Posts Tagged ‘NZC’

The old adage of “one page ahead” is dangerous territory for any teacher to find themselves in. Our students justifiably expect that our knowledge of our chosen subject area is more extensive than their own. But the current train of thought in New Zealand that more academic qualifications (knowledge) equates to more effective teaching is a fallacy.

I trained with people with PhDs in their chosen subject areas some of whom struggled to share that knowledge effectively with their students. Some never made it to a classroom. Why? Because when it comes to teaching, pedagogical skills (often considered to be lower level thinking than knowledge) win over subject knowledge every time. So in this regard, the push towards more time in the classrooms for secondary teacher trainees, IF adequately resourced, is a positive move.

Teaching is not an exact science. It is both art and science, profession and vocation. It requires knowledge, pedagogical understanding, experience, empathy and stamina. Experts in their fields have a tendency to forget what it is like to struggle. Their ability to recall the difficulty in learning new concepts, at breaking down subject material into bite-sized chunks for students can in fact be a hindrance. This is vital in classrooms characterised with a range of learning needs from low literacy to ADHD combined with hormones, cell phones and an endless list of other potential barriers to learning in any classroom on any given day.

It is a well known fact that we are preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist. That most of students will have not only more than one job but more than one career during their working lives and that those with a wide range of transferrable skills are most likely to succeed in a future where the pace of change is exponential. Yes, shift truly happens.

On the other hand, in some instances, it might be okay to be not just one page ahead but actually on the same page as students. A focus on inquiry-based learning in New Zealand’s curriculum, which has become almost modus operandi in our primary schools, endorses this approach. Multiple pathways to accessing, processing and synthesising new information have made it acceptable to trek the learning path alongside our students – and that in itself can have benefits for student-teacher relationships. It allows students see us as human and therefore fallible too. This is especially the case with digital technology. (Who hasn’t used a 14-year-old as their ICT go to in a classroom?!)

At the end of the day, it is how we use and share our knowledge that has the potential to make a difference to students’ lives. Pedagogical content knowledge means being aware of different teaching strategies, being able to adapt and employ them, accepting that one size does not fit all and, like our students, not being afraid to try again if things don’t work out as we anticipated the first time around.

It’s a real shame that the decision makers in New Zealand seem so far removed from the daily realities of teaching. The current obsession with more bits of paper (proof of knowledge) highlights the gap between what the general public believe makes effective teachers and the diverse skill set teachers actually require to succeed.

When I chose to become a teacher five years ago, I had plenty of knowledge in my chosen subject areas backed up by 17 years industry experience.  What I didn’t have were the skills to share my knowledge (and experiences) with my students. After four years teaching and learning in four different schools, I’m getting there but the beauty of teaching is we can never know everything while our skills in student-centred learning environments, by definition, must be constantly developing. Surely this in itself makes us if not good role models than at least good ambassadors of the life long learning philosophy espoused in the New Zealand Curriculum?



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The art and craft of creative writing must surely be one of the most challenging skills to teach.  I say this partly because I am constantly in awe of writers and the magical way they weave words to tell stories, and partly because having written professionally for publication,  I understand the angst that sometimes goes into creating a carefully crafted piece of work.  As with many skills learned over the years,  the writing process has become so  intrinsic that despite my experience, I am daunted by the prospect of taking a step backwards to guide others through the process.

Fortunately there are plenty of online tools that can help –  from scaffolding students through the basics of grammar and syntax to collaborative creative writing projects. As always I’m not suggesting that the entire process is taught via online tools, simply that there a plethora of options that could help you to scaffold and support students through the writing process.

For their final assessment at NCEA levels 1-3, students are required to submit an original, independently crafted piece of work.  This appears to be around 300 words where students are assessed on:

  • how well they express and develop their ideas
  • their ability to use a writing style that is appropriate to the task
  • how well they organise their material
  • accuracy in spelling, punctuation and paragraphing.

Prior to handing in their final copy, there could be several opportunities for students to engage with others during a series of test runs by writing collaboratively/publishing their work online for peer review.  This is a huge topic so for now I’ll touch on the philosophies behind this idea and next time, share some of the apps available.

The very concept of collaborative writing adds a new dimension to the art of creative writing.  By working with their peers inside the classroom, and by reaching out to interested mentors from anywhere around the world, students can contribute to work that represents a myriad of writers’ voices while also developing their own writer’s voice. For our dynamic, connected 21st century learners, working together is becoming the norm and paper is not always the best way to publish and share work.

As Will Richardson succinctly states on the edutopia website Experts are now at our fingertips, through our keyboards or cell phones, if we know how to find and connect to them. Content and information are everywhere, not just in textbooks.”

It is important to note the difference between collaborative writing and peer review.  Teachers need to be clear about achievement objectives  when planning a creative writing lesson.  Collaborative writing involves coauthorship, and technologies can facilitate the generation of text from multiple authors quite well. However, virtual peer review is not the same as coauthorship. Rather, feedback and interaction from peers in virtual peer review is directed toward the purpose of providing responses and suggestions to an author, not for contributing text that will be assimilated into an author’s draft. Thus, it could be said that electronic collaborative writing includes virtual peer review, but not that virtual peer review always includes collaborative writing. (Breuch, L. K. (2004). Virtual peer review: teaching and learning about writing in online environments. Albany: State University of New York, Albany).

As Amanda Goldrick-Jones cites on her comprehensive collaborative writing wiki  (an invaluable starting point for the philosophies behind online collaborative writing pedagogy), from a practical standpoint alone, online collaborative writing provides students with vital professional and social skills.

Online collaborative writing projects meet several of the key competencies from the NZC which states that students will, “confidently use ICT (including where appropriate, assistive technologies) to access and provide information to communicate with others”.  The document also states that students who use ICT are likely to:

  • take an active role in decisions about the content, process and assessment of learning
  • take an active role in learning
  • wait less, and learn more
  • be interested in their learning
  • feel empowered to make suggestions
  • ask questions of themselves, the teachers and others

Collaborative writing definitely meets the NZC’s vision of creating active, engaged, life-long learners.

So that’s a bit of an overview of collaborative writing.  Next post I’ll share several online applications you might incorporate into a creative (or even transactional) writing unit…

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