Friday, July 21, 2017

Saying 'good-bye'... it's not easy

Due to many commitments, I had to make a serious decision regarding my ever growing workload and responsibilities. I realised that I will have to let go [at least] one of the many initiatives I am involved in. It was with a heavy heart and after pondering for many weeks, that I made the decision to withdraw myself as co-organiser from KidsedchatNZ at this moment in time. 

I feel humbled with the replies from the members of the team:

More feedback...

... and then this blog post:

"KidsedchatNZ: Crew Vacancy

Tena koutou KidsedchatNZ whānau

We have some changes afoot with our KidsedchatNZ organising crew. We are sadly farewelling the magnificent Marnel van der Spuy from our team.

Marnel has been one of our co-organisers from our very inception, and has contributed masses of her own time and energy into making our chat the great tool that it is for New Zealand kids to connect. 

Thank you so much Marnel, we have valued your contribution and commitment. You are steadfastly reliable and have always been there for us as a team. We wish you well - the kids at Broadlands School are very lucky.

Are you able to help? We are looking for more teachers to join our team. We believe in KidsedchatNZ, and know from our experience that it is a brilliant tool for kids to begin connecting with each other. 

It is great that there are now more vehicles for our New Zealand kids to use twitter to connect such as @ReadaloudNZ and @ChapterChatNZ

We love them all! These chats don't happen without the commitment of our superhero NZ teachers who believe in using digital technologies as tools for learning - thank you to all of you - you rock.

Can YOU be our next Superhero?"

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Building Teacher & Student Capability in GSuite

I just love working alongside teachers and students as part of my role as Learning Facilitator with Ngā Pūmanawa e Waru.

After meeting with the two teachers, it became clear that there was a need to provide teacher and student coaching in the use of a shared learning space online - Google Drive / GSuite.

I firstly worked with the year 6 students, showing how to create folders, change colour (if they choose), name the folder for the appropriate items/docs to be added into it. We also discussed how to make a copy if something is shared with them, add it to their drive and rename it. I also showed them how to share the document with their teachers and parents. The doc the teacher shared with the students beforehand, was to record their goals, date accomplished and evidence… I showed how they can add a link from their blog / doc (mentioned that they need to ensure that it is shared with the teacher, to enable her to view it) or how they can upload a photo.

I did all of the above with the Year 4/5 students as well, but after some questions, also showed them how to embed from a video into their individual blogs.

Both sessions went really well, with students having hand on experiences and ended up being engaged in adding learning into their folders.

Reciprocity:  The students continue to support each other throughout the sessions.

Feedback from the teachers:

Monday, March 13, 2017

Language and Learning

In this Language & Learning Intervention workshop I attended, speech-language therapists worked with teachers and some parents in our cluster to provide learning support for our children with high language and communication needs. The support we were given was around being reflective of our communicative behaviours and how we can adapt and differentiate our interactions with students who have communication disorders.

Module 1 (Planning Language and Learning Goals):
Some children might have language, but can’t retrieve it...
Incentive: Think about your day yesterday... What activities did you do that involved language? What activities did not involve language?

Three components of language:
  1. What? (are kids talking about) e.g. family, hunting, birthday, other children in class, farming, tractors, weekend activities, learning. This includes vocabulary labels, action and describing words. Think about the meaning of the message.
  2. How? (understanding content and express in various ways) This may involve pointing, gestures, facial expressions, smiling, physical leading, eye contact. 
  3. Why? (the reason for communicating?) e.g. gaining attention to express feeling / telling the rules, needs met / want something, greeting, ask questions - can I?, responding, re-tell.

We need all three these components, otherwise something might break down.

When a child do not have the language they need to use, it is like a can of coke that is being shook, waiting to explode. Pressure was building up, they feel like they are on the back foot all the time. Anxiety might be increasing. Some children might be holding it together at school, but explode when they get home. Simple change in routine could inflict as well (e.g. reliever). This could be tiring for children.

Language underpins all learning. The four language steps are: Early Words User, Word Combiner, Early Sentence User and Complex Sentence User.

Reflection: It is therefore important to build children's expression and feelings about things and to build vocabulary.

There are four Conversational styles: Participator, Responder, Do My Own Thing and Reserved Communicator.

Children rarely start the conversation and may find it easier to respond more to adults than peers. Adults might say the child "takes awhile to warm up".

Do my own thing:
Children mostly communicate about their needs and interests. They rarely respond to attempts to engage them in conversation. Adults might think they are "in their won world".

Reserved Communicator:
Children often have little or no response to your efforts to engage them. They rarely initiate and show little interest in people or objects in their environment. Adult find it difficult to engage the child.

Children who initiate and take part in interactions. They are responsive and will try (and keep trying) to communicate. Adults might describe them as "easy to talk to".

Reflection: Think about strategies children might use to figure out what might be happening in classroom e.g. categorize, body language, ask, sensory cues, process of elimination etc.

Module 2 (Language and Learning in Action):
The features of a great conversations is the opportunity to talk, ask questions or to clarify.

Incentive: Think about the 'ideal classroom'
Teacher (that you like)
Class Culture
Physical Setting
Motivator, interested, care/time, dynamic, calm, surprising, creative
Ask questions, safe - take risks, make mistakes, valued
Different props - creative, ties with children's name who will be the leader, classroom displays  (with care), work hanging up

Classroom conversations could include: Initiation, Response, Feedback.

Strategies to Encourage Engagement:
- Be face-to-face with children
- Respond to their attempts to initiate
- Notice children who are feeling 'left out' or uncomfortable
- Pause to give time for responses
- Make comments and wait for the child to initiate a comment
- Repeat and go slow
- Provide encouragement and explicit feedback

Acknowledge that you heard what child has said, by affirm, model, and extend.
Reflection: To extend is really important as you increase the opportunity for conversation. Don’t just label things for kids, otherwise they will do it back. Describe what happens in a picture, so that they can learn to do the same.

Idea: Feed in four 'comments' about the topic, before asking a question. That way language is 'fed in' and this will enable children to gather language to interact.

Reasons for asking Questions:
- To check children understand new information
- To check reading comprehension
- To prompt for more information
- To ask for clarification
- To stimulate thought

Blank’s Levels of questioning
Blank’s  Level 1 is about immediate
Blank’s  Level 2 is about properties, punctuation, comparing
Blank’s  Level 3 is about what they know, relating
Blank’s Level 4 is about reasoning and why something has happened, justify

Reflection: When the goal is successful communication, match the question complexity to the child's language level.

 ~ "Language is the blood of the soul into which thoughts run and out of which they grow." - Olivier Wendell Holmes ~

Saturday, February 25, 2017

A small but select group

I have been part of organising yet another EducampRotovegas. This year we were a small but select group and the conversations were rich and meaningful.

At times we followed the slides, however it was great to have had the opportunity to have impromptu discussions not even added to the slides.

~ "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it's the only thing that ever has." - Margaret Mead ~

Monday, February 6, 2017

Becoming an Apple Teacher

I signed up for the Apple Teacher learning program, which was a fun and easy way to build my skills and be rewarded for the work I do every day.

What I liked about the program was that you start your own self-paced journey and when you are ready, you can test yourself by taking interactive quizzes in the Apple Teacher Learning Center. Each time you pass a quiz, you earn a new badge and once you collected all eight badges, you are recognized with an official Apple Teacher logo (see right panel on my blog) to share with the world.

Message received: 

Thank you Apple for this opportunity. It is an honour to be recognized as an Apple Teacher!

~ "Never stop learning, because life never stops teaching" - Anonymous ~ 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Brave, Resilient learners & Change

Our school was fortunate to secure Anne Robertson for one of our Teaching Only Days. After posing the Key Question for this session: "How do we challenge the way that professional learning has traditionally been structured and make it more consistent with modern learning practice, that is collaborative, creative, daring and challenging and meets the needs of all teachers in your school?" we introduced ourselves and discussed what motivates us to learn. One interesting thing that came to the front was that learning styles can change and develop. Therefore, Professional Learning has to be meaningful, relevant and focused on how it is going to support our learners.

The first rule of learning is that people learn what they need to learn, not what someone else thinks they should learn” Peter M Senge: The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organisation

An exercise we had to complete was to think about three people on staff, think about their needs and put ourselves in their shoes when thinking about learning. It is vital that teachers should be considered in the same way we think about planning for our learners. We have to allow for different ways for teachers to engage in PL&D. One size does not fit all! Ownership and agency is essential if teachers are to engage positively.

Consider Knowles’ 6 principles of adult learning...
- Adults are internally motivated and self-directed
- Adults bring life experiences and knowledge to learning experiences
- Adults are goal oriented
- Adults are relevancy oriented
- Adults are practical
- Adult learners like to be respected

This can be easily applied to students as well, although not all of them might be motivated to learn, because they have to be in class / at school. What happens at home in the morning, might very well impact on how they learn...
Think UDL and cater for all learning needs in class, this however needs to be the same for teachers.

Image credit: Anne Robertson @robeanne 2016

Each of us had to think about our three teachers again while imagining one came across this small cave entrance with our three teachers... consider... What is my first instinct? What is their first instinct How would you feel if someone said to you - right we are all going to go into this cave now? Think about why your reaction is as is. What is it based on?
It might be hard for some to go in, having a fear of the unknown. This might be the same for people when having to learn new things. It might be easier to motivate kids, rather than motivate adults. Getting people out of their comfort zone. Tip for whānau engagement... think about cultural situations, think about that acting in a different culture could be quite scary.

We bring a whole lot of baggage with us when it comes to making decisions about what we do. Our Mental Model is shaped by the unspoken, unacknowledged, unrecognised assumptions we have just beneath the surface that guide our actions - positively and negatively.  Our prior experience plays a huge part as does our situation and context - age, gender, family situation, school setting. And mental models often resist change.
It is important to remember that we all see thing from different perspective, due to our experiences. This underpins our values/virtues and beliefs.

Enablers and Blockers challenge... 
What do we see as the ENABLERS to engagement in professional Learning at our school and what are the things that BLOCK people from engaging?

Sheryl Nussbaum talks about schools being “Future Ready” - there are 4 elements to being future ready. However, it is very important to consider as we develop Professional Learning programmes, that teachers are learners too.

An environment where the message is always ‘we are not good enough’ can be demoralising and counterproductive for all stakeholders. George Couros #Innovatorsmindset

ln the book “The Innovator’s Mindset” George Couros talks about the need for leaders to trust, to allow a positive space for people to grow and develop their skills, to focus on strengths not weaknesses. 
Something to ponder... Do we look at strengths of people or do we always look at the negative? Finding people's strengths is so important.

"When we build on our strengths and daily successes - instead of focusing on failures - we simply learn more” Tom Rath

Simon Sinek talks of how 'why' should be first, even before the 'how' and the 'what'. This seems a deceptively simple idea... But teachers also need a sort of personalised why… e.g. why should I adopt new practice. It has to be contextual to the way they teach and learn, to the students in their classes and the way that they are as teachers and learners themselves.
It is possible for the ‘why’ to evolve too and it doesn’t have to be static. However, you can’t just change the ‘why’ without a moral purpose or reflecting on it and considering why it might have changed.  Which is where Spirals of Inquiry come in…

Anne talked about an analogy that she heard of recently... consider a fire - what does it need to keep burning? (fuel and oxygen and space between the sticks for the fire to develop). If more sticks are being piled up on the fire, it collapses and has no space for the oxygen to keep fanning the flames so it suffocates and dies out. This is the same with teachers... they need to have space and time to keep motivated to learn and care should be taken not to overload them. 

One thing that came through strongly though was the idea of time for reflection and consolidation which is represented in the Poutama - the Maori representation of steps that symbolise levels of learning and that after each step there is an opportunity to consolidate, to take a breather (rekindle the fire) and assimilate skills learned before moving onward and upwards.

Key idea: We need to provide space for people to have inspiration. Don't keep on piling up... What can we take away... Allow teachers to take a step, and then have time to get an understanding and put learning into practice, before taking the next step.

Engagement in PL&D isn’t an option but leaders need to model good practice, be sensitive and respectful of the learners’ needs and be warm but demanding just as we are with the students in our classes…

Image Credit:

Building on the Poutama steps of knowledge acquisition with time for assimilation and consolidation of skills discussed earlier - and the spiral of inquiry - this idea of a spiral staircase that can provide space for teachers to focus on their practice and the needs of their learners, that encourages constant, ongoing reflection, and further inquiry is very powerful. A never ending spiral staircase of learning...

~ "You are never too old to learn. At no time ever say, 'It's too late to learn,' not until the day you die." - Kimani Ng'ang'a ~