Author Archives: krosenzweig2012

My response to the question of whether my original post is ‘normal’

After my original post in response to Senator Hanson’s suggestion re students with autism, I was asked whether my thoughts would be a ‘normal’ response among my colleagues. No doubt there would be some who would think otherwise. It is perhaps comfortable and easy to be able to do the same thing year in year out and with the rate of change in life and work these days, having to adapt what we do isn’t always welcome to everyone. Like our students, teachers are all different.
I don’t wish to imply by my post that I have done my learning without the help of support services or other staff, nor come to this perspective on my own, nor that it has been easy.
I think it’s a journey that I started in primary school when my mum started working in disability and my brothers and i would walk down to her work after school. Then as a Uni student, I taught ballet for my spending money – I had a student with Down Syndrome in one of my classes and while she didn’t have the muscle control of most of her fellow dancers, she had flexibility and a love of the stage – we played to those strengths. My first year teaching German in a school I had a student who was completely blind, used a Braille machine and I had to have all print materials organised a term in advance so they could be converted; at the same school I had a student with ASD and OCD – but boy did he remember the gender of German nouns if they were colour coded… I have used colour coding ever since. Languages is often the subject students will be ‘pulled’ from if they have dyslexia or processing delays. Ironically, we teach grammar and spelling very explicitly and they often find that for the first time they are on a level playing field with their classmates and they thrive. I’ll never forget one girl back in the early 2000s whose parents wanted to take her out of Yr 9 Japanese because she had an auditory processing delay but she refused – she topped the class that year and went on to go right through; a boy with ASD whose particular interest was Chemistry so we got him a Chem textbook from Germany and away he went – I learned what Brownian Motion was because we needed to find the German words for it for him so he described it in English and we went from there together – he got a perfect score in his Yr 12 German oral examination (external assessment) because they asked what his interests were and he took off! They are just a few – at one time or another I have taught students with each of the considerations I originally listed.
I also think that teaching the subjects I do has helped me look at teaching and learning as I do – I teach something that many consider ‘extra’ and so have pretty much always had to learn and change and adapt to work to student interests to keep the subject relevant for them. When you are always having to justify your existence, you rarely stay doing the same thing and teaching the same page from the textbook on the same day each year – if I’d done that, I’d have been out of a job about 10 years ago.
And then there’s the impact of motherhood – if my child had a particular learning difficulty or need, what would I hope for him?

A message for Ms Hanson

Ms Hanson,
I don’t for a moment believe that because at one time you attended school you are qualified to comment on educational matters, but let’s for a moment consider your recent suggestion –

If students with autism spectrum disorder take away from the time of teachers and learning of ‘normal’ students, and that means we should remove them, then logic has it that the same thinking would be applied to other students who do not fit your view of ‘normal’. So next, we take out students with 
dyslexia, 

dysgraphia, 

auditory or other sensory processing disorders, 

Cerebral palsy,

Vision impairment,

Hearing impairment,

the selectively mute…
And don’t forget the ones identified as gifted and talented, because they take away time from ‘normal’ students too, so take them out as well…
Now you think we are left with ‘normal’ students, but how many of those need extra time and attention because

they are adjusting to changing family circumstances,

they live between two homes,

they have anxiety or depression or both,

they have lost a parent or sibling,

they have a very ill parent or sibling… the list could go on!

If you remove all of these students who take up my time, I have no class!

Ms Hanson, you do not realise that by looking at my students from the viewpoint of a supposed deficit they place on my time and each other’s learning, you miss the very important fact that all students have needs, interests, talents, thoughts and ideas to share with the world!
 So rather than deficit, let’s look at my students from a perspective of credit –

Ms Hanson, I would like to point out that having students with special learning needs in my classes has made me a better teacher for all my students. By learning how to create effective learning experiences for students who don’t fit the unrealistic and non-existent ‘normal’, I end up having more ideas, materials and strategies to offer every student. I learn to look for and utilise the individual strengths of the students – because they do have them! I grow and learn and reflect on my professional practice and adapt as my students grow and change – and that surely improves the education of all my students!

Reflections on LSA day 2016

Until now I had always intended to keep my blog language focussed and academic side of my work focussed. But as a teacher in a Lutheran school, there is so much more to my work and the professional development and learning that I do and I need to reflect on those ‘other’ parts besides language teaching.

Last Friday I joined with teachers from all over at a day for educators in Lutheran schools. I always enjoy the day, reconnecting with colleagues. But my head has been churning since lunch time that day on one word in particular – service. It’s something we try to inspire in our students as we play our part in helping them discover the best in themselves and growing that so they can be all they can in this world. Two aspects of the service session on Friday have left me with more questions than answers.

Firstly, we were asked to consider what service is and when it becomes ‘deep’ service. There seemed general consensus that service is the filling of a need without the expectation of recognition or reward. But the accompanying Twitter chat eventually led to a Tweet about ‘soft’ service vs ‘hard’ service. The tweeter later explained that hard service is ‘getting our hands dirty’ and takes us out of our comfort zone. Somehow the responses seemed to become about measuring service, what sort of service is better… None of this sits well with me, for two reasons. What is one person’s comfort zone, may be the complete opposite for another. Some may find it easier to do physical work, like building a toilet in a third world country, than sitting with someone deep in grief from loss of a loved one. How can we say one is deeper than the other or harder than the other? Secondly, why are we trying to measure it at all? It seems that in using the comparative and superlative forms of adjectives to discuss service, we start to build a hierarchy, which removes service from the realm of ‘gospel’ and a response to God’s grace to us and moves it back towards pre-reformation thinking and earning favour, be it God’s or people’s. So is there a difference in service? Does it matter? What is at the heart of it? When we work with young people and their families and with colleagues also on a faith journey, do we paint a service picture with the law brush or the gospel brush?

My second pondering is to do with whether service actually has to take us out of our comfort zones at all – straight up this will probably result in a ‘yes’ from some quarters, but hear me out…

If we believe that God gives us gifts, strengths, talents, and calls us to be something in a place our life has brought us to, then does he not also call us to serve there using those gifts? Otherwise why does he give them to us? Why does he say we are to be stewards? If he’s built within us strengths and capacities, surely the use of them will enable us to serve within our comfort zones because he puts us there too. Again doesn’t it come back to the heart and why we do what we do? My family is a comfort zone – don’t I serve Him there? My work is something I enjoy and not necessarily completely out of my comfort zone depending on the class and day – don’t I serve Him there? He brings people into my life in ways that are familiar and ordinary – don’t I serve through my time with them in the ways they need?

So three days on I still have questions. In a world and profession where everything is measured, documented and measured again always looking for improvement, is there room to not measure and compare some of the ‘God stuff’?

Back to blogging

For one reason or another, it’s been a long time since I blogged… But the time has come… I need somewhere to dump my thinking so that it stops going around in my head and I can focus. I started studying – so now there are even more things floating around in there waiting to get out…

I’m not here for the ‘A’ count

So it’s a while since I’ve written anything here… you could say things have been busy. I’ve been working on ways to allow students to personalise the pace of their learning in my language classroom – using techniques from the ‘flipped’ approach and combining it with other digital things like cloud storage, QR codes and the like so that students access the materials as they are ready for the next step. Having had students work this way for the past 9 months, I am now at the stage where I’m looking at what the implications have been…

I know from student feedback that for the most part they like working at their own pace – especially the boys. They like that if they need to move slowly through something they’re not holding others back, and that if they already understand something they don’t have to wait for others before moving on. The girls like that they can work with others who are at the same point and that they have had choice in how they practise language and demonstrate their learning.

I also have a group who have done the work but when asked for feedback they’ve been unhappy and they’ve asked “Can’t we just go back to the other way where you tell us what to do and we all do it?!”, complete with a stereotypical 14 year old whine. This one surprised me somewhat as they’d not complained until I asked upfront. But then I looked at the group and the nature of the students falling into it. They were students who in primary school and their first year of high school language lessons had always been the high flyers – the ‘A’ students. Looking back over my time with them last year and this, they were students who last year hadn’t found language difficult and who had generally been on task and completed the work quickly. This year, their marks had fallen (we’ve had less A grades than with our previous version of the course) and they had needed some reminders about what they were supposed to be doing. They were also generally girls. This I found interesting.

Chatting with them further, it became apparent that they weren’t happy with the lower grades and they said it was harder because I wasn’t telling them what to do anymore.

I had made varied resources available, said each lesson that they could ask questions, watch explanations as often as they needed and draft their work before submitting or recording it, and was constantly moving around the room. And this was the difference – I wasn’t spoon feeding anymore and they weren’t as quick to do any of those things as the students who were thriving under the new delivery mode. They found it more difficult to take responsibility for their learning and to do some self-evaluation as part of their learning process. Others checked in with me constantly, checked pronunciation and recognised that not being first finished didn’t mean they weren’t doing well. It meant they were doing properly. On the other hand, a number of times I’d asked the girls whether they wanted to alter and resubmit some work, and each time they made the choice not to.

Due in large part to the structure of senior secondary studies where I am, the majority of students do not continue their language studies after Year 9. When we started heading down this route of personalised pace in their learning, we had aimed to improve student engagement and have students finish their compulsory stint of Language with a positive mindset. I think we’ve done that for most. But our assessment data is showing less ‘A’ grades than before. So have we done the right thing or should we switch back to the old course? Switching back is very tempting – ‘A’s look good for the students and they make us look good as teachers. After all, being successful means getting good grades, and in a language has always been defined as knowing lots of words and using them correctly. And if I saw myself as just a language teacher, I would be switching back tomorrow!

But I believe as a teacher I am responsible for teaching more than language. I can’t define myself soley by the language aspect of my position. I’m a teacher – that means I want my students to be life-long learlners. Which means I want to help them learn how to think, analyse, draft, refine, face challenges – all the things we have to do throughout our lives if we are to keep growing and learning. So while the course we’ve developed this year isn’t perfect, I think it is doing more for the students than our old course when we followed a textbook page by page and I spent a lot of time at the board keeping everyone moving along together all the time. Instead of switching back in the hope of more ‘A’s in the class data, I think it’s time I look at ways to improve the process for those students who find taking responsibility more challenging than I had expected. I’m not here for the ‘A’ count, I’m here for life-long learning.

Shifting sands of culture

I recently attended the Adelaide Making IT Mobile workshops facilitated by the staff from SCIL. One of the key moments for me was Steve Collis’s presentation about space and the impact it has on the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of our work. His words helped me see past some of my own frustrations about the process of trying to reinvent the thinking and learning at our school and also got me thinking about why it’s important that we don’t just give up. If you’re not familiar with Steve’s work, check out his blog and his definitions of space. While transforming the physical and virtual space of schools is relatively straight forward, (albeit requiring a cash injection), changing the cultural space (the mindsets or headspace, expectations, habits and ways of responding) of the individuals and groups (staff, students and parents) that make up a school is likely to be more complex and take longer. It is unlikely that the various groups involved will all move at the same pace, afterall. To really transform education requires changes in all 3 ‘spaces’.

It would be simpler to continue doing what we’ve always done, what the parents expect as ‘normal’ given their own experiences of schooling. So if it’s not going to be easy, why bother? Why continue seeking to transform what we do and how we do it? As I’ve thought about it since, culture as space and the culture filter so familiar to me as a languages teacher provided a reason and anchor.

The culture of the outside world, in which our students experience all other facets of life, is constantly changing and evolving. We see it reflected in their language (if I hear “hashtag yolo” again this week…!), in their social interactions, in their pastimes. We know many jobs they will go into do not yet exist – many which do exist now didn’t exist in my parents’ youth! Cultural literacy as we usually think of it enables one to function within and engage with daily life and society in another country rather than just looking in from the outside always feeling bewildered and out of place or causing offence to the locals. If the culture in our schools does not move in time with the culture of the outside world how can students function in them? Because the two cultures are incongruent, with one changing rapidly and the other changing little in over a century, our students are rather culturally illiterate in our schools and our schools risk becoming culturally irrelevant. How many times does a 2013 student sitting in a classroom little changed since the 1900s appear disengaged or cause offence to the locals, aka teachers? Bringing the two cultures closer together removes the overwhelming sense of school being ‘foreign’ and empowers students to be engaged, participate and succeed in their learning. And that’s why we bother!

All the world’s a stage

Image

cc licensed (BY) flickr photo shared by Daniel Oines

Mr Shakespeare certainly knew a thing or two about life. As I thought about writing this particular entry, this famous line from “As You Like It” came to mind and seems a fitting title.

Since starting to experiment with iPads in my language classroom about a year ago, firstly with just a few for group work and now in a 1:1 set up, I’ve been excited by the ability for my students to create tangible products with language and to share their products with an increasingly diverse audience which can give them feedback. I’m especially looking forward to my class connecting with the classes of some of my Twitter PLN later in the year. For this term, however, my students will be performing to a much more traditional audience, and their resulting efforts and focus are a very definite reminder of the importance of giving our students a real reason and audience for their learning.

Like many schools in rural areas of Australia, my son’s primary school has struggled to find a Japanese teacher to fill a maternity leave vacancy. For a while it looked like there would be no alternative but to call a halt to their language lessons for the remainder of the year. Already teaching full time at my own school, I couldn’t even volunteer as a parent to help out, until I saw an unexpected potential in the gap. I contacted the principal, excited by the idea that some of my classes could be teachers for the primary school. The logistics took some working out, but at the start of next week, two of my year 8 classes will spend their double lessons at a school 10 minutes away, in order to teach others what they have only recently been learning for themselves. And they will do it again at least another 3 times between now and the end of the year.

My students were up to that part in many a beginner course where they learn to talk about their likes and dislikes. Japanese sentence structure is wonderfully regular and at a basic level works somewhat like algebra, so learning the pattern ‘noun ga suki desu’, and its associated question and positve and negative answers, took Year 8 students very little time. Together we brainstormed various categories of nouns which my students thought would be ideal for the year levels they will be faced with next week. In small groups, they were then asked to come up with no more than 10 words in any one of those categories. At this point I stepped back and let them work freely. They used dictionaries, both paper and online, their textbooks, apps they found and their prior knowledge. They then set about developing activities and materials to teach the primary students the new words and the sentence pattern.

As I watched, all sorts of things quickly became clear. Having a near immediate reason to need the language, students were focused and positive, eager to ‘get it right’. Because they had to design learning experiences for others, they were discussing and reflecting on their own learning, both more recent and in years gone by. They were creative, critical and solving problems. As they finished preparing materials, (think everything from laminated Bingo cards to fishing rods made with spare dowel from the Tech Studies faculty), they automatically practised their activities, tested their games and asked me to listen to their pronunciation.  Today they were very much like a drama class about to put on their major production! A hive of activity in the midst of which I was largely obsolete – what a strangely wonderful thing to be in a class of 13 and 14 year olds!

What wonders occur when we give our students a stage! I can’t wait to see how their performances are received!