Engaging with families

This week semester one at university began. I am doing a paper based around engaging with families. One reading I had to do was the BES (best evidence synthesis) on the complex nature of influences on achievement from community and families. It was a long read, but worthwhile. If you don’t have the time to read the whole thing (I just skim read most of it) it is worth looking at the summaries of influences right at the beginning (a couple of pages long) and the table 8.1: ‘Synopsis of conclusions from evidence about what major influences and their degree of impact on children’s achievement.’

The paper highlighted the challenges of separating out what factors caused what, Continue reading

Side note…Writing

Just a quick note because I had the most awesome writing lesson today. We were working on recounts…familiar to any teachers out there? Our focus was using a hook and putting events in order.

The context: pretend you are a magnet. Recount your day. (Please note we are currently investigating magnetism and trying out magnets).

The students got so excited about the topic. They planned verbally. We went through what made a hook & briefly touched on time connectives. There was fantastic language. This is a context I will use again.

All quiet on the writing front…almost

I sit here a very excited teacher. My writing lesson not only worked, but it worked well! I was thrilled with the quality of the writing produced.

What changed?

I used a planning template (Sheena Cameron & Louise Dempsey – The Writing Book), and spent a writing lesson teaching children how to fill these out. Shockingly, I then insisted that they use this planning the following day to do their writing. Finally I got them to peer-assess each other (although that’s another whole story  and lesson to be taught).

All of this is fairly basic pedagogy. I am excited because it has actually pulled together  – something I haven’t achieved in the past when teaching writing in this way.

I am continuing recount writing according to the model established by one of teachers in the team-teaching situation I work in. She of course did an awesome job, so it was really easy to pick up on and work with.

Barbara Brann: building blocks for early literacy.

I attended a course in Dunedin today, courtesy of the RTLB service. It focussed on building blocks for early literacy and building up the pillars needed for successful literacy. It focussed on five key areas: printing (concepts of print), talking (oracy), looking (visual), moving (motor), listening (auditory).

These form the foundations of successful literacy, and help students to get ‘curriculum ready.’ A significant emphasis of the day was taking the child as where they are, not calling them below etc. They are where they are.

Learning was frequently related to swimming. If you had a child in the swimming pool you don’t just drop the kid in the deep end and hope they learn. You take them where they are at and put those foundations in place.

Overall: a great day, well worth the trip and the time away from class, an engaging speaker who lined up with Yolanda Soryl’s work. I learnt a lot.

I will follow up with more at a later date, but evening is nigh so I shall sign off for now.

BMB youtube powerpoint summary
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I begin to learn more about myself than I want to…

As per normal the term has gotten away on me already! I encountered my first issue (and really it was a need to be flexible+tired teacher+small change = issue). It was a case of me needing to adhere to a sudden change to the afternoon rotation pattern. I misunderstood, was unncertain and became rigid and inflexible. The changes stood. We moved forward.

As I later understood it was less to do with others making the change decision (because it had to happen and I was on duty-they did fill me in) and more to do with me feeling out of control of the situation. Frankly, I am disappointed in how I responded. The afternoon of course continued and students learnt. Not the end of the world.

It was an important occurrence though, highlighting a big weakness of mine: control – I need to feel in control of what is happening.

This is the biggest challenge that I have found, and is not one that I was expecting to be a problem, is that I have less control over what is happening. I work in a team with two others (both amazing, talented teachers, one of whom is the team leader). As such we all need to be on the same page. Continue reading


With day one as a roaring success (to my mind at least), I have started buzzing about the coming week. It’s often challenging getting back after the holidays, but once I’m there it’s all go. I really enjoyed myself.

The kids are gelling together well. I did notice though that during whole class times students get disruptive fast. It’s all quiet chatter but chatter amongst so many adds up quickly to create distracting noise: disengagement is more obvious in large groups.

The first place to start is reducing talk time I think.

On a side note I saw the power of team teaching today Continue reading

Tony Burkin: professional practice versus teaching practice.

I’ve just returned home from a course focussed on, well, the above. In brief Burkin differentiated between these two practices.

Teaching practice is what you do in the class, whereas professional practice is everything else. Professional practice covers the quality of reports you write, meeting deadlines, how you conduct yourself and interact. Professional practice even includes journalling, professional readings and duty.

Teachers can be great at the teaching practice, but poor at professional practice. Good professional practice develops the teaching practice.

Additionally Burkin discussed being a teacher as a learner, or rather, ‘having a growth mindset’ compared to a fixed mindset. The fixed mindset is of course being happy for things to stay as they are.

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?

Tech in the classroom: one teacher who just can’t let go of the old…

This week I set a literacy research task for students around space. The work I had set the students was only completed to an acceptable standard by about a sixth of the class. For most of them it was a case of not reading the question properly (and I spotted a grammatical typo).

Regardless I could hardly keep five sixths of my class in at a break: that many clearly indicates some kind of communication breakdown. Those who had put the extra yards in and completed their work got free time whilst the rest finished and were gradually flicked onto free choice as they finished their work.

In this context I had an epiphany of sorts, or at least a wake-up call. One student who struggles with the physical act of writing, but has come an incredibly long way with it, had yet again not completed/begun the research. I realised I had created the task on an editable PDF graphic organiser. Why didn’t I just get him to type?

Lo and behold, there he was in his element doing a fantastic job with complete engagement. I asked some other students what they were working on on the iPads and they informed me they were making books. The books were fantastic. They would rival some of the e-books I have seen on Amazon that are privately created.

The best part was that they were totally absorbed in a project of their design, and one that was being created to a much higher standard than they typically produce in a teacher-directed project. Yes, some of their work was aimed at the five year old level, but it was to an excellent standard none-the-less.

It’s moments like these that I go: see Abbie! That is the power of technology. This is what you have been busy preaching about to others. This is what should be happening all the time. This is authentic, engaged learning.

Yes, there has been a lot of ground work laid down, and yes this is happening at the end of the year when you have the perspective of a year’s development.

It made me query once again: why are you doing things the way you always have? Why aren’t you maximising the technology you have available?

So what would that actually look like in my classroom? What do I need to change?

My starting point is getting past the ‘everyone doing the same thing at the same time. That is convenient, and easier to manage when working in a single classroom. If I’m honest though I am making excuses. It is easier to say “It’s too hard” than to push forwards and challenge myself.

At Ulearn14 one Katie Novak (UDL) talked about the ZPD. She however approached it as numbered sections with stage three being the ‘I know this, but I’m not ready to try something new and need a kick in the pants to do so” zone (my words: hers were much more eloquent. Additionally, refer to yesterday’s blog post with the various links to my notes from Ulearn).

I’m there. I have a great pedagogical and technical knowledge around e-learning (with plenty of room for development). I just lack the reason to push into something new. I like being mostly comfortable. Ulearn was a bit of a kick in the pants for me…today was another.

To move forward I need to let go of many of the old notions of teaching. I am trying to bridge the gap between the two. New isn’t always better, anymore than old isn’t always worse. There are times when new is just as good and better than the old. I need to move forwards and start again.

If I was creating a new classroom, what would it look like? If I actually put aside the notions of National Standards (NZ’s common core), and stop letting others’ comments and my own fears limit me, what could I actually achieve for these kidlings? How could I actually move those marginalised ones forwards?

Tech is more and more commonly being referred to as a tool. But it is more than that…rather it can be more than that. But will I let it be in my room?