Tag Archives: learning


Reflections on the role of a PYP coordinator

I am writing this reflection from my hotel room in Singapore, where I am lucky enough to be attending a course title ‘The role of the PYP Coordinator’. Tonight is the end of day two and I have homework to do before tomorrow. I need to reflect on my learning so far and to especially consider the following questions.


So in relation to the first question, just what have I learned about the group and our collective knowledge?
I have learned:
That our thirty participants work in nine different countries.
That many of them speak multiple languages.
That one participant can speak 11 languages, I was truly humbled by this idea.
That our collective understanding and knowledge is of enormous value.
That talking with others is almost as beneficial as the course itself.
That I need to keep reading and keep learning.
That the role of the PYP coordinator is a challenging but exciting one.
That although all our schools are all different, essentially we all care about the one issue, our students learning.
That the reason I teach is because of the students and that is the same no matter where one works.
That I am making connections with people that will continue to be valuable as I learn and grow.

What have I learned about myself?
That I will always be a learner and that no matter what I might think I know, other people will always be able to offer me tips, tricks, ideas and strategies that I can take back to my classroom and staff.

Tomorrow my learning will continue, right now I am off to explore some of the delights of Singapore.


No Hands Up

Back in 2012 I wrote a post about the value of ‘wait time’ when asking questions of my students. Since that time I have endeavoured to use ‘wait time’ with mixed success. I have tried really hard to find other ways of encouraging student participation besides ‘hands up’ including a pack of cards with students names on, that I hold in my hands and use to randomly select names. As well as named popsicle sticks which I can draw from a mug that sits on my desk. Again I have had mixed success with these methods. After my PD with Dylan Wiliam though I have been reflecting on this. With determination to get it right this year.

Dylan was quite clear on the need to stop relying on students putting up their hands to answer a teacher question. Why? Because a teacher who just takes answers from students with their hands up, gives permission to all the other students to switch off. Dylan’s research clearly shows that when a teacher relies on ‘hands up’, students will only answer if they think their reply will be the right one. We all know that our classes are populated with some students who love to hear the sound of their own voice and others who shrink from publicly putting themselves out there. Add to the mix those who, for whatever reason, do not listen to your questions and the chances are any discussions will not be as rich as they should be.

So why are some students so determined to thrust their hands in the air? Is it because after six years of schooling this is ingrained behaviour?
Why do others avoid eye contact and shrink from having a go? Is it because they still have a fear of failing?
How can we ensure all students at engaged, listening all the time? So that as teachers we can be sure they are learning.

My goal this year is to avoid having students put their hands up 80% of the time. Dylan assured us that to enforce this as a routine will take up to a year for me to use as habit. How will I achieve that goal?

I will continue to use cards and pop sticks. I know there are apps too, so I may explore those.
I will plan, prepare and think deeply about the questions I want to ask. So as to ensure they are not ones I already know the answers to. I need to ensure they are ones that will encourage rich discussions.
I will use think. pair, share to ensure all students are talking, at least to each other if not always to me.
I will reiterate and reiterate that in 6MW there is no such word as failure. That to fail is to take ones First, Attempt, At, Learning.
Once I have ensured I have chosen a few students at random, I will allow those eager beavers to have their say too.
I will ask ‘no hands up’ questions at least every twenty minutes, so as to ensure my students are engaged and listening.

I will change my habit of relying on students who put their hands up
to answer questions in class. How about you?

Image thanks to manos al cielo


Formative Assessment

I have just returned from two days of brilliant professional development on the essential topic of assessment for learning, more commonly called formative assessment given by Dylan Wiliam. This was the kind of professional development I love. Even though it involved sitting and listening for two days solid, I did not lose focus. My notability app has pages of informative notes, covered in yellow highlighter for formative assessment ideas that connected with me, red highlighter for strategies I want to try now and purple for those I must read more about. This post will be a quick attempt to process just a few of my thoughts.

If you have done any reading on 21st century learning, or the future our students will inherit, you will know that the world is changing. Jobs are changing, some disappearing and many new ones being created. Our students will need to grow up to be be creative people, able to use technology in novel ways, in order to survive in this brave new world. Good teachers will need to be the very best they can be in order to prepare students for their future.

Dylan Wiliam’s premiss is that formative assessment is the bridge between teaching and learning. Yet what if the teaching is good but the learning poor? How do we know without frequent formative assessment going on in all our lessons?

There were numerous examples of useful types of formative assessment, demonstrated though video lessons, hands on activities and slides over the two days. Many of them I already use and have blogged about before, which was great but there were also several new ones that I plan on using and feeding forward. I cannot do justice to them all tonight so here are a few questions as food for thought.

Do you insist often a no hands up policy in your classroom at least 80% of the time?
Do you use a random picker, even named paddle pop sticks to ensure all students engage in class discussions?
Do you have red and green discs or red, yellow and green cups, or red, yellow and green floor mats for students to use during lessons to show they understand your teaching?
Do you have a Captain of the lesson whose job it is to report with a captain’s log at the end of a lesson, reviewing the key concepts.
Do you use ABCD cards for each students and hold regular multiple choice quiz times during which you can quickly see student understanding?
Do you use mini whiteboards during lessons to gather student understanding?
Do you use written exit passes at the end of lessons to see what your students have learned?
Do you give back maths tests telling the students they have five errors but not tell them which ones are wrong?
Do you place a dot in the margin showing errors in written work but not tell students what the errors are?

Food for thought indeed.


Backwards by design program planning

Before you read any further ask yourself the following questions, as I have been thinking about these for a while now.

  • Just because an activity or task is engaging does it mean your students are learning?
  • Is your program filled with hands on or minds on activities?

I have been reading Understanding by Design by Grant Wiggins and Kay McTighe recently and I cannot recommend it enough to all teachers who plan and implement programs, as so much of it makes sense and resonates with me. In case you are unaware, the book promotes a design model for a program or unit of work that is essentially backwards from the way so many teachers have been used to planning. Instead of choosing themes or activities first, the teacher starts with desired learning outcomes and works back from those outcomes through assessment and finally to actual lessons. As they plan they ask themselves

How do I make it more likely  – by my design – that more students really understand what they are asked to learn?’

I know I have been guilty in the past of reading about an amazing activity, one which is engaging and hands on. One which i know would be fun for my students and which I could manage. And then thinking of how I could incorporate it into my program. For a while now though, my school has been using a backwards by design framework in all our planning. It is amazing how starting at the end, with the actual indicators or learning outcomes I need my students to reach, has helped me to crystallize my planning.

These days it is not enough for an activity or task to be engaging to make it into my program. Instead I am constantly asking myself: ‘if I use this activity’…

  • What understandings will emerge and endure from this?
  • What are the big ideas and important skills I want to develop here?
  • Do my students understand what they need to understand and learn?
  • What is point of this activity?
  • Is this particular activity minds on or just hands on?
  • How will I know if they are understanding what I want them to learn?
  • What will serve as evidence of the enduring understandings I am after?

If you have never used this approach I recommend you try the following steps when next planning a unit of work.

Ask yourself: What are the desired learning results of this unit? Then consider, what are the essential questions that will link the students to learning? As well as, what skills will they need to achieve your desired results? Now comes the formative and summative assessment ideas, what evidence do you need to show your desired results? And finally, what is the sequence of activities or learning experiences you can use that will lead to the reaching of your learning outcomes?

Backwards by design my essential tool when programming.

Image c/o


Visiting other classrooms

Last week I was lucky enough to visit three other schools. It is such a joy and privilege to be able to do this. As teachers we spend our days surrounded by students, usually just in our classrooms. Days spent hopefully, by us teaching and our students learning. Although perhaps that should read, with us all teaching and learning together. However we phrase it though, a teacher’s life is generally spent with students and In a classroom. So the opportunity to view other learning environments is rare.

The schools I visited were both similar in some ways and yet also different to mine. Passing through I was both reassured and inspired. Reassured that I am on the right track and inspired to try new ideas. I saw lessons I could gain ideas from and activities I might try. I ate lunch with the staff at one and mulled over a programming problem with them. Offering my advice and listening to their insights.

As I reflect on these visits my main thought is one of thanks. Thanks that I had this opportunity and thanks that other schools are willing to open their doors and classrooms to other teachers.

So if you can get the chance, visit other schools. Or even other classes, drop into your neighbour around the corner or around the corridor. Share ideas. Learn together and from each other. I promise you won’t regret it. The life of a teacher is often hard and always busy. Share it. After all a problem shared is a problem halved.


Come and work at my school

I wonder where do teachers who are not connected, who do not belong to Pinterest, who do not read blogs and who rarely go to TeachMeets get new ideas from? I wonder in fact, if perhaps they don’t? I wonder if the reason there are still so many blog posts and presentations to be found on ‘creating 21st century learners’ means that in most schools teachers still continue to work in ways they always have?

It is at moments when I am musing like this, that I feel thankful for all that I have. I work as part of an amazing team at an amazing school. A school that allowed me to explore my passion for blogging during a week in the UK recently. A school where we are encouraged to continuously push the boundaries in thinking, reading, teaching and learning. I feel thankful too that I genuinely love to learn and that more than anything I love to try new ideas in my classroom. As we move towards inquiry based learning, l I know that there are many new challenges ahead. More to learn and more to change.

Are you like me, a connected teacher? Do you love to learn? Do you thrive on new challenges? Would you like to become part of a dedicated and hard working team of teachers, who continuously strive to meet their students learning needs in interesting and new ways?

If you answered yes and you live in Sydney. Check out last weeks job’s pages at the Sydney Morning Herald as we have a maternity leave position coming up next year. Come and join an amazing team at an amazing school. Work harder than you ever thought possible and love every minute of it.

Feel free to email or tweet me @henriettami for further details.

Image taken in a UK classroom.

labeling circles

The nine phases of teaching

I read a post the other day that really resonated with me. Titled The pedagogy of merriment it was well written and interesting. Although aimed at high school teachers I  felt much of what it said still applied to primary teachers. There was much about the article that I enjoyed but in particular this statement made me stop and reflect.

I suggest teachers break up learning into nine phases: engage, connect, pair/share, articulate, extend, dramatise, construct, apply and review. As I read that I wondered if I managed to meet those nine phases?

Engage: is To engage my students I know I need to gain their attention and ensure they are focused on the learning that is about to happen. So for example every maths lesson begins with a quick problem solving activity that is waiting for them on the SMARTboard. As they come into the room they know to pick up a mini whiteboard and start working out the problem. By the time all the students have arrived I will have already handed out class Dojo points for the fast workers and all students are, I hope, ready to use their maths brains.

Connect: Our next activity is a quick quiz, designed to be completed very quickly and exercise their mental maths skills. Students do this is order to connect with their prior learning.

Pair/share: At the end of the quick quiz, students discuss with each other the strategies they used and how the activity had connected with their previous learning.

Articulate: The lesson might continue with the introduction of a new topic/idea/strand or problem. We would typically discuss together how this could be solved. My students are encouraged to ask for help, to capture their thinking on their whiteboards and to share their learning with each other and myself. To a visitor this can seem slightly chaotic but moving around the room I attempt to keep everything under control.

Dramatise: Although I do my best to keep my maths lessons interesting and relevant. And I try to set interesting problems, using real life examples, I do not think I dramatise my lessons enough. I certainly do not always manage to make them so memorable that they remain lodged in my students long term memories. On the other hand we often say life in Year 6 is a drama. So perhaps not always meeting this within maths lessons is not a problem.

Construct: My students knowledge is further constructed through the completing of examples, possibly a worksheet or a hands on activity with physical manipulations.

Apply: For a primary student to best apply their knowledge they need to to use the demonstrated concept or knowledge in a new way, Is this achieved every maths lesson? Probably not. Is this achieved during each mathematical unit? I hope so.

Review: It would be great if I could say that every Year 6 maths lesson ends with time for a review of the learning that has taken place, unfortunately though it usually ends in a rush to move to the next lesson, Obviously this is to do with timings and it is something worth reviewing. The fact that the primary mathematics curriculum is packed with outcomes to reach, does not help.

So there you have it nine phases of learning, engage, connect, pair/share, articulate, extend, dramatise, construct, apply and review. If you reflect on your teaching, do you meet this challenge?


Carol Dweck small

Adobe Generation- Digital Creativity in the Classroom

I am taking part in an online learning course during the next few weeks. Tilted Digital Creativity in the Classroom. It is an Adobe education course designed for educators as an introduction to the basics of digital media production. It promises to have an emphasis on classroom craft, as well as the core principles of digital image making, animation, video and web design. During it l will cover basics in Photoshop, Flash, Premiere and other Adobe tools. What a fabulous challenge. Oh and did I mention it is free.

The website promises ‘You will learn to manipulate and take control of digital images to create an artistic digital collage in Adobe Photoshop, create a series of simple animations, Produce a short digital video and publish your work on your own web space. All the content you produce will be based upon creating classroom resources to model good practice within your own school or college. The course is based upon classroom practice and designed by teachers. Participants will focus on a new application each week and complete a related task to reinforce and practice the learning before implementing it in the classroom.’

Our first homework task was to follow these video instructions and create our own interpretation of this famous image of Barrack Obama, using an education icon and our own words. Now I know a bit about Photoshop, I have manipulated photographs to create composite images a few times and although I do not use it in my life very much, I do understand Photoshop basics. I also  teach my students how to use Photoshop elements, using a series of lessons developed especially for primary students.

This first homework task though, pushed me completely out of my learning comfort zone. This video instructions were eight minutes long but it took me over an hour to create the rather poor image above. Which incidentally is supposed to be Carol Dweck and yes I know her mouth has disappeared!  I am not happy with my results and I found it difficult to even achieve that. Part of me is tempted to start completely again and the other part says forget it. Is that laziness or realism? I have many other things I need to finish this weekend, including marking and family time. Will I really need these particular skills in Photoshop, to teach my students better? I think not but as I reflect on my attitude and my learning, I know that I need to remember these feelings whenever I introduce my students to something new and challenging. They need me to help and encourage them not to give up, as I was seriously tempted to do. They need me to help and encourage them to keep persisting when the learning becomes tough. As it is only through solid effort will come results.

It is not too late to join with me in this course. You can find the details here. A video explaining what it is all about can be found here.

Oh and incidentally I plan to start afresh with this tutorial as soon as I have finished this weekends marking!


Butchers shop - Ugly duckling play

Learning through drama

My year six students have been working hard this term to complete a number of in class ‘real’ projects. By ‘real’ I mean that we have tried as far as possible to reach our needed outcomes with tasks that have meaning and relevance for them. The first of these projects, fractured fairytale plays came to fruition with our performance day this week.

To arrive at this day my students had to complete the following:

Read, speak and walk through a number of different plays.
Analyse the structure of plays, including stage directions, costumes, props and backdrops.
Form groups and get down to the business of creating an original script.
Decide on a fairy tale to fracture as a script starting point.
Discuss, argue negotiate and more, as they work collaboratively in Google Docs
Ensure that the script was no longer than ten minutes and that every student had a more or less equal part.
Make sure they actually made sense and were suitable for Kindergarten to Year six.
Include an original musical item, a song or dance, that was no longer than a minute.
Burn the precise music clip length onto a CD ready for the students in the sound box to play on the day.
Create original photographic collage backdrops that were capable of being projected onto a screen, using Photoshop elements.
Place backdrops into a slide show ready for the technical crew to use.
Make all props from scrap materials, including a wardrobe, Rapunzel’s castle and Humpty Dumpty’s shell.
Source all costumes from home.
Learn all lines.
Calculate all stage directions.
Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse and rehearse some more. Usually in the classroom, or odd spaces around the school.
Spend only one day sharing the actual stage for dress rehearsals with all the other groups.
Instruct friends when to move props on and off the stage.
Prepare a script with precise instructions for changing backdrops and music
Walk onto the stage, under lights and perform their hearts out.

Did they achieve this? Yes of course they did. Were their tears and tantrums along the way? Yes of course there were. Year 6 girls are after all deeply aware of themselves and working as a team, while out of their comfort zones was difficult for some. Was it all worth it? Absolutely. Will I do it all again? Naturally.

Education Leader Logo

Adobe Education Leader

I received a surprise email in the last school holidays, inviting me to join the Adobe Education Leadership program. Even though I have a working knowledge of many of the suite of Adobe programs I am by no means an expert in any of them. I emailed quickly back again, admitting my lack of knowledge but emphasising my willingness to learn.

Encouraged to continue I can now report that I am honoured to be a member of the Adobe Education Leadership program. I have survived my first online event in an Adobe connect room, built my profile and started exploring what Adobe can offer me. Next week I will be off to an Adobe Education Leaders seminar.

In return I have committed to increasing my understanding of Adobe products. Last weekend I started by signing up to ‘level up in Photoshop’. I have completed my first few missions and I look forward to finding the time to complete more. I have uploaded the AEL badge to this blog, having first manipulated it to reduce its size and turn the curved edges grey, so that it fits perfectly in my sidebar. Admittedly I needed help from @musingdad to do this, however I hope I won’t next time.

So what can this experience add to my classroom? It is a good reminder for me that I am a life-long learner, my students are too. I know I will have to work hard to understand all their software, my students have to work hard to learn new software too. I will enjoy exploring all they can offer me, my students also enjoy learning new skills. I will enjoy sharing all that I learn, they too enjoy sharing their learning through their own personal blogs.