Tuesday, April 26, 2011

e-Portfolios





I have spent some of my holiday reading and researching around e-Portfolios. I know our school has a vision of moving forward into this being an integral part of our communication with parents as well as it being (first and foremost) a way for our learners to reflect and review their own learning.

The risk, as always, is attempting to 'leap in' to any new thing and by diving into unchartered territory, we risk making a complete botch up of it! If there has been no quality integration and 'phasing in' of the portfolios, with step-by-step teaching and reviewing, then we are sure to have a sub-standard system in place or a great new idea that simply fades. If we want some less confident teachers in any school to embrace change, then the only way to have that happen is to model it well and have some of the keenest people trialling it, making errors, changing what they do, passing on their expertise with others and then assisting in the full school-wide integration of it.

So, what is the best way to start? Getting children blogging reflectively is a great first step. Junior children can take a photo (or have their photo taken) and can record a voice-thread as a response to their learning. From the ground up, there has to be maximum teacher input and drive initially which gradually fades as the children become more confident and drive their own reflections. As a facilitator, we have to be prepared to have top notch questioning about learning and this means that having a learning circle at the end of the day, where children reflect on their new learning, tricky parts of their learning and future learning, is one simple way to kick start reflection. We can fall into the trap of having lots of pretty posters with prompts all around the room, but the children respond best to the spoken word - the posters are just a wall cover to most of our learners. Investing in their learning means that we must have relevant and deep learning conversations which are just a natural part of our day.

And that, in my very opinion, is the humble beginnings of e-Portfolios. Starting the reflections from the simplest point and building on it. We can purchase fancy e-Portfolio programmes eventually but the reality is that we must have the foundations of reflection in place, including the language around learning and the ability to discuss next learning steps in all of the core areas. If we set this in place well, then the 'way' to record and store this information is actually the simplest part.

ePortfolios L@S - 2011

Check out this SlideShare Presentation:

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Perfect Online Teacher


What on earth would the perfect online teacher look like? Accounts set up andactive with
answergarden, tagxedo, animoto slide, stixy,livebinders, juxio, titanpad, studiyo, skrbl whiteboard, illuminate live, dushare, crocodoc, nota,flashcarddb, Promethean Planet, FaceBook, Twitter...

Class Facebook page on the roll with daily updates...

Class blog running daily with masses of input from the class as well as maximum enthusiasm with it...

Fully contributing to online discussions around education hotspots of the hour...

Um, and when do they have time to keep their professional blog updated...their planning current and relevant and so on...

When do they manage their class wiki and keep their professional reading up on Google Reader?
How do they keep the children's e-Portfolios managed throughout?

Okay, okay, I know it is all pie in the sky really to imagine this super-gadget-online-hero-teacher actually exists, but isn't it all about MANAGING SELF for us too???

And, aren't we COLLABORATORS and THINKERS and CREATORS too?! As well as our ability to work with others and manage our time well!

So, like anything in life, the 'perfect' and 'ideal' of anything is someone who has BALANCE!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Holidays???


So all of my friends who are not teachers are currently rolling about in ardent envy of the fact that I have a 9-3 job and now there are 2 weeks of blissful holidays ahead of me.

Just like the Tui add says, "YEAH - RIGHT".

There is no such thing as a 'holiday' when you are a teacher.
This is a vocation minus the vacation, like any true vocation. Most of us are at work by 7.30am doing prep and there until long after 5pm most days. We do duty during our lunch hours and extra-curricular options for the kids during the few free lunchtimes we would have. We are dedicated to our dreams of making a difference in the lives of learners. It is not a hard job - it is a fun, fast and fantastic job!

When I fell into teachers' college a lot of years ago (scary number) I was a disillusioned learner myself. School had gotten in the way of my education and it's true to say that I really only had 1-2 inspiring teachers. I certainly left my run late! The ONLY reason I went to teachers' college was because I refused to back to 7th Form (Y13) and was a year too young to take up my place at Journalism School so I had a year to kill.

Many, many years later I know the truth. We are born into this life as teachers. The ones who last, who really move around through different schools and different levels, who really challenge themselves daily and who wake excited about the day ahead...we are the vocational teachers who teaching chose. I promised myself all of those years ago, that the day I woke up and DIDN'T want to teach or DIDN'T want to 'go to work'...well, that would be the end of the career for me.

It has never happened. And I know in my heart that it never will.

So...I will spend my 'holidays' the way I normally do, like most other teachers...going into school and putting up displays, creating learning centres, planning, preparing activities that will drive learning and inquiry, and so on. My 'holidays' will be punctuated by meetings, conversations with collegues about this term ahead and the one that has gone. I will reflect and review, critically analyse whether I am getting it right and think about what I could change...

Yup, just another normal holiday for us teachers!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

What A Difference A Day Makes...


Wow. Who would have thought that one day could change everything.

Today, one child in my class discovered her voice. She discovered that she is a valued and special contributor to our class. She realised that she can overcome challenges.

Oh yes, one day can make all of the difference in the world. One student came into her own through our 'Challenging Choose-Day' event. She came. She participated. She came 2nd place in the gutterboard competition. She barely smiled and she seemed disaffected by the cheering of the team and the roars of excitement from our class.

But today, one day on, she is a whole new child. She wrote a recount of her day at 'Challenging Choose-Day'. She added details and included all of the events that we participated in, including all of the children in our class and which event they were in as well as where they placed in their event.

What makes this amazing, is the fact that this gorgeous child is non-English speaking. She has never uttered a word in my class and really lacks confidence. She is reluctant about any sort of participation, embarrassed when anyone tries to talk to her - even in Mandarin - and she has not yet written more than a few words at a time, with total support and a lot of prompting.

Today, she wrote half a page, unaided.
Today, she read aloud with our class as we shared our big book.
Today, she located a photo of herself with her gold medal from the Challenging Choose-Day event and put it on her wiki page with a comment.
Today, she finally became a part of our class, and she is truly happy about it.

If THAT isn't overcoming a challenge...well, what a difference a day makes...

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Challenging Choose-Day




What a fun and fabulously entertaining day we had today! There is something intensely rewarding about seeing joy in children as they participate confidently in something that is a challenge for them - both exciting and nerve-wracking - and experience success.

Our Terrifically Talented Tuesday that we had with the Middle School last year was so successful that we decided to re-vamp it and create Challenging Choose-Day (Tuesday). A clever twist on the theme!

The idea behind the day is for the students to learn and practice new skills but skills which are entertaining and fun too. Our events were: beans and chopsticks, hula hooping, skipping backwards, skipping 2 in a rope, gutterboards and shape sorting boxes. Each event had 2 reps from each class - the fastest 2 children. The lovely thing about these events is the fact that the children who find learning easy or who are exceptional at sports are often not the fastest at these quite different tasks.

There was a wonderful sense of participation today. Those who were directly involved were excited and enjoyed just taking part. There were gold medals for the victors and cheers. pats on the back and high fives for all who tried. We had class relays and rob-the-nest tournament for the children who were not in finals.

The coolest part of the day was just watching the way each class banded together to support and cheer for one another. If they had no reps in the finals, they were happy to just cheer for anyone else! Each class had a theme song (ours was Queen, We Are The Champions!) from 'The Eye of the Tiger' to 'Get Your Head In The Game' to "Reach for the Stars"! We marched into the hall waving banners and paraded across the stage waving flags and wearing our theme colours. There was cheering and supportive clapping from all and sundry...it was like being at the Olympics!

So the biggest success of the day? Well, everyone was a winner from the students to the teachers. It was awesome!

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Hive




Having been absent (the dreaded flu) for the last 2 days of the week, it was amazing to come back to school after the weekend and see the result of a team of local church volunteers who coupled with our school community to build the long awaited "HIVE" behind my classroom.

The Beautification and Enrichment of the Environment group - called the "BEES" for short, have finally managed to complete their dream area for our school garden.

The photos taken by my class do not do it justice. Amidst a 'hive' of activity, this endeavour was undertaken - it has been 4 years in the planning and a weekend in the making! It is incredible to see what community commitment and a spirit of challenge can achieve! The children talked today about the bare canvas of the grassed area and the fact that they never imagined how different it could look when everyone worked together to create the vision.

This is exactly what we must keep close to our hearts as educators. We have a vision - a final result of what our 'whole' learners look like, but we must never lose sight of the fact that when we all work together there is NOTHING that we can't achieve! The children learnt what teamwork LOOKS like because of this project. A wheelbarrow full of dirt or bark was PART of this success. A tape measure and saw, a digger and a hammer were all PART of this success. Alone, each one of these things is just...well, a digger or a saw, but TOGETHER they are able to be part of the whole. The end result shows what collaboration and vision can do when they come together. It was a weekend 'abuzz' with excitement and expectation, it was a 'hive' of activity and the result is that we can 'bee' whatever we want to be!!!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Professional Reading


I have to admit that it is a struggle to keep up with professional reading. I am the person who manages to cram in the largest amount of international news reading and local gossip over the front section of the NZ Herald while waiting for my morning coffee! Now, with the pace that education changes these days and new apps and ideas appear, the chances of me keeping up with the changes as they happen are...well, no chance!

So I am really feeling rather smug at the fact that I have finally (this year) managed to maintain almost daily professional reading. I feel like I am actually keeping much further ahead than ever before through two essential tools...Twitter and Google Reader.

It takes less than 20 minutes a night to scan through the blogs and articles that I subscribe to on Reader. By doing this, I am able to discern that which needs deeper reading and the pieces that do not apply to me and where I am at. Then I can save or star the reading that I want to go back to and move on to check Twitter.

I have found that by choosing very carefully who I follow and what I post, this is used as a purely professional forum. No-one posts about their dog or about weird things that bear no relevance to my learning journey, so by following other professionals it keeps the information that I read interesting, relevant and easy to look through. It is a part of my day that I thoroughly enjoy and with 50-100 posts to read it is easy to scan through quickly, a lovely 10 minutes max.

But...the amount of learning that I am experiencing is unbelievable! Any questions that I have from the day such as which website has this or that are easily flicked out into the cyberworld and answered quickly (mostly) with great accuracy and awesome ideas for me to try or places to start my search.

The power of social networking was foreign to me and went rather over my head only a year ago. Facebook was the place to play games, Google was a basic search tool and Twitter was a place for twits to tweet. But now? Well, I guess I am a total twit for it all too now.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Key Competencies



My class reflected on their learning today after a fab trip yesterday. It is still awesome to be able to see how far they have come! I look back 10 weeks and know that an amazing journey has been started, one that we are still on for sure, but one that we have travelled well none-the-less.

I was going through some folders on my desktop tonight and found the original flipcharts, (above) that are now displayed in the classroom, from our brainstorm of what it means to participate and contribute in our class and what it looks like to manage self. This has been added to and changed over the past few weeks and now I am further inspired to re-visit it again with my class tomorrow, just to see how their perceptions have changed or if there is anything they would add or remove.

I guess my thoughts tonight look kind of like this...it is a complete change in thinking for us to be listeners and learners as teachers. Oh, don't get me wrong, we've been doing it all along without even thinking about probably, but now we are so conscious of the way we question, the nature of how to direct learning within children's choices and so on. I guess it would be a genuinely fascinating exercise to ask a staff of teachers to brainstorm their own ideas of what participating looks like as a teacher who is also learning and what it is to manage ourselves. What would we see as the focus and would it be very different from what our children perceive it to be?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Community Part 2





What a fantastic experience our trip was today! We went to a local art gallery where we worked with one of the teaching staff there on how to communicate a story.

The first part of our session began in the gallery where we looked around at a group of artworks that formed an exhibition from artists in Cuba, Mexico and New Zealand. The exhibition was a surprise to the children who enjoyed coming back together and discussing how we communicate a story. The worked out that we can speak, write, draw or act out a story so we set about acting out the Maori legend of the Taniwha that we have been studying.

There was much mirth at times as the children enjoyed re-creating the story with its tsunamis and earthquakes, European settlers and many themes of challenges woven in.

We then went through to one of the studios where we spent the next hour and a half creating a collage of the story. The children worked tirelessly with no arguments or fuss - they were so focused and driven to present their ideas together that it was rather amazing to watch! The parents faded into the background as did I as we were privileged to observe how our little class community thrived together and produced their final product with amazing collaboration, sharing, fairness and full, fair participation.

It was great to arrive back at school and put them on display with the wall story - the completion of a wonderful experience that we can now reflect on daily whenever we re-read the text and view the images...

Monday, April 4, 2011

Community


What does it mean to be part of a community?

We are looking at this in our class again at the moment, a very ongoing key comp. I realised pretty early on this term that there needed to be a real sense of class community built with my class. Not just the usual class culture and expectations, but the fact that we are composed differently to other classes in our school - we are a composite class.

We already make up different groups within the class as usual - we are different family organisations, different races and religions, different ages and sizes, different abilities, different learners. But we are also different year levels. Some of the children in our class are the role models as Year 4's while the other half are brand new to the Middle School and need lots of support to integrate and become part of a new and more challenging learning community.

Our class brainstormed what 'community' means to us...we looked at what our community in our class, local area and country look like. Who are we, the people that comprise this community and draw from so many different paths?

It has really helped to support the key competency of Participating and Contributing - what do we contribute to our class community? We have *been drawn together for the purpose of learning and this is the community that we are a part of together. We decided that our learning is '*best supported when we contribute appropriately as a group member, make connections with other and create opportunities for others in the group (*TKI website), but we also took this apart and looked at what this means to us - what does participating and contributing look like in OUR classroom?

To build a community, it is vital that we accept all of the members of that community as equals yet as deeply different. We have looked at who we all in our class - both as individuals and as a part of the wider community. I believe that we are well on our way to becoming an awesome community of lifelong learners!