Jeff Heuchert, Stratford Gazette
Educators from across the region put their summer plans on hold this week and returned to the classroom to learn new techniques for educating students in the basics of reading, writing and mathematics.
The professional development opportunity was hosted by the Avon Maitland chapter of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) and included two three-day courses that focused on interactive activities to help teachers better engage junior students.
The courses were held at Anne Hathaway Public school from July 4-6 and attracted over 70 teachers from close to 10 school boards.
Course instructor Nicole Baron said many of the hands-on lessons being taught were a result of years of research to understand how kids learn best.
She noted classrooms today are more inclusive and better reflect the fact that students, though maybe the same age, are not all at the same learning level.
“How do we differentiate instructions and make sure we’re meeting the needs of all of our kids? That’s the kind of thing we’re talking about,” she added.
With reading, for instance, Baron said parents will remember all students being instructed to read the same book. But today teachers are encouraged to honour each student’s own interests and let them choose their own book.
Students are also encouraged to decode the text to gain a deeper understanding of what they’ve read, something Baron said wasn’t common practice 25-30 years ago.
“We want to enhance critical thinking in our students so they’re thinking and looking and questioning the author,” she added.
A similar approach is encouraged with writing.
Baron said a spelling test where students simply write down a word they just learned has proven to be an ineffective approach. Instead, teachers can have students play with words in the context of what they are reading and activities they are doing in the classroom, which Baron said increases their likelihood of retaining the word’s meaning and spelling.
When it comes to the mathematics, lessons can be put into real-world context to help students relate to the problem they're trying to solve. And rather than work on solving equations at home and submitting answers to the teacher, students should work in groups and share answers.
“We all learn from each other that way,” said Baron.
One of the biggest challenges for any teacher is making math fun, but instructor Ed Griffiths helped show teachers a variety of ways through the use of manipulatives and problem-solving exercises to hopefully do just that.
Teachers spent time with different tools, some already widely used in classrooms, such as cube models, cuisenaire rods and geometric mirrors, that help break down new math concepts for students.
They're meant to complement traditional learning tools like textbooks and notebooks, said Griffiths.
“I think what (these learning tools do) is give access to a lot of kids who sometimes need a little extra or a different way of explaining concepts.
“And, especially for mathematics, they make it exciting and fun,” he added.
This week’s courses are part of a broad range of professional development opportunities offered by the ETFO each summer across the province as part of its Summer Academy.