Tomorrow we teachers are back for our second day of preparation and on Tuesday we meet our new students for the first time. The time for reflecting on what went well in 2006 and rehearsing/planning/thinking what my focus will be for 2007, as Linda Shardlow recognises, is here.
Thanks to Stephen Downes I found a presentation by George Siemens, which he has put together in preparation for the Connectivism Conference and in it he discusses various learning theories. When he came to Vygotsky and the Zone of Proximal Development, I remembered that I had been thinking about ways to get to know my students better and why. I know that at the start of this year I want to make a special effort to get to know the students as individuals earlier than I usually do. (I must say I also loved this post from Bruce Schauble on names and how he gets to know his students). The connection between knowing our students and being able to move them forward is self evident, I know, but it is still something I need to focus on, as in all the busyness of the start of the year I usually tend to focus on the students as a group and developing an atmosphere in the class of a community of inquiry. This year I would like to also add gaining a picture of the students as individuals.
Our new chronicle this year has an innovative idea or strategy on almost every page to help with teaching thinking, authentic pedagogy, habits of mind and ways of assessment which take into account Gardner's multiple intelligences and Blooms revised taxonomy. Naturally I spent some time during the holidays browsing through it and was particularly taken with strategy 205: “select one student each day to be the designated student of the day. Throughout the day focus on completing the various assessment tools on just that individual student. Conduct a running record on this student.” What I like about it is that I would not be trying to do everything at once but over time you could really get to know each student you teach as individuals. Negatives of this strategy are that it is a bit artificial and you would not want the student to know that you are focussing on them "Why are you looking at me all the time, Miss?". What I like about it is that it is a way of being mindful in the classroom and you do remember a lot more abut any observation if you write it down close to the time. I see it as a way of helping us to know where students are in their Zone of Proximal Development and figuring out ways to extend a student who needs it.
One of the emphases for our English Domain this year is on literacy. I made sure there was a dictionary on the book list the students for all year levels this year and have told all the teachers what dictionary the students have. This means we can incorporate lessons based on the dictionary. The students also have a pocket speller that they can take to all their classes. We also now have a whole school spelling policy in place which is based on the work of Debbie Sukarna and David Hornsby. It helps teachers to work with students as we teach students to analyse their own spelling, affirm more correct and nearly correct spellings, use praise and encouragement, recognise that all students are building their vocabularies and this will inevitably involve a “work in progress” approach to spelling errors. We want to encourage students to continue writing despite “wobbly” spelling. If they are unsure of a word they can simply underline it and continue to come back to it in the editing process. Alongside this, our library has also established a wide reading area with comfy seating that can be booked in the normal way. Teachers at all year levels from 7 to 11 can book the area (big enough for a class) for a half or a whole period once a cycle (every ten days). The type of reading that will go on there is any kind of reading. It could be fiction or non fiction, comics, magazines or picture books. Students will not be discouraged for not finishing a book and there will be no formal assessment of the wide reading (no book reports or comprehension questions). On a voluntary basis each time one of the students will be invited to talk about a book they may have just finished or are in the middle of. The emphasis will be on reading for pleasure and trying to match up each student with their "home run book". Of course this is the first time we will have done anything like this, in my memory anyway, at my school so it will be interesting to see the way the students take to it.
There is a lot more to think about before Tuesday and I hope I will be able to blog my thinking processes. I must admit to a feeling of writer's block over the last two months or so. I am sitting on a post about whether or not blogging changes the blogger, and what impact blogging has on a person. I know that not blogging has made me less happy and less creative. It feels like a cycle in a way: blog and get more creative, stop blogging and lose the creativity. So I thank all the writers on my blogroll who have continued to inspire me even though I have been less than forthcoming myself.