Category Archives: RTC 9 -Student Diversity
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.
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?
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.
One of the joys of teaching primary school is that, in theory, you get to teach a bit of everything.
In practice the bulk of my time is still reading, writing, maths with some PE thrown in for good measure. Most schools also have an inquiry/topic which covers everything else.
Intermediate kids go off for specialist teaching in some subjects those opportunities to teach the ‘fun’ stuff is even further stretched for generalist teachers.
Simply put there are not enough hours in the day to get to get through all the other must dos let alone those practical hands-on type activities.
Our school is very fortunate to have a kitchen where all kids get a chance to learn more about cooking. On Wednesdays an advanced class runs for some students.
Knowing about my love of cake decorating the foods teacher graciously let me have a go at teaching the kids some basic cake decorating skills.
As an added bonus, my class went up in the morning to bake bread. We had a look at yeast yesterday, what it looked like, what it smelled like. Then left our bread to rise overnight.
We came back in the morning, happens to the mixture over time.
I even found a nifty timelapse on youtube for the kids to look out the changes in the dough.
Take aways from today.
Food = Smiles
There’s something about sharing food that always gets the same sheepish grin from kids.
Hands-on learning = exhaustion
Even by my standards, today was manic. On top of PD before school, colouring fondant during morning tea as well as having a late finish on cupcakes, I also had student council plus saw a couple of maths groups before assembly. I was on feet rushing around. But I know when all is said and done my kids might not remember the lesson I gave on fractions but they will remember eating hot bread on a cold winters day.
School maths does not equal real world maths
A student who has never answered a test question about fractions correctly on a test was able to tell me lightening fast how many 1/4 teaspoons I would need to make 1 + 1/2 teaspoons of salt. Context is everything.
Never stereotype any activity as ‘girly’
A lot of guys would probably roll their eyes at cake decorating and wonder why bother teaching boys about cupcake decorating. But here’s the thing. 12 year old boys haven’t figured out cake decorating is a ‘girly’ pursuit. They like eating and they get to play with fondant which is basically edible playdough. To a 12 year old, boy or girl, this is awesome.
Teaching out of my comfort zone makes me a better teacher
I have my room and my way of doing things. While there might be some cross-class collaboration in my syndicate, I can see how easy it is to fall into a teaching rut. Today gave me a good shake up and I learned tons. Moreover actually teaching rather than just popping in for a quick nosey gave me a huge appreciation for the incredible work that goes on up in technology classes.
There’s something about the middle of term which seems to send me into depths of despair. I think it’s that point where I look down at my massive to-do-list and wonder how on earth I am going to muster the energy to check those items off. The beginning of term energy has evaporated and a rejuvenating holiday seems a long way off in the horizon.
It’s weird that almost 365 days to the day I’m back in the same slump: tired, grumpy although not as cold this year owing to an abnormally warm Wellington winter.
I have a terrible habit of over-committing myself and then paying the price for that later. With reports looming, a school disco and talent contest to organize, moving house, my first ever conference speaking engagement in the next four weeks.
Possum meet headlights.
Then there’s the niggle of novopay.
My salary increment, due at the end of the January, still hasn’t come in. On one hand I know I shouldn’t be complaining. After all, everyone knows you don’t get into teaching for the money. I can still pay my bills and will get a nice backpay when the increment finally arrives. Nevertheless, when you’re having a crappy week small things like this start to become a big deal. Particularly as like other teachers I’m powerless in this situation. Aside from having a grizzle to my lovely office manager and a surly social media update, there’s not much I can do apart from wait.
Despite my despondency there have been some positives.
Quadblogging has been going well.
After a few weeks hiatus, I made sure that passion projects aka 20% time weren’t something that just got pushed to the side during a busy week. A lot of teachers might baulk at the idea, letting kids go off and do their own thing is surely a recipe for classroom chaos? But I’ve never had any problems with classroom management during passion projects as the kids are so engaged in their learning.
As with anything in teaching how you set up a task will dictate its success. My students write their learning intentions at the start before they head. This sets up the sessions to be purposeful for the kids as they are the ones setting the goals.At the end of the session the kids are asked to reflect on the session and decide which of the learning areas and key competencies they used during their project.
What has been gratifying has been watching kids from different social groups come together in order to collaborate on a shared passion. What has also been amazing is when given the choice about what they want to do, how many of students have chosen to write. Movie scripts, creative writing, managa cartoons.
At the end of the term the kids are going to put on an expo of their learning so they can share their passions with others. While the students were adamant in not inviting their parents, they did let me invite the school leaders to come in. We are already marking days until the expo down and I’m looking forward to the kids showing their peers and the senior leaders their passions.
The students have also been putting together documentary films after seeing the film I am 11. I was amazed when I looked out at my classroom during morning tea to see students who boldly declare they hate writing staying in of their own volition at morning tea time to write a script. Kids who don’t edit their writing carefully editing films to get their message across.
So much peripheral stuff can easily obscure us from the things that matter.
Be brillant where it counts, in the classroom.
A call for help went out. A Year 7/8 looking for that final class to make a Quad blog. For those not in the know, Quadblogging is when a group of 4 classes visit a spotlight class’s blog each week. You can find out more about the international version here and the New Zealand version here.
This is my third attempt at quadblogging. After two non-starts, I was a bit apprehensive about Quadblogging Aotearoa but figured what they heck give it a go.
This time around my class has been very fortunate to have been paired up with some awesome class blogs which has made all the difference in our experience. Based on previous experience here are some tips for those new to Quadblogging.
Set aside time in the day for blogging
In my experience, you need to set aside time for blogging in class. I tend to let the kids have 10-15 minutes at the start of literacy to look at posts and previous comments before making their own quality comment. It is important that kids understand what a quality comment looks like. Make sure you showcase comments before letting the kids loose.
Updates, keep em coming
If your blog is the one being showcased, it is important to have at least one new post a day. There’s nothing more frustrating for classes to put time aside for blogging only to find that there isn’t any new content for the kids to comment on.
Showcase your class/school
Got something unique or different about your school or classroom? Showcase it! My students were fascinated about a girls-only school and also the number of Macs in the class. A case of what is mundane for you might be really interesting for kids in a different school.
Lots of photos and videos
My students are highly visual learners. They love being able to look into other schools and classrooms and see what’s going on. What makes blogging such an effective medium is that you can have those images right by text. ‘What’s photopeach?’ one remarked today.
You can never have enough comments
While my students enjoy reading other student’s work, what my kids really love is people commenting on their work. Audience and authenticity gives kids will drive kids to produce far higher quality writing then any other inducement I know of.
As a Year 7/8 teacher, I’m sure I’m not the only one who has in times of frustration complained that kids these days just don’t seemed as clued in as the kids of yesteryear.
They’ve been at school 7 years and still don’t know the four times table.
Their work is littered with text speak.
They copy and paste without pausing and thinking.
Sometimes it is easy a middle years teacher to place blame on those at the lower level not doing their job. But here’s the thing, I don’t consider it part of my job to prepare kids for high school. Maybe I need to stop expecting teachers from the years to hand me the perfect students and accept my students for who they are right now.
It is my job as a teacher to find out where the kids are in their learning and help move them along.
I was reminded of my responsibility this week during a class read aloud of The Wave when one of the characters made a quip about the school newspaper office being Anne Frank’s attic.
Quickly realized that only one student knew of Anne Frank.
Was this a case of primary school letting me down or a teachable moment?
Rather than tell my students who Anne Frank was, I challenged my students to find out.
“Anne was born in Germany,” one of them piped up.
“She spent years living in attic” another student found out.
“She was hiding from the Nazis because she was Jewish.”
“Then someone told the Nazis about Anne’s family hiding and she was sent to a concentration camp.”
One of the students noticed that Anne died only a matter of weeks before her camp was to be liberated.
A silence fell over the room.
Her diaries were kept safe and then they were published.
Would Anne’s story have been so powerful if she had survived the holocaust?
In focusing on what students didn’t know, I could easily have missed a learning opportunity.
Our students are not the same.
They were never the same.
How often in focusing on deficits of our learners do we miss the potential for learning?
At the beginning of the year, I introduced my class to the concept of lollypop moments. The concept comes from an 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.
I bought a huge bag of lollypops from Moore Wilsons and over the course of the term, the kids have taken it upon themselves to nominate each other for acts of random kindness. The challenge has been to get the kids to move away from nominating their immediate circle of friends and to seeing the good in everyone.
Sharing has been a common theme this week. Before easter a group of my students approached my team leader about the possibility of our syndicate (that’s a group of 3 classes) running a talent show. And this week it was the big event. We hadn’t given over much class time in the preparation for this event. Nevertheless it was to see most of the kids step up.
Were all the acts a polished performance?
But a huge amount of kids got up and gave it their best shot. In an era where we many expect to be passively entertained it was fantastic to see kids willing to create and share with their peers. The event was such a success that we will be doing another one later in the term.
This week was a bit bittersweet as we farewelled our principal to a new position. I will always owe a huge debt of gratitude to my outgoing principal as she was the one who gave me the nod 18 or so months ago and has had to put up with having me on staff ever since.
I’m not sure many principals would be happy to let a first year teacher oversee a group of 11 and 12 year olds making a submission to parliament, not bat an eyelid when finding out I placed half my classroom furniture in storage via twitter, or take the time to facebook you two days before Christmas to let you know you’d gotten into the Apple Distinguished Educator programme.
As I was sitting at my principal’s farewell, it struck me that we often wait until people are leaving to say nice things about people. What has been nice about this term is that through lollypop moments we are taking more time to notice the every the little actions that make life more interesting.
Just before the class headed out for their final PE slot, there was a plea for a few last-moment lollypop moments. What started off as a quick thank you for helping move furniture quickly began to snowball and before we knew it everyone in the class had something nice said about them by another member of the class.
It was a nice moment and a good way to end the term.
In the middle of last year in an attempt to kids enthused about learning about Korean I showed my kids a music video by a Korean singer called Psy by the end of the year every kid in the school had heard the song.
That song was Gangnam Style.
Through dumb luck my students knew before the song went viral that Gangman is suburb in Seoul and that there is more to Korea than a guy pretending to ride a horse but I knew that wouldn’t always be the case.
And sure enough the latest internet meme struck in February, the Harlem Shake.
Where is Harlem?
How do the people in Harlem feel about the meme?
I posed those questions to the class and then challenged them to find out. I didn’t even know Harlem was a place one of the students remarked.
Sometimes we don’t know how much we don’t know.
As teachers we make a choice. Sure we might roll our eyeballs at some of the crazy internet fads that seemingly come and go with ever increasing frequency . We might even have a go by participating in the memes as a fun project to do on a Friday afternoon. But surely we need to start teaching our kids to be critical of those memes as well.