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We celebrated the completion of our Passion Projects with A Presentation Night for the parents , grandparents and mentors to see the projects the students have been working on throughout the term.
I was completely overwhelmed by the number of families that came to our night. Altogether we had over 50 adults including parents, grandparents and/or mentors and 39 children attending.
We all squeezed into our classroom so that I could introduce the format for the evening and to thank the 16 mentors for donating their time and energy to help mentor the students. The students had made beautiful thank you cards and each mentor received a small block of chocolate as well.
The students then took their parents back to their station, which had been set up earlier, either in the library or in one of the rooms in our classroom block as we couldn’t all fit in our classroom!
After the students had presented their project to the parents I rang the bell to let them now it was time to visit another students presentation. The transition from one to the next ran smoothly and I was really happy that the adults ensured no student was left without an adult to present to.
The last part of the evening was less formal and it gave the adults the opportunity to walk around and look at all the individual projects. The adults and all the children had great big smiles on their faces and you could see how proud they were!
All the feedback was very positive and the students were very proud of their work. I encourage you to visit our website Mrs Warners Passion Projects and go to the student blogs to read their reflections of the night and the Celebration Blog to view more photos too! A big thank you to my colleague Bu Cathy who worked behind the scenes all night and took the lovely photos for me too!
It was a very exciting and rewarding night and one which I am sure the students will look back on with fond memories. I know I will!
This term the students in my class have been participating in their own individualised Passion Projects. I was inspired to try this in my classroom after attending the EduTech 2014 Conference in Brisbane earlier this year and heard about Google’s Genius Hour where;
Each week, employees can take a Genius Hour — 60 minutes to work on new ideas or master new skills. They’ve used that precious sliver of autonomy well, coming up with a range of innovations…
I shared a video of some students sharing what they thought about participating in Genius Hour to inspire us. I then used a sharing circle to spark their own passions. This helped them to get started in their thinking about what they would like to learn or create during their Passion Projects.
I was really keen to develop my students skills in self reflection of their own learning and so I also set up a website titled Mrs Warners Passion Projects solely for my students to do a weekly post on their own blog page to reflect on what they did each week, how they went and what did they need to do next. I then went over the guidelines with the students so they were clear about my expectations throughout the project.
We then used postie notes for the children to refine and finalise their big question for their Passion Project. For some of the students this was really easy whilst others had trouble committing to one thing and kept changing their minds! But we got there. I was amazed at the variety of topics the students have picked to either teach themselves or create.Some of the topics the students chose included;
- sewing a surfboard cushion
- creating an online video game
- growing a garden
- researching about wombats
- learning to draw or paint better
- learning how to play the drums or xylophone
- making a cardboard arcade game
- researching gravity and space
- creating art with recycled sea glass
- making a battery out of a $2 coin
- conducting science experiments
- investigate how volcanoes erupt
- make a wooden droid
- investigate how stuff gets popular so quickly
- learn how to cook
- create a lego stop motion movie
- create decorative cupcakes
- research how tornadoes are formed
- learn how to do a hip hop dance
I was a bit overwhelmed too – how would I manage all my students doing different things? The reality was I couldn’t and shouldn’t have to if they are engaged. Fingers were crossed!
Once the students had decided on a topic, they then had to do some initial thinking and planning about what they were going to need and what the end product or goal will look like. I wanted the children to have in their mind how the were going to present what they did to the class and to their parents, a bit like the Backward by Design method. So the students completed an A3 planning sheet (see below) to help them do this.
I also asked the students to help each other think of some people that might be able to help, guide and support them throughout their project, a bit like a mentor role. Once they choose their mentor they helped me construct a generic letter asking their mentors if they would like to help them. The students were delighted when we got three acceptances almost immediately! We also wrote a letter to our parents explaining what our Passion Projects were and asked them to help their child gather some supplies during the holidays.
Each week students were given one hour to work on their passion project.We were really lucky to have 16 adults donate their time each week to become mentors for the students in my class. These ranged from parents and other teachers from within the school, to older teenage sisters and family friends to grandparents and local business owners. It was truly an amazing experience to watch everyone work collaboratively together. The students were totally engaged and become more responsible for their own learning.
The Passion Projects provided the students an opportunity to work on something they were truly passionate about and while the end product was their main focus, it was the 21st century skills that they acquired and developed throughout the term that excited me as a teacher. I kept reminding them that failure was always an option but giving up was not and this became a mantra for most of my students. They were able to recognise problems when they got stuck and were able to problem solve to correct and improve their work. Initially some struggled to manage their time well but often they were able to reflect on this and work harder next time.
The students wanted to come to school in the morning and work on their passion projects before school started and I had students ask if they could work on them during our activity time. I even had students ask me if I had yard duty and if I didn’t, they would plead with me to open my class recess or lunch times so they could work on their projects!
In the final weeks of the term, the students were given a Passion Projects Rubric to do their own self assessment on their learning throughout the term. They also had to present their projects to their peers in their classrooms and each developed a speech for this. This was a great experience for the students as they were very proud of their projects and their work was acknowledged with rounds of applause from their classmates. It also provided them an opportunity to practice presenting their work, ready for our Celebration night to the parents and community in the last week of the term. You can read more about our presentation night here.
Overall I was thrilled with the student engagement of the students throughout the term and I will definitely do the Passion Projects again. The students in my class gave positive feedback on their experiences and most have already started planning what they will work on next term!
During my last performance management meeting, my line manager asked me how do I differentiate in my classroom. I was completely thrown by this question, not only because I wasn’t expecting the question but also because I hadn’t really thought about what it means in the context of my teaching. I have certainly heard the word bantered around many of the PD that I have been to in recent years but had thought it meant individualised learning plans for every lesson for every student in my class which then catered for their every learning need. I have certainly tried to do this in the past and ultimately abandon it because it is so time consuming and exhausting. I had a real sense of guilt that I wasn’t doing enough for my students.
So I mumbled a response that basically went along the lines of grouping students and getting support for those that were struggling and hoped that it would be a satisfactory answer. I’m not sure that it was but the conversation moved on and I had a sense of relief that that part of the meeting was over.
Fast forward to today and our school had a student free day so the staff could work on developing their understanding of student differentiation.
Initially we had to complete the following chart to get a snapshot of our personal understanding and beliefs on what we knew about differentiation.
We also explored the myths around what people thought differentiation is or isn’t by completing a simple group activity which created great conversations around our own beliefs.
The staff then looked at the work Carol Ann Tomlinson has done on responding to the needs of all learners from her book titled “The Differentiated Classroom”. I really like the chart below that Melanie Jones created by adapting Carol Tomlinsons’ chart.
You can get a snapshot of Carol’s work on differentiation in her video below;
The questions were then posed to us around What are your learners strengths? and What are your own strengths? We completed a Multiple Intelligence Quiz to establish our own learning strengths. My results indicated that I was highest in interpersonal skills which surprised me and interestingly was the highest percentage result for our staff. I also came out strong in verbal/linguistics and visual/spatial which I think is more like my strengths. I was not surprised at all that musical was my lowest. I think it would be really interesting to get someone else’s perspective to gauge a point of reference.
I would really like to do this with my students to get a stronger understanding of their strengths as well.
“Formative assessment doubles the speed of student learning”
Black and Wiliam
We then looked at what kinds of assessment we are using to inform our student’s learning and provide feedback to improve their learning and understanding. We were given the opportunity to reflect on our own recent assessment strategies;
This task clearly showed that whilst I used a range of summative and formative assessments in my classroom, I am stronger in the formative assessment of my students. However I think there is a place for both as students need to be exposed to summative assessments to develop the skills they need to participate successfully in Mandated tests such as Naplan. There is always room for improvement. I would still like to broaden the way I do formative assessment in my classroom and I really like this post on Edutopia on 53 ways to check for understanding.
So what is the differentiated classroom? I think Carol Tomlinson summarised it perfectly in her “Line of logic for Differentiaon Instruction” below;
For me the day was both a fundamental shift in my understanding of what differentiation was, as well as reaffirming, in that it made me realise that I am on the right track and that I do differentiate in my classroom. I do have high expectations for all my students, I provide continuous assessment for my students, I use flexible grouping and develop tasks that have a range of intellectual demands (although not as often as I would like!), I do ‘teach up’ rather than dumb down, I provide opportunities for students to develop inquiries and problem solve. I provide opportunities to celebrate individual successes and negotiate with students how they will present a product of learning. I establish my classroom so that it provides structure and routines with a variety of working areas that foster a supportive and engaging learning environment for all my students. I do so much more.
This year our class has been learning to write using a broad range of genres from persuasive texts, recounts and information reports right through to narratives. Quite often the editing of their work has been left to me the teacher and whilst I have taught these skills earlier this year and always encouraged the students to edit their own work before they hand it up to me, they have always done this with limited success and appeared to be making the same mistakes over and over again.
Recently I decided to ask my class to finish writing a story. I recounted to the class a holiday experience my family had enjoyed a few years ago when we visited New Zealand. While the basis of the story was true I must admit I did embellish the story to hook them in. You can read more about this lesson on our class blog.
When I sat down to look at what they had written, I was delighted by how they had used their imagination to finish my story. However, I noticed that even though I had asked them to edit their writing before they gave it to me they were still experiencing limited success. I decided I needed to be more explicit in teaching these self editing skills.
I then typed up each student’s story exactly how they had given it to me, including every punctuation and spelling mistake. The next lesson I told the students what I had done and explained to them that we were going to edit their writing together but that we were going to look at each step of self editing separately. The first thing we did was look at punctuation. I gave a mini lesson on the use of capital letters, quotation marks and fullstops and then asked them to reread their writing correcting only the capital letters, quotation marks and full stops. They were surprised at how many they had missed!
The next lesson we repeated the activity but this time we looked at spelling mistakes. I must point out that students had, prior to this lesson, circled any words they thought they had spelt wrong. This time, however, I gave them a highlighter and asked them to highlight any words they spelt wrong. Once again they were amazed at how many they had missed.
During our final lesson, I once again did a mini lesson on words we could use instead of said that might match the spoken text in their writing better. Students were then given time to check their own writing and make any changes if needed.
By the end of the week the students had edited their work with much more success and were more confident in identifying areas that they needed to improve in their writing. One student commented to me that he thought it was much easier to see his mistakes when the story was typed up than it was when it was in his own writing. An interesting point.
After we had finished, the students and I created a poster about self editing which they can now refer to as a guide to remind them of what they need to do next time they are self editing their own work.
I was delighted to see the students using this in their next writing lesson and they are now editing their work with much more success.
This term has seen a major change in the physical environment of my classroom. Inspired by Stephen Heppell, the recent EduTech conference in Brisbane and Sinan Kerimoski from Margaret River P.S., I decided I wanted to create a more flexible learning environment in my class that enabled the students to work more collaboratively together and catered for the various learning styles in my class more.
I wanted to increase the learning opportunities and options available to my students and give them greater control over their learning through a variety of learning modes and interactions, thus providing them with greater choices on where, and with whom, they learn. I also hoped that by giving the students more choices of where and with whom they worked, it would increase student engagement. I wanted the classroom to feel more comfortable for the students and for it to be a place where they wanted to be rather than where they had to be.
In the later part of term two, I spent a lot of time talking to my students about what their ideal classroom would be like. We talked about what they liked and disliked about our current classroom and what we would change if we could. I then asked them to design their ideal classroom.
While some of their ideas were a bit innovative, (I’m not quite sure a rocket ride would fit and a chocolate fountain would be yummy), most of the students were able to contribute some viable ideas. I then asked them to tell me what would they take out of their current class and what would they put in if they could. I collated all their ideas and started making a list. Most students wanted some rugs/ or mats for the floor, a comfortable relaxation area, less traditional desks, more computers, more pillows and a classroom pet. They even wanted a naughty area/chair which is something we didn’t have in our classroom already, (and still don’t!)
I then went and spoke to my principal, who thankfully was very support and encouraged me to pursue these changes. It was time to put some of these ideas into action!
After a few trips to Ikea and many, many hours of my school holidays, I finally transformed our classroom into a more flexible learning environment which was more comfortable for my students. I was also lucky to be able to bring in three computers from home for the students to use.
Below are the results. My only regret is that I didn’t take any before photos!
It was great to see the faces on the students and parents when they walked into our transformed classroom on our first day back in term 3! I was delighted to hear the positive feedback from the parents and students.
This is what some of the students thought of the changes after three weeks;
Tiana – ” I feel really good because the back corner where the bookshelf is, the big palm tree looks cool. You can sit under the leaves.”
Beau – ” I like the changes because it makes me feel more comfortable and it doesn’t feel so plain”
Kyle – “I love the new setup. It is so much better than it used to be . It’s nice and relaxing.”
Courtney – “I like the classroom and I like to choose where I sit.”
Maya – “I feel really happy. I really like the way our class is now. (please don’t change it back Mrs Warner) because I like it this way.”
Saxon – “It is good because it is cool with the bean bags.”
Tihana – ‘I feel really comfortable and it is easy to learn in. I think the little tables are working and I really like the reading area.”
and my favourite comment…..
Esther – “I like the class a lot because it makes me feel happy and want to learn.“
I am really happy with the results and have also received some positive feedback from my colleagues as well. The students are working really well and seating is rarely a problem as students have more choice of where and with whom they sit and work with. Students move between lessons easily and are more engaged with each other. The flexible seating allows for more collaboration, especially in areas such as science and mathematics.
I will continue to monitor our flexible classroom environment and will ask for student and parent feedback at the end of the year.
Meanwhile I would love to hear from other teachers who are using flexible learning in their classrooms.
Oh and I am still working on the classroom pet!
The Professional Standards for teachers has been developed “for teachers to guide professional learning, practice and engagement, … The key elements of quality teaching are described in the Standards. They articulate what teachers are expected to know and be able to do at four career stages: Graduate, Proficient, Highly Accomplished and Lead.” (source Purpose of the Standards )
Recently I started to document my own teaching practice within the three domains of teaching; Professional Knowledge, Professional Practice and Professional Engagement. Initially, I found this process quite difficult as I do not see anything I do as anything more than what all good teachers do. And I am lucky to be surrounded by good teachers in my school!
However, I have found this process quite useful and I was suprised at how much I have achieved in my teaching career. The Standards at the career stages of Highly Accomplished and Lead will inform voluntary certification and I feel that I have started working towards this process.
I have now started to document my evidence and address each of the standards at the following page, Professional Standards. Mapping my progress on the Professional Learning Matrix has helped me not only track what I have documented so far but also helps me to plan what areas I need to focus on next. As you can see I still have a long way to go!
A good starting point for teachers is to engage with the AITSL Self Assessment Tool – click link below. This helps teachers to understand where their own teaching practice fits within the Standards and what areas they have strengths and weaknesses in. A great way to get feedback and guide future professional development and planning.
If you are thinking of applying for certification, my advice would be to start gathering evidence immediately. This may be in the form of lesson plans through to informal letters/ emails from parents, students and colleagues. More information about gathering evidence can be found on the DECD website.