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!

 

 


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.

 


Year 9 Media: Gruen Challenge

Year 9, as an introduction to their media unit, completed a Gruen challenge over the course of our double period on Friday.

After discussing the purpose of advertising and some of the most common strategies they had noticed in ads lately, students were asked to brainstorm what sorts of things would be the easiest and hardest to sell as an advertiser. They came up with some interesting answers, like convincing people to re-elect George Bush (hard to sell) or convincing people that Apple products were better than Microsoft (something they thought would be a piece of cake).

Students were then shown the clips of the Pitch segment on Gruen, in particular the “sell the invasion of New Zealand” and “sell banning religion” advertisements. We then discussed the different approaches taken to the task: playing on emotions (guilt, anger, sympathy), intellectualising the topic and humour.

They were divided into groups and given their brief: they were asked to sell the shut down of either Facebook or YouTube.

There were three parts to the task. A brainstorm sheet on which they were required to come up with an approach (humour or appealing to emotions) and then formulate 3 ideas for a theme or plot for their ad. They then had to produce a storyboard for one of these ideas, planning 9 frames plus narration.

Students then had to use a computer (limited to PCs due to our wireless being down) to produce either a video or a PowerPoint vaguely resembling what they wanted their ad to look like. They then had to present their storyboard and ad to the class.

There were prizes to be awarded for: the best ad as voted by peers, the most original ad, and best group work during the creative process.

Results
It would have been great to have been able to give students more time on this task. Most were extremely enthusiastic and I had to award 2 group work prizes as many students really worked well together even though I had mixed up peer groups.
The most original award went to a group who turned YouTube into a disease and interviewed a (fake) doctor about the symptoms. The best ad as voted by peers went to a group whose ad demonstrated how easy it was to hack a Facebook account, thereby leaving you susceptible to all sorts of nasty things.

We also got the chance to discuss their digital footprint and responsible online behaviour during the presentations.


You give teaching a bad name (insert guitar solo here)

On my recent holiday journeys I happened upon several teaching friends who have become disenchanted with the system. Not because they are burnt out, not because they have lost their passion, not because the pay conditions for teaching staff and schools seem to be low on the government’s priority list, but because they are tired of other less competent, and frankly, more apathetic, teachers who are, in the words of one friend “turning the kids against us”.

When you look around your staffroom, are your fellow teachers working hard for the students they teach? Or do they just float in and out without planning any lessons, without providing any guidance or leadership, and without giving the students the impression that they have their educational interests at heart?

I know that there are lazy people in every profession, but perhaps the closed classroom door makes the laziness of those in the teaching profession easier to hide. I was shocked by some of the stories my casual teacher friends were sharing with me and they themselves were outraged at the work left (or the lack of work in some cases) for the classes.

I was also surprised because I work in a faculty in which everyone works hard, and no one exhibits the kind of attitude my friends were talking about. And I have no doubt that were anyone in our faculty to display a lack of consideration, empathy or interest in their students, our head teacher would pull rank swiftly.

Unfortunately, it is this minority which seems to characterise the teaching profession for the greater public. Perhaps the public would benefit from knowing how much regard those of us within the fold have for this type of “teacher”.


Research in the classroom

Recently, I have been participating in research through a Melbourne university run by a colleague. It has been a valuable learning experience for both myself and my year 8 English class, who have been the participating class.

Run within our media, persuasion and rhetoric unit, students have been learning about the “zine” text type and analyzing the way elements of this text persuade their audience and shape meaning for their readers and viewers.

The kids have LOVED it. I have ensured that, like usual, the appropriate amount of scaffolding was provided, but the unit has allowed many of the students to show their more creative side.

The kids are, this week, pitching an idea to the rest of the class (who are members of a board) to persuade them to publish their own “zine” after watching the Gruen Transfer‘s “pitch” segment.

Most kids group work skills have improved out of sight, and many kids who struggle with other tasks have shone during the program.

Next week we have professional guest speakers in to talk about how professional publications persuade readers and viewers. We will then start our poetry unit, in which students will learn about different forms of poetry and apply this knowledge to publish poetry in their “zine”.


Apathy: when teachers care more than students about their learning.

Our staffroom today was filled with baffled teachers. Our students, across the board, had us stumped. Every class we had that day had refused to give us anything. They sapped our energy, chatted while we attempted to assist them, and made it impossible to run a class without constant interruptions. Without exaggeration, I had to ask my year 11 class to get their laptops out six times this afternoon, as a group, and then each student individually.

Any group work I issue to year 7, 8, or 11 is not completed unless the groups are given constant assistance, as they see it as an opportunity to talk disrupt others, no matter how the groups are organized. I accept that, with many low ability classes, group work is going to be difficult to introduce. However, my year 10 students, a low literacy class with such a wide variety of behavioural and learning needs, do group work, for the most part, like experts (unless 2 very disruptive students are present).

My other classes seem to need spoon feeding. I agree with, and use, extensive modeling procedures, but these kids actually seem incapable of independent thought. And I know everyone will jump down my throat right about now and tell me things like I need to set more engaging work, but I have tried such a variety of tasks, levels of difficulty, group organization, and technological integration, since the beginning of the term that I am running out of options, and frankly, hope. I dread being a chalk and talk teacher who has to stand out the front the entire lesson and talk.

I am particularly concerned about the apathy and resistance to learning which my year 11s and year 8s show. I know this is experienced right across the school too, and wondering if maybe it is a cohort effect.

Anyone that can offer suggestions or advice on how to get these kids to come to the (figurative) party, please leave a comment or contact me via twitter @LaurenForner – any suggestions welcome!