Friday, August 15, 2014

It's All In The Grades

I can't quite believe that I'm admitting this.

I teach in a primary school, am passionate about student achievement and I never measure a child by a grade.

Yet, throw me into university for 5 minutes, and what is the only thing I am focused on?

Yep.

The grade.

I'm checking what an 'A' looks like, what content is needed to get me a + or -. I'm measuring myself against the criteria for a top mark. As I write, read, research, all I can think about is how much I want that A. Somehow, my learning has become all about the grade.

And it makes me wonder...all of the time we spend in primary school teaching, all of the years we spend talking about personal goals and personalised learning...to what end? If our students end up in high school worrying about whether they have an achieved, merit or excellence, or onto university to be consumed by A, B, C and D grades...what did we protect them from? What did we teach them about expectations and how they measure up?

Ah yes, I have become a grade obsessed student.

(Better get back to my study or I may slip to being a B student!)

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Hands-On Maths - Material Girl!

Ah yes, I confess. I am, as Madonna would say, a truly 'material girl'.

No, I am NOT interested in fast cars, flashy clothes or what money can buy me, but I AM passionate about using materials to make maths concepts concrete for kids!

So here are a few snaps from our madly materialistic maths moments this week!


Maths MAGIC! on PhotoPeach

Sunday, April 6, 2014

A Moment In Time - Examples


WATERWISE CAPSIZE!

“Hiaiaiaa...ihaaaaaa...hiaiaiaia...iaihaaaa...” I breathed heavily. I shut my eyes and held my breath as the yellow optimist healed over backwards into the midst of the ocean.  “Bang!” My hard head connected to the rock solid opti.  

I hastily opened my eyes and, “YES!” I screamed with all my voice. I was inside the tight, squishy air pocket.  It seemed pitch black at first then my eyes got used to the darkness, when I screamed, “HI!” and then slapped the boat.   

“Slap, Slap, Slap,” and in return,  “Tap, Tap, Tap”. 
They opened the opti to the light as I swam out. “I made it!” Those words came out of my mouth before I knew it.  I climbed on to the bottom of the opti (which was now on the top) and I pulled on the centre boar. The boat came speedily up right and I had to bail a truck load of water out of the opti and back into the ripply ocean.  It was finally all out so I jumped out and played the ball games.

By Peter, aged 10.

RUGBY


As I run down the left wing of the pitch, salty sweat runs down my face. The grass tickles my ankles. Only two huge boys stand between me and the glorious tryline.

I get nervous as I keep running. I sidestep the first boy but he holds tightly onto my shirt. The second one grabs my waist and drops me heavily onto the ground. My shoulder is the first thing that hits the hard, solid ground, then painfully my body follows it down.

Sadly, my coach takes me off for the rest of the game.


 By Taine, aged 10

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Celebrate EVERY day!

It's really easy as teachers to look for the end of the term or the year or a learning unit for the opportunity to celebrate what has worked well or what has been learnt.

Well, I have a real challenge for you teachers out there. Celebrate EVERY day.

In my class, we like to have a shout out almost EVERY day. We stop everything for that moment. We freeze and share and celebrate. And I don't mean little, twee, tokenistic, contrived stuff. I mean that we celebrate REAL learning.

This week we celebrated one of the boys who came 3rd in his racing competition last weekend. He showed us photos and we cheered, posted them to the class blog and celebrated it with him. We celebrated one of the students who has made it into a school sports team for the first time. The students who have made it into every sports team cheered the most! We celebrated one of the students in a maths group who GOT a concept (finally!) We celebrated the fact that one of the students wrote his very best piece of writing ever - his own words - and then we celebrated even more when he stated that writing is his 'new best subject'!

Celebrating the achievements and JOYS in our classrooms has a wonderful effect - it helps to create a culture of inclusiveness and it fosters relationships within the class and a culture of being a 'team'.

At a conference last year, Anne Kenneally +Anne Kenneally talked about how she jumped on a chair and shouted every time there was a 'magic' moment in her class and this really made me think about how to celebrate those moments. She talked about how the students strove to get her to jump up - they wanted to create magic for her and for themselves so that there was reason to celebrate.

What MAGIC is going on in YOUR classroom that you could celebrate? 

Daily5 review = read to buddy

We have had 'buddy reading' in our school for years, with a buddy class from a different team, who we meet with each week. But I have to say, Daily5 'read to buddy' is a very different thing indeed, and has a big impact on how my students now read with anyone, including their buddy class.

Reading to a buddy is not the same as just reading to someone. One of the most important aspects of it is the training and explicit teaching that must take place for it to be really successful and worthwhile as part of learning. We have a class anchor chart which clearly outlines what the students expect from one another and how 'read to a buddy' should look and sound.

It reads like this:
  • be a great coach
  • listen and look
  • talk and ask
  • stay in the same place the whole time
  • read the whole time
Sounds like = quiet voices, 6 inch voices; one talks, one listens

Looks like = EEKK (elbow to elbow, knee to knee), staying in one place, staying still, away from others

We worked diligently to develop our coaching skills.  Currently the focus is on listening and asking great questions. I have some question cards that we co-constructed and they use these as prompts. Reading with a buddy is MORE than just 'you-read'I-read'. It is about being responsive with each other around a text.

The next step is to move towards more natural conversations that occur without prompts from cards but this takes some time to develop. One of the hardest things is to get the very quiet students to engage naturally in these learning conversations but I know from past experience that it does eventually come - picking the right buddy really helps with this too.




Boys' Writing - The Daily5

I have found that the Daily5 has been a hugely positive experience for my boys particularly. Last year, I had a high octane bunch of boys, especially my Year 5 boys who are best described as 'spaniels'. And I mean spaniels on a really, really, bouncy day...
This year, I have quite the opposite - a very focused and eager team of boys who are highly motivated. One of the elements that they have loved (this is in common across both classes) is the 'choice' of writing that the Daily5 has allowed them. Although we still have very structured writing sessions for genre writing every week, the fact that they can pick and choose their themes, styles, arrangements, presentation, organisation, who contributes, who gives feedback and feed forward, their audience etc. means maximum enthusiasm and engagement.

So what has changed?
  • they look forward to writing, they ASK to write, they generate their own ideas
  • they have CHOICES and CONTROL of the subject and theme
  • they choose WHO to write for - their audience
  • they choose WHO to write with - alone, in a pair, collaboratively in a group, across other classes
  • they can write using their own choice of genre - if they enjoy mystery writing, then this is what they can do!
  • they choose HOW the writing is presented - googledocs, presentations, vocaroo (recording themselves reading the product), Pages/Word, blogging, wiki page, ComicLife, Book Creator and so on - the choices are endless and the list seems to grow daily
  • they enjoy working to complete the product but they know that they don't HAVE to - if they are working on something and it just isn't working, they move to another idea and put it away for a while
  • they SHARE - there is a natural buzz around writing for the boys so they are constantly sharing their work, the processes and ideas, with others
  • they are PROUD of their writing and they recognise themselves as REAL writers
I am constantly reshaping my literacy programme but this one element has been so successful over the past 3 years of doing Daily5 that I would simply not change a thing! If you want to see boys who LOVE to write then I will also add some video footage this week showing them interviewing each other about their writing. Powerful!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Maths - The Great Race!

We have embarked on a problem-solving quest based on The Great Race. Since our learning has been around reading timetables (rather a big weakness for most of my class!) and 24 hour time, I designed a wee maths investigation and problem-solving session for my class last week. It has proven so successful and so much fun, that it now enters its second week.

The task: to get from Auckland to Stewart Island as quickly as possible. The goal is to use timetables and try to link the methods of public transport so that they 'win' by arriving quickest.


Variations of the task can be:


  • one flight allowed, maximum of 1hour flight (decide your own limit)
  • cost limit/daily budget (includes money and numeracy as an extra challenge)
  • longer trip (include international e.g. from Auckland to Timbucktoo!)
  • teams have to get one adult and one child
  • overnight stays, food allowance (it can be as big as you like!)
Skills can also stretch into mapping skills including navigating their way from one point to another.

My class insisted that we do a Library Skills Great Race today which proved to be great fun - oh, and as a bonus, amazing teamwork, collaboration and organisation was involved too.

Why not have a go at designing a 'great race' for YOUR class and tell me how it goes!

PS - I'll keep you posted on who gets to Stewart Island first and how long it actually takes on public transport!