Thanksgiving Dinner as Action Research

Large gatherings of really clever people provide fabulous opportunities to connect on many different levels. On occasion you might be lucky enough to engage in a transformational conversation with a critical friend that can help not only define your one best thing, but also remove the vaseline from the reflective lens and clarify a previously blurry path.

I was fortunate enough to have just such an experienced the other evening with ADE Phyllis Brodsky from Tucson AZ. We were talking about changing our assessment methods and the impact it was having on our practice and on our students. As I was listening to Phyillis I found myself making both social and temporal connections to my own experiences with action research. The conversational path took us to Thanksgiving dinner. It occurred to both of us that Thanksgiving dinner was a perfect metaphor for the teacher as a reflective practitioner, and it, in fact had many of the essential components of the action research process.

Every year you plan on a Thanksgiving dinner that’s going to be better than the year before. Every year you try to add something new to Thanksgiving dinner. As a practitioner you are driven by the iterative nature of the process in that progressive understanding grows from cycles of inquiry. The reflective process is most powerful when it cycles back, reviews and builds on each successive inquiry. In the Thanksgiving metaphor such iterative reflective work is facilitated by regular and consistent analysis of what dish and to what degree your guests are enjoying the meal.

Action research needs to be reasoned in that frequent analysis drives deep learning. Is there particular evidence of a student’s thinking and learning enough to draw general conclusions about what has been learned? How widely can an accepted practice can be applied in a specific instance with particular students in a classroom? There is also a reciprocal component to teacher inquiry in that theory and practice connect dynamically. Does the Thanksgiving recipe translate into a good meal?

What are some of our next steps? I think as reflective practitioners we need to be better at leaving a trail of bread crumbs, or stuffing in this case, that documents our journey. We need to make an effort to journal about our efforts and document the impact or instructional choices are having on our students, and on ourselves. We rely too heavily on our memory to rationalize our instructional decisions while we are sticklers for collecting multiple samples of evidence of student learning, sometimes on a weekly basis. If we are to accurately reflect on our journey we need to keep a record of it.

So my appeal to you is this; journal digitally or analog, use audio or video like ADE Reshan Richards, or perhaps draw something like ADE Brad Ovenell-Carter. It doesn’t matter. Document your own learning in whatever way is sustainable. Then in November (or October) we can sit down to the best Thanksgiving dinner ever. Until next year.


Shift Happens

This year was a big shift for students in our class. We made a deliberate shift from textbook learning to a much more inquiry based, authentic learning classroom focus. The shift was a challenge for many students.

Overheard in the fall,

“Can’t we just do worksheets in math?”

Overheard yesterday,

“I’m so excited. Tomorrow we have a double math period!”

Perhaps the First 5 Days really takes 5 months. This is due in large part to my PLN in the Twitterverse for helping me stay the course and keeping the focus on the moral imperative.

‘Twas the day before Christmas break

We had a very spirited discussion today in our table groups. It was a perfect example of accountable talk.

The students were writing their response to the following question,

By controlling medical research funds, you are in a position to guarantee that a cure will be found in 15 years for any disease you choose. Unfortunately, no progress on any others would be made during that period. Would you target one disease?

It really didn’t matter what they decided. The point of the exercise was to have them state a clear opinion and support it. Students faced off in an oral display of give and take. Everyone was respectful of the opposing opinions, yet held steadfastly to their own beliefs. Even at the end of the period when one student remarked, “We really didn’t get anything done this period” one of her friends countered with, “But we have so much more to write about now”.

It’s starting to come together.



Things are now set up and ready. It took about 2 days and I was constantly flip flopping between setting the class up “my way” or having just a shell of a set up and letting the students make it their own. I think I sort of compromised. The walls are going to be their own, all I’m going to suggest are the categories for the cork boards. Seating will be as mobile as possible. Groups of 4, theatre style, schoolroom style. It depends on what we’re doing. I anticipate moving the furniture frequently. Desks also are “turned in” with the storage on the inside. There are a number of reasons for this. In grade 6 students are assigned lockers so the most they’ll have to being to class are 2 subjects worth of materials. The second reason for this is that as we move to a BYOD setting, bringing less to class means bringing more.

I decided that the teacher desk was taking up a lot of space in some of the traditional class layouts. I’m going to try having it face the wall to keep it out of the way. See all that empty shelf space at the back of the photo? I dumped the dictionaries and atlas’ in the storage room. Others are welcome to them. I did the same with the filing cabinet. Everything I have worth keeping has been scanned to a PDF and sits on a series of hard drives, redundantly backed up, or Evernote, often both. Everything else I might need exists online. Everything.

So it looks a bit sparse right now. We’ll check in a week from now to see what it looks like.

Critical Thinking Skills

My friend Tami Brewster shared this on Pintrest.

A poster created for [our] English language arts and social studies departments (humanities) to use in their classroom, as well as in the library.

Not-for-profit organizations are free to use it within the Creative Commons licensing parameters.

Critical Thinking Skills

Why Go BYOD?

Going BYOD
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Long Range Plans v 1.0

So part of working on the First 5 Days is collaboratively working on long term plans. Our district’s long term plans need to include overall expectations from our province’s curriculum, themes, or big ideas or units, and a calendar timeline. I’m feeling a bit visual these days so here is a version 1.0 of my grade 6 thinking for 2012-2013. Lots of revisions will be forthcoming in the days ahead, but this is where I am thinking of starting.