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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…

All the world’s a stage

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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!

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!

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.

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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?