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Teacher Inquiry: My Wondering (Post 2)

I spoke in my previous post about teacher inquiry as a process in which teachers use their own skills, power, and creativity to solve a problem that exists in their classroom; a problem that if solved would improve student achievement in some way. I challenged you to state a wondering of your own, as well. This wondering should be something that you’re passionate about finding an answer to!

(Click here to read the introductory post….) 

 

 

Teacher Inquiry

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My wondering for my Master’s course requirement came at the end of this past school year. I had many different wonderings floating around in my head at the time. They dealt with whole class instruction, engagement,  behavior, and other issues as well. The process of defining a wondering is key because it is this question which will drive the entire inquiry. Since it was the end of the school year and I was not going to have my students in front of me during the inquiry, I identified an inquiry that I could explore in the summer months.

As a Math teacher, one issue arises for me each September. Students come back from a summer of rest and relaxation, and I am so happy to see them! Unfortunately, I find that many students tend to regress in their skills and we spend the first couple of weeks of school bringing them back up to speed. I wish I was able to start the grade level curriculum more quickly, and so I started to wonder… I wondered if there was a way to work with students over the summer to help maintain their math skills to lessen this regression. My students and I were also participating in a technology pilot at the time, which ended up having a significant impact on how I organized my inquiry. When it came down to defining my wondering, I knew I wanted to follow my passion for Math, and try to incorporate technology and attempt to increase or at least maintain student achievement.

My wondering for my inquiry was: How can I use technology (Khan Academy, Sumdog and Google Classroom) to help my grade 7 students maintain their Math skills over the summer months? 

In upcoming posts, I will discuss where I went from here with my teacher inquiry. So, any wonderings coming to mind? Please share by commenting below! I know many are already back in classrooms, although I do not personally start back with students until September 8th. I wonder…could we ever create an online group of teacher inquirers this school year? Any interest – please let me know and we’ll see what we can do!

Teacher inquiry

Getting Started with Teacher Inquiry

I am proud to say that I have officially finished 9 of my 10 Masters courses (insert applause here). It has been a busy 12 months! My program really has changed me as a teacher – my planning, instruction, and how I regard assessment.

One course that I took a couple of months ago was “Action Research”. Before beginning the course, I was shaking in my boots. I envisioned research methods from my undergrad degree – reliability and validity, controlling variables and looking for statistically significant results…Shudder… I remember thinking, “It’s almost the end of the school year. I DO NOT have time to conduct RESEARCH!” As it turns out, I learned in the first week that action research has many other names, including “teacher inquiry”, and it was nothing like what I had pictured. I have come to prefer the term “teacher inquiry” to “action research”. I find it less intimidating – if that makes any sense! But, they do refer to the same process.

So, why have I chosen to share with you, my first venture into teacher inquiry? Well, as a requirement of my program, I had to conduct a teacher inquiry of my own. One of the major elements upon the completion of a teacher inquiry is to share what happened – the results, what I learned, and what it all means. So, as part of the “sharing” component I decided to share here on my blog with all of you. It’s too much to share in one post, so you can expect a few upcoming posts highlighting the whole process.

teacher inquiryWhat you need to understand, if you are new to teacher inquiry, is that it is a simple, yet complex process. Time-consuming, yet rich in professional development opportunities. The entire process begins with what is called a “wondering”. This is a question that you wish you had the answer to. It may be something that you think about on the drive home, or discuss with your spouse or colleagues, or something that rolls around in your mind as you try to sleep. As educators, we all have wonderings, of sorts….How can I help So-and-So be more organized? What can I do to increase student engagement? What can I do to improve achievement with this unit? How can I incorporate more technology into my course? What can I do to make So-And-So stop blurting out in class? How can I get all of my students to actually LEARN their times tables this year? These were all potential wonderings for me as I started the process of teacher inquiry. I encourage you to think about a question, a wondering, that you would like help with. It should be something that would improve life in your classroom and in return, increase student achievement – which is what it’s all about – helping kids learn and have success. 

 

I’m including a link to our course text, in case teacher inquiry sounds like something that you would like to explore this school year. In my opinion, the book was extremely helpful and user-friendly:

The Reflective Educator’s Guide to Classroom Research: Learning to Teach and Teaching to Learn Through Practitioner Inquiry

 

So, as I leave you to reflect on your own personal wondering, know that teacher inquiry is simply a structured method to help you find the answer(s) to that question. It is empowering, and helps teachers to find the answers to their own questions. So, what’s your wondering?

 

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Ahhh…Professional Development – Gotta Love It!

Okay, you’re about to learn to what extent of nerd I am – if you didn’t already know. I love PD. I know, I know….what a geek! But you know what? I’m 30 and I can be a geek if I want to!

There’s something about professional development that makes me feel…. well…like a professional! Now,

 

I’m not talking about the “jumping through hoops” or “developing for the sake of developing” kind of PD. I’m talking about the really good stuff! New and inspiring ideas, fresh perspectives, and practical strategies that make me want run to my classroom to show my students. THAT’S the kind of PD I love.

 We have our 2 day Teachers’ Convention tomorrow and Friday. Every teacher in the province will be there – all 1500 of us, all under one roof. I think that’s so cool! No other province in Canada can house all of its teachers in one ballroom all at the same time, but because we’re small – we can! I love the conversations and connections, the lunch time chat (not having to shovel my food before duty) and feeling like I belong. I only ever wanted to be a teacher and our Annual Convention reaffirms my chosen life-path and career (although my students do that most days, too).

Oh, and one of my teacher-friends and I have a room booked in the hotel where the convention is being held, which means some well deserved ME time in the evening. So, that’s a bonus! All in all, I’m pretty excited about the next two days.

So tell me, who else out there is a “closet PD lover”? I promise I won’t tell;)

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Have you gotten your students to assess your teaching yet?

I posted a challenge for you a while back. In case you missed it, I suggested that you ask your students to give you some feedback on your teaching before the end of the year. This is the original blog post: End of the Year Challenge for the Teacher

There are lots of different ways to do this, however, I like to keep it simple. I ask my students to give me three things that I did a good job of, or generally positive comments about me and/or my teaching AND one thing that I could try to improve on for next year.

Well, I would never ask you to do something that I wasn’t going to do myself. So, just the other day, I had my students assess me and my teaching. As always, it was VERY worthwhile and I got lots of helpful feedback for next year. I thought I’d share just a few of these comments with you and remind you to take up the challenge to have your student assess you, if you haven’t done so already. As I said in the original post, you will be putting yourself “out there” when you take on this challenge. Students could try to hurt your feelings, however, I have found that they do take the task seriously for the most part, because I stress that it’s really about me being able to do a better job next year.

I gave my students some ideas to start off with about comments that would be helpful and those that would just be hurtful OR simply not helpful. “Too much homework” would not necessarily be helpful. I asked students to give a possible solution if they had a problem with how things were done this year, rather than just complaining about what they may not have liked. This way, they had to really think about what they were going to write before they wrote it. If they had a problem with how something was taught, this was the time and place to say so, however, I also was asking for a suggestion for how I could have done it differently – again focussing on me trying to improve things for next year.

Here’s what some of my students had to say. You’ll see from some of the comments, why I keep putting myself out there, year after year. It’s always worth it.

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Lessons From The Middle, middle school lessons blog, feedback for the teacher

 

Of course I love the comments that give me the warm fuzzies – especially at this grade level and after a very challenge-filled year. Some students put that there wasn’t anything that they could think of for me to improve – not true…but nice to hear:)  

I also got some great suggestions from my students: More in-class breaks, offering scheduled after school help for all subjects – not just Math, providing more time to rehearse presentations and giving more options for students who don’t like to talk in front of the class, switch from binders to scribblers to be more organized…etc… It was also quite clear that they appreciated the Social Studies and Math projects and games that I worked so hard on this year. I’ll definitely continue with those next year.

So, it’s time. Take on the challenge. As long as your students are still in front of you, it’s not too late. Be brave. Keep an open mind. And of course, let me know how it goes!

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Professional Development: A Summer Reading Challenge

It was such a beautiful day here today – just felt like summer! We’re so close to the end now…I don’t know about all of you, but I’ve had quite a year! I won’t get into all of the gory details, but I am definitely looking forward to a bit of a break. We were in the paper quite a bit this year for different reasons and that will continue on for the next while. This is the most recent news story about my school, but it really is just the tip of the iceberg as far as what’s been going on this year. More details about that later, perhaps.

So believe me when I say, I know how busy and stressed everyone can be – especially at this time of year. We’re all looking at our curriculum documents, making sure (perhaps hoping) that we’ve covered everything…We’re looking at our students – wondering where they will finally finish in terms of placement or promotion into the next grade. It’s a hectic time, I realize. That being said, I have a challenge for you, because I know you’re up for it!

I believe in being a life-long learner. So, every summer, I find the time to read at least one professional book. I’m still on the lookout for what I’ll read this summer, so if you have any suggestions – please let me know! I find, that I have NO time to read much in the way of professional resources during the school year. However, over the summer, I can always find some time at the beach or on a lazy, rainy afternoon to do some reading to improve my practice. I always find lots of strategies, ideas and suggestions that I highlight and make mental notes of that I can use in my classroom the following year. Yes, it is the summer and we all need time off. But I find that when I don’t have the usual stresses of the classroom, picking up a professional resource is more of a pleasure than a pain, because I’m choosing to read it!

My challenge to you, is to find  a professional book to read this summer. Before you run out and buy anything, I suggest checking with the resource department at your school. Chances are, that your resource teachers will have some professional books available that might be right up your alley. Maybe you even have a book in mind right now, something that you’ve been wanting to read, but haven’t gotten around to.

Of course, you need to take the beginning of your summer break to just breathe! Once you’ve gotten some relaxation in – mid-break…let’s say…I challenge you to pick up that professional resource and be one of the “life-long learners” that we encourage our students to be.

Below are some of the books that I’ve read in the last couple of years. If you have no idea what to read – any of these would be good places to start. It really depends on where you are in your career and what you’d like to know more about, or personally work on.

I LOVED each of these books for different reasons. Good luck with finding a book that you’re excited to read this summer and accepting my “challenge”. I bet a lot of you already do this anyway…not much of a challenge for you folks;)

“Motivating Students Who Don’t Care”

This is a quick read, at only 65 pages. It offers 5 main processes for motivating students and reasons why they may be unmotivated in the first place. A great read for those of us who teach middle school especially, where motivation can be a real issue.

“Start Where They Are”

This is a book that I’ve read MULTIPLE times and plan to pick up again this summer. It is the go-to book for doable, differentiation strategies for middle school.

“The First Days of School”

This is a classic for teachers, new and seasoned. It’s full of strategies and ideas to get organized for those first days of the school year, which makes it the perfect summer read.

So, once your year is officially done, take some time for yourself and when you’re ready, pull out that book and enjoy! Please let me know what books you plan to read or are reading, and what you think of them!

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