Category Archives: Assessment

How I built a culture of reading in my classroom

Sam Reading in Badlands

Image by CaptPiper used under creative commons licence

Of all the accomplishments I’ve made in my second term of teaching the one I am most proud of is building a reading culture in my class.

This may sound weird as most people seem to assume that geeks eschew books in favour of gadgets. While I have proclaimed my love for my iphone, I also understand the power of books.

There’s something magical about cracking the spine on a brand new book or the smell that comes from picking up a treasure found in the back of a second-hand bookstore. I know my own life has been enriched by reading. As a child I loved the Alex Quartet that my mother gave me for my 12th birthday while First they Killed my Father prompted me to visit Cambodia a  few years ago and thus began an obsession with that part of the world.

Towards the end of my course last year I felt woefully under-prepared to teach senior literacy when @Kathryntrask reviewed the Book Whisperer on her blog. I immediately requested a copy from the library and was entranced by the impassioned plea of Donalyn Miller for children to spend less time on busy work and more time reading student-selected books during classroom literacy blocks. The central thesis of  the book, teach the reader not the book, really resonated with me however I had no real idea how to implement this in a classroom which is where The Daily 5 and CAFE books come in.

The Daily 5 gave me some concrete classroom management strategies  in order to build the classroom environment which supports the student-selected reading. Each day my students spend time reading to themselves, buddy reading, listening to audio books and I also read a book a loud to the class. In short my literacy book is a text-rich environment in which the expectation is that students will read 30 books of their own selection before the end of the year.

As part of the challenge each week the students write a letter reflecting on their progress.  I’ve been amazed how many students are now starting to evaluate the texts they read. One mentioned how the Lemony Snicket series was great for finding wacky words while another decided that Roald Dahl’s rich vocabulary and imagination were the reason why his books were perennially popular.

As I read through the end of term reflections by my students, I was staggered by how many kids mentioned that they read more books in the last 10 weeks then they did in the entire of last year. Almost all of them have a better relationship with reading now then they did prior to beginning this term. But what has been most powerful is how many of my students have mentioned they’ve started reading a book based on a classmate’s recommendation.

I frequently overhear classroom conversations which are now peppered with what books kids are reading or giving opinions on books or authors. These side conversations are so rich in opinions on writing style, plot and characterization that I wish there was a way I could capture those conversations without intruding on my students. The most beautiful moment for me as a teacher was seeing a group of my Year 7 boys huddled together in the library sharing a book. So often we hear of boys in particular turning off reading in favour of computers yet  based on my limited experience boys will read if they are encouraged to and are given the tools to develop as readers.

I followed Donalyn’s recommendation of 40 books a school year which I reduced to 30 as my class started 1/4 of the way through the school year. Miller points out that this hefty target means that students need to always have a book on the go if they are going to succeed. Not all of my students completed 10 books this term but even just having a large target gave kids some success. One of my Year 8 boys who readily admitted to finishing only 2 books in the entire of last year read 8 books over the past 10 weeks including a 500 page tome from the CHERUB series which is a huge achievement for a dormant reader in such a short space of time.

As is inevitable when you set a target, in this case 10 books in 10 weeks, there were some short cuts taken by students looking for an easy way to meet the challenge. Even with the genre requirement, some kids were seeking out easy reads however within a few weeks boredom quickly set in and the students started selecting better fit books. This is where Daily 5′s I-PICK comes in because it starts to give kids a language to finding books that are a good fit for them.

Activities like speed dating where a pair of students introduce the book they’ve been reading to their classmate in 30 seconds before finding a new partner is a quick way for kids to find out about books. I was a bit iffy about introducing a class of 11/12 year olds to the term speed dating so called the activity speed sharing. The students didn’t buy the ‘speed sharing’ euphemism for very long and I learned an important lesson, just be upfront with the kids.

I have also found that book selection is something that requires teacher guidance and feedback. Last week I noticed one of my students had picked up his 10th Geronimo Stilton book. After a quick reminder from me about what his reading goal was, the student decided to select a more challenging book. For me as a teacher this is the kind of conversation I want to have with my student. I didn’t attack the student’s taste nor disparage the book, I simply guided the student back to his learning goals and let him make the decision.

There is a downside to all this reading.

My students are a lot more discerning with the texts I use during guided reading sessions and will tell me if they don’t think the text is a good fit.  I think this is a good problem to have; kids being able to articulate that the text isn’t working for them. Certainly I’m going to have to be a lot more careful in the future with what I put in front of my students as their identity as readers matures.

I’m very aware that intermediate school is really the last chance that kids ‘learn to read’ before they enter high school and they are assumed to be capable of reading to learn. As always, there’s a few students I’m worried about. I’ve also got this nagging feeling that I am not preparing my students for high school where they will be expected to read a set text.

Moreover the increased fluency of my readers and the enjoyment my students have for reading might not show up in the assessment data even though research  shows that reading for pleasure has immense long-term benefits not just for my students’  academic achievement but for them as people.

This term has been really challenging but I’m proud of my students. As I looked out over my class during Daily 5 last Thursday, I was amazed to see a quiet, purposeful classroom full of students on task when at that point in the term the kids should have been sliding into holiday mode.

What I’ve come to realize over the last 10 weeks is reading is a highly social activity. By giving my students time and space to read as well as share what they are reading with others, the kids have started to support their classmates’ reading progress not just in terms of book recommendations but also fluency, expression, comprehension and even vocabulary.  I doubt this would have happened if I had continued with the more traditional literacy programme where I chose the texts and my students time is filled up with ‘response’ activities that I tried during the previous term.

I’ve also realized that there isn’t much point in teaching kids reading strategies if I also didn’t give them authentic opportunities to practice them. I know some teachers see recreational reading as something that kids should be doing at home while school is for work. While I don’t dispute the huge role that parents have in supporting children’s reading, by devoting time in the literacy class for reading, I am telling my students that I think reading for pleasure is a worthwhile activity which needs to be supported.

There are some drawbacks to this sort of ‘free range’ reading programme. The biggest one is that it is very labour intensive.  Although rich in data, the reading notebooks take a lot longer to mark that the more traditional worksheets as I follow Donalyn’s example of writing a letter back to each student.

You also need to invest in books for your classroom library. Alongside our regular library trips, I’ve become adept at sourcing cheap books in bargain bins and Trade Me to have on hand in the classroom when the kids don’t have any or don’t like the book they selected. As a teacher I try read at least one young adult book a week in order to walk the talk with my kids as a reader and it’s the best professional reading I do all week.

I don’t consider myself a literacy guru by any stretch of the imagination. In reality my literacy block is merely a mediocre copy of the master teachers out there including the 2 sisters, @donalynbooks  and of course my wonderful PLN including @kathryntrask, @judykmck, @annekenn, @heymilly as well as @kathleen_morris and @kellyjordan82 whose ideas for teaching literacy I have shamelessly stolen.

Thank you for being so generous with your knowledge.

The unbearable lightness of making an OTJ on National Standards

Time of year where we are sending home statements about what our students learning goals for the year are. As these are reports going home, they must include a statement about National Standards and be in plain English. Personally I prefer my English in pink and purple polka dots but I digress.

I’ve had a number of problems National Standards in the past but now I’m having to make an overall teacher judgement about whether I think my kids will be at standard by the end of the year I’ve run into a huge set of ethical dilemmas.

There are a few kids in my classroom who without any real input from me are already at standard right now. If National Standards measure success, then what is our system telling the kids who are already there? You’re deemed to be at where you should for your age now put your feet up and watch the year go by. At the other end of the spectrum there are a few kids who even with a herculean effort are unlikely to be at standard by the end of the year. I can’t think of anything more demoralizing for a kid, or anyone really, then being told at the start of the year that even if pull out all the stops and work harder than they ever imagined, you’ll still be below standard at the end of the year.

Yes I realize that standards are supposed to be aspirational and I should have high expectations of all my students, but this needs to balanced by principles of honesty and fairness. Yet even the principle of honesty must be couched. When I hear of stories of children in tears about being labelled below standard and how distressing this must be for some kids and some parents I know I need to be careful when giving those cold hard facts. And it this judgement without context which is the reason why a lot of teachers loathe national standards.

Yet I realize that these feelings aren’t the same for parents.

Last school reporting season I watched my facebook feed light up with friends proudly mentioning that their kids are above National Standards to know that the standards do mean something to parents.  A safeguard that yes my kid is doing ok, or no my kid needs help.

But the parents aren’t the only people who read school reports.

As I’m writing my comments and making my judgements on these statements I’m very aware of my student audience.  That audience is the reason why I’ve spent more time this weekend worrying about whether or not the kids in my classroom will meet National Standard at the end of the year than I have on identifying their next learning steps or even planning for next week’s classes. In short I’ve spent more time worrying about where the kids are according National Standards than I have working out where they need to go and how we are going to get them there.

I know I shouldn’t over think these judgements but it is such a big call to stick a label on kid.

People outside of the education sector seem to assume that there is a definite line in the sand between the kids that are achieving or not.  However even with the wealth of assessment information my school has on each child I still feel like I am performing nano surgery with a sledge hammer when it comes to making a judgement on national standards for some children.

For a number of children the weight of the previous teacher judgements weights heavily on my mind especially if the evidence I have supports an entirely different conclusion from a child’s previous report. The previous teacher might well have made a mistake. I know despite asking for the advice of others, there will be kids I have made an error of judgement on. This doesn’t make them or me a bad teacher. In fact it doesn’t make us any different from any primary teacher in New Zealand.

Because the bigger mistake that has been made is thinking of learning as a product rather than a process. And it worries me greatly that these labels are detracting us from the conversations we need to be having over a child’s next learning step. Despite arguments to the contrary, assessment isn’t a science and should not be treated as such. A guide to be sure, but ultimately like all measures of the human mind entirely fallible by our innate individuality.

Weekly Reflection: More than the sum of their academic parts

I have students.

29 of them to be exact.

When people talk about raising class sizes as if just a couple of kids won’t make much more of a difference I wonder if they have ever actually experienced what is like to  mark and analyse the results of 29 students.  Don’t get me wrong I’m the sort of geek who loves playing around in e-asstle generating reports and find spending an evening entering the data oddly soothing after a busy day in the classroom.

However when it came to assessing my students’ writing samples I’ve spent hours reading and re-reading their work trying to get a fix on where the kids are at and trying to group them into ability groups.

Because I do so much writing I thought that would make the process easier. In fact I found it so much harder. I write mostly for pleasure and when faced with having to write something within a certain space of time ie. an exam or a work deadline any enjoyment I derive from writing goes straight out the window. And I know that for some students when they are  faced with having a directive from me, their teacher, asking them to write there will be a few that will struggle to say anything let alone anything profound in the time allowed to. It worries me that there may very well be a couple of kids who are brilliant writers but I’m missing them because of the pressure to produce something in the time allowed.

However what ultimately helped the most with making a call on the students writing wasn’t the rubrics but spending time  on a field trip with the students. That might sound counter-intuitive but spending time with the kids enabled me to see that little snippets of themselves that came through in their writing. The turns of phrases, how they talk. Some of those details I completely missed when I first read their work. Had I not had those interactions I might of missed those details of their writing and saw the students’ work only as writing levels rather than the product of emerging writers.

The further people get away from the classroom, the easier it is to reduce not only teaching and learning but the lives of children down to nothing more than a number on score.  The kids are so much more than that.  Yet how often do we hear people talk about raising academic achievement levels as if assessment is the master of our education system rather than the servant of teaching and learning.

Our understanding of what it is to be educated should not be based simply on what is present, but also on how the spaces between what is given are seen, named, unnamed, ignored. Because ultimately the kids are so much than the sum of their academic parts.

And when we see only the parts we miss the spaces in between.

Accountability – I do not think it means what you think it means

If you’ve ever seen the movie The Princess Bride, you’ll know that the character Vizzini keeps referring to various situations in the movie as being “inconceivable.” You’ll also know that eventually Inigio Montoya responds to Vizzini’s cries of “inconceivable” with the second best line in the movie: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

I am reminded of this conversation every time I hear the word accountability used in relation education.

If we could just find that magical mathematical formula of what effective teaching is through testing the kids, the teachers, the schools, the caretaker’s cat against benchmarks then we’d be set. From those numbers we’ll be able to find out who the super teachers and super schools are, what they do to get results and then replicate it on a grand scale. In short we would be able to teacher-proof our education system.

Is that a good thing?

I’m pretty happy to wager a Big Mac that there is nobody out there who is talking about lowering standards. But the problem is that we want our schools to be a bit like McDonalds all identical, all good. I can see the appeal. There’s some comfort in knowing that if I rock up to a McDonalds in Beijing or New York that my Big Mac is going to taste like the one I can order at the Maccers on Queen Street. More importantly nobody is going to argue that school is the place we send kids to learn. Right now there are some children out there who aren’t engaged and this is causing problems both for the kids themselves and also for the wider community. So our schools need to do more to help those kids in particular but also others to succeed.

The problem is that we’ve defined success in education as passing assessments to demonstrate literacy and numeracy. Don’t get me wrong being able to read, write and be able to do maths are important not just economically but also for the functioning of our democracy. But there is a deeper purpose to education which we often forget when we focus on test scores.

Broadly speaking the purpose of education is to help students discover and cultivate their passions so that they can lead happy lives.

We don’t just read and write because it is good for the economy and society that we are literate. We do so because there is something innate in our humanity that we wish to understand and be understood.  Likewise we humans have an innate attraction to pattern structure, and symmetry that maths helps  us refine.  Gambling, soduku,  rubick’s cube are based on maths but we don’t think of it is as such because we’ve mistaken computation for maths.

I don’t think for one minute think that literacy and maths are the only ways humans seek to make sense of the world. It saddens me greatly that science, social science, the arts are getting the squeeze put on them in order to focusing in on the good old 3Rs. But this is what happens when only certain parts of the curriculum are deemed worthy enough to be  ‘accountable.’  We start to forget about the other learning areas which  means we also marginalize the children in our schools who might have particular talents or interests in those disciplines.

On a more broader scale standards do not reflect a student’s ability to think creatively, persist in the face of adversity, work collaboratively with peers or use problem solving skills. If we think in terms of those skills, National Standards are not able to adequately assess them. It’s not just educators who know the value of these so-called soft skills yet they are deemed superfluous when a student is evaluated by national standards.

So when Dom Post tells primary teachers to suck it up when we voice concern about what the accountability measures might mean in schools as cover up  our ‘poor performance’ I get scared. Not because I think my performance is poor at 2 weeks on job but I’m scared more broadly about a set of assumptions that are being made to measure performance and the effect this will have on our kids.

I’m scared that the National Standards that are being used to measure accountability aren’t particularly accurate right now yet we assuming that they are.

I’m scared future classrooms will be focused more on students making the standards rather than learning.

I’m scared for the students who have an interest in the arts, science or social science will miss out on developing their passions because they aren’t deemed important enough by our policy makers to measure.

I’m scared for that the gifted and talented kids learning needs will be ignored because they are functioning well above standard and the focus on improving gains for all might marginalize this group of learners.

I’m scared for the kids with severe learning difficulties will never have their efforts and progress over the year acknowledged because they are below standard.

I’m scared that I might be labeling english language learners below standard because their thinking got lost in translation.

I’m scared that by reducing teaching and learning down to passing a series of assessments we will lose sight of the reason why we educate children in the first place.

Despite my rantings I do believe that standardized tests have a place in education. They can provide useful diagnostic information about a child’s learning needs when they are used appropriately. However just like blood pressure is only a small measure of a person’s health and can not give an overall picture of a person’s well being standards should not be the sum of all a student’s academic parts let alone the focus for the entire education system.

That word you keep using, accountabilty, I don’t think it means learning.

How to make the most of… Visiting Lecturer Assessments

I’m shamelessly stealing @krivett1 series of posts  How to make the most of ….  and doing a series on topics relevant to student teachers. My first will be on Visiting Lecturer Assessments if only because I’ve just finished my last observations and the experience is fresh in my head.

So without further ado, Visiting Lecturers. They come to watch you teach a session and write a report about it. Of course the whole is more than the sum of its parts so here are my tips:

1. It’s not an observation it is assessment for learning

These assessments have the potential to make or break your teaching career so it is little wonder student teachers approach these observations as a high-stakes test of teaching rather than assessment for learning. What helped me was to start thinking about what I would want my students to do if they were in the same position. I’d want them to show me  what they know so that I can help them. Another words go in with the attitude that you are here to learn.

2. Your lecturers aren’t looking the perfect lesson

You know that old Hollywood adage about never working with animal and children? The reason they say that is that are putting on a show. Your lesson shouldn’t be a show but a snapshot of your teaching. Working with children means there will always be an element of the unpredictable. During one of my observations the classroom door literally came off the hinges while at another some students were not keeping hands to themselves resulting in some tears being shed.  In both cases it wasn’t the incident itself that I was being assessed on but that I quickly responded and bought the class back on track. What your lecturer is looking for is how you respond to those challenges in classroom management not that things go wrong.

3. Teach like your lecturer isn’t there

For my first assessment I didn’t even introduce the lecturer because I had forgotten she was in the room by the time the year 7s came in. Since the students didn’t feel the need comment on the strange person at the back of the room I just carried on. For the littlies it was best to address the elephant in the room, the new person, and then go about my business.  The lecturers aren’t there to see me at my best, just me at my normal.

4. Your lecturers want you to succeed

I get it more than anyone, you want your gold stars from your lesson observation. However basking in your awesomeness with your lecturer will only get you so far in this learning to be a teacher gig. Taking criticism that you might feel unwarranted and turning it around is where the real learning  happens. I took some criticism from one assessment (that I needed to praise students more) which might on the surface seem a bit nit picky and turned it into a strength for the next assessment 2 weeks later. What was the best bit? Getting positive feedback on my praise of students made me feel good about putting in the effort  into this area so now I know important praise is!   So if your lecturer gives you some negative feedback on your observation, don’t get defensive or blame external factors (the students, the lecturer just doesn’t get it, I was feeling sick that day etc.). Start thinking about how you will turn your criticism into a strength by the next visit.

5. Sunlight is the best disinfectant

If you are feeling nervous, then name it. There’s no point in pretending that you are not nervous and then spending the rest of your lesson trying to cover up your nervousness.  So talk about the elephant in the room, it might  make it seem far less big and scary.

6. Be prepared to justify your decisions

What turned my last Visiting Lecturer assessment from a good one into a great one was that I could justify everything I did in the class. From the warm up to why I was using little teddies as counters (or indeed the counters themselves) I knew why I was doing things as much as what I was doing.

7. Teach to your lecturer’s speciality (from a course mate)

If at all possible try and teach the subject that you know your lecturer is teaching so you can get awesome feedback. Two of my Visiting Lecturers were maths lecturers so I taught maths. As a result I got very content-specific feedback that wouldn’t have happened if I was teacher reading or science.

What advice would you give students who are about to have their first Visiting Lecturer Assessments?

Weekly reflection: Using assessment for learning…

New Zealand Graduating Teacher Standard 5.c

“Graduating teachers know how to communicate assessment information appropriately to learners, their parents/caregivers and staff.”

This week was my first week of real teaching. The week flew by and I have a lot to post on and not much time to write so I thought I would that I would use this week’s topic to reflect on student assessment.

In general most people think of student assessment as the traditional pencil and paper tests, and these do have their place. In order to plan for my current teaching unit I relied on the data from the students’ asTTLe tests to group students for instruction and work out what it is that I would be teaching them. Having met the students only a few times, I would have been lost without this data. Pencil and paper tests can also be useful for gauging student progress over the long-term because they are replicable and generally seen as being reliable.

But data is only a snapshot. When doing the grouping, my associate teacher jiggled a few of the group assignments students showing that the overall teacher judgement is still important. Human judgement obviously has a subjective aspect to it, but it does control for some variables that a test doesn’t have: knowledge of the learners.

The aspect of assessment I found useful was videoing learning as it was happening. During one of the lessons last week I wandered around with my video camera filming students and asking questions about the material. This data was just as interesting as the seeing them work through grasping the maths in the task to grasping the concept that I wanted to teach. It was a teaching moment eureka moment. But as I was making up my video, I noticed several students still had a misconception that needed to be addressed in a future teaching step. This type of authentic assessment was a gold mine of information. Obviously using video isn’t replicable and takes a huge amount of time to produce when editing down the footage (in comparison to making and grading tests) however I’m hoping the students will get a kick out of seeing their video and gain some insights into their learning.

If I was to make it better, I’d assign a student as a roving reporter and use their data to make up the video.

But my point was that student assessment has different purposes and can take many different forms, a teacher uses a variety of these assessments to inform their practice.

Should students assess teachers?

Graduating Teacher Standard 5.a

Graduating teachers systematically and critically engage with evidence to reflect on and refine their practice.

Every week or so I am supposed to have my teaching assessed by my associate teacher against the Graduating Teacher Standards. This process is part of making sure that I’m competent before I’m let loose on a class of kids (relatively) unsupervised.

My associate teacher has decided to let the students give some feedback into my assessment. Now I should preface my remarks by saying that this school is one that takes student voice seriously. There are regular surveys which gauge student feedback so I am operating in a context where student voice is valued. I should also say that this group of Year 8 (12 year old) students are a thoughtful and highly intelligent bunch who regularly give highly insightful feedback and feed-forward in class.

When I’ve mentioned to people that my students are helping to give I’ve had a few raised eyebrows in response, some of which have come from qualified teachers. I can see why some people would be uncomfortable with the process, kids can be frighteningly honest at times and you’d be surprised what they pick up.

The students know which subjects their teacher doesn’t like to teach because they notice the lack of time the teacher puts into the subjects.

The students know which teachers are marking time and which ones have passion for learning.

The students know that ‘fun’ doesn’t always mean learning but learning should be fun.

Maybe some teachers don’t want to hear at the kids have to say because they know that they won’t like what they hear. But really shouldn’t the kids be at the centre of teaching and learning? Hearing uncomfortable things now is far better than spending years clinging to bad practices. I have no compunction in saying right now I’m probably a bad teacher, I just don’t have the knowledge and experience to be awesome. But everyday I’m learning things from watching and doing, I feel like I’ve learned more in the last 3 weeks in school than I did in the past 2 months slogging away on the books. However I realize that this is an ongoing process and when I feel like I know everything there is to know then its time to retire.

But if teaching and learning should be an ongoing conversation, then surely teachers need to keep tweaking and updating their practice. While having knowledge of what makes effective practice from the ‘experts’ is important, you’ve got 30 or so (little) experts that could give you feedback on your teaching. But more than anything, the kids should be at the heart of any teacher’s practice. Not asking how you could do things differently or what things the learners enjoy seems at odds with that idea.

So to any practicing teacher out there who aren’t already, I encourage you to start asking questions about your practice, you might be pleasantly surprised to hear the answers.

Weekly Reflection: Flashmob!

New Zealand Graduating Teacher Standard 1.c

Graduating teachers have knowledge of the relevant curriculum documents of Aotearoa New Zealand.

Yup you read right, this week involved a flashmob. And not just any flashmob, a bollywood inspired flashmob.

Somehow ended up with an A for English and a B Maths. Scratching my head wondering how did that happen? English was the subject I loathed in school and was most apprehensive about taking for the course. Maths was the subject that I had little trouble with at school and the assignment that I felt was my best work.  The good stuff was that I had excellent justifications and an excellent next teaching step selected. However I had messed up one of my assessments of student work and didn’t reference enough sources which the assessment criteria demanded was necessary to receive an A grade (pro tip: if your lecturer assigns you a book for your course, find a way to reference the thing during your assignments).

Models and Strategies turned into a disaster because I didn’t read the assessment criteria properly and failed a  large section of the assignment (I answered the question but I didn’t use the right piece of evidence to support my arguments). Fortunately the rest of my work was an A so I passed my essay but I was gutted to have let myself down in such a way. To any students reading let this let this be a lesson to you, before you start writing READ YOUR ASSESSMENT CRITERIA CAREFULLY. Twice. Maybe even three times. Read the criteria while you are writing and then re-check your essay against the criteria before you submit your assignment.

Teaching wise things have been going well, I’ve been taking greater responsibility for some things in class and the group I am taking for maths seems to be chugging along quite nicely. But yes the students in my class organized a flashmob which may or may not have come about from my teaching.

During form time, which is a time where a lot of discussion promoting meta-cognitive awareness happens at the school, a I showed the students this video:

We then had a class discussion about what makes a good leader and follower, initially the students thought believed following was merely blindly following the leader. But as this video pointed out, one of the most important things a follower can is recruit other followers. Then later on in the week for our version of show and tell taught one of the students taught the class some bollywood moves (Basic CD player) and then they decided to do a flashmob during morning interval.

I willingly admit that the students are awesome so I take credit only for seeding an idea, if I can take credit for anything at all. I also give the kids mad props for putting the thing together. Doing someone different especially in front of their peers which involves risking ridicule which takes a lot of courage. It is also important to give props to the student’s the real teachers who said ‘awesome how can I help’ to the idea of a flashmob rather than dismissing it as some crazy idea.

But what is the educational value of doing such a thing as a flashmob?

The kids need to use thinking to identify what makes a good leader and follower. How to engineer crowd and even what kind of music to play.
They’ve had to use oral language to dissect the dynamics of making a movement. They also taught each other the moves.
They’ve needed to manage themselves to get the thing off the ground and they’ve related to others to get other kids to join in.
Obviously they’re participating and contributing to the life of the school by actually doing the flashmob rather than just discussing it in class.

These would be the five competencies of the New Zealand Curriculum.

The flashmob went well, they had some students join in and plenty of bystanders. There’s even an idea to do it again with another class, so it will be interesting to see what happens this week. The mob was put together during form time so the students didn’t miss out on any ‘real’ learning but I hope they will remember the lesson from this week in the future.

Weekly reflection: assess this?

Phew is that the second week of teaching over and done with?

I don’t think I’ve mentioned that my school has a specialised teaching model where the students go off to different teachers for different subjects.

The bonus of this set up is that I’ve been able to see multiple teachers in action, which has been fascinating to see how  teachers use variety of ways of managing student behaviour. The specialist subjects, with all that energy and excitement, tend to manage behaviour a lot different from maths, which is different from maths which is different again from English. I’ve picked up a whole bunch of techniques which will be the subject of a future blog post. The downside is that I sometimes feel a bit lost. Instead of following one person all day I’ve needed to find, liaise and negotiate with different teachers to find convenient times to observe their teaching.

My time in schools hasn’t been entirely observational. This week I’ve been taking small groups for maths and have run into to my first challenge as a teacher, time management. I spend the night before my lessons freaking out that  I won’t have enough activities to fill up the 45 minutes I have with the group: ‘ZOMG how am I going to fill 45 minutes?” However by the end of class I’m left wondering where the 45 minutes have gone to, and a long list of activities that I haven’t yet had time to complete. Obviously being aware of time and how much you can feasibly cover in a lesson are judgements that I need to develop. I’m also trying to work on split instructional techniques as even in my small groups there’s a huge variablity in the student’s capabilities.

But my biggest problem this week has been my English assignment. The assignment is to do some running records on a child using specific resources and then plan a guided reading session on the basis of the data. Sounds simple enough right? However I’ve been placed in an enrichment Year 8 class, which is obviously full of high-achieving students. Moreover the school doesn’t seem to make use of the named resources in class.

I’ve been able to locate some lower-level readers in other classes however the second roadblock I’ve hit is that the school does make use of a commercially produced running records. The assignment specifically mentions that I’m not allowed to use this as a way to gather data.

So right now I am feeling frustrated. With the benefit of hindsight I would have selected a primary school to do my first Teaching Experience as I would have no problems finding a reader and the necessary resources in order to complete the assignment. However I had no idea what the assessment requirements for my English paper were when I  made my school selections. Moreover I couldn’t help but feel that the assessment could have been flexible enough to incorporate different contexts of teaching. Grrr.

While it might be cathartic to have a bit of a moan, this isn’t going to help me complete my English assignment.  So instead of whining about it, I’m going to use next week to utilize my problem solving-skills to get my data and access the necessary resources in order to fulfil the assignment. I’ve also learned a lesson in ensuring students have the necessary tools to complete assessments when I am out in the field, so I’ve had a learning experience.

I still love being at school, which has made me more determined to get these assignments done so I get out of university as soon as possible.

Weekly reflection: submitted

As I alluded to earlier in the week this week has been the week of assignment. Not one, but three of them. Maths, literacy and teaching strategies. Bam, bam, bam.

As such I haven’t had much of a chance to really think about anything outside of assignments and catching up on coursework that I hadn’t completed due to spending way too much time on the assignments.

This week is a bit of a turning point for my studies as tomorrow I start my teaching experience. For the next 2 months I’ll be out in the classroom seeing what I’ve been reading about for the last two months, actual teaching.

I hadn’t realized how read I was to go out on Teaching Experience until I was babysitting a friend’s preschooler and I made observation of Mr 3 and while we were stacking tins of cat food. I quickly noticed that although Mr 3 can ‘count’ to 20 he had no concept of what the numbers are. They are just words that he can prattle off, he hasn’t attached any meaning to them yet. Prior to my studies, I probably wouldn’t have taken the time to notice that Mr 3 has yet to develop the concept the number one represents one of something, while two means two of something etc even though he can ‘count’ all the way up to 11. Which is fine, he’s only just turned 3. But that incident crystallized all these weeks of reading and writing assignments. I was finally able to have an ‘aha’ moment where the theory I had been learning for the last few weeks fell into place and I was able to apply it to a situation.

So yes I may have some nerves about actually spending time in a school, but the biggest ones right now are deciding what I am going to wear.

:)

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