Digital teaching tips & tricks, ideas, examples, and general thoughts and reflections. Follow my Inquiry.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

How to create a class site - Google Sites

So you have just found out you have to make a class site and and are freaking out a little bit..... 
This video shows a couple of tricks you can use to get Google Sites working the way you want it to.

Creating Buttons
Buttons are only images, don't let the word "button" confuse you. Button's allow you to navigate within your Google site without being limited to the Ugly Horizontal or Side navigation bars that Google tries to force on you. For more help on buttons see here.

Using Tables helps you control your Google Site. 
When everything is placed neatly inside of tables, Google is unable to move things in weird ways or put things out of alignment. It also gives you far greater control over the spacing of your site.

Using HTML seems scary
Using the HTML can be pretty intimidating, but you don't have to be able to understand it to find the area's you are looking for. Using Command-Find or CLTR-Find on your computer to fast find sections within the HTML can help you fake your way through a whole page of HTML easy.
For help with HTML check out this HTML site help sheet here

Monday, 10 October 2016

Term 3 Reflection

Here's a quick presentation that I presented to my colleagues at the end of last term, on my inquiry this year into boys writing.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Innovative ways to share writing on our blogs

Now what?

 I felt like my inquiry hit a bit of a wall. I spent a lot of time in the beginning finding out what my learners wanted and needed from writing. I have explored various ways of chunking learning into bite sized sections to try and appeal to the boys. I have developed templates that has helped stop a full piece of writing seem to daunting. I have even looked into how the physical space of the classroom can be manipulated to suit the needs of the learners.

What I haven't looked at is how to innovate the way that writing is shared on student blogs. It seems a little bit odd to spend so much time innovating ways to increase boys motivation and engagement in writing, when the act of sharing the writing remains boring and unappealing to the kids. As a teacher I have a very biased view of a 5 paragraph piece copied and pasted onto a blog. I can skim read the the title and introduction and get a feel for the quality. It took a comment from another teacher for me to realise that learners piece of writing copied and pasted onto a blog post, is actually a pretty boring blog post unless you want to read it. For students looking at each others blog posts, writing posts are the least popular because you can't consume them lazily. It takes effort to read a long blog post.

So I spent one of my Spark-MIT release working with 5 of my learners to create ideas and examples of more exciting possibilities for sharing our fantastic writing pieces on our blogs.


 Here a few examples if you want to check them out:
Flow chart
Book blurb 
Read aloud section
Annotated Photos 
iPad Movie

Monday, 4 July 2016

More tools in the tool box

I've seen a huge improvement in writing features this term. I keep referring to this as more tools in the tool box with the learners. The idea is that they have been acquiring new writing skills and features (tools) to use in their writing.

This term we have focussed on Comic Books and Superheroes as part of our term topic. This has naturally helped the learners fill their 'toolbox' with new 'tools' suited to narrative writing. We have achieved this by focussing on writing features and skills, and completing writing pieces in workshop sessions where these were the focus. Alternating between these workshop writing pieces and regular full short story pieces, has allowed the learners to use their new skills right away in their regular writing.

Features we have focussed on have included Onomatopoeia, Speech, Similes, Metaphors, Character and Setting descriptions. As the term has progressed I have seen the learners improve their writing using these skills. I have not needed to insist that they use these in their full short story narrative pieces, the learners have opted to use them on their own. Of course there has been lots of overuse, or incorrect use as well, particularly from my lower ability writers. However, my stronger writers have appropriately used these in their writing and are seeing great improvement.

Monday, 16 May 2016

Re-writing stories in Comic book form

Just because it's reading follow-up doesn't mean they can't write!

As part of our term inquiry into sequential art, and comic books my learners are re-writing journal stories in comic book form. This simple task has many scaffolding qualities that will support their own story telling later in their own writing.

There are plenty of comic book creators out there. I have been using an Arthur one on PBS Kids, but I have looked at also using this Marvel one, and Make Beliefs Comix.

Learners simply replace characters from the story with characters on the Arthur comic site. Depending on the length of the story learners re-write certain scenes or pages.

Best bit, is the kids love it!

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Comic Books - Narrative writing

This term as part of our Art based theme we are learning about sequential art. The art of telling stories through images, and in it's most common form Comics!

Naturally this topic has so far greatly interested the boys. However more exciting to me, is that it gives me a chance to encourage my boys to tell stories and to create stories in other forms than just traditional writing.

Suddenly I have this arsenal of writing activities that my learners are excited to create and work on. Often activities are disguised and leaners aren't even aware that they are writing!

- Character descriptions
- Writing about problems
- Writing about relationships
- Dialogue between characters

On top of writing as a subject, due to the nature of this inquiry my learners are learning and thinking about story telling in more subject areas.

I am hoping this topic will help to create a NEED to get better at writing. To inspire (boys in particular) to WANT to improve their writing, in order to tell a BETTER story.

I'm really looking forward to this term and how I can use the inquiry topic to inspire my learners in writing.

Friday, 8 April 2016

Student Voice: Boys Writing

I was challenged early on in my inquiry about whether I had asked for student input about the assumptions I was making about boys needs in writing.

I reflected that I was in fact making a lot of assumptions about learners needs, without actually asking the learners themselves. Therefore, using Google forms I created a short questionnaire for learners to complete about 'their thoughts on writing'. Out of 140 odd learners I had 107 competed responses.
Most results were as I predicted, however there were some surprises.

30% of Boys stated they either "Don't like" or "Hate" writing, vs only 10% of Girls that felt this way.

25% of Boys said that they did writing at home, vs 40% of Girls.

Interestingly both Boys and Girls stated that their favourite type of writing was "Free writing". This is something I rarely do in the class, and use more as a early-finisher task. I am open to allowing more "free writing" in the class, however I question what the finished product of what this would be?

Another point I found interesting was the amount of structure the Boys and Girls stated that they preferred. Majority of the Boys stated that they preferred to have the teacher tell them what to write about, where as the girls preferred to have more freedom.

Boys also stated that they prefer to do all their writing in one go, where the girls were happy to write in small sections.

When I reflect on my own thoughts towards writing, I guess I feel in many way similar to how the majority of the boys responded. For me writing is a means to an end. It is not the act itself that I enjoy. Therefore, when I do write it tends to feel like a bit chore or job to finish. I will write the whole lot in one go, rather than space it out over multiple writing sessions, and will stick to the guidelines or task as close as possible.

Despite this I do not believe my attitude towards writing impairs on my ability to write. Writing was something I struggled with at High School, but became skilled at at University. I learned to write well, because I needed to write well for the qualification I desired. This is an interesting thought, because if I was in my class... how would I feel about writing?
What is the need, that would motivate me to improve?

Leaving me to ponder how I can inspire my learners to want and need to write better!

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Earmuffs? Do you mean our... 'focussed writing time'?

My inquiry this year is into boy's writing. As part of this inquiry I have been having discussions in the class with my boys about their writing. What they like to write best? When they like to write best? What they like to write about etc...

Out of these discussions one common theme has emerged. The boys have told me that there is too much noise in the classroom, and this makes it harder to concentrate on writing. Girls too have suggested that this is a problem, and in our innovative learning environment with 60 odd learners it is not entirely unbelievable. 

Therefore I decided to take a leaf out of Chris Marks book, from his inquiry into boys writing back in 2014. I have set up silent learning spaces inside the class, where learners can have focussed learning time without distraction. However unlike Chris I have not made these physical spaces as such, and instead these 'silent spaces' have taken the form of earmuffs.
Learners who want to use the earmuffs must ask first, and explain to me what work they want to work on while wearing them.  They also have to set a goal for what they want to accomplish in that time, and are held accountable if they don't.  If someone is wearing the earmuffs, the deal is they are not to be disturbed.  

I have been very careful not to prescribe the earmuffs to anyone, and therefore it is entirely up to the learners whether they use them or not. It has encouraged a sense of responsibility over their writing, and helped them become more aware of their needs.

So far the earmuffs have been working very well, and I am really excited by the enthusiasm towards writing this has helped foster in my learners. In the beginning there wasn't any real gender divide between who was using the earmuffs, but overtime I have noticed that the boys have been requesting to use the earmuffs more often. Part of me wonders how much of this is due to the 'silent' nature of the earmuffs, or in fact the deadline nature of being held accountable to reaching the writing goal agreed upon before using the earmuffs. As when I reflect on my own needs in writing, a deadline has always been most inspiring.

The earmuffs were bought off trademe for only $2.50 each ($25 for 10).

Monday, 22 February 2016

Spark-MIT - Teasing out the problem

We had our first Spark-MIT PLG day today at Spark HQ in Auckland. It was an awesome day sharing and discussing our problems and inquiries within the PLG group.

What was most beneficial however, was not having the chance to share our inquiries and talk about all the "amazing solutions" we think we are going to do this year... But actually being challenged by about what we thought our problem was. Forcing us to really try and understand the root of the problem we have identified, before we even consider possible solutions of how to solve it.

This got me gave me plenty to think about my own inquiry. I had jumped at the idea of fixing boys writing with cool and exciting writing experiences. However after being challenged, I realised I had no real evidence that this would work, nor that this was even the problem.

I was basing this hunch on the experiences in my class last year, where the boys seemingly did not enjoy writing as much as the girls. Yet when I reflect on my own affection to writing, and I can actually relate to the boys. I personally don't enjoy writing much at all, yet I can still write. Being able to get through my Honours degree suggests I can probably write quite well (or well enough), therefore quality writing may not be necessarily tied to how affectively one writes.

Therefore at this stage my inquiry is as follows;

When looking at National standards data our boys are underachieving when compared with our girls.

Evidence so far:
Last year in our school the boys in Year 6 scored 50 points lower on their e-asTTle writing test than the girls in the same cohort, with far fewer high achieving male outliers. The extended literacy programme was made up of majority female learners, with 23 girls and only 6 boys. From the cohort I will be teaching this year, our girls scored better against the national standard than our boys.

What I will be inquiring into:
  • What motivates boys to write.
  • What do boys need from me to support their writing.