05 December 2018

Spiral of Inquiry: Story Hui

At WRS, we've been looking at StoryHui, you can find out more here, here and here. We were first introduced by looking at this video. This has been trialled with students and teachers alike. And as a team we used the storyhui process to reflect on our Teaching as Inquiry this year. You can see my reflection below.

08 November 2018

Spiral of Inquiry: Another day with Jannie van Hees (Oral Language)

Relationships with all key stakeholders takes time.
If you hope it happens, it won't!

Have a look at all of the children across your school that need extra support - identify the patterns and the trends? 

Phonological understanding of children is based on the quality of the oral language interactions of children and their engagement in talk accompanied print.

We've got no idea how capable their brain is, we need to have high expectations and keep believing. We have to see an unsung potential here and we need to see what that is! Every child has potential - Jannie Van Hees

A young child's brain development
Growing our children's language potential
Rich social interaction 
Responsible caregivers
Quality talk with child
Reading with talk support
SHAPES the CIRCUITRY of a child's brain

Conversational teaching and learning?
Dialogic teaching and learning?
What do high-quality conversations look like? and what does it do?

If you just listen to a story, you won't get as much out of as if you stopped and talked about it e.g. text accompanied print.

Instead of saying "listen" say "Victoria is talking, let's focus and notice so that we can respond". Paraphrase what Victoria says and invite more dialogue from students.


  • Be intentional in choosing books 
  • Develop a list of high-quality stories for Book talk
  • Can books be organized into themes?
  • It's never too early to read to a child
  • The quality and quantity of language counts
  • Put the time and effort in if you want outcomes
  • Reading to children is a skill, use it as an opportunity to have a conversation
  • Read for enjoyment!
  • You don't have to DO a book, experience a book!
  • Small group sizes are optimal
  • Children's knowledge is gained through language, and in particular 
  • Choose word groups rather than single words (the more we bring it to the foreground, the more children will)
  • Teach children to hunt for 'word groups'
  • Children thrive when they are taken to new learning
  • How do we lead children to new knowledge?
  • Play-based learning - how can we ensure deliberate acts of teaching and learning and provide new learning opportunities for ALL children.

Today in our workshop we looked at Perky the Pukeko and analysed for concepts and high-vocabulary.

WOW!! What an amazing experience and an exciting way to really look at how we might bring vocabulary and concepts to the fore for our students. You can see examples of how this played out for us today, below:

  • Explore possibilities to develop a stronger relationship with local early childhood centres e.g. cross-collaboration between school/early childhood education centre.
  • What might whānau workshops look like at Wymondley in relation to oral language?
  • Identify Goals for 2019! with dates and plan of action.
  • Ensure everyone is on board with this!
  • Diary dates in with all of the key stakeholders, this year for next year.
  • Analyse books and look for opportunities to bring to the fore vocabulary and concepts for students.

29 October 2018

Spiral of Inquiry: Analysing an oral language session.

As mentioned earlier, I have been enjoying Oral Language PD with Jannie Van Hees. In my last post, New learning about oral language I wrote a list of actions that I wanted to achieve by the end of the year. 

The first of these was to video a session of me working with a group of children. I then wanted to use the Vocab Profiler https://www.lextutor.ca/vp/eng/to analyse the vocabulary I used with my students.

Today I recorded a session with my class, 16 students in a multi-cultural class (many of which are emerging bilinguals). You can read the full transcript here.

Here is a summary of that analysis:

The data shows that in this 12-minute children were exposed to 1393 words and 314 different words. 

Of these 1393 words, 86.07% of the words were in the first 1-1000 frequency words, and 4.95% were in the 1001-2000 words. Only 0.50% of these words from the Academic Word List (AWL) which appear with high frequency in English-language academic texts. As you can see in the image below these words are analysis_[1] author_[2] contact_[1] demonstrate_[1] partner_[2] There were 8.47% in the Off-List Words these were allen_[3] alright_[1] ch_[1] cheep_[7] chicks_[2] chirped_[1] clues_[1] cock_[2] cockle_[3] crowed_[1] disrupting_[1] disruptive_[1] distracting_[1] doo_[5] doodle_[5] fluffy_[1] gingers_[3] hen_[10] hens_[3] ikihele_[4] illustrator_[1] leghorn_[12] leghorns_[2] neighbouring_[1] nikau_[2] nooooo_[1] okay_[17] oral_[2] pamela_[3] preened_[2] preening_[4] redhead_[1] rooster_[1] session_[1] shed_[3] sided_[1] sill_[1] ta_[2] um_[2] yeah_[3]. Children were exposed to many of these words through the read-aloud story. Our Junior team has committed to reading aloud to children every day, and you can see in the transcript this is having significant benefits to children's understanding of various words. For example;
Teacher: So the little red hen carefully stretched and preened one wing, then carefully stretched and preened the other wing and when she was quite sure she was neat and tidy. Remember what preening looks like? Child T: Yeah. Teacher: Show me, show me with your body preening when the Little Red Hen is preening. What's she doing? She's doing it like this….preening.Child Ta: She’s covering it.Teacher:  Yeah, it looks like this.That’s  a great way to demonstrate that for us D.


  • What can I do to ensure that ALL children a contributing to dialogue?
  • The most common word in this text is "and, are, a" - what do I need to do to introduce a range of other words?
  • What makes some children more confident to speak up than others?

24 October 2018

Re-thinking Teacher Agency and Inquiry

I'm in the process of applying for my full teacher registration, as part of this process I have to share evidence of my teaching, professional learning and reflections via Standards of the Teaching Profession. This morning I saw this tweet, and like any curious teacher, I travelled down the rabbit hole...

The first section suggested readers watch the following video that talks about "Drive: The surprising truth about motivation" (

Here are my key takeaways from the video:

* Incentives don't increase performance in workers
* Purpose is a key motivator
* Start treating like people (not horses that need carrots and sticks)

So then, what does this have to do with teacher agency and inquiry?

Well, the authors made this statement:
Autonomy is the choice for self-directed learning, mastery is having the skills and knowledge to take ownership of learning and voice is about being able to contribute to a greater purpose.

Followed by these 3 points (which had me nodding ecstatically - YES!!! we don't give or take agency. It is completely inherent in all of us, setting up 'agency' opportunities can actually be detrimental to children's innate sense of agency.

  • Agency is not ours to give or take.
  • We all have agency by nature.
  • As schools and leaders we can decide to honor this and support learners to engage with agency

The authors urge us to seek 'true agency' not what we think agency is. Ensuring that this is built on trust and relationships. There are no surprises that the key to success in this area, and in teacher inquiry and growth is 'purpose' looking at teachers as people rather than the role they keep. Ryan's (the authors) suggested method of figuring out your purpose is to ask a series of questions:

First answer what do you do? Then keep asking ‘Why?’ Why do you do what you do? Why does it matter? ‘Why?’ Why do you do what you do? Why does it matter?

There are so many gems in this article, https://chooseactreflect.wordpress.com/2018/10/21/shaping-our-future-teacher-agency-and-inquiry/ I strongly urge you to read, and read again and reflect on how this might impact your own journey.

What next for me?
I'm going to have a go at figuring out my purpose, I am also going to really interrogate the word 'agency' and read further into this.

16 October 2018

Spiral of Inquiry: New Learning about Oral Language

I had the great pleasure of attending a day long PD with Janie Van Hees today. While my brain is absolutely overloaded, I will attempt to share my key takeaways and actions from the day.

What is the role of talk?
  • More ideas shared
  • More words used
  • Greater quality words
  • more ‘to and fro’ talk with your child
Quotes that provoke!Its never too late! Be relentlessHigh expectations and delicious learning available to all tamariki.Surfing to comprehend, and surfing them back again…

Talk accompanied print is the difference maker

Why does spoken language matter? And what does it offer?

60-70% of my environment has to have ‘others’ language available to me

30% me trying it out

The role of talk
  • More ideas shared
  • More words used
  • Greater quality words
  • more ‘to and fro’ talk with your child
Your child hearing and saying reading and talking about reading with you and other sets them up for literacy and learning.
  • Knowledge gap - language is a critical contributor to the knowledge gap.
  • Oral language is a way to grow your thinking.
  • Lived experiences: fluffy sheep or smelly cow
  • Extended daily conversations

Teacher Attention
  • Attention to and noticing
  • Effortful and purposeful engagement and interaction
  • all participating
  • Triggering the ‘known’ to connect to the ‘new’
  • Stretching the learners current language repertoire
  • Multiple encounters
  • Context relevant
  • Facilitated through engaging mediating tools - persons, tasks, activities, sources.

Learner Attention
  • Focus and Notice
  • Put in the effort
  • Take part (participate) fully
  • Push myself to the edge
  • Dig deep for what I already know
  • Learn from others - notice and focus
  • I share - others gain from me
  • Think and talk; think and read
  • Wondering and asking opens up possibilities to know
Classroom talk
  • More time to process
  • Think to yourself, share with someone else and then share with someone else
  • First, second, third

A dialogic gifting exchange might go like this:
Lets all look carefully at the photo, really closely and think and look for details. Dig deep and notice whats going on…use your brain and your eyes to see and think about what the photo is telling us

Ill give you a good amount of think and look with all your brain. Get your ideas ready for sharing. So thinking and looking deeply as much as your bring can AND getting some of your ideas ready to tell someone else. Use gestures

Okay everybody, let's make sure we have on fabulous idea ready to tell another person. Remember how we get a fabulous idea ready.

Children show they know by putting their thumb up.
Teacher: Oh…so many of you remember. Tiaki, you tell us what we need to do to get a fabulous idea ready to tell someone.

Tiaki: We need to use words so they can know what we mean.

During teaching and learning/Dialogic gifting in class

Why do we keep asking so many questions? We should be in dialogue with our children

Example of dialogic gifting
Teacher: Sea horses are amazing animals. Remember how we read that they propel themselves through the water with the tiny fin on their back

Child: The fin flutters really quickly. It uses it for steering.

Teacher: Yes, I used the word propelling and you used the word steering, the fin helps it go left and right.

Teacher: It does, it has some other fins too. I wonder who can remember the name of those fins. We read that word.

CHild: P…. Pec… Pec Oh I can't say it

Teacher: Pectoral fins, clever, good remembering now let's talk about the tail and how 

The point is: When we have exchanges of ideas in the classroom, could we better at being responsive and adding to the kaupapa and the meaning.

High level vocabulary: Groups of words e.g. feeds no plankton, steady itself to eat, curly, scaly tail, fin flutters, seahorse is a fish

There have been some amazing words that we’ve used, lets remember some of them.

Lets explain that word - vocabulary
Like …. is an example.

  • Meaning making ready and explain ready rather than reading and writing ready
  • JOST in different languages e.g. Tongan/Samoan
  • Toy Library @ Wymondley
  • Re-word testing: gathering information
  • Video myself 
  • Create a framework of things to look for in my video analysis.
  • We choose best words to say what we mean, really say what we mean
  • Acknowledge what the child says and open it up for further comment
  • Students to do the heavy lifting
  • Provide quantity and quality in the schooling environment
  • Visuals: Ask what's going on in the photo, what else are you thinking?

22 September 2018

Whānau engagement: We can't do it without you!

During my online travels and Facebook scrolling, I came across this video of a waiata sung by Raukura from (Rotorua Boys and Girls High School). I watched it over and over and over and over! 

I can't believe how beautiful this waiata is and wanted to know who wrote it. I soon learned, Mahia o te Mahi Raukura was co-written by Talitha and Kimiora Webster, While exploring other songs composed by the Websters I came across this documentary below and am blown away by the entire Webster whānau.

"It was all because of mum and dad and their unconditional love and tautoko they gave us throughout everything we have done. Always, teaching us and always empowering us as being Māori...." - Kimiora Webster

When we were growing up as kids, our dad although he was working (and mum) made an effort to come and support us... It doesn't matter what we do they were always there! - Jamus Webster

In my role as Mutukaroa Coordinator, it has become clear that whānau engagement is vital to the success of our tamariki. Of course, children can be successful in spite of this. But the video below shows just how much influence whānau have on the trajectory of success for our tamariki.

This reminds me of the following whakatauki:
Ehara taku toa, he takitahi, he toa takitini
My success should not be bestowed onto me alone, as it was not individual success but success of a collective.
What a rich example of Maori achieving success as Māori, and Māori achieving success because they are Māori.

HEROES FOR EDUCATION SHORT DOCUMENTARY from Mike Jonathan / Haka Boy on Vimeo.

17 September 2018

Spiral of Inquiry: Taking action with Oral Language

Taking action
What can we do differently to make enough of a difference? "Genuine inquiry needs space to take risks, make mistakes, and try again – and again". Changing things can also feel risky for some learners who then resist change, and in turn, bring concerned parents. We need to build understanding for all, right from the outset.

So I've had a bit of a lull with my inquiry, mostly because I have been somewhat resentful about having to explicitly teach Oral Language in my classroom. I know I'm not the only one, as we've discussed this at a recent OCoL but the fact of the matter is that oral language is the foundation to reading and writing, and it is vital that children have the oral language to support their ongoing learning.

So, I have been using Time to Talk to guide my 'oral language sessions' and have adapted this to suit my class. Some of our lessons include explicit modelling of conversations and rules for listening (among other things). I am repeating the lesson several times so that children are getting repetition and lots of practice.

I have really played up the idea of 'respectful listening'. What does this mean? Well, Gingers rules for listening are:

1. Look with your eyes
2. Listen with your ears
3. Keep still
4. Be quiet

As a class, we have added 'Be respectful'. Which means focus on the speaker and listen intently.

It seems contradictory to have such a structured oral language programme in a play-based classroom but the role modelling of explicit language conventions seems to support our language in all areas of our classroom. The evidence is quite fascinating.
I have been using JOST (Junior Oral Language Assessment) to measure progress in oral language. Below is an example of the shifts made in an oral story with picture prompt:

May 2018 "The boy is wet".
September 2018 "The girls in the window she's angry at the boy because he took his shoes off and jumped in the water".

In addition to a rich language focussed, play-based programme and lots of 'read aloud' opportunities, the Time to Talk programme has been a good reminder to me of the importance of oral language.

Below are samples of progress in oral language of children in my class.

The areas in which I need to really focus on are:

* All body parts (chin, elbow and little finger) seem to be a struggle for new students.
* Plurals - 1 boat - 2 boats, 1 bus - 2 buses, 1 mouse - 2 mice
* Prepositions - in, under, beside, behind etc
* Tense - jump|ed, fall|fell, find|found, clap|clapped.

So while lots of action has been taken I am looking at ways to support children with specific aspects of their oral language development.

This week I am at a professional development session with Jannie Van Hees and I look forward to implementing my new learning into my classroom.

01 September 2018

Spiral of Inquiry: More learning about Phonemic awareness

Yesterday I came across a Facebook post in the Learning through Play page that asked about 'readiness for reading' in a play-based classroom. There was a range of really useful information and most confirmed my hunch around phonemic awareness. I really enjoyed seeing how the teachers in the following video integrated the phoneme levels into their everyday routines like reading.

Phoneme level is the most important level of phonological awareness, the four aspects of these are:

Phoneme Identity: Helping children identify single sounds in words
Phoneme Segmentation: Break a word up into all of its individuals sounds
Phoneme Blending: Blending individual sounds together to form a word
Phoneme Manipulation: Playing with sounds and words.

The diagram below shows the building blocks of reading success: 

Reading is not creating something completely novel, reading consists of connection and creating an interface between vision and the spoken language system.

There are parts of the brain that are only activated by those who know how to read e.g. visual recognition of letters.

And perhaps the biggest message of all by Prof. Sanislas Dehaene...

Phonics is superior to whole-world training!

Image result for the brain architecture for reading

No automatic alt text available.

24 July 2018

Spiral of Inquiry: Learning about Oral Language

If you've been following my blog over the years, you will know that I have been a real advocate for Oral Language, especially in the form of Digital Storytelling.

Did you know that kids growing up in poverty hear 30 million fewer words by age 3? The 'word gap' has been a rhetoric in schools for the longest of time. Especially in South Auckland (low-socioeconomic area in New Zealand), however, this article found in MindShift challenges this widely known fact, and states that the study was done 40 years ago with only 42 families.

However, in my new role as new entrant teacher, it's pretty obvious, regardless of the study that Oral Language in our young people is in dire straits! 

I thought I knew about Oral Language, I thought I knew how to foster it, but it seems that I actually need to be more strategic and intentional in the teaching of oral language (how did it come to this?)

So I've read a range of books and watched a number of videos to explore how this might work for my class, and have created a booklet with 20 Ideas to Support Oral Language. At our recent OCoL (Otara Continuity of Learning) we looked at oral language across settings (early childhood and primary school). With my head full of ideas and possibilities I called on a team of people to help me whittle down the key practices and package all of this information into a session or programme in my class.

So our Speech Langauge Therapist (SLT), the Resource Teacher of Learning and Behaviour (RTLB), and the Psychologist met over the holidays to look at a programme. We have chosen to go with "Time to Talk" by Alison Schroeder. It looks like it will be a great way to intentionally teach oral language and create ways for whānau to be engaged too.

In addition to this, I am also enrolled in this exciting opportunity to work with a team of people and alongside Jannie Van Hees who is world-renowned for her work on oral language and vocabulary.

So, there are lots of opportunities for learning this year! I look forward to reporting on this new learning and the impact it will have on my students learning.

10 July 2018

Play in the new entrant classroom

Play in education is not a new concept by any means. My very first job in education (back in 1996) was at a centre aptly named "Play and Learn Early Education", the philosophy of this early childhood service was inspired by Playcentre which began in 1941. From the very beginning of my journey through teaching, I have been immersed in play as a way of being, engaging and learning.  In fact, Te Whariki (Ministry of Education, 1996) demanded that early childhood educators honour this as a valid way of learning in our centres. 
"Children experience an environment where their play is valued as meaningful learning and the importance of spontaneous play is recognised" - Te Whariki (1996)
Recently, we have seen a surge of primary school educators embracing 'play' in their classrooms. The Learning through Play Facebook group has over 7000 educators committed to implementing play in their schools. There's a good reason for this too, as seen in the quote below:
"When children spend more time in structured activities, they get worse at working toward goals, making decisions, and regulating their behaviour, according to a study" - excerpt from Ellen Wexle article here.

So what does this mean for me in my practice? 

The ongoing pressures of assessments, achievement in reading, writing, and math can be overwhelming in primary schools. My gut knows that 'play' is so important for children. However, trying to balance everything out in a day can be so tricky! When I truly let go of the structure and let the children 'play' with no agenda in mind - great things happen!

This article "Why every kindergarten and first-grade school day should begin with inquiry and imaginative play" by Olivia Wahl confirmed my hunch about play.
We must have a mindset shift in this country. A shift from seeing schools as buildings that children attend to understand reading, writing, math, and social sciences to schools as part of our communities where children develop understandings of the world around them and social-emotional skills that will help them thrive and communicate their ideas with others. I truly believe if there is not ample time allotted for our children to begin every day exploring, playing, and building social awareness, we are failing them.
Term 3 will bring an opportunity to reassess my planning and classroom curriculum and look at what will make a difference to children's life-long learning.

Making Phonics Stick! - Professional Learning Webinar

30 June 2018

New Streets: South Auckland, Two Cities

Full link here: https://www.nzonscreen.com/title/new-streets-south-auckland-two-cities-1982

17 June 2018

Spiral of Inquiry - Learning about Phonemic Awareness - Part 2

Phoneme awareness is the single biggest indicator of success in reading - Maria S. Murray, Ph.D.
This video is helpful for learning the difference between phonemic and awareness and phonological awareness. If you have a spare hour (who does?) this is well worth watching.

Here are some of the key slides from the presentation:

So what does this mean for me and my practice?
Using the Developmental sequence of Phonological skills I would like to look at each of my learners to see how and where they fit into this continuum and intentionally using this information in my phonological/phonemic awareness planning.

Spiral of Inquiry - Learning about Phonemic Awareness - Part 1

New learning
How and where will we learn more about what we do? Teacher learning must be connected to identified learner needs. External expertise is important here and the school must make clear to externals what makes a difference to learners. We all need to know why new ways of doing things are better than what we did before.
"The large majority of poor readers at the upper grades never got phonics or phonemic awareness instruction. Intervention programs that put a strong emphasis on these basic underlying skills in the beginning are more effective than programs that just emphasise vocabulary and comprehension" - Louisa Moats.

Ive been reading a range of articles and books to inform my thinking about Phonemic awareness, you can read my previous reflections here, here and here.

These recent articles have supported, inspired and challenged my learning and thinking. I have included key quotes that have resonated with me for your information.

We are barely functioning, literally by Rob Mitchell

It was Joel Young's first literacy group as a facilitator. He won't forget it in a hurry."There was this young guy, early to mid-20s," he recalls. "He had a few tatts on him across his knuckles, a few other bits and pieces; he'd seen the inside of a jail cell at one point, maybe had some gang affiliations."..."He got up and talked about how . . . he'd been able to read a story to his daughter for the first time ever."

Ending the Reading Wars: Reading Acquisition From Novice to Expert - Anne Castles, Kathleen Rastle, and Kate Nation.

These reviews [United States (e.g., the National Reading Panel, 2000), the United Kingdom (e.g., the Rose Review; Rose, 2006), and Australia (e.g., the Department of Education, Science and Training, or DEST; Rowe, 2005)] have revealed a strong scientific consensus around the importance of phonics instruction in the initial stages of learning to read.

Lost for words: Why the best literacy approaches are not reaching the classroom - Misty Adoniou
Every teacher should know that the purpose of language is to communicate; that it changes according to whom you are talking, why you are talking and what you are talking about. Therefore all our teaching about language must be done in context and in the course of achieving real purposes.
the usual suspects: verbs, phrases, clauses, sentences and I throw in a couple that are less well
known: reference, ellipsis and theme. But it is the tenth that
is the most important. E
teacher should know that the purpose of language is to
communicate; that it changes
cording to who
Phonics study hopes to end reading wars once and for all by Antoinette Collins
A new scientific study that aims to end the so-called reading wars has found that phonics is an essential foundation in the early stages of learning to read, but it is only part of the approach.
How to Avoid Reading Failure: Teach Phonemic Awareness.
In New Zealand, statistics indicate that up to one in four children have difficulties with reading. Ministry of Education figures show that 20 percent of 6-year-old children receive Reading Recovery tuition, though it is only accessible to 70 percent of schools.
There is an increasing consensus among researchers around the world that schools must include from the first days of schooling a strong phonological approach in the teaching of reading. There is converging evidence from many studies that children who experience difficulties in learning to read do not understand how to recode words phonologically, that is, they do not know how to blend the sounds of letters together to realise the spoken forms of written words. 
Children with poor alphabet recognition and low phonemic awareness at school entry are likely to have difficulties in learning to read. Alphabet recognition at school entry is a very good predictor of reading success in the first year of school, but phonemic awareness is a better predictor of success after that (Nicholson, 2003).
What research tells us about reading instruction by Rebecca Treiman

Whether the subject is math, science, or reading, teachers must provide direct instruction, guidance, and feedback. They cannot rely on students to come up with the right generalisations and procedures on their own.
Phonics: Its place in the literacy story

Reading is not just about decoding the text or sounding out words. It is a complex process of constructing meaning(s) from a text. While decoding is one of a set of skills children can use when they meet an unknown word, the research demonstrates that solely relying on heavy phonics‐based approaches to teaching reading can often result in children achieving good results on tests that merely ask them to pronounce lists of words.

Phonics and phonemic awareness is therefore most important for writing and spelling processes rather than when learning to read. As Pearson (2004, p.225) demonstrates:
...writing is the medium through which both phonemic awareness and phonics knowledge develop – the former because students have to segment the speech stream of spoken words to focus on a phoneme and the latter because there is substantial transfer value from the focus on soundsymbol information in spelling to symbolsound knowledge in reading.
So what does this mean for me and my practice?
Perhaps this quote shared by Robert Ewing and Marguerite Maher in Phonics: its place in the literacy story sums it up best. They write:
Research has shown that employing a repertoire of strategies and approaches that use and develop all three cueing systems and are shaped to meet the learning needs and strategies of individual children is the most effective approach to the teaching of reading.
The new entrant classroom (while hugely rewarding) is challenging at the best of times particularly as a new learner can start on any given day of the week. My next steps will be to ensure I have a bank of phonemic and phonological learning engagements at the ready and that I commit to differentiating this for my learners.