Blog posts worth reading

I read blogs, I write blogs… and now I want to recommend some blogs.

Worth a read:

Spencer’s Scratch Pad: Why kindergarten is hard for my son
Thought-provoking and interesting. Spencer always writes about his son, and I think it is great to read a kindergartener’s perspective.

Tech Transformation (Maggie Hos-McGrane): Teaching for Understanding

Blogging Through the Fourth Dimension: How Homework Destroys

About a Teacher (Gret Sandler’s amazing blog): Hearing their voices
A great post on blogging with students and the impact it can have!

Inquire Within: Don’t do inquiry
A new collaborative blog about inquiry. 10 reasons why not to do inquiry!

Principal of Change: The vision (our ePortfolio project)

Never be shy to leave a comment on a blog! It is what encourages dialog and, ultimately learning!

No!

I had an interesting discussion with a friend the other day about the word No, and how often it is being said in schools. In all honesty, I am not sure how often I say no to a student, without even thinking about it. And this makes me wonder how many times I have stopped something incredible from happening, just because it hasn’t made sense to me at the time.

Some time ago I read an interesting blog post by an early childhood educator and saying no, but I can’t find it anymore. Its message though was very clear: Don’t just say no, ask why instead!

I could mention a million examples here, but I will let you think about it yourself, about your practice. Just as I am doing myself.
My small goal for after the half-term break is: Ask why, don’t just say no!

Concept-driven curriculum

The PYP has five essential elements (knowledge, attitudes, skills, concepts and action) and the one I want to look at closer today are the concepts.

In A Basis for Practice, the IB states:

The PYP provides a framework for the curriculum, including eight key concepts as one of the essential
elements.
By identifying concepts that have relevance within each subject area, and across and beyond the subject
areas, the PYP has defined an essential element for supporting its transdisciplinary model of teaching and
learning. Expressed as open-ended questions, the eight key concepts provide the initial momentum and
the underlying structure for the exploration of the content of the whole programme
.

A recent blog post by Maggie @ Tech Transformation about Teaching for Understanding inspired me to reply, and while I was replying, I made an interesting connection between assessment and key concepts.
In addition to that, I have been reading Seven Practices for Effective Learning by Jay McTighe and Ken O’Connor in preparation for our assessment workshop on November 1/2. All this had my mind tuned into assessment and my current assessment practices.
The statement I made at Maggie’s blog was simply the thought that, ultimately, summative assessment is also a form of formative assessment and that, while it is defined as assessment OF learning (and formative assessment is seen as assessment FOR learning) and usually summarizes the learning at the end of a unit, we cannot just STOP there. And we don’t. Traditionally in Math, even your summative assessment will inform your teaching and learning, same goes for other disciplines.

However, units of inquiry do end. The transdisciplinary themes reoccur every year, but the central idea that focuses the learning during a unit, will “stop”. This is when I realized the importance of the eight key concepts, and saw that they are REALLY the focus. We assess the understanding of the central idea, but what underlies here are the key concepts. And so we assess the understanding of those as well, and they will reoccur, usually more than once a year.

Flexible learning environments

Recently I read a post by Edna, a PYP teacher in Australia, about the new flexible learning space at her school’s junior campus. I was very excited, after all, I used to work in such an environment, and deep down really believe in it.

I talked to my principal about the idea of such flexible, open learning environments and two things we talked about have since been on my mind.

1. The flexible in the already-existing school

Of course we are not going to start knocking down existing buildings, but the question whether this can be done in our school was greeted with a confident nod by my principal. Great, I thought, but how? If you look back at the post, there is talk about reading and discussion areas, computer areas, and that for every grade level. We only have one class per grade level, with two consecutive grades doing the same units of inquiry. As we have traditional classrooms, we are “restricted” in what we can do. But the prompt that I loved the most was, that I would be able to do this in my classroom as it is. And how this challenged my thinking and how quickly my thinking adjusted. Ever since then I have been tempted to redesign my classroom.
As with my school in Berlin, which was one huge learning atelier, I envision a quiet “withdrawal”/reading area, a discussion area, a group area, a “coffee shop” area for discussions between small groups or pairs, or to work alone. A “school” or conference area for bigger groups. This is all possible, I will work further on this, and hopefully this post will get Edna to share some more of their ideas with me as well. I hope to be able to make things happen soon, as I am so curious now.

2. Mixing grades

Again, at my school in Berlin, learners were mixed. They all worked depending on their developmental state, and that allowed us to easily mix year 4, 5 and 6. It was a great experience.
We also talked about that, and that is when my “beginner to intermediate” PYP experience came through, as I questioned how this would work when students are doing different units.
CONCEPTS were, of course, the answer. Through key or related concepts, learners can come together, and then come back to their central ideas. I wonder if any schools do that. What does that mean for teachers?
For the old team in Berlin, this meant collaboration through and through, but we were subject teachers, after all, and our approach inter-disciplinary. The PYP is very different, as a trans-disciplinary programme.

Very exciting thoughts, I am curious as to how I am going to start implementing some of my new ideas. Share yours!

Appraisals… and professional development

Appraisals at my school are part of the on-going development of teachers and the school. So far it seems like a very supportive and exciting opportunity to learn and become a better teacher. It is intended to be more for the teacher than just the school. It sounds great.

Yesterday was my first meeting, to establish my goals. Goals… I brainstormed those some weeks ago, based on my interests, my experiences and the school’s recommendations for improvement provided by the International Baccalaureate in the school’s authorization report.
I tend to be a big goal person. I guess, in a way, I start with the end in mind, just like planning in the PYP (or backwards planning). I tend to go for something big I want to achieve, then I break things down. My degree in Learning, Technology and Research, a work-based and action inquiry-based qualification, has helped me to handle my “big ambitions” and to be reasonable in what I can do.

The areas of interest and development I had in mind were:

  • English as an additional Language (EAL): Taking into consideration the philosophy of all teachers being language teachers, and the fact that 10 out of 11 learners in my class are EAL, I feel I have a lot to learn and much room for improvement.
  • Assessment: In particular portfolios and how we use them in class, as well as the recording of student learning and progress.
  • Inquiry: Teaching and learning through inquiry is something that I want to learn more about all the time. Inquiry as a stance, as Kathy Short put it, is something I want to develop my own understanding of.
  • Technology Integration

The latter I do not see as a goal, but as an on-going process. I have every intention of using a new tech tool authentically in every unit of inquiry, and to continue using the ones I introduced all the time. I also continue to see technology as a must, a natural tool, and my students are slowly picking up on it. The fact that we have few laptops available and only one computer in the class, but a huge computer lab, has not stopped me. I guess as we grow, this can be addressed. I will also join the educational leadership team with technology in mind, and plan to offer techie brekkies or similar quick workshop/break-out sessions to staff who are interested.

More about my goals for appraisal later!

Caring (IB Learner Profile Attribute)

I care about the students in my school, especially those in my class. My aim is to create a safe and stimulating environment, and I want the students and parents to know that I CARE. I am there to care,…

I can say this over and over again, but I feel strongly about the IB Learner Profile. It is a set of attributes that all members of the school community (parents, students, teachers, administration and everyone else) strive to be. Caring is one of the attributes.
As a primary school teacher, I also believe that it is our job to care. To care about the well-being and learning of our students.

Recently a student of mine had me worried. I tracked the students and observed them carefully over a few days, before contacting the parents. I like to involve parents, after all, we are collaborating, we are not enemies. I hope that parents feel that they can talk to me always, about anything.
It usually helps to clarify situations and gives them and us a bigger picture.

After a very open and honest talk, the student’s behavior and actions had a context for me, and has helped me to make adjustments and plans for the future. It was also sparked a talk at home, and I was so happy to see this student coming into school today, telling me that they slept so well for the first time, and looking REALLY happy.

I am not saying that this took care of everything, but it was a huge step. I hope that the student and the parents know I care. And I am happy to see my students smile!