Goals, medals and missions

I am in my 2nd year of teaching full-time (1 year of casual before that) but I’m not like other beginner teachers.  I have several years of teaching at TAFE behind me and many years (OK over 20, but let’s not be specific please) of managing law firms, including running my own practice.  So I like to think of myself as unique.

I also like to think of my students as unique, and when I take this approach it means that when I assist them, I have to do it individually.   One thing I’ve found with my students is they love my podcasts.  They ask for them all the time now.  When we have a lesson and they aren’t clear on something they ask for me to make a podcast so they can go back and listen again and work it out for themselves.  That’s right, they want to work it out for themselves.  They don’t want the answer.  They want to find the answer.

The other thing they want is feedback, and lots of it.  I’ll admit, I have some who just aren’t interested (let’s face it, to get feedback you have to produce work), but the ones that do the work, work hard and relentlessly.

The question is, what feedback works the best?  Feedback at the end of an assessment task is no good to them; the task is finished and buried.  Although one thing I have been doing is getting them to redo the assessment task once they have the feedback and to see if they can push it further.  It makes the feedback mean something.

But how do I help them before that without totally burning out myself by marking 30+ essays a night?  It’s time to admit I’m an online ‘stalker’ of Bianca Hewes.  You’ll find her blog here Bianca Hewes Blog.  She’s a few years ahead of me in teaching and research and quite inspirational with her approaches.  She suggests Goals, Medals and Missions, based on Petty’s work.  I won’t go into detail on it today, you can read about it in Bianca’s blog if you want more info, but I will say that I’m introducing it into my classes in 2017.  My new year 12s are doing their first Discovery essay this week.  I’m going to work out where they are at and award medals and missions to each of them.  I’m going to turn it into a game and I’m going to push them to earn as many medals as they can between now and their HSC.  These kids are great.  They are competitive and they are willing to try anything.  I think they will love this.


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Gaming in the English Classroom

For the rest of this term, my year 10s and I are having the joy of exploring narrative structures in gaming.  Both my students and I see this as an exciting opportunity to delve deeply into narrative driven games and the importance of writing as well as that fine blend of writing, interface and interactivity within games.

We have certainly met some hiccups along the way, the big one being what they want to play and what they are allowed to play being two different things.  Some want to examine adventure, some want to examine strategy, others simulation games.

I do want them to know the difference between emergent and embedded narrative structures.  However, our focus is on narrative driven games and how the writer is no different from the playwright or author – they need the hook, they need character motivation and reader (in this case player) motivation.  When we teach students how to write short stories we tell them ‘hook your reader’, ‘make your reader want to read on’.  The game writer needs to do this too.  The player needs to want to keep playing.

I want them to explore the nuances of games.  I want them to go beyond just the story line to the interactivity.  I don’t want them focusing on cutscenes only.  I want them to take note of how the controller feels when you are Ellie rather than Joel in ‘The Last of Us’.    I want them to understand choice, motivation, point of view, perspectives.

In English we learn through stories.  We learn about life through stories.  I want my students to draw the conclusion that the stories in games are another way to learn about life and that maybe, just maybe, one or two of them will realise that a strong story driven game can be a good related text when we do concept studies.

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Things I’m learning as a parent because I’m a teacher

Some days I feel I learn more about being a parent now that I am teacher, than I do about teaching. Every day, I walk out of school and say to myself “I will not do [insert that day’s revelation] with my own kids”.

So far, some of the things I have learned are:

1. Make the kids eat breakfast before they go to school – they won’t learn anything without food in their belly.
2. Coca-cola and a bag of mixed lollies is not a good breakfast – they won’t learn anything and they will be totally disruptive in their class ensuring no-one else learns anything.
3. Don’t make them decide what they want to be when they grow up, until they actually grow up. They are allowed to change their mind from day to day, week to week and year to year. It is not imperative that they know what direction they are headed in when they are 12.
4. Don’t take responsibility for their mistakes and don’t tell them that mistakes are not allowed. It is OK for them to make mistakes. Mistakes are good, mistakes are how we learn, mistakes allow us to build resilience. Instead of encouraging them to cry and rip pages out of their book to hide the mistakes, teach them to accept the mistake and be proud of themselves for noticing that they had made a mistake. Repeat after me MISTAKES ARE GOOD!
5. No, it really isn’t funny or OK to draw penises in the book of another student, no matter the brilliant level of artistic talent they are displaying.
6. Drink bottles should contain water, not another top up of Coca Cola or Fanta to give them energy through the day. A healthy sandwich and a piece of fruit will do the job nicely thanks.

That is today’s life lessons for this parent who happens to be a teacher. Stay tuned for more life lessons.


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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:


$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).


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.



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. 



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.


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. 


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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