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Post it!

My nephew was tidying his room recently and found a book he thought I might like … it made me think about writing this blog post on the use of sticky notes in teaching and learning!

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?



“Let the wild rumpus start!”

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!

The Year That Was …

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 🙂

Letting go . . .

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.

Rocket Writing.

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.

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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??)

Smelling the Roses!

I have been teaching my current homegroup for one year and three weeks. I joined them in semester two last year as their English teacher and this year I requested them as my Homegroup, which also makes me their English and Humanities teacher! They had a rough trot last year: they lost their first, beloved, homegroup teacher at the end of their first term of high school. This was followed by a series of teacher changes across a number of subjects, resulting in a very unsettled start to their high school career. By the time I came to meet them they were fast developing the tags ‘worst’ and ‘most difficult’.

This year school life has been more stable for them. Firstly, we have nine sessions together across the week. Secondly, the year 8 homegroup teacher team has been stable and work very well to support each other which gives all the students in the year level a sense of security.

It’s been a year of hard slog establishing class expectations, negotiating boundaries, creating a culture for learning in our classroom and building a relationship of trust and respect between us. For the first time in my teaching career I even implemented a seating plan in an effort to establish a better working environment. Afternoons have been a particularly difficult time of the day especially when facing the double sessions secondary timetables seem to throw up on a regular basis. My solution has been to ignore the categories on the timetable … my homegroup and I have nine sessions together and we mix up the activities we do … I just have to keep my eyes on the balls we are juggling to make sure we complete the curriculum requirements for English and Humanities while running projects for SparkL and Live4life.

Last week, on Thursday afternoon towards the end of period 5 I happened to be sitting at the ‘teacher’ desk. I had a student working opposite me … not because of bad behaviour, she had asked if she could sit there so she wouldn’t be distracted (this was my first smile for the lesson). I leant back in my chair, folded my arms and surveyed the room. For the first time in one year and two weeks every student in the room was actively engaged in a learning task. Some were building castles or making shields as part of our medieval studies, some were writing poems and other tasks related to our study of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, some were researching mental health for Live4life. There were no put-downs, name calling, refusals, arguments or missiles being thrown. There was a buzz of discussion, smiles and happy faces, questions being asked and problems being nutted out.

“You look bored, Miss,” my desk-buddy said.

“No,” I replied, taking a deep breath and smiling. “I am just enjoying my class.”

Tough Times Don’t Last … Tough People Do!

I would love to be able to acknowledge the author of this quote but I can’t … it came up in one of the twitter-streams I have been glued to for the past three weeks while watching the Tour de France. I love the way technology has brought me closer to this great race. I have been a tour devotee for years but now I watch the event on TV and webstream, while the twitter-streams for my favourite riders and the aussie followers flow. I add my commentary and thoughts to those of former professionals who have experienced the TdF first hand. But that isn’t what I want to talk about today.

This post was sent to Mark Cavendish as a message of support. Like the tall poppies of most countries he has had his fair share of bad press … professional bullying! Over in another twitter-stream at the same time a teacher friend posted about a 5th grade student taking action on to stop bullying. Bullying is probably the biggest issue I face as year 8 coordinator and classroom teacher.

We started semester two this week and in my first class of year 7 Humanities one student asked me “Miss, why did you  become a teacher?” The truth, and my answer, is because school was not a great place for me and I wanted to make it better for others. I love learning and I always have. However, I have ridden the waves of teasing and bullying to become the person I am today. A certain degree of teasing and stirring is part of learning humour and is character building. However, just like my experience of the TdF, the experience of children being victimised is enhanced by technology. Bullies can now reach their victims 24/7 via the very social networks I use to improve my teaching and learning practice.

So how do we teach our children to be tough? Like the 5th grade student, our school has started groups for students to come together to talk about their experiences. After reading this article I have a few more ideas we can add to that process. We use restorative practice in an attempt to get children to realise the impact they have on others. We run activities at lunchtime to provide safe places for students to be (this is food for another post … teenagers particularly do not seem to know how to fill in an hour a day). Resilience education has been a theme of transition and health education programmes for a few years now.

Yet still, it would seem, the best I can do is put out each fire as it starts … I met with a very distressed young lady, her parents and her Homegroup Teacher on Wednesday to put together a plan so she could face coming to school on Thursday. I felt satisfied to see her at lunchtime on Thursday with a smile on her face and a friend by her side. I just hope she can recover enough resilience to survive the next attack that I am sure will come!

The More Things Change . . .

. . .  the more they stay the same!

I attended the term 3 SparkL PD in Melbourne today with two of my colleagues.  It was a good day in that we had lots of discussion, a chance to reflect and time to plan. The downside is always the rhetoric and repetition that inevitably seems to be part of professional development. I have said before, this approach (project based learning) is not new but I spent some time today pondering what makes a good teacher a good teacher.

We have a new Principal at our college and his first few days have left us somewhere between shell-shocked and inspired. One of the first things he made clear was his vision for our school which he also made clear was “set in concrete”. However, the roadmap to achieve this vision is well and truly open to negotiation and he has created a buzz in office conversations as we begin to put ideas together.

As I worked my way through today’s PD it struck me that curriculum is the same.  In my twenty years of teaching the content has always been a solid fixture. We have always been tied to the  dot points of Frameworks, CSF, CSFII, VELs and now the National Curriculum. However, a good teacher realises that they have control of the delivery. The roadmap for achieving those set standards have always been open to the interpretation and creativity of the classroom practitioner.

My thoughts also wandered to the old debate between internal and external PD. We have been sending most of our team to these sessions as we are wrestling with taking on SparkL projects across our entire junior sub-school. (Most schools start with one or two classes, not the nine we took on!). It has been a chance for us all to have dedicated time to explore our understanding of project based learning but it is costly to the school to have so many teachers out on one day. This time we opted for a smaller representation with the responsibility of reporting back. It left me thinking, though, that it is important to attend external PD. Staying in school means we get bogged down in the mud of everyday issues. Even allocating an afternoon to team planning can be interrupted by any number of small things that eat into the time. Going off-campus and interacting with people from other teaching institutions allows us to see the bigger picture of teaching and learning. It gives us the opportunity to free our minds from the everyday things, allowing us become more creative in the way we guide our students along the roadmap.

A good teacher never stops learning and adapting. Learning to be better learners, teaches us how to be better teachers.

Meet my new colleagues … my students!

You might remember my blog “Those that can..” It was early in the semester and gave me an opportunity to think things through as I faced the daunting task of teaching a subject I knew very little about to 20 year 8s. Well … we all survived and what an amazing journey it was.

As my eyes were being opened to the power of the blog I had the intention of also encouraging my students to do the same, unfortunately my school environment isn’t quite ready for that (we’re working on it though). So as a stepping stone I asked each student to keep a running word document, we called it our “Reflection”, which they added to at the end of each week. In the beginning I would write prompts on the board and suggest a word limit to aim for. Over the semester we gradually lifted our aims from a tough 100 to an easy 500 words … in fact I was heartened in the last few sessions to hear the students bragging about how they had “already written 300 words and I still have more to say”. It was also pleasing that the students accepted the practice of reflection quickly and without complaint … it just became habit.  As part of their final assessment they submitted their “Reflection” and today I am going to share some of their thoughts with you.

The prompts I used in the final reflection were:

  • three things that worked well;
  • three things that need improvement;
  • what strategies did you use to help you learn?
  • what advice would you give the teacher taking IT next semester?

So, from the fingertips of my students:

“The three things that worked best this term was:

  • Teaching ourselves
  • The class being able to help each other
  • And playing other peoples games”

“Hack and help is useful for making games better and getting ideas. Like I got an idea off a game to use scrolls. I also like to download and play game maker games off the website to get ideas and help. I find the game maker website very helpful. Having other people play my game made me think about my game.”

“The things that worked best is self-learning, helping each other (but sometimes it gets a bit annoying because at times a lot of people needed help) and Working at our own Pace.”

“The strategies I have used to help me with I.T this semester was to get the tutorials on the internet, board, book, and on the server on the school’s computers. It has been good to teach ourselves how to make these games in these hard programs I had no Idea how to use. But now I can use it and teach other people how to as well.”

“The class, they aren’t that bad at all really. I feel like I can ask nearly anyone for help, and I know some of the people in this class. And a couple of people are my best friends, so it makes this whole class a lot easier. The noise level doesn’t get too loud, so it’s not too hard to concentrate.”

“I  like it when I help other people because sometimes, it can help me understand what I’m doing a little bit more, and also, just knowing that you are helping someone with something that could really impact their grades, it just feels nice. :)”

“The three things that worked best for me is watching learning and doing because you learn in this class you do in this class and you watch in this class”

” I found that when people gave me help and showed me how to do things on game maker was easy, and I soon knew how to make games and have fun with talking with my class about our games. ”

” I thought this was a really stupid subject and was only for nerds but not really because its not.
and I have kinder had some fun in this subject and I am pleased with everything I have done here ”

“Ive been preety good when working in teams over the past 8 weeks, helping other people 🙂 And other people helping me was preety good but I found this class preety boring at the start thinking this was all for nerds and stuff, but it makes you feel good when you achieve something that you think you couldn’t do.”

Some advice I would give the teacher taking an I.T. class next semester would have to be don’t talk so much and let everyone work on their own.”

The advice I would give to the next teacher would be do exactly as Miss Digby has.”

These are not the deliberately picked ‘good’ students … I can honestly say they are a good cross-section of comments! I was speaking honestly when I told them I was proud and pleased with their efforts. We didn’t just learn programming this semester (although I confess they taught me a lot), we learnt about learning … yes, I mean WE!

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words!

I was playing with wordle recently.  For anyone who hasn’t come across this yet, it is an online word cloud generator.

I was using it to make some posters of our school values for display in our ‘calm’ space (the table we use to give students time out). Mostly this involves me manipulating how many times I input words with the deliberate intention of having those words stand out. My aim is to give the students something to look at that will make them think about their behaviour and connectedness to our school.

My PLN have often shared their ideas of how they use wordle (and other word cloud generators) in their classrooms. Another idea is use it to analyse text … by inputting a URL or extended text you can see what words appear most often and from that maybe have a class discussion about why those words jump out. I use it in my VCE English class in this way as part of our text studies.

I have only been blogging for a short time but I thought it might be interesting to wordle my blog . . .

I was surprised, but pleased, that ‘students’ and ‘learning’ were my stand out words. It was interesting to then look at the next level and think about what that is telling me about my focus. I have spent a lot of time this year thinking about the physical environment I teach in, and my students learn in, how much control we have over this and how it impacts on our learning.

I continued to play with this and “wordle-d” some of my favourite teaching blogs (interestingly but not surprisingly), ‘students’ was the common stand out word.  I am particularly interested to compare the word cloud I created of my blog now to future word clouds of my blog . . . what will that show me about my reflective journey and teaching practice?

Authentic Learning??

I have just spent two days at a SparkL PD.  Project Based Learning isn’t new, but I am enjoying this journey finding the new ideas and rediscovering some of those that got lost along the way.  However I continue to struggle with rhetoric (if I never hear the word “engage” it will be too soon!).  In particular the notion of “authentic” learning … the idea of learning tasks with real world applications is also not new!  I know the phrasing is designed to  challenge us to think about the learning tasks we use in our classroom but I can’t help thinking it implies that tasks that are not “authentic” are just fillers.

Today I took a year 8 textiles class so that the students could start practical work.  The regular teacher was away but we had discussed the processes and projects she wanted to introduce.  We have real world reasons for teaching things like textiles and even though I was trying to explain these I could tell the students didn’t really care.  They have a choice of projects: a pencil-case (made on the machine), a phone cover (stitched by hand) and a beanie (knitted either on a loom or needles).  All three projects have real world applications and all three attracted interest to varying levels amongst the students. However my initial problem was how to teach the basic stitches required … the best I could do was an old-fashioned sampler.  Each student was required to complete a set number of rows of hand sewn running stitch and blanket stitch.  I know this is a frustrating task!  I know it is boring to repeat the same thing over and over again!  I know that a sampler has no use other than as a learning tool and to some extent it is just filling in time but until the basic skill is achieved it is a waste of resources to begin to make the phone cover.  I tried to draw the analogy between learning to write, kick the footy or ride a bike … tried to make a real world connection.

With the knitting I tried a slightly different approach … it worked with my Info Tech students so surely it would work here!  I gathered a couple of boys interested in making the beanie and showed them how to use the looms.  The idea being that they would then ‘teach’ another person each and spread the skill.  One of them lasted three rows before he got “bored” (his words). This prompted a discussion about persistence and work ethic (one of our school values).

All the tasks I planned today had real purpose … they had “authentic” applications … they weren’t just ‘busy work’. I accept that they weren’t all whiz-bang entertainment but there was a well thought out reason for completing each task.  Sometimes it is hard work getting students to see that they need to learn to walk before they can run.  But I still think there is a place for tasks that just practice a skill set.

I don’t think good teachers simply fill in time … and I think any task that is well thought out and planned as part of a learning sequence to get a student real world ready is an “authentic” task.  Ultimately that is our goal, to move our students through their school lives to a point where they are ready to take on the real world beyond the safety of our classrooms.