Category Archives: Teaching

Approaching Harwood


This is for Polly.

So, I’m away from home and for the first holiday in forever I’ve brought nothing with me except my iPhone and iPad. Any the ipad is only getting a run today because I wanted to share some stuff with Polly. I was a bit amazed that I had a bit of stuff on Harwood with me, which I have duly shared with Polly through the wonders of modern technology. Hope the sharing actually worked! I plan to send some more to Polly when I get home, but i know I might get sidetracked between now and then so I’m writing a post on something I do with Harwood that I think actually works rather well ( and can be applied to other modules). I have blogged about this when I posted on teaching Atwood. The principle is the same.

I noticed a few years ago that I kept running out of time when teaching poetry in the ‘new’ HSC. The problem, on reflection, was teaching a 21st century syllabus using 20th century methodology. Two years ago I tried something different. Instead of ‘teaching’ each poem, I taught Harwood. Yes I know Duh!  The first thing I do now is divide the class into 7 teams (because there are 7 poems). The class will work in these teams during the unit. The teams are numbered and I rotate the teams through the poems. I aim for every team to work with every poem twice. This has worked amazingly well, in terms of kids knowing all the poems. I have to keep a running table in my notes, to make sure they do get every poem.

An example of how it works:

Harwood’s use of imagery around water. Poems are allocated to teams and students work through a set of close reading tasks on ‘their’ poem. I start with the basic ‘find the words and lines’, move on to connotations, links within the poem, explore the techniques used, describe the main images, connect the imagery to the meaning, consider theoretical perspectives (romanticism with water imagery), connect students previous poem experiences. At each point we stop and talk. The conversations are always lively and interesting. Usually I send them off to write reflectively about what they learned about Harwood’s use of water imagery in both the poem they worked on and other poems. The kids get a new poem every lesson, so an exploration on water imagery might take a few lessons, but kids will look at water imagery in several poems.

The technique works equally well with themes, or applying critical commentary. One thing I should have mentioned earlier, i do start the module with tasks where kids have to read every poem and I usually finish with tasks where kids have to re read every poem. I’ve really enjoyed teaching this way, although I frequently have to hold myself back from going through a poem! It may sound fragmented but the outcomes so far is that kids have much more of a sense of the poems as a body of work and it has lifted their own critical commentary on her work. And I get to the end of the Module without feeling that I’ve left things undone and a feeling that I have to come back to it later, when I know the thinking about Harwood will have moved into revision, not discovery mode.

Haiku Deck and Showme on ipad


Our school is getting ready to roll out ipads to Year 7 and 8. I’ve had my ipad for a few months now and have started exploring apps that might be useful in class. Over this very rainy north coast weekend I tried out Haiku Deck and ShowMe.

We are working on descriptive writing in Year 9 and I want to run some mini lessons this week. These will brush up their skills and ‘prime the pump’ for their own descriptions of an imaginary world they have created using Michael Pryor’s Walled City exercise.

Here is a Haiku Deck on using similes and metaphors:

and a ShowMe on writing similes.

The beauty of both tools is that they are linked to websites. That means I can use them on the interactive whiteboard without hooking up the ipad to the board. (I don’t know how to do that yet – small steps!). The apps are so easy to use that I know the kids are going to love making their own.

And I’ve finally had a go at embedding something into my blog!

Looks like the embedding didn’t work!

Resistance is futile.


I think I’ve cracked the homework problem. I don’t want to get into a debate about whether kids should get homework at all. That isn’t why I’m blogging about homework.  Over the last few years it has been increasingly difficult to get our kids do do any homework. This becomes a problem when we get to the senior years and they need to do some work out of class time to get the results they want at the HSC. Last years HSC class were the absolute worst. Apart from a stalwart 4 or 5 kids who did everything they were asked, the rest resisted any attempt to get them to do any work outside class time, and whinged about it, became resentful and just didn’t seem to make the connection between a bit of work and better results. And it did show in their results.

After some feedback from last year’s year 12, it was clear some changes needed to happen. Their main concern was that homework often felt like more pressure when they clearly needed less. As one kid put it , “it’s homework miss, not an assignment”. Quite by accident I set some simple HW for year 11 on the first day. We ran out of time to complete their interest surveys and I asked them to have it done for the next day. There was an amazing 90% return rate, and the other 10% had it done by the end of that day. Then I set 1/2 page of writing on “One Word” that would be their academic motto for the year. Another amazing 90% return rate. The light bulb went on.

Since then I’ve experimented with my current year 12 and year 9 and 10. The results have been consistent. Each group has had about 85-90% return rate, no whining and a lot more effort. Half a page of writing is all it takes. I’ve increased the frequency to 2-3 times a week. At first I was hesitant to set more than on piece a week, mainly because I was worried about the time I needed to read and return it. At the same time I recognised less and more often might reinforce the habit I wanted to develop. I have been able to keep up with reading and returning. Half a page doesn’t take long to read and I’m not setting things that need “correction”. I’ve confined myself to underlining inaccurate spelling because I’ve been more interested in what they have to say. At the same time, the standard has been high, with few errors, maybe because half a page is easy to rewrite and correct. And that’s another spin off. Kids are frequently rewriting and not handing in first drafts.

This has been really useful with Year 12. The things they have been asked to write give them practice at succinctly linking concepts in class to texts they are studying, preparing the groundwork for essays in exams. This also came from feedback from last years HSC cohort. During the year they had a writing task at the beginning of most lessons. This was usually a quote from the current text that they explained in a well structured paragraph. We collected this work and the feedback focused on the micro skills of essay writing, like how to integrate a quote or embed the technical language. Past students had told the new group to keep all these bits, because they had found them useful when preparing to write essays.

There are of course a few kids still resisting and if I really want to push the point, ten minutes at lunchtime solves the problem easily enough!

Playing with PBL


I love the philosophy of PBL and think a lot about how I hook kids into learning but somehow I always keep coming back to ‘tried and true’ habits. Despite that I really do feel the generation gap and recognise that kids have changed and what used to work doesn’t work nearly as well as it did in the past.

I read a great post on the Generation Yes blog last night about NOT writing the objective up on the board, NOT starting with a talk about what we will do or what they might learn in a lesson and doing something before discussion that gives kids a platform from which to enter the discussion. I tried this out today with Year 10, using a video from the Crashcourse channel on Youtube: How and Why we Read

We are working on a novel unit that explores the marketing, style and appeal of Young Adult Literature. The ‘big question’ is “Have the writers of YAL got it right?” Kids have selected from a range of YAL novels and begun independent reading. The video is a fun look at critical reading and after the viewing kids wrote about some quotes from the video applying the comment to the books they were reading. Examples: “imagining what it’s like to be someone else”, books try to communicate “complex ideas and experiences between people” and “bigger and better life in your mind”.

We will talk about their responses  tomorrow but what I did notice was a deep level of engagement with the task as they wrote. A lot of staring into space and then writing and a bit of angst when I go them to move on to the next quote because they weren’t finished.

My second foray into engaging kids critically is with Year 11. We have started with a very short unit on essay writing. I know, sounds like the most boring way to begin Year 11. However, we recognise that our kids aren’t confident essay writers and we need them to be. The plan involves more than just this short unit, but that’s not what this post is about. I’ve approached the unit using an inquiry model and we have begun by debating what is and is not an essay.

First kids develop a list of criteria they could use to ‘test’ a text. Then I gave them 8 sample texts and they worked in teams debating whether the texts were essays or not. All of the samples were real world texts. Some I would say were essays, some not. But I was very careful not to telegraph this kids (and I still haven’t and I’m not going to!). What we found was a high level of critical debate, with ‘evidence’ and arguments that continued when we opened the debate on particular texts to the rest of the class.

Two small attempts to move into a PBL model. So far, so good.

Ipad mania


Ended the first week tired but inspired. Worked hard on establishing those teacher student relationships that focused on real conversations and not name games. Year 9 are going to need a lot of team building. They don’t seem to know how to talk to each other. Best lesson was year 11. I managed to introduce them to all the things I do in the classroom that they need to get used to (and that also tell them a lot about what kind of classroom it will be, without a powerpoint!):

  • seating plan
  • check the board
  • start immediately on a task
  • team work
  • take responsibility for your learning
  • Stand Pair Share
  • feedback slips
  • homework
  • enjoy learning
  • Be interested

Enough about that. The title was ipad mania. Enjoying my ipad more and more. I’m having lots of fun finding apps that I can use that move me away from paper diaries and lists. Although still under construction, Diarycentral is my favourite. It picks up gmail calendar and drops things into your schedule. The main page is set out in blocks that are easy to read and includes adding notes and tasks. A bit of a bug in the “week” format but the builder is working on it.

My other favourite app at the moment is Flipboard. Found more great lessons to ‘fit’ current units of work from the feeds I have added to my flipboard.

I’ve downloaded about 5 sticky note apps that I’m trying out before i decide which one will work best for me. I discovered I prefer to ‘sticky note’ my ideas and pre-planning for meetings etc than use the ‘list’ type apps like Paperless. I think I like the colour and moving things around.

Also discovered “padagogy”. Lots of ipad apps and tools reviewed that I can see will work well in lessons, once kids have ipads, which is planned for our Year 7 and 8. My role this time will be to assist teachers. After the roll out of laptops where I ‘led the way’ using them with my own classes, I found I had little time to actually get in and help teachers, so I’m not taking a Year 7 and 8. I want to work beside my teachers as they start working with the ipads in classrooms this time.

Ipad explorer


I haven’t blogged since October because my Dad died early in November. I can just about type this without crying.

After some time out and school holidays I am just about ready to go back to work. Over the break I’ve played with my ipad and read 30 books totally unrelated to school in ibooks. So easy to download a book when you have just finished the last one and I love the backlighting. I’ve had a “medieval murder mystery” start to the year

I’m starting to get the hang of it. Yesterday I found an app called Flipboard. It was free and I have already found it useful. As well as a news feed you can add your own content. I added ABC OPEN,  ABC news, Children and teens books, Brain Pickings, and Jim Bourke’s feed (English Companion Ning). A quick flip today and I found three things I can use in class next week.

I thought this one, Family Rituals, would be a great ice breaker with Year 10 and they can also enter. It might prompt them to bring their laptops!

We’re starting Year 8 with a unit called Resilience so I sent the link to my Year 8 teachers for Aftermath It would also be useful for a unit on natural disasters.

My favourite was this story about sharing a loo with a frog. It seemed particularly apt on Australia Day. I plan to share this story with Year 9 and tell them my story about the python in the chook house on Christmas Day.

I like the way this app gathers in one place things I’m interested in and lets me send the link to others.