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.


What’s next?

Thursday marked the end of my practical teaching placement, and though I was sad to leave my wonderful classes and the friendly staff, I can’t help being excited about what comes next.

After learning so much from the students I taught, and developing such good relationships with them, I have come away with the sense that I am so lucky to have found something I love doing. The rewards of teaching are immeasurable, every day I have countless stories, have laughed many many times, and am guaranteed to have learnt something about knowledge, the students, learning and teaching, or even myself.

I am thrilled to bits to be moving to a rural school, and have my fingers crossed that they will allow me to develop some of the skills I have been “hazed” into, namely technology in the classroom and Project based learning.

There is part of me which is chomping at the bit, raring to go, asking, What’s the next challenge?

Update: Students as Teachers

Over the last 2 weeks, my Year 9 class have become teachers. Read my previous post for the details.

Students came up with some excellent ideas, including cartoon strips, group stories and the use of graphic organisers. Unfortunately, two groups were unprepared on the day they were required to teach, which led to me having a chat about the importance of organisation and time management to learning effectively.

On Monday, they wrapped up their teaching sessions and were given some time to reflect upon two questions:

1. What does it mean to be an effective teacher?

2. How do I learn best?

Some of the replies the students came up with are as follows:

An effective teacher is; a teacher who knows how to get everyone involved and concentrated. Someone who makes it fun, which is a good way for students to keep it in their heads. An effective teacher understands the subject they are talking about and ensures that the student does too.
How do I learn best; I learn best normally by reading things. When the information is organized well I can keep it in my head the way it was shown to me. I think that’s why I learnt alot from the theme group. They wrote a definition on the board and wrote up different things in a way…

I think to be an effictive teacher means that you get your message across, in a fun and enjoyable way. I think i learn best through group work and class discussions. If i enjoy an activity it is more likely for me to pick up on the information and it is more likely for me to remeber it. I enjoyed the plots group activity because it got the whole class involved and conveyed the message effectively whilst still being enjoyable and funny.

I think an effective teacher is someone who knows what they are talking about to the extent of them being able to teach without looking down continuously. A good teacher also needs to be able to improvise when something goes wrong. Control of the students is also a vital part to being an effective teacher.
I prefer it when the students do not teach because they cannot control their peers and I think that they play favourites. Also a maturity factor comes into play to distinguish those who take learning and teaching seriously from those who think it is just for fun. Noise does not allow me to focus which impacts my learning abilities. Working independently and occasional group work and teaching the class is the most effective way of teaching in my opinion.

Obviously, the peer teaching was not enjoyed by everyone in the class, and didn’t play to everyone’s strengths. But most of the students appreciated the way in which this taught them about what it means to teach and how difficult it is to provide a quality learning environment for every student in a class. It also taught them a lot about their own learning due to the spectrum of activities the groups used.

If I were to do this exercise again I would pay close attention to:

-classroom management issues (when students are teaching): students need to come up with how they will deal with certain behaviours and set expectations for students in their teaching plan (unfortunately this was an oversight on my behalf!). One way to combat this might be to break the class into small groups and have a peer teach each group.

-finding a balance between teaching, fun and assessing knowledge: some students just did quizzes or crosswords without actually teaching students the information first. This led to students disengaging because the didn’t know the answers and the groups didn’t explain the answers completely either.


Learners becoming teachers

As part of our Horror Unit, Year 9 English Extension are going to be teaching each other about the element of the horror genre in which they have become “experts”. They have been working in friendship groups in class over the last 2 weeks to become experts in either plot, theme, setting, style or characters, and have watched ‘Psycho’ to get examples for the way in which each of these elements are used in the horror genre. Now they must share this expertise with other members of the class.

In order to do this I have shared my own processes with the class, going through the steps I take and the factors I take into consideration when I am teaching them something. This not only gives students a scaffold from which to develop their lesson, but also encourages them to reflect on the teaching and learning process and their own learning style and goals. Attached is a link to the webdoc I used to scaffold their preparation of their resource. Webdoc is a great tool for this exercise, as you can embed videos, sounds, images, webpages, and applications in a document, and then embed the document in sites like edmodo.

They are required to either teach small groups or the class as a whole using both a discussion and a teaching resource. The discussion ensures that the class are able to have an input into what they are being taught and suggest things which the group may not have thought of, whilst the resource ensures that all students will have access to the information-even those who are not present on the day. I have explained to the class that this is an important consideration in teaching because everyone must have the same opportunity to access the information.

I am thoroughly impressed with how creative these students have been, and I will be using some of their teaching ideas myself in the future! Here are just a few of their brilliant ideas:

-Creating a Facebook group as a way to ensure all students receive the information

-Making a cartoon to explain how intertextuality is used in horror films

-Making a crossword to assess students’ prior knowledge

-Making graphic organiser to stimulate class discussion on the similarities between characters in different horror movies.

-Making a Prezi to ensure all those away are able to access the information

-Designing an activity in which the class completes the horror story to draw on their existing knowledge of plot in horror movies.

As a bonus, students have all been on task, engaged, and actually excited about this activity! It is a great way to embed teaching of presentation skills, teaching them to use new web apps (we had mini-tutorials within groups of how to use Prezi and Toondoo, and one group has discovered a crossword making app which they want to share with others), and getting them to appreciate the different skill sets each group member brings to a group.

They have also discovered that worksheets are “boring”, and so perhaps will be able to take this knowledge into other classes and transform their learning experience.

Stay tuned-I hope to get them to write a blog post on the activity for my blog! And I will definitely be sharing the resources they come up with too!

A great week in the classroom!

Thought I would take the opportunity to rant about what a GREAT couple of days I’ve had in the classroom-maybe it will balance out the negativity of some of my other posts!

Over the last few days I have seen my year 11 class really knuckle down and get serious about poetry analysis. Despite my lame attempt to engage them with a home made AFL ball, the students produced mind maps and analysis paragraphs exploring the Australian Voice this week. They worked in groups to formulate thesis statements to guide their writing, and developed analyses which demonstrated just how far they had come in the last year.

What I was really stoked about was the way in which they have developed synthesis skills-something which is towards the top of Blooms hierarchy. It really challenges the assumption that students in standard English can’t produce sophisticated writing. We also spent a bit of time yesterday reflecting upon their writing style, including what they did well, what they found hard, and some of the ways I can provide more support for their writing. Students went away with a task to set personal goals for their writing, so it will be interesting to see what they come up with.

My year 9 class this week also wowed me with their creativity and enthusiasm for their group products; they came up with some brilliant ideas to stage a performance of ROMEO AND JULIET for a modern audience, including puppeteering, using shadow, and elaborate set design.

A couple of groups were also working hard to source a real world audience for their performance (sadly I have not heard back from any of the “real world” audience I contacted-clearly don’t hold enough weight in the education sphere!) discussing who they knew that was involved in theatre.

Let’s hope the momentum continues!

Student creativity rife in Romeo and Juliet unit

I have been blown away by the creativity displayed by students in this unit thus far, and thought I would share some examples with you all out there in the virtual staffroom.

The Sing a Sonnet task (which I have posted in the unit blog post) brought out some wonderful adaptations of Romeo and Juliet’s sonnet in Act 1. Students were required to keep the structure and rhyming pattern of the sonnet, whilst adapting the language and the imagery/symbolism used in the poem. Particularly impressive examples are posted here:


(Romeo and Juliet are chatting on facebook)

Romeo: I have a bad reputation but can I poke you               

              On this wall, but what of your reactions

              My messages sent every minute anew

              To clarify my rash actions


Juliet: my friend, you worry too much

           Your simple words show your feelings

           Poke me, it is not a harsh touch

           Poke wars are not uncommon dealings


Romeo:  if poke wars are common, isn’t messaging too

 Juliet:  it is indeed with people known well


Romeo:  aren’t I known well enough, so please do

               If not my love filled words will not be so swell

 Juliet: I will only reply if the message warrants


Romeo:  then they will never be abhorrent




Romeo- Your hand is like a Pottermore account that I am not skilled enough to acquire.                                  

A girl like you is more valuable than the elder wand                                                                                                 

To make an unbreakable vow with you is my desire.                                                                                                                 

May I have the honour of meeting you at the pond?                                                                                                                                                                                                           .                                                                                                                                                                                            

Juliet-Romeo you are totally skilled enough to get a Pottermore quill.                                                                                        

Because you keep trying to get the magical quill shows much dedication.                                                               

For wizards hold their wands with incredible  skill.                                                                                                                                                  And holding a wand builds up much love and admiration.

Romeo- We both have wands so why don’t we make an unbreakable vow.

Juliet-Wands are for magic not for declaring love.

Romeo-Magic is an awesome thing just like our time together now.                                                                              

Please make this vow with me my turtle-dove.

Juliet- You do not need my wand to make a vow with me.

Romeo- Please grant me your wand so we can be bonded for all eternity.

(Makes unbreakable vow)


I also asked students to design a graphic organiser to organise their analysis of each Act of Romeo and Juliet which we had discussed in class. Every group of students came up with an organiser which demonstrated a very complex understanding of the concepts and issues in the play, and also mapped the relationship between elements of the play such as character, plot, themes, stagecraft and language. Students submitted these on paper as they found this easier, so I am unable to upload them here for you to marvel at.

One group with whom I was particularly impressed with designed their graphic organiser as a world map (‘All the world’s a stage’!) and used colours and their knowledge of different countries, seas, and various geographical features to demonstrate various aspects of the play and relationships within the play.

Another group designed their graphic organiser as a snakes and ladders game, using the symbolism of the snake and ladder to indicate whether a relationship between characters was positive or negative, and also to indicate the techniques which are associated with the downward spiralling events of the play.

Other graphic organisers included a tree, a garden and a series of arrows inside arrows.

The take home message for me was that it is astounding how creative kids can be when you let them organise their own knowledge. I would almost bet that their conceptual understanding of the play and the elements of drama is more sound than it would be had they not been involved in categorising and organising the information themselves.

Why do teachers make life hard for ourselves?

Reflecting upon the lessons I conducted this week with my Yr 9 class, I realised I had staged a mini-experiment (by accident of course!). One lesson was almost completely teacher centred (me feeding them the information) and the other 2 were students contributing and generating much of the information themselves.

Let me tell you, the results of my experiment reveal not only that students were more engaged during the student centred activities, but also that it was much less stressful for me!

Whilst the student centred lessons took twice as long to prepare as the teacher centred ones, during the lesson itself I was much more relaxed, flexible and able to assist the kids who were struggling with the ideas and concepts of shakespeare.

It really begs the question, why do teachers make life difficult for themselves by conducting teacher centred lessons? They have to work harder to get kids on task and enjoying the activities, it gives you much less flexibility to explore issues which arise (because you may not be the expert on those!) and it makes for a state of anxiety during the lesson. Not to mention all the benefits and skills to be gained by students who generate and own their own knowledge.

We are told time and time again to make it student centred because it is better for students learning. While this may be incentive enough for those of us interested in students wellbeing, perhaps we need to rephrase our arguments.

Convincing teachers that student centred lessons equal less anxiety for them might be a way in which we can hook those teachers who have ignored other arguments in favour of student centred learning until now.

Living in the dark ages

Not that I doubt the truth of what she says, but I couldn’t believe so many people could be opposed to the brilliant work bhewes (@BiancaH80) is doing with PBL in her classroom.

I knew it wasn’t an approach which other staff members were eagerly taking up at her school, but I just honestly couldn’t see any valid reasons for not implementing more student centred styles of learning in the classroom. Except for the fact that it might involve more work for those teachers who are used to just standing out the front dictating notes to their class.

And then I experienced some of those negative vibes firsthand.

Someone associated with the university I am completing my preservice training at is coming to supervise a lesson of mine next week. In her instructions to me, she advised me that I needed to make sure I was “actually teaching”. When I enquired as to what she meant by this, she said, that she wanted to see me teaching them something, not just “setting them a task and walking around helping them”.

I then explained to her that my master teachers classes were run according to PBL. The supervisor dropped the second bombshell, “what’s PBL?” When told it was a more student centred approach to knowledge, involving students in inquiry and giving them freedom to determine the direction of their own learning, she made a noise which sounded like a stifled groan.

Again, she reinforced that I was to be doing actual teaching the day she came (as opposed to what I usually do, which is clearly NOT actual teaching).

I saw red when I got off the phone. How DARE the university relentlessly shovel the phrase “student centred” down our throats, and then completely chicken out when it comes time to endorse it in practice?

As someone who is yet to even start a career in teaching, I am already astounded by the politics which plague the profession. The way any form of change is resisted is ludicrous, especially when this change is so obviously beneficial for student development of all the skills we apparently value so highly.

I can only imagine the enormity of the battle ahead, and completely admire those pioneers who have gone, or as in the case of many of you, continue to go, before me in the challenge of chalk and talk.

Preservice teachers: unprepared? Unrealistic expectations?…

For those who started following this blog, you may have shared the enthusiasm I first felt about writing it. Since then I have felt an immense amount of guilt about not updating it as regularly as I had hoped, and thus not using it as thre reflective journal as I had first hoped it would be.

In truth, I now spend every waking moment (and even some sleeping moments) in education world. I have decided that doing a uni load of 6 subjects plus a 2 day a week practical placement in one semester is not a wise move. Now being down to my final two university assessments, I now actually have time to reflect upon what I have been learning over the last five or so weeks, beginning with the realisation of just how unrealistic the expectations of pre service teachers about entering the profession actually are.

I gave up a legal career for a teaching career, with one of the considerations being that it was simply impossible for me to maintain the workload and work hours expected of a lawyer. 16 hour days just weren’t for me. The reaction I faced from many people when I told them about the career change I was making was one of shock. Many people were convinced that teaching was a much better “lifestyle”.

I would now like to dispel that myth. The exposure I have had to the teachers I’m working with over the last 5 weeks has taught me that teaching is all consuming. These people work damn hard for their students before school, during school, after school, late into the night and on weekends. So if you are looking for a work life balance, this probably isn’t the career for you.

Not that this is a problem for me, i really enjoy the satisfaction of putting together a lesson students enjoy or take something away from, and I’ve always been the person who pushes myself to go that extra mile. And I happen to be a geek, who thoroughly enjoys the pursuit of knowledge for it’s own sake.

What I do have an issue with, however, is the way in which teaching is “sold” as a career choice to younger people. Universities and teaching bodies promote it as a viable option for those who need work life balance, and who are after a workload which will allow them to put their family first. Unfortunately, this picture of teaching is so far removed from how involved and consumed in their teaching the good teachers are, that it could be either setting us pre service teachers up to fail (hence the high drop out rate within the first 3 years) or promoting a standard of teaching which isn’t consummate with the way in which students deserve to be taught. If we were a little more realistic in the workload which a good teacher will take on, the hours they will dedicate to lesson planning, assessment planning and marking, and unit programming, perhaps we would ensure the teaching profession attracts only those who are willing to take on this workload.

Maybe then people would stop telling me that I chose the right profession “because I get to knock off at 3:00”. If only they knew….