Monday, 23 September 2019

Trauma Informed Teaching

I was highly fortunate to attend amazing PD around Trauma informed teaching delivered by Kathryn Berkett. Kathryn is an Educational Psychologist with a certificate in Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics - Trauma.

Unfortunately the number of children presenting at schools around NZ with significant trauma is increasing. Kathryn offers valuable information around the physiology of this trauma as well as some simple ideas that can benefit both the traumatised children as well as the teacher.

I adore working with these more challenging kids and the interesting days that we share. Kathryn's korero not only supported a lot of what I believe and taught me new things,  but also challenged two fairly fundamental areas of "basic" teaching practice.

"Some children can't". As our neural pathways develop in utero and in infancy, some children effected by trauma do not build pathways that fit the norm of society - perhaps they don't even build certain pathways. These children then - can't. In just the same way that a child born without legs cannot walk, a child with poorly or "wrongly" developed pathways cannot reason or spell or show empathy. We provide disabled children with on ramps - with ways to access learning and life - do we provide those same on ramps for our traumatised children?
The key to knowing these on ramps is relationship, love and empathy from the significant adult. Every one of our 30 children needs their own on (and off) ramp - just another thing to add to the teaching load. But it is worth knowing as the pay off in a busy classroom is huge. Unsettled and disruptive children become calmer, happier and begin to learn.

"Don't punish the behaviour." As a teacher we are firmly rooted in rewards for those who do well and consequences for those who don't. We need to switch this mindset for children who have no other option. If you have been raised in a house where lashing out is the norm, where swearing is the norm, then your neural pathways have made that your default.
How can we punish a child for simply doing what is (almost) innate?
The key is in apologising and trying to notice the behaviours and then re framing for the child. The reframing is not simple and cannot be done when a child is in their heightened agitated state. Kathryn shared an idea around manufacturing moments of minor stress for these children and scaffolding them through with the correct responses. Slowly, but surely, through these manufactured moments the child would learn correct responses and begin to build pathways that are more conducive to the society that we live in.

So in out class we are not expecting "fairness" in completion of tasks during the day. Each boy has their own challenge and their own goal - if the goal becomes unattainable due to anxiety, then the reward is not taken away, the goal is shifted. The boys don't want the goal to shift - they prefer to work to their maximum, but some days, some goals need adjustments.
We are learning about our heart rates and how to raise and lower them. We are accepting and loving and every boy is celebrated for who they are and what they bring. Everyone has an on ramp to support them to be their very best each day. Today, for one boy, the on ramp was a clean t-shirt and a sandwich. For another boy it was simply writing down his story for him because today it was too much.

Flexibility is key and flexibility for 30 kids is exhausting, but possible. It is possible because of the ultimate reason why we teach. We teach because we love and because we want to see progress in these kids - not academic progress, life progress. The small moments make the biggest difference.

Sunday, 30 June 2019

Board Games

As part of our learning into computational thinking we've had the children design, test and create their own board games.
Before we started we had spent a few weeks learning how to follow and write step by step instructions. It became clear, as we introduced the idea of board games, that not many children had played actual board games before. Many were familiar with chess, snakes and ladders and a variety of card games.

So in order to ensure that the children had some knowledge to draw on when creating we played board games in teams and filled in lots of necessary vocab: roll the dice, miss a turn, go forward 3 steps, move backwards, take a card, start again.
We discussed how many different games had many different ways to win - from having the most money or points to being the first over the finish line.

I work predominantly with the boys who are 2+ years behind in their literacy, numeracy and key competencies - so we had extra filling in to do.
For this group of children we provided the choice of 4 different board templates that they could choose from.  The boys had free range over hw their game played and the theme of the game. We encouraged the boys to have extra options like money or prizes associated with the theme of their game.

One group used random card selection to decide where the player moved to that had different challenges with different levels of prizes depending on the challenge completed - so creative. Most groups used colour coding to indicate different options within the game.

This group were unable to write their instructions independently but were able to discuss, share and refine their choices with final writing of instructions and rules being done by a teacher.
The game pieces were designed and made and the boxed were decorated,
All in all the boys went through a scaffolded design and creation process that resulted in them having their own board games to share with their friends.

The boys have thoroughly enjoyed sharing their games with others in the class and talking through how to play - they are revelling in being the "boss" of something, being the most knowledgeable in the room and teaching others. As they have played they've practised turn taking, sharing and conflict resolution - and have been very successful.

Board game creation has been a raging success.

Sunday, 19 May 2019

May Testing 2019

First testing round of the year has just been completed and most students performed as I would have expected. we've worked very hard on our reading over the last 10 weeks. High volume of texts, read tos, listen tos, dictations, writing, over load of text. The boys have all done a great job to work on their individualised goals and to keep up the effort every single day.
Starting term 2 we changed round some groups as students had made significant gains and others needed the individualised support being offered in my space. - So my data for May has some gaps compared to February.
The 4 identified target boys have made some good gains in their reading levels but still remain significantly behind where they should be. The three higher students (J, L, N) are reading in the same group and are presenting with decoding issues around looking beyond the initial letter of a word and to always ensure that the text they read makes sense. For term 2 I am concentrating the boys on word families and noticing detail. Betsy Sewell's program - Agility with Sound offers so much that these boys need.
The focus from her program will be on phonics and becoming fluent in reading a range of 3 letter word families - such as tin, pin, bin, sin, kin. The simple idea is that if the children can become confident with the medial vowel, they can apply the sounds they've learnt to decoding more complex words.  At the moment the boys tend to change the sound of the vowel to make a word that they are familiar with instead of what they see.
To run the whole program would mean spending all day on reading strategies - so as all teachers do - we are taking a small portion to try ad make significant difference.

The lower student (A) is only in year 3 and has increased his number of sight words and is confident when supported at yellow. He is needing to learn to apply strategies he is learning to independently decode. He tends to say any word that he is confident with - regardless of initial letter or meaning. So I have put him back in a beginning yellow group to solidify letter sounds as well as re build his confidence with the sight words he knows but can forget.

The challenge that this group is providing me is one I am thoroughly enjoying - to need to plan and prepare so many individualised programs keeps me busy and thinking around what will make the difference that these boys need.

Thursday, 9 May 2019


We have very recently received a Cubetto coding robot in class. The premise is that the children are given a narrative about a little robot and the challenge is to decode it on its journey through Cubetto Land.
My favourite thing about this tool is that there are no screens. The children code the movements by using coloured tiles.

Today I got out Cubetto for a group of 25 year 3/4 students. Together they had to come up with directions to move Cubetto from one spot on the mat to another. If a group could orally indicate their plan, then they got a chance to code with the tiles. On all occasions the route was challenging enough that the groups needed to assist each other to de bug their code. All groups worked collaboratively and, being a new tool in class, the engagement was high.
My next plan is to build a series of narratives around Cubetto, that exist in a shared space so that many classes have the ability to access a narrative and see if they can code and perhaps de bug Cubetto's journey.

Cubetto is certainly a tool for younger primary, but I am seeing the benefits in language development, justification and discussion as well as all 5 Key Competencies in middle primary. 

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Term 1 Reflection

Our term involved learning the routines that will set us up for success during our year.
By the end of term all of the kids could take home a book bag, read to an adult, practice spelling and return the book bag the following day. This was a HUGE success and not one that I have ever experienced in all my years of teaching. Why this group latched on to a routine when previous classes didn't seem to? - I have no idea. But I can certainly see a difference in this group and in the enthusiasm that they have for reading. The groups argue over who gets to read first and how many books they have read with the teacher. Certainly a group who love a good book - despite struggling to do so.
They've loved listening to read alouds, audio books and interactive comics. There's been a lot of text in our mornings and this has shown in the enthusiasm and hopefully the results.

27/28 children have moved up at least one guided colour level and one child made 2 years progress in one term. (Obviously he was ready to fly before the school year even began).

I"m feeling very positive about reading this year and the progress that we have made as well as the excitement we have built to continue our strong start.

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.