When children make decisions about their learning based on standard teacher assessments.

The children receive regular, structured, timely and ongoing feedback that is aligned with teacher and student chosen learning objectives. We take standard assessment tasks and bring them alive for children.

Once we have carried out reading assessments with the children we share the findings with the children straight away. We point out what we have noticed in their reading.

Zoe: So I noticed when you wondered what the word was you stopped and used the pictures to help you. That is a strategy that seems to be working well for you. I also noticed that you keep reading until you run out of breath and don’t stop at the full stops.  That is something you could work on. What do you think you are good at as  reader? What would like to work on as a reader?

Child: I like the pictures. It tells you the story. I use the sounds to say the word. I want to use more sounds.

Zoe: So you want your reading goal to be about getting better at using sounds. How about if you work on using the ‘sh’ and ‘ch’ sounds in words like “ship”? I will type this for you and you can have it in on your book box and reading log.

When the children read at home or at school they can refer to their reading goal. We revisit their goal each time we read and children explain their progress. We also add a list of the next steps in reading for the parents and children to see. We talk to the children about these and mark off when we notice reading strategies. We also add questions in English and where possible in the home language, to prompt understanding of the text and build inferential understanding.

We carry out an assessment to learn which spelling patterns children need to work on. We believe children learn best from applying skills from their actually writing, not unconnected spelling lists. Each writer’s workshop folder has the next stages of spelling. The children also pick commonly misspelled sight words they want to work on. The children refer to them as they write.







We use a numeracy diagnostic interview with each child and discuss the results with them. We then give the children a numeracy learner profile. It targets the next stages they are working on. The children choose what they will work on each day and make a tally mark against the learning they choose that day.







Video of children taking control of their learning using their numeracy learner profile. Although the children have only been doing this for two weeks you can see how independent they are becoming and the decisions they are making about their own learning.

Intentionally creating a classroom culture. What do we value?

We start our day with a personal greeting. A small moment to connect with each child. We look at each other and say hello. The children now come in and make this connection by themselves. These are intentional acts to develop personal bonds built on mutual respect and trust.  We give time to this because we value these connections. The children realize this is part of our classroom culture and copy it.

Morning meeting

Children quickly realize what a school and teacher value.  We intentionally and explicitly create our learning culture. We give time to what we value  An example would be the morning meeting.  A child  often runs the meeting and the teacher sits on the floor with the children. At first the teacher modeled the format and now the children listen and navigate the “no hands up” class.

This sometimes means children putting fingers on their shoulder every time that have an idea. They also have a symbol if their idea is the same as someone else. This gets everyone thinking and not just the same people holding up their hands. Their is an expectation everyone will be trying to think of something.

Children are encouraged to add their name to the agenda and share any ideas or concerns. Today’s items included Miu telling us that children were not looking after pens and tops neede to be looked after. Sohee who shared her picture that had a mistake on it and so she turned it into a “beautiful mistake”. The children  decided to use this picture as a front cover for a book about the value of making mistakes and learning from them. Finally Greyson had further questions about Fresh Fruit Friday, a grade 5 initiative to feed the homeless of Yokohama. He wanted to know who set this up and what made them do it. The children offered suggestions, but the teacher remand silent.

How we negotiate coming together as a group

The children sit in an informal group for morning meeting. The children have negotiated 7 different ways of being in this group. Some children sit on their bottoms, some stand, some hold a squishy toy in their hands and some kneel. We want the children to be in control of themselves and find the best way for them to concentrate. It is an expectation that children think about how they learn best.

These are just two examples of intentional acts designed to build a classroom culture based on trust and mutual respect. We wonder if this is seen outside the classroom at home?


Reflecting on how we build a community of learners

Before school started we reached out to our new grade 1 community. We shared a video that showed the grade 1 team and we welcomed everyone to grade 1. We wanted parents and children to enter school knowing a recognizable face.  A parent once commented to me that  the first day of school with your child was like going back to school yourself. You stand around and everyone seems to know everyone. You feel a little alone.

On the first day of school we  gathered the children and parents together and we all came into the classroom. We made a point of telling patents that this was everyone’s learning space and they were welcome.  You can see the video of children and parents exploring this space and getting to know each other. Parents were not asked to leave, but simply left when they were ready. We felt people left knowing they weren’t alone and this was a new community in the making.

Photos by Connie

About this blog

Last year the school moved to the Seesaw platform to provide a personal digital learning journal for each child. This year we have activated the blog component, in place of this class blog.  I have elected to continue  to use this class blog to reflect more deeply on the learning and share it with my personal learning network. I am also subscribing each parent to the blog. I wonder as parents whether you will find this insightful and worth reading. Please feel free to comment on the blog or talk to me in person.


With mutual respect and love in our hearts…

We came together to celebrate our year in grade one. It was apparent from the ready conversations and laughter in the room that we have formed a wonderful community who have worked together and learned together. With sincere thanks and joy in our hearts we enjoyed each others company.

A special thank you to Connie for all her work this year taking and curating our photographs.

Uninterrupted play in nature.

We returned to Tamagawa River Park. The children were highly respectful staying to the left to allow commuters to get past them as we went for the train. Because the children were familiar with the space they quickly started to climb the concrete embankment. We noted their level of confidence and just how big they now seemed in this space. Before the embankment seemed huge and high and now the children were the ones who looked big. Both parents and teachers observed how the children calmly used the space. They climbed, explored, created imaginary play scenarios and enjoyed each others company. In four hours of uninterrupted play one child asked for help to work at a social issue. When they came to the teachers they made the point of sharing how they had worked out the issue.

Thank you to Ms Connie for the photo collection

It’s OK… tell the truth. A culture of respect and trust in our class.

The children have been running our morning meetings for months now. The children put their names on the agenda throughout the day. The next morning two children come and run the meeting. We have no schedule for this, overtime more children have joined in and now everyone has had turns.

The agenda seems to be getting longer. There are often house-keeping items, such as lost books or hats children want help finding. Though these are relatively simple items, the discussions are often complex. The children offer solutions and possible ways of organizing items. Some children offer to go to the ‘big’ lost and found in the high school. They are completely independent and solve all their problems by themselves.



Next come the agenda items about things which have not been put away, tops left off markers or a ripped book. This is when the classroom culture really becomes apparent. There is an increase in the number of children using this language.

Child One: Someone ripped the book, it is bad because now it doesn’t look good. Who did this?

Child Two: Yes who did this? [change of tone to soft and gentle], it’s O.K. You can tell us, we don’t mind. Just tell the truth, it will be O.K. Please just tell us.

Child Three: It was me,  I did it. I’m sorry.

Child Two: You need to be careful, but you told the truth, that is good.

We have worked all year to build this culture of trust and respect. Children take responsibility for their actions. They know there may be a consequence for the action, but they trust it will be fair.

Next on the agenda are creations and designs children want to share. This offers an opportunity to celebrate ideas and share opinions. Throughout the year we have worked on asking questions to find out more and sharing honest opinions which are worded in ways that respect the person who is sharing.

Child One: I made weapon, it is super cool and very strong. It has a piece that comes off. Do you have questions?

Child Two: Where did you get your idea?

Child One: I learned to roll up paper and it is very strong.

Child Three: Why do you always make weapons?

Child One: I like it and I use my brain to design good stuff. You can use my idea.

There are sometimes items which children are pondering, these can be about politics or social justices issues.

Child One: So I am going to explain why world war 2 started . There was a man and he didn’t like Jews…. They had to wear crosses. So when they took a poison shower and they died. It’s sad isn’t it?”

Child Two: I didn’t know that… that is sad. Thank you for telling us.

Child Three: I know this my dad told me, but I forgot.

Child Four: My dad’s dad died, it’s sad.

This is just a sample of what the children have discussed  last week.

When talking to a parent she noted that the children truly believe they can solve issues without adults. They don’t seek answers from adults as a first response. They are happy to listen to problems of any kind and offer advice, support and strategies. This is seen at home and at school.  These are powerful tools for future life.



Building independence skills makes for a great sleepover.

Sleepover independence… the key to success.

The children made their own packing lists and were asked to pack their own bags at home. They were completely responsible for them at school. The children also made a food list and went to the shops and brought the food and carried it back to school. They alsomade the food (sandwiches, onigiri, fruit salad and chopped vegetables).

The children played in the park for three and a half hour and were supported for part of the time by three grade nine students, who lead the children in tag games. The children took their bags to ICJC and set up their sleeping things. A pizza dinner was followed with some flashlight fun and shadow puppets monsters!

In the morning the children played in the playground in their pajamas before packing their bags and preparing their breakfast. The bags were taken back to school and there was time for some more play before pick up time.

The children proved themselves to be highly independent and respectful learners who know how to have fun.

A sincere thank you to the parents for the coffee and treats at pick up time. It was greatly appreciated!

Sleepover in pictures

Why We Believe Teaching Grade One To Write Graphic Novels Is A Good Idea.

Our year long writing goal was to motivate children to write for intrinsic purposes. We noticed the children’s passion for graphic novels and observed them making their own comics in Free Inquiry Time and at home. The children were often taking graphic novels out of the library. As we were reworking our units of study for writing we decided to develop a graphic novel unit, which complemented our year long unit about illustrations. The children agreed this was a very good idea. This was not an easy option, writing graphic novels is a complex process and mentally challenging.

What special things do you notice about graphic novels?

The children wrote down everything they knew about graphic novels. We had a pile of books in the class which we had curated with our librarian Katy Vance, who came to our planning meetings. The books sat for a few days in a big basket, the children were desperate to  read them. Once we gave them the books they quickly took them off  and started discussing them. We read the graphic novels out loud and the children read them to each other.

We watched this video about graphic novels so the children could see the complex process involved in making a final product. We asked them whether they felt they could sustain this amount of effort. The resounding answer was YES!

The whole thing is interesting, the process starts at 1.36


Ideas Folder

The children have had an idea folder for most of the year. They developed this after watching a video about an author of the month, Oliver Jeffers, who shared his creative process. We believe in giving children time to doodle and draw. High quality ideas need time to grow and develop. We can not expect children to suddenly be creative and develop high quality pieces.

Story Line

The children quickly developed a story line because their idea folder was full of ideas. Some children brought in ideas they developed at home.


The most surprising part of the process for the children was writing the story before they drew it. We gave the children an A3 piece of paper and asked them to use a graphic organizer they had used twice before. The sequence Brainframe had three boxes: the setting and problem, trying to solve the problem and solving the problem. The children then added to their basic outline using: descriptive, emotion and sound words shown as circles coming off the boxes.

Throughout this process we meet as a class and had daily minilessons where we taught the conventions used in this format, these included: panels (the boxes the action takes place in), gutters (the space between the panels), speech and thought balloons, sound affects and captions (show, time, place and events). We used the work of published authors as examples. The children also found examples to share.

Character Development

On a spare piece of the BrainFrame the children developed their characters drawing how they: moved, felt and dressed.

The Storyboard

This was the draft of the final piece. This proved quite challenging for the children as they had to use their visual spatial skills. The children added perspective and movement to their drawings.Working out how to fit in the panels, the characters, captions and speech. The hardest part of writing a graphic novel is being succinct. It is hard to write less! The primary method of conveying meaning comes through the characters using speech to tell the story. The captions also need to be concise and tell the story or indicate time. The children inventively drew clocks to track time. The piece was edited by the child, a peer and a teacher.

The final piece penciling, inking and coloring

The final part of the process was to reproduce the graphic novel with no errors.  They then reedited the work and  inked over the drawing, adding backgrounds and color. The children found it easy to convey emotion through color as they had explored this in art class with Aaron Reed. The children also needed perfect spelling and lettering. This meant rewriting words, retrying spellings and getting the letter size correct. We used A3 paper as these are younger children who are learning to write. One child developed a ‘think paper’ to practice spelling, handwriting and developing characters expressions in a consistent form. We liked this idea so much we added it to our planner.

In conclusion

This was a highly challenging undertaking for the children. They had to persist with the process and redraft in three different forms, yet they kept going. They often sustained their concentration for 50 minutes when writing. We hope the children keep writing their own graphic novels. They show every sign of doing so.

Excellent books for teaching graphic novels

MUST HAVE Adventures in Cartooning James Sturm, Andrew Arnold and Alexis Fredrick-Frost

Adventures in Cartooning Characters in Action James Sturm, Andrew Arnold and Alexis Fredrick-Frost

Understanding Comics By Scott McCloud (A more academic book, only if you are geeky)

Published texts we used to mentor the children

The Big Wet Balloon By Liniers

Bean Dog and Nugget The Ball Charise

Little Mouse gets Ready Jeff Smith

Otto’s Orange Day By Jay Lynch & Frank Cammuso

Benny and Penny The Big NO-NO! By Geoffrey Hayes

Mr Badger and Mrs badger #1 The Meeting Brigitte Luciani Eve Tharlet (simple at children’s level)

The Zoo Book Ariel Cohn Aron Nels Steinke (very simple at kids level)

Mr Wuffles By David Weisner

Hippopotomister John Patrick Green

Silly Lilly and the Four Seasons Agnes Rosenstiehl

Luke on the Loose By Harry Bliss

Benny and Penny in Just Pretend Geoffrey Hayes

Mr Badger and Mrs badger #3 What A Team Brigitte Luciani Eve Tharlet

Tippy and the Night Parade Lilli Carre

Bird Cat Dog Lee Nordling & Meritxell Bosch

Squish Game on! Jennifer Holm & Matthew Holm

Stinky Eleanor Davis

Try an adult graphic novel for yourself

Zoe’s pick of adult graphic novels, they are a little dark. If you want something lighter and  fun go and ask Katy Vance in the library

Persepolis Marjane Saprati Growing up with the rise of the Islamic state in Iran

Maus Art Spielman’s Recount of growing up with holocaust survivors and relationship with parents, heartrendingly wonderful. Very manageable.

Blanket Craig Thompson Coming of age in an evangelical family and first love

Watchmen Allan Moore I love Moore, but this could blow your brains, it is highly complex panels, but is is BRILLIANT, more like a traditional comic

V for Vendetta  Allan Moore, More doable, excellent story

Batman The Dark Knight Returns Frank Miller The dark side of Batman, exquisite illustrations. It made me love Batman graphic novels. Dark and moody, flawed hero.