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

Books
-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?

Wrong!

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.

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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?

Friday, September 4, 2009

Part of a Team


Yesterday we had parent-teacher interviews. At our school, we have one day of these a semester, beginning at 2pm and going through until 8pm with a break for lunch. Each parent who wants to come gets 15 minutes. How busy you are depends on your students, their ages and their parents, and I was pretty busy yesterday.

My thoughts upon finishing was how positive the whole afternoon had been. Two years ago at my first interviews, I was terrified. I was sure that the parents were going to tear me to pieces. Now, I've been fortunate enough to know some of these parents for a couple of years, as well as being more confident in my abilities and the results I get. So there was no fear going into this lot of interviews, and I was really pleased with how these conversations went. Some things that struck me:
  • I'm getting better at really talking about the students. Because they're well behaved and high achieving, I used to struggle to know what to say and my interviews were about two seconds long. Now I realised I was talking for longer, the parents were talking for longer and I even went over slightly on a couple of interviews
  • Reading was a massive topic. We talked about the books they were reading at school, the kind of books they liked, how to find books at their level, book recommendations, books they read at home, how much they read at home, where they read at home, and good websites to find more books. Parents were telling me that they were thrilled with how reading is encouraged, how pleased the kids were that I've allowed them to take books home and one (whose daughter I had last year) thanked me for the book recommendations I made last year.
  • Little things I'd picked up at school had also been picked up at home. Makes it easier for us to come up with a plan to deal with it - we really are working as a team now
  • I have two gifted profiles to put together for new students. Excellent!
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Photo:Book Accident by Photos8.com

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Reader's Workshop: Further Reflection


So, we've had seven weeks of reader's workshop. During this time I have:
  • Set up a regular routine for silent reading
  • Bought a number of new books and graphic novels for the class
  • Established a routine of collecting and writing in the student books
  • Read more and more about reader's workshop and how it works in different classrooms around the world. (Check out this post at The Reading Zone)
Yesterday I asked the students to reflect on Reader's Workshop and how it was working for them. I gave them an index card and asked them to tell me what they liked and disliked, what they thought was vital and how reader's workshop could be improved. I requested they put no names on their card, that they didn't tell me what they were writing, and I asked another student to collect them so there would be total anonymity and they could be really honest.

The results were very interesting. Almost all of the students said that they liked the reading and having time to read. A few mentioned that they enjoyed having the choice of what to read and where they got to read (we've got a nice outside area they can read it). Surprising to me was how many of them enjoyed the small group lessons we have been doing during this time.

What didn't they like? Well they didn't like responding everyday. And honestly, when I tried to do it, neither did I. They felt that it took time out from their reading, and thus their enjoyment. They also disliked that I had set four books for them to try to read by the end of the term - again I understand that this takes away from their choice.

What was vital? Books, funnily enough. Also bookmarks :) Students also said book talks (and we've had a couple of really exciting book talks so far) and group discussion.

How to improve? More time for reading, less time for writing. Being able to take books home. Being able to write about books when they finish them. And one bright spark asked for more cushions :)

So, we're going to work on this. My aim is to introduce proper mini lessons at the beginning of the lesson. We'll also do more reading, and the students will respond in letter form every two weeks. The students will be able to take books home and we'll have a simple sign out/sign in system (this is particularly vital for one or two students who don't have access to books at home). We'll continue to do group work, but probably less often.

I'll keep you updated on how it goes

Monday, August 31, 2009

Barbie Bungee: A Maths Investigation


Last week we completed one of my favourite maths investigations. Basically, we tied a string of rubber bands around a Barbie Doll's feet and threw her out of a really tall window . . .

In reality, it's a lot more sophisticated. Barbie Bungee is an investigation which covers a number of mathematical skills and strategies, but with my Year 5s and 6s really served to teach them that a) patterns can be graphed and b) predictions can be made from these graphs.

To complete this investigation the class was broken into four groups (I have 4 Barbie dolls), given a Barbie Doll each and a whole pile of rubber bands which were the same size. We then broke the investigation into steps which were completed over a few days.

Step One: Students learned about the investigation. They practiced tying the rubber bands (one looped around another then pulled through), thought about how they were going to take measurements (grabbing 30cm rulers, 1m rulers and tape measures) and practiced throwing Barbie from various places (important to get this need out of their system) We also talked about the goal - to throw Barbie from the sound box in our school hall, getting her as close to the ground as possible without touching . . .

Step Two: Taking our initial measurements. Students staked out the best spots and dropped Barbie with one rubber band, two rubber bands, three, four and five rubber bands (and so on). They were required to complete three tests at each stage and then find an average (for accuracy) and they had to record their information in a table. This took one to two days. The best thing I saw during this was the use of different measuring methods (sticky taping two measuring tapes together) and creative placed to drop Barbie (out the classroom window).

Step Three: Graphing the results: Students used their results to make a graph (number of rubber bands against distance fallen). They then used this graph with it's almost straight line to predict how many rubber bands they would need.

Step Four: Test Day. We took the students and an audience to the hall and each group had three goes at tossing Barbie from the sound box. The measurements (how close to the ground) were averaged and the closest to the ground won. All in all, very entertaining and a fabulous time. We did a small write up afterwards - what steps did we take, what maths was involved, but nothing too much.

A great investigation.

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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Children's Book Week Recommendations: A Wrap Up

Here are the five books I recommended over the last week:

Juggling with Mandarins by V.M. Jones
Mahtab's Story by Libby Gleeson
Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer
CHERUB series by Robert Muchamore
Mail Order Ninja by Joshua Elder

I'm also going to add a special teachers book which arrived from Amazon.com on Friday and I devoured yesterday. The Reading Zone: How to Help Kids Become Skilled, Passionate, Habitual, Critical Readers by Nancie Atwell was a short, easy read which let me know what elements of Reader's Workshop I was getting right and where I might be able to make improvements. It also includes notes to the children and to the parents which would be invaluable in setting up Reader's Workshop next year.

Even before I read this book, I was intending to review Reader's Workshop with the children tomorrow. I think this book will be invaluable in providing alternative ways of 'doing stuff'.

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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Children's Book Week: Day Five: Mail Order Ninja


Check out Day Four: CHERUB Series

So, Book Week has wrapped up at our school, although my class doesn't do our craft activity until Monday. And that brings me to the fifth book of the week, which is actually a graphic novel. This book isn't an assigned reading, nor is it a book I'm reading to the students. Rather it's one that's being passed around and adored as soon as it's read.

Mail Order Ninja by Joshua Elder is one of my growing collection of graphic novels. It tells the story of Timmy, the graphic novel (not comics) obsessed boy who detests bullies, 'trust-fund queens' and his bratty sister. When he finds an advertisement for a Mail Order Ninja, he has to get it. The ninja then helps him clean out the bad elements of the school.

The first one has been in my class for a couple of months now, and I just received the second one from Amazon.com. What I love about this series is the way it's drawn, there's an awful lot of information for the students to gain from it and it's a very smart book. There's also a lot of sly humour that adults would appreciate.

I highly recommend this graphic novel, especially if you're putting together a collection for a classroom.

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Friday, August 28, 2009

Children's Book Week: Day Four: CHERUB


Check out Day Three: Artemis Fowl

Day four is slightly late due to a little 9 and a half hour sleep :) But after a highly successful Book Day (with lots of brilliant costumes) I'm going to talk about one of the most successful series of books in my classrooms.

The CHERUB series by Robert Muchamore is a British series based around spies, who also happen to be children. The main character, James Adams (formally James Choke) is a gifted 12 year old, particularly in maths, but is always in trouble. When his mother dies, he is put in a home and steadily moves towards the criminal element. Until one morning when he wakes up in the nicest school campus he has ever seen.

There is a wide cast of characters in CHERUB, including some strong female characters and characters from diverse backgrounds. The books deal with missions ranging from environmental terrorism to unsolved deaths to gang setups. The books do grow in maturity with the ages of the characters, so some of the later ones may not be appropriate for younger children. (I have the first couple in my room, but the later ones are usually bought by parents who also read them :) They are universally popular)

What I have found with these books is that they get reluctant male readers to read - or devour. When I began reading the first one to the Year 7s I had last year a lot of them got their hands on their own copy to read themselves. I recommend these to 12 years and older, though some more mature 10 and 11 year olds could probably handle them too.

There's also a prequel series The Henderson Boys which is set during World War 2 and is really good :)

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Children's Book Week: Day Three: Artemis Fowl


Check out Day Two: Mahtab's Story Here

And so we move on to day three, the halfway mark of children's book week. Today we're actually going back two years to a time when I taught contracts for terms rather than having my own class. At one point in time I had a non-gifted (but still some quite bright) class of grade 5s. Knowing I'd only have them for a term, I needed something which would grab them quickly and keep them going, but would be easy to complete in 10 weeks.

Enter Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer. Artemis is a genius. A criminal mastermind. And a 12 year old boy. He wants gold, but not just any gold - he wants fairy gold. And he's willing to kidnap to get it. On the opposing side is Holly Short, pointy eared and occasionally neglectful of the more important things. Also, desperate to prove herself in the male-dominated LEP-recon world.

This really is a scream of a book - fantasy, action and comedy all poured into one. For reading outloud it's perfect, with plenty of opportunities for voices. I was also able to tell immediately at one point which children were really listening - they were the ones who knew there was a rip-snorter of a fart joke coming.

I've had a few kids really get into reading through these series of books and others simply devour them. Well worth a read, but even better to read out loud.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Children's Book Week: Day Two: Mahtab's Story


Check out Day One: Juggling With Mandarins here!

Onto Day 2 of Children's book week, with a book we're studying now. At the moment we're focusing on Theme, Genre, Audience and Purpose. The students are all required to read four books that cover themes such as family, children on their own, survival, conflict, bravery etc. One of these books is Mahtab's Story by Libby Gleeson.

Mahtab is a young girl in Afghanistan, before September 11th. She's terrified of the Taliban, the men in black, who rule over the streets. She's not allowed to go to school, she's not even allowed to leave her home. After the death of her grandfather, her father begins to make plans for their departure to a country he's heard of - a place called Australia.

There is some beautiful writing in the beginning - some of the most descriptive writing I've read in a children's book, which just sort of picks you up and carries you along. The setting of the story is quite universal, there are refugees all over the world. However, there are some parts which really sit within an Australian context, with recent debates over 'boat people'.

The ending seemed a little rushed to me, which was an opinion shared with the students. I think we all wanted to know more about Mahtab's settlement into an obviously strange country. However these discussions about what makes a good story or a good ending are just as important.

This is another book I'd recommend, particularly if you are doing any work on Afghanistan or on refugees.

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Monday, August 24, 2009

Children's Book Week: Day One: Juggling With Mandarins


So this week, as many of you in the Northern Hemisphere are heading back to school, is Australian Children's Book Week. To celebrate this, I'm going to point out some of the books I've read to and shared with my students over the last couple of years.

Today's book, Juggling With Mandarins by V.M. Jones is one I read to my Grade Sevens last year. It is a New Zealand story about Pip, the 14 year old who's good at English and bad at soccer. Sadly, it's soccer his gruff father cares about, and soccer where his older brother Nick excels.

While Pip deals with the expectations and often irrational behaviour of his father, he's also also handling his growing feelings for the girl next door. Then he discovers the new sports centre, the Igloo, and its special climbing gym.

This was a great book to read with 12 and 13 year old students who are dealing with the experiences of finding themselves and defining themselves as separate from their parents. We did some work in class with it - mostly vocabulary and writing - but most of the time we just enjoyed it. If you can get your hands on it, I'd thouroughly recommend it for whole class and small group work.

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Summer in Winter (and other stuff)


So, it's supposed to be winter here in Australia. Unfortunately, today's temperature is supposed to reach 33 degrees Celsius. Classrooms in my part of Queensland don't have air conditioning, and they're rarely well ventilated, so I'm afraid today might be a little uncomfortable.

Luckily, we're doing heaps of fun stuff, which makes it easier. In maths at the moment we're Bungee jumping Barbies. This is basically an exercise to show the children that they can graph algebra patterns, and that they can use these to make predictions. Then it's about throwing Barbie from something tall.

We also begin our astronomy Unit today in which the children will finish up by making a model of a community for Mars. Lots of science in this one, but today we're beginning by listening to famous 'space related' music and talking about what we know - should be a blast.

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Picture from http://www.public-domain-photos.com

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Returning to class - again

So, I've been away at training to learn more about Coolabah Dynamic Assessment, which is, quite honestly, some of the most exciting stuff I've learned about in gifted education in the six years I've been reading and learning about it. But now it's back to school.

After three days away, I'm a bit nervous about what's been happening in my classroom. Will it be an absolute mess? Will the supply teacher have kept up the work while I've been away? Has anything happened that I needed to know about.

There's also the next, big thing I need to prepare for - our school's Poetry in your Pocket day. I need a funky way to announce it to the students and the teachers- and I must get it done by next week. Help!

Monday, August 17, 2009

New Carnival of Education

One of my favourite things about coming to education blogging has been the Carnival of Education. Now Clix from Epic Adventures are Often Uncomfortable has pointed out that Blog Carnival is listing the Carnival of Education as discontinued :(

Luckily, Clix is willing to do something about it and has set up EduCarnival v2. But she needs help!

"What's a carnival without articles, after all? Email me at uncomfortableadventures at yahoo dot com with a direct URL, or use this handy-dandy form to submit your article."
She'd particularly after summer reflections and she needs them by next Monday. I've submitted my mini-series on Reader's Workshop but it's your turn now. Go. Now. Now!

Handling Something New


I'm off for three days training beginning today, and although I'm incredibly excited about it, I'm also rather anxious. I mean, I'm leaving my class in someone elses hands for three days. And I'm not 100 percent sure what I'm getting into. And what if I'm no good at this. How am I going to keep my notes organised? You get the idea.

This makes me wonder about my students. How do they feel when they are confronted with new things? Do they have the same mix of anxiety and excitement that I'm feeling at the moment? If so, how can I make sure that their anxieties are reduced?

Making sure they have a good understanding of the criteria would be one thing. Making sure the students know what is expected from them in order to achieve. Making sure they know this as early as possible.

What else would assist in reducing anxieties? What would you do?

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Image from http://www.public-domain-photos.com

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Reading, reading programs and standardised testing

I was going to begin this post all angry, because I really was, but then I decided to have a coffee and a chat with my ever-patient husband (who is currently painting the back deck - looks relaxing . . .).

It started when I read this - Venting about the Fate of Reading and Reading Teachers at Musings of a Book Addict. I couldn't really believe what I was reading for most of the post, but this really got to me:
If they finish a lesson early they may read one of the following books from the program's library: The Tiger Rising, Johny Hangtime, Bird, The Boy Who Saved Baseball, Night of the Twisters, Every Living Thing, Locomotion, Granny Torrelli Makes Soup.
Only these 8 books - OR -They may read either the Kids Discover Magazine, Cobblestone Muse, Faces or Odyssey Magazine or Footsteps.
And then there was this:

On day 5 and 10 if they finish their computerized lesson they are to go to the online book cart (part of the program) and pick one of their selections and read it and test on it and then go to their online books (part of the program) and read a passage and test on it.

If at anytime they finish all of the above the only other approved book is their required novel from their Language Arts class. Due to our curriculum, all 6th graders in the county read the same novels, at the same time and follow the exact curriculum at the same time. The same goes for the 7th and 8th graders. As of this year they have implemented the core curriculum for high school and I believe elementary. That way if a kids transfers schools in the district everyone is at the same place at the same time. What? You are asking what about the child that can't keep up and never gets that book read? We are told they need to learn the skills to keep up. If they are ESE or ESL there are built in modifications that the entire district is supposed to follow.

All pleasure reading is to be done at home.
WHAT!?!

At first, my knee-jerk reaction (after the spluttering) was to say 'this could never happen here in Australia.' But then I thought a little more. The program described is a response to the state reading test. And more and more we have a government and media led movement toward teaching for and from the NAPLAN test. For example, last Saturday we were encouraged by the lone state-wide newspaper to compare school data when they published school-by-school NAPLAN results (from 2008, a little detail that was mostly glossed over). In my school we are currently required to prepare our Year 2, 4 and 6 students for next years test. District offices are putting pressure onto Principals to show rapid improvements. And Queensland has pretty much had a year long beat up of its teachers, schools and students because we came second last in the testing in 2008. (of only 7 states and territories).

With all the pressure being put on schools to produce good results, and all the people out there realising there's a good buck to be made from NAPLAN (NAPLAN-style support books, expensive 'readers' sets promising better results, NAPLAN-style tests, and even a company taking advantage of swine flu to flog their NAPLAN products), surely it's only a matter of time before Principals take these programs up as a way of achieving better results, insisting that their teachers enforce these programs, no matter what. Particularly if Queensland does poorly again this year (not terribly unlikely, we've got another cohort of children here used to the Qld tests, rather than the NSW/VIC style tests used in NAPLAN).

So I was quite angry. But now I'm just determined. I'm determined to make sure this doesn't happen. I'm determined to make sure that our Principal and our HOC give us teachers the information that we need. I'm determined to find good, tested methods of improving students learning. I'm determined to make the classroom a place which is not dominated by one test. And I'm determined to speak out more, and to stop keeping quiet because it's the easiest thing to do.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Enjoying Moments of Beauty


After a short week (agricultural show holidays on Monday and Wednesday), I'm kind of looking forward to a proper week of work. Unfortunately I won't be enjoying that next week as I have training Monday to Wednesday.

Yesterday was another variation when the next door teacher and I took our combined classes to the Queensland Art Gallery to see the American Impressionists and Realists exhibition. This wasn't a terribly planned excursion (although it fitted in to my museum unit, it wasn't written in) but the chance to take them to this was just too good to pass up.

Our aim was simple - to have the kids looking, enjoying and sketching the paintings. The reality was amazing - students were completely engaged with some of them spending up to an hour working on one painting. Most of them had never been to an art gallery before, and many of them were completely awed by the beauty of the paintings - one even begged to go back and look at one painting 'just one more time.'

It really reminded me that part of being a teacher is allowing the students to have moments like this - to allow them to explore and experience beautiful things. To let them immerse themselves in it, without a huge focus on what is 'produced'. I think yesterday is going to be a day which sticks for many of those kids, for all the right reasons.

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Picture from Queensland Art Gallery

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Arrival: Shaun Tan


Since the beginning of the term, my students and I have been exploring The Arrival by Australian artist/writer Shaun Tan. The Arrival is an entirely wordless picture book/graphic novel which follows the story of a man who leaves his homeland and emigrates to a strange but beautiful new world. Here he struggles at time with the new experiences, but is helped by a number of people with similar experiences.

This is a truly beautiful book, with carefully drawn illustrations. There are six chapters, and we have taken on a chapter a week with four small groups (we'll put 5 and 6 together). Each group takes time to go through the chapter, talking about the story as it develops and examining some of the visual symbols within the chapter. Students write on post-it notes whenever they find something they want to comment on, and it gets stuck into the book. Later it's put into the students' notebooks and they write further comments.

Sometimes the students have needed more preparation - before chapter 2, in which the main character comes to the new world, we read about migrant experiences with Ellis Island, particularly inspection procedures. This made it easier to understand the sequence when the character is examined and 'labelled'.

The students have surprised me at times with their understanding of some quite complex images, being able to explain them in ways I had never thought. There's a lot of sharing with the book - although we're working in different groups, each group reaches the same point by the end of the week, so they are able to discuss it with other people in the class. There's also comparisons with other books such as The Golden Compass, so that leads to further reading. I think I'll make some recommendations about books which feature moving to different places next for students who are interesting in reading more about the topic.

I highly recommend this book for a higher elementary/middle school group, particularly if you are doing work on immigration, new experiences or symbolism - I have loved watching the students become entranced by this amazing world..
Images from Shaun Tan's Website
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Monday, August 3, 2009

Reader's Workshop: Part Three - How is it working


Read about the previous posts on Reader's Workshop here and here:

I know it's too early to make a full reflection on the Reader's Workshop (after three weeks), but there have been some early indications of success:

  • There is an increased interest in books in the classroom. New books do not stay on the shelves for long, but are quickly passed from hand to hand. There's also talk about books and reading and lots of sharing of information.
  • The students are thinking more about characters, the scenes, the symbols in books
  • I'm hearing them read from books that interest them. One student read to me from a book which we both knew was below his ability as a reader. I listened to him, discussed how he was having no problems with it and asked him to read to me again when he'd finished the book - he got to finish a book he was interested in and we had a discussion about reading, and what he might be interested in next.
  • The students are writing about books more coherently than ever before. One student was reading 'A Wrinkle in Time' and wrote me a letter about it. I wrote back to her about Meg and she noted:

    "I think she would make a bit of a dull friend, if you asked her something she would be thinking about something else"

    This was something I'd never considered, but the student made me approach the character from a different perspective. As a class they're making me do this an awful lot.
It hasn't been all peaches. I've had to revisit how to respond a few times to make sure all the students were clear on it, and I need to continue to have a clear focus of the week (this week is perspective), but so far it's working nicely and I'm really enjoying it. After all - we've created a reading community, how can you go wrong?

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Image from Public Domain Photos

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Reader's Workshop: Part 2 - Introducing the ideas


It's all about reading - more

All the students in my class a capable readers and most of them enjoy reading. Therefore, when I introduced Reader's Workshop by mentioning they would be reading MORE, they were generally happy with the idea. Those that aren't enthusiastic readers did like the fact they could choose their own books, as well as the new graphic novels I had puchased (more on that later).

Each lesson involves silent reading. The students can read anything, anywhere. This means I generally have students lying on cushions on the floor, curled up in corners, sprawled across desks, grabbing my comfy chair, as well as taking advantage of the blue skies and sunshine of winter in Queensland. (Generally when all the kids are outside is when the Principal or Deputy will come along. The deputy was great, though and saw it as an opportunity to talk about the book (Inkheart) he was reading. )


Read and Respond

After silent reading most of the students go on to read and respond. Students keep reading, but may pause to write what they are reading, a line they really like, or some information about a character. There are question prompts in the front of their notebooks, as well as a weekly question and some additional questions (downloaded from Adrian Bruce's website) for students who are having a little trouble. Students aren't expected to write lots, though some do, but are expected to write a little each day.

Additionally, students are sometimes asked to write a letter to me. I then read them and respond with my own letter, asking questions, making recommendations and generally having an ongoing conversation about reading and books.


Explicit teaching and conferences

On some days, before silent reading we'll have a mini-lesson focusing on a particular skill or aspect. These are short and pretty much serve as reminders, or options for the students to use.

While most of the class is read-and-responding, I'll work with a small group on a particular book or skill. At the moment we're 'reading' the amazing Shaun Tan book, The Arrival, which contains no recognisable words at all. Student make notes on post-its as we go through it, and then write up their thoughts about the chapter afterwards. Lots of skills are discussed here, and it's more focused on the group needs.

While the small group are writing I move around the class doing individual conferences. I listen to the students read, talk to them about what they're reading and look at their work. I also collect five books a day to read and write in - which is managable and lets me get through the whole class in an average week. This way I know where the students are at and I'm able to guide them to do more.

It's only been three weeks, and I haven't dumped this all at once, but introduced bits at a time. Already, there are improvements in their work, but I've also made some adjustments.

Next post: how it's all worked

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Image from Public Domain Photos

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Introducing Reader's Workshop: Part One - the Set Up


So, with the beginning of our new school term, just three weeks ago, I introduced a Reader's workshop into the classroom. This is a new thing to me, and a new thing in our school. Luckily, I had time to think about how it would work, and was able to set things up accordingly.

My ideas originally came from the website of third grade teacher, Beth Newingham. Although I had read about the ideas before, I had been lost at how to make it work. Beth demonstrated how it worked in her room, allowing me to see how it might work in my room.

The first step was organising the books. When I started in my own classroom, 2 and a half years ago, I had half a trolley of books. Now I have several bookshelves full. To organise them I purchased a tonne of cheap plastic, rectangular containers (sturdy enough to hold books of course) from local discount stores. I sat down and surveyed the books I had, dividing them into some basic groups. Each book was then labelled with a sticker reminding students what group it was from, and each container was labelled with a laminated tag.

The groups ranged from the basic (realistic fiction, fantasy, historical) to the more 'Mrs D' specific (CHERUB books, ballet books), but most importantly, in their containers the books now faced outwards, allowing students to see what we actually had. This meant new reading material to a lot of the students, and a lot more of the books were actually being read.

The next step took place over the two week break and involved the muscles of Mr D. I've never liked the set up of my crowded room, and I was determined to do something about it. My biggest move was shifting my desk to a spot where I use it more and it takes up less space. I now have a cleaner desk and more space in the room. We then moved the dividers (head height) most of the way across the room (I share a demountable teaching space complete with asbestos walls) to block out some of the noise and lined up the bookshelves so there was more of a book corner, with a large seating space in front of it. I then swapped a couple of tables which were being used for computers with desks, which also opened up more room. Suddenly I had more space - and I was happier with it.

Outside of school I did up a simple notebook for each child (stickytaped a picture on front and some info on the inside) and stuck it in a large plastic lunch bag (a baggie?) with a pencil and some post it notes. These went into some cardboard magazine holders (one between two students) which I had painted brightly. Each holder had a laminated tag with students names on them and became a place for their books and reading workshop materials.

Now we were ready for school to begin.

Next post - introducing the reader's workshop to the students.

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Image from Public Domain Photos

Friday, July 31, 2009

Cough, splutter

Just as I want to write more, I get a dull cold (no swine flu, though it's in our school now) which leaves me sleepy and dopey (and sneezy) in my non-working time. Hopefully the weekend will be kind and I'll be back with a vengence. Mostly because I want to talk about our reader's workshop and our amazing experiences with the graphic novel The Arrival.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Where are we going with this


Back at school two weeks and during that time I've been thinking about where I should be taking this blog. My main goal is to blog more regularly - four times a week seems do-able and more regular. What do I want to blog? Well that took more thought.

  1. Ideas. They're my stengths, and I love talking about them (just ask Mr. D)
  2. Success and 'where I could do better' reflections
  3. Book reviews - one of the great things out of readers workshop has been the cool books I've discovered.
I'm sure there'll be more things that'll bubble up, but I think that will keep me busy for now.

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Photo from http://www.public-domain-photos.com

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A good return

So, back to school today. I spent some time on the holidays rearranging my classroom, so it was cool to watch the kids reactions when they came in the door. General consensus is that they love the extra space, and the library is definately easier to use.

Overall, it was a great return to the classroom. Quite a few students mentioned that the day just flew by, and they weren't kidding. There were lots of outside lessons - phys ed, Chinese, religious ed- today, but the other lessons worked well too.

For maths, we're beginning a bit of investigating maths related to our bodies. Today we were revising measurement and changing millimetres into centimetres and metres (thank goodness we don't have to work with inches and feet in Australia :) ). The students worked in pairs to measure their height, arm length, leg length, hand span and foot length in centimetres. After they recorded them in a table, they then worked out the millimetres and metres. Then they used this to make their own word problems. What impressed me was the way some of the students worked to create multi-step problems without any prompting.

Then this afternoon we began our Reader's Workshop. The students like the ideas, but I need to work a little on the read and respond part - maybe some more guidance through small group lessons and one on one conferences. The small group I worked with today were marvellous with The Arrival, they were really beginning to tell the story. I tried to use questioning which would allow them to unravel the story, rather than telling them 'you're right' or 'you're wrong'. At first they thought the man was just going to work, then on a business trip and then they realised he was going away for much longer. Then the group worked on some questions, wrote a little, and used complex instructions to make paper cranes (I had different instructions when I learned, and I wasn't as impressed with some of these. I'll keep looking for better ones).

Before we knew it, 3pm was around and it was time to go home. Good day though.

A literacy Guru?

Yesterday was our training day for this term with the students returning today. Most of the training was pretty ordinary, mostly about reporting and children with ASD. But during the staff meeting the Principal called for literacy and numeracy 'gurus' to be trained. Nominations were called for and I was landed with the literacy role.

There is very little information (like none) on this, but since it's a government program, I am a little concerned. Readers and writers workshop are not the 'done thing' here, although there was a lot of work done on both in the early eighties. Instead there's a bit of a muddle in literacy in Queensland. Some people are right into functional grammar, others get right into text mapping or the four resources model of literacy. But when it comes to actually teaching the material, there's no overall philosophies coming from the government.

So how will I take my rather different way of teaching English (well different in our school, anyway) and whatever I'm trained to do, and use this to help others in our school? If I'm taught one thing, am I required to use it in my classroom? I really want to know what this position entails, basically.

~*~
Today's lessons - revisiting mm, cm, dm and m while measuring ourselves; beginning our reader's workshop with small groups looking at The Arrival.

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Picture from Photos8.com

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Back to School


So, I've taken a bit of a break over the two weeks of school holidays. I've read, played computer games, read some more, gone shopping, slept in, taken my ballet classes and generally had a great time. But, alas, it is time to return to school.

I'm both excited and a little nervous about the coming term. Basically, I'm making the biggest change in my teaching since I began three and a half years ago. Fed up with the size of my classroom and filled with an urging to 'do things better' I've reconfigured my classroom, making it less centralised. Basically, this means that the attention has been drawn away from the blackboard. Instead there are small groups of seats, some individual learning areas, even a couple of desks set up to enable cooperative computer work.

My moving the attention away from the blackboard, I've been able to move my desk to a better place, where I have access to the power for my computer. In my old set up, it would have been at the front of the room, which I didn't like, but now it's just part of the room.

Other changes include extending the classroom library, creating a bigger sitting space, and giving better visual of the door (too many polite visitors wait near the door and we couldn't see them).

Of course this change means I have to change the approach to teaching. No longer can I bring all attention to the blackboard. I have already allowed for this in reading and writing with readers and writers workshop, but I'll need to continue to think about this when working in maths and other subjects.

This change also meant I needed to think about how to use this blog. The best way I can see is bringing it along on the ride with me - focusing on some successful lessons, reflecting on where things could work better.

What changes do you make when you come back from holidays?

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Photo from http://www.photos8.com

Monday, June 29, 2009

Looking back at the last weeks of term: School Excursion


Now that I'm finally on school holidays (two whole weeks here in Queensland) I finally have time to recap the events of the last couple of weeks of school. The best was our first class excursion.

Our excursions must meet a number of requirements, and this one was perfect. We are studying museums, so we took a trip to the state museum. This required us to take a train to Brisbane, and I was so impressed with the behaviour of the children on the train. They ended up making up their own little games, while another one hid his face in the train map following every step of the way.

At the museum, the students were also excellently behaved - but more importantly they were engaged in their work, and as I realised later, they learned an awful lot.

Why were they so engaged? I think it had a lot to do with the work they were provided with. Instead of a 'fill in the blanks' style worksheet, I visited the museum before the visit, and put together a booklet which encouraged them to find facts, to take in whole exhibits, but focus on particular parts of them. By doing this, there was some real in-depth learning going on. There were also sketching activities (for those visual kids), a writing activity to allow their imaginations to go wild, maps, pictures and information about the exhibits we were going in.

Meanwhile, I watched other school groups race from one display to another, finding one word answers and then racing on to the next one. I wonder how much they missed? Is that really teaching them about the wonders of museums? One of our groups found a drawer of different types of animal poop in the Inquiry Centre! Worksheet-groups would not be investigating enough to find that.

How successful it was came out on Friday the Principal asked one of the grade 5 students about the visit. He was able to knowledgeably tell her that he enjoyed the Museum Zoo and Endangered Animals exhibit the most, but wanted to know more about the Courage of Ordinary Men exhibit.

How do you make excursions (field trips) successful?

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Photo from Qld Museum website

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

End of Semester = Slack Blog Writer

So, unlike schools in the northern part of the world, we are not gallumping towards a summer break. Instead we are gearing up for a 2 week winter break, and the end of Term 2 of Hell.

This last week has been particularly telling on how hard the term has been for all of us. We're having this strange crack down on school uniforms, Sports Day nearly had to be postponed for the fourth time (it's today!), teachers have to have 'discussions' with the principal about their report cards after making graphs of their results, students are going a little zany . . .

We're all on the edge, just waiting for the latest from district office to throw us over the edge.

Personally, I can't wait for the end of this week. First of all - it's my first wedding anniversary! Then two weeks of blissful rest, with the second week free for going in and reorganising my classroom. Then term three and a fresh start.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

How did reflection work?


So, I've completed my series of reflections, thinking about what I am doing well and where I can improve. What have I learned from it all?

Mostly, I've given things a name. Instead of having a niggly feeling that I could be doing better, I'm able to identify my weak points and make plans to improve. And it works the other way too - I can clearly define where I have strengths and why, rather than having a rather whispy idea.

So that's what I've learned - so where to from here?

Well, there's a week and a half until our mid year holiday. I think it's important - after this hectic term - that I take some time for myself to relax and regroup and celebrate my first wedding anniversary.

But then I have plans for the new term. Plans to reconfigure the room to allow for more individualised learning and for a decent group working space. Plans to work in depth with one or two students to improve self-efficacy and help them to achieve their full potential. Plans to install reader's workshop, to tightly link reading and writing in the classroom. Plans to set up a few simple organisation systems which will allow for a neater, better run room.

There's a lot of plans, and I need to realise that not every thing will work the way I want them to. But mid-year gives us a fresh chance. Old reports are set aside, and we can build on what we've done to have a strong, happy, learning classroom.

On that note- I'm off with my class to the museum!

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Things I do well: Getting excited about learning


This is the last of a series in which I have been taking a bit of time to reflect on where I want to improve and what I'm doing well. You can find the master list of reflections here.

Getting Excited about Learning

I like to learn stuff.

Actually, I love learning. I love learning random facts which I can dredge up during conversations. I love learning about teaching. I love learning about science and maths and technology. I even love learning about the rather complicated things my husband does at work.

And I'm enthusiastic about my learning. Often, I can't wait to tell other people what I've learned. Because it's knowledge, and who doesn't want to share that!

I like to think my enthusiasm transfers to the students. The best example of this, in my classroom has been my love of books. I've spent a lot of time reorganising our classroom library lately and the students are really interested in this - and the new books they are discovering in the process. Students will often read and enjoy books on my rather fervant recommendations. But even if they don't read the books I recommend, they see me get excited about reading, and they know that it's okay for them to be excited about reading - that reading is something to be excited about.

As far as I'm concerned, enthusiasm is the key. The students spend around 25 hours a week with me. If I am not enthusiastic, there is no chance that they will be excited. And if they are not excited in the classroom, I've lost them.

When I lose my enthusiasm for learning, I'll be quite happy to walk right out the door.


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Monday, June 15, 2009

Things I do Well: Gifted and Talented Teaching


At the moment, I'm taking a bit of time to reflect on where I want to improve and what I'm doing well. You can find the master list of reflections here.

Gifted and Talented Teaching


Over the last three years, I have been fortunate enough to teach a number of classes with Gifted and Talented students, and this year almost my whole class is made up of these students. I've been trying to get my head around what I do that makes me good at this, but I think I'll have to put it into dot point form.

What I do well with Gifted teaching
  • I work hard to understand these children. I do an awful lot of reading and reflecting on gifted education and students, as well as attending any PD opportunities which come around.
  • I like these children. You would be surprised at how many teachers do not like these children. I'm always hearing 'They're not really gifted, are they?', and every single time one of my students does anything slightly naughty, I hear about it. But these are intelligent, funny, passionate kids - why wouldn't you like them?
  • I try new things. If something isn't working, we try something new. I've got no problem putting my hand up and saying 'oops'.
  • I encourage them to say oops. Perfectionism is such a problem in the classroom so there has to be encouragement to take risks. I work hard to create a safe place for this risk taking.
  • We celebrate achievement. Any achievement. Sport, music and academic. We have a bit of a competition going for the best pun of the year at the moment.
  • I have a HUGE classroom library and I'm passionate about it - often these guys love to read, but haven't always found the right book for them.
So there's some of the things I think I do well with gifted education. I'm sure there will be much much more to talk about on this subject!


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Saturday, June 13, 2009

More about Grammar and Punctuation!


Who would have thought punctuation and grammar could be so interesting?

I finally found a link to the wonderful Grammar Book I've been using. As always, take the ideas and twist them for your own purpose and your own classroom - but the ideas here are wonderful. The book is called Awesome Hands-on Activities for Teaching Grammar by Susan Van Zile.

With Kung Fu Punctuation (or Punctuation Kung Fu), I was unfortunately unable to find any video of it being taught on the BBC program The Unteachables. I was able to find this article - Punching Home the Art of Punctuation - written by the teacher in question Phil Beadle, in which he describes Kung Fu Punctuation, as well as other grammar activities. In our case, the students and I listed the punctuation marks first, and then decided what actions we'd give them. In this way, we had our own ownership of the activity.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Things I'm doing well: Grammar and Punctuation

At the moment, I'm taking a bit of time to reflect on where I want to improve and what I'm doing well. You can find the master list of reflections here.


Grammar and Punctuation

It's been a bit of a break with running around at school and trying to rug up against the cold. But I'm back again, this time with a look at grammar and punctuation.

To be honest, I'm a little surprised that I am teaching this well. I was a student who was never taught more than a noun, verb and adjective (Stephen King taught me about adverbs) and basic punctuation. Yet, as I hold more onto the idea that we must write for our readers, I have realised how important that knowledge of grammar and punctuation is. So I've taught myself.

(Hear that Qld government. Teachers can find their own weak points and correct them. We don't need the professional development which you think we need to be shoved down our throats . . .)

The best tool we've found for punctuation is a kinesthetic tool - Kung Fu Grammar. Basically the student and I listed all the punctuation we could think of. Then as we used them, we made 'kung fu' actions which matched (favourites include the full stop - a flat palm pushed forward - and the quotation mark - stand on one leg and wiggle your fingers above your head). We use these when we look at sentences and how they should be puctuated. Somehow the physical movement means that students remember the rules of puctuation. Furthermore, we're using the punctuation vocabulary. And it's fun.

When it came to grammar, I used this fabulous book, which of course is at school - but I'll put a link in later. It has all these fun, active, engaging ways of looking at and describing the mechanics of grammar and then how they're used. It often involves creating displays for visual learners (a simile tree is a big favourite). The students often don't believe me when I tell them they've just done a grammar lesson.

One of my favourites was looking at the different types of sentences. Students matched sentences that were similar and then had to explain why they were similar - they knew the characteristics of the sentence types before they even knew the names of the sentence types. Later we turned the sentence types into cartoon characters with Sergant Imperative being a popular choice. All the students can now name and identify the four type of sentences .

What has this experience taught me this year? Well grammar and punctuation can be fun. Students can learn it and not need to be constantly retaught it. And understanding the aspects of grammar and punctuation is essential when explaining how writing works or doesn't work.

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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

What did the month of May teach me?


Just a quick break from structured reflections for a post, while I think about what I've learned this month. It's been a huge month - floods, strikes, NAPLAN, QCATs, Sports Day, Maths Tournaments, report cards, student teachers, swine flu preparation . . . . - which means lots of disruptions, as well as lots of things to learn from.

Lesson One: Edublogs are awesome personified.

How on earth have I made it four years into my teaching career without the help, wisdom, humour and gentle nudges of the Edublogs? From the blogs I've read this month, I've found better links, clearer thought and newer ideas than any where else on the internet. They've led me to reconsider how I approach my teaching and lit up my passion for ICTs in the classroom once more. And having my own blog has made me think and reflect on my teaching practice in a way I didn't realise I could.

Lesson Two: For all the behaviour lessons we teach, sometimes you have to learn from the 9 year old.

Miss Nervous is a lovely girl, who is really smart but doesn't quite realise it. The kind of girl who leaves you a note on your desk to let you know she's feeling happier about maths. Last Wednesday we had the first part of our sports day including the 800 metres race. Miss Nervous had paced herself well and was coming a good fourth, when the girl in front of her fell down in obvious distress. Miss Nervous stopped, without looking behind her to see who was coming next, and stayed with the girl until she was back on her feet. She then ran on to come third. She showed consideration and care is a way that made me so very proud.

Lesson Three: A good teacher keeps on learning and learning and learning

I have learned about English from my student teacher who has taught English to adults for the last umpteen years. I have learned about science from my students. I have learned about myself from reflecting. I have learned about reader's workshop and setting up an awesome classroom library from the internet. I LOVE LEARNING!

Lesson Four: My house will not flood in severe rain - but my classroom might . . .

Just a small leak near the windows. Nothing to be concerned about . . . .

Lesson Five: Parents will surprise you

Their support for the teacher's strike, backed up a day later when we evacuated the schools was phenomenal. We complain about our parents a lot, and it's true we'd love them to be more involved - but when it comes to the crunch, they are there for us.


What did you learn in May?


Picture taken byMrs D. in 2008