Sunday, December 21, 2014

Surviving the split grade math class

Explore +4 & Split grade math at École Elsie Mironuck Community School

As any teacher who has taught split grade math knows, it can be a considerable challenge.  Balancing two sets of curricular documents, considering varied needs in the classroom, while trying to understand the intent and nature of the outcomes and indicators, the planning time and expertise required can be overwhelming.

Tricia Racette, grade 5/6 teacher at École Elsie Mironuck Community school, wanted to try the Explore +4 structure in her math class.  After attending the grade 4-6 sessions in the 2013-2014 school year and visiting classrooms, she decided that the structure would allow her to support the varied needs in her classroom.  In addition, she knew she would be teaching a split grade math class and realized that she would need to be able to create a structure in her classroom that would allow for her students to work independently while she was working with small groups of students.

Tricia co-planned with Instructional Consultant Monique Bowes to get this structure up and running.
Initially, they met to look at the overlap in curriculum between grades 5 and 6 math.  They used the planning documents (suggested timelines, comparison of curriculum content) provided by Regina Public Schools.

Comparison of units - Gr 5/6 - MMS
Grade 5 Math essential & extended outcomes 
Grade 6 Math essential & extended outcomes
Grade 5/6 split grade outcomes

Once the timeline was created, they started planning what the structure of Explore +4 would look like in Tricia’s classroom.

1.      Reviewing the structure and the “must haves” for the structure
As they began planning for Explore +4, they discussed the big picture pieces.  Having already examined the time frame and layout for the courses, Tricia selected the grade level outcomes that she wanted to begin with.  She reviewed the big ideas for those outcomes, using the Explore +4 planning template to help identify the big ideas and key understandings.

Next they reviewed the structure of Explore +4 and how it might look in the context of her classroom.  The key components included the co-creation of the anchor charts with students, understanding the various pieces (Math on my Own, Math with a Friend, Math Talk, Math Sense) but knowing that they were starting with only one component (math on my own) as they wanted to build stamina with the students.  They also examined the structure of the small group that would be working with the teacher and what might be included in the mini lessons.

2.       Initial planning and examining the curricular documents.
Tricia selected the outcomes N5.1 and N6.1.
N 5.1: Represent, compare, and describe whole numbers to 1 000 000 within the contexts of place value and the base ten system, and quantity.
N6.1: Demonstrate understanding of place value including: greater than one million, less than one thousandth, with and without technology.

Tricia knew that some of the students in the class would be performing at varied levels.  In addition, she was teaching a split grade class with two different sets of outcomes to assess.  Together, Tricia and Monique examined the indicators to understand the connection and overlap between grades, and also to decide how to meet the needs of the students in the class.  They wanted to know how the students performing at, above or below grade level might be able to meet the outcome given the indicator in question. This was by far the biggest challenge throughout the planning, instruction and assessment. A planning template helped to determine which big ideas were going to be taught, aiming for 10 minutes for the whole class lesson. 

3.     Considering how to pre-assess students to identify the varied needs and gaps.
Tricia used the Saskatchewan Common Mathematics Assessments, available online through Blackboard (available in French and English).  These assessment tools allowed Tricia to do some diagnostic assessment to understand what the needs were in her classroom.  Additionally, the adaptation of this pre-assessment in a variety of ways (reduction of the number of questions, focusing on smaller, more concrete questions, including visuals where needed, allowed students to represent what they knew about place value in different ways).

Right away, Tricia noted supports that might be required when setting up her small group mini lessons. The students were performing at a very wide range.   She was able to use this information to decide how she might group students and what the focus of her mini lessons might be in the small group structure.  Based on the diagnostic assessment, she needed to set up the classroom in a way that would allow for these groupings to work.  She added information to the planning template to determine who would be in the small group at what time, what the instructional focus would be for the whole group, and what students would be able to work on independently during Math on my own.

4.     Setting up the classroom environment
Tricia re-organized her classroom desks to divide her grade 5s and 6s.  This allowed her to provide instructional time if needed with a grade specific group.  She located an additional table in the school to create her small group space, and created a bucket with necessary materials (white boards, manipulatives, place value flip charts, etc.).  Since Math Talk is a key part of the Explore +4 model, she started to develop a word wall with key terms and ideas, and created a chart for measuring stamina growth. 

The next step was getting started with the students.  Some had worked with the Explore +4 structure previously; some had developed stamina using the Daily 5 structure.  It was interesting to note that student independence in math is very different from student independence in reading.  It was not an easy process to get students working independently during Math on my Own; this required a lot of review of the anchor charts and finding appropriate material to work on that was challenging without being far too difficult… not an easy task.

5.      Co-creating anchor charts with students & building stamina
When Tricia began the whole class instruction with Explore +4, she included clear targets so students understood what they were working on and expected to know.  She identified the“I can” statements for the students and put them on the board at the beginning of every class, referring to them throughout the process.  Together, Monique and Tricia explained the structure to the students and highlighted the importance of students having “uninterrupted learning time” with the teacher when it was their turn in the small group.  They worked with the students to co-create the anchor chart.  They talked about building stamina and connected it to the work they had already done with the Daily 5.

Tricia found she needed to add another instructional element: what do you do when you are stuck or you don’t understand the question?  As the students started developing stamina, they struggled when they were uncertain about what to do next and because questions were only encouraged during the check in time, students hit a wall.  As the classes progressed, and they realized that there would be check in points before and during the class, they were able to develop some of the skills needed to work more independently.  Tricia provided students with an “I don’t know what to do!” poster that helped figure out the next steps for kids needing support.  Building independence and stamina was a very slow process.  Some days went really well and students worked well.  Other days were more challenging.  However, it was very early in the process and that students would become more proficient at working independently.

6.      Math on My Own & working with small group
At the beginning of a new class, Tricia determined what her focus would be for that lesson.  She kept the whole class lesson short, around ten minutes.  In her case, because she was teaching a split grade, some days she would need to introduce new concepts to one group or the other, but the stamina built up by her structure allowed her to do so.  She tried to not introduce two new concepts in one day (meaning one per grade) in order to balance the planning and support.  Once Tricia did the whole class lesson, she outlined the expectations for Math on my Own and provided the opportunity for questions.  Then she reviewed the anchor chart, and set the timer.  This allows her time to work with her small group.

Based on the diagnostic assessment data and classroom observations, Tricia had already determined which students she wanted to start with during the small group instruction.  She tried hard to keep the groups small (4-6) and found that when she added more, the group became too large to have meaningful instructional time.

Students very much enjoy working in the small group with Tricia and all students benefit from this opportunity; some students require reinforcement of concepts, some need further instructional support, some need extension.  The challenge is to respond to the needs of an entire class when the students are so varied in their learning styles and abilities, but in discussion with students, Tricia talked about what “fair” looks like for students; students need different types of supports to be able to understand and respond to the material.

The assessment piece can be a challenge as well.  However, Tricia kept records of the outcomes for grades 5 and 6 and referred frequently to the indicators that allowed her to continuously assess and provide feedback as she was working with both the whole group and small groups of students.  This allowed her make determinations about student understanding when one piece (a test, for example) didn't match what she knew about the student's abilities.  Tricia also had to be very aware of the varied needs of her students as on occasion, she found that writing / reading skills could impact student ability to share what they knew.

7.    Adding other components of Explore +4
Tricia gradually introduced the other components of Explore +4 into her numeracy block.  It was important to her to have the students well established in the routine and independence of Math on my Own before introducing Math with a Friend, Math Talk and Math Sense.  Tricia introduced these slowly, and continued to co-create anchor charts with the students to clarify expectations.

At this point, Tricia was able to adapt the structure to meet the needs in her classroom.  She is consistently trying to find ways to identify what kids know and how they can express what they know and sometimes the structure needs to change to suit this.  She may choose to only do Math on my Own for a chunk of time if students are struggling with stamina, for example, so that the independence is reinforced.

Tricia will quite often break down an assignment into various components – a section that can be done as reinforcement for the mini lesson, parts that can be done during Math on my Own, and parts that can be done as Math with a Friend.   As part of her Math Talk, Tricia has a math word wall for visual reference, and has incorporated math related language and questioning into other areas of her instruction as well.  While teaching split grade math remains a challenge, it is a benefit to be able to integrate math content and vocabulary into other curricular areas.  Tricia has started using math journals to have students respond to a variety of prompts related to the math concept being taught, and also has students assess their own understanding of where they are regarding a specific outcome.

Tricia found that Math Sense, in which students play math games (both game based and online) was best left until the end of the week.  If it was a part of the daily class, students were distracted from their task and were focused only on Math Sense and so this is another way in which Tricia made this work for her.  Students used a variety of web based resources (link) as well as pre-made games that Tricia had prepared that allowed them exposure to math concepts and skills while enjoying the interaction with each other.

8.      Big ideas: Making the structure work in her classroom

Finally, Tricia needed to figure out how to make the structure work in her classroom.  Some of the big realizations included:

 - She can make this structure her own; it can be adapted to suit the needs of the teacher and the learners in her classroom.
- Students required reminders and the visual of the anchor chart helped maintain consistency.  When Tricia introduced new concepts she tried hard to keep an appropriate level of difficulty - challenging but not too difficult - otherwise students struggled to work independently.
-  This structure allows for small group focus in other classes as well.  Once students understand the expectations of the structure they can apply the general ideas across content areas. 
- The structure is not a "solution" - it is a means by which the teacher can work with small groups.  Tricia found that the challenge was not developing the structure but responding to the extremely varied levels and needs of her students.  However, the structure allowed her to focus on specific skills and fill some gaps as demonstrated in her pre-assessment and her ongoing classroom assessment.
- The structure was designed to allow Tricia to meet the needs of all of her students through small group instruction, however, when additional support was available this allowed her to connect with additional students during this time.
- The whole group lesson was less imperative that she initially thought, given the time she has to work with individual groups of students.

Tricia's main goal was to make math accessible for students and to develop confidence in their mathematical skill.  Given the small group instruction that allowed her to build from where students were, in addition to the Math on My Own tasks that were challenging but appropriate to the skill level, and the instant feedback that students got when they demonstrated their understanding in different ways (such as on whiteboards), she has seen tremendous growth in the confidence of students as they take ownership over their own learning.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Welcoming EAL students to Regina Public Schools

What is the Newcomer Welcome Centre?

The Regina Open Door Society (RODS) has a Newcomer Welcome Centre (NWC) that is a collaborative service Centre to welcome newcomers to our city.
The NWC works closely with: 

  • Regina Public Schools 
  • Regina Catholic Schools and
  • the Conseil des écoles fransaskoises

The following students must register at the NWC located at 2332-11th Avenue:

  • Students who do not have a Canadian Birth Certificate 
  • Students new to Regina and do not speak English as a first language 
  • Students new to Regina and have immigrated from an English speaking country like England or Australia

Newcomers include immigrants and refugees who come to Regina from outside Canada or from another Canadian province. They can be permanent or temporary residents or new Canadian citizens.  The centre helps guide and support newcomers to an easy integration to the community, by accessing information, available resources and services. The Newcomer Welcome Centre is well equipped with a knowledgeable team of Settlement Information Advisors, a variety of printed and online information, and a good referral network. The Newcomer Welcome Centre provides a variety of information on:
  • Immigration
  • Housing
  • Employment
  • Education
  • Youth
  • Health
  • Transportation
  • Social Supports
  • Budget and Finance

Who are your EAL learners?  

They come from a wide range of countries:
Dominican Republic
El Salvador

Saudi Arabia

Sri Lanka
United Kingdom
Viet Nam

Newcomers over the past three years:

YearTotal Students
2011-12    686
2012-13    679
2013-14    725

What does the Newcomer Welcome Center do?

Students that register through the NWC will provide documentation for the school file and will complete an English language assessment. The assessment takes approximately an hour and a half.  It includes an oral interview with an emphasis on speaking and listening, a basic math test, a writing task and a Fountas and Pinnell reading/writing bench mark assessment.  When this is completed, the CFR level is determined and recorded on the Initial EAL Assessment Report sheet. Once the NWC completes the intake and assessment, they will contact the school to arrange a time for the family to visit. The staff at the NWC will send pertinent information (intake, assessment results, program recommendations, immigrant/refugee status, etc.) to the school in a coloured folder to be kept in the student’s cumulative folder.

A wealth of information can be gleaned from this folder for EAL and classroom teachers.  Tracy
Rempel, EAL teacher, and Andra Donbrook, Teacher Librarian/Language Arts teacher, are discussing a newcomer student and tailoring a program to meet his needs.   From this folder, they discovered that he is a newcomer with limited language skills in his first language, even though he speaks several other languages.  His English language level is beginning so he will require support.  As mentioned on the Initial EAL Assessment Report, he will receive instruction from the EAL teacher, as well as a differentiated program in the classroom setting. 

Tracy commented, “I feel that the information in the folder is very important and teaches me a lot about my students.  It is a gateway to the language and culture of the children.  Both EAL and classroom teachers can learn so much just by reading the information from the NWC.”

Posted by Luba Lubenko and Fiona Smith

Monday, November 10, 2014

Super 5 en maternelle - Daily 5 in Kindergarten

When thinking about the curriculum for kindergarten, learning through play is at the forefront. Then why would a classroom teacher at this level want to use the structure of The Daily 5 with her students?  With most of the students being non-readers and very few of them having developed any kind of independent skills, it seems like a recipe for disaster. Well, Ellen Lague and her students in French Immersion Kindergarten at École Connaught on 4th have incorporated this structure into their daily routine with much success.

The goal of implementing the Super 5 is to allow Ellen to work indidually or with a small group of students for a five minute period.  Granted five minutes is not much time but, for a group of five year olds, their capacity to sustain one activity is about equal to their age plus or minus 1 minute. Therefore, Mme Lague stuck to this time frame for each round of her Super 5.  While she is working with her small group on various curricular activities such as patterning with blocks, MIMI (PWIM in French), EYE data gathering, the other students are reading to self, working on writing and using technology to explore the French language.

Super 5 typically takes places right after recess with the snack being done prior to them going outside.  Students meet as a large group on the carpet with Madame to discuss the activities for the day and to review their responsibilities at each component.  Visuals are used to identify where each student starts their rotation, with Madame Lague going over the student's name on the white board. Students can now easily recognize their own names and those of their classmates.  Names of students who are absent are left on the board but are sideways in case they show up later. We chose not to make anchor charts but rather are reviewing expectations using gestures, symbols and the French language.

A large number of books, including big books, are available in French for students to read. All of the students are non readers in French but seem to enjoy the role-play phase of reading, looking at pictures, turning pages and reconstructing stories for themselves.  The writing component has students using modelling clay to trace their names, using magnets to write colours, matching symbols with words, etc.  The French iPad apps used by the students are on the main screen on the iPad and a screenshot of the icon is placed directly onto the white board for the students to access.

Between each round, the students return to the carpet for a very quick self-evaluation and at this time Mme Lague will deal with any questions or problems.  The groups are changed to another activity and the names are reviewed once more so everyone knows where to go.  Mme Lague counts the number of minutes with the students in French for the round, sets the timer and uses a play xylophone to begin the round. Students go to their assigned activity and return to the carpet once the five minute timer has sounded to signify the end of the round.

Students are actively engaged in the activity and can easily achieve the five minute stamina for each rotation. Mme Lague has four rounds daily allowing each student to experience the three stations, in addition to the small group instruction with their teacher.  The use of The Daily 5 structure for this classroom has allowed students to feel a sense of accomplishment, gain independence, cooperate with their classmates all while learning base literacy and numeracy skills in a fun and play-based manner.

Another great positive for the use of this structure in kindergarten happens when the students move onward to higher grades.  Once in grade 1, students are familiar with the idea of independence and the importance of allowing others to have their uninterrupted learning time with their teacher while they focus on their assigned task. The implementation of The Daily 5 for literacy or even Explore + 4 for numeracy in grade 1 then becomes much easier for teachers to introduce, manage and also easier for students to increase their stamina.

A new student joined the class after a full two weeks of using the Super 5 structure.  The student easily understood the expectations and seemlessly joined the class during the literacy/numeracy portion of the day thanks to the great modelling of the teacher and his classmates. Thank you to Madame Lague and her wonderful students for allowing me to work alongside them to introduce the Super 5 in kindergarten.

Bravo mes amis!

Frankie Pelletier
Instructional Consultant
Team Awesome (Lerminiaux)

Monday, November 3, 2014

Lakeview Talks

Oral language, Inquiry and Collaboration were the components that the Herridge (Nistor) Instructional consultants saw in Cindy Rice’s Grade 5/6 classroom. 

The consultants and teacher worked to develop an Inquiry project that would lead groups of students to build “Lakeview (T.E.D.) Talks”.  

Each inquiry team was involved in all aspects of the production:  Researching, Asking questions, Creating a PowerPoint, Filming each production, Providing constructive feedback, Ensuring passion, Developing a personal story, Making connections to the audience, Choosing inspirational quotes, Focusing on body language/voice/facial expressions.  In the end, students had the opportunity to present the “Talks” of their lives!

Enjoy the 3 minute sample video of “Lakeview Talks”.

  The second video is a students’ perspective of the Inquiry approach, Jacob Bailey. Get ready to learn a thing or two, yourself!

 Cindy has a long history of using Inquiry and can be found on another RPSconnectED blog titled “Discover, Dream, Design and Deliver”, 2013.  Cindy may be reached at Twitter @cindyrice10
 Cindy’s voice can be heard in the article below, published by The Leader Post

LEADER POST, REGINA — In Cindy Rice’s Grade 5/6 classroom at Lakeview Elementary, students spend their days wearing white lab coats; some have to roll the sleeves up so they don’t drag on the desk.
The idea is to “create an environment of strong learners and give students a sense of professionalism.”
The kids are used to guests in their classroom and, as Rice sits down to chat, they continue on with their work, never getting beyond a low babble of voices.
Rice is a huge proponent of inquiry based learning, whereby her students are challenged to ponder “real world problems and the big questions” to aid their learning.
In June, that led to the creation of Lakeview Talks, a series of student presentations now being screened on Access 7.
The first episode went to air on Sunday night; the second will hit the screen this evening.
Based on the TED Talks phenomenon, students chose a topic that was both relevant to what they were learning in the classroom at the time and close to their hearts.
The result was an entirely new approach for Regina elementary schools, and it is in the process of expanding to other interested schools in the division.
For Rice, the idea started percolating last school year, so she turned to her class “and asked them if they were up for a challenge.”
“I said, ‘Can you give the talk of your life? Are you ready?’ And they were incredible,” she said.
The day of filming was a daunting one for Rice and her students, though the assistance of Lakeview mom and Olympics coach Carla Nicholls helped put the kids at ease.
Laura Milligan is now in Grade 6 at Lakeview, and explained it as “a good experience,” though she was “really nervous.”
Not content to explore just one topic, Milligan chose two — upping world food production, and whether it’s worth putting 10,000 hours into dance.
“Miss Rice said it would be more of a challenge but I could do both, so I did,” Milligan said.
Challenging yourself is what inquiry based learning is all about, explained her former classmate Jacob Bailey, who did his Lakeview Talks presentation on the learning method.
“It makes you realize you can learn throughout your life, not just in the classroom or in school,” he said.
Being recorded at the Access studios also “helped a lot” with Bailey’s confidence in public speaking.
Each student, Rice said, spoke with “passion and presented something they understood and cared about.”
“The students didn’t read these — they spoke from their hearts,” she said.
Rice is now preparing packages for other teachers interested doing something similar.
“Students need to be heard, to ask questions and present research,” Rice said.
“Students are extremely gifted in problem solving, so this gives them ... the ability to express themselves and know that they have a voice.”

Tuesday, September 9, 2014


By: Jackie Taypotat, Aboriginal Education Instructional Consultant

What started out as integrating Aboriginal content into Air and Water outcomes with Erin Toppings, a Grade 2 teacher at Dr. Perry School, ended up being much more. After collaborating with Erin, she decided it would be beneficial and necessary for her students to learn background knowledge, in order to understand the Indigenous teachings or Ways of Knowing that were to be presented. After emailing her unit, we were able to communicate back and forth with ideas and resources.

Erin was unsure of her students’ knowledge of First Nations and Metis peoples, so exploring stereotypes seemed to make sense. This was introduced at the beginning of the unit, by asking students to draw a picture of a First Nations or Metis person.   

Next a definition of stereotypes was introduced, and examples were generated.

Modeling took place to support that learning. A chart was used to have students sort images of First Nations, Metis, and Inuit peoples and then deciding as a class, if the images were positive or negative.
This was an opportunity for discussion, questions and at times explanations of why the images were accurate and positive or inaccurate and negative.

 A “poison box” was used to discuss and understand stereotypes.  The items are all commonly found in grocery stores, gift shops, teachers` stores, etc.  We discussed why and what made them stereotypes.  The students quickly discovered how the items are misappropriations, why they are damaging, and how they perpetuate stereotypes.

Worldview seemed to be the next logical concept to present. The following outcome was used:  RW2.2 Analyze various worldviews regarding the natural environment.  It not only made sense in teaching about air and water, but as an important piece of background knowledge. Out of Worldview came such teachings as: Turtle Island, diversity, Mother Earth, and the Sacred Number 4. 

The Aski series of books and Teacher`s Guide were used to support the teachings of this unit.  Story bags or theme bag were also used to teach a Creation story, Worldview and Turtle Island.   A game was used to help students understand diversity on Turtle Island, showing the similarities and differences amongst Nations. Students are then able to make connections about contemporary First Nations peoples.  For the game, visit my blog at:

Elder Betty McKenna visited the classroom to share her knowledge and tell traditional stories about air and water. Connections were also made to the following Treaty Outcome: TR2.1: Examine how the Treaties are the basis for harmonious relationships in which land and resources are shared.

For students to make connections to First Nations and Metis Ways of Knowing, it is important to provide them with background knowledge. This background knowledge is also the foundation of the Treaty Essential Learnings. The students’ work speaks for itself. Students have a better understanding of how stereotypes affect perception. This is a sample of what students drew at the end of the unit of study. To access Erin's unit, Air & Water In Our Environment, click here.

A big thank you to Erin Toppings and her Grade 2 class for their outstanding work!

Here are some of their comments:

Erin Toppings:

“Incorporating Treaties and FNM Ways of Knowing has been a daunting task within my first two years of teaching. I have felt the struggle of wanting to incorporate FNMI content into my teaching but wanting to do so in a culturally sensitive and accurate way. In the planning stages of this Air and Water inquiry unit, I knew that I wanted to incorporate First Nations worldview as part of the study. Jackie Taypotat has been fantastic in sharing primary-appropriate resources and ideas to help my students and I understand the FNM Ways of Knowing. The worldview map visuals that we constructed together really allowed my students to understand the differences between FN worldview and European worldview. With this background knowledge, we were able to tie everything back to worldview. We tied every environmental issue today back to the differing worldviews. Learning about worldview also helped us understand treaty relationships (i.e. how FN and Europeans viewed and understood land/ownership).

My favourite part of this unit is that my students are continuing to challenge FNMI stereotypes. Students continue to bring items into the classroom that they believe depict stereotypes and then we discuss whether they portray FNMI people positively or negatively. This has also allowed me to take a closer look at my own perceptions of FNMI culture and the information, visuals, and literature that I present to my students.

“I learned that the Creator is at the top and the humans are at the bottom.”
-Madison Brentnell

“Mother Earth can live without humans but humans can’t live without Mother Earth.”
-Paraskevi Nagel

“North America is called Turtle Island by First Nations people.”
-Salsabeel Hmer

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

First Nations & Metis Content in Math

by: Jackie Taypotat

The following Grade 6 Math outcome about quantity is confusing to say the least! Outcome: N6.9 Research and present how First Nations and Métis peoples, past and present, envision, represent, and use quantity in their lifestyles and worldviews. 

Ashley Luce at Douglas Park and Mindy Derkatch at Dr. Perry, were both curious about how to explore this with their students. After meeting with each teacher and unwrapping the outcome, we came up with a hands-on, inquiry-type approach for the students. Each class began with brainstorming for types of quantity and quantity words we use today. Elder Betty then came in and told a traditional story about quantity.
Students identified the examples of quantity from Elder Betty’s story & had a chance to ask questions about how First Nations and Metis peoples used math long ago. Classes then reflected in their Math Journals to record what they learned about First Nations and Metis traditional quantity.
In lesson 1, items were set up from the Buffalo Kit, personal items and images, for students to explore. Their role was to rotate through the stations and begin by identifying and recording how the items were used long ago or today. Exploration was done with their classmates in small groups.

In the second class, their brainstormed quantity words were displayed. Now their role was to decide how quantity would have been used or would be used for each item. Students were then ready to present their findings. If they were unsure, the rest of the class or the teachers helped them out. Depending on their First Nations and Metis background knowledge, some of the teachings were brand new. The idea was to make predictions in an authentic and meaningful context.

Ashley’s class, decided to each choose one item to represent, and record their findings in a class book about quantity. This gave a chance for students to explore more in depth and get a deeper understanding.

Thank-you to Ms. Luce and her Grade 6 students for being such a pleasure to work with.

The class thoroughly enjoyed having Mrs. Taypotat come into the classroom and put a new spin on math! At one point, I had a young girl comment, “Gee, Ms. Luce, we are probably really behind in math now, because of all the math times that Mrs. Taypotat has been coming in to help teach us.” This was enlightening to me, as the student enjoyed learning about traditional quantity so much, in fact, that she did not realize she was meeting grade level outcomes. Having Jackie Taypotat in the class was a great experience. As a new teacher, I learned that teaching math in different and fun ways is very valuable and enriching for the students. 

Thursday, June 26, 2014


Submitted by Shawna Stangel and Janine Taylor 
- Team BOLDT Instructional Consultants


Where it all began
Collaboration time at Imperial Community School is far more than “buzz words” thrown around a staff room or a time that is scheduled once a month during a staff meeting.  In fact it is quite the opposite, collaboration time at Imperial embraces all components that comprise an effective and responsive professional learning community.  This is a collaboration time that is 2+ years in the making and has been a part of and seen an evolution of its use and purpose.  And if it can be done with this small staff, the potential for larger schools is endless.

It began as a support for teachers over two years ago promoting best practice outlined with the Structural Innovation movement that our division had undergone in trying to do things differently in our schools.  It is a time that has always had a focus on what is best for student learning,  achievement and success but has undergone a transformation over time leading to where the topics of discussion are now decided upon and led by the teachers themselves.  This, of course is determined by the needs seen and felt in the classroom and the school itself. This time truly does support and enhance the great work that this group of talented and dedicated professionals are doing to support the diverse needs, challenges, successes, and achievements of students in their building.  As Vice Principal Melanie Little stated, “We have a wealth of knowledge in the people resources right here in our building.  Why would we not want to find a way during the school day where we can share and learn from one another?”  

Through the hard work and support of their administration in creative timetabling and also in utilizing all support persons in the building, the staff of Imperial meet weekly to learn, discuss, share, problem-solve, and grow together.  Yes, you have read that correctly...WEEKLY.  Every week on Day 1 afternoons there are three distinct collaboration times that have been set up and established to allow learning clusters to meet.  

The first half hour is a collaboration time for the support roles in the school.  This group is comprised of the schools LRTs, Early Reading Intervention Teacher, Literacy/Numeracy lead teacher, Instructional Consultants, and Administration. The following 2-one hour blocks are then set aside, first, for the Junior Grade 1-4 team and secondly, the Senior Grade 5-8 team.  These two grade-group teams also include the necessary supporting LRT, ERIT, Lit/Num lead, consultants, and/or admin.

Evolution throughout the year
At the beginning of the current school year, collaboration time had a split focus.  Some weeks the groups met to discuss students, curriculum, instruction, and assessment strategies and then other weeks they would meet to continue a book study that had begun the year prior. Teachers were provided with the book, Great Ways to Differentiate Mathematics Instruction by Dr. Marian Small and specific chapter readings were assigned.  Many teachers found that the book provided interesting new ideas for mathematics instruction; however, even more valuable was the discussion and sharing of student samples among colleagues.  Michael Duck, a first year teacher, said the book provided great strategies and then the collaboration time allowed teachers to share what they did and how they tried some of Dr. Small’s ideas.  He also said the book was a great springboard for discussion that led to specific strategies he could use in his classroom with support of the instructional consultant.

Judy Parley, LRT, shared how the book allowed new staff members to Imperial, the opportunity to build rapport with each other.  Since many staff were new to the building this year, the book provided an avenue for staff to have professional conversations about their students as they were also getting to know each other.  Judy also recognized the fact that a book circle does not work for everyone; variety in the use of collaboration time to share teacher knowledge and talents is extremely important to ensure all voices are heard.

Derek Racette sometimes felt like he had to do homework for collaboration time.  He stated that in the beginning it was very teacher-centered professional development.  He acknowledged that this is not a bad feeling, but he liked how this year’s collaboration time shifted to what specific strategies and supports the students needed, not only how to instruct literacy and numeracy.  Being a busy dad and community volunteer he did appreciate that the time had been timetabled into his day and week. He no longer feels the pressure to have to meet before/after school with his colleagues.  It still happens, but collaboration time has now provided opportunity for conversations and planning to become embedded into the day and more importantly within professional practice.

images.jpgCollaboration time is a form of peer coaching, and Glickman, Gordon, and Ross-Gordon (2014) share the following steps for offering direct assistance to teachers: clarify purpose, prepare teachers, schedule during the school day, and monitor closely for progress. The research on lasting classroom change has shown that scheduling release time for teachers during the school day is critical (Zwart et al., 2009) for both teacher and student success.

As the year progressed, with weeks alternating from regular collaboration times and then book study times discussing Dr. Small’s book, teachers, with the support of administration, decided to change the way this time should be used.  They knew what they were doing was a good thing, but saw more potential in how they could be working together in supporting their students and the diverse needs they saw in their classrooms daily.  Marilyn Embury, the Literacy/Numeracy lead teacher, took on the leadership role for collaboration time.  She now compiles an agenda where everyone on staff has input.  She then schedules these ideas, thoughts and supports for the weekly collaboration time and facilitates the discussion.  As Derek mentioned above, it now feels more student-centered with an agenda that begins with the topic of “students of concern and/or celebration”.  

photo.JPGThis year collaboration groups also started using data boards to track the progress of each individual student; there is a primary data board and a senior data board.  Jim Manz appreciates the use of data boards because it helps to identify the kids who require additional support, and it is like putting the pieces of the puzzle together.  Many teachers echoed his comments in saying that, “we know who all of our kids are because it puts a ‘face to the data’”.

Judy agreed that seeing the kids move across the data board gives teachers something tangible to see how much the students have grown; collaboration time provides an informal discussion about students and what is going on in their learning.  Teachers can “put out fires during collaboration before the formal process of a Tier 1 meeting; it allowed teachers to verbalize and legitimize concerns”.

Marilyn shared that data boards need to be more visible for teachers and that as the the end of the year approaches the boards will be updated during collaboration time to serve as a visible celebration of learning for staff.  There has also been discussion about how the use of the data boards can evolve and be used more effectively for next year.

Other agenda items include: instructional strategies and support, teaching partner collaboration time, and school curricular events and planning.  Just a few of the great learning activities that the groups have planned this year were:
      • burgers and books (primary)
      • math games and activity buckets (primary)
      • treaty essential learnings stations (primary)
      • Peter Brass film project (senior)
      • outdoor school (senior)

Even though collaboration time has evolved this year into more teacher-directed, student-centered time, Jan Seitz reinforced the need to continually “tweak it” as they are still learning how to use the time.  Lori Howie said that versatility is the beauty of collaboration time and stressed how they must adapt the focus of this time to the changing needs of the school and more importantly the students.

Future Direction
While book studies, PD-focused meetings, strategy sharing, data board analysis, and collegial learning are all important to Imperial staff during collaboration time, the direction of this time for next year will become more balanced.  The agenda will always begin with the standing item of “students of concern or celebration” and then teachers are always invited to add their own items. However, the majority of time, as voiced by the teachers themselves, will be spent on co-planning because they would like more time to meet and plan with their co-teaching partners.  Jan Seitz stated that their shared time should be less like a meeting, and teachers agreed that stations, curriculum review, and more “doing time” is needed and appreciated.

Melanie Little shared that the structure of collaboration time will be different next year; instead of two grade groups, they will break into three, which will allow for more of a focus on similar curricula and supports for each cluster: primary - grades 1 and 2, junior - grades 3 and 4, and senior- grades 5 to 8. Melanie knows that collaboration will continue to be valuable time because, in her words, “we have rockstar teachers with an exceptional knowledge of curriculum and instructional strategies that benefit student learning”.

Denise Terry shared that collaboration time helps to find and connect with colleagues during the day; it becomes a team effort and helps everyone get stronger.  As a first year teacher, Brooke Alexander acknowledged the importance of the physical resources and people resources that collaboration time provided. She has been able to use and rely on many of her colleagues to learn from and grow with throughout the year.  So for her this must remain an important part of future collaboration time.

IMG_0750.JPGMost importantly, Kim Schroeder stated that, “this time has helped to foster a supporting, caring, and warm environment to problem solve and plan for our most vulnerable and at-risk students.  It’s provided us with hope...a sense of hope that we can meet the needs of more children because we are all working a team.”  For that reason alone, reflection, problem-solving, and celebration of students will remain a top agenda item for future collaboration time.

Advice to Others Who Would Like to Benefit from a Collaboration Time in Their School

The teachers at Imperial range from brand new to the classroom, profession, and province to others who have many years of experience in different educator roles here in Regina Public.  Their experiences of collaboration have also varied from not at all to only during staff meetings.  The two things that most of them had in common was being a new staff member to Imperial as well as the idea of meeting weekly to collaborate.  Upon year end reflection of being in a new building and after having experienced one year of meeting weekly for collaboration time, these are some of the thoughts, feelings and expressions of the Imperial Staff.

  • “Do what it takes to get your admin to schedule it into the timetable for you. Don’t take NO for an answer.  If you are truly wanting to work as a team, there will be a way to make it happen.”

  • MANY teachers on staff stated that “this has been their BEST year ever!”

  • “Our conversations are focused and purposeful...and our staff morale has increased because we now trust and respect each other so much more to do what’s best for ALL the students at Imperial.  We all collectively own these kids … and besides we have fun together during these times, too.”

  • “Meeting weekly is a must so that we are all on the same page. We all have the same goals.  We all know the strengths and areas of support for these students.”

  • “I look forward to collaboration time every week because it really helps to take the blinders off when I need help and support in working with my kids.  I can ask questions and look for suggestions from my colleagues”

  • “We have learned to be vulnerable with one another.  We are not perfect...we all make mistakes and we can all learn from one another’s experiences and expertise.  We now know that we can make each other greater and help to build one another up”

  • “I would have never tried some of these strategies on my own if I would not have had this time to learn about it, talk about it, plan for it, and play with it in collaboration time.”

  • “Collaboration time allows for reflection and celebration and we don’t often have time to do that on our own”

  • “Don’t take this time away from me ever...It’s the most important and valuable time I could ever have with my colleagues to plan for our students.”