Friday, November 28, 2014

What if the water and wishes appear? (Bob Mould)

I've spent a lot of the last week thinking about our senior English courses for next year.

It became time to finally move from the theoretical to the practical and actually design the courses with my colleagues.

We ended up introducing a potential student inquiry/thematic aspect to the year's programme (and deliberately separated internal NCEA standards and external standards so that all the internally assessed work is done early in the first half of the year).

I like our aim for these courses: 
This course aims to cater to student diversity, creativity, collaboration, and to foster and reward student curiosity. A student driven inquiry in Terms 1 and 2 may be used to include the internal standards.  
With that in mind I have now turned my attention to creating a framework to help students engage their creativity and curiosity. I found this cool diagram via Twitter:

It's that first column- posing real questions, that I'll be working on next week at school using, as a starting point, a powerpoint that a colleague is designing to help students understand the possibilities on offer. 

My excitement and own creative juices are flowing!

Monday, November 24, 2014

It’s so hot, looks like you have three beaks crow (Captain Beefheart)

Meh to 'challenges'.

Challenge is such an overworked word in educational circles - most times it's used as a synonym for 'problem': as in 'she's a challenging student' or 'we will be facing a few challenges next year' or ' implementing vertical deaning in such a short time will certainly be a challenge'.

It came into vogue to eliminate the negative connotations with 'problem', but as a weasel word it has just shifted the 'challenge' sideways - it also has negativity attached to it.

I think we need to reclaim the word and use it in a different, more positive way. 

After all, aren't we talking about daring ourselves to embrace something different or difficult?

Is there even a single word for that?

How about 'opportunity'? As in 'she's a teaching opportunity' or 'we will have some real opportunities for improving learning next year' or 'implementing vertical deaning in such a short time will certainly be a great opportunity'.

For challenges read opportunities - they bring out our best when they:

  • Inspire humility.
  • Motivate preparation.
  • Drive connection.
  • Fuel growth.

  • [I got those four from Dan Rockwell's Leadership Freak blog - I think they're perfect for that last vertical deaning thing, don't you?]

    An opportunity provides a more straight forward pathway to innovation and I'm big on pathways and innovations.

    Thursday, November 20, 2014

    Just be right there when the whistle blows (The Rolling Stones)

    Forbes recently published this list of the 10 skills employers say they seek, in order of importance. 

    I love this list!! Yeah, okay, I know - I love lists but these kinds of things I especially love.

    Amazingly, it comes from a survey conducted in America by The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) a Bethlehem, PA, a non-profit group.

    It asked hiring managers what skills they plan to prioritize when they recruit from the class of 2015 at colleges and graduate schools. It gave each a rating on a 5-point scale, where 5 was extremely important, 4 was very important, 3 was somewhat important, etc. 

    This is how it washed up as a priority list:

    1. Ability to work in a team structure
    2. Ability to make decisions and solve problems (tie)
    3. Ability to communicate verbally with people inside and outside an organization
    4. Ability to plan, organize and prioritize work
    5. Ability to obtain and process information
    6. Ability to analyze quantitative data
    7. Technical knowledge related to the job
    8. Proficiency with computer software programs
    9. Ability to create and/or edit written reports
    10. Ability to sell and influence others

    The good news: No matter what you have studied in school, whether economics, English, French or computer science, you will have had to learn the top five skills on the list.

    The other good news: the Velocity boys are again vindicated! Check their seven new laws again - 

    • Evolve immediately
    • Intuition is rewarded
    • Make meaningful connections
    • Craftsmanship takes perseverance and discipline
    • Respect human nature
    • Be a leader, be decisive
    • Always play from your heart

    Overlay those laws with the Forbes list and I think we've got a winning combination. 

    So - let's sway, under the moonlight, the serious moonlight.

    Tuesday, November 18, 2014

    Reach for my hand (Anathema)

    I used a quote from Mick Jagger in the previous post - you can't always get what you want but... you may find you get what you need

    Love that idea!

    It reminded me of a story I wrote about on a different blog, long ago and far away- in 2008. I figure it's ripe for a reboot. Here it is again:

             The situation we always live in is like the wise Chinese farmer.

             One day his horse ran off.

    When his neighbour came to console him the farmer said, "Who knows what's good or bad?"

    When the wise Chinese farmer's horse returned the next day with a herd of horses following him, the foolish neighbour came to congratulate him on his good fortune.

    "Who knows what's good or bad?" said the farmer.

    Then, when the farmer's son broke his leg trying to ride one of the new horses, the foolish neighbour came to console him again.

    "Who knows what's good or bad?" said the farmer.

    When the army passed through, conscripting men for war, they passed over the farmer's son because of his broken leg. When the foolish man came to congratulate the farmer that his son would be spared, again the farmer said, "Who knows what's good or bad?"...(and so on and so on).

    Mick's quote again reminded me of Japanese zen poet Ryokan's poem:
    Maple leaf
    Falling down
    Showing front
    Showing back

    Paul McCartney is even more economical - Let it be.

    Friday, November 14, 2014

    For here am I sitting in a tin can, far above the world (David Bowie)

    History is full of 'you can't always get what you want might find you get what you need' stories.

    You know the drill - protagonist turns adversity into triumph!

    Here's one from Dr Ian Hunter's excellent book 'Imagine':

    As a young boy Josiah Wedgwood was stricken with smallpox. Among his injuries his right foot was crippled which meant he couldn't operate his potter's wheel for long periods.

    Instead he turned to study - specifically, the antiquities, Roman and Greek pottery. At age 28 he started out in business. Initially, he wasn't very successful but his classically inspired works gradually caught on when he produced a new type of clay - creamware. That was a huge innovation! He became a rock star of the pottery world. 

    He still is!

    He was innovative - taking classical art and reworking it in a new form. He also had novel marketing strategies to get his product out. The guy was a genius!

    It could be argued (by me) that getting smallpox moved him into new ways of thinking. He didn't get what he wanted- unlimited time at the potter's wheel- he got what he needed- time to devote to new ways of thinking, time to be innovative.

    Tuesday, November 11, 2014

    Your eyes are shining on a beam through the galaxy of love, transformer man (Neil Young)

    I read an interesting article recently titled ' If you want to change people - change what they talk about'.

    I like that idea and I'm always game for a laugh so here are my responses. First though - here are the ten invitations to transformation:
    1. What are you good at?
    2. How did you get so good at…?
    3. How could I get good at…?
    4. How are we winning?
    5. What’s working?
    6. What do you love about working here?
    7. Tell me a story about someone who made a difference in your life.
    8. Remind me of a time when you went beyond the call of duty to get something done.
    9. What are you doing when you feel most successful?
    10. How can we get you doing more of what you love?

    Cool list huh? Okay so here goes:

    1. Here's three: I'm a good listener, I keep the blogosphere regularly updated, I'm very patient. 
    2. Patience and being a good listener are innate qualities rather than skills (I used to be a good football player which happened through some natural ability to kick with both feet, having a football brain, and I loved to practice and then do more practice). Having good listening habits can also be a skill but for me it started long ago with something inside me making me interested in what others were saying. Blogging is something of an addiction. I like writing (my university career tells me I am good at that too), musing over things, and I like publishing my writing - hence the blogging.
    3. How could I get better in my teaching? The Nissan Way improvement model helps me a lot (the photo shows it's on my pinboard by my desk at school) but mostly it's the blogging, my current colleagues and Twitter that have all helped immeasurably with that one. So...more of that should do it!
    4. We're into the plural pronoun here so I'll answer this for my English department at school: we are winning by being brave, exploring new ideas, challenging the status quo and each other's thinking, giving up some control, and by adapting to new technologies.
    5. Our grades are high in internal NCEA standards, our value added scores are the envy of other departments.
    6. There is a lot of teacher driven inquiry going on, some free thinking and an environment for change at my school; being given autonomy to get on with the job always helps me; the people I work closely with and the fun staff room vibe where I work inspires me daily; the students won't let us rest on past achievements - they live in the now, they demand the best and rightly so. All of those things make me love my job.
    7. My parents, a lot of teachers and a few Principals have made a huge difference to me. One story is tough but I'm going to go with Colin Prentice, then Principal at Macleans College, walking and talking one day after school and telling me (I was an English teacher then) that I could easily lead a department. That seemed far away at that point and not even part of my consciousness but someone like him having that kind of belief in me sent me on a pathway.
    8. Our use of Schoology as a Learning Management System has allowed me to frequently respond to student requests for help after hours. Last weekend I was in Auckland for my son's wedding and a student asked for help via Schoology with an essay. I went beyond the call of duty to give her that advice.
    9. See number 8.
    10. Tough one. I love my job but I also love balance between job and my life outside of school. Truly though - I would love to be given more time to work on some special projects at school that are dear to my heart. 

    Saturday, November 8, 2014

    It's high time to fly (Roy Harper)

    Further to my post on the Universal Design for Learning: I found these 6 Essential tips to start using the UDL. 

    It's a nice little summary to keep in mind as we aim to initiate our brave new senior English courses next year. 

    1. Know the learner 
    2. Work out what we are here to do (your aims/ learning objectives) 
    3. Recognise and remove barriers in the goals, resources, assessments,                 teaching methods and in the physical and emotional environment 
    4. Identify what universal supports we could offer to everyone 
    5. Use the UDL guidelines to design the lesson/activity/opportunity
    6. Teach, evaluate, revise…

    Thursday, November 6, 2014

    I got the key to the highway, billed out and bound to go (Derek and the Dominos)

    Malcolm Gladwell, John Hattie and Warren Purdy all have something in common- the belief that small class sizes have no appreciable affect on student learning.

    I'm currently reading Gladwell's David & Goliath (Underdogs, misfits and the art of battling giants) wherein he expands on the class size debate.

    Interestingly, he makes the claim, based on American research, that a really really small class is as bad as a really really big class. About 18 is the ideal number to get it right re atmosphere (vibe!), discussion, rapport, and recycled teacher jokes. 

    John Hattie broadly agrees. His effect size meta-analysis indicated that class size has no affect on student learning.

    Curious then why so many people (yes - for that read PR people and parents) think a small teaching class is beneficial. Conventional wisdom is at the heart of that false perception I believe.

    A class of three might sound like an ideal but it's my idea of a nightmare.

    Tuesday, November 4, 2014

    What is veiled now soon will be shown (Jefferson Starship)

    I noticed during the recent ulearn14 conference that my nano second scanning of a room for a friendly place to sit was completely on to it!

    I met some great people through serendipitous moments of brief contact at workshops or 'breakout'.

    It's the 'it's safe to approach others' signal to the brain that happens. Some, like me, have it in spades (hahaha).

    I tested it a few times - sussing out where the receptive people were sitting. Clearly some folk send out a 'buttoutskidon't mess with me' vibe, but in others there's something more positive, more empathetic going on.

    I always manage to gravitate towards those receptive ones.

    Apparently there's a neurochemical called oxytocin which is the key. It's produced when we are trusted or shown a kindness, and it activates cooperation with others. It does this by enhancing our ability to experience other's emotions.

    Freaky huh! Maybe it was a fluke. Maybe being in an all female environment is rubbing off on me.