Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Changing the way that Parents see Education

One of the most popular schools that I have worked in, prepares its students for exams.  Yes, that is their self-confessed way of working.  And their parents love it.  They see their offspring getting as good a qualification that they can get.  Their children are taught how to memorize and get good marks in exams.  They wear uniforms and all look the same and get treated the same.

And therein lies a big problem for educators because we see our job as educating the students for the future.  Bernadine Oliver - Kirby has written an opinion piece about modern learning environments that has provoked many an educator to writing a response, rebutting her claims.    I am not going into this in depth because it has already been done well by Claire Amos and Maurie Abraham from Hobsonville Point Secondary School, but the issue is a trying one for educators.

Just how do we convince our communities that we are professionals, with the best interests of their children at heart?  It is a tricky one because politics and politicians are agin us for a start.  We have National Standards and NCEA drumming on the doors at every turn, because the government has chosen these ways to measure how successful schools are and, now, again, possibly how much a teacher should be paid.

Sadly, I heard Toni Street and Mike Hosking last night reinforcing the idea that you can give performance pay to teachers, despite very valid arguments from a number of educators, on their show, arguing to the contrary.  They listened to the arguments, said they were good arguments, and then said that they still believed in the concept.  What does it take?  They said that you could measure performance on how much progress the student had made.  Really.  Are we measuring this "progress" by NZQA and National Standards, by any chance?

So you see the popular media are agin us as well.  (Gosh, I hope I am not sounding all Trumpesque.)

So again I say, look to the future to find out what paid work will look like.  Are your children well prepared to be able to use technology to do survive in this world?  Are they well prepared to communicate, collaborate, connect, think critically, create,  and are they culturally competent to be able to respect and interact with people of other cultures?

If you do want to look to the past, ask this of yourself - what did you learn that still has an impact on you and how did you learn it?  Chances are that you were given choice and time to inquire into something that interested you.

And just in case you doubt that linear pathways to qualifications will not be going away soon, check out Sue Suckling, chair of NZQA on the future of education. (Courtesy of Morgan Ngata's youtube).

Education may not have progressed much while you were at school.  It pretty much stayed the same for 150 years.  But don't let that colour your view of the value of changing and what it will be in the future.  And, by the way, it doesn't matter if you lie on the floor for writing practice.  You don't have to learn to do pretty writing in straight lines any more.  We have computers for that.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Making Screencasts Using the Screencastify Extension

Great for making little instructional videos for you learners, or for your learners to make videos explaining their work on the laptop - the Screencastify extension.

Blogging - continuing the journey and growing your practice.

Blogging is an excellent way for students to share their learning.  I came across this guest blog post in Matt Millers - "Ditch that Textbook" newsletter.  A grade 5 teacher, Rayna Freedman, is sharing a number of strategies to embed blogging into teaching and learning.  Have a read through.

Some of my favourite bits are about the integration of digital citizenship into the blog-writing and use of images, connecting to others outside their school and the use of student voice in growing appreciation of blogging as a great multimedia tool.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Okay - It's the First Week of School - What am I going to do with my students?

I've been thinking a lot about the first week of school with secondary students.  Remembering back 5 years, it was always a flurry of timetabling issues, aligning with career choices and parental edicts, and students waiting listlessly in the hot corridors with an appointment to see what subjects they could or would be able to take.  I usually made it to class in the second week, once everyone elses problems were ironed out.  Very messy. I then often jumped straight into subject outlines and assessment expectations.  Ugghh, poor students.

But what if I were back in the class with no other obligations?  What if I could start on day one with the group of learners that I had been "given"? How would I start the year and start building the relationships that are an essential part of learning.  I am assuming that I am in a one-to-one class so that everyone has their own device and they have a gmail address.

Introductions come first.  Who am I?  Sharing who I am and about my family, including pets, my background and where I came from to be in this class, would be first priority.  I would start out with a  slide on a shared class slide presentation - a digital mihi.  Then, sharing the URL,  I would invite the students to add their own slide.  Away they would go.

As they worked I would be able to see who needed help with signing in, preparing a slide, who needed a digital citizenship lesson (interfering with other slides, having inappropriate content, disrespecting others work etc).  I could move through the class addressing editing issues as they arose or leaving a discussion to be had to after the lesson finished.

Establishing relationships is essential. Homework would be to complete this slide with your whanau - include some photos or a video on your slide. Ask whanau for some feedback on the slide that you have made - collect their thoughts on a doc or in audio on your phone (if you have one).  Share their thoughts with me, the teacher.  I give feedback to the whanau and thereby make the connection to the whanau.

Feeling at home in the classroom.  I would ask the students to have a discussion about the layout of the classroom and then move the furniture if they wished.  (This can be repeated for each class).  This would give me an opportunity to observe who had leadership skills, who did not interact well with others and who did.  Students would be invited to bring their own comfort items ( for example, cushions, cups, decor) to the class if they wished, with the rider that it would need to be able to be locked away by them in the teacher's cupboard between their classes.

Finding out more about my learners.  I would also have a link to an online form ready for them to fill out, name, gmail address, phone number and address, what do they like/not like about school, what sports they play, if they have an afterschool job, what are there reasons for taking this subject, what are their short term goals, what are their hopes and aspirations for the future, what is it important that I know about them and the way they like to learn, and anything else that they would like to share.  I use this information or lack of it (what are they willing to share) to start to get to know my learners.

Notice there has been nothing about the subject that I teach to this point.  It is all about finding out who we are as individuals and how we might be and learn as a group.

Information about the subject.  It is not until the next period that I would ask them what they know about this subject.  And I wouldn't ask it that way.  I would ask them to share what they know about my subject on a padlet. An anonymous one.  They would learn from each others prior knowledge.

Prior knowledge and knowledge building.  I would let them discuss similar ideas on the padlet, and then I would ask them to write or express through photos or audio or video, through Google Classroom on a private document, 10 questions that they would like to find the answer to about this subject.  And share it with me.  And then research the answers themselves and return the document to me.  I would be able to see who has the ability to ask deep questions and who needs help with writing and spelling and expressing their ideas.  They could find a buddy to work with to share their questions and their findings.  And I would be able to see who has trouble working with others and who is shy and who is not.  And still I have not "taught" them anything but their knowledge has grown simply through sharing.

Recording their work.  I ask the students to start a blog about what they learn in this class and share it with me and their whanau. I ask them to embed the padlet in the blog.  I have little screencast videos on the class website which shows them how to do this.  They are given a URL and a QR code to access the class website - it is up on the wall in the classroom and they each have a laminated copy to take home, stick on their computer or whatever they want to do with it.

Building a big picture of the relationship of this subject to others.  They need to know how this subject relates to others.  Make a list of their other teachers.  The students need to assign one student per teacher a few questions.  They need to come up with questions they can ask all of their teachers to find out how this subject is related to them or their subject.  They could send the teacher an email or ask them to fill in a form. Share their findings on a class platform (google drawing or popplet.)  Look for similarities and differences and opportunities to work across subject areas.  Reflect in their blog what connections might be useful to them as the year progresses.

Building a big picture of the relationship of this subject to the world they live in.  Who are the experts in their class, in their community and in the world beyond?  Where can they go to for help or more information?  When have they learnt enough?  Do they have to stop learning about a topic? What is the difference between knowing enough for assessment and becoming an expert in a field?  I show videos about applications of this subject and career opportunities for discussion starters in class. I invite the students to share a video that they have found or made about how this subject is important to them.  The students reflect on their findings in their blog.

How will they know if they have learned enough to pass an assessment?  On the class website is information about assessment opportunities that they can take when they feel they are ready as well as those which may be examined at the end of the year.  There are exemplars of assessments. What they need to know to be able to pass with Achieved, Merit or Excellence?  They can take online trial assessments to see if they are ready for the formal assessment. They can start learning more at any time, because each assessment information guide has information about possible contexts for them to study and they can discuss these with me, the teacher, at any time.  They explore these and start  thinking about what assessments they might like to try.

In the first week, I have defined my role through my actions.  My job is to learn when to inspire, retreat, cajole, facilitate, intercede, share, rattle the cages, intervene, give choices to, and laugh with this group of young people I have before me for a year, or maybe more if they love what they are doing in this class.  I am a teacher.


Saturday, 4 February 2017

And so you are a professional educator?

Every now and then, I come across a teacher who has no clue what their profession is about. Now while it is good to not be in a an echo chamber (refer to my blog post last September), it pains me that these people have had at least 3 years preparing for their profession, add in 2 years of advice and guidance, and on top of that, a principal who each year appraises them and attests to their professional standards and capabilities.

These teachers are paid at an equivalent rate to their peers. Their learners are dependent on their professional knowledge and expertise to grow as learners.

And while I would like to make soothing sounds and say it is alright, it is not.  Not when they don't understand that it is not their job to "fill in time" during the day.  It is not okay just to keep your learners busy, and I refuse to give them more ideas to keep their learners busy.

 So if you are a teacher who gives your learners work just to keep them occupied during the day (or night) then STOP IT! Start asking yourself, what do these learners need to be, do and know and start helping them find out how.  You have 39 weeks starting now.