Posted in 06. Teaching, Personal TAI

Teaching as Inquiry impacts my students

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 and the school exams. My hunch going into this TAI is that students should be provided with a variety of methods of instruction that suit a wide variety of working and learning styles. My main focus has been to further develop, tweak and adapt the blended and flipped approach which I started a while back. A flexible attitude helps, 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.

 

 

The latest craze in my class has been Design Thinking. It gives group work impetus, meaning and drives the learning forward. However, I digress, as that will form part of next year’s TAI.

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. As far as the internal results go, there is not much to pick between the 2016 class and the 2017 class. This year’s class did marginally better, gaining 69% of their internal credits at excellence level. I feel far more comfortable with them driving their own learning at their own pace. And I sense a greater independence from them too, like they expect to find answers and probe for questions in their groups, before turning to me. Ako Orewa asks for student agency and this is not achieved overnight. But 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.

 

2016                                                    2017

Next I analysed their school exams. Our school was part of the NCEA Digital Pilot exams. Not all my students did the digital exam, but a large portion did. So that does bring in a few variables compared to last year. On the whole the digital exams ran smoothly and I am pleased to say that NCEA sought feedback from the students, both before and after the exam.  Their results? Up on last year with 40% of the class attaining excellence grades, compared with 31% last year.

 

   2016                                                      2017               

A few points, as well as variables, to consider:

  1. Blended and flipped learning, with the independence it fosters, is not having a negative effect on students.
  2. I have stopped insisting that the videos be flipped out of class time. If their learning is to be ubiquitous, some of them will, and do, prepare before lessons, and others in the lesson. It generally depends on the amount of work from other subjects whether or not they want to buy time by pre-preparing work. Freedom to work their way is paramount.
  3. Maybe the fact that they could type their essays resulted in better grades.
  4. The digital exams were marked by external markers. Perhaps as a department we are stricter on our students than the external markers were?

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. But what is clear to me is that students need to be trusted to work independently, and work the way that suits them best. I have also advised my students to only do two of their three papers. With grades like these, who wouldn’t take advantage of the flexibility of NCEA? Hopefully in the years to come, externals will be optional.

 

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Posted in 06. Teaching, Personal TAI

More data: Teaching as Inquiry: 2017

In my Mindlab studies, I did my literature review on blended learning with a specific focus on flipped lessons. So I am aware of the various definitions for both. For my TAI I have favoured the following definitions:

  1. Blended learning where all resources are online and can be accessed anywhere anytime. But with face-to-face reassurance, reinforcement and real time collaboration.
  2. Flipped learning: Depending on the students, I use the traditional video-before-class setup. But I also enjoy using the in-class flipping as the students might require those particular self-help videos as they work in class.

HUNCH: I believe that we should use a variety of methods of instruction to suit a wide variety of working and learning styles.

My resources are varied because I do not believe that there is one way that suits all. Take me for example. When I want to try out a new dish I often watch a Jamie Oliver video because they are quick, easy to follow, and can be listened to while I’m busy with something else. But there are also times when I like to read a recipe, online or even in magazines. Why would it be any different for our students? So I provide longer, dare I say it more boring videos like this one, where I unpick and unravel an exemplar. In video format you do it once, then they can access and rewind as they wish.

I also provide shorter more snappy videos like this one. These are more instructional and give the students next steps in a very quick format:

Then I load up slides, links to NCEA information and exemplars in written format. It sounds like a lot of work but, because it’s all digital, once it’s done, you only have to do it once. In this way I believe that I am giving my students every opportunity to master the work. And it’s not a one size fits all approach.

METHOD: Create independence by placing the onus on students to drive their own learning.

I have really pushed the idea of independence. I say things like: I am only one person with one view. Get your peers, your parents, other teachers to read over your work. It didn’t happen so much at the beginning of the year, but now that we’re comfortable with each other I can hear meaningful and critical conversations taking place. One boy prefers to email his dad for confirmation. A few years ago this might have intimidated me: shouldn’t I be the go-to person? But no I shouldn’t. Students should be encouraged to check their progress in a number of ways before it finally comes to me.

One of my boys is particularly critical, and quite frankly I think he likes to play devil’s advocate. But he became quite sort after as a critical friend. A classic quote came from another boy in my class. I was feeling particularly superfluous one day and possibly asked one too many times if anyone needed my help. He replied with:

We’re fine miss, we’re independent.

Great.

It takes some guts to hand the reins over and trust teenagers to get the work done, without lecturing them. Of course there are times when I stop the lot of them because they’re all missing something. We have a teachable moment, and then move on. The difference is that it’s a moment, not half an hour or even as we perhaps did in the past, an hour of me talking.

RESULTS: This is based on the year 11 text connections internal assessment.

This internal is a biggie as it spans three terms and four texts. Students can make the mistake of overwriting because they simply have so much to say. So it was a process of getting their ideas formulated, and then spending a good chunk of time editing, which is a skill in itself. No-one, and particularly teenagers, wants to delete their own creations. This is where peer evaluation was critical. The results were as follows, based on the marking from a committee of teachers as is the practice at our school:

grades

8 merits and 24 excellence grades. I was phenomenally proud of their efforts. And it was down to them. I give these students the freedom to work within a wide framework. But they need to put the effort in. They need to have the learning conversations. They need to  establish their learning goals. They need to work out what works best for them and take charge of their learning journey. But they also know that I will support them along the way. I make it very clear that the blended, flipped approach is the way we work. They simply have to get on board. Results like these makes me think that they certainly did.

 

Posted in 06. Teaching, Personal TAI

DATA: Teaching as Inquiry: 2017

I have enjoyed the blended approach to teaching and learning for some time now. But this year, due to the new and improved Ako Orewa approach, I am actively giving choice and agency over to the students. For the writing standard in year 11, we have moved away from doing both creative and formal writing. And, unlike last year, I never gave the option of doing both standards. What I did ask is for students to dig deep and find what they are passionate about. And write about that. Ten students chose to do the Creative Writing standard. Six of them boys. The rest chose to tackle Formal Writing.

Asking students to dig deep and find what they feel passionate about does force them to take ownership of their work. When you have a teenager saying: “I think I’m good at creative writing” it almost forces them to prove their point by getting on with it. And doing a good job of it. So unlike in previous years, I found that students very quickly came up with plans for their writing. I was prepared to workshop ideas, but instead, for the most part, simply listened to their good ideas and then told them to get on with it.

With the formal writing I found much the same thing. I had students writing about Tibet, New Caledonia and the migrant crisis in Europe. And it took them no longer than a lesson to come up with their topics. When I dug a little I found that they all had a deeply personal connection to the topic. So what we were able to work on was personal teenage voice. This took the work from good formal, factual writing to another level as it was infused with an authentic teenage flavour. With some encouragement, I found that they were adding details like the following:

I am Tibetan, and my grandma was in Tibet when China took over and was there when they were under China’s rule. My grandma fled Tibet through the Himalayas to India and had to leave all her possessions in her home. She said that the Chinese once came and took all the males and said that they would help them, and so this left all the woman and gathered them into a group. This is when she escaped and went through the Himalayas with her children and a small amount of food, as they left most of their livestock back where they used to live. Many children on the road died due to malnutrition and so, because they were weak, they either died from malnutrition or they died from illnesses and diseases such as chicken pox. Due to the shortage of food my grandma and the group she stayed with went to villages and ended up trading expensive jewellery for simple cups of rice or flour. And when they had traded all their jewellery and what else they had left, they had to beg for food from the villagers. (Year 11 Student)

But the real test is always when the grades are returned. We do not mark our own students’ work which really helps with moderation and equity across the standards. Suffice it to say I had some pleased students with the following grades:

I found these students to be independent, resilient and happy to rely on feedback from people other than myself. They shared their work with family members and peers for both critiquing and feedback.

And in this age of concern over boys’ writing, I am pleased to report that out of the 14 boys in the class, 11 got excellence.

Posted in Bicultural context, Personal TAI, Uncategorized

Teaching as Inquiry 2017

As I suspect with most teachers, I have inquiries swimming around in my mind all the time. Looking for solutions to help students improve outcomes, that’s what we do right? And 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 outcomes. And
  2. How blended learning helps facilitate this.

Spirals of inquiry

I am focusing on two classes, namely my year 10s and my year 11s.

My year 10s are a largely mixed ability class. They are self motivated and respond well to a relaxed environment with largely facilitation and small group discussions. They have responded well to both flipped aspects of the course, as well as in-class flipping. This helps with differentiation. I have provided them with all the course work in a book which I created in iBooks Author. Unlocking English includes tasks, videos and marking rubrics. It makes flipping aspects of the curriculum easy.

My year 11s are also self motivated and are largely driven to achieve good grades. That being said, they are a motley crew with a keen sense of humour. So although they are an academic class, they seem to be far more relaxed than classes of this nature in some previous years. They don’t seem to take themselves as seriously as I have experienced in previous years, for the most part anyway. And the biggest factor that I have noticed and that I will investigate more fully, is that they are far more independent and resourceful. I have also  provided them with all the course work in a book called Engaging English. This also includes tasks, videos and marking rubrics.

So 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.

 

Posted in 06. Teaching, Personal TAI

Flipped coursework

This is the second year where I have expected students to access my work on line and be prepared for lessons. Most of the work has been at the ‘gathering’ stage and has been in the form of videos that I have made. This has been interspersed with PBL and student led lessons. All within the framework that I have set up. To make this easier for students to see the bigger picture, I have created iBooks of the year’s course work. The best spin off that I have found is more time to set up relationships with students. When they are working at their pace, I am able to work along side of them, guiding and coaching when necessary.

 Here is a comparison of each internal over the last two years. I think it is fair to say that the new pedagogical approaches has not hindered their progress. Anecdotally I’d say that engagement was up. I was able to challenge them more. Students are forced out of their comfort zones when they are challenged to think, rather than passively absorb information. I was amazed at their tenacity and hard work this year. And finally, I have enjoyed this approach far more than droning on from the front of the class.

  

  

  

 

Posted in 04. Learning-focused culture, Personal TAI

Creating ‘C’ students

It’s not all about the grades. We’ve heard that often enough. So what is it all about? The ‘C’ students can potentially go further than the so called academic student. What I mean is, that student that has developed the soft skills: collaboration, connectedness, creativity. The skills that students are quietly picking up along the way when they are given the time and the confidence that they can work independently. So bring in the student with some learning needs. 

 
This is the student that struggles with hand writing, but the iPad has helped him overcome this weakness. He has anomalies in that he is confident and anxious. Connected yet challenged. Interested yet disengaged.

I’ll get to my point.

The drama teacher at our school saw potential in this student to do the speech board exam. His confident side thought it was an awesome idea and he jumped onto Google and combined his love of history with his love of sport. These two combined, he quickly put a speech together based on the ’81 Springbok tour of New Zealand. This was based on what he was studying in history.

The day before the speech was due to be memorised and presented to the group the confident side disappeared. The anxieties were palpable. His verdict: “I can’t do this. I can’t memorise this speech!”

The English teacher in me kicked in. I’ve been teaching English for 25 years. I know what I’m talking about. As I was about to launch into the ” depend on me ” tactic, I saw another palpable change in this student.

I’ll get my iPad to read my speech to me!

And that’s exactly what he did. Quick as a flash he went to Settings. Accessibility. Voice over. And so for the next while he had the iPad read his speech to him over and over and over. This was his way of calming his nerves and getting the speech into his head, without having to read it himself. The work was authentically his, he just needed help reading the content.

I felt immense pride when I heard him the next day. Rehearsing the speech outside my classroom with the so called academic students.

The point of this post? Here we have a student who is challenged academically. But he has developed flexible thinking. He has developed problem solving and independence. He took a problem and he found a solution. Not an ‘A’ student but a fantastic ‘C’ student.

Posted in 04. Learning-focused culture, Education, Personal TAI

Encouraging independent learning

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I was really interested to see the NCEA results for my level one class. I looked at the external results and compared them to my class from the previous year. The most obvious difference was the number of Excellences, with the 2014 group more than doubling the number. So there is a significant shift up when you look at the number of Achieved and Merit grades.

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What was common between the two groups?
1. They were both extension classes with talented students
2. The texts I taught remained the same over the two years
3. The exams were largely the same

So why the jump in Excellence grades?
The biggest difference was that in 2014 all my students had devices, so I was able to confidently flip lessons when required. We could run with projects, knowing that we could share and collaborate because we were all connected. We also introduced blogging. My aim was to develop independent learning.

Now I know we shouldn’t get too hung up on grades, there’s more to teaching and learning. But it’s nice to see hard work paying off. Will this trend continue in 2015? Who knows, but I’m certainly excited to watch my students grow in confidence and independence.

Posted in 04. Learning-focused culture, education, Personal TAI

Differentiating a college classroom

I started my lesson reminding my students that they should take responsibility for their learning. They know what works best for them, they need to communicate that to me so that we can get the best out of them.

1.One student said he learns best when I tell him what to do. I said it didn’t work that way but the point he made is a common one. He feels comfortable with the old style of teacher-led lessons…particularly with NCEA exams looming. So I started him off with a skeleton plan. But look what happened. These guys took over and I took a step back. And smiled.

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2. Then as I wandered around the classroom I listened to what was being said. Some were collaborating and listening to the Explain Everything video I had posted for them.

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Relaxed yet productive.

3. Next was this group who were not sharing ideas. They felt they had so much information, they were streamlining and consolidating ideas. Working largely independently of each other.

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4. As I went around asking for evidence of what they were doing, I saw students on task. Just not the same task. Deeply engrossed in their higher level thinking. Sharing ideas and themes to prompt work. Even some jokers in the back row, posing for a photo.

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Gratefully, as I wandered around looking, listening, recording, most did ask me questions. They engaged in real discussions as opposed to ones held solely on Google Docs. So I’m not totally redundant, but I do have a sense that I have some independent learners.

Parting question: “So why you taking photos miss?”
“For my blog…of course!”