Halfway Home and Teacher’s Programs

“Once you’re halfway home, you know that you can probably get the rest of the way there.
-Attributed to Janis Ian

Today is Wednesday of Week Five which means we are halfway through the current term, and that many teachers are silently cheering that they are now on the homeward stretch. There is no small amount of tiredness and fatigue this term, as many teachers find themselves staggering under the burdens laid upon them by all of the additional extras that are currently the expected norm in the teaching profession. The after school meetings, the various clubs and groups that run during lunchtimes, the various intra- and inter-school competitions all take valuable time from a teacher’s day and add varying levels of stress and work to a teacher’s already busy and crowded timetable.

Personally, I am find myself alternating between incredibly tired and worn out and strongly motivated and energetic. On the one hand I am really happy with the progress that some of my students have made this term, particularly in infants, where we have been focusing on some fundamental computer skills, particularly typing skills. The self-efficacy that various students are showing now when compared to the beginning of term two, or even the beginning of term three, is vastly improved.

In stark contrast with that, I feel like, in many ways, I am taking two steps backwards for every one I take forwards. I feel like I have not achieved anything this term, and this is backed up when I look at my program. However, I have spent a significant amount of time working on some fundamental computer skills which I identified as lacking in my primary students, and have needed to devote a significant amount of time to working on those skills, as they are part of the foundation of digital literacy. In that frame of mind, I feel like it has been a valuable investment in time for the long-term result, which I likely will not see, particularly for my Stage Three students.

it is a reminder of the oft-quoted remark by German military strategist Helmuth von Moltke, which is that “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy” which can be converted, I believe, into “no teacher’s program survives the term unchanged.” There are also a large number of interruptions in the coming weeks, with Book Week (which I do in fact enjoy and have already organised my costume for the book parade), the zone athletics carnival, Infants athletics carnival, Father’s Day stalls, and the swim program for Year Two and Three students which spreads across two weeks.

Looking at what is left to cover in my program this term and comparing that to the amount of teaching time I will have access to with the various interruptions, I do not think that I can complete my program for this term without sacrificing the attainment of conceptual understanding and deep learning by my students, a compromise I do not want to make. This program was also my first, and I was aware going into it that I was perhaps biting off more than I could chew in regards to what I set out to achieve. I do need to sit down and update my program with the various changes that I have made, and notes of what did and did not work in various portions of the program.

I would very much like to hear how you manage your program and keep it up to date with what changes and modifications you have had to make, both impromptu and planned.

How to get the best result for my students with limited resources

As you may be aware from this article, I have picked up a temp block for next term as a teacher-librarian. As  I have been working through the process of planning and programming for the term across each stage from early stage one up to stage three, it has occurred to me that I don’t know that I will be able to achieve everything that I want to achieve with each stage group.

Much of what I want students to do, and what I have been asked to do with them requires computer access, and while there are two classes trialing a BYOD program, the rest of the school has no more than two or perhaps three computers in the class, plus an internet connected interactive whiteboard, or Promethean panel. There is a bank of school laptops which can be booked for use, but of course it would be highly unfair of me to book them for the whole term, and so I need to consider how I am going to go about having students, particularly in stages two and three, complete the problem based learning research task.

This, I believe, is where the flipped class will come into play. The specific skills and concepts that students need to learn, I can record videos to teach, and utilise in-flipping, where the video is watched together in the classroom as a whole class group, or the ‘traditional’ out-flipping where the students watch the video at home and bring their learning to the classroom. I may need to apply this to the research process itself though. Have students do all, or at the least the majority of their research at home, and do the synthesis and analysis, and prepare the presentation at school, in their lessons with me.

The other alternative, which will require a conversation with a variety of stakeholders, is to arrange for BYOD for my lessons. That is, allow students with access to devices to bring them in for use in my lessons. This frees up the school’s resources for those students that do no have access to portable devices, allowing them equal opportunity to complete the learning.

I’m still undecided as to which approach I will take, however the point at which I will need to implement that aspect of my program is later in the term, and so I can have that conversation over the holidays via e-mail with the school stakeholders, and then begin the dialogue with the parents early next term.

I would love to hear from any of you who have had to juggle the issues of access to resources in this manner, and how you negotiated the challenges in order to get the best outcome for your students.

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.

Planning for Learning: The Teacher’s Program Part One

One of the core tasks of a teacher, one that must be completed before any teaching can, in fact, happen, is the completion of the Teaching Program. The contents of the Program often varies from school to school, and even from stage to stage and year to year in its requirements, but in its simplest form, and the form I prefer, it should simply be a plan for learning for that year or term. Whatever your school’s requirements for the Program, it should contain some basic elements and ideally have a simple structure, such as below, which is how mine is laid out:

  • Vision
    • Teaching Philosophy
    • Class Analysis
    • Explanation of special Program
  • Planning
    • Overview of Curriculum
    • Timetable
    • Scope and Sequence – Integrated Unit
    • Scope and Sequence – Numeracy
    • Scope and Sequence – Literacy
    • Daybook / Weekly Plan
  • Monitoring
    • Continuum Tracking (Literacy and Numeracy Continuum)
    • Assessment Records
    • Learning Plans
    • Class Groupings

Within most schools, some variation of the above, with more or less information/detail will be required, but this, I think is a fairly sensible and succinct program format and will be the basis for the next few posts, forming a mini-series on Planning for Learning.

The first thing to consider when setting out to create your program is what is its purpose? What are you trying to achieve, other than to conform to any required policies? It should of course be noted that a teacher’s Program is a legal document, and can be (and I’ve been advised, at various times has been) entered into Court as evidence in legal cases but it is not, nor should it be, why you write your Program.

There are a number of reasons for writing a Program.

  • It encourages you reflect on, and to articulate why you teach and how that is reflected in how you teach.
  • It demonstrates that you know your students and how they learn through the Class Analysis and Explanation of Class Programs.
  • It ensures that you have thought about, planned, and programmed for learning at an overview level (the timeframe may vary from one to three years, personally I’ve come to like a two year overview), at the term level, at the weekly level, and then at the session or daily level for each key learning area.
  • It encourages you to be specific about how you will monitor, track, and record learning outcomes for each student across the weeks, terms and the year to ensure that you can provide timely feedback to students and their parents both formally and informally.
  • It encourages you to be specific about how you will cater for individual students learning needs through Individual Learning Plans, Behaviour Management strategies and how and why different class groupings will be utilised.

Programs can be daunting. I have seen Programs that are lever-arch folders, full to the brim, with every lesson, every resource or idea seen, permission slips, multiple scope and sequences, out of date, useless and irrelevant information, and have been told that it is a “working folder.” My issue is that if it is a working folder, it should be up to date, and concise, and should reflect why you are writing it.

My view of a Program is a single folder for a year, broken into four terms with dividers. Each of the three sections (Vision, Planning, and Monitoring) should be present within each divider, reflective of that term. If you want to keep a resource folder, by all means do so (and I do), but don’t keep it in your Program folder, or your Program becomes a massive paperweight that is difficult to navigate and use. Your Program folder should contain your program, and your resource folder should contain your resources.

Of course, once you know why you are writing your Teaching Program, it can be rather daunting to sit down to a blank screen for the first time as the cursor winks mockingly at you on an empty page. I personally keep each specific document within my program as a separate word document to make editing and updating quicker and easier. The first, and arguably the most important section, particularly for a beginning teacher, is the Vision segment.

Why?

The first component within your vision is the most important aspect of the entire Program: your Teaching Philosophy. This is a very personal document, as it should be an explicit accounting of why you are a teacher. It doesn’t matter necessarily what the reason is, as I said, it is a personal document in as far as why you teach is a personal reason, but you need to be honest with yourself about why you turn up every day. I’ve written previously about why I teach, and when I first wrote it out, I took it to my Supervisor and said to him, “this is why I teach, but it doesn’t sound ‘right.’”

I was used, at that point, to thinking in an academic, or more specifically, university assignment frame of mind, which tends to frown upon personal opinion and ideas. It does need to be edited to sound professional after you have made your first draft, it is not about having the right reason for teaching, is about having your reason for teaching. That said, you can certainly make a personal vision of why you teach sound academic, and being able to speak and write in fluent Academic-ese is a great skill to have, particularly if you are of the progressive research-based and practice-driven frame of mind, but you still need to be honest about it.

You will likely take more than one attempt to distil why you teach down to an honest reason. My first draft Teaching Philosophy contained clichés and platitudes such as wanting to make a difference for the future, wanting to give back to society, loving working with children, and enjoying teaching children. These are all reasons why I have chosen to pursue a career of pedagogical practice, however, in and of themselves, they are not the reason why I turn up every day with a smile on my face. Accordingly, they don’t appear in my Teaching Philosophy.

You may be stuck wondering now how to write your Philosophy. You may very well never have seen one (as a fun and interesting exercise, ask your colleagues when the last time they updated their Teaching Philosophy was, or, do they have a formalised Teaching Philosophy). There are many different formats that can be used, but none of those that I have seen are conducive to honest articulations of why you teach.

My Philosophy is structured around three simple premises, and indeed, these are the specific headings that I use to organise my Philosophy:

  • Why do I teach?
  • How do I teach?
    • Overview of how the why drives the how
    • Behaviour Management Strategies
    • Classroom Ecology (this encompasses both the physical and emotional/academic/mental)
    • Planning and Assessment Methodology
  • What do I teach?

This format, if done honestly and rigorously, will naturally cover the majority of the AITSL standards that we are now required to conform to, and will do so in an authentic and easy to read manner.

Once you have articulated your Teaching Philosophy, it is important that it remains a living document, and changes as you and your circumstances change. Why I teach at the moment, married with no children, is different to some of my colleagues who may be single with or without children, married with multiple kids, on the verge of retirement, or in the prime of their practice, and how I teach and how they teach will therefore be different. When it comes time for my wife and I to start a family, the why I teach, I would expect, will change, and how I teach may change accordingly. Your Teaching Philosophy should therefore not be written and filed, never to be looked at again. It should be the subject of reflection on a yearly basis or as circumstances make appropriate. It may not change each year, but it forces you to re-examine and stay engaged with your personal vision for the role and purpose of education and how and why you engage with it.

The class analysis is the second component to the Vision segment of the Program, and is one that does need to be completed yearly, and also needs to be updated on a term by term basis. The class analysis should contain a basic overview of the class; the gender split, the year split, the gender per year split (if a composite class), any general diagnoses and any other general information relevant to your class as a whole, and then delve into more specific information about your individual students.

This section should reflect your understanding of your students and how they learn and may contain information such as their preference for learning styles (Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences), ESL information, specific topics or areas of interest that can be leveraged to increase engagement, or areas of particular disinterest. It should be an analysis of your students and thus will change from term to term, as your knowledge of them grows. At the beginning of term one, you may be working from what you know of them from conversations with their previous teachers, but your knowledge will rapidly grow, and I this should be updated fairly early within the year, and then each term.

The Explanation of Special Programs is an area that you write nothing, little, or a lot about. This section has to do with programs that are specific to your class and not the whole school. For example, my classroom at the moment is running a 1:1 BYOD trial, which is not present in any other class in the school, and accordingly, this program is detailed in my ESP. Some examples include BYOD programs, thematic classrooms (i.e. a classroom is driven by a theme such as performing arts, sports, science and technology around which literacy and numeracy are based), specific literacy or numeracy programs that are in place such as L3, Focus on Reading, Mathletics or anything else that is appropriate. If you have a Special Program in your class, you will know what it is.

That is a brief overview of the first segment of the Teacher’s Program, looking at the Teaching Philosophy, the Class Analysis and the Explanation of Special Programs. The next post will focus on the Planning segment of the Teacher’s Program, and will look at how I program, why I think it works and how to cover the incredible amount of content we are required to, succinctly.

EDIT: The next article in this series is available here.