Sunday, April 28, 2019

Leader of the Day: 10 Steps to Strengthening Oral Language and Early Writing Skills

Last year, I had the pleasure (most days anyway) of teaching on-call in Greater Victoria School District while attending University of Victoria.  It was tough for the first month or two, but then I built up a collection of fantastic schools that I taught in regularly and I began to love the variety of classrooms, children, and assignments.  A favourite classroom of mine to teach in was Karen Higginbotham's Kindergarten/Grade 1 classroom at View Royal Elementary.  A day spent in Karen's classroom (and many of the others I taught in) provided wonderful professional learning and a wealth of fantastic ideas that I was itching to try out in my own classroom. This blog post is dedicated to one of my favourite activities from Karen's K/1 program and how I've adapted it to my Kindergarten practice at Oak Lake Community School: Leader of the Day.

Leader of the Day is a terrific ELA activity for helping children get to know their peers, so I decided to introduce it at the start of the year.  As well as strengthening the classroom community, this learning activity promotes oral language skills, numeracy skills, and early writing skills.  How did Leader of the Day look in Kindergarten at the start of the year?

1) Choose a leader of the day: our leader of the day was also our special helper (line leader, handing out papers, leading activities, etc) and was selected as part of morning calendar.  I like to use SMART Notebook's random word selector programmed with all the students' names to randomly choose a student.

2) Name recognition: the leader of the day printed their name on a special SMART Notebook slide and we named each letter. Using the magnetic letters tool in SMART Notebook, the student spelled their name a second time.

3) Developing questioning skills:  Little people have a difficult time telling the difference between a question and a comment, so this was our first challenge to overcome.  Once my students understood how to ask the leader of the day a question, we worked hard on formulating interesting questions rather than the standard favourite colour, favourite toy, and food.  I encouraged the students to ask questions with a numeracy focus, such as: how many people are in your family? How old are you?

4) Developing a concept map about the leader of the day:  the leader of the day sat at the front of the room and called on students to answer their questions.  As the we found out new facts about the leader of the day, I recorded this information in a concept map using SMART Notebook.  I tried to include a visual with each fact to assist students in "reading" the information later.

5) Paying attention to details: after the concept map was completed, the leader of the day stood up on one of my wooden stump chairs and we studied their physical appearance.  We talked about hair colour, eye colour, and the clothing the student was wearing.  I emphasized how important it was to observe the student closely so they could create an accurate picture.

6) Setting criteria: we created a list of what made a great picture.  Criteria included relevant body parts (such as head, neck, ears, arms. hands/fingers, legs, feet, etc) and using the correct colours.  We talked about how our pictures needed to be big (take up the page), bold (use at least three different colours), and beautiful (include many details).

7) Drawing the student:  we used a template to draw a picture of the leader of the day with a large space for the picture, with room for writing below.  Once the picture was completed, I encouraged students to print any relevant words, including the leader's name and their own name.

8) Editing as a group: once the pictures were finished, we came together as a group and looked at everyone's pictures.  Referring to our criteria, I modelled providing feedback to peers as I held up each picture.  I'd say things like, "Did you notice how Sam drew Gabe's eyes and coloured them the perfect shade of blue?" or "I noticed that Grayson doesn't have any fingers.  Next time, make sure you give Grayson five fingers on each hand."  After we reviewed all the pictures, I returned them to students and encouraged them to add or make changes.

Peer editing:  after a couple of weeks, students were familiar with how to give and receive feedback.  We started working in partners to give feedback to each other and make changes to our art work.  I shared the idea of "Two Stars and a Wish" (two things that your friend has done really well and one thing that they might add or change) and it worked beautifully.  I noticed huge growth in the students' art work and observation skills.

9) Portfolios:  once students were happy with their pictures of the leader of the day, we photographed them and uploaded them to their Seesaw accounts.  Parents were really responsive and commented frequently!

10) Book creation:  Each leader of the day received their own stapled booklet of all the drawings of them with the concept map as the cover sheet.  Students loved to look at all their friends' drawings of them and share with their families at home.  Pictures could also be photographed and included in a digital book, using a tool such as Book Creator.

This first cycle of leader of the day lasted about two months in our classroom, and during this time I noticed tremendous improvement in students' abilities to ask "good" questions, draw accurate and detailed pictures, print names and words, and provide and receive feedback.  Leader of the Day was an excellent activity for the start of the year, and I plan to revisit it for the last two months of Kindergarten--won't it be fun to compare the concept maps from the beginning and end of the year for each student?  This time, in addition to drawing pictures, we will focus more heavily on printing words and sentences about the leader of the day.  To give this activity a new twist, I'm considering using Skype to include leaders of the day who aren't in our building.  Wouldn't it be exciting for students to have the opportunity to ask questions to someone they admire and create a final product to share with them via technology?

In Karen Higginbotham's K/1 classroom, her Grade 1 students wrote paragraphs about the leader of the day and drew a picture as well.  Additionally, she included other adults in the school as leaders of the day, such as the principal and custodian.  The principal was the leader of the day when I was teaching, and it was such a wonderful way for the students to get to know him better.

Leader of the Day is a fun and simple activity that can be adapted to suit your students' age and learning needs.  If you decide to try it out, I'd love to hear how it went!

Monday, November 19, 2018

Count on Project-Based Learning: Strengthening Students' Numeracy Skills Through PBL

Project-based learning.  You've probably heard about it...but is project-based learning an appropriate pedagogical approach for developing numeracy skills in young learners? That is the topic I tackled last month when I spent the morning presenting at Manitoba Association of Math Teachers' MTS PD Day Conference, Rolling the Dice on Change.  For more than ten years, project-based learning has been my favourite tool for investigating student-initiated, real-world topics with young learners.  I was excited to dive deeper into the existing research and unpack how this pedagogical approach can strengthen numeracy skills in young children.

First of all...what is project-based learning? This video has been around for quite a few years, but it was developed by the Buck Institute for Education (an excellent resource for K-12 teachers implementing project-based learning) and does a nice job of explaining the approach.  In my own experience, I have found project-based learning to be a cyclical approach that uses student interests and real-world issues and problems as the curriculum of the classroom.  Usually, project-based learning is interdisciplinary and facilitated (rather than led) by the teacher, who teaches relevant mini-lessons and weaves in curricular outcomes to move the learning projects forward.  Sometimes, project-based learning is collaborative as partnerships are formed with other classrooms and organizations.  A few examples from my classroom practice are detailed here:
Walking for Polar Bears
MakerFaire and Yoga Festival 
Love Family Adoption Party 
Reindeer Rescue
Baby Love Baby Shower
National Sweater Day
Connected Wellness Global Yoga Challenge 

What does the research say?
-project-based learning has been defined as an active, child-centred teaching and learning approach that uses student interests as the impetus for building knowledge and implementing authentic learning in real world settings (Kokotsaki, Menzies, & Wiggins, 2016).
-a project-based curriculum “promotes children's intellectual development by engaging their minds in observation and investigation of selected aspects of their experience and environment” (Katz & Chard, 2000, p. 2).  
-project-based learning is not an extra activity in the classroom; instead it is the curriculum itself, integrating provincial outcomes and fostering literacy and numeracy (Bell, 2010). 
-children build subject area knowledge and collaborative skills while displaying motivation and positive peer relations (Kaldi, Filippatou, and Govaris, 2011).  
-educators should challenge young children to solve real-world problems to spark creativity and innovation (Pramling Samuelsson, 2011). 

What numeracy skills may be developed through project-based learning?
Researchers have highlighted the importance of young children becoming proficient in subitizing (ability to recognize small exact quantities), comparison of the sizes of numbers, estimation, where numbers fit on a number line, and procedural and conceptual counting (Martin, Cirino, Sharp, & Barnes, 2014; Whyte & Bull, 2008).  The specific numeracy skills that arise out of project-based learning may vary depending on the learning project.  However, I have found that the numeracy skills identified by researchers occur in nearly every project-based learning opportunity in my early years classroom.  Depending on the project and the learning needs of my students, I may choose to focus more strongly on certain numeracy skills.  For example, if my Kindergarten students are struggling with teen numbers, I may spend a few days teaching mini-lessons and really examining and using teen numbers within the context of the project topic.  Here are some examples from project-based learning experiences undertaken in my classroom and in collaboration with my teaching partner and friend Leah Obach.

In every learning project, counting happens on a daily basis.  We count objects, people, votes/survey results, money, and materials.  We have many opportunities to match one-to-one as we count and compare quantities.  We count by ones, forwards and backwards, and sometimes we need to skip count.  What I believe is most important is that we are counting for a real purpose and the success of our project is linked to our ability to count accurately and quickly. 
Counting loonies and toonies from our Timbits sale and polar bear white ribbon campaign provided an excellent opportunity to strengthen our ability to count by ones and twos.  I encouraged students to set the price at $2 to facilitate these counting experiences.

Visuals on the interactive whiteboard and base ten blocks can help young children count larger quantities of money. 
Number Operations and Problem-Solving
There are many opportunities to use addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division to solve problems key to the success of the learning project.  When working with larger numbers, tools such as hundred charts, Power of Ten cards, and base ten blocks are invaluable supports in solving these problems. 
Students used large ten frames to investigate teen numbers and adding ten as they counted cups for hot chocolate for our National Sweater Day project.

Printing Numerals
Throughout our learning projects, we are frequently required to print numerals for a variety of tasks.  A sense of urgency is created as students are faced with recording numerals to keep track of results, recording and sharing new facts they have discovered, and creating and labelling materials.  Suddenly it matters that they can print numbers quickly and correctly. 
This student printed numbers to record how many students were in each class as his class prepared to hand out flyers advertsing a Timbits and white ribbon sale to support polar bears.  Students printed more numbers as they labelled the notes for each classroom. 
Students reviewed their guest list for their MakerFaire and yoga festival, using tally marks to determine how many invitations would be delivered by mail, division mail, by hand, and email. 

Working with Data and Making Data-Informed Decisions
When students are deciding how they will tackle an issue or how they will work to make a difference, differing opinions are often raised in the classroom.  Votes and surveys are essential for making fair decisions that reflect what the majority of students would like to do.  Additionally, we have polled our school and local community to determine the most popular cookies and beverages when planning events and sales.  Students have been excited to personally survey people in our school and to work with me to create online surveys using Microsoft Forms or Survey Monkey.  The results from our surveys have allowed us to move forward in our projects and base our decisions on real data, not just on our opinions and personal preferences. 
We used Survey Monkey to find out how much people would be willing to pay for greeting cards that we created with our Instagram photographs.  This project arose out of the students' interest in creating, editing, and captioning beautiful images for Instagram and a desire to support the new early learning centre that some of them and their siblings attended. 

Sometimes using an estimation jar gets old and lacks authenticity.  Through learning experiences such as these ones, we have opportunities to develop important estimation skills to move forward with our projects. 
After experimenting with the capacity of glasses and jugs, we estimated how many glasses we would get from one batch of homemade iced tea.
We estimated how many cookies would fit on a plate for our bake sale.  We sold homemade iced tea and cookies to raise money for sick kids and the endangered Oregon spotted frog. 

Depending on what the project calls for, we usually have opportunities to measure objects and physical spaces.  In keeping with curricular outcomes, we usually rely on non-standard measurement.  Occasionally, it is necessary to use standard units when comparing distances and mass. 
We planned and hosted a yoga festival for Internatonal Day of Yoga.  It was important to plan how we would design the physical layout of the space in the gym.  We used steps to measure the length and width of the gym, then created a sort-of-to-scale map on the SMART Board.

We decided to hold a Timbits and white ribbon sale to raise awareness and funds for how climate change affects polar bears.  We made the perfect white ribbon pin, then measured it with cubes.  We used cubes to measure 100 lengths of ribbon--lots of great lessons about measuring accurately!

Final Thoughts
Implementing project-based learning in your early years classroom will provide many opportunities for developing numeracy skills in authentic, real-world contexts.  This pedagogical approach creates an urgency for counting, comparing quantities, representing numbers, solving problems, estimating, and measuring--students begin to understand why these skills are important and how they are used in the real world.  

Keep your eye on the curriculum.  It is crucial that the teacher has a strong understanding of the provincial curriculum and acts as a facilitator to connect the students' interests with learning outcomes.  Based on observation and the demands of the project, the teacher must provide timely mini-lessons to support students as they build knowledge and develop and apply solutions.  It's all about the teachable prepared to go where students lead you and don't worry if the skill they need to develop (or at least develop familiarity with) isn't in the curriculum until Grades 3 or 4.  Exposure won't hurt your students, and some will get a lot out of it.  Additionally, it is important for the teacher to be mindful of what outcomes have been addressed through project-based learning and what outcomes need to be developed in future learning experiences. 

Don't try to fit a square peg in a round hole.  Not all project-based learning experiences will teach all numeracy outcomes, so don't try to force it.  Embrace what works naturally with the project, spend more time on the skills that need to be strengthened in your students, and develop other skills in future projects or lessons. 

Document and share learning.  During project-based learning, I constantly capture our learning through photographs, videos, and voice notes that are organized in Microsoft OneNote in a section for each child.  This evidence allows me to determine if students are meeting learning outcomes and provides valuable information for reporting.  For content that I'd like to share with parents, I upload images, videos, and work samples to Seesaw and our classroom Facebook page.  Sharing student learning with families allows them to see how their children are developing important numeracy skills through project-based learning. 

And remember...project-based learning isn't "dessert".  Don't wait until the end of the year when the curriculum has been "covered" to implement project-based learning.  This pedagogical approach isn't an add-on, an extra, or a reward for completing traditional learning activities.  Instead it is an important vehicle for capitalizing on student interests, engaging students in hands-on, real world learning, and developing important numeracy skills.  

Presentation slides and references available here.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Words to Live By

I think it's only natural that as a lifelong reader, special quotations and readings have become an important part of my daily life and yoga practice.  Since I started teaching yoga, I've shared readings throughout the classes I guide.  I find these readings and quotations helpful in cultivating a theme for a class, encouraging students to set an intention, providing something to reflect on during long yin and restorative poses, and imparting something to take home at the conclusion of a practice.

In my daily life, my iPhone lock screen is usually a quotation that I've selected to remind myself of my current goal or intention.  I've been known to stick Post-It notes with important quotations to the dash of my vehicle, and I frequently share quotations on my Devon Caldwell Yoga Instagram account.  I find that quotations and readings often give me the boost I need to persevere or try something new.  Sometimes quotations are motivating, thought-provoking, or comforting.  My favourite quotations resonate strongly and say something in a way that I never could.  

When I share quotations (such as the one below), I usually use a photograph I've taken (or a standard purple background like on my Instagram account) and add text using an app on my iPhone.  Favourite apps include Word Swag and Rhonna Designs
Lately I've been asked a lot about the readings I've been sharing in my yoga classes.  Here's where you can learn more about my current favourites:

2) Prayers of Honoring, by Pixie Lighthorse

3) Brave Enough, by Cheryl Strayed

4) Worlds of You: Poetry and Prose, by Beau Taplin 

Additionally, please check out my Pinterest boards where I pin short readings and quotations for both my personal life and yoga teachings. 

Words for Wanderlust (Travel Quotations)

What are your favourite books of poetry and prose? I'd love to hear your suggestions!

Sunday, July 15, 2018

PhD Studies and Candidacy: Is There Life After Coursework?

On June 28, I completed the final course of my PhD program.  Every institution and every department within an institution has their own unique requirements for coursework and the candidacy process, and I've learned that the next step isn't revealed until I'm almost done the previous one. So what have I been up to lately and what is happening next? Lots of people have been asking, so I thought I'd dedicate a post to explaining the candidacy process in Curriculum and Instruction at University of Victoria!
First of all, doctoral students in Curriculum and Instruction are required to take four courses: two required (Discourses of Education and Advanced Research Methodologies) and two electives that can be outside the department and even the faculty.  My supervisor completed her PhD at UBC where the course requirements are a lot heavier, and she believed that I would be more successful with a broader knowledge base.  And she was totally correct--I feel like I lost a lot between my Master's degree and my doctoral program, AND I pay the same tuition if I take two courses or four courses at a time! As a result, I completed seven courses instead of four: Theoretical and Historical Perspectives of Child and Youth Care, Curriculum as Discourse, Global Education, a cross-departmental research internship, Gender and Leadership, plus the two required courses.

So while I was taking my courses, I was a PhD or doctoral student. Now that my courses have come to an end, I have started candidacy exams to hopefully embark on the next stage of my program.  If I am successful, I will become a PhD candidate who has demonstrated the theoretical knowledge and research skills necessary to begin my own program of research. So what does candidacy involve? If you follow me on social media, you probably saw my exhausted and overwhelmed posts from the library, coffeehouses, and my little apartment in the last couple of weeks. I pretty much lived on popcorn and wore my fuzzy robe all the time...except when I went to yoga or the left the house. Candidacy is the hardest thing that I've ever done in my's the breakdown:

1) First step is to form a committee: a committee consists of your supervisor, another faculty member from the same department, and someone from a different department or faculty at UVic.  I have three people on my committee at the moment, and the third member is from the psychology department. I believe that a fourth member will be added down the road who will serve as my external examiner when I defend my dissertation.

2) Submit a candidacy proposal: this is a 5-10 page paper that outlines the direction of my future research.  It includes an introduction, rationale, significance of my research, theoretical framework, research design, and review of the literature. It is really hard to fit all of that into ten pages, but we are encouraged to be succinct at the PhD level, or "parsimonious" as the Dean of Education says! My candidacy proposal was hugely challenging. All year I had planned to research community and family experiences of project-based learning in early years. but my supervisor felt that this might be limiting for my future prospects...and it wasn't aligned with the funding priorities for Canada's big research council that funds research. I knew that she was totally right of course, but it meant a switch in topics this spring. I'd spent the whole year amassing literature on project-based learning and diving deep into the topic. When we decided to change my topic, it was like starting from the beginning a month before candidacy started. My new topic investigates how technology is being used with young children in rural and urban Manitoba as well as teacher purpose for using technology. This area is another huge passion of mine and I have a lot of practical experience, but I had no idea about the body of research out there.

3) Present the candidacy proposal: I submitted my candidacy proposal on June 25 and my committee had about ten days to review it. On July 5, I met with the three members of my committee. I gave an informal presentation about my proposal that lasted about 25 minutes, then they asked me questions for another 25 minutes. Answering questions from three experienced researchers was very intimidating; however, I really felt like all my years of teaching and presenting had prepared me for this moment. Based on my proposal, they decided that I was ready to begin the candidacy process. I really wasn't sure if they would accept my proposal or not, because it just seemed so last minute and thrown together--although I worked really hard on it, I felt like I didn't have a handle on my new topic or the research design. But as my supervisor reassured me after the meeting, everyone feels exactly like that (or else she's just really nice).

4) The first question: after I left, my committee met and decided on two questions for me. One question is about research design and the other one focuses on theory and a literature review. I received my first question on Friday, July 6, which meant I had exactly one week to write and submit a 20-25 page paper answering my question. My supervisor is no longer allowed to help me as now is the time for me to demonstrate strong and independent academic work.
My research process is a messy one 
My first question focused on my research design (case study). So for an entire week I immersed myself in case study research design. And, I couldn't just write about my thoughts and opinions...every idea needed to be substantiated by existing research or the writings of case study scholars. Unfortunately case study is kind of airy-fairy (Is it a methodology or a method or none of the above? Oh wait, maybe it's all of the above?!) with lots of opinions about how it should be done, so it was really difficult to figure it all out for myself. I actually thought about case study nearly every moment of every day and I dreamed about it too. I researched all weekend and Monday, then started writing on Tuesday. On Thursday night, I wrote until nearly 3 am, then got up the next morning, finished the paper, and edited it.  Academic writing requires a particular style--in education, I have to write and cite references in APA format which is the pickiest, fussiest thing in the world. For my final proofread, I read all 23 pages out loud and actually started crying when I got to the conclusion (dramatic, sleep-deprived, super stressed out...all of the above).
I submitted my paper just in time for happy hour on Friday. Now my committee has two weeks to review it, and I will either pass and be given my second question, or I might be required to edit it and re-submit it, or I just might fail if they decide that I don't demonstrate a thorough enough understanding of case study. I don't know what will happen. All I know is that I did my absolute best work and that I couldn't have worked harder. If it's not good enough, it's not good enough. If I pass this question, I will receive my second question in two weeks and I'll have another week to produce a 20-25 page paper that I anticipate focuses on theory and the relevant literature.

So what am I doing for the next two weeks? Hanging out on the beach and doing lots of yoga? Well, I'll probably go to yoga everyday, but I have a new task right now. I'm applying for a research grant from SSHRCC (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada) which is a big's unlikely that I will receive one as a first-year PhD student, but it's worth a try I guess.

If I pass both questions, I will defend my candidacy in a formal presentation and question session. If I make it through that, I will officially be a PhD candidate! It seems like a long way away, and I'm not confident in my ability to make it through all these challenges. I'm trying hard to only think about my current task, otherwise it just seems really overwhelming. When I move back to Manitoba, I'm returning to Oak Lake Community School to teach Senior Kindergarten every other day. The rest of my time will hopefully be dedicated to writing my ethics application and research proposal.

This first year has been a time of huge growth both professionally and personally (read more about my first term here and here), and it's far from over. I'm looking at another year to get ready to conduct research, a year to collect data, and then at least another year or two of data analysis and dissertation-writing and editing. Stay tuned--with some luck and a lot of hard work, I hope to be planning a huge graduation party in about four years!

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Gender: What Teachers and School Leaders of Young Children Need to Know

Since I began a class on gender and leadership with Dr. Catherine McGregor, I realized that I knew very little about gender development in young children.  Our discussions, readings, and guest speakers encouraged me to examine my kindergarten classroom practice, and I realized that I was not creating a truly gender-inclusive learning environment for my little people.  When we were given the opportunity to do a choice project for our final assignment, I knew that investigating gender in young children was really important for me.  This past year, I have spent a lot of time in early years classrooms around Victoria, and it is clear to me that I'm not the only teacher who is uninformed.  With a desire to share research, statistics, and resources and ideas for wise practices, I chose to develop a presentation, podcast, and this blog post for teachers and school leaders of young children.

Since I am still learning about gender in young children and exploring the literature and resources, this presentation (available upon request), blog post, and podcast are far from complete.  I'm sure that I've made some mistakes and missed out important information and ideas.  Please accept my apologies if anything I've said or written is offensive as that was never my intent.  Instead, this is my effort to begin a conversation, pique other educators' interest, and make changes to classroom practice to improve education for ALL children.

Kindergarten Diva Podcast
Take 20 minutes to get a quick overview of what you need to know and what you can start doing now to create a gender-inclusive classroom!  This podcast is available on iTunes and Google Play, or you can listen right here.

Manitoba Government Resources
Manitoba Education and Training document, Supporting Transgender and Gender Diverse Students in Manitoba Schools 

The Every Teacher Project on LGBTQ-Inclusive Education in Canada's K-12 Schools 
-see pages 3-8 for a glossary of important terms

Transgender People in Ontario, Canada: Statistics from the Trans PULSE Project to Inform Human Rights Policy 

BEING SAFE, BEING ME:Results of the CanadianTrans Youth Health Survey 

Gender Identity and Young Children: Information from the Canadian Paediatric Society 

Healthy Gender Development and Young Children: A Guide for Early Childhood Programs and Professionals

Responding to Children's Questions on LGBTQ Topics 

Building a library of anti-bias children's books
Ideas from Brightly
Ideas from Huffington Post

Institute for Humane Education and Welcoming Schools: ideas for lessons/learning experiences

Gender Creative Kids of Canada: a wealth of information and resources, as well as opportunities to connect with other families and service providers

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Coffee House Chronicles, Part 1: Victoria's Best Cafes for Working and Studying

Until last fall, I was the girl who ran into Starbucks, grabbed my mobile order, and continued on in my busy day. Unless I was travelling, I seldom worked in coffee shops or paid close attention to the atmosphere and amenities. That all changed when I moved to Victoria and became a PhD student living in a tiny studio apartment...with a piano player on the floor above me. Suddenly, it became imperative to find that perfect coffee house with delicious lattes, a cool vibe, and a great work space. This series of blog posts features some of my work/study picks from Victoria's buzzing coffee house scene. I've evaluated each cafe on appearance and atmosphere, work space, and coffee/food. Hopefully this guide will lead you to your new mobile office...a place where the latte art is creative, the wifi is strong, and you feel productive and inspired!

Hide and Seek Coffee, 2207 Oak Bay Avenue, Victoria
Oak Bay is such a charming neighbourhood!
Appearance and Atmosphere 
Located in a brick building with high ceilings and large windows, Hide and Seek Coffee packs a big aesthetic appeal. The decor is minimalist with lots of white and light wood, accented with artistically arranged shelving with coffee and various merchandise for sale. The coffee bar is long and white and everything looks sparkling clean. Music selections were great--singer-songwriter, folk-inspired, and some 1960s Beatles-sounding tunes added to the ambiance. And when you throw in that this coffee house is located in the incredibly charming Oak Bay neighbourhood, you have a winner for sure.
Beautifully arranged merchandise

Barista Kelsey behind the long coffee bar
Work Space
There are a variety of tables and seating options available, with power outlets located under some of the tables. Natural light floods the space, and wifi is available. This intimate yet uncrowded coffee house is definitely a pleasant space to work!
Lots of natural light here
Coffee and Food
I wasn't hungry, but I did notice that they have homemade pop-tarts and vegan/gluten-free selections. My latte was excellent, made with non-fat milk and house-made vanilla syrup, which was their only flavour. It was served in a nice cup with terrific latte art. Worthy of noting: although they don't roast their own beans, they serve coffee from local roasters such as Fantastico and Fernwood.

Overall Impression
I'll definitely return here--it's near my apartment and meets all my requirements for a great work space. The barista who served me (Kelsey) was super friendly and took time to explain where they source their coffee, provided recommendations for other coffee houses to visit, and encouraged me to return on Sunday for their famous waffle features. The only negatives were the lack of latte flavours and limited outdoor seating (only a bench and a couple of stools, no tables).

Habit Coffee (The Atrium), 808 Yates Street, Victoria

Appearance and Atmosphere
Habit Coffee is big on visual impact, and I was impressed from the moment I spied their Yates Street location. Massive curving windows flood the space with natural light and provide a panoramic view of the bustling action on busy Yates Street. There's also a sunny patio with flowers and numerous tables, as well as a fantastic courtyard space available for customers' use. Wow!

The decor includes natural wood, rugged stainless steel, exposed concrete, and chalkboard menus, giving a chic industrial look. Music selections added to the ambiance. Habit Coffee rates high on appearance and atmosphere!
Open, airy, and lots of natural light 

This adjacent courtyard is beautiful! Wow! 

Work Space
The abundance of natural light and different seating options lend themselves nicely to a productive work space. This is a great place to pass the time with a book or a sip a coffee and watch the world go by. Unfortunately it is not well-suited to anyone who requires wifi or power outlets, as there is a dearth of both. I'm drafting this post tethered to my iPhone. Definitely a disappointment....but now that I know this, I would choose Habit for tasks not requiring wifi (or get access from one of the other businesses nearby). And sometimes not having internet access keeps me more focused on the task at hand!
Great views and many seating options, but NO WIFI! 
Coffee and Food
Similar to Hide and Seek, the only flavoured latte available was a vanilla latte. My latte was beautifully crafted with terrific latte art, and served in a clear glass with no handle, evoking memories of Europe. It was a delicious latte and reasonably priced at $4.50.  Habit Coffee brews Bow and Arrow products from a local roaster and stocks Phillips' sodas as well. There was a tempting selection of food, and the lemon-lavender muffin definitely caught my eye--something to look forward to on a future visit.

Overall Impression
This place is big and beautiful with huge aesthetic appeal, and the sunny patio is a nice bonus. I would definitely return, but having to pay for street parking and no wifi or power outlets are disadvantages that would impact my decision to work here. All in all, Habit Coffee is highlight of the Victoria coffee scene!

Tre Fantastico at Parkside Hotel and Spa, 810 Humboldt Street, Victoria
Appearance and Atmosphere
Located in Parkside Hotel and Spa, Tre Fantastico is a coffee house on steroids...a cafe as well as a lounge with great eats. The actual interior space is quite small--the main room contains the coffee bar where you order and a handful of tables, connected to a second room by a hallway. There are more seating options in here with some cool modern art on the walls. All of this is quite nice, but the decor isn't the reason I'm obsessed with this place--it's the fantastic outdoor patio and the hotel lobby and conservatory area that patrons can access. The patio is shaded with beautiful greenery, and I love looking up from my screen or book to rest my eyes on the historic St. Ann's Convent in the distance.
A great spot to take a break from studying 

The hotel lobby is incredibly inviting, with a variety of seating options, including a glassed-in conservatory space. When I'm craving warmth and natural light on cooler days, it is so pleasant to work in here under the mini lights by the fish pond. Lastly, there are really nice bathrooms to use with high-end hand soap and lotion. What I did learn was that you CAN'T take your wine into the lobby area, but non-alcoholic drinks are allowed!
A nice variety of seating options in the hotel lobby 

A fish pond...such a tranquil spot to read 
Work Space
Tre Fantastico (the cafe space) is a lovely spot to read or work on a laptop. The wifi is strong, and you can work on your laptop outside if you choose a shaded spot. The only disadvantage is a lack of power outlets--I only found one on a quick inspection, so make sure your devices are fully charged before you arrive. The hotel lobby and conservatory is better suited to reading, as there are no tables (other than coffee tables) to put your device on, and they are the wrong height for computer work. I have happily worked here for hours, and I always found it a functional space and enjoyable experience.

Coffee and Food
There are three Cafe Fantastico locations in the city, and Fantastico has been sourcing and roasting their own coffee beans for 25 years (according to the friendly barista). The caramel lattes are excellent here with lovely latte art, and so is the food. I love their Morning Glory muffins, and the cookies and scones look great too. For heartier fare, I've only ever had the breakfast sandwich (which was delicious) but the food I've seen around me has looked very tempting too.
Caramel latte and a Morning Glory muffin...mmmm!
For later in the day (or not....), alcoholic beverages are a really nice option. Victoria craft beers, BC wines, and a variety of spirits are available, and there is a twice-daily happy hour (5-6 pm and 8-9 pm) with discounted prices.

Overall Impression
Tre Fantastico packs a big punch with the combination of great food and drinks and gorgeous physical spaces. This is one of my favourite places to work and study in Victoria, made even nicer by the fact that I can stroll through St. Ann's to Beacon Hill Park for a break whenever I need one!

And there you have first three reviews of some of Victoria's best coffee houses. Stay tuned for another post in this series, and I'd love your feedback on where I should visit next. Please share your ideas in the comments. Thanks for reading!

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!
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). 

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!