Feeds:
Posts
Comments

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.

Sigh.

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:

Pros:

  • 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

Cons:

  • 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.

 

Elementary!

Following my last post (soapbox more than sharing sorry) I realised something. Aside from the very real pressures preventing teachers from using digital technology effectively, have we been blinded by science? What if we all take a big step back, right back to the NZC, then maybe forward a bit to our curriculum area’s learning objectives and then inch forward slightly to our department’s goals. Is it possible to start from the purpose of the lesson and THEN consider the place of digital learning tools?

Here’s an example. My Year 9s are going to close view Ang Lee’s stunning film Life of Pi this term. Close viewing a visual text (being a critical media consumer) is a core skill in English. We want students to be able to infer meaning from a visual text, to consider how the director uses a range of film techniques for a specific purpose, to analyse how those big ideas are incorporated in the text and reflect on the importance of those ideas in their lives, their community and the world.

To attain those objectives we generally:
1. Watch a film and review key scenes
2. Explicitly teach a range of film techniques
3. Discuss and analyse ideas in the film
4. Discuss and analyse the director’s purpose
5. Relate techniques to purpose
6. Reflect on the film’s messages for individuals and for society

So, you watch the film, you do term:definition matches and you write an essay that demonstrates you can apply knowledge and express ideas.

How could digital technology enhance that process?

1. Close view – Use the best TV you can with best sound system available. Use pause and slow mo.

2. Techniques – take screen grabs using a snipping tool, print image to A3, get students in groups to label the techniques or use phones/ipads to go out and replicate a few scenes to help embed techniques and effects. Make the key literacy terms interactive and competitive – try quizlet, Kahoot, Edmodo.While it might take 30 minutes to make your quiz, if you make it generic, you can reuse.

3. Ideas – upload background notes on your LMS. Then give the students opportunities to work through a range of tasks (character analysis, themes analysis, narrative techniques) online, in any order they choose, over a week.
4.Director’s purpose – check: has your DVD got interviews with director at end? Are they on YouTube or the film’s official website? These can be viewed as a class or online with headphones as a close listening activity. I’m going to use an interview with Yann Martel (author of Life of Pi) on RadioNZ as an extension activity.

5 and 6. To consolidate their knowledge (moving from Bloom’s understand and apply to analyse, evaluate and create) students choose their groups (student choice) and complete an assignment requiring them to collaborate and create.

If you go right back to Bloom’s Taxonomy (or Solo or whichever theory resonates), it’s a matter of starting with basics then working up to the higher order thinking by creating opportunities to independently analyse and avalute. I’ll use One Note on 365 because that’s the platform my school uses. It took me about two hours to set up a shared content library, individual student folders and a collaboration space (the basic tenants of One Note). The aim is to use Office Mix (an add on to powerpoint enabling students to add audio, quizzes and drawings) to create a presentation they will then present to class providing an opportunity for some public speaking as well.

If we start with the big picture, consider core skills, learning objectives and key competencies and plan from there, then digital technology simply becomes a means of getting there – while also allowing students to develop digital literacy skills.

Of course it takes time to learn how to use One Note, Office Mix and Quizlet but it also takes time to create paper handouts and worksheets. My advice for the over or underwhelmed is pick one class or one unit of work. Start with a big bit of paper, mind map the big picture goals/objectives/competencies then consider possible steps. For me, taking time to make sure the folders I create for students in our class notebook match those in the content library and are in a logical order is vital to ensure students can navigate their folders easily. So forethought and curbing a tendency to add extra folders after I’ve set up the directory under the guise of “extras” are crucial.

And as for the essay? My students will still write essays this year (a core skill as that is how they will be assessed for externals in NCEA) via written text studies so will practice that skill again before exams. Risky strategy possibly but if they can see the assignment through, hopefully they will have gained greater insight into the text and thus have more to write about.

Like many schools, mine is heading down the path of offering our students more opportunities to use digital technology. I trained relatively recently and, in what now seems ironically like a blessing, spent the first four years of my teaching career in four different schools. This meant I’ve had to spend  lots of time teaching myself how to use a range of platforms, systems and programmes. From wiki first then to moodle followed by ultranet and now Microsoft 365. And those are just the LMSs I’ve encountered. I also spent a year teaching and learning with an iPad class. Necessity is indeed the mother of invention although it’s not a path I’d recommend.

Secondary teachers are often accused of lagging behind their primary teaching colleagues when it comes to adapting 21st century learning tools. But what I’ve observed over the past six years is that many are often totally overwhelmed by HOW to incorporate digital technologies in their daily teaching practices which is not the same as being somehow philosophically opposed to the idea. They don’t always have access to hardware in their classrooms in which to seamlessly integrate those devices into their lessons, there is next to no tech support and scant opportunities for PD. It’s a lot to ask of people who already work long hours, many of whom have families young and old of their own to support outside of school.

It’s no wonder many are left feeling overwhelmed (or worse underwhelmed) by decrees to use digital technology, more, now. The pressure caused by such demands should be addressed – surely as part of the current emphasis on teacher wellbeing because if we are stressed and overwhelmed than it stands to reason that our students, with less resilience and coping strategies, are even more so.

Solutions could include teacher release days to ensure staff have opportunities to investigate and explore what works for them, dedicated tech support staff in schools to take the onus of teachers with IT interests and ensuring those offering workshops (often suppliers of software) are up to date with issues faced by individual schools when it comes to adapting technology – wifi access, hardware access, financial constraints, infrastructure needs such as access to powerpoints etc. in short, funding and expertise.

Not everyone teaches in MLEs where devices are freely available to students 100% of the time. Not all of our students have access to the internet at home and no, they don’t all have smart phones (surely that’s a piecemeal solution anyway?).  Instead of pointing fingers at classroom teachers and putting so many under so much pressure, bigger issues around access to hardware, software, support and PD must be the focus.

Every day I see teachers achieving remarkable feats through dedication, intelligence, effort, talent and sometimes, sheer bloody mindedness. There are young innovators  and wise old(er) heads and every one of them has something of value to offer pedagogically speaking. But even the most passionate educator is no magician. If we are truly serious about giving students opportunities to become connected, collaborative, creative lifelong learners, than we have to ensure their teachers are afforded the same opportunities. If we don’t, the current inefficiencies, stresses and tensions will continue to fester resulting in burnout and more missed opportunities.

A day late sorry but as I missed February and March EduBlogNZ challenge, thought I’d sneak in a quick post on @kaiakowilson’s Love-Hate Resources. Mine is not so much a resource as an assessment.  At our school, Year 10s complete units of work on creative writing this term which culminates in an assessment where they describe a character. The hate part of this process for me is repeating the assessment task, the love part is adding to the unit of work to refine, improve and differentiate activities for each cohort. While this helps to enhance the learning process for the students it also keeps things interesting for me.

The first resource/activity I have used is the Describe that Face from the good folks at Read Write Think. I use magazine pictures, paste them to coloured paper then randomly assign. Students write descriptions in their writing journals then, the next day, I put all the faces on the board, take in their writing and read aloud as the students match the words to the face. Lots of laughs. If they find it hard to start, we use the preface that the person has just entered the classroom as a guest speaker. How would they enter the room? What would they do first? What would they talk about? Why? How would they sound?  In a similar fashion, a former associate teacher put me on to Whose Shoes where you give each student a picture of a pair of shoes and they describe the person wearing them – it’s a bit harder then Describe that Face as it requires a bit more imagination but is also fun.

Another tried and trusted skill builder is this strong verbs activity which helps students improve the ways they describe character movement. This is great for classes who need to move around lots as you can ask individual students to act out ways of walking/talking before attempting written work.

Last year, I came across this fantastic powerpoint that really encapsulates teaching Show Don’t Tell. I modified it to include descriptions of people and then bolstered with starters from pinterest where students write down more colourful/vivid/interesting alternatives to dull words such as said, went, good, bad etc. As a starter I get them to write down 3-5 synonyms in their writing journals then put them into sentences. The writing board I’ve compiled also great synonyms, hooks, conclusions, structural tips and heaps of prompts – visual and written.

And this year, I have added The Literacy Shed to the mix, see previous post. This has really enabled me to differentiate core skills for my class which has several students who find writing a real struggle.

Finally, modelling. I’m a great believer in showing students what we need/want them to do. Often with seniors, I’ll write my own trigger narrative (or whatever the task is) and go through the process with them. With juniors, I’ve described a grandparents and shared. I used a photo as a starter and encourage them to do the same with the assessment to assist with brainstorming.

So in answer to the questions that prompted the challenge: Hate the assessment, love the myriad of modified resources that help us to get there. I have complete freedom over the how we get there and base sequences of lessons on the students in front of me. The process is always reflective. This year more than considering what worked well last year, I’ve had to focus more on how to differentiate tasks to develop required skills. In terms of how would I replace the “resource” (assessment), I would like to see the Year 10s choose between setting or character and the Year 9s focus on narrative. At the moment, Year 9s assessment is a setting description, Year 10 character. We discuss options at department meetings and have changed the way we assess speaking for our junior students recently so changing the writing assessment is not impossible. I suppose at the end of the day, it’s about feeding back to HoDs – and being prepared to make changes rather than repeat the same tasks every year.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 121 other followers