Setting the tone on Orientation Morning …

In his book, ‘Intellectual Character’, Ron Ritchhart talks about the importance of the messages, both explicit and implicit, that we send to the students in our class.  Are you sending messages that imply a culture of working or a culture of learning and thinking?  He encourages educators to think about the messages that they are sending students in the early days of the school year.

At my school, the first opportunity I have to send messages to my 2016 students came a week or so ago on Orientation Morning, where I got to meet and spend 90 minutes with my new class.  The planning of this 90 minute session always takes a while because I want to think very carefully about the messages I send to the students.  What do I want them to leave the morning thinking and feeling?  There are so many messages I want to impart to students, but primarily, I want students to know that 4D is a place where:

  • We know each other on a personal level.
  • Time for thinking and discussion is important and not rushed.
  • Reading and talking about reading is valued.
  • Technology is an important part of our daily life and we use it in purposeful ways.
  • We persist and help each other out when we are stuck. (growth mindset)

These are such key ideas that it is hard to do justice to each one in 90 minutes, however, it is possible to give a taste of each point.  This is what I did:

We played some name games where we all had a laugh at the creative and sometimes silly alliterations that we came up with.

We completed a ‘Getting to Know You’ survey using Socrative, a tool that is used a lot in Year 4.  The questions asked were:

  • What is the most adventurous thing you’ve ever done?
  • What is your favourite story (book or movie)?  Why?
  • What is your favourite thing to do at school?  Why?
  • When you are not at school, what do you spend most of your time doing?
  • What is something you like about yourself?
  • List three words that best describe you as a learner.

We read and discussed two books, both carefully chosen for their message about thinking and growth mindset.  The books were ‘The Extraordinary Mr Qwerty’ by Karla Strambini and ‘The Dot’ by Peter Reynolds.

We used a Chalk Talk thinking routine combined with a modified Compass Points routine to explore and then discuss our feelings about moving into Year 4.  The questions we explored were:

  • What excites you about Year 4?
  • What worries you about Year 4?
  • What do you need to know about Year 4?
  • What are your expectations for Miss Davidson as a teacher?

Throughout the session, we had some laughs, I felt like I got to know a little about each student and they all left with a smile on their face … and hopefully a message about what Miss Davidson values in her classroom.  Roll on 2016 and the imparting of positive learning messages in those early days of the school year.

How do you set the tone of your classroom?



Assessment for learning using Kahoot …

There are so many technology tools around that sometimes, it’s hard to know which ones to use in the classroom.  My thinking is that it’s good to try them all and then figure out which ones best suit you as a teacher and the class with whom you are using the tool.  I also believe that it is important to use a range of tools to maintain student engagement.

A free tech tool I recently discovered is Kahoot, an online quiz tool.  The website (go here to create a Kahoot and the students go here to complete the quiz).  The website has three options – quiz, survey and discussion.  So far, I’ve only used the quiz.  Each quiz provides a competition-like atmosphere, which students love.  Each question has a time limit (you can set the time limit) and students win points for each correct answer. After each question, a leadership board appears on the screen, much to the delight of students.  Normally, I am not a fan of class competitions as I worry about the anxiety they induce in some students as well as the students who sometimes struggle and need extra thinking time.  However, adding two extra ‘tweaks’ to the Kahoot experience can turn a simple quiz into a much more powerful learning experience.

The first ‘tweak’ is to pause after each question (especially the questions that many students got incorrect) and ask students to prove their answer to the person next to them.  This simple addition not only means that students are articulating their thinking, but for those students who had an incorrect answer (the quiz provides immediate feedback), they are hopefully able to rectify any misconceptions.

The second ‘tweak’ is to allow students to write their own Kahoot questions.  During or after a unit, students work by themselves or in pairs to create questions for a student-created Kahoot quiz.  Students write their questions and multiple choice answers in their book and I use them to create the online quiz.  Allowing students to create the quiz questions automatically differentiates the learning experience because questions of various complexity are able to be created, as can be seen in the examples below where the first example simply imitates the sample equations and the final example uses two different operations.

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Allowing students to create their own questions gives a useful insight into their ability to not only answer questions, but write the question and provide appropriate answer choices.  It is easy to see the level of sophistication of their thinking by looking at the answer choices they provide.  Are they able to predict student misconceptions or have they simply used random numbers?

When making decisions about technology use in the classroom, I am interested in choosing the right tool for the right purpose, not using technology for the sake of using technology.  I want the technology to help me be a better teacher, not simply engage the students.  Student engagement is the cherry on top but not the essential ingredient.  I am more interested in how I can use the technology in a meaningful, purposeful manner.  I am in interested in how the technology can help me understand students and their thinking.

How can you tweak a technology tool to make it work better for you?