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??
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!
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:
Slideshow design made with Smilebox
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?
This year, I have attempted to streamline my record keeping and note taking in the classroom. I am sharing the grade with a new partner who has very willingly come along on this journey with me. We are both finding Evernote INVALUABLE for keeping anecdotal records, work programs, communication notes, testing results etc accessible and up to date for both of us. Here are some of the ways we are using it:
Communication – we record notes for each other on how our days have gone, issues or follow up needed for particular students and where we are at in curriculum areas. Although we still see each other often, the ability to quickly add a note to our communications folder no matter whether we are in the classroom, the office or at home has streamlined our communication. And it also means we have a record of it for future follow up or perusal.
Student files – we have created a notebook for each student and are filing all anecdotal evidence, test results, scanned rubrics, parent communication and work samples in them. Regardless of which of us has completed a specific task with the students, we are both able to see how he/she has understood and progressed with it. This will be an excellent, detailed resource for report writing and we have already started to write some summary statements about student progress in particular curriculum areas.
Work program – it is stored in an Evernote notebook and is truly a working document. Both of us can update and amend as we go so it reflects not only what we have planned but what we have actually achieved – often two very different things!
Links – I store any links that I plan to use with our students in the appropriate folder in Evernote so that I can access them quickly at school. So easy!
I am sure that this is just the tip of the iceberg for the potential use of Evernote in our professional lives but what we have achieved so far has been great. I feel like Evernote helps us to work smarter, not harder – and that must be a good thing! Miss Spink on Tech is a fantastic resource for all things Evernote related for teachers and I am very grateful to her for her assistance and inspiration in getting myself organised … check it out!
What suggestions do you have for the use of Evernote in your teaching life?
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?
Storybird (www.storybird.com) is a great website which enables you to select from an extensive range of beautiful images to create your own story. You can search for images by themes and then arrange them in order to tell your own narrative. This site has endless possibilities in the class room. I think the images are great for developing rich language and descriptive texts, or even for creating a simple poem, as I have done here …
Once a fortnight, I meet with a great group of women, my Mother’s group. We have been meeting every fortnight since our eldest children were born over 13 years ago. This week, the topic of much animated conversation was the use of iPads in schools and Challenge Based Learning. I have to say it was a hard gig defending both of these !
In general, the conversation revolved around the issue of time management and how teachers manage the use of the iPad in class for educational purposes. The majority of the students are at schools which have used iPads 1:1 for quite some time now and the mums were particularly concerned about the amount of game playing and messaging or skyping going on in the classrooms (and at home). The general feeling was that students driving their own learning and taking ownership for it was great for the small minority of students who are motivated and bright but that for the vast majority of students, it was simply an excuse to do as little as possible and waste time. Challenge based learning was also viewed in a similar way.
WOW! I was unsure where to start beginning to defend either the use of the iPad or CBL. I have never used CBL in my own classroom in a formal way so I decided to tackle the iPad issue as best I could. It seems to me there are a few important considerations that schools have to make in implementing these, or any other device:
any device is only ever going to be as good as the teacher who is planning for its use. iPads, laptops, netbooks etc are only a TOOL to enhance learning and the use of them needs to be embedded into the planning and delivery of the curriculum. This is challenging for teachers but a most important facet of enabling contemporary learning in our classrooms.
we need to communicate our purpose and intentions for the use of these devices in our school to parents very clearly, and often. Although education has changed immensely over the past few years, many parents are not aware or abreast of these changes and how modern classrooms facilitate the learning for students. It seems that many parents expect or assume that apart from using Word/PowerPoint or Publisher, things are pretty much as they were when they went to school. We must help parents to understand new pedagogies and current educational thinking so they can support teachers and their own children as they learn in new and different ways.
managing devices is difficult for many parents and they are unhappy that schools requiring iPads or other devices are adding to that difficulty! One mum was delighted that her son’s school required the laptop to be left at school each night as it was one less thing to manage at home. Whilst managing devices and their access to them is definitely a matter for parents in the home, parents may appreciate the opportunity to have conversations around how this may happen. I know from experience with my own family there are many issues to consider, and having the chance to share ideas and strategies can be helpful.
From a teacher’s perspective, I have found having a classroom blog a powerful way for parents to have a ‘look inside’ the classroom and see the learning that is happening. Being able to share videos and photos quickly and having students guest post about particular lessons, sessions or experiences has helped open the lines of communication between home and school and given parents an insight into what their children are actually doing at school.
It is so important that our schools have the support and understanding of the parent community so that learning and engagement can flourish. In this time of great educational change, we have a lot of work to do to enable parents to feel like they are part of the learning of their children. We must take as many opportunities as we can to share what is happening in our classrooms and with our students, so that our parents can feel confident that their children are being well prepared for living well in this rapidly changing world of ours.
How have you supported parents in their understanding of current pedagogy and educational practice?
This week, my students have pondered the question ‘My learning is like a fish because…’ and have come up with some amazing thoughts and ideas. It was challenging thinking for them so I thought I should do something similar. Using the 5 card flicr site, I created a visual story that expresses how I feel about my own learning.
What images would you choose to describe your learning?
Our current topic in ETMOOC is Digital storytelling. It is the beginning of the school year in Australia and I wanted to get an essential agreement in place with my new 5/6 students. To engage them in the process, I created an animation using GOANIMATE. This is the first time I have had a play with this tool and found it simple to use. The students responded really well to the video, having a laugh but also being able to understand what was required of them and get straight to the task without me having to say a thing. I am not entirely sure this is classified as ‘storytelling’ but I guess it is part of our class story for 2013.
At Holy Spirit Community School we are fortunate enough to begin every school day with meditation. This has been a whole school commitment for the past five years and I imagine most staff and students could now not imagine starting the day without it. There is many a morning where the sound of the soothing music that brings calm and quiet with it is like a balm, soothing, healing and relaxing. We all know how hectic that first part of the school day can be, greeting students, answering parent queries, helping to find the lost jumper, sorting out notices, before school duty – the list is endless. But once that 8.55am bell goes, the school is transformed and the whole tone is changed.
Working in a Catholic school brings a particular context to our meditation, that of Christian meditation. But inherent in this, is the notion of connection to our deepest selves. This connection can be nurtured and nourished regardless of a school’s faith tradition and can only benefit students, staff and the wider community. In the world as we experience it, there are many pressures, ideals and voices competing for our attention and taking regular time to stop, be still and listen to our inner selves can be an opportunity to make our meaning.
At Holy Spirit, daily meditation begins with an announcement over the PA and some words of wisdom, reminding everyone what we are about to do and some strategies that may be helpful (as I am the speaker of the words, I am hoping they are words of wisdom!) We then listen to meditative music for approximately 2 minutes. This time is invaluable for settling the students, moving on any straggling parents (or inviting them to stay) and creating the quiet and stillness. The music is generally instrumental and comes from a wide variety of different cultures. Sometimes it may link to a particular season/time of the year eg: indigenous music for NAIDOC week, Christmas music during Advent etc. Then comes the true meditation – the silence. It is recommended that students remain silent for 1 minute for each year of their age but in reality, most classes are probably silent for between 2-4 minutes. The silence is ended by the ringing of the chimes and daily prayer commences.
The practise of mediation is well embedded in our school and most students and staff are very comfortable with the process. However, this year, we are going to visit some elements of meditation, particularly the use of a mantra as a way to calm the thoughts and images that pop into our minds as we meditate.
There are some excellent resources available on the web for people wishing to know more.
Christian Meditation for Children and Contemplative Life have great resources and information. I have prepared a PPT for our staff to revisit the important elements of our whole school meditation program (see below) and found the book A Child’s Way: How to teach and practice Christian meditation with children written by Jeannie Battagin very useful.
Do you see a place for meditation in your school or classroom? How might it work? What might the benefits be?