The problem with working at a middle school is that I read far fewer picture books than I used to and YA novels take a lot longer to finish than a stack of picture books. So my It's Monday What Are You Reading? posts are harder to fill up with a multitude of books (and may not be exactly on time...). Hopefully you will be content with one good review a week (and hopefully I can read one good book a week!). That, or I can review any of the Harry Potter series, as my daughters are obsessed and that is all we are reading at home these days!
This week's non-HP read was recommended last week by Carrie Gelson over at There's a Book for That. The Goldfish Boy intrigued me right away; it fit perfectly with the stream of books I have been reading lately about kids with differences (see this post). As I walked in to my school library the next day, there it was, sitting on the New Arrivals shelf just asking to be read. So I did.
The Goldfish Boy (Lisa Thompson) - Perfect for the middle years, this book explores many of the same topics as Wonder - difference, kindness, understanding. The main character has OCD and anxiety, conditions which have trapped him in the house in recent years until a missing child begins to draw him back out into the world. At first, I struggled with the pretense - I mean, who doesn't seek help for their struggling child long before it gets to the point where they are cooped up in the house with crippling anxiety? But the more I read, the more I realized how these parents were probably like most parents - hoping for the best, unsure of how to deal with the worst. This family is much like many of the families I deal with on a daily basis - the struggling teen who believes that he can cope with it himself, the well-meaning but frustrated dad, who believes that this is something his son just needs to try harder to snap out of and the overwhelmed and uncertain mom, knowing that something is wrong but lacking the knowledge and support to do much about it. Unlike many books about struggling kids, where the parents are super accepting and understanding, this family might actually strike a chord for many young readers. For anyone who has ever lived on a cul-de-sac (me!) the portrayal of how everyone on the small street knows everyone else's business is very familiar as well. This book is well-paced, moving slowly but not too slowly, towards the climax and not so overloaded with detail that young or weaker readers will miss important parts of the story. I would pair this book with Wonder, The Honest Truth (Dan Gemeinhart), Out of My Mind (Sharon Draper) and Stargirl (Jerry Spinelli) for a powerful lit circle about differences.
Any other books in this same vein you'd recommend?
This time of year can be tough, for kids and teachers. As the end of term approaches expectations increase, workload is high and patience is short. Up here in the Great White North, it's often dark when we leave for work and dark when we come home; it's cold and snowy and everything - from getting dressed to starting the car - requires one extra step (or 5 - coats, snowpants, mitts, toques, boots...so.much.clothing). All of this comes together to equal the perfect storm of stress and pressure for all of us. This is the time of year when kids with challenging behaviours flare and teachers have less patience for their antics. So, what's a support teacher to do? Read, of course!
This week for IMWAYR I wanted to share two books I have been (slowly) making my way through in an effort to find ways to support some of our struggling students. They have both caused me to think deeply about my practices, my beliefs and the alignment between the two. They also have me pondering ways we can change our support systems as whole to ensure success for all students.
Children Who Fail at School But Succeed At Life: Lessons from Lives Well-Lived - Mark Katz - The title of this book grabbed me right away. I have always felt that educators revert to a doom and gloom, they're never going to make anything of themselves attitude towards students who struggle in school (which makes me so sad, but sometimes their struggles are so great that it is hard to see beyond the present moment). This book tells the story of these kids once they leave school and make their way in the real world. Katz shares 5 "erroneous perceptions" that are at once so obvious and so ingrained that you realize how much of an obstacle they present to changing out mindset around struggling learners. It also presents different ways that we can support students so that they are successful earlier (my favourite suggestion? More labels. We need to outweigh the negative labels - learning disability, behaviour problem, etc. - with positive ones - leader, friend, coder, artist, etc.). It isn't an easy read; although Katz aims for a conversational tone he often ends up striking a much more academic one. The case studies are fantastic however and the book is rich with ways to support our students on their paths to success.
Lost & Found: Helping Behaviorally Challenging Students (And While You're At It, All the Others) - Ross W. Greene This book is basically a roadmap for using Ross Greene's Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS) method in schools. This method resonates with me on so many levels, so beginning to explore and implement it via this book has been wonderful. It is an easier read than Katz's book but is still so information-dense that I am finding I need to read it in chunks, practice a bit and then come back to it. The case studies and examples are extremely helpful and there are really nice chapter summaries at the end. I have always believed in involving kids in discussions about their behaviour, working with them to find solutions that are meaningful and mutually agreed upon. This book not only affirms that belief but gives me a way to structure it to be most successful (feel like I've used that word a lot!).
Both of these books are the types of books that I wish I could distill and make sure everyone knew and understood what they were all about. The next best thing is to share them here so that more people know about them, read them and begin to shift there thinking!
I have not participated in It's Monday What Are You Reading? in a very long time but lately I have found myself missing this community of readers. I have been following the lovely Carrie Gelson's blog (thereisabookforthat.com) for quite awhile now and she has been drawing me back with her wonderful descriptions of new books (and the way she shares them in her classroom; I would love to be a learner in her room). I have also been doing a lot of reading lately and want to share it. So, here we are, back to joining #IMWAYR.
I always like to have a theme to my #IMWAYR posts. Themes help me organize my thoughts and bring cohesion to my final product - whether that is a blog post, a birthday party or a new unit I am prepping for a class. While choosing a theme can sometimes be a process (I'm looking at you birthday parties!), more often than not themes seem to gradually make themselves known to me until they are so obvious that I can no longer ignore them. In this case, the theme comes from the recent movie release of Wonder, an adaptation of the book by R.J. Palacio.
Wonder (R.J. Palacio) - A truly transformational read, Wonder tells the story of a young boy who, due to a severe facial deformity, has been home-schooled his whole life. Now, in Gr. 5, his parents have enrolled him in public school. As Auggie negotiates life in middle school we learn not just about him but about all of the people around him and all of the ways that his condition touch their lives. Much like the books below, this book is a fabulous gateway to discussing differences, kindness, bullying and more. With the addition of the movie it becomes even more accessible to our young readers.
Highly Illogical Behavior (John Corey Whaley) - Just finished this one and really enjoyed it. I will put out there right off the bat that, although this is a book that could be read at the middle school level, there are a few swear words and a fair bit of discovering your sexuality (no sex scenes but lots of talk about it), so I wouldn't recommend it for general consumption below Gr. 9 (aside: we were chatting the other day at a district gifted/enrichment meeting about needing to allow some precocious readers to read above their pay grade. Some kids are ready for this material earlier than others and, with parent permission, that's a-ok). Anyway, back to the book. Highly Illogical Behavior nails the teenage characters in all of their awkwardness and enthusiasm; they are stereotypical but with just enough of a twist that they are endearing - the highly-driven keener (with a dysfunctional family), the jock (who loves Star Trek and is reluctant in the bedroom), the lovable Star Trek fan (who hasn't left the house in 3 years). The premise - that of an agoraphobic teen who hasn't stepped foot outside of his house in 3 years - and the journey the characters embark on together is rich fodder for classroom discussions about differences, mental illness, helping others, friendships and more. Definitely a book worth sharing!
A Mango-Shaped Space (Wendy Mass) - What a wonderful book! A Mango-Shaped Space takes a look at a young girl with synesthesia, a condition that causes her to see colours for letters and words. I loved the way this book explored the way Mia's feelings about her condition develop and change; nothing felt forced or awkward about Mass' portrayal of a teen coming to grips with who she is and who she wants to be. I can definitely see many kids making lots of connections to this book! Much like Highly Illogical Behavior, this is a great choice for discussing differences, loss and friendships.
Out of My Mind (Sharon M. Draper) - I've blogged about this one (and my I'm-not-so-sure-I-loved-it feeling) before. The subject matter was fascinating - the idea that a very intelligent person could be trapped in a body that prevents them from sharing their intelligence really makes you stop and think about some of the kiddos we come across. Are we underestimating them? If they could communicate, what would they say? How can we provide them with opportunities to show what they know? Definitely transformative thoughts to be had there.
At the same time, I just didn't really love the book. I found many of the terms used to be quite dated ("way cool", "that's what's up"), which made the book feel a bit stilted. I also think that many of my students would have trouble connecting to the students in this book; in many ways it felt like an adult's interpretation of how kids behave and what they say. Finally, the climax (which I won't spoil for you) felt forced; possible, yes, but not very likely. All in all, I loved the concept of this book and think it could spark some very interesting discussions; ultimately, however, it fell a bit flat for me.
The Honest Truth (Dan Gemeinhart) - This is a heart-breaking book (expect tears!) about a boy who decides that he is too much of a burden for his family and friends, so he runs away to fulfill a dream or die trying. Told from his point of view and that of his best friend, Jessie, we get a clear picture of two very different perspectives on the same event. Well-written for the middle grades but be aware that the content is pretty heavy and there are some dark scenes. Again, though, another great book for exploring friendships, differences, illness, dreams and more.
I can imagine using all of these books in a themed (of course) lit circle, along with classics like The Outsiders. The rich conversations that all of these books will inevitably spark are so enticing! Stay tuned for a differences-themed lit circle task cards unit that I am working on...any of these books would be a perfect fit.
Have a wonderful week!
I have been sick - as in, off work sick - for a week. Ugh. Not only did I catch a brutal chest cold (which I can't shake at the best of times), I also tweaked my back somehow and was basically unable to move for several days. Now I'm back up and moving, but the cough...oh, the cough. Let me just say that a cough and back pain do not go together at. all. So, healing is slow but I am getting there, The silver lining has been time - time to see my kids off to school in the morning and welcome them home at the end of the day, time to sit on my butt and binge watch Netflix, time to think and learn and create. And create I have! It has been a lot of fun to put together a couple of new parent handouts for you (this is where I sometimes wish I were from the Southern U.S. so that I could throw a "y'all" in there. Some new parent handouts for y'all - it has a certain ring to it, don't you think?). I also updated my Elementary Parent Handout Bundle (8 great handouts - one with French resources on it for all you French teachers out there!) to include the 2 new ones - Ways to Help Your Child with Social-Emotional Learning and Ways to Help Your Child with Early Math Skills - and gave it a face-lift.
What do you think? I'm really happy with the way it turned out and hope you like the new resources too! Click here or on the picture to buy it - at only $5 the bundle is a steal of a deal!
I like to give the handouts out at Parent-Teacher nights, school literacy or math nights, in report cards or sent home with those littles that need just that little something extra at home. I'd love to hear how you use them too! Shoot me some feedback here or on Teachers Pay Teachers.
Happy fall, y'all!
I took my girls mountain biking today. This isn't something we do often (although I would love to) but they are athletic and ride their bikes often enough to be decently proficient so I thought it would be fun. It's fall, it's sunny...life is golden. Let's get out there and enjoy it!
My oldest wasn't exactly thrilled with the idea, but I convinced her to try it. We headed out in good spirits and began to make our way down the trail. The girls walked when they were unsure and rode some really great stuff! The sun was shining, the air had that crisp fall bite to it, the forest had that amazing vanilla smell of sun-warmed ponderosa pine. It was lovely!
It was time to head back up the road the to the trailhead and the truck. As she stared up the road the look on my oldest's face got darker and darker. "You promised!" she yelled. "You promised there wouldn't be any up!" Not quite what I had said but definitely what she had heard. The storm rolled in...literally and figuratively. As my oldest raged at me the clouds rolled in and the skies opened up. We were now walking our bikes uphill in the pouring rain, my oldest yelling and me trying to keep my cool and keep the girls moving up the hill. Good times.
It made me think, however, about the things we ask of kids. My daughter had told me that her legs were tired from a busy week. She had said she wasn't super excited to go. I still made the decision to push her to do it. And then I got frustrated with her when she behaved exactly the way I should have predicted she would behave given all that she had told (and shown) me earlier in the day. I knew she could do it, but I failed to take seriously the contextual influences that were affecting her today.
I wonder how often we do this to our students. How often do we fall prey to what author Mark Katz (Children Who Fail At School but Succeed At Life, 2016) calls "erroneous perceptions"? How often do we expect children to behave the same way day after day, without taking into consideration the contextual influences that may be at work?
Although today's experience will likely not scar my daughter forever, repeated exposure to adversity can have negative consequences for kids, especially those who are at risk at home or at school. As teachers, we can unintentionally create negative experiences by failing to take into account the contextual experiences of children, even children from the same home. By expecting that just because a child could do it yesterday, they should be able to do it today we create conditions that cause some kids to experience failure. By assuming that because a child can do a complex task they will also be able to do a simple, but unrelated one, we cause some children to experience failure.
Last year, with my lovely group of grade 2s, there were days and times when I could sense that we were not going to be able to manage the lesson I had planned. Another day, maybe, but not today. Too much energy, too little energy, too low of a tolerance for frustration. Whatever it was, it was clear that we needed to shift gears. It is easy enough to do this for the whole class, but can we do it for individual students? Can we find a way to shift gears when we see that a student is "off" today? What if they seem off most days? Can we meet them where they're at? Can we offer them understanding and opportunities for success, even if that looks substantially different from the rest of the class?
The next question, of course, is how? How can we shift gears for one student while ensuring that the others continue to move along their own paths as well? How do we let go of the shoulda, woulda, coulda's and focus on the now for each student?
Over the next little bit, I will be delving deeper into this idea...with practical tips and suggestions, research and resources to help you meet your goals.
Recently, events around the world and at home have left many of us with a heavy heart. Shootings, alt-right marches, attacks on places of worship - it is deeply troubling to see such hatred and anger, surprising to the vast majority of us who simply cannot understand how you could feel that way towards another human being. Many people are wondering how such a thing could happen, how someone could become so angry, so full of hate, so violent. An equal number of people, searching for a solution, are quick to point the finger at gun control (definitely needs to change), at mental illness (definitely poorly understood and supported), at political divisiveness (clearly a problem) as the root of the problem.
But the bigger question is, and always will be, how? Not how do we stop this from happening again but rather how do we stop people from becoming so angry and hateful in the first place?
It seems that a common condition of being human is wanting things to be fair - getting your share of the proverbial pie is built in to our DNA apparently, a survival mechanism I'm sure. I cannot tell you (although if you teach primary or have young kids, I really don't need to) how many times a day something was not fair to somebody, somehow. Observing the majority of the situations unfold in my classroom, on the playground and in my own home, "it's not fair" had more to do with perception than reality; "it's not fair" stemmed from the assumption that someone was getting something bigger, better or belonging to me, regardless of what was actually needed in that situation (teaching wants vs needs is a whole other post). Take, for instance, the classic "it's not fair!" - one child gets a slightly larger serving at dinner. Often, the child yelling it's not fair has not actually stopped to consider whether or not they need more food; they are saying it simply because there is a perception that everyone should get the same amount. When they don't, the feelings behind "it's not fair" can fester and grow, particularly when it seems like your slice of the pie is slowly being picked at by others, leaving you with less and less.
But what if we could flip this narrative? What if, from a very young age, we taught children two simple things - 1) fair is not always equal and 2) there is power in asking why before deciding something is not fair?
Fair is not always equal
For generations, we have been raised with the belief that fair means everyone getting the same thing, which is both impossible and a bit ridiculous. No two people are the same thus no two people will ever have the same wants and needs. What if our kids grew up knowing this to be true? What if they grew up knowing that there was more than enough to go around? That as long as they are healthy, happy and safe, they can share this abundance with others so that everyone can feel healthy, happy and safe...and that healthy, happy and safe looks and feels different for different people. That it is not only about how much we have but how much we have to give.
As educators, we have the power, at least to a certain extent, to help grant this gift of enough, of fair is not always equal. By modelling, in our classrooms and our schools, that everyone and anyone can access all tools and supports, without prejudice or judgment, we begin to help students decide what is enough for them and to see that others' needs are different. When we normalize support, when we offer it to everyone but don't require anyone to take it, we are teaching students that everyone may need some support to be successful; that there is no shame in needing help, no shame in taking a slightly different slice of the pie. Without normalizing support, without offering it to anyone without the slightest hint of judgement, we continually reinforce the notion that fair should be equal but it isn't, that someone else is taking from my slice of the pie.
The power of asking "why"
We can help students move towards understanding the idea that fair isn't always equal by encouraging them to ask one simple question before declaring "it's not fair!". What if, every time a student felt slighted, felt that something was unjust, they simply asked "why"?
Jimmy (sees Suzie holding his pencil) - "Why did you take my pencil?"
Suzie - "Ummm...sorry, I didn't realize it was your pencil and I needed one."
Suzie (running for the swings just as Jimmy runs for the swings too) - "Why did you take my swing?"
Jimmy - "Oh.....yeah. That wasn't very nice, was it? Here, you can have it."
It is nearly impossible for kids, especially young ones, to lie in the face of this question. "Why" circumvents the immediate defensive response we have when someone calls us on our questionable behaviour - think "Hey! You took my pencil!" with it's immediate response "No I didn't!" Why gives us time to reflect on what we did without feeling defensive. 90% of the time, asking "why" prevents further conflict and allows children to solve problems for themselves. Using this in my classroom last year was a game changer - it reduced tattling and empowered students to seek simple, non-confrontational solutions to their problems. It allowed them a little window into the thinking of their classmates - I cannot tell you the number of times the first situation above was immediately followed up by a neighbouring child offering up a pencil that they had in their desk. Asking why helped my students to develop empathy in ways that no lesson from the teacher ever will.
Imagine how the world would change if this generation of kids grows up knowing that fair is not always equal? Knowing that different people need different things to be healthy, happy and safe? What if they knew that asking a simple question like "Why?" de-escalated situations, provided a window into the wants and needs of others and opened the door to collaborative problem-solving opportunities. As educators, as parents, we have the power to make this happen. Tomorrow, as you go about your day, look for opportunities to ask why, look for opportunities to encourage children to ask why. You just might change the world.
Here in the Okanagan summer is in full swing, which means long, hot (really hot, 40 degree kind of hot) days. It also means opportunities to spend time at the lake, hike, bike, laze in the shade, eat every meal outside and just generally soak in the beauty of where we live. Back in the spring, when camp registration brochures were coming home daily, I made the conscious decision not to schedule my kids this summer; no camps, no lessons, just wide open stretches of time. Partly this is a selfish decision - I don't want to spend my summer driving my kids here, there, and everywhere - but mainly I wanted them to choose their own adventures. I wanted them to have time to run through the sprinkler and then sit around in wet bathing suits eating watermelon with the juice running down their chin. I wanted them to seek shade with a book or a journal in the heat of the afternoon. I wanted them to walk two blocks over to knock on their friend's door and see if she's home, then rip around the neighbourhood on their bikes like some ragamuffin biker gang. I wanted them to feel free. (Please note - I am a teacher. I don't work in the summer so I have the luxury of allowing my children this freedom. This is not an option for everyone. Don't feel bad, don't feel guilty. Do what you need to do.)
Even as our summer began to fill up with a few trips to visit family and friends, I was feeling pretty good about my decision. Then an email hit my inbox - something to the effect of "Banish boredom and stop the summer slide with these daily learning activites". The email then went on to explain that with just a little prep you could have an activity a day for each child that would keep them learning all summer. There was a calendar and materials lists all provided. I'm not gonna lie, I thought about it for a hot second. Prepared activities for my kids to do every day? Something to suggest when the dreaded "I'm bored" (which, by the way, I swore my kids would never say but, of course, they do) reared it's ugly head? Sign me up! And then I envisioned the last-minute trips to the dollar store, panicking late at night about printables and the 30 or so seconds my kids would probably spend on the activity and I hit delete faster than you can say "Hell nah". This was the complete antithesis to the simple summer I had envisioned; planned activities wouldn't encourage creativity and independence, they would stifle it. Individualized baskets of supplies would not foster collaboration and communication, they would eliminate it. Feeling like you had to do something (me and them) would not create calm and confidence, it would stress us all out. So no, just no.
What will we be doing to encourage some summer learning instead?
Going to the public library
Our local library came to the school and did an awesome sell job on their summer reading club. While it is heavily prize driven, which generally isn't my thing, my class and my kiddos were super stoked about it (plus, most of the prizes are books, so who's really going to complain about that?). They also have some pretty great kids drop-in programs that encourage a wide variety of learning, from STEAM to magic to the natural world. Plus, the library is a great place to get out of the heat. And with the rate at which my kids are filling up their reading/activity logs, we'll be there a lot!
Totally not a word. It should be though. My kids love riddles and jokes and we have found them to be a great way to fill up car rides and lazy afternoons at the lake. Google riddles for kids and you will find a ton of easy (and not so easy!) riddles to share with your family. Pretty much guaranteed there will be a few jokes in there too. And that your kids will start making up their own. You've been warned.
This one is not necessarily for every kid but is huge in our house. My kids love to write and often mimic the books that we read to them, which is a great way to sneak in some good modelling. You can also encourage your kids to write letters, postcards or emails, keep a journal or start a back and forth book where they write to you and you write back. Setting up Lego or Playmobil characters, taking some photos and then writing about them is a super fun way to get into writing too (see this post for more).
Playing card and board games is a great way to pass a slow afternoon or evening and is some of the richest learning around for kids. Our favourites right now are Uno, Clue, Quirkle and Labyrinth. Our oldest (8) started playing cribbage last summer and caught on so quickly! The great thing about card and board games is that they teach all sorts of skills that are challenging to teach really well in a classroom but are so important - strategy, turn-taking, losing gracefully, playing for fun, even letting others win sometimes. My husband often plays a hand or two of Uno with the girls before he heads off to work in the morning; it's a great way to slip in some quality dad-time in what is otherwise a pretty mom-filled summer.
Trying new things
Some kids enjoy trying new things, some do not. I happen to have one of each. Knowing just how far I can stretch my oldest outside of her comfort zone is an art that I have only partly mastered, so sometimes trying new things is a good time and other times not so much. It is, however, always a good learning experience; we learn that new things can be hard, even if we're really excited about them, we learn that patience and perseverance are important skills, we learn that we are not always good at things the first time, and we learn the sense of accomplishment that comes with mastering something new. Of course, psychology tells us there's a lot more going on that just that - as we learn new things, our brain is growing, reinforcing and pruning neurons like crazy, making us smarter and more mentally agile. Good for kids and adults alike!
The concept of physical literacy has been growing in popularity in recent years; knowing how your body moves and how to move it are key skills for life-long health. While it is easy, especially in the heat, to stay inside and be lazy, getting outside every day is fundamentally important to both our physical and mental health. It's also an easy one to couple with trying something new - instead of your regular bike ride on a paved path, find a skills park or easy mountain bike trail in your area and give it a shot. Instead of going for a walk in your neighbourhood, find a hike close by that you've never tried before. If it is really hot out (or smoky, as it is here right now due to some pretty major forest fires burning to the north), try something new indoors - hit a climbing gym, drop-in gymnastics program or swimming pool. No matter how you do it, make sure you get active every day.
Playing - together and alone
Free play is so important for kids! From selecting an activity that is interesting and engaging to you (and others) to having the mental stamina to keep the game going without direction from others, free play builds creativity, stamina, self-awareness and more. Playing with a friend or two brings in cooperation, collaboration, empathy, sharing and managing group dynamics. While occasionally I have to step in and help when emotions start running high, I try to stay out of the kids' way as much as possible. Allowing them to sort out challenges in their own way empowers them to be problem-solvers and encourages them to think of solutions that make everyone happy and keep the game going (or start another one!). All of these skills are fundamental life-skills that are just as important as reading, writing and 'rithmetic.
In the end, I want this summer to be about self-directed fun that isn't structured or organized by an adult. While I know that this may result in more than one "I'm Bored!" I think the skills that my kids will learn are worth it. And who knows, we might just sneak in a mom-planned activity here or there to keep us going!
Teacher: "I am feeling so overwhelmed lately. We just have so much going on at school."
Me: "Oh? What's up?"
Teacher: "Well, we're doing Shelley Moore."
Me (in my head): Wait, what?!
Me (out loud): "I'm unclear. What do you mean?"
Teacher: "Well, you know, Shelley Moore."
And so on. By the end of the conversation I was no clearer on what they were actually doing (although I was pretty sure it wasn't Shelley Moore, herself, thankfully) and I don't think this poor teacher was either.
Please don't misunderstand, I am not blaming this teacher or her administration. They were attempting to adopt practices that are best for kids, I have no doubt about that. But we have a bad habit in education of adopting practices without necessarily adopting the philosophy behind them. Without really looking at the habits of mind that led someone to these practices in the first place. This comes from a well-meaning place, on the part of both teachers and administrators; we want what's best for kids, so we jump on the latest and greatest bandwagon, without taking the time to unpack the "why" of the bandwagon. We're busy and time-crunched and want to get started bringing the awesomeness to the kiddos, so we jump in to practice. While we may adopt the practices, and some of them might even stick, we don't ever start driving the bandwagon until the philosophy that led someone to start the bandwagon in the first place settles in to our soul as something we know to be true, something we need to be true.
It's a bit of a catch-22, really. Some people readily adopt the philosophy, while others need to toe-dip in to the practices and see what a difference they can make before they are convinced. I think the key, though, is to ensure that the why behind the whole shebang is clearly articulated and continuously reinforced. And it has to be detailed; wanting success for all students is something every educator would say they espouse, but believing, unequivocally, that every student can be successful is something we, as a society, have been trained to disbelieve. We live in a world of averages, where comparison to the norm tells us how smart we are, how capable, how likely to succeed (for more on this read Todd Rose's book The End of Average). This thinking is ingrained in our education system; we test kids against benchmarks all the time and send the outliers to a special teacher for special help. We expect the bell curve to exist, so we unintentionally create a self-fulfilling prophecy; the bulk of the kids will be average, a handful will be the outliers. And outliers are difficult to reach, or so we've been taught.
This, my friends, is where Shelley Moore, and others like her, enter the picture. Shelley (hopefully she doesn't mind being on a first name basis) is a funny, engaging speaker with a great deal of experience teaching the outliers. With entertaining anecdotes and great analogies (see the bowling video here), Shelley is working hard to show the "average" teacher that you can successfully reach all your students, even those pesky outliers. And this is how you end up doing Shelley Moore; great ideas + great salesmanship = lots of people jumping on your bandwagon. Yay! Fantastic, right? Well, yes, except some people get so caught up in the excitement they jump on the bandwagon without knowing where the bandwagon is headed, others get dragged on to the bandwagon whether they want to or not and still others are happy to ride the bandwagon until it gets to where they're going. Point is, not everyone is there because they are ready and willing to drive the bandwagon. So let's celebrate that they are on the bandwagon and then let's work our butts off to make sure that they know, deep down in the centre of their being, that this is the right bandwagon to be on.
If we're lucky, they might just create a bandwagon of their own.
If you read my last post, you know that I tried out provocations last week with great success. With a gentle nudge from a colleague, I realized that this was actually not the first time I had tried out provocations (is a provocation by any other name still a provocation?) so, with a little reflection, I've come up with a few tips and tricks to make provocations go well in your classroom.
Provocations do not need to be complicated or grand. They are not "the big show". They are the nudge that sets your students on the path to wondering, thinking, learning. They are as simple as a great book, an interesting picture, an object out of place, a piece of art, a stick brought in from outside. Anything that sparks your students in to wondering, discussing or acting is a provocation.
Keep it simple.
If you've been cruising Pinterest or Instagram you've seen provocations that are, well, Pinterest-worthy. If you're in to spending several weekends sourcing items and creating elaborate scenes, by all means, be my guest. Want to know a secret though? The prettiest table was the last one my students were drawn to and they actually spent very little time there. I think they instinctively shied away from it because they didn't want to wreck it; they wanted to get messy and creative and that wasn't the place to do it. Keep your tables accessible and kid-friendly and save yourself some time in the process.
One of the greatest things about provocations are what you hear from the kids. The wonder, the awe, the questions, the aha moments - those are what you really want to capture. On your own, this is incredibly difficult. Even with an iPad or phone to record the action, you will have trouble getting to everyone. So enlist some help. Another teacher, your principal, support staff, parents; whomever you can find to help you record what the students are thinking as they experience the provocations. Not only is it fascinating to see what they think, these thoughts will guide your planning for the rest of the unit or allow you to see what your students have learned.
Be open to the experience.
I am pretty open to mess, noise and chaos in my classroom. Many teachers are not. During the provocations I sometimes found it difficult to check my instincts and allow things to continue despite the mess and chaos. Shaving cream and food colouring on the couch? Sure. In your hair? Why not? Dripping across the floor from one end of the classroom to the other? Ummmm....Often it didn't feel like my students were headed in the learning direction I had intended (or any learning direction at all for that matter) but their direction is the the direction that really matters when it comes to provocations. You plan the provocation but you don't get to decide where they take it. If you feel like kiboshing something, step back, wait for a moment and decide if you really need to step in or if you're just trying to control the situation.
Resist the urge to control.
Directly related to the last tip, resist the urge to control. As teachers we spend a lot of time controlling people and situations; this is not the place for that. Let things flow the way that they flow. It might not go the way that you think it will go but you can still learn a lot from it. Appreciate the learning for what it is, not what you wanted it to be.
Check your language.
Language is so very powerful; unintentionally, we can use it to control and guide a situation. A great idea is to ask questions instead of commenting on what is going on; "Tell me about what you're doing/what you see here", "What are you wondering about that?", "Are you curious about anything at this table?", "What made you try that?", "What are you going to do next?"
Start small, grow big.
I was lucky; I had lots of support in the form of people and already created provocation tables. If you don't find yourself in this auspicious situation, consider introducing provocations a little at a time. Start with a book, add in a picture (consider trying this technique from Making Thinking Visible), then move to one table in the back of your room. Allow kids to explore and move through each experience, loop back to one that worked well, then try the next one on for size. When you`re ready, go big (with help, see above).
In the end, the most important thing to remember is that provocations are designed to elicit a response from your students; you can structure the provocation to guide their thinking but you cannot control where they take it. There is beauty in that. There is freedom in that. There is so much to be learned and explored by following your students where they lead. Provocations are a reciprocal learning opportunity between teacher and student; be open to the opportunities and you and your students will reap the rewards.
If you are trying to figure out where to go after introducing a provocation to your classroom, consider having your students record their wonders. This will make their thinking visible to you and allow you to figure out which way to go next. To help you out, I created this simple freebie for them to record their learning on. Click on the picture to download (also available in French - click on the pic and then follow the link in the description).
Good luck, be patient, have fun and enjoy! Let me know how it goes...
It is no secret that I love collaborative teaching and learning (it's in my bio, over there ---->) and this week was one of so much fantastic collaboration with some pretty incredible people. I am incredibly lucky to have such amazing people around me.
What, you ask, was all of this fantastic collaboration about? Provocations. Water provocations, specifically. And man oh man were they amazing! Seeing my class exploring, experimenting, wondering and learning in a self-directed way was inspiring, to say the least.
This all started because I wanted to break out of the literacy centres, math centres mold and really try teaching in a much more holistic way. It's something I have been struggling with in Grade 2 and Grade 2 French Immersion specifically and will continue to struggle with for awhile, I'm sure - how to teach fundamental concepts like learning to read, write and do basic math without relegating social studies and science to cute little experiments and projects that are completely out of context. And before you give the standard "well, you just weave reading and writing and math in to your social studies unit" - which seems to be the pat answer from people who are either a) not primary teachers or b) not in the classroom day-to-day (and I freely admit that this has been me so no offense intended) - please take a moment to consider the resources necessary to do this effectively (lots of leveled readers on topic, in French, in my case; thoughtful, well-planned math assignments that are more than just decorated with pictures that fit the theme; mentor texts that lead to fantastic writing that fits the theme, and so on and so forth. And time. So much time.). Doable? Absolutely. Alone? Not without losing your mind. The amount of time, brain power and resources it takes to create a unit of study that effectively melds curriculum with student-interest and dynamic teaching is crazy high. Definitely worth the effort in the end, though.
Anyways. As they sometimes do, the stars aligned to allow me to bring together a group of incredibly knowledgeable educators who were willing to help me plan a unit that aligns with multiple areas of the curriculum, is responsive to my students' needs and interests and allows multiple subjects to be woven together in to some really rich learning opportunities.
Provocations are a Reggio-Emilia approach that are most easily conceptualized as anything that stimulates a child to wonder about, act upon or otherwise engage with a topic. While these often take the form of provocation tables, they can be as simple as books, photos, items from nature, a single object or an event that grabs a child's interest. So, in all likelihood, you are probably already using provocations in your day-to-day teaching practice and you just don't know it. Go you!
By the definition above, my unit is filled with provocations (go me!) but we specifically brought in some provocation tables to stimulate wonders (aka questions) that would guide the direction of the rest of the unit. Lucky for me, water provocations are apparently a hot topic this year (who knew I was so on trend?) so our district Instructional Leadership Team had a number of provocation tables prepared; I added a couple of my own that I thought would respond to the needs of my class and we were off.
So much excitement. So much curiousity. So much wonder. Although we cut them off after 45mins to allow another class to check the provocations out I think my kiddos could have kept going for at least an hour. They thrive on this stuff. I'm stoked to see where this takes us!
I'm Bryn, teacher, mom, book lover, athlete. I am passionate about living life with my family, teaching and learning something new all the time. I hope you find something that speaks to you here on my blog and would love to hear from you too!