Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Preparing to teach

What a whirlwind of a year. I took an extended break over 2012 Christmas, spending my time travelling through Europe. Arriving back in NZ on the 20th of January, I commenced teacher training on the 21st of January and completed it on the 21st of November last week. 

Either I am a sucker for punishment or I am addicted to the eternal learner ethos as I have decided to, and been lucky enough to have been selected to complete Honours part-time over the next two years as I work full-time in a dynamic and innovative year 7/8 class. I will be studying e-learning, accelerated learning and in 2015 writing my own dissertation on the topic. 

I always knew I would go back and do Honours. Originally I had planned to do so in my initial field of study Sociology or Human Development, however with little life experience at the time, I entered into the 'real world' and found myself climbing the corporate ladder in sales and Key Account Management. Though I loved the perks I always knew something was missing, so I went back and completed the most whirlwind, but amazing year of my life (so far) studying to be a primary teacher. When I first learned about Manaiakalani mid way through the year I was in awe, starstruck almost, innovative, successful, but also willing to take that risk, and plunge into somewhat of an unknown in terms of pedagogy, well by NZ fronts anyway. Having worked for a technology based company for the past 3 years I knew the value of the leadership, entrepreneurism and vision that Manaiakalani had and sought to join them. Sure enough, here I am, one of several Beginning Teachers selected to complete their mentorship program in 2014 & 2015. 

But the question remains, just how do I prepare myself for teaching my first digital class early next year? 

I was asked this question during my interview, to which I gave a three-fold answer.

  1. get to know my mentor teacher and develop a working relationship. Having met her on a couple of informal occasions, I will also be attending the upcoming school planning meeting, which I look forward to. 
  2. have a holiday!!! I have planned trips around NZ over the summer to catch up with my nearest and dearest who I have neglected over the course of this year. 
  3. brush up on my digital skills, and build a kete of resources. This is where I need YOUR help. Please point me in the direction of suitable online tutorials, free or low-cost online media tools and recommend products, books, tips, tricks. Sure a quick google search will bring up oodles of results, but personally recommended and successful tools would be a better place to start!

I've also added two more things to my holiday list. 

  • Read. News media, books, anything. It's been a week since finishing and I am already 100 pages into my 3rd book. However, not sure if I will keep that pace up.
  • Cook. A real passion of mine and one which has resorted to packet meals or fried eggs a lot this year. Get back into a healthy routine. 

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Green Light Classrooms

Our PLG's (Professional Learning Group) focus this term is based on a book by Rich Allen. Green Light Classrooms: Teaching Techniques That Accelerate Learning.  It's great to be involved in a professional development meeting where I can discuss best teaching practices with more experienced teachers. Meeting once a fortnight and discussing the chapters and points of the text. The best part being that I have things which I can contribute to the conversations, gaining confidence in the fact that despite me being new to the profession, I still have a lot to offer and am able to critically examine and reflect on my developing practice.

The teachers whom I meet with (colleagues from my practicum placement school) frankly discuss their strengths and weaknesses encouraging me to do the same. So far we have looked into how we need to step away from the lecture and whiteboard style teaching - which many of us already have - and adopt other strategies to gain attention, retain engagement, and enhance student learning. Sounds great doesn't it? However some of the ambiguities of it are that there is no best fit model, no prescription of what to teach how and when. What technique works one day for a class may not work the next. The point it to be receptive to the dynamics of the room, what we are trying to achieve and how to utilize the tools we have.

Recently I had a year 4/5 class who I needed to get together to brainstorm the persuasive writing task. I could tell that the energy was high and that the odds of them sitting still and engaging in a productive group discussion were low. I grabbed their attention with a 'hands on knees, hands on heads, touch your toes' type instruction, then said 'You've got 10 seconds, make some noise - go nuts' and boy did they, I did too! It was fun. I counted to ten, then called 'Silence'. Everyone stopped, sat, and the lesson began. I know that this example doesn't reflect exactly what the book is suggesting, but it's my way of describing how being aware of your learners needs enables better engagement.

I look forward to reading and discussing more of the green light classroom techniques and incorporating them to my teaching practices.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Planning for Practicum

Excited and enthusiastic as I am about Pract 3 - I must admit the challenge of planning for students that I do not yet know is a real challenge. Is this activity going to be too hard, too easy? Does it fit their interests? What resources do I have available? So many questions.... And so many ideas which I think will be awesome learning experiences. 
My job over the next three days - get to know as much about my students as I possibly can, so that I can plan, sequence and differentiate my learning experiences to suit the learners in my care. 
Thankfully the foci this term include several things that I personally am really interested in. Particularly persuasive writing, where I hope to introduce debating and have the students creating advertising campaigns for their upcoming gala day. So many ideas, but such a limited time frame, therefore selecting the most interesting, and productive to their learning is important. Challenge accepted. 

Monday, 30 September 2013

Teaching to the test vs. creativity

Tests and creativity tend not to go in the same sentence.
I read an article on NZHerald website the other day about the test focus our schools have, and if it is the best option for our future generations.
Professor Zhao claims that high test scores do not mean high education system. He argues that schools such as China, who perform well on tests, do not teach children to be independent thinkers and as a result lack creativity. Zhao also points out that the higher the test scores were, the lower the students enjoyment of or confidence in a subject.
So what does this mean for NZ? It was only a couple of years ago that National Standards were introduced, and as a result the volume of testing has increased. This also means that teachers are feeling more pressured and inclined to teach to the tests to ensure their students the best success at achieving.
I've even seen this in my own studies at University. Rather than following the models that we are being taught to teach (as a Post Graduate Primary Teaching student), we are being taught test specific information.Then again, we crave it also. In a recent maths class on how to teach  measurement, particularly volume and area, I heard my cohort repetitively asking, "Is this in the test?" "Will we be tested on this?" "What part of this will be in the test?" We all want to succeed, and if we are measured by a 'test' then that is all that we care about in the learning environment. It makes me quite sad, as I found that the learning focus shifted from 'will this make me a good teacher' to 'how do I pass the test'.
Fear of being wrong shouldn't be what underpins us. If it is, we inhibit our and our students potential. "If you're not prepared to be wrong,you'll never come up with anything original" (Sir Ken Robinson). Look at all the great inventors,entrepreneurs, Einstein, Steve Jobs, I bet they weren't right the first, or even tenth time, but they persevered and learned from errors.  On one of my school observations I saw a Yr 8 teacher write this on the board "If I fail, does it make me a failure." Students were then asked to write for a couple of minutes what they thought about this, following which they shared their ideas with the class. They were able to articulate that failing can be a good thing, from which you grow and learn. Teaching students that failure is real, but that it is finite, not ongoing is important. It builds resilience, perseverance and character. Moreover, it allows creativity, something which without we risk seriously depriving our students.
Part of my thinking comes from the many TED talks I've been listening too, primarily Sir Ken Robinson. http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html and http://www.ted.com/talks/sir_ken_robinson_bring_on_the_revolution.html on personalising education, or as I know it 'differentiated learning'

Monday, 23 September 2013

'Spark'ing Te Reo Digital

Who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks?
Not me, you can never to be old (or young in my case) to learn new skills, create new habits, and become digitally literate. 
Recently I have become more and more aware of the growing importance of being digitally competent and communication within the 21st century. 
As a result I have taken the plunge and begun my own digital journey. First it was twitter, then google+, now: a blog. 
With the world at my fingertips - my goal is now to discover just how much potential these new tools provide, maximising my Te Reo Digital skills and as I launch my new teaching career, allowing my students to reap the rewards of a more digitally literate teacher. 
Oh, the exciting opportunities!!