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Teachers can’t stop talking!

Are we the absolute worst profession for telling others what to do and not following our own advice? I don’t know. You’ll have to leave a comment and let me know. I’d love to hear about it. I don’t mean to run my own profession down either. I’m sure there are plenty of other professionals who are the same….surely?!

I attended a professional learning session for teachers this week. It was an all-day session and I was really excited to be attending. It was on a topic that would potentially improve my teaching practice.

It started in a way I’ve never experienced before though, and I won’t forget it. The principal of the centre came in to announce that due to the COVID-19 outbreak, they had hand sanitiser and if anyone felt uncomfortable attending the session they could leave immediately and would be refunded. Now that was a sizzling start! No one left…but I don’t think anyone was brave enough either (or maybe we are just so dedicated?).

So, it was all going along smoothly. The presenter introduced the general theme of the session. She started with some facts to capture our attention and show the importance of the topic. It was at this time that I started to hear a general low hum of conversation. It was a bit like a fridge hum, or a fly buzzing close to my ear. I casually turned around and found my suspect. It was a teacher at the table next to me.

She actually talked throughout the entire presentation. The only break from her low hum of talking was when we did group work and I had the chance to hear other voices in the room. The presenter gently gave her a few clues. One was to look at her in a way that would suggest to the ordinary folk, “I’m not happy with you right now and you should really stop.” Most people would have stopped talking at this point because she had nailed the “teacher look” really well. The culprit didn’t get this clue. A few minutes later the presenter said, “Well, maybe you should be running this course.” Our culprit laughed…..and kept on talking 🤯

You know these people, right? When the presenter asks for feedback and they contribute to every single damn discussion. If the presenter gasps to take a breath, they pounce and inject their five cents worth on information. It’s all about them, their class, their children, their life…. It started to really grind on my nerves after a while and I wanted to tell her to just shut up! As that would have been highly unprofessional, I sat there quietly seething and tried to block her out. This was quite challenging as her voice was very low and was like a constant hum in my ear.

What was interesting was that other people were giving her the “look” and she just didn’t get it. We were talking about the social pragmatics of language!! Taking turns to talk and cueing in to the social behaviours of those around you are key language skills. The poor person at her table was literally ignoring her while she continued to talk. This was quite interesting. Most people would get the hint and be deterred by a partner who refused to look at them. What a great psychological experiment this could be! If, according to Edgar Dale, we learn 20% by just listening, then what would this woman be learning when she is talking the entire time?

At the end of the session she joined our table. We were talking about a literacy topic. She said we were all incorrect, even though we cited research studies to the contrary, and she continued to talk. Wow. This person could only talk, talk, talk, talk and would not let themselves listen to learn or just hear the perspectives of her fellow teachers. I listened to her for a bit but had to feign an excuse to exit. The older I get, I have less tolerance for such people.

These teachers are often the first to have zero tolerance to students talking in their own classroom. Some people just love the sound of their own voice too much. It was a great session and I learnt a lot. Of course, we do learn through talking and sharing ideas. Listening however, is vital. The “talker” was extremely annoying and the experience was a bit entertaining. Everyone was so incredibly tolerant. I took the opportunity to reflect and appreciate how much I learnt because I shut up and listened!

Jen

Credits: Pixabay clipart

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My First Blog Post

Embracing imperfection!

The fact of storytelling hints at a fundamental human unease, hints at human imperfection. Where there is perfection there is no story to tell.

Ben Okri

Be yourself; Everyone else is already taken.

— Oscar Wilde.

Hi there. My name is Jen and I am the creator of this page. By “creator” I really mean trying to work out how to add text and pictures with no idea really of what I’m doing…… Writing my own blog is something I have thought about for a really long time. I’ve procrastinated for so many reasons. Lack of time and the constant reality of other “jobs” needing more attention have been the main reasons. Then there’s the real truth…….. because, let’s face it, if I really wanted to do it by now I would have. So, the real reason is that nothing I wrote was ever perfect enough, the pictures were never good enough and the content was never quite good enough or interesting enough.

The push for wanting to step into the path of imperfection, sharing it with potentially a wide audience, has been aided by two strong forces. Firstly, I’m well and truly ready to try something a little different career-wise. I think we can all relate to that at times. Secondly, a growth mindset appears to be all the rage right now (at least in schools) and I know if I don’t step outside my comfort zone, I’ll never do it and I’ll keep doing the same thing and never growing.

Stepping outside of my comfort zone means I’m taking a risk. Taking risks used to be easy for me when I was younger. Age has brought a little bit more wisdom and knowledge though and now I realise that there are often consequences (good or bad) to all of my actions. It’s far easier to sit back and carry on as normal.

Ok, so back to embracing imperfection! To write this blog I need to first accept that it won’t be perfectly written and have perfect images. So, no, it is not perfection however, this means that my audience get to come along for the ride and see a genuine person try to do their best and have a few laughs along the way! Hopefully, you’ll be able to relate to my experiences. Maybe I will be the “Celeste Barber” of education blogs!!

I hope to share teaching tips that will genuinely help educators. I feel like I am ready to do this after 16 (or more….?) years of teaching in what I call the “coal mine.” I’ve taken no time off for long holidays, children or anything (more on that later, and yes, I have children). I also would like to share tips for working mother’s, in particular, teaching mothers because that’s a super tough gig! Can anyone relate to that?

I’m super excited to begin this journey and hope you will join me along the way. I would like this to be a positive forum for sharing information!

Differentiating Phonic Lessons

It feels like ages since I’ve written a blog post and it probably has!! I now understand writer block…

I’m writing on a topic that has genuinely emerged from my teaching practice and maybe that’s why it’s taken so long to write. I don’t want to make random things up to generate posts.

When you have been teaching for a long time (well, 17 years now… is that a long time??) you get in to a bit of a routine for how you do things. Don’t get me wrong though, I haven’t been doing the same things day in and out for that long because I get bored quickly and like to change things up. I sometimes wish I had that personality that did actually like to do the same thing day in and out because it would actually make my life easier. Anyway, I have currently gotten my class phonic lessons into a bit of a routine and it appears to be catering to all ends of the spectrum.

Like any classroom, I have to cater to students who are struggling quite a lot with content to those that are excelling. I have some students who require phonological skills (which precede phonic skills) such as blending, students who are gradually picking up year-level concepts and those who pick up concepts very quickly and are reading phonic patterns quickly and slightly slower to apply these skills to their everyday writing tasks.

To work out where students are, I begin with a phonic pattern reading test (where they identify graphemes in isolation, and sometimes in words) and then do a spelling test (using the phonic scope and sequence that we use in our school, currently the ECU scope). I have three distinct groups from this (I am lucky in this because last year I had five levels). One group are currently working on some initial phonic knowledge (for example, this week we covered the grapheme /ck/), the other group were working on the phoneme /ear/ (as in, hear) and the other group were working on polysyllabic words ysing the same phoneme (ear).

To still teach whole group lessons and cover all abilities, this is what I have been doing:

1 – Warm-up – The students are asked to blend sounds (which is a phonological awareness skill required by a small group of the students) to say them as a whole word. These sounds are used in the phonemes that they will focus on. The whole class revise the struggling group’s concepts (e.g., /ck/). They cover spelling rules and read words at a word and sentence level.

2 – Lesson (I employ the “I do” and “We do” strategies in this part) – the whole class learn the weekly phoneme. They learn the spelling rules and read words with that phoneme. The students also do a different activity each day to practise their reading and writing skills with the new focus phoneme. Struggling students are given cards with the graphemes written on (to use for writing) so that they have this as a cue and they are exposed to year level concepts. Near to the end of the lesson, the students who are excelling at concepts are exposed to polysyllabic words, asked to repeat rules, find patterns in words and so on.

3 – Activities (“You do”)- students engage in a variety of small group activities to employ their knowledge and skills. Many activities are hands on and fun. I usually have a guided reading group with me (phonic based decodable readers for students who require these and vocabulary based books for fluent readers).

So, this is what I am doing and it is currently working. I am able to cater to a wide range of abilities and keep everyone engaged. It will possibly change as the year progresses and I learn more though. I’m currently beginning the Sounds-Write course by dsf. I’ve wanted to do this course for years, so I’m so excited to be doing it finally. I may learn new things and have to adapt. That’s ok! I like to think of myself as “Elastagirl” when it comes to my teaching practice! How about you? Do you like change or abhore it?

I have many power point lessons on the teachers pay teachers webiste. My page is “teachnchat” and the lessons are very cheap. It actually takes me ages to make each lesson. I do a lot of verbal chitter chatter that is not scripted on the lessons but then they are a good start, especially for beginning teachers or for teachers that are time-poor and need something new. I find my students love looking at the lessons and love the clipart!

Wishing you all the best and I hope that you find this article helpful. I love hearing how other teachers run lessons, so please feel free to leave helpful (and kind) comments.

Jen

Easy Differentiation Tweaks for teachers!

Some children will just sit in front of us and soak everything up. They don’t need extra adjustments to the curriculum content or the way it is delivered. It does appear though, that the number of these students are somewhat diminishing. Going back to nearly twenty years ago, the standard number of students requiring additional assistance usually sat between 1 to 5 (at the most and these are not based on research studies, but general observations!). As teachers, we all know and appreciate that there are potentially a thousand reasons for this and that is not the aim of this post. What I will show you is how easy it is to tap into those students, who sit outside the box, and are such reluctant learners and engage them with the content. I will call these my “differentiation tweaks” for now because it’s not huge and scientific. Any teacher can literally apply these minor “differentiation tweaks.”

To begin with, you need to find out what interests that student. What are they passionate about? This might be challenging to find out, especially for students with learning disabilities. You may need to actually ask them. As simple as saying “What do you love? Trains, bikes, elephants, dinosaurs?” Give them some time to process this question and they will usually start their own list. Notice how I actually listed some ideas for them so they get the concept.

I’ll give you a couple of real-life situations that have worked for me. Firstly, my daughter was obsessed with the tomatoes that grew in our back yard. I was teaching in a remote community and the soil there was amazing. We grew the most amazing vegetables and they grew quickly (this has never been replicated!). As a teacher-mum, I also knew that I needed to get her to start counting and develop her vocabulary skills as she was a little two-year-old at the time. Every week she would go outside with a bucket and we let her pick the tomatoes (she called them “omanoes”). She brought the bucket inside and counted them with our guidance. In a very short time, she could easily count to twenty all by herself. So, she went to Kindergarten (preschool in America?) as a three-year old, already having quite good number counting skills. She had 1-1 counting correspondence, said numbers in order, knew that ten was more than five and could conserve number. We would aslo use a wide range of vocabulary by describing the tomatoes. This could be as simple as sorting the tomatoes that were huge, average, and small and so on. We used her interest to develop her mathematical and literacy skills.

In a school setting, I had a role as a Literacy and Math Support Teacher, and was asked to work with a very reluctant student. He was in Year Two and had literacy and math skills similar to a Pre-Primary student. Let’s call him “Fred.” I asked *Fred to tell me what he loved to do on the weekends. It turned out that he loved fishing with his Dad. I knew that he couldn’t count above ten. I made some A3 sized fish, numbered them, laminated them and took him outside every day to count them. We did all sorts of counting activities with those fish. He loved being outside and he loved fish. By doing this very simple activity, he ended up telling me that math was now his favourite subject at school. He also began to improvements in his classroom behaviour because he felt more confident. What a win!

We all have hundreds of stories like this, I’m sure.  My point is, that you can get students to learn so much more when you find out what they love. My current class of Year One love minions. I was trying to get them to remember the /oa/ grapheme and really engage in it with not much success. I made up a poster with a minion in a floaty and said our action for the /oa/ grapheme would be to pretend to be a minion on a floaty. Of course, it worked! Phew!

Here is a super quick strategy to engage students at a class level. When I taught Kindergarten a few years ago, I was struggling to get them to engage in the Phonological Awareness Power Points that I created. Obviously, I did vary my instructional method but sometimes they just needed to sit down, focus and engage in an Explicit Direct Instruction lesson. So, I knew this particular class were obsessed with superheros. Great! So, what I did was find pictures of superheros and put those pictures onto my Power Point slides. We discussed the sound they started with, what their name rhymed with and so on. They absolutely loved this. This success was simply because I added a few pictures that they were interested in.

Another really easy way to differentiate is to plan out your questions. During group discussions, I differentiate my questions. For example, our class had been learning about antonyms. I wanted to check for understanding so, the following day (during role-call) I asked them to give me the antonym (opposite) of my given word. For a student with a learning difficulty, it was as simple as reflecting on their current use of vocabulary and providing a more “simple” word (such as, cold). For a student who required extending, I provided a more complex word (such as, miniature). I made these questions appear quite random, as if it was just the “luck of the draw” with the word they were provided.

Another benefit, aside from the students engaging more with the curriculum content, is that knowing the student’s passion is a way of connecting with that student. When I am on duty, I often see a student that I taught the previous year. I always ask him how his Corgi is going. He immediately lights up and begins telling me all sorts of funny stories. Relationship building is so important and this is an easy way for me to connect with students.

Differentiation tweaks in a nutshell:

  • Find out what your “difficult to reach” student is passionate about (even if it’s scratch and sniff stickers or a random thing like apples!)
  • Use that topic and incorporate it into your lessons or even clipart on worksheets or Power Points
  • Differentiate your questions during discussion times

I have intentionally kept this brief. As teachers, we are busy. Sometimes, just quick and simple strategies are all we need and we all need to start somewhere. I hope these two “tweaks” will assist you!

All the best,

Jen

My son, nearly two at the time, in his fave superhero costume, standing in his big sis’s bedroom.

The importance of having a routine!

If I don’t have an exercise routine, I don’t do it. Children are just the same with work habits….

We all know there have been a lot of changes to our daily lifestyles, due to the COVID-19 situation, and our lives are different to varying degrees. In Perth, Australia, we have been lucky in comparison to the rest of the world! Our “lockdown” still permitted us to go to the beach and parks for exercise purposes and purchase essentials at the shops. Things have somewhat changed recently and we can have small get-togethers (up to ten people), more shops are opening (though not all are and it’s just a bit random, to be honest), schools are open and students must now attend and cafes and restaurants are open for up to 20 patrons.

So, these changes are certainly quite minimal compared to those who are quite literally stuck inside their own homes. Given this, I didn’t expect to really see much of an impact on the students I teach. Surprise, surprise…… I have seen a difference, or an impact. It’s not dramatic and huge but if you’re a teacher – you will likely be feeling it and noticing it.

The routine that we worked so hard to develop in Term One (where to line up, where to put things, how to sit quietly during lessons…. all those transitions!) seem to be have forgotten. I have had to re-teach these routines and transitions. This is in a short space of time too. Of course, it probably didn’t help that we had a two-week holiday in between all of this.

There has been a “dreamy-like” existence to most faces……. I’ve heard comments like, “I’m tired,” and, “Can we play this afternoon?” Oh, lordy! Yep. So, of course, we (as a teaching group) have collaborated and certainly been mindful to “ease” students into a new and more structured routine and allow for a little bit more “free” play and experiences that are less structured. We certainly, as a class, haven’t been able to get through the same volume of work that we did prior to the COVID-19 situation.

Student’s mental health and wellbeing is obviously above, and vital to, their academic progress though and we need to be mindful of this. My usual, fast-paced, slightly ADHD schedule, has had to be scaled back a little bit! I’ve found this just as hard as the kids have found coming back to school. I’ve had to step back, see what the student’s needs are and really adjust to cater to them.

With such a minimal impact, I have still noticed that, with the change in daily routine, students have been slightly more “needy” and emotional. I have had to balance this effect with having discussions on being resilient (as an adult and child) yet also create a slightly “homely” touch by having a reduced work-load and more incidental “chats” with the students. This has been really helpful so far.

Don’t get me wrong though. We are NOT slacking off! I am a strong believer in keeping the routine the same, even if it is adjusted. Kids actually thrive off routines and feel comforted and safe with them. Think about it. Their whole world has been shaken. One thing we can keep the same for them is their actual school life! I always say this to families who have brought a new sibling home. Keep your routine the same for your older child. Some parents go about lessening behaviour expectations and see epic tantrums as a result (for so many reasons, but it is important that your child knows what is expected). This is one thing that we CAN control – our daily routine (albeit slightly adjusted).

Children may be exposed to so many life changing experiences but as teachers we can actually assist by keeping a solid routine to their daily life.

My tips to assisting students to cope with massive changes:

  • Discuss the actual changes (tornado, COVID-19, new sibling……whatever it is!) with honestly but do sensor some information with age-appropriateness.
  • Introduce the concept of emotional resiliency (if you haven’t already) – I like to briefly discuss my own life challenges (censored) and talk about how I was resilient. This is true-life modelling. Use a teddy bear if you’re not comfortable talking about yourself.
  • Invite students to choose an option to “bounce-back.” Remind them, if they are “down,” and if they are consistently not bouncing back then it is time to choose a new strategy that actually works.
  • ROUTINE, ROUTINE, ROUTINE – stick to a daily routine. In my class, we have a visual daily schedule and we go over it every day. This helps students feel safe and secure.
  • Connect – allow some more time for chats and discussions. Sometimes we just need to listen.
  • Laugh – find humour in situations and share this. I also like to do a daily dance at the end of the day with my class to encourage fun, movement and we tend to laugh at ourselves (myself particularly, because I always look like a lunatic following the JUMPJAM instructor!).

Take care everyone.

Jen 🙂

I have a new appreciation for actors!

Well, the COVID-19 situation was an interesting spin on the delivery of education. For a short time in W.A. anyway. We are open to students to attend now, however there are no requirements as to whether you home school or attend. For the short time when schools were encouraged to remain open only for “essential workers” we moved into an online delivery mode.

This tested our ICT skills in many areas. Our Year One teacher team created many YouTube videos, learned how to upload them, saved them safe links and provided links to parents. I also discovered that PowerPoints could not be uploaded (even though I spent many a lesson voice recording everything). I then had to hold an IPad to re-record the PowerPoint with my voice over and upload that video as a YouTube video! So, it was a lot of trial and error. We did not do online video link up lessons with our students however, we were prepared to move in that direction if we needed to.

I’ve never video recorded myself for a great amount of time before. I did video a few lessons when I was doing my Teacher Level 3 portfolio but decided not to send them in and include them as I was never happy enough with them!

What did I discover? Am I a future YouTube star? Ha ha ha (insert fake, crazed laugh) ……. I saw myself in a whole new light. You hear your voice and wonder if that’s what you really sound like to everyone else or is it just a recording “glitch.” If you don’t like what you hear, you wonder if you sound really annoying to everyone. You can hear any slight trepidation, uncertainties and areas of confidence in your voice.

Then there’s the whole physical dimension. You really “see” yourself. Well, I saw myself without special lighting, make-up or filters. So, I guess it’s not like what the movie stars would have access too. That sounds like a good excuse huh! Making a video for students doesn’t really require you to look like a Hollywood starlet. But then, you critique yourself. Do I really look like that? I even saw my nose in a new light! I’ve never really noticed the shape of my nose until that camera angle was looking half way up my nose. It’s not necessarily bad, and not big, but “there.” Then there’s the way my face moves when I talk…… I also discovered that my face shows a lot of emotion and then other times I hardly smile on the outside when I’m actually feeling happy.

It’s a self-reflection process that has been really interesting and I would never have obviously done before this whole on-line learning process. I definitely need to smile more!

So, now I have an entirely new appreciation for actors. They really put themselves out there and are at everyone’s mercy for kindness. All they are really trying to do is tell a story (that they didn’t usually write). These actors and T.V. presenters do a really good job for us. I guess that’s why I’m a teacher and not an actor. It’s harder than it looks.

You might be wondering what I did after viewing all of these videos created for my students? Yep, you guessed correctly……. Of course, I did it. I went straight to the shops and purchased some serious anti-age, anti-dark circle and “perfecting” skin care products! How vain you may say! Probably, but it’s not really everything to me at all and I truly appreciate being healthy right now. Just a bit of a laugh and if I manage to wipe off a few years, then great. If not, my students will just have to be happy with a face that looks lived and experienced. I’ll let you know if they work.

Take care,

Jen

How to work from home successfully!

Busy, busy, busy. That’s always me. If anyone asks me how I’m going, I will answer with “busy.” No, I’m not showing off or bragging, it’s just my reality. It was interrupted with a bit of isolation time though…….

Taking time out of the classroom, firstly for leave and then holidays with stage 3 isolation, has really opened my eyes up to not only how busy I used to be but how much I achieved in an average day. Going back to work this week has left me exhausted. I mean, it’s always like that when you go back to work after holidays isn’t it?!

This has been a long break, maybe longer than Xmas. It wasn’t a total “work” break though because when I was on leave I was actually creating online learning resources. Can you relate to doing that in your holidays? Even if you’re not a teacher you may have a job where you do a lot of work from home and you can relate.

In the holidays, I tend to keep quite busy too. As a family, we tend to go out every day and rarely ever have a day at home. During our recent holiday, we were lucky enough to be able to go out to the beach or park for exercise. Our W.A. state rules for isolation permitted us to get out for exercise. We also went to the shops for essentials only (we didn’t allow our children to do this though). So, life this way had a lot of a slower pace for the first time ever. We would often say, before the next round of holidays came up, that we would relax for the next holiday. Of course, we never did it!

What I have realised is two things; firstly, I was busier than I ever realised and achieved a lot of “stuff” in an average day, secondly, I thrive on being busy. What I mean by “thrive” though is that I tend to get more done when I’m busy and at work and have very limited time frames to get jobs done. This is great in some ways, I certainly achieved a lot (although as a teacher, you just never seem to get everything done ever).

I don’t know if it’s a really healthy way to live for your mind and body though! Slowing down has made me more aware of looking after my mind health and looking after my body more. Sometimes we need to actually relax. This is a hard one for me but I’m working on it. I always like to feel productive and actually feel a bit guilty if I’m doing nothing productive. One thing that has helped me though is definitely working in the morning and then I’m able to relax in the afternoon or evening.

How to work from home successfully:

  • Have a timetable – it might seem structured but it works. I find that I need to schedule time in for work and leisure. Generally, I do work fist (unless I schedule a quick work out in first) and then I feel happier when it’s time to have leisure time. That’s just what works for me though. Whatever works for you, write it down. I’m pretty specific. I give a time-frame when I work. For example, I’ll work from 9-11 and then have a break. I find breaking up large chunks of time into smaller chunks helps. For example, I will work for an hour and then have a ten-minute break to do a load of washing, vacuum or do some other household task where I’m moving and being productive to some degree. Relaxing or jogging might be your “thing” though. This helps me though because I will truly relax after my “have-to” jobs are achieved (that includes paid work and unpaid work).
  • Write down specifically what you want to achieve in that time-frame – this is a massive help to me because my attention gets diverted very easily and I tend to go off in different tangents. So, to avoid this, I write down specifically what I HAVE to do first and work on that.
  • Dedicate a work area – I have a table that is in the family room. It’s not ideal because everyone shares this area however, my children need the spare room and the other rooms (games and lounge rooms) are not ideal for sitting up right in front of a computer. Anyway, when I sit at this table, it indicates to my brain that I’m in work mode.
  • Noise-blocking headphones – because I work in an area of the house that has a lot of people “traffic” I use noise-blocking head phones. I find that instrumental music works best for me. If there are lyrics, then I tend to focus on what the person is saying than what I’m trying to “say” in my work creation. You pick whatever works for you though! I remember studying for my masters when we were renting a very small house. My son was playing X-box (thank goodness he’s moved on from that) in the same room. I survived because of my noise-blocking headphones!

I still use these strategies even though I’m actually back at work now. They are simple but they are effective.

All the best,

Jen

Do you feel like a Hi5 Presenter?

I wanted to title this article ‘Why I like to use PowerPoint for my lesson deliver…well, sometimes……and then I get sick of it because variety is the spice of life after all!’

It’s becoming more challenging to entertain students during lesson and activity time. I often feel like a Hi5 presenter when I’m giving a lesson. It’s exhausting. You see, I now have to compete with IPad apps, t.v. X-box games and so on. It used to be that, as teachers, we would struggle to entertain children because we were teaching content and the students would be playing with real toys or outside running around. Nowadays, we compete with fast-moving images, bright colours, songs and other highly entertaining apps. This was ok as a graduate teacher, and in many respects, I still put on my entertaining hat, but it is tiring!

A few years ago, I attended a professional learning session at a primary school that specialised in Explicit Direct Instruction. They were following the ‘John Fleming’ method and they had very good results to show for it. I was lucky enough to be able to watch some lessons. If you’re a teacher, this is a golden opportunity, it’s a bit like spying! The lessons were extremely fast paced (I thought I was fast…), clear and quick to address any off-task behaviours. A few times a student was put on the warning chart and I didn’t even observe the off-task behaviour! I must admit, I had times when I struggled to keep up with what they were doing. It blew my mind that the students could match this pace. What all classes had in common was their use of PowerPoints to deliver lesson content.

When we arrived back at school, there was an unwritten expectation that we would use PowerPoint over the use of a Smartboard to deliver lesson content. Of course, lessons had to actually match the EDI format shown by the Hollingsworth & Ybarra book (referenced below). I got busy creating a lot of lessons. It took a while sourcing clipart more than writing the content, but then I was catering to a Kindergarten class at the time.

In a PowerPoint lesson, I was able to include Hollingsworth & Ybarra’s steps:

  1. Learning Objective
  2. Activate Prior Knowledge (we call this a warm-up and we quickly revise previously taught content)
  3. Concept Development
  4. Skill Development
  5. Lesson Importance

After students engage in the PP lesson, they would go to learning centres (if in Kindergarten) or table top activities to engage in guided and independent practice opportunities. Hattie’s meta-analysis ranked direct instruction techniques at .60, which is a good size however, all 7 lesson design components were followed in examples to give this effect size.

What I like about delivering PowerPoint lessons:

  • When creating PP lessons, I spend a lot of time thinking about the content and scaffolding the content. I think of nearly every scenario that I might encounter.
  • The WALT (We are learning to) strategy assures that I am clear about student outcomes and often list more than one. The Hollingsworth & Ybarra frame this as the lesson purpose (which I probably like this more than the WALT but this is what most schools prefer).
  • I can usually differentiate skills in the WALT section.
  • Lessons seem to flow and have a clear progression as skills are gradually built upon.
  • I can make lessons visually appealing with the use of clipart or having hyperlinks to YouTube clips for demonstrations.
  • Using a PP lesson frees my hands (as I’m not holding flashcards, puppets or any other items).
  • I seem to stay on track with content more and the students seem to know that they don’t interrupt in lesson time (the “I do” part) until it’s time for sharing.

What I am mindful of:

  • PP lessons can be overdone. A balance of strategies required, no matter how great the PP lessons are. Students do get sick of one delivery method. I have actually had students roll their eyes or groan when they were about to have a PP lesson. So, I vary it more with using hands-on objects, introducing the topic with a story or a song.
  • PP lessons are great for “visual” learners (and maybe even auditory) but we do need to cater to students who learn differently (as mentioned above, and also for students with additional needs).

In a nutshell, I often find that using PP as a lesson tool, gives me more “teacher clarity.” This is primarily due to the time I have spent planning the lesson beforehand, not essentially just the use of the smartboard! Hattie gives “teacher clarity” a very high effect size of .75. It makes sense, doesn’t it? Knowing what you need to teach, how to get there, what tools you will need and how to cater to difficulties is a massive bonus. Do I always feel this way? Heck no!

I think a balance of strategies is required, even with Explicit Direct Instruction. Loosely using a “I do, we do, and you do” framework is a quite simple and modified way to do this. Sometimes this is not required in every single teaching session. When I reflect on my previous teaching years though, I can see that I often skipped the “we do” and sometimes went straight from the “I do” to the “you do” and certainly didn’t do enough of the activating prior knowledge. So, using these strategies, I fell, has certainly assisted me to be a better teacher. I must point out here too, using the EDI strategies for students with learning difficulties and disabilities is so important!

All the best,

Jen

References:

Hattie, John. (2008). Visible Learning. Abingdon, Oxen: Routledge.

Hollingsworth, J., & Ybarra. S. (2009). The Power of the Well-Crafted, Well-Taught Lesson. Corwin Press.

Who is John Fleming?

  • John Fleming, Deputy Chair of the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership, Deputy Principal at Haileybury College’s Junior School, and Director of the Haileybury Institute.

Pinterest Perfect?

I LOVE scrolling through the beautiful classroom pictures posted on PINTEREST and Instagram. What teacher doesn’t? You get inspiration, ideas for future projects and classroom activities. What else do I get though? A feeling of not being good enough. I compare myself to the beautiful classrooms shown on these sites.

My classroom just isn’t pretty enough, or natural enough, or organised enough, or interesting enough. Do you ever feel like this? I do and quite often.

Social media has given teachers across the country the ability to share their beautiful classrooms. This is a great thing for many reasons, like I said above, getting inspiration is hands-down the best one. Who doesn’t love looking at pretty pictures.

I was having a chat to a colleague the other day and she raised the issue of her room not being up to the “Pinterest” perfect idea. This made me reflect and I admitted that I had constantly felt the same way. So, here we were, two experienced teachers both feeling inadequate because our classrooms were not picture perfect. WHAT?! Yes, I think I will say that in every blog….

In my initial years of teaching, my classroom was functional and somewhat attractive. The photo’s you see are from 2004. I had absolutely no pressure to make it look like a masterful piece of art. I don’t think there were any unsaid expectations either. Classrooms were just that, functional.

The focus was on WHAT we were teaching and HOW we were teaching it. We knew about using environmental print just because that’s what you did to engage students in language.

Fast forward a few years (well, maybe ten….). These are the general “expectations” that I have noticed:

  • Theme – you need to stick to an interior decorating theme (such as, rainbow, Harry Potter, natural, and so on). This includes furniture, decorations, posters, resources – EVERYTHING.
  • Every single area of the room needs to be attended to. There are no ugly storage areas.
  • Small learning areas need to be allocated and separated – oh, and changed regularly.
  • Keep up-to-date with current decorating themes (so, right now it’s monstera leaves, gardening themes, natural themes and Australian leaf themed).

Now, I’ll explain each point in more detail.

As stated above, t is generally suggested (through a variety of websites and also depicted on Pinterest and Instagram) that one theme is chosen and adhered to. Fine attention to details are made. These themes extend to the environmental print used in the classroom such as, alphabet charts, numbers, calendars and other labels (including student desk labels). Sometimes, even furniture, cushions and curtains are purchased to keep in accordance with the current theme. I have seen so many teachers go out and purchase items to match their themes. I have even done this myself however, I have made purchases quite minimal compared to what is spent in other classrooms.

Every single, little area of the classroom needs to be attended to and used for something. That “something” can be functional if it looks beautiful but it is usually a learning area for students. Most learning areas I have seen though, allow enough space for one or two students, so it depends how you are running your class to how these are set up. Small learning areas created can include; writing, reading nooks, tinkering tables, art, math and “Zen” zones.

Some of the classrooms shown in Pinterest and Instagram are following learning approaches such as; Kathy Walker, Reggio Emilia and Montessori. What they all have in common is the incredible attention to detail. There are no random posters, areas and items laying around the classroom.

Kathy Walker, mostly referred to as ‘Walker Learning’ have their own learning website. They encourage a learning approach that is a “play and project-based holistic” pedagogy. At a glance, these classrooms appear to look visually quite similar to the Reggio Emilio classrooms. Often, they use natural materials, lighting and encourage learning that is quite hands-on and in tune with the students’ interests. The Walker Learning approaches do encourage time for explicit instruction also.

The Reggio Emilio classrooms also look amazing. They often use neutral colours, work is displayed with pride (like in an art gallery), they encourage the use of light, natural furnishings, loose parts for students to engage with and recycled materials.

Montessori classrooms appear to look a bit more colourful, at times, but also use natural colours and furnishings. They have open-ended learning centres, with concrete materials and encourage multi-age classrooms.

I know I have not done justice to these wonderful learning approaches however, my point is not to fully explain them here but to glance at classroom environments.

I absolutely think it is perfectly fine to put time into setting your classroom up to make it engaging and a great learning experience in itself however, what is not ok is comparing, competing and setting a standard that all teachers feel they must reach. Pictures on social media are often showing the best out there. I don’t feel that it is ok for teachers to spend so much time making their classroom look perfect that they forget what actually matters; the kids and the teaching!

The psychological “tone” of a classroom is far more important than how pretty it looks. Look deeper than the visual. Just as they say: You can’t judge a book by its cover!

My advice:

  • Stop comparing yourself to others (whether that’s the teachers on Pinterest or in your school). If you are a full-time working mother/father, you are simply not going to have the time to devote to your classroom set up that first-year graduates do.
  • Let go of the need to be perfect.
  • Stop spending your own money and if you do, have a budget. You do not go to work to spend money on work!
  • Ask the school to purchase decorating, or learning centre resources, for teachers to access.
  • If you must spend your own money, how about going to Op shops? You can find some interesting treasures in these places.
  • Go for function and purpose first. Where things are, what you have and what you need far outweigh beauty.
  • Get students to make posters and decorations for the classroom.
  • Have balance – if it’s too difficult to maintain ten awesome learning centres/areas, have one to two really great areas.
  • Appreciate that there will be times in your life when you can dedicate time and energy to creating a beautiful classroom environment and there will be times when you just cannot do this. Don’t feel bad, it’s just life and it sometimes goes like a rollercoaster.

Important note:

I generally live quite a minimalist life (at home anyway). I like clean and blank areas. Sometimes, I think we bombard students with too much visual clutter. There have been studies to show that students can learn less in visually cluttered environments. Put up what counts and take the rest down!

Will I stop looking at beautiful pictures shown on Pinterest? Absolutely not! I love it. I get such great ideas and inspiration. What I remind myself though, is that I don’t have time in my life to make my classroom look like the ones I look at and it doesn’t make me a bad teacher!

Wishing you happiness in your messy, uncluttered classroom!

Jen

p.s. Check out my Instagram page for current classroom photo’s! Things have changed slightly!

COVID-19 Story #2

It seems like just yesterday that I wrote the article about “It’s only two weeks” isolation if you actually have the COVID-19. Being in Western Australia, I think we’ve had the privilege of being isolated, until now. Now the stories that we have heard about and seemed so distant are starting to wash up on our shores. Our mindset was quite positive. If you get it, it’s as simple as self-isolating for two weeks……It’s more prevalent in other countries….. We are not over 70 years of age….. Now we see that it’s maybe not that simple and maybe two weeks could linger (as we have seen in Italy).

I was quite reluctant to write the previous article because I didn’t want my blog to be all about the COVID-19 and that’s all we were hearing about. Now it’s worse. We are hearing about it AND it has spread. So, here I am again. I hope this is the last time I comment on it? It is a current situation that is really affecting our jobs and lives, so I guess it seems worthy of comment.

Our schools are still open here. The Prime Minister made the statement, last Sunday, that parents could choose whether or not to send their children to school. No penalties would apply. I am currently on long service leave (yep, the worst time to have it!) but am still in contact with my teaching colleagues. They are informing me of attendance numbers and we have approximately half the regular attendance right now. It must be so challenging for parents who really want to keep their child home but are unable due to work reasons.

In schools, we pace some challenges to the recommended hygiene and social distancing recommendations. If you are a teacher, you appreciate how difficult it is to ensure that students are always hygienic and stay some distance away from others. We remind students to wash their hands nearly every time they go to the bathroom. They still forget! They still pick their noses! Of course, certain measures of precaution have been made. There are no gatherings of large groups, meaning assemblies have been cancelled. Professional Learning courses have been cancelled. Students now sit in varied spots around the school so that they are not all together. Time will tell us if these measures are adequate.

I am keeping my son (in Year 8) at home and currently home-schooling him. This is indeed a challenging task but more on that in another article. My daughter’s uni has gone online but they already had these facilities in place. As I am on leave, I am completely able to home school them. I do return to work in the final week of school this term though, so that may present a challenge at that time.

Because we are not in complete isolation, schools are still running, restaurants have take-away options available and so on, we are not setting up for a complete home-school option for parents. This grey area is rather wishy-washy and therefore we have a foot in each door. I have put some resources onto a shared website for parents. They have access to reading apps and online computer-based learning programs. This is all I can do right now.

We took out son down to the beach this morning (because being out in public spaces is ok as long as you follow the social-space recommendations). As we arrived we could see a whole class of students (about 30) with two teachers. They were all engaging in some sporting activities and group hugging. Unbelievable! Did this school not get the memo? Have they been in a remote community without tv, radio or any news?? As we were walking on the beach, people magically moved away from each other to give space. Beautiful. Then there were the odd small groups of people who decided to completely ignore the recommendations and were all walking together, touching and obviously socialising. So, here in Perth (W.A.), there are mixed interpretations of social distancing!

I just hope that we are all doing enough, as a combined group, to stop the spread of COVID-19 here in W.A. and not have to go through the awful situations that other countries have had to face. As soon as I heard about this situation, I thought that they (the Government) should just stop flights, stop interstate travel and have a “shut-down” for two-three weeks. That would have prevented a lot of this. We had about 17 people with the virus, early on, because they had contracted the virus from overseas (or been in contact with people who had this contact). So, I feel like the approach of waiting to see if it would spread and then getting serious didn’t really work!

Wishing you health and happiness! See below some online learning options.

Jen

Apps & sites for home learning:

* There are just a plethora of generous offerings right now. My advice would be just to pick a few that you really like and get your child to focus on these. You can’t do everything and you don’t want to make it too complicated for your child.

It’s two weeks – not a year!

I didn’t want to join the bandwagon of what seems like the entire population posting articles and comments about the latest Coronavirus situation, but here I am! No, I’m not trying to sell anything or profit from it. Not even really whinge that much (yet anyway, because I don’t have it and neither does anyone I know….…yet).

The whole “toilet paper” situation has been a new and novel experience. Who would have thought that toilet paper would have been the first to be “hit” by the virus? A week after the news came out regarding the Coronavirus, our local shopping centres were out of toilet paper. It might be restocked now, but they had none for a while. Owning a bidet seemed a good idea at the time. Luckily, we had a packet of 24 rolls in the cupboard. Then there were also no tins of food or packets of rice, oats and dried fruit……… That’s when it really started to hit me that maybe this was a bit more serious than I thought. To be honest, I didn’t really think it would reach the shores of Australia or my own suburb (naive maybe?).

On another trip to the shops I noticed that ladies’ sanitary items were also running extremely low. What the heck? My last trip to the shops was what really got me annoyed though. I usually take pain killers for one thing or another (that I’m not going to go into) but I couldn’t buy one single packet at the two supermarket shops in one centre, nor another big centre. I went to the pharmacy and they were sold out too. I explained to the assistant that I took them regularly for minor health situations and she offered me one of the last packets of Panadol (slightly stronger than what I usually take, but I was happy to have it). It also cost me nearly $8 (more than my cheap brand for around $2!). She said it was labelled for “Osteoarthritis” but that didn’t mean anything, it was just for marketing.

I didn’t buy all of her remaining packets either. I bought ONE packet, leaving other packets for other people. This is called sharing and is what we teach our children to do, yet as adults, we seem to be forgetting this. On our way home from a family get-together today, my husband stopped by a pharmacy to get his Ventolin inhaler (he has one left). They were sold out! What? So, there are undoubtedly people with an excess and they don’t require them. Then there are people, like my husband, who may not have an inhaler and need one.

These experiences really made me feel for people who have genuine and serious illnesses. People who need pain killers, Ventolin inhalers and other medicines, just to survive and cannot purchase such items. Surely this situation is only occurring because people are buying what they DON’T NEED! I get that we may need to stock some essential extras in the cupboard in the case of being housebound for a couple of weeks. This is quite different to stocking for some kind of Armageddon. The current suggestion for those returning from countries “at risk”, or those who have the condition, to isolate themselves for TWO WEEKS – not a year!

This situation has also made me reflect on how we live in general too. We are so reliant on other people for everything. Other people to grow our veggies, fruit, make our clothes, make our furniture and everything else that sits inside our homes. I’ve always liked the idea of being a bit self-sufficient. Having said that though, I also enjoy the comfortable lifestyle of having these things provided by these others and having “free time.” I enjoy going to a coffee shop and going out to lunches instead of sewing my clothes, tending to a garden that I rely on for food and so on. Maybe it’s time to change some of these practices though and in the very least, start to grow some fruits and veggies in my own home. Those “free” Woollies seeds may come in handy very soon!

Wishing you happiness and good health. Use common sense by avoiding crowds and staying home if unwell. Remember that “sharing is caring.” Share the toilet paper and Panadol – please! Good luck everyone!

Jen