Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Hope?

This being a Wednesday night, I thought I’d write a post, as I do every Wednesday evening. No, only joking. The last day of the year invites reflection, so reflect I will. For me the year started off with mixed feelings. I was excited anticipating trips overseas (2) and also apprehensive about difficulties that I could foresee in my workplace in the year ahead. Even so, I had no idea that I would be leaving my school of eight years ready to start afresh at a school less than three years old in 2009. The friendships and learning occurring in the communities that I am part of namely Twitter and Plurk are the highlights of the year. When it became clear that I would need to look for another job there was lots of useful advice and support from the group, which really helped in my search.

And in 2009? I am looking forward to getting started on my new job, getting to know new students and colleagues and making new opportunities. I loved going to NECC so much that I will be going to Washington to do it all again. I will be starting on my last year of study for my Master of Education. My youngest child will be starting his last year of school education, meaning that I have had children in school for more than 20 years. (My first started school in 1988.) Having the time off this term (I have had 3 months Long Service Leave) has been a real privilege, giving me lots of time to think and read and hang around social networking sites. It makes me feel very hopeful about 2009, and when I lift my gaze from my own life and concerns I think that there are grounds for hope amid tragedy and suffering around the globe as well. I wish all my readers a safe and happy New Year.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Bookjewel and me


In 2009 Julie Squires and I have a unique opportunity to have our classes collaborate as we are working for sister schools (My school came into being after having spent a year in her school). We got together today to chat about it. I have been following Julie for some time on twitter and plurk but I didn't realise quite how much she has to teach me and how much we will learn together. She is an "ideas person" and I can see that both lots of students will benefit greatly from being able to collaborate. Julie is an English teacher-librarian and author of Learning Gems, and I became more and more aware as we talked that she and I have a lot in common. One of the ideas we have of a project (there were so many flying back and forth) was a collaborative literature circles group. It was great to meet with her and i look forward to working with her in 2009.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

How to induct new staff to your school

I had a great day at my new school yesterday. The purpose of the day was made quite clear, just to get to know each other and learn a bit about the school. If there was time some business could be done. We arrived to coffee in the staff room, in a small cottage a bit away from the school buildings, and then started the day. I came into a room where we were clearly in teams, with different coloured notebooks on the tables with names on each. A bit of mix and match is always good, with some new staff and some continuing staff on each table. As the school is both primary and secondary there was a mix of teachers also on each table. So far, so good. Not very special.

But the specialness came when the principal started to talk about the school: I loved that he emphasised flexibility and adaptability and that at the school we celebrate mistakes as learning opportunities. I have always believed this myself. I hate the students using correction fluid on their work. It is great that the students can see the learning, as they think of a better way to spell that tricky word or a more elegant or accurate way to phrase that sentence. And the students have been known to say “But the crossing out makes it messy” and I say “But learning IS messy”. Anyway, I love that philosophy. Another stance I really like is that expectations are made clear, in order to reduce anxiety in the learners. It is this reasoning that I like so much. I know that better learning can occur when there is less anxiety. So I felt reassured that in these ways at least I would like my new school.

Then the getting to know you part. We were given 45 minutes to put together a presentation of some sort that involved ICT (there are IWBs available in each room and each teacher is given a laptop) and that informed the rest of the staff about the group members. It was hilarious. There were powerpoints, games that involved the response systems, and click and drag quizzes. Not surprisingly each group member got to know quite a lot about each other.

In the afternoon we were able to think of equipment we will need for next year. I would like to order some flip cameras, a few mobile phones (learning from Jess McCulloch) and some headsets (for Voicethread and podcasts etc) to get ourselves set up for some creative learning in English. I also loved the fact that there is an active community program at the school, which I can’t wait to find out more about. One idea I have is to have the Year 7s, when they study poetry in Term 4, to make illustrated anthologies for particular audiences, maybe residents of a senior citizens home for one audience, and students in the lower primary school for another. This would help students consider the importance of audience, the suitability of themes and language, and the impact of illustrations or ways of presenting the poetry. Anyway it’s just an idea and I don’t know if it is even possible but I did get the feeling that it just might be, along with other creative and energising things.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

A Passionate Teacher?

I have been thinking about next year, about my new position as Literacy and English Coordinator in a new P to 12 school (we will only be up to Year 9 next year and up to Year 12 in 2012) and what I have learned at my previous job so that I don’t have to make the same mistakes – it’s good to make new ones, I always think. I have been reading a book by Robert L Fried called The Passionate Teacher and it has really got me thinking. He talks about the Game of School and how many students and teachers are prepared to play it. In a chapter called “The greatest obstacle we face” he says: ‘The particular offence of playing the Game of School lies in the disengagement of our intellect and our feelings from tasks that deserve to be taken seriously: tasks like writing, reading, thinking, planning, listening, researching, analyzing, performing, applying, evaluating. We do harm when we reduce these acts of intellect, creativity and judgment to rote exercises, perfunctory deeds or meaningless gestures.’ Often this is what we see at the senior levels of secondary schools.

Wendy Drexler in a podcast of the It’s Elementary show on CCK08 mentions that senior students are often prepared to sit back and be passive in the classroom – and that fits in with my own experience at previous schools – making learning less exciting, less real. It could be the nature of the assessment and indeed the purpose of the assessment at this level – to rank the students in order to grant university places to the most “suitable” students for the courses (if indeed this is what it is for – whether it is an effective way of deciding who gets into which course is another matter entirely.) But the fact that some senior students are so adept at playing the Game of School is due to their having learnt it so well in previous years. There is a lot to think about here. Clearly it is not just a problem of the individual teacher or the individual classroom. But I think it is my responsibility in my classrooms not to perpetuate the Game of School.

As Fried says: ‘The Game of School is very pervasive, and its rituals are deeply entrenched in the actions and expectations of students and teachers. But it is not immutable. It can and must be changed.’ He suggests that we can “stimulate the students’ imaginations and mental energy”, “do ourselves what we ask the students to do”, and “a teacher who anticipates creativity and hidden talents in the students will greet the class quite differently to one who looks for deficits and defects”. All the way through the book so far (I haven’t finished it yet) the author is answering the readers’ objections – I know schools are busy and there is content to be got through etc – and I feel the same thinking this through myself in this post – but there isn’t enough time, but the students are resistant – and yet…


One of the ways to meet students where they are at and to treat them as partners in the learning enterprise is to use social networking tools and technology such as interactive whiteboards. A lot of the technology seems to be very appropriate for primary or junior secondary. Many say that it is because of the high stakes testing (here in Victoria we have the VCE exams which are quite stressful for both students and teachers) but if it is about the effectiveness of the learning and we are saying that engaged students learn better shouldn’t we be using these methods to engage students when it matters the most, not going back to the older transmission based modes of teaching in the senior years? Andrew Douch is using technology in an engaging way with his Biology podcast, but I don’t know many senior students who are creating their own podcasts to learn despite teaching others and constructing their own knowledge being perhaps the ‘best’ way to learn. I would love to hear about some being created. IWBs seem to be used in most senior classes, in my experience, as presentation tools, whether it is the student presenting or the teacher. I would love to know about interactive uses of IWBs especially for senior History, English and Literature classes. Please drop me a comment if you know of any.

It is clearly not only the technology or tools that will help us overcome the playing of the Game of School. It is definitely about relationships and respect, and many different types of teaching styles can result in authentic engagement of both students and teacher in the development of learning for life. I must say that I am looking forward to the challenges ahead. In a few days I will be meeting the other English teacher at the new school and I will know more precisely what I will be doing next year. Wish me luck.