Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Simple Ideas for a Successful Junior Kindergarten Program

Lucky you! You get to teach Junior Kindergarten! Four year-olds are so much fun, and not that much different from five year-olds. If you are teaching a multi-age Junior and Senior Kindergarten program, you'll find that most four and five-year olds fit together beautifully.  I've taught Senior Kindergarten since 2008, and variations of stand-alone and combined Junior and Senior Kindergarten since 2010, and I absolutely love it. Here's what I've learned along the way about routines, resources, and activities to develop your program!
Four year-olds are so much fun!
Arrival
Developing smooth arrival procedures makes everyone's day better. I photograph all the steps in arriving in the classroom and create a PowerPoint presentation which we review on a daily basis. As the different slides appear, students complete that task if they haven't done so. I also photograph all the students in the classroom and make a second PowerPoint where we practice our friends' names every morning. Within a couple of weeks, most students are secure in routines and know their friends' names.

To ease separation anxiety (which can be a reality for four year-olds), I recommend a fun and engaging activity at drop-off/arrival time. Encourage parents to say a quick goodbye, as lingering only delays the inevitable tears. I suggest starting your day (or afternoon) with free play in the classroom or discovery learning activities--that way your kiddos are immediately immersed in something they love.
Who can resist spray-painting snow?
How to Start the Day with Discovery Learning 
Begin by teaching the routine of hanging up coat and backpack, handing in clipboard/agenda, putting on indoor shoes, then going to a table to explore and interact with the materials. Discovery learning can target literacy, numeracy, art exploration, as well as science and social studies concepts. Some teachers try to have one tub/tray from each curricular area each week for a total of 4-5 tubs/trays. Discovery learning is play-based, hands on, and promotes inquiry. Learn more here and check out these fantastic ideas on Pinterest.

The start of the year is a great time to begin discovery learning with simple fine motor activities to strengthen the hand skills of your learners—very important for the increasing demands for printing we place on Grade 1 students. See this post to learn more about fine motor activities that are open-ended and encourage exploration. Make time to develop Junior Kindergarten students' fine motor skills--it's a priority at this age.   
Developing fine motor skills as well as an understanding of how secondary colours are created
Once a discovery learning routine is established, activities can become more complex. As a teacher, you can spend the time observing students, capturing evidence of learning through photographs and voice recordings, and taking anecdotal notes. You might choose to position yourself at one discovery tray or roam around the room. I highly recommend Microsoft OneNote to organize all that information—create a page for each student, and you’ll have a wealth of data by report card time. Microsoft OneNote is available across platforms (app and web-based). 

Play
It is imperative that four and five year-olds have an uninterrupted block of free play.  In my classroom, we end the day with nearly 60 minutes of playtime (as recommended by the Council of Ministers of Education of Canada...check out this statement). It is everyone's favourite time of the day. The students and I co-create a variety of play activities based on their interests and I provide literacy and numeracy materials to support the play. Based on what I observe during play time, I teach relevant mini-lessons to move the play forward and develop important new skills. I often pick one student to observe during play, taking notes and capturing images. This yields a wealth of assessment data! Here's an example of what play-based learning might look like in Junior Kindergarten.
Simple materials such as these plastic cups are a popular activity during free play.
Curriculum and Program Development
Don't be alarmed, but there is no formal curriculum for Junior Kindergarten in Manitoba, as JK is not a provincially recognized program. Let me explain my way of thinking about teaching and learning in JK.
-I use the provincial Kindergarten curriculum to guide my instruction in JK with the idea that four year-olds have two years to become proficient in the outcomes
-the recent provincial Kindergarten support document, A Time for Learning, A Time for Joy, is an excellent resource to plan your program
-these documents are also great resources for guiding children's behavior and program development
-opportunities for play-based, inquiry-based, and project-based learning are vitally important and should focus on the students' interests. This has replaced teacher-developed themes in my classroom.
-Kindergarten students (JK/SK) should spend a very limited amount of time on worksheets/workbooks. I include a little bit in my program to strengthen hand skills and prepare them for Grade 1.
-since there are no provincial outcomes for JK students, I regard it as a year to "get what they can". The goal of my JK program is to develop early literacy, numeracy, social, and motor skills. If you are teaching a multi-age JK/SK program, all students participate in all whole-class learning experiences with different activities for learners depending on their level. We are one learning community.
-I work closely with my speech-language pathologist (co-teaching if we can) to strengthen phonological awareness--so important for early literacy!
-just like SK, children come to us at all different points, and it is our job to help them move forward on their learning journey. Some kids will leave Junior Kindergarten knowing all their letters and sounds, others will leave knowing just a few--and both cases are completely acceptable!
-however, that child with very emergent skills will certainly be on my radar very early in the year when he/she begins Senior Kindergarten. And, if I think there is a deeper issue, I will refer to clinical services as soon as possible in Junior Kindergarten.
Connecting with another classroom via Skype as part of a project-based learning experience  
Sample Schedule
8:20-8:25: arrival
8:25-8:45: breakfast snack and discovery learning materials are available, children eat at the circle if they are interested. Discovery learning activities focus on sensory and fine motor development at the start of the year and gradually include literacy, numeracy, and science.
8:45-9 am: morning meeting (reviewing routines and students' names/attendance, counting, songs/poems)
9-9:55 am: whole class learning time (inquiry or project-based, relevant mini-lessons based on play, etc).
-we spend 15 minutes doing Letterland or phonological awareness activities during this block.
-Handwriting Without Tears activities once a week
9:55-10:10: outdoor recess with entire school
10:10-10:30: story time and snack
10:30-11:20: free play, often with an art activity available for students who are interested
-if the gym is available, we might play in the gym for 15 minutes
-we might play outdoors, weather conditions permitting
11:20-11:30: clean up, goodbye song at circle, home time
Creating a menu for the classroom restaurant 
Assessing and Reporting
There are no formal reporting requirements in JK. However, I maintain frequent communication with families through texting, face-to-face conversations, and social media. Since our JK students only attend 0.25, I feel that it is premature to write a report card in November. I invite families to join me for a conference if they are interested or if I have concerns. Otherwise, I write a one-page report card in March. I use a scale to evaluate learning and social behaviors (secure, developing, not yet), then comment anecdotally on strengths and areas to develop,

My comments are based on ongoing pedagogical narrations that include conversations with the child, observations (including photos/videos), and work samples he/she has produced. As previously mentioned, I organize all of this in Microsoft OneNote. More information on pedagogical narration is available in this resource from University of Victoria.

Additional Resources
Ministry of Education, Ontario: this province offers full-time Junior and Senior Kindergarten to all children in the province. Here is their guiding document on Kindergarten.

Junior Kindergarten is a unique and special time in a child's life...enjoy every minute of learning with these fun little people!


Friday, May 4, 2018

Yoga and Digital Tools in Healthy Communities

I'm excited to present at the 2018 Child and Youth Care Conference (CYCABC) in Vancouver tomorrow (Sway presentation available here).  Lately I seem to spend a lot of time reading and discussing project-based learning in early childhood settings, so I'm looking forward to sharing about one of my other passions...yoga!  Since I became a certified yoga teacher in September 2015, I have taught adult and children's yoga classes, as well as integrated yoga into my kindergarten classroom practice and work as a resource teacher.
There is a large body of research on yogic practices and their impacts on physical and mental health, as well as emerging research on how yoga can support immunity, sleep, and addiction treatment.  In recent years, yoga has been hailed as a panacea to "cure whatever ails you", but it is important for professionals to be very intentional in their use of yoga in clinical and classroom settings.  In many cases, yogic practices offer documented benefits, in other cases more research needs to be done, and in some, the effect is negligible.  When using yogic practices with children, it is also important to be cognizant of the views and beliefs of families.  Some families are uncomfortable and/or opposed to their child participating in any form of yoga--clear communication is a must!
For me, yoga is a vital support to my physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health.  Since I began a daily yoga practice over three years ago, I am more flexible with better balance than I have ever been in my entire life.  I generate more innovative and creative thoughts and higher-quality work following a session on my mat...in fact, some of my best ideas for PhD assignments have popped into my head during savasana.  When I am upset, time on my mat helps me process big emotions and deal with my feelings in a more deliberate and positive way.  Spiritually, yoga helps me connect to myself, my community, and the belief that there is so much more than what is visible to the eye.     

Yoga Resources from My Blog

The Beginner's Guide to Yoga in the Classroom 

Teacher Wellness Series
Simple Tips and Free Resources to Start Your Yoga Practice
What Teachers Do When They're Sick
Morning Rituals to Start Your Day Off Right 
Four Ways to Develop an Attitude of Gratitude

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

The Educator's Guide to Podcasting: Easy Tips for Getting Started

For quite awhile, I've been an avid listener of podcasts. I like to listen to them while I'm driving, getting ready in the morning, or doing housework. They're like audiobooks, only free! They're like TV in that they entertain you, but you can do other things at the same time. It's a winning formula for me! My top two apps for accessing podcasts are Spotify and iTunes (the apps are right on my iPhone, and that's where I do all my listening). When I know I'm going to be out of wifi or decent mobile service (hello rural Manitoba) I download episodes in advance. The world of podcasts seems absolutely endless, and I'm always discovering new ones.

What are my favourite podcasts?
Yoga/Wellness/Health
1) Modern Yoga: Leo Cheung
2) Be the Light: Melanie Madhuri Phillips
3) From the Heart: Conversations with Yoga Girl (Rachel Brathen)
4) Light Work: Danielle LaPorte (hasn't launched yet but I'm super excited about this one)
5) Be Better: Dr. Greg Wells

Life/Self-Improvement
1) The Accidental Creative
2) The One Thing (absolutely love Episode 42 with Angela Duckworth on grit)

Travel
1) Zero to Travel: Jason Moore

For awhile now, I've been considering starting my own podcast as an accompaniment to my blog, but I just never seemed to find the time. I also wasn't completely certain how to do it, although I had a vague idea. That all changed in January when Dr. Kathy Sanford included a podcast as one of our assignments in our Advanced Research Methodologies course. She wanted us to use simple language to discuss our research topics and potential research designs for our doctoral work, and share our ideas through an audio interview that could be used as a podcast. I decided to collaborate with my friends Rob and Maya to record three episodes together, and my Kindergarten Diva podcast was born! I spent a day figuring out the ins and outs of the podcasting world, and I'll share that information with you today! First of all, my Kindergarten Diva podcast is available on this blog under the podcasts tab, and it's also on iTunes if you search "Kindergarten Diva" or follow this link. My goal for this week is to figure out how to get it on Google Play and/or Spotify.

First of all, why podcast? Podcasting is a fantastic way to quickly and easily share information in an accessible format with a real audience.

As an educator:
-professional learning and reflective practice
-share your classroom practice with others
-reflect on what is working and what isn't
-connect to a larger community of practice (educators and other partners around the world)
-share information with busy families and community members (especially if reading printed materials is an issue)

With your students:
-can create a podcast on any topic as a whole class or guided small groups in the early years
-learners can share their understandings of a topic (such as polar bears), provide directions on how to do something (coding for example), or raise awareness/issue a call to action (climate change)
-podcasting lends itself well to differentiated instruction and meeting the needs of diverse learners
-students do not need strong reading and writing skills to participate; instead they just need to be willing to share their voices
-students who are shy or non-verbal can still contribute. They can be in charge of sound effects with instruments, writing a script or developing interview questions, acting as a time keeper or researcher,  or setting up equipment. 
-podcasts are such a fun way to record reader's theatres or share favourite stories with a real world audience...and a fantastic way to build fluency and expression.

How to get started? Let me walk you through the steps!
Equipment Needed:
-device (laptop is what I've been using)
-microphone (the best quality you can afford--I have a Snowball back in my kindergarten classroom which is great. Currently I'm recording on a $20 microphone from Staples...because student life).

Software/Web Tools/Apps Needed:
-Audacity if you're using a PC (free download, then add the LAME mp3 encoder. It will help you do this the first time you try to export your recording as an mp3 file).
-Garage Band if you're using a Mac
-there are a number of apps out there for recording podcasts too. I played around with a few of them but gave up in frustration. Old school with Audacity worked best for me.
-an app/program to make cover art for your podcast (I used Rhonna Designs and Vanillapen, but any app that puts text on a photograph or background will work)

Podcast-hosting platform:
-I'm using Podbean, but there is a huge variety to choose from. I went with Podbean because it had good reviews, it was simple to use, and charged a low monthly fee to host my podcasts. If you are doing very little recording, it will host your podcasts for free, but I found I reached the monthly limit really fast.

Music/Sound Effects
-check out YouTube's copyright-free audio library or Freeplay Music
-I like to use the same 15 second clip of music as an introduction and conclusion
-just download a short clip as an mp3 file--if you choose clips that don't require attribution, that's all you need to do!

Now that you're ready to go with your equipment and tools, here are the steps in creating your podcast:
1) Use Audacity to record your podcast. Do a test run to see if your microphone is working and the sound quality is decent first! I find interviews to be really fun, but you can certainly just record yourself talking too.
2) Use Audacity's tools to edit--highlight and cut out pauses or sections that you're not happy with. Use fade in and fade out from the effects tab.
3) When you are happy with your podcast, save the project (it's some weird Audacity file format). Then export your podcast as an mp3 file.
4) Open a new file in Audacity and import your introductory music. Then import your podcast (the one you saved as an mp3). I know this sounds silly, but you can't add your mp3 music to the weird Audacity file format.  They both need to be mp3 files to join them together.
5) Highlight your podcast and choose the slider tool in the top tool bar (it has an arrow on each end) and slide your podcast down so it starts at the end of the music. You might choose to fade out the music so there's a nice transition.
6) If you are adding music to the end, either copy and paste your introductory music or add a new and different audio file. Use the slider tool to slide the music to the end of your podcast.
7) Make sure you are happy with how it sounds, then export it as an mp3.

Create cover art for your podcast:
1) In an app or program (Publisher would work too) of your choice, create a square image. Add text (the name of your podcast) and images/designs and save it as a JPEG. If you are given options about the resolution of the image, choose a low resolution as iTunes will not accept high-res images. I had to redo mine because it was too big.
Uploading your podcast:
1) Login to the podcast hosting site of  your choice.
2) Upload your podcast and enter all the correct information, giving it a catchy title.
3) At some point you will need to upload the cover art for your podcast. Use the image you just created (if you did it on your mobile device, email it to yourself or upload it to Microsoft One Drive or Google Drive).
4) Depending on the site you use, it will create a podcast player that you can embed into your blog or website (see the Podcasts section of my blog).
5) Your podcast hosting site will generate an RSS feed of your podcast. This is what you need to get it on iTunes, Google Play, and Spotify....this is why you can't just upload your mp3 file to iTunes Podcasts.
6) Find the RSS feed and copy it.
7) Visit the iTunes Connect site and login in with your Apple ID. Click on Podcasts, then follow the steps to add a new podcast, copying and pasting your RSS feed.
8) It will take a few days for iTunes to review and approve your podcast, but then it will show up in the Podcasts app!
9) I anticipate these steps are similar for Google Play and Spotify...I just haven't tried yet. And since I'm an iPhone user, iTunes Podcasts was my starting point.

Using podcasts with  your class:
1) If you have devices in your class, you could teach your students how to access the class podcasts in the podcasts app.
2) Or, you could embed your podcasts to a class blog (like I've done here) and create a shortcut for your students to click on to easily locate the podcasts.

Sharing your podcasts:
1) Once your podcasts are uploaded, share the link through social media...I recommend Twitter or Facebook.  Instagram isn't really ideal because link-sharing is limited to one URL in your profile. Although, you could place your most recent podcast there or the link to your podcast channel.
2) If you don't use social media in your classroom, email the link to parents, post it to the school website, or send it home in a newsletter with steps detailing how to access the podcast.

And there you have it! It might take some trial and error, but there are many YouTube tutorial videos to help you. Before you know it, you'll be podcasting like a pro. If you teach older students, don't hesitate to figure out these steps with your class...some students have a lot of tech knowledge and can be a great resource. If you are fortunate enough to have an ICT teacher-leader (like Leah Obach in Park West School Division) or an ICT consultant (like Mike Thiessen in Fort La Bosse), ask them to support you as you begin this process. Two brains are always better than one!

Good luck! And, if you have any suggestions for future Kindergarten Diva podcast episodes, please comment below or connect with me on Twitter at @india0309.  I'd love to hear from you!


Friday, March 30, 2018

Yoga Off the Mat: Local and Global Yoga Non-Profit Organizations

One of my assignments for my global education course was to research an international non-profit organization.  As yoga is one of my great passions, I decided to see if there were any organizations that focused on yoga. A quick Google search turned up a few that looked interesting, but then I became busy with other assignments and didn't think about it any further for a few weeks.

Then my friend Melissa invited me to attend a yoga teacher mixer event as part of Victoria Yoga Conference.  Midway through the evening, everyone gathered in a circle and we introduced ourselves.  I was surprised to learn that two women involved with local yoga non-profit organizations were in the room!

Nicole McLellan is the founder of The Om-Work Project.  Nicole is an educator and yoga teacher with the mission of making yoga teacher training and travel accessible to high school graduates as an alternative to traditional post-secondary experiences.  Nicole's foundation administers a scholarship fund to cover the costs of international yoga teacher training for young women who have completed high school.  Nicole is also a speaker and author.  Visit the website and follow her on social media (@theomworkproject) to learn more. View their brand-new video here!

Sarah Holmes de Castro from Yoga Outreach was also in attendance.  Yoga Outreach is a provincial non-profit that targets trauma-informed yoga practices for abused women and prison inmates.  Yoga Outreach provides trauma-informed yoga teacher training and retreats.

Both Nicole and Sarah told me that the local lululemon store was very supportive of their work, which led me to discover lululemon here to be.  This social impact program has pledged $25 million over five years to support local and global yoga initiatives, such as Africa Yoga Project and Love Your Brain. Check out my infographic handout below to learn more.  I had so much fun creating this handout using Microsoft Publisher and the Bitmoji extension for Google Chrome.


Monday, March 26, 2018

Research is One Big Mystery: Examining Research Through Nancy Drew's Magnifying Glass


Click on the video above to watch a narrated version of my Pecha Kucha presentation.  Pecha Kucha is a presentation format of 20 slides with 20 seconds of narration per slide and the slide deck auto-advances during the live presentation.  It is difficult to cite references when speaking in this format.  This Pecha Kucha presentation is based on a paper of the same title that I have written, and here is the reference list for the paper. 

References
Agee, J. (2009). Developing qualitative research questions: A reflective process. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 22(4), 431–447. https://doi.org/10.1080/09518390902736512
Chadderton, C. & Torrance, H. (2011). Case study. In B. Somekh & C. Lewin (Eds.), Theory and methods in social science research, (2nd ed., pp. 53-60). Los Angeles, CA: Sage
Chamberlain, K. (1994). The secrets of Nancy Drew: Having their cake and eating It too. The Lion and the Unicorn, 18(1), 1–12. https://doi.org/10.1353/uni.0.0328
Frankham, J. & MacRae, Christina. (2011). Ethnography. In B. Somekh & C. Lewin (Eds.), Theory and methods in social science research, (2nd ed., pp. 34-42). Los Angeles, CA: Sage
Farnsworth, V., Kleanthous, I., & Wenger-Trayner, E. (2016). Communities of Practice as a
Social Theory of Learning: A conversation with Etienne Wenger. British Journal of Educational Studies, 64(2), 139–160. doi:10.1080/00071005.2015.1133799
Fraser, H. (2004). Doing narrative research: Analysing personal stories line by line. Qualitative Social Work , 3(2), 179–201. https://doi.org/10.1177/1473325004043383
Gill, S. & Goodson, I. (2011). Life history and narrative methods. In B. Somekh & C. Lewin (Eds.), Theory and methods in social science research, (2nd ed., pp. 157-165). Los Angeles, CA: Sage
Janesick, V. (2000). The choreography of qualitative design: Minuets, improvisations, and
crystallization. In N. Denzin & Y. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of qualitative research, (pp. 379–399). Thousand Oaks,CA:Sage                                                                                                         
Keene, C. (1932). Nancy’s mysterious letter. New York, NY: Grosset & Dunlap.
Keene, C. (1953). The ringmaster’s secret. New York, NY: Grosset & Dunlap.
Killeavy, M., & Moloney, A. (n.d.). Reflection in a social space: Can blogging support reflective practice for beginning teachers? Teaching and Teacher Education, 26, 1070–1076. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tate.2009.11.002
Knowledge mobilization documents best practices for clear language research summaries. (n.d.). Retrieved March 18, 2018, from http://researchimpact.ca/knowledge-mobilization-documents-best-practices-for-clear-language-research-summaries/
Lynch, M. P. (2017). Teaching humility in an age of arrogance. Retrieved March 21, 2018, from https://www.chronicle.com/article/Teaching-Humility-in-an-Age-of/240266
Province of Manitoba. (2012). The community schools act. Retrieved March 22, 2018, from https://web2.gov.mb.ca/bills/40-2/b012e.php
Somekh, B., Burman, E., Delamont, S., Meyer, J., Payne, M., & Thorpe, R. (2011). Research in the social sciences. In B. Somekh & C. Lewin (Eds.), Theory and methods in social science research, (pp. 2-15). Los Angeles, CA: Sage
Taylor, K. (2017). Nancy Drew: Feminist or daddy’s girl? Retrieved March 21, 2018, from
https://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/nancy-drew-feminist-or-daddys-girl/article1354579/
Wenger-Trayner, E., & Wenger-Trayner, B. (2015). Introduction to communities of practice: A brief overview of the concept and its uses. Retrieved November 26, 2017, from http://wenger-trayner.com/introduction-to-communities-of-practice/

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Teachers as Researchers: Making the Shift

I think my heart will always be in a classroom…whether it’s a room full of energetic, shining-faced five year-olds or a university classroom filled with “big kids” training to become teachers, this is the place where I am always happiest and most alive.  My decision to pursue doctoral studies was a difficult one, as it meant leaving these special people and places for awhile and becoming a student once again.

Above: Junior and Senior Kindergarten sell iced tea and cookies to raise money to help the endangered Oregon spotted frog...one of my favourite project-based learning experiences!

In the past year, my cohort and I have shifted to view education through the lens of researcher as well as practitioner.  This has been an especially tough one for me…for many years, I have probably placed a much higher value on practical knowledge than research.  When research findings don’t align with my own experiences as a practitioner, I am guilty of defaulting to my own lived experience.  According to Labaree (2003), teachers firmly believe that only fellow teachers have the authority to speak about teaching and the educational process.  Labaree found that teachers can and will refute an entire study by citing one differing practical classroom example. 

At the same time, teachers are deeply caring professionals committed to providing the best possible education for their students.  When something isn’t working in their classrooms, they usually want to know why.  Many teachers are excited to implement new pedagogical approaches, curricula, or teaching strategies and want to know if these practices are making a difference for their learners.  Although teachers must report on students with letter/number grades and percentages, teachers know that there is a bigger story behind the quantitative data.  Despite a strong reliance on practical experience, teachers do care about research—they are interested in solving problems, investigating more deeply, and making a difference. This leads me to the topic of my blog post—can teachers also function as researchers?  Is it possible to operate with one foot in each camp?

What is teacher research?
Cochran-Smith and Lytle (1993) defined teacher research as “systematic and intentional inquiry by teachers about their own school and classroom work” (pp. 23–24).  However, instead of being the objective observer, teachers are involved in every aspect of the teaching and research process—both roles are intertwined, conducted at the same time, and inform each other (Klehr, 2012).  Klehr has observed that teacher research is an active, reflective, and constantly evolving process; research questions may shift over time as a direct result of data collection, student needs, or shifting political situations in the educational systems.  I believe the goal of teacher research is more informed, deliberate classroom practice.

Qualitative research methods are well-suited to the flexible, holistic nature of teacher-led research.  Teaching journals, pedagogical narration, field notes, observations, and media samples are accessible and natural for most classroom teachers.  In my practice, I blog on a monthly basis to reflect on and disseminate my work.  Blog posts have chronicled my evolution as a teacher, allowing me to identify what has worked, how I could improve as a practitioner, and what direction I should take next.   With blog posts, short case studies, and the other methods described above, it is possible to identify themes through narrative analysis.  Narrative methods are an excellent fit for the “personal, storied nature of teaching” (Carter, 1993, p. 8).  Teachers are natural storytellers who can analyze their stories through a research lens to gain important insights.  

In my own practice, I’ve been fortunate to participate in a more formal research process several times.  On both occasions, this has fallen under the umbrella of participatory action research as a teacher piloting new curricula and programs.  My first experience was in 2007 when Manitoba Education developed a Literacy with ICT continuum.  I was one of three teachers in my school district who implemented the new continuum and developed and assessed a variety of  learning experiences.  I collected student work samples and observations and maintained a teacher log of my experiences and reflections.  Throughout the year, I shared my findings with Manitoba Education which informed the development process and final product.

Another time, I was able to assist with the development and implementation of my school district’s first Junior Kindergarten program.  As a pilot site, we collected quantitative data such as test scores (using the DIAL-4 developmental screening tool), parent surveys, as well as relying on more qualitative measures such as observations, field notes, and student work samples.  We wanted to know if regular early intervention with a qualified teacher and clinicians had a lasting impact on students’ academic and social success.  Although I was an inexperienced researcher with a ton of bias and deeply invested in the process myself, my research informed my classroom practice and my classroom practice influenced my research questions.  Collecting data and constantly reflecting on what was working and what wasn’t led to the development of a research-informed, high-quality early intervention program that I still regard as one of the great achievements of my teaching career.

What shifts do teachers need to make to also function as researchers?
Upon completing an undergraduate degree, most new teachers aren’t prepared to engage in research activities.  Keeping their heads above water with teaching, assessing, reporting, and classroom management is enough to leave them exhausted at the end of the day.  Gaining life and classroom experience and developing a reflective practice are excellent starting points for novice teachers.  With time and continued professional learning, teachers may be ready to move toward these four shifts in perspective to engage more effectively in research activities (Labaree, 2003).

a) From normative to analytical: instead of wondering what to do when a particular problem occurs, teachers must transition to examining the nature of the problem to understand it more fully. This shift in viewpoint enables teachers to focus on the big picture (instead of just one student or one issue) and make broader connections and generalizations.

b) From personal to intellectual:  good teachers are deeply invested in relationships with students, parents, and colleagues.  However, to use an old cliché, sometimes this can stop them from seeing the forest because of all the trees. As researchers, teachers need to look beyond individual relationships to big, important ideas. 

c) From particular to universal:  many teachers are busy and overwhelmed, giving them a narrow focus limited to their classrooms and students. Researchers have a broad knowledge of theory that can create linkages to a community of practice.  My colleague and best friend Leah Obach and I like to work within a community of practice, including parents, students, community members, educational stakeholders, and universities in our classroom practices.  This creates opportunities for collaboration and learning experiences that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. 
Above: Junior and Senior Kindergarten students collaborate with university students to investigate climate change and the impact on polar bears

d) From experiential to theoretical: as previously mentioned, many teachers believe their lived experiences trump any theory or research.  Teachers must be willing to consider theory as well as practical experience in their roles of teacher-researchers. 

Challenges and next steps 
Practicing teachers have great potential to benefit from examining and applying existing research and investigating and creating new research.  However, few teachers have the time (or the sometimes the desire) to read professional literature, finding academic studies to be dense and difficult reading.  One solution is to make clear language research summaries available to practicing teachers.  These concise and simple summaries are a quick and easy way for busy teachers to engage with current research (“Knowledge mobilization", n.d.). 

Children in classrooms can function as co-researchers (although this idea merits its own blog post).  Pedagogical approaches such as inquiry and project-based learning foster a classroom culture that values children's curiosity and ability to ask questions and identify problems and issues in their world.  Children are very capable of posing questions and can become tenacious researchers when pursuing ideas that are important to them.  Giving children the opportunity to participate in research builds important academic skills as well as the ability to communicate, collaborate, and cooperate with others.
Above: Kindergarten children collect quantitative data through a survey.

Additionally, stronger linkages must be forged between universities and K-12 schools.  When university faculty conduct research in K-12 educational settings, it demystifies the research process and provides useful and timely information to classroom teachers (hopefully). University faculty involved in local schools can also lead to mentoring or partnering with teachers as teachers begin to engage in their own research.  As classroom teachers experience the value in the process, it is likely that they will be more invested in continuing to ask questions, seek answers, share their findings, and make a difference in education.   

References

Carter, K. (1993). The place of story in the study of teaching and teacher education. Educational Researcher, 22, 5–12.
Cochran-Smith, M., & Lytle, S. (1993). Inside/ Outside: Teacher research and knowledge. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
Klehr, M. (2012). Qualitative teacher research and the complexity of classroom contexts. Theory Into Practice , 51(2), 122–128. https://doi.org/https://doi-org.ezproxy.library.uvic.ca/10.1080/00405841.2012.662867
Knowledge mobilization documents best practices for clear language research summaries. (n.d.). Retrieved March 18, 2018, from http://researchimpact.ca/knowledge-mobilization-documents-best-practices-for-clear-language-research-summaries/
Labaree, D. F. (2003). The peculiar problems of preparing educational researchers. Educational    Researcher , 32(4), 13–22. Retrieved from http://journals.sagepub.com.ezproxy.library.uvic.ca/doi/pdf/10.3102/0013189X032004013

Saturday, December 16, 2017

What I've Learned in the First Term of PhD Studies: Workflow and Wellness

It's hard to believe, but the first term of PhD studies has drawn to a close. As my last blog post indicated, September seemed to crawl as I battled a touch of homesickness, so many firsts, and being brave and by myself. Once I put September behind me, October and November have passed in the blink of an eye. I like to think as a slightly older and wiser PhD student, I've learned a few things in the last couple of months.

Figure Out My Workflow: Researching and Writing Papers

This has been a really hard one for me. The first paper I wrote took me DAYS because I didn't have any steps or strategies in place to help me organize my time, my resources, and my writing process. I'm doing so much better with this now, especially after writing three massive papers all due in the past week. Here's what works for me:
-search for articles and books in Google Scholar
-read abstracts of articles, if that is promising do a quick scan of the article, and determine if  it's useful
-copy the title and author, search them in the UVic library catalogue, then download to my computer into OneDrive files labelled by topic
-at the same time, extract the reference information into Mendeley (a free citation manager tool that has a desktop program, a Google Chrome browser plug-in, a Microsoft plug-in, and an app)
-based on the articles I found, I get a piece of chart paper and make a big concept map of all the ideas I want to include
-structure an outline of my paper and decide on the major themes. I set this up in Microsoft Word, not as the actual paper, but as a place to organize information. The themes continue to evolve throughout this process.
-then I begin to read the articles. Anytime I find anything useful, I copy and paste the text, article title, and page number into the correct section of my outline.
-revisit course materials for anything that links to my paper
-print out my outline (because it's just too hard to switch screens), then spend some time reading all my notes and let it sink in
-then I make a concept map that organizes the first section of my paper, then write the first section of the paper. I repeat this process section by section until all the writing is done, extracting citations from Mendeley as I go (the Microsoft Word plug in makes this very easy)
-write the introduction and discussion/conclusion
-draft the abstract
-let the paper rest for a day or two so I can return to it with fresh eyes
-read the paper and edit, at least two times
-read the paper paying strict attention to APA format, looking things up as necessary in my handbook or online
-ask friends and/or my supervisor to review to give feedback on the flow of the paper, cohesiveness of my thoughts, and sharpness of argument
-take a deep breath and submit, then pour a very large glass of red to celebrate!

Workflow: Organizing Class Materials and Notes

The only tools I need to manage course materials and notes are Microsoft OneNote and OneDrive. I've set up a Doctoral Studies OneNote notebook with sections for each course. Each class, I start a new page in the relevant section with notes. If the professor hands something out or shares a useful diagram, I photograph it and upload it to OneNote. This has worked wonderfully well, and when friends miss notes, it's easy for me to share mine with them. The only thing I might do differently next term is organize my course notes by topic instead of date, as it was sometimes difficult to remember what date we discussed something. As OneNote is a cross-platform tool, I have the app on my iPhone, my Surface, and my laptop. Everything syncs across devices, so I always have everything I need.
Additionally, I organize all articles, course outlines, and handouts in Microsoft OneDrive. I have a folder called Doctoral Studies and a sub-folder for each class. Like OneNote, OneDrive is available on all my devices, and it is really easy to share documents and work collaboratively with my colleagues.

Office 365 is free for educators and includes the tools I rely on so heavily. All you need is an education email address (your school division or university one will work) and you can start using it for free! Learn more here.

Leverage Your Resources

I'm fortunate to be surrounded by amazing friends, colleagues, and mentors, and I know that seeking their support is key to my success. It's sometimes hard to make myself vulnerable and share my work with them because I don't want them to think it's bad. But I know the only way I'll improve is with feedback, and sometimes I can't see my own glaring errors as I've spent so much time working on the paper. Sending my first paper to my supervisor for review was a very hard and scary moment. But her feedback was kind as well as constructive, and I learned a lot.

My best friend Leah and I like to do as much as we can together and we have very similar educational interests. It's a bit harder now, but that's where Skype has been a great tool. We used Skype to review my paper together last weekend; sharing the screen so we could both see the paper at once.

You Won't Survive Without Your Cohort

My department chair at Brandon University advised me that my relationships with the people in my cohort would be critical to my success, and he was absolutely right. On the first day of my first class, I made a new friend, and I've added to that number throughout the term. I took it upon myself to organize a cohort study group and we meet every other Wednesday before one of our classes. I used Microsoft Forms to find a time and location that worked for the most people. Sometimes only a few people show up, but it is an important opportunity to discuss the readings and assignments, ask questions, and listen to each other.
Image may contain: 11 people, people smiling, people standing
Image may contain: 11 people, people smiling, people sitting, table and indoor

Take Time for Wellness

Time spent in nature and on my yoga mat kept me sane during the crazy busy-ness of final papers. I keep my yoga mat unrolled by the table where I work, and every hour I stop what I'm doing and spend a few minutes practicing...often just a few cat-cow stretches, downward dog, forward folds, and some twists. Additionally, I take in a studio class most days at One Yoga, Alive Mindbody (barre--my new passion) or Fernwood Yoga Den, and occasionally Moksana and Moksha. Moving my body and focusing on nothing but my breath and intention are so therapeutic for me.  After finishing my a 6000-word paper, I was exhausted and overwhelmed, but thought I should carry on to my next paper. This proved to be a really bad idea as I was unproductive and tearful and incapable of doing anything. I used my Mind Body app to find an upcoming class and headed to Moksha for a 90-minute warm yin class. It was the best thing I could have done, and as my mind and body relaxed in savasana, I was hit with the most fabulous idea ever for structuring my next paper. I left the yoga studio feeling inspired, and went home to write half the paper in one sitting. I got an A+, and I firmly believe that I wouldn't have produced such great work without taking care of myself first.
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Love yoga barre classes at Alive Mindbody!
Most days I visit my nearby beach which is only five minutes away. The fresh ocean air and refreshing breeze always energize and refocus me. There is a great trail that wanders from Willows Beach to Cattle Point that I love to walk along. The beaches are open to dogs beginning in October, so I often get to pat dogs and visit with their owners. Social interaction, animals, and fresh air always make me feel so much better.

And the first term is in the books...
My first term of PhD studies went so much better than I expected... I'm really pleased with my marks, the program and my supervisor are both excellent, and I love my new friends and yoga community. Happy to be back in Manitoba for the holidays, and excited to see what the second term has in store!