Tuesday, 24 March 2015

It takes a village...

After almost 8 weeks of consistent effort with my students this year to improve their writing skills, I feel that today I have had a memorable moment!
My 27 Year 4 students are good little students and okay writers, but eight weeks ago, they were happy enough to give me a response that was "near enough" and not quite good enough.
Little things like capital letters, punctuation and editing for basic spelling were not a high priority for them. If they felt they had completed a task with a mediocre effort, they saw no point in refining their response, editing their work, or sometimes even putting a capital letter for their own name.
Turning them around to actually taking some pride in their work has not happened overnight but lots of practice and feedback, feedback and more feedback has had some effect on their writing habits.
Earlier in the year we watched this great short video about feedback:

We discussed the role of feedback in helping us to grow as learners and the students have had many opportunities to give and receive feedback and to reflect on what they learnt from the feedback.

This week we are looking at how we are part of a bigger, global community of learners, and my success with my young writers can be attributed to the work of other passionate and dedicated educators around the globe.
In particular, I can thank three great educators for my success as a classroom teacher this week:
Julia Skinner @100word from the 100 Word Challenge
Sue Wyatt @tasteach from the Student Blogging Challenge and
David Mitchell @DeputyMitchell from Quadblogging

Each of these people is passionate about making a difference to the learning of students not only in their own schools, but all over the world. They share their amazing talents and energies to assist other teachers like me to make a real difference in classrooms all over the globe.

This year is the first time I have been involved with the 100 Word Challenge after having seen it somewhere (probably Twitter) a while back. Each week Mrs Skinner posts a prompt and around 2000 students from around the globe respond to the prompt in 100 words. They post their responses to a class or student blog and then a band of volunteers provide specific and effective feedback to the students about their writing. The look on the faces of students as they discover that their assignment has been read and appreciated by someone from another part of the world, is priceless.

The Student Blogging Challenge was a (very) lucky find after I decided to try using Edublogs as my blogging platform for my class this year. The Student Blogging Challenge has been running since 2008 and through the weekly activities that are interesting and relevant to student bloggers. As a bonus, many activities align quite well with a lot of aspects from the Digital Technologies curriculum and ICT capability continuum from the Australian Curriculum. Participating in the challenge (I'm only four weeks in) has already helped to push me as an educator into trying new things or rediscovering old tricks. I know my students are benefiting from their involvement too. So far, we have focussed on protection of personal information, writing quality comments, and understanding creative commons and copyright issues. All of these are important issues for digital citizens and learning these things alongside hundreds of other students and teachers from around the world makes our learning even more exciting and purposeful.

Quadblogging is something I have been involved with before. I have just been assigned to a quad for this year and after sending out a first welcome email to our quadblogging buddy teachers and adding their blogs to our side panel so the students can easily access their blogs, I am eagerly anticipating getting started on a new adventure with classes from Sweden, US and UK.

What these three opportunities have in common is that they have given my students a real purpose for their learning and particularly for their writing. When you know that someone else (besides the teacher) is going to read your work, then there is suddenly a reason to make sure that what you have to say is both interesting and well punctuated. While they enjoy reading and commenting on their classmate's work, receiving a comment from a stranger who has taken time out of their day to say how much they have enjoyed what they have to share is so much more special.

So today, we shared our thoughts on how we can save water after World Water Day 2015 and as I approved the comments a tear came to my eye as I noticed how far they have come as a class with taking pride in their work and editing for punctuation and basic spelling. While their sentences are still not perfect (and I have some concerns for the hygiene of the child who has pledged to have 40 second showers in a bid to save water) I can see that all the hard work is paying off. (If you have time to drop by the class blog and leave a comment - they really love comments)

Thank you to those inspiring educators who inspire me and challenge me to push my students to new heights! 

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Pulling myself together

Over the past year or so (about the same time period when I dropped off the blogging radar) I have been busily creating websites to pull together lesson plans and units I had written, taught and collaborated on.
I was inspired by some of the great work being produced by professional organisations around Australia who have created "one stop spots" for a number of units. These webpages house ready-to-teach units of work that are aligned to the Australian Curriculum. Typically these websites contain information about how the unit addresses specific aspects of the curriculum, lesson plans or ideas, resources, assessment ideas and links to other online resources.
Here are some of the really good ones I have discovered:

All of these sites have excellent units that can be used as is, or adapted to suit your class.

I decided that a website might be a good way to pull together planning ideas into an easier to follow unit plan with links to useful online resources and downloadable files. One of my earlier attempts is an English unit: Whodunnit? I have also created a website to house all of my planning for an entire year in Year 4.
As more and more schools are increasing student access to technology in the classroom and many are going 1:1, I wanted to develop online resources that would support teachers in planning quality learning experiences aligned to the Australian Curriculum but also create websites that would be accessible to students using laptops or iPads.
I worked with some Year 4 teachers and their classes last year to plan and implement a Science and Technologies unit, Let's Build a Theme Park. In this project, I tried to include things that would be useful to both teachers and students, including a clear inquiry structure (using the 5Es) and Learning Intentions for the unit.
Some colleagues in Year 2 asked me to create some audio recordings of some stories about St Francis of Assisi for a unit they were doing on Saints Who Care About Creation. I needed somewhere to put these so that they would easily be able to find them that year, and into the future. I created a website called Creation, Who Cares? and was able to link numerous resources that I found or created to support them during the time that they were teaching this unit.
My aim is to now pull together other units I have taught or worked on in the past so that they are easier to share with other teachers. As I am teaching units this year in Year 4, I will create other websites to support my students and to curate my planning ideas.
Since I have now ended up with a diverse collection of units and trying to explain to people where they might go to find them is becoming more challenging, I created a virtual home for myself to curate my collection as it evolves.

Please take a look at what I am working on and feel free to share this work with others. I am hoping that by sharing what I have done so far I will get plenty of feedback from others so I can improve as I go. Knowing that others find these resources useful will help me to remain motivated to complete the task.