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.

Posted in 06. Teaching, Personal TAI

Teaching as Inquiry: Grades revealed

As I stated in an earlier post, my Teaching as Inquiry model (TAI) followed spirals of inquiry, specifically looking at writing standards.  For these 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.) In addition, again as I have previously written about, in our department at school we don’t mark our own students’ internal assessments. We moderate eight pieces of work to set the standard, and then we mark each other’s classes.

The last assessment for the Year 11s was “Connection across Texts” where students find similarities and differences across four texts. It is not one of my favourite standards due to its protracted nature. You introduce it in term one, and mark it in term four. The ideal is for students to chip away at it over the year, and then bring the whole beast together at the end. The reality for a lot of them is that they get the texts read, and then draw it all together in the week or two that it is due. The way I approach the teaching of it is to provide a video of what we are looking for to get to excellence, a few exemplars, and much discussion in groups around themes, characters, and of course, choosing a decent text. I also draw a big umbrella, symbolising the common theme, with branches to texts underneath. We talk about the strengths of contrasting diverse texts, and comparing similar texts.

This year the results were mind blowing. This graph equates to 27 Excellence grades, and two Merit grades.

Now I know what you’re thinking, how did the two students that got merit feel? Quite honestly I think they were also pleased with their grades. What I found most rewarding was the number of E8s that were given from, dare I say it, the “sticklers for correct grammar” type markers.  Two of them said, independently of each other, “This is as good as it gets.”

It is hard to pin point what the students did differently to gain such good grades. I do know what I didn’t do:

  1. Whole class teaching, chalk and talk.
  2. Set checkpoint deadlines. Instead I had a suggested timeline

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3. I didn’t dictate what theme to choose, rather we discussed a number of possibilities

4. I didn’t micromanage them. Rather I trusted them to get the job done, while        keeping close to them by having one-on-one discussions about their work.

5. I definitely did not provide a template. Rather we discussed a number of ways to tackle the final report, keeping the connections across the texts front and centre.

So, for a standard that can be tedious in its drawn out nature, this group of students produced the best set of results I have ever seen for an internal standard, for me anyway. Trusting this group to get the job done, while making myself and my resources available to them for consultation as and when needed, seems to have worked.

As stated previously, 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.

I think it is safe to say I can tick this spiral of inquiry off for another year.

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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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