Friday, 21 September 2018

Supporting writing within Glendowie Kahui Ako

The Glendowie Kahui Ako Community of Learning has identified writing as one of its achievement challenges. Its aspiration is to have 92% of learners writing at or above expected levels for their age. To support this achievement challenge, Glendowie Kahui Ako has engaged Dr Alison Davis to provide professional development in writing to teachers across the community.

As a new teacher within the Glendowie Kahui Ako, I was able to attend Dr Davis’ final session for 2018 when she shared her research and expertise specifically for teachers of junior classes yesterday:
  • How do we move children from “at” to that next level?
  • What are we teaching?
  • What are they learning?
Dr Davis says that writing is all about automaticity, ie the ability to write automatically with enough knowledge to notice when things are going wrong through self-monitoring.

However, during a writing session, we may not get close to students because they find the task too hard, are not ready for challenge, or are not interested. Once we reach a student’s Zone of Proximal Development, we need to think about the ideas of metacognition: stickability. Some new learning may go into the brain a little way but then come out again. It is important for teachers to remember that new learning that does take root takes up lots of space because it is not automatic for the learner yet. Writing is also impacted by cognitive capacity: how much can a learner take in; how much space does a learner have? Where does this leave cognitive overload? This is different to tiredness: a learner is not able to take on any more new learning at any one time.

Dr Davis also commented on the benefits of having a positive attitude to writing - the link between writing and a growth mindset, based on the research of Carole Dweck. She implored us to consistently and continually teach, refer to, hammer those high frequency words and phonics because this knowledge gives children so much more confidence to become writers. For example:

I can see a …
I can see a leaf.
I can see a green leaf.
Can you see a green leaf?

When a student reads back their writing, we have a reader and a writer!

We can support good writing in the classroom by having a good writers’ board with annotated examples to show that we:
  • Write left to right
  • Leave spaces between words
  • Use High Frequency Words
  • Start our writing with a capital letter.
  • End a sentence with a full stop.

Of course, good writers share their writing. Everyone needs opportunities to share. This can be done in groups rather than as a whole class. The reader-writer could ask questions of the group: what was my story about?

Different teaching approaches:
  • Paired writing.
  • Book creator: We can support good writers by creating class books which share each child’s best pieces of writing and “how to be a good writer” created from student content.
  • Quick Word Write activity: learners write as many words as they know about a topic on small whiteboards with a given time limit.  They then share their words with a buddy.
  • Guided writing: being a guide is the key! According to Dr Davis, it is critical within guided writing that the teacher joins the group. There is a difference between roaming and guided writing. A teacher should spend about five minutes sitting at a table with each group. This guided writing time should be made explicit: I am coming to your group. It can be appropriate to sit and say nothing at the table, observing and noticing how students approach their writing.

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Writing with Jill Eggleton

As I embark upon new adventures in a new environment with a younger year group, it is quite daunting to reflect upon everything that I already know and what I need to adapt and learn in order to refine my knowledge and teaching practice for this new learning journey.

Today, I was privileged to attend a writing PD session presented by Jill Eggleton which she designed specifically for teachers of junior classes.  What perfect timing for me!

Jill began her session by quoting Steve Peha, the American educator, as a reminder about the “whys” of writing as well as the metalanguage of writing that it is so important for teachers to use within the classroom: “A communication of content for a purpose to an audience”.

She contended that writing is a multi-layered process in which learning and knowledge are so inextricably intertwined that it is impossible to focus on only one aspect of writing at a time. Jill reiterated that for early writers the focus is encouraging and celebrating the sharing of oral language through writing.  These learners should not be discouraged or be presented with barriers to  this process through the introduction to writing genres.

A balanced writing programme includes shared, modelled and independent writing as well as opportunities for students to publish writing they have edited and re-crafted.

Shared writing

These whole class sessions should last no longer than 10-15 minutes for beginning writers.  They do not happen every day or every week because they are not targeted enough.  Such sessions would only take place when there has been a common approach or shared activity.  This might occur only once every three weeks.

Modelled writing

Jill contends that the hardest part of writing is the trip ideas make from the head to the page.  Modelled writing supports children to make connections to the processes and strategies used by good writers.  It makes explicit the trip that ideas make to reach the page.

The modelled writing approach is the teacher writing for the children - modelling what a good writer does.  It is a personal story shared with the children through the planning stage, think-alouds about topic, purpose and audience, show not tell and adding detail using the senses.  It would include sounding out word blends and modelling correct spelling by using word cards to reinforce the connection between letters and their sounds.

Jill’s final thoughts were that good writers re-read their writing to ensure it makes sense.  To support good writing in the classroom, a teacher’s focus should be quality over quantity with time set aside to teach children how to re-craft their writing.  As Ernest Hemingway said: “We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master”.

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

MIT-2018 Teamwork

There was teamwork in abundance in Sydney! As Kariene Gardiner (Kaikohekohe Education Network in Northland) and I were both presenting sessions on different aspects of blogging at the EdTech Team Summit, we decided to take time to attend each other's presentations. As well as an opportunity to learn from each other, it was also a time to offer a different perspective during question time.

It was so interesting to hear just how different our blogging presentations and stories were. As my presentation focus was how blogs are set up and organised at a cluster-wide level within the Manaiakalani community of learning, and shared research evidence that blogging is an effective tool in supporting achievement in literacy, it was particularly poignant to hear Kariene's examples and stories of student voice and the value that whānau places upon blogging as a means of communicating about their children's learning.

There was also teamwork at play when I was able to support Clarelle Carruthers at her hands-on session about creating a Google site as, unfortunately, her co-presenter was sick. It was all hands on deck with about 30 attendees in the room ranging from complete beginners to experts. It was a timely reminder that everyone is an individual who has different learning needs and learns new things at a different pace!

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Capes Not Required: listening and learning @ Sydney EdTech Team Summit

As well as presenting my blogging session at the EdTech Team Summit in Sydney, there was much to learn from both experts at keynote addresses and presentation sessions delivered by classroom teachers.  

Jesse Lubinsky, an American innovator and Director of Technology at a New York school district, opened the summit with his keynote address, Capes Not Required.

What has shaped and influenced our lives as teachers? What extraordinary things can we achieve as teachers? Using his love of comics and superheroes as an analogy, Jesse believes that a learner’s journey through school is akin to the 12 stages of the hero’s journey:

Jesse asked us to think about how can we support learners as they travel the hero’s journey from the ordinary world to become superheroes when they reach the end of their journey through school. A teacher’s role, according to Jesse, is being the mentor along the way who nurtures persistence and accuracy. We are there to ensure that school doesn’t inadvertently become a difficult test for some learners. Our role is to get to know our learners as individuals because we want what’s best for them. We are the superheroes who encourage passion, provide opportunities, celebrate scars along the way and honour each learner’s individuality.

Lindsay Wesner, a keynote speaker from South Africa, also alluded to the power of a teacher’s story to shape the stories and passions of learners when she began her address, Once upon our time, by asking “What is the point of change technology?”  Although we may fear change, worry that there is never enough time to make change, she encouraged us all to strap on our shark fin to face our fears because it is worth investing our time learning to use change technology because it matters for the success of our learners.

Lindsay expanded upon her thinking in this area during her Deep Dive session, The power of possibility - cultivating a growth mindset in your classroom.  As a group, we collaborated to reach a shared understanding of a growth mindset, shared here in Lindsay’s graphic:

According to Lindsay, the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset is the power of the word “yet”!

We want our students to believe they can succeed so it’s about offering our learners multiple opportunities to follow a passion to success. Of course, to achieve success, learners need to have been involved in co-constructing a rubric, seen an example of a finished product (as long as this exemplar does not become a recipe) and enjoy opportunities to celebrate their success. Lindsay shared powerful ways in which change technology can support a growth mindset:
  • Google Forms can be used a little like choosing your own adventure story: a learner is taken on a different learning journey based on their answers to particular questions by using different sections within the form. If a learner is flying through, they will be taken directly to an extension and enrichment task. If a learner is struggling, the form will take them back to a support video and then the same questions will be asked in a different way.
  • Choice boards offer learners opportunities to present their understanding and thinking in different ways through differentiated tasks. Teachers don’t have to do or know how to do all of the tasks, we just have to think of what a learner needs to be able to do. We can give students tasks that are non-traditional.
As teachers, we need to show our learners that we value their learning process and not just the finished product. Kimberley Hall reiterated the importance of valuing the learning process during her deep dive into the digital tools we can use to support project-based learning.

How can we find out what students already know about a topic? Kimberley introduced us to a number of tools that synthesise previous understandings. AnswerGarden is one such tool in which students can share thinking and key words about a specific topic. The live word cloud is generated and regenerated as words are added. The font size changes depending on the number of times the same words repeat. Kimberley’s key recommendations when using AnswerGarden:
  • Keep the character count to 20 to enable learners to get to the crux of an issue.
  • The spam filter is off by default. It should always be changed to "on".
  • Change "browse other answer gardens" to hidden so that students are not searching and taking other ideas. They have to show their own thinking.
  • The default text is lower text, which makes it easier for the programme to collate data.
  • Take a screenshot of the word cloud as a record of ideas, thinking and learning.
Here is an example of a word cloud we generated at the conference:

Further information on all of the digital tools explored and shared by Kimberley can be found in my copy of her presentation.

We all like to create exciting and engaging learning opportunities by using the full range of tools within GAFE. However, John Meng, Deputy Principal at Rooty Hill High School, shared how he uses the Google suite of apps for a different purpose - formative assessment. He introduced his session by exploring the differing approaches to providing feedback put forward by Professor John Hattie and Dr Douglas Fisher. John Meng’s preferred model is Doug Fisher’s Gradual Release of Responsibility because he believes that Doug Fisher puts common sense in a sensible order:

This approach to teaching and learning is supported at Rooty Hill High School through a common way of planning across the school in all learning areas: every child walks into class to see the same planning format up on the screen. Students are hooked into learning through digital technology, collaborate digitally and in person and select how they will demonstrate their learning from a range of digital options:
  • Thinkwell - Maths videos on youtube
  • Google Slides
  • Google Slides voiceover
  • Prezi (very impressive but can cause vertigo)
  • Powtoon
  • Screencastify
  • Keynote
  • Google sites
  • Voki (language teachers love this)
  • Lucidchart (maths teachers love this)
  • Google photos - story
  • Podcasts
  • Infographics
  • Kahoot! (If questions are written carefully, answers can be used as formative assessment.)
  • Google sheets (Data validation - like comments)
These options offer multiple formative assessment opportunities from peers and the teacher. John also uses individual commenting within Google as cues for learners (for example, "Have you thought about ... ?, Go and ask ...) in a way that is similar to Linsday Wesner setting up different sections within a Google form.

Having listened carefully to many interesting ideas and presentations, it now remains for me to assimilate my new learning about Google Apps for Education from the conference to leverage my creativity and efficiency to support individual learners as they strive to succeed. No cape required!

Monday, 9 July 2018

Blogging: sharing a learning journey - feedback from my session in Sydney

As a closing activity at my session at the EdTech Team Summit in Sydney today, we created a collaborative blog post to share the reflections of attendees.

Blogging: sharing a learning journey

Blogging is how learners at schools within the Manaiakalani community of learning share learning, wonderings and thinking on their educational journey. Digital artefacts shared on individual learner blogs are a rich record of student learning and growth as they voyage through school from age five until they leave school.

At the EdTech Team Summit in Sydney I was able to share some background about the what, why and how of our blogging journey.

Thursday, 5 July 2018

Partnering with whānau

Whānau often ask what they can do to support their child's learning at home. We always recommend reading and talking about what has been read. We encourage whānau to find ways to enable their child to participate in our holiday blogging programmes to support literacy. However, with the change to the way in which Maths teaching and learning is happening in our learning spaces, there was the opportunity at last night's parent-teacher interviews to empower whānau to strengthen the connections between school maths and real-world maths.

The Developing Mathematical Inquiry in a Learning Community (DMIC) approach to teaching and learning in Maths requires learners to think, talk and collaborate to solve relevant, real-life Maths problems as a group. So, to support learning conversations about Maths at home, I created a Maths @ Home pack for each learner and enjoyed many conversations with whānau about how they might use this to support their child's learning at home.

Talking about Maths has never been so much fun!