Sunday, 10 March 2019

Thinking about reading in Social Studies

There are a few reasons why I wanted to focus on reading this year.  The first was that in the past, my inquiries have focussed on improving writing and from my inquiries I've found that part of the reason why kids are still struggling with writing is that they struggle with reading.  Kids won't write a summary about an article if they don't understand what they've read. 

Secondly, reading as a focus, has not been an aspect that I feel we have focussed on or addressed purposely in our department which I know should be happening.  Although contexts are interesting and engaging, bringing reading to life for a struggling reading can sometimes be difficult particularly when there is a vast range of learning needs in the classroom.  To be effective in our department, I know there needs to be a shift in how we use reading to accelerate learning.  

Lastly, the Woolf Fisher Research team presented evidence that reading has made the least shift for our students- if anything it has gone backwards.  I wanted to explore why our results were so poor and I wondered how much of these results were because of a lack of focus in the classroom.  Over the next few weeks, I will be looking at gathering data and thinking about ways to tackle the challenge with the support of experts in literacy such as Dr Jannie Van Hees and Marc Milford, our literacy expert.

Saturday, 9 March 2019

My Inquiry for 2019

The Achievement Challenge that I am focusing on in my inquiry for 2019 is 

Achievement Challenge 1:  Raising Maori student achievement through the development of cultural visibility and responsive practices across the pathway as measured against agreed targets for reading Years 1-10. 

The group I will be inquiring into is my year 9 social studies class, with a focus on how I can lift the achievement in reading for the Maori students in my class.  

Thinking about my inquiry
When I was trying to figure out what I wanted to inquire into, my passion is in the Talanoa.  I feel drawn towards oratory and the power of 'talk' and the connections people make when they hear someone speak. To me, the ability to verbalise learning shows an added depth of understanding that elevates learning for our kids.  The key to this learning is language.

My hunch
There is a fear for some of my kids that speaking or presenting in front of their peers isn't a cool thing.  I have found that in year 9 especially, our kids have lost that spark and confidence that they had in year 8.  They have come from environments that encourage them to stand in front of a camera and create wonderful presentations on a regular basis, to one where 80% of the time, they are confined to reading and writing and hiding behind their netbooks.  Sadly, I am guilty of enabling this and I want to look at embracing the confidence kids once had at primary school.

When I think of our Maori and Pacifica kids, the words 'seen and not heard' resonate with me.  They come from a culture that quite often does not encourage them to speak up, or stand up and be confident about who they are.  This is the environment I grew up in and I often empathise with students who find it hard to talk.

Our vision for learning in the New Zealand curriculum is to develop learners who are 'confident, connected, actively involved and lifelong learners', the key word there for me is confident.  What does confident mean?  For our culturally diverse learners, what does confident mean?  How could we develop a students' confidence in class and link this to achievement?  Is there a link?

Reading as a focus
For the last two years, my focus has been on writing and I have enjoyed the process in learning ways to support our learners.  This year, I've decided that I want to explore the challenges around reading and finds ways to support my learners in the classroom.  My next blog will talk about reading more.  

Friday, 1 March 2019

Introducing my inquiry group for 2019

The group that I am building my inquiry around are my year 9 social studies class.  There 21 students in the class,  8 female and 11 males.  There are 6 Maori students, 5 female and 1 male.

I want to look at their reading scores from 2018, to see how they scored before they arrived to Tamaki.  Then I can think about ways to address the learning abilities of the students in the class.

I have included a breakdown in ethnicity as I am exploring cultural visibility and responsive practice and it is good to know what ethnic groups my kids below to.  I am hoping to build learning profiles of my students through individual meetings once their 2019 easttle writing and PAT reading results are available.  We will set goals and develop a plan of learning for the year.  Hopefully this will kick start their thinking into success in social studies this year. 

Thursday, 28 February 2019

Should we teach kids about the neurons in their brain so they can learn?

In discussions with Dr Jannie Van Hees around ways to use language learning effectively, a key idea she has discussed is the need to put the 'lense on language' so that our learners can achieve success.  An example of how we did this was the lesson we recently had with our year 9's who were learning about concepts in migration.  When Jannie drew a brain on the board and explained that making yourself learn these concepts helps the neurons in your brain move and become active, I felt that the kids felt more connected to their learning.  She reminded them that unless you use your brain, it will be inactive.  In the lesson, students were 'forced' to use their brains and re-energise them to ensure that the learning wasn't just 'surface' level but ingrained in the brains to allow for access when needed.  Following on from the lesson with Jannie, I decided I wanted to find out more about how the neurons worked in the brain and whether teaching something like this to our kids could help them be more engaged in their learning and improve outcomes.

The search for answers
I began like all good researchers do, I googled 're energise brain neurons education NZ'.  The first link was to the TKI ESOL site which gave specific examples of metacognitive (thinking about thinking) strategies and how teachers could scaffold learning using different templates and strategies. The title of the page was 'Thinking and metacognition' and although it didn't help me explain if teaching kids about their brains would be a good thing, I am locking this link away for later for when I need a few teaching strategies.

The second link was better.  It was a blog by a writer and educationalist called Dr Donna Wilson.  She has written a lot of books and publications.  She is an expert in the field. Her blurb read like this:
For more than two decades, Dr. Donna Wilson has been a pioneer in bridging brain science and psychology to educational practice. She co-developed the world’s first MS /EdS degrees in Brain-Based Teaching and Instructional Leadership (BrainSMART), as well as the first Doctoral Minor in Brain-Based Leadership. Dr. Wilson has co-authored 20 books and over 100 articles, book chapters, and blog postings.

The particular link that I'd clicked on was a blog post by Dr Wilson called 'Building a Metacognitive Classroom' Featured in New Zealand magazine' which shared a piece that she had co-written for our very own New Zealand 'Teaching matters' magazine.  I went to article itself and as I read it, I was excited to find out that teaching kids about their brain has a positive impact on engagement and achievement in school.  A Secondary school example of how a teacher in Georgia taught 'neuroplasticity' showed that 'emphasing that our brains can change and that we're always getting smarter as long as we are learning' was a proven strategy that worked.

Another article by Dr Donna Wilson and Marcus Conyers called 'The boss of my brain' explains how 'explicit instruction in metacognition put students in charge of their learning'.  It goes on to talk about how lessons about neuroplasticity (how learning new information and skills changes the structure and functioning of the brain) are especially inspiring for struggling students, who may have internalised the idea that they cannot become academically successful'.  How cool would it be for our kids to know that if they used their brains 'more', they could redirect their learning and essentially achieve their best in their learning?

When looking for New Zealand specific examples of this type of learning, I came across a publication by an ex-principal in Rotorua, Eden Chapman, who was awarded a scholarship in 2016 to examine how our education system was applying Neuroplasticity in our schools and if this was effective.  He found that the few schools who did use strategies to address this, had to essentially buy expensive programmes to run them with specific learners.  It seems that my search had come to a bit of a dead-end.  Why weren't we teaching this more in our schools?

In synthesising what I have learnt in my search for answers so far, I found that kids need to know and understand how their brains work and this needs to be explicitly taught and continually reinforced for our kids, especially our struggling learners.  In my own teaching practice, I know I have become too complacent and don't push my kids enough to make them really use their brains to work.  When I think back to the lesson that Jannie and I taught recently, when we made the kids really learn the concepts using multiple opportunities to learn, this forced them to energise those 'neurons' and what grew out of this learning were kids who 'got it'.  My hunch is, that if kids are reminded that learning re-energises their brain, not their friends brains, but their own brains, they will feel empowered and motivated to learn and this will lead to positive outcomes.

Next steps:
I will continue to discuss with Dr Jannie ways to explicit teach how the brain works for the year 9's perhaps in our next unit, which will be a collaboration with the English department.  I also want to survey the students to see if learning about the brain is important to them and to see if they can make   a connection between knowing how their brains work and improved outcomes in social studies.

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

'Languaging' social studies through re-energising the brain

Today we had our lesson with my year 9 social studies class.  Jannie and I have been looking at ways to address the challenge that our kids have had with understanding and applying key concepts in the context of migration.  For this lesson, we wanted to engage the kids through slowing down the language with active learning and discussions.

The lesson:  
We started by getting the class to re-energise their brains.  This was a term that Jannie suggested would help kids to kick-start their brains and to force them to use them.  After a slow start (ie kids were shy) Jannie took a slight detour and talked about how in our brains we have lots of neurons and if we don't use those neutrons and think and force our brains to make connections using the neurons, our brains will slow down and as the saying goes, 'if you don't use it, you lose it' (I noticed the kids were engaged when they were shown this, and I wonder, if the kids knew how their brains worked, would they feel more empowered to use them to learn and apply stuff?  I'm going to do a bit of research around this).

In our planning meeting, Jannie and I agreed that we would focus on teaching the concepts and how to develop students understanding of the concepts through case studied examples.  In reality, we spent the whole double period learning and remembering what the words were and what they meant.  We used lots of different ways to engage with the concepts - individual recalling, pairs, groups, modelling, students challenging each other to remember etc.  (I filmed some of the lesson below so that I could reflect on the techniques and the lesson itself).

As the lesson progressed and students grew more confident in their knowledge of the concepts, I could see how slowing the learning of the language helped them feel safe and empowered in their use of the terms.  By the end of the lesson, students were standing up to share what they'd learnt and I was pleased to see this, especially from the kids who were usually the quiet ones!

For me personally I found it hard to spend so much time on learning and knowing the concepts and I was not used to taking it so painstakingly slow.  I am used to telling the kids what the words are, having them learn the definitions, then apply them to an example, then move on.  Parts of the lesson had me anxious.  On reflection, I could see that I was driven by the pressures of time - that little voice was saying 'hurry up, we need to move on to the next bit, hurry up because we won't finish everything, hurry up we're moving too slow'!.  After seeing what happened during the lesson for our kids, I have to rethink my thinking and learn to remember the 'why' around slowing the learning.  I shared my experience with a critical friend who understood my frustrations but helped me see that it is better off to pause and slow down the learning when they're younger and we can afford to this in year 9. "When you unpack the language now, then you can get back to the agenda and the kids will fly".

What next: 
Big Picture: I have to think about the overall big picture and how to plan around lessons like this where we 'slow the learning'.  What do we need to make sure we cover in our social studies curriculum?  Which achievement objectives do we have to meet and how much time do we have to meet them?   Are there things that we are teaching now, that we don't have to teach, and take out to accommodate for this new learning?  How can I measure whether this will work or not?

Applying these concepts consistently:  Over the next few lessons, I want to see if the students can remember the concepts and apply them to different contexts.   I want to find a way measure whether spending more time on the learning and knowing of these concepts will help them engage better with their learning and hopefully help them achieve success in improving their literacy skills.

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Addressing School Goal 1: Raising Maori Achievement

In our department meeting today, we focussed on ways to address school goal number one, how to raise Maori Achievement.  Our achievement successes have been varied over the years, but generally our Maori students overall are still well below the national norm. 

Culturally Responsive and Relational Pedagogy underpins student success. 

Introducing the goal
A way to introduce the goal to my team was to revisit some of our professional development the we as a school undertook last year around Culturally Responsive and relational pedagogy.  Culturally responsive and relational pedagogy is understood to be contexts for learning where learners are able to connect new learning to their own prior knowledge and cultural experiences.  

I printed off a copy of the front page and separated the definitions from the meanings, then handed the activity to my team.  There was a bit of reshuffling and refocussing and when it came to checking our answers, we all agreed that we needed to be reminded about each of the dimensions of learning as we got half of the answers wrong!

Site creation
I wanted to ensure that this goal was front and centre of our thinking, so I created a site on our department page focussed on tracking our progress towards our goals.  I like the centralised location of a site and how it allows us to find things quickly.  

I will continue to add resources to the site for staff to think about.  As I googled CRRP, I found some of the links that were coming up with our own staff blog posts about PLD that they've had on CRRP as well inquiries centred around Maori achievement.  I will be adding these blogs to our repertoire of resources. 

There are on average 3 students at each year level for each of our senior teachers.  At the end of the session, our homework was to ensure that we have had a meeting with each student and created a profile of learning for them.  We will also write down discussion points and goals to be shared at our next department meeting.  For my team, understanding how to address this goal will help them focus on setting goals during our appraisal meetings.  

Thursday, 7 February 2019

A Collaborative Approach to Inquiry: Level 3 Social Studies

This year, we have two year 13 level 3 social studies classes running at the same time.  We have never had two classes in level 3 social studies before and I'm excited by the challenge.  We have separated the group into two.  The class I will be teaching consists of all of the students that I'd taught at level 2 (plus a few stranglers).  The class my colleague is teaching will have students who are new to the subject.

My class have a good grasp of social science concepts and are used the class routines.  The other class did not do the level 2 course last year and are at a disadvantage.  We felt that by separating the classes this way, she would support those who need more help understanding concepts and building their confidence in the subject whilst I would support those needing the higher level learning. We have decided a collaborate approach to planning would allow me to support my colleague in teaching the skills and content of the course as well as help me gage where the students are at (and need to be) with their learning.  I am also interested in learning more about myself and my pedagogy by taking the collaborative planning approach to this course.

Our aim is to be consistent in our planning, so that we can be consistent in the delivery of that planning and to ensure that we can support the differing learning needs of our learners.

Our initial thoughts and plan to collaborate went like this:

  • Organise a site/collaborative teaching plan online.
  • Meet before the teaching week.  
  • Discuss the outcome so we could plan the process
  • Book in guest speakers
  • Look at the kids that we have and place them in 'learning groups'
  • Team teach during the double periods.
  • Revisit our planning and outcomes at the end of each session.
  • Revisit our planning and outcomes at the end of each week.
To make this happen, we will have to schedule in our meeting points, and limit our time for that planning to one hour.  (This is because my colleague and I are well-known to side track the task at hand and end up forgetting why we met in the first place!)

I am hopeful that what I can learn from this collaboration is to be more open to suggestions, ideas and feedback because I know at times I can be bossy and try to control things.  When I reflect on why I may think this, I figured that being the only teacher of this subject for such a long time has allowed me to be the expert (or so I think I am), so working collaboratively alongside someone may take some getting used to.  I'm open to the idea and need to put my 'active listening' hat on, so that we can make this work.

Thinking about reading in Social Studies

There are a few reasons why I wanted to focus on reading this year.  The first was that in the past, my inquiries have focussed on improvin...