Thursday, 27 August 2015

Authentic Audiences

When my students write, speak, share or collaborate it is generally only within the four walls of my classroom. This annoys me because I know that there is just so much more out there.

Students are scared when it comes to putting their work up on the wall let alone sharing it with the school or the world!

We were having a discussion a wee while ago on #EngChatNZ about authentic audiences and I think it's truly critical. Whether it's a TedTalk or some sort of broadcast discussing an important issue.

Id honestly like to see my students break oit of their comfort zones but the reality is they don't know that they have one and the way our assessments are set up - I'm enabling them to not push themselves out of their comfort zones.

The other issue of course is student's ability - whether percieved, believed or actual. Breaking students out of that mindset is a constant and daily struggle because on one hand they don't have the confidence to share with a bigger audience and on the other hand they may not have been given the opportunity to learn that way before so might not have basic skills to do this.

However, like Frances said at the MindLab session earlier this week - the oldest digital natives that we have are 12 year olds. And they're the next cohort about to come through to us in Y9 next year.

What worries me is that they've been learning in a way that is integral to their own understanding and ability as well as the fact that once they get to our school they'll be faced with our current reality which will become a complete about face for them.

It's difficult because there are so many factors at play and I want to ensure students have the best possible opportunities, are learning real world skills and more importantly are learning skills that may help them in the future.

Not all students get the same deal either so it's interesting because we need to be more aware of the backgrounds our students have and cater to that as well. I've had Y12 students who didn't know how to copy and paste info or students who hadn't used a computer for years. There's definitely a digital divide and we need to cater and continue being aware that not everyone starts off on an equal footing.

More importantly - to find authentic audiences - the students need to know who an authentic audience may be for a particular project.

I think I started breaking into more of this with my Y11s this year when we wrote letters to certain people who could alter the chances and futures of my students research topics. I still want them to send them but again it comes down to student's confidence and persistence.

Growing up having blogs taught me how an authentic audience who actually read your blog and commented and learnt with you, truly helped to foster a reading and sharing community but also allowed me to be aware of the fact that what I wrote - someone would read and I should always be aware of this important fact.

Anyway - time for class. :)

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Why I love Twitter...

The title is all cheese but I'm incredibly sincere when I say it.

I think I've mentioned this transition before but think it's worthy again of mentioning.

Was just having a conversation with a colleague, from another school, another region, same subject.. about Twitter and people's reactions towards it.

It doesn't shock me now when I hear someone moan and say how much they hate Twitter or how they just don't "do" social media. It used to shock me. But I think that's mainly because of my naivety as well as my complete love for all things social and most things media.

What shocks me now is that I hear people say they hate PLD or professional development.

Mostly because I have been completely blessed over the last three years to find my real niche in learning and development. Interestingly enough it came from both being social and connecting with others through varying degrees of media.

Yes we've all had that shocking PLD that leaves out most of the learning and feels more like home d than anything else.

But as I've said before - if you are feeling lost in the crowd, isolated, burnt out or just merely apathetic - surely there is an alternative to the usual PLD sessions that are run through schools or ones that you're sent to and forced to sit through.

There is. And it's Twitter.

Like I said not everyone likes the idea of Twitter - but the thing about it is the fact that you can tailor make your own PLD about areas in which you personally are interested in. More importantly - it's a fantastic opportunity to network with others and a chance to create that positive digital footprint that we should be modelling to our students.

When I was doing my GradDipT at Waikato Uni - I was told by a tech teacher about how awesome Twitter was. I couldn't get it. Refused to because of the constrictions of the characters. Quite plainly - I'm glad I hated it back then because otherwise my account would have been full of obscene tweets about next to nothing with overt exclamation marks and capitalised words.

It wasn't until I was into my fifth or so month of teaching full time when I turned to Aunty Google and started searching for somewhere that I could gain support and ideas from about teaching. Lo and behold - one of the first links that popped up was #edchat as well as #nt2twitter created by Lisa Dabbs.

I soaked up these tweets and created an account. I tried my hardest to join into these chats but they were in the American timezone and I just couldn't participate as well as I would have liked. I asked for and gained a mentor but it just wasn't as effective as I needed at the time. About then I think I was dealing with my first highly difficult class and learning coping strategies and quickly building behaviour management techniques and philosophies from my experiences. At the time I needed all the love and support I could muster.

Somehow I made it through and although those Twitter chats were a mere blip on the radar now - I truly am glad I found them.

Fastforward a couple of years to last year at Issues and Organising - a PPTA run conference - where I had the pleasure of sitting in on Steve Mouldey's presentation about Hobsonville School and his experiences. What caught me though was the frequency in which he was discussing Twitter. Something I was still debating around the use and efficiency of.

About then is when I got full blown caught up in the turbulent winds of the revolution of the education and PLD movement in NZ.

Finally I had found my people. Those who LOVED learning and enjoyed sharing their experiences and thoughts. Those who were willing to step outside of their comfort zones and try something new. Those who supported and needed support too. True ako in action.

Fast forward to now and well - I've recently hit the 20k tweet mark. My students ask me what I tweet about and I say that I tweet about them and what I'm learning. Most of the time I'm learning from others and soaking up ideas and ferreting them away for a time when I can pull them back out and use them. I favourite and retweet colleagues posts and develop new initiatives with new friends.

I've presented over Google Hangout a couple of times now and shared more than I can actually count. I've learnt from the best and continue to do so. I've participated in an amazing amount of Twitter chats from the likes of Danielle Myburgh's #edchatnz, Matty Nicoll and ibpossums #SciChatNZ as well as created our own little #EngChatNZ chat for NZ English teachers.

I've been sent to Brisbane for a conference on New Educators and hope to travel again soon to another big conference in the States. I'm presenting at this year's ULearn with Nathaniel Louwrens on Blogging for Beginners after my undoubtedly brave yet triumphant moment as the orphan of ULearn last year when my Twitter colleagues donated to my (2338) PledgeMe account to get me there!

I've presented at countless smackdowns around the country for different Educamps and loved each moment. I've been luckily given the opportunity to volunteer for Class Dojo as one of the Community Leads for our country and have learnt so so much from the other CD educators in NZ and around the world.

I've taken part in a tonne of different blogging challenges and learnt heaps from educators everywhere. I'm currently working with Nathaniel and Sonya Van Schaijik with developing #edblognz where eductors blogs are curated via RSS feeds in one stunning place.

I'm still developing my writing voice and think that it will continue getting better over time. The best part about it though is seeing my transformation and evolution as a teacher.

I blog... a lot. I tweet... a lot more. And to be honest - I get back what I put in.

There are moments when you just need time alone with your own thoughts of course and that balance is still something I'm learning (oh to have a work/life balance...) but it's just so fabulous being able to get inspiration and perspective at the opening of an app like Twitter.

I have big hopes and dreams and I'm lucky to have such a supportive PLN (professional learning network) that support and value me and my ideas.

I'm hoping to go to ISTE in Denver next year and if I save enough I'll be able to do it.

After my experiences with breaking into this beautiful social and media filled world - I really don't think I can go back to having my head in the ground and not knowing what's going on in education and the world. I'm so so lucky that I have found the area in which I can not only give back but can develop and grow as an educator too because of the wealth of support I have from those not only in my own school staffroom but that of our global Twitter staffroom.

So if you've read this far and know someone who isn't on Twitter (yet!) please pass this post on to them. They don't have to like Twitter - they don't even have to use it 'properly' to get something out of it. They just need to open their minds up to what's going on in education and try to be aware of how they too can contribute and learn from others too.

If you or they need help I've got a few resources - one that I'd still like to redo as I'm constantly evolving it. I'd like to keep it at 2 pages but there is just a lot of info that people ask for and need help with so we'll see how that goes. For now - here's the latest resources I have:


Friday, 21 August 2015

Analysing 'Chappie' - Y9 English

Over the last few weeks I've been helping a colleague's class out by ensuring they have enough work and depth in their programme.

My colleague has been very sick and we aren't sure as to whether she'll be able to come back any time soon. In the meantime, her class has been given a day reliever for her classes. He is fabulous but as any reliever would know - it's not only difficult to keep up with relationship building, but also hard to give clear guidelines and programmes when you're being given relief work.

For a class such as this one - I feel sorry for them but I also hope that they'll be able to overcome these setbacks and achieve in the end of year exams.

So with this in mind - I suggested to my HOD to give them the new film she'd  bought 'Chappie' - a PG13 film. The kids immediately fell for the storyline and the main character Chappie - a robocop in the near future of Jo'berg, South Africa.

After they'd finished the first viewing I taught a 30 minute session around character and possible themes and settings. They wrote down their own understanding of the film and their perspective. We discussed the seriousness of their learning dysfunctional behaviours and the fact that they needed to put a lot of effort into their exam at the end of the year.

Still though - it wasn't enough - because they still weren't sure of the settings enough to be able to write much about the connections with the themes and characters or symbolism of the settings.

I sat down with the reliever a few days ago and discussed the possible programme of what they could be doing and what they absolutely must do. It still wasn't really enough so I finally got around to writing down more structured thoughts with him while the students watched the film for a second time.

Today during their lesson and this afternoon - I worked on a new study booklet for the class that had the absolute MUST do and could do pieces of work. The study book is all good and well - but it would still need a teacher to work through it properly with them.

I'm pretty proud of it at the moment though mainly because I managed to get it all done today and also because I feel like I'm a better teacher when there's a time pressure or when I'm trying to save a class.

Anyway - here it is - have a look and comment below with what could be added and your thoughts :)

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Reflecting on Reflecting...

I'd say I am a pretty reflective teacher. I think about my lessons and what happens during them and analyse what I'm doing during class to ensure I get the best out of my students by being the most effective I can be.

Sometimes my lessons are transmissive, others are fully facilitated and supported with students learning and teaching each other, other times my lessons are a mixture and even still further some lessons just don't seem to work as well as I'd hoped.

I'm still thinking about last week's opportunity with having a real-life activist speaking with us about her journey towards saving one of most special mammals in the world from extinction. I asked the students for comments afterwards and they made the point that if we were to do something like that again then we'd have to have solid questions organised. I'd actually planned for this but we never got the chance to write some for her in class prior to yhe Skype session as we were working on a new assessment. I'd set it as homework instead. Which wasn't done by all students.

Part of the issue was the timing of the session but I'd booked it months in advance and it just so happened to fall on Freedom Challenge week which seemed hectic and not as well organised by me as I would have liked.

I feel like I can prepare solid lessons in advance for relievers or for classes that are in desperate need of saving like I did today.

The problem is that I actually think my students are doing okay. Some need indepth help and others need motivation. The real issue though I think is that I don't offer enough opportunities for students to reflect on their learning or what they'd like more of from me as their teacher.

I also like to think that on average - I do an okay job. I've attempted the less paper is better mindset this year and while it's been better for the environment - I've been slack at updating 'Evolving at Heights' which basically makes it redundant. Also not all students have access. I want to make more interactive worksheets and developed ideas but need the time to think and process and create these.

I want to ensure my students are getting a fair and equitable learning opportunity and develop a better classroom organisation because at present while I can get around the class quickly - I'm circling and I'd like to be able to be more direct and sit with my students rather than stand by/over/beside them as their isn't much room nor table space especially in my bigger classes.

I've discussed the desire I have before about a more effective learning environment - to me that means less desks and more comfortable focussed ares. My students work collaboratively but the furniture we currently have sometimes impedes the ability to do this.

I saw an awesome video on the Edutopia site with these desks and chairs that were on swivel wheels and it would be awesome to have more moveability. Even if the blue desks (that I'm slowly changing into whiteboard desks with the whiteboard laminate sticking sheets) stayed then having swivel wheels would help to ensure moveability and quick group changes.

I get frustrated when my students get used to sitting in the same space all the time. They're habitual. Though I think this has been trained into them. They refuse to move outside their comfort zone and don't want to work with others. This I think is a main concern. If we aren't teaching them life skills like relating to others from our KCs... then what are we teaching?

Lastly... before I fall asleep. I bought another tablet from TradeMe. It was smaller than I'd thought. But will do well in class as another option for students to do their work.

Oh really lastly - the three whiteboard tables that are in use have quickly been commandeered by my students and they love using them. I just hope that the two other classes who use my room don't wreck them or put permament marker on them...

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Midnight Thoughts about Teaching

I love my students. Each and every one of them. Even the ones that take most of my time and energy - particularly those like the student I'm wide awake at 12.40am thinking about - hoping he's okay.

I love when my students overcome the adversities in their day to day lives and even more when they allow me into their struggles so that I can help - even in some small way - just listening truly helps.

I love when my students build their courage and self respect and begin to believe in themselves.

I love when my students hear deficit theorizers and learn to ignore that ongoing voice in their own heads that echo what those horrible people say about my student's worth and ability.

I love when my students have the pride to step up and honour something they have or haven't done, apologise and take accountability and ensure that they leave a more positive mark on the world.

I love when my students succeed. Any success they make is a HUGE success and should be celebrated!! No matter how 'big' or 'small'.

I love when my students stumble. Because eventually they build up enough resilience to carry on and keep trying another day.

I love that my students are learning every day about the people who they want to become and that they know I've got their back - 110%.

I love that even in my darkest days and my more worrisome times - my students are there for me and offer help and support.

I love that my students give back what I put in and when they don't it's nice to see them apologise and try and make up for it the next time.

I love when the light flicks on in their brain and they build momentum and traction with a new idea. The lights turn on and it's a stunning sight.

I love when I have conversations with my students and when I laugh so hard I snort because it not only creates trust in my class that it's okay to laugh together - it creates an environment that is pure joy and happiness.

I love that I have learnt the true value of a student's trust and that students feel comfortable opening up to me about stuff that is going on. I'm not a counselor but maybe I will be in the future and I'll be able to help properly rather than just listening and then referring on.

I love that my students know it's okay to talk to me about that stuff. That they know I'll look after them. That they know when it comes to the end of it - they will look back and be grateful. Well I hope they will.

I just hope that my students stay safe in these trying times and that they keep pushing themselves to the best of their abilities - because that's all I ask. That they try and that they try hard to improve over time.

Kia kaha e tama ma.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Best Lessons Today :)

Mixture of getting my planning mojo back and having things more organised. Using my whiteboard planners more effectively and now I just need to add TRUMP.

But seriously. Had the best day today learning with my students. Still a few students who need reigning in but the majority of students I was just so so so so so so so impressed with today. Very cool.

The social studies class was epic. Beyond belief. I love that they asked hard questions of the Amnesty students and that my students are thinking in depth about the ramifications of doubling the quota for their freedom challenge. Making them see it from the refugees perspective is key.

Y12 English was amazing too. So cool to see them thinking and working together. Good to see the table of four who are usually disengaged be completely on task and engaged with Gone Girl. Think I did choose the right films in the end for the class. Just hope that I've got enough thoughts in process for the next few lessons with group analysis of the two texts.

Y11 was super cool. Good to see them all focussed and building the V for Vendetta plot structure with me. I'm happy with how we plotted it yesterday. Think I needed the full board though... I wonder whether I could do it with an OHT showing both V and Evey's plots and events and how they differ and compare and compliment each other. Bet there's an app for that though!

Need to find more of those resources we made last year in Y10. I swear I had heaps. Maybe I shared them and they were taken from the folder? Surely not... maybe I just didn't type up what we'd written down? Freedom Writers is such a cool film and it has so so many bits and pieces. It needs depth. My students need to be pushed to their full potential. My increasing concern is that they won't deal well with Y11 if they can't focus or attribute appreciation for their learning over socialising and gossipping. Thought they'd be over it from last year. Not yet it seems.

Looking forward to seeing how a colleague's class turns out with having watched Chappie. Such a cool film!

Am very much so looking forward to our GHO with Leanne tomorrow :)

Tired. At least my room isn't so cold! Thanks heater. Sleep time.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Up the ante...

I've been reflecting recently about the sheer differences I'm seeing in myself and my teaching. Not just since I started teaching but how I teach. For reasons beyond my current control I've been plodding along trying to stay true to myself, my beliefs in who I want to be as a teacher and as a person and equally as important, keeping my head above water while pretending to be consistent when really I'm still chewing on a lot of different things.

The whole idea of being consistent has put me on the back foot - at least until I figured out that I was missing structure and focus - which I provided for myself. I now have a more clearer head now that I can visually see my senior students success, am verbalising my next steps and conferencing with my students to discuss their next steps too and am focussing on a more organised system for collecting and curating student's completed work.

The problem I originally had was space. Or lack thereof. I now have a sweet filing system and marking system that I've put into place so that I can ensure I'm focussed and organised. If you'd been in my class you'd see my 'organised chaos' that is my desk. I actually can't deal with sitting at a desk by myself, by the wall, isolated from the students. I much rather sit with my students, mark and help as we go.

Another issue is that of the 20 minute Interlead sessions on a Thursday. Originally I thought it was great. And it is. Well it could be. The problem being that you don't know if anyone has read it. It's nice to get feedback, feedforward and a critique on your thoughts. With Blogger - at least there is the data analytics available to see how many people looked at it. The dashboard is more user friendly. It's also frustrating because when I'm given allocated time - I can't just switch on my reflective thoughts. Like I've said in previous posts - I tend to ruminate and then post when there is enough built up. The real problem though is that it feels like one of those blog challenges that I'm just incredibly terrible at. I love writing. Inherently find intrinsic motivation to write, purge my thoughts and find clarity.
So that's part of the reason why I've been slack recently.

Also I have been busy... academic tracking sheets, marking, conferencing, attending and presenting at conferences and just recently, a weekend trip with my little sister and 120 other people who also won the Jetstar flight of the Flightless Kiwis to Queenstown. I've found time for me, time for others and now my focus is back on my students - like it nearly always is.

There are a range of things that I need to tighten up. Planning, updating Evolving at Heights, maintaining communication with parents, building stronger relationships with each and every student particularly the less vocal ones and ensuring that I have a clear focus with BYOD and next steps forward.

The reality though is that I'm tired, cold and feel like I've lost inspiration. Maybe I need to read through my blog...

Anyway... that's me for now.

Looking forward to seeing the continued journey with #edblognz and the RSS feed :)

Saturday, 1 August 2015

EdCampGlobal Opportunity

Am incredibly stoked to have been asked to be part of this GHO session with Brian Host and the rest of our whanau - Beverley Ladd, Brett Salakas, Jena Ball and Marty Keltz from the Not Perfect Hat Club, Viv Hall and Dan Haesel.

Looking forward to sharing some of the stuff I've been doing with connecting globally with other teachers and sharing my journey over the last year and a half.

A little bit nervous about not having a script and knowing that I'm really really talented at saying 'Um' multiple times in unscripted GHO sessions for presenting... haha. Hopefully the passion and excitement will show through regardless!

Here are a couple of recent Twitter resources that could help you on your own journey to building a PLN:


Twitter Cheat Sheet: