To Stream or not to Stream?


DISCLAIMER: Streaming and Integration both have value,  I only aim to offer a different perspective and begin a conversation about how best to meet the needs of all our students. Should we invest resources into streamed programs, as a way to more effectively target our intervention efforts?

There has been a constant be tug-a-war of opinions as to wether or not to stream students within the education system. This conversation tends to revolve around students that bring a specific, and most often, a challenging set of needs to the classroom environment. Although both streaming and integration of students comes with advantages and disadvantages, I have seen first hand the positive results of having a class tailored to target intervention toward a specific set of student needs. 

Why not stream?

There seems to be a stigma attached to the concept of streaming. People argue that streaming can be harmful to a students social well-being, as the child is ‘labeled’. People also see streaming as a form of exclusion, as students are seen as being separated, and isolated from their peer group.

As a teacher of a streamed grade 6/7 intensive literacy class I recognize that I have a bias toward having the option to stream. A program like intensive literacy offers a smaller class size where students receive regular 1 on 1, or small group support with an fully adapted/individualized program. Comments from students and parents, have indicated that the small, targeted class sizes has not only facilitated academic growth, but built confidence, and reignited a love of learning.

For students like mine, that bring a specific set of needs, a traditional 24 student classroom was not meeting their academic or the social/emotional needs – and this is not for lack of effort on the teachers part. The nature of our streamed class has allowed me, as the classroom teacher, target intervention, without removing students from the classroom community on a daily basis – instead, the intervention is embedded in whole class practice. Because my students all entered the program with similar struggles, they have grown to understand each others frustrations and stressors, and have been able support one another both academically, and emotionally.

I feel the general outlook on streaming needs to shift. It is time to remove the negative stigma, a stigma views streaming as potentially harmful to students. As a society we need to recognize, value, and accept diversity in learners and design a system that more effectively targets the needs of the students. Standardizing classrooms is not the answer.  Students are unique, as is their learning style, and set of needs. Classes need to mirror this diversity. Our system needs to offer a variety of options to better target and support intervention efforts & effectively meet the needs of our students.

What are your thoughts on streaming students to target intervention efforts?


When it Sticks…

Mindful Breathing

How do we know if it has stuck?

The driving force behind each decision made for our students is the hope that beyond a surface understanding, that students find value and meaning in what they are learning, and that the lessons learned nurture the whole child. The current shift in education, moving away from content specific learning, towards ‘big ideas’, is an intentional stepping stone that supports the development of life skills, and relevant, meaningful, and applicable learning opportunities that address individual student needs.

But, how do we know if what we are doing is sticking?

As some of you may know, a significant focus in my practice this year has been to better support my students in developing self awareness, self regulation strategies, and self advocacy. As the year has unfolded I have seen growth in my students, but there is always fear that this behaviour is contextually specific. Our classroom atmosphere facilitates the development of self regulations strategies; our living motto of ‘no stress’ is strong and present, we consistently reference and model strategies, encourage class discussions, brain breaks and fidget tables, and offer alternative environments and student choice.

Next year my students will be returning to their home schools, or will be moving on to high school. These environments may not facilitate self regulation in the same way.  Will my students take what they are learning and apply it in the REAL WORLD? Have they connected and found value in any of it?

Well, it is sticking…

My story…the scene unfolded as such…

My EA and myself were puttering away in the classroom over the lunch hour, and overhear one of ours students outside the classroom door, as his anger is escalating (This student in particular is one we have been working with to develop strategies to manage his anger). As I slowly walk towards the door to do a check in after hearing some colourful vocabulary spout out of this young boy’s mouth, I hear his fellow classmate say – well, slightly yell – “MINDFUL BREATHING, MINDFUL BREATHING”.

All went quiet outside.

As I stood, ear pressed against the door, hidden and uninvolved, I could sense the de-escalation. Moments later the bell rang, the students walk in, and the energy was calm.

I started laughing as my eyes watered with tears of pride and happiness.

It’s sticking. My kids flew solo, they practiced self regulation, they supported one another.

The social and emotional growth of my students this year has been profound in my eyes. Although they still struggle with their academics, they are becoming aware of who they are as a learner, and what they need to be successful. Our conversations have shifted away from individual awareness and success, toward developing a strong sense of collective success. Success of a class and community is rooted in understanding self and others, and supporting diversity.

I cannot wait to find out what else has stuck…

“Hey, No Stress” – Living Motto

This year I am teaching the grade 6/7 intensive literacy program. Each one of my kids struggles significantly with reading and writing, and the traditional classroom approach has thus far not worked for them.

Along with focusing a large portion of our time on literacy… my goals of the year focus on…

  1. Rebuilding confidence, by offering opportunity for students to feel successful everyday
  2. Developing strategies, with the students, to self regulate and self manage. Encouraging students to be independent thinkers, learners, and problem solvers 
  3. Reigniting a love for learning, which for most had been dampened by their daily struggles.

Each of my kids, much like yours, walked into class with their own story. But unlike other years, they were strangers not only to the classroom, but the school community as well. A huge piece of having a successful start to the year, was making them feel like this school, and this classroom was theirs.

I gave students the power and control to determine classroom arrangement and expectations, and I have slowly watched as the walls have come down. The guards they have built to survive the traditional world of academia are softening, as trust and community is being built.

A memorable moment…

During the first few days of school I consistently used phrases such as “no stress”, “take risks” and “be brave”,  to the extent that the students have now embraced these as their class mottos. These mottos have since been posted up on our class wall, and are referenced consistently.

Last week, I was about to begin a reading assessment with one of my students, when another boy walks by, pats the student on the shoulder and says “Hey, no stress!”… what a moment!

“No Stress” has become a living motto…

By creating an atmosphere of trust and openness, my students have begun to rediscover themselves as learners. I see the walls coming down, as their confidence grows, and I see students making gains in self regulatory practice. By balancing challenge and support, I can help build their capacity to be resilient, independent, and confident learners. I feel that my students have grown to trust me, to understand that everything I assign or ask of them is within their capability, and if they struggle, that it is okay, because we will find a way for them to be successful. 

On a daily basis, I look around and see students working in groups, students with ‘muting headphones’ on, or with a cup of tea, students curled up on beanbags reading, some working in small groups with our EA at the red table*, and others taking their 5 min brain breaks.

Each student is beginning to find ways to learn, that best suit their needs. They have grown to understand that each learner is unique, and learning is not a linear process. This is a huge step in developing self awareness and self regulatory practices – for students to acknowledge when they need support. Once this trust has been established, I can challenge/scaffold students to be more independent.

*Our class has 3 “collaboration tables” (big rectangle tables), each table corresponds with a colour; red, yellow, green. Depending on how students feel about what we are working on, they can move throughout the 3 tables, as a way to indicate to me how much support they would like.

Don’t take that tone with me…

The power of ‘tone’….

Tone of voice.. an element of communication that can often be lost or misconstrued, whether that be through the use of devices or during face to face conversations. Tone, whether we like it or not greatly influences a conversation – it can be used as a a tool to convey empathy and kindness, to intimidate or induce fear,  or to highlight ones position of authority. Tone has power to change the meaning of a statement…

Through a recent occurrence I recognized that although ones ‘tone’ amidst conversation is a pivotal, so is ones perception and reaction – especially if the tone is perceived in a negative light. The way one choses to perceive and react during conversation is within their control…

It is important to speak and listen with purpose and consideration – to be self aware and socially aware, recognizing we are all human; with experiences, triggers & emotions, that influence our perception and reaction to conversation & day to day life scenarios. 

My learning moment… 

Earlier this week I had a doctors appointment and was asked if it would be alright for a medical student completing her ‘practicum’ to take the lead – understanding the value of a practicum experience, I of course agreed. Part of this appointment was to review some blood work, blood work which revealed I have high cholesterol. Although I was not entirely surprised by this news given my family history I was still not happy with these results…

To provide a little context for readers who do not know me personally, I work out anywhere between 5-6 days a week (grew up a competitive athlete) and eat a diet that has minimal to no dairy/gluten, zero red meat & I cannot remember the last time I had a fast food meal… To add a layer of emotion to this scenario, I will share that 5 years ago my Dad had emergency open heart surgery after finding out the main artery of his heart was 100% blocked. 8 months prior to these he completed a 25 day trek through the Himalayas. He was by every definition fit and healthy, and to many his surgery came as a shock.

 Needless to say,  genetically – I kinda lost the coin toss on this one…

Unaware of my family history or current life style, this new doctor chose to use a tone I perceived to be very demeaning and inconsiderate when asked “what can I be doing to lower my cholesterol?” … A question to which she responded “well you should probably start exercising more and watching what you eat, try and eat healthy”… Whether or not she meant it to be said in a negative tone, I, the recipient took it as such. Recognizing that my reaction to this statement was rooted in emotion as I held back tears…she excused herself to retrieve my long term family doctor – who understanding my family history reassured me the number was not high enough to be concerned as of yet, that we will continue watching it, medication was not necessary at this point and there are things we can try to hopefully lower it naturally….

In retrospect I recognize I could have handled this situation differently – I reacted out of frustration and fear… I observed first handedly the impact that tone truly has…. 

Things to think about…. 

  • How self aware are you in regards to your tone of voice? How does it change? How may people perceive it?
  • What purpose does our tone have in different situations?
  • How do our students perceive our tone?
  • How often is tone lost and messages misunderstood through the use of text and emails?

INTERESTING VIDEO TO CHECK OUT David Coleman Talks about… Tone of Voice

Be a Duck… let it go

                                  “Be a Duck”

“Be a Duck..” A metaphor…how  to handle all that life throws at you – A ducks waxy feathers allow them to sit in the rain without really getting wet… the water just slides off. Stress, emotions, expectations, uncertainties that we hold onto can become toxic and unhealthy, putting a strain on relationships, clouding judgement and hindering personal awareness and growth… and like a duck, we must allow ourselves to let it slide off 

Hmmm, things to think about…. 

1. How do you cope with different types of stress? Reflective Runner? Worry Relief Workout? Emotional Eater? Girls Night Gab? Dear Denial Im Back?  

What about IN the moment?  

From now on, I am going to be a Duck… let the stress slide off my back

2. How can we develop this self awareness and self management in ourselves and our students?  Social and Emotional learning is making its mark on  todays educational system. A large component of this centres around the idea of “Self awareness” & “self management” – being able to identify how we feel, the root causes & then how to manage these emotions – ideally nurturing resilience and capacity to cope with stress in a healthy way. 

George Couros recently shared an article that very much ties into the idea of “being a duck”,  LETTING THINGS GO, releasing thoughts/personal critisms/stressors that may be holding you back…

Article:  “50 things to let go before your next birthday”(Angel Chernoff) 

What are you going to let go of today?Quack Quack…

Understanding Self

While enjoying my early morning Starbucks soy chia latte this morning… I continue my reading of …..The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies To Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind – by Daniel am Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson…When I come across the phrase “foster self understanding”

I begin to think….

We give opportunity for students to learn about each other, diversity and the
ways of society….but are we purposeful in giving students opportunity to learn about themselves… And not just about where they came from, or what foods they like… But instead looking at how and why they react or feel…
Experiencing a recent loss put things into perspective for me. I see young children exposed to a world of stress, lacking effective coping mechanisms, unaware of how to identify and manage their emotions…

My story of self understanding…

As some of you may or may not know at the end of June I travelled back to New Brunswick to celebrate the life of my grandfather….The reason why I am bringing this up is that during my brief 4 day visit I experienced a spectrum of emotions. My Grampy passed away in April during my practicum, and knowing his funeral was 2 months away I shifted into auto pilot… Not wanting or ready to react. I knew the time would come, but I also understood my triggers were in New Brunswick.
I feel I have a strong understanding of myself and managed with these emotions as best I could…I recognized what my triggers were and understood myself enough to know how I best coped with sadness and grief….

But I was not expecting this…

At one point during my Grampy’s service…I could hear his voice as if he were standing right next to me saying (pardon the language) “Jesus Christ! You are staring at a hole in the ground crying!”…..

At this moment my internal laughter began and I found myself holding in extreme hysterics, during the service (Standing beside my Great Aunt – his sister, I might add!) Fully knowing that this type of response would be completely inappropriate for a funeral I held it in, but not without my cousins noticing, who then had to hide their own laughter – at that moment in time, I had to remember him with happiness, it was either I laugh hysterically or cry hysterically…

The following day after my family was finishing up sorting through all of his belongings when my cousins/aunts and uncles left to visit their other grandparents in town… And the grief finally reached its breaking point.

I had my melt down – I had no grandparents to visit in town, my Grampy was gone.

Left at his house with my mom and my Aunt, they recognized that this moment was bound to happen.

I was finally alone…. alone with my emotions, and I let them release.
My friends back home provided brief YouTube clip distractions or stories from back home… I walked through each room, his bedroom where we watched judge Judy and I tricked him into eating, the kitchen where we played crib, his shed were he taught me how to carve, his chair where his spied on the neighbours…

This release brought me peace….

I am still learning to understand myself, as I grow and experience new things. Could I have handled my emotions in a different way, 100% – but I took this event as a learning moment.

Students need opportunity to understand themselves… And we can help

My “ah ha!” moment….

A powerful statement made by Joe Bower in a session focused on rethinking “discipline” has resonated with me all weekend…And has made me rethink my own practice and experiences..

“When a student walks in not knowing how to read, we teach them to read… When a student walks in not knowing how to behave or problem solve, we punish them…”

Continue reading