Hi there!

We’ve had a fair bit of traffic through the website in the past few weeks, which I’m super happy about! I’d love to make this a little more interactive and hear from the people visiting our page: where are you from? What kind of teaching are you doing? Anything particular on the page that’s interested you?

Email michelle.kirby3@det.nsw.edu.au or comment here, we’d love to hear what you’re up to!

Coming Soon…

This week has been massive! We have two very cool projects about to launch (I’ve just added them to Project Cards – House of Cards and Mosquito Project). Johnny and I have spent a rainy Sunday holed up project planning – feels like the good ol’ days. Anyway, we’ve got very some cool Entry Events planned which I’ll get back to soon, and I’m experimenting with some gurilla advertising trying to get the kids buzzing before it begins. Exciting stuff!



We’re on Instragram!

This blog has always been a way for us to think outloud and reflect on what we’re doing within the classroom. At the moment, I guess becuase I have a bit more time on my hands, I feel like I’m ready for it to become something more. So, we’re moving onto social media. Check us out on Instagram @shelleyandjohnny and Facebook … and really, I mean please do. The support would be nice. For some reason I feel nervous about this move!


What you like a story with that?

I’ve already posted about our 50 word stories, (here and here) they’ve since become a staple with all my classes. But what I haven’t covered is how we share these with the world. Cue today’s blog.

The original idea sprung from Chipotle’s Cultivating Thought Author Series Screen Shot 2017-04-21 at 10.27.04 AM.png, and resulted in me ordering 200 coffee sleeves late one night in the whirlwind of  excitement… Luckily, the kids matched this. Phew. We contacted our school cafe and a plan was made. We would write our stories onto the coffee sleeves and deliver them each Friday morning. Each coffee sold was encircled by our words. The effect of this was better than I’d imagined, one teacher actually tracked a student down to complement her on her writing. We hadn’t really advertised what we were doing so it was a genuine surprise to staff when their coffee’s arrived. The only downside is the kids didn’t get to see this (I may have re enacted it for them)

The next step? No more handwriting. There is little joy in hand-printing 20 sleeves per child, we’re hoping to figure out a way to print them next time round!

Whatcha reading?

I’m a compulsive sharer. Sorry. I’ve discovered a ton of great resources lately, here’s a quick run down for anyone interested.

Screen Shot 2017-03-23 at 11.46.42 AM ‘The Motivation Equationis my top pick. From the first page it breaks down how to capture student motivation, each chapter unpacks the concept in beautiful detail. A great read, you can find it here.

I love this woman. Her blog is a beautiful rabbit hole that I wound up losing two days of my life to. You’ve been warned.

Turning Student Groups into Effective Teams‘ is another online resource, something I wish I had this article four years ago when we first started. It explores step by step how to structure and manage effective team work. All resources are included in the appendix. Find it here.

Screen Shot 2017-03-23 at 11.45.46 AMBoth a book and a websiteMaking thinking visiable‘ has some fantastic practical strategies. And when I say some, I mean more than you’ll ever be able to use. It also has strategies for shifting culture on a whole school level. I’m so energised reading this at the moment, I’m itching to get back in the classroom and start using them!

Lucky last for the moment, Johnny and I are reading this one together. It has sparked so many interesting conversations already and we’re only a few chapters in – ‘Authentic learning experiences’.

Screen Shot 2017-03-23 at 11.46.06 AM

Socratic Seminars

Socratic seminars are my newest interest/fascination/obsession – sometimes it’s hard to tell these three apart. I’m curious to see if there is some kind of magic formula to making this structured discussion a success. Admittedly, my initial sample size is small… Ok, it’s just my class. But the goal is to observe other classes and find the common elements that work, and those that need tweaking.

Bit of context, whilst this is a super nice Year 11 group they’re not the chattiest bunch. Crickets have been known to work overtime in our room. Que awkward silence. And yet since we’ve started the seminars I feel like I’m actually hearing their voices. Their real voices. Not just the answer that they feel like they’re expected to give, but their real insights and questions. It’s kinda cool sitting on the outside and just listening. Some of these students I’ve taught for three years and it’s only been the past three weeks I’ve seen them voluntarily contribute to a lesson. I don’t know if I can handle unpacking that one…

Here’s what I know so far, and again, not polished or perfect.

They’re in charge from the beginning.IMG_0029.jpg

If the ultimate goal is to sustain a 40 minute conversation without the teacher, then my voice should be out from the beginning. Right? Before our first seminar I asked them to make three key decisions:

  • Select the norms (rules)
  • Decide on the structure (fishbowl, big circle etc)
  • Pick a leader for the first circle

Embrace the awkward silence.

The leaders of our first circle came perfectly prepared. I’m talking adult level preparation. But, they got super nervous about the silence. They would ask a question and then leave around a three second pause before answering it themselves or moving on. And I get it. It’s nerve racking feeling responsible for a productive experience. But at the end, the groups exit cards all reflected they hadn’t felt they had the opportunity to speak. The secret? 5-7 second silences. Snuggle into the silence and get comfortable with it, eventually someone steps up.

Preparation is everything

Ok, the only reason someone wouldn’t step up is if they’re not prepared. If they haven’t done the readings, jotted down thoughts and questions prior, they just can’t participate. It’s too much weight on the others to carry the conversation. 90% of the exit cards from the first seminar indicated the students didn’t feel they were prepared enough to contribute to the discussion, at the level expected. However, second seminar 90% of feedback indicated they were relieved/satisfied with their level of preparation. No surprise the second discussion was far more insightful and interesting for all involved. And this is coming from them, I’m not hinting or swaying. My group of relaxed, passively sweet kids are saying: preparation is everything.

It’s not about me.

This has to start and end with them. In my view, anyway. I’m aware that I may appear mildly neglectful during the seminars. I speak as minimally as possible. I greet them in the hall but do not enter until they’ve arranged the furniture as we agreed. I pretty well ignore them for the first five minutes as they revise their notes, have those frantic hushed whispers. Then I begin very formally, welcoming them to our circle and reminding them of the norms before handing over to the leader for that session. I started in the circle, I maybe asked three questions. Then I’ve been slowing moving myself out as they become more confident. At the end of each session we spend about 10 minutes debriefing. They critique themselves and make any changes for the next session. So far, the magic number seems to be about eight students. Any bigger than this and they feel like there are too many voices. Their solution? Break the class into two separate groups, running two simultaneous seminars. I love their problem solving.

I get that this could be seen as just another buzz word for discussion. But you know what? I suck at whole class discussions. Having a highly structured way to conduct a student centered discussion works for me. And, so far, it seems to be working for them. Three seminars in and we’re all hooked. Bring on number four.