What Went Well…What Didn’t Go Well..

What went well today in our classroom:

  • Children sharing in jigsaw groups what they have been learning about one of the six regions of Canada.
  • Children writing headlines (a visible thinking routine) to highlight something interesting or important about a region of Canada that someone else shared.
  • Conversations around division: does the larger number always appear first in a division problem? When a smaller number is divided by a larger number is the answer a negative number?
  • Using the pictures from The Mysteries of Harris Burdick to spark writing during our 5 minutes of silent writing.
  • Starting to set norms around more effective conversations in class: wait a few seconds after someone has spoken; say something before having your say.
  • Dictation of a simple Spanish poem: what sounds/words are my students hearing when they listen to Spanish? How are they translating that into writing?
  • Weekly status of the class preceded by 3 minutes of writing to these two prompts: I am at the part where…I’m thinking…
  • I’m spending less time giving instructions so kids can work.

What didn’t go well today in our classroom:

  • I’m having a hard time sticking to my time limits.
  • Because I have too many tabs open, it takes me a long time to find what I need when I need it.
  • I still talk too much.
  • I’m not consistent with guidelines for group discussions.
  • I could make better use of my prep time.

Plans for improving tomorrow:

  • Set a timer for mini lessons.
  • Do even more turn and talk.
  • Enforce guidelines for group discussions.
  • Push all my open tabs to One Tab.
  • Stay positive.

Cross posted to Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Tuesday.


Silent Writing Time – 5 minutes every day

Every day, at the beginning of writing workshop, we have a 5-minute silent writing time. Sometimes, I do a mini lesson first and sometimes, we just do 5 minutes of silent writing. Afterwards, the kids go off to work on their own writing projects.

Most days I’ve given my students free reign about what they are going to write during the silent writing time. But I’ve also provided a suggestion or two, such as a word of the day, for those kids who always seem to struggle with topic choice.

Some kids, who love to write and would write all day if I let them, have done fine with the freedom and the unstructured time.

Others have floundered.

Even though I know this is happening, I soldiered on. I figured that eventually they would write something. Most of the time, this approach has worked. However, I’ve ignored when it hasn’t worked more times that I would like to admit.

Then, I rediscovered Linda Rief’s quick writes book. I don’t own the original book or the new one that was published recently. I’ve wanted to purchase them, but wondered if the excerpts and suggestions would work with my grade 5 students; I know Linda teaches middle school. So I downloaded a sample chapter from the Heinemann website to give it a try.

The last couple of days have been quite a revelation.

My students have written more in the last two days during silent writing time and more of them have voluntarily shared their writing with the class than ever before. And, many more are engaged during the silent writing time; where they would groan, now they are engaged. Although some are still trying to figure out what the prompts are asking them to do, they are more likely to write something instead of leaving the page blank.

So, what changed? I think the biggest change is that previously students wrote alone during silent writing time. They did not have a partner to lean on or talk to about their writing.  So, they didn’t know where to start. Also, their writing during this time was not anchored to anything important to them. Now, the writing they do is anchored to  someone else’s writing. They now have a writing partner, just one they’ve never met.

Today, this led to storytelling and more writing. Today more and more kids not only read what they wrote, but also told stories related to the suggestions offered in the book. In fact, the energy in the room shifted. The children were starting to feel the power of their words: their writing was having a visible impact on their classmates who laughed and gasped during share time.

I can’t wait to do this again tomorrow.

Thank you Linda Rief!

Crossposted to Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Tuesday.

Musings on a Tuesday Evening

I am caught between a rock and a hard place…of my own doing.

I have made it my mission to say, “Yes. Then, let’s talk about how it went,” when students ask me, “Can I…” or “Am I allowed to…”(This last one really grates on me, for some reason. But that’s a post for another time.)

Nevertheless, I find myself still saying, “No,” more often than “Yes”. I find myself waffling rather than assenting clearly and with confidence: “Yes. Try that out and then let’s chat about how it went for you.”

The classroom is a busy place. My students crave validation, permission, reassurance. They depend on me, as the adult in the room, to tell them I like their work. That they can use the iPad for writing and that what they’re doing, if not awesome already, is on its way to getting there. And, they are persistent.

But what am I after?

I look out at the sea of faces in my classroom and I am on a quest to identify learners who are independent, confident, and intentional problem solvers.

What I sometimes forget is that if my students are going to go from point a to point b, I need to create the situations to help them get there, one step at a time. And, it does take time.

When I explain the why of what we’re doing as clearly as possible without being wordy. (I’ve been told by some of my students that I talk a lot. I wasn’t surprised. I was hoping that they wouldn’t notice. LOL! You can be sure that I made a point of changing that the very next day.)

One way I’ve done this is to use the following sentence frame:

We are studying (topic/concept/skill) so that (how is this going to help us learn better/do something we want to do/improve in a particular area/skill, etc). 

This is not intended so that the teacher is the only one providing the why of a lesson or a unit. Ideally, we want our students to be thinking about this, too.

Today a student came up to me and told me about how she had discussed her reading goal with her parents last night and, as a result, had created a calendar of sorts to help keep her on track. This was not a requirement; she was motivated to do this on her own so that she could keep track of her goal. Tomorrow she’s going to share this with the class.

So, I have to ask myself: why was she self-motivated? Was she the only one or were other kids who were also motivated to follow up on their goals? When I talked to two students today, they were clear about their goals and how they were going to approach them. They have given this some thought.

The sentence frame I used for this was:

I will (goal) by (date or time frame) so that (how is this going to help us learn better/do something we want to do/improve in a particular area/skill, etc.

Maybe it was the so what part of the frame that helped kids connect to their goals. Maybe it was the intentionality: I will…Or maybe it was committing to a date that helped them take this, more or less common classroom exercise, seriously.

Only time will tell.

Stay tuned.

Cross posted to The Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Tuesday.




Inquiry Teaching and Learning

When you hear the word inquiry what comes to mind?

Do you envision kids studying abstract topics without teacher guidance? Do you imagine they are left “to figure it out” on their own? Do you picture a chaotic room where kids don’t know what to do? Or worse, do you think that the kids in an inquiry focused classroom are not getting the basic facts they need to address and solve higher order problems? In other words, are you a cart-before-the-horse kind of teacher? Do you think that before we can “let them loose” they need to have a bevy of facts under their belt?

Hmmm…Hopefully, I am preaching to the choir here, but if you’ve ever had a tinge of self-doubt about teaching from an inquiry stance, like I have because of external pressures and uninformed judgements, let’s make a pledge here and now to let go of those doubts in order to embrace inquiry in the classroom.

Letting go of doubt doesn’t mean that we will not critically examine our practice. On the contrary. We need to be hyper aware of what students are doing and how they are learning because teaching in this way means assessing will look different, as well: focused and intentional conversations with students that demonstrate respect for them as learners.

This takes a lot of courage. Sometimes we falter. Sometimes we revert to less than stellar versions of ourselves. Sometimes we rise above even our own expectations. But the point is that we are always striving to do better. To be better. Because once we know better, we must do better. It’s. That. Simple.

Every time I think that we have evolved to a higher level of thought as a profession, for example being able to juggle two seemingly opposite ideas at the same time, I am blind sided by the inability of some educators, that I respect, to juggle ambiguity. And, inquiry requires ambiguity. It demands faith. Faith in our students. Faith in the process. Faith in the future because we many not easily see the results of this kind of teaching and learning right away or ever.

So, I find it interesting that people still think that inquiry teaching and learning is about letting the class go unmoored. No captain at the helm. The kids without the necessary foundation required for higher order thinking.

An inquiry approach is the place where facts can be embedded in big ideas through the study of important topics.

Inquiry is a stance. It’s not a method or even a methodology.

Inquiry is a mindset carefully orchestrated by the teacher and students in a classroom. And although the teacher may have a global understanding of what students are expected to learn during the year, she or he is open to what students want to learn and figures out how to help them get there. Not because parents are demanding proof, or we have to tick off a district wide box that says we’ve done x, y and z, or because we don’t know how to support teachers to improve their practice. We’re open to what students want to learn, and act on this information, because it’s the right thing to do.


Cross posted Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Tuesday

Stepping Back So We Can Move Forward

This afternoon didn’t go well. Here’s a list of reasons why:

  • I wasn’t as prepared as I should have been.
  • I had a headache that started in the morning and never went away.
  • I was teaching something the kids weren’t ready to learn, at least not all of them and definitely not the way I was doing it.
  • I struggled to accept the examples they were sharing after the mini lesson.

So, I took a deep breath. I reminded myself that this is what they know and what they can do at this point in time. My work is cut out for me. I have a direction I need to go in.

I will take small groups and address specific needs. I will give kids lots of partner practice before I ask them to write down anything. I will slow down.

I overreached and I need to take a step back.

And, that’s what I love about teaching: as teachers, we get do overs every single day. And, so do the kids.

Cross posted to Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Tuesday.


It’s 11:35 p.m. on the night before the first day of a new school year. I’m as ready as I’ll ever be though, from time to time, my mind hovers over the thought that maybe I should have worked in my classroom this weekend.

There must be things I’ve forgotten to do, I tell myself. Labels I should have made. Signs I should have put up somewhere. Copies I should have ready for the first day. Or even the second day.

But when I finally stop obsessing over the mental list of all the things I think I should have done, I stop and remember what’s most important – to focus on the kids. Preparing for the first day all the way to the last day is really about being willing to take time, no matter how much, to build relationships with my students. How? By stopping whatever I’m doing to look them in the eye and to listen to them with an open heart. As long as I’m prepared to do that, everything will be fine. Everything will sort itself out.

I’ll be ready for whatever happens.


Crossposted to The Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Tuesday