This is the first time in a number of years that I have not taught the year 11 extension class. My year 11 class was made up of some wonderful students with a varied range of abilities. Although I made some changes with regard to the texts we studied, I didn’t change my approach, which is to foster independence and student agency through providing a variety of approaches. The first thing I did was revise and update their Apple book: Link to book here
Resources ranged from videos like this:
To static resources, like this:
I have enjoyed this class immensely. I think you hit your strides with certain courses, and that’s how I feel with this course. I know the content well, the potential triumphs and pitfalls. I am able to instil confidence in the students, because I feel confident about the way the course is designed. I had no trouble with students both submitting work, and doing so on time. I had one student who did not achieve, but the reasons were greater than this course or this subject. Their overall grades for their internal assessments, independently marked by the English Department, were very pleasing.
As a society I believe we have moved further and further away from the written text, and our lives have become bombarded with visual stimuli. It doesn’t surprise me that I have witnessed a shift in static image creation and results. Many students are able to express their ideas in a visual way, with some solid digital skills. There has been a massive shift away from paper cut & paste, to quite sophisticated digitally created images. 75% of the class were in the merit-excellence category.
Creative and Formal Writing
With this standard, I tend to give freedom of choice with regard to the topic. I also encourage students to get multiple people to read their work before submitting to me. In this way I can focus on their ideas, rather than the surface errors. Again I was very pleased with the results, with 50% at the achieved level, the rest getting merit or excellence.
I have, in the past, had misgivings about this standard due to its protracted nature. However this year we had it all wrapped up early in term 3. The texts we chose (Hidden Figures, Tomorrow when the War Began, and short story Job) worked well together. Again we had half the class achieve, with the rest getting merit and excellence.
As with most NCEA students, these students have crunched the numbers and know exactly how many credits they have, and how many they still need to achieve before the end of the year. For the majority of these students, they will face the exams with very little stress, knowing that the hard work they put into the work this year has paid off.
There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure
Having worked with Tabitha Leonard, this final innovative spin will focus on Learning Mindsets and Learning Dispositions. My baseline evidence is anecdotal, and based on student interviews. My strategy is to be creative, flexible and motivational. The impact data will be based on the way students approach this term’s unit.
As we move into term 4, I reflect again on my teaching inquiry. It is time to start the final spiral of inquiry and my focus is on igniting energy and passion into a class that is lovely!… but pretty passive in their approach. They are bright and well-behaved, but they seem to like to just do what they’ve always done. It has worked for them in the past. These are our top achievers. So why should they think outside the square? My TAI data is observational and anecdotal. If you look solely at their grades, you’d ask what the problem is. They get good grades, and when they don’t, they act on feedback to get good grades. But there’s more to it than that. We’re constantly told about the 21st century skills of:
- Critical thinking
- Information literacy
- Media literacy
- Technology literacy
It is my belief that, in making things easier and more accessible in the classroom, we have dumbed down technology literacy. Google Classroom works brilliantly as a dumping ground: dump resources, pick up resources; dump assessments, pick up assessments. And Google docs: fantastic to type on one doc simultaneously. But where’s the creativity in that? Remember the days (for us it’s 5 years ago before GC) when students would tap relentlessly on anything tappable to troubleshoot and work things out? And use a myriad of apps to get creative? Today I witnessed some really bright students struggle to download and share a Pages document. Even when the “Download” button was highlighted for them. Granted, because we were using Classroom, those on iPads had two taps (save from “My Work”; export to Pages.) There was no relentless pursuit of the answer, just blank faces. This is a real concern.
Happily we got there with a bit of a domino effect. Once I got the first one sorted, they passed the information on and soon they were all on the workbook. In fact my students went into some colleagues’ classrooms to get their students going. They realised that the problem was not as hard as they thought.
That brings me to the work. We have eight weeks left before school closes for the summer. Our English department is collaborating with the Social Studies department. This means that students effectively have double the time to work on their products. The aim is to develop their own solutions to the sustainability development goals.
But to get to the final product, they will be working on the Design Process workbook. The idea is to ‘see’ their thoughts and solutions. There is an expectation that students can effectively and successfully collaborate. This type of project will put that to the test. Here is a link to the Pages document. I have adapted the Everyone can Create workbook to suit our needs. Below is a small taste of what it looks like.
My hunch (getting back to my TAI) was that certain students would rise to the occasion and get enthused, and others would be ho-hum about it. Imagine my surprise when they started populating the Padlet with the following crazy shots. The ones I thought wouldn’t get on board not only submitted the most photos, they also asked me to turn on the comments for the Padlet. I suppose it looked a bit like Instagram when they got finished with it, which is possibly why they enthusiastically got on board.
Because we are wanting them to do a deep dive into these topics, it has to strike a chord within. So I tentatively suggested that they might want to add their own sustainability/ social awareness goal. And I’ve just got an email from one of my students asking to do exactly that. So we’ve started with a hiss and a roar. My inquiry is whether I can keep the momentum going and ignite a fire in their bellies.
After all, it took passion and a cardboard sign to get Greta Thunberg’s message about climate change out into the world.
What are our students passionate about? What changes do they want to see in the world? And how are we encouraging them to have a voice?
In April of this year our school hosted Sylvia Duckworth where she introduced us to the world of sketchnoting. I could totally see the benefits for both myself and my students. It is a great way to take visual notes, keep you focused and is strangely meditative and calming. But I have to say that getting an Apple Pencil has been the most massive game changer. I thought I was ambivalent regarding paper versus digital drawing. Turns out that digital sketchnoting is exponentially better. In my opinion anyway.
- The first obvious difference is the undo/ redo button.
- Then as you get older, being able to stretch the screen out to get a better view really helps.
- I primarily use the app Sketches (but Keynote and Pages work just as well.) I love that you can do the basic background, then add layer upon layer which means you can paint and erase, without disturbing your original layer.
- Being mobile means you have all the tools and palettes without the mess.
On a side note, I have never been able to memorise even my most basic pepeha. Now that I have it visually, it has stuck in my brain. Images are so much more powerful than words alone.
The two styles of sketchnotes that I have experimented with are as follows:
- Planned sketchnotes:
Our Kāhui Ako leaders did a workshop at the uLearn19 Conference in Rotorua. I decided to do a number of sketches to form part of our Keynote presentation. You do still have to think about what words and pictures will represent your message, but you have the luxury of time to do it. I found it incredibly therapeutic to sit and plan the images, and would go back to them a number of times until I was happy with them. These sketches are by no means masterpieces and are far from perfect, but I think they capture the message which I intended.
2. Live sketchnotes:
At uLearn19, I trialled sketching while keynote speakers and presenters spoke. The fundamental skill required is to listen to a section of the presentation, then summarise the essence with a word and or image. I found that my focus was pin point because I didn’t want to miss the gems that would eventually fill my page. Again these are far from perfect. I found I was filling too much detail in the top half of the page, then having blank spaces in the bottom half. But I shared them anyway because it’s all a learning process.
With exams coming up for our senior students, I thought that this would be a wonderful skill to pass on. They could have fun while transforming their revision notes into works of art. And it would force students to look at the heart of the matter: what are the actual learning nuggets required to understand a concept?
The best compliment I got was from a colleague’s presentation at uLearn. Richard Wells did a brilliant session on the messy journey to breaking down silo subject areas at our school. After I published a sketchnote based on his workshop he tweeted: “Honoured to receive an actual Rubens!” I think Peter Paul and whanau Rubens would be proud.
As we get to the point of analysing data for our TAIs, I would like to highlight something I read on Tabitha Leonard’s blog. And that is the link between evidence and data. Both are necessary. As Tabitha points out:
- DATA: is to do with numbers; facts; it is right or wrong. But data on its own is of little use. Data needs context. Quantitative data can include tests, PaCT, Asttle, marking rubrics
- EVIDENCE: can contextualise data. Evidence has perspective and opinion. We gather evidence of or for something and can include photos, blogs, reflection.
When put together, data and evidence analysis can put a stop to “data analysis paralysis.” Again, Tabitha Leonard. Evidence should go beyond the anecdotal gut feeling. It should be concrete and purposeful. And teachers should dig deep to understand the data, both its themes and the outliers.
With that in mind I looked at the results for my creative writing project. To set the scene. My year 10 students had all the resources at their fingertips in the form of their iBook This includes presentations, videos and step-by-step guides. We had quite a productive discussion about creative writing, why we place emphasis on it, why it is important. And we discussed how credits and word limits can crush the joy of writing. Being year 10, I also said that we have less restrictions than we will have when they enter the NCEA years, so I put very few restrictions on them. Again, I had students rubbing their hands in glee. The reason was mainly the freedom I was allowing them, within reasonable boundaries of course.
My gut feeling told me they were going to do quite well. When I spoke to them individually, I found the vast majority still loved to write creatively. What they don’t like is being told what topics to write on, and being given a word length. Of course that’s a necessary skill in itself which we are working on with their essay writing.
In addition, my year 11 class is run along pretty much the same lines. They also have all their resources in an iBook. It also includes a variety of resources. This year I didn’t give them the option of writing creatively or formally. The main reason is that they are not the accelerated class that I have taught for the past eight years. So I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly and efficiently they got going on with their creative writing. What I really pushed, along with giving them freedom to work at their own pace, was teenage voice. I encouraged them to talk to their family to see if they had any stories based on their heritage that they could weave into their own work. They battled with keeping their work succinct, but got there in the end. And I also worked hard on avoiding the typical teenage action: after that last full stop they hit the submit button, with no editing at all. We spoke at length about prototyping and editing.
Again, I was really pleased with the results overall. Bearing in mind that for fairness, we don’t mark our own students’ work. The two not achieved marks were really beyond my control as they were linked to attendance issues. My next step will be to work out how to shift the achieved grades up to a merit grade. Thinking cap on for the next assessment.
But the real take-away is that I had one student who handed in his first draft, and got a not achieved grade. The comment from the marker was “Great ideas, pity about the errors.” Fortunately he had been overseas and had been granted an extension. We discussed the error patterns. And after editing he resubmitted. This time, the same marker gave him an excellence.
Now that’s a story I’ll be retelling for a few years.
This year our ADE Institute was held on the Gold Coast, Australia. Famed for its sunny skies all year round, I was looking forward to institute with some excitement, and a good dose of trepidation. The weather was not that sunny. But other than that, institute delivered in abundance. The reason for the trepidation was that I was doing a showcase. This entails a three minute speech in front of some of the most forward thinking, idea-generating educators on the planet. If you know me at all, you’ll know that I don’t use the word literally lightly. I was literally reciting my speech constantly. Before leaving, I was reciting my words to my computer screen and out loud at gym. Then all the way on the plane, and as I fell asleep at night. Even while shopping I caught myself delivering the three minute speech out loud…to no one in particular. Here it is, my two minute, 57 second delivery.
Thankfully, it was pretty well received, which really puzzles me. All I did was tell a story derived from my class. But I guess that’s what engages people, an authentic story. I’m hoping that this year we will be able to replicate this story in more classrooms around my school, if not further afield.
I found once my three minutes were up, I could focus more fully on the institute. My greatest takeaway came from a very simple concept taken out of the impact workshop:
What do you plan to do in the next 5 days; 5 weeks; 5 months to make an impact? What goal will you set yourself over this period of time? Simple yet highly effective. My personal 5 day plan (give or take a few days) has been to update some of my books in iBooks Author, and write this blog post. My 5 week plan is to get some more buy in from departments across the school for the Everyone can Create project. #bringcreativityback. My 5 month plan is, amongst other things, to complete the cross curricular project we started for 2020. Working with both the performing arts and music departments lends itself perfectly to the creativity theme. And of course with the anniversary of #Apollo50, I intend to get a lot of AR inserted into the Hidden Figures film study for my year 11 students.
The other big take away was the sheer brilliance of Keynote. It is so much more than a slide deck or presentation app. I saw the capabilities of combining Keynote and AR for digital storytelling, by Paul Hamilton Then we had the brilliance of Jonathan Cho who, through Keynote and Numbers (!) showed how stories can be told in a linear or non linear way, with students choosing the narrative pathway. Students can write stories with alternative endings by linking slides. Check out their Twitter accounts for resources and ideas.
Next up we looked at how to create podcasts through GarageBand. Handy given that our year 10s will be creating podcasts this term. While on the topic of GarageBand, we had an awesome display of brilliance from John Danty , product manager and all round guru of GarageBand. I’ll be approaching our music teachers to collaborate on the end of year Create project and get their assistance with GarageBand. Not that the students seem to need it, they just get stuck in and create “sick beats.”
And of course, our mentor group, which was led by both myself and JJ Purton-Jones We enjoyed co-leading a group of diverse educators from across our region. Being part of a group like this opens up connections that cross over language and cultural barriers. Particularly when you realise that you all have a similar goal in mind, and that is improving education for our students.
It was fantastic to connect with educators from across the Asia Pacific region. Someone said that we should prioritise sharing ideas, because that’s how we can make a dent in the world. Again, simple yet effective advice. But as I reflect on all the learning, I think it’s important to remember why we share ideas and collaborate with these awesome educators. Not for our own gain, although professional learning has been immense. Not for new content for showcase presentations. That’ll come from our classrooms. The reason is so that we are better equipped to unlock the potential in every student that we have an influence over.
As the African proverb goes, it takes a village to raise a child…but it also takes a village to educate a child. If these dynamic educators that I had the privilege to rub shoulders with are anything to go by, our students are in good hands.
Learner agency is embedded in The New Zealand Curriculum key competencies as “the capabilities that young people need for growing, working, and participating in their communities.
“The school curriculum should challenge students to use and develop the competencies across the range of learning areas and in increasingly complex and unfamiliar situations” NZC, Ministry of Education, 2007, p. 38
The New Zealand Curriculum key competencies are about developing the dispositions and sense of agency that empower the individual, and help them better understand and negotiate the perspectives and values of others, contributing towards more productive and inclusive workplaces and societies.
With this definition in mind, I have a number of inquiries which I am keen on investigating. All in the bid to look for solutions to help students improve their outcomes. But the overarching goal is looking for ways for students to develop these skills independently. So for my inquiry I have to narrow it down to two aspects:
- How increased student agency can improve creativity. And
- How blended learning helps facilitate this.
I am focusing on my year 10 class. I started the year by offering wide choice and freedom to work at students’ own pace. This was met with joy from some, and trepidation from others. (One student actually rubbed her hands in glee at the mere mention of individual choice.) When a student knows their strengths, and potentially their passion, choice is like being given a gift when you were expecting a chore. These students are self motivated and are able to produce work of a very high standard. So my focus turns to the group that are not that independent. The group asking “So what should I write about?” and “How long should my story be?”
I started by giving them access to the whole year’s coursework. This helps with differentiation. So in this one download : Unlocking English they have their tasks, videos, projects and marking rubrics.
Next I went around the various groups and explained why they were being given freedom of choice. And what they could potentially do with their time. Not surprisingly, their effort and grades correlated. So term 2 brings with it more time for choice, differentiated projects and independently driven work. It already looks like, for this group of students, their motivation is up. It’ll be interesting to see how they go with their film study. My plan is to model film analysis with my chosen text. But then open it up so that students can choose their own text and follow the similar analysis format.
In terms of a blended classroom, I am at the point in my teaching career where I have created a number of varied resources and approaches to a given project. This again helps with choice because it means students are deciding not only on the outcome, but also the path to get there. The scene is set for a student centred environment, where learning can take place in a differentiated way. Having the work in a variety of ways should facilitate learning anywhere, anytime, at any pace. But will students take up the challenge? Data will certainly give me some insight.
Results of this spiral of inquiry is the material for my next blog post.
We had the awesome pleasure to host Sylvia Duckworth at our school this week.
Sometimes in life, when you really look forward to something, the reality is a disappointment. Not so with this workshop. It was informative, relaxing. inspiring and engaging. Sylvia not only let us into her sketchnoting world in easy incremental steps, she also shared a wealth of resources with us through her website. In addition, I was lucky enough to win one of her books which are available from her online shop. I have found that I have used both the hardcopy resources, as well as the online links.
So why sketchnote?
The first thing I found was that it increased our focus. You are thinking about the essence of what someone is saying, and then how you can develop an icon to represent their words. Next was obviously the creativity that it unleashes. Not only are you thinking creatively, you are also producing something that is pleasing to look at. It gave us time to pause, reflect and process. And finally, and probably most surprisingly, it had a real calming effect. I found that I got lost in the moment, and I certainly wasn’t the only one.
The ways I think I’ll use Sketchnoting in the classroom:
- Meaningful and creative planning for essays or creative writing
- Character profiles
- Selfie Sketchnotes as an introduction to the year
- Making thoughtful notes
- Storyboards for films
- Planning for static image
- Legitimate doodling
The list could go on and on. In terms of my use of sketchnoting, I use my whiteboard for a wrap up of lessons, or to give ‘big picture’ ideas. Now I can do it in a far more visual way.
And finally, I enjoyed the networking a day of professional development affords you. We had Sylvia from Canada, a number of primary and secondary teachers representing a variety of curriculum areas. We had three people from AUT. And even a visitor from Christchurch. And we all found benefit and links to our sphere of influence.
My final thoughts: Go on, catch the #sketchnotefever!
Priority learners are groups of students who have been identified as historically not experiencing success in the New Zealand schooling system. These may include Māori and Pacific learners, those from low socio-economic backgrounds, and students with special education needs. ERO (August 2012)
Teachers have the responsibility to set high expectations for their students, and to do this we should cater for a wide range of abilities and learning needs. It is also paramount that we affirm cultural diversity and promote inclusivity. And given the climate we live in, we should also be preparing students to be future focused and future ready. Of course, all students fit into these categories, and then some also have the added intersection with the priority learner definition.
With this in mind, I looked at and identified my students who fall under the criteria of priority learners. Next I thought of strategies I could use with them, and others in my classes.
- BUILDING POSITIVE RELATIONSHIPS: This is not a new or complex idea. But it is vital that teenagers know that their teacher is interested in their views. And that we are happy to be in the classroom. Once this positive relationship has been established we can start working on instilling confidence in their work. I have found the best way to engender good relationships is through those one-on-one discussions we can now have because teachers are no longer tied to the front of the classroom. So for all students, but particularly priority students for whom school has not always been their happy place, positive relationship building is vital.
- CREATING PLEASANT ENVIRONMENTS: I teach in a traditionally built school building but as a colleague used to say, the modern learning environment exists between the teacher’s ears. In other words it’s our attitude that has to be progressive. So I have worked hard to make my class look homely and comfortable. I think this assists with creating a safe and comfortable learning environment so that they feel at home, creative and relaxed.
3. PROVIDING CHOICE: I have for a while given students the opportunity to find their own learning pathway and haven’t dictated a set format. But lately with the new AKO Orewa focus, I have given more learner agency by really getting my students to look at the way they learn best, and encouraging them to play to their strengths. I have discussed with them a variety of ways of thinking. We have done quite a bit of discussion around Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset. Not only this, we have also been looking at alternative ways of submitting work. For example my year 10s had the choice of doing a podcast for their essay, or a visual essay, or even a film version of their thoughts. They don’t always jump at the opportunity and sometimes would rather “just type the essay.” Having choice forces them to be introspective about their learning styles. And they actually have to think when asked for an alternative solution. For many students they would rather fall back onto the tried and tested method. This is possibly because teachers have expected a certain type of submission for so many years. So this last strategy is still a work in progress.
*The photos in this post are of my current students, not particularly priority learners.
People are saying that New Zealand changed irrevocably on Friday, 15 March 2019. This might be true. Were there too many of us relaxing in the naïvety of our innocence? Did we really think bad things of a catastrophic nature would not happen here? Yes, maybe we did, and maybe we have lost our innocence. But what happened in Christchurch has opened up discussions about inclusivity, indifference, veiled racist remarks and blatant discrimination. They are difficult discussions to have, but we have to have them. We can’t sit back and say thank goodness it didn’t happen to me. They. Are. Us.
I’m in the middle of a unit with my year 10s where we are looking at our identity: what cultures have gone into making up our identity? Where are our forefathers from? This unit is based on the captivating short story by Nam Le called The Boat In the story, we encounter Mai who is a young Vietnamese girl, sent by her mother to seek asylum in Australia. It opens up many discussions, including how we all ended up in our home of New Zealand. What struck me as we worked through the unit is the incredibly varied, multi-cultural background that we all come from. Discussions have unearthed the intriguing, enthralling, hilarious and often challenging journeys our forefathers had to take. (If the theme of identity is one you teach, more resources can be found in my Year 10 book )
Getting back to my point. Jacinda Ardern has spoken out strongly against the barbaric act of violence with the words:
What has happened in Christchurch is an extraordinary act of unprecedented violence. It has no place in New Zealand. Many of those affected will be members of our migrant communities – New Zealand is their home – they are us.
So what do we as teachers, as guardians of our students, do on the Monday after the horrific terrorist attack? We talk, we listen. We remind students that words and actions have the potential to hurt. That watching and sharing videos can have dire and highly negative consequences. And we also share the aroha as far and wide as we can. I am so proud to work with a staff who would give up their Sunday to peg out the field with the Māori word for “be strong” or “keep going.” Kia kaha.
I am so proud of the student body who stood in silence, and then sung the national anthem with gusto. Of the donations of money and flowers. I am proud to call myself a New Zealander. I will consciously and continuously remind my students, and myself, of Jacinda Ardern’s words:
They are us. New Zealand has been chosen because it is safe, because it is no place for hatred or racism. Because we represent diversity, kindness, compassion, home for those who share our values. Refuge for those who need it. These values will not be shaken by the murders. You may have chosen us – we utterly reject and condemn you.