Monthly Archives: June 2008
Do you like the way I started this post by using one of your trademark writing quirks?
Anyway, it has taken me this long to pull together some bits and pieces since your post that got me thinking. I went and did what I threatened in the comment. I took your techno-ripe idea, ping-ponging its way via the network from California to Pennsylvania to South Australia, twisted it around to suit my Year Six classroom and have a few samples to share.
Check this one first...
The goal was to advertise their upcoming Personal Research Projects (starting up this week!) in one minute with the assistance of four relevant adjectives combined with four skilfully chosen CC images. Some kids did well with their adjective choice, their excellent speaking skills but struggled to break away from the obvious connection with their chosen topic. Not to worry - these are 11 year olds after all. I was happy about the attribution and thought put into this one.
Others were not as fluent at the speaking part but their image choice was positively inspired...
And if you're wondering what four adjectives would sum up your own fine country from an Aussie child's perspective, try this ad for the topic of the USA.
So, ken, I did much of what you suggested. In between the demands of your young family, just know that your influence (and so many others that I read and connect with) resonates in my classroom half a world away.
And that still blows me away.
Making The Grade(s)
I really enjoyed reading Clay Burell's most recent post. As happens so often in my online reading, it ties in with some of my thoughts as I've just completed writing Term Two reports for my class and for the first time in twenty plus years of teaching, I've had to assign grades to each learning area from A to E. This stems from a mandate from the outgoing Federal Government that despite union opposition is now compulsory across all schools in Australia. I blogged about this 18 months ago when it seemed imminent but it took until this year to become an unescapable reality. Clay really pulls apart the history of grading as a tool for assessment in schools and makes some very valid observations that question the structure of schools worldwide. This point about class size ties in with my day today involved in industrial action when my union is asking the government (as well as improved salaries) for reduced class sizes:
So complete is our acceptance of factory schooling, we consider classes of twenty “small” when, I would argue, even twenty students for an hour is a recipe for poor learning - come on, do the math: one teacher teaching twenty students for an hour equals three minutes of individual attention maximum.
Anyway, over the last three years I have moved from the 2006 report card system where I had to write descriptive comments on each learning area (8 in all) with larger paragraphs for mathematics and English and finish it all off with a 200 word summative comment at the end about attitude to learning, organisational and social skills. This was close to 1000 words of writing for each student and with a class of 30 in most primary classrooms, most teachers really felt the pressure during this part of the year. Parents loved the individualised comments about their children. Feedback indicated that they really appreciated the work put into the reports - but as one teacher said to me, "That just about killed me. My private time was totally consumed by report writing. I'm glad it's over."
With the Federal Government putting the pressure on schools late in 2006 and into 2007, we adapted our report cards to be ready if needed for the A to E grading system. We did not end up using them, substituting a continuum system that rated student achievement from Well Below Year Level Achievement (what would become an E) to Outstanding Achievement Above Year Level (A equivalent) and reduced the written component down to two sections for Literacy and Numeracy and the 200 word summative comment. Still a lot of work but the teachers were wilting like in 2006. Interviews were held straight after the report card went home to explain how the middle part of the continuum "Achieving At Year Level" was a good place for their kids to be. Parents still gravitated towards the personalised comments where they looked for context for the achievement system.
For this year, the A to E system was mandated in all South Australian schools. It had to happen.
Teachers met to share work samples and to moderate their expectations for each year level. There was constant referral to the SACSA "Lite" documents to check on the outcomes being assessed. This common understanding was essential to ensure that teacher judgement was consistent across the school as standardised testing does not dominate the Australian education scene (yet, he thinks cynically) to provide that sort of data. We don't have grading books like a few American edubloggers I have chatted with are compelled to use. We interpret the curriculum and individual schools have to put structures in place to ensure consistency. The writing shrank back to the summative comment only. Grades were inserted for strands within Learning Areas and an overall grade calculated. We also have spent time talking with the kids to ensure that their first experience with grades was not a bad one. Many Aussie kids have formed their perception of grades from American TV shows, their parents' high school experiences where if you got a C, then you obviously weren't trying very hard. This is in conflict with the Aussie system where C is year level achievement - to get a higher grade means working above that year level and being on a par with students in the year level above. The romantic concept of "straight A's" just by working hard and being a "good student" is not going to happen. Multiple A's on a report might only be achieved by highly gifted students.
Now I don't see myself as a "professional grader" as Clay indicated but I think he realises that the Australian (and NZ as well) system within primary schools at least is a different beast to the one he is leaving. But interestingly, that despite the fact that Australia ranks well in front of the US in any number of international comparisons, we still keep wanting to adopt the worst ideas from their systems. I think this grading idea is one of them. It's only a matter of time before this becomes the next logical step for our politicians seeking to "improve" our education system.
Classrooms – Teach Fresh
My wife and my youngest son, Joshua, headed off today for a five year old birthday party leaving me at home with our eldest son and a pile of report writing to do. We decided to head out for some lunch as a bit of a break, driving off to a Subway near our house. Now these things have sprouted throughout suburban Adelaide like mushrooms over the past few years to the stage where we have three of these outlets within five minutes of our house, two of them located in petrol stations. We went to one of those on Tapleys Hill Road, went in, ordered our food and sat in the small tabled section set up as a mini-restaurant. While we ate, I looked around and thought how the petrol station had evolved from the place where you just filled up the fuel tank and bought a Coke or choccy bar.
Some things haven't changed like the obligatory racks of cigarettes behind the counter (although it's getting pretty expensive down under to continue this sort of habit) but everything else is nothing like the petrol station of yesteryear. As well as the restaurant area, there's a pretty comprehensive mini-supermarket, an ATM and gourmet coffees complete with muffins and other cakes for a longer pitstop. Add in Top 40 music playing through a quality sound system and ambient lighting and it's obvious that this modern hybrid doesn't just want you to pay for your petrol and go.
I read a lot about how school is stuck in the industrial age and that teachers from the 50's would be able to work and operate in today's classroom because things haven't changed that much. But I'm not sure I buy that line of thought entirely. Sure, school buildings have been around for a while but the way my classroom has changed is a little bit like the modern petrol station. The technology does make a difference - the interactive whiteboard, the laptops, the wireless connection. There are other differences over my teaching career as well - the shift to inquiry learning as a focus, student voice coming to the fore, the popularity of open space classrooms, team teaching, the decline of open space classrooms, a greater focus on students creating and sharing their own learning, a constructivist curriculum framework that's lasted more than three years, co-planning units of work, the introduction of standardised testing and the re-introduction of A-E grades. So the classroom, like the modern petrol station, is being asked to do much more than in the past.
I think that having the right facilities does help pave the way towards improved outcomes. The petrol stations decided that the way to improve services was to form partnerships with other franchises, sell a wider variety of products, allow punters easy access to their money and generally create an environment where people willingly part with their money because that environment is right. The modern classroom is reacting to the changes that society is inflicting and imposing and effective teachers are modifying what they offer in order to create the right learning environment. But they operate within financial and facility-based restraints. That means many classrooms might appear at a glance to be throwbacks to an older era but the teacher has to be like the service station proprietor where many services have to be offered to keep the learning moving along.
Anyway, not sure if this metaphor will fly. Feel free to shoot it down or compare and contrast to the classroom you know or have to operate in.
More Than Just Words
Will the work you do today
Stand the test of time
"Test of Time", Spy Vs. Spy, 1988.
D'Arcy Norman went very close to pulling the plug and "nuking" his blog. Why?
He explains in an out-of-context quote:
...my blog is strictly just a bunch of words. Just a bunch of talk.
Now the focus of his post was tossing around the "edupunk" theme that seems to be fairly visible in my aggregator but this particular quote combined with his actual willingness to make his blog disappear from the face of the internet really made me think. All of us, typing in our thoughts, ideas and experiences - just a bunch of words?
Are words different to action?
Can words be a result of action?
Sure, some blogs can be a pile of pontification and empty trails heading nowhere. But D'Arcy's blog is not the sort I would place into that category. His blog and many more that I read are full of action - documentation of action, plans for action, ideas to spark others to action - they are "about standing up and doing things".
The things that are done are archived for those of us unable to see and experience the first hand action. We can take those words and use them to guide our own actions, to provide us with experiences and case studies and to help form professional and personal relationships with others in totally different spheres of learning. D'Arcy (and many others) help me with all of the above and more often than not put a smile on my face when I need it most. Where else would I have encountered the term "borked" if not for D'Arcy and his "outboard brain".
Blogging can be a form of "time-capsuling" your work. I want my blog to be more than just words.
Image attribution: 'i don't know anything right now'