Learning is....
Planting a seed in our brain... learning to water, nurture and grow it.... so we can live on the fruit of our learning and plant more seeds.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Changing what is on the walls

Last term I read a blog by Bruce Hammonds called New School Year - what has been achieved? and it started me wondering about how Bruce would view my classroom.  As a result I posted this blog The Classroom Environment - what makes a class attractive?  I posted it on a Friday night, shared it on Twitter, and four hours of teachers sharing photos of what is on the walls of their classrooms currently and in the past began.  It was awesome!!  And Bruce put a link in his next blog post to my blog post!  Bonus!!

There is no disputing that a classroom environment physically needs to be warm and comfortable for students to learn.  I have found over a number of years that the classroom should reflect the learning journey of the children within it.  It should stimulate the children to learn.  It should set the standard for the expected outcome of learning.

In the last few weeks I have read three different versions of an article about a study looking at classroom displays and how they affect student achievement.  This article, Heavily Decorated Classrooms Disrupt Attention and Learning in Young Children, According to New Carnegie Mellon Research, was one version of the articles.  I have had the opportunity to engage in discussion and debate on this in three separate forums, one on Twitter through a UK education twerp, and two different teacher groups on Facebook.  This is a topic with a lot of diverse opinions and experiences.

Displaying Student Work  on the Responsive Classroom  website says:   "A classroom filled with the work of children is a delight to be in and sends a message to students that their work and their learning are important."  This post even advocates students create the displays themselves!  And then there is this little pearl of wisdom from a post called Tips for New Teachers: Classroom Displays from the ASCD website: "These days, when I'm visiting many classrooms as an elementary school consultant and coach, I'm more convinced than ever that classroom displays should consist mostly of work students have done themselves."

In New Zealand we place a lot of importance on the classroom reflecting what our students are learning, the classroom space supporting learning and that that space reflects the student's own works.  It is also expected that the work displayed will change regularly to reflect the continual learning opportunities that come along.  I personally believe that you take something down when you have something to put up.  Occasionally I rearrange so that I can still keep up work that I consider needs to stay.

Consequently, this term, a lot has changed in my class on the walls compared to the visual tour I took my readers on in the post mentioned in the first paragraph.

Firstly, my topic wall changed.  Instead of the Tiriti o Waitangi, we started the term with Anzac Day.  This was a mini unit, so this is not the full range of things I could have displayed.  The newspaper articles were brought in by a student.  I go into more about how this display engaged students in my blog post Creating excitement about learning for Anzac Day.

Last term my students and I, for Poem of the Week, read a poem about what was in Grandma's cupboard.  And we created a piece of art about it, which was put up on the wall late in the first term. 

I may have mentioned in the post I wrote last term (link in the first paragraph) that my school had a centennial celebration last term.  Schools tend to create books to celebrate those sorts of things, and we wrote poems about the school to go in the book.  I put these up last term by rearranging the writing we had done about Brendon McCullum and the fish display.  I'm not ready to take this writing down yet, so I squished it up a bit.

To fit my new displays I also moved the fish display this term, because underneath the centennial poems I put our new display about Keeping Ourselves Safe, because we're also working through that this term.  The display is pretty much the children's thinking on the various aspects of the topic as we have gone through it.  (Please excuse the missing e's - I ran out and haven't got to the resource centre as of yet to purchase more).

This was another activity that came from Poem of the Week with a poem called How does the sun rise?  As you can see we painted our own sunrises using water colour paints and we wrote poems and descriptions of the sun rising.

The following week our Poem of the Week was called Autumn Leaves.  So we went out and played in the leaves and wrote some poems and descriptions of autumn leaves.  I also asked the children to collect leaves and do some drawings of them with detail and colour them in and cut them out to add to the display.

To add the writing about sunrises and autumn leaves I had to move our display on the fish, and remove our other writing inspired by calendar pictures.

On Friday it was a lovely sunny day, so I decided art should be done outside.  Bruce talks about close observational sketching of nature in his blog I've linked in the first paragraph, so I thought we really needed this on our walls too.  So out we went for 30 minutes with an A5 piece of cartridge each and after a wee chat the class concentrated their hearts out for that whole 30 minutes (except for the ones distracted by the kitten from the school house that wanted to play), and they came up with their own drawings of a part of a tree they choose to focus on.  Some of the students also really had a go at shading and smudging their pencil to create greater effect.  So proud of them.

To put up the kids drawings I had to squeeze up our similes display a bit.  I also squeezed our similes display down a bit so I could staple up the collection of metaphors some children had researched.  As you can see there is still some wall space above my metaphors.... that's where I need a person with a head for heights to put up something that will stay for a long time...

I still kept my fish from earlier in the year... I just keep moving them to fit with what I am putting up on my wall.

 And this is what my back wall of my class looks like.

There are more changes currently happening.  My topic wall has changed to being about New Zealand native birds, and new stories about rain and accompanying pictures have replaced the flags on the wires.  My class are also currently working on posters about the birds.  Watch the next post on my classroom environment to see my new exciting news....

Sunday, 1 June 2014

My first Skype session with my class.

Ok, sometimes I am a little behind the times.

I confess - I'd never done a Skype session with my class - until last week.

This is how it all came about:

In the term break I purchased this book:

I blogged about it in this post, Anzac Books I am going to use this coming term, and the author of the above book, Peter Millett, commented on my blog.  A short conversation ensued, he said he'd love to talk to my class about the book, I followed Peter on Twitter.

I read The Anzac Puppy to my class and they really enjoyed it.  Of course they wanted to know if it was based on a true story or not.  I said to them that the author wanted to talk with them, so we should ask him questions about the book and being the author.  I split them up into groups of three, and these are the questions they came up with:

The other week I tweeted photos of the questions to Peter.  And eventually we settled on a Skype conversation.

As I said, I was a "Skype in the classroom newbie".  My previous solo Skype conversation was with a mate to help him prepare for an interview, and prior to that it was gate crashing my Mum's conversations with my aunty and some family friends in Aussie.  I'd just never really had a good reason to Skype with a class before.  But Skyping with an author is a very authentic reason.

Mistake #1:  Not prepping the kids on how to do a Skype session.
Actually, this was the one and only big mistake - I pretty much sprung this on them, by telling them we were doing it after the Year 7 & 8s left for Tech - who wants to miss out after all?  Then, by the time I set up the computer at the end of lunch and got on Skype, Peter was there, so no time to tell the kids what I was expecting.

Now it wasn't a complete disaster.  The children were very excited to see Peter and know that they were going to get the answers to their questions.  They all gathered around and at the beginning were attentive.  But as time went on, they drifted off to be silly while the teacher's back was literally turned.  Some went off to draw pictures.  Any child who wasn't participating wasn't hearing the answers, and certainly wasn't engaged as I expected.

Peter's wife is also a teacher, so while I was embarrassed at the rudeness of some children, he rolled with it and was very understanding indeed, which I was grateful for.  After the conversation ended I did the growling thing with the kids, the one that starts with, "I'm extremely disappointed... why do you think that is?"

Peter was great.  He told the kids something very important: he has loved writing ever since he was a little boy.  He told us about how long it can take to write a book.  He started researching The Anzac Puppy in 2001 and it wasn't published until 2014... that's the longest time it has taken him to write a book.  Peter loves writing for children, and he loves writing stories that will make people laugh.  He also told us about some of the things that inspire him and the book he has just completed that is next to be published - but we were sworn to secrecy.

My class and I have the opportunity to have another Skype conversation with a class in Australia.  So I am thinking we will definitely have to nut out some expectations prior to doing the next chat.  The children are also keen to Skype an ex-teaching colleague of mine who is now working as an advisor on writing in schools, including my school.  I said we would ask her next time she came to the school.

Later that day on Twitter I started a random #edchatNZ chat about personalising learning for teachers (that is for another blog however).  I mentioned my first Skype chat during it, saying how I had done some "just in time learning that day".  As a result, now another teacher is pursuing Peter Millett's books for use in his class and may also do a Skype chat with his class and Peter Millett.  So there is a win out of the day.