Sunday, May 31, 2009

Things I'm doing well - Teaching Maths

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.

Teaching Maths

This last week I took 15 children to the district maths competition. The maths competition is rather awesome - around 150 6th and 7th graders working in teams of five to solve very difficult maths problems. In this competition, brains are everything, and cheers ring out when students solve a particularly difficult problem.

I love it. I love the enthusiasm and I love the way the children approach the problems. I even love giving up my lunch times to help them train.

The rather sad thing is that I really love maths. It's always about solving the problem - about unravelling the different strands to find a secure answer which can be absolutely proven. And I love teaching this to my class.

One of the things I do well in maths has been in increasing the confidence of students who think they are terrible at maths and that there's no way they'll ever get better. These students tend to be girls, who are very good writers, and somewhere along the way have 'found out' that being good at writing means you can't be good at maths. I firmly believe that everyone can do maths - we just need to find the right way to teach it or approach it. And if that means we're outside making angles with students, or turning mathematical concepts into comic strip - then that's how we do maths.

We've had some interesting investigations this year, but our best one was the 'school tour' maths investigation where we went and did maths based on the school library. One group was out measuring different parts of the library, another were using compasses to work out distances, another were estimating the number of books in the library, while yet another group mapped out the library. Everyone was engaged and doing maths and it was exciting.

Another success this year has been the introduction of novel problems. Basically, you put up a problem the children have not seen or been 'taught' before. The students try to work it out and are graded on the amount of help they need to eventually solve it. This allows us to see the students' thinking and reasoning. At first, some of the students would give me the worst death stares when I'd put one of those problems in front of them. After some time (and some sticker bribes) those students are now completing these problems first. Their confidence is growing and so it their enthusiasm and their skill. I love it!

Where to now? Well more investigations. More different ways of learning. I keep looking wherever I go online and finding more ways of making math exciting. We're a class happy to be doing maths!


Saturday, May 30, 2009

Things I'm doing well - Writer's Workshop

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.

Writer's Workshop

It’s funny how much easier it is to be critical when reflecting than being positive. But one thing which has worked really well in my classroom this year has been the implementation of a writer’s workshop. The premise of it is pretty simple – students are able to write anything they like. Each session begins with a mini-lesson covering grammar, spelling, writing skills, genre etc. During writing time we have small group and one on one conferences.

There have been some awesome results including a whole heap of published work (which gets entered in the school writer’s club), a movie, and real advancement in the student’s writing. The students really enjoy the autonomy, and are getting really good at identifying where a piece should be improved.

There have been some glitches. NAPLAN ended up taking a lot of time which would have been better spent on writing. We haven’t been as consistent with some things as I would like, which is more of an organisational issue. And I’m still learning about it, which means I’m constantly making improvements. But, all in all it’s a lot of fun and there are some great results.


Friday, May 29, 2009

Carnival of Education

I had a gorgeous post all ready to be posted - and then my browser crashed . . . grr.

The only thing that can compensate? A post linking you to this week's Carnival of Education!

As always, many many wonderful links. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Things to Improve: Getting Caught in the Negative

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.

Getting Caught in the Negative

I'm an anxious person. I worry about doing the right thing all the time. I get horribly frustrated when I am stopped - in any way - from doing the right thing. And I can get caught in the negatives associated.

NAPLAN was one area which caught me up and stressed me out to an unreasonable level. I felt it was a weight pressing down on me all the time. I let it, and my feelings about it, rule me day in and day out. I had trouble letting it go.

The negativity is definately not good for me, emotionally. I get all wrapped up in it and let it shadow all the other things I do.

So how do I get around this. Surround myself with positive people. Keep things that make me happy on my desk (this has worked a treat this year). Put in place the organisation and anti-procrastination ideas which will help me keep on top of other things which stress me. Laugh.

I feel positive about working on this one!

Next time - into the things I do well!

Image from


Monday, May 25, 2009

Things to Improve: Stop Procrasti . . . oh shiny

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.

Stop Procrastinating

Strangely enough, I have put this post off. My very bad procrastination habit does this to me a lot. I get worked up about something, deliberately put it to the side or the back of my mind, beat myself up because I haven't done it yet and then do it at the last moment - often not doing as well as I can.

Some of it has to do with perfectionism and anxiety. Some with this little laziness only my nearest and dearest really see. But it's not helpful. At all.

Instead it gets me into trouble - or feeling like I will be in trouble all the time. This sense of dread hangs over me like some sort of musty blanket and I find myself unable to sleep/feel relaxed.

I really think this is somewhere where jumping in the deep end won't help. Instead I need to take it a bit slower - make one achievement at a time. At the moment, I'm focusing on writing things down - if they're there in front of me, they're harder to put to the back of my mind.

I realise now, that I haven't mentioned teaching at all here. But procrastination affects that too - I put off planning or making resources or arranging special events. I make it difficult for myself at the last minute - making me more stressed in the classroom. And I'm probably passing on some bad habits to my own perfectionists.

So - step, by step - one foot in front of the other.

How do you get around procrastination?


Saturday, May 23, 2009

Things to Improve: Reading Comprehension

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.

Teaching Reading Comprehension

The majority of my class are very good readers. That is, they can read - aloud - just about any piece of text you put before them. But, I always wonder, how much are they really understanding? And how much more could they be getting from the text?

This is where I'm very much like the students I teach. I was reading novels at age 5, adult books at age 9. I could handle almost every piece of text put before me, although - admittedly - I made a few clangers in pronunciation. But a lot of the time I just let the words fall over me, without really engaging in it. I'm sure there are many occasions I still do that. (Especially when reading some of the notices we get)

So, first, I suppose I really need to consider what we should be getting out of texts. It is important, of course, that students are able to read and use what they are reading. They should be able to identify the audience and the purpose of different texts. But what comes next? Should we take the critical literacy approach of asking what the author is really trying to say, even if the author does not realise they are really trying to say it? Or should we take a more methodical approach on how the author has used certain literary techniques to achieve particular effects? Or maybe a mixture of both? And how does this fit into the classroom as I currently have it.

Most importantly to me, in my reader friendly classroom is how do I teach this without removing the love of books and reading my students currently have? How do you protect pure enjoyment of a well written piece of writing without going into why it is so well written?

Where do I get my resources from? We have precious few resources aimed at the higher level, and even fewer ideas which don't rely on worksheets (my distaste of worksheets continues to flourish).

Is there a way to take a more investigatory approach to teaching reading? I know this approach has been a huge success in our maths lessons - how does it translate to reading?

Many many questions. I'm sure there will be much more to reflect on as I continue to walk this path.

How do you teach reading?

Image from Public Domain Images


Thursday, May 21, 2009

Of floods and carnivals

Yesterday the children in our school were sent home early (from 10.30am onwards) due to massive flooding. I went home a little early to make sure we didn't have flooding, and now I'm watching the neighbour's chickens wandering around in a very wet back yard (otherwise known as BIG puddle/pond of water).

I haven't been sent home early because of rain since I was a child - seems the drought is finally over in South-East Queensland!

In other good news, the Carnival of Education is on again today. I haven't had time to go through them all yet, but some really interesting looking links as usual. I'm looking forward to reading When Video is Made Uncritically and The Battleground Bookshelf. I'm also over there with A Time for Teaching Reflection, which is my current series of posts about where I'm heading. It has actually fit in really well with some of the things going on in our school which I'll talk about when I reach the end . . .

Go! Read!

Things to Improve: Teaching Science

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.

Teaching Science

Science. Test tubes and explosions and carefully drawn tables of results. Fully equipped science laboratories. Any kind of science equipment?

I actually like science quite a lot. I learned it for the 5 years of high school, achieving the highest marks in the grade in grade 9. I like the system of predicting, testing and analysing. But, I still feel that I'm not teaching science in a way which makes it engaging and ensures that the students really learn.

Part of it is in setting up experiments. We have some equipment at school, but no system to tell us what we have or how we can use it. Similarly, there are some great books - but they never seem to fit into our 'unit'. There's also the problem of finding an experiment which can be done safely in the classroom.

I know some of it also comes down to me. When I find easy to do experiments which meet all the requirements of our theme etc, I need to get organised enough to buy the materials I need to complete the experiment. The lack of organisation I talked about before affects science (and strangely, phys ed) more than most other subjects.

So, how to improve. I know I need to look for more information. We have the books there at school, I need to use them. We have begun approaching science more than ever before this term - I need to keep building on that. I need to plan science experiements with enough time to collect materials - and really plan them so I know what materials are needed. I need to balance experimenting with good explainations and thought. And we need to begin looking at observations and realise that science isn't always blowing stuff up.

I think this is one area where I really can improve. I'm looking forward to doing more science.

Any tips on how you approach science?

Image from


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Things to Improve: Classroom Organisation

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.

Classroom Organisation

I can never find anything in my classroom. Most of the time, this isn't a huge problem - I do a bit of searching, look around a bit, shift the piles of paper and books on my desk (must do something about this or that) and ask my students to help me find whatever it is I'm missing.

But recently, I had a supply teacher in who wasn't able to find my role - which was quite embarrassing. And I hate having the cleanliness of my desk being a joke around the school.

It's become a problem. It means I don't get things done properly or promptly. It's become a stress to me because things are always left to the last moment.

What can I do about it?

I have started to try to Write things Down, which is helping quite a lot - at least I'm not losing details as much as I used to. I need to take 5 minutes at the beginning and end of each day to make sure I have what I need where I need it. I've discovered that I use resources more when I can see them, so I'm going to invest in a file holder that puts things in front of me.

Sometimes, as well, I need to hand over some of the responsibility to the kids. There are parts of the room that they're responsible for. They need to see to that. I need to make sure that there's a system and time to allow them to see to that.

It's not going to happen overnight - and I need to stop expecting that. Small goals, small increments, will help an awful lot. Now I need to take a deep breathe, step out and try to reach them.

What organisation tricks do you use?

Image from


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Things to Improve: Spelling and Vocabulary

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.

Teaching Spelling and Vocabulary

How do you continue to improve spelling and vocabulary when you're teaching children who are already pretty competent in both?

At the moment, I have no clear plan or path to follow for spelling. I've tried a number of ideas - using Greek and Latin roots to brainstorm words (I always lose my list of root words and have to begin again), using dictionaries to find 'connected' words, children grouping a list of spelling words into groups of their own choosing etc. But I've not yet found something that really sticks. And as the children are already good in this area, I tend to let it slip, rather than really looking for how to extend them.

When I was a primary school student, all I remember about spelling was getting a list of words and being forced to memorise them. I was excellent at memorising, but this skill didn't always transfer into spelling correctly in my writing. So how can I give the children strategies to a) find the incorrect words they are putting in their writing and b) to correct them. And how do I put these strategies into interesting lessons with some sort of guiding plan? Without worksheets.

Alternately, since the majority of my students are good spellers, do I need to teach spelling (and vocabulary) as a separate subject? Or can I bring it into my writer's workshop, by explicitly teaching editing skills and insisting that the students use them? Maybe we could increase our visual clues with 'word banks' of interesting/difficult words? Just because most people do long lists of spelling words for tests, does not mean my students have to do the same.

It turns out it's a question which goes beyond the simple 'I want to teach spelling better'. Instead, it turns into a question about 'What's the best way to teach spelling for my students?". And maybe, the best way to find out is to start by asking them. I'll do that Wednesday and keep you updated.

In the meantime, do you have any ideas to make good spellers even better? Let me know!

Image from


Monday, May 18, 2009

3 Sites I've Used Over the Last Week

I'm hoping to make this a bit of a regular event.

ReadWriteThink Comic Creator: We used this in our computer time. The students listed 5 important events from our reading of The Hobbit and tried to turn one into a comic strip. Some students then went on to use Scratch to make a moving version.

The Best Ways For Students To Create Their Own Online Art Collections: From the wonderful Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day… blog. We're about to start a unit on museums and this was a wonderful find.

Virtual Library Museums: I need to spend more time going through these - but lots of links to different museums.


My Reflections: The Master List

This post will (as I get through it) link you to the different topics I'll be writing about as part as my reflective process.

Where do I need to Improve?

-Teaching spelling and vocabulary
-Classroom organisation
-Teaching science
-Teaching comprehension
-Getting things done
-Not getting bogged down in negative thinking

Where do I do well?

-Writer's workshop
-Teaching maths
-Kinesthetic and visual learning
-Teaching grammar and punctuation
-Gifted and talented teaching
-Getting excited about learning

Image from


Sunday, May 17, 2009

A Time for Teaching Reflection

For the first time this school year - about half way through now - I have time to sit back and think about what is working and what is not, as well as what I'm doing well in and where I can improve.

Over the last few weeks, as Qld teachers and schools continue to bear the fallout of the Master's Review and the ensuing comments in the media (many made by those who think they know all about being a teacher) I've been involved with a number of conversations with other teachers, our Head of Curriculum, friends, my husband and other fellow members and random people I catch out in the street (well not so much the randoms), about what teachers and schools need more of to increase student performance.

The regulars are all there - money for resources, better facilities, testing that makes sense, a refill in the lolly jar - but there are some other more serious topics that arise (not that the lolly jar isn't serious).

One that comes up a lot is the kind of in-service/professional development we get as teachers. Earlier this year I, along with all the other Year 4-7 teachers in the state, were shipped off to a 5 day literacy training course. During this time, I learned one new thing I could use in the classroom (from the presenters, anyway. My peers gave me considerably more knowledge.) While this was a worthwhile thing to learn, it wasn't worth 25 hours away from my students.

It's a recurrent theme with professional development. Many times they are someone talking at us, with little thought for the different learning styles or previous knowledge which may already exist. So when someone tells teachers (in the newspaper) that they need more in-service in Grammar (or maths, or science, or whatever we're failing in this week) it gets me a little irritated.

I think this is because I use reflection to work out where I'm doing well and where I could improve. I then build on this with personal reading, watching lectures and listening to pod casts. I search out new ways to teach and try them before reflecting again. Over the four years I've been teaching, I've built up a good understanding of how I teach, what my teaching philosophy is and where I want to go next. None of which will be improved by another 'talk-at-a-large-hemogenous-group' professional development.

I honestly believe that a greater focus on teacher reflection and the chance to shape our own professional development, using the tools we have available (and with the internet we have access to the best minds in the world) will create more professional teachers in Queensland, along with improved results.

In that vein - how do you reflect on the work you do (what ever that work may be) and do you undertake any of your own professional development?

My reflection master list


Friday, May 15, 2009

Carnival of Education: 13 May 2009

The Carnival of Education is up at Rayray's Writing and I'm there for the first time with my reflection on the QCAT moderation process.

There's lots of other great stuff there too! Enjoy!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

NAPLAN Day 3: Mathematics and overall view

Today I supervised my Year 5s and next doors Year 7s in the numeracy NAPLAN tests. The Year 5s have 1, no calculator allowed; while the Year 7s have 2 - one calculator, one not. I went into these tests quietly confident and came out wrecked.

I personally completed the Year 5 test, realising as I went through the kids exams that I'd made three mistakes, which would put me at 37/40. It was a really, ridiculously hard exam, with more than one question better suited to grade 7s or 8s. I shook my head when I saw it, because I just don't know what I could have done to prepare the kids more. I have been worrying that I'm pushing them too hard - most are learning at Year 6 level, some edging into Year 7 work. But they were no where near ready to really attack this. From a quick look, the best marks were just 33/40

It's very discouraging to come out of a test knowing that you've worked so hard, and the students have worked so hard, and still you can't achieve as high as you want to.


These were much harder tests than last years. The spelling words were harder to read, let alone spell. The punctuation and grammar had a new type of question they didn't have last year. The writing task was very abstract and the maths test was plain difficult to the point of ridiculous. The tests were clearly aimed far above the level of the children they were trying to test.

So what does this achieve? Lots of stressed, anxious and dejected children? Feelings of superiority from those who write the test? A culture of fear for teachers who know that threats were made about performing better in these tests than last years?

The last 'achievement' worries me the most - I know our district wanted to tie funding to our ability to raise all levels by 10%. I also know that when the results come in, they won't be great, and we'll be in the same position - if not worse - next year. So what can we do? It's something to keep thinking about.

Teacher's Strike: Still Going Ahead

Relations between Queensland teachers and Education Queensland have continued to sour over the last week as we approach Tuesday's proposed strike. Education Minister Geoff Wilson is continuing to insist that school's are open with supply teachers, moved teachers and teacher aides providing supervision. This is Education Queensland's attempt to completely negate the power of the strike.

Luckily the miscellaneous workers union has stated teacher aides are not to supervise large groups of children on their own. In our school this has left one non-union teacher running the whole school as a number of people have joined the union over the last few days, and all admin members are also going on strike. There is a possibility that some Special Education teachers will be ordered to attend school that day, which - if they're paid - makes them 'scabs', and if they're not, they are not covered by work cover. Not a good position to be in.

So today I'm engaging in my first union action - standing outside the school gate at 3pm with brightly coloured notes for the parents telling them to keep their children home. We're not allowed to hand them out inside, as that would clash with the minister's letter telling parents to send their children to school.

I personally continue to believe that we're not being unreasonable. As we engage in national testing, as we approach a national curriculum and we add national hoops to jump through like we have to jump through the state hoops - we need to have a national wage.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

NAPLAN Day Two: Reading

I think I was justified in being a little scared of this one. The problem with comprehension tests is that the kid's natural over confidence always seems to kick in when it looks like the answers are 'right there' in the reading magazine.

The Year 5 questions were difficult - lots of inferential work. I noticed a lot of the cherubs had difficulties classifying different texts and their purposes, so that's something to keep working on after the testing.

I had to laugh though, two of the excerpts are from books I have in the classroom, and one of the Year 6s is currently devouring one of them.


I don't know why reading comprehension terrifies me so much when I love reading as much as I do. All my students are readers - they really don't get much of a choice in my room! - but I'm going to have to keep working on the comprehension part of things. Yet another thing to add to me list of things to get better at . . .

NAPLAN Day 1: Language Conventions and Writing

Yesterday was the first day of NAPLAN, Australia's national testing. It's only the second year this test has been in practice and we're still trying to get our heads around some of it. There are many, many issues with the testing regime (like the fact it's based on an unwritten national curriculum) but alas, our Yr 3, 5 and 7s had to be tested anyway.

I supervised my 10 Grade 5s as well as my next door neighbour's Grade 7s (16 kids in all). There were two tests yesterday, one today and one tomorrow (the 7s have an extra test tomorrow) With a quick look, I think my kids did all right.

Language Conventions
This test is basically spelling, grammar and punctuation. The spelling seems to be designed to utterly freeze the children. They are given misspelt words in sentetences/diagrams and asked to find them (sometimes they are circled) and fix the spelling. For a poor speller, this is terrifying and it's the first thing you see in the test. For a good speller it's confusing - once you see the misspelt word you start to second guess your own knowledge. I had one student who I told to skip this section and come back to it, but she still burst into tears when there was only 5 minutes left and she had 3 words to go. (Nothing worse than a 10 year old in tears over a national test)

The Grammar and Punctuation for the Year 5s was good, although there was one format they didn't have last year and didn't warn us about. In places it was a little simple for my students, and I think they've done well, though I want to continue to work on different tenses. The Year 7 was was a definate kick up from the Year 5s, so I'm going to have to keep working hard on the Year 6s for next years test.


The writing test requires students to write a narrative based on a stimulus. Last year the stimulus was 'Found' with a number of story ideas and good pictures. This year it was one picture and barely any ideas and the stimulus was 'The Box' - rather abstract. All my students wrote in paragraphs and had almost interesting beginnings (a few began with dialogue which was great). Not as sure how they'll do, as I didn't have time to read them all.


Our school had a low completion rate last year, so this year we're bribing them with jelly beans - 1 for every completed test (and a page of writing in the writing test.) One of the year 7s wrote his page yesterday, put his hand up and asked "do I have to write more?"

"Yes!" I told him. "Finish your story"

So he wrote another paragraph or two and collected his jelly bean . . .

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Teacher's Strike

So, in a rather controversial move, Queensland state school teachers will be going on strike for 24 hours next Tuesday unless there is a drastic improvement in the offer being made by the Queensland Government. It's not something we're completely comfortable with - we know it's tough economic times - but we are the lowest paid teachers in Australia, and our state is not the poorest in Australia. (Afterall, the Government has just paid for that Best Job in the World)

It could be an interesting week.

- - - - - -

In other news, my 5s have their first NAPLAN tests today. *deep breath*

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Preparing for NAPLAN: The NAPLAN Game Show

NAPLAN (Australia's national testing for Year 3,5,7 and 9) begins on Tuesday, so I took advantage of a clear day yesterday to set up a game show in preparation. The class was broken into 2 teams, with equal numbers of 5s and 6s since the 6s had sport later in the afternoon. All activities corresponded with a section of the NAPLAN test.

Round One: Writing Ideas in 5 minutes. Each group was given the same writing stimulus and had to come up with as many story ideas as possible in 5 minutes. Points given for most ideas and most original ideas.

Round Two: Three parts to one story. There were 12 students in each team, so four of them wrote story beginnings, four wrote story middles and four wrote story endings. Then they had to put them together to make four different stories. They were only allowed 5 minutes to talk to each other before they started. Points for best story and funniest story.

Round Three: Spelling Relay. The NAPLAN spelling test requires students to find the mispelt word in a sentence and fix it. The relay had the students lining up in their teams running forward to one of the two easles and fixing the mispelt word, and running back to the next student. Points for fastest and for each correct word.

Round Four: Kung Fu Puncuation Kung-Fu Off: Students correct a poorly punctuated grammatically incorrect sentence by 'acting out' the sentence using Kung Fu Punctuation (must explain that some time). Points for correct corrections and for style.

Round Five: Team Maths Competition: Students work in a team to complete an old practice test. Points for fastest and for each correct problem.

Round Six: Comprehension Quiz Show: Students read a comprehension text and participate in a quiz show style event.

It was a fabulous day which really relaxed some of the students about taking this test next week and was just, down right fun.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

In Moderation

There are two types of standardised testing going on in my classroom at the moment. The Year 5s are about to embark on NAPLAN - a three day extravaganza of high stakes testing in literacy and numeracy which leads to whichever of the 7 states/territories (and their teachers) which land near the bottom being beaten up by the media, their bosses and the Premier/Prime Minister.

The Year 6s have just completed QCATS, a literacy test which is more like regular classroom assessment. This year it was a description, an itinerary and a justification. This is low stakes testing, more used as a professional development tool for teachers.

This afternoon we spent two hours with Year 6 teachers from other schools reviewing marked QCAT tests and moderating them so we had a clear understanding of what different marks should look like. We began with those marks which had been rated as an 'A' from each school, moving our way onto the Cs - from this point, Ds and Bs are pretty obvious, as are Es. All marks have to be strictly matching 'Guides to Making Judgements' and we have to justify how we think a piece of work fits into a particular judgement.

For me, this is fairly routine. We moderate before all report cards, so - depending on the group of people you're with - it's a fairly painless procedure. I was with a great group, with a great moderator, so there were no real conflicts in our final decisions. What challenged me today was the amount of literary understanding I had to show to explain why a piece was deserving of a certain grade.

This struck me, particularly as the state newspaper has recently been making a big deal about how primary teachers are not 'experts' with 'higher degrees' in all areas of their curriculum (how many people do you know who have degrees in English, Maths, Social Sciences, Science, all forms of Arts, engineering (technology), and health and physical education . . .) As teachers we become experts through the work we do, through the time we spend researching a topic, through communicating with people who are experts in their field. We become experts in strange fields of knowledge like Antarctica, Fantasy Novels, the Australian Goldrush, Newspaper publication, Australian Government, the Olympic Games. Not to mention pedagogy, child psychology, special needs education, how to make a miniscule budget reach far and wide and how to teach your class when the class next door (without a divider between you and them) are going nutty.

Was today a valuable use of our time. Well the afternoon tea was great, which is usually a good indicator :) Seriously, though, there was a lot of high level, serious professional talk going on. I got to read an amazing piece of writing, written by an 11 year old. And I feel more confident in my own ability to make considered judgements.

But, on the other hand, in a state where the government has not even made us a pay offer, although our old one has expired, it made for a 10 hour day, without a real break today, on 5 hour pay (basically $12.5 an hour not counting work I have to do at home - I made more working in a food court). As with everything, there's good and bad in the mix.

Bring on next week and the end of testing.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

5 things I hope my Year 5s will remember for next week's writing test

1. PARAGRAPHS! I don't want them to annoy the markers before they even start reading - if the sight of a page full of unbroken text makes my heart sink, think what it will do to someone who's spent days in a hard plastic chair reading bad writing.

2. Full stops and commas. Hopefully this will come in during their 5 minutes editing time. We're doing a short run on sentence lesson tomorrow.

3. Interesting starts. If I read 'once there was . . . ' one more time, I may have to eat their paper.

4. Showing not telling. One of my darlings actually wrote a fake street address rather than describing the house. It's like all descriptive words disappear when they hit test conditions.

5. Varied vocabulary. Call it the cult of 'nice', but for some reason students continue to use 'fun', 'nice' 'tall' . . .

And what I hope they keep for next week:

Their lovely creative stories. Where else am I going to read about Hovering Airconditioners or Memory sticks which come to life??

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

(Professional Learning) On Creativity in the School System

I just finished watching my first online lecture, and I've got to say I've never been happier to have wireless! What was I thinking staying on dial up for so very long.

Anyway, the lecture I watched was Do School's Today Kill Creativity by Ken Robinson. Ken Robinson is a world recognised expert on developing innovation and has a particular interest in school. He gave this lecture at a conference on ideas and creativity.

The basic idea was that the education systems we have today were evolved from the industrial times in the 19th century, and therefore have a focus on two things - a) doing things which will get you a traditional job and b) traditional academic achievement leading to eventual university success. This focus means that schools consider mistakes to be the worst things you can possibly make.

Of course, as Ken Robinson says, " . . . if you're not prepared to be wrong, you'll never come up with anything original."

I see this in my school, in the requirements I'm required to meet in my classroom, in the media we are bombarded with. This evening the news was making pronouncements on the 'best' schools, based on their OP scores. This morning we were being told that we're poor teachers because we're not university professors in all 7 areas we're required to teach, that we should specialise, break all knowledge into cute little boxes and never stray from our best areas.

At the moment I'm teetering between QCATs (Queensland Comparative Assessment Tasks) for Year 6s and NAPLAN (National Assessment Program: Literacy and Numeracy) for my Year 5s. While we were practicing the writing task today for NAPLAN (5 minutes planning, 30 minutes writing, 5 minutes editing, write a story about this topic and please stay within the lines) I had to remind one of the students not to spend time drawing an illustration for her text. Even if her picture told the story better than her words, that picture would leave her severely disadvantaged in the tests because of the short time limit, and she would be considered not to be taking the tests 'seriously'. This is despite the fact that our 'Essential Learnings' (curriculum) regards art as a type of text to be studied and created.

So what is creativity and how can we make sure it's there, present in our classrooms?

I suppose creativity is in dance and art and music and drama. But it's also in thought, in encouraging the students to take risks, to approach things in their own way. It's in encouraging students to think and to be prepared to get things wrong from time to time.