Look – no hands!

Our region has been working on formative feedback and assessment and looking closely at the work of Dylan Wiliam, in preparation for his visit to us in October. I like Dylan Wiliam’s work as, to me, an awful lot of it just seems to make sense. However, I was intrigued about his claim of the difference we can make to learning by not using the traditional “hands up” approach when asking questions in class. I had never really thought about the smart kids getting smarter as they’re being continually engaged but the less smart kids becoming less engaged and the gap actually widening. I toyed with this a little last year but, sad to say, I forgot about it at the beginning of this year. It probably didn’t help that I am now in the class teaching only two days each week.

On the first day of this term I ran a session for our staff on formative feedback and assessment and showed some of Dylan Wiliam’s video clips. It dawned on me that it was a bit hypocritical to be advocating some fo these techniques if I wasn’t modelling them well myself. Since then I have had a “no hands up” policy in my classroom, after explaining to my students why we needed to give it a try.

I can honestly say that I’ve seen a significant difference in my class. They all know that they are going to be asked a question at least once and that I am happy to wait for an answer. There is no escape! I combined this with consciously increasing my wait time and it has been so gratifying to have some of the more reluctant or less confident students answering more willingly and thinking more carefully about responding, where previously I may have received a distinct “Don’t know”.

Just in the last two days we have had some wonderfully interesting and thought-provoking discussion on Inanimate Alice (including thoughts about loneliness, home-schooling and religious differences and discrimination) and cybersafety. Some of the students have astounded me with their depth of thought.

Have you ever tried this with your students? I’d definitely recommend trying it – you may be very surprised by the results.

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo by mag3737: http://flickr.com/photos/mag3737/2289757349/

Feeling helpless

Not sure where to start with this, but here goes nothing.

My three kids are all grown up now and living in their own homes. I feel very lucky that they all own their own homes and have jobs they enjoy. They have grown into lovely people. What more could a parent ask for?

We were vey late in bringing the joy of a dog into the lives of our children, but it has paid dividends. All three of our kids have dogs of their own and love them dearly. Our eldest and his wife have been the latest to bring a dog into their lives and, as luck will have it, they will soon be welcoming a new addition to their family too.

Our two dogs are rescue dogs from the local pound and I wouldn’t get a dog any other way now. There are so may beautiful creatures out there just desperately waiting for someone to offer them some love and a stable home. I have never quite understood the way some people neglect, abuse or abandon dogs, and condemn them to an uncertain future, or even euthanasia.

Two of our children have also rescued dogs, one from the pound and another through a work colleague. Our eldest child is going through a traumatic experience that, as a parent, I just want to rescue him from – but I can’t. His beautiful dog, a Labrador cross, is deeply anxious and has obviously suffered trauma in the past. They have tried desperately to provide him with a loving, stable environment but he has nipped a few people and has now bitten both my son and his wife. The main problem is that he has latched onto Nathan’s arm and just wouldn’t let go – thank goodness he was wearing a leather jacket! I am almost 100% positive that this is all connected to anxiety and his need to protect, but with a baby on the way it is a major concern. Try as he might Nathan has been unable to find anywhere that will help to rehouse Buster, and everyone he has spoken to has advised euthanasia.

Needless to say Nathan is distraught – Buster is his best mate. When he isn’t stressed he is an absolute delight! So tomorrow they have an appointment with the vet and will be saying goodbye to the beautiful Buster.

So, Nathan is a grown-up now, he’s a big boy, but all I want to do is take the hurt away and make it all OK again. I know I can’t but that doesn’t help. It makes me so cross that this could have been avoided if only Buster had been given proper training int he first place. Maybe there’s still a chance he could be rehabilitated but with a baby arriving in six weeks timing is not good, and nobody will take him on to rehome him until he’s been rehabilitated. A vicious circle!

All we can do is be there for my lovely, sensitive boy at this stressful time. The joys of being a parent and a dog lover!


Continue reading


cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by Susan NYC

This is a bit like my life is at the moment. I have just read Henrietta’s blog post “Always Rushing” and was in the middle of leaving a comment when I realised that it was almost turning into a blog post of my own!

I have just started in the position of Deputy Principal which means that I teach in a Year 6/7 class for two days a week and do a variety of other things, including Special Ed & ICT, the other three days.This is proving to be a steep learning curve for me.

One of the issues is getting the balance right. What I thought I’d be able to do in two teaching days is now not looking too realistic. I’m acutely aware that I am responsible for 40% of the teaching week, but am becoming more and more aware how difficult it is going to be to cover 40% of the required curriculum. Out of 12 lessons I actually have the class for 9, after you take away the Japanese and the choir times. Now this should be enough to cover some maths, some literacy, reading our class novel, a PE lesson, a fitness session, and an inquiry component in Society & Environment – shouldn’t it?

Experience should have told me that I never get through what I expect to in the time frame I set myself, so I shouldn’t be that surprised that the above scenario isn’t really working. So, what to do? I can’t really give anything up as I know that my teaching partner is in her first year of classroom teaching – her 18 months of experience has been in teaching Japanese – and I don’t want to overload her. Maybe I need to reassess how I cover things in class, but I’ve always had the luxury of spending a lot of time on class discussion, knowing that I could rearrange/manipulate the rest of my week.

I don’t think it helps that I’m also feeling a tremendous sense of loss, not being with my kids most of the week, even more than I’d imagined. I’d like to think it’s because I love being with them, although some might say it says more about me being a control freak 🙂

Oh well, it’s early days I suppose, only the end of week 3. Good job I love learning!

Interesting start to the day

AS some of you who know me will be aware I have a new role this year, which will prove to be both exciting and a challenge on many fronts!

I now have the Deputy Principal position at my school which means that I teach 2 days a week in a Year 6/7 class and have 3 days in admin, which includes ICT and Special Ed as well as line management of several teachers.

I have definitely hit the ground running and feel as though everything I do at the moment is being done at half-speed! I do know that this will improve as I set up structures and processes that work for me. I also know that one of my biggest challenges is letting go of my full-time teaching load. I knew this was going to be a bit difficult (!) and I wasn’t wrong. I’m not quite sure whether I’m a control freak or just passionate about being with kids :-0 Either way there are some days when I feel quite left out as I observe my co-teacher – who is young and inexperienced but passionate and energetic – in “my” classroom with “my” kids. Having said that I am very lucky as we both have a very similar approach and beliefs about kids and their learning.

Anyway, back to the start of the day! After a very successful and positive acquaintance night on Tuesday where several parents commented on how happy they are with us as a teaching team and their confidence that it is going to be a great year, a parent asked for a private meeting this morning.No problem, we’d already said we would be available to chat to parents.

So bright and early, full of enthusiasm and positive thinking, I enter the classroom. Hmmm…enthusiasm and positive thinking took a bit of a bashing! Not happy with 2 teachers, not happy with composite classes, the school doesn’t do enough PE, my philosophy on homework won’t prepare the kids for high school, our new gym is too small, we do too much Arts……

I’m pretty confident I held my own and was happy with my responses but I would have preferred to start my day in a more positive manner. Having said that I also had 2 parents of students from last year come and tell me how well I’d prepared their kids and that they have found the transition to high school much easier and less stressful than some of their friends. I think that’s the feedback I’ll focus on :-0

Sorry for the rant but good to release!

Five things I’d like my teacher to know about me

This meme, I believe, was started by Allanah King (@allanahk) on her blog after she’d done a similar activity with her students at the end of last year. It has been passed on to me by Claire (@MsBeenz), who has been challenging my thinking quite a lot lately!

Anyway, here are my five things I’d like my teacher to know about me:

  1. I don’t always learn things the same way – sometimes I like to see how something works, sometimes I’m happy to read about things, but sometimes I like to try it out myself.
  2. I need to be challenged to share my ideas and know that there isn’t always a “right” answer – that it’s OK to challenge others’ thinking.
  3. I love the idea of communicating and sharing with others, especially with others around the world!
  4. I like to talk things through with others but sometimes I like the time to just reflect on things on my own.
  5. I want to see that you are passionate about learning and that you are a learner yourself.

So now it’s time to pass the meme on. I’d love to hear what you’d like your teacher to know about you:

@kathleen_morris, @gcouros, @DeputyMitchell, @surreallyno, @judithway

Great start to 2011

Fresh Startphoto © 2010 Sharon Mollerus | more info (via: Wylio)

I have come to accept that I will be very nervous the weekend before the new school year and have a whole horde of butterflies on the first morning. I’ve learned to live with it!

This first week of the 2011 school year has gone tremendously quickly! I’m exhausted, and very glad it’s Friday, but, at the same time, I’m on a bit of a high.

I’ve had a terrific week with my Year 6/7 class. 9 of the students are year 7s who were in my class last year as Year 6s, whilst the other 20 have come from other classes. They have been an absolute pleasure. They’ve shown:

  • beautiful manners
  • a positive attitude to learning new things
  • excitement for trying out new technology
  • a sense of fun and humour
  • caring and consideration for others in the class
  • an interest in connecting with others

We’ve already:

  • Started Quadblogging
  • Talked about connecting with classes in New Zealand & USA – both electronically and via snailmail
  • Discussed their interests to link to our inquiry
  • Discussed starting their own blogs – they’ve made their avatars
  • Looked at working in edmodo – all students have already joined our class group
  • Made Wordles for the front of their portfolios
  • Started applications for leadership positions
  • Met our buddy class of Year 1s

I’ve had such a good start to the year that I actually didn’t want to take my coordinator day yesterday! How lucky am I that I have a job that I enjoy going to every day? The same can’t be said by everybody, I know.

I’m looking forward to a an interesting and exciting year with this class.

Student blogs & Images

padlock door

All of the students in my class have a personal blog. As with anything else some have taken to blogging with great enthusiasm, others less so. However, they have all learned an amazing repertoire of skills since they’ve been blogging.They’ve added counters, clustrmaps, flags of visitors, vokis, and various other widgets. They’ve started to enhance their blogs with slideshows, and photos of their work. Now they’re adding images so, of course, it was time to revisit the idea of copyright and creative commons.

I bookmarked a number of sites in our class delicious account and proceeded to try to demonstrate how to search for appropriate images and what to do once they’d found one they wanted to use. However, before I’d even had time to open my browser I was regaled with cries of “Pam, that site is blocked!”, “I can’t get into the compfight site!”…. Right! So, no panic, let’s just unblock those sites and away we go! No, not as simple as that. The filtering system unblocked the actual site, but the pictures wouldn’t load as they’re all housed on different sites!! That had to be be up there as one of the most frustrating lessons I’ve had for a long while.

I knew that some of my students would go home and have a try on their own, and I was right. The next day two of them came to me saying that they’d had a go but got a bit stuck. So, here was a dilemma – how could I help them when I couldn’t demonstrate properly? Kathleen McGeady to the rescue! Kathleen has recently written a blog post on teaching about creative commons – to her Year 2 students! Not only that she provided a link to a document explaining how to find the pictures and how to upload and attribute them.

Thanks Kathleen, I can now give the link to this document to my students and feel confident that they will be able to successfully upload pictures to their blog and attribute them correctly.

The Bloggers Cafe


It never ceases to amaze me the way that some people are willing to put themselves out for others. Henrietta Miller has decided to start a new blog to better enable students to communicate globally and improve their writing of posts and comments. She has set up the blog, The Bloggers’ Cafe, and has invited classes to sign up. A great initiative by Henrietta.

Sue Wyatt has also chipped in and helped to organise the blog and its layout, and Sue Waters has offered her assistance to promote the blog, and thrown in an Edublogs Pro subscription as support.

This is a wonderful example of teachers form various parts of the world (or in this case country!) working together to benefit our students.

World Vision Kids’ Hope

rose hope


Our school is involved in the Kids’ Hope program run by World Vision. It is a program that has made a world of difference to some of our students. This post is a guest post from our Christian Pastoral Support Worker, Nina.

Kids Hope at Hawthorndene Primary School

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine asked me whether or not I’d heard of Kids Hope. I said that I hadn’t and he went on to tell me how he’d been involved in the program interstate. I am usually hesitant about allowing people into the school, but I must admit, this program sounded fantastic. So I found out a little bit more and made mention to Tania, the school Principal, and we were off.

Kids Hope is a World Vision program that involves one to one mentoring. The Blackwood Church of Christ supplied the mentors, initially 12 people and now 20, who come into the school and meet with one child for one hour each week of the school year. They then follow this child through their primary school years. They do not simply focus on the child’s academic skills, their primary focus is about establishing a relationship with the child and encouraging their social development and self worth. And the results have been outstanding!

The students who are mentored all enjoy the time they spend with their mentor. For some, this is the single moment in the week where they know someone is there just for them. They are able to do some academic work as well as build upon social skills which develop confidence and allow students to have a positive relationship with a trusted adult.

Staff are also thrilled with the results of the program. Comments are frequently made about the dedication and quality of the mentors. Mentors are often given work by staff so that they can support the teacher. Staff also comment on the change they see in the child in their room.

The mentors themselves are people who volunteer their time each week, have undergone World Vision and Child Safe training and have police clearances. They range in age. We have people who work full time who have negotiated time off to mentor a child, to retirees who come in their spare time. Single people, married people. These folk are committed to their child and when their child discovers they are in the school only for them, they are in awe. A range of games and activity abounds each week, from cooking to craft, soccer to photography. The mentors are awesome people. One mentor recently commented on the fact that she is called by name by children other than her child. She is known by who she cares for and feels very much an accepted member of the school community.

Kids Hope has slotted in so well at Hawthorndene Primary School and it is now in its 4th year. It has been such a positive experience that all the other schools in the cluster have taken on the program. Word of a good thing gets around!


Nina Corlett-McDonald is the Christian Pastoral Support Workers at Hawthorndene Primary School.

Stay tuned for interviews with the some Kids’ Hope mentors and the kids themselves.

Students as Teachers


I have been so proud of some of my students during the last couple of weeks. I shared how my class has been using Storybird with other teachers at school, and a few of them were interested, but not sure where to start. Hmmm….do I spend time in their classrooms with them? Do I spend some time after school showing them how to set up etc? Either of those would work of course, but sometimes the danger is that you will run the lesson, and that will be that. So, enter the “experts” – my students!

In my experience this is so true. I watched my students run a class, one a Year 4 class, and one a Year 2 class, and give clear and concise instructions on how to create a storybird. They modelled, demonstrated, explained, clarified, and then gave 1:1 instructions when necessary. They were confident, and comfortable, even though they were obviously a little nervous. The students they were teaching were engaged and enthusiastic, and very comfortable to ask them questions.

The boost in self-esteem and confidence that this opportunity gave them is priceless. The teachers involved were impressed with their ability to explain clearly, and the patience they showed their younger peers. I was impressed with their willingness to share their knowledge and with the way they did it so calmly and effectively. They were very proud of themselves and keen to share their experience with their parents.

“When students become the technology leaders in their schools, they help teachers and peers while learning about leadership.”

This is a quote from “The Power of Student Learning Through Leading”, an article by Teh-yuan Wan, Stacy E. Ward, and Dennis Harper, which I read on the GenYes blog. I cannot agree more! Well done Chris & Rachael!