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”!



Teaching the littlies

This year, our head teacher (Robyn) came up with a great idea which has gradually been shaped by the staff in our faculty, and then by other faculties at the school, into an official program. Once a fortnight, teachers in the English faculty go to one of the feeder primary schools in our town and teach a watered down version of a high school English lesson to year 5s and 6s.

This came up in response to the lack of information (and the resulting chaos in terms 1 and 2) provided to teachers about the students in year 7 this year. Considering that upwards of 30% of them have high literacy needs, as well as behavioural needs or other forms of organisational or physical education needs, this meant that teachers of year 7 (me being the teacher of 3 classes of them) were overwhelmed by catering for such a wide range of needs in the mixed classes.

Teacher’s aide time with year 7 classes increased, and another English teacher and I worked with the STLA to formulate alternative programs for Italian and English for certain students in these classes.

However, keen to put in place procedures to ensure this did not occur again, our head teacher delegated the volunteers in our faculty a primary school and suddenly we were in front of a class full of little people.

Throughout the year, I taught things which ranged in complexity from text type construction, like recount writing, to complex “high school” ideas such as how layout and structure affect the meaning in poetry.

Having access to the new curriculum for years k-10 has also been helpful in seeing where along the continuum these challenging students fall, and what they should be learning in those stages that they have missed/forgotten/not been able to grasp. Interestingly, I found that a number of year 7 students could not even achieve stage 2 outcomes according to the new syllabus.

We were then given a say in the structure of year 7 classes for 2013, given access to proposed class lists, and the opportunity to find out additional information from the teachers of those students this year in a more informal manner (ie having a chat while the kids are working).

Hopefully this program will prove successful and next year’s cohort’s literacy needs will be able to be addressed more effectively and more immediately. This should also mean that the program which was the brainchild of Robyn should be replicated in other areas which are finding literacy (or numeracy) a challenge with their year 7 cohorts.

Reflection not rumination

Recently, one class in particular has been causing me endless anxious and sleepless nights thinking about how to tackle their behaviour, literacy and self regulation problems (er… I mean, “challenges”).

I realised that part of my anxiety was the perception that I owned the problem. I wasn’t aware that this was what I, in fact, thought, until it was brought to my attention by my head teacher. I was convinced that it was my problem and that my actions alone could solve it if I just worked hard enough. It was a very soul-sucking and sleep-depriving trap to fall into.

Unfortunately, this attitude comes from being pummeled with the “reflective practitioner” model at university. Whilst it has been ultra helpful for me to reflect upon good and bad lessons to improve my teaching, I’ve taken it too far with this class. My reflections have crossed into the dangerous territory of rumination, a classic symptom of any type of anxiety disorder or maladaptive thought pattern.

Something I’ve learnt from this realization is that when the “reflective practitioner” model is being plugged to NSTs, it really needs to come with a disclaimer, warning or qualifier, that reflecting is only healthy whilst it is constructive. As soon as it becomes a source of anxiety, it is no longer helpful to your teaching practice.

Whilst I accept now that it’s my responsibility to ensure that these kids learn, there is only so much in that classroom that I am able to control. I can provide the engaging activities, I can provide the very structured environment, I can provide the consistency, I can explicitly teach and model appropriate behaviour, but I cannot control the kid’s motivation or hormone levels, the amount of sleep they got the night before, the time of day I have them, their poor peer relationships or social skills.

This was hard for me to accept at first, making me feel as though I was doomed to suffer through this class for the rest of the year. However, now it is liberating in one sense. I know that I don’t “own” the problem, but that I can try new things to attempt to make changes.

A big thanks must go to Paula Madigan who has given me brilliant suggestion after suggestion to deal with this class, and my HT, who gladly gives me respite from those kids in this class that are just in the too hard basket some days!


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”.

Is inclusive education the best solution?

Sometimes inclusive education seems to me more like a manifestation of capitalist cost-cutting greed than a positive educational philosophy.

This year I have 3 year 7 classes, each with more and more students being identified each day with literacy problems, processing disorders, and a host of other obstacles to their learning, and a challenging year 10 low literacy class. In these classes, and perhaps it is just my limited skills set being a new teacher (though other teachers have expressed the same sentiment), it seems almost impossible to assist these kids to actually achieve the outcomes without constant one-on-one help. Most of these students to whom i refer need a full time aide, but do not qualify for funding.

Today I was fortunate enough to only have half a year 10 class. One of the most struggling students had an aide to herself. Every student listened, participated, and demonstrated that they had achieved the lesson outcomes by the end of the lesson.

Whilst I was elated, I was also extremely disheartened. To say that class sizes don’t make a difference to students learning, or to put in place other teaching strategies which deprive the kids in need of one-on-one time with teachers is simply ludicrous. I can only imagine the progress I could make if I had a class of 10 each day, or if I was given the opportunity and funding to withdraw struggling kids for periods of intensive learning.

The philosophy of inclusive education might be politically correct, but I am thinking more and more these days that it isn’t the correct solution for our children’s learning.