September 16, 2015

Week of Inspirational Math

This week my class is taking part in a Week of Inspirational Math—a five day program created by Stanford University's youcubed team as a way of "inspiring students through open, beautiful and creative math." After registering for a free account, teachers can easily access videos, lessons plans, and activity sheets from the youcubed website. 

On the first day, my students watched a short video about how their brains work and how anyone can be good at math. We discussed what they thought of the video and then talked about the pros and cons of working in groups. The students shared what they wanted people to think about when working in groups and what they thought would make working in a group easier. 

We then moved on to the Four 4's activity, which involves writing the numbers 1 to 20 on the board and having the children try to find every number between 1 and 20 by using four 4's and any operation they want. So to make the number 8 they could write 4 + 4 + 4 - 4. 

My class found this difficult as they are not all that comfortable with multiplication and division yet, but we just filled in as many numbers as we could and then left the rest. Here's what our white board looked like as we were working on this activity:

Even though it wasn't an easy task for my class, it was a great way to assess where the students are at, and it forced them to think deeply and use their brains.

My class has completed activities for the first three days of the program, and they have really enjoyed it so far. I think that this is a great program to use with students at the beginning of the year or at any time of the year when you need a break from the regular math program and want to add something a little different into your math block.

September 07, 2015

Cool School Design by Takaharu Tezuka

It's my last day of vacation before the school year officially starts (yikes!), and I wanted to share one of my favourite TED Talk videos as a reminder of how important it is to give children plenty of time for imagination and play.

Architect Takaharu Tezuka clearly understands what children want and he demonstrates this with the innovative school he designed for Kindergarten kids in Tokyo. I showed this video to my Grade 6 class last year, and even though they were considerably older than the little kids in the video, every single one of them said they wished that this was their school.

September 06, 2015

Dyslexia in the Classroom

I teach at a small private school that specializes in children with learning disabilities. About half of the students have dyslexia, which means that they have difficulty reading, writing and spelling.

Often, the traditional approaches to teaching children to read and write do not work for children with dyslexia, and unfortunately many people with dyslexia are never properly diagnosed and they continue to struggle with reading and writing throughout their whole lives without ever knowing why these things are so difficult for them.

Even if a child is diagnosed as having dyslexia, there are very few teachers in the school system who know what to do with this information once they get it. And it's not their fault—dyslexia is the most common learning disability, but teachers receive little to no training on working with children with dyslexia.

Before starting at my school a few years ago, I was one of these teachers. I had a vague idea of what dyslexia was, but my knowledge was very limited and when I look back it is clear that many of the students I worked with didn't just have "poor reading skills," they had dyslexia.

There are two approaches that my school uses for children with dyslexia. The first is the Orton-Gillingham (OG) method, which is a language-based, multi-sensory program that is most effective when used one-on-one or in small groups. It can be difficult to incorporate OG into a large classroom (although parts can be taught in a whole class setting), but my school has individual remediation periods where students are put into small groups to work on whatever they most need to work on, so this is where OG usually takes place. My school uses Susan Barton's Orton-Gillingham program, but this is just one of many options.

The second approach we use is called Real Spelling. I LOVE Real Spelling, and it is something that I always try to incorporate into my Language program. Real Spelling involves word inquiry and teaches children to make sense of how words work by investigating morphology, etymology and phonology.

Here's a great example of how Real Spelling and structured word inquiry can be used in the classroom:

The official Real Spelling website is a little out-dated and is largely used as a place to buy the Real Spelling products (which are great—my school owns the Real Spelling Toolbox and I use it regularly), so I would also suggest checking out the many other amazing blogs and sites that discuss Real Spelling and structured word inquiry. Here are a few of my favourites: WordWorks Kingston, Real Spellers, and Linguist-Educator Exchange.

I think the most important thing I've learned in the past few years is that ALL students should be taught to read using approaches like Orton-Gillingham and Real Spelling—not just students with dyslexia. I have seen improvements in reading ability in all my students when using structured word inquiry, and I will now always incorporate this into my Language block even if none of my students have dyslexia.

I plan to post more about how I use structured word inquiry in my classroom in future posts, so stay tuned!