Friday, 29 June 2018

In The Students' Shoes For A Day

Over the past few months I have struggled to build relationships with some of my Year 11 PE students. There are 7 students who are close friends and sit in the back corner together, and often I find myself spending time managing their behaviour. ALL of these students have been identified as priority learners, and they are Maori students too.

Last year I went and visited one of my priority learners in another subject (see blogpost here), and found the experience incredibly rewarding. I took away some strategies to use within my class to support this student. My biggest concern with my current 7 students, is the time I spend trying to get/keep them on task, is sucking away time with students who really want and need my help - it really isn't fair. So, I requested, and was granted, a whole day today to observe these students in some of their other subjects. I really enjoyed seeing the kids in different lights, but also felt a sigh of relief when other teachers expressed their concerns and difficulties with the same students as me.

My key thoughts and reflections throughout the day;
  • Following around the students really made me appreciate how difficult it must be for the students to move between different classroom environments, different rules and expectations, different peers and completely different topics. I found it difficult to switch my thinking between periods and determine what was accepted in one class (which may not be accepted in the next). So I think I need to be a little more empathetic sometimes if they forget some of my rules!
  • Physical placement within the room seemed to make a considerable difference to many of their concentration levels, motivation to complete tasks and engagement in their learning. In addition, the classroom layout itself effected how they behaved and came across in the class. This wasn't too surprising though!
  • When the tasks were hands-on, or not using their devices, the students were generally more engaged, and were completing more of their tasks.

After this day, some strategies I think may help moving forward in my 11PE class are;
  • Change up the layout of the classroom, so the students are not all segregated in the corner. This may encourage the students to connect with other students, may reduce the behaviour management time, and may increase student engagement. In some of their other subjects, these students were seated closer to the teacher and they were less disruptive than in my class.
  • Have more one on one discussions with the students about their learning. I spent an entire period with my Year 10 students, individually discussing what they had learnt throughout the previous unit and what they still didn't understand (away from the other students in the class). This was so effective to gain an understanding of where they were at in PE, as well as enabled me to have conversations with some of the quieter students, building a closer relationship with them. Having the individual chats with my Year 11s, including the priority learners, may be as effective to increase relationships, will increase time spent with other students in the class, and the conversations may give me further strategies to support each student.
  • Include more activities/tasks that are not on devices. Gaming, social media and YouTube have been some of the main things I have had to manage when these students are in class, and today's observations demonstrated to me that removing the devices increased student engagement.
Overall, today was a great experience, which I am grateful for. I took a lot away from being immersed in other subjects, not only from the students, but also the teachers. I would definitely recommend observing priority learners who may be more difficult to connect with, in other subjects.

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Why are you learning this?

As previously blogged about here, underpinning our teaching and learning is Ako Orewa. This is the school vision, which aims to empower students, and promote learner agency. Within the department, we have been focussing this year on the learning process;

What are we doing? Why are we doing it? Where to next?

I have been attempting to include these key questions into my lessons, especially with my Juniors, to make greater meaning of the learning related to the wider world, as well as encouraging students to take ownership of their learning. I definitely feel this is something I am improving, but need to actively include in more lessons, to shift the locus of control and continue to question why we are learning, what we are learning. 

I am finding myself this year teaching new units, and as a result needing to get my head around new assessment tasks too. I have struggled not to teach to the assessment, being completely honest. So over the past few weeks I have tried to often ask myself why I have planned particular lessons, and if the answer is 'because they need to know it', I try to reshape the lesson to be more about what the students want to know (based off student voice collected both formally and informally). Then, the 'why' shifts slightly.

To assist with the implementation of Ako Orewa (a five year plan, which includes a huge curriculum shift over the next couple years), teachers are encouraged to complete 'Ako Orewa observations'. Instead of visiting classes to observe a teacher (even though teacher observations are great learning experiences), we are to visit classes and discuss some of the key questions alongside, with the students.

I completed two Ako Orewa observations in Term 1 - one in an 11PE class, and one in a 12PE class. I found the conversations with the students incredibly insightful, as they were really able to explain the importance of self management and being in responsible of your own learning. I was surprised how the students were able to articulate how their achievement is determined by what they put into their learning. However, many were also able to (guiltily) describe the lack of understanding they had related to their learning tasks (which they identified was due to what they had not put in). I was not surprised either, that some students were unable to explain why they were learning about what they were learning, as we were only at the beginning of this shift in mindset. 

A term later though, I visited the two classes again, and spoke to different students. Many more were now able to identify why they were learning about particular topics and relate them to their lives. Some students were also now able to explain how they use exemplars and marking criterias to determine their level of learning, and where to go next. Therefore, starting to shift the focus onto the learning process in our classes is supporting the Ako Orewa vision/pedagogy.

I really enjoyed completing these observations, and I am looking forward to someone popping into my class so I can gauge where I need to further question or ignite discussions. Having discussions with the students really made me reflect on the learning process in my own classrooms, and actively think about the three key questions. Next year my challenge will be to relate the learning process to the Ako Tools.