Monthly Archives: March 2011

Class Meetings: Building a Classroom Community

Class Meetings: Building a Classroom Community

Encouraging students to be respectful, empathetic & engaged
Sometimes I find it hard to believe that as educators there’s any time left during the day to teach “The 3 Rs” (… but somehow we manage to do it). As someone who has been teaching for 16 years now I find that we are required to cover so much more in the classroom than ever before. Outside of the “3 Rs” we address social/cultural awareness, world issues, character building, issues around “bullying”,  social skills, fundraising, problem solving, etc. … and it’s all so very important! Speaking as someone who wants to do her best to “address it all” – to meet the needs of all students – I have found a way that works best for me. I set aside 40 minutes of class time (last period every Friday) every week to hold Class Meetings.

Class Meetings are just that. A time for students to sit and discuss issues that speak to them. They are student directed and teacher facilitated. The agenda is set by the group and depends on the group’s various interests, needs and concerns at any one time.
Note: I always have – in my back pocket – a drama activity related to a theme (e.g. problem-solving, conflict management, friendship, etc.) “just in case” we run out of things to say (which hardly ever happens).
 Overall …

Class meetings are about … 

  • … trust
  • … communication – giving students a voice
  • … community building
  • … authentic problem-solving
  • … constructive decision-making

Class meetings encourage the development of … 

  • … personal & social awareness
  • … trust & respect
  • … active listening skills
  • … effective speaking skills
  • … empathy & understanding
  • … an awareness of cause & effect
  • … problem solving skills
  • … friendships, of a class community
  • … social responsibility

Class meetings encourage students to feel … 

  • … listened to/heard
  • … important
  • … empowered
  • … a sense of ownership
  • … a sense of responsibility

Conversation / Communication Skills: My Top Ten

Conversation / Communication Skills: My Top Ten

If you were a fly on my classroom wall you would note that we spend a significant amount of time focussing on communication skills. I do my very best to ensure that my students work toward becoming effective speakers and listeners.

When discussing and “playing around with” the concept of developing speaking skills (and by this I mean in a very general sense) I encourage my students to consider, explore and develop the following:

Speaking Skills: My Top Ten

1. Purpose: Know what it is that you want to express/say. Clarify your aim & your purpose.

2. Processing: Give yourself permission to think about what it is that you want to say and achieve. Allow for processing time. Give yourself time to think and speak.

3. Rehearsal: Mentally rehearse your ideas, understanding of concepts, and opinions before sharing them with the group.

4. Organization: Organize your thoughts and ideas. Keep them as straightforward as possible. Ensure for a sense of direction.

5. Clarity: Ensure that you are audible. Enunciate your words properly. Use a pleasant tone and consider volume and pacing.

6. Connecting: Consider your “audience”. You are there to connect with them – you are not performing a monologue.

7. The Listener: Face the listener(s). Ensure that the listener(s) is ready and is available (physically & emotionally).

8. Tolerance:
Be accepting and considerate of the thoughts, ideas and values of others.

9. Manners: Be polite. Watch your manners.

10. Non-verbal Messages:Consider the non-verbal messages that you are both sending and receiving.

>Critical Thinking Skills in the Classroom

>Critical Thinking Skills in the Classroom

The other day one of my students overheard me speaking with a colleague about encouraging the development of critical thinking skills in the classroom. This student later pulled me aside to ask me about the conversation. She told me that she was confused. She understood “critical” as something “bad or scary” (her words). I realized in that one moment that while I was trying my best to encourage critical thinking skills in the classroom, I had never really talked to my Grade 5 students about this concept. Well, I resolved to do just that the following day: Friday.

Every Friday we conduct a “Class Meeting”. Class Meetings are a time for us to gather together at the carpet to talk about successes, questions and concerns. We talk about things like friendship, academics, problems on they playground, goals, society, etc.. The students set the agenda, and I don’t so much lead as facilitate the meetings. Anyway, this meeting time provided the perfect opportunity to discuss the concept of critical thinking skills as a group. Needless to say it was a successful and personally rewarding experience. (I have included some notes from the meeting below.)

To follow up, on Monday I asked my students to record what they had learned from the experience in their Learning Logs. The entries were amazing! Their entries were in the form of webs, lists, diagrams, comics, illustrations, journal entries, etc.. If you had been a fly on my classroom wall that Monday you would have seen a smile on my face as I read through each entry. Only time will tell if their experiences in the classroom will be any different as a result.


P.S. I have included points from our discussion below. I’d love to know whether anyone has had similar discussions or experiences with their students and the outcome(s).

Critical Thinking Skills in the Classroom

(A) The Environment: As Teachers:

… Provide love & structure.

… Be firm but fair.

… Provide an environment in which students feel safe and secure; free to explore, make mistakes & share outcomes.

… Always plan three lessons in one: 1. To inform & engage the class; 2. Activities for those who “get it” right away & want/need more; 3. Additional activities for those who require further review & repetition; additional support.

… Encourage critical thinking.

(B) Critical Thinking: Encourage students to …

… Observe; experience.

… Explore; explain.

… Reflect.

… Asks questions.

… Take risks.

… Be open to new ideas and ways of looking at things.

… Communicate: Practice active listening – listen openly & optimistically.

… Communicate: Speak up & take action.

… View challenges as opportunities for growth & development.

… Take responsibility – for successes & failures.

…  Acknowledge individual/group assumptions and biases.

… Acknowledge motives; be honest with themselves.

… Be open-minded, active learners.

(C) Provide opportunities for students to … play, create, identify, question, analyze, build, construct, test, question, lead, follow, share ideas, listen to others, learn from mistakes, share accomplishments.

>What Do Good Writers Do?


What Do Good Writers Do?

Two months ago I had a free for all with my students (as so often happens). It all started at 9AM the day before. I told them that we were going to talk about “what good writes do”. We weren’t going to engage in the activity until later the following day, but I wanted them to start thinking about the subject matter — not formally …. I just wanted to prepare them. 

The next day I split them into 3 groups. There was “no pressure”, I just wanted them to throw some ideas around. After some time (when the hum of activity started to die down) we came together as a class and I opened the floor. We talked about “what good writers do” and I wrote their ideas down on chart paper (now there’s a blast from the past). (Note: I was not so much the leader, but rather the facilitator & recorder.) We also voted on one key word to highlight/colour code in every “idea”.  
I have since posted our findings from that day on our classroom wall, and we add to it every now and then … whenever we see fit.

& So … if you were a fly on my classroom wall this is what you would see; here’s what we came up with:  (… I wonder what your students would say to you if presented with the same question?)


Good writers …….

express their ideas – they aren’t afraid or ashamed. They are risk-takers. They are playful … they explore …. they get messy.
… write often; practice.
… can get stuck; have off days.
… understand why they are writing; have established a purpose, a goal, a plan.
… have strategies & tools.
… develop strong introductions – they hook the reader.
… know that they are writing to entertain as well as to inform.
… develop satisfying, interesting endings.
organize their ideas & present them thoughtfully.
… think about voice; they want their personality to shine through.
… choose their words carefully.
… write sentences that are interesting & varied; they have rhythm and flow.
… pay attention to grammar & spelling.
… write & rewrite & rewrite & rewrite; they produce many drafts.
share their creations.
… can ask for help.
… are open to new ideas; they weigh suggestions carefully, & accept constructive criticism gracefully.

>Bringing Earth Hour into the Classroom!

>Bringing Earth Hour into the Classroom!

This year Earth Hour is on Saturday, March 26th at 8:30 P.M..
In support of this – & in order to raise student awareness – I’m switching the lights off in my classroom for one hour on the 25th! Why not join me!

On Friday the 25th I plan to turn the lights out in my classroom. We will also turn off our Smart Board, computers, etc.
What do I plan to do for that hour?
I plan to read to my students by candle light (I have a magnificent candelabra simply fit for the occasion) and hold a Class Meeting (time permitting) about our community & environmental awareness. Last year I did just that and the students loved it!
My students loved watching me bring the ornate candelabra to the table and light all 5 candles (fire in the classroom!). They loved sitting at the carpet and listening to a story read to them by candle light. There was something warm and inviting, and just so very special about the experience.

& So … if you have time this Friday please join me in bringing Earth Hour into the classroom!


P.S. With Earth Hour and Earth Day around the corner I thought I’d share some sites that I have found useful in the past. They include links to great energy resources for the classroom and experiments. (“A complete guide to having a green eco friendly Earth Day Earth Month Earth Hour Green Day with Earthday Projects Ideas Crafts Actitivies.”) (“specialized resources relating to the Kids’ World of Energy workshops”) (“Learn about Earth Hour. Learn how you can conserve energy for Earth Hour and Every Hour.”) (“Grade 5 Science and Technology. Matter Energy Forces Weather. Human Organ Systems. Human Body Adventure – great web site from Life …”) (“California Energy Commission’s energy and environmental education site for students, parents and teachers. Materials for students from kindergarten through …”) (Great Energy Links & Resources page) (Earth Day Experiments for Kids. Earth Day is the perfect opportunity to teach kids about our environment and the world in which we live.”) (“Earth’s Birthday Project provides teachers with effective Earth Day related learning … Learn how the air becomes dirty (Includes classroom experiments) …” )

Also … check out  Earth Day TV ( for a selection of videos and more!

>Math is Fun – Free On-Line Games

>Math is Fun – Free On-Line Games

Before the March Break a mum asked me for a math booklet … Something for her child to work on over the March Break. Normally I would offer suggestions for “real life” math activities (e.g. cooking, estimating a grocery bill or a bill at a restaurant, calculating elapsed time when planning for the day’s activities, etc.) instead of paper and pencil work, but as the student was quite keen and had also asked for activities I made a “Fun Booklet” for her to take away.

In addition to the activity booklet I provided the family with a list of web sites to explore that offer free online math games.  (I actually went through quite a few of the sites/games with the student so that she could be the expert, and have a little more independence at home – be a more self-directed learner.)

I really do hope that my student has enjoyed her break and that she engaged in some of the activities that were provided — and if not that’s perfectly fine as well. She has worked hard First & Second Terms and deserves a little down time.

Anyway, I have provided a list of the sites that I suggested they explore in case anyone else is interested. Oh! & Games on these sites are often used as one “math centre” during the school day (on our Smart Board).



>What is Differentiated Teaching?

>What is Differentiated Teaching?

 Differentiated teaching is ….

  • an educational philosophy
  • a philosophy to be put into practice
  • student centered
  • sensitive to individual students’ strengths & needs
  • understanding & responding to students’ individual background knowledge, interests, readiness, abilities & learning styles
  • providing students with options – with different ways to process, make sense of & work with ideas and concepts according to individual needs
  • maximizing opportunities for learning
  • incorporating whole-class, group and individual instruction
  • a flexible approach to teaching
  • organic not static
  • employing various teaching strategies, activities & assessment tools according to need
  • … finally, differentiated instruction is just good teaching