Musings of a 1st year teacher

Can you believe that my first year of teaching has drawn to a close?

Things I have learned this year (in no particular order, and not a complete list)

1. Don’t yell. It really doesn’t achieve anything. It just escalates things and the classroom quickly becomes a zoo.
2. Praise, praise, praise. Find anything you can to praise. Ignore the bad stuff, praise the good stuff and they eventually only do the good stuff.
3. Be there for my own kids. The problem kids in my classes seem to come from homes where either both parents work and just aren’t around, or split families. Kids need to be loved and need to know they are loved. I have to love my own kids and be there for them.
4. Get used to no sleep and the emotional drain that is teaching. I can’t see that this will ever improve.
5. Be explicit. The more explicit I am the better the students work.
6. Work on the must know, should know, could know – this will make differentiation a lot easier so I’m not sitting there til midnight each night trying to work out how to do this.

Finally, I’ve learned I’m better on a block then on day to day casual, but I’m not going to get permanent work until I can prove on a piece of paper that I can do everything – despite the fact that I am a good teacher. 12 months ago I would not have said I’m a good teacher, but now – yes, I am a good teacher. Now I need to work on becoming a great teacher.

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Microsoft Surface v Ipad Air

My children attend a primary school that is BYOD.  Any device.  We have not been given specs or advised what it is needed for so parents are on their own.  We have learned from our children that they do everything in Google Drive and we know that the high school they will go to mandates iPad.  But they are a few years off high school so decisions had to be made for this year.

We did a lot of research.  We had the advantage of having eldest take an old notebook we had lying around the house last year and learned from his one year with BYOD that those students on tablet devices struggled with production, although dictionary work was not a problem.  He struggled on his notebook for no other reason than his notebook was 5 years old and the battery kept going flat (it used Windows XP).

Thus the research began.  There are so many blogs out there that compare laptops, android tablets, iPad and Microsoft surface.  They look at things such as battery life, screen size, camera, display, weight, and amount of apps available. What they don’t look at is production and the big consideration for parents with more than one child – the cost.

After all our research we decided on the Microsoft Surface.  These are the reasons why, and why I think it is the best device to be used in schools:

Cost

$220 for a 32GB Windows RT device v $700 for a 32gb IPad Air.  I have 3 children all needing devices.  The answer is quite obvious on this one.  Generic laptops start at $399 (but then you need to buy the software).

Productivity

The Microsoft Surface comes preloaded with Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel, OneNote and Outlook.  You can now buy these apps for the iPad Air and laptops, but this adds to an already costly device.  Yes, there are free apps out there that mimic the productivity of Microsoft, but why go with the mimic when you can have the real thing that now seamlessly integrates?  You can even convert your Surface back to the old familiar desktop look, for those who don’t like change.

Of course, my kids’ school uses Google Drive for all their word processing and slide shows and this is problematic with the Surface.  You cannot download Google Chrome or Drive onto a Surface.  However, their devices are permanently connected to the WiFi at school so they can still access these easily through IE and I have pinned them to their Start Screen so that it is easy for them to access.

I’ve also shown them that Google Drive docs, forms, spreadsheets, etc just don’t have the functionality of Microsoft, so when they are producing assignments they should use Microsoft and then just upload their docs into their Google Drive.  Easy.

 

Apps

OK – iPad is a bit of a winner here.  There are so many more apps in the apps store than in the Windows store.  Yet there are some 60,000 apps in the Windows store so is it really a problem?  Because our school is BYO Any Device, apps are a moot point because they don’t use them at school.  However, so far every app in the app store that I like, I have been able to find a similar one in the Windows store.  Evernote?  Well the Surface comes preloaded with OneNote.  icloud? Surface has Sky Drive (which gives you much more space than the always tight Apple).  Explain Everything? You can use the PC version on the Surface (which has better functionality in my opinion than the app).  Edmodo?  Again, you would have to use the PC version. 

 

Games

I will be honest, I am one of those mothers who have said they cannot upload games onto their school devices.  However, I have let them upload maths and spelling games, which were free and they really enjoy.  If I was a bit more relaxed, I would allow them to connect their Surface to the Xbox so that the can play all their Xbox games on their Surface, but really, I’m just not that relaxed about their education.

Movie maker

I will admit I’ve seen kids make some awesome films on their ipads.  But I’ve also seen my kids make great films on their Surface.   IPad is slightly in front with iMovie v Windows Movie Maker, but hey, how often do they make films in class?  I’m an English teacher, my high school students do it once a year, maybe twice, no more.

USB

This is a big winning point for me. That little thing on the side called a USB port.  Apple really should investigate them, they do come in handy. 

Kickboard

I know that in the scheme of things, a kickboard is really not that important.  But no, wait.  IT IS.  The magnetised clip on keyboard, complete with the kickboard that pops out of the back of the Surface, turning it into a functional laptop, is brilliant.  Something so simple, is a major selling point.

Family control

You have to have a Microsoft account to use the Surface.  I was able to setup up all the Surfaces through my Microsoft account and then create child accounts for each of the boys, setting up security based on their age.  As a parent, this is important to me.  I need to know what they are seeing, and I need to know they are not going to stumble into sites that are unsafe.

 

So we have gone Microsoft Surface in this household.  The main reason being I could get 3 Surfaces for the cost of one iPad Air – and for any struggling family that is a really big selling point.  But I’m really impressed with these devices.  As a teacher myself, I’m looking at the Surface Pro as a device for myself.  As a former business woman, I wish the Surface had been around before I sold my business.  As a business device, they are brilliant.

Now, we just need someone to challenge the legality under Consumer Law, of a school specifying the exact device that must be used, and we may just be able to continue using our Surfaces in high school.  Otherwise I better start saving so I can afford 3 iPads in a few years’ time. 

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A new year, a fresh start

As everyone counts down to return to school this week I ponder on what I have learned in the last 6 months of casual teaching and what can I do better this year.

I don’t have the anxiety/excitement of first day nerves as I don’t have a permanent position yet.  However, I watch lots of young friends who are starting in year 7 this year get ready and see their excitement grow, whilst their mums become more and more anxious with each day that brings them closer to their child entering the new stage of their education.

There are many things I want to do in the classroom which, as a casual, just can’t happen. You only have 50 minutes with the students and may not see them again for many weeks, so getting to know them and really understanding their likes, dislikes, how they learn, what they want to learn, is challenging to say the least.

The challenge, most days, lies in classroom management and just getting them to do some work.  

For now, I will continue to ponder; I will spend time observing other teachers, how they interact, how they plan, how they organise themselves; I will work on my little pro formas and scaffolds that I’m creating for the day I eventually have a class; and I’ll read as much as I can on PBL, literacy circles and gamification in the classroom so that when the time finally comes, I hit the floor running.

Enjoy the new year of learning.

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Return to School for students

It is return to school time once more.  

For parents and students this is a handy time to revisit organisation, study tips and just how to cover books.  I’m a big fan of colour coding myself – colour the timetable the same as the colours of your books and match everything up. 

I’ve listed some past blogs with my 4 tips for returning to school to help you on your way. 

Return to School Tip #1

Return to School Tip #2

Return to School Tip #3

Return to School Tip # 4

Another tip to add on to last year’s tips – parents, please, don’t tell your kids that you hated a subject when you were at school, or the subject was hard, or you hated Shakespeare, or what they are learning is irrelevant.  Students bring that negatitivity into the classroom with them.  Let’s support them by being positive about what they are learning.  Their experiences will be different to your experiences, give them the chance to grow and love their subjects.

Enjoy a year of learning and happy 2014.

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Literature circles AKA Book Club

I have just recently finished my first teaching block wherein each class for Stages 4 and 5 had a lesson each week for wider reading.  After observing these lessons in action for a few weeks, I have started to think on how I would incorporate wider reading into my classes (once I finally get my own classes).  Turning to more experienced teachers, I was pointed in the direction of Harvey Daniel’s Literature Circles: Voice and Choice in Book Clubs & Reading Groups.  Daniel’s suggests 11 ‘key ingredients’ for successful literature circles.  I won’t go into all of them now, but a few have awakened memories of my own schooling:

1.    Students choose their own reading materials

6.    Discussion topics come from the students

7.    Group meetings aim to be open, natural conversations about books, so personal connections, digressions, and open-ended questions are welcome.

10.   A spirit of playfulness and fun pervades the room.

 

These 4 key ingredients put forward by Daniel’s has opened the floodgates of memory for me.  I look back on my year 9 English class.  One of our set texts was To Kill a Mockingbird which we totally pulled apart until there was nothing left in it for us.  But our reading groups.  They were fortnightly, but we could read whatever we wanted, so long as we discussed it and we finished it.  Our books of choice?  Sweet Dreams and Sweet Valley High novels.  Teenage girl romance novels – one step away from Mills and Boons.  But we loved them, and we devoured them.  By the end of year 9 we had read all of them.  We shared them, we discussed them, we questionned the actions of the characters: would we do the same? would we fall in love with a boy like that? could we look like that?  When looking back on the books, now as an adult I would say they are valueless, trashy novels.  But back then?  Loved them, like all other 14 year old girls.  We even started hanging out in the library to borrow more of these novels.  So, do we criticise the teacher for allowing us to read these books or do we praise her for encouraging a group of 14 year old girls to read some 30 novels in a year, give up their lunchtimes to borrow more books and to spend their days discussing texts?

I am in a book club now as an adult and the same key ingredients permeate our group.  Whoever is hosting picks the book and picks the book club questions for the night (it should be noted that we never quite get through all the questions).  The discussion starts with a personal response; simple question of who liked it, who didn’t and why/why not?  We then start discussing it in detail and usually digress onto other related subjects but that have wider implications.  Everyone has started recommending other books, and now, although we only meet every 6 weeks, we have gone from reading 1 book in that 6 weeks to everyone squeezing in quite a few more in that time.  Social media has allowed for the discussion to continue and some books are discussed for weeks on end.

This is what Daniel’s is getting at – it is the playfulness, the fun and the discussion.  Wider reading needs to be more than the students turning up to class to read for 45 minutes and then leave.  They need to be discussing the book, it doesn’t matter what the book is, so long as they are reading and responding, in an environment that is led by them. 

In the world of e-readers the options are wider, and not limited to what is in the school library or faculty bookroom.  BYOD schools that have connections with their local library are able to lend students e-books and several students are able to read the same text at the same time and students are able to rate their books.  Students can discuss via edmodo and other social media, they can even write their own reviews on Goodreads.

So now I am sitting here, planning just how I will incorporate literature circles into my classroom, perhaps even suggest a lunchtime book club if my future school doesn’t have one.  I’m set and ready to go.  Now I just need a class …

 

 

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10 questions every educator should take the time to answer

engliteducate:

Excellent questions put forward by Bianca Hewes

Originally posted on Bianca Hewes:

Please take some time to read the following ten questions and post your answers as a comment below. I’d love to know what answers my children’s teachers would give. In fact, I’d be pretty darn interested in the answers that our new Minister for Education, Christopher Pyne, would give to these questions!

1. What skills and knowledge do you think are essential for students to have acquired before they graduate from high school?
2. Do you think that learning to program/code is as important for young people as learning to read and write?
3. How can schools (including public schools) reshape their physical environment to make it more suitable for students in the 21st century?
4. What really is ‘personalised learning’ and is it truly possible to achieve it in our schools as they are today?
5. If I came into a class you were teaching, what would I see?

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How to write? Read!

The best way to work on your creative writing and essay writing skills is to read; a lot.  The more you read, particularly when you read great authors, the more attuned you become to sentence and paragraph structure.  You learn what works and what doesn’t.  

As you read books you enjoy, ask yourself “why am I enjoying this book?”.  Is it just because of the story, or is it because of the way the story is told?  What makes this author stand out from the rest?

If you are in year 6 to year 10 you should be aiming to read 20 novels or short stories a year outside of what you read for class.  You could sign up for the NSW Premiere’s Reading Challenge next year as a goal.  You could also start a blog where you write book reviews on all the books you read, and share your blog with your friends.

Your first step towards improving your writing is reading.

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