Category Archives: Pedagogy

Haiku Deck and Showme on ipad

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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:

http://www.haikudeck.com/p/xfbruwWRU6/writing-with-similes-and-metaphors

and a ShowMe on writing similes.

http://www.showme.com/sh/?h=wGRlA0W

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.

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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

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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.

Harwood highlights

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Great 2012 Harwood question! I felt very comfortable with the question and confident that the kids were well prepared to answer. As one said: ” At Mornington” wasn’t one I had prepared but I knew enough to link it to my other two, so I was OK. We can only hope.

With the new Year 12 we have introduced their assessment task and got started on the weekly workshops that will build to their performances. In this module our task is a team performance and an individual reflection on their own performance and that of others. We have used this task for the last two years and it always generates close reading of the poem the team selected, as well as lifting their critical thinking about the way different poems can be ‘read’.

I introduce the task by showing kids some past performances and getting the class to analyse some features of the performances. This includes the main idea of the poem performed, devices used by teams to convey these ideas and the strengths and weaknesses of the performances. Modelling the task usually allays their fears. We follow this with workshops every week throughout the module where students develop their own performances. Since part of the task is to learn the ‘lines’, kids always end up with one poem they know really well (and never forget) and a really good understanding of the others.

While viewing other performances students complete a table recording their responses to the performances. These notes are used in their reflection on the performances, which they do at the end of ‘performance day’. I am hoping this year that I can upload some videos of the kids performances to the blog.

While, at first, the task can seem daunting, at the end of the year in the evaluations the outgoing year 12 all commented on the value of this task. Kids could recite from the poem easily and frequently did when we were revising for trials and post trials. And it was fun!

HSC: here we go again!

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While this year’s Year 12 get ready to do their final exams, their teachers wake in a cold sweat wondering if they did enough and if the kids are writing practice essays. Meanwhile Year 11 are transitioning to Year 12 and we start all over again, promising we will be more organised, give more feedback,  do more to ensure our kids get the best results they can, not just the results they deserve.

I began with a motivational lesson, congratulating kids on sticking with it and making clear some expectations about the course requirements. (yes, you have to read all three books, watch the film and collect related material!) The shock always comes about now, when they realise it is not just their results that matter, but everyone else as well. They will get better results if everyone does their best.

We studied Margaret Atwood to develop students skills in critical study and reading poetry, in preparation for Module B Critical Study of Texts with Gwen Harwood. A few must have missed that lesson early in the Atwood unit: what, we’re doing poetry again?

Despite their dismay we press on and begin with a ‘cut and paste’ task. Kids were given a random selection of lines from the set poems, all mixed up. Their task was to cut them out and working in pairs, create a poem by pasting the lines, with a title, on to another sheet. This was a lot of fun, engaged kids in a close reading of individual lines and making connections between lines and ideas. During this task I wander around and listen to the conversations in the guise of the teacher/monitor who hands out scissors, paste and cleans up the scraps of paper, occasionally answering questions about word meanings, punctuation, what they can change etc. I always find these conversations illuminating and am frequently re amazed by their perceptiveness and skill.

Once finished, kids circulate around the room, reading other poems. The we discuss ‘what are the poems about?’ Naturally the kids pick up on the main themes and techniques Harwood uses. It will also lead us into a discussion of ‘textual integrity’. As one student noted, the lines from seven poems were easily shuffled around to create new poems that had similar themes, suggesting some coherence and unity in Harwood’s work. How cool was that! Good way to get started on a new poet.

Catching up with Atwood

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Anyone who teaches HSC in NSW knows how busy the end of Term 3 is, so you will understand why my blog got shifted down the priority list for a few weeks. While we finished up Year 12 and got them off the premises, Year 11 were finishing Atwood and doing their end of course exams.

We moved on from imagery to reading critical commentary on Atwood. Since kids will need to read some critical commentary in Year 12 and in general this is not done well, I wanted to do some work on how to read these kinds of texts and we put together a short book of ‘readings’ on Atwood. I appropriated this idea for teaching the skill of reading ‘academic articles’ from my daughter Zoe (thanks Zoe!). Zoe has read many academic articles in her time and worked out a ‘system’ that she taught her Year 11 and 12 this year.

We talked about the purpose of reading these kinds of texts first, identifying the need to test ideas against our personal response to the poems as well as getting to know the territory, as we did when we began preparing to teach the poetry unit. Kids were told they would ‘read’ the text three times and each time there was an explicit goal.

Step 1: First reading – read the first and last sentence of every paragraph to get some idea of the thesis and scope of the article. While reading identify key words and terms that you are unsure about. Look these up and annotate the reading with meanings before you go on to step 2. Make a note of three things you think the article will focus on.

Step 2: Second reading – while reading the text through make a summary note next to paragraphs you understand. Don’t worry about the paragraphs you don’t understand, build on what you do understand.  Also highlight interesting quotes and language that drives the argument. Look for connecting ideas and draw lines to connect them. (Some examples/modelling required here)

Step 3: Third reading – During the this reading look for lines/phrases ideas that provide fresh insights into the text you are studying (quotable quotes!) and annotate these, commenting/questioning/summarizing.

Step 4: Finally, make a short summary of key ideas, supporting details and useful quotes.

This approach supported students into both reading a dense academic text, developing confidence in their selections, note-making skills and added to their skills base for writing about Atwood. We followed up the class work with a second reading for Homework.  We noticed that kids used quotes from these readings in the exam essay.

We are coming to the end of the unit now and the final sequence of lessons was about ‘big ideas’ that linked together poems we were studying.

At the centre, there is an image.

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Imagery was the focus of our explorations of Atwood’s poems this week. My colleague began with a guided relaxation exercise drawing students into considering the way imagery works in our minds and hearts. This was an innovative way to engage students in thinking about how imagery works and to shift them from the “picture in the mind” concept to considering the other elements of emotional association and response. This was followed with a discussion of seven types of imagery and a ‘scavenger hunt’ for the different types in the poems. A closer study of the nature of imagery – hard for any of us to define in the staffroom immediately preceding the lesson – was followed by some writing exercises where students began with an image and added something that moved the description from image to imagery. This was quite a challenging task but we both believe the path to understanding how a writer uses a device or technique is to make it yourself.  We finished the week with teams creating drawings (not necessarily realistic) of the images they felt were central to the poems. Their justifications were as always entertaining and hilarious at times.

The real treasures from this week’s study of the poems were their assessment tasks and some creative writing we set last week. The writing task required kids to write back to the poems in some way. They could write their own poems, modelled on one of our set poems, write the back story, write the story from some other perspective, perhaps a voice that isn’t heard in the poems (like the voice of the sister in “Mourning in the Burned House”), write a response to the persona – no limits really. Their work was incredible. Many chose to write their own poems and we are both inspired by the work kids did. Their poems showed amazing insight and their use of the poetic form reveals some extraordinary talent – may be they are channeling Atwood? Those that chose recounts and story also showed amazing insights with one student researching the “Siren” and writing a story from the Siren’s point of view, weaving Atwood’s poem through her narrative with a deft hand. I am always struck by the way creative response tasks generate such depth in student’s thinking about texts.

The best is yet to come. The illuminated texts are magnificent. I have permission from one of my students to share his work with you: Enjoy!BrendanMorningintheburnedhouse