The Power of Not Yet

The new year is about making positive changes to our behaviours and mindsets, making it the perfect time to consider the growth mindset made popular by Carol Dweck in her 2006 book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. She explained the two mindsets she found in her subjects: fixed mindset and growth mindset.

Since this book became popular, teachers have been helping students identify when they have a fixed mindset (believing we have a fixed amount of intelligence and ability) and reframe their thinking with a growth mindset (believing we have limitless potential to learn and grow).

As teachers, we can access many resources to help support our students understanding of their mindset and how it affects their ability to learn. How we teach today and the language we use can greatly affect how our students see themselves.

Learning How We Learn Best

Talking about how a student learns best and identifying their strengths helps them celebrate what they currently do to learn successfully. It also highlights what they still need to work on to better improve their learning. Whether it is “finding a good fit spot” to learn in or getting started on work right away, this process allows students to focus on a goal. It also helps parents and students understand how we assess and report on learning behaviours. Reminding students of their learning behaviour goals can help them refocus on the learning process, recognizing their ability to learn.

Goal setting

Encouraging students to set goals for learning behaviours and specific subject areas, helps students to understand what they are aiming for and gives them ownership of their learning. Conferencing in small groups allows reflection and discussion time. Some students find this process quite easy by Grades three or four, others may need support and direction until they are older. Goal setting provides a focus for both the student and the teacher to move learning forward.

Mistakes Are How We Learn

Recognizing a mistake as a learning opportunity requires a mindset shift for many students. Regularly discussing the mistakes made and finding out what can be learned helps students reframe their thinking. The obvious place for this to start is math where there is a clear right or wrong answer. Talking about the thinking process allows students to understand how they calculate and listening to others provides a different perspective. Learning from our mistakes and seeing them as an opportunity changes how we approach everything.

The Power of Yet

Building resiliency in students can be challenging but having the language to understand what the “Power of Yet” means that students can understand the possibility of achieving their goal. A wonderful song from Sesame Street says it all:

“Keep trying and you will learn how.

Just breath don’t lose control

Keep trying and you’ll reach your goal

You just didn’t get it yet, but you’ll make it soon I bet

This is what you get with the power of yet.”

Learning is a Journey

Identifying learning as a continuum and helping students understand they are all in different places and that that is okay, takes time but is a worthy pursuit. For example, I ask my students to solve a one/two-step problem in math and when they are finished, they have an option to try a more complex word problem. They begin by highlighting the most important information, then find the math and the operations, then work out the steps. We always do this problem as a class later and students who completed the problem lead the discussion, explaining what they did. We talk about the fact that some students just completed step one where they highlight the important information, others are further along the process. The importance is placed on effort and learning from what we did, not the correct answer. This is all part of building understanding and respect for the learning journey.

Lifelong Growth

We can all learn and grow by thinking about our mindset. Talking to our students about our own mindset and attitude towards learning helps reinforce what we are teaching. I tell myself I spell badly just to help my students see my growth mindset as I am publicly corrected by a student! Demonstrating mistakes and explaining what we learn from them helps students understand that everyone makes mistakes and what we learn them is important.

“You just didn’t get it yet, but you’ll make it soon I bet”

Written by Chris, a teacher in Manitoba

The Joy of Reading

We tend to fondly remember our favourite books from early childhood. What is it about those books that make them unforgettable? For me, it was Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar. I am still unsure if it was the joy of eating through all those gorgeous, bright, appealing foods or if it was the dramatic butterfly ending that made me return to this book repeatedly. It may have simply been the clever holes that matched up on each illustration as I turned the page. Whatever it was that sparked joy for me when reading the hungry caterpillar, it was still there as I read it to my children over twenty years later.

Books are such a wonderful access point for children and stimulate learning in many different areas. Traditionally we taught a theme and pulled out the books related to that theme. Now with more child-led learning, we jump on individualized learning and then try to provide books based on a child’s personal learning preferences. This requires more books or access to more books, and this is where local libraries can be invaluable. Let’s face it, we can’t always store twenty books on one topic but if a child has a particular interest, a local library will be able to provide books to stimulate further investigation and learning.

As our homes become more tech-focused and children read online more, the debate for having books is one this educator does not even consider worth having. There will always be a place for paper/card/board books, especially in daycares and schools. Digital books are a wonderful tool to increase access to reading but do not take the place of paper books. As our children move through the school system, some like to read online but many still prefer to pick up a paper book. This love for reading and choosing to read for pleasure starts at a very young age.

Children need to see language modelled and books provide the perfect example both as listeners and later as readers. Books demonstrate proper sentence structure and this provides a format for the listener to follow and sometimes repeat. Reading builds vocabulary and opportunities for learning at every new read. The discussion that happens around a book can often be as much fun as the actual book and stimulate further learning.

I remember Peter and Jane books from learning to read; Mother cooked breakfast while father sat reading the paper. Peter played with cars and Jane played with dolls. Hopefully, our books are less full of stereotypes and more open-minded now but as educators, we need to be ready to address issues that arise from book discussion. Choosing social stories that explain a situation and how characters dealt with problems can be a useful way to model positive behaviour. Some children find it easier to understand and relate to characters in a book, than direct behaviour discussion. A storyline with characters facing problems similar to what our children face every day can help to build empathy and understanding among children.

Having books as accessible as toys for young children encourages children to copy the behaviour they see modelled. As an adult, I choose the books I see selected and displayed by librarians. I know they have been highlighted because somebody loved them and this encourages me to explore what they have to offer. Having books available as part of our seasonal or thematic learning encourages children to makes links and develop further understanding. Books on engineering beside the block play area, books on how cars are made beside the car bin and cookbooks beside the kitchen play area are examples of how we can use books to complement the beautiful spaces we provide for our children.

Having dramatic play options related to books we read provides an opportunity for embedding understanding. Reading about a visit to the doctor and then role-playing with a doctor’s kit or reading about Little Red Riding Hood and then using wooden characters to retell the story allows children to explore the language in a book and use it authentically. Flannel boards are also great options for bringing the story to life. Providing these opportunities to practise using concepts and a language in a book helps to embed learning and understanding.

Sharing well-loved books are one of the many joys of teaching young children. Seeing children’s rapt faces, anticipation building and then understanding dawning after a good book, is a privilege educators all over the world understand and love.

Written by Chris, an early years teacher in Manitoba

Valentine’s Love in Your Classroom

Valentine’s Day is the perfect time to discuss emotional wellness and student self-care.

Traditionally the emphasis was on card and gift giving, whereas now we often tend to promote love and kindness on Valentine’s Day. Discussing the different types of love, whether for our parents, neighbours or fellow classmates, allows students to think about the huge concept of love and what it means to them. This provides the perfect opportunity to delve into greetings, giving and gifting.

Greetings

Morning meetings in the classroom often include a greeting and this can take many forms, including a “Good Morning,” a wave or a handshake.

Often the greetings and responses need to be taught and modelled to help students understand the cues and expectations. Modelling helps students understand how to use eye contact and pressure in a handshake, voice intonation in a verbal greeting and facial expression in a wave.

Giving

Where I grew up in Northern Ireland, Valentine’s Day was not celebrated, unless in a romantic relationship. As a teenager, it was awkward and to be avoided. As an adult, it was somewhat similar. When I moved to Canada and had my first child, I discovered that Valentine’s here is about showing love to everyone, a celebration that I really enjoy participating in.

Taking time to recognize everyone in a daycare room or classroom helps children understand that although they may not be best friends with everyone, they can give everyone respect. Just as greeting everyone is a way to show respect, giving cards is a similar way to acknowledge respect.

Making Valentine’s cards is a fun part of our routine now and we try to change our designs each year. Make your own Paint Printed Valentine’s Cards with Creative Paint Rollers.

While many of our students do not make cards, the act of writing a name on a purchased card offers a wonderfully authentic writing experience.

Some students may be new to Canada or new to the experience of giving cards, so a communication home to explain our Valentine’s Day customs can help clarify expectations to parents. Another suggestion is to give students an opportunity to write/make cards in class and then everything is done in school, relieving the pressure to complete cards at home.

Gifting

Gifting can also be part of Valentine’s celebrations and we often make something with students that they can take home and gift to family or friends. This is a wonderful way to demonstrate and focus on the joy of giving.

In the past, we have made Heart Crayons from that box of old crayons you have lurking in a dark corner. As a collaborative effort, this could be achieved by a class quite easily and gifted to a friend or younger sibling.

Having a class party is another way to show love, for food, dancing and fun!

Tips as an educator

  • Be clear about expectations for giving Valentine’s cards/gifts and communicate to students and parents
  • Allow opportunities to talk about Valentine’s day and what it means to each child
  • Encourage children to make Valentine’s cards/gifts for special family members in their lives
  • Emphasize the message rather than the material focus that is often placed on Valentine’s Day
  • Have fun and celebrate love in all its forms
Written by Chris, an elementary and middle school teacher in Pembina Trails School Division.

Getting to Know your Quieter Students

Patience

For school age teachers, we are one month in and we are getting to know our students. Some students we tend to know pretty well now. There are those that stand out because of behavioural concerns or those who love to talk and answer questions. Getting to know quieter students can often be challenge. Ways to engage and build relationships with these students can include:

Introductory Get to Know You Activities 

Introducing yourself, sharing your likes and dislikes, introducing the person next to you are all common ways to get to know students and to allow them to get to know each other.

This All About Me Book has five accordion pages and a front cover they can decorate to look like themselves. Exploring what students have in common allows them to see similarities with people they may not have considered talking to before.

We may have already completed this style of activity but finding opportunities during the year to reconnect through collaborative projects can help to further consolidate relationships and build confidence.

Show and Tell

Yes, this has been around forever but it does give an opportunity to meaningfully communicate and for the audience to practice good listening skills. Alternatives can be to vary the theme, asking the students to bring in a particular item and prepare to talk about why they have chosen it or why it is important to them.

Sharing Centres

Similar to show and tell, sharing centres facilitate question and answer building. Each centre has a different object or collection and while students are at the centre they formulate questions and try to answer each other’s questions. Questions they don’t know the answer to can be researched.

Talk! Listen! Learn! has a rich array of miniature objects and props and will coax even the most reluctant students to talk, ask questions and extend their language skills. Objects have been carefully chosen to expand children’s vocabulary with rich details, and improve their usage of basic semantic and syntactic English structures.

Photo Cards

These are a wonderful resource to encourage even the quietest of students. Photos can be collected from magazines or from students. These Talk About! How We Feel photo cards that contain photos of children looking: happy, angry, sad, surprised, confused, frightened, disgusted and bored. Activities such as asking when the students feel these emotions can be differentiated depending on the student’s capabilities. Writing tasks for the older students can be a safe way to communicate with their teacher knowing it will not be shared.

Life Experiences

Learning about a student’s past experiences can give you great insights into what is important to them and the experiences they are bringing to school. Understanding why a student crawls under a table when a bell rings or the fire alarm sounds, helps an educator to teach the student that a bell does not always mean they are in danger. Understanding why a student refuses to share their learning materials can help an educator to teach that student to share respectfully, with the knowledge that they will get their materials back again. We don’t always get a lot of background information on our students but key triggers for trauma recollection or sensitivities can help us to best support students.

Talk Partners

Having a common practice of asking students to talk to a partner about a learning concept or their questions can be less threatening than talking in front of a whole class.

The WhisperPhone Duet is an acoustical telephone that enhances student-to-student and teacher-to-student reading activities, it also keeps classrooms quieter by creating an acoustically-clear connection between two readers.

When students are confident talking to one person, changing up the groupings can build confidence as they learn to talk to new peers.

Responsibilities

Having a job to do and a place in the classroom gives shyer students an opportunity to interact in a non-threatening way. Handing out supplies or collecting the paper are great ways to encourage students to take on an important role and be part of the class.

A Safe and Inclusive Classroom

Having clear expectations and ensuring students respect each other helps to make a safe environment. Making a point of talking to each student every day, even if it is only to say “well done for…” can help build relationships.

Some students take a long time to open up and trust us and for that, we must be willing to wait. Some students need to know they can be themselves without fear of judgement and the safe inclusive environment of your classroom will win them over… when they are ready.

EAL Classroom Basics – Letters and Sounds

I often get asked for a list of basics, teachers can have in their classrooms for newcomer students with limited language skills. Teachers want to help their students achieve but can be limited in time and sometimes knowledge on how to best support English as an Additional Language (EAL) learners. The term ESL is often redundant for these students as English is not merely a second language, it is a third, fourth or even fifth language! EAL support teachers are often stretched in terms of time and can only offer limited time in each classroom therefore a “go-to” box of activities is essential.

Beginning with letter formation and sounds helps students understand the more complex reading and writing they will be seeing in class. New students don’t have the luxury of time and want to learn English as soon as possible so combining reading, writing, speaking and listening in each lesson is more beneficial.

Learning to form our letters is a skill, especially if the alphabet is new. Arabic speakers may be familiar with their letter formation from the bottom right and teaching to start a letter from the top left can be a struggle, initially. Learning the correct letter formation is important as self-teaching may result in kinaesthetic memory of alternative letter formation and slower writing as a result. Learning the letters in a larger format can be easier.

The Letter Formation Sand Tray allows students to practice their letters in a forgiving way and on a larger scale. Thinking about where the letter starts and finishes as well as direction helps.

It can be combined with Letters Touch and Trace Cards so students can clearly see the start (green dot), direction, (arrows) and finish (red) on each letter.

While I am an advocate for learning lower case letters first in kindergarten, new EAL students are often in older grades and learning both at the same time to better access word learning is more useful. Matching lower and upper case letters is a necessary step.

The Hands-On Alphabet is a wonderful investment for learning letter sounds as well as matching lower and upper case letters. It includes 78 objects (3 for each letter), 36 sorting containers, alphabet stickers, and a plastic organizing basket. Hands-On Alphabet teaching manual shows you how to get the most out of your alphabet materials. Initially, it needs teacher support but as students become more familiar with the letter sounds they can work independently to sort the objects into the correct containers and name objects thus identifying initial letter sounds. Additional objects could be added later.

To give more help with the ‘sticks and circles’ we call writing, explaining how letters are mainly in the grass but some reach up to the sky and others reach down into the dirt can help.

This post discusses how colour coding paper with sky blue, grass green and brown dirt can help identify tall letters and those with tails.

Sentence strips can be bought in many forms, even reusable wipe off versions are available now.

To boost confidence Alphabet Stamps are a great way to give new English learners letters writing practice. Students can do their own stamping to practice letter recognition and then follow with the writing. The act of choosing the correct letter and when ready choosing either lower or upper case letters and punctuation is great practice.

These are some of the resources I have used and recommend teachers have in their classrooms for new EAL students learning letters and sounds. While nothing replaces a good teacher, there are times when we need students to be able to work independently and having the resources to help, allows this to happen. Do you have a great idea for teaching new EAL students letter formation and letter sounds?

Early Reading Language Resources We Love!

Rose is in kindergarten half time and her reading and writing are developing in leaps and bounds. She is reading sight words and simple readers but her confidence is low. When she is not in kindergarten she wants activities to complete with Granny. These are a mixture of independent tasks and those which will need Granny’s help!

Matching Upper and Lower Case Letters

This is a great activity Daisy enjoyed at the same age. Correct letter formation is important to know at an early age to ensure a student’s kinaesthetic (movement) memory commits to well-formed letters. It is more difficult to unlearn an incorrect method.

Making words with Word Building Pebbles

Letter pebbles are great for the visual and tactile reminder of letter formation and their sounds. As Rose lifts the pebbles she makes the letter sound and places in order to make a word.

Playing with Word Families

This post involves Daisy making cvc words from a game and dice.

Using Letter Tracing Stamps

We all know writing goes hand in hand with reading.

Using Big Box of Sentence Building

Improve sight word recognition, vocabulary, fluency, punctuation and grammar with the Big Box of Sentence Building! Include four blank puzzle pieces that can be used with write-on/wipe-off crayons or dry-erase markers. The pieces are colour-coded by the part of speech they represent. Also included is a booklet with directions, teaching suggestions and games.

Writing Sentences with Sentence Strips

Sentence strips are fabulous for discussing letter formations.

The colour recognition of “dirt, grass and sky” adds an extra step, helping a student remember the letter structure.

Playing Spot It! Basic English.

As well as reinforcing sight word recognition, this game is just pure fun!

Of course one of the main activities Rose does is READING!