Sunday, 27 August 2017

SOLO + Blogging = SLOGGING!

My SPARK M.I.T inquiry is looking at using effective blogging with my year 9 social studies class.  Part of my reason for choosing blogging relates to challenges that our year 9 students face have when they start high school and the need to shift and accelerate their achievement towards the national norm. With my focus being on writing, I found one of the biggest obstacles was transitions from year 8 to year 9.  A writing tool that students have been using throughout primary school are their blogs which showcase their learnings.  They also allow me an insight into how students write.

I have looked into writing frames that were being used in the primary schools so I could understand what their teachers were using to teach writing.  In finding a connection between years 8 and 9, I am also looking at balancing what students need to know by the end of year 10.  I felt it was important to acknowledge the need to prepare students for the how to write better, in the senior school and for NCEA.  At the college we use the SOLO (Structured of Observed Learning Outcomes) taxonomy framework which we have linked carefully to the NCEA criteria of Achieved, Merit and Excellence.

Recently, I introduced the SOLO taxonomy structure to my year 9's and showed them a video of SOLO using mine craft.  I then went through each stage from pre structural to extended abstract using the concept 'Leadership' as their writing topic, to relate it back to the government unit that we were currently studying (here is a link to the document template the students used).   Whilst I was checking their writing, I continually made verbal reference back to the SOLO and showed students where their writing was on the framework and what they needed to do to move from one structure to the next.

Students then blogged about their learning which would give them an audience who could support them further with their writing.  To get kids to use the SOLO framework whilst they blogged, I came up with the term 'SLOGGING' which I thought would be a catchy phrase for them to remember (although I got weird looks when I said the term the first time!).  Some students completed their blogs, but a few spent time perfecting their paragraphs and didn't get a chance to blog.  There were some interesting and engaging responses from students about the session which I felt overall was positive.  Below is an example of one of my students' Jamaine, who used a scaffolded writing framework to completed his extended abstract answer.  

Jamaine writes using the SOLO structure

For my next actions, I will continue to ensure that every time we 'slog', I consciously use SOLO language and relate it to NCEA so that students.  I want to also see if students could time themselves and aim to process the information faster so that they could complete their blogs in the one period as some didn't get a chance to.  I would also like to work with their English teacher to see whether we could develop a plan to help with our students to develop their writing skills better.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Unifying our inquiries - Tamaki College's COL's staff meeting

One of the key aspects of raising achievement for the young people in our cluster is through a collective focus on our Manaiakalani achievement challenges.  In the past, teaching as inquiry has often been hidden away and considered something a teacher might do as part of appraisal or teacher registration. A few teachers generally like to inquire into their practice, but in my experience there has rarely been a unifying movement that connects a great number of inquiries to central shared challenges - that was until now! (Click on the link below to find out more about our achievement challenges).

Screen Shot 2017-07-23 at 12.54.21 PM.png
Recently, we held a staff meeting where our challenges were revisited and discussed.  Our COL leader Russell Burt began the session by reminding us of our purpose and to focus on the positives of our work.  His words were pretty inspiring for many of our staff and I know it was an eye opener for both our newbies and our  'oldbies' like me.

Russell Burt our COL leader sharing our achievement challenges.

The purpose for our staff meeting was to share our COLs inquiries and show how they aligned with our achievement challenges.  Staff sat in their professional learning groups and discussed which achievement challenge they thought their inquiries could be connected to.  This discussion helped to clarify some questions people had about where and how to relate their inquiries to the challenges.  It was really interesting to hear what people were doing and I enjoyed helping our staff feel connected.  Because I'd been doing my own inquiry and working alongside other COLs this year, I felt more confident in sharing my journey.

Sharing my inquiry with our staff

Staff sharing their inquiries with each other

Big pink bowls of food always helps!

At the end of the session, we asked staff to complete a feedback form to see if our PLD was effective.  We asked three questions.  The first one was, on a scale from 1 - 4 (1 being not at all, 4 being extremely useful), did you find today's session useful?

The majority of staff found the session useful which was really positive.

The next question asked staff what their key takeouts were.  I took a screen shot of some of the answers because I noticed a pattern which I personally felt was a bit of a breakthrough.

At least one third of the staff surveyed referred to blogging and when I reflect back to a survey I had sent out at the beginning of the year, less then half the staff even had a blog.  My favourite comment was 'blogging is not scary' - to me it feels as if staff blogging is becoming normal language around the staffroom which awesome.  The last question asked staff what their next action will be with their inquiries and most wrote about refining their inquiry and getting more support from our COLs team.

Overall I think our meeting was effective in helping staff feel connected to the 'big picture. I enjoyed the session and I look forward to supporting our staff, alongside our COLs team, in the future.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

The Summer Learning Effect at the college level.

The Summer Learning Effect(SLE) encourages students to practice their reading and writing skills in the summer school holidays.  The data presented recently from Aaron Wilson and his team showed the summer drop off in results for boys well below the norm. A three time point analysis showed boys who'd been tested term one 2016, term 4 2016 and again term 1 of this year falling well below the norm.  I wondered why the data showed such alarming statistics particularly for our boys.

During the SLE, the majority of students who signed up and participated were from the primary schools, which was fantastic.  We originally had 5 students partake, but ended up having 2-3 students regularly blogging which in the scope of things is a bit sad.  I wondered why this was and remembered at the end of last year 2016, we had one introduction to the programme and then sent the kids off on their merry way.  In hindsight, I wish we as staff had understood the importance of the programme and had given it more time and value.

Over the summer our girl Quasia blogged regularly!

This year, my aim to use the time in November after the seniors leave, to get students hyped up to blog over the summer holidays.  I realise that we as a school needed to make more of an effort to emphasis the importance of students reading and writing over the holidays and I wondered how to motivate students to be engaged, especially our boys.  At our recent school leaders PLG,  Aaron Wilson alluded to a study that discussed what motivated youth to read and write outside of school.  The Complex World of Adolescent Literacy: Myths, Motivations and Mysteries' found that youth like to read and write about things they can identify with.

They like to read books about people like them, and not only in terms of race, ethnicity, age, class, or gender (although these features are important). They also like to identify with characters who are resilient through struggles, people who are working through relationships, people trying to figure out who they are. They want to read books and write texts that offer them social capital in the form of information, ideas for self-improvement, models for identities, or ways to maintain existing relationships and build new ones ( Moie, Overby, Tysvaer and Morris, 2008).

This resonated with me because during our sustainability study in term 1, I found that some of my year 9's liked to talk about the issues that affected them in our community because they were living the reality.  There were a group of boys in my year 9 class that really engaged with their inquiries and this showed when they presented their projects at the Te Taiao o Tamaki showcase earlier this year.  

What I would like to do is to plan a unit in social studies for the end of the year, that could incorporate these aspects in the hope and model how learning could happen during the summer holidays.  This way, students could be motivated to read and write more and be better prepared for the on-coming year.  

Moje, E., Overby, M., Tysvaer, N., & Morris, K. (2008).  The Complex World of Adolescent Literacy:  Myths, Motivations and Mysteries.  Harvard Education Review, 78(1), 107-154.  Retrieved from

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Connected learners share - the writing challenge exemplified!

In our recent school leaders PLG, Aaron Wilson shared feedback that he and Selena Meikljohn-Whiu had collated, which looked at comparing e-asttle results in term 1, 2016 to term 1, 2017.   Although all aspects of his presentation were important, the focus of my COLs inquiry is lifting the achievement in writing for boys particularly in year 9 which I will discuss in my blog.  What I found is that writing is THE biggest challenge across all schools in our cluster.

Some of the evidence from the report show for writing overall:

  • Strong evidence of acceleration in Years 3 and 4 but less than norm gains in Years 2, 9 and 10
  • Despite acceleration overall, writing achievement remains a significant achievement challenge with levels on average more than two years below norm
  • Addressing the summer learning effect could be instrumental in increasing acceleration in writing
  • Gender: Marked gender difference with boys’ writing 13 terms (-125) behind norm vs girls 6 terms (-63 pts) behind norm

Our boys are well below the norm for e-asTTle writing.

When faced with the data, the challenge to me seems daunting and frankly overwhelming - how do I move students who are 13 terms behind the norm? The reality of the importance of my inquiry has caused me to shift my thinking from just finding the right strategies for the learners in my own classroom to how we could create systems school wide, that put writing at the forefront of our goals.

Aaron posed some questions for each of our schools to discuss and provoked us to think about how we could use the data to influence actions in our school and across the cluster. Each school shared their reflections for reading, writing and maths. Marc Milford our student achievement co-ordinator and Sheila Singh our HOD of Maths presented the implications of using the data for our school to the leaders. They were able to show how we are trying to address these challenges with initiatives like a focus on grammatical writing and accelerated reader programmes that will hopefully support our learners.

From this session I realised the significance of addressing our writing achievement challenge, especially for our boys, and on reflection, I know my inquiry needs to be more purposeful and driven in finding ways to tackle the challenge.  This means I will need to look at ways of developing writing strategies that could work across the department and across the school in a more strategic way, to cause a greater shift in our achievement data.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

PLD blogging at Tamaki College

Today we had an awesome session on blogging presented by Lenva Shearing.  It was really refreshing to see and hear how important blogging is for our staff and the students at our school as I can see it as a powerful teaching and learning tool.

As we followed the presentation, Lenva led us 'back to the future'. We were reminded of our links to the cluster and how everything is visible, which is a driver for the learn, create and share model (the presentation can be found here).

I liked understanding how blogging is rewindable and you can revisit a child's learning over time and see their journey as a progression of skills and ideas.

Here are my key takeouts from the session that I found could be useful for now and in the future:
  • Let's get an online newsletter for students, staff and parents which could link back to a students' blogs
  • Get onto the Tamaki College facebook page and promote our blogs
  • In the classroom, get a group of students to become a 'committee' of bloggers who are assigned a week each, find the best piece of work and post it on the class site.  They can also get badges on their personal blogs which they appreciate.
  • DLO's (Digital learning objects) are common phrases for our primary schools but not so common at the college.  My understanding of it is that it takes learning to another level to show what students have learnt eg a slideshow, movie, sisomo (a new word that I'd learnt meaning sight, sound and motion), screen castify or vlog.
  • The Kawa of care is important to go over from time to time.
  • At our parent teacher interviews, we could show examples of student learning through class blogs and individual blogs.  We could share with parents links to sites etc for them to see.
  • For ease of finding a subject that students are writing about, they should put the title of the subject first, then the title of their blog eg. "Social studies:  My wonderings about our government".
  • Why not start commenting on kids blogs at year 8 before they come college? It's a good idea to track a student and understand how they write and what they enjoy - a way to get to know the learner.
  • Everyone who blogs wants to get a comment and they love it.  A good structure is to use 'positive, thoughtful and helpful'.
A good way to give quality blogs.

One of my colleagues from the spark MIT team Kelsey, shared what her students had created to make it appeal to kids in their year group.  I loved the idea of kids being empowered to recreate something that will be meaningful to them and not just a boring poster the teacher designed.  The infographics are called 'How to comment like a boss' which is a pretty awesome title!

After the PLD, my colleague Hinerau and I thanked Lenva for her really informative presentation on blogging.  As hard as it is sometimes to shift practice and pedagogy, when it's purpose is clear, it's value is essentially bigger then ourselves - bring it on blogging!!.  

Me, Lenva, Kelsey and Hinerau after the awesome blogging presentation!

Monday, 7 August 2017

What will the end result be? Refocusing my Spark M.I.T

Today at our SPARK M.I.T day, we were asked 'in a perfect world, what will the vision look like in 6 months time?  What will the end result be with our inquiries?'.  When I was asked this question, I totally thought I knew what to say. When it came to my turn, I had decided that my focus would be on getting the teachers and systems in place and that all will be wonderful in the world - but noooo, I was totally on the wrong track!  Where were the learners in all of this??

I needed to check what my original inquiry was:  how could my year 9 social studies students be engaged in their learning to improve literacy outcomes through the use of blogs?  I decided to write down some learning objectives.

By the end of the year, year 9 social studies students will be engaged in their learning to improve literacy outcomes.

Students will be able to:
  • Engage in blogging consistently and effectively
  • Provide constructive feedback to their peers on their blogs
  • Recognise, use and choose effective writing frames to improve their blog writing.
I am glad that we had the session to refocus because I knew I had strayed away from the focus and made my picture too wide and too big!  I know I have done a lot with regards to trying things out, and with the focus back on the kids rather than the teachers, I am able to free myself up to give them more of my time and energy.

Our spark buddies joined us for lunch and I was really happy to share my inquiry updates with my buddy Raven who is an awesome listener.  He gave me some really good ideas about how in his job, he deals with hundreds of calls and complaints a day, and that they are working on an automated service that picks up key words and concepts to prepare relevant answers - could we have an automated way of commenting or replying to comment for the future of blogging?  I enjoyed catching up with Raven who may come out to a visit to my year 9 class to talk about what he gets up to at spark.

For the remainder of our day, we focussed on preparing for presenting our inquiries at the Manaiakalani Hui on the 25th of August and again at ULearn in the October holidays.  Although this is a bit of a scary experience to prep for, my colleagues and I excited at the opportunity to share our inquiry journeys.  

The Importance of Making Connections through telling our own stories

Making connections with Pacific ideas in health education - an invitation to tell my own story. Our TIC of Health, Whaea Kata told me ...