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Reflective Students

Teaching students to be reflective practitioners and to take responsibility for their own learning is I think, a vital skill. This term my students have been writing choose your own adventure stories and blogging them to the world. I can see no point in setting them this homework task unless they grow as writers as a result. So this week I asked them to reflect on their learning, by giving them a Google form.  Among others, the form included the following questions.

  • How much time and effort are you putting into your choose your own adventure?
  • What do you think your strengths and weaknesses are in this writing task?
  • How could you improve your choose your own adventure?
  • What have you learned so far about the writing process?

The answers have been really interesting and have included the following:

  • I take a lot of pride into my ‘CYOA’ chapters and I spend a lot of time re-reading and editing my work. I would say that I roughly spend around 30 – 45 minutes of work on each of my chapters, plus editing.
  • I put at least 2 hours into writing wring and editing and commenting on blog post.
  • I feel as though I am putting my best effort into the task. Sometimes I have trouble writing, so I challenged myself to try my very best every week.
  • I think that the CYOA has actually helped me to love writing even more. I have actually quite enjoyed it! (to my surprise!) The most valuable think is that writing is a very important part of life and that you can tell a story just through setting a scene in someone`s mind.
  • I have realised that you can never do enough planning, because if you don’t plan you won’t have a properly formed story.
  • I have learnt from this writing that you should include exciting events and not just have it about one person.
    I have learned that you need to think about what your going to write before you go ahead and write it.

Students writing, students reflecting, students learning, , students improving. Who could ask for anything more.

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TeachMeet Innovation at Q Station Manly

It was a miserable wet Saturday morning, as I made my way to Manly and climbed down the stairs to the laundry block at Manly Quarantine Station. I was a little nervous, not that many people had registered for this TeachMeet and we had already had a few dropouts. Looking at the rain I was worried that no one would bother to come.

I need not have worried though, as although we were a smaller crowd than expected, we were definitely a quality group. We all enjoyed a morning of conversation, sharing and networking. As well as fabulously informative tours of the wonderfully evocative Quarantine Station. Not to mention some delicious cakes!

When I go to a TeachMeet I always try to leave with something I can put into practice immediately, a tool I want to explore further about and a reading or teaching idea that I will try to learn more about in the future.

Yesterday I came away with these nuggets.

Can I restrict all my ‘teacher talk’ to seven minutes or less per lesson? I think I already do this but I am going to put my class on notice to time me. There are of course moments when explicit teaching is vital but we all know teachers who appear to love the sound of their own voice. This one seems a worthy goal for any teacher.

I was also reminded to look more closely at Mindfulness in my classroom, as well as in my personal life. I already practice yoga for myself but could my students benefit from also slowing down and becoming more mindful? There are those who are now arguing that we should ask our students to look more closely at one primary source, rather than attempting to rush through everything in search of content. There is definitely merit in my exploring this idea further.

The tools I am going to explore are add-ons for google docs. Doctopus takes a google doc so that the owner can share and make new copies of it. And
Goobric can be used to to mark assessments. It brings down a rubric which one can use to mark in real time.

So thanks to all the fabulous teachers who came to Manly, my TeachMeet buddy Chantelle and the Q Station Education Manager Julie, it was a great way to spend a Saturday morning. Learning, sharing and networking. It was also interesting to read on Twitter that TeachMeet Melbourne was also on Saturday so we were not the only group of teachers learning from each other.

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Year 6 write ‘Choose Your own Adventure Stories.’

it’s Sunday afternoon the sun is shining at last and my dog is snoozing at my feet, a fairly normal day. Yet my daughter is teaching herself to crochet using  youtube clips and my son is trying to understand his maths homework also through watching online help. I am mid way through checking my class homework for the week and reflecting on just how well it is going and yet how different it is to homework we set even two years ago.

Two years ago my Sunday afternoons would have included a large pile of books. Inside I would have found a glued in sheet containing a variety of activities. I would have spent my afternoon reading, commentating and stamping my way through the pile. Books filled with words. Words that only I ever saw.

Today my Sunday afternoon is spent reading my students ‘Choose Your Own Adventure Stories’. Following from our popular Passion Projects last term. Each week, each student is writing a chapter of an adventure narrative. At the end of the chapter she has to give three possible scenarios for the next chapter. As part of her homework she also has to comment on four other student blogs and vote on which scenario their next chapter should follow. In addition I have a group of volunteer parents who are also reading and commentating on a small group of blogs. Add to that the votes of Mrs W and myself and most students are getting between five and eleven votes per chapter. For not only are their peers and  parents voting but so are grandmas, fathers, aunties and friends. I can also see students choosing to read each others because they are getting caught up in the writing and they want to find out what happens next.

Now obviously in a mixed ability class we have a mix of narratives, some are better than others. But at my school we work on personal bests and I am definitely seeing many improving personal bests. I can see that our lessons in class on developing narrative characters and how to write using direct speech are being applied. I can also see that my students are motivated. Real writing for a real audience. You can’t get much better than that.

If you would like to read and comment on our Choose Your Own Adventure Stories head to Year6rc to find our student blogs.

 

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Year 6 visit Canberra

I have just returned from our Year 6 annual trip to Canberra. A two night, three day trip that many stage three students take in Australia. Certainly all those within driving distance. As we returned late Friday night my co-buddy and I mused on the trip. What was good, what was ordinary and what really should be missed. Each year we seem to end up with much the same itinerary, but is it the best one? Are we missing activities which might provide more opportunities for student questioning and learning? Are we staying at the best available accommodation? Obviously we visit all the sites associated with our Australian government but what about the rest? What about the evenings?

What I want is a website where excursions such as these are discussed and sites we could visit ranked. Is there a site that already exists? If not perhaps there is a market for one. I certainly cannot find one.

To assist though I have created a google form. If you take your students to Canberra, could you please fill it in. Perhaps if we all share our thoughts, knowledge and reflections we can learn from each other and next year our itineraries could be perfect.

Results can be found here

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TeachMeet Manly Q Station

Are you a teacher in Sydney? Then come to TeachMeet Manly Q Station on Saturday September 6 at 10:30 am. Free tours given by the Quarantine Station education department are also available before and after the TeachMeet. So you can learn more about how you can meet your students learning needs with an excursion to this historic site. Join us for a fun morning of sharing, connecting and learning from and with other teachers.

Further details on how to sign up can be found here.
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Using Peer Support to Develop PYP Attitudes

Like many schools around Australia my school uses the concept of Peer Support groups to develop cross age relationships and year 6 leadership skills. The Year 6 students are paired and given a small group to lead which contains students from each year group. in my school that generally means groups of eight or nine students, who meet fortnightly for half an hour at a time.

For the past few years we have used an purchased Peer Support program of timed activities. We have long felt though, that although this program is good, it just didn’t meet our students needs. So this year I have taken on the responsibility of introducing the PYP Attitudes through Peer Support.

These attitudes are the values that we want our students to show towards each other, themselves and the wider world.

Appreciation
Commitment
Confidence
Cooperation
Creativity
Curiosity
Empathy
Enthusiasm
Independence
Integrity
Respect
Tolerance

This has proved to be an excellent way to not only introduce them but to run Peer Support too. For me it has also been a fairly easy procedure. Type any of the words above into a search engine and numerous potential activities will pop up. There are Pinterest pages too developed by wonderful educators with more time that I have.

Firstly our groups created posters as their Peer Group Support essential agreements. Since then they have read books together on the topic of empathy.  Cooperated in games that do not have winners.  Developed confidence using dramatic role plays. Shown commitment in completing a jigsaw puzzle together and enthusiasm for craft activities.

So if you run Peer Support at your school consider writing your own program, these days it’s not as hard as it might seem. Don’t you just love the way that all around the world today ideas are shared.

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Provocations to start inquiry

I’m so lucky that in my role as PYP Coordinator I get to visit all the other classrooms at my school and assist other teachers with their inquiry units. This week was a week of provocations. Provocations are such an informative and rich way of starting a new unit. They give so much valuable information about what the students already know and what they are thinking.

Year 1 and 2 started by wondering and discovering what it was like to never see light. They had to close their eyes, put on a blindfold and using only a friend as a guide move around the classroom. Doing this allowed each student to understand just what it would be like to live in a world of darkness.. Their experiences led to many thoughtful reflections and wonderings.

I felt cold because I was in the dark.
I was nervous because it was scary.
It felt like the whole world was floating in the air. Everything was black. It was very boring not being able to see.
I felt scared and itchy, it was the end of the world 

As an introduction to their unit on government. Year 6 arrived on Tuesday to a classroom with no rules, told by their teachers they could do anything they liked for the first half hour many of them were confused. Fortunately or perhaps not, the worst they could come up with was to move classes to chat and catch up with friends! This happy time was brought abruptly to an end though, with the arrival of Mr W, playing the role of a dictator he soon had them in their place, kneeling before him and praising his leadership. Exploring forms of government through anarchy and dictatorship allowed these learners to start contemplating what they already know and what they want to know about Australia’s government.

Year 3 completed a see, think and wonder thinking routine on a number of living and non-living objects. Exploring through touch, drawings and questioning allowed them to decide what categories they could each use when classifying these objects. They came up with several including inside and outside, soft and hard, natural and made, as well as living and non-living. With teacher guidance they further defined their categories and shared their understandings.

Our classrooms are certainly exciting places to be these days.

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Ban Boring Homework – Use blogging instead

Last week I attended the fabulous TeachMeet 5 Squared hosted by @simon_harper3. I gave the following presentation. Ban Boring Homework – Use blogging instead. In this five minute presentation I gave a glimpse into the way we use blogging to engage our year 6 students in reading, writing, presenting and reflecting on their learning, using Edublogs student blogs. Last term my students completed Passion Projects for homework, over the course of the eight weeks. They then used their students blogs to report on their learning, to comment on other students learning and to reflect on the process. Why did we use blogs for this? Because the new Australian English curriculum has outcomes such as ‘Students create well structured and well -presented written and multimodal imaginative, informative and persuasive texts for a wide range of purposes and audiences’. To my mind blogging about learning, reflecting on the process and sharing it all with a wider audience fulfills this outcome perfectly. Next term we have decided our students will complete ‘choose your own adventure’ narratives. Each week they will be required to write a chapter of their story. Fellow students, parents and the wider community will then vote on what should happen next.  Authentic imaginative writing for an authentic audience. What could be better. If you would like to comment or have your class read, comment and vote on their narratives, please let me know, as we would love your involvement.  

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So much to learn, so little time

I’m planning a day of professional learning for my staff. A day when we will attempt to build our PYP Program of Inquiry. We have been on our journey towards becoming an authorised PYP school for several months now but as yet we have not had the time this year to create this vital part of the PYP puzzle. We have not had the time, as every other professional learning day has been filled with other equally vital staff development needs. Including several days when of all of us took our Making the PYP Happen course. We are also part of a K – 12 school. so PYP is not the only professional development need. Positive psychology and Growth Mindset are just two of the other areas we are learning about.

But finally day one next term it’s time. Time to unpack our Australian and NSW content outcomes and match them to the PYP Trans-disciplinary themes. Time to move beyond just an inquiry framework. Time to collaboratively build our Program of Inquiry.

Except that it’s not. A day is not nearly enough time. Beyond building the bones of our POI. I want to spend time exploring all of the following:

What does it mean to collaborate, not just cooperate?
How can we ensure our inquiry is concept driven?
Do our central ideas really meet the needs of our students?
How can we meet our BOS outcomes without our inquiry becoming superficial?
Can we meet all the five essential elements of the PYP curriculum

And
How can we teachers ensure we are inquirers too?
How can we fit all the learning we need to do in and teach too?
How can I best support both myself and my staff in our learning journey?

So much to learn, so little time. Where even to start? All suggestions welcomed!

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Using technology with purpose.

One of the joys of my job is that I get to spend time in other classrooms besides my own. Last week one of my visits was to Year 3. At my school Year 3 is the first year of laptops. In the infants department they had access to an iPad so for many a laptop is totally new. No more touch screen swiping, it’s time to use a mouse and keyboard. So these young students need to be taught some essential but basic skills, such as how to type and save documents in Word.

So how to achieve this in a meaningful way? Well, as part of their Inquiry unit these students are researching significant people from the earliest colonisation of Australia. Guided by their teachers they have developed a range of purposeful questions and chosen their significant person. To meet both their learning outcomes and technological needs, their assessment task will be to create a poster. A poster is the perfect multi-modal text for stage two learners. Creating a combination of images and text allows them to represent their ideas and combine their learning. By synthesising the facts they have found through reading and then transferring their ideas into a poster. They will be thinking deeply, producing new meaning and developing richer and stronger understandings.

So will this poster be on cardboard? Of course not, what a waste of paper that would be. Will this poster be created in Glogster? Certainly a fun site to use for students. One in which they can add videos, typefaces, colour and more. But to my mind a site which many students use to end up with over designed flashing gizmos, at the expense of relevant factual information.

No what these students will use is Microsoft Word. Boring perhaps, predictable certainly. But with specific targeted skill based lessons in how to create a headline and insert pictures and text. They will end up by creating a product that will have used technology with purpose, as well as met their learning needs and their inquiry outcomes. A win-win situation all round.