Dancing Te Reo

Every week at my school we are given a new bit of Te Reo Maori to learn for the week and then to pass on to our students. Normally, I focus on regular language teaching – you know getting the kids to practice with one another. After doing TPDL a few years ago I’m not a big believer in written language work at the early stage of learning a language. But this week I decided to try something different. Inspired by the Dance Subject Association Conference (DSANZ – you can find out about them here) which I attended a week ago, I thought I’d try to integrate the arts – specifically dance, because that’s my jam, into our Te Reo Learning. Barbara Snook had taken us through a whole range of dance activities that looked at integrating the arts into the rest of the curriculum – one of these was based around spelling – getting students to move as they spelt words. I wondered whether it would work for learning a language.
As it turns out, there are many people who have wondered the same thing, and they’ve gone even further towards answering the question. When we move our bodies glucose and oxygen circulate to our brains. As Jean Madigan puts it in her book ‘Thinking on Your Feet’, movement, dance and physical activity “change the learning state into one appropriate for retention and retrieval of memory, the effects lasting as much as 30 – 60 mins depending on the student.” She goes on to identify 3 key benefits of using what is known as Action Based Learning:
  • Learning is bettered anchored when more of the senses are involved – this increases the functioning of the frontal lobe.
  • Crossing the middle line of brain/body engages both hemispheres of the brain, which develops stronger coordination of movement and assists in the organisation of thoughts due to the activation of both hemispheres at the same time.
  • Repetitive gross motor movement assists the brain in sequencing patterns.
At this point it seemed clear that there was certainly nothing to be lost in integrating language and dance. Along with another class we booked the hall and got started.
After completing a few simple movement warms up based around the idea of focus and space, we got down to business. Students were each given a vocal card with a Te Reo phrase on it. Our current topic is the weather, so each sentence was fairly similar. beginning with ‘Kei te…’ (It is…) and the one or more words which describe the state of the weather. Each card had a picture indicating what the phrase meant (rather than an English translation – this assists students to think in the target language straight away instead of translating back to English which is often unnecessary and slows down language acquisition). After seeing a couple of demonstrations of different phrases from me, students were then sent off to work on the phrase. If students were stuck they were given a set couple of moves for ‘Kei te…’ and encouraged to improvise from there. The students were able to be completely free their movements – the could be static poses or travelling movements. The one requirement the students were given was that each word must have it’s own movement and students must say the words aloud with each action, thus practising pronunciation. Students were given time to develop and then practice their movement, this had a dual purpose of further integrating the language and developing the students’ muscle memory of their movements which would be vital for the next part.
Students were then asked to find a partner and teach their partner their phrase and learn their partner’s. All the time they were expected to be saying their phrase aloud. They then had to work out which order to put them together (dance skill = linking phrases). They then joined another pair (in groups of four now) and repeated the process – each student now exposed to 4 different phrases. This was where we left the lesson last week. When we come back to it, we will be developing it a more dance-based way, exploring the types of pathways we can create with our bodies or in space – straight and curved and making links to the qualities of the weather and these two contrasting ideas.
So did the movement assist the language acquisition? It certainly seems that way – students seem to have retained the new vocabulary and they are showing strong recall of the the language. I’m not sure whether it is significantly increased over other ways of teaching vocal in language but it was certainly more fun and a good physical challenge. I was impressed at students’ engagement in the movement tasks and also the amount of language I heard being used – this was significantly better than tasks we done in class. So the verdict, I think it definitely to continue with this, but maybe also to actually try and gather some evidence to support the apparent efficacy of the method.
References:
Advertisements

Developing Critical Thinking through SOLO

One of my big focuses for the year with my class is around developing critical thinking. In particular, this was a big focus last term as we worked on our eco-houses. It was also the focus of a recent observation by my syndicate leader. We use the ARA Pathway coaching framework for our observations at school, which is really helpful in enabling teacher reflection. As part of this, we set a follow up goal, for where to next, and part of my goal was to blog about critical thinking, as this is always a good opportunity for me to reflect and process ideas.

 

In term one, I visited the local college, to have a look at a science lesson and see what our students are heading to next. The thing that really struck me was the way the teacher actively talked to the students about how they could use the language of SOLO to deepen their thinking and explanation. I’d used SOLO in previous years, but hadn’t really taken my students through the language of it this year. We started using it to form success criteria in term one with a book/movie comparison, and I built on this in term two with a piece of writing we did around significant family members for Matariki and as part of an empathy building focus (something we’re definitely working on as a class).

 

Using the SOLO symbols on the board with levelled success criteria helped my students to see the progression of ideas and the relationship between them. I start with multi-structural, because by the time we get to looking at the actual explanation through writing, student’s already have an idea of what they are looking at. Acknowledging this with my students – actually pointing out that they have already passed prestructural and unistructural stages – seems to instantly give them a positive jolt, an ‘oh yeah, I can already do that, so I’m part way there’.

 

The thing I really like about using SOLO in this way is that it forces me to really tease apart what I am looking for in regards to critical thinking – how easy is it to just say ‘I’m developing their critical thinking’ without actually really being clear on how you are doing that. This in turn makes it clear for the students what the process of developing their critical thinking looks like, and in turn has led to much better writing/explanations of their ideas.

 

I’m still very much developing my understanding of SOLO, but I definitely think that getting in and giving it a go has really helped me come to terms with it and I can see hugely positive benefit it is having with my students. I guess now I am wondering where to next with it as so far I’ve mostly focused on it through explaining ideas in writing (it’s been amazing for developing students’ ideas strand). I’d like to try it in different contexts. With our modules for next term, there will be good opportunity to continue it in writing as we look at persuasion and cause and effect around global issues, as well as looking at static image, film or debate to present ideas. I can see how I could use it really effectively to help support students through starting to unpack cause and effect of some of the global issues they are passionate about. I’m also interested to see how I can use it to support learning in our integrated maths topic to do with fuelling athletes. Not quite sure what that looks like yet though.

Modular Learning

I keep finding it hard to write a blog post. Hard to find time to stop and actually write a reflection. Which is not to say that reflections aren’t happening, just so often lately they don’t end up getting written. Actually, when I say lately I really mean the last year and a half. When I first started challenging my pedagogy and the way I did things in the classroom, I found that writing was really helpful, and easy to manage, but as I’ve become more settled with being unsettled, I’ve found my writing has tailed off. Which is a shame, because I know it is a really useful tool to help me process things.

At the end of this term, it will be 2 full years since I started teaching in a totally integrated style, and while it hasn’t always been easy, I’ve certainly never wanted to turn back. One of the things I love most about the way I do things is that it is constantly evolving in response to the needs of my students (this is the 3rd class I’ve worked with in this way).

This year I have 29  year 7 and 8 learners. As with most classes I have a real mix of students. They are a very lively and outgoing bunch (for the most part) and have such a huge amount of energy. They love sport (first time I’ve every had a class that loved sport so much), enjoy art and LOVE singing. Most of them will give anything a go at least once and as they will tell you – they are highly motivated by food. Seriously, we even had to include it as part of our class values at the beginning of the year – we value food. They crack me up regularly and they are COMPLETElY different to the class I had last year.

As with the previous two classes I’ve had, we base our integrated learning around two modules. These modules are a combination of two main subject areas (others might be involved but are not the primary learning focus) based around a context. One is also maths and something else based, and one is always English and something else based. Most of our learning is worked into these modules. Extra things such as languages, te Reo and various other projects that are happening around the school i.e. this term wearable art and science curiosity clubs, syndicate arts opt-ins make up the rest of our timetable. The modules are inspired by the way they do things at Hobsonville Point Secondary School, but I’ve adapted it for my context. You can read more about how I started this here. And how it develop here.

Usually I give modules equal weighting – i.e. a 50/50 split. Once, last year, I disastrously tried to fit in 3. Turns out two is plenty for a term. I generally work on a term by term time frame, mixing it up each term to keep my interest and my students’. This term I’ve mixed things up a bit, trying a 30/70ish split for our two modules. Instead of a module A and a module B we have a big module and a small module. The reason for this is primarily because one of the projects we are working will start to cross over into English as well as maths and science when the students get into some information report writing. So I thought rather than limit the scope of the module, I’d extend it slightly. Like I said, always adapting…

So anyway two modules this term – Small Module: Stars and Seasons: Exploring poetry and the night sky. This module focuses on English and Science (you’ll see there is quite a strong science focus this term – quite deliberately). We are looking at what happens in the changing seasons, and how this affected by the movement of the planet. Students are exploring poetic language and metaphorical devices to express their understanding of each season. We are also including some work around Matariki as part of this. As with all good intentions, this hasn’t quite gone according to plan. With so many disruptions in the first half of term due to Stage Challenge and all manner of other cool stuff we haven’t managed to complete this as early as I wanted to, but it’s wrapping up and will hopefully be finished by the end of next week. I’ve also found it challenging to balance the amount of writing the students need with the science concepts I wanted to look at. Probably a lesson for me in not over planning.

Our Big Module has got the students super excited at the moment – Playing Houses: Design an Eco-House. This module focuses on English and Science/Technology. Students are designing their own eco-house following the design process, and researching and inventing their own technologies and scientific principles to include. The maths focus is geometry and measurement with a particular emphasis on shape, scale, perspective, area and volume. The science/technology focus is on researching and developing understanding of ideas in science with a focus on sustainable building practices. It’s hard to believe just how highly engaging this is for my learners. The last week has seen them drawing their houses in 3 dimensions from an isometric perspective (a particularly challenging feat when your house is not a simple cube – and most aren’t!) and then begin looking at floor plans. This week we have been looking at the different shapes used within our houses and the advantages and disadvantages of such shapes in building. The depth of thinking has blown me away. Students were identifying things about their design (and mine) that I hadn’t even thought of, such as the way a curved roof would minimise exposure to the wind and allow better dispersion of water across a green living roof. Our next step with this is to look in more depth at placement of houses, positioning and the best angles for getting maximum sun for passive solar heating, and then move on to planning and researching and then writing about a specific technology that the house uses and the creating gardens.

As you can probably guess from my enthusiastic descriptions – I am particularly enjoying and excited about the big module, though I’m also really looking forward to seeing the rest of the poems come together too. I’ve set myself a goal to blog more – so expect to hear (read?) more about how these modules are progressing soon.

 

Exploring Themes

This term we are reading the book ‘The City of Ember’ by Jeanne DuPrau. We’re reading this as part of a focus on dystopian fiction over the year. Our school wide, year long focus for 2015 is sustainability, so this is the sense through which we are exploring dystopia – as sustainable (or otherwise).
The City of Ember is a particularly interesting read with a sustainability lens. The book opens in the prologue with the builders of the city discussing how long the city will last and how people will know when it’s time to leave. We then fast forward a couple of hundred years to a classroom where the class 8 students (equivalent of our year 8) are waiting to receive their job assignments. We follow two main students as the begin their jobs, and lives as adults (yes, at 12, and yes, that blows the students minds!). As they settle into their responsibilities as citizens of Ember, they discover that the city is not built to last, and in fact was never intended to last. Things are falling into disrepair and one day, the lights will go out for ever.
You see Ember is a city in darkness, though we do not know it at the beginning Ember is built deep underground and sustained by electricity generated from a hydroelectric generator that uses water from an underground river.
We’re about 4 chapters in at the moment, and the students are really enjoying it. In our literacy focus session yesterday, we explored some of the imagery and themes a little bit deeper.
We started off with 3 portions of text from the book, which described what Ember looked like and how it worked.
Students then had to discuss the question – ‘What sustains life in Ember?’
They came up with all sorts of ideas:
But eventually, we distilled them down to one main one – electricity. Without electricity there is no light, no warmth. This led us into a discussion about themes and ideas that run through books. We focused on the idea of light v. darkness and talked about how this links into the citizens’ greatest fear – that one day the lights will go out and com back on.
We used the text to look for evidence to support and back up our ideas and talked about how we can use quotes from the text to support this.
I then asked the students to discuss why the city was called Ember, and to make connections with all that we had discussed that afternoon. They came up some really interesting ideas that I hadn’t even thought of (I love it when that happens!).
We then took one of two phrases/themes – either the word ember or the theme of light versus dark and using a limited colour palette we created quick images that represented this. On the back of these we then wrote a list of words or phrases or ideas that we associated with the picture.
We will use this to build understanding of metaphor and simile over the coming weeks.

In Class: Introducing Grit and Growth Mindsets

Last week, I introduced my students to the idea of a ‘growth mindset’ and ‘grit’ today. It was interesting.
I began by writing the two words on the board and asking the students to think, pair, share about what those phrases could possibly mean. It took a bit of unpacking, and quite a lot of persuading to get some discussion out of them (they are a VERY quiet class). I can see that’s something we’ll need to work on this year. But we started to unpack what the terms actually meant. The students seemed to get growth mindset a bit more readily at first, but grit quickly caught up.
IMG_5772

The initial brainstorm

We talked together about how it can be hard to have ‘grit’ or a ‘growth mindset’ all of the time, and how we often find this easiest when we a re pursuing our passions. On big sheets of paper I had written 3 questions:
What are you passionate about?
What ‘lights your fire’?
What do you care deeply about?
Students then had 5 minutes to answer each question by writing their answers around the question on each piece of paper. It was lovely to see the things that are important and get to know them a bit better. Of course there were lots of expected answers – sport, family, animals, food, but there were a few unexpected ones too – wifi being top among those! I shared my answers with the students, explaining that reciprocating is really important to me (education, design and the people in my life, respectively if you were wondering). I then talked about 6 things I had written on the board under two headings, 3 Things I believe and 3 Things I Know.
3 Things I Believe:
  • Failing is good. Failing forwards is even better.
  • Everyone can succeed.
  • Life is as good as you make it.
3 Things I Know:
  • You all have huge potential.
  • I will work my butt of this year to make learning work for you.
  • Fun is essential.
I’m not sure how much the students have taken it on board yet, I suspect they won’t really until they see it in action, but for now I’m just going to keep saying it and doing it until it does sink in.
Collaging

Collaging

We finished off by creating either a brainstorm, a collage, illustrations or a list showing what we understood by those two terms. The searching and finding of images and discussing with their friends really helped to solidify their growing understanding, and, given how reluctant they are to talk at the moment, was also a great way for me to check their understanding too.
Half a week later, it’s been interesting to see them start to take these concepts on board, while I haven’t heard the terms come up in class, I have definitely seen them in action. Can’t wait to get more in depth with these concepts over the coming weeks!

Epic #edchatnz Reflection

Wow! What a week. Last weekend I was lucky enough to attend the first ever #edchatnz conference organised by the amazing Danielle Myburgh and her extraordinary organising committee. It was a mindblowing experience and I took so much away from it. I also really enjoyed sharing it with my mother, @majessti as we’ve never spent time together as colleagues.

Friday started with a plenary session from Danielle Myburgh and HPSS Principal Maurie Abraham – both of whom I really enjoyed hearing speak. I then headed off to Dianne Cavallo‘s session on Design Thinking in the classroom. I spent a good chunk of time discussing ideas with my mother in the middle session before finishing off the day with some time spent in Steve Mouldey‘s class and then attending the unconference session.

I felt like I got into a better groove on Saturday and starting with face to face #edchatnz was the best way ever to start a day.  Mark Osbourne‘s session on Modern Learning Environments was equally awesome and after morning tea I headed to Ros Macheachern‘s session on teaching and learning at HPSS. I finished up with Lea Vellenoweth‘s workshop on building a restorative culture and of course the day officially ended with a final plenary from Karen Melhuish Spencer and then Danielle wrapped everything up beautifully

I loved everything but the stand out points for me were definitely sitting on Steve’s class and Ros’s workshop, and coming back to school they have certainly been the ones that have influenced me most.

So, the big question – the question really – is what do I do with all the awesomeness now I’m back at school?

Easy – take the leap of faith (thanks @boonman for the inspiration to do this).

On Monday night I sat down with the curriculum, photocopied every level 4 page and started scribbling and highlighting – finding links with “Communities” – our term 3 theme. Yes, I already had plans in place but they weren’t quite doing it for me or (as it turns out) my students. They lacked an overall cohesion, but once I started going through those curriculum areas with a highlighter things started to come together in a big way. Once highlighted I cut up the curriculum (photocopies – not my actual curriculum doc – don’t worry!) AOs and started to group them. I’ve loved the idea of multi-curriculum area modules since I first heard HPSS staff talk about them, and seeing them in action on Friday only made me more excited. I really believe this is a powerful way to teach.

So I grouped my AOs, and suddenly all these awesome connections became apparent. Everything just clicked. I developed 4 modules – two maths based, two English based for the term. Just like HPSS I gave them names – we’re currently working on Community Perspectives and Vital Stats, and will then go on to Trading Me and Persuading Me later in the term. I developed little blurbs for them a la HPSS and set learning objectives just like I would with any unit plan. Only this time I didn’t put them into my old planning template – this time I tried something new. Ros had given us a copy of the HPSS planning template and the focusing questions and visual layout made a lot of sense to me, so I reworked it into a version for me school (well, just for  me at this stage – but one of the DPs is very interested in it and how we could use it across the school).

Community Perspectives Module Plan

Community Perspectives Module Plan

We are a Building Learning Power School, which means we use Guy Claxton’s approach to developing learning muscles. As a staff we see this as an extension and an expansion of the NZC’s key competencies, so it was obvious to me that Claxton’s teaching toolkit would form the centre of the planning as it underpins what we do as teachers. And I added a few things – particularly looking at diverse learners and focusing on Kaupapa Māori principles of education.

I knew that I wanted to focus more on coaching students in their learning, something we’ve been talking about a lot more as a school lately, and I also wanted to spend more time on concepts and developing conceptual understanding. The SOLO Taxonomy has provided the perfect vehicle for doing this – and my students have responded really well to it. But that’s a whole other blog post.

Finally I wanted to hack up my timetable. As an intermediate classroom teacher, I have a lot more scope to do this than some. We have 3 blocks of 90 – 110 minutes each day. Typically a school day at my school starts with English in the morning and our syndicate does fitness just before morning tea, maths in the middle block, and the other curriculum areas packed into the afternoon. Friday’s have always been a little bit different. I knew in order to maintain our school’s strong focus on literacy and numeracy I would need to ensure that the number of hours spent on maths-related learning and English-related learning would need to remain the same, but I wanted to allow for a more organic flow to the day. Our afternoon’s are pretty full this term and work around my release to teach dance, assemblies, and syndicate rotations. Where I could make changes was in the morning. So now my timetable looks like this:

My new timetable

My new timetable

Monday and Thursday we spend all morning on an English-related module, Tuesday and Wednesday are maths/science-related. The introduction of my time has formalised what used to be ‘finishing time’ and also gives students some scope for their own passions – something they’re very excited about (thanks HPSS for the name). As syndicate we’ve decided to go from ‘fitness’ to active recreation which again gives the students more choice, and also removes any connotation of physical education, which isn’t always as active as we’d like – this is about being active! Learning Focus is an opportunity for us to develop learning skills, solidify our understanding of the SOLO taxonomy and explore what it means to be a Building Learning Power school in more depth.

So, what do the students think of all this?

Well, we’ve only had two days of working with the new timetable and module structure, and already they love it! I’ve had so many students come up and say how much they like having time to really get into one context/topic – even some of my quiet, less opinionated students have come and talked to me about it. One of my students who doesn’t always find learning easy and is VERY shy too came and told me how much easier she has found the new way of learning with a huge grin on her face. Teacher win!

And what do I think?

I love it. Of course it’s going to be a work in progress and will need refining, but everything is and my students know that as much as I do. But even on the first day it just felt so right and I came away on an absolute high like I haven’t felt in months. I loved having more time to go deep and not being constrained ‘maths time’ or ‘English time’. The depth of thinking I saw in that first lesson was so sophisticated – I actually felt guilty that I hadn’t given them opportunities to reach these depths sooner! The language students were using to discuss communities and they concepts they were coming up with really validated what I was doing.

Now I just can’t wait to continue!

GAFE – 3 Weeks In

Three weeks ago we launched Google Apps for Education across our school. Our teachers have been using it for about a year now, but in week 5 we went universal with it. Every student now has their own GAFE account including Gmail, Drive, Blogger and Calendar.

This feels like it has been a long time coming. We’ve been taking about it and looking at it seriously since around term 4 last year, but it wasn’t until we had an external provider come and say “You need to get GAFE for your students” that we had enough momentum to overcome caution and take the risk. Though to be honest I don’t really think it is much of a risk. GAFE is well established and widely used. With support structures like Teacher Dashboard in place it is a very easy and safe way to enable student e-learning.

As one of the TICs (there are two of us) of E-Learning, this week has been awesome seeing our vision finally come to life. However, I’m also aware that this is just the beginning of the journey and there will need to be continual professional learning for staff and support structures in place to help this roll out effectively. We’re lucky that as a relatively small school, it is easy to see how everyone is working with GAFE and who is struggling and find time to support those who need it. I can only begin to imagine how much harder that task would be in a bigger school.

We also need to provide spaces for innovation and idea sharing. Already there are teachers experimenting, trying new things, asking questions and pushing the boundaries of traditional pedagogy, and we need to foster this, but also makes sure it is being shared.

We’ve also received responses from a few parents expressing concerns over the fact that their children have emails, cyberbullying and internet safety despite having explained the precautions taken, so clearly we’ve got a need there in terms of helping our parents understand our vision for digitally-savvy students who can interact with confidence both online and offline spaces.

As a classroom teacher, I love the practicality of GAFE, I love that I can email my students important notices and share docs with them. I love using blogger with them for our class blog and I’m looking forward to getting them underway with their own blogs. We’ve only had it for a few weeks (and we’ve just finished writing reports) so I haven’t really had much of chance to play and start imagining the possibilities but I’m looking forward to having more time to really wrap my head around everything.