Monthly Archives: December 2012

2012 reflections 2013 hopes

The kids’ fireworks have been broadcast and the kids are finally asleep. Time for a quick post… My long post on the new Australian Curriculum: Languages is in progress, but a bit heavy to finish on New Year’s Eve… SO

My top 5 personal professional Highlights of 2012

5. My Year 12s all passed the course!
4. I managed to do the working mum juggle with the help of some very dear friends and the luck that our timetables meant Kindy pick up sharing was possible.
3. The Year 8 Japanese class I had all year – an amazing bundle of energy, enthusiasm and creativity. I have very high hopes for all of them and look forward to seeing them grow more and more over the few short years they will grace us with their presence.
2. Hearing Selena Woodward speak at our Lutheran Schools Conference – she opened my eyes and mind to the possibilities for my students to share their learning and ideas and to have a truly authentic audience. Thank you, Selena!
1. My biggest highlight, again because of Selena! I have a whole new ‘go to’ network on Twitter – my PLN – who answer my questions, share their ideas and have energized my thinking, my teaching and most certainly my own professional learning. To all of you, many thanks!

And from the old to the new. What do I hope for 2013? There will be challenges no doubt, but here goes…

5. That I will stay sane as the juggle goes up a notch with my eldest child beginning school
4. That I will be able to lead my faculty minus 2 hard working, long standing team members who are soon to celebrate new arrivals. So much change in a small team is sure to bring challenges as a new team gets to know each other at the same time as we get to know a new curriculum.
3. I want to get my head around students blogging, and have the support of their parents, to use this tool as a way for students to cover some of the reflective requirements of our new Australian Curriculum… Might as well start trying it before it hits!
2. I can’t wait for the Australian Conference on Lutheran Education in Brisbane where I will reconnect with other educators, some of whom were very dear friends in my high school days!
1. I really want to meet some of my PLN in person… CEGSA may be a good place to start… What do you think?

Here’s to a challenging and rewarding 2013!

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The Lego Compromise

With the start of our summer holidays, I’ve had a lovely time playing with my 2 sons. The eldest recently turned 5 and received lots of new lego to add to his already impressive stash! But the influx of new blocks and pieces exacerbated what was already a topic of contention in our household.

In the lead up to our wedding my husband and I were required to attend some pre-marriage counselling sessions with our church pastor – pretty simple, run of the mill stuff. We filled in questionnaires and then discussed the points where our answers were deemed by a computer to lead to possible conflict. All sorts of little things were included, from how we use the toothpaste tube to which way the toilet paper should hang from the roll. But nowhere amongst the minutiae were we questioned about Lego… and perhaps we should have been!

You see, we have fundamentally different ideas about the purpose and process of playing with Lego. Perhaps not entirely surprising when you consider I am something of a Performing Arts and Languages teacher and he is a Design & Technology (aka TAS) teacher. For me Lego is all about building whatever takes your fancy, trying new ways of doing something and creating creatures or scenes. It doesn’t matter if you can’t find the exact block you need, because you can choose a slightly different one that will do the same job. For him, there are instructions included with each set which lead step by step to the construction of what was pictured on the box. After it is built, should it be broken down again, it goes back in its original box with the original instructions. For me, it doesn’t matter if it all ends up in one big box because you can mix and match it – plus the alternative is that it will go up the vacuum cleaner next time I do the housework if the boys leave it lying around. So we recently reached loggerheads… It was time for a compromise. In the end we found it easily at Bunnings.

Image

All the blocks are now in 2 cases, sorted by colour and type of block. The instructions are filed away in a folder on the bookshelf. Simple! We are both satisfied and the blocks can serve both purposes and building styles.

All this has had me thinking about the year I’ve just had at school, the little conflicts which have arisen from time to time and how they’ve been dealt with – people are all a bit like Lego, but so is our subject matter. One would assume that teachers of the same subject area would all see the subject in a similar way. But that’s not necessarily the case. Kind of obvious when I think about it, but only really hit me this week.

We teach the same material but in different ways. When one of us feels we are being told to teach the same way as another without some form of dialogue and consultation, there is bound to be unease. While Teacher A may see grammar (to use an MFL example) as being the most important building block and feel it needs to be the focus, Teacher B may see it as just a component of communicating. Teacher C may see students’ using the language to create their own texts as the key. And all of these teachers are also trying to meet the needs of their rather varying students. We all look at the same language, but our focus and use of that language may be different. We all assess the same language and skills, but how we see that assessment taking place may be different. We need to find the commonality so that we can assess as our students’ needs require but also so that the assessment is still comparable. All of that takes openness, dialogue and a willingness to compromise and find that middle ground. Surely the result will be a more balanced and rounded learning experience for our students. New Year’s Resolution number 1 – encourage my fellow team members to be open in considering all our differing perspectives so that we cover all our students’ needs better.

And what about at a whole school level? Conflict at a staff meeting? Disagreement about policy? What if the cause for such disagreement is not a total difference of opinion, but rather a difference in perspective and focus? Is there a perspective that has not yet been considered? Would staff be more engaged in their own schools if their perspectives were included in the dialogue more explicitly? My husband and I both agree that the Lego blocks are for creating something – how we arrive at that creation and the storage of the blocks needed an actual discussion because our perspectives were different.

I know, issues in schools are rarely as simple as how to store Lego and take considerably more time and effort to work through. Plus the time frames for implementing things are usually tight to begin with. But I wonder… Is a Lego  compromise possible?

The sweet smell of success!

thumbs up

We all know that learning is meant to be a life-long journey. In the past 3 days I have learnt so much! Thanks to a request to present to my fellow teachers during this week’s Staff PD days and my growing PLN on Twitter and their patience I have learned…

How to create a simple website on Weebly

How to share work samples created in Apps not connected to a website or Evernote without emailing it to numerous people – by putting them on the weebly site

How to screencast a tour recorded in Google Earth so that I can easily attach it to a QR code to share

How to create and share an Audio boo – this has been on my ‘to do’ list since September!

How to take the simplicity of a QR code and turn it/them into a learning challenge or treasure hunt

How to stick with something even though it can be extremely frustrating!

How good it feels when you know you’ve achieved something!!

So often as teachers we get to the end of the year and see the students walk out of our classroom, never really sure whether we’ve made much difference – students are not an end product after all. But I think what I’m feeling now, having just finished preparing my PD session, is something like the satisfaction a student feels when they try for ages to get something right and then something clicks and they get it! When I finally worked out how to share my Google Earth tour on my weebly site AND have it then play on an iPad WITH sound I actually did a ‘happy dance’! I was genuinely excited!

cause of happy dance

Now just to keep those pre-presentation jitters at bay… I guess it’s never a bad thing to be reminded of what our students go through…

Unexpected Lessons

I used to think my lessons were pretty well student centred – my classes played games, did lots of work in groups and could make choices at various points along the way. With the introduction of iPads at my school and the call to make as much use of them as possible, I’ve realised my idea of student centeredness didn’t go far enough. I was still making all the calls about what was covered how and when and how the students would demonstrate their learning. Since I’ve started consciously looking for ways to move forward and make changes towards more student constructed learning I have noticed many changes, not least among them that my students seem happy and engaged even on a Friday afternoon. But there have been other changes as well. Students seem to better remember the language they have chosen to find or use, are more creative with their use of language and seem generally more “switched on”. But the biggest change so far is one I was not specifically looking for, nor expecting, and one which will likely not lead to better measurable scores in any testing or assessments.

When I was studying for my Grad. Dip. Ed we were told (lectured) that there was the normal curriculum – the body of knowledge and content we would be expected to pass on to those we taught – and a so-called “hidden” curriculum – the values and expectations we would pass to our students not explicitly, but through example and our reactions to behaviours and situations. We were told that this “hidden” curriculum was important, but in reality little attention was paid to it for the remainder of my course and it seemed to remain hidden and beneath the surface.

With the introduction of the AITSL standards and the Australian Curriculum, however, I now argue that many of the things formerly ‘hidden’ are now part of the ‘normal’ up front curriculum. But when time is already short and we struggle to cover all the necessary topics, language, grammar etc, it can be difficult to specifically plan out how and when some of these other things be covered.

The beauty of a student centred learning environment is that the teacher is very mobile, involved in offering advice rather than filling an empty vessel with knowledge. No longer is it possible that I stand at the front of the room, white board marker in hand or walk between rows of evenly spaced desks. Nor is it expected that students will hand write everything in an exercise or work book  – rather they are creating all sorts of texts using a variety of media and technologies. Because students are working together and I am moving among them and because they are creating rather than just absorbing language, some of the hidden curriculum seems to have become far less hidden and is definitely getting some air time!

For example, when students are using pictures to illustrate their work in whatever form, there is a natural place for discussion and learning about plagiarism and how it extends beyond copying a passage of written text to the misguided use of an image found via Google. Such discussions taken out of context would seem forced and potentially turn students off, but when they arise from the activity and learning of the moment, they are without ceremony and seem to make more of an impact. I love that my students are now more likely to use a camera or a drawing program and create their own images!

Likewise, Google Translate, usually the cause of language teachers letting out a collective groan of  horror… In not ‘banning’ my students from using it we have had reasons and moments to discuss why it doesn’t generally work if they type in a whole sentence. We’ve discussed the cultural context of language because GT automatically uses the formal ‘Sie’ form of you in German, which is not appropriate if one is trying to communicate with a friend or family  member. So most students now use it like a dictionary – one word at a time as they need to – and just like a big old Collins dictionary, they need to sift through the options to find the most appropriate one for the context.

Even a game played in small groups with butchers paper and textas can lead to these moments. An inappropriate picture drawn as part of the game resulted in a quick, quiet but effective discussion about sexual innuendo and the harassment issues associated with that – after all, a school is the students’ workplace. Had I not been moving around helping the groups I would either not have seen it or someone else would have drawn unwanted attention to it and caused more of a fuss for all concerned!

It is these unexpected lessons that I am finding most rewarding with my students at this time of year. This learning won’t be measured in their reports, but it will go with them beyond the classroom and into the real world, where the consequences for not learning them are much more dire.

I wonder, what other unexpected lessons are occurring out there? If you use social media with your classes are you naturally ‘covering’ cyber safety? Is this perhaps a way beyond lecturing en masse via a guest speaker? Are others experiencing similar discussions?