“Front Loading” – guest post from the “Fawcett’s Class” Blog


The following post appears in the password protected blog that my students write on in the HWDSB Commons. Since there isn’t any content that cannot be shared publicly….and since it was such a great shared writing post created with my class and I’m sharing it here as well on my professional blog! I absolutely loved my students higher level thinking – I believe that we get amazing results when we teach and discuss pedagogy with our students. I have always done this, and now we are writing about our thoughts!

Front Loading

[EDITOR’S NOTE: We are collaborating on our blog post today through a shared writing activity because I would like to model for students how to write a more detailed and deeper thinking blog post…I am providing several guiding questions to direct and inspire our thoughts. Students really do have many very deep thoughts and are capable of higher level thinking!]

Today we went to the computer lab to study about the human body (grade 5) and biodiversity (grade 6). Ms Fawcett’s instructions were to find information about these science topics. We looked for information about our topics and took notes in our brain books. When we came back from the computer lab, Ms Fawcett told us we were front loading. (Peter)

Students engaged with an Interactive Human Body activity at the BBC website
Interactive “Human Body” website at BBC

What is front loading? Ms Fawcett asked us to infer what “front loading” means:

  •  “front” – it happens before instruction/lessons (Jenny)
  • “loading” – filling up with information (Shaun)

So “front loading” is filling up with information (e.g. independently or in groups) before instruction.

Why front loading? We inferred again:

  • it gives students chance to take control of their own learning (Katelynn)
  • it teaches students how to find information = research (Victoria)
  • we can find as much information as we want (instead of the teacher giving us a handout with one-answer blanks to fill in)and we’re doing our own teaching and learning (Bradley)   [EDITOR’S NOTE: sometimes it is appropriate to have one answer questions]
  • sometimes when we don’t know much about a topic, and the teacher starts teaching we lose interest because it doesn’t always make sense because we don’t understand (Tara)……..we need a full brain first (Victoria)…..then we use our background knowledge (Madeline)
  • if we have the ability to know what we’re going to learn we will also have more choices (e.g. research online, or research in a book (Holly)……or we can ask experts or watch tv programs like History Channel, National Geographic) (Katelynn)

[EDITOR’S NOTE:  We front load at the beginning of a unit to help us activate our background knowledge (involve the knowledge we already have: our “background knowledge”). We also want to add more ideas to our background knowledge before actual lessons start. It will help us understand new material! For example, if we hear or read a new word in a lesson, using what we already know (our background knowledge), we might be able to infer what the word means.

Why is it important to have background knowledge, activate or involve the background knowledge we have and create even more background knowledge?

  • if you know about the topic, you will be more excited about it (Luke)
    [EDITOR’S NOTE: We call that being engaged in our learning!]
  • if you connect with the topic (e.g. “I remember that!”), then you can make inferences. So you are sharing ideas and getting involved (Jenny)

We look forward to front loading lots of topics in the future!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~


  • read 20 minutes
  • Science: have 10 – 15 pieces of information about Human Body (gr5) or Biodiversity (gr6) (If you can’t remember, go online and google “Student Link” for links)

Welcome Back Class 5/6F Families!


First of all, thank you so much to those families who were able to send an email so that I can add your name to the class 5/6F contact list. Please feel free to share the information below with any other 5/6F families!

Well the time is very nearly here! The only place besides my own beloved family that I would rather be is with your children – fortunately for me, that is where I will be enjoying my time come Tuesday morning! I trust all families have had a fantastic summer holiday and I know that your attentions (and possibly that of your child 🙂 ) have turned to back-to-school preparations.

I look forward to co-creating another peaceful and respectful classroom with a new group of students. I look forward to many smiles, laughs, music and fun in our classroom. I look forward to teaching and exploring new technologies in our classroom. I look forward to facilitating your children in their role as empowered and inquisitive learners. Together your children and I will explore the curriculum and:

– pick out specific Learning Goals
– identify the necessary ingredients to reach those goals (as seen in classroom “Anchor Charts” that we create together)
– work towards the skills and knowledge that show our progress (Success Criteria).

Students will come home on Tuesday with a more detailed welcome letter (where I will also invite you to take part in our lessons as volunteers or presenters). In the meantime please find near the end of this post the suggested materials that families can consider purchasing if they would like.

After the materials list (and a lovely quote about building community) is a list of additional ways that we can connect home and school, through technology. One way will be through our class Twitter page (@FawcettsClass) which will be used by 5/6F students (under my supervision) to tweet questions and information to a greater audience beyond our classroom walls. I have already selected other classrooms (both local and global) and organizations (e.g. Canadian Space Agency, Civilization Museum) for us to connect with: we can share specific learning and ideas, ask questions, answer questions… all related to our units of study. Students may also access class updates from home by association with their parent’s Twitter accounts (students under the age of 13 are not permitted to create Twitter accounts, in keeping with the Twitter Terms of Service; I must abide by this and not follow or tweet to students). It would be great if you as parents would explore setting up a free Twitter account for this purpose. Twitter is an awesome tool! By creating an account and “following” @FawcettsClass, you can receive short “micro- blogging” updates about our activities…short 140 character messages, as well as relevant internet links and pictures/videos. I can only interact with (e.g. follow and tweet to) adults; as per Twitter’s terms of service, people under the age of 13 may not have accounts. However, if parents follow our class twitter from home, they can share tweets with students and we can have a home-school interaction.

I look forward to meeting with each if you early in the year, along with your child, so that you might have an opportunity to share your ideas and questions regarding your child’s experience in 5/6F.

~ Michelle

– regular soft pencil case
– dark blue pens
– pencils/eraser/small sharpener/ruler
– pencil crayons
– markers
– highlighters
– supply of 3 x 3 inch sticky notes
– calculator
– scissors
– 1-inch binder (the type that uses 3-hole paper)
– lined, 3-hole punched paper
– memory stick
– box of tissue
– indoor running shoes for physical education (requires every day)


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“Our humanity is caught up in that of all others. We are human because we belong. We are made for community, for togetherness, for family, to exist in a delicate network of interdependence…. We are sisters and brothers of one another whether we like it or not, and each one of us is a precious individual.” —– Archbishop Desmond Tutu

CLASS WEBSITE: http://fcinternet.hwdsb.on.ca/~michelle.fawcett/index.htm

FAWCETT’S CLASS TWITTER: https://twitter.com/FawcettsClass

PROFESSIONAL TWITTER: https://twitter.com/michellefawcett

PROFESSIONAL BLOG: https://msfawcettsmusings.wordpress.com/

Review of the title: Shifting the Monkey


[This is my review of just the title of Todd Whitaker’s book, “Shifting the Monkey”. I’d like to preface this post by saying that I have begun reading and look forward to sharing the many positive reflections I have regarding this book…e.g. The importance of treating everyone well, the importance of people owning their responsibilities and the fact that we cannot change people’s thinking but we can influence their behavior….all for the betterment of our students]

Shifting the Monkey has become the “it” book on my educational-focussed twitter stream as of late. And although I’m not an administrator (nor do I think I wish to remove myself from the bliss of daily and direct student-teacher contact), I admit to being intrigued by the title. Tapping into my background knowledge and making informational and emotional connections like any good reader does, perhaps my extreme interest in the title resulted from the fact that I’ve always wanted a monkey; or maybe it was my undergraduate degree in biology and early desire to be a zoo veterinarian that was triggered; or maybe just the fact that I’ve always seen the humour in monkeys and am drawn to potetially humourous metaphors….

Any humour, however, stopped once I downloaded the Kindle version of Todd Whitaker’s book to my iPhone and the weight of the subtitle hit me: “The Art of Protecting Good People from Liars, Criers and Other Slackers”.


Understanding my reaction to this title will require some context:

Lessons in Education and Human Nature In General
Four separate but connected lessons in teaching and/or relationship building were activated in my brain before opening the pages of this book:

Let’s back up to lessons learned related to the quest of every district to engage educators in meaningful Professional Development. In education (and many other professions) there has been a backlash against the boring “talk at the audience” traditional approach taken at professional development sessions. In my profession, teachers were anaesthetized after hours of sitting and being talked at and would eventually emerge bleary eyed and exhausted from half or whole day sessions in Numeracy or Literacy or EQAO. Thankfully our school board is awesome at requesting specific feedback after each and every PD session. The eventual, overwhelming message received by administrators from educators attending these sessions: “Please practice what you preach: teach us in the way you are telling us to teach our learners”. And so, there are now a lot more opportunities at PD sessions for interaction and sessions are differentiated to a larger degree. Some colleagues have balked at “Think-Pair-Share”, “Graffiti”, “Carousel” and various break-out session strategies. I, for one, admit openly that I like them alot! Model for me how to teach my students when you teach me; model how to facilitate and use a transformative approach. I agree that these various activities activate thinking in all kinds of learners, whether they are 4 years old, 14 or 40! I say bring it on: lighten up and take part.
#1 Lesson Learned: Let’s teach and motivate adults the way we know learners are actually motivated to learn

Back up, to lessons learned in reaching struggling and/or reluctant learners. One actively promoted idea introduced to teachers in my district was the “Learning for All – Whatever It Takes” approach. Climate of high expectations. Frequent monitoring of student progress. Clear school mission connected to goals for high levels of student achievement. Leave no stone unturned in helping students to reach their full potential. Universal Design. Differentiation. Learning styles. New ideas in Special Education. Technology devices, programs and apps. Balanced/Comprehensive Literacy groups. High interest, low vocab texts. Building relationships and engagement through special student-centered groups. Abandoning the idea that lower class sizes, socio-economic status and home life are the determining factors in student achievment: EVERYONE can learn and reach their full potential and teachers can not only facilitate this process, they are the front line workers that will make it happen. I support these ideas 100% and although exhausting (since in my experience it has resulted in thinking about my students’ needs almost 24/7), the “Whatever It Takes” philosophy has great value. Added bonus: it resonates with my Buddhist-philosophy-inspired-approach…approach students with compassion.
#2 Lesson Learned: Let’s know our students fully, and teach and motivate them compassionately as individuals, believing in our hearts that everyone can reach their full potential

Back up, to other aspects of “Learning for All: 7 Correlates of Effective Schools”. There is an Instructional Leadership focus, where principals are “leader of leaders”, not “leaders of followers”. On more than one occasion, a principal that I once knew as a teacher has said to me, “Being an admin is really no different than when I was a teacher….it’s just that my classroom is bigger now” or “Administrator or teacher, it doesn’t matter; we are all leaders.”
#3 Lesson Learned: Let’s cultivate a culture where we believe that administrators and teachers are partners, everyone is a leader and has an equal voice.

Back up, to my training as Equity Lead for my school. Not enough good can be said about the efforts of boards across the province and our Ministry of Education to respect everyone through equity initiatives. Equity learning about poverty. Equity learning about culture. Equity learning about LGBTQ issues. Equity learning about all members of the one human race. Learning shows that there is no “us and them”; just “we”… and that marginalizing people through discrimination (e.g. exclusion, labels) is by defnition not inclusive and does not engage them in any sort of common goal.
#4 Lesson Learned: Marginalizing people depersonalizes them, leading to further marginalization….and an ever widening “us versus them” mentality

We know that like students, adults learn through an interactive, transformative approach.
We know that all students can learn….extrapolate that to adult learners.
We know that through instructional leadership, all educators can be leaders.
We know that marginalizing people through actions or words does not lead to positive change.

So unless we are going to label students who are not succeeding “liars, criers and slackers”, we should not be using these labels to describe adults either.

Summer Organization


Summer is the perfect time to get organized! I love the reprieve from daily travel into the city (and daily lunch-making x 4 people!) and enjoy the opportunity to bring together all of the ideas that have been percolating in my brain these last ten months. Time to bring it all together!

My usual challenge is….”Where” to begin?

The “How” is much simpler: TECHNOLOGY.

I am edging towards that feeling of needing a “one stop” central hub. For the longest time, that hub was my classroom website, my “6F” Grade 6 Learning Community (which, incidentally, needs renaming since I will be teaching a 5/6 split next year….add to my list of “must dos”: change branding on hundreds of pages…there is value in not being too specific in our online labels).

I was one of the first teachers within my board to create a FirstClass hosted website seven years ago……and am still proud of the pages I have crafted, which collectively have taken hundreds of hours to create, and were shared as an exemplar with other educators. The web pages became a repository of information for my students & their families, then other Grade 6 teachers…..but have always been a go-to source of information for me since I post links to all sorts of places I needed to go online: HWDSB, my school website, Ontario Curriculum documents; favourite websites for research; social justice, peace education and music education advocacy links, etc.. It became a “scrapbook” of sorts to chronicle student work and performances, our board-wide Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration, the Peaceful Schools initiative I began with parents and admin at my school before a focus on “school culture” became mandated, etc..

The class website will be updated this summer, but will no longer be my one stop shop….rather it will be a branch off my WordPress blog, connected to our HWDSB “Commons” online community. With WordPress today, I explored bringing together all of my online identities. Although some identities will only go with my personal WordPress blog, I am attempting to bring together all of these: FirstClass website, Twitter, YouTube, Linkdin, Pinterest, Flickr, Ancestry.com, Facebook….and probably more that I haven’t considered. Add to that, links to student voice through student blogs, tweets, comments and projects. EXCITING!

I have a need to communicate and connect, and cultivate my teaching practice for the benefit of my students……and also to benefit myself by helping me to serve others in any way I can. Hopefully something that I have to say will be of use to someone else — I certainly draw inspiration from hundreds of other people every single day! Nothing beats technology to make all of that happen.


Happy Spring!

After an unexpected break from blogging (hmmm…perhaps our fabulous school production of “Annie” or the After School Scholars literacy group had something to do with it….) I’m back today with a post about our poetry work in Grade 6.

[SPOILER ALERT!] We have recently finished reading Sharon Creech’s book, “Love That Dog”. Wow! I love this book, and love more so the fact that my students loved it too. The book is narrated by, “Jack”, who is challenged to write poetry (along with the rest of his class) by his teacher Miss Stretchberry. The book is Jack’s free-form poetry, mainly in the form of a conversation with his teacher about writing poetry. Jack refers to many poems that he learns in class, such as The Red Wheel barrow by William Carlos Williams (“so much depends upon a red wheel barrow…..”) and poetry by Walter Dean Myers, Robert Frost, Valerie Worth, and more.

Here is what we learn about the effect of poetry writing on Jack:

  • it empowers Jack to see beyond stereotypes, specifically the stereotype that (according to Jack), “only girls write poems”
  • it helps Jack come to express his emotions, and to come to terms with his grief over the loss of his beloved dog, Sky
  • it gives Jack a focus other than his grief (poetry of other authors, writing in general)
  • it empowers Jack to have confidence in himself as he becomes very skilled at writing
  • it helps Jack connect to the world beyond his classroom (e.g. writing to and visiting with a published author/poet)
  • it helps Jack to see that his thoughts and feelings are meaningful, and that his words can effect change

He also learns about many literary devices and how to write in the style of another author. The list of what Jack learns could probably go on and on. The best part is that WE learned these lessons as well, through Jack’s experience 🙂 I can’t recommend this book enough.In addition to learning that poetry does not have to have a steady meter or rhyming, we also revisited metaphor, simile, alliteration and onomatopoeia. Jack eventually writes a shape poem about “Sky” and we followed suit by writing our own shape poems.

Today, we wrote our own free-form poetry and it was scary! At first, students went through the same emotions that Jack did — fear, embarassment, and a general sense of befuddlement at trying something new. By the end, everyone was engaged and taking lots of risks.Some students asked “Is this going on our report cards?” (*sigh*) which led us to revisiting the difference between formative and summative assessments. I collected our new poetry portfolios, and was amazed to hear students ask why we weren’t sharing our poems right away! This was very different from Jack’s initial shyness at promoting his own work.  A large group of students, mainly boys, insisted upon reading their poems to the class today. It was delightful! They were brimming with humour and excitement. I believe that Jack really inspired the students and I’m glad that they all believe truly that anyone can write poetry.

Anyway, with the students’ permission, here are some wonderful first few poems: [I would be grateful to anyone who knows how I can format the line spaces  in WordPress so that there isn’t double spacing everywhere.}

Thurs., May 31st, 2012

by Ethan B.


I can’t do it

It’s way too hard

Maybe I’mn not cut out for this


I have one:

So much depends on money;

but what is money? That is the question

Is it good to be stuck on wealth?

Is it good to love money?


Was it good?

It could use some work….


like I said, I’m not cut out for this

Maybe –

just maybe –

I could think of something

It would be a miracle


like I said, I’m not cut out for this.





by Warren G., Class 6F

My monkeys make money, mounting millions of macaws




where the sun lay softly,

its head upon the horizon,

there the macaws will find it glinting,

swooping down in a cloud of red, yellow, green, and blue,


the shine of treasure.

[This poem has a rather “Zen” quality….]


by Ethan I., Class 6F

Why cow?

What does cow do?

Cow does what cow does.

Cow sits,

and stares

and does what cow does.

Cow sits, and stares

into nothingness.


Because that’s what cow does.


by Emily W., Class 6F


when I’m sad

I just go upstairs

to my four colour


and lie on my bed



I think of

sad things

I become


but I



So I think of



and then



but they are Happy tears

so i cry

   my sadness


and I



I’m still sad

   but I’m

      happy too

That is a



May 31, 2012

Week of Oct. 11


Our sixth week of school was great! Slightly colder weather, but that didn’t stop us from enjoying the outdoors (when it was dry!). We will continue to have gym and DPA outside as the weather allows — and we are fortunate to enjoy such a beautiful grassy and treed playground. One of our recess rules is that students must stay on the grassy area and out of the forest areas — we’re looking forward to our grade 6 leaders to keep this rule especially, since the younger students look up to them more than they realize! Any reinforcement at home of this particular rule would be appreciated.

Learning Communities

Speaking of being role models, our first Day 4 Student Learning Community (SLC) session will happen this week. As you may know, Learning Communities has been happening at Rousseau since 2006. We were the first school in HWDSB to schedule concurrent Student and Professional Learning Communities (PLC) (for staff) during instructional time and our school was even recognized at that time by our Board, with a Profiling Excellence Award for this practise. During Learning Communities, classes are paired with younger classes to participate in various learning activities. Our partners this year will be kindergarden students from Mrs. Robinson and Mrs. Crocker’s “A” Day classes and Mrs. Robinson and Ms Hinchey’s “B” Day classes (depending on whether Day 4 is an A or B day). So we are lucky!! We will have two buddies or more (depending on class sizes)! Teachers rotate between supervising these Student Learning Communities and participating in “Professional Learning Communities” where teachers engage in processes of inquiry and learning focused on improving student achievement. Through classroom, school, and large-scale assessments, teachers identify the strengths and needs of a group of students and determine the knowledge and skills required to close gaps that may occur. During some past years, the Student Learning Communities have focused on Character Education and Literacy : students participated in short teacher-led lessons about the importance of Caring, Citizenship, Empathy, Courage, Acceptance, Honesty, Integrity, Respect, Responsibility and Trustworthiness and followed up with a Literacy or Drama activity. At other times, we have focused on reading strategies. This year, Learning Communities has reduced to 24 minutes and there isn’t as much time for any sort of whole group activity or “lesson”. We will maximize the time partners spend together one-on-one this year by having “Buddy Reading” where older students model and practise various reading skills and strategies with their younger partners.

Character Attributes – keeping it positive in Class 6F!

Lessons regarding character attributes are very much embedded in our day and are connected to our curriculum (e.g. social responsibility: how can we think critically about our choices as consumers as they relate to supporting countries who are responsible to their workers; working as a team or group during math to achieve a goal). I refer to the attributes regularly during the school day. The attributes are often important to reinforce during those times when conflicts might arise. Students can tell you that my response to conflicts is to model the attributes and encourage students to practise them. I validate the intrinsic value of all students (Acceptance, Caring), and guide them to see that there is a difference between who they are as a person and the choices that they make (Responsibility, Citizenship). My personal philosophy is very much grounded in the idea that all students are capable and valuable, regardless of the choices they make. If choices are not appropriate, it is important to use the situation as a teachable moment — to recognize what may have led them to make their choice (Empathy), to encourage students to articulate the choices that they made (Courage, Honesty), to brainstorm alternate choices that could have been made and to set goals to make and follow through with different choices in the future (Responsibility, Citizenship, Integrity). There are so many successes in our class — we are a bright bunch of caring people! I always look forward to giving positive feedback, and sometimes this happens in the form of Monthly Character Awards at our monthly assemblies.

One way we are “keeping it positive” in 6F is to validate each other regularly through “Bucket Filling”. We started in September with a great read aloud called, “How Full Is Your Bucket?“. In the book, buckets and water are used as a metaphor for self-esteem: the more we receive positive messages and support, the fuller our bucket. We can also fill our own bucket by giving positive messages and support to others. A “full bucket” results in positive feelings of self-worth and empowerment. This was a great activity for Literacy in general….we made inferences as the story progressed and learned about metaphors and other literary devices. Here are some examples of metaphors we discussed and also a picture of our own labeled buckets, which students regularly fill with positive messages for each other.

examples of metaphors

our self-esteem buckets!


During Literacy this week, we completed reading related to trade (Social Studies) in the Nelson Literacy text, and practised our summarizing skills. We also practised summarizing as our current reading strategy during 20 minute Independent Reading sessions. We also reviewed our Writing — our own story endings to “The Sweetest Fig”. The writing focus for assessment was content and organization. With respect to Reading expectations, we established the fact that there were some very critical inferences that would have been made if students had comprehended the story fully, and we explored student examples to find evidence of those inferences (moderating student work). We also used the text to begin some explicit teacher-directed lessons about how to find evidence to support our Open Response comprehension questions. Here is the question about the central character, Monsieur Bibot, the dentist and the results of our group and classwork in finding evidence to support our inferences.

Open Response reading comprehension question

organizing our inferences and evidence from the text


In Math, we continued our exploration of Order of Operations. One challenge that remained was helping students to remember that although division and multiplication are performed before addition and subtraction, the two operations of division and multiplication are themselves performed in the order in which they appear in the mathematical expression (likewise for addition and subtraction). Student wrote a formative assessment, and I suggested that if a student’s individual assessment was really favourable, it could count as a summative assessment for evaluation and reporting. Students requiring reteaching and further practise will have that opportunity.


We also worked on Multiplication this week. In the “Getting Started” portion of the “3- Part Lesson” format, we started with a mental math strategy called “strings”, which helps to show the logic that can be used to break down complex multiplication…..


Then in the “Working on It” stage, we worked in teacher -chosen groups (3 students maximum) to explore a word problem…..

Problem solving question (group work)

And then in the “Reflect and Connect” stage, we shared answers and identified problem solving strategies with stick notes:. pictoral representation, open arrays, standard algorithm (the procedure of multiplication and ‘carrying over’ that many of us learned way back when), partial sums, repeated addition.  The goal for a level 4 (“A”) answer is to justify your answer in more than one way. Here are several Level 4 answers. Can you infer why two sample answers are 4+? Students are reminded that although it is important to communicate clearly, it is not necessary that their answers look “beautiful”. We want to see all of their thinking, including errors (which should be simpley “X’d” out, not scribbled) because then we can understand their thought processes. My favourite part of the 3-Part Lesson is Reflect and Connect, where students have the opportunity to share a diverse array of logic and strategies. We need to work further on establishing group work routines — students are learning as much about themselves during group work as they are about math!

The week ahead….

In Literacy, we will work on organizing our evidence in reading comprehension and refining our skills in communicating our evidence. In Numeracy, we will practice multiplication individually (especially the organization part) and assess multiplication, as well as revisit Order of Operations and re-asssess as necessary on a student-by-student basis. We will be continuing Trade in Social Studies….and of course a wide variety of activities in other curriculum areas: singing, sports, health, etc..

Have a super week!

Week of Oct. 3rd


Our fifth week of school was…….warm! I recommend students plan for a very warm classroom this week by dressing in layers — a long sleeve shirt (and jacket as appropriate) over a short sleeved t-shirt would be wise. More importantly, though, we had a great week!


In Literacy, we worked on Canada and it’s links to the world. Where possible, our Literacy lessons will be linked to the science or social studies using the Nelson Literacy text, and our current focus is social studies. We created a tally of the countries where our t-shirts were made…..and students were interested to see that so much of our clothing is made in Asian countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia and China as well as countries in South America such as Chile and El Salvador. This leads into interesting critical and analytical discussions of the nature of trade and labour and ideas about buying Canadian goods, despite the increased cost of goods. In the computer lab, students “Google searched” ‘Canada and it’s links to the world’ to build up their background knowledge and also activate their current background knowledge before delving into reading about trade. Students listened to a Read Aloud about one of Canada’s unique trading products —  maple syrup! — and also read independently about other products and the countries with which we trade regularly (imports AND exports).

We also participated in the Read Aloud of a book called, “The Sweetest Fig” (by Chris van Allsberg) — one of my very favourite books to read. The illustrations are fantastic (more of these to come in the next year..). “The Sweetest Fig” has a surprise ending, and instead of reading all the way to the end, I stopped……..and students wrote their own ending!! This literacy activity was a great way for students to use their inferring skills (a reading expectation) as well as writing skills. Perhaps some of the student written endings will end up here in this space….


In math this week, we practised Mental Math strategies. The challenge for students is to explain all the steps of their solution. This explaining is essential….practising explaining develops critical thinking skills and on a practical note, if the answer is wrong and the steps aren’t shared, I have no way of knowing where the student ‘went wrong’. Seeing a student’s thinking is so important, especially in the formative stage of assessment. We took turns answering questions on the SMARTboard (e.g. taking up independent work). Writing on the SMARTboard is challenging in terms of neatness, but this drawback is outweighed by the fact that using the SMARTboard is very engaging for everyone. I have added colour-coded text to explain different strategies employed in mental math (e.g. compatible numbers; decomposing numbers with and without open arrays; using estimation)

taking up mental math homework

We also began learning about Order of Operations. Do you remember the acronym “BEDMAS” from your youth? It still applies, except that in Grade 6 we no longer learn about Exponents…and we ignore the “E” step. In short, “BE DM AS” reminds us of the order in which we should perform adding, subtracting, multiplication and division: any operation in brackets first, followed by Division and Multiplication (in the order that they appear), followed by Addition and Subtraction (in the order that they appear). The challenge for many students was that they thought that BEDMAS told them the order to WRITE the operations, not just the order to PERFORM the operations. It is essential that the parts of the number sentences are kept in the original order. Here is an example:


   18 – 9 ÷ 3

= 18 – 3                                  

= 15


18 – 9 ÷ 3

= 3 – 18

Here the student correctly identified 9 ÷ 3 as the first operation to perform, but mistakenly wrote the answer to that operation first,  instead of keeping the parts of the number sense in the original order.


18 – 9 ÷ 3

= 3                   Here the student wrote only the answer to 9 ÷ 3 on the next line, and forgot to include  “18 –   “

= 18 – 3

The week ahead….

In Writing, we will read to the end of “The Sweetest Fig” and students will have the opportunity to reflect on the ending they wrote and how it was (or perhaps wasn’t) an appropriate extension to the story. We will take a look at effective organization of ideas in writing and revise our ending to make sure we include: longer sentences that include interesting details, paragraphs with a topic sentence, body and concluding sentence and paragraphs that are linked to create an organized overall “whole”. In Reading, we will also use the book to answer a reading comprehension question as a whole class, and make an Anchor Chart to show how to write an effective answer to open response reading comprehension questions (note: In reading comprehension there are two types of questions: “open response” questions — open-ended and written in paragraph form and the familiar “multiple choice” questions — where several possible answers are provided and students choose one correct answer). We will read a text independently  and practise answering open response questions. Our current big focus or “Big Idea” (for our Teaching Learning Critical Pathway or TLCP) is currently ORGANIZATION and in reading that means organizing the following: evidence from the text, our own reflections on that evidence and how it answers the question, and the background knowledge (connections) we have that help to answers the question. This reading response skill will be practised all year long. In Social Studies, we will continue to learn about products that Canada Imports and Exports. In Numeracy, we will practise Order of Operations until everyone increases their level of success, and we will continue to explore multiplication both in groups and independently.

On a personal note, Happy Thanksgiving! We’ve had the most amazing weather in Southern Ontario this weekend…what a beautiful combination of fall colours AND summer temperatures. Just one more thing to be thankful for! In closing, here are a few things that inspired me this past weekend here on the farm. Have a great week!

Ella taking a rest after running in the corn

the Grand River in early fall, with a little corn in the foreground

hike along the train tracks with Ella and Sapporo

beautiful maple tree

Great idea for keeping Anchor Charts!


This post might be of the most interest to my fellow teaching friends. Anchor Charts are class generated “posters” of important information learned or created during a lesson. They are created on easy to read chart papers and are  co-created with students during a lesson on a particular topic. Anchor Charts can summarize the important things to remember about general skills and knowledge (e.g. how to choose a “just right” book for reading or behaviours; habits that students need to demonstrate for particular Learning Skills and work habits; effective group work strategies) or specific subject-based information like multiplication strategies, how to effectively answer an open-response reading comprehension question, or the components of an atom.

Here is an Anchor Chart from Class 5N last year, which many of this year’s grade 6 students helped to create with Ms Napier:

Here is an Anchor Chart created with my Grade 6 class last year after reading a set of several inspiring books:

The challenge with Anchor Charts is that they are all very important and many need to be referenced throughout the year, but display space is limited and the large chart papers can clutter a classroom easily — so they have to be replaced and rotated as new skills and knowledge are posted. I came across an awesome way to keep old anchor charts and display new ones while reading a great teacher blog that I found while surfing around Pinterest.com. In this particular classroom, Anchor Charts are photographed (that’s right up my alley, especially with the new iPhone!) once a week, printed in colour and then stored in a binder in page protectors. The binder is available for students to read as necessary or for the teacher to sit down and review with individual students or groups. Extra black and white copies of individual Anchor Charts are stored in the page protectors, too, and can be handed out to individual students who may need reinforcing for a particular anchor chart.

Check out pictures of the Anchor Chart binder from the blog, “Teaching My Friends!”

I love this idea!

Week of Sept. 26th


Our fourth week of school was wonderful! Thank you to all students for working so hard to adhere to our routines and also for having taken on additional leadership roles in our school (such as lunch monitors, PA Announcers and Kindergarten Helpers). We continue to work on a variety of activities, independently at our table groups or collaboratively with other flexible groupings (e.g. math problem solving)….using pen/pencil, but also SMART board technology and classroom computers.

My own learning curve has involved meeting with other junior staff around the implementation of our TLCP (Teaching-Learning Critical Pathway) in classes (more information to follow) and analyzing our EQAO data. Also, I am excited to have purchased my first iPhone and am amazed at it’s capabilities for syncing with my Macbook. Technology is amazing and I am also learning all the time!


In Literacy, we have finally finished our DRA work (Diagnostic Reading Assessment). These assessments will be marked soon and I will be able to share a rubric with students and their parents or guardians. Along with the rubric (which assesses wide reading, goal setting, fluency — expression, phrasing, accuracy, rate, and comprehension — predicting, summarizing, literal comprehension, interpretation, reflection and metacognitive awareness), I will highlight the areas that could be improved and provide a list of suggested home activities for improving your child’s reading level. DRA is a great tool, and although it is one assessment, I have often found that it correlates with other reading assessments done in class.  We have also worked on publishing our first stories (written in the point of view of one of the dogs from “Voices in the Park”) and our illustration from that same story, incorporating metaphors. We continue to practise Inferring during Independent Reading time. We also worked on using First Class and will soon be writing our blogs!


In math, we continued to develop additional strategies for solving problems related to multiples and common multiples. Students are working very successfully in small groups to show their thinking in many ways. Here are examples of student group work. We are refining our skills in using and naming strategies in our work  (pictoral representations, multiples, common multiples, arrays, words, numbers), as well as using text features (colour, text boxes). The problem was described as follows:

Class 6F is having a BBQ. Hotdogs come in packs of twelve (12) and hotdog buns come packs of eight (8). What is the smallest number of packs of hotdogs and buns needed to have the right amount? (Each hotdog must have one bun and each bun must have one hotdog).

Physical Education & DPA (Daily Physical Activity)

We enjoyed a variety of warm up activities and team sports (outside, weather permitting) and have also worked on developing skills in floor hockey. Thanks to Sydney W and Hannah for sharing their expertise in this area!

Visual Art

Students participated in print making with Mr. Obermeyer this week — student’s have brought their work home. Here are some random samples — I’m loving the colours. Thank you Mr. Obermeyer. 6F student love creating art while 5/6O students have music with me in our classrom.


We have begun our unit on Healthy Eating and by the time students see this post, I will have already taken a picture of their lunches! Using Canada’s Food Guide, we will explore all the elements of a balanced healthy diet and explore meal planning with healthy choices in mind.

Awards Assembly

Character Awards – Congratulations to Paul and Emily for receiving awards this month for Courage, and to Karys, Luke, Eric and Hailey for receiving awards for Citizenship. Our class ‘performed’ a song with actions, sung in both unison and harmony (all a cappella!). This was a great song for teaching skills in music, math (number sense and patterning), listening, physical coordination and teamwork…plus, as the students said, “It was fun!”.

The week ahead….

In the upcoming week, we will continue setting up our First Class routines and work on fluency with email and possibly web publishing. We will take a look at blogging at some point in October, with the help of our LIPT (Literacy Improvment Project Teacher), Mrs. Cochrane.  In Math, we will move on to Prime and Composite Numbers  and Mental Math Strategies. Students who would benefit from help and reteaching will have the opportunity to do so several times a week during Nutrition Breaks. We will finally begin our Social Studies unit on Canada’s Links to the World, exploring Canada’s Trading Partners — partly by looking at where our own clothing is made. We will graph our results and make inferences about them. In Music, we will continue to sing, sing, sing! Many students have joined the Junior Choir, and our task at this point is to prepare music for November’s Remembrance Day Assembly.

Again, if parents would like to share concerns or ask questions, they may do so through their child’s agenda (checked daily), by phone or through email. I enjoy having conferences with parents after school and look forward to speaking to everyone at some point.