An Interview with Aviva Dunsiger

Cross posted from doug — off the record

Aviva Dunsiger is one of the people who I “knew” online for a long time before I actually met her!  Our first physical meeting was at the ECOO Conference last year.  Aviva has been a strong voice in technology in the Ontario classroom.  She’s never been hesitant about exploring and trying new things as long as it had direct benefits for her students.  I had the wonderful opportunity to interview her for the blog.

Welcome, Aviva.  Thanks for taking the time for this interview.  I think many of my blog readers are very familiar with your online digital presence and will read with interest.  Hopefully, they’ll gain some insights about what makes you and your classrooms tick.

Aviva: Thanks for this incredible opportunity Doug!

Doug:  First – you made the Twitter change from @Grade1 to @AvivaLoca.  Can you tell us why you made the name change and how you finally decided on @AvivaLoca?

Aviva: I joined Twitter when I moved from teaching Senior Kindergarten to teaching Grade 1, and even when I became a Grade ½ teacher, I decided to stick with @grade1 because I thought that it encapsulated me as a “primary teacher.” This year though, I made the move to Grade 6, and I knew that my name needed to change. I didn’t want to pick a name that just associated me with a particular grade, as I’ve learned that grades can change. I was really vacillating of a name though, so I decided to harness the power of social media and run a poll on my blog. I provided some name choices, but @avivaloca was actually suggested in addition to the ones I provided. I LOVED it! The name makes me giggle each time I read it, and I love to laugh. I wasn’t really set on it though until one educator said that the Grade 6’s would probably love it most of all. I always say that I do everything for students first, so it was when this teacher said this, that I knew @avivaloca would be my new Twitter handle. I felt like the Grade 6’s had a “voice” in this decision too!

Doug:  This year has been a big change for you.  You’re now in a Grade 6 classroom after years teaching Grade 1.  Why the big switch?

Aviva: I think change is good, and I was definitely at a point in my career where I wanted a change. My administrators are incredibly supportive and were willing to give me this new teaching opportunity, and I would actually get to teach many of my first group of JK students from this school. I knew that I needed to take this opportunity while I had it!

I love working in education, and I look forward to a very long career in it! I don’t know what the future holds in terms of new opportunities though, and this junior experience is a good one. I’m very glad I made the big switch!

Doug:  How’s it going?

Aviva: It’s going amazingly well! I love working with the older students. I have such a bright, engaging, fantastic group of Grade 6 students that constantly push my thinking every day. I know that I’m a better teacher because of this change, and even more so, because of them!

Doug:  In your blog, you have always been very transparent and shared a great deal of your teaching experiences.  One of the ideas you’ve shared recently is that you’re using Royan Lee’s concept of a Thinking Book.  What made you decide to use that?  Are you having success with it?

Aviva: I loved Royan’s Thinking Book concept! I use lots of technology in the classroom, and students often publish their work online. I like to bridge the gap between paper and pencil and the computer, and I thought that the Thinking Book would do this. Students are now brainstorming their ideas on paper regardless of the tool that they use to publish their work. The Thinking Book is also allowing them to see the benefit in pre-planning and thinking in all subject matters. Students really enjoy having this consistent tool to share their ideas, and they’re using their Thinking Books both when guided to do so, and through independent choice. I’m thrilled with the results!

Doug:  Moving from Grade 1 to Grade 6 will also mean moving to a different classroom.  What do you find are the biggest differences between last year and this?

Aviva: I think it’s the marking. It never stops! :) Last year, I had a lot more prep work to do, but my marking was less, or at least it didn’t take as long. This year, it’s reversed. That’s okay though: each grade comes with its own unique bonuses and challenges.

Doug:  In Grade 1, you took many opportunities to merge social media into your teaching.  I’m thinking in particular your experiences with quad-blogging and Twitter.  Are you able to do the same things this year?

Aviva: Yes, absolutely!! In some ways, even more so. Many students bring their own devices that they use in the classroom, which just makes access to these tools even easier. The students will be getting their own blogs next week, they’re already using Twitter to share and connect with others, and they’re using our class blog as well. We also start the Global Read Aloud next week (thanks Pernille Ripp (@pernilleripp)), so the students will be using Edmodo as well.

Doug:  What’s the difference between the use and supervision of students using the internet in primary versus junior grades?

Aviva: Students are much more comfortable with the Internet in these older grades, and they know how to use it well. That being said, their ease of use makes supervision even more key. There’s also a big need for “education.” Students realize that many of these tools are public ones, but they need some instruction on what public means. They’re very open to instruction though, and what they can do online is truly incredible!

Doug:  How about other software packages?  What would you say have been the really useful software packages that you’ve brought into your class so far?

Aviva: I really haven’t used much software in the classroom. I’d be open for suggestions though. Many of my computers in the classroom make downloading difficult, so I rely on “cloud computing.”

Doug:  What are you planning for the future?

Aviva: This is a hard question. I definitely plan on being in education. I LOVE teaching right now, and I may continue teaching for the rest of my career. I also love working with other teachers and administrators though, especially in the area of technology in education. I would definitely consider a consultant-type position in the future, if the opportunity presented itself. Being able to blend working with students and working with educators would be ideal!

Doug:  There must be a whole new set of planning and preparation needed in your new world.  We always talk about networks to learn from.  What sort of networking have you used to kick start your Grade 6 experience?

Aviva: I’ve used a number this year. I have a fantastic teaching partner, who I worked with before in Grade 1. She’s been a Literacy Teacher for our Board though, and has lots of junior experience. We have planned a lot together. I’ve also worked with some amazing Grade 5 and 6 teachers from a neighbouring school. We’ve been able to plan together and share ideas. This has been very beneficial. Finally, I’ve had tons of support from my awesome PLN on Twitter! I follow tons of junior teachers, who have been very willing to share ideas and offer support. I can’t thank them enough!

Doug:  Grade 6 is a testing year for EQAO.  That’s not something that you’ve had to plan for in Grade 1!  Do you find preparing for EQAO impacting your lesson planning?  Where are you turning for support?

Aviva: EQAO has definitely been something I’ve been thinking about since September. I’ve certainly looked at all of the previous tests online, and have used what I’ve learned from this exploration in my planning and teaching. Each Monday, my teaching partner and I do an #mcmondays Twitter chat (we even trended two weeks ago) where we tweet out old EQAO multiple choice questions, and students work in partners to tweet the answers. They discuss the different possibilities, and really have a chance to break down the questions. My teaching partner and I also use old EQAO reading passages for reading comprehension activities. This gets the students used to the format that they’re going to see on EQAO. As we told the students, we’re trying to demystify it, so that EQAO is just another thing to do in class. Weekly, we also send home open response questions for writing questions, and we use similar questions in class. We show the students how to approach these questions, and give them a chance to practice the skill. A fellow Grade 6 teacher in our Board gave us a great format for how to answer these open response questions (thanks @michellefawcett), and we taught the students this approach to help them. Between Twitter and real life interactions, there’s always lots of teachers around willing to share ideas and offer help! Yes, EQAO is a definite presence in the classroom, but learning in our Grade 6 classes is about way more than this too!

Doug:  I can imagine that this has been a pretty intense start to the school year.  Are you up for another year of Grade 6?

Aviva: I definitely am! It has been a busy start, but doing something again is always wonderful. It gives you a chance to reflect on what you did before, make changes, and try again. I’m always up for trying again!

Doug:  Finally, you’re part of the Minds on Media event for this year’s ECOO (Educational Computing Organization of Ontario) Conference.  Can you tell us what your centre will be about?  If I dropped in, what would I expect to learn?

Aviva: Strangely enough, my centre will be about documenting student learning in the K-3 classroom. These ideas could definitely be applied to junior classrooms as well though. I’m looking at how teachers can use technology to document student achievement. We’ll be looking at various online tools teachers can use with all students (e.g., blogs, Evernote, the Livescribe Pen, etc.), and how the teachers can use them for documentation as well as how they can empower the students to use them to document their own learning. I’m so excited for this amazing opportunity!

Doug:  Thank you so much, Aviva.  I’m sure that all the blog readers wish you a successful year.  Personally, I’m looking forward to catching up in Richmond Hill at the conference.

Aviva: Thanks Doug! I look forward to catching up with you too.

You can follow Aviva’s adventures on her new blog:  http://adunsiger.com/
If you’d like to read about her learning as a Grade 1 teacher, she previously blogged at:  http://avivadunsiger.blogspot.com/

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