Welcome Back to Term Two

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
― Attributed to Lao Tzu

Welcome back for term two! I hope the mid-semester break was a chance to recharge and be ready mentally as well as within your program, for term two. It was, for me, a busy break, and the return to school has also been busy.

I spent the first  Monday and Tuesday of the break attending a Foundation Level course for THRASS, a phonics-based literacy system. It was an absolutely fantastic two days and I feel much more confident that I can have a positive impact on my students literacy levels than I did previously. I will write a THRASS-focused article  at a later date, as I genuinely believe that it is a highly worthwhile system which can have highly positive impacts for students’ literacy abilities and understanding of the use of English.

I spent some time planning for the upcoming term, getting my program in order, and after having attended the THRASS course, am not happy with it. I feel that the value in certain aspects of the program is not particularly high, and the course has made me question why I am implementing that spelling program in that way. I hope to be able to invest some time over the coming three days solidifying that program for the term. I also would like to spend some time revising other aspects of my overall literacy program.

Mrs Mitchell reached the halfway mark of her pregnancy during the break, and we attended the clinic for the appropriate scans to check up on Youngling. It is this scan where the ultrasound technician can provide high quality three-dimensional images of the baby, if, that is, the baby cooperates. Youngling decided to wave her/his hands a lot while we were there and so the arms covered the face. We have elected not to determine the gender, and so will have quite the surprise in a few months time.

I spent the entirety of the second week of the holidays working on an application for a full-time permanent position, which I will be submitting this afternoon. I have had some incredibly valuable and useful feedback from my Principal which has helped me refine and strengthen the application and as a result, I feel that I have a good chance to reach the interview stage of the process.

Yesterday, I returned to school for our staff development day, and discovered that the school rebuild progressed significantly during the break, with foundations and footings now being in place for a number of sections. I have included a short video clip below.

View this post on Instagram

There's been a few changes! #PCPS #buildingsite

A post shared by Brendan Mitchell (@c21_teaching) on

The day was quite productive overall, with the whole staff meetings completed quickly after the relevant sessions had been delivered, allowing us to break into Stage meetings. Stage Three have a large number of events occurring this term, with PSSA Knockout events, the annual Year Six Canberra excursion, weekly coding being lessons delivered by ScopeIT, a bicycle safety and awareness excursion, a First Aid course, planning and preparation for the Year Five excursion to the NSW Sport and Recreation Point Wolstoncroft site in term three and planning and practice for the school athletics carnival. A busy term indeed! That is all before you factor in the semester one student reports.

I have also been successful in gaining consent for pre-conference interview from a number of speakers at the Education Nation conference in June which I am excited to conduct. I have already completed one, with some others in progress. If you have not yet completed your registration for Education Nation, I would urge you to do so, particularly if you are interested in the Elements portion of the conference as registration numbers for that aspect are limited. Click here to register.

I spent some time yesterday rearranging the room in an effort to improve the flow and functionality of our learning spaces, which has been received well by students thus far, and was excited to hear that my sister gave birth to a healthy baby girl yesterday morning.

I hope that your break and the return to school has filled you with excitement for the coming term, and that you are filled with enthusiasm and excitement for what is to come. As always, thank you for reading, and I would appreciate any feedback via the comments section below, or via Twitter.

The Morning Literacy Block

“Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope. It is a tool for daily life in modern society. It is a bulwark against poverty, and a building block of development, an essential complement to investments in roads, dams, clinics, and factories. Literacy is a platform for democratization, and a vehicle for the promotion of cultural and national identity. Especially for girls and women, it is an agent of family health and nutrition. For everyone, everywhere, literacy is, along with education in general, a basic human right…. Literacy is, finally, the road to human progress and the means through which every man, woman, and child can realize his or her full potential.”
― Attributed to Kofi Annan

How do you structure your morning literacy block with your students? How do you choose your texts for guided reading, independent reading, and how do you choose the tasks to be completed by students while you are reading with the other groups?  Mrs. W. and I are going through a process of refinement as we work to find the balance between structure and student choice, between finding texts that are interesting and engaging, yet also have a purpose behind their selection, and tasks for our Must Do / Can Do list that engage whilst also serving the educational purpose that we want. as a side-note, as you read, be aware that I am writing this on Monday afternoon, and thus any references to yesterday, today or tomorrow are made within that context.

At this point, the literacy block on my days looks something like this:

  • Students enter and mark their name off on the roll, put any notes or monies on my desk, and immediately commence DEAR (silent reading) while I process the notes and monies, hand out any receipts etc.
  • On Monday morning, we conduct a spelling pre-test. I read out the words for the week, students write them down, we mark and any incorrect words then become the spelling list for the week, with blanks being back-filled by topic words or words from an alternate list.
  • We move into reading groups, where I spend ten minutes reading a text and we go through some comprehension questioning while the rest of the class focuses on their Must Do / Can Do list of tasks.
    • Must Do
      • Look-Cover-Say-Write-Check. There is an element of it’s always been done to this task though I would apply the same CLT thought process to this as I do to multiplication facts.
      • Word analysis: Students to break down the word to determine the number of syllables, consonants/vowels, phonemes, graphemes and any digraphs or trigraphs. Students also then form a Monster word (a word constructed using the same phonemes with different graphemes. E.g. phyti instead of fish (PHysics-pYramid-staTIon))
      • Definition, synonyms, antonyms: To encourage familiarity with the use and alternate vocabulary.
      • Prefixes and Suffixes: Can any alternate words be formed using prefixes and/or suffixes.
    • Can Do
      • Mrs. W has provided a spelling menu with a range of literacy activities that serve various purposes, from vocabulary expansion to etymology awareness.
      • Creative writing using visual prompts, including an editing process.

We are finding mixed standards across our class, both in regards to the quality and the quantity of what is being completed and handed in, and thus far, we have worked on finding a structure for the morning that provides independence to students to carry on with their tasks without needing our guidance every step of the way.

Initially, we provided a list of the tasks that must be completed and those that are then able to be worked through afterward, whilst we were with the guided reading group. This seemed to be too much independence, at this point in the year, as we found we were constantly having to answer questions from students about what they needed to do next, what they could do when they were finished etc. and it was completely ruining the flow of what we were looking to achieve with the reading group.

Following this, I had students decide in advance the order they were going to complete tasks in, thinking that having a plan of attack would allow them to focus on completing the tasks, give them confidence that they knew what they were doing, and allow me to focus on my reading group. This also failed, as some students spent far too long vacillating about the order in which they wished to complete tasks.

Last Wednesday I tried a different scenario and it worked very well, with students on task, engaged, and asking each other questions rather than disturb the reading group I was witrh. Today, I thought that I would use the same structure, given that it worked well last week, and discovered something that veteran teachers probably are well aware of:

blain-pouliot-quote-we-tested-the-system-last-week-and-it-worked-just
Retrieved from tinyurl.com/zwqtban 29 February 201

 

Last week I structured reading groups loosely akin to reading groups that you would find in an infants classroom (indeed, they were very similar to how reading groups were structured in the Year One class in which I completed one of my professional experience placements). I put on the board the order in which I would see the reading groups, and the tasks that the other groups were to complete whilst I was with each group. I suspect that it failed today, whereas it worked last week, as today I attached group names to specific tasks, indicating what I wanted them to start on first.

This cause issues as some of the tasks required less time than I was with a reading group, and those students were left, apparently, floundering, not knowing what to do, and unable it seems to take the initiative to move on to the next tasks on the board. Having thought about it this afternoon, I know how I will structure things tomorrow to hopefully resolve that issue.

Tomorrow, when I indicate to students to move into reading groups, I will put on the screen the exact tasks and the order in which they are to be completed. In between each group, I will take a few minutes to quickly circulate and check students’ progress through the tasks (something I did not do today, which I think compounded the issue), signing off on each student so that I can track how they are progressing through the tasks, knowing that I am spending approximately ten minutes with each reading group. This will also help me gauge the appropriateness of the tasks they are being asked today in a certain timeframe.

I feel, upon reflection on the term thus far, that I was so frustrated by lost time early in the year due to a variety of factors (some of which I wrote about here) that I forgot to spend time bedding down good structures and process in the class in an effort to catch up to where I needed to be according to the scope and sequence documents, and am now paying the price, with structures still somewhat loose which is having repercussions in regards to what we are achieving.

I would very much like to hear how you structure your literacy block and reading groups, so please, leave a comment either here or on Twitter, and as always, thank you for reading. I am unlikely to post an article tomorrow (Wednesday) as I will be attending the FutureSchools expo and conference. If you are going, let me know. It would be great to catch up with some Tweeps. If you have not heard of FutureSchools before or are unable to make it this year, you can find my review of last year below, and this year’s reviews will appear over the week or two post-FutureSchools.

FutureSchools 2015 Review Articles

Coding with Hopscotch

“Everyone should know how to program a computer because it teaches you how to think.”
– Attributed to Steve Jobs

On Wednesday’s I have two of my four Stage Three classes, and last Wednesday (September 2nd) I had one of them that consisted of only seven students. Three were absent, four were at a School Leaders Day and the others were at a robotics training day. When their class teacher advised me of this, I knew this was a perfect opportunity to experiment with some coding.

One of the apps on the school app list is Hopscotch, an app that teaches users to code in order to create a variety of games, simulations and anything else their imaginations and coding skills can come up with. With only seven students in the classroom it did not seem a valuable use of time to give those students the lesson I had been planning, given that more than half the class was not present. Knowing that those at the robotics day would be leading the class in robotics design and coding over the coming weeks and also being aware that Stage Three had not done any coding up to this point, I decided that it would be the perfect opportunity to give the students I had an open time to experiment with Hopscotch.

I asked them to experiment and see what they could create, to watch whatever tutorial videos they could access within the app, which seem to be plentiful, and the students found a seat, and were engaged immediately. They were problem solving; one student identified that the instructions in a tutorial video she had just watched were not quite right, based upon the results, and was able to identify the correct coding to use to correct the error, they were collaborating, helping each other with ideas, problems and solutions and they had fun. We spent fifteen minutes at the end talking about what they had learned, the challenges they faced and how they overcame those challenges as well as giving them a chance to show off what they had created with their new coding skills.

I also asked them to Tweet, via my Classroom Teacher account @MrEmsClass, something that they had learned. I felt that this would give them an opportunity to take some ownership over their learning as well as force them to crystallise their thinking into something concrete, a task which they seemed to genuinely enjoy.

I include below some videos of their various creations which I have hosted via my YouTube Channel

I would love to hear from anyone else who is doing coding, and whether they have used Hopscotch or something different. As always, thank you for reading.