Thursday 26 November 2020

Masters in Teaching English as an Additional Language

    Today I graduate with immense satisfaction. After a 23-year hiatus from post-secondary education, I returned for a master’s degree. When I last graduated, with a B.A. and a teaching program, the internet was barely a thing. I no longer remember the specifics, but I logged onto a particular university database and a statistical software program with mysterious codes and instructions. Then in 2018, I began a two-year online program.

    Fortunately, from 1995-2018, I hadn’t been living in a cave without access to technology. Therefore, I had some knowledge of how online learning worked. My steepest learning curve was online research. Manoeuvring the online library and databases might be easier now but without any instructions it wasn’t exactly obvious either. Ironically, the last couple of courses I took came with some great tips, tricks, and advice from the experts.

    I had been wanting to do my master’s degree for a long time, but I was lacking the necessary resources. Then a door opened. I squeezed through and took a leap! Any number of crises could have happened that I would have been unprepared for, and then I quite possibly would have regretted my decision. Despite a global pandemic, my life remained crisis free and the results of my decision to leap have been all positive.

    I mention this struggle because I think that it is important for us educators who are privileged enough to get the schooling that we need and/or want, to remember that circumstances can be drastically different for others. During my 25 years as a teacher, I have seen many instances of how privilege can create systemic biases in our teaching institutions. The vast majority of times, these biases aren’t questioned. In a recent news story, a B.C. mom went to the media about a homework assignment her daughter had been given. Her child was asked to list 5+ positive stories or effects of the BC residential school system. It is a horrendously offensive error that I can imagine being made by someone who is privileged enough to not realize that using ‘focus on the positives’ mindset that is common and useful for privileged people, is not always appropriate or beneficial. Had this mother not gone to the media, I could see that this would be one of those unquestioned examples.

    My frustration with the negative effects that come from a lack of awareness for privileged bias, likely played a role in my choice of research for my capstone project that addresses a topic that could be extremely beneficial for both those that lack opportunities and resources and those who do not. Promoting metacognition among language learners can only be beneficial. Twenty-five years ago, I began teaching with a desire to deliver a fairer and less biased education than what I had experienced. I believe that along the way, I have stayed true to this passion despite the long hours if often required. Now, I am even better equipped to help my students help themselves long after their time of learning with me is over. I also have hope that I can influence other educators to be more responsive to the needs of those who do not come from circumstances that make the pursuit of post-secondary learning easy or realistic.

    When I applied for this masters program, I had to list what I hoped to gain from the experience. I remember that there were three main topics that I hoped to gain knowledge and understanding with. First, I wanted to better understand the unique needs of learners for whom English was not a first language and yet were being educated in English. Secondly, I had no idea how to teach grammar as it was not an area that I had specifically received instruction in as a K-12 learner. Additionally, I had not been taught anything about teaching grammar in my undergraduate pursuits. Yet, my experiences with English language learners had helped me understand that grammar needed to be addressed. Both of these topics were specifically and explicitly addressed in the University of Calgary’s M. Ed. program that specialized in English as an Additional Language. As a result, I certainly feel that I have a better understanding in these areas.

    The final inquiry that I listed was not specifically addressed, yet I have absorbed some ideas to answer it. I do realize this inquiry was a very tall order and not likely on the minds of too many other people. It was to understand how I might use technology to help disadvantaged learners around the world have better and more equal access to learning English as a foreign language. Although there clearly are not any obvious and specific answers to this question, I do feel that I have some very good ideas on how I can pursue some possible solutions that might address this query.

    Although I would have loved to have flown out to the University of Calgary and attended my well-earned convocation, a virus decided otherwise. I guess it is fitting that after completing an online degree, I attended an online convocation. Either way, I benefit. I have learned, evolved and grown as a person. Today I am proud of myself.

    I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge all the help and support that I have had on my journey. I thank my professors for teaching what they knew. I am immensely grateful for those professors that went beyond the basics and gave feedback, encouragement, and advise. Thank you to my cohort of peers who were such amazing people. Not only was I able to learn form these wonderful and brilliant individuals, I was also able to share and bounce ideas around with them. Thank you to my daughter, family, and friends who were patient and supportive with me when I had a lot on my plate. Thank you to my references. One of my biggest hurdles was asking two fabulous individuals to be my references. It is incredibly hard for me to ask other to do things for me. It was my first hurdle in this achievement, and I am grateful for their graciousness. Thank you to my students who gave me purpose, practice, and passion!

Sunday 30 October 2016

Classroom Self-Regulation Strategies for a Conducive Learning Environment

Below is a chart listing the strategies that I use to teach children self-regulation and manage the classroom learning environment. A number of years ago, I began to feel frustrated that student behavior was changing and teaching was getting harder.The behavior changed the learning environment so much it became harder for the students to learn in the classroom. Since I am so passionate about quality education and raising lifelong learners, I went on a quest to find ways to make my classroom calmer and more conducive to learning. Recently I went to a workshop on teaching the Core Competencies of our new curriculum. It was put on by Shelly Hegedus from the Langley School District. She shared books and strategies that help us teach the core curriculum. It made me realize that many of the strategies that I have developed and started using in order to improve the learning potential of the room were also helping teach the Core Competencies. So I have also listed which Core Competency each strategies helps foster.

Daily - built into the day’s routine
Ongoing – as needed

Goal setting - each morning students set a learning goal for themselves in their agendas. With younger students the focus is on making themselves better students/learners and to set specific and realistic goals. After they master this, they can focus on also making their goals accountable and timely.

Personal Awareness and Responsibility

Power statements - to help children learn to solve social issues and reduce the amount of time I spend listening to endless complaints made by students about their peers, I ask students to use their power statements before they come to me. The power statements are:
  1. Stop…
  2. I don't like…
  3. I want…
We spend time going over different examples and to use these statements specifically. But even when used generally, “Stop it. I don't like that. I want you to stop.” I find that it is still a really helpful strategy for resolving conflicts and helping students learn to be assertive. Once we have learned this strategy, when a student comes up to me to complain about a peer, I say, “Did you use your power statements?” Usually at the beginning of the year, they haven't. So they go back and practice, or I help them use them. 99% of the time that is enough. Of course there are still issues that kids will need our help with especially if the issues are recurring.

Social Responsibility
Agendas use - Agendas are also filled out with upcoming events. Kids appreciate knowing what will happen, when, and how far away special events are.

Personal Awareness and Responsibility
Three before me, please -  to help make students more accountable, I have a three before me rule. If a child comes up to ask me something I have already explained to the class, I say “Three for me, please.” They know that means I've covered that in detail so if they go ask three other people in the classroom they will probably find someone who can explain it to them. If I don't have to repeat instructions over and over again then I can spend more time interacting with students in more meaningful ways.

Personal Awareness and Responsibility
Social Responsibility
Identifying feelings - Shortly after we do our agenda goals, we meet at the carpet area to share how we are feeling and why. In the beginning when students are learning this process, they often say they are happy because they are at school. I find this a great starting point. I always go last and try to share a variety of feeling like hopeful, proud, grateful, peaceful…

Personal Awareness and Responsibility

Shelf pictures -  on the shelves that manipulatives are kept on, I take pictures of them and staple the picture above the shelf. Then students can put away the manipulatives as they are seen in the picture. This helps them with their accountability and clean up.

Social Responsibility
Shape of the day – is always up on the board and I briefly go over it. The kids find this very soothing. In fact, if I make a mistake in the shape of the day, the students point it out to me right away. It’s one of the first things many students do when they come in. It helps them take their day in stride.

Personal Awareness and Responsibility
Standing at desks - I allow students to stand at their desk as long as they tuck their chair in first (so that it isn't in the way for someone to trip over) and this allows them to get a little bit more wiggle time without being disruptive to those around them.

Social Responsibility
Personal Awareness and Responsibility
Yoga - when we are done our carpet time we do a few yoga poses. I ask the students to pay close attention to their bodies and what is going on inside. To foster this awareness. I frequently stop to ask them what they felt in their body during their last pose.

Personal Awareness and Responsibility
Problem-solving sheet - if students have a problem that breaks one of our school rules: 1) Respect yourself 2) Respect others 3) Respect your environment. Then I give them a problem-solving sheet that asks them to pinpoint which role they broke, explain specifically how they broke it explain why and what actions they could've taken instead. Then they take the sheet home to get it signed by a parent. That way they have a chance to discuss the issue with a parent as well.

Social Responsibility
Personal Awareness and Responsibility
Positive Personal and Cultural Identity
Brain exercises - The students have learned how a variety of “brain exercises” that help them learn to calm and focus themselves so that they can make wiser choices and learn better. Our most common brain exercises are: Listen to the chime, “I can do it!”, “I like myself!”, Belly Breathing, Five Square Breathing, Gratitude, “Peace in, smiles out”.
All of these exercises are taught with a lesson at the start of the year. The special helper for the day gets to choose which one we will do that morning.

Personal Awareness and Responsibility
Calm bomb – is a sparkle bottle that students can shake up when they are feeling frustrated or angry and then watch the sparkles settle to the bottom. While watching the bottle settle they imagine their minds settling. They can keep shaking and watching until they feel calm.

Personal Awareness and Responsibility
3 Things – is done at the end of the day. This is where we reflect on: 1) something that was good in our day 2) something we are grateful for 3) something we are proud of ourselves for. This helps us develop our positive thinking skills and end our day on a positive note.

Positive Personal and Cultural Identity
Timers - A great trick for focus when one is feeling particularly unfocused is to set a timer for a few minutes and then focus on your work until the timer goes. Then take a 1 minute break and reset the timer. Depending on the child I will suggest an amount of time that I think is manageable for them, probably 2-4 minutes.

Personal Awareness and Responsibility

Zones of Regulation – After we have practiced identifying our feelings, I introduce the Zones of Regulation and discuss which feeling are within each zone. We try to come up with more than just those listed on my posters. We discuss what strategies we can use to bring us into the green zone since this is the best zone to be in for learning.

Personal Awareness and Responsibility

The only Core Competencies not touched on here are Creative Thinking and Critical Thinking which are easily taught alongside Inquiry, Science, Social Studies, the Arts, Mathematics, and Language Arts

Friday 21 October 2016

George Couros – Innovator’s Mindset October 21st, 2016

Today I saw George Couros, the author of The Innovator’s Mindset speak at the Langley Event Centre. George reminded us all that the goals of school versus the goals of learning are not always consistent and that it is our job as educators to prepare students for a largely unknown future. The best way that we can do that is to help them develop an innovator’s mindset and to do that we need to cultivate it in ourselves.

Favorite graphic of the day:
Favourite quote of the day:

George asked us, “What is one thing that has been reaffirmed today? What is one thing that has challenged you? What is one thing you are going to try?” Here are my answers: Something reaffirmed for me today was the idea that we need to let children create during their time at school! A challenge for me in teaching more innovatively has been getting technology that isn’t outdated into my classroom. Finally something I am going to try is improving my Twitter literacy.

Favourite take-away:
3 things students should have before they leave high school:
1.     A professional social network
2.     A digital portfolio
3.     An page
And teachers should have these too!

2015/16 Ongoing Professional Development Throughout the School Year

In addition to professional development days, which I was negligent in blogging about this school year, two great Pro D opportunities I had was the collaboration/inquiry time worked into our school year and a book club at my school.
During the Inquiry/Collaboration time, I delved into the question of whether online Fresh Grade (FG) portfolios could improve my communication to parents about their children’s learning. Working with five other teachers at my school, we all found that it was a terrific tool for communicating what we were doing in the classroom and where each child was at with their learning. We could post pictures for the whole class to show parents activities like a Science demonstration, a group writing collaboration, a guest presenter or even a class demonstration of a dance. This provides parents with an insight as to what their child actually does at school and can help them further the discussion if their "what did you do at school today?" question is answered with "nothing" or “I don’t know.” FG also has an announcements feature that allows a teacher to send out an announcement such as a reminder and parents will be notified via a pop up if they have the app and an email. I would say the most powerful feature of FG is the ability to post pictures and videos of a student to demonstrate where they are at with their learning. For example, we posted pictures of drawings, projects, writing samples, and assessments as well as videos of counting, reading, and answering open ended questions. These can then have a note attached to them explaining what the teacher was looking for. If you attach a learning outcome to these activities and assess them as you post them. These learning outcomes and their attached assessment will be automatically used when you create a report card for your students. We all found FG to be such a useful tool for communicating with parents that we are each using it again this year. We received lots of positive feedback from parents.

Another ongoing learning experience that I enjoyed was a book club hosted by our vice-principal, Kim Anderson for Catching Readers Before They Fall by Pat Johnson and Katie Keier. A group of us met regularly throughout the year to discuss the chapters as we read through the book. I found this a great experience! Although I had pretty much learned most of the strategies and concepts brought up in the book through professional development over the last 21 years, it really helped freshen my perspective. There were so many ideas that I came across and realized that I either hadn’t done them in awhile or I had meant to incorporate them into my teaching at some point and then never did. As well discussing the topic of teaching reading to the students who don’t pick it up easily was valuable. We shared our ideas on how to find the time to spend the extra time needed with these learners. I’m very grateful for this learning opportunity!

2015/16 Pro D as a Digital Literacy Coach

Although my tech skills aren’t anything I would ever consider writing home about I agreed to help out my staff by taking on the position of Digital Literacy Coach back in January 2015 because I am passionate about the advantages technology can bring to education. The best part about taking on this role was the professional development opportunities it provided.
As DL coaches, we were provided with a couple of days of Pro D the week before school started and a 1-night/1-day Pro D conference in October. For me the biggest take-aways on these days was learning how to use iBooks Author and more presentation tools and strategies.
Here is a link for two ebooks that I wrote using iBooks Author:
One was created for our district’s iTunes channel and for parents who ask me how they can best help their children at home. The other was for our school website when some of the teachers at our school put on an event to help parents learn ways to help their children with their writing.
Another great experience was applying for the Langley School District’s Zone of Innovation Grant. Part of the agreement for getting five laptops for our school was to summarize and report on the ways we used them through an iTunes U course. I enjoyed learning the process of putting together an iTunes U course called Adventures in Literacy that can be found on Langley’s iTunes U channel: School District #35.
While helping my colleagues with their tech questions, I was also able to learn of lots of cool things that they were learning and exploring. I was able to report on some of the great ideas my staff was exploring in a blog that the districts DL coaches contributed to. It’s entitled Small Steps for Teachers, Large Strides for Education.
Ironically that’s a good metaphor for how I feel about my experience as a DL Coach. It was a small step for me to agree to be oJKE’s DL Coach but it helped me make large strides in learning more about using technology to provide students with terrific learning opportunities.

Monday 26 October 2015

Top Strategies for Helping Children Develop Self-Regulation

During the 2015-2016 I had the fabulous opportunity to collaborate with my colleagues Tannis Foulds, Ashley Stenerson, and Lynda Hornby. The four of us were all feeling a strong need to help our students develop their abilities to regulate themselves. After all the better our students can self-regulate themselves then more learning can happen in a calmer and more focused and respectful environment. At the end of the year, based on the research that we had done and the experiences we had in our classrooms, we developed the list below.

Top strategies for anyone who lives with, hangs with, or works with children to help children learn to regulate themselves:

-set boundaries/limits for children
-clear expectations for behavior
-be firm
-help kids figure out why they are doing what they are doing
-help them understand the consequences of their behavior
-help them come up with alternative behaviors
-remind/teach manners
-model the language i.e. how are you feeling?
-use “when...then..” consequences and following through consistently
-deep breaths
-teach mindfulness, i.e. chime, breathing
-model our own self-regulation strategies i.e. self talk - “well I’ve done all I can do now so I just need to stop worrying”
-self-sufficiency - teach kids to do things for themselves - age-appropriate responsibilities
-plan ahead and help children understand what is coming up that day, or that week
-model empathy
-encourage well-rounded interests while supporting strengths
-teach/train kids to focus for age-appropriate time lengths

Friday 1 May 2015

Odyssey '15 on February 20th, 2015

Sometimes when a Professional Development day falls so close to a report card deadline it can be a tad challenging to keep my mind on all the new ideas being presented and feel excited to get back to my classroom and try new things. However this Pro-D day was exceptional! I really enjoyed the three sessions that I attended and took away lots of solid and fledgling ideas on things that I want to try in my classroom. I feel excited to implement what I learned and the ideas that I formed while there.
My first session was “DL Coaches Unite!” presented by Sandra Averill. The main point of this session was how to help promote digital literacy in our schools. Personally I came away with three exciting ideas that I plan to implement. When it comes to using the iPads with the students, a real thorn in my side has been the amount of troubleshooting that I end up doing. When I spend so much time trying to solve problems and then pairing kids up because we can’t resolve issues with certain iPads, it leaves little time for actually doing meaningful learning activities. Sandra helped me come up with a plan that I think will help immensely. Stay tuned for a future blog entry on how that plan goes! We also discussed a few creation apps that I would like to explore further with story writing. Finally, we had been discussing some simple ideas that might be of interest to teachers who are a little more leery of technology and out of that I formed a terrific idea that would mesh well with my school’s reading goal. I plan on teaching my students to record themselves reading in PhotoBooth on my teacher laptop. Their job will be to pick a “good fit” book to record themselves reading. The idea behind this is to encourage them to hone their skill at choosing a “good fit” book but when the kids get efficient at it, I will have some recorded reading assessments and still be able to monitor the rest of the class. Plus the children get to choose their own reading material which is another aspect of reading that our school wants to work on.
The second session I attended was “Inquiry-based Learning in Grades K-3” presented by Brenda Boylan. I have heard others speak on inquiry learning a few times and I did a lot of inquiry learning when I taught intermediate. However primary comes with the challenge of students with less independence and less self-regulation. Brenda really helped me envision more ways of bringing inquiry learning into  my primary classroom without sacrificing a healthy learning environment. I already bring a lot of inquiry thinking skills into my Science activities. We do a lot of activities where we think like a scientist and determine what we will do to answer a scientific question. Then we make a prediction, carry out our experiment, record our observations and reflect on what we learned. After Brenda’s presentation, I will try some of the activities she suggested that promote inquiry-based thinking skills like: Object a Week, Wonder Window, Inquiry Notebook or Wonder Book, and I would like to post her Recording Thinking Prompts at my writing centre for writing prompts. Brenda also suggested books to read to our students about inquiry-based learning and she gave us some Scholastic Literacy Place Inquiry Unit book lists as well as their  Inquiry Process poster. Gotta love a ProD presentation that gives free stuff!
My last session of the day was “iMovies” presented by Katie Ropchan. Katie showed us a few examples of how we might use iMovies in our teaching: to introduce yourself, to showcase clubs, and for student projects. As a primary teacher I would like to have an iMovie going during Student Led conferences to highlight learning activities and one to show at the end of the year to celebrate the school year. Katie gave us a handout that addressed the different areas that we might want to use like: importing, transitions, themes, or music. I’ve played around with iMovie before but I got a lot more done while working on it in a group with Katie’s support and the handout. I even had a clip of all the photos that I’ve taken of my students this year that I was able to show them on Monday!
I really enjoyed Odyssey ‘15. So grateful to SD#35’s Professional Services for organizing a Professional Development conference with so many choices. It allows me to choose presentations that are meaningful and inspiring for my teaching practise.