Early this year my car radio decided to quit and I haven’t had chance to fix it yet. Given I work an hour away from home, this could make for some very long and boring commutes to and from school. Luckily there are a whole range of interesting and informative podcasts that I’ve managed to track down, and I thought I’d start to compile a list of suitable educational ones here on this blog.
Are there any educational podcasts that you love? I’d like to keep expanding on this list so please let me know!
Wait. What do you mean it’s Week 4 already?
This term feels like it has gone from nought to a hundred in less than 0.25 seconds. And it’s not slowing down…
As many readers of this blog would know, I made the move to Sydney at the end of the last school year. 2015 has brought with it a new city, new job(s), new school(s), new colleagues, new kids, new system, new processes…new just about everything. Needless to say my head’s been left in a bit of a spin at times.
Today provided a great opportunity to take a breather and take stock of what’s happened so far and the direction in which my role as a secondary EAL/D teacher in a Catholic girls’ school in the south-west of Sydney is headed. A cross-regional EAL/D Induction Day offered the chance to meet key contacts within CEO Sydney and other new EAL/D teachers, to generate greater clarity about our role description and to engage with a range of resources.
Some of these resources were the same as ones I had engaged with in Adelaide, but many are different. Some are designed specifically for EAL/D specialist teachers, and others are for mainstream classroom teachers. The fact that EAL/D strategies are effective for all students in a mainstream classroom is something of which I have become acutely aware in my time as a specialist teacher in Adelaide. However, the cultural demographics I am working within Sydney’s south-west have truly reaffirmed this in a very short amount of time. In a school where roughly 70% of the girls are identified as LBOTE or ESL, it is simply impossible for an EAL/D teacher with a 0.6 FTE allocation to offer direct support to every student. Therefore the role of the classroom teacher in developing the language and literacy levels of the students is of the utmost importance.
So here are some resources that have helped me on my short, yet information-packed journey within CEO Sydney so far and that would serve both specialist and mainstream teachers very well in the work with LBOTE and EAL/D students…
Written by the team at CEO Sydney, this book provides definitions of roles, strategies for identifying and assessing EAL/D students and for supporting them in the mainstream classes, suggestions for effective practice for EAL/D practitioners. Whilst the language of ESL is still used, chapters are being updated throughout 2015 to align with the language of the Australian Curriculum. The content, however, remains fantastic and useful for teachers of EAL/D in any state. Available to order at the CEO Sydney Bookshop.
A document specifying the characteristics and behaviours of EAL/D students as they progress in their language development. It has been used since the 1990s, and the South Australian Language and Literacy Levels document has developed from this and the ACARA documentation. Available at the CEO Sydney Bookshop.
Overview, advice, EAL/D learning progression, annotated content descriptors for English, Maths, Science and History, and student illustrations of the learning progression. Created specifically for mainstream classroom teachers. Available here.
CEO Sydney’s online learning modules for individual teachers, school groups and leadership.
Twitter Hashtag #ealdconnect
A handle for EAL/D teachers to connect and discuss learning on Twitter.
This blog is titled ‘Teaching as Learning’ for a reason. I adamantly subscribe to the view that to be an effective teacher, one must also be an effective learner.
Yet, in conversations with colleagues, I notice that teachers often find a tension between their need for on-going professional development, and the fact that it takes them out of the classroom “too much.” This concern is completely understandable, but I do not believe it is completely true.
A range of professional development opportunities have come my way over the last few years, many of which have taken me out of the classroom for one or two days per term – sometimes more. This year will be no different. I am very fortunate to work for a leadership team who are supportive of this and happy to accommodate the fact that I will be away on certain days each term, because ultimately the school and – most importantly – the students benefit from involvement in these programs.
This is, of course, a huge commitment for any teacher, and there is always the worry that we are doing our students a disservice. However, I would argue that we are doing our students a disservice if we don’t take the time out occasionally to engage in training that is relevant and meaningful, and fits in with the direction that the school is taking in its approach to teaching and learning. Time spent out on such courses enhances the quality of our teaching when we are in the classroom. It improves our ability to support colleagues in their own teaching and professional learning, and it improves our own self-efficacy. The YouTube clip below from AITSL illustrates perfectly the idea that everybody involved in the school community thrives when there is a culture of learning, an important part of which is the modeling of learning by the teachers themselves!
It is crucial, however, that teachers take responsibility for their own professional learning. We cannot expect opportunities to simply fall into our laps if we do not seek them out and pursue clear, defined professional goals. The AITSL National Professional Standards for Teachers provide an incredibly useful framework for on-going self-evaluation and reflection, identifying areas of need for professional development, and goal setting.
And, just for a giggle from one of my favourite comic strips to finish off:
Image source website: http://scientificteacher.com/category/professional-development/
Today saw a spike in attendance at the ASFLA Conference as literacy educators, teacher trainers and linguists from across the country converged on the ACU for Teachers Day. Whilst Tuesday had focused much more on academic research into SFL, today was more about its application in educational settings.
Beverly Derewianka opened the day with a key note address titled ‘Developing an informed appreciation of literary texts.’ Her work demonstrated a practical application of some of the work presented by Frances Christie yesterday. The learning acquired from Christie’s presentation about semantic waves, semantic gravity and semantic density was put into practice as Derewianka explored how a Year 4 and Year 6 teacher developed student appreciation and written responses using the picture book ‘The Coat.’ A lot of the work we have been doing in our own school has been based on Derewianka’s book ‘A New Grammar Companion for Teachers’ so it was very reaffirming to clarify and build on previous understandings and applications.
Immediately after the key note it was our turn to present our unit Functional Fiction: developing narrative language in the middle years. Despite some nerves, there was a renewed sense of confidence when we realised our presentation linked so well with Derewianka’s and when we noticed the room begin to fill with people. The workshop ran more smoothly than we could have hoped, and feedback was both positive and constructive.
After morning tea, I attended a workshop run by Sally Humphrey and Tina Sharpe from the ACU, and a number of schools with whom they have been working closely to implement the 4 x 4 Toolkit for teachers to support student in developing written language skills. Feedback from the three Catholic schools and two government schools involved in the program was extremely positive, and it was interesting to hear that many of them had been using Reading to Learn and 4 x 4 in conjunction with each other to develop students’ ability to read for and write with meaning.
Today’s second key note speaker was Mary Macken-Hararik who explored the fact that the Australian Curriculum now requires that all teachers have a knowledge about language that is “portable and cumulative”. This challenges professional expertise in that it is very common for secondary teachers to have little or no training in teaching language and literacy, making it difficult for them to truly address the literacy needs required in their subject areas. Macken-Hararik’s paper focused on a project investigating a shared grammatics for school English and how the teachers involved applied new learning in their classrooms to improve student literacy outcomes.
The final workshop I attended was by Imogene Cochrane, an early career teacher who presented a project on behalf of a small team of educators from Erskineville Public School. She and her colleagues have been teaching grammar to their early primary students using a games-based pedagogy. Cochrane’s approach integrates the language, literacy and literature strands of the Australian Curriculum by helping students to engage with grammar in fun but meaningful ways, building their meta-language to be able to explain and manipulate their language choices, even at a very young age.
Teachers Day concluded with a third key note address from Brian Dare and John Polias from Lexis Education. The writers of “How Language Works” presented a two part discussion demonstrating how knowledge about language can be applied in teaching and learning. Dare and Polias emphasised the importance of an explicit language-based pedagogy across the curriculum in primary and secondary schools using examples from their own mentoring work with teachers both in Australia and in Hong Kong. There was explicit discussion of how we can scaffold the genres students are required to produce in a range of subject areas, before Polias explored how language, visuals and mathematics must work together in equal relationship to form texts in the Science Learning Area.
A jam-packed but stimulating program, Teachers Day provided many practical strategies grounded firmly in SFL that schools and teachers can adapt to their own context. As a teacher, I value PD most when I leave with the sense that I have gained new knowledge, understandings and strategies that I can begin to implement almost straightaway in my classroom or in my general practice as an educator. Today was certainly one of those PD days.
This afternoon I was fortunate enough to be present at the launch of Composing Written Texts: Across the Australian Curriculum F – 6. This fantastic resource, aimed at a national audience, represents several years of work from Beverley White, Anne Hamilton, and Kylie Pedler from Catholic Education SA and Bronwyn Custance from the Department for Education and Child Development.
The book is a practical manual for classroom teachers to support the scaffolding of written language in English, Science, History and Mathematics. The writers set out to provide “written models that illustrate the language features for particular genres at specific stages of linguistic development” (White & Hamilton 2013, p. 5). They have drawn upon genre maps to determine which genres students are expected to write at each year level in the Australian Curriculum. They have then developed writing samples for each genre which reflect the AC’s expectation of linguistic capacity at each year level. Each year level and genre is aligned not only to the Australian Curriculum, but also to DECD’s 2012 Language and Literacy Levels across the Australian Curriculum: EALD which have replaced the former ESL Scales and “describe the development of language and literacy needed across the year levels to access and demonstrate curriculum knowledge, skills and understandings for all learning areas” (DECD 2012, in White & Hamilton 2013, p. 6). Hence, the content of the book is relevant to all students in a mainstream or EAL classroom.
It is important to note at this point that while the resource draws heavily on functional grammar, it is not a guide to functional grammar and does not offer further explanation of terms other than in the glossary. That is not its purpose, although it provides references for those who do wish to learn more about the linguistic theory that underpins the work.
Structurally, Composing Written Texts is divided into year levels Foundation to Year 6. Annotated samples of the genres expected at each year level are found within the sections. These annotations include details about text cohesion, text structure, grammar and word knowledge, which are features described in the Language and Literacy Levels. Immediately following the annotated samples are practical suggestions for scaffolding the learning of students at this stage in their development. The scaffolding is structured around the following teaching and learning cycle:
This cycle allows teachers and learners to engage in a continual process of assessment for learning, and provides the flexibility necessary for differentiation of learning at any point depending on student needs.
Finally, at the end of each sample, specific links are made to the Australian Curriculum for English, Mathematics, Science and History to demonstrate where these units of work meet AC requirements.
This edition of the resource only covers Foundation to Year 6, but there were whispers at the launch today of an edition covering the scaffolding of writing from Year 7 to Year 10 (where the Australian Curriculum stops and the South Australian Certificate of Education begins). This would take some time to develop, but as a secondary teacher I am excited about the possibilities. Having said this, I still think that Composing Written Texts: Across the Australian Curriculum F – 6 is an incredibly useful resource for secondary teachers. It is a reality that we do have students working at the language levels that are explored in the book. This may be for any number of reasons, but regardless of what those are we must meet these students where they are at and work to move them up the levels. Composing Written Texts provides a practical guide for doing so that I will certainly draw upon in my role as both an EAL teacher and a mainstream classroom teacher in a secondary setting.
Today I took a moment in between creating online modules for my classes, and I realised that my teaching is different now from what it was this time last year. I’m not talking about slightly different – I mean completely different. And this is largely due to technology.
So I started to think about the metaphorical journey I have travelled so far with educational technology. It really began when our school introduced laptops for Year 9s up at the beginning of last year. I was really excited about having this technology but wasn’t really sure about where to begin with implementing it effectively in the classroom. This produced a huge challenge with a class of Year 9s who wanted to use their laptops (mainly for playing the numerous games they had quickly uploaded on to them) and a teacher who had a vision for what she wanted in the classroom, but wasn’t sure how to go about achieving it.
Then in October of 2012, I was fortunate enough to attend a full day workshop with George Couros, The Division Principal of Innovative Teaching and Learning for the Parkland School Division in Alberta, Canada. Here I was introduced to the use of Google Chrome, Twitter and Blogging for education. Inspired by George’s workshop, I set up my Twitter account and started to build my Professional Learning Network (PLN), connecting with other teachers and institutions at local, interstate and international levels. This has allowed me to participate in engaging professional discussion, pose questions, and draw on others for ideas about how to improve my practise. (As an aside- I highly recommend following @gcouros, @TeacherTechnol and @EduTweetOz – among many, many others – if you are looking at setting up your own PLN on Twitter) I also set up this blog to reflect on my personal learning, both in and out of the classroom.
Yet, once I’d learnt to navigate the world of Twitter and blogging, I needed more. In my opinion, it is not enough to connect with others if there is no tangible change in my classroom. So I spent some time over the summer holidays exploring the use of the online learning management system Edmodo and planning a class blog for my Year 8 pastoral care group. This is their space where they can reflect on their learning and share it with their parents, and other students and teachers. It took some time to digitalise my resources, create new, more meaningful resources and get the students and their parents accustomed to Edmodo, but once the inevitable teething problems were resolved, it went from strength to strength.
My next aim was for my students to use the digital technologies available to them to connect at a deeper level with their learning and to create their own online content, rather than simply being consumers of online content. The current generation is often described as ‘digital natives’, but I’m not sure that that description is entirely accurate. Our students have grown up with technology as a way life – but more often than not it is used to consume, rather than reimagine, reinvent and create. I believe it is the higher order thinking behind synthesis and creativity that defines the digital native.
Our school is now 1:1 laptop across the entire College, so this year my Year 8s have technology at their fingertips – and many of them only knew how to word process, create a Powerpoint presentation and search the internet. So we started small, using online tools such as Padlet to share ideas and brainstorms. A colleague and I then built on this by running simultaneous Year 8 Religion lessons where the students had to work in groups and then share their learning with their peers in both classes via a Padlet wall.
Our next step will be to involve the students in an inquiry-based project that will require them not only to engage with the digital content created by others, but to work in groups to analyse, reflect, synthesise and create their own content using the knowledge they themselves construct and the opinions they develop.
I have said it before, but my iPad has also been crucial to transforming the way I teach and my students learn. For example, the app Explain Everything has allowed me to create videos that explain and demonstrate concepts and pose questions to the students which I can then post on to the YouTube channel and playlists that I have created for them. I have recently extended this to setting up the subject specific blogs English Excel and Italian Like a Boss, as well as the creation of apps for Apple and Android devices that are linked to the blogs – http://myapp.is/EnglishExcel (on the right in the photo below) and http://myapp.is/ItalianLikeABoss (on the left of the photo). The apps are designed to give students and teachers access to a range of online learning opportunities. Users can link to the blogs, to video tutorials, and to news and podcasts, among other resources. The Italian Like A Boss app will provide a useful platform for our Year 10 and 11 students to communicate their experience with their peers, parents and teachers back at the school through the app and the blog, as well as connecting with others to enhance their learning in a meaningful way. Their learning is more mobile, accessible and relevant to their everyday lives than ever before and will hopefully continue to become even more so!
So this is my journey with educational technology so far. It is by no means complete and certainly not without its challenges. But it has transformed me into a very different teacher from the one I was at the beginning of October last year. There are certainly lots of things I have had to take into consideration, and one thing I firmly believe is that technology is the tool to facilitate and enhance the learning and not the end point. If students are simply learning about the technology then it is not being used effectively. Of course, there will inevitably be some of this, but it shouldn’t be the central focus. The central focus should be the knowledge that students construct through the use of this tool – and not simply for research (i.e. “googling”) or basic word processing! Students should be creating things with the technology that they could not do with pen and paper.
For those who feel like the integration of technology into the classroom is an enormous mountain to climb – it may well be. But if you start small and take it one step at a time, just like we ask students to do, then eventually that one thing you have learnt becomes second nature and you can build on it. You’ll be amazed how quickly it can transform your teaching.
I’ll leave you with this clip that I first saw at George Couros’s workshop. It certainly demonstrates how I – and I am sure others – felt at the beginning of this journey.
I’ve been spending some time today reading and researching for a paper that focuses on the connection between constructivist theories and the idea of ‘connectivism’ – almost a form of constructivism for the digital age. After wearying of reading, I decided to search TED talks for some practical and engaging discussions based one or both of these theories. As usual, TED provided some gems:
1. Kiran Bir Sethi teaches kids to take charge
Working on the principles of building awareness, enabling and empowerment Sethi’s students learnt the value of acknowledging ‘I can’ to help them construct knowledge and connect with others to solve community issues – learning by doing. Improvements were seen in the students’ academic performance as well as their social activism.
2. Sugata Mitra: The child-driven education
“Children will learn to do what they want to learn to do.”
Sugata Mitra explains his “Hole in the Wall” project, the results of which demonstrated that in an environment that stimulates curiosity, children will learn effectively through self-instruction and peer-shared knowledge. Mitra and his students achieved some amazing things by connecting with each other and with teachers and learners across the globe. He proposes a self-organising system of learning – one in which the system structure appears without explicit intervention from outside the system (i.e., teacher acts as a ‘guide on the side’ not a ‘sage on the stage’, allowing students to construct and own the learning).
Constructivist theories allow students to engage in authentic and meaningful learning, as demonstrated in exceptional ways by Sethi and Mitra. It is not necessarily about the teacher simply standing off to the side and giving learners absolute free range, but it does redefine the roles and responsibilities of teachers and students. What I am now interested in exploring is how social media and other networks can contribute to this learning to create a form of constructivism that is even more “connected” than ever before. One that helps students to be the “owners” of their own learning and to engage with and implement solutions for real-world problems, thereby empowering them to be the leaders of the future.
Over the past few months I have been doing some serious reflection on how the ways in which students learn and the strategies I use to teach have been changed and shaped by increasing access to technology. But something that hadn’t crossed my mind until very recently (although now it seems blatantly obvious) is that technology is also significantly changing the ways that adults learn!
I am an advocate for continued and life-long learning. I have always enjoyed learning and I know that I do my best work with my students at school when I am also actively engaged in some form of study that is relevant to my job.
It was whilst sitting in a Professional Development course recently that I caught my mind wandering. Chastising myself, I drew my attention back to the presenter. But I just. Couldn’t. Keep. It. There.
This particular course was packed with information that I believe is crucial for all educators to be aware of. The presenter was lovely and generous with her explanations and advice. But it was the delivery – which consisted of an out-of-date powerpoint and three hours of talking, with a couple of activities or videos filmed in the 1990s thrown in every now and then – that I struggled with.
Now, as an adult learner I do not expect a course presenter to entertain me with an interpretive dance reflecting the content that they need to get across. I understand that there are some topics that will interest me less than others. But as I sat in this course, which was packed with information that I would usually be engrossed in, I did start to question how I could be so incredibly engaged in some courses that run for a whole day, but struggle to keep my mind focused on others for just a couple of hours.
That’s when I realised that the courses that I engage with the most as an adult learner are those that allow me to explore concepts, question them, play around with them, discuss them with colleagues, apply them in authentic contexts, and come to my own conclusions (or if not conclusions, questions that I would like to explore further on my own). Could it just be a coincidence that these are also the learning opportunities that I notice my students engage with and learn the most from? I think not.These are the courses that truly inspire me and improve my teaching practice.
Reading straight from a powerpoint doesn’t cut it for me as a learner anymore. Providing opportunities to connect with other people and information both in the room and in the outside community does. Let me engage with the course both in person (I still believe that the importance of face-to-face interaction is not to be devalued) and online. Let me tweet, blog, search for information, ask you and my colleagues questions about things I haven’t fully understood. But please, do not just tell me what is on the powerpoint. I can read that myself.
Everyone learns differently, but let’s face it, it’s not only our students who are increasingly connected with each other and with information via technology. Adults are too. And it is changing the way we do things and process information. It is crucial that educational training providers recognise this and change their practices accordingly because the effect of technology on the learning of all generations is probably only going to increase.
Over the past two years our school has been involved with an action research project run by Curtin University in Western Australia. The project examines classroom climate by surveying students about their actual perceptions of the classroom environment and how they would prefer the environment to be. Individual teachers receive the results and have a set period of time to reflect on them and plan and implement changes in their classroom. The survey is then readministered and the final results compared to the initial ones.
Last year the project was voluntary and around 30 teaching staff opted to participate. This year all teachers are required to participate and the Curtin University staff are currently in Adelaide to administer the initial surveys. We will then gather in our Curriculum Teams (groups formed around shared learning groups, not necessarily faculties), and engage in a process of active collaborative reflective practice as we plan for how we will improve our own classroom environments.
Today in Lesson 6 was my turn for my Year 8 key class to complete the survey about my classes. I will be honest, I was a tad nervous. Part of me wanted to peek over their shoulders and sneak a look at their responses – but I didn’t. When they asked me questions to clarify meanings (some of the language is a little difficult for Year 8s) I kept my eyes glued solely on the question they were referring to. I won’t lie – that wasn’t easy.
This taught me something about my relationship with them that perhaps until now had been recognised mostly subconsciously. I WANT them to like me. It sounds like such an adolescent thing to express, but I do. And I doubt any teacher would disagree. We don’t want to feel that a group of kids dislikes us – either personally or as a professional. Of course I recognise that some people will not be my biggest fans and that’s okay. But I hope they make a balanced judgment on that and that we can still have a mutual respect for each other.
But let’s face it, education is mostly about relationships and this goes as much for teachers as it does for students. And as nervous as I was about them completing this survey about my classes, I realise that this gives my students more of a voice in an English classroom that is largely dictated by what the current curriculum tells us we need to cram into the school year. One of my goals this year is to help my students take ownership of their learning, and this survey is one avenue to help them do so.
As for the slight sense of judgement I was feeling as they filled in their online tick boxes – well, to be fair, don’t I make judgments about them every day regarding their attitude, progress and abilities? It’s only fair that they get to respectfully tell me how they perceive my classes. Yes, they’re only twelve or thirteen and have no formal training in ‘quality teaching’ – but they are the ones currently experiencing what it means to ‘get an education” and whilst I will take their feedback with a grain of salt, they deserve to be listened to.
I will continue to post my reflections as the project progresses.
As one year draws to a close, I am already beginning to contemplate what my classroom will look like and how it will run next year. I have mentioned before that our school is completing its transition to being a 1:1 laptop school next year. This will change things tremendously for us as teachers of students who have a wealth of information at their fingertips. One of our roles will be to educate them about digital citizenship and how to most effectively use these resources.
The move will also affect how we present content. I want my students to use their laptops to their best possible advantage – connecting with and learning from their peers both locally and globally. I do not want them simply using their computers to do the same things they could do with a paper and pencil. What a waste of the powerful technology being made available to us.
A solution to this is the idea of the ‘Flipped Classroom’, where students learn concepts and content at home through notes and video tutorials, and do activities that are traditionally set for homework in class with the opportunity for greater face-to-face time with their teacher. I have already started to create video tutorials that I will be able to use next year (Screencast-o-matic is great for capturing your screen activity and recording your voice as you explain concepts and content. It is also free!). This is an exciting step for me as I consider the opportunities it presents, both for me as a teacher and for my students as learners. It really does allow for a whole new level of differentiation within a class!
I recently came across a fantastic infographic that explains the flipped classroom, and is giving me a lot of food for thought as I consider the future of teaching and learning in (and outside) of my classroom. Hopefully it can be of use to you too!