About biancah80

I teach English at a public high school on Sydney's Northern Beaches and fledgling PBL in English researcher at Sydney Uni. Happily married & mum of 2 boys. My blog: www.biancahewes.wordpress.com

Introducing the PLC model and Action Research to our staff

If you’ve been following my endeavour with the implementation of the Performance and Development Framework at my school, you’ll know that staff development day at the beginning of this term was massive. I spent four full days preparing for the day, because I wanted it to be perfect – well, as close to perfect as possible when you’re working with 60 humans. I also wanted it to be fun, and I wanted the teachers at my school to know that their learning is important to me.

I decided right at the beginning of the year that I would introduce and nurture the Professional Learning Community framework for whole-school professional learning, and within that action research as the primary model of teacher learning. Introducing these two ideas to staff required them to develop an understanding and appreciation of the philosophy behind each one, as well as seeing each as having potential to improve student learning at our school. I wanted buy in, not compliance. It doesn’t make sense to have teachers seeing a PLC as another ‘thing’ they’re expected to do, although I know that’s probably how it might been seen for a while. I also had to help the majority of teachers engage with the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers for the first time, and help them feel confident writing their first ever Performance and Development Plan! Massive!  OK, so below is a quick overview of how it all worked.

Before staff development day:

During term 2, I presented briefly on the PDPs and PLC to each faculty, and asked each teacher to use a scaling tool to self-assess themselves in relation to a range of GATS quality teaching practices. You can see the document here. Using this information, staff self-identified three GATS quality teaching practices they were interested in learning more about, and these three were sent to me. I created a Google Sheets document with all teachers’ names, and listed their three goals. Using this information, I created PLC teams. Each team has 2-4 members. The ideal size is 4 – most teams had 4 – however some only had two because only two people picked that GATS quality teaching practice! By the time I had created all of the teams focusing on: mentoring, assessment as learning, organisation skills, research skills, wellbeing, literacy, ICT integration, differentiation, critical thinking, connectedness and explicit quality criteria.

The next thing I did was find key articles and resources for each of the teams – this is part of the ‘discover’ stage of the action research cycle we’re using as the basis for our PDPs. Once I had all of the teams sorted, and knew which GATS quality teaching practices would be the focus for teachers this year, I bought a whole bunch of books from Hawker Brownlow related to them. I spent about half a day going through them and identifying a chapter or two of each book that gave teachers a theoretical understanding of their chosen GATS quality teaching practice – to be copied and given to each team on staff development day. Next, I went found some great articles on PLCs and action research, to be shared with the staff also. Then I gathered together all of the essential documents teachers would need to help them feel confident with writing their PDP – this actually took me ages. It constantly surprises me how hard important policy documents are to find online – it’s almost like they don’t want us to find them! Some of these resources were photocopied and added to team folders for teachers to access on SDD, but most were put online on a Weebly, so they can access the stuff anywhere, anytime – you can use it for your staff too if you like: http://www.mscplc.weebly.com

To help teachers find their way to the website on SDD, I created little laminated QR code swing tags to hang on their water bottles – these were a hit with everyone, and it was cool to see them stoked with a new tech tool! I prepared a bunch of stuff using Canva before the day – team posters, a project outline for the day, and a project outline for the action research project, activity sheets, and team role name tags. I also spent about half a day creating my PPT presentation.

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On the day – morning session:

When staff came into the room on SDD, they had to find their team by looking at the names on the folders – this was such a bad idea, you can just imagine the confusion! Anyway, once they found their spot they sat with their team, and I marked the roll using ClassDojo, and showed them how I would be using it throughout the day to reward positive learning behaviours – they thought it was pretty awesome. The session began with a driving question (How can action research support the growth of our school’s PLC and consequently improve learning experiences and outcomes for students at MSC?) and a project outline:

SDD project outline 

I asked staff to quietly read through the project outline, and then identify what skills and knowledge they already had that they were bringing to the project, and what skills and knowledge they felt the still needed to know (in the form of questions). They then shared these with their team members, and went and posted their ideas to a big KWL table I had made out of butcher’s paper on the wall. I told them that the questions would be our learning goals for the day. I then spent some time very quickly going through my PPT slides about the following: School Excellent Framework, Australian Professional Standards for Teachers, Performance and Development Framework and Plans (with a focus on quality professional learning, evidence collection and observations as well as showing my own PDP as a model). At the end of this I did a quick quiz using Plickers – before I could do it I gave everyone a couple of minutes to construct their Plicker sticks using the printed off plicker, a paddlepop stick and bluetak. Well, the first couple of questions worked with Plickers and everyone was impressed, but sadly the old skool Internet Explorer didn’t want to play the game, so I had to abandon the quiz idea, lol.

We then watched this awesome video of Dylan Wiliam about professional learning https://vimeo.com/130817032 and had a chat about what he had to say using the surprised/confirmed/challenged protocol. It was a very robust discussion! This led into me speaking briefly about PLCs, and getting everyone to pair up for a active reading activity. I used the ‘say something’ protocol I learnt at PBL World – everyone took out the PLC article, and at key points I had written the words ‘stop and say something’ which indicates that they must briefly discuss what they’ve read with their partner. This process repeats until the article is finished. We then came back together and discussed what surprised/confirmed/challenged their ideas about professional learning. It was cool. Next we did essentially the same thing, but with a focus on Action Research… once again everyone was really cool about it, and could see the benefits. What I like about both PLCs and action research is that it’s pretty much common sense, and often it is formalising things that happen on the fly at times, and acknowledges the need for time for us to spend time together as learners. You can see my PPT here: http://mscplc.weebly.com/sdd-ppt.html

On the day – middle session:

This session was spent working in PCL teams to complete the final dot point in the ‘discover’ stage of their SDD project – research strategies related to their chosen GATS quality teaching practice. (Remember, that this is their first PDP goal – the one aligned to our school’s ‘Our Learning Culture’ strategic direction from our school plan.) They also were to work as a team to complete the tasks outlined in the ‘create’ stage of the SDD project outline. To support them with this, I created a series of activity sheets (yes, I am a teacher, lol). Having teachers chose ‘roles’ in their teams really helped ensure everyone contributed meaningfully, I even made badges for them because, you know, I’m a geek. You can see the badges here:

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I spent this session running between classrooms, supporting the PLC teams – manic but awesome. You can see the activities the PLC teams did in this time below:

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On the day – afternoon session:

I think this was my most fun session, because it was where I got to stand back and marvel at the awesome of my colleagues! If you’ve looked at the SDD project outline, you’ll see at the ‘share’ stage that each team had to share their team action research project plan with the rest of the staff. They were given a template for this (see below), and butchers paper and textas. I didn’t want to have them present as PPTs, because no one wants to sit through 12-14 PPTs after lunch – kill me now! Instead, I stole another PBL World idea – the gallery walk! We used a hallway between classrooms as our ‘gallery’ and our ‘artworks’ were each team’s action research project plan on butcher’s paper – the presenter from each team stood in front of their butcher’s paper (which was blutacked) to the wall behind them. The rest of the teachers then had 20 minutes to walk through the gallery, and hear what the presenters had to say – they could go to whichever ones interested them, and some presenters repeated the presentation 4-5 times. There was such a buzz during this activity, I was almost in tears (because, yes, I’m a geek!).

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The very final activity of the day was a noisy one – the ever popular speed dating! Teachers were sat in two long rows, facing each other. One row went and took a Post-It from the ‘W’ column of the giant KWL table, and they had 30 seconds to answer it, or ask for an answer to it, from the person across from them – this process continued until we were back to the original partner. SO NOISY! SO FUN! My final question of the day was, ‘Does anyone have anything they still need to know?’ and there wasn’t anyone who did (or, at least who was bothered to ask with 10 minutes of the day to go, lol). So that’s it, really. That was our staff development day!

After SDD: 

Of course, the learning didn’t end there… they had all made awesome action research projects to do! During this term, PLC teams have been meeting, sharing their strategies they’ll be trying out with students, and making plans to observe their critical friends try out these new strategies. I’ve been receiving emails from teachers asking to attend courses with their PLC critical friends to help them with their PLC goals, and I’ve had teachers sharing their progress with me – so cool! By the end of this term, they will have completed their action research project, and they’ll be preparing to present their findings/learning to the whole staff in Week 3 of term 4. Phew! It’s a big change, but not. I know it’s not perfect, and I never expected it to be. I do know, that my colleagues have been awesome in embracing this new way of doing PL, and I have genuine optimism that our PLC will continue to grow and flourish in the coming months and years.

IF YOU USE ANY OR ALL OF THIS MODEL FOR YOUR SCHOOL, PLEASE ACKNOWLEDGE MY WORK (MY BLOG HAS A CREATIVE COMMONS LICENCE, PLEASE RESPECT IT)… BUT MORE IMPORTANTLY, SHARE YOUR JOURNEY WITH ME!! :) 

Helping students understand the refugee experience using Go Back To Where You Came From

Over the last three nights Australia has been confronted with the heartbreaking reality of the world’s 15 million + refugees thanks to the powerful documentary series Go Back To Where You Came From. This is the third series of the show which tracks the journey of five everyday Australians as they discover the impact of Australia’s current refugee policy.

I was privileged to be invited to work in conjunction with the Australian Red Cross and SBS to develop teacher resources to support the use of the series in the classroom. The purpose of the teacher resources is the help students better understand the facts about the refugees experience, specifically focusing on these areas:

  • Current world conflicts
  • Identity and belonging
  • Human rights and vulnerabilities
  • Statelessness
  • Religious diversity in Asia
  • Preconceptions about refugees
  • Australia’s migration history
  • The role of international and aid organisations
  • Global patterns of people movement

As noted by Australian Red Cross ambassador Dr Munjed Al Muderis, the only way to improve the lives of refugees is to educate people about the reality of their experience, our legal and moral responsibilities as global citizens, and the ways that every individual can help refugees overseas and in our own countries. The teacher resources created for the series does just that, and is not just useful for Australian teachers, but for teachers in all countries, specifically those more privileged countries that can do more to help.

I designed the resources using a structure loosely based on my Project Based Learning model – discover, create, share. Below is a description of these types of activities, drawn from the Teacher Resource Pack:

Discover: these activities enhance students’ understanding of key concepts and develop their critical thinking, research and comprehension skills.

Create: these activities provide students with the opportunity to demonstrate their understanding of key concepts by applying their new knowledge in the creation of a range of types of texts, and develop their creative thinking, ethical understanding and use of ICT.

Share: these activities encourage students to share their learning with an audience beyond the classroom, and develop their communication and presentation skills.

There is a wide range of activities, which can be used as part of a longer unit of work or project, but can also be used as single lessons or even for extra-curricula activities like school camps or Student Representative Council days. Check out the website to see all of the great resources. You can access the full Teacher Resource Pack PDF here.

I also wrote activities to support the teaching of the interactive graphic novel The Boat which is based on the powerful story by Nam Le. These resources take two forms – the first is a PDF with comprehension activities based on the Super Six Comprehension strategies, and the second is a series of creative activities based on videos of The Boat’s illustrator Vietnamese-Australian artist Matt Huynh. I’m particularly proud of these creative activities and hope LOTS of teachers use them with their students, and share their work using the Twitter hashtag #SBSlearn! Check out the website to see all of The Boat resources. You can access all of the resources for The Boat here.

Please share this post with you colleagues, especially those who are English, History or Geography teachers. I hope they make a difference in the lives of young people, as well as the future attitudes towards refugees and governmental policies that affect the lives of our world’s most vulnerable people.

Why do Australians need satire more than ever? Year 10 project

In the last three weeks of term 2, two year 10 classes worked on a PBL project focusing on satire. This was the first PBL project designed by one of my new English colleagues, Kate Munro, and I was so pleased with how enthusiastically she took to the challenge of rethinking her practice. I think everyone remembers their first PBL project, and I know Kate will too.

Here is the project outline that Kate created for the project:

satire-project

We both used Google Drive to organise students’ resources, and as a space to facilitate their collaboration. This worked well because it was Kate’s first time using Google Drive with students, another responsible risk that pushed her comfort levels but ultimately allowed her to discover the effectiveness of Google Drive for PBL. She also trialled using ClassDojo to track students’ collaborative behaviours – what a champion!

As you can see, for this project students were to work in teams to create their own satirical text. Students were given the freedom to choose what topic they would focus their satire on, and what type of text they would make. I spent a bit of time contacting a range of people to be involved as out guest experts at the final presentation of learning, and was very happy to get three people to get involved –  two guys from The Sauce an Australian satirical website plus a young film maker Todd McHenry who is passionate about the changing nature of satire in the 21st century! All three came to our school and spoke with our students about satire, and why they are all committed to this genre of comedy, and then they provided feedback to students on their satirical texts. It was great to have the boys from The Sauce offer to publish some of our students work, and for Todd to offer to come back again next year in the early stages of the project to help students with the creation of their satirical videos. We are very lucky!

Here are some of the texts created by my students, I hope you find them as funny and powerful as we do!

SHARKS

why australia needs tony

A Man Of Action

asylum

ISIS

Outside.pptx

POLYP-UNION

The struggle to juggle multiple roles

This year I’m no longer ‘just a teacher’. I took pride for many years telling people that I was ‘just a teacher’ when asked what my role was at school – it was a role I was proud of, and one I was happy to claim. By the word ‘just’ I simply meant ‘not a head teacher etc’, knowing that the role of teacher is huge and super important. This year, I’m no longer ‘just a teacher’, I’m still a teacher of course (just ask my two year 10 classes, and my year 11 and year 12 Advanced English classes) but I’m also a lot of other things. My role as HT Teaching and Learning means I have many, many more responsibilities. Last week I used Canva to make myself a pretty poster of all my responsibilities which I have put on my office wall to remind me of the balls I must keep up in the air at any one time, and believe me it’s more than three! 

I’ve found my new role incredibly rewarding, and also really liberating. I know that probably seems an odd choice of words, but this job truly has given my a creative outlet like no other by giving me the scope to share ideas, and help build new ways of thinking about education with others. I’ve come to my school at a very opportune time of change, driven mostly by new reforms from ‘up top’ but also from a shared awareness of the necessary changes confronting the education sector. It’s certainly exciting, and I find myself getting carried away by the dream of innovations, revisions, creative adaptations and big, big edu ideas. This is my problem: I don’t just think, I desire ardently to do, and will dash around enthusiastically to ensure that doing is done. Unfortunately this evil demon propelling me forward in this endeavour, must be reigned in by the reality of my other responsibility: my students’ learning. 

Some days I find myself struggling to separate my dual role as teacher teacher and classroom teacher. My refusal to be mediocre (even though at times I truly do mess up, forgetting essential things, dropping balls all over the place) means that I’m flipping almost manically between two selves. Last Thursday is the perfect example: during my free periods, recess and lunch I had a steady stream of people coming into my office – teachers and students. Year 12 students were coming from my class to seek help with their pre-Trials preparation, students from other teachers’ year 12 classes were seeking additional feedback on their Module B essays I had marked, and teachers were popping in to get advice on their Performance and Development Plans. Add to this emails from other teachers asking for help with PBL project planning, and it made for a very busy day. The thing is, I loved it. All teachers will admit that the reason they chose our profession is because they love to help others. Being able to support so many people in one day was incredibly fulfilling professionally, and a reminder of why I sought out the role of HT T&L. I love my job. 

The struggle, however, to juggle all of the balls without letting one slip is starting to weigh on me. I’m not so much exhausted, as I am frustrated by my lack of time to be the best I can be, and do the best I can do. I’m time poor, and the only way out of it I see is less face to face teaching time. I would never want to be off class entirely, my very being thrives on those classroom experiences, conversations and encounters. My year 10 make me laugh, they test my patience, and my good humour, but they also challenge me to try new things, be me in a different way and embrace new ways of looking at texts and the world. My year 11 and 12 students challenge me to see texts through the eyes of those who can’t see their value, or simply can’t see them properly, and I learn to play the HSC game with them whilst simultaneously subverting it to help see the worth of learning for the sake of learning. I don’t ever see myself not teaching students, but I do see the need for a reduced teaching load. 

My responsibility as leader of professional learning is profoundly important, and one I cherish and at times put above my role as classroom teacher. My role, I hope, will see me contribute to the learning experiences of many, many students. In order to do that, however, I must have the time to dedicate myself to the learning goals and needs of my colleagues, to spend 1-1 time with them, to help them see their own strengths, and to see themselves in a new way as learners. I need to be able to learn with them, spend time co-teaching with them, co-designing with them, getting excited about crazy possibilities with them. I just can’t do that with my current teaching load, and try as I might the restrictions of timetables just means I simply can’t get around to every teacher. My over-achieving inner 13 year old who has her heart set on changing the world simply can’t accept that. I’m afraid I’ll either keep going at it until something breaks, or until something fails badly. I can accept failure, I think, but it isn’t on my to-do list for this term, lol. 

Before you comment and tell me to drop the martyr/hero complex and delegate some responsibilities, believe me those things are on my list. My colleagues are not dependent on me, we are a learning community, I have created teams who are happy to share in the responsibility. (Oh, and my work is just one small piece of a giant, complex school puzzle, so don’t imagine I think I’m the only one working on these reforms, that’s crazy.) I’m no one lady show, and never would I want to be. My frustration is with time, and my lack of it, because to be the best I can be in my role as leader of professional learning I must be available, and my demanding teaching schedule (no, I won’t go the easy way with my classes – firstly it would go against all of my principles to do so, secondly I would not be modeling best practice which would defeat my whole HT T&L enterprise!) just really inhibits that. So what do I want? I want what we all want, and can’t have, I want more time. My goal is currently to get better at time management, I’m getting there but I know there’s still so much to learn. 

I wonder how others juggle their executive responsibilities with being the best possible classroom teacher? 

Using ClassDojo to reinforce 21st century skills in PBL

I haven’t used ClassDojo since the beginning of last year. I didn’t think that I would need to use it again, since I’m working at a selective school, and I naively believed that these young people would be 100% engaged 100% of the time. Oops. I was wrong. No one is going to be engaged all of the time, and that’s the same with kids at selective schools, Well, if I’m entirely honest they are super on task when doing something independent – but collaborative tasks seem to bring out the chatty in my year 10. For the first three projects this year I tried to encourage them along with shushing, and then a bit of serious bitch face mode, but mostly it had little effect. To give a bit of context, I don’t have my own classroom anymore, so I can’t really move the furniture around to suit our project work – no more matching the physical space to the learning for me. This means that group work is more side-by-side work, with students being very close to others not in their teams, and you know what that means – off task chatter. After a bit of a think, I decided to go back to ClassDojo.

Year 10 parent-teacher interviews are coming up at the beginning of next term, so it seemed the perfect opportunity to test out the report feature in ClassDojo too. I’ve promised my students that I will be printing out individual reports to show their parents their behaviour in class – both the good, and the bad. This certainly got their attention! If parents are happy with what they see, I can organise for them to set up their own ClassDojo account, so they can track their child’s performance – nice, huh?

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There are a few cool new features in ClassDojo that make it perfect for Project Based Learning. Here they are:

Flexible points for behaviours:

I can now change the point value for different behaviours – previously it was just one point per behaviour. Now I can make the 21st century skills we’re focused on worth more – for example, this project we’re assessing collaboration and creative and critical thinking, and these three skills I’ve made worth 5 points. Students have been given a BIE rubric for each skill, so they know what I am looking for. Other behaviours like being on task, or participating are worth 1 or 2 points.

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Timer:

I use a timer a lot in my class, so having it built into ClassDojo is super convenient. I use the timer for things like changing the furniture (thanks Cameron Paterson), speed dating style activities and timed writing activities.

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Attendance:

This doesn’t replace my formal attendance check using Sentral, but it does mean that when I allocate points to the whole class, it doesn’t go to absent students. Winning!

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Random student selector:

This is my favourite new feature. Basically you click ‘random’ and it just brings up a randomly selected student’s name ready to receive, or lose points. So cool because it reminds me to look at those students who I might miss, plus also helps me ‘catch’ kids doing the right thing. Finally, it is a cool formative assessment tool like Dylan Wiliam uses his paddlepop sticks – if the student whose name got picked randomly is doing the right thing, the whole class gets a point, if not, no one gets one. The trick is to keep the student’s name anonymous, so there’s no finger-pointing if points aren’t awarded.

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The app:

OK, so this has been around for ages, but now it is seamless. Today I was outside of the class working with team representatives, and I could give points and the students in the classroom could see the points going up (or down) on the IWB. I even went to see a colleague in the staff room and was awarding points from there – needless to say, my students were pretty impressed. Haha. Having the app on my phone frees me up to walk around the room and work with students, and also to see what they’re up to, and award points accordingly. So cool.

I’m super happy with how ClassDojo has been helping year 10 stay focused, and feel that their 21st century skills are being developed and rewarded each lesson. Tech win!

Using Google Forms for formative assessment #GAFE

The other day I tweeted asking for suggestions for the best student response apps to use for formative assessment, assuming that Socrative would be the best. Aaron Davis asked why I wasn’t thinking about using Google Forms, given that DEC schools now have access to GAFE. Initially I was skeptical, thinking it wouldn’t give me immediate access to responses, but after a quick play I discovered that I was wrong.

I trialled my new toy today with year 12. I wanted to test they understood the requirements of our latest module which I had presented to them the day before through a PPT. I create a ten question quiz, created a short link and then posted it to Edmodo. It took students about 5 minutes to complete, and then I posted up the collective results from the class, and went through what were the right answers. They best thing is that it is totally anonymous (one of my students shouted out, ‘I hope it’s anonymous!’ just before I revealed the results, lol), so students didn’t need to feel embarrassed if they got a question wrong, however they knew themselves when they got one wrong, and why, through my discussion of the answers with the whole class.

Below is a super quick tutorial for how to make your own formative assessment quiz using Google Forms. 

1. Open Google Drive and select ‘new’.

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2. Move your cursor to the bottom to where it says ‘more’ and then click on ‘Google Forms’.

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3. Add a title to your form – this will be the name of the quiz your students see.

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4. Type in your first question – it automatically defaults to multiple-choice, you need it to be multiple-choice for this formative assessment style quiz.

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5. Add in possible answers then click ‘required question’ and then click ‘done’.

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6. Repeat until you’ve added all of your questions.

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7. Scroll back to the top and unselect ‘Require NSW Dept of Education and Communities login to view this form’ – this will take too long, and slow down your students’ responses. Check ‘Show progress bar at the bottom of form pages’ and check ‘shuffle question order’.

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If you want to check their your quiz looks awesome, you can do that by clicking ‘view’ in the toolbar, and then click on ‘live form’.

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It will open a new tab, and look pretty neat, like my one:

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8. Back on your original Google Form, scroll back to the bottom and click ‘send form’.

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9. Click ‘short url’ and copy the URL. Share this with your class via your preferred method – I use Edmodo because it’s super quick and easy.

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10. Once your students all tell you they are all done, go to the back to the top of the Google Forms doc and click ‘responses’ on the top tool bar.

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11. Click ‘summary of responses’ and you a new document will open pie chart responses for all questions, and a little summary of how many people picked each response. Now you can go through the correct answers and discuss why they were right, as a class.

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That’s it – so easy, huh? I’m making one now for my year 12 class to test their understanding of the plot of Henry IV, because we went through it in class today (we read a Shmoop summary that I ‘enhanced’ by using cut-outs of characters blutacked to the whiteboard, moving them around to follow the action of the play). I can’t wait to see if they remember the plot as well as I hoped they did, but if they didn’t that’s OK, because I’ll make sure I plug the gaps in their learning – that’s my job after all, right? :)

Evidenced Based Teaching Practices Self-Assessment – Standards Aligned

This is a document that can be used by teachers or leaders to assess teaching practice. It’s designed using a Solutions Focused Approach technique called scaling, which allows you to identify where you’re at with your current teaching practice, and where you’d like to be. I’ve added the relevant proficient professional standards to help those of you who are working towards your accreditation. Of course, you could easily just jump up to the next level of the same number if you’re working towards HAT or Lead. I hope it comes in useful for some of you! :)