I will of course share what I will be doing. 
  • Work Work and Spelling - I tried to use words their way.  I just didn't like them.  They were too separate from what we were learning about they were too prescribed.  However I did love the diagnostic assessment for spelling that was part of this series of lessons however I will be making my own lessons and word sorts for students based on the books that we are reading together.  Some of these are already done in my mentor text and word work centers files on TPT however I didn't have time to continue the series throughout the year.  However using this from the beginning of last year helped me to really focus on different spelling skills so I will continue to use this again.  

Where to Goes...

  • Flexible Seating: I have use a flexible seating model in the sense that student can always sit during independent work time where they are comfortable.  However this year I am going to be searching for alternative seating opportunities for students to use.  Looking for bath mats, bench with pillows for reading area, yoga balls, scoop chairs, other chairs for flexible group work.  
  • Digital Resources - I will try to reduce my paper consumption in the classroom (less photocopying) by using digital resources more and photocopies less.  
What are your glows, grows, and where to goes for the upcoming year.  Leave a comment below and share...

Talking Inquiry - Letting Go of Control

Who I am as a Teacher

I am a teacher the thrives on organization and control over certain things in my classroom.  So I
  • Number student workbooks
  • Match all components of my program everything is colour coded
  • Classroom needs to match (my red pocket charts annoy me since they don't match)
  • So picky I make all of my own stuff or remake things so the fonts match and it looks pretty 

Despite this I am still a person that likes change but being stubborn I like to do it my own way and hate being told what to do.  So if you are like me then you need to commit to changing but find a way that is authentic to you.  

Talking Inquiry - Learning Goals and Success Criteria

Today I wanted to focus on learning goals and success criteria and how they are the center of your inquiry teaching practice.  I talked about a lot of things today on my broadcast and wanted to share my notes with you and some pictures of how these look in my classroom.  Check out the video here if you missed it.

What is Inquiry:
Inquiry is student-centered teaching that turns student interest and curiosity into real learning through questioning, investigating, observing and collaborating.

Learning Goals and Success Criteria
a learning goal is your big idea often based on your curriculum expectations or standards.  They are sentences written in student-friendly language and often start with key-word sentence starters such as

  • "We are learning about..."
  • "We want to know more about..."
  • " I can...."

Some examples that we have used in my classroom about learning goals are

  • First Nations and Early European Explorers - "What was life like for the First Nations before contact"
  • Human Body - We are learning about the digestive system and how it helps to keep your body working and healthy
  • Structures - "We are learning about internal and external forces that impact the strength of a  structure"
Here are some examples of the process we took to get from student questions to Learning goals to the criteria for success.  As you can see it is not alway pretty or ideal.  Sometimes they are not worded perfectly but they reflect the conversations that we had together.  Sometimes it is a multi step process to refine your ideas down to key big ideas and sometimes they change but in the end we knew where we were going together. This process took some leading by me to get us here.  Less than was needed previously but with the lack of background knowledge that my students had on this topic there was more to do to support them.  
Summarizing and narrowing down student questions
Our Learning Goals in the center of our bulletin board with the picture of the wonder wall surrounding it.  For this unit we used questions as our learning goals instead of typical learning goal "We are learning about..." statements.  
This is the list we co-created about the success criteria for the first learning goal of our unit.  Again not perfect but it reflected our conversations and understandings of what we needed to explore.
Although they are too small to read here, this is a picture of our whole human body unit with learning goals and success criteria for each system and learning activities.  We added our learning as we went along to our wonderwall board including evidence of activities that showed our learning and accomplishment of learning goals and success criteria.  

Why are learning goals important?
Students need to know where they are going and what they are doing.  Learning Goals and Success criteria are the road map you give you students at the beginning to know what they will be assessed on as they learn.  This is very explicit.  These are the test questions that you give them weeks in advance and a guide to have them show what they know by the end.  If they can show you that they have learned what you set out to have them learn then they have been successful.

How to use them in an Inquiry Classroom.

  • Co - create them with students and have them contribute their interests and knowledge to the learning decisions.  This will increase engagement because you are helping them learn what they tell you they are interested in.  
  • This part of your inquiry journey happens after your knowledge building circle and Wonder wall session.  This is the step that guides the rest of your learning.  
  • take their questions from their wonder wall and group them into categories and try to make sense of the themes of their questions.  This is not totally on them your selection of the questions help you to manipulate the direction of the learning while students may identify the themes or focus.  
  • Introduce the subtopics to your students and have them discuss the themes of where they are going in their learning.  Have them help you to explore where they will be going and what they will be learning about.  Ask them what they think the big idea is.  We want to know more about..., or We will be learning about...
  • From there organize your sentences into an order for learning.  What organ system will you learn about first, second, and third.  What makes the most sense to learn first.  Often this should start off from simple to complex allowing students to build the necessary background knowledge that will be needed and necessary prior to them using higher order thinking skills, critical thinking, and applying what they are learning to solve real world problems.  
  • Once they have developed the learning goal statements it is time to break down the first learning goal and determine how they are going to accomplish this task.  Depending on your students comfort level and knowledge of the topic they may need more or less support from you to do this.  Make a list of things they need to know.  This may change as you go along and they gather more information.  This can often be a messy part of the learning and sometime the most difficult but pay attention to what your students are saying this will give you a lot of insight on where students need and want to go with their learning and what gaps you will need to help them fill.  Again you may need to provide more support for them at this stage if all you hear in your classroom is crickets.
  • Remember that you are going to use this to help you students build their knowledge that stems from their own interests (or at least the interest of the collective group) Stop checking curriculum boxes and start helping your students meet their goals.  You are there to guide them and facilitate their learning.  Stop doing all of the work.  It is time, that your students take ownership of their own learning and share the load.  This will, in fact, reduce your planning time or at least change it as you are not preparing lessons but are finding resources to help students guide their own learning. 
How to get them to use it?
  • You need to use it.  
  • You need to make it the center of your conversations with students 
  • you need to reference it 
  • you need to point out that this is what they will be assessed on
  • you can follow the cycle of assessment to help keep them focused on this learning through regular conferences, check-ins, and observations.  
  • Assessment of inquiry seems difficult, but in reality, if you have strong and explicit learning goals and success criteria, that forms the center of your learning. Then it is very easy for students to show you what they know.  They can use them as a checklist for their learning and you can simply just check off when they have accomplished a learning goal when they show you what they know about that topic and meet the success criteria.  It becomes easier as you do this more often to evaluate whether or not they have shown a thorough understanding, a good understanding, or a simple understanding of the concepts that they have been learning.  

Talking Inquiry - Knowledge Building Circles

So I just completed my very first live video in my Let's Talk About Inquiry Series on Facebook Live.

My first video was about how I used  Knowledge Building Circles with Wonder Walls in my classroom to help facilitate inquiry.  I wanted to share my notes with you so that you would have an additional copy of the ideas that I shared in my video.

WonderWalls and Knowledge Building Circles

These two components of my inquiry unit help to start off my unit.  

Knowledge Building Circles - Start off you inquiry

Summer Sneak Peak

This summer I am getting ready to get back into the swing of things and have dedicated more time to sharing my products and tips and tricks with other teachers that like me want to use an inquiry approach in their classroom in both social studies, science and even language.  I have had a great response to my WonderWall video that I posted last summer on how I get started with inquiry and am looking to put out more videos this summer on my inquiry journey and how you to can teach with better inquiry approach to teaching and learning in your classrooms.

It is my hope to get a new video out to you each week which will be cross-posted to both facebook, here on my blog and on my youtube channel for people to watch and learn from.

But before I got started I needed to move my office space out of my spare room upstairs and into my basement to make room for my son who will be born in November.  So I couldn't just use my old tired stuff.  No I decided that I needed a whole new work space so using some of what I had already and a quick trip to the local IKEA I was able to put together my new office space.  Check it out I am so excited to get to work here each day this summer as I share with all of you.

For a sneak peak on what is happening at Madly Learning over the summer check out my sneak peak video below.  

Stay tuned and I hope to see you later this summer for my free inquiry in the classroom series. 

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