Category Archives: RTC
At the end of the week I jetted away to Bali for the Apple Distinguished Educator Institue in Bali. I was pretty stoked when I learned of my selection back in December. Since then I’ve crossed days off my calendar and been doing the happy dance with increased frequency but the realities of the trip didn’t really hit until Thursday afternoon when all of a sudden I was struck by a terrifying thought; ZOMG someone else is teaching my class for a week.
Sure I’ve had the odd day of release here and there for various bits of PD and working on the Teachers & Social Media reference group last year but this is the first time I’ve left my class for an extended period of time. All up the trip encompasses three weeks due to Easter and I will be missing an important school event, the annual Fun Run. So on Thursday I had a sudden attack of the guilts and panic attacks and spent way too long at school dotting all the Is and crossing all the Ts for my absence.
As I wrote up instructions about my class and its personality for the reliever, I wondered if primary teachers by virtue of teaching the same group of kids for the year are susceptible to shouldering the burden of thinking: ‘I am the only one who knows how to teach this class.’ While the result can be an empowering sense of mama bear “RAWR! YES I AM THE TEACHER” it seems like it comes with a heavy tax.
By casting yourself in the role of the superhero teacher you risk burning yourself out. You don’t sick days because it seems like more work to prepare for a reliever than to battle on with the flu. You say no to PD opportunities because you worry that your plans won’t be covered to the T and the kids might be unsettled by your absence. And all of sudden there you are; frazzled, isolated and probably battling a lengthy flu because you didn’t take any time off to recuperate.
So once I sent off my plans I decided to enjoy my week ahead and stop stressing about my absence from school.
Does the reliever teach concepts differently than me? Meh, who cares: as long as the kids get exposure to the concept I’m happy. Did the reliever get the kids to put the markers back in the right place? Eh, as long as the kids know where to find them, then no problem. Did the reliever follow my plans exactly? Bah. As long is the class is happy and learning, it’s all probably fine.
Phew another teaching milestone reached.
Last year I lamented the process of making my first set of Overall Teacher Judgments. I would like to say with a year of experience that I would be a lot more at ease of the process but instead find myself more uncomfortable assessing students as being ‘up to standard.’
The problem is that while National Standards deal in absolutes learning does not. Two different reading tests showing a clear mismatch in data on a number of students while I also had the displeasure of sitting through a learning conference where the National Standards judgements of the previous school didn’t match that data I had in front of me. Does my experience show that teachers and schools judgements are just ‘ropey’ and we need to spend millions of dollars and countless hours on moderation or even worse move to a system of national testing.
Ultimately too many variables that effect students performance on standardized tests. They could have had a bad night’s sleep, a disagreement with a friend and just being in an unfamiliar classroom which might throw kids off their best. Ultimately I found the most effective assessment I conducted over the course of this year was when I sat down and did a GLOSS or PROBE on the students. I could hear them thinking and see them struggle. There was no guess work, and the observation aids how I approach teaching the child far more than having them fill in multichoice bubbles.
Because in the end I’m more interested in where to from here than where the kids are now. However as has pointed out on twitter more and more the levels do matter. Reporting to the Boards and the Ministry demands robust data however in the search for robust data there comes a point the kids’ disappear into numbers.
Yet we know each child is different.
When children learn to walk, we accept that they do so at their own pace and might not crawl before they learn to walk. As adults we can model, guide and encourage but in the end it’s up to an individual child. Some are walking at 9 months while others might take up to 18 months to master this physical skill. We accept this as a difference which has nothing to do with a child’s future yet when it comes to complex mental tasks like reading, writing doing maths, we now demand that our kids progress uniformly.
To counter some of this standardization I’m getting the kids to document their year on video. Twice a term I’m getting the kids to interview each other and the story gained from this will tell a far deeper story than any report. Instead of worrying about tests and where they are the first few weeks were about getting to make friends and worrying about their teacher.
As the term wears on I’ve been moving my class on from culture-building through to getting learning programmes started. Our unit of inquiry for the first half of the year is on globalization
Globalization there’s so many ways the class could go with this concept. At the start of the term I had lots of mad ideas and in the process of trying to get some sort of unit plan together I kept back to this idea of being less helpful.
Was it up to me to tell the kids what roads to go down? Were the roads I was missing?
So I started loosely.
A simple provocation, the overview effect.
What 10 things would you send out into space to represent ‘spaceship earth.’
It’s a question the class will return to at the end of this unit.
As I looked around the class some groups took to the open question with relish, others needed support and a few were floundering. They were waiting for some to tell them what to do and what to think. As a teacher I wanted to make it easier, but I kept back wanting to embrace the mess.
The class will probably spend a few weeks floating above our planet before delving down into different layers.
It wil be hard work both mentally and physically. Perhaps a worksheet or the typical route of finding out about country or designing their own flag might have been easier but not nearly so rewarding both for me but more importantly for my students.
A new year, a new group of kids but still the same goal, getting kids into reading.
Even amongst the Year 8s there were a few kids that needed to get back into the reading.
The kids have started bringing in books to read to themselves and I’ve started reading Whale Rider to the class. Not a typical back to school, however the themes of being true to yourself is something I wanted to instil in my class from the start of the year. In fact when I look at the books I select as class read alouds, The Alchemist, The Wave they are a bit more mature then my students would normally pick. Yet the books are so rich in culture and themes, they are ideas I want the kids to hear.
But what about the kids themselves. One of my students came for a visit last week and I asked her what book she was reading. Without missing a beat she pulled a book out of her bag and told me more about it. This time last year the student was a non-reader. I wish I could say I was the one who gave her the reading bug but it was another of the students who helped turn a non-reader into a reader.
At the start of the year students volunteered to read passages from their favourite books. As it happened one of my Year 7s read a book that peaked the interest of the non-reader and as it turned out the book was part of a series. The older student found her niche and this habit will hopefully stay with her for the rest of her life.
The crazy thing is that I abandoned the read alouds by the kids after the first term because the kids didn’t seem that enthusiastic about either reading to others nor listening to books. The crazy thing was that it wasn’t until the end of the year that I found out what a powerful effect students reading to other students. So this year I am going to persevere. I will provide scaffolds to the students who will need support but the goal is simple, by the end of the term all the students in my class will have read to the class for five minutes.
Reading is often viewed both inside and outside the classroom as an individual activity. A set of strategies to be learned, something you do to pass time on the train. Yet the more I think about it, reading is primarily a social activity. Readers are forever swapping recommendations from others, reading humorous passages out loud.
As I looked out over my class on Thursday afternoon slurping iceblocks and enjoying their books I think we might be well on the way to establishing our class as a community of readers.
On a sunny afternoon this week I ventured out with the rest of the teachers in my school to take part in a cricket skills workshop. I wasn’t particularly enthused by the prospect of spending time learning about cricket. I’m an avid gym goer and for the life of me can’t understand the reason why people would want to spend hours running around after a ball. Nevertheless, PE is an important part of the curriculum so off I trudged in the summer heat to learn more about cricket.
The workshop itself taught us just a few basic skills to get us started but there was something about learning how to throw, bat, catch and run between the wickets that seem to re-energize even the most adverse of ball sport participants. Which was the primary purpose of the workshop. If I’m not enthused about the prospect of ball sports, that attitude is going to show in my teaching. I can still cover the material but there’s no way I can fake passion.
One cricketing skills workshop hasn’t changed my outlook on ball sports nevertheless I did throughly enjoy myself. It wasn’t the game itself, but being outside with teachers learning a new skill, laughing at my own and others follies and getting some exercise that I really enjoyed. Cricket in this case just happened to be the medium but it could easily have been bullrush, flying kites or even catching bubbles.
As I was leaving the field I quietly mused how much we underestimate the importance of play in school. We know that play helps foster creativity, perseverance and team work in both adults in child. Yet is play something we value in schools?
To be sure most schools have play time. But isn’t the very fact that we need schedule time for the kids to play outside the classroom show how we little value play in learning?
Do we play with ideas or concepts or in the rush to make sure we cover all the necessary parts of the curriculum do we miss out time for ‘unproductive’ play?
Does teachers professional learning reflect the importance of play? How often do you play games or hear laughter during your professional learning? How much of your professional learning happens outside?
Because really shouldn’t learning be an excuse to eat an ice block for dinner?
This week has been dominated by assessment. If I haven’t been giving assessments, I have marking assessments and then spending time moderating assessment. What I am not looking forward to is the ranking that students inevitably do to each other once the assessment is returned.
Half way through last year, I got so fed up with the kids ranking each other after every test that I grouped my students by height for the first two weeks of the third term. I was so brazen that I even called the groups giants, tallies, shorties and dwarves. During that time the most amazing thing happened. Kids who often pulled back from class conversations were suddenly talking. Kid who usually dominated pulled back. ‘Ohh I never get anything right’ a tall child who was always in the ‘bottom’ literacy groups muttered incredulously.
I started playing games. I let the shortest child in the class choose a game to play against the giants and vice versa. The students quickly developed a group identity based on their height. They liked the feelings of power that came when their team got to decide on the system which tended to favour their own physical characteristics.
It took a few days for the kids to twig to my system. Some were outraged at the suggestion that I was grouping kids by physical features. After all, kids can’t control their height but they can control their learning through hard work. An excellent point. They also pointed out that some kids might find the work too hard or too easy. Another excellent point. However I asked my class this, why is me grouping kids by height any different from what students do to each other when tests come back?
This provocation led to an interesting discussion about learning. Why it was that knowing someone else scored lower on a test make you feel better? What does it feel like to be at the bottom of the group? What about the top? How come the middle felt left out? Most importantly why we feel the need to rank ourselves at all?
Do levels actually matter?
As my students found out letters and numbers don’t really mean anything at all until there are privileges associated with them. Scoring Stage 6 on NuMPA doesn’t really mean anything (and is certainly gibberish to many educators outside New Zealand) until a Stage 7 comes along and passes judgement on your inferior number. If you are lucky you won’t be the one with the lowest number in the class in which case you get a boost from knowing you’ve done better than someone else.
How often does this academic ranking by students go unchallenged by teachers?
Is this helping students succeed?
My problem isn’t so much with the labels themselves, but when the labels become the defacto feedback. I have deliberately not written the levels, nor have I fixed errors on the students writing samples I am about to return. I want the students to do the heavy lifting on their work before we sit down and talk about what level I think they are and where they need to go next.
In fact as I was sitting in a moderation meeting I silently wondered if the people that needed to learn how to moderate writing are the kids themselves.
What is it about this piece of work that makes it outstanding?
What does the writer of this story need to do go to the next level?
Those questions lead to more interesting outcomes than the more popular refrain heard in classes, ‘is it good?’
On the last days of my summer vacation I had the pleasure to visit @samsherratt class in Bangkok. His class blog (and an older version) is source of inspiration for me so to see the class in action was surreally wonderful.
Among the dozens of ideas I saw during my time in class was the idea of a simple notebook being made into something awesome, a bubble catcher. In short a bubble catcher is a place to record ideas and thoughts. The story of the name behind the book is that a visiting writer had likened ideas to bubbles, they float away easily so we need to write them down before they disappear.
I immediately seized on this idea, after all I use my iphone in the same manner; snapping pictures, making reminders, recording video to capture moments I want to remember later.
But how was I going to get my students enthused?
Intermediate is funny age. They are not kids any more but they are also not adults. In the back of my mind I wondered if the kids might screw their noses up at being asked to do an activity popular with pre-schoolers.
As it turned out, the antidote to sitting a lengthy test was to run around in the summer sun blowing bubbles.
There was no learning intention, no success criteria.
I wanted to sell the kids on an idea, the importance of capturing our ideas.
The students then decorated one of their exercise books and that will become their bubble catcher for the year. Our shared experience, the feelings of joy, the heat of the sun, the coolness of the shade and the sounds of laughter will hopefully stay with the students long after they leave class.
To be sure, this could have been done digitally. However I want to get the students into the simple action of recording quickly recording ideas and then going back to whatever it is they are doing. By the time the kids got out the computers, logged in, waited their turn, the moment would be gone.
In the words of one of my students, the bubble would have popped.
The technology in the classroom, such as it is, just isn’t fit for the purpose.
Over the course of the year I hope that the book gets filled with writing, post its and the odd printed out pictures. It will be messy and apart from a date and some tags I hope every book looks different and, dare I say it, messy.
Because real learning is always messy.
With the start of the year winding down I thought I would share with you some icebreaker activities I’ve done with my class to help build a sense of team this year.
Like bingo but instead alongside content questions e.g knows their 8 times tables backwards you can add in things like ‘went to the beach in summer holidays.
The human knot
I find having a length of ribbon stops the ‘eww I don’t want hold this person’s hand.’ Students stand in a circle shoulder to shoulder. Have them put their right hand into the middle holding a ribbon. The kids then find another person’s ribbon across the circle to hold on to. You need to make sure that the kids are holding the hands of different people. Then the kids have to make a circle without releasing the ribbons. This activity works best with about 10-12 maximum and I start with small size groups to get the kids used to it. You could add challenges like no talking or having some of the group blind
The goal of this activity is to get the students to work together to try and fit into a set number of hula hoops. Start out with a large number of hula hoops and then gradually bring down the number. The class will eventually find they need to life some people up to get down to four or even three hula hoops. A great team building and spatial awareness challenge.
This can be an inter-class team. Class gets two gym mats and have to work their way from one end of the gym to other without any team members touching the ground. If someone puts a body part on the mat, then they must go back to the start. Winning team is the first to get their people to safety.
My students loved this challenge. Each team gets 6-8 skewers (or spaghetti pieces) and four marshmallows. They are then challenged with making the tallest structure possible in teams of 2-3. Hard part: kids wanting to eat marshmallows.
My class went digital with this. Each child is charged with interviewing another student about their first few days at school. We’ll take some photos of our visual mihis and ‘bury’ the time capsule until the last day of school.
What activities did you do with your class to build a sense of team?
One of my co-workers last year remarked that the second year of teaching is so much easier than the first. Not only do you have a new workplace, but also learning the ins and outs of teaching without having a supervising teacher in the room. There’s nothing more isolating than those few weeks in your classroom when you suddenly realise it’s just you and your students.
This year I know where everything is, I’m back in the same classroom and half of the students in my class are joining me again for 2013. The goodie buckets and video went down well and I think I’ll keep those traditions in mind for next year with my students.
Random thoughts for the week.
Why do teachers not stay with classes for multiple years? Even for the ‘older’ kids consistency is a good thing. I feel that the class will be able to get down to learning a lot quicker as half the kids in the class know how things run and more importantly I know half the kids really well and they know me. Yes that means I can’t recycle resources from last year, but really should teachers be teaching the same thing year after year?
Why do teachers start each year with a huge batch of new students? The highlight of my week was watching my year 8s go off and teach the new students in the class how to comment on the blog. It’s a lot easier doing ICT related stuff when half the class know how to do things like sign into google accounts and comment on a blog vastly increasing the number of trouble shooters in the class.
Daily 5 rocks the house. Even on the first day of school my students were asking when we were going to restart the Daily 5. For me that makes this classroom management system a winner, the kids are asking about it.
The answer being soon.
Lets get to know each other better first…
This year I’ve resolved to share more of my practice online. I’m not sure how interesting it will be once the term really begins, but for now this school year is new and sparkly. I have lots of energy and want to share (as opposed to last year which just seemed to pass in blur of haziness).
I teach a combined Year 7/8 class with my Year 8s remaining with me for two years. This has both its advantages and disadvantages. I already know half my kids and there was a culture established in the class. However for incoming Year 7s it must be tricky coming into a room where half the kids know each other and whats what. The video is an attempt to bridge the gap letting the Year 7s know what they might expect from 2013 and giving the Year 8s a reminder of some of the crazy stuff we got up to last year.
I followed @kathryntrask example last year and used buckets as a place for students to store their gear in the absence of individual desks.
To get the kids a bit more psyched about the buckets, each bucket has some small gifts inside them:
An eraser, because all of us are going to start the year with a clean slate. A blue piece of card for the students to make a postcard to mail home in a few weeks with their goals for the year. A yellow piece of paper to name their bucket (I’ll laminate those). There’s also a pencil to represent that we are each scholars and piece of vietnamese candy to signify our school theme for the first of the half of the year, globalisation. Finally there’s a lollypop which has extra special significance.
Late last year I stumbled onto this awesome TED Talk by a guy called Drew Dudley, who argued that true leadership was in the little every day things that we do to make each others lives better which he called lollypop moments. Now my Year 8s have already seen the talk but something really resonated with me about this idea and I’m going to use this idea as something to build on in the next few weeks as I build up my class’s culture.
New Year, New furniture.
One of the big things to happen in my class is that we have new furniture. My class really was in need of some new furniture as the top was coming off one of the old tables, and some of them had bits falling off them.
Now the classroom has wave tables that can be easily reconfigured, a low level table, plus stools, the hokki stools (wobbly stools) thanks to my awesome principal.
To top things off my last year’s tutor teacher left my students her old couch which I know is something the kids will love.
On one hand it’s awesome having new desks and chairs but on the other, I was has having trouble working out how this furniture would fit around the room. Yes a few tables got moved next door as the kids in my class will often work on the ground and too much furniture tends to stop this from happening.
You might notice that a lot of my desks and tables are pushed against walls rather than in the middle of the class. Again this is deliberate, to improve the flow of the class. Having lots of furniture tends to impede movement both of kids and furniture as it become a big deal to push a table out if there are three in the way.
I also don’t have enough chairs and table for every child to sit down at once. Again, this is deliberate. By not having enough kids need to learn how to share. It also means that students who want to work on the couch or the sofa can do this.
There’s also beanbag and plenty of cushions (which my students often plonk on top of). I’ve line up furniture against the board to take the focus away from the front of the classroom. I haven’t quite managed Stephen Heppell’s rule of three points of interest (not to mention there are not three teachers in the class, but nevertheless there should be multiple points of interest for people to see if they happen to wander into the classroom.
You might have noticed that I don’t have much on the walls. This is deliberate. I know a lot of teachers like to have bright borders and pretty fonts and yes it is nice to have an aesthetically pleasing classroom. However I’m of the belief that the walls should be places for learning and if you are going to put up things, then it needs to have a purpose other than looking pretty. Over the coming weeks I’m sure that there will be questions and problem posing plastered all over the walls. I also know the kids will start putting up artwork that makes the standard, in fact maintaining our walls with colour and interest will I’m sure be part of my class’s morning chore.
At the moment I’m not entirely happy with my set up. It feels a lot more like a classroom at the moment rather than the library vibe I had previously. Nevertheless, there’s a good chance things will change a lot in the coming weeks and months. And truth be told, I really miss our igloo.
This year promises to be an exciting one. I hope to document it a lot better than I did my first.
Tomorrow my learners arrive and instead of freaking out like I did every term last year, I feel oddly calm.