Category Archives: RTC 9 -Student Diversity
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.
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.
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.
My class’s morning time routine often has a session called ‘stuff.’ That stuff is usually a collection of chores, odd jobs and a chance for kids to catch up on ongoing tasks.
The students get to volunteer what they want to do during ‘stuff.’ I often decide who is working on what to get the students mixing beyond their friendship group.
It is really interesting see how engaged the students are and the session is one of my most productive of the day. It is also my busiest as I’m there guiding and giving input to the students working on different tasks around the room.
Today the choices on offer were:
- Making thank you cards for our camp helpers.
- Constructing an advertisement for assembly to get more milk bottles for our classroom igloo.
- Using the classroom ipad to learn more about the countries and classes in the global classroom momento scrapbook.
- Catching up on inquiry projects.
- And setting up this term’s home learning task.
Yep that’s right. A group of my learners were tasked with coming up with ten homework tasks for their classmates. I must admit that my initial reasoning behind putting this up as an option for ‘stuff’ was that being week 3 the class really needed some home learning tasks. I wanted something that would be interesting and engaging for the students so I simply asked the kids to come with up with some ideas that would support our school-wide topic of sustainability.
My students are year 7/8 and having been in the school for nearly a year or two they understood the general thrust of home learning tasks at my school. What was amazing is that this task was hands-down the most popular choice this morning. I shouldn’t have been surprised. This was a chance for the students to make a difference to classroom learning.
The students in the group quickly got a couple of laptops, and set up a google doc which the shared with me. They debated, they typed, they corrected each others spelling.
The students came up with a great list of topics such as making food with an ingredient from their country (sustaining culture), researching an animal that is extinct (sustaining life), visiting a local park and making notes about the different plants (ecosystems) and making up a family tree at least 4 generations back.
It was a joy to behold.
At the end of the task one my students remarked that the task was a lot harder than they thought it would be. It was then that I had an epiphany.
Homework is another thing at school that is ‘done’ to kids. By teachers setting homework tasks and then photocopying them off for the class, we are denying our students the opportunity to think about what activities they can do at home to support their learning at school.
However letting the students decide doesn’t me I’m abdicating my responsibilities to the kids. Over the course of the session I would check in with the group, reminding them to be explicit in their instructions so that their classmates would understand what to do and asked the students about the purpose behind their tasks. To their credit, when the students realized there wasn’t a purpose to the activity they would cut or modify the idea.
It will be interesting to see if more kids will complete tasks designed by their peers rather than the teacher.
Nevertheless the activity in an of itself was worth spending time on if only to answer the question.
What can I do outside of school to support my learning?
This last term my syndicate is moving into studying poetry. To be honest I wasn’t too enthusiastic about the unit. Because my class is off to camp this coming week , I decided to start off with limerick writing.
What was surprising was how quickly the students were so enthusiastic about the task. As I scanned the room during conferences, I could overhear each others work and giving feedback on their work. The students loved rhyming and trying to figure out the rhythm of this type of poetry.
Despite my dislike of the genre I realised that poetry provides an outlet for students to play with our language. So often we focus on substance and form, surface features versus deep features. Poetry lets students experiment with sounds, intonation in their writing. They get to stop and select their words as if it were a new sneaker.
What has been awesome is that my students’ enthusiasm has rubbed off on me and in feeling a lot more energised about the unit.
Connected educators often become a bit lyrical when we talk about how wonderful it is for our students to have an audience far beyond the walls of our classroom.
As blogging teacher there is noting more exciting than seeing a parent leave a comment or have my students work linked to approvingly. But what happens when a student writes something inappropriate online?
Do you delete their work?
Even if you’ve talked at length with your class about digital footprints and co-constructed blogging guidelines, there are going to be times when your students step over a line of acceptable behaviour.
Over the course of this year I’ve had students write stuff that has fallen below my expectations and had me wondering if I was the worst teacher in the world. But just like in face to face interactions, where children sometimes do or say things they’ll regret later, kids are going to post inappropriate content from time to time.
What comes next?
If it’s something minor, I’ll simply respond back in the comments about showing respect and care to others online.
If it’s something major, I’ll temporarily pull the post/delete the comment.
In both cases what comes next is really important.
Having the conversation with the student.
It starts with question. Imagine if you were the person effected reading this post/comment, how do you think you would feel? Almost immediately the student will work out where they’ve crossed the line and work on getting themselves back. Most of the time it’s a bit of minor editing, other times it’s a major rewrite.
There’s always a delicate balancing act between authentic student voice but also ensuring that kids are respectful of others.
In almost every case where a student has posted something inappropriate, it’s because they haven’t realized the effect of their words on others. Perhaps they’ve written a post persuading students to go to camp but they’ve singled out a classmate in a way that might make the other student feel upset and embarrassed. The poster might have had good intentions, wanting to persuade their classmate to go to camp, but they didn’t communicate those intentions clearly.
In having a conversation about the post or a comment I’m actually helping the child to develop a nuanced view of their writing. They get to think about how other people might perceive what they’ve written differently from their original intent and realize the power of the words on others. This simply wouldn’t have happened if the students were writing in their exercise book or even posting behind digital gates.
Being public ups the stakes. It forces teachers to be a lot more aware of what their students are seeing just in case someone finds something inappropriate and it forces students to think about the different ways we communicate depending on the audience.
As a teacher I have to watch over my students corner of cyber-space even during the holidays because my name is there with my students. My reputation as a teacher lives and dies with what my students write which is why I can understand that some institutions just don’t want their kids out there because of the risk.
However in minimizing risk we also minimize the opportunities for learning. When my students post inappropriate content, they are full of so many teachable moments. We get to talk about audience and purpose, and the writer’s intent, key concepts from the English curriculum suddenly become very real. By guiding my students online behaviour in school spaces, I’m helping students to develop their own set of ethics around online behaviour so that they’ll make good decisions when adults aren’t around.
My point of this long rant is that cyber-citizenship can’t just be a one-off unit. Learning takes time, you’ll make mistakes, your students will make mistakes. However much like getting answers wrong on a maths test, indicates a child might have trouble grasping a concept and needs more teaching, inappropriate content indicates that child needs guiding back to the values you established with your class around good online behaviour.
So in answer to my question should teachers be censoring student blogs? No I don’t think so. Should teachers be reading, commenting, guiding and modelling good online behaviour for their students. Absolutely.
Another week over, another term done and dusted.
A particular highlight of this week was finally getting the bottle bivvy construction started. My class had been collecting milk bottles all term but I had no idea what kind of base to build the bivvy. Finally in a moment of inspiration I realised that the refurbishment happening in my school would likely mean that there would be spare carpet to use and we were on our way.
I took a group for a ‘guided’ construction process. We watched the video about how to glue the bottles together and then I helped the students to chalk out a giant circle. What was awesome was quickly the students took over the project. Over the course of the week, the students I initially taught were teaching each other the procedure of how to glue the bottles together and we’ve made a big dent in the construction process.
To me this is learning at its purest. Finding an idea, learning a process and then others teaching each other. I hope that this is one of those the experiences that the kids remember for many years to come.
If feels like I’m coming into the home stretch of the year. The last term seems to be a manic mix of camp and end of year festivities. For my Year 8 students in particular I often wonder if I’m actually setting them for success in high school.
My class looks like this. When visitors to my room arrive, they often can’t immediately find me and spend a few minutes around looking a little lost until they find me in a little corner of the room or buried under milk bottles.
Yet I know high school classes don’t function like this. It’s an hour in and then onto the next person, no time for real deviations from the plan.
We spend a lot of time blaming in education. Workplaces blame universities for not preparing graduates for the world of work. Universities blame high schools for not preparing students for high schools. High schools blame the primary schools and on we go.
But perhaps instead of blaming we should put our energies into ensuring that each year for our students is a great year so the stay engaged in learning. Perhaps it’s teachers who need to prepare for our students rather than preparing our students for others.