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Friday, 26 September 2014

Literacy Learning in the Holidays

Inspired by Kiri Kirkpatrick from Panmure Bridge School, who is a part of the  Manaiakalani Innovative Teachers Academy  that presented at the Manaiakalani Hui in August, I created this Google Presentation that I embedded into our class site for students to complete in the Term 3 holidays.

These holidays will be the first time that our Year 7 and 8 students are allowed to take their netbooks home.  Fortunately, they were also given two books today as part of the Duffy Programme.

The aim of this is to:

  • Provide something for students who are bored in their holidays.
  • Hopefully maintain a level of thinking so the return back is not such a shock!
  • See the level of Learn, Create, Share maintained in the holiday break.
  • Keep students reading!

I will be interested to see:

  • Which students choose to take part in these activities.
  • If this will have an impact on their attitudes towards, and outcomes of, assessments starting in the first week back!
  • What types of texts students are reading for enjoyment.
  • What I can change/improve from this time around, for the longer holidays coming up at the end  of the year.
What strategies have you tried to keep students learning throughout their holidays?  

ASD Strategies in Practice - Update

Earlier this week, I wrote about the two sessions of professional development on ASD and bullet pointed the general characteristics, common issues, and tips for teachers.

I also mentioned that I had one student in mind that I would try some of these tips with.  Although this student does not sit on the spectrum at all, he struggles with being easily distracted and distracting others during learning time.  This is not reflected by his great achievement levels and the great conversations I have with him.  He often shares ideas that are original and thoughtful, but I just wanted to improve his general attention to his learning task and his task completion rate as well as limit his level of distraction for others.

So, following some of the tips and tricks from our session and from the Sue Larkey website, I introduced this student to the Goo Timer.  The goo timer, similar to the one pictured below is a ten minute timer.  We made the deal that he would focus for 10 minutes (the time it takes for the goo to go from the top to the bottom) and then would be allowed a 2 minute break.

At first, he wanted to stare at the goo - fair enough, it does look pretty cool - after a minute of staring, I told him to get on with it.  He remained focused for the next 9 minutes.  When it was break time, I said "You have two minutes."
"To do what, Miss?"
"Whatever you like - this is your break time."
He walked around the class a bit awkwardly, smiling at his friends and staring out the windows.
"Right, two minutes up!  Come back!"  I called.  He returned and I told him, he could turn the timer over himself.  Again, 10 minutes of full focus - he finished his first task.


During this time, also, another student who is known for his charming ways, approached us and asked if he could join us with the timer.  I said yes and he was excited to get his work and bring it over to where we were sitting.  VERY EXCITING MOMENT FOR A TEACHER, AM I RIGHT?!

At the next two minute break, they asked "Miss, can we play cards?"
"You can do whatever you like, but can you play a whole game in two minutes?"
"We can, Miss! Please?"
"Go for it."

They jumped up and went and got a pack of cards.  They finished a game of last card in two minutes!

When returning to the next 10 minute block, they said:
"Miss, this is fun.  It's making learning easier for me."
"Yeah, this helps me with distraction."
"Can we do this always, Miss?"

Heart. Melted.

Later, when on patrols duty, the two students approached me as they were crossing the pedestrian, telling me of how they told Mr Wong about their new timer.  I was blown away by one of the students who said, "Miss, __ told Mr Wong that we had to do this, but I said, no - we WANT to do this."  (Sigh!)

So, what can work for students with ASD can also benefit other students!  Give it a go.  Today, the last day of term, they are still using the timer between clean up tasks.  I hope this lasts a while!

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Professional Development: Autistic Spectrum Disorder

This term, we, as a staff, participated in two professional learning development sessions based on ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder).  These were two very interesting sessions that outlined general characteristics of and issues for students living with ASD as well as suggesting possible strategies for teachers to try with students who sit on this spectrum.

General Characteristics that stuck with me were:

  • Special interests:  obsessive, develop fascinations with a topic and want to find out everything about that topic.  
  • Routines:  respond well to routines and dislike change.
  • Has trouble working out what other people are thinking:  unable to make social judgements e.g. reading facial expressions or subtle social cues.
  • May struggle to see the big picture.
  • May struggle organising themselves e.g. getting books, pencils etc. ready for the school day.
  • May have physical issues such as holding pens, handwriting, sports and balance.
  • May be difficult to express feelings about an issue.
  • First language is visual and students with ASD are often very good at visual memory and have exceptional long term memory.
Issues for students living with ASD:
  • May be suffering with high anxiety levels, which make learning very difficult.  This anxiety can be triggered by environmental factors around them e.g. the classroom being too noisy.
  • Perfection:  the fear of making mistakes can be immobilising for students.
  • Hard to deal with changes in routine - which are inevitable in schools.
  • Hard to communicate anxiety and feelings with others using words so will often act out in socially inappropriate ways e.g. screaming, kicking, etc.
Tips for Teachers:
  • Prepare students for change the best you can.  For example, if you know you will be off site for a meeting, let the child know well in advance so that you can work together to prepare that student for a day that will be different.
  • Transitions:  between lessons, give count downs and stick to those times.  
  • Establish a place that students can go to when situations get "too much" for students, e.g. when feeling anxious or threatened in the playground or when there is a large number of stimuli that is too overwhelming e.g. too noisy in assembly, smell of bodies after P.E.
  • Assess the behaviour, and ask yourself - whose problem is it?  Is it really a problem?  Does the child understand what you are asking?  Doe they have opportunities for making choices and requesting breaks?  Do you respect the child's refusals and protests where possible (i.e. pick you battles!)
  • Due to the perfectionist nature of some students, limit choices e.g. "Can you please write for me about either a dolphin or a shark."
  • Remain calm in melt down situations.  
  • Allow for sensory breaks.
  • Use visual aides wherever possible e.g. visual timetable.
  • Understand that some students believe you already know how they are feeling, so make it clear that you would like to understand more and share what you are thinking with them.
  • Visit www.suelarkey.co.nz for other helpful tips.
Personal lightbulb moments and learning:
  • Tantrums are not the same as melt downs.  Tantrums are attempts at manipulative acts to gain a specific outcome.  Melt downs are a response from the survival part of the brain to release anxiety and find safety and a sense of calm.
  • If you know one person with ASD, you know ONE person with ASD - what works with one child, may not work with the next.
  • "Don't let ASD cause you to lose sight of the whole child.  Self-esteem is crucial" - Ellen Notbohm.
  • Try to avoid the 'other side' of the mountain.  Meaning, you can try strategies for prevention of a melt down, but once a child is in the 'melt down' stage, it is too late.  Then it becomes an issue of keeping them and others safe.
I have one particular student who I would like to try some of these strategies with, although probably at the mild end of the spectrum, this student is often seen as being a distraction or a behavioural issue in the classroom.  In particular the tips found on this page from the Sue Larkey website, I believe might work as the student I have in mind is a 'hummer and rocker.'  

What experiences have you had with students that live with ASD and what strategies have you tried?

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Story Writing with an English Language Learner

Today, I was back in the classroom as the classroom teacher.  I love Wednesdays because I get to reconnect with the students throughout the day and spend more time involved in their learning face to face.

One particular student I spent some time with was Rahmond.  He arrived in Term 2 from Samoa and could read, write and speak Samoan, but had no understanding of English (and why should he? He came from Samoa!)

I asked two of my Samoan speaking students to help with translations in his first few weeks and then began to create a programme designed for him with the help of our New Entrants teacher.  She ran a JAM assessment and Running Record assessment, in which he achieved Stage 3 for Add/Sub and Level 1 (Magenta) for reading.

Today, we wrote a story together in English!

First, I used sequence stories as a resource and photocopied and cut out the pictures and mixed them up.  Then I asked Rahmond which picture was number one, number two, number three etc.

After that, I asked Rahmond to tell me what was happening in each picture.  I then recast his sentence back to him and encouraged Rahmond to write his own sentences down.  One exciting thing I noticed was the way he initiated conversations such as:

"Miss, do you know what the Samoan word for that is?" (Pointing to the campfire).
"I think I do... is it afi?"
"Yes!"
(Little while later...)
"Miss...what is the English word for that?" (Pointing again, to the campfire).
"Fire."
"Oh...Fire..."

After that, I let him colour in the pictures, while I wrote the final sentences on our 'good copy.'

I then took photos of his pictures and through iMovie, put a short film together using his pictures and a voice over recording of Rahmond reading his story.  He told his story to three teachers today and two other students.  Repetition without boring!

This reaffirmed for me, the importance of scaffolding and giving students multiple opportunities to process an idea in different forms.  Through sequencing pictures, Rahmond was able to show his comprehension of the story, then telling, then writing and then reading - and reading again, Rahmond was able to learn, create, and now share!

Here is our final product!  Lelei tele, Rahmond!

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Metacognitive Thinking: Student Illustration

I have a particularly prolific blogger in my class this year.  He is a student who achieves high levels across the curriculum and his blog is very enjoyable to follow - beyond the role of a teacher.  He shows deep and thoughtful reflection towards his learning and likes to share his thinking through his blog.

It is moments like these that truly make teaching the best job in the world.

My own challenge is to explore - what makes Willy such a reflective learner who shows great metacognitive skills?  How can I encourage others in my class to think like him?  How can I engage other students into blogging as a form of personal learning?  Thank you Willy for challenging me to take my thinking about teaching further!

I will let Willy take it from here...


Hello, Blog!

This is my first Movenote presentation I ever made. It shares my feelings and thoughts towards blogging. The video and the presentation are separated into different parts, so try to keep up with the presentation with the video. I hope that made sense.




Thursday, 11 September 2014

Wonderful Waitangi - Our Nation's Children Prize Trip

In Week 7 of Term 3, I had the great pleasure of accompanying 17 amazing Tamaki Year 7 and 8 students and 3 other members of staff to the great Bay of Islands.

This was our prize as the Our Nation's Children upper North Island winners.  This trip was sponsored by Westpac Bank and was organised by the Waitangi National Trust and Waitangi Grounds and it was the trip of a lifetime.

It started in Term 1, where I was encouraged by senior management and other community leaders to enter into the Our Nation's Children Film Competition.  An initiative to get every child in New Zealand up to Waitangi by 2020.  I worked with a reading group made up of 4 students from Aireen's class and 6 students from Room 8.  This group was an extension group of talented readers and writers.

Over the course of Term 1, these students questioned, researched, interviewed labour MP Carol Beaumont, story boarded, recorded and edited their film which centred around the three P's of the treaty; Partnership, Participation and Protection.

Here is the complete film:


In Term 2, we received an email to say that we had won a prize worth $10,000.00 which covered:  food, accommodation, transport, activities, tour guides and instructors - AMAZING.

So, on Monday of Week 7, Term 3, we piled into the vans and headed up to Waitangi!  The trip was so valuable - not only for our students but for the teachers as well.  I was so proud of the students and would like to deeply acknowledge Westpac for their sponsorship of such an amazing initiative, those that worked so hard to ensure that every minute of our day was organised and filled with excitement and for the staff and parents that came along to help with supervision.  Read the Westpac Article here.

My personal highlights were:
  • Seeing students develop as leaders and mature students of Tamaki Primary
  • Getting into the Waka and actually paddling in the same waters that my own waka Ngatokimatawhaorua paddles through each Waitangi Day.
  • Hearing about the history of Northland - from multiple perspectives.
  • Staying at the amazing Copthorne Resort - Wow.
  • Having my partner and baby experience this with me!
  • Having great staff experience this with me!
  • Hearing students reflect on their own highlights and seeing just how special this experience was to them.
To see more of our experience, watch the video below (12 minutes of amazing highlights!)