Sunday, 3 March 2019

2019 Plans

For 2019 our year 3/4 cohort on average, tested lower than previous cohorts. In particular, we have 60+ students working 1.5+ years behind their expected level in literacy.
As a team we are focusing on lifting the achievement of students working 1 - 1.5 years behind in reading.
We test the students in June and November using PM Benchmark - unseen texts.

The results of 23 of my reading class from November 2018 are below. These students are all working 2+ years behind expected.

Target students for 2019 are highlighted

The challenge that I face is how to lift children in an area of schooling that is essential to all other curriculum learning. Without reading, most students fall way behind in other academic and even social areas.
By placing all 28 students in one literacy class, but within a larger MLE - I am able to support the deeper learning needs, but still maintain examples of excellence from higher achieving students within our MLE.

My question I am asking is, In our quest for digital initiative, have we lost sight of traditional pedagogies that work for our more vulnerable learners?
In my 10+ years of being innovative, embracing new technologies and creative approaches, I have seen many of our students thrive across all areas of the curriculum. But how many are missing out?
This year, my literacy group are the ones who have missed out. My job is to adjust and adapt our flexible curriculum to provide an onramp to vocab learning, increased confidence, a sense of achievement and improved test results.

I am reformatting our bank of Explain Everything resources to support older, lower level students. With a focus on high frequency word learning, sentence structures (surface and deep) and basic comprehension.
We are using collaborative engaging technologies to learn to read and spell high frequency words.
We are upping reading mileage - through read to, read with and home reading.
We are harking back to analogue book work with a focus on taking pride in handwriting and book layout. This may seem superficial, but I truly believe that we have lost many fine motor skills that actually support the students to look for detail in text and self correct errors. These skills are pencil grip, letter formation, using a ruler and visual spatial skills such as layout.

As always, I am placing the Key Competencies at the centre of this learning with these students focusing on Self Management and Participation (being successful at school).

Monday, 5 November 2018

Cybersmart Blog Commenting

With the Annual Manaiakalani Film Festival fast approaching, we are ready for the just in time check in that our kids are up to speed with Cybersmart blog commenting.
Blog commenting is an integral part of our literacy program but not always directly taught each and every week. With such a big push this week on blog comments, we wanted to come up with an activity that honed these skills and brought the known blogging kaupapa to the forefront of the kids' minds.

We've experienced a lot of success this year using analogue strategies to promote discussion and collaboration. We decided to tackle this challenge creatively using paper, glue and scissors.
The children were grouped in friendship groups that would encourage talking and sharing, but also getting the task completed.

The task was to watch 4 old Maniakalani Film Festival movies from years past - we purposely chose movies that we knew the children would not have watched - however, we also chose movies that were created by older siblings/cousins - to enhance some connection and engagement.

We gave the children pre-crafted sentences that pertained to a particular movie as well as more generic sentences that could match almost any movie. The challenge was to select three sentences that matched each movie to create a comprehensive comment. There was a lot of need for discussion and reasoning as the groups tried to narrow down which sentences were best fit for which movie.

Each group then glued their selected sentences onto a template in order to complete their comment.

The challenges faced by the children were around actually watching the movies and paying close attention to what set each movie apart and to find matching comments.
They also struggled with realising that the movies were "tabbing" within the browser and that they needed to hunt back in previous tabs to find the links of movies still needed to watch.

The "reward" for getting the comments completed was to have access to the entire back catalogue of Manaiakalani Movies - an absolute treat as the kids explored literal hours of child generated content.

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Teaching Grammer

In our 3 class space we switch around learning groups depending on student needs, teacher needs and relationships. Currently I am teaching a group comprising 10 kids who are reading between 1 - 2years behind their chronological age and who are struggling to write complete sentences with sufficient detail.

An activity that I have tried in the past introduces the language of words and sentence structure and then encourages the children to play with the words to create different sentences which still hold essentially the same meaning.

10 years ago, PLD with Jannie van Hees introduced me to English grammar (despite 13years of schooling in NZ) and the importance of explicitly teaching grammar to ESOL students to enhance understanding of how words can be put together to create powerful sentences.
I made word packs with verbs, adjectives and adverbs - individually laminated and colour coded. Added to this are a small set of prepositions and blank cards for writing nouns.

To start with I'd give each group individually selected words that would make sentences - simply. The idea was to have the children be successful in putting the words together. Once the sentences were put together, we discussed the role of each word in the sentence and the power that they hold.
We spoke about verbs and how adverbs come in to play to modify the verb or to add more detail which gives the audience a greater understanding. We talked about nouns and how adjectives play a role in adding detail. We also looked at how prepositions can be used to add further context to a sentence. We played around with the order of the words and looked at how a sentence can still share the same message and use the same words - even if put in a different order.

The most powerful part of this activity is listening to the groups discuss and work through each set of words as they attempt to make the most detailed and powerful sentence. They argue with each other, back themselves and yet still listen when faced with a different point of view. We found that on most occasions, once the sentence is said out loud, the children were very quickly able to ascertain the validity of what they had constructed.

There is always great enjoyment in this particular activity and as we become more practiced at the grammar and structure, we are starting to choose the words blindly from the packs and are taking the opportunity to learn new vocabulary.

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Argumentation, Justification and Using Scissors

We noticed in our cohort this year that most of the children struggled to use scissors, use glue "sparingly" and have those constructive learning conversations with their peers. Using a device meant that we could complete these sorts of "cut and paste" activities with less mess and less fuss, but the children were missing the vital fine motor skills and the art of argumentation and justification.

We hypothesised that by having the activity printed and in hard copy in front of the group, we would illicit argumentative discussions that would encourage the children to justify their points of view more readily and more strongly.
We set the context around punctuation as this was the main area in our E-Asttle testing that was letting this group down.
Our groups were friendship based in the hope to encourage the conversation.
The task involved scissors, glue, crayons and lots of talk.

Initial excitement was high as we explained the activity to the class. They were excited to work with friends and excited to rotate round different activities, to complete a variety of tasks.
We were fortunate to have a third year student teacher in class, which meant that we could have slightly smaller group sizes at each station which made some of the management slightly easier.

The activities that the children completed in rotation were

  • Organising sentences into simple and complex sentences.
  • Constructing complex sentences from dependent and independent clauses.
  • Punctuating simple and complex sentences
  • Punctuating a complete paragraph.

Each group had to work together, justify and explain before cutting, pasting and taking a photo to insert onto their Google slides.

We noticed as we introduced our activity and supported the kids through the learning, that while not all the children completely grasped the concept being taught- every child embraced the idea of team work and discussion. The students who lacked the initial knowledge, thrived on listening to their peers and offering input when they felt confident. The students who went into the activity with more confidence, learnt to assist their friends and to listen to others points of view and to build new knowledge of their own. This discussion and listening built well on what we have been practicing during DMiC this year.

The fine motor skills were definitely challenged with many groups cutting through work instead of neatly around it, too much glue being used and not being able to glue papers to fit in correct spaces. However each student could use an iPad effectively to take photos and upload their work to the right folder. I'm not sure we should be sacrificing one skill for another - so more work to be done on the more analogue tasks.

The children loved being more active in their learning and the classroom was a buzz with that fine line between chaos and lively discussion. As teachers, we enjoyed listening to the children talk and argue, as well as problem solve and work through issues and differing points of view.

We endeavour to do an activity such as this involving groups, discussion and analogue processes at least once a week. We owe our kids the best of both worlds to ensure they develop a range of essential learning tools.

Sunday, 5 August 2018

Engagement with Real Learning

Like all classrooms, we strive to ensure that our kids are engaged with cognitive learning as often as possible. The trouble lies in "What engages their brains best?" and "How do we even know?"
Too often I see kids sat behind screens looking engaged in what they've been set, yet in actual fact they are simply engaged in deception - How can I look busy and thoughtful while actively practicing avoidance? This is a skill that our kids develop early. I am lucky in teaching the younger ones, that this skill is not yet fully developed and is quite easy to spot.
Despite this, keeping kids actively engaged in meaningful learning is a complex task.

I've written many times about the importance of Key Competencies to actively drive academic learning. When teaching through key competencies, activities and experiences can't help but become engaging, fun and active. Collaboration, respect, self management, thinking, creating, critiquing and communicating - vital skills to hang the three Rs on.

I don't believe that children should be sitting anywhere ever for too long - our classroom designs now allow for more spaces, flexible spaces and different spaces. With multiple teachers in a space we now have the possibility to have a variety of activities and opportunities to suit all kinds of learning. We need to harness these possibilities and not just have kids sitting at tables, behind screens for the majority of their day.

Now that we are over halfway through the year, the 80 children in our space are a well oiled family. We've spent 20weeks establishing our whanau and the kids are all ready to fly with their learning and have some fun doing so.
We're encouraging our kids to branch out with their creations and learning. We're having statues built, Sketchnotes created, dances danced, paintings painted, Lego towers constructed, discussions shared, movies filmed and songs sung.  The children can't help but be cognitively engaged when the process and outcome involves laughter, sharing and showcasing their talents.

School is fun - just as it should be. They are kids after all.

Movie Making with the Full 80

We have three teachers in our space. Three very different teachers. Three teachers whose skills and personalities compliment and support each other in a classroom.
We each take different learning areas and share our expertise not just with the kids, but each other - what a great opportunity for constant PD. My strength lies in teaching kids through creative measures, developing key competencies - keeping school fun yet also about the learning.

So we've taken our theme for the term - Move Ya Body - quite literally and have had the kids make a dance movie a week.  80 kids all at once - dancing, filming, arguing, laughing - it's buckets of fun!
It's easy and if the class has a well established kaupapa of whanau, it's painless as well. - Let the kids do it!

We use Video Star as our MTV iOS App of choice. It is so easy because the app syncs the music to your filming and the kids can't help but get it right.
The kids access the music clip from our shared Google Drive folder via our class site.
They film in friendship groups - with the class kaupapa of "No one is left out".
They share the completed product back to the same Google Drive folder.
The movie is then ready to embed in their blog by again accessing it via the class site.

The technology and workflow is fairly simple to manage if the account is signed in on the iPads and the kids are familiar with using the class site and their blog. The real learning lies in in those powerful KCs. Working with others, sharing, self and group management, thinking and creating.
For the groups where those KCs function well - the outcome, the movie produced, is always of a higher standard than those groups where the KCs fell down.

As a whole class of 80, we view every movie and critique the movies - identifying the good points and discussing, respectfully, what went wrong. This is such a powerful process that the whole class owns and respects. With well established cultural norms there are no putdowns or negative moments, as all the kids know that we are in it for the learning.

A couple of our favourite examples are here and here.

Monday, 30 April 2018

Computational Thinking

The new digital technologies curriculum is not simply about screens and being digital. One of the strands - computational thinking, can be tackled in a very analogue fashion.
We've decided as a school that Scratch will be our coding "mother tongue". It is cross platform and simple enough even for our New Entrants. (and their teachers)
In DaBlock this term, a group of 30 year 4s and 1 year 3 are learning all about coding using Scratch.

We started the session signing into our classroom group and creating some simple avatars. We then began looking at the blocks and using them to control the cat sprite using our mouse and arrow keys. Some students even went ahead to learn about costumes and costume changes. Great self directed learning.

The next step was to introduce angles and turns. None of the students had heard about angles, degrees or knew much difference between left or right. A quick whiteboard lesson introducing the missing pieces and a quick game of Simon Says involving angle turns and degree turns, quickly filled in some missing gaps.
We then took chalk outside to draw their own circles and label the degrees, where the children then played their own Simon Says games with their friends.

Once the kids were back inside with their Chromebooks, Scratch angle turns made sense and heaps of quick knowledge learning could be applied to some fun animations.