Thursday, November 19, 2009

Quick Rec - win a copy of Conferring: The Keystone of Reader’s Workshop

You haven't got long, so race over to The Write Brained Teacher to read the great interview with Patrick Allen, author of Conferring: The Keystone of Reader’s Workshop. The book looks great, and while you're over there, you also have the chance to win a copy.

Go now.

Reports cards are almost done, so I'll be back with real content soon :)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Pulling down other teachers to get ahead?

There's a facet of Australian society called the Tall Poppy Syndrome, in which successful and/or popular people must be pulled down to be like other people. Bill Clinton calls our Prime Minister one of the smartest leaders in the world? Better make a joke about Kevin Rudd's big head. A scientist helps to find a vaccine which prevents cervical cancer? Report each and every adverse reaction to the vaccine. It's supposed to be related to Australia's equality . . .

The same syndrome seems to be ever present in teaching. Over the last two or three years I've read books by popular teacher-authors such as Nancie Atwell, Rafe Esquith and Ron Clark. I haven't always agreed with everything they've written, but there is a lot there I like. I've tried a lot of their techniques in my classroom - some have been a huge, raging success (Reader's workshop, levels of behaviour), some which have needed to be modified for my students/classroom/state requirements/country, and some have had to be put aside for further reflection/rethought. Most of all I have liked the way that these teachers have made me think, and have made me feel that it's ok to be passionate about teaching (or in Nancie's case in particular, teaching reading).

But I've noticed, whenever I've turned to the internet to learn more, that forums and blogs seem to want to tear down these teachers personally. They complain that they have specialised circumstances which would never work for the rest of us. They complain that these teachers are setting unrealistic or insane expectations which is just unfair. They nitpick every little detail, using the one or two things that don't work for them to dismiss the whole concept altogether. They call them 'super-teachers' (not in a nice way) whose ideas are instantly dismissable by mere mortal teachers 'just wanting to collect their paycheque'

The critics always leave me with a bad taste in my mouth, because at the root of Nancie and Rafe and Ron's work I see an absolute passion for teaching and a belief that education is a pathway worth following. And I can't, for a moment, understand what it so wrong with that. If you don't like part of what they do then adapt it, or exchange it for something that will work for you. Stop blaming them for thing that aren't working for you.

I, personally, see this too(on a different scale :) ). I am blessed, after three terms of work, with a class which lines up neatly, works hard, are considerate and seem to enjoy most learning situations. I get told that this is because they're gifted and therefore well behaved, or because they're not a real class, that I don't have to work hard to get this kind of behaviour, enthusiasm or results. Unsurprisingly, I find these comments difficult. I spent a good 3 or 4 weeks constantly drilling in my expectations of behaviour at the beginning of the year. I expect them to be lined up in two straight lines facing the front, and we will practice if it's not good enough (and we have practiced). I have very high expectations of behaviour, down to requesting students walk quietly up the stairs into our classroom (visitors are always noisier than we are now). And classroom work is aimed at the level of the students, often hands on, and surrounded in the expectation that the students can do well at it (and celebration when they do well).

Don't get me wrong, things definately go pear-shaped from time to time, but because we've built up a good classroom environment, things generally run smoothly. So to be told I've had no part in that, or it can never be recreated with another group, is frankly a little offensive.

Where am I heading with this? Well, the best teachers, as far as I can see, learn from each other, not by pulling other people down. I'd like to be one of those best teachers, so I'm going to keep reading books by Nancie, Rafe, Ron and others like them, because they've given the time to try to offer something to me. The considerate thing would be to take what they offer with an open mind.

Monday, October 5, 2009

New Term = New Books!

Back to school today for the last 10 weeks. I'm looking forward to seeing my students and teaching them again, not so much to the increasingly dictatorial commands coming down from the government/department.

Once again, I've spent entirely too much money on buying books for the classroom (I get to read them first though!). New books for this term include:

Graphic Novels: Amulet 2; Kat and Mouse 1 and Agent Boo

-Mac Slater: Cool Hunter - The Rules of Cool by Tristan Bancks
-Story Time - Edward Bloor
-Books 2,3 and 4 in the Samurai Kids series by Sandy Fussell (I already have the first one in the classroom and it's popular, so I grabbed these three when I found them)
-Ida B and her plans to Maximise Fun, Avoid Disaster and (possibly) Save the World by Katherine Hannigan
-Someday Angeline by Louis Sachar
-Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson

I've also got the sequel to Peter and the Starcatchers, but the kids can't have it until I've finished it. And I'm keeping Operation Yes by Sara Lewis Holmes (which I LOVED) to read to the class together.

Well that's enough to get me excited to go back!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

One Term To Go

After a lovely two week break (hello sleep and relaxation and lots of reading) I'm geared up for our last term of the year. Term 4 is an interesting one, report cards, lead up to Christmas and all the awards etc that come with that, and then the joy of finding new classes and classrooms for 2010. So within all that madness, I should plan a nice calm term without a lot of excitement, right?


November is NaNoWriMo. For those of you who don't know about NaNoWriMo, it's National (actually international) Novel Writing Month, where a whole bunch of crazy people try to write 50 000 words in 30 days. I did it way back in 2003 and 2004, but real life kept getting in the way in November and I've been unable to do it since. That part of real life is no longer, and I am back. But this time I'm draging my students along with me. The Young Writers Program, associated with NaNoWriMo allows me to set this up in my classroom. Students set their own word count goals (they recommend between 5000 and 10 000 for Year 5 and between 6000 and 12 000 for Yr 6) and then set out to write their own novel in 30 days.

The website has some good ideas for teaching NaNoWriMo (though sometimes you have to look for it a little) and I'm pretty excited, because my students love nothing more than a challenge. I'm intending to have a kick off and finishing celebration, and we may also have some special events throughout the month (breakfast writing, come on down). Throughout October we'll do a series of lessons leading up to it, and then come November - writing time.

Along with continuing Reader's Workshop and going on with our unit it should be a fun term :)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

At the end of the term - Reader's Workshop

I had many big ideas for this term, with Reader's Workshop right up the top. At the end of the term I can confidently say it has been a roaring success for 26 of 27 students. They are reading more books, reading more challenging books, reading more widely and talking about more books. They are entering the reading zone with more ease and they meet me at the door every morning, excited to share what they have read the night before.

The big turning point? When we began reading more and writing less. I talk to every student about what they're reading every day, and they write to me every two weeks, but most of the time is for reading.

Improvements for next term: round robin discussions about general topics of character, setting, imagery, description, symbolism etc. Better record keeping for the students. Well planned mini lessons (I've got some ideas for this). Getting that last student interested. And more and more and more books!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Performance Framework vs. Personal Learning

Wow. That sounds a little dry as a title :) I'll try not to be too boring.

Queensland Education has introduced the Developing Performance Framework, which aims to (to quote) "provide all employees of Education Queensland with a process supported by tools and resources that will assist all employees to develop their performance." In our school this means working in small groups with 'facilitators' to develop an understanding of what our job entails, what we need more work in, what professional development we might need and where our future career aspirations lie.

It's been put together with all good intentions - they really want us to be investigating professional development which will assist our learning. But . . . well we had our first meeting last week in our small groups and it kind of bombed.

There are a number of reasons for this - it was a Monday afternoon, just two weeks from holidays and we're all exhausted, could be one. But after a week, I realise that this way of working - sitting in a small office completing a table and talking about 'where we need to improve' - is at complete odds with the work I already do.

Since I've started this blog I've really had my eyes opened to the ways we can use the internet to facilitate our learning. We have total control on here - we undertake our own reflection (with assistance of the people we come across and the questions they ask), we follow the blogs which cover topics which interest us, we follow the links they post to videos and articles and presentations and other websites. There is a world of expertise here, not just the skills we can find in a small group. Furthermore, this is a safe place to admit that you struggle with something, or that you want to learn more about something else.

Since I've been blogging, I've learned about books and ideas I would never come across from the safety of the school. I've explored and questioned ideas which just don't come up, even in the professional reading I undertook. I've discovered that I can get great ideas from a band teacher in the USA or a early literacy blog in Australia. I'm communicating with brilliant minds and loving it.

So, it's no wonder that the Developing Performance Framework felt tired and sluggish - why are we containing ourselves to a small room when there's the whole world out there!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Poem in Your Pocket: Wrap Up

Well, all in all, Poem in your Pocket went really well. There was a noticeable buzz about poetry in the school, and many of the students remembered to bring their poems along. The special assembly was great, with a wide range of poetry shared, and a lot of people were stopping to check out the poems displayed around the school. Extra special was the poems placed into the tuck-shop bags - lots of kids got a kick from this. A really fun way to celebrate poetry!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Nice end to a bad day . . .

So yesterday was a bit of a terrible-horrible-no-good-very-bad-day. After three years of teaching gifted and talented, I thought I was use to the slurs and attacks that come with it, but yesterday when someone tried to tell me that my job is easy because of the students I have and that I don't work very hard . . . oh, and gifted kids should be in the regular classroom to be 'an inspiration' and to help the others . . .well it still hurts.

As does the strain of anti-intelligence which still run rampant through the school, the state and the country.

But luckily, I came home to the best surprise from my parents who had picked up a book for me that I really, really wanted. Pearl Verses the World by Sally Murphy, is a short story told in verse. Pearl's teacher wants her to write poems that rhyme, but Pearl doesn't have any rhyme in her at the moment. Her grandmother, part of her family of three, is fading.

With Poem in Your Pocket day tomorrow, I really wanted to share this beautiful book with my class. Even better, I got to read this beautiful book for myself. There's something about really good books - they make you feel better about the world when you finish.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Fly In, Fly Out

Two years ago, my now husband worked about 8 hours away from home. He worked on a fly in-fly out roster - 11 days at work, 3 days back home. It was particularly hellish, put strain on our relationship, but made it possible for us to pay for our wedding and buy a house. And he got a lot out of the actual work he was doing.

Why am I talking about this? Well yesterday, the Queensland government announced 'flying squads' of four, led by a school principal and 'elite' teachers will go into the 300 worst performing schools for a week to make suggestions of how they can improve. (BTW, the article has an error, we came 6th out of 7 states and territories, not last, but that's another story)

One week.

Yesterday this made me very angry. How dare they suggest someone can fix something in one week that we struggle year in and year out to fix! Today I'm less angry and want more information. How are they going to choose the principals? How are they going to choose the teachers? How will they persuade the teachers to participate - after all they're having trouble filling coach and summer school positions.

What makes an elite teacher? Will it be taken from NAPLAN (National testing) results (like everything else seems to be)? Our best state schools in NAPLAN were from higher socio-economic areas, so are the teachers there really better, or do the kids come to school more prepared to learn? Will they take it from individual classes? What does this mean for teachers with gifted and talented classes who can get good results without pushing the children anywhere near their real potential?

I really want to email my local member and ask her these questions, but frankly, I'm a little scared. If I email her, am I going to go on some sort of 'pesty teacher' list? Am I going to get a letter fom district office telling me to mind my manners?

There's the real problem in this state. We've been put into a constant state of fear by our government. Fear over pay rises. Fear over the next statement in the media. Fear over the next set of hoops we have to jump through. We're tired and scared and that makes us feel we can't stay in this job anymore, that we just can't take the next thing they throw at us, no matter how much we love the classroom and the students.


Monday, September 7, 2009

Two Weeks Until Break

We have two weeks until we break for our two week long spring vacation. This means that the students are pretty tired, the teachers are pretty tired and we're slogging our way through to the end. On the other hand, my students and I are doing some exciting things, so we're tired but happy.

Some of the things we've been doing:
  • Solar system in your pocket. This was an amazing way to really understand how BIG it is out there. The kids took these home and showed their parents and generally had a great time showing off their understanding :)
  • Reader's Workshop. This week is the first week they need to write a letter to me about a book they've read, so we'll be going through that this week.
  • Poem in your Pocket is this Friday, so we need to write and read some more poetry!
What do you do in the lead up to vacations? How do you keep the 'get me to the holidays now' feeling to calm?