Looking and wondering: When does a line become an angle?

Take a walk with your students or your child. Search for a line that becomes in interesting shape. The stop, look, question and encourage students to wonder.

If it’s not a good day to go outside, have a look at this image and ponder the thinking questions below. All of a sudden, geometry makes sense . . .


When does a line become an angle?

Are all angles the same size?

When does an angle become a triangle?

Are all triangles the same size?

When does a triangle become a square?

Are all squares the same size?

When do squares become rectangles?

Are all rectangles the same size?

How many triangles fit inside a square?

How many triangles fit inside a rectangle?

Where is the biggest triangle?

Where is the smallest triangle?

How many triangles are in an X?

Are the angles the same size?

This tower is made up of repeating sections. Find a section of this tower. Can you draw it?

Now try making it:

making angles

One more thing to think about . . . which shape can carry the most weight? A triangle, a square, a diamond, or a rectangle?

For more professional conversations about education, please visit:Beyond the Apple . . . Reframing Conversations in Education or contact us at Beyondtheapplecontact@gmail.com


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Becoming a Writer: What We Learn From a Child’s First Stories

My son’s first story consisted of a series wavy lines and curlicues written in black marker across the back of a leather sofa. Upon completion, he declared, “Look! I wrote my story in grown up writing!” And for those of you who are wondering, yes, it was a permanent marker.

With great pride, he read us his story. As he pointed to each “word” He shared an action packed and well developed account of Spiderman’s most recent adventure.  Although his first story was unreadable to anyone else, every other trait of writing (ideas, organization, voice, word choice, sentence fluency) was present. It was clear that my son was a writer, he just had to learn how to share his story with others. As a mother, I hoped that the formal school instruction in spelling, spacing, and letter formation did not overtake his enthusiasm for sharing his stories.

While my son’s first story was lost with the eventual replacement of the sofa, my daughter’s first piece of formal writing survived. Since she was making a card, she chose to draw her story. Have a look:



I think you’ll agree that my daughter’s card, written to wish her dad a speedy recovery from knee surgery, provides the reader with a clear sense of the event, the details of the event, and the impact of the event (yes, that’s just what her Dad looked like when he came home from the hospital).  My daughter was also using some of the conventions of text – a greeting at the top of the page:

Screen Shot 2017-03-21 at 2.51.32 PM

and a closing:

Screen Shot 2017-03-21 at 2.52.43 PM

This somewhat misplaced grouping of letters:

Screen Shot 2017-03-21 at 2.54.15 PM

Screen Shot 2017-03-21 at 2.52.43 PM    is actually evidence of an almost correct spelling of her name, which is Michèle. (Yes, the orientation of “L” is a bit wonky and there are a few extra horizontal lines in the “E”, but she had a clear sense of what she was writing)

Michele was also editing her work, which is clear when she realized she’d made a mistake:

Screen Shot 2017-03-21 at 2.59.02 PM.

The point of this is to illustrate that as soon as children start telling, drawing, or writing stories, they are writers. It’s our job as parents and teachers to acknowledge these early forms of writing, encourage more exploration, and provide timely prompts about how to share their ideas and stories.

As children start to experiment with print, ask them to read the story to you. Ask questions about the details of the story and acknowledge their developing use of print to share the story. As a child’s writing develops, develop lessons and provide feedback that focuses on writing as a process of sharing ideas. Encourage children to explore and develop their ideas through interesting word choice and sentence structures as they learn how to spell. It’s important to remember that spelling is a component of writing, not a definition of writing.

But how can we track progress from early scribbles to readable print?

These examples, borrowed from Education Northwest Grades K-2 Illustrated Rubric K-2, provide a developmental look at how children go from the earliest to increasingly sophisticated forms of story writing.

Screen Shot 2017-03-21 at 3.22.33 PM

The process of learning how to write takes time, practice, instruction, and ongoing feedback about what’s been accomplished and what’s next. Effective support maintains the early joy of sharing a story by focusing on the student’s learning, interests, and voice.

For more about student writing, visit:

Appreciative Assessment of Student Writing Part 1  and Assessing Student Writing Part 2: An In Depth Look at the Process

For more professional conversations about education, please visit: Beyond the Apple . . . Reframing Conversations in Education or contact us at Beyondtheapplecontact@gmail.com


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The Gradual Release of Responsibility: Canadian Style!

The gradual release of responsibility model requires an instructional shift from the teacher shift from assuming “all the responsibility for performing a task…to a situation in which the students assume all of the responsibility” (Duke & Pearson, 2002, p. 211).”

                To begin, lots of support . . . regardless of the age


Screen Shot 2017-03-07 at 8.51.14 PM                              Screen Shot 2017-03-07 at 8.52.00 PM

With less support, confidence grows . . . regardless of the age

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Until independence . . .

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and new directions are explored . . . regardless of the age!

Screen Shot 2017-03-07 at 8.52.36 PM





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Know the Community; Know the Student

The term “funds of knowledge” refers to a community’s “historically accumulated and culturally developed bodies of knowledge” (Moll, Amanti, Neff, & Gonzalez, 2001). Regardless of the location, a school’s community has many funds of knowledge.

img_0404   img_2024   img_0634

Funds of knowledge are found throughout the community in the “lived text” of the community, such as:

  • text and oral biographies, stories, and songs of the community
  • home language of the community
  • names
  • local monuments
  • architecture
  • geography and geology
  • newspapers
  • signage
  • galleries and craft stores
  • occupations

A community’s funds of knowledge provide authentic anchors for lessons in all subject areas. We start with the familiar, link the familiar to subject area content, and engage learners in extended learning and applications of the familiar.

To learn about a community’s funds of knowledge, one must be present in the community, so take advantage of opportunities to:

  • walk through the community, notice the scenery, and listen to the sounds
  • buy your groceries at the community grocery store and chat with the folks in the store
  • attend local sporting and cultural events
  • read local publications
  • have coffee in a local coffee shop
  • ask questions

img_0718    img_2415  img_0427

Once folks are used to seeing you out and about, take some pictures of the community and bring the pictures into the classroom. Begin the day with a picture of a local monument, store, an empty space, playground, or office space and ask the students to tell you what they know about it and what they don’t know about it.  This provides the students with an opportunity to develop oral language skills by sharing information about something that’s familiar to them and to search for answers to questions about the unfamiliar.  Post these images on the class website and ask parents to contribute information and answer the student’s questions.

Search for community members who have knowledge of local history or search archival sites for historical photos of the area. Build these stories and images into social studies, reading, and writing lessons.

Ask community members or search the archives for biographies of community members. Link the person’s life experiences to a practical application of a curriculum area.

Ask community members to share songs or stories that were important to their families. Use these songs and stories as anchors for reading and writing workshop mini lessons.

Arrange for class tours or local businesses or industries. Ensure the tour includes information about the skills needed to find employment in those fields and what education is needed to achieve those skills. Develop a class chart of occupation / skills / education. Use the skills needed section of this chart as an anchor for mini lessons in science, art, health, etc.

Specific suggestions about linking funds of knowledge to curriculum areas is found in Engaging the Disengaged.

The benefits of using the funds of knowledge go well beyond anchoring learning in the familiar. Using a community’s funds of knowledge is the foundation of a culturally inclusive classroom.

Culturally Inclusive Teaching and Learning

  • Builds respect among all members of the classroom and school community
  • Honours the funds of knowledge of all members of the classroom community
  • Uses home language as a foundation for learning additional languages
  • Maintains high expectations for all
  • Focuses on effective communication: teachers and students develop their skills of listening through a appreciative perspective
  • Values oral language: time is provided for students to talk about topics that are authentic and meaningful to their lives
  • Understands the reciprocity of teaching and learning – everyone in the classroom community has a role as a teacher, learner, and provider of feedback
  • Uses information about a wide range of cultures in purposeful and authentic ways:
    • Fiction and nonfiction student reading materials are intentionally chosen by the teacher to provide a “sample of the world”
    • Classroom projects extend the sampling of the world to deep learning about the people of the world
    • Teacher read alouds reflect the literature of the world
    • Community members are invited to share their stories and knowledge
    • Global current event discussions do not perpetuate “single stories” about people and cultures
    • A wide range of oral and written languages are introduced, sampled and discussed in authentic ways
    • Genre studies include text and videos from a wide range of authors and cultures

For more professional conversations about education, please visit: Beyond the Apple . . . Reframing Conversations in Education or contact us at Beyondtheapplecontact@gmail.com

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Re-framing Conversations About Disengaged Students

At a recent a professional learning session focused on re-engaging the disengaged learner, we greeted each participant and asked them to describe a disengaged student on a post-it note. After the completed post-it notes were attached to a white board, participants were invited to have a coffee and a morning conversation with their colleagues.

Here’s what it looked like:


As participants had their early morning coffee and introductory chats, we arranged the post-its on 2 sheets of paper and made copies for the participants.  Here’s what it looked like:

Left side comments included: gets distracted a lot, always late for class, work is incomplete,  disruptive to others, not focused, can’t read, work is incorrect, interrupts teacher by making a joke, not working, in conflict with classmates, goofs off, frustrated, leaves classroom, no sense of pride, never asks questions, goes to the bathroom a lot, frequent tantrums, has ADHD, poor writing skills.
Right side comments: thinks in abstract ways with strong communication skills, works well in a quiet environment, easily engaged in everything).

The number of comments on left side (focused on a student’s problems) outnumbered the comments on the right side (focused on a student’s potential). It was a clear illustration of how we  tend to view disengaged students with through a lens of “can’t” or “won’t” and we wanted to  change that perspective to “can” or “will”.

That lead to our Essential Question: How do we re-frame our perception of a disengaged student  from a student with a problem to a student with potential?

Thomas Guskey’s (@tguskey) words provide a powerful entry point to the solution:


First, we remember that students of any ability may be disengaged.

Next, we revisit the assessment data. Well designed and responsive formative assessments provide essential information about student learning, but only when the information is viewed from the perspective of building on the known, not fixing what’s wrong.  So we search the data for evidence of what’s been accomplished. Once we know what a student can do, we think in terms of how we provide feedback to the student and link feedback to next steps instruction. Then set high expectations for progress, monitor actual progress, and rethink instruction when progress falters.

Shifting from the perspective of student with a problem to student with potential requires more information than assessment data. To really know a student, there’s a moral and professional imperative to include information about who the student is as a person.

Building on Student Interests

Observations of the student and teacher-student conversations provide information about a student’s interests and the student’s community funds of knowledge.  Units of study, linked to all areas of the curriculum, can be developed around these interests. For example: If a student’s interest is hockey, the possibilities for curriculum linked, interest-based lessons include: counting the numbers of players on the ice (kindergarten), examining the physics of a body check (high school), determining the economic impact of hockey on the family budget, comparative studies of sports throughout the world, reading fiction and nonfiction accounts of hockey players . . .  the possibilities are endless.

For an example, click here for the story of T, a disengaged high school student who was repeatedly reminded and therefore firmly believed that he couldn’t read – until we discovered his interest in boxing and proved otherwise.

More examples of how to link student interests to the curriculum are available in Engaging the Disengaged. 

Creating Responsive Learning Environments

Teachers face a lot of pressure to have vibrant, busy, and conversation-filled classrooms where small groups of students rotate through a variety of learning activities. For some students, this is a wonderful learning experience; for others, it is a nightmare of too much noise, choice, and visual stimulation. So, design your classroom and instructional choices to be responsive and flexible. Here are some thoughts:

  • Small group work is only effective if every group member contributes and has an opportunity to demonstrate learning.
  • Whole group instruction doesn’t have to mean “stand and deliver”. Whole group instruction can be an opportunity for the class to share what they know and set directions for further small group or individual study.
  • A quiet classroom doesn’t have to impede sharing; times of silence can be focused on contemplative thinking that leads to individual or small group learning.

(NOTE: This is not meant to be a criticism of an educator’s practices. We know that wonderful things are happening in many classrooms. But, what’s wonderful for many is ineffective for some, so, as Guskey points out, we have to be willing to adjust our practice. )

Monitor Progress

Excellent teaching includes maintaining high expectations for progress, so a regular check in with accompanying feedback provides the teacher and the student with information about progress and next steps.  If progress isn’t noted, instructional format content and must be revisited.

Maintain a focus on learning, not helping

To offer help may send the message that we think the student can’t do it alone. So, rather than offering help, think of providing prompts.

  1. ask the student to tell you what he has completed thus far and exactly what he needs to know.
  2. provide lessons in how to develop questions
  3. teach students a variety of ways to search for more information
  4. be willing to reteach the content in a manner different than the original lesson
  5. ask the student to report back when he has gathered the information needed

This may sound like a lot of work – it is – but it’s the type of work that will make a significant difference to our students who are most at risk.

For more professional conversations about education, please visit:Beyond the Apple . . . Reframing Conversations in Education or contact us at Beyondtheapplecontact@gmail.com

Posted in Appreciative Inquiry, Assessment, Culturally Inclusive Classrooms, Educational Change, Stories From the Classroom | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Student’s Self Assessment of Listening

Here’s Beyond the Apple’s video about teaching students how to listen:

When our students sit up straight, look at the speaker, be silent, and keep hands still and visible,  we assume through their posture that our students are listening.

But no . . . effective listening just ain’t that easy.

Yes, some students use “the posture of listening” to truly engage in a learning situation, but:

Some students quickly learn this is a way to “look studious”. They also know that this illusion of engagement reaps teacher praise.

Some students assume the posture of listening but don’t connect the posture of listening with the process of listening – in other words, they hear the words, but do not make meaning beyond the most superficial of levels.

Some students listen best in a relaxed posture, with eyes that alternate between focused on the speaker and roaming around the classroom.

So rather than focusing on teaching the posture of listening, let’s focus on teaching students how to develop and use the active process of listening.

Like all successful lessons, lessons in listening build on what the students know. Beyond the Apple’s Self Assessment of Listening for Students provides an opportunity for students to reflect on their listening. (Feel free to alter the wording of the questions to match the age and language structures of the class.)

Once the self -assessment is complete, discuss the results with the individual student. Look for patterns of responses among the class and develop listening lessons that build listening into every lesson.

Beyond the Apple’s Student Self Assessment of Listening

Think about what each question is asking. Put a dot at a place that’s closest to your answer. For example:


Most of the time                         Sometimes                                         Not very often

This dot shows the answer is closer to sometime than most of the time.

  1. Do you look at the person who is speaking?


Most of the time                         Sometimes                                         Not very often

  1. Do you make a picture in your mind about what the person is saying?


Most of the time                         Sometimes                                         Not very often

  1. Do you keep your mind on what the person is saying?


Most of the time                         Sometimes                                         Not very often

  1. Do you stay calm even if the person who is speaking seems angry?


Most of the time                         Sometimes                                         Not very often

  1. If you want to say something, do you wait until the person is finished speaking?


Most of the time                         Sometimes                                         Not very often

  1. Does you nod your head to show the speaker that you were listening?


Most of the time                         Sometimes                                         Not very often

  1. Do you ask questions if you don’t understand?


Most of the time                         Sometimes                                         Not very often

(adapted from Critchley Charlton, B. Engaging the Disengaged. Markham, ON: Pembroke 2010

For more about effective listening, click here.

For more professional conversations about education, please visit:Beyond the Apple . . . Reframing Conversations in Education or contact us at Beyondtheapplecontact@gmail.com

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Assessing Student Writing Part 2: An in-depth look at the process

The Beyond the Apple video “Assessing Student Writing Through an Appreciative Lens” starts the conversation about assessing student writing with the idea of listening to a student’s writing before “seeing” a student’s writing. The writing of an elementary student is used, but the assessment practices described below can be used at any grade level.

Here’s the writing sample shown in the video:


This sample was typical of Jo’s writing; as a result, Jo, who was in grade 3, was considered to be “unable to write” and was “on the track” for an Individual Program Plan. We decided to reframe that conversation by viewing the Jo’s writing through an appreciative lens.

First, we uncovered the story behind the words by inviting some early elementary teachers together to help us. We’ll be honest here – even with their expertise, “uncovering” the story took some time and effort. But, let me tell you, when Jo’s story emerged, there was excitement in the room! All of a sudden, the un-decodable groups of letters became a lovely little vignette and the assessment of the Jo’s writing shifted from “can’t” to “can”.

Here’s the story:

When I made the perfect catch, it came over my shoulder and I dived and caught it. And I got the touch down.

Once we uncovered the story, we followed these steps, which demonstrate how to assess student writing with an appreciative mindset.

  • We asked a series of questions about the student’s writing, The questions were designed as an analytic assessment of the Traits of Writing.
  • We answered each question, beginning with an observation of what Jo accomplished.
  • We used this information to develop feedback to Jo, which started with an acknowledgement of what was accomplished, such as “I noticed that you . . . “ or “Your story created a picture about . . . “ or “These are interesting words . . . “
  • We provided a Jo with a suggestion about the what the next steps of instruction would include.

Here’s what that process looked like. Needless to say, not all of these suggestions will be implemented the next day. The teacher decides which next steps teaching will provide the most gain, plans an engaging lesson and then watches for evidence of learning. Chances are, one lesson will have “spill over” and success will be evident in more than one area.

1.QUESTION: By definition, writing is a means to convey thoughts through text. Does Jo understand how to convey his thoughts through text?

ANSWER: Yes, Jo knows that thoughts can be shared as words and words are conveyed through groupings of letters that are placed on a page left to right and top to bottom.

FEEDBACK TO STUDENT: Acknowledge a detail or details in Jo’s writing.

NEXT STEPS SUGGESTION: Tell Jo that his writing creates a picture and for the next few lessons, he’ll get even better at using his writing to create pictures.

2. QUESTION: Does Jo have an idea and is he able to support that idea with relevant details?

ANSWER: Yes. The student’s focus is his perfect catch and he provides the reader with relevant details.

FEEDBACK TO STUDENT: Share your delight in the story and ask some questions that would provide additional information about the time, location, and what happened after the touchdown

NEXT STEPS TEACHING SUGGESTION: Tell Jo that the next lesson will be about how to extending ideas to include more detail.

3. QUESTION: Does Jo share his ideas in an organized way?

ANSWER: Yes, the story is clearly sequenced from beginning to end.

FEEDBACK TO STUDENT: Acknowledge the beginning, middle and end of the Jo’s story and how this flow helped you to picture the events happening. “Map” the ideas on a graphic organizer.

NEXT STEPS TEACHING SUGGESTION: Tell Jo that he can include more ideas in his story by using a planning template (a graphic organizer focussed on organization).

4. QUESTION: Does Jo demonstrate an understanding of how ideas flow together in a variety of interesting sentences?

ANSWER: Yes. As we listen to the story, it’s clear that Jo has two distinct sentences.

FEEDBACK TO STUDENT: Discuss the Jo’s opening sentence “When I made the perfect catch . . . ” as an interesting and engaging beginning to this narrative.

NEXT STEPS TEACHING SUGGESTION: Suggest that Jo start a collection of his best opening sentences. His first entry can be “when I made the perfect catch” and he can look through his own writing to find samples of other powerful opening sentences. Over time, this can be extended to closing sentences, sentences indicating a mod change, a time change, etc.

5. QUESTION: Does this student use a variety of words and phrases that allow the reader to become engaged in the story and visualize the actions?

ANSWER: Yes. By using the words “the perfect catch” at the beginning of the story, and then elaborating on this with “over my shoulder”, “dived and caught it”, and “touchdown”, Jo provided all the clues we needed to tell us he was playing football.

FEEDBACK TO STUDENT: Read Jo’s story aloud and chat about how Jo’s use of words worked as “clues” to the story.

NEXT STEPS TEACHING SUGGESTION: Find a favourite story and read it aloud to Jo. As the story unfolds, search for interesting words and phrases that provide clues to the story. Follow up lessons can include searching in fiction and nonfiction text for words that create impact.

6. QUESTION: Does this student use the conventions of a) spelling, b) capitalization, c) letter formation and d) punctuationn


ANSWER: Some words are spelled correctly (I, the, it my, and, the). Jo’s misspellings (when, made, perfect, came, cot, got) are close approximations that indicate Jo has a developing awareness of sound symbol correspondence.

FEEDBACK TO STUDENT: Point out the correctly spelled words to Jo and how they helped the reader to understand the message.

NEXT STEPS TEACHING SUGGESTION: Find a “close to conventional” word or two and tell Jo that he was able to sound these words out, but they’re still a bit foggy. To clear up the fog, teach Jo how to check his spelling. Don’t expect checking of all words, just the ones that Jo finds interesting or will use a lot. While Jo is learning to check, provide lessons in spelling patterns.


ANSWER: The answer to this is unclear, as Jo’s use of capitals appears to be random.

FEEDBACK TO STUDENT: Have conversation with Jo about the use of capital letters and gather information about what he knows.

NEXT STEPS TEACHING SUGGESTION: Refer to the conversation above and demonstrate how to put what Jo knows about capitals into action. If knowledge of capital letters is limited, begin with the first letter of a story.

 c) LETTER FORMATION: (NOTE: letter formation is more important in some areas than in others; we’ve included it here to ensure there’s a comprehensive look at early writing conventions)

ANSWER: It’s clear what each letter is intended to be, but there is variance in size and spacing.

FEEDBACK TO STUDENT: Tell the student that you know what each letter is, but reading his story would be easier to write and to read if letters were of a similar size and were on the line.

NEXT STEPS TEACHING SUGGESTION: Ask Jo to look through a variety of texts with varying fonts and sizes. Ask Jo to search for patterns of font sizes and regularity of shape. NOTE: There comes a time when we have to stop insisting on tidy printing. In Jo’s case, conventional use of capitals and punctuation will have more impact than size and shape of letters.

d) PUNCTUATION: It appears the student is aware that periods (full stops) are used in story writing, but whether or not he understands the the purpose and location of their use is unclear.

FEEDBACK TO STUDENT: Point out Jo’s use of full stops and ask Jo why and when they’re used.

NEXT STEPS TEACHING SUGGESTION: Refer to the conversation above and demonstrate how to put what Jo knows about full stops into action. If knowledge of how full stops are used is limited, read Jo story aloud and demonstrate how a period allows us to pause and think about what we’re read.

Does this process require a lot of time? Yes – at least at first. But after a few of these focused sessions, the responsibility for monitoring and revising is increasingly released to the student. Remember . . . a student who is struggling is the student who needs us the most, so it’s worth the time.

Click here  for more of Beyond the Apples’ thoughts about Assessment.

For more professional conversations about education, please visit:Beyond the Apple . . . Reframing Conversations in Education or contact us at Beyondtheapplecontact@gmail.com

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