What is teaching ready?

Over the last few weeks I’ve been marking Teaching Performance Assessments (TPA) submitted by my 4th year pre-service teachers (PSTs). I have to say nothing in marking has given me more pleasure than reading and assessing PART 1 where they share their context, student group, lesson plans and mentor feedback, and write about their experiences on placement, and what this may mean for their future learning. In a few weeks this latest group of PSTs will complete their studies and hopefully most of them will be out there making a difference to children’s lives.

Every TPA I read was unique, every student had their own way to present and every subject & topic was different. I was enthralled with some of the strategies they used to engage the students from primary, secondary, international, and special schools. This cohort of PSTs are what the Chief Examiner calls ‘bipedagogical.’ They have experienced both face to face and online teaching (no need to explain why). They have experienced the same trials and tribulations as many of my colleagues, moving from one to the other sometimes within hours due to sudden lockdowns. It got me thinking…

The ‘bipedagogical’ teacher

What does it mean to be teaching ready?

Lots and lots and lots of hard work.

Today, it’s not just about the subject or unit you’re teaching. Expertise in these areas is, of course, important but before you get to share this, it is imperative to establish a safe and secure learning environment where you can build relationships with students and understand the contexts from which they come. I’ve shared some ideas about building relationships before here and here. My PSTs on the whole recognised how context affects learning. It means you need to prepare and cater for a diverse range of learners, your learners, in this classroom or in this learning space. It’s pretty daunting coming into an online space with a group of students you’ve never met before from a school you may or may not have visited in person and work with a mentor whom you’ve only recently met.

I often mention to my PSTs that they need to always be carrying a great big bag around (metaphorically of course – as we teachers know, we already have enough ‘stuff’ to cart around), which they can fill with strategies for teaching, learning and reflecting. Every time they see, hear, feel and think of an idea they can use in teaching and learning, they have a place right there into which they store it for that off chance they just might need it in the future. And they will. Even I bagged a few new ones for myself as I was reading through their TPAs. 

The strategy bag

Though these strategies might already be in that bag, somewhere, I might not have used them in a while, or it might be that my PSTs thought about it differently or presented it more creatively than I have thought to do. 

I wanted to share just two that I really liked. 

The first is around questioning for feedback. Think about how you ask your students if they had enough time to finish their task and the connotation that has on them as a learner. “Have YOU had enough time? This type of question might make them feel inadequate or slow if they haven’t completed the task. But what if we turned the question on its head? 

“Have I given you enough time?” What does this question say to our learners now?

The second strategy is an ICT tool called ‘Pear Deck’. Have you heard of it? I hadn’t but it sounded good, so I looked it up. The tech allows you to turn presentation slides like PPTs into interactive activities for your students or anyone else for that matter, so they can actively engage with the learning. Here are 20 ways to use it. My PST used it in his Year 10 English class to have students work as a group or individually at their own pace, responding to questions. Their responses come to your screen where you can give immediate feedback, and can also be shared anonymously on the slide projector for the whole class to discuss.

So, what is teaching ready? Well, for me there’s a list;

  • it’s building relationships,
  • being reflective
  • understanding context,
  • learning how students engage,
  • having expertise in your teaching areas,
  • planning explicitly for teaching and learning
  • understanding how to give and receive feedback for learning,
  • be willing to learn things yourself and …
  • loving it all!

Thanks for reading 🙂

 

Day 8: In Martone, Italy, we meet family & friends we never knew we had!

My Journal, 2014

One of the happiest and proudest moments I think my husband experienced on our travels together was when we visited his mother’s birth town of Martone

8 May 2014

While visiting family close by, “we took the opportunity to visit Martone. This was a 10-minute drive up the hill with the most gorgeous views over the water and little townlets (sic) built into the mountain side. Martone is a little place at the top. After parking the car we walked up to the church. … We went over to a group of people sitting outside to ask if they knew where [my husband’s] mum’s family home was located. This was the beginning of a wonderful sequence of events that led us to find cousins and friends who remembered not only his mum (who left the town when she was 15) but who also still kept in contact with Zio Peppe’! [his mum’s brother in Australia]. An elderly gentleman took us up to the house- not 100 metres up the road and then we were invited into a bar [Osteria ‘La Via del Vino’] owned by a cousin*, Carmela, where she offered us chinotto and where we spent the next hour talking of old times and of people they remembered. It made Joe [my husband] very happy. He wanted to take photos of the street, the people and the church, as if I hadn’t already done so. We met Carmela’s son, Giorgio, and after fond farewells went to the cemetery to pay our respects to other family members who had passed. Joe was soooooo happy and excited to have seen the place. It was terrific!”

Joe in Martone, 2014

*not Joe’s cousin as such but related somehow to the family (twice removed) – you know how it is… 🤣

Thanks for reading 🙂

It’s NOT homeschooling! Here’s why …

Image

Finally, I get to revisit my blog! My offshore Foundation students are sitting exams and my 4th-year PSTs are on professional placement. It’s been a l-o-n-g and exhausting 18 months and it doesn’t seem that we’ll be digging ourselves out anytime soon. Once again our students are showing their capabilities to deal with the ups and downs of online, offline, ‘any-line’ teaching and learning. The media continues to report the impact of ‘homeschooling’ on students and parents. To begin, IT’S NOT ‘home-schooling!’ Please stop reporting it as such. Homeschooling is not run by schools, but is the responsibility of parents or caregivers who may or may not be teachers. Students who are homeschooled are registered to be taught at home – hence the term. Currently students who usually attend school are learning ONLINE due to lockdown and other Covid-19 restrictions.

Online learning

 

Online learning is education that takes place over the internet. While at home, parents should be supervising students as they would at anytime when their children are at home. It’s just tougher right now because, well, they are ALWAYS home, and so are you. Your children might just be thinking the same. The online learning that happens during Covid lockdowns is planned, guided and delivered by teachers on various platforms which may include Zoom, or Microsoft Teams. This learning may be synchronous or asynchronous depending on decisions made by individual schools catering to a vast expanse of student capabilities, access and engagement. School leaders, teachers and learning support staff everywhere have been working above and beyond expectations to ensure our students are learning. We love and care deeply for our students and experience similar emotions about being online. We likewise have families and children at school, bad internet, loved ones who work from home, elderly parents or relatives to look after, meals to prepare, places we cannot go. We too are human. We do not make the rules, but like you must follow government directives to ensure our safety and that of others.

I don’t doubt that parents assist their children with learning tasks, but in online learning, teachers set the agenda. That said, I’d like to offer a suggestion for both parents and educators to help with the daily grind of lockdown learning.

  1. Parents, establish a routine where your children ‘get ready’ for online learning in a similar vein as they do to go to school physically, except forget the uniform, but no pjs, that’s just asking for trouble. Get dressed, have breakfast, brush teeth, yadayadayada, roll call, recess – all screens off, lunch – all screens off, after school go for a walk, play, run, skip, jump, anything but screen for 30 mins. I know teens will need to urgently check their social media, like that’s not what they have been doing ALL day (cue eye roll) but just try it, no screens for 30 mins!
  2. During online learning, I find that sometimes changing spaces helps – this may or may not be possible depending on whether you are using a portable device. Moving to different spaces is the same as reading nooks, desk work, floor or other learning stations in primary classrooms. For secondary aged students, well is the freedom to move around and find a space that suits the subject, like changing classrooms – even standing and writing notes on paper or whiteboards or windows might help. I say this because they mostly have their cameras off anyhow so they might as well be moving around! Hopefully as the weather improves, outside might also be an option for a learning space.
  3. Educators – see points 1 & 2!

Thanks for reading 🙂

 

 

The Learning Support Officer: 5 prompts to share with teachers

This week I returned to Critical Agendas and had a great time facilitating a couple of workshops. The second workshop explored the role of the LSO. This topic is very close to my heart as it is part of my PhD research, of which I have not spoken much about in a while. That’s another story but suffice to say that after much heartbreak and stress I’m getting back on track. I have my wonderful supervisors, my colleagues and mostly my friends and family to thank for that.

Nonetheless, facilitating a workshop about the role of LSOs always makes me happy as I see both teachers and LSOs are open to being challenged. If you know anything about me, you will certainly know I don’t pull any punches when it comes to learning and teaching. I’m passionate about it and I assume everyone else in the most rewarding of all professions is too.

What is my role?

A number of participants approached me after the workshop asking various questions which have prompted this post.

Share the commitment to teaching and learning

 

1. Support the classroom teacher

Schools are very busy places. There are meetings and administration, more meetings and more administration and somewhere in between, we get to do what we really love – teach and learn our students. Rarely do teachers and LSOs get to sit down together and plan lessons for classes, let alone for individual students who might need modified tasks. Hence, many times LSOs are deployed to classes where it is deemed they are most needed.  My advice to LSOs in situations when you arrive at a class and the teacher asks, “Who are you here for?” is very simple. “I’m here to assist you. What would you like me to do?”

2. Effective communication with teachers

There is no doubt that both teachers and LSOs would love more time to collaborate. How and when that happens varies greatly. However, I suggest considering the following when approaching teachers. Communication and collaboration are most effective before class and if they are on-going. I encourage LSOs to continue to make it clear that you are there to support them –the teacher. Arrive with concrete strategies that will assist particular students under your care to learn. Lastly, you need to be accessible.

3. Questions to consider

When LSOs and teachers have an opportunity to collaborate before classes, there are some questions the LSO might consider asking:

What will the students be learning?

What tasks will the students be doing and what will success look like?

How will the lesson/unit be structured and what should I be doing?

What should I watch, listen for and do in the classes?

Collaborating

4. Guide the teacher’s knowledge of the student and how they can best support them in their class.

The teacher brings with them content and pedagogical expertise. The LSO adds information about individual students based on their experience with them across a variety of different classes and situations. This is a wonderful combination which could be enhanced with appropriate questions to pose.

I highly recommend the KUD, that is, what do we want the students to KNOW, UNDERSTAND & DO?

How will we know when ‘Johnny’ understands?

Is it possible to …?

What if …?

What strategies have worked before?

5. The LSO’s role does not include the following:

    • Modifying curriculum
    • Behaviour management
    • Supervising classes
    • Doing the work for students
    • Teaching classes
    • Covering for your students

If you’re interested in exploring this further, please do not hesitate to make contact and organise a workshop for teachers and/or LSOs at your school.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear about your experiences, please comment below.

Thanks for reading 🙂

Reflecting on Suzhou

It’s been only a few weeks since arriving back in Australia after a whirlwind 2 weeks teaching English Conversation classes to university students in Suzhou, China.

While we all hit the ground running catching up with missed classes, study, assessments, meetings, scheduled workshops, family, and life in general here in Australia, a day hasn’t passed that I have not thought about Suzhou. It was a challenging, yet wonderful experience. Not many can say, “Hey, I spent 2 weeks in China teaching English conversation to Masters students.” A-mazing.

This is the last of my Suzhou series and the longest, but it is only now that I feel I can share my learning.

Suzhou Seven

From the very beginning, we dubbed ourselves Suzhou Seven.

Suzhou Seven

Our team leader, Ros worked tirelessly with staff and students in Suzhou, making connections, delivering workshops and running sessions for PhD students who may one day visit and study in Australia. We got to work with 5 young, energetic undergraduate students who possess qualities that are akin to veteran teachers but have no teaching qualifications nor are they studying education.

The Amazing Five (L to R; Eliza, Louis, Jeannie, Gaby & Matt)

Every day we seven facilitated eight ‘Let’s Chat’, English conversational classes, hosting about 240 students from different faculties including Translation & Interpreting, Transportation, Information Technology, Geomechanics/Water Resources, International Business and Industrial Design. We delivered workplace sessions on presenting yourself, networking, and preparing speeches. We collected data for our research about people’s experiences and attended Chineses language sessions every morning. We held planning meetings every day to discuss our workshops and ensure we were meeting the needs of our students. Together, Suzhou Seven was and remains a team to be reckoned with.

Hanging out with our support staff in Suzhou

A cast of thousands

Chris Wen, the General Manager at Monash Suzhou very graciously hosted us with the support staff who worked behind the scenes to ensure our stay was fabulous. They organised our teaching schedules, booked the rooms, bought supplies, booked our cultural experiences, advised us about where to go and how to get there. Matt, our resident Monash staff member in Suzhou, looked after us, giving up his office & the key to the photocopier, showing us around, finding little coffee shops, and giving us invaluable advice on local customs. Winnie, one of our favourite PhD students, took time out of her studies to teach us the language and culture of China every morning. A number of others joined us for evening

Where’s Matt?

cultural experiences including dinners, boat rides, shopping and, of course, karaoke night! Our students were always ready to suggest local eating spots, many helped us order our food when they spied us trying our best to order food unsuccessfully! Some even bought us bubble tea and snacks to try. Peer to peer relationships soon grew and the students began to lead conversations, asking facilitators questions and engaging in ‘small talk’. It felt so good knowing that just being there, taking the time to listen boosted our students’ confidence to communicate in English and made them feel they could do it outside of the classes themselves.

Winnie & Suzhou Seven

Language barrier

I’ve travelled many times overseas, especially over the last dozen years, but this was my first visit to an Asian country. My personal challenge in this regard was the language. For the first time, I experienced a real dilemma in that I literally could not understand the language. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a reflection on the people but a personal realisation. I felt hopeless and even anxious when out and about. I have not felt like this before. Even in countries where I was not overly familiar with the language, I felt I could manage and I did and maybe that was because of my European background. As an educator with many years of experience, I pride myself on being able to understand and interpret what people are saying out loud and internally. I felt I was really in tune with this but now I realise that while my ‘sixth’ sense works in some places, it made little sense to me while I was in China. As an independent, strong middle-aged female I suddenly felt unsure of myself and began relying on my fellow travellers and on the students with whom we were developing strong relationships.

Teaching (and learning) with passion

Buzzing

As a teacher of many years, actually, many, many years I’ve always been open to learning new things but still pride myself on being able to engage my students no matter the content. After all, it’s what I do. I’ve had many experiences also with devising, writing and implementing many programs and curriculum outlines. It was my redevelopment and extension of the existing Let’s Chat units that we based our workshops on during our time in Suzhou. I spent many hours writing, re-writing and meeting with my colleagues to ensure we were on track to meet all the requirements from our host university but still, I felt tense and nervous as I shared in my first and second Suzhou posts.

While it was wonderful to meet our students on that first day, engaging them was a different matter. You see many had very busy study schedules and these classes were slotted into their day. It was our responsibility to make those classes so engaging and relevant that they would keep coming. What I learned over the time working with my team was that they loved doing Let’s Chat as much as I did. The other thing I learned was that passion for what and how you teach is contagious no matter where you are and we all caught that bug. The students kept coming and while those first few days were tough, our confidence was building, we reflected and planned each day to make each session more relevant and as we got to know our students more and more our classes were buzzing. Confidence was building not only in our students but in us as visiting teachers.

And now?

On returning to Australia, to Melbourne, to Monash and to English Connect, I bring with me a different confidence. In my first workshop this week I shared that I had just returned from teaching English in China and I cannot describe the pride I felt in simply articulating that achievement out loud with our international students who attend our workshops. Their smiles and nods of approval cemented in me a sudden realisation that I just want to do it again! I want to do it better. I want to experience more. I want to learn more. I want to keep making a difference.

We haven’t yet had a chance to meet as a team again and share our experience and our thoughts about our Suzhou adventure. Marta, the reason we went to China in the first place and the driver behind what we were able to do is away at the moment but I’m sure she can’t wait to hear. A special thank you should go out to our team back at Monash who held the fort while we were away. Lucas, who had to do both his and Ros’s job, Belinda, without whose help we would never have been able to get out visas and our money, to Negar and Lilian who love excel files and crunch the numbers for us, to the admin staff who re-formatted and copied all our files so we could use them effectively in our classes. And to anyone else who had a hand in getting us to Suzhou and back. I’m personally hoping that this is the first of many associations we have, not only with our colleagues in Suzhou but hopefully, in time, with other Monash Universities around the world. We’ve got this!

To find out what we do at English Connect please visit our website.

Thanks for reading 🙂