Friday, November 17, 2017

Adventures in Learning

I was recently asked to talk about something that has impacted on my teaching over the last couple of years.
At first I thought, “Yeah, no worries. I can do that.”
But it wasn’t as easy as I thought.
There’s been a lot of things that have helped to develop my teaching and it is hard to pin down one thing.

I thought about teaching science which I was previously not very confident about. My inquiry into SOLO taxonomy gave me a clearer idea of how learning can progress and be extended. The concept of See, Think, Wonder offered a great platform for introducing and expanding ideas. I thought about learning Mandarin with the children. I considered being part of the Flat Connections project last year or even working with Google docs and apps. My work as SENCo and the Sue Larkey course that I took part in have definitely enriched my teaching ….

But when I really reflected on what has made a difference, I found that there is a larger theme here that all of these things flow on from.

There was a time not so many years ago that I felt in a slump with teaching. My enthusiasm was waning and I didn’t feel as effective in my role as I once did. Then I met, and was fortunate enough to work with, some people who were passionate about learning - not just the children’s learning but their own. I think now that you cannot have one without the other.

They helped encourage me to try new things, move out of my comfort zone and exposed me to some very interesting schools of thought. I read articles, watched TED talks, took part in Twitter chats and VLN streams.

Reading about the Learning Pit, Growth Mindset and Action Learning helped me to value the importance of making mistakes as an opportunity to progress. My understanding of myself as a learner grew.

This fed through to my classroom practise and my interactions with the children. I would sit on the floor with the children and take part in Mandarin lessons. They would see me try and fail and laugh and try again. The Mandarin speakers in the class would kindly help me and I would accept that help gratefully.

I would explore the nature of science with the class and we would all put on our scientist’s faces and say, “I wonder.”

I would make mistakes when modelling writing and ask the children what to do.
I would jokingly say, “Should I cry and throw my pencil?”
They would always laugh and reply, “ No Andrea, you just keep trying.”

It became a saying in my class, not from me but generated by the children themselves, that school is for trying.

This was most evident for a particular child who was very anxious about trying. He was stuck and progress was limited as taking risks with his learning was unsettling for him. But eventually this child became the one leading the others with the mantra, “School is for trying.” Once he realised the power of ‘having a go’, his confidence blossomed. He delighted in his attempts and not just his successes. It was lovely to see him relax into learning.

I needed to relax into learning too. The children became my role models. We share our learning and it’s made teaching a more exciting place to be.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

If he could just walk

Inclusion is being talked about a lot in Education it seems. Hooray! It's all going to be peace, love and equality from here on in!  But what does inclusion mean? What does it mean to you?

I guess to me inclusion means letting everyone in. Not isolating others because of difference but rather celebrating diversity and focusing on everyone's strengths. Neurodiversity is a word I'm liking at the moment. Inclusion then requires people to understand and value the differences of others. 

Last year I completed an online course of webinars by Autism specialist and advocate - Sue Larkey. I've been on Sue's email list for many years now and love her tip sheets and resources. A lot of what I learned on the course is not unfamiliar to me but I really enjoyed the reminders of strategies and the stories of children, adults and families that she has worked with.

One of Sue's messages is - Fairness doesn't mean everyone having the same thing. Fairness means everyone having what they need to succeed.

I think that standardised testing is a thorn in the side of inclusion. If teachers see test results as a requirement rather than an indication of learning and a way to infer their planning, then they will see students who do not test well as a problem. A red cross in their data sheet. I spoke to a parent recently who was worried because his Autistic son was not meeting the National Standard. He was concerned at how this would impact on his son's feelings of self worth. 

Because people with Autism and Aspergers don't have an obvious physical difference or disability the strategies that might support them are often disregarded. My son has been fortunate to have had some teachers that have valued his strengths. I would find that it was just their ignorance of Aspergers and once I explained his difficulties, many would try to adapt lessons and be more considerate of his needs. 
However, not all his teachers were as understanding.
I remember one of my son's school reports at Intermediate. Almost every teacher had included in their comment - he just needs to focus more and be less distracted.  
I would have liked to have written a report for the teachers and have included in my comments - my son would enjoy school and be more successful if you could differentiate your programme to focus more on his abilities rather than punish him for his disabilities.

Thanks to Sonya Van Schaijik, I read a piece of Steve Silberman's speech to the United Nations. He talks at one point about the time and resources that have been put into preventing Autism and the lack of support and understanding for Autistic people.
"Imagine if society had put off the issue of civil rights until the genetics of race were sorted out, or denied wheelchair users access to schools and public buildings while insisting,
"Someday, with the help of science everyone will walk." "

To be able to achieve inclusion we need to be more open and vocal about ASD so that people have a better understanding. It is my opinion that ignorance creates the biggest hurdle to inclusion. 

I spoke about my son's report to a lovely RTLB and her response was much like Silberman's, - "so if your son was a paraplegic they would be saying that he would do much better if he could just walk."

Sunday, January 31, 2016


Watched the 2009 Star Trek movie again recently and loved this part where Sulu has an embarrassing moment. I love the look on his face when Spock alerts him to it. Come on, we've all been there - not the being corrected by Spock bit but the generally doing something daft bit. The actor who plays Sulu has the most wonderful expression on his face. Of course his failure to disengage the external initial dampener (I had to go back to the clip a few times to get that right), ultimately saved them from being destroyed by Romulans. Failures can sometimes lead to great things. 
It's a cool way of depicting what it is to be human in a futuristic setting. It would be awful if we lost that.
Chris Clay took a day of PD for our Teacher only day. He certainly gave us a lot to think on. One idea Chris talked about was what we could do as teachers that robots would not be able to. An interesting question as AI in the future may lead to robots that are able to synthesise the human condition. 
Perhaps though our strength is in our failures and being able to laugh at them and learn from them - not always straight away though! 
If Sulu had been a robot he would not have made the error and they would all have perished. 
Teachers would hopefully not have a scenario as dramatic as this one but redefining failure with their students, making it part of a positive process rather than the end of the world, would be a wonderful achievement I think. It's one that we as humans are certainly capable of.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Another TED to get you thinking

I love the bit where he quotes a saying from a very innovative company - Fail first and fail often.
One of my boys favourite 'passing the time in the car' conversations was "Tell us another of your embarrassing stories Mum!" 
Ah terrific. Mum's epic fails.
I seemed to have quite a few of these - this is probably not a surprise to those of you who know me well. 

Great inspiration for the beginning of the year

My husband told me about this TED talk a couple of years ago. It's a great one to start the year with as it makes you think - what's my role as a teacher? And that's a really important question.

Monday, December 7, 2015



I was a bit apprehensive as I thought it might take me a lot of painful thinking. 
I did the block code which was recommended for 6 yr olds and up. So much fun! I am not much of a gamer. I tend to hit the arrow keys a bit hard which doesn't help as I'm often going in the wrong direction anyway. 
My 9 yr old son helped me out at first. Such a sweet boy, he only fell off the couch laughing once. 
And here it is the game that George Lucas has been waiting for.
R2D2's Piggy Challenge

This game has been tested by Harry who rated it "Yeah, that's ok Mum"

Friday, November 13, 2015

A Child's View of Culture

My son's year group are doing a study about culture at the moment. Waveney Bryant - the lead teacher came up with some curly questions for them to work on as part of their homework. This is my son's response to the question - What are 10 things that could never be part of NZ culture. Great question Waveney.

10 things that could never be part of NZ culture
Because NZ’s would never put up with people being treated like that.
Because NZ is a country of peace and if everyone owns guns there is going to be a lot of killing.
3.Bull fighting
Because that is very cruel to the animals and people would be very shocked at how violent it is.
4.Capital Punishment
Because sometimes they make mistakes and innocent people get executed
5.No schools
Because even though school can be hard work, NZ has schools so that kids can get smart and grow up to do clever things.
6.One Religion that everyone has to belong to
Because in NZ people need to believe in their own religions and their own gods and we don’t mind about that.
7.Australian animals
Because they live in Australia.
8.Being told what to wear
Because people would get really annoyed and we
like to wear lots of different things.
9.Eating Guinea Pigs
Because they are pets in NZ and they are really cute and we have lots of other things we can eat.
10.One person in command
Because they go nuts and NZ people wouldn’t want to do what they said anyway.