“Giftedness is not what you do or how hard you work. It is who you are. You think differently. You experience life intensely. You care about injustice. You seek meaning. You appreciate and strive for the exquisite. You are painfully sensitive. You are extremely complex. You cherish integrity. Your truth-telling has gotten you in trouble. Should 98% of the population find you odd, seek the company of those who love you just the way you are. You are not broken. You do not need to be fixed. You are utterly fascinating. Trust yourself!”

Linda Silverman~Gifted Development Center Denver

Saturday, 22 September 2012

My FAVOURITE art/back to school idea of all time!

Back when I was a new teacher I was looking for great art ideas to start the school year.  I was really fortunate to teach at an awesome school (shout out to Denlow P.S. in North York) with some awesome teachers (shout out to Gail, Susan and Pat).  I can honestly say these teachers gave me more skills and knowledge in the four years I was with them than I have acquired in the past twenty since leaving that school!

Anyhow, one of these great teachers (sorry gals, I don't remember which of you it was) showed me an idea to do with my grade 4/5 class.  The teacher gave their students strips of cartridge paper (approx. 10 cm by 10 cm) and asked them to trace school supplies to cover the entire piece of paper.  After this students then added line designs to the school supplies and covered all the white space in the background with dots.  All these years later, I still have the sample I made my first year of teaching on my bulletin board at school.  The kids love to see that Ms.McKay also created her own art project.(It also freaks them out that the sample is over 20 years old!)

After I left that school and moved on, I ended up working in a school where the student desks were in really bad shape.  I wanted to come up with a way of covering the desks that would look good and involve the students artistic talents.  The idea I had "borrowed" in my first year came back to me, but this time I added my own twist. 

This is how I have the students create personalized "desk mats".  The kids love them once I laminate them, and the caretakers love that the desks are protected each year.  I love that the students permanently have their "name" on the top of their desks.

Step 1:  I give each student a large piece of white cartridge paper, and have them draw a 10 cm by 10 cm border around the outside.

Step 2:  Students then trace a variety of school supplies in pencil all around the border.

Step 3:  Students outline all the objects traced using a fine line marker.

Step 4:   Students add patterns and lines using a combination of BLACK fine line and Crayola thick markers.

Using a ruler or meter stick the students create a 10 cm by 10 cm border on white cartridge paper.

Students do the initial outlines in pencil and then go over the whole design with a combination of fine line and thick markers.

Love this design...it reminds me of a heart monitor.

Make sure the student also goes over the "border" lines with a ruler and black fine line marker.

Adding creative patterns to the outlines.

Try to emphasize a combination of thick and thin lines.  Also contrast of light and dark.

You can see the realistic details blend with the creative pattens.

This student is using a variety of "dots" in different sizes to add pattern to his mat.
Step 5:  Once the students have finished the black and white border they are allowed to do anything in the "middle" section of the desk mat.  The only thing they MUST include is their name.  I encourage them to use LOTS of colour and a variety of media.  Some students bring in pictures from home, some draw their favourite objects, some print images from the computer.  They often use a combination of pencil crayon and marker for this part of the project.

Step 6:  After students have finished the inside design and the outside patterns, they go back to the border section.  Here they use a fine line marker to fill all the "white" space in the background with dots.  This can be tedious for some students but the finished effect is worth it.  Some days it sounds like there are woodpeckers in the classroom as several students are making their dots at the same time.

Step 7:  I laminate all the desk mats.  I know this is not considered very environmentally friendly, BUT it prevents a lot of messy desks, which prevent the use of chemicals and cleaning products.  The desks remain pristine and therefore last longer.  The students are also very PROUD of their work, and most keep the mats for years and years to come.

I can honestly say this is my all time favourite activity for back to school and to start teaching art.  What is your favourite go to activity?  

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Learning Skills and Work Habits

Well, school is back in swing and I am coming home exhausted everyday!  I don't think I have stayed awake past 8:00 p.m. one night this week.  So far, I have implemented my classroom procedures and management plan with few hitches.  My class seems very keen this year, they like to talk though!  Yesterday, I gave my class their first "Learning Skills and Work Habits Student Self-Assessment Checklist".


I created this checklist last year when the Ontario MOE introduced "Growing for Success" the first elementary assessment and evaluation policy document to be published in decades!  With the changes in policy came a change in the emphasis and format of the elementary report cards.  The "Learning Skills and Work Habits" part of the report card was suddenly at the forefront and all the academic sections were made secondary. 
When talking to my students after the first "progress report checklist" went home in October, I realized they had no real concrete idea of what the skills and work habits they were being evaluated on really WERE.  Some had a vague idea what "responsibility" and "organization" meant, but things like "self-regulation" and "initiative" were foreign to them.  I knew that I could not have my students work towards improving these skills and work habits if they did not understand what they meant or what I was looking for. 
My first attempt to create a checklist for students looked more like a rubric for teacher use. I only used the standard language found on the Ontario report card.  This attempt still did not seem to help the students understand what I was looking for.  I converted the rubric format into a checklist, and as a class we refined the language to include "I" statements such as "I accept responsibility for and manage my own behaviour".  The final checklist at 2 1/2 pages does seem very long, particularly if you are teaching younger students.  It would be easy to adapt and emphasize only a few points under each heading. 
After students self-assess using the checklist (I have them do this first thing after lunch each Friday), they are asked to review the their assessments and choose three skills/work habits which they determine need improvement. Students fill out the bottom of page 3 of the checklist recording the three areas for improvement, setting out a brief plan for each area and stating what teacher/parent support they might require.  I then have the students show me their checklist and goals.  I check for completion and then ask the students to transfer their 3 goals onto the "Weekly Objectives" section of the following week's planner.  I remind them to frequently review their goals and plans for achieving them during the week.  In some cases the students even use highlighters to give the goals extra prominence. 
The following Friday, students fill out page 4 of the checklist.  This reflection page asks them:
SO WHAT? What 3 areas did I select to work on so that my learning skills and work habits improve?
NOW WHAT? Did my plans work so that I could improve in each of these areas? Why?
Reflecting upon my work habits and learning skills this week, something that I learned about myself is:
I will use this information to help me to:
After they have completed page 4 of the previous week, they take a new checklist and start the process all over again.  I remind the students that if they did NOT achieve their goals the previous week, they should reflect upon why they did not and perhaps choose those same goals again, BUT with a different plan for success.  I discuss with them that it takes approximately 21 days or 3 weeks for a new skill or habit to actually become a HABIT.  Some goals may last a week or two, some a few months and some the entire year.  The entire process is what I emphasize with the students.
Last year, my students quickly began to internalize what each of the skills and work habits entailed.  After using the checklists and accompanying goal setting sheets for several months, I saw a distinct change in the ownership of the learning in each of these areas.  Students were able to verbalize what they were being assessed and evaluated on, and they were able to set goals which they were able to attain. 
One student from last year visited me this week.  I overheard him telling some of my new students that my checklists and goal setting had made him "so aware and organized that I scare myself".  This student had really struggled the previous year, and I was glad to hear that he felt the use of the checklist and goal setting had helped him learn how to be more successful.  Really, that is what teaching is all about!

Saturday, 8 September 2012

You might be gifted if...

Many myths and misconceptions about gifted students exist in the minds of parents and educators alike. I myself am the proud parent of a gifted child and I am privileged to teach gifted students.  In my many years as an educator I have observed a wide variety of behaviours and characteristics. I have also seen/read many published checklists of "gifted"  behaviours and characteristics. One thing I can say for certain, is that NOT all gifted students are alike and they are not all gifted in the same way.

I spend a lot of time at the beginning of the year getting to know my students.  I ask them to complete interest inventories, bring in items that tell me what they value ("Me Bag" homework), I have them fill out multiple intelligence and learning style surveys and I administer some academic diagnostic tests (such as the Morrison-McCall spelling survey, and the Schonell Vocabulary test).  I start to develop a "profile" of each student as I work towards creating an IEP (Individualised Education Plan) for child.  I also ask for input from the parents. 

Here are some things I have observed over the years parenting my amazing child and working with gifted students.

The student may:
• Ask many questions and be very curious
• Easily get "off task" and "off topic"
• Possess a large amount of information
• Be impatient when not called on in class
• Have a good memory
• Learn new information quickly
• Become easily bored
• Retain information easily
• Become disruptive in class
• Master reading skills earlier
•  Avoid repetitive/rote activities (e.g. worksheets)
• Demonstrate strong abilities in math memorisation
• Display unusual academic achievement
• Complete work quickly ( but often sloppily )
• Be interested in a wide variety of things
• Resist investigation of activities apart from areas of personal interest
• Become involved in a variety of activities 
• Be motivated to try new things
• Leave projects unfinished
• Enjoy a challenge
• Takes on too much and becomes overwhelmed
• Think independently
• Challenge authority
• Express unique and original opinions
• Not handle criticism well (but really who does?)
• Be self-motivated
• Not work well in groups
• Use higher level thinking skills
• Tend to be absent-minded regarding practical details
• Forget homework assignments
• Make connections other students don't see
• Consider unusual approaches to problem-solving
• Posses a strong sense of justice
• Be very critical of self and others
• Like to debate current issues and real life problems
• Like to argue a point
• Be a perfectionist and expect others to be perfect as well
• Posses a sophisticated sense of humour
• Easily get carried away with a joke
• Understand subtle humour
• Have a tendency to become the "class clown"
• Enjoy plays on words and satire
• Demonstrate strong expressive skills
• Be sensitive to feelings of others
• Demonstrate skill in drama/art/music/language
• Be perceived as a "know-it-all" by peers
• Elaborate on ideas
• Be viewed as "bossy" by peers in group situations