Monday, 30 September 2013

Karyn Gray-Lessons Learnt from Our Plants.

At the beginning of each year we hold our staff induction.

In our first year induction went for 2 1/2 weeks. We began for the first three days on the local Marae getting to know each other and the big picture vision around learning at TKAS.  The remaining two weeks were spent getting to know the area: the infamous Amazing Race around Waikohu; continuing to get to know one another: lots of team building; and planning an initial scheme of learning for the first term: concept to be highlighted- dealing with change.

The induction period culminated with a powerful powhiri led by staff and the establishment board to welcome all students and whanau onto an old site but a new school.

Following the hakari and entertainment, staff gathered back together for a closing of the induction period where I presented them each with a photo frame with images of the last fortnight surrounding  the well known words to The Power of Geese.

These words have proven true for us time after time through the last three years. In fact I closed our end of term staff reflections this term by referring to them yet again. It’s been a challenging term and there have been times people have had to step up and move to the head of the “V” formation and take their turns leading, and some of our staff have really risen to the occasion when needed.

In Year 2 our induction, on a different local Marae, focussed around developing a language of learning and a commitment to professional learning. In what was becoming time honored tradition the induction ended with a quote and song and a presentation- this time of a photo frame with some pertinent quotes for the year ahead.

This year we had committed ourselves to becoming an an Enviro school. We were on another local Marae but our approach to the start of the year was quite different. We spent time getting to know about the whanau hanging in frames on the walls of the wharenui. We went for a bit of a hi koi to some places of interest- the old Marae site, the Urupa and of course the Kokomo- the much revered local swimming hole. 

We spent most of our time digesting and exploring the charter for the year with the main task being use the new school iPads to create a visual representation of the charter to share with each other.

Music played a large role in this induction with the immersion activity being me playing excerpts from 10 songs and staff members in teams making suggestions about how those particular songs might link to our charter for the year. (And yes that was accompanied by much complaining about my taste in music.!)

Given the focus on the environment for the year the induction time was concluded with me presenting all staff with a  mini house plant and charging them with growing their plant for the year, as a metaphor for how we are charged with growing our students. 

I used the song In the Garden (Terry Kelly) to illustrate this concept:

Think of all the people in your life that have left impressions on you
The ones who never let you down and those who were there each time you lost you way
All through your lifetime do remember the ones who really cared
Coz they were always there in the garden, where the flowers grow in the garden
The future will unfold
Thank god for the rivers and mountains and the valleys down below
Thank god for the teachers of our children so the garden can grow

Without a firm and guiding hand a tender sprout is lost among the weeds
Until your roots were firm and strong in the garden
Where the precious flowers grow in the garden
Where a better future will unfold

Thank god for the rivers and mountains and the valleys down below
Thank god for the teachers of our children so the garden can grow

So.............. after three terms where are the plants at? 

Each end of term we gather for reflections of the term. It has become one of our rituals as a staff.

This year reflections have been heightened as they begin with people bringing in their plants and sharing the stories of their growth, demise or anything in between. 

Yesterday we had stories about plants being Whangai (adopted) to their grandparents for some extra TLC but being regularly visited,

We had plants that had grown beyond all recognition through nothing but being given space and water. 

We had a plant whose carer bemoaned national standards. She explained that she was feeling good about her plant- she felt it be about the right standard until she got to school and saw another plant that was very well grown and she felt inferior, but then spotted another plant which had not fared so well and then felt really superior.

We had a plant who's carer was quite blunt about not being able or willing to care for plants and told us she really ignored her plant for the first two terms. But this term, having discovered Carol Dwecks work around mindsets she has started watering her plant and is wokring on changing her mindset about being able to care for plants and it is starting to thrive.

We had a digital representation of a plant because it's carer felt it was too comfortable nestled in its home surrounded by family and friends to be uprooted at this stage.

We had a plant that had been doing fine but its carer got a bit pressured into thinking it could do better and put too much effort into shining its leaves and other well-intended but interesting caring concepts. The carer had finally realized that he just needed to give it some space and let it do its own thing and juts be there to support it.

We had  a plant that had been left to itself for a little while but had managed to find what it needed to survive within the light and water available to it in the room it was left in. A nice metaphor for some of those students who don’t always get what they need for their growth but somehow find enough from limited stores to carry on.

We had plants of staff members who have left us during the year being cared for by other staff, ensuring their legacy lives on.

We had three teaching staff members absent along with their plants. 

One was with his wife as they were welcoming a new addition to their family. 
Another two were with whanau giving support in times of need. 

And that reminds me that it’s important for us to realise that we need to support and nurture our own loved ones- whanau and friends- and ourselves, in order to be able to support and nurture our learners.

So what have we learnt from caring for our plants?

  • That they all grow at different rates and speeds- as do our learners
  • That they all need different things fed to them and to be cared for in different ways in order to grow- as do our learners
  • That we need to think about our mindsets- whether we are growing plants or people 
  • That we can utilise the power and magic of technology to help support our plants....and our learners 
  • That although it is sad when people move on and gaps are left, others will step in and up to provide the care and support needed for those left behind- whether its plants or groups of young people 
  • That is order to care for other things, we need to look after ourselves and our nearest and dearest first- we need to be healthy in body and mind to nurture and support others

As all my staff- current and previous are well aware- I am a bit of a Quotes Queen- normally managing to find and share quotes for every occasion possible. 

On Friday I came upon this beauty:

A man has made at least a start on discovering the meaning of human life when he plants shade trees under which he knows full well he will never sit.  D.Elton Trueblood

How apt is this both for:

The plants we are currently caring for- which need to be brought back in at the end of the year to take pride of place on the stage for our Celebration of Achievement (what other schools refer to as  prize giving) and thereafter will be housed within our new school environment- which we take ownership of in mid December.

The young people we are currently caring for and supporting and nurturing on their learning journey. We probably won’t see the end results of what we are nurturing and that is not the point. We are here to help them as much as we can through this point in their lifelong journey.  

Helping them to read and write and become engaged mathematicians is important. Even more important is the development of an inquiry mindset. And even more is the development of positive relationships.  

For us at TKAS helping our young people develop an understanding of their identity- past, present and future, the ability to be inclusive with all other people ( accept and have positive relationships with a range of people)  and doing things differently (being innovative) is the cornerstone to what we are doing (and are the three main points on our school logo). 

“Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.”  Robert Louis Stevenson

Waiarani Eruera: Rite! Right! Write!

Karyn’s Introduction:

Waiarani was a mature beginning teacher with us from the start of 2011. She has taught in both the upper primary and lower primary in the last three years. Waiarani shares her opinions and experience related to developing young writers- and particularly young Maori writers.

Rite! Right! Write!

A colleague recently attended a conference on writing. A comment was made about how writing wasn’t a Maori thing; in fact the speaker went even further to posit that writing wasn’t a Ngati Porou thing. Being of Ngati Porou descent, my whakapapa compels me to respond.

Nowhere in my upbringing do I remember ever being told that I couldn’t write because I was Ngati Porou. If anything, I was raised to believe the opposite - I could do anything I wanted as long as I was prepared to work for it. Just as well… I’d hate to think where I’d be today if I’d been told I couldn’t write or worse still; believed it. 
While Maori traditions and stories were transmitted orally through the generations that alone does not justify the comment. What concerns me more is that there are educators out there that actually think that. That thinking does not move Maori learners forward but rather hinders and keeps them boxed within the teacher’s own prejudices and limitations. Why bother teaching writing if it’s pre-ordained that Maori learners won’t be able to learn how to write anyway? 

As a teacher in a junior class that is predominantly Maori, I see the daily challenges my own students face as they learn writing. What I have learned is that good writers, regardless of ethnicity, have strong oral language skills and are able to articulate their thoughts and ideas clearly. These students are likely to be from homes where they are engaged in conversations that provide the foundation for deeper thinking skills. I’ve also noticed that these students have a strong grasp of stories. They are read to and have access to a wide range of reading materials in the home. They are familiar with book language before they come to school. All this helps towards their journey as writers.

Last year, a colleague and I were fortunate to visit a school, similar to our own, that was having success with a writing programme they had developed. We wanted to see how we could use and adapt a writing programme to meet the needs of our own students. Our programme used fairy tales to introduce our students to the rich language found in stories. We focussed solely on retelling those stories; learning about how to sequence, looking at character development and becoming familiar with language used in stories. Far from our students not being able to write, it was as if a door had been opened and suddenly we had students eager to fill the pages of their books.

Two and a half terms later, our writing programme is continuing to develop and recent assessment shows steady progress. There is always room for improvement however; and already we are thinking about what we need to focus on in Term 4. 

My challenge to educators who think Maori can’t write is to stop coming up with excuses as to why your students can’t do it. More succinctly, you need to think about what it is about your practice that is not engaging Maori learners in writing. 

And if you think there’s no need to do this then it’s time you left the profession.

Henare Tahuri: The Different Faces and Places of Learning

Karyn’s Introduction:

We all come from different places in our own learning experiences, and these experiences shape the learning we offer to our students. Henare shares some powerful memories of his earlier encounters with learning which in turn make us, as readers, consider how our learners are faring in their journey to understand the place and  face  of learning in their lives

The Different Places and Faces of Learning

Ko Henare Tahuri tōku ingoa.
Nō Ngāti Kahungunu ki te Wairoa me Tūhoe ki Ruataahuna ahau.

I would like to start off my 1st blog by letting you know who I am and where I come from. As stated in my short pepeha above my name is Henare and I am from 2 tribal areas, Kahungunu in Wairoa and Tuhoe from Ruataahuna.

The shearing sheds where my parents worked was my kohanga, my first preschool education environment. The marae where our wider family members would meet for the various marae hui, from birthdays to tangihanga, sports events like rugby, netball, softball, and darts to Karakia, were also every stable places of learning. 

I still have memories of my first year at Primary school. My very first teacher was Mrs Mita, an elderly lady, very polite and oh so patient. I can still hear her voice as she taught me the difference between to and too. She emphasised and dragged the too as though the tooooo sound had no end. I also remember her saying while teaching me how to write, that my writing down the page look somewhat like a racing track, because it was not straight in line with the margin. I remember feeling happy and full of joy and excitement to be at school learning with Mrs Mita because she made me feel important and happy.
I wonder sometimes why I am still able to remember those few moments quite vividly, I suppose first impressions last a lifetime. 

I think I just drifted through the rest of my primary years at school from one day to the next not even knowing why I was at school. 
Why was I at school? What a very good question. 
I just took it as, “well everyone else is here and that’s why I am here”. 
“If I’m not at school then I will probably be at the shearing shed, but I’m not at the shearing shed and that’s why I’m at school”

I just thought that school was classroom schoolwork, with a playtime, a lunchtime and a little playtime in the afternoons to break the monotony of that classroom schoolwork stuff or learning. 
Oh and not to mention the routine, night time growling’s of trying to read a book at home. 
Why do teachers do that to children, I mean shouldn’t they be teaching reading? Why send a book home for the child to be screamed at, (not all the time), but enough for those unpleasant memories to stick.

It makes me wonder, school-learning at school yeah that works, school-learning at home, um? No way that’s just asking for freaking trouble.
You see, at school I felt a bit more comfortable with schoolwork learning and not knowing how to do or say things. I suppose it was the teachers job to teach you and to only strap you for being naughty not for being hopeless at schoolwork. 

Actually come to think of it, I think they did something much worse, sometimes they’d just leave you alone to figure it out for yourself or if you didn’t get it and couldn’t keep up with everyone else then you were simply left behind, which resulted in reading groups for slow learners, yep I was the captain of that group.

Home to me was supposed to be a place where you could rest from schoolwork, “but no”, teachers must have thought that 5 hours a day, for 5 days a week for the rest of our lives wasn’t enough, nah, lets make the little critters suffer some more at home, ha, ha, ha.
Needless to say, homework every night was ‘awesome’ with a capital ‘o’, thank you Mr MP minister of homework.

How about the activities and things that I was doing with friends and cousins after school and on the weekends at the marae and or at the shearing sheds that had nothing directly to do with schoolwork but nevertheless learning all the same. 
You see I was never yelled at or given a growling for any of that learning, sure I was growled and kicked up the bum for doing mischief stuff but, I was hardly ever made to feel worthless like I felt when trying to read a book or spell words for home work.

I suppose, ‘what I’m trying to say is’, back then, in my experience, there was a time and place for things like in-school learning and out-of-school learning. 
Parents needed to have a certain type of attitude towards learning and the appropriate strategies to help kids learn.

My Dad is a clever person, he enjoys reading books, he knows a lot of stuff about a lot of things. He was well educated and I think he really enjoyed his time at school. Learning how to read a book and spell words must have been easy for him, so why couldn’t his son understand and comprehend in the same way. I really think he thought that I was just being lazy. Hey, maybe I was, ‘but you know what’, when you just can’t do something for what ever reason then you just can’t do it, no amount of screaming and yelling is going to make a difference. 

My mum, well she had me at the age of 15 so I think she left school before or just after she got pregnant, she wasn’t too flash at reading and spelling, actually to this day she still struggles with basic literacy. However, she is amazing and has awesome skills in the workforce where knowing how to read or spell is not a major factor. I know my mum sincerely wanted to help me back then, but did not have the capacity to do so. I could actually feel of her concern and sorrow for me as she tried her best. I suppose she felt ashamed being powerless to assist in my progression as her own demons of not being able to read and write fell upon me. 

Why is schoolwork like this for some of our kids?

If you enjoy something then you continue to do it.

In order for you to enjoy something you need to know and understand it.

Learning is indeed full of fun and excitement. It isn’t all gloom and doom as I may have portrayed it to be from my piece of writing. It is however something that disguises it self and is easily manipulated by individuals to empower or overthrow ones capacity to progress and move forward or sidewards. 

I am learning and learning is me. It is our constant companion moving and turning as we ourselves move. Where is it you may ask? here, there, everywhere and nowhere.
Hiding go seek, 1, 2, 3.

Anei tāku mo tēnei wā, mā te wā pea ka blog anō.

Tawera Tahuri: Am I a Friend or a Teacher?

Karyn’s Introduction:

Starting a  new school, where the students all knew each other but very few teachers knew very few of the students was a point of difference to many of the other new schools out there. 

Building relationships with our learners was an absolute focus for us, and remains one. 

Those first 12 months building relationships was the key number one importance to everything we did.

Tawera has been with us from the start, and is in the position of having a number of students in the school who she is related to, which brings its own challenges.

She writes here on the power of relationships and explores the perennial question of whether teachers and students should be friends.

Relationships and Teaching

Am I a friend or a teacher? 

I have been told that you cant be a friend if you are a teacher. 
I have also heard in many circles that it is highly inappropriate to know your students at a personal level. 

How do I feel about this perception? Well I can say it has crossed my mind many an occasion. 

In the year 2000 we taught at Te Aute College, a Maori boarding school in the Hawkes Bay. Henare and I were lucky enough to have been targeted for this particular job in our second year of teaching. We were ecstatic to have this opportunity in such an important school in Maori Education. Where Sir Apirana Ngata made so many important decisions for his people. Where many Maori dreamers, academics and sportspeople established firm foundations for life. We were honoured to be able to establish firm teaching foundations in a place such as this. Steeped in tradition, Te Aute is like no other. 

Teachers taught and students learnt. Students taught and teachers learnt. Some were more successful than others. 

I learnt some of the most valuable lessons of my life there as a teacher and a learner. I grew, not only as a teacher, but also a student, a wife and mother, an aunty, a sister, a confidante, a councillor, a homemaker, a friend. 

I learnt that I needed to be open to change. I needed to lead as well as follow. 

I learnt that relationships with anyone were very important in and out of school.

I lost students while at Te Aute. Lost too many to suicide. Lost some to accidents. Lost some to the streets. Lost some to the world. 

I suffered, I cried, I laughed and I sung. It was a very hard time to experience and at some point I fell into depression. I hurt, but I hurt because I not only taught these students, I loved them like family. I felt It was my fault because I wasn't there. For many, I wasn't around at that pivotal point in their lives when they needed me. I asked myself "Did I do enough? Am I too close ? Have I become too involved in these students lives?" It took me a long time to realise that it wasn't my fault. Life has a funny way of presenting itself sometimes. We cant always be in control of it.

A parent hit me. She misunderstood me and basically just hit me in front of everyone. I reeled and went further into a state of depression. My relationship was better with her son than hers was. I spent most of his teenage life with him. He went home for the holidays. He lived his life at boarding school. Of course she was upset. But it wasn't my fault I worked hard on my relationships. All of them. He is a dad now and his mum? She has sadly passed away. He still keeps in touch and recently visited me introducing his new baby to me. Always there for him.

Enter stage left professional assistance. I am well. I am supported but some days are better than others. I am at peace with it. I am okay for people to know now. Ive grown even more. I suffer from depression. I am still a teacher,  and a learner. I love it.

I made lifelong friends too. Colleagues who are friends for life. Students who were like my own children. Well when you teach at a boarding school for five years it is a bit hard to not gain close relationships. It was not uncommon for our household to be hosting students from the dorms who had needed a place to stay for one reason or another. The teacher role often swayed into that of an aunty or mum. 
My students are in regular contact to this day. We often get 21st Birthday invites or wedding invites or even invitations to see them cross the legal bar. 

Relationships are important. 

I care about people. Any person is important to me because quite frankly they are family in my eyes. We are all brothers and sisters of God and we are all important. We are all of worth. 

How well do I know my students? Am I in tune with their needs, their wants and desires in life? Am I tolerant and patient? How well do I listen? Do I love my students? 

Yes it is possible to have love for your students. How can you be patient and understanding, caring or tolerant if you don't have love? 

I hug my students. They hug me back. I laugh and play with them like I would my own children. I communicate with them. We learn together. Passing judgement is not always a positive act, I try my hardest to not do it. 

I work hard at my relationships with my students. I give my all. I enjoy blessings of satisfaction and peace of mind to know that I do unto others as I would have them do unto me. I try and I keep trying. If I fall I get back up and try again. Sometimes it's just harder. Not impossible, just harder. 

The simple answer for me is, of course you can be friends with your students. It is more than possible to have deeper meaningful  relationships with your students. When so much is going on in the world everyone needs a friend, even me.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Alleyne Chater: What Pill Will You Take?

Karyn’s Introduction:

One of the enduring excitements I have as a leader in an area school is the tremendous potential for our primary and  secondary colleagues to truly appreciate and learn from each other in constructive and authentic ways. Alleyne sums this up really well in his posting on the changes he has gone through as a teacher in the last three years.

This is my third attempt at writing a blog post entry.
 Summing up the past three years at the school, for me, cannot really be done in one blog post! It would need to be done in my backyard with my kids jumping on the trampoline whilst sipping some fruity styled beverages! 

At the end of the day every community is different and with that the clientele that we deal with. I have found this in every school and in every community that I have worked in. This will always be a constant.

To me the most significant part of this journey has been my Unlearning, my stripping down of my Educational belief system and my practices. 

After nearly three years I have gone from being metaphorically wrapped in polar fleece, to standing naked in the face of an oncoming storm. Watch the clip, then keep reading (if you don’t, you may think I have discovered Karyn’s censorship limit!).

Much like the Matrix, I have taken the red pill. I am now aware of the war that is raging in Education globally. The Old ways vs the New. I have had a taste of what is possible. Not just for me, but also for our students and the implications this might have for us as a society, and even a species. 
Much like Neo, I have always felt there was something wrong in Education (Matrix). 

I watched too many of my friends fall through the gaps, while others did little all year only to regurgitate enough data to look good on paper. 

Amazing minds and people that asked WHY? 

Squashed into conformity, brow beaten and forced to conform to societies mould of what a good citizen is. 

In this regard, I have been in Purgatory, flying under the radar, not having enough “Kaha” to wrestle with the “man”. 

And as much as I hate to admit it, becoming what I disagreed with in the first place. 

TKAS has awakened me from my slumber and now I can see. 
A new age is dawning. Change too, is a constant, and all around I see people fighting it, scared to accept the fact that how it was for them is not going to work now and in many cases, didn’t actually work then!

I am trained as a Secondary teacher and the best PD I have ever done is teaching at Primary level. I can hear all you subject specialists throwing your hands up in disgust, but its true! 
Our school is not normal and for that I am eternally grateful. I have been exposed to a plethora of left field, educational tools and strategies that have challenged me in so many ways. 

I wept at the realization of the fact that as discursive in my practice I thought I was, I was just a typical secondary traditionalist, just with a little more charisma (if I may blow my own trumpet!). 

Hearing people talk at ULearn, Kath Murdoch, Pam Hook, books I have been given, having the privilege to meet some outstanding practitioners at He Kakano, has all helped me to unlearn and relearn what I thought I knew what good teaching was. 

And you know, through all of this “PD”, none of it was about curriculum content or student management! Go figure aye! 

It was about getting to know, truly know, our clientele and developing new ways to actively engage them in learning. 

Yes! Thinking for themselves, making their own decisions, challenging their perceptions of themselves, not just as learners, but as individuals. 

Inquiry! Should not be something we teach. It should be a side effect of everything we do in school (and hopefully in life). 

I have never been more excited about this industry in my life and I tremble with excitement when I think of the next few years. I love integrated curriculum, I love the technology we have at our disposal, I love our team and their enthusiasm, I love our students, I love being an active life long learner and most of all, I love change…as scary as it can be!

What pill will you take?

Megan Stewart: Learning to Love Change

Karyn’s Introduction:

Change is the one constant we are always going to be sure of. We began our first term with studying the concept of change with all the students and we have continued to accept the mantra that what we do this term will probably have changed by the following term. I we are truly going to meet the needs of our students now and in the future there will probably never come a time when we think we have got it sussed. 

Megan is the team leader of or Early Years team and as she says at the end ....Change in good.

Learning to love change

Our first year flew by.  The junior school had 3 beginning teachers and 2 teachers who had not taught full time for some time, and me.  We survived the first year.  But the second year, after really analysing our writing data, we knew that what we were doing was not actually meeting the needs of the majority of our students, and for a lot of them, we were not making enough accelerated progress to ‘catch’ most of the students up to where we would like them to be.

I had talked to Karyn about this and she more or less said, well don’t carry on doing the same thing if its not working, find something that will make a difference. Karyn is always challenging us to reflect on and improve our practice.

So, how were we going to do this?  Flummoxed, I found it hard to find a custom made programme that would suit us.  Karyn had been away and had talked to the principal of another school who had had similar challenges.  However, they had completely changed their practice and had seen significant progress.

How did we do it?
  • We took a bit of this and a bit of that and made it our own. Colleagues from Richmond School in Napier shared what they had created and had worked extremely well for them.
  • We spent money on professional development. We went to a Yolanda Soryl Phonics course in Napier. The A/P and I went to ‘The Write Guy’ writing symposium in Hamilton. I worked closely with teacher aides for a couple of days, sharing the vision and what learning in writing would look like in our year 1-4 learning spaces.
  • We employed teacher aides to work with teachers so that there would be 1 adult to no more than 7 students
  • We worked on a rotation so that all students worked with all adults in the classroom.
  • We met with teacher aides and teachers regularly for feedback and reflect on progress, what was working and what wasn’t working.

Has it worked? Well, it’s certainly made a huge difference.  It’s been expensive, but in the long run, it will hopefully prove its money worth.  It’s not perfect, but I feel a lot better about writing than I have for years.  Students are taking risks, their vocab is richer and they are more confident about writing.  I know that our programme will constantly change as we adapt our programme to meet the needs of students.

Change is good.

Carlyn Ryklief: Reading Recovery and Special Needs

Karyn’s Introduction:

Carlyn shares with us her experiences working with some of our most treasured young people- inclusiveness is one the three principles of our logo- along with identity and innovation. Carlyn shares some of the ways we cater for inclusiveness.

Reading Recovery and Special Needs

Years ago I heard a story about an advertising executive giving a lesson about how to get someone’s attention.  Use large print, he said, add color, make it entertaining, provide moving images, keep it simple, don’t overload, etc, etc.

A student responded.  I read something once. It had small words.  Lots of them, with none of the above. And I read every word.
You see, the title was “All about You”

Reading recovery and Special Needs personify that “all about you “ philosophy.  It takes you where you are and works from there. It celebrates your every achievement because it does not work from a deficit model of what you are supposed to achieve.   

I heard about Reading Recovery here in New Zealand and I was thrilled to be trained.  Until then, I’ve had to tearfully confess, I thought that most of the time, if children were not progressing, they weren’t trying hard enough. 

So I was delighted and surprised at the profound effect intervention through Reading Recovery provided.  The results formed the basis of my inquiry presentation to staff, and convinced me that the accelerated progress of the students was directly related to the conscious and deliberate intervention via Reading Recovery. 

Marie Clay teaches literacy lessons designed for the individual.  And it’s this individualized, personalized, cockpit adapted approach that is a hallmark of 21st Century learning.  

Just today I attended a 2 ½ hour (non-stop) talk by Barbra Watson about how to shape, extend and lift children’s writing.  Such ongoing support 2 years after training makes Reading Recovery the best professional development I have ever encountered. 

Students with Special needs come to our attention because their uniqueness is more obvious.  Even within the same diagnosis, students present a continuum or a spectrum that requires individual adaptations. 

My next blog will delve into some of these. 

Sol Blake: Challenging our Perceptions

Karyn’s Introduction:

Perceptions are scary things. They can shape the way we think and the way we respond to so much that life throws at us. Sol shares with us some of his previous life experiences and the messages he thinks it is important young people get- especially round their perceptions of what they can do and where they can go in life.

Its no secret that I have always loved the challenge of working with individuals and or groups who are so called labeled by society as “the unmotivated”. 

In 1992, My niece had informed me she was going to travel the world performing kapa haka with a group from Gisborne. I thought well if my niece could make this team and feeling pretty confident about my kapa haka skills, I hitched a ride to Gisborne to see if I could audition and gain a place in this Performing Arts Troupe called “The Young Ambassadors”. 

By the way, I should mention this is not even one year fresh out of High School and I had just been accepted to attend and train as a Teacher with the Palmerston North Teachers College of Education. When I finally arrived in Gisborne the tutor Tommy Taurima informed me that all  all the spaces had been filled. Feeling a bit bummed out I decided well its two days before orientation I may as well hang out with the niece and check this group out practice. It was then an opportunity arose. During a rehearsal where the troupe were learning to tap dance Tommy was trialling different performers to sing with the band Elvis Presleys “G I Blues” to my advantage being brought up in Mahia and the youngest of 14 the song is well known to me and after a few failed attempts from the performers my niece told Tommy that I knew the song. Long story short I was welcomed into the group, crack up! Ive always wondered what chain of events could’ve happened if I jumped on that bus from Wairoa to Palmy? and was it fate at a young age hanging around my older siblings and uncles and aunties parties on a Saturday night I got too listen to them sing Elvis songs, how ironic?. However before I digress again, After convincing my father of turning down The College of Education opportunity and possibly taking my first and only chance to travel and see the world, I moved to Gisborne. 

After a couple of months training and learning a variety of Polynesian songs and dances and learning to waltz, ball room dance and sing a number of old rock and roll, Spanish, Italian and Japanese songs. I finally made it too Auckland International Airport where I started my overseas experience, Flying to some of the most beautiful cities I had ever seen, Buenos Aires, Rome, Germany to name a few, as well as bussing too some of the most remote townships of South America and Europe over a period of about 2 months.

It was in one of these small townships in Poland where I met a group of young boys, who would’ve only been around year 5-7 hanging around our bus after one of our shows begging for food. A couple of them could speak a little English  so after giving them these packets of twisties which tasted like peanut butter ( funny the things we remember) and a small bag of the local bought fudge I found out these boys were living on the streets  and the only belongings they had was in a plastic bag. I found out they were following the dance troupes and scrounging what ever they could get in order to eat and live for that day.

It was then that I can recall quite vividly, I decided I wanted to work with people who felt they had a hard-life, the no one cares about me and why would anyone trust me or think I could achieve anything. I wanted to work with young people who felt they had it tough and I wanted to talk too them and let them know that although you may think you’re falling on hard times let me tell you a story about a group of boys no older than 8-10 years of age, whose first and and last thought isn’t…….I don’t feel like finishing my home work or why do I have to go too school? its boring, theres nothing to do at home its dumb! and Mum and Dad don’t let me do anything. These boys are wondering where am I going to sleep tonight? What am I going to eat today? Am I going to be alive tomorrow?

Returning back from my first ever Overseas Experience I was asked to give motivation speeches to different classes at a school in Gisborne. students. Looking back its funny how things come full circle in terms of my first ever presentation talking in front of a classroom of students. My presentation was about the many wondrous and not so fantastic things I observed and experienced, the people I met  i.e. the young homeless boys and in addition to that an emphasis on letting the students know who I was and where I came from. The students were intrigued and very interested and amazed about where I had travelled around the world and the many things I had experienced like performing the Haka in a Bull Ring in Argentina to visiting Auschwitz Birkenhau Concentration camp on my 20th birthday. 

These and many more experiences I shared with these students in the hope to motivate and inspire them to become more than just average, to take life's opportunities and go for it. Because….if a small country boy from Opoutama Primary School in Mahia can travel the world then what’s stopping someone from Te Karaka Area School in little ole TK from experiencing the fabulous things the world has to offer and realize that “hey my life isn’t that bad after all?”

Naku noa 

Matua Sol

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Andrew Fisher: Words from a New Teacher

Karyn’s Introduction:

Beginning your teaching career is always challenging. That first year of teaching is a blur of peaks and troughs, of experiencing the highs when a students gets something and the lows of realising just how much you have to learn, when you might have thought the hard learning was all over with your training.

Andrew joined us this term- the third term of our third year- as a beginning teacher. 

He has been working in a multi level Year 5-10 area with four-five other teachers spread across two adjoining learning spaces. These are his reflections so far.

Is what we are doing here really helping them to be future learners and bring them into a new and unknown future? 

This is really new to me and as a newbie to this school and this style of learning it is still a really big learning curve with the constant use of technology in the school and the idea of learning spaces not classes. This is quite challenging and I personally feel that is broadening my horizons as well as opening the learners to new possibilities that were previously unavailable to them.

Whereas I have been brought up and trained in the old system where classes were separated from other classes and we all stayed in our own space and there really was no real learning interaction between groups and classes in a school, let alone by multiple year groups.  This separation really does need to change and it is heartening to see that some are trying and blazing that path to new school structures and being inventive and finding new ways to have the students take responsibility for their own learning and really own it.

Even as the systems are changing the teachers colleges are not wholeheartedly adopting or even teaching this as an alternative to the classic approach to learning. We need to be more flexible in our thinking and in the ways that we are working with and relating to the students in our classes. I really feel that a traditional teachers college learning environment with the lessons at Normal and Model schools don’t prepare you for a school that is more innovative and really embracing the new standards in learning.  

Admittedly after leaving an environment such as that and coming into a school you will never feel that it has prepared you at all completely or sometimes at all. It really does not prepare you at all for the schools that are different and follow a more progressive or alternative path that is open to new ideas and trying new and different ways of working with children as learners. As they are looking at  “old school” some schools are really reaching forward with new philosophies and “new school” thinking this needs to be part of what we are learning as new teachers coming from our “higher education system”.

As always there are questions we need to consider when moving forward and looking at different ways of student learning that need to be embraced by our “higher education system”, like:
  • How is school changing? 
  • What are the challenges going to be when we are adopting to these new kinds of learning?
  • What are the benefits of this learning to the students? What does it mean for their learning and futures?

These are questions I hope to begin to understand as I carry on with my journey here but will probably never fully answer.

Morgan Ngata: Solo Taxonomy in an Area School

Karyn’s Introduction:

This year we really anted to embed some language around learning that we could keep the same throughout the school. We have been experimenting with using SOLO taxonomy and we are finding some tremendous applications for it throughout the school from Year 1 through to Year 13. Morgan shares a small part of our journey with SOLO taxonomy.

SOLO & Concept maps
Kia ora koutou

This year we have been implementing SOLO taxonomy into our teaching practices. I have been continuously impressed with this teaching resource and have found that the resources available are both extensive and easy to use (see the HookED website.) I have also begun to introduce concept mapping into our classroom lessons. I have found that learners really enjoyed the combination of these two practices therefore I have chosen the combination of these tools for my first blog post here. 

SOLO taxonomy (as explained on Pam Hooks website HookED ) stands for  structure of observed learning outcomes. It provides a simple, reliable and robust model for three levels of understanding – surface, deep and conceptual (Biggs and Collis 1982). SOLO is an effective tool for providing a clear pathway for learning for both students and teachers alike. It recognizes that conceptual knowledge is built upon a progressive pathway of learning. This pathway begins  with;
  1. Having no knowledge about a topic & requiring help to begin the learning process, (Non-structural)
  2. Then learning progresses to having a single idea but it is disconnected or an isolated idea. (Unistructural)
  3. This is followed by having several ideas but relationships are still missing, (Multi-structural)
  4. Then the learner begins making connections and identifying the dynamic relationships between these ideas . (Relational)
  5. Finally learning progresses into a level where these relationships can be reapplied in a new context, evaluations and generalisations and predictions are applied. (Extended abstract)

During last term I facilitated a learning unit for our senior students (yr 11-13) that focused on Kaitiakitanga (which is guardianship of our natural treasures.) We were investigating native fauna, what their ecological needs are and how humans have had an impact on these needs. This was an ideal opportunity to apply what i’ve been learning about with SOLO in a context that our learners are passionate about. 

To further support the use of SOLO in the learning process I introduced the use of concept maps to help display the SOLO levels of learning as we progress though our discussions and learning activities. Concept mapping provides an effective tool for mapping out our thinking about a concept.  The best information/research I have found about concept mapping is available from . Based on this information I was convinced that Concept maps were going to compliment SOLO effectively. I found that the concept map design with the use of prepositions were really helpful for establishing clear links between ideas (relational level) and how relationships between the ideas can be direct or indirect. Interestingly the indirect relationships truly emphasized the dynamic relationships between our ideas and demonstrated the complexity of the issues we were studying.

I introduced concept mapping using a method I found online through Stanford 
We as a class selected a topic that we knew well, (funny enough it was about food.) We then used post it notes on the white board to brainstorm our current knowledge, identifying what SOLO level we are beginning at and then begun to sort the information (reason for post it notes,) and draw the links and prepositions to emphasise the relationships (both direct and dynamic).  This was an effective introduction into using SOLO and concept mapping for documenting and directing our learning. Due to the learners being very familiar with this topic we were capable of moving through the taxonomic levels relatively quickly. Perhaps most importantly we were able to review our information (self & peer assessment,) and explore less obvious ideas quickly. The responses received from these senior students about using SOLO with concept maps were really positive and indicated a genuine enjoyment in carrying out this session. 

As I mentioned earlier the focus of our learning was about guardianship of our native flora and fauna. We initially worked as a group and explored the Kiwi bird. We developed our key points eventually establishing a multi-structural level of knowledge. We then progressed in exploring relationships between these key points. The key learning really occurred when we were able to pinpoint on the concept map how relationships between 2 separate concepts can be affected through a third component. For example the opportunity for a kiwi to collect food is affected through both biotic (presence of a predator or the species life cycle) and abiotic factors (temperature). The diagram really seemed to help our learners grasp the dynamics we were focusing on as a group and provided an effective visual representation for them to construct and explore their own indirect relationships for further discussions (relational). I found that constructing concept maps with a SOLO perspective allows learners to develop a conceptually based frame work from which we could apply new species to.  We explored ideas like “How does the conceptual framework we have identified in the one ecosystem relate to another ecosystem?” This enabled the learners to explore the concepts in a new context (extended abstract.) We explored questions like “How does temperature affect land based animals like Tuatara? Or how might this understanding of ecosystems apply in the marine environment? 

Overall I found this mix of methods worked really well and helped the learners to effectively direct their own learning through the 5 levels of SOLO taxonomy. This is only the first time I’ve used this method but felt so encouraged by the learning that occurred that it is a method of delivery and knowledge construction that I will continue to apply in my teaching.