Saturday, 10 October 2015

Who'd Have Thought? 6th Grade Rocks!

Teaching and Learning Co-ordinator for the International Baccalaureate Diploma program was my last full-time role, and I saw my future as developing within the IB program. I enjoyed the Language and Literature course immensely and was (and still am) in whole-hearted agreement with the IB's holistic approach.

So how did I end up teaching 6th Grade in a non-IB school? I suppose my current school had originally caught my eye as a non-profit, particularly because it did run the IBDP program in high school. By the time I decided it was a good idea to put in an application, however, middle school teacher was the only position open at the school I truly wanted to work in. When I was asked which middle school grade I'd like to teach in my new school, I went for the one that involved a Digital Literacy class - Grade 6.  I wanted to keep my hand in with technology and felt teaching a class meant it would be part of my P&P rather than working above and beyond my job spec. 

It wasn't really until I had arrived in Vietnam that I really stopped to question that decision. Me. Teaching young students. Full-time. Probably not a great idea. Actually, possibly a terrible idea. Working in a 3-18 school meant regularly I witnessed the empathetic, patient superstar educators dealing with the young ones. Much as I wished I could be like them, I knew I simply wasn't.

Well, perhaps half the battle is realising you're in one. For sure, I wasn't going to let my deficiencies affect my students' learning, so I started the year with a strong focus on the socio-emotional domain in my classroom. I strived extra-hard to be empathetic, to give my students a voice where they were naturally inclined toward compliance and silence, and focused every lesson on communication and building a sense of a team, me included. We still have much work to do but already I'm seeing some great gains. By no means can I prove every student is comfortable approaching me or loves every lesson, but I do feel we've established a general classroom culture of sharing, expecting to be held to high standards but supported at the same time, and feedback indicates they know I care for them as individuals (even when I'm badgering them for their missing assignments).

And the big surprise for me is I am enjoying it immensely. I love being able to see actual growth, even over the few weeks since the start of the year. In teaching older students, you see progress when marking assignments, but with 6th Grade there seems to be a discernible change every week. This might be in their organisation, interaction or academic skills but their learning just seems so more visible. Not to mention they have a great sense of fun, and are willing to take risks when encouraged. I'm finding I have more patience than I ever knew, and they are teaching me to be a much more methodological and routine-based instructor; they need the structure to navigate through the transition from one teacher and one classroom to many.

So there you have it. After 15 years of teaching and seeing young learners as the classes to avoid, I find I've been staying away from some of the most rewarding teaching of my career. Let's see where this leads!

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Writer Workshop & Block Schedule (The Answer)

Since writing this post expressing my frustration with our block schedule when trying to fit in reading and writing, I've found a solution that works for us. Unsurprisingly, it comes courtesy of Kasey Kiehl so rather than trying to summarise what she says so well, here's the link.
I downloaded her free advice pack from TeachersPayTeachers and realised I was not using my time efficiently. Now we've got transitions down to seconds, and we are reading and writing, to some extent, every lesson. An added bonus is that the extra 2 or 3 students I conference with in the reading sessions adds up to a better rotation time between all the students.
If you're struggling with the same issue, I highly recommend exploring the above links.

Note-taking with Google Slides

Although I'm not a fan of teaching at the front, there are times when we just have to stand up and guide students through a concept or information. If you'd like students to be active listeners and take notes as you present, here's an idea I thought may be worth sharing.

Make a copy of your Google Slides presentation, delete your presentation notes and then distribute a copy to each individual (perhaps using Doctopus, or by asking them to make a copy themselves). In that way, they can use the editor view to look at the slides you are talking about while putting notes in the presenter part.

Then, to review, they can view in 'with speaker notes' to see their notes alongside each slide.

A couple of ideas for formative / summative assessment:
  • focus on note-taking competence: assess the notes they take by asking them to share the presentation with you (focus on note-taking skills)
  • focus on comprehension: ask the students to record themselves presenting it back, perhaps adding in their own responses to prompts embedded - an alternative would be to present live in small groups & get peer, rather than teacher, feedback
  • focus on quality of discussion: pair or group students to see what they can add in discussing the presentation later - I would ask them to use a different font colour to show what was added from their discussion, allowing me to see what was they managed on their own and what they gained from their peers' ideas.