lforner


Tis the Season of Assessment…

It’s about this time in the term when you start to feel a bit like the honeymoon is over; the kids start to tire of your puns, the first assessments are due and the workload piles up.

This week, I’ve been marking Year 12 Advanced speeches for Module A and it dawned on me that when students hand in assessment tasks, that’s when I do my most effective teaching. That’s when I truly take stock of what students have actually learnt and where the holes are that I haven’t filled. It’s when I get the chance to provide feedback that they are guaranteed to read and consider important. It’s when I get to congratulate students on what they’ve done well. It’s when I can plan where I will take the students next. Not that I don’t do all these things during the teaching of the unit, but the formal assessments provide a more explicit avenue for me to reflect upon these aspects of my practice.

With this new appreciation of the integral role of assessment in MY learning, I’ve approached assessment in a new way this week: with excitement! And I’ve even infected some of my students with the same attitude; one of my Year 9 students has been diligently working away on her assessment task, which is an original poem, visiting her elders in the community to research the impact of the Stolen Generation on Indigenous people in our town. Obviously, she is aware of the valuable opportunities assessments provide too!

 

 

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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.

kindness

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’!


Humans of…Part One.

This year, in an effort to ensure that the learning of my students has more meaningful links to life beyond the classroom, I have decided to go for an online audience.

Over the holidays I became obsessed with the ingenius blog, Humans of New York; the way that it deals with perspective and characterisation, from the viewpoint of an English teacher, is so original and engaging. It is also great to show the diversity amongst a community, which we lack here in my small, rural town.

I decided I was going to capitalise on the success and concept of the blog and apply it to our Year 7 unit, Real and Imagined Worlds. I also realised this was a great opportunity to incorporate PBL elements to the task, letting the students determine the audience, content of the site and organise the blog. They were extremely excited about having ownership of such a text.

This week, students voted as a class and decided on writing their own descriptions of places which were significant to them to share on the site. After much discussion and debate, they entitled the blog ‘People Down Under’, as a nod to the Humans of New York brand. These descriptions had to incorporate poetic devices which we have been studying, most notably imagery. Students also chose a template for the site, having to justify in terms of visual literacy why their choice was the most suitable.

During the next week, students will get to work uploading the content to the site and choosing colours, fonts, pictures, etc. They also plan to contact the famous blogger himself, Brandon Stanton, to ask for advice on creating the blog and keeping it updated. Hopefully they continue to stay just as excited about the project over the next couple of weeks as we hold its “launch”!

 


PBL with Year 10

As well as reconnecting with my PLN this year (see my post about the New Year), my aim is to make learning more engaging, exciting and meaningful for students by taking more risks myself.

I have an extension Year 10 class this year, and our first unit is a close study of a poet. I always struggle to find meaningful ways to assess speaking, so I am going to run a loosely-based PBL unit with this class, with their product being a podcast in which students interview the poet about his context, poetic concerns and style to answer the driving question:

What is the value of poetry in our modern world?

It is a question I put to my Year 10 class last year, and students came up with some really interesting answers:

  • to express ourselves
  • to communicate ideas
  • to gain new perspectives
  • catharsis

I want this year’s class to explore these ideas in more depth.

With most students now bringing a device to school, students will use these to research, compose and record their interviews. Their podcasts will then feature on the podcast channel we create to ensure that students have a real world audience.

Having neglected technology for a while, I had to do some informal PD. I have been researching exemplar podcasts, manuals and tutorials on podcast technology, and come across these great examples of podcasts which are effectively ’round table’ discussions of poems and poets:

I also found this guide helpful, but it may be a bit technical for students who lack digital literacy:

I am going to aim for the flipped classroom approach (another risk!), giving them the analytical information they need to know to study at home, and then giving them time to collaborate, seek feedback and work on their project in class. Hopefully I can get back on the PBL horse without too many hiccups and students can see the value in studying poetry.

 


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.


Memoirs of a First Year Teacher

I have finally completed my first year as a teacher!
And what a year it has been. The good thing is, I feel like I have been teaching all my life now and I feel completely comfortable. I have learnt to be more flexible as I’ve become more confident in my own ability and I’ve become more resilient, no longer taking all the bad days personally, but still able to cherish those special moments.
The biggest challenge for me came in first term when I had to readjust my expectations of both my students and myself. I quickly got a handle on this however, and with the help of my #staraday was able to see the progress I was making each day.
After that steep learning curve, I focused on my classroom management. Something I would recommend to first year teachers is the observation of the old “don’t smile til Easter” tip. Once my first class ran riot on my on my first day I came down hard on my other classes the next day. In fact, listening to myself I could have been mistaken for something from Jane Eyre.
In Term 3 I could relax slightly, having earned a certain amount of respect from the kids through consistency and having completed my first reports. But man, being consistent is tough! Outlining the rules at the beginning of every lesson with year 7 and 8 is the easiest part of it. Ensuring you see and respond to everything is exhausting. Dylan, stop swinging on your chair, Corie, turn around and do your work, Zac, get your book out. I made a rule early on that for every correction I made to a child’s behaviour, I had to praise someone who was doing the right thing so as to provide a model for the other student of the appropriate behaviour. Eventually, my corrections just became names, pointing or a long stare, short cuts which ensured my delivery of content or instructions was not interrupted.
I also enforced 5 minutes “thinking time” with year 7 each lesson, which was 5 minutes students had to work in complete silence to establish their concentration. Sometimes this was purely for my sanity as toward the end of third term they became extremely boisterous. It also gave me a chance to check student’s homework or progress on activities.
I will also, next year, use a roll for my junior classes to check who did not complete their homework. This year I wrote lists and kept students back to complete unfinished work, but it would have been handy to have an ongoing record so I could follow up with parents.
Playing weekend sport in my small town gave me an opportunity to meet some of the kids’ parents and get to know my students outside of the classroom. Amazingly, this lead to a complete turn around in my year 9 class. They became angelic overnight as though I had passed initiation.
Having just one class which lights up your day can make all the difference, and by the end of the year I was lucky enough to have 3 classes I will miss next year. I was almost in tears when I had to farewell my Year 9s! Seeing the growth in these kids from the beginning of the year until the end was something so rewarding; I was really pleased that the majority of the reports I wrote at the end of the year were very positive ones, even for those students who had caused me anguish at the beginning of the year.
Being the occasional speaker at my old high school presentation night was a great way to cap off the year; it allowed me to express the gratitude I felt for the teachers and system which made such an impression on me and it also allowed me to reflect upon why I have found teaching to be such a comfortable fit. One of my ex-teachers cried because he was so proud of me becoming a teacher, which was just a phenomenal compliment as he has been my idol for years.
I will progress up the ladder next year as we have another first year teacher coming into the staffroom next year, and so I am going to pass on all of this useful advice to her. I will make it known that the only way she will get through the year is by slogging through it as it is HARD work, talking about her hesitations and experiences and accepting that she doesn’t know it all, can’t POSSIBLY know it all, and that she needs help.
She is lucky though, she enters a faculty which shares knowledge, resources and a laugh, and are generally good at spotting when you are struggling.
And so, I can breathe a sigh of relief, having shed the label of “first year teacher” now.


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.


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

In-service teacher or educator of any flavour? We want you. #pstn is a project designed to introduce pre- and early-service teachers to online networking (more detailed info here). It uses a non-traditional mentor model – mentors are not allocated to participants on a 1-to-1 basis. Instead, we’re looking for a pool of mentors to interact, respond and guide on a completely ad-hoc basis, contributing what you can when you can. There’s no minimum or maximum time commitment and no requirement to be anyone’s ‘go-to’ person. It’s essentially just a committment to welcome a new group of people to your PLN and provide them with support.

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:

Komninos
Pam Ayres
Herrick
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.