Monday, 30 December 2013

Creating Positive Learning Environments ~

Good thoughts are powerful and creative, having physical and emotional implications on our heart, soul, spirit and body. For children it is vital that we get this right, at home, school and the world at large. It is critical that the early years of education are affirming and that we provide positive opportunities for optimal personal growth not only academically, but also emotionally. 

Negative words are destructive, criticism ugly, gossip deadly. 

Negative experiences will always cause us to pause and rethink how we will approach the next learning curve. If these painful and hurtful experiences are systematically and relentlessly aversive then we learn to pull back. We shrink back from life and stop moving forward. Negative thinking is quickly and deeply entrenched, stunting personal growth and momentum. Learning ceases when the emotional and social aspects of a child are out of alignment. Children fail to thrive when they are consumed with fitting in to their peer group. The need to belong and feel accepted is a powerful and driving force for all of humanity. Negative words shape personal beliefs about ourselves and become our internal dialogue ... Am I good enough, smart enough, funny enough?

Negative thoughts are extremely difficult to dislodge, particularly when a child has begun to reinforce this thought with daily negative self talk. I am more aware of this than ever before. Realigning thinking and changing the atmosphere of the classroom is a daily objective of mine. Do I get this right all the time?, No ... in a perfect world my classroom would function like a dream, however, we deal with real people with real problems and sometimes what happens at home spills over into the classroom. Children arrive a little out of sorts, they arrive late, too early, some rushed to school in a world wind of morning expectations. Sometimes the timetable is tight, I rush head long right into the next learning task or activity, missing red flags. I mistake disappointment as defiance. I've moved on before I realise. I backtrack, change tack and shift my focus. Sometimes, the academic schedule has to wait while thinking is realigned and the atmosphere recharged. Words of hope are offered, kind words fill small spaces around tender hearts. I have an ideal of what a positive classroom should look like most of the time. I aim for that every day.

At some point we all face these lethal forces - self doubt, unkind words and hurtful criticism to name just a few. Learning to deal with these the negative elements of life to emerge confident, sure and more hopeful is critical for academic advancement. In order to build and grow a positive internal framework, positive experiences need to be continual, successive and accumulative. How students bounce back from these experiences is important. Resiliency is key to continued growth as a hopeful, optimistic and determined human being. We must ensure that the early years of childhood have more positive experiences than negative ones, that our classrooms are safe havens for personal and academic growth, that we take time to listen, notice and validate the people in our care. As students choose to bounce back from hurtful experiences they need life giving and affirming words of praise and encouragement, the building blocks of self esteem and personal affirmation. They need to be praised for being forgiving, kind and determined individuals. Positive reinforcement is like honey, sweet and healing. It is health to the soul. If we saturate our classrooms with words of hope, purpose and kindness then the children who walk out of our rooms walk with their heads a little higher, their hearts a little wider.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Dear Students ~

As we come to the end of the year, I wish all my darling students the very best for the journey ahead. I have loved this year and feel very privileged to have been your teacher this year. We have come so far! I wish you all the best. Looking forward to hearing your stories in the years ahead. xx

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Time is flying by much too fast!

I wrote this a few weeks ago ... I always feel a little poignant at the end of the year. After a year of investing every day into the lives of our little people it is with a certain amount of sadness that we prepare to say goodbye to the little treasures we have had for the year. It never seems to get any easier ... goodbyes are always hard. The end of the year always makes me reflective, 'How could I do things differently?', 'What worked?', 'What didn't work?' ... and I always hope that I do this, (in the words of Albert Einstein), 'It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.' 

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Story Telling ~

We have been reading a variety of different fairytales this term as we continue to explore features of a narrative. Fairytales are a great way of exploring the elements of a story as these stories use a familiar beginning with the use of 'Once upon a time' and a predictable ending with 'living happily ever after.' Children love the familiarity and predictability of these stories and just love joining in to read the text aloud as a whole class. We have been applying the B.A.R strategy to the learning of fairytales, looking at how we can make a story ... B - Better, A - Add something to it or R - Remove/Replace an element to make it more interesting. After listening to a selection of stories and taking them apart through discussion and reconstruction, students are better equipped to start writing on their own. Rein-acting elements of fairy tales offers opportunity to use dialogue and language purposefully in a tactile and kinaesthetic way. This think and do philosophy to learning engages the whole person in learning, activating both the mind and body to consolidate the whole learning process.

The B.A.R Strategy

B - Better
A - Add
R - Remove/Replace

Student suggestions included a few of the following,

We could make a story better by:
using different settings i.e a city, a bridge or a swamp instead of the forest, 
by including a moral into the story like fables do,
or changing the scary elements 
and characters featured in the story so people don't get eaten!

We could add something by:
creating a new scene,
incorporating a different character into the story
(or by adding extra details), 
like Red Riding Hood walking through the forest 
with a friend and not by herself.

We could remove or replace something by: 
using different adjectives or nouns within the text,
 removing Red Riding Hoods cape and giving her a name instead.
Or swapping the big bad wolf for a stranger in the woods!
(and include a new protagonist later on)
Or removing the wood cutter and replacing him with her Dad.
(A new hero - My Grade Ones loved this idea!)

Drawing upon a rich fabric of ideas assists students to write creatively and imaginatively.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Hands on learning in Mathematics ~

Hands on learning during mathematics activities offers students opportunity to manipulate objects and make connections with abstract ideas. It is a very powerful tool for teaching while also instilling a love of learning, in particular a love of math related activities. This assists in establishing essential cognitive pathways and enhances development for academic sucess. Students essentially construct their own mathematical understanding in authentic and meaningful ways. Using concrete materials allows students to do this purposefully and intentionally.

As a young learner myself, I consistently found math tasks threatening and disempowering. My neural pathways were blocked from tension, anxiety and worry over the learning of math concepts and nothing could bypass this blockage in my thought processes. It was only much later in life that I realised I was in fact a good problem solver and could systematically apply learning in relevant and methodical ways, eventually discovering a new found confidence and awe of the math experience. As a teacher of young children I take personal responsibility in ensuring that these early experiences are above all fun, but also sufficiently challenging and highly rewarding. My desire is that every student discover how fun mathematics can really be ... in non threatening and highly encouraging learning environments.

Here we are measuring the area of a variety of different shapes. 
Students in their formative years of learning depend heavily on concrete materials for cognitive development. When students engage in this type of learning they are building and consolidating knowledge and retaining learning of the fundamentals in a more educationally sound manner. Working together with peers helps students articulate what they are learning as they share and consolidate concepts being taught. Talking about learning helps embed new concepts in the newly forming brain path ways, building better connections and understanding for long term academic success.

'A teacher affects eternity, he can never tell where his influence stops' - Henry Adams

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Dr Seuss Fun ~

My students had a lot of fun doctoring their sentences using their Dr Seuss hats. We love Dr Seuss and the children loved this writing task. 

We made our hats then got to work. I provided students with a few sentences in need of a little fixing. Students decided on words they could use to replace the word 'said', then used a bandaid (instead of sticky tape) to place over the word in each sentence. 

A great way to teach students complex and interesting sentences.
The students enjoyed moderating their voice to expressively read their sentences to each other.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Digging into learning ~

This term we have been researching dinosaurs and fossils as part of our explorations on our changing world. I found this great fossil kit (Dig it out) at the Taronga Zoo. The children had great fun taking turns to unearth the fossil buried inside. I also hid some small plastic dinosaurs in the school yard sandpit for students to discover, so much fun! They were delighted to find the dinosaurs buried all over the place as they experimented with being an archaeologist, setting students off on their own path of discovery. 

This certainly encouraged students to go further and dig deeper with their learning. Everybody was very keen to share their findings with a buddy or the whole class. Which proved helped when it was time to do our individual speeches on our favourite dinosaur. Instead of being hesitant to stand up in front of their peers, students were eager to share their knowledge with the class.

As part of this unit of study we implemented higher order thinking skills into a blooms and multiple intelligence matrix to offer opportunity to extend thinking and learning for all students. Children needed to accrue a certain number of points (for each activity) over a seven week period before completing a culminating task. The more complex tasks were allocated higher points, taking longer to complete and included a number of steps that students needed to carefully work through. This allowed for autonomy and independence to bloom and grow - great skills for Grade Ones to develop early in their learning journey.

Students loved worked with a buddy as they researched and gathered information from a variety of sources. The iPads were a great learning tool, which were made a whole lot easier for the children to use (and access information) with suitable websites being pre saved to the home screen prior to use. 

A fossil is a creature that died a long time ago. It's body turned into rock.

There is nothing better as a teacher than seeing students fully engaged and excited about learning. I found myself expectant and eager for 'Project Hour' each week as I watched students immersed in 'hands on' learning opportunities. Watching the excitement light up their faces as they called me to check out 'this and that' was so very satisfying. We ALL learnt a lot!

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Grandparents Day ~

Grandparents day is always a highlight at our school, not just for the little people but the big people too. I love seeing the excitement on the students faces as grandparents visit the classroom. This year our Grade One's painted their grandparents hands and then the grandparents painted their grandchild's hand to make a special memento to take home. Fun was had by all, such a lovely day to bring the generations together. 

Saturday, 23 February 2013

2013 ... here we go!

We have hit the ground running ... 4 weeks into the new school year and things are humming along. The start of a new school year is always fun ... and just a little tiring too! The little tykes are so full of energy. After such a lovely long break for summer, it takes a bit of getting use to the early starts in the morning and being on the go again ... but we are getting there :) We are off to a flying start and looking forward to a very fun year.

Grade One certainly keeps you on your toes, such fun little people with a unique view on the world and so eager to impress with all their worldly wisdom. This was made apparent during a devotion on Friday. I read the story of 'Noah and the ark' to a class of wide eyed students. I explained that it was a story from long long ago. After reading the story a little hand shot up in the air and an excited voice proudly announced that his Grandad was on that boat. I had to stifle a giggle. It is moments like this that remind me why I made a career out of teaching ... because amongst the busyness of the day and the learning of sounds, counting in 2s, 5s, and 10s AND everything else that goes into a jam packed learning schedule, it is the unexpected surprises of innocence that keeps me smiling. Every day, I get to shape souls, mould hearts, stretch minds and open up a whole world of possibilities to curious little people. Such limitless potential continually beckons me forward. I really do have the best job in the world.

Grade One love on Valentines Day ... so blessed!