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?

Photo from Qld Museum website


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!


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.


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!


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.


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

Monday, June 1, 2009

Things I'm doing well: Kinesthetic and Visual Learning

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.

Kinesthetic and visual learning

I'm a pretty firm believer that people learn in different ways. You just need to watch staff at the 'one-size-fits-all' professional development sessions to see that. One thing which I have noticed is that my students learn really well with kinesthetic or visual aspects of a lesson. I know personally that I use both of these in my own learning - with my kinesthetic memory particularly strong (I can still remember steps to ballet dances learned more than 10 years ago).

So, how do I use these in the classroom? Well, with visual learning, one way is through mind mapping. I haven't done this as much as last year, but the students all know it is a perfectly acceptable way of brain storming or organising information. We add this to having a lot of displays around the room. I have also realised that things like books have to be facing outwards to be most effective.

Kinesthetically we've really put it to best use with grammar and punctuation, with our biggest success being kung fu punctuation. I got the idea which watching The Unteachables, an English programme about seriously disengaged children. In our kung fu punctuation, we created our own actions and we constantly use them when talking about correct punctuation. I've found it's been really effective with understanding quotation marks - which in our actions is kinda like a karate kid move.

Where to from here. Well, partly it's about being on the look out for more places to use kinesthetic and visual learning, reflecting on the lessons and thinking about how it can be even better!

Tell me about your kinesthetic and visual learning tactics!