Giving Everyone a Voice

I have a myriad of thoughts, ideas and wonderings that roam my mind all throughout the day. It’s an active place, with most of them appearing suddenly and often departing as quickly as they arrived. The ones that stick and become the most powerful are the ones that get a voice – sometimes that’s in the form of writing them down, while other times it is sharing them with a friend or colleague during discussion. It’s almost as if my mind is busy organizing my thoughts by importance and when given a voice, this automatically bumps them into the ‘let’s take some time and remember this’ category.

I look at many of my students now and see my past self in them – the ones who take their time to try to write neatly and make things look nice, the ones that love reading and writing and the ones that stay quiet during a discussion and never raise their hand.   In my current school the majority are filled with confidence and vying for a voice, they can’t get enough attention and are eager for people to listen to their thoughts, but even there you find the quiet ones who often get dominated by others. They have many thoughts and wonderings running through their minds, but something in them holds them back. One of my major goals for this year has been to give everyone the space to have a voice.   To create an environment where everyone takes the time to move their thoughts and wonderings into that place where they can be seen and heard. And by doing this, to value not only the thoughts but also the amazing people behind them.

In my journey, here are some things that I’ve found powerful.

Raising hands means you only get to hear from the quick thinking extroverts. Find other ways to draw out ideas and thoughts.

 I’ve spent years having students raise their hands and having whole class discussions. I went to a PD last year and someone said the statement above, and it hit me how true it was. I was catering to extroverts, but not ALL of my students through hand raising class discussions. This rang so true because I knew that I had never raised my hand in school, yet I had many thoughts and ideas that probably would have enriched discussions. I still do have some class discussions with hand raising, and lately have been slipping back into them as I reflect on this – old habits die hard. A few methods that have started replacing these are:

  • Sharing thoughts with the person next to you and in smaller groups rather than whole class and briefly drawing out key ideas, wonderings and thoughts gathered from walking around the room
  • Silent Chalk Walks – where everyone has a pen that is their voice so no one is dominated
  • and/or post-it notes – creating a padlet where everyone pops their thinking into one area and I can browse through it and notice/name things as well as question the students (or going with the old-fashioned post it notes as well).
  • Using Google docs/sheets/slides – creating collective documents where they all add thinking and input and then can comment on each other’s thoughts and ideas.
  • Using Google forms – everyone has input into whatever questions are asked and these can be brought up in future discussions – I often use these as ‘exit tickets’
  • Using – creating a backchannel when watching videos or doing other things so students can input thoughts, connections and questions.

Don’t expect immediate answers. Give thinking time.

 One of the reasons I’ve never been a hand raiser is due to my introverted nature, but as I’ve overcome much of that shyness I’ve also learnt that I don’t think quickly – I need time to process and ponder and so do many of my students. In meetings, I’ll often now ask for more thinking time before I jump in because I’ve discovered that I need that time to ponder and sit with something. It’s taken me a long time to realize that.   Things that have helped me to give more thinking time are:

  • Putting a question up on the board or throwing it out there ahead of time (5 minutes, the night before – anything) before expecting answers. Giving time to ponder, connect, wonder and explore a thought before expecting students to weigh in on it.
  • Taking time to have students write down/record what they think before sharing it with others.
  • Having students go home and ask their family, friends, neighbours and other people about a big idea or question before adding their own ideas and thoughts.
  • Asking, “Do you need more time to think about it?” and modeling that it is okay to need time to think by asking for it myself when talking with students.

 Use thinking routines to help students learn how to structure and draw out their thinking.

 There is so much power in learning how to structure your thinking, but it doesn’t come naturally to many. I have loved incorporating Harvard’s Thinking routines into my classroom and have also enjoyed creating my own versions to suit various purposes. Adding structure and giving visible and audible voice to thoughts has led to deeper thinking in our classroom. I’m still gradually experimenting with new ones all of the time, but some of my favourite include:

  • Connect, Extend, Challenge
  • See, Think, Wonder
  • Claim, Support, Question
  • Colour, Symbol, Image
  • Tug of War
  • 3-2-1 Bridge
  • I Used to Think, Now I Think…

Make a point to notice and name good thinking from everyone. Help everyone to have a valued voice by making the thinking visible and audible.

 There’s nothing I love more than when I notice an amazing thought, idea or wondering that a student has written that might not have been shared without being written or overheard and noticed. Every time they are captured and drawn out I feel that there is a strong message to that student that their ideas are powerful and valuable to those around them and are worth sharing.

In trying out different methods it hasn’t been perfect and there are still so many missed thoughts and ideas, but I feel like we’re making more space for everyone’s voice and there are many who are taking that opportunity to join in the thinking.

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Making Room for the Important Things

I read a brief story within a book I was reading yesterday that I have heard before and loved, but had a brief moment afterward where the thought passed through my mind, “I wonder how this applies in education?  What are your big rocks?”

It originally comes from First Things First by Stephen Covey who tells the story of a man teaching a class.  To make a point, he pulled a large wide mouthed jar from under the podium he was lecturing from.  He picked up some fist-sized rocks and put them in the jar.  Then he looked out at the class and asked, “Is the jar full?”

Some of the students, not knowing where he was going, blurted out “Yes.”  Then he said, “Really?”  He pulled out a bucket of small pea-sized gravel and began to pour it in the jar.  The class watched as the gravel went down in between the rocks filling the spaces until it reached the top.

“Now is the jar full?”

The class was a bit hesitant to answer.  “Probably not,” one of them answered.  The man then poured a bucket of sand down among the gravel and rocks.  He shook the jar gently to let it settle and then added some more until the sand reached the top.  “Is the jar full?”

“No!” some of the class shouted.  “Good!” said the man as he reached for a pitcher of water and slowly poured the water into the jar.  It filtered down until it was running out of the jar at the top.  Then he turned to the class and asked, ” What is the point of this illustration?”

Somebody in the back raised his hand and said, “No matter how full your schedule is, if you try really hard, you can always fit some more things into it!”

“No,” the teacher replied.  “That’s not the point.  The truth this illustration teaches us is: If you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in at all.”

Such a great illustration to remember in life and one that always makes me think about what my big rocks are and readjust so I am putting them in first.  But one I have never really taken into the realm of education and my role as a teacher.  Something to think about…

What are my big rocks?  Am I putting them in first?

jar of rocks

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Where are the rules?

One of my students raised their hand and said that after we had almost finished our discussion on our essential agreement.  I was a bit confused at first because I wondered if he had missed the point.  Then I had to smile because it was at that moment that he was really starting to get it.  No, there weren’t any real obvious “don’t do this” things on the list…and I was glad that they noticed.

We started off the year with thinking about values.  I showed them some different money amounts – a 20 cent coin, $2 coin, $5 bill, $10 bill and $20 bill and asked them which one they would choose.  Most chose the $20, but a few not wanting to be selfish said that they would only take the $10 or $5 bill because they didn’t need the $20 (these are well-off families).  Why choose what you did?  This led to a lovely discussion about the word ‘value’.  After this I introduced them to the idea of a Chalk Talk (which I love) and we did one around the question, “What do you value?”


The next day I told them that I had typed in all of the words they had written into wordle and we created a class wordle of our values (see below).  We looked at it, noticed things we valued a lot and a little and let it sink in for a bit.


A few days later, we looked again at our class values wordle and I asked them, “If we truly value these things, what will that look like?  How would we show that?  Which ones relate to our time as a class?”  I chose individuality to start with (since I loved that it was included) – if you truly value individuality, how would you show that?  A few hands raised…”You wouldn’t judge other people”, “You would be accepting of who people are and how they are different.”  I showed them how to frame it into the structure: We value                ….so we                                    .  I talked about how we needed to think about what we wanted our classroom to be like and sent them off in pairs to think of what they would want included.  They came up with some great stuff.  Typed it all up, then went over and discussed it the next day.  What’s the most important things to you?  We changed wording, combined ideas, talked about why different things couldn’t possibly be cut.  A lovely discussion that I thought was almost finished with as we had our ten or so things…..when one boy raised his hand.

“Where are the rules?  If this is our essential agreement, shouldn’t it say the things we can and can’t do?”

My first response…”No, it’s not the rules.  It’s an essential agreement.”  That’s when I realised that to him, they were the same thing.  We chatted some more…“What’s an essential agreement?  What does essential mean?  What does agreement mean?”  We looked up the words, chatted in pairs about them, came together to conclude what they meant.

This year I wanted my students to go beyond rules to the reasons behind them…and I’ve really felt like what we value is most reflected by how we act, so why not start there?  I want to keep what is the most important to us at the forefront so we can remember why we want to act in a certain way…to remember the kind of people we want to be.  I know I want to do that personally as well as professionally.  To remember the point behind it all.  If you remember those things, you don’t really need ‘rules’, instead you have a goal in mind of who you want to be.  Much more powerful in my own life.  Hopefully also in theirs.

If you’re curious, here’s their essential agreement below.  Pretty good stuff for anyone to live by (I tried to get them to cut it down more, but they were pretty set that these were all essentials)


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I found this website the other day called Mindshift that talks about the latest trends in education and how we learn….and I thought the word was fitting to describe my own experiences at the moment as well as my observations about the world around me.

Photo by Elizabeth Albert/flickr

Education seems to be changing drastically…I look back on my state of mind just a few years ago and realize that I have gone through a mindshift of my own, particularly this year.  I used to be great at finding good lesson plans, ideas and resources.  I came up with ideas that I loved and we did fun activities…and the students learned things.  I haven’t done a complete turn-around, but there has definitely been a shift….I find myself looking more and more at the reasons behind things and thinking theory and big ideas more than fun activities.  I haven’t thought about theory for years…it was one of those things you talked about in grad school but then somehow left behind when you actually started the teaching.  You left that for the administration and you just did the curriculum and content you were told in as fun a way as you could.  Now I end up talking theory all of the time and I haven’t been on my favourite lesson plan sites for ages.  I come up with some ideas, but I’m not always sure where they are going to go when they start.  My students still learn things.  But they have to be able to talk about what they learned, reflect on how they learned it and make their thinking more visible…an answer is not enough anymore.

The other day I tweeted a few links about Innovation Day (something I am looking forward to trying out at some point) and I got a few new people following me who were businessmen.  At first I couldn’t figure out why in the world they would want to follow a primary school teacher until I remembered about my earlier tweet and saw that they were passionate about innovation.  At first I thought, “They are business people who have nothing to do education, so I doubt they have anything interesting to follow.”  But I thought I would double check in case I was wrong and I clicked on a link from one of their tweets.  After all, Genius Hour (which I love so much and have previously posted on) stemmed from Daniel Pink’s thoughts about business and we see similar concepts in Google’s 20% and the like…you never know.  For the next hour I got sucked into a bunch of articles about business that were actually fascinating.  The reason?  They were all about the shift in thinking and working…how the information and technology age has changed the way we work in the world, how collaboration and innovation are becoming so important because we no longer are told what to do and do the same job for 30 years.  All of these ideas connected with the same ideas and concepts we are discovering and applying in the classroom.  One of my colleagues was presenting a PD yesterday and pulled out a business magazine where she found a graph about what top businessmen value the most in employees…the top of the list?  Collaboration.  Also high up…innovative.  Sound familiar?    All of a sudden I began to realize that it’s not just an education thing…the world has gone through a mindshift.  The reason?  Technology and the information age has changed the way we live, learn and work and this is most likely not just a ‘trend’ that will swing back to another more traditional side in a few years, but a different way of doing life.

I began to realise the value in connecting not only with other teachers in the education world, but also expanding my connections and collaboration to learn and share with those in other fields as we go through similar mindshifts.

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Thoughts on Taking Action…

Do you ever have those days when you have an idea that you want to try that you’re not too sure about but you decide to go for it anyways and then it works out brilliantly?  Last week I did not have one of those days.  I meant well.  I’ve been thinking about how to teach my class about taking action – what it means, what it can look like, why people do it, etc.  I didn’t want to just tell them what actions they should take and not have their thinking/feelings behind it. That’s not authentic action.  I wanted them to be able to recognize things that they feel passionate about and the potential actions that they could take…to open up the possibilities.  And really, I wanted them to begin to change the world.

First mistake?  Expecting deep thinking to happen on a Monday afternoon.  Timing is everything…when I saw the restlessness abounding everywhere I should have taken a rain check, but I decided to plow ahead.

Second mistake?  I tried to combine two big ideas instead of just one.  I should have focused on either what action is and how it can look different or what motivates people to take action…not both.

After talking about what ways action might be like an iceberg (a few interesting ideas thrown out) I decided to get them straight into doing something as the restlessness grew by exploring websites that showed kids taking action and asking them to think about what they were doing, why they thought they took the action and how.  Too many things.  My tired restless nine year olds managed to misunderstand what the action was that different people were taking (they thought a group was collecting mobile phones to give to the poor because they didn’t have one, not to recycle and keep out of landfills) and weren’t that into it.

Perhaps a third mistake was trying to start with the big idea and then come back to them in their lives, rather than starting with them to begin with.  I don’t know.

But it did make me think about this idea of taking action and how hard it is to really get through what taking action is, why it is important and to inspire people to do it.  Even with adults.  I thought about how we want our students to feel this great motivation to change the world.  Yes, children can change the world….but should we expect them to?  (are we expecting more from them than from ourselves?)

And it made me wonder, why do some people see a problem and feel inspired to do something about it while others see that same problem and ignore it?  Why do some 12 year old children save all of their money and get people to donate to create a well in Africa, why do some 9 year old children take a stand against bullying and so on?  What makes people take action?  I hunted around a bit to see what other people thought – I agreed with many of their thoughts that a lot of it has to do with whether you feel like you CAN make a difference or not.  Whether you see your contribution as meaningful.  I didn’t start taking any actions and get involved in social justice until I realized that I could actually make a difference and that it was a valuable one…even if only to one person.  And I thought…I can work with that.  We can look at how little things in our world make a difference…the things we are already doing.  And so our class has started a discussion and board about what we are doing.  They were a bit more inspired about that…and we have all sorts of little actions up (I’ll add a pic later on).  Our board either needs to get bigger or we need to build more layers.  It has helped me to see what they think action is and they have managed stretched my own understanding of action a bit with their thoughts.  And we will continue to look around us for actions people in our own little world are taking – their home learning assignment?  To ask someone about a time they have taken action (however small or big) – what did they do and why?  I hope as we continue to recognize their current actions and the ones of those closest to them, that they begin to build that feeling that they CAN make a difference if they choose to.

I used to think that I needed to get my students to care and take action.  

Now I’m beginning to think that perhaps I just need to get them to realize and think about what actions they are already taking and the value and difference that they are already making.

Good Reading:

Children Taking Action in Global Inquiries by Kathy Short

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Experiment #1: Genius Hour

I am beginning to feel like my classroom is reminding me of the few years I taught science to middle school…more specifically our science labs.  Being a classroom teacher has always involved a bit of experimenting to try out new things, but with the expansion of ideas through blogging, Twitter and other websites in combination with working within a PYP school that encourages collaboration and trying things out, I find myself regularly engaging in the scientific process and experimentation with my class of 9 year olds.  Currently I have three larger experiments going, with another one in the works….and it’s Term 4.  Sometimes I get an idea and think, “Maybe I should wait to try that next year and start fresh” but then I think, “Why wait?  It could work with these kids and everything doesn’t have to start at the beginning….if they got a good idea in the middle of the year, I would hate for THEM to wait until next year to try it.”  And so I jump in….my question for one experiment, “If given the choice of learning about anything, would the students have a valuable learning experience?  Would it be worthwhile?”

Experiment #1: Genius Hour

I’ve been reading about Genius Hour through several blogs (listed at the end) and I really liked the idea. This video by Dan Pink hooked me –  More and more I am starting to shift my thinking and priorities into skills the students learn rather than the actual content.  With today’s changing world and the incredible amount of information available, I think it’s inevitable.  Genius Hour fits this.  It is Term 4, but why not start now?  I got one of my colleagues on board and away we went.

We introduced it to our students – think about what you are interested in…if you could learn about anything what would it be?  For the next three weeks we would give them one hour a week to learn about anything they wanted.  The requirements?  They had to start by finding a book or printed material as a base.  We talked about how much of what we learn is through reading.  They had to learn something new.  We reviewed our earlier discussion about what learning meant.  They had to share their learning to the class at the end of the three sessions.  That’s it.  When asking the students what they wanted to learn about, I was surprised that most chose ‘school’ type things.  I showed them some examples from a blog from another class that had done Genius Hour in the US.  One of my students asked, “Did you mean we could learn about anything?  Like it doesn’t have to be school stuff?”  I laughed.  Half of them changed to things they were actually interested in, like basketball skills, AFL history and hairstyles instead of sea creatures and bats.

The Genius Hour three sessions have finished.  Next week is sharing our learning time.  But I already love it and think of it as a success.  Why?

–  We chose Friday afternoon for the sessions.  Normally my class is all over the place at this point.  I have never had a more focused, quieter classroom on a Friday afternoon than these last few weeks.  It is our most focused time of the week.

–  Most of my students asked to work on it at home.  Because they wanted to, not because they had to.

–  I have some students (as everyone does) who struggle to work with others.  Some of these actually chose to work with others and did it beautifully.

–  My students started recommending and bringing resources in to help each other in their Genius Hour learning.  I overheard one student saying, “Ooh…I found the perfect video for you to watch – my brother showed me the other day.  It fits perfectly with what you are doing.”  Another went to the library to find another book…she turned up without a book for herself, but checked out one she found for a classmate that she thought would help her (and it did).  Another girl went around asking other students for advice on her colour choices for her poster to see which would be the most effective (and learned that yellow on white is not a good combo).  A student who is a poor speller found a good speller to peer edit their Powerpoint.  I never told them to help each other, they just did.  And not just their friends.  I could have walked out of the room and no one would have noticed….they didn’t need me as much, they had each other.

–  At the beginning of each session, I had them write a very brief plan of how they were going to use their time. They seem to be learning so much about time management and thinking ahead/adjusting their plans to fit the time/resources they have.  And they have learned to talk their plans out with me in the process.

–  They have been incredible at finding resources…they have gone beyond books to watching videos, searching the internet using key words, asking other people they know and more.

Time management, resourcing, working collaboratively, being inspired to learn, presenting…all of these things have made this last hour on a Friday afternoon valuable as a learning tool.  I’m not so concerned with whether they chose bats or basketball skills, that wasn’t my purpose.  It was about the skills, not the content.  But I am curious to see how the sharing of learning will go next week…the experiment continues…


Genius Hour Blog Post Index (a collection of different posts about the topic)

My main inspiration was from this initial blog post I ran across….


Categories: Education, Thinking | 3 Comments

The Power in a Quote

A fine quotation is a diamond in the hand of a man of wit and a pebble in the hand of a fool.
Joseph Roux

So I was trying to figure out how to get my students to start consolidating what we had been talking about (what is a need? what is a want?  what is well-being?) and process that in terms of childrens’ needs around the world.  And I wasn’t sure where to go so I thought out loud (as I have a tendency to do) in our workroom and a colleague from another team suggested finding some quotes and starting from there.  (side note: while it drives me to distraction so much, I do have moments where I love sitting in a workroom with 12-15 other people)

I had never really used quotes to start children discussing and thinking about something before, but I liked the idea of it because I know that I find quotes thought-provoking and powerful in my own life.  I have them around my house and in notebooks, these thoughts from others that I value.  There is something about a quote that speaks to us in a way that makes us reflect, question, wonder and feel in a way that very few things can match.  They can evoke so much passion and inspiration.  To me a quote is that tiny short way of wrapping up a person’s experiences and beliefs that calls out to others to understand and respond.

And so I tried it out….we put two classes together, divided them in pairs and had them go around to different quotes (relating to childrens’ needs) that were posted around the room.  Their task?  Read the quote with your partner and talk about it – what does it mean?  Do you agree/disagree with it – why?  They then had to write down their thoughts and leave them posted next to the quote and move on to a different one.

Things That Went Well

–  As I walked around the room, the students were engaged…I didn’t have to redirect too many of them. (at least for 20-25 minutes…which is about as long as they last in most independent discussions at 9 years old)

–  I stumbled across some really thoughtful discussions between pairs – whether they thought it was more important to feel valued or to have food/water (one disagreement between a pair on priorities of needs), amazement/disbelief at part of a quote and some children who were wholeheartedly supporting a quote about children deserving to be loved and have family/friends.  They agreed and disagreed with things and explained why.

–  Some of the students seemed to connect more on an emotional level with what people were saying than some of the other things I had shown them…when having to rephrase what someone said, they really had to think about what it meant and understand it.  They thought more deeply.

Things That Didn’t Go So Well and Should Probably be Rethought

–  In chatting with my colleague, apparently I stumbled across more of the great conversations and she ran into students who weren’t sure what some of the words mean and didn’t know what to do.  We talked about how it might have been more helpful in the future to read the quotes as a whole group and define any important words before they set out in pairs.  If they couldn’t understand the word/words, it made the rest of it pretty difficult.

–  Many of the pairs chose to agree/disagree and explain their thinking but skipped the part where they were supposed to write what they thought it meant, even after I reminded them to do so halfway through.  Which tells me that maybe they weren’t totally sure what it meant or didn’t know how to rephrase it in their own words.  Some of the quotes I chose were a bit beyond their level and perhaps I needed to find some simpler ones that they could all connect with a bit more.

–  There were some misunderstandings of quotes….we haven’t come together and wrapped up the ideas/activity and to be honest I’m not quite sure what the best way is to go about it, so that’s still needing to be thought out (soon)

I would LOVE to hear any ideas/ways of using quotes to inspire thinking or any other thoughts as it’s something that is very much in ‘rough draft’ form in our classroom at the moment!




A Few Quotes about Quotes 🙂 (from

I love quotations because it is a joy to find thoughts one might have, beautifully expressed with much authority by someone recognized wiser than oneself. ~Marlene Dietrich

Have you ever observed that we pay much more attention to a wise passage when it is quoted, than when we read it in the original author? ~Philip Gilbert Hamerton, The Intellectual Life, 1873

Fine phrases I value more than bank-notes. I have ear for no other harmony than the harmony of words. To be occasionally quoted is the only fame I care for. ~Alexander Smith

Short sentences drawn from long experience. ~Miguel de Cervantes

Categories: Education, Thinking | 1 Comment

Taking Action

Taking Action has been on my mind a lot lately…both in my personal and professional life.  Being in my first year of teaching inquiry through the PYP programme, it’s been a journey of figuring out what the different puzzle pieces are and how they fit together…and a piece I feel like has been missing (or at least not visible) in my classroom is this part of inquiry that involves taking action.  I think part of the reason I haven’t worked to make it more visible is because I wanted it to be authentic action, not just for the sake of it.  In my personal life I have been thinking for the past few years about what I truly feel passionate about and asking myself, “Then what am I doing about it?  How is it changing my life?”  

Recently I had a bit of a shift in my understanding of what Taking Action could look like after reading a blog by Richard Black found here and looking at a poster he developed for his classroom below.  I liked the idea that action might be more than just doing something- how he used the different types of verbs to show different aspects of action (great grammar lesson too!).  Not everything we learn translates into raising money for something or putting up posters, perhaps a more powerful action at times would be in changing how you think or feel about something which might not lead to a doing action for quite some time.  When I was 16 I went to Mexico and experienced the third-world slum life for the first time.  It changed the way I thought and felt and opened my eyes to a world where people lived very differently than I did….we did take some action and help for the week, but I think the more powerful action I took on was the change in my thinking and feeling…which has led to more action and ‘doing’ and changed my life significantly as I have grown older.  But it started there.  Too often I think I have looked at Taking Action in my classroom and felt like my students needed to be ‘doing’ something in order for it to ‘count’.  I haven’t taken the time to notice the other, often deeper, aspects of action found below.  Perhaps Taking Action is like an iceberg, where the Doing is the tiny bit you see on the surface, but there is a huge mass below that we need to remember and acknowledge as well….


From Richard Black’s post found here

This past week I visited the Year 6 exhibition at our school and had some great discussions with some of the students.  I asked one girl who had learned about people with disabilities what the big thing was that she would be taking with her from this project.  She said that she changed her thinking – she realized now that people with disabilities weren’t so different from her, that even though they might look or act different on the outside, that we are the same on the inside.  That when she saw someone who was disabled, she wouldn’t get scared and go away or ignore them, but she would walk up and have a conversation.  Another girl researched hunger and was filled with knowledge she was bursting to share.  When I asked her what she was taking with her from her project, she began to tell me how she had no idea that there were so many people without enough food and was so upset that we spend so much more money on weapons than on people.  She told me about the website Kiva where she had loaned $20 to help a family to save their business…both of the girls were Saying, one was Doing, but perhaps even more powerful was the Thinking, Feeling and Being that was so obvious and will most likely stay with them in the future…

I’m going to try setting up an Action Wall based on the poster and make our action more visible in this last term of the year…it is great to learn new things, but I feel like what you do with your learning is what determines its meaningfulness in your life.  


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What is Learning?

I asked my class this question this week and had them work in pairs to write down some thoughts on what they thought ‘learning’ was.  The reasons behind my questioning were mostly coming from frustrations – with trying to get my class to add things in their portfolio that showed their learning (rather than just ‘best work’) as well as frustrations with our current classroom environment which resembled a lot of non-thoughtful chaos rather than a culture of thinking.  I was trying to reflect on how I could help them to understand portfolios and how I could get our classroom culture back on track….when it occurred to me that we use the word ‘learning’ with kids all of the time, but do they really know what that means?

I have become a big fan lately of asking my students to define words – partly because I love how they amaze me with their thoughts when they do and partly because I am understanding the important words we use is a key part of the process and helps make sure we know what direction we are heading in.  The pairs of students came up with so many ideas of what they thought learning was, that I realized there were too many things to immediately put up, so I had them look over their list and each pair added two they thought were new but important things to add.

According to our class, learning is….


We took a break to think and later on in the day, we looked at our ideas and applied them to our learning environment (which the kids said was an area where something, human or animal, spends time learning). I gave the students this question to think about in pairs:

IF learning is…….(one of our thoughts), then what do we need in our environment to make it one where we learn?

They had so many ideas that they then got in groups of four and had a discussion in order to choose the three things (from all of their ideas) that they thought were the MOST important things to have in a good learning environment.

A good learning environment needs…

– inquiring minds (yes, their words…surprised me too)

–  willing to talk and discuss things

– supporting others, helping not laughing at them

– respectful listeners

– cooperating and risk-taking (they felt like those when together, not separate)

– creative ideas

– push ourselves (I taught them about the word perseverance to go with that idea)

– new information (access to it)

– teachers (they pointed out that it could be an adult or another student – they teach each other things)

– books

– technology – computers

– calm

– time to be independent

–  communicating

– honesty

What do you add to the learning environment?

At that point, with all of those things in mind, we did an individual reflection (because I wanted to try and get our environment back into these things…it currently wasn’t many of them).  Who makes the learning environment?  All of us, not just me but every person who is in it.  If that is so, what do you add/do in the learning environment right now?  What things would you like to start adding or doing more often?

As always, this class continues to surprise me with their honesty and openness in reflecting and desire to be learners….

Here are just a few examples (though their reflections were all as different and unique as they tend to be)

I am good at having creative ideas, sharing my ideas, using my brain, my listening brain, discussing things and doing poems.  I would like to do better at my inquiring mind, being independent in getting new information, my reading brain, not fiddling around and writing stories.

I am good at working with others and remembering what I am supposed to do.  I want to improve at working on my own, looking at what is going on and sharing my ideas.

Right now I am sometimes not a risk-taker because I do not try new things.  I want to be a risk-taker.

I am good at supporting others and risk-taking.  I want to be a more respectful listener and add creative ideas.

I am good at being confident, listening to instructions, taking my time, thinking, pushing my limits and inspiring. I am not always respectful, sometimes noisy and waste my time.


I valued this time a lot and though we were supposed to be learning about a few types of poetry during that time in my planning, I feel like this was more valuable in helping re-direct the culture of our classroom and learning, as well as giving them a better idea of what learning is.  Later on in the week one of my students took a picture of a book and told me she wanted to add it to her Evernote portfolio.  I was a bit frustrated at first that she missed the point of learning portfolios and asked her, “How does a picture of a book show learning?” She responded, “I have learned how to understand stories better and that’s why I got to choose a new level of readers.  This is my new reader – it shows that before I didn’t know what was happening in the stories and I couldn’t have understood this book, but now I do.”  We added it in, with those thoughts included 🙂

Categories: Education | 2 Comments

Creating a Culture of Thinking

I spent the morning in a PD about Creating a Culture of Thinking…which included a focus on making thinking visible and reflecting in order to connect, extend and challenge…in order to make meaningful learning.  I should have written down our exact central idea, but it was something like “Creating a culture of thinking leads to deep inquiry and meaningful learning.”. Which made me think that maybe in order to truly make my learning from this morning meaningful, I should perhaps try again at blogging as an educator.  To make my own thinking visible and meaningful rather than just a day where I got some temporary inspiration that will quickly become lost amidst the paperwork and everyday demands that surround us all.

I chose a culture of thinking because I’ve realized that this is the core of my values and beliefs about learning and something that I feel I have a lot of room to grow in.  I am challenged that somewhere over these past eleven years since university, I have lost a some of the big ideas in my excitement over great activities.  I love great activities and there are so many of them out there, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes I don’t think about their value and purpose.  It pains me a bit to realize that I need to let go of some of them.  But letting go is a theme that I keep coming across – that to truly create a culture of thinking I need to let go of some good things in order to make room for great thinking.

I connected with …

– when we make our thinking visible, it becomes more meaningful.

– sharing in small groups is much more engaging than waiting for individuals to answer in a large group (whether you are adult or child)

– teachers need to model, structure and take time for thinking in order to create a culture of thinkers.

I extended my learning through…

– thinking through what core words mean as an important start to learning – what is ‘culture’, ‘thinking’, ‘deep inquiry’ and ‘meaningful learning’?

– the idea that we can and should take time to reflect throughout learning – its not just an end thing.   Taking some tme to pause throughout the process.

– making sure questions are meaningful to students (rather than just another to-do from the teacher). Having students share their inquiry questions in groups and getting questions/feedback/refinement from their classmates before continuing them.

Things that still challenge me…

– learning more about the thinking routines and how to use them in my classroom – which ones are appropriate for which situations and age (making them meaningful rather than just another activity)

– helping students who love fast, quick, easy problems and the ‘right answer’ transition to and enjoy a culture of thinking that can take time and thought (and doesn’t always leave you with a clear right answer)

I would love to say that I am going to walk in the classroom tomorrow and have an incredible culture of thinking and the perfect classroom now that I am enlightened.  But I know better.  Perhaps one of the most meaningful things I have been learning is that I will never do things perfectly (which frustrates me -I like being right and quick, easy answers) and there will always be something to improve, but that doesn’t mean it’s too hard or too difficult or not worth pursuing because little by little through trial and error I’ll end up closer to my goal than when I started…and become a better thinker and learner myself.  If I’m not willing to try, how can I ask anything of my students?

Categories: Education | Tags: | 7 Comments

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