Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Supporting our learners by making the 'why' real.

My level 2 Social Studies class are busy preparing for the 40 Hour Famine this year, which is raising money for the refugee children from South Sudan who are in camps in Uganda.  We have been talking about human rights, and whose rights we are standing up for when we are doing the 40 Hour Famine.  I asked my kids 'what is your why for doing the famine' and the majority said was 'I'm doing it for the credits'.  I knew this would be the answer for most of them, because they struggled to relate to the context.  My hunch was that if I could make the learning real for them, they would care about the context and about their writing.

I contacted the Auckland Resettled Community Coalition and asked if there was someone who who would be willing to share their journey with our students.  Mr Gatluak Chuol who is a Community Outreach co-ordinator, contacted me and said he would be happy to come and speak to our year 12s.  In 2015, Mr Chuol arrived in New Zealand as a refugee from South Sudan.

Today we were fortunate to have Mr Chuol speak to our class about the religious conflict that had led to the civil unrest in his homeland and he described the atrocities that had happened to him and his family when his village was attacked. "One morning, bombs were dropped and we had to run. We ran to a bush. We didn't know where our parents were. We were scared of being killed and saw lots of death around us. We walked for miles with nothing". He shared the anguish of losing loved ones in front of him and how the trauma still exists with many refugees who are trying to settle in our country.

I know our kids are respectful when they have a guest speaker, but there was a strange vibe in the room as Mr Chuol spoke.  It sounded like empty silence, it looked like disbelief and felt like time had stood still.  Here was someone standing in front of our kids who'd survived the unimaginable and he choose to share his story with them, making it real. 

As he wound down his talk, I invited him to wander around and have a chat with the kids who may have had a few questions but were too scared to ask.  I noticed two students at the back of the room and overheard them talking about how they'd heard about South Sudan and why we were doing the famine, but weren't really caring about it until they heard the reality from Mr Chuol.  "We complain about little things like not having money for what we want and then we hear how Sir had to see his relatives pass away around him and hide under them away from gunfire...what do we know about hardship?".   I asked them if they were o.k and they asked me if I had any tissues.  They quietly thanked Mr Chuol for being there and I could tell they were affected by his talk.

Mr Chuol with members of our Level 2 Sos class.

At the end of Mr Chuol's visit, our students thanked him for sharing his journey and a group of boys asked to walk him back to the office.  For the students that remained, I asked how they felt about his visit.  There were mixed reactions of sadness for Mr Chuol and thankfulness for what they'd had.  Later on in the day, I emailed the class to ask them to let me know their reflections about the visit.  One of the boys, who I've struggled to engage with in the past, replied.  I was surprised by his reaction and understood that he may well have found his 'why'.

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Sharing blog comments across the cluster

In year 9, our students are learning about Globalisation and the importance of staying connected.  Recently, I have been collaborating with a colleague, Elfrida at Glenbrae primary, who wanted to start a 'commenting club' between students from our schools.  Whilst our years 9 and 10 write posts every week about their learning, it would be good to see more comments from different audiences that could support our learners.

I've decided to focus on two year 9 classes and their blog connections with a few classes at years 7 and 8.  I want to track their progress and see if they can utilise comments to support their learning and their writing.

One of the year 9 classes I had the chance to catch up with today is a lovely group of students who were comfortable with posting and commenting.  A really good document that Elfrida shared with me showed how to write good quality blog posts and provided scaffolded examples of comments.    I let the class know that I will be sharing their class site with their learning blogs to the students at Glenbrae so that they could share what learning they've been up to.

Many of the students read the blogs that were shared and just before the end of the class, I asked students how they'd found reading other students blog posts and most replied that it reminded them of when they were primary school and they'd enjoyed reading them.  I relayed the fact that Globalisation involved staying connected with people and students outside of our school and that sharing our learning with the world helps support them more in their learning.  The next step could be to collaborate on a common task or event and possibly invite other primary schools in our cluster to join our 'commenting club'.

Thursday, 3 May 2018

How to spot effective teaching even when you're not looking!

Today I stopped in to see my colleague and we got to talking about what she was doing with her year 10 class.  The kids were starting a new topic on 'Significant places' and learning about the reasons why a place is significant and to who it is significant to. I was interested in how she engaged them in their learning.

In our discussion, I asked what tasks the kids were doing.  She shared how kids were thinking about a significant place and used examples they'd learnt earlier in the year like Waitangi and Gallopoli.   She shared with the class her own example, then got them to do a brainstorm DLO using a Lucid chart instead of the normal class brainstorm.  After instructing the class on what to do, she went around to each student and checked on what they were doing.

I asked how it went, and she showed me some kids work and shared how happy she was that most of the boys had completed their charts.  She found that when she checked on individual students, one or two found the brainstorms useful to help them refocus on their writing.  I asked if she could share this lesson and the success she'd had with the rest of our department through a blog, and she froze.   The look of fear on her face stopped me in my tracks.  I got a sense that asking this was a step too far.

It was then that I got out a whiteboard marker and we started to put together the pieces of the lesson to help get her thoughts out in a structure like form.  This is what we came up with:

 I asked her to think about why she was using these strategies, and what was the challenge or the issue that she'd found with the boys in your class, to make her use these strategies.  She identified the overall problem as being, in the past, a lack of engagement.  I showed her the structure and compared it to a Big Mac burger.  I said she had the juicy parts that were the filling and I just helped to put the top and bottom burger buns on. 

Then I asked her to think of the reasons for why she used each strategy and she was able to articulate the deeper thinking behind the why.  I then asked her to identify some of the positive outcomes from using all of these strategies and she shared how engaged the boys were and the lack of behavioural issues that she'd had to deal with.  We then thought about a few next steps.  

The one thing that I said could support this structure further, would be the 'how do you know this' eg the evidence, data or research behind her actions, but I shared that we could add that later as this was an on the spot thing.

She was surprised that our short conversation could be valuable in helping her formulate a blog post, particularly when it came to her inquiry.  I said that the things she took for granted and had been doing all the time, are things that should be shared, because they work.  She was really thankful and said it helped her to see how effective it would be if people could learn from her.

When I reflect back to this 'accidental learning' discussion, I think I have been so busy trying to change the systems (and the world) that I hadn't stopped to see that the change is happening right in front of me, in the everyday classroom with a teacher who is just going about their business.  Sometimes the most effective change happens from the inside out, and I need to make sure I don't miss those golden opportunities again.

Supporting our learners by making the 'why' real.

My level 2 Social Studies class are busy preparing for the 40 Hour Famine this year , which is raising money for the refugee children from S...