Photos, and colours, and badges – Oh My!

I work hard to be present with my kiddos; to be in the moment with them, to be responsive, and to embrace the emergent nature of learning. In other words, I strive to offer provocations and then let the kids’ natural curiosity guide the direction of our classroom inquiry. This shouldn’t be confused with “Mrs. K doesn’t plan,” as I DO try to anticipate all the possible ways I believe things MIGHT go and do my best to collect materials, books, websites, resources that will support the inquiry regardless of the path they choose. Every so often though, the kids take a hard left turn off the proverbial learning path, one I didn’t anticipate, and I find myself equally blindsided and delighted. This is one of those times.

It’s a curious thing, the power of the ‘official name badge’. It’s such a simple construct: plastic badge holder + polaroid photo +  identification information printed in colour… and VOILA; a new sense of purpose!

I want the kids to feel like I am taking their passion seriously, that this inquiry is more than ‘child’s play,’ and that their contributions (their voices and unique perspectives) are valued as an integral part of a larger conversation about the Core Competencies. I wanted to find a way to create a sense of urgency, purpose, and togetherness; I wanted to hold space in an intentional way for the ‘serious work’ that is unfolding. I also wanted the kids to feel as though they could step out of this ‘serious work’ as needed, to be able to walk away from the inherent vulnrability required, and to just be… themselves… kids… as well.

So these name badges are becoming/have become a way for the kids to communicate when they are engaged as ‘experts’ and ‘meaning makers’ and when they are learners searching for answers.

Armed with badges, curiosity, and a desire to be seen and heard… we’re off!

Documenting a Baseline

After our communication sorts (see last post) it was time to engage in a little self-assessment and activate our understanding of I-statements. We talked about what I-statements are (specific ways we can independently engage the competencies ) and how they are a strengths based way of sharing our progress; they are womb-to-tomb skills, right? There is always room for progress and growth. So we talked about the different facets (really quickly, thats a lesson for another day… tomorrow perhaps) and then got right into reading the I-statements.

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The I-statements we used were borrowed from the curriculum website a few years ago and translated into “kid friendly” language by one of my previous crews. For fun, I’ve included one for reference:

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Inspired the work of Jance Novakowski we considered how MUCH each I-statement sounded like us: A bit like me, quite like me, very much like me. We read each I-statement aloud and then shared some examples of what the statement might look like, sound like, feel like; we tried to root the statement in ‘real life’.

The kids self-assessed and decided how much the I-statement sounded like them (how frequently, or to what degree, we engage that particular statement in our lives). The kids were asked to be honest with themselves and were told that their sort could be just for their eyes if they wanted; no one else would look at it unless invited to do so. I was surprised that all the kids WANTED to share their sorts, and to talk about them with peers. I was also delighted to hear them co-assessing as well – “I would have thought that was VERY much like you, not somewhat! I can’t think of a time where you didn’t do that, can you?” Many of the kids reflected about how self-critical they were too; “we are probably our own worst critics hey? We are so tough on ourselves”.

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And here is out ‘baseline’ documentation, a starting point for us to revisit during the year in order to assess growth/progress, and areas where there is still room for growth. We also selected ONE statement from the “a bit” or “quite” categories and each wrote it at the top of our weekly planner – a goal for the week (to be reassess and ‘rolled over’ as needed). The kids have shared that having it visible reminds the about it as they write their planner message, and as their parents check it – it keeps the goal alive in the minds of our whole learning triad.

Tomorrow the technology arrives, and THAT is where the real fun begins – stay tuned.

Building Common Language

Things are happening! I am seriously thrilled that the new iPads are inventoried and ready for pick up tomorrow. My mind is racing with ideas for provocations next week. I love that the term is coming to and end, report cards are done, and there is a natural space to consider new possibilities. I haven’t been patient but perhaps thats my take away this time – good things come to those who wait hmmmm… Timing is everything!

In the mean time, we’ve been (re)activating our common language and developing new connections and questions about the Core Competencies. Initially the kids seemed to think that personal awareness was the Competency that needed their attention in a pressing way, but since then they’ve decided that communication is more essential – “how can we work on this inquiry if we don’t speak the same language?”.

So, we’ve been developing our understanding of communication. The returning crew (my 4/5s) previously defined communication as “sending and receiving information” (or ‘giving and getting’). This language continues to resonate with them and with our new crew (my 3s). Building on that understanding we revisited an activity from a few years ago to a) see how our understanding has changed and b) create space for a share experience for the WHOLE class.

 

The kids were tasked with doing some ‘homework’, which is a term I use loosely to mean ‘some additional thinking at home.’ They had to go home and find one example of, or synonym for, communcation. I quickly put them into a table and added the headings “sending,” “receiving,” and “both.” When we first tired this activity the kids quickly requested a “both” heading because, after much debate, they realized that some forms of communication require both sending and receiving. So when I made our most recent iteration of the activity, I made sure to include the “both” heading before being asked.

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The kiddos cut out and sorted the examples/synonyms in triads and each slip of paper needed ‘three voices,’ meaning each person had to speak to each slip (no divide and concurring, ha!). The point of this experience really wasn’t about getting it “right.” It’s actually about activating prior knowledge and sharing it with peers, to engage respectfully in discussion/debate, as well as an opportunity for me to observe and listen for patters, common ideas, and misconceptions about communication. In addition to the text based sort, I introduced a ‘picture sort’ that was generated when I did a similar activity with a k/1/2 class. I think, upon reflection, the photo sort generated more conversation because pictures are more open-ended and thus more open to interpritation?

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We did the sorts and then swapped to the sort we hadn’t done. If we started with text, we swapped to photos, and vice versa. We then debriefed the experience and compared and contrasted the two different sorts. There was lots of passionate discussion and I found myself enjoying the opportunity to observe instead of being the ‘teacher.’

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We activated communication language, and were able to begin developing a common language through the shared experience. We added the sorts and photos to our Core Competency Board as reminders of the experiences, and as a ‘touch back point’ for the kids if they are searching for words/ideas in the future – a place for them to independently revisit the experience and the ideas.

Embracing Discomfort

Confession: I’ve been avoiding blogging, ha! Im still developing my patience as I wait for the SETBC technology to be inventoried by my school district. Im frustrated because I don’t want to impliment technology until we have the new equipment (see my last blog post). While I have lots I want to share about our learning journey, I’ve also been avoiding blogging because I’m ever mindful that anything put in writing, and on the internet, can be misunderstood, misused, and misappropriated.  Herein lies the irony. We’ve been grappling with cultural appropriation in our classroom in recent weeks, and its been uncomfortable.

We started our Core Competency explorations this year by exploring the book “The Six Cedar Trees” by Margot Sandahl. Initially, it appeared to be a promising resource because it rooted the Core Competencies in story, and “stories are the currency of human connection.” I was also drawn in by the connection to nature, specifically coastal animals and habitats, as I think connection to place is an essential and enduring learning. We are also engaged in inquiry about the 6 kingdoms of life (currently examining phylum Cordata – vertebrates) and this seemed like a wonderful opportunity to invite inter-curricular connections as well. Finally, the book was publicized as being a story that integrated principals and teachings from British Columbia’s First Nations, and the illustrations examples of Coast Salish artistry.

But I was wrong… well, wrong-ish.

The book has become a source of tension, in our classroom, community, and beyond. The book is being criticized as cultural appropriation – the author is NOT indigenous. She has shared cultural teachings, arguably sacred teachings, that were not hers to share. These teachings are traditionally gifted by Elders when the ‘right time’ is revealed by the creator. This knowledge reminded me of my responsibility to thoroughly review classroom materials before entering them into classroom circulation. So, I was gifted this knowledge about the story… and it weighed heavy on me, my heart, on my sense of self. How could I knowingly have supported a commodity that undermined my value system. I am Cree. I am First Nations. I am devastated.

I wallowed for a while. I ached, and lamented, and committed considerable personal attacks against myself for my relative shortsightedness. Then, I committed to doing my research, to checking the FNESC (First Nations Education Steering Committee) website, to considering and reconsidering how to move forward, and I formed a plan.

We were going to use this. We were going to engage in some considerable critical thinking. We were going to activate the social studies curriculum and engage the curricular competency Ethical Judgement – “Make value judgements about events, decisions, or actions, and suggest lessons that can be learned.” It was going to be messy, and we were going to embrace the discomfort as an opportunity to learn.

We’ve started these discussions, and its been quite the experience. The kids are so thoughtful and articulate, loving, idealistic, and innocent. A piece of me feels as if I’ve robbed them of that innocence in recent days. This topic of conversation has exposed a larger, and darker, topic – the systematic mistreatment of Canada’s First Peoples. I’ve wanted to video record our conversations as authentic examples of Critical Thinking and as connections to Positive Personal and Cultural Identity (two of the Core Competencies) but it felt like taping these raw, and frequently emotional, conversations and revelations would breach our classroom agreement “anything that happens in circle, stays in circle” – perhaps I’ve breached that trust just by writing this post?

My Proposal to SETBC hinged on creating opportunities for my students’ voices to be heard and involved in system-level conversations about the Core Competencies. Yet, to date, those voices haven’t been shared. The logical part of me knows that there are still 6 six months before the end of the project deadline, but my heart aches to share their voices. It just doesn’t seem like the right time to start recording and sharing yet though; both because of the lack of new technology, and because of the difficult nature of the conversations – it feels inappropriate to capitalize on their vulnerability. That said, I recognize that the process of reconciliation is inherently uncomfortable because it means acknowledging the ‘wrongs of the past’ as a first step.

I don’t know. Maybe I’ve over thought the whole situation but a piece of me feels duty bound to protect the implicit trust (and sense of safety) that has held space for these conversations. I have witnessed the kids’ Core Competency development through this too; rooted in authentic, meaningful learning… and isn’t that the true goal? The process and not the product?

So, there it is. An awkward, rambling, blog post. It’s not quite in line with the original intention of the blog, but is a part of our learning journey, and important in helping our audience understand and appreciate our process. There is more ‘messiness’ to come and I think I need to talk with the kids about how/if we want to share this part of our journey via recording.

Whoever said ‘Patience is a Virtue’…

Whoever said ‘Patience is a Virtue’ obviously never had to wait for amazing learning tools in a classroom full of passionate and curious kids! Ha!

I’ve learned a lot about myself the past few weeks… primarily how bad I am at being patient. I am SO eager to get this inquiry re-started, to re-ignite it with new tools and the curiosities that follow, and to get messy learning new things. The snag? Our equipment hasn’t been inventoried yet, so we don’t have it yet. *sob*

Well, thats not entirely true. I was able to pick up the Padcaster this week and started to explore all the pieces. I was so grateful to have had THIS podcaster tutorial to watch first – there are SO many pieces, it was wonderfully overwhelming. I watched it and then started to take out the Padcaster piece-by-piece. My mind was racing with possible uses for each of the included lenses, mics, and pieces and I had to remind myself that part of my professional inquiry was to be patient, be responsive, and to be present. In short, to let the kids guide the learning without expectations and without a ‘plan.’

 

Im endeavouring to follow their lead, and to honour the emergent nature of this inquiry – It’s yielded amazing learning so far, right? So, I tried to anticipate some challenges they might have in setting up the Padcaster for the first time, some resources that I might want to (coincidently *wink wink*) leave on our provocation table, and what some of the next steps in the inquiry might be. I want to be responsive, but I also want to be timely in supporting them, so pre-thinking is a necessary ‘evil’

The other thing we’ve been doing as we (im)patiently wait for the equipment is reactivating and developing our understanding of the Core Competencies – the heart of this inquiry. We used the text “The Six Cedar Trees” to connect to our previous knowledge and to enjoy a shared experience as a new class. I have strong, and mixed, feelings about the text that I’d like to devote a whole blog post to it later this week.

We’ve been adding to our Core Competencies board – which is a mural gifted to us by last year’s grade 5 students (before they left for middle school). We’ve been adding new information and new understanding to the board as we uncover new understanding about the competencies. I really believe that documenting shared learning is an important step when celebrating the circular nature of learning; revising of old learning with new insight.

We’ve explored each of the competencies generally, but the kids seem particularly interested in examining how personal awareness impacts their learning. We’ve got a few ‘experiments’ planned for the coming weeks and Im curious to see what data they yield. I’ll be sure to post about each of them… hopefully we’ll even have our iPads so that the KIDS voices become the primary voice of this blog. The possibilities are SO exciting!

Introductions

It all began a few years ago, and at the time I had no idea that it would grow into this wonderfully unpredictable inquiry project. Perhaps thats part of its charm; the unpredictable and emergent quality of the learning – anything is possible. It all began with a single question, which birthed another question and, in turn, spawned hundreds more questions.

This is the journey of – Core Competency Candids (@corecandids)

In 2017 I was part of a learning team in SD43 – the “Communicating Student Learning” Team. We were each invited to develop an inquiry question that we’d explore in more depth during the school year. This would be the catalyst for the Core Competency Candids (the C.C.C.s). I spent a year working to develop Core Competency Literacy with my students though a series of experiments, struggles, shared experiences, successes, and a whole lot of laughter. I wanted to develop a shared language with my students so we could reflect with more clarity, and so that we could not only hear each others reflections but also understand them. The process was a learning endeavour for us all; fraught with growing pains and a lot of ‘ah-ha’ moments. What I did not anticipate during this inquiry project, however, was that the kiddos would develop their own inquiry question as a result…

Inquiry - the rolling stone

Through my inquiry we uncovered a lot of information about the why behind the core competencies, and even the who, what, where, and when. What really frustrated the kiddos was that conversations and resources that accompanied the core competencies, something that was touted as being ‘child centered,’ was dominated by adult voices. One kiddo asked “If the core competencies are supposed to be for kids, about kids, and self-assessed by kids, where are the kids’ voices?

Student Voice?

As is frequently the case, I didn’t have an answer for them. Instead I had a question: “where could you find those voices?” So, the group set to work. This time, it was personal. They engaged in collaborative inquiry, and started making a plan to bring student voicetheir voices, into the conversation.

Being kids of a digital age, they instantly agreed that the platform they used would have to be digital – they wanted their voices to be amplified through the networks of social media. Twitter. This, they believed, would be the fastest way to get information out – quickly and easily. Here was the plan:

Make a twitter account  (wait, for what? called what?)

  1. create a name and Logo for the project
  2. take photos (we needed proof that “this is really happening”)
  3. create a twitter account
  4. secure followers (“this is hard, we didn’t know it would be this hard”)
  5. create a ‘confessional’ space – this is where we will make the video diaries
  6. ask British Columbia’s teachers for their Core Competency questions… answered by kids… by US!
Developing a Logo

The kids created an outline of the logo through a collaborative process – I forgot to document that process (#oops). Then we all imagined what the completed logo might look like, documented those ideas, shared the ideas, voted on the ideas, and finally… we had a logo!

Creating a twitter account

The name Core Competency Candids came from the kids. They wanted the name of the project to indicate that this wasn’t scripted, this wasn’t their teacher telling them what to say, this was their unfiltered, unedited, raw, honest, feedback – candidly.

Creating the 'confessional'

The “Candid Cave” was born with thanks to Ikea for the curtains, and Amazon for the tripod.

Questions!

The questions came pouring in thanks to British Columbia’s educators!

We were ready to activate the Core Competency Candids and share our voices with the world – Here is our Introduction!