Reflections on a Year of Teaching

I know reflections should be done as you go along, and I have, through this blog. It’s the end of a school year, though, and it’s time to pause and do a final reflection.

1 1/2 weeks to go. Reports are done. Projects finished. The 1-1 computers my students were granted this year are being returned tomorrow. We’re preparing for grade 5 graduation. In 2 weeks, my family leaves for the U.S.

Wow. It’s been another incredible school year. As a lifelong learner, I think the best profession you can possibly be in is teaching. This year has been my year of Twitter and of continuous education about inquiry. I thought I might do a top 10 list, so here goes.

10. Student technology and collaboration. Wow. The world you can access with IT is amazing and scary at the same time. We’ve been connected in our classroom for the last 3 years, but with the advent of a 1-1 in-school program for grade 5, we’ve been even more connected. My students are so comfortable with the computers. They have learned how to refine their searches for information based on reading level. They can find photos to represent everything and know how to shorten the URL and give credit where it’s due. They tweet through our class Twitter. They’ve each made probably close to 100 Google Docs. and presentations and share everything with me through Google Docs.’ sharing function (which gets a bit burdensome). They make i-movies and voice threads. They email, chat.  We’ve all Skyped with another class across the world. Students created a Wiki about books they’ve read and shared book stories through that Wiki and blogs with another class across the world. The technology hasn’t just been a tool. It’s empowered students, opened their eyes and given them models to emulate. Thinking back to my 5th grade experience, I realize they’re in a whole different world.

9. Blogging. I’ve been blogging when I can. For my personal blog, it comes when I’m inspired, so unfortunately it doesn’t happen on a regular basis. For my class blog, our grade 5 team made a commitment to blog once a week, and I have. Hmm..I guess I need to make that commitment to myself. On my class blog, I’ve documented student learning. I’ve wanted to provide a space to share student stories and to give parents, or anyone else that’s interested, a place to get some insight into what’s happening in our little world in 5B. I’ve made movies of the kids’ weeks, caught their mathematical thinking on video, posted their videos, their voice threads, magazines we’ve published, thoughts. As a class, we’re going to look at the blog this week and go back to the beginning of the year to do some reflecting and to remember. There are about 100 posts at least on there. On my personal blog, it’s been a great space to breathe and to give me some freedom to write again.

8. Getting students out of the classroom. I experimented with this this year, and I think it was always successful. From yoga sessions several times a week at the beginning of the year, to running in the park to bringing the kids out to play tag or doing some Math under the Sakura trees, it’s all been refreshing. I always remember when my kids were playing with the tadpoles in the manmade stream or when all of them were playing tag together. Somehow getting them out at times different than their mandated 15 minute morning recess or 25 minute lunch recess brought them together. They all got along, and they were happy.

7. Reading as a social act. I continued my literature circles this year, and once again loved the results. Students choose a book. Then, a small group of students who have the same book decide what they read for the next meeting. They come prepared to discuss, and with some guidance, they conduct a book discussion. What I realized when doing my reports just last week was how the social act of literature circles really moved all of them forward. My reluctant readers wanted to keep up with the group. Others, who were less fluent readers, persevered and became more fluent–because they like to keep up with their friends. More advanced readers like talking with their friends about books. They all love talking and talking about books. They loved making movies together about books when they were finished. Buzzing about books is always wonderful.

6. Bringing passion to the classroom. Writing has always been a passion. From my childhood when I told stories to my parents to college and graduate school where I studied creative writing, I’ve always loved to write. Teachers, just like anyone, have passions, and students need to know it. Our grade 5 Exhibition is about passion and how it drives your learning and your life. So, I’ve let my writing flow in the classroom, and students write fiction and poetry and essays. I unravel the writing slowly, give them lots of practice in their journals, and I realized from their last essays, they’re pretty good. They don’t stare at blank pages anymore, and they’ve got some amazing voice. It makes me happy. Passion.

5. Big projects. I used to be scared of them. They would take up too much time. We would lose sight of our curriculum. We wouldn’t complete what we needed to complete. Blaahf. Dive in headfirst. After reading Sadako and the Thousand Cranes, my students wanted to make cranes. So, I bought some origami paper, and we started making them. We made some more. Everyone wanted to get to 1,000, so we kept going. Bit by bit. Every morning, my students spent 15 minutes making cranes for about a month. They chatted quietly as they made them, and we watched our room fill with color. When we were finished, through a vote, we decided to send them to our adoptive school in Tohoku. We just got a note back from the school with some seeds for us to plant. My students said they loved the project. They wanted to do more. They loved being able to help someone. And then there was the “One Day on Earth” project, followed by a smaller project “One Day in School.” Students put together a video of a typical day in the life of an international school student on 11/11/11, and we sent it to join others from around the world and to be aired next year. Global collaboration. I loved it. Finally, there was our end of year teapot package project. Using geometric knowledge, students created a 3-D teapot package, housing a china teapot, to send through the mail. Throughout the project, they talked the lingo of mathematics and used online tools and their hands to build some really cool packages. Big projects. Love them.

4. Learning how to lead. As literacy coordinator, I’ve had to learn a lot of lessons that I thought I already knew. How do you lead? Teachers, like all of us, sometimes don’t want to do what they’re told. Ok, who does? Despite the freedom we do have at our school, we do have programs we’re committed to using and ways that research and teaching practice has deemed that we best teach. How do you get that across to teachers, though, who have been teaching for 20+ years? It’s been a learning journey, and I’ve been glad to have a colleague, Tasha, to sort things out with. We’ve co-led the literacy committee these last few years, and I think we’ve both learned a lot. I still don’t have all the answers, but I’ve been learning. We remind ourselves and everyone that what we do is for the children.

3. The kids. They’re the ones it’s all for, and they are kids. I teach 10-11 year-olds. They sometimes try to act like they’re teenagers. They do some amazing work that I can’t even imagine having done at grade 5. Yet, they’re still kids. As I mentioned when I took them out of the classroom, they like to play. We program them so much to work, work, work, take short breaks. I remember at camp this year, on the first day, we had students asking us after 20 minutes of free play when recess was over. We had 3 hours of just free play and hanging out time. By the final day of camp, they could handle it. They had relaxed. They were all jumping rope together. They were enjoying open space. We can’t expect them to sit in school and do a lot of critical thinking all day without breaks. They need to experiment, play freely and in an unstructured environment. Want to keep working on this next year.

2. Twitter. For me, twitter has been a huge new part of my life this year. It was a leap into it, but now I’m addicted. For years, I kept wanting more professional development. I wanted to learn all the time. I wanted to share ideas. Twitter opened my world. I know this now sounds like an advertisement, but I’ve met people online from all over the world on Twitter. I’ve collaborated with several of them. I’ve read their blogs, their news articles. I’ve learned what’s happening in education in the U.S. from @Diane Ravitch and others. I’ve learned so much from my friend, Sonya, through Twitter and her wonderful blog: http://sonyaterborg.com/. I’ve learned of new tools for the classroom and gotten an insight into inquiry. I’m committed now and realize how important Twitter is to keep up with what’s happening in education.

1. Inquiry. And for number one…Inquiry. One of the most important things I’ve learned through using Twitter is about inquiry. I’ve always known about inquiry, but I hadn’t fully digested it until now. I follow a blog called: http://inquiryblog.wordpress.com/, which I learned about through Twitter. Inquiry is about how students learn in a PYP school. Through inquiry, students engage with material. Inquiry allows students to think and not to be told the answers. I honestly believe that the more brain cells that are activated during learning, the more learning will take place. It makes sense, right? It’s hard to inquire when you must know certain content for a test. Luckily, we don’t have to do that in our PYP school. Students are learning to think. They’re learning to make their thinking visible. And, they’re learning to do it through inquiry. Inquiry takes a lot of letting go as a teacher, so I’ve found the blog really helpful. Anecdotes, stories. Just knowing that a lot of others are on this same path that seems to make so much sense in today’s world.

Long, but there you have it. It was good to get it all down. I wouldn’t have thought all of this could have happened this year. I can’t wait to see what next year brings!

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