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What Student Led Conferences Taught Me!

On Monday, I started a week of Student Led Conferences as a follow-up to our progress reports. This is my second year doing Student Led Conferences instead of the traditional interview, and looking back on the process, I’ve learned a lot.

Here’s my Top 10 List (in no particular order) of what Student Led Conferences have taught me:
1) Regardless of age, students can share what they’re learning in class. They can show and tell their parents about what they do at school every day, and they can highlight some of their favourite activities too.
2) Students can set their own goals. In preparation for the conference, I had all of my students pick two of their favourite blog posts. They needed to write about what they liked most about these two posts, and what they would add or change the next time. I was so impressed! The students were very reflective, and they even set their own writing goals based on these posts. Some students feel like they need to concentrate on conventions, while other students want to concentrate on generating more ideas. All students now have a focus for their writing.
3) Students and parents both need talking time. Students wanted to talk about what they’re doing and learning in class, but parents also wanted to talk and ask some questions about their children too. I completely understand the need for both. I think that a small interview component of these conferences is important, and I’m glad that we were able to balance student talking time and parent talking time.
4) Fifteen minutes is not long enough for this conference format. I set each time slot for 15 minutes, and I was pretty good at sticking to this time limit too, but it was a challenge. There isn’t enough time for students to show everything, talk about what they want, and answer questions all in 15 minutes. Next year, I definitely need to give more time.
5) Student led conferences could be done in larger groups. After I got home from my “marathon conference night” on Thursday (15 conferences back-to-back), I tweeted about my timing concerns. Both Angie Harrison (@techieang) and Heather Jelley (@team_jellybean) shared that they do multiple conferences at the same time. Angie mentioned that she sets her conferences for 30 minutes, but staggers how many students attend based on student needs. I like this differentiated approach. Heather teaches Kindergarten, and she said that she does two conferences at a time. This seems very doable too. I would need a slightly different set-up than this year, but I think this is definitely worth exploring for next year.
6) Sometimes there also needs to be an interview. I speak to the parents in my class regularly — once a week or once every couple of weeks — so there were no surprises on the progress reports. I think that this is important. If a student is struggling, I also think that I need more time to sit down and talk to the parents about what we can do. Student led conferences are fantastic, but sometimes interviews are needed as well, and that’s okay. There’s no reason that we can’t do both. Angie Harrison (@techieang) has tweeted about this before too, and I love how she schedules interviews in advance of the student led conferences if they are necessary.
7) Put out centres. Have different activities or tools on different tables, and even have signs with them that have some guiding questions for both the student and the parent. Try to balance literacy and math activities, so that the parents get a good understanding of everything that’s happening in the classroom. On the signs, be explicit about the expectations met at these different centres and when using these different tools. My students know this information, but when they shared different activities with their parents, they weren’t always explicit about the purpose of the activity. Before the Thursday conferences, the class made a list of 23 different things they could show their parents in the classroom. They were able to identify the tool (e.g., an iPad) versus the activity (e.g., using Word Wizard for making words), but we didn’t identify the subject area on this list. This is definitely something to do differently for next year.
8) Incorporate student choice. Given time restrictions, students probably aren’t going to be able to show their parents everything, so let them choose what they’d like to show. That being said, maybe have students show at least one literacy activity and one math activity. Most of my students did this, but not all of them. Having this requirement in place will ensure that parents get some variety in what they see.
9) Have something for parents to bring home at the end of the conference. I put together a collection of work that parents could bring home with them. They can then look at this work with their child and discuss some more goals for the rest of the year. Including a list of some guiding questions with this package of work would have probably been a good idea, as then the parents and the students can get the most out of it.
10) Incorporate an opportunity for feedback. I think that it’s always good to hear positive feedback about the experience, as well as any suggested changes too. Much of what I have on this list here comes out of the feedback that parents and students contributed on this Lino Wall:
Thank you to everyone that helped me reflect on this process and think of ways that I can make the student led conferences even better for next year.
For those of you that do student led conferences, what have you learned from these experiences? What do you like about the format, and what would you change about it? For parents and students that have been part of the process, is there anything else that you would include on this list of mine? I would love to hear your ideas!
Aviva

Why I Love The Flipcam

I teach a 1/2 split. Sometimes this means that my Grade 1’s are involved in activities that my Grade 2’s aren’t and vice versa. Today was one of those days. My Grade 2’s joined one of the other Grade 2 classes for a special Reptile Party while my Grade 1’s stayed back with me for a special seasons activity. These were both science activities, but the students weren’t doing them together.

As a last minute decision, I had my Grade 2’s bring the flipcam to the Reptile Party. I’m so glad that I did! When my Grade 2’s returned, they were so excited to share with the Grade 1’s what they did. While they described a lot, it’s not the same as seeing the events themselves. The Grade 2’s took over 15 videos of this special activity though, and all afternoon, we downloaded them onto my computer.
Thanks to the flipcam and an awesome group of Grade 2 students that know how to use this technology independently, the Grade 1’s can now participate in this activity virtually by viewing the videos here. Parents can also see what the students did this afternoon, and the students can talk about what they learned. With the blog, other students from around the world can learn what these Grade 2’s learned, all by watching short video clips as well. The power of the flipcam is really quite remarkable!
A special thank you to Mrs. Ryan for hosting this Reptile Party today. My students loved joining yours for an hour of learning and fun! For those that went to the Reptile Party and those that watched the videos, what did you enjoy the most? Why? What did you learn? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Aviva
Click here for the rest of the video links, including videos of Flat Stanley interacting with the reptiles.

Time To Reflect and Connect

As a teacher, I know the importance of reflecting, but I also know that sometimes I run out of time with my students to do so. I’m determined to have more of this “reflection” time though.
In class today, we started a new math topic: money. This is usually a difficult math concept for students. Many of them know the names of the coins, or can at least match the names of the coins with the values, but making different amounts of money is challenging. Students sometimes confuse dollars and cents. They have difficulty counting by fives and tens while also adding on by ones. They also have more real-world experience dealing with dollar amounts than coin amounts, so each year, it’s like starting the money concept all over again.

With this being a more difficult math topic, I know that the reflection piece is so important. Students need to see how other students are solving money problems. They need to compare solutions, and they need to start thinking in new ways too.
Today, my Grade 1 students worked with a partner to try and come up with different ways of making 10 cents and 20 cents. My Grade 2 students worked with a partner to try and come up with different ways of making 50 cents and 100 cents. They counted together. They helped each other “count on,” and they reminded each other how to count by 5’s, 10’s, and 25’s. They applied what they just learned in our unit on counting.

I made sure to end the activity early enough though that students could see what other students did. On one group of desks I laid out the Grade 1 work, and on the other group of desks, I laid out the Grade 2 work. Students walked around and looked at the work. They counted with each other to see if the answers were correct. They compared what they did to what other students did. Then they came back to the carpet, and they discussed with the class what they observed.

Here is a Livescribe Pencast of our discussion with a screenshot of the notes that I took (I couldn’t post the page and the audio from Livescribe because I had other notes written on the page too):
It’s great to hear the students talking about the solutions that they saw and thinking of new ways to solve the problem for next time. I’m interested in seeing how this impacts on our math activities next week.
How do students reflect in your class? What impact does reflecting have on performance? I would love to hear about your experiences!
Aviva

Happy Halloween!

Today was our Halloween celebration in class since Monday is a PA Day. Students love Halloween: it’s all about candy and costumes, and fun. I wanted everyone to have fun at school today too, but I wanted them to learn as well. I really thought that we could do both. Last year, I planned some special literacy and math centres for Halloween, and I thought that I would plan some new ones for this year too.

Below is an Animoto slideshow of our day and some videos that the students recorded during one of our math centres too.
http://static.animoto.com/swf/w.swf?w=swf/vp1&e=1319843247&f=c6ZGN4e8q3i41JUCYMtZGw&d=162&m=a&r=240p&volume=100&start_res=240p&i=m&options=

With our tweeting and blogging centre, students were writing using different forms, practicing their various spelling strategies in a meaningful context, and reading with meaning as they replied to comments from other students and teachers too. With our Toontastic centre, students were developing their oral language skills as they created their own oral stories. They were also working on drama, as they gave their characters voices and personalities, while creating their own exciting plot lines too. With our Halloween Reading Centre, students were practicing their decoding and reading comprehension skills, as they worked together to read different Halloween stories. They were using various strategies to read difficult words, and they were doing a fantastic job retelling the stories and making connections to them too. With our Halloween Candy Problem, students were developing their one-to-one correspondence skills, developing beginning addition skills, and explaining strategies they used during problem-solving activities. With our Oreo Stacking Problem, the students were practicing their graphing skills, and interpreting graphs too. Throughout all of the centres, students were continuing to practice their learning skills, as they worked cooperatively with others, and developed their own independent work habits too.

I saw learning happening all day long. Best of all, even though the students worked hard today, they went home happy and eager to tell their parents about the great day that they had. I love days like today!
For parents reading this blog post, what did your child enjoy the most about today? Why? For educators reading this blog post, how are your going to celebrate Halloween with your class? How do you mix both fun and learning too?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts!
Aviva

What Does This Mean For The Students?

For the past two days, I’ve been at ECOO: a conference in Richmond Hill, Ontario. This was a fantastic professional development opportunity for me, where I not only got a chance to share what I’m doing in the classroom, but I also got to hear what others are doing in their classrooms too.

As much as I love conferences, I always find it hard to be away from the students, so after arriving home today, I really started to think about the past two days. Was it worth it? Absolutely, positively, yes! How will this conference make a difference for my students?

Here is my Top 5 list (in no particular order) of new ideas/activities to try out in the classroom based on what I learned at ECOO:
1) Create “thinking books” for students for math. Students can only use marker in these books. The idea is that if they make a mistake, you can still see what they were thinking at the time, as they may be able to cross out their work, but they can’t erase it. This thinking book is not marked, but just a safe place for students to share their thinking and pose their questions. What a fantastic idea! (A special thank you to @team_jellybean, and the amazing teacher sitting with us at lunch, whose Twitter name I don’t recall, that taught me all about thinking books.)
2) Add captions to photographs of students demonstrating skills. Use these photographs in the classroom as anchor charts to help the students remember what to do at different activities or in different situations. For example, take a photograph of students listening to each other. Add text bubbles to show which student is the listener, and which one is the talker. Highlight what the talker and listener are both doing in the photograph. (A special thank you to @rajalingam for sharing this idea during his fantastic workshop!)

3) Have students put their writing through Wordle to see what words they use the most often. Have them make changes to their writing based on the Wordle results. What an easy activity, but what a great one too for word choice! This could really help the students add more variety to their writing and make them more aware of what words they’re using too. (A special thank you to @shadiyazdan for this great idea during her Pecha Kucha presentation yesterday.)
4) Have students add an audio comment over their glogs to explain their thinking on why they chose the images and videos that they did. I love this metacognitive addition to Glogster, and I think that this would help take a great media literacy activity and make it even better. Some of my students remember how to use Glogster from last year and are already using it, and others will be introduced in the coming months. I’m going to have my students try this out for sure! (A special thank you to @misterpuley that shared this wonderful idea during his presentation today with @faulkneronline.)
5) Use Twitter to help students summarize the books that they’re reading. They can summarize various amounts of the books based on they reading level and comfort. I was also thinking that, if necessary, they could use other tools (e.g., video or the Livescribe Pen) to record their summary and tweet out this recording too. What a great way to get students to really focus in on the main idea of texts and to engage in conversations about the books that they’re reading too. (A special thank you to @shadiyazdan for suggesting this idea during her Pecha Kucha presentation.)
I know that I could add many more ideas to this list, but these are the ones that come immediately to mind. I can’t wait to try them out in the classroom! What would your “top 5” list be? I’d love to hear about your learning at ECOO too!
Aviva

Allow Them To Be Responsible

I was at an inservice all morning today, and just before heading back to class, I happened to check my mailbox. I was excited to see that the Flat Stanley from Mrs. Kolis’ class in Ohio had arrived. But there was a problem: Mrs. Kolis really wanted the Flat Stanley mailed back out to her class within a week, and I’m away presenting at ECOO next Thursday and Friday. How was I going to get photographs taken, blog posts written, and the Flat Stanley returned quickly? To add to my concerns, our class also has a Flat Stanley from a Grade 1 class in Atlanta Georgia, and we haven’t taken any photographs with him yet. It was time to get things started!

My initial thought was to take the class around the school and snap some photographs together. I really didn’t have time to do this though, and how beneficial would this really be anyway? I’d end up policing the students all afternoon as I shushed them in the hallways, and we would take unnecessary time gathering for group photographs too. There had to be a better way!
That’s when I thought of another plan: why not give a group of three students the iPod Touch, and let them take the two Flat Stanley’s on a tour around the school? They could take the photographs themselves, and then come back and blog about where they went and what they did. On the upcoming progress report, one of the learning skills that I’ll be evaluating is “responsibility,” so why not give my students the chance to be responsible?

I went back to class and told my students the plan. As a class, we thought that we should try to keep to around 10 photographs. We brainstormed some good places to include in the pictures. We spoke about safety, and since the students wanted to go outside, we talked about where they could go and where they couldn’t go. The iPod Touch also has a clock on it, so the students were told that they had 20 minutes to take the photographs. The class thought it would be fun to get some other teachers and students in the photographs, so we also spoke about the importance of manners. Students practiced how to ask others to take part. Then all of the students that wanted to go, put their names in a basket, and three names were pulled out. We had our group ready to go!
The three photographers/actors left at 2:10 and returned with seconds to spare at 2:29. They got a great variety of pictures, and they even figured out how to take a photograph including all three of them in it too. Talk about a good problem-solving opportunity. When the students returned, they started blogging. One student chose to work alone, and two others, chose to work together. They helped each other generate ideas, and they edited each other’s work too. By 3:19, their posts were done, and I just added in the photographs for them tonight.
The Two Flat Stanley’s Visit Our School on PhotoPeach

http://photopeach.com/public/swf/story.swf

I love how when given the opportunity to be responsible, the students met and/or exceeded every one of my expectations. I’ll definitely be thinking of other ways to continue to give students even more responsibility in the classroom and school community.
How have you helped your students become more responsible? What were the results? I would love to hear your thoughts!
Aviva

Our Week In Pictures

Sometimes it’s difficult to capture the week in words, so this week, I decided to highlight our week in the classroom through pictures. Below is an Animoto slideshow all about our exciting week.

I hope that you’ll look at this slideshow with your child. What did your child enjoy the most? What did your child enjoy the least? What did your child learn in class this week? I would love to hear your thoughts!

Have a great long weekend!
Aviva