Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Don't forget your roots my friend...

This post for Connected Educators Month is related to the challenge around reflecting on my teaching practice.

The backstory...

Eight years ago I left a very successful career as an Orientation and Mobility specialist to be a Kindergarten teacher.   I became a teacher at a time where the government began to de-professionalise early childhood education, where big corporations came in and the face of early childhood was changing. I got annoyed at people not valuing the role of the ECE teacher and sick of hearing "oh you must really like kids".  I left and became a Resource Teacher of Vision and combined my previous career with my new one.  I worked with ECE, Primary and Secondary students with a range of learning needs. But I missed my sense of belonging - about being in one place with a community around me. I knew I couldn't go back to early childhood so I decided to also do my primary teaching qualification.


I have been teaching in a classroom for 2 years now and teaching overall for 8 years in the Education sector. I have spent 14 years working with children.  I am a fully registered teacher in the eyes of the Education Council and the Ministry of Education. Recently somebody referred to me at a beginning teacher(?).  Quite often I defend the ECE sector to primary colleagues.  I wanted to move away from it but now I have found myself connecting back to it.

Early Childhood Educational theory

From the very first lecture I attended I was HOOKED on the theory that would inform my practice. The person who inspired me at this stage was Diti Hill.  Diti introduced me to the word pedagogy, she also re-introduced me to critical theory (I first learnt about this and kaupapa māori theory with Leonie Pihama in my undergrad) and before I knew it I was reading Bell Hooks (feminist writer) and other postmodern theorists and wondering how on earth any of this linked to ECE!! I never expected my mind to be so stretched, but it was and I loved it.

Over the course of the year I was also exposed to the ideas from Reggio Emilia.  The approach (and city of the same name) had some wonderful ideas about the relationship between teacher, child, environment, family and community. Multiple literacies and the Hundred Languages of Children were drivers from this. Te Whāriki was this amazing curriculum that brought it all together.

Into my teaching practice

Kindergartens are Modern Learning Environments.  You are team teaching in a larger space and focusing on learning dispositions. You are observing and responding to the children. You are providing provocation and reflecting in and on action. You are enabling students to create meaning through different mediums. You are fostering relationships that enable learning. Narrative assessment is used and it is authentic and informs teaching and learning. Teachers are adaptable.

And now

I find that my strengths lie in my grounding in early childhood education.  If people don't understand and value the teaching that occurs at this level then they will struggle to move into the mindset needed for innovative learning practice. There are so many parallels and perhaps I don't come from the traditional model of primary teaching then the change to this isn't as difficult?  This could be why I am so passionate about Makerspaces in schools and why I view my students as co-constructors of learning with me despite their young age? And perhaps why I want to integrate everything rather than see subjects in silos.

So where to next?

I am going to explore more what the Reggio Emilia approach can add to my pedagogy/practice at a primary school level.  I am going to reflect on what play based learning looks at for years 3-8. And I''m going to share with my PLN some really great articles and ideas from ECE. And I'm going to ask you this question:

  • In ECE, learning stories (narrative assessment) allow students to revisit their learning.  How do you allow students at your school to revisit learning and build on it?

Monday, September 28, 2015

Drama and Multiple Literacies

This term our school action research as been on using drama and multiple literacies.  My class have spent the term innovating on the Oscar Wilde story "The Selfish Giant". Over the course of the term I have used a range of drama techniques with them to help develop their own version of the story and think about the characters, setting and the meaning behind their ideas.

The first reflection from my students perspective was that drama helped them write more fluently.

"I can see the characters and the scene and what is going to happen already"

I noticed that those students who usually take ages to write anything down were able to start their writing straight away.  I was also able to link their writing to their reading by using the term visualisation (which they do as a comprehension strategy) to thinking about how to make their writing more visual for the reader.

The students really liked the idea of innovating on the story and creating their own play.  I think particularly they were excited by their own voice being used.  That they were creating the dialogue, the music and performing it for an audience.

"The power to act" is one of the key definitions of learner agency (Core Education Ten Trends).   I noticed that the more agency I gave the students, the more involved they were in creating the play. I got the students to give me feedback on what roles they might like to play and took that into account when assigning each part.  Each part was given as much status - the chorus for example had an important part to play as did the Giant.

I only had one student who was unhappy about his role because it pushed him into an uncomfortable place of being someone that he is not.  He wanted to be a child, because he is a child already and he knows how to be one. This is the same student whose own learning goal is to be more creative.  His perception of himself is interesting and one I will continue to learn more about. I am interested in what his reflections might be now that he has performed the play.

As a class we agreed on a structure/outline of the scene order and what drama techniques we might like to use.  I let the students involved in each scene develop it on their own and then bring it back to the class for feedback.  Sometimes what they had created didn't fit with the story or the message wasn't as clear as it needed to be.  Other students gave feedback to help them make changes.  I enjoyed this "drama in action" approach.  I was able to use questioning to make sure that all the students were thinking about the bigger picture - that is how all the scenes together form the story.

When the students rehearsed in preparation for the performance in front of their parents I suddenly realised that it was all them.  It was their ideas, their dialogue, their music that was in this play.  That I hadn't written any of it. Yes I had helped shape the play by asking questions and making suggestions but it was the class who put it all together.  Even down to the members of the chorus knowing when two chairs had to be put on stage - complete ownership of the performance.

And the humour, the humour!  No adult can write humour like a child can.  The dialogue was authentic and entertaining. The students remembered their lines because they had written their own!  And when it came to the performance it was me who made the only mistake! (I'd timed the projector to be turned on in ready for the multimedia green screen scene and it didn't turn on!!).

So a week later reflecting on the process and the part that drama plays in literacy, I am reading again a book from my early childhood teacher training titled "Children, meaning-making and the arts" by Susan Wright. Multiple literacies is not new to me - but I find I am revisiting some ideas that originate in ECE. In this text it reiterates that written and oral language is a dominant discourse for communication (and understanding), however different cognitive processes occur when children engage with other modes. Using the Arts (dance, drama, music, art) allows students to not only create representations but manipulate them too!

In our version of the Selfish Giant, the students have manipulated the story to give it a meaning that is real for them.  They explored the actual moral (open your heart and let others in) and recognised the depiction of Jesus in the original story (the boy with holes in his hands).  In their story the boy became a spy who had been following the Giant around for 7 years and then sets a trap for the Giant by pretending to be unable to get up a tree.  The Giant helps him and the boy is surprised by this gesture.  The moral created by the 7, 8 and 9 year old children of my class then became "people can change".  For me it shows how wonderful the minds of children are - that they will accept change and move on quickly from judgements.

So my reflection on my teaching is that I am going backwards to go forwards.  I want to explore further the use of The Arts in making meaning and to do this I am going to continue to explore some of the theorists and ideas that I did when I first started my teaching career. I still believe that what I learnt and applied to learning in the early years is relevant at all levels of the curriculum.

Reggio Emilia is a city in Italy and also an educational idea that puts children at the centre of learning and focuses on the environment, making learning visible, collaborating with students/teachers/family and links to the community.  It is based in an early childhood context and has fast become an approach used in NZ early childhood centres and kindergartens. Reggio Emilia is Modern Learning Practice and I feel that it will begin to sneak in more and more as our schools move more towards collaborative spaces and team-teaching environments. WATCH THIS SPACE!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Breaking down the structures

Hierarchy may be best left to the animal kingdom

Today at the first ever #WellyEd Learning Conversations we explored questions around Modern Learning Practice (MLP) in small groups.  My group looked a models of practice and then this led to unpacking how "institutional structures" (my words) have been carried over into MLE's but aren't very MLP... (oh the acronyms!).

I bought this up with my group because what I have seen of MLP so far is that there is still hierarchical models of leadership being used - so basically a syndicate exists but with the walls broken down.  I have a thing where I don't like groups of 3 teachers and one person is the leader because I personally feel that then one person holds all the power and can change the dynamic of the group.  I had one person agree with me and also one person who has been working in a 3 very successfully - however on closer inspection this particular group of 3 worked well because there was no leader!

Distributed leadership is a model I really like because it encourages collaboration and acknowledges different people's strengths. There is no power play, no pedestal.  Just mutual respect.

Diana Grace, alerted me to this article about "Wireachy".  The main line that struck me being:

to move from command and control to champion and channel

this incubation of ideas and innovation, the connectivity of those ideas to others.  A culture of sharing. Interconnectivity. Structures brought down. Power balanced.

So this for me is what Modern Learning Practice Leadership looks like (MLPL) (LOL!!) or perhaps it is just what good teaching looks like and leadership is part of teaching.

I am interested to see as more schools move towards team-teaching models if they also reflect on the pre-existing hierarchical models too... We need to reflect on who holds the power in our schools - just like how we reflect on who holds the power within our classrooms. Our classrooms may be moving towards "modern" but are our structures?