Think about your teaching practice. How has it evolved over time? What are you currently working on developing in your practice? What tools have you used during this inquiry time? Blog about it!
This is a big question! How long have you got?
Of course my teaching practice has evolved over time, but I think that I always tend towards my preferences and my natural style. That means that over the last 30 years I have responded to new trends, learned from my peers, reflected on my practice and picked and chosen what fits with my basic philosophy about learning. I don’t think I’ve always been honest about the things I’ve found challenging and faced up to them. Have I improved my practice, have I transformed my practice? Have I helped my peers and my students? I hope so.
I love learning when I am passionate about something. When I first started teaching I was so passionate about languages that I found it difficult to understand why 25 of the 30 kids in front of me really couldn’t care less about learning French. They were there because they had to be and some showed a glimmer of interest especially when they could get me to digress and tell stories of when I lived in France rather than learning grammar, and some were blatantly bored. It started to wear me down after a while and I was forced to think outside the box to find ways to motivate, to inspire and to .. yes, make my life easier and more pleasant. After all how many hours a week could I spend in front of bored, resentful, reluctant faces and not get ground down?
I used to hate grammar when I was at school but I found myself teaching the way that I had been taught at secondary school and the way that I had been taught to teach at Uni. It didn’t really work except for the 5 in the class who were as passionate as me.
So, I dug deep and thought about where my passion first came from. Way back as a nine year old my school was part of a pilot scheme for teaching French to Primary School children. The scheme was ahead of its time. No writing, no reading. Speaking and listening, practice and role play, total immersion and a very passionate, very new and very trendy teacher! Miss Francis (now Larraine Biscombe) has clearly continued to hone her teaching expertise but it was her passion that got me hooked all those years ago.
Active, problem-solving, task-based learning. I had to fit it in with the expectations of a relatively restrictive National Curriculum and by no means did I suddenly have 30 passionate francophiles in front of me but some of those reluctant learners started to show interest, engage and I started to enjoy teaching again.
Fast forward to NZ 2011 and suddenly I find myself teaching Spanish not French. Not a fluent Spanish speaker, no longer the master of my domain and task-based learning took on a whole new perspective. When you don’t know everything you have to make a decision;
Fake it until you make it
Man up and learn alongside your students
I went for the 2nd option. It had worked with my challenging groups of low ability boys when we explored using computers, video cameras and digital recorders to liven up French lessons in the early 2000s. Plus I am no good at lying and a classroom full of curious, demanding teenagers will soon find you out so honesty is the best policy. We learned together, exploring, finding out, researching, teaching each other. The fact that I was taking a risk to speak in a language in which I was not proficient meant that they were mostly prepared to as well.
So, how does this link to where I am today? At the same time as learning Spanish I was supporting teachers in my school to integrate digital technologies into their teaching programmes. Using technology in the classroom scares a lot of teachers. They are afraid that they don’t know enough and will appear foolish in front of their students. Encouraging them to accept that they don’t have to be experts about everything, that they can admit that they don’t know and be willing to explore alongside their students is huge. As we strove to transform practice and were discussing it over morning tea one day one of my colleagues said of how she felt,
“I feel quite liberated now, much more liberated as a teacher than I did before. That I could walk into a class and I didn’t know everything and the learning still worked, in fact it worked better, being inspired by those experiences, that’s what’s changed the way I teach completely”.
So that’s where I am now. Honing my craft. Listening, speaking, connecting, communicating, failing, risking, challenging myself, improving my practice, aiming for transformation. Learning.
I recently received an email from a young lady who is researching schools that have adopted BYOD for her Level 2 NCEA Accounting. As I answered her questions I was prompted to consider more deeply the process we went through and I thought it might be worthwhile sharing. We are in our second term of compulsory BYOD (I posted some reflections on the first few weeks in this post) and we are still learning. I am sure that our progress will be a constant theme of my blogs this year as we reflect on how we are going. These are just some initial thoughts.
Preparation and Planning: What did we do?
First of all it is worth pointing out that I work in a State Integrated Secondary School and we are relatively well-off in terms of infrastructure. I appreciate that State Schools may not have the same finances at their disposal as we do and it may take longer to put the infrastructure in place. However, I believe that preparing the school community to cope with the changes to the way we teach and learn are similar wherever you are.
Planning a pathway
We restructured our ICT Committee so that there was a balance of technology and pedagogy to ensure that teaching and learning drove the decisions about technology. Discussions were focussed on what we needed in the way of technology to deliver robust teaching programmes and enable our students to own their learning.
We formed a group, affectionately called the “Bling” group (Blended Learning Instructional Group), which consisted of early adopters from different subject areas to look at the bigger picture. We used the eLearning Planning Framework as a starting point and mapped out a pathway for integrating blended learning opportunities within the curriculum plans. We were very clear from the outset that we wanted to use technology to enhance the already very good teaching and learning that was going on in our school, rather than replace it. Blending a range of strategies that work for all our teachers and students is essential.
The BLING team were also responsible for encouraging members of their departments, providing them with moral support and worked on a Professional Development programme.
The key component for all of this was, of course, Professional Development. Our school academic goal three years ago was focused on building personal competency and confidence around using technology on the basis that if teachers are not comfortable using tech themselves they will be reluctant to use it in the classroom. The following year it was consolidating on that and developing skills within the classroom, embedding technology into the curriculum and looking more deeply at learning approaches such as SAMR, Blooms and Solo Taxonomy. Our aim was to build a sense of “it’s ok to have a go and fail” in fact, it’s better to have a go and fail than not have a go at all. Since resiliency, problem-solving and creativity are what we want our students to aspire to then we should model that behaviour and be prepared to stretch our limits too.
We have a strong tech team and we worked closely with them. Once they were clear about what we wanted in terms of learning they set to to make sure we had enough wireless switches and that they were in the best places to ensure wireless coverage was consistent across the school. The materials from which some of the buildings in school are constructed cause issues with wireless reception. Our tech team have found work-arounds for these places but we still have to work within those constraints. We planned well but still have a few “dead spots”. These are being picked up and sorted out on an ongoing basis.
We decided to adopt Google Apps for Education (GAFE) after some teachers trialled using Google Docs with classes and found that it impacted positively on student achievement. This gave us a common platform for curation, dissemination and creation of materials for both staff and students. However, that doesn’t mean that other software, programmes and apps are not used and we encourage a broad spectrum of resources to promote effective learning.
Training & Preparation of staff
Preparation for all staff, both teaching and admin, was undertaken to ensure that staff were as ready as they could be for the transition to BYOD. This happened over a two year period prior to full adoption of BYOD. Building confidence and integrating use of tech in teaching programmes has been successful as a result of the time spent preparing teachers. All staff were involved in GAFE training to familiarise themselves with a new email system, calendars and the collaborative elements of Google Apps. This happened more quickly than we had intended and required a significant mindshift and willingness to be flexible and open to new ways of doing things from all staff. It wasn’t plain sailing but I have been amazed at the resilience of our teachers and support staff and how positively they have approached the change.
Phased roll out of BYOD
In the years prior to BYOD adoption, some teachers encouraged the use of devices and trialled using technology tools for teaching and learning. Then students in Senior classes were invited to bring in their devices, followed by Juniors but they were not compelled to do so. The challenge here was that some students would have devices in a classroom and others wouldn’t, making it difficult for teachers to manage and plan. We soon realised that we would need to make the transition to compulsory BYOD.
Research & choice of devices
We looked carefully at what had worked in other schools and decided to go with an agnostic device BYOD rather than mandate a brand or type of device. The benefits of this are that the learning is the priority not the tool to achieve it, parents don’t have to buy new devices if they already have one from a previous school, they have choice over how much they wish to spend and students use what they are comfortable with and know how to “drive”.
Battery life is a huge consideration and to avoid health and safety issues of cables trailing in classrooms we made the decision to buy charging lockers and installed them throughout the school.
Preparation for students
This has been one area that I feel we have neglected in a way. Although we were aware that not all students are “tech savvy” we did still assume that they would adapt quickly to using devices in the classroom. However, they are not all good at managing their own devices and knowing how to use them for learning. Digital Literacy is something that we are addressing on an ongoing basis in the classroom. The Junior Curriculum provides opportunities in the first term for the different subjects to build capabilities sharing, collaborating and creating documents, presentations and videos. There is time to explore what plagiarism is, how to conduct research, use media and effective referencing. Digital Citizenship is also a key factor for both staff and students and we have put in place strategies for dealing with inappropriate use of devices. As with Digital Literacy, Digital Citizenship is being addressed in the classroom in context.
Preparation for Parents
A BYOD booklet explaining our rationale and giving examples of the sort of learning that can happen has been prepared and distributed to all parents. It includes a guide to the sorts of devices that are suitable. We have run Netsafe workshops for parents to raise awareness of Digital Citizenship and we are building a section of our website with useful hints and tips for parents of digital teens. We are still working on other ways of engaging parents in the BYOD process as this is an area that we identified as being relatively weak when we used the eLearning Planning Framework.
The process of going BYOD has not been without its challenges but we think we have been successful so far as a result of the planning and preparation we have undertaken. Change needs to be managed and we need to have everyone on side for that; too fast and you lose some on the way but there has to be drive and you need to build some momentum. I remember hearing a Principal talk about “getting everyone on the bus” so that you have a common approach, and if people aren’t packed and ready then there is no place for them. We all learn at different paces and as long as there is a common will and understanding then we will all get there. So I think you need to be prepared to let people get off at different stops along the way to process what they have learned, have a break and then get back on again when they are ready.
After two years we took the eLPF to our staff and spent an afternoon exploring it. They put us two places higher than we had put ourselves two years ago. From Emerging we were now Engaging in all areas and Extending in many. Not bad, I reckon but there is still a way to go and the technological landscape will continue to change but I think our teachers and our support staff have the positive, flexible mindset to cope with that.
Just going to squeeze this one in barring distractions! Why is it that despite all the preparation and planning that I do in the holidays, the first week at school is complete chaos? The last week has been manic. I know that I have also been training for the Oxfam Trailwalk so this weekend more than 7 hours were spent pounding the concrete, the gravel, the sand and the grass. But even so, I feel like I’m lurching from one thing to the next. I do have several metaphorical hats to wear at school which adds to the mix but this year I have escaped having a form class. Truth be told, I’m actually quite missing that contact with the students first thing in the morning but ssshh! I’m sure I’ll get used to the extra time it frees up! One of my hats is a digital one; I am the “eMentor” for our staff and support them using tech in the classroom for teaching and learning. The beginning of term is always busy helping new staff get to grips with new systems and supporting others as they make the shift from beach brain to teacher brain and they grapple anew with all the techy challenges they were sure they had mastered last year!
I said in my last post that I needed to redress my work life balance. Strangely, I do have balance in my job. My next hat is that of Outdoor Education Coordinator. Three weeks of the year I get to leave technology and the four walls of my classroom behind and enjoy time with our students and staff on school camps. I really don’t think you can overestimate how much benefit kids get from learning outside the classroom when they are challenging themselves and putting themselves outside they comfort zones.
Finally, but actually most importantly is my sombrero; my last hat. I am a teacher first and foremost and I love teaching. I have had to reinvent myself as, sadly, the importance of learning languages is simply not recognised in New Zealand and learner numbers are falling rapidly across the country. My first second language is French but I now teach Spanish and am learning alongside my students. It has been a steep learning curve but a welcome challenge and I am enjoying how it has made me think about my teaching methodology. I can’t be lazy any more, I don’t have the language at my finger tips like French and I don’t have a store of lessons in my head for the days when I really need to “wing it”! Fortunately, I have a dear colleague in a nearby school who has helped me immensely. It has made me reflect that we cannot be islands. We have to build bridges and causeways to connect with others and share good practice.
Oh, my 28 minutes are up! Time to stop. Feels odd.
This year, I have added the role of English teacher to my repertoire. Despite my concerns and anxiety about teaching a subject that I have never taught before, I have had a great time. I love teaching English. So far. I teach my Yr 9 form class so it is an excellent way to get to know them better. They have embraced the first term’s unit on poetry and I have been amazed at the poems they have produced. I am sure that this is nothing to do with my teaching and everything to do with their enthusiasm. Anyway, I thought it was worth sharing some of their work. There were so many great ones to choose from and I can’t post them all here but I have chosen three.
The first one is from an activity to explore personification. The students had a list of nouns and a list of verbs that they had to match up and then craft into a poem.
Personification Poem by Olivia
Splashing colours all over
The blank canvas
Creating an oasis
That smears itself across the sky
Like an artist blending all sorts of colours
With just one simple stroke
The morning sings
As the birds
Their well-rehearsed song
Lingering in the air
As the heat of the day increases
The sun dances across the skies above
Shining it’s rays down
Over the cities below
The waves smash themselves forcefully
Yet so softly
Against the damp sand
Leaving a splash
Of cold salty spray
Clinging onto particles
Of the dusty golden goodness
The sea whispers softly
Words of encouragement
Filling the ears
Of scared little children
Taking their first steps into the water
Liquid licking their toes
Parents clutching their tiny hands
Looking over the green countryside
Like a king overlooking his kingdom
The sky brings a beautiful bright blue
Contrasting with the trees
Dotted over the mountain
A stone sleeps
After a long day
As the sun gently melts away
Enveloped by long grass
Slightly swaying in the cool air
Night takes over
A pitch black darkness spreading
Only once being brightened
As the moon comforts
As they await sleep to fall upon them
Stars guide the way to the morning
Leaving a sparkling trail
Like a snail
Twinkling against the black duvet of the sky
This one is Rosie’s final poem. She chose to have a go at a nonsense poem.
The Llama who thought He was a Man
Stop! Wait. Go back.
Cut some slack
I’m not a llama
I don’t eat grass
At least, I don’t think
I have in the past
I am a llama?!
Seriously, cut the joke
You’ve said nothing but tosh
since first you spoke
Oh stop it!
I’m quite sick of this game
You don’t know a thing about humor
You’re jokes are laaaaaaaaaaaaaaaame!!!!
Nope, I’m not listening
What childish behaviour
I’m going away now
See you later!
Stop following me, I say!
Please go away!
Can you not hear me at all?
I do believe
You don’t understand
Your listening skills are poor
But perhaps, I wonder
If you do understand
Then why do you insist
I have a fury coat
Which my eyesight
Has somehow missed!
Fine, I shall prove it!
Come here to this puddle
I’ll prove I’m no animal
Your brain’s in a muddle
You see, you nutcase
My reflection is fine
I am a huma-
Wait! That face is not mine!
How can it be?
Things shouldn’t be as they are
Something is wrong!
Something is- AAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!
I’m a llama! I’m a llama!
What a dreadful sight!
I’m a llama! I’m a LLAMA!
Goodness help me, YOU WERE RIGHT!!!!!!
And finally, Sophie’s poem about camp is full of energy and paints a great picture of what camp was all about.
Year 9 Camp 2014
In bushcraft we made manuka tea
Which I had to skull down on 1, 2, 3
At archery we aimed to hit a bulls eye
But I did not I just hit nearby
In rock climbing we had to climb a big wall
While trying not to think what would happen if we’d fall
If your group didn’t work as a team in ABL
You would realise you were going to be unstable
Mountain Biking had its ups and downs
Which made some of us end up with the browns!!
At raft building we had to float our team
Which in some cases was a bit extreme
You had to be good at mountaineering
To complete the challenge of orienteering
Waka Ama was a race
And we had a hard time to chase
In kayaking falling into the muddy water
Was like watching a lamb at the slaughter
I finished my week with the tramp
Which was a great way to finished such a good camp!
Back into the thick of it at school and I am trying to get some lessons planned. In the course of planning, talking to colleagues and exploring the internet for ideas, I came across a couple of useful tools that I think I could use effectively with my classes. The first is Team Shake, which is available on Android and Apple. My PE colleague put me onto this one and it is great for sorting out groups for activities. However, as a language teacher I think it will be really useful for those random conversations you need the kids to do for their interactions. Team Shake allows you to import names from classlists in various formats; ODT, Excel, CSVor you can manually type in the names. It does only seem to allow one name per line and so if you have more than one “Fred” in the group you may need to add their surname initial onto the end of it to distinguish which is which. Once you have created your list, you can choose how many groups you want, you can colour code the groups and, if you really want to, you can email the list out to the students. I haven’t bothered to do that as, for me, it just seems to be a great way to randomly select students as you need them to be in the lesson. NZ PE Teacher has written a great blog about using Team Shake
The second is Screenr, which I already knew about but have not actually explored until today. I have been looking at creating ebooks for my Spanish classes and also Khan Academy type mini videos to explain grammar points etc. I would also like the students to make their own videos, which they already, do but in a variety of formats depending on their device which creates problems for sharing. I am all for allowing choice of format but it would be good to have something that I can recommend that works across platforms. Screenr looks promising apart from the need to have Java installed. I also found that even once I had installed Java, it blocked Screenr so I had to go into the settings and add it as an exception. Not quite as simple as I had hoped! However, once I got over that hurdle I set to creating a video. Since the free version has a 5 minute limit for recordings, I decided to record the Ignite presentation I had done at the recent L@TS Unconference.
The ability to pause, restart, delete and start over is good as I needed to do all of those things several times! It then gives you an opportunity to preview it, add a short description and then publish. Publishing took about 5 minutes. It looks like you can embed the videos into web pages so, let’s see! Screenr gave me the choice of their new embed code which is an i-frame which I know doesn’t work in WordPress, but you can also use the old embed code format, which I am hoping will work! Here goes….
OK – the embed code doesn’t seem to work…. let’s try something else! I can add a link, which is fine but I really like things to play in the page, especially for my students. I can also publish to my Youtube Channel and then use the “Add Media” option. Let’s try it…
So, I had some problems publishing directly to my YouTube Channel – I pressed the “Publish to YouTube” button, then clicked on the “Go to Youtube” button that appeared next. Nothing queued, nothing uploaded despite sitting waiting for a while. Maybe I am too impatient? Not to be defeated …. I tried downloading the MP4 file, then uploaded that into YouTube – that seems to be working!
Yayy! I am looking forward to creating some more videos!
This afternoon we celebrated the learning we have done throughout the year. Our Professional Development focus for 2013 has been on blending technology and effective pedagogy into classroom practice. The main aim was to encourage our teachers to explore and develop their personal competency and skills and, when they are ready, to incorporate them into their teaching programmes. We hoped to provide a non-threatening, encouraging backdrop whilst also setting expectations that this was the way we wanted our teachers to go.
As you might expect we are all at different stages both as far as technology goes as well as pedagogy. It was interesting to note from discussions in our final module workshops that younger teachers are keen to learn more about traditional teaching strategies, such as story telling and role-play that are used by the older generation of teachers, as they have not learned these at Teachers ‘ College. How powerful is the opportunity to talk, share and learn from each other? It gives us food for thought for the future – how can we take advantage of the experience and expertise of our older teachers to pass on their knowledge to the new generation? Interestingly, it is not always the young that grasp the technology in both hands, many of our older teachers are proponents of embedding technology into their teaching. Developing an effective two way flow of ideas and strategies has to be a focus for next year. All this makes me think how lucky we are that we have the luxury as a State Integrated school to provide the time for Professional Development that other schools may not be able to.
For the final session of PD we wanted to be able to celebrate the work that we knew teachers were doing, the journeys they had been on in developing their expertise and exploring the possibilities that technology could offer to enhance the excellent teaching and learning that already goes on in our classrooms. We didn’t want it to be onerous at this busy end of the year (though which part if the school year isn’t busy?) so we asked for volunteers to do no more than a five minute presentation. We followed up the email with some shoulder taps and then arm twisting! It isn’t that our teachers aren’t happy to share; they are just reluctant to “show off”! Lots of lights hiding under bushels! We were also keen that it wasn’t the “early adopters” that stood up, but those who the rest of the teachers would see as “one of them”.
I have to confess to being a little nervous that the “sharefest” that I had planned would fizzle but I should have had more faith in my colleagues and with a bit of cajoling and gentle encouragement (that may not be quite how they saw it!) I had 6 willing volunteers from a range of departments.
I am not going to go on here as I have collated the tweets of the session. The conversations were rich, the sharers were amazing and we clearly have lots of ideas for the future.