Category Archives: weekly reflection
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.
Over the last week I’ve been conferencing with the students over their term 4 writing assessment. With the results still in moderation, I wasn’t all that keen to share the level with my students. Nevertheless, I was keen to give the kids some formative feedback of areas that went all and areas to work on.
For the most part the conversations went well. Most of my students were able to identify an area of strength as well as an area to work on. There has been some fantastic improvements from some of my students and what was more fantastic is that the kids themselves could talk about what has been going well for them.
This positivity all came to a grinding halt as I conferenced with one student who seemed distracted and agitated during the conference.
Eventually I asked if there was a problem.
“When are you going to tell me what I got?” was the reply.
I was disheartened but instead of going on a long rant, I asked the student how getting the numbers would help improve the quality of their writing.
And then it started, the academic pecking order. If I’ve done better than my friend, then I know I’ve done well. I’ve spent a lot of time in class talking with my students about why feedback is important, why test scores aren’t a measure of who they are, just a snapshot in time.
However that urge to compare, to make yourself feel better, often at the expense of others, is so ingrained.
I doubt my feedback made much of difference that day.
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.
It’s been almost a month between posts.
Over the last few weeks of term school production gradually took over my life. By the end of term I could barely think much less write something resembling a coherent blog post.
This is not to say that production was all bad. I enjoyed teaching dance, finally got my head around final cut pro and created some awesome effects for the show. The kids relished the chance to perform and I had that proud teacher moment of seeing my students up on stage being awesome.
However being the resident AV geek has its drawbacks. Putting together music, movies and images for 110 minute show while also trying to teach full-time was not a good combination. Instead of feeling exuberant, as I normally do at the end of a creative project, I wanted to curl up in bed for a week.
And that’s pretty much what I did during school holidays.
For the first time in two years I haven’t travelled away from Wellington for a conference. It would be an understatement to say I’ve had a pretty good run of PD this year. On one level I was glad for the break, but on the other, the frenzy of tweets from ulearn made me a little envious of all the marvellous connections and MAGIC that comes from being in the same room with your virtual staffroom.
So I find this a very slow start into the final term of 2013. I’m hoping this post will re-ignite blogging as I’ve got a number of posts running around in my head.
This term I’m looking forward to
Makey Makey magic (hopefully with other classes)
Organising Market Day
Walking with my students to squash
Finishing up a special year-long project
I’m not looking forward to
Saying goodbye to my Year 8s and their families. I’ve taught these students for 2 years and have witnessed some amazing growth in these kids. While I appreciate it’s time for the students to move on the urge to blubber will be there at that final assembly.
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.
Earlier this week a blog post came through my twitter feed from a teacher who walked away from the profession. I recommend you read the post first. Don’t worry, I’ll still be ranting when you get back.
The raw emotion in that post struck a chord, the ugly side of our profession that we don’t talk about all that much teacher burnout.
It’s the feeling of being constantly exhausted but not being able to sleep. Where it seems to take forever just to make the to do list let alone accomplish any of the tasks on it. When a small set back suddenly becomes the worst thing ever.
I hate being one of those teachers counting down the days until the holidays.
But here I am.
15 more school days.
I have no idea how people with young children do this job because come holidays the plan is to fall into an exhausted heap for the first week.
A lack of sleep (not helped by midnight earthquakes) and a very busy week ahead: a large sporting event, learning conferences and less then two weeks out from school-wide production. It’s all totally do-able and like other teachers I’ll just suck it up.
And that’s me for the week.
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?
Over the last few days I’ve seen a few pleas for help about the value of being a connected educator.
I define a connected educator as one who uses social media to connect with other educators in their field. The platform for connections is actually relatively unimportant. blogs, twitter, pintrest, facebook, ning, google+, bulletin boards, YouTube there are a plethora of platforms which enable educators to connect with teachers across town and around the country.
To be honest I have no idea what it means not to be a connected educator. Even back in my days teaching English back in Korea 10 years ago I was part of an online community. So to talk about the value of connections to those who see no value is actually incredibly difficult.
Because I’m really passionate about being a connected educator, I’m probably not the best ambassador. I get excited and yammer on about the great things I’ve recently found online which tends to have people politely exiting the conversation.
So I’ll try something different.
On my own I’m a mediocre teacher.
I don’t disclose this as a way to gain sympathy or have people in the comments box tell me that I’m not all that bad. Because the simple fact is I’m second year teacher. I’m definitely better than I was last year and I’ll be better next year than this year. What they don’t tell you a teachers college is that teaching is an ongoing process of screwing up and learning from the screw ups. We’ve enshrined the process in the New Zealand curriculum, it’s called teaching as inquiry.
I often scratch my head and wonder how teachers who are not connected find new ideas to implement in the classroom. I suppose they continue to learn as we did in the past when to keep up with the latest trends educators needed to read journals, weekly PD sessions and conferences.
But here’s the thing. By the time those classroom ideas have been accepted by the editor or the teachers invited to conference the innovations presented have been polished up and time has erased the tough bits. I’ve rarely heard a conference presenter say ‘well for the first six months after we initiated X it sucked so we had do Y and stopped doing Z’ instead we get the finished product all ready to implement in our classroom.
Yet by missing the process of what got the speakers to where they are now, we don’t learn what to avoid, where to persevere and, dare I say it, when to pull the plug. And lets face it, trying to implement those big ideas into a classroom with actual children is hard.
Which is where being connected helps. It enables conversations to keep going long after the speaker from PD has left the building and the conference is over. The ideas often come in 140 characters. Small resources that you could use or ideas to stash away for a rainy day through to big ideas to mull over. Being connected enables me to tap into a vast global network of classroom expertise and insight which I can then remix and refashion for my own teaching context. The feedback loop is ongoing and I don’t have to be constrained to learning at a certain time and place.
In New Zealand we recognise that new teachers trying to get to grips with everything need help and support. So we have a induction process into the professional and are assigned a mentor. But the more I think about it, the more it seems unrealistic for professional induction to fall squarely on the shoulders of just one teacher and the period of support should extend for only two short years.
Being connected has enables professional learning and mentoring of teachers to be an ongoing process distributed among hundreds of people from across the planet. Following a few hundred educators on twitter will enable a constant flow of education resources and collaboration 24 hours day. I’ve often heard twitter described as little more than popularity contest to get the most followers. I agree that twitter is a popularity contest but not in popularity but rather of ideas. Good ideas get remixed and shared. Bad ideas don’t get shared.
A network of learners is more than the sum of its parts. It is the process of collaborating with people who share your area of expertise that makes both of parties better. If you teach high school science you can connect other high school science teachers. If you teach juniors, you can connect with other early years teachers. What’s really awesome is when junior teachers collaborate with senior high school teachers and both get something out of it.
Being connected has had a profound effect on what I do in the classroom and how I do it. It has opened up some incredible opportunities for my students and taken me on some amazing journeys. I have been able to help influence policy and shared what I’ve done to help others. Put simply, my connectedness has made me a better teacher.
There are thousands of connected educators from a multitude of teaching countries and contexts willing to share their expertise with you.
Your mission is to find the right people to follow.
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.