2015 is my fourth year as a proper, qualified teacher and it’s been one heck of a journey. Compounding this is the fact that I was lucky enough to be a foundation staff member at a brand new school, so right from the very start I was born and raised in a fundamentally open and collaborative environment. I’ve never taught in a single-cell classroom. I’ve never not had visitors walk through constantly. I’ve never not had massive collaborative meetings. I’ve never not had other teachers swirling and bubbling and teaching around me, day in and day out.

We team teach at our place. To explain this a bit more, we have large, open plan teaching and learning spaces. Our “hub” (combined learning space) is ratio’d for 100 students and four teachers. As a four person teaching team we work very closely to squeeze every last benefit out of the fact we team teach – increased flexibility, efficiencies in planning, sociability, role modelling effective (mostly!) relationships, a wider range of personalities and skills students can latch on to, diversity of opinion and ideas, teachers “on roam” supervising self-directed learning while some are in workshops… the list goes on.

As a beginning teacher, team teaching was a phenomenally supportive, safe entry into the world of education. From Day One, I was surrounded by experienced, amazing teachers and because of the open plan learning environment, I was able to observe them working their magic seamlessly and naturally. I learned by osmosis. I learned alongside, much like a apprenticeship.

So I was in a constant state of observing other teachers but also being observed myself. This enabled me to get feedback on every aspect of my teaching – sometimes formally but mostly in the chats and questions and comments which happen all the time when team teaching. I was able to get comments on my planning, able to discuss students at a fine grained detail, able to be supported in tricky meetings. We even found that the traditional PRT mentor role was not really needed – it all just happened as a natural part of the team.

Any downsides? Perhaps. I guess when you are in your own classroom you need to do all the jobs a teacher normally does. In a team teaching environment, it’s easy to share out jobs. What I mean by this is that in some cases, I was “late to the party” learning how to do certain types of assessment, or the planning of events, or the coordination of groups. I’ve never had to deal with a reliever because we just cover ourselves. We’re getting better at this though – about making sure BTs get the same amount of responsibility and chance at a range of jobs. It just takes an awareness of this aspect of team teaching and you can sort it out.

So I can honestly say team teaching as a beginning teacher was a fabulous, rich experience. It nullified a lot of the pain points of just starting in your own single cell classroom and amplified many of the positive benefits of an apprenticeship-type model of learning.

For any schools thinking about embarking on a team teaching adventure – hire a BT! It’s the best start they could possibly get.

***A big shoutout to Urs, Tara TJ, Lisa, Andrea, Ang, Amaria, Demelza, Mike and all the other amazing teachers I’ve had the benefit of learning from. You guys rock!

Friday Takeaways – Kiwi’s love ’em. In this post, I look back at my week and reflect on the good, the bad, and the ugly and see which learnings I can take from this week into the next.

As the first week back at school this week, I was excited to introduce a few new experiments I’d be scheming up over the holidays. One such scheme was the introduction of ePortfolios and digital badges into our inquiry / reading / writing mix. This was based upon a professional goal I have currently – “How might we authentically value a broader range of outcomes on a day-to-day basis”. Digital badges offer a compelling way to do this as you can create badges for a wide range of outcomes such as curiosity, challenge, collaboration, feedback… as well as the more academic, content focused outcomes (grammar, punctuation, spelling etc). It enables you to place value on the range of dispositions, knowledge and skills which comprise a holistic, future-ready education.

I also figured that unless there is somewhere to show these badges off (to family and friends) then they would not be as motivating. Enter the ePortfolio, where they can pop their badges and their learning into for the term, as well as customise a fun home page with a selfie, bio, and anything else they wanted.

At the start of the week I introduced which badges were up for grabs – some were one-offs (like a badge called “The Chef” – we were writing “learning recipes“) others will be available each week (feedback, editing, curiosity badges etc). The students didn’t seem too fussed on the whole idea on Monday, but by yesterday as the deadline for the writing (and hence, badge acquisition) approached, the whole badge thing really ramped up. The students did want to earn them – there was a buzz in the air as they finished their drafts and moved onto the badge earning. From my anecdotal observations, there was indeed a higher rater of work completion, more effort put towards giving each other feedback, and more careful editing. What was especially great to see was my more reluctant writers talking about their writing together and really putting in a fantastic effort to get through the tasks.

What also worked particularly well was that we were learning about good learning this week – what were the qualities and dispositions of good learners. I printed out the badges and stuck them on the wall and we were able to make direct links between what we were learning about and the badges, for example, we learned that good learners are open to feedback – look, we have a feedback badge! Good learners are reflective – look, the Mirror Mirror badge!

My workflow with the badges is that this weekend as I’m going through their writing and providing feedback (in Google Classroom) I’ll leave comments saying which badges they have earned. On Monday, they’ll go into their writing and look at the feedback and make changes, see which badges they’ve earned, then go to our shared Google Drive folder where the badge .jpg files are, copy them into their own Drive, then insert them into their Google Site ePortfolio I pushed out to them all using siteMaestro. Phew!

As a note – I designed the badges in Credly then just took a screenshot of them. It seemed the easiest way to get them into the hands of the kids the quickest.


So, my Friday Takeaways:

– Continue with digital badges as they seem to be quite motivating

– Develop more badges for Thinking Skills and award these during the week

– Think about badges in other contexts

– Read more about gamification – I don’t want to develop a reliance on extrinsic motivations such as these

There’s just something about Google Maps which is down-right compelling: the visceral, on the ground images in street view, the zooming from hyper-local to global, zipping from Germany to Tonga in seconds, perusing the halls of the greatest museums on earth, seeing the sun light up half the world in real time, walking down a street, craning your virtual neck left and right as you take in the sights. It really is an amazing tool for both setting up learning experiences and immersions, and as an open platform for adventure, exploring, and curiosity building.

This term we are introducing the concept of being “Asia Aware” to link with our weekly Mandarin lessons. Google Maps provided just the introduction. I started zoomed into our school, then slowly zoomed out, bit by bit, as the world got larger and larger. Eventually New Zealand became a little speck of land in the bottom right hand corner as we focused upon the cluster of countries that Asia comprises. The students were transfixed as we traveled the earth, zooming across oceans and space and time. It was perfect for illustrating the scale of the world, and our small size and position compared with most other countries.

We talked about the countries in Asia we could see and what we knew about them. We cross-referenced what we knew with statistics on the current and future make-up of New Zealand (it turns out, nearly 1 in 5 children in NZ will be of Asian heritage by 2021). We talked about the value of diversity – how it enriches and deepens our understandings of the world, can bring new perspectives, and help spark creative new ideas. We reflected on the quote “My world is your world”, globalisation, and the effect of the internet.

The students then had time to explore Asia. To follow their nose. To take the road less travelled. They were tasked with coming up with as many wonderings as the they could wonder, based on their adventures and what they could see. The students were transfixed and excited and bubbling over as they explored downtown Shanghai, temples in Japan, beaches in Thailand, rivers in Laos, islands in the Philippines, mountains in Tibet, jungles in Vietnam, apartment blocks in Kuala Lumpur, and deserts in Mongolia.

Here are a few of the wonderings the students came up with – great prompts into learning about Asia for the next few weeks ~

I wonder if everyone lives in apartment buildings?

I wonder how come that guy on the scooter is not wearing a helmet?

I wonder how old that temple is and if people still go there?

I wonder why they need so many buses?

I wonder what that sign says?

I wonder if their McDonalds food is the same as ours?

I wonder if people still live in that jungle?

I wonder if any people have back yards at their houses?

Giving students the room and tools to develop this kind of curious thinking is important. It helps develop an active, always on, always thinking mind – one which is not content to idle through life, consuming and passive. Curiosity is a key disposition for lifelong learning, and what’s fantastic about these modern days is that we have the ability to both fan the flames of wonderment as well as satisfy that wonderment via the information and tools at our disposal.

After some summer holiday reading (Guy Claxton’s “What’s the Point of School” and “Key Competencies for the Future” by Hipkins, Bolstad, Boyd & McDowall) I’ve been all revved up and revived in my attempts to focus on a much broader range of outcomes – not only the academic, core curriculum stuff, but also Harvard’s dispositions of thinking, the NZ curriculum’s key competencies, a design thinking mindset, Claxton’s ‘Magnificent 8‘, as well as knowledge skills, digital literacy, and visual literacy. There are many, many overlaps between all of the above, and they share very similar base concepts – ones which are integral to living well in this complex, knowledge-ridden world.

I’ve written in a post a few weeks back what I thought were the ingredients needed for designing good learning. It turns out it’s easy enough to sit back and blog about it – it’s much more complex in practise to actually do it. Regardless – I’m giving it a nudge, and today in class we began exploring how to “cook up” good learning for ourselves.

It’s the start of our Term 1 in New Zealand, so we really wanted to kick-off with a strong message about learning. That it takes effort and challenge, that it’s an active process, that it stems from curiosity, that it is sometimes collaborative and sometimes solitary, that it is sometimes online and sometimes offline. With an eye on curriculum coverage (instructional writing and author purpose) we decided to prompt the students into writing a recipe – “How to Cook Up Good Learning”.

We integrated different elements ~

Inquiry – This forms the core of our inquiry this term, how we live well in the world, with ourselves and with others.

A generative topic / interest hook – We showed clips of Chef from the Muppets and afterwards reflected on why it was or wasn’t clear. We gave the students a list of instructions which asked them to read all of the 20 instructions below first, then the last point said disregard all of the above except the top two (not one single student read all the instructions first! – good learning for all). We asked – why should instructions be entertaining?

Guided Reading – We read excerpts from Guy Claxton’s “What’s the Point of School” and other blog posts I borrowed information on the qualities of good learners from. We read through these together in a guided way, the students taking notes on post-it’s as they went. These were combined into a whole group brainstorm later where we shared what we had learned, adding our own prior knowledge. We talked about comprehension and what to do when we are unsure of certain vocabulary.

Independent Reading – While the students were’t with me they were looking at my Star Wars Cookbook and Jamie Oliver clips and taking notes on the kinds of language being used (a pinch of this, a hint of that, bake X for 20 minutes, prepare X beforehand).

Knowledge Snapper – We presented a 10 minute “Snapper” on the features of instructional wiring. Students listened as we ran through it, although it is now available online for them to check out if they need a refresher.

Writing – Today we took all of the above and began planning out our “learning recipes” on big pieces of paper with post-it notes, scribbling thoughts down in a low-fidelity way – talking with others and getting their feedback. Tomorrow, students begin drafting their recipes, getting feedback early and often as they move through the writing process.

And it’s working out pretty well so far! The students seem very keen on it, and love the silliness of “adding a hint of curiosity” and “bake the thoughts in your head overnight at 200 degrees”. They are getting the key curriculum content over both reading and writing, learning more about themselves as learners, and practising the dispositions of getting thinking out into the wild, being open to feedback, working with others, and the challenge of working with complex ideas – “working the hard parts”.

I’m learning a lot this week about how to blend lots of these elements together – it’s not easy, and takes a bit of thinking, but it’s absolutely possible to have your cake and eat it too in this teaching gig. To cover what you need to cover, but still really helping grow key competencies and dispositions for these students which will serve them well now and in the future.

Many worlds collide when you interact with texts (texts used as a loose catch-all word for any kind of communication – movies, music, art) to gain meaning.

There is The World of the Writer – what experiences and contexts the writer draws upon to create meaning, for a certain purpose. Then there is The World of the Text – the authenticity of the piece; it’s ability to stand-alone and be genuine. And of course, The World of the Reader – what prior knowledge, experiences and purposes the reader brings into the fray.

These worlds jiggle and jostle together; combining and flowing into each other, creating meaning for the reader.

It’s our job as teachers to help scaffold the understanding of deep meaning by drawing attention to these different worlds. What is the author trying to convince us of? What knowledge claims is the author making? What is my own prior knowledge of this? What bias and assumptions do I bring to the reading? Why am I reading this? Am I learning anything? Is this changing me? How?

Every text has the potential to be a rich battleground of these competing worlds – one in which you can activate knowledge skills such as critiquing, creating, customising, interrogating, elaborating, remixing, and challenging what is put in front of you. Investigating the different layers of a text contributes to an understanding that the world is complex, and the more we can draw attention to that and analyse those complexities, the more students can unravel them and understand how to live more critically, fully, and actively in this world.

Ask students to share what they are thinking – they are being bombarded with texts day in and out seeking to manipulate their understandings. Advertising is a particularly pernicious one, but what meaning are kids absorbing from the 6:00 o’clock news? Cartoons? Pop songs on the radio? Magazine covers?

It’s imperative we help students become active, critical users of the world around them, not simply consumers. Examining the different worlds of context which are mushed together when interacting with a text can contribute towards a deeper, more active, critical understanding of the world in which we live.