A J Elliott Elementary School - Sointula, Canada
Tucked away on Malcolm Island, a short ferry ride from Vancouver Island is the school of A J Elliott in the village of Sointula. This little school boasts mixed grade classes and I was grateful to spend a morning with two of the classes to learn a bit more about what happens in a Canadian school.
I arrived just in time for morning register with the mixed Kindergarten and Grade 1 class (equivalent to our Reception and Year 1). The small group of ten children were busy doing their morning routine of the date, letter of the day and greeting one another. I particularly liked the use of the calendar as a tool for recognising patterns as well as learning to read numerals. The children predicted what would come next in the pictoral sequence of the days.
To learn the letter of the day (it was 'g') they looked through all of the alphabet books that they had in the class and the children were challenged to remember which picture would be in each book.
They then went to practice their letter formation of 'g' with worksheets differentiated for the split ages. The older grade 1 children were asked to form some sentences and practise some words beginning with 'g' whereas the Kindergarten children practised their formation and then identified pictures beginning with 'g'. Once the children had finished their literacy work they were free to play and they all got stuck into their favourite activities. Some children chose reading, some got busy creating small-world scenes on the giant duplo table and others headed straight for the role-play.
Before they went out for recess (break time) they tidied up and contributed a page to a book they are each making for halloween. The children cut out a picture of a pumpkin and stuck him in, talking about his emotion; today he was sleepy! Then they had a snack that they brought from home, sitting together at their named places at the table, where they were working previously.
This structure of the day was something that is familiar to UK schools with a mixture of focused learning time and free choice and the timings being fairly similar. The small class size and the two adults helped to ensure the focus of the children and they seemed to know the routine well, especially when getting their snack, being independent and getting their wet weather outdoor clothes on.
After the recess break I headed to the class next door with a mixture of three grades! Grades 2, 3 and 4 (equivalent to our year 2, 3 and 4). Now I'm not going to lie, this age group is far beyond my comfort zone of teaching especially as the lesson was mathematics and my own mathematical skill is at best rusty! However, the class was a pleasure to spend time in and I dare say my own fraction skills may have improved slightly, aided by the children's excellent explanations!
The children were very welcoming and keen to explain what they were doing and two things really stood out during my time in the maths session. The fluidity of the lesson; the children knew exactly what to do and got on with their learning straight away getting their whiteboards out without any fuss and the level of mathematical language and talking about the learning that was used.
The children worked through a set of fraction problems on the board, differentiated for their age group. What was noticeable was that the children worked together and they talked through the problems together, helping one another and checking their answers together, before submitting them to the teacher to check before going on to the next problem. Working together generated so much talk for mathematics and to listen to the children explain and support one another throughout their problem solving was great. It seemed that all children were keen to contribute to the task.
Once the children had completed their fraction problems they joined together on the carpet for a group problem solving task. The children watched a video about a monster who ate some cookies from three packets. They were challenged to see what information they had learned from the video and throughout several viewings learnt a little bit more about the cookie packets. The children had to vocalise their thoughts and think critically to sum up that there were three packets of cookies and that they needed to work out how many he had eaten. This was a creative and critical thinking fraction problem. Needless to say the children were engaged and shared their ideas with their partners and did some excellent problem solving and yes they generated the answer before I did!
They then got a chance to use the class iPads to play a mathematical game before lunch which they were very excited about!
It was a pleasure to spend even a short bit of time with such motivated and engaged children and to see that essentially the pedagogical practice and structure of the day was fairly similar to classrooms back home in the UK.