lforner


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 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.


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.


Fun with Shakespeare

 This term, my low literacy class and I faced the prospect of battling and struggling through Shakespeare for 8 weeks. Instead, it turned out to be an experience students thoroughly enjoyed through utilising Elizabethan culture to make scenes from Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth concrete, understandable and accessible for the kids.

I focused our study of Romeo and Juliet around the class and gender division in society at the time and how this manifested in things such as celebrations, food, language and clothing. We looked at the scene at the language used to address each other in Romeo and Juliet (especially the servants, the way the nurse could be taunted without consequence and the way the older rich males were spoken to and obeyed) and the scene in which Romeo is asked if he can read by a servant. This gave context for an investigation and discussion of the education in the time of Shakespeare. 

Next we looked at the ball scene and how it explored the entertainment of the upper classes during the period. We read/acted out the scene and then it was the students’ job to design a feast which would be eaten at this ball ( see worksheet: Design a feast for the Capulet Ball). To give them the background to do this, we watched an episode of the series ‘Supersizers Go Elizabethan’  available on YouTube, which provided them with information about eating habits, courses and meals.

We then used Macbeth to investigate All things unnatural including witchcraft, religion and kings and queens as ‘gods’. Students divided into groups and investigated something which interested them about the sentences delivered to witches, the kings and queens of the time, or the religious wars which waged. Students then examined the original script and the representation of the witches in 3 different productions of Macbeth using a YouTube clip, and after this had to come up with the staging and costuming of the first scene in the play for a Shakespearean audience(see the Globe stage diagrams I developed). In order to be able to do this, students needed background about what the Globe Theatre was like in this period. They used this The Globe Theatre interactive site and digital worksheet to investigate this.

Please feel free to use the resources I developed during this unit which are attached on this page, but do give Creative Commons credit where it is due.


Integrating technology into Year 8 Drama

My year 8 English class had the benefit of a technology enriched assessment task at the conclusion of their drama unit in term 2.
Students wrote and filmed a monologue using the class set of iPod touches. I then viewed each of these videos and marked them on their use of body language, voice, movement, etc.

Because we had already done quite a lot of performance in front of peers, I felt they weren’t missing out by not having an audience for their monologue performance, and the technology facilitated completing the assessment in one lesson as opposed to the 4 lessons other teachers had to dedicate to it. The technology also forced them to practice their monologue. Many of them were horrified when they watched their first playback. They were allowed to have 5 attempts at recording their monologues, and they had to show me their first and last recording, between which there was a marked improvement!

The students then used their recording on the devices, along with headphones, to reflect upon their performance and analyse it in the same way we had analysed monologues being performed in films or during our in class reading of the play being studied.

Students were given a scaffold and were asked to reflect upon the elements of drama they were familiar with from weeks of study. The technology really assisted this process, as many of them were able to scrutinise particular parts of their performance through rewinding, fast forwarding, pausing, and viewing multiple times, allowing them to also make detailed suggestions for improvement.

Students gave feedback about the assessment, a part of which was about the use of technology in the process, which they said helped them to analyse their performance more effectively, and also enabled them to feel more comfortable during their performance as they could practice several times, view themselves, and then make improvements.

Although it was only a simple addition of technology to the assessment task, it enabled meaningful reflection to occur and allowed students to become more cognizant of the importance of dramatic conventions through the ability to view, discard and improve.


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!


Dragging the universities up to speed.

As many of you who read my blog or follow me on twitter would know, improving teacher education is something I am keenly interested in. I have previously blogged about the need for increased technology integration and more emphasis on developing a supportive PLN during Preservice, and boosting the self efficacy of early career teachers. in addition to this, many of you will also know about the research being conducted with mentoring Preservice teachers on twitter with some lovely people from my PLN.

Recently I was asked to help out with a project at university that a lecturer of mine is running which would indicate that some people out there in higher Ed are hearing the call to provide these essential ingredients in Preservice teacher education (with the exception of course of @sthcrft @rellypops and @djplanner – who are already all over it).

I have been asked to reconstruct a website to be used in the methodology course to educate Preservice teachers at macquarie uni in English and literacy, and is also available to those teachers and interested parties who aren’t enrolled at the uni but can register for free. Ideally, the site will soon be open access, but as a free provider of resources, links, apps and forum space for interaction between teachers and Preservice students, the project already holds a lot of potential.

The value lies in not only the provision of these resources, links, apps, programs etc which encourage teachers and students to become more familiar with technology and comfortable using it in their classroom, but also an evaluative component which directs users to the most valuable sections of said resource/app/site/blog and tips on HOW it will be useful in the classroom. In my own experience of exploring technology, I’ve found that the most valuable blogs are the ones which provide this evaluative element rather than just lists. I think it also encourages and models reflective practice-if you have to justify it’s importance, you have to use those higher order skills yourself and hopefully promote them in your students.

I am finding though, that narrowing down the possibly millions of resources and apps out there which are potentially useful for English teachers is a mammoth task. I am planning to model best practice here (and show others the power of technology in collaborating and producing valuable resources) and ask my PLN for their assistance. The more teachers who help out, the greater the potential will be for this site to provide support and ideas for teachers in your school, and because it is university endorsed, it will hopefully mean that it is given more credence than sites run by commercial organizations (though the money-hungry nature of universities often concerns me!) and that it will pave the way for an increased technology component in many other Preservice courses!

Please, if you have any suggestions at all which will assist teachers with English, drama or literacy (at any level) contact me on twitter (@LaurenForner) or leave a comment below. I look forward to working with you all!


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?