Category Archives: RTC 2 – Well-being
Over the last three weeks my class has been participating in learn to swim lessons put on by our local swimming pool.
As with many things like this. It is easy to gripe about disruptions to the classroom programmes in the middle of a busy term. However after the first session realised these three weeks of learning to swim is the classroom programme.
Overseas readers might not appreciate how much of an influence the water has on New Zealand life. We are an island nation and most of the population lives on the coast. Our summers are spent floating in pools, rivers and oceans.
Despite being surrounded by water, New Zealanders as a group don’t know how to swim. Our drowning rates are one of the worst in the developed world and twice that of Australia.
At the start of our lessons I was concerned by the significant number of students in the class could not swim a lap of the 25 meter pool. Over the last few weeks there has been some amazing progress made by the kids.
As the lessons progressed, what I found myself really looking forward to was the walk to the pools. The walk down is just under 10 minutes. After the swim lessons we often walk to the adjacent park for a run around as the lesson time often cut into morning teas and lunches.
Those walks were a time often to have a catch up with students. The kids that might not talk so much in class, the ones whose behaviour might challenge you. The walk gave time to reconnect with learners. Our routine got a shake up and there was time to have those chats.
Time is arguably the most precious commodity in schools. Demands of curriculum must-dos, special events, those activities that foster relationships often get quickly get pushed aside as the school year gets gets in the way.
Yet kids change so much in just a few short months.
By taking a walk, time and space was recreated to reconnect with the learners in the class.
I had goofy discussions.
I learned about Pou.
I answered some tough questions about life and death.
All in the quick walk to the pool.
During the summer holidays I had the pleasure of visiting the amazing learning space of @sherratsam and his colleague Chad.
If you ever get the chance to visit either of these educators, please do. However for those whose PD budget doesn’t quite stretch to a visit to international classroom visits, you can visit their blog Time Space education.
For me this day gave me a chance to see theories and hunches about student learning in action. Their classrooms were calm, purposeful and creative hives of learning.
One idea that really intrigued me was the use of yoga and meditation in class.
I’m a regular at my body balance class at my local gym and enjoy the calm and contented feeling I have at the end of class.
Yet as an adult I often struggle with the meditation session at the end of class. Sometimes I am able to relax entirely but I often have trouble clearing my mind. There’s just too much buzzing around in my head.
If I was having trouble how would my highly active class respond to meditation?
Was it going to end in giggles, eyeball rolling and pre-teen goofiness?
To be honest I was highly sceptical that meditation would easily translate from the worldly and sophisticated kids in an international school to a public classroom in suburban Wellington.
But I have been proved wrong.
For the most part my class has responded really well to purposeful downtime and have been requesting it before I even get a chance to unlock the door from lunch.
Our curtains are drawn and I put on some relaxing music. At the moment the students are learning to focus on their breathing and posture.
What was really surprising for me was that the children whose home lives are complex and sometimes chaotic have responded so positively to this idea of purposeful downtime. On further reflection, this makes a lot of sense for some kids school represents a safe, calm and caring space.
For this reason alone I will persevere with meditation once the novelty wears off.
As teachers we expect concentration in our classrooms but assume kids have the tools to focus.
We want our classrooms to be calm but school schedules sometimes run at break-neck speed.
We want our kids to be mindful of the effect of their actions on others. Yet time out for reflection often comes after the negative behaviour occurs.
What if in sacrificing 5-10 minutes of class time to calming students bodies and minds we gain more engagement?
Is that 10 minutes really a waste of time?
Not all kids like hearing the last bell of the day.
Not all kids have food in the pantry when they go home from school.
Not all kids are safe in their homes.
Not all kids know where they will sleep that night.
We don’t like to talk about the lives of kids who come from the other “New Zealand.”
I teach in what is considered, by government measurements, to be a wealthy area. However there are kids in my class I worry about when I send them home at the end of the day. They are the ones I give a few dollars to for a sausage at sausage sizzle and the ones who often arrive very early at school and hang around the ground after the bell goes.
One child, who arrived in my class this year, already viewed school as a negative place, somewhere to run away from at 11 years old.
Violence at home and meant that normal school confrontations over who gets to go first in PE or who gets sits where on the bench at lunch were solved with fists, not talking.
It’s been a term but slowly we’ve been making progress.
I’m lucky that my older boys, although boisterous, aren’t violent at all. In fact those boys were on a secret mission to teach the student to not immediately to lash out confrontations. I’m also very lucky that I have another student in class who has a shared obsession with engines and has access to tools and a small piece of machinery.
This Friday as part of passion project hour this student had the time of his life taking apart a weed blower engine out the back of my classroom. The goal of this endeavour being to put it back together again once they are done and hopefully write an iBook on how engines work. Yes I want this student to do well academically but the broader goal is to keep this student engaged and, dare I say it, enjoying school before we can work on all that over stuff.
But I can’t help but worry next week is the final week of school.
And not all kids look forward to the holidays.
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 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.
When I first became a stepparent one of my friends remarked that once you become responsible for a child, the days are very long but the years are short.
I was reminded of that comment as I was grabbing my belongings in my empty classroom and realised that although there were some very long days, this year has been incredibly short.
If the first session of the first day was the longest hour of my life, the lead up to the final day of the school year just seemed to pass in a blur.
Like my many of my students I couldn’t wait for school holidays to start. I counted the weeks, marked off the days on my calendar, and went down my list of things to get finished in the final hours. But now that the end of the school year has gone I’m winging my way to
Bangkok Burma I feel sad that I didn’t take more time to be in the moment with my first group of students.
As we watched some of the crazy videos we made this year, I looked out and felt very fortunate to have taught such a great group of kids in my first class. We’ve had our shares of ups and downs, messy projects that never seemed to run to schedule and yes there have been times of frustration we’ve I’ve wondered if I am actually making a difference. Sometimes in those long days progress can be hard to measure. But as one year ends another is just on the horizon and I’ve learned that empty classrooms are bookends, it’s what you do in between that counts.
Over the last week or so I’ve been gathering together all the photos and videos that I had on my hard drive and was staggered at how much digital content the students have created over the year. So much I couldn’t fit it onto a single DVD.
Putting together the content for my students reminded me that despite my many meltdowns into misery, my class has had quite a year.
We produced two awesome assemblies, had some fun with the Daily 5 in literacy blocks, set up individual blogs, we’ve read two novels out loud, made a youtube submission to parliament, redesigned our learning space, built an igloo, went to camp, had a go at some real-world maths, completed an impact project and a bar camp.
On a professional level, I really enjoyed participating in the educamps, ignition2012 and making a contribution to Teachers Council Social media guidelines. I wish I had more time and blog and my attempts at getting an educamp in Wellington were a bit of a F.A.I.L.
Next year I’ve been asked to be a keynote speaker at SocCon on the work that the class did on the digital learning submission. If feels good to be giving something back to the education community that has supported me in the last few years.
Over the last year I’ve had labels like, techie, creative or innovative attached to my teaching and frankly I don’t get it. Nothing I’ve accomplished this year has been as the result of any inherent talent of my own. I’m forever pinching ideas off people and adapting them to suit my needs. If anything this year has taught me the importance of nurturing those connections.
My main problem is that I seem to have far too many ideas and far too little time to implement then. As a teacher I often feel like I am being pulled in two opposite directions. Between those messy and crazy projects and all the must dos that need to be checked off. While I appreciate the importance of those signposts sure schools must be more than factories that spit out kids with NCEA credits at the end of it.
Because when all is said and done the students aren’t going to remember my lesson on inferencing or using place value to multiply decimals but I’m pretty sure they’ll remember the igloo or the day they showed up to find that half the desks had been removed or the year that they caught the reading bug.
It has been a good year.
As teachers are busy finishing off final reports and bits of assessment there’s a temptation to be in countdown for the end of year holiday. Today I was reminded that not all kids relish the idea of six weeks away from school. Is it because my teaching is so awesome? Well no. For some kids life at home isn’t always pleasant.
- Some kids will spend their holidays being ferried between Mum’s place and Dad’s place.
- Some kids will spend their holidays looking after younger siblings while their parents work.
- Some kids won’t be ripping into presents at Christmas.
- Some kids will spend their holidays listening to the sounds of domestic abuse.
- Some kids will worry if their parents have enough money to make rent that week.
- Some kids will spend their holidays not knowing where they will be living or where they will be going to school next year.
For those of us blessed with good luck we can’t possibly imagine why anyone would fear holidays. Yet for some students holidays are anxious times. As we are busying making our holiday plans it is so easy to forget that school represents a safe, calm and caring space for some kids.