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Archive for May, 2009

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I am fortunate to be working with two talented Kinder teachers, Nicole and Romina, at St Peter Chanel, Regents Park, a suburb in south-western Sydney. This is what the learning space looks like for the kinder students. (Photo quality bit dodgy – took it with my phone!!) Exciting stuff!

When I visited last Thursday, the children were jumping out of their skins, they were so excited about what they were learning. One boy came up to me and actually jumped up and down on the spot repeatedly and with a huge grin, explained that they were making a billy-cart!!

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The two young teachers had set up about ten different learning centres, based on investigating how things move (Science for the rest of us). Each involved hands-on tasks (construction, mapping, drawing, manipulating different objects, sorting, classifying etc)  to find out how different objects moved or worked.

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The cliche “engagement ” is tossed around in many conversation about learning – but this Kinder really showed what engaged learning means.

Students were questioning, reasoning, sharing knowledge, posing problems, investigating solutions, challenging each others ideas, taking risks and doing this in a collaborative manner AND…..the rich language that was being used so purposefully by these students, was a delight to hear! Considering many of them have been learning English for no longer than 4 months, it was fascinating to hear them use more complex language structures to build on their knowledge and understanding.  Can I also say, there is no need for a social skills program when learning is as interesting as this!

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The best thing of  all was being able to see the joy, the love of learning emerge, in a totally uninhibited way.

While it may have looked “easy”, I know just how much work both Nicole and Romina had put into making the learning and the environment appear so cohesive. Hours and weeks were spent agonising over the layout of the learning enviroment. A term later, they feel they may have got it right.

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As for the investigative learning centres? That came about from LISTENING to the children interests as they began their unit on movement. One group of girls shared their interest in billy-carts. Most of the students didn’t know what a billy-cart was but they were really keen to find out. So they decided to investigate billy-carts, design one out of cardboard, find out how it works, hypothesise how fast it may move compared to other vehicles…..and presto, exciting learning was happening!

I happened to stumble into Kinder last Thursday when they were actually constructing a real billy-cart out with the help of two carpenter builders. BRILLIANT!!!

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So Nicole and Romina, I take my hat off to you both! I feel so privileged to be working with such dedicated and talented teachers.

Amen.

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Sorry 1

This is a photo taken by Julie which you can view on her fabulous blog, Sydney-Eye. You can also read her post about the fight for recognition undertaken by Australia’s indigenous people. Just incredible to realise that it wasn’t that long ago that Aboriginal people were not recognised as citizens of Australia…..yes, the original inhabitants of this land were denied this basic human right until 1967. Unbelievable!!

Have we really progressed much further in how we view our indigenous people?

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NRWgraphicA

Each year National Reconciliation Week (NRW) celebrates the rich culture and history of the First Australians. It is the ideal time for everyone to join the reconciliation conversation and to think about how we can help turn around the disadvantage experienced by many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Check out the National Reconciliation website for more information and ideas on how you can get involved. Essential resource for any teacher.

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Time out.

autumn

Took some time out in Melbourne recently. It really comes into its own during autumn. Great cafe culture too. I sat in many cafes and watched the world pass by – always with a glass of good Aussie wine in hand.Bliss!

Back to the grind this week……seems so long ago….

bliss

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It’s been a while since I visited Jane Hart’s “E Learning Pick of the Day.” This is one of her latest offerings. She always explains the latest technological tools in user-friendly terms that even I can understand!!

This slideshow highlights her top 25 tools for learning. How many do you use or at least know about? I was pleased to see that I use quite a few. I was also reminded about some I have neglected.

But there is one tool listed that still mystifies me. Twitter. What’s all the fuss about? I have used it. And am bored with it. Maybe Twitter’s hijacking by celebrities has turned me off. Dunno.

Can anyone tell me why Twitter is so hyped?

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Young teachers

2495957951_60223865da_mWhile browsing ABC News online, I came across a report about the number of young teachers leaving the profession within their first four years of teaching. It was obviously meant to sound alarming. Couldn’t quite make sense of the different figures quoted in the report though.

Made me think about the many young teachers I worked with this week. Some were visiting schools as part of their university undergraduate course, while others were practicing teachers participating in professional learning I was facilitating.

They were all idealistic, enthusiastic, bubbling with ideas and questions, but above all, committed to teaching as a profession. So if the report is right, some of the young  teachers I met this week, won’t be in the job in four years time. Why?

It’s certainly nothing new – teachers leaving to pursue other professions or life experiences. AND it is not just in teaching that this occurs. But it does ask the question, what can we do better in supporting our young teachers?

Quality mentoring and Induction programs are important in supporting young teachers. In my experience, this seems to be very ad hoc, at least in the system of schools I work in. It requires a lot of time, effort and patience on behalf of the more experienced teachers and school leadership teams who lead the mentoring/induction process. If there is one.

There’s also something to be said for increasing opportunities during undergraduate studies for these young teachers to actually work alongside teachers in a classroom for  extensive periods of time. Nothing brings the reality of teaching into focus like a “prac” (teaching practice block) does!! I think this apprenticeship model can be highly effective as long as mentoring and/or supervisory structures are in place to support it.

I have to say I was highly energised and stimulated by the young teachers I worked with this week. My view of myself as a learner and of teaching generally, is both challenged and affirmed when I  interact with them.

We have a lot to learn from them. Let’s hope we can encourage more to stay in the teaching profession.

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35316635_8f5e9d143f_mThat’s what my 10 year old nephew Tom thought of the recent NAPLAN test (national literacy and numeracy tests across Australia) that he sat in Year 5. His younger sister, Ellie, who sat the Year 3 version, had similar thoughts. She said in a flat montone (so unlike her!)

It was hard!

They both attend a small 3 teacher rural public school  – and they love it! The school community is close-knit, the learning is both purposeful and fun, the realtionship between the teachers and students is respectful and positive and they have access to all the latest technology. Brilliant!

So why were they so dispirited about NAPLAN? Was it the nature of the test itself? Or is it more to do with the conditions of testing – children having to behave in a very different way from how they learn. Not collaborating or talking about their learning, sitting quietly for long periods of time, trying to comprehend what the question is asking, unassisted?

Yes I do understand the nature of standardised testing – conditions must be the same for all students so the data gathered is valid. I get that. I also get the point that these tests can give good diagnostic data to both schools and parents about students that can inform future learning and teaching. So why are they often used as achievement tests? That is not their purpose.

2069506527_ad038fa780_mBut what about the effect they can have on a child’s disposition for learning? Take Ellie. She has always loved school, revelled in learning new things, and felt OK about herself as a learner. She is a lively, animated child who is passionate about a lot of things. So when she spoke to me last night in a deadpan voice, I couldn’t help but feel dismayed.

Given the nature of the school community she attends, I have the utmost confidence that her teachers will put it all in perspective for Ellie, Tom and the other students. The teachers will continue to foster a love of learning in the sudents, they will continue to challenge Tom, Ellie and the other students to strive for the best and put NAPLAN in perspective.

It is one test. It happens in one week in May. It provides useful data about a student’s performance. As does other assessment that occurs on a daily, weekly basis in the classroom.

As long as we, the teachers and parents,  keep NAPLAN in perspective, children like Tom and Ellie will also see it that way. What we do with the data  and what we do to prepare out students (and I don’t mean spending a term on “getting ready” for NAPLAN…..after all, we want the data to be valid!) is important.

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