Learning Stories

Towards the end of last year I mused over the nature of teacher reporting to parents.

My thesis (ooohhh, fancy word!) was based around the extremely stagnant nature of reports. That is, because we are only reporting to parents every half year, most of the time what we are putting in our reports is already out of date. Often by many months.

My post was inspired by this tweet from Miss D:

My post was also inspired by my son’s kindergarten and their regular posts on his Educa profile. Anyone with preschool children at an early childhood centre using Educa will know how fabulous it is when you read another story on how your child is learning on their own and with others.

Anyone who has seen Point England School in Auckland knows how well their students use blogging to record their learning. I was first shown these at a professional learning day back in the Easter holidays. As soon as I saw Blogger I started musing.

After musing on this for a few months and deciding on going down the Google Apps / Hapara route, I’ve also decided to begin using Blogger to report to parents in a similar way as my son’s kindy reported on his learning (he’s now at school so his next report is his 4-week one… I think…?).

Blogger allows parents, or anyone for that matter (brothers, sisters, grand-parents, overseas relatives etc), to sign up to follow the blog. Every time there is a post, they get an email alert. Alternatively people can subscribe via their RSS reader.

What’s in a learning story?

How I’ve structured my learning stories is very similar to how my son’s former kindy did.

  1. Outline what was observed.
  2. Point out what learning was happening.
  3. Suggest next steps for my teaching.
  4. Link the learning back to our school curriculum.

I am in my very early stages of this form of reporting to parents; it’s only been going this week! I do, however, feel rather enthused by the whole thing. What it’s done is made me really hunt out the authentic learning moments my students are having.

I’ll share today’s learning story with you to see what you think.

So far that’s four stories I’ve done this week involving eight of my twenty three students. We’ll see how this pans out.

I’m picking I’ll still have to churn out 23 old-fashioned reports come November…

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My thoughts on knowledge

I’m sitting here at work. I think I’m meant to be not procrastinating, but that doesn’t appear to be happening (to all the English teachers out there aghast at my second sentence, please be aware that my intention was to place the “not” in that exact place for humourous effect, rather than giving the appearance of illiterate buffoonarism).

The other day I read a post from Danielle that got me thinking (this wasn’t the first; I doubt it will be the last!). In it she posed the question:

Who has decided what ‘knowledge’ should be taught in our curriculum?

She then goes on to give a multitude of example of knowledge we are imparting to our students (trigonometry, Shakespeare, Okazaki fragments). I would add that some of those topics I know little to nothing about yet my world is not collapsing.

I would also like to point out that my experience with Shakespeare at school was fraught. English wasn’t my strongest subject and my appreciation of the Bard only came later in life – appallingly thanks to Kenneth Branagh’s films rather than any concerted efforts to read the collected works. With the benefit of hindsight and maturity I now realise what my English teachers were attempting at the time. For that I apologise.

But I digress. What Miss D says about knowledge is interesting. Indeed – who as decided what knowledge is important? This question has resonated with me, particularly as I am currently planning term 2 work for my class. As part of this process I am looking through the New Zealand Curriculum for achievement objectives that align with the topic my students have chosen. This has been difficult as the topic they chose (related to our grand theme for the year: Out of this World) was Unsolved Mysteries. When we fleshed this out during the last week of last term some of the sub-topics include the Loch Ness Monster, UFOs, Sasquatch/Bigfoot and the Mary Celeste.

Now as I go through the NZ Curriculum the question comes in: where does this subject area of very high student interest fall within our curriculum? Science? History? In primary school our curriculum still contains history under the auspices of Social Sciences. The AOs within talk of people, community, culture and citizenship but not much about cryptozoology, Bermuda Triangles or alien visitation. Of course, this content knowledge can be linked through the English AOs, however, when integrating the curriculum you want to draw from many or all the subject areas not just one or two. This is such a rich area of content for students (and adults!!) and I would be selling my students short if I said, “We can’t do this because I’m not able to align it with the curriculum.”

Towards the end of her post, Danielle says:

What if society shifted towards a more holistic view, where we considered ourselves as part of a network and existing as a network? How would the world be different?

That is the ultimate question; one I don’t really have an answer too. In saying that I do know a few people who would not enjoy this education system because of the intensely difficult task measuring key competencies or dispositions when compared with measuring, say, basic facts knowledge, kings and queens of England or Polynesian waka migrations to Aotearoa.

Measurable assessment data still drives a lot of our decision-making in education. How do we get past this? How do we move to that holistic system Danielle was talking about where everyone at school (students and teachers) are part of a network and existing as a network? A place where health, well-being and self-worth are just as important as maths, reading or writing.

So many intense questions contained within a great thought-provoking post. I will ponder them further and perhaps some answers / ideas will present themselves.

Mr B

PS: I hope I haven’t missed Danielle’s point. I’m quite good at doing that sort of thing.

Ako: I am a learner, I am a teacher

Since many, many of the wondering EdChatters I look up to have been writing screes this month on a daily basis, I thought it timely I put finger to key and tap out a few words.

If you are unfamiliar with the Māori concept of ako it means both learning and teaching. We have developed this as part of our school curriculum and it sits alongside key competencies related to learning.

I have decided to explore ako more explicitly with my students this year for a number of reasons. Firstly, they need to realise that I don’t know everything and that, in fact, as a group we are all in it together on our journey of discovery (watch this space for pictures of microbes from the irrigation race – very soon).

Secondly, they are all teachers, whether they like it or not. When I surveyed them yesterday about ako – that they were teachers and learners – none really put up their hand. However, when I asked in the context of, “Have you ever taught anyone to do anything?” hands shot up all over the place. Every single kid in the class had taught someone to do something. Ride a bike, tie shoe laces, log on to Code.org (fairly recent); the list was extensive.

Thirdly, and possibly selfishly, I am thinking about my inquiry this year. I intend to do a bit of research this year into how children with different needs are catered for in the modern, flexible learning environment (yes… I too am aware of the jargony nature of that sentence). Essentially my concern is those students who have particular learning needs could easily get lost in the modern, noisy classroom as students go about their messy inquiry missions.

The idea developed over the course of last year as I watched how students worked with each other in those vertical learning groups of mixed abilities. Kids are very good at explaining and helping out other kids who don’t know how to do something. I saw this as an opportunity and wanted to look into it futher.

So today we talked about some concepts that our curriculum has related to ako: manaakitanga (caring for others), kotahitanga (togetherness) and rangatiratanga (leadership or self-determination). Here’s our brainstorm (sorry – it’s a bit reflecty):

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You can see on the left I’ve written: “How can we use pictures to show this?”

You know, in your head, when you’re teaching is awesome – around about the time you’re planning it? I really did think we’d talk about these concepts and voila, I’d have pictures of mighty kauri thrusting forth from Papatūānuku with ako being the strong trunk….

Well… there were many blank faces. However, I did send them away and let them go for it. Some kids did really well, but on the whole I think it was mostly a struggle. Reflecting afterwards I put it down to a lack of effective scaffolding on my part and too many new words all at once.

But hey, on the bright side, those words are now in our class vernacular. They are fabulous concepts – key competencies in te reo. I will now build on these shaky foundations and perhaps, one day this year, a mighty kauri will triumph.

This wasn’t a failure. It was a beginning.

Akohoia tahi tatou – together we learn.

Mr B.

Professional learning goals for 2015

Hello everybody and salutations to you as we come to the end of yet another festive season. If you’re anything like me you are lamenting the shrinking number of notches remaining on your belt as the ever-expanding girth of your Christmas puku loses the fight against the vast amounts of yuletide muck you have (and continue to) thrust down your neck.

Those of you who read my post for the Christchurch Connected Educators blog during CENZ14 back in October will realise that first half of 2014 culminated in a very low point in my teaching career.

The negative beginning to 2014 was replaced with a stellar end after my engagement with many, many like-minded geniuses at the #EdChatNZ conference in August followed with many other connections and conversations over the interweb in the subsequent months. This was a most positive development.

The other thing that changed in 2014 was my reading. That is, I started to read. I started to read books. Not just John Grisham or Stephen King. I started to read Edu-books. So far I have read two and a half books. They have all been awesome.

Key Competencies for the Future: featuring talk of wicked problems, modern learners and current pedagogies. A fantastic book for thinkers and teachers, or thinking teachers, if you will.

After that I read The Elephant in the Classroom by Jo Boaler which dealt with the how narrow our school mathematics teaching has become so that many students are marginalised and become turned off because it is so far removed from any real-world context as to become pointless (imagine coming to the conclusion early on in your schooling that you had no idea what was going on in maths and then having to participate in another decade of maths teaching. How would that impact on your entire schooling experience?).

Currently I’m reading EdJourney: A Roadmap to the Future of Education by Grant Litchman. What astounds me about this book is the sheer volume of stories from schools across the United States – a book lovingly crafted following months of driving, interviewing, visiting, and reflecting. It is a comprehensive exposition of how schools in the United States are successful through their use of, for want of a better term, the modern learning pedagogy.

The portion that has resounded with me the most I read only the other night – how teachers at a school called Sabot at Stony Point in Virginia prepare their lessons. They don’t plan ahead in detail. Instead, they go into a term with a general idea about where they are going to go and then adjust the plan on a daily or weekly basis depending on their observations of students and where they are. It resounded with me because, as it happened, this was exactly how Term 4 ended up for me. I had a rough plan at the start of the term but ended up putting out a detailed daily plan based on what learning had taken place the day before.

When I read that it was another, Look! Somebody’s doing it like me!!! moment (these are incredibly important if you have nobody close who does think like you).

The other think I am loving about this book is when I find a bit I like I tweet about it and then get a reply from the author. That’s pretty cool (if only I had that during my days of reading The Shining during those Sydney thunderstorms of 1990. I may not have been so incredibly frightened. Mr King may have been able to soothe my nerves with words of comfort in 140 characters or less).

I suppose my main point is before the #edchatnz conference I hadn’t read much educational stuff. Now I have one book on the go at a time. This is all the brain seems to be able to manage with a four and a half year old (night-time reading tends to be in a constant battle with extreme exhaustion. They are not close). All this reading has shown me the way I think is pretty on to it in terms of modern, forward-thinking pedagogy. As a teacher it is quite rewarding to find this out!

So my first goal for 2015 is to keep up to date with my readings. Best practice only comes from research and study into those who are doing it.

My other goal is a personal research goal. As we follow the Teaching as Inquiry model at our school, we have the opportunity to engage in a short study each year. Last year I looked into modern learning in general. On Thursday my research question came to me:

How can I improve outcomes for learners with particular needs (ESOL, cognitive, emotional) in a flexible learning environment?

I was inspired to write this question after I read this post from the wonderful Danielle Myburgh who regularly inspires me with her words of wisdom.

If you’ve read my earlier post on this subject you will know this is a question I was wrestling with over much of 2014. If I have been wrestling with it, then why not make it my professional learning goal for 2015.

Done.

The final goal I’ve set for myself is to become a member of Miss D’s #edchatNZ nest (see her above post). She has many questions about the setting up of her nest:

How do we build a team that is spread across a country and might never actually all meet in person? How do we structure or organise this team so that we set no limits about what we can achieve? How do we empower these volunteers to take on challenges that matter to them and will contribute to the overall vision of #edchatNZ?

I don’t think it will be a difficult process for Miss D. She is a force majeure. 

So there you go. Some professional goals for 2015. I’m already underway with at least two of them.

I’ll let you know how they go.

Mike

We are beings of connection

The social nature of humanity has been the reason for our success as a species for millennia. We realised early on in our existence that living and working together helped us both thrive and survive and move from caves into huts. Then we began grouping those huts together into small villages and started to specialise our skills to benefit not just our immediate family units, but the wider village as a whole.

Our need for connectedness is innate. We humans know instinctively that our very survival depends on our ability to connect with those around us. The Internet now allows us to create connections with people we’ve never even met. The tendrils of our electronic connectedness reach further than our physical beings could ever hope to.

I live in a small town and teach in a small, rural school. As idyllic as this sounds, it can, unfortunately, lead to a disconnect. There are fewer like-minded teachers to bounce ideas off. In a larger school in a larger town you may have two or three people at work you can hook into for ideas; you’ll also have a wider local network of mates and colleagues you can call on. This may not be the case when there are only a few of you working together. This is not to say I don’t gel with the guys at my school – far from it. We are a tightly oiled machine dishing out educational genius all over the shop. My point is, we are all very different teachers with very different ways of doing things.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts I found the process of returning to full-time teaching after a few years relieving and Hiluxing to be quite difficult. You really do forget just how all-encompassing the job is when you aren’t embedded within it.

The good kind of funk: George and Bootsy

This, along with a couple of other factors, meant I headed to the inaugural #EdChatNZ conference back in August in what can only be described as a funk. Not a good funk either. No George Clinton; no Bootsy Collins. It was the funk of self-doubt. The funk of self-doubt is a dangerous place to be as a teacher. As this funk envelopes you (which it can from time to time), all other things go out the window. It doesn’t matter how supportive the people around you are, the funk of self-doubt drowns out any positive vibrations that may be sliding your way from colleagues, parents or life partners. It’s not because we teachers are a negative bunch, it’s just because we care so much about the young people in our charge that any misstep we make fills us with guilt – the guilt of having failed our learners.

Having painted the picture of where I was professionally, I headed off on the long journey from Geraldine to Auckland for the #EdChatNZ conference. As I walked in the door of Hobsonville Point Secondary School I saw how vastly different their learning spaces were and started thinking that this weekend might be a little different. Sitting alone in the auditorium awaiting the opening I was quietly looking around for people I thought I might know from Twitter. Then it all kicked off with Danielle (@MissDtheTeacher) played the Lone Nut video and it was then I knew then and there the #EdChatNZ conference was going to be like no other.

As an aside, it’s worth revisiting that very video to remind ourselves…

After two days of making real-life connections with me Twitteratti, taking hundreds of selfies, and many discussions of a pedagogical nature I returned to my South Canterbury hamlet revitalised. The funk of self-doubt had been expunged. I now knew the way I had been thinking, the direction I had been travelling was correct. I had just spent the weekend with a few hundred ‘me’s – a few hundred people heading on the same journey as I had been.

The validation I received from this weekend has been the single most important thing to happen in my teaching career. Aloneness is terrible. Being stuck inside your own head is no fun. Being stuck inside everyone else’s heads – that is absolutely the funnest time you can have.

My Twitter connections are the people I turn to when I need support before heading out of my cave into the wilderness (The last thing I need at this point in my career is to be eaten by a hungry sabre-tooth). It is they who understand precisely what is going on in my brain and how the learners in my class learn. It is they whose ideas I steal vision I use to motivate me in my planning.

As I said at the commencement of this post, we are beings of connection. We crave the company of others. We actively seek out those who are like-minded and those who will compliment us in our activities. If we don’t seek these positive connections we run the risk of falling into a funk of disconnected self-doubt.

The modern world with its interweb, Twitterings and Googletastic linkage allows we teachers to make thousands of connections we would never have made in the past. We are able to validate what we do and how we think in a way that includes teachers and educators from everywhere in the world. It’s, to borrow a phrase from Anne Kenneally (@annekenn), MAGIC!!

Modern teaching, as with modern learning, is about connection and collaboration. Connect and collaborate or you may, as I did, descend into the funkadelic depths of self-doubt.

To conclude, feast your eyes on the mothership for some extremely positive funk:

Student voice – term 3

What is the best way to find out what your students think of you? Whip up a Google form.

Previously the job of collecting student voice has been given to the small, yellow pad of post-it™ notes sitting in my desk. The pad would be extracted, leaves distributed to class members, then collected back in to be collated in some kind of meaningful way before being lost in the clutter of my desk only to be rediscovered weeks (perhaps months) later.

Google forms does all of that for me which means I can now use my post-it™ notes for what they were actually designed for – to play those hilarious “kick me” tricks on my colleagues.

But I digress…

This term, having returned to my class from the #EdChatNZ conference completely imbibed with pedagogical excitement, I flipped the class somewhat (A brief perusal of previous postings will give you all the information you need on that). After a term of this I wanted to know from my students what they enjoyed about the term, what they thought I had changed and what they thought I could change.

Here are the questions followed by a selection of answers (with analysis to follow).

What have you most enjoyed about your learning this term?

  • Everything, because you have tried and made it interesting!
  • Reading because it’s my favourite subject
  • topic:it was a really fun subject because we learned a lot about our history and 1914 day was so fun!!!!
  • My maths: Because it does not feel like maths.
  • maths doesn’t feel like math but i can’t really think of any thing else i would like to do more p.e now that’s fun!!!
  • reading because it is my favourite subject and it is a lot different from the worksheets
  • I enjoyed that we went on Weebly and researched about the ships that came to Christchurch.
  • I loved everything especially liked physed because we did different units and tasks. I also liked doing e-time virtual school again ’cause we got to do different tasks and communicate with others.
  • Topic: because we got to do all sorts of fun stuff (making websites
  • Maths – because I have progressed so well. Reading – because of e-time Topic – because we have done more fun and involved stuff.

What do you think Mr Boon has changed about his teaching this term?

  • Mr Boon has changed the atmosphere in the class room this term by making things more interesting, giving us fun and hard tasks.
  • He taught us about how to spend money wisely
  • He has changed the maths so it does not feel like maths.
  • The financial literacy.
  • Mr Boon is good at ICT stuff, I like doing this.
  • More ICT time for us
  • You changed and did Weebly with us and you brought in the class business
  • Maths we learned it in a different way.
  • maths: because it was a lot more full on
  • Reading: Journal Contracts
  • Maths cause it’s very different from what we do often.
  • This term we have been doing more fun and involved like eating sea biscuits, making a website etc.

If there is one thing Mr. Boon could change, what would it be?

  • More challenges
  • He could… well its hard to think of anything to change!!
  • Maybe he could let us chose what we do for p.e
  • he could make the learning feel fun and not like learning.
  • um maybe do more P.E and maybe a different reading sequence because I don’t really like the one were doing now because its boring
  • Harder math, harder reading, help people like me a bit more and harder spelling words
  • Maybe you could keep your desk a bit more tidy so we can find things a bit better
  • I would like the whole room to be a bit more quiet.
  • Keep your desk tidy so you can find things better!
  • not much
  • I don’t know
  • Make the room quieter
  • I think nothing because he’s a great teacher to me.
  • do some more art & music and make the room more quiet when we’re working.

Interesting points: 

  1. The students are easily able to answer these questions and articulate their needs as learners and what they need me to be as a teacher.
  2. Quite a few want a quieter room. That is easily arranged. We are currently redesigning the class into a flexible learning environment so how we achieve a quieter environment might benefit from the creation of some caves within our learning space. See this Core Education page on learning spaces.
  3. A couple want some more challenging learning activities. That is easily arranged. Earlier this week, as a class, we planned what we were going to do in term 4. This is up on a massive A2 piece of paper ready for me to attack next week when I return for my “holiday” planning mission.
  4. There’s quiet a few back-patting questions that tell me the students are loving the programme I’m delivering and
  5. I need to tidy my desk.

We all deserve a few days to celebrate what we’ve all achieved as teachers this term. I think it’s truly amazing what we do in the 10 week space between having a functioning brain and being unable to verbally construct a sentence during conversation without being able to withdraw the appropriate noun in your vocabulary bank without resorting to the use of ‘thingy.’

You are all awesome.

Mr B

PS: some of the kids are talking about enjoying the process of building websites using Weebly. I have links to share but that will be the subject of a post on its own.

Sources:

http://www.core-ed.org/sites/events.core-ed.org/files/Caves-campfires-wateringholes.pdf

Contextualised learning

Have you missed me?

It’s not that I’ve stopped teaching or reflecting, it’s just that my wife and son have returned home from Scotland so I’m not as available as I’d like to be. After a day teaching, night-time reflection tend to flow from my brain like bricks through a… funnel… small funnel. See? Rubbish. I can’t even muster a simile at this late hour.

As the term has progressed several things have organically metamorphosed and we are now in the process of setting up a class business and redesigning our learning space. Both of these events are at the very early stages, however they are shaping up to be the two most interesting learning sequences I’ve been part of.

As I said, these have both happened organically. Neither was part of my long-term plan for this term, or even remotely close to the front of my brain. I have had ideas along these lines in years gone by but have not had the nous or confidence to undertake them.

Since the glory of the #EdChatNZ Conference, I am pedagogically confident enough to run with things as the crop up mentally rearranging my thoughts quickly before jotting down a few things as the idea unfolds.

Here’s how it has worked…

Learning Space Redesign

This was fairly simple to get off the ground. I suppose the germ of it came on my visit to Hobsonville Point Primary during the #EdChatNZ weekend. Open spaces, breakout zones, self-directed learning and much, much more. It was all there just waiting to be transposed to South Canterbury by a willing lone-nut.

I thought a good place to start was showing the students some new schools to give them ideas and have a discussion with them about what sort of things they wanted in their learning space.

Our various discussions have now led us to the point where we are about to compose a letter to the principal to ask whether there is room in the budget for new things. Tomorrow we will compose this letter and arrange what I’ve called a face-to-face.

This all sounds very formal but the point is contextualised learning, active learning and metalearning (thinking and talking about learning). If there’s one thing I’ve learnt this year is that kids are far more engaged and enthused when they understand why they are doing what they do. I can see these guys get excited about this process.

The Class Business

Like the new classroom project our class business idea has morphed out of my brain and into our learning vernacular is our class business. Every year we need to raise and care for a garden. After returning from my conference epiphany I started to ask “why” about everything and the garden was no exception. I posed the question to the class:

How can we turn the garden project into something more interesting?

Our discussions ended with the class deciding to create a herb growing business.

The homework this week: the kids have to write their CVs so they can outline the skills and talents they can bring to the various positions we’ve decided we need to run our business. Those positions are gardener, marketing, financial officers, sales and product design.

It has been really interesting to see the excitement brewing about this project. Living in a rural area most of their parents own their own farms or are self-employed in some way so they are totally aware of the context of their learning. They’re also absorbing the financial literacy learning like sponges because they know exactly when and where they are going to use it.

This is going to be a pretty awesome journey. More updates as they come to hand.

Transparent Teaching

One of the sessions that helped blow my mind at the #EdChatNZ conference was Alyx Gillett’s session on teaching transparently. Her idea is…

…that teaching and learning should be as open and collaborative as possible. Students, teachers, parents, faculty, colleagues and peers should be able to see and articulate not only what but how and why we are learning.

This struck a chord with me.

Last year I returned to full-time teaching after three years out of the classroom. Returning was a true baptism of fire. In the three years away I had totally dispensed with any memories of precisely how insane the workload was. I fully admit the first six months of 2013 was a real struggle trying to insert myself back into the teaching groove.

During this struggle things lapsed – particularly my planning. Pressures of time led to much ad-libbing of learning. Literacy and maths I planned well for, but other things not so well. As the year continued things did get better and I now feel I am on top of things.

These are all excuses for not doing giving my learners the opportunities they deserve, but they do provide some context as to why Alyx’s presentation had such an impact on me and my decision to change the course of what and how I am doing what I am doing.

As reflective practitioners, teachers owe it to their learners to be the best they can be. We must reflect on what we are doing and question ourselves and our practice. Is what we are doing the best for our learners? Can we do things better? If we need to reform, how do we reform?

In essence I have spent much of the last year asking the hard questions of myself through our Teaching as Inquiry professional development. Having given myself a swift boot in the pedagogy, I am determined to continue filling the gaps as I move forward.

So as part of my quest to utterly reform my teaching practice I have written a comprehensive plan for what will be coming up in the class. I’ve listed the what and the how but I’ve also asked why we will be studying what we are. Today I messaged all my students giving them access to the planning for our upcoming unit on pioneer New Zealanders. You might also want a look at it. In this new era of collaboration please do feel free to offer suggestions. Twitter has already been a great help during this planning mission. I am feeling most positive about it.

Opening yourself up in this way can be harrowing, but also cathartic. I am finding the latter to be more relevant at the present.

Enjoy your week!

Mike