Wednesday 23 October 2013

Attendance... or lack of it

Last year was an interesting year for some of the secondary teachers in the project.  When it came to thinking about a student that they wanted to really work with -- they were often students who did not attend regularly.  When you choose these students who desperately need you to focus on them, it is more difficult because the students are not there to build a relationship with, and when they do attend, the teacher often feels like they have to spend that time 'catching them up'.

We know there are lots of reasons students stop attending regularly, or never begin to attend regularly.  At secondary some of the students have just given up.  They want to get through school but until now it has not been a very positive experience, so they lack hope that attending will help them.  For others it is the chaos in their lives. Perhaps they are hungry, or drinking too much; perhaps they are easily swayed by peers to stay away or are just not in any type of environment that makes getting to school a priority.  For others it is the anxiety of actually attending school that keeps them away.

Whatever the reasons, some of the secondary staff started to try to draw some of their kids back to school.  Gordon Neufeld, in his book "Hold onto Your Kids" says "... what fundamentally empowers a teacher to teach is the student's attachment to her.  Children learn best when they like their teacher and they think their teacher likes them.  The way to children's minds has always been through their hearts"  (p. 212).  He goes on to talk about 'wooing' children, or 'collecting them'.  He gives this advice to both parents and teachers: the need to keep up the relationship, be involved, and be in their face or space in positive ways.

What we observed last year was a group of teachers doing exactly that.  Teachers who decided that in some way they were going to convince their students that they wanted them in the class, that they missed them when they were not there, that they believed in them, and needed them for the class to be complete.  In some of these cases, their classrooms for sure were more peaceful when the student was absent - but they didn't let that stop them!

Through social media, phone calls, emails, walks to the smoke pit, or walks that took them even further away, teachers attempted to give their students a positive message of 'I miss you' or "I hope to see you in class today' as well as often a second or third message - "here is a heads up on what is coming up tomorrow so you are ready" or "remember that this is due, if you need help come in before school", or a message that connected with something they knew about the student such as the following message a teacher sent a student who loved Justin Bieber:

Creativity and humour seemed to go along way!   A personal connection showing the student that the teacher cared made a difference.

When students are at-risk of not completing school, attendance issues are huge.   We can throw up our hands and say "If they aren't going to attend there is nothing I can do -- it is their problem".  Or we can do what these teachers did: attempt to look from the student’s point of view at their anxiety, at their feelings of not belonging at school, at their lack of hope, and then make that extra effort to convince them to come back.

by Judith King

Wednesday 9 October 2013

Puppet Power: The Teachable Moment

Earlier this week we had a guest performer present a puppet show to the whole school in the gym.  What an unexpected and awe inspiring treat!  The performer was a world class talent and his show was without any "flash" just him and his puppets, some as simple as just his hands and a cloth.  The whole school was engrossed in his unique creative storytelling; it was incredible.

We saw this before recess so I quickly scrapped the original day plan and gathered materials for making puppets from the art room.  I'd seen in a magazine a kids craft for spoon puppets that I remembered after having seen the puppet show.  So a handful of plastic spoons, some felt scraps, cotton balls, pipe cleaners, felts.. and we were off.  I showed the kids some examples from the magazine picture.  That's all they needed! They were thrilled to be making puppets and wanted to make more and have fun with them.  Some of them are so creative, and it really was impressive to see what they came up with.

The next day we finished making our puppets and got into groups to write a short play to be performed with their puppets.  We had a class discussion about our target audience to consider while we were writing our scripts, (the grade ones) and what that might mean for how we structured our writing.  We then discussed the goal of the story: to teach a positive lesson to the grade ones.  We brainstormed a list of about 10 ideas, things like: include don't exclude, sharing, name calling/kindness, etc and wrote these on the board to refer to.  They were then given time to write their scripts together.  There was total engagement, and they were happy to be working on this project.  They practiced the show when they were done.

The students performed their show for the class and then we invited the grade ones to come join us and watch the positive lessons the big kids had to teach them. The show went well and we performed for both grade one classes.

It was an unexpected teachable moment that led to several really good classes for our students.

Post courtesy of Kent Percevault

Wednesday 2 October 2013

Community Teaching

This is my favourite teaching tool.   It can be used in so many different ways.  Here is one example:

Step 1: Students are taught a concept (in this case it was chores at home for FSL 12)
Step 2: Students are told to create a lesson plan...they need to teach the concept to people in the community.
Step 3: Students go on main street in different locations in their groups...they each take a large whiteboard and markers....

They have to survey 10 people.
- they first need to teach the people what the phrase "qu'est-ce que vous n'aimez pas faire" means
- they then need to teach the people (with visuals) 8 or so french vocab words (chores)
- they then teach the people how to respond by saying, "i don't like to....+ word"

**They ask the people if they can take their picture for proof to show me, or collect a signature

I also have had students go onto main st. with their group and teach people how to conjugate irregular verbs.  They use their whiteboards to demonstrate, and then have the people try it themselves!

Post courtesy of Lindsay Anderson