5 things I want my pre-service teachers to know

Of course, if you’ve been following this blog you already know that one of my professional goals was to teach pre-service teachers and that this semester I am privileged to have my own tutorial group of 29 students. Given the large number and the course outline which stipulates that they must prepare and deliver a 30-minute lesson first to a couple of Year 7 students in a school -you can read about that here – and then to their peers during our tutorial time over 6 weeks it leaves me very little time to review or give feedback out loud. Our sessions are all about getting everyone a turn to deliver their class, while feedback is provided in writing or sent via email after the sessions. I have to say, there has been much learning in these sessions and as second year students they have done a great job!

Next week the students are due to go out on their professional practice rounds and so there will be no tutorials scheduled for two weeks after which there is only one more session for the semester aaarrgghhh!

Hence this blog post. I really want my pre-service teachers to know the following:

1. Relationships

baggage

baggage

All of you have delved into this area at some point in your peer teaching session but I cannot stress it enough for when you are teaching and learning students. It does not take much to learn your students and does get easier the longer you remain in the most rewarding of all professions. However, sometimes we forget, especially when our own baggage comes in with us into the learning space. I have always said and will continue to do so – when going into your learning space, leave your baggage outside as there will be no room for it given there are between 25 and 29 other pieces coming in. Please remember that those students come into the learning space with needs, some with more needs than others, but they always need to feel safe, to be respected, to be loved (you know what I mean here) and for you to believe they can and be prepared to show them how.

2. Aims & Objectives

SMART goals

SMART goals

There is a clear difference between aims and objectives but they are constantly running into each other. Your aim (usually only one) is what you hope to achieve or the overall big picture item. The objectives are the steps that need to be taken to achieve the aim. In other words long- term plan and lots of short term plans to make the journey more enjoyable, less stressful and more achievable. Objectives usually begin with verbs – doing words. I encourage you to use the S.M.A.R.T goal process in developing them.

By the end of the lesson/class/week the students will be able to….(now list the objectives based on SMART).

 

3. Information overload

MacMeekin's infographic on Blooms 'revised' Taxonomy

MacMeekin’s infographic on Blooms ‘revised’ Taxonomy

So you are about to plan and teach a class -how much information is enough? By information I mean knowledge and skills. I think you can never have enough knowledge and skill but one can only digest certain amounts at particular times. This is mostly true if you are ‘feeding’ them the information. I want to remind you that you don’t have to have all the knowledge nor do you have to give them all the answers. I’d like to see you take more risks and allow time for students to explore a little more and hence develop their own skills and knowledge. Consider practical applications to encourage your students to think, to evaluate and to analyse. Why do they need to know this? How will it help them in the future? These are sometimes really hard questions to answer especially when there is a set curriculum to get through. Don’t be afraid to accept any teaching moments that occur BUT be wary you are not leading them down the garden path. Incorporate into your lessons some Bloom’s Taxonomy – you don’t have to do it all, all of the time but we do have to move from just receiving and regurgitating knowledge for testing and then forgetting all about it. Create ‘fun’ ways for them to seek, find and apply.

4. Learning activities

'FUN'

‘FUN’

While it is important for students to develop collaborative skills, there are many who don’t enjoy it, feel they have nothing to offer, or take advantage of the others and choose not participate. Sound familiar? As a pre-service teacher you need to build a repertoire of different ways you can get them to collaborate without saying, “Okay now let’s get into groups and discuss…”  Sometimes it’s important to allow them time to think on their own or perhaps with just one other peer. The way you ask is also crucial  – let them know there is no one answer – I always like to say for example, “What do YOU think of ….?” ” Can you give me an example from your own experience ….” “What does your partner think of ….” These types of questions don’t require correct answers because it’s their opinion and these are the types of queries that help build confidence and lets them know that what they think is important and they are encouraged to share it if and when they wish. Can you think of ‘fun’ ways to group your students without exclaiming the dreaded “Okay now let’s get into groups and discuss…”? Why not share them below so we can all begin filling our tool box. 

5. Thinking scaffolds

FAIL - First Attempt In Learning

FAIL – First Attempt In Learning

Every student has different learning needs and every class is different and I understand that this can be quite overwhelming for any teacher but most especially for pre-service teachers. Don’t be intimidated by this, remember what I said; each of your students needs to feel safe in your classroom, a place where it’s okay to make mistakes and that learning is challenging (this is good) but there are plenty of scaffolds you can use to help them get to the goal. Providing scaffolds my dear pre-service teachers is not the same as giving them the answers or making it easier -they are different kinds of challenges that don’t overwhelm students and burden them so they give up. Think of it this way…there is treasure on the other side of a deep, deep forest and each student will take a different path through that forest to reach it. Some students are armed with sickles and make their way quickly only having to stop when the trees are very thick to re-think their options. Other students take their time and discover little entry points here and there and follow the paths, stopping at lookout points along the way to take photos, others plunge into the forest without a plan and soon find themselves lost and without supplies, another lot of students stand at the clearing, too frightened to attempt the journey in case they are discovered as imposters as they haven’t a clue where to begin. These are the students in your class; there might even be others. Scary isn’t it?

No.

Believe.

Everyone will learn, eventually, you just have to help facilitate and encourage that learning through scaffolds. It is always a good idea to begin with a plan, ask questions -both open ended and closed and discuss some scenarios. “What would you do if…?” “What options do you have?” “Which option would you be willing to try? Why?” “What do we need to …?”

Step by step graphic

Step by step graphic

You may give them some tools to use to clarify their thinking – my favourites are graphic organisers and there are hundreds of websites and apps you can use just google it and see. I also think that if each student had a chance to discover which 2 or 3 were their favourites they could use them over and over when they needed to plan out their thoughts.

There are, of course, many more things I would like to tell you but taking my own advice in information overload, I’ll leave that for another time.

Finally my dear pre-service teachers, remember teaching and learning is meant to be ‘FUN’ don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Now get out there and make a difference!

Thanks for reading 🙂

Not all gifts are perfectly wrapped

The other day I bought a gift for a very special person and asked the shop assistant if she would gift-wrap it for me. She agreed and asked whether the gift was for a male or female. “Female,” I replied. I didn’t pay much attention to her as she wrapped it and then out she came from behind the counter and handed me a bag. That’s when I noticed the wrapping and realised two things:

1. The wrapping did not suit my friend at all and

2. It failed to reflect what was actually within.

shop wrapped gift

shop wrapped gift

I remember feeling annoyed because I hadn’t bothered to pay any attention to the wrappings available, as I’m sure there were other choices. I left the shop feeling deflated after having been so pleased with the find. That night – you must believe me – I continued to fret about the gift and began doubting whether it was appropriate. By morning I had changed my mind and decided that I was not going to gift it all.

It was then I tore the wrapping away to expose its inner beauty. The gift was beautiful and I still loved it as much as I had when I first saw it and it did suit my friend as I had first assessed. My whole problem was the actual wrapping paper. I had failed to see beyond the exterior. It took so much away from what was inside. I decided that yes this was the gift for her and yes I would gift it after all. I rewrapped it leaving part of the gift exposed and tied it with a silk ribbon. The colours were better suited to my friend and the gift half exposed lived up to its whimsical shape and form.

gift rewrapped

gift rewrapped

Instantly I felt better about it both inside and out. The gift was finally exposed, it suited the wonderful person who would eventually receive it and it made me proud.

So why am I writing about a silly gift and its ill-suited wrapping?

Because it made me feel the same as when I meet students who don’t get the opportunity to shine. I spent many a sleepless night feeling anxious about students who just don’t love learning. As a teacher I feel that it’s my responsibility to ensure that all my students are given a chance to discover their gifts and talents and once that discovery is made to set up opportunities for them to shine.

We’ve all taught that student whom you just can’t seem to gel with. Who winds you up and makes you feel uncomfortable or annoyed, angry, or sometimes they make you feel you have failed as an educator. That student who constantly disrupts your class, back chats when reprimanded and fails to do any work at all. You’ve tried everything; had a chat with him after class, spoken to his other teachers, called home, perhaps dished out some consequences and still the behaviour continues.

Why?

Well, I think it’s simply because we haven’t torn away the inappropriate wrapping to discover that yes the real person is there. He has just been given an unfair wrap. We haven’t taken the time to learn him.

I encourage all of us to never give up on any of our students, no matter how difficult. Always believe in them, work hard to find the truth, to unearth their talents and interests and then give them as many opportunities as possible to shine. They’ll soon come round and the old wrapping will be disposed; the true beauty of their talents and abilities will shine but only with the love and support of a much better wrapping.  These are the strategies you teach them so they can become better learners.

You see, the shop assistant did not know my friend as I do and so the wrapping was all wrong. She didn’t really understand how much I loved that gift and hoped that my friend would too. So really it was my fault for not taking the time to let her know of the wonderful things I saw in the gift and of how much I really care for my friend. So I had to make an extra effort and exposed it for myself. It was only then that I felt I could share it with that friend and, well, celebrate together.

Thanks for reading 🙂

 

 

How far can one word go? #oneword2016

I joined twitter in December 2012 but didn’t begin using this fabulous learning tool for quite a while. I’m not sure when I first began tweeting as such but I’m going to say that in the last two years of engaging with it I haven’t looked back. This year I began seeing lots of posts regarding #oneword2016 and decided to come on board. I’ve been thinking about it for a while and the very first word that came to mind was MORE. I thought about it wondering why this particular word but then it came to me – it wasn’t ‘more’ I wanted, it was to go further.

“Further” in 2016

I want to go… ‘FURTHER’ this year. It’s not that I haven’t accomplished enough in 2015 but rather, I began many things and now I just want to take them ‘further‘. See? Not ‘more’ but ‘further’; additional to what already exists or has already taken place, been done, or been accounted for..

So, here are my hopes for furthering my professional life 2016 in no particular order:

1. The PhD

In 2015 I changed the direction slightly for my PhD study, mainly methodology related not topic as such. This meant I had to seek out a new main supervisor. I was well supported in this task by the out-going supervisor and have not looked back. My current supervisors are very supportive and don’t pull any punches -they tell it how it is and I really appreciate this. It makes the positives so much more satisfying and funnily enough gets me really motivated to attend to the not so good bits with gusto. This year I’m working towards my confirmation – a 20 min presentation of my proposal and 10,000 word document of the first milestone. Last year I also signed up for The Thesis Whisperer’s MOOC course “How to survive your PhD” via EdX and ANU. It was a great experience and the hashtag lives on with many still posting on twitter and taking part in my monthly tweet chat #survivephd15. This year I can’t wait to get into the actual process of data collection and disrupting the status quo…going further.

2. Me as learner and teacher

I have always enjoyed my time in the classroom with students. When I first resigned my full time leadership position in school I very much missed the students most. I quickly made moves to get back into the classroom while still following my dream of being a full time education consultant. I was told it was a gusty move coming out of school but I’m big on risk taking and learn from my mistakes. I really believe in F-A-I-L being the First Attempt In Learning.

I love learning and teaching and the idea of being a CRT or a short-term contract teacher doesn’t phase me. I work really hard to get to know my students even if it’s only for a short time – from 45 mins to a term or two – it’s worth it and you know you’ve been successful because the students aren’t afraid to tell you so. It makes learning and teaching so worthwhile and so much easier and fulfilling. I will be exploring the possibilities further in 2016 both in schools and in adult education. (Note to self – send emails to daily organisers re: CRT availability in 2016).

Thank you message from a student

Thank you message from a student

3. My coaching model

Last year (it’s weird saying it already) I was asked to work with a small team and develop a made to order coaching model for staff. It was a challenging task but we were determined to come up with something that would tick as many boxes as possible. The proposal was accepted and we are currently in the process of further developing the model. Late last year (there it is again) I facilitated the first of the training sessions for the self-nominated coaches. This year we will be taking it further…Finding out how we work, learning and teaching and developing ‘our’ model using the framework as the foundation.

4. Special needs advocacy

My PhD study is about relationships, collaboration and optimal learning environments. I will be investigating how it works when teachers and learning support officers become the researchers and work collaboratively to meet the needs of students with disabilities. My advocacy stems from my own experience of school and the difficulties of learning a new language. Last year I spent two terms as head of the Special Education unit in a Catholic Secondary college. During my time there I reflected on what I was learning and feeling on this blog. While personally I found it rewarding, I also saw many things that made me mad. My whole purpose for coming out of a full time position in a school was to spread the message that everyone deserves to be taught how they learn no matter where they start. I spend much time travelling to different schools, primary and secondary to facilitate workshops on learning in particular focusing of differentiation and modification and on working with students with disabilities funded and non-funded. My most popular workshop runs regularly through Critical Agendas on “Practical Strategies for Teaching Non-Funded Students with Special Needs.” I would like to spread the message even further this year…

“I believe everyone learns in their own special way, we must endeavour to find what this is and then facilitate the learning using strategies that support these preferences”.

5. Teaching the teacher

This last one is related to all of the above. All teachers must be learners first. My PhD is about me as a learner and how I can go further as such. I want to make a difference. I want to see every student learn and teach at their own pace, in their own time. I want every student to have teachers who really know and understand how they learn and assist each of them in that learning.  As a learner and teacher it is always exciting being in a school, to have the opportunity to work with students and colleagues. I like to assist in making learning ‘fun’, engaging, challenging and to help it last forever. I love running workshops for teachers and to facilitate collaborative structures where teachers learn and teach other teachers. My coaching model is supported by the motto ‘teacher as learner’ first.

My wish for 2016 is that I can go further but more importantly that as I go so it is that I am not alone, too far ahead or even too far behind. Will you take up the challenge with me? Are you willing to go … further?

found on Buzz-inn Community fb page

found on Buzz-inn Community fb page

Thanks for reading 🙂

Gelatophobia – the fear of being laughed at

furrowed brow

Furrowed brow to an Aspie with a love of numbers = 11! Nothing more.

 

I spent 5 hours in a big room on Friday with about 200 other guests listening to Tony Attwood talk about “Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorders. It felt like 30 mins. He is a very engaging speaker, with lots of wonderful real life stories and anecdotes collected over the last 30 years of working in the industry. Sue Larkey also spoke prior to each session – mostly it was a sales pitch but her introductory comments set the scene and revealed just how she does ‘get’ ASD kids.

I think there are many of us who ‘get’ them too! Part of knowing and understanding these kids is innate. There is a large component – that of empathy – the key to understanding and forming any sort of relationship with an Aspie. I often remind participants in my workshops that we need to walk in their shoes in order to understand where children, ALL children, are coming from. But you know -there’s more to it.

No two ASD kids are the same. There is not one strategy that works everytime. There is however, one thing that Sue Larkey reiterated yesterday that stuck with me. We must teach our ASD kids social skills as this is what will assist their survival out in the big wide world of society’s service industry. At school we often talk about preparing our students for what will come – but really what is that? What is coming? How will we know when it gets here?

campersASD -Aspies are “nature’s natural worriers” (Attwood), they have a different way of thinking that doesn’t include anything social. An Aspie, as Tony explained, is “someone who has found something in life more interesting than socialising.” And so we have to make exceptions.

Aspies don’t know unless you tell them. That said, one of the major challenges for Aspies is auditory processing. To remember means that Aspies have to experience it first hand. So how do we tell them? More importantly, how do they tell us?

One of the activities we were asked to do stands out. Tony asked that we work with a partner -one closed their eyes while the other was shown a slide and then asked to communicate the message without words.

The first was quite simple really, although my partner totally missed it as she put her cup down and had to play Chinese whispers with the lady two seats down from us!!

These are not word for word but the idea remains

I want my green shoes

The second was a little harder

Will you be here tomorrow?

The third even more

Where is my hat?

And last

There’s someone at the door to see you.

Give it a go with someone – it is really quite a difficult task but this is the frustration in communicating that Aspies deal with day in day out, not to mention our own frustrations in not undertsanding and the patience it takes to really get to know them as individuals.

no routine

via Caroline Kee / Via BuzzFeed

routine

via Caroline Kee / Via BuzzFeed

Processing time is an important element and one that causes much anxiety. Aspies need more time to process because they need to process the social, linguistic AND cognitive aspects of the communication. Many mainstream students already have the social and lingusitic skills and only need concentrate on the cognitive. Tony gave a detailed explanation of the functioning amygdala in ASD kids. We are all aware that the amygdala is the fight or flight compartment of the brain. It is connected to the sensory system and in ASDs it is enlarged and hyper-reactive because it doesn’t connect and warn the frontal lobe as in other non ASDs and so it leads to an ‘over-reaction’. On a scale of 1-10, 1 being calm, 10 being melt down, ASDs go immediately to 8 or 9 in these fight or flight situations.

One of my favourite lines of the day was “They are the last to know they are going to cry.” This really resonated with me. Tony explained how Aspies are not consciously aware of their feelings. While we receive signals through facial expressions and body language Aspie are not aware of these signals. This leads us to assume they lack empathy. This is not an accurate assumption as Tony continued…

The 3 forms of empathy are cognitive, emotional and compassionate. Cognitive is to know, to respond, to read signals such as those we take for granted through facial expressions. An Aspie fails to read these and so they get a bad wrap -but these are the same kids who give up their pocket money to help others. The emotional form, to feel, is revealed by our Aspies through their reactions -they react more explosively but don’t know it. Tony compared it a little to a cactus -the prickly exterior that protects the soft subtle insides. He spoke about a heart rate monitor in the form of ‘hip’ wrist watch that can monitor to ensure they see it coming – or at least- we can! The final form of empathy -compassion – the ability to respond and repair when for example someone is crying is revealed through what works for the Aspie in question, not necessarily for the person with the issue. Aspies don’t lack empathy, they just express it in a way that would make sense to them -so for example walking away from a sobing parent is what they would want someone to do for them when they are crying.

They don’t lack empathy -we lack understanding.

pretendtobenormal

Ain Eineziz

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is soooooo much more I could write -but enough for now

Something to watch:

Oh just one more – The real ratio of Aspie boys to girls is 2:1. Girls are diagnosed later because they are much better at coping socially so they fly under the radar. They cope and camouflage through observation and imitation. Diagnosis comes during their teen years.

Thanks for reading 🙂

What’s special about special ed?

Learning Support Officers (LSOs) come to mind – but they can’t and shouldn’t be doing it on their own.

There is so much confusion as to the role and responsibilities of teachers and LSOs. Obviously this is an area very close to my heart and at the very core of my PhD research.

The role of Learning Support Officer

The main role of a Learning Support Officer (LSO) is to assist students on an individual or group basis in specific learning needs under the direction of a teacher who is ultimately responsible for the design, implementation and evaluation of education programs and related services (CECV 2014). It is not the role of the LSO to withdraw students who misbehave or who don’t seem to understand the learning required. The teacher is responsible for all students in the class and for optimal learning environments to be created and sustained; they must have all members present and willing to participate in the environment. The teacher’s role is to make that happen by learning about, and teaching the students for whom they are responsible and in the case where there are students who present with disability an extra effort is required to work collaboratively with the LSO in order to make that classroom a cohesive and functional optimal learning environment for all. After all, it is not about the content, it’s about the students, it’s about how they learn and it’s about how the teacher can make that happen. Begin where they are, challenge them, support them and show them where they could be. Believe.

450px-Clearing_a_pat

Teachers play a key role in facilitating the effectiveness of the Learning Support Officer (LSO) and their capacity to enhance student learning. To enable this, flexibility, communication, collaboration and clear direction is required from the teacher.

Unfortunately there are few training programs or research data to identify skills and knowledge required to successfully establish and maintain a healthy relationship between teacher and LSO that leads to optimal learning opportunities for students with disabilities.

Optimal learning environments support students’ natural desire to learn where learning becomes both playful and challenging. Optimal learning environments need to be developmentally appropriate and encourage positive social behaviours as well as reflecting intelligence (Lackney 1999, Linton et al, 2014). Standards should be raised to a level where they can be achieved with some effort and as students succeed the level is raised a little more and the procedure continues until the final goal is reached (Sileo & van Garderen 2010). Once this happens then new goals are set. A student’s efficacy, i.e. personal belief in their ability to succeed, has been identified as an effective predictor of learning and therefore we must set learning goals that allow them to be successful but not without effort (Shernoff et al 2014).

Cooperation, communication and collaboration between teachers and support staff can foster optimal learning environments for all students but especially for students with disabilities. Student engagement is highest when concentration, interest and enjoyment are stimulated simultaneously. The most effective way to collide these in the classroom is by taking the time to get to know each one of your students. It is imperative that one knows what their students like, what their strengths are, and most importantly, to know their abilities and this can only be done by first establishing a relationship. Once they are hooked, the content learning will come (Burgess 2012, Solarz 2015).

There is evidence that a lack of time and uncertainty as to individual roles and responsibilities, (Bourke 2008, Rutherford 2011, Fisher & Pleasants 2012, Butt 2014), that seems to be preventing the formation of successful working partnerships between teachers and support staff for the ultimate goal of improving student learning outcomes. However, it is imperative that we make time to talk learning, rather than other administrative matters, that can be covered in an email or document sent to all.

The Effective Practices Framework for Learning Support Officers (CECV , 2014) lists seven desirable competencies for teachers supervising the work of LSOs (p. 17).

LSO

 

I encourage you to take each of the seven desirable competencies and work through them one by one in establishing collaborative and communicative work relations (AISTL 2015) in order to create optimal learning environments for all students and most especially for those with disabilities.

 

Thanks for reading 🙂

References

Australia. Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership. (2015). The essential guide to professional learning: Collaboration. Melbourne: AISTL.

Bourke, P. (2008). The experiences of teacher aides who support students with disabilities and learning difficulties: A phenomenological study. Queensland University of Technology.

Burgess, D. (2012). Teach like a pirate. Increase student engagement, boost your creativity, and transform your life as an educator. San Diego, C.A.: Dave Burgess Consulting Inc.

Butt, R. (2014). The changing role of teacher assistants – where being a ‘mum’ is not enough. (Doctor of Philosophy), University of Canberra, Canberra.

Fisher, M., & Pleasants, S.L. (2012). Roles, responsibilities, and concerns of paraeducators: Findings from statewide survey. Remedial and Special Education, 33(5), 287-297.

Lackney, J.A. (1999). Why optimal learning environments matter. Paper presented at the Alaska Chapter of the Council of Educational Facility, Anchorage, AK.

Linton, D.L., Farmer, J.K., & Peterson, E. (2014). Is peer interaction necessary for optimal active learning? CBE – Life Sciences Education, 13, 243-252. doi: 10.1187/cbe.13-10-0201

Rutherford, G. (2011). “Doing right by”: Teacher aides, students with disabilities, and relational social justice. Harvard Educational Review, 81(1), 95-119.

Shernoff, D.J., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2014). Flow in schools revisited. Cultivating engaged learners and optimal learning environments. In M. Furlong, J., R. Gilman & S. E. Huebner (Eds.), Handbook of positive psychology in schools (pp. 211-226). Hoboken: Taylor and Francis.

Sileo, J.M., & van Garderen, D. (2010). Creating optimal opportunities to learn mathematics: Blending co-teaching structures with research-based practices. Teaching Exceptional Children, 42(3), 14-21.

Solarz, P. (2015). Learn like a pirate. Empower your students to collaborate, lead and succeed. San Diego C.A.: Dave Burgess Consulting Inc.

Victoria. Catholic Education Commission of Victoria. (2014). Effective practices framework for learning support officers. Melbourne: CECV.