Archive for the ‘LMS’ Category

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!


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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.

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Earlier in the year, I posted about my attempt to encourage wide reading with junior students via the Taieri Hotreads blog. As the year thunders to an abrupt halt, and after sharing this information at a recent Educamp session in Dunedin, I thought an update was timely.

Firstly, I used wordpress! No surprises there. I chose WordPress because I have experience using it for on c21learners for personal reflections. Anyone interested in using this platform just needs to visit WordPress online where online tutorials take you through the basics. I find it easy to post to, add links and tags and embed images and videos.  I’m aware that other schools have blogging facilities available through LMS systems, Google and Onenote. These would be great if you want/need to keep your site private and could well be easier for students to use if they are already familiar with those systems. I opted for a public site in the hope that it might attract comments from a wider circle of people than myself and classmates to further inspire/motivate reading.

I started by introducing students to the concept of blogging, discussing how blogs differ from other formats, showed them examples and discussed in groups acceptable rules for commenting. Those rules were then displayed in class to ensure we were all on the same page. This seemed to work well as there were no silly/nasty incidents (phew). I also created a handout summarising the steps in how to write and submit a post which they referred to while blogging (happy to email that to anyone if you are interested, just leave a comment here with your email). I know handouts are old school but when you’re working with 30 kids in a lab and they are all asking the same question three times an hour, “refer to handout” is the way to go!

Students were invited to join the blog via their school email accounts. Initially I set deadlines (2 posts and 2 comments per term) and displayed their progress on a chart in class. We used our school labs and library for blogging but ideally, my aim was to get them blogging independently.  Some did and are still happily blogging away, others have struggled to complete blogs for a number of reasons. These include lack of familiarity with using digital tech, literacy issues (writing is not a forte for some) and the fact that some of them are not reading independently beyond set class texts. At all.

Successes have included:

  • students who have become engaged in blogging and are writing good posts on their own
  • students making links between texts
  • students engaging in conversations about books
  • students learning how to be good digital citizens
  • students having an opportunity to write in a new (digital) format
  • students discovering new books to read through the site
  • Students loved getting personalised feedback on their posts, I’d always comment before publishing a post
  • Encouraging critical analysis of texts and introducing the making links concept is a good way to prepare students for NCEA tasks and terminology
  • Using tech angels – students who had successfully set up posts, added links or pics were able to help others
  • Encouraging problem solving – when there is one of me and lots of them, sometimes they have to work things through
  • creating a culture where the importance of reading is regularly, passionately and unreservedly promoted and rewarded

Downsides have included:

  • students taking ages to sign up due to inexperience using school email accounts
  • students inadvertently setting up a blog site rather than accepting my invite (easily fixed by deleting the site in settings options)
  • students defaulting to visual texts (I relaxed rules to allow one each when it became clear some would never experience blogging at all if I was too rigid and stuck to novels!)
  • too many posts on the same text  – not sure if this is a negative in terms of my aims but it did make the site repetitive for our followers
  • cutting and pasting comments on novels/films from the internet into posts – Grrr. The old authenticity chestnut but again, good for junior students to learn about this issue now rather than miss a senior assessment later for trying the same
  • overly simplistic comments – “cool” “nice one Snoop Dog” “you rock” etc etc. Because I was the site administrator, I would  go back to the author and request better responses
  • students not having the confidence to experiment with the full range of functions available such as adding hyperlinks
  • having to moderate each post and comment – yes time consuming

What would I do differently?

  • ask students to supply the email account they know how to use – gmail, hotmail, whatever
  • ensure students are invited as contributors not followers
  • create credit card sized cards for each student to record their user name and password on – so much time was wasted having to rest passwords! Suggest they make it the same as their email accounts so this is less likely to happen
  • create categories together to ensure everyone is using same archival system
  • limit tags to text titles and authors to avoid tag cloud explosion

At the end of last term, the most prolific bloggers were rewarded with a book each in recognition of their efforts and next week, I’ve organised a pizza lunch for those who met the deadlines. It would be great if students continued blogging at the end of the school year (that’s my utopia!) but I won’t hold my breath. I will certainly keep sharing my (young adult) reading with them over summer and if it inspires even one student to pick a book they might not have otherwise read, I’ll call it a win.

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So what does it mean to me to be a connected educator? As an English teacher, I started with the dictionary and confirmed my suspicion that connected meant unified, joined or linked. So far so good. But did the blogsync  challenge mean connected strictly in a digital sense or were they seeking broader reflections?

Coffee time. A connected educator for me means so many things. I definitely need to connect with my students. Know them as people, their likes, strengths, (a bit old hat) learning styles. I’ve also learned it’s helpful to connect with family/whanau. One short phone call to give feedback on progress or discuss any concerns is far less scary than I’d imagined. As a parent, these are the interactions I expect from my sons’ teachers. The learning process is a partnership between home and school – has to be. Being connected also means linking with colleagues. I’ve often heard it said in schools (mainly during in-house PD sessions) that we teach in silos and need to reach out more, share ideas, discuss experiences. This segues nicely into being connected digitally and Connected Educators Month which promotes connecting with colleagues around the world.

These ruminations funnily enough took back to the CEM starter kete. Should have started there. Beautifully summarised is the event’s purpose “together we can be stronger and move on the digital technology pathway in a shared, collaborative approach.” Ah. So digital is in fact key.

Onwards then to the Connected Educator Manifesto where previous participants shared their vision on being connected. Here I struck gold in the preamble which clearly states connected learners collaborate online via social media, engage in conversations in online spaces and take what they learn back to inform their classrooms, schools, districts, and the world.

Key here for me was the phrase inform their classrooms. Back to the blogsync schedule of selected topics.  Oh yeah there is is – how has being a connected educator affected my work in the education. So if you’ve managed to read this far (yes Chris and Karen – too long I know), here’s the rub.

I became a secondary teacher five years ago. My year training provided a rare (though costly) luxury in that I was able to explore a range of online technologies, immerse myself in the NZC, set up wikis, blogs, make prezis I could use later and generally have a good play. I fully believe that’s where a lot of the angst comes from in New Zealand secondary schools around digital technology. There just isn’t the time for teachers to play, to find out what works for them and their learners. And then if they do take the plunge, there next to time to share.

The other issue we have in terms of informing our day to day classroom activities is access to technology. Now I don’t mean to rain on anyone’s parade here but I’ve had conversations with many teachers working in state secondary schools and most are in the same position. Three-four labs to be shared among 800 odd students. Laptops that can be booked but generally have to be priortisied for senior assessments. BYOD doesn’t ensure level playing fields but is a step in the right direction.

At the weekend I attended a high school reunion. Amongst our crowd were several teachers, all primary bar me. One observed that she felt secondary schools were “slow to get on board’ with inquiry based learning. She’s right but it’s not down to teachers. Many of use still teach in box shaped rooms with rows of desks squeezed in, little or no access to technology other than a data projector and assessment conditions defined by NZQA. I’m not saying it’s impossible to be a connected educator in such environments but it is more challenging.

What I have managed to use successfully includes:

  • LMS – wikis, moodle, ultranet
  • Facebook groups – for senior revision
  • Blog – junior wide reading, used library sessions to set up and then offer ongoing assistance if no computer at home http//:taierihotreads.wordpress.com
  • Pinterest and Scoop.it – topic specific information
  • Read, write, think – great interactives for writing and detailed lesson sequences
  • Quizlet and Spelling City – apps, the year I taught a trial iPad class. Bliss.
  • Socrative – app for revision
  • TedTalks – all the time, speech topics, creative writing
  • Simple Mind and Big Mind – brainstorming apps
  • Evernote and Dropbox – apps for document sharing
  • Showme and Prezi – topic specific presentations as starters or for revision

Aside from specific apps, sites and online tools, the biggest thing I bring back to my classroom through stepping out of the silo is a sense of purpose and excitement about the possibilities that exist to learn in a connected world. So where to? I’ll keep sharing, keep talking to strangers (drives my kids nuts but it’s in the manifesto so clearly, it’s a good thing), keep exploring and playing. And I’ll definitely keep hoping that one day, the allocation of resources needed to make the visions inherent in the NZC become a reality for all our learners.


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Over the past few weeks, the #hackyrclass community have been sharing ideas about #blendedlearning and #differentiation. The challenge is how to walk the talk in the teaching and learning environments many state and state integrated secondary school teachers operate in on a daily basis. While it’s easy to get enthused sharing ideas with your online community of fellow teacher geeks (sorry guys) it’s often a different story back at school the next day. I think if we were to be completely honest, many of us would admit that our physical resources including access to ICTs often put a big hand brake on making these worthy ideals a reality.

That said, rather than focusing on what we can’t do in small spaces with minimal available technology, I’m hopeful it’s the little things we can do that will set in motion the paradigm shift needed to make blended learning the norm. So here are a couple of small things I’ve tried recently with a trusty data projector, internet and an iPad:

Creative writing
1. Brainspark app projected off iPad as starter – you can use words or pictures to get them writing
2. Storystart app’s photo gallery projected for students to select a setting to write about
3. Showme tutorial to reinforce the concept of showing not telling when writing creatively. There is a Showme app as well which has loads of potential for students to create their own tutorials too.
4. Gave iPad to student to take a couple of pics outside for a writing assessment. He just couldn’t find a way to start otherwise.

I’ve now got most of my Year 9s signed up to taierihotreads and they are starting to blog about books they are reading. We developed a set of class rules around commenting and these are displayed in class. I also developed a help sheet to get them going which included making the actual steps clear, pointers as to content, some starter sentences and a word bank. Quality and depth of reflection varies but I’m still hopeful this is a step in the right direction for encouraging reading, developing critical literacy and writing for publication. I have found the hardest thing has been getting them to remember passwords and logins. Think I’ll design credit card sized card for them all next time to keep handy.

It’s been great to have a few people outside the class commenting on posts. This really bolsters their confidence and helps give the students ownership of the site which is the ultimate aim.

Keeping it current
I couldn’t pass up these opportunities to make links outside class with seniors:
1. YouTube clip of well-known Americans reading I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings following Maya Angelou’s recent passing. Used with Level 2s who are focusing on texts that fit the theme of The Voiceless this term.
2. Used start of this Radio NZ flashback to 1994 including an  interview with Rena Owen prior to viewing Once Were Warriors today (heard it previewed in car on way to work – #alwaysworking)
3. Used The Boy Who Danced With a Tank poem by Adrian Mitchell to coincide with 25th anniversary of Tiananmen Square rebellion. Watched TVNZ item broad cast last week for background.

It’s a start.


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A reflection for where digital learning sits currently at my new school…and a chance to refresh my prezi skills!


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One of the biggest challenges when transiting from secondary to a tertiary learning environment is the realisation that just because a young person achieved Level 2 English and is willing to pay the fees charged by a tertiary provider, this does not automatically mean they will “bring something” to the learning table.

I’ve read a bit his year on the learning needs of Gen Y and other adult learners and my analysis is they are pretty much the same as all learners – i.e well-prepared engaging lessons from a person who knows their stuff, regular feedback on progress, a supportive and  inclusive learning environment and the opportunity to learn via a range of tasks.  (And yes of course the digital bells and whistles but even oldies expect that so that’s not unique to Gen Y).

So all things being equal, if that is provided, you take it for granted (doh, I know, first rule of teaching – never assume anything!) that those aged 18+ will automatically come to class with a certain level of inherent engagement. This seems especially pertinent for those who are not “second chance learners” and whose courses are preparing them for specific industries.  And even more true when those learners are regularly exposed to that industry via guest speakers, visits and supervised work placements.

Not so.

Many of those coming straight from secondary schools do not seem ready to manage their own learning. I read an article on The Conversation this week by Rohan Price which beautifully summed up my conundrum for 2012 – if the teacher/tutor/lecturer is providing the type of interactive learning opportunities expected (even demanded) by C21 learners, students must bring something to the table too.  That means reading the notes, logging on to the LMS, reading feedback, asking questions, contributing to discussions and basically, doing the work. Old fashioned – I know.

Don’t get me wrong. I feel for Gen Y – it’s a tough environment they are walking into. Tougher than many of them understand sadly.  But if well-meaning educationalists who are focussed on student success deliver their end of the bargain, it seems only fair that students do the same.  Students who tend to succeed at this level are those aged over-20, who have travelled/worked in low paid jobs for a few years and who have a specific career plan in mind.  Yes, they are self-motivated because they get it – it being Life Outside School.

So parents/caregivers – be brave, let them take a gap year or two – not in some fancy finishing school but working and paying their own way (even if they still live at home, in fact especially if they still live at home!).

Teachers/tutors – don’t beat yourself up when students aren’t succeeding as well as you feel they should be given the blood you’ve sweated in preparing and delivering classes.  Learning is a life-long process and not everyone is ready for the tertiary environment at 18.  Perhaps what they are actually learning is far less tangible – skills such as self-management, getting enough sleep and eating well, clocking in and out.

Oh and take heed from feedback Price received from some of his students – “Why don’t you just LECTURE us?”.


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