Our Small World Tokelau

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Making connections across our schools to share strategies that work

Part of the struggle that my students have is engaging in the texts that they are reading.  Too often what we give them to read is irrelevant or too hard or boring (a comment made by a year 9 student in my class just last week).  I was frustrated in trying to think of ways to address this issue and although we have a wealth of strategies that could use, I wasn't sure where to start or which strategies would work.  Then I read a blogpost by Robyn Anderson at Panmure Bridge, one of the primary schools in our Manaiakalani cluster and enjoyed reading about the learning that was happening in her classroom.

In her blog, Robyn shared a lesson that worked with her class who were looking at a text and trying to figure out the author's message.  She shared how surprised she was when students used strategies and scaffolds that they'd learnt before to breakdown the text and transfer this skill across to a text without even being told to.

Robyn's blogpost resonated with me.  How awesome would it be that when students are faced with a task, they search in their toolkit of knowledge to choose a strategy that they think would suit the task.  And they do it collaboratively.  And without being told!

I really wanted to know more!  I met with Robyn and she shared the frameworks and guided teaching and learnings that she used with her class. They were simple, clear and collaborative.  Two of the ideas that Robyn shared were based on Aaron Wilson's 'Five ideas for helping students develop a basic understanding of the text' which were used to help students engage with a text.

Robyn has invited me to see this learning in action which I can't wait to see. Now that I have heard first hand how an experienced teacher had implemented guided reading strategies in her programme and the way students were able to use them to guide their learning, I am hopeful that I can develop some of these strategies in our junior school, in an effort to engage our students more when it comes to reading.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Collaborating with other COL's is cool!

Sometimes when we get into the reality of everyday life back at our schools, I forget we are part of a big picture.

At our COLs meeting recently, we got into groups to share where we were with our inquiries.  It was really awesome to hear where everyone was at and it was refreshing to know that we could share our challenges without fear.

Our group was led by Anne who said we had 3 minutes to share a brief reflection about our focussing inquiries and what strategies and tools we used to figure out what our students have already learned and what we needed to learn next (scanning).

We had varying schools and varying struggles and achievements that we have chosen to take on and at first it seemed hard to find and 'synthesis' a common ground that linked us all.  But as I continued to hear everyone's stories, a common thread filtered through - that we were all had a hunch, scanned our learners and have come to the point where we were ready to ask what could WE change in our practice.

We looked at different ways of finding out where our kids were in the classroom.  On reflection, what we have been doing up to this point was basically looking at the challenges we had chosen to take on and finding ways to approach them.  A key idea Anne wanted us to think about was what we could do to change ourselves and our practice. One of the key things that resonated with me was something that Graeme Aitken had said at our Leaders PLG the previous day.  He shared with us ways to 'take stock' of where we were at and how kids felt about their learning.  One question that had me thinking was asking kids to name two adults in our school setting who believed  that they would be a success in life.  I wondered if the kids in my classes felt I believed they would be a success and shared this wondering with my COL's group.  Together, we agreed that the change for my practice would be around better AWARENESS of what was happening in the classroom and to 'take stock' so that I could develop a better more accurate picture of my learners.  Now I want to figure out how to measure this.

I really enjoyed connecting with the other COL's in my group and I look forward to sharing my learnings and reflections with them again.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Getting my year 9's to write paragraphs

When it comes to paragraph writing, a common phrase that my year 9 learners relay is 'I don't know how to start'.  I have wondered in the past at what this 'block' or 'bump' in the process was and when I talked to my kids about it, they say that they worry about getting it wrong.  With the affordances that the digital world offers (ie spell and grammar checks), I wondered if it was more of an intrinsic belief that caused them to stall rather than the lack of grammatical knowledge.

One of the ways that we will be looking at tackling this issue is to ensure that our students are supported in their learning through scaffolded teaching and learning tasks.  Marc Milford, our schools Student Achievement co-odinator has been coming to our department meetings and sharing strategies and writing templates that we could implement within our units.  He has been working with one of my level 3 students who is an ESOL student and has struggled with understanding basic terms and concepts.  When I checked her writing before Marc had helped her, I could see that she was not able to put proper sentences together and found it difficult to use words that made sense.  Marc developed a writing frame for her and I could see that she was learning to structure her writing a lot more clearer.  I asked Marc to share with us at our department meeting the template and the next day, I tried to use the same structure with my year 9's as they were preparing to write for their exams.

I introduced the framework to the class by saying that they could use the key words and ideas provided to help them but if they felt confident to write without them, they could do so.  The examples I provided were from the learnings we had around traditions in Tokelau and I wanted them to use the concepts to show their understanding of what they'd learnt in class.

Once I shared the document, I wondered around the classroom to check if anyone needed help.  One of the girls stopped me and said 'I don't know what to do miss' so I sat with her and explained what she needed to do.  I said I would come back and check on her after she'd written her first one.  I had given one period for the class to complete the activity, but feedback from the students I found was that they needed more time.

The next day, I checked student work and found a number of students had written some excellent paragraphs which really surprised me.  One example is from a student below, who I felt was often disengaged in class.

Another student who has struggled at times, felt confident enough not to use the sentence starter for his second paragraph, which helped me to understand that he can work with and with out the scaffold. 
An interesting point to note was that the girls struggled with completing the paragraphs set.  Only 1 of the 6 girls completed at least one paragraph and she completed it at home, whereas at least half of the boys completed the tradition and education paragraphs.  The boys also used any digital feedback I provided to motivate them to complete what they'd started whereas the girls needed more oral feedback.  This idea that different modes of feedback support all different learners supports a study that I'd completed 2 years ago, that compared digital, written and oral feedback.  With this in mind, I need to ensure that I address the importance of 'feedback' as a further strategy that could improve the writing of our students.  The next step is to ensure that students are provided more opportunities to write using scaffolds that support students. 

Friday, 26 May 2017

How to structure writing - which is the best model?

When it comes to writing, my department knows that preparing our students to write can be a daunting process.  As part of my inquiry, I wanted to find out what other departments at my school were using as their models for teaching and learning.  I emailed them to ask what they used in their teaching.

Our maths and P.E departments use the P.E.E chain which is reflected in the chart below:

The English department use T.E.E.P.E.E:
  • T = topic
  • E = example/quote
  • E = explanation
  • P = purPose (author/director’s purpose)
  • E = effect (also consider on whole text and reader)
  • E = evaluation (make connections, comments outside the text)

And we along with our fellow scientists, we use S.E.X:

I wondered if it made sense to use a more common, cross-curricula framework so that kids didn't need to learn and relearn from class to class how to write a paragraph.

In my department meeting, I discussed with Marc Milford, our schools 'Student achievement co-ordinator' which structure he thought would be the most useful and if a more common one across the school would be better for the kids.  He suggested we nutted out the best one with evidence and put it to our curriculum committee.  One of my team found that her kids struggled to get to the end of an assessment or essay and just needed to finish it off.   Although we use S.E.X, members in my team mentioned one called TEXAS and after a bit of study, I thought this one could be a good to implement as it allows to clear structure right to the end.  My next steps are to take this idea to the curriculum committee meeting to see what they thought.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

The value of connected learning in our Manaiakalani cluster - Te Taiao o Tāmaki.

When posed with the question of 'what does future focused learning in a connected community' look like, the Manaiakalani cluster wide inquiry of Te Taiao o Tāmaki' set the foundation for our year 9 students to be 'connected' to their learning.

Te Taiao o Tāmaki allowed connections to be made between teachers and schools in our cluster.  At our meetings, ideas were shared and networks made.  Teachers selected students from their respective schools to quad blog with students from other schools, to gain an insight into each others worlds and see that they were not alone in their learning.  Teachers across the cluster also shared their teaching strategies to support each other to work towards the collective vision.

Te Taiao o Tāmaki allowed our year 9 students at Tamaki College to feel connected to the rest of the schools in the cluster.  Many of our year 9's had younger siblings in the primary schools and would share their learnings over conversations at the dinner table or homework time with their parents and whanau.  This connection enabled students to support each other with their learning in their homes.

Te Taiao o Tāmaki allowed our year 9 students to feel empowered when they saw their projects and learnings displayed at Te Oro, especially in front of their old school mates.  A group of year 8's from a primary school, who knew one of our presenters, asked what he was like at school now, 'cause he used to be naughty'.  They were surprised when I replied 'he's going to be a future school leader'.  When asked how he felt about the day, our year 9 presenter replied how excited he was because 'everyone got involved and created amazing projects for all the other schools to see'. "It made me feel proud because I was sharing my knowledge with everyone else and it also helped me build up my confidence".  In enabling our year 9's to showcase their projects to the younger students, it established the belief that Tamaki College could be (and should be) the first school of choice for them in the future because they could see what they could aspire to.

Te Taiao o Tāmaki allowed our whanau and our community to see the quality of projects our year 9's were able to produce.  People took the time to stop by and comment on how articulate our students were and how proudly they presented themselves.  The fact that our community could see our students in this positive, shared context created the opportunity for any barriers and stereotypes to be broken down and a more positive view adopted.  This can only be a good thing.

So when I reflect on 'what future focused learning in a connected community' looks like, Te Taiao o Tamaki fostered the 'values' of coming together as a community of learners with a shared vision.  Te Taiao o Tāmaki was more than just a showcase of projects from students in our cluster.  It was a time that allowed our students to feel connected and valued, and that they had a place in the world.

Tamaki College at Te Oro 2017 from SchoolTV on Vimeo.

Monday, 15 May 2017

My Spark M.I.T inquiry - take 2!

My initial inquiry was looking at ways to improve engagement and learning outcomes for our year 9 students through blogging.  Before coming to the college, the students in the primary schools in our cluster had been blogging since year 0 and I wanted to implement blogging as 'normal practice' in year 9 social studies programmes.  This was one strategy that I could see working in helping with transitioning from primary school to secondary school which has always been a challenge.

Although blogging at our school is something that is done dependant on the teacher (or department), I decided to focus on how we could implement it within my department.  I set up class blogs and helped to ensure that students had access to their individual blogs.  In our department meetings, we found opportunities to share lessons when we would write a class blog and what we wanted students to write and reflect on in their individual blogs. Looking back at our terms work, I found that my teachers added a few blogs here and there on their blogs, but rarely commented on students' work. On reflection, I have found that the teachers were hesitant and may have needed more guidance on blogging.  I had taken it for granted they would regularly blog and comment on their students blogs.  I also felt that like the kids, teachers too needed an authentic audience and purpose for blogging and commenting.  To confirm this, I conducted a student voice survey that found 78% of our students found that blogging helped them with their learning and that it was beneficial to help them succeed because other people were reading them which gave them purpose.  One student even commented about their future job prospects:

"Yes, blogging helps us. Because when you post all of your idea's, thinking/knowledge and that on your blog, their might be people from around the country that work at a very special big company or job like that and they might like our post or what ever and maybe want to make something out of it and stuff".

Our Spark M.I.T day today has helped me re-evaluate my focus slightly that in order to ensure engagement for our kids, the teachers need to be engaged and on-board.  My next steps will include showing the teachers the results of the survey and creating multiple opportunities for them to write their blogs and understand the value in using them in their teaching and learning pedagogy.

To support me in this process, we have been paired up with Spark 'Buddies' who provide insight and 'another pair of eyes' on our inquiry process.  As part of the Spark Foundation's initiative Raven Garcia has the privilege of being my buddy this year.  We discussed ways in which I could use strategies that could engage my department like 'Toastmasters' and 'Linked in' for ideas which were really useful sites that I will explore further.  As I move towards a different (but related) focus, I am excited to take up the challenge.

Spark M.I.T team getting to know each other

Friday, 12 May 2017

Making new habits - when teachers blog in a department meeting

One of the key achievement challenges that we have in our cohort is how to raise the writing levels of our students, particularly our boys.  At our department meetings, we are limited on the amount time we get to spend on figuring out ways to engage and motivate our students to write. Quite a bit of time is spent on admin, which is no doubt important, but alas once we get to talk about strategies and relevant activities that we could use in the classroom, the fatigue of a long meeting has set in.  Nevertheless, I needed to use the short time I had at the end of our meeting to tackle a few things that I wanted them to understand - blogging is important and relevant for teaching as inquiry and we need to use and develop more structured writing frames in the classroom.

Aaron Wilson from Woolf Fisher says that one of the ways to get students to write is to ensure that they are writing for a purpose.  The purpose for the writing activity that I got my team to do was essentially for their teaching as inquiry but also to understand how important it is to guide our students through writing. We also expect our students to blog and yet it has not been a main focus for many of our staff.  Only one of my team members regularly blogs and I felt it important to allow my team to blog in an safe and comfortable environment.

As with our kids, I didn't want my team to be stuck on how to start or what to write about.  I shared a structure around getting them to discuss a problem or a challenge that they'd had in their class, a strategy they used to address the challenge and a short reflection on what worked etc.  I also showed them examples of blogs using the template, my own one and Renee's who is one of our newer members on the team. I asked her to talk us through her blog to show how she formulated it and what she wrote.  She shared the fact that it did take her awhile to getting blogging, but understood the important purpose of doing so for her own professional growth.  In allowing her to share her experience, my team could feel that they could do it too.   I shared the template on a document and asked them to complete the task in 5 minutes.

I observed how members in my team prepared to write.  Aaron Wilson shared an insightful point about metacognitive writing strategies, and understanding how people prepare to write as being just as important as the writing itself.  One of my team stared at the ceiling for a bit, another wrote notes on bits of paper and brainstormed ideas, and another grimaced at the screen, adding and deleting words and checking the examples I provided before starting with 2 minutes left.  

After 5 minutes, I told everyone to finish off their sentences.  A comment was made about knowing how the kids felt when they're forced to write in a short amount of time and the team agreed that they needed a bit more time to do a good job for the blog.  I gave them til the next day.  What I did find interesting is how engaged my team were when they knew it had a purpose and with the limited time we had to do the activity, I found that I could achieve more by putting a few things together - blogging, writing framework and teaching as inquiry all rolled into one.  

When I checked their blogs the next day, 4 out of the 5 had blogged.  The next step is to get the teachers to use the same strategy in the classroom with the kids.