Praxis: Rebuilding the World

PRAXIS: Rebuilding the World

Over the last two weeks year 7 students have been delivering their end of Praxis project presentations to a panel of teachers, including History, Maths and Praxis teachers. These presentations were the culmination of a complex, challenging and enriching open-ended project based on the concepts of ‘revolutions’ and ‘knowledge’. Working in teams of five, and through a series of research and design tasks, students were required to formulate an answer to the following driving question: How do revolutions progress human knowledge? Below is the project brief that the students were given at the start of the project:

‘The senior executive at Manly Selective Campus has decided to brighten up the school environment by commissioning year 7 students to design art pieces to be installed outside of each faculty’s staff room. Each piece of installation art must represent how revolutionary people or movements have contributed to the development of each discipline. Working in small teams of 5, students will use historical inquiry skills to research the revolutions in knowledge relevant to their allocated discipline and, using mathematical principles, they will visually represent their findings in a 2D design and a 3D prototype of their installation art piece. Students will present their process and product to a panel, explaining how their piece demonstrates the practical application of mathematical principles and skills, and knowledge of historical content and inquiry skills. Selected designs and prototypes will be developed into complete art pieces for permanent display in the school.’

This project was very demanding – both intellectually and in terms of time-management and collaboration within their teams – and our students reflected thoughtfully on these challenges during their presentations. Whilst we were incredibly impressed with the final products that students produced (the art installation prototypes AND their websites), we were floored by the incredible maturity with which students reflected on the project’s process and how it had taught them valuable skills and life-lessons. Each Praxis project is designed by the three Praxis teachers around our Praxis Principles and Targets and grounded in contemporary Gifted and Talented research in line with the Department of Education’s Gifted and Talented Policy. Below you can see a table that identifies a range of possible strategies to be integrated into the three core stages of Project Based Learning. The highlighted strategies are those that underpin the recent Rebuilding the World project. It was affirming to hear students talk confidently about their learning in relation to these three stages, and the Praxis Principles and Targets.

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Above table intellectual property of Bianca Hewes, Kate Munro, James Blanch (2016)

Below are some student comments about the project:

‘When we first got given our faculty, we were all excited to get started and ideas were already flooding into our minds.’

‘I made new friends and interacted with people I wouldn’t normally interact with.’

‘This project made me realise how important teamwork is. From the very start, teamwork was needed to finish the preparation and planning. Planning is one of the most important steps when doing a project…’

‘We researched answers using the Cornell note taking method. We found three sources (not just websites) that provided reliable information then made a table for each of them, showing our notes, comments, summaries and answers to our questions. Using many reliable sources helped make sure that our information was correct.’

‘As a group, we enjoyed brainstorming ideas. To begin with, we were a bit unprepared. We were frustrated that we hadn’t collected our resources in time but we learned from this that we need to manage our time a bit better in future. We did manage to finish our machine and digital portfolio but agree that we could probably do better next time.’

‘You need a team member who is as willing as you to put in extra hours outside of Praxis sessions, to work lunch times, class times and even out of school.’

Below are some of the art installation prototypes (these are currently on display in the English corridor):

Check out students’ digital portfolios which captures their learning process – each team made a website to document this process:

PRAXIS A:

http://praxis-a-music.weebly.com/

http://praxisaorange.weebly.com/

http://praxisyellow.weebly.com/

http://praxis-b-hewes-literature.weebly.com/

http://praxis-a-munro-languages.weebly.com/

https://praxis-a-munro-dance.weebly.com

http://praxis-a-munro-visualarts.weebly.com

http://praxis-a-munro-o.weebly.com/

http://praxis-a-blanch-science.weebly.com

http://praxis-a-blanch-pdhpe.weebly.com/

http://praxis-a-blanch-socialsciences.weebly.com/

http://praxis-a-blanch-tas.weebly.com/

 

PRAXIS B:

http://praxis-b-hewes-english.weebly.com/

http://praxis-b-hewes-drama.weebly.com/

http://praxis-b-hewes-science.weebly.com/

http://praxis-b-hewes-tas.weebly.com/

http://praxis-b-munro-dance.weebly.com/

http://praxis-b-munro-languages.weebly.com

http://munropraxisbyellow2017.weebly.com

http://praxis-b-munro-visualarts.weebly.com/

http://praxis-b-blanch-pdhpe.weebly.com

http://praxis-b-blanch-history.weebly.com/

http://praxis-b-blanch-socialscience.weebly.com/

http://praxis-b-blanch-maths.weebly.com/

This was our first Praxis project that was explicitly integrated with core curriculum subjects (Maths and History), and as such we have learnt a lot about how we can improve the connection between the three classes, especially regarding explicit discussion of the project in core classes. One of our goals as a school is to develop students’ ability to make connections between subjects, and Praxis is one way that we can do this is a concrete way. We teachers are learning to collaborate between faculties too – a reminder to students that being a lifelong learner is essential in our dynamic world! We very much appreciate the willingness and enthusiasm of our students to support this new way of approaching teaching and learning, to develop the necessary skills and mindsets for successful and thriving 21st century citizens. There may be some bumps, but this is a road very much worth travelling!

As we move into our final Praxis project for the year – TEAM Praxis – a strong focus for students will be on creative thinking, time-management and organisation, curiosity, collaboration and presentation skills. Integrated into the five Praxis sessions that make up this project will be specific lessons on strategies that can develop the above skills, as well as providing students with the opportunity to self and peer assess these skills using co-constructed rubrics.

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Should English teachers ban the word ‘technique’ to improve students’ engagement with texts? 

I was chatting with Tanya, my good friend and head teacher of English at my old school (and super amazing clever human), last Friday night about the word ‘technique’ to cover ALL literary devices known to man. We were hanging out and geeking out about the new HSC English syllabuses – which we are both equally stoked with, but more on that in another post – and as we were chatting I mentioned that the new syllabuses, just like the old ones, never once refer to the term ‘techniques’. It’s not in the glossary, it’s not in the rationale, it’s not in the objectives, outcomes or content, it’s not in the module descriptors. Odd, considering it is the go-to word for English teachers when discussing textual analysis. Or, is it? Tanya has all but banned the word. She’s always hated it – preferring to refer to use the language of the syllabuses – language forms and features. This really struck me as an important, um, stylistic choice? Given that last year her year 12 class blitzed the HSC (she will hate me saying this) in a school were historically few students get top English results.

As we chatted we tried to identify when the word ‘technique’ crept into the English teacher lexicon – I feel it was earlyish in my teaching career – maybe a couple of years in, around 2007? Maybe it was the introduction of the words ‘texts’ and ‘composers’ as nondescript references in the last HSC syllabus? Maybe we didn’t feel confident with the phrase ‘language forms and features’ (even now as I type it I’m sure I’ve got it wrong)? I do know that it has become super problematic in the way I teach texts. Students are always asking me ‘What technique is in this quote?’ and I blame myself because I am the one creating formulas and acronyms (ITEE, STEEL, STEW etc) for essays and sentences that require the dreaded T – techniques.

In our chat we both realised the time we first really focused on techniques as mandatory for all essay paragraphs was at the HSC marking centre. We thought it amusing, and kind of weird, that our marker colleagues (including our SMs) constantly referred to techniques – how many, the quality, how well they were discussed/analysed – and yet the marking criteria we were using, didn’t refer to the word ‘technique’. Well, maybe it did sometimes like ‘dramatic techniques’? Even then kids still referred to metaphors – and not metaphor as the BIG type, the small ‘put your finger on the metaphor’ type. Teachers (me included) refer to language techniques, persuasive techniques, dramatic techniques, poetry techniques, film techniques, etc. so it makes sense we would use ‘techniques’ as an all-encompassing term, BUT the problem is when (teacher like me) tell students that every sentence in their body paragraphs must have a technique in it – that you can’t have a quote unless you analyse it – we really start to experience the tyranny of the technique. The essay becomes boring, like a shopping list of single-use ‘techniques’ that doesn’t allow an idea to develop or a personal voice to be heard. We can blame the HSC, but really the expectations set THERE are set by US, I truly believe that.

So, having spoken with my lovely friend, and hearing how she has not only banned the word technique, but also banned essay formulas, it makes me question my own practice. Given the fact that we have the opportunity to liberate ourselves from the tyranny of the technique AND the formulaic essay, with this new (awesome) HSC with its incredible focus on creativity, authenticity, and genuine engagement with literature, I wonder if we will. Will you?

Dear Kelli: I went to this uni thing…

… and to begin with I was very annoyed. It seemed unfair that I should have to attend a workshop on research methodologies when I’ve already complete a course on it at USyd – two in fact! Add to that my stupid decision to drink a V right before I got there – resulting in my head spinning and my eyes unable to focus properly (no, I’m not a regular caffeine drinker; I’ve never had a cup of coffee in my life) – and you can imagine how it felt sitting still listening to someone talk at me. That was my first message to you that day – I was being put in the boring position of compliant student and I didn’t like it. 

The first session was all about definitions of key terms, and because this was revision for me, I was frustrated and bored. It reminded me of the importance of pre-testing and differentiation, but also of how bloody hard that is to do – what was this guy expected to do for those of us who knew the difference between a methodology, a method, and a conceptual framework before we sat down? Mostly I was after interesting examples of each, and to be honest I found his PPT too vague and non-specific. It turns out the purpose of the day was to exemplify the definitions in the form of humans – we had a series of actual researchers come and talk about their research. Some were better than others. 

I’ll tell you one thing that scared me silly – being given a worksheet asking us to outline our research (he called it a ‘methodology questionnaire’) – it asked for our field of research, research questions, ideas or concepts, and research activities. I got pretty anxious when I first looked at it (because I honestly feel I haven’t thought about this at all) but then I remembered my research proposal I submitted to get in this course, and woohoo – I had my answers! Well, temporary answers, but it sure felt good being able to fill the page in like the other students were (even though I knew deep in my heart those answers probably weren’t right anymore). On re-reading my proposal, I realised the awesome stuff Jane had added and refined – like things about my role as researcher within a context where I teach impacting the generalisability of my research etc. 

From the first session I really liked this definition of methodology: methodology is the how that develops the what. He also stressed that in PhDs (no, I’m not doing one, I’m doing my Masters) the conceptual framework is the weakest part – I’m hoping that will be my strength because I’m an English teacher, and concepts interest me. I think I’m at an advantage because when he listed example concepts and theories I already knew them – Marxism, feminism, post-structural, post-colonial, post-modern. He mentioned Foucault and I was like, ‘Yup, I know that name!’. Another definition I liked is this: conceptual framework + methods = methodology. He spoke about the possibility of developing an ‘innovative methodology’ and gave James Joyce as an example which really excited me – stream of consciousness + the novel. So cool. Could I be innovative and create an entirely new methodology? Probably not, haha! 

I didn’t find much in the second session useful, apart from the talk by Sandy Schuck about interviewing. She described the use of artefacts to encourage more authentic responses and gave the example of photographs used as metaphor for feelings, thoughts and experiences. For example, a researcher interviewing young students about Maths anxiety asked them to select a photograph from a group they felt represented their feelings after a Maths class, and this allowed the students to express themselves through metaphor – they felt safe, and could elaborate more on their feelings. Cool, huh? This could be a great classroom activity after reading a text. We had a go where we picked an image that represented how we feel about our projects right now and a partner interviewed us. To be honest at my table we were all pretty bleak – our photos included an endless road, a dark cave, and a child falling into a huge pile of leaves. Through our conversation we revealed that we all felt overwhelmed, directionless, and scared of the unknown. It was a cool activity, and I’m thinking it could get some honest responses from my interviewees who may feel too close to me, or worried about being honest about PBL if they have something negative to say etc. That’s something I really need to be careful about! 

The third session was weird because I didn’t collect a worksheet when I came back from lunch, and the teacher didn’t check we all had them, therefore I felt disengaged during the first couple of speakers (their research bore not relation to mine, making it hard to see the point) and only really engaged with the last speaker – impossible not to as he was from the Centre for the advancement of Indigenous knowledges (CAIK) and was so compelling and passionate! I loved his arguments about epistemological racism, and his confession that his own Phd was inherently racist – wow! Anyway, it turns out we were listening to these speakers to try to identify their research questions, concepts, methods, and methodology. It was on the worksheet that I didn’t get! Oops! I was impressed with my ability to contribute to the table discussion about these things even though I hadn’t filled in the sheet, and the teacher even valued my answer about one of the speakers’ conceptual framework that he asked me to share it with another group. This acknowledgement and implicit praise meant I was more engaged in the next session, more willing contribute ideas to the whole class. Being a student really helps you understand the powerful role of the teacher! 

I loved the final session – maybe it was because I’d eaten, I could see the finish line, I had been praised in the last session, I don’t know. We got to listen to the experiences of a current research student who is close the end of her Doctorate of Creative Arts (sounds like an incredible course, on my to-do list!) and a recent graduate who just completed her Phd on second career teachers. Whilst the former was fascinating (her novel is going to be incredible) the latter was more valuable to me as her methodology is very similar to mine. I loved her clear presentation style, and it reminded me of how much I already know about research, and how much I want to know more. To be honest, earlier in the day I had complained to others at my table about how I resented the fact that we had to devote so much time to researching research – know what I mean – the conceptual stuff. I want to just dive right into my topic, not read about research methods and theories. However, hearing Meera speak about her phenomenological approach (how it is interpretivr and descriptive) got me so excited! She read Heidegger as part of her conceptual research – hells to the yeah! She also suggested others like Smith, Flowers and Larkin (2008), Dewey (1938) and Van Manen (1990). I’m going to check them out. I loved her three guiding questions for research: 

– what would you like to find out in your research? 

– how does your research purpose align with your research question? 

– what kinds of methodological ‘literature’ exists around your research topic? 

Our teacher kept stressing that the ‘fun stuff’ is the methods – actually gathering the data – but that we must dedicate ourselves to the other stuff, namely researching the concepts and theories that frame our methods and topic. That’s my challenge, to be conceptually awesome, haha! 

So… that’s my first letter to you, Kelli. I’m thankful that you pushed me to admit I need to go part-time with my Masters, even though it hurts my ego. I’m grateful that I get to give more time to this project, so I can get it right. Maybe Jane is right, maybe there’s a PhD in this? To be honest, after this workshop I’m starting to feel like I need more time to make sure it’s really tight – not sure that’s the right word – I mean proper good research with a super sophisticated conceptual framework. Anyway, reality is that today I have a huge pile of Year 11 paragraphs to give feedback on, plus ILP journals to mark. I don’t know how I’m going to get it done, plus eat, and enjoy some of the weekend. It just makes it so hard to prioritise my research project, hey? Tips? Suggestions? All welcome. 

Looking forward to your reply, 

B 🙂 

Keeping students organised – got tips?

Writing Year 12 reports over the last two days has really brought to the fore the power of organisation. Without doubt, the kids who are the most successful in school are those who are organised. I’m really wanting to support my year 12 students with their organisation -both of their time and of their physical stuff. It’s a hard one for me because I’m incredibly disorganised myself, despite my many attempts to be organised.

Today I made some personalised name magnets to help my students visualise their ability to complete homework – see image below. I’ve also created a learning calendar for our current study of Donne and W;t, which hyperlinks to resources, and outlines required homework. I’m open to other suggestions – I can’t control what they do at home, but any tips for what I can do in class to help keep them on track are much appreciated. 

The skill, will, and thrill of Project Based Learning

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know that last Thursday and Friday I attended the Visible Learning Symposium in Darling Harbour. You’ll also know that I found the event surprising, and not in a good way. After the Thursday session, in which we heard from John Hattie himself, I was distressed to the point of angry blogging. Thankfully I decided not to publish that blog post – it was only half completed anyway because I ended up having to give in to my rage-induced migraine and go to sleep early that night. So, instead of sharing with you a rambling critique of a professional learning event that I (and many others) felt was anything but professional, I have decided to reflect on the take-aways from the two days and apply them to my ongoing commitment to quality, engaging, enriching, and authentic learning experiences for my students using the Project Based Learning methodology. Because, despite what Hattie and his many enthusiastic disciples believe, Project Based Learning is NOT the same as Problem Based Learning or Inquiry Based Teaching, and therefore their attempts to denigrate it based on the purported (although problematic) effect sizes of the latter, are simply false.

On Thursday of last week, I tweeted out this:

Screen Shot 2017-03-25 at 10.02.42 am

It’s true – a lot of what Hattie, and presenter Kristin Anderson, said about effective teaching practice is what all great PBL teachers already do. In fact, I would go so far as to say that Hattie’s learning model – Visible Learning Plus – is actually just quality teaching, and thus practices all great teachers do. There wasn’t anything at all surprising about the fact that teacher rapport with students, teacher efficacy, feedback, establishing clear learning intentions and sharing exemplars, empowering students to be self-directed learners through self-assessment and setting learning goals, and constant reflection on and evaluation of student learning achievement are essentials for improved student learning outcomes. If anyone was surprised by that, I question their role as educators.

The catch-phrase for Visible Learning Plus is ‘skill, will, thrill’ – these terms are viewed as both ‘inputs’ and ‘outputs’, and frame the learning process from surface learning (acquiring and consolidating), deep learning (acquiring and consolidating), and transference of learning into new contexts. The ‘skill’ is what students bring to learning – their prior achievements, the ‘will’ refers to the disposition of the student to learn – their resilience, resourcefulness, ability to reflect and to relate, and the ‘thrill’ is being motivated, and understanding standards and what success looks. For Hattie, learning is ‘The process of developing sufficient surface knowledge to then move to deeper understanding such that one can appropriately transfer this learning to new tasks and situations’. Unfortunately, Hattie believes that the ‘transfer’ stage is incredibly difficult for most students to get to – and this is where I believe PBL is its most effective, in that students become quite adept at transferring skills and content knowledge between projects – obviously when the PBL they are doing is well-structured.

OK, so let’s look at how Project Based Learning actually authentically reflects Hattie’s mantra of ‘surface to deep to transfer’ and a movement away from ‘an over-emphasis on surface learning’. Below is a visual representation of Hattie’s model of learning (taken from this slide show from Hattie), and it is to this (and his league table of Effect Sizes – the methodology of which I acknowledge is highly problematic and has been critiqued in numerous posts such as herehere, here, here, here, and here) that I will refer to in this post. To be entirely honest (even though it hurts to admit, since I have many philosophical concerns/reservations about Hattie himself) I think this diagram is quite effective in representing the learning process – yet, in saying that, this image is nothing new or ground-breaking, and reflects many other effective representations of the learning process. A coincidence? Probably not. At this stage, if you haven’t read this BIE article on  the Discover, Create, Share model of Project Based Learning, you probably should as I will be using it in my discussion.

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In the above image, Hattie places ‘Problem Based Learning’ at the deep – transfer stage of learning, arguing that this is a higher order process that will only have an impact on students’ learning once they have mastered the surface learning, and a range of metacognitive skills. I have no problem with this, and would argue that no effective teacher would throw students into Problem Based Learning, without prior supporting the development of essential content knowledge and skills. In regards to Project Based Learning (which is an entirely different methodology to Problem Based Learning), teachers carefully design and structure projects so as that students develop essential skills and content in the initial ‘discover’ stage before they move on to the ‘create’ stage in which students are challenged to deepen their understanding through the application of content and skills in the creation of artefacts to share with real-world audiences. It is this mid-stage of a project in which students encounter problems – and when some teachers provide students with Problem Based Learning challenges – yet by this stage they are actively involved in self-talk, self and peer assessment, and self-regulation (all VL elements). Thus, Project Based Learning – by its very design – reinforces what Hattie is presenting as an effective model for learning, rather than challenges or contradicts it as is often purported due to a misunderstanding (or lack of understanding) of what PBL is.

OK, so let’s look at another version of Hattie’s model of learning, this time with some specific teaching strategies overlaid on top – all of which are shown to have a profound effect size, according to Hattie’s own meta-analysis (and the top 10 are, let’s face it, pretty common sense stuff in terms of quality teaching practices).

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Discover – All projects begin with a KWL table – this strategy allows the teacher to identify students’ prior knowledge (what do I know?), and their confidence and mindset as they approach the project. At this stage of the project students are immediately told what they are working towards through the use of a project outline and driving question – establishing a project long ‘learning intention‘, and then the teacher shares with them examples of what the final product they are creating looks like, to help excite and motivate them, but also to set explicit success criteria. These criteria nearly always take the form of a rubric – and not just for the product, but also for the soft skills they need to develop such as critical thinking and collaboration. This stage of the project learning cycle sees students being exposed to new ideas and perspectives, being challenged by a range of learning experiences that include direct instruction, listening to guest lectures, watching videos, reading reference books, completing worksheets, engaging in Socratic seminars, guided  independent research, conducting experiments, writing essays, etc. Formative assessment strategies (feedback) used to determine students’ understanding and mastery of essential content and skills required for project success can range from the traditional (tests, essays, research reports, speeches) to the innovative (team problem solving challenges, elevator pitches, teacher-student interview, interactive data walls). SOLO taxonomy and rubrics are used to help students develop self-efficacy in regards to setting learning goals. I use the Goals, Medals and Missions formative assessment strategy, and whilst kids find it confronting and difficult at first, they learn more about themselves as learners, as a result.

Create – The products that students create vary depending on the project, and the discipline or disciplines the project involves. For English projects I have had students create short films, websites, newspapers, plays, picture books, personal essays, persuasive speeches, stories, etc. These all require students to master very specific skills, and develop a deep understand of complex content, which occurs at the discover stage, and is then applied at the create stage. At the create stage students are planning and drafting (rehearsing and practising) their final product, using a range of peer and self-assessment strategies to evaluate their product in order to refine it so it is of a quality worth of a public audience. Students are guided through this process by constant reference to success criteria, often in the form of a rubric or checklist – I love to have students co-construct this criteria with me at the end of the ‘discover’ stage, as it reveals to me their understanding of the project’s learning intentions in the context of what they are producing. Students become very capable of giving and receiving feedback (a skill which is explicitly taught to students in PBL) at this stage of a project, a skill which strengthens as they work through a range of projects in a school year.

Share – This is the scary stage but also the thrilling stage, where students must be held accountable for their learning through the public presentation of their products. In preparation for this event, students undergo a process of reflection, where they must consider what they have learned during the project, how effectively their final product solves the given problem, or meets the needs of the given audience or fulfils the requirement of the given brief. Teachers often provide them with a range of reflection questions to stimulate this self-questioning. High Tech High have an awesome set of 50 questions, that I have used successfully with students. Self-talk plays an essential role in individual preparation for the presentation of learning, as a means of motivation and encouragement before the big event. This stage of a project is where students are required to transfer their learning into new contexts – to share with an audience what they know, and respond to unexpected questions about their learning. Of course, transferring of skills and knowledge occurs between projects also.  Students know they are successful before they receive the feedback from the public audience, because they know what success looks like, and this event simply reinforces that understanding.

Finally, I thought it amusing that Hattie championed SOLO taxonomy, a self-assessment and metacognitive tool that is used by ALL great PBL (and non-PBL) teachers, and has been for years. I found it funny that I had recently presented to a room of educators the relationship between the five learning domains in SOLO (pre-structural, uni-structural, multi-structural, relational, and extended abstract) and the three key stages of PBL – Discover (pre-structural, uni-structural, multi-structural), Create (relational, and extended abstract) and Share  (extended abstract). Of course, I also added what Hattie called the ‘biggest hoax of the 21st century’ Bloom’s Taxonomy on the slide, because the point I was making (reflecting Hattie’s ‘surface to deep to transfer’ mantra) was that great projects ensure students can identify, understand, analyse and evaluate essential content and skills BEFORE they move to the create level. At no point does, or should, a teacher assume that PBL involves handing students a project challenge, and then stepping out of the way for a few weeks. Well-designed projects ensure students acquire new (surface then deep) knowledge, that they then consolidate through collaboration with peers, deep discussions with teachers, mentors and experts, and then transfer this knowledge into the solving of a specific problem through the creation of a new artefact for an authentic audience. This cycle continues for each project (usually at least three or four per year in PBL schools), and as such students become even more adept at the metacognitive skills required for successful and engaging – thrilling even – learning!

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I know this post will open me up to criticism from the Hattie/VL disciples, and that’s OK (well, really, it SO isn’t OK, but I have resigned myself to the reality of it) but I just wanted to say also, that I am a full time classroom teacher, executive member, mum, and wife, so I know that I didn’t put everything I could into this post – I simply don’t have time to read a thousand journal articles and blog posts so I can footnote them and pretend my argument is bulletproof. Furthermore, I left my VL ‘training manuals’ at school, so I couldn’t refer back to it to quote Hattie’s key terms (or effect sizes) as much as I would have liked. Ultimately, this isn’t a research article (I’m a teacher, not an academic), it’s a reflective post where I’ve tried to put down the thoughts that have been rattling around in my brain for the last week. I just think that in education we shouldn’t be making enemies, we shouldn’t need to take sides… we’re all in this field because we love young people, we care about their future success, and we are passionate about teaching and learning. It would be so super awesome to work together, and be positive, for better outcomes for the people that matter – the kids – and not for our own personal agendas of gains. Anyway, if you don’t like PBL, that’s cool (well, no, not really, you’re missing out, haha), but make sure you know what it is you’re critiquing before you start to bag it – cos it might just be that we’re arguing for the same thing.

5-step Creative Writing Activity for Easter 

I share a year 10 class – I see them twice a fortnight. Having them such a limited number of times makes it hard to follow the usual program, so it’s become a time for me and the students to engage in some fun literacy activities. This week I decided to do some Easter based creative writing with the class… but seriously it could just be called ‘chocolate based’ if your kids aren’t into Easter. Below is a super quick overview of the lesson, as I know I will want to return to it again in the future. 
1. I filled an empty photocopy paper box with a bag of small solid chocolate Easter eggs. I put the lid on, and went into class shaking the box singing ‘What’s in the box? What’s in the box?’ (Aussie teachers will know the tune, hehe) and gave students a slip of paper on which they had to write their guess. I told them that I wanted them to impress me with their creativity and curiosity. I told them this was the opposite of Maths – they’d get more points for being wrong than right! 

2. Students then read out their one or two sentence descriptions of what was in the box – every student – and it was fun celebrating the weirdness of their guesses! We had frozen fingers, severed fingers, a collection of frozen tears, a small city under siege, the rumbling ocean, and a thunderstorm. Of course, we also had kids who said ‘chocolate Easter eggs’, haha! 

3. I then gave each student a chocolate egg – with the instruction that they could touch it, listen to it, smell it, look closely at it, and take a teeny tiny lick of it, BUT they couldn’t eat it! I then gave them the task: write a 100 word (exactly) description of the egg using sensory imagery, figurative language, and strong active verbs – it had to be present tense. This 100 word description activity I stole from Prue Green from literally years ago! 

4. I gave them each a new piece of paper for their writing – and a new challenge! They had to write from the character perspective I gave them – and I wanted to hear that character through strong narrative voice. Coming up with 25 different perspectives I realised was hard – so enlisted some enthusiastic kids to write some for me. You can see some of them in the photo below. 

5. Students then handed their 100 word descriptions to me, and I handed them out randomly to other students, who then read them, tried to identify the character perspective, wrote it on the paper, and returned it to the original writer. Kids loved this!! Lots of laughter was in the room. 

So that’s it… I was going to add a photo of an example response, but I left them st work – sorry! Give this activity a go… so much fun! 

Being DP was actually super great

The last post I wrote was about me being given the opportunity to relieve as deputy principal at my school. That was a month an a half ago. Admittedly I haven’t been as regular with my blogging ever since I took on an executive role at my current school – a symptom I attribute to teaching less, and in a less innovative way than I did at my previous school – but this big gap between two posts reflects the crazy of my last 6 weeks. Wow, 6 weeks! That seems ages, but actually feels like a tiny fraction of time.

So, here’s my reflection on being DP… for me to remind myself that it was a position I never considered as part of my career prospects, which now, in the right context, I think I’d quite enjoy. I’ll write this as dot-points, because it’s Saturday morning, and I have at least two other posts I want to smash out today also.

  1. DPs are always on display, and always available

My HT T&L office is upstairs at school, and has a solid door that I close every day. It’s not because I want to shut out the world (although often I do), it’s just that it feels natural to have it closed and work, work, work. I like having space to do what needs to be done – I sit on the floor, on the lounge, on the ottomans… work whilst I’m standing, go on my phone and tweet/message people about school stuff, and when I need a mental break I play Atari, or read a book. When you’re DP, these things don’t an can’t happen. You sit at a desk, your door is always open, and if it isn’t it is made of glass, so people can see you in there, and know exactly what you’re doing. You’re on display. For me, that was pretty intimidating, and probably the biggest thing I had to adjust to. Oh, and the fact that you can hear everything, so you can’t really ever switch off to issues unfolding, even if they’re not related to the year groups for which you are responsible. The good thing about this system, is that you are available, and you are always in the know – essential features of a great DP. After a few days I got used to sitting behind a desk, and looking out into the hallway at people who looked back at me as they walked past. I got used to colleagues and students and parents and community members popping in to talk or ask a question, and I really (re)discovered the ‘social’ aspect of myself.

2. The unexpected becomes the expected

I was actually surprised by the fact that it seemed I had few defined responsibilities – as HT T&L I always have a to-do list a mile long, but this helps me focus and feel accomplished when I have completed things. The role of DP is incredibly fluid – the responsibilities are three year groups full of students, plus a range of administrative tasks related to those year groups, and then whole school responsibilities such as running assemblies, writing articles for the weekly newsletter, and preparing for executive meetings. Each day I would come to work at least an hour before school started, and some days I would sit there with my desk incredibly tidy, just waiting for what was to befall on me. There’s no telling what will happen each day in relation to the students for whom you have responsibility as DP – you can’t timetable a broken heart, a broken shoulder, a anxious parent, a change of mind regarding subjects, or the need for advice. You also can’t schedule a broken toilet, haha. I learnt to have incredible patience, and to be ready for anything – I actually really loved that part, because the adrenaline associated with the unexpected is something that I enjoy. Maybe that’s why I enjoy teaching in the first place?

3. Working with incredible female leaders is incredible 

During my time as relieving DP, I was fortunate enough to work with two amazing women – my fellow DP (who is actually HT Welfare, and relieving as DP for a term) and my boss (who was relieving principal and whose job I was filling in). They were both working in relieving positions, and you wouldn’t know it – they did a seamless job. It’s funny, but I think my fellow DP decided that me being in the role as well gave her an opportunity to really push me as a leader, and as an individual. I remember on my first day in the gig, I told her the one thing I did not want to do was talk in front of the whole school on assembly. It terrifies me. Sure enough, in the first week I was wearing a fluro yellow vest and running the evacuation drill, which required me to speak on a microphone in front of the whole school. I was so scared, and she knew it, but she didn’t let me get out of the role, and I really appreciate that decision – I discovered that I could be responsible for 800 students and 60 staff getting organised in an unconventional situation. The following week she was at it again, when she had me run the whole school assembly – which involved speaking on the microphone (which for some reason freaks me out), and ensuring the assembly ran smoothly. It seems so small in hindsight, and I think that’s why it was so big – she made me overcome a fear, and allowed me to find a new strength. My relieving principal was beyond inspiring – her calm demeanour, her sense of humour and fun, her intelligence, her energy, and her warmth ensured that I loved every minute of being DP. Her open door approach meant that I felt comfortable asking questions, and her humble nature and eagerness to learn and try new things meant that my offered ideas were always taken on board, resulting in lots of cool new things starting up in our short three weeks together as senior executive. She is a brilliant leader, the staff and students love her, she is incredibly organised (something I continue to strive for), and she is committed to improving school for all involved. I was so lucky to work closely for three weeks in a small team with two strong, intelligent, caring women for three weeks.

4. I love teaching

I honestly didn’t expect to miss my classes, or my classroom, as much as I did. This is my first year of having my own room at my current school, and that space had quickly become essential to me – being without it for three weeks felt weird. I love going into the classroom and being silly, and free, with students. I missed my year 11 class – I didn’t teach them for the three weeks – and felt rushed with my classes I did keep (year 12 and Praxis), because I wasn’t always in the headspace for them. Whilst I did find as DP I had more time to be organised (being physically at school for two more hours helps with that), I felt that I missed the craziness of being on so many classes (yes, this week I regret this sentiment because it has been beyond manic). I have loved being back with them all – one of my favourite things is being in that room with 20-30 kids, and just letting go. I want to get better at it always, but I know that means it’s my passion, and it’s still where I want to be. So whilst being DP is now something I can see myself pursuing – at least in my current school – I know it won’t be for a while. I still have so much to learn about being a great classroom teacher.