Tag Archives: Celebrate

30 Year Gold Star

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I guess it’s official. I got my 30 Year certificate from the DET on Tuesday at our end of year Christmas lunch. It is a funny sensation. It actually doesn’t feel that long and I still think I have a lot to learn. Every time I work with a new group of kids or a new member of staff or listen to my beginning teacher daughter I am reminded that I know very little. I am challenged to think in new ways about the job I do, and I keep having this thought “why didn’t I think of that?”.

I am taking a break from cleaning out my filing cabinet and folders at home. I have to do it now. It’s all over the spare bedroom and we have guests for Christmas! And yes I have found some things that are 30 years old. Am I still using them? No, but they do remind me of things I thought then and ways I taught that are probably embedded in my thinking now. It is quite exciting. It is also very therapeutic. I am chucking a lot. I want to get it down to ‘manageable’ and easy to find. I have discovered the best system anywhere, any time is a simple alphabetical system. Finally. It only took 30 years!

So how do I decide what to throw out? Our current syllabus and programme helps. Not much use keeping things that have been  superseded by more innovative thinking. No point keeping grammar sheets – there is a lot more around on the internet that is a lot more fun. Do I keep my personal notes on texts I have taught? Even if I do refer to them, I know I will make a new set of notes next time I teach that text anyway. And they will focus on completely different things because my frame of reference has changed.

Anything on Shakespeare seems worth keeping, and there is such a lot of it over the years! Great ideas for getting kids writing seems worth keeping too. Kids still need to be inspired to write, that hasn’t changed much. And poetry. Poems and ideas for teaching poetry. And there is a lot of that too! I must really like teaching poetry, because I can’t bear to part with a good poem.

Notes from 30 years of professional learning and conferences? Not much I want to keep. What ever I was excited about I used straight away, so the rest obviously didn’t inspire me that much. Thinking skills and pedagogy? Yep, still like trying out ways to challenge kids to think. Still interested in the craft of teaching and how kids learn.

I am procrastinating, I know. I need to get back in there and finish it. A few gems have turned up. A few years ago I did a presentation on “ten things I learnt this year” at Annual Conference. It must have been a good year. Looking back over those ten things I covered a lot of territory. Naturally it got me thinking about the things I learnt this year, so here’s my list:

1. How to set ‘a reasonable amount of homework’ – thanks to Edmodo. Set things that kids have to think hard about but don’t have to write a lot. Focus on the really important thinking they need to do and the really important skills they need to practice, like writing a well structured analysis paragraph with evidence. And do this every week, without fail.

2. How to teach kids to write better essays (I know, I have a million ways to teach essay writing and I am still experimenting!) Teach them how to write a well structured paragraph. Teach them how to write different kinds of paragraphs for different kinds of essay questions and different modules. Model it and make them do their own in the next lesson or homework task. Use the videos on “Building a PEE paragraph”  Give them a formula for writing the introduction and make them practice it until they can go beyond it.

3. Get kids to do some short writing at the beginning of every lesson. Link it to the current work, revision of last lesson, concepts for the next lesson, fun writing. Follow it up with sharing in lots of different ways. Give them a half sheet of paper to write on and collect it. You get a lot of insight into their learning and what they still need to learn.

4. Never forget the joy of performance, or the deep knowledge and understanding that comes from performance.

5. Plan lessons that only take one lesson.

6. Keep finding new ways to get kids engaged in making their thinking visible. They just loved ‘illuminated texts’!

7. There are only two rules for the classroom. Good manners and everyone participates.

8. Kids actually do like reading. Don’t stop.

9. Make connections. Plan units so that the texts are constantly referred to in exploring a ‘big question’. Choose the best texts, not just those that are available. Don’t try to teach everything about the text. Focus on the things they will actually need to know about  to do the assessment task or the exam. And make the kids do all the thinking.

10. If it is not working, try something else. Keep trying until you work out what works. Then keep doing that.

11. And …. there is nothing like a good game of jeopardy to keep them buzzing right to the end of last period Friday!

Now, back to the filing cabinet!

The excitement of new technologies.

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I love using Edmodo! It has created a very different learning environment for students but most of all it has pushed me out of my comfort zone and taught me something I wished I’d learnt an eon ago. When Edmodo added the Quiz feature I quickly created a quiz that reviewed the first few lessons of a new Module I was teaching to my Advanced English (HSC NSW) class. It took about ten minutes. This set me on the path of setting weekly homework through Edmodo assignment and quiz features for the whole module. I liked the ease with which I could set tasks and the way Edmodo tracks the turning in of tasks for me. I also liked that Edmodo records students grades. Since I don’t want to spend hours marking, even if it is easier in digital form, I focused on setting short tasks that built skills and was relevant to the learning objectives for the week. The most students were asked to write was two well structured paragraphs, although, as one student said “That was a really hard question!”

Some things I learnt were:

  • A short task that has a higher order thinking skill is doable (and therefore more likely to be done), easier to mark and actually develops the critical thinking skills kids needed to learn.
  • The tasks progressed from revising some work done in class to going beyond recount to analysis and evaluation.
  • The relationship between learning objectives for the week and the homework seemed to be a key feature in the increasing quality of their answers over time.
  • The grade book feature insisted kids be accountable. Edmodo kept telling kids they had Late assignments.

Since the new Annotate feature has been added, the marking is even easier, without the need to open documents, mark and then re save and resend. I am keen to see how I can keep up the momentum in the next Module.

Revising in English for the HSC

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These are the last few weeks of school for 2011 HSC students and we have been busy writing practice essays and adding some depth to our thinking about each module and its concepts. Over the years I have worked through many ways of helping students to prepare for this exam, not least with my own kids. How to summarise effectively in English often presents problems for students. Unlike many content based subjects where a list of headings from a textbook and memory cards can help a lot, in English students have to think about the concepts and essay question, draw on everything they know about the topic,  select from their knowledge to answer effectively, as well as write an effective essay all under exam conditions. You can tell by the length of that last sentence how overwhelming that can be.

This year I experimented with a great piece of advice from Mrs Langford’s Weblog. She suggested students prepare for Module A by thinking about the ‘big questions” in the texts for Module A and organsing notes under these big ideas. She concludes: It is important that you integrate your notes by organising them under key ideas rather than summarising each text separately. Integrated notes lead to writing integrated responses.

I really liked the thinking behind this and tried it out in the classroom with the Area of Study. Students thought about the “big ideas” about belonging on their own and then combined in teams to share and write down three “big ideas”. They had to write complete well thought out sentences, since I wanted them to practice writing topic sentences they could use in their essays. We selected 7 of the ideas as a class. We then  had a discussion about how an idea was related to a text they had studied in the AOS. With some prompt questions we pushed that thinking to include the techniques the writer was using and evidence from the texts. I then moved students into teams with one “big idea” each and we played ‘Speed Dating”.  Each team had a few minutes to add text, techniques, quotes and evidence to the big idea on the sheet and then moved on to the text ‘big idea’.

It was great fun requiring some high energy from tired year 12 students, and produced lots of deeper thinking and revision of texts. By the end of the lesson we had a very useful summary that students could refine and add to and that was set up especially to support their essay writing.

I’ve since tried it out with year 11 who are also preparing for exams. The response from Year 12 was very positive, with students keen to repeat the exercise with their modules. It is nice to find a workable, high energy way to keep Year 12 working in the midst of what can be a trying time at school!

Where I’m from

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I’m starting to think about school and planning lessons and playing around with internet to find resources. My year 7 class begin the year with a unit called Belonging and  we use Nadia Wheatley’s picture book My Place along with some other texts and lots of poetry. I wanted to find some “models” and also a text for their first homework sheet. It proved to be a bit difficult ( so if you know of any online resources that might fit here please let me know). Eventually I found a nice story by Frances59 about her crazy family.  I was rally looking for something about “home’. personal recounts of the way people feel about ‘home’. It got me thinking about how even though I haven’t lived at ‘home’ for 35 years, it is still ‘home’. This has become more significant lately because the house I grew up in and the ‘home’ I go back to will soon be sold.

My Mum has decided it is time to go into a retirement villa, near where my Dad is in a Nursing home. This is something she and Dad have talked about doing ‘when the time came’. Well, the time has come and it is the best thing for them. It has still had quite an impact on me and my siblings. On a recent visit to my Mum, my husband, Paul, and I talked a lot about how lucky we had been to be able to go back to this place so often. I grew up in Port Stephens, NSW. Shoal Bay to be more accurate.  (There is a pic of my favourite view of the heads at Shoal Bay in the Flickr stream). I was born in the community hospital there and my parents moved into the house where they have lived for 48 years when I was five. I still remember Dad developing the garden and planting the lawn, the cubby I set fire to playing house and Mum throwing the clothes I hadn’t picked up off the floor out my bedroom window to greet me on my return home from school. It’s where I met by husband when I was 16, it’s where my kids had their first Christmases, where I learnt to swim and surf as a teenager, where my sisters and I were married from, where we came back to after living overseas for a few years. Most of all it is a beautiful place that taught me to appreciate natural beauty.

I do sound very attached and yet where I live now is home too. Our family life is here and it will also be a hard place to leave, filled as it is with our family memories. Now I live on ten acres, with gardens and horses, a creek and lots of Australian wildlife, a long way from the beautiful beaches of Port Stephens. I wonder if I will ever leave here and call some other place ‘home’. Neither Paul nor I can imagine living anywhere else. Sometimes we talk about maybe retiring somewhere else but it never seems to get much airplay. Home is very much a place but it seems to be more than just place. It is family and memories and milestones too. Things that actually do remain long after we have left the place where they happened but in some strange way also tied to those places forever. So while this is my home, where I grew up will always be home too.

New website

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I have a new site: http://site.lyntiernanenglishclassroom.com

I’ve had a website for about ten years. I began building the website to support my work in the classroom and delivered a whole terms work in the first year for year 10 via the website and using a computer lab. This was way before IWB, Video conferencing, laptops and most kids having access to a computer an the internet at home. over the years the website has become a place to ‘store’ links to sites and organise the links into topics such as poetry, plays, speeches, writing etc. Obviously before the development of sites like Delicious and Diigo. With changes to Microsoft products and Windows my site became redundant sometime in 2009. I could no longer update the site, fix links or change any materials I had uploaded. After a few stops and starts I managed to organise another host and a domain name. Then followed a difficult time trying to upload the old site to the new host. I built a completely new site in an attempt to overcome some of the issues.  The new site has my Delicious tags embedded on the front page. Much easier for me to add new links and for others to go directly to links. I also started uploading lesson material in Word documents, so others can access the material and adapt as they need. I’ve also included some pages on new technologies, with links to sites I like that work well.

I would be very interested in your thoughts, suggestions and feedback.

NSW ETA Annual Conference

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As usual, had a great time, caught up with lots of teaching friends, made some new ones and came away inspired. Thanks to Darcy and Kelli for their enthusiastic support of new ways of engaging students. Can’t wait to try out Wiki’s and blogs with kids! Also came back very tired with loads of end of year admin work to do ….