Posted in Personal TAI

Teaching as Inquiry: Evidence vs Data

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 LeonardEvidence 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. Screen Shot 2019-07-25 at 7.25.37 PMMy 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.

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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 Screen Shot 2019-07-25 at 7.25.49 PMtheir 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.

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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.



Posted in 02. Professional learning

ADE Institute 2019

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.

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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:

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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.

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Posted in 04. Learning-focused culture, Personal TAI

Teaching as Inquiry: First Spiral

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:

  1. How increased student agency can improve creativity. And
  2. How blended learning helps facilitate this.

Spirals of inquiry

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. Screen Shot 2019-05-07 at 10.13.15 AM

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.

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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.



Posted in 03. Professional relationships

How to Sketchnote with Sylvia Duckworth

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:

  1. Meaningful and creative planning for essays or creative writing
  2. Character profiles
  3. Selfie Sketchnotes as an  introduction to the year
  4. Making thoughtful notes
  5. Storyboards for films
  6. Planning for static image
  7. 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!


Posted in 01. Te Tiriti o Waitangi partnership

Thinking about strategies for priority learners

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.

Strategies include:

  1. 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.

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  2. 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.IMG_0287


*The photos in this post are of my current students, not particularly priority learners.

Posted in 01. Te Tiriti o Waitangi partnership

What do you do when crisis hits?

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.

IMG_0142I 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.

Posted in 02. Professional learning

Boys and writing


I attended professional development on the weekend, along with some of my primary school Kāhui Ako colleagues. The only reason we gave up time on a Saturday was because the theme was so topical. I don’t feel like my boys have a massive obstacle to writing, but it is something that we are consistently asked to focus on. Did we get the silver bullet on how to teach boys’ writing? No. In a nutshell the facilitator left us with the  view that we probably all share:  The quality of education is based on the quality of relationships. Not one child is the same. And not every boy is the same. But in the age we live in, gender is no longer definitive. And we certainly need an inclusive education.

In schools, boys are treated like defective girls. Make your classroom more boy friendly.

Another long held view is that writing will improve if students read more. And a simple rule to follow: boys will read if interested. So a good website to checkout is

Boys seem to want to read and write about topics that are:



And about:




Another point to remember: Zero out zero tolerance. When teaching boys, instructions must be explicit. So it is better to be forthright with boys. Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind. Ambiguity brings disorder.  And we always need to remember that we are not changing the world, but we can change our class, our boys.

Know me before you teach me. A good strategy to adopt is learning buddies. Instead of hands up, students can turn to their buddy and discuss questions. This helps with knowledge distribution.

And finally, in empowering boys, follow these strategies:

  1. You don’t need to be a rock star teacher. Just be approachable
  2. Let boys write about things, not feelings
  3. Don’t brand boys as reluctant writers if they are not captivated, yet
  4. Boys can often be labelled ADHD. Perhaps they all need to be freed up away from their desks for short breaks (Age plus 10 minutes of sitting should be the norm)
  5. Boys thrive in structured environments
  6. There needs to be consistency across the school

And finally, keep them in their strength zone. Boys want the headline, not the whole paragraph. So keep instructions short and simple. I would suggest that these strategies are good for all students, regardless of age or gender.






Posted in 02. Professional learning, Personal TAI

Orewa Kāhui Ako Conference 2019

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I was really excited to share my teaching as inquiry (TAI) with the community teachers this year. The reason for this is that I based one of my TAI spirals on the Apple Everyone can Create guides which I introduced to the English department, and my class, last year. I based my workshop on the results I had with my class.

Having done a number of these types of workshops, and after many discussions with fellow teachers, I know that I am an early adopter. If the project feels sound and educationally valuable, as well as engaging, I jump in. Not only that, I get excited about the prospect and I guess I generate this excitement with my students. So for me, it was a great fourth term. This is what I started my workshop with.

My initial findings were that my students were engaged, on task and active. The four guides are based around three focus areas: Creation of photos, videos, drawing and music. I watched as some students climbed trees to get the best angle, while others went into their own zone as they created music. I found that I had to be flexible as some students followed the task rubric, while others started with the rubric, but then forged their own pathway. The most surprising guide was the one based on music. It is ,my least confident area, and the one that provoked the most inspiration in my students. I shared this journey with the teachers who attended my workshop.

I also got the teachers active, which was in itself a feat given the heat on the day. But there they were, doing the photo walk and the personalised pictures which are just two of the activities in the guides. I also shared our task matrix and marking rubric with the teachers. This is a good way to contextualise the guides for each school. The great part is that these resources can be adapted for any year level.

I provided the teachers with a link to my iBook which contains the plan I used, links to the Apple Create Guides, all the resources I think are necessary to get started, and examples of my students work.

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Posted in 06. Teaching, Student Achievement Analysis

Results from 2018 NCEA classes

I never taught last year.

By that I mean, I never taught from the front of the class, at my pace, relying solely on my knowledge.

Regardless of what my teaching as inquiry plan is, underpinning all that I do with my students is that I promote independence. This takes many forms for my students, like relying on digital resources, on each other, consulting experts and even family members. Of course I am always available, but I am not the one holding all the cards. My students are encouraged to explore their own pathways and work with each other to find solutions. Working at their own pace and to their level of achievement is also paramount.

Has this independence-drive affected their grades?

No. In fact I have seen their grades slowly but surely improving over the years as we all come to grips with the new approach. As an indication, I include the overall results from my year 11 and 12 classes. The year 11s completed four internal assessments and two out of three external assessments. There was zero not achieved grades. Having no one ‘fail’ does breed a culture of success. In addition, over half the class got excellence grades for everything they submitted over the course of the year, including exams.

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For a clear breakdown of each standard, see the chart below:

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What I found interesting was to see the steady increase in overall internal grades as the year went on, culminating in their epic performance with the text connections standard, where the results were overwhelmingly positive.

My year 12 class also enjoyed some success, albeit in a different way. When we started the year I had grave doubts whether many of them would see any English credits on their record of work. It took time, patience and effort to set up and develop relationships with these students. I believe this can be seen in their grades, where they went from pretty feeble to almost all students seeing some success.

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For a clear breakdown of each standard, see the chart below:

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The speech standard was the most surprising standard. It exposed potential in some students that I never thought possible. And I’m so proud to say that every student in the class completed this standard. I doubt that this would’ve been the case had we done the speech at the beginning of the year, before trust had been established. So while I worked on building trust, students developed confidence in their ability. The exams were another story. I believe strongly that exams should be optional for this type of class. For some, no matter how much trust and revision, scaffolding and coaching, the exams will be a stretch too far.

I believe that the flexibility afforded us by NCEA has been lost below layers of admin and bureaucratic red tape. By giving students choice, hopefully we can peal away some of that tape.

I look forward to this year with my new classes as I watch them grow in confidence and independence.

Posted in 06. Teaching, Personal TAI

The secret to getting great grades

As we approach the end of the academic year, it is time to look at the overall data for my Year 11 class, generated through internal standards. Do I have the secret to getting great grades? No of course I don’t. But what I do know is that you have to convince your students that they can and will attain great grades. When you set the expectations high, they tend to aim high.

My hunch going into this Teaching as Inquiry (TAI) was that students should be reminded about the basics that make up good writing. This should become the norm for them while reviewing and editing their work. My main focus has been to get them to critique their work before submitting it. This critique could be done by their friend, a family member, another teacher. Anyone they feel comfortable sharing their raw and unfinished work with. The discussions I have had with parents seems to indicate that students are getting their parents to give them feedback. I have certainly found marking to be far more streamlined. Which means that I have focused on their big ideas, rather than the mechanics of their writing.

My class has still been run along the following lines: A flexible attitude, along with varied resources ranging from videos through to exemplars produced by my students, and a bit of everything in between. Students have been encouraged and cajoled into forging their own learning pathways.  I’m happy to say that we have been able to work on a multitude of tasks and activities all at once, and no one has run mad. Slightly crazy, but not mad.

Comparisons are odious, but necessary for my TAI. My basis is always my year 11 class as they are, year after year, pretty much made up of the same calibre of student and have an even gender split. My year 11s have displayed a remarkable ability to self manage and generate some brilliant pieces of work independently, and their grades attest to this. Their Excellence grades, for internal assessments for the year, far outweigh the results gained last year. In essence, 78% of the class have managed to gain excellence grades for every internal this year, just about 10 % up on last year.


2017                                                          2018     

A TAI was never designed to be scientific. My data has a number of variables. And I have not discussed all the spirals I have included over the year in this blog post. But I have reflected on them in a variety of previous posts. What is clear to me is that students need to be trusted to work independently, and work the way that suits them best. They need to be reminded of the mechanics of writing, but no need to labour the point. And this class responded to being given timelines rather than checkpoints. They said that they liked the fact that I allowed them to prioritise their work in the way that they saw fit.

As we hurtle towards the end of the year, I have reflected on the crazy kids that make up my day. All I ever ask of them can be summarised in the words of Mark Cuban:

The only thing in your control is effort. That’s all and that’s everything.