All posts by Sonia Trakroo

For the love of reading ….

A virtual class library

Source – Pinterest

Children who love reading perform better in school overall – vocabulary development, grammar – these are the obvious benefits. A more subtle learning is the development of the art of writing. When you read good pieces of writing – novels, essays etc you imbibe the style and the tone of different genres of writing. So it’s a win-win all around!

Now for the slightly tricky part – some children love reading, some not so much. Can a love for reading be developed and enhanced? As a teacher, yes, I believe it can. Reading can be fun especially when we read aloud and read together for enjoyment. I have witnessed this in my classroom, when we spend the most magical time (once or twice a week) reading a book together.

The challenge was to create an ambience or a feel of the bookshelf / library at school during these challenging times of virtual learning. But, If there is one thing this pandemic has taught us, it is that the human will is indomiatable – so read on…

I created a virtual class library for my students so that, in some way, they could have the feel of a library, and a bookshelf full of books to click and read.

I used the following video as a guide to use Bitmojis in creating my virtual library –

Am sharing a step by step pictorial guide to how I created my own class library. Hope this helps you create one of your own! Here goes

Open a new Google slide in your browser

Delete these two blocks (title and subtitle), so you have a blank canvas to work with

Now, choose a background you would like for the library – I chose a brick wall

The next step is to place a bookshelf in your library -> insert image -> search web for a transparent bookshelf. Make sure you include the word transparent

Once i chose and added my bookshelf to the slide, I snipped an image of the book cover i wanted to add and placed it on the bookshelf, using insert image. To enable students to click on the book cover and read, first click on the image, then click on Insert -> link. Copy paste the hyperlink to the pdf version of the book here. Picture reference below :

You can keep adding books in this way. The link to this google slide can then be shared with students. I have pasted this link as a separate section in the Microsoft Class notebook. I have created one bookshelf for unit related and academic content, and one for fiction books – reading for pleasure. A snip of the 2 bookshelves in my class library is pasted below –

An example of how we have used the class library (other than for unit related and English reading) – we have been doing loud reading of the Roald Dahl book ‘Matilda’ around once a week. Students are really loving this book. They read aloud in turns (serves the purpose of a reading assessment also 👍) and then we discuss the story, the characters, what parts we enjoyed. It was so rewarding to hear some students share that these reading sessions motivated them to actually buy a physical copy of the book to continue reading!

Students are now recommending books that would like to add to our bookshelf –

A double act – Jacqueline Wilson

A series of unfortunate events Daniel Handler

Skylanders Universe – Onk Beakman

Sam the stolen puppy – Holly Webb

Are we there yet – Enid Blyton

Would appreciate any recommendations to add to this list of good reading for my Grade 5 students – please do share in comments 😊

Happy reading to all of you and your students. Do share in the comments any initiatives you are taking to develop a love for reading in your children….

Social emotional learning – the why and the how

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. Credit –

I look back at my accomplishments thus far in my life – academic, professional, personal relationships/family – and a common thread underlying all these achievements are the attitudes, traits and values that guided me through it all. Some of these include –

•    Optimism •   Tenacity or perseverance •   A strong work ethic •   Dedication •   The ability to delay gratification •   Open-mindedness•   Empathy •   Flexibility •   A sense of humour •   Cooperation and collaboration •   Willingness to negotiate differences  

In my primary role today as a teacher I now wonder – In what areas do my students demonstrate their strengths or a deficit? What does this imply for their academic and non-academic success later on in life? Can I help them reflect on how these attributes are critical in becoming balanced, open-minded and empathetic individuals? The answer to the above is a resounding yes. These attributes can be taught, can be role modelled and are equally as important as teaching literacy and numeracy skills. 

The Answer to “What is SEL?”

Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) provides students with the emotional and social wherewithal to demonstrate the personal attributes, attitudes, and values identified above. Emotional learning involves helping students develop self-understanding, self-regulation, impulse control, the ability to delay gratification, anger management, stress reduction, etc.  Social learning helps students develop an ability to adopt a different perspective, identify emotions in others, feel empathy, listen, communicate effectively, and simply get along with others.

The Answer to “Why SEL?”

Our students’ ability to succeed academically, professionally, and personally is strongly correlated with their emotional and social intelligence. Social-emotional learning is not happening as consistently in the home (or elsewhere in society) as it did in the past.  The reasons for this phenomenon are too varied and complex to discuss fully here.  Nonetheless, we are left with a fundamental question:  do we take on the task of teaching SEL or accept the status quo?

Credits –

SEL is an integral part of the curriculum at our school. In addition to the dedicated classes for the same, I wanted to equip my students with some strategies to cope with their emotions and feelings – especially negative ones like frustration, stress – we did some of these activities inspired from the Youtube channel –

Being me – mindfulness tasks for kids

First activity – Connect the dots

Students placed 10 dots on the whiteboard and breathed in and out while connecting one dot to the next.

Students reflected that they were able to focus only on their breathing with no unwanted thoughts coming to mind. I have suggested they do this when experiencing any strong emotions – frustration, anger etc. 

Second activity – Clapping and cups rhythm

Students watched a video to play a rhythm using a cup and then tried to do the same. The focus was on dealing with the frustration of not being able to do the rhythm initially, and strategies to deal with this frustration.

Post the activity we reflected on our frustrations in other areas of our lives especially when trying to learn something new. Case in point – some students were definitely struggling with the concept of adding and subtracting unlike fractions – I could sense their confusion and frustration (yes, even across that virtual screen!). I referenced this clap and cup activity while suggesting that focusing on each step at a time (each clap and rhythm), and just persisting (trying the rhythm again and again) would definitely help them.

A couple more links from the same channel that I plan to do in the coming weeks –

(a feely bag with objects of different shapes and textures to help the mind focus on only one thing, thus helping to calm your breathing and lessen your thoughts.

(Gratitude name – use the letters of your name to list things you are grateful for)

(Using 3 senses to notice 3 things. Focussing on your outer world helps to calm your inner world.)

Activity 3 – role modelling

Role modelling – Children will do as they see you do, they may not necessarily do what they hear you say. They need to see us as human beings with the same emotions and we need to role model how we deal with our negative emotions.

I remember one class – where just everything seemed to go wrong – my computer froze, I couldn’t share my screen with students, I couldn’t even see them – luckily though they could hear me. I could sense my frustration building as time passed and my plan for the class went to pieces. Not wanting to waste any more time trying to get my computer to behave, I changed my track on the spot – got them to start doing math in their journals – the good old pencil and paper way (failsafe).

I then used this as a teachable moment – talked to the students about my frustration and how I took a deep breath to not let it overcome me and then moved on in the best way possible in the circumstances.

Do leave a comment with feedback if you try any of these activities in your class 🙂

A virtual assembly

‘Technology is not just a tool. It can give learners a voice that they may not have had before’. George Couros

Honestly, my initial reaction on having to host an assembly was skepticism. How would I find time to plan and prepare for an assembly, how will my students collaborate, how will the curriculum learning plans be met?

However, my students were enthusiastic about the assembly on their current unit ‘technology’ – so I set the ball rolling.

A unit rubric had been developed to assess student understanding as the unit progressed. So, it definitely made sense that students express their understanding along these four major criteria during the assembly. I made four groups based on the criteria below

As I started the planning process, carving out time here and there (10 minutes sensory break, 15 mins class time, after school time😄), I realised this assembly would not only reinforce student understanding of the unit but also help them enhance their communication and collaboration skills. With the PYP exhibition process for Grade5 also about to commence, this was a good opportunity to discuss the key elements of PYP which they would need to be aware of.

Expression of understanding of technology thus ran parallel with the key concepts, ATL development and display of learner profile attributes. I wanted the students to realize that the process (planning, collaborating with peers) is as important as the final product. – that is, presentation of the assembly to their peers. The process of collaborating was not always smooth – in a classroom environment I would have given them time to sit in groups and discuss – how could I do that virtually? I suggested to the students that they create online word documents for collaboration where every group member could put down their thoughts and ideas. Students also took initiative to meet their group members outside of school hours to connect and collaborate if required. The struggle was real🤷‍♂️ ‘ Why aren’t you coming online’, ‘ I’m calling you, please accept’, ‘ Ma’am – he/she is not doing his part …our work is incomplete’. My input to them – the goal is meeting the deadline for the assembly, doing a good job of presenting, and then the team (not a single individual) will get any credit or any blame. So work together productively..

Once this brainstorming stage was done, the group chose 1 or 2 members who would put the presentation together using an online tool which they had learnt during the unit itself – Canva / Podcast / powerpoint presentation etc, displaying an understanding of using the various features.

Students had complete voice, choice and ownership during the planning of the assembly – choice of tools they wanted to use to present, voice as in the expression of their own understanding and ownership of the process – incorporating my feedback, ensuring deadlines were met. 

My role in the assembly was of a mentor, guiding the students, giving feedback on the format and language of the presentations, and making them aware of the skills and attributes they were developing. It was really heartening to see the way the students incorporated this feedback with an open mind.

One important skill I feel I helped them enhance is how to structure a presentation – something most of us learned quite late in life. I ensured that they kept only bulleted lists with short phrases on each slide (too much text bores the audience), and included some relevant images for better aesthetics. One important instruction I shared was that they would not read from each slide – they would refer to the bulleted list and then build on that in their own words, and with examples. This would make the presentation more interactive.

Sharing some images from the presentations

The students did a great job of presenting during the assembly and received positive feedback from the audience – their peers.

My own feeling was that students enhanced their understanding not only of the unit but also of the key concepts and ATL development (explaining to others is the best way to check your own understanding!)

As a last step students reflected on the presentation – one skill they enhanced, how they felt before and after the assembly and one thing they would differently next time. Am sharing some of their wonderfully articulated reflections below. I have taken their permission before sharing these 🙂

Made with Padlet
Reflections after the assembly

Finally, my take away

If everything was planned, it would be dreadful. If everything was unplanned, it would be equally dreadful – Errol Morris.

True learning happens somewhere in this intersection of the planned and the unplanned – one just has to go with the flow..

New academic session – a virtual beginning

 ‘Technology can never replace great teachers, but technology in the hands of great teachers is transformational’ – George Souros

I began this academic session as form tutor for Grade 5, which gave me the tremendous advantage of already knowing the students as I taught them math last year in Grade 4; otherwise I literally would not have seen them IRL. We welcomed 2 new students in the class – it was a unique challenge to make them feel comfortable and get to know their new buddies on the virtual platform.  They are deprived of the normal sensory  interactions – in the class, in the lunch hall, and playground – that nurtures bonding for a lifetime. A small activity I did for their peers to get to know them a little better – 2 truths and a lie. They expressed two truths and one lie about themselves and their peers had to guess which was the lie, thus gaining some insight into their likes and aspirations.

A key question as we started with online learning was – why should children attend online classes? Can’t they be home schooled? Parents could buy the relevant course textbooks and let them learn at home. There are 2 key aspects to learning – the content and the process. Parents (or other significant adults) can deliver content but may not be equipped to follow the process, especially the PYP pedagogy – which focuses on constructing knowledge through inquiry and collaboration. PYP teachers have to conform to certain minimum requirements in terms of certifications and training to ensure authenticity of the PYP is maintained.

In my digital classroom, as much as exploring content, students are thinking critically, collaborating (using some amazing online apps) and reflecting on their understanding (metacognition).

Some of my thoughts and experiences with online learning –

  • A unique feature of online learning is the blend of synchronous and asynchronous learning. As compared to the physical classroom where the teacher and students are disconnected once school hours are over, in the digital classroom teachers and students are always connected. I am able to help students in real time – ensuring a timely and relevant feedback process.
  • I have observed students behaving and reacting differently than they would in regular school.  Even the diligent learners are missing the classroom environment and the physical connect with their peers and teachers and this definitely affects their learning. It thus becomes critical to maintain a balance between their social emotional health and the delivery of curriculum. Sharing some strategies that worked in my class –
    • Using technology Interactive and engaging lessons – Quizizz, Wakelet, Peardeck, Nearpod and MS- Forms are some of the apps I have used effectively to replace worksheets and audio visual presentations. (Will share details of how I used these tools in another post) 
    • Small activities to let them express their feelings
      • Sometimes just letting them express their feelings
      • Sometimes using strategies for the same like this peardeck SEL template helps students express their feelings
  • Emphasising the criticality of being principled towards their own learning – whether it is timely submission or doing their work independently. It’s like walking a tightrope – iron fist in a velvet glove, if you may!
    • Connecting with students individually and asynchronously using the online platform– to check in on them or help them with their concerns.
    • A balance of moving ahead with the curriculum and giving them the time and space to just be, just express themselves. Giving them the space and the time to just be – the way they could in school. I have started devoting one day week towards fun activities – this could be a structured and planned activity – flameless cooking, craft activities, virtual tours or an unstructured platform to share something unique they are doing to make quarantine life better, share some unique talent of theirs.

This learner profile attribute given by a student means so much to me because it captures the essence of what I strive to role model as a teacher – don’t be scared to make mistakes, reflect and learn from them, there is immense growth in this process. More than teaching them math or science, if I can inculcate this attribute in my students, I would consider myself a good teacher.

Integrating approaches to learning development in mathematics class

This article shares how the approaches to learning can be integrated into mathematics through a shift in focus from pure concept teaching to the process of learning and integrating skill development. Regardless of level of proficiency in mathematics, every student enjoys and learns from the activity.

Integrating ATL development in mathematics class


What story will i tell?

This post is my response to a thought provoking question posed by our Head of School with reference to the COVID pandemic –

‘In your mind, time-travel to 2021 when the pandemic is over and some normalcy has returned. Picture yourself having come through it all in a way you feel proud of, grateful for or fulfilled by. What story will you tell’

When we cannot control our circumstances, what can we control?

We are faced with an unprecedented challenge – an unseen, unheard of enemy has confined us to our homes for an as yet undetermined period. However, we have to move beyond a sense of helplessness, and tap into a uniquely human reservoir of resilience and adaptability.

Every challenge is an opportunity to grow and to learn something new – the story I will tell is of the resilience we found in ourselves, the ability discovered to not only cope but also tend to others, the capacity to feel joy in the silence around, broken only by the chirping of birds, and the perspective to empathize that there is always someone not in as good a situation as we still are.

Attitude, attitude, attitude….I have become an even stronger believer that my way of thinking or feeling about any circumstances – is what will see me through.

‘How can I teach when I am so far from my students’ versus ‘Let me embrace this virtual world and use the learning community to construct new learning models’   

‘I am stuck at home’ versus ‘I am safe at home’

I have to cook the whole day’ versus ‘I have the time and the opportunity to feed my family and keep them healthy and happy’

‘My children are being forced to mop and clean utensils’ versus ‘They are learning skills that will stand them in good stead in future’

During this time there is still so much to be grateful for – bonding time with my family, the sunsets I am able to witness, the clear blue skies, this break from the daily routine to reignite a lost love for reading, cooking. I am also so grateful to be a teacher – this is what is keeping me sane in these trying times. Top companies and industries have been shut down – but the education sector adapts and continues to deliver – proving that we can live without most things, but the human spirit cannot and will not stop learning. As a teacher I myself had to learn a new way of delivering – I developed the attributes of being a communicator by delivering lessons through a variety of modes of communication and by effectively collaborating with others, and being caring as I displayed a sense of personal commitment to my chosen profession, and acted to make a positive difference to the lives of others and to the environment.

I am changed by this experience in the true realization of what I really cannot live without – and it is not the material things, the house help, the busyness of my daily life. Rather, I now appreciate even more deeply the importance of sustainable living (I pledge to shop for need and not greedJ), the place in my heart my students hold – the positive energy and innocence that they touch me with every single day, my colleagues who have become my second family and who make my life more meaningful by encouraging me in putting all efforts to become the best version of myself that I can!

I conclude with Carl Sagan’s words which lend much needed perspective

‘Who are we? We find that we live on an insignificant planet of a humdrum star lost in a galaxy tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe in which there are far more galaxies than people.’

Let’s take this opportunity to learn to live a more meaningful, impactful and sustainable life!

Introducing myself

One thing I have learned from being a PYP teacher – I cannot do it alone (or atleast I cannot do my best alone). The learning community I belong to is an invaluable source of learning and support – emotional and academic. We share our successes, our frustrations, our excitement and enthusiasm, our innovative practices – this sharing is what helps uplift all of us as a community. My primary motivation in starting this blog is to extend this spirit of sharing to the wider teaching community. I will give my readers a glimpse into my classroom – hoping to share and to learn….

Only the curious will learn and only the resolute will overcome obstacles to learning. The quest quotient excites me more than the intelligence quotient as true for myself as it is for my students.