A Learner's Journey

November 19, 2014
by 34mk2012
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Student voice: What is it? Why do we want it? How do we find it?

Student voice has become a buzzword in education at present and at the REL Networks, it has certainly been spoken about multiple times. What do we mean by student voice? Is it about engagement and making choices about learning? Is it about learning design that the student is a key player in? Is it about students working towards school improvement? Perhaps it is all of these things is some ways.

I stumbled across this video clip which apart from being humourous, also made me think about the relationships between teachers/leaders and students and how they have changed (or not!) over the years. 

This really gave me pause to think. My first reaction is ‘of course I have never operated like that within the school context’, but after further reflection, the stance of the school leader is one I may have taken on occasions. I feel I have grown much as a teacher since returning 5 years ago and made some inroads on enabling student voice within my classroom but I am not sure how effectively we did this as a school and leadership team. How is student voice authentically placed in school decision making? Where is student voice authentically placed within the school review process?

So for some research …

I came across two websites  I feel are well worth a look in expanding  understandings of student voice. The first is a document from the Department of Education. It is lengthy but worth a read to put the concept of student voice in context and the questions on page 19 provide a great source of reflection on student voice within the school and classroom. The other site  is titled ‘Soundout’, an American based site that has a number of interesting links about student voice. The one that I found challenging and valuable was the one title Cycle of Student Voice . This describes five aspects of supporting student voice in learning: listen, validate, authorise, reflect and act.

The challenge for our REL Network now is to ensure greater and more authentic student voice in our planning and learning design and to also seek student voice on how this impacts learning. Just a small challenge for next year!

 

 

July 4, 2014
by 34mk2012
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What my students think…

Recently, whilst exploring the flexibility and usefulness of Google Forms, I used one to seek feedback on my teaching and our classroom from my students. What a great, easy way of getting feedback that was easy for the students and me! What did I learn from this …

What works well:

My students like the use of Whole Brain Teaching to engage them in their learning, especially the ‘teach’ instruction, which apparently allows them the opportunity to ensure they know what we are focusing on, explaining this to others to confirm they are on the right track.

My students enjoy the enthusiasm I bring to my role in the classroom, from my gestures to my voice! Good to know that my antics are valued!

My students perceive that I love teaching. This feels like such high praise and I am delighted that the love I have for my job is evident in the way that I engage in my classroom. They also commented that I care about their learning – this was wonderful to read because it is SO true!

My students experience learning as dynamic and fun. ‘Fun’ came up repeatedly and I am pleased that the effort and creativity I put into my teaching helps my students to enjoy their learning.

Even better if:

I had time to spend one on one with each student every day. This would be fantastic and is a mighty challenge. I hope that I do engage with each student individually each day although what I think they are after is something more lengthy. This is valuable feedback and something I can try and be more aware of.

Several students commented on wanting more group work. I find this a little surprising as we do work in teams a lot but we could certainly do it even more. There was an even split amongst the students of wanting to choose their own groups and  having groups chosen for them which was interesting.

My favourite; “It would be even better if Mary went to less meetings, but I don’t suppose there is much you can do about that.” Out of the mouths of babes … 

The best thing about being in 5/6 MK:

Overwhelmingly, there were two key themes here. The students are really happy with their teachers and I believe Krystyna and I are a very balanced and effective team. The students also acknowledged the respect, trust and care that exists within our classroom. Many students commented on feeling accepted in the room and always being able to get help when needed. They commented on the non-judgmental tone of the classroom and on how well everyone got along. As a teacher, reading this, my heart swelled! It is this exact atmosphere that allows students to take risks with their learning and feel supported as they do.

This exercise in seeking feedback has been immensely valuable to me as a teacher. Certainly it has been affirming of the way in which I try to operate as a co-learner within our classroom and use energy and creativity to engage the students. But it has also challenged me to try and squeeze out some extra moments of one on one time for every student, not just the ones who so overtly need it. Not to mention the meetings …

What kind of feedback have you sought from your students?

 

July 1, 2013
by 34mk2012
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AITSL Self Reflection Tool: Professional Engagement

This is the final reflection in a series of 3 on the AITSL Self Reflection Tool. I completed this tool at the beginning of this year and have found it most helpful in directing my Professional Learning this year. In this post, I reflect on the section of the tool titled Professional Engagement.

Areas of Strength

6.3 L Initiate and engage in professional discussions with colleagues in a range of forums to evaluate practice directed at improving professional knowledge and practice, and the educational outcomes of students.

I love this aspect of my job! I enjoy any opportunity to share new ideas, innovative practices, classroom strategies and what I have read recently. In my position as Religious Education Leader, I have the opportunity to plan and facilitate collegial dialogue on a regular basis. This can take a variety of forms including engaging as adults with our ‘big question’ for the term in RE, sharing a useful new app I have discovered, inviting staff to share what has worked recently in their classrooms, sharing and responding to some professional reading or a relevant YouTube clip. This is a clip I used recently to stimulate discussion about what we want to be mindful of in our Inquiry Planning for RE next term, 10 Expectations. I work in a dynamic team of 5/6 teachers and I relish our team meetings as a great chance for each of us to share our successes, our failures and our challenges. This leads to learning for each of us and I value the fact that each of us is open to innovation and creativity and constantly seeks to improve learning opportunities for each of our students.

7.4 L  Contribute to professional networks and associations and build productive links with the wider community to improve teaching and learning

In the years since my return to teaching in 2009, I have been very active in our RE Network. I have been on the Executive Planning Team for the past 2 years and have presented or facilitated at almost every Network Meeting since I joined the Network in 2009. I have blogged here about many of my presentations. My contributions have been well received and led to many opportunities to share ideas and practices with individual members within the network. I have tried to build a twitter PLN for RE Leaders within the zone and although some members are active, this is still a work in progress! I am an active and enthusiastic ‘tweeter’ professionally and have found this to be a rich and varied source of Professional Learning. My participation in twitter has led to many innovations and changes in my teaching practice. I find my PLN a constant source of inspiration and have found many new resources and read many great articles, blog posts etc through it. I would not have found the Self Reflection Tool without it! With my students, I have tried to make our learning more connected and our class blog has been brilliant for this. We have been able to share our learning with not only family and friends but learners from all over the world. Quadblogging has greatly enhanced our connectedness and initiatives from @theheadsoffice such as blogdipping also enable us to share our learning globally.

Areas for Development

6.1 P Analyse the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers to plan personal professional development goals, support colleagues to identify and achieve personal development goals and pre-service teachers to improve classroom practice.

Our Leadership Team has discussed the need for each of us on staff to have our own Professional Learning Plan. I think this is an exciting step forward! I am very aware of some areas in my own teaching that I would like to improve in but at present, this is really up to me to manage and monitor. I am lucky to have some great colleagues that I can have frank and open discussions with but would like the opportunity to have this more formalised. We are also investigating the notion of feedback and the impact that can have on improving teaching practice and student outcomes. Many schools are well ahead of us in this field but beginning the journey is promising and something to look forward to professionally and personally.

7.1 G Maintain high ethical standards and support colleagues to interpret codes of ethics and exercise sound judgement in all schools and community contexts.

This is something that each and every one of us in the teaching profession must always work hard for. It is imperative that we remember every day that we are dealing with people; not data, not numbers, not statistics, but human beings. In this era of data, it is all too easy to get lost in the numbers. I am not disputing the value of data to inform our teaching and help drive improved student learning, but I think we must always remember that teachers’  knowledge of students is far richer than the data we may have about them. When we keep student learning at the centre of all our actions and decisions, it is far easier to maintain high ethical standards. High ethical standards also call me to strive harder to personalise learning for each of my students. I want each of my students to have equal opportunity to learn and thrive in our classroom and acknowledge that this requires different things for different students.This is an area which I am working on currently, trying to meet the individual needs of 28 students in creative and productive ways. I have found ICT a rich tool for helping to diversify learning opportunities, experiences and expression and enjoy the challenge of finding new ways to engage and inspire my students.

I would highly recommend the use of AITSL’s self reflection tool. It is enabled me to see my role as teacher and leader more broadly and perhaps consider some aspects of  these roles in new ways. Give it a go!

 

 

 

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??

 

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?

March 15, 2013
by 34mk2012
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How Evernote Works For Me

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?

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?

February 14, 2013
by 34mk2012
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Playing with Storybird

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 …

 

What possibilities do you see for Storybird?

February 10, 2013
by 34mk2012
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Taking our parents along with us

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?

What strategies have been successful?

January 26, 2013
by 34mk2012
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A calm start …

 
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?
 
 
 
 
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