Category Archives: Management



I played around with Wallwisher with my classes this week. It has been on my ‘things to do with laptops’ list for over a year but I kept forgetting the name! Finally had time to look it up and think about how to use it. My first attempt was: What do we already know about essay writing?  This worked well in class, despite the number of kids who didn’t bring laptops on the first day of school or didn’t have them charged. After kids posted their notes we grouped the notes. Great tool for working out what the kids knew, misunderstood, thought was important and thought about the topic. My favourite note was the comment that we “write them in English”!

With year 10 I used it to get kids into our new unit on Young Adult Literature. Responding to a quote This time we worked in small teams (3 kids) who shared the availabe laptops. Kids were totally engaged and focused. Great example of what happens when you turn the lesson over to kids and laptops with a clear purpose.

I learnt that it works better if kids have think time; that it is a great way to get kids working in a small team and helps them stay focused when they are working in a team; that it is quick to set up on the spur of the moment in a lesson and you have to insist they use their names.

When using a new tool in the class room I try to use it in a number of different ways over a few lessons. I get better at knowing how I can use it and kids internalise how to use it. They use it more effectively after a few trial runs and then I can return to it periodically and it will work more smoothly.

Book Flood gathering momentum.


Called into school today and found a spare bookshelf! Yippee. Talked to our General Assistant and he has suggested I get the boss to buy the materials and he will make the shelves. He says it will be cheaper, quicker, nicer shelving and fit where we want them. Isn’t he a darling.

Also bought some cheap baskets and have gathered a heap more books from local charity shop and by raiding my own shelves. I think I’m going with a mixture of genre and types: Fantasy, Science Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Historical Fiction, Mystery, Autobiography/Biography/Memoir, Non-fiction, Poetry, Picture books/Graphic Novels, Short Stories. Kids will be asked to read 3 of each and will be able to choose 10 of their own to make up the difference. I think these categories will work well with our programme and satisfy our text requirements.

My next job is to “mark’ the books with coloured tape and put corresponding tape on the baskets. I’m using coloured electrical tape. I know you can get it in pink, purple, orange and different greens but not so easy to get in Australia. If any Australian readers know where to get some, where I don’t have to buy boxes of it and it’s cheap, please let me know.

To begin with I will be using a mix of my own books and the books we have available for free choice reading already. There’s quite a lot of these since we have had mixed reading boxes for units in year 9 and 10 and have kept the remaining books when sets have gone out of fashion. They have already been accessioned through our Library and the kids will need to borrow these through the Library. They can do this as a Textbook loan so that they can keep the books longer and have more borrowing power.

Also finished cleaning out the filing cabinet in the staff room, so am feeling both virtuous and organised.

Book Flood


This is a term used by Kelly Gallagher in Readicide that roughly corresponds to Donalyn Miller’s immersion of students in books in the classroom. As I said in my last post I’m keen to revisit ‘surrounding’ my students with books. Gallagher teaches secondary students, as I do and has a similar view to Donalyn, in terms of giving kids time, space and choice. He approaches the need to balance the teaching of the class text (often iconic or classic texts in the cultural heritage) in some interesting ways, but I plan to talk about that in a later post, so back to the subject of my post – the book flood.

I did a lightning quick re-read of The Book Whisperer noting in particular the approach, goals and methods, and then thought about how this might work in my classroom. Some of the things I’m grappling with include the ‘genre’ approach that Donalyn uses to frame the 40 book assignment. I’m not sure that will be the most useful frame for my students and am thinking about how our syllabus and programmes have some specific requirements, such as close reading of : two works each of fiction, non fiction, drama, film, variety of poems or study of poets. These always drive the close study and critical analysis focus of our programme. The other requirement is about ‘experience’. The syllabus says:

The selection of texts must give students experience of:

  • a widely defined Australian literature and other Australian texts including those that give insight into Aboriginal experiences and multicultural experiences in Australia
  • literature from other countries and times
  • Shakespearean drama
  • cultural heritages, popular cultures and youth cultures
  • picture books
  • everyday and workplace texts
  • a range of social, gender and cultural perspectives.

While these give a little more guidance, they are mostly too broad to frame the reading, particularly for developing readers in Year 9, so I am trying to find frames that  will work with my students. Gallagher’s list of “101 books my reluctant readers love to read” (p119, Readicide) has some potential categories, that I think could be used to organise the books in the classroom, but I’m thinking I might just ask the kids what will work best for them from their perspective of needing to find books they really want to read.

As far as the reading assignment is concerned I’m torn between a mixture of genres and text forms. So far I’m working with: Australian Authors, Aboriginal Experience, Multicultural Experience,  Other Countries, Other Times, Young Adult Literature, Poetry, Picture Books, Informational and Autobiography/Biography/Memoir. I can already see problems with the mixing of Australian authors and Young Adult Literature and feel like genres will help students to identify texts that want to read more easily.

Anyone tried implementing Donalyn’s 40 book assignment in a secondary classroom? How did you frame the assignment? Did you use genres or some other categorizing approach? What success have you had? What refinements can you suggest?

Too many balls in the air


It’s the last day of the New Year long weekend in NSW and the first time for a while I’ve had the time or inclination to look at other people’s blogs or write my own. As I mentioned in my last blog I have been grappling with some trying times and some really wonderful stuff too. My Dad has had to go into a Nursing home and I’ve spent some time going back and forth to ‘home’ to support my Mum(8 hour drive!) This will continue into 2011. My daughter also got her first prac report – truly excellent and I am so proud of her.

As we all do at the end of a school year I have been rethinking the things I’ve done in 2010 and thinking about the things I’ll do in 2011. The laptops have certainly posed some new challenges and I am busily thinking about how I will tackle those challenges in 2011. My first priority will be getting kids to use them! Year 10 2010 made some insightful evaluation comments on their use of laptops so far. The bad news was that few of their teachers seem to be using them – me. They also commented on a school rule we have that students must bring a notebook for every subject as well as the laptops – in case the laptops weren’t working or the teacher wanted the kids working in their books. Their complaint about the ‘weight’ and the pointlessness of bringing both books and laptops was significant I think. Needless to say- we worked out a compromise pretty quickly. In 2011 notebooks will stay at school.

Another comment was on teachers’ level of comfort with laptops in the classroom – they had clearly recognized that asking teachers to use a tool they themselves were not experts in was asking a bit much. This was said kindly and respectfully – not as a criticism of their teachers which I found quite endearing. While they were willing to bring their laptops on days when they had English, many had dispensed with them on the other day. This is an issue I have already taken up with my colleagues and executive. While we have had plenty of professional learning opportunities for teachers there is some generational resistance to insisting kids use the laptops and more leadership is needed in this area.

The kids also did not see the laptops as something that had any impact on the quality of their learning, while IWB’s were considered to have added to their engagement in learning and quality of learning. This is an area I would like to explore a lot more in 2011. I have been thinking about how to get kids using the Web 2.0 tools more effectively and ‘organically’ – because they choose to not because I tell them do do it this way. I am going to start with edmodo again and really spend more time on teaching kids to use it, before moving on to other tools. One thing I will try to avoid this year is trying out too many tools, which is what I did in 2010, hence the title of this blog.

My New year’s resolution is to juggle one ball at a time.

Laptops, IWB and changing the role of the teacher.


My classroom is undergoing an interesting transformation. As I come to terms with my changing role with laptops in the room, I started to feel that I needed to ‘teach from the centre’ instead of teaching from the front. So this week my classroom got a bit of a revamp. Teacher’s desk moved to the back centre, tables grouped in sixes (instead of fours), table groups angled in to the middle, remote keyboard and mouse on the teacher’s desk at the back.  Soon there will also be an additional ‘normal’ whiteboard on the back wall. That will give me three normal whiteboards as well as the IWB. I wanted the extra boards so that we can ‘leave things up’ and we still use the normal whiteboard for note-making and brainstorming quite a lot.

The first response from the kids was positive. They liked the ‘change’ and the novelty. Year 10 (who had suggested the change) were happy and I noticed that it immediately changed who was ‘running’ the IWB. Since I wasn’t out the front, kids stepped up to find sites, follow links, complete a quiz etc. Not me! Pretty neat! In one simple move I had created the flexibility I needed and shifted the focus away from me as the sole person in charge of the IWB. Suddenly the IWB became interactive!

Has anyone used Museum Box? I regularly visit Bright Ideas blog and think this would work well with laptops and be a very different research assignment. We do character life boxes as a task when Year 9 study a Shakespearean text. I think the Museum Box would be a very techno alternative. What do you think? Have you done anything with the site?

Stretching the boundaries and listening to the kids.


The laptop learning journey continues. Year 10 and I have explored using the BlogEd further. We used the ‘article of the week’ idea and linked it to the novel we are studying, Guitar Highway Rose. The unit is The Human Condition and I’ve paired the novel with Taming of the Shrew. Each fortnight I am posting a related online article and some ‘starter’ questions. The choice of articles are related to significant themes in the novel and later in the play.

An example:

I linked to an article on “Growing up Saudi, Part 1 Boys” that explored the constraints these young people face and some very underground acts of ‘rebellion’. The blogpost was titled “courtship, dating and rebellion” (The links to the novel and play should be obvious). Here is my post:

Rosie clearly likes Asher. Asher is not so sure about Rosie. Still, there is some kind of connection if they are prepared to run away together, even for a few weeks. Read the article Growing up Saudi, Part 1 Boys This article is about expectations. How do the Saudi boys fulfill expectations and rebel at the same time?   Do you think Rosie and Asher are fulfilling society’s expectations of the way teenagers react by running away? What kinds of expectations does your family have of your behaviour? Are the Saudi boys rebelling in any way? What do you think they would think about Rosie and Asher running away together? What do you think about Rosie and Asher running away together?

Th kids responded in some interesting ways. It did generate a discussion that got deeper as it went on.  We’ve found that this task doesn’t work so well as homework, so we have a blog session at least once a week where everyone gets on line and ‘blog comments’.  We put it up on the IWB as well which seems to encourage students to join in more and allows kids without their laptop to comment – they get to use this IWB. I’m waiting to see if as they become more confident they will check into the blog from home or at other times. The class also decided that comments had to be a certain length (at least five lines). This arose from students noting that other students were just agreeing with comments and didn’t really add much to the discussion. I plan to return to the Saudi article on girls later when we are looking at Taming of the Shrew. I’ve also found it useful to send a group email when I’ve posted. We’ve decied to try the blog out during term 2 and then evaluate. We may continue or try something else in Term 3.

In using the laptops every lesson I am constantly checking with the class on the meaningfulness of the tasks we are doing. Kids are starting to tell me when we need some ‘techno’ training with something I may have assumed they can all do. The kids are doing a reading assignment on the novel at the moment where I’ve given them choices and suggested ways they could use the software or internet sites to ‘deliver’ their work. I keep stressing that I’m learning how to do this laptop thing as I go along. This task is due soon and the kids have to email me a word attachment with web links, written work or images. One of them finally asked if I could show her how to email an attachment, so next lesson I’ll do a demo on the IWB for those who need it.

I’ve been reflecting on the change in my role and management strategies to put into place to accommodate the change in my role. If I’m not careful I can end up being “all over the room” as kids ask for help with a wide variety of things. So one strategy I’m starting to put unto place is coaching each other. I’ve always done this but now I’m implementing ‘Ask three before me”. This naturally leads to more student movement in the room. I’m enjoying being “in” the room with the kids, rather than out the front which is where I normally direct the lesson from. Incidentally the IWB actually made me more out the front than usual! The kids are also offering to ‘show’ how to do things at the IWB.

How about you? Have you some interesting/amusing/useful laptop insights to share?

Nings, Laptops and vocab games.


Well, I created a ning for year 10! I’ve set their first task – to join the ning and write about their best holiday experience in a blog post and then comment on a blogpost from another member of the class. I haven’t taught with the laptops yet, just observed and assisted, so I’m keen to see how I am going to adapt my teaching style to the laptops and use the IWB at the same time. For the time being I’ve made the ning private – just between me and the kids and their parents if they want to participate. I plan to hit the floor running and get them using their laptops in class to join the ning and complete their profiles at the beginning of the first lesson. The blogpost will be their homework.  Once I started really thinking about my ‘first lessons’ I actually started to get excited about going back to school.