Thursday, September 17, 2009

At the end of the term - Reader's Workshop

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

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

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

Monday, September 14, 2009

Performance Framework vs. Personal Learning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Poem in Your Pocket: Wrap Up

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

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Nice end to a bad day . . .

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Fly In, Fly Out

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

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

One week.

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

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

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

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


Monday, September 7, 2009

Two Weeks Until Break

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

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

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!
Photo:Book Accident by

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