Whatcha reading?

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 1. ‘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.

2. 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.

3. ‘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 AM4. Both 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!

5. 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’.

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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.

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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.

Finders Keepers!

imageAs a year 7 teacher this year I get to juggle multiple curriculum hats. I love it,  except for the fact that I suck at geography. Let’s rephrase that, it’s an area with ample opportunities for development… (que my growth mindset!)

One thing I am good at is throwing myself into new challenges, especially when it’s student driven. So a few months ago my  year 7’s started telling me about their hobby – Geocaching. Even to my outsider eyes it reeked of geo skills. The evil villain living in the back of my mind started plotting instantly.

I started grasping around to build my oh so basic understanding of this field, and then realised that was the wrong direction. Why fake it when I have the real thing? Student experts! My four experts were dubbed as such and took on the role of fielding all questions and leading our class excursion to find three real geocaches in the local area (this was our entry event). image

So my master explores marched us on out of the school with the efficiency and speed you would expect of those intent on discovery. Equipped with our iPhone compass’ we unearthed three geocaches, feeling like real live explorers.

The next step was to create our own!

Side note: Ok, just go with me for a second… what if we could merge Year 7 Geo skills with Year 12 ‘Discovery’ AOS? Worth a try? This is my goal next year. Our geocache presentations could the entry for Year 12 Discovery…

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Welcome to our class. Please, pull up a… cube?

Last year our school set out to create a flexible learning space in the hopes of accommodating students lines of desire and facilitate their creativity. This is the end result. Best classroom ever!

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Whilst the colour and cubes are fantastic, what I really love about this room is the fact that everything is writeable; the walls, the tables, THE LOT. This is a fantastic resource for student planning, brainstorming and facilitating group discussions. My favourite moment? When a student delivered her essay draft to me by dragging a table across the room. Naturally, her feedback was returned the same way.

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Student mindmap of themes.

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Class mind map of quotes, ‘Blackrock’.

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The sheer expanse of writable surfaces also allows us the opportunity to publicly publish our class work. Last week I got my year 11s to publish their creative writing on the walls, windows, steps… Anywhere they could write. It was such a fun lesson, and so cool for them to have a forum for their work (as opposed to closing their book and forgetting it existed. When did we write that…?) The amount of attention this has gained from passing students stopping to read and discuss has been phenomenal. Sooo cool to see kids grouped around my room in between classes, reading and discussing.
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Excuse the dodgy photos, they’re about a month old now and screaming for a new story. I’m thinking it’s year 7’s turn…

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Meet Ian. ian

A brilliant senior student who openly admits to being easily and regularly distracted in class. We set out this term to try and solve his lack of motivation and improve his focus in class time, and this is what we came up with. Each lesson he creates a unique space for himself. A ‘bubble’. Most lessons no one knows where he is, until he emerges at the end bubbling over with ideas and enthusasium. Sure, it can be done anywhere. But the flexible nature of this space seems to push me to look at learning in new and creative ways. Like I said, super lucky.

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The lost key.

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Another of my favourite creative writing prompts. The idea was posted on the ETA Facebook page last year and after hunting down a class set of keys (BIG thank you to our school GA!) this has become one of my most loved creative tasks.

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Meet the keys!

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Each key has a cryptic message to inspire a story. I’ve been using these to build sensory writing; describing what they key looks and feels like when you first clasp in it your hand etc. I love this activity, the stories produced are always a cack to read! So varied and creative! A thousand thank you’s to the original creator 🙂

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50 word stories so good they must be shared…

Allow me to introduce my AMAZING Year 11’s. They have absolutly nailed the art of editing both their own and each others work. In just two lessons. (Proud? Yes I am. We all know self critique is a challenging skill) From first draft to last, the difference is phenominal. I love it. They are learning to ask questions, identify language that adds little to their work and swap it out for something more powerful. Check out some of their work below:

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Note: Post has been updated with some more 50 word stories from Year 8, 9 and 10. Nov, 2017. 

Grown and raised in tin boxes. Surrounded by metal rods. Fed until I can not eat, poked until I bleed. Young are taken away; hearing their shrieks before all life is taken. Fed further until my throat is slit and bleed out. Now my purpose is the feed the many.

A recent addition from one of my Year 9 girls

I’m completely alone. I’m so cold that my body loses feeling. The freezing winds make me stumble and lose my path. I feel my consciousness being pulled back up the icy slopes and away from my body. At worst, Mt Everest’s climate drops to -60. I don’t have much time.

Year 9 student. 

Waves embracing the sand as they softly break, quiet whistling of birds as I roam through a forest, dancing tree’s swishing along through the wind. Rain descending onto a metal rooftop at nightfall, a tranquil breeze sweeping through my hair and that one perfect verse in my favourite song. Calm.

Year 9 student. 

It feels like I’m going to die. I feel waves crashing against my chest. A stampede in my stomach. My vision is blurry. I can’t breathe. I can’t stop shaking. I can’t stop fidgeting. I know this isn’t the end, but it feels like it. Panic consumes me.

Year 10 student. 

It’s the feeling of having your breath taken away. Butterflies fill every nook and cranny inside you. The one person to call home, the one to be your anchor. Keep you grounded. The boat to keep you afloat. The warm feeling of being in their arms on a frosty night.

Year 10 student. 

I remember pulling my arm away. “It’s nothing” the words rolled off my tongue. I dragged my sleeve down then changed the subject before she could question the wounds crossing across my arm. You’re Nothing. A single tear bled down my cheek as I found peace in my final breath.

-Tannar Findley Yr 11

I am trapped. The wooden walls agonizing against my frail structure. My body is contorted, tangled within my own ligaments. Fearing for my life. A sudden volume upsurges from above. The piercing voices shrieking to one another as the fires of bullets are triggered continuously. Time is no matter.

– Jenna Mack Yr 11

Slowly wandering down the inexplicable shadowy hallway, not knowing what to expect when I finally open the glistening, aged door. I stop spasmodically. Should I turn back? The craving to open the door is eating me up inside. Finally I open the ancient door; appalled at what I find inside.

– Chloe Webb Yr 11

Again, I lay there with silent thoughts going through my mind. The sounds of crickets chirping outside. The tap dripping spasmodically. There is snoring in the other room. Its dark, in and out. I close my eyes and begin to block out the sounds. Dusk.

Now, I start to dream.

– Brittney McDermott Yr 11

Looking over the vast stretch of blue ribbon, the memories are drifting though the wind. Drifting through one ear and out the other. Bethinking memories of an old man sitting on his front porch, sipping his whisky from the bottle. Not distressed. No heartache. Just him and the open plans.

– Taelyn Puglisi Yr 11

Hoping on the plane with my stomach jumping in excitement. Butterflies tossing like never before; their wings flapping against my rib cage, like an endless love. Through the air, soaring like a kid on red cordial. The humid, dry, sweaty heat hitting me for the first time. It is Bali.

– Tonia Lavalle Yr 11

 

Detective day!

Note: Not my idea, but one I’ve really enjoyed putting into action and had to share. A gem from my Head Teacher – Hi Fi!     🙂

Here’s how it works. Students bring in 6 artefacts that reveal something about themselves. We bag these up (as covertly as possible), attaching a number to each bag.

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Once all the bags are in (this took about 3 days) it’s time for Detective Day! Each student is given a bag and 10 min to explore its contents as carefully as possible. They take notes, describing each artefact in detail before the bags go back under lock and key. Serious business. They then write a Historians report explaining what information they have gained from the artefacts and who they believe the subject to be.

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Next week they will present their findings and discover who their subject was. I’m as much in the dark as they are; I wanna know who won the judo trophy, and who the lock of baby hair belongs to! Oh the suspense!