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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

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School Daze

Source: School Daze

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A timely post as NZ teachers take a break. But how many will be catching up on marking? Lots I bet! Some great ideas here about quality feedback. Extremely pertinent as the powers that be continue to demand evidence of learning progress and sadly link that to professional competency.

The Learning Profession

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The conflation of marking and feedback has led to a pernicious culture in schools that equates lots of written marking in books with high quality feedback.The irony is, of course, that the evidence on written marking is thin (read the EEF’s review on the evidence of written marking: ‘A marked improvement’) and sometimes great feedback isnigh on impossibleto evidence.

It’s difficult to pick the best metaphor to describe the profusion of marking and consequent impact on teacher wellbeing but I’m going to go with this (and excuse the hyperbole – I’m an English teacher): teachers are drowning in a sea of marking. At the start of term we dip ourtoes into the sea of marking (got to test the temperature)and before we know it ourfeet have been pulled out from under us by an undercurrent we didn’t see coming. Midway through the term we’ve lost sight of land and…

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Probably the most dreaded activity for many students is oral presentations. Our school guidance counsellors have told me they get lots of visits from extremely anxious students around this time.

Providing supportive environments, a back up stool for shaky legs, making preparatory tasks fun, viewing inspirational speeches for motivation all help but for a core group of learners, none of this really works. You could argue that speeches are just one of those evil necessities (like going to the dentist) but where’s the engagement in that?!

And while we might be able to jolly our juniors along, for the Level 2 alternative English students I teach, opt out rates are high. Four credits up for grabs but if you’re terrified of public speaking and chasing reading and writing credits, it’s a no brainer.

I think for those students, a better selling point might be developing more relevant, accessible tasks. Broad topics like “adaptation”, “choices”, “courage” are simply not doing it for them.

As long as we can assess against the schedule – is it appropriate for the audience, does it contain conventions suitable for the type of presentation, is it crafted and controlled, are a range of speaking techniques used in the delivery – alternatives to persuasive formal speeches need to be offered.

  1. Small group seminars – a seminar is more interactive than a formal speech. It should contain some visuals, some direct engagement with the audience and be informative. With Level One students, I’ve used this activity and linked it to career planning. We started by completing the career quest survey online, whittled the job options down to three then one, carried out research and developed a seminar on a specific career/industry. There are clear links here to with the Vocational Standards on offer.
  2. How To presentations -Instructional clips are popular. From making loom bands to using a green screen, it’s likely that students have consulted YouTube at some stage so this is a genre they’re familiar with. Due to the lower levels of crafting involved, this is probably better suited to junior students. Here’s some links to clips some American students have created and presented on Smart Phone apps which range from 30 secs to two minutes. Students need to produce story boards, scripts and practise their delivery. Here’s the backgrounder with rationale explained in detail.
  3. Mihimihi – This is an introductory speech that shares whakapapa (genealogy, ancestral ties) and other relevant information. A mihi is presented in Te Reo. A few years ago, a junior student who was struggling to write a persuasive speech nailed this. He began presenting his mihi as per the conventions and then proceeded to unpack the relevance of each reference point to his identity. I still have the scrawly, hand written transcript.  A Level One student also chose this option and invited her whanau to school for the presentation. Again, it one of the best pieces of work she completed all year. Engaging, crafted and delivered with pride.This may just provide the deeper connection some students seek and also help them to draw strength from their whanau and whakapapa thus overcoming nerves.

Here’s a clip on making a visual mihi too:

There’s a few alternatives. I’d be keen to know what other people have tried as well.

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2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 710 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 12 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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It’s a common complaint in English departments acorss the country and probably the world – they’re just not reading.  We all know that there are plenty of reasons why young people are opting out of reading and we all try our best to encourage reading inside and outside school.

This year, in addition to library visits where my junior classes take part in book waterfalls, book speed dating and other activities designed to turn them back onto reading, I’ve launched another blog. Initially this was to share my own reading experiences with my students and point them to sites to inspire their reading. what I found was, they just weren’t using it and if they were, I certainly didn’t know about it.

I’ve now sent invites to 58 students with a view to them being able to post about their reading as well as comment on posts.  It seemed when we shared reading expereinces in the library orally that they were most keen to hear what their peers were reading so here’s hoping their additional format helps to build on that, and helps to develop their writing skills along the way.

Watch this space!

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Online pinboards

I’ve always been a fan of pinboards as sources of inspiration and motivation. Our kitchen pinboard is jammed with random postcards of favourite spots, appointments, photos and general reminders of family life. The boys have one each in their bedrooms featuring accolades, favourite art work, school photos and other precious memories.

In the past I’ve used Scoop.it as an online focal point for students to find out more information about specific topics. While I love ScoopIt’s easy navigation and interface, I’ve reached the limit of my three free pages so if I want to collate more, I need to pay. Darn. I can still use Scoop.it to follow other teachers as well as source and share material with students but unless I want to delete a site, I’ll need to sign up.

Hello Pinterest. I’ve been aware of this site for a while but steered clear mainly as Scoop.it met the need. Pinterest is based on the same concept – you “pin” photos or pages of interest and group them in folders. So far I’ve got a couple of school related folders plus a personal one. My aim is to link these to the school’s ultranet site to reinforce recent lessons on poetic devices and give my junior students some visual and fun reminders to use as revision at home. It’s also incredibly easy to use and has plenty of potential for students to create their own sites of interest for revision or plain old inspiration. There’s an app for iPads so you can collate on the go. Get pinning! (more…)

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