Thursday, April 24, 2008

Becoming a better Teacher!

Darren Drake writes the following in his blog:

Carl Glickman hits the nail on the head on one of the pages in his book entitled Leadership for Learning: How to Help Teachers Succeed. In my opinion, his message should be read and synthesized by every teacher worldwide.

He also provides a solution. "How do teaching and learning improve? The answer is no mystery. It’s as simple as this: I cannot improve my craft in isolation from others" (p. 4). "

  • Glickman, C. (2002). Leadership for learning: How to help teachers succeed. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
In reading this, I was inspired to start thinking about my own teaching career. I have been teaching for many, many years. Am I the best teacher I can be yet? Surely after all these years, I should know how to teach?

I remember a time when I thought I knew it all. I had been in the job for a handful of years, and had become quite secure in my knowledge that I was pretty good at what I was doing. During another successful appraisal, a man I still remember with warmth and respect, Gerhard Koen, told me that I knew just enough about teaching to think I knew something. I was pretty taken aback. What did he mean? "You will reach a point," he said, "when you will know enough to realize how little you know." Now, a lifetime later, I know what he meant. It has become true that the more I learn (about Teaching, about Learning, about Children, and definitely about ICT) the more I am aware that I still have so much to learn. I'll certainly be looking for Carl Glickman's book!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

How to Encourage Effective Learning

We all know that effective learning occurs when...
  • Student autonomy and initiative is accepted and encouraged
  • Teacher asks open-ended questions and allows wait time for responses
  • Higher level thinking is encouraged
  • Students engage in dialogue with teacher and each other
  • Students engaged in experiences that challenge hypotheses
  • Class uses raw data primary sources, physical and interactive materials
  • Knowledge and ideas emerge only from a situation in which learners have to draw them out of experiences that have meaning and importance to them
Derek writes: "In my experience these are exactly the sorts of learning experiences that many of these emerging social web applications enable and encourage."

This brand-new state-of-the-art 21st Century pedagogy was first written about in....
1915 by John Dewey in his "Constructivist Pedagogy". Makes you think about how much progress we've made in the last 100 years in education, doesn't it?

These are my top ideas for using Web 2.0 tools in class, to encourage the type of learning experience John Dewey was dreaming of:

Tip #1
Class Blog: Use blogging software such as Edublogs or Blogger to create your class blog. In a Primary class, it works well to have one student log on username and password, and let them publish their best writing and pictures. I let my class look at our blog every morning just after we've done the roll, and the excitement is always great if we have a comment. The clustermap also lends itself to a quick Atlas search to find out who our readers are!

Tip #2
Class Wiki: I like to use Wetpaint. (You can ask for the ads to be removed, if it is an educational wiki. You can also use PBWiki. For me a wiki is the ideal showcase for students' work. You can create a page for each project, and students can add a page for themselves, on which to add their notes, links and work. Students can edit and comment on each other's pages, and you can have a discussion thread going. This is also something parents can access (but not edit, unless you let them.) My class wiki is still under construction, but it will be used as a sort of filing cabinet to store our work digitally.

Tip #3
Voicethread: This is something I've just learnt about, and I can't wait to try it out in class!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Am I still 'fit to be a Teacher'?

This term has been a wopping eleven weeks long. This is a tongue-in-cheek look at my state of mind as a teacher by the end of the term!

In the April edition of NZEI Rourou, a small insert asks the following question: Are you of "Good Character" and "Fit to be a Teacher"?

It continues:

The Teachers Council defines "good character and is fit to be a teacher" as someone who

a) 'has a police vet satisfactory to the Council';

Yeah, this I can attest to, after months of waiting. I applied for my Police vet in November for immigration purposes. (I had to have it done through the South African department of internal affairs, although I hadn't set foot in the country since moving here in 2005.) After months of telephone calls, payments to various individuals (I won't go into details) and desperate emails to family members living in Pretoria, I now have the police vet. Actually, I don't have it. I sent it straight off to NZ Immigration. I've just thought of something: I hope the Council finds it satisfactory, once I get it back!

b) 'displays respect for persons, for cultural and social values of Aotearoa New Zealand, for the law and for the views of others.'

Well, I have a bit of a confession to make here. While I do respect said persons, cultures and values of Aotearoa and also the law... the views of some others are not always to my taste! And by the 11th week of the term, I find myself, well, a trifle outspoken. I don't think I actually always display the respect I feel. As a matter of fact, what I might be displaying is considerable disdain at some people's views. (I'm thinking: That's ridiculous! I don't agree. What a nincompoop! Oh, no, don't ask me to do that stupid admin again. It's too much work / too hard / too boring. I don't wanna!) I'm not normally a negative kind of person, but I seem to have undergone a personality change of late. Hope no-one gossips about me to the council! I probably just need some rest!

c) 'upholds the public and professional reputation of teachers;

I haven't been dancing on the tables recently, so I reckon I could say 'Yes' to this one. Fat chance of putting the reputation of anyone
at stake, including myself, with the work load we teachers have! Life has pretty much been school, school, school for the past 11 weeks. Note to self: Go somewhere, over the rainbow, where no-one knows you're a teacher, and have a wild party during the holidays. Stay up until at least midnight. Be wild. Throw all caution to the winds, and go to bed without flossing.

d) 'promotes and nurtures the safety of learners within his or her care;'

Yes, they've got the 'his or her' part right. I don't know whether I'm Arthur or Martha by week 11. Regarding the 'safety of learners' I've told my learners all about Cybersafety, Road Safety, Water Safety, not talking to strangers (except while blogging) and saying 'No' when it's appropriate. I've encouraged them to wear their hats all summer (repeatedly) and their shoes on rainy days. I've asked, cajoled and commanded them to 'walk, not run'. I have reminded them over and over and over again to wash, blow and wipe the appropriate body parts. How do you 'nurture the safety of learners'? I've nurtured the learners themselves, though. I've even been pretty patient. Well, mostly.

e) 'is reliable and trustworthy in carrying out duties;'

Oh Dear! Does that include Road Patrol? Shh, don't tell anybody, but I forgot to go out the other day to check on the duty parent. No-one noticed. Does that make me unreliable? I can say uncategorily that I am trustworthy, though. You can trust me to put my foot in my mouth at least once a day. You can trust me to forget to check that my window monitor has closed the windows. You can trust me to steal a few moments of quiet before I go out to field duty. You can even trust me to wait until after school before I read my RSS feeds. Except today. I have to confess, I sneaked a peak today.

f) 'is mentally and physically fit to carry out the teaching role safely and satisfactorily.'

I dunno...! Kids drive you crazy on rainy days. And windy days. And hot days, too.

Physically I'm not doing too badly. I do count kilojoules and at least once a fortnight I remember to wear my pedometer. (So far my upper limit has been 7500 steps per day.) Not completely sedentary. I have the occasional wack at a golf ball at the driving range. I even beat my teenage kids at mini-golf the other day. Much to their chagrin!

Mentally? Is it OK to keep on babbling away, while you have a group of kids looking at you in awe and wonderment? No, it's not the riveting lesson I'm teaching that's creating the awe. It's the fact that I've absent-mindedly reverted to my home language - which they don't understand. Am I still mentally OK, if all I want, after a term of hard work, is to crawl under the covers with a soppy, mind-numbing, zero-literary-value-at-all love story? (I've been reading kid's books day after day, week after week. I have to progress to adult fiction slowly, step-by-step.) Can the snappy, grumpy, growly, quick-to-criticize, slow-to-smile, cannot-be-pleased-even-by-a- chocolate-peace-offering person I have become (after a hectic first term) still qualify as 'fit to be a teacher'?

I realise that I do have some introspection to do about my character and desirability as a teacher. But first I'm going home, pouring a big glass of red wine, and relaxing with my feet up! I'll worry about the laundry/ planning / groceries / kid's squabbles / term goals / classroom displays next week. When I'm on holiday!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

A Vision for 21st Century Learners

This video was created to inspire teachers to use technology in engaging ways to help students develop higher level thinking skills. Equally important, it serves to motivate school leaders to provide teachers with the tools and training to do so.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Teaching in the Olden Days

It's Friday, and I've just put the laptops away, locked up the digital camera, shut down the computers and switched off the Smartboard. I've done my planning for next week, adding hyperlinks to all the internet resources I'll be using during lessons. I've downloaded some video's I want to show my class and they're sitting safely on the desktop waiting for next week.

When I started teaching, many moons ago, my shut down routine was slightly different. I would be closing books, putting text books away, returning the encyclopaedias to the library and requesting VHS video's for next week.

The Year 5's homework task for this week is to find out how things were when their parents went to school. My colleague, who set the task, is still quite young, and it has occurred to me that my pupils' parents are also probably in their 20's. They may have to ask their grandparents for some interesting stories.

And if you think I'm going to start telling my pupils how I walked barefoot in the snow for 4 miles, I'll set your mind at rest: At least I wore shoes to school, and travelled by car. I'm not that old!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Lifelong Learning, and affairs of the heart.

My husband feels neglected. It's not my fault, I tell him. "Yes, I am interested in the elections in Zimbabwe," I tell him. "Yes, dear. I heard you." (Hilary Clinton - in Zimbabwe... no, that can't be right...) "Yes, dear, I'm watching." (Which elections ?)

What I don't tell him, is that I'm keeping my eye on the exchange on Twitter. And reading Ewan's blog. And tagging the cool Maths website I just stumbled on. And figuring out what a blidget is. (Blog widget? Anyone know?)

Are you a lifelong learner? I've always seen myself as a learner. I read anything, and everything that comes my way. As a child growing up in Zimbabwe, entertainment was not easily accessible, and books were my constant companions. My Dad subscribed to the Reader's Digest, and I would read it from front page to back page. I loved the 'Laughter's the Best Medicine' section, tested my vocabulary on the 'Word Power' page and marvelled at the 'book inserts' at the back. We had no art galleries to go to, but I studied the art works reproduced on the back cover. And that's where my love affair with words started.

I still read avidly. Only instead of curling up with a paperback, I settle myself companiably on my bed, while my husband watches Sky News / History Channel / CNN. Yep, you've guessed it - he has the remote, and the laptop is keeping me warm. Occasionally I reach over, and absently-minded pat Dearest's tummy - just to show I care. And then eagerly resume my browsing, reading, tagging, learning, blogging activities. I can justify my actions to my neglegted other half: I am learning.

Or I soon will be, just as soon as I've finished bookmarking all the stuff that interests me! I'm afraid my affair with my PLN (personal learning network - who coined this term first?) is creating a void between me and my PND (personal nearest and dearest). I was discussing this issue with some colleagues today, who all do the same, and who all agree: It's not healthy for the marriage! I'm closing the laptop in a minute. Just want to read a tiny bit more.

"Yes, Dearest, I heard you... Osama Bin Laden has won the elections in Zimbabwe, did you say?"

Now why would he look at me like that? I'm learning!