Provocations

Yesterday I was finally able to join #pypchat on Twitter after months and months of absence. The topic was provocations, and the chat itself was an incredible provocation for me.

As a PYP teacher at heart but not in real life, my planning time is often me, myself and I, or, occasionally, with a colleague (but there never seems to be much time for planning together). It saddens me, because talking about an upcoming learning unit always helps me to get started. 

Nonetheless, this post is about provocations, and I realized, that my life could use more of them again.

They…

– are a good way to get students to think about an upcoming unit

– help students to reflect on concepts 

– can sharpen our senses in the middle of a unit, allow us to ask new questions or refocus

– can be simple yet super effective

– can be visuals, stories and pretty much anything else

– can lead to action

 

The chat itself was an amazing provocation and I can’t wait to return to the archives in due time to see what I have changed about my practice.

Using a tablet in education

Teaching in the state system, I’m limited in what technology I can user with my students.

However, I’m planning on exchanging my planning book, note book and calendar with something else… I always thought that using my laptop would suffice, but I never started using it that way.

Now I’m planning on giving a tablet a try. I’m a flexible operating system user, using an Android phone,  a Mac laptop and a Linux desktop. What I’m really curious about is what other educators use in their classrooms.

I can see myself using the tablet for :

– lesson planning
– note taking
– taking photos as evidence
– calendar
– presentations etc

So, what do you use or would you use and why?

Diary of a teacher: Struggle in grade 7

Grade 7b is an extremely diverse class. In Maths, I have 13 students as the “basic course”. Of these 13, many seem to hate Maths. Nothing new there, I hear you say? To me it is… I want my students to feel like they CAN do Maths, do feel like they know what it’s for. But grade 7b is far from this.

After sick leave last week, I got back today to someone telling me, the kids are sick of fractions. But when I got to class, I quickly realized that this is not it. The kids were extremely overwhelmed by the most basic questions. So we backtracked…. and it seems like we have to go way back before we can catch up. 

This is where the trouble begins… the curriculum says they have already done this. Formally speaking, the 13 students in the basic course, who, according to last year’s teacher, were the ones who couldn’t do it and didn’t want to do it, have no time to catch up. 
No worries, we will. 

So what do I do with these Maths-hating, “I can’t do Maths”-saying, generally occupied with other things and problems teenagers? 

  • Make sure they have some positive experience… start off with something they can do or that is relatively “easy” (and at the same time use this period to set boundaries and rules, which is another thing the class struggles with).
  • Focus on the main aspects of fractions and decimals in order to get to what is meant to be done according to the curriculum
  • Make them explain and reflect instead of completing typical drill-based exercises
  • Allow time for us to get to know each other

As far as behaviour goes, that’s another story for another day. But we’ll get to this! I can already tell you that grade 7 will probably be my main opportunity for learning this year and as such, you will probably read more about them as we go along. Thanks for reading and please do post your comments, ideas and anything else!

Changes… but are we prepared?

I’m all in favour for change. Really, it is the one thing that helps us to move on, develop and better ourselves. But sometimes I wonder whether we are ready for the changes that are being implemented or thought to be implemented in the German education system.

Currently, students with special needs can be taught in the mainstream classroom or go to a special needs school. But we are now thinking INCLUSION, the term going through every German educators mind right now (if it is not going through yours…. why not?). The aim is to teach all students inclusively.

I’m all for it. Definitely. But HELLO? Are we really READY for something big as this? Here are a few questions I wish to raise… and I wonder how other countries/systems deal with this!

  • How do we staff our classrooms? Are we still thinking that one teacher is enough to deal with a class of 20-25 primaries which include possibly 4-5 or more special educational needs (more likely 20-25 😉 )
  • What about grades? Are we planning to grade all students as we are doing now? Are we not grading the “special kids” and thus make them “special” again?
  • Curriculum? Who does it apply to? Are we sticking to age/grade specific curricula? Are we not even going to consider phase-based/individual development plans for all students?
  • How aware are the teachers who will soon cater to a variety of needs? Learning disabilities, social and emotional problems, etc etc. Are we asking too much maybe?
  • Where is the collaboration or at least cooperation between special needs teachers and mainstream school teachers going to start and end? What about social workers?

These are just a few questions. I don’t think we are ready. The reality is gruesome. We have teachers who are afraid of students with disabilities; not because they are not tolerant, but because they have so much on their hands they worry not be able to meet their needs! And because they lack experience!
We grade students and as a result make them stand out or disillusioned!

We are not ready. But change still has to happen…. just how?

Where is their curiosity?

I know I’m spoilt. I know that most of my previous schools where exceptional, esp. in the pedagogic approach (IB schools in particular). But I wasn’t prepared for this.

I’m at a high school in a very socially challenged area. The school form, a less academic secondary school, is threatened with closure, the school deals with being understaffed. The students come from a variety of backgrounds, but mainly families with little educational background (and interest), unemployment and more often than one would like see (not that we want to see this at all) major problems such as abuse, etc.

I teach grades 5, 7, 8 and 9. The upper grades were my main worry, but to be honest, they seem fine. What really shocked me is…. that grade 5 is full of kids with no natural curiosity… with a fully loaded hatred for school and everything that goes with it. A grade full of kids that think that learning is “stupid”.

Where do you go from there? How do you hook these kids? How do not end up in the “open your books on page 5”  dilema?

That’s another thing… all my other classes have been trained to “work by the book”,…. how do you open this up?

Challenges!

A special last week and new things to come

My last week at my current school is approaching! It came so fast, I didn’t realize I only had four days left with my class until today.

It’s sad to have to move on again. This is the first time I actually HAVE to move on, because my position was temporary, and unfortunately we were too well-staffed to extend my contract. However, I will stay VERY CLOSE to my current school and just move to the neighboring High School. 
My first time teaching HS (apart from HS teaching at my current special needs school)!!! I’m on reduced hours, to allow me more time for uni and myself, so I won’t be taking over class teacher responsibilities but stick to teaching Math and English.

I’m sad, but I’m also embracing the opportunity!

The experience at the special needs school has changed me, definitely. And I’m looking forward to apply my learning at my new school. And to reflect a bit more on my learning over the summer. So watch this space! 

Special Needs – differentiation

As you might now, I’m currently at a special needs school. Our students have learning disabilities and our school does not need to follow the state curriculum. That gives us a lot of space and time to …. support our students individually. As we should. Not just in special needs schools.

However, it is still not a walk in the park… especially not with 16 students in your class. For the first half of the school year, I was responsible for Math in my class, a grade 5/6. Then we decided to change our approach, and to combine classes 5, 6 and 7 for Math and Language. We divided them up into 6 similar-ability groups.

Advantages

  • The students feel much more comfortable in these smaller groups and with students of similar abilities
  • Teachers can focus much more on the students’ needs
  • Learning has increased and sped up
  • Planning has become more focused and as a result…
  • Teaching has become more inquiry-based!

Disadvantages

  • It is hard to work inter- or transdisciplinary, because students go back into their classes after their Math and Language lessons
  • The lessons are often too short
  • It’s hard to be flexible and extend the learning time, because students switch courses (from Math to Language) after 50 min and then go back into their class

All in all though, this is amazing. I am able to do much more with my group of students, and the results are fantastic.