We’re hosting a TeachMeet!

It’s been over a year since I went to my first TeachMeet, up here in Brisbane. I presented a pecha kucha on ‘fair’ assessment and Project Based Learning and had a great time meeting a bunch of other educators from a wide range of contexts.

Now the time has come for me to donate space at my institution to the cause. Each semester I endeavour to arrange an activity that puts my preservice students in touch with teachers and practitioners in ‘the real world’, and this semester the TeachMeet will be that event! When I asked my students a few weeks ago if they were keen to act as hosts for this event they were really into it the idea and the planning (mostly of potential snacks) began straight away.

Our theme is ‘What Works in Education?’, which doesn’t really narrow the focus too much but is intended to get people interested in sharing good ideas.

If you follow this blog and live in Brisbane we’d love to see you at our TeachMeet!

Details for (FREE!) registration can be found here: http://tmbrisbane.wikispaces.com/

If you exist in the Twitterverse you can also follow along and add ideas during the event using the hashtag #tmbrisbane

*** Teachers, lecturers, preservice teachers and educators at large all welcome ***

TeachMeet - BNE_Sept2013

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Slaves to the Grade

It’s that time of year. Teachers of Year 12 around Australia are scrambling to varying degrees to prepare students for final assessments and exams, which inevitably involves a whole lotta marking.

Of course, all teachers have to grade student work. And they are engaged in doing this all year. But nothing beats the pedal-to-the-metal feeling of marking Year 12 practice tasks in a last ditch effort to refine their examination responses.

In particular, nothing beats the hellish pressure that exists in states like NSW and Victoria where the HSC and VCE exams respectively loom over teachers and students alike. And out of all these teachers and students, I argue that subjects that are writing-intensive (e.g. English and History) have it the toughest; if you have a class of 25 for Year 12 and it’s coming up to an assessment, teachers in these subjects are spending their nights and weekends correcting pages and pages and pages of long form expositions.

Which can leave your eyes (and soul) feeling kinda like this:

bill crying blood

I was prompted to write this blog post after watching my friends Justin and Alex tweet about their marking yesterday:

twitter convo 24.08.2013 HSC marking

I’ve taught for the HSC three times and this slavish marking routine is the only part I do not miss…having said that, the jolly task I have now of marking as a university lecturer has involved marking binges that certainly rival the pain of HSC workload.

The question is – what can we do about it?

Is there anything we can do about it?

Some ideas that I threw out into the twittersphere yesterday seem promising, but without a class to try them on I’m at a loss, not sure if they would work. The ideas I bounced around with Justin and Alex were:

  1. Focussing on writing just the introduction, or a body paragraph. This would make the task smaller and more focussed for students, and more manageable to mark 25-30 of them.
  2. Setting a paragraph writing challenge. To address Justin’s problem of the student that only writes about ‘tone’, each week set a different language feature/form for students to write a paragraph on. By the end of the term they will have a bank of paragraphs on different elements.
  3. Gamify the writing process. This could be done by putting students in groups, getting every student to write a paragraph (or essay), then each group submits it’s best one (as judged by the students in the group) for marking. This means you only have to mark one essay/paragraph per group, not per student. Keep a chart of which group wins each week and award them a prize at the end of the unit. Change the groups around for each new unit.
  4. Peer assessment. This can only be used in a limited way, as students don’t have the capacity to grade work to a Year 12 standard. However you could use the ‘medals (feedback) and missions (feedforward)’ framework that Bianca draws on to give students a direction. I think the main benefit is that they read each other’s work and discuss their strengths, not that they actually give each other a ‘grade’.
  5. Find an authentic audience. Partnering up with another teacher/class would provide an avenue for students to share their work with another class on a platform such as a wiki. This would give students someone to perform for besides their own teacher, which could prove motivating. The teachers could also arrange to do a marking-swap, and grade each other’s student essays…this may get you writing less comments, marking more objectively (?) and just plain old provide a change of pace as you get to read a different set of handwriting!

I really hope these ideas are useful to someone out there.

If you have any other good ideas for getting feedback to students without going through so much of the eye-bleedingly painful million-essay marking process, I would LOVE to hear them!

Thanks to Justin and Alex for inspiring this post and helping me brainstorm ideas :)

 

Images: Cropped screen still from True Blood, Season 5; Screen shot of conversation on Twitter.com

Postscript: If you liked this post, you may also like the post Matt Esterman wrote today, ‘The home stretch for Year 12′. Looks like we all have Year 12 on the brain this weekend!

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Using Pinterest as an ‘inspiration board’

I have been using Pinterest a fair bit this year to collect links and images of interest to me an my students. It’s a nifty platform for curating – it’s highly visual and has an app for both apple and android that I find myself using often when surfing my mobile devices in front of the telly.

When introducing Pinterest to newcomers, I am often asked the question: “how does this website full of pictures of cupcakes have anything to do with learning?”. It’s a good question! Pinterest at first glance presents as a space filled with links to homewares, fashion, craft and cooking. I know some people claim that Pinterest is therefore “for girls”, but plenty of people refute this.

One way that I have seen Pinterest used very powerfully in education is for the creation of ‘inspiration boards’.

Tania Sheko has provided an excellent account of examples from her school in a recent blog post. I’ve included her screenshot here to give you an idea of what is covered:

Pinterest screenshot by Tania Sheko

Pinterest screenshot by Tania Sheko

Working as a librarian in her school Tania was able to really boost the teaching/learning resources available in a visual arts unit by creating a range of boards with images to INSPIRE students in their project making.

What a great idea!

If I was teaching English right now, I could definitely apply this strategy. I would probably start by making inspirations boards for:

  • Shakespeare
  • journalism
  • poetry
  • different genres (a gothic board! a crime fiction board!)
  • characters for story writing
  • locations for story writing

So there you have it – INSPIRATION BOARDS. An excellent way to utilise the (wonderfully visual and digital) Pinterest in your teaching.

Thanks to Tania for sharing her ideas!

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It was a cyberbullying kind of day…

Most teachers have had some experience with cyberbullying. Whether your students are very young primary schoolers or adolescents, circumstances can arise when students post nasty comments about each other on social media, share embarrassing photos, or email hurtful letters. 

But what do you do when a student engages in bullying tactics online toward you, the teacher?

It’s the fear of this happening that stops many teachers from engaging with students on public platforms. I’ve heard several teachers ask questions about this, including in every ‘teaching with technologies’ workshop I’ve ever held: what if a student acts out online? what if a student posts inappropriate comments that get linked to the school name, or mine?

Unfortunately, this has been the story of the past week for me.

The scenario: A student felt that I had not uploaded assessment criteria in a timely fashion. I differ on this opinion, but that is really besides the point! The student (or a group of them?) had created a fake twitter account, unlinked to their real name or photo, to post tweets about our class. They sent tweets addressed to the class twitter handle and using the unit hashtag to make, at first, a series of queries about unit materials in an aggressive tone. Yesterday these tweets became more critical, referring to university policy, slandering the education faculty, and linking the official university twitter handle into the tweets as well.

My response: It’s always hurtful, on a human level, when something like this happens. But as a teacher it’s probably easier than in many professions to let these kinds of criticisms roll right over you – “water off a duck’s back” style. Teachers face the wrath of student disappointment in many manifestations! After a while in the teaching game you learn what to take on board and what to turn a blind eye to. We try not to take things too personally. This is why, at first, I simply replied to the tweets in question with helpful advice and invitations to contact me via email or in person, out of the public domain. Once the tweets this week started to include references to the uni though, I knew I had to be firm – I used a couple of reply tweets to make it clear that cyberbulling was not tolerated in our institution and outline what constituted bullying behaviour.

Resolution: As well as public tweets I sent a series of three direct messages to the student/bogus account asking them to stop making public statements that critique my professionalism and letting them know that I wouldn’t be further engaging with public criticism. I asked someone higher up the food chain than me whether it would be OK to ‘report and block for spam’ the offending tweets and they advised YES. When I went to block the user this afternoon, I was relieved to see that the student had thought better of their actions and deleted the entire offending account.

PHEW!

The reason I want to share this story is to emphasise the strategies I used for dealing with this over the past week:

  • INFORM: Be polite online and try to diffuse critical questions with helpful information.
  • INVITE: Ask students that publicise critical views to contact you directly to discuss issues that are bothering them.
  • CAPTURE: Always take a screen capture of material that you suspect is, or may turn into, bullying. I did. This ensures you have a record of events even when/if the student deletes the material. This becomes vital down the track if the bullying is repeated elsewhere.
  • REPORT: Even though you will naturally want to avoid embarrassment and ‘bad press’ for your name/class/initiative, it’s important that your boss (e.g. Head Teacher of English in a school) knows what is happening and has a chance to help.

I’m going to try turning this into a very light and positive ‘teachable moment’ in our class lecture tomorrow – not by attacking the student but by highlighting good digital citizenship practices. Wish me luck!

In the meantime, if you want to learn more about cyberbullying, excellent material can be found on the ReachOut website here: http://au.reachout.com/Cyberbullying

The new Safe Schools Hub also has a useful Framework for building safety into the school culture: http://safeschoolshub.edu.au/safe-schools-toolkit/the-nine-elements

One last thing…

I won’t be closing down my twitter account or ceasing the use of twitter in my class learning environment or anything drastic like that! Although this is exactly the kind of thing that scares teachers away from online teaching spaces, I still think the value of positive exchanges via social media are ‘worth it’ for my class.

Although…I will be renewing my commitment to talking about digital citizenship with students in the first week of the semester. On reflection, this could probably all have been avoided if I did some explicit twitter teaching and set clear boundaries in weeks 1 or 2. D’oh!

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Preservice students’ ultimate classroom design

In most English Curriculum units I run an activity where students work in groups to design their ultimate English classroom.

Here are some of the elements that come up in many of the designs:

  • Really big bookshelf
  • Reading area/chill out zone with bean bags
  • Lots of windows
  • Blackout curtains around the room for cinema viewing & drama background
  • ‘Drama blocks’ that can be used as seating or a stage (or a dedicated stage area)
  • An indoor plant
  • Projector and screen
  • Moveable tables (though note often teacher-centric as default)

Some groups, but not too many, also include:

  • Interactive whiteboard/s
  • Posters on the wall
  • iPad/laptop chargers
  • Student work display board
  • Different ‘zones’ in one big room
  • Coffee/tea making area
  • An outdoor area e.g. verandah

The inclusion of a coffee/tea area is slightly worrying, given the adolescent age range of the students in mind!

Other than that though, I can see very good reasons for most of these design elements.

The only problems is…I know that these aspiring teachers have buckleys of fitting all this in to a traditional school classroom space. Until we knock down the walls and invest in new, flexible, comfortable furnishings, these dream rooms will stay just that. A dream.

What do you do to make your classroom more like your ‘ultimate room’? What else would you include in your ultimate classroom design?

IMG_0803

A circular, two-level design

Indoor and outdoor space use

Indoor and outdoor space use

Multi-zone room with coloured carpets

Multi-zone room with coloured carpets

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Which PBL?

Today I attended a whole-day symposium on ‘learning and teaching in collaborative environments’, aka the LATICE program at QUT.

At the start of the day I was really excited to hear some of the speakers referring to the new learning rooms in the uni as ‘PBL rooms’. I had previously known these rooms as ‘collaborative work spaces’, or ‘CWS rooms’, but I was all too happy to change my terminology – how handy, I thought, to suggest PBL as a recommended pedagogy for such rooms!

Unfortunately, as the day went on it became clear that most people using the term PBL were referring to ‘problem based learning’, not to ‘project based learning’ (which is my preferred teaching style). I say unfortunately not because I have any beef with problem based learning – I think it’s great, in fact. But PROBLEM based learning is just one way to organise learning experiences.

And the ‘which PBL do you mean?’ problem doesn’t stop there:

PBL varieties

 

I have written a little before about the nature of ‘play based learning’, and think it’s important to draw on ALL of the above PBL models in a balanced teaching approach. I’m open to hearing how this may not be the case in other disciplines/faculties, but in the Education sector we certainly have to be across all three approaches.

The issue of nomenclature here is far from trivial. As frustrating as it is, I think we may need to complicate the cute ‘PBL’ acronym to enable practitioners to distinguish between the approaches. I could suggest:

  • PmBL (problem based learning)
  • PjBL (project based learning)
  • PlBL (play based learning)

…fully realising that this just looks clumsy to some!

Any other suggestions for a way forward on this?

See, problem- and project- based learning differ importantly in the sense that a learning project should not have a pre-determined outcome, whereas a learning problem often does (imagine here a student working through a well-worn math problem). The difference between project- and play- based activities is also important, as learning projects do get assessed, whereas play is supposed to be low stakes and, well, playful.

One thing is for sure – we simply ought not go on giving presentations where we drop the ‘P’ term without qualifying which one we mean!

So…which PBL do you mean when you say PBL?

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‘I’m a teacher and I just joined Twitter…now what?’

Last week I was walking a colleague through Twitter and thought now may be a good time to pen a post with some tips for new users. In particular I want to encourage new users in the education sector to build their profile on Twitter and explore its potential as a personal learning network.

I am a big fan of the microblogging service, using it for personal learning, professional sharing and even teaching. The things I like about Twitter the most are:

  • I can check in any time and browse items that have been tweeted by people I have decided to follow
  • It’s not full of banal updates about people’s personal life, as on Facebook
  • If I don’t check it for ages I don’t get in trouble and there is no obligation to ‘catch up’ (unlike email)
  • I have found the most amazing connections from around the world that I otherwise would not have – it is a real networking platform

In just a couple of weeks from now our Queensland English and literacy teaching associations are co-hosting our annual national conference. We have set up a Twitter handle (@EngLit2013) and declared a hashtag (#BNW13) for the event. With luck this medium will take off during the event and lots of teachers will experiment with using Twitter, perhaps for the first time.

This post, therefore, is written with school teachers and English/literacy educators in mind, as well as my colleagues at university.

If you have joined Twitter but still don’t really know what to do with it, this post is for you!

1. Hatch your egg

Many people I talk to feel nervous about writing their first tweet and following lots of people. So let’s not start there!

The first thing I like to get people doing with Twitter is making their profile page inviting to potential followers.

When you first create a profile on Twitter you will be given the default egg image as your picture. But you are not an egg! You aren’t even a chicken! You are a person!

It’s very important to update your profile picture, or ‘hatch you egg’, to show others that you are active online. By adding an avatar that better represents you, the service will also start to seem more interesting to you.

hatch the egg

2. Add a bio

I rarely follow anyone who doesn’t have a bio, and many others have the same rule. Why? Not because I’m a Twitter-snob, but because without a bio it’s hard to tell who you freakin are!

Some people are reluctant to add a bio, worried that it will reveal too much about them, breach their privacy, or make them identifiable to their employer.

My tips for educators that are worried about such things are:

  • Don’t feel pressured to name your workplace. Terms like ‘maths teacher’ or ‘science educator’ give us enough information to go on.
  • Avoid declaring your religious or political affiliations, unless you are very comfortable doing so.
  • Get in the habit of only saying things online that you would proudly stand by if your employer saw it.
  • Don’t include your location if you have concerns about privacy or safety. You can always add this in later, once you are comfortable.

If in doubt, just browse a few other profiles until you get a feel for the kind of things people write. Many people are happy sharing that they are a husband, wife, parent of three, dog-lover etc. Writing such things is OK and entirely within the genre of a ‘professional’ bio. It’s all up to you and what you want to signal about yourself and your passions/priorities to others.

3. Follow about 15 people

I’ve heard a lot of recommendations about the ideal number of people to follow to get connections happening on Twitter. I suggest you will need to follow at least 50 people to see real ‘action’ on your feed…but following that many people is very overwhelming to most new users!

If you don’t follow enough people though, it will be difficult to see the point of Twitter.

So if you are a teacher trying to get the hang of microblogging I advise following about 15 other profiles straight away. This will give you enough material to read when you check Twitter that you are bound to find interesting things and start to see ‘the point’.

Here is a selection of profiles that I often recommend to English teachers new to Twitter:

If you are happy to follow celebrities there is also @MargaretAtwood, @stephenfry and @rickygervais. Sometimes they tweet A LOT though, so if that gets too intense, always feel free to UNFOLLOW people – we don’t take it personally on Twitter!

4. Write a tweet!

This is actually the easiest part.

You can choose to say something, ask a question, or share a link with others.

What you must keep in mind though is that Twitter is NOT Facebook. There are no ‘likes’ (though tweets can be re-tweeted or added to a favourites list) and many times you will say things that get no reply or comment. Not single one. Don’t be sad about this!

Be confident in the knowledge that people may be reading your tweets, but not replying. You will do this to them too – it’s OK.

Also be confident that even if no-one notices your tweet, that what you wrote was still worth saying. You might even come back to your own tweets every now and then to rediscover links or information you have shared. Your Twitter feed is as much for you as it is for others.

If you want lots of people to see your tweet you can include what is called a hashtag in your post – popular ones include #edchat and #edtech. There are also subject-specific hashtags, such as the #ozengchat tag for Australian English teachers to use for chatting.

5. That’s enough for now…go and get a coffee :)

Once you’ve added a profile picture and a bio, followed some people and posted a tweet, you are well on your way to being an effective microblogger.

Tweeting directly to people by including their handle (e.g. @kmcg2375) in your post and including hashtags can increase the number of replies you get, but you will find this out as you go.

One final thought for those of you who are wary of joining ‘yet another’ social media service…not all social networks are the same.

Give Twitter a decent try, checking in at least once a week for a month, you’ll see what I mean :)

xo

twitter v facebook

 

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