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If you’ve been following the news lately, you’ll be aware that secondary school teachers are seeking an improvement in teaching and learning conditions in New Zealand schools. One crucial thing we are looking for is support for the increasing number of students with behavioral and learning difficulties being placed in our classrooms with no additional resourcing.

I welcomed one such student to my Year 9 English class. He became student 29. The rap sheet was long but equally concerning was the learning levels and associated needs. So what’s a teacher to do?

I can’t ignore him because that could lead to outbursts that will impact everyone’s learning and potentially place us in danger. Philosophically, I believe that despite his negative attitude, student X is a human being who deserves a chance. There are reasons beyond his control leading to some of these challenges.

On the other hand, I simply don’t have time to make an individual learning programme for a student who is probably two or even three levels of the New Zealand Curriculum below where he needs to be.

When he joined us, we had just started a unit of work on formal writing.  I quickly realized I needed to find a way to adapt the tasks or things would go pear shaped very quickly. Of course I realise that’s our job but those outside education must consider the context. Our classes already cater for recent immigrants with no support who can arrive with zero English language skills, international students, children with dyslexia/dyspraxia (both diagnosed and undiagnosed), ORS funded students with intellectual disabilities (who have teacher aides but still take time to socially integrate into class activities) and the list goes on.

Day 1 – I started by setting him up with ClassNotebook and spending 15 minutes showing him how to naviagte the LMS. Because he was prone to losing his password and log in I popped it on a post note on the wall he faced with a laptop so that couldn’t be an issue.

Day 2 – The next day, we watched a documentary on boy racers, brainstormed ideas in support or against them and then students had to write persuasive paragraphs in their journals. I sat down with student X and got him to discuss his ideas, prompting him and encouraging him to use the S.E.X.Y structure of paragraph writing. We then crafted them into paragraph which I typed.

Day 3 -Language features – Student X picked a topic (tazers) and brainstormed three ideas about why Police shouldn’t use them. I typed up a paragraph for him. Then we went back through and I pointed out and colour coded formal writing features.

Day 4 – Picking a topic for our assessment and researching supporting points. Student X picked one and brainstormed ideas. He was then given time to find examples to support his ideas (research)

Day 5 -8 – Drafting an essay. Student X did this on ClassNotebook. I supplied feedback by making audio recordings to suggest ways to make paragraphs better or a smiley sticker if he had done well. He really struggled with editing and crafting – once it was written down, it was done as far as he was concerned. His short attention span meant he found it difficult to go over the same paragraphs more than once.

Overall this approach enabled me to build a more productive realtionship with student X. I set clear expectations that in English, he was expected to do the work like other students BUT I tried to make sure that work was pitched at his level, gave him choices, clear deadlines, heavily scaffolded the assessment task and gave him one on one time.

I’d like to report the story had a happy ending but issues outside the classroom meant he was removed for a spell. Hopefully when he comes back we can pick up where we left off using ClassNotebook to engage student X and progress his learning.

Below are screen shots (click on them for a clearer view) of the scaffolded tasks we worked through for formal writing:

Day 2student dictates a paragraph based on visual text and class brainstorm

Day 3 – language features and paragraph structure

Day 4 – pick topic, form opinion, brainstorm points, research

 

 

Days 5 – 8 Draft, craft and edit essay. Students gets feedback visually and as audio recording

Structure broken down – student chose previous topic rather than one from list

 

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Flipgrid for revision

As senior students head off on study leave, it’s time to think about supporting Year 9 and 10 students with their preparation for end of year exams.

I’ve found a new tool that I hope will spark some deeper thinking for junior students when revising novels and films. Flipgrid is a video discussion platform ideal for student engagement and formative assessment  that aims to amplify student voice, encourage self expression and build a sense of community. It is designed to move the learning process from inclusion and integration to transformation and finally empowerment.  Clearly, this has a wide range of applications in our classrooms.

There’s a great tutorial on the Microsoft Educators website here which I highly recommend.

All you need to to do is go to the Flipgrid website and work through the process of setting up various grids (subjects/tasks) and associated topics (questions) which students respond to via short videos. (This is the selfie generation so hopefully they won’t be too bashful – you can always let them respond in pairs to start with if it is an issue). Flipgrid was purchased by Microsoft recently so if you have a Microsoft account, simply sign up using that and, supply your school domain name so students’ email addresses can be verified.

There are a series of prompts to go through which took me no time at all and were easy to navigate – it pays to do the tutorial first to get your head around the difference between grids and topics. There are four basic steps:

  1. Build a grid – you can adjust preferences as you go
  2. Post a topic – pose a question to your students. You can also make a short video and model an answer, add links, attachments etc. Again you can set preferences for how long student replies should be, the time period the topic exists for, whether you want them to be able to comment on each others posts etc
  3. Share a site generated code with students.
  4. Students use the code to post their response.

On Friday of Week 1, I will show my Year 9 English class the site and go over some basic navigation. In the first topic, I have asked them to consider the importance of friendship  which was one of the key themes in a novel we studied. Specifically, I ask them to think about and explain how this message applies to them AND what they learned about friendship from the novel. The following week, I ask them share another book or film that also features this theme and the following week, ask them to imagine they are a reporter interviewing the main character and to share three questions they would ask him then explain why.

Students have detailed character and theme notes, access to whiteboard notes on ClassNotebook and have written a practice essay. At this end of the year, the aim is to encourage them to dig deeper and make connections beyond the events in the story.

I can moderate student responses and the grid is only accessible to us so hopefully, sharing their brief (1min 30) responses will inspire some big picture thinking.

I’m really excited about this tool and can see other ways, aside from revision, that it could be useful:

  1. Student feedback at end of year re text choice – likes, dislikes, suggestions
  2. Practicing oral presentations – students record their introduction/conclusion at home and get feedback off each other/teacher
  3. ESOL students could use it practice pronunciation with each other and their teacher
  4. Beginning of year introductions – invite students to share three facts and then match them to facts in class via teacher prompts or two truths and a lie. Work out the lie.
  5. Setting relief work/homework

 

 

Like many NZ schools, our seniors recently completed practice exams. These are an important way for learners to gauge areas of weakness they need to focus on before the upcoming NCEA examinations later in the year. As such, we aim to give them as much feedback as possible.

But when faced with large piles of marking across three year levels and a quick turnaround time (these grades also need to be entered into a database and report comments written shortly after), it can become a taxing and rushed job especially if you have a full teaching workload.

This year, I was keen to find a way to give students maximum feedback while avoiding the physical strain of handwriting lots of comments. My senior students all have access to ClassNotebook which features a content library as well as individual student folders. ClassNotebook is an online collaborative LMS offered as part of Microsoft Teams in the Office 365 suite of products.

Once I’d graded and written general comments on their papers, I went into each student’s individual folder and recorded supplementary feedback and feed forward using the insert audio function. So if I wrote on a student’s paper they needed to provide specific examples of how the setting impacted the character’s mood, in the audio recording I would give them suggestions and examples from the text naming locations within the story and explaining how they impacted on character’s state of mind.

Each audio recording is roughly 2-3 minutes long. The students can play them back as part of revision leading up the NCEA exams. They appreciated the more in depth feedback and I felt satisfied they I’d been able to more thoroughly explain myself. I also made a point of starting each recording with a positive statement of what they had done well and then rounded off with a general comment along the lines “if you can do this, this and this, you are on track to a Merit grade” or “if you wish to move to Excellence, you should read back the director’s notes and consider his opinions on rural NZ communities”. etc

A lot of English teacher jargon there but the approach would work for any subject.

Contrary to what you might think, it doesn’t take long once you’ve done a couple and enables a teacher to help students focus on exactly what they need to do to improve their final grades.

I also encouraged students to use the Office Lens app to take pictures of their exam papers and save them on the same page for back up in case they misplaced their papers between now and the end of the year.

The ball is now in their court!

 

Learning Tools in Action

Following from our session on learning tools that encourage differentiation and inclusivity for all learners, our teacher aides have provided me with some feedback which makes for interesting reading. Top of the list of tools/apps the group were showed that they intend to use was Read Aloud. This makes perfect sense as our teacher aides work with students who struggle with literacy and are challenged with a range of learning disabilities.

This was backed up by reasons they supplied for the apps/tools they believed would have the most use for them. (I have deleted some of their comments to protect student privacy):

 

From my own viewpoint, the biggest take home for me was the need to share the basics first. I created a Class Notebook for the workshop participants to access material, share ideas and have a play without thinking that most had not even ventured into a Class Notebook. In a way, I should have started with that before delving into specific apps.

The other takeaway was the needs for consistency across devices in a school. Some of their learners have their own device and others use what is available within the specific department/learning space on a given day. Other things I take for granted such as using Office Mix also piqued their interest. Most know how to set up basic power point but were unaware of the record option. Others were not sure how to add music so a follow up session on Office Mix is top of the list.

Hopefully we’ll get some more time together next term to delve deeper into their first foray into the many ways Microsoft can enhance the teaching and learning experience for these vital support staff.

Amidst the hurly burly of senior exam week, I shared and reviewed a raft of learning tools available via Microsoft 365 with our school’s teacher aides. They loved the read aloud function and had some good ideas about how they could use Office Lens with their learners too. Using read aloud via the edge browser was also a winner for them

The presentation was structured as a showcase followed by a why we would use it brainstorm and then later on, how would we use it. For some it was their first time sharing ideas via the collaboration space in a Notebook I have set up for them.

The downside was the devices we had in the school library weren’t running exactly the same versions/setting of MS as mine so that was a bit frustrating for them but I will follow up and get that sorted so there are half a dozen there they know have the tools we reviewed together.

And on the up, they’re keen to keep sharing ideas via a follow up workshop next term. Watch this space.

Here’s a link to what we’ve covered so far!

https://sway.office.com/5cXovvK2ivhzhDOb?ref=Link

 

 

Being open minded is key for learning new skills, self-reflection and professional growth as a teacher in 2018.

The MIEE 2018 (inaugural?!) Hui held in the April school holidays offered a smorgasbord of opportunities for teachers keen to develop their digital technology kete, extend their ability to use a range of tools available via Microsoft apps and programmes and connect with other educators.

The problem with a smorgasbord is it is sometimes difficult to know what to choose. We were truly spoiled for choice.

Initially, I wasn’t sure if Lynette Barker’s Creativity with Literacy sharing session would be to my palette. Me a South Island based secondary teacher of English and Media Studies in a large coeducational state secondary school. Lynette a teacher Librarian in a Catholic primary school across the Tasman.

Time to ditch the diet.

Not only did Lynette present us with an exciting menu of ideas, she backed this up with examples, resources and honest answers to our questions. The added bonus is that following the hui, Lynette has continued to share resources via the twittersphere.

Her ideas help bridge the gap between written text and digital technology with activities that seamlessly integrate both and, were clearly linked to learning objectives.

Some of those ideas were:

  1. Telling a story with music  – using MS lens and PPT, scan pages from a text and then invite students to match the words with music. Lynette used Red Fox.
  2. Reversioning a story – using MS Lens and OneNote with a free pdf of a children’s illustrated book (available here – http://mybirthdaybunny.com ), students use a stylus to “graffiti” the original version of My Birthday Bunny with their own version.
  3. Augmented reality – use MS Paint 3d to add moving images to a story. Take a  pic of object, import to Paint 3d then animate via power point. (@ibpossum has had hour of fun with this 😉 )
  4. Comprehension and creativity – Lynette used Using Cups Held Out byJudith L Roth. Read to kids then gave them cup. Students  were asked to tell how they could show support to others OR whatever they took from story via photography. Their photos were then collated using Movie Maker.
  5. Vocabulary extension, development of  connotative and emotive language via blogging- using Piranaha’s Don’t Eat Bananas, students were invited to finish sentences from the story with their own words.  Using Last Tree in the City, students were asked to supply 10 words they associated with this story about environmental damage to word banks. They then did the same with A Forest, a story featuring a contrasting message.
  6. Catering for students with special educational needs –  Lynette set up a series of activities on One Note pages which were code protected. The student, working with a teacher aide, had to complete each activity to get a code to “unlock” the next task.

Like any meaningful PD, the proof is in the pudding. My goal is to develop and deliver a workshop for our teacher aides and share some of these ideas alongside those gleaned from Crispin Lockwood’s Immersion Session MS Learning Tools for Differentiation. The aim is to broaden the range of literary related activities offered to engage students with special learning needs and ESOL students.

And of course there are plenty of ways to adapt Lynette’s ideas for a secondary learning environment.

“Cups” could be used in Junior Media Studies to teach the Rule of Thirds as well as camera shot types and angles, Red Fox could be used to apply visual and verbal matching techniques for Media Studies and English students while the vocab extension activities would work alongside a short story/novel study or as a starter for Creative Writing.

 

It’s one of the biggest challenges for educators everywhere. How to encourage resilience and a positive attitude towards learning in an era of instant gratification and digital distractions.

One of the core philosophies of New Zealand Teaching and Learning Curriculum is we must strive to create life long learners.

As teachers and parents, and as a society, we see value in raising resilient young people.

But there can be a disconnect marrying that philosophy alongside an assessment driven educational system that anticipates most learners will move at similar speeds through a range of learning levels.

At primary school, pupils have eight years to move from Level Zero through to Three. At secondary school, there are five years to progress from Levels Four to Eight. So the expectation is students move up a level each year.  That’s quite a jump.

While we recognised long ago the need to differentiate teaching styles for a range of learners, the system dictates a more rigid, linear progression through various skills and learning stands as “evidence” of learning.

Which makes it difficult to encourage growth mindsets in young people. According to Dr Carol S Dweck’s, research if students believe they are capable of improvement, they are more likely to be motivated towards attaining a goal. Alongside that, learners must accept that they may have to work harder in some areas, that it might take them longer to get there than others but that is part of process.

Source: https://www.mindsetworks.com/science/

We all want our kids to be resilient – at home and in life. But they can’t do that if they zone out the minute things don’t come easily, if they’re not prepared to make an effort or if they get stuck in a rut thinking they simply “can’t do” something.

Even our younger students are fixated these day on senior assessment terms.” Is that Achieved?”  “How do I get Excellence?” While it is good to be focused on a goal, they are increasingly fixed on the end point rather than the process. Even worse, I believe, is having students with high expectations drop subjects because to them “getting an achieved is the same as not achieved” which they feel is unacceptable.

What those learners fail to recognise is that they have been exposed to new ways of thinking, developed fresh skills and broadened their general knowledge by dipping their toes into unfamiliar territory. And who knows what they might have “achieved’ if they had developed those skills for longer?

If we are to create lifelong learners, we need to create a love of learning. That starts at home and is developed in classrooms where we recognise everyone works at their own speed, regardless of the assessment system in place. We do our best to help all our students experience success however that looks for them. The problem is when the measurement systems expect success to look the same.

Another issue working against growth mindsets is attitudes towards learning. I’ve noticed international students come to class prepared, seek and use feedback, put in extra effort, proactively manage their learning and have clear learning goals. They come from countries, cultures and families that value education. They know where they want to go and respect their educators. Is there a lesson to be learned here?

My students look puzzled when I write “not yet achieved” on a test or an essay. What does it mean? Will Mum and Dad be okay with it? What it means is they have not quite attained the magic line in the sand (actually we do have marking criteria, even in the humanities 😉 ) but I know how hard they tired, I know what they produced in May is an improvement on what they wrote in February and that with some effort, they should get “there” by the end of the year.

I want them to love learning and I want them to believe they can improve.

Hopefully they take those messages home so that families can nurture their self-belief, encourage a desire for self-improvement and emphasise the need for effort. After all, learning is a journey not a destination