Saturday, 10 August 2013

Picture Books 10 for 10: Classroom Edition

Today I participated in #PB10for10 (my 10 favourite Picture Books on August 10th) created by @cathymere and @mandyrobek and now I've been inspired to create some sort of PB10for10 for our students using our class blogs. Reading through dozens of blogs about favourite picture books has been inspiring. There are so many GREAT books out there - one I have read and ones I haven’t read... yet (my amazon account has been busy!).


Our STUDENTS need a voice in this. What are their favourite books? Think of the discussions you could have with your students about this. What makes it their favourite? Would you create criteria for what makes a good book or just pick random favourites? If you can create a top 10 list of books with your class, we can share those lists with each other on our class blogs or twitter accounts (like we did today - check it out here!).


February is the month of love, so this may be the perfect time to share our love for BOOKS. This would also give us lots of time to be reading to our students and allowing them to make decisions about what books they like.


We can talk specifics later on in the year and link up our class blogs. We could create an Edmondo teacher group and share ideas/books, buddy up with another class and further the conversations using individual blogs, or just keep it simple and read a few lists from other classes. I want it to be useful for YOU and your class. However that may look. Right now, this is just the beginning stage.

** If you are interested in participating in something like this, add your name HERE so I can make sure we connect later on in the school year.


Suggestions are appreciated, so please let me know if you think of anything else. Leave a comment or connect with me on twitter @jennivanrees.

Picture Books 10 for 10: Authors I couldn't live without


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Choosing 10 favourite pictures books is probably one of the hardest challenges I’ve had to face this summer. So, in order to get around the fact that I need to choose only 10 books, I created a list of authors who write those 10 (or more) books that I just couldn’t live without in my classroom or in my life. To feel like I wasn’t “cheating” I only chose 6 authors, rather than 10, since each author writes multiple books I love. 


Amy Krouse Rosenthal: Exclamation Mark, Little series (Little Hoot, Little Pea, Little Oink)

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I love how Exclamation Mark discusses punctuation without actually talking about it. It doesn’t explain what a period does or a question mark, it just shows the dialogue. Love how it’s a cute story with a meaning. 


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The Little series are my favourite because it takes what would kids love to do and makes the animals characters hate it. Little Hoot is forced to stay up late even though he wants to go to bed early like everyone else. Little Pea is forced to eat CANDY everyday, even though he would rather eat spinach and Little Oink has to keep a dirty room, even though he’d rather keep it nice and clean. Such fun books and when your students notice the reversals, they love it too!


Daniel Kirk: Library Mouse series

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I love the words to these stories, it promotes writing in my class. I’m not a huge fan of the illustrations, but the storyline makes up for it. After reading the story, I’ve created my own mouse-sized pencils and books for the students. As they write their stories (about the things they know about), they feel like they’ve become REAL writers.



Oliver Jeffers: How to Catch a Star, Lost and Found, The Day the Crayons Quit (illustrator)

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There’s just something about Oliver Jeffers books. I love that he uses a unique font and that the front covers always have a different texture than other books. I love the story lines and what his characters say - sometimes not expected. His books usually get me laughing out loud in the book store. “The Day the Crayons Quit” written by Drew Daywalt but illustrated by Oliver Jeffers, will guarantee be a hit with my class this year.


Melanie Watt: Scaredy Squirrel series
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Scaredy Squirrel has been a favourite for years. I love the way she created a character that everyone can relate to - either you’ve been there or know someone who is exactly like Scaredy. The humour goes beyond Grade 1 level, which makes me chuckle more than my students at times. Love that she uses a variety of text forms in her writing that can be easily be created by my students. These books in my classroom library are usually taped up a few times, because they’ve been read so much. A sign of a great book!


James Dean & Eric Lutwin: Pete the Cat series


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I’m not sure what’s better, the books or the fact that the books have audio songs. My students LOVED Pete and Cat this year. I think we sang his song all through the year at different parts of the day, even on the bus on the way to a field trip. What I love most about these books, is Pete’s mantra, “It’s all okay”. We have taken that up as our motto in class when things just don’t go our way or we’re talking about flexibility. If we break something, do we cry about it? Oh no...  we say it’ll be okay, try to fix it, while singing our song. :)   Go here for the songs.


Mo Willems: Knuffle Bunny series, Elephant and Piggie series, Pigeon books

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I LOVE these books. My students LOVE these books. Knuffle Bunny has captured audiences in my classroom from Kindergarten to Grade 6. When Trixie goes ‘boneless’ in the first book, I can hardly contain my laughter. When she grows up in the third book, I can hardly contain my tears. Mo Willems is just that good! :)


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My Grade Ones LOVE the Elephant and Piggie books, not only because they're funny and love hearing them read aloud, but because THEY can read them too. What a great series to create independent readers.

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To top it off, Mo Willems also writes all the pigeon books too! I’m sure I can go without saying anything, because who hasn’t read one of these? They’re just so engaging!


So, there is it, my favourite authors I just couldn’t live without, nor could my students. My 10 for 10... even though if you were counting books, you'd see that there was definitely more than 10 - but less than 10 authors. So, technically it's not "cheating", right? :)  

What are your “must have” picture books?

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Inquiring About Inquiry:
My Journey Into Inquiry Based Learning (Part 2)



This post focuses on connecting my thinking of inquiry with research.  To see my journey into inquiry, go here in Part 1 of Inquiring about Inquiry.

I joined a book club in the middle of the school year with some teachers in our school board. We read, A Place for Wonder by Georgia Heard and Jennifer McDonough. This book describes how to create a sense of wonder in the classroom by creating specific areas in your room to allow students to wonder and question. It explains how to focus into students’ natural curiosity by having them create questions. This eventually leads to the creation of a non-fiction piece of written work. This book gave concrete examples of primary inquiry and focused on the curiosity of the child. The Ontario Science and Technology curriculum quotes Jeffrey Bloom (on page 28) about the sense of wonder in our classrooms as children are naturally curious.


"Trying to understand how the world works is what children do naturally, and it is what you need to take advantage of when teaching science [and technology]. Just remember: Avoid being the knowledge authority. ... Instead, cultivate a sense of excitement for exploring and inquiring about our world and for generating and testing possible explanations."
Jeffrey W. Bloom, Creating a Classroom Community of Young Scientists, 2nd ed. (2006), p. 4

Engaging Readers and Writers with Inquiry by Jeffery D. Wilhelm makes some great literacy connections in the book. He explains inquiry very well and provides examples and details of inquiry geared more towards junior/intermediate students. A great quote connecting literacy to inquiry: “Most recent research in cognition shows that reading and writing are forms of inquiry, and are best learned in contexts of inquiry and through the questioning and discourse that is central to it”  (p. 10).

Lorraine Chiarotto’s Natural Curiosity focuses on a child’s understanding of the world through environmental Inquiry. This is a very practical book with great examples classroom inquiry. It discuses assessment of inquiry in detail and quotes the Ontario curriculum and Growing Success. As these are documents I need to use to help plan and asses my students, I know that this can be a great resource as I work through inquiry throughout the year. Chiarotto provides classroom a variety of examples of inquiry. Two of these examples specifically focus on grade one students:
  • “The Grade 1s Explore Seasonal Changes” (P.58)
  • “Grade 1/2: Susanna’s Story: What is a Living Thing?” (P.134-139)

In one of the Capacity Building Series monographs, Special Edition #24, “Getting Started with Student Inquiry” (October 2011) discusses inquiry and student engagement in an easy to follow and read monograph. A great quote to remember, “While engaged students may appreciate extrinsic rewards such as good grades, or praise, their motivation is not dependent on these things. They are engaged in learning because they find it interesting, enjoyable and self-fulling.”

Kuklthau, Maniotes & Caspari (2007) defines inquiry as:

“Inquiry is an approach to learning whereby students find and use a variety of sources of information and ideas to increase their understanding of a problem, topic or issue of importance. It requires more than simply answering questions or getting a right answer. It espouses investigation, exploration, search, quest, research, pursuit and study. It is enhanced by involvement with a community of learners, each learning from the other in social interaction.”

As I read and reflect upon the last year of inquiry, I’ve come to the conclusion that I may have created inquiry to be more of a project, than a journey of learning for my students. I focused my energy on the questioning part and had the students create lots of questions, but sometimes it didn’t go further than that. We probably created more wonders than we actually answered. I had my students doing “hands on” activities and had them creating something. I tried to let my students guide the learning, but only when it was convenient for my teaching. We definitely had moments of great inquiry and great learning. We also had times where it may have been more “busy work” than anything else. It was all engaging and fun, but purposeful?  

“Inquiry-based teaching is collaborative, investigative, and deeply intellectual. The teacher has a responsibility to make the inquiry experience purposeful and high thoughtful. Teaches are the primary architects of the learning experience.”
- Wolk, “School as Inquiry”

Wolk has helped me tweak my thinking. I now know that I need to focus on the big ideas and the big questions and go from there. In the article, he quotes “without the big ideas, an inquiry becomes little more than a friendly version of reading a textbook or a “fun activity.” With big ideas, a teacher can challenge students to think far beyond the sanitized context of a textbook” (p. 119). I need to allow my students to learn from each other and work through ideas together. I need to allow my classroom to get “messy” and the learning to get complicated. I need to be okay to not always have the answer; however, I need to always remember that I need to have a plan in mind. I need to really KNOW the curriculum and know my students. I need to be planned and purposeful in my assessment. On Page 22 of Natural Curiosity, Chiarotto writes:

“In an inquiry-based classroom, the teacher assesses student progress on a continuous basis throughout the school year, collecting and using a wide range of information to provide an informed and comprehensive picture of the student’s learning.”

Through all of the research I’ve studied, I can very clearly see that inquiry needs to be a part of my classroom. Inquiry needs to be focused, assessed and worked on together as a team. I’m planning to incorporate Science and Social Studies into my Language program as well as through an exploration time at the end of the day. 

I would love to hear your thoughts about inquiry. How have you used in in your classroom? What are your thoughts on inquiry as we start into a new school year?

Friday, 26 July 2013

Inquiring About Inquiry:
 My Journey Into Inquiry Based Learning (Part 1)


“Children have a strong disposition to explore and discover. Inquiry- based learning builds on natural curiosity, enabling children to interact, question, connect, problem-solve, communicate, reflect, and more. This kind of authentic learning extends beyond the classroom to the students’ home and community. It essentially makes learning the ‘stuff of real life’ and children active participants in and shapers of their worlds."  - Michelle Kreller-Janke & Patti Hobler (Learning As We Go)
I’ve noticed that inquiry has become a very popular topic lately. Even the new Social Studies curriculum in Ontario has been designed and focused to implement inquiry. All around us, inquiry has become the new buzz word. Many people have been wondering about it, talking about it and trying to participate in it. I, myself have jumped on that ‘band wagon’ and started my own journey about this new thing called, inquiry.

BUT - inquiry is not a new concept.

Harvey and Daniels in Comprehension and Collaboration: Inquiry Circles in Action trace inquiry to start in the 1590’s in Paris and Rome as people were designing buildings and monuments. John Dewey, “believed that students would learn more about themselves, the world and about valuable subject matter by working collaboratively with others” (p. 59). In 1918, Dewey’s protege, James Kilpatrick wrote an essay entitled, “The Project-Method: Child-Centeredness in Progressive Education” that focused on students working in groups to complete projects in social situations. Inquiry is NOT new; however, it has become a new buzz word around education in the past few years.

Play-based learning in kindergarten sparked the beginning of the inquiry journey for me. Last summer, as I began to think of myself as a grade one teacher again, I realized that I was going into a school where my students would have had two years of all day, play-based learning. How would that look in my grade one class? Could the students easily transition into desks? Would I need to put more play in the classroom? Would they be able to do the work? How could I make an easy transition from play-based learning to “real grade one” work? Last summer I had many questions. I talked to consultant in our board in the summer and tried to get my brain wrapped around the idea of incorporating some play into the class and allowing my students to guide some of the learning. Early in the year, she came into my class as were were starting to look into spiders. We had just started reading some books and they students began to take interest in spider research. Since it was the beginning of grade one, I read aloud books with information about specific topics, and they took the information they heard from the books and tried to show their learning in a way that made sense to them. I had students create posters, skits, procedures. They were engaged, they were learning, they were beginning to join in on my inquiry journey. The problem was, I didn’t know where to go from there. It wasn’t planned and purposeful, I got stuck. I knew I needed to try again.

Later on in the school year, our school board opened a workshop for kindergarten, grade one and two teachers to work together on an inquiry project (EPCI). We were given time to discuss and create our own inquiry to try with our classes. We visited each other’s classrooms and discussed what inquiry looked like. We had begun our journey. We looked at the statement: If students are given the opportunity to represent their thinking in different ways, then they will be more engaged and ready to extend their learning. My focus was through Science. My students investigated different materials and came up with different questions. From our questions, we investigated wood and metal – the most popular materials. We wondered about these materials and found out more information. The students also created structures based on their interests. Interest level was high and most, if not all my students were engaged in learning. They enjoyed working through the project and getting to control what they focused on learning. This time, I had a plan in mind of what I wanted to create and learn and had everyone create a structure using the provided materials and record their thinking on Educreations. It was more planned and purposeful. It was hands on and engaging. But is that really inquiry?

Later on in the year I heard about a school, where they did an hour of exploration time at the end of the day and linked play with Science and Social Studies. By this time, I was a little further on in my inquiry journey, so this sparked my interest. Did they have a better understanding of inquiry? Could I learn from them? I emailed the teacher and she offered some great advice and a few examples from her class. This could be planned, purposeful and allow for inquiry at the same time. This really got me thinking - can I do something like this in my class? How can I incorporate play at the end of the day while still focusing on the expectations of the Science and Social Studies curriculum? Can I use some of the concepts from A Place for Wonder to build a classroom of inquiry? Could I combine Language and Science like the book did? 

This summer I took my Reading Specialist, I was told that I needed to become a “go to” person about a topic and to inquire about an area that I had questions about. I needed to take about three weeks to research, to find out and to look into something that interested me. Of course, INQUIRY came to mind. By now I was a little further along in my journey and ready to start reflecting what I did last year and start planning how it can look in my classroom for the new year. Also, I could finally read that Stephanie Harvey and Harvey Daniels’ book Collaboration and Comprehension: Inquiry Circles in Action that had been sitting on my desk for the past few months. 

As I finished up on those three weeks of research and inquiry, I can say that it had been a busy three weeks of reading, talking and a lot of reflecting. I know that I still have a lot to learn; however, I am a little further along in my journey than when I first started. I feel that some of the readings have really helped shape my new understanding of inquiry. I am beginning to have a better idea of how inquiry can look in my class. I am beginning to come to some understanding of how I can incorporate learning in all areas, with a focus on Language and student interests by using guided questions and big ideas.

Stay tuned for Part 2 - connecting research to my learning to gain a deeper insight into inquiry.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Grade Ones as Teachers

This past Friday, my Grade Ones became teachers to a Kindergarten class. We have been using Educreations for a few months now and grasping a good understanding of how to use it. Compared to our Kindergarten learners, my students were "digital experts".  On Friday we taught this Kindergarten class how to create a small movie about big and small objects.



My friend, Anne, approached me with the idea a few months ago when she noticed that we were posting Educreations on our blogs. Being the amazing teacher she is, she commented on each student's post and then asked me if we would be willing to share our knowledge with her class. Of course I was in - why not have Kindergartens use such a great tool to share their thinking? Watching my 22 Grade One students show and teach Anne's Kindergarten students, was inspiring. They were taking control of their own learning and sharing it with each other. We chose something simple to start, just taking pictures of big and small objects, but having them insert their pictures and record their voices independently was so exciting to see. My Grade Ones are still learning how to use it and some students needed more help than others, but they were all willing to try and teach another student. This was a huge step for my learners this year and I was so proud of them! 





As we were in the midst of this great work, Anne approached me and suggested this is something we do at the beginning of the year and continue it throughout of the year. Of course I agreed! Think of the possibilities of having young learners teach even younger learners. The possibilities are endless. I'm already looking forward to the new school year so we can start collaborating!

Do you collaborate with another class in your school? If so, how? How do you allow your learners to become teachers in your school? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Here are just a few of the videos they created:





Thursday, 16 May 2013

Building a Community



This past week we created a community on the floor in our class. We brainstormed a list of “must haves” that a community needs. Then I had students write about an important thing in our community and why we needed it.




 Later in the day, I moved all the desks to the side and created a large space in the middle.




I put tape on the floor to represent the streets and the rest was up to the students. 




They each created those important places and items in our community with construction paper. As they each completed their work, they came to the floor and placed their building or object where they thought it belonged. The students then wanted to add extras to the community: grass, parking lots, lego cars, airport, stop lights, bridges, even closed roads due to construction.


Starting to build.

Putting the pieces onto the floor and into the community.
We added North, East, South and West signs in the community to work on direction and location. Students moved through the community in a variety of directions, using appropriate language to how they moved.

The final product.
I also took pictures of specific areas in the community according to what each student was most interested in. The students then used these pictures to write in their student blogs. You can read about their community here on our student blogs.

Throughout the entire process, all of my students were completely engaged. We were able to integrate Social Studies, Language, Math and Art into this project. My students loved it and so did I. This is something I will look into doing again next year.


Wednesday, 1 May 2013

QR Codes and Padlet

Thanks to Kristen Wideen and her willingness to share what she does in her class on her blog, I attempted QR codes and Padlet (an electronic chart paper for sticky notes) with my Grade Ones today. Creating a QR code was really quite easy. Although I haven't had much experience making them before, they didn't take longer than a minute to create. I googled "QR creator", copied the url from Padlet and with a press of a button, created a QR code. This makes going to sites so much easier. A few years ago (when Padlet was Wallwisher) I remember having my Grade 6's type out the url on their computers. It was agonizing. Doing that with my Grade 1's would be really unimaginable. However; scanning a QR code today was painless.

Recently we started our study on communities. Today we used Padlet to brainstorm ideas for a KWL chart. Discussing what they KNOW about communities and what they WANT to learn.




With 11 iPads signed out and working in partners, my students typed out things they knew about communities. All my students were engaged, willing to share their ideas and enjoyed reading each others ideas as they were added in. This would not be the case if we were doing this with markers and chart paper.





I was impressed with what my students wrote and what they were interested in. They have some genuine questions and wonders about communities. I am beginning to see where we need to go next. This is a perfect opportunity to branch into some inquiry of the questions they have and learn about important people in our community and what they do.

Where my students impressed me even more, was their technology learning today. There was a lot of learning of how to use Padlet, as it was a new program for them. We couldn't figure out how to edit a post, if you accidentally clicked away or touched another part of the screen (which, if you're 6 or 7 years old, can happen a lot when handling an iPad). Huge thanks to +Padlet who answered our question quickly when I asked on Twitter. All you need to do is double click on the sticky... we tried everything but that! :) Of course, I didn't think to tweet it out until the END of the day, but together, we made it work, as I could delete or change things on my computer if needed. The key to it all, is that we kept on going without any tears (in Pete the Cat style of course!).

I love working with technology with young students as they're not often afraid to make a mistake or try something again or try something new. Technology doesn't scare them, it interests them. They are willing to try it out and play. Can we say the same with ourselves?