Tag: student engagement

Greg’s How? – A Guest Post

Friday was my last bus trip with the senior basketball team. Greg, the grade 3, 4, & 5 teacher at the school, is the coach; I just kinda tag along because, although we are a ‘senior boys’ team made of two schools and many kids, hence the ‘need’ for both a male and female supervisor.  I’ve miss coaching basketball this year. I usually coach junior boys’ basketball. The first year I was at my current school the junior boys’ basketball team made it to conference finals. This year, we had four students who signed up to play junior ball. This is the nature of sport at a small rural school. So I ride the bus. I play ball at recess, on weekends and in the wee hours on overnight tournaments with the senior kids.  

Many of these students will graduate in June. Last Friday, even more than other times, I needed to make the bus trip. June and graduation are fast approaching. These are the times I value most with kids, when we laugh and tell stories away from formalities. It’s a time for the kids and I to play hide and seek, stay up well into the night sitting in the staff room drinking tea at overnight tournaments, and I especially like the bus rides. These kids are the stories of my life.  

Greg understands my basketball-story and he understands my educator-story.

“A key in negotiating relationships as narrative inquirers is our collective sharing of stories of experience. In the shared vulnerability experienced in this communal process, the space negotiated in the meeting of stories becomes filled with complex understanding of lives, understandings with significant potential for shaping cultural, institution, personal, and social transformation” (M. Young et al, 2009).

Greg attends to my narratives.

Because of this, I like visiting with Greg.

He smiles easily. Friday we lost by 60 points. Our team laughed the entire game, much of that was because of Greg’s lead.

I’ve never heard him raise his voice. Greg reminds me of my Dad’s ways of being with kids: easy going, organized, project based. My Dad always listened to kids, and Greg does too. Because of this, I feel Greg is able to see the whole court, to see the play develop.

I like that he teaches younger kids and shares their success stories all the time. I like that he seeks feedback about the kids he teaches. I like that the senior kids and I have been invited into his room so often I’ve lost count, and that I’ve collaborated with him so often that the senior kids reflected positively on those moments with the younger grades in their term final projects. I like that the stories of his kids and their families are honored.

I learn from Greg every day.

Bus rides are times bouncing, talking about how to make learning fun.

We share project ideas, dream up ways we can collaborate. We talk about what schooling should feel like, look like. We share our families too.

However, we are both deeply reflective, enjoying our silence, our books, our writing.  Friday on the three hour regreg and kidsturn trip, I interrupted his writing and asked him for a favour. See, I am often asked how relational narrative inquiry works in a classroom. For the senior students in the Language Learning courses (ELA) whom I live alongside, stories come rather easily. Greg teaches an eclectic and active group of young learners’ with grades 3 to 5 in the same room. Usually, by the end of the bus tip, we’ve each jotted down a few educational ideas.

Friday I wrote about the professional role he sees for me, and the similarities between Pre-K and senior ELA courses.

However, Friday I also asked him to share the notes I had watched him make over the six hour bus trip.

His class is the kind of learning space that attends to students’ passions (relational narrative inquiry) and is where I’d like to hang out. I think you’ll understand why once you come to know the ‘How’ of Greg’s relational learning space.

Bus trips with Cori are always inspiring to me. She loves education and that is contagious.

We believe in so many of the same things regarding the well-being of our students and at the same time she challenges me with her perspectives. I think we have the same passion but different experiences brought us to the same bus.

On the long trip home I began to write about my dream 2013-14 school year teaching my grade 3, 4, 5 class. My dream seems realistically within arms length.

I received a Christmas gift from my wife Lia, The Dalai Lama’s Little Book of Wisdom which I read passages from often. Today I read: …I consider hatred to be the ultimate enemy. By ‘enemy’ I mean the person or factor which directly or indirectly destroys our interest. Our interest is that which ultimately creates happiness. This passage struck me because I had to think about what His Holiness meant. Then I got it. This is the entire crux of what I try to do with my students. In education speak we replace the word interest with engagement. So being engaged in what you are learning about equals happy, eager learners.

From my experience this is one hundred percent accurate. I went from a Kinesiology D student to an honours grad in International Studies. I was the same person, with the same brain, same attitudes about education, same values, but I found interest and value in International Studies and not in Kinesiology.

What are you interested in? I’m interested in having a happy day…aren’t you? What makes my days at work happy are smiling faces, chatter, playfulness, and above all the questions I get when my kids ask, “when are we going to work on __________?” The blank is anything, but more often then not it is a project we are working in. This is interest, and engagement.

These are some of the notes about my next year I wrote on the bus ride last night:

Inquiry projects.
New project every 10 days.
Each would have written and presentation component and would be tied to either ss, science, or health.
There would be a big idea presented by me, then they would come up with the questions which would drive their learning.

Maybe the first couple days of each project we could focus on the ELA aspects of the project, the conventions of the different products we are going to be doing.

A key resource I should try to utilize would be families of the students. At beginning of each project I could send a homework note home informing parents of what the class is learning about and the. Have the students go through the KWLH chart with their parents to see if they have anything to bring to the table (expertise, resources to share, know of someone who could come and speak on the topic, insight into the topic other finding info).

There would be self, peer, and teacher evaluation for each and sometimes we could have an outside audience evaluate as well

We would not have time slotted for ELA and the other subjects we would have inquiry project time.

I need to remember to keep things simple. Simplicity and challenge is the key to engagement at this age.

Flow of ELA products I would like. What would be the best progression?  Skit. Formal essay. Narrative. Poetry. Slide presentation. Comic. Graphic novel. Online story.  Paragraph. Model/diagram. Song or rap.  Podcast or radio show. Poster.  Formal letter, resume of famous Canadian scientist/FNIM/other

Math could also be driven this way as I’m trying to do with the 5s right now.

Now I also need to figure out how to do this for 2 different groups at the same time.
Might not be too hard if they by into it and they could all collaborate on each others subjects/big ideas/driving questions.

Engagement piece at the beginning. You are going to be in charge of your education, in charge of what you learn, in charge of what this year is going to look like for you.

At the end of each project we will check in on how things went and do shout outs and suggestions to motivate for the next one and keep improving for the future.

Questions about inquiry project structure.
How to know if you’re going deep enough into the content area. You present a big idea and let the students take it where they want. But how do you get them the info to want to ask the tough questions. Like if the topic is light science, students think of light and they have never thought about it before, light is just there we use it, big deal.
How do we get them to ask the probing questions?  What is the hook? It has to be connected to an interest area, something they have prior experience with so they have a jumping off point.
And what about those things that students should at least be familiar with, like the names of the provinces and territories, does it really matter or is that one of those things that some kids will pick on and some won’t no matter how Canadian geography is taught?

What about the reading aspects of my ELA program? How do I integrate that with the resources I have at school? My current resource is reading A to Z which has some connections but not a lot. How do I make this happen, I’m fine with working with my librarian but she is not a teacher librarian.

Outdoor education, I would like to do this stuff outside. Have a place outside where we can sit, share ideas, learn, write. Maybe around the ball diamond. Could we make seats like the one I have that you lean back on?

So planning before the year: project big ideas. Diving in points or ‘hooks’ to get the unit going. Reproducible (calendar, rubrics to start with, templates for notes- 4 squares, sequence of ELA products.)

Day 1. Big idea
ELA project
Expectations
Rubric for ELA part and maybe for other subject area too
Write note to parents as class
KWLH and have parents do their own on the subject!
Day 2. Review homework thoughts and build on them to come up with driving questions and project ideas.
Focus on ELA stuff again today
Think up supplies needed

Day 3. Dive into project
Still spend time on learning the ins and outs of the ELA components.

Greg Kotschorek

~

Greg is Dad to Bodhi, and partner to Lia. Greg teaches and learns alongside students in grades 3, 4 & 5 at Mortlach School, Canada. Greg coaches senior basketball and many other sports. If you get the chance, chat with Greg, play ball with Greg. You’ll have fun. Find him here.

The Gifts of Her Space

The best part of my world is being able to share this space with Jessy Lee, my daughter. She amazes me. She is my best support andjess and me cabin my loudest advocate. She is almost 16 years old, an avid reader and a published author. These last few months I’ve watched her craft her first novelette. Okay, not her first long text, but her first fully researched well thought-out and stressed-over text. Watching her live this process I’ve come to remember a few things: she’s passionate, she’s resilient and she’s the best teacher I know.

This past summer while I crammed my-brain-full-of-often-regurgitated-goodness-don’t-think-for-yourself-articles, my daughter was living her craft. She attended Sage Hill Teen Writing experience for young writers where she learned that often the best things to write about are the farcical events from personal experience. At the end of that week Jess, my sister and I attended Saskatchewan Festival of Words. While each of us had full passes and we all snuck off on our own during the day to savour our favourite authors and genres, we met up during larger sessions. While the three of us ate lunch that Friday in July, my sister and I were quite downcast, missing Don Kerr’s noon reading from the previous year that reminded us of our spunky Nana; my sister and I simply braved Douglas Gibson, a publisher. But Jess was riveted. She stayed afterwards and chatted. She nabbed the book I’d purchased – of course I’d purchased Gibson’s book. He’s Munro’s publisher, and all things Munro must come home, to be read dozens of times and alter my perspectives of self, of relationship, of faith and of conformity – and Jess had Gibson sign the book.

“That’s so me. If he can do that, so can I.” Jess stood fierce. Her soccer nickname is Shin-Kicker and the glaze of her eyes as she then gathered Maureen Jennings’ books deposited them in front of me and strode out the door to Jennings’ session had nothing on any game play. She’d simply made up her mind.

By late August the characters had come together. The plot was beginning to form. We’d go for long car rides, her forgoing the chance to soak-up time behind the wheel prior to her driver’s test to hold me captive to discuss characterization – Can you envision them being friends? Would you do this? – and setting – What do you mean this feels like Alberta? Well that’s just wrong. How? Oh, okay, so the river needs to run nearer town; I’ve the town mapped out. This doesn’t make sense if the rail line came through Saskatchewan only a few years before the murder – and then we’d make yet another pass through The Avenues.

I began receiving texts on Fridays last Fall:

Take your time, I want to write.

Why not go out for supper with friends, there’s some research I need to do.

In her clothing class she longed for a research project in the time period of her story. Dinner became filled with lengthy stories dancing between friends, soccer and detailed descriptions of 1910 footwear.

Do you know?books

She read all Jennings work. We watched the Murdock Mysteries over and over and over.

And she wrote. I’ve never seen anyone so focused.

This summer at the Festival she had listened to Terry Fallis share how he had published his novel online with much success chapter by chapter before the novel had been picked up by a publisher. This had happened before Fallis had submitted his work for the Leacock and had won.

Though Jess has been published traditionally, she wanted to try publishing her own story online. Last summer she expressed that if Fallis could do it, so could she. Not much daunts Jess.

And she understood she needed this online perspective. After all, she’s going to open her own publishing house. Ask her, she’ll tell you.

Watch. She’ll show you.printed

So, by last November the novelette was crafted, printed and we were back to driving around. The jaunts became longer. Much coffee was consumed. We visited many small towns hours away.

All of this and she plays competitive soccer five nights a week, writes to perform spoken word and there is school too.

The point? She is living it!

I’ve heard writers, friends, family and educators say that the difference between good writers and great writers is that they write. But I am beginning to wonder if the difference between writers (all of us) and those (kids) who grow up to publish great Jess reading 2writers is that they have been taught the skills to create with minimal support, they seek critical feedback without pause, they envision themselves as becoming successful and, most importantly, they find great personal joy in the process.

Now, imagine if all our learning spaces might be like this…

A Prep-Day Chat

I had a really neat chat with Greg, one of the new staff at my school Friday.

He and I were chatting about his Information Processing course. If you’ve ever read that curriculum, it can feel older than microfiche.

Our school is a rather small K-12 rural school with one computer lab. Though you’d think access to computers wouldn’t be an issue, it is. The timetable goes up and it’s a scramble to get time in the lab.

I’m lucky because in my classroom space I have five computers. My home room has seven students. But my senior ELA class is a bit greater than that. And we like to be together during the creative process rather than scattered around the school finding open computers … But that brings me back to IP.

I teach senior ELA, senior History and a few other courses. The first thing I do every year is get my kids started or refreshed in their on-line spaces. And as my divinely patient principal can attest, last June as the schedule was being made, I ached to be assigned to teach IP so that I would have the time and the access to technology with all my students, while we learn all our subjects. Alas, it simply wasn’t possible for me to teach IP.

Here is the beauty of yesterday’s conversation with Greg: He and I chatted about how our courses could be mutually supportive. We decided that, in all subjects, the kids will be working with me and with him. He’ll set up our Google accounts the first week, then our other accounts, all those essentials that, in the past, I have taken time to set up in ELA or History. By using collaborative teaching, we are ensuring that tech skills are valued alongside ELA and History skills.

As Greg and I chatted and bounced ideas off each other, I began to feel like something magical was happening. I often hear that we should try to make our classrooms a collaborative space, but wow, Friday that collaboration became lived in me, and in my colleague. Imagine how that might transfer to our kids? Think of the possibilities for student engagement? This makes the little hairs on my arms stand up, you know. Good, good stuff.

I was at school Saturday, and Greg and I talked about Friday’s conversation. About how special a jumping off point it had been for both of us, he having shared with his partner, me with mine. I asked Greg if I could share here.

You know, years ago I believed that technology was about tools. Now I know, for me, it never will be. Yesterday, in my room, prepping for the first day of the new school year, I sought many expert voices, all of them knowing way more about the tools than I. I asked my Learning Consultant, one of my students, a colleague. But what struck me as Greg and I were chatting was that I had been organizing with these expert voices technology-based learning experiences all day. What struck me was that I’m simply passionate about the need to embed technology in meaningful ways for our kids.