Giving Students Choices

At school we are working on Teaching as Inquiry with each teacher looking at their teaching and choosing an area to focus on.

 

teaching-as-inquiry_referenceTKI Teaching As Inquiry (Where I sourced the above image and more information)

The basic idea is that we identify the outcomes we want for our students and then we look at different teaching strategies to help our students reach this outcome.

I think that the majority of teachers do this instinctively but we don’t always think about the whats, whys and hows, which is actually a great way to look at your teaching and look at the needs of your students.

So, my first inquiry of the year is looking at how to give students more choice within my classes. I want to focus on improving the self management of my advanced students while also allowing all students in my class find their own success.

I want to know if giving them free choice improves their self management and results.

I am focusing on my Year 10 class which is also a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) class and my form class – which is actually rather handy because I get to see them a little more than an average teacher would. There are 26 students, more males than females, and a mixture of Maori and NZ European students.

My intended outcome is to have students be able to choose from a range of differentiated tasks during our study of Romeo and Juliet.

The base data that I am starting with is the tracking sheets I have compiled that shows their Year 9 results (including eAsstle results), my goals for them and other baseline data.

I have also created groups for the students based on their Asstle scores – they don’t sit in these groups but it enables me to help with my differentiation.

We have finished reading the play and they are currently working on a Tic Tac Toe activity – there are nine different activities ranging from creating a wanted poster for one of the characters to writing a series of interviews with characters within the play to creating an alternate ending to the play. The students have to choose three in a row – though they have already tried to ask if they can do the three they like the most.

When I first introduced the task I had them move into 9 small groups and I gave each group one of the tasks. It was their mission to figure out what the task was asking, what the success criteria could be and see if they could find exemplars or explain what would make an Excellence, Merit or Achieved. Most of the students fully engaged though there are two that I may have to create more individualised tasks.

The first completed task is due this coming Thursday.

I’m still developing the ins and outs of my inquiry and thanks to the people who have helped me frame it so far. (You know who you are…) But, so far, the students are engaged and they are re-reading the play to get ideas about why certain characters might be wanted, or what songs would be on Juliet’s playlist, or, what would happen if Romeo received the letter in time.

And, they are helping each other, giving me a lot more time to sit with those that are struggling and giving immediate feedback to those who are looking to raise their grades.

I will provide more information as I continue to explore and develop my hunch…

Until next time.

xJaime

 

The One When I Had a Sick Day

Note: This is just a quick blog so I don’t fall behind. Next week will be a better post.

Sorry for not blogging on Monday but I had to have a sick day. I woke at four with a blinding headache which I quickly recognised as a migraine. I couldn’t turn my head without the world spinning and there were definite squiggly things in my vision.

I proceeded to get ready for school (because I’m me and I’m bloody stubborn) but decided, at 6.15am, that it might not be the best idea for me to go to school. Instead, I went in, briefly, to set up relief.

Relief is something that I hate doing. I hate having days off sick because it is often more of a hassle to set up relief than it is to actually teach a class when sick. I know that I’m not the only teacher who thinks like that, either.

Anyway, I went home and slept most of the day a way. I couldn’t even attempt to look at my computer for longer than a couple of minutes.

The benefit of the sick day is that I got extra sleep and, as someone who doesn’t get sufficient sleep anyway, this is always good. It also allowed me to come back into school in a better frame of mind.

I’m not going to lie. I have days were I question why I became a teacher. Not because I think I’m a terrible teacher (though I have those days as well)- but because I feel like I can never do enough. I plan lessons, spend hours researching ideas and theories and even more hours reading about ways to make myself a more efficient teacher – a more effective teacher. Still, I always feel as if there is more that I could be doing.

My average day:

5am – wake up and do some stretches and get the coffee ready

5.30-6.30am – Drink said coffee, check emails, mark some essays, eat breakfast.

6.45/50am – Arrive at school and begin organising my classroom, do more marking, prep lessons and so on

8.25am – Morning Briefing

8.40 – 3.15 – Teaching/planning/duty/brief breaks

3.15-4.30 – Still at school most days – sometimes I have a meeting sometimes I’m just trying to get work done.

5pm – Hopefully home and sometimes still doing work.

Now this is just my average week and I’m not doing a thing where I’m all like – look at the hours I work – I’m stating my day. And, having that sick day, helped me put some things in perspective. (No guarantee how long this will last)

Writing down what I do helps me remember that I also need to acknowledge what I do as a teacher and as a person. It also reminds me that I like smiling and I like helping students and fellow teachers. Teachers have a difficult job and, although most people realise it, we don’t always acknowledge it.

So, to all my fellow teachers:

You are wonderful, brilliant, amazing, powerful, educated and strong. teacher-motivational-quotes-2

And this lovely Buzzfeed list about teacher memes

Nerdy Teacher Building Relationships In the Classroom

So, I was rapping the verse from “Satisfied” from the amazing Hamilton Musical in class the other day and some students heard me. They were impressed. And this got me thinking about how the students view me. Cause, let’s face it, I’m pretty white. (Regardless of my ancestry I present as white.) Plus, I don’t speak with the typical kiwi accent. I can blame that on years of speech therapy and travel. I guess that this makes it hard for students to categorise me and, if they haven’t been taught by me before, they can often be confused or, at the very least, a little intimidated by me. (Trust me, I find that strange as well. I mean, I’m a short, stocky, nerdy gamer girl who drinks far too much coffee and has a tendency to lisp…oh let’s throw in the glasses as well…who can be intimidated by that?)

But what I found more interesting was the fact that the students seemed interested in the musical and the fact that I like rap music, (from the late 80s/early 90s mainly…)  which leads me into my main point – building relationships in the classroom. I tend to get along with most people, regardless of my introverted nature, I can talk to people from most walks of life. I just need a lot of alone time to make up for it if it goes on for too long. However, the students often find us, as adults, fascinating. Whether they are looking for some kind of inspiration or someone who they can respect I don’t know.

Building relationships is one of the key elements to creating a safe and powerful learning environment. Students have to know who you are or, at least, have a small sense of who you are in order to listen to you for four hours a week. And it is through these relationships that respect begins to grow.

Some of the ways that I build relationships between my students and myself are as follows:

  • Being honest. (To a degree, obviously.) I always try to be myself and, if I’m having a bad day I let the students know and then I move on. Students are smart – they pick up cues that others miss. It’s fascinating.
  • Being myself – this is part of being honest. I’m a huge goofball and nerd. And it shows in my classroom from the Tardis Cookie jar to the Literary puns that adorn my walls to the pop culture references in my lessons.
  • Allowing them to see that I make mistakes. Teachers are human, contrary to many beliefs. Making mistakes is important to show them that it’s okay.
  • Being passionate about my job. I truly love my job though it’s stressful – paperwork aside I find much of my time consumed with worrying about my students. And questioning if I am doing enough to help them. (This is something that, I’m told, is a sign of a great teacher…I don’t know if I agree…)
  • Talking to students. Actually sitting at their level and talking about things that they are passionate about.
  • Showing them that it’s okay to like things – i.e. video games, musicals, anime – students often feel so isolated that they often love the fact that adults also have likes and dislikes – who knew that teachers were actual people, right?

teaching-quotes-5

 

My apologies for the rushed blog. For the sake of honesty, I’ve had a headache for most of the day so actually came straight home after school. Now I’m trying to prep for tomorrow, write this blog and tackle my to do list.

Anyway, what do you do to help foster a safe learning environment? Sing Disney tunes to your classes? Dance around the room? Do dinosaur impersonations? (Guilty of all three…)

Peace and pancakes,

XJaime

What are my goals? Classroom Edition

goals

As week three hits I’m already well into deciding what goals I have for myself and my students. These are not to be confused with the goals I have for my self care and looking after myself – rather, these are with regard to my students. The ones that I see in front of me on a day to day basis.

This year my timetable is a little different but I still have individual goals for each of my classes.

My timetable is roughly this:

Level 3 Internal – One main class and 2 one hour relief lessons. (So 3 level three classes in a way.)

Level 2 General

Level 1 Advanced

Year 10BYOD

My goals for each class are as such:

L3 – Critically engage with written and visual texts in order to make meaning with the world around you. And, think about the impact that you have on those around you.

L2 – Think critically about how texts can manipulate you. Think critically about your place in the class and in the world.

L1 – Critically engage with the world around you and think critically about the texts that we study.

10BYOD – Build on your general knowledge and expand your vocabulary in order to improve deeper level thinking.

These goals are all very similar but each is actually very important. I think the overall skill that I want students to improve on is deeper level thinking. There are so many connections in the world and I’d hate for students to miss out when we have a wealth of information at our fingertips.

In order for me to help the students meet these goals I have started a class weebly that the students and parents can check on to see important information and weekly updates. Although it may seem that I’m doing extra work I’m actually hoping it will cut down on unnecessary time spent sending letters or emails – but we’ll see how that goes.

My personal goals in my classroom include:

Regulating my voice more. I don’t like raising my voice and, although I very rarely shout, I have a tendency to fall back on a loud voice to get attention.

Focusing more on my teaching rather than everything else that I need to get done. (To Do lists are my friend.)

Allowing students more time to discuss and develop their understanding. I want them to build their growth mindset and I have to continue to build mine in order to help do that.

As for my self care – if I am honest I haven’t been as good to myself as I could be. Even as I type this I feel as if I haven’t done enough, though it is just Monday. This is something that will always be a work in progress.

What goals do you have for your classroom? Life? Day?

SDCC 2015 A Brief Series of Highlights

I went to San Diego on my school break. Mainly for the purposes of Comic Con. Yes, that Comic Con – there were lots of lines, lots of coffee and lots of amazing sights to see.

Going on this trek is almost like a pilgrimage but it’s more like a chance for me to truly indulge in my geekiness and gather resources for teaching… (I had to mention that because that is one of my motivating factors – I’m a geeky teacher and I can’t be that if I don’t do the geeky things.)

Many of the resources I gather are not just for my department. I was given graphic novels for teaching Physics and many that relate to history and other such amazing departments.

Anyway – I had tickets for three days so didn’t get in for the Saturday but I wasn’t too worried about that because Nerdist and Geek and Sundry had taken over Petco Park with their Conival and I got to see Wil Wheaton, his son and the cast of his new game Titansgrave. 

Coolest Tote Bag Ever

The panel was interesting and more than a little inspiring. If you don’t know anything about it you need to check out the introduction to the game on the Geek & Sundry YouTube channel. It’s amazingly creative and in depth. Plus, it’s Wil Wheaton…

That was one of just many ‘fangirl’ moments I had while I was over there. But as I mentioned before, it wasn’t just the panels that interested me. It was going around and looking at the creators, artists and writers that littered the floor and then there was all the cosplay – and the amount of effort that goes into creating such amazing costumes is just staggering. I have photos but I will wait for another time to pop those up. You just get the pleasure of seeing a few of me from the Friday. (Special thanks to the two amazing friends who showed me around the hotspots of San Diego’s eating establishments as well as just being all around awesome!)

The other highlights include:

Mockingjay Part 2 panel. All the cast was brilliant and hilarious.

Bill Murray singing “Smoke on the Water”

Getting the tote bag pictured. Check out their website

What do you think? Do I have what it takes to rule Westros?

Sitting on the “Iron Throne” … In fact the entire GoT experience was pretty worthwhile.

The many graphic novels that I bought. I will do a pull list as another post.

And, finally, the Supernaturalpanel. Especially with the Always Keep Fighting campaign and what the super fans did. It was an emotional panel with some timely reminders and many laughs. And the hamster…

I could keep talking about this but I wrap this up now and leave you with a few passing notes.

1. Definitely find something that you are passionate about and give it a go. (Obviously within reason…)

2. Look for the fun in all places.

3. Remember that it’s okay to like things with a nerdy, geeky passion.

Me at the Hard Rock Cafe in San Diego …

P.S. I will try and post that pull list in the next week or so.

End of Term Funk…

It’s been a busy term and the end is nigh…near. I feel more drained than I normally would at this point of the year so I thought I would put up a list of things that I do when I find myself feeling that funk that comes with teaching.

Here is one of my student’s response to writing an essay to get this list going. And to remind me that students are also feeling the stress of end of term.

This list is in no particular order…

One: Pinterest. I love pinterest and I have so many different boards for different ideas, places and so on. Two of my favourite boards are: Just Plain Cute and Humour Me. I have other boards as well, for education and inspiration and more. Just looking at cute pictures makes me smile and, sometimes, that’s all I need.

Two: Dance. There is nothing I love better than playing cheesy pop songs from the 80s and 90s (and even some from today). For a few minutes I am the world’s best dancer…then I accidentally trip or forget where I am and end up bruising or denting myself.

Three: Talking to someone. In my case I ring my mum (thanks mum) and she puts up with my stressed ramblings. And having friends at school that you can just unload to. The hardest thing for me is remembering that I can talk to people. I have to remind myself that I can’t do everything and talking through problems can actually help. (At this moment I hear certain people laughing at me…I give great advice but so seldom do I follow it…)

Four: Take time out for myself. This is one that I struggle with but sometimes the marking can wait an hour or even a night.

Five: Scheduling/To Do lists. I love to do lists and after getting a Passion Planner I have found it so helpful. It acts as a constant reminder of how much time I work each week and I use it to schedule time for me. Check out the link because I’m finding it really worthwhile.

Six: Playing video games. Yes I’m a 32 year old woman and I play video games. I am challenged by students all day who can’t believe that their English teacher could probably best them at Batman: Arkham City or Bioshock Infinite. It’s a great stress relief.

Seven: Writing. By doing something totally unrelated to school I find myself able to de-stress and refocus. Both key things. Even if it’s just writing 100 words a day.

Eight: Going for a run…or a juffle (part jog part shuffle). It’s a great way to go through your thoughts and organise them and it helps with the exercise aspect. If not a run definitely a walk.

Nine: Leaving work at work…this is a hard one…and I often struggle with this. I also feel that a lot of teachers, regardless of them being new or established teachers struggle with this.

Ten: Having a nap. Just because…

So, what do you do to help refocus? Leave a comment below.

What are you passionate about?

Parent: “You seem so passionate about your subject. What else are you passionate about?”
Me: “Oh I love reading and gaming and using these ideas in the classroom. I really want students to understand that they have different options with regard to…” 
This is a typical interaction that I’ve had with various parents over the last few years of my teaching. The whole idea of discussing what I’m passionate about scares me at times. It means that I am giving voice to something that I keep hidden and, once it’s out there, it’s real…

When I find myself thinking about this question or being asked it I often pause and quickly deconstruct two things: the person asking and the question itself. Maybe deconstruct is not the right word but it is the right sentiment. What do I mean by this? Well, my answer will differ depending on the person who is asking. Not by much but by tone, gesture or even by exaggeration. I also have to think about what I am truly passionate about. And, does the person asking truly want to know or is it a filler question – the kind of question that, as a teacher, I have fallen back on when trying to get students to focus or when trying to identify the students who may be struggling. Filler is the wrong word, focus is the “F” word that I am looking for.

I need to know about the person asking and what their motivations are in asking such a question. And then I need to decide which of my pre-prepared answers will I spring on them. We all have these answers – I’m passionate about running or I’m passionate about saving the environment. Broad answers that sound correct but may not be entirely accurate because to truly reveal what you’re passionate about to people involves trust and knowledge. You have to trust them with the truth and hope they add to your knowledge rather than leach it away.

One other thing to consider – think about on what you were passionate about ten years ago, five years, one year? My passions have changed. And this reminds me that my students passions will change – subtly or in broad dynamic strokes as they begin to realise who they are as a person.

So, what am I passionate about? Depends on who’s asking but I will give you my filler lists and, maybe someday, I will give you my real list.

Learning. Classic teacher response but I love learning new pieces of information, filling up the filing cabinets in my mind with random knowledge that I can whip out at a whim. I have been toying with the idea of attempting my Masters degree but we’ll see. Sometimes fear gets in the way of the passion. But everyday I like to find out something new. Something interesting that might not mean much to others but means something to me. I’m definitely a magpie or a crow.

Travel. And my students know this since I remind them constantly that one of the best things that they can do is travel – nothing like eating crickets in Cambodia or tasting tea in Vietnam or downing a churro at Disneyland. I have a bucket list in my mind and I will continue to tick things off as I go. There is something about going into a new place and finding myself completely disoriented and then finding food. I quite enjoy food.

Sharing knowledge. Not just the knowledge needed to pass tests but the knowledge that there is more to the world than school or the town they have grown up in. I constantly share knowledge – even if it isn’t wanted. I guess that’s partially why I enjoy teaching because I have a (sometimes) captive audience who challenge me every day to extend them. I want students to share in this love of knowledge and learning.

My challenge to you is to think about what you are truly passionate about. Have you done anything to develop that passion or, like me, have you put your true passions on hold while you try to figure out if they are what you really want?

I also want you to think about your students and what they are truly passionate about and how we, as educators, guide them and also show them that it is okay to be passionate about maybe collecting toy dinosaurs…

Peace and pancakes…