Tag Archives: Education

Books for boys…who desperately want to read novels.

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I’ve been doing some research (and by research I mean lots of browsing in book shops!) into books that are at the right level for the Year 3 boy I am tutoring. Most of his friends read short novels, but believe me, he’s not quite there.

Based on his fluency, word attack and comprehension, I’d say he’s around early Year 2 level. So when he began bringing out books like ‘Despicable Me – the novel’ and a few ‘Goosebumps’ newbies, I felt like I was bursting his bubble when I had to tell him ‘I think these are a bit too hard’ and suggest ‘Let’s do the 5 finger test to check’.

So, I bought ‘The Big Fat Cow That Goes Kapow‘, by Andy Griffiths. Silly, repetitive and obviously boy-ish…it was a big hit. It was such a hit that he was determined to read the WHOLE novel in one sitting. And boy, was he proud.

Here are the books that are next on the list:

The Cat on the Mat is Flat – Andy Griffiths

Barky the Barking Dog – Andy Griffiths

Ten Unlucky Pirates – Andy Griffiths

Hey Jack! – a series of books, by Sally Rippin

Gigglers – a series of books, by various authors (I’ll be at the library, choosing the most boy-ish ones!)

Aussie Nibbles – a series of books, by various authors (yet again, I’ll be choosing the grossest, silliest ones)

I’d love to hear your suggestions for any other books that are novel-like, but have a significantly lower word count on each page!

Gaining insight into your students’ wellbeing

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Screenshot 2016-01-12 20.52.56

As many teachers around Australia are gearing up for another year in the classroom, I am sitting on the couch watching tennis, reading books and painting my toenails. This year is all about wellbeing for me. Yes, I am working 2 days a week in a variety of classrooms and will also put my hand up for relief teaching, but ultimately in 2016, I am putting myself first.

In my Year 2 classroom in 2015 I began to think carefully about not only my own wellbeing, but the wellbeing of those in my care. Some of my students had diagnosed learning difficulties including Asperger’s and Oppositional Defiance Disorder, others came from broken families, some had infant siblings and the list goes on.

With a few prompts from our Student Wellbeing Leader, I began to put this concern for my students into action, by creating a Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Attendance Roll (using Smart Notebook software) that the students were in control of.  Each morning, their names were clustered together under the ‘House’ icon, meaning they were at home. Once they walked in the door, they dragged their name to the appropriate column on the screen. Those students who were absent were still listed under the ‘House’, meaning they were at home.

Some pages were about feelings – “How are you feeling today?” and featured a variety of visual images to students to work with, to assign their name to one of those feelings. I found that these pages often gave me a chance to do a quick one-on-one chat with a child while they were unpacking their bag, or simply keep an eye on them for any signs of emotional distress throughout the day.

I also created pages for graphing what each student ate for breakfast – we found that cereal was always the most popular – and check-ins for the end of playtime, end of the day, or to see how many stars you would give the weekend you just had?

This Smart Notebook document is available from my TPT store, which you can find here.

I’d love to hear any other feedback about how you cater for Social and Emotional Learning in your classrooms – mindfulness is a huge buzz word at the moment, but it’s no good if we don’t put it into action!

Using Windex in the classroom.

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windex
Image courtesy of http://www.ebritic.com

In the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Toula’s father Gus has an addiction to Windex. To him, it is the solution for everything.

“My dad believes in two things: That Greeks should educate non Greeks about being Greek ad every ailment from psoriasis to poison ivy can be cured with Windex.”

It was his go-to answer. He didn’t think twice about it, didn’t listen to others and didn’t consider any other options.

It got me thinking about how often do you use a ‘Windex solution’ in the classroom?  A Windex solution I often hear these days is ‘just Google it’. Google, Google, Google. Even my not-so-technological father is a culprit for over-using this term.

By just ‘googling it’ we are admitting to students that no, teachers aren’t all powerful, bottomless pits of endless knowledge (even though many students think that!). Yes, we are assisting them in finding the answers to their own questions…or are we?

How else can we find out the answer? Resorting straight to Google is not the answer!
Talking to others, posing follow-up questions, making charts & tables, reading books, using prior knowledge…all valid options!

Let’s make sure we are encouraging other methods and solutions rather than just resorting to the Windex.

Why I suddenly hate SMART goals.

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I have decided that I hate SMART goals. We all know the ones…

Why do I hate them? Because I don’t know what I don’t know. It’s hard to set goals when you aren’t really sure what is out there.

Speaking to an ex-colleague, but still friend, today on the phone. She told me that her current school have told her that they are ‘not an ICT school’ and they ‘will never be going down that track’. Today as she used iPads in her classroom for her students to complete a short Google form, she was scrutinised, as iPads are ‘only to be used by special needs students’.

In the next breath, she tells me that she is planning on attending DigiCon. Of course, she won’t be asking her school to pay for her attendance, or even asking for the day off so she can attend both days. She’s going to call in sick. I mentioned that even though I have attended this wonderful event for the last 2 years, I won’t be attending this year. This year, any PD we attend must be clearly linked to our SMART goals, which we formulated in Term 1. I was encouraged to think further that ‘IT’ for my SMART goals, as apparently I already know so much about this area.

As we live in a ‘remote’ area (6 hours drive from Melbourne), flying to Melbourne isn’t a budget-friendly option for PD opportunities. Instead, we are trying to bring the PD to our school, so more staff can benefit from a speaker.

I understand all of this, but here’s my problem. After attending DigiCon for the last 2 years, I learnt heaps. I learnt about things that I didn’t know existed. How could I possibly formulate these things into SMART goals if I didn’t even know about them? Sure, PD opportunities always have a ‘focus’ – but instead of just one speaker talking about one foci, I have the chance to listen to 10-15 different people talk about a myriad of things – some more IT focused than others.

I feel that SMART goals aren’t very smart at all.

If they are Specific, they narrow the lens for learning – what about all of the associated learning that may happen along the way and take you along a new, more enjoyable tangent?

If they are Measurable, it gives it a ‘limit’ and I don’t like having a ‘limit’ imposed on how much I can or cannot learn.

If they are Attainable, it doesn’t offer much of a challenge. I understand that goals aren’t meant to be completely out of reach, but it is nice to actually have to try.

If they are Relevant, I fear that by the time you actually reach it, it may be out of date – we need to keep up with the latest and move forwards!

If they are Time-Bound, it shows that learning must stop at a certain time – what happened to the concept of life-long learning?

I’ve still had to write my SMART goals. Heck, even my students have to have ‘goals’ to try and improve upon.

But sometimes it’s hard, because we don’t know what we don’t know.

Reluctant Writers

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This year I have been faced with a significant number of difficult students in my class. Let’s face it, no class is a ‘breeze’. There are individual nooks and crannies to every single student, however the Year 2 class I am teaching in 2015 seem to present a myriad of ‘specialities’.

Trying to get my Year 2 students to write is challenging. I have a student with Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD), who needs physical stimulation, eg a trampoline, massage, yoga, roller-board to shift his ‘writing brain’ into action. Despite his Occupational Therapist providing me with a wide range of suggestions – some days there is no progress made – the ‘Defiance’ part of his diagnoses comes into play, well and truly!

Add to this mix a boy who has autism and hates any fine motor activities, a girl who has super low processing speed, a boy who has the attention span of a gnat…it’s really like any regular classroom.

Trying to write descriptions last week was my chance to really find out what I could expect from these students.  I started with a 3 step process:

  1. Plan
  2. Draft
  3. Publish

I decided to eliminate the editing stage, to try and build that success. I helped edit briefly, but wanted to show the children that publishing work is fun and something to be proud of.

We used this template to brainstorm words to describe our lunchbox.  I then modelled how to write the words into sentences as a whole group activity. Once the students had written their sentences, it was time to publish.

Using the iPads, students worked in pairs to use PicCollage to describe their lunchboxes. I gave (and modelled) the following instructions:

  1. Take a photo of your partner with their lunchbox.
  2. Open PicCollage and add the photo of your partner.
  3. Add text boxes with your descriptive sentences.
  4. Change the background etc.

PicCollage - Version 2

There were a few types of students – those who completed all three stages with ease. Others who did the planning, but found the drafting too draining. There were others who planned and drafted, but weren’t overly interested in publishing – they’d prefer to spend their iPad time doing whatever they like, rather than a set task.

  It was a fabulous activity to include all students.

What other strategies/apps do you use to encourage reluctant writers?

What do you value?

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Today our school had a PD day, part of which was focused on “Valuing Safe Communities”. 

At one point, this discussion point was raised:

Students and children will attend their school or site more regularly if…

A colleague commented that we have quite a high number of absences due to families regularly taking days off to have extra long weekends and holidays during the school term. It is this a question of them valuing us, as teachers or as a school?  Often it isn’t because a child feels unsafe or undervalued that they are constantly going on holiday.  I added the point that it is the parents who make the decision and I wondered if we should be asking the parents if they are valuing the school and the effort that educators make?

I was presented with this response by our PD facilitator:

Not one single parent values this school. They only value their children.

He continued to say that parents are only interested in doing what’s best for their children. If there’s something at the school they don’t agree with, they either complain, or switch schools. 

It was hard to sit there and hear that ‘NO’ parent in this school values us. I’m not even a parent, let alone a parent with children at our school, although there were at least half a dozen staff sitting in the room who are.  Thankfully our school receptionist spoke up and said that she disagreed. To which the facilitator resulted in a resounding “No”. In her position as a receptionist, she receives many phone calls from disgruntled parents requesting a meeting with someone or another, but she also deals with prospective families. She went on to say that so many families have such great respect for our school and they don’t always stay just because of their children.  Her comments were met with silence.

I couldn’t help but put my two-cents worth in. I was educated at a Lutheran high school (same denomination as our school) up until Year 11. At the end of each year from Year 7 to Year 11, my parents and I investigated the other schools in the district. They weren’t happy with a lot of things at the school. I was happy to a degree, but also happy to move if I needed. Being a school that was closely associated with a church, my family valued that connection – the focus on the church in conjunction with education. They valued the school and the teachers who helped me. Of course they valued me – I am their daughter. But when you choose a school for your children, surely you have to look at the whole school – the motto, the ethos, the values that underpin a school. Not just the classroom or teacher that your son or daughter will have. Not just the subjects that they will be taught. It’s more than that.

It gutted me to hear that somebody is out their saying that no single parent values our school. It doesn’t make it overly encouraging to get out of bed in the morning and try to make a difference.

Do you feel valued? Do you think families at your school value the school, or just their child?

What is success?

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In my Year 4 class, we have been using the F.R.I.E.N.D.S. For Life program. It’s a program based on resilience in children and I have found it fantastic so far (we’re just over half-way through the 10 week program…which has turned into 14 weeks based on time/excursions/absences…etc).

This post isn’t about the program exactly, but about certain components that trickle through into adult life.  

The ‘R’ in F.R.I.E.N.D.S. stands for “Remember to Relax” and to introduce this to the students, one of the activities we did in class (and the teachers did at their facilitator training day) was ‘Milkshake Breathing‘. It’s all about recognising the emotional responses that your body can have and how to best deal with them.

Today I had a student come to me after lunch asking me “What can I do when my milkshake breathing isn’t working?”  He’d had a fairly rough day – brought about by his low self-esteem and equally low resilience – and I was so proud of him for seeking help and sharing his feelings with me.

We talked over a few things and I sent him home with some strategies and had a chat to his dad at the end of the day. It was when I was talking to his dad, he mentioned a trait he had seen in his son:

“He wants to be perfect at something the first time he tries. He doesn’t realise that that is impossible.”

How often do we as adults give up the first time we try something? Through Art Costa’s Habits of Mind and our F.R.I.E.N.D.S. program, I feel that my class is understanding the value of persistence and attitude towards learning.  

But that’s what happens in the classroom.

What happens outside the classroom is that teachers search for something on the Internet – can’t find it and give up. Other teachers have a difficult child and can’t seem to get through to them to make improvement – and then they give up. Over the last two years, I have witnessed many staff plan an amazing lesson using technology, only to have the server go down, the power go out, a website is blocked, or the students “don’t get it” – and they give up.

If I gave up every time the technology in my lesson failed, I wouldn’t be a good role model to my students. I have asked students to chat to their partner while I fiddle with a cord, email for tech support, find another website that does the same thing… it doesn’t mean that I wasn’t prepared for my lesson – it means that I was able to be flexible. There have been countless times when I have quickly Googled how to export work that a student has done from one place to another, or asked a student in my class how to un-invert the colours on an iPad screen! Yes, I’ve planned my entire lesson around a video clip that we needed to watch at the start of a lesson…that was taken down by Youtube. We survived – I talked, the students listened and then we found another way around it, without the video clip.

There should still be something to talk about in your lesson without technology. Always.

success elevator
http://www.coachingconfidence.co.uk/the-elevator-to

I showed the image above to my students (remember, they’re only in year 4) the other day and we talked a lot about what it meant. We talked about working in pairs, with one student treating the other as the ‘elevator’ and just going along for the ride. We talked about how when you take the stairs, a task takes longer – you don’t instantly get to the ‘top’.

How do you get to the ‘top’? Do you require instant success?

Is it worth it?

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This year, we introduced 1:1 iPads across our Years 5-10 students. Our school decided to implement such a program at the request of our School Council, wanting us to increase our technology and ‘keep up’ with other schools. A class had trialled iPads. Our tech support team had developed confidence in the area of Apple devices. Class sets of iPads were purchased for the lower years. Professional development was offered to all staff. Documentation and information was written, edited, and rewritten. All staff purchased their own iPad. More professional development was offered to staff. Information evening were held for all parents of the school.

Our rollout was in stages.

Term 1 – Years 9 & 10 students.
We dabbled, dipped our toes in, as we stumbled upon issue upon issue. Student behaviour. Consequences, or no consequences? Staff trying to introduce iPads meaningfully. There were breakages, inappropriate usage and the beginning of device addiction. PD was offered to staff on a variety of apps, behaviour management strategies for the ‘connected classroom’ and app sharing sessions. All staff were asked to allocate one of their SMART goals to an IT-related goal. A specific parent night was held for the parents of these students – we answered their questions and offered advice.

Term 2 – Years 7 & 8 students.
Armed with more knowledge and loophole awareness, the next cohort of students were introduced to iPads as a learning tool. Student behaviour was still an issue. The question of consequences was still an issue. Games in class – appropriate or inappropriate? The issue of screen time was being raised, so we set about asking teachers to record their students in-class iPad usage for a 2-week period. Nothing extreme – Year Level, Subject, Approximate percentage of class time iPads were used, and maybe the app/apps they used. A specific parent night was held for the parents of these students to ease their fears and reassure them that technology was something that our school values.

Term 3 – Years 5 & 6 students.
Our knowledge as a staff is becoming stronger and there are less and less loopholes for the students to find. Students behaviour regarding iPads is less of an issue. Consequences are becoming tighter. There is a no-gaming policy unless it clearly relates to class work. Screen time is still a concern. A specific parent night was held for the parents of these students to tell them how successful our initial roll-out had been and what we have learnt from it to try and improve it for their children.

After two terms of iPad use, we surveyed the teachers and the Year 7-10 students on their iPad use at school. The results were fascinating. After such eye-opening results, my principal requested that we survey the parent community as well. The results were indeed fascinating, but for less positive reasons.

Some of the main concerns were that their child was now not interested in school since the iPads were introduced. The issue of screen time seemed to be on the tip of every parent’s fingers as they typed their negative responses into my Google Form. Other parents were frustrated that they seemed to have taught their child more about the iPad than the teachers at school.

Funnily enough, we have run PD sessions on integrating the iPad effectively. The SAMR model has become so frequently referred to at our school that I am sure I dream of it at least once a week. The issue of screen time was a factor that we wanted to address, hence our request of staff to record their usage for a two-week period. Out of all the staff asked (at least 20), only 5 responded. How could we present that information to parents?

After nearly 3 years of being involved with the iPad program and imminent technology rollout, the responses I read from our parent community made me wonder, “Is it worth it?”

  • Is it worth putting so much time and energy into trying to inspire other staff to try something new on their iPad? Or use an app a second time, to build confidence?
  • Is it worth running optional technology sessions for staff to try and reach their SMART goal, but then have nobody turn up?
  • Is it worth holding parent information nights to present information and try and teach them about the world their children are moving into, only to have parents whinge behind our backs on an anonymous survey?

Sometimes, no matter how much you are supported by your leadership team and how passionate you are, you still wonder “Is it worth it?”

Switch off!

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The week leading up to the Victorian school holidays, @KatSchrav, as the moderator of @Edutweetoz tweeted this:

Screenshot 2014-07-09 13.37.43

As you can see, #digitaldowntime wasn’t a major priority for me – I hadn’t really thought about it, but appreciated its value.

However, it got me thinking… I need to schedule it in.

My first thought was to have Technology Free days – you know, no phone, no tv, no iPad, no laptop… but to be honest, that would be fairly difficult for me. I use all of those things (apart from the tv) during my work day at school.

My second thought was to limit my iPad and laptop use to just at work. But, it would be unfair to limit my technology use to only while at school – all teachers know that there is SOME level of preparation that happens at home, and there is only so much laminating you can do without using the computer to print something else off!

I have opted for this, the third option: switching off from technology outside of school hours for two days per week – Monday and Friday. I asked myself – what will this mean?

It means my iPad and laptop will stay in my bag when I get home until I unpack them at work the following morning. I’ll have to be more organised – no more posting on the class blog when I get home, no more researching a new lesson idea for the following day.

It means I will only use my phone for phone calls, messages and photos – no Facebook, no Twitter, no internet searching, no Pinterest, no frantic recipe searching for dinner (I have enough recipe books in paper format!)

It means that I’ll be able to relax and enjoy some new interests in my life – going to classes at the gym, learning more at aerial yoga, baking and cooking new treats as part of my ‘I Quit Sugar journey’, and playing with my new puppy. I might even have time to have real conversations with the people around me. I can still watch tv…without ‘multi-tasking’ with 6 different browser windows and apps open.

It means that I’ll have to let go of my F.O.M.O. (Fear Of Missing Out) that I experience when I leave the worlds of Facebook and Twitter – what if I miss an important event in my friends’ lives? What if I miss a revolutionary idea that is going to change the education world? What if I don’t read that email from an angry parent and respond immediately? I will have to catch up on Twitter chats that happen on Mondays and Fridays…that’s just how it will be.

I’m only starting on Monday the 14th of July – it’s my Term 3 Resolution. 

It’s a wellbeing thing. Switch off. Join me. I dare you. 

The curriculum isn’t crowded…it’s brimming with opportunity!

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I’ve been concerned with the number of educators who are constantly reminding others of how ‘crowded’ the curriculum is. Many of them are voicing their concerns a little louder now that the National Curriculum has begun to be implemented, while others are relating it to the fact that there are only a certain number of hours in a school day.
 
It frustrates me to hear that many staff believe that the curriculum is “too full”. Rather than looking at the curriculum as “too full”, why are we not looking at it as “brimming with opportunities and variety”? We know that students all have different learning styles and interests. It would be narrow-minded of educators to believe that every single aspect of the curriculum is applicable and important for every single student.
 
My Year 4 History curriculum tells me that I should be covering world explorers such as Magellan, Columbus and Cook. Science tells me that I need to be teaching the life cycles of plants and animals. The new Geography syllabus instructs me to teach biomes of Africa and South America and the sustainability aspects of these. 
 
I didn’t freak out when I saw the requirements. I used my time wisely. I created a series of learning opportunities to try and cover all of the material in the most sensible manner, using a range of subject areas. Students worked in pairs to research (literacy & ICT focus) an African or South American country, including their biomes (geography) and the plants (science) that live in them. This led into life cycles and descriptions and information reports (literacy) on an African animal of their choice. They summarised information (literacy) about plant life cycles and presented their information as a slideshow (ICT). Students proved that there was more than one explorer in the world, which led to discussions on Columbus, Magellan, Marco Polo, Vikings, Matthew Flinders and Captain Cook. Some students focused on the vikings, others were interested in finding out who discovered their country of origin. We used these explorers to develop a timeline (maths) of important dates of world discovery. By communicating with our visual arts teacher, the Year 4’s created South American “God’s eye” art and African masks.
 
Many educators refer to these types of lessons as “Integrated Studies”. That’s fine, as long as it is not a scheduled timeslot to “do” Integrated Studies. If it’s truly integrated, it will be seeping through most of your lessons and immersing students in valuable learning opportunities. It’s not about choosing the most important aspects of the curriculum. It’s about providing students with the opportunity to learn about things that interest them, yet are important to understand.