Learning to Explain: English Lessons

800px-Le_voyage_dans_la_lune_drawingSo, we are well into Term 3, “I am Not Esther” is done and dusted but the themes of the novel are not. Some of them come to the fore in this term’s focus which is a film study. We have watched the film “Hugo” based on the novel “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” by Brian Selznick.  We are now well underway working on activities that help us to explore the characters, the story and the themes of this wonderful film.

I spent an inspiring day at the #edchatnz conference at the weekend and was reminded of the importance of student-centred learning. I also re-read a couple of chapters of “Understanding the Digital Generation” by Ian Jukes, Ted McCain & Lee Crockett. This section really resonates with me; “It is far better for students to discover the content rather than be told the content because discovery creates the interest that gets students engaged in learning.”

Over the last few years I have had the opportunity to widen my scope in terms of teaching subjects. Since arriving in NZ I have taught French (my main, specialist subject), Health, Phys Ed, Spanish, Food Technology, and this year English. I do not have the expert knowledge in any of these subjects, except French, to stand at the front of the class and be the “sage on the stage”.  Not that that has ever been my natural style of teaching, but not being an expert really makes you have to re-think how you engage students.  And you realise that what you need to teach them is not content but strategies and a curiosity for learning that provides them with the skills to progerss into the real world.

So my holidays were spent watching and re-watching Hugo and developing activities, gleaned and adapted from the amazing resources generously shared on the internet and especially via the TES site and TKI.  It will be interesting to see if the N4L “Pond” develops into a great sharing site like the TES site.  It has the potential to do so and it certainly seems like NZ educators are keen to share their resources.

However, because I do not have a background in teaching English and especially things such as cinematographic techniques (a word that, for some reason, I struggle to pronounce.)  This causes such great amusement for my students that it has become a standing joke and I don’t even try anymore!  Anyway, I have set up activities that allow them, and me, to explore the concepts of film techniques, and to find things out for themselves.  They work in groups or alone – their choice – and we share work via Google docs so that we can comment and discuss.

Nevertheless, I think it is also important that there are opportunities that encourage them to produce, to be put on the spot and to think on their feet.  Ted McCain talks about the 4D approach – Define the problem, Design the solution, Do the work, and Debrief what you have done – this equips students with the tools to solve problems and learn.

Working at their own pace on activities is all fine and good, but some slip under the radar and are not always challenged to produce under pressure. So, this morning they were challenged.  They chose two quotes from the film.  I divided the class into two halves and each half took one of the quotes. They had 15 minutes to brainstorm the quote and consider four questions;

  1. What it meant?
  2. How it related to the themes in the film?
  3. Why it was important?
  4. Give examples to illustrate your ideas.

One person in the group was at the whiteboard making notes of the suggestions from the group, one person was a scribe on a shared Google Doc and organised the notes from the board into a table in the doc. (one of the groups worked quite well with two scribes to help each other keep up with the pace of the discussion).  One person was nominated as the speaker.  They were to argue the point that their quote was more important in terms of illustrating the themes of the film, in a two minute speech.  As the rest were making suggestions, making notes and scribing they pulled the ideas together into a well-constructed speech.  

It was quite clear, as I observed, that one team was much more organised but I reserved judgement.  However, it was equally clear, once we listened to the speeches that the organised group was the most effective.  As soon as their spokeserson finished speaking the other group chorused; “Oh, they win!” 

This was our opportunity to reflect and debrief, which they did very effectively.  It was heartening to see how engaged, they had all been during the process. Yes, there were a couple of girls who lots focus, and in retrospect, I might have three groups to reduce the group size and ensure that more girls were involved.  However, they all agreed that they had learned a lot and they enjoyed the lesson.  

#edchatnz conference August 2014

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I just got back from an inspirational day of learning, collaborating, connecting, talking, sharing and all-round enjoyment. The #edchatnz conference, thoughtfully and inspirationally crafted in just 12 weeks by 7 passionate NZ educators. They were supported by over 350 equally passionate educators who all meet via Twitter each Thursday evening to chat about teaching and learning.

The #edchatnz conference demonstrates the power and potential of social media to bring people together. The #edchatnz twitter chats already represent one of the best PLNs for NZ educators but developing it into a Face to Face opportunity brings the essential human element to our PLN. We know that relationships are key to building trust, mutual respect and connections that lead to much more effective learning both for our students and for us as adult learners.

edchatnzHowever, conferences don’t just happen. The seed of an idea is planted, a dream is vocalised, a crazy “what if..” is encouraged and supported by passion and “we can…”. It needs a group of people who, together, can make crazy ideas come to fruition. It was an idea who’s time has come, teacher (tweechers) are ready for it, we are ready to take control of our own learning and the momentum is growing. @MissDtheTeacher and her team have started the ball rolling, they have proved that if you dare to dream big then you can make things happen and people respond to your passion.

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View my Storify of the Tweets of the #edchatnz conference from Saturday onwards – there were just too many to deal with over the full tow days and since I was only lucky enough to attend on Saturday I will leave Friday to someone else to Storify!

edchatnz October 31st

twitter map of edchatnzThe Hallowe’en edition of edchatnz was frantic and energising as tweetchats usually are.  This is only my second edchatnz as I am often out on a Thursday but I managed to catch the first part of this one.  The topic was BYOD and as you can imagine there was plenty to talk about.  Some teachers are just starting out with BYOD in their schools, some are old hands and some are somewhere in between.

Lots of questions, lots of advice.  Do you specify devices or allow anything? Do you shut the network down or do you open it up? What do you do about user agreements, security, equality of access?  How do you prepare teachers and students and parents?  What role does the tech support play?  Do you work in the cloud or store on servers?  Android, Apple, Microsoft, Open Source, Chromebooks, netbooks, laptops, smartphones, tablets? Opportunities for learning, sharing, failing, succeeding, self-direction, motivation, differentiation, time-management, distractions, off-task, on-task, classroom management…..

So many issues but the great thing was the collegiality of the chat, the solutions that were offered, the fact that we are modelling a community of practice, just in time PD. The information gleaned was relevant, useful, authentic, in the moment.  The overwhelming theme that came through for me was the emphasis and focus on LEARNING.  We are all starting to get the message that PEDAGOGY has to drive the tools we use and not the other way round.

@Mrs_Hyde created this Storify from the Tweets and I created another map of the tweets and conversations using TagsExplorer to chart the tweets and the conversations.

Thanks @MissDSciTeacher for getting the ball rolling – edchatnz even gets a mention in the latest edition of the Education Review in an article “10 Twitter tips for Teachers“.