Sunday, 27 September 2015

The organizational theory of my classroom

It is ironic that my first course of my post-graduate is Constructions of Organizations not just because I remember a course much like it when I was taking my Bachelor of Commerce but because I always joke with my students that I would get an S in organization. I'm very inefficient when it comes to paper, and there is no paper filing system at home or at school that I'm able to keep up with, hence my need to turn to technology to help me in those inefficiencies. As I'm preparing to present a seminar tomorrow on the birth of scientific management, I always look to other sources to help me understand and I found this video.

I started questioning some of the inefficiencies in my classroom and which strategies I use to increase the productivity of myself and my students, such as

  • Ensuring students follow entry and entrance procedures, silent entry gives me more time for my lessons
  • Having a morning routine for students such as "bellwork," so I can collect the paperwork and check agendas
  • Organizing my classroom - it's a Science lab so if ever anyone needs to find anything, everything is labelled
  • Putting students in rows so there is minimal disruptions and distractions during my lessons and independent work
  • Establishing clear rules, procedures, expectations and consequences for when they are not followed...

But wait...I'm not a production manager manufacturing widgets, I'm a teacher.

If my goal is this:


Then why would my classroom look like this? Why would I try to make everything one size fits all?

Images labelled for non-commercial reuse

Equal isn't fair and fair isn't equal, there may be a student who is not able to follow the same rule or procedure as another, and the consequence will not be the same. I won't photocopy and assign a class set of Math problems because there may be a student who feels stress and anxiety when seeing that many multiplication/factoring/square root problems. Or they are not working at grade level yet and will not feel successful with that work. Or I know that I need to do some pre-teaching for that expectation before they can meet or exceed the success criteria. Or there may be a student who has mastered multiplication/factoring/square roots, for a few years now, and that worksheet will just make them feel less engaged in my classroom. We no longer read whole class novel studies perhaps due to not all students being at the same reading level, or perhaps they won't have the same level of engagement towards that book. There is choice during Language, where I conference with students and together we come up with a personalized goal for writing, reading, and word study. I no longer give a percentage, I give descriptive feedback which on average takes me twice as long to write than marking it wrong or right and putting a fraction/percentage/level at the top.

Sorry I can't remember the original source...

In order for me to personalize the learning of every student in my room, then I need let go of some of the strategies that have worked for me in the past that increase our productivity. But yet I'm a mother, a student, a commuter, I need to make my time at school as efficient as possible as there is no other place where I can meet my productivity goals. Perhaps I shouldn't do extra-curriculars? Maybe I need to work through lunch and recess or not spend that extra five minutes at the end of the day chatting with my grade partners. This in turn will bring down my morale which will in turn decrease my productivity and I will not meet the widget quota for the week...or maybe I will but my quality of life will decrease. I'm not sure, I think I know enough about my mental health to prevent myself from going down that path.

The bottom line is, as much as we try to organize classrooms, schools and the education system, students are not a production line. 

I was very blessed last year, I had 20 bodies in my grade 7 homeroom, it wasn't perfect (always room for improvement!) but I was able to do as much as I could for every single one of those kids. This year I have 24 but it's a 6/7 split. That in itself would make me less efficient as it's double the curriculum. I don't doubt I will have a good year, I'm experimenting with spiralling Math, and personalizing learning goals for them, I'm confident I will be the best teacher for them and I'm up for the challenge. I've taught both grades before, which also decreases the extra time I would spend "teaching" myself the curriculum. But I'm already finding myself going to some of the tried and true strategies, such as giving them notes and practice problems, which I didn't do as much of last year.

If four more bodies and the added Grade 6 curriculum already has me going back to my scientific management roots, how do other teachers out there survive with 30+ kids in their room? I recently read this post by @zbpipe and I can't even imagine what 42 bodies would be like. My biggest class size is 32 this year for Religion, and it is currently being very teacher directed but I do hope to open up the floor to more student centered activities.

I joke about going into the business of education and I wouldn't be doing anything else. I just hope this year is as productive and efficient as the rest.

Friday, 18 September 2015

I love when Grade 9s come to visit!

When I was a primary teacher, I felt like once the kids left my room, they forgot about me. Very few of them would say hi again, even in the playground, even after we spent all this time together, they just move on to bigger and better things. Then I began teaching Grade 8s...and stayed put at a one school. It's so lovely for them to come back and tell me all about high school!

This year especially I keep asking them to report on how they feel about Science. Those Grade 9s had minimal hands on experience before coming into my room last year and it took us a while to get into the routine of designing labs and then using the conclusions from our observations to prove or investigate the concept. They wanted me to give them definitions and then test them on it. They eventually became impressive risk takers and by the last strand they were designing and testing their own original labs. I continue to be curious about whether I prepared them for the challenges in high school.

I'm feeling the same stress again this year. I know it's self-inflicted as the students enjoy hands on and the majority of them use the experiments to explain the concepts, but how do I know for sure unless I'm giving them a quiz? There's 29 of them, how can I possibly check for understanding by just having conversations with them?

It is possible. After six 40 minute periods, after half have performed their lab and observations, I'm confident that most of them are understanding properties of fluids. Even the ones that are still designing their lab are able to explain to explain to me what property they hope to test and what knowledge they are basing their hypothesis on. They did take some notes today on the definitions, but only so they could apply it to the lab they performed yesterday or will be performing next week.

Above  group tested density using boiling point and heat. The group below tested density of oil vs. nail polish.
Since knowledge building online works so well with this group, they continue to post their lab write ups on the discussion boards so they can give each other feedback and see each other's areas of improvement.

I used to think I wanted to teach high school, but I realize this is the place for me. Now to work on my new batch of 6s and 7s and getting them confident in the scientific inquiry process.

On another note, off topic but not, I began my journey as a learner and embarked on my Master of Education this week. I'm registered for it to be course based, but I'm really thinking an action research thesis, if possible, would be more use to me, and perhaps even more interesting...I'm not sure if I can handle that, I have some months to think about it. I do love research and self-directed learning. I can see even graduate education is becoming more of what we want our own students to experience. Any advice for me?

Monday, 7 September 2015

We're ready! Happy first day of school!

Well it's back to school time. I've been planning, making lists, lessons, pinning ideas on amount of preparation can ever make me feel ready for back to school.

My classroom last Monday.
All it took was for me to walk into my classroom last week, that after much anticipation, I will be welcoming my new batch of learners tomorrow. I can't wait! I'm excited! Thankfully, I've been wrapping my head around many ideas over the past few months and the mess I saw when I first walked in was not as overwhelming as it has been in the past. I don't feel as much pressure anymore around perfect bulletin boards and prepared photocopies for the first week. All I had to do to make my classroom feel ready was organize the desks and count enough notebooks. Since I didn't stay late the last day of school, I did have to put things away and do a little bit of organizing.

Last year, we were supposed to get tables so I could replace our desks. Unfortunately, they didn't arrive and I'm going to start with desks in rows for at least the first week but eventually turn them around so they could be "tables." The only thing I could control is saying goodbye to the teacher's desk. Surprisingly not at all hard to let go of, it took two minutes to clean out and push out the door. My teacher area now looks like this.

As far as my lessons for the first week, I still haven't decided what our first read aloud will be (it's between Wonder or Out of My Mind) or the first about me art activity. I'm very tempted to put it to a vote, maybe I will, but the kids might appreciate at least the illusion that I'm well-planned and in control. Since there are two students in my class that I taught in Grade 5, I feel like I have to do brand new things. In order to establish rules, routines and procedures, we will be co-creating anchor charts during our Language blocks. New this year will be the "Learner's Notebook." Formerly the "Writer's Notebook" I may keep all my homeroom writing/reflections in that book.

As a mom who is sending an SK and a Grade 2 back to school tomorrow, to a brand new just-built elementary school, I'm confident they will be in good hands. There is so much anxiety this time of year from parents, kids, teachers (maybe it's just my house?) I wish everyone a great first day back.

The best advice I gave the brand new teacher downstairs last week is, there will always be something on your to do list, but you also want to not burn yourself out. As I embark on a challenging year in the class room (it's a 6/7, EQAO and confirmation!) with the biggest class size since my first year, plus I'm beginning my Masters of Ed this year to boot! I don't want to lose the wonderful things that are on my to-do list...but I will not be my worst critic should I not get to them.