Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Beginning the school year - 2013

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 second thoughts about starting a new class as at the end of the year they will have left students who have learnt to work with each other and their teacher.
Good advice is for teachers to do fewer things well and to continually diagnose what each individual can do and, where there are gaps in skills or understanding, teaching the missing information. Positive attitudes for, or 'feelings for', the particular learning experience are the key to successful learning.
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.
Thankfully students are easily trapped by their innate curiosity if what is put in front of them appeals. The challenge for teachers is to think up ways to tap into this sense of curiosity in all learning areas. Educationalist Jerome Bruner has written that teaching is ‘the canny art of intellectual temptation’.
Teaching students to ‘seek, use and create’.
An important phrase of the New Zealand Curriculum is for each student to ‘seek, use and create their own knowledge’. This requires a personalised approach helping each learner at their point of need.
The whole purpose of education is to help every learner develop a powerful learning identity, a strong sense of self, 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.
Some activities to consider to begin the school year:
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.
Introducing personal narrative writing.
A learning community - diverse individuals working together.
A good idea is to begin by introducing yourself to your students with a small potted history of yourself and share one personal experience that you had over the holidays. The students can then use this model (or ‘scaffold’) to write up something similar to share with you or even, in small groups, with each other. It is a good idea for then to write a draft, or make a mind map, before they start - and this also you can model.

Get them to ‘mind map’ the things they did over their holiday and getthem to pick the most memorable. Get them to imagine they are back in the experience and to write as if they were there – what the felt, heard at the time. If they choose a large idea like a visit to Auckland get them to focus on the best thing e.g. being stuck on the motorway.

Keep this reasonably short and ask them for their best writing - this will give you an idea of their personal best they bring with them. Think of continuing this personal narrative writing throughout the year as a weekly occurrence - completing one from idea, draft to realisation once a week in a writing journal. This is an excellent way to let students know you value their experiences and for them to develop a learning identity.
Define a powerful learner.
Another idea is to start with a discussion with your class of what makes a powerful learner. Work through the introductory pages of the NZC with them and develop with them an image of a great learner and a great class - a true learning community of inquirers 'hunting' for meaning in their tasks. Such a community requires rights and obligations (agreed behaviours) for both the teacher and the class members to hold themselves to. See ideas about the Treaty of Waitangi.
The powerful learning attributes you develop with your class ( 'merged' with the NZC 'key competencies') can then be referred to, as required, to ensure students keep them in mind so they see the point of whatever they are learning.
Revise the school Vision and Values.
You might like to have 'mini lesson' on the school vision, mission and values and what they mean if they are available. This could be developed later into a class treaty of expectations and positive behaviours and linked to a 'mini study' on the Treaty of Waitangi. If so it is a good idea to get them to draft out, or mind map, their 'prior views' about the treaty. After this done students can complete research to clarify their knowledge.  This could result in a class ‘treaty’ of agreed behaviours.
 Survey your students’ attitudes toward learning areas.
 Developing a love of learning and developing a 'feeling for' each area is vital.
Get the class to complete an informal survey of attitudes, or feelings, towards all aspects of the school curriculum. The results can be compared with another survey at the end of the year as an important assessment tool.  Ask students to show their interest using a one to five scale or sad or smiley faces.  Complete the survey in front of the class to show then your attitudes when you were their age. Also show them how you have improved over the years – the ‘message’ is that attitudes can be changed
Assess drawing skills.

To complement their personal narrative writing a small portrait of themselves couldbe completed
. If this were to be done them students may need to be taught the skills of being a ‘powerful ‘drawer. Some students will have already decided that they are not artists and, if so, this is a chance to change their minds. One idea is to get them to complete a self-portrait on a small piece of paper with without instruction (noting their 'prior' skills) and then after this has been completed guiding them (‘scaffold’ them) through the process. The ‘secret’ is to get them to ‘look –draw – look’ and not to draw from memory. This is a chance to introduce the idea of quality.

One idea to develop students drawing or illustrative skill is to base their drawing on a digital photo of themselves - possibly doing something exciting during their holidays. If so get them to focus on the dramatic aspects, or close up views, not long distance shots. Combine their portraits with some holiday action perhaps holding a fish or some food for example. Get them to include as much texture, or details, as they can.
Another idea is to get some school journals and for students to select an illustration they like and to copy it possibly into their language book. It is useful for them to copy only part of the drawing to introduce the idea of focus. When complete add the artist’s name. This is an excellent language activity and illustrates to the students’ wide range of artists styles and genres to learn there are lots of approaches to being an artist from the real to the bold. This is a fun activity to use whenever new journal arrive.
Literacy and Numeracy blocks
Observational drawing.

Observational art as part of bush study
Observational drawing, a vital science/art skill, is a good activity to get students to do.http://leading-learning.blogspot.co.nz/2009/09/importance-of-observation.html Once again get then to draw an object (kawakawa leaves are great) without instruction to assess their 'prior skill' and then instruct them to draw carefully, to go slow, and to take their time. The two efforts can then compared .If you are planning a small environmental study to start the termthen this skill can be put to use. A 'mini study' of cicadas is one idea, or shells collected from the seashore during the holidays. Wild flowers, grasses or a flax study are all possible ‘mini studies’ studies.

Survey the gifts and talents of your class.
The future of your students will depend on the individual set of gifts and talents that they have.  All too often schools do not place enough attention focusing on each learners unique talents.  One idea is to introduce yourstudents to the eight intelligences of Howard Gardner and to get students toindicate their current strengths. List and explain the intelligences and demonstrate to the class your own profile. Also indicate area you would like to improve. Have the children complete their own profiles. This could be done at home with parental help and also be discussed during the first patent teacher meeting. This activity could be repeated at the end of the year to note changes.
For maths a good idea is to get them to research the history of number development through the ages. You could cover how different cultures have their own number system – in particular the Maori number system. Find out who developed the zero and why it is so important. It is important to humanize maths if all students are to gain a 'feeling for' the subject. Famous mathematicians can be researched. It pays to keep maths as applied as possible.
Assess their handwriting abilities by getting them get them to write out their full name and address, members of their family and pets they own. One idea to consider in the first few weeks is to research the development of writing from cave drawing to word processors. The history of writing, and the various writing media, is a fascinating one.
Exercise books as portfolios.
All students buy an expensive set of exercise books to begin the year. Some schools I know have ‘reinvented’ these books as portfolios as the year progresses they ought to show qualitative improvement (the Japanese call this continual small improvement 'kaizen'). The first few days of school are the time to introduce students to this expectation of continual improvement. It is agood idea to introduce them to some simple graphic presentation/layout/designideas. It is also a good idea to aim that, by Easter, all books ought 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.
 Developing a programme for the class
Before you start the years map out a programme for day and week one. If you are in a proactive school your fellow team members will provide you with ideas to include.
Share your daily plan with the students at the beginning of the day. At the end of the day (and possibly after each activity) have a reflective session to clarify what has been learnt. One idea is at the end of the day to discuss with the class the three main things learnt during the day - their mothers will want to know!
The overall 'message' you want to leave with them is that you want them to do their best work - to aim for quality; that you want then to  value their own 'voice', experiences, questions and ideas; to  value their individuality and creativity. This is the essence of a learning community.
Slowing the pace of work.
Best of all by ‘slowing their pace of work’ (many students will arrive with a 'first finished is best' attitude) will help them to value perseverance and effort and to contributing to the development a concept of personal excellence.
 The value of doing fewer things well.
Even if you don't use all the above suggestions they all remain available for later use. It is important to appreciate the value of doing fewer things well in depth.
Plenty of ideas to think about – you will no doubt have many of your own to add. Remember the best sources of ideas are your fellow teachers.


Anonymous said...

Wonderful blog Bruce. Thanks.
Will use several of these ideas this year.
Was also thinking of doing some simple mapping activities.

Bruce Hammonds said...

Thanks Tom. All the best for 2013

Teacher as Transformer said...

Yes, it is a great post Bruce. Thank you for thoughtful, mindful, and provocative post.


Your Key Language Center said...

Great article! Thanks for the wonderful ideas. We may have to use some of them if you don't mind. Cheers!

Rick said...

These are some great ideas. One tool I found that might help the creation of a mind map is lucidchart. It is free for educators/students and is extremely easy to use on any platform.

Verlene said...

This is cool!