Thank you, Thank you.

Today we have a short and sweet “thank you” post to our entire support system and professional learning community and network.  Our blog has been on fire this week since I posted Teach it Tuesday (Blackout Poems) and Meaghan followed up with her Choices and Changes, and Letter of Intent posts.  Our Twitter feed has been busy, our Instagram (yes, we started a Tale of Two Teachers Instagram account this week!) has been gathering followers, and our WordPress stats have been skyrocketing! There is probably a correlation here between us actually posting and us receiving feedback…ha!

But jokes aside, allow us to share some gratitude with all of you for your readership and support.  We started this blog almost three years ago with the intention of using it as a tool for reflection on our teaching.  We never dreamed the feedback, opportunities and connections we’ve made in three short years would derive from this blogging process, yet we still stand firm in our belief that this blog has served as our most beneficial learning tool in our careers thus far.

Thank you, everyone, for encouraging us, asking deep questions, trying our lessons, providing feedback, mentoring us, hearing our frustrations and witnessing our tears, celebrating our successes and guiding us through the crazy experience that is teaching.

We love our jobs.

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Letter of Intent

 Along with this news I thought I would share my letter of intent for my application process to help explain my starting place of this educational journey. Some more news to go along with my “Choices and Changes” post… I’ve been accepted to start my Masters of Education for September 2016. I’m very excited about this new step in my education career and even though I know it will be a lot of work I can’t wait for all the learning and growth that will come along with it

Education is constantly evolving: from new curricula to shifts in global society there is always rapid transformation taking place. As an educator, there is always something new to learn and new to experience with my students. I love this part of the job and I am continually excited by the opportunities that come my way. At the same time it can be a challenge to try and figure  out new ways of incorporating  elements like technology while maintaining a focus  on meaningful learning and building a strong sense of community in the classroom. In these early years of my career I have found the most energizing part of my job is meaningful collaboration with other teachers. As we move into a new era of education, I feel passionately that we, as educators, need to learn to find strength, creativity, and community in our fellow educators. Over the past four years there have been numerous times where planning, creating, and teaching with my colleagues has served to enhance, not only the quality of my teaching, but my overall experience as an educator.

Personally, I have experienced a number of very meaningful collaborative teaching experiences in my career. For example, in our school district there is a department called “Learning Initiatives” that creates opportunities for educators to gather together in action research projects. This has been one of the  best ways I have found to improve my practice, both from learning with mentor educators and being involved in comprehensive discussions with other teachers. Since my first year of teaching, a colleague and I have written a blog about our teaching experiences. Blogging has led to a larger network of professional connections and collaboration. Finally, last year I was fortunate enough to work on a team of three teachers, all of whom had a similar passion for teaching and collaboration. As a team we were able to create opportunities for both team teaching and collaborative planning. I found that through this process, students became more engaged and enthusiastic about learning.

Due to my positive experience engaging in action research and inquiry with my colleagues, I am very interested in pursuing research related to how teachers can engage in meaningful collaboration within the current school system, particularly at the middle school level. I feel that the Master of Educational Leadership program is a good fit for me because I am passionate about improving my personal practice and finding ways to bring my research and learning to those around me. The cohort model offered by Vancouver Island University will benefit me as collaboration and working with others is an important part of my learning process. Leadership seems to be the best fit for both the study of collaboration and my desire to become an agent of change in our school system.

Professional development is very important to me, and I have been involved in professional development organizations since my undergraduate degree where I spent two years as the Workshop Coordinator for the Education Students’ Association. As Workshop Coordinator I organized six workshops a year and was heavily involved in the planning and implementation of a large conference for new and pre-service teachers. Over the past four years of teaching with the Greater Victoria School District, I have continued to be involved in professional development through my school’s professional development committee and I currently sit on the Pro D Committee for the Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association. I think these experiences show my commitment to being a leader in professional development at both school and district level.

In the future, I plan to use my experience as an educator and researcher to become a teacher leader in my district. I intend on continuing to be active  in our professional learning community and will take on leadership roles amongst my colleagues. Through my research I hope to find effective ways to promote and utilize meaningful collaboration in the schools where I teach. My past experience, passion for the job, and desire to learn and share make me an ideal candidate for the Master of Educational Leadership program. I believe that being accepted into and successfully completing this program is  an important and necessary step for me in achieving my teaching goals.

Meaghan

 


Choices and Changes

I feel like my blogging this year has been a lot of updating on “what I’m doing now.” Well here it is again… Some choices and changes in my life these days:

Change: I have a new job! As of February 1st, I started in a grade 4/5 class at one of my favourite schools. It’s a full time job until the end of the year.

Choice: I had to leave a class of kids that I loved in order to take this job and saying goodbye is always so hard.

Change: I’m no longer in middle school. This was a hard change for me as since my final practicum (besides subbing days) I have only taught in middle school and it truly is where my passion in teaching lies.

Choice: Since the end of last year I have talked about possibly trying out upper elementary and this choice was definitely a good one! I am loving having a class of (mostly) adoring children who draw me pictures and give me hugs – awesome!

Change: My commute time is now negligible… I can literally walk to school in less time than it took me to drive to my last job. This is the best change!

So with all of these choices and changes there has been a lot of emotions. It was very hard to leave a class and school that I love, and I have even kept up with some volleyball coaching at the last school because it’s hard for me to say goodbye. Transitions are hard for anyone I think, but it is always nerve wracking for me to start up a new class. I find that it takes me about three weeks to feel comfortable with new routines, a new school, and a new group of students. I must say that although there are some transitional difficulties, I definitely find that this transition has been one of the easiest. I know the school, have friends on staff, the previous teacher is still around, the class is awesome, and there is great support staff in the room.

In the interest of my year goal – fulfillment, I am really happy with my choices. I am more fulfilled in my personal life and my teaching life with this new job.

Meaghan

Teach it Tuesday: Blackout Poems

Yesterday during Fika my grade 8s and I worked our way through creating our very first set of “blackout poems”.  I was inspired to try this technique with my class after seeing it set up for public participation two weekends ago at the Victoria Yoga Conference.  I had never seen a “blackout poem” before, so I was curious to experience them with my students.  The results were incredible.  Allow me to explain!

Blackout poems are a very safe and encouraging way to work with poetry because they are written using text that already exists.  The students use the written work of another author or poet and literally cross out (or black out) any words they don’t want to include.  Additionally, students can rearrange the words to their liking; bits and pieces of sentences can be moved around to create new meaning.  The only rule I established was that students were not allowed to add in new words (I did allow students to change the tense of a word or pluralize words).  That’s it!  I found this lesson differentiated nicely; even my most vulnerable and struggling learners were able to participate in this activity because all the text already existed.  The power was in the hands of the student to delete and recreate, rather than start with a blank sheet of paper, which served to boost the creative self-esteem for many students in my class. I’ve never worked backward like this in any curricular area before, so I was amazed to see the deep and powerful poems my grade 8s were able to create using our predetermined piece of text.  Of course, it helped that our original text was a piece of beautiful work from Shane Koyzcan.

This was the poem we used for our original piece of writing.  I encourage you to listen to the poem first before watching the video.  Koyczan’s voice is pure magic.

So here was the scene in my grade 8 class:  We all had our steaming mugs of tea, lights turned low, heads on desks or eyes closed.  We listened to Walking Through Words first.  Then we listened again, but this time we also watched the video. Some of the girls gasped when they saw Koyczan’s face for the first time; he didn’t look like they expected him to look.  How does a poet look anyhow? But after the initial shock there was a tangible, deep respect and acceptance for the artwork and magic Koyczan creates with his spoken and written word. My class correctly guessed that the video was filmed in Tofino, just a few hours up island from where we live and play.  After this, we listened a third time and the students followed along with the text I had transcribed (I wasn’t able to find the text anywhere on the internet, so I transcribed it myself).  I encouraged everyone to ignore punctuation and listen to how Koyzcan makes short words seem looooong, and long words seem short.  He makes periods and commas disappear, but in the most perfect places.  Then I did a quick poll to see which method each student liked best, and then we moved on to our fourth listen/watch/read.

Listening four times through the poem might sound excessive, but it was entirely necessary because only then did my students start to really grasp the essence of the words.  Once we were done listening we got to work!  Check out the blackout poems in the early stages of recreation:

 

We worked all through the block and some students didn’t even want to go out for break! We revisited this activity for about 20 minutes after lunch.  One student turned her work into a masterful work of art, and while I won’t share her name, she did give me permission to photograph and share her final piece of work:

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Isn’t this just a beautiful piece of art?

I love how diverse this blackout poem writing experience was yesterday- we will definitely do it again.  My most favourite aspect of blackout poems is how each and every student in my class, regardless of curricular reading level or ability, was able to find success and for that I am deeply grateful.

If you try this activity out with your own students, children or even on your own terms, let us know how it worked for you!

Karley

Teach it Tuesday: New Curriculum & Science

Disclaimer to our out of province and international readers:  Our curriculum here in BC has been undergoing a massive change throughout the last few years.  While utilizing the new curriculum is not mandatory yet, many teachers here in BC are starting to implement various aspects of it into their teaching.

Back in September, when I was still on maternity leave, I knew I’d be teaching grade 8 science again this year so I went to a Pro D session offering ideas on how to integrate some new curriculum concepts and competencies into science lessons.  I thought, “Great! Perfect! I already worked so hard at making all my grade 8 science stuff last year, so I’ll just reuse it all”.  I thought I’d be able to add in some new curriculum based ideas and be done with it.  It’s now February 2016 and guess how much of that stuff I’ve reused?

Precisely NONE of it.  Absolutely nothing. Nichts.

But this is not a bad thing, you guys.  I know it sounds like a lot of wasted effort and time, but it’s not.  Trust me.  One day I will use those resources I created again, but this year just isn’t the right timing.  This year, instead of reusing my old stuff, I’ve discovered something even more resourceful and brilliant…tapping in to my local community of experts. More specifically, I replied to an email from Green Team BC back in September and together with the coordinators, Amanda and Jenny, whipped up a hands on, outdoors science/ecology education program for my class (and a few others classes in our school joined in as well!)

My grade 8 students have been working in our direct community at a park up the road from our school.  Once a month we work with shovels, clippers, gloves and tarps in the park to remove invasive ivy and plant native species in the designated garden area.  So far we have completed two “field study” sessions and we have two more scheduled before spring break in March.

Jenny, our community leader, visits our class the morning of our field study days and does a short lecture with the students.  Recently Jenny shared with us some of the work she’s been doing with the the native plant species directly in our community and that sparked a whole conversation on seeking the indigenous names for the various native plants in the garden.

What I love most about this project is how it lends my students the opportunity to do some intense place based learning.  The park we are working in is an area that many of my students access every single day.  Since we engaged in our first field session in November, my class is starting to see the park in a new way; the students are leaving a legacy in the place they play and learn.

I encourage all educators who may be struggling with the new curriculum to open your minds to creative opportunities and connections your direct school community might have available.  I am proud to say we aren’t even touching the resources I worked so hard to create two years ago…this work we are doing is much more deep and connected to our space and place.

I am really proud of how professionally my students handled their 15 minutes of fame! Read more about what my grade 8s have been up to in science this year HERE.

Karley

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Word Nerd

I can’t get over this book! Anyone who has talked to me in the last month has probably heard about how much I love this one for a middle school read. Actually I just love this book for anyone to read!

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Word Nerd by Susin Nielsen

This book is well written with amazing character development. We just finished doing a novel study in class with it and almost all of the kids were hooked right away. My favourite part was a large group of students (mainly boys) who COULD NOT PUT IT DOWN! There really is nothing better than that, is there teachers?

The setting is in Vancouver, BC so some of the sights and places will be familiar to local blog readers. Ambrose (the main character) is a grade 7 boy with a peanut allergy who has a tough time at school and ends up being homeschooled. His upstairs neighbours are an older Greek couple who’s son, Cosmo, has just returned from prison. Cosmo becomes a “Big Brother” type figure to Ambrose and the story is mainly about their relationship and how the help each other out through the game of Scrabble. It is heartwarming, quirky, funny, and exciting – with an important focus on acceptance and forgiveness.

The Scrabble focus of the book had my students on a big Scrabble kick that culminated in a half day Scrabble tournament where EVERY SINGLE student was engaged in the game. (And proud moment of one particular ELL student who pulled off a 64 point word!)

When we did mini book reviews at the end of the unit, not a single rating was less than 3.5 stars in the whole class and there were a lot of 4 and 5 star reviews. Besides maybe my human rights lit circles last year, I really have never had such a positive response from an assigned class book. I had a few kids ask me to recommend more books for them too and two students are already reading one of the other books by Susin Nielsen that they found at the library.

Go read this – now! And then read it with your kids. It is THAT good!

Note: There is a bit of bad language (and some uncomfortable “puberty” type talk) in the book but I think that’s a big part of what makes it relatable and funny for students. In my mind the relevance and humour is something that students don’t get enough of at school and for that it is totally worth the uncomfortable moments when reading aloud.

Meaghan