Discovery Day: Mentoring Students at South Carleton High School

I made a great discovery at South Carleton High School on Thursday, March 31. The heavy rain did not dampen the spirits of the many students who gathered in the gym to hear the keynote speaker, Jay Gosselin for Discovery Day.

Candace Carson, Instructional Coach for Co-op, OYAP, Dual Credit, and Pathways at the Ottawa Carleton District School Board told me about the day. She said,

Discovery Day was born out of a desire to provide hands on experience for students in high school who need to see the many possibilities available to them in their future.  The most efficient way I could conceive of doing this was to bring the community to the students. I needed to bring community partners representing a variety of sectors, services, and interests to the school to share their expertise, and even more importantly, to share the details of their own personal pathway. We wanted them to tell students how they got from where they were as a student in high school to where and who they are today. The hope was for students to have opportunities to engage in authentic conversation with the community partners around pathway planning, to develop some skills in areas of general interest, and to experience something new.”    

After listening to him speak, I found some more information on Jay Gosselin’s website and it is clear that his personal experience led him to identify a gap for students. High School students often don’t know what careers are available, and they don’t know enough about themselves to make significant decisions about the future. Jay offers an interesting mentorship program for students who leave high school and want to take a “gap year”.

Some students visited classrooms and heard presentations about college or University programs. I had the opportunity to introduce students to health care options at Ottawa U.
These students went on a field trip to Versailles Academy 

Other students had a yummy visit from Edible Sins


and there were so many options for everyone.

I came away from Discovery Day thinking about the significance of this event for all high school students. In fact, it felt like a day could not be enough, but I know the event left the students with a sense that they have options, that they can actively consider a future in post-secondary education, and in the world of work.

Even more impressive to me was the list of teachers who helped make the day possible and who welcomed me to the event. I’ve heard it said that South Carleton High School is a gem in the OCDSB and I got to experience this first hand.

Setting Matters: Making Learning Stick

I’ve been thinking a lot about the design of my next classroom, and it’s exciting; it’s like buying a new house and designing the space for living. I want my classroom to create a sense of community and safety. I want it to promote critical thinking and discussion, so it will be important for  me to consider each element of the room. I will need to think about the walls as well as the floor space.

Wall space has occupied my learning a great deal this year with the popularity of “vertical non-permanent surfaces” or VNPs. I’ve learned a great deal from two math teachers, Alex Overwijk and Laura Wheeler, but these are math teachers, and I’m an English teacher.

How can these surfaces work on the walls of an English classroom?

How can I use wall space and stations like my former student, now Elementary teacher, Kim Noxon? These are photos of her classroom.

I also read this article from Edutopia about classroom design and it got me thinking about a new classroom model for next year when I’ll be teaching at South Carleton High School.

Another inspiration came from this picture posted on Facebook by Kelsey Brown from Longfields Davidson Heights High School.

She said “the idea started with the thought bubble post it notes that I found at Walmart. My grade eleven class has some very enthusiastic learners and some very observant students. I find with Life of Pi, the discussion part of the course and sharing ideas is quite important for comprehension. Depending on the day, discussion can occur and be quite successful; however, I decided to put up the ‘What Stuck with you today?’ board to encourage the students who are not as comfortable with speaking in front of everyone. The board is getting a wide mixture of ideas – some direct quotations, some interpretations of theme, and some general words of wisdom.”

Next Steps:

Finish reading Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning

More Lessons from Collaborative Inquiry: Using Prediction to select a Novel

I am so excited to observe a lesson study at Woodroffe High School tomorrow. The collaborative ideas have created such an interesting lesson.

The English Department Head, Scott Gordon, identified a problem with student selections of novels to read independently. The would use the images on the cover, or the number of pages as factors in selecting a novel to read. He wanted to encourage them to engage with the story, the content of the novel, before they chose what to read, so he copied the first few pages of each novel and let them read before they could even see the cover or the size of the novel.

This class of Grade 9 students is still at the stage of building their reading capacity, so the amount of text to read in a period is an important consideration in designing the lesson. Courtney Callahan suggested that we have students sort the writing to match with the cover of the novels.

These pictures of the novel covers will be on ledger sized paper and posted around the room. In small groups, students will be given one page from the beginning of two novels. They will read the pages in a group and decide which piece of writing fits with which novel cover.


They will also use accountable talk and sentence stems to make predictions about the novel. These cards are laminated so they can use dry erase markers to write on. We won’t use all of these; instead, we selected a few from “Make a Prediction” so we can begin using reading strategies.

Anne Marie Reid is so open to new strategies and techniques and brings a genuine concern for students to the table. And the experience of Allison Loness gave us insight into the use of large amounts of text in a pre-reading activity. Both of them kept the students in mind during the planning.

We also want to make sure that we are observing the skills required to complete the task. Janice Isaac suggested that we use both quantitative and qualitative observations. She suggested we consider a scale “to what extent” for each of the observable behaviors, and I created this Observation chart. It will be so interesting to see how it worked in our debrief.

Observable Behaviours
Student 1: ______________
Student 2: ______________
To what extent are students engaging in Accountable Talk?
1            2            3            4
1            2            3            4
What is the quality of the Accountable Talk?
To what extent are students able to make a prediction?
1            2            3            4
1            2            3            4
What is the quality of the prediction?
Group interactions:

Balloons Lifting Learning: Collaborative Coaching Lessons

Collaborative Blog Post by Melanie White and Robin Small
Melanie White is the English Instructional Coach and Robin Small is an ELL Coach in the Ottawa Carleton District School Board.

Last week, we walked down the hallways of John McCrae Secondary School with 8 colourful helium balloons and students couldn’t help but engage with us. They asked if we were having a party, if it was someone’s birthday, and they smiled as we passed. We observed that balloons attract student attention.

Bring a bunch of helium filled balloons into a classroom and watch students engage with trigonometry to solve a mystery.
We recently had the fortune of observing students in a lesson study, who read an article and used math concepts to solve a mystery related to a helium balloon accident on a farm.

We wanted to collaborate on this blog post to include the voice of the math teacher, Brad Pinhey.

Having now been through a lesson study for the first time with my grade 10 applied math class, my understanding of the meaning of a lesson study has changed and I have learned. How did this understanding come about?  

When Melanie and Robin met with my colleagues at John McCrae Secondary School for the first time in February to introduce the collaborative lesson study, I was simultaneously eager and nervous. As a young teacher, a new opportunity to extend your learning is exciting, but the revelation of missing classes and having others come into your classroom are sources of anxiety. I had never heard of the idea of reciprocal teaching – a high yield strategy we learned about – but I realized that parts of it were already part of my teaching practice. I left the meeting with a strong feeling of curiosity – Where was this going? What would it look like in practice? 

I had to laugh at myself during the lesson delivery when I realized that the students I was observing were feeling the same emotions: excitement, anxiety and curiosity. Why are all these extra teachers here? What are we going to do? What’s that for? Within minutes, as the lesson started, those questions melted away and the students worked diligently on the task at hand. 

Then, like a bolt out of the blue, the nerves returned – it was my turn. Even after being reassured (and reassuring students) that the goal of the study was not to evaluate or even observe the teacher, there was a sudden worry. What if it did not go as planned? What if my lesson was not as exciting as others’ lessons had been? What if my students showed no improvement? Once the planning started, the worry evaporated. 

When the day of the activity dawned, only excitement remained. The balloons at the front of the room sparked the curiosity of my students as they walked in. My small class was augmented by six adults – a twinge of apprehension entered the back of my mind. Would that overwhelm them, or me? Neither occurred. The announcements finished, and I got the ball rolling. The lesson ran smoothly and I accomplished almost everything I wanted to do. With only minutes to go before the bell, I stepped back, took a breath and smiled. But what did I learn?

About twenty minutes passed before debriefing began, and I used the chance to start reflecting. As the debrief progressed, I was pleased to hear that my colleagues saw many of the same things that I saw – and many things I did not. Those new ideas gave me a fresh set of eyes through which I could view my class anew and began a process of synthesizing and analyzing. How could I use this information to help my students? No longer was I thinking about the lesson in the lesson study – my focus was turned, as it should have been the whole time, towards my students. I noticed that they made connections to the lesson from the previous day, and they made connections to the Literacy Test and bought into the process.

To anyone on the cusp of entering a lesson study, I would advise you to prepare for excitement, anxiety, and curiosity, but most importantly, lasting learning about your students. It was a fantastic opportunity for a young teacher, like myself, to work collaboratively with administration, department heads, instructional coaches and colleagues alike. It was a great learning experience for me, and has whet my appetite to seek similar opportunities in the future. 

The curiosity lingers – where will this go next?