Sunday, 11 October 2015

Are We Elitist Educators?

At the beginning of the year, I had a great experience on twitter that you can read about in this post.

Here's the short story: I asked a question, and heaps more people replied than I ever expected.

I've been active on twitter for a while now, but often go through drought conditions and floods. I do make sure that I check my feed at least once every day, and make sure I follow up on any notifications if any coming along - I hate the feeling of leaving somebody hanging out there.

Last night Cherie (@Cherie59789095) made the following tweet:
I thought that was really interesting, and offered my own 20 cents, as did others. To cut a long story short, some of us came to the conclusions that twitter is generally a welcoming environment, and the majority of us do not act in an 'elitist' manner.

Now I'm going to play devil's advocate. We've heard people say that twitter is an echo chamber (read this article) in that you hear want you want to hear, and that those who are paying attention to you are those who will agree with you anyway. So is this true for teachers using twitter, and more specifically, in New Zealand? My first thought is no, but hang on...

Can we really know what others think of us? I talk to people at my school about using twitter and how they should give it a go, but I am often meet with "I find that stuff too confusing" or "I don't have time" or the classic "That stuff is a waste of time, just full of people who want to show off." I disagree. Twitter is not confusing once you get going, you can always make time (it's not that hard) and it is not full of people showing off - read this post, shared to me by Stephanie (@traintheteacher).

Yes, there are some show-ponies out there, but then there is in real-life. You don't spend time hanging out with people you don't like, so don't do it on twitter either. The key is finding the right people to follow, and ignoring the rubbish. Surround yourself with the best people for you, those that will help you and support you - this applies to twitter and in real-life.

To me, the picture says it all, the essence of what can make twitter such a great professional tool for us. You have access to some pretty amazing educators out there. Jump in, make time, and I promise that you will find it time well spent in the years to come. 

#EdblogNZ Challenge - Week 2

One of the challenges this week for #edblognz was to meet a blogger atulearn who has inspired you. There were plenty of people there who I really admire and have helped me both as a teacher and personally. However the person that I want to write about was not at unlearn - in fact, I think she may have started the #notatulearn15 hashtag.

The person I'm going to write about is Kerri Thompson.

Many of you will know Kerri from one of projects that she has started recently. One that I know she is really passionate about is #BFC630NZ (Click here for the blog). This a quick and short Twitter chat each morning during the school term. Each chat is begins with a question to get things started, and the discussion moves from there. Kerri started this chat after taking part in a similar chat based in the US, and she felt we needed a kiwi version.

I personally struggle to get up and going in the mornings, and my 3 children also hinder me from taking part. I have taken part a couple of times, but time constraints always seem to prevent me participating as much as I want. I really admire her for getting this going - she has managed to bring together a group of people who share her enthusiasm, and this will keep #BFC630NZ running for as long as possible.

The project project of hers that I am really drawn to is #NZreadaloud (Click here for the blog). The concept for this is simple: "one book to connect kiwi kids."  This project involves classes around the country reading the same book at the same pace, and participating in shared activities by connecting online. Sounds simple? It is, but only because Kerri has made it this way - I'm sure it's not easy for her each time...

Again, this is a concept that she has participated in elsewhere and brought it to New Zealand. The Global Read Aloud is a project run by Pernille Ripp who is based in the US. She organises books for teachers to read to their class and helps teachers and classes around the world to connect with each other and discuss the books that they are reading.

I am a firm believer in the the power of story telling (see my previous blog post here) and really value the time spent and the discussions that are created in having a class shared book. Some of my fondest memories of my own time at primary school are of my teachers reading stories to the class - I just wish I knew what some of those stories were, like the one that Mr Terry read about the kids in Holland trying to save their town...

What I found, and I know others did too, was that you could base your entire literacy programme around this one book, not matter what is was. There were so many topics that we were able to explore, and so much learning came out of the books that Kerri choose - it was like she had planned all the insights that my learners were going to have during the term. Kerri has even involve the authors each time we have been involved. This made for a very powerful experience for my learners, because they were able to see authors as real people they could talk to, and not just a name on the cover of the book. It also helped my learners to understand that they could become real authors too - for them it made writing tangible and achievable. I know some kids will always remember these conversations, and it stars with Kerri.

My class and I have been able to participate in two of the three NZreadalouds, and this coming term we are going to take part in our first Glocal Read Aloud. If you are interested at all,I really do recommend that you find out about it now - it's never too late to join in!

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Questions About Change

Today has been the first day of ULearn 2015, and as usual, it's been a great day. This morning we had Grant Lichtman (@GrantLichtman) give a keynote that had many interesting ideas, which ultimately lead to some thought provoking questions.

One that stood out for me was "What the difference between going to school and great learning?" I think we can all agree that these are not necessarily the same thing - we all know, have, or have had students who come to school, but are not great learners. And does a student need to go to school to be a great learner? I would say no, but I think it takes a special kind of learner - youth or adult - to learn well in a vacuum.

The point he was trying to make was that just because kids come to school and walk into ours classes, does that mean they are really learning. The answer is no - being present is no guarantee. The main theme of his address was that to achieve, or approach great learning, you must be prepared to change, and change is uncomfortable. What prevents a teacher from making changes? According to Grant, a major reason is fear.

A really interesting question that Stephanie (@st3ph007) posed on twitter was this:

and that got me thinking - why does change freak me out? what could possibly go wrong? Actually, a lot of things, but will they result in major disaster? Probably not. Will the sun still rise the next morning? Probably. Could a change in my practice positively impact my students? Absolutely it could! So why don't I?

I'm really sure I know the answer to this question. I think that there are all sorts of pressures from different areas - parents, school leadership, the ministry - to get things 'right'. And making changes could always have a negative impact. It's always been fine in the past, so there is no need to change. However, we live in a different world compared to 30, 15, 5, even 2 years ago, so change is not only inevitable, but necessary. Doesn't make it any easier though...

Ultimately though, the ones that you have the most responsibility to are your students. They don't want to - or rather can't - learn using methods from the past, or methods that do not motivate, engage or challenge them. They need you to be the best you can be, and teach them in the best way for them. So what is more important - me being uncomfortable and scared of change, or my students missing out on the learning that they deserve?

I'd be really interested to hear your comments.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

The Power of Stories

I have just read this post by Rachel Chisnall (@ibpossum) about the power of telling stories, and how moving the physical focus in and during lessons has made a difference in her class.

It got me thinking about how I teach, and do I do enough telling of stories. Rachel teaches high school whereas I teach primary - but should that make a difference? I suspect not. Rachel says it has made a difference for her, so surely it would for me. But then, do I tell stories enough?

When I think about it, I do *read* a lot of stories, and have always enjoyed reading the 'right' stories. These are not always easy to find, so when you find one, do not lose it! Taking part in #NZreadaloud twice this year has been great, and has had my class really thinking deeply about a variety of things that have come out of the stories. We're also starting Global Read Aloud next term, which will be a whole different level, but really looking forward to it.

But I digress... When I think of telling stories, I don't usually think about reading books, I usually think about telling about something that happened in your life. These are the times that I really have the kids' attention - I remember telling my class about the blister on my thumb the size of a 50-cent coin (the old ones...); I remember telling my class about the way Mr Terry used to zone out in the middle of a class when I was in Standard 3 (we call it a "mental beach"); and I will never forget the time I told my class about the time my brakes on my bike failing going down the Ashburton rail bridge and narrowly missing the horizontal bar at the bottom. The class loves it when I go on a tangent, and what I love is seeing their faces light up when I say "you know, this reminds me of the time when...."

I like to tell stories like these when I'm trying to make or emphasize a point, or when I'm trying to motivate some writing (ala Gail Loanne). But let's be honest, sometimes it's just fun to listen to stories, and to tell stories. They can get students motivated in different areas, and develops all sorts of skills and abilities. Students can show a range of learning, and can develops empathy. I love hearing, reading and telling stories, and if nothing else, I hope that my students develop a similar love for stories.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Genius Hour

Although I am a frequent (everyday) user of Twitter, I post on my blog once or twice a decade, so this is a rare event. Bear with me....

I have been thinking about running a Genius Hour type programme in my class for a year or two, but am not really sure where to start. Today I sent out a request...

My thinking: I would get a couple of replies with some useful resources. Instead I got over 20 people sharing their experiences and expertise. I do love Twitter sometimes. No, that' not right. I love the way that people are so open and sharing on Twitter.

As a C.O.A., I haven't yet had a chance to look at most of these resource that have been shared with me. It's going to take me a while to get through all this stuff, but I see that as a pretty good "problem" to have.

Of course - Bridget knows heaps of great stuff. Check out her blog for some nuggets.

Simone has been running Adventure Based Learning programmes for a few years now, and has some great ideas for her class.

I tried but couldn't get through - their pinterest page looks like it has lots of stuff though.

This video looked pretty cool. I like the way that she has shown the variety of different topics her students choose, and the different ways of presenting.

After a quick look, I could see that this site has a lot of useful resources - definitely on my read-asap list.

I think that no matter what age students you teach, the same principles apply. I look forward to getting into this - another entry on read-asap list.

Another mention for Paul Solraz - he must be great!

I had a little search and found this page belonging to @JoyKirr with her blogs - looks good, more to explore.

Yes, I will be checking out that class blog. Thanks!

KidsedchatNZ is fantastic! Unfortunately my class won't be able to take part this week, but this is right up the right street.

Seems like great advice to me.

Now that sounds cool!

This looks to have a LOT of useful resources. It will take a while to get through this site.

What I take out of these messages is empowerment - the shy students are able to express themselves and take control of their own learning.

I don't really have the writing skills (as you can tell) to document like this, but I will certainly be having a look at this.

My very own hashtag!? I'm going to need verification soon ;)

There were a few small conversations that grew out of these tweets, and others wanting to hear about the responses it got, hence this blog post.

I'm sorry it's such a mess, but I wanted to get this out asap while it was still fresh in my mind. To be honest, the writing will only get worse if I think about it for longer.

I hope some of you find this helpful and/or useful. And please comment - I'd love to hear of any other ideas or experiences that you've had.


Just as I posted this, another tweet came through for me. I've had a quick look, and this looks to be some very good advice for those of us just starting out - Thank you, Joy.

Monday, 11 August 2014

EdChatNZ Blogging Meme

If you get included in the blogging meme: copy/paste the questions and instructions into your own blog then fill out your own answers. Share on twitter tagging 5 friends. Make sure you send your answers back to whoever tagged you too.

1. How did you attend the #Edchatnz Conference? (Face 2 Face, followed online or didn’t)
I was there at HPSS for both days of the conference, but did spend a lot of time online, trying to follow all the workshops that were going on at the same time.

2. How many others attended from your school or organisation?
Besides myself there were 2 others from Hurupaki Primary School in Whangarei - Tania Macdonald (@tarnzs2014) and Shelley Muston (@cassie091). The 3 of us have been tasked with implementing some significant change at our school, and the #edchatnz conference has given us considerable food-for-thought as we continue down the road we are taking.

3. How many #Edchatnz challenges did you complete?
I did have a look at the challenges before I left, but to be honest, I couldn't remember most of them. Looking at the list again now, I did do a few of them. I did shout out a few 'rhetorical questions' to Maggie Barry, but didn't get any pics - selfie's are near impossible as my iphone 3gs only has a rear facing camera may be time to upgrade...). I forgot about the food sculpture, and reckon I could have done a good job with that one. 

4. Who are 3 people that you connected with and what did you learn from them?
It was great to meet so many educators that I knew only through twitter - some of them looked completely different to what I expected.
Reid Walker (@ReidHns1) is a real kiwi bloke and a guy I have a lot in common with. We meet in the foyer just before the start of the first keynote, and we bumped into each many times during the two days, both in workshops and in the breaks. We talked about various issues and ideas we had, and his enthusiasm was pretty infectious.
Bridget Compton-Moen (@bridgetLCM) and I had a conversation during the summer holidays (on twitter, of course) about reading. She recommended some books by Donalyn Miller (@donalynbooks) that have since transformed the way I view and teach reading in my class. I was really glad that I was able to thank her for that, even if we only spoke for a very short time.
Annemarie Hyde (@mrs_hyde) is always amazing, giving so much, and is another real kiwi character. I never get tired of her, and I know she has helped so many teachers around the country (and the world...) with her caring and sharing attitude. 
5. What session are you gutted that you missed?
There were actually quite a few workshops that I missed out on, but just like Steve Mouldey (@GeoMouldey) I would have liked to have heard Pam Hook (@arti_choke) speak. I will admit that I'm not a huge fan of the SOLO Taxonomy, but by all account she was amazing - maybe she could have converted me. I also wanted to hear Ros MacEachern (@rosmaceachern) speak about her day/life at Hpss.
6. Who is one person that you would like to have taken to Edchatnz and what key thing would they have learned? 
I would love to have taken all of the staff from our school, but although she is supportive in allowing us to attend professional development opportunities like this, I would like my principal to attend herself. I feel that if she were to experience an event like this and, in particular, see a school like Hpps in action with her own eyes, she may be more open to making the kinds of changes I would like to see made in our school.
7. Is there a person you didn’t get to meet/chat with (F2F/online) that you wished you had? Why
There were a few... I attended Steve Mouldey's (@GeoMouldey) workshop on creativity and found it really interesting ("not a team sport"). In particular, I liked his approach to helping students generate questions, which I sometimes struggle with. Ros MacEachern (@rosmaceachern) is another tweep that I would have liked to have meet. Also Danielle (@MissDtheTeacher) was really busy (imagine that...) but would love to really talk with her in the future.
To be honest, I ended up coming away from this conference increasing the number of people I wanted to meet rather than meeting all the ones I wanted to (if you know what I mean....).

8. What is the next book you are going to read and why? 
The principal at Hpps (I've forgotten his name) recommended a book - I'm struggling to find it in my 'notes' but I think it was "Hidden Lives of Learners" by Graham Nuthall. If this was it, then I'll give it a go.
9. What is one thing you plan to do to continue the Education Revolution you learnt about at #Edchatnz?
I have had a few false starts with blogging - writing doesn't seem to come naturally for me, and often feels more like a chore than a pleasurable and/or effective process. A structure like this makes it much easier for me. Usually I just feel that I don't have that much to offer.
Something I do want to do in my classroom is change the environment even more. I want to use different furniture, create spaces and give students more choice in where and how they learn.

10. Will you take a risk and hand your students a blank canvas?
I know this is something I need to do more in my class. This will be my endeavour - watch this space...

Who do will I tag with this meme:
I wouldn't be surprised if every one of these people have been tagged already, but what the heck...
Bridget Compton-Moen (@bridgetLCM)
Ros MacEachern (@rosmaceachern)
Raewyn Donnell (@RaewynDonnell)
Mary Robinson (@MaryWomble)
Philippa Isom (@PhilippaIsom)

Thursday, 16 January 2014

My Son Is Amazing And Is Not Dumb!

There are many problems with National Standards, such as the potential narrowing of the curriculum, along with other negative impacts on schools and teachers. But one issue that I really think is critical is the impact on kids.

Last year I had a student who found school difficult. Sure, he had learning difficulties, which I and my school took measures to address, and by the end of the year he had made improvements. However, these improvements were not great enough to meet the standards in reading, writing or maths - he was below the standards, but not well below.

His parents are aware of his difficulties, and we have spoken about them together at two parent interviews and on some other occasions. They knew before they got his report at the end of the year that he was unlikely to meet the standards.

A colleague of mine is a friend of this student's mother. Today this colleague sent me this facebook status form the mother:

Ok teachers out there please give me an insight into the stupid idea of this national standard bull****. My kids reports came home at the end of year and clearly stated on the page of this report is a grid that ever so nicely puts yours kids national standard level in. My sons report states that he is below the national standard line. Now I struggle very hard to understand how a school can put something like that on a report that the child is of course going to read and now my son has spent the past 3 weeks and will spend the rest of his life telling me how dumb he is!!!! AWESOME for the confidence of the kid aye?? It is something that should be talked at, at parent interviews not for the kid to see. Im horrified and deeply upset as my sons morale is dead. He thinks he is dumb. Thanks New Zealand Education system you have ****ed up yet again! And for the record my son is amazing and is not dumb!!!
I hate being forced to give kids these labels that they will carry with them for years. This was one of the biggest problems I have with the National Standards, and I remember having this conversation with many people years ago.

I have been thinking about how to respond to this, or even if I should. And to be honest, I'm struggling. For the record, I do agree with her on most of these points. He is an awesome kid, but he does take things to heart easily, and needs to develop his resilience. There are lots of great things about this student, and I have told his parents that, and wrote about them in his report.

He does not deserve to spend next year, and possibly beyond that, thinking that he is dumb. No kid deserves that. I don't have all the answers and solutions, but the Nationals Standards in their current form are not it either.