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!
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!
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, https://open.abc.net.au/projects/500-words-family-rituals-18ab0ae#/about 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 https://open.abc.net.au/projects/aftermath-08vh8ac/collections/aftermath-features-85vg9us It would also be useful for a unit on natural disasters.
My favourite was this story https://open.abc.net.au/posts/sharing-my-loo-with-a-frog-59hb5jx 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.
We are rolling along at a merry pace with Atwood this week. Our final lesson last week was an exploration of the “spoken to” in the poems. This generated some fascinating discussions about both the persona and the person/persons/cyberspace(?) addressed by the speakers in the poems. These kids are awesome. They recognised the idea of the ‘mask’ of the persona and the task drew them deeper into considering the way some of the poems we are studying seem to be ‘dead’ voices (This is a photograph of me and Morning in the Burned House) and wondering why Atwood would choose a ‘dead’ speaker and who would this speaker be addressing? At some point students began to discuss the possibility that the poems weren’t really about someone who had died but might be about the self and identity!
We began this week with some theory on the use of persona and masks and students were asked to write 5-6 questions they could ask the persona of an allocated poem in an interview. In teams they reduced their combined questions to 3. They were encouraged to use questions that would deepen their understanding of the persona and avoid questions that anyone could answer directly from the lines in the poem. Pairs then conducted their interviews in front of the class, with one partner speaking in role and the other interviewing. The role plays were fascinating and their insights and engagement with the poems continues to grow. We followed up with some short writing in class where students explained how Atwood used persona in one of the poems.
A homework task drew on this work around personae. Students were asked to ‘write back’ to the poem in some way. They could write their own poem using one of the set poems as a model; find a ‘gap’ in a poem and tell the story of the gap; tell the ‘backstory’ of a persona or select a character other than the persona in the poem and tell his or her story.
We then moved on to an exploration of Atwood’s use of free verse. After some theory on the use of free verse and noting some features of the structure of poems that recur, such as the two part structures of Journey to the Interior, This is a Photograph of me and In the Secular night, students worked in small teams to prepare a performance of an allocated poem. They had to choose 6-10 lines, all members of the team had to speak some lines and could add movement as they wished. While this was fun and generated some very funny performances as well as insightful selections of lines, I’m not sure it generated the deeper thinking around “other more subtle effects” created when the poet chooses not to use “the regular rhythmic power, emphasis and song” of traditional versification”. Next time I would get the kids to prepare a choral reading of the poem, without the ‘performance’ element and focus more on the sounds and patterns of lines.
Now I am working out how to revisit free verse in a way that will engage students in that deep thinking.
Been back on twitter for the first time in ages. Besides amazing people online I found #ozenchat at paper.li. Interesting things to read within seconds and then clicked on “Figurative Language” discovering Jog the Web. What a cool tool for preparing lessons. Fast and fun and great with 1:1 laptops!
Paper.li is a site where you can create your own online newspapers. I wonder if it is blocked by DET? Could be fun to do as a class.
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?
I’m going to brag a bit here. Two of our lovely Year 11 students are State finalists in the ABC HEYWIRE competition. As there were only 9 State finalists for NSW we are naturally preening at the moment.
We set the Heywire writing brief as an assessment task for Year 11 early in the year and this is the first year any of our students have been selected. Teachers worked in lessons with students on listening to and analysing previous entires as models of good writing and working through planning, drafting and revising processes . The great thing about their writing is the way kids found their ‘voice’, something they often have difficulty doing.
The competition is open to young people in rural and remote Australia and they are asked to write/record a one minute personal comment on youth issues. Both students are taping their entries this week and these will be aired on ABC Local radio. Cause for celebration, not only of their achievement but also the wonderful work of the English teachers I work with!
On the brick bats, I’m going to have a whinge about State governments that change email systems (with not a lot of preparation) and then don’t transfer your distribution lists or provide sufficient ‘help’ to navigate a completely different process for creating contact lists or address books!
I feel much better now.