Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Create Belonging

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

When did you last feel a strong sense of belonging? What helps you feel like you belong? Students say a lot about what helps them feel like they belong. Many of my former students say they feel a sense of belonging when folks: 

  • smile at them and say hello
  • know their names and say them correctly
  • ask them a question about themselves or my experiences
  • remember something about them and bring it up later 
  • work purposefully with them and others
  • laugh or joke with them 

Building relationships that establish this sense of belonging takes time. If there is one teaching move I have never regretted it is taking time in the first few weeks of school to build relationships and community with students and families. 

Students, all leaners, children or adults, are important. As important persons they have affective needs that must be met. In order for learners to invest in and take ownership of their learning, their need to belong must be met. 

A few favorite verbs come to mind when I think about starting a new school year with leaners: 

  • Listen
  • Ask
  • Learn
  • Respond 
  • Reflect
  • Collaborate 
  • Share

I begin the work of listening and learning learners' names with name tents at each color themed table. I organize students into color groups (red, orange, yellow etc.) and then eventually into larger "rainbow" groups. This routine begins with name tents and "shape your thinking" signs for the classroom.

The shape signs hang over each table group. They become a routine we can use to respond to different media or ideas throughout the year. The name tents are a visual reminder for everyone in the room:  students, teachers, substitutes, visitors. We make a habit of keeping them all year and using them when needed. You can see in these two from last year's initial "orange" table that students also wrote quick interests in the four corners: 

  • a favorite movie
  • a favorite song
  • their mother tongue
  • where they've lived
The name tents serve as quick, visible reminders I can listen to, learn from and and respond to. To extend them, have parents jot a note of encouragement on the inside if they come for back to school night.

I also listen by reading what students write on surveys or sentence completions. Several posts from the past show iterations of sentence completions I've used with high schoolers:

Building Community August 2022

Unsettled Meet Grace August 2017

Spot On 2015

I put sentence completions on desks for learners to see as they come in. Learners can start right when they arrive or wait until the session begins. It gives them something to do and many high school students have said it helps take away a bit of the awkward some of them feel coming into a new space with new people. 

As a teacher, I  learn about students and I can begin to assess what they know about sentence structures, books, writing and school. I collect the writing that first day after and that first afternoon/evening I respond to them by the next class. 

How can you turn class sets around so quickly?

  • read the responses quickly
  • aim for 2-3 minutes response writing (set a timer if you need one)
  • respond with quick agreements and praise
  • ask a question
  • offer a study suggestion or book recommendation

Could we do them digitally? Yes, and yet there is something fantastic about staying away from screens in our first few days together. Responding does take time. That time varies depending on my focus and, of course, how many students I have. After I respond, I scan the sets before I return them and I keep them in a class "notebook" in my GoodNotes5. That way I can revisit what students said and reconnect to their initial interests if I notice they need that. Sometimes on a progress tracker Google sheet or in my teaching journal I note students initial strengths and possible needs. I ask myself:

  • Who spontaneously uses capitalization and end punctuation?
  • Which students were able to navigate using the appositive phrase? 
  • Which love reading? Which students hate it? What topics are they interested in? 
  • What do they do after school?

I love learning about and connecting with a new group of leaners. Wishing all of my educator friends a wonderful first week of school!

Quick links to additional activities: 

Photo Slides and Story Sharing

Would You Rather Questions: Sit or Stand

Warm Welcome Questions  

Would You Rather 2: Pear Deck

Human Boggle  

Record Sixty Second Selfies (see Singapore American School's series for question ideas)

Use Action for Happiness' Monthly Calendar as conversation starters or inclusion activities

Check out Playworks or Playmeo for fantastic group games 

Coming soon, how do you use what you learn about  learners? 


Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Past and Future Tools: From Word Processors to AI

In my teaching and learning life, I have seen some change. I've seen teachers go from purple-inked ditto masters to overhead projectors. I've played in the WYSIWYG pool of web content creation and thrilled at the dial-up static in an early computer lab. I saw the birth of Smart Boards and the explosion of collaboration made possible by shareable spaces and documents. I've toured and lived in G-suites and classrooms Canvas-ed in content. As with many of us educators, my excitement led me to learning more, and doing more, from EdCamps and NCTE's Tech-to-Go Kiosks to writing for Stenhouse, Janet Allen and myself. 

Innovations in technology ignite my curiosity, and right now, like many of us, my wondering fires up over AI  tools such as ChatGPT and DALL·E 2.  For me as an educator, the question has not been should we allow students to use these tools though. I wonder instead about the why, and the how and the when.  

  • How might we use these tools in schools? 
  • Why might it be important for students to learn how to leverage these tools? 
  • When or for what would using these tools amplify what learners know and are able to do? 
  • How might these tools create alternatives for learning, news ways of thinking, new ways to collaborate or create?
  • How do we maintain academic integrity while also exploring new technologies? How do we teach such values to students? 

In the late 1990s when I was a beginning teacher I remember when we began having students use word processing programs to write. We used Claris Works in the first school where I taught. After an observation, a school leader asked me how a computer was better than using pen and paper? That question led me to critically reflect on my practice. 

My reflections led me to models of tech integration such as the SAMR model and  ISTE's standards, and later,  the Technology Integration Matrix (TIM), from the Florida Center of Information Technology. 

SAMR illustration by Lefflerd at Wikimedia Commons used under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Then, word processing programs augmented, to use language from the SAMR, our writing practice in the classroom. Now, writing collaboratively in goal-oriented ways in shared spaces has redefined and transformed what writers in schools are able to do. 

When I think about AI tools such ChatGPT and others I'm exploring, I can't help but marvel how these will fundamentally change productivity. This shift, may indeed redefine, as the SAMR model notes, or transform, to use TIM language, how we teach and learn.

As faculty discuss and sometimes deplore how students are using these tools, I'm thinking about teaching and learning scenarios like the ones below.  I'm wondering how we might collect and discuss them? I'm wondering how scenarios like these  might live on the Technology Integration Matrix and what sorts of shifts we'll see?  


Scenario 1: Students engage in paired or small group discussion to process text/information; after discussing they then prompt ChatGPT to discuss the content or answer lingering questions, then synthesize the ideas in another round of discussion. 

Scenario 2: A student is asked to write to analyze how theme is developed in a poem. They want to see different ways to organize such an essay, and ask ChatGPT to write an analysis essay about a different poem that is organized chronologically and then a second time, organized by devices used by the poet.

Scenario 3: A student asks an AI to explain a concept and then compares the response to their own notes and understandings of the concept, adding to or revising their own understandings.

Scenario 4: A PLC team uses ChatGPT to unpack a standard in order to develop learning targets and then create success criteria or rubrics. The team goes an additional step and generates sample responses to use with students to evaluate the writing.

Scenario 5: An instructional coach works with a teacher using ChatGPT to create differentiated learning activities to support students learning.

Additional Reads

Baguley, Richard. (20 March 2023). "21 Tools for Content, Image, Sound and Video Creation,"   

Ferlazzo, Larry.  (18 Jan 2023). "19 Ways to Use ChatGPT in Your Classroom." EdWeek

Taylor, Stephen. (Dec 2022). "(If you) USEME-AI."

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Sunday Slice

Words ran from me this week. Hard news from an old friend chased words around the house and out the door. Still, flowers bloom, friends connect, the sun rises, spring break arrives.


Hand painted stainlessd tumblers from Boutiques, a gifty market fair in Singapore.

The rooftop cactus garden at Singapore’s Changi airport. 

Shophouse near Jalen Sultan, Kuala Lumpur

Chestnuts roasting at the

Inspiration at the Hungry Tapir.