Friday, 25 May 2018

The Big Picture - A reflection

I have been thinking about my role as an across school COL teacher and have put together 'The Big Picture' diagram which  shows all of the different areas of the school that I have been working in.

When I was trying to figure out what was important to address, with regards to raising the achievement of boys writing,  I felt I needed to support and work across three main areas:  Students, Teachers and Parents.  In my attempts to focus on each aspect of the process, I am finding it takes up much of my time and I am spending less time focussed on the kids in my classroom.  Don't get me wrong, my students are well on track to achieve success for the effort that 'we' have put in.  I just feel disconnected from the goings on in their lives at times, and this frustrates me. 

My next steps is to find time to meet with my COL leader Russell and our experts of Inquiry Rebecca and Aaron, to figure out where to go from here!

Monday, 21 May 2018

Visiting the Innovation Stream at Howick College

The Innovation Stream at Howick College is a unique programme that sees integration working across a number of multiple subject domains.  At Tamaki, we have had a a number of trials of integration across our school and are still in the process of finding the right fit for our learners.  We have been closely working with Liggins and engaged the expertise of Rose Hipkins in creating a cross curricula programme for our year 9's that will allow us to use real data and research from our community to shape the contexts for our learners.  I was interested to see integration and innovation in action in a secondary school context and made arrangements to visit Angela McCamish at Howick College.

After a discussion of what the programme was all about, Angela showed me the space where the innovators innovate.  There are two large classrooms joined together and whilst one was like the project room, the adjoining room housed the students, which seemed like a 'learning' space.  The project space had lots of places for group work and different projects seemed to be going on in the different spaces around the room.  I saw some cool projects like old style desks being revitalised to show messages of support for social actions and a table filled with little houses that had measured down to size to address the housing issue and how kids could up with real world solutions.

My favourite project were the student designed rubbish bins that were created to encourage students to put the rubbish in the bin.  They were bright and eye catching and I am hoping to encourage my year 13's to think about pollution and rubbish as an issue at our school, and to come up with an idea such as this one which could support their actions.

In the next room, I visited a group of year 10 who were designing an 'Angry Birds' type game and were looking at promoting it through an activity where the teacher was going be the target of the angry bird to test out their game physically.  Kids were predicting how far a projectile would fly using different scientific and mathematical equations and were trying to see who had the best prediction.  They had to argue why each groups prediction would or wouldn't work.  In the room was a maths and a digitech/graphics teacher who shared the space at the same time and supported the kids in their learning.

I enjoyed seeing the Innovation stream in action and one of my next steps is to sit down with HOD's at my school to see how we could develop something that could work for our kids.  I also want to meet with Louise Addison, who was one of the instrumental developers of the programme and is currently the Principal of Edgewater College.  I would be interested in seeing if she plans to implement the programme at Edgewater and if so, how she would go about doing it.

Friday, 11 May 2018

Learning from our mistakes - getting the boys back on track

The results of our first internal assessment are in and four of my nine boys passed.   Three of them started well but did not complete the assessment and the other two didn't even attempt it.  My hunch was that after 3 weeks of solid teaching about the context, introducing relevant guest speakers and a trip to a community exhibition, would mean that they were ready to write what was needed for their assessment.  I left them to it, expecting that they would be able to self-manage and ask for help when needed.  This was not the case and I realise that they lacked the motivation to stay focussed.  By me handing them the whole assessment, I didn't into account that maybe they would lose momentum.

Our new unit is around planning and participating in the 40 Hour Famine.  For this unit, I've decided to break down each task and do it as we go.  Students are in 4 groups and for each task, I've showed on the whiteboard each groups tasks, to motivate kids to complete them.

I have been doing this for a week and have found that the boys are responding really well to this method.  One of the boys has done more writing in the last two weeks then the whole of last term (that 10 weeks!).

I asked them why and they said it's because they could see that on the board, where their names are and if there was a gap, they didn't want to be left out or the only ones who have not done the work.  They also got ideas from each other and could see that they also had the same ideas.  I want to see how long this would work for before they got sick of it.

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

A professional development opportunity at Glenbrae Primary.

Professional Learning Meeting - Ministry Facilitator for Supporting Writing Mary Wootton

In my role as an across school COL's teacher, I am always looking for opportunities to meet with my colleagues in our primary schools to see how we can support each other in our inquiries.  Recently I was invited by Elfrida Raj, DP at Glenbrae Primary School to attend one of their staff PLD sessions held in their staffroom.  One of the key areas of focus for Glenbrae, is raising the achievement of their learners in writing.

Glenbrae Primary is focussing on Writing.
The senior leadership team has enlisted the help of Mary Wootton, who is the Ministry Facilitator for Supporting Writing to drive and lead professional development for teachers.  Staff have engaged in learning observations, collected diagnostic and formative data and collaborated over strategies that work.

The particular session I attended focussed on peer and teacher feedback and how effective feedback can support a child's writing.  Mary Wooton asked staff to think strengths, surprises and challenges with regards to how students' provided peer feedback and it was interesting to hear how brutally honest students were on each others work!.

Mary Wooton's PLD reflecting on Feedback.
One of the activities we did as a group, was to look at the best and not-so-best examples of feedback provided on a students piece of writing by the teacher.  We had to put in order which feedback was the most productive for the child and offered deeper levels of support.
Teachers collaborating to decide which feedback could be the most effective.
I found this exercise really useful in seeing the levels of feedback that children received and how important it was to ensure that feedback was also feed forward.  I found the meeting beneficial and valuable in my efforts to find a way of improving writing across our cluster.  I have attached my meeting notes and the parts I've highlighted in blue, are ones I want to focus on.  Thank you Elfrida, Lesley and the team at Glenbrae Primary for being so welcoming!

(Here is Elfrida's blog posts which give more insight into the Glenbrae Primary writing journey)

Supporting our learners by making the 'why' real.

My level 2 Social Studies class are busy preparing for the 40 Hour Famine this year, which is raising money for the refugee children from South Sudan who are in camps in Uganda.  We have been talking about human rights, and whose rights we are standing up for when we are doing the 40 Hour Famine.  I asked my kids 'what is your why for doing the famine' and the majority said was 'I'm doing it for the credits'.  I knew this would be the answer for most of them, because they struggled to relate to the context.  My hunch was that if I could make the learning real for them, they would care about the context and about their writing.

I contacted the Auckland Resettled Community Coalition and asked if there was someone who who would be willing to share their journey with our students.  Mr Gatluak Chuol who is a Community Outreach co-ordinator, contacted me and said he would be happy to come and speak to our year 12s.  In 2015, Mr Chuol arrived in New Zealand as a refugee from South Sudan.

Today we were fortunate to have Mr Chuol speak to our class about the religious conflict that had led to the civil unrest in his homeland and he described the atrocities that had happened to him and his family when his village was attacked. "One morning, bombs were dropped and we had to run. We ran to a bush. We didn't know where our parents were. We were scared of being killed and saw lots of death around us. We walked for miles with nothing". He shared the anguish of losing loved ones in front of him and how the trauma still exists with many refugees who are trying to settle in our country.

I know our kids are respectful when they have a guest speaker, but there was a strange vibe in the room as Mr Chuol spoke.  It sounded like empty silence, it looked like disbelief and felt like time had stood still.  Here was someone standing in front of our kids who'd survived the unimaginable and he choose to share his story with them, making it real.

As he wound down his talk, I invited him to wander around and have a chat with the kids who may have had a few questions but were too scared to ask.  I noticed two students at the back of the room and overheard them talking about how they'd heard about South Sudan and why we were doing the famine, but weren't really caring about it until they heard the reality from Mr Chuol.  "We complain about little things like not having money for what we want and then we hear how Sir had to see his relatives pass away around him and hide under them away from gunfire...what do we know about hardship?".   I asked them if they were o.k and they asked me if I had any tissues.  They quietly thanked Mr Chuol for being there and I could tell they were affected by his talk.

Mr Chuol with members of our Level 2 Sos class.

At the end of Mr Chuol's visit, our students thanked him for sharing his journey and a group of boys asked to walk him back to the office.  For the students that remained, I asked how they felt about his visit.  There were mixed reactions of sadness for Mr Chuol and thankfulness for what they'd had.  Later on in the day, I emailed the class to ask them to let me know their reflections about the visit.  One of the boys, who I've struggled to engage with in the past, replied.  I was surprised by his reaction and understood that he may well have found his 'why'.

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Sharing blog comments across the cluster

In year 9, our students are learning about Globalisation and the importance of staying connected.  Recently, I have been collaborating with a colleague, Elfrida at Glenbrae primary, who wanted to start a 'commenting club' between students from our schools.  Whilst our years 9 and 10 write posts every week about their learning, it would be good to see more comments from different audiences that could support our learners.

I've decided to focus on two year 9 classes and their blog connections with a few classes at years 7 and 8.  I want to track their progress and see if they can utilise comments to support their learning and their writing.

One of the year 9 classes I had the chance to catch up with today is a lovely group of students who were comfortable with posting and commenting.  A really good document that Elfrida shared with me showed how to write good quality blog posts and provided scaffolded examples of comments.    I let the class know that I will be sharing their class site with their learning blogs to the students at Glenbrae so that they could share what learning they've been up to.

Many of the students read the blogs that were shared and just before the end of the class, I asked students how they'd found reading other students blog posts and most replied that it reminded them of when they were primary school and they'd enjoyed reading them.  I relayed the fact that Globalisation involved staying connected with people and students outside of our school and that sharing our learning with the world helps support them more in their learning.  The next step could be to collaborate on a common task or event and possibly invite other primary schools in our cluster to join our 'commenting club'.

Thursday, 3 May 2018

How to spot effective teaching even when you're not looking!

Today I stopped in to see my colleague and we got to talking about what she was doing with her year 10 class.  The kids were starting a new topic on 'Significant places' and learning about the reasons why a place is significant and to who it is significant to. I was interested in how she engaged them in their learning.

In our discussion, I asked what tasks the kids were doing.  She shared how kids were thinking about a significant place and used examples they'd learnt earlier in the year like Waitangi and Gallopoli.   She shared with the class her own example, then got them to do a brainstorm DLO using a Lucid chart instead of the normal class brainstorm.  After instructing the class on what to do, she went around to each student and checked on what they were doing.

I asked how it went, and she showed me some kids work and shared how happy she was that most of the boys had completed their charts.  She found that when she checked on individual students, one or two found the brainstorms useful to help them refocus on their writing.  I asked if she could share this lesson and the success she'd had with the rest of our department through a blog, and she froze.   The look of fear on her face stopped me in my tracks.  I got a sense that asking this was a step too far.

It was then that I got out a whiteboard marker and we started to put together the pieces of the lesson to help get her thoughts out in a structure like form.  This is what we came up with:

 I asked her to think about why she was using these strategies, and what was the challenge or the issue that she'd found with the boys in your class, to make her use these strategies.  She identified the overall problem as being, in the past, a lack of engagement.  I showed her the structure and compared it to a Big Mac burger.  I said she had the juicy parts that were the filling and I just helped to put the top and bottom burger buns on. 

Then I asked her to think of the reasons for why she used each strategy and she was able to articulate the deeper thinking behind the why.  I then asked her to identify some of the positive outcomes from using all of these strategies and she shared how engaged the boys were and the lack of behavioural issues that she'd had to deal with.  We then thought about a few next steps.  

The one thing that I said could support this structure further, would be the 'how do you know this' eg the evidence, data or research behind her actions, but I shared that we could add that later as this was an on the spot thing.

She was surprised that our short conversation could be valuable in helping her formulate a blog post, particularly when it came to her inquiry.  I said that the things she took for granted and had been doing all the time, are things that should be shared, because they work.  She was really thankful and said it helped her to see how effective it would be if people could learn from her.

When I reflect back to this 'accidental learning' discussion, I think I have been so busy trying to change the systems (and the world) that I hadn't stopped to see that the change is happening right in front of me, in the everyday classroom with a teacher who is just going about their business.  Sometimes the most effective change happens from the inside out, and I need to make sure I don't miss those golden opportunities again.

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