School’s out Friday

Stepping out of his comfort zone has worked pretty well for Richard Branson. Here’s hoping the same applies to me!

I’ve stepped way out of my comfort zone and just experienced the first week of work at a new school. I’ve laughed, I’ve cried (not while at work!) and I’ve made some nice connections with the people I’m working with. That is what has kept me sane – my thanks go to everyone there who have made me feel so welcome.

To be totally honest with you, I’d underestimated just how hard it is to start a new job. You go from someone who was competent in pretty much everything you were doing in your previous job, to someone who is struggling to remember the footprint of the building you are in, the names of people you’ve just been introduced to less than two minutes ago, and how you go about navigating a Windows environment on a PC when you’ve used a Mac for the last 6 years!

Give me another 8 or so weeks and I’m sure I’ll be handling things like a pro. Well, hopefully anyway – maybe semi-professional is a more apt forecast!

A weekend of contemplative rest is in order. Taking stock, collecting my thoughts, getting ready to do it all again next week. Keeping in mind that life begins at the end of your comfort zone. :)

Have a great weekend. Enjoy, may the sun shine.

Spoken Word Poetry as a Year 9 Project Based Learning task

Tomorrow, I start a new job. In it, I will be leading the direction of technology use in classrooms across three campuses. It’s a big job, and one that means I no longer will be teaching my own class. While I welcome the opportunity to think in a big picture capacity and support teachers and students across a very large school, I am going to miss the vitality of the classroom and the close relationships you form with a class over the course of a year. Hopefully people will welcome me into their classrooms, because I think you need doses of classroom reality to keep you grounded.

I’ve had to leave my wonderful class who are taking the elective I created called ‘Language of our Times’. This term begins with the Project Based Learning Spoken Word Poetry task that I have loved teaching. I’ve been meaning to write about it over the past two years so thought now was a good opportunity to share my experiences with it. It also might help teachers at my new school see that I am a classroom teacher too, even if they’ve never seen me teach a class. :)

Spoken Word Poetry task: Year 9

Driving question:  How can language move people?

Your task is to work in groups and create a Spoken Word Poetry piece (also known as Slam Poetry) that will be performed in class and then performed for a public audience during our celebration of Book Week in August.Your Spoken Word Poetry piece must use language effectively to convey meaning, and must capture the attention of your audience. The focus for the piece will be decided via negotiation with the members of your group. Group performance, your individual contribution, effective language choices, and high level collaboration efforts toward a common goal will form the basis of your assessment.

Student Objectives

Students will:

  • Listen to, read, analyze and write poetry;
  • Recognize, discuss and employ the poetic techniques employed in poems;
  • Analyze the techniques used by performance artists; and
  • Perform their own poems.

Reference explaining Spoken Word poetry: http://www.nelson-atkins.org/images/PDF/Calendar/PoetrySlam_SpokenWord.pdf

“What is spoken word poetry?

Spoken word poetry is poetry that is written on a page but performed for an audience. Because it is performed, this poetry tends to demonstrate a heavy use of rhythm, improvisation, free association, rhymes, rich poetic phrases, word play and slang. It is more aggressive and “in your face” than more traditional forms of poetry.”(follow the link above for more detail explaining what to keep in mind when writing a Spoken Word poem)

Relevant Australian Curriculum Content Descriptors addressed in this task:

Interacting with others

Listen to spoken texts constructed for different purposes, for example to entertain and to persuade, and analyse how language features of these textsposition listeners to respond in particular ways(ACELY1740)Use interaction skills to present and discuss an idea and to influence and engage an audience by selecting persuasive language, varying voice tone, pitch, and pace, and using elements such as music and sound effects (ACELY1811)Plan, rehearse and deliver presentations, selecting and sequencing appropriate content and multimodal elements for aesthetic and playful purposes(ACELY1741)

Interpreting, analysing, evaluating

Explore and explain the combinations of language and visual choices that authors make to present information, opinions and perspectives in different texts (ACELY1745)

Creating texts

Create imaginative, informative and persuasive texts that present a point of view and advance or illustrate arguments, including texts that integrate visual, print and/or audio features (ACELY1746)

Text structure and organisation

Understand that authors innovate with text structures and language for specific purposes and effects(ACELA1553)

Language variation and change

Investigate how evaluation can be expressed directly and indirectly using devices, for example allusion, evocative vocabulary and metaphor(ACELA1552)

We had a hook lesson with Poet, Alicia Sometimes, late term two because that is when she had been booked to come to the school. I had discussed PBL with the students and we went through the ‘main course’ elements when we started with the task.

A “Main Course” project:

  • is intended to teach significant content.
  • requires critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, and various forms of communication.
  • requires inquiry as part of the process of learning and creating something new.
  • is organized around an open-ended Driving Question.
  • creates a need to know essential content and skills.
  • allows some degree of student voice and choice.
  • includes processes for revision and reflection.
  • involves a public audience.

At the start of the task I introduced the students to the rubric we used for assessment  so that they were aware of what was being assessed before they began and understand what to work towards. It was also made clear that although they were working in groups, they would be individually assessed based on what they demonstrated throughout the duration of the task. We used the collaboration rubric from the Buck Institute of Education and I added a component for reflection  because I wanted the students to value the importance of reflecting on their learning. (now part of Gold Standard PBL) I used a scoring rubric from the Out Loud Poetry competition Judge’s Guide to assess the Spoken Word performance element of the task.

The first year I made the groupings without consulting students. Last year, I asked students who they would like to work with as some had begun a poem when workshopping with Alicia Sometimes and I didn’t want to interrupt the flow that some had attained. Some groups formed naturally from this process but I did place students in other groups.

I was continually heartened by the majority of the groups’ application to this task. I tried to focus them at the start of a lesson by asking each group to briefly provide feedback to the whole group about where they were at and what they think they need to build on for that lesson. At the end of a lesson (when time hadn’t got away from us!) we refocused by watching a YouTube video of a spoken word poem to continually provide exemplars of effective performance.

Braemar College-Comp from Australian Poetry on Vimeo.

The LMS we used had a sharing space where the students  posted examples they had found of Spoken Word Poetry to share with the class. I also included information about Poetic techniques within this space and we explored this as a group to give them some grounding to assist with the development of their poems.

Each group used their Google Drive account and were working on a shared document to collaboratively write the poem. I asked them to identify who had written each part by colour coding the lines for individual contributions and indicating when the group achieved consensus with some lines. That worked well and they honestly provided indicators of individual’s contributions. I always find it interesting when you give the students a lot of agency with their work – my experience has seen students honestly reflect and acknowledge when they are pulling their weight, and when they aren’t. They are self assessing all the time. For some, this is impetus to do better not just for the teacher, but for their own self worth.

The rehearsal stage was always interesting. The scoring rubric from the Out Loud Poetry Guide measures physical presence, voice and articulation and dramatic appropriateness. The students were exposed to many examples of group performances (some seen above) that demonstrated how they could incorporate movement into their poems for effect. They practiced tirelessly to coordinate movement and time delivery of their poems and those who really worked at this performed pieces that quite literally left me and many in the class almost speechless. Other groups were not so polished with some group members not being able to stay ‘in character’ or able to commit all of their lines to memory. They were Year 9 students – I wasn’t expecting miracles because to pull off spoken word poetry well is very difficult indeed.  However, over the two years when I taught this unit there were groups who did pull off a miracle, and that was satisfying for me, but more importantly, it was personally satisfying for them.

Working within the Project Based Learning model was eye opening for me as a teacher. I saw students work way beyond the capacity of what test scores predicted as their achievement level. They were invested in their groups, saw the value of shared purpose and some exhibited leadership capabilities I had never seen evident in more traditional learning tasks. More than once students told me how proud they were of what they were doing and this was clear when they publicly performed their pieces at our Book Week performance days. In the second year, we invited parents to come along and those who came were blown away by what their children had managed to achieve.

A moment stood out last year when sometime after we had finished the unit, an English teacher came to see me one morning to let me know that a student in her regular English class had written a remarkable poem that incorporated an extended metaphor, repetition and other poetic techniques that she did not think were in the range of this student’s ability. When she quizzed her as to where this inspiration emanated from, the student explained that in our Language of our Times elective we had studied Spoken Word poetry and that was where she had learnt these techniques. What did I love about this? Being able to talk to this student and ask to view her poem as I had heard how wonderful it was. I could almost feel her pride in herself envelope me at that moment.

You guessed it, those are the moments to savour, and the moments I will miss.  :)

School’s out Friday

*note: swear word within video and inappropriate ad from College Humour at the end. Just so you know.

Yes, I’m going to confess. I have an Apple Watch. (run of the mill variety, definitely not Gold)

Do I need one?

No.

Do I feel pretentious wearing it?

Yes, a little bit.

Do I like it?

Yes, I have to admit, I do.

My family gave me a voucher on Mother’s Day this year for an Apple Watch, and I got it this week. They know how much I love new gadgets and I love them for indulging me and recognising that this is something I would enjoy. I do feel like it’s an extremely unnecessary thing to own and I do feel slightly uncomfortable wearing it. The thing is ridiculously expensive here in Australia and it seems frivolous to own one, but I have to confess that I am liking it, even if I remain pretty clueless so far as to what it can do.

I am away from home at the moment, holidaying with my gorgeous daughter in Port Douglas. I know, you don’t need to say it, I sound like someone who is just throwing money around – forgive me, but having just been paid out for long service leave and knowing that I’m never going to get to take that time off, then this was the next best thing. Anyway, back to the Apple Watch part of the story. I’m liking the activity tracker that is reminding me to get out and get moving – it’s a good prompt that I think is going to be beneficial. I can read my incoming mail, send a message using Siri, and answer and send phone calls from it. You do feel like you’re in an episode of Get Smart when you’re holding your wrist near your face and talking into it, but it has been handy in the car. I can hold the driving wheel and talk quite normally and the people on the other end have been unaware that I’m communicating via the Apple Watch.

There are a myriad of apps available and I’m really in the infancy stages of using it. For the first day, it was noticeable, but four days in and I’m starting to see it as a functional device that I think may prove really useful once I am back at work managing meetings and trying to organise myself in what is going to be a very different pattern of commuting for me.

I have to admit that I do feel a tad freakish with it on, given that wearable devices like this aren’t the norm (yet). Mind you, no-one else seems to have noticed it at all, so maybe there’s nothing big deal about it. Mind you, I’m yet to answer a call in a crowded space and I’m not sure I would. I think reaching into the bag to get the phone would probably be my course of action in shared spaces!

If I discover any noteworthy features, I’ll try and write about them. In the meantime, I’m enjoying the warmth of Port Douglas, a far cry from the depths of a Melbourne winter. My daughter and I walked along the beach at Cape Tribulation today, and I marvelled at the fact that I was treading on sand that I can pinpoint on a map of Australia. It seems so pristine there, I do wonder if the shoreline has altered much from the time James Cook and his men encountered it when they circumnavigated Australia’s East Coast. Even more significant, I wonder if our indigenous people have stories that illustrate what this coastline was like before the arrival of white settlement?

I’m going to be enjoying the sun and relaxation space this holiday is offering me. I hope you can find some space for yourself this weekend, be it in the sun, or by a warm fire. Enjoy. :)

School’s out Friday

I suspect many of you have seen this on mainstream media this week. Cats can certainly wind up in some funny spaces – seeing this brought to mind an experience I had with my dearly loved and recently departed cat, Bella. And yes, if you’re a regular reader you may recall me mentioning our loss last year of our dearly loved dog, Bella. That’s right, we had two animals in the same house with the same name. It’s a long story. Suffice to say, two animals often fronted for dinner when called!

But back to the story related to the video above. My parents live nearby, around ten minutes away. I drove there one day, stopping at a set of lights on the way. When I arrived, I could hear a cat wailing when I stepped out of the car. I thought I must have hit the neighbour’s cat so started looking around the car for an injured animal. No sign, but the wailing continued. I eventually narrowed it down to the bonnet of my car. Lifted it, and yep, there was Bella, huddled on top of the engine, wailing. I spent time in the weeks after this checking where Bella was before venturing out for any car trip!

screenshot-www.icloud.com 2015-06-26 23-10-13

Bella, daredevil cat, is on the left. Bonnie, far too slothful for any such adventure, is still with us and on the right. No need to check my car when I venture out now. She’s never going to be hidden in the engine – that would require too much effort!

Have a great weekend. Seek out enjoyment. Make it your mission.  Just avoid positioning yourself on the wing of a glider or the top of a car engine.  :)

 

Discussing Personal Learning Networks with Pearson’s ‘In Conversation’ series – Part two!

Screenshot 2015-06-17 20.03.22

Part two of the interview I had with Pearson’s ‘In Conversation’ series is now available. Click here to gain access.

Screenshot 2015-06-17 19.25.22

Like I said in my previous post, this interview was conducted over the phone. It’s difficult to think on your feet in situations like that, and I don’t think what I said has translated well in reference to Project Based Learning and what happens when students find themselves not succeeding. Here’s what is in the post;

I’ve had fantastic feedback from students involved in project based learning, but it’s not easy as it puts the onus on them to take responsibility for their learning. When they learn via this method, students have a sense of pride in what they’ve accomplished.

I’ve observed that that’s what they respond to best, because they want permission and the responsibility to take charge of their own learning. Through this process, they may eventually encounter and experience failure which is positive feedback. Analysing failure is something we don’t do enough of in school.

When these same students who didn’t do well finished a project, they were then able to articulate and identify where they’ve gone wrong. These same children also went on to perform better in subsequent activities because they were working through the process and ultimately learning how to fail successfully.

Hmmnn…not quite what I wanted to say! I don’t see failure as positive feedback, but it can lead to positive outcomes. In the case of the students I was referencing, they learnt from failure and went on to be very successful in subsequent PBL tasks.

Wish I’d had a rewind button so I could have fixed that up before it went to print!

I do like the quotes they have selected to place in images accompanying the interview, so I going to share them here (nice little bit of archiving for me!)

Screenshot 2015-06-17 20.01.04

 

Screenshot 2015-06-17 20.02.10

 

Thank you Pearson Australia for asking me to be involved in your ‘In Conversation’ series. I enjoyed the experience and am really pleased that you have identified the strength of Personal Learning Networks to support the professional development of our teaching profession.

Discussing Personal Learning Networks with Pearson’s ‘In Conversation’ series

A few week’s ago I was interviewed for Pearson’s ‘In Conversation’ series. Here’s the premise behind the series and this interview;

In Conversation is a monthly series where we chat with some of the leading thinkers and thought leaders in the education space.
In this month’s interview, we tackled the topic of Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) to uncover the benefits and how they may impact the teaching strategies of educators.

I was very flattered to be considered a ‘thought leader’ in the education space, and even more flattered to see that they have decided to make it a two part report. It was a phone interview and it can be difficult to shape your words when you’re thinking on the spot, but I think what was relayed did justice to the work of educators worldwide who are sharing their practice and supporting their peers in social spaces.

You can read part one by clicking this link. Part two will be available mid June. I’ll be interested to read it, because it’s hard to remember exactly what I said! Here’s a nice grab of what’s to come;

Screenshot 2015-06-14 20.06.43

The Pearson team did a great job creating an infographic with some of my and their recommendations of people to follow on Twitter. I suggest you follow all of them and if you’re not already a Twitter user, then get to it and sign up. You’ll need a good month to get your head around how Twitter works, but stick with it. It’s where my best learning happens.

Screenshot 2015-06-14 19.33.30

Looking forward…

On January 1st this year I wrote a post entitled ‘Looking Back…‘. In it, I speculated on what 2015 would bring.

Fast forward to today, and I’m about to head into a staff briefing where I will be farewelled from Toorak College.

At the start of Term 3, I will begin a new job at Wesley College in Melbourne, where I will take on the position of Head of Digital Learning and Practice.

Did I even contemplate on January 1st this year that this was the course I would find myself on?

Not for one minute.

But it’s happening, and I need to find a way to extricate myself from a place that has made such a significant impact on my life. It feels like a bit of a ‘To Sir with Love’ moment, because how do you thank a school community that has helped you realise your potential and enabled you to become something you never thought you would be?

In 2005, I was working at Monterey Secondary College, a school that also had a significant impact on my life and gave me such good grounding as a teacher. It was a school I loved and the memories I have of it are dear to me. But in 2005, I was teaching a Year 8 class that was making me question my ability as a teacher. I was a parent of young children, I was stressed and I was contemplating leaving the profession and doing something completely different. I saw an ad in the local paper for a part time Teacher Librarian position at Toorak College and it sat on my kitchen bench for over a week before I decided to apply. I felt traitorous to the public education system because I’d been such a strong advocate for free education for all, but I needed change – I needed to reclaim myself and my place in a profession that mattered to me.

I got the job, and in doing so, I unwrapped the gift that was Toorak College.

This gift unveiled opportunity, growth and insight. It helped me realise that the skills I’d developed in the public system were founded in good practice and could be applied in different contexts. The gift revealed new colleagues, new friends, and professional development opportunities that I’d not been able to explore in my previous job. I embraced all it offered and ran, hurtling into the unknown and discovering a significant part of my life’s purpose in the process.

The gift introduced me to classes of students hungry for knowledge. This is perhaps the richest part of the gift – the opportunity to form meaningful relationships with students and the deep satisfaction I have had working in classrooms where we have shared learning moments that are etched in my memory. The gift enabled me to travel with students to destinations like China, Italy, Laos, Borneo, the Kimberley region and on OEG trips to the Murray River and various camp destinations. My happiest moments have been in classrooms and on trips where we have immersed ourselves wholeheartedly into whatever presented itself to us, and we have laughed and learnt alongside one another.

The gift has seen me through the best of times and the worst of times. It was in the worst of times that the gift unveiled true friends, and I am forever indebted to Megan Davies, Lee-Anne Marsh and Mae-Louise McGuinness who held out lifelines that helped me work through challenges that have also been growth opportunities.

The gift has taught me an enormous amount about leadership and what it takes to bring people with you. I am grateful to Noel Thomas, former Principal, who didn’t stall me in my evolution as a teacher who shares their practice publicly. Allowing me to write this blog and being transparent about my place of work was a very generous gift indeed. Current Principal, Helen Carmody, has also been instrumental in my growth and has taught me so much about what it means to lead an organisation through change processes. If I can be half the leader Helen is, I will be doing my next job well.

Like all gifts, you can choose to put them on the shelf and glance at them, or you can make them part of the fabric of your life. Toorak College has been a rich tapestry in my life. I am grateful for the gift it has been and the experiences I have had as a result of gracing its walkways. I am grateful for the people in it who have helped shape my life. I will hold it dear and use what it has taught me in the next stage of my career. I will reflect on it, glance back, learn from it and relive fond memories. I’m proud of what I have brought to it – I am leaving it with gifts that I think will help it grow.

A new gift awaits. There is an excitement surrounding it, and some apprehensiveness too. What will it unveil? What will it teach me? What impact can I make on it? It will reveal itself, in time. I welcome it into my life, and hope that I can be a gift to it.