Category Archives: RTC
Next year sees a change for me.
I’m off to teach at an international school in Singapore.
Nevertheless I found myself feeling restless.
Put simply I can hear planes.
Derp Stephanie, you say, your home and school are below a flight path of course you can hear planes.
As a wanderer I know it’s time to leave a place when I can hear planes. It’s a sign that life has become too familiar and too easy. The planes have been loud this year and despite a few trips, my wanderlust has returned with a vengeance and I found myself desperate to move overseas again.
I’m looking forward to joining a PYP school and teaching a different year group.
Of course change comes with a cost.
I will miss my awesome students and their families.
My fantabulous co-workers and also the amazing teachers I’ve had the pleasure of learning with from up and down the country these last 3 years. Despite the bad press this week I can name hundreds of amazing teachers out there doing amazing things in their classrooms every day. What’s even more fantastic is how generous you all are with your knowledge.
One of the delights of being online is that distance is becoming increasingly irrelevant. Though if I do make it to any New Zealand-based educamps in the next few years I am totally calling dibs on the chocolate fish!
A few weeks ago there were old tape decks were about to be thrown out.
So I left them on a bench and in my classroom. Sure enough the students spotted them.
They started pushing buttons.
This was old technology to them.
Curiosity is the most important ingredient in learning but is also the one quickly forgotten when teachers plan units.
We rush to check boxes and create work for the students to do.
How much time do you leave your students to play?
To make silly noises?
By leaving some trash about the classroom my students could play with the past.
My twitter feed has been quiet of late and there is one simple reason for it.
At best most teachers tolerate writing reports as a bureaucratic necessity and at worst they see it at a medieval torture device due to rigid formatting requirements and the lack of sleep that go hand in hand with report writing season.
If I spend an hour analysing data, thinking, writing, drafting and proofreading for each child adds up to 30 hours on top of normal teaching duties as well as the multitude of other tasks bureaucratic that pop up at the end of the school year. If you happen to teach students who are at an age where they transitioning to another part of the education system, there will be reports to fill out to add to the paperwork.
Aside from the legally mandated statements about a child’s progress against National Standards, my school has been experimenting with reporting to parents. This experimentation has left us with a lot of wriggle room to try out Instead of ticking boxes my syndicate has put a greater emphasis on qualitative feedback. Sure this has has been more time consuming for me as a teacher however the process has been less painful because I have more ownership in the product.
Alongside my comments the students have written their own comments about the year on a google form, selected a picture from the class flickr account and next week will film the final part of their video time capsules which will be included as a QR code on the paper report. Sure it’s a mishmash of old and new technology and the report is not standardised to the whole school.
We don’t all learn the same and we don’t teach the same.
So why should school reports the same?
I’m sure that there are a lot of educators that view reports as a relic of bygone era where communication between parents and teachers was largely limited to official bits of paper going home at mandated times of the years. These days I will phone, email and text parents about concerns and also victories in class.
Nevertheless the end of the year marks a milestone. Reporting for me is part of the process of taking leave of the time I spent with my students. I found it rewarding thinking about how my students have grown in this last year. This is particularly the case for my Year 8s who I have taught for two years.
Like many things in life reporting is what you make of it.
Our jobs as educators is try to find the awesomeness in every kid and nurture it.
Reports are time to see how we’ve both done in progressing towards that goal.
Just the word is enough to send shivers down the backs of some students and their teachers too.
The primary school speech format has changed so little from the time I went to school. Most schools have each child get up in front of their class for 3-4 minutes. The best speakers then are selected to stand in front of the school.
There are boxes to be checked. Has the student used repetition, rhetorical questions, quotes and statistics? Check, cross, check, check. There are strict rules about time. Don’t look down. Hand gestures and the odd dramatic pause thrown in for good measure. No images because that isn’t a speech, that’s a presentation.
The end results can be sometimes be decidedly underwhelming. Speeches that tick all those nice boxes on the rubric but say nothing at all.
What makes a good speech?
Instead of having of going the usual route of having students sit through Martin Luther King Jr talking about having a dream, Kennedy going to the moon and Churchill fighting on the beaches then analyse each one for rhetorical devices I was determined to do something different.
Don’t get me wrong as a student of political studies I have an appreciation of oratory and these speeches are quite rightly iconic. However these men were leaders of nations and movements over 50 years ago their lives and thier language is far removed from the pubescent students sitting in Wellington today.
So we listened to Richard Turere talk about scaring away lions, Thomas Suarez wax lyrical about app development, Adora Svitak persuade a group of adults that they could learn from kids. If you haven’t heard of these names before there is a reason for this. These speakers are not much older than my students.
Instead of looking at the rubric I simply asked my students a question.
What made these speeches good?
My students decided that speeches were good because the speaker was sharing a passion, an interest or telling a story. As a teacher the most memorable speeches were the ones when students shared something about themselves that we might not hear.
I then challenged the class. They had 3-4 minutes to share something with the class and they needed to make those moments count. Everyone had a story to share and it was their job to find their one.
Over the next few weeks I spent more time coaching kids then explicit teaching. Alongside offering advice about language features, and giving feed back about structure I often scratched my head wondering why a student had chosen topics they didn’t seem interested in or passionate about.
Despite being officially not the done thing I let students use as many images as they saw fit to help communicate their ideas and some tried out an ignite format.
This year I was amazed to see a number of my kids that don’t necessarily shine when in standardised testing coming out of their shell to boldly declare ‘this is who I am.’ We learned about being the new kid in school, fears, learning disabilities, personal heroes, hobbies, family culture and immigrating to New Zealand.
One child talked about losing a parent.
The speech itself might not have ticked all those nice boxes on the rubric. There weren’t the dramatic pauses or hand gestures. In fact the student could not finish the speech so I read from the cue cards beside them. By the end of the speech, half the class, including myself, were in tears.
This was a speech that everyone in the classroom that afternoon will remember.
My students might not have been good enough to make the finals but there were so many kids who bought their best selves to speeches this year.
And that’s what any teacher should be aiming for.
Last week I passed a significant milestone in my teaching career, I became a fully registered teacher. In New Zealand Newly Qualified Teachers go through a two year-induction and mentoring process. At the start of the process I decided that I wasn’t going to keep a PRT folder in the traditional sense.
Out went the dull meeting minutes and dry forms, in came blog posts, twitter chats, youtube and flickr. I’ve wandered through classrooms in different cities and countries and had some incredible experiences with my learners along the way.
None of this would be possible without the amazing support of the online teaching community only a fraction of whom I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting offline. I started to write a post wanting to thank you all but quickly realised that it would be inevitable that I would forget someone important. So instead if at some point you’ve dropped me a blog comment, responded to one of my tweets, had a chat at a conference, put me up for the night, then you are part of the awesome tribe of virtual mentor teachers.
At the start of this process my goals were to share, learn, show an alternative and inform.
1. To share – I haven’t shared as much as I had hoped to at the start of this process because I simply didn’t have the energy. I often have posts rolling around in my head but getting them into some sort of coherent and publishable form at the end of a long day of teaching is difficult. Nevertheless there are some posts I’m proud of and I’ve enjoyed documenting this journey. The bonus is of all this sharing has been tapping into expertise of some amazing educators.
2. To learn – To say the last two years have been a steep learning curve would be an understatement. When I look around the classroom, the space is markedly different both from a physical and pedagogical from the start of last year despite half the students being the same kids. This change has been result of reading about other more awesome teachers ideas and repurposing them for my context. The biggest learning moment for me has been the realisation that the induction process for new teachers is too important to be left to one person. I’ve had two incredible mentor teachers to learn from but having a world of educators expertise to tap into has made me smarter. I’m a proud member of the ‘mentor whore’ club.
3. To provide an ‘adjacent possible‘ Over the last two years the online community of teachers has grown considerably and it’s been fantastic to see more PRTs active on twitter. Hopefully others might start thinking that traditional PRT folder has long had its day and it’s time to start something more awesome.
4. To inform. I said at the start I wanted to show that teachers aren’t finished products immediate post graduation. 2 school years on, I feel like even less of finished product. Teachers need to be learning and growing because our kids and communities are ever changing.
Have there been any downsides?
Aside from the cringe that comes when someone says ‘hey aren’t you traintheteacher’ the only downside is the pressure to keep up with everyone else. It can be easy in a world of awesome teachers doing amazing things to think what you are doing sucks in comparison. There are frequent offers to join collaborative projects or new initiatives and sometimes there just aren’t enough hours in the day to say yes to everything.
I’m often asked if I’m worried about breaching privacy of my students and colleagues by reflecting on public platform. If by keeping 99 percent of what I do at school off limits in terms of what I write online, then yes, I am totally invading other people’s privacy. Learning how, what and who to share with are important skills not just for our students but for teachers as well.
So thanks again to the dozens of mentor teachers out there helping make my classroom more awesome!
Over the last week I’ve been conferencing with the students over their term 4 writing assessment. With the results still in moderation, I wasn’t all that keen to share the level with my students. Nevertheless, I was keen to give the kids some formative feedback of areas that went all and areas to work on.
For the most part the conversations went well. Most of my students were able to identify an area of strength as well as an area to work on. There has been some fantastic improvements from some of my students and what was more fantastic is that the kids themselves could talk about what has been going well for them.
This positivity all came to a grinding halt as I conferenced with one student who seemed distracted and agitated during the conference.
Eventually I asked if there was a problem.
“When are you going to tell me what I got?” was the reply.
I was disheartened but instead of going on a long rant, I asked the student how getting the numbers would help improve the quality of their writing.
And then it started, the academic pecking order. If I’ve done better than my friend, then I know I’ve done well. I’ve spent a lot of time in class talking with my students about why feedback is important, why test scores aren’t a measure of who they are, just a snapshot in time.
However that urge to compare, to make yourself feel better, often at the expense of others, is so ingrained.
I doubt my feedback made much of difference that day.
Twice a year my school requires that I send a survey out to my students. On one level it’s fantastic to get feedback from your learners about what is going well in class and what needs tweaking but on the other there’s the ZOMG my students are grading me feeling. Was I too grumpy yesterday when student A hadn’t finished work? Could I have done a better job of talking to Student B about their improper PE uniform?
The survey is done via google forms and the results then get shared with my principal. There’s a few must dos but there is also an opportunity to add other questions. Most of the questions are agree/disagree questions like ‘my teacher treats students and their ideas with respect.
I tend to prefer qualitative feedback that quantitative. I asked my kids what their wins for the year are and something they want to improve before the end of the year. It was rewarding to see kids valuing learning activities and opportunities through the year.
However there are areas to work on. A number of my students have talked about wanting more challenging work so I will work with them to look for projects that they can sink their teeth into for the rest of the year.
Another thing want to get better at before the end of the year is maths. I’ll freely admit that maths is a subject that I struggle to get excited about the way I do about other areas of the curriculum. Perhaps I’ve watched too much Conrad Wolfram. Nevertheless, it’s my job to get excited about teaching maths and then get the kids enthused about maths.
The end of the school year comes with rituals.
Prize-giving, leavers dinners, writing reports and end of year tests.
Even though I know that standardised tests aren’t completely accurate at measuring students learning growth, there’s something reassuring – dare I say gratifying – in seeing those numbers going up. It backs up your judgements and observations of kids learning. It’s a pat on the back that says hey yes your programmes are working or perhaps you need to tweak this area. Most of my students had some good gains this year in reading. Nevertheless, I found myself beating myself over a few results that hadn’t gone as well as I expected.
And there was one particular whose result I was eager to see.
Over the last few months I’ve been working with an RLit (A resource teacher of literacy) to help a student improve in literacy. On paper it should be easy, the child is diligent, has a highly supportive family and gets 20 minutes 1 on 1 with me a day. I’ve been doing running records with this child on a regular basis and seen improvements in inference, decoding and finding information.
But there had been no movement at all.
To say I was disheartened would be an understatement.
All that effort by both the student and myself had not a single bit of movement.
Fortunately I had appointment with the RLit that afternoon to talk me down off the ledge so to speak.
My Rlit reminded me that often it takes a while for the intensive work to show up in standardised tests like asstles and PAT. Moreover when faced with stressful testing situations low-achieving students will often resort into old habits of using background knowledge to answer questions rather than comprehension strategies they have been taught. I was also reminded that are so many variables that kids take in with them to tests. They might not have slept well that night, had a fight with their friend, are hungry or, dare I say it, are just sick of taking tests.
As the RLit and I went through a couple of the test questions to look for instructional points, we laughed that if it took us, two highly educated adults, a good couple of minutes to skim and scan for the correct information how hard it must be for kids who have trouble with reading.
However bad I felt about the result I know how much worse it is for students. Putting in effort and not seeing numbers go is hard enough. Living through the inevitable post-test comparison that happens as results come in are so much harder.
I left my RLit with an action plan. Areas to work on with the kid including some test-taking strategies and some re-affirming that there had been progress on other measures.
And it is those other measures that we often lose track of that make a real difference.
More than anything I want my student to leave my class with a love of reading. Even for high-achieving students it seems like a huge waste if kids leave school with a hatred of reading. For some kids in my class just reading a book from cover to cover for the first time ever might be their big achievement. Striking a balance between that short term gain that show up on test scores and the more long-term end goal of developing happy well-adjusted adults.
Our educational system loves to deal in absolutes.
Right or wrong.
Above standard or below.
As I watched a video of my 2 year old nephew on Facebook this weekend I was reminded that progress isn’t always linear and easily measurable. He started taking his first few steps this time last year and is pretty confident but he still falls over on his butt every now and again.
At what point do I say with certainty he can or can’t walk?
Does a test score determine our fate?
It’s been almost a month between posts.
Over the last few weeks of term school production gradually took over my life. By the end of term I could barely think much less write something resembling a coherent blog post.
This is not to say that production was all bad. I enjoyed teaching dance, finally got my head around final cut pro and created some awesome effects for the show. The kids relished the chance to perform and I had that proud teacher moment of seeing my students up on stage being awesome.
However being the resident AV geek has its drawbacks. Putting together music, movies and images for 110 minute show while also trying to teach full-time was not a good combination. Instead of feeling exuberant, as I normally do at the end of a creative project, I wanted to curl up in bed for a week.
And that’s pretty much what I did during school holidays.
For the first time in two years I haven’t travelled away from Wellington for a conference. It would be an understatement to say I’ve had a pretty good run of PD this year. On one level I was glad for the break, but on the other, the frenzy of tweets from ulearn made me a little envious of all the marvellous connections and MAGIC that comes from being in the same room with your virtual staffroom.
So I find this a very slow start into the final term of 2013. I’m hoping this post will re-ignite blogging as I’ve got a number of posts running around in my head.
This term I’m looking forward to
Makey Makey magic (hopefully with other classes)
Organising Market Day
Walking with my students to squash
Finishing up a special year-long project
I’m not looking forward to
Saying goodbye to my Year 8s and their families. I’ve taught these students for 2 years and have witnessed some amazing growth in these kids. While I appreciate it’s time for the students to move on the urge to blubber will be there at that final assembly.
I’ve become a huge quadblogging fan.
For those not in the know quadblogging is when a group of four classes take turns to read and comment on individual blogs. The quad can be international or national.
After a few false starts, the quad I’ve been involved in this year has been nothing short of awesome. I feel bad that the class hasn’t been able to give as much attention as I would like owing to production practices, swimming and learning conferences playing havoc with the classroom schedule.
A few weeks ago a challenge went out. The students of one of the quads wanted to map our classroom in minecraft.
To say my students are obsessed with minecraft would be an understatement. There’s something about building virtual worlds which is almost as addictive as refined sugar to my learners.
One of my students took over the project and spent the next few weeks measuring up a storm. I wasn’t allowed to touch my whiteboard as measurements went up and were then put into written form. The initial write up conveyed an insane amount of detail and involved discussions about the Pythagorus theorem.
The excitement of seeing the build grew but there was one small problem – the set up of my classroom is very different to a typical classroom. My students don’t really notice the difference as that’s our normal. We are only reminded that our classroom isn’t typical when the odd student from outside of our syndicate walks in and goes ‘woah it looks different in here.’ As a result our quadblogging buddies were having trouble getting their heads around our classroom layout.
The initial result was wrong.
And from that wrong I ventured into the promised land as far literacy goes: boys talking to each other about their writing. Not just the surface ‘I think you did a good job’ or ‘how do you spell this word’ but those in-depth conversations, the ‘if you write this, the reader might think that’ talks which really develop kids as writers.
My students had a go at giving the blogging buddies feedback. Helping their peers put things right turned out to be a fantastic way for the kids to really stretch their explaining skills. As I sat working with a child on their reading, I found myself distracted wanting to the capture the learning conversation happening just a few meters a way.
One of my students suggested a fix was for our blogging buddies to make an initial build and then our class could rebuild. While I was impressed by the lateral thinking a quick reminder about the ‘task with the task’ writing and measuring had the kids back thinking.
As always there was extra learning for me.
How could we have explained our set up a bit better?
When did we need to get our rulers and when was time to make sure our explanations used words to helped create an accurate picture in the readers mind?
I’ve been hugely impressed how this connection has lead to so much unintended and unscripted learning. It’s pushed me to think more about how we can redefine our learning tasks.