Friday, 12 May 2017

Making new habits - when teachers blog in a department meeting

One of the key achievement challenges that we have in our cohort is how to raise the writing levels of our students, particularly our boys.  At our department meetings, we are limited on the amount time we get to spend on figuring out ways to engage and motivate our students to write. Quite a bit of time is spent on admin, which is no doubt important, but alas once we get to talk about strategies and relevant activities that we could use in the classroom, the fatigue of a long meeting has set in.  Nevertheless, I needed to use the short time I had at the end of our meeting to tackle a few things that I wanted them to understand - blogging is important and relevant for teaching as inquiry and we need to use and develop more structured writing frames in the classroom.

Aaron Wilson from Woolf Fisher says that one of the ways to get students to write is to ensure that they are writing for a purpose.  The purpose for the writing activity that I got my team to do was essentially for their teaching as inquiry but also to understand how important it is to guide our students through writing. We also expect our students to blog and yet it has not been a main focus for many of our staff.  Only one of my team members regularly blogs and I felt it important to allow my team to blog in an safe and comfortable environment.

As with our kids, I didn't want my team to be stuck on how to start or what to write about.  I shared a structure around getting them to discuss a problem or a challenge that they'd had in their class, a strategy they used to address the challenge and a short reflection on what worked etc.  I also showed them examples of blogs using the template, my own one and Renee's who is one of our newer members on the team. I asked her to talk us through her blog to show how she formulated it and what she wrote.  She shared the fact that it did take her awhile to getting blogging, but understood the important purpose of doing so for her own professional growth.  In allowing her to share her experience, my team could feel that they could do it too.   I shared the template on a document and asked them to complete the task in 5 minutes.

I observed how members in my team prepared to write.  Aaron Wilson shared an insightful point about metacognitive writing strategies, and understanding how people prepare to write as being just as important as the writing itself.  One of my team stared at the ceiling for a bit, another wrote notes on bits of paper and brainstormed ideas, and another grimaced at the screen, adding and deleting words and checking the examples I provided before starting with 2 minutes left.  

After 5 minutes, I told everyone to finish off their sentences.  A comment was made about knowing how the kids felt when they're forced to write in a short amount of time and the team agreed that they needed a bit more time to do a good job for the blog.  I gave them til the next day.  What I did find interesting is how engaged my team were when they knew it had a purpose and with the limited time we had to do the activity, I found that I could achieve more by putting a few things together - blogging, writing framework and teaching as inquiry all rolled into one.  

When I checked their blogs the next day, 4 out of the 5 had blogged.  The next step is to get the teachers to use the same strategy in the classroom with the kids.

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