7 boys, a mum & 28 pre-service teachers: A narrative of challenges

This post also addresses prompt number 6 in the #edublogsclub challenge – Challenging situations.

Once upon a time….

No, sorry…

This semester sees me working with 2nd-year pre-service teachers. The unit is the same as the one from 2016 and once again we get to go out to a school in Week 3 and ‘teach’ a couple of Year 7 students on campus. This is usually done during our tutorial time, however, this year proved to be a little challenging in that our tutorial time is 4-6 pm!! Um, schools don’t usually have students ready to go at that time – but alas – the time slot couldn’t be changed regardless of how important this ‘teach’ visit is to my students’ first assignment, (that’s another story!).

Anyhow, let’s not get side-tracked. I wanted to share once again the wonderful adventure we had that afternoon and how we managed to pull it off considering we went from 28 Year 7 boys willing to participate, all the way down to 6. With pizza and choc mud cake on the menu, the boys signed up to remain after school and participate in the activity. Until…

The bribe

They realised it was actually parent/teacher/student (P/T/S) interview evening and they finished school at 2 pm! The numbers dwindled down to 10 boys, and with only a couple of days before the activity, we went to Plan B – there is always a Plan B!

The hour we had with the students would need to be split into two. We have 10 boys participating in two sessions. This would be okay, as the teaching was only for 30 minutes, so my own pre-service teachers would be prepared and it would not impact on their lesson plan. Emails were sent to all and preparations made. I would pick up the food and make my way to the school, arriving in time to feed the students and set up the space. A half dozen of my students, who didn’t have a class before the tutorial would meet me to help with preparations. And then the phone rang…

It’s the day of the activity.

“Hi Jo. How are you going?”

It’s my contact from the school.

The conversation goes something like this….’Everything is okay. We are all set to go except we are now holding the activity in the library and not in the performing arts centre (where I told my students to meet me). No problem we’ll send the boys down to direct them. See you later in the afternoon.’

All good.

And then the phone rang…again…

“Hi Jo. How are you going?”

It’s my contact from the school.

“I’ve got some bad news.”

We are now down to 6 students.

Time for Plan C. Hang on. I don’t really have a Plan C. I have 11 groups (28 students in 2s and 3s) and 6 students. Each group except for 2 are expecting to be teaching 2 Year 7s for 30 mins. I get in my car to pick up the food and head on over to the school. Plan C, if I had one, won’t work, at least not without disppointing my students.

Later, at the school, I’m so happy to see my students who have arrived early as promised. We make our way to the library space, Plan C still isn’t coming.

“Hi Miss!” exclaim 2 little Year 7 boys awaiting our arrival.

I already feel better.

“Here boys, have some pizza. Now while we set up why not go find a friend to join us?”

“Ok,” they reply enthusiastically.

They soon return with another student willing to join in. That’s 7. Is Plan C on it’s way?

Slowly my other pre-service teachers begin to arrive while a few get caught in traffic and message to say they are running late. No problem. Plan C is slowly appearing. We have 3 groups already here and we’re 30 mins early – let’s start the first session and instead of 2 rotations we’ll do 3, plenty of time till 5 pm! H-E-L-L-O … Plan C!

And so the sessions begin.

In no time at all we have paper planes flying, gold coins appearing and science experiments taking shapes.

Planes, coins & science

My pre-service students keep arriving and another student arrives after finishing with P/T/S interviews in tow with mum and dad ready to join in the learning. “Please join us, mum and dad, you’re most welcome!” Mum is keen. So now we have 7 boys (yes I know that should be 8 but one has to leave to attend the interviews so really it’s still 7). The boys grab another piece of pizza and make their way to join another group ready to go again. In this session we’re doing kinetics, working probability and travelling to the land of ancient Egypt. There is also evidence of more science experiments to do with chocolate. I also spot one young man exploring through a paper telescope – I can’t wait to read about that one!

I spy…

Ancient emoji?

30 minutes later … A-N-D … TIME! Last cycle: the 7 boys and the mum rotate one last time. In this session I find more science experiments, this one has balloons and looks very interesting. In another corner, Japanese is being taught, while yet another group is deep into the medieval world and a third is working on area and perimeter – looks and feels nothing like when I went to school. Much laughter and engagement prevail and it looks like Plan C worked!

‘konnichiwa’

More pizza and mud cake, lots of thank yous and satisfaction prevails. We did it!

Time for reflection….

Reflecting on our teaching

Many thanks once again to De La Salle Malvern and especially their Year 7 coordinator who supported us all throughout this process, including entertaining the idea of having students stay after school to accommodate our tutorial time. Hopefully next year common sense will prevail and the tutorials will all be scheduled during the school day when students are actually in school!

Thanks for reading 🙂

Do more than ‘know your students’: Learn them

I’d like to propose a leveling up from ‘knowing’ your students to ‘learning your students’.

So how’s it different?

It is similar to holistic education where the student has the possibility to be developed in all aspects of humanism. It develops their physical, academic, spiritual, social and emotional being. In ‘learning’ students then, it becomes an ability to really know them beyond what they like to do, how they learn and what they got on their last test result. It’s about being open, allowing them to develop, take risks and all the while the teacher is watching, listening and learning. Only after this can one act accordingly. In learning students, one is compelled to take action.

What are the steps in such a proposal?

  1. When greeting them at the door go one step further beyond asking how they are going. Watch their body language, listen to the tone in their voice and distinguish if it was any different last time you asked. Then act.

    Watch, listen & learn

    Watch, listen & learn

  2. Reflect on the last class you taught. Who are the students that made an impact -that is- asked the questions, interacted with the teaching and learning, those you had to remind to get back on task. Now, picture those who did not. Why not? Have they interacted more effectively in previous classes? What was different this time? How can that change for next time without making them feel exposed? Now act.

    Classroom interactions

    Classroom interactions

  3. Do you know what your students like doing outside of class? Do you make efforts sometimes to include aspects of these things in the teaching and learning? Let me give you an example: You asked your class and this particular one has quite a few that enjoy sports -don’t roll your eyes – I’m not keen on it either but just bear with me. Keep in mind while you do plan that there are undoubtedly some students who do not like sport – but maybe they like games… what aspects of sport and games could be included in your class? I encourage you to think outside the box here, include ideas about skills- dependent on what year level they are: Might you include some healthy competition, or adding by goal points, even creating open-ended problems related to sport but reflective of the skills you require? Is there a story about sport/competition/achievement/training/teams you could use instead? Just because students like footy, doesn’t mean you have to ‘do’ and ‘talk’ footy. Perhaps you can cover their love of sport via other related means. Now act.

    talents

    Students’ talents

  4. Are you comfortable sharing something of yourself? Of course, I would expect that it be relative to the content matter being presented. This is a great way to reveal your own humanism and might move your students into telling some of their own narratives. Your role here is to model respect and trust when and if they do, to listen intently and thank them when they finish. Everyone needs to know they have a voice in your class when they want to use it and will be respected accordingly. One last point – the students don’t have to ‘talk’ their narratives, there are plenty of other ways to ‘show’ them. There might be an opportunity sometime during the semester to ask them to complete … ‘I wish my teacher knew …’ Now act.

    Lacking confidence

    Lacking confidence

  5. Stop teaching the content and start learning students. We are always talking about how we don’t have enough time…but time spent learning your students is much more valuable than always thinking you don’t have time because there’s so much content to get through. Content will happen, as will learning (which is the whole point of education) if we do more to ‘learn’ our students. Have open discussions about learning – discuss with them how they learn, talk about the brain and how clever it is and notice how, when, where and what students do in your class when you set learning tasks. I encourage you to change the language used – instead of asking them to get on with their work… try “let’s get on with our learning”. It just seems to be more inclusive and less burdensome somehow.

 

Matthys, 2016

Matthys, 2016

Now act. Let me know how it goes. Why not share your ideas below so others may also learn.

 

Thanks for reading 🙂

Take Outs: Day 2 Evidence-based teaching summit 2016

University of Bologna by Laurentius de Voltolina c.1350

University of Bologna by Laurentius de Voltolina c.1350

Take a close look at the medieval painting above what do you notice?

Has anything changed in classrooms today? Of course yes there are no devices, I’m speaking mostly about engagement – 24:1, only 6 paying any attention, the rest seem disengaged, with more than one having a little snooze.

Now how about this one?

Raphael, School of Athens, 1509-11

Raphael, School of Athens, 1509-11

Ron Canuel (CEA) opened Day 2 of proceedings giving us insights into the research done at CEA. He says that much of education has been hijacked by others and that it is indeed time we took it back. We certainly all know (I hope) that standarised tests do not lead to improvement in the educational outcomes of students, however, they do benefit real estate agents! According to Canuel – everyone wants to live in a catchment area of what is considered a ‘good’ school (and no I’m not elaborating).

Oh and the second painting above? Well, Ron mentioned something that really struck a chord with me, he said that education change should look like the Renaissance with a lot more emphasis on all subjects. School of Athens is how I imagine a classroom should be, collaboration, thinking, genius, excitement, movement, passion, reflection, ordered chaos —–> can you hear it?

26% & rising...kids who are not dealing with school recommended reading from Daffydd Wiesner-Ellix (CBD Strategic)

26% & rising…kids who are not dealing with school recommended reading from Daffydd Wiesner-Ellix (CBD Strategic)

My next take out is about teacher quality. There is no measure for an effective teacher (Gary Marks, ACU). A teacher who may be effective in one classroom may not be in a different one let alone in another school. So where is the teaching profession heading? Tania Aspland (AITSL) argued that we could easily devise a how-to manual becoming an expert teacher the same as one might consult a how-to manual on becoming an expert golfer or tennis player. The first chapter in this manual would, of course, be OBSERVATION and the STANDARDS provide us with something against which to measure our progress. So, where can we make the greatest impact in the context of our place and time (Neil Barker, DET) in schools? Can educators, as Susannah Emery (Curtin University) asks, be ‘quest givers’ given the strong attachment our current students have towards gaming? Perhaps the Teaching & Learning Toolkit presented by Tanya Vaughan might just assist us in making the greatest impact happen in our classrooms, where they belong.

The highlight of the summit for me was meeting and sitting next to David Mitchell, Adjunct Professor (College of Educational Studies and Leadership), University of Canterbury, NZ. He delivered the final keynote address. Of course, while chatting at the table over the two days, I did all the talking about my research before it dawned on me just who he was – for those who don’t know his research is in diverse needs of students and inclusion and if you follow my blog you would know that my PhD is in special needs!!!! I spent the night after the first day of the conference reading up on Dr. Mitchell and got my hands on an online copy of his book. I have since read a number of journal articles and will hold true to emailing him to discuss his research, ask questions and gain first-hand insights as I journey through my PhD.

Dr. Mitchell also commented on my note-taking so here I place the sketchnote I completed as he spoke…now I would have added so much more but I really enjoyed just listening. I think I’ve got enough for you to get the picture of just how much wisdom this man has offered me especially as I continue my PhD. I secretly hope too, that Dr. Mitchell might read this post one day and see it for himself for I was not confident to show him on the day.

Sketchnote -Dr. Mitchell's keynote

Sketchnote -Dr. Mitchell’s keynote


 

Question: Can Principals significantly influence learning in their schools? (Helal & Coelli, 2016)

Fact: 24% of ALL students and 40% of those who are disadvantaged are at risk of reading failure in Australian primary schools. The explicit teaching of literacy covering the BIG5 may assist (Kerry Hempenstall – Case Study presentation).


 

One more thing – Whilst Radmila Harding was a little apprehensive about being the very last speaker of the conference and wondered if there would be anyone left to hear her presentation I have to say it was engaging, and well I’m also going to say … FUN! There were hands-on activities and videos to make us laugh… and so it ended… happily. The take home message not only from Radmila’s presentation but I think from the whole conference:

Let’s work collaboratively to build a team that won’t fall down so all may benefit and grow in their experience and journey of learning and living.

And yes there were enough people left who enjoyed it right to the end.

End of Day 2

Thanks for reading 🙂

Day 1 – EBT reflection

Eat in or take away? Day 1: Evidence Based Teaching Summit 2016

Last week I was invited to chair a panel discussion on policy and practice at the Informa summit on Evidence-Based Teaching and with that came the opportunity to attend two days of professional learning. I gained some wonderful insights and follow up for my own research, but I also came away with many more questions. You’ll see them filtered through the rest of the post.

Angela Carbone from Monash University opened proceedings delivering a keynote on the

What is student success?

What is student success?

resurgence of evidence-based teaching. She spoke of the need for evidence in order to ‘bust’ educational myths. To increase student success, we need valid, reliable, rigorous, accurate and timely evidence. But what is student success? What does it look like in the diverse classrooms of the 21st Century?

The second keynote was delivered by Dr. V. Darleen Opfer from the US. Teachers need to use a data driven approach in order to improve student learning but how do we support teachers to do this? Dr Opfer’s presentation was very practical and I could easily imagine her 5 recommendations working in our schools. She suggested:

  1. Making data an ongoing cycle using a variety of sources.
  2. Teaching students to examine their own data and set their own learning goals accordingly.
  3. Establishing a clear vision for the whole school.
  4. Providing the type of support that fosters a data-driven culture.
  5. Developing a data system that incorporates data from multiple sources.
Change doesn't kill you...

Change doesn’t kill you…the difficulty is not in developing new ideas but in escaping from old ones  (reflections from case study on literacy program by Jeff Symms).

In making data an ongoing process teachers will need to be taught how to collect and analyse the data. This may be facilitated through the appointment of a data facilitator, who is not just a number cruncher but one who can organise, explain and disseminate the data. Teachers can then interpret, develop hypotheses and modify instruction to suit -well if they had time… .Dr Opfer advised that teachers collect a variety of data including classroom performance (formative assessment) regularly and to look for patterns.  Unfortunately, we don’t seem to have time and thus it often takes a back seat when in fact data should be out on the field, playing and contributing to the learning and teaching in schools. Hence the need for a data-driven approach to be established as a whole school endeavour.  What could we do without in order to make time for targeted professional learning, access to data and to developing a whole school culture?

The conversation continued in Chris Ramsden‘s presentation. He challenged educators to make a

Create the climate

Create the climate

difference and thought teachers need ‘actionable’ data that is tangible and accessible. He introduced the notion of practice-based evidence instead of evidence-based practice. Ramsden discussed the general capabilities and questioned whether they are indeed visible in the learning and teaching in schools. In making a difference do we challenge our students to persevere, to grow and be hopeful of the future? Are we arming them with strategies, modeling empathy and humility and displaying a growth mindset? After all, we do need our students to figure things out for themselves and hence the need to encourage risk-taking and the skills to deal with failure.

David Zyngier (Monash University) was up next to discuss the evidence on the issue of class sizes. Of course, there are many arguments for and against smaller class sizes. I’m sure most teachers would support having fewer students in their classes but what we don’t seem to understand is that reducing class sizes requires a different teaching approach, jut as lengthening or shortening periods in secondary schools require a change in mindset. Dr. Peggy Kern from the University of Melbourne and Janis Coffey from PESA presented arguments in separate presentations for positive education. To create ‘better’ learners said Kern, through a focus on positive psychology, a ‘thrive not just survive’ mentality of holistic education needs to be adopted in schools. With one in four young people diagnosed with a mental disorder and one in four teachers in Victoria suffering stress-related illnesses, Coffey believes that schools can make a big difference in this area.

A lively panel discussion with Kevin Donnelly, Peter Goss and Justin Mullaly followed provoked by my opening remarks:

Are policy and practice truly that separate and what role does research play in the scenario? In evidence-based teaching –what is the evidence on which we base our teaching? Does the evidence that tends to prove or disprove something become the basis of belief or disbelief? And what of belief, which is essentially an opinion or conviction, what role does it play in schools?

Can our judgements as educators be credible? Might the empirical evidence we see, hear and think emphasise a more informed approach to evidence-based teaching? In fact, can it be that instead of evidence-based we perhaps adopt an evidence-informed teaching practice?

As Dylan Wiliam suggested in 2015 “…the simple truth is that, in education, everything works somewhere and nothing works everywhere.” So are we to continuously believe the headlines we read – homework is bad, feedback is good, funding is not making a difference in our schools, or will we ever be able to make and follow through on our beliefs based on evidence-informed judgements? Are we to continuously answer to policy driven practice? What changes need to happen to successfully marry policy, practice, theory and experience in education AND have it truly enhance this highly complex and multifaceted notion of effective pedagogy?

Again and again the importance of giving time to educators so they can collaborate, attend PD, collect and analyse data. Here the implementation gap between policy and practice appears. There is no one answer, yet I think we all agree that evidence of student progress is required to inform practice and influence what teachers do. Justin Matthys (Maths Pathways) uttered one of my favourite lines of the first day “What matters is growth along a continuum – not keeping up with the course.” I wish more teachers would take heed of this advice.

Know your staff...

Know your staff…

I have always maintained that to ‘learn’ your students is a most effective way to assist them in their own learning and to experience ‘success’. The same can also be said in this final message visualised here in a slide presented by Jeff Symms: Know your staff…

End of the first day.

Thanks for reading 🙂

Day 2 reflections here

“Cook dinner, don’t just supply the ingredients” (Tomlinson)

You know when you hear something that really gels with you? It’s that moment when culture meets a light bulb moment and suddenly you know. You know this is something that just has to be said.

That light bulb moment

That light bulb moment

The other day it happened to me, sitting in the ACEL conference listening to Carol Tomlinson talking differentiation. Now this was not the first or even second time I’ve had the pleasure to hear her speak in person. I had even heard the differentiated story she told, but it was the first time I connected with it in a new way.  It really brings to the fore the idea of readiness to learn. In order to learn, one must be open to learning. So when we teach, how do we know whether our students are ready to learn? How do we know if we are ready to learn from them in return?

Tomlinson at ACEL conference 2016

Tomlinson at ACEL conference 2016

Tomlinson compares the ingredients for dinner with that of curriculum. As ingredients, they stand alone but have very little to offer unless combined with other ingredients to make a meal. In fact, depending on the ingredients one can make a myriad of meals using them in different combinations. Let’s take similar ingredients to those that Tomlinson uses in her comparison:

 

Ingredients

Ingredients

The above, when combined, will make a meal (or 5 if you live at my place – if you want a list, I’d be happy to forward one) – the same as all the components of teaching. Teaching isn’t just one ingredient but should be a whole lot of ingredients which are combined to create a great learning experience. In combining the ingredients, however, one doesn’t necessarily have to use them all in every meal but they can be used in different combinations. Teaching is like this too. These ingredients on their own are not very inviting – but in combinations can make a number of really appetising meals.

So let’s compare this idea to teaching. What are some of the ingredients in teaching and learning?

Relationship? I suggest kilos and kilos of it. In fact, in my opinion, there is very little, if any teaching or learning that happens without this ingredient.

Curriculum – knowledge and skills?

Assessment – formative and summative?

Differentiation?

Environment – inviting and safe?

Emotional Intelligence?

Curiosity?

Imagination?

FUN?

Communication?

Collaboration?

Policy?

What else would you add?

Share the commitment to teaching and learning

Share the commitment to teaching and learning

In teaching and learning, there may be any combination of the above and more. Each class would need more or less of these depending on the needs of the students in that particular class. Even if one is teaching the same content to the same year level in two different classes, the ingredients would not be identical in both type and quantity. So when planning your next ‘cooking’ session with your class think carefully about the ingredients and combine them in such a way that really gels with your class. Take the time to ask your students, ‘What would you like for dinner?’ It will help you to become a much better cook, I guarantee it and ultimately they’ll enjoy the meal a whole lot more.

Dinner's READY!!!!

Dinner’s READY!!!!

 

 

Thanks for reading 🙂