Marsden Professional Learning Session 7

Today the focus was on tapping into student voice to engage learners and allow for learning to be personalised. To run alongside the session I created a ‘TodaysMeet‘ backchannel. I invited staff in, get them multiple ways to access the Meet, and gave them time during the session to use the backchannel to suggest ideas or give answers. This seemed engaging, and people were interested in it as a tool.

Here’s a snapshot of it in action:


It goes to show that having something interactive is a winner!

I also offered a repeat of the Google Drive/Google Docs workshop. I enjoy these when there is a help sheet for staff to follow along and then I can just respond on the fly to what people need. This was my experience this afternoon. Today’s workshop also reminded me that people do not learn new skills by osmosis. They need time to learn, to play, and to have questions answered. As always, it is dangerous to assume a base-level of knowledge.



Marsden Professional Learning Session 6

Today’s overarching theme was all about collaboration. So, in fitting style, we had co-presenters for our ‘big picture’ pedagogy session. I was really excited that a Technology and a Science teacher were happy to talk about one way they have been integrating technology into their lessons. Some of the real bonuses of this approach were:

  • Highlighting that innovation and risk-taking is happening amongst staff
  • The inquiry-based approach both teachers emphasised
  • The encouragement to ‘give it a go’
  • The resilience both staff members demonstrated: neither implementation went smoothly the first time, but the value is such that it warrants another attempt
  • That teachers were from different subject disciplines

I really can’t thank those teachers enough who are not only prepared to try something new, perhaps out of their comfort zone, but were prepared to make their attempts public. I think this is awesome role-modelling and shows a real growth mindset. So proud!

Here is my presentation to wrap around the showcase:


King of Shadows

With my Year 8 English class last term, we embarked on a novel study of Susan Cooper’s book King of Shadows. I’ve taught this novel for a number of years now, so it was time to try something new. Particularly in light of the ‘inquiry’ focus I’m looking to bring to this class. I decided I wanted to have the class make a website to reflect their knowledge and understanding of the text.

In terms of process, the plan I followed was to introduce the class to the kinds of websites students usually go to to access information about texts: Wikipedia, Shmoop, Sparknotes. We thought about what kind of information is on these sites, the language that is used, how the sites are organised and laid out. We considered what someone wanting to know more about our particular novel might be after. This brainstorm eventually generated our ‘to do list’ and the various tasks students completed to generate information for our website.

I did some lessons on digital citizenship. I tried to shift the focus away from the ‘don’t dos’ that the girls could easily and happily recite to me (‘Don’t post mean things’, etc.) and onto making a positive contribution to Internet-land.

We decided on an appropriate time frame, considering that the teacher, as editor, needed time to look over everyone’s work, and that the website designer in the class needed time to upload and format everyone’s work. Students nominated the tasks they most wanted to attack, and the partner they felt they would work well with. I collated this information and allocated tasks on this basis. We also had a go at co-constructing an assessment schedule. And then we went for it!

I was really excited to observe the engagement of the students in the task. They will openly and happily tell you that they didn’t especially love the book, but this didn’t stop them from being thoroughly engrossed in their work. They came into class and got started straight away – no need from prompting by me. They sought very little feedback from me in terms of clarifying their understanding of the task. If they asked, I simply asked a question of them: ‘What do you think someone visiting the website wanting more information about the book will want to know?’ No-one came back for more help after this.

I also liked that no-one blinked an eye when I sent work back to them for a second, third, fourth edit or proof-read. They accepted that if the work was being published for a genuine audience, it needed to be accurate and high quality.

The finished product is here. I’m very proud of what the class produced.

In terms of my reflection, there are two main areas I would want to improve upon if I used an activity like this again:

  • More time on digital citizenship, and to co-ordinate better with the school librarian to deliver this.
  • Better co-construction of the assessment schedule. I don’t know how to do this well, and the way I went about it meant both that the girls lost interest, and we didn’t end up with something they understood or could use to self/peer assess their work.

However, I surveyed the class at the end of the unit, and here are some highlights of what they said:

  • I liked that “everybody had a part, each person was a piece of the puzzle. I also liked the ‘freedom’ of each task and independence.”
  • “I found it interesting how the class is making a website to help others focusing on the book. Not just in NZ but the world.”
  • I got a “better understanding of the book and I quite like the idea of it going ‘live’.”

Marsden Professional Learning Session 4

Today I presented on the idea of ‘authentic learning’. This was a topic I wasn’t feeling so confident on, so I relied on the expertise of Jan Herrington – finding her videos were a life-saver! But actually, it was probably good for staff to hear another voice than mine anyway. I also take comfort from the comments that kind people have made on my recent blogpost ‘Reflections on Term 1’ that authenticity is actually difficult to achieve in the constraints of a traditional secondary school classroom.

I feel I need to get better at thinking on my feet to be able to respond to off-the-cuff questions and comments. Having said that though, because I present on so many different topics each session it’s very challenging to have the kind of in-depth knowledge and experience that would allow me to have the background to do so.

I led a blogging workshop, but as this was the second time this ran there weren’t so many attendees, but we had a great discussion!

We’ve asked staff to complete a survey on this term’s professional learning. The results so far are fascinating, for all sorts of reasons… I look forward to writing a blogpost on these soon.

Reflections on Term 1

Inspired by the likes of @GeoMouldey and @rosmaceachern and their reflective blogposts (Steve’s here and Ros’ here), I thought I’d put my thoughts about Term 1 so far in writing.

Firstly, here’s a link to my 2014 Inquiry Thoughts document I boldly drafted in January (yes, before school started) where I captured some ideas about what I’d like to focus on with each of my four English classes. The basic thought process was that I knew I needed to change my teaching practice in order to better ‘practice what I preach’ and in order to engage with my students in a more meaningful, ‘future focused’ pedagogy way. However, that was a pretty daunting task. So, my solution was to pick one focus for each class. For my Year 13s, it was around the use of social media in order to promote ubiquity and life-long learning. Year 11s, collaboration, which came out of a department review I conducted at the end of 2013. Year 10s, authentic context and Year 8s, personalised learning / inquiry.

social media

Year 13

  • I am fascinated by the low take-up of Twitter by my students. They seem to be keen users of Facebook, and no posting of amusing images or intriguing links appears to be tempting the rest of the class into the Twittersphere. I set up a teacher-specific account (@NicollEngTchr) and mostly remember to use #13AP2014.
  • However there is genuine enthusiasm for our Edmodo page, and I have recently seen a tipping point reached whereby students are independently posting links to other sources of information they have found which are relevant to our topic of study. This warms the cockles of my heart, and I hope this is a sign that the girls are seeing ‘English’ not just as something that happens when it is scheduled to during the school day.
  • I have also introduced the girls to the wonder that is Google Docs – they love co-writing and sharing their work this way. They even remember to share their docs with me 🙂
  • My next step is to check in with the girls themselves – in their busy lives, how else can I encourage ubiquitous, life-long learning?


Year 11

  •  I feel as though I started with a hiss and a roar with collaboration extensively implemented during our poetry unit in the first few weeks of the term.
  • I haven’t explored a lot of different tech tools to encourage collaboration, but we do have an Edmodo class site which is the repository of all our documents, etc.
  • What I particularly noticed is that once the pressure hit with NCEA internal assessments (creative writing, personal reading, speeches), collaboration went out the window to make way for teacher-directed instruction and individual work on assessments. I can’t help but wonder if the time hasn’t come to remove some assessments in order to have more powerful, engaging learning. However, it is also a good reminder to me to continue to strive to find a new way of doing things, not to lapse back into lazy, traditional habits.
  • My next step is to look into tech tools that could encourage more collaboration – maybe VoiceThread as I noted in my inquiry document. It is also to remember to focus on my ‘word of the year’: innovate. 

Year 10

  •  Authentic context, I am rapidly discovering, is a real challenge. Interestingly so, in fact. Nevertheless this week we launched into a study of the language of advertising, which I have constructed in such a way as to have authenticity. This is that the English Department want to encourage girls to take English at Year 13, when it is no longer compulsory, and, what’s more, to take the ‘AP’ (advanced programme) course, where applicable, to have the challenge of Scholarship English. I have the Head of English coming into class as the ‘client’, I have a current 13AP student coming into class as a ‘consumer’, and I have a friend who works in marketing coming in as an expert who can guide us through the creative process.
  • I’ll be extremely interested to see if working in this way increases engagement and the quality of their final product – which will really be used!


Year 8

  • I have indeed ‘flipped’ my grammar/language classes by using TED-Ed. The girls like learning in this way. I want to start making my own videos, and I want to have some girls create videos. I can see that this will be an ongoing learning process for us all throughout the year. What I particularly want to get better at is working with the separate groups within the classroom, to better personalise the learning once the flipped homework has been completed.
  • In terms of ‘inquiry’ with the girls, I’m not entirely sure the current work we’re doing is ‘inquiry’ per se, but it is highly engaging for them. We are currently creating a class website using Weebly on our novel study King of Shadows by Susan Cooper.  I’m amazed really at how much ‘front-loading’ needs to go into this kind of task. We explored websites such as Wikipedia and Sparknotes to see how they were written and constructed. We co-constructed success criteria. We made a list of tasks and assigned these…and then we got started! However, it is heartening to see how focused and enthusiastic the class is. I feel as though they are improving their self-critiquing as when they ask me for feedback, I simply ask them if it’s the kind of information they themselves would want on a informative website, such as the one we’re aiming to create.
  • I’m keen to develop a more ‘open’ inquiry next time – what do they want to explore, how do they want to show their understanding.

Whew – no wonder it feels like the end of the term! There’s a lot going on, but I’m really enjoying working in this way, having a specific focus for each class, under the umbrella of the Marsden vision for future-focused pedagogy. As always, there’s a lot more to do, and that could be done, but I’m pretty proud of my baby steps so far. Thanks to my senior manager who met with me to discuss this reflection last Wednesday, and for the encouragement I have received.

Image credits:

Social Media:


Eye: Microsoft Clip Art

Marsden Professional Learning Session 3

Today’s theme: Technology allows for personalised learning

I’m definitely becoming more comfortable with presenting to the whole staff. What I particularly liked about this presentation was that I considered modelling the less ‘teacher-directed’ or ‘direct-instruction’ and more ‘personalised’ approach. This meant outlining the concept of what personalised learning could incorporate; acknowledging that there is still a place and a need for some proportion of direct instruction; and showing how technology can allow learning to be personalised more readily. As always, the presentation includes numerous hyperlinks so that staff can go off and explore their own learning and interests themselves, but this time I specifically included a slide which catered for audio, visual and text-based preferred learning styles. In this way I was attempting to model one aspect of personalised learning.

A shout out to @GeoMouldey, @grantwiggins, @edutopia, @edudemic AND @coreeducation who provided me with content for this session!

I also ran a blogging workshop. I’m less sure how this was received – perhaps it would have been useful to find out what aspect of blogging teachers were interested in, as I referred to the possibility of having a class blog, a personal blog, a professional blog anf getting students to blog themselves all together! Hopefully my Blogging Workshop ‘help sheet’ is useful enough so that all those various possibilities are catered for…

(In addition to the list above, thanks to @mattynicoll too.)

In a slight aside reflection, looking at the rows of ‘@’s above – I must thank all the witting and unwitting members of my Professional Learning Network for keeping me up-to-date, informed and in-the-know!

Marsden Professional Learning Session 2

Future Learning Theme: Technology allows for different kinds of collaboration

Today was our second-ever ‘Future Learning’ staff session.  As you can see, I initially presented on the overall theme of ‘collaboration’, and then co-ran a Google Docs/Google Drive workshop.

What I’m super-pleased with is that, contrary to the first session, I found this workshop far more successful, and indeed, even feel energised at its conclusion.  I think there are several contributing factors to this. Firstly, there were quite a few people in the workshop, so the desire to learn and participate was there. Having a co-presenter meant that there was more than one person who could help those who needed it. Also, having a very concrete ‘step-by-step’ help sheet (as attached) meant that people could work through at their own pace, with support from the presenters, or their peers around them. I think sometimes we need to remember to start off right at the beginning so that everyone can join us on the journey. If there are already experts, then they can go off and explore while the person to their immediate right is still looking for gmail on their browser.

The initial feedback from staff confirms that they were easily able to make connections between the workshop content and the future learning theme of collaboration, and that there seemed to be a real desire to explore the possibilities of Google Docs even further.  Hmmm … I hope they share their learning with me!

Marsden Professional Learning Session 1

Future Learning Theme: Technology is ubiquitous and learning is too

This is the copy of the presentation I gave today.  Just as a reminder, our Professional Learning sessions use a 20/20/20 model: 20 minutes of big picture (our Marsden vision and future learning strategy), 20 minutes of a hands-on workshop (and there are three to choose from to go to) and 20 minutes of reflection.

I enjoyed making the ‘ubiquitous’ presentation, and made sure that there was a task for staff to do so that they could use their shiny new devices.  I also enjoyed putting extra links into the presentation so that staff who were interested could go further and explore more.  I feel that this is a useful feature, and something I plan to continue doing.  (Note to self: make sure all the links I post from my Google drive have already been ‘shared’ so that they work first time!)

The workshop was a more interesting experience.  ‘Teaching’ peers is more of a challenge than I anticipated.  I think I need to reflect further on how I structure these workshops to help engage staff.  Having said that, it is a new model of professional learning for us, and staff are still experiencing teething problems with their devices, and once these issues have settled and staff are more familiar and comfortable I believe they will run more smoothly 🙂  Any tips and advice for leading hands-on staff learning are welcome – comment below or tweet me @AKeenReader !

I touch the future; I teach – reflecting on Keri Facer’s “Learning Futures”

Let's touch the stars

On the recommendation of Steve Mouldey I purchased and read the truly thought-provoking book by Keri Facer: Learning Futures: Education, technology and social change.

In this well-structured and coherently argued book, Facer builds a compelling case for maintaining physical schools in the light of increasing claims about what the future will mean for education, such as those here.

While, of course, Facer’s “future-building school” of 2035 represents a significantly different educational institution to those of the local school down the road today, it is undeniably a physical presence in a literal building where human relationships are key.

Facer begins her book by exploring some of the exciting and some of the alarming potential futures ahead.  In so doing though, she continually emphasises that the stories of the future she outlines are just that – potential narratives – just versions of what may or may not be.  She calls us to take action now – not to see the future as something pre-determined, but as something that is created step-by-step from the decisions that we make today.  The ‘ending’ of the story can be changed.  And schools have a critical role to play in shaping the future – not just in churning out workers for jobs – but as nurturing citizens who may well have to grapple with environmental, biological, technological, generational and societal issues.

And, for me, it is this emphasis on the future as a story that particularly resonated: “The future is not something that is done to us, but an ongoing process in which we can intervene.” (p. 6) While there are indeed significant challenges ahead, and Facer argues that schools must become democratic hubs where learners explore how to live in an equitable, sustainable, connected way, ultimately I was left with the very hopeful feeling that teaching is really a tangible expression of optimism – that what we do can, and indeed should, make a difference.

So while I generally avoid such cheesy sentiments as those in my title, I too recommend to you Keri Facer’s Learning Futures as a place to go to think about why education and schools are so crucial because in teaching we have the opportunity to ‘touch the future’.

I’m it! Tagged in Blogging Meme

My turn – I’ve been tagged into this blogging meme by Steve Mouldey (@GeoMouldey – blog post here) and Pia Bradshaw (@PiaMckay – blog post here).  I’m flattered to be asked, so here I go…

The blogging task includes:

    • Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
    • Share 11 random facts about yourself.
    • Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
    • List 11 bloggers.
    • Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.

11 Random Facts:

  1. I always have tissues and lip balm in my right pocket.
  2. I have attended schools in three different countries as a student: in Dublin, Ireland, in Freiberg am Neckar, Germany, and, of course New Zealand.
  3. I have a bookshelf entirely dedicated to Shakespeare and Shakespeare-related books.  I have my own thesis on it!
  4. I get panicky if I don’t have a ‘next’ book lined up to read.  There are currently 13 books beside my bed, two on another shelf, and an e-reader with a further two on it just waiting for me…
  5. My fingernails are currently painted a shade of purple called ‘Rockstar Royalty’.
  6. My middle name is Ruth.  This is also my mother’s middle name, and my maternal Grandmother’s Christian name.
  7. I actively avoid physical activity.  I am waiting for speed-reading to be recognised by the Olympic committee.
  8. I am an annoyingly fussy eater who must force herself to eat fruit, but am pretty good at following a low-gluten diet.
  9. I love doing the Dominion Post 2-speed crossword with my Dad.  But I have to cover up the ‘regular’ clues with a post-it, or else my eyes stray and I cheat.  And yes, Dad’s better at the crossie than me.
  10. I worked at the Hamilton Public Library throughout university.  When we got ‘caught’ reading, our response was that we were ‘familiarising ourselves with the stock.’
  11. My all-time favourite teaching moment was in 2007 when my much beloved year group at Aquinas College in Tauranga presented me with an engraved silver cross.

Pia’s 11 Questions for me:

1) What are you doing and where are you, in your favourite photo?


This is me as a child (maybe 4??) reading the Irish Times when we lived in Dublin.  Don’t ask me about the sunglasses.  I think I thought I looked cool.  Ironic considering I now have to wear glasses…

2) What is your favourite sport to play or watch?

Hmmm see random fact 7.  I do understand cricket.

3) If I gave you 2 million dollars, but in order to keep 1 million you had to give away 1 million, who would you give it to and why?
Some money to my little brother who just got engaged!  But mostly charities whose work I support: Women’s Refuge, KidsCan, Amnesty International, SPCA.  Anyone who builds schools and libraries.
4) Finish this sentence.  The best board game to play on a rainy day is…….Pictionary – as long as I can play with my Dad coz we’re a mean team!
5) What is your favourite room in your house and why?
Anywhere there’s sun and a good book.  Like a cat, I move around based on where it’s shining onto a soft surface.
6) What is the best format to watch a movie – DVD, Blu-ray or Cinema?
Only the one option in this house: DVD.  I do enjoy going to the cinema though – and there’s a great one right around the corner.
7) What was the best deal or sale you have made online?
Not sure…not a huge online shopper.  Last purchase was a copy of “Gerald McBoing Boing” as a present for my brother.
8) When are your energy levels at their peak?
Neither a morning person, nor a night-owl.  Strictly 10am-4pm, baby!
9) How do you prefer to display books? e.g. colour order, dewey system, favourite books at the front
There’s a bit of a hierarchy to my three bookshelves, but currently the most prominent bookshelf has its books in ROYBGIV order.
10) When did you last read a magazine and what was the name of it?
In the middle of the lastest “Home and Garden” right now.
11) When swimming, how do you prefer to enter the water?
Dive right on in!
Steve’s 11 Questions for me:
1. What was the best Edu book/blog/article you read last year? Why?
Yikes – this is a seriously tough one.  Too many to really choose, but this one from Claire Amos is probably right up there.  It provided a really great overview of the different ideas I was exploring at just the right time for me.
2. Where is the strangest place you have visited?
Perhaps not conventionally strange, but the Butchart Gardens in Vancouver – simply because it was on the bus tour to get to where I really wanted to go: Victoria Island.  I’m not especially into gardens.  And especially not when I’ve just halved the average age of the tourists…
3. What is your hidden advantage that others don’t realise about you?
“Though she be but little, she is fierce”.  Thanks, Shakespeare.
4. What is your guilty pleasure?
Uh-oh, serious confession time.  E! Channel.  Yup, sorry.
5. What is one nickname you have had?
Briefly known as Splat at university when me and my scooter came off slightly worse for wear against a car at a T-junction.
6. Do you have a pet hate?
Embarrassingly, probably too many to list.  A bit OCD, me.  For the purposes of just picking one: People who don’t give thanks when you’ve let them into a queue when driving.
7. Which school that you have not visited would you most like to visit?
Hobsonville Point Secondary School!
8. Who/where/what do you turn to for inspiration or motivation?
At the moment, I’m a total convert to Twitter.
9. Lance Armstrong: Drug Cheat or Hero?
I’m not good with seeing things as absolutes.  The truth is always infinitely more complex than we know.  Somewhere on the spectrum towards making some poor choices.
10. Latest hobby that you started/developed?
I got back into crochet in the winter.
11. Favourite public holiday?
I guess I should go with something deep and meaningful, but today, when the sun’s shining, I think: Queen’s Birthday – because that falls in June when you really need a break.
Tagged: @rosmaceachern, @alwestnz, @SusanFeron, @virtuallykaren, @CbwynnWynn, @MissesArtech, @arti_choke, @BeLchick1, @Oceanblue1975, @melulater
(Only 10, but my excuse is English teachers can’t count – and apologies for any double-ups.)
Google Doc – once you’ve done so you can see who’s been previously tagged.
11 Questions for you now to conquer:
  1. Who has been a colleague (past or present) that you have regarded as a mentor?
  2. What is your favourite NZ native bird, and why?
  3. What was your favourite book as a child?
  4. Worst job ever!  What was it?
  5. What’s the icebreaker question or activity you use to get to know someone?
  6. Best person to follow on Twitter for one of your passions?
  7. What is your least favourite household chore?
  8. What’s one lesson/activity/unit that you really look forward to teaching?
  9. Fly first class to your overseas destination and have a little less spending money, or fly ‘cattle class’ and have a little more in your pocket?
  10. What’s a web tool or app that you’ve come across recently that you’d heartily recommend to others?
  11. If you hosted a dress-up party, what theme would you choose, and why?