Thursday, 7 June 2012

Intrinsic rewards

Reading John Spencer's post this morning, Classroom Leadership: Rewards are like Crack I thought about about our Grade 5 year long reading assignment. There is a great deal of debate around the tracks just now about the value of homework, and my school will be embarking on a study next year. I'm on the committee. And it may be that this assignment will end. This year this assignment moved from being homework to being "read-anytime."

I inherited this assignment and it has always bothered me that the task sounds daunting to begin with and that's not a great way to start the year. But we try to make it as simple and interesting as possible:

Read 20 Just-Right books in a given variety of genres over the course of the school year. Keep a record. Have a discussion with a parent after you finish the book. (Parents are given suggested questions to help with this.)

Each year there have been a few groans, "I HATE historical fiction!"  "Non-fiction is so boring!"  "I have to read a book in Bahasa Indonesia?" "Do we have to read fantasy? I don't like fantasy!"

We give no awards, certificates, medals. Students get none of those things. They do get discussion with a parent and with the teacher though weekly letters. They also get the satisfaction in discovering new genres that they love. And WE get the feedback in the end of year reflections that helps us decide whether or not to run it next year ....


"I was surprised that I like historical fiction"
"I warmed to biographies after reading Kathy Freemans. I wanted to read more so Mum let me buy Andre Agassis."
"The effect of this task made historical fiction my 2nd favorite genre. If I never had this task, I would never have tried it."
"I never knew I liked biography and animal fiction."
"A genre I surprisingly liked was poetry."
"I think this was a good assignment for me because I didn't read different kinds of genres. But I found a kind of genre that I never knew it's fun. I thought it would be boring but I love it. "
"I didn't know I'd like biography so I read it second last."

I think we will keep it going!

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Tell Me a Story of Long Ago

As far as possible in grade 5, we try to integrate reading and writing with our units of inquiry. The "Legacies" unit is no different. During the unit students were reading non-fiction printed and digital text. We used a LiveBinder of sites for browsing and bins of books brought up from the library. Students started to identify times and events that especially interested them.

As well as non-fiction for the project research, we were reading historical fiction. Students started with boxes of historical fiction books in groups. They looked for historical clues in the illustrations on the cover. We did historical fiction interactive read-alouds. Students identified common features of historical fiction.

Students chose books to read and picked out details that indicated the historical period.
They identified what was fiction in the book and which details were historical facts.

When there had been lots of reading of fiction and non-fiction history books, students decided what to write for their own historical fiction. We had a huge range of interests, from the Titanic, to Ancient Rome, Ancient Korea, World War 2, Ancient Egypt. Some were adventure stories. Some were journal entries. This last piece of writing for the year provided the opportunity for students to show all their 6 Traits knowledge, all their planning, note-taking and writing skills. They used NoodleTools to cite their sources.

And they did an amazing job! These are a few of their thoughts:

  • I enjoyed revising because then I could explore with different ideas.
  • I enjoyed trying to make it have voice and historical facts.
  • I enjoyed researching because the more I researched the more I can imagine myself as the character and give lots of detail to help my reader visualise images in their head.
  • I liked developing the characters. The stage of when they change emotionally and physically. Like when a character dies, they all have sorrowness.
  • I liked writing all the action and the battle scenes. It was fun describing the characters feeling when they are in battles. I liked to have a lot of detail in the one-to-one combats.

ONE example..... from the initial idea ... the final story.

Today was a day I would never forget. Today I was joining the army, in other words, certain death. Many, many people died in war. I had seen the faces of the soldiers who came home. They had come back, but they weren’t happy. They had survived, but they weren’t celebrating. Sometimes even when their side had won, they came back, their faces not triumphant, but glum. I wondered if  I would change too.....
    I went into the  garage, and a soldier in a very  offical  looking uniform  looked up from the paper he was writing on. He said gruffly “Your name, sonny?” I replied “Caleb Taylor” and he wrote it down. He obviously knew what I was here for. I said that I wanted to be in the army, and he said “I know, mate, I’ve already got you on the list. Go and get your uniform, and report to the commanding officer.” He pointed to a doorway, and just beyond it, I could see many a rack of uniforms. Even though I would probably die in the war, I could feel myself getting excited. I was a patriot, serving my country because I believed I could help my country. I stood there, a little dazed, until the man said “Stop daydreaming, mate, and get on with it!”His voice jarred me back to reality. I walked towards the door.
   There were a few soldiers in the room getting changed. I introduced myself, and they said that their names were  Speed, Boxer and Point Blank. I knew that they weren’t actual names, and I asked why they had names like that. Speed said it was because he was fast in sprints, Boxer because he won a championship in 1913, and Point Blank because he was a very, very good shot. I nodded, and got changed.
    I went home, in my uniform, and packed my belongings. My parents smiled at me. I could see the pain and loss of my older brother behind their eyes, and I almost said that I wouldn’t go, just for them. I promised them that I would come back.
    I was sent on a boat. I was shoved on with my personals so quickly that I didn’t see the name. Most soldiers went straight to the bottom of the ship. I stayed on deck, waving to my parents. I knew they were sad, but they were proud, too. That was the expression that they showed now. They were proud. I waved my white hankie. My parents waved back. I saw the tears spring into their eyes. I felt like crying myself. But I knew I couldn’t. I would look weak in front of the commanding officer. I put my bundle of belongings, pathetically small, under my bed. They were in a canvas bag. A photo of my parents and my older brother, who had died in a gang shootout in the middle of a street. His body was riddled with bullet holes when we saw him. Caught in crossfire. I looked up. It was already dusk. I knew we had a long journey ahead, and I nodded off, dreaming of my brother, screaming and war.
     I woke up with a bump, and rolled off my bed. I got up, and looked around. The boat was swaying, and most of the other men were up and about. I jumped up and went to the top deck. We were obviously in a gale. The sky was black and grey, the sea was tossing the boat as if it was a toy rubber duck in the bath. I got soaked by the rain the moment I came out. I ducked back into the barracks. We stopped in Shields, England, for a refill. Then we left.

    I was sent into a rowboat, and even from this far out, I could hear the screams and shouts of men on the beaches. I rowed as fast as I could. I got off the boat. I waded as fast as I could through the water, and dived to the ground as a bullet whizzed over my head. I watched my mate, James Ormond, run past me with two other soldiers. They got mown down. It happened so quickly, my eyes almost didn’t follow. But it happened. Blood exploded from one of men heads, and the shrapnel hit the other man. James stared, and I dived at his legs. Too late. The bullet hit his left shoulder and passed through his heart. He screamed in frustration. Three dead. Three dead already! Already! I knew that I would be next. I yelled as a force hit me in the arm. I was alive, but I was tackled almost immediately by another soldier. He saved my life. I was pushed under a some sand, but my mouth and nose were sticking out of the sand, so I could breathe. I fainted.
    I sat in one of the tents in Hell Spit. I had jumped aside, but my arm had flung up, and the bullet had made a flesh wound in my wrist. I had been rescued by Jack Simpson, on his donkey, Duffy. Amazingly, the Turkish soldiers had missed every single shot. It was like he had a force field around him. I would be going back to war tomorrow. A doctor came in holding a cup of water and pills, and told me to rest. I took the pills gratefully, and fell asleep.
    I was sent along a trail with Jack Simpson. I got into a trench, and, amazingly, my best friend, Jock Thomas, and his mates Jackson Piper and Jack Sinn sitting in the trench. Occasionally, Jackson would jump up and fire at the opposing Turks. Once, the Turks had a lucky shot and hit one of our men as he jumped up. Seeing as I was the closest, blood sprayed all over my face. I propped the heavy body against the wall and took off my hat. The other men and my friends did the same. I had seen four men die, and I had been in the war only two days. I knew that there would be other casualties too.
     I heard a clatter of a machine gun, and a scream, then a BOOM! And the machine gun fire stopped. Our nests had been wiped out yesterday by bombs, so I guessed that one of our men had thrown a grenade, but the man in the nest had noticed him before he could make it out. But he had succeeded, and blew up the nest.
     Footsteps came towards us, and all twenty men aimed their guns at the entrance. A man jumped in. I raised my gun to smack him, but I realised that Turkish soldiers weren’t so stupid that they jumped into trenches full of Australian and New Zealand soldiers. The man was holding was holding a huge box, and he opened it without speaking. There was lamingtons, sandwiches, apples and bananas. The sight of lamingtons made me feel homesick. As soon as it opened, he climbed out of the trench and started to run. I heard a shot, and a thump. I peeked out. The poor guy was lying on the ground, blood pouring out from under his arm. He had obviously been shot in the heart, and he was dead as a doorknob. I asked about dragging him back into the trench so he could get a proper burial. The men in the trench agreed, because there was no machine gun nest, but there were Turks. I took the risk, and stuck my arm out to pull the body in. He landed with a thump in the trench. I propped him against the other dead man. I ate lunch, and with a full stomach, I fell asleep.
     My friends told me that Thomas Irwin and Harry Morrison had been shot. Corey Irwin had been shot in the leg. They were all friends of mine. Also, Jack Simpson had been sniped on the way up Dead Man’s Ridge. Word had passed up the line fast. I groaned loudly. Jack had rescued my life twice. Now he had been shot. Other than my mates, he was the person I wanted to make it home the most. He had died in Shrapnel Valley, on the 19th of May, 1914.
I made it home. Tom Moriarty and William Kelly had both died, and they were friends of mine. Many thousands of people had died in the Battle of Gallipoli. Both sides grieved. Caleb had broken his arms and legs when jumping into the ocean off a small cliff to escape a platoon of Turkish soldiers. He was in Melbourne, slowly nursing back to health.
I was awarded the ANZAC Commemorative Medallion in 1967, when I was seventy four years old. I was proud to be at the ANZAC dawn service ever since, wearing that very medal.
     I got married to Chloe Ormond, the brother of James Ormond, who I had watched die in 1914. I was proud to marry, and my friend, Jack Sinn was my best man on the wedding day,. I was 26. it was 1919.Chloe Ormond became Chloe Taylor, and I lived happily with my wife and four kids, Anthony, Pauline, Claire and Charlie.
                                                                     THE END

Bibliography               Greenwood, Mark. The Donkey of Gallipoli. N.p.: n.p., 2008. N. pag. Print.
                          Anzac Badge: image by FreakyNami

Other photos are my own.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Continuing the Wondering

Today we had our Grade 5 Legacies Expo 2012 in the theatre with lots of classes coming to see and hear and ask questions.  Students showed individual and group inquiries, making use of multimedia.  

This is the completion of the last of the inquiry projects of this school year. 

Except, completion is the wrong word.... 

I do not want my students to feel that they have completed their learning in this unit. 

I want them to continue to think about the legacies from past peoples and cultures from all over the world. 

I want them to continue to wonder about the origins of the everyday things around them as well as the special things. 

I want them to continue to be interested in historical artifacts, ideas, stories, religions, philosophies, the arts.

Making bronze

Some students discovered a fascination for history that surprised them.

I hope that they will continue to hold this fascination all their days.

Photos are all mine.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Be a Risk-Taker! Do Student-Led Conferences!

Ground Breaking!
For the first time, ALL the teachers at our elementary campus have facilitated Student Led Conferences.  
This was a very new experience for many, but all approached it with that risk-taking attitude that we expect to see in our students.  And how did they reflect?

I used to think.... But now I think...
That there would be more parents asking for a conference with the teacherParents are starting to understand the value of letting their child shine through their learning.
That younger students would not be able to communicate their learning in this kind of model I was impressed that when given the opportunity the kids were able to share and easily talked 20-40 minutes
That students might find it challenging to celebrate their learning in specials without a structured model. Students will always amaze us with their creativity, ingenuity and initiative when sharing their learning
it will just be the students talking and demonstrating during specialsamazed to see how hands-on some of the parents were getting.
That it would be great if we all did student led conferences herewe will do it again next year this way
That bringing all the parents in for jungle gym would be 'crazy'........our students can 'manage' their the jungle.... wihout a problem
More parents would ask for a separate conference time  .... just a moment to talk with the teacherNone of them asked, and they were way more focused on their kid's presentations.
the kids would present the same as in class family dynamics, personality, and nerves play a definite role!
I would have to help the kids at some pointnope, I hardly spoke at all
portfolios and reflective thinking had to be PERFECT this is all part of the process of learning how to think about your learning and be reflective, all kids are in different places
I couldn't be in the room because parents would defer to me I can - I just need to look really busy.
that even after preparing well, fourth graders would need my support to present their portfolios successfully to their parents They were ready to do this independently. It was delightful!
Students would do an awesome job without me as long as we had prepped well beforehand and as always they did. Now I wonder what else students could do in my classroom with a bit less interference from me
Parents wanted to hear more information about their child from the teacher Students sharing their learning with parents is more meaningful
That I couldn't restrain myself from jumping in to save a child in a student led conference now I know they CAN do it on their own and BRILLIANTLY
Parents would not appreciate that they don't get to hear from the teacher about their child's progressParents were very satisfied after hearing their child discuss his/her learning that they did not find the need to ask any further questions from the teacher.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Using Twitter - 1 Minute PD

A few years ago our school issued teachers with copies of the book Understanding by Design. As one of the UbD trainers, I tried to think how I could get people to be reading it. You know what it's like. People are busy. There aren't enough PD days to do everything. 
So I started sending out  a short "quote of the day" with the page number so those interested could go directly there and read a bit more if they liked.
  e.g. From Understanding By Design, page  98
         "Empathy is warm; perspective is cool."
I called this "1 Minute PD" since it only took a minute (or less)  to read the email!
That worked Ok. A few teachers were following the quote to the book. But what I wasn't expecting was that I'd get replies to the quote by email or personally, or I'd go to the faculty room and I'd hear it being discussed. This "1 Minute PD" was generating discussion about many aspects of UbD. And it was happening on a daily basis.
Then..... I rediscovered Twitter! 
What a wealth of educational wisdom to share in 1 Minute PD!
Today I send a daily "1 Minute PD" to the faculty at my campus and the focus is Inquiry, or tech integration or better still, Literacy integration when I can find it.  I add links to great blog posts that I have read that I feel will fit what we are trying to accomplish. Now we have all this wonderful information, expertise and ideas to think and talk about.
Recent examples:

24 May
5 ways to think about Creativity

28 May
How do we teaching critical thinking in a connected world?

31 May
Embedding technology in the classroom - great advice!

Of course if my colleagues were all on Twitter they could do all this for themselves!  #taskfornextyear