The first thing you need to know about the NZRA... is that it's incredibly powerful. To have six classes throughout our beautiful country all reading the same novel - about the same time - sharing their learning, ideas and thoughts on a shared learning platform has been refreshing and exciting.
At first when Kerri and her NZRA crew brought this programme to life last year within the primary school, I was hopeful it would evolve towards the junior school in High School too. This year is the first year we've been doing NZRA for Y9 and 10 students and although I can only speak for this term - it's been collaborative, challenging and overwhelmingly engaging.
Last term with my Y10 English class we studied Romeo and Juliet. They absolutely NAILED the Shakespearean verse. I was so so proud of them all. We didn't read the entire thing but we managed to cover some of the more important scenes - the balcony scene, deaths of Mercutio, Paris, Romeo and Juliet etc. Some of my students were even able to go up to Auckland for the Shakespeare in Schools programme at the Pop Up Globe. When I went on the last day of the school holidays - I left feeling touched by Shakespeare - in all senses of the word. I honestly feel that the Pop-Up Globe brought Shakespeare to life the way it was meant to and I wish that all of my students could have been able to feel that wairua the same way I did. I swear I cried through most of it - to my 15 year old sisters embarrassment and equally shared happiness.
I digress - the point I suppose of sharing the success of our study of the Bard is to say that I just KNEW that my Y10 class would absolutely smash out the novel despite not having read it yet myself. And they're doing remarkably well. We as a collective (NZRA) are currently into Week 3 of 'Speed Freak' and the students that didn't quite connect with Shakespeare or the poetic phrases have settled easily into this style of prose.
This week I've written up the tasks for 'Speed Freak' and I felt the biggest amount of responsibility I've ever had in teaching (excluding EOTC trips!!) because I was in charge of setting up the learning for a LOT of students. My own students are used to my relaxed nature and flexibility when it comes to our learning based on their needs or wants in each lesson - but to be in charge of the next week of lessons for a range of amazing colleagues - that's serious responsibility. I hope that the students enjoy it this week. A fair bit of analysis of relationships - some deeper discussions around the issues in the novel might be needed but I left those up to the discretion of the teacher.
Chapters 14-18 - probably the most vertical part of the novel so far in terms of rising action where the novel's characters develop, learn more about each other and make some pretty serious decisions.
I await the discussion of their learning on Edmodo in their small groups.
My students will need to push themselves through the next few lessons as we've been having to catch up on chapters each reading room session - and have only three lessons more to read five chapters.
We'll see how we go. We might have to rejig the reading and chapters a little or figure out pacing a bit better. At least the chapters are all only a few pages each so it's not too strenuous but allowing time for all students to have a go at reading, monitoring their progress and improved reading over time does take up extra time. The tasks are well structured - the last two weeks it has been a series of different ones each chapter which I've chosen a couple from that have been really effective.
Working in this way, collaborating with other teachers across the country shows me just how much effort goes into true collaboration - sure it's a bit challenging - but overall it's incredibly rewarding and has improved my practice in terms of more focussed literacy tasks and developed my thinking and perspectives around collaborative teaching and learning.
This aspect of blended learning - using traditional and digital tools to enhance and evolve the students learning has been really cool to be a part of. Thanks to Karen Wilson for her ongoing support and commitment to this NZRA programme and for getting us this far :) Looking forward to the next few weeks!!