A Keen Reader

These are not new ideas, but they are new for me and have really got my brain pinging.

When I was twelve we had to do some work experience, I guess as part of a ‘careers’ unit. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, but I sure spent a lot of time reading, so my Dad arranged for me to spend a day in our local library.

A whole day with books? Bliss.

From that day forward, I volunteered in the library all through high school, eventually getting a proper, paid job that saw me through five years at university up until I went into  teaching (English, of course!). For me, libraries are a safe space of sanctuary. Quiet, relaxing, replenishing, and jammed-packed with new ideas, arresting stories, pathways into worlds unknown.

So it’s kind of embarrassing really, that it’s taken me this long to connect my passion for libraries with my passion for future-focused education.

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But I’ve been thinking about school libraries in particular, and how they can be a living representation of the vision and pedagogy of a school. Is the library a storehouse of stories, ideas and information – a whare pukapuka – a traditional house of books?

To me, this would represent an industrial age model and understanding of knowledge. Knowledge as a noun: the facts and tales we need to know to fill our place in society and be a successful worker. In this model, the library is a place of knowledge curation.

Or, is the library a place not only of knowledge curation, but of knowledge creation? Is it a place to showcase our learning and the learning of others? Is it a place to connect ideas and test them out? Is it a whare mātauranga – a space that seeks wisdom, not only offering things to think about, but things to think with?

Because to me, this would represent a future-focused model and understanding of knowledge. Knowledge as a verb: the building blocks of ideas that we develop, connect, unbundle, remix, and play with. The life-blood of the life-long learner and the creative, critical citizen.

Is the library an innovative learning environment? Chock-full yes, of great books, and also a gallery, a makerspace, a design lab, a studio… Is it a place of ‘shhh…!’ – a holy space of study, or a place of ‘sh…sugar!’ – a stimulating space of discovery? How does your school library reflect your vision for teaching and learning?

 

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Re-focusing my UDL Lenses

Lately, I’ve been challenged to think more about Universal Design for Learning (UDL). I’ve been exposed to the framework previously, even using it to inform a professional learning session when I was the Future Learning Leader at Marsden. I thoroughly enjoyed Katie Novak’s presentation at ULearn in 2014. I was so impressed by the way she modelled UDL even given the constraints of a conference keynote speech. Lucky enough to be a CORE Education eFellow last year, Chrissie Butler, our local UDL guru, led us through a session on UDL which prompted me to think more about the kind of language we use to talk about individuals and groups within our schools, e.g. the “special needs” kids and their “teacher aides”.

So I believed I understood the ‘big picture’ behind UDL – that it’s about providing universal supports that work for everyone, the way automatic opening and closing doors do in the supermarket or shopping mall regardless of someone’s mobility.

Underpinning this idea are values that I am comfortable with: the notion of equity for one. That we are not all equal, but with the same right to access information and knowledge and learning. Therefore as teachers, we should provide ‘on ramps’ so that everyone can have access to the learning.

With my design thinking hat on, I easily get on board with the idea of knowing your learner as this is what being empathetic requires.

And when it came to the role of technology with UDL, it was clear to me that it was mostly about assistive technologies like text to speech functions, altering font size and colour. If I pushed the boat out a bit further I could see that digital technologies also had a role to play in offering choice: offering more ways to access information and more ways to demonstrate understanding of knowledge.

Yep. This UDL thing. I’ve got it down.

But then it was pointed out to me the underlying purpose of UDL.

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  • Engagement: purposeful, motivated learners
  • Representation: resourceful, knowledgeable learners
  • Action and expression: strategic, goal-directed learners

Suddenly these reminded me of future-focused pedagogy goals. Self-managing learners. Curious, motivated, life-long learners. Oh.

And then I started to connect this to the OECD 7 Principles of Learning. Recognise these ideas?

  • Learner at the centre: “Learners are the central players in the environment and therefore activities centre on their cognition and growth.” “The environment aims to develop ‘self-regulated learners’” (p. 6)
  • Recognising individual differences: “The learning environment is acutely sensitive to the individual differences among the learners in it…” (p. 7)

With these new UDL lenses on, the role of digital technologies becomes greatly expanded. Much more than a learning support and a means to offer choice, but instead to ensure learning is:

  • Engaging
  • Motivating
  • Personalised
  • Collaborative
  • Connected to students’ passions
  • Matched to students’ needs and interests

And that learning is about:

  • Bringing who you are to the learning
  • Being responsible for your own learning
  • Becoming a more independent, self-managing learner: knowing what is being taught and why

Ah!

I’ll be the first one to admit that I’ve still got a lot more thinking to do about this, but suddenly UDL makes a lot more sense to me. As always, there is a lot more behind a concept than a surface glance can give.

Adopting future-focused pedagogies means being learner-centred. In turn this means knowing your learners deeply. And UDL is a way to achieve this. It is not a separate framework, but a lens through which to view curriculum design and the role of digital technologies for learning. It isn’t a ‘bolt on’ addition, but a crucial ‘yes, and’.

This re-focusing also reinforces my belief in the power of language. If you choose to adopt a ‘buzz word’, or, as in this case, a buzz phrase like ‘learner-centred’, be prepared to really sit with it and unpack it deeply. There’s always a lot more than meets the eye.

DT Reflection

Apologies in advance for what will be a longish blogpost…

My final unit with my Year 8 (12 year olds) English class of 2014 was an extended design thinking exploration. For it, I posed the following question: ‘How might we welcome students into the Marsden family at Years 7 and 8?’

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To shape my reflection of this unit of work, I’m going to use some of the headings from the d. School design thinking process that we used as our base structure.

Empathise

Under this heading, I’m going to focus on what my students thought of the unit we completed, and what they reported they learned through their reflections.

The girls learned three key things: what empathy is and why it’s important in a design thinking process; the value of prototyping; and a greater appreciation for design thinking and what it has to offer. They reported especially enjoying the ideation and prototyping phases of the unit. They loved that all ideas – no matter how wacky – were accepted without judgement, and they loved making physical prototypes. As one student said, “I can concentrate when it’s fun.”

We spent quite a lot of time in the empathy phase in this unit, for one thing, this was where I was particularly emphasising some specific English-related close reading skills, and consequently I felt the girls really grasped this important concept well. In their own words, they defined empathy as “informed sympathy”; learning “to put yourself in someone’s shows and relate to how they feel.”

I was equally pleased, however, with their obvious enjoyment of the prototyping phase. Being a highly academically successful school, sometimes I worry that our students are afraid of taking risks and being ‘wrong’. Learning to fail fast, fail forward, and fail with a positive attitude to build resilience is crucial. So to hear comments like: “it takes a while to get the exact thing that you want/like,” and: “I learnt how good it is to design something without it being perfect and then changing and evaluating later,” made me feel proud.

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Here are what the girls themselves said they learned through experiencing the design thinking process:

  • “how to think hard to create more ideas”
  • “how to put yourself in other people’s shoes and produce things that will help others, not just yourself”
  • “design thinking helps you to learn how to process ideas into something to help people”
  • “design thinking helps you to efficiently solve a problem”

And my absolute favourite:

Design Thinkers must be selfless people.

Define

In this section, I’m going to outline the unit that I put in front of the students.

I had no preconceived ideas of the products or solutions I thought the students might come up with. I really just wanted an authentic issue – the overarching question links to something staff had been discussing over the year – and a context the girls themselves could easily relate to, with resources easily on hand. I’m indebted to the #dtk12chat community, and this LiveBinder resource, curated by Thomas Riddle. And from this resource, I based my unit on this challenge.

The folder of resources I created is available here.

Something I was pleasantly surprised to learn about a benefit of using a design thinking approach was the way that it made me be much more consistently explicit about what we were doing, and how it tied into the bigger picture of the unit and the guiding ‘How Might We’ question. I became much more focused on the learning. Instinctively, I started to write reflective sentence starters on the board for students to use in the middle and/or at the end of the lesson. This is something I would like to formalise more in a future iteration. Schools who use a learning portfolio could really capitalise on this.

Overall, what I needed to improve on was the ‘define’ phase of our unit. This was woolly and waffly, and the girls themselves identified this weakness in their reflections. We had a guiding ‘HMW’ question already, and although we spent time writing point of view statements (‘___ needs a way to ___ because she ___’) these weren’t quality and therefore failed to be of sufficient value. Subsequently we didn’t whittle our mass ideation down well. Although the overall products definitely met the brief, and have been taken up by the school for implementation in 2015, we lost our way in the middle here.

Ideation

In this section, I’m going to brainstorm some ways in which I could improve this unit in future, particularly focusing on the identified weak points of the ‘define’ and refining ‘ideation’ phases.

  • Have a formalised reflection log. This could take the form of: portfolio, blog. Consider other forms, e.g. voice/oral reflection.
  • Spend more time explaining the ‘point of view’ statements. Just as we did with ‘ideation’ and ‘prototyping’, build these skills first. Have a practice run.
  • Rather than write ‘point of view’ statements, refine the original ‘how might we’ question.
  • Write a ‘point of view’ statement for an actual person, rather than a fictional girl.
  • Write a different ‘point of view’ sentence frame that suits the specific challenge better.
  • Research other user statements to use in place of the ‘point of view’ statement.
  • Evaluate the defined problem in light of the over-arching HMW question.
  • Use more than one method of refining ideation: 6 stars; safe bet/long shot/darling; rating system e.g. novelty, usefulness, viability, risk.
  • Think about what online tools could help, e.g. writing user/point of view statements in Google Docs for ease of collaboration. Google Forms to rate ideas/get feedback on point of view statements.
  • Sum up what’s been learned by empathising to guide more direct links to defining a specific problem/area of focus.

[I’d love your input here…what thoughts/ideas can you suggest for me?]

Conclusion

Because I won’t be in a formal classroom like this in 2015, I’m not going to prototype a further iteration of this unit at this stage. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed teaching this unit, but, more importantly, teaching in this way. It confirmed for me the power and promise and purpose of design thinking, which I’ve written about before here.

I was highly amused at the stumbling block we hit as a class once we finished our prototyping phase, and I expected the students to actually create their products/solutions. The girls thought I meant just making a ‘tidier copy’ of their cardboard creations. It took almost a full hour to convince them I meant otherwise. This brought home to me that mostly teachers require ‘fake real’ projects from their students. Unschooling my students out of this, albeit briefly, was a win.

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These are the girls’ final products. They presented them to their deans, who were so impressed they had the girls work on a modified version for use with the new students starting next month. I hope my students learned that they have a voice to create something of value, that they have the skills and resources, and, most importantly, the disposition to make a contribution.

Reflection: Social Media in Year 13

I’m continuing to reflect on my practice this year. As you may recall from this post or this post, I chose a focus for each of my classes upon which to build more future-focused pedagogy. In Year 13, where I taught a very small class of students who had opted into tackling Level 3 and Scholarship English, I wanted to focus on the use of social media in order to promote the idea that learning is ubiquitous. The social media tools I chose were Edmodo and Twitter.

The latter was a complete flop. While I certainly learned how to set up a separate Twitter account for teaching purposes, and how to start a new Twitter hashtag (i.e. just start using one), with a small class, and an even smaller proportion using Twitter, there just wasn’t the critical mass required to be sustainable. I would definitely try this again though, because there is such a richness of material out there that would be of interest to students. I think I would explore other ways of making this material available to students – even if it’s just posting links to interesting readings on Edmodo.

Edmodo was much more successful. When I surveyed the students, they naturally compared and contrasted it to our Learning Management System, and favourably. The students liked that they could post questions and articles themselves on the forum (although I acknowledge that this is also a feature of our LMS – the students don’t spontaneously do this). They liked receiving notifications from Edmodo via email when something new was posted. This prompt was viewed as handy. I take it as a sign of success that the students did not set up a separate Facebook page, which they usually do. To me, this meant Edmodo was fulfilling the need it should do.

While not social media per se, in the survey one student also commented on the use of Google Docs, reporting that she enjoyed collaborating with the class in real time. This was my favourite comment from our end of year survey: “I think that the actual information we learnt and way of thinking we developed was improved by not being as credit focused and more education focused.” Yes! I’ll take that as a compliment!

My overall reflection is that this was an enjoyable class to teach, primarily because of it being small, we could all sit together, and have a more informal, discussion-based learning environment. I think I would like to find ways to encourage more reflection on skills and content, ways to ‘check in’ with how students perceive they are progressing, in order to provide them with more targeted support. Because the class was small, I fell into the trap of assuming I was observing accurately how they were feeling. Mostly I was correct, but assumptions are not valid means of assessing situations!

I like the way I really did re-jig the 2014 course based on the feedback from the 2013 students. I feel taking on board their advice was helpful, and did create a better, more cohesive year. Again, there would be further adjustments I would make to the programme, particularly in our focus on critical theory. And this year’s students wanted me to insist on more work being handwritten – note to self.

 

Reflection: Collaboration in Year 11

This year I have looked to push my teaching practice to embrace ‘future-focused’ pedagogy. In order to make this more manageable for myself, I chose to focus on one area of inquiry for each year group. I gave an overview of this at the end of Term 1. As a quick snap shot, I wanted to provide more opportunities for my students to learn from one another, rather than solely relying on me. I had my tables in little ‘L’ shapes, had a seating plan which changed every term, and introduced the class to Edmodo and Google Docs. I was hoping that students would learn to connect their ideas to other texts, and to the world beyond the classroom. We had as a theme for the year ‘find your voice’ and I hoped to reflect this in honouring student voice.

Before the girls left to sit their final exams, I surveyed them on several aspects of the year’s programme, but particularly focusing on the measures I had put in place to encourage collaboration. Here’s a summary of the data:

Question 1: Comment on the layout of the classroom

All of the comments here were positive – although ranging in enthusiasm. I was interested in the perception of seating plans, which is mandated by my school. However, the girls like being mixed through as this gives them the opportunity to work with other people and be exposed to other ideas. For next year, if I am to keep a similar physical layout, I want to think more about moving students more from the front to the back and to put more thought into the groupings of students. Perhaps seeking their input would be good. Although there was a comment about sight lines, I didn’t use the front of the room much, in terms of a ‘chalk and talk’ approach. While the projector screen is at ‘the front’ almost every time the same document was available to the girls on their own devices via Edmodo.

Question 2: Comment on the time given to you to discuss work with your group or with the whole class

There was always going to be a range of opinions here! However, 11 out of the 17 respondents felt positive about the time they were given. Students commented on the fact that working with others helps them to understand better, to hear a variety of ideas and “appreciate” them, that it brings out ideas everyone can benefit from and that you can “analyse work with lots of different perspectives”. I’m pleased by these responses. What I would like to do more of is shared negotiation of time and to ensure these mutually agreed time frames are put on the board for everyone to monitor.

Question 3: Comment on the use of Google Docs as a way to work together with others

Again it is clear that the students enjoyed working in Google Docs…once we had got over the novelty of them! One student responded honestly that they were “sometimes frustrating but a good way to learn new ideas”. I also liked that it was “fun to share our opinions instantly”, and that “if you were ever stuck you could get inspiration and help from other people through the doc”. Here’s an example of one of our collaborative docs, from towards the end of the school year.

Question 4: Comment on the use of Edmodo as a way to help you access information and resources

All of the comments were positive in response to this question. The girls liked having all of their notes stored in one place, the ease of access, and being essentially ‘paperless’ (less to lose, their lockers were tidier said one student!). Students felt that Edmodo was a great way to share files and to have tasks set for them. I was appreciative of one student who made it her mission to capture any notes that went on the board and share these with the class via Edmodo.

So, what are my next learning steps?

I didn’t especially want to teach Year 11 this year. But this class was a blast! It was a great embodiment of ‘hard fun’ and the surveys reflect this. However I felt that overall the lessons were still very traditional. I really want to get into the habit next year of timing myself – no more than 15 minutes of direct instruction at any one time. This comment from one girl: “I thought the classes were run really structured and organised which I really enjoyed! I also like how sometimes we were allowed to plan the lesson to what the class as a whole thought we needed more work on.” has prompted me to commit to more co-construction of work. This is always successful when I take this approach. And I want to push the boundaries of collaboration more. Rather than ‘just’ sharing of ideas – which the girls clearly found powerful – I want to encourage more reflection, analysis, feedback and critique. Suggestions welcomed!

Marsden Professional Learning Session 12

The theme for today was critical thinking, and it was mostly about having two staff members highlight activities they have used to encourage critical thinking in their students.

Here is a copy of the wrap-around presentation I used:

I enjoyed talking about thinking, particularly the opportunity to share how I feel I have been guilty of having quite a shallow understanding of the ‘thinking’ Key Competency specifically, but all the Key Competencies of the New Zealand Curriculum more generally. When I put the slide up of points about what ‘Thinking’ entails from Bolstad et al’s book ‘Key Competencies for the Future‘ (2014) there was quite a buzz that suggests to me that I was not alone in treating the competencies lightly. We need to ensure that we don’t play lip service to thinking, but are offering explicit strategies to our learners, and to highlight to them times when they are thinking to build this awareness.

It was fantastic to hear from a PE/Health teacher and a Science teacher about their practice. The staff were impressed by the health advertisements some Year 9 students had produced. It was great to see Health content, English and Performance Media skills coming together. A challenge would be to do this in a more explicit way for cross-curricula links to be forged. I also loved how the teacher spoke thoughtfully and honestly about worrying that her students would ask her for technical support and she wouldn’t be able to offer this. She learned over the course of her unit that it doesn’t matter if she doesn’t have all the answers. Powerful stuff.

A Science teacher spoke about the collaboration I have blogged about here – whereby we teach the same Year 8 class and the girls used their forensics knowledge from Science to write ‘whodunit’ plays in English. I appreciated that she highlighted the usefulness of Google tools such as Docs and Slides to allow the students to more easily move across the learning areas and tasks. She also commented that she thought the task was a challenging one, but the students showed resilience and critical thinking in having to interweave the skills and content needed. I’m pleased that she’s keen to use the unit again next year!

My workshop was one offered previously on Edmodo, and the helpsheet for this is available here.

Whodunit??

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This term my Year 8 class scripted, rehearsed and performed their own plays. I’ve taught various versions of this unit for a couple of years now. The students always enjoy it, and often create quite good dramas. It was time for a twist though, and it came in the form of cross-curricular learning with Science.

[A quick contextual note: at my school Year 7 and 8 are integrated into the secondary school, i.e they have subject specialist teachers. Year 7 are taught in a homeroom, with the exception of subjects such as Science, Art and Music. Year 8s move around from subject to subject, teacher to teacher, as Year 9s and upward do.]

I found out that the Year 8 Science classes do a forensics unit, complete with a trip to Police Museum – fun!, and often they make their own films showing a crime to be solved. It seemed that this could dovetail nicely with my drama unit.

In addition to the drama skills, including mime, improvisation and drama conventions, I usually taught, we also covered some plotting ideas. We discussed the need to plan carefully. The girls would need to know ‘whodunit’, why, and how before they started writing. This was a real spin-off bonus to the unit, from my perspective. I do find that sometimes no matter how much I emphasise the need to plan before starting, the starting is the planning for many! However, in crafting a detective story, students could see the benefit of working backwards, so to speak, in order to take their audience on a journey.

The Science teacher and I decided on some parameters: no brutal CSI or Criminal Minds episodes for us, thank you! (The relevant information sheet is here: Year 8 Crime Drama Play)The girls had the prompters of three titles: The Locker Raid, The Case of the Missing Lunch and The Words that Should Not Have Been There. The girls weren’t to stage the crimes, but to start in medias res, as many plays do – smack bang in the middle of the action – after the crime had been committed. The plays were to be set at school and be realistic. I wondered if the girls might not find this much fodder for their creative juices, and one group wasn’t so keen initially, but I think the task had its own challenges and working with a familiar setting and context actually was easier.

In order to incorporate the forensics, the girls had to include a ‘multimedia presentation’ in their play. This meant that the audience could ‘see’ the clues that were discovered during the course of the play. They learned about fibres and fingerprints and tooth marks in Science and took pictures with a microscope which they put into Google Slides. These presentations were then screened during the play – another element to incorporate into their scripts as stage directions. While the quality of the images wasn’t always so great, and the girls didn’t spread the clues throughout their plays as I had imagined they might, this definitely helped keep them on task and focus on the real Science behind their crimes.

Working in Google Docs and Slides worked so well for this unit. We had a lot of students struck down by illness, but sharing the documents and working collaboratively meant no excuse for work being in one book, or stuck on one student’s account. It also allowed students to work on different scenes of their plays at the same time – a more equal sharing of responsibilities. The illness was an issue when we moved into rehearsal phase though. I didn’t get to see many groups rehearse fully to give them as much feedback as I normally would around their use of space or audience awareness.

Overall though, this was an interesting unit. The girls kept a reflection log throughout the process, and the overarching theme of these was how much fun they were having. I did ask them to reflect on what they had learned, but some found this difficult. Maybe some sentence starters next time will help bring more focus to their responses. The thing I most enjoyed was the group who had a completed script…and then realised that the Science didn’t support what they had planned to use as clues…so back they had to go and re-work their piece. I don’t know if their Science teacher prompted them to do this, but I certainly didn’t. Seeing the girls having to think critically about how to interweave the forensics into their English script was amazing. I also enjoyed inviting parents into the class to see the girls perform. While we didn’t have a huge uptake, at least one-third of the girls had a supporting adult come along. This small but authentic audience helped the girls to focus on learning their lines and taking their performances seriously. As always, there are things I could have done better, but I was proud of what the girls achieved and having to work cross-curricular really added to their learning experience.

Everything is Connected

This isn’t going to be the first blogpost I write spinning out of the amazing #edchatNZ conference, but it’s the one that was first inspired by it.

After the #edchatNZ steering committee, which I was privileged enough to be a member of, had had their dinner on Friday night – literally the first time we had ever sat down together as a team – I turned to Matt Nicoll and said, “You know, I have connections to everyone on the committee.” And, it’s true, I do.

  • Matt is my (second) cousin.
  • Danielle and Heather have worked with former colleagues of mine.
  • Alyx teaches at a school my cousin worked at.
  • Mel teaches at a school I went to.
  • Sonya is Samoan, and my husband is too.

And as I was relating these connections to Matt, my brain said to me: actually, Philippa, these are pretty tenuous connections. But then it struck me: there is a basic human need to feel connected to others.

And for me, this was the genius of the #edchatNZ conference. It was an opportunity for people who had built connections using Twitter and our little hashtag to meet one another face to face and develop these connections into relationships.

And as I was reflecting on the basic need to feel connected, I thought about this photo that I took:

HPSS Brainstorm

This is a section of a brainstorm HPSS students taking part in Danielle and Steve’s #apocalyps class where they’re using Science and Social Science perspectives to explore wicked problems. These brainstorms, as I understand it, were the students’ first thoughts, a jumping off place, for the term. They threw all their ideas down on big sheets answering the question: ‘What’s wrong with the world?’ It appears that after this, the students used different colours to find links between these problems. In purple, just above the ‘t’s’ in ‘What’s’, a very clever, insightful student has observed: ‘everything is connected to everything’.

This message was echoed in the workshop I attended (best facilitation ever, Mel Moore!) where we explored breaking down silos in the senior school, and how we might create cross-curricular courses. It took the group I was working with literally thirty seconds to brainstorm a truly integrated course based on the stimulus provided by Pete McGhie of ‘Our backyard’. We had Food, Technology, English, Maths, Science and Te Reo easily incorporated. I knew such a thing was possible, but so quickly? It blew my mind.

And so I wonder: How might we better offer our students to make connections? With each other, with their teachers, between learning areas? It is clear that it is both possible and indeed imperative.

Blossoming

As part of my current unit on ‘poetic geography’, I wanted my students to reflect on their poetry drafts, and to get feedback from their peers. I’ve used the whole ‘PMI’ (plus, minus, interesting) chart in the past, and also a modification of it: ‘smiley face, sad face, question mark’, to varying degrees of success. Then, in a tweet from Steve Mouldey (@GeoMouldey – where so many of ‘my’ ideas seem to come from…), I learned about ‘rosebud’ feedback.

Watch the YouTube video about it here – courtesy of Lisa Palmieri (@Learn21Tech).

And here’s the Google Presentation with the instructions I made for my class. I added the ‘helpful, kind, specific’ criteria after reading Andrea Henson’s blogpost trialling the same rosebud feedback activity (@AndreaHenson_nz).

Here are my students in action:

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I was very impressed by how engaged the girls were. They really worked with focus for far longer than I anticipated.

At the conclusion of the lesson, I wanted to know how the girls found the activity. They commented that they enjoyed it, but wanted less repetition in the feedback they were given by their peers. They also wanted more specific feedback, so that they really had a direction to move in to improve. It is clear that giving feedback is a skill that the girls will need more practice with, but this activity definitely showed me the benefit of a structured peer-feedback activity like this.

Three things really stood out to me to highlight the worthiness of the rosebud task:

  1. The student who wanted more bud/green feedback so that she could improve her poem further (“just one post-it note isn’t enough, Ms Nicoll, I’ll finish that too quickly!”)
  2. The student who realised that her poem wasn’t the best she could do and wanted to continue to craft rather than produce her final copy. (Especially when she’s normally the student who rushes to finish and is satisfied with her first attempt.)
  3. The day before, I had a queue of students behind me, all wanting feedback from me. The next day, they wanted feedback from each other.

The rosebud bloomed!

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’.”