Thursday, 7 December 2017

Starting our 'Summer Smart Learning Journey'

Over the past week, we have been promoting an initiative that we've called the 'Summer Smart Learning Journey' with our year 9 and 10 students.  Research has shown that when students leave school for the holidays, on their return from their holidays, most face a 'slump' in their results when tested on their reading and writing.

In 2015, Woolf Fisher started a 'Summer Learning Journey' (SLJ) which involved students in years 4 to 8 from our Manaiakalani cluster who took part in a programme which involved them blogging throughout their holidays.  When tested at the beginning of the next school year, they tested higher then students who didn't take part in the learning journey.

At the end of 2016, Rachel Williamson came to our school and talked to our year 9 cohort about taking part in the journey.  Although students appeared enthusiastic at the meeting, only about 3 students regularly took part in the SLJ and they were rewarded for their efforts at the end of the summer holidays.

This year, part of my inquiry has focussed on shifting achievement in writing for boys and rather then rely purely on their easttle end of year results for 2017 as a measure of shift, I wanted to see if I motivated students more to be engaged with the SLJ in their holidays.

I thought of a few ways to address this.  My thinking was that if students didn't blog at home, was there a place that they could access to help them to 'blog'?  I thought of the Glen Innes library, and set about surveying my year 9's to see whether they would go there in their holidays - it was a uninamous 'NO'! When I queried why, they said 'there are too many ratties there' (I found out ratties meant hoodlums or street thugs, some of which have attended our school!).  This was sad to hear and I realised students wouldn't go anywhere near the G.I library.

I visited the library and met with Genevieve and she confirmed that there were issues around safety outside the library and they were finding ways of addressing these.  I let her know what our kids thought and offered any kind of support and although she seemed keen to work with us, I have not heard from her since the meeting.

My next step was to put a proposal to our principal to see if it was possible to open the library during the school holidays for any students who were interested in coming in to complete their blogs or who wanted to read and issue out books.  I wanted to work alongside Mele Suipi Latu, who was our Accelerated Reader co-ordinator, to see if we could combine the two activities to allow students the opportunity to access their learning at school during the holidays.  We came up with a timetable that would see us at school at once a week over the holidays to open the library for a few hours for our students.  Our principal saw as a good idea, and with her support, I set about an intensive promotion campaign.

I enlisted the help of one of my year 9 students Leopote to design the promotion flyer, I designed a simple website with facts and information on it and I encouraged tutor teachers and subject teachers to promote the SLJ i n their classrooms.

I met with Rachel Williamson and Hazel Fowler, another member of the team and they shared the fact that part of the reason why many students had not joined the SLJ in the past was that they may have been discouraged by the registration process.  So we made a plan to promote the SLJ in a year level assembly, then go to each class after that, to encourage and support students to register.  This worked really well as it allowed us to see what the main issues with when students tried to register and we were able to answer any questions they had before and after registration.  Last but not least, we sent one of the flyers out with all of the students' school reports to encourage parents to support the initiative.  I hope that all of this work behind the scenes, could encourage our kids to take part in the SLJ.

Monday, 27 November 2017

Reflecting on my year as a SPARK Innovative teacher

This year, I have had the privilege of being part of the SPARK Manaiakalani Innovative Teacher programme that has allowed me the opportunity to inquire into an aspect of teaching and learning to create better outcomes for my learners.  I started the year with a goal to basically change the world but in reality, the changes haven't panned out the way that I'd expected.

There were 3 areas of my inquiry:
  • Better student engagement
  • Implementing effective writing strategies
  • Making 'blogging normal' for students and staff
I guess with student engagement, it's hard to put a definite measure on it.  My kids looked happy and said they loved being in my class but does it come down to what and how they were learning, or was it because I am a chilled, cool teacher??  My thoughts are then deeper, it's about how we approach teaching and pedagogy.

I wanted to create an integrated cross-curricula unit for our year 9's to help them be engaged because I thought that that is what they were used to and it would help their transitions to college be a lot better - done, although I was really surprised in how my assumptions were challenged.  In a recent survey I did, students said they loved being in a new environment and meeting new people so maybe it wasn't about continuing what they knew from primary but helping them adjust to the new environment.

I wanted to connect better with our primary schools and find out what writing frames worked for them - yes, to some degree this has started.  I learnt that to really get this right, it's about making solid and collaborative relationships work.  It's not all about the frameworks, it's about the connections and networking.

I wanted to work with the teachers in my department to get them to blog so that they could understand the thinking behind it - started but not achieved.  I needed to allow them to feel safe and comfortable with where they were at and 'close the gap' slowly but surely.

Yes, some practice has changed but have they been effective?  When I think about what has worked and what hasn't, my main objective was to help the staff in my department take on the monitoring of blogging for the kids in front of them.  This started with a whizz and bang, then all of these (many self imposed) barriers shot to the forefront, and we as a team didn't achieve the mark.  I think my lack of clear direction and purpose for having them blog as well didn't help.  I figure it was partly because I saw the big picture, but my getting there wasn't clear.

What next?
Next year, our school is undertaking the cluster wide shared approach relating to teacher inquiries whereby all staff will have to blog about their inquiries.  Blogging itself has been an issue for many of our staff for so many different reasons, and with the new approach kicking in at the start of the year, my hope is that my team will feel empowered to blog.  My hunch is that if they are comfortable with blogging, they will see the value and need for it for our kids.  I hope to encourage our staff to blog more through modelling the blogging progress, something I struggled with at the beginning, but have found got easier the more I blogged.  The reflective nature of blogging for me as a teacher, has allowed to critically think about my pedagogy and the redefine my practice.

There were 3 areas of my inquiry:
  • Better student engagement
    • Getting the students to decide the topics
  • Implementing effective writing strategies
    • Classroom visits.
  • Making 'blogging normal' for students and staff
    • Holiday blogging
    • School wide blogging
Next year, I hope to continue looking at fine tuning these areas of my inquiry and have found be part of the SPARK innovative team an invaluable experience.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Reviewing our school goal number 4

At our annual middle leaders planning day, our first session was a review of our school goals for 2017.  Part of my inquiry this year has been focussed on implementing school goal number 4:

To work across departments in Year 9 on an integrated unit of work with a community focus or context.
At the end of 2016, we decided to implement links to the 4 To remind staff about the lead up to the unit, I discussed the staff PLD around what that would like and decided on our term 1 unit to focus on 'Sustainability'. As a staff we developed 6 areas of focus, each designed to give students a choice as to which issue they wanted to focus on.

From there, department were shared a document to show how they could support the teaching and learning of the topic as followed: English
From there, an initial plan for the Middle Leaders was designed whereby HOD's were assigned to support a class on their blogs. A draft Unit plan and a student site were developed and this was taught to the year 9's in term 1.

Below is a swat analysis review of the unit:
  • Process of integration during the unit (Teaching and Learning)
    • Strengths:  
      • Social Studies driven meant consistency in approach.  Weekly meetings with year 9 teachers.
      • All year 9 Students were talking sustainability
      • ‘Just in time teaching’ happened eg. The River Talks and 9RMz’s trip to Ruapotaka (contexts outside of school where Science and Sos teachers expected to come)
      • Student blogs
      • High engagement for staff involved (Gene, Karen etc)
    • Weaknesses:
      • Not all staff/departments on board.
      • HODs not able to check on classes.
      • Project Templates not used because of difficulty in applying them in social studies context.  Staff not comfortable using them.
      • Structure not totally clear
    • Opportunities
      • Fewer departments involved means more structure
      • More student agency
      • More learnings from this year
    • Threats
      • Loss of interest or enthusiasm from staff
      • Lack of time

  • End product from integration:  Te Taiao O Tamaki presentations.  
    • Strengths:
      • Positive feedback from the community
      • High student engagement for students who presented and students who visited
      • Developed better relationships with students
    • Weaknesses:
      • Wish we could’ve taken more presentations
      • Lots of Dot’s time taken on own
    • Opportunities
      • Have our own school presentations for all projects
    • Threats:
      • Limiting it to the best kids
Key Learnings:  Kids loved it.
We want to develop and looking at a model that will work for us:
  • Howick College innovation stream - one class where students apply to be in it.  Involves 4 core subjects.
  • Fusion at Oxford Area school -all year 9’s and 10’s.  Involves Maths, Technology and Social Sciences.  Project based.
  • A partnership with the Liggins Institute from Auckland University is helping to lead a collaborative narrative/transformative learning approach developed  in the Cook Islands.  Ready made resources (Unit plan)

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

The Impact of my COL's inquiry, 2017

My COL's inquiry this year has focussed on:
Using effective & engaging strategies to lift the achievement of boys’ writing.

My learners this year have been the boys in my year 9 social studies class.

My aims were:
  • To increase engagement and motivation for writing
    • "I want to write because I like to write"
  • To improve and shift achievement in writing
    • "I want to write because I know how to write"

The ways I have addressed my aims are evident in the presentation below:

For the remainder of this blog, I will explore the current outcomes of my inquiry.

1. What happened for the learners and how did I make this happen?

There are 9 boys in my year 9 social studies who I have tracked throughout the year.  They began the year with the class and have been members right until the end of the year.

With regards to engagement, I found that for the majority of the boys, have responded positively to the integrated cross-curricular teaching and learning programme that I organised in our sustainability unit at the beginning of the year.  Our 'Sustainability day' helped to ease with transitions for year 9 students to our school and it was a day that brought juniors, seniors and staff together to show support for our year 9's and helped them feel part of the Tamaki family.

As part of the integrated unit, students took on relevant environmental projects that saw them working with all of their teachers on a project that interested them.  For the boys in my class, they really enjoyed getting their hands dirty and working on fixing up our 'un-loved' Rain Garden.  They were able to talk about the process in their writing because they felt connected to the project.  This came to fruition at our Te Taiao o Tamaki cluster-wider presentations at Te Oro, where students shared they're presentations.

Within the classroom I wanted to see if students could write about what they'd experienced during the integrated unit.  To help them with their writing, I found writing strategies that they were familiar to them from our local primary schools .  After visiting a number of schools, I want to trial the 'Summary Strategy' which I saw being used effectively on a visit to Robyn Anderson's year 8 classroom.

Many students recognised the strategy, and I found that the more they used it, the more they became more confident in using it to improve their writing.  I then combined this with SOLO taxonomy, to help students with the language of NCEA in a hope to also prepare them for senior school.  My students found SOLO helpful in understanding where they were at and how to get to the next stage.

To support their writing, students were also encouraged to share their learning through regular blog posts.

2.  What evidence do I have for this?

Here are some snapshots of evidence.

Engagement and motivation for writing

Blog posts:  A number of boys in the class have expressed their engagement through blogposts.

A blog by a Year 9 student

Teacher observations of students' comments:
Due to our jumpstart programme starting, the year 9 class has now moved to year 10, which meant I would no longer be their social studies teacher.  For our last lesson, I asked the students to write a reflection on the year and the boys that were present, wanted to verbalise how much they'd enjoyed being part of the class.  Student 8 and student 10 described how much they've learnt and how they felt like a family.  It was quite emotional and seeing how far the students had coming from being quiet, scared and nervous at the beginning of the year to the confident and engaged students that they are today, made me feel proud.

Our last class together!

Improvement and a shift in achievement in writing:

Examples of writing: From term 1 to term 4.
All of the students in the class have made positive shifts in their writing.  The majority of the boys are able to describe and explain key points as they understand the need to ensure they fully explain what they need to describe. They are able to use structures and strategies learnt to improve their writing.  Below is an example of a students' writing from term 1 to term 4.
Student voice surveys:
I surveyed the students in my class and asked them if they felt they're writing has improved and 7 out 9 boys said yes and when asked why, 3 of them replied:
Because I was able to explain more about the point
Yes because writing help me understand all the difficult words I've never understood in primary. Because it helped me with my vocabulary. Because it helped me write more, by explaining and giving examples from the texts.
Because I was low in writing but when I came here I improved

Comparison of Mid-term exam results to the End of year exam results: The 'Sustainability/Environment' essay.

In the mid-term exams, students were given an essay question about 'Sustainability and Caring for the Environment'.  Only 4 of the 9 boys passed, with 3 Excellences and 1 Achieved.  For the end of year exam, students completed the same essay and this time all 9 boys passed, with 4 Excellences, 4 Merits and 1 Achieved grades.  This is an excellent result!

Evidence that is still to come:
I am currently waiting (with eager anticipation) on the recent asttle writing results that students have completed, to see if there has been a shift in their writing according to our national standards.

3. What's next?

There are a few things that I am working towards implementing to continue my inquiry and rather than go into detail, I will list the ideas below (and talk more about them in future blog posts!):

  • Use the writing strategies across the whole of year 9 in 2018.
  • Work with the other departments in our school to develop and implement a collaborative context embedded curriculum.
  • Work closely with more primary schools to develop a structured transfer of writing strategies from years 7 and 8 to year 9.
  • Set up the 'Summer Blogging Challenge' at the college to encourage students to blog over the holidays.

I just want to take this opportunity to thank our COL's leader Russell Burt, the Manaiakalani Innovative team and the other COL's teachers for allowing me to be part of the Inquiry Journey.  Kia Kaha, Kia Toa.

Friday, 27 October 2017

Presenting at the Manaiakalani Wananga

On Thursday the 26th of October, I was privileged to attend the Manaiakalani Wananga held at Point England Primary.  The wananga was a chance for principals and school leaders from our wider outreach clusters and schools, to join our cluster to reflect on data and share ideas for the future.  During one of the sessions, I was invited to present my COL's inquiry alongside 5 of my colleagues, to show how we have been addressing our achievement challenges.  Although I was nervous to start of with, I felt happy with how the presentation went and received some good feedback afterwards.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Well done to our Year 9 October holiday bloggers!

Over the holidays, I sent out a challenge to our year 9 students to write blog posts about different tasks that I'd set, related to topics that they had chosen.  Of the 9 tasks set, 4 students completed 4 or 5 of the tasks, with one student, Mateaki of 9RMz, completing them all!  That was a massive achievement!  At their year 9 assembly on Wednesday, I acknowledged their hard work and presented them with special prizes.  I hope that this would be an incentive to show the rest of the year 9 cohort that learning doesn't stop when their holidays start!

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Year 9 Holiday Blogging challenge!

At the end of term 2, I wanted to test out whether year 9 students would blog during the holidays by setting up a holiday blogging challenge.  We know students may not think about school much over the two weeks holiday and I wanted to see what would happen if I gave them a challenge that would force them to.   I decided to do a few things to set this up.


I shared with the entire year 9 cohort a short survey because I was interested in finding out who would blog during the holiday break.  Out of the 100 or so students in year 9, 28 from different tutor classes completed the survey.

I wanted to see if students would have internet access during the holidays and surprisingly, a number said they would not have access.  

Then I asked students,  if they were to blog in their holidays, to list 2 or 3 things that they would blog about.  There were lots of varied answers, but the majority said the holidays, family and other subjects that were of interest to them which helped me with the next step.  


I designed a document that had lots of different topics chosen by the students.  I gave them the choice to either use the document to help them scaffold their writing or to just blog about it.  For each topic there was a document that had a scaffolded 'solo' type structure to help students with their writing for that topic.

During the first week of the holidays, I got 6 or 7 emails from really keen students signing up to do the challenge - one student stayed up until 2am on the first night to work on the tasks!  Although this was positive,  of the 28 students who completed the survey, only 5 students actually completed at least one blog.

This student shows the extended abstract SOLO image next to his writing

One of my students in the class I teach really surprised me by completing all of his documents and blog posts shared.  His e-asttle scores at the beginning of the year were at 2P, and as I read through his documents this past week to see how well he has written, I can see a huge improvement in how far he has come and I am hoping that he moves up a level (fingers crossed).


I want to find out why so few students completed the survey or blogged over the holidays.  I will meet with the 5 students who did try, as a focus group and get their feedback into why they decided to blog.  I also want to meet with other students who didn't blog and also get their feedback.  I also want to look at how other schools assign challenges like the one I did, and get ideas as to how to promote it better as I feel that I could have prepared the students better before the holidays for the challenge.

I then want to sit down with a team of students to design a plan as to how we can get their peers to blog over the Christmas holidays.  I am really interested in this idea of blogging over Christmas because I want to start thinking about addressing another challenge we have - the summer holiday slump. 

Monday, 16 October 2017

Spark M.I.T presentations at Ulearn 2017

On the Thursday 12th October, our SPARK M.I.T team presented at the annual uLearn conference for educators in Hamilton. 

Spark M.I.T team 2017

We presented our inquiries through an ignite type session which was an interesting challenge as it made us refine our inquiries and not waste words.  When it came to my turn to present,  I was nervous at first but as I continued to speak, I felt a lot more at ease.  As I was presenting, I didn't realise that people were tweeting about what I was talking about - I've never been tweeted about before - what an honour!!

At the end of our presentations, the audience were given the opportunity to ask us questions which was positive.  Afterwards, we had time to sit down one to one with people who wanted to share their wonderings.

I had two people come and see me.  A teacher at a secondary school shared her frustrations about trying to implement an integrated junior programme at their school and asked for advice as to how to approach it.  I talked about how we started small last year, with a small group of teachers, then branched out into a wider thematic approach around the Olympics.  I let her know that we found teachers struggled with shifting from the subject silos to integration because they feared the change and needed time and P.D to allow for the shift.  I also said that support from the top is really important and finding models of how other schools are doing it helps.  I also invited her to check out my blog or to email me if she wanted to talk more about the process.  

The second person was a very charismatic Vicky Jeffares who stopped by to share her excitement about being at our session.  I loved hearing about how she was inspired by our team and I insisted that she said it on a video as proof, with which I've included below.  She was awesome and really excited to hear about what we were up to.   I invited her to come and visit our schools to find out more and she said she will bring at least 14 staff!  Talk about making connections!

Overall, working on my inquiry alongside my SPARK M.I.T team has been such a rewarding experience and presenting at uLearn was like the pinnacle.  Although we are nearing the end of our inquiries, I feel that I have grown so much along this inquiry journey.  Thank you to the SPARK team,  Lynne LeGros, my SPARK buddy Raven Garcia and Manaiakalani for your support.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Using SOLO to support my year 12's exam preparations

This week is senior exam week for our students and trying to get my year 12's ready for exams has been challenging at times, especially with the mixed levels of literacy in my class.  Students have to write an explanatory essay, and the context is the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

Students were engaged with learning about the conflict but when it came to retaining some of the information and using it to write a structured essay, quite a few didn't know where to start.  

A few weeks ago, I taught some facts and issues around the conflict using the presentation below.  

The slide is quite content heavy, so I created a SOLO Hexagon activity to help them remember the key ideas and concepts.  I wanted them to connect ideas so they could show they were working to at least the relational stage of SOLO taxonomy.

At first, students were a bit hesitant to use the hexagons and had to refer to their notes.  But I persisted and every day for two weeks, I pulled out the hexagons and as I did, I expected complaints like 'why are we doing this again' and 'boringgg'.  Instead, students seemed excited when I brought out the hexagons and became confident in explaining how they were connected.  Each time they used the hexagons, I would mix try and mix up the task abit - sometimes they needed to work individually, sometimes it was a race to get it done the fastest or it was work in a mixed group with someone you'd never worked with before and be ready to explain to them what you knew.

For the less confident quieter students, I asked them to tell me the story of the conflict from their hexagons and it was nice to hear them articulate what they knew about the conflict.  It was tempting for their confident friends to jump in and try to help them out, but with a bit of guiding and patience, the quieter students were allowed their moment to speak.

Explaining to each other how ideas are related. 

After 3 weeks of hexagons, I wanted the students to firstly as a group, write down the what they'd learnt.  I wanted them to do this so they could show how they could collaboratively come up with what they thought was the best answer and then I could help them formulate and structure their paragraphs better with some formative feedback.   One of my quieter students completed the task straight away, which I thought was fantastic.

Using the hexagons has allowed my students to explain what they've learnt and gain a sense of confidence in using them to help structure their essays.   My next steps are to develop strategies which will allow for a deeper level of understanding, so that they could explore and make predictions about the future of the conflict.

Manaiakalani Secondary Schools Connect Presentation

Manaiakalani provides opportunities for Secondary School teachers in our wider cluster to share the awesome things happening in our schools....