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Wednesday, 20 May 2015

MIT Update 5 - Finlayson Park Primary School

Today, I had the absolute honour of sharing my inquiry with the staff at Finlayson Park Primary School.  Here is how they describe themselves on their school site:

I was greeted in many different languages as I walked through the staffroom and was made to feel very welcome as I set up my laptop with help from staff!

I opened by showing this video, created by my partner and his family - the first V48 hour film to be entered in a language other than English.


This is the ultimate for me when I think about what I would like students in my classroom to be successful in.  That is, successful in the English Medium (two cousins have masters, one has a degree in Philosophy and Anthropology etc.) but, they are not only bilingual speaking, but, bi-literate and able to write a script in their first language and create a movie in their first language.

This is what I hope for students in my classroom, through my inquiry.

As I knew this school had extremely strong practice with bilingual learners, my presentation was aimed more at bringing in digital pedagogies to strengthen this practice.  I briefly looked through my class site and showed the process of Learn, Create, Share with my target Reading group, with links to bilingual practices.

I was overwhelmed with the response I received from staff.  Teachers approached me with tears in their eyes, and warm hugs.  One teacher of woodwork talked with me about how he asks students to gift their 'creates' to family members, and we talked about how this comes from having deeper cultural understanding.  Another teacher was excited that she was not alone in having such enthusiasm for digital teaching and learning.  Many teachers expressed how they appreciated that I was a 'real' teacher, who literally had to be back in a classroom an hour later.  I was given an empathetic ear, when telling them about how sometimes when I talk about 'this sort of stuff,' eyes glaze over.

I was described as passionate about my inquiry.  Which I am!  But I have to thank them, as much as they were thanking me.  I felt emotional about their reactions and felt re-energized and motivated,  I felt that: yes! I am on the right track and that, although this is BIG - it's something that people would like to have more information about and continue to talk about.  For the benefit of our learners, who, are "Blessed with Bilingual Brains."

I am very fortunate to have a principal who was happy for me to share about my inquiry with another school and arrive to my next appointment later than usual!  The more I talk about it, the clearer it becomes, so I am also very thankful to the Principal of Finlayson Park Primary School - Shirley Maihi (QSM) for saying yes to Olivia, who heard me speak during her TESSOL class in the holidays, and agreeing to have me in at one of their staff meetings.

On a personal note:  Thank you to Finlayson Park Primary teachers... you made me feel so welcome and I honestly felt very inspired by you all when I left.  Thank you all and good luck on the digital journey!

A gift card I received:  Living and breathing their bilingual philosophies.
With principal Shirley Maihi and some of her wonderful staff at Finlayson Park Primary School.

Friday, 15 May 2015

MIT Update 4 - What Will Success Look Like? (In a nutshell)

The biggest challenge to this inquiry so far has been:  How do I share my thinking so that others can actually understand it and see value in it?  It is such an emotive topic for me that I catch myself ranting, while eyes glaze over.

So it was really helpful to be challenged with this question today at our second MIT teachers gathering today at Spark Headquarters; What will success look like for you at the end of this inquiry?

For me, it boils down to three things:

  • Accelerated achievement outcomes for the students in my target group in literacy.
  • A collection of lessons and resources that any other monolingual teacher can pick up and use or adapt.
  • Students who are gaining fluency and confidence - and finding value in - speaking two (or more) languages.
So the next steps for me now are:
  • Planning, implementing and evaluating lessons.
  • Capturing videos of students and their whanau talking about their experiences this year and what success is to them, and if this approach is responsive to their needs.
I have a good basis for measuring accelerated shifts with data, including e-asttle learning pathways and running records.

I read an interesting article today, written by people who I have been fortunate to learn from during my TESSOL studies.   It stated:

"...that bilingual children have academic success when connections are made: 
  1. between literacies and children’s identities 
  2. between children’s first language (L1) and their second language (L2) 
  3. with children’s L1 & L2 basic interpersonal communication skills (BICS) and cognitive academic language proficiency (CALP) 
  4. between pedagogical practice and children’s prior knowledge, allowing children to voice their languages in class rather than hiding them 
  5. with use of collaborative empowerment models to voice parents’ aspirations and expectations 
  6. for genuine ‘shared vision’ partnerships between the powerful and powerless, instead of tokenism. (See Aukuso, 1999; Cummins, 1981, 1987,1996, 2000; Esera, 2001; Hunkin-Tuiletufuga, 2001; Lambert, 1977; May, 2001 & 2002; May, Hill and Tiakiwai, 2004; McCaffery, 2000; McCaffery & Fuatai, 2002; McCaffery, Tuafuti et al. 2003; McCaffery & Tagilau McFall-McCaffery, 2010; Spolsky, 1989; Tuafuti & McCaffery, 2005; and Tuafuti, 2000, & 2010). "
These six things are basically what I am trying to implement in my classroom (and beyond) through my inquiry with the support and time gifted to me through this Manaiakalani Innovative Teachers initiative and Spark.  If I can achieve these six things or at least start dialogues about them, and use them as a basis for resources to share across the cluster, AND achieve accelerated outcomes, my inquiry will be successful.  

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Music to Support Literacy

Last week's lightbulb moment, hit me during our Writing of our class pourquoi story (see part 1 and part 2).  It was then that I realised (again), less is more.  It seems to be a recurring theme in this blog, of those moments where I feel like, when I simplify my practice, I get more from the students.  An example of this is in my Maths posts, where I talk about offering one problem instead of ten.

So, this week I kept to the same class myth about Maungarei.  I have planned for my classroom release teacher, who is a specialist Art teacher to create landscape paintings with Maungarei as the main focus, and I decided to focus on bringing music into the mix.

We started by watching (and more importantly, listening) to Peter and the Wolf.  A classic story that helped to guide our discussion of music supporting meaning in text.  These were the two videos that we watched.  The students actually liked the second shadow puppet one more, in particular, watching other students around their age, creating the shadows, so you might want to skip straight to that one, and miss out the disney version.

Students were asked to briefly describe what they noticed about the music and how it made them feel.  They completed this Google Presentation as part of this task:

Today's lesson, we started in the Music Room of our school, but you could extend this further and make your own instruments first.  We are fortunate to have a music room in our school.  We started by recapping Peter and the Wolf instruments and sounds and what mood those sounds set, or how those sounds supported the meaning of the story.  I used these prompt cards which I bought off Teachers-Pay-Teachers for $4USD.

We then quickly story-boarded our own story into 7 key scenes, which helped when dividing students into small groups.  

So students were put into 7 groups of 3 (I know, what a dream class size!) and first had to think about the scene they were in charge of, the mood they needed to set, and some possible instruments that would help them achieve this.  I quickly modelled the basic sounds of each instrument for students to get a taste (we aren't professional musicians, so it was all shaking and banging for today!).  They students were sent off into their groups to create their 'music' to suit their scene.

Students swapped from instrument to instrument to get the effect they wanted.  In 30 minutes, we had a simple soundtrack and audio book ready to share!  The students absolutely loved this learning experience.  Our next step is to put this soundtrack with the art that they create on Wednesday to make a mini movie.  The most important thing, is the repetition without boring.  They are not bored of this story yet, but have viewed it in five different settings.  They are reading, listening, viewing and creating, using this story over and over again and embedding their learning (we hope!).  

Please listen and enjoy our awesome creation.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Trialling Problem Based Maths in Room 9

This year, Tamaki Primary has ventured into problem based learning in Maths.  This is to address the needs of our learners, which is to be able to unpack, understand and solve written number problems.  Our students have good number knowledge (but definitely have number knowledge goals to continue with!), but when faced with written maths problems and the language of maths, are unequipped with strategies to solve them.  This is our job as educators, to enable students to have the skills to attack these problems.

We are currently working with Sue Pine and Lucie Cheeseman of Cognition, to develop problem based learning in our maths programme.  It is similar to Bobby Maths, I found out, when talking to a colleague at another school.

Initially, this process was daunting for me.  Bigger groups?  No explicit success criteria?  Fluid groups?  No page numbers and instructions?  How would I stay accountable?  What would that look like on a data analysis document?  Isn't that sad, that that is where my mind went to first?  Something to consider in itself...

I spent an hour with Sue in a planning session, where I identified a group I wanted to work with and then used her planning template to plan for this group.  Here is my plan that I developed from this session:

This was the problem I posed was the one in the photo below.  Based on this problem solving Level 2 task.  We adjusted it in our planning meeting, to meet the needs of the group as they were not really Level 1 students, but still required extra scaffolding, meaning we only wanted to focus on distance rather than calculating rests and times.

The question that was launched today
During the monitoring and sequencing, I was worried we would having nothing to guide our conversation, as students were tending to use similar strategies.  One student who I thought could go in a more challenging group, but who we decided should stay to help this group level up, had an interesting strategy and explained it in a way (in his own words) that helped the other students to realise that this was the more efficient strategy.  This highlighted the power of mixed ability grouping.

An example of student thinking
An example of student thinking
At the end of the lesson, students were able to identify that making a table instead of jumping up a number line was the most efficient strategy.  They also concluded that knowing your times-tables means you can quickly notice number patterns.  It was very exciting to see.  This lead into the second lesson, which was a lesson that was being observed by Sue and our SLT and other teachers!

Today I gathered in the same group and gave them a similar question.  We started with recapping our reflections from the day before.  Again, students were asked to work independently first, and then share their learning with a partner and then with the whole group.  The group sharing, carefully guided by my own observations of student strategies and the observations of Sue Pine.

This student identified the pattern at 3cm and was able to make connections to multiplication knowledge to calculate the rest.

This student noticed the pattern was increasing by 5cm at a time and was able to multiply 12 minutes by 5cm.

This student was still using a number line but could make connections to a written maths equation.

This student went from using a number line to skip counting in 5s and displaying this thinking using a table.

In the last part of the lesson - 'Connecting' Sue stepped in and lead the questioning.  This made me realise how closed many of my questions were.  I thought they were quite open, but when observing the way Sue lead the conversations, I realised that I still give answers to students too often, rather than leading them to realise their own answers.  In future, I am going to try and use the 'Talk Card' much more often.  The talk card is simply a book mark sized laminated card with teacher prompts on it such as "Can you tell me more...  Can someone tell me what so-and-so said... Can you rephrase what so-and-so said..."  Etc.  I will have this with me in lessons to help remind me to keep my teacher talk to a minimum and encourage more dialogic flow between the students.

A definite highlight was to see how far students had come in mathematical thinking in two lessons (two hours worth).  From jumping along a number line in twos, to making the connection to skip counting, to many coming up with an equation was really cool to see.  Some students still used a number line, but it was a fewer number than the day before, which was a positive thing to notice.  Many were trying to use a table which was identified as the most efficient strategy the lesson before, and a few were trying to notice the pattern earlier and use their times tables to calculate their final answer.  It made clear for me, the power of this approach to maths teaching, in particular, the connecting part at the end in which you bring everything together and then extend the mathematical thinking.

On a side note, it was nice as a 'syndicate leader' to be observed as often, we are the ones doing the observing.  I loved having the critical feedback and feedforward given and it was a great experience.