The Door is Open … Come on in!

January has been an interesting month for me professionally as a teacher when it comes to peer observation. I have always been very open about what happens in my classroom, sharing with my PLN on my blog and Twitter. As much as possible, during the school day I try to physically keep my classroom door open so that colleagues feel free to come in my room. I think a lot of people have great intentions about observing peers (including myself), but actually finding the time to be able to can sometimes be a little more difficult. In terms of the priority list, there are often things that need to be done immediately that seem to find there way in front of peer observation.

This month I have had two teachers come into my classroom to observe both with slightly different scenarios.
The first person to come in was Canadian teacher who is currently teaching at a PYP school Australia who was home in Canada over the Christmas holidays. As the school year is different in Australia due to being in the Southern Hemisphere he was still home when Canadian schools returned back to school being in session. The second person to come in is a Masters candidate from the local university who is studying inquiry practices in the classroom. It has been interesting to reflect on how both of these opportunities have helped me to continue to grow professionally.

As we are a fairly new school to the PYP programme, it was the first time that I have had the chance to have another teacher who teaches within the PYP visit my classroom. As the PYP is a framework not a curriculum, there are many different ways to implement the program that align with the programme. Throughout the two days of the visit it was interesting to compare the techniques that I was using to what the other teacher was using. One of the first observations that the visiting teacher made was that I am the only Grade 4 teacher in my school which automatically impacted the amount and type of collaboration that was happening within my planning and teaching practices. As a result, my collaborative planning tends to occur more with the specialty teachers vs. grade level partners.

Tweet from Visiting PYP Teacher

Tweet from Visiting PYP Teacher

Over the course of the two days, we had a number of conversations about differences in the ways we were implementing the PYP. Overall, there were lots of similarities – including a number of the same units at similar grade levels.

The second observer in my classroom has been a Masters of Education candidate from the local university studying inquiry practices. As Masters of Education programs in Canada are generally more research based (not as a means to gain your teaching qualification) this observation block does not include ‘student-teaching’. One aspect that they have been really interested in is the actual process of planning for inquiry. As a profession, having to explain what you are doing and why really helps you to better understand your practices. It also forces you to be open and honest about if there are better ways that you could be going about achieving your goal.

Although these observers have been very different in their purpose, both have contributed to my professional growth. I would encourage you if you have the opportunity to open your classroom doors to observers but also to try and find time to go and observe your colleagues and members of your PLN.


Developing as Learners Through Transdisciplinary Learning

One of my favourite resources this school year has been Newsela, a website that provides a variety of non-fiction articles and the ability to adapt them to various Lexile scores (reading levels). Through Newsela I have found a number of articles that have directed related to our units of inquiry, and provided natural connections to real world topics and events.

Currently, we are looking at informative writing and our sharing the planet unit of inquiry. Today, I selected a Newela article on starfish that were dying in the Pacific Ocean. As our focus has been on informative writing, the students were using their ‘informative writing checklist’ to analyze the article and identify the strategies the author had utilized. This is a fairly standard learning activity that we have done before but today I got an interesting response after the lesson.

One student noticed that through that activity we had utilized our reading strategies (while reading the article, making predictions, etc.), our writing strategies by identify strategies the author gad utilize, and our inquiry skills as they were thinking about how the unit connected to our unity of inquiry and concepts! For me, that the student was able to articulate the different learning skills they were using was evidence that they are developing as learners!

It all starts with a good question!

One important step in getting students to direct learning is having their voice selecting areas of study they would be interested in investigating further.

At the beginning of each unit of inquiry, I always have students provide their ‘wonderings’ and try to incorporate them into our unit of study. In the past, I have found that the depth of student questions in Grade 4 is often shallow, asking questions that can often be answered with a quick Google instead of questions that require thought, analysis, and synthesis. Often to get to the deeper questions, I would have to do a lot of probing and massaging and I don’t think the students felt like they owned the questions we had developed.

In the spring, I came across a book via Twitter called “Make Just One Change: Teach Students To Ask Their Own Questions“. It offers a protocol for teaching students how to ask questions and the book contains many examples of teacher who have used this protocol with success. After reading the book, I decided that it was worth trying in my classroom to see if I could improve the quality of questions/wonderings my students where having, and thus improve the unit of inquiry. The website that accompanies the book is The Right Question Institute and they have a great educator resource area. Although the resources on the website are excellent, I would highly encourage still reading the book as it is a quick read that really helps you to visualize implementation in the classroom.

This week we began using the Question Formulation Technique (QFT) to help direct our first unit of inquiry around the theme Who We Are. As this was the first time my students had gone through the QFT and my first time facilitating, I spread the stages over a few days to help focus on understanding each part clearly.

One the first day I began by reviewing the 4 rules for producing questions and talking about why they may be easy or difficult to follow. These rules have been carefully crafted to encourage diversity, and create a safe environment. I created a poster for the classroom to keep it as a visual reminder.

QFT Rules from Right Question Institute

QFT Rules from Right Question Institute

Next, I provided my students with the QFocus: Human survival can be challenging. The QFocus is a simple statement that is connected to the content or concept you are teaching that should elicit questions from students. Spending time defining your QFocus and considering how students might respond to it is critical to the success of the protocol. The Right Question Institute has created a quick worksheet to assist in developing your QFocus.

The students were working in groups of 5 and as I moved around the room it was so interesting to hear the different paths each group was taking. Each group had selected a scribe, and they were working diligently trying to come up with as many questions as they could. After 15 minutes, the kids were all still engaged and excited. During this time, I was reminding students of the rules as they were still getting use to them, and also providing feedback about the effort they were putting forward. I was very careful not to comment quality of  the questions they were producing, so that all questions were equally valued.

I found that this was a manageable stage for my 4th graders to complete in one sitting. It also let me focus on implementing the first stage, and not worry about how to continue ‘properly’.

The next day we began by discussing what a close-ended and open-ended question was. After our discussion, students went through the questions that they generated and decided if they were close-ended (labelled with a C) or open-ended (labelled with an O). Then we discussed  the differences and values of open-ended and close-ended questions. It was very interesting to hear what the students thought about the differences between the two types of questions.  Then the students tried to change their questions from close-ended to open-ended and vice verse.

Discussion of Open-Ended and Close-Ended Questions

Discussion of Open-Ended and Close-Ended Questions

The next day we began by discussing ‘priorities’ and how we make decisions of what needs to be done first or is more important than something else. Then students looked carefully at the questions they had developed and selected the three questions that they felt would help us to learn about our central idea “Access to human rights may improve chances of survival.”

The questions that the class decided where the ‘priority’ based on our unit of inquiry where:

What challenges might you find in building shelters?
What people are most likely to face bad challenges in life?
Where is human survival challenging? What part of the world has the hardest challenges?
How do people survive without food and water?
What will make human survival easier?
How can human survival be challenging?
How does school help survival?
Does science or technology help human survival?
Will it get easier in the future? Will it get harder in the future?
Does pollution effect human survival?
I think that these questions will really help to drive our inquiry forward, and the students feel ownership of them because of the process we have gone through in creating them. I am excited to see where these will take us, and how the QFT can continue to be used as we go through other stages of our inquiry.

Sometimes you just want to jump for joy …

… When you are evaluating student’s work and you can tell they have had that lightbulb moment!

On a recent unit reflection based on the transdisciplinary theme “Where We Are In Place and Time” and the central idea “Global societies change and evolve due to major influences of an era.” this was one students response to a specific question.

Question – What does the theme “Where We Are In Place and Time” mean to you now that we have investigation previous civilizations and societies?

Student Response – “We are very advanced now compared to previous civilizations and societies. I like to think that the things that we think are impossible will be possible in the future. Don’t you think people in the past would have never thought flying was possible until some curious people including the Wright brothers came along.”

Sometimes, these sentences make it all worth while!

Launching Where We Are In Place And Time – Civilizations

Over the past week, my Grade 4’s have been digging into our unit under the transdiscinplinary theme “Where We Are In Place And Time” examining civilizations. The central idea of the unit is ‘Global societies change and evolve due to major events and influences of an era.’. Students will be researching a civilization, hosting a civilizations museum, and then examining a defining characteristics and comparing it over time.