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!

 

 


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 second year teacher

Sometimes I have to pinch myself.

Was it really me this time last year in a frenzy of worksheets and with anxiety swirling in my stomach every time I thought about my Year 10 class?

Already halfway through Term 1, this year is flying past. My new goals and the new focus of my teaching, however, has left me wondering rather than worrying. My stress has turned to motivation and at the end of the day I am brimming with stories of enthusiasm rather than horror stories (mind you, there have been a couple of those recently).

This has made me wonder several things:
1. Will I start taking my brilliant classes for granted and become hardened?
2. Is my bubble about to burst? and
3. Seriously, this is considered WORK?

Dilemma #1

I have an Advanced Year 11 class and an extension Year 10 class this year. The biggest issue for students in both classes is the level of confidence they have and their willingness to attempt new things time and time again, even when they fail. I am studying the poet Donne with my Year 10 class and they are loving it, but they baulk every time they come across an unfamiliar word. I’m trying to teach them to read in context, and slowly, slowly they are catching on. I do love their enthusiasm though (and their giggles as we talk about sexual innuendo). They are also far more willing to take creative risks that my Year 11 class-we wrote conceits of our own last week and they embraced the challenge.
At the beginning of the year I was amazed by how much I enjoyed my classes; I was intellectually stimulated by the questions they asked and I could concentrate on teaching and learning rather than crowd control. Now though, my expectations are different; I’m disappointed when the kids don’t appear to be enjoying the learning, I’m disenchanted when getting through the material takes longer than I expected, I’m disheartened when I feel like continuity has been broken or when I’m unable to get the students to connect their learning.
Whereas, last year, small wins in my troublesome classes were so rewarding, now it takes something astounding to feel as though I’ve made a tangible difference for these kids.

Dilemma #2

When I had a meeting with my Head Teacher recently, she mentioned that the stress of an advanced class was yet to hit me as it was more about the pressure teachers of these classes place upon themselves rather than the pressure from external forces. I have this ominous feeling which seems like a hawk that’s circling, closing in.
What I do know is that my Year 11s have improved tenfold since the beginning of the year. We’ve focused on specific things and there has been rapid growth in those areas. Their confidence is increasingly, albeit incrementally, but they are still reluctant to volunteer information or discuss. Everything I get from them must be drawn out painfully.
I just wonder, when they submit their first assessment task, will how hard I have pushed them be hard enough? Will the amount of GROWTH matter, considering there is no real measure of growth? Or will the reliance on raw scores be my undoing?

Dilemma #3

I think I’m annoying people at work; I walk (sometimes I skip, I kid you not) around the school with a grin plastered on my face in the mornings. I love being there. I’m relaxed, I’m confident in what I’m teaching, I’m not paranoid that there’s always someone at my back, waiting for me to do the wrong thing (I mean, that person is possibly still there, but I’m far more willing to take them on than I was before!) and I’m much more assertive with both students and staff members.
The kids make each and every minute of my day, whether it be that they make me annoyed, they make me laugh or they make me think, they are the centre of my school universe.
It annoys my friends and family no end that I couldn’t imagine anything more exciting than doing school work. Not only do they think that I need to seek counseling about an inability to separate work and home life, but they is also jealous of the room that school occupies in my headspace constantly. Because it’s something they can’t relate to, could never understand nor sympathise with my genuine interest in the kid who serves me at the supermarket, whom I stop to talk to for 10 minutes when they want to go home, nor the way I respond instantly to kids’ emails or edmodo comments, yet can take hours to answer their texts (oops!).

There we are then, the perils of being a second year teacher. No more am I likely to be pushed out a window… but the challenges presented by this year in my career are, in some ways, even more daunting.


Why I Blog

Recently, whilst writing the comment “Must practise writing analytical and creative responses” numerous times on reports, I realised that as an English teacher, it is also my professional responsibility to ensure I too am regularly writing. And I’m not talking about modeling paragraph structure in class or writing examples to show students. I’m referring to writing analytical and creative responses to a university standard.

Blogging is something which keeps me mentally stimulated and engaged in my teaching. I not only get the chance to write analytically and reflectively, but, as we always encourage kids to seek out, it is for an authentic audience which also places certain demands upon a writer.

I will often also engage in creative writing when I set my classes a task. For example, during writing journal time if the students are settled and confident in what they are doing, I will also complete the task. However, I feel that this is something I don’t do enough of, and it is a professional development opportunity I will definitely be seeking out in 2013.


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”.


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.

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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!

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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”.


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.


Languages conference: Day One

Thursday and Friday this week I was lucky enough to attend a conference for DEC new scheme languages teachers, held in Sydney (incidental holiday). Day one was a HUGE day. I left Deniliquin at 3 am for Albury, flew to Sydney, attended the conference, and then went and ate a LOT of different types of food in the afternoon (felt it was very fitting that I exposed myself to a range of different cultural cuisines!).

The best part of the first day was meeting so many other teachers-both new scheme (who could sympathize with some of the difficulties I am having) and more experienced teachers and head teachers, who were happy to provide me with advice, resources, and ideas about teaching languages. For me, this networking opportunity was particularly valuable. As those of you who read my blog frequently would know, I am the only languages teacher at my school. I have a very very supportive HT, however, she is an English teacher, and doesn’t have experience teaching LOTE. She tries her very best to assist wherever she can, but having other opportunities to gain leadership from LOTE head teachers is something I really appreciate.

I also managed to find other rural languages teachers to link up with via video conferencing and edmodo (and possibly an excursion….) in order to broaden my students’ knowledge of other cultures, and establish connections beyond Deni. As you can imagine, country kids can be slightly insular because they are so geographically (and culturally) isolated. But it is not only a concern for students, but also myself. Being able to chat to other teachers in Italian and in German was also helpful for me. I am constantly in fear that I will forget the fundamentals of my second languages through lack of practice. Establishing these connections (and there is even talk of us going to Europe to teach English over the summer holidays for professional development!) will allow me to practice and maintain my knowledge of both vocab and the cultural conventions, despite my opportunities in Deni in this regard being limited.

These connections will really help my kids to participate in more meaningful and authentic tasks (rather than exercises-a distinction which has been reinforced over the conference) meaning that kids can have an authentic audience for something like:
1. Introducing themselves in Italian
2. Recording and narrating a tour of the school or a place in town
3. Peer assessment of other students
4. Demonstrating their intercultural understanding

I have come away from Day One extremely excited!