Following an interesting and somewhat difficult year last year (personally and professionally) I decided this year to go back to being ‘just’ a classroom teacher and dropped my teaching load to 0.6 … a nice 3 days a week
I have also taken on the adventure of Teacher Professional Leave. The DEECD in Victoria provides between 30 and 40 days of professional leave for teachers to conduct in inquiry/investigation into their teaching practices.
As a member of our SIT (School Improvement Team) I have been working with colleagues to explore what we call the change question:
“In order for all learners to be successful in our School what needs to change?”
So, along with a couple of colleagues, this year I am exploring what conditions are required to make project based learning successful in our school.
We have been using project/inquiry/game based learning in our personal teaching practice for the last two years and have seen changes in our students and their attitudes to school and engagement in their learning. We know the theory backs us on our observations but why are we able to achieve successful PBL in our classrooms? What is it about the learning environment? What are the characteristics of student behaviour, teacher behaviour and the relationship between them that affects the success of PBL?
What is really nice is being given the time to reflect on my practice and to have professional conversations about my teaching with my colleagues, including my students!
The title for this post came from one of those conversations; I was talking to my year 7 English class about what makes it hard to learn. We were talking about how it is hard to concentrate when you just sit for long periods of time. I shared an experience I had at a PD I went to where I also found it difficult to concentrate and what strategies I used to get through. One of my treasures suddenly did his thinking out loud …
…”So if teachers teach the students, who teaches the teachers?”
So what are you doing to improve your teaching practice?
This year I have taken on a Leading Teaching position for the first time and, as a result, joined the leadership team in our school. It has been an eye-opener and a learning curve, and has caused me to visit again one of the thoughts I ponder regularly – what makes a good teacher a good teacher? The simple answer is practise! The more complicated answer involves a cocktail of motivation, reflection, challenge, change, discomfort, discussion, failure and success.
I couldn’t attend ictev2012 this year but thankfully (and as you would expect from a tech conference) the participants and presenters generously shared their thoughts and experiences on twitter. So, again, from the comfort of my lounge room (and even with a visitor dropping by) I was able to continue my professional learning. Again some of the tweets challenged me to think about “good teachers” and what motivates them.
Are the teachers who “give up” a Saturday to attend such a conference the same teachers who complain about the number of meetings on the school term planner or how many ‘dot’ points they still have to cover on their curriculum content? I suspect not!
What motivates you to be a better teacher today than you were yesterday?
What motivates you to keep up with the changes in educational tools, methods and theories?
What motivates you to stay in the teaching profession?
To the ‘complainers’ I say, GET OUT! If it really bothers you that you are 5 minutes over allotted; that you have taken four extras this week; that you have attended meetings every night this week; that you have 600 reports to write in three weeks; then you are in the wrong job and it’s not worth the stress. I am concerned about the stress you are under, but, more importantly, the stress you put your students and colleagues under with your negativity.
What motivates me is the challenge of preparing each generation of students to be ready to ‘fly’ in a world we haven’t experienced and can’t imagine. That is stressful even with the support of colleagues who are also motivated by a vision of the future without being bogged down by colleagues who are simply hanging on to the past!
I bought an iPad just before Christmas. Our school has been toying with the idea of using tablets /iPads in our yr 7 program – like most schools we already have a 1:1 program. I decided to take mine on my family holiday in an effort to give it a good test drive and duly loaded it with a variety of apps, ebooks, music and pod/vodcasts.
Today a friend asked me the hot question: Which is better, then, the iPad or a laptop?
I had to pause to consider my answer.
I like both and I believe both have their place.
I like the ease with which my iPad travels: it’s light, the same size as a book and I can hold it easily in one hand. I was quite impressed with the quality of photos and videos I took on my holiday … playback is great on the device itself although some quality was lost when it was edited in to footage taken with a video camera. I love the touch screen technology and how easy this makes using most of my favourite apps (more about those later).
However, I am a little annoyed withthe typing pad (as a touch typist I find it too small to use properly, although I get that the thumb-typing-text-generation probably don’t feel the same way). I do still find publishing easier using the office suite … yes, I know google.docs, etc can be an alternative, but therein lies another problem. The assumption that everyone has easy access to the internet! So, my laptop lets me publish things with familiar programs, my laptop has a DVD drive which I still find very handy and I don’t tend to put my laptop down and forget where I put it!
I actually think that we ‘need’ both tools in our education toolkit … half a dozen netbooks and half a dozen tablets would be enough for flexibility in my classroom (26 students). In my discussion with my friend I suggested maybe one of each device per family would be a good compromise … at the moment many families end up with multiple laptops as their children enter various 1:1 programs. The practicalities of having the right tool for the job at the time you are doing it are not easily solved … but realistically the families I work with cannot afford to buy an iPad and a laptop for each child.
Before I forget … some of those apps?
Evernote … so many uses … notes at PD sessions, pictures of students’ work, notes about students and I have it on my laptop so I can sync between the two devices.
Songify … just for fun! My sister got me onto this and a number of the other fun ‘talking’ apps. Songify particularly I use as fun thinking music with lyrics that remind us what to think about (what ever you speak and record become the song).
I am becoming a little concerned at the I-ification of education, specifically, and the world in general … but that is food for another blog post ;p
Summer break over … time to start the new school year!
Actually this is my third teaching day of the year and already the holidays feel like a distant memory. This year my allotment is VCE Literature units 3/4, VCE English units 1/2 and a yr 9 leadership program … so as a special treat for my VCE students I started the year by reading them a picture story book.
As secondary teachers we often underestimate the value of picture story books in our classroom and yet they can spawn some interesting theories of interpretation and stimulate creative writing. ”Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak is (apparently) a children’s classic and one of my two all time favourite PSBs.
In Lit we are revisiting critical theory and broadening our background knowledge in preparation for our first text study, the film “Persepolis”. I read WTWTA and then asked the students for their immediate response (reader-response) … like, dislike, why? We explored ideas around imagination, emotional state and reality (psychoanalysis) … parent – child relationships and power … the impact of social and cultural values then (1964 when it was written) and now (historicism) … and noticed patterns in words and images (structuralism).
Then I gave the students a couple of reviews and we began to develop the skills we will need for our first SAC (School Assessed Coursework) … identify the views of others, evaluate them against our own and use the text to justify the similarities and differences.
In English I have a class of 18 students, 16 of them are boys who would rather be on the footy field than in a theory class period 5 & 6 on a Friday. We are preparing to study our first text which is the film “Witness”. So, I read WTWTA and asked them for their response. Then we began to analyse the meaning in the pictures … colour … size … light/dark balance … position of characters. Friday afternoon didn’t seem like such a drag … even the two who didn’t like the story could tell me why in writing by the end of the session!
We had fun … we could read and re-read the text easily within our time frame … practice the skills we will need for our assessment tasks.
Oh, and the other book is “Dragon Quest” by Allan Baillie!
I haven’t blogged for a month, not because I haven’t had any interesting thoughts but because the last six weeks of the year just go by in such a blur! There is a stereotypical view that the year winds down in term four, especially in high schools as year 12s leave and begin exams in the first week of November, closely followed by year 11s and year 10s. I wish!!
I found myself jotting ideas down on scraps of paper but when I came back to them my mind had moved on and I no longer felt motivated to finish the thoughts …. hmm, if I’m like that I wonder how many of my students are also like that? How can I manage that better?
Tomorrow I have been blogging for 11 months, as well as being New Year’s Eve … so time for a look back!
This year has been a massive learning curve for me as I adapted to the biggest role I have taken on so far in my career. In my first post I admitted to being daunted by the prospect of being year 8 coordinator with just over 100 students in my care. I was lucky to have the support of a team of homegroup teachers to work with, who were willing to share ideas, try new things and back each other up as we tried to balance the trials and tribulations of our own lives while navigating the minefield of teenage traumas we faced each day. In my experience there is a three-week barrier when you go to a new school. If you can survive the first three weeks the students generally settle down and start to work with you rather than constantly test you, you start to find your allies and build your support networks and you start to figure out the processes of the school. I found the barrier in my role as coordinator was much longer!
I feel quite satisfied with the achievements we made this year and I can see amazing potential for the year 9 students at our school in 2012 … they have grown so much this year! We didn’t solve every problem but overall our graphs went up! Students learnt to manage their emotions and behaviour more consistently, students learnt to work together in groups (we’re still not quite ready to say teams) and we finished the year on a positive note with a successful and enjoyable celebration excursion.
One thing I did at the start of the year, which I am sure had a huge impact on how I got through, was establishing clear goals. What I didn’t do was write them down … I have already written my goals for 2012, and I intend to post them up in my office so I read them every day. Keeping an eye on the big picture helps to keep me on track.
In 2012 I am stepping my responsibilities up again as I take on the role of Junior Sub-School Manager (taking on responsibility for 300+ students and associated staff). So I face the start of a new school year with another overwhelming sense of trepidation. But looking back I learnt that: having clear goals will give me a clear path to follow; I can’t do everything on my own, I need to build the support of a great team (in this case three great year level teams); and we need to celebrate each success regardless of how big or small.
Happy New Year and best wishes for 2012
I have been using on-line learning management systems for a few years now … essentially moodle-based although called different names in different schools! The concept of anywhere, anytime learning appeals to me as a learner and as a teacher. Hence the idea of the Ultranet was also appealing … initially!
It’s hard not to sound bitter and frustrated, or not to feel let down by the DEECD with the #epicfail of the much publicised roll out day … but all that aside, I have started to take my first bites of this monster.
I have talked before about the power of twitter and again I must promote and thank my PLN for their support as I have asked what must seem like dumb questions. Although I consider myself to be reasonably tech savvy and I can set up moodle-based online classrooms quite quickly I have struggled to apply this knowledge to the new platform.
I have created a collaborative space for the year 8s at my school. I use the term ‘collaborative’ loosely … at the moment that just means I set up some pages and added the 107 students, 3 other English/Humanities teachers and as many other yr 8 teachers as I could find on the list.
The pages are nothing more than pretty storage spaces for web links and files. I have always used my virtual classroom to provide such resources … it saves students research time if I provide some recommended sites (much like we also still ask our librarians to put together topic boxes of books). I have also always encouraged students to recommend links that they find useful. The true sense of collaboration would see the students adding the resources and I am guessing that Ultranet will allow this … I just don’t know how to facilitate that yet!
I know that another part of Ultranet is something called Learning Tasks. I have had a look at them … I even tried to make one up … not really understanding how they are actually used or what they should / could look like. I have no idea how to link them to the collaborative space, or even if they do.
I have a lot of questions and I feel as if I am learning to walk all over again. For a few weeks I felt like I was crawling around in the dark. I had a sense of what I wanted to do, I had some small idea of what was possible but no idea of how to achieve it. I tried the usual methods of getting help … the help guides weren’t really helpful, mainly because I couldn’t actually pinpoint what I needed to know … no-one in our school environment seemed to have the skills or knowledge, that may just be because I haven’t asked the right person but is also connected to the lack of professional development we appear to have access to … my PLN are supportive and patient but still make me feel like the dumb kid who is slow to catch on, which is more about my frustration at my slow progress than anything they actually do or say!
I know that in time I won’t feel so frustrated and helpless but it’s hard to inspire others when you’re struggling yourself.
So, for now, I am chewing my first bite slowly! My students are coming along for the ride. They are not ‘excited’ about Ultranet in the way that I read on twitter but they have quickly switched their question from “did you load the assignment sheet on infonet?” to “is the assignment on Ultranet?” They know this is our preferred virtual learning environment.
Remember my great game on experiment … well in week 2 I introduced the students to the skill development component. This component is built on some practices they were familiar with from primary school.
I gave them a stimulus statement (thanks to Maiden Gully PS for my initial prompt) and then set the timer. We wrote for 10 minutes. The first goal on their game board was to achieve 5 cm of writing … well, the lowest score was 4.5cm! The top three students achieved 25-27 cm!! The students modified their game boards to allow for future growth!! No-one complained about it, some may even have a story starter they can use to beat a level. They were surprised to see me writing as well, “Are you doing this too, Miss?” … but I have always enjoyed writing and it was nice to share that experience with the students. I read when they do, so it’s nice to write with them too!
I asked the students to be responsible for creating their own spelling lists. I am no longer correcting spelling, I highlight incorrect spelling. I also provided some ‘standard’ lists of words grade 6, 7 & 8 students ‘should’ know. The students themselves noticed we have a list of commonly misspelled words in our school diary and some have used that as their source. I asked them to work in pairs and test each other. They bring me their results to enter on to our leaderboard. We discussed the consequences of cheating and who was really losing if they did this. We also agreed to random spelling tests (like random breath tests) where I could ask them to spell any word from their list at any time.
I have noticed that some students have started to underline the words they aren’t sure of in their writing. When I read it, if I highlight it, it confirms their suspicion and they go and check it. I also had a student ask me if they could do more than one spelling test a week. Great question … it made me stop and think … why not? what would be the benefit of limiting or not limiting? … we talked about it and decided they must do at least one spelling test but if they want to do more it’s up to them.
* * *
About 20% of the class have already successfully completed one of the four level one tasks and are already well on the way with their next piece of work. It’s early days yet, we still have 6 weeks to go, but I am happy with the level of responsibility and ownership the students are taking. I’m very happy with the ideas and discussion being generated.
We are also balancing our Humanities research in this time aswell. I asked the question “How can you survive in a rainforest?” Most students are working in teams to prepare a presentation … some are making a Powerpoint, some movies, some picture story books and some are going to Wow! me again with minecraft (is there nothing that program can’t do??)
We are about to head into the final term (home straight) for the year. The year 8 team have been working on what we call a parallel curriculum for English and Humanities which also allowed us to integrate SparkL (a project based learning approach to literacy) and Live4life (a local shire initiative dealing with mental health). This term we are embracing the idea of differentiated curriculum … all four of us will still be working towards the same goals and outcomes but each of us is taking a different approach and even varying topics covered in our class groups.
I have blogged about my use of games in the classroom and the more I read the more I am convinced to keep doing this. In my classroom this term I wanted to have a writing workshop theme for the English component and Rainforests for the Humanities component. As a team we are still trying to incorporate opportunities for PBL and students managing personal learning. So …
… I had this crazy idea! Why not create a game that incorporated all of this.
Write Step! is the product I have developed.
It has four pathways (named for the functions of writing I wish to promote: creative, instructional, informative and persuasive). Each pathway has five levels and students will need to develop skills in order to progress through the levels.
Skill development is recorded separately and I have leaderboards for various skills as well as pathway progression. So we have competition with self and competition with class built-in.
There is no set goal level to achieve … that will be determined by the students. Students can work in teams or by themselves.
We have nine sessions together each week: I have structured the game so that all sessions build skills. We will still continue with our reading programme (FAB – friends and books) but this can be a stimulus for writing for Write Step! We will have master classes (so I can do some explicit teaching in relation to grammar, punctuation, form and function). I plan to set up stimulus for writing using our Ultranet space, classroom displays, games played on wii / netbooks / ds. (Building on the experiences we have been using in our classroom all year.) Students must book a teacher conference (another practice we have been fostering) at least once a fortnight which may be used to present work to “beat the boss” and progress to the next level, discuss problems, nut out creative ideas for new writing tasks.
The students won’t actually know exactly what they need to do to beat each level (that’s part of the learning) and potentially anything they write could be submitted in an attempt to “beat the boss”.
I’m really excited by this concept. When I finally stopped to take a breath and asked myself that important question “Would you want to be a student in this classroom?”, the answer was a resounding “YES!”
I’m now just nervous about how my students will react! Have I over planned? Have I made it too busy? Am I going to overwhelm them? I guess I’ll find out … term four here we come!
I spent the last three days of term on camp with 60 year 8 students. My team and I have spent the last term planning this three day extravaganza to Phillip Island … and, for the most part, it went off without any major hitches!
However, I am still mulling over the question “Why did only 60% of our year 8 student population attend the camp?”
Is this a one-off occurrence or what is it about the culture of the school that creates an attitude that says “It’s OK to choose not to attend this learning activity”?
Camps are an important part of extracurricular activities. There are lots of good reasons for schools to run camps. In this instance we clearly defined our “learning intention” or goals when we started to plan. We have been working with the year 8s all year to improve relationships, build teams and practice the skill of working cooperatively with anyone in a variety of teams. Our school works on a homeroom system in yr 7 and 8; students stay in the same homeroom with the same HR teacher for their two years in the junior sub-school. In year 9 they are regrouped and mixed up to form new homerooms. In preparation for this we set up a number of situations that required students to work in teams of varying sizes to complete tasks (duty groups, dorm rooms, activity groups). They were given choices about group composition (although dorm rooms were limited so teachers had to intervene and negotiate to achieve workable groups) and could work with anyone across the year level.
The camp we attended on Phillip Island offers a range of adventurous activities designed to challenge students and take them out of their comfort zone. We also planned an ‘Amazing Race’ (based on the TV show). We had a lot of fun putting this together; it was a lot of work to gather resources, write clues and coordinate the pit stops. When we suggested the idea to students before camp the responses were positive and on camp most students gave the race a red hot go! In three days it was interesting to see students work together in ways you can’t achieve in the classroom environment.
Camps are not holidays! They are a lot of additional work, stress and responsibility. They are an extension of the learning environments we create in our classrooms. However, when one third of the students are not participating in that learning experience we need to question why. If one third of my students don’t attend my class on any given day I ask why!
They have a number of projects on the go – they have to:
* research how castles are built, construct a model and devise a defensive battle plan;
* choose a method of punishment/torture and prepare an information product to share with the class;
* research the imagery and meaning associated with family crests and design their own coat of arms for classroom display.
I supported the research by providing links on our virtual classroom, our Hums Domain Leader organised a box-of-books from the library and an incursion by Days of Knights (they were definitely worth the money).
We are working our way towards writing an essay comparing life in medieval times to life in modern times.
Today while they were working on the various things they need to do before the deadline of next week (“Are we managing personal learning today, Miss?”), I had a powerpoint of castle pictures (finally my holiday snaps are useful in the classroom) running at the front of the room and the TV running a DVD of a medieval life documentary at the back of the room. Both media were just running over and over and students could tune in and out as they wanted to . . . just like when we are at home working in front of the TV! “You mean multi-tasking, Miss” (never underestimate your audience!)
It was interesting to observe the way my students worked but actually did tune in and out. They would stop me every now and again to ask about one of the photos. In our second session in the afternoon they asked if we were going to have the DVD again (it had run through 3 complete cycles in our earlier session).
My VCE English Unit 1 students studied “Witness” as a film text in term one. After our close study while they were working on theme work and essay practice, they would often put the film on as background noise and tune in and out. It didn’t stop them from ‘working’ and each time they would notice something different or a penny would finally drop.
I plan to try this multi-tasking method of providing information more often in my classroom (as technology will allow . . . I don’t have a permanent TV or data show projector in my room).