TBT: My Year 4 Teaching Portfolio

I have recently been reflecting on what it takes to be a great – not just good – teacher. My professional experience includes teaching students from Year 3 all the way to, ahem, those over fifty. During the years before I embarked upon my PhD studies, I was a primary school teacher in one of Pakistan’s leading schools. In my current nostalgic frame of mind, I thought it would be appropriate to write a blog post about the ethos which I endeavoured to inculcate in my students through the visuals that surrounded them in their classroom. So I write below about some of the displays and activities that I initiated during my unforgettable and memorable time as a Year 4 teacher at the Karachi Grammar School.

Keys to Success: motivational prompts about positive social skills and good habits

Concept behind the display:

The Keys to Success were displayed prominently above the blackboard at the front of the class. This was in the children’s direct line of sight for main classroom instruction so as to ensure constant and subliminal reinforcement. The Keys included:

  1. Listen Actively
  2. Respect Everyone
  3. Ask Questions
  4. Do Neat Work
  5. Read Books
  6. Be Punctual
  7. Be Responsible
  8. Do Your Homework

Reading Garden:  developing and encouraging children’s creative and literary skills

reading garden.jpg

source: personal image (click on image to open full size in a separate window)

Concept behind the display:

Every week each child would borrow four books from the library:

  1. A fiction book
  2. A magazine
  3. A non-fiction book
  4. An Urdu (national language) book

To encourage the children to read, they would then make a flower, or any garden item, colour it and inside it, write the name of the book they enjoyed best that particular week. This way other children were encouraged to review their classmates favourite books and borrow the books to read for themselves.

Alongside this display, there was a list of reasons why particular books are chosen and enjoyed, that the class came up with together. This list included things such as colourful pictures, interesting characters and so on,  and was constantly being added to during the term. As a result of this display activity, children were exposed to a variety of authors and genres of books.

House Points: an eye-catching, child-friendly inspirational display

Concept behind the display:

house points

source: personal image (click on image to open full size in a separate window)

Each child in the classroom was assigned a House to which they belong. House Points were awarded to children on an on-going basis throughout the week for classwork, homework, behaviour, personal presentation (for example, neat and tidy appearances, and wearing the correct school uniform), following school rules and so on.

Each day as children would have to go out of the classroom, they would line up Housewise. According to the positions of the markers on each House’s ladder, the children were then requested to move out of the classroom, usually with members of the House with the most points leading the group.

This display was located in a prominent place in the class and children were encouraged to put up their House points themselves. Each House had one member (who was appointed on a rotational basis from another House) responsible to ensure the correct tallying of points.

As a result of this display activity, the children were greatly motivated to behave well, produce their best work and work together as a team (members of a common House group). I found this display a particularly useful tool that the children used to encourage each other.

Notice Board at Class Front: reinforcing learning outcomes, important spellings and conceptsnotice board

Concept behind the display:

The position of the display board was right next to the main blackboard. Therefore, it was in the children’s frequent line of sight. I took advantage of the board position to put up a whiteboard on which I would write the main learning outcomes for numeracy and literacy for every lesson.

This was advantageous because I would review these learning outcomes with the children after each lesson and a number of times, the children themselves would in fact add some more of the learning outcomes that they perceived they achieved from the lesson! Once this started happening, I realised how essential this strategy was and how much it added to the children’s understanding of the practical outcomes of each lesson.

Additionally, the display also had a spelling list of words for each week, alongwith a mathematical word of the week and number of the week, so the children were constantly able to review them.

The display border consisted of a collection of flowers, each containing the name of every member of the class, which the children loved!

Interactive Train (at the bottom of the display): reinforcing learning outcomes and making cross-curricular connections

Concept behind the display:

Positioned in an easily accessible place, I made a train with a number of carriages. Each carriage had a ‘compartment’ within which slips of paper could be inserted as per the respective labels on each carriage. As illustrated above, there was a little container pinned to the board near the carriage which held slips of paper which children could pick up and insert into the relevant carriage.

For example, for the topic ‘Improving the Environment’, the carriages had various labels such as, ‘how litter harms the environment’, ‘why recycling is important’, ‘how we can save energy’, and so on. As the topic progressed, children were able to pick up slips of paper (the opportunity was usually given as a reward for neat work, good behaviour, etc) on which I had pre-printed phrases such as, ‘plastic bags can destroy animal habitats’, ‘we can conserve our resources’, ‘we should carpool’, and so on.

Nearby was also a notice asking children if they could think of some more of their own examples to put into the appropriate carriages and a number of blank slips were provided for the children to write on.

I adapted this display for Mathematics as well, during the topics revieweing multiplication and division in particular. Each carriage was assigned a random number and various sums were made up with the blanks in any place for children to insert in the correct carriage, for instance: ‘5 x _ = 45’, ‘35 ÷ 7 = _’

Character Building: promoting good habits, health, hygiene and school spirit

Concept behind the display:

 

character bulding

source: personal image (click on image to open full size in a separate window)

As the children would eat their snacks inside the classroom three times a week, before going outside to play, I utilised the opportunity whilst supervising them to discuss positive character building habits, such as the importance of saying ‘please ‘ and ‘thank you’, washing hands before and after eating and especially after entering the house, and so on. Usually I would try to link the discussion with a Science or Geography current topic, such as the environment, or the human body, or relate it to a character in a story that the children would be reading.

I would also regularly review the School Song with the children because I believe it is very important to inculcate a proper understanding of the words so that the children realise the very principles and backbone on which their school was founded and strive to live up to them.

The good habits and values talked about during these discussions were also the basis for a number of rewards given out during school time, for instance, ‘Sarah shared her colouring pencils with Adam.’ (based on the principle  of sharing with each other). Rewards would be in the form of Housepoints, certificates, a chance to take home Sylvester (the class mascot) and so on.

Our Pledges: personal pledges by each student

 Concept behind the display:

pledges

source: personal image (click on image to open full size in a separate window)

On the first day of each term, I conducted an exercise whereby we would discuss the school rules, come up with our own classroom rules, and talk about what we each expected, as a teacher and students respectively, from the classroom and associated learning.

Following this, the students and myself then each wrote down our ‘pledge’ of thought, behaviour or learning for the coming term. We coloured our pledges which were then mounted and displayed in a prominent place in the classroom.

Students’ pledges included, ‘I pledge to write in cursive handwriting’, ‘I pledge to improve my vocabulary’ and ‘I pledge that I will not run in the corridors’.

As a teacher, whenever the opportunity arose during the term, I would constantly refer children to the pledges they made. This served to keep them focused.

At the end of the term, children were returned their pledges along with a short note of appreciation from me on the back of each pledge encouraging them to strive for even more the following term.

The Classroom Layout: colourful, interactive, child-friendly, organised and conducive to learning

Concept behind the layout:

layout

source: personal image (click on image to open full size in a separate window)

It is common knowledge that the more child-friendly and colourful a learning environment is, the more conducive for learning it will ultimately be. Keeping that in mind, I arranged my classroom in such a way that as children were divided into various groups they were able to experience a positive ambience all around.

A number of the displays were interactive and required some form of input from the children, whether their writing on the boards in a given space, or placing slips or paper in the correct strategic places and so on.

The students’ work in the form of worksheets, posters (for instance those such as movie posters advertising movies based on their favourite books), bookmarks they made, and artwork was also displayed at all times, as seeing their work up on display was a great motivating factor.

Children’s cubbyholes and trolley baskets (for them to organise the books they required at their tables for various lessons) were also placed in easily accessible areas with clear labelling of each and every area and compartment.

Poetry Corner

Concept behind the display:

In my classroom I laid great emphasis on having a poetry corner. The objective of which was to enable children to compare and contrast poems on similar themes, particularly their form and language, discuss personal responses and preferences, find out more about popular authors and poets, and use this information to move onto more books by favourite writers.

The display also served as a tool to encourage children to understand the use of figurative language in poetry and prose, compare poetic phrasing with narrative and descriptive examples, reading the poems aloud, identify various patterns of rhyme and verse, read the poems aloud, locate the use of similes, making comparisons and identifying familiar features of the works of particular poets, to write poems of their own keeping all the explored factors in mind, and so on.

A key aspect of the display was the visual appeal of the poems. I endeavoured to show children how enjoyable poetry can be, particularly when combined with artistic creativity.

The perennial display was also a key build-up to the annual intra-school poetry recital competition, in which there were class and solo performances.

Sylvester: motivating and inspiring students to behave well, and inculcate within them a sense of responsibility

sylvester

source: personal image (click on image to open full size in a separate window)

Concept behind the activity:

I instituted a class mascot ‘Sylvester’, a stuffed toy replica of the famous character from the Looney Tunes series. The concept behind Sylvester was that he would go home every weekend with a member of the class who behaved well or performed outstandingly in a particular endeavour.

The student whom he went home with would have to look after Sylvester and ensure that he had an ‘enjoyable time’ with them whilst ensuring that no harm came to him and he was kept safely. They would then have to write an entry for that weekend in Sylvesters journal, pretending to be him.

Indeed, his own introduction in the journal was: “Hello! I’m Sylvester. This is my journal. It is all about my life and the exciting time I have during my travels. Every weekend I go home with a different member of Class IVG2. All my splendid moments are jotted down in this journal. Join me in my merry adventures with the students of IVG2.”

Children absolutely adored Sylvester and constantly referred to him as another member of the class. I would also use him as a positive example, inspiring their imaginations, for example by saying, ‘What do you think Sylvester would do in such a situation?’

Certificates: reinforcing and rewarding positive behaviour

proud of me certificates

source: personal image (click on image to open full size in a separate window)

Concept behind the activity: 

Every week on a Friday, a child would be presented with a certificate rewarding a particular aspect of their behaviour. Reasons were varied and included things such as, ‘My teacher is proud of me because I…

  • cared for the environment
  • completed my class work  accurately and neatly
  • listened carefully and followed directions
  • remembered to use kind words
  • was a kind and willing helper of my classmates
  • made commendable contributions to class discussions
  • asked questions when unsure
  • was sensitive to others’ feelings
  • offered to help without being asked
  • demonstrated a positive attitude towards a problem
  • read voraciously during the holidays

The certificates were laminated and presented in a mini-ceremony just before the close of school for each weekend.

Bookmarks: a memento of their time with me and encouragement to continue reading

bookmark

source: personal image (click on image to open full size in a separate window)

Concept behind the activity:

At the end of each school year, once exams were over, and children had some free time, I would give each child a bookmark to colour. On the reverse side of it, they could draw their favourite character from any book that they had read, write the name of the book, and the year. Before the last day of school, I laminated all the bookmarks, and presented them to the pupils with their report cards to take home as a memento of their time in my Year 4 class.

 

 

Note of Appreciation: students’ application of taught concepts which make all my effort truly worthwhile!  

As a teacher, I receive a number of sweet notes from my students not just during their time with me, but long after too. The notes are often full of love and appreciation. A number of them often reflect some particular skill or strategy that the student has recently been taught by me.

One such example are these notes from Year 4 (Key Stage 2) students. At the time, I had just taught the children how to explore and write poems based on different styles and structures. In these particular poems to me, what is most pleasing to note is students’ application of concepts taught in the classroom and their extended learning from it.

These notes are just one example why the teaching profession is so immensely rewarding and joyous and why I return to it time and time again. Teachers come in all forms, for all facets of life: academic, personal and professional. Do you consider yourself a teacher too? Or do you know of a great teacher? I’d love to hear from you, so do please share your experiences in the comments below.

Saneeya Qureshi © 2017

Oh, Earth!

This blog post has been inspired by Erhan Aqil Arif, the 8 year old son of dear friends of mine. Erhan wrote an eloquent poem about Earth, which he beautifully and smilingly illustrated (including a depiction of the little red planet Mars as well):

2017-01-28-photo-00006699

Oh Earth – A poem by Erhan Aqil Arif (click on image for larger version to open in a separate window)

Oh Earth

Oh earth, such a beautiful planet.
Oh earth, you have big cities.
Oh earth, you have beautiful people.
Oh earth, you have beautiful, clean rivers.
Oh earth, you have boats that people can travel on.
Oh earth, you have different countries.
Oh earth, you are such a big planet that God created for me.

(Erhan Aqil Arif, Aged 8 years, January 2017)

Erhan’s poem made me reflect on two counts. The first being certain electoral events in 2016 that have resulted in political upheaval which is still rippling across the global arena in numerous respects; climate change being the primary focus of this post. Climate change pertains not just to global warming, as was the buzz term in the nineties and noughties; but to any changes and extremes (both hot and cold) in global or regional climate patterns as per the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). It is a concern so grave, that countries’ national interests have been threatened. Climate change has long been the subject of discussion as a collective action problem, a focus of celebrity cause for concern, and divested political campaigns. Sadly though, there is not much contemporary information available about children’s voice in the discussion about climate change, bar one now-defunct website for teachers about curricular activities on the subject; the 2009 Young Voices on Climate Change series; a 2014 UNICEF publication on ‘Climate Change and Children‘ and the odd scholarly article.  It is my hope that more authentic and unaffected poems such as Erhan’s, or other prose written by children about their regard for our precious planet Earth, make their way  into the minds and hearts of not just politicians and policy-makers, but the common man too, who can do his part – his little drop in the ocean – to tackle this grave issue.

The second manner in which Erhan’s poem made me reflect, was a result of Erhan’s maternal grandfather’s (his Nana’s) response to his poem. He wrote the following to his grandson in acknowledgement of his eloquent ode to Earth:

Oh Erhan, What a nice poem.
Oh Erhan,  What wonderful ideas
Oh Erhan,  keep writing
Oh Erhan,  be happy.
Oh Erhan, Nana is proud of you.

Stay blessed.

(Erhan Aqil Arif’s maternal grandfather, January 2017)

Now, I may be biased in the first instance, as Erhan is already very dear to me, when I say that I thought his poem was an excellent effort for an 8 year old, who articulately expresses the reasons why he loves the planet that he lives on. Of course, Erhan’s grandfather is also biased in his view of Erhan’s eloquence. However, the exchange above epitomises the experience that each and every child should have – the ability to express themselves, to have that expression be positively and well-received and to have future expression encouraged and supported. Erhan’s paternal grandmother too, showers him with love, support and encouragement. No matter what cultural backgrounds children come from, this manner of nurture is one that each and every child has a right to, and that they should receive, so that their self-esteem and self-confidence can be developed and enhanced during their precious formative years.

It is my hope that Erhan takes from this experience the lesson of how much value his thoughts and views, and indeed, his very existence has in this world. It is through children such as he – indeed, all children (proud Aunt alert!) including my beloved 3-month old niece Ayzah – that we adults can experience joy and positivity and follow through on emotive calls to action for a hopeful future.

Saneeya Qureshi © 2017

I’m an impostor

A dear friend emailed me this Buzzfeed article ‘13 Charts That Will Make Total Sense To People With Impostor Syndrome‘, saying that she was pretty sure I that had stated or continually state at least one of the thoughts in the article on an almost-daily basis to her.

I must admit, that although I giggled at the charts; each and every single one resonated with me. Apparently, I suffer from Impostor Syndrome. Admittedly, I am in esteemed company, as the actress and UN ambassador Emma Watson has confessed that she feels like an impostor, as have Sheryl Sandberg, Judge Sonia Sotomayor, Kate Winslet and Maya Angelou.

For a number of years, many around me, including my family, my supervisor during my PhD studies, my current boss, and recently and more vociferously, a close friend and colleague, have urged me to consciously overcome this syndrome, because it’s doing me no favours, particularly as I make ground in my professional achievements on an international level.

A TED Talk by Amy Cuddy (suggested by said friend) has been particularly inspiring and I watch it at least once a month, fervently trying to “fake it, till I become it”. I also pull similarly inspirational articles via my Feedly RSS reader, including this recent piece in the Telegraph, ‘Imposter syndrome: Why do so many women feel like frauds?

The path to changing my mindset is no mean feat; after all, I am someone whose all-time favourite childhood poem is ‘I’m Nobody! Who are You?’ by Emily Dickinson. I shall shamelessly take this opportunity to share the poem below (and use this blog post as an excuse to recite it as I did for my prize-winning School Elocution Competition Performance way back when life was so much simpler):

 

I’m nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there’s a pair of us -don’t tell!
They’d banish us, you know.

How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!

by Emily Dickinson (December 10, 1830 – May 15, 1886)

I feel it obligatory to end this blog post on a hopeful note. Caltech has a list of positive behaviours to reinforce the sense of acknowledging one’s achievements, and moving on. My favourites though, and ones that I earnestly try to incorporate, are from a Forbes article:

  1. Focus on the value you bring; not on attaining perfection.
  2. Own your successes. You didn’t get lucky by chance. 
  3. Cease comparisons. They’re an act violence against oneself. 
  4. Hold firm to ambition.  Risk outright exposure!

What about you? Do you, or anyone you know suffer from Impostor Syndrome? What’s your take on it? I’d love to know, so do please leave a comment below.

Saneeya Qureshi © 2016

More and better

As children throughout the world awake each morning to face yet another day, they do so under such different circumstances that it is hard to imagine. Some children wake up in a comfortable bed with a certainty of three meals that day; are healthy, being educated; have a say in their life; and have access to many amenities among other things. Approximately one-fifth of the world’s children however, are less fortunate, with little or no shelter, contented if they have one meal in that day; their parents are unemployed, their health is poor and their prospects for a better life are very bleak.

Like some say, no one who has not experienced poverty will know what it feels like to retire home to a footpath at night or no home at all, having been on the roads begging all day, tired and hungry; to know that the only water one can drink or bathe in is full of pathogens; not to be able to go to school or play unburdened with worries and fears. Such is the reality for millions of children every day.

A recent article on the Global Partnership for Education site caught my interest as it brought attention to the educational plight of children who are displaced from their homes as a result of crises, conflict and/or natural disasters. The statistics are staggering: 175 million* children being affected by environmental disasters annually, and at least a further 15 million** children displaced or living as refugees every year, making up part of the estimated 230 million** children who live in countries and areas affected by armed conflicts.

In the face of such alarming numbers, Save the Children has published a May 2015 report titled, ‘More and Better: Global action to improve funding, support and collaboration for education in emergencies‘ which recommends three principles for supporting the education of children during emergencies, crises and conflicts:

  1. More and better funding

  2. More and better support

  3. More and better collaboration and commitment

The report states: “Doing all of this will be essential if we have any chance of ensuring the children affected by conflict, natural disasters and pandemic diseases are to enjoy  their right to an inclusive and equitable quality education.”

I welcome the publication of this report, with cautious optimism as it comes to world attention at a critical juncture for global educational goals. Indeed, last week, a new global education goal was proposed at the World Education Forum in Korea. This new ambitious goal replaces the education Millennium Development Goal (MDG) and will become part of the Sustainable Development Goals. It proposes to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all.”

My hope is that whatever the final wording of the goal and its related parameters of achievement, due attention will also be given to the education of children whose lives are affected by natural disasters, war and strife.

*source: http://www.savethechildren.org.uk/about-us/what-we-do/climate-change-in-the-face-of-disaster

**source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=49537#.VWn3h89Viko

Saneeya Qureshi © 2015

Lights out!

Tomorrow from 8.30-9.30pm GMT I will be switching off all my electronic devices, and literally all the lights around the house. For one hour, I intend to bask in the solitude of quiet darkness as I do my little bit to celebrate Earth Hour 2015.

Earth Hour, initiated by the WWF in 2007 in Australia, is now a global annual event where millions of people switch off their lights for sixty minutes to acknowledge climate change and to show that they care about our planet. It’s about people from across the globe coming together to create a symbolic and spectacular lights out display and asking for change. It happens every year between 8.30 and 9.30pm local time, depending on wherever in the world you are, with switch offs starting in Samoa and finishing in Tahiti. The scope of the celebration grows exponentially every year, with 2014 being  “the biggest Earth Hour yet“.

The event is not without its critics and detractors. However, as per the The Earth Hour Global FAQs:

Earth Hour does not purport to be an energy/carbon reduction exercise, it is a symbolic action. Therefore… (there is no engagement with) the measurement of energy/carbon reduction levels for the hour itself. Earth Hour is an initiative to encourage individuals, businesses and governments around the world to take accountability for their ecological footprint and engage in dialogue and resource exchange that provides real solutions to our environmental challenges. Participation in Earth Hour symbolises a commitment to change beyond the hour.

And indeed, evidence indicates that the knock-on effects of commemorating Earth Hour ripple across the globe much beyond the sixty minutes of commemoration (hence the 60+ in the Earth Hour logo), but that more concrete measures need to be taken at grassroots levels to sustain the impact. A 2014 study on the ‘Electricity Impacts of Earth Hour‘ published in the Journal of Energy Research and Social Science compiled 274 measurements of observed changes in electricity demand caused by Earth Hour in 1 low-GDP and 9 high-GDP countries, spanning 6 years, and found that the events reduced electricity consumption an average of 4%. The study noted the policy challenge of converting Earth Hour’s short-term energy saving into longer-term actions, including sustained changes in behavior and investment.

I, for one, will try to assuage my guilty conscience (being perpetually connected to my electronic devices!) by switching them all off for this one hour, and who knows… perhaps the peace and tranquility that I find in those sixty minutes will inspire me to endeavour to make this a regular facet of my daily routine. Are you planning to take part in Earth Hour too? Do you think it is a meaningful activity? I’d love to know your thoughts, especially if you disagree.

Saneeya Qureshi © 2015