Category Archives: RTC 8 – Akonga learning
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.
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.
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.
Just under 4 weeks until production and the scene I’m in charge of is… 1950s rock and roll dancing.
I’m one of those clumsy sorts who is forever falling over and dropping things. For that reason my dancing strictly to the gym to limit the chances of doing damage to myself and others.
Yet here I am in charge of scene of teaching 20+ kids how to dance.
I think so.
Fortunately one of the kids in the group happens to enjoy rock and roll dancing as a hobby. I am also lucky that one of the teachers at school is an accomplished rock and roll dancer so between the dancer and the other students I’ve managed to pick up enough steps to choreograph 90 seconds worth of dance.
When you can’t dance 90 seconds seems like an eternity when faced with helping 20+ kids on stage. While I have been firmly outside my comfort zone some kids have been in their element. One of the joys of production is seeing the kids who might not be sporty, good at maths or literacy shine. One of my students remarked ‘they were born for this.’
Sir Ken Robinson often talks about how every education system on the system has the same hierarchy of subjects: numeracy and literacy at the top of the pecking order, followed by science and humanities with art and in particular dance firmly at the bottom of the pecking order. The current obsession with childhood obesity has given PE/fitness a bit of a boost however dance is often forgotten about.
In fact as children migrate through school, dance is something that we tick off once every year or so through production barely even touching even one of the four arts strands in the New Zealand curriculum: Understanding the Arts in Context, Developing Practical Knowledge in the Arts, Developing Ideas in the Arts, and Communicating and Interpreting in the Arts.
A few moths ago I stumbled upon a Ted Talk premised on the idea of replacing powerpoint with dance. The idea behind the talk was that not only can dance help explain scientific concepts it can actually help scientists with their work.
Yet I can’t help wonder why we can’t value dance for its own sake. Our preschoolers and junior primary children know that it’s lots of fun to dance but gradually that joy it is educated out of them. We tell them to sit down and stop moving and get on with the serious business of learning.
A few years ago I remember walking down Nanjing Road in Shanghai and stopped to see a huge open air class of ballroom dancers out in the morning. I couldn’t help but wonder would New Zealand be a more happy and healthy if there was dancing in the streets?
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?
For someone who loathes interior design with the fire of 1,000 suns I spend way too much time thinking about classroom layout. After my initial move away from student desks, I had another classroom re-configuration at the start of the year when I was the lucky recipient of new classroom furniture.
Yet here I am back in the holidays surreptitiously stashing desks around the school. My initial classroom layout had for the most part worked well. The kids made great use of the space and the classroom could be configured and reconfigured based on our needs. Yet there were some niggles.
Some furniture wasn’t being used at all by the students, there were areas where the kids were bunching up and others they weren’t using at all. A further catalyst for change was the school library re-opening and taking with it an entire shelf load of resources. So I took this midyear break as an opportunity to do yet another classroom redesign and most importantly de-clutter the classroom.
I amazed at how much clutter I have been able to amass in my 18 months in this classroom. I didn’t even think I had packrat tendencies (when you move every 18 months or so you don’t tend to hang on to junk) but nevertheless old notices, a few resources and whole lot of empty boxes were still in my class. It must be a teacher thing as my mother (who is a teacher) has boxes and boxes of resources that she has stored away in a shipping container (not all of it is teaching resources).
How much do we hold onto in schools just in case it might be useful?
Does it serve a purpose?
Does it make your classroom environment flow better or does it add obstacles and create visual noise?
At the beginning of the year I was very fortunate to spend the day with @sherrattsam at NIST in Bangkok. His blog is a must read but this post on time and space. So I made it my goal over the holiday to create more space.
I’ve pushed most of the tables in my class against walls to create as much floor space as possible. Floor space creates a physical flow through the room. There’s no reason that the kids can’t move the tables (and I’m expecting they will) however by placing furniture on the perimeter of the room there tends to be more flexibility in space.
I’ve deliberately moved the teaching station to the back of the room away from the board. Stephen Heppell (one of my learning space gurus) talks about creating multiple points of interest around the room. By having a teaching station right by the board I was still owning the front of the room. I’ve also added in a coffee table and sofa to make the area more interesting. Hopefully this will spread out the points of interest more in the room and also give kids a positive experience in groups.
Music and smell are important and again I’ve borrowed from Time/Space.There’s an electric aromatherapy burner in the background and the dock where I put my iPhone for some relaxing music (much to the chagrin of my 1Direction fans). The aromatherapy has had mixed reviews by the students. Some love it, others roll their eyeballs but the idea of creating a calm environment appeals. The science is very much out on the efficacy of aromatherapy and I’ve been mindful to use scents that won’t upset the asthmatics. However even if the claims about the efficacy of essential oils is mixed it can take the edge of the odour of class full of adolescents post PE. The stools enable the students to use the sink as a work area if they wish.
Daily 5 board. I totally stole this idea from @heymilly. My classroom has this wonderfully velcro type material along one wall which when you add some some velcro to the backs of laminated bits of card make for an interactive display. The kids names are laminated on the right with different colours. The students park their name next to the choice with each colour representing a different session.The rest of my walls are pretty much bare for good reason.
The students aren’t here yet.
Each new term brings a chance for new beginnings and new adventures.
By creating more physical space I hope to create a learning environment that has purpose. Nothing gets added to our environment unless it adds to the room.
My mantra during this busy term will be to go slow.
To spend more time getting the why right.
@matt_odowda recently put out the idea on twitter – What are 11 experiences kids should have in school before they reach the age of 11 that will never forget.
While my students have turned 11, I still have 11 magic experiences that I hope the kids won’t forget during their time with me at intermediate.
1. Make your own bread and eat it
Fermentation has been around for thousands of years but kids still get a kick out of it. Any science that you can eat is always going to be a winner but the warm bread on a cold winter day = winning combination.
4. Make an igloo out of milk bottles
Bonus points if the igloo collapses during class time.
5. Abseil down a 25 meter cliff
6. Give a speech that matters
Instead of going on a tour rock up to parliament to give a speech infront of a dozen MPs, media and members of the public.
What 11 moments would you like your kids to take away from school?
This year I volunteered to be the teacher in charge of Student Council which also means I’m the teacher in charge of organising the school discos. Officially the student council run disco but there are limitations to 11 and 12 year olds organisational skills.
Organising permission slips, tickets, posters, food sales, lighting, music, prizes, decorations not to mention cleaning up afterwards is a big job. I must admit that I was expecting the weeks leading up to disco to be frantic.
Ticketing has always been a logistical nightmare. 18 classes to keep tabs on and each kid needs to be issued with an individual ticket so we know how many kids we’ve got inside in case of an emergency.
So I set up a google spreadsheet. Each classroom teacher filled out their student names on separate tab. I filled in the ticket number and then mail merged the information into a ticket. The result was that each child was issued a ticket with their name on it.
When the night came, the teachers in charge of ticketing could easily cross off kids on the master list so we knew how many kids were at the event very quickly.
I also had a google doc going for the student councillors. Music is the most important thing for disco so each student had to go back to their class and get the top five songs. From there I could share that doc with the teacher coordinating the playlist. The kids designed posters which they then shared across the network.
The week of the disco I circulated a google doc with some of the jobs I needed teachers for. The teacher put their names next to the duties and added other jobs I had forgotten about to the doc. In short I was able to tap into the collective knowledge of the teachers in the school without having a giant meeting.
While having nice weather and some awesome staff does help to keep events running smoothly, I’ve found technology helps so much in helping to keep big school events manageable.
A paper-based e-portfolio.
Sounds like a contradiction in terms.
I’m not a huge fan of paper portfolios.
In fact it is fair to say that I loathe filing bits of paper into folders with the fire of a thousand suns. Supervising a class full of kids updating portfolios feels like a form of medieval torture. Bits of paper are almost always missing or in the wrong place and my patience is in short supply.
Moreover I can’t help but wonder if all those countless hours spent updating, checking, re-checking all those bits of paper are actually worth it. Real learning is messy and doesn’t always lend itself to being filed away in clear files.
Enter digital portfolios.
In theory digital portfolios should be easier to create and curate content for the purposes of showcasing student learning. However in practice clunky content management systems and limited time on computers often add work to teachers workload particularly if you don’t have 1:1 access.
I do not teach in a 1:1 environment. Computers are a resource that I constantly have to ration in class and negotiate with other teachers to get to 1:1. Given the shortage, I’d rather have the kids spend their time creating content or connecting with others. Kids doing the same stuff on computer that has always been done on paper seems downright wasteful in this context.
My school is experimenting with different ways of reporting to parents. I decided my goals were to make my reports multi-media, child-centric and, dare I say it, less labour-intensive on me. More importantly I didn’t want to waste too much class time curating learning at the expense of actual learning.
So I came up with a plan. The kids got a Google form where the reflected on the key competencies, successes, challenges and surprises on the year so far. Those responses are automatically logged by Google and were then merged into a separate document for each kid. No faffing around with codes and an no worrying about kids accidentally deleting parts of their portfolio.
The kids also found a photo of themselves from the class Flickr site which they emailed through and I copy and pasted into the merged document. No faffing around with layout and the entire class was able to get through a session. After a quick proofread the reports were ready to go.
The students reflections were for the most part amazing. What was particularly gratifying was seeing kids who don’t normally shine in the 3Rs able to talk about successes at school. Monday tech challenges, documentary making, quadblogging and passion projects all featured in my students’ reflections.
At this point I had saved myself a whole heap of time and if I was a smart teacher, I would have called it a day and pressed print. But oh no I just had to create more work for myself.
The kids in my class have been interviewing each other once a term so I chucked the footage so far on YouTube and then created an individual QR code for the student, which I copied and pasted into the document for each kid.
And thus with a major FAIL on the creating less work for myself goal the students and I created a multi-media paper-based e-portfolio.