A new year, a new group of kids but still the same goal, getting kids into reading.
Even amongst the Year 8s there were a few kids that needed to get back into the reading.
The kids have started bringing in books to read to themselves and I’ve started reading Whale Rider to the class. Not a typical back to school, however the themes of being true to yourself is something I wanted to instil in my class from the start of the year. In fact when I look at the books I select as class read alouds, The Alchemist, The Wave they are a bit more mature then my students would normally pick. Yet the books are so rich in culture and themes, they are ideas I want the kids to hear.
But what about the kids themselves. One of my students came for a visit last week and I asked her what book she was reading. Without missing a beat she pulled a book out of her bag and told me more about it. This time last year the student was a non-reader. I wish I could say I was the one who gave her the reading bug but it was another of the students who helped turn a non-reader into a reader.
At the start of the year students volunteered to read passages from their favourite books. As it happened one of my Year 7s read a book that peaked the interest of the non-reader and as it turned out the book was part of a series. The older student found her niche and this habit will hopefully stay with her for the rest of her life.
The crazy thing is that I abandoned the read alouds by the kids after the first term because the kids didn’t seem that enthusiastic about either reading to others nor listening to books. The crazy thing was that it wasn’t until the end of the year that I found out what a powerful effect students reading to other students. So this year I am going to persevere. I will provide scaffolds to the students who will need support but the goal is simple, by the end of the term all the students in my class will have read to the class for five minutes.
Reading is often viewed both inside and outside the classroom as an individual activity. A set of strategies to be learned, something you do to pass time on the train. Yet the more I think about it, reading is primarily a social activity. Readers are forever swapping recommendations from others, reading humorous passages out loud.
As I looked out over my class on Thursday afternoon slurping iceblocks and enjoying their books I think we might be well on the way to establishing our class as a community of readers.
On a sunny afternoon this week I ventured out with the rest of the teachers in my school to take part in a cricket skills workshop. I wasn’t particularly enthused by the prospect of spending time learning about cricket. I’m an avid gym goer and for the life of me can’t understand the reason why people would want to spend hours running around after a ball. Nevertheless, PE is an important part of the curriculum so off I trudged in the summer heat to learn more about cricket.
The workshop itself taught us just a few basic skills to get us started but there was something about learning how to throw, bat, catch and run between the wickets that seem to re-energize even the most adverse of ball sport participants. Which was the primary purpose of the workshop. If I’m not enthused about the prospect of ball sports, that attitude is going to show in my teaching. I can still cover the material but there’s no way I can fake passion.
One cricketing skills workshop hasn’t changed my outlook on ball sports nevertheless I did throughly enjoy myself. It wasn’t the game itself, but being outside with teachers learning a new skill, laughing at my own and others follies and getting some exercise that I really enjoyed. Cricket in this case just happened to be the medium but it could easily have been bullrush, flying kites or even catching bubbles.
As I was leaving the field I quietly mused how much we underestimate the importance of play in school. We know that play helps foster creativity, perseverance and team work in both adults in child. Yet is play something we value in schools?
To be sure most schools have play time. But isn’t the very fact that we need schedule time for the kids to play outside the classroom show how we little value play in learning?
Do we play with ideas or concepts or in the rush to make sure we cover all the necessary parts of the curriculum do we miss out time for ‘unproductive’ play?
Does teachers professional learning reflect the importance of play? How often do you play games or hear laughter during your professional learning? How much of your professional learning happens outside?
Because really shouldn’t learning be an excuse to eat an ice block for dinner?
This week has been dominated by assessment. If I haven’t been giving assessments, I have marking assessments and then spending time moderating assessment. What I am not looking forward to is the ranking that students inevitably do to each other once the assessment is returned.
Half way through last year, I got so fed up with the kids ranking each other after every test that I grouped my students by height for the first two weeks of the third term. I was so brazen that I even called the groups giants, tallies, shorties and dwarves. During that time the most amazing thing happened. Kids who often pulled back from class conversations were suddenly talking. Kid who usually dominated pulled back. ‘Ohh I never get anything right’ a tall child who was always in the ‘bottom’ literacy groups muttered incredulously.
I started playing games. I let the shortest child in the class choose a game to play against the giants and vice versa. The students quickly developed a group identity based on their height. They liked the feelings of power that came when their team got to decide on the system which tended to favour their own physical characteristics.
It took a few days for the kids to twig to my system. Some were outraged at the suggestion that I was grouping kids by physical features. After all, kids can’t control their height but they can control their learning through hard work. An excellent point. They also pointed out that some kids might find the work too hard or too easy. Another excellent point. However I asked my class this, why is me grouping kids by height any different from what students do to each other when tests come back?
This provocation led to an interesting discussion about learning. Why it was that knowing someone else scored lower on a test make you feel better? What does it feel like to be at the bottom of the group? What about the top? How come the middle felt left out? Most importantly why we feel the need to rank ourselves at all?
Do levels actually matter?
As my students found out letters and numbers don’t really mean anything at all until there are privileges associated with them. Scoring Stage 6 on NuMPA doesn’t really mean anything (and is certainly gibberish to many educators outside New Zealand) until a Stage 7 comes along and passes judgement on your inferior number. If you are lucky you won’t be the one with the lowest number in the class in which case you get a boost from knowing you’ve done better than someone else.
How often does this academic ranking by students go unchallenged by teachers?
Is this helping students succeed?
My problem isn’t so much with the labels themselves, but when the labels become the defacto feedback. I have deliberately not written the levels, nor have I fixed errors on the students writing samples I am about to return. I want the students to do the heavy lifting on their work before we sit down and talk about what level I think they are and where they need to go next.
In fact as I was sitting in a moderation meeting I silently wondered if the people that needed to learn how to moderate writing are the kids themselves.
What is it about this piece of work that makes it outstanding?
What does the writer of this story need to do go to the next level?
Those questions lead to more interesting outcomes than the more popular refrain heard in classes, ‘is it good?’
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.
Leave your clever at home – Conference presentations are often a great opportunity to highlight something successful that you’ve undertaken which can be applied to my class. But what is more awesome is when you talk about the difficulties and outright failures as a result of changing the way you do things. That way when us mere mortals listening to your implement ideas in our own class, we’ll know that we are going to have a few weeks of chaos during the implementation phase and it’s probably going to suck.
Embrace the messiness of learning – Yes I am one of those people conference organisers love to hate as I frequently didn’t show up to the sessions I booked. All of a sudden the person who sends out awesome tweets seems like a far more interesting and engaging option than a world-renowned expert I just had to see three months ago. Likewise a serendipitous meeting during drinks or on a plane or even a recommendation from someone else might see me wandering into different rooms.
Technology shouldn’t be used to replicate what we’ve always done - Twitter is like passing notes in class only way more awesome. While tweeting out quotable quotes from presentations and keynotes is good for those not attending the event to get a small window into the conference, more importantly twitter gives passive listeners a chance to respond to speakers in real time. Instead of sitting in a keynote silently seething at ideas I felt were wrong, I used twitter to connect with other attendees to respond to the ideas being pushed by the speaker. Post-conference drinks were easily organised by just tweeting out a time and place.
Collaboration makes things so easier – At the start of each keynote I watched as the twitter fairies came in and starting adding background information and links to other sessions on the keynote google doc making it look I had done far more work than simple note-taking. Bonus points go to the presenters and speakers who were using social media to connect with speakers before, after and during sessions. Could there be a conference wiki for people to add resources to one main point?
Make learning visible – From my own experience I know that students want to know what ‘good’ looks like, they borrow ideas. Do our current information systems, which are based on one account per child, actually achieving this? Is cybersaftey killing learning opportunities by keeping kids atomised even within their own class? Do we give multiple ways for kids to demonstrate learning new concepts outside of writing it down?
The importance of play – We know that sit down lectures are actually a really inefficient way to learn yet how much of conference is spent sitting around listening to lectures? What if the conference speakers flipped their instruction or had learning tasks for the audience to complete? What if conferences were more like school?
The days are starting to get shorter and stationary is starting to be bought which depending on your point of view is either the end of the holidays or the start of a new school year.
I’m going to go for a glass is half full interpretation and say it’s the start of 2013.
My holidays have been both equally manic and magic with 11 cities/towns, 8 border crossings and 3 cooking classes as I’m meandered around South East Asia in the space of five weeks. In my enthusiasm to dust off my passport, I left for the airport barely 12 hours after I waved goodbye to my students and will arrive just in time for the International Conference on Thinking.
Although most of my time has been spent marvelling at ancient and modern buildings in between eating copious amounts of street food, I did spend a couple of days in International Schools seeing the amazing teaching and learning going on there.
I know what you are thinking.
It takes a special kind of nerd to set aside time on holiday to do classroom observations but my time was PD on steroids. I have come back brimming with ideas to implement in the classroom and a love affair with the Primary Years Programme. As I look about my ideas around barcamps, impact projects and even the Daily 5 I can see how the programme gives some conceptual grunt to my ideas about effective teaching and learning. I would write more but I fear that such one-way gushing would be a bore to read.
These visits simply wouldn’t have been possible without twitter. Through twitter I had already virtually visited classrooms and met teachers. However while online is good face to face is so much better. You get to hear the conversations, the sights and yes even the smells of the classrooms. Nevertheless it is ever so surreal actually being in a classroom that you’ve been watching over the internet or putting a face to an avatar.
In other news I was pleased and humbled to have made it into the Apple Distinguished Educator programme. The calibre of the candidates who both made it into the programme and those who missed out is truly awe-inspiring. Alongside a digital community to join, I also have four days of learning and networking in Bali just before Easter.
2013 is looking to be an exciting year…
Hello my name is Stephanie and I’m an iphone addict.
I use my iphone in conferences, in meetings and *gasp* even in the classroom but I’m not using it to play angry birds.
Here’s 10 ways I use my iphone to make my teaching more effective:
1. Video – capturing learning as it happens
The main reason I got an iphone was for the video capabilities I’ll often walk around my classroom with my phone capturing student learning. Video can be used for students to check in on what they actually did versus what they really did. For instance, do students give each other time to talk or do they butt into conversations? I will frequently use interviews as an alternative for pencil and paper tests making assessment far less intrusive on the student. Moreover video is an effective way to put friends, family and sometimes even parliamentarians right into our classroom. Using an iphone means footage can be edited on the spot and then shared potentially with the whole world in a few minutes.
2. Posting pictures to the cloud
I’ve easily taken thousands of photos this year of my class. Some of them are the generic photos of kids at school events and on field trips but I also use the photo function as way to capture student learning and thinking. What makes the iphone awesome is that these photos can then be easily be shared even if I’m away on camp. I use flickr as my cloud storage of choice and will sometimes email stand-out pictures to students families.
3. Texting parents
You don’t need a fancy phone for sms and so this hardly seems worth mentioning. Nevertheless, I’ve found the best way to engage with my previously hard to reach parents, parents who don’t have email or might work odd hours, has been through text messaging. 160 characters keeps communication short and to the point. The asynchronous nature of text messaging also gives the parent time to think and then respond at a time that suits them.
4. Professional learning
I’ve got twitter, feedly, diggo, facebook, pinterest all on my phone. I often use my commute in the morning or my lunchtimes to scan my social network feeds for readings and ideas in the classroom. Professional learning for me isn’t a once a week meeting, it pretty much happens from the minute the alarm goes off on my phone.
5. Timers and reminders
The phone has a handy stopwatch and timer available. I’ve used my phone to time students speeches and also a countdown for tidying things up at the end of the day.If you are a bit like me and are so engrossed in teaching that you forget that your student needs to go over to the teacher aide room or need a prompt to photocopy something for class when you arrive at school, the iphone will send you reminder at a certain time or place.
Although I much prefer paperbooks to the electronic version. If I’m desperate for a book and New Zealand shops don’t stock it I’ll make a quick trip to Amazon and hey presto the book was there on my phone. Granted it’s a bit tough on the eyes and I wouldn’t recommend reading the entire of Moby Dick on your phone, but if a student is borrowing my ipad and I want to read a passage from a book, the iphone is great second option.
You are watching a news story with a reading group about kid’s school lunches. One of the students pipes up,” hey why don’t we see what things are like in our class?” The student takes photos of a quick survey, which is then posted to your blog and then let the journalist know via your class twitter account all from your iphone. No more mucking around waiting for the computer to load and finding the right cords for the camera, the sharing is seamless and the ability of my classroom to connect with the outside word is so much simpler.
8. Anecdotal note taker
If you are conferencing with a student or group of students, instead of writing down the conversation or taking a bulky laptop, you can use your phone to quickly record that conversation. I use Evernote which is an easy way to sort each child into folders and the app also has a nifty audio feature. When I’m talking about a child’s reading progress with another teacher, that teacher can hear the child read. The notes I make on Evernote are easily accessible from any device I’ve got the programme installed.
9. What the heck is that?
When I was out on duty when a group of kids spotted a rather interesting looking spider. I had no idea what the said spider was so I whipped out my phone a quick google confirmed the species of the spider and that it wasn’t dangerous to even if poisonous spiders aren’t exactly a huge problem in New Zealand. Point is we can access the information right then and there
10. Augmented reality
One of the most awesome features of the phone is augmented reality. Apps like wikitude, skyview etc. give kids a heads up display of what they are seeing in front of them. If you are on field trip you can learn point your phone in front of a building or a landmark and get a detailed history from wikipedia. Better yet, get the kids to start entering details for their area or make artwork come alive with aursama.
In reality there are hundreds of ways to use your iphone in teaching. What I love about my phone is that I mostly use it for a specific job and then *gasp* put it down again. It is the quick functionality of the phone, the unobtrusive nature of recording, the seamless sharing between channels and the fact it is small enough that I can put it back in my pocket when I am done which makes the iphone an indispensable teaching tool.
Moreover the ipod touch is the most common device students in my class own. Through using my phone, I better know how to help my kids learn effectively with the technology that in too many classrooms is at best sitting in a student’s pocket at worst outright banned from school.
So the next time you see a teacher hunched over their iphone in the staffroom, ask them how they are using it in their teaching and learning.
Whoops I better go, my phone is ringing.
How do you use your mobile device as a teaching tool?
Over the last two two terms my class has been building a milk bottle igloo. I’d like to say I had some sort of concept-based outcome when I decided to take on this project.
But alas no.
I saw the idea on twitter via @annekenn, a couple of classes decided to give it a go. The project broadly fitted with my school-wide topic of sustainability so I thought why not?
I showed the class the how to video at the start of the term to get them inspired but in reality I think the kids thought not for the first time this year that their teacher has a touch of the crazy.
Nevertheless the kids started bringing milk bottles in. At one stage I had over 150 milk bottles strung up around my classroom. But then I fell into a mild panic. What on earth were we going to build our structure on?
Was I going to have to abandon the project?
Weeks passed and the number of milk bottles being bought in started to drastically decrease. The construction work started on the school’s main building and I managed to salvage a piece of carpet from the demolition.
Once we had our base, building could finally commence.
Then about a third of the way through construction, we were facing a dangerous lack of milk bottles. We The kids were getting a bit sick of the project and I was again running out of steam. The end of the year was rapidly approaching and I didn’t want this project to fail.
I talked to my tutor teacher who came up with an idea to get the rest of the school involved, have a competition. Thus the great milk bottle competition began. Slowly but surely kids from different classes started bringing in milk bottles and the most amazing thing happened.
As the construction of our igloo progressed, the number of kids coming into the class with spare milk bottles started increasing. The kids in my class became a lot more excited about the project and we finally finished the project with a ribbon cutting ceremony that the students organized during their ‘morning stuff.‘
It was fantastic feeling seeing the kids finally finish the project and more importantly that the igloo is getting plenty of use from the kids. In fact the more I think about, the more I love that the class has created a cave space for the kids who crave less stimulation in the classroom.
But what has been really rewarding has been seeing kids list in their end of year reflection for their reports list building the igloo as a highlight of the year.
But what did all this igloo building teach my class.
First off building the igloo taught us that we can transform everyday objects into works of art or something functional with a bit of creativity.
Secondly, the igloo taught my students the value of team work. I showed two students the basics of construction and then they passed on the lessons to other people.
Thirdly, we all learned that hot glue leaves a nasty burn and the best thing to do is run cold water on it and wait for it to peel off.
But the biggest lesson I hope that my students took away with them is the importance of collaboration. There’s no way we would have finished the igloo if students and teachers from other classes hadn’t pitched in. Having others help gave both myself and my class the motivation to finish the project.
But project based learning doesn’t come without its pitfalls. There were a number of times throughout construction where I fell into one of those pits of despair we all fall into when something you’ve invested a lot of time in isn’t going well.
Project based learning is also incredibly messy. There was a stage where the classroom felt like it was swimming in milk bottles and the project certainly didn’t fit into a nice ordered unit of work. I couldn’t tell you at the start of the term when we were going to finish the igloo or even if we were going to finish constructing the thing at all.
Project based learning sometimes results in failure. Our igloo is slowly collapsing. One of my students has already identified that we didn’t have any scaffolding and more importantly we got a bit sloppy with construction in parts. Important engineering lessons for youngsters.
Project based learning sometimes hurts. Yes I burned myself multiple times. Yes my students burned themselves too.
But when they look down at that scar, they’ll be able to tell the story of the igloo made of milk bottles.