Thursday, November 28, 2013

Rearrange my mind In turquoise (Blondie)

Our junior students have been involved in end of year projects for the week (stretches into next week as well) and I have to say: I am stunned by their involvement and leadership so far.

The school's organisation for the two weeks has been great - in the morning students are doing supervised individual projects (my classroom has been taken over by some junior girls who are learning to dance some scenes from Swan Lake) and in the afternoon they do collaborative projects (the year 9's have about four to choose from and the year 10s are doing a leadership/community project).

I'm helping out with the year 10 students in the afternoon. The onus has been definitely on the students to organise themselves. They generate the leadership activities, organise and execute them while staff act as watchers, facilitators and participators.

Next week they've nailed down three  focus areas for their community service: the children's ward at Hastings Hospital; S.P.C.A.; retirement villages in our area. They've found out what these places need in terms of help and they are planning how they can assist them.

First prize 
This week, though, has been about the students planning/organising fun leadership activities for themselves. So far we've had Aqua-robics, a treasure hunt, Woodford Wipeout, and a Masterchief competition.

Second prize

All have been brilliant but the Masterchief competition will remain with me for a long time.

I was one of the taste judges and I was, yes okay, a bit nervous about how things were going. The home economics room was taken over by 20 noisy, energetic, noisy, enthusiastic, and noisy year 10 girls.
Looks peaceful huh?
As they started their task (they were given three random ingredients, could not access any recipes and had a trolley available with assorted other things) I stepped back and watched semi organised chaos break out.

The organising group was superb - they had individual roles and a great sense of purpose. I was seriously impressed (and a little scared - these girls did things FAR more efficiently than I could have).

The end product and presentation was fantastic. My fears proved groundless as dishes that I'd be thrilled to receive in a restaurant were given to us.

My overriding feeling was - this is how education should really be. We (teachers) control things way too much. Teachers? Control freaks? Surely not I hear you ask. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!!!!!!!!!!

In my teaching next year I'm going to aim for a lot less control regarding the content and a much bigger dollop of student input into their learning.


Sunday, November 24, 2013

Now I see the sunshine (Ricky Nelson)

A few years ago I was a media studies teacher. Hang in there - there is a point to this...

I had a practical video component in the course. The idea being that students would design a script, storyboard their video, shoot it and edit it. This process would take weeks to complete. The biggest time was spent on post production edits and soundtrack dubbing. The editing suite would only handle one group at a time.

Weeks I tell you, weeks!

It was actually a pretty stressful time as a teacher - making sure the video cameras were charged, allowing students some latitude to work outside the classroom, making sure everyone was engaged and focused, booking editing equipment and helping students with the technology that we had.


Ah, the bad old days.

Last week I gave my Year 10 a film assignment. They had posted their favourite adverts onto Schoology and we'd watched them in class. The brief for the film assignment was to create a new ad in an existing campaign.

The students got to it.

I watched as two students (Z and R) decided on the format of their new Snickers ad. It was to be an extension of the Betty White advert that aired during the 2010 Superbowl.


They enlisted my help (they needed an 'old geek' they told me) to play the Betty White/Abe Vigoda role.

They told me what they wanted. R and I rehearsed it for a few minutes. Z was the camera person/director who filmed us (R and I were joined by Imo) on her iphone. She and R then edited the footage on their ipads and added the Snickers logo to the end. It took minutes!

We then watched it in class with the other students who'd completed their own ads, after they had all uploaded their videos to the class' Schoology page.

All this happened in a period! Less than an hour!

This was thrilling to see. As a teacher I had pretty much nothing to do but sit and marvel at their expertise.

It was wonderful. Literally!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Spring leaves learning look to the evergreen (Mostly Autumn)

I love this time of the year - the seniors are doing their exams, the juniors are doing their end of year project things and I'm busy throwing out resources from the English resource room.

I must have the cleanest hands at school - I've been washing my hands after every trip to the resource room: dust and clutter and more dust!

I have just about finished my first year back in the English classroom and I now have something of a mandate to chuck away junk from the filing cabinets and old boring books from the textbook stock.

I've not touched things during the year because, during the first terms being new in a school, I'm never quite sure whether I'm looking at someone's prize possessions or a festering pile of tat.

Teachers tend to be hoarders. The filing cabinet was full of old task sheets, so old they were on banda paper. Teachers of a certain generation will understand why that means they are OLD! That's not all - old School Certificate and University Bursary papers have also gone into the skip - along with some tired and dreary looking textbooks.

Teenagers these days will just not read a tatty old book - no matter how great it is.

The dust on the Shakespeare collection remains undisturbed. Shakespeare has been surgically removed from the NCEA syllabus but it's sure to re-emerge at some point. Greatness will out, eventually.

In the meantime = the great cull of 2013 continues apace!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

One of these mornings I'm going to rise up singing (Grant Green and Diane Reeves)

I'm enjoying the advertising unit my juniors are doing at the moment. They have been posting their favourite ads and I'm thrilled to see some old favourites making an appearance - like coca cola.

Not watching much network TV these days has meant the 2013 coke campaign has passed me by until this point. This new campaign centres on feel good, pay it forward real life escapades that celebrate people. Humanity - weird and crazy and bizarre and it goes better with coke.

Now I love coke - I love the taste, the brand, the range, and yes I love the ads!

Here's a couple of superb coke adverts linked, appropriately, by Supertramp's Give a Little Bit:

And then there are feel good awe inspiring Red Bull ads:

Monday, November 11, 2013

Get your kicks on Route 66 (Bobby Troup)

I'm doing an advertising mini unit within a media project with my junior classes now that the seniors have left for exam leave.

While planning the unit, it struck me how many of my old video tape resources are now redundant with new technology. This is not a bad thing though. The videos, if they're good enough, are all available on YouTube. Wahoo!!

At the press of a button, in class, on a big screen, I can get good quality product.

Like my favourite advertisement of all time (Route 66 Levis ad) and others.

And here's an ad that a student in my Year 9 class alerted me to. I've been laughing about it all day!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

They've given me a number but they've taken 'way my name (Devo)

I'm not a huge fan of student appraisals of teachers.

The concept is that students give quality, objective feedback to teachers about their teaching.

With me so far? Sounds cool huh?

Students are of course entitled to pass judgement on teachers - that's happened since the days of the Roman Empire when Plato and Socrates handed out appraisal tablets to their students.

So what's my problem?

It's just that the feedback tends to be wildly subjective but considered scientific and therefore 'important'. If it's positive it can often be platitudinous (you're the most wonderful teacher in the world) and if it's negative it often comes from a severely narrow experience base or worse, hidden agendas come into play and it becomes largely unusable.

I would rather the appraisal was of the course and dispensed with the cult of personality as much as possible.
I gave out some appraisal forms to a couple of randomly chosen classes this week and the customary things happened - I dwelt on the one negative comment much more than I should have until I noticed the student rated highly the 'I enjoy this class' statement, and I quickly moved over the 'I love your teaching' comments.

The next stage for me personally is to try to highlight any areas that the girls thought I needed to work on. I then want to refine my appraisal form to get some more specific information that I can use to improve my teaching and that's after all what the process should be about. 


Thursday, October 31, 2013

You don't want to flunk like a fool (Loudon Wainwright)

Exam revision time is a challenge in so many ways.

To avoid getting into a Mr Bean examination scenario...

...there are many study tips out there and really the only decent two are (apart from learning by osmosis with the book placed under your pillow at night) - be active, not passive in your approach and create a study timetable to cover all aspects/all subjects and when the exams are on.

That means rewriting stuff and rereading primary sources (texts), not glancing over notes or pretending to engage in revising things or being distracted by social media.

The girls that I am teaching run the full continuum from fully motivated (redoing/ improving essays and answering textual questions, then getting my feedback) to doing zip zilch nothing (sitting on a computer looking at Spotify for songs to download). Thankfully only one or two in that last category, so most of them are in between those two extremes.

Startling revelation 1: some students don't seem to want to improve. They are unmotivated to do well in external exams for whatever reason.

Startling revelation 2: some students who want to improve are difficult to help. When I've suggested on a couple of occasions to individuals that they do something more focused than they are engaged in they have reacted negatively.  

I get it - revision is an individual thing but teachers are experienced in sitting exams and preparing students for exams.

All part of being a teenager I guess.

NCEA provides some challenges too - the girls have different strengths and weaknesses in the different external standards so for focused revision they need to have individual programmes - tough to work through as a teacher but great differentiated learning for the girls.

So - back to motivation. I came across this nifty talk about what motivates people and found myself nodding along. I can also vouch for the message as the blog can attest - bonus schemes (yes - you, Cognition Education), DO NOT WORK!!!!!!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Don't know much about the French I took (Sam Cooke)

NCEA External exams are imminent.

This means three things to teachers and invigilators the world over.

One - revision sessions for the exams

Two - Exam supervisions

and Three - a seemingly endless marking grind (reading the same stuff over and over again makes my brain hurt).

How did it come to this?

Ha ha - oh yeah, I forgot!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

A little bit of heaven never hurt no one (John Mayer)

My friend Toni Westcott wrote a nifty post on her blog recently about relationships. Toni says: Getting to know students both socially and academically is crucial. 

She is so right.

I have been at Woodford House for nearly two terms now and the relationships are improving all the time. You can't beat time spent getting to know the students in different contexts.

Taking a football team (or any extra-curricular activity) is a huge way to improve relationships that translate to improved relationships in the classroom.

That's been the case this term. My football team had a very successful season with (I think) only two losses. Better than that - the relationships between team mates and between them all and me evolved and gelled over the course of the season.

The girls had an informal prize giving recently and gave me a signed football for my efforts. Fantastic! Anyone reading the messages on the football would be puzzled as the in-jokes and funny moments during the season were seized upon, but that little moment meant a lot to me - it was evidence of relationship strengthening and connection.

The longer I am a teacher, the more it is apparent how key it is to have positive relationships.

I had to do some research recently on my Y12 English class. I looked at their PATs from Year 9 and other data. One girl who has done outstanding work this year under trying personal circumstances was not a strong Y9 English student.

When I asked her about it she said words to the effect that she improved a lot when she began loving English because of the relationships she'd gradually established with her teachers.

Toleja! There it is - the key to happiness and success. Relationships!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

It took me so long to find out, and I found out (The Beatles)

What do we want?

Apparently one of the things we want is a project based format for learning.

We want/need adaptable learners/thinkers who can be more independent in their approach to learning so that they are better prepared for a rapidly changing world/ job market.

Is there anyone out there who would argue with that?

We have Student Learning Systems (like Schoology) and we have the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) that lends itself to an inquiry learning approach. I am no longer solely a teacher of content, I am a facilitator.

Again - is there anyone out there who would argue with that?

So - let's adapt. Let's practice what we preach. Let's think!

I can see how we can chunk our English courses into discreet blocks.

We block our classes - we can offer this chunking and we can staff it. We can let the students elect various areas of interest within a structure. We can timetable it and, to a large extent, we allow the students to elect how they use the opportunity.

Maybe it's face to face tutorial time with a teacher, maybe it's working in a learning space using Schoology, maybe it's working in a collegial way with other students.

The Young Enterprise Scheme (YES) is a great example of this kind of project learning.

Students form their own company and learn all the aspects of setting up and running their own business. They create a company, set up roles and appoint individuals, develop a product, manufacture or import the product, market and sell their product, manage their finances, report in an annual report and hopefully make a profit.

Not only do students become visibly more motivated (I've seen it as some of my reluctant English students become energised by a practical project) - often working far beyond the classroom's timetabled hours. They enjoy independent experiences and success along the way that cannot be gained to the same extent in a classroom.

Why have other subjects not built their own YES. Why couldn't English develop a film or writing scheme like this?

What would it look like?

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Hey man, my schoolday's insane (David Bowie)

I'm still thinking about that classroom without walls.
What would it look like?
I think there are two key aspects to that question - what will the timetable look like and what will it physically look like?
Some of NZ's newest schools have been set up with some thought towards the future and go some way towards answering those questions.

Alfriston College in Manukau and The Albany Senior High School (Auckland) run on 100 minute learning periods. This means that most learners have three classes per day.
The Alfriston timetable is suspended at times to allow for extended days of non-timetabled work such as:
  • i-extend is a 50 minute lesson which runs once a week. During this time learners opt in to a class of their interest. i-extend classes cover a wide range of learning topics from Tai Chi to Cartooning. 
  • i-learn is a new idea that Alfriston College introduced to the Year 9 learners in 2011. For three school days normal timetable is suspended, with learners instead focussing on an inquiry based project of their choosing
  •  and 3 Day Episodes happen each term at Alfriston College. The normal school timetable is suspended and learners opt into an 'episode' of their choosing. Episodes on offer cover a wide range of learning topics from culture, to finding out about a career, to learning a new craft.
The learning environment is different. The brochures show large open spaced spaces, much like you’d see in a large space in a primary school where different levels happily coexist under a facilitator. 
And classrooms?
They have created rooms that can be adjusted to suit different purposes. I’d like to see that in action and see how much flexibility rooms have and more importantly – if they are used in different ways.
It's a start but it doesn't really get to the nitty gritty of a classroom without walls to my mind. So what would?
Stay tuned.

Friday, June 28, 2013

These days of dust, which we've known, will blow away with this new sun (Mumford & Sons)

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

But maybe, just maybe, the times they are a-changin'.

Maybe, just maybe, the industrial model of teaching will finally be smashed and broken up thanks to student learning systems like Schoology.

Fifty-five years ago, Marshall McLuhan wrote that thanks to mass media like TV, radio, and movies we taught in a classroom without walls.

Except that TV, radio and movies created a false dawn. Teachers adapted and used these media to change what we taught and how we taught, but it didn't fundamentally alter the regimented/timetabled way we taught.

We are basically still teaching as we have since the printing press was invented.

...we are slowly waking up to the fact that, thanks to being connected by computers and the interweb, we now need to teach in a different kind of school.

Now, thanks to Schoology and the ever expanding world of new devices that our students are using, I glimpse a new dawn, people.

These new ways of connecting/ communicating 'threaten, instead of merely reinforce, the procedures of this traditional classroom' (McLuhan 1957).
Great!! let's get rid, I say.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Hey camisas, your favourite shirt is on the bed (Haircut 100)

I found myself blurting out something in class t'other day that (I'm pretty sure) I've never blurted out before.

Blurt is definitely the best verb! I was in full stride with my Year 10 English class, the class was going great, when I said, "I love teaching you girls!"

They, of course, immediately asked me if they were my favourite class.

Every now and again, I get this from every class I teach, as I'm sure the other teachers do too - the need to be the teacher's favourite.

My response (also a blurt) was that you girls find that kind of thing far more important than teachers do. Which is true...(notice that I didn't commit myself to such a thing as a favourite class - clever huh) but... made me reflect later on the favourite class/ favourite student tag.

My favourite book
I have favourite films, favourite music groups, and favourite books. I had favourite subjects and favourite teachers when I was a student, so why not a favourite class?

Because we're not supposed to that's why. It's a bit like having a favourite child. I have four children - they all have their moments but no one is a favourite.

Why not? Because that is a world of hurt, that's why. The children may feel like one of them is a favourite but no way am I stoopid enough to confirm that.

So - favourite classes? Well, okay, yes - during that moment with my Year 10's they were a solid candidate for favourite class status (see what I did there?) but tomorrow is another day.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Don't confuse me, for I know - it's the name of the game (Badfinger)

Teaching girls is an art that I am slowly slowly adjusting to. I think the girls understand this. They are a perceptive bunch.

While we were on the way to the football game at Havelock North High School on Wednesday - one of the girls, apropos nothing, asked, "You haven't taught all girls before have you".

Clearly I have a lot to learn.

Maybe she caught an expression on my face. I am definitely a walking wysiwyg.

I was caught during a pastoral care staff meeting with a blank look on my face last week as well. While wearing that expression I glanced at two of the women staff sitting next to me and they burst out laughing!

Clearly I have a lot to...oh...I've already said that.

With all that in mind I am turning to google to help me out.

There is a lot of good advice on line - here's something I like from a research paper:

Girls show greater interest in communication from an early age. Baby girls will hold eye contact

much longer than baby boys. Baby girls study faces within weeks of being born and seek to

make eye contact and gaze at faces which increases over 400% over the first 3 months of life.

(while boys don't have the same motivation). At just 4 months old, most baby girls can identify

photographs of people they know from strangers.

Girls tend to receive information from a wider range of sensory input with more sensual detail

memory (smell, taste, touch, sound). Girls tend to hear better than boys. They are sensitive to

'tone of voice' used in conversation (heightened hearing ability) and have more sensitive skin -

for touch and pain than boys. Because there is a primacy on relationships, communication is


I think this is proving to be one of the things I am adapting to. More on this subject:

Girls generally learn by talking-thinking-


Often girls need to discuss an issue in small

groups and then need some time to think

about an issue before applying the knowledge.

Try to structure most activities for girls in the

sequence of talk-think-do.

I like knowing this though - legitimises what is developing in my classroom as the girls start to trust me more. I'm aware this will be a lengthy process. This term is all about settling in and gaining that trust.

It's proving much harder to do this with my form class - they only see me briefly three out of five days. This makes it really hard to set up a rapport. No wonder they are standoffish and slightly begrudging and, let's face it - rude at times.

They are a Y12 group and set in their ways. Nevermind - I'll just have to keep at it and wait for them to adjust to me I guess.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Cold as ice cream but still as sweet (Blondie)

Life is starting to settle into some semblance of order with work days and weekends forming patterns. For so long we have had to snatch glimpses of normalcy and routines had no chance.

It's been an old school Sunday today. I've been doing marking and preparation for the coming week pretty much all day.

With a twist.

I've physically only marked two scrips with a pen - the rest have all been assignments delivered into a dropbox on my school schoology account. I've checked the various essays and 'written' comments on the work digitally. Apart from a couple of DOH! moments where I failed to save my comments it's been smooth sailing.

The reading and commenting on a screen has taken some adjustment. I'm from a generation that is mostly comfortable editing stuff in hard copy.

The other neat element of today was conversing with my students as I marked their work. Little messages and updates kept popping up all day long as they responded to my notices and assessments and their essays.

Cool - marking didn't seem such a chore and I got to listen to some Miles Davis, Ten Years After, Stan Getz, The Exponents and others.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Keep on the sunny side (The Whites)

Shot myself in the foot this week didn't I!

It seemed like such an innocuous thing to do but I clearly didn't thoroughly think things through (hey hey, alliteration kids).

We have a student learning system at school called Schoology. It started a few weeks ago and staff and students are getting slowly into it together. Usually technology + students means they are way ahead of teachers but in this instance we seem to be slowly learning about the possibilities of Schoology together.

I placed a photo on my profile page that Adam had taken of me in San Francisco (below right) and placed on his facebook page.
Wozza creepily contemplates how
stoopid he can be!
Unfortunately my Year 9 students told me that the picture was 'creeping them out' and they asked me to change it. Sure I said - how about of our cat, 'Waffles'? Yes they said.

I was at school without my picture files so I went to my blog to find a picture of Wafi. As I was doing so the girls spied the title to the blog - Wozza's Place. "Who's Wozza?". they  asked innocently.

At that point I swallowed hard, made noises like a blocked drain, and said, "Um...actually - that's me".

BAM!!!! The genie was out of the bottle and I have had to face some WOZZAAAAAH type comments on their Schoology messages to me over the last few days..

My baad!!

I had to have 'the talk' and explain to the girls that calling me Wozza from now on was NOT going to happen. They are a sensible bunch and they knew what I meant. More sensible than me as it turns out.

Moral of the story? Don't you eat that yellow snow!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

There's no one as normal as me (Skyhooks)

Things I've missed by not being in a NZ classroom for three years (a random sample):

Assemblies (yes really) – I've experienced two so far at Woodford House and they have been wonderful: a group of girls performing some theatre sports; an inspirational speech by a Y13 girl (she had her right leg and left foot amputated as a consequence of swine flu in her Y9 year); a performance by a visiting group of percussionists – Ginger Baker eat your heart out!

It's such a relief not having to be responsible for the assembly any more; instead I can enjoy them again from the staff rows.

Staffroom camaraderie – it's a small staffroom for about 50 staff (including all the office and ancillary workers) but everyone has been very welcoming and friendly. A staff quiz happens at 1pm each day (after the staff has visited the staff dining room) and it's a lot of fun.

My own classroom – I have been a peripatetic teacher in my schools since moving to senior management positions (the last place I had my own classroom was as Head of English at Mt Albert Grammar in 1995, then a gap until King John School 2004 to 2006). I can put up posters, arrange the desks as I want and have a home at last.

A desk in the staff workroom – I have had my own office at schools since 1989 (Head of English at Waimea College) so I haven't shared a work space since I was at Maclean's College (and before that at New Plymouth Boys' High School). It's where I am right now as I write this post.

Having an office is fine and dandy but it can also be quite an isolating experience. I've had some doozies over the years – the broom cupboard at King John springs to mind (no windows and a swinging cat would have suffered massive concussion).

A sense of belonging – my pronouns will soon shift from 'they' to 'we' as I begin to understand and embrace the culture of the school. It's been three years since I've felt that. In the Middle East I was an adjunct to Ali bin Abi Taleb school. I was advising and critiquing and all the while I was part of Cognition Education – not a teacher on the staff. Don't get me wrong, I was certainly made to feel a real part of the school but I was still a foreigner and an outsider.
The sense of belonging has been dormant for some time. I certainly didn't have it as a Principal - too isolated and too solitary a position. The last time I truly belonged was The King John School in Essex; a magic staffroom and wonderful people.

Busy and tired at the end of the day – nothing like mental exhaustion to make you sleep all night. I was busy and tired in China but I've not worked in a classroom since the end of January so I feel refreshed and ready to go.

So raise a glass and drink with me. Here's to being Head of English again and here's to normal and here's to stability!
And here's to the teacher profession! Hurrah!!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

A cautionary tale

Poor old Baggy Trousers! I have not posted during the time I was in China and yet it remains a case of 'build it and they will come', as the blog appears to grow in visitors when I DON'T post. Humpf!

The Wuxi experience (the job, the people, the city of Wuxi) was fantastic but things are in limbo as I await salary payments for January and February from the company. The American businessman who recruited me has exited from the company so I am left experiencing something a friend had warned me of before I left for China (Simsy you know it). That something being a seeming reluctance for Chinese companies to pay a man what he's earned.

We were given a one way ticket home for the Chinese new year amid promises of payment, promises of a return ticket and visa extentions but none of those things have materialised. Indeed our apartment in Wuxi has been handed back to the landlord. The writing on the wall is plain to see, even for me.

I have been waiting in New Zealand to see if a long promised new contract to work in China was going to materialise and I have continued to wait patiently for my pay to arrive.

Obviously with this limbo I have needed to consider my future in China. While patiently waiting, I have yearned for the stability I had in the Middle East with Cognition Education, or longer ago the stability I had working for the NZ government as a teacher.

Those were the good old days!