Monday, June 19, 2006

Edblogger news

If you need anything else to keep up with news from the edublogosphere here it is: Edblogger news. It is a news site where users submit articles and the readers choose which stories make the headlines. Just by going there once I found that Stephen Downes has a blog (new to me) called Half an Hour where Stephen writes passionately about issues of importance in education, learning and technology. Another interactive learning space. Bring 'em on. After all it's holidays.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Nearly the end of semester: reports and progress meetings

I am so glad the Queen of England and Australia is having a birthday this weekend because that means I get an extra day to write my reports. Oh, what’s that, she already had her birthday… in April? Oh well, never mind. I like the day off school any way so I can catch up on school work. Life is weird. At this time of the year there are queues of students at the Reception desk five deep before school, at recess and lunch and even after school. I wonder what’s going on, aloud. The word comes back: students handing in late work before the deadline. You see, everyone knows reports are being written this weekend. And last Wednesday and this Wednesday there are progress reports for students, parents and teachers. We talk (and listen) for hours from 2.00 pm till 8.30 pm. This year the students are leading the interviews as they are about the progress the student is making after all. They have been encouraged to bring samples of work, both ones they are proud of and ones they now know how they could have been improved. The students are aware of the process of the meeting: they introduce their parents to their teacher and explain what they have been learning about, what they have enjoyed and what they have not enjoyed. It puts the ball clearly in the students’ court. They speak about what they have learnt and what they feel they need more help in. Sometimes they leave out something I thought was really good so I can butt in and remind them, I can prompt them if they have forgotten something, I can add my point of view when the student has said what she wants. It’s interesting that you get to hear what the quiet students think, and the students often tell you and their parents, things about their own behaviour and how it could be improved that I would have had to bring up with the old way of doing Parent Teacher Interviews. The whole tenor of the meetings is more cooperative rather than adversarial, although there are still some parents who want to be that. Even the name change to ‘progress meetings’ is significant. Of course this way of doing things may well be common elsewhere, but it is a change of culture, a change that reflects the different role of the teacher, the teacher as facilitator of the student’s learning, rather than the teacher as fount of all knowledge. Another change is where the teacher chooses to sit relative to the parents and student. The tables and chairs that are set up in the hall have the teacher’s chair on one side of the table and the ‘visitors’ are on the other side of the table, almost suggesting the older style of relationships. I will be experimenting with placing my chair without the barrier of the table between me and the other members of the progress meeting. It takes time to change old habits and though other teachers in my school have been doing this, I haven’t yet tried it. But I will this coming Wednesday night. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

How do you know your students are learning?

What signs do you look for in the classroom or from the students?
At our last faculty meeting I asked Peter Kadar, our Director of Teaching and Learning, to get us thinking and sharing about our teaching and this is the question he asked. He stressed that he didn't mean us to judge from tests, assignments or exams. After a bit of thought there was a slow trickle of answers, such as whether the faces have a blank look or not, and comments about the kinds of questions the students are asking "what do we have to do, Miss", or comments they're making "I don't get this", the meeting really got under way when Gill, one of the year 8 teachers, talked about her class work on Goodnight Mr Tom. When she asked them what they had learnt from the reading and study of this class novel, she got a lot of answers: facts about the Second World War, the Blitz in London, the experiences of evacuee children in England during the war, child abuse and the characteristics of abused children, mental illness and specific elements like Anderson shelters (a type of bomb shelter), gas masks, rationing and regional dialects in English in the time of the war. But it wasn't until she put it together with the idea that the students in groups role play the things they'd learned that she really saw what they'd learned. In a way the students sharing their learning with each other made it so much more concrete. Gill's sharing of this gave other teachers ideas that they could adapt for their classrooms, and enabled other teachers to continue the sharing.
In a way the learning of the students and our formative assessment of the learning are happening at the same time. This brings up my dissatisfaction with the Progression Points that the Victorian state government has come up with. As we complete our government mandated report cards we are to put the students on a progression point as if they are on an assembly line jerking from one progression point to another. Real learning is not like that. As Wesley Fryer says "learning is messy" and not linear. But enough of the ranting. I really love meetings when they are sharing, not only what the students are learning, but when they are opportunities for us to learn as well. So thanks Peter and Gill.