Teaching teachers is fun but challenging …

For the last three months I have been working at Sydney University each Tuesday. I’ve been running seminars for the #EDMT5500 course, Introduction to Teaching and Learning – kinda mental, huh? I’ll admit that it has been a really challenging experience for me. Not because the content of what I have to teach is difficult of foreign to me, but simply because I have only two hours a week with these awesome people who have chosen to be teachers and I feel it simply isn’t enough time to get to know them. I mean, I’ve tried really hard to get to know their names and how they learn (super important to me as an educator) and to also cram into that time everything that I think a new teacher should know and be able to do.

Like most teachers (I hope), I believe that learning through doing is more powerful than learning through listening. I’ve done my best to have my students engage actively in the types of activities and learning experiences that I’d like to see them create for their students. But it is a challenge to not stand up the front and just talk about my experience as a teacher. You see, these guys are super excited to have a practising teacher in the room with them for two hours a week. They have so many questions about teaching and learning (of course I don’t know all of the answers), that at times we just fall into semi-casual discussions about my experiences and my beliefs. That last bit is the rub, of course … when I’m up the front and they are all asking questions, it’s hard not to believe that my ideas and opinions are the most important, the more right. I think that’s symptomatic of the ‘sage on the stage’ experience – feeling superior because of our location within the room and the attention we garner. This is problematic in high schools but it’s down-right dangerous in universities.

Anyway, apart from that little bit of self-criticism, I think that overall my experience has been super positive. Mostly I’ve just been skimming the weekly notes/PPT for the week and then running with my own ideas about what is central and most relevant for my students. They have been introduced to so many teaching approaches, strategies, tools, theorists, practitioners and activities that I think none of them really have a reason to start their teaching career as a ‘sage on the stage’ unless it’s what they truly desire to be. I hope that from our course they’ve been challenged to think differently about teaching and learning and that they’ve discovered that the labels ‘teacher’ and ‘learner’ can be applied to every individual who is participating in the learning experience.

Here is just a super quick list of what my #EDMT5500 students have been exposed to during the first 9 weeks of the Introduction to Teaching and Learning course. I’d really love it if you commented below with other approaches, strategies, tools, theorists, practitioners and activities that you think a new teacher should be exposed to before getting their first class!

SOLO taxonomy

metaphors for learning spaces

Blooms Taxonomy 

Quality Teaching Framework

Australian professional standards for teaching

8 Aboriginal ways of learning

– Elmore’s instructional core

– Tait Coles’ punk learning approach

Project Based Learning

– Design Thinking (iDesign)

– Thinking activities: KWL, speed-dating, think/pair/share, hexagonal thinking, master and apprentice, think/puzzle/explore

edmodo, Diigo, slideshare, scribd, YouTube, classdojo, Twitter

constructivism and constructionism

Seymour Papert

I’m sure there’s a bunch of other things we have covered but I can’t remember, lol.


Prac students are awesome: go get one!

I’m always keen to have a prac student. I find them super useful because it means that I can get on with my own work whilst they teach my classes. I’m joking, obviously. I like having prac students because they help me to think critically about my own practice. I also learn a lot from them – they are in the guts of current edu theory (or should be) and eager to try out new things in the classroom (or should be). The best types of prac students are those who aren’t afraid to take risks. Usually if I have a timid prac student my whole focus during their placement is to make them relax: with the content, their lesson planning and with the kids. I like to remind them that this is the time to make mistakes, to try new things, to have epic failures and unexpected successes.

I have been very fortunate to have an awesome prac student with me for the past month. Having a prac student this late in the year was not something I had planned – in fact, I can happily say that I was ‘head-hunted’ by my prac student, Peter, because he wanted to experience PBL in a high school setting. A public high school setting. How cool is that? I have to admit, it was a really cool time of year for him to observe PBL because three of my classes were at the pointy end of their projects – the production and presentation end. Year 8 were working on creating short films for our annual RockFest, Year 9 were composing fantasy stories in collaboration with a Year 2 class at another school and Year 10 were composing their products for the English Composition Project. There was a LOT happening for Peter to see and be a part of.

The cool thing about having a prac student is that they are another human being in the classroom – this means more knowledge, life experience, opinions and support to contribute to each project. Peter did this and more! His experience as an educator at the Powerhouse Museum was invaluable. He taught my Year 8 students and I about the importance of production management when making a film – you gotta have lists and keep things organised! He reminded us all about the importance of delegation of tasks and the reality of time-frames. His expertise when it comes to editing – especially sounds – was really valued by my students. Just having him there in the room gave a degree of authenticity to their projects. Year 8 managed to produce some great short films because of Peter. But because Peter was there, my students were also happy to discuss what didn’t work (their failures) and why. Their post-project debrief today really demonstrated their learning as well as their appreciation for the process over the perceived quality of the final product.

Having another adult to share the anxiety and stress associated with the end point of a project is absolutely essential to your sanity! I do project-learning as a solo teacher and mostly use this blog and twitter as my outlet when things get all too much. Having Peter there to reassure me, and to kinda share the pain so to speak, helped me survive a week of potential mayhem. I guess the cool thing about prac students is that they kinda have to share the journey with you, otherwise you can just write on their final report that they’re not cut out to be a quality teacher, right? Haha. Peter happily ran crazy errands for me: today he did a round trip of about 50kms to buy a replacement microphone clip just to save me from the wrath of the executive; last week he drove 20km to support the Year 2 teacher I was collaborating with as she tried to use Skype for the first time. He was so patient with me!

I’ve had nothing but positive experiences with prac teachers. I think that we teachers really need to become more willing to open up our doors to training teachers. It’s not enough to demand better teacher training from universities – it is our responsibility as professionals to offer challenging, rich, exciting and memorable learning experiences for preservice teachers. If we don’t, how can we expect them to get into the classroom and be awesome educators willing to take risks and try cool new stuff? So … what are you waiting for? Contact your local uni and tell them you’re keen to get a praccie for next year! I’m sad that I’m losing Peter (I already asked my HT for a personal-Peter to keep for good, lol) but I know that next year I will get the opportunity to meet another pre-service teacher who will be just as keen to shadow my craziness.


A reponse to Darcy Moore’s post ‘Learning: A Digital Renaissance’

The following post was written as a reply to Darcy Moore’s post Learning: A Digital Renaissance (A Draft). Please check out his wonderful post and add your own reply to keep this valuable conversation flowing.

This is a timely post – as always. I am feeling a little like a middle manager at Kodak or Angus and Robertson who has started to think digitally, but the force of the existing power-structures and philosophies regarding education are so strong and well-established that I must ‘jump ship’ or sink with the ship into oblivion. I know that sounds melodramatic – and it probably is – but all I’ve been thinking for the last 18 months is ‘No one is listening. Change is too slow. Where should I go to?’. It is very difficult to stay and bail water from a sinking ship when so many of the other sailors – and most importantly the captain – have their back turned and don’t see the rising waters.

OK, I’ll quit with my lame analogy, but you get my point. I believe that thanks to your inspiration and guidance I have learned to ‘think digitally’ and really once you do, you can’t stop – can you? I cannot go into a class and stand up the front and teach to a test with a worksheet anymore. (My poor Year 12 students, haha!) My vision of education in the 21st century is such that students MUST be given the chance to work as teams. These social skills (as you rightly point out) are an essential part of creating a civil society. Our classrooms are no longer bound by the students and teacher within them.  We must give our students the skills to effectively reach out and encounter the people, experiences and ideas out in the world.

When the NSWDEC unblocked twitter I was skeptical. I thought it might be simply a grab at seeming progressive, to look as though they are ‘thinking digitally’ just like some of us teachers, even though the power-structures of large organisations like the DEC often seem to inhibit this type of thinking. But yesterday, I finally realised how momentous this decision to unblock social networking for teachers really will be.  Yesterday I created a twitter account (@younginquirers) for my Year 10 class – they’re going to follow writers and ask them questions about writing a quality narrative. Already we are following five wonderful writers, two of whom have tweeted the class with writing tips! So, it’s nice to see that my cynicism was unwarranted – DEC have done a great thing and I hope that this move towards ‘thinking digitally’ will extend further into our classrooms!

My biggest frustration with the current ‘state of play’ within the education system is the perception of teachers as being ‘in control’. I imagine that you can still buy books pretty similar to the one you mention in your post. They’d target the pre-service teacher. I bet there are lectures and courses devoted to ‘teaching and control’ at unis in Australia right now. I bet students have to read articles on the best ‘behaviour strategies’ to ensure you maintain control in your classroom. Well I have a prac student right now and she just taught her first lesson and it was wonderful! A Yr 11 Standard English class (13 boys, 4 girls) studying a play and she had them for the very first time last period on a Thursday – and she took them to the computer lab! This would be a nightmare to many experienced teachers let alone a young woman who has very limited teaching experience. The lesson was a wonderful success and there was no ‘behaviour’ issues. Was she standing there threatening the kids with a stick/letters or calls to parents/clean-up slips/detention? Did she yell and scream? Is she an intimidating individual? No! She just planned a damn-good lesson that was student-centred, encouraged team work, rewarded positive behaviours and completed work as well as speaking openly about positive learning behaviors in different learning spaces.  The very next day (whilst I was ‘teaching’ the same class) I checked twitter and discovered that she had tweeted me (she joined twitter and started a blog the first week we met – thinking digitally!) to remind me how many points each ‘team’ earned the previous lesson. I read her tweet aloud to my students who then helped me tweet her back with their comments – we now have a hashtag for my class’ communication with their prac teacher! The point I want to make is that my focus when ‘prepping’ my prac teacher for her first lesson was not about ‘how to manage behaviour’ it was ‘how to engage learners’. She didn’t ask me who the naughty kids were and how she should punish misbehaviour during a lesson because I didn’t bring those things up. The success of her first lesson proves that she didn’t need to know about ‘control’ – she needed to know about how these particular young people learn and why the content and skills being taught are relevant and can be made appealing to them.

So why am I telling you about my prac student? Because seeing her enthusiasm for education, her creativity, her willingness to take responsible risks, her flexible-thinking and her passion for our subject (English) I know that she will make a wonderful teacher who will make an impressive contribution to the lives of many, many young people. And hearing her say ‘my whole uni cohort is jealous of all the cool things I’m doing on my prac’ makes me sad. I mean, what are other master teachers offering their students? Are these young pre-service teachers not being given the opportunity to ‘think digitally’ because practicing teachers aren’t thinking digitally? It’s an opportunity lost. And then I get all self-critical and emo – am I being irresponsible by helping my prac student learn to teach ‘hands-free’? What will happen when she gets her first teaching placement and the HT hands her a bunch of worksheets, a textbook and a novel? Will she agitate for change? Or will her lowly position in the school hierarchy mean that it will take her (like it took me) six years to get the courage to make a stand, and by that time potentially have lost the flame of passion and creativity?

Sorry for the excessive reply, Darcy, but your post really hit a nerve for me. It’s really not just about the technology anymore … it started off that way for me with DER. Thanks again for inspiring me to think more deeply about what I do as an educator. It’s SUCH a hard job – imagine deciding that you’d stand on the front line and advocate for change! You’re amazing! I’ll add this reply as a post on my blog too and hopefully encourage more to share in your conversation.

Project Based Learning … struggling …

Well I’m feeling as though I am officially ‘back’ at school for Term 2. Last week just wasn’t making me feel down about myself or my ability to teach well.

Today on the other hand …

The day started at a brisk 7.30am with a meet and greet with my new prac student (who is very lovely by the way and I hope to rope her into a guest blog post at some point) and then my double Year 11 class. The class was great – kids were funny, engaged and completed the tasks set for them. Showing Lauren (the prac student) around the school was a breeze as well – in fact, quite fun seeing a new teacher’s reaction to a playground full of students and a maze constructed from concrete and bricks.

Anyway, it wasn’t until the last period of the day that I really started to hit panic mode. My class are in the middle of doing (what I think) is an interesting, engaging and fun project – the students have to work in small groups to create a book trailer. These guys needed to persuade me to want to rush out and buy the book. They needed to draw on all they know about persuasive devices (you can guess what year group they are now, right?). I have included all of the elements that I ‘know’ are elements of a great task: the students could select the book they based the trailer on (they had just finished reading it for literature circles) as well as the other students they worked with, they could select the programs they used to make the trailer also. Tonnes of student-choice and flexibility. That’s what great tasks have, right? Each lesson I have given them a goal setting sheet to complete at the beginning of the lesson as well as a reflection sheet to complete at the end. (I hate that these are ‘sheets’ and not just jotting down goals etc on edmodo – but I accidentally copied too many from a non-netbook class and didn’t want to waste the paper. I hardly think that paper vs. electronic recording of goals/reflection is the root of my problems with the class, but I’m happy to be proven wrong! I would LOVE an online tool to help with the goal-setting/reflection I use in this PBL-style of teaching … but that’s for another post!)

So why have I now spent three lessons with students poorly planning, chatting off task and getting minimal work completed? I am frustrated by this group as being an extension class I would imagine the task would be engaging and something they could do well. I know it’s the group work element and I’m struggling to work out how to improve it. I was so excited about this task, thinking how it will help them improve their understanding of persuasion, audience and purpose as well as shaping meaning within a text. All I seem to have done for three lessons is cajole them along through humour and tactile, external rewards (of the sugary, sweet variety) to get them to make a small dent in the task.

I’m doing something wrong. Maybe I need to start smaller. Perhaps I have not given a strong enough scaffold for the task … I did show exemplars … I gave a rough marking criteria (perhaps this is my flaw, needs to be tighter/clearer/more explicit?) … the audience is even ‘real’ – as the book trailers will be uploaded to youtube with the one getting the most views the winner. The prize is respect. If I was 14 I’d find that cool. But, I’m not. I’m 31 and a complete geek. Hmmm …

Having my mini ‘I am doing it all wrong’ melt down in front of my new prac student isn’t very professional. But it was real. Do I get brownie points for that?

Can you point out what I’m doing wrong? I kinda feel like I better go back to chalk and talk with these guys … maybe they need to be thrown into the cave for a little while. But really, it’s not about me – it’s about them. Maybe they just don’t learn this way? Maybe constructing knowledge with their close peers isn’t their ‘style’? Help!

Week #2 as Master Teacher

Well I went from the ‘dream’ of writing a blog post every day, to the ‘reality’ of writing one a week …

Before I get to Week #2 though, I have to briefly say something about Week #1.

There really is something about watching a young pre-service teacher standing in front of one of your classes, delivering material that you helped her to prepare. In the early days it’s not the glorious ego-stroking moment you hope for (come on, secretly we all do). The reality is that you sit to the side (or at the back) amidst the students you have been standing in front of all year, and you see a perfect mirror of yourself. Instead of it being the image you create with hairbrush and eye-liner, it’s the one that haunts you first thing in the morning. The blotchy skin pale skin, deep brow wrinkles and drooping eyes … the look of panic as you know you’ve got too much to do and too little time. This is not a negative comment on my prac student at all. It was a wake up call to me. She was standing and delivering. The kids were listening (for the most part) and completing the worksheet set. They were successful in completing the work. But there was something lacking – ‘true’ engagement and the opportunity to actually ‘think’.

We were fortunate enough to be invited to visit the school of a twitter colleagues, Shany Hartley. At her school they are doing some remarkable and innovative things. It was a school, but not a school. Learning was happening, but traditional teaching practices were all but gone. We came away from our visit to this school full of excitement and ideas. What we clung to was the Blooms Revised Taxonomy Matrix. My prac student had dreams to create one for Year 8 and to implement the very next lesson. She started at the front, and chose (wisely) to move to the side.

Week #2 brought reality crashing down on us. The matrix was created (I even did one for my Year 11 class) and it was distributed to the students. The reaction was to be expected – confusion and some surprising resistance. The activities created had been wonderful – but the delivery of the concept – just WHY she believed this style of learning was going to benefit the students was not detailed. Once again, the underlying philosophy was ‘I want you to do this, so do it.’

This week we’ve had some wonderful discussions about teaching and why some lessons work and others don’t. The visit from my prac students ‘mentor’ was great also. All of the suggestions he made were ones I had made myself – have fun, get them to laugh, teaching is acting, outline learning outcomes explicitly, write the lesson plan on the board, check for learning at the end of the lesson.

One HUGE contribution made to MY teaching practice this week is the introduction of 5 mins reading at opening and closing of each lesson. First lesson of this a yr 10 girl said ‘I hate reading, it’s boring – there’s nothing good to read.’ I gave her a copy of ‘The Memory Daughters Keeper’. She asked to take it home over night – and returned it next morning telling me that she had actually read instead of spending time on facebook or MSN. Then she asked to take it home over the weekend.

Week #2 – success!