Tag Archives: good practice

Awakening the Heart


I have just finished reading Awakening the Heart by poet Georgia Heard. I enjoyed it very much and I think she would be delighted that her book has re-awakened my joy in reading and writing poetry with students. Something I feel I haven’t done a lot of, over the last few years, and something I always loved as a young teacher. I think a love of poetry is what led me into teaching English.

Georgia’s book is about the importance of bringing kids to poetry in a positive way and for them to learn that poetry is ‘food for all’. She says, “One of the most important life lessons that writing and reading poetry can teach our students is to help them reach their well of feelings — their emotional lives– like no other form of writing can”. Right now, I think that is a really important and significant goal for our current students, and goes to the heart of the debates about subject English. There are many wonderful ideas and inspiring stories in her book that make you want to go into the class room right now and begin. A book to add to the very best books all English teachers should read.

One of my personal favourites from the book is the Living Anthology Project, where kids choose and place poems where people will read them, like waiting in line at the canteen or at the office, or for the bus.  Inspired by the Poetry in Motion project, it made me think about the ways we traditionally teach poetryand how to turn our poetry teaching into project based learning. My idea is that this year we ask year 7 to create their own poetry project which might be a Living Anthlogy project or could take some other form.

English teachers tend to love books, and I am no exception. When it comes to buying school related books, most teachers seem to buy the books that they can use directly in the classroom. The textbook kind. I am not a great fan of these books and my clean up of my resources and shelves has led me back to books  I have collected over the years that inspired me in all kinds of ways. The kinds of professional reading I like are the books that go to the heart of teaching, about how and why and invariably they are books that make me rethink what I do and lead me to some kind of creative innovation, taking me beyond the writer’s ideas into my own, like Teaching Literature: Nine to Fourteen (Benton and Fox) and If you’re trying to teach kids how to write, you’ve gotta have this book! (Marjorie Frank). These are books worth sharing with beginning English teachers, because these books will help them re frame their theories about what teachers do and what English teaching is all about.  May be you have some other suggestions?

30 Year Gold Star


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!

Back from Cairns and laptops arrive


My week off was an absolute delight. We revisited places we had gone 34 years ago (in an orange Kombi, much thinner then). Very nostalgic. The weather was beautiful, I loved swimming with Wally on the Outer Reef and didn’t think about school once.

I did read Time Management from the Inside Out by Julie Morgenstern that I picked up at the Airport. An interesting read. The tip I liked best was to estimate the time things will take and plan accordingly, instead of making a great big To Do list and thinking that you will get through it all, then feeling stressed when you don’t.  Sounds familiar, doesn’t it. I thought I might share some of these ideas with senior students. Do they know how long it takes them to read ten pages, making notes at the same time, or a summary? Do they know how long it takes them to complete each stage in writing an essay or story? Could be useful when they are trying to manage the competing demands of the HSC. She also had a reverse idea – decide how much time you want to spend on a task and keep within that time frame. I think that’s the one I need to work on, especially when I am ‘playing around’ on the computer.

The week away was quickly followed by Equity2009 conference in Sydney (with a short break at school to finalise Trial marks!). I enjoyed the conference, but the best bit was introducing four delightful students to Sydney for the first time. Great ‘tourist’ route – catch bus down George street to Circular Quay, catch ferry to Darling Harbour (checking out harbour landmarks as you go), walk through Darling Harbour, past Convention centre and Exhibition Halls, through China Town and past Paddy’s Markets, back to Hotel. Thanks to Deputy Jennifer for playing tour guide.

Highlights of the Conference included hilarious presentation by Dr Christine Richmond on Behaviour Management, implementing MeE framework with Wayne Sawyer et al, Dr Jennifer Gore on Quality Teaching and Equity and finding out more about National Partnership funding (yes, we are one of those 512 schools). I’ve been reading Christine Richmond’s books over the last week, between finalising HSC assessments, checking reports, preparing year 11 exam and revising with Year 12 – 2 weeks to go! Teach More, Manage Less is a good starter book on behaviour management for teachers, with some food for thought for those of us who can’t remember the steps to learning how to manage and seem to do it ‘effortlessly’ because we have been doing it for so long.  It has some good ‘checklists’ for self analysing what’s going and wrong and steps to take to improve your management. Lead More, Manage Less is more for Head Teachers and Deputies who have a role to play in supporting teachers’ behaviour management and I haven’t read much of this yet.

Of course, the really exciting thing this week is that year 9 got their laptops. We start ‘for real’ on Monday and the English faculty has decided to begin with Digitally Yours (Thanks Curriculum Support, great resource). We are also reviewing a policy document shared by Jameson High, looking to adapt it to our needs. Kids were excited and keen to get started. As one kid said: ‘I feel really smart using this, Miss!’

Revisit! review! reteach! revise!


As a professional learning task this year our principal asked that we explore Close the Achievement Gap (from the In a Nutshell series, Hawker Brownlow).  I led the discussion on Chapter 4: Revisit! review! reteach! revise!. The chapter explores the concept of ‘leaving nothing to chance’.  For me it was a recognition that I had been leaving revision to chance.

So this year I have consciously revisited, reviewed, retaught and revised. I discovered that a quick quiz at the end of a lesson or a week later was a powerful learning tool, that there are lots of different ways to improve recall, that they have to know the story of a Shakespearian play really well to understand anything else about it, that kids need serious memory training and that ‘re-teaching’ needs to be programmed explicitly.

With this aim in mind I have been working on a ‘jeopardy’ game using a ‘flipchart’ on Yeats’ poetry and ‘memory’ games on key words and concepts.

I used a  ‘memory’ game on language devices with year 10 who are in the final preparation stage for their SC Literacy test. Who would think that a simple memory game (turning cards over and matching a device with an example) would generate so much enthusiasm from a bunch of Year 10 boys? The whole group of boys became totally involved in the game shouting instructions to the kids whose turn it was at the board. Amazing! Then they wanted to play another one!