Monday, 11 April 2016

Assessing Writing Through Speech to Text?

I've been exploring with Google Drive with my Grade Ones recently and seeing how I can see it being used effectively in a primary program. Read and Write within Google Docs, has HUGE potential. I am excited at what I can do with my students.

Today I had my students create a picture and then describe what they drew. I taught them how to use the microphone to record their thinking. For the most part, what they wanted to say (their intended meaning) was typed correctly on the screen. (Even with a 'not so quiet' classroom!!) One of my lowest students who cannot write independently (and not yet reading successfully) created 2 sentences and even said where to put periods! (This is SO huge for him!) Now I realize that the computer is typing the proper spelling, using correct finger spaces and putting in capitals at the beginning.... BUT those are just conventions, writing is SO much more than conventions. Isn't this then just a tool to help with the spelling and some conventions, but it isn't taking away the writing process?

This has really got me thinking... the "traditional" part of me is saying that this cannot really be writing, so how can I use this for assessment; however, I'm really questioning that traditional side, as I've hit a ton of specific expectations here. Independently, they are developing, classifying, organizing ideas, and they've also added in voice, word choice and sentence fluency. In addition, that once they complete their sentence, they have to read over their writing (or have it read back to them using read and write) to revise and proof-read.

Looking at the expectations, it appears that it's something worthwhile when it comes to getting my students to share their thinking with others. (Isn't that the purpose of writing - what writing really is? I'm writing this post today to share my thinking with you.) 

Of course, it's also not the only type of writing we do within the year. I realize that writing on paper is necessary (and important), but I don't think it's the only way we need to assess. 

Here are a few student examples of their work from today. This was the first time they've used Google Docs and Read and Write (they have had experience using Google Draw last week). They probably had about 20 minutes independently to work. I allowed them to choose what to draw, as long as it was a picture (not just random lines or icons) and were able to tell me about it.

I'd love your opinion on these thoughts. Can I use this some of this writing for assessment and evaluation? Are they actually writing or does writing need to include spelling and conventions all the time?

EDIT: So I've been thinking about this even more and have only come up with more questions...
During EQAO, using a computer/read and write is an accommodation that needs to be specifically identified on an IEP. Therefore, is using Read and Write always an accommodation?  Is there a line between 'good teaching practices' and accommodations when using technology? Can we provide certain accommodations (i.e., technology) but assess it without an IEP?

I don't believe that their ideas, the structure of the sentence, voice, tone or word choice were accommodated, just the means to how to got onto the paper was accommodated. Does the tool used throughout the process affect the product? 

Monday, 14 March 2016

Adventures of GAFE in Grade One

March has been a busy month for trying new things. I love this time of year in Grade One, as they are ready to take on more challenges and we can begin jumping into the unknown together. Coding has been something we started venturing into earlier this month, see my post here for more. Just last week, I took another big leap and jumped into the Google Drive/Google Classroom world with my Grade Ones. Since our school board has accounts for each of our students from Kindergarten to Grade 12, I figured now was the best time to start introducing something they could potentially be using for the next 12 years!

Lucky for us, our classroom was given 4 Chromebooks for temporary use. Before introducing them into the classroom, I sat down and figured out my plan in how we'd use them. I assigned 5 students for each Chromebook and then signed them in using their GAFE (Google Apps for Education) accounts. Thankfully, their profile gets saved on the Chromebook, so it becomes easy to log in and get started, since all they need is their password. I set up a few bookmarks in Chrome so we could easily get to our Class Blog, their individual blogs, Raz-Kids, Dreambox and our School Board's Library Learning Commons (which provides direct links to TumbleBooks and PebbleGo to name a few). Once their accounts were ready, I introduced the Chromebooks to the class and had the students use them during our Reading and Writing workshops.

This wasn't enough for me. Knowing that we had access to GAFE, I wanted more for my students. I wanted them to experience as much as they could handle. Even though they are young, they are capable! At EdcampWR, GAFE had come up multiple times, but all the teachers using it were either junior, intermediate or secondary. I wanted primary to be included. I chatted with Heidi Hobson (our Technology Support Teacher for our school board) and asked her about primary students using GAFE. She offered to help me brainstorm ideas on how to get my class started. After chatting for an hour or so one day, we introduced my students to Google Drive.

We began by explaining what Google Drive is all about, we referred to it as a "Sky Desk". Where all the files you work on get put into your desk that's essentially in the sky, so you can access it from anywhere. The students loved the analogy and quickly wanted to log on and see their very own sky desk. That day we showed them how to sign into Google Classroom and start working on a Google Draw assignment. In order to make this work, I borrowed 6 other Chromebooks, so I had access to 10 in total. I put my students in partners and let one sign in and test it out, while the other helped. When it was time to switch partners, they easily signed into their new account and got started with very little help from the adults in the room. 6 and 7 year olds are very capable. :)

Our goal is to introduce them to Google Slides to create an 'All About Me' slideshow with pictures and words. To get them there, they need to be familiar with the tools that Google offers. With practice and play with Google Draw, they can start creating lines and shapes, begin to fill in colours and just overall work with a Chromebook in a new way. I send home an instruction sheet on how to log onto their "sky desk" at home so some may choose to practice this over the March break.

Currently these are simple ways to introduce GAFE into our classroom. I want to be cautious that I'm not just choosing the tool and then trying to fit it into the lesson or curriculum. I want my students to be able to choose from a variety of tools. In order for them to have a variety of choice and use something appropriately, there needs to be some specific teaching to allow students to gain the knowledge and independence when working with it. Providing these simple activities gives my students just that. Where they go next to showcase their learning will be the real adventure. Please note, that this works in my classroom because I allow students to have choice when creating something. During Reader's and Writer's Workshop or Wonder Wednesday, I provide the students with choice to show us their learning. (This is also a work in progress, but something that lends itself nicely from the FDK model of inquiry and play they have been familiar with for 2 years.) I have some students who will choose to create a booklet or poster than use an iPad or Chromebook. Technology isn't everything in our class, we just try and incorporate it in when it makes sense to the person using it.

I'm excited to see where this journey takes us and see how possible it is to have young students using GAFE in meaningful and purposeful ways. Thanks for joining me in this journey, if you have any suggestions, I'm always willing to listen!

Monday, 7 March 2016

Coding Morning in Grade One


Before last year, all I ever knew was that it was called computer programming and it was only something programmers could do. Thanks to Twitter and my PLN, I've discovered that it's something anyone can do, even my Grade One students!

For the past 2 weeks, we have been busy coding in our classroom. Not everyday, but for a few times a week, we would have a 'Coding Morning' and work in 3 different coding centres. These centres included:
  • Spheros
  • Chromebooks coding with Scratch 
  • iPads coding with Scratch Jr., Kodable and/or Daisy the Dino

We downloaded the app "Tickle" on our classroom iPads to create the codes to have the Sphero move. There is a sphero app, but it only allows students to move it using a joystick, I wanted the students to actually create the code to allow it to move. This was something new for all of us and a great learning experience for us all.

About a month ago we tested out Scratch as a class in the computer lab. Scott McKenzie created some basic step-by-step instructions on YouTube on how to do some basic things with the sprite (we call him, "Scratchy" in our class). With time to play and explore, they discovered how to make him move, make noise and use speech bubbles. With this little bit of background knowledge, I knew they could handle working on it more during these centres. Scratch can be challenging for Grade Ones as there is a lot of text to navigate, but with some purposeful partnership and time to explore, my students didn't seem too bothered by it.

iPad Apps:
At the beginning of the year I had introduced Kodable, a very basic primary version of coding, where students use arrows to direct a fuzzy ball through a maze. Scratch Jr. is a primary version of Scratch, without all the extra words. The codes that students use are pictures and are very self-explanatory.   Daisy the Dino is similar to Scratch Jr. where it contain simple codes to make the dinosaur move. These are great beginning apps to coding that are primary friendly.

We don't always have access to this technology, but when we have it, I am very grateful. For these centres, I used 3 Sphero's (on loan from our school board) paired with 3 iPads we have in our classroom, I signed out an additional 6 iPads from our school collection and currently have 4 Chromebooks in our class. Having a variety of technology in our classroom is an asset to allow students to see how they can use each one and learn the positives (and negatives) about each and what works better for the purpose we need.

Before we started our first Coding Morning, we read the book The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires. This is a book that focuses on growth mindset and failure leads to success. We talked afterwards about how the girl struggled to come up with the most magnificent thing that she had created in her mind, but that she kept with it until she made it. She took a walk when she needed space, but she never gave up and she always kept going. This was going to be our mantra as we worked through the centres. We also created learning goals that helped us focus on what we wanted to do. They focused on working together, problem solving and talking it through (especially when we get frustrated). Learning skills that are essential for everyone, but can be particularly difficult (but necessary) for Grade One students. 

I gave them a coding partner that they would work with for each centre, then gave a few introductions for each group (how to log into scratch, how to find the apps you wanted or how to use Tickle in order to make the Sphero work) then set them off to work with their partner.

My students were so engaged and created some interesting things. No one created a project that was worth sharing to a global audience yet, but each group created something that worth sharing to each other. The sharing time was so important. I found that by the third morning, the students had started creating more elaborate projects because of what the previous group had shared, even though they hadn't been at that centre before.

All in all, it was a great project and opportunity to explore together. I would definitely recommend coding to all primary classes. It certainly seems like the new language of the 21st century and something that engages all learners in my class.

So as life-learner myself, I've already started wondering about what is next and how I get there. How can I go deeper?  How can I link this with some of the Language expectations* for Grade One? How can I use coding in my classroom on a regular basis? 

As a Language teacher, where have you gone next? Would love to hear some of your ideas!

*Although there are other great curriculum connections, I am only teaching Language this year.

Monday, 10 August 2015

#PB10for10 Board Book Edition

It's that time of year again... August 10th, which means #PB10for10! Thank you to +Cathy Mere and +Mandy Robek for creating this amazing day to share our picture book love with one another. [Click here for more great blogs that are linked with PB10for10.]

I truly love this day - but my husband probably hates, as my list of books to buy grows exponentially. As I eagerly await to write out my own list, I have to pause and reflect of the fact that I haven't created a blog post for 2 years. 2 YEARS! I had no idea it has been THAT long. However, in the past 2 years, a lot has happened. Emma arrived 15 months ago and our lives have changed completely. Previous to that, I was in my pregnancy bubble and apparently forgot I even had a blog. Blogging has just not been a top priority. I've been away from my classroom since May 2014. Instead, I have been mommy - my favourite role, by far! [Side note: I'm going back into the classroom in September and look forward to my teaching role again. I love teaching, I have just been in a bubble for the past year and half.] Since I haven't been in the classroom for the past year, I've decided that my PB10for10 is a going to be a little different this year. Instead of 10 pictures books, I'm going to list 10 board books that my 15 month old couldn't live without. She has been a book lover since she was 5 months old - maybe younger (insert smile of her proud mama here!). Every morning we wake up and read books together and every night before she goes to bed, she reads books with her daddy. Not to mention all the reading we do between those times. So, without further ado, here is my list of 10 Picture Books (Board Books) that my daughter, (not to mention my husband or I) couldn't live without. [Each title is linked to the specific book on]

10. Baby Touch and Feel books
Some of these books were her first favourites. They are very simple, with only a word on the page with a picture, but the key is that they have textures on each page. As she first began to look at these books, I would help her touch the textures. Now as we read, she picks up my hand to touch the textures if I forget.

9. Mortimer - by Robert Munsch
Robert Munsch is such a great author for kids of all ages. Emma loves this book, especially when her Daddy reads it to her before bed, as Mortimer has such a great "bedtime" song and it needs to be sung properly to thoroughly enjoy it.

8. Pat the Bunny - by Dorothy Kinhardt
I grew up with this book, as did many others, I'm sure - so it's a bit "old fashioned" as it follows the lives of Paul and Judy, but another one of Emma's favourite. I think she enjoyed this book when she was quite young, as the pages were easy to turn since they are binded together with a plastic comb. She could easily turn the pages independently and quickly learned to find the page with the mirror. She really just enjoyed seeing herself!

7. Daddy Hugs - by Karen Katz
This book was a father's day present. I love this one because of the numbers. It counts from 1 to 10, but it portrays each number in words, numbers and pictures. As we read this book, we point to each heart to count the number and then point out the actual number. As a teacher, this book is a fantastic introduction to numbers in pictures, numbers and words.

6. I Love You Through and Through
- by Bernadette Rossetti-Shustak and Caroline Jayne Church
This book talks about the love someone has for their child. Loving their smile, their nose, being loud, being silly, all aspects of a baby. I've been reading this book to Emma since I was pregnant. It was my 1 book that I read each night as I sat thinking of the future with a baby. There are other books in the series that are just as sweet and easy to read, that have become favourites in our household.

5. I Love My Mommy - by Giles Andreae and Emma Dodd
I bought myself this book for mother's day (but let my husband and Emma give it to me on the day) because once I read it at Chapters, I had to buy it. This rhyming book flows so easily and captures the love between a mom and a baby. Simple story, but sweet. We both love reading this rhyming book.

4. Pajama Time - by Sandra Boynton
I was given this book from my 17 year old nephew, as this was his favourite bedtime story when he was little. It's a story about a bunch of animals that are getting ready for bed and the fun they have as they get ready. Sandra Boynton is such a creative author that captures fun and rhyme in easy to read stories. Most of her books are Emma's favourite as loves the rhyme and repetition and the pictures always add to the fun.

3. Hug by Jez Alborough
This book is almost wordless. "Hug" is the key word for this cute story of Bobo the chimpanzee looking for his mother for a hug and on his journey notices all of the other animals hugging each other. At the end, Bobo and his mommy reunite and hug, which always produces a smile on Emma's face when she sees them each other hug at the end. I've created my own story with this book, but it goes to show how pictures can tell a story. A great book to use with my Grade Ones as well.

2. Gossie - by Olivier Dunrea
This story is about a Gosling who likes to wear bright red boots until one day when she can't find her boots. It's a simple story with simple illustrations, but there's just something about the book that has quickly become a family favourite. Gossie also have friends that have books that we have been collecting as well. Some friends don't want to nap, other are forgetful, each book has a simple storyline that has us coming back to read again and again.

1. You're My Little Bunny - by Claire Freedman and Gavin Scott
This book is one we have read over and over, usually before nap time or bedtime. I've memorized this one months ago, as the rhyme makes each page flow so easily. The book goes through the simple adventures of a bunny and her mommy. The illustrations are soft and adds to the cozy feeling of the book. A definite favourite for our family.

Well, there you have it. Our 10 favourite board books that our 15 month old loves. I could go on and on about the other favourites we have, but I'll keep it simple and stop here. It's not the traditional classroom list of picture books, but in my life right now, these are the books that have my attention and I have grown to love. What board books can you not live without? Maybe you have one that we need to add to our collection, I'd love to hear!

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


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)


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?