Learning modifications for all …

In an attempt to create individual learning plans that are meaningful and useful, we have launched a mini inquiry. We are noticing that there is a myriad of accommodations that teachers make without even thinking about them.

Things like:

  • including every child in the lesson
  • giving them a choice and a variety of levels of challenge
  • starting with what children know
  •  using calculators to do some problems
  •  using manipulatives, charts, concrete apparatus
  • grouping  students with higher reading groups so the story can be enjoyed and good reading strategies are modeled
  •  rotating  groups – use purposeful pairing
  • not “frontloading” – rather creating short, meaningful mini lessons
  • conferencing to teach at points of need
  • gaining the respect of everyone in the classroom by giving it
  • taking  time to get to know all students; ensuring that what we are asking them to do, on a given day, is thoughtful and thought provoking… remembering that children have bad days too
  •  having a sense of humor and helping children to develop theirs
  •  discreetly letting the special needs students know that we understand their learning difficulties and are willing to help them be successful in the class
  • providing modifications BEFORE disruptions occur
  •  being consistent
  •  avoiding sarcasm
  • giving instructions multiple times and in multiple ways. Paraphrasing, writing key points up for everyone
  • making reflection a part of every learning experience and using this as assessment
  • noticing and naming successes. Modeling this and encouraging learners to do the same
  • using a tone and manner that does not make learners feel that they are babies or below us
  • using VISUALS all the time, with auditory back-up
  • adding icons or pictures whenever possible
  •  developing a discrete hand signal to use with the student to indicate their need to modify behavior.

Reading and exploring sites like this has given us some ideas for strategies to look out for and to think about in developing plans that are individualized to the specific needs of each learner. They have also made us realize that what we do for learners with special needs are often modifications that are beneficial to all learners.

The image below made me giggle, but it also led me to think about how different it is to know the answer and to be able to articulate thinking and understanding. Formative assessment is a powerful tool when seeking to create modifications and allow students to show what they DO know, before finding things that they do not know.

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Some questions to ask ourselves:

1. When and what do I need to teach ALL students in my classroom?

2. How do I use assessment to inform teaching and grouping?

3. How do I ensure that every child is making progress?

4. Is learning engaging? How?

5. How will accommodations benefit not only the special needs students in our classes but all students – don’t they all have needs?



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Beautiful takeaways …

I shared this video with a group of children today.

“Why do you think I am showing you this clip?” I ask.

The answers included:

  • “We need to share ideas.”
  • “Kindness is important to all of us.”
  • “We need to be aware of other people.”
  • “Don’t be sad . Others can help you.”
  • “Be grateful for what you have … others don’t have as much as you.”

Beautiful takeaways from a very short clip. Great messages to refer back to!

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Maths – skills taught in isolation?

Our maths session begins before I walk into the room today. The children have spotted this image on my desk and are chatting about how to solve it.

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We don’t all get the same solution and spend some time trying to work out whose is correct, and why. Then, we are ready to move on.

Yesterday, I  stumbled across  Jo Boaler’s “How to Learn Math for Students” and had a wonderful time scanning through the lessons and watching snippets of the videos. I even did some of the quizzes!

Within the course I found this question:

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I listened to Jo Boaler’s explanation of how her nine year old student had approached the problem, and decided to share it with my small group of learners. The discussion started and no one had an idea of where to begin, so we started to ask questions …

  • What do we know about kilograms?
  • What do kilograms measure?
  • What do we know about the answer? ( This is a great question, and we decided that the answer had to be less than 3, as 1/4 is less than 1/3)

The solution was not as straight forward as my learners initially thought and they all found that drawing a picture, after visualising the scenario was helpful.

The images led me to some misconceptions that needed to be addressed :

  • “I don’t know how to write a quarter of a kilogram as decimal”
  • “I am not sure how many pieces in the whole.”

Many more drawing, discussion, trial and error situations, models and explanations followed.

At the end of lesson, we brainstorm the mathematical concepts that we have used. The group comes up with:

  1. addition
  2. subtraction
  3. multiplication
  4. division
  5. halving
  6. place value
  7. fractions
  8. order of operations
  9. measurement
  10. problem solving

And I consider the  transdisciplinary skills that have been employed:

  1. reading
  2. visualisation
  3. connecting
  4. collaboration
  5. problem solving
  6. justifying an answer
  7. evaluation
  8. note taking

Maths is certainly not about skills taught in isolation. It is about the world, our lives and how we make sense of everything around us!

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Learning unconventionally …

I never thought that making slime was educational. Until recently.

I have the privilege of working one-on-one with a nine year old young man, who finds learning – particularly maths – incredibly challenging. He often shrugs his shoulders and throws in the towel. So a few weeks ago, when he asked “how do you make slime?” I told him honestly that I had no clue, but there must be ways to find out.

This has led to a three chapter investigation. The first week, we used cornstarch as the main ingredient. He was comparing quantities and estimating without thinking about the difficulty. The “slime” was a disaster! And I celebrated. “What do you think we need to do differently?” I asked, and he hypothesised. So when he arrived the following week, he happily dove in to reading and interpreting a new recipe (with contact lense solution!) and comparing it to the previous week’s recipe.

Alas – another mess! And the conversation grew. “We need to persevere to get this right,” we decided. “Our mistakes are helping us know what we shouldn’t do next time.”


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Chapter 3 unfolded  with young lad arriving with his own You Tube Clip and we took notes while we watched. We decided we were missing one ingredient, so perhaps we could improvise. We searched through some other recipes and decided we need to make our own liquid starch. We headed into the kitchen and looked at the measuring equipment. “Which one is larger, which one holds less? How many ml in two cups?” The skills that he employed without calling it maths are varied and impressive.

“We’ve hit the jackpot!” he proudly announced, his hand dripping in yellow “stuff”. Now this is slime. We spoke about what we learnt and on his way out, I am told that when he found his home learning challenging this week, he said, “I’ll give it a go – just like like the slime!”

Yes – I think “we’ve hit the jackpot” !

Posted in Inquiry, Jina, Learning, Thinking | 2 Comments

Exploring exponents

Today, my year 5 maths group heads off with me, chatting happily along the way.  We have been asked to explore exponents.  The children are in a different space to where they usually learn, the mix of children is different and so is the teacher!

They take time to settle and I say, “I guess you’re not used to what I expect from learners, so I’ll tell you what I hope and then please will you tell me what you expect.”

In one sentence, I talk about making decisions, taking ownership and being responsible for learning. No one has anything to add, so we move on.

I pose this as an invitation :

Very quickly, I realize that the children are not connecting to my train of thought, so I rephrase to:

Some children use A3 paper, some their books to write all that they think they know. I walk around, noting ideas and misconceptions. I write two things on the board, telling the class that I have noticed two different ideas and I am wondering which is right:

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Children decide which one they believe is correct and why they believe this. We write their initials up next to the one they agree with and we have one child who is undecided. We have a tug of war type of discussion, and children change their opinions (and where their names are written) as they listen to other people’s opinions. At the end of the tug, we are all on one side and each child is able to explain why they have their belief.

We move on to explore exponents and then, I pose this provocation, asking the children to use index notation in some way.

Screen Shot 2017-03-15 at 8.36.47 pmCollaboration is innate and the ideas that start to develop are fascinating. As I walk around, I see that one child has written:

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We write this on the board and ask what people think. Some agree, some are unsure.  They all want time to explore. Suddenly, Kayleigh says, “I disagree! I can explain …” The other children listen intently and more questions evolve.

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As the lesson draws to a close, we have a discussion. “What did we learn today?”

The responses vary:

  • I learnt that making mistakes helps me learn.
  • I learnt what exponents are.
  • I learnt that when I find things out myself, I understand them better.
  • I learnt that I can make decisions that help me learn.
  • I learnt how to explain my thinking.

I ask the children to complete this form. Their questions will inform where they start the next lesson.


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A survival kit for teachers

Teaching a class must be one of the most challenging things to do.

The responsibilities are immense, yet the rewards, while sometimes buried deep, are endless.

Teachers are asked to:

  • know every child – their learning needs; social connections (and lack thereof) , family background; likes and dislikes; hopes and dreams
  • cater to needs of every child – differentiate, individualise, include, provoke thinking … allow time (just the right amount), group children with purpose . Provide rich, valuable resources without dishing out answers
  • provide a stimulating, motivating environment in which children are given agency and choice, but where there is a sense of decorum to allow listening, communication and learning to grow
  • use assessments and data in a meaningful way – track growth; use of variety of meaningful assessment tools; document learning
  • communicate – with school heads; colleagues; parents; children
  • be informed – know the world; know the curriculum; know the content and skills. Where has each child come from? Where are they going to?
  • be mindful when offering praise – sometimes praising one child is interpreted by others that they are not good enough.Allow children to decide when their ideas are valuable and ask questions to get them to evaluate and reflect on what they have done and think of ways in which they might improve.

How is this possible? How can one person do all of this effectively and efficiently?

My list of survival and success tools, gathered over many years and by interacting with incredible educators looks something like this:

  • Stay in the loop – know what your children are talking about and bring the world to them. Share real world events and help learners make connections.
  • Laugh when you need to. Cry when you need to. Have people around you who will listen when you moan, will laugh with you and who will ask “the right questions” and tell you to ask them too. Ensure that your learners, their parents and your school heads know that you are human
  • One rule for all children does not work – using global punishment or rewards for a whole class alienates children from each other and the punisher and is something that is very hard to stop. When do individuals learn to make effective choices and take responsibility for their actions if whole classes are rewarded and punished for the actions of individuals?
  • Have access to resources – printed; online; people and things
  • Use a calendar that has alerts – there is way too much to remember. Technology is our friend.
  • Take photos to remember and document learning.
  • Let the children do theheavy lifting“. Teachers plant seeds of thoughts and help learners find their own – children need to grow and develop ideas in ways that work for them
  • Put the decision making onto the children and allow them to reflect on the effects. Make reflection a regular and expected part of learning.
  • Be flexible. Schools are dynamic places. Be willing to change plans and ideas as learners and school needs evolve.

What would you add to this survival kit?

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Learners sharing experiences and knowledge

With his Zine finally published, B has secured the places where he wants to display his product. It sits proudly in the reception areas of our school, so that it may be seen by visitors. It is his snap shot of what learning looks like at our school.

The action, however, came in a form that neither of us had considered. Our Year 6 students are currently working on their PYP Expedition, towards their PYP Exhibition. Part of our role, as teacher mentors is to talk to the children. To get them to pose and answer questions and keep considering the journey they are on. The focus is the expedition, not the exhibition.

In this capacity, I sit with a girl (L) who feels passionately about educating people about the great work  of a charity organisation – one in which she is involved. She has been there, she has cooked, packed and delivered food to needy people and she knows all the benefits. She wants to tell other people why they should be involved too. She has decided to make a brochure, which the organisation wants to see, but she is unsure how to do this. She is folding paper and deciding on lay-out.

She feels unsure and something is not right for her. So I ask her, “Do you know what a zine is?”
“No!” We watch a quick YouTube clip and she looks at me and says,”This might be good for me!” So we head off to the office and I show her B’s zine.

“HOW DID HE DO THAT?” she beams.

“Why don’t you ask him?” I suggest. And we are off.

An informal, light-hearted mentoring session takes place, with a promise to be of assistance as and when he is required in the future.


L feels invigorated. She has direction and a real mentor – an expert who has done this before!

B feels important! He is able to share his knowledge and experience and help another (older) child.

How do we empower children to share their experiences and knowledge?

Do we know what our learners know so that we can pair them up authentically (with no barriers of age and stage)?


Posted in Jina, Learning, learning support, ownership, PYP | 1 Comment