Friday, May 5, 2017

The beauty that is co-teaching

After a wonderful first week back, I was reflecting on the place that co-teaching has had in how our learning environment has succeeded this year.

I co-teach with an experienced teacher who has taught in other countries, as well as years in Aotearoa.  She knows that even from a young age, learners are assessment capable and her high expectations means that her learners thrive academically. Her valuing of relationships means her learners are happy, safe, open to being challenged. She does not avoid challenging conversations with colleagues, either, helping us to reflect on our beliefs and practices. She believes learning contexts should be relevant to our lives and useful right now, that dispositions and key competencies should underpin all learning. She is a learner, currently doing the Mindlab post-grad diploma, and her learning there is benefiting us both in many ways (and I don't have to the assignments!) I think co-teaching with someone who has the same moral purpose and beliefs about teaching, learning, students and life has been the main reason this year is going so well.

We are two year 4/5/6 classes in two, old-style single cell classrooms with an open concertina door in the middle. We have little fancy furniture (second hand ottoman, crates with cushions on top, a couple pf squabs). We don't have one desk per child, we have one place to sit, so we have lots of space. We have table groups that sit 4, 6, 8 or 9. Or there's the floor, cushions, crates. We have a quiet zone that looks like a lounge room, and an art/construction area where all those resources are. There are no withdrawal spaces, and we separate spaces when necessary with a couple pf low screens. We are a 1:1 device classroom.

One of the main benefits of sharing a teaching space has been being able to lessen the range of learning levels in key areas (namely maths, reading, writing). If I was solo, I would be teaching level one to level four in all these areas (like many NZ classrooms, and as I have done before).

For example, in reading. My co-teacher has expertise and interest in running a junior literacy programme, and I have more experience and passion for the higher levels. Therefore we split our learners according to their next learning steps within closer levels. There are times we group using reading levels to hone certain skills, and other times we will have mixed reading levels to develop concepts and ideas, as well as reading skills. We plan our overview together so our learners are getting the big ideas we want them to (based on what they have identified as important- our whole learning programme is based on developing our theme) and then we use our expertise to plan and implement learning that will best suit our learners. I love knowing my readers still 'learning to read' are getting great reading experiences, and it saves time not planning for a huge range of diverse reading needs. We have a lot of conversations about how our learners are doing, do they need to change teachers, what are we noticing that we may need to include in our teaching planning. We will write the report comments for those we teach, and during conferences we ensure we knew where our learners were at to talk with whānau and students.

It is similar with writing. We will start together to unpack some writing skills we are focusing on (eg using a range of language features) then move into two groups where we can then best target writing planning, modelling etc to the needs of our learners. Again, we plan big ideas together, discuss observations, identify children who need to move around. I worry less about losing students to what we are trying to learn, and spend less time talking to the class, and more time talking to individuals.

Initially in maths, we tried working all 49 students together in mixed ability group using rich problem solving tasks. At this stage, we feel it didn't benefit many of the students as much as we had hoped so have again split into more closely related groups and can really target what our learners need. We can already see  a positive impact on this with many of my learners showing an enthusiasm for maths and willingness to tackle some more challenging problems. We still have rich tasks at the heart of our maths programme working in mixed ability groups, but how we help learners develop these skills is different. Mine still need a lot more number knowledge learning, and I have enjoyed challenging myself to ensure I am using a wide range of materials to help them get it.

We are doing Sports Start P.E P L & D this year, and it's awesome. In term one, we went out in our classes which was weird in itself as there were times I wasn't sure who was 'officially' in my class! This term we are grouping more in the year levels they are working at (which is how Sports Start progresses skills) and again, we can target our learners strengths and next steps. We have syndicate sports in cross syndicate teams, so we have opportunities to mix up classes and abilities and learn a different set of skills.

During art, we work as one class. My co-teacher and I take turns planning the unit so that is not only a wonderful time saver and opportunity to move into a support role rather than lead teaching role, but it also brings a whole new range of exciting art learning for me as well!

There are other times we work as a whole class, like if we are doing some unpacking of 'topic' themes, teacher reading, going to assembly. We talk about ourselves as one class, having 49 learners and two teachers. When I talk to parents, whether they are "officially' one of  mine or not, I always say I am one of .... teachers. We send emails signed off from both of us. The students talk about their two teachers. Parents have seemed open to talking to either of us for the majority of the time. If there is a child who is needing extra support from outside agencies, we generally both attend meetings. Some children gravitate towards one of us more than the other, and it's great learners have a choice about who to talk to. For those learners who need more support to manage themselves, sharing the load is a relief. Neither teacher is the superior, there is no hierarchy.

So in a time where we are focussed on helping students develop more personal learning pathways, co-teaching has really helped reduce the load and increase the impact of teaching and learning. Having a co-teacher that is facing the same direction as you is vital. Time to talk is vital.

And you can come home on a Friday night and know that it was a great week.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Community engagement in learning: how this supports our passion projects

As we started our passion projects across the senior school, we knew it would help quite a few of our learners if we introduced them to some new hobbies and interests. Not everyone had a quick answer to the questions, "What are you passionate about?", "What do you love to do on the weekend/when you have free time?" or "What do you want to know more about or want to be able to do?" 

Passion ignition workshops worked really well at Akoranga o Naenae, and the senior teachers were very open and keen to bring in experts to excite and spur on our students. Also, our Infinity learning maps showed that our learners could identify a few key people, places and tools that supported their learning and we could see their learning environments would benefit from being expanded with our workshop experiences and explicit teaching and reflecting. 

The process went something like this:

* Brainstorm a whole bunch of "things' our students had shown an interest in or we thought perhaps many had not been exposed to before that may 

* Those on the team who may have had connections to some of the people bagsed them to contact, the rest we shared out. 
* We emailed the experts and invited them in to work with our learners.
* We set up an overview to ensure we had everything under control.
* Students chose three workshops. We made them "passports" so they knew what workshops they were in, what order, what room. They hung these around their necks and it worked really well.
* The day came, it was amazing. 

 We were so thrilled by how many people we approached agreed to give us their time and expertise. In fact, there were so many the teachers didn't have to run any workshops; we could check in on groups/kids, take photos, do the activities. It was wonderful. 

When we emailed the experts, we were really explicit the workshops hand to be very hands-on, snappy (there were three half hour workshops) and fun. They all obliged and delivered. 

We just wanted to do a special shout out to the Science Learning Hub. A plea was put out on Twitter and, almost instantly, they connected us with Te Papa, MetSevice and the Malaghan Institute. 

Displaying DSC_1201.JPGThe mix of experts was really interesting. There were whanau from our school (including our board chair), businesses from the Wainuiomata community, businesses from Lower Hutt and right out to Wellington. There was a lot of variety in what students got to learn about, tools they used, and people they connected with. Many have used the passion ignition workshops as a launch pad for their current passion projects, and have been back in touch with the experts for information and asking to visit. 

The other day, there was a Twitter feed around the place of community engagement in learning - why go there? There was rich discussion and many reasons to do this summarised by @nzcurriculum into four main ideas: it's the intent of our curriculum, it serves the needs of each unique community, it creates a localised curriculum, and it helps to build productive partnerships and relationships with the community. All these things were evident during our passion ignition workshops where our learners talked about people they knew in common with or experts, examined clouds in our sky (and beyond), diseases that affect us, planting seeds for our gardens at home, how to care for our pets, drawing our favourite characters and more. And these connections are continuing to blossom and grow. In fact, we cannot think of one negative thing about the whole experience. 

All our experts have said they would love to come back and do it all again in Term 3. And we can't wait!

We would like to especially thank these experts who were so magnificent and shared their passions and their time with our learners and us:

  • Ma'ao (coding)
  • Adrienne (sewing)
  • Lisa (MetService, weather)
  • Kara (Malaghan Institute, disease)
  • Chrissy and Amber (The Warehouse, Wainuiomata, planting)
  • Brianna and Kerry (hip hop)
  • Mitch (drawing)
  • Aidy, Erica and Nicole (Blue Carrot Catering, cup cake decorating)
  • Matt (SPCA, animal care)
  • Jimmy and Tracey (Car care)
  • Leon and Scott (Te Papa, botany)

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Active learner dispositions + passion projects - scaling up what we learned at Akoranga o Naenae

Last year, I was part of collaborative initiative where we brought together 48 mostly priority learners one day a week to explicitly develop the skills and knowledge of being an active learner and apply this to a project of their choice (passion). We were off site in a community space, it was for a set amount of days (the first round 14, the second round 12) and we only had face to face contact with most of the students once a week. 

It was awesome for so many reasons, check out our blog to find out why if you're interested. 

But it was never meant to be forever. It was always a place and time to check out our hunches, refine some thinking and hone our practices with the support of our group (our Naenae network). 

Back in our schools, there have been changes as a result of our learning at AoN. Clare and Natasha will share their stories from their schools. This is what's happened at my school. 

One thing is I moved to a new school in Wainuiomata. The leadership team were familiar with the AoN stuff, and one of the school values is being an active learner; they could see how these two things could be brought together. 

So here is a bit of a timeline about how we introduced and developed passion projects. We started in the senior team (years 4-6, 114 students, 4 teachers).

1. Importantly, we all decided developing the skills of active learners was important and relevant for our students. We were all enthusiastic about developing these together across the syndicate. If everyone had not been keen, I don't believe it would be useful to have pushed/forced them into it, but rather hoped that seeing the positive impact on students would draw them in at some stage. For the start anyway.

2. At a meeting, we all chose one resource from a variety available. We had two questions in mind as we viewed them: why is it important to develop active learners? What are the traits and dispositions of an active learner? (We recently did a similar activity with colleagues across the network). We then connected our thinking with the traits and criteria from AoN, and with a bit of tweaking, they were now ours. They will continue to be adapted as we learn and change. 

3. We started planning how the days would look. Once again, we used a lot of the resources from AoN (why reinvent the wheel?) The aim was to start by unpacking the traits with some hands-on workshops. Then have a passion ignition session where many experts would come in from the community to expose our learners to some new areas of potential interest. Then students would then start their own projects. 

4. We decided to have passion projects on a Monday - some attendance data suggested this would be a good day. We decided on a communal space at school where we would do our key learning together. We put displays up such as the traits, we share the planning for the day with all our students, put up motivational quotes to get students thinking. 

5. All this fits in perfectly with our network learning too. All three schools are using Infinity Learning Maps to identify what change priority area linked to global trends we wanted to focus on, and patterns showed a common focus on moving from passive to interactive. 

It's six weeks in, and every week it's exciting! And noisy! And we are all learning so much. Since we have started, the junior team have developed the continuum of active learners traits to best support their younger learners so it is becoming a common language across our school.  

One student I spoke to yesterday asked if we were going to be doing Passion Projects every Monday. I replied affirmatively. His shoulders slightly slumped. I asked why wouldn't you want it? He said, "It just makes me tired thinking so much". I said it was the best thing I'd heard! 

Already we have had some amazing community engagement and some exciting projects unfolding, there are things to celebrate and challenges to nut out, but that's another post. 

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Educamp 2016 reflections, actions.

I am often very happy to live in Wellington; its beautiful landscape, flat whites, bush walks and beaches. I was especially happy after a few hours spent with a bunch of enthusiastic, passionate and knowledgeable educator-learners yesterday at the second @Welly_Ed #Educamp. 

An incredibly well organised and smoothly flowing unconference full of rich ideas and opportunities to talk and listen and learn about things that have been percolating at the back of one's mind. I actually needed to have three bodies to get in front of all the people I really wanted to. Probably not a bad thing as my brain has been ticking overtime non-stop since then. More input may have caused oozing from the ears!

The smackdown was awesome! I love how it helped focus what I wanted to know more about because I was having a Saturday morning mind blank. All I knew was I was going to Socratic Smackdown. I needed some help. 

I have had the luck of working with a principal, Denise Sainsbury, who taught me how important it is to ensure things are cohesive and connected. To avoid cherry picking. To really think about how what I am about to launch in to benefits the students in front of me. I am blessed my new principal, Andrea Scanlan, is skilled at this too. So I am going to now take the time to reflect and connect what I got from #Educamp with my 2016 goals of 1) ensuring my practices grow my students as active learners, and 2) that I fulfill my word of the year - application. 

Discussion facilitated by Paula Hay and Tim Kong. Very practical and clear. 

  • Range of information and resource types available under searches. 
  • Opportunity to share and have resources critiqued by colleagues. 
  • Opportunity to curate content in a 'bucket'.
    • Great for me to store resources of a similar 'theme' so I can find them later
    • Can put information in a bucket and share URL with students so they can still learn to find good information content, but from already identified (by me) good content (or whatever it is I need them to learn/practise). This is a good skill for learners to be more active in their learning as they can bring resources to a group (reading etc) that they have identified as useful, rather than me. 
    • Can follow useful buckets, such as 'Tools for the Classroom'
    • Can have 'draft' bucket (wish Twitter had equivalent)
  • Kids can access some Pond resources without signing in. 
    • An excellent idea shared that you can ask kids to find a variety of resource types eg audio, clip, written text, under a theme. I have asked kids to do this in the past but it can be overwhelming for some as many skills are involved. 
There were a tonne of other features, but I see these ones as having immediate changes on my teaching (and hopefully student learning). 

Wondering: wonder if Paula or Tim would come to our next planning meeting to help us locate resources...

Of the four sessions, this one least matched what I imagined it would be about. However, I still sucked some good thinking from the people in the room and scratched some ideas down in my notebook. 
  • Karyn Grey talked how at her Gisborne area school, they transitioned students when they showed they were ready for transition. Not when the year dictated readiness/convenience. Add this idea to "dream school" cogitation. 
  • She mentioned a website, "The quo has lost its status" so adding this to the reading list. 
  • There was a lot of talk about 'student/learner agency' and how to develop this in classrooms, schools etc. I struggle with having me as only teacher help students meet their individual academic learning/ emotional/ social/ active learner needs. How might co-teaching help this? 
  • Someone in the room behind me (sorry, I think it was Jono Broom??) said how he has to teach his students to reflect well against goals they have set. AHA! Of course we do, but it made a piece fall into place. Before I rush into getting students to drive their own learning (as I was wondering how to do quickly, like tomorrow) I need to make sure they have the skills. So obvious, I know, but I was cart before the horse-ing. Again. So. 
    • How can I make learning transparent for learners so they feel confident to identify a range of strengths and next steps in their academic learning and of themselves as active learners, know how to find and keep a log of evidence of goals met, keep identifying next steps and what the impact of these has been and will be on their learning (i.e.why bother??) 
    • When I was at a "curriculum of the Future' workshop last year, I listened to Ally Bull talk about a science profile for learners. That day I imagined an active learners profile. Now I am going to think about a profile of all these ( like an e-portfolio) but in addition to student, teacher and parent/whanau voice, I have thought about ensuring students get community voice. Like if they were doing a community based project (inquiry, design, passion) they would get an expert they connected with to give them feedback as well and use this as part of their evidence of success and next steps. 
    • Back to transparent learning: we start our Akoranga o Naenae satellite at K.P.S. next week where we explicitly teach learners about what it is to be active, and help them know when they have been, apply to a passion project etc. I have some reading/writing rubrics based on NZC, Learning Progressions and National Standards in  kidspeak I developed with some colleagues ready for use. They all have gmail accounts so I just need to work out the best platform to pull all these together. 
Design thinking
Conversation facilitated by Philippa Antipas. Lots of very excited discussion. 

  • Last year at #Educamp I went to a session on 'making'. I came away confused as to how this was different from some of the inquiry contexts I was already doing where kids may end up making something to solve a problem. I have been seeing the phrase 'design thinking' around and added this to the "I'm confused how this is different" kete. But half an hour in a Design Thinking session has clarified much. 
    • The main difference for my thinking and practice is that DT always has an actual real problem that needs solving with an actual solution. It is really about the user; who is affected by solving this problem, and how will they be affected. 
    •  It's beneficial to 'stay with the problem' for a while and not rush to solutions. Really get to know the problem. 
    • Remember to take the time to work out how the solutions will impact everyone involved. Get input. Ask. Analyse. 
    • As with good inquiry, there are 'iterative loops'. 
    • Good resources: Slack, Trello, Future in Tech, No Tosh, K12 Stanford Uni wiki, Kelly Bothers, IDEAL (excuse any errors, haven't checked my poor note taking for accuracy).
  • For me: in class, we are designing our own school. I have not let the students identify or sit with the current problem - what's wrong with school? They have done a task of identifying what helps and what hinders/stops their learning. Most of the 'hinder' stuff was around behaviour. I need to push them beyond that. This will be assisted as all the groups I have been working with share what they have learned about the seven innovative schools we have been reading about, and we examine the role of learners/teachers/technology/places of learning/how students are grouped across the different schools. Then analyse our own school. 
  • It will be a great process for our next topic which is around what we can do to improve our local community. 
Socratic Smackdown
Run by Becca @paradisecreated. Practical. Interactive. Hilarious. 
This was the session I KNEW I was going to after a flurry of Twitter activity pre #Educamp. After watching 'Most Likely to Succeed' and seeing a teacher use the Socratic questioning method with his college class, I was wondering how I could get all my kids there. Socratic Smackdown is how. 
  • Very specific discussion skills and strategies students are awarded points for using, or deducted if not beneficial to the group. 
  • Love: 
    • short and snappy - 6 minute discussions on set topic (novel study, current event, provocative statements) 
    • Benefits more than just the people actively talking, they are scored individually so that doubles the people involved straight away
    • Are scored as individuals and as a group
    • Highly reflective
    • Gets kids being aware of how to be active in discussions
    • Can mix up people talking, scoring to vary dynamics
    • Can adapt skills and strategies to suit learners
  • For me: have kids who easily go off task. The scoring aspect may hook them in, and the fact I can add specific strategies (ie not participating) to deduct points. 
  • One of our active learner traits at Akoranga o Naenae was 'question'. One of the success criteria of this trait was around being able to clarify and challenge others' thinking through questioning. Socratic Smackdown will assist this as it develops interactive, critical thinkers. 
  • Very concrete and practical
  • Resource: Institute of Play.
If only I'd got to:
  • Seesaw
  • Gaming for learning/game design by kids for learning
  • Banqer
  • Google read and write
but I will get there somehow. 

  • Definitely attend "creating our dream school" currently being organised on Twitter as mooted by Paula Hay. 
  • Offer to buy Leanne Stubbing craft beer as I am keen to hear about a few things she is up to. 
  • Get some sleep before another week of application begins!

Thanks @Welly_Ed. A great way to spend a Saturday. 

Saturday, January 23, 2016

A new year begins - yeehah!

The start of the year is always exciting for teachers, isn't it? Maybe a new class, maybe a new role,
maybe a new school. This year I'm excited to be doing all these things.

For the first time in may years I will be a full time classroom teacher for a group of year 5/6 students at a decile 4 school in the Hutt Valley. At this stage I know one student; this is a very different feeling after being in a school where I knew almost  all the kids, and their siblings and probably their whanau. It means I have to do things differently on day one. This is a great way to start a year where I want to do lots of things differently.

Over the last few years, I have been so lucky to have participated in and attended some really cool educational things that have had a big impact on my thinking and practice:
  • Being part of a Learning and Change network (LCN) with 5 other schools (plus connecting with other networks at regional meetings each term for a couple of years, meeting others with similar roles from around the country, attending National Networking hui etc)
  • Attending Ulearn14
  • Attending Welly_Ed events
  • Instigating Akoranga o Naenae with colleagues
  • Curriculum of the future (Edgeworks & NZCER)
  • Been a facilitator of a student mapping pilot project 
As well as that, I have read a heap of stuff and talked to lots of people and watched a tonne of clips and listened to heaps of podcasts that have excited me and stretched my brain. 

This year, I find myself in the wonderful position of being able to attempt to put these things into my daily practice. The purpose of this blog then is to really keep track of my learning, hopefully get some feedback and ideas from fellow educators, continue to connect and grow.  

I am currently in the middle of Grant Lichtman's "#Edjourney" which is a rich and interesting read. He wrote this:

I would add "learn from adults within and beyond this room" and this is pretty much my professional goal for the year. 

I watched with interest the tweets about #oneword last year, I saw it via @AKeenReader first. I really liked it although can't remember if I got around to narrowing 2015 down to one word. However this year I have. It popped into my head and hasn't left although I have tried to find an alternative one. I wanted something warm and fuzzy, or deep and meaningful or at least sexy. But 2016 is not the year for it I guess. My 2016 word is practical, hard-working, but it does give me tingles of excitement because if I can make this word happen, it will be a pretty cool year. 

2016. My year of 'application'. Defined by Google as 'the action of putting something into operation'. Yup. That pretty sums it up.

My goals for application as I start the year are something like:

* Be more responsive around teaching next steps by using flexible grouping more, especially more mixed ability groups.
* Break out my habitual (fixed) thinking around 'literacy time', 'maths time', 'topic time' etc. I plan in a integrated way, I want to teach in a more flexible way without losing what I know is pedagogically sound practice.
* Explicitly teach the dispositions and traits of an active learner.
* Make sure a good chunk of time is dedicated for students to pursue their interests.
Teachinh continuum.png* Make everything we do relevant and necessary, both academically and for student engagement, and make this really clear to all concerned.
* Put learners into the assessment process. An area I have planned for so often, but have never fulfilled the potential.
* Ask myself before I plan anything: who is going to be doing the thinking? If I get this right, it shouldn't me that benefits by doing all the thinking.

Some of these I have dabbled with in the past, others I have more poked with a long stick every now and then. But not this year, the year of application.

So here we go!