Happy 1st Birthday, Blog!

It’s almost hard to believe that it’s a year (to the day) that I officially started blogging as a teacher.

And, despite my recent slowness in posting and updating, it’s something that I intend to keep up with, as regularly as my schedule will allow, because (just like other online tools) it’s changed the way I teach.

In my defence, I’ve been keeping up with my class blog – and have quite a few Grade 1s commenting at home on their own now, which is fantastic. I’ve also had to juggle quite a bit, professionally, trying to wrap my head around teaching a Prep/1 class while keeping parents, colleagues and (most importantly) students happy. (I think I’m getting there… it’s only taken half a year!)

What are the important things I’ve learnt in the past year?

  • There is an AMAZING network of teachers online – all of whom want to share and learn alongside their colleagues. We’re no longer limited to the physical staff room – the world is our staff room and we can learn so much from so many people, all over the world.
  • Kids love technology (okay… I knew that one already.) Change it to: kids love technology for a purpose. Give them a tool to play with – and they’ll play with it. Give them a tool with a purpose and they’ll go places you never expected them to go.
  • The (free) online tools for classrooms are endless – and all it takes is a bit of searching (and networking with others) to find what you need.
  • Inspiration comes in many forms – a lot of which can be unexpected. But inspiration is what drives me. The day I stop being inspired by teaching is the day I need to stop teaching. (Same goes for being inspired by my kiddos.)
  • I can teach Prep/1, running 50 minutes sessions. It’s not easy, and it can be a bit of juggling act, but I have managed to do it! (Yay!)

 

It’s probably not all I’ve learnt, but it’s a good list.

I do have some plans for other blog posts during the holidays, most notably a post to discuss classroom uses of Talking Points (or Talking Lids), and also one on my proposed Blog Cafe for my classroom.

Originally I did have a (silent) goal of achieving 1000 blog visitors by the end of my first year. I mucked that up by falling behind in posts. Hopefully I achieve that goal pretty soon.

So… happy birthday, blog! You’ve been wonderful and I know we’ll go on to learn many more things together! Cheers!

What have you learnt in the past year that has changed or inspired your teaching?

P.S. Soon I will be immortalised (ha!) in clip-art form with my very own clip-art persona from the very talented, Nikki from Melonheadz Illustrating! I’m rather excited – can’t wait to share it here!

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Time flies…

… when you’re insanely busy!

The last month has just FLOWN by in a jumble of starting school, juggling Prep and Grade 1 curriculum, Prep Picnics, Parent/Teacher Interviews, Dr Seuss week and so many other things. (I’m ignoring the school photos happening on Monday!)

I’ve let so much slide – this blog, Twitter (so sorry, I’m coming back!). I’m just SO exhausted right now. Who would have thought teaching Preps and Grade 1s would be so tiring? Ok, so I knew some of what I was getting into – but I still feel like a bit of yo-yo constantly going backwards and forwards between the preps and ones.

That said, they all settled really well, and we’re working well as a class – and I’ve gotten such nice feedback on my students’ behaviour from specialist teachers. This is, so far, the most stable group of classroom personalities and dynamics that I’ve had. So, despite the yo-yo effect and exhaustion, I’m really very happy.

I thought I’d share some of the things we’ve done in class:

Because I’ve become shamelessly addicted to Pinterest and everyone’s super-fantastic ideas, here’s the credit for some of the above activities:

1. Love Bugs

2. O is for Octopus (Preps)

3. Let’s Generate Questions (Babbling Abby) and Question Words

4. Start Up Learning Program – What our classroom looks/feels/sounds like Y-chart

5. Days of School counters (Prep and Grade 1)

6. Door sign to my classroom (LOVE my Cricut machine for cutting out letters)

7. E is for Elmer, sentence sort (Preps)

8. Short A Real Word/Silly Word sort (Babbling Abby) (Grade 1s)

9. Grammar Pies (Grade 1s – made by my awesome team member, Alex!)

10/11. Ii is for Igloo (Preps)

12. Part of my reading corner and the Grade 1s’ book covers for Daisy All-Sorts (Pamela Allen)

13. Odd and Even street (Grade 1s, odd and even numbers)

 

I might have to do a second post tomorrow to share some of the activities we did last week – my Dr. Seuss themed week. It was so much fun!

 Also… totally missed this milestone – I’ve had over 1,000 visitors to this blog! How cool! Thanks to everyone who has visited!

Teaching and Assessing Quality Comments

Some of you may be aware of the great series of posts on educational blogging written by Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano of Langwitches. As a follow up to her series, she’s proposed a blog post or comment audit meme for educators who use blogging in their classrooms. Having been tagged by the lovely Kathleen Morris, this is my response.

BACKGROUND

Earlier this year I was involved in a project by the Innovation and Next Practise division of the DEECD on Contemporary Literacies in the Early Years. I’ve blogged a bit about it over the last few months, including some information about the activities involved.

The biggest activity that I ran throughout the project, however, was our class blog, which ran from the start of Term 3 until the end of the year.

I was teaching a prep class, which heavily impacted on how our class blog was run, and how students were involved in the process. When I started the blog – the first official classroom blog in my school – I wasn’t sure about the involvement and participation that I would get from the school, from the students or from the parents.

Suffice to say I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the whole process. I had a couple of families that took it on board and enjoyed having a blog that let them know what was happening each week, and encouraged their children (or was it the children encouraging the parents?) to also share the experience and to write messages jointly or independently.

I’ll admit that my initial goals were more around participation rather than extended comments on the blog – and when I consider that I was working with 5 and 6 year olds that was already setting the bar high. My expectations for students quickly increased, and the bar of higher quality comments was raised as a result as well.

That said, my students are beginning writers in their first year of primary school. And that’s important to keep in mind.

QUALITY COMMENTS

While I was the primary author of the blog posts – which primarily included information about the school week learning outcomes and upcoming events – we also jointly constructed posts as a class about significant lessons or activities that were important to my students, which was great for modelling different text types and writing for an audience.

The biggest part of the blog that students were involved in were jointly constructing comments left on our blog. I was often the ‘typer’ and as a class we would brainstorm the different things we wanted to say in response to a comment left on our blog (usually from another student in the class, or a parent).

For this we had a list of things to keep in mind when replying. This was in the form of a poster that we kept up in the classroom and included the following points:

– Address the author of the comment (eg. ‘Dear X’ or ‘To X’ or ‘@ X’).

– Thank them for leaving a comment/write a compliment.

– Answer any questions they asked.

– Ask questions for more information.

– Write who the comment is from (eg. ‘From Prep G-5’).

– Check with an adult or teacher before posting.

Letter-writing is one of the text types that we teach in Prep and forms the basis of how I demonstrated to my students to write and respond to comments – comments, after all, are really an informal (or formal, depending on your purpose) letter to another person.

We also referred to our Prep 5 Star Writing rubric (which was a very clear link for the preps between physical writing with a pencil and typing on a computer):

– Capital letters

– Full stops

– Sound out words

– Spaces between words

– Write in a straight line

EXAMPLES OF STUDENT COMMENTS

1. Millicent’s comment

Screen shot 2011-12-27 at 5.33.05 PM

Modelling points:

– Used an appropriate greeting

– Began with a question specifically related to the person they’re writing to

– Attempted to use full stops and some capital letters

– Ended with a question

Mini lesson ideas:

– Revision of capital letters for names and titles, and the beginning of a new sentence

– Remembering spaces between words and the end of sentences

– Use of clear paragraphs

– Proofreading with an adult

– Overuse of :):):):):)

2. Tae’s comment

Screen shot 2011-12-27 at 5.33.44 PM

Modelling points:

– Used an appropriate greeting

– Complimented recipient

– Remembered full stops

– Signed comment

Mini lesson ideas:

– Capital letters for names and ‘I’ and at the beginning of a new sentence.

– Lots of ‘compliments’ – expand on ideas or ask questions.

– Overuse of random letters (eg. ooooooo)

MY EVALUATIONS

In her response to the Quality Blogging and Commenting Meme, Kathleen Morris said that higher quality comments and posts do not automatically come with age.” I agree, whole-heartedly. I don’t think anyone at my school (except me) expected that students would be able to comment on a blog, or even talk about what a blog is, let alone ask to leave comments (independently) during writing times.

For the students who’ve been interested – and interest in blogging and writing comments is essential for students to be successful.

My students’ motivation for blogging increased dramatically when they started to see their friends and parents leaving comments on blog entries. Whenever I posted a new entry we’d discuss it as a class, likewise whenever there was a new comment left on our blog we’d read it as a class (or sometimes the students who left the comments would read their own comments – very exciting for 5-6 year olds). Then we’d construct responses together, which allowed for a great opportunities for whole class mini-lessons on capital letters/full stops/sounding out words/etc. We’d also discuss how to sequence ideas and/or questions.

For individual students leaving comments, feedback was mostly conducted one-on-one with a discussion about why the errors would need to be fixed, where students might go to find words they weren’t sure how to spell, etc. If their comments were written in the classroom we’d conference and fix errors on the spot.

They also learnt a lot from each other. More confident students would help their peers construct their responses. It was also two of my girls who informed the others how to make a smiley face 🙂 appear in posts.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I’m still new to blogging with students, and I may have bitten off more than I could chew by starting to blog with Prep students. That said, I feel it’s been very successful and has had enormous benefits for my students.

You are welcome to visit my 2011 classroom blog to see more examples of my students work over the last 6 months.

YOUR TURN

Anyone is welcome to write their own evaluation on blog posts of comments, and I highly recommend you visit the Langwitches Blog for more information.

I’d like to tag the following people to complete their own audit (if they choose):

Bec Spink (@MissB6_2) See Bec’s response here.

Cass Burgess (@CassBurgess)

Marie Kennedy (@marieck26)

Surpassing Expectations

photoAs much as I love to ‘dream big’ in regards to using technology with my students, I’m also relatively practical about the fact that my students are 5 and 6 years old. When we first started blogging I didn’t really expect my students to write comments on our blog – I thought their parents would.

And I do have a few parents who love to leave comments on the blog, along with their children.

I also have a few truly inspiring students who want to push their own boundaries.

One student in particular just blows me away. She’s 6 years old and regularly writes comments from home and recently started asking to write comments at school. During our last two Investigations sessions (aka Developmental Play) she’s busily replied to 2 comments on her own. The first was a reply to another student, and when she’d finished typing we sat down together and corrected spelling and punctuation and talked about formatting.

The second comment she wrote, today, just highlighted how much students can achieve independently. Earlier in the week she left a comment on our blog about our recent Gelati Day at school. I sent her a reply, but she saw it for the first time this morning. She read my reply aloud and then talked about what she wanted to write in response. I left her alone to do her typing for about fifteen minutes and when she was finished we went back through and looked at the spelling/punctuation/etc.

I was just blown away by her enthusiasm.

And no, independently she doesn’t have the skills yet to always use punctuation, capitalisation or formatting. She is developing great sounding out strategies (and if we’d left her work it would have been readable) for spelling. But she’s 6, and she’s learning and I think that’s the most amazing thing of all!

A few stray thoughts

11949838211786721468lcd_monitor_the_structor_.svg.medThis afternoon I was very pleasantly surprised to find out that the wonderful students in 2KM and 2KJ had nominated my blog for the Best Teacher Blog category for the 2011 Edublog Awards. I have to admit that it’s completely unexpected and kind of came out of left field for me, but it’s certainly a welcome surprise.

Unfortunately, with reports on my brain, Prep Transition, and the possibility of a slight grade change next year I’ve been a bit lax in keeping this blog up-to-date. I’ve been a bit better with The Prep G-5 Blog, though.

I did want to take a bit of time, however, to stop and reflect on my blogging journey so far. It’s been less than 6 months, all up, and I’ve loved every second of it.

A big part of that has been my interactions with 2KM and 2KJ, and their wonderful teachers Kathleen Morris and Kelly Jordan. Both the students and teachers are amazing, inspirational people, and I feel very fortunate to have stumbled across them early in my blogging journal.

In their nomination post on their blog, they mentioned that I’ve helped to support and develop their skills as writers and bloggers… and I could say the same right back at them! They regularly inspire me with their insights and dedication to blogging and connecting to people from all over the world.

This is what blogging is all about.

These are students, Grade 2 students, who already have the whole world at their feet… or should I say, at their fingertips!

No longer do teachers just teacher writing and numeracy… we have the opportunity to teach writing and numeracy BEYOND the classroom. We have free resources that allow us to connect with others – other teachers, other classrooms, other countries. We have an authentic audience that is eager and willing to read and comment and engage with us.

Has blogging changed my philosophy on teaching? Absolutely, yes.

No longer is learning hidden within a classroom. It can be shared, it can spread and change and evolve.

I certainly won’t be going back to being a blog-less teacher!

I look forward to many more learning opportunities, and to many, many more friends and colleagues in the blogosphere!

How has blogging changed you?

Learning from Experience

voice-threadToday I introduced my students to VoiceThread. We used it to reflect on their favourite part of our recent school concert extravaganza: You Can’t Stop the Beat.

Teaching such young students, I find that you can explain and explain all you’d like, but it’s only through real life examples and experiences that a lot of my students start to understand what we talk about as a class.

For example, before they recorded their reflections, the listened to my example and we explored how to record a comment. We talked about the need for each student to use a clear voice and to keep a check on their volume. We also talked about the importance of the other students keeping their voices down and not banging pencils and chairs against tables while someone was recording.

One-by-one, students explored the process of planning what they would say and recording their thoughts.

The results? Mixed.

We had quite a bit of background noise, and a lot of my students are very softly spoken, so even with the microphone some were quite difficult to hear.

I don’t see these results as a loss or a waste of time – over my first two years as a teacher (and a prep teacher at that), I’ve learnt the importance of having a go over having a ‘perfect’ final product. What my students produced today was a great example of a first time product that we can improve.

We had a GREAT discussion following our time listening to all the voicethreads. We started with Yellow Hat thinking (good things), Black Hat thinking (things to be improved) and finally Green Hat thinking (improvements, etc). The ‘good things’ were quite generic with students complimenting those students who spoke clearly and loudly. However, it was the Black and Green hat thinking that I loved and am so proud of my students for:

Black Hat:

  • Talk a bit louder.
  • Only talk when it’s your turn.
  • Some people have to speak out louder.
  • You have to be quiet when it’s someone else’s turn.
  • Don’t shout when it’s not your turn.
  • Don’t call out when people are recording.

Green Hat:

  • We can take a laptop into the corridor where it’s quiet.
  • Take it outside.
  • We can use a different classroom.
  • We can take a computer to the hall.
  • We can use Mr Jackson’s (our AP/ICT teacher) room.

Finally, we reflected on alternative ways to record our reflections (technology-based and not). We can:

  • Talk and record our voices.
  • Write them down.
  • Type it up on the computer.
  • Put it on a piece of paper.
  • Use a digital camera.
  • Record on an iPad/type on an iPad.
  • Use a phone.
  • Use an iPod.
  • Use an iPhone.
  • Show on a TV (photos/video, by plugging devices into the TV).
  • Use a video camera.
  • Draw a picture.
  • Make a poster.

I’m quite pleased with the results, because it really highlights how far they’ve come over the last term. Their thinking has expanded and the level of teacher prompting required during this discussion was quite minimal. Part of the Contemporary Literacy project that we’ve undertaken requires the ability of students to critically reflect on the use of technology – and alternatives to using technology and they’re really starting to show that understanding!

How do you use VoiceThread in the classroom?

Teaching the Teacher

or  A Reflection on Professional Development

Screen shot 2011-09-11 at 11.18.52 AM

Recently we had a curriculum day with a focus on Numeracy professional development for the staff. In combination with many of the voluntary online webinars I’ve been attending recently, it prompted me to reflect on my opinion of professional development for teachers.

I’ve always believed that teachers are lifelong learners. I wouldn’t be in the profession if I thought otherwise. The students I teach in my classroom now do not necessarily learn in the same way I learnt when I was their age, and they certainly don’t learn in the same way that my parents did. As such, teaching has adapted and changed, and while the fundamental principals are still very similar, our approach to teaching and learning is in a constant state of change based on the needs of our students.

The same should be said for teacher learning, although I don’t necessarily know if it is.

All throughout my teacher training (yes, all four years of it!), I had one philosophy when it came to my uni lectures/seminars and any extra professional development I participated in: it’s all a learning experience.

I don’t believe in “bad” PD, as many people around me have sometimes called their experiences. I approach everything as a new learning experience, and even if I come out of something with the simple realisation that I’m not going to use that strategy or I disagreed with a philosophy or implementation approach… I’ve still learnt something. Sometimes I come out greatly inspired and raring to try a new approach, and that’s fantastic. But I just can’t bring myself to call something “bad.”

Now, that’s not to say that sometimes I attend PDs where the presenters are sometimes difficult to listen to. Not every one IS easy to listen to, or comfortable talking in front of groups, or easily able to present information. I try to look beyond that, because they’re trying to convey a message or point and that’s why I’m sitting in the room – I’m not there to judge the person.

As teachers we should all be able to critically reflect on ideas and concepts of teaching – and that includes our own professional judgement. It is just as powerful to say “I disagree with that” or “After listening to that approach, I don’t think that’s suitable for my situation” as it is to say, “I am absolutely going to run with that brilliant idea!”

Which brings me to my recent discovery of online webinars. Now I know they’ve been around for a while, but they’re new to me and I think they’re brilliant.

My experiences started with RSCON3 this year, and has led me to SimpleK12’s webinar series as well. I’ve never shied away from opting in to PD in my free time, so for me this is just an inspiring option to having to search high and low for PD that is appealing and relevant to me and my teaching.

And yes, there have been webinars I’ve experienced that I’ve walked away from going “That was interesting, but not really suited to me.” I don’t count those as wasted experiences.

But, just like my students, I’m happy to be a sponge – ready to absorb all sorts of knowledge! After all, you never know where it might take you!

Do you have a philosophy on professional development/learning?

Have you had an overly positive and/or negative professional development experience?