Mixing it up in the classroom

A little while ago, I posted about the new building works taking place at school. I was particularly excited about the new classrooms that our students (and in particular the classrooms that my department) will enjoy.

In the time that has passed, I have met with key staff members who will teach in those rooms and have given them the opportunity to choose furniture that will compliment their pedagogy and create opportunities for learning in diverse ways.

Something that I really wanted to achieve, was to empower my staff in key decisions. I invited those teachers into discussions about the rooms, how they will use the space and then allowed them to select the furniture based on their pedagogy. I am so pleased to say that each of the rooms will look entirely different to the other. They may also look different from day to day as each teacher really wanted furniture to provide greater flexibility in the way students were grouped and the type of learning spaces that could be created.

After sitting with our wonderful Leader of Pedagogy, I decided to really challenge myself. I have ordered lots of different furniture and broken up spaces with soft furniture, so effectively I can create different nooks. I can’t wait to get into the room, to take some photos so I can share just how this will enhance the pedagogy in my classroom.

In order to prepare my staff and students for what will be a huge change, I am putting together some pd. Much of the pd is based on research but also my own personal experiences of teaching in a range of flexible learning spaces.  For the students I am going to survey them, to get them to design a great learning space. I believe that with in our new building, we can create a lot of different types of spaces that will appeal to a greater diversity of learners.

I have decided to present at a symposium on authentic learning, with a really talented colleague. It will involve a focus on our pedagogy in the learning spaces in order to meet the diverse needs of our learners, challenging them to be the best students they can be.


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Moving into a new space…

I have just had the immense privilege of touring our new College building. This building will house a few English classrooms. Wonderful spaces with oh so much potential. There’s a green room, a performance space, lots of open spaces, natural lighting and water views. I don’t really think there is much more that a teacher could want!

These new spaces will continue to transform learning. Transform the learning of staff and the learning of students. These new spaces will redefine what is and isn’t possible in the classroom. Essentially, these new spaces will recontextualise teaching and learning in the best possible way.

At present, we are teaching in demountables. Demountables at the end of the school. So disconnected from the rest of the community that you could be forgiven for thinking we are in another place. The lovely views of the boats bobbing on the bay are great compensation, but I must admit I do miss the closeness of being near other classes, the energy that comes from being in close proximity to other students and teachers.

The new building will house a range of KLA’s which will make it a lot easier to connect and to create. Connecting and creating are important skills that our students need to be great citizens of the world. Making connections between knowledge studied in different disciplines and creating something with that knowledge is certainly a great skill.

One of my goals this year is to continue to refine our pedagogy so we meet the needs of each and every one of our students. The benefits of a new learning space that promotes flexibility and imagination are imperative and critical in this process. Improving the self-efficacy of students as learners, as well as the self-efficacy of teachers in spaces that redefine and challenge the boundaries of a traditional classroom are essentially my goals this year. I look forward to capturing these experiences and reflecting on them.


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Letters of Introduction

I really love the first English lesson of the year. The anticipation and expectation that fills the room is palatable. Watching the quiet (mostly) students sitting and waiting to hear what I have to say, all the while making assumptions about the kind of teacher I will be and the kind of student they will be.

I find that this is probably the only time of the year that they are at their quietest selves. There’s a lot to internalise and make sense. My expectations of them are made clear in this lesson. They know what it takes to be a good English student and they know that a positive presence in the classroom will create a learning environment that is conducive to great learning for all.

After telling them a little about myself and my hopes and goals for the year, I take the opportunity to tell them that I want to get to know about them. About their goals for English and their expectations of me and what they want me to do in order to help them achieve their goals.

They are invited to write a letter to me. They can tell me a little or a lot about themselves. They do need to include what excites them about studying English, what makes them nervous about studying English, their strengths, likes and areas for improvement. So tonight, after having a lesson with three of my four classes, I am slowly reading through each letter, taking in the words of each student. I have told them that I will write a letter in response. If they have taken the time to write to me, it only seems appropriate that I reply to their letter.

I have long maintained that teaching is as much about establishing great relationships than it is about content. I have found that my students learn best when they relate well to me. They like positive feedback but they also like constructive criticism. They understand that mistakes are welcomed and there are no such things as stupid or dumb questions. They also understand that I am often more interested in their questions than in the answers. I have said all of this to them today and as I read over their letters, it is so pleasing to read their excitement and enthusiasm for learning.

I will reply to each student and will use the letters to discover ways I can tailor the content and activities to meet their needs. I want to broaden their experiences of literature given a number of students have indicated they want to discover the classics. I have also discovered that a number of students want to broaden their vocabulary or ‘read the whole novel for the first time.’

Letter writing can be a cathartic activity. Letter writing may not be as popular a form of communication as it was only years ago, but my students certainly enjoyed the opportunity to express their thoughts and I know they are anticipating a reply.




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My word for 2016 is TIME

I love this time of year. It’s been a month since I was at school and the rush to finish the school term and the busy week of Christmas is a distant memory. We’ve been on a short but relaxing holiday away. Renovations are talking shape at our place and everybody is relaxed, happy and healthy. It’s a time when I can read a little more and later into the night. A time to reflect on the year that was and on the year that will be and I am not alone. In fact, my reader is filled with some truly inspiring posts by some esteemed educators who have been thinking and reflecting on the year that was and the goals they wish to achieve this year. A number of words are repeated throughout these posts but the word repeated most is balance. Balance. It’s the one goal that is repeatedly set by teachers the world over. How do we balance our work with family responsibilities? I’ve decided that my word for 2016 is time. I need to focus on how I use time. I am not a time waster by any means but I feel that if I am going to achieve any of my goals, it will come down to time. I have always seen time as some sort of enemy. Time would steal moments of rest, of peace, of happiness. At times it would linger (particularly playground duty or exam supervision) but for 2016 I have decided to rush less. I think my frenetic approach to time, of feeling like I am governed by the passing of each minute, has led to unnecessary angst. I think that better preparation (of lunches, of breakfasts, of dinners) and more careful reflection will lead to better balance and greater productivity. My goal is to use my time efficiently so I can achieve more and have greater balance in my life. I hope everyone who has set a goal for the year is able to create a path so they can achieve it.  Continue reading

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Inspiring a love of poetry

In my year 8 class, we have been studying poetry this term. Some classics and some contemporary poems. Throughout the unit, students have been given opportunities to perform poetry, respond to poetry and to write their own poetry.

We have spent some time reading poetry that captures the beauty and majesty of nature. Students have considered how poets use techniques to create vivid, arresting imagery and evoke emotions. In order to give it an authentic quality, we have spent time listening to poets read their works. We have also performed poetry.

In the last week, our class has created an anthology of poetry and they’ve performed and recorded a reading of their own poetry. We used GarageBand to record the files and they’ve uploaded them to their English folder.

They have also created their own digital inspiration board, collating all the beautiful photographs, paintings, imagery, words, quotes, poems, proverbs, psalms etc that inspires them to live a wonderful, happy and creative life. In getting them to create a digital inspiration board, bringing together the many facets of the unit, they are learning how literature and art can inspire them to live a wonderful, creative and happy life.

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Authentic Learning

There is much that has been published about ‘Authentic Learning.’ I think the idea of grounding learning in a real world context is a good idea. It makes sense to help students make links between the skills and knowledge they acquire with their own contexts. I’ve always believed teaching something out of context and without helping students make connections between what they learn and their world, to be somewhat futile. We all need a point at which we can connect with what we read. I believe that our own experiences are central to helping us understand new and challenging concepts. For example, I wasn’t a particularly great Science student at school, but after leaving school, I found that narratives about scientists and the work they had undertaken, really helped me to understand a range of concepts that were so foreign to me at school. Michio Kaku’s “Physics of the Future: How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and Our Daily Lives by the Year 2100” was a great book to read about how Physics plays such an important role in our lives. The grounded, authentic experiences allowed me to understand the very difficult and complex science behind a whole range of innovations, from driverless cars, to talking walls and clothes detecting changes to heart rates, breathing etc.

There are many such books about science and innovation that I have read, that have grounded the theory into practice and have in essence opened up these worlds to me. Granted, not everyone learns this way, but I have learnt through the process, that sometimes you need an expert to ‘connect the dots’ so that people who don’t necessarily think a certain way, can still access the information.

With this in mind, I have been working with my year 7 class, on creating documentaries. We’ve just spent the term focusing on the power of persuasion. We’ve looked at what makes an effective piece of persuasive writing. My students have spent the better part of three weeks, creating documentaries designed to present factual information, to inform and persuade their audiences about a local issue of importance to them.

Initially, I have asked them to research the documentary form. They presented this information in slideshows to the class. They shared these on the class’ Edmodo page. I have structured the planning stages whereby they have used mind-mapping tools (bubbl.us) and a PMI to decide on the topic they will research for their documentary.

They are also using Google Forms to create surveys. This is a fantastic tool as I was able to teach them about the different kinds of questions you can ask people and how thinking about questioning can allow for a range of responses. We were able to discuss when and how we would use short answer, multiple choice, longer answer responses.

Today they have reflected on the process thus far. I look forward to reading their journal entries and commenting on each of them. They have created all of this in a Google doc (as our school uses the Google platform) and this is shared with me. I’ve also taught them about how to select different sources and to ascertain the credibility and validity of an article or other piece of research they have found.

So far I can say that they have really engaged in the process. There hasn’t been a question about when they can start to “create the documentary in iMovie” which is great. It means they are thinking about the process. I have also told them we will spend a week on editing the films in class and then we will share them with the class.

Their audience will grow from the class, to include their parents and other people in our school community. It is really interesting to facilitate this process in the classroom. They have shown me that they are much more aware of the issues in their local area than we would give credit. They have shown me, that when given the opportunity to think, plan, research and reflect and to teach these skills, they can certainly imagine and create bigger and better documentaries. I may even extend an invitation to the local Mayor, to come and watch a selection of the films.

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Back into the swing of things…

I have to confess: it has been a really busy year and I have not blogged nearly as much as I would have liked. Returning to work after having a baby, balancing full time work and family commitments is something I feel I am slowly becoming better at managing. I think the many articles and opinion pieces about mother’s guilt and balancing work and family do summarise the angst that returning to work can bring, though I have to say that it’s a challenge that is worthwhile. A good friend said to me that a baby will grow and eventually become a little person with their own identity. It’s so true because when I look at my little one now, he is vivacious, loves exploring and has a warm and endearing nature. He also loves to joke around. I think that day care has enabled more and varied opportunities to develop his social skills and motor skill development. I think that work has enabled me to reconnect with people and remember what it is that I love so much about being in the classroom. Anyway, will promise another blog post soon.

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