21 December 2014

Becoming a catalyst for change...

Yesterday was the first day of our Winter Break! My little big family of five relaxed and enjoyed a movie marathon. My husband and I thought it would be quite cool to show the kids some of the old classic movies of our time - no not Gone with the Wind that's way before our time, no not The Graduate either, still way before our time. I'm talking about Coach Carter, Blindside and Freedom Writers. My husband and I are kind of hooked on real-story turned movie type flicks - especially those with a happy ending. Our kids as a result are always questioning whether movies that we watch and share with them are based on a true story.

I'm on holiday and after watching these movies I want to go back to work (is it work when you really enjoy it?). I want to be the change I want to make a difference and I want to explore the possibilities with my class of 4 and 5 year old learners. I cant - I'm on holiday and so are they! So for now, I will recharge my batteries, enjoy time with my little big family and get ready for the new year! Happy holidays to you all.

20 December 2014

The Power of YET

There is lots of dialogue happening in our school about Mindsets, in particular referring to the work of Carol Dweck. I am posting this video here for later reference.

Ways to reward YET:
* Praise wisely
* Praise process
* Process effort, strategies, engagement of longer periods of time, progress and resilience.

19 December 2014

Reflecting on the PYP

I have been involved in the IB PYP Curriculum for over two years now and experienced a range of interesting IB Workshops (you can read about those here). My current PYP goal is to “Explore PYP in the context of a play-based curriculum with reference to documentation and assessment”.

What’s happened? ( successes and breakthroughs)
Thanks to the curriculum leadership team we have changed our PYP model this year from year-long units to three sequential units with one-year long unit. This has allowed the team to work collaboratively for planning, pre-assessments, summative assessments and inquiry cycle documentation.

What’s not happening? ( challenges & frustrations )
As I am fairly new to the new regime of sequential Units of Inquiry I am still looking at ways that I can infuse my PYP understandings with my New Zealand mode of documentation i.e. learning stories. This is something that I haven’t quite mastered but am working on. I would like to see the ‘whole’ story of learning recorded rather than the pre-assessment, formative and summative assessments as compartmental documents.

What am I going to do to influence what is not happening? (Over the next one week I will). I will try and write up our current Unit of Inquiry for “How We Organize Ourselves” and send this document to others requesting critical feedback.

18 December 2014

Literacy in the Early Years - My classroom environment

In a n earlier post I mentioned actions that I needed to complete to move forward in my reflection cycle. As of December 2014 this is my current learning environment.

A cosy book area to read from a range of texts. Student portfolios are also accessible for children to flick through

A writing corner with games, writing materials, Handwriting without Tears resources and writing journals (blank pages).

Another prompt for writing using the Butterflies resources - sharpened pencils, clipboards, mirrors and lots of environmental print through our documentation panels.

Sign in sheet that children sign-in on every day. 

Environmental pring - children's conversations are recorded and transcribed then places on a display wall, relevant books to the wall display are also placed nearby and children's signs are honored and placed on the wall.

Book Week - children created their own books and I recorded them re-telling their story, I placed these in pockets on our door and attached QR codes for families to listen to during our Open House.

Poems on display, children have drawn the illustrations.

Obviously there are more strategies and teaching provocations but for now this is a good insight into the classroom literacy environment.

Literacy practice in the Early Years - The Journey Begins Update #1

I'm about to embark on a journey of discovery (actually I'm always on a journey of discovery). I'm pretty excited about this particular journey though. But before I set off I need to check a few things. This year we are submitting two goals to explore/critique/inquire and reflect on through the year. This is part of our appraisal system. I referred to these a few times before and each time there have been changes - I've always set goals, so this is not something new to me. However, a recent presentation by Tony Burkin (notes here) got me thinking. It got me thinking alot...

Reflection is not the same as taking ACTION. He referred to 3 fence post questions that Hal Moore used in his courageous battles.

* What's happening?
* What's not happening?
* How can I influence what's not happening?

One of the goals I chose to explore is based on my current interest in English Language Learners/ALL learners and literacy practices that support them to be successful in their learning journey, the goal is/was:

Explore and engage in action-research that uncovers optimal literacy learning practices for children in Early Years education.

However, having listened to Tony talk over the past few weeks I am beginning to realise that perhaps this goal is not the RIGHT goal. In fact, its so broad and fluffy I am guaranteed little progress at all. So, in my quest to explore the RIGHT goal, here is my new focus for the year.

What literacy practices best support ALL learners academic success?

Okays so here is is in black and white - I do not like drill and skill worksheets, I loathe and detest coloring in pages and I really don't see the point in making children learn sight words. I'm not sure if I totally agree with 'early readers' either. For the longest time I haven't had to justify or rationalise this. In my teaching practice at home in NZ this just wasn't the done thing in early childhood, in fact it was frowned upon by Ministry of Education and Education Review Office. So why am I challenging and investigating this now? Well in International Teaching teachers come from all over the world - literally and with them they bring their own philosophical values and beliefs. No one point of view is right or wrong but I am finding myself question my own values when it comes to literacy practices that best support children.So here I am, at the start of a very exciting journey.

Tony suggested in his presentation that we move from a professional diary to a professional journal and offered some advice for guiding questions. We are about to head into Winter Break and I will be away from school for some time so will make a start to the journaling process here.

How by choosing this inquiry do I hope to influence student outcomes?

I will make informed decisions about literacy practices that are grounded in recent research that support good literacy practices for ALL children's academic success.

What will be my first steps?
  • Stocktake my current literacy practices (what am I currently doing to support oral, written and visual language - PYP Language Arts Scope and Sequence?)
  • Look at my environment and note how this supports literacy
  • Compile data on English Language Learners - what languages do we speak in our class?
Stay posted for more updates...it's sure to be a bumpy road.

17 December 2014

Intelligent failure

Tony Burkin is sharing his thoughts on Intelligent failure with our ECC teachers today. Intelligent failure is about piloting, tweaking, adapting, modifying and experimenting - all of this leads to Innovation.

What's the difference between wondering and reflecting?

  • Reflect=Past/Wondering=Future
  • Reflect=Active/Wondering=Passive
  • Reflect=Evidence based/Wondering=Intuitive
  • Reflect=Facts/Wondering=Question oriented
  • Reflect-Finite/Wondering=Not sure
Refection is about self-improvement. It's much more than having wonderings. Parker J Palmer (1998) in The Courage to Teach believes great teachers are able to reflect on the 'inner landscape of teaching itself'.

"Articulate the inner landscape of your teaching in 10 minutes"

Lt. Col Hal Moore asked 3 fencepost questions
  • Whats happening?
  • Whats not happening?
  • How can I influence whats not happening tomorrow?
Wondering is different to Reflecting

Prochaska's Model of Change
1. Pre-contemplation
2. Contemplation
3. Preparation
4. Action = INQUIRY
5. Maintenance
6. Termination

* Most people do not stay in Action phase long enough to reach Maintenance and Termination steps
* We have to action our learning then you can experience Intelligent failure

Inquiry is not about finding answers. It's not even about asking questions. It's about discovering the right question through disciplined action.

Professional Diary of inner thoughts - becomes pointless; mundane; poisonous; people ask "what's the point? I reflect all the time! Why write it all down?"
Professional Journal - records a learning trip - what I'm learning as I'm actioning new practices and the questions I'm finding answers to along the way.

Journaling to continually improve
How by choosing this inquiry do I hope to influence student outcomes?
What will be my first steps (over the next 2 weeks I will...)
What's happened?
SUCCESSES/BREAKTHROUGHS - Evaluation of how and why?
What's not happening?
What am I going to do to influence what is not happening? (Over the next one week I will)

So what does this mean for me?
* Get journaling stop using my blog as a diary
* Action my reflection and document my successes/failures
* Change my goals to the 'right' goals
* Ask more questions
* Read 'The Courage to Teach'

Perfectionism is Toxic

13 December 2014

FAILING as a teacher.

I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed - Michael Jordan

A few weeks ago in a conversation with a teacher friend she stated in reference to teaching children "I feel like I fail them every day". I promptly replied "Me too! Thats what makes great teachers".

A few weeks on I am still thinking about my knee jerk reply. Of course failing kids every day doesn't make you a great teacher - how ridiculous to think that. I have been pondering where in my psyche this statement came from.  

Thinking and reflecting is messy, it's not logical or linear its a big mash of experiences that mould your thinking and into the person you are, so in an attempt to structure my thoughts, here are my thoughts on failing as a teacher:

* Everyday I can tell you five things I should have done and could improve on in my teaching. I am my own worst critic. Knowing I am not perfect and actively trying to do something about it is exhausting but is something I am committed to doing as a learner and as a teacher.
- I could have listened to A longer than I did, instead I cut the conversation off to get the class ready for swimming.
- I could have encouraged J to learn the lesson that if you don't hold the lego bucket with 2 hands all of its contents will fall out. Instead I helped him carry it and 'fixed' the problem for him.
- I could have read to the children outside while they were sitting having a snack instead of making them pack up get their bags and then coming inside to listen to a story.
- I should have put the paints outside today but I got caught up with too many things and lost track of time.
- We were journal writing today and I didn't hear all of their stories instead I said "you've written your own story so you can put your journal away now".

I constantly reflect on my actions and challenge myself everyday to make tomorrow a better day.

* When I fail and then reflect, I learn how to try harder, act smarter and change my actions and behavior.
Recently I saw a wonderful video from Story Workshop that had some great ideas for provocations. I posted the videos here in a playlist. I was inspired by this video and the very next day set up a similar provocation in my art area.

It looks inviting right, it looks like something you might want to try and explore? It looks picture perfect and something that should provoke amazing art work - right? WRONG.

I failed in this provocation. Not in the way you might think - In my mind I constantly struggle with teacher led learning engagements and child led learning engagements. The details of this ongoing struggle can be saved for another post another day. (You can find the start of my thinking here). The provocation looked great and the children who engaged with this activity would probably say it was enjoyable.  I pride myself in having a learning environment where children are given enough uninterrupted time, and have the autonomy and agency to create, imagine and self-regulate their own learning. This is what I came back to an hour later.

Here is where I think I failed.
* I didn't support or scaffold children's learning
* I didn't give them any expectations
* I didn't sit with them and facilitate learning
* I basically left them to it.

Part of me wonders had I sat there and explored with and alongside the children would they have stayed focussed for longer? Should I have shown them how to draw the flower? How can I make this more meaningful for them. These are questions I have running through my head EVERY day. Im learning though that there is a big difference between saying I have FAILED the children, and instead starting to rephrase my learning.

I haven't failed, I've had lots of opportunities to learn from my experiences.

4 year olds and #hourofcode - we did it! (only just)

We attempted an Hour of Code in class this week. I have to say - it was a bit tricky. We worked through the Angry Birds lesson and we were doing okay till we got to level 7, then it started to get tricky so we made lots of mistakes to learn how to get past each stage. We then got to level 14 and got really stuck. so I had to ask my own children to help us to get to Level 20.

*Current thinking suggests that children will need to learn how to code in the future. 

I'm on the lookout for other ways to get my kinds thinking in code, some suggestions already include Hopscotch and Scratch Jr.

My PYP Journey

In March 2015 I would have been engaged in the IB PYP (Primary Years Programme) for 2 years. What a journey it has been. I've had the privilege of completing 4 IB PYP workshops so far:

And most recently the Concept Based Instruction facilitated by the infamous Lynn Erickson.

Last year I set two personal goals related to the IB PYP Programme.

Professional Goal Number One:
* Develop a deeper understanding of the IB Primary Years Programme.

Professional Goal Number Two:
* Use digital technologies to explore the notion of 'international mindedness'.

This year I'm hoping to take this learning even further, my goal this year is to:

Explore PYP in the context of a play-based curriculum with reference to documenation and assessment.

The other relates to my current interest in Literacy and my journey to unpacking optimal literacy practices in the Early Years. To follow my progress in this goal, you can follow my journey here.

10 December 2014

Play doesn't need to be redefined...learning does.

I subscribe to the LinkedIn group LEGO Foundation IDEA Conference. A while back I received an email notifying me of a discussion "Meet 30 Pioneers Redefining Play and Re-imagining Learning". Normally I just look at the title and gauge whether this is something that is relevant to me. In the online world you get to a point where everything is relevant and interesting and the challenge is to read, digest and action interesting information. There is a lot of information in the online world.

This particular discussion appealed to me because we are exploring 'play-based learning' in our school. Our guiding statements have recently been written and published and the challenge right now is balancing and prioritizing 'play' with everything else that is happening in a day e.g. Single Subjects, PYP Units of Inquiry and scheduled playground times.

There is something that Cynthia (Director, Communications Officer at International Play Association) wrote that captured my attention and resonated with me, she wrote:
I think it is a pretty dangerous thing to consider redefining play. Play does not need to be redefined. Learning does. Play needs to be left alone. Play is best for children when adults stay out of it. Messing about with play only gets in the way of the beauty and joy that children find in pure, child-led free play. The more we get in there and muck up the works the more we harm our children. Play in and of itself is in danger of being ruined by us trying to make sure that something measurable comes out of it. Play - silly, fun, goofy play is invaluable all by itself.

Play is best for children when adults stay out of it.  

I think we underestimate how intelligent, capable and competent children are. We do not need to plan their play, we can just provide resources and step back and observe. At a recent team meeting we were asked to share a play-based learning goal. My goal is to:

Commit to providing large blocks of time for child-initiated play - no agenda, no purpose.

Every Sunday my colleague Alanud and I open our doors and encourage our classes to move between classes. This time is unstructured with no purpose and no agenda. Yes, they are just playing and yes I struggle with this even though I know it is the best way for 4 and 5 year olds to learn. In my mind, I have a list of things I could be teaching children, exposing children to and documenting, I value play, I really do but it has been hard to ignore the urge to 'teach'.

Our observations have revealed that:
  • Children do not need to be shown how to play in a new environment
  • Children have and will play with different resources in different ways
  • Children embrace the time and space to play
  • Children in our classes even though they spend time with each other most mornings for a active movement session have not started play across classes i.e. making friends from other classes. (Although we have only just started these 2 hours time blocks, so hopefully over time we will see new friendships develop).

How do you prioritize self-directed play in your weekly timetable?

07 December 2014

4 year olds and #hourofcode - We are in!

This year we will be participating in #hourofcode.

We will be looking at using the Angry Birds maze found here and downloading Scratch Jr to our classroom iPads.

If you heard about the Hour of Code last year, you might know it made history. In one week, 15 million students tried computer science! The Hour of Code is a one-hour introduction to computer science, designed to demystify code and show that anybody can learn the basics. Sign up to host an Hour of Code this December 8-14 during Computer Science Education Week and help reach 100 million students by the end of the year. Add your school to the map, go to http://hourofcode.com

Incredible stats from last year’s Hour of Code. In one week alone:

It was the fastest to reach 15 million users.
15 million students worldwide learned an Hour of Code.

04 December 2014

Re-visiting Reflection Models - Kung-Fu Panda Twist

In my previous role as a regional facilitator I supported teachers with their reflection processes. Here is a videocast of a presentation I shared with the teachers in the TDP Program here at TKS. Below you will also see reflection models that I have come across on my journey through teaching..

Smyth, J (1989)
Campbell, Melenyzer, Nettles, & Wyman (2000) Portfolio and Performance Assessment in Teacher Education. Boston: Allyn & Bacon
Describe What did I do? The purpose of this question is to describe action without judgements.

Inform What does this mean? The purpose of this question is to inform yourself about the theories that influence your actions, and includes a search for patterns of principles underpinning practice.

Confront How did I come to be this way? The purpose of this question is to confront the key assumptions underlying practice, and includes an examination of the broad historical, social and cultural context

Reconstruct How might I do things differently.  The purpose of this question is to reconstruct or modify practice, and includes consideration of alternative views and generation of goals for future action.
What? What happened? Describe the scenario, the moment, the wondering, the thought?

So what? What does this mean for me? What has happened to influence my thoughts at this point? i.e. context, culture, conversation, readings etc

Now what? What might I do differently? How might you change, enhance or develop this scenario?  What further actions might I take?
Brookfield, S. D. (1995).  Becoming a critically reflective teacher. San Fransisco: Jossey Bass
O’Connor, A. & Diggins, C. (2002).  On reflection: reflective practice for early childhood educators. Lower Hutt: Open Mind Publishing
Our autobiographies as learners and teachers consider your own experience as a learner, with reference to your own education and learning.  The analysis of your own learning experiences will help to uncover your assumptions and beliefs about how people learn.

Our students eyes Consider the view of the child, You may like to consider looking at children’s reactions to an activity you provided, you can also collect video, photographic evidence to support this section.

Our colleagues experiences Opportunity to get an insight into a particular experience by engaging in dialogue with colleagues through face-to-face, email, skype etc

Theoretical literature Access literature or call on theory supporting your incident, activity, thinking and wonderings.
As the title of this model would suggest reflection using the spiral model is never ending, below are the stages that the spiral model offers.

Act Your teaching practice involves action
Select You select an action that has impacted on you during the day
Name you describe the action
Reflect You reflect using the description of the action, as well as considering values, beliefs, assumptions, other influences on the event, theory and the context of the event.
Research You refer to theory to support your reflections
Plan You develop a plan as a result of the  reflection
Act You implement the plan
Monitor You return to the beginning of the spiral and the process continues.

Peters, J. (1991).  ‘Strategies for reflective practice’.  Professional development for Educators of Adults. New directions for Adult and Continuing Education. R. Brockett (ed). San Fransisco: Jossey Bass
Describe Describe the incident or incident that represents some critical aspect of your work e.g. context, your practice, how you feel etc.
Analysis Consider why this aspect/incident operates as it does.  Consider your own values and assumptions that support it.

Theorise Look at alternative ways of approaching your practice by taking the theory you uncovered at the analysis stage and deriving new theory from it or attaching it to new or different theory

Act In the final stage you put the new theory into practice or try out new ways of doIng things.  Your goal is to make your new practice consistent with the theory you have arrived at through reflection.