Friday, 10 November 2017

Accelerated Achievement

As much as I have spent the year focusing on teaching Key Competencies and social skills, there's still that monkey on your back to have each and every child make accelerated progress. For Manaiakalani that means 1.5x the expected.

This year I had no expectation that academic gain would be substantial, I was looking at gains in Key Competencies and emotional security. The way that I taught these skills didn't follow the usual pattern of a classroom, in fact very little academic expectation was placed upon the boys. We worked on routines, discussion, cultural identity and regulating emotional responses to varied experiences.

The graphs below show just one snapshot from PAT tests. As much as I am extremely proud of some of the test results produced by the boys, these graphs are a tiny piece of a much much larger puzzle.

While most of the boys have made the expected academic gains or even 2-3x the expected gain in one year, I don't believe that this has anything to do with quality academic teaching.

The reason for the academic gains made by the boys come from a feeling of belonging and the comfort to take risks and feel confident about their abilities. In reducing the anxious responses and ramping up the positive, the boys have had the opportunity to learn from everyday simple activities.

Suddenly, sitting down to lunch, waiting your turn, using your manners or following the rules of a game, become massive learning opportunities.

By being who they are, acknowledging where they come from and feeling secure and safe, the boys have achieved as themselves and are growing into confident, connected, lifelong learners.

But in reality, the learner who has actually learnt most in the room has been the teacher.

Sunday, 15 October 2017


  • Anxiety is a huge problem for many of our traumatised kids
  • Each kid has different triggers that set off their anxiety
  • It is important that the trusted adults in a child's life are aware of the triggers and help the child identify them.
  • Once identified, it is vital to offer the reassurance required to help the child feel safe and supported.
  • Anxious behaviour is not disrespectful or naughty.

It's been well known that the boys all suffer from varying degrees of anxiety. How that has affected them, their learning and their relationships is something I've had to get in touch with. As I now know these boys so well, I can pinpoint those moments when behaviour is anxious and not simply "naughty". As I've become more aware of the boys' responses, I've been able to give the boys the words and tools they need to be able to talk about and cope with their anxiety.

I've tried very hard to empathise with the boys and be patient with behaviour that in a traditional setting may have earned the offender a detention. But as a fairly confident and self assured grown up, it is a struggle to try and work out how an insecure 8 yr old might be feeling. I myself couldn't quite identify with the overwhelming sense of anxiety.

At a recent PLG session for Manaiakalani we began a new block with an "ice breaker". Ice breakers are not my cup of tea, but this one seemed even worse. In our table groups we were to sing odd sounding words to a tune I didn't know and keep a rhythm. A task like this sounds fun to many, but sounds awful to me.  I started to get a feeling of tightness in my stomach, my palms were sweating and I was frozen to my seat imaging that everyone was looking at me. My worst nightmare was that our lovely leader would ask me to join in or tell me I could do it. I wanted to hide. Which was the best way to exit the building? Everyone else was having a fabulous time, why wasn't I?

I remembered back to Standard 3 and Room 9 with Mrs Brown. I'm sure she was a lovely woman but for me I have no happy memories. She used to make us sing the roll call in the morning and singing and music was a standard part of everyday. "Naughty children" were forced to sing solos as punishment. I spent many a mat time hiding under the nearest table - stubbornness is one of my many strengths. My resistance to Mrs Brown's methods became such a problem that I recall a meeting with my mother where I was told I was to participate or there'd be more trouble. I'm not sure why I was/am so resistant to the idea of singing in a group, but the anxiety is real and I'm sure my behaviour comes across as defiance.

As the PLG singing session came to a conclusion and the stomach volcano subsided, I realised that my anxiety around music - especially singing - must be somewhat similar to how the boys feel daily. That sense of a volcano in ones stomach, unsure of why you're responding in a particular way and the absolute need to hide.
How often do we see children turning away, dropping their head, covering their ears, lashing out or needing space and time away from others? How often do we scold such behaviour as not joining in or being disrespectful?

In many cases we can attribute the behaviours to anxiety. Anxiety about the others in the room. Anxiety about being unsure of a task. Anxiety about what comes next? Anxiety about lunchtime. Anxiety about what waits at home. There are so many things that can upset the delicate equilibrium of a traumatised child.

Now that I am far more aware of the trigger points for the boys, we are able to talk about our angry tummies, talk about what we are unsure of, talk about what makes us happy and in most cases, very quickly have the wee lad back in action being a contented member of our classroom. More and more the boys are identifying their angry tummies themselves and coming to a trusted adult for reassurance and love. Ultimately, it would be great to see the boys eventually being able to self regulate their responses, but they are still only small and put up with a great deal.

I can only hope that the notes that accompany the boys into 2018 are carefully read by their teacher who will take the time to identify the anxiety triggers in their room and allow the boys the chance to talk about their angry tummies and receive the reassurance they require.

ULearn 2017

Tomorrow marks day one of term 4 and to be perfectly honest I'm not ready. Lessons are prepared and there's plenty to get done, but my brain is absolutely still buzzing from one of the best ULearn conferences I've attended.
I'm very lucky in that I have had the opportunity to present and attend ULearn on most occasions over the last 10 years. Not every year has provided mind bending and challenging content - but 2017 did not disappoint.

Eric Mazur reminded us of the power of peer discussion and peer teaching.
Abdul Cohen inspired us all to make a difference.
Sally Peters had me reevaluating the importance of teacher research and TAI.
Glen Storey gave me more ideas around introducing the concept of coding with junior kids.
Bec and Jamie Power shared many lovely ideas of collaboration and community. - always a pleasure to listen to these two.
Megan Gallagher offered some concrete ideas around how to teach kids about the importance of brain anatomy to address resilience and mindfulness. A couple of ideas I plan to implement as soon as possible with #DaBoyz
But most importantly I was challenged  by Ann Milne as she spoke about Colouring in the White Spaces. White privilege in NZ education and assessment.

Ann Milne closed the conference on such a provocative note. She challenged us all on our culturally responsive pedagogy. If Maori students have been failing for such a long time, why do we continue to think the children are the broken ones - shouldn't we need to change our pedagogy to suit the child? What are we doing to promote the achievement of Maori AS Maori? - which is surely more important than expecting achievement on a eurocentric scale. I am very keen to see what I can do in my classroom to make sure that I am allowing students to show who they are and what they value.

Friday, 22 September 2017

Refining the Creativity

To continue with our learning around perseverance and overcoming anxieties, we have spent week 9 creating some fairly impressive artworks. Following on from movie making, it was apparent that The Boys needed more scaffolding around conquering their fears and anxieties during challenging tasks.

The artwork was presented to The Boys as a complex task that would take time and effort. They would make mistakes and all would be fine. They would be asked to try again and to make improvements. We role played scenarios and appropriate responses. We discussed how different challenging moments made us feel and how we could help each other to do our best.

We began by pencil sketching the planets and rockets. We discussed how paint works and that detail was not necessary in our pictures - this didn't stop the boys drawing all sorts of intricate pieces.
Colours were added step by step allowing decent drying time.

Mistakes were covered with white paint, allowed to dry and redone. On two occasions the boys chose to paint out complete objects and did so happily, knowing that they were improving on their work, not making their task more difficult.

In contrast to movie making, no one gave up and no one struggled with the challenges they faced.
I think that this was due to 3 things.
  • A more stepped out process 
  • Each kid had their own work to do and were not sharing
  • The strongly scaffolded behaviour aspect prior to beginning each session of painting.

We finished by sharing our work on our blogs and the hard copy will be mounted on the corridor wall outside our class. 

To share on our blogs we attempted another challenging creative task - rather than simply posting a photo of our painting I took a photo of each boy with his artwork against a blue background. We then learnt how to use the Alpha key in Keynote to remove the background. The boys were then able to insert a larger version of their own picture as the background.

Because we had to use the classroom iMacs to utilise Keynote, the use of our class shared Google Drive folder was needed so that the boys could access their photos and re-share their completed work to access on their Chromebook to blog.

So, overall a HUGE improvement in emotional responses to complex challenges and as a result, some awesome pieces of art that we are all proud of.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Creative Results

So the boys have finished their Little Red Riding Hood - well three boys finished.

Like most things with the lads excitement was high for the first 4.9seconds. Once hard work became apparent, the first wave gave up - interestingly these were the year 3 boys. The remaining 6 continued on for two afternoons. They battled old iMacs that were slowly giving up the ghost as well as partners who were less than helpful. By the fourth and final afternoon the stayers were down to 4.

I set up the rest of the boys on some very independent activities around looking at and sharing blog posts, this gave me the time needed to focus on the four who were determined to finish their creations. With a little one on one attention, three were highly successful and learnt many new movie making skills. More importantly, they persevered when the challenge was HUGE and the rest of the class dropped like flies around them.

I've blogged before about how most children innately know what makes a movie entertaining and strive to achieve to the best of their skill capability. They ask questions and refine their work to keep at it. Funnily enough the boys were different.

After the first hour, it was very clear as to which boys were finding the challenge well above their perceived capabilities and were not at all interested in trying, learning or taking risks. Rather than heighten the obvious anxieties, these boys were charged with creating the musical soundtracks in Garageband on their iPads. They could be independent, contributing and successful.

The boys left for the final afternoon suffered through terrible technical difficulty with slowly dying technology - one boys even restarted his iMac 3 times to be able to continue his work. These final four definitely needed the 1:1 attention to keep working and keep trying. They wanted to be finished and nearly enough was going to be good enough. They required constant reflection and discussion to keep working at their movie. One of the boys found the final tweaks all too much and gave up on his movie. No amount of cajoling or encouragement could get him smiling and back in action.

Reflection points: 

Like with most tasks in class, academic, artistic, sporting or creative, the anxiety that is ever present in the young men came to the forefront.

Their anxiety prevents the boys from taking risks or confidently trying new things.

Like with other tasks, there was a lack of striving for excellence - OK is good enough. Finishing fast  is more important than finishing well.

I wrongly assumed that the story of Little Red Riding Hood was well known. In hindsight, I should have provided, not just storyboards, but a script as well.

Watch their movies here.

The movies have minor (and some more major) flaws, but for the most part the movies are complete and tell the story.

I am super proud of the three who completed, and in actual fact I am very proud of the boys who articulated their anxiety and found their place being more comfortable making music or supporting a friend.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Getting Creative

Week 7 Term 3 and I felt ready to tackle movie making with DaBoyz. We had been playing in the bush during the morning and I had a good collection of photos. Also, being Tongan Language Week, we had had a performance that morning in assembly and I also had lots of footage of the boys performing. With this footage and the experiences fresh in mind, it was time to get into actual, for real movie making.

During lunch, I made sure that all clips and photos were uploaded into our shared Media Folder in Google Drive. This folder is embedded on our classroom Google site - so easily accessible from any machine. I also made sure that all out iMacs had a new iMovie project ready and our classroom Google site open.

With 6 iMacs in class and only 12 boys it was easy to have them work in pairs.

The boys were to download the folder of images from our Site, find them in the downloads folder of the iMac and then drag them into the new iMovie project.
Once the clips and photos were on the timeline I taught the boys how to shuffle the clips around to put them in the best order for their movie.
Next, we learnt how to use the Ken Burns effect on still images and how to trim the ends of moving clips.
Finally, we learnt how to download and drag in a song with a fade at the end.
The boys then taught themselves how to add a title - with varying versions of success.

I made sure to export the movies and then upload them to our shared Media folder. The boys were then able to use their Chromebook to embed their finished movie on their blog.

All completed in one hour after lunch.

A lesson likes this requires the sharing processes to be in place and the teacher to be well organised with the skills they are wanting the children to learn in the session.

Our next step we took today - filming our own version of Little Red Riding Hood against a blue screen in class, recording voiceovers and drawing backgrounds in Hyperstudio.
Again, the footage was uploaded to our shared Google folder.

The skills being learnt in this activity will build on what we learnt last week - trimming clips, muting clips, green/blue screening, detaching audio from a clip and adding voice overs to the correct parts of the story.
Lots to learn but being prepared should make the process fairly simple.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Fakakoloa Aotearoa ‘Aki ‘Ae Nofo 'A Kainga

As part of the ongoing emphasis on the emotional well being and care for the boys we're embracing Tongan Language week full force.
With over half the class identifying as Tongan, the boys are relishing in the opportunity to share their language and culture. In particular, one of the boys who struggles with traditional learning and being able to share his thinking, is thriving in leading the other boys with his own knowledge of language and culture.

We're having a lot of fun practising our Tongan, discussing life in Tonga and sharing what we know.