My gut said no… and then I thought about it

I thought it was a good idea to blog about this since it is related both to my pedagogical approach and my old man stubbornness.

We’ve had a discussion at school recently: What are the indicators of an effective reading programme. Many of us have said the same thing and we’ve created a document – this has ended up being very similar to the Effective Literacy Programme books put out by the ministry a few years back.

Today the deputy principal came through to check out our reading programmes based on the list we had co-constructed at the end of last term. When I went over the staffroom to collect luncheon her walk through notes were on the table ready for us to put in our Teaching as Inquiry folders as evidence for EDUCANZ.

I read mine and was immediately outraged. Under the heading of “Literacy rich environment – class written books, books, magazines, children’s work” I received this:

words and examples displayed – no visible student work

Instantly the old, stubborn me kicked in. What! How can I? All the work I do is digital (the class is now using Google Apps through Hapara). The work’s all online! It’s digital!! Plus, MY ROOM IS ENTIRELY MADE UP OF LARGE WINDOWS OR WHITEBOARDS. WHERE AM I GOING TO PUT IT!!!

After my brain calmed down and I returned to some kind of Boon equilibrium I started to think… How can I make this wonderful work my students are doing more visible? I know what amazing work they are doing, but parents or whanau have no idea. They’re not logged in, necessarily, to see the students working. How can I make this happen for them.

So that’s where I’m at. My Teaching as Inquiry brain has officially taken over my old man stubbornness. It now rules my practice.

Sweet!

I am now away to make a large computer screen to display some printed out work. It will be stuck over a window.

Mr B

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):

20150217_132201

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.

What would happen if…?

After a fabulous few weeks away from the rigours of daily school life, I’m heading in more regularly now as I try to get things organised ahead of the return of both my students (Feb 2) and ERO (shortly thereafter).

As I prepared for the new school year, my new-ish cellphone decided to develop some kind of electrical tick whereby there now appears on the camera some lovely blue streaks. This technical hitch, according to the Google, is caused by the camera’s sensors not working properly. Yesterday I returned it to a well-known Australian technology chain and they have now sent it away for repair.

This now leaves me without a smart device on me at all times. Yes I have my laptop but that is a rather cumbersome replacement and one does look rather foolish walking around with a laptop in hand attempting to make use of the 2 free wifi spots here in Geraldine.

Being without a device has other negatives. For the life of me I can’t quite ooze them from my fingertips at the present moment, but I’m sure there are many (Clash of clans anyone?).

Of course, there are also positives. I now have plenty more time to do stuff. Not that I don’t enjoy engaging in vast pedagogical discussions with my twitterverse, but that does take time out of your day.

Last night I was asleep by 10.30. Ish.

Having all this extra time has led to my brain wandering off and thinking about stuff.

For example, what would happen if I just removed all the technology from my class for a week? Unannounced. What would happen? How would my students deal with this scenario? How would we learn? How would we engage with each other? How much “spare time” would we have as a class? How would our learning change?

So that is what I am going to do. At some point this term, somewhere near Easter, I’m going to spend a Friday afternoon after school removing every single device from our classroom to see what happens.

This might sound like a bit of a whim, but I believe the richness in learning that is going come from this will far outweigh any flight-of-fancy-ness. And yes… this technological restriction will extend to me and my devices!

I will give everyone the heads up when this happens so that you might follow our progress – probably as an end-of-week recap rather than hourly tweeting about how frustrated we all are at having to converse face to face.

I predict good times for all.

Plus I hope you’re all enjoying trying to re-engage your brains this week.

Ka kite

Mike

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

Where I is at #edchatnz

I have planned for myself a busy weekend of jobs. Mrs Boon and son are currently away in Scotland visiting her side of the family. They are due back in a week and a half and following the life-changing events of the #EdChatNZ conference, I wanted to update you all quickly on where I currently lie in the transformation process before I begin on the list of things I have to complete ahead of their return.

As I have mentioned previously, it’s very easy to go away to a conference and have an amazing couple of days meeting new people and sharing your ideas. The difficulty comes when you return to the normalcy of your usual work day with all the pressures that pull you this way and that.

How are we able to implement change if we don’t have time?

Well, I’ve made time.

I read or heard somewhere once if you don’t make change within two weeks of some professional learning you will never make any change (I have in my head that Tony Ryan may have told me this, but I could be mis-remembering Ulearn 2009). With that ringing in my generously side-burned ears and the fact that #EdChatNZ is the single most ground-breaking PD I have ever been involved with, I was determined not to let the lessons I had learnt fall by the wayside.

Here’s what has happened:

  1. I am changing the way I plan: too often I write my plans in the two-week break we get every ten weeks or so. By the time week 3 comes around so much information has entered my head that all of the holiday stuff has fallen out. I get a bit lost occasionally, therefore my learners get a bit lost. I am committed to sitting down with my brain more regularly and getting the ideas and directions I have for my learners down in some more official capacity than just daily notes in my planning book. I’m also trying to give students a bit more of a say in what they learn, although I am finding this a bit tricky due to the nature
  2. Student agency: I have made this more explicit to the learners. “It’s much easier,” I’ve told them, “to motivate you all to achieve if you have first chosen what you are going to achieve.” I’m probably paraphrasing myself there in a way that makes me sound a bit more Dead Poet’s Society than I actually am, but the sentiment remains. This is something I have been doing well this year already so I just need to maintain this.
  3. SOLO Taxonomy: I’ve already blogged on this. It was one of the first things I did upon my return to school.
  4. Connected education: as a class we have made contact with Hobsonville Point Primary. I am in email contact with a school in California who are to become pen-friends – old-skool pen-friends as well; pens, papers and envelopes. This term I have used a parent expert to deliver some art lessons. I have also maintained my twitterati connections through the various edchats that are now underway (there are mutterings of more, so more columns will be open on my tweetdeck!). There will be more to come in this section so watch this space.
  5. Teaching as Inquiry: this is our current professional development programme. Apart from #EdChatNZ, it is the single-most important professional learning I have undertaken. Twice a term a facilitator visits and as a staff we reflect on our successes or any issues we may have. This is making me a better teacher. It is giving me skills I can apply to all areas of my teaching, not just numeracy or writing or science or whatever.
  6. #EdChatNZ Conference 2015: Three weeks ago while resting between breakouts with my new homies (@AnnaGerrit, @mrs_hyde, @carobush, @digitallearnin@annekenn etc.), I flippantly said I would be presenting at the next #EdChatNZ conference. Last night I tweeted, reiterating my commitment. So now I have to do it.

So that’s what I’ve been up to. When you make a list like that it seems to be huge, but it hasn’t been a great deal of extra work – just smarter work. Or something.

Right, back to my other to-do list.

Mike