Weekly Reflection: Students as teachers

Throughout this year I have been using small group workshops to teach content.  Today, a held a large addition and subtraction of decimals strategy workshop.  I had my teacher opted in students and a number of students that wanted to work on decimals in maths.  A student confidently used the strategy and met her own success criteria thus finishing her work.

She returned to the group, “I’m finished!”.

The group had moved off and a few students decided that they needed further scaffold to progress to the next step.  My extra speedy learner piped up,

“Can I teach those girls how to do it?” she asked.

“Yeah, can she teach us?” they chorused.

WOW, – of course you can.  The girls moved off and proceeded to run their own workshop.

I checked in with the learners later and performed a short formative assessment task.  One of the students confidently exclaimed that yes I can solve those problems and yes they are so easy.  She then demonstrated using the SC to solve the problem.

Snapshots such as these reinforce the learning and teaching capacity of our learners as educators.  This was one of the best workshops so far.


Weekly Reflection: Supporting each other

At the start of 2014 I watched a clip about Lollypops for Leadership by the inspiring Drew Dudley – another mint TED talk.  Drew has a thought provoking approach to leadership – leadership is about changing the lives of people around us in the everyday lives of people.  Excellent!  We often put leadership into a box for certain people – but it is for all of us.

So what?

As teachers, we all experience hard days when we all get caught up in the not so great things.  It happens to us all and it is an important part of coping – being able to debrief, rant and rave.  I decided that, yes, we need to talk about those hard times but we also need to acknowledge and think about the things that happen in our day and life that make our life better at that time.

So, in our staffroom I made a post it comment wall for us all to jot down the neat things that happen in our classes that fundamentally make our lives better at that time.  It’s not a competition, there is not a tally or standard that each post it comment must meet.  It is a way of acknowledging the neat things that happen and sharing with each other.

I have found that when I have a ‘bad’ session in class; something ‘neat’ can happen that will unequivolently make my day better.  A student that keeps ‘forgetting’ to raise her hand dramatically puts her hand up before speaking and waits.  Just made my life better and buoys me for the rest of the day.  These moments need to be acknowledged and celebrated.

A by product, and not the intended outcome, is the positive conversations that arise when you read a comment and seek out the author to celebrate and marvel.  During lunch I read,

Mrs B you have lost your talk.  Miss 5 yr old – 1 term

What entailed was a conversation about the sweetness and cuteness of this gem and the further inclusion of 4 other staff members in the conversation.

Weekly Reflection: Gaming and learning

As you can see I am playing reflection catch up.  This term we have increased the number of tasks that involve the phonomenon of gaming based learning and teaching.  WOW!  What a great way to learn and practise a piece of learning.

In term2, I introduced the maths game, SUMDOG, as a method for learners to practise different math concepts.  What a success.  On the first day, the class downloaded the app and signed up – all very boring and time consuming but a frequent part of digital learning.  A large part of exploration of new tasks is applying an inquiry approach.  The students are given a set time to ‘explore’ and to inquiry into the apps usefulness and appropriateness.  Then, as a whole class we complete a ‘PMI’ and assess if the app is and can

1. interest and motivate us to learn

2.  help us to learn

3.  is fun – learning has to be fun

What a marvellous response.  One boy exclaimed,

“Miss Turner, this is like a home game.  It is not even like school work.  These games are cool”.

Another boy piped in, “oh, I want to play SUMDOG all the time”.

I was gobsmacked with the level of engagement and motivation to do maths.  Most learners were not really aware that as they compete against the computer and their peers they were practising multiplication, division, addition, and much more.

An awesome feature that is so effective for teachers is that the application monitors what the students are working on and adjusts the content to suit.  In addition, (sounds like a uni type essay!) you as the teacher can set the content that you want students to work on.  Finally, the app is highly competitive.  Boys thrive in competitive contexts and I have noticed how motivated and engaged my boys are when they play and his is amped up when they play and compete against each other.

SUMDOG has become a daily part of our math program as a great way to practise math knowledge and skills for short periods.  And it is html capable so is accessible with an iPad.  Great subscription and a winner in our class.


Weekly Reflection: Standing up for Education

Last week at our week 4 staff meeting, the staff at my school voted on the Governments IES model for education.  It was awesome to break down the IES and what it means for teachers, schools, learners and our community as a staff and to really make sense of the options.  

The point that hits home for me is that the governments IES model seems to move the money further from the places where it can have the most effect.  It can be used to improve health care for learners, extra teacher aides to work directly with learners and teachers, to support learners with high needs, the list of possible ways to support achievement in schools for all learners.  

I can see how collaboration could be possible if teachers are supporting each other across schools but this is not the only way to support learners to progress.  I look forward to hearing how the rest of the country voted in regards to the governments educational policies.  

Weekly reflection: Google Sites

As a teacher in a digital 1:1 iPad class a clear dilemma I encountered in term 1 was what Managed Learning System should I use to enable my students to access their learning?

Option 1:  Edmodo

An easy to use secure site that enables students to ask questions, access learning, engage in learning conversations and to provide feedback spontaneously to their peers and teacher.  My class loved the whole experience and I was greeted with “Are we allowed to use Facebook?  Is this Facebook?”.  As an educator, I found Edmodo easy to use and access.  I could provide links to google docs, websites and presentations.  I could even access built in apps and assignments.  Downside of a messaging type site: on the first day of use a small number of students used the site to post negative comments about a student.  However, the upside: a real moment of how to be a responsible digital citizen.  As a class, we developed a key understanding of what we post online stays online and we can’t always take back.

Option 2: A Google Class site

The internet is a great source of information, ideas, how to do it, images, videos and the list goes on.  I have found the powerful and inspiring work of the Pt England teachers and school to be a wonderful resource to implementing the google site approach to planning and using an online managed learning system.

Professional Development: Throw back Thursday Document viewer

Our wonderful Reading Recovery, Paul, shared not only a range of effective teaching strategies in reading and writing but a document viewer he unearthed that was purchased 8 years ago.  What a niffy piece of technology – I could see a range of in-class uses – a microscope, a way to explicitly show students how to edit a text, sharing exemplar student texts…..the list goes on.

A foundation of his discussion was the Marie Clay self extending system via the document reader.

A key question: is the self extending system applicable to teaching as inquiry?

Some key features that are common to both

  • self monitoring: in both areas learners must self monitor their knowledge and understanding.
  • searching: in both areas learners must search for meaning and information.
  • cross checking: in both areas learners must check validity of understanding and validity of information.

This was an interesting discussion that reiterates that the majority of teaching and learning strategies can be used in a range of contexts and a range of learning areas.  Great PD at Turaki.

Weekly reflection: whole class, small group, 1:1, buddy

I have noticed, right throughout my teaching career, as lean as it is but relevant nonetheless, that many students are not particularly engaged during whole class instruction.  We complete a 7-10 minute, yes, I have a student timer that times me each time, hotspot at the start of our Daily 5.  I work hard to maintain engage and enthusiasm during these short 10 minute sessions.  I ask students questions, I give lots of positive feedback for student comments, I complete a quick model session and set them free.  What I noticed, particularly last term, lack of engagement and boredom.  Hence the strict chunking and timing regime we have.  But, in comparison, what a startling difference during small groups.

One child that will not speak in front of the class is transformed into a wonderful source of knowledge and he absolutely extrudes confidence during reading groups.  I can barely keep him quiet!  He wanted to answer every question and he demonstrated to me and his peers his in-depth understanding of the text, his ability to re-read to find information, and to use his prior knowledge….the list can go on.  Another student was ignited during a small group reading activity by the ingredient of competition from another peer.  She went from a docile, quiet and uninterested participant to an enthusiastic and ambitious learner.

 Student A started the session with answers such as, ‘I don’t know’ and lots of shoulder shrugging.  Enter stage left, student B that was enthusiastic and motivated and wanted to share her knowledge and attempted to answer questions.  At this point, I distinctly recall student A watching her peer share and engage with the text.  She looked back at me, and noticed by enthusiasm and encouragement as I praised her for showing me her comprehension skills.  At this point, she started to engage with the text and the group and was actively competing to share her ideas.

In a whole class session, both of these students would not have transformed their learning.  I would not have observed their skill and knowledge in a whole class session.

During term 1, I increased the amount of small group teaching.  I completed a student survey today and one of the questions in the survey was, ‘How do you like to work during writing?  shade all the choices that sound like you

Whole class         small group       buddy     on my own      1:1 with the teacher


What did they choose?

Over 80% of the class selected small group.  One student selected whole class teaching.  This question was asked for reading and writing.  The results were similar.  About 40 % of students selected buddy and a small number selected on my own.  Many students selected more than 1 choice.

What does it mean?

That I am right increasing the amount of small group time in all areas.  The Daily 5 and CAFE approach is great for this as well.  There is a place for whole class but the preferred way of most students in my class is small group and opportunities to work with buddies and individually.

What about me?

I love to work with small groups and observe the knowledge and skills that learners have.  I am enthused to see learners transform into confident and ambition beings that amaze me and their peers.  I relish in the learning conversations I have with my learners and the interactions learners have with each other.

Weekly reflection: SAUCE inquiry learning

Inquiry learning.  A key element in all 21st century classrooms.  

What is it?  A whole list of words spring to mind: student based learning; student research; questions; project based learning; collaborative; knowledge building; creation; critical reflection; celebrating; sharing & presenting; constructivist; experimental; hands on learning…… the list goes on.

As I prepare for a new school term, 7 more sleeps to go, I am refreshing my approach to inquiry learning in my class.  I stumbled upon a great resource on the SAUCE approach to inquiry teaching and learning, thanks Trevor Bond.  I really started to critically reflect on my own approach to inquiry learning and what my intended outcomes for my learners are.  Trevor makes numerous links to using inquiry learning to scaffold learners to become independent learners and illustrates how simply re-working tasks can transform the learner onto the road to independence.  This resonated with me as I am not sure all of my teaching and task selection is fostering deep conceptual understanding of a concept and independence.  During a culture inquiry unit, I do not believe that some of my learners developed deep conceptual understanding of culture.  So, enter the SAUCE model to inquiry learning.  Key thing I love about this model: Celebrate understanding: learners produce/share/celebrate their understanding of new learning vs Celebrate Found – which is sharing new learning they have found (information recall).  As I start to plan and gather resources for my classroom, I am going to ensure that I create tasks and experiences that enable my learners to celebrate their deep understanding of the key concepts and to develop independence.  As a 21st century educator, it is so important to revisit strategies, models and to reflect on what I am doing and to make changes that will transform my teaching and the learning of my students – (teaching as inquiry!)

Weekly reflection: the 40 Book Challenge

The 40 Book Challenge

During my planning for 2014, I discovered a bunch of chat about the 40 Book Challenge.  Donalyn Miller was the inspirational figure behind the book titled, ‘The Book Whisper’.  The book outlines Donalyn’s journey to inspire and motivate her students to read 40 books during the school year.

Spectacular! I was looking for a way to motivate and challenge my 2014 class to read – good readers need practice and I wanted my readers to develop a thorough understanding of the genre of texts that exist and to link this to their writing.  Plus, boys are naturally competitive and I really wanted to hook them into reading.

We started in week 5.  At first, the class was exasperated, ‘Miss Turner, 40 books that’s too much’ and ‘it takes me all term to read one book…’ it is not hard to imagine the retorts from year 6 and 7’s about why they couldn’t possibly read that many books.  However, after a discussion about what books, how many pages, who gets to choose the books and if books that were read before could count, I noticed a glint in the eyes of some of my readers as we ventured to the library.  Once we arrived, a small number of students ran up to me and asked, ‘what sort of book is this one?’ and ‘I only have this much to go so this one counts eh?’.  

A great thing happened a few weeks later as I reminded the class about the 40 Book Challenge and asked the class who would be the first person to complete a book.  A girl came into class and smiled triumphantly and exclaimed, ‘Miss Turner, I finished my book’.  The look of utter triumphant was plastered on her face.  She was the first to attach her sticked to our chart.  From that point on, more students were finishing books.  I set the challenge to my boys to be the first boy to complete a book.  One of my boys told me each day how many pages he had left until he finished his book as he was sure he would be the first boy to complete a book.  He was and has read two more books since then.  I marvel at how the added competition has ignited some of my boys to strive to out do each other.

At this point, I have noticed when we go to the library each week, I return less books and renew slightly more.  I place a big presence on making our reading count – record all night reading in your reading log – no matter what type of reading you do.  Choose books you want to and can read.  I have also noticed the students choosing books in their genre list and stepping outside of their reading comfort zone.  One young lady in my class noted that she needed to read a book of poetry and went to the library and actively looked for a poetry text.

A new development has occurred in that my class would like to set up a reward system for progressing through the challenge.  We are discussing this currently and I have decided to elect a 40 Book Challenge team to set the milestones and achievements.

So, what is my take so far on the 40 Book Challenge? Great and I have noticed a shift, if only slightly, in the attitude some of my readers have to reading and I see a persistence in some to complete books.  Likewise, my readers that love to read are being rewarded for reading.  Finally, all my readers are practising their skill at reading which must occur to develop reading progression and understanding.

The challenge continues and I am still slogging my way through my first book and shamelessly have yet to add my own star to the class chart.  80 books seemed so attainable at the time – note to self , ‘don’t choose books with 600 pages’.

Weekly reflection: Assessment & analysing Data

All educators across the country would have experienced the quick fire succession of student assessment in the first four to six weeks of school.  I marked 23 E Asttle writing tests, completed 23 GLOSS tests, 23 + Probe reading assessments, marked 23 STAR tests,  and administered 1 spelling  and PAT maths test.

Assessments are time consuming to administer and evaluate however the most invaluable feature of assessments are the identification of strengths, needs and the next learning steps.  Our school administers the PAT maths test and this assessment was a treasure chest of wealth about what mathematical knowledge my learners had and needed.  I have used this test to create specific learning intentions for my groups and individuals. Using this information, I quickly identified that one student needed to work on her number knowledge, specifically how many 10’s in a whole number.  She was completely flabbergasted when we started and now takes great delight in explaining to her peers how she worked out how many 10’s in said number.

The most interesting feature was that some of the information derived from the test , for example one student could not successfully solve an addition problem involving decimals and stumbled on this during the GLOSS test as well.  However, in some areas this did not ring true.  Thus, the importance of a variety of testing and overall teacher judgement.

So, as much as testing takes a lot of time to administer, mark and analyse, they really provide us and our learners with a springboard for learning.