The power of talk

Discussion is worth a 1000 worksheets

I remember the days when a quiet classroom was a good classroom. However silence is not always the best learning environment. Teachers frequently think that their best tool of the trade is a worksheet. There may be a place for using this tool occasionally but the more I read the English syllabus two important points become apparent.

Talk underpins learning. Even in Early Stage One students are asked to express an opinion about texts read and to give reasons for what they like and dislike in texts. There is an expectation that students respond to what they hear, read and view. As students learn to engage in conversation they can build on the ideas of others and so their initial understandings change and develop. We want students to be able to accept different points of view and be challenged by the thinking of others in order to synthesise new ideas.

There is an expectation that students become increasingly sophisticated analysts of written, spoken and viewed texts. Understanding that texts have different layers is a difficult concept in itself. In order to explore and understand a text thoroughly students learn to unpack the layers of author’s purpose, the intended audience, how visual and written information work together to make meaning as well as the literal and inferred meanings in a text. By Stage Three this reaches the sophisticated point of being able to address how a text is positioning the reader.

Unpacking these layers in a text is best achieved through structured conversation facilitated by the teacher building on students’ understanding. Everyone’s understanding grows through rich talk about text.

Recently an anonymous comment appeared on a course evaluation. ‘Conversation is worth a thousand worksheets.’ I couldn’t agree more! As teachers of every grade we need to hone our skills of facilitating classroom talk that is rich and meaningful.

 

Goals for learning

Screen Shot 2016-05-11 at 7.27.02 amI was energetically working out at the gym yesterday when this sign flashed onto the screen. It resonated with my thinking about learning goals for students and the power of being explicit. It is an important step in facilitating the growth of student agency or independence to help the students in our class understand the next most important step, for them, along the learning continuum of reading, writing, spelling or maths. However, knowing your goal without unpacking how to achieve that goal is literally wishful thinking. For me so much of our success as teachers comes back to being explicit.

In the gym the coaches check in with us regularly about our progress, the correct use of the equipment and answer any questions we might have. We need to touch base frequently with our students. By engaging in meaningful conversation around their progress and providing feedback, we maintain the momentum for students to successfully achieve their learning goals.

On the look out for new books?

Screen Shot 2016-03-10 at 2.12.13 pmHave you seen Finding Winnie written by Lindsay Mattick and illustrated by Sophie Blackall?

Did you know that this book, published in 2015, won the 2016 Caldecott medal?

Did you know that there was a real bear called Winnie and the Winnie the Pooh stories are based on the real bear?

If you answered ‘no’ to any of these questions then I have a great new book you might be interested in reading and sharing with your class. Finding Winnie has three distinct parts. Firstly the story of the real bear called Winnie and then a second story about the creation of Winnie the Pooh. The last part of the text is a collection of old photos and  other artifacts that relate to both stories.

I think this is a real find! It might even make some interesting connections with History and the use of sources and the ‘reading’ of visual images like photos.

Goal Setting

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As the new school year starts teachers everywhere are gearing up to get the best out of their students. The catch cry is improved student learning and I have never met a teacher who didn’t want the best for the students in their class. As I  reflected on this idea I have been challenged by a sign up at my gym. (Yes, I can hear you laughing but the TRIO  team are all keen members of a gym!!!) The gym wants me to have a goal to motivate me into a more healthy lifestyle. The reasons the gym values goal setting are much the same as why we should be inspired to set appropriate learning goals with our students.

  1. Goals help you be who you want to be.
  2. Goals stretch your comfort zone.
  3.  Goals build confidence.
  4. Goals help turn the impossible into possible.
  5. Goals lead to feelings of satisfaction.

These are good reasons for any of us to set goals but especially good reasons to set realistic learning goals with our students to ensure they are successful life long learners.

(Adapted from What Do You Really Want? How to Set a Goal and Go for It! A Guide for Teens by Beverly K. Bachel,

copyright © 2001. )

Thoughts to start 2016

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A TRIO of old chooks was the photo on my birthday card from one of the TRIO team this January. We had a good laugh but I have reflected on the chooks and I feel proud to be part of a TRIO of old chooks. What is there to be proud of you may ask?

First the idea of a TRIO or a thinking partner or a community of learners. sharing ideas and especially our classroom successes and failures keeps the conversation real and keeps our grounded in the practical not just theoretical. The expectations for a teacher working in a classroom are very high and we all need a group or a partner to debrief with and share our current thinking.

Secondly, ‘old’ could be an insult but I substitute ‘experienced’ and feel proud to have been passionate about my choice of career for many years. this doesn’t give me the right to say, ‘We have always done that this way!’ or ‘I’m too old to write a program’ but I can bring a well rounded point of view to stage discussions, I can support new teachers in my school and offer them a range of ideas to address student outcomes.

Lastly:  ‘chooks.’ I’ve watched hens in action and they are intent on the tasks of finding food and laying eggs. They  know their purpose and invest energy in achieving it. What is our purpose as teachers? We have a mandatory syllabus and are engaged in the task of improving student outcomes. Two things are crucial to our effectiveness, understanding the syllabus and programming to outcomes from the syllabus. How well do you know the syllabus and how are you going to  teach with passion and purpose this year?

Teachers matter!

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TRIO was excited to celebrate World Teachers’ Day at a lunch organised by the Australian Education Union today at Darling Harbour. We enjoyed good company, great food and inspiring speeches from Michele Bruniges, Stephen Dinham and Susan Hopgood. The message: teachers matter! The speakers spoke about change in education and improving student outcomes. The magic ingredient is teachers! Teachers and professional learning were both cited by the speakers as key components of ongoing student improvement.

Conscious competence

Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 10.34.30 amMy new phrase of the week is ‘conscious competence.’ TRIO had a great day yesterday at a CPL course organised by the NSW Teachers’ Federation. As always we shared the day with teachers who had travelled far to attend and share in the discussion about visual literacy. We all acknowledge that we live in a visual world and so unconsciously we ‘read and absorb’ visual messages all day but everyone present learnt how to be more ‘consciously competent’ in unpacking how visuals are composed. We unpacked the language of the syllabus and some visual literacy terminology. There was a sense of excitement by the end of the day as teachers prepared to leave with lots of ideas to use in their classrooms. To support teachers unpacking what the NSW English syllabus has to say about visual literacy, TRIO has produced a set of ten posters and a list of the texts we use to introduce visual literacy vocabulary. If you are interested in looking at these resources click on the titles to go to the resource section of the TRIO website.

Majors Bay Community of Schools

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The holidays are over and today two of TRIO spent the day with teachers from the Majors Bay Community of Schools at an absolutely delightful venue, The Waterview Conference Centre in Bicentenial Park. The day was spent exploring the idea of how our teaching of maths has changed in response to the new NSW maths syllabus. There is a challenge to rethink our pedagogy to best meet the needs of our twenty first century learners. The challenge is not creating maths activities but considering our approach to planning and assessment. Thank you Majors Bay Community of schools for allowing us to share the day with you all.

Maths picture books

IMG_1731TRIO has been collecting picture books which we use as a hook to engage students with maths concepts. Most of the books in our collection are picture books, not specifically written for maths but they delight students and help teachers to focus student interest in the lesson.
The work of Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe in planning effective learning sequences supports the idea of a ‘hook’ to immerse the learner in a genuine problem, issue or challenge. (Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, The Understanding by Design Guide to Creating High Quality units, page 11) There is a variety of tools that teachers can use to spark student interest in maths and being aware of the range of picture books that can be used in every grade is an advantage. If you would like to see this book list, click here.

Transitions

Screen Shot 2015-06-16 at 7.46.40 pmDuring the course of a school day students often move around the school: going  out to recess and lunch, to the library etc. It is during these transitions that students are more likely to play around and get into trouble. All teachers but especially beginning teachers, need to plan ahead and think about how many times the class will transition during the day within the room, entering and leaving the room and moving around the school.

Time spent teaching students transition routines and practising how to move in an orderly way is time well spent. Teachers need to discuss expectations and the routines for transitions with students.  The routines you establish need to be consistently encouraged with praise and gentle reminders. Reinforcing  transitions is valuable and will ensure your day runs smoothly. This topic was discussed by TRIO at a recent conference for relief teachers and some transition ideas can be found on the resource page. Click here to take a look.