10 things to do on the first day of school…

A new school year is about to begin in Australia. It’ll be the first time in nearly 30 years that I don’t have a class to teach and it’s not an easy adjustment! For as long as I can remember, I have started the year by planning the first day for my new classes. Reflecting on all those new beginnings, I realise how much teaching and learning have changed… and how much I have changed.

What needs to happen on ‘Day 1’ ?

I used to think…

  1. Explain your expectations.
  2. Establish rules.
  3. Know everyone’s names.
  4. Arrange seats to minimalise talking.
  5. Organise books.
  6. Talk about homework.
  7. Tell them what they’ll be learning.
  8. Make sure they listen.
  9. Get students working right away.
  10. Show a firm hand.

Now I think…

  1. Ask about their expectations.
  2. Create an essential agreement.
  3. Know everyone’s story.
  4. Arrange seats to encourage collaboration.
  5. Demonstrate that you value thinking.
  6. Talk about learning.
  7. Ensure they know that they own their learning.
  8. Make sure you listen.
  9. Show you’re a part of the learning community.
  10. Laugh…


10 ways to make the learning matter…

Whether we’re thinking about how best to use the new flexible learning spaces or the meaningful integration of technology, it always comes down to the learning. If our goal is for students to learn, we teachers need to focus less on teaching and more on learning…

1. Start from the end.

Decide the desired goals and outcomes first. Then decide on learning experiences which will help the students to get there. Don’t start by planning activities or selecting pages in the text book.

2. Show that you’re a learner too.

Share things you have learned. Invite their opinions on things you have read for your own interest. Learn from and with your students. Be part of the learning community.

3. Focus on learning, not work.

Make sure you and your students know the reason for every learning experience. Don’t give ‘busy work’. Avoid worksheets unless they are really about learning.  Start with the ‘why.

4. Articulate your learning principles.

Consider what you believe about how learning takes places. Build everything else on that foundation…  learning experiences,  interactions, your classroom set-up.

5. Focus on big ideas.

Don’t teach only facts and content. Look at concepts, rather than just topics. Facts are locked in time, place or situation. Big ideas are transferable.  Aim for transfer of learning to other contexts.

6. Listen to what the learners say.

Use what they say to tell you where they are at.  Sometimes it’s not phrased as a question, but they are asking one.  Ask their opinions. Encourage them to talk about the process of learning.

7. Assess for learning.

Don’t test at the end. Use all kinds of formatives assessment along the way (including just listening to your students). Create authentic assessments that show transfer of learning to other contexts, not just factual recall.

8. Focus on individual learners.

Don’t always just teach the whole class at once. Different learners have individual needs. Differentiate as required. Work in groups. Allow choice.

9. Create authentic learning experiences.

Standing out front and talking all the time isn’t an authentic learning experience.  Hands on exploration is.  Finding things out for oneself is. Working things through with peers is. Global interactions are.

10. Let go.

Step back. Talk less. Test less. Don’t make all the decisions. Don’t control all the learning.  Encourage learners to own it.

@CliveSir has created a hilarious xtranormal version of this post!

10 ways series:

10 ways to get students to own their learning

10 ways to foster a love of learning

10 ways to create a culture of thinking

10 ways to grow as an educator

10 ways my thinking has changed

10 ways to think about your learning space

10 ways to help students develop a PLN

10 ways to attract readers to your blog

10 things teachers should unlearn

10 ways to encourage good questions

10 ways to get your students’ respect

10 ways to assess learning without tests

10 ways to motivate students to blog

10 ways to make meetings effective

10 things you can’t do on Monday in period 6

10 ways to earn your students’ respect…

I loved the discussion that grew out of my ‘10 things teachers should UNlearn‘ post. One of the points which raised problems for some people was my suggestion that students are not obliged to respect teachers.  I do think mutual respect between any human beings is important and I understand that there might be differing cultural expectations when it comes to respecting teachers. But respect is not an unconditional right.

10 ways to earn your students’ respect… 

1. Respect your students.

Don’t talk down to students. Model mutual respect.  Don’t have double standards. Give what you’d like to get back. Know every child’s story and treat each as an individual. Cater for different preferences, interests, strengths and weaknesses. Ensure students understand the reasons for your expectations.

2. Have a class agreement, not top-down rules.

Ask what helps them learn and what hinders learning. Use that as a basis for establishing an essential agreement as to how the class will run and what behaviours will be evident. Have everyone sign it. Put it up on the wall. Refer to it constantly.

3.  Be part of the learning community.

Encourage kids to take ownership of their learning. Be an inquirer too. Don’t pretend to know all the answers. Learn with and from your students. Divide your groups in a variety of random ways, so that everyone learns to work with different people, including you.

4. Acknowledge their physical needs.

Allow students to drink water and even to eat if they hungry. Don’t try and control when they go to the toilet. (If your classes are engaging, they will only go when they need to.) Provide opportunities for standing up and moving around during learning.

5. Be fair and reasonable.

Don’t show favouritism.  Expect everyone to stick to the agreement. Don’t allow put-downs between students. Accept legitimate excuses and even some that might not be. If the homework comes a day late because they had something else to do, it’s not the end of the world.

6. Have a sense of humour.

Laugh with your students but never at them. Laugh at yourself. Show firm disapproval if they laugh at each other.  Don’t take school too seriously. Take learning seriously, but make learning fun too.

7.  Provide  a secure learning space.

Provide opportunities for risk-taking in learning. Create a safe environment where learners don’t fear failure. Be supportive of creative thinking and new ways of doing things. Make every student feel validated.

8. Be sincere.

Talk to students in a normal tone, irrespective of their age.  Students see through adults who aren’t sincere very quickly. Don’t pretend.   Say what you mean. Mean what you say. Show that you care… but only if you do. (If you don’t, why are you a teacher?)

9. Be human.

Acknowledge when you’re in the wrong. Apologise when you make a mistake. Admit you’re impatient because you’re tired today.

10. Let go.

Don’t be in charge of every situation.  Ask yourself  ‘Is it important?‘ before you react. Don’t make all the decisions. Provide opportunities for choice. Show that you value initiative above compliance.

10 (ways) series…


Has education changed?

Guest post by Jocelyn.
I’ve blogged about her before in Remember the olden days…
Her  post highlights how far we have come since the olden days… and how far we still have to go.

At our school, we have 15 minutes of ‘circle time’ every morning, before classes begin.  In my classroom we use it for cooperative activities,  planning the day ahead, or  talking about our current unit of inquiry.

Last week the children got to talking about the pre-election debate on television between Julia Gillard and Tony Abbot. Some of the children had watched this because our unit is about persuasive techniques and language. They were preparing for class debates this week too.  At first the talk centred around debating techniques, but soon developed into a discussion of the issues related to the debate. One child said “Julia Gillard thinks that her My School website is a huge success”. This is a website set up for parents to see a school’s ranking, which is determined by one set of data, provided by national standardized tests in maths and language. I asked the students what they thought about it.

We talked about the relevance of standardized tests and the children realised that such testing does not necessarily reflect true  learning. They brought up the fact that there is so much more to  school and we can show our learning in so many more meaningful ways.

We moved from there onto what learning is ? We spoke about the acquisition of knowledge or facts and compared that to learning for enduring understanding. I found myself discussing the ‘avocado model’ of learning with my 11 year old pupils.

One child relayed a story of an 8 year old who can name every capital city in the world and they questioned the value of knowing such facts. We spoke about concepts and big ideas being more useful than a bunch of facts that are readily accessible on the internet.

After the discussion I had to pinch myself!  I realised that the discussion I had just had with a group of 11 year olds was similar to one I might have with my adult colleagues.  I realised how much things in the classroom have changed….


Preparing new teachers for the classroom…

Once again #edchat, got me thinking. #Edchat is a fast and furious, thought provoking Twitter conversation on a pre-selected topic. This week the discussion was about how new teachers should be prepared for the classroom. If you’re interested, there’s an archive of the conversation.

I’ve been teaching for longer than some of the teachers at my school have been alive. I can’t really remember whether my course prepared me adequately for the classroom or not, but I don’t remember suffering too much. Mind you, the demands are far greater on new teachers nowadays. I was lucky that my late father was  an incredible educator who both inspired and supported not just me, but whole generations of students and teachers.

At university,  I learnt history of education, psychology of education and philosophy of education but very little about classroom management. I remember that we had a subject called ‘Blackboard Technique’! I remember being grateful to more experienced teachers in my first couple of years who gave advice and shared ideas.  But I also remember a degree of discomfort and uncertainty as often my instinct told me that what they suggested wasn’t the best way to teach.

My colleague, Caitlin is a smart and talented third year teacher, who gets the best out of her students without ever raising her voice. She’s also a perfectionist and I know she found the demands of the first couple of years overwhelming at times. I asked about her experiences as a new teacher.

One point Caitlin raised is something that hasn’t changed since my day! She says her university course could have prepared her better by providing more practical classroom experience. I’m not sure what it’s like in other countries, and I’m sure even here in Australia it varies between universities. Caitlin had three, three-week placements. Some university courses now have a weekly class placement, one day per week. She feels strongly that the more time in the classroom observing and trying out techniques, the better and even says she’s not sure how university can really prepare you for the reality of the classroom.

It’s also important for new teachers to have a mentor and to feel part of the school community. Caitlin says:

I think as a new teacher it can be really hard to know what you need initially. You basically go into ‘sink or swim’ survival mode, and everything is a bit of a blur!

Some things that have helped me in my first couple of years have been: the welcoming atmosphere among the staff, the emotional support that the staff give to each other, an approachable head of campus.

Some things that might have made the transition easier – perhaps some sort of weekly or fortnightly debriefing one-on-one with a trusted mentor to share challenges as well as successes. Also PD very early on, with a focus on setting up classroom routines and dealing with challenging behaviours, because these aspects are not covered at university.

We have since  implemented a mentoring system, but it’s something we still need to work on improving. It’s interesting that she talks about a ‘trusted mentor’ because this came up a lot in the #edchat discussion. The new teacher needs to feel that he can trust the mentor, that he will not be judged and his job is not at stake if he reveals weaknesses.

I was horrified to see a tweet from a new teacher yesterday saying that fellow teachers didn’t acknowledge him and didn’t even know his name. Making new teachers feel valued and part of the school community is the most important thing. No wonder Caitlin says there are so many newly qualified teachers who leave the profession shortly after joining. She has a friend with whom she studied, who lasted just three weeks.

It’s not just about the training… It’s up to us, I think!

This is not Caitlin!Newly trained


It’s about the learning…

I’m writing midyear reports.  Looking back at comments from last year, I notice an interesting development. This time last year, web 2.0 tools were still quite new for me.  I was excitedly experimenting with new and different ways of expressing learning. On some reports, I wrote things like, ‘X enjoys expressing her learning through technology’. A year later that seems to me like saying she enjoys writing with a pencil! It’s not about the technology…

It’s about the learning…

Last week in my Hebrew language class,  students were given a choice how they wanted to spend their learning time. Other than a few tasks that required completion,  the students  needed to be effectively practising all their second language skills in any way they liked.  We started by discussing potential problems that might arise in such a setting and students provided possible solutions in advance.

During the double lesson, there were students practising the new vocabulary by playing a card game, while another group was huddled around a computer adding to a Voicethread. As students left, they showed newcomers how to make sure they changed identities and when to start recording.  Some students were engaged in a writing task using newly learned vocabulary. Others sat in pairs with stopwatches, timing each other’s reading. Some used the iTouch to interview each other, using the voice memo, while others created Hebrew comics using Toondoo.

Everyone was focused and engaged.  Learning was student centered. Students used their second language in a variety of meaningful contexts. They practised not only their language skills but a whole range of trans-disciplinary skills such as communication, collaboration, creative thinking, independence and time management. Learning was taking place at all stages of the AMT model described in a previous post.  Some students were working on acquiring skills, some were using their skills in a meaningful way in the learned context and some were transferring their knowledge to other contexts.

Some tasks involved technology and others did not.

It’s  about the learning…

It’s about the learning, not the tools…

Frankly I’m tired of tools.  Exhausted from experimenting. Weary of web 2.0 options popping up on a daily basis… Well not entirely 🙂

At one point, I was excited to keep trying out new tools, figure out how they work, share them with my colleagues and use them to support learning and engage my students.  I wrote a post a while ago  saying I would start a series sharing one new tool that I tried each week… but never continued the series.  I used to support Linda, our ICT coordinator in introducing a new tool at every session of our early morning tech sessions for teachers.  But, while I am still experimenting with new tools, learning and exploring new possibilities, I have decided to slow down.  It’s important for the learning to drive things, not the technology.

which tool?Most of our teachers are willing to have a go, but not yet entirely comfortable with technology.  They are still daunted by too many different tools, when and how to use them.  So, this week we started using our tech sessions in a different way.  Instead of introducing new tools, we will revisit the ones that teachers have already been shown and discuss further possible ways of using them to enhance learning.  And give teachers and students a bit more time to consolidate and become completely comfortable with each tool in their toolbox.

We started by revisiting Voicethread. If you’ve been with me since the start, you’ll know it’s one of my favourites. To start off with Michele from our junior campus showed us the fabulous connection our 5 year olds made with a school in the US  using Voicethread. (more about that next time.)

Everyone shared ideas for how Voicethread might be used.  As a way for students to respond to an image or video related to their units of inquiry. As a place to share their own inquiry findings and have other kids, teachers and parents comment.  As an opportunity for discussion, a way to collaborate with people in other places, an option for a text response, a way of practising skills of speaking, listening, reading, writing.  Claire liked the idea of setting up a Voicethread as one of her literacy rotations, where kids could respond to a text in an engaging way, without teacher supervision.  Des thought it would be great to upload a talk she had heard and have her class comment on it.  Or perhaps all the Year 4 classes could collaborate.  Rubi has a contact at a PYP school in Mumbai and hopes to connect with kids there for a unit on understanding other cultures.  Talila loves the idea of getting her students to engage in Hebrew conversation.

We talked about how to scaffold thinking so that students’ contributions to the Voicethread will be meaningful.  I remember reading a blog post last week concerning how to get kids to make more valuable blog comments. Whether they are commenting on a blog, adding to a discssion in Voicethread  or responding to their peers’ learning,  the use of a thinking routine will provide a structure for their thinking.  I have blogged extensively about Project Zero‘s thinking routines in the past and can’t stress enough the part they play in fostering higher order thinking. The ‘Connect Extend Challenge‘ routine for any kind of response in Voicethread (or anywhere else) seemed to us one of the most appropriate.  It enables students to make connections to what they already know, explain how their thinking has been extended and then pose a question about the topic/image/video/presentation which they find challenging. One of the teachers suggested simplifying it for the younger kids to ‘Get one,give one’  –  Say something you got out of it (or learned from it) and something new you can add or suggest.

We always come away from these sessions pleased to have reflected on our practice together, aware of how much we have learned and continue to learn from each other, enthused to have a go at applying new ideas… and I always think how lucky I am to be part of a true community of learners.


Inquiry learning…

I posted recently 3 reasons to be a teacher.  The post itself was quick and a bit tongue in cheek, but the response was wonderful!   Teachers all over the world shared why they are teachers and I couldn’t help but think how lucky we are to be in such a satisfying profession, where each day brings something new and exciting and challenging.  I have just come from the staffroom where 3 teachers, as they made their morning coffee, spontaneously shared successful learning that had taken place in their classes and their excitement was contagious!  One story at least is worth sharing here…

Rubi’s Year 4 students (9 year olds) were having difficulty grasping the concept of sustainability, as in this model.

Her solution was to bring several simple jigsaw puzzles to the class. Each group was given a puzzle, with a key piece missing.  She told them the task was connected to their unit of inquiry and they should think about how this might be.

As they talked amongst themselves, Rubi recording their thinking…

  • I think it’s about about cooperation
  • How we are connected to the world and together
  • I think the puzzle has something to do with the Venn diagram on sustainability.

They soon got the idea that the puzzle could not come together if there was a piece missing.  Once they had this practical  hands-on example, it didn’t take long before they made the connection with the sustainability diagram and how each piece is a key part of the whole.

Further student thinking…

  • What happens if a piece is missing? The whole thing falls apart.
  • I understand that we need a balance, but should we not take care of the environment more now?
  • What if people were more concerned about economy and society and not the environment?
  • How can we organise our society in a way that will help us to keep the balance?

Every child was engaged. They were thinking and collaborating and learning. They were excited to make connections. And Rubi herself experienced one of those moments where we think how great it is to be a teacher!

Here’s my Venn diagram to represent the lesson!

If you’re interested in reading more about  inquiry as a stance, read Maggie’s  post about different types of inquiry at Tech Transformation.

i love technology!

Yesterday I blogged  ‘I hate technology’.  As predicted by the first comment on that post, today I love technology again!

We recently acquired a set of iPod Touch for classroom use.  As a way to encourage innovation, the principal had offered a $5000 grant for each of 3 projects to enhance student learning.  We put in a submission for a set of iPods and were successful!

They have just been set up and I decided to give them a try today.  The Voice Memo app seemed like a great way to practise second language skills.   For a few dollars each, we have bought tiny microphones like the one in the picture.  The task was to interview a partner in Hebrew,  based on the current topic of study, incorporating newly learned vocabulary. The kids were extremely excited, very little explanation was required and they went off to their corners to record.

Here’s what the students said:

  • I never imagined the school would get ipods! (Jay)
  • It was fun and a different way of learning. (Lele)
  • It was a good way to learn the new words by actually using them, while having fun at the same time. (Tahni)
  • When we played it back, we could hear our mistakes and correct them. (Allegra) (That one is my favourite. Ed)

My observations:

  • I love the iPods (and Apple in general, I assume) for sheer ease of use.  None of the usual teething problems when trying something new.  No delay for logging in as we have on the school computers. No time was wasted and the task was done really quickly!
  • The kids were really engaged and self motivated and had lots of fun learning! I could have packed up and gone home and no-one would have been any the wiser.
  • Why would we need to use Audacity for podcasting, unless we want to do something more complicated? This is just so simple. Even non-techy teachers will cope… well, they won’t have to, they can hand over to the students.
  • Fiona used the Voice Memo app in the library for some book discussion today and was similarly successful. Kids from both classes were heard continuing to discuss their experiences in the playground at lunchtime. Always a good sign!
  • I’m looking forward to using them for other things…  So are the students!
  • I predict that mobile devices will be used more and more at schools.  This is technology the students are already comfortable with and extending its application to learning simply makes sense.