Saturday, 24 June 2017

Using a writing strategy with my year 9 Sos class

After reading examples of writing (like blogs and summary paragraphs) from my year 9 social studies class during their first unit on 'sustainability', I felt many of them lacked structure and did not allow me to understand where the gaps were in their learning.

For my inquiry into how to improve the writing of our year 9 boys, I wanted to trial a writing strategy that I had learnt from Robyn Anderson at Panmure Bridge.  This strategy would hopefully allow students to formulate a more structured summary from their learning.

The context that we had been learning about was the impact and effects of globalisation in the small country of Tokelau.  Students had been looking at the push and pull theories of migration and needed to describe reasons why Tokelauans had moved to New Zealand and the issues they'd had with moving.  I found a reading which I felt students could cope with and asked the question:


What was life like for the Tokelauans?


From this reading, students had to choose the 20 most important words that they felt they learnt from the reading, then 6 of the most important words from that list of 20.  Then they needed to use the 6 words in a summary. I structured the template similar to one the that Robyn had used in her teaching.


Once I shared the document, a few interesting things happened.

I found a number of students struggled with the reading itself.  They complained that it was too much, that it was too hard and the black background was distracting.  I told them to break the reading up by chunking it, and reading one paragraph at a time.  I asked them to find 2 or 3 important words from each paragraph and to remember to stick to the questions.

One or two students found 10 words and struggled to find 20, another wanted to go straight to the 6 most important words, and another wanted to write the summary straight away.  I reminded the class that it was important for me to see how they found the words that they did and how it would help them write their summary.

All in all, students worked really well on developing their summaries using the key words that they'd found in the readings.  Rather then me just telling them which were the important words, they were able to show what they thought was important and could justify these words to me.   I could direct the students who'd missed the mark or missed answering the questions, because I could see the gap in their thinking.

Most of the students took their time to produce their summaries, which I found interesting.  When I asked them how they felt about the writing the summary this way, most said they enjoyed being able to take their time to complete the summary because they didn't have to write the summary straight away as they'd had in the past.  They were able to see the connections between what was important to write and how they wrote it and found the value in doing it this way.

Whilst the majority of students who completed the exercise wrote their summaries on a document, one or two students shared their learning on the blogs.  In the future, I am hoping to use this strategy more often particularly at the end of the unit and I would like to see students working in groups whereby they need to debate and deliberate over which words are important.  I would also like to see students who are capable of extending themselves, to write more comprehensive summaries to show their learning.

Leopote's blog summary





Friday, 23 June 2017

Surveying our staff about 'blogging'

At the beginning of the year,  I had set up class blogs for each of the classes in our year 9 cohort and expected my department to ensure students blogged regularly and they posted feedback and comments at the end of each week.  In theory, this seemed doable, but in reality we all struggled to keep on top of this and with the restrictions in our timetables (we see our year 9 classes for 3 hours in total a week) it seemed there just wasn't enough time!.

I wondered if TIME was a common barrier for the staff and teachers at our school.  I posed these questions in a recent survey that I sent out to our staff, in a hope to understand where they were 'at' with blogging and from it, try to figure out ways to best support them in their blogging journeys.  Here are the results:


This was interesting for me, as I expected that the majority of staff at our school would have some sort of blog but the results showed it was a little over 50%.  
44.8% of our staff never blog, with 31% saying only when they have to.  To me this was a worry and I wanted to find out reasons why there were so few staff blogging.


63% of the staff surveyed say they want more P.D on blogging, and for who are already blogging lie in the 37% who don't, although I wonder if some of those who don't want more P.D may believe it is not important or don't want to know about it.

For the staff who said they did blog, I asked them for reasons why they blogged and for those who don't blog, what were some barriers that may stop them from blogging. 

Reasons you blog
Barriers that may stop you from blogging
Because I tend to write exactly as I think and speak.

Practice, had had support, enjoy it

I found it easy to start, but when I don't use it often it becomes difficult to start all over again

Blogging should be a daily activity to keep it going.

It is easy as you can always use the information you have and update your blog

It is time consuming as well, as you have to get some time out from your daily schedule and write the blog.

Getting the information, sorting it and then using appropriate language to suit the structure and needs of your readers takes time, but worth it

Its like keeping a journal but only difference is that it is on line for everyone to read

Finding the time to write a blog.

Because the blog is public, worrying about quality of writing and content.

Too personal

Devoting time to it.

I get anxious about writing

Don't really know how to do it.

No Time, Not used to it . confused what to put there

To me Blogging is too difficult

I Hardly use blogging in my teaching and just not confident digitally. There is so many things to learn about digital.

Too difficult I need to learn the How to to help me

Time consuming

No time

Time conflict

Generally, those who did blog described the process and the ease of blogging which is helpful to understand when looking at strategies to support those who don't blog.  For those who don't blog, time seemed the biggest barrier, along with the difficulty of what to write and how to write a blog.

Another aspect of that I'd found from the survey is that it may not be the 'how' to write a blog the biggest barrier, but the 'why'!

My next step is to show these results to my department and the staff, and find ways and strategies to support them on their blogging journey.   I also want to hear specific feedback from my team personally to see whether the results from this survey matches their ideas and thoughts around blogging.  By developing a systematic school wide approach to blogging for staff, my hope is that they will learn to appreciate and understand the importance of blogging and see it in their everyday teaching and learning pedagogy.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Making connections across our schools to share strategies that work

Part of the struggle that my students have is engaging in the texts that they are reading.  Too often what we give them to read is irrelevant or too hard or boring (a comment made by a year 9 student in my class just last week).  I was frustrated in trying to think of ways to address this issue and although we have a wealth of strategies that could use, I wasn't sure where to start or which strategies would work.  Then I read a blogpost by Robyn Anderson at Panmure Bridge, one of the primary schools in our Manaiakalani cluster and enjoyed reading about the learning that was happening in her classroom.

In her blog, Robyn shared a lesson that worked with her class who were looking at a text and trying to figure out the author's message.  She shared how surprised she was when students used strategies and scaffolds that they'd learnt before to breakdown the text and transfer this skill across to a text without even being told to.

Robyn's blogpost resonated with me.  How awesome would it be that when students are faced with a task, they search in their toolkit of knowledge to choose a strategy that they think would suit the task.  And they do it collaboratively.  And without being told!

I really wanted to know more!  I met with Robyn and she shared the frameworks and guided teaching and learnings that she used with her class. They were simple, clear and collaborative.  Two of the ideas that Robyn shared were based on Aaron Wilson's 'Five ideas for helping students develop a basic understanding of the text' which were used to help students engage with a text.


Robyn has invited me to see this learning in action which I can't wait to see. Now that I have heard first hand how an experienced teacher had implemented guided reading strategies in her programme and the way students were able to use them to guide their learning, I am hopeful that I can develop some of these strategies in our junior school, in an effort to engage our students more when it comes to reading.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Understanding effective teaching through inquiry

When reflecting on my inquiry, a challenge has been to ensure that it is purposeful not just for me, but for others in our teaching profession.  This week Professor Graeme Aitken led our school leaders in the cluster on a session about collaborative inquiry.  The session was based on the question 'How can we come together to integrate our expertise and our knowledge to collaborate?'.

Some of the key points that I noted from the session are below:

  • Inquiry learning was meant to be a way of thinking about teaching
  • The most important thing is working out what we want to achieve
  • Teaching has 3 goals:  Enjoyment and interest (more interested in coming home buzzing), Confidence (kids leave us with a sense of being able to do it themselves) and Achievement (we want them to be successful).  Unfortunately we emphasis achievement to the detriment of enjoyment.  
  • Effective teaching time is when all of these goals are intertwined. 



Basic characteristics of Inquiry:
  1. Taking stock (SCAN)- where are we are at as a school?  How are our students experiencing at this current state?  What do we know about what’s happening now?
    1. What is the data telling us by who is doing well and who is not doing well?  By teacher.  Mapping where we have pockets of teaching success.
    2. Scan - scores tell us something.  Can our learners tell us where they going?  Engagement scan.  Can they tell us what they’re learning and why and where it relates.
    3. Instruments to measure this:  Rongihea te Hau (scan of how children feel about school).
      1. Achievement is function of the teacher/about the students and their family.
      2. Working together to get 100% of learners walking the stage with dignity, purpose and options by 2020.  Name 2 adults in this school/setting who believe that you will be a success in life?
      3. Taitaako - my teacher (pull out student focus)
      4. NZCER - me and my school instrument (Wellbeing at school survey).
      5. ERO - wellbeing survey.
      6. Harvard university
  2. Focus:  Hunch, what is the problem?  Eg poor achievement in Science.  Talking about the solution - taking away from having to do with the kids but more with the teachers - develop the teaching of literacy not subject specific.  What’s their best guess?  Is there anything we need to learn to implement.  Hunch solutions might give us evidence of success, failure or improvement.  Where we find a teacher who is having success, we need to find them and use them!!  We have to build a culture of trying to learn from each other.  Sharing stories of failure is important too.  Needs trust (not using it in appraisal, not that the kids are the best).
  3. Encourage our kids to try something, we should do it too (No-one’s gona die).  We can’t keep doing it wrong, if someone next door is doing it right.  Impactful teaching!.

You cannot improve what you cannot measure!

In the Otumoetai cluster, for their achievement challenges they focussed on student wellbeing (quoted ERO.)  "Importance of physical, social and cultural wellbeing as a precursor to student engagement and learning".

My key takeouts:
Professor Aitken's session resonated with me and here is why.
  • Whilst our achievement challenges are important, student wellbeing is just as important and should be at the forefront of our thinking when we are planning to move forward.  This to me is a holistic approach to understanding how best to serve the needs of our kids and our community.  
  • There are so many teachers at our school who are doing such great things and we need to take the opportunity to utilise their skills to better our practices.  
  • When students are asked 'name a teachers that you believes you will be successful', I would hope someone says 'Ms Apelu'.

Aitken, G. (2009). The inquiring teacherClarifying the concept of teaching effectiveness


Collaborating with other COL's is cool!

Sometimes when we get into the reality of everyday life back at our schools, I forget we are part of a big picture.

At our COLs meeting recently, we got into groups to share where we were with our inquiries.  It was really awesome to hear where everyone was at and it was refreshing to know that we could share our challenges without fear.

Our group was led by Anne who said we had 3 minutes to share a brief reflection about our focussing inquiries and what strategies and tools we used to figure out what our students have already learned and what we needed to learn next (scanning).

We had varying schools and varying struggles and achievements that we have chosen to take on and at first it seemed hard to find and 'synthesis' a common ground that linked us all.  But as I continued to hear everyone's stories, a common thread filtered through - that we were all had a hunch, scanned our learners and have come to the point where we were ready to ask what could WE change in our practice.

We looked at different ways of finding out where our kids were in the classroom.  On reflection, what we have been doing up to this point was basically looking at the challenges we had chosen to take on and finding ways to approach them.  A key idea Anne wanted us to think about was what we could do to change ourselves and our practice. One of the key things that resonated with me was something that Graeme Aitken had said at our Leaders PLG the previous day.  He shared with us ways to 'take stock' of where we were at and how kids felt about their learning.  One question that had me thinking was asking kids to name two adults in our school setting who believed  that they would be a success in life.  I wondered if the kids in my classes felt I believed they would be a success and shared this wondering with my COL's group.  Together, we agreed that the change for my practice would be around better AWARENESS of what was happening in the classroom and to 'take stock' so that I could develop a better more accurate picture of my learners.  Now I want to figure out how to measure this.

I really enjoyed connecting with the other COL's in my group and I look forward to sharing my learnings and reflections with them again.




A summary of my inquiry: Raising the achievement of boys' writing by implementing engaging contexts and effective writing strategies.

When I started my inquiry this year, I had a desire to continue the work and research that I'd begun last year as an in-school COL teach...