Sunday 26 January 2020

How can I use simple poems to build community and respect in our classroom?

 I always begin the year by teaching poetry.  We start with a simple simile, “I am as quiet as a feather landing on the grass.”  We learn together about each other through the construction of a variety of personal poems.

First Peoples Principles of Learning, “Learning requires the exploration of one's identity.”

We have learned through our Learning Maps, our class composition of our strengths and our stretches.  We know, as a class, before moving into this poetry unit who in our class needs support to write, to speak in front of everyone, to finish a task and to remain in class.  We pledge together to support each other.  We reflect on what support looks like, feels like and sounds like.  We built a community of trust and compassion.  We learn the Indigenous ways of listening with our hearts, minds, ears and body.  We train together to keep our mouths shut when our opinions and our thoughts are not kind or necessary.

This year, Marcus wrote, “I am as brave as a tiger.” This short poem impacts our class community in several different ways

1)  I know as a teacher that Marcus considers himself to be brave.
2)  We are supporting an inclusive model as we complete our first assignment in our home class by working together to help one another. 
3)  We are learning that we are all writers which supports the confidence that we require to continue writing for further assignments.
4) We support each other in spelling and grammar.  
5) We encourage others to share their own work out loud.  
6) We build the confidence to read our writing in a sharing circle. 
7) We collect all of our poems from different genres and make a poetry book with a decorated title page.  8) Together we practice and prepare for our Poetry Cafe.

During an evening early in the school year, I book a cafe like the Craft Corner or the Nest and Nectar.  I invite the grown-ups in our class to come to the cafe for an evening of poetry.  As families arrive, I am able to meet them, learn their names, their family make up and hear some of their stories.  The learners find seats for their families.   They order tea, coffee and snacks and we listen to the learners as they go up to the stage one at a time and read their poems.  

At first there is always a reluctancy as it takes bravery, courage and a Growth Mindset to read what you have written out loud to others.  I believe teaching a Growth Mindset is an essential component of building a personal identity and something that learners need to succeed in their education and their lives.

As learners begin to read their poems and encourage each other, bravery grows among our class.  The more the bravery grows the more learners want to read and share their work.  One year on our poetry stage, a couple of learners sang a song they had written, this year Jaiden said good-bye to his Grandfather who passed away early in the fall.

By the time the evening has concluded I have had the opportunity to meet and connect with each family member in our class.  I have noticed interactions between family members, and I have learned who has siblings, grandparents and blended families.

Once we are back at our class, I use the cafe as an example of grit and perseverance.  We have learned that some things we do at school are hard and that sometimes we have to try things we have never tried before.  We have learned to support each other in our writing, our reading and through some of our fears.  Together we have had a great deal of fun and accomplished a major task.

No marks are given for their 15 poems that we, including me, each write for our cafe.  The marks are not the point.  We have learned a great deal about one another, our families, our learning strengths, our stretches and like a well-oiled machine with all of the parts working as one, as a class, we have learned to become a team where no one is left behind.  

Blog by:  Corrie Goessman, Skaha Lake Middle School

Tuesday 21 January 2020

Including All Learners at Middle School - Practices that Make a Difference

How can a Learning Support Teachers help classroom teachers include ALL learners at Middle School?

What happens when we start with student’s strengths?

I have been a Learning Support Teacher (LST) for over twenty years and have experienced a large shift in the educational community striving for full inclusion, which is the practice of including students with special needs in the regular classroom.  

In my current position as a Learning Support Teacher at Middle School, I support teachers in meaningfully including all students in the classroom.  So much of my job entails embracing the diversity in our classrooms by building a culture and framework that supports a safe and inclusive school community. Often, our learners that are vulnerable experience inequity in the education system through barriers to their learning.  With this in mind, strength-based practices offer a responsive approach to inclusion that reduces and removes barriers and ensures everyone has a sense of belonging, well-being, and access to learning in a safe and inclusive school community. 

Rather than removing individuals to special programs or segregated classrooms, we need to work on developing practices that connect those learners to the curriculum by addressing obstacles that might be impacting student learning and creating classrooms where students can use their strengths. Looking through our TADL data over the last 10 years, getting to know students and using their strengths in teaching and learning has made a big difference for kids.   The belief is EVERY child has strengths inside them and as educators it is our job to bring this out.  It is important to keep the learner at the center of our work.  Additionally, the more we know about our student's strengths and passions, the better equipped we are at building relationships and engaging our students.  
Here are some ideas for learning about student strengths that I have used in the past:
1. This is Me is a great way for students to share information about their strengths and interests.  (Schnellert and Brownlie)

2.  Student Profile - Shelley Moore also shared a one page student profile with our Inquiry Group.  It is written from a strength based approach from the student perspective.  I interview students that have IEP’s before his/her IEP meeting and the student shares this at the IEP meeting.  If the student is struggling sharing, we share it together or I share it with permission. If a student is unable to provide this information, family members can also be interviewed.  I found this approach to IEP’s helped inform the team about the supports a student would benefit from as well as gave student voice to the planning document. 

3. The Important Book by Margaret Wise -
The Important Book uses rhythmic words and vivid pictures to talk about what is most important about many familiar things -- like rain and wind, apples and daisies.  Students can use this frame as a way share their passions and interests.

4.  Identity Pictures:  Here is some examples f of students writing or collaging their strengths and passions as an art project.  The teacher took a picture of each student and photocopied them for students to use as an outline if they choose. Student strengths, passions and areas of interest fill their portrait. Students share their interests with each other as a way of connecting and getting to know each other.

Honouring how youth learn and creating an environment that promotes strengths values a child’s physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual development in a way that creates an inclusive environment for all students.
For more information listen to this TedTalk by Chris Wejr on Strength Based Learning.  In this talk he tells about a some of his experiences early on in his career.

Blog post by:  Janice Moase, KVR School