What a lot we pack into our days! Last week we hosted a visit from acclaimed author, Jen McVeity. Jen has delivered her workshops ‘Seven Steps to Success’ both in 2007 and 2008 and we asked her to come again this year. Jen’s creative writing workshops are fun, stimulating and the emphasis is on inspiring creativity in kids. Her mantra is a simple one: keep it short, make sure it’s fun and teach the microskills. Just as we learn a skill in sport, writing narratives needs to be broken down into the ‘serve’, the ‘lob’ and the ‘backhand smash’. If you sign up for the newsletter Jen revisits each of the steps in her course with great classroom ideas.
This year Jen delivered a workshop on ‘The Final Four’ to a mixed group that included teachers of English, Drama, Aboriginal Studies, History, Visual Arts and Geography. Jen’s steps are about narrative but aren’t just for English teachers. The steps can be applied to all topics for writing and writing narratives is a great strategy for increasing literacy and deep knowledge in any subject. In fact, some really interesting things happen when you apply the ‘story graph’ Jen uses for planning to writing a speech or a reflection on learning!
Now, about ‘old dogs learning new tricks’. I bought myself a copy of Harry and Rosemary Wong’s The First Days of School after reading about it on Marie’s Learning Curve blog. I thought it would be useful for the beginning teachers I work with as well as offer me some fresh ideas. You can read Harry’s column on effective classroom management at Teachers.Net and there are lots of great ideas. I meant to just ‘dip’ into the book but ended up reading the whole thing. While the chapter on effective classroom management is a winner, it mainly confirmed the things I do (teach kids the ‘routines’ that make the classroom run more smoothly). I realised that I do these things because I learnt the hard way, through years of experience and days of frustration in the early years. Harry’s message is that all teachers need to learn these things early in their teaching career, or we lose those teachers because the classroom becomes too frustrating and not at all fulfilling.
The chapter that really got me thinking was about ‘writing good assignments’. Once I figured out what Harry meant by ‘assignments’ – lessons! – I was confronted with what is probably a self evident truth to everyone else out there: telling the kids what the lesson concept is, identifying the learning objectives clearly and then matching both the lesson strategies and the ‘test’ to these objectives guarantees better results.
Now I know I do these things most of the time in most lessons but just the same, I started to think about how well I was doing it. First thing I did was help some year 10’s with an assessment task on researching a ‘voice of a generation’ and then preparing a presentation for the class. The original task had 6 broad ‘steps’ to guide students. Taking Harry’s advice I broke down each step using ‘verbs’ from Bloom’s taxonomy and then finishing the sentence. There were 15 things kids had to do to complete the task effectively!
Here’s an example: ” Step 3 – Research the life and context of the world your composer inhabited” became:
- List the main events in the person’s life.
- Describe the historical events that impacted on the person’s life.
- Explain any social changes during this person’s life.
- Explain any events that influenced this person in a significant way.
- Describe the medium this person uses.
- Describe the audience this person addressed.
I was a bit stunned – no wonder some of the kids were having trouble with the task! I’m sure I verbalise these sub steps when talking about the task but we all know how well teenagers listen!
Needless to say, I’ve been looking at all my lesson preparation in a whole new light! So, we are never too old to learn new tricks. Which is just as well, since the DET in all its wisdom and after spending lots on training Connected Classroom teachers to use Activstudio software, has decided to change to ‘Notebook 12’ for Smart boards. Just when I thought I had mastered Activstudio!