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Friday, 31 July 2015

What is school?

Lately, I've been pondering this great shift in education and life and my life and the lives of my students, and structures and organisations and goals and the future....  I get a bit like this from time to time...

It started with a conversation with a student in my class.  He is currently 10 years old, with the reading age of 6.5years.  He is a kind hearted and generous soul who has a very caring family.  On culture day, he wore a korowai his mum handmade for him and a tiki necklace his aunty made for him.

He is also obsessed with tamoko and tattoo.  Like, literally draws all up his arm.

I thought to myself - what is my purpose in life?  In his life?  To help students learn - but to learn what?

I said to this boy, "When I am an old nanny and I've learned te reo, I want to come find you and I want you to do my tamoko.  Promise?"  The look in his eyes was (cliche teacher moment) happiness.  I felt that he'd probably been used to being told he is underachieving and leaving the room to work with teacher aides.

What is our purpose?  Is it solely to get students to certain levels?

If I can help students become positive, contributing citizens... I will be happy.

If this boy, leaves school with a reading age of 10 or 12, but gets himself a tatooing kit, puts together a portfolio of drawings and gets an apprenticeship in a tattoo parlour and makes $300 per tattoo (per hour) and travels the world to tattoo conventions and blesses people with the taonga of tamoko...I'll be happy.

This doesn't mean I will stop teaching him how to read.

It just means that we'll talk about tattooing and I will let him draw when he finishes his work early and I will keep reminding him of his promise to me when I'm an old kuia.

Then our senior manager played this video at a staff meeting:

To be a child's champion is to help them build a positive vision of their future self.  Unfortunately for some of our students, we don't have much time to do this because a negative future self has been so engrained in their mind sets.  

What is school?  Why are we here?  What will the future hold?  

My friend currently withdrew her child from traditional schooling and has decided to homeschool her child.  The straw that broke the horses back was her son coming home describing how his teacher told him off for writing differently to others in the class.  Instead of drawing the picture at the top of the page, then writing on the lines, he liked to write a sentence or so, then draw a little picture next to his words to illustrate what happened and then write some more and then draw another little picture etc.  The teacher said that that is not how it's done.  

Really?  Is that what the most important thing is for us as teachers?  How a child sets up their book?  Never mind the data that repeatedly describes boys as underachieving in writing.  This child is 6.  This attitude would have probably shaped his approach to writing for the remaining years in this system.  Luckily for him, not any more.

To be honest - I couldn't be more happy for her or my friend or her child.  A completely child centred approach.  With him, genuinely leading the way with his interests.  As a teacher, I think my friend was unsure how I'd react, but I said, "If we could give every child that kind of programme that you will be able to give your son, we would.  But we can't."  ...can we?

Back to my tattoo obsessed student... I think I'm going to invite some of my tattoo artist friends, or, wouldn't it be cool to get a tattoo in front of the student?  The artist could talk about hygiene protocols, the steps for accurate drawing, the tikanga of tamoko and meanings behind symbols...the students could ask them about the career pathway and take photos and respond to the experience in writing.

This is one student...but I have 22.  So how can we provide this type of schooling for our students?

I feel that there is going to be a big shift in teaching and learning over the next 10 years - or at least I hope so.  I think our students deserve the best and they deserve a champion who will help them discover and follow their passions.  Teaching is about relationships.  What relationships are we building, promoting, modelling, inspiring in our students?

You know what this post needs now....

Watch and Learn...

As part of our coaching/mentoring/leadership expectations, syndicate leaders are expected to observe team members and co-construct learning goals with them.  These goals then help to inform lessons for the syndicate leader to model in future.

This morning I observed a colleague for Maths and Reading.  I love these opportunities, but it is always important to remember that anyone can pick apart someone else's lesson.  Especially, as we know, no lesson is ever 100% perfect.

So when giving feedback and feedforward, I always try to think of the practitioner and learners holistically.  What is the background of the teacher?  What is the background of the students?  What time of day is it?  What day of the week is it?  How long have they been learning about a certain concept?  etc etc...

Another thing I like to keep in mind is that we are trying to encourage staff that have a growth mindset.  That means, growing staff who feel safe to take risks in their teaching and to take on feedback as a means of strengthening their practice, not condemning it.  Of course we need to be honest, but we don't need to destroy souls!  Teachers are humans!

One really cool thing I saw today, was the way a teacher introduced creating questions.  This was the first lesson in a series that would go into research skills.  This teacher asked students to record their prior knowledge about a favourite sport (our current inquiry is based around games).  From these bullet points, the teacher encouraged them to use question starters to extend their prior knowledge through questioning.

Teacher:  "We know there are world cups, but what don't we know?"
Students:  "WHEN was the first world cup?  Where did the first world cup take place?  Who has won the most world cups?  How do countries enter the world cup?  Why do we have world cups?"

It was such a simple, yet effective strategy and one that I am definitely going to try out in my own class!

Another cool thing I saw today, was the explicit teaching of a google search.  The teacher literally said:

"The blue writing is the link to the site.
The green writing is the URL.
The grey/black writing is the synopsis -what is a synopsis?  A synopsis is a little description about what you will see on the site.  Let's read some of these synopsis.  Do we need to click on that link?  No?  Why?  The information is irrelevant to our research."

Again, so simple but SO effective!  The students were using language like "Mr, that's not a good site because the synopsis said..."  Or "Mr, that's why you have to check more than one site if you don't believe the information."

Observations are great opportunities for learning.  Not only for the teacher being observed, but the teacher observing.  I am lucky to be in this position to be given the opportunities to observe and learn from others in a school that values and encourages a growth mindset and growing teachers to be the best they can be.

Thank you to Steffan Minton for allowing me to come into your class this morning and giving me another technique for teaching questioning and researching!

Steffan also has a blog, so to read more about his teaching and learning journey, you can click here.

Monday, 20 July 2015

MIT Update 9 - Kia Hapiripiri Te Reo (Making Language Sticky)

These holidays, I went to the Core Edventure looking at language acquisition of Maori through a digital space.

This fit in with my inquiry of English language acquisition and first language maintenance through a digital space.

The entire day was delivered in Te Reo.  This was both overwhelming for me, but also, energising!  I found out first hand, what it was to be a second language learner in an education setting.

Props to the pedagogy of the presenters, as there was no time throughout the day that I felt like I was stupid, or that I could not contribute.  Perhaps this was because I was confident in my prior knowledge and was confident enough in my first language to apply conceptual understandings, to unlock visual clues and clues given through body language.

I'm torn, because this blog post could be very long if I were to write every single highlight down... but I don't want to undersell the event.  I want my words to be a balance of informative and thankful...  I have thought about this and have narrowed it down (VERY difficult) to some key learnings...

Cyber Smarts and Tikanga Maori

One key learning was the idea of building values that we learn on the Marae and embedding those beliefs into our behaviour online.  This aligns with our Manaiakalani Smart Values, but also, our general ideals that we try and teach our young ones about - that online behaviour should be the same as offline behaviour:  respectful, something you would be proud of, kind and keep you connected to others in a positive way.  Just like on a our marae or in our families.  The facilitator gave an example from one of my blogs, which I was pretty chuffed about!  Here were some of those examples.

This is definitely something I will try to continue to do in my classroom.  Making the links clear between offline and online behaviour, supported by our own school values and/or the values within tikanga Maori.

Learn, Create, Share

I realised that the facilitators also followed this same pedagogical approach.  This allowed for plenty of talk, collaboration, creation, creativity, fun and engagement.  It also meant we were accountable for our learning.

I experienced being in a group, having little idea of what was being discussed!  I threw myself into the deep end and set myself the task of 'scribe' so I could feel like I was contributing in some way!  Here are some photos from this experience!

 this task we had to take a big idea and write a song/poem/role play explaining the key ideas.
In another task we had to create a song about a letter in the alphabet and then create a DLO to share the song.  Lastly we worked in a collaborative google presentation to identify and describe apps that afford rewindable learning.

It was affirming to see that this way of teaching and learning supported language acquisition.

Building Mana

Because I am also interested in building up our students' sense of belonging and identity...  I was introduced to some online tools to do this too!  These are just five from the day that I noted down, and that I found memorable!

Link Here

Just as important as the English 'High Frequency Words' equivalent. This list gives those learning Te Reo Maori a good base to start from.

Link Here

A cohesive list of 21st century language vocabulary in English and Te Reo Maori. Words we can start using TODAY!

Link Here

Building a sense of turanga waewae and belonging can all start here! I loved finding my tiny little Marae!


A website with access to resources, research, news and external suggested language learning links!


An English Medium site, that could be used for language development e.g. I am going to use this this term to learn and describe parts of the body (tinana).  Very fun and something memorable from my day.

Overall, I found this a very valuable day and I had so much learning!  I can't wait to start implementing some of these ideas in to my classroom teaching!

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

MIT Update 8 - This is the WHAT

The hardest thing about this inquiry for me has been explaining it in a way that makes sense to myself and others.

This reflective video might help to simplify what I am doing in the classroom.  Hopefully this will look do-able and spark ideas for your own lessons aimed at weaving together the bilingual space with the digital space.

The basis of my inquiry can be summarised in this graphic:

Click here for full google presentation

And this latest video might help to put this slide into context...

If you have been following my inquiry, I hope this post is helpful for you in understanding what it looks like in the classroom - backed up by all my Tame Iti obsession and talk which is the reasoning of why I am trying to do it.

Next week I am attending the Edventure held at Unitec about the acquisition of Te Reo Maori in a digital space.  I am really looking forward to that, and will definitely blog about my key learnings.