Wednesday, 25 March 2015


Gosh, it's been weeks since I blogged. So much for a second round of #28daysofwriting. I've spent much of the last 4 1/2 weeks in bed with some - as yet diagnosed - gastro illness.  I spent a considerable time visiting the hospital for testing and rehydration. Ugh. Things seem to be stable and manageable for now.

I came back to work this week with quite some trepidation: not having kept down much food or water for a few weeks I'm quite fatigued.  You all know that I have an awesome class and I LOVE being with them. BUT...  They are preteens and I'm under no delusions about the energy required to do what I do with them.  

I shouldn't have been worried.

We've all had the experience of coming back into the classroom and having to spend considerable time peeling kids from the ceiling after less than wonderful experiences with unfamiliar relief teachers. The VRPs were blessed with a wonderfully enthusiastic and creative brand new teacher, Lisa Connolly, for most of the time I was absent. (She also happens to be a parent at our school and most of the kiddos have known her for years, which certainly helped I think.) I'm genuinely thankful for the immense amount of work she put into keeping the class moving forward and holding true to our class culture.

The upshot of Lisa's efforts was that my return was super smooth. The kiddos were pleased to see me which was, of course, delightful and what's even better: they were eager to settle back into our routine without the usual vent about the 'other teacher'. (Kudos to you Lisa: I've never before had a relief teacher exempt from that.)

Monday mornings always start with a Play Is The Way game. We were standing in a circle with four balls going every which way and somehow an impromptu version of the Hokey Pokey started. Oh bless. Watching my preteen kiddos putting their "whole bodies in and shaking them all about" was the best energy boost I've felt in weeks. The giggles and the high fives as we headed back inside reassured me that no matter how flat I feel my kiddos can - and do - provide the energy for our class to thrive.

A step forward in our literacy block, a geometry lesson, and starting a "Town Hall" renewable energy project rounded out our day. I went home exhausted, but happy.

So: thank you Lisa. We look forward to having you back in the class.  And thank you VRPs. I look forward to tomorrow. And the next day. And next week. And so on.

Friday, 6 March 2015

Anchor Charts

Toward the end of last year I was exceptionally lucky to have our Deputy Principal/Literacy Guru Miss Sally (@sslattery22) come into our learning space to observe and coach my reading teaching.  She observed my teaching, and modelled a range of strategies she uses. It was a brilliant experience, although I will admit that the first couple of times I was quite anxious - it reminded me of being observed by my university supervisor while I was a pre-service teacher!

As part of the feedback process, Miss Sally asked about the lack of literacy anchor charts in our learning space. Until that point in the year, I hadn't made many anchor charts at all.  The way we'd set up the space wasn't particularly conducive to displaying them NOR was I overly confident in making them for some reason.

The first point was relatively easy to overcome: we were in the habit of changing up our learning space quite regularly so we went ahead and set up some areas to display anchor charts. The second was a bit more of a personal challenge but in keeping with our class belief in the power of a positive mindset I grit my teeth and gave it a go. And whaddayaknow? Each anchor chart was better than the last and I grew to quite enjoy the process.

This year has seen more anchor charts grace our boards, wall and cupboards.  We've all benefitted from them more than I ever imagined. I often see one kiddo or another standing at an anchor chart checking their thinking, or referring to them verbally during class discussions. Many photos have been taken on iPads and emailed to parents. I've printed copies of a few to have glued into books.  I'm making sure I take shots of them all so that when they are rotated off the walls to make room for others I can still refer kiddos to them.

There's still LOADS of room for improvement in my chart creation and I want to have more of them made by the kiddos but I'm pleased to have come this far and am excited about the next steps on the journey.

So Miss Sally... Thank you.

This relates to the following Australian Professional Standards for Teachers...
Standard 1 Know students and how they learn
Standard 2 Know the content and how to teach it
Standard 3 Plan for and implement effective teaching and learning
Standard 6 Engage in professional learning

The Grubbiness of Plagiarism

Plagiarism. P.L.A.G.I.A.R.I.S.M.  It sounds so grubby doesn't it?  I know my thinking is a product of years of tertiary study, but surely I'm not alone in seeing corruption in plagiarism?

Over the last few weeks I've been confronted by plagiarism in my kiddos' writing. Every Wednesday, following our WBW discussion, the home learning task is to engage in a reflection following one (of two) provided prompts.  Recently I found a few sentences that used structures beyond the grasp of a particular student and made note. Within minutes I found the same sentences sitting in a whole block of similar sounding sentences in another student's response. A quick Google search found the source. The following week a different student handed in a reflection that had been copied word-for-word from an online article.

I was furious! At first with myself for asking reflection questions that could so easily be 'googled'. Then I reread the plagiarised answers and realised that they didn't answer the questions anyway. Phew. (Big lesson learnt though!) Then I was mad with the kiddos for taking the easy route.  I started wondering why they felt the need to take the easy route and whether I'd somehow communicated an expectation of 'right' answers.

So many questions:

  1. Are the reflection prompts not inviting true reflection?
  2. Have I somehow communicated that there is a 'right' answer to these reflection questions?
  3. Am I communicating that about everything we do? 
  4. Why else would they feel the need to take the easy route?
I've been back and looked at all of the reflection prompts I've set over the last year and a bit. There have been a few that didn't ask for reflection but on the whole they do.  I also noticed that my prompts improved over the course of the year and so did the student reflections: we grew together.  This lead to another observation: the reflections from the kiddos who are VRPs  for a second year are miles ahead of the others. Gee! What a surprise! 

I thought back to the early days of last year. I spent a LOT of time reinforcing with the class that there were NO right answers to these reflections. The message I explicitly gave early: I want to see YOUR thinking about our discussions. Once we established that I moved on to expecting them to back up their thinking with reasons, explanations and evidence. This year I've missed giving those messages explicitly. I need to go back and be much more explicit about the purpose of the task and my expectations. I need to be explicit about academic integrity: what it is, why it is important and how to demonstrate it. My kiddos need this.

Much of what happens in our learning space is so widely open that there are as many answers as there are kiddos. I'm pretty sure that I don't set a 'right' answer very often. I often don't even have a set answer in mind!

And the easy route? Well. I think there are multiple ways to look at that.  I know that many of the kiddos are finding the high expectations I have of them REALLY challenging. And I know that they're REALLY trying to do the right thing.  All of the kiddos who copied their reflections from the internet are new to my class this year.  It's early in our journey together; we will get there (wherever there is).  This is the beginning.

Seeing plagiarism on my kiddos' pages horrified me,  but it started a process of reflection that will ultimately benefit us all.  We'll can learn together to clean out the grubbiness it creates.

How do you deal with this kind of thing with your kiddos?

This relates to the following Australian Professional Standards for Teachers...
Standard 2 Know the content and how to teach it
Standard 3 Plan for and implement effective teaching and learning
Standard 5 Assess, provide feedback and report on student learning

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Mentor Sentences - Part II

Remember my mentor sentence from yesterday?
I have slipped the surly bonds of earth and danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings.
As promised: I asked my students if they would share some of their sentences. Not everyone was keen but here are some from the those who were:
I have abandoned the bloody shackles of prison and moped the land on long-forgotten charms. (Gab)
I have killed the anger inside of me and brought the best on I could be. (Jaz)
I have travelled the adventurous ocean of Atlantica and swam the darkest reefs with my sharp brown  spear. (Tiahnee)
I have sung the beautiful music of Australia and performed on bright-shimmering stages. (Sara)
I have surfed the light-hearted waves of shores and swum the waters on giggling-golden beaches. (Tayla)
I have left the tight hold of worlds and escaped the Earth on small-angel wings. (Avril)
I have caught the beautiful birds of Adelaide and brushed the clouds with the softest-white feathers. (Kyra)
I have driven the dry roads of Australia and jumped the jetty on sandy-wet beaches. (Nikita)
I have stomped the monster on Pandora and jumped off the castles on mountains. (Corey)
I have run the muddy track of Mount Magnificent and jumped the finish line on quivering legs.  (Riley) 
I have spun the sticky webs of spider and wrapped the flies on joyful webs. (Blaed)
I'm impressed. I hope their parents (with whom I've also shared this blog post) are too!

This relates to the following Australian Professional Standards for Teachers...
Standard 3.7 Engage parents/carers in the educative process 
Standard 5.5 Report on student achievement
Standard 7.3 Engage with parents/carers

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Mentor Sentences

My husband dropped me to school today and, being the gentleman he is, he carried my book bag into my learning space. He has a sweet habit of letting the kiddos know he's been in the room in their absence by leaving a quote or powerful word on the whiteboard.  Today was no different, except that it was.  He wrote the first few lines of High Flight by John Gillepsie Magee, Jr and as I read them I realised what a gift my husband had left me. (He's a gem! Really!)

I found the rest of the poem and started our literacy block by reading it to the class.  It's a beautiful poem:

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth  
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings; 
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth 
Of sun-split clouds, --and done a hundred things 
You have not dreamed of --Wheeled and soared and swung 
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there 
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung 
My eager craft through footless halls of air... 
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue 
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace 
Where never lark or even eagle flew -- 
And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod 
The high untrespassed sanctity of space, 
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
 The discussion following my reading was nothing short of astounding. The inferring, visualisations to help clarify, the use of morphemes to clarify, identification of metaphorical language... I let them talk without interruption until I was asked what I knew about the poet. I shared the little I knew and this changed the discussion. They read even more into the poem and made even more inferences. The word 'prophetic' was even used!

That was just the start of our lesson. I then wrote out the first two lines (as one sentence) on an anchor chart and we talked about what we noticed. It was a pretty mechanically focussed discussion and that was OK by me. I have a few kiddos who need to review parts of speech.  We marked up the sentence and made a few more observations about the role of the co-ordinating conjunction.  It dawned on a couple of kids - after we talked about the co-ordinating conjunction and what the two simple sentences would have been - that a sentence MUST have a verb. Woah! Yes! They must. For some of my kiddos this was an earth shattering revelation. I can't wait to see how they transfer that epiphany.

I'm not actually sure about the adjectival phrase...
Any helpers?

We then had a go at verbally replacing a few of the words to form new sentences and talked about how we could use this structure or even just part of it in our own writing.   Tonight for home learning they are creating new sentences modelled on this mentor sentence. In hindsight we would have spent longer on this. Next week we will.

So, it wasn't what I had originally planned for this morning, but I am SO glad I threw away strayed from my lesson plan.  I've been reading about mentor sentences for a while now. I've been fascinated and inspired by some of the programmes I've read about and work samples I've seen, and whilst I'm not comparing this lesson to those, I am pretty proud that we had such a great lesson.   We will follow it up tomorrow to share some of the student created sentences and recap what we noticed.  Should be interesting!  I'll ask if I can share some of them here.

Do you use mentor sentences?

This relates to the following Australian Professional Standards for Teachers...
Standard 2 Know the content and how to teach it.
Standard 3 Plan for and implement effective teaching and learning.
Standard 6 Professional learning.

Monday, 2 March 2015

Inquiring about Inquiry

I'm not sure about global trends but here in Australia we're all about the inquiry.  Which is great if anyone in the room understands what that means and I'll freely admit (now) that at the beginning of last year I wasn't 100% clear myself.  I asked a few questions of my colleagues and crammed in a whole lot of reading.  By the time I asked the original VRPs to come up with inquiry questions of their own I thought I was top of it. Well maybe not exactly on top of it. More like alongside. And so, alongside the VRPs I refined my understanding as they did.  

This year our teaching team has restructured the way we are teaching Humanities and Social Sciences    (HASS) to start the year learning inquiry skills (through 'action learning') as a priority.  Sounds obvious doesn't it?  Yes, well, moving along.  :\

For one legitimate reason and another the VRPs' HASS lessons have been largely scuttled so far this year. Time and energy for HASS?  There has been very little. From what I've seen though, this years' VRPs have been struggling with developing inquiry questions. So today I posed the question: "what is an inquiry question?" and asked them to spend ten minutes in pairs categorising a series of questions as inquiry or not. I did this on (which as you know is one of my favourite web 2.0 tools) as you can see here:

Our action learning area is Asian geography... Can you tell?

Regrouping we discussed why each question is or is not an inquiry question.  You will notice that there are a couple of questions that weren't unanimous, and these prompted some rich discussions about the characteristics of inquiry questions.  
Having agreed on our list, everyone reviewed the questions they'd already posed.  They shared their review with a partner,  and had to justify their decisions. Along the way some wonderfully rich inquiry questions were formed. We quickly ran off copies or took photos on ipads/ipods of the list for everyone to take home as they were to pose a series of questions for home learning tonight ready for review and choice tomorrow.   I'm excited to see their questions tomorrow.

This relates to the following Australian Professional Standards for Teachers...
Standard 2 Know the content and how to teach it.
Standard 3 Plan for and implement effective teaching and learning.
Standard 6 Professional learning.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

What's Old is New Again!

I wonder if wandering through antique or collectibles shops is a fascination you're able to develop with age? It seems to me that people either love doing it - and always have - or hate it with a passion.  I'm lucky that my husband loves it as I do. (Or I made a good choice, either way.)  We have a few local stores to whom we willingly (and regularly) hand over our time and money.  It's a rare visit that I leave without finding something: whether an antique spoon or tea-cup (I collect both), a quirky book from the early 1900's (my husband collects those) or some ephemera to use in my Way Back Wednesday lessons.

Today was a little different. Today I found books for for ME. Well, for school but that's kinda the same thing right? 

The first pair are from 1955.  One is called The Ideal Book for Boys while the other is The Bumper Book for Girls. I haven't quite decided how I will use these yet.  Having skim read the stories I will probably ask the kiddos to work in groups and give each group a copy of one story from each book.  The language used, and the gender stereotyping is vastly different to the texts the kiddos currently read so after some initial analysis I'll also provide contemporary stories to compare and contrast.  The Australian Curriculum is quite explicit in asking for this kind of analysis, and the gender concepts that will be discussed will support many of the ideas behind our single gender programmes (e.g. boys don't have to be physically strong to have strength). 

The other three are from a 1960 Science Service series and are called Earth, Maps & Mapping and Crime Detection. These little gems will be used as part of our Science as a Human Endeavour learning about how scientific knowledge changes over time, and how science influences human interaction with each other and with Earth.  Oh boy are they perfect examples of how scientific knowledge has changed over time. In Crime Detection the 'hair & fiber' section makes no mention of DNA; in Maps & Mapping electronic computers are lauded as having brought much nearer the realisation of the dream of a truly accurate triangulation network of the entire world; in Earth we can learn of the world's smallest TV camera which is the size of a flashlight. 

 Some things never change though. 
"It seems  - but has by no means been proven - that the earth is getting warmer." (Earth)
What artefacts or ephemera do you bring into your learning spaces?

This relates to the following Australian Professional Standards for Teachers...
Standard 2 Know the content and how to teach it.
Standard 3 Plan for and implement effective teaching and learning.