A Learner's Journey

September 25, 2013
by 34mk2012
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Aitsl’s 360 Feedback – an initial response

AITSL recently offered principals and teachers holding leadership positions the opportunity to participate in the 360 Reflection Tool process. I jumped at the chance! This involved me filling in a questionnaire and writing two narratives, one about my school context and one about how I perceived my strengths and challenges. I also asked each member of the leadership team and my current and former level leaders to complete the questionnaire. This involved both a scale rating in response to statements and the opportunity to write some anecdotal comments.

My initial response to receiving the report from AITSL was one of excitement –  I could not wait to find a few moments to sit and read it through quietly. There were two things that stood out for me as I read through the graphs and comments:

I was significantly harder on myself than were my colleagues. I have observed this same phenomena when students write self reflections or self assess their work and I am frequently commenting to them that they should not be so hard on themselves!! It is interesting that we seem to find it so difficult to really acknowledge what we are good at.

When I read the areas for improvement, it was confronting in some ways and I did reread them several times! Interestingly, when I decided to compare what the group had identified as my areas of challenge, they were virtually identical to the areas I had identified for myself. This made the groups’ comments far less confronting and I realised that it is actually a very positive thing to know that I am perceived by my peers in a way that aligns with how I see myself as a professional.

Over the next couple of weeks, I will digest the report further and mull over the opportunities it has presented me for learning and improvement. Stay tuned for another post … AND … if the opportunity to participate in 360 Reflection comes up, I would heartily recommend taking it up.

 

 
photo credit: aguscr via photopin cc

May 5, 2013
by 34mk2012
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The Evidence Inquiry Cycle

The Evidence Inquiry Cycle guiding our work

As part of our REL Network, each leader has taken on an Inquiry project. Mine is centered around student thinking. I have observed that many of my students are fairly happy to give the ‘stock standard’, expected answers in RE discussions and I would really like to see them pushing their own thinking more deeply and make those connections that will make their faith relevant to them in their lives. Our current unit is about the concept of relationships and whether having a  relationship with God impacts the world.

To stimulate the students to think about how relationships work, I used the following clip:

 


Students were asked to post on our class padlet their thoughts on where God was in this clip. This is what they came up with;

There were some interesting thoughts posted but most were fairly predictable. I wanted them to go further so I grabbed my copy of Visible Thinking and looked for a thinking protocol I could use with this clip. I decided to use I See, I Think, I Wonder to see where that would take my student’s thinking. This routine prompted some really meaty discussion in the class as each student responded to the prompts. The wonderings were the most interesting with students coming up some surprising and challenging statements. We then got into groups and students collated their responses and came up with their top ‘see, think, wonder’ statements. The groups then set about creating posters. One student asked me “What should the title of the poster be?” to which I initially replied not to worry about a title. Then I realised that creating a title would make their thinking even more visible to me and the other students. Some of the titles they came up with were great!

So having stretched the students thinking, what next? I know I want to go further with them, and having had a conversation about this with our RESA, Deirdre, I have been challenged to now put something provocative before the students to challenge them to think about the situations where God is not so readily visible. As we are doing Natural Disasters at present, that should tie in quite nicely. I think I also need to go back to Visible Thinking and find some other thinking routines that will enable students to view the stimulus in a different way. And I also need to check in with the students again. I wonder if I used the initial video clip again, whether their responses may be deeper already having thought about it in a different way??

 

April 10, 2013
by 34mk2012
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AITSL Self Assessment Tool: Professional Knowledge

I have recently completed the AITSL Self Assessment Tool online and am starting to consider what I have learned about my strengths and areas for development. For this post, I will focus on the area of Professional Knowledge.

I have noted two areas of strength from the tool:

1.2L Expand understanding of how students learn using research and workplace knowledge

Having just completed my Masters, there have been a myriad of opportunities presented to me for accessing current research about best practice for contemporary learning. One of the things I enjoyed most about my study was the many interesting places it took me, often quite unexpectedly. I may have been reading a particular article or similar online but it was often the links that were really interesting. For me, studying was the beginning of my relationship with Diigo, and I have continued to curate many resources since. Over the past few months, I have also been doing some professional reading in areas of interest to me including Visible Learning, Comprehension and Collaboration, Making Thinking Visible and The Cafe Book. My PLN on twitter has been instrumental in my own learning also. Over the past 12 months, I have connected with many inspiring educators and learnt about things such as PBL and CBL – in fact it is quite likely I would not have even known about the great work AITSL is doing as it does not seem to  be on the agenda in the Catholic system in Melbourne as yet.

2.2L Exhibit innovative practice in the selection and organisation of content and delivery of learning and teaching programs

I have worked hard since my return to teaching 4 years ago, after a 10 year break, to try new ways of working within my classroom. My perspective has changed enormously during this period and I now truly see myself as a learner (I have blogged about this transformation previously). I love the shift this has made in my thinking and in my openness to the learning of my students. I feel much less like the expert imparting knowledge and more like a co-learner, sharing the journey, asking some enabling questions, being challenged myself by the questions, and being open to units of work taking surprising directions. I love the addition of extra computers and a couple of iPads to my classroom as they enable the students to express their learning in far more personalised ways and I have tried to provide them with a more flexible learning space, within the confines of a traditional classroom. I think I still have much to learn in terms of innovation but it is great to feel like I am heading in the right direction.

 My areas of development are:

1.4G Provide advice and support colleagues in the implementation of effective teaching strategies for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students using knowledge of and support from community representatives. 

This is somewhat of a tricky area for me as the school community I work in does not include Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander students. I have however made some attempts to forge some connections with community groups in an effort to include the perspectives of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander communities throughout our curriculum. Through our PE teacher, I was able to connect with an organisation called Desert2Surf  which engaged my class in some very student driven fundraising and and eventual meeting with some of the aboriginal students. This year, we have forged an association with LLEN and although progress is slow, we are hoping this may lead to some contact with our local aboriginal community as well as local businesses who can support us in our learning.

2.3L Support colleagues to plan and implement learning and teaching programs using contemporary knowledge and understanding of curriculum, assessment and reporting requirements.

This goal is an ongoing one. In my work as Leader of Religious Education,  I have some opportunities to work directly with the whole staff in PLT meetings and staff meetings. We are fortunate in Victorian Catholic Schools to have a Contemporary Learning Schema that is useful in terms of planning and evaluating units of work across all areas of the curriculum. I feel our staff is doing very well in planning Inquiry units in Religious Education that are rich, diverse and authentic for our students, but it is the assessment and reporting aspect of the units that needs attention. I began to address this last year, working with our Teaching and Learning Leader, and using some professional reading to tune us back into what  assessment is as, of and for learning and what might it look like in the contemporary classroom. We will continue to work on this aspect of our planning and the natural extension of that is to look at our reports and how we can truly reflect student learning, successes and challenges in them.


Maybe this Self Assessment Tool could be called the self reflection tool, as that is certainly what it has prompted in me! I think this is a positive thing as it has given my thinking around my practice as a teacher a framework and structure.  Stay tuned for the next post on Professional Practice!

March 15, 2013
by 34mk2012
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Honk if you love life!

Our Inquiry and RE units this term have focussed on the concepts of community and our place within the community. It has been a rich and diverse unit and we are now at the stage of expressing our learnings about what community is and how it can be built. This video was tweeted over January and as soon as I saw it, I knew I would use it.

After watching this video, students unanimously wanted to try something similar in our own community. We had also watched the Kid President video and are reading Wonder so the students’ minds were full of wonderful phrases (or in the language of Wonder, ‘precepts’) that they thought would be valuable to others. And away they went – busily creating posters with slogans to welcome people into our community. There is nothing much more rewarding than students asking if they can PLEEEASE work on something for longer or at home!

The day we planned to share our work with the community dawned and I had most of my students at school by 8.30am to prepare. They were very excited to say the least and the reaction we got from the community was truly awesome. It was wonderful to see the smiles on everyone’s faces as they read the student’s signs and the horns were honking so much, our lovely Julie in the office wondered what on earth was going on.

Students wrote heartfelt reflections on why they had chosen their particular slogan and the impact they felt it had had on our community. We could have talked for days about ways we can build community but actually getting out there and doing it was so much more powerful. Here is a Smilebox of our experiences:

 

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It seems to me this was connected learning in so many ways. Through the inspiration of others who have built community in unique ways, to a class novel that is challenging our perceptions of community, to students taking on a project and making it their own, and then blogging about it on our class blog – so many levels of connectedness. These are the times when it feels great to be a teacher, when some of my learning is truly impacting on my students and we are all walking the walk together.

If you were to make a sign for your community, what would it say? How do you build community in your classroom, your school and your environs?

February 21, 2013
by 34mk2012
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The Power of Collegial Discussion

As part of the planning team for the RE Eastern Network, we spent quite some time last week talking about the place of dialogue in Religious Education. Our first discussion was about what constituted dialogue. We talked about what dialogue IS and what it IS NOT. This is what we came up with:

Dialogue IS: participatory, open, acknowledges difference, respectful, purposeful, seeks understanding and multiple perspectives

Dialogue IS NOT: prescriptive, closed, dominated by one person, casual, incidental conversation

We then participated in a ‘Guiding a Dialogue’ protocol where we considered some possibilities dialogue enables for the participants. There are a variety of ways to contribute to dialogue including:

  • playing with ideas – possibility thinking
  • affirming and building on others’ ideas
  • following the ideas as far as you go – giving in to the ebb and flow of different directions
  • making links with others’ ideas
  • considering multiple perspectives or various viewpoints
  • offering questions and paraphrasing as well as your own thinking

The protocol enabled us to practise our dialogical skills and challenged them also. 

At Holy Spirit Community School, we have worked hard to embed collegial dialogue as an integral part of the planning process in Religious Education. All staff are encouraged to participate in this phase of the planning, not just classroom teachers. This brings diversity and richness to the discussion. We have found that staff enjoy grappling with the ‘big concepts’ central to our RE units at an adult level. The dialogue is often loud, enthusiastic and hard to wind up! Staff value the opportunity to sort out their own thinking and ask their own questions about the key concepts we are going to be working with. This stage of the planning also helps us to resist the urge to jump in with great activities and focus on developing deep understandings ourselves before we try and do that with our students. 

Some of our staff have reflected on the value of collegial discussion in our RE planning. Here are their thoughts:

How is dialogue used in your school to improve student outcomes?

January 16, 2013
by 34mk2012
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The Wonder of ‘Wonder’

Over the holidays, I have read one of the novels assigned to my Year 8 son for this year, Wonder, written by R.J.Palacio. Firstly, what a great read! I read it in two days and thoroughly enjoyed it. The catchphrase on the cover piqued my interest … “You can’t blend in when you were born to stand out’. What a fantastic notion, one that has value for each of us as unique and gifted people.

Wonder would be a fabulous class read for Year 5 up and I am hoping to read it to my 5/6 class in term 1. It will slot in beautifully to our units on community and identity, raising lots of deep questions about both of these concepts. 

The book tells the story of August, a boy whose face is hugely disfigured. He has been home-schooled by his mum but as he reaches Year 5, his parents decide it is time for him to attend regular school. This is confronting for August, his sister, his classmates and teachers and the book details this experience from each of these perspectives beautifully and sensitively. 

One of the things I love about this book is the way one of August’s teachers, Mr Brown introduces the concept of precepts to his class. He tells them they are “rules about really important things” (p.46) and introduces a new one each month. The students are asked to reflect on how this precept relates to them by reflecting and writing. At the end of the year, students are asked to come up with their own precepts. I think this is a wonderful idea for helping students to explore some of the values we aspire to as human beings. One of my favourite precepts is “It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers” (James Thurler cited in Palacio, 2012, p.311) I am thinking of trying this idea in my own classroom this year to focus our attention on being the best people we can be, as well as the best learners. I look forward to seeing what the students come up with.

What is one of your precepts – “rules about really important things” – that helps guide you?

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/carbonnyc/3380611523/”>CarbonNYC</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>cc</a>

 

January 7, 2013
by 34mk2012
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Things to come …

Well a new year is here and it will no doubt bring with it many new challenges. I am moving to a new level, 5/6 having taught 3/4 for the past three years. I am ready for the change and looking forward to seeing ‘what comes next’ for the students I have handed on over previous years.

Here are some commitments I am making for this new year:

  • continue to explore the purposeful use of ICT as a tool within my classroom. I am most interested in the opportunities ICT can provide for students in terms of the ways they can express their learning. I am keen to pursue the use of desktop computers and mobile devices for the creation of knowledge and understandings that can be shared.
  • pursue the use of classroom blogging as a means to more connected learning for my students. My class signed up for quadblogging last year via www.quadblogging.net and this was a great experience in building connections with students in other countries and having an authentic audience to share with. I would also like to explore ways of getting parents more on board with blogging.
  •  I am commencing a MOOC in mid-January which will be a completely new learning experience for me. This MOOC explores the use of technology in education and you can follow on twitter using the following hashtag #etmooc OR sign up yourself at www.etmooc.org
  • As I have completed my Masters now, I am going to engage in professional reading around the topics of the collaborative classroom, creating a positive learning culture and leadership within schools. I already have a stack of books on my list and will add to it with recommendations from my PLN on twitter.

So, I will stick to four commitments that I think are achievable rather than adding the myriad of other options floating around my mind. Watch this space to see how I go …

 

 

August 27, 2012
by 34mk2012
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A funny thing happened …

An interesting experience in my 3/4 class last week …

we were involved in learning about multiplication and division and investigating factors and I showed the students a card game that would help them to work with these concepts. We also had some work to finish off on the computers publishing our texts about Book Week and dressing up. I decided maybe we should split up as a few computers were free in the next door classroom as well as ours. I was really surprised when I suggested to some students they might like to work on the computer first – “Ohh … we wanted to play the game, can’t we play it first, that’s not fair” and so on. SO a card game trumps time on the computer … that was a surprise!

I guess as I reflect on this experience, what I see is that for our students, it is not a case of ‘computer an any cost’ but rather it is more about what they are doing on it. I have used my own iPad in my classroom for most of the year and the students clamour to have it in their hands and have a turn. They are completely entranced when my two integrated students use theirs for any purpose and yet … they all really wanted to play the card game with a real deck of cards. This reminds me that engagement can take many forms and it is vital that we maintain the good, engaging and successful practices we have always used as well as embracing new technologies and the opportunities they bring for learning.

As the saying goes, don’t throw the baby out with the bath water!

One of our babies, Billy having his very first bath at home! (now 11!!)

August 20, 2012
by 34mk2012
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CTLM PD

On Friday 17th August, our whole staff headed into the city for the 9th of our PD days as part of the Contemporary Teaching and Learning in Mathematics project. This has been a two year commitment from our school to work towards improving student outcomes in Maths. The day was focussed on student learning in the area of Space and as usual, we came away with many practical ideas about how to lead learning in this area.

Doug Clarke from ACU talked about how to enable students to answer their own questions and ask the really important ones. He gave us a couple of really useful statements to respond to the often heard “I don’t get it” and “I don’t know.” We can encourage our students to reframe the question in a different way and encourage a curious mind by having them ask “Can you help me find out?”

One of the greatest things about this project has been the fact that the learning for me from the PD and mentoring sessions has crossed over from Maths to many other curriculum areas. We have done lots of work on creating great pre and post assessments and the understandings underlying this have been truly helpful in designing rich assessment tasks for Integrated units and RE. It is obvious to me that time spent developing such tasks is  well spent as it gives our teaching direction and context, and enables it to be more focussed on  specific outcomes and understandings.

Our Maths units are now far more hands on and this has seen greater engagement amongst my students and has been particularly good for some of my students who struggle with pen and paper tasks. This style of teaching is certainly more challenging in terms of record keeping but I have been able to gain deeper insights into how my students are thinking by observing them as they investigate a particular idea or tackle a challenging problem. One question I struggle with is that many of our pre and post assessments are still pen and paper tasks yet during the actual unit, this is rare. It seems to be a bit of a mismatch and I think is in part, due to the difficulty of consistent record keeping when there is no ‘hard copy’ evidence. I think this is worthy pursuing however to ensure we are giving our students authentic ways to show us what they know and understand.

As a team, we have had the opportunity to spend quality time with our own Maths leader and two Maths leaders from the CEO on a regular basis over the past 2 years and this has been invaluable. Having a decent period of time to devote to planning is a luxury and has resulted in some great, gutsy, lively conversations about Maths issues including assessment, activities and key understandings.

We have only 4 months left in this project and the challenge will be to keep up the momentum. I think this will be achievable though as the project has built skills, knowledge and understandings that have transformed the way we all lead learning in Maths.

And finally … a photo of some of our fabulous 3/4 team at the recent PD day having worked together efficiently to complete a task – before any other group!!

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