Interaction is key to good pedagogy

How much do you interact with your students?

It seems a bit of a redundant question when interaction is key to teaching. Perhaps though, it is worth reflecting on what that interaction actually looks like and whether it is interaction at all.

One thing I have found (and it may just be me although I doubt it) is that I often end up spending the wrong proportion of time instructing or talking rather than interacting. This happens particularly when I feel under pressure and is something I have actively been trying to address. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines interaction as:  “mutual or reciprocal action or influence”. This indicates a two way street rather than passive agreement or compliance. How could I increase the proportion of time spent interacting with students and decrease the time spent talking at them? Why does this even matter?

“One of the key components of good pedagogy, regardless of whether technology is involved, is interaction. Interaction is an essential ingredient of any learning environment (face-to-face classroom-based, synchronous/asynchronous online education, or blended models). Interaction in learning is a necessary and  fundamental process for knowledge acquisition and the development of both cognitive and physical skills (Barker, 1994 ),” (Woo & Reeves, 2007 p.15).

One could argue that the goal of instructions is not knowledge acquisition, that it is just not manageable to make instruction giving wildly interactive and that there are times it is appropriate to speak to learners and they actually just need to listen. To this I would say giving instructions is a degree of short term knowledge acquisition: the knowledge is what to do. I also thoroughly agree with the manageability issue however I would argue that it is the proportion of time spent on talking at or to that minimises interaction opportunities. And if interaction is so essential, shouldn’t this be what is maximised.

So how can this actually be achieved in the context of instructions?

  • Remember that you have a whole classroom of potential teachers: your students. Give your instruction briefly. Take a ‘think-pair-share’ moment (when one turns to a partner and talk with them) and get students to explain the instruction in their own words. They could also ask their partner any questions they have about the instruction. Be actively listening for questions and watching for pairs who are sitting there in silence. Address any major themes, grab hold of any students who are confused and send the others to get started.
  • Another way I do it (especially at pack up time when there is a long list of jobs for my young students) is to give the instruction then summarise it in four key words – one prompt for each instruction. Get students using fingers or tapping body parts to serve as reminders. I wouldn’t rate this one particularly high on the interaction scale but it does work.

What about content delivery?

  • Rather than just giving a talk, get students to take notes. If they are not fluent writers get them to draw a quick picture. Post it notes work really well for this – but you could use some other method.
  • Have an easel/whiteboard on hand which spellings of asked for words can be jotted down on.
  • Pause at times and get students to pair-share their learning.
  • If you are working digitally, have students contribute to an online set of notes – perhaps one between two or three could work. Each child in a group could have a different focus they are listening for.

To be fair I am sure there are many of you out there who have a much wider range of ideas than these. Feel free to share them!

A final point I would like to make is that teaching can be really hard work and I am sure that you are doing the best you can (and that includes maintaining your sanity as well as the students’ academic learning). So take heart and know that there are plenty of us out there who say you are amazing!

Perhaps the question to ask is not how much you interact, but how do you interact with your students?

References

Interaction. (n.d.). Retrieved June 15, 2017, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/interaction

Woo, Y., & Reeves, T. C. (2007). Meaningful interaction in web-based learning: A social constructivist interpretation. The Internet and Higher Education, 10(1), 15–25. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.iheduc.2006.10.005

Barbara Brann: Building blocks for literacy – a year on

A year ago our school implemented Barbara Brann’s framework – building blocks for literacy – which looks at identifying and addressing the skills necessary to be ‘curriculum ready’. This means that a student is ready to take advantage of the school curriculum, and has the skills necessary for this. Any gaps that existed prior to the programme have been addressed, similar to plugging the holes in a bucket before trying to fill it with water. 

Toys used as writing prompts, sorting prompts, oral language prompts, science prompts, play prompts…

This framework was started in its entirety by a very talented teacher at my school, after some PLD was provided to myself and her courtesy of the RTLB (resource teacher of learning and behaviour) service. I incorporated aspects of the programme with the older children I mainly focussed on, and tried to implement it later on in the year when I shifted to working with younger students. 

Now, a year later, the framework is still in use, although less intensively than it was a year ago. It has been incorporated far more naturally into our daily programme, with key aspects still being applied. 

  • Blocks for teaching spelling
  • Blocks/counters to help young students hold a sentence in their head as they write it
  • Blocks/counters to help students visualise a target number of sentences for writing
  • Casey Caterpillar – teach letter shapes and the order they go in to turn into letters – when kids are ready
  • Casey Caterpillar – Use a means of teaching skills such as differentiation and patterning 
  • Have physical objects handing as prompts for writing (and let the children handle them as they talk and write)
  • Develop fine motor skills and oral language – these are essential to success in writing
  • Explicitly teach oral sentence structure and questioning techniques – in a practical context
  • Shore up the foundation before adding to the building
  • Look at the stage not the age

Has it been successful?

This depends on your view of success. In terms of academic achievement gains it has a two year span, so the jury is still out. It has definitely not harmed/limited the students’ learning. In terms of teacher gains, it has been an outstanding professional development tool which has vastly improved my understanding of how students develop their literacy and what potential blocks or ‘holes’ are preventing their learning for moving forward. From that view alone, the training is worth goin through. 

Am I convinced? 

The jury is still out on that one too. The framework is absolutely valuable and worthwhile. I would be interested to see the results further down the track. 

I think adopting the framework in its entirety is outside my current headspace of working with year 0-3 students (pre-k to 2). In a situation where students were of a closer age/stage I can see myself implementing this in more detail. However halfway through last year we introduced play-based learning, which I believe complements this framework and has provided a means of covering the framework more authentically than previously. 

The Casey Caterpillar leaves me with no doubt whatsoever of it’s benefit. I wouldn’t want to teach it any other way (unless it was a rose by any other name).

I hope that this has been of some help to you if you are interested in building blocks. Even getting the giant chart which identifies all of the skills would potentially be helpful as a PLD tool.

Ethics

Finally, a return to ethics. Perhaps finally is the wrong word. I have just completed an assignment on ethics (actually I began this post a couple of weeks ago when I had just completed an ethics assignment).

Ethics are an extremely complex issue, although they seem relatively straight forward. Moving forward I still wonder what implications this has for teaching as inquiry – an embedded part of the NZ curriculum and as much an expectation of teacher practice as reflections and professionalism.

This inquiry into your teaching practice involves a reflective cycle, upon which you take focus and action your findings within the classroom. This could be called action research, although it may vary slightly.

If, however, we as teachers are doing research which we are sharing with our peers, do we not owe it to the students to involve them so they realise what is actually happening? Beneficence and non-malfiecience (I still struggle spelling those two) are pretty straight forward and almost go without saying. Deception – I cannot imagine this issue coming up as a deliberate part of any teacher inquiry. Yet, what are the ethical implications in terms of informed consent and anonymity/confidentiality?
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Informed consent carries with it the participant’s right to not just know what they are involved in, agree to be involved and the right to withdraw at any stage. How does that work when it is a professional obligation and, in some cases, you might be required to do an inquiry around a student? What about the power differential here? If I ask a child to do something like this, they are already in a position of being conditioned to comply* What potential consequences do they imagine if they say no? ** What are the implications for the teacher – do you go ‘tough’ and do it anyway or do you have to redirect your inquiry to focus on other students?

Screen Shot 2017-02-03 at 10.59.41 PM.pngAs far as anonymity/confidentiality is concerned, this is next to impossible in a small school community. In my school you know all the students (or just about all the students) and have taught or interacted with all of them at some point in time. Sharing results with other teachers on staff can be interrupted with … ‘is that______? I recognise that handwriting etc’. I have experienced this myself. An inquiry into behaviour featured a quote from me. My name was not attached but it was very obvious to all that I was the one who had written it. It was embarrassing
and felt unnecessary (even though the quote was apt and completely professional).

 

What about if, upon the completion of an inquiry, others from outside the school want to know about your results and have your information presented. What happens then? Is it this point that ‘research ethics’ become important when in fact they are important throughout the whole process? Or is this just creating work for work’s sake?

I read a statement which essentially said research is not research unless peer reviewed and published. If this is the case then the above debate is unnecessary. I would arg
ue that often these inquiries are research, even if they are only ‘published’ in a staff meeting, in which case if anyone has an easy answer please send it my way! I have found none amongst my readings.

 

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*I often present children with the opportunity to decide not to do a task, or for feedback about something. Often this takes considerable reassurances to get them to believe me. As they work more with me they do come to see that I mean it. Even then they will still check. A reflection on me and the system perhaps. After all, our very system is set up to teach compliance, socialisation, academic hierarchies and reinforce cultural ways of knowing.

 

**It can be very exciting when kids say ‘no – I don’t want to’ for the first time. They are beginning to experiment with choice. They feel comfortable and safe enough to step out  Sometimes that’s okay, and other times I will respond, ‘tough – it’s teacher choice,’ negotiate and alternative (or move into non-verbal cues (i.e. the teacher’s look) if they are just boundary pushing). Context!

Getting Started with Schemas

Before I begin, I have woefully ignored this blog this year. I have just completed part time uni studies for the year, as well as recently introducing play based learning (with the rest of the teaching team I am in) into our classroom curriculum. More posts on this to come.

Today’s post is a notes summary. It comes from the text:

van Wijk, N. (2008). Getting started with schemas: Revealling the wonder-full world of children’s play. New Zealand Play Federation: Waitakere, New Zealand.

 

What are schemas?

At the simplest level, schemas are repeating patterns in children’s play. More specifically, a schema is a thread of thought which is demonstrated by Continue reading

2016 inquiry

As I write my first post of 2016 and begin to finally think about the upcoming term, I realise that I have not posted the results of my inquiry around phonics last year. I will address that once I return from holiday and have access to my laptop. The student exemplars I used when presenting still have some names on them. In brief: it was successful.
As to this year’s inquiry my thoughts include…

  • Something around strategies to engage students in meta cognition 
  • More formal investigation into effective use of technology-practical strategies and how we know it is effective
  • Something around MLE and how that works in a rural ‘school’
  • Something around Barbara Brann’s programme as we implement her programme with NE
  • Developing independent skills with juniors

I also have some readings to summarise.

Phonics

Our phonics journey embarks. As a junior team we have decided to use Yolanda Soryl’s teaching method for phonics. Consequently we have the pre data and I have decided to do a mini-inquiry into this.

Observation: students are not making the connection between reading and writing, namely the spelling patterns. This goes across from beginner readers to fluent, beginner writers to fluent. 

Question: What effect does systematic teaching of phonics have on student spelling, when explicit teaching is made to help students transfer knowledge from reading to writing?

Assessments: Phonics entry and exit data. Phonics assessment conducted six weekly. Ten minute writing samples (done two times a term). BAS spelling assessment (completed terms 1 and 5). 

Methadology: students spread between four phonics groups, receiving fifteen miinutes phonic teaching at the start of each day. Lessons follow the format taught by Yolanda Soryl at her course, as set out in the accompanying manual, and lessons modelled on youtube. 

Observation: there are several struggling writers who view writing as a subject inflicted upon them by all the adults in their lives. Before they begin they have already given up. You can watch them visibly sigh, shrink back into themselves and sometimes grit their teeth. These students mostly have good oral language, are boys and have fantastic ideas that disappear into another realm when they are expected to put them to paper. The students are also writing intial and final sounds, with some writing CVC words. They know some high frequency words. These students are presently spending part of their day on ‘speedy writing’, when they record a dictated rhyming sentence, usually consisting of CVC words. The students’ attitude to this time is quite positive. These boys also enjoy time on the computer, including using kidpix.

Hunch: These students find the writing laborious, and already ‘know’ that they will not spell words correctly. Therefore they ‘know’ they cannot write. Obviously this is not the case.  

Question: will explicit phonics instruction, with its emphasis of transfer of knowledge from reading to writing, change these students’ attitude to writing?

This year’s teaching as inquiry

With the ever growing importance of tracking and monitoring and data gathering I have just been thinking about how I can monitor the effectiveness of different element of our learning programmes.

Longitudinal data will prove the effectiveness of moving to a team teaching model.

After doing paired writing last year I was intrigued by the in and out data it provided, particularly the words in ten minutes. I think that that is one really easy method to follow. I would like to use it in our generic writing programme every five weeks or so to monitor development. Continue reading

MLE: the current ‘it’ word (well, anagram actually) in NZ education

We are looking at team teaching for next year. It is an exciting prospect, without a doubt! I’ve been asked to present the pedagogy behind it at a meeting we were to have tomorrow (postponed now). Regardless I’ve begun putting information together.

A generic reflection before I put together the presentation: I have been left whirling.

Whilst a lot of the Ministry of Education information highlights the physical environment and the need for modern pedagogy, it has taken some wading to find out details of what that pedagogy is. I certainly have not compiled a complete list by any means.

Across all the discussions a common thread seems to be coming through:

  • More student agency
  • Team-teaching: collaborate, collaborate, collaborate
  • Offering choice on how to learn.
  • Updating the environment to support student learning.

I am in mixed mindset about this. I am excited because of the possibilities and concerned that the MLE will become the pretty shell for visitors, but that actual change in pedagogy won’t happen. I’ve seen it so often with tech: something with such potential yet so limited in its use because teachers are unnerved by it. It becomes a window dressing.

We are called to change our practice, but time has shown over and over again that we don’t. I do tend to err on the side of caution when predicting positive outcomes.

So what how will pedagogy be improved? What changes in the profession are occurring that will result in significant change to daily teaching pedagogy?

When I look at my practice: what could be slotted into a classroom of the sixties or the eighties or the nineties? What couldn’t? Is my practice simply dressed up pedagogy of the nineties? How can this be quantified? What data can be collected to support this?

Reading

I have introduced a different format of reading contract. It made a small difference to students as they had all their information there in front of them, except that which they were required to do AFTER seeing me for their lesson. 

There was a definite improvement in student engagement, but reading is an area I am using ICT in a minimal fashion. We are currently studying narratives in writing (consequently we are focussing on them in reading as well). 

I am a big believer that ICT should not be used for the sake of it, but I am certain that I could better enhance student learning through ICT. 

One of my biggest issues is getting students to revisit a text multiple times: they just lose interest. Clearly this is a praxis issue. I am failing to engage them in the examination of texts. 

How can ICT be used to enhance this

We are working on summarising in my two comprehension groups. This ties in perfectly with creating comics.

Students could complete a variety of summarising tasks which require them to work as a team to achieve this. 

  • Create a movie of the story (taking a section in pairs/threes)
  • Retell it using various multi-media
  • Create various alternate endings. Students could script a ‘what if’ scenario and then design an alternate ending which they conclude in some form or another. 
  • Partners work to create a comic
  • Focus on an aspect of the text each and represent that in some fashion (e.g. setting/character)

How will you measure success? 

The number of complaints and ‘can we read a different one’ statements. Track these over a period of three weeks to see if they will reduce. 

Question: will this inform their writing skills? 

A question about retention…

Throughout the world there are students who struggle with their school-based learning, despite multiple interventions in place. Yes there are always elements of poverty, genetics,  home-life, social interaction and what habitus they bring with them to school. However to simply put the struggle down to any one of these things is irresponsible and deficit theorizing. The best place a teacher can start from is examining their own practice.

After discussion with a colleague I have begun to wonder whether a part of this issue stems from a lack of ‘memory fitness’ of sorts. Is the underlying issue in the context of school that the students are getting the results into their short term memory but something blocks it from moving into the long term memory? Are  there exercises that can be used to develop the ability to shift short term memory to long term?

My question therefore is: how can memory exercises be used to improve long term retention of strategy and number knowledge and what evidence can support this?