Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Positions of Strength

Sometimes it feels like secondary schools are drowning in a tsunami of anxiety and depression. Friends and family often ask me why. They wonder what’s “wrong with” today’s teens. I don’t have the answers but after 10 years in the classroom, it certainly feels like poor mental health is the elephant in our classrooms.

Is it down to lifestyle? Better reporting and awareness? Is it the result of helicopter and bulldozer parenting? Possibly it’s a combination of all of these factors, which has created a perfect storm resulting in unwell and unhappy teens. Whatever the cause, we should all be concerned.

Late last year, I attended a workshop led by Otago Boys’ High School teacher Adrienne Buckingham around strength-based teaching. Increasingly, I’ve been concerned about my students (especially those faced with gruelling assessment schedules) tendency to give up, their inability to embrace learning as a process and the resulting spiral towards poor mental health.  I’d been oscillating between frustration at their lack of resilience and concern for their fragile mental state.

The workshop was a light bulb moment.

Adrienne has a degree in psychology and recently took time out of teaching to upskill in the psychology around positive education. This resulted in the introduction of mental fitness option for Year 10 students at her school aimed at introducing students to character strengths and exploring how to apply those in the classroom (and outside). Like many of us, Adrienne was interested in developing a programme that was robust and evidence-based. Several emails later, she recommended attending the Positive Education New Zealand Conference in April.

There I learned more about the importance of resilience, emotional regulation and character strengths from experts such as child psychologists Dr. Emma Woodward and positive education trailblazer Charles Scudamore, Vice-Principal of Geelong Grammar School.

Suddenly, my observations and gut instincts were affirmed. Yes, I was teaching in an age of anxiety but there are things teachers can do to help students navigate those challenges. More importantly in some ways for those of us bound by systems, I now had a research-based framework to work with.

Over the past two months I’ve been trialling some of the ideas gleaned from experts and generous colleagues with my Year 9 form class. I squeezed a week into the programme at the start of this term to introduce them to the concept of character strengths, complete a survey generating a profile of their strengths and then, exploring ways they can apply their unique combination of strengths to their learning.

It’s early days. The challenge now is to embed the language in my teaching practice and provide opportunities for them to develop their new-found awareness. A wall display featuring their individual strengths takes pride of place in our classroom. Despite my misgivings, they loved reviewing each other’s strengths and which I’ve presented as their “Top 5 Superpowers.”

In terms of application, I was keen to end the week with some application so we did some group work, ostensibly around exploring strengths further but also, enabling me to create groups based on complementary strength combinations rather than randomised group placement.

The kid who’d been on a discipline card for the past six weeks (and scored high in zest and humour) was given the role of Timekeeper (keeping the group on task and checking the time), the girl whose top strength is leadership was the Organiser (in charge of summarising findings and reporting back) the quieter student with high social intelligence was the Encourager (tasked with getting everyone in the group to participate) and the girl with appreciation of beauty as her top strength was the Presenter in charge of creating the group’s poster.

Sure the logistics took time, and matching strengths to roles a bit subjective, but it was the best group work session they’ve done all year – best in terms of what engagement levels, co-operation and the all-important classroom buzz.

The challenge now is to find ways to actively embed our explorations into learning. I shared their Top 5 with core teachers who I’ve spoken to informally – some were really interested, others not so much.

As a class, their top three strengths were: curiosity, humour and zest. This didn’t surprise me at all! But as their English teacher and their form teacher in charge of pastoral care,  knowing this will help me to develop lessons that resonate and, hopefully, help me to communicate more effectively with them.

My BIG hope is that when they turn up in my English class in three years time, they will at least have an awareness that they do have strengths, experience of how to use them to their advantage, and just maybe, that knowledge will help them build resilience which in turn will help keep them well and engaged with learning – as journey not a destination.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Writing essays is a core skill for secondary school students. By Years 12 and 13 students should ideally be able to express sophisticated ideas coherently and effectively.

But back in Year 9 and 10, basic structure can be an issue before we even get to developing ideas, making self to text connections and all the other good stuff that displays deep level thinking.

My Year 9 class are typically (I hope) diverse. The 27 learners span three curriculum levels. Differentiation is key – how to keep the more able students extended while also supporting less able writers to gain confidence in paragraphing and essay structure. Agh – one of me, many, many of them and many, many needs.

At the end of term I targeted three students with learning challenges that make writing an essay, even one planned together as a class and scaffolded on the whiteboard with starter sentences for each paragraph, an ordeal. So while the rest of the class used the whiteboard prompts and class brainstorm, (uploaded to their notebook using Office Lens) I set them up with a three part lesson on Class Notebook.

In a bid to make it somewhat funky, I used password protect to lock sections in the content library. The first section was pretty much a confidence builder that ended with a code word that would enable them to proceed to the next section.

You can password protect section using OneNote desktop version (not online) by selecting the Review tab in OneNote then clicking the Password button. A Password Protection pane appears at the right side of the window. Select the Set Password button, enter a password in the two fields on the Password Protection window and click OK. If that’s confusing, I recommend this tutorial on the Microsoft Educator’s page.

Remember – this option is only available in the desktop version of Microsoft 2016 or 2010. You can’t password protect sections online and you can’t password protect pages. As I had trouble distributing those sections to student’s individual notebook, I simply got them to copy and paste each section into their own notebooks – after they had cracked the code.

I organised the sections around the essay writing process: planning, drafting, publishing.

The drafting section had coloured headers reminding students what the purpose of each each part of the essay. There were prompts in brackets to get them from sentence to sentence. This was a bit clunky and I had to read it to 2/3 students (although they could have used immersive reader if they had headphones) but we got there after two hours. The third student doesn’t like attention being drawn to the fact they are doing alternative work so they sat with their friends and worked through the sections – no drama.

Once they had written each body paragraph, the students copied that to a third page (publishing) removed the blue headers and bracketed prompts to create a coherent, fluid piece of writing. Time was tight at the end and I wish they’d used immersive reader to help proof and edit as some left the instructions in but that’s par for the course.

I have spent time these holidays giving them individual feedback in the third section. Student X has audio files to listen to – short and to the point, Student Y has stickers and tags indicating parts to review and Student Z has coloured writing and emojis at the end of each paragraph – I went for what I know works best for each of them.

The screen shots will be fuzzy but here’s what it looked like:

 

Part One – plan essay

 

Enter code to proceed

 

Part two – scaffolded draft

 

Part three – remove prompt and publish

 

Student X feedback

Student Y feedback

 

Student Z feedback

A year ago I posted a unit of work around the memoir I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzi and Patricia McCormick. This was designed for an able class of 15 year olds with a focus on flipped learning to promote deeper thinking of concepts featured in the book.

The unit was designed to end with a collaborative social justice project where students could focus on a social justice crusader of their choice, make a Sway and present it to the class.

But schools being schools, interruptions to the timetable meant we never made it to the self-directed task at the end.

This year, I was determined to squeeze it in and am utterly convinced of the benefits of collaborative learning. The current issue of Teen Breathe Magazine cites collaborative learning as a great self motivator and with lots of sickness last term and general end of term malaise setting in, I found the assignment really worthwhile.

Students encouraged and supported each other, shared ideas and learned from each other.  I took a hands off approach until presentation day simply helping as needed and encouraging students to share trouble shooting successes and design tips which I projected onto the whiteboard. The entire unit plus links to Sway tutorials were accessible via a page in their Class Notebook. Students could work on their Sways concurrently via sharing a link and from home.

While many opted to focus on Malala (totally okay as we all get tired at the end of term!) other individuals also featured. There are three ways they could set up their Sway:

  • Use a template from the Sway homepage
  • Create a word document with sub-headings and upload
  • Start from scratch via storyline function
  • Start from topic – banned this option as the work is done for them!

I was impressed with their ability to quickly work out the creative aspects of Sway such as image stacking and inserting video. As presenting skills is part of the junior English course, there were discussions around suitable colour and font choice so they were tapping into prior knowledge of visual and verbal features from earlier in the year when they made film posters.

Looking ahead to NCEA, there are achievement standards in various subjects that require students to make and submit visual presentations. Many default to PowerPoint but this group will hopefully consider Sway as an option.

As well as encouraging critical thinking, providing opportunities to develop digital literacy and, to collaborate and create, the presentation was attended by their Social Studies teacher allowing for great cross curricular chat too.

Social Justice Assignment

Here’s a selection of 10TA’s Social Justice Sways:

Georgie and Julia – Greta Thunberg

Tane and Logan – Malala Yousafzi

Lily and Shyah – Malala Yousafzi

Billy and Hamish – Martin Luther King (link coming!)

 

 

Learning and Tools

In New Zealand’s state schools, teachers are increasingly faced with larger class sizes, a diverse range of learning and behavioural needs and the requirement to include special needs learners into the classroom environment.

Although ORS students tend to come with a teacher aide (although not 100% of the time), the expectation remains that we will find ways to include special needs students into mainstream classes. Sometimes this can be to meet social needs, other times academic goals and sometimes a mixture of both – although not generally to levels we would expect of mainstream students.

This year I’ve been trying to find quick and easy ways to provide bespoke tasks so that a teacher aide supporting a Student with autism can do so in a meaningful and age appropriate way.  At 14, Student X is keen to have work that in some way resembles what is peers are working on.

This term that involved a novel study of Fleur Beale’s Slide the Corner.

Based on the novel’s content, I devised a series of lessons using Microsoft’s Learning Tools to provide a series of bite sized lessons for X to work on while we focussed on essay writing.

Using a picture of a Lego car,  the Student began by labelling car parts on a paper handout:

Step d.png

Then, with his aide’s help, he completed a cloze paragraph filling the gaps with words from a word bank to write a paragraph about the main character, Greg

Step e

Finally, using the same syntactical structure, he was then prompted to complete a paragraph supplying similar details details about himself.

Step f

I then copied and paste the word document into a OneNote in X’s Class Notebook.

That’s when the real fun began! Using Immersive Reader, the paragraphs were read back to him.

step b.png

At this point, Student X’s expression was one of sheer incredulity. He was simply delighted to hear “his” work read aloud. I showed him and the teacher aide how to adjust the gender and speed of the speaker (he was similarly enthralled by the tortoise and hare icons).

Finally, I demonstrated to the aide and student how to use the dictate function. This allowed X to tell the computer what to type. X was asked to tell the PC what he thought about the lesson – a very basic reflection as his processing is pretty much surface level so he has a very literal world view. We discussed his response verbally first.

I’m  hopeful that both the student and aide will use these amazing Learning Tools again – at least in English but also other subjects too. (The only issue we had was that some of the school laptops had not been updated to run Windows 10  a- simple fix but it pays to check first to ensure microphones are accessible.)

 

step 3

Short and Sweet

I stumbled across this wee gem a few weeks ago courtesy of the New Zealand Book Council.

Each Friday, the council releases a list of six words via twitter and invites followers to write a short poem or witticism then tweet it with the #ramereshorts tag. The words are tweeted at 9am and the “winner” announced by 5pm.

I trialled this with my Year 10 extension class last week and while some found the concept challenging initially, all jotted down an offering by the end of 15 minutes – a great starter for creative writing/poetry units when discussing brevity, connotations and best words in best order.

I published my favourites with their first names only then showed them the likes and retweets on Monday. They were more engaged then! (Ah the gratification).

It was interesting to see the variety of work produced in that short time. I’m not sure if it was the words provided or the proximity in timing to the Christchurch mosque massacre but most of the class produced writing with strong messages of hope and redemption. Lovely to read.

I’d recommend this activity as a start for Years 9-13 – of course you’d need a twitter account and their permission to tweet on their behalf. (Only 1/30 had their own account). Here’s a selection of those tweeted:

 

And the winner:

 

RS winner

9BM are a diverse range of learners, several with high literacy needs. I’ve been dreading the end of novel essay knowing how hard it would be for many of them.

Last year I used Immersive Reader and Learning Tools with a student with behavioral and literacy needs to keep him engaged so this week, adapted that approach for literary essays.

Initially I planned to use this strategy with one student but at the end of Monday’s lesson, became aware there were at least another two students who would benefit from the heavily scaffolded approach developed using Dictate, Editor Pane, Read Aloud and text highlighting functions as well as Class Notebook to distribute the “lesson” to students.

Here’s how I broke it down for them (this took me one 30 minutes break to set up).

As a class we brainstormed ideas about our character and wrote an introduction together. Using Office Lens I took photos off the white board and sent the files to One Note then copied them into our Class Notebook. This is helpful for revision at the end of the year as well as being accessible for the two students who were absent that day.

GetImage

class brainstorm

 

GetImage (1)

annotated collective introduction

Instructions were then shared with the two students who needed support by using the Distribute Page function in Class Notebook.

Step 1

Students typed the introduction into a One Note in their own folder.

step 1

Step 2

Students finished sentences for each of the paragraphs in the essay.

 

Step 2

Step 3

Students then had to go back and highlight the S.E.X. and Y sentences in their first body paragraph. This was so they could show me they understood the function of each sentence in the paragraph.

 

Step 3

Step 4

Students copied and paste the paragraphs to lower down the page, took out my instructions and backspaced to run the sentences into paragraphs.

 

Step 4

Using Read Aloud, they listened to their essay read aloud and corrected any wrong/missing words.

Step 5

They then copied and paste into a word document and, using the Editor Pane were able to see any spelling and grammar errors and correct as needed.

 

Step 6

Finally, they printed their finished essays and have filed away for later use.

We used a quiet space outside the classroom while the rest of class worked from the board using starter sentences. The students had to hold the laptops close and speak clearly when using Dictate. Some of the words were typed incorrectly but with Read Aloud, it was obvious where the wrong words were (drain for dream for instance).

Hopefully now my students are familiar with the tools used they’ll become more confident at using them independently.

To finish the lesson I played back one of the student’s essay to the rest of the class, using that as an opportunity to boost her confidence and show the rest of the class how to use Immersive Reader and the Editor Pane.

I believe these students gained a sense of satisfaction from the process and one in particular felt a huge sense of achievement. She can’t wait to show “her” essay to her parents tonight.

#winning

 

 

 

Pesky parts of speech

From primary school years, children are taught the difference between nouns and verbs, then adjectives and adverbs, possibly prepositions and articles.

Why then at secondary school, do we find many students still confused over identifying parts of speech?

And does it matter?

It matters because as students progress through the NZC, our aim is that they will be able to provide insightful analysis on author’s purpose. This means they can independently analyse entire texts (or extracts) and figure out what they writer is trying to say and why. The how they do this then becomes important. Tone and style (more concepts for senior students) are inextricably linked to diction and language features.

In NCEA examinations one of three externally assessed standards for English is Unfamiliar Text. Many students avoid it due to lack of confidence in the simple act of identifying and then explaining the effect of diction, language features and structural devices.

I suspect that although students are “taught” various writing devices over the years, it is the application of that skill that is the real challenge.

And thinking beyond the lines is certainly challenging if students are not hooked in to reading by this stage.

For revision, I’m going to use a triple app combo (selling it!) to bolster confidence at close reading texts in my Year 9 students. Using Office Lens, OneNote and Flipgrid, I’ve developed a lesson that aims to revise parts of speech identification and then, consider the effect of the writer’s choices working initially collectively and then independently.

  1. Via my phone, use OfficeLens, take a pic of a passage from a novel we studied in class.
  2. Send it to their shared ClassNotebook.
  3. Students log in and silently read the passage
  4. Instruct students to use the highlighter to highlight nouns purple, verbs red, adjectives green and adverbs yellow.
  5. Then instruct students to open the same passage in Immersive Reader (under view in OneNote)
  6. Go to Grammar Options icon top right. Turn the various parts of speech on.
  7. Students can then compare their selections to the correct answer. The colours I selected are the same as those used in Immersive Reader to help visual learners.
  8. On the whiteboard, make a list of all the nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs in the passage.
  9. In pairs, ask students to discuss the connotations of adverbs and adjectives.
  10. As a class discuss the following: How did the character feel at this point? How did you know? What was the effect on you – did you feel sorry for him? Excited? Happy? What words made you feel like that?
  11. Give students a starter sentence and instruct them to write a passage in their writing journals explaining the writer’s purpose.
  12. For homework, share a flipgrid code featuring a topic asking them to give examples of parts of speech that created a sad mood in the same passage.
  13. Discuss in class the following day.

This task could then lead on to revision of the novel itself – in particular we could use it as a springboard to an essay on character. Working smarter is the key at this end of the year, right?