Thursday, October 10, 2019

#GoalsProject 2019

This year, I started my grade 8s off with a huge challenge. I had signed up over the summer to be part of the #GoalsProject, which is based on the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals.  As a class, we were assigned Goal #7 - Affordable and sustainable energy. Together, we read a little bit about what issues and concerns exist surrounding energy production and consumption around the world, and then I threw the challenge their way.

"You will do a project, inspired by this goal. It can be anything at all, and you can work with anyone in the class. You are responsible for making a plan, doing the research, meeting with me to explain your ideas, modifying as needed, and creating something that can be shared with others."

Those were all of the instructions I gave, and away they went! It helps that this class is all students I taught last year (except for one new student), so they are a little more used to being given tasks that challenge them in this way.

For the first little while, many students wandered around and chatted with one another, looking for an idea that would grab them. By the end of the first keel, we had a few established groups working on developing ideas that could evolve into plans and projects.

At the beginning of the second week, I touched base with the whole class to make sure they understood that it is OK to change ideas, and it is even alright to change groups. "It doesn't mean that you don't like the people in your group, it just means you are more interested in another idea, or that you think you will work better in another context." There were some skeptical glances, but over the course of a day or two some large groups broke apart into smaller groups, some people migrated from their first group to another, and some groups remained exactly as they had begun.

By the end of September, I had met with each group multiple times, and shocked them by saying that the goal of this project was not to be successful in the traditional sense. What I meant was that it was OK if their idea was incomplete, or needed longer to be complete, or changed multiple times. Success would be measured by their ability to communicate what they had been working on, and their commitment to their ideas.

Together, my entire class created a website to showcase what their ideas were, what progress they had made, and how far they still have to go. You can take a look at it here : Sustainable Development Goal 7 We'd love any feedback you have on our projects, on the website, or any questions that this project brings up.
Our Website

Thursday, September 26, 2019

The Definition of 'Success'

Image result for success

Today's French class was brought to you by the letters A - E - G and A. My grade 8s participated in a digital escape room organized by Cavilam. Our mission was to save the French language from disappearing, and there were a series of puzzles and challenges to complete in order to do so.  In my class, I registered five teams with five students on each team. The official instructions indicated that a minimum language level of B1 on the DELF was necessary to participate. My students have not written the DELF, but I would put their competence somewhere around A2 (the progression is A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2)  I knew going in that this activity would be a significant challenge for the groups.

About midway through the allotted 45 minutes, it was clear that no groups were going to be able to solve all 6 country challenges. This was not surprising to me, and I chose to announce to the class that it was highly unlikely they would win the game. Getting incredulous looks, I went on to make sure they understood that "success" was never the intention with this activity, and that I just wanted them to do their best.

When the time had expired, most groups had successfully solved one out of six series of challenges. And they were excited! We briefly discussed why I would have set them a challenge that I didn't expect them to finish successfully - their answers were astute:

"To give us an experience with different types of French."
"So that we could practice working cooperatively as a group."
"To have fun."
"To learn about French places in the world."
"To practice our reading and listening skills."

They did all of those things for 45 minutes, and persevered even when the task was complex. This will be an idea I return to over and over this year, and I love that we were able to start off with such a great example of a high-ceiling task. So much can be learned, even when we don't "succeed".

Monday, August 19, 2019

Back to School - Year Fifteen!

Bitmoji Image

School starts up in a couple of weeks here in Nova Scotia, and I can hardly wait! I appreciate having the summer to relax and reset, and to find time for independent professional development, and I also love heading back to school. I've had another commitment that is keeping me very busy these last couple of weeks before school starts, and I'm feeling the itch to get into my classroom and get set up.

Similarly to last year, I have sent out a letter to each of my incoming grade 8 students, and prepared our Google Classroom and Flipgrid introduction topic. I've also written a letter to parents/guardians this year, inspired by Monte Syrie and Allison Krasnow, which will go home the first day of school. My letter outlines things I want them to know, and also invites them to tell me about their child.

Here's a copy, feel free to modify & use if you wish!


It's important to me to maintain positive connections with my students' caregivers, and it's not something that I've always been particularly good at doing. Over the past few years, I've made it a priority to communicate regularly, sending both important information as well as personal notes about students (I use the add-on Email Parents to help organize this) I've received a lot of positive feedback from parents about this practice, and I feel very good about the open lines of communication that this creates.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Picture Book 10 for 10

I had planned to present this as a blog post, but then a Twitter thread seemed more logical. Here are my thoughts on the ten books above :

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Connections Matter

In August last year, before school began, I sent out a letter to all of my incoming grade 8 students. I wanted to set up the importance of connections before they even set foot in my classroom. We did Morning Circle every day, we talked about intentionally creating a community, we shared smiles and frowns.

I've always tried to make my classroom a strong community, and this is the first year that I made such an explicit effort to let my students know what my intentions were. I don't know why I hadn't been this explicit before, and I will absolutely continue to include students in my thought-processes, and in helping to build our community together.

To bookend the year, I wrote a letter to my students to include in their report card envelopes on the last day of school. I am not the first teacher to have this idea of course! I drew inspiration from many other teachers on Twitter, and ultimately I am very pleased with the list of life lessons I wrote up for my students.

Here is what I wrote. If it can be of use to anyone else, I'm happy to share :

Connections matter. In person, in writing, always.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Art Gallery 2019

Over the past few years of teaching Visual Arts to grade 8 students, we have experimented with many ways of getting them to apply what they have been learning in the creation of their own independent works of art. This year was no exception. However, this year, we made sure to schedule our year-end project so that we had a full hour at the end to create a gallery with all of their work.

For 5 hour-long classes, they created. Some took their work home to finish up.

Today, we turned the cafeteria into an art gallery, and everyone displayed their work.

It was stunning.

Students created paintings, sculptures, mixed-media, digital reproductions... and every piece of art was displayed proudly.

Some groups of students chose to recreate art in Minecraft.

Although all of the artwork was amazing, two pieces of art stood out to me in particular.

The first is this mixed media painting of a sea turtle with plastic straws

The second is this split face portrait. The description provided below by the artists is so poignant.
Women and a man are the same and could do the same thing.

I am so impressed with all of the work these artists have done on their final projects!

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Open Letter to Monte Syrie

In response to a call for inspiration, I am writing this open letter. Thanks for the inspiration, Monte!

Hi Monte,

I've been greatly inspired this year by your blog/Twitter feed (I'm @MadameGaudet), by your insistence on finding a better way, and by your genuine care for all of your students. I've been teaching for 15 years now, and it's nice to know I'm not alone in the struggles I have with grades vs student ownership, and in my focus on community and connection building first and curriculum only after that. 

If you're still feeling like you need some inspiration for your blog as the year winds down : Who are your "go-to" people either online or in person for inspiration and/or help navigating these changes? What benefit do you get from hashing out ideas with people in your own school vs online connections? How does blogging enter into your attempts to do better?

I am a middle school teacher, so grades in the traditional sense "don't matter" as much as they might in high school. I still find my students are so hung up on the grade that they neglect the learning when they start with me at the beginning of the year. By this time of year, they are more willing to take chances, and embrace experiences. I worry that when I send them off to high school this openness and commitment to learning will fall by the wayside with teachers who focus predominantly on compliance. This is not to say that the high school teachers at my students next school are not wonderful teachers, who truly care about their students. I know that many of them struggle with the same questions that I have surrounding relationship building and grading practices. However, as an institution, high school has a more grades-based focus than I do in my classroom. 

I hope that I've given my students enough of a taste for learning, for self-motivation, for curiosity, for compassion, and for questioning that they will maintain those qualities in the face of what high school will throw at them.