Today I’m sharing the successful lesson of a colleague! Our Grade 3-6 teacher wanted to do some poetry as part of her Literacy block. Like many Literacy/English teachers she felt a little overwhelmed about where to start and, since we have planning time together, we often work through ideas and so we put our heads together on this.
I expressed my concern about how teachers usually jump in to getting students to write poetry without actually teaching them any of the structure and features (admitting that I am a Literature snob!). Haiku, limericks and acrostics seem easy because they are structured but what about the imagery and vocabulary that form the foundation? She expressed her concern about not having confidence in her ability to interpret poetry and doubts about whether this age group would cope.
We checked out a few of my favourites, which I selected because of the figurative language and imagery. We came up with a plan to break them down stanza by stanza (introducing metalanguage). Students would identify parts of speech with particular focus on nouns and adjectives. They would then draw pictures using these words to prompt their imaginations and write a short explanation, in plain English, to tell the story.
So, effectively we were asking grade 5 and 6 students to analyse poetry that I would normally give to my year 11 VCE students.
Today she shared a couple of pieces of work from the grade 5s … and I was blown away! Using the poem “The Sleepout” by Les Murray her students totally proved that if you set high expectations students will do their best to achieve them.
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How do you tackle poetry in your Literacy/English sessions?
We are about to head into the final quarter of the 2017 school year in Australia and planning for 2018 has begun. February 11th 2018 will be the starting bell for my 28th year of teaching … and some recent conversations with a graduate teacher made me think about how we keep our own engagement in our profession going.
I was in the SES (State Emergency Service) for five years. As a first responder it is drummed into you that you need to look after yourself first, and sometimes that means not rushing in to help victims. I think this is also true for teachers. We get so focused on our students and their needs we forget our own. It is easy to get swept up in curriculum, administration and day-to-day happenings and teacher burnout is a real thing! We need to look after ourselves first!!
I confess that not all of my 28 years have been enjoyable (although I wouldn’t trade any of the experiences – they have all shaped me into the teacher I am today). I have been stressed, depressed, exhausted, frustrated, bored, elated, excited and proud. There have been plenty of times I have questioned if I should change careers but I am still here.
I reminded my younger colleague that we are only paid to work 38 hours a week! We all know that good teachers spend waaay more than that time planning and preparing lessons and resources … but we need to remember that this is a choice. It is also a perfectly acceptable choice to say, I have a life outside of teaching! My ‘time-out’ is craft work – patchwork, quilting, knitting, crocheting, sewing, scrapbooking, soap-making, etc. My sister (also a teacher) has taken to running – she is currently on track with training for her first marathon! We also have a weekly (sometimes more) ritual at my current school of heading to the coffee shop at the end of the day. It could be a group of two or ten – but the conversation about school doesn’t last long, we move on to everything from town gossip to current affairs.
The important thing is to take time out to enjoy the things you like to do. You need to keep your interests alive and this will keep your energy and creativity going. We encourage our students to do this!!
During official working hours, I look for opportunities to challenge myself. If you find yourself falling into the trap of teaching the same thing year after year, you need to stop and change. I am lucky that I am teaching in a small school at the moment so I have the luxury of each class being an entire year level. However, in the past, at larger schools, even when I was one of six classes in the same year level, I could still challenge myself to do things differently.
Teaching is a collegiate activity – I enjoyed working in teams and thrashing out new ideas and activities. In my small P-12 school my graduate colleague and I have devised an interesting project for term four. She teaches a grade 3-6 composite and we have planned a literacy programme together (some of which we plan to team teach) based on Roald Dahl’s The BFG. For both of us this is a challenge and an opportunity – as secondary English teacher I bring different ideas, strategies and approaches compared to my primary colleague – we are excited about learning from each other, and I look forward to starting to build relationships with students who will be in my classes in the future.
I also volunteer my time to be a mentor in the Student Blogging Challenge … this year will be my second time around! My current students are mostly from the USA but in the past I have mentored students from Ireland, UK and Russia. This has also meant I have made connections with teachers from those schools. Opportunities like this, along with a healthy PLN on twitter, means I have discussions about teaching and education on a global scale.
- What are you doing to keep your enthusiasm going in 2018? A new perspective? A new role? A new job?
- What are you doing to look after yourself in 2018? hobbies, interests, time-out? When was the last time you read a book, went to a movie or took a holiday?
As part of my performance development plan this year I am working with a colleague to build students’ strength and confidence in the area of text response. Our focus group is her Year 10 class as we prepare them to enter their VCE next year. I am currently teaching both levels (Years 11 and 12) of VCE English and in both classes we are getting our teeth into the comparative texts.
This has led me to again ponder the age old debate about how / when to read the texts.
In Year 12 our comparative texts are “Year of Wonders” by Geraldine Brooks and “The Crucible” by Arthur Miller … in Year 11 – “Macbeth” by Shakespeare and the film text, “Paradise Road”. The novel, “Year of Wonders” is a relatively easy read, so I felt the Yr 12s should have been able to read this at home. We are time poor in class and it seems extravagant to use up that time just to read when students can do that themselves, but can they? I knew my Yr 11s would struggle with Shakespeare and I had always planned to ‘read’ this in class with them. I always listen to a radio play when I do Shakespeare. I asked the Yr 12s to try to read “The Crucible”, I expect to read any play together and stage some of the scenes.
What I constantly wrestle with is the idea that we suck the fun out of learning, and specifically out of reading!
In Yr 7 we read “Red Dog” by Louis de Bernières. As this was their first text study in High School I read it to them. I wanted to model my wonderings (how I think when I read) and how to annotate a text. But if I’m being honest, I was also being a little selfish and indulgent. I like to read. I enjoy listening to a good reader read (my mother read to my sisters and me when we were younger and I still enjoy a good talking book). I want my students to enjoy reading. I also want them to think about what they read and react to it.
So, I indulged my yr 12s! I gave them the choice to read the novel themselves and do the chapter questions and theme pages …blah, blah, blah … or to sit with me on the comfy couches in the library and read. Initially one said he preferred to go it alone but it didn’t take long before he caved and joined us on the couches. We took about 6 lessons to read the text, with some negotiated home-alone reading. What we had along the way was some great sharing of wonderings, thinking out loud, making text connections, predicting the plot and reacting with emotion. We don’t need to ‘do the assignment’ (although we did make annotations as we read) and I know the students get the big ideas because of the incidental conversations we’ve had out of class where they make a text joke or allusion.
Reading aloud to my students also shows them that even someone who presents as a good reader isn’t perfect. I sometimes spit words out and start again when I get tongue-tied. I don’t know every word and sometimes we have to stop to ‘google’ a definition and even a pronunciation: Sometimes we just agree on how we’ll say it just so we can keep reading. But we also have the opportunity to bring the text to life … I do voices and create characters (Shakespeare works really well when read with a yorkshire accent #justsaying!) … I use the punctuation and figurative language to add drama or mood. I even add theme music and special effects (the ‘da dum da dum’ from Jaws makes regular cameos).
The other side effect is that the students get the confidence to have a go! High School students become so self conscious and are reluctant to speak up or perform in front of the class. But when we sit in a reading circle on our comfy chairs (I have a class set of camping chairs for groups that don’t fit on the library couches) it becomes less threatening. I don’t force students to read aloud but I do have the goal that by the end of each year, each student will have volunteered to read out loud at least once … I haven’t failed yet!
So, I’m still wrestling with how I approach text studies … I don’t have a definitive answer and maybe I never will … except to say that if we enjoy the experience that is the only thing that really matters.
My teacher friends often joke about how we should have bought shares in the sticky note companies … along with butcher’s paper they are my most used teaching resources. So, let us count the ways …
Sticky notes are thoughts! I ask people (including myself) to write their ideas, questions, wonderings and connections on sticky notes as we read or discuss something. Being small and sticky means you are not writing a huge essay and we can move them around.
I have shared my Running Dictation activity before – I print onto sticky notes! This is something I have also done to produce quick assessment rubrics for feedback on drafts of extended writing.
These photos show teachers working through the development of protocols for having professional discussions. We were able to rearrange the ideas until we had a set of criteria we were happy with. The same process can be used with students … to establish success criteria for a project, for example.
More recently I have been doing whiteboard tugs-of-war with my year 7s. They have 10 mins to work in a group to write as many ideas for/against the given topic. We then stick the ideas on the board – each student has to explain the idea on the sticky note as they add to the ‘rope’. At the end we can see which side won the tug!!
Tomorrow I will be starting a whole class novel study. I encourage my students to tag ideas and write their wonderings as we read. These become fodder for discussions and potential evidence or paragraphs when we start to write about the text. Some students go to the next level and colour code for different characters and/or themes.
The best thing about them is that we don’t feel too guilty about putting them into the recycle bin at the end of the session!
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How do you use sticky notes?
I am a bibliophile! I not only love to read books but I collect them too. I still have the first book I studied in Year 8 (“All the Green Year” by Don Charlwood) as well as the two books I was allowed to bring with us when we migrated to Australia 35 years ago! I even have multiple copies of some books. My oldest book is about 100 years old and the newest only a few weeks. I am quite excited that the house I am currently renovating is the first house I have owned that is big enough for a library!!
I want my students to love books and reading too. So, I have been giving lots of thinking time to the way we do novel studies.
I still take the traditional approach of selecting a whole class text and then leading the students through a reading and on to an interpretation of themes and features. The problem with this is it is limiting. We can only do 2 or 3 books a year. Not all of the books appeal to all of the students … while I argue that not all books are read for enjoyment, we also learn from books we don’t enjoy (for me, “Hedda Gabler” fits on that list), however for teenagers if we kill the enjoyment we kill the motivation and potentially harm the chances of them reading as adults.
I am also a book snob! I am, after all, a Literature teacher. I want to pay homage to the classics. One of my year 12s recently challenged me to come up with 5 reasons why we should study Shakespeare … of course, he didn’t think I could … of course, he was proven wrong in about 30 seconds!!! I do read new fiction, including teenage fiction (I can’t recommend books if I haven’t read them) but I want to champion the old books that take us back to worlds before we were bombarded with technology (“Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley was shocking when I read it as a 16 year old, and maybe is still a little shocking now that we live with IVF and gene selection technology).
So I have embarked on an adventure. I have allowed my year 8s and 9s to choose their own books for close study this term. They could choose anything (fiction or non-fiction) as long as they could see how they might answer our essential (guiding) question …
What can I learn about life and the world from the books that I read?
I am lucky that I am back in a small rural P-12 school. I have small classes (only 15 students between the two classes). Our school culture encourages teachers to challenge themselves and take risks while trusting that they know their students and know their content.
Before the school holidays the students chose their book and we had our first reading conferences. One student chose “Divergent” by Veronica Roth, which I have read but found frustrating. In our conversation I said I didn’t like the way the society had been divided as it seemed ridiculously artificial just to create a dystopia. I was so annoyed by it I was not inspired to continue reading the series. My student countered my argument by telling me that it was deliberately artificial and unless I read the series I would never know the real reason for the divisions.
Another student chose “Paper Towns” by John Green. I was really reluctant about this choice. I had read 3/4 of ” The Fault in our Stars” and given up. I thought it was lightweight, teenage mush. I expressed my opinion but she had already started it and felt I should give her a chance to prove it was worth her time.
So, in the holidays I did some reading. I took the advice of the first student and read “Insurgent”. I can’t wait to read “Allegiant” (a task for next weekend). I have a new appreciation for Veronica Roth – the themes /ideas she explores and the way she crafts the story.
I took the challenge of the second student and read “Paper Towns”. I read it in two days .. all of it! I still won’t be adding it to my list of ‘must reads’ but I did find that it challenged my thinking. I am interested to see what thoughts and wonderings the student had while she read it.
So, what did I learn about life and the world?
I learnt that sometimes my year 8s are wiser than I am and that I should learn to be less of a book snob! I’m starting to think that in the end it doesn’t matter what we read, we still learn something from the experience.
School starts again tomorrow and we now begin the ‘assignment’. They have compulsory and elective tasks to help guide themselves through their chosen book. In our conferences I will also guide them to see the features and techniques used by the authors, and the themes and connections. The assessment will be an essay responding to the essential question
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How do you promote a love of books and reading in your classroom?
I have been interested in the Daily 5 / CAFE approach to literacy for some time now. (I am currently reading the second edition of the book). My interest was sparked by conversations in my twitter-feed and the 2 sisters (Gail Boushey and Joan Moser) were presenters at the ALEA conference 2015 (although I was unable to attend the session).
Daily 5 is aimed at the primary classroom and I can see how it works in that environment because the class spends a great deal of the day with the same teacher. I am a high school English teacher! So, my challenge has been making the concept work in secondary environment. I see my class three times a week (2 doubles and a single) so the idea of ‘daily’ goes out the window. But surely even a weekly approach would be better than not at all?!?
We do Read to Self every double for 15 minutes (I call it silent reading). I also ask students to read for 15 minutes a night for homework (my students know how I feel about homework). Now that we have finished a term of writer’s notebook I am also happy for students to Work on Writing in this time. (Although I am working towards having 10 minutes of each in each session).
My recent thoughts have been around how to ‘fit in’ Listen to Reading. I have tried class novels before with mixed success. Sometimes the gap of days between seeing the class means they totally forget what we have read. This year I have been trying to promote enjoyment of reading. In year 8 we read our close study novel in class … whole periods, until we finished. In year 9 we read chapters in class and chapters at home … a kind of shared reading … but always had a round table discussion of what we had read. They didn’t do chapter questions or a multi-component assignment.
This term we have no close study text so I suggested I read to them … I would read for 10 minutes each lesson … just for fun! (“You mean we don’t have to do an essay on this book, Miss?”) I had a selection of ‘classics’ I wanted to read. We talked about how you can understand harder books when they are read to you than when you read them yourself. We talked about how important it is to hear words not just see words. We talked about how important it is to develop strategies for remembering what we hear. We also talked about how we won’t like every book we read … we agreed that after each 10 minutes we would decide whether to continue reading or change books.
In year 8 we are now 30 minutes into reading The Hobbit! In year 9 we are about to start Destroying Avalon. The students have the choice to just listen or to follow along as I read. They can share ‘wonderings’, ask questions about words and, of course, laugh / moan / react as the story dictates … we are just enjoying reading!
So, I’m not quite hitting the ‘Daily’
but working as hard as I can to fit as many of the ‘5′
in as often as I can!
I have to confess I chose the keynote entirely because of the obvious connection to my favourite picture story book – “Gnashing terrible teeth, ignoring nosy narrators, wondering about wolves and calling Coo-ee across the world – how picture books teach reading lessons and life lessons” presented by John Callow. I have blogged about my use of PSB previously, and I plan to blog some more lesson ideas for secondary teachers. John Callow walked us through a history of PSB and some of the lessons we can give to students. PSB offer the opportunity to read and re-read … it is in the re-reading of familiar texts that we begin to notice the layers of meaning. The modern/post modern PSB sees the author and illustrator working together not “to do each other’s jobs” but to support teach other in creating meaning. I thought I had quite a good collection of PSB (and I certainly had quite a few of the ones Callow mentioned) but I came away with a list of new books to look for. As a high school teacher, if you haven’t got a collection of picture books I ask – why not?
My final session, presented by Chris Walsh, was “How do I teach digital literacies & the Australian Curriculum: Technologies!?” I sat thinking about how PBL and design briefs are cut of the same cloth. I started my career as a Materials (Food and Textiles) teacher, maybe this is why PBL seems so appealing to me even in English and Humanities classrooms. Chris Walsh talked about it being important in “wise, enterprising & challenge-based education” to give students a voice in what they want to learn … in other words, negotiate curriculum and production with them. He introduced the idea of anticipatory thinking as a way of dealing with an uncertain employment future. We know we can’t begin to predict the kinds of jobs our students will do (they haven’t been invented yet) but we need to teach them to think, problem solve and predict (or anticipate) the changes they may face … these ideas resonated with other ideas about promoting creativity that were filtering through the twitter feed (#englit2016) from a concurrent session.
… and then, we were in the plenary with Misty Adoniou! Always entertaining and insightful … she really does love words!! Teachers are courageous (full of heart), wonderful (full of wonder) and need encouragement (to be given more heart). She reminded us that “Good things take time”, we are not one moment but the collection of our career (remember that archive we create?). She suggested we turn things around and instead of trying to fit the good stuff in, start with the good stuff and squeeze the rest in! She left us with this challenge, “Don’t forget the teacher you wanted to become.” “Young pups and old dogs” need to work together to encourage each other and maintain momentum.
So now it’s up to Tassie to match, or better, the learnings and thinkings in 2017. Do yourself a favour and seriously consider attending a conference like this. A national conference offers you a chance to immerse yourself in ideas and surround yourself with like-minded (or at least, equally enthusiastic) people. It is an opportunity to challenge your thinking and recharge your resolve before getting sucked back into the vortex that school life can become. You might not change the World but you might change the world (or space) you and your students learn in.
The keynote I attended this morning was “Young baggage, disobedient wretch! Playing with the space of English” delivered by John Yandell from the UK. He demonstrated how students in high school classes are not only aware of the multi-voice behaviour in characters (such as Shakespeare’s Juliet) but are, in fact, capable of harnessing the power for their own use. It’s no news to teachers that classrooms are multi-layered, complex environments (I liken it to the trick of spinning plates on poles). Yandell reminded us that even though we become more skillful at managing the big picture there are lots of things that fly under the radar. In his specific example a group of 14 year old boys had devised a ‘game’ where they behaved in a way that looked to the teacher as if they were actively participating in class discussions, but were in fact, using another student’s nickname frequently in their answers as a low level bullying tactic. “You cannot read off from a student’s body language if they are engaged or not”. The power of multi-voice behaviour can also be used for good, for example a student in a role play exploring character and using pop culture references. However, again, teachers sometimes miss this, misinterpreting it as deliberate sabotage. The key to unlocking and understanding if the power is being used for good or not lies in the relationship between students and teacher. The more long term the relationship the more opportunities exist to recognise and unpack this behaviour. He also challenged us to continue to highlight the complex nature of what we do to the powers that attempt to reduce teaching to formulae and checklists.
The next session “The stories we tell: The power of fictional representations of teachers” by Melanie Shoffner explored exactly that. How do fictional teachers (movies and TV) influence our perceptions of ourselves as teachers but also influence how we are seen by others? Do we analyse the images we are presented with and how do we sift the fact from the fiction. She explored current and historical fictional teachers such Mrs Krabappel (The Simpsons) and Professor Snape (Harry Potter). Some present familiar tropes such as teacher as saviour or disciplinarian, while others – Mr Keating (Dead Poet’s Society) – provide a warning about the potential for serious consequences from the student/teacher relationship. Parodies, nice white lady, may be humorous on face value but digging deeper what do they say about the portrayal and role of teachers?
A short session on “Being creative with Argument” explored the historical beginnings of the essay and how it has become an uninteresting, formulaic exercise. Students have no problem with verbal argument (debate) but when we ask them to write it down something goes wrong. The challenge is to let them form their opinions and write in a manner that allows them to make their stand – not just please the teacher/assessor.
The afternoon saw us start with Misty Adoniou discussing “Narrative and Creativity“. She talked about the conflict in the classroom between literacy skill acquisition and meaning making. The reality is that skill acquisition is necessary for meaning making and we should be doing both. She also talked about the role schools play in helping students to find their “third space” (the transition between the different roles and environments that make up our life). School and home environments can provide enough skills and stimulation to give children a jumping off ground to explore ideas in their own way, in their own time.
Finally, Kelli McGraw reminded me about “Project Based Learning” in the English classroom. I say reminded because I used to do a lot of PBL, even in the senior years (11 and 12) but I have also fallen into the trap of feeling pressured by time, templates, assessments, administration, etc, etc. This session rekindled my energy and Kelli shared her possible projects with the challenge to run with them (and the responsibility of letting her know the outcomes).
The ‘session’ that is more difficult to quantify but just as valuable is the twitter feed discussion that continued throughout the day. I am thankful for the debates about publishing students’ work to authentic audiences, about reading/studying books that may be seen as challenging to parents, and also for those who shared thoughts about sessions I couldn’t attend.
Bring on Day 3 ->
We kicked off with a Keynote by Barbara Comber on “Literacy and Imagination: schools as wondering places and spaces?” She encouraged us to “defy the tyranny of templates, testing” and other constraints to make space for imaginative projects. Data collection and standardised testing has undermined the confidence of teachers and I fear that is why teachers forget about the imagination and creativity when designing their learning activities. We need to give students the opportunities to use their imaginations to explore issues and solve problems. Comber also talked about schools and classrooms being places of belonging. This is a truth I have long held: For many students schools and classrooms are their safe places, the places they make their social connections and the places that encourage them. The final wondering I took away came from Comber’s challenge about the ‘archive’ we create as teachers across our career. My thought was not only about this archive that we grow but further how we then contribute this archive of ‘corporate knowledge’ to the collective.
The next session was a new experience for me – I presented a 20 minute workshop of the use of games in the English classroom. I’m not sure I actually drew breath during the session and at times I worried I was speaking so fast I wasn’t finishing sentences. 20 minutes is not a long time!! My audience was kind and I hope they left with at least one idea they can use in their classroom next week.
Session three was on the grammar of visual design. Sarah Forrest used picture books (The Arrival by Shaun Tan) to introduce metalanguage for consistency when making meaning from images and visual text. I’m not really being fair in saying consistency because really what it allows it more accurate discussion. We were introduced to the three areas of visual analysis: representation, interaction and composition. Our exploration focused on interaction looking at the roles and relationships suggested by the angles in the pictures and our reactions (How we felt) as the audience looking at the images. My year 8 class has been studying historical texts this term and we have used lots of film and photos to stimulate our thinking. I now have more language to enhance this unit next time round.
After lunch on a Friday afternoon was always going to be a tough gig. Kate Phillips from Oxfam walked us through the Food4thought resources available on line. It was good to have time to explore the Oxfam website and the resources they develop.
The final session I attended for the day was not what I expected but was interesting and thought provoking. Sarah Westgarth presented “Storytelling through new media“. Essentially an exploration of Vlogs on YouTube from the key features and reasons people make video blogs to the more scripted and orchestrated uses such as modern adaptations of classic novels. As Westagarth said, “There is a lot of rubbish on YouTube, but there is also a lot of good stuff” and it is worth taking the time to find it.
Bring on Day 2 —>
This year I have moved back to teaching in a P-12 environment. I love this environment: I love having the full continuum from prep to year 12, it gives a teacher the opportunity to see the child develop as a learner through to adulthood.
One of the other things I love about this environment is the opportunity it offers for cross-age activities.
This year as one of our Professional Development goals the Grade 3-6 teacher and I decided we wanted to do something about encouraging a love of reading in our students. I have a small group of year 9s for English and so Mrs R and I hatched a plan to have the year 9s lead Literature Circles in for the grade 3-6s.
Our goal was simple: have fun reading books!
So, once a week the year 9s lead a small group of grade 3-6s. They take turns reading round the circle. Then they talk about this book using a variety of questioning tools. They also have a time to talk about all / any books they are reading. Then we do an activity – sometimes we drew pictures and put them in story order, we made chatterboxes and wrote open-ended questions to help us when reading, we made posters to advertise “Chatterbooks” sessions. The senior students shared their feelings, thoughts and memories about the books (they had read them in Literature Circles when they were in primary school). They were also able to make connections about the books now they were older.
This week, as part of the end of term wrap up, we asked the students to create a top 10 of the best things about “Chatterbooks”. It was great to hear the younger and older students tell us things like:
- they enjoyed “learning how to work together”,
- the younger students liked to “hear the high schoolers read because it shows us how to put expression into our reading”.
- the older students liked “having the opportunity to get to know the younger students better”.
Most of all it was a sign of success when they told us that they had “fun talking about the books”.
It’s not a revolutionary activity … it’s not even a new activity! But sometimes the oldies are goodies, and this one is worth keeping. “Chatterbooks” sessions will continue next term.
One of the grade 3-6ers drew a picture of her group at work …