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 …
If you have read many of my other posts you will be aware of my passion for games in the classroom. I am on a mission to put the fun back into learning. This year I am involved in teaching the VCAL Literacy strand and it seemed a perfect opportunity to use game based learning.
Reading and writing for practical purposes? Games are a no-brainer. We started each lesson by playing a game for 10-15 minutes. Quite often the board games we played were not familiar to the students and so they needed to read and interpret the instructions in order to play (i.e. reading). After each game we wrote about the experience. In their own words students recorded the rules, the aim of the game, suggestions for improvement (i.e. writing). We didn’t just explore board games: we played card games and computer games, classics like pacman and social justice games like 3rd world farmer.
Lots of discussion later, combined with some grids and graphic organisers (comparing and contrasting) and a little bit of research (i.e. reading for knowledge) and we were in a position to write an article for the newsletter about why people play games (i.e. writing for knowledge). I think my students surprised themselves with how easily they were able to reach the recommended word limits. 300-500 words sounds like an epic novel to students who have come to believe they are ‘dumb’ or ‘can’t write’ … but actually wasn’t that hard when we started to put together the bits and pieces from our grids and graphic organisers.
Then I set them the challenge to create their own game and write the instructions. Some took to this eagerly … a pair worked together to make a variation of Monopoly called ‘Chopperly” … yes, you guessed it, based on the life and times of Chopper Read (but I didn’t have to nag them to do the research). Another student used their work placement experiences in a pre-school to create an educational game to teach basic spelling words. All seemed to be going well. Lots of fun, laughter and challenge as we trialled aspects of the games and tested the instructions they were writing.
However, two students seemed a little overwhelmed with the ‘choose anything option’. I had to rethink … this is applied learning … how can I get them to DO something that will help them to see how it works?
Light bulb moment!
In one of my op-shop ferreting moments I had found a game that I had never heard of and never played. I was sure the students would never have seen it either. So I removed the instructions and handed them the box. They had to figure out how to set up the board and how to play the game. In essence, they had to create their own game.
We have even turned spelling tests in to a game. We choose 9 letters from the Scrabble bag and write them on the board. Students then have 10 minutes to make as many 2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9 letter words as they can. Points are awarded for the different word lengths.
The aim is two-fold: (1) beat your own personal best for a pick of the lolly tub (2) beat the teacher to win a chocolate frog. (I should point out here that I have been given the handicap of only having 2 minutes to make my words!). We can explore spelling strategies and patterns depending on the letter combinations each week.
Two comments I heard recently prompted me to think again about writing this post.
The first came as a student returned to school following an extended absence. The student had missed the whole school testing we had agreed to do and the teachers were asked if they could make it a priority to give the student a chance to take the tests. One teacher immediately began a rampage about how this would mean another session of the curriculum the student would miss. I sat there listening and seriously had to bite my tongue. I’m not a fan of standardised testing but in this case the testing we were doing is useful to me as a classroom teacher. It would help me to determine where the gaps are for my students and let us all set learning goals. What I really wanted to say,though, was that as teachers our core business is students.
Let me say that again: As teachers our core business is STUDENTS … not curriculum.
If a student has already missed 10 sessions of the planned curriculum, is one more session really going to matter? If a student has already missed 10 sessions of the planned curriculum isn’t it more important to worry about how the student is going to feel trying to fit back in? Instead of worrying about the lessons missed, I would want to focus on making sure my student felt welcomed back to the classroom … I don’t always know why students have time off school … but I need to remind myself that children (even teenagers) are not always in control of that situation and I don’t want my classroom to be another place that just adds to their anxiety.
The second comment came out as part of a reported behaviour incident. The teacher admitted that they had been unable to see what had happened but ‘it was the sort of thing that student would do”. In reality it turned out to be an accident (witnessed by other students) but the student in question didn’t know how to report the damage without getting into trouble. I found myself thinking again about the levels of anxiety students feel in the classroom.
As a Sub-School Coordinator I once had a first year teacher come storming into my office, adamant that he was ‘not having that student back’ in his classroom. Her language and behaviour was inappropriate. She had consequences every time it happened … but progress was slow. When he finally calmed down he looked at me and said, “How many more chances should she get?” My answer, “As many as it takes!”
All of these comments typify the hole we can fall into as teachers … the one where we forget we are dealing with children. We can get so bogged down with administration, curriculum documentation, standardised testing, pressure for improved school performance, etc., that we really do forget the two essential truths of our profession.
We are dealing with children. They don’t think the same way we do, yet! They don’t control their emotions and behaviour like we do, yet!
We are the adults in the room. I am just as human as every other teacher and, yes, I can get really frustrated when I’m talking to the same student about the same inappropriate behaviour for the fifth time in one day … but I need to remember that I am the adult. I can think more broadly and problem solve, I can take into consideration that this kid has a lot to deal with, I can control my emotions.
The ultimate goal is to see our students become confident, competent, successful adults. Sometimes this means deviating from the lesson plan: In the big picture it doesn’t really matter if they don’t complete chapter 3 of the workbook, I’m sure they’ll survive adulthood with 20 fewer examples of homonyms! Sometimes this means giving them another chance, knowing they will fall off the wagon (use that inappropriate word again, throw something, …) but hopefully they will exercise just a little more control and last just that bit longer than last time.
We need to remember as we walk through our classroom door each day that we are the adults: We are the role models. Our words and our actions matter. We set the tone for the classroom environment and we play a big part in making school a place students want to be or want run from!
It frustrates me immensely that students expect every thing to be delivered to them in easy to digest chunks – they hate being asked to (and frequently complain they can’t) think for themselves. I have told them that I can’t follow them around for the rest of their lives doing their thinking for them … the law regards this as stalking!!!
So, my challenge has been how to develop thinking skills in a generation that don’t like to read anything longer than 140 characters or watch anything long enough to have ads in it.
Tedtalks have been my saviour. I like the wide variety of topics, the ease with which you can search for appropriate time length (I look for about 5 min) and that you can download so you do not have to rely on streaming in the classroom (we’ve all had those pesky buffering issues in the middle of what we thought was a well planned lesson).
Sometimes I just show one talk as a start or end of a lesson: at other times I build an entire lesson around a number of talks. I even had the students assess three talks using our rubric for oral presentations in the lead up to their own oral presentations (they were extremely hard markers!!). I don’t make the links for them. They assume I have selected the clip with a particular idea in mind (and, of course, I have) and I ask them to tell me how it relates to our context. If they can’t see how it relates I tell them, “we’ll come back to it” – sometimes we do, sometimes we don’t. I provided links on our class resource blog so they could watch them again at their leisure.
Short and sharp has worked! Over the last two weeks we have completed two essays for assessment and we are now in the throes of exam revision. I am pleasantly surprised at how many of the students have used Tedtalks as evidence in their essays. It has been interesting to be reminded of the clips we saw early in the year and listen to/read the ways the students mould them to fit the prompts in their essays.
If you are interested, here is a selection we have viewed this year:
What do you do to promote thinking in your classroom?