New beginnings

I always love the opportunities new beginnings offer you and this week my new beginning was starting at a new school. Usually a time of trepidation and nerves I found myself full of excitement and a sense of feeling like I was truly at home. Instead of the agenda for the first day being full of protocols, check boxes, lists of things to do and timetables, my first two days was spent at the school conference, two days focused on learning and teaching, pedagogy and the teacher as a researcher.

From the first few minutes my head was spinning with thoughts, reflections and questions.  The perfect beginning in my mind as I am provoked by those around me and challenged in my thinking, setting the scene for the year ahead both as a teacher and an inquirer.

The conference was made up of a series of presentations such as those which looked at theory, philosophy of learning, the educational environment and assessment. We also heard from different teachers as they shared their own research and past inquiries with students. The most confronting activity for me was when we listed different types of assessment and categorised them according to the learning theory area they aligned with, behaviourist, constructivist or cultural historical. It was interesting to see how I use learning theory to drive my teaching but this had not crossed to assessment.

Our morning back at school after the conference started with a visit to the National Gallery Victoria where we had an opportunity to look through the Emily Floyd Exhibition and meet the Melbourne based artist who uses education and knowledge as themes in her work. Using this as a chance to create our own provocations as educators we stepped through the exhibitions and analysed some of the pieces. It provided a unique opportunity to have another lens with which to view our educational lives and put ourselves in the shoes of learners as well as using it as inspiration for our professional work.

Emily Floyd Exhibition

After two days away with my peers I was able to get a real sense of belonging and by the time we headed back into school on Friday I felt part of a team that was passionate and inspired, ready to challenge each other as professionals to provide authentic and rich learning experiences for students.

 

Virtual Book Club

I was out to dinner this evening with a friend when she asked how often I wrote in my blog.  She knows how often I talk about blog posts I have ‘half written’ and I think she expected me to say more often.

When I took on my new position in September one of the things I promised myself was that I was going to have more time to write when I didn’t have to worry about planning, report writing, planning, marking, planning…..

But the funny thing is that when I finally had some spare time I filled it up very quickly! And not with blog post writing! I cringe that my last post was in January.  In fact it coincides with the week before I started uni.  I spent the first half of the year heading back to uni to complete my first unit in a Master of Educational Policy (International). When I look back to January I was very excited. The prospect of learning more, from people who are experts in the field, talking to fellow learners, wrapping myself in new knowledge.

But I must admit it wasn’t quite what I expected. I didn’t enjoy being talked at for hours on end.  And when the feedback I received felt generic and lacking I lost interest   In my first essay I spent hours each week reading, immersing myself in understanding the Finnish and English education systems.  I would go to bed reading about them, dream about them and use my lunch break to research more about them. But my feedback didn’t acknowledge any of that.  Now just to be clear I wasn’t concerned with my mark.  In fact it was exactly where I had self assessed myself.  That wasn’t a problem.  But the areas I had thought were my strengths had become my weaknesses.

It made it really tough to thrash out the next essay.  I found my self not caring, ploughing through and doing what I needed to. My motivation had completely gone. I completed it and handed it in.  But I didn’t love it as I had the first. The first I carried with me, nurtured it and held it close.  This one I did through guilt.

Now that has got me reflecting about my motivation.  Another goal I had when I changed jobs was to read more.  I have  a growing pile of books on my bedside table that I desperately want to read.  This year I have managed to read three books.  Not many but still more than the last couple of years.  I think this is more in relation to the amount of time I spend on public transport. I wondered how I could be more motivated to read.  Don’t get me wrong I love reading and I want to. But there is always something else that needs doing.  How can I prioritise reading?

Image: ‘Tome Reader

Tome Reader

Found on flickrcc.net

So that brings me to my idea of a virtual book club.  I don’t think I could commit to a book club in someone’s lounge room and God forbid my lounge room!  But a get together on Google Hangouts once a month I could do.  So would this motivate me to read more?  I think it would.  I make countless notes in the margins when I read but never have a chance to share them so what more motivation would I need than to know I could discuss my thoughts, share my curiosities and hear other ideas.

I have just purchased a copy of Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess after reading about it on Twitter and propose that be our first book.  If you are interested in joining my book club just leave a comment or chase me up on twitter.

Now back to finish off another half written blog post…..

Why it’s time to say goodbye to report comments

Over the break I spent a lot of time catching up with family and friends, enjoying the festive season.  It seemed that everyone I caught up with had something to say about their child’s school report coming home without comments.

Due to the Australian Education Union’s latest stage of industrial action, many Victorian teachers chose at the end of last year to ban any written comments and numerical assessment data on student reports.

Being a teacher, I was frequently asked my opinion, and many were surprised by my response (which by the way is nothing to do with the ban).Reports are futile and irrelevant and we should have been preparing parents for the demise of them long before now.

Like a good little teacher I always did reports because I was told to and because teachers always have. But what exactly is the purpose? The Department of Education in Victoria (DEECD) say ‘assessment and reporting are vital processes which provide information about what students know and can do, and to make recommendations for their future learning.’ If this is so – then why do we wait until the last day of the semester or school year to share this?

Reports

So here are my 5 reasons why reports should go.

1.  A bi yearly report is a poor way to communicate a student’s achievement.  Feedback to students and parents should be consistent throughout the year and not in a paragraph written on a piece of paper which is handed to a student to deliver, sealed,  to their parent like a messenger. It should be individual, centred toward the student and personable.

2. What good can come from statements like ‘improve his punctuation and use of tenses, and continue to widen the range of sentence structures that s/he uses?’ How can this mean anything to parents or a student when the context is missing?  It is without personality, individuality or explanation of what the teacher means.

3. The policy and expectations surrounding reports force them to be generic. Over the years I have been at schools where the style guide and protocols for the writing of reports is 5 pages long.  How can this promote individual feedback when teachers are forced to write exactly 5 lines on reading?

4. Written, generic and delayed feedback is certainly not efficient yet we continue the tradition.  Each year the expectations of reports seem to increase.  When I pulled out my school reports from my first year of school they were a single handwritten piece of paper, which we received once a year.  I got an A for using scissors correctly and tying my shoelaces but I only got a B for finishing what I started and cleaning up after activities! I expect that changes be made since the time I finished school but who is asking the why?  What more do parents get from a report card now other than an increase in jargon and some lines on a graph?

5. The school report as a momento is outdated.  I know I have kept my reports from school but I would much prefer to be looking at different learning activities I completed with my own reflection and feedback specific to the task.  Feedback which I knew I received with teacher at the time of learning, not afterwards written in a letter to my Mum. I know many schools use this approach of a portfolio but it often falls by the wayside because on top of the portfolio they are still expected to spend hours writing reports comments.

Transparency

With thanks to the media frenzy following wikileaks in the past few months it is difficult to escape the word transparency. I noticed through Twitter there were many articles about how you should be transparent in your business and after reading a few of these it got me thinking about how transparent we are in education.

Of course, with the sensitive nature of our ‘business’ we need to keep some information to ourselves.  But when I examined how much information I keep to myself (not deliberately, but I had just never thought about sharing it) and how this information could actually help learning in our classroom, I decided I needed to make a few changes this year.

soap_bubble_in_the_air-t2

photos8.com: Soap bubble in air

Assessment: Yes I have always shared results to any assessment with the students but I have been remiss in explaining why I did it and what I learnt from their assessment.  So this week when I sat down to do running records with students, I explained exactly why I was doing it, what I hoped to find out and how this would help them.  I plan to have  a one on one interview with students when all of the assessment is completed and share what I found out,  what I am going to do with the information and to set goals in partnership with the students.

VELS: I use this to guide my teaching and I realised students and parents have limited understanding of it.  We use it to set goals but do my kids really understand what an interpersonal goal is?  This week I shared VELS with them.  We looked at the orgin of the strand names and likened these to umbrellas.  The kids then pasted the domains under each umbrella and made suggestions of what we learn in each of these areas.  It was interesting to see that students had a great understanding of PE, English and Mathematics but didn’t realise that our personal learning and how we manage our learning was essential also.  I knew that this was a great lesson for the kids when the very next day one student asked, ‘How does this fit into VELS?’

Parents: I know that I work in partenrship with parents but rarely get the opportunity to ask them about their child.  At the beginning of this year I have sent home a ‘Getting to know your child‘ form asking questions about the parents feelings on their child. (What personalities they have, what do they feel are their child’s strengths, improvements they would like to see, etc)

I am also going to use email as a form of keeping my parents ‘in the loop’ this year.  I find it is a great way to send a quick message to parents or to share a great piece of learning their child has done.  This will be complimented by a fortnightly newsletter to be emailed and sent home with a glossary of the terms we are using, what we have been learning and a list of questions they could ask their children.

Scrutiny: Although I find I am a good reflector in the classroom, I rarely ask the students for authentic feedback on me.  So already this year I have been asking the students questions like; What did I do to help you learn today? Which lesson did you understand better, yesterday’s or todays?  What made it easier to understand?  I hope that throughout the year students can be honest with me and offer feedback to help them learn better.

What does transparency look like in your classroom?

How do you communicate with parents?

Please leave a comment and share your views on transparency.