I spend about an hour each week commenting on our student blogfolios.
What’s a “blogfolio” you ask? Well it is a term of art that (I think) my former colleague Andrea Hernandez created, and in her words:
Portfolios give students a chance to develop metacognition, set goals and internalize what “good work” looks like. Blogs offer a platform for creativity, communication, connection and the practice of digital citizenship. “Blog-folios”are the best of both worlds- using a blogging platform to develop writing skills, provide opportunities to connect with an authentic audience and increase reflective practices. Instead of using the entire site as a portfolio, students will use the category “portfolio” to designate those selections that represent high-quality work and reflection.
Having begun last year with Grade 5, we have now added this year’s Grade 5 as well. [Spoiler Alert: We will be expanding the use of blogfolios in both directions in the not-too-distant future.]
During the time I set aside for my reading, I typically start at the beginning of each blogroll and make my way through as many as I can. During that hour, I can see which spelling words are being emphasized in a particular grade. I can see which kinds of writing forms and mechanics are being introduced. I learn which holidays (secular and Jewish) are being prepared for, celebrated or commemorated. I see samples of their best work across the curricula.
But what I enjoy seeing the most is the range of creativity and personalization that expresses itself through their aesthetic design, the features they choose to include (and leave out), and the voluntary writing.
This is what we mean when we talk about “owning our own learning” and having a “floor, but not a ceiling” for each student. It is also a great example of finding ways to give our students the ability to create meaningful and authentic work. But, it isn’t just about motivation – that we can imagine more easily. When you look more closely, however, it is really about students doing their best work and reflecting about it. Look at how much time they spend editing. Look at how they share peer feedback, revise, collaborate, publish and reflect. [Spoiler Alert: When we shift into “Student-Led Conferences” the blogfolios become a critical anchor.]
Seriously. Look at it.
If you are a parent in one of these classes, we hope that you are already subscribed to your children’s blogfolio(s) and that grandparents and special friends are as well. But if you are not a parent in one of these classes (or a parent in our school or a parent at all), but are (obviously!) reading my blog, I ask that however much time you would have spent reading one my typically overlong, 1,000-word (plus) posts, that you please use that time now to read one of their posts. Even better, post a comment! It brings them such joy! Just pick a few at random and make a burgeoning blogger’s day.
If you are interested in perusing the Grade 5 Blogroll, please click here.
If you are interested in surfing the Grade 6 Blogroll, then please click here.
With enrollment for 2019-2020 now fully open [Don’t forget to take advantage of the opportunity to lock in this year’s tuition rates by enrolling on time!], I am looking forward in upcoming posts to providing meaningful updates on two major initiatives:
How has the work with TACLEF impacted French at OJCS?
How has the gift to strengthen the “J” in OJCS impacted Jewish Studies (and Life) at OJCS?
With all the workshops and meetings and slides and conversations about our blogs, it is sometimes easy to forget (at least for me) that the best way of showing the power, the impact, and the learning on the blogs is to actually show it! Recognizing that it still may be a new routine for families and that most families surely don’t have the bandwidth to visit all the blogs, let me serve as your occasional tour guide of The OJCS Blogosphere. I hope to do this a few times a year to inspire OJCS families to invest a little time, to inspire other schools and thought-leaders who may visit my blog from time-to-time, and to forge connections between our work and other fellow-travelers because we really do “learn better together” [North Star Alert!]
From the OJCS (Middle School) Mathematics Blog (click here for the full blog)
Math Escape: Grade 8 Dinner Party! – Posted on October 28th
Grade 8 participated in their first Math Escape Room of the year on Friday.
They got a taste last year, and loved it so much, that I had to put together another one and bring it back to life this year!
October’s theme: a Dinner Party! How much food? When to start each recipe? How to set the tables? ….and picky eaters!
Students were “Trapped in Math Class” for 60 minutes in small groups. They had to beat the clock to correctly answer four tough and tricky questions that pushed them to squirm and struggle. Topics included logic problems, algebra, and area of circles.(had to figure this out from notes and clever resources-since we haven’t learned it formally yet!)
So with the room set, and the students eager with positive attitudes they took on the challenge…and as the struggled through, they came out on the other side all escapees from this month’s escape room!.
Here’s a peak into their “struggle,” and now thanks to my over using my “dontstealthestruggle”phrase, students are often heard saying back to me, “Mrs Cleveland, no, don’t help, don’t steal my struggle, I can figure it out.”
Could I be more proud?! Let’s see what they got what it takes to escape in November’s room, I’m already preparing it! Bring it, grade 8! Show me what you’ve got!
…stay tuned….grade 7 takes on their first escape room tomorrow! They’re ready for the challenge!
Take a look…
From the Grade One – Kitah Alef Blog (click here for the full blog)
Proud Teacher Moment – Posted on November 1
What an amazing feeling it is to walk in on my students during recess and find a few of them playing (IN HEBREW) a game I used with them yesterday to practice hebrew vocabulary.
They truly exemplify OJCS’s star – “We own our own learning. We own our own stories.”
And to make matters BETTER. As I was writing about this, I heard my students using the Hebrew song I taught them for lining up during transition time in another class.
My heart feels so fulfilled at this moment! My dream (having OJCS students using Hebrew NOT ONLY in Hebrew class) is coming true…
I am truely soooo proud!
From the Grade Five – Kitah Hay Blog (click here for the full blog)
Student Vote 2019 – Posted on October 18
We had a great turnout for our Student Vote yesterday! The grade 5 students prepared and delivered! It was a long morning, where lots of patience was needed, but they stepped up to the challenge and were true model students and citizens.
We started the morning learning how to fold and initial the ballots to ensure they were all “kosher” and hadn’t been tampered with. They also witnessed and confirmed that the ballot boxes were empty before they were sealed.
And then the fun began! We welcomed all the classes from grades 3 to 8 into our room, presented important information on the main party platforms, and then worked as Poll Clerks and Deputy Returning Officers to guide voters through the voting process.
We can’t wait to share the results with you, after the polls close for the rest of the country, on Monday evening. We will be counting the votes on Wednesday so stay tuned!
From the OJCS (Middle School) Francais Blog (click here for the full blog)
Nos futurs politiciens? – Posted on September 20th
Nos étudiants et étudiantes de la classe de la 8e année de Mme Bertrend et de Mr. Cinanni ont eu l’honneur de participer à deux tables rondes, avec le Parti Conservateur et le Parti Vert, respectivement. Les élèves ont pu vivre une expérience unique, en écoutant des politiciens répondent des questions auxquelles font face la communauté juive, à Ottawa et à travers le Canada.
Ils ont aussi la chance de poser une question aux deux partis, en trois langues ! Vive le trilinguisme à OJCS !
Our teachers and students are doing some pretty fantastic things, eh?
I will continue to encourage you to not only check out the blogs on The OJCS Blogosphere, but I strongly encourage you to offer a quality comment of your own. Getting feedback and commentary from the universe is highly motivating and will help this snowball grow as it hurtles down the hill of innovative learning.
For our next tour, I’m going to give you a taste of what is happening with our Grades 5 & 6 student blogfolios. Stay tuned!
Nope! We teased it two weeks ago when we said that,
For our next tour, I’m going to give you a taste of what the cohort of teachers working with Silvia Tolisano (our OJCS DocuMentors) have been working on. Stay tuned!
Well, as we head into our February Break with a Friday PD Day facilitated by our friends from NoTosh, this seems like a good opportunity to share out the amazing work our DocuMentors are doing. Which teachers are part of this cohort again?
Glad you asked!
We are so pleased to have a diverse (grade level, subject & experience) group of new teachers (folk who were not part of the NoTosh Design Team; excepting Melissa, Keren & me) who are learning new paradigms, NOW literacies and innovative skills and practices which are not only impacting their work, but the larger work of the school.
Don’t believe me? Well…let the tour begin!
“Cohort 2018” has a home page where you can see summaries and insights from Silvia herself. “Cohort 2018” has a landing page where you can get links to each teacher’s professional blog. That’s where the magic lies.
From Ann-Lynn’s Blog (click here for the full blog)
Who Own’s the Learning? Daily 5 Chronicles – Posted on January 27th
Daily 5 is a literacy framework that instills behaviors of independence, creates a classroom of highly engaged readers, writers, and learners, and provides teachers with the time and structure to meet diverse student needs. Because it holds no curricular content, it can be used to meet any school, district, state, or national standards. ~ The Daily Cafe
This week I asked myself, “Is the Daily 5 literacy framework allowing my students to achieve the ultimate goal?” Are they a classroom of highly engaged readers, writers and learners? Do they truly own their learning? As my Grade 2s completed their literacy block this past Wednesday morning and headed off to their next class, I remained in the empty classroom long enough to browse through my phone and look at some photos I had recently added. Were they just photos of compliant students doing what was asked of them, or did I have a classroom of students who now own their learning? Let’s examine four components of the Daily 5 and the photos which I believe captured my students owning their learning.
Work on Writing
I will confess, if I did not take a few minutes to quickly walk around the room and ask questions, I might have deleted these photos, not truly understanding the evidence I possessed in my photo album. In the photos below, both students were working on their writing, yet neither student was getting their inspiration from a class list of topics. One was very eager to complete a biography on a famous basketball player, Kawhi Leonard and another student was busy completing a narrative on a special family event. Yet a third student, who sadly will be leaving us in a few weeks, took this opportunity to write an account of her experience here in Canada for the past two years. Who owns the learning?They do!
My students understand the importance of expanding their vocabulary. The photo below captures a student wanting to learn more and being self-motivated to do so. The student chose to spend our literacy block reading chapter 2 of our novel study “My Father’s Dragon”, stopping to jot down words she is unfamiliar with. I know I am hoping to see these vocabulary words added to our live dictionary on Flipgrid. The group photo below is evidence of two things; an example of Win Win, and a group of students who chose to play the competitive level of Osmo words. Before the Osmo spelling game could begin, however, the students had to resolve a conflict, brainstorming a solution where everyone wins.
Who owns the learning? They do!
Read to Self/Read to Someone
Finally, as all these wonderful things were taking place in my classroom, I had the opportunity to do some one-on-one conferencing with some students. Where were the others you ask? They took this opportunity to make a quick trip to the library to add to their book bins. They were using the Star Reading program to help them choose a “Just Right” book. This last photo in my post needs no words to describe what is taking place. But three words come to mind, highlyengaged readers.
From Chelsea’s Blog, “The Chrysalis Chronicles” (click here for the full blog)
Is it making my thoughts visible with symbols, pictures, arrows, ideas?
Could this be a way I have my students take notes to enhance their thoughts and learning about how math concepts are related?
Can I video/record the sketchnoting process (stop motion) to show my doodles and thoughts over time?
How will sketchnoting change my learning?
How will it change it and throw me to do something different?
How am I going to take my examples and practices of sketchnoting and use it to sketchnote for learning?
These questions are running through my head as we gear up to begin this new learning process.
Opening up and getting ready to begin my first Sketchnote using the Paper app.
Doodling has a profound effect on creative problem-solving and deep information processing. ~ Suni Brown
And I’m off…
On my third sketchnote…getting the hang of this..as we learn and “live” sketch…it’s hard…very hard… listening and sketching at the same time…
challenging my multi-tasking skills….
Let’s keep going….
so…here I am…
…look at everyone else… They are doing so well! We are learning so much!
…but…how am I feeling…this is going on too long…I’m feeling very uninterested…not by my lack of artistic skills (Tip #1 You don’t need to be an artist)…but I’m starting to tune out and not enjoy this process..but I’m hanging in there.
What does this tell or say about me?
First, that drawing may not be for me…but I’m open to try new things and work through it…
Second, that as much as I am a visual learner…I’d much rather express my own thoughts through words to communicate my output. This makes me think to a colleague sharing their learning DNA. I can have more than one learning competency, and this means; so can our students!
Back to more questions…now with some answers!
would some of my students really enjoy this…YES!
is it a skill that may be helpful and beneficial for some students to grow…YES!
is this another avenue, tool, and skill to learn, and create from and with… YES!
So…back at it…and let’s try some more sketching…
I’m in this to learn…not just for me, but for my students…
Tip 8! WHY!?
Sketchnoting For…. This is it! This is why I’m continuing to do this…through my personal frustration and disengagement: for the students!
…to contribute, to give skills, to make meaning, to enhance memory, to tell a story, make connections, to reflect, to display content….to CREATE!
Here is my final sketchnote from…the big reveal…
10 Tips for Sketchnoting from a Sketch”novice”
I’ll continue to try sketching more…and provide an update of my progress.
If you want to try to sketchnote yourself, I encourage you to try it out! If you’re looking for inspiration and ideas.. check out the following places and links.
You may surprise yourself, learn something about yourself, and perhaps a new skill to surprise and encourage others!
From Shira’s Blog, “Finding the Light” (click here for the full blog)
Capturing Resilience – Posted on January 16th
Today the Documentors were invited into a Grade 3 math class with the goal of making learning visible. The students were assigned open-ended multiplication problems, and demonstrated their knowledge of 1 or 2 digit multiplication, using pictures, words, and numbers to demonstrate their thinking.
During the pre-documentation phase, I decided to focus on capturing the students resilience. How do they continue when they hit a barrier? What tools do they use? Do they persevere or do they give up? Resilience has been proven to be a strong measure of students success.
This trait is also attached to one of our school’s North Stars…We Own Our Own Learning.
The students were amazing! They were eager to get to work and tackled their problems with enthusiasm. Even with 9 extra adults in the room snapping photos, taking videos, and writing notes, they weren’t deterred. Even the first demonstration began with a student detailing how she began again as her first trial wasn’t working.
Then they broke into groups of two and the work began. It was beautiful to see the students working together, listening to each others ideas, and using trial and error multiple times to figure things out.
When some groups got stuck, they raised their hand for help or patiently waited for their teacher to come and support them. She reminded them to break the question down and use trial and error. They immediately got back to work.
I observed students continuing to work to figure out what was missing. They kept trying even though it was hard, and when one group felt down, with a little encouragement they continued to work with enthusiasm.
During the gallery walk we had a chance to ask the student leading questions. The resilience shone through in each and every group I spoke to.
When explaining her work, one student told me that there were lots of possibilities for the answers. I asked if she was finished and she said:
“There are still more possibilities. I am working on the math.”
Another pair explained that they tackled the problem by just starting to experiment different ways to solve the problem. When they got stuck their strategy was:
“We kept experimenting stuff.”
When there were problems one group said:
“We each did half.” When they got stuck, “We talked to each other, we erased it and did it another way.”
Was resilience evident?
I want to share examples of Bethany, Josh, Melissa & Keren’s blogs as well – which I will do on our next tour – but you can view all their blogs by starting at the landing page and diving in.
Do you see how excited our teachers are about learning? Can you imagine how exciting it is for our students to have teachers like this?
We can! Because that is what life is (now) like at the Ottawa Jewish Community School.
Early in the year, I blogged about coming attractions and shared that…
With the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year, and due to significant and overwhelming feedback from parents, teachers, and students, the OJCS is transitioning away from Google Classroom and launching school-wide class blogs. Our new blogging platform will make it a whole lot easier for parents and students to know what is happening in their classes and for teachers and students to share pictures, videos, examples and reflections of the incredible work they are doing.
“We learn better together” is one our North Stars; school blogs will help us expand the concentric circles of “we” to amplify and share the learning.
We held a “Town Hall” on October 3rd (delayed once due to the tornado) in which we laid out our big picture vision for moving towards a blogging platform and to take a tour of the “OJCS Blogosphere”. So. Now that we have made it through the Jewish holidays, essentially restarted school and have finished our first (!) five-day week, it seems like a good time to check in to see how this whole blogging prototype is going.
The first thing that is important is to know that the OJCS Blogosphere exists! There are Lower School Blogs for each class K -5, a Middle School landing page with a calendar of major projects/tests, individual Middle School Teacher Blogs (Math, Language Arts, etc.), School Activities and Special Interest Blogs and Leadership Blogs. You will find increasing and increasingly exciting content on them all. You may also find navigating the blogosphere new, confusing, or frustrating, depending on what you are looking for, how easy it is to find (or not) or whether it is there (yet) at all.
The use of “prototype” to describe our launch of blogs is intentional. It is to remind us that we are trying something new, seeking feedback, and making changes as we go. We are learning what works and what doesn’t. We are also learning what works as a vehicle for education and what works as a vehicle for communication. Recognizing there is no one platform that does everything we want in terms of both education and communication, we are working to fill the gaps. We have appreciated your comments and your suggestions and are meaningfully considering them as we go. For now, however, I thought it might be easier to frame where we currently are as a hypothetical FAQ built on real email questions we have received thus far:
What are the minimum expectations of what is supposed to be where? Is everything on the blogs or do I need monitor email, the website, The Hadashot, etc?
We are in the beginning of a major shift, but the consistency is not yet there. Each teacher/grade-level team was given a rubric for their blogs with the minimum “must-haves” and they include homework, class events, quizzes, and major projects. There are some distinctions between Lower School and Middle School – the Middle School Calendar we created on the homepage for Middle School is intended for major tests/projects (only) for example, but where we are headed is a place where the blogs become the primary (only) source for information.
It is a major transition in two ways.
The first is for students. As they get older and take on greater executive functioning, learning to manage their workloads, where to find homework, etc., transitions from teacher/parent to teacher/student(/parent). There will likely become a point where providing physical agenda books becomes obsolete (with exceptions of course). We are learning as a faculty how to function this way and learning how to help students make the transition.
The second is for parents. With a new website (finally!) going live this week, we can finally reorient our entire communication system. If we treat the website as a blog (for school-wide and/or community-wide communication), then we can start using our Hadashot and all school social media to direct people to the right blog to find the rest of the story. A picture, a headline, and a link should suffice to get people where they need to be.
What do I do if I have children in multiple grades? Do I have to go into each blog and find each relevant thing?
Depending on what you are interested in, you can subscribe (there is a box on each page) to as many blogs as you wish (at which point you will receive an email when each subscribed blog has a new post) or use the social media (email and Constant Contact included) of your choice as a cue to click on what you are interested in. We would highly suggest that you subscribe (at a minimum) to your children’s primary blog(s). [We would love if you subscribed to all the blogs, but that depends on how much email you would like to receive.] It is kind of like the difference between subscribing to my blog or waiting for me to use Facebook/Twitter to share the headline of this week’s post and choosing whether you want to click or not. Of course the school can’t use email or social media to prompt you for everything. You will need to rely on your discretion and your children as well. There is also a piece of this which is about where your children need to go to find what they want/need and where you need to go. Depending on your child (and you) those could be different things. Having lived through this in other schools, I can assure you that you will eventually (sooner than you think!) adapt and adjust.
Did this help answer some of your questions or concerns? If you have additional ones, I encourage you to comment on this blog post or email/call/drop in. I will happily answer your questions and happily share out in future posts additional FAQs.
How will we know if a move to the blogosphere is right for OJCS? The same way we (now) measure any significant initiative – do they bring us closer to our North Stars? Does utilizing blogs help us…
…own our learning?
…learn better together?
…inspire Jewish journeys?
…provide a floor, but not a ceiling?
…be more responsible each to the other?
I would argue emphatically that it does. But don’t take my word for it. Go see it for yourself! The future is here and it is open, collaborative, reflective, transparent, personalized, transformative and limitless. Students coming out of OJCS will not only be prepared to participate in this world, they will be prepared to thrive and to lead.
This is not a flashback to a flashback! We are not reminding you of the $72,000 Innovation Grant we received from the Congregation Beth Shalom of Ottawa (CBSO) Legacy Fund to help fund some of the physical spaces we’ll need to continue to bring our innovative vision to life. We are also not reminding you of the $50,000 Innovation Grant we received around this time last year from an anonymous family which helped fund the transformational work we recently finished with NoTosh (which lives on this year in the many powerful prototypes presently being prepared for pitches to bring teaching and learning at OJCS into greater alignment with our “North Stars”), the opportunity to double our iPads available in the school, the exciting shift towards providing teachers with Chromebooks so they can collaborate more effectively and model what learning looks like, and beginning just this week, our work with this year’s consultant, who happens to be my friend and former colleague Silvia Tolisano, whose new book the cohort of teachers working with Silvia have begun to read.
[I will have a lot more to discuss about Silvia’s work next week as it ties into the launch of our OJCS Blogosphere…]
No, this post is yet another example of how the work we are doing at the Ottawa Jewish Community School is not only transforming teaching and learning in our classrooms, but transforming the role of the school in our larger Jewish and educational communities. The ripple effect of this work is not only inspiring current and prospective parents, but current and prospective donors. We noticed this back in June when we observed:
Success begets success. Numbers beget numbers. A school in motion will stay in motion. The narrative of decline is behind us; the narrative of rebirth, revitalization and rejuvenation has begun. You can measure it objectively through numbers – attrition down, enrollment up, survey data trends, fundraising dollars, etc. You can also measure it subjectively – feelings in the walls, word on the street, buzz in the community, etc. You can measure it however you like. The outcome is the same. The OJCS is laying the ground to become the innovative leader in education in our community.
And wow has that been true!
With over 170 students and our largest Kindergarten class (28) in years, and all the other optimistic indicators I wrote about at the very beginning of the year, we are off and running. So what is going to keep us running to meet and surpass all our ambitious goals?
A school is only as great as its teachers, and its teachers can only excel if they are given opportunities to engage in meaningful, sustained, personalized, professional growth. Twenty years of educational research shows that an investment in teachers is a (if not the) key lever in determining excellence and is among the few variables a school can completely control.
We know it is true
Part of our recent success can be attributed to how we have raised the bar of expectations for our teachers while providing them with coaching, resources and support they need to reach new heights. In the course of a single year, even our veteran teachers have found renewed commitment to lifelong learning and our new teachers are brimming with ideas. What unites them in bringing our mission to life is a comprehensive commitment to professional learning.
Customized professional development
At OJCS, we believe what is good for our students is also good for our teachers. In the same way we recognize that students are individuals with their own learning styles and motivations, we acknowledge that our teachers can also benefit from a similar action plan. There are no “one-size-fit-all” approaches for meaningful growth. That is why, though still in its nascent stages, our goal is that each teacher has a well-developed individual Professional Growth Plan, developed in partnership with the administration and consisting of clear deliverables for mutual success. These plans then allow the administration to understand common needs and determine what outside resources should be made available to our faculty.
Professional growth at OJCS is achieved through a blended and customized approach with various elements, from participation in conferences, to purchasing individual books and learning tools.
Importance of expert consultants
We have already discussed the impact of NoTosh and the beginnings of the work of Silvia. In addition to those large initiatives, we have also begun smaller initiatives :
Teachers visit other schools
Teachers are assisted in achieving new degrees
New books are being purchased for our faculty library
Webinar access is being purchased for teacher training
Building a brighter future
Thanks to the generosity of one amazing family and the ongoing participation of our partners at the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, this new gift of $165,000 over the next five years, the work will continue with customized development (e.g. webinars, conferences, site visits, etc.), and the best practices learned from the consultants will be implemented. These are likely to include curriculum mapping and enhanced mentoring/coaching. Examples include: providing opportunities for Jewish and French Teachers to further develop their skills as teachers of second (and third) languages; and connecting teachers of Jewish Text to coaches through Prizmah.
For a school of our current and future size, an enhanced and sustained focus on professional development is required as a primary lever for future success. This extraordinary gift will ensure that the OJCS Faculty has access to the latest research, current trends, coaching, conferences and materials necessary to provide the Jewish children of Ottawa with an innovative, world-class education and help secure the future of our Jewish community.