Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Using Ipads for reading - getting help from colleagues.

In my class I have a huge range of abilities - as all teachers say and do. 

For reading, I have one student, Bob, who is significantly lower than the rest of his peers. Due to the huge gap between him, and the next lowest student, I struggle to find time to give him adequate learning tasks and time. Everybody else is in a group, so if I am not there they can learn off each other. However with Bob, there is no one else at his level in this class. 

I have been giving him books to read at his level and trying to come up with activities that will appropriate (for the book content and his maturity level), but this is really hard when I have everyone else to think about as well.

Today I went to observe my friend and colleague Lucina, who teaches year 1 and 2. Although her students are lower than Bob is, I wanted to see how she taught them and especially how she integrated the Ipad into her teaching.

It was good to see her teaching, but I got more out of picking her brain about it. 

For example, I went through her Ipad and saw the different kinds of activities she does on Explain Everything for her kids (i.e. retelling the story, sequencing pictures in the right order, circle the punctuation) and then went away and made some for myself (at Bobs level). 

I went back and showed these to her and she was quite happy with them. She then explained some technical stuff about saving, locking pictures (Etc) that I didn't know and wouldn't have been able to figure out on my own.

But wait.. there's more!

Then she set me up with a teachers account on Sunshine Books and created Bob as a student on it, so he use that independently as well. 
I have never been on Sunshine books before but it is AMAZING. 

There are levelled books, with audio, and follow up activities BUILT IN.

Today has given me a lot more information and access to activities that I can make, and Bob can do, with some level of independence. It will be awesome to have something to give him all the time, instead of him sitting with me for 20 minutes (if we are lucky) and then kind of doing nothing for the rest of reading time. 

I am so excited! It's going to be great.

Thank you Lucina, you are a god send!

Friday, 12 May 2017

Cross-grouping in maths (reflection)

Monday 8th May

Today myself and my colleague (the other year 5/6 teacher) changed up our maths plan and decided to cross-group our students for this fractions unit.

We both have a HUGE range of ability in our classes (stages 3-7 in both classes) and this makes it incredibly difficult to adequately teach each students at all their various levels.
In my own class, I have students who can't subtract from 20 in their heads, and students who can multiply decimals. That gap is just too big to try to get them to do stuff together.

So today I took the stage 6-7 students, and my colleague took the stage 3-5 students and

Even within my group, I still had students who didn't get it, some who were ready for more and a big bunch in the middle who it was a good amount of challenge for. However, by the end of the lesson, most of them had gotten the concept.

It was so much easier to teach them when they were all ready and able to deal with more complex ideas, including comparing fractions (with different denominators) in their heads and telling me which one was bigger, or telling me how many quarters are in 7, or if 1/3 has 3 jellybeans in it, how many jellybeans are in 10? (Etc.)

I felt so encouraged that I could really shift the students and move them into stage 7 for this unit, as I could focus more time and effort on challenging ideas instead of trying to make one thing fit everyone (it just doesn't work sometimes).

Tuesday 9th May

Today we continued with our cross-grouping for maths. We didn't have as much time as did yesterday, so we got straight into it. Man, it makes such a difference being able to say something once and have everybody understand and do it. Teachers, you will feel me on this.

I gave the kids a piece of paper with a number line on it (0 on the left, 1 on the right) and I asked them to show me where 1/2 goes. All the groups put it in the middle of 0 and 1. Great! Hallelujah! Don't need to stop and re-teach what a half is. Beauty. Next, I asked them to put 2/3. This threw them a little, as 2/3 doesn't connect to 1/2, whereas 1/4 does because it's half of a half. However, they knew without prompting that thirds means three groups and so they roughly tried to divide the line into three parts. Not bad! Next, I asked them to put on 1/3 and 3/3, followed by sixths then quarters. Sixths was quite easy, once they understood that half of a third is a sixth (Thanks to my amazing drawing of a chocolate bar lol).

Quarters was much easier because they could half each half, thirds was a bit more abstract. A couple of the kids didn't quite understand why 4/4 was the same as 1 whole, so a bit of explaining was needed here.
I lastly asked them to put on 1/5, 2/5, 3/5, 4/5 and 5/5. I was AMAZED as one of the groups put 2.5 in the middle underneath 1/2. Although they hadn't placed the fifth fractions on the number line, by doing so they showed me that they were breaking up the fraction to try and compare them. Yay! I used this to teach all the other groups that if the middle is 2.5/5, then 1/5 and 2/5 must be on the left because they are smaller (closer to 0), and 3/5 and 4/5 must be on the right because they are bigger than 2.5/5 (closer to 1 whole). And of course 5/5 is the same as 1. (This same group even put 0/5 underneath the 0 without prompting - blimey!)

As a warm down I offered tokens to students who could answer my questions, which were
- what is the same as half? (3/6, 2/4, 0.5 - then some kids out of nowhere started saying 4/8, 5/10, 6/12 even though we didn't talk about those, they just noticed and understood the pattern).
- what is the same as 1? (2/2, 3/3, 4/4, 5/5 and so on)
and what is the same as 3/4? what is bigger than 2/3? what is smaller than 1/4? how many quarters are in 1?

I loved having the students work in groups today as they were teaching each other without me prompting everything. I can see that they are pushing each other and helping each other understand the content/concept.

(I liked this groups piece of paper especially, because of all the drawings on it. They had been trying to compare the fractions all by themselves.

Tomorrow we are going to use our comparisons to find equivalent fractions, which will lead into adding and subtracting fractions.

Wednesday 10th May

Today I taught the students how to add and subtract fractions. We did a tiny bit of a flipped classroom, where they watched a Youtube clipped that explained the concept, then came back to me to practice and skill. 

Some got it straight away, some needed some practice, some needed 1:1 explanation, but in the end they all got it and were getting annoyed at each other if somebody called out the answer before they could figure it out (they wanted to do it themselves!).

For the ones who were cognitively ready, I challenged them to simplify their answers. For example, one answer was 40/40. They knew from yesterday that 4/4 and 2/2 were the same as 1, so when I asked them if 40/40 would be 1 as well, they all went 'ohhhhhhh!'. Another of the answers was 49/40, and some of them understood without me fully explaining it, that simplified would be 1 whole, and 9/40 leftover. Booyah!

Then they even asked me for homework so they could practice... what is life.

Thursday 11th May

Today we completed a worksheet that had both addition and subtraction, for same denominator questions and unlike denominator questions. As we had jumped to unlike denominators yesterday, the kids were a bit confused by having it given to them with the denominators already the same.. Then came the 'ohhh this is way easier'.

The kids worked very independently and discussed it in their own little groups. I was quite impressed how much they understood it and were able to help each other.

For some of the kids, they understood the strategy/skill but didn't have the basic facts knowledge (knowing their times tables) to be able to do it quickly. So we packed up a little early, and practised our basic facts.

Overall reflection
I think I love cross grouping.
In one way, it was awesome to see my kids from last year (the ones who aren't in my class again this year), and in another, it was so AMAZING to have a smaller range of ability in the class so you could really target learning and push them harder.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Writing - moving forward!

I was asked in a meeting this week if I model writing for my students, and it made me realise... no... I don't. I used to, all the time last year, but this year I don't.. So why is that?
I realised it was because most of our writing is online (using computers).

That is not an excuse, but it changes the way writing is taught. For example, to model how to self-correct, it is not a matter of crossing out and rewriting sentences, and drawing all over the page, but right clicking and auto-fixing. Writing on computers is just different; spelling is not as relevant, because kids use spell-check, sentence structure and grammar goes out the window, because the computer tells them if its wrong or not. If they miss a full stop, the sentence appears with a red underline so they realise something is wrong. It's almost as if computers have taken away the metacognition from writing, at least for me anyway. They don't think about it, because the computer tells them.

After being asked if I model writing, and it dawning upon me that I don't, I wanted to make an immediate effort to do so in some way.

Today as my students wrote a practice E-asttle test, I pulled down my lowest writers and I worked with them on their writing. Yes, this is different to modelling, but at least I was getting involved and being alongside instead of trying to get them to do everything independently.

One student I knew would write 2 pages of his own words, but I wanted to guide him on his use of paragraphs and his sentence structure (i.e. not having and then and then and then and then and then for two pages - where are your full stops child!?!?). Another I knew would write maybe 1 page max, but needed a lot of help getting his ideas into sentences (and also remembering that magic thing called full stops). Yet another was Bob, who will tell you what he is going to write, then by the time he puts his pencil on his paper, he has forgotten what it was. And yet another was a very bright kid who gets distracted by literally everything and anything - and sometimes nothing. For him, my task was to try and keep him focused.

I sat with them, guiding them and trying to help them out when they needed it. All the words were their own, I just challenged them to write more, leave gaps for paragraphs, read it aloud - 'see where you took a breathe, put a full stop there', etc.

After the better part of an hour (the test is supposed to be 45 minutes), I sent two of the kids to Mrs Sharma (syndicate leader, my mentor and the teacher next door) for them to show her their writing. They came back with smiles, tokens and fabulous encouragement. The other two kids who worked with me went a little while later.

I was blown away how much of a difference it made to just sit with them. I wasn't modelling. I wasn't directly teaching. I was prompting, reminding, pointing at a page to jog a memory that a full stop was needed, repeating back sentences Bob had told me so he could write them down. The difference between what they did a couple days ago, to what they did today, was huge.

Here is one of those kids story -

I literally almost cried. This is a kid who last year could barely string 3 sentences together without support. WHAT HAPPENED? WHERE DID YOU COME FROM YOU BEAUTIFUL ANGEL?

This kid in particular has been working so hard this year and it shows.

All I could think to myself was - imagine how much better he will get with that little bit of writing support (reminding/pointing/questioning/etc).

I really want to try and include more 1:1 and small group time in writing. The whole year I have been doing whole class, and it just hasn't done anything for these low kids who need support. 

Another highlight from this practice test, was seeing how the students marked each others work. I made a student rubric for recounts which the students use to mark each others work, in the same way teachers do (we literally use this rubric, but a more complex worded version). They have used it 2-3 times before today.

I again, almost cried, when I started marking some of their work - and they (in buddies) had given the piece of writing the same score I had. Like, exactly the same score.

This particular set of buddies were both year 5's, who I had last year as well. They began buddy marking with rubrics last year, so are pretty competent at it. I never thought they would be this accurate though! It made me laugh. They could almost do my job for me.

Although not all my students buddy marking was so accurate, it showed me that with practice they were really thinking about their writing, analysing it and discussing it. It also showed they can be critical of each other and mark honestly (while staying good friends!). Practice makes perfect.

I felt so encouraged by my kids and what they can do; I know I will put more effort into guiding their writing process from now on and push them even harder!

Monday, 8 May 2017

RTLB Meetings

If you are a long time reader you will know of a student I call 'Bob' who I had in my class last year, and have again this year.

Bob has an RTLB (Resource Teacher for Learning and Behaviour) who provides connection between agencies, family and school and extra support in school. This afternoon I had a meeting with his new RTLB and although I felt terribly underprepared during the meeting, I left feeling empowered.

At the beginning of the meeting, the RTLB asked me about his previous tests, documentation for the RTLB process and information about his interaction with outside agencies. About these, I knew absolutely nothing. They had documents from agencies that I had never seen, and knew things about his family members that I never knew (i.e. that there is a history of dyslexia) which have a significant impact on his learning. They asked me for this or that, things I didn't know what they were or didn't know I needed to have. I felt like a terrible teacher.

However, as the meeting progressed I realised I knew more about my student than those pieces of paper could tell me. I could testify to his HUUGE progress since last year and what he can/can't/won't do and the RTLB praised for me how far he has come, and how literally half of the things that he was referred for, are not concerns anymore.

The meeting finished with us making an action plan - setting dates for our next meeting, arranged when to do further testing and re-evaluation of Bob, arranging PD for his teacher aid to ensure all our goals are aligned and much more. It was such a positive outcome that I am excited to see the impact these changes will have.