There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about.
Loving on Children
One of the things that my school really cares about is that all children feel loved. We don’t just talk about it, but we truly stand by this through our actions and words. The children come first.
Our principal reinforces, “Do what is best for the children.” Whether that means trying something new in the classroom, purchasing a new learning tool, allowing a student to carry around a stuffed animal, if it is good for the students, she is supportive.
Our school cares about individuals, families, and relationships. Because of this, we are able to make changes on the outside as well as within our school community. One example of this is through the implementation of Conscious Discipline. Last year, our principal introduced Conscious Discipline to our elementary teachers. This approach to social and emotional learning has a strong foundation in safety, connection, and problem-solving. This was something she felt passionate about, and she wanted to learn alongside the teachers to implement the practices of Conscious Discipline in our school.
Don’t change individuals, change groups.
We have now spent over a year learning about Conscious Discipline. We’ve moved from learning about it to teaching our students how to use the foundational skills in their own lives. Slowly we are starting to see changes. We see changes in the way students communicate with each other, how they work together to solve a problem, and how they care for each other and the world. This is the perfect example of what Fullan says, “if you want to change the group, use the group to change the group.” Change doesn’t happen quickly, but when people work together the work continues on. It doesn’t stop when the principal for example that taught us about Conscious Discipline leaves. We will continue to LOVE ON ALL CHILDREN because this is what the group (the school) stands for.
When children feel loved, safe, and connected, they can learn. They can also collaborate and communicate more effectively, which will lead to deeper learning.
Fostering Learning Partnerships
Another way my school fosters deep learning is through community service. Early on, children are shown what it means to be change agents and to care about the community and the world around them. We do this by getting students involved in helping humanity. For example, our 5th graders are leading a fundraiser for Movember to raise awareness about cancer; especially those affected in Vietnam. The school is also launching a whole school community service project this year that will transform a local community center for the local people. Parents, teachers, and students will be involved in this work. These are just a few examples of how my school truly demonstrates character education, citizenship, collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity.
In my classroom, I work to develop relationships with my students from day one. I believe I am a partner in their learning. I want them to feel supported, safe to make mistakes, and listened to. I want the learning experience in my classroom to feel like an equal partnership with me. To me this means:
Students and teachers work together to make students’ learning a contribution to their community.
Students work actively with problems, ideas, materials, and people as they learn skills and content.
In working to achieve these goals, I learn alongside my students. At the same time, students take more responsibility for their learning, while learning how to become more independent, self-regulating learners.
Simply adding technology to K-12 technology integration environments does not improve learning. What matters is how it is used to develop knowledge and skills.
-Zucker and Light, 2009
Successful technology integration requires students to have access to a variety of tools that match the task at hand and provides students the opportunity to build a deeper understanding of content. Successful technology integration can accelerate student learning in a way that was once unimaginable. To transform student learning it is important to merge technology with content to create an enriched lesson or unit plan. Most importantly, don’t teach technology as a separate class.
When planning for technology integration and examining our practices as educators, we must keep in mind how and why we are using technology to enhance student learning. The technology frameworks: Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, Redefinition Model (SAMR Model), Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge framework (TPACK), and Technology Integration Model (TIM) can all be helpful models in guiding teachers towards using purposeful technology in our classrooms. Let’s take a closer look at the key components of each model!
Comparing Technology Frameworks
Picking the right strategy for the lesson on hand
How can educators engage and empower students through technology?
Focus is on levels of use of educational technology (Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, Redefinition)
Makes learning engaging
Offers pedagogical choices available to a teacher in designing a technology-infused lesson
Illustrates how technology can enhance learning
Focuses on planning, describing, and evaluating technology integration
Five interdependent characteristics of meaningful learning environments: active, constructive, goal-directed, authentic, and collaborative
Five levels of technology integration (entry, adoption, adaptation, infusion, and transformation)
Merge technology with content to create the perfect lesson, don’t teach technology as a separate class
All about knowledge (technological, pedagogical, and content)
Makes learning more effective
Pedagogy and content are most important.
Solid teaching strategies and solid content knowledge drive instruction and tech components enhance learning.
Practices in my classroom
In my current classroom, we have 1-1 Chromebooks. My students use a computer almost every day to enhance their learning. If I were using the SAMR Model, I’d say I swim between Augmentation and Modification. One of my goals is to swim a bit deeper over to the Redefinition tier.
One way I am going to push myself to do that this week is by connecting with individuals in different areas around the world who have survived extreme weather events like tsunamis or earthquakes. My students are researching extreme weather events and one area of their research is to read first-hand experiences. I know several people who have survived some of these extreme weather events and I thought it would enhance student learning to talk to some of these people about their experiences.
Last week, students collaborated amongst their extreme weather research groups to create a quick presentation (one day to put it together) that would teach their classmates about their reading topics. First, I taught them the CARP Design Principles, then I showed them an example presentation that I designed on droughts. After that, the students used my template to create their own slides.
Using Google Slides, the students were able to collaborate and I was able to offer feedback using the comment feature. Learning for all students was enhanced. The visuals and words in the slides were especially helpful for the audience especially because they are all English Language Learners. Originally, this was met to be a quick activity as students will continue to research a second weather event. However, I wanted to deepen students’ understanding of their topics by teaching each other. By putting together a presentation I was also able to teach students the CARP Design Principles as well as presentation skills.
For each model, there are different components that I find helpful. The SAMR Model by Ruben Puenteduramakes it easy to think about the role of technology in supporting learning. It is helpful in identifying where a learning activity falls on the SAMR Model.
The TIM Framework offers different approaches to integrating technology. The matrix framework of this model makes planning for technology integration easier because there are lots of videos and lessons for teachers. Seeing examples that fit into each cell on the matrix helps teachers see what each cell looks like in action. I find the website really helpful!
Lastly, the TPACK Model focuses on technological, pedagogical, and content. At its core, solid teaching strategies and solid content knowledge drive instruction, and tech components enhance learning.
After examing each model closely, I like the Technology Integration Matrix the best. I find it to be “user friendly” and the example lessons and videos help me generate ideas easier. Currently, my school does not use any of these technology integration frameworks. However, I am thinking it could be something that we start discussing. This year for the first time we have a S.T.E.M. teacher for elementary (who was once a COETAILer ). Hopefully, this is just the beginning of technology integration at our school and the development of our program will continue to grow.
For my collaborative project, I worked with Holly and Erika at the Anglo-American School of Moscow. I am a 4th-grade teacher at Concordia International School Hanoi and Erika and Holly teach 2nd and 3rd-grade students.
We decided to do a “Tackling Nonfiction Texts” Bootcamp because I am currently teaching a nonfiction unit, “Reading the Weather, Reading the World,” written by Lucy Calkins and her colleagues at Teachers College.
We planned a unit where the 4th-grade students could take their learning and knowledge of nonfiction texts to help support the learning process of 2nd and 3rd-grade learners who will be studying a nonfiction unit after us.
The process of creating this unit plan with Erika and Holly gave us the opportunity to brainstorm ideas together, communicate in an effective, timely manner, and refine our unit plan by combining our ideas.
Our group worked well together because we all took part in creating the plan and we were all flexible about the topic and activities. I got the template for our unit going and Erika and Holly were able to fill in the gaps and create resources like the Infographic Lesson Outline.
By creating a project with two educators in Russia, I was able to see that making global connections and working with others is not that difficult. Using Google Docs makes the collaborative process quite easy. Erika and I were even able to work on the unit plan at the same time while using the chat feature to ask each other clarifying questions as we developed the unit.
Developing this unit, allowed me to explore tools that I haven’t been using this year that I would like to utilize more often such as Padlet and Flipgrid. These two tools make global collaborations quite easy as well. This unit plan also allowed me to use what I learned about visual literacy in teaching my students good design principles.
Connections to Course 3 Learning
In this unit outline, we kept the learning from Course 3 in mind as we planned. We knew we wanted the students to create something visual as the final product. This seemed to be one of the big learning outcomes of Course 3. By having students create a visual aid that would support 2nd and 3rd-grade learners, we were able to teach students the CARP Design Principles that would help them produce effective visual aids.
We also wanted our students to collaborate as we did in creating this unit plan together. Students will collaborate through experiences such as a Text Features Scavenger hunt using padlet. The 4th graders will get continuous feedback throughout the process by using the comments on Padlet to improve their designs.
Our hope is that all students become better nonfiction readers because of this collaborative learning project. In addition, our hope is that students will learn how to globally collaborate with someone using tools such as Flipgrid and Padlet and use feedback to improve their designs.
Students will be able to demonstrate their learning of these concepts through their responses on the padlet exercises as well as their final responses using Flipgrid. The responses and feedback that students leave for one another will show the students’ ability to communicate effectively. We will also be able to use the final infographic visual as a way to assess students’ understanding of the CARP Design Principles that are taught in this unit plan.
3 (Knowledge Constructor)Students critically curate a variety of resources using digital tools to construct knowledge, produce creative artifacts and make meaningful learning experiences for themselves and others
3a Students plan and employ effective research strategies to locate information and other resources for their intellectual or creative pursuits
3c Students curate information from digital resources using a variety of tools and methods to create collections of artifacts that demonstrate meaningful connections or conclusions.
6 (Creative Communicator) Students communicate clearly and express themselves creatively for a variety of purposes using the platforms, tools, styles, formats and digital media appropriate to their goals.
6a Students choose the appropriate platforms and tools for meeting the desired objectives of their creation or communication.
6bStudents create original works or responsibly repurpose or remix digital resources into new creations.
6c Students communicate complex ideas clearly and effectively by creating or using a variety of digital objects such as visualizations, models or simulations.
6d Students publish or present content that customizes the message and medium for their intended audiences.
7 (Global Collaborator) Students use digital tools to broaden their perspectives and enrich their learning by collaborating with others and working effectively in teams locally and globally.
7a Students use digital tools to connect with learners from a variety of backgrounds and cultures, engaging with them in ways that broaden mutual understanding and learning.
This week’s task reminded me of this quote from Sir Ken Robinson. We’ve spent weeks learning how to raise the level of our delivery of information, but teachers do more than delivering information. As Robinson says, we “mentor, stimulate, provoke, and engage students.”
Teachers do not always have to present information to students verbally. They can use meaningful texts like The Cycle of Socialization article to get students thinking. The article focuses on an important topic that gets the reader thinking and reflecting on their own experiences and behaviors. By using the Text Rending activity along with the reading, I was more engaged with the text and more aware of the words I was reading. Joel’s delivery of information came in a different format this week, but the delivery was powerful because it got all of us engaged and thinking deeply about the words in the text. The activity also allows students to hear other people’s views and perspectives on the same topic, which then promotes conversation (through Flip Grid in this case).
This simple, yet thought-provoking activity, had me feeling engaged in the text and motivated to take action in making the world a better place. Reading this article was also a great reminder that even if I do not have power, I CAN still make a difference. I want my students to have the same feeling!
Below are the words that stuck with me the most.
Sentence: People without power may think they can’t make a difference.
Phrase: Stand up for change.
Reading on diversity and social justice as we did in the article, The Cycle of Socialization is impactful to my practice because it allows me to stop and take note of some of my own social identity and how this has played a role in how I see others and myself. Reading articles like this forces a person to reflect on their own lives and choices. It is thought-provoking.
I love it when I read something and finish feeling motivated to be a better person. This article gave me that feeling; especially, after I chose my words and thought about them. That feeling continued to grow after listening to the Flipgrid responses too!
At the beginning of the school year, I read aloud the book, Say Something by Peter H. Reynolds. I love this book because it explores the many ways a single voice can make a difference. I know I can be left feeling like “what can I really do to make a difference?” I often feel powerless. I feel this way when it comes to the injustices that are being done to people of color. I feel like this when I see the sweet dog tied up outside with no human interaction day after day on my motorbike ride home from work. I felt like this when my school asked my student “Mr. Watson” (wrote about him in Course 2) to leave.
However, when I read articles like The Cycle of Socialization or read books like Say Something to my students, I am reminded that a single voice CAN make a difference. I am left feeling empowered, which has provoked me to use my voice more often. My hope is that my students also feel this way. My hope is that they will use their voice to Say Something that makes a change.
My hope for my students has actually motivated me to live by the words I teach them. If I truly want them to stand up and Say Something, I too must do as I say. This has pushed me to go outside of my comfort zone.
I’ve gone in and talked to my principal about her decision to ask “Mr. Watson” to leave. It wasn’t easy for me to get up the courage and let her know that I didn’t feel good about this choice, but it felt like the right thing to do. I’ve taken action in feeling sad about helpless dogs and helped rescue 5 dogs from animal shelters in Korea (*let me know if you’re interested in one). I said something to a longtime friend who posted insensitive material on her Facebook page about the protests in the United States. These might seem like small things to do, but every small action counts. Hopefully, my small actions lead to something bigger.
My wish is to continue to mentor, stimulate, provoke, and engage others through my actions and words. I want to continue to learn and grow just like my students.
*I found this website helpful in finding recommended titles that teach Social Justice in unbiased ways. A Teaching for Change Project also includes a great rating system that helps educators pick anti-bias children’s books.
This week I was inspired by Mike Johnston’s Tedx Talk on The Art of Delivering Information. Johnston believes that all students are capable of learning, but how students learn depends on how the information is delivered. As teachers, we must explain things every day. This might mean explaining the same concept in multiple ways for different learners. This is why the teacher is so important. However, the ability to deliver information in multiple ways is not always easy.
This is why he calls the ability to explain things to one person an art form. “It is a talent,” Johnston says. Explaining things well takes practice. It requires teachers to put themselves in the shoes of a student. When teachers are learning something, we must be present. Think about, What do you feel as a learner? What made the delivery of that information powerful? Or not so powerful? Being present during our own learning experiences can help us be better delivers of information.
His message also calls us to be more caring. If we care, we explain something until a student gets it. This doesn’t mean doing monumental things. If we just change the way we think about something, then those “light bulb” moments can come for those we learners who needed us to care a little more.
Johnston’s message also applies to the ways in which we deliver information through visuals. Not all students will understand a visual in the way we intend it to be used. This is why feedback is an important part of refining the art of explaining. Students are a great source of feedback. They are the ones receiving the information we deliver.
Teachers can determine how well students receive information in several ways: reading a student’s body language, using formative assessment results, listening in when students turn and talk, etc., or we can also ask students for feedback. According to Jennifer Gonzalez, from the Cult of Pedagogy, one of the benefits of asking students for feedback is that it increases student engagement. Gonzalez states”If some methods of delivery are better received than others, then they’re likely to result in greater learning gains as well.” By asking our students for feedback, we can figure out what methods work best in our classrooms. This led me to think about the visuals used in my classroom and the effectiveness of them.
Reflection on My art of Explaining
One visual I consistently go back to is my Ask 3 Before Me visual. I introduce this visual at the beginning of the year to get my students in the habit of thinking about their questions before asking me for help. We brainstorm necessary and unnecessary questions together. Then we role-play scenarios where “Ask 3 Before Me” might be used. Students discover that many questions they have can be answered on their own or with the help of a classmate.
When students forget and ask me questions such as, “Where do I put this when I am done?” I reply, “did you ask 3 before me?” Most likely, their response is to turn around and find a classmate because they have not.
Refining My art of Explaining
Before I introduced this visual to my 4th-grade students this year, I thought about the effectiveness of this chart. Last year, I remember repeating “Ask 3 before me” many, many times. Maybe, this meant my visual wasn’t actually that effective. Furthermore, students would often tell me that they had already asked 3 classmates and still could not find the answer to their question. This got me thinking. Maybe, I needed to rethink this concept.
If students were often left without an answer to their questions after asking 3 classmates, maybe there were other ways to get them to problem-solve without using me all the time. First, I asked my students for some ideas. Then, I did some searching and found an idea that matched well with what my students had offered as helpful ideas.
Ultimately, my students and I came up with a visual that offered more than one way to get help, rather than to depend solely on their classmates. My new visual, “Try 3 Before Me,” puts more responsibility on the learner. Students must first ask themselves. This means they can stop and think about how things usually go in my classroom. For example, where do I usually ask students to put their classwork when it is complete? Or the learner might focus on any directions that were given.
If students still need help, they move onto step 2: Look Around. They can look for directions that are written down or they can look at what their classmates are doing. Getting students in the habit of using the world around them is a good habit. Many times students can figure things out like what to take out of their desks or what to put away based on what their classmates are doing. Steps 1 and 2 put the responsibility on the learner.
Finally, if students are still stuck, they can proceed to step 3: Ask a friend. I especially like this visual better than the first one because there is more responsibility on the learner and it offers more strategies than just asking their classmates.
I have also seen firsthand that this visual aid is more effective than the one I was previously using. This year, students are asking me less unnecessary questions, solving their own problems by using the environment around them, and going back to my written directions before asking their classmates or me. I want my students to feel comfortable asking questions in my classroom, but I also want them to think about the questions they can answer on their own. This allows more time for the necessary questions.
Although this is one simple way I am working to refine my art of explaining, it is a start. In the meantime, I’ll keep asking students for feedback, and most importantly, caring enough to work on my craft of delivery so that what I teach makes sense for everyone.
On Friday, I spent time collaborating with a colleague of mine. We were looking closely at a recent Writing Post Assessment for Narrative Writing. We were looking for trends in the comments I had written to students. This information would help us form small group instruction.
As we analyzed the data (scores) and the comments I had written, we were also looking for whether or not students had improved. This required us to look at the Elementary Assessment Spreadsheet data. From the spreadsheet, my colleague and I were able to see if students’ scores had improved from their pre-assessment scores.
While we were collecting all of this data, we were adding some notes to a Google Keep note that helped us organize small groups and notice patterns. Then, I wondered if putting this information into an infographic might be helpful and more effective for us. So, I decided to give it a try!
Having this visual of the data that was found from the assessment, is useful in many ways. First, I can see the percentage of students whose score either went up or stayed the same. This allows me to see the students I need to target in small group instruction. The bar graph at the bottom represents patterns that were noticed in the post-assessment comments. I can look at this infographic and see how well my students did as well as areas that still need to be reinforced.
I also think an infographic like this is helpful because it organizes all the data in one place whereas before I was looking at several documents (Elementary Assessment Data Spreadsheet, Google Keep notes, rubric comments, and a Google Doc with information that was gathered on students’ writing). In the future, I would still need to gather information from these resources, but putting it all together helped me organize all of the information in one spot as well as share it with my support teachers.
Having a visual representation of the data collected from the Writing Assessment is one easy way to share information with the teachers who work with my students; especially the EAL and writing push-in teachers. By sharing this infographic, the teachers working with my students will also know what skills they can reinforce and which students still need more support. This allows us all to collaborate and meet the needs of the students in an effective manner.
In the future, I might not go as far as making an infographic of this type of information. Although it was kind of fun to see it in the formate, I think I would be able to get the same information by using conditional formatting in Google Sheets. I’ve done this before with pre and post-assessment data and the conditional formatting commands I used allowed me to see a color-coded document showing student growth. This was an easy way to see which students still needed support.
Using visuals is not only useful for students. There are so many ways teachers can use visuals to improve their teaching practices. Making data visual is just one-way teachers can use the information they collect from students useful.
It’s been taking me some time to get the motivation to do my COETAIL work lately. I moved up to fourth grade this year from second grade, and I have been busy learning the new curriculum and helping a new teammate adjust. Although I put off doing this assignment for a week, I was excited when I finally started planning my learning activity. It reminded me that I have been too focused on learning the curriculum, and I haven’t spent enough time being creative. This was a great assignment to get my mind thinking outside of the text.
Before I planned out my learning activity I wanted to familiarize myself with Thinking Routines, so I explored Project Zero’s Thinking Routine Toolbox. Thinking Routines promote the development of thinking through guided, easy to learn steps. Many of the routines are ones I commonly use but didn’t necessarily use the terminology. I like Project Zero’s structured approach to developing inquiry. I also like how one Thinking Routine can be used in multiple ways across disciplines.
As I explored, I had an idea in mind for a learning activity connected to a math activity that involved triangles and art. The See, Think, Wonder Thinking Routine seemed to fit well with how I wanted my students to collaborate.
Since I am about to begin a new math unit on Geometry, I thought it would be fun to Flip the Classroom a bit and expose students to the three types of triangles using these triangles: Equilateral, Isosceles, and Scalene Triangles video and the Math is Fun website on triangles. Students have already been exposed to the types of angles: right, obtuse, and acute. With the knowledge students gained from these resources combined with what they already knew about angles, they were ready to complete their learning activity: Classifying Triangles: Tri-Mi Activity.
The students’ task was to design a piece of triangle art using Google Drawing, the tools in Google Slides, or paper and rulers. Students could choose the platform. Many students had not used Google Drawing or shapes to design a piece of art on Google Docs.
The only constraint was that the entire picture is created out of triangles. The rest of the directions are listed below:
Students were then shown the image below as an example.
This activity allowed them to explore a new platform and troubleshoot together, which ended up creating quite a buzz in the classroom.
Much to my surprise, students were able to collaborate much more than I had expected. Because many of them had not created in Google Drawing or even used shapes and lines in Google Slides to create a picture, there was a lot of exploration and questions as students got started.
This buzz of excitement reminded me of the article More Talking in Class, Please. Often times the use of technology can limit student discussion, but there are ways in which technology can encourage it. In my activity, students were using a new tool, which encouraged them to talk. Students offered each other ideas, tips, and troubleshoot problems together.
Some students even paused what they were doing to show the class a helpful trick. It was fun to see how the students figured out the nuisances of creating such small triangles without a mouse too. It was a good fine motor skills exercise too!
After students finished their Triangle Artwork, they uploaded it to the SeeSaw Activity I created. This allowed students to see each others work as well as comment using the See, Think, Wonder Thinking Routine to push their thinking.
When students had a chance to look at others’ drawings on Seesaw, there was a lot of excitement and positive reactions. Students had questions about the design techniques of their classmates. They wanted to know how to do some of the things their classmates did too. So by having students comment on the artwork, it not only allowed them to share their work, but it got students talking, asking questions, and working together to teach each other new design skills.
Here are some of the comments: (*for some reason, I am having issues uploading a screenshot. It keeps saying the system is busy or the file is too large. Any ideas on how I can get around this issue?)
Overall, I believe students have a deeper understanding of the different types of triangles. This knowledge of triangles going into our math unit will make identifying triangles much easier. Students will already have the background knowledge from the video as well as visual artwork to help them see what these triangles look like in the world around them.
They will also be able to use the See, Think, Wonder Thinking Routine in other activities now. I’ll be trying others out as well! I love how they promote critical thinking with guided, easy to follow steps.
This activity has sparked my creativity again and I look forward to keeping that buzz going in my classroom.
ISTE Standards for Students
4.b. Students select and use digital tools to plan and manage a design process that considers design constraints and calculated risks.
6.a. Students choose the appropriate platforms and tools for meeting the desired objectives of their creation or communication.
6.d. – Students publish or present content that customizes the message and medium for their intended audiences.
It’s exciting to get back to COETAIL after a long summer break! The beginning of the school year is always a busy time, but I have been looking forward to getting back to learning with COETAIL. This year I moved up to Grade 4 from Grade 2. I am enjoying the change and feeling pretty blessed about the fact that we get to be learning in school rather than doing remote learning.
Learning about CARP
When I read the assignment for this week, I immediately thought about a presentation I attended at the 21st Century Learning Conference in Hong Kong with Tanya LeClair a few years ago. The presentation was titled “Digital Design Skills for Students.” During this presentation, Tanya introduced the CARP Design Principles. These were simple and easy ways students could lift the level of their presentations. At the time, my second graders were learning how to use Google Slides. Tanya’s presentation was one that stuck with me and also helped me transform how I taught students to put together a presentation.
Ever since I attended Tanya’s presentation, I have tried to incorporate the CARP Design Principles into my own work. Using contrasting colors and fonts really help the headings stand out from the text. I like to use one font for the heading and another for the text. This also helps readers find information faster.
Taking into consideration the design principles of using contrasting fonts and colors, I made a few changes. First, I wanted to add some color so I changed the background from black to a mint green color. I really liked the pop of color. Then I relied on the color wheel to help me decide on a contrasting color for some of the fonts. I ended up using a mint color for the headings, black as the main color, and fuchsia for the links. Then I changed the font type and size of the headings for those to stand out more.
Take a look at the results!
I like how my blog is simple and easy to navigate. I enjoy having some white space and a clean look. For this reason, I didn’t change too much else on my page. In a few places, I noticed some formatting things that did not follow the use of repetition. For example, I had written “Course 1-Ourselves as Learners” as a page title, but wrote “Course 3: Visual Literacy” as the new course heading. I simply made sure I always used a dash instead of a colon. Small things like that make the page look cleaner and more professional when they all repeat the same pattern.
Alignment and Proximity
I’ve been adding the horizontal line in this post. That’s new. I like how it breaks up the page a bit by topic along with the headings, which keep everything organized.
I also align my images in the center of the page, along with the captions. Although, I do find it difficult to format everything the way I want it to be using WordPress. Sometimes, I cannot get the caption centered with the photo. It drives me crazy!
Working with WordPress is not always that user-friendly for me, so I find that I don’t mess around with as many design elements. I try to keep my layout simple and clean with a few images that add to my post.
Whether you are using the CARP Design Principles or the 6 principles of visual hierarchy, I think it is important to have fun while designing. Play with color, fonts, and design until you see what you like (but also keeping the design principles in mind).
Model the design principles in your own work so that students see your own design habits. I was able to teach my second graders the 4 Basic Design Principles as seen in the poster above. You could even give your students a poorly designed poster and have them redesign it using the Design Principles. This is a fun way to practice!
For my blog post this week I am going to go a bit off-topic and share some of my reflections about an exceptional learner I have in my second-grade classroom this year. I wanted to put these thoughts down somewhere because this is one of the most unique experiences I have had as a teacher. Just like I had my students write to capture and memorialize their Home Learning experiences during CoVID-19, I wanted and needed to do the same.
Mr. Watson is not the character from the Mercy Watson books, though the books’ character would become the inspiration for my student’s “new name.”
Before I had formally met Mr. Watson in August 2019, I had heard the numerous stories. He was infamous. I worried about having him in my class. Would I know how to meet his needs?How would I get him to do any of his school work? How would I manage all of the incidences? I heard the stories of the shouting and yelling in class, of the running away from teachers, and of the isolation from peers.
When I saw him walk towards my classroom on that first day of school, Mr. Watson was wearing his green-uniform polo-shirt on top of grey sweatpants. He had his best friend in tow-a Spiderman teddy bear named Teddy. I had no idea of the impact he was about to make on my life. When I saw him, all I could muster was a deep breath to brace myself for what was about to come.
He walked closer with a surprised look on his face. He stopped and hesitated looking overwhelmed by the students unpacking at their cubbies. He did not greet them. They did not greet him. We all waited to see what he would do next.
One Step at a Time
Regardless of whether or not I was ready, the year was underway. I would either sink or swim.
The first few days felt like a mess. I quickly saw that Mr. Watson loved reading books. However, when he did so, he read aloud to himself VERY loudly. This made it difficult for anyone to focus on their own reading. During Independent Writing time, Mr. Watson would write airline boarding passes, while the rest worked on personal narratives. There were times he’d say he was tired and lay down to take a nap. He would run from the classroom when it was lunchtime (his favorite time of the day). He’d yell when he didn’t get his way. He would interrupt while I was teaching. How could I ever get anything done with these interruptions? How could the students concentrate? How could I make things run more smoothly each day?
I did research online, found visual schedules and reminders, and got some tips from a visiting expert in the field of special education. I was learning along the way, trying my best. I gave him a pair of headphones that seemed to help when he was reading independently. I let him write a made-up narrative story with his best friend Teddy as the main character. It wasn’t a personal narrative, but he was writing and trying out things like dialogue and adding details. I started using visual timers so he could break up his work into smaller bits of time.
Little by little, I was able to build a relationship with him. Instead of keeping him from playing with Teddy, I would engage him in conversations about Teddy. I indulged in some of his eccentricities. His love for airplanes, dogs, and food. I shared pictures of my dogs. He instantly loved them and asks about them every single day. I’d answer his repetitive questions like, “What sound does thunder make?” As I gained his trust, he started to respond to some of the strategies I had put into place.
Others were Watching
While I was gaining his trust, he was stealing my heart. I couldn’t help but love his clever ways of maneuvering his way out of his classwork. I loved how he held one of Teddy’s paws while I held the other paw and we walked down the hallway with the rest of the class following.
He may have had me wrapped around his little finger, but I wasn’t seeing the same response from my students, yet. I wanted more than tolerance towards Mr. Watson from the students. I wanted them to show Mr. Watson they cared about him. I wanted the students to interact with him. I wanted him to become an important member of the classroom community. This would happen with time. I was hopeful.
I knew the students were watching me. They could see how I treated him and how I responded to his strange behavior. I was aware that my actions could have a big impact on them, so I did my best to show him love, care, acceptance, and patience through my actions each and every day. The students picked up on this. They took note and they started to change too.
Eventually, I saw small improvements. They were interested. They had questions. They thought he was interesting and therefore they wanted to know how they could interact with him. They too would feed into his eccentricities.
We’d also do little things in the classroom like have conversations about Mr. Watson while he was out of the room so that the students could better understand him. They’d ask questions about his behavior. I’d explain that his classroom expectations would look different than theirs. I’d help them understand why. We discussed how fair doesn’t mean giving every child the same thing. I helped them understand times like when Mr. Watson would get to play his favorite math game, Prodigy, as a reward for completing a task. I read aloud books about acceptance, love, and being different. It took time and effort to help my students understand that he was worthy of their love and friendship too.
One big turning point came when I introduced the Mercy Watson Series by Kate DiCamillo to my class. He fell in love with the characters. I even had a wooden Mercy Watson pig in my classroom and he began carrying her everywhere with him. He loved Mercy and he loved pretending to be Mr. Watson, eventually, I became Mrs. Watson to him.
Mr. Watson’s love for all things Mercy Watson gave me some leverage in getting him to do classwork. I’d say something like, “First you will complete pages 145-146 in your math workbook, then you can read Mercy Watson.” It worked some of the time.
My wonderful assistant would speak to him in her Mercy Watson voice. She’d answer his questions geared towards Mercy and she’d respond in her cute Mercy voice. He loved it and so did we because we were able to get him to do some of his work this way.
The students loved it too. Eventually, many of them became Mercy Watson characters to him. He renamed one girl, Mercy Watson. He still refers to her as, “Darling” like Mrs. Watson does in the books.
His love for the Mercy Watson Series helped spotlight his loving, playful, and fun side. Students were starting to see another side of him. They were interested and wanted to be around him. For some, it was easy to love Mr. Watson, but it took some others a bit longer to find this love.
One moment I will never forget was at lunch one day when I saw a group of second-grade boys teasing Mr. Watson at the lunch table. As I sat and ate my lunch, I could see that the conversation between the boys and Mr. Watson was not one out of kindness. These students were trying to humiliate him. They wanted to prove that he was not smart. However, he proved them wrong by answering every single math problem they threw at him correctly.
Before I even had a chance to get up and stop it, one brave boy stood up and came over to report the incident. He saw what was happening and he said something. I was so proud of him!
I was also sad and disappointed with the other kids. I was, however, able to turn this into a teachable moment. I showed my students how hurt I was that day by the actions of these students. I cried in front of all of them. I couldn’t hold it back, but that pain resonated with my second graders. It changed them. It changed me.
After that day, I saw more and more students who were going out of their way to be helpful to him. They would invite him to sit with them at lunch. Ask him to play at recess. They would play along with his make-believe games. Rub his back when he was angry. Accept that his classroom behavior looked much different than everyone else. They accepted Teddy as a class member. They wanted to hear what he had to say. They laughed at his silliness. They were calm when he was angry. They would tell him, “It’s okay, Mr. Watson” and bring him a tissue to wipe his tears.
I’ve seen a boy in my class go from being on behavior probation for a series of poor choices since 1st grade to being one of the most kind, caring students towards Mr. Watson. I’ve witnessed this boy invite Mr. Watson to play at recess, teach him how to play Kerplunk, and attempt to engage in a conversation with Mr. Watson and his pal, Teddy.
The students who had ignored him on day 1 had grown to love him.
Then COVID-19 pushed our school online. I wasn’t sure how Mr. Watson would continue to learn. I had strategies in the classroom I used to motivate and direct him, but even then it was a constant struggle to keep him on-task. Not being able to see him in person would make this an even bigger challenge. I felt pretty helpless.
Fast forward three weeks into Home Learning and he hadn’t done anything. Grade 2 wasn’t using Zoom yet and the only thing we could do was reach out to the family to make sure he was okay. I knew it would be difficult for his parents to support him at home, but it was also difficult for me because I missed him and I didn’t want to leave him behind. I couldn’t just give up on him. I wanted to support him in some way. Eventually, I connected with him through his mother’s WhatsApp a few times, and soon after grade 2 started using Zoom.
In addition to our regular morning Zoom meetings, I held Office Hours from 2:00 P.M. to 3:00 P.M. every day. Students could join through Zoom to get extra support in Reading or Writing. Most days there were only one or two students who popped in for a question or one student who was working on something, but Mr. Watson was there every day at 2:00 on the dot. He’d say, “Good Afternoon, Mrs. Watson. Where are Benny and Bowser (my dogs)? Do they bark at me?” Then he would turn off his video and pretend to bake different sweets as he read the recipes online.
I’d listen and say things like, “delicious, yum, are you going to deliver?” We’d go on like that for an hour and in the end, he’d say, “Talk to you tomorrow, Mrs. Watson!” We didn’t get much accomplished in that hour, but I sure looked forward to seeing him every day and my love for him continued to grow.
After like 8 weeks of Home Learning, I started to realize the potential for never going back to school this year-never working with Mr. Watson as his teacher again in the classroom, never seeing my students interact with him again- I was incredibly sad (I’m crying now writing that). I felt like this child had been placed in my classroom for a reason.
To make matters worse, I found out that the school had decided that we could no longer meet his needs. He would need to find a new school for grade 3. I haven’t stopped thinking about that since. I worry about him. I feel sad that my students and I have grown to love him and now he will have to leave and start all over. What can I do to change this?
Despite feeling super sad about having to say goodbye to Mr. Watson in a few weeks, we were finally able to go back to school after 14 weeks of Home Learning. I was so happy to be able to finish the school year off with my students in the classroom, but it wasn’t the ending I wanted.
It breaks my heart because I look at the impact he has made on all of our lives, and I think it is so unfair. It’s unfair to him. He has found a place that accepts him. He’s made friends this year. He knows he is loved at our school.
It’s unfair for the students who have grown attached to him. It is unfair because I believe our school is the best place for him at this time and place. I’m not sure he has other options; especially with a global pandemic making it difficult for anyone to relocate. It breaks my heart to think about how helpless his parents must feel.
This year, I’ve seen Mr. Watson make friends-REAL friends. Students who care deeply about him. Classmates who play with him at recess, walk him to specials after lunch, and patiently listen as he tells us made up stories that seem to be a reality to him.
I know that because of Mr. Watson, none of us will ever be the same. My students are more compassionate and more accepting of people with differences. I am a better teacher and person because of him.
Next year will be a little less bright at school without Mr. Watson.
For this group project, I teamed up with Erika and Holly (co-workers) who originally reached out to me. It came about quite naturally because we all teach second-grade. Our communication began through email and eventually, we were able to connect through WhatsApp as well.
When it was time to decide what type of project we would do, we were all on the same track as far as doing something with Digital Citizenship. We had all agreed that Digital Citizenship Education was something that could be improved upon at both of our schools. We quickly decided we would complete Option 1 and we began looking for resources that were already available.
I knew that Common Sense Media had its own Digital Citizenship resources, but I had never used them so I started looking there. After skimming a few lessons, I was happily surprised to see how easy the slides made teaching Digital Citizenship.
Then I reached out to a colleague with is a COETAIL alum and asked her if she had any resources. She pointed me to Be Internet Awesome. Another awesome resource that makes teaching Digital Citizenship easy!
Eventually, Erika created a list of the resources we had been gathering and this got us organized and ready to map out a plan. Once we decided we would create a two-week unit plan, we started to fill out our plan with more details. We decided to focus on four main topics:
By completing daily lessons and activities, students will end this unit with a greater understanding of what it takes to be good digital citizens and how to help others be good digital citizens.
Many people might think it would be difficult to collaborate with people in three different countries, but it was actually quite easy. My group communicated effectively by responding to emails, text messages, and comments left on Docs in a timely manner. Each member of the group contributed and utilized their strengths. Holly has a great eye for detail, Erika is well-organized, and I enjoy finding good resources. We made a great team!
By collaborating, we were able to plan the unit out much quicker than if we would have done it alone. We were able to bounce ideas off of one another and share our resources.
Collaboration gives you a greater perspective. This is one of the greatest benefits. Having multiple eyes on one thing helps avoid having gaps or wholes in the plan. For example, I created a culminating activity for our unit plan. After looking over the documents in our plan, Holly noticed my culminating activity did not have directions on it. If I did not have the extra pair of eyes looking over these documents, this would have gone unnoticed.
The most valuable resource that all teachers have is each other. Without collaboration, our growth is limited to our own perspectives.
Robert John Meehan
Let it grow!
Since I have two weeks of school left and I’ve finished teaching my Math curriculum for the school year, I am going to try this unit out with my class. I actually launched it on Friday and the students are super interested! They had lots of questions and comments after we watched a BrainPOP jr. video on Internet Safety. This is yet another example of how the work I do in COETAIL directly impacts my students. I love being able to use what I create in this program!
My hope is that next year I can encourage more teachers to start teaching Digital Citizenship. I’d love to get my school involved in a Digital Citizenship Week. I think that could be a great start to getting more teachers and students thinking about the topic. I saw that Common Sense Media celebrates this week from October 19-23 and they have a ton of resources for teachers that make it easy to do! Hopefully, this will be the start of something bigger.