Saturday, 16 June 2018

Why we Don't Have Meetings Anymore

The Stage 3 team used to have regular "meetings" with "agendas" and "minutes". They were useful and somewhat productive. They tended to expand to fill the available space. By that I mean we would find ourselves discussing some things in great detail that could have been resolved more quickly if they were handled differently. We also usually talked about operational matters and then quickly tried to share about upcoming lessons.

The Old Way of Collaborative Planning

  • We had program "experts" who wrote particular aspects of our shared program, say History.
  • The expert wrote the program, prepared resources and organised assessments.
  • Each week at a meeting the expert communicated the lessons that were coming up to the rest of the team.
  • Everyone had to do this for their designated program area. We switched the areas around each term.
The positives:
  • We only had one real area for which we needed to program
  • This shared the load amongst the team
  • Teachers could play to their strengths 
The negatives:

  • Only the expert had real ownership of the program. Teachers tended to "coast" in their non-expert areas and put effort in when teaching the program area for which they were responsible
  • It's quite hard to divide the curriculum "evenly" so the load is shared fairly
  • We had issues with assessments. What sounded like a good idea during discussions could turn out to be challenging in terms of implementation or marking

The New Way of Collaborative Planning

We decided to change the focus of our "meeting" time. Some teachers in the team had experienced another way of programming where the whole team had input into all programs. We decided to try it with just one program, a unit that integrated Science, Geography and Writing. We started by working out our Learning Intention for the unit, What we wanted students to be able to Know, Understand and Do and our Learning Destination (read assessment). This is how we usually start a unit, but this time we did it together. We came up with an overview for the unit outlining what we expected to get up to each week.

Every week, sometimes more than once, we talk about where we're up to in the unit and what we believe should come next. We decide who will prepare resources, someone updates the written program and we are able to modify or change direction based on how the students are learning. Everyone has input into what comes next. Teachers get a chance to ask clarifying questions and really dig down to understand lessons / content / learning activities. We also share ideas about how to teach lessons, not just content and tasks. This is proving to be one of the most valuable aspects of this process. Teachers are helping each other become better teachers.

The positives:

  • All teachers have a sense of ownership of the program and are more engaged
  • All teachers have input into the program. They can use their strengths, experience and expertise to benefit the whole team
  • The load is still shared
  • Teaching is more responsive to the needs of the learners
  • Talking about how to teach, not just content
The negatives:
  • This method takes time
  • It requires commitment from the whole team
So we meet just as often; however, we no longer have a formal agenda or minutes. We spend our time far more productively. Teachers feel valued as they work together for the good of our students.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Resetting Vision

Vision is essential for any change process to be successful. You have to know where you're going and how you hope to get there if change is to be embedded. In the minutiae of everyday life and the practical considerations of "What am I going to do tomorrow?" it's easy to lose sight of the long game.

This is when it's time to reset the vision. The start of the year is a good time to revisit and refresh our long term aims and goals. We're underway now, four weeks in, with routines and processes in place to keep the day-to-day ticking over. It's a good time to come up for air, to "get on the balcony" as Heifitz and Laurie  it. To take a bird's eye, big picture view of what's going on in order to work out what's next.

We've been using the language of Learning Intentions and Learning Destinations for our programming. It's helpful because it reminds teachers to be intentional about planning lessons that will help students reach the desired learning destination. It assists teachers to decide if a particular lesson is essential or a distraction. Just today I heard two teachers discussing a lesson that didn't quite go to plan and whether or not it was helpful or necessary to revisit the lesson or whether it was actually more beneficial to move the learning on. Student learning was more important than just completing a task.

This programming language will help form a framework for the renewed vision: What is the destination for students' learning by the end of 2018? What will it look like? Then it's possible to backwards map and start to plan out what smaller interim steps can be taken throughout the year in order to reach the desired destination in the given timeframe. It will no doubt be necessary to revise the plan along the way but at least having a plan provides a starting point for thinking and discussion.

Getting on the balcony can make it possible to look honestly at the current situation with a view to identifying areas requiring attention or potential flash points.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Integration of Technology

Technology is a tool that supports and enhances the pedagogy we are implementing. We have a BYOT (Bring Your Own Technology) policy where students bring their own devices to school. The theory is that students know how to use their device so it should be easier for them to use it for learning.

Here is an outline of the technology we are currently using and why we use it.

Google Drive
Google Drive has many advantages for education.

  • It allows students and staff to store files online, meaning they can be accessed from any device at home or at school. If a student forgets their computer, they can still access their work files and participate in the lesson.
  • Students have shared folders that are accessible by teachers. Teachers can watch students work in real time, mark students' work and easily share with students their own copy of a file to work on. We use Hapara to do this.
  • Students can create shared Google Docs which fosters collaboration and group work.
  • Teachers also have shared folders and files for programs, teaching resources and assessment. We have one master file as our program which each teacher annotates in a different colour. 
  • Teachers use Google Sheets to create documents to record student progress and assessment results. Since the documents are shared, all teachers can access and record information about every student.
We have a Stage 3 blog that acts as storage for resources we want students to be able to access freely. these are generally organised by subject and unit of work and allows student access from school or home. Homework is posted on the blog as are reports and photographs of class/grade activities.

Google Classroom
Since the blog is public, we also use Google Classroom which is open only to those who are invited. This is where we post announcements and information for students. Students can comment if they wish and conduct conversations related to learning. It can also be used to turn in assignments.

Seesaw is an online learning portfolio. It allows students to upload work samples and to reflect on their work in writing or via video. Teachers and parents can comment on work samples. Samples are available to be viewed as soon as they are uploaded so parents are seeing work in real time rather than having to wait until a portfolio is sent home.

Teachers use this program to record video lessons. We record short tutorials (4-5 mins) which are uploaded to YouTube for sharing with students. We also record instructions about assessment tasks and marking criteria so students are given consistent information.

All of these tools are chosen because they meet a teaching and learning need and they enhance what we are doing in our classrooms.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Think, Create, Connect Maker Camp Day

Students in Stage 3 partnered with groups of students from St. George Christian School and St. Finbar’s Primary School for a Think, Create, Connect Maker Camp Day.

During this event we learnt many new skills and thought like 'makers'. We learnt about risk-taking, imagination, wonder and design thinking. Through collaboration we were able to feedforward ideas and see our blueprints become a reality.

Students engaged in activities such as Arduino programming where they created light shows, with varied success, on iconic Australian architecture. Other activities included bridge building with straws, Morse code and a SOLE asking "Why do living things need light to survive?" Some groups were involved with making electronic arcade or board games using Makey Makey's and some made moving electronic robots using cardboard boxes.

The day was a lot of fun; however, many of us had time in the “pit of frustration” when technology just was not working the way it was meant to! It's all part of the learning process.

Posted by Brian Host

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Personal Passion Projects as Homework

Everyone has things they're passionate about. I know when I love to do something, no one has to make me do it! I enjoy spending time doing those things and as a bonus it lifts my mood. So when I heard about the concept of using Passion Projects with students, I knew it was good idea. Allowing students time to explore their passions, learn something new and be supported to work to a long-term deadline? Fabulous!

Passion Projects are open-ended and suit each individual. Students choose what they want to focus on and are free to choose whatever they like. The aim is for students to learn something new - skills, knowledge, understanding - and as a bonus they get to decide what that will be. Along the way they will hopefully learn about managing their time effectively, how to overcome setbacks and even how to learn something new. Accountability is built in to assist students to manage the process. The culmination of the Passion Projects is a presentation about what students have learned. This may involve sharing a completed product (or a half-finished one!) but may not. The important thing is for students to share their successes and failures and describe what they learned from the process.

The curriculum is so full. We have so much teaching and learning to fill our days with where would we find the time to try out Passion Projects? After attending a Teach Meet at the Opera House a few years ago I heard Henrietta Miller from Roseville College speak about using Passion Projects for Homework. Brilliant!

We trialled it for the first time last year. It was amazing and we definitely wanted to run it again. We decided to start the year with Personal Passion Projects for Homework. We scaffolded the process by building in deadlines along the way. We all know some students will leave things to the last minute so we made it more manageable by requiring certain elements to be completed at certain points in the process. Students had something to "hand in" each week and were held accountable to that. The final product was to be presented at the beginning of Term 2.

It's pretty essential to have parental support when completing a project as big as this one. Students were required to consult with parents and teachers when choosing their projects. It's no good choosing to train a puppy if you don't have one and parents don't want to get one! This allows each child and parent to negotiate a project that will work for them as a family. One added bonus of Passion Projects has been the time some students have spent learning from and with family members.

You can see the results of this year's Passion Projects on our blog. The range of projects was as  diverse as the learners themselves! Parents and friends came to see the final presentations. It had a carnival atmosphere as we celebrated the learning that had taken place.

We also surveyed Year 6 students since they'd done the Passion Project last year. Was it something we should only do once or was it worth repeating? Did students think it was worthwhile? You can see the results below. 73% of students enjoyed doing the project again. 76% could explain what they'd learned. Two thirds thought we should do the Passion Projects again.

I'm convinced Passion Projects are a fabulous learning experience. Even when the final product isn't what students hoped it might be. Perhaps especially then.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Cross-stage Literacy Groups

This term we've decided to make cross-stage Literacy groups. We have organised four classes into six groups - one enrichment group, one support group and three 'core' groups which are mixed ability. The final group is a secondary enrichment group. We identified a large cohort of students who were operating at a high level for Literacy but were not able to be put into the enrichment group. We grouped them together so they can be stretched.

Our rationale for doing this:
1. Research has shown benefits for grouping high ability and low ability students together to enable their distinctive needs to be met. These groups tend to be smaller in size - between 10-16 students. There is not much benefit in grading students who are 'in the middle' so they are split between three core groups who are of similar ability.
2.  Splitting four classes into six groups allows us to make the groups smaller. This in turn allows the teachers to be more responsive to the needs of the students in their groups by tailoring the activities accordingly.

We've only just begun but the feedback from teachers so far is positive. The support students have the curriculum adjusted to accommodate their needs and a Teacher's Aide also working alongside the teacher.

The extension group and the group of students to be stretched have also begun working together with the teachers co-teaching the larger group. Previously the Extension Group had three different teachers due to timetable constraints but the co-teaching brings greater continuity to the group with at least one teacher who is present for every lesson. It allows the different teachers to use their strengths. It also serves to spur students on to learn and do their very best, while simultaneously diluting the "elitism" that can arise amongst extension students.

This grouping has already allowed us to differentiate an assessment task. The task involved analysing part of a poem to summarise the meaning and identify figurative language. The support group was given more lead up time prior to the task and less verses of the poem to analyse.

Another unintended consequence has been the need to create a new space for the sixth group. We had five spaces pretty ready to use but needed a sixth to accommodate all the groups. We moved some furniture around and created  small nook for the support group to use. This space has proved very popular with students at other times of the day. We also had to locate a sixth screen as our programs depend on access to technology!

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Term 1 Reflections

It's nearly the end of our first term in our new space. It's been an amazing but also quite an exhausting experience! It seems like a good time to reflect on what we've learned so far... Many of these are not new, just important to remember!

  • Students need structures and boundaries. When you take out the physical boundaries (like walls!) you need to provide new kinds of boundaries (like clear expectations and routines). 
  • Working together doesn't mean being the same. We're not clones of each other. In fact, it's our differences and individual strengths that are of most value in our team work. This is true of teachers and students.
  • Communication is VITAL. To stay on the same page requires conscious effort and a constant flow of discussion - both formal and informal.
  • Manage the new until it's normalised. For example, we found many students needed to be assigned seats at first as the amount of change and choice involved in the new space was overwhelming. Now students are more accustomed to the space they no longer need this structure and are well able to choose the best place to work. We found we needed a roster to fairly share and manage the use of different types of furniture. Hopefully soon this will not be needed as students will be able to discern whether a certain type of furniture is beneficial for their learning at a particular time.
  • Hasten slowly. Too much change all at once is stressful. Choose the most important aspects to change at the beginning and keep other aspects familiar and similar to past experiences. Then as the 'new' becomes familiar you can change something else. Keep changing things slowly like this and you'll have manageable change with (hopefully) lower stress. 
  • Make time to pause and reflect. You don't want change for the sake of it, or worse, change that takes you in the wrong direction! It's important to review and reflect on the impact of the changes and revise if necessary. It can be very powerful to ask the students for feedback. That's one reason we introduced the furniture roster - students asked for it.