Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Beginning Teaching - some practical advice to start the year

Teaching is one profession where there is no shallow end.
 From day one you are presented with up to thirty plus young individuals for you to shape into a learning community; and every class community will be different. Even experienced teachers have
No shallow end for new teachers.
second thoughts about starting a new class .
This blog shares some ideas to select from..

Please share with other teachers or schools who you think might find ideas useful.
Teachers need to negotiate with their students as much as possible to ensure empowerment or a sense of ownership and then to hold students to completing what they have agreed to do to develop a sense of responsibility.

First read this  excellent advice to make a shiny happy classroom!
Another link for new teachers
The challenge for teachers is to think up ways to tap into their students innate sense of curiosity. of curiosity. Educationalist Jerome Bruner has written that teaching is ‘the canny art of intellectual temptation.Thankfully students are easily trapped by their innate
curiosity if what is put in front of them appeals
The whole purpose of education is to help every learner develop a powerful learning identity, a strong sense of self,  a feeling of being a valued and worthwhile person. This involves the teacher really listening to their students’ questions, ideas and concerns. With such a vision in mind teachers can slowly, as students develop skill, pass greater responsibility to their students.
First impressions count and the students' parents will be waiting to hear from their children what their teacher is like so it is important not to leave it to chance. Dress well!
Develop a class treaty

Teachers will be planning their first few days now. Wondering about routines to establish and behaviours they want to establish.

 One good idea is to undertake a mini unit around the Treaty of Waitangi and use this as an opportunity to develop a class treaty outlining behaviors required of both students and the teacher.

An idea some teachers use is a letter to parents about your goals for the year - but if this is done it needs to be done with input from your team leader or principal. At least have something prepared to introduce yourself to your class . Students will be very curious to learn about their new teacher.
Catching an eel

Another  idea is to share with your class one of your holiday experiences and then get them to do the same.  They could 'mind-map' or list all the neat things they did and pick one to expand on. This activity will give you an idea of their writing and handwriting skills

If you do the above them students could add a drawing - one again get them to focus on exciting event.
Crossing the wire bridge

Learning to observe is an important and overlooked skill. You could bring in a simple leaf for the class to draw. This is an ideal means to encourage the class to work carefully - many children spoil work by rushing.

With the weather so great do some nature walks.

The first few days are a good time to assess your classes attitudes towards areas of learning. Prepare a list of learning
I love music
areas or aspects of the curriculum and get class to indicate their attitudes with five point scale from love it to dislike it.
This would best be drawn up by all teachers. The results will give you an idea of areas you need to change for various individuals. Be interesting to use the same survey at the end of the year.  Do the survey with your class as if you were their age - and tell them how you have improved your attitudes since then - or areas you still want to improve.

If you know about the mindset research of Carol Dweck you could add to your survey  add : 

Well worth the read
1 Do you think were are born as smart as you are ever going to be ( 'brains' or sports ability) and there are some things you just can't do ? Or 

2 Do you think you can get better at anything if you try hard and practice? 

The first is a 'fixed mindset'.Low ability students get their lack of ability affirmed at school ( through ability grouping, national testing or streaming) and high achievers ( often girls) do not risk their status by new areas of learning becoming risk averse. Those with a 'growth mindset' just have a go at anything believing in effort and focused practice and see not succeeding as a challenge.This 'growth mindset' underpins the New Zealand Curriculum; ' have a go kids' 

An idea to work on is to  ensure your class appreciate your stance as a teacher - what you stand for as a teacher.
What are your strengths

Discuss with your class how they think they learn. Discuss with your class what they have learnt recently and how they went about it.

Take the opportunity to find out the range of talents class members bring to the class - and share the ideas about Multiple Intelligence of Howard Gardner.

A study based on sport
Personalizing learning is the ideal but the best way to get to the individual is by using group work. Most teachers use group work as part of their literacy and numeracy programmes but group work also works well for study ( inquiry) work as well.

(A link to some advice on classroom management )

Plan out a study unit to introduce to the class to introduce an inquiry approach to learning . The Treaty of Waitangi might be
Great mini study
one. Two good mini unit to make use of might be a study based on cicadas or a flax bush in flower.  Develop a model of inquiry teaching to make use of during the year.

The units above, or any idea you have chosen, will provide ideas to introduce as part of your language programme - and, if appropriate, maths as well.

Whatever is chosen it is worth helping students present their ideas well - and to encourage them to show gradual improvement  as the year unfolds. Encourage them to improve on their 'personal best' in all they do.
Teach simple layout skills

At first students may have little skill in presenting their work well but with time they will gain skill through your teaching ( if you think this is important) and as work is completed display it well. With time create a powerful learning environment.

All students buy a set of exercise books to begin the year. Some schools I know have reinvented these books as portfolios as they ought to show qualitative improvement (the Japanese call this continual small improvement 'kaizen'). The first days of school is the time to introduce students to this expectation. It is a good idea to
Simple powerful display
introduce them to simple graphic presentation ideas
. It is also a good idea to aim, by Easter, for all books to show improvement.In the schools that have developed their books as portfolios all books are sent home before parent interviews for their comments and later to discuss during interviews.

This last link provides a summary of the ideas presented above.

I appreciate that the ideas presented  above reflect my own teaching beliefs and as such  my advice is to take only ideas that make sense to you. I see the classroom as a community of young scientists and artists exploring ideas they want to learn more about - with an emphasis on the immediate environment. My emphasis is on inquiry learning with literary and numeracy as much as is possible seen as 'foundation skills'. I am not sure many school have the same emphasis.

Developing this learning community is the real challenge for any teacher. Good schools will provide structures,
organisations and curriculum guidance to assist but it always worth having ideas up your sleeve.

First impressions count and the students' parents will be waiting to hear from their children what their teacher is like so it is important not to leave it to chance.

It is worth keeping in mind that the New Zealand Curriculum has its vision for all students to be 'confident life long learners', for them to have the necessary key competencies to do so - to be 'seekers, users and creators of their own knowledge'.
Advice for new teachers!

Have fun during your first week

A link to some quotes about learning to reflect on.

Good advice is regularly visit other classrooms to see what they are doing. They will be pleased to assist you and you will soon find teachers with experience and ideas to help - you need to 'seek, use and create your own knowledge' as it says in the NZ Curriculum.


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

John Holt quotes on learning - more pertinent than ever

In the 70s the freedom and anti authoritarianism movement of the 60s  challenged traditional views in all areas of life. Creative teachers of the time  had access to a number of writers spreading the message of a alternative approach to education.

Even in the late 50 there were pioneer New Zealand creative teachers exploring new ideas  about learning - the most well known was Elwyn Richardson author of the recently reprinted In The Early World'. He was not alone. Creative ideas were being spread by the Art Advisers who encouraged teachers throughout New Zealand  and also by Junior School teachers who were introducing
developmental type programmes. But in the main schools were very traditional.

Teachers at this time were also aware of the innovative approaches of child centred English classrooms and also the American  Open Education movement .

They were exciting times to be a teachers. . One writer who was widely read was American John Holt. His books ,'How Children Learn' and 'Why Children Fail', are as relevant today as they were then.'

Holt finally gave up on the belief that schools could be transformed and eventually became a 'de-schooler'. One of his later book was titled 'The Under Achieving School'.- another good read.  Along with John Holt I now have to admit that, after decades of encouraging school transformation, I have   also come to Holt's view about the impossibility of really transforming our antiquated education system . The  current political
leadership is not conducive to making real change  falling back on reactionary National Standards and introducing a scheme for 'successful' principals and teachers to push 'approved' ideas on other schools. The enlightened 2007 New Zealand curriculum has  been all but sidelined.

A link to a John Holt site

I am reassured that, as in the 50s, there are still  many creative teachers doing their best; unfortunately far too few innovative principals. With this in mind I though the sharing of John Holt's quotes are as relevant as ever.

This is the basis of personalized learning.

Imagine a school doing just this!!

A school dedicated to providing learning oportunities

A need for more messy/ confusing learning.

S o many students get turned off schools

Holt finally gave up on schools - before the www!!

Let students learn about what they are curious about.

What happens to the innate desire to learn?

Holt came to the belief schools kill the desire to learn

Education is about crating conditions and opportunities

The real role of the teacher

As the NZC says - students who can seek, use and create their own knowledge

Our current  surveillance and audit culture destroys learning.

Value and respect students ideas.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The school holidays - time for some real learning ( or is the virtual world winning over the real? )

I caught an interview on National Radio  a few days ago - Kim Hill was interviewing Richard Louv author of 'The Last Child in the Woods'.  After listening I ordered his latest book and searched my copy of his earlier work.

I was so  impressed last time to wrote a blog based on Richard's thoughts.

In the interview Richard was talking about the worry that children in America no longer explore their immediate natural environments as  children did in the 50s and 60s. Today young people all too often experience the world through  electronic media. Something, he believes, is being lost in the process. Children , and in turn adults, are in danger of losing connection with their natural environment.

Richard believes, as do I ,that it is important to help young children connect with the real world. The trouble is parents often do not have the knowledge or confidence to take their children into natural areas and added to this is the growing fear of parents of the danger of young children playing without supervision outside.

The latter is hard to overcome but there are many thing parents can do to help their children become more aware of the natural world

The first thing to get over is the worry about not knowing much about names of plants and animals.

The best advice is to learn alongside their children  deliberately developing awareness and fascination through their  senses. Many child development  experts believe that this is the best way not only to build on  their innate curiosity and sense of wonder but also to develop  their language and vocabulary   This is far more valuable than letting young children amuse themselves with electronic media - it is all too common to find young people locked in their room exploring the virtual world - and who knows what they are exploring!

I have to admit that I have had a life long interest in natural history. My first job in education was as a Nature Study specialist teacher! As a teacher I believed strongly in making full use of the immediate environment  in the classroom and now worry that in classrooms today this is no longer a feature. All
8 year old explore bush through art
to often studies undertaken are all too often about saving whales,  or pollution, or climate change. The message being laid on the young is that their role is to save the world - Louv  calls this 'ecophobia'. Louv believes, as do I, that the way to encourage the young to protect the environment is to help them appreciate  nature - students who do so will  , in the future, protect hat they have learnt to love.

Anyway back to  helping students experience the natural world.

Just simply enjoy the experience of noticing things. Encourage a slow reflective approach to exploring. - as if you are the first explorers - totally unaware of any names or knowledge.
Nature study -age 8

Encourage your fellow explorers to make use of their senses - without overdoing it. Look  for colours and shapes and what they might remind you of..Take photos of interesting things with your 'smart' phones and maybe use these to get children to write their thought back at home or even turn them into imaginative drawings. If children want to know names of things show photos to a local expert.

Look for patterns - many plants have mathematical ideas to discover - spirals etc.

Take time to feel textures and in same cases smells. Now and then shut eyes and listen to sounds from nearby or far  away.

It is a good idea to change perspective. Get children to climb a tree, or lie on their backs to watch clouds or tree canopies.  One good activities is to let children find a place by themselves to 'go solo' for a few minutes and to let their mind's wander.

If children want names get them to invent names to suit - this is how common names were originally given. Later use experts or Google them  to research  and find correct names. Even Latin names often describe features of a plant or animal

Collect up good questions to think about - children will have their own theories to explain things. Later check them out using Google etc

Another idea is to play a game of making poems. Pick an object and ask children to provide a thought - maybe what it makes them think of. Scribe out several thoughts into three line poems - simple haiku poems. Parents with expertise could make them into simple pieces of music..

As parental confidence grows let children explore area by themselves - at first close to home and further afield as they grow older.. Good advice is to apply 'benign neglect'.
Amazing spider web

There are lots of places to explore with your children - or for them to explore by themselves.

Rocky pools and sand dunes.

Bush walks and with confidence small places of bush.

Parks and flower gardens.

And easiest of all  the pants and animals in your own garden.

A favourite of mine is to explore the wild plants growing in waste areas.

Through such experiences not only will children learn to love nature, and learn names and ecological connections  they will develop their imaginations and best of  all possibly develop life long interests or even a career.  Louv writes that  we are currently in the process of developing children with a 'nature deficit disorder'.

The real world is a far richer experience than the virtual - one that involves physical activity.

Friday, January 09, 2015

A change of perspective provides new insights

Many years ago when I was a Science Adviser I was taking a class of primary students through a piece of native bush. With me at the time was the art adviser Batch Collins. After listening to me
attempting to help students gain some knowledge of the trees and shrubs my art adviser friend asked me if he could work with the students. Later he informed me that, from his position, a number of the class seem a little bored with my approach.  

I passed the class over to Batch.I thought to myself - what would an art adviser know about the bush? 

He asked the class to lie on their backs  and look up into the canopy and just think about what they could see. He asked them to shut their eyes and simply listen to sounds. Later he asked students to note the various shapes, patterns , movements they could see, and
also to think about the textures they could feel. And the smells the bush gives off. To conclude he asked them to think about the feelings they gained from being in the bush - imagine, he said, if you were here by yourself , or if you were lost.

Later he explained the importance of students exploring experiences through their senses and emotions and that this could be  capitalized on late back in class for language  and art. 

It was a lesson well learnt.

From this time on I always took the time to encourage students to take in any experience through their senses and their emotion before moving on to sorting out plants and their ecological relationships with each other. On reflection it was how I originally learnt my
own knowledge of the bush - the names and ecological relationship came later. 

Sometimes , as teachers, we rush in and in the process do not give our students time to take in the experience.

Altering ones perspectives is an important means to develop more interesting learning.

A while ago. while working on the roof of my house , the same thought came to me. From the roof my garden took on a new perspectives  , and to capture the insight I took photos.

A change of perspective is vital in any learning..