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.

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