Monthly Archives: January 2010

>Learning Logs: Develop Metacognitive Skills, Guide Teaching, Provide Authentic Assessment

>Why I Love Learning Logs

Looking for another way to improve students’ metacognitive skills/abilities? (e.g.
Looking for another way to connect with students? For another way to reflect on/guide your teaching in the classroom? For another means of authentic assessment?

Try using Learning Logs in the classroom!

(A) What they are:
1. Learning Logs are classroom journals.
2. They are diaries of a sort. 
3. They are used by students to keep and honest and reflective record of their understanding of subject areas (e.g. Math, Science, Social Studies, Writing Workshop, Reading, etc.).
4. They are notebooks in which to record their thoughts, observations, questions and concerns.
5. They are flexible: to be used in all subject areas.
6. They are “kid friendly”: children can “write” what they know; “draw” what they know; “list” what they know; “web” what they know; “diagram” what they know; etc. Often students choose the format for their response (e.g. paragraphs, webs, lists, graphs, charts,pictures, diagrams, etc.) (When they choose the format that is most comfortable for them I get a better sense of what they do and do not understand.)

(B) The goals:
1. The goal is for students to become increasingly responsible for their own learning …. to become constructive, reflective thinkers/learners.
2. The goal is for me, as the teacher, to be “in the loop” with regard to what my students strengths and needs are, and to adjust my program accordingly!

(C) Be a fly on my classroom wall: The Latest Learning Log Entries in My Classroom
1. Explain the process of long division (… most students created diagrams … lots of numbers, words & arrows!)
2. Compare your life to the lives of children in Ancient Egypt ( … most students created a Venn Diagram …)
3. Explain the digestive system (… most students created diagrams.)
4. What test taking strategies have worked best for you so far this year? Explain your answer. (… formats varied.)

(D) Why I love them:
I love Learning Logs for all sorts of reasons.
The three main reasons I use them are as follows:
1. They encourage students to reflect upon, to think about what they know and why/how they know what they know. Heightens their metacognitive skills (see
2. They help guide my teaching. Student entries get me thinking about my practice: What is working in the classroom? What am doing right? What do I need to change about my lessons/program? What do my students understand? What concepts are they having difficulty with? Who has well developed metacognitive skills?)
3. They are another means of authentic assessment


(E) Interested in learning more?

>Test Taking Skills & Strategies

>My 5 favourite sites for test taking skills and strategies! 
 (Sites to share with bith students & parents)

>Gummy Bear Math: Graphing & Finding The Mean, The Median & The Mode

>Gummy Bear Math: Graphing & Finding The Mean, The Median & The Mode
Delicious & Fun! Fun! Fun!

(A) Goal:
– To engage students in a fun(!) and rewarding Math activity
– To promote positive group skills
– To demonstrate a solid understanding of 4 specific Math concepts: graphing, mean, median, mode

(B) Materials:
– Gummy Bears (made in a nut / peanut free facility)
– Bowls
– Large bristol boards
– Pencils, rulers, erasers, highlighters
– Markers, colour pencils, glue sticks
– Graph paper
– Hand sanitizer & napkins (Gummy Bears are slippery 😉

(C) Method:
– Review and ensure an understanding of the following math concepts: Different types of graphs; Mode, Median, Mean
– Divide students into groups
– Give each group a bowl of Gummy Bears
– Students divide Gummy Bears into groups according to colour (Allow students to eat a few!!!! It’s only fair ;-))
– Students create bar graphs, line graphs, pictographs, pie charts, etc. to accurately represent the number of red, green, yellow & orange Gummy Bears
– All “5” groups agree on one colour of gummy bear to count and compare. For example:
        Group #1: 18 red Gummy Bears 
        Group #2: 24 red Gummy Bears     
        Group #3: 20 red Gummy Bears 
        Group #4: 18 red Gummy Bears 
        Group #5: 19 red Gummy Bears
– Share/post the above information. Students work together in groups to find the mean, median & mode of red Gummy Bears. Compare answers.
– Each group finds a creative way to display the information gathered on a piece of bristol board
– Display the graphs (based on all colours of Gummy bears); & the mean, median & mode of red Gummy Bears; Include concept definitions (mean, median, mode, types of graphs, etc.) (e.g. draw a creative, colourful frame, pictures, etc. in addition to math)
– Share & display!!!! & eat a few more Gummy Bears 😉 YUM!

Note: This activity could also be easily extended to include and display students’ understanding of fractions and percent.

>My Favourite Classroom Accommodations: Be a Fly on My Classroom Wall

>Be a Fly on My Classroom Wall: My Favourite Classroom Accommodations
(In recognition of & with a special thanks to all of those gifted individuals & websites that helped me to gather these along the way! )

Instructional Accommodations

– Based on individual pycho-educational assessments: build on individual strengths & address needs
– Encourage / model independence
– Provide a highly structured, predictable environment: No surprises! Students must feel valued & safe
– Provide clearly defined rules and expectations – review often
– Minimize distractions – calm, cool, collected; pleasant, positive, predictable
– Prepare students for transitions – again: no surprises
– Establish prerequisite skills – never assume anything
– Cue students before giving directions
– Give clear, simple oral instructions …. one at at time, properly sequenced
– Read and repeat both oral and written instructions; ensure for understanding
– Provide opportunities for students to paraphrase instructions
– Provide opportunities for students to rehearse concepts
– Ongoing repeated review of skills and concepts
– Provide time for discussion
– Provide additional processing time
– Monitor (closely!) understanding of all concepts
– Chunk assignments: Break tasks down into smaller, more manageable, sequential steps/units
– Highlight key words on written assignments / colour code
– Present everything as concretely as possible
– Use colour coding strategies
– Multi-modality teaching
– Supplement lessons with visual aids, and concrete materials (e.g. posters, charts, props)
– Provide/model/teach the use of graphic organizers
– Provide samples of end products
– Homework agendas

Environmental Accommodations
– Create a highly structured environment (safe & secure!)
– Provide consistency (safe & secure!)
– Post timetable & rules in a highly visible area (review often)
– Minimize distractions
– Give clear focusing signals
– Use teacher proximity
– Provide preferential seating
– Vary work surfaces
– Increased breaks

Assessment Accommodations:
– Teach / model study strategies
– Teach / model test taking skills and strategies
– Prepare/explain test expectations
– Provide & share clear criteria for evaluation with students
– Provide examples of end products
– Provide rubrics to ensure understanding of expectations – Provide study guides /review sheets
– Provide reduced / uncluttered test formats
– Reduce the number of questions on each page
– Give short, simple directions
– Encourage students to rephrase/repeat written & oral instructions
– Do whatever necessary to ensure understanding
– Highlight questions/key words/key vocabulary
– Provide vocabulary reference sheets
– Allow for processing time
– Check-in often for understanding
– Accept unconventional spelling
– Use a variety of test techniques /alternative forms of assessment
– Give equal weight to the process (understanding of concepts) & the product (application of concepts)
– Keep work samples

>Dreams in the Classroom


In Honour of Martin Luther King Jr.: In Our Classroom
On January 18th, 2010 we celebrated Martin Luther King’s life, dreams, messages and accomplishments. As a class we looked deep into the life, heart and mind of a great, great man.
We listened to him speak, we heard his words, we read, we role played, we discussed.
The following day, we talked about dreams. What are they? Are they important? Why?
We split into groups and the students read, discussed and debated some famous quotes about “dreams”. We came back as a group to present our findings.
Finally, each student chose a quote and created a poster. Students were encouraged to look within, and to choose a quote that really meant something to them. A quote that they fully understood (& this is not as easy as it seems) and believed in. A quote that they wanted to share with the school. A quote that might resonate with and inspire others.
It was a heartwarming, uplifting, moral boosting, group solidifying, delicious, wonderful experience.
I loved it —- they did too. What a wonderful group.
I have listed the quotes below.
We all have dreams.
Dream Quotes: “I have a dream ….”
“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.”
Henry David Thoreau
“Dreams pass into the reality of action. From the actions stems the dream again; and this interdependence produces the highest form of living.”
Anais Nin
 “The inability to open up to hope is what blocks trust, and blocked trust is the reason for blighted dreams.”
Elizabeth Gilbert
“We grow great by dreams. All big men are dreamers. They see things in the soft haze of a spring day or in the red fire of a long winter’s  evening. Some of us let these great dreams die, but others nourish and protect them; nurse them through bad days till they bring them to the sunshine and light which comes always to those who sincerely hope that their dreams will come true.”
Woodrow Wilson
“Dreams are necessary to life.”
Anais Nin
“To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe.”
Anatole France
“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”
Eleanor Roosevelt
“Commitment leads to action. Action brings your dream closer.”
Marcia Wieder
“Nothing happens unless first a dream.”
Carl Sandburg
“The question for each man to settle is not what he would do if he had means, time, influence and educational advantages; the question is what he will do with the things he has. The moment a young man ceases to dream or to bemoan his lack of opportunities and resolutely looks his conditions in the face, and resolves to change them, he lays the corner-stone of a solid and honorable success.”
Hamilton Wright Mabie
“Without leaps of imagination, or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning.”
Gloria Steinem
“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the  strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”
Harriet Tubman
“The end of wisdom is to dream high enough not to lose the dream in the seeking of it.”
William Faulkner
“There is nothing like a dream to create the future.”
Victor Hugo
“A man’s dreams are an index to his greatness.”
Zadok Rabinowitz
“The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dreams shall never die.”
Edward Kennedy
“I have spread my dreams beneath your feet. Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”
W.B. Yeats
“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.”
Henry David Thoreau
“Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.”
Henry David Thoreau
“Dreams are the touchstones of our character.”
Henry David Thoreau
“Hope is the dream of the waking man.”
French Proverb

>Assessments in the Classroom


Frequent Assessments in the Classroom
I am a total convert … I use frequent assessments & I love them!
When I first considered the idea, I thought, “Wow … from the outside this seems like a good deal of paper & pencil work!” … In recognition of this I make “doubly sure” to adopt a balanced student & teacher directed approach to learning. I  adopt collaborative learning, cooperative learning, discovery-based learning, engaged learning, problem-based learning, strategies etc. … whatever I can grab!
Two examples of frequent assessments in my classroom are as follows:

1) MATH:  

My Grade 5 students have a “Math Pop Quiz” book …

Every Friday at 9A.M. they write a “Pop Quiz”. 
(Well, it’s not “really” a “Pop Quiz”, as they know that it’s coming!!!)
The quizzes are cumulative, and questions are based on concepts that we have addressed up to “that point” in the school year. Students do not study for these Pop Quizzes. Individual performance is a reflection of what they know/understand in the moment!

Every Friday I will post for example eleven questions on the Smartboard:

• 2 place value questions
• 2 addition with decimals & regrouping questions
• 2 subtraction with decimals & borrowing questions
• 2 multiplication with decimals questions
• 2 long division questions
• 1 problem-solving question
It typically takes my students 20 mins. to write their quizzes. Once they are done students move freely to various centres that have been set up in the classroom, and play a variety of math games. The best part is (believe it or not!) that they love math on Fridays!
Students take their Pop Quiz books home every Friday to be corrected and signed by mum and dad. I love this “routine” as it provides me with a really concrete running record of both students’ skills development and the effectiveness(?) of my teaching strategies.
BONUS: Every week parents have a snapshot of what’s been taking place in the classroom. I also share these Pop Quiz books with parents during interviews/conferences, and with my supervisors. They are just one more “means” of explaining what I am seeing in the classroom!

Twice a week (Tuesdays & Thursdays) at 9A.M. I place a reading comprehension “test” on students’ desks. These activities can be completed in about 20 minutes. Short & sweet! 
I make certain that activities focus on one specific skill at a time, e.g. summarizing information, identifying the main idea, sequence of events, making inferences, making predictions, drawing conclusions, comparing and contrasting information, character, story elements, point of view, author’s purpose, etc. 
At any rate, what I end up with over a very short period of time is a “running” assessment of various reading skills. 
These short activities provide me with additional, concrete materials to add my collection of assessments (e.g. to day-to-day observations, tests and quizzes, rubrics, rating scales, project work, portfolios, student self-assessments, etc.).

BONUS: I show these assessments to parents during interviews/conferences as yet one more “means” of explaining what I am seeing in the classroom!

Boys & Reading: Ready? Set? Go!

“Boys & Reading”: A Few Sites to Consider Along the Road:

As I begin this journey I would certain welcome any suggested strategies/sites/etc.
Let the games begin! 
Sincerely,  Ally
1. “Mentoring Boys: Boys and Literacy” @
2. “Lets ge Boys Reading” @
3. “Let’s Get Boys Reading –  Top Tips” @
4. “Tips for encouraging your boy to read” @