Category Archive

The following is a list of all entries from the Uncategorized category.

Personality Clashes

I have been struggling with a Year 8 class I have which has been formed specifically to address the needs of students with behavioural difficulties. I have found that there are some extremely defiant students in the class, who it is obviously quite difficult to win over and form a relationship with in order to maximise their learning. I have been working on teaching them what it looks like to show respect to me and to identify and appreciate when others are showing respect to them. It’s going to be a hard road, I’m thinking!

What I have an even bigger issue with, however, is the way that they interact with each other. There are some very obvious personality clashes in the class, and this usually plays out with them degrading each other, the class taking sides, etc. etc.  I came across a chart on edutopia’s twitter account which has helped me over the last few days make my expectations of their behaviour towards each other very clear.


Each student has one of these charts (except I cut off the love hearts off for the boys!) and they are expected to be able to put a tick into one box each lesson. We have then had some reflection time, discussing which acts of kindness they had ‘completed’ and why those things are important. Interestingly, most of them are very keen to share what they’ve achieved and have been very proud of their acts of kindness.

I’m still waiting for the ‘make a thank you card for your teacher’!


Finding Meaning in our Teaching

I’ve been focusing in my preliminary lessons this year on making the content and skills students are learning meaningful. Meaningful to the content and skills they will eventually learn and also to their lives outside school.

Year 10’s study of poetry began with them considering the value of literature and compiling lists of the things they have learnt from studying classic texts over the years. Some of their answers made me proud to be part of a profession that imparts a love of literature to a new generation. They are also part of a PBL-style project in which they will ‘become’ the poet we study and discuss their poetic preoccupations in the form of a podcast. Therefore, they see everything they learn in the unit as building a picture of their poet for this task.

Year 8 are studying a novel based on the life and adventures of Ned Kelly, and they are all very keen to find out how you can commit so many criminal acts and still be considered a national hero. It has already dawned on them that it might all be about the way the facts are presented (perhaps I have the next cohort of lawyers?) Lots of them connect with the downtrodden boy who faced prejudice and discrimination and have made comparisons with refugees in our current society. With them, I am discussing which values shape our nation and why icons like Ned Kelly accord with this view.

But it is my Year 12 group with whom I have had the most success in this area; they started by considering the skills which Module A would develop in them (drawn from the syllabus and their knowledge of the methods of assessment) and how these skills would be useful to them post-school. I was interested to note that they saw the value of synthesis as applying to the purchase of an item, like a car, and being able to compare and contrast the different options to get the best value. I have also shown them where EXACTLY (using very detailed and poorly drawn diagrams) the information we are learning can be used in their responses.

I find that this Module provides a lot of temptation to get bogged down in detail (especially because I love Pride and Prejudice!) and so this approach has really kept me focused by forcing me to ask and make explicit to the students: What is the value of this in terms of assessment? What is the value of this in terms of being able to be an accomplished and fully-functioning adult? The students in the class have also found the contextual information fascinating; some of the more politically-inclined students have been suitably outraged at the lack of rights for females and other minority groups, which has brought out a fierce love and defence of Elizabeth Bennet, a total damnation of white middle-class men and a recommitment to the feminist cause.

Not only does it make me feel like the students are more focused, it makes ME feel like there is more value in my teaching and their learning. Even though, for years, I have been teaching them valuable things, making that connection explicit to them has hopefully made them more motivated to learn.

More than just a New Year’s resolution

This year will mark a four year anniversary that I’m not overly proud of. In 2012, I headed out to my first teaching position, optimistic and ready to spread the word about the power of technology and the importance of developing a wide PLN to support best practice. And a year in, I fell off the wagon completely. As I enter my fifth year in the classroom, I’ve realised that it isn’t just about my teaching, or the learning of the students in my class, or even in my school. It isn’t about my faculty, or even the staff at my school. I have cut myself off from so many valuable resources, so much valuable input and so much support, and it hasn’t been until I’ve come up for air, so to speak, that I’ve been able to realise that a great deal of the inspiration I took with me out to my first teaching post was the feeling of contributing meaningfully to a community.

This year, I’m not just making it my New Year’s resolution to reconnect with my PLN, be active on Twitter and blog regularly, I’m also including it as a goal in my PDP. I want to rekindle the fire I once felt when issues surrounding the education industry were discussed and reclaim my own thirst for knowledge. One of my passions, in particular, was the support of Pre-Service Teachers, and I think that with the additional experience I’ve now had, I can offer them far more practical guidance and help.

Reflections on social media in PD: PSTN and the power of a “star”

Some of you may be familiar with the PSTN project which was a project forged by Sarah, Narelle, David and myself in the latter half of last year. The general enthusiasm of those willing to take on teacher-mentor roles was overwhelming, and those established at universities rounded up cohorts of PSTs as mentees.

Unfortunately, as Sarah, David and Narelle have blogged about, enthusiasm amongst PST students soon dropped and we were left with minimal online participation and confusion as to why the concept which had worked so well for others in a real setting (namely myself) had failed to work for this cohort of PSTs.

Unfortunately, I had not banked on having every spare second occupied by marking and planning, and had envisioned myself in a much more active role during the program. Luckily, the rest of the team were willing to overlook this miscalculation on my behalf, and convinced me it was ok to concentrate on my school work rather than stress about the project.

More unfortunately still, however, was the fact that suddenly social media had dropped out of my every-day routine. At the time, what I missed most about this was the daily contact with and support of my valuable PLN. I missed them getting excited when I had success and their suggestions when I had a stumble. I missed being challenged and stimulated at any time I chose to flick through my twitter feed.

Now that I have had time to reflect upon it, however, I realise that what I missed most was the reflection and opportunities for self improvement which social media offered.

While I was discussing my daily “stars” with my PLN in term 1 I had a constantly uplifting and concrete reminder about the small educational wins and progress I was making. In term 2 though, I found I was increasingly negative about my ability as a teacher, even though I was achieving the same things I had been proud of in term 1, and more.

In term 3, I am going to aim to get back to having a “star” every day, and at least once a day contributing to some of the professional dialogue which twitter offers, whether it be to answer someone’s question, offer encouragement, or ask for suggestions myself.

So whilst PSTN didn’t work out as we had hoped, it’s “flop” (wanting to avoid using a bad word!) has indeed made me wiser about the important role social media played in my professional development and practice.

Embedding Metacognition

Ask 3 Before Me PosterThis week I have taken the opportunity to use metacognitive activities with my classes, encouraging them to reflect upon the strategies they use to learn, how effectively they learn, and how they can improve their learning. Whilst I had been embedding these activities all throughout my units with year 7 and year 10, our Head Teacher this week expressed concern about the lack of independent thinking which some of our students were displaying. As a faculty, we decided to focus more upon these activities with our students.

My Year 7 classes reflected upon what they have learnt this term, and which method of learning they found to be most enjoyable and effective (they have participated in group work, student-lead activities, teacher-directed activities, and independent work).  They filled out a KWL chart at the beginning of the term for what they knew about Italy and what they wanted to learn. They then reflected upon this today in order to ascertain whether they had achieved their learning goals. It was also a real confidence boost for students, as they realised just how much knowledge they had accumulated and skills they had developed over the term.

Year 8 spent a lesson considering how they could become independent thinkers, as their constant need for a teacher’s advice and approval was becoming exhausting and overwhelming. I used the ‘Ask 3 Before Me’ model which was suggested by a member of my fantastic faculty, Beth, and got students to brainstorm 3 questions they could ask or 3 places they could find answers without having to ask the teacher. They came up with suggestions like ‘Check your workbook’, ‘Make your questions more specific’, which I was impressed with considering they had not, so far, displayed these skills this year.

Year 10 reflected upon 3 things they had learnt in English this term, which provided me with really useful information about how effective my teaching strategies had been. Three students remembered the metaphors I had used to explain poetry analysis (‘unlocking the poem’) and also wrote that they had learnt how to work with other people in a productive way. Year 10 then had to identify one thing from the term which they felt they could continue to improve upon. I was convinced it would be essay writing, as many of them had struggled through the assessment, however to my surprise it was things like ‘ignoring ______ who constantly distracts me in class’, indicating that these students had an awareness of how they best worked, and the factors which detracted from work.

Always one for modelling, during the time my classes spent reflecting this week, I also reflected upon how effectively I was using my metacognitive skills and what my goals were for next term. I then shared these with students when I asked other class members to share their reflections.

Week 2: Split Personalities

Whilst my first week of teaching was characterised by steep learning curves, in my second week of teaching I have found what I have struggled most with has been my identity as a teacher. This is in some ways ironic because I am teaching an Area of Study to year 11 on this very subject.

I have been given so much advice on how I should be running my classroom, conducting myself, lesson planning, and managing behaviour (some of it useful, some of it patronising, and some just generally unhelpful) that I feel as though I should be being and doing a million things at once.

In my infinite wisdom I have realised that this is highly unreasonable. Instead what I need to do is find a way to ‘be myself’ in the classroom, as I don’t want to spend my days at work feeling uncomfortable in my own skin. However, this is easier said than done, and required me to reflect quite thoroughly on who I am, and what I value. I am someone who needs to be highly organised in order to feel comfortable, hence I do not want to ‘wing’ lessons as I know other teachers thrive on, but instead take time to plan them carefully. And whilst this will eat up a considerable amount of my own time, at least I will be minimising stress in other areas. I am also someone who values discussion, and hope that this can be a central part of my classroom practice, encouraging students to value the opinions of their peers.

I have also realised that I may not be able to ‘be myself’ until late in my first year of teaching, or even until my second year. I am lucky to have a senior class, with whom I have already allowed aspects of my personality to seep in. I have been told by many teachers at the school I am at that the kids test (and aim to break) their new teachers, and so my aim in the first instance is to do what I need to to survive. If I spend most of my time on behaviour management, students will learn nothing from my classes, which is desirable for neither the students nor myself. Therefore I may have to adopt a persona this year not entirely consummate with the one I wish to cultivate, but necessary to achieve some level of learning.

So I have set myself a slightly more achievable goal for this term than ‘finding’ my identity; that of consistency. Whilst this might sound easy for experienced teachers because it is part of their routine, I need to establish this ‘routine’ myself in a very conscious and deliberate way. Whilst we have discussed rules in classes at the beginning of the term and they have been displayed since then, this week I will be making a poster with 1 rule on it, and I will work on continually enforcing this. If it takes two weeks to achieve, fantastic, if it takes til the end of the term, so be it. I will also display the way in which it will be enforced, and rewarded. I think 2 verbal warnings, moving within the classroom, then moving outside for a one-on-one discussion is a reasonable routine for enforcing breaches of the rule, whilst verbal praise (which I try to give often, but will make more systematic and targeted now that I know students’ names) will be used for correct observation of the rule.

And whilst there are plenty of progressive pedagogies which advise against the above practice, I have had an epiphany; these pedagogies are for teachers who already have classroom management down pat. Unfortunately for me, even though many of these pedagogies are ways in which I aspire to run my classroom, they are simply far down the list of priorities at the moment.

Call for Participants in Pre-Service Teacher Networking Project: PSTs

Pre-service or early-career teacher? Doing a BEd/BTeach/Dip. Ed or any other teaching course? We want you. If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed, under-prepared, lost, excited, inspired or awesome about teaching, this project is for you. We’re running this project as a way to introduce pre- and early-service teachers to online networking and help fill in some of those (often huge) gaps between the unit codes and what actually happens in the classroom (more detailed info here), as well as share your work and ideas. It’s a low-commitment project that provides support for you to engage in online networking, in an organic way that fits around your study/work schedule. It’s not tied to any of your units or pracs and you’re not graded on it.

Why? Online networking provides the real-world support that uni courses don’t – resource sharing, problem solving, cries for help, kudos for awesome work and sympathetic people on tap.

To get involved, follow our How To Play getting started guide (it’s the same for both mentors and participants). Initially, joining the Hootcourse is all you’ll need to do to confirm your participation before the project kicks off in late February.

Lessons learnt from week 1 as a teacher

New Teachers' Attitudes to Teaching

This week it has been me, rather than my students, doing most of the learning.

After surviving the Staff Development Day without going into administrative overdrive, I was feeling like I had it sorted. Had most people’s names pegged, had my desk and programs all organised. I even had my lunches planned.

Aaaaaaaand thud. I landed flat on my face. As someone who had taken a variety of classes at a public school on an almost year long placement, it came as a shock to me that I might be unprepared for this job. For all intents and purposes, I had assumed that the curriculum and ensuring content was engaging and innovative was going to be the biggest challenge of my new job. What a surprise it was then to discover that my biggest challenge was going to be to get these kids to stay in their chairs and not punch each other.

I had heard the tales from many an experienced teacher about the first year being the hardest, but it wasn’t until this week that I could seriously understand the gravity of that statement. The first three days had me feeling completely incompetent and fearing that I had made a terrible mistake. I was convinced that I was going to let these kids down, and that I was going to become someone bitter and resentful, rather than the ‘teacher self’ that I had imagined and felt comfortable as before.

Day three had me at the lowest point. My Head Teacher and my staffroom were supportive, and worded me up with all the right kind of advice, gave me resources and programs to use, and offered to take the trouble makers off my hands. And my Head Teacher said something poignant at the end of this week: there are some things as a new teacher, you have to learn yourself, as a teacher, your idealistic (some would say naive, but she phrased it nicely!) bubble is inevitably burst. And she was right, and I was devastated when my bubble had burst.

When I hit rock bottom, I took a deep breath and decided that I had to take a different approach. Instead of dwelling on all my shortcomings, I had to focus on the positives. I had, after all, had success with 3 year 7 classes, my year 8s and to a limited extent with year 11. They had done some work. No one had killed or injured each other. I hadn’t cried in front of the students.

And then Day 4 came to my rescue.

Thursday was swimming carnival day, but this is held after a normal school day as a twilight carnival. I thought I might need cement in my coffee that morning, as the kids and I had 12 hours together ahead of us, as well as an excuse to muck around. And so, I braced myself for the worst, all the while with the advice of valued twitter companions in the back of my mind: start every lesson with a positive, even if it deteriorates, at least START positive.

My first lesson was year 10, the class which had me questionning my motivation to teach just a day before. They were delightful. We had an entertaining discussion about the emotions which their favourite music artists wrote about, and why they chose particular genres of music to write about these emotions, and then investigated some of the poetic devices in a song we listened to. Pretty impressive for the low ability year 10 class with a reputation.

Following this was a double of my year 8 class, who are really quite sweet and manageable for the most part, except for the boys gang which tend to distract the entire class with their antics. We read part of a novel, discussed the 5 elements of reading and writing, and they laughed at my pathetic taste in music when I played them the Flocabulary ‘5 things’ rap.

The cutest year 7 group were the last class of the day, which was always going to be a positive way to end the day.

I have been told to mark this day in my calender as a “star day”, as for a while it is going to keep me going when days get rough again. I know that next week the kids are going to go back to testing me whilst they try to work me out. But at least I have had a window, a ray of hope, an assurance that I have chosen the right profession. That I eventually will get the hang of this and find my feet. And not wake up nauseous.

My PLN have really come into their own this week; many of them have offered to send programs, checked up on me daily, or fed me constant electronic advice. For their unwavering support during what has been a very challenging week (some may say I’m being overly dramatic, but I would say to them that they either, a) haven’t been a teacher, or b) have blocked their first teaching week from their memory) I would like to thank Robyn Richards, Brenda Norman, Krista Suckling, Beth Kermode, Belinda McKellar, Paula Madigan, Alissa Williams, Bianca Hewes and for therapy-via-phone, Sam Walkerden and Larissa Caillat. Once again, this really strengthens the case for the PSTN project.

Poetry: Remixed

After an extremely inspiring and productive discussion with my PLN this morning, I was given the idea of centring an innovative poetry unit around Komninos, the performance poet who now does a lot to do with media poetry. I have to sincerely thank @madiganda, @vivimat78, @shereej3, and a new connection I made this morning, @KatApel, for collaborating with me to form such a great idea for a poetry unit. Yet another reason to LOVE my PLN!

I was aiming to find something innovative and inspiring for my Year 10 class to follow on from what I know would have been a great unit on protest poetry for them as Year 9. I originally wanted to do something similar to Poetry Pals, a program which connects people from different backgrounds though poetry, however, I had left the run too late to start collaboration on such an epic task as that. I will save that idea up for another year, and hopefully be able to encourage students to compose poetry about their experience as ‘country’ kids, and learn from their sister city classmates about life in the city.

After my conversation this morning, however, I have decided to go with something a little more radical, and look at ‘remixed’ poetry, which will allow me to draw my students attention to the way in which our culture is constructed as a remix of the past, popular and high culture, and the modern and traditional. Whilst a post-modern or post-humanism unit is probably beyond the scope of these kids’ interest and ability, this unit will allow me to dip into these things a little bit, and hopefully result in them developing some critical thinking skills akin to those associated with these movements.

The study of radical forms and content matter of poetry will naturally require contextualising, and thus students will be required to view today’s culture through a critical lens: Why would poets choose to be different and radical? What message are they trying to convey through this choice?

I have had many many suggestions for poets and poetry which will be useful. For the time being, I am going to investigate in detail:

Pam Ayres
Free Verse novel extracts (esp. Sally Murphy: Pearl vs the World)
Yellow Rage
and zombie poetry, which I came across a couple of weeks ago, quite by accident!

I am also interested in poetry by cybernetics, and perhaps can source machine generated poetry which I vaguely remember being told about….

If you are interested in this unit or have suggestions, please feel free to contribute them in this space! I will post the unit up on the blog as it progresses.

Accumulating Knowledge: Why not What we Learn.

I wonder how people can be committed to teaching things which they haven’t justified to themselves.

Having had holidays to reflect upon the last year of my studies, my current projects, and the tasks which lay ahead of me this year, I realised that my thoughts have been somewhat circular. My reflections have lead me to the same point each time; wondering what the significance of knowledge is.

Whilst this may seem like a somewhat philosophical and abstract question, I believe it relates to our fundamental role as teachers. Whether we conceptualise knowledge as facts, as skills, or as metacognitive awareness, asking why we want students to learn what we push upon them seems to me to be something which needs to inform every facet of our teaching.

I have had to ask myself this time and time again as I work on my current project, building the ”e is for english” website, each time I evaluate a site, application or tool, I wonder, why should students use this? what will it help them learn? why should they learn these things? It perplexes me that some aspects of our teaching could be based on considerations other than these, and puzzles me as to how teachers can be building and scaffolding skills according to something like Bloom’s hierarchy if they are not constantly questioning why students learn the content or skills that they do, and what it will link to. I wonder if this is because I am a person constantly given over to rumination that this model of reflection works particularly well for me and seems central, or whether it is something that all teachers find is a fundamental aspect of their teaching.

I think that these thought patterns can be generalised to our own learning as teachers. So much PD is run simply for the sake of learning, and whilst it can be argued that any learning is a good thing, we must also ask why we are learning something new. I guess this echoes the old saying about “new” not being a synonym for “quality”.

Sometimes I am overwhelmed by all the things to learn, see, read and ponder on Twitter, however I am gradually learning that I can only accumulate knowledge at such a speed. Curation tools have helped a lot, allowing me to reflect upon blog posts, resources and websites for longer and revisit them when I am in a more appropriate mental space.

However, there is still a limitation on the amount of information I can accumulate (can you tell that this frustrates me no end??), and one of my steepest learning curves this year has been to come up with ways in which I can siphon the experience and wisdom of others in a meaningful way, as well as find my own style of teaching and learning. I think this is a particular challenge for new teachers-we feel as though we need to hoard as much information as possible in case it relates to who we might become as a teacher in future.

Question mark in Esbjerg In order to keep these WHY questions in the forefront of my mind with regards to my own learning and professional development, I have come up with some guidelines for PD which I force myself to adhere to (although it is difficult!):

  1.  Cull the amount of people you follow on twitter. Evaluate them carefully based on their previous tweets. In the beginning it was overwhelming because I followed people left right and centre, which made my life difficult when I wanted to follow conversations.
  2. Make lists in Twitter which are thematic as well as geographic and PLN based. I found this particularly useful for when I wanted to research the #occupy movement.
  3. Use ONE curation tool and use it religiously-make sure it is organised! I used to set aside 20 minutes a day to ensure I had been able to translate twitter favourites into categories on Pearltrees. That way, you have to categorise each piece of learning, helping to ensure that you aren’t hoarding information for information’s sake.
  4. Know that if a piece of information, an app, a website is worth knowing about, it will be coming at you from every direction. You won’t miss out, so don’t punish yourself if you didn’t know about it first.
  5. Every resource you download should be altered in some way by you. This will ensure that you are using it in a meaningful way, and understand the aims of the activity. Plus it will make you more confident when you take it into the classroom.
  6. Just because someone says something is vitally important, doesn’t mean it MUST relate to you, how you teach, your particular students, or your personal philosophy. The more I learn, the more I realise how relative each view on education really is (coming from someone deeply dedicated to PostModernism, that’s probably not a surprise).

Whilst we can’t all be infinitely wise, we can ensure that by attempting to model reflective learning ourselves, it will trickle through to asking those imperative questions relating to why we teach what we do.