Never Make Assumptions

My Teaching Was Rubbish

I think that I am a pretty good teacher, and I do my best to always cater for my students individual needs.  But last Monday afternoon, I was nowhere near the top of my teaching game.  I made an assumption about my students, and the resulting lesson was rubbish.  Let me explain …

Just before the holidays, I had joined my students up to the Student Blogging Challenge.  This is a fantastic challenge run twice a year by the fantastic Miss W.  Students and classes from across the globe join up to the challenge run over ten weeks.  Personally I can’t think of a better way for kids to learn about global literacy.

Anyway, unfortunately, when the challenged kicked off, our whole school was in Auckland on our school camp and then for two weeks after that we had school holidays which means that we were three weeks behind on the challenge.  That’s ok, I said to myself, we are already half-way through the year and we had already completed many of the tasks required in the first two weeks.

My Chickens Arent So Pretty
My Chickens Aren't So Pretty

Now just as a side note for those of you who don’t know anything about my school: I am the Principal of a Sole Charge Isolated Rural School – translation: I have ten students ranging from New Entrant (kindergarten) to Year Eight (13 years old).  I am the ‘sole’ full time teacher.  We are very lucky because our Board of Trustees employs an additional teacher to teach literacy to the junior students in the morning from 9am – 10.30am.  As there are only three juniors, they are getting a pretty good deal.  After 10.30am I am on my own with all ten students, therefore I must teach Numeracy (maths) and other subjects to all age levels.  I also get one and a half days in the week in my office to manage the school in the Principals role.  My school is part of an isolated community, which means we are over 27 kilometres away from the nearest town/shop/MacDonalds/Library/petrol station/decent coffee (sigh).  But that’s ok, my community is fantastic and I get to keep chickens 🙂

What Was I Thinking?
What Was I Thinking?

So on Monday afternoon, after half a day in the office, I needed to take my three juniors for Maths.  I said to the senior students that the student blogging challenge had started, we were a little bit behind, can you please go on to the challenge website, read the post about challenge one and complete the five tasks (just to let you know I have some very capable readers, reading well above their age).  Can you spot my fatal mistake yet?  If you follow my twitter account, you may remember my tweet about it.

Yes, I had assumed that my students could read and comprehend a blog post.

They can write posts, insert photos, add comments, colour/bold/centre text, stick in annoying widgets, change their theme, add pages, and embed sound gadgets, Youtube movies and Flickr slideshows.  But they didn’t actually understand how to read a blog post, unassisted.  Now that I think back, when ever I had asked them to make a comment on the school blog I had always discussed it with them and written the requirements on the board.  They had never actually gone in cold turkey!

Arg! Can you imagine the chorus of seven eager voices all chiming “I don’t get, Marama!” with three squirming junior kiddy winkles in front of me fighting over who got to hand out the counters. Double Arg!!  Mayhem!

Now here is a piece of advice for any new teachers out there … sometimes your class will be a total mere, usually in the afternoon, and there is nothing you can do about it.  Don’t worry this is normal, but I can here you asking – “but what can I do about?”  Well sometimes all you can do is cut your losses.  In my situation, I could feel my eyeballs bulging and my palms sweeting so I knew that I was past the point of no return.  I called the school to attention, and explained that if they managed to pack up the classroom in 3 minutes we would go outside for a game.  Five minutes later we were all (myself included) charging up and down the field in a fantastic game of Farmer Farmer.

Me Pleased As Punch!
Me Pleased As Punch!

Now here’s the clincher, the fine line between me being a good teacher and a crap teacher.  While I was tearing around on the field sabotaging the older children so that the younger ones could score, I was analysing exactly what went wrong and how I was going to allow my students to achieve next time.  So today during literacy with my students, instead of using a journal for guided reading, we used the student blogging challenge post and we read it off the computer screen.  And now I am pretty proud to say that it was some of the best teaching I had done in a while 😀

I really believe in this life long learning business.  As an experienced teacher, sometimes you can get complacent and you do start making assumptions about your students because you think you know them so well.  But the reality is that the moment you start taking your students for granted, it is the moment you start doing them a mis-service. Though we are only human, and I am proud to say that I learnt my lesson and made it good.

All images were sourced and used under Creative Commons Licence.

Thanks to:

A Maths Lesson for Mrs Tolley

“…almost one in five students are leaving school without the basic literacy and numeracy skills that they need.”

Wow, that’s pretty fantastic!  That means that over 80% of all New Zealand School children are leaving school with the basic literacy and numeracy skills that they need!

Of the 20% who are not achieving at the expected level for their age group, I will safely estimate that a quarter of them are  special needs or have been identified as having learning difficulties.  So we could probably bump that 80% closer to 90%.

Let’s put this into a real classroom, my classroom.

Fractions, Proportions and Ratios Stages 5-6:

I have 30 students – Year 3 and 4 (7, 8 and 9 years old).

(Well actually I have 28, but we will use 30 as a nice round number, I don’t want to make this to hard for you Mrs Tolley, I know that you are too busy to speak to or listen to us) (Also 30 is closer to the average class size in little old NZ).

1 out of 5 of them is below expected age levels in literacy and numeracy.

30 divided by 5 equals 6.

6 students are below – yep that’s my lowest reading group.

Of those six almost two of them have been identified as having learning difficulties.

(Luckily for me almost all of my students come to school after having a good nights sleep, breakfast, are well dressed for the weather and have a good healthy lunch in their bag).

Which means 4 of them are below.  So that’s 4 out of thirty? (correct me if I am wrong Mrs Tolley).

Yep I knew that!

That’s why I differentiate my teaching.  That’s why I get them as much extra help as possible from the funding that’s available to my school.  That’s why I have spoken to their parents and have given them strategies to help their children.

If the government wanted to know this, all they had to do was ask.

Hey! Brain Wave!

Instead of wasting millions of dollars on reprinting existing resources and renaming them as National Standards.  Why don’t you use that money to reduce my class size to 22 so that I can spend more time with my struggling students.

Makes sense to me …

Teaser Three – Watching the Progress Bar turn Blue

Lately I have been using Camtasia to create Screen Casts for my eWindows site.  Now usually I am a strictly freeware kind of girl (well that’s a little bit of a fib because I have paid for Edublogs, Voicethread, Flickr and my domain names, anyway …)  but I am really impressed with Camtasia.  So much so that I may even fork-out for it after my free one month trial (this is awesome, try before you buy!).

Camtasia is easy to use, has great support and tutorials.  It runs seamlessly with my Mac and uploads directly to YouTube.  At one easy payment of $99.00 (Education Pricing) I do believe it may be a keeper, though it may have to wait until after I recover from my little trip to Christchurch (only 9 more sleeps!).  O, and after we wallpaper the living room.  Below is my weekly-ish offering to the Blog-o-sphere.  My third ever Screen Cast on how to add a Word-cloud to a post.  So readers, I would really like some feedback here, how did I do?  It’s a lot harder than it looks.

Preparing for ulearn09


elearn09 is approaching rapidly and I am feeling a mixture of excitement and anxiety.  Excitement because this is my first ulearn experience and I get to have some face to face time with the many awesome NZ Educators.  Anxiety because for some strange reason, must of had one too many coffees that day, I applied to be a presenter and was accepted! Eek! 😮

My presentation is called An eWindow into my Classroom (Breakout Five for any of you who are interested in attending).

Join me as we create a classroom blog that allows parents and whanau to be an active part of classroom learning. We will be using a variety of Web2.0 tools that are free and easy to use. There will be tips and tricks on how to make your blog appealing to students and informative to parents. I will also talk about ways you can engage an audience in the global community. Your classroom blog can be so much more than another publishing platform, it can be an interactive environment that enhances student learning.

(Believe it or not it took me four hours to write that synopsis.)

I am hoping that by the end of the session we will have constructed a mock classroom blog and or set up the bones and a few fancy bits in my ‘victims’ own classroom blogs.  I will set up a fairly open rotation where participants can engage in a variety of cool web2.0 tools that will enhance your classroom blog and to make it ‘blog-i-licious’ (blog-i-licious  – my term for a blog that is engaging, fun, funky, collaborative, communicative and of course enhances learning, thanks Fergie!) My brainwave for this presentation is that all of my presentation’s content will be sourced on a Wetpaint Wiki.  That way participates will always have a point of reference to go back to after the intensity of the conference.

I have found Wetpaint is an easy to use platform, possibly less finicky than Wikispaces (of course this is only my opinion).  My only real bugbare is that you are unable to view the html code, but I can get over that.  Each page on this Wiki will explore a different Web2.0 app.  I will include tips and tricks on how to use each app. in your blog as well as include examples of how I have used it in my own classroom blog.

As you have all probably guessed by now; this post is basically shameless self-promotion on my part.  But it is also me feeling a bit guilty for neglecting my blog for this my newfangled wiki of mysterious means (I am keeping it private until the conference).  Therefore I, in another self-promotion tactic, will be releasing sneak peaks to a few of my wiki’s page as my blog posts during the lead up to ulearn09.  I will have omit a one or two links and leave out a some of the workshop content, but I hope these sneak peaks will pique your interest in attending my workshop (remember Breakout Five) or at the very least consider playing around with creating your own classroom blog, or maybe adding a bit of ‘Bling’ to your existing one.

My Teacher Inquiry

As a part of our EHSAS Cluster we are required to engage in a Teacher Lead Inquiry.  The justification of this inquiry comes from The New Zealand Curriculum.  In a section entitled Effective Pedagogy the document states that ‘effective pedagogy requires that teachers inquire into the impact of their teaching on their students’.  With this I completely agree!  Are we not constantly asking ourselves – ‘How did that go?, ‘Did I activate that learning effectively?’, or sometimes ‘Oh crap, what on earth did I do wrong?’.  I see this inquiry as a opportunity to formalise that, everyday personal inquiry and perhaps activate some small form of positive pedagogical shift. secret- I dream of nothing less than revolutionary ;-P

Teacher Inquiry is further advocated by the research of Professor John Hattie and the late researcher Graham Nuthall (both Kiwis!).  Now I am not going to waffle on about the research justifications, not my style though it needed to be mentioned, as you are all intelligent enough to Google it for yourself (that was a compliment …).  What I will share with you though is a wonderful statement announced the other day by Intrepid Teacher“Group Brain Activate!”.  As a 21st Century Learner and Teacher I can see no other way to conduct a Teacher Inquiry other than collaboratively.  By collaboratively I mean by using the Web2.0 to publish, discuss, review and share my process and findings.

Over the past couple of years I have come to realise that I am not alone in my search for Educational Enlightenment.  Not only are there people out there struggling along on their own journey but these people are sharing, thinking, communicating and learning from one another.  I want to be part of that crowd!  So Group Brain Activate, lead me to the promised land … or at least give me few good tips on Oral Language?  Oh yeah, that’s what my Teacher Inquiry will be about – The improvement of Oral Language through Video Conferencing and any other Web2.0 gizmo my hopefully enthusiastic Group Brain may suggest.

I have set up a Wiki as my Individual Teacher Plan (formally a flimsy piece of paper, Save The Trees!) where I will document my thinking, planning, progress and reflection.  Pop in, have a look, make a suggestion, correct my spelling or just stay for a cup of tea, you are all welcome! (just as a quick note for all you speedy readers out there, I haven’t got anything on there yet, I am planning to set it up this weekend after the in-laws have gone, but never fear it will be done asap!)