Put your best foot forward

As tomorrow marks the beginning of the new school year for many students here in Australia, so it is also the first day of their new career for many graduate teachers, whom, having completed their teaching degree and having attained full time appointments straight out, seek to start out the new, and for them, first, year on a positive note.

There are many sources of advice and tips on how to approach your first day in your classroom available on the internet (for example, here, here, here or here) and of course you will be regaled advice, tips and secrets used in the past by your new colleagues and  you will hear how they survived their first days in the classroom.

Without getting into the debate about the value, quality or nature of advice found on the internet (I would like to think that we are all aware of the fact that just because something is on the internet does not make it so (as made all too clear in this example from 2012). Further to this, just because an experienced teacher told you about a strategy that worked for them, it does not necessarily that it will translate into your classroom.

I would like to point out that I am not saying that all advice you are given by experienced teachers is suspect, irrelevant or out of date. Indeed, you will likely receive a lot of valuable advice, particularly from those teachers within your new school, which brings me to the point of this short article.

You are going to be teaching within a particular context this year. That context will be different to the one in which you will teach next year, the year after that and every year until you retire, or move into a non-teaching position within the education hierarchy. This is because you have students this year who have lived certain experiences. Those experiences are different to those experiences they had lived last year, and so the students’ themselves are different.

A teacher may explain to you how they survived their first day of teaching ten years ago, and there will be some nuggets of usefulness within what you are told. However, those strategies worked for that teacher, with those students, in that year. The nature of children, the education system, technology and teaching means that you may not be able to use the same strategies as that teacher did (unless by some freak of Whovian time-travel you end up in that exact same classroom, physically and temporally) because the context is different.

Unless you happen to know the current Doctor you will have to make adjustments to any advice you are given to suit your specific context. The children you teach this year have lived through their own particular experiences, as have you. The technology, and to some degree the pedagogy and curriculum, are also different, and you need to factor that into any strategy you are given as ‘advice for surviving your first day.’

Listen carefully to the advice you are given. It is offered freely, based on experience, and well-intended. You do not have to use the advice. You also should not reject it out of hand, even if you wholeheartedly disagree with it – you do not have to use it just because it has been offered. You may have come to teaching with particular ideals of what education is for, how classrooms and schools should be run, and what learning means. Ultimately, you will teach in a way that fits who you are, within the context of your classroom. Your students will change over the course of this year, and so the way you teach may also change, as you and your students grow and develop in your separate but conjoined pathway of learning.

This of course is all advice, and so although I feel that it is useful, you do not have to use it, and that is perfectly legitimate. It is, after all, only advice.

Good luck for the year to all teachers, but particularly to those of you whom are new to the profession.

Planning for Learning Part 3

When planning for a year, plant corn. When planning for a decade, plant trees. When planning for life, train and educate people – Chinese proverb.

This was supposed to be (and I suppose it technically still will be) the final post in this series on Planning for Learning, examining the make-up of the Teacher’s Program, that elusive document that I did not see or hear any hint of during my four year degree, up until my internship, when I asked my cooperating teacher about his, which launched a series of conversations that I felt were quite fruitful, challenging and educational.

Part one of this series was about the first component of the Teacher’s Program, namely, the Vision, and examined the Teaching Philosophy, Class Analysis and the Explanation of Special Programs therein. Part two examined the Planning component, and different methods of curriculum planning, particularly thematic planning. This final part was supposed to examine the Monitoring component, including Tracking across the Literacy and Numeracy Continua, keeping assessment records, creating learning plans and class groupings.

In sitting down to write this post though I have realised that I do not believe I know enough to expound upon what is or is not good or even best practice when it comes to the Monitoring portion of the Teacher’s Program. So this post will instead simply identify some of those methods that I have come across, and I will ask you, my readers, to provide feedback on the tools and methods that you utilise to complete this section

From what little I have seen in practice in regards to tracking on the Literacy and Numeracy Continua, one effective method appears to the use of sticky notes, or post-it notes. For example, when designing a rubric for, let’s say, an English assignment, you may assign a particular cluster for different components for the ‘pass grade’ (whether you use A-E, or another variation of grading) of that assignment. This then allows you to scale up or down for the actual output of each student, making note of where that student is on a particular stream through use of a sticky-note, which simply has the students name, and which is then placed in the relevant cluster on the Continuum chart. If you decide, for example, that Cluster 9 is the ‘pass’ mark for Aspects of Writing for a particular assignment, you can then adjust a student’s placement on the continuum for that skillset based on their output in that assignment and in consideration of previous demonstrations of ability. You can also make a note elsewhere, whether it’s in a spreadsheet or on a tracking class role in order to keep a consolidated record of ‘marked’ clusters across the school year. I’ve seen that done quite effectively as it allows you to move students around at any point, for each of the skillsets, and is quick and easy to do so.

That leads, then, into keeping Assessment Records. The vast majority of teachers with whom I’ve had discussions about this keep a class role with students’ names down the left, the name of the assignment/learning output/test across the top and the mark, of whatever variety in the appropriate matrix square. This can be particularly effective when done such that it allows the side-by-side placement and therefore comparison of marks for similar tasks (whether by KLA, skill or concept) across the year. I would love to hear from anyone who is doing things differently in this regard, as to how you do it.

Learning Plans, from my limited experience, appear to be done via a pro-forma which seems to vary from school to school, though, again, I would love to hear from anyone who is creating custom Learning Plans for their students. Class Groupings is something that very much differs from school to school, and even teacher to teacher. There are a number of teachers that I’ve seen who still utilise rows of desks, those who use table-groups of four or six students, those who allow students to sit wherever they wish to, set groups for reading/mathematics/spelling (whether levelled or mixed ability) in their day to day teaching. I’ve seen a lot of teachers who utilise a variety of grouping strategies without realising they are using a particular strategy, such as DeBono’s Hats (de Bono Thinking Systems, n.d.), think-pair-share etc., and with varied levels of success. My understanding, from conversations with my cooperating teacher about this component of the Teacher’s Program is that it should contain a list of those strategies you envision using, when (as a general indicator), and why it is an appropriate strategy. But again, I’m open to hearing other thoughts on this structure.

The Teacher’s Program can be a huge working folder containing the complete set of resources a teacher possesses. However this seems unwieldy, unlikely to be reflected upon with any sort of regularity, and unlikely to be usable as a true program, wherein a casual teacher can open it up and get a general idea of the content that is being covered in the classroom at that point. These last three posts have been my attempt to solidify my own understanding of what the Teacher’s Program can be based upon a series of conversations with my internship cooperating teacher, and my observations of a few examples since then.

It will most likely be 2015 before my next post, so have a safe and happy Christmas break, and as always, thank you for reading.

Reference list

de Bono Thinking Systems. (n.d.). Six Thinking Hats.   Retrieved April 8, 2014, from http://www.debonothinkingsystems.com/tools/6hats.htm

Planning for Learning Part Two

“He who fails to plan, is planning to fail” – Winston Churchill

First of all, I would like to apologise for such a large gap between posts. This last few months has been very hectic with the conclusion of my Honours research project, and the process of conducting the data analysis and writing my dissertation. It has now been submitted, and I am now awaiting the results to come back from the examiners, which I am hopeful of receiving prior to Christmas. I am feeling quietly confident about getting a strong result, and have plans for further research in mind already.

In my previous blog, Planning for Learning Part 1, I wrote about the first aspect of the Teaching Program, which is the Vision, encompassing the Teaching Philosophy, the Situation Analysis and the Explanation of Special Programs that are running in the class. This post will be focusing on the second component of the Teaching Program, which is the Planning segment, made up of the following sections:

  1. Overview of Curriculum
  2. Timetable
  3. Scope and Sequences
  4. Daybook / Weekly Plan

This post will work through what each of these consists of, how to create them, and why they are a vital part of the Teaching Program.

1. Overview of Curriculum

The Overview of Curriculum provides an opportunity to plan holistically, mapping out when outcomes will be covered within each KLA across the two years and linking the KLAs together conceptually, creating integrated units. When complete, you have a visual planning map, that enables anyone can pick up and utilise, either in its original form, or modified to suit the specific context.

What this looks like will depend on how you plan, and how you think, in as far as linking the concepts together. Below is an example of what one might look like, showing a portion of a Stage Three Overview of Curriculum.

overview of curric

2. Timetable

The timetable is simply your time-to-teach, or when you plan to teach what, but will include Release from Face to Face (RFF), scripture, assemblies, sport etc. What your timetable looks like will vary according to your school’s timetabling processes, priorities and the allocation of time to Sport, Physical Education, RFF, Library times etc.

This is an example of what it might look like:

timetable

The timetable will vary from school to school, according to how time is allocated to stage or whole-school sport, assemblies, scripture and other school specific programs, such as the fitness program you can see in this example. This is also where the utilisation of integrated units allows for multiple concepts/skills to be examined in the classroom, covering the required syllabus content in a significant way, allowing for transferal of skills and conceptual knowledge across learning and life domains.

3. Scope and Sequence

The scope and sequence for any KLA or unit of work will be utilised, usually, in one of two ways. The first will map out when skills, concepts and knowledge will be covered in the learning across a period of time, usually a term, as can be seen in the below example.

Scope and Seq

You can see the specific outcomes that are being drawn upon from the NSW Science and Technology syllabus (Board of Studies NSW, 2012), as well as the English outcomes that are being focused on each week for this unit. There is a key idea that drives the learning for the week, and then some suggested activities to provide a starting point. The numbers at the start of suggested activities are a reference to which piece of content that activity conforms to from the Science and Technology syllabus. This method of implementing a scope and sequence provides a Launchpad for the week, with the central focus and a suggested activity, leaving it to the teacher to make a professional judgement as to how they provide the learning for their class, based on their specific context.

The other form that is commonly used looks something like the below sample from a Stage Three Program. It utilises Bloom’s Taxonomy (Krathwohl, 2002; Tarlinton, 2003) to guide the framing of tasks across the KLAs or an integrated unit. You can see in this example that for the English KLA, based on a unit around social interactions and communication, the specific syllabus outcomes that will be targeted through the learning, the literacy concepts that are being incorporated, and the tasks that will be used to help facilitate learning across the different levels of thinking.

I have also seen this form of scope and sequence combined with Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences (Gardner & Hatch, 1989) to form a learning matrix. Anecdotally, I have seen this labelled as a Pirozzo Unit, named after Ralph Pirozzo from Promoting Learning International, however I must note that it is not a structure I have much familiarity with, though I can see how it has some potential to be useful.

scope 2

4. Daybook / Weekly Plan

The details of how a Teachers’ Daybook or Weekly Plan is implemented vary almost as much as the weather and with similar levels of vigorous discussion as to the benefits and disadvantages of various formats and structures. There are advocates and critics for every form of this process that I have come across in my short time in the profession. I am going to work with the assumption that most teachers are familiar with the standard diary format (which in itself contains significant variation depending on who you talk to). Personally, I believe a combination of different methods is the better way to go, as this allows you to cover the macro (school or stage wide events, professional development events etc.) with the micro (specific session objectives, materials required etc.).

The macro events should be addressed in a Teacher’s Planning Diary or calendar to allow for an overview of events, however the specific day to day learning activities and goals can be tracked in a fashion similar to the below planner.

daybook

This is a fairly simple planner and is quite versatile. Across the top row you can input some basic details including the term, the week number and the core outcome being targeted that week. The next row specifies the key concept/skill/idea being examined and may include both a long and short-form.

The remainder of the planner outlines the specifics of what is being done in such a way that it is succinct, but any teacher could walk into the class and take over from where you have left off. You will note in this screenshot that the columns are labelled not by day, but by the session number. This allows for the unpredictability and fluidity required of teachers due to disruptions. It is designed to be printed out and as each session is delivered, dated and signed to indicate that the specific session has been covered. This allow for disruptions as you are then able to work through the sessions, doubling them up, combining them or making other alterations as required due to interruptions.

This particular screenshot is from an English day-book, and is broken down into three different components; however the specific layout of the planner can be altered to suit the specific context. You can see, however, that the descriptions are quite brief, and that there is a liberal use of abbreviations in order to save space.

I have seen variations of this that include an equipment/materials list of either the week as a whole, or on a session by session basis, as well as an extra row that breaks down the overarching goal for the week into its constituent components, in this case, for reading, writing and spelling. This format lends itself well to Integrated Units of work, due to the nature of the layout.

This is of course only one of many options, and I would be very interested to hear what other formats people are using to help plan their teaching and their students’ learning.

The previous article in this series is available here.
The next article in this series is available here.

Reference List

Board of Studies NSW. (2012). Science K-10 Syllabus Volume 1: Science and Technology K-6 (Vol. 1). Sydney, NSW, Australia: Board of Studies NSW,.

Gardner, H., & Hatch, T. (1989). Multiple Intelligences Go to School: Educational Implications of the Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Educational Researcher, 18(8), 4-10. doi: 10.2307/1176460

Krathwohl, D. R. (2002). A Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy: An Overview. Theory into Practice, 41(4), 212-218.

Tarlinton, D. (2003). Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy. Powerpoint presentation. Unpublished.