Sunday, 17 April 2016

Do as I say, Not as I do

Each morning, I open my can of energy drink in the secrecy of the staff room. This is smuggled inside of my bag and often drunk alone, the evidence carefully stashed in the staff recycling bin. I then move stealthily to my classroom, energized for the day. On this journey I will publicly advertise the fruit or health bar that I have brought for breakfast. This spruiking of healthy ideals continues during fitness, when I run the laps of the field with my learners, in silent reading, as I read alongside my learners, or at morning tea when I proudly take out my lunchbox filled with nutritious goodies. 

As I teach at a health-promoting school, I am constantly discussing well-being with my learners: We have conversations about the benefits of physical activity before fitness each morning, while the school rules make special mention of the unacceptability of soft drinks and lollies within the grounds. The rules about sustained silent reading and book logs are in a similar vein, though the focus is upon healthy academic behaviour instead. I believe that it is only fair that I follow the same patterns as my learners.  I don't want to be a hypocritical teacher, preaching "do as I say, not as I do". 

While  my secret energy drink consumption is unknown to my students (and one day I will kick the caffeine addiction), there are other things that I have done that might appear hypocritical. 

Learning to Photoshop with my students! (Student work on left)

I am always telling my students the importance of learn, create, share. I have learned and created alongside them, but often I do not model creating or sharing. I have only recently started sharing my writing with my learners, as both an exemplar and as part of our writing community. Yet throughout the term I encouraged my students to be open about sharing their writing with one another. 

In Art, I cheered each of my students along, despite their disbelief in their skills. I encouraged every child to create something that they would be proud of and each piece of artwork was put up on display outside of our classroom, to be shared with their peers. I also started a piece of artwork beside them, using it to model the various techniques I wished them to use. However, I didn't share my finished artwork with them, I actually took it home before they had the chance to see it!

My Flora and Fauna painting
Next term, my emphasis will be on openness: that my students are as able to view my works as I am able to experience theirs. I have seen how much they appreciate the things that I share with them, be it something I have written, or even my poor Photoshop skills! I will make sure that I model all of our school values in my classroom, although it may take me a while to kick the caffeine addiction and lose the energy drinks.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Authentic Learning

There are some things that we ask our learners to do over and over, so that they might improve. Each week we ask children to start a new piece of writing, 'moving on' from the work that they previously completed. Perhaps we put their best pieces on the wall, or bring out their books so that their parents may flick through when visiting.
Is the teachers red pen an authentic audience?

I can see why children become frustrated with this system, when they are writing their tenth story of the term, going through the process as their previous work sits unread in their writing book or worse, crumpled in their tote trays. I have even seen children recycle their own pieces of work.

Of course, I understand that in order to improve in writing, children must write. It is the same with reading and maths.  I know that the intrinsically motivated child will continue to write until they see progress or feel like they have mastered a particular genre.  But can't we give them an authentic audience to watch them progress, a platform in which to celebrate their published work?

I know that my learners are far more likely to edit and perfect a piece of writing if they are told that it will be shared on their blogs. Many of my children ask to blog their work when the task is given to them; they want to know that they have an audience besides the teachers red pen. Yes, this feedback is important, but feedback can also be gathered from an online audience.
Students work is shared on their class and individual blogs

Last week, I had the role of acting as a mentor to my school's Manaiakalani Ambassador, as he was a child from my class.  He had been asked to create a presentation about his learning, which he would present to visitors to the cluster. In the two weeks leading up to this presentation, my student put in extra effort to ensure that any work he did was of a high quality. In Maths classes that even only marginally related to his presentation, he pushed himself  to extend his thinking and expressed his findings through an algebraic equation: this was the first time he had done so, and I was left extremely impressed with his self-induced progress.

It was after this event that I truly began to consider the power of the share component of the learn, create, share cycle. It is clear that creating a piece of work becomes more meaningful when you are given an authentic audience - that it is actually seen, presented and even criticised. I believe I need to give my learners more opportunities to share their learning, be it through a digital platform like blogger or in front of our school or wider community.

Friday, 1 April 2016

Current Events

You never forget your first job. My professional journey began as a waitress in the hospitality industry, fresh out of high school and new to the working world. But before I headed to University to study education, I was already having experiences that would appear in my lesson plans.

On my first shift, I was completely shocked at the amount of food that was wasted. We were serving a buffet lunch and dish after dish of half eaten platters were removed from the buffet table and dumped in to the rubbish. Even more mind-boggling was the fact that there was a homeless shelter only a few minutes' walk away. Yet when I asked my supervisor why food could not be donated, they explained that the company would be held liable if anything were to go wrong.This is the same argument that supermarkets make regarding the unsold food that they throw out.

I was intrigued when I learnt that France was proposing a ban that would stop supermarkets from wasting unsold food. I could also see the relevance of this event for my learners, who receive free fruit, milk and Weetbix.  I asked my learners what they thought would happen to food that was not sold and found that it sparked great dialogue. One of my learners believed that the food must be eaten by the workers, explaining that it didn't make sense for edible food to be thrown away.  This engagement meant that the ban would be a suitable topic to use for further discussion; I could not justify teaching a topic that did not interest my learners.

I chose to use this topic to create my lessons around for the MDTA current event website. We have spent some time over the last few sessions designing and creating a website that would contain lessons around current events that other teachers could facilitate.  It took some battling with HTML, but I am now far more knowledgeable about web design than I was before undertaking this project.
Click here to view my webpage

I am really looking forward to facilitating the lessons that I have planned around this current event with my learners next week. I will reflect on this teaching and make any edits to my lesson plan that I feel would benefit others, should they wish to use my webpage.