Posted in 05. Design for learning

Now Everyone CAN Create


When the Apple Distinguished Educators (ADEs) were in Texas for the global institute, we were promised some wonderful resources under the heading #everyonecancreate. And Apple have delivered! The timing could not be better as we face 8 weeks with our year 9 and 10 students before they go off on a well deserved summer break. I am so pleased with the English department at my school because they have all decided to take this project up with their classes. What follows is the strategy I  suggested, which has been fully embraced by another colleague and TiC of year 9, Annie Davis. So together we refined the programme to be used at our school.

Step 1: Download all four books from iTunes: Everyone Can Create project guides and Teacher GuideThese are pretty big downloads so when you get your students to do it, I suggest you get them to download at home.

Step 2: What I did was take my class on a Photo Walk which is one of the activities in the Photo book When they were done, they added their photos to a Padlet and continued with the next activity, which was personalising their photos.. Here is an example of their Padlet:

Made with Padlet


Step 3: Next I gave them a timeline. This gives the students an idea of what they are working towards, and for how long.

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Step 4: They got into groups and started to choose the tasks they wanted to do, based on the matrix. The best way to approach this is to work down each column, as the one activity builds on the next. At this point teachers can step back because each activity (the name of which correlates to the activity in the book) is totally self explanatory. Students can navigate their way forward from here. Annie took our bland doc and turned it into this inviting matrix:

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Step 5: Some teachers like a lot more detail, so this planning sheet is really for those that like a step-by-step approach, but it is by no means the only way!

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Step 6: Teachers will need to give some grades so Annie and I looked at an existing rubric and she adapted it to look like this:

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Step 7: The master plan is to use these skills and key competencies to get them to create a short film under time constraints, which will culminate in a Film Festival. I have blogged about this before, as it’s an idea I got from fellow ADE, Donna Smith. There is more detail about the film festival in this link. And more details for the students in this link.

I really hope that the students enjoy this project and unleash their creativity! #EveryoneCanCreate


Posted in 03. Professional relationships

Reflections on uLearn18/ uAko18

This year I am pleased to say that Orewa Kāhui Ako was well represented at uLearn18. We had 17 delegates from across the community, two presentations and one fantastic gala dinner. Across school leaders presented on the journey we have  covered so far. And Fleur Knight from Orewa College presented with several students included in the presentation to give student voice.IMG_3396

The three focus strands to uLearn18 were: Capability. Community. Change. MC for the conference was the dynamic and enthusiastic Stacey Morrison  She has fantastic stage presence and knows how to woo a crowd.

Day one kicked off with the first of three keynotes. Dr Hana O’Regan spoke about:  “Let your story be heard in the heavens, and your mana restored to the lands.” Hana’s focus was on contesting and resisting Māori stereotypes in order to do justice to learners, their futures and their outcomes.

The next keynote was by Pasi Sahlberg of Finland who spoke about small versus big data. “If you don’t lead with small data, you’ll be led by big data.” Small data is processed by humans, and reveals causation, collective wisdom and understanding the present. As opposed to big data which looks at big trends, processed by computers, reveals correlations and predicts the future. Big data spews out impersonal trends, where small data gives a more personal view. You can strengthen small data by using professional wisdom as evidence. Pasi asked students from a number of schools, across multiple continents, to draw a typical maths teacher. This is what they commonly thought: Unstylish males whose sole purpose in life is to solve equations. His point was that students arrive at class with stereotypes and preconceived ideas, often born out of the beliefs of their parents. We can use this evidence or small data to make changes in our own classes.

Portrait of the Typical Maths Teacher

Day three ended with a beamed in hologram of Mike Walsh from America. Mike is a futurist and his keynote was both provocative and inspirational. Computational thinking starts with problem solving, and then leads to which tools to use to solve the problem. His challenge for us driving forward is that students should be able to answer the following question: “Can you make good decisions in ambiguous conditions?”

I attended a breakout by Philippa Antipas on student wellbeing. She said that we should be in a youth-adult partnership when it comes to wellbeing. Students should be active agents in their day at school. And perhaps most importantly, a reminder that you can’t nurture the wellbeing of others unless you are a well being yourself.

Next I attended a workshop based on PBL. It was introduced by a year 9 student who loves working in this independent way. She felt her learning was enhanced because she understood why she was learning certain concepts. Nicholas Pattison, her teacher, said that PBL should have the following factors:

  1. Access to outside expertise
  2. Access to necessary resources
  3. Projects should lead naturally to career education
  4. They should provide authentic experiences for the students

Nicolas had this as his parting quote: “If we want a modern education system, we need to think in different ways. We need to work with communities and iwis.”

Karen Boyes led a session on Visible Learning. There are 8 Cultures of Thinking:IMG_04353DE6434F-1

Each strand is important. But to highlight a few, she said  that we need to give students time to struggle. Don’t ask a question, and a second later answer it for them. They will never develop a growth mindset if we do this continuously. Rather, provide wait time and think time. Just like a computer takes time to download large files, so too we should give students time to process ideas. Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work! Is this true for your students? Interactions: What do you want students to unconsciously learn from you? Use inclusive words like ‘us’ ‘we’ and ‘our.’

One of my favourite breakout sessions was by a school that went to Finland to find out more about the Finnish education system. My take is that the Finnish teachers seem to keep things uncomplicated. No bells, because teachers decide when their classes need a break. No uniform rules. Less is more: Little homework, short days, lots of play, long family holidays. Children are encouraged to be independent from a very early age. Nothing happens or changes in Finnish schools unless it is backed by research. They believe in early intervention which will save money in the long run. So, don’t wait for the child to fail before they get the help they need. Classrooms are simplified and de-cluttered to promote calmness. They promote activated learning which means increased physical activity during and between lessons. Active citizenship is promoted by students (as young as 6 years old) running their own meetings with a chairperson and secretary taking minutes. This is done independently of teachers. One of my favourite take aways: teachers are encouraged to have active meetings. They tackle issues while out for a walk together. On my reading list: Finnish Lessons by Pasi Sahlberg.

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Sandy, Lesley and I ran a breakout called “From Community Schools to a Kāhui Ako.” We prepared a card game and that was to be followed up with discussion about the successes and pitfalls we have encountered along our journey.  It was an interactive session with many pertinent questions. We looked at our starting point, which was setting up face-to-face meeting time, which we feel is a real strength of our Kāhui Ako. We moved on to the surveys we ran and the results, through to our focus groups and the strides we have made with these areas. Finally we looked at what we hope to achieve over the next two years, which is clarity and acceptance by the wider Orewa Kāhui Ako community. Time galloped along and before we knew it we were faced with our final keynote address. And uLearn18 was at an end.

Of course the one detail I have left off, the gala dinner. The theme this year was “Under the Big Top.” There was the predicted number of clowns and ring leaders, and even a few rogue lions. We were blown away by the entertainment: trapeze artists dangling from the ceiling. Our group went as the Bearded Ladies and it was a fun way to end the conference. I think I speak for all when I say how grateful we are for PD opportunities like this, and the camaraderie that you build up along the way is priceless.





Posted in Personal TAI

Spiral of Inquiry: Data

I prefer the spiral of inquiry model for my TAI. This means that “one spiral of inquiry leads to another. Small changes create the confidence to design and implement more radical change. This is how transformation begins.” Timperley, H., Kaser, L., and Halbert, J. (2014, April) In this way, one inquiry ends, and the next one begins. But they are inextricably linked and build on each other. For the writing standards, my TAI aim was to raise awareness of the complexity that students can bring to their writing by the act of adding layers. To help with the awareness of these layers, I looked at what the assessment standards give us, and also the Learning Progressions Framework (LPF.)

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In addition, I insisted on the following step. Students had to find someone that they trust to read their work. That someone might be a relative, a past teacher, a peer in another school. And the other thing that I reminded my students was that they should get the checker to be critical. And then, when they are given constructive criticism, that they should act on it. Not sulk about it. Because let’s face it, their writing can and should feel very personal, and therefore, they get protective over it.

I can report back that the marking was more streamlined because I wasn’t looking at the mechanics of the writing, as much as the content. There were one or two that hadn’t been edited correctly, but on the whole it was heartening to see that they hadn’t hit ‘submit’ the minute the last full stop was on the page.

Many students must’ve got their families to read their work. At the last parents’ evening, so many commented on the creative or formal writing, because they had checked and enjoyed their work.

Students’ results were as follows:

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There are 29 students in the class. 13 chose to do creative writing, while 16 did formal writing. Overall, 18 excellences, 9 merits, and 2 achieved grades. There are still some students that would prefer constant feedback from me. But I think they can see the value of sharing their work with parents, peers, past teachers, who can critique their work just as well as me.

Posted in 01. Te Tiriti o Waitangi partnership, 02. Professional learning

Equity Maps for Staff and Students

After every conference or institute, there are always a few things that resonate with me. One in particular was the spotlight by Stephanie Thompson on the use of equity maps. As an English teacher, I am constantly getting my classes to work in groups. But at the back of my mind, there is always the question of equity. Who is participating fully? Who is being excluded? Who is overlooked and has given up trying to be heard? Stephanie focused on gender equality, which I will pursue with my classes. But in addition to this, in the New Zealand context, we have priority learners. Teachers have a hunch about participation and contribution. But now, with the aid of we have group analysis and data at our fingertips. And it is instant.

The data you get answers the question of equity of participation. You get gender balance, amount of time spent participating, and even how many times the teacher spoke. You can see this in graphs, or look at individuals and see how much of the discussion they contributed to. As the website says:

Is everyone sharing air-time?

Is someone with many ideas a little too quiet?

Someone can’t keep quiet?

Is the teacher doing most of the talking?

I decided to introduce equity maps, not to my classes [yet] but rather to a community leaders’ meeting (Kāhui Ako.) We are working across six schools, with teachers of year 1 through to teachers of year 13. We actively promote collaboration and some of us are currently working on a moderation process for use across the community. This is easier said than done, given that the jargon in a primary school differs to a high school. The writing tasks are quite different. And we are looking at writing from across the curriculum, from years 1 to 10. At this meeting we had got to the point of finally refining and just about producing our matrix.

I mapped the discussion. While moderation doesn’t sound all that exciting, there was a sense of energy because we could finally see that the hours of refining the matrix was finally paying off. At the end of the session, this is just some of the data I had:

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I could show the group members who had contributed, how many times, and for how long. They could compare their contributions to the rest of the group. The equity factors showed that they had been quite inclusive, but this could be worked on. And then I discovered when I hit the “playback session” that there is a recording of the participation from each member. Dare I say that I had to hit the “Teacher Talk” icon 19 times. Useful to see the data on that one. I’m happy to say I never had to hit the “chaos” icon, but then I also had to avoid the “silence” icon because they were never silent.


The power of this tool is immense. As Stephanie said, “Whose voice is not being heard?” With this tool, you’ll have more than a hunch. You’ll have the data to back that hunch up. If you are wanting to promote collaboration, this is the ideal tool. Thanks to Stephanie for her inspiration, and to app creator Dave Nelson and EquityMaps.

Posted in 02. Professional learning, Professional development, Uncategorized

Worldwide ADE Institute 2018: Texas


This year there were 371 educators from 38 countries represented in Austin. The temperature in Texas exceeded 35 degrees on most days. On others, it climbed to 40. Not that we would’ve noticed because we were grinding away on our projects in the sometimes rather chilly air conditioned rooms. Regardless of temperatures, it is always great to connect with my New Zealand teacher-friends. Donna Smith is generally the first to spark an idea, and this is normally after a casual ten minute conversation.

Donna and me

In addition to the Kiwi connection, it is a really humbling experience to witness the stories of inspiration from across the globe. Some teachers are utilising the accessibility features in iPads simply to allow their students to communicate with them on the most basic level. Without these features, these students would be silent.

The hashtag for the conference was #EveryoneCanCreate. There was still an emphasis on coding, but the big drive was towards getting our teachers and students to be more creative, in the largest sense of the word. The point was made that conformity is easier than creativity. I’ll be challenging my students on this one: are they taking the easy road because it’s simply that- easy? And what about our own teaching practise? Are we doing what we’ve always done? As one of the presenters said, don’t confine your students to your style of learning.

After a full day of workshops, we broke off into homeroom groups. One of the first things we had to do was define what creativity means to us. So what would you say? What does creativity mean to you? For me, at its core, creativity has freedom and choice. It also has flexibility and courage to produce your ideas. The next thing I really took away from the creativity topic is that less is more. Simplify. Simplify. Simplify. With the result, the Clips video I made (using the combined ideas from our project team,  namely Donna Smith, JJ Purton Jones and myself) was clean and simple. We were pleased to see it up on the big screen as one of the nine examples used in the institute reflections on the last day.

The other big winner this year was surprisingly, Keynote. This app is no longer being used as a presentation tool. We saw the most fantastic movies, animations and inspiring ideas, all created in Keynote. The great thing is that our students are very familiar with the tool, now I’d like to get them digging way deeper into the capabilities of Keynote. In fact I thought I knew quite a bit about this tool, but there are so many as yet unused layers. This will be my mission over the coming weeks, to familiarise myself with the deeper layers. What I think was the best sharing session regarding the capabilities of Keynote was from Noah Katz If you have ever seen the graphic novel The Boat by Nam Le, this is the type of animation Noah is producing, along with his students. When I have more insight into how to do this, I will share. As I’m sure will my fellow ADEs.

Stephanie Thompson gave a fantastic spotlight session on using gender equality apps to track who speaks up in group work.  She used where you can download the app ($4.49: It’s a teacher app so only you need to buy it.) She found that when she started using these tracking maps, the boys dominated over the girls. You are able to chart the dialogue in group work, or in fact get the data about how much time you spend talking in a lesson. The point for group work is clear: Whose voices are not being heard? In addition, we might find that we need to develop the mantra of talk less and listen more. I wonder what the data would look like if we tracked school meetings?

But wait, there’s more! Who knew that Pages could be so exciting? My students have used the book template in Pages, but they tend to use the blank copy and work from scratch. No need to do so as all the templates are editable. Teachers can make use of smart annotation when marking, which magically anchors to the text, even if the student edits and moves text around. Hit presenter mode and the document transforms into a teleprompter. Add voice recordings and you can edit the audio directly in Pages. Mask photos with shapes for some really cool effects. To change colours, drag and drop the central dot in the colour wheel.

Next we went to a session which looked at Universal Design for Learning. They highlighted how important it is for teachers and students to get to know how the accessibility features work on our devices. This could potentially remove barriers to learning for some students. They recommended a book by John D. Couch called Rewiring Education: How Technology can Unlock every student’s potential.

Book Title

Another great view, which I think will resonate with many teachers, is that digital natives do not exist. We need to actively teach digital literacy. How many times have we seen students happily producing digital work, only for us to be disappointed with the quality of the sound, visuals, or both? What I picked up is that teachers are taking time to teach these digital skills. The question is, if we stick closely to the curriculum, where do we fit digital literacy in?

John Danty of GarageBand fame was sublime. I’m no musician but even I felt inspired to investigate loops and smart drummer more closely. I’ll prompt my students to make use of GarageBand to create special effects and tracks to be used with their videos and podcasts.

We ended institute at Salt Lick BBQ, an authentic Texas experience. And a quick trip to 6th street for some of the best live music and jam sessions. My last trip was to fulfil my mission of buying some Texas boots for both Trevor Rubens and myself. I’m pleased to report: Mission Accomplished.

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So finally, in sticking with the theme #EveryoneCanCreate, if creativity is higher order thinking, are we driving our students in that direction? And is our work allowing for courageous and flexible freedom to create?

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Posted in 03. Professional relationships, Uncategorized

Visit to NZQA in Wellington



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A representative from New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) visited Orewa College and spent a couple of hours in my class. The aim was to see how teachers and students are accessing and utilising technology in the classroom. He then invited me to run a session in Wellington, and this took place on Friday 22nd June.  

The session involved 12 National Assessment Facilitators, and some other members of Secondary Examinations. Secondary Examinations is the team responsible for the development of the NCEA and NZ Scholarship examinations and the marking of those exams.  They will be the team responsible for the development and marking of digital exams and will be responsible for delivering on NZQA’s goal of using technology as the catalyst to transform assessment. One of the principles they are trying to adhere to, with regard to the digital examinations, is that they reflect what is happening in the classroom. This session provided an opportunity for the team to gain some insights into how teachers are using technology, not as the focus, but as the instrument to enhance their students’ learning.

I travelled down to Wellington and presented the Orewa College journey from the perspective of my classroom. The focus began with the optional BYOD in 2010, through to the current system where technology fits comfortably into our daily work. We looked at how students access their work, and what teachers need to do to engage their students. We discussed how, as a staff, we do still share good apps and websites. But it is far more about changing pedagogy to suit the situation. It is more about students taking ownership of their learning and finding out what works best for them, and working at their pace. And we looked at how it helps to be flexible enough to allow and promote student choice.

The slideshow above is a summary of the points I raised, looking at my preferred way of working with technology, as well as that of the students. The whole exercise, putting the presentation together, and delivering it, was a reminder of how far we have progressed over the past few years.

It is encouraging to know that NZQA is actively visiting classes and seeking understanding from teachers, as they strive to improve the examination process for our students.



Posted in 04. Learning-focused culture, Personal TAI

Developing my teaching as inquiry approach

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The Teaching as Inquiry (TAI) model is designed to improve both the delivery of content, and the experience for the students. In essence, TAI is a process that encourages teachers to change their practice in order to enhance success for all students. My TAI aim is to raise awareness of the complexity that students can bring to their writing by the act of adding layers. To help with the awareness of these layers, I have looked at what the assessment standards give us, and also the Learning Progressions Framework (LPF.)

But is it enough to just be aware of these layers? How do students check that they have added enough depth to their writing? I created the resource above to help. In this exercise, students are required to find someone to check their work; someone they trust; someone that is not me. I will of course be one of the checkers, but it simply is not good enough to wait for my feedback. Some students naturally turn to their peers and get them to read their work. This checklist should help with the process. But what about those students that don’t necessarily want their peers to look at their work? One boy in my class said that he didn’t want his friends to see his work until it was, in his mind, perfect.

So I’ve opened the activity up. My instruction was: Find someone that you trust to read your work. That someone might be a relative, a past teacher, a peer in another school. And the other thing that I reminded my students was that they should get the checker to be critical. And then, when they are given constructive criticism, that they should act on it. Not sulk about it. Because let’s face it, their writing can and should feel very personal, and therefore, they get protective over it.

To clinch the deal, I made this poster to highlight the Ako Orewa questions they should be able to answer during the whole writing process. This should help with developing their agency.

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Thanks to Richard Wells for the critique on my original poster.

Posted in 05. Design for learning, Personal TAI

Take control of your learning

Teaching as Inquiry: 2018

I’ve been mulling over this post for ages. I know my inquiry is linked to improving students’ writing. And I know I want to include increased student agency in my inquiry. In addition. I know that my approach will be based on design thinking. So what is my hunch? This morning, while reading a post by Kath Murdock it struck me. It’s all good and well me being flexible and giving choice. But the students do not believe that they actually have a choice. Therefore they are not owning their learning and in turn developing independence. This quote resonated with what I’ve been thinking:

Having a sense of agency then, is fundamental.  Our well-being depends on it…Teacher’s conversations with children help the children build the bridges between action and consequence that develop their sense of agency.’(Johnston, 2004, p. 30).

Students are so used to being told what to do, and when to do it, that they have not developed that sense of independent thought. My mission, or rather my inquiry, will be to promote students’ flexibility, independence and therefore their agency.


The students that I will base my TAI on are a class that have enjoyed success at school. For their first assessment, the results were: 20 Excellences, 5 Merits and 2 Achieved grades. They work hard, have high standards and meet deadlines. But they struggle to answer the fundamental questions demanded of them by our school’s Ako approach:

Through Ako Orewa, all students will be able to explain:

  • What they are learning and why?
  • What success looks like
  • How well they are doing
  • What their next steps are

The Leadership reworked  the focus for Ako Orewa in such a way that it emphasised student leading their own learning.

My method will be to regularly ask these four questions. I encourage them to peer assess, but if I’m honest, they still would rather I tell them how well they are doing, and what their next steps should be. That does not foster their independence. As Kath Murdock points out:  ‘If children know there is someone standing over them who has all the answers they are less inclined to want to find the answers for themselves.’ 

Through our Orewa Kāhui Ako work I have revisited the Learning Progressions Framework with its seven aspects to writing. This is what should have been covered in writing classes from years 1 through to 10. I shared this with my class as they are busy crafting their creative or formal writing. In my next lesson I will get them to identify these seven aspects in their peer’s work. This will help them with understanding the questions: How well they are doing and What their next steps are. Without relying on me telling them.

I designed this Padlet to help with these two questions: What they are learning and why? and What success looks like. I’ll have the quantitative data after the assessment is graded. But I’m just as interested in the qualitative data gained from asking the four Ako questions. This is something I’ll need to revisit regularly. Until it becomes a habit for the students to do themselves, without me prompting them.

My goal is to empower my students with the competencies required to actively control their learning, as stated in the New Zealand curriculum.


Posted in 02. Professional learning, Uncategorized

Teacher agency and the digital curriculum

At our school we are really consciously giving students more agency. I have found that this flexible, student centric approach optimises productivity for many students. Giving choice often promotes ownership. Surely you’ve got to own the work if you chose to do it?

But what about the teachers? Where is our agency? Are we freed up to make choices about how we work, and what we focus on?

With that in mind I led the Wednesday PD session in our English department. Instead of telling them what to work on, or sharing what I was feeling passionate about, we looked at a range of activities they could get busy with.

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The activities ranged from getting to grips with Google+ and joining the various groups, to blog categories and reducing the 12 practicing teacher categories down to six. There was time for some cross year level collaboration, and some good old NCEA pre-standard discussions .

What I personally was most keen to get started on was the Mindlab Digital Passport

This Digital Passport is designed to help both teachers and parents understand the NZ Digital Curriculum more fully It is an online course and offers videos, a very brief quiz at the end of each workshop, and additional resources or learning modules. What they do is define much of the terminology and jargon associated with the digital curriculum. They define simple algorithms and computational thinking for Years 1-3, right through to how to create apps for years 8-10. There is not enough time to learn the skills behind the concepts. Rather it is to give teachers and parents an overview of what students from years 1 through to 10 would be expected to cover. And If you like getting certificates, you can get one at the end of each of the four workshops.

In the words of the @NZDigiPassport on Twitter this is “your ticket to navigate the new digital technologies curriculum.”

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Posted in 04. Learning-focused culture, Personal TAI

Exam Results 2017: Reaching for Excellence

These results reflect the hard work and tenacity of a fantastic group of students. They link to my Teaching as Inquiry post but as that post was rather long, I have decided to analyse their results in a new post.

Although these students were enrolled in three external exams, I strongly suggested to both them and their parents that they do two of the three exams. A large proportion of the students followed this advice. This partly explains the high percentage of excellences for both the visual text exam and the unfamiliar exam.


Looking at all the standards over the year, they achieved a remarkable set of results. 55% of all students in the class reached excellence for all their work. I think this is in part due to the atmosphere in the class. That they know that they have choice around how they work. That they take ownership of the level they work at. But also, that these students drive each other to do really well.

But the other aspect is the question of excellence grades: How do students get their work to excellence? Particularly intriguing in a subject like English where the marking can be very subjective.

My views are that some students are naturally good at the subject. No matter what teachers do, they will excel. But these students are, in my experience, a small minority. So how is it that 55% of all students in this class got excellence grades over the entire year? The answer is tenacity. We live in an instant society, where we expect instant gratification. So most students seem to believe that one draft is all it takes. These students do not get to excellence. Tenacity means that students are prepared to accept that the first draft is just that, a draft. And that the draft might go through a number of iterations and refinements before the final product is ready for submission.

The students in this class showed drive, determination and bucket loads of tenacity. And they can be justifiably proud of both their grades and the key competencies that they developed over the year.