Inquiry Interview: Kathryn Turnbull, Grade 6 Classroom Teacher (My Mentor Teacher)

Throughout my weeks of observing Kathryn and her class, I’ve tried to compile ideas or strategies that she uses in her class. I’ve also tried to jot down words of wisdom she has shared with me that could potentially benefit me in my own class. Since these have occurred over several conversations, and not just one interview, I’ve compiled them in a list below. I’ve bolded points that directly relate to my inquiry question. 

  • Start with silent reading in the morning, play calming music. This starts the day with a calm environment, brings down the energy in the room.
  • “You are distracting me from doing my job right now” or “What is your job right now?” – using “my job, your job” speech from restitution theory to remind a particularly noisy student to listen during an important lesson.
  • Students graph their math improvement so they can refer back to it and see their improvement. It’s not something they need to hand in for summative assessment.
  • While reading, encourage students to think of an inference, make a connection, ask a question, visualize what is happening, and maybe even have a transformed thought (new way of looking at the story, the world, etc) based on what they are hearing/reading in the story. Based on the reading powers method that encourages kids to engage/ learn critical thinking skills while reading.  
  • Alternate allowing students to sit on the carpeted area while reading/doing a test so that they have some choice built into their environment.
  • Ask students to repeat back lunch time announcements to you so you know that they were listening.
  • Encourage mistake making! “I’m so proud of you for trying a new idea. It’s better to make a mistake you can learn from than never try in the first place.” Point out your own mistakes so they know you are still learning too, “Did you see what I just did? See, I’m still learning and making mistakes too.”
  • Be fun and joke around! Treat them like people! The kids say they love when Ms. Turnbull jokes with them.
  • Sometimes she will try to challenge their answers to make sure they are sure. They sometimes second-guess themselves, but they like to hold their ground and be reminded that even the teacher can be wrong sometimes.
  • Have a book conference with kids to discuss the books they are reading. Ms. Turnbull also gets students to write a short review of a book on a bookmark and hangs them at the back of the class. This way they can review books for each other and find out what other people have been reading.
  • Read books you think kids should read! Know the stories so you can get excited about the books you keep in your room. Don’t expect the kids to read something you wouldn’t care to read.
  • Keep a running list on the board of other work/ homework they could start on if they finish a given activity early.
  • Use post-it notes for activities to get them up and moving. Ex. “write one transformed thought you had about the video today and go put it on the board at the back of the room”.
  • Play “war” with cards for kids to practice their times tables. (Jacks = 11, Queen = 12, Ignore the King).
  • Stand at the door and greet them by name when they walk in in the morning.
  • If you can’t follow through, don’t point it out! This can corner you in an unnecessary power struggle that you won’t win. If you have extra time, or a support worker available, to help you follow through on an instruction (“do this worksheet”) then you can point it out and insist they follow instruction.
  • Play Math Bingo to help kids understand how to recognize large numbers when they are read out.

Inquiry Interview: Danita Stewart, Middle School Math and Science Teacher

When I asked Danita how she best deals with defiant or disruptive behaviour, she explained that it almost never happens in her class. Partially, this is because she spends the first few weeks of her year building community, but it also relates to the straight-forwards way she runs her classes, her emphasis on making learning fun, and her relationship with the students in general.

One key element of community building is writing a social contract. Danita encourages the kids to co-write, and then sign, the social contract that they have written. This means that she doesn’t set the rules for her class, instead, the students keep each other accountable to the contract they designed. She explained that this social contract not only helps the kids think critically about what qualifies as ideal classroom behaviour, but it also gives them context for the kind of unspoken social contracts they will have to learn to navigate as adults.

Danita also makes her classes as accessible and straightforward for the students as possible. She runs her own blog with all the homework outlined for each class, and uses to alert her students to upcoming homework. She uses a grade outline that breaks down every letter grade into expectations and language that is accessible to students. This means that her students are rarely ever shocked or upset by their grade, since they already know if/when their work has reached a certain grade standard.

She also mentioned that teachers have a responsibility to make their lessons engaging for the students. She explained, “The less time there is to be bored or disengaged the better! That being said, not every lesson will be exciting. I try to make sure I break up each class into different activities to keep them engaged.  In math, using the whiteboards helps keep them involved and accountable.  I like hands on, investigation type activities and I find most kids stay on task with little management if the tasks are interesting.”

Ultimately, Danita emphasized treating your students like real people. If you joke around with them and actually invest in a relationship and you will have a much better result than trying to force them to do something.

Check out Danita’s blog by clicking here.