"It is a good divine that follows his own instructions; I can easier teach twenty what were good to be done than to be one of the twenty to follow mine own teaching."
Portia, The Merchant of Venice, Act I, Scene II.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Cross-Curricular Collaboration and Cleaning...

Well, the second week of the holidays is gone. Time flies when you are... working.

I marked my Year 11 Creative Writing, Formal Writing, and Personal Reading Responses. I checkmarked a few Level 2 and Level 1 assessments for some of my colleagues. I marked Year 10 Film essays from so long ago that they will be surprised to see them. I did not manage to mark the Year 10 exercise books. Again. But I'll get there eventually.

I sorted, filed and biffed out a lot of the mound of paper on my desk. I cleaned all the desks, the computer tables, some of the shelves and sort of cleaned the whiteboard. When I say 'sort of', this is a precise description. There is something terribly wrong with my whiteboard and it needs serious surgery. I have only applied first aid.

I have seen many other teachers here during the holidays, all doing the same things. Marking, cleaning, planning, catching up on the mountain of paperwork. Fixing their wall displays. (That is still on my 'to do' list).

In amongst all this not terribly exciting part of being a teacher, there was actually a highlight to the week: planning a joint Health & PE and English unit with some of my colleagues from the PE department. This is a Year 10 unit where students investigate concepts and styles of leadership and the ways leaders influence others. They will be able to apply these understandings not only in the practical side of PE but also in their wider school and community life. The main focus of the unit is a research inquiry into a leader of the student's choice. They will work on the research in both Health and English. In English we will teach research skills and also oral language skills and speech writing. The students then present their research as a formal speech to the class. 

We planned the unit jointly with both HPE and English Achievement Objectives. Staff from both departments will teach the unit, and we will assess it jointly: HPE focussing on the understandings of leadership, English focussing on the research skills and oral language skills. For the icing on the cake we are assessing the speeches against the NCEA Level 1 Speech standard as well as the Year 10 criteria, so students can get a head start on next year's literacy credits.

Although we trialled this unit last year it was a bit 'seat of the pants' as it was organised at the last minute when we became aware through conversations with the students that there was the possibility for collaboration. This year we have sat down and planned it jointly, and we are considering teaching the unit earlier in the school year in 2014 so that the leadership concepts can then be built on in other PE units.

The English Department has collaborated a lot in the past with Social Sciences: we have a combined English and Social Studies programme at Year 9 which we call Integrated Studies, and at Year 10 and to a lesser extent at senior level we try to draw links between the English texts and Social Studies and History topics. It is nice though to be extending joint planning and cross-curricular links into other areas. 

As well as the Leadership unit with the PE department, we are also collaborating with the Science department at Year 13 level where students' L3 Biology research on 1080 Poison is being presented as a speech and assessed against the L3 English Oral Presentation standard. Although this only involves a few students it is still a useful way of enabling students to make links between their subject areas.

Students are also using formal essays written in other subjects as part of their portfolio of evidence for the English writing standards. Over the last two weeks I have marked several History and Geography essays and a PE essay on Obesity as part of students' English writing assessments. It is good to see students realising that their writing skills are transferable.

When I started this week's blog I couldn't think of a single positive thing to say! Yet again, the process of reflection has cheered me up: I have been saved by the reminder of the great things we are doing in the way of cross-curricular collaboration. Phew!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Having a holiday (not)... or: how Twitter saved my week!

It's the end of the first week of the school holidays. I admit, I did have the first weekend off. I spent most of it asleep or reading, though dragged myself out of bed to go for a run on the Sunday. 

Since then, I have been at school every day, most days doing 5 - 7 hours. I have marked all my Year 13 Connections assessments and their writing portfolios, I've finally done the same tonight for the Year 12s.

I still have all the Year 11 creative and formal writing to mark, some level 1 personal reading responses, a set of essays for my Year 10s (I'm too ashamed to say how long they've been sitting there), and the Year 10 exercise books.

Aside from the fact that I've been sleeping in later than normal, wearing casual clothes and the small matter of there being no students around or classes to teach, it has been hard to tell the difference between term time and holiday time.

At the end of the middle weekend of my two week holiday, I just feel depressed because I haven't finished my marking yet, let alone got to the rest of my 'to do' list. And every moment I have spent reading a novel in the evening or sleeping late instead of being at school early marking, I have felt guilty, guilty, guilty. 

Ooooh, yes! I have remembered a happy thing! On Monday I was able to participate in the twitter #Engchat. Normally it's hard to do this as it happens around lunchtime on Monday NZ time and I am usually teaching. It was a really interesting chat as it was a combined English and Social Studies discussion on integrated programmes. As I was involved in helping design the integrated Eng/SS programme for our Year 9s at Otaki College I found this discussion very stimulating. It was fascinating to hear about teachers in US schools running similar programmes and/or collaborating with their colleagues to run parallel teaching between English and History or other disciplines. Click here to go to the archive for the combined EngSSchat if you would like to see what was discussed.

Wow, just like that I have gone from depressed about my week to remembering a glorious hour of exciting collaborative teaching discussion with my professional learning network around the world, which has reminded me that I love my job! Thank goodness for twitter!!

Follow me on twitter @shakespearenut

Sunday, June 16, 2013

I love teenagers!

Staff House Challenge in Traditional Dress -
Our new Principal, Andy Fraser,
in his kilt. :-)
Wow! What a week! It has been my first week back at school after half a term's sick leave while recovering from surgery.

It was an absolute delight to be back at school on Monday. I spent the whole day with a huge grin on my face. I was loving catching up with all my students. They were all so pleased to see me back and many of them said so! By the end of the day I was wondering around the admin block burbling things like, "I love teenagers!" Many of my colleagues did a double take (particularly those who are parents of teenagers) when they realised I was serious! Some muttered dire warnings to the effect of: "This won't last!"  Still, by the end of the day I was physically exhausted and went straight home to bed.

Marcia, HOD PE, in the egg
and spoon leg of the relay.
Day 2: still smiling... to cut a long story short, by Friday I was still enjoying my job but I was VERY tired and the gloss had definitely worn off! The strain of five full time days at work (plus two nights out at choir - not doing THAT next week) had really told on me physically, and I was beginning to snap at people and do a good impression of 'grumpy teacher' instead of 'hysterically joyous teacher'.

Greg (in traditional cricket gear)
pushing Janice (traditional tramping gear)
in the wheelbarrow leg.
Friday lunchtime was the Staff House Challenge: points for traditional dress (I went Scottish with a twist of Maoritanga); and points for the winners of the relay (involving egg and spoon, three legged race and wheel barrow). I did my bit with the egg and spoon.

I could not have survived this week, or indeed been so relaxed about my extended absence, if I hadn't had a very good reliever taking my classes. I was so lucky to get an English specialist teacher who did a fabulous job with my classes and kept them on track. She also kindly arranged for them all to be doing independent work (mostly essay writing) this week, so that my role was roving to give feedback and keep students on task, rather than a lot of whole class teacher-directed work. Thank you so much Michelle Jones!!!  :-)

I still got to the end of the week somewhat shell-shocked, but I made it! Slowly easing back in and have some decisions to make about the direction of my programme.

Year 10s: Have been finishing off their film unit on 10 Things I Hate About You with an essay on whether the film is typical of the teen movie genre. I was intending to move on to an introduction to Shakespeare and a quick look at The Taming of the Shrew - BUT: in Social Studies they are doing the Pursuit of Power unit at the moment (focussing on Hitler) and have just been shown the film of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. There is a fair amount of interest and engagement and I am wondering if I should go on to my Striped PJs novel unit now rather than next term as originally planned. Will decide tomorrow, possibly will discuss it with the class and get their view.

Year 11s: Have been finishing their novel unit on The Whale Rider with writing theme or character essays. These will get formative feedback for the 2.1 external but a copy will also go in their writing portfolios. In the coming week I want to move on to their Connections study.

Chris G and Anna in the
three-legged race (this was
before they knocked over
all the pegs!)
Year 12s: Have had a slightly depleted class this week with some away on an Outdoor Ed trip. The remainder have been finishing the novel study on All Quiet on the Western Front by doing preparatory work for a style+theme essay. By the end of the week it was clear that they needed some help moving from this to an essay so I spent the last lesson doing whole class collaborative deconstruction of the essay question, planning of the essay and writing the introduction. Hopefully they are now on track but I will do some more work on body paragraphs with them in the coming week. When we have finished the novel essays I need to return to mop up the end of the film unit on Platoon which we ran out of time on at the end of last term. Not ideal but it was easier to leave a discrete unit for Michelle to run rather than expecting her to finish a film study I am teaching by ear and creating resources for as I go!

My wonderful colleague, Avatar.
Year 13: In some ways have been the most problematic class during my absence, mostly due to many needing more help to complete their Hamlet research essays (upcoming blog on everything that went wrong with that unit and what I learnt from it). Some of them were working with Avatar (my colleague who was acting Head of Department in my absence) on this during classes in the first part of the term, rather than in class with Michelle studying Nineteen Eighty-Four. As a result, most have now finished the Hamlet essay, but several have not finished reading the novel (the novel I gave out at the end of LAST TERM!) and are nowhere near ready to write a theme essay on it. I have given them some class time this week finishing their essays but most of the time has gone to the first viewing of our film, V for Vendetta, as we must move on to the film study now. Things have been complicated by having several students away on a Geography trip too, hopefully they have watched the film at home as requested.....

I can see that I need to give myself time to settle back in, take the temperature of my classes, and reconsider my year's programme to ensure the essentials are covered. A relaxing weekend has helped. Next week I am not going to try to go to both my choirs (two nights out was one too many). I just have to pace myself and keep healthy.

Advice to myself: Kia kaha, kiddo, don't push it! Keep enjoying those students!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

What happened in January...

All the things I should have been blogging about this year, but wasn’t...

Week ending 13 January

My complete inactivity in this week was largely the reason I didn’t get blogging... It was total R & R.  We had headed back home from spending New Year at the in-laws and my partner had started back to work after the Christmas break. I slept a lot, I read a lot of trashy novels, and I completely ignored my ‘to do’ list!  I do think teachers need some down time like this, though.

Week ending 20 January

Apart from my friend Beth coming for two days to reorganise part of my book collection at home, this week was dominated by the NCEA results coming out and by the time I spent poring over them and thinking about them. Who had done well and why? Who had not? Why? What did we do right? What do we need to improve? What did I teach well? What did I obviously not teach well? For once, even though I obsessed about the results for days I didn’t get depressed by them. There were plenty of good news stories to counterbalance the dismal outcomes for a certain cohort who will remain nameless... 

In addition, a lot of time this week went into thinking about our teaching programmes in the English Department and what, if anything, needed to change as a consequence of analysing the NCEA results.

Week ending 27 January

Senior Management and Ash doing a mail out 23 January

I spent most of this week doing a massive clean up in my classroom. I went through every box file and got rid of many bins of paper for recycling from the train wreck which was my desk and the floor around it! I filed till I dropped and I got out the bucket and the cleaning gear and cleaned all the shelves and the desks and the whiteboard and yadayada. While this may sound mundane, having a clean and organised classroom makes a huge difference to my mental and emotional health, not to mention making teaching and learning easier in a classroom environment a bit more adapted to its primary purpose! 

The other thing that happened this week was that we had a voluntary PD (professional development) day around information technologies, which was held at our college on the Friday (25th January). I ran a session for this on using MyPortfolio to record evidence of professional practice and reflection against the RTCs (Registered Teacher Criteria). I somehow have become the school expert on MyPortfolio by starting to use it before anyone else did...  I am running this training again soon so I will post in detail on it then, with links to my handouts and templates, etc.

At the weekend my partner Sean and I did the Waikanae Garden Trail:

And suddenly, my holiday was over...

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Bad Blogger!

It is March already and my blog has been sadly neglected. One of my New Year's resolutions was to blog every week. I started in the first week of January by drafting a blog entry, but couldn't post it because of the terrible wireless coverage where we were staying. And it stayed unposted when we got home from our holiday... and so did all the other things I would have blogged about in the meantime.

So for what it's worth, here is what would have been my first blog of the year. In blue are my comments on how I am doing on my resolutions so far!

1st week of January: The New Year's Resolutions

1. Be positive.  I think it is all too easy to focus on the problems, the lack of resources, the constraints of the curriculum or those imposed by assessments, regulation, etc. I found myself considering the title "Facing down the New Year" for this blog and decided I needed to get myself into a more positive frame of mind. After all, I love my job and I am looking forward to getting back to my classroom! 
Actually, I am doing really well on this. I am feeling good about my classes and the school and focussing on the positives. :-)

2. Focus on the kids. Remember, the students' learning experiences are the most important thing, and this includes their learning context, especially social. Relationships are the key to a positive learning experience, and I know I find it all too easy to get focussed on the learning goal at the expense of the process. In education, as in life, the ends rarely justify the means... if the means aren't working, you've probably lost most of the audience before the learning goal is in sight. 
Hmmm, this is a timely reminder. Most of the time this is easy but sometimes the paperwork grind gets in the way, the course planner says I should have finished this unit by now, and it is hard to hang on to the centrality of the learner, as opposed to my next administrative deadline.

3. Hold on to the joy: Those moments when the lesson is zinging, when someone ‘gets it’, when they come rushing to tell me what they did in the weekend, when they want to talk about the book they are reading, when a student cracks a joke which ruins the point I’m making but makes my day. The joy from being able to share the books I love and the love of reading, and get paid for it! 
Yes! Holding on most of the time. But see 2 above!

4. Document it: We have ERO coming this year so I not only have to be a good teacher, I need an evidence trail to prove it. Beyond the obvious of the management document, course outlines, unit plans, data analysis, etc, I would like to try this year to document more of the joy moments (see 2 above). I’m not sure how this is going to work, whether it is a case of using my blog to record them, or whether I am going to drive my students nuts taking photos on my iPhone of them in action... watch this space!
Aaargh! Keep watching.  Not doing so well on the blogging, but I have started working on my own eportfolio to document my professional practice.

5. Get better at using the technology I already have: I have a Mimio, which is an amazing gadget that turns my ordinary whiteboard into a smartboard, but I am not using it much. My goal this year is to be using it regularly for the functions I already know, and to expand my knowledge so I can use it for a wider range of things.
I'm doing pretty well on this. I have gone from hardly ever using the Mimio to using it almost every lesson. I am still mostly using it for basic data show and recording notes on the whiteboard though, but I am using it!

6. Blog regularly: Make a blog entry every week - no matter how short, how simple, how apparently 'uninspired' I might think it - to maintain the discipline of regular self-reflection.
Crashing, crushing failure here, but I am not going to admit defeat! I will turn this around.

And this ends my 9 week old blog post....  originally drafted on 7 January. :-) 

The photo below is the Kapiti Coast and Kapiti Island taken from the Paekakariki Hill Road in early January.  It was a stunning day.