Friday, 30 September 2016

Learning from the Library - Research Databases

This week, we were fortunate to have the middle school librarian, Mrs Keller, lead us through the databases available through SSIS' subscriptions. Students had the opportunity to explore such great resources as Encyclopedia Britannica, Kids Infobits and Webpath Express. All these are accessible through SSIS Link, so students can make use of them whatever their location. This means that when students carry out their research over the next week, they have reliable, trusted sources to learn and cite from.

Please ask your tween about the topic they have chosen. At this stage, students are still refining their focus and everyone will benefit from talking through their ideas, to make them more concrete.

I, for one, am looking forward to some interesting reads as students have chosen to focus on a wide variety of areas from historical heroes to life skills. Undoubtedly, anyone who peruses their final products will discover something new.

Remember, if you have any questions or comments, feel free to post them below. You can ‘Subscribe’ to this blog by clicking on the button top right, which will enable you to receive notifications for new posts. Whatever you do – happy learning!

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Last Lit Circles for Quarter 1

This week saw the final session of our lit circles for this quarter. Students closed their final circle with a reflective discussion on the characterisation, themes and conflicts in their novels. This was a step toward their final reading assessment which is a vlog (video blog post) presenting their insights on these topics.
The lit circles were arranged a bit differently to those in Elementary, and the students were challenged to explore their reading in different ways each week. At the end of the sessions, I asked students how they felt about the process, and had overwhelmingly enthusiastic and postive feedback. Here are just a few comments:

"It was good to know about other people's perspectives." - Seungwon

"When people told us their opinions, it helped us think about the book in a different way." - Haley

"It was amazing, because we could read books we wanted to." - Brian M

"It was fun having teamwork." - Vannak

All of these convince me the reading teams were supportive and productive. Many students have already expressed impatience to get started with their next book, with many of them opting to read 'classic' texts such as Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, War of the Worlds and we even had a request for Shakespeare. For sure, these Grade 6 students are not afraid of challenges!

Tech Wizards!

Congratulations to Vannak and Brian for their perseverance with GIMP - a photo editing program, similar to Photoshop. Many students were tussling with the question of how to blend images quickly, and Vannak and Brian worked out different ways. They kept experimenting, failing, learning from their mistakes and building their knowledge. This was definitely one way to show development of a growth mindset!
Additionally, they were also very kind in helping their classmates with the same issue without even being asked. When they saw someone needed help, they offered assistance without taking over their laptops or being condescending.
We all appreciate their focus and generosity.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Congratulations to Crystal!

Today, Crystal was awarded a certificate for her resilience and determination to improve her vocabulary. Crystal used our classroom sets on Quizlet to practice all the activities on offer. She then, without anyone asking or instructing her, tested herself to check her learning. She scored 100%!
What makes this so worth celebrating is that Crystal decided to do this learning herself. Although I do remind students they regularly need to review words from our Word Wall, I have never required that they do specific exercises.
Crystal did not do this to earn a certificate.
Crystal did not do this because the teacher told her to.
Crystal did not do this because she wanted a good grade on PowerSchool.
Crystal did this because she knew she had a learning goal.
Crystal clearly felt the need to work on this, which she did over the last 2 weeks in particular, and we can see that her effort really lead to success.
What a great attitude and proof that effort and the right strategies can help you achieve your goals.
Please join me in congratulating Crystal on her growth mindset, and her achievement!

Friday, 16 September 2016

Writing to Do Whatever We Need To!

Firstly, I'd like to thank everyone for their comments and questions on last week's post - Why Did I Get an F? Hopefully, our students are now clear about the opportunity they have for academic success, and I know there were more than a few relieved people who immediately took the opportunity to improve their grades.

This week's focus has been on setting up students for writing. While the broad umbrella is 'informational writing', my goal is for students to be able to take any kind of text and reproduce it, while thinking about purpose, audience and format.
Students were introduced to our 'PAF graphic' (pictured) and we explored how texts can change depending on who they are being produced for. For example, a diary entry about a food fight at school will differ greatly from the way you'd email the events to your best friend, your parents or principal. Understanding how language changes for different contexts will empower our students to be effective writers for life. We can't predict what types of writing they will need in their future personal and professional lives, but we can ensure they have a strong foundation in technical accuracy and enough knowledge about purpose, audience and format to be able to pick out the approach they'll need to employ.

As we move forward, students will identify topics they find meaningful and important. Conversations at home about their interests, passions and concerns will support them in making these choices, so please do open up a discussion at the dinner table, if you can. The stronger the personal connection to the topic, the more authentic their writers' voices will be.

Students will conduct research and write their texts to educate others about their topics, before deciding which media will be best to convey their messages. This will depend on the audience they have decided to target. To illustrate, peers of their own age are unlikely to be excited at the prospect of reading an essay, but they might be more inclined to watch a video or read an article in a particular publication that is relevant to their interests. By finding places to connect with authentic audiences, students will be able to see the relevance of their writing, and see it have an impact in the real world, not just the classroom.

An exciting part of this 'audience' piece is that I have had contact from schools abroad who would like to collaborate with us. We have made connections with schools in Canada, the USA, Ghana and Ireland. Not only will this offer our students the opportunity to access different cultural perspectives and request valuable information from primary sources, it also provides a guaranteed audience for our texts. My hope is this will increase motivation, interest and engagement, so watch this space to see what our students produce!

Remember, if you have any questions or comments, feel free to post them below. You can ‘Subscribe’ to this blog by clicking on the button top right, which will enable you to receive notifications for new posts. Whatever you do – happy learning!

Friday, 9 September 2016

Why Did I Get an F?

When students submit an assignment by the deadline, it should be returned within 4 class meetings, as I allocate a specific time near that date to go over the work. If it is submitted late, I need to find another time to review the tasks, so this will happen after all other priorities have been attended to. This means it is likely students will have to wait some time for a grade and feedback. This is unfortunate, as research tells us that timely feedback is the most effective feedback.

When students submit work late, it is not penalised in terms of the grade they can earn - when an assignment is submitted, it will be graded according to the quality of the work. This means a student who has an F can easily raise their grade simply by submitting the task, and letting me know by posting a comment on their work in Google Classroom.

Even more important than the letter grade, is the fact that late submissions have an adverse affect on their learning; we are building connections in our lessons, and missing previous feedback means an unsteady foundation for new learning. For this reason, I greatly encourage students to meet deadlines by posting reminders via Google Classroom (which go directly to email, unless the student has disabled notifications) and frequently mentioning upcoming due dates in class. This is in addition to the calendar on our Moodle front page that displays all homework, including the details that appear on Classroom.

As all Classroom assignments are posted to the Moodle calendar, there should be no confusion for parents who are using Moodle to check homework dates and details. All assignments on Google Classroom are on our Moodle page.

Despite this, there are still students who do not turn in work on time, and this can be for a variety of reasons such as:

  • not recording the homework in their planners and they forget;
  • leaving it to the last minute, and then realising they don't have something they need to complete it (e.g. it's in their locker);
  • not knowing how to do the task, but failing to ask for help on Google Classroom, email or in class;
  • completing the task, but not turning it in on Google Classroom so I cannot see it - sometimes it is forgetting to turn it in, and sometimes it is not knowing how to turn it in.
For the first three points, teachers and parents can help by reminding students. For submitting tasks on Google Classroom, this help video should clarify the process.

When 6th Graders have so much to navigate and get used to in this new phase of their lives, it is only right they be given time, support and understanding through a 'settling in' period. For this reason, I have held off grading assignments on PowerSchool, preferring instead to allow students more time (in some cases up to 3 weeks) to get themselves organised and submit whatever tasks have been agreed.

As we approach the end of our first month of school, it's time to start letting students and parents know about progress, and this is done - for better or worse - through our grading system on PowerSchool. This was done for the first time yesterday. Where no assignment has been submitted, I have no choice but to grade it as an 'F' as there is no evidence of that task. I only do this after I have had a 'missing' or 'incomplete' icon on the work for a week before, so it is clear to parents and students that this needs attention. As time goes on, students learn not to ignore these icons (and the accompanying comments), and I know this will happen for our new 6th Graders in the near future. I have faith!

Other important notes about homework are:
  • lesson slides are posted on Google Classroom on our 'About' page, and on Moodle under the homework calendar - this allows students to review lesson material;

  • Google Classroom is a great way for students to ask questions about any assignments or anything else related to lessons;
  • Digital Literacy classes have no allocated homework - all assignments are to be completed in class time, unless students have significantly missed the deadline and need to catch up;
  • if homework ever clashes with family events, please send me a quick email and I will extend the deadline for individual students;
  • grades in PowerSchool are cumulative - this means each individual (counted) grade affects the final grade;
  • if a student needs more time, please encourage them to contact me and let me know - this is not appropriate the night before a deadline, especially if they have left it to the last minute. 
On a final note, please encourage your child to keep grades in perspective. They are not a reflection of my feelings about students - they are an objective way to let students and parents know that progress is being made, and all is well. Where the grade is not desirable, there is a way to rectify this and it requires open communication. There is no need to be upset about a grade because it can always be changed, but a low grade should cause students to take action to improve. The exception to this is once report cards have been finalised, and this happens at the end of every quarter.

If a student has academic concerns, I will contact that parent after speaking to the student, so as long as parents and students are talking to each other, there will be no surprises!

As always, please reach out to me any time via

Remember, if you have any questions or comments, feel free to post them below. You can ‘Subscribe’ to this blog by clicking on the button top right, which will enable you to receive notifications for new posts. Whatever you do – happy learning!

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Never Bored!

Do you ever have evenings, weekends or holidays where your son or daughter tells you they are bored because they "have nothing to do." This is more likely if you have just told them to close the laptop, put down the iPad, switch off the phone...You get the idea.

If you're like me, you might feel somewhat guilty, even though it is impossible to fill every hour of your child's time with entertainment, and experts have actually suggested this could be detrimental anyway.

This week students will sit their MAP (Measure of Academic Progress) test. As with any such diagnostic, the purpose of this is not to rank students against each other. What teachers and students gain from the outcome can be very useful; the results allow us to identify areas of strength and growth so we - as teachers - can better tailor our lessons to students' needs.

Once these needs have been identified, we are fortunate, in our one-to-one program, to be able to then set up individual pathways for various aspects of our curriculum using online applications and sites.
One such application is NoRedInk. For a particularly good overview of the features it offers, you can read more here, but - in a nutshell - it allows students to work toward their own language goals, as identified by diagnostics set by the teacher.

So, what has this to do with being bored? Well, essentially it means there is absolutely no need to have nothing to do! Any time your son or daughter feels they need their brain to be occupied, you can quickly direct them to this site - preferably with the laptop screen visible to you - and they can work toward their (minimum) 40-minute-per-week study requirement.

My intention is that, through regular practice, we can eliminate those 'grammar gremlins' in a way that allows students to work at their own pace, and still be challenged. This should have an impact on their technical accuracy for writing, so please do talk to your child about what they are learning. We know that recall is an important part of learning, so the more we revisit prior study points the more likely it is to 'stick'.

Remember, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to post them below. You can ‘Subscribe’ to this blog by clicking on the button top right, which will enable you to receive notifications for new posts. Whatever you do – happy learning!

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Launching Lit Circles!

This week, students had their first taste of literature circles, middle-school style! Rather than preparing for discrete roles, students had to use all their skills to explore vocabulary, create engaging discussion questions, make connections between the text and their lives, the world and other texts - and that was only the preparation stage! During the lit circle discussions, they had to listen carefully, respond appropriately (remembering 'Respect for All'), and work with their team to dig deeper into the text.
Critical thinking was evident in overhearing students ask each other for clarification, provide specific examples to support their points and - at times - there was some passionate debate, which was great to see.
We finished the session with students evaluating each other for their contributions and setting specific goals to work on for the next session.
Among the comments from students were testimonials that the discussion had deepened their thinking, cleared up areas of confusion, taught them new vocabulary and challenged them to really put their brains to use!
While this first practice round was not graded, future sessions will be, so students had the opportunity to identify their areas for growth. I'm sure they will use future sessions to build on this great start.
Please note that although it will take students varying times to read, they should spend no more than 1 hour on preparation for lit circles. If it is taking significantly longer, please encourage them to speak to me, so we can work out why it is taking more time than necessary.

As we head into the long weekend, I wish you all a lovely time with your families. See you next week!

Remember, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to post them below. You can ‘Subscribe’ to this blog by clicking on the button top right, which will enable you to receive notifications for new posts. Whatever you do – happy learning!