"Friends and colleagues are very sustaining. They're the people who get you through it... It's no good to be on your own."
- Attributed to Dame Judi Dench
When has a lesson you've planned out not worked? Did you scrap it midway through or persevere? How did you move past that moment of failure in practice? What was your learning?
My regular readers would be aware that this year I am working in a team teaching context. Four weeks in and I have to say that it is working out fantastically well. On a daily basis I am learning new strategies for different needs; negotiating with challenging students, getting alongside students with low self-efficacy to build them to undertake the learning task without doing the task for them, different strategies for whole-class reading, strategies for managing assessment of learning and using it as data for the next phase of learning and am very slowly building my own self-efficacy as a Stage One teacher.
It is a completely different world to Stage Three. The strategies are different, the questions you ask and the questions you answer are different. The learning tasks are different.
Yesterday I was leading a whole class maths lesson focusing on place value. It seemed to go well to start with, but when we got to the guided learning part, it fell apart a little. I think where I went wrong was that I brought in the the number zero and started including that in our discussion (it had been our focus in the previous) and I think that it confused students as from their perspective it seemed like I had changed topic. I had been asking questions such as if i have 421 sheep, how do I write that number? We were talking about the need to write 421 rather than 400201 or 40021 etc. When I brought in zero it was on the back of if I have 100 sheep why do I write 100 and not just 1? which generated some very productive discussion about why zero is important as a digit.
The next task was where I got things wrong. I split the class into three groups and asked them to use their bodies to represent the three place values we were working with for various numbers (hundreds, tens, unit). I.e. I gave them 342 as a starting number, modelling this with one group, and asked for three people to stand together to represent the hundreds, four to represent the tens and two to represent the units. They struggled to get past the hundreds as they each wanted to form that group, then they each wanted to form the tens group. We got through one number successfully, eventually, and then tried it as a class. It did not work. I pulled them all back in as a single group and we moved on to a different activity.
I asked my colleague afterwards if it made sense what I was trying to achieve, and he said he could see exactly what I was trying to do but that it was perhaps a little too abstract for this particular age group. It may have worked with Stage Two students, or if it was just a group of Year Two students, but not with this particular cohort.
It was a valuable lesson in reminding me that I need to spend more time thinking activities all the way from through from start to finish and consider ways to bring it back to the focus if things start to go off the rails to ensure that the students are achieving the lesson focus. It was also a reminder of how valuable having a colleague in the room can be to not only remind you that are a capable teacher after failed lessons, but to pick up on questions or ideas that you have missed or forgotten or to help manage a small group of students who need additional support.
If you have read yesterday’s article, I recently attended the Sydney iteration of FlipLearnCon. Heather Davis, as discussed in that article was presenting from the secondary education perspective and kindly consented for her presentation to be recorded and shared online. I have embedded below Heather’s presentation split into short sections. Please note that the first video contains a section which has deliberately been pixelated to protect the privacy of the students who are providing their feedback.
For the full list of articles in this series, please click here.
“All have their worth and each contributes to the worth of the others.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion
As you read this, I would like you to think about the ecology of your classroom; the physical structure, the ambience generated by the posters, your bearing and voice, outside influences, are you near a train line or a highway, or do you have construction work going on, as we do in our school that is impacting on various aspects of the school? I would appreciate any feedback on my room and the various initiatives that Mrs W and I are putting in place.
The new classes were put in place on Tuesday after the final numbers and class mixes were determined. The initial mix for Stage Three was two classes of just Year Five students, two composite Year Five and Six classes and then a straight Year Six class. Due to the vagaries of enrolment numbers, this meant that Mrs W and I would have twenty students, another would have had only a few more and then the others would have had high-twenties, which is not particularly equitable. The final mix is that all five classes are composite Stage Three classes, with everyone having either twenty-four or twenty-five, which I am sure you would agree is much more equitable.
Having a composite class presents its own challenges, which I discovered about ten minutes after getting my new class back to our room when all of my Year Six students left to go and be with their Kindergarten buddies. I effectively did not see my Year Six students again until the final session in the afternoon, which was rather frustrating as it made those initial stages of setting up the room, in regards to the basic mechanics of the classroom, very difficult.
So far, between the last session of yesterday, and the morning session until Year Six went to join their Kindergarten buddies, we have been able to play some getting to know you games, have a conversation about rights and responsibilities and then brainstorm rights and responsibilities for both the teachers and the students as a more positive option than just a classroom rules, given out the various books, and discussed the classroom management system that Mrs W and I are putting in place this year, which is a classroom economy system.
We wanted something that would be relevant and actually useful for students and that would actually have an impact on students, encouraging to be positive with their behaviour, rather than a negative structure that tries to control their behaviour, and after talking about various systems that we have both come across, decided on the classroom economy system.
Students will earn a daily wage, with the opportunity for bonuses for a variety of things from returning permission notes and monies on time, to improvements in various learning contexts. In contrast, they will also be required to pay living expenses as will be required of them in them in the real world; rent, wifi, electricity, groceries, and occasional unexpected costs such as a broken window, or repairs. We will be using real amounts, divided equally amongst the class. They will also be fined for things such as forgetting equipment, negative behaviour, and will need to pay levies for borrowing equipment, requiring a loan from the bank (Mrs W and myself) to pay their fines.
This system will require a lot of real-world mathematics skills, and will, we hope, a method for encouraging positive behaviour, and learning improvements in a manner which has some real-world contexts, including the obvious literacy and numeracy skills, as well as budgeting, planning, and personal traits such as organisation.
It is going to require significant work to maintain throughout the year, but we are hopeful that it will be worth it. I have already had the conversation that we may tweak the system as we go, and that if it is not working that we may decide to scrap it, but that we want to give it a go. Thus far, the students have been very intrigued and excited by the idea.
We are also planning on placing a significant level of responsibility for their own learning on the students by putting in place some simple routines that will generally remain the same and allow the day to commence with a minimum of fuss and need for direction by us. This will be enhanced, hopefully, once our building is internet-enabled and we are able to utilise online distribution to prepare a day’s routine.
I have left multiple pages of notes for Mrs W of things that have occurred around the school that she needs to be aware of, particularly in relation to tomorrow’s swimming carnival, but also to let her know what I have been through with the class, what I have not been able to get to and various other minor things.
I would like to hear how you plan and execute the first few days in a class at the beginning of the year, how do you create a classroom ecology that is conducive to a positive learning environment, and how do you go about creating an environment of trust in the room?