TeachMeet Debrief – September #TMBrisbane

Tea break at #TMBrisbane (photo by author)

Tea break at #TMBrisbane (photo by author)

#TMBrisbane 2013 (September)

I recently publicised a TeachMeet that my students and I were hosting at QUT as part of a unit on English Curriculum Studies. This particular TeachMeet had the theme ‘What works in education?’ and was designed to facilitate the kind of professional sharing that I want to model for my students – open, generous and friendly with a focus on developing relationships and building communities of practice.

The picture above shows a few of our participants in further conversation during the tea break. This was an after-school session, run from 4.45-6.30pm, and it was great to see presentations from a wide range of contexts. Speakers on the day were:

  • Alison Welch – The benefits of collaboration
  • Mark Yeates – Use of LMSs from a Year Level Coordinator’s Perspective
  • Greg Howes – Designing infographics to promote creativity
  • Garry Collins – One little thing that works in teaching grammar
  • Nathan Beveridge – Bananas about STEMx: Applications of Fruit and High Technology in C21st Learning
  • Lisa Furuya – Gamifying your practice
  • Kelli McGraw – The ongoing relevance of the Productive Pedagogies
  • Anita Garnsworthy – Inside learning goals: Gathering student insight and feedback
  • Josephine Wise – Leading and Teaching: 10 Top Tips for moving from Highly Accomplished to Lead Teacher
  • Bruce Lee – Introducing the Scootle Community (www.scootle.edu.au)

The big messages and important links from the TeachMeet have been captured using Storify at this link:

The power of TeachMeet…

Reflecting on the event, I think the best part of a TeachMeet is the opportunity for face-to-face connection with other educators in a non-threatening environment. Although we also had a strong backchannel occurring in both Twitter and Scootle, it was the chance to ‘put a face to a name’ that I valued most.

It was also awesome to see experienced educators modelling courageous sharing for my preservice teachers – everyone authentically attempted the ‘pecha kucha’ or ‘micropresentation’ styles, which are challenging to master!

TeachMeets are PD events run in the ‘unconference tradition’ – they are free to attend and the presentations are short (2 or 7 minutes only). Our TeachMeet had a mixture of classroom teachers and school leaders, as well as a university teacher, a student/pre-service teacher, teachers undertaking research degrees and policy workers. I was so proud of my students for having the confidence to host the event and get involved in professional conversations…they also put on a pretty mean afternoon tea spread ;)

The next Brisbane TeachMeet will be held soon, on Thursday 24th October, at Marist Ashgrove. If you are an educator in SouthEast Queensland I encourage you to attend – you can sign up via the wiki.

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Common blogging complaints

Latte blog...

‘Latte blog…’ by filipe ferreira (via Flickr CC-BY-2.0)

1. Blog Blockage:

I really shouldn’t write any more posts until I write up the totally timely thing I did the other day.

Cure – write a very short post on the totally timely thing. Then get on with life. Or, just write something else in between, you’ll live.

2. Posts Piling Up:

I have so many ideas for different posts, I can’t decide which one to start with!

Cure – start a whole heap of the posts and save them as drafts. Pick one to complete at a time.

3. Lonely Blogs Club:

No-one comments on my blog, I should just give up.

Cure – invite your friends directly to add a comment. Adding tags and categories will help Google to find you. Or just be content to write reflectively. Wait, back up…did you decide if you even really want an audience to be a happy blogger?

4. Beginning, Middle…:

I don’t know how to end a blog post.

Cure – finish a line of thought and hit ‘publish’. A short post is a good post anyway.

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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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