Funny sometimes how the classes you lose the most sleep over end up being the most rewarding. Last “holidays” I tried to devise a new approach to teaching formal writing with a class of 28 mixed ability Year 10 learners which features an ORRS student, 2 ESOL students and 8 SENCO tagged learners with a variety of learning challenges.

As a group BOY formative testing showed they struggled to unpack ideas in reading, and without an idea, it’s hard to form opinions and without opinions it’s difficult to be persuasive – you get the drift!

I recalled that at the end of Term 2, the entire Year 10 cohort had workshops with guest speakers from Police and other agencies about cyberbullying. It struck me I should start with something they had discussed recently an were likely to have an opinion on. In a real aha moment, I came across 2 FREE DVD teaching resources on the NetSafe website complete with downloadable worksheets. Perfect – these guys love visual starters so the seed was sown.

My objective was to help students progress their formal writing skills by developing ideas around a class wide topic – the perils of cyberbullying. As well as watching the DVDs, I provided opportunities to develop ideas and conduct research together to ensure they ALL had facts to back up their opinions while at the same time exposing them to a heap of valuable online resources. The lesson outline was a mixture of core skills and ideas development that went something like this:

Lesson 1 – SEXY para revision via reflective writing in journal based on TVNZ reporters sharing their experiences: Do celebrities deserve the same rights to privacy online?, formal vs informal language, paragraphing using BBC Skillwise site.

Lesson 2 – SEXY para revision based on Sexting clip: Why is sexting dangerous?, Tone – rewrite a bogus school report, Research Skills discuss ACC (authenticity, credibility, currency) show tree octopus and the “True” Martin Luther King website, show students how to do keyword searches, show students how domain names give clues to authenticity, Research trash and treasure hunt – find 3 facts about cyber bullying in New Zealand

Lesson 3 – Watch Tagged, write own definitions for bullying and cyber bullying, check actual definitions, friend request worksheet from Tagged, Role of bystander – write a SEXY para in journal: Why don’t people stop bullying when they see it?

Lesson 4 –  SEXY para The dangers of stereotyping via YouTube Clip Other People’s Shoes. Class discussion Why do people follow the Queen Bee? Watch Tagged webcam character interviews, completed timelines, profiles and what’s the status worksheets/activities.

Lesson 5 – Watch Let’s Fight it Together, answer focus questions in groups, devise solutions as mind map, watch character interviews on DVD, blow up character questions to A3 complete in groups, Share. Hand in journals for feedback on week’s reflective para. (Give feedback on SEXY structure and explanation of ideas)

Lessons 6 – Complete THINK worksheet and discuss as class, revise language features via Pimp my writing, write 2 sentences in journals. Issue task: We need to get tougher on cyber bullying.

Lesson 7 – Complete research worksheet in pairs in class using websites supplied.

Lesson 8 – Spelling rules starter, draft intro and BP1: What is cyber bullying and how big is the problem in NZ?

Lessons 9 – Spelling rules, Draft BP 2: What are the effects of cyber bullying? and BP 3: What is being done to stop cyber bullying?

Lesson 10 Draft conclusion (think about causes, effects, solutions) hand in for feedback, discuss feedback with students

Lesson 11 and 12 – craft, edit, publish, submit

During the 5 assessment sessions, our ORS student was working on his own presentation about cyber bullying using MySimpleShow which he presented on the last day of term – and it was awesome. He told his teacher aide what to type, they selected pics together and presented it. The other students were gobsmacked!

As for those stuck with the essay assessment, the results showed improvements in terms of summative assessment but for me, the real results were less tangible and included:

  • addressing issues within the class between different clicks by using THINK
  • establishing who specifically their own “trusted” adults are
  • reaffirming the sanctity of their own bodies and how they most respect themselves
  • crossover with Health and PE. Students were getting double exposure of key concepts and ideas

Here are extracts from some of my favourite essays – regardless of where they sit on the curriculum scale, I’d like to think they learned a few valuable lessons during the process:

We definitely have to get tough on cyberbullying. The victims of cyberbullying are getting younger and younger. Cyberbullying is no game. It’s not something you do as a joke; it’s serious and pointless. Cyberbullying destroys people and makes them feel unimportant.

Cyberbullying is when someone uses social media or technology to bully and put someone else down. By using this method the bully can hide behind the screen instead of having to confront the victim face to face. My opinion is that if you have a problem with someone, you should sort it out then and there, face to face and not cower behind a screen and bully others without having the guts to say things to their face.

Cyberbullying is when people decide to bully other people online with technology and turn it against each other to make a horrible situation for the victim or victims. Cyberbullying gets worse at high school where 25% of students report they are constantly cyber bullied, 30% say they have sexted and 67% say they have been asked to sext. The most common type of cyber bullying is using cell phones because 80% of high school students use them.  Cyber bullying is most common with girls. An example of this is in the Tagged film when two girls start cyberbullying the victim as a “joke.” Clearly, cyberbullying is a vicious game that needs to be taken seriously.

The effects of cyberbullying are long term and potentially deadly. In Dunedin, a 14 year old girl received 150 threats to kill herself in three hours. In another incident, a 15 year old girl on tumblr was asked for tips and messages on how to kill herself. People who get cyberbullied fell depressed and can end up self-harming. Most of them can’t handle being cyberbullied. In my opinion, cyberbullying is pathetic and cowardly. The victims have a whole life ahead of them. They shouldn’t have to put up people bullying them. If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

There are now multiple places for victims to get support such as websites like nobullying.com or helplines like 0800WHATSUP. There is also a programme called Sticks and Stones started by young people in Alexandra. These are all for people in need of someone to talk to and get help to prevent further problems around cyberbullying.

In conclusion, I think cyberbullying is a gutless way of putting someone down. If you wouldn’t say it to their face, don’t say it at all. Cyberbullying ruins lives and you don’t want that sort of guilt on your hands.




My school has an extremely rich oral language programme. Junior classes are assessed on prepared reading, formal speaking and impromptu speaking over three terms. And no, they don’t exactly love it. Last year we opted to introduce debating to the Year 9 programme to spice things up a little. We generally do this right after or right before formal writing so have found it really helps with forming and justifying opinions.

My Year 9s have been under the pump somewhat so our debating unit is being condensed down to just two lessons, 1 prep session and 2 for assessing this year (too many interruption in an already short term). Given that impromptu speaking is a nightmare scenario for some and ,even those who profess to loving it (because they love arguing!) often have to be guided towards the nuances of structuring a logical argument!

The first introductory lesson was simply to introduce them to debating concepts, watching clips of our junior debaters at the Dunedin Schools Debating Competition while applying concepts (so using pause and asking – what is the moot? Are they affirmative or negative? What is the team line? What are their main points etc). I also love this downloadable powerpoint which uses building a house as a metaphor for debating.

I came across this awesome great TedTalk by Christopher Bell (see below) last week and used it for my second lesson which ran pretty much like this:

  1. Human continuum – do you think we have gender equality in NZ in 2016?
  2. Watch the talk – dot and jot 3 reasons Bell says girls need superheroes
  3. Four corners – I strong agree/agree/disagree/strongly disagree that we have gender equality in NZ. Each group write down 6 bullet points justifying opinion, read out. Ask students to swap corners if they find themselves being convinced to update their opinion.
  4. Tag Team – groups of five, each person must speak. Aim is 1 minute each but you can tag others in if running out of ideas, can’t be tagged in until everyone has had a turn. Same topic as before and use the online bomb countdown timer to time their presentation which must make 5 minutes between them.

That pretty much takes an hour and has got them:

  1. forming opinions
  2. explaining opinions
  3. working as a team
  4. getting comfortable standing up and speaking in front of peers

Looking forward to next week when they get to prep a debate over an hour then present for the assessment.



Revision Options

With our seniors heading into practice exams next week, there’s been the usual flurry of emails this weekend from students in various stages of panic. While I am more than happy to give feedback to students who have come to class, contributed, met milestones and generally brought something to the learning table, it’s a little harder to know how to help those with questions like”Can you help with dystopia? I’m really confused.”

Like I said, difficult to know where to begin.

We’ve a got a few months yet ’til externals so I hope their questions will become a little more refined in the near future! In the meantime, I’ve had a go at summarising an Achievement Standard via a web based presentation tool called mysimpleshow. This allows you to explain topics using a range of templates to create a short video. You supply the script (there’s a word count limit per slide so it tests your skills in brevity). The programme then matches your words with visuals which you can keep, delete or replace and even reads the script for you. If you don’t like the male American script readers, you can record your own. Each step is navigated via a set of tabs at the top of the page logically labelled: Summarise, Visualise, Add Audio, Finalise.

I’ve used similar tools in the past – ShowMe is a great one to use on iPad. I’ve used it for Slide the Corner,  The Whale Rider and Level 2 ConnectionsOfficeMix will do similar for Microsoft people. These programmes enable you to project directly off the site or if you’re worried about WiFi connectivity, you can download and save your presentation. Another plus for time-poor teachers is these sites feature collections of presentations made by others so you might find what you need ready to use! (A bit like SlideShare).

Curation sites such as ScoopIt, which I love for students looking to elevate their thinking and make independent reflections on the text, are also helpful at this time of the year. It’s also handy for saving all the sites you bookmark for a topic in a more visually appealing space.

Mysimpleshow combines text, visual and audio elements catering for a range of learners. You can elect to turn subtitles on or off – I put them on – and choose the speed of the speaker. I view it as a starting point to get students focused on key concepts. For my subject area at least, students will always have to engage with material, develop their knowledge and then synthesise and express their ideas via a well structured written response but as we all know, starting if often the hardest bit!

Next time I teach these topics, before writing a practice essay, I’ll get students to hone their thoughts by creating their own  Simple Show – flipping the learning should enable them to reflect on the content in a meaningful way AND ensure they create their own revision resource for later in the year.  I’d call that a win:win.



Being Mindful

I’m not one for fads and one I’m hearing a lot of at the moment is mindfulness. At a recent English Teachers’ conference in Christchurch, keynote speaker Nathan Mikaere Wallis gave an entertaining presentation on the adolescent brain – pre-frontal cortex development, gender differences and the now widely-accepted fact that the brain doesn’t fully develop until the early to mid-twenties. At the crux of his presentation was communicating with young people in way that validates their feelings, and hence we hope, increases the likelihood of forming the types of positive relationships that are so crucial for learning.

Nathan’s three tips are:

  1. Calm the brain stem
  2. Validate emotions
  3. Cognitive training

I started thinking a lot about the first step in regards to a Year 10 class I teach this year. My class of 27 learners have many and varied literacy issues which makes English a challenge for many. Their not naughty so much as really challenged/intimidated by the subject content. They arrive late, take ages to settle, need lots of bathroom breaks (?), struggle to follow simple instructions and do not readily engage with many of the activities we’ve trialled this year – and we try lots. To be honest, some days, I feel as if I am in a scene from Monty Python…

In your writing journal X…

The one you write in …

Because we are writing ..

No about your holiday, not my holiday …

No not refill, your journal. With the red cover…

No you can’t go and get it from your locker, we’re 20 minutes into the lesson …

Okay, just use refill …

Yes you can use some of mine!

The amazing thing is that despite these challenges, our relationship is still generally positive. But I feel a sea change brewing. At the mid-way point, I fear I’m in danger of losing them as assessments mount and frustrations rise (for all of us).

I scribbled in my conference guide mindfulness activities and then, in a very unmindful manner, rushed off to the next workshop for more Aha! moments but never enough time to put them all in action. To be honest, I think I mentally shelved it after returning to school, surviving Week 1 and thinking, those kids will never go for that bumph.

But if the status quo isn’t working, you are forced to look outside the square. After scanning a set of podcasts, giggling at the image of practicing mountain breathing together, I’ve found a site I can see working. Not only will it enable me to incorporate mindfulness into the lessons, I can link activities with curriculum goals. The site is Mindful Teachers and it features heaps of ideas and resources. Here’s a few that could work for my cohort:

Five senses activities – precursor creative writing. Some of these we already do (like the eating one) and some we have trialled before (going for a walk and making lists of what you hear etc) but some are new (love the rainbow walk idea).

THINK Questionnaire – I plan to teach formal writing skills this term around cyber bullying using some really awesome NetSafe DVDs that will hopefully connect with a talk all Year 10s had last term from local police on this topic. The questionnaire will be a great starter and the focus questions can become quick writes for their journals (or refill?!) As these students often struggle with developing ideas, the more thinking they do around the subject, the better.

Non-competitive games – goes without saying that these guys prefer to be moving. They also have some pretty dysfunctional relationships and I’ve noticing more cliques forming in the class as well as the odd put down so anything that encourages a sense of unity/team building could also be helpful.

Community service projects – After hearing Jo Weggery (Mt Aspiring College) present at an Otago English Teachers’ Association day out last year, I’m very keen to do similar. Jo had also noticed how disconnected with the wider world her Year 10s were so developed a community project idea that involved a series of planning and promotional activities allowing some scope to tie in with required assessments but also build their sense of self-worth and community links. After exams last year, my Year 10s attempted their first NCEA Level 1 assessment, the Static Image task. It was a disaster. None of them passed (great intro to NCEA), we were moving around classrooms after a fire in the school hall meant our normal class had to be used for NCEA exams (and will gain this year). I would much rather do an activity like this later in the year. They can still make a static image but not for assessment. Because Taieri College is located in a small community outside Dunedin, there is plenty of scope for community service projects. We already have links with the Mosgiel community and just need to tap into them more. I see this as being more meaningful than a half-hearted attempt at a poster and much better for their personal growth and development as they prepare to head to NCEA in 2017.

So lot’s of scope there and I’m sure there are plenty of other resources with opportunities to look beyond bell ringing meditations to stimulating some synapses, calming that brain stem and awakening that pre-frontal cortex. I’d love to hear about resources others have tried too.


Famous last words in my previous post about using tried and trusted platforms for senior assessments. You would think having used WordPress since 2010, guiding six Year 9 classes through the process of blogging on Taieri Hot Reads and administering two sites that using this format for my Level 2 Media Studies recent Design and Plan a Media Product assessment would be a walk in the park.


I’m not sure if it was because they were working on streams rather than laptops/PCs but despite me projecting the entire set-up process and talking them through it, students had no end of problems setting up blogs with four separate pages representing each stage of the assessment.

Once again, I’m left worrying that the use of technology simply added to their angst when they should have been focussing on the content more – planning a film trailer using their knowledge of various conventions and feedback from me and their peers (hello comment function – seemed ideal?!).

In the worst case scenario, when the clock is ticking and no amount of creative thinking solves an issue for them, it pays to go back to basics so I suggested they avoid trying to add pages and simply put all four stages on the home page with clear headers so external agencies😉 can follow their planning. Having just had a quick check of some of their sites, it appears even that threw them.

Anyway, here’s a couple of the ones that are currently working to plan. They were due to submit them on the last day of term but were in such a tizz, I’m letting them tweak over the holidays and submit first day back – yay, lots of Week One marking for me.

Student X

Student Y

Student Z

Mixing it up

Back in May, I shared my plans for a Year 9 film analysis assignment using Microsoft 365’s Notebook and Office Mix. The last week of term was probably never the best time to execute this ambitious plan but nothing ventured nothing gained!

Overall, the class of able, very self-managing learners completed comprehensive analysis of Ang Lee’s Life of Pi via shared pages in a class notebook. The notebook also supplied them with extra reading on the role of religion in the film and commentary on coming of age genre as well as podcasts of interviews with both Ang Lee and Yann Martel so plenty of extra activities for early finishers🙂

I’ve uploaded half a dozen of the finished products to the Mix Gallery and on reflection, now the dust has settled, I’m pretty pleased with their efforts. We skipped an essay assessment (which we’ll complete next term) so the overall learning objective was for them to create a presentation that showcased their knowledge and understanding of the film, it’s messages and the effects of film-making techniques. (I’m hoping the hyperlinks work because you generally have to sign in to Microsoft to view stuff. If not try searching under Other – Life of Pi).

I briefed the students thoroughly before we embarked on the Office Mix creation about the need to help each other out, be patient when waiting for my assistance and encouraged them not to panic if technical issues prevented them from completing to the standard they wanted. This made a huge difference to how the next three lessons progressed as they proactively supported each other so was far less stressful than previous my experiences with other learners. In short, they are the exact right group of stuents to trial such learning opportunities.

I’ll summarise the pros and cons and you can judge for yourself if this was a worthwile use of two weeks of a jam packed term:


  • all five key competencies were demonstrated by all students
  • students have a comprehensive set of class notes for revision later in year
  • range of learning needs and styles catered for
  • students worked at own speed
  • collaborative environment flourished – students became teachers as we trouble shot technical issues together
  • students had a chance to work in a team and create an interactive presentation that will also form part of study notes (and may be easier for some to keep track of!)
  • when I was away for a day, this assignment was ideal for relief


  • some groups had issues working on the shared PowerPoint consecutively, especially when doing tasks for homework
  • some groups were unable to save their finished product to the school network (saving issues)
  • audio option was random – cut off while some students were talking. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason for the random cut offs – some recorded fins for over a minutes some cut off at 38 seconds?!
  • we used streams not surface pros so no access to stylus for annotating the plot graph although some tried free hand
  • I still have to teach them to write an essay!

Our next step will be to talk about creative commons. Only one group attributed their use of content from a secondary source. If this type of assignment becomes the preferred method to consolidate learning, it seems we need some school-wide education about the use of third party content.

Setting up an entire new course is not without its challenges. One of the biggest issues getting our Level 2 Media Studies course up and running this year has been integrating technology into as many assessments as possible. Although we are not a 1:1 or BYOD school (yet), students have access to HP streams. I feel it is really important that if students sign up for a subject like Media Studies, they are offered a range of technologies as part of the learning process. As a teacher, this sometimes entails lots of trial and error getting to grips with various hardware/software/gear/platforms/programmes before guiding students through the process.

At the moment, the class are working on a standard that involves designing and planning a media product. Next term, they will use that planning to make the product. Their task is to produce dystopian film trailers of 2-3 minutes duration. Before they can do that, there are several checkpoints to get feedback from me/their peers on their planning documents.

To make it even more real, we were lucky enough to visit internationally-acclaimed television production company NHNZ this week where they heard first-hand the importance of sound planning in the moving image production process. They also got valuable careers advice and a tour of the production facility which left them gobsmacked!

Reading through online discussions between Media Studies teachers, it seems gathering evidence is one of the toughest aspects of successfully offering this standard. The TKI task we’re using suggested blogging. Although we are a Microsoft school, I opted not to use OneNote for this activity due to the ease of sharing with people (moderators) outside the organisation. Instead, students have set up WordPress sites and are slowly getting to grips with adding posts as well as uploading documents.

We used Office Forms to survey our target audience and they’ll insert links to responses (all wonderfully collated and summarised in graphic form) into their first post as proof they have considered target audience in their planning. This was pretty straightforward although having done a whole uni paper on survey methods and efficacy, I wish we’d had more teaching time around creating robust surveys before they sent them out! I suppose flaws in the wording of some questions can be part of the feedback process. Certainly a teachable moment about how people can manipulate questions to get desired responses …

The benefits of using WordPress for this assessment are:

  • posts are time coded providing evidence the assessment has taken place over a period of time (never long enough though!)
  • students can name pages to reflect the four stages of this assessment (concept, treatment, production schedule, pre-production activities)
  • visual learners can take pics of rough planning from their initial pitch and insert into a post
  • the class can comment on each others’ posts providing more evidence they are seeking and using feedback
  • their sites are public so easy to share outside school

It was a relief to be able to use a platform I was familiar with as having set up Taieri Hot Reads a couple of years ago and this site six years earlier, trouble shooting has been pretty simple plus I’d already developed a series of worksheets around signing up, commenting and posting. Like most things, the proof will be in the delivery. I’ll add some links soon as tomorrow is their first real checkpoint.