That overwhelmed feeling – a few thought scraps of thoughts on that

You know that feeling where you have a dozen things to do and not enough time to do them? That is the life of a teacher.

At the moment I constantly have thoughts ruminating at the back of my head about what I can do to support and accelerate different students’ learning. It is like a storm back there.

Never underestimate the power of bouncing ideas off others. Talking with others is what I’m missing. That ability to nut something out. I need some time to mull things over, but taking that time feels like cheating. Shouldn’t I just know the answers?

Anyway, today I am going to comfort myself through it with some comforting quotes about literacy that I snapped at a Kay Hancock seminar last week on the new Ready to Read series.

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Note to self with this one – read up on Lawrence Sipe’s work. 

 

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This one has some excellent and simple ideas for engaging readers with texts. 

 

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That overwhelmed feeling – a few thought scraps of thoughts on that

First #bedsidebook off the rank

So, for my first read of my Mother’s #bedsidebooks, I chose what I thought would be the easiest one to get through. Short answer, it wasn’t easy. The first third was a real struggle. But, there were gems in amongst the struggle and I could see how it was wonderful really, just not quite me. The next two thirds I found less taxing, and I ended the book having overall enjoyed it.

I read The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal.

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It is a work of historical research into the author’s own family history through a collection of Japanese 19th century (or older) netsuke. I remember it being a very popular book club read when it came out and had had it on my Amazon Wishlist for some time.

We had three or four ivory netsuke in our family growing up (still have I guess) and what charmed me about them was always the size. They seemed so perfect for playing with as a child. I therefore found the part of the story where they did similar to this particularly enjoyable.

The book had a vast amount of references to pieces of art and people who actually exist. I read it as a physical book, but actually think that it requires you to have Google to hand so that you can search up the paintings or pieces being referred to so that you can have a picture in your head. Perhaps there is a more illustrated edition already in print. I’m sure many more learned people than I would know what the art was without this, but I didn’t. Edmund de Waal assumes a certain amount of prior knowledge from the reader, and it is this that I think may intimidate readers out of reading the book.

One thing I also lacked from reading it in physical form was the handy ability to press on a word to get the dictionary definition. I like to think myself fairly knowledgeable of the English language, but this book sure had some doozies of random words I’d never heard of! Maybe I’m alone here in my ignorance. Some examples I found notably incomprehensible till googled were:

vitrine

bibelots

putti

feuilleton

glaucous

sclerotic

elegiac

plebiscite

peroration

Strangely enough, I don’t think any of these words will be making it into my everyday vocabulary anytime soon.

I was pleased (and ashamed I hadn’t really known already as well) that I learnt the true meaning of the Anschluss in Europe in 1938. A word I’d heard and vaguely, but not fully, comprehended. The delicate and clever interweaving of the history of such a tumultuous time period in Europe was quite gripping. The story of the netsukes’ life is heartwarming and heartbreaking in turns.

I feel good that I read this book. Sometimes we have to “read harder” than we do usually, and what I learnt about in this book and the intriguing story was worth it in the end.

One #bedside book down, 15 to go! Thanks, Mum.

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First #bedsidebook off the rank

Love is all you need? #oneword2017

I wasn’t going to have a #oneword this year. Last year’s word was “afresh”, and while I did reflect on that during the year (and in actual fact, it was a year of many fresh starts!), it didn’t impassion me as much as I had hoped.

Having said that, my word for this year came to me without even thinking it over. It just popped up when I briefly turned my mind to the question. And then it wouldn’t leave.

Love.

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Simple right? And yet also exceedingly complex. Even my three-year-old daughter is learning the complexities of love. She will tell us she “lubbs” us, yet she can also say “I love this song” fittingly when her jam comes on the radio. Two quite differing loves, but both important.

My Mother left us with the wisdom that “what survives of us is love”. This comes from a poem by Phillip Larkin called An Arundel Tomb. She also quoted the Beatles – all you need is love. Mum knew that she would remain alive in our hearts through our love for her and her love for us. So, love was on my mind, and that’s probably why it popped up for me.

So, what am I thinking here? Am I planning on falling in love during the school year? Do I feel like I need to love all my students? Ummm, no.

I’m going here on the meaning of love more as “caring for”, doing things “with love”. Care is a very important concept in education. Students all need their teachers to care for them and care about them. Care also has an element of empathy, and I think my students need that especially.

That term “with love” is what I’m going for. I was interested to google and discover it stems from the bible . Mother Teresa even said something cool about it.

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This year I will try to have passion, love, for what I do. I will try to care for my students and show empathy for the difficulties that they may face. I will try to show love towards myself when things don’t go as expected or when I fail, mindful that that is all a part of learning and living.

We’ll see how it goes!

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Love is all you need? #oneword2017

Books from my Mother’s Bedside (#bedsidebooks)

My Mother’s death just before Christmas was a shock and has left a gaping hole in my life. Grief is a funny beast, and I am just now starting to feel the reality of this situation nagging at the sides of that hole as I settle back down into “real life” again.

The hole will never be filled, but I have developed a small tribute to Mum that I will try to patch part of it with in 2017.

My Mother was a voracious reader, as I am myself. She was a fast reader, devouring books in very short time frames. We shared a love for Jane Austen and Jamie Fraser in particular. I remember a very happy trip together to Jane Austen sites; Bath, Chawton, Winchester…I also remember my Mother saying there wasn’t much that couldn’t be cured by “a week in bed with Jamie Fraser”!

When I was with my Mother in her last weeks, I planned having her read poems and tell stories and record them for us to listen back to. Unfortunately, time got away on us, and all went too fast at the end. She did say that she should talk about her “bedside books”. My parents house has many books in it, but these ones by her bedside seemed to be special in some way, or possibly have been useful for her, or meant something to her in recent times.

So, what I have decided is to try and read all of those books this year. I had intended to try and do the Read Harder Challenge 2017, but I think this is more fitting for me in the circumstances. This will not be an easy challenge for me, as many of Mum’s books are non-fiction, something I am not enamoured of usually. I’d also like to try and read them in physical form, hopefully without them costing the earth (please have some local library!).

I will write about each of them as I finish reading them. If I get it done in the year, awesome, if it takes me longer, that’s all good too. Getting myself away from reading YA fantasies will be a hard task…particularly as that is my comfort reading, and I think this year will require some comfort from time to time.

So, what do you reckon? Do you have your own reading challenge this year? Have you read any of my bunch?

The 16 books I will be reading are:

Thanks Mum for the challenge…x

Books from my Mother’s Bedside (#bedsidebooks)

Collaboration, Connection & Reflection – 2016 Global Read Aloud in hindsight

It has been a funny old 6 weeks of Term 4. A lot seems to have happened, and at the same time, nothing much at all seems to have been achieved.

This year I tried the Global Read Aloud in my new position as Resource Teacher of Literacy in the Horowhenua. A strange choice perhaps, as I no longer have a class of students at my disposal, and only see my students for small periods of a time each week. But, I love the Global Read Aloud and believe that it can benefit lower level learners just as much as those who are more able in literacy.

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Read Alouds for me have been a way to get students more engaged with literacy, to make it more authentic for them, and to build comprehension and vocabulary in a deliberate and scaffolded way. It is also fun to connect with others around the country or the world, and also just to know that others are reading the same book as us. In this case, I think it was 1,000,000 students involved this year! What a powerful way to know you are not alone.

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My set up was 4 or 5 students in 3 different schools. I decided on the BFG because I thought it had opportunities for aspects of decoding as well as comprehension, due to all the funny BFG-isms in it. Also, I thought it was a simple enough story, good to read aloud and easy enough that it wouldn’t be too difficult to get through and be understood.

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I found a collaborator in America – Mrs Hodges in North Carolina. It sounded like she was in a similar role to myself and it was good to spark further interest with my students by having students to connect with across the world. I would have been happy to do it alone, but it was nice to have someone else on board with us as well.

Along the way, I have had plenty of little bumps in the Read Aloud road, however, and, in actual fact, I have to confess, I have not been able to finish the book, and due to unexpected illness in my family, and not going to be able to! I’m planning on passing the text on to my students so they can read it themselves.

In spite of the hiccups, I felt it was a good experience for my students and one which I would repeat with some changes.

My issues were:

  • As I only see my students at best for three 30 minute sessions every week, it was hard to get through as much as we needed to each week. Interruptions and absences made this very difficult for even a book with relatively short and sharp chapters like The BFG.
  • Developing relationships with students is so important, especially in my job. This is hard when all you have time for is one chapter of a book. It is difficult to get into anything in depth with these time constraints. Students also got a bit restless when this was all we had time to do.
  • Connecting with other areas, or extending the authentic situation into other investigations was quite hard, even into a writing project. More time and flexibility with programmes is really useful with a Read Aloud as it does (and should) become very much a BIG part of your literacy programme.
  • Not all students had equal access to devices and some had not even used devices much, so that made connecting and collaborating together difficult.
  • I did not always have access to things that would make things easy for a Read Aloud. A projector would have been awesome, but I’m slightly unlikely to get that everywhere. A big whiteboard would have been really useful, and when I had this, it was an easier experience.
  • Unexpected events – elections, sicknesses, earthquakes, travel – you name it – we seem to have had it happen! This put even more pressure on what was already a short amount of time to finish our book and collaborate online.

That seems like a lot of issues! Why would I even think of doing this again?! Well, I believe strongly in the power of a good Read Aloud, and even more in the power of the connection between students. So, I am already thinking of how I can adjust things slightly to make them work better for myself and my students at GRA 2017 and the NZReadalouds prior to them.

So, what would I change? Time seems to make up the bulk of my issues. I just don’t get the luxury of every day with students. Next time I’m hoping to do the Read Aloud in the picture book category, or definitely shorter texts anyway. That would allow for more time to go in depth, as we could get through the book easily. It would also mean we could focus on aspects of the text better, yet not linger too long on it in our sessions.

In terms of devices, I may be able to get Edmodo up and running on my ipads (when I get the codes sorted out!), which would mean we could collaborate and connect with those hopefully. I know that the Year 1 & 2 section in the NZReadaloud put work on a blog, which would be fairly easy to achieve in my sessions.

Unexpected events can’t be planned for of course, and I appreciate how flexible my students were and how understanding Mrs Hodges in America was. This wasn’t an awesomely “successful” Read Aloud, but that is life, and that is teaching. We learn from the failures just as much as the successes.

I will simply…

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Collaboration, Connection & Reflection – 2016 Global Read Aloud in hindsight

The long and winding road…My Mind Lab Journey

Activity 8, Week 32, NZ Mind Lab, PRACTICE

Ok, so the road wasn’t actually that long and not very winding either, but I love a good blog title and can’t go past a reference to a fabulous band and wonderful song…In actual fact, my Mind Lab journey has been one of the most straightforward things about 2016 for me, and there was never a moment when I questioned myself having started on it. I remain certain that it is an incredibly worthwhile course, and could potentially become standard fare in the training of a connected educator. I even asked the founder, Frances Valentine, a question related to this very idea in a recent(ish) live chat:

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I like her response.

I started this learning journey because I wanted to improve myself as an educator. I wanted to be more and I wanted to see what was possible. At the time I was teaching somewhere where I felt like the “lone nut”; trying things in my class, but not having much of an effect on anything but my own sanity as I was often being shot down for various reasons.

The Mind Lab was a way to become truly reflective in my practice – to grow my own self-awareness of what I was doing in my classroom and why I was doing it. As stated by Osterman & Kottkamp, this self-awareness would (and did) lead to professional growth and development (1993). I have always been a bit of a “gut feeling” teacher. Sometimes I didn’t know why something was right (or wrong) but instinctively knew it was. I was never that confident with talking about what I was doing, as I didn’t feel I had the credentials behind me to back it up. That  “I’m just a teacher” feeling haunted me.

Now, I feel I know things. I can back up statements because I have lived them, and damn it, I have read about them too. I still think feelings are valid and should, for the most part, be trusted, but having an arsenal of readings and theories feels good as well. Osterman & Kottkamp also reference the Experiential Learning Theorists, talking about being personally engaged in the learning experience leading to more effective learning (1993). Having those “problematic experience[s]” (Osterman & Kottkamp, 1993) has helped me to continually improve my practice.

I could also have called this post, “The Actor & the Critic”. I like the idea that the teacher must be inside the drama, yet also outside, analysing it (Osterman & Kottkamp, 1993). If I was to analyse my 2016 journey, including Mindlab, it might look something like this Explee Video:

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I decided to show it with this programme in honour of my first Mind Lab assignment, which I did using a similar programme, Videoscribe. Explee is a programme a found out about from a student…(I’m learning all the time!)

I have most of all enjoyed the collaborative aspect of The Mind Lab programme. Osterman & Kottkamp say that reflective practice is most effective when it is a collaborative effort (1993). I think this is true. I may still be somewhat of a “lone nut”, but I know where to go to find other nuts and have seen the success that occurs when teachers and students collaborate, rather than being left to their own devices.

In terms of aspects relating to e-learning Practicing Teacher Criteria, I believe being able to find those other “lone nuts” via twitter and other social media platforms as helped me to fulfill Criteria 1 (Establish and maintain effective professional relationships focused on the learning and well-being of all ākonga). I am actively seeking and maintaining connections with other educators and professionals that can support the learning of my students, and also myself, for my students’ benefit. I do this mainly via twitter, but also google+ and connections I have established through The NZ Read Aloud and The Global Read Aloud.

Criterion 9 (Respond effectively to the diverse and cultural experiences and the varied strengths, interests, and needs of individuals and groups of ākonga) is something I am problem-solving every day. I strongly support the use of digital technologies in purposeful, authentic, engaging ways for students, and try to incorporate aspects of e-learning into my teaching when I can. This requires some thought as many students suffer from the effects of “the digital divide” and what works for some students, doesn’t necessarily work for others. An example I am currently investigating and trialing is Seesaw. I chose this as it was simpler than regular blogging programmes and promoted partnerships with students’ whānau. It is still a work in progress and I am reflecting on it all the time.

 

In terms of next steps for future professional development, I will actually be starting a Post Graduate Diploma in Education, specialising in Literacy, next year through Auckland University. This is a requirement for my new job, but I am really looking forward to it. I discovered that several of the faculty wrote some of the pieces I read for my literature review, so I was able to be a little starstruck and excited that they might be teaching me!

Bring it on!

Oh, and in honour of Seth Priebatsch’s game dynamics, I am going to reward you for getting to the end of my blog post with a couple of Beatles’ songs (I tried to pick one, but couldn’t) that might slightly hint at a future in education (but are actually pretty much just cool)…

References:

Osterman, K. & Kottkamp, R.(1993). Reflective Practice for Educators.California.Cornwin Press, Inc. Retrieved on 7th May, 2015 fromhttp://www.itslifejimbutnotasweknowit.org.uk/files.

Ministry of Education (nd). Practising teacher Criteria and e-learning . Retrieved from http://elearning.tki.org.nz/Professional-learning/

The long and winding road…My Mind Lab Journey

RT:Lit conference!

In the last week of term, I attended my first Resource Teacher of Literacy conference. It was an interesting experience in many ways. I love conferences. I think we all do. The goodie bags, the interactions with colleagues, the new learning, the interesting discussions. All of this was present, but what this conference did miss for me was the online interaction that I’ve experienced in conferences before.

I was the creator of the hashtag #rtlitconf and remained the only user of the hashtag throughout the conference. Oh well, I guess there’s always next conference! I feel good having used twitter as my “note-taking” for the conference and have storify-ed it.

By far the most fascinating and, in my opinion, most useful session was Christian Wright’s talk about the brain. He is a private speech therapist in Wellington and his clear and simple explanation of how the brain works really helped me to understand our students better. Several students popped into my head immediately while he was speaking.
Here are some photos I took of the great presentation he did:
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I found it interesting and moving that learning is an emotional event for many struggling students. How can we make it a positive emotion?
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Three key areas of the brain that he talked about.
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I liked the names Upstairs and Downstairs brain – it made it so easy to understand. You could easily explain this to a student.
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That explains why many people in their early twenties still don’t feel like they’ve got it together! I got from this that the Upstairs and Downstairs need to work together successfully for learning to occur.
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Downstairs brain is all about our emotions and memory of those emotions.
Three states can occur when the Downstairs brain swings into action. It is doing this to protect the student! They are:
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What can we do to get students out of this state? How can we help them to get back into their Upstairs brain? How can we support them to create positive pathways around learning?
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Christian had these simple steps to follow. I really like the simplicity and the focus on respecting the student and building relationships.
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If you ever get a chance to hear Christian speak, do so! And if you have any students in Wellington who need a speech language therapist, check out his website, I’m sure he’s brilliant!
RT:Lit conference!