My “Fuzzy Vision” – here we go!

Well, tomorrow is officially the start of the 2013 school year. I am nervous about getting back in the classroom after two years in a non-teaching/mentoring role. I’m still in the same role this year, but put my hand up to team teach – not because I think I Iack credibility, but because I do believe in walking the walk, not just talking the talk. I’m a little bit nervous that I won’t be able to “get back on my bike”. My love of teaching, my passion for this profession is derived from wanting the best for my kids at all times. When I didn’t have my own “kids”, I felt that passion wane a bit, and I felt like I was having to manufacture enthusiasm for my job.

This year, I will be teaching Year 8 English – (in a team of three, two teachers and a teacher’s aide-special), with 56 boys in an open learning space. I will also have a Year 7 Learning Skills class of my own. I have some pretty strong beliefs about the way I like to work with my own students, so the challenge for me this year will be to team effectively with someone else – all lesson, every lesson – and relax enough to allow myself to enjoy another’s perspective and approaches.

That said, I am keen to put a few things into practice this year.

Firstly, some background info so you get where I’m headed. The Year 8 cohort is comprised of 108 students of varying abilities (and interests..!) spread evenly across four mixed ability classes. One in four students in that cohort has an identified, funded special need, and we have, from memory, eight boys in the group on the autism spectrum. The boys come from about twenty different language backgrounds and the group is 90% NESB. Literacy skill development and consistency of expectations, a safe and supportive, yet challenging learning environment are all high on the agenda.

Just because the boys are relatively needy, however, doesn’t mean they can’t achieve or innovate or be creative. If I didn’t truly believe in the immense potential of all kids, that all kids can learn and improve and grow, I couldn’t do what I do. I want every boy to feel proud of what he can do and to see tangibly the progress he makes this year.

So where am I headed? Writing this post is a way for me to try to bring my hopes and desires and theory and beliefs together. With school starting tomorrow, better late than never!

I won’t teach to the middle. I will differentiate and personalise wherever possible. I will listen and delve more deeply. I know there are bits of literacy instruction that will need to be explicit and direct, but I want this instruction to fit within an overall approach to literacy learning that is as authentic as possible. I have never been a big fan of worksheets, but feel better equipped to approach literacy in a more authentic manner after listening to Sara Hallermann’s webinar on PBL and authentic literacy. Another source of ideas and inspiration, referenced in the webinar, came from this research paper “Authentic Literacy Activities for Developing Comprehension and Writing”. In response to NAPLAN however, I know I need to tailor some of these real-world literacy activities to incorporate opportunities for the writing of better sentences, the use of persuasive language and to develop students’ skills in inferential reading.

I love project-based learning and have dabbled with units previously and am really looking forward to having a go with Year 8 English. Thanks to Bianca and Lee Hewes and Peter Mahoney, I was privileged to attend the Project-Learning Swap Meet (#plsm13) at the Powerhouse Museum a couple weeks ago. I learned more about PBL and was even more inspired after Skype visits from Suzie Boss and Tait Coles. I’m even more convinced about the benefits of PBL after listening to Suzie. Check out her blog posts via @Edutopia. A real find for me was Tait’s Punk Learning blog. I feel a bit more realistic and yet also more optimistic about how to and what I can achieve with my Year 8 boys after listening to Tait. I’ve spent a bit of time exploring his blog posts on “launching” projects and on his use of the SOLO taxonomy and hexagonal learning. (His Prezi on SOLO is a great way to introduce this approach to colleagues).

Over the summer break, I’ve also been working my way through “Making Thinking Visible” by Ritchhart, Church and Morrison (thanks to Cameron Paterson’s recommendation). I love the potential for using their thinking routines (“Introducing and Exploring”, “Synthesising and Organising” and “Digging Deeper”). For me, these routines provide a fantastic way to blend the development of students’ metacognition, with the need to provide explicit and scaffolded ways into learning, as well as frequent opportunities for formative assessment and feedback.

So much spinning in my head – and how will it all fit together? PBL, Thinking Routines, SOLO, hexagonal learning, explicit teaching, authentic literacy… I’ve got to slow myself down enough to not burn out or risk total failure by throwing too much at the boys all at once. And I want to get to know the kids, too, and how they learn without going in with everything planned to the tiniest detail – I want to be responsive to their needs and interests, and to honour their current abilities, their curiosity, their questions.

The Term 1 unit is “Life Writing” (biographies), so am hoping to use this unit to introduce some of the thinking routines as we explore the topic and texts. I’ll explore with the boys (and my partner teachers) what they see as some potential real world audiences for their non-fiction writing, and as we write, we can run workshops or mini-lessons for those in need regarding sentence and persuasive writing.But I also want to extend the boys who are ready by perhaps exposing them to more sophisticated real-world life-writing.

I am sure there will be ways to introduce hexagonal thinking and the SOLO taxonomy in this first unit as well. The boys can be given content to explore and generate deeper questions. Key words and concepts will be explored, perhaps even as mini-PBL projects, and as they explain their learning, they can assess themselves against the SOLO framework. I’d love to start the boys blogging; I’ve set up Edmodo for Year 8 and can’t wait to start using it with them.

And finally, hopefully!!! – a PBL unit of work in Term 2 built around the topic of “Growing Up”… (The units have already been written, but I love annotating adjustments!)

I certainly don’t know exactly where I’m headed – I guess I have a “fuzzy goal” or vision, together with some concrete ideas and I’ve got a willingness to try new things and to learn from set-backs, from my students, and from my partner teachers. (Check out this great video on goal setting by Dr Jason Fox – thanks Jeannette!)

Anyone want to be a real audience for some Year 8 boys????

Have a great year everyone – all the best, and thanks again for the amazing support of my PLN.

Duke, Nell K., Victoria Purcell-Gates, Leigh A. Hall, and Cathy Tower. “Authentic literacy activities for developing comprehension and writing.” Reading Teacher 60.4 (2007): 344-355. EBSCOHost. Web. 21 Jan. 2013.

Ritchhart, Ron, Mark Church, and Karin Morrison. Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independence for All Learners. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 20112011. Print.