Blogging with Year 8 Students

Unit of Work: Writing Folio using a Class Blog

This year I had the opportunity to blog with my accelerated Year 8 students. I started the blog with them last year and decided that I wanted to make it a regular part of our class. We used the Global2 platform (hosted by Edublogs) as it is a DET approved blogging site. With the help of tutorials from Edublogs, I started incorporating blogging into our English classes. It was a trial to see how it would work in high school as well as teaching them how to be responsible digital citizens. With the help of a google form students submitted topics that we would use throughout the year. They chose the word length and style and all got credit for their topics. Every Friday, students would complete 1 piece of writing that would have to be submitted for review.

topics

 

What students learnt

Using Creative Commons

My students were already creating content and publishing it online, so I wanted to teach them to be responsible Digital Citizens. Students learnt how to use Creative Commons and where to find them. My teaching team and I spent a few lessons teaching them about Creative Commons and showed them how to find images that they could re-use without breaching copyright. Every term, we would revise the concepts and reiterate the importance of Creative Commons. I also included a page on the blog about Creative Commons licences, so that they could read through the information. If students submitted work that included an image that didn’t have a CC licence, they were asked to remove it and find a new image before it could be published. However I realised at the end of the year, that many still struggled with the concept and that I would need to continue to reinforce it next year. Most students simply accessed Compfight widget (through Global2) or PhotosforClass (widget on the class blog) to find images for their posts, as those were the sites we used most frequently in class.

CC images

What are Creative Commons and where can you find them?

Self editing

By providing students with an audience apart from their teachers, it made them more accountable for their learning. It also helped students learn from their peers – by reading their friends’ work, they could see how others had interpreted the topic.The creative topics allowed them more freedom in expressing themselves – they could interpret the topic in anyway. It made them think about what they wrote- many students started to regularly check their work for errors and see how they could improve their writing skills.

Improved writing

Student comments: “Has your writing improved?”

Peer Feedback

Students were taught to not only reflect on their learning, but to also provide each other with feedback. Since they regularly interact online through social media, it was important to teach them how to respond to the comments of others. By providing their peers with feedback, it gave them an opportunity to remember what they had learnt at school – it helped consolidate their own learning. It also provided them with a chance to respond to their peers’ comments in a positive manner. This was a tough skill to teach and not all students were able to put this into practice.

Student comments: "Did you comment on other students' posts?"

Student comments: “Did you comment on other students’ posts?”

What I learnt

Since I was determined to use a class blog, I needed to be flexible with the process of implementation as it was the first time that it was being used in my English class on a regular basis. I needed to support my team members during the implementation as well as providing ongoing support throughout the year. They were not familiar with Global2 blogs and needed to know how to use the blog features in order to help our students who would often lose passwords, have difficulties with posting or forget to keep up with the work.

Our teaching team had to work individually with students to help them stay focused. Whilst students were working during class, on other units of work, we would speak to students individually and provide them with 1:1 feedback and help on their Blog posts. This practice was set up with the help of another teacher and implemented by the entire team, as it allowed us to cater for each individual student. Throughout the year, as my team members became more confident using the Global2 blog, they helped me review the Blogging unit on a regular basis, identifying issues as well as supporting the implementation process. At times, it was difficult to allocate a lesson to writing, due to other interruptions to classes. This would have an impact on the students, as many would forget to complete the weekly task. By providing them with 1:1 support, it allowed us to identify students who would struggle to write independently.

The best part of this unit was discovering budding poets, philosophical writers, researchers, graphic artists as well as those who held a power to draw you into the world they had created with their words. By allowing students to interpret the creative topics in their own way, they were able to let their imagination run wild. Often they struggled with the word limits given or with certain topics, especially those who enjoyed writing, because they had to limit what they wrote. In the feedback they provided, they wished they had some weeks where they could choose their own topics. I can certainly see that I could have given them that opportunity especially in Terms 3 and 4, once they had become confident with using the class blog. Many students have now started using Wattpad, to share their stories with others on a more global basis. As a teacher, I will not have to wait to see them publish their writing in the future- they are already sharing their stories for others to read.

teacher support

What can your teachers do to help you with developing your writing skills?

2014: A Year in Review

My 2014 journey:

  1. I joined Twitter and it’s made me think more about my teaching practice. It’s opened up a new world of PD for me along with educator blogs, Google Hangouts and communities. Pd in pajamas and in my own time!
  2. I’ve become passionate about Student voice in my classroom and take time to talk to my students about what they think about the class on a daily basis. 
  3. I take more time to get student feedback and show them that I’m implementing their suggestions in the classroom. 
  4. By reflecting regularly on my lessons and teaching practice in my blog posts, I am constantly thinking about the reasons why I adopt new technology or a different method of teaching.
  5. My development as a Leader is changing because of conversations with leaders at school- I know why I want to be a teacher and a leader
  6. I’ve re-ignited my passion for teaching by connecting with educators outside my school- there is so much that I want to do.
  7. Implementing #PBL within my own Year 8 class has seen a dramatic improvement in student engagement and learning and I hope to do this with all my classes from Years 7-9. 
  8. My Year 7 students’ class blog is up and running. Students are getting used to posting their work on the blog and even my teaching team is now more familiar with running the class blog. This will carry on next year as I hope to extend it to their other subjects as well. 
  9. I became more comfortable with my role as the Domain Technology Leader as the year passed. Helping staff implement Blended learning lessons in their classroom was a challenge and at times it seemed as if there were too many obstacles. However staff from all 4 domain areas presented their Blended Learning Action Projects on the 10th of December 2014. It was a great success and it was wonderful to see other teachers come and learn from participants in a “speed-dating” session. Feedback from staff and participants was positive with many remarking that they had picked up ideas to implement in their own classrooms in 2015. 

Overall, this year has been a positive learning experience for me. I have become an enthusiastic learner and am constantly looking for new ideas to implement in the classroom. I constantly evaluate my teaching practice to ensure that it is the students who benefit from it. 

Where to from here:

  1. First of all, a well-deserved summer break during which I will be going to Europe for the first time- a dream come true.
  2. In 2015, I will no longer be a Domain Technology Leader. Instead I will be the English Learning Leader- a new role for me with many new responsibilities. I’m sad to give up my tech role but I look forward to new challenges. 
  3. I have also been accepted into Bastow’s 2015 Emerging Leaders’ Program – this will help me further develop my leadership skills and hopefully will help me become more confident in my role as a leader at school. 
  4. I will continue to learn from Twitter, blogs and all the great educators out there. I’ve already downloaded e-books on to my Kindle to read whilst I’m on long plane journeys. I’m looking forward to reading “Teach like a PIRATE”, “Digital Leadership” and many others. 
  5. I’m looking forward to learning from my students and working with them again in 2015.

AITSL: 3.6 Evaluate and improve teaching programs

I have been using PBL units in my Year 7 and 8 Humanities class during Terms 3 and 4. I have found them to be really effective. My Year 8 students enjoy it because it allows them to choose how they want to learn. As they’ve told me quite often “It’s good when the teachers don’t stand in front of the whiteboard talking to us for the entire lesson”. It allows them to ask for help when they need it. Some groups will require more teacher support and that’s ok. I like my PBL units because it allows my students to work at their ability- it’s not the same information delivered to them. They have different entry and exit points and I try to ensure that they cover the basic skills needed for that unit. 

In the units I’ve implemented I’ve noticed the development of the following skills with my students:

  1. Collaboration: Students learn to work in groups to complete the tasks. In our projects we had a mixture of student chosen groups as well as mixed ability groups chosen by the teachers. This enabled our students to develop their ability to work with a variety of students who have different learning capabilities. I often saw advanced students helping our EAL students with completing tasks and learning how to share the work based on ability. Issues arose, but with the help of teachers, they learnt how to talk about it in their group in order to resolve the problem.
  2. Time Organisation: Most of our PBL projects were limited to 3 weeks in which students completed their work. Students had to complete a plan that would help them with time management. Often this plan was abandoned along the journey and the last week would see a flurry of activity as students rushed about completing their projects. The News Reports project on Sustainability saw students suddenly realise that they were running out of time as the filming took them a lot longer than they expected. They had spent more time researching their topics and had left just half a week to film their reports as well as to edit their videos. Feedback from students showed that they felt they needed to work on their time organisation skills a lot more, especially when working in groups.
  3. Learning how to create questions for research: In our PBL projects, students had to come up with a list of questions that would guide their learning. In order for them to ask a variety of questions, teachers ran a “toolbox” lesson on the different types of questions they can ask. Students started to develop questions that were beyond the basic “recall” style of questions. This  enabled them to delve more deeply into their topic. 
  4. Self-direction: One of the key skills that I have seen my students develop is their ability to self-direct themselves. Yes, whilst at times they tend to get distracted, I’ve noticed more and more that my Year 8s especially are focusing more on their work. Many have told me that they like being able to work by themselves and choose how they learn. They make the decisions on the content they want to learn in a PBL unit and enjoy exploring different aspects of the topic. With my EAL students and High Needs Learners, I provide them with more support. In a current unit on Rainforests, I sat down with a group of 6 EAL students and asked them what they wanted to learn about. They chose Australian rainforests and together we worked out a list of 10 questions for them to research about rainforests in their chosen state. They made the decisions and I helped them with writing out the questions. It is amazing to see the boys working more independently each lesson and staying focused on their work. 

As a teacher, the PBL units have given me the opportunity to learn more about my students and the way they learn. By going round to different groups, it allows me to talk to them about their learning. They share what they are learning with me and we often get into discussions about the topic. My students like this way of learning- it teaches them to be independent learners and I find that they are more engaged in their learning than if I was standing in front of the class and teaching them. On days when they are struggling to focus on their work, it can be a challenge to redirect their attention but it is easier for them to get back on task when they are doing a PBL unit.

It allows my more independent learners to delve more deeply into their topic and I will often challenge them to extend themselves further and give them further areas to investigate. The dependent learners work at their own pace, seeking support more regularly whilst at the same time extending their capabilities without them realising it.

PBL units have allowed me to tailor the learning to suit my students’ needs and address the feedback that they give me. They are more vocal now about how they want to learn because they know that I will implement in the classroom whilst at the same time teaching them the required skills. It is interesting to note that they often tell me that it’s good that I don’t “teach” them – by that they mean that I don’t stand in front of them and talk for 75 minutes. I enjoy these units because it allows me to focus on individual student needs and to provide 1:1 support to them based on the task. 

Black Death PBL Unit

The Task:

The Task

 

Breaking it down and planning:

My team and I worked together with the students to break down the task. They looked at key words of the task. They brainstormed ideas and tasks that they could work on. They had the opportunity to choose how they worked: they could work as a group or individually. Two students worked by themselves with the rest of them arranging themselves into friendship groups. My EAL transition group were also involved in the project- they were given set tasks to create and teachers helped them create the tasks. With them, we had to teach them about the Black Death before they could create the resources. The rest of the students learnt about the Black Death through their own research whilst creating the tasks. They had to look at the information and decide what was relevant to their activities. We ran lessons on reading the Australian Curriculum, how to create teacher resources and we even had a lesson on how to put information into their own words. We went through how to create a bibliography and how to find resources that were creative commons. As teachers we did our own planning  and were constantly aware of what skills we needed to help the students with.

Planning

Students Planning on Padlet

 

Professional Standards:

When I was planning this unit I was aware of the standards set by AITSL. My aim was to use some of the standards within this PBL unit as it would allow  me to focus on the skills I wanted my students to develop and strengthen. As a proficient teacher I targeted the following key points:

1.3 Design and implement teaching strategies that are responsive to the learning strengths and needs of students from diverse linguistic, cultural, religious and socioeconomic backgrounds.

3.3 Select and use relevant teaching strategies to develop knowledge, skills, problem solving and critical and creative thinking.

3.6 Evaluate personal teaching and learning programs using evidence, including feedback from students and student assessment data, to inform planning.

4.5 Incorporate strategies to promote the safe, responsible and ethical use of ICT in learning and teaching.

5.1 Assess student learning

I had to ensure that this unit catered for my EAL and low literacy students as well as challenge my high achievers. By getting students to think about who they were creating the tasks for, it allowed them to understand that not everyone is at the same level of achievement and they were able to use their strengths to cater for differences in learning ability. For example my EAL transition students created word puzzles, true and false questions and sequencing events on the Black Death- activities they are familiar with. On the other hand other students created at source analysis and mapping tasks that catered for mainstream students. This reflected the work that they complete in class.

Challenges:

Since this task was different to how a unit is taught in our class, my team and I had to constantly ensure that students were being supported. Given that this class has students with a wide range of abilities, we had to support and guide them in their learning. Some groups had trouble dealing with members who didn’t contribute on a regular basis or took too long to complete set tasks. I was often asked to mediate sessions between groups who were struggling to communicate with each other. Students had to learn to set time frames in order to get tasks completed on time. They also had to format teacher tasks so that it looked presentable. Students used a variety of ICT tools from Publisher, Word, Wix (website creator), Google sites, interactive maps and Blendspace. They either chose Microsoft tools that they were comfortable with or extended their capabilities by creating websites and using Blendspace. My team and I had to constantly reinforce that they made sure that they used websites correctly and acknowledged their sources.

Reflections:

My students’ presentations were fantastic. The effort and the level of engagement was clearly evident in the teaching resources they created. They had created a variety of teaching resources – from crosswords and word searches, to games, mapping tasks and websites with activities. Students even created Blendspace units of work where they collated resources made by others and created activities around them. I decided to have a new audience for their work and so I invited curriculum leaders and house leaders. We had our House Leader (who is also an assistant principal), our assistant house leader and the Technology for Learning Leader come in to our class to see the presentations. By giving my students a variety of people in the audience instead of just their regular teachers and peers, they were excited and worked more consciously to complete their tasks to a high standard.

The students use of references increased during this unit of work. They are becoming more conscious of acknowledging their sources. They also ensured that what they wrote was in their own words, thanks to a strategy put in by the other teacher. My main focus during this unit was to constantly reinforce that they needed to reference their work. This PBL task helped them realise that they couldn’t just take any work from the internet without checking to see if they could legally re-use the material.

Feedback:

To provide authentic feedback, the resources created by my students will be used in the Technology for Learning teacher’s Year 8 Humanities class. They will evaluate the resources made and give feedback on the tasks. By doing this, my students will see that their work is being utilised and I will also get to see what other teachers and students think of this unit of work.

My students also completed a survey that evaluated the Black Death unit and teacher support during the term. I asked them whether they liked the unit and if it allowed them to work independently and the way they wanted to learn. Most students responded positively. The key reason they wrote was that it allowed them to choose their own groups and create their own tasks. We had 3 rubrics to evaluate the project. The first allowed the students to evaluate themselves and the second allowed them to evaluate their group. The third was the teacher evaluation of the students, which we completed in consultation with the students. This gave us the opportunity to talk to them about the work 1:1 and give them immediate feedback on the unit.

Resources Created:

One of my students used  Blendspace, where she collated a variety of resources to provide a comprehensive unit of work on the Black Death. She included videos, websites and even games about the Plague. She carefully highlighted the key points from the History Australian curriculum on the Black Death. She created activities around the resources that she collected. Her unit was quite detailed and showed me how she likes to learn. She also made a statement during her presentation that she now understood how much work teachers put into creating learning tasks for students. I have made a copy of the unit  (to avoid her name being used )and embedded it below.

 

Listening to Student Voices

In the last week and half, one of my most disengaged students has started asking me to change our learning spaces. We had been discussing another topic and he suddenly brought this question up. So in an attempt to get him more involved in our learning, I started questioning him about his idea. At first he wasn’t sure about how to articulate it but a few days later in my PBL feedback sheet, he wrote down his ideas. He said that not everyone learnt the same way: some wanted a quiet space, others to work with their friends and that this could change depending on what unit we were learning.

So the next day when we had English, he suggested we go outside the classroom to the green area (or piazza as it is referred to by teachers) as it was a beautiful sunny day. This space is in between all the buildings, has fake grass and a few benches. It is like a mini outdoor theatre with steps on one side. So without hesitation I decided to listen to him and took my group of students outside. They quickly arranged themselves in the area, with the boys lying on the fake grass and the girls on benches. We were working on an essay for “Holes” and in my mind it really wasn’t the ideal place to teach them to write an essay. However to my surprise, they worked well in that space (once papers had stopped flying). The boys who are my reluctant writers, stayed in one area without moving around and worked solidly for the next 50 minutes. I moved from group to group and they stayed on task. Since that day, they have been more eager to work and have realised that I am willing to listen to their ideas. When the weather improves I know I will be taking them out again. In previous years I would have immediately vetoed the idea, but now I know that listening to my students’ voices, I can get them more involved in their learning.

Student voice is important in the classroom these days. Teachers are aware that it is vital that students have a say in the way they learn. Gone are the days when the teachers dictated how learning would happen in the classroom. As a teacher I see the value in getting students’ opinion because it helps to understand how they learn. They need to be able to share their thoughts and ideas of what learning looks like to them and how they would like to like to learn at school.

Bill Palmer’s article on Edutopia states by giving students a voice, it increases their “achievement and engagement”. Students who take responsibility and ownership in their own learning, have a more vested interest in what they are doing. The conversations with the teachers benefit both of them as there is a shared understanding of what learning should look like. By giving students a voice it helps teachers to personalise the learning for each student.

In our house (my school is divided into 7 houses), the Assistant House Leader has been actively working with our students to find out who they are as learners. It took me a while to realise that I also needed to learn how my students learn. When my AHL carried out the “Who Am I as a Learner” activities, I paid close attention and went over the data she collated. It was interesting to see the information as a teacher. Whilst I talked to my students on a regular basis, I didn’t really understand how they learned and what they wanted to see happen in the classroom. As a student myself, I had no voice as I was in a traditional classroom and that was they way we were taught. If my teachers knew how I learnt, maybe I wouldn’t have struggled so much at school. I can change the way I teach by listening to my students’ and shaping my practice to incorporate their suggestions.

All around our house, our students’ understanding of themselves as learners is starting to be displayed. This allows us, their teachers, to know who they are and how they like to learn. This helps us in our planning and gives us the opportunity to create lessons that are engaging and influenced by student voices.

 

References:

Palmer, Bill, “Including Student Voice”, http://www.edutopia.org/blog/sammamish-2-including-student-voice-bill-palmer, accessed 13th September 2014

Passport to Asia

It’s my favourite time of the school year. The time when Year 7s work on their Passport to Asia project. So what is P2A about? Well, it’s a PBL unit where students learn about a country in Asia for 3-5 weeks. In a previous years, the unit was a combined English and Humanities unit. This year it has been extended to include Science and Maths. Students have to complete a Maths and Science component as part of their project.

In 2011 my Year 7 students were given Korea as their country and they chose to look at both North and South Korea. They compared cultures, traditions, systems of government as well as tourism of both countries. 2012 saw my Year 7 students look at Malaysia which was a different experience to the previous year. Last year the students studied China. The best part of the project was that despite being a multi-cultural school, each year that we have been doing P2A, there have been no students in my class from the chosen country. This allows all of them to learn about a new country and to experience the excitement of immersing themselves in the country’s culture for a few weeks. 

Students get to chose their area of learning. We start off with brainstorming questions that they would like to answer about their country. These questions allow them to explore different aspects of the country’s culture and people. The teachers run a few guided engagement lessons on topics we feel that they should know about as well as toolbox lessons. Toolbox lessons allow us to target skills that the students will need during the unit of work.

This year my Year 7s are learning about Japan. They are excited especially since they are interested in anime, manga, cars and Japanese pop music (J-pop). They are already practicing Japanese dances, building kamishibais and 3-D origami figures as well as creating their own maps of Japan and their passports. They will use these passports to visit the other 6  Year 7 classes and get them stamped. This year we’ve even invited parents and teachers from local schools to come and see the exhibitions- next year it will be open to primary school students in the local area. 

I like this unit of work because you get to see the students work together with each other and learn how to manage their time. For the most part, they self-regulate and learn how to negotiate with each other. As a teacher, I enjoy sitting with them, helping them paint and getting to know them. For me it’s the best time to get to learn more about my students. Some teachers do not enjoy this unit because it is not “structured” and does not follow the curriculum topics specified in the frameworks. For me, it’s an opportunity to teach them skills from the curriculum as well as to strengthen their pre-existing skills. Students learn more from this unit of work and remember it in their later years. When they see the current year 7s working on it, they always ask me if they can do it again. It allows them to learn about a country in their own way and  the freedom to explore their areas of interest. Each year we build upon this unit of work and it shows us that PBL develops independent learning and collaborative skills.

I look forward to seeing the work my current Year 7s are creating………