Thursday, 23 January 2014

Yes, We Can Get Our Boys to Write!

My last post was about dyslexia and why some students, who love words, did not find their school writing experiences positive. This post on being an effective teacher of writing, looks at how we can address some of the problems for writers. 

It's great when you come away from a course excited.  It's even better when you feel like that even though you should still be on holiday. And it's "fantabulous," when your colleagues feel the same way.

Like many others, we've identified that our students, as a group, are weakest in writing achievement. Our qualified hunch is that this is because our teachers could be better teachers of writing.  But how do you address this?

When I first arrived at the school three and a half years ago, the focus was writing.  Our first step was to introduce a more robust assessment tool and we chose e-asTTle.  The last three years have been about unpacking the tool and looking at how we unpack a piece of writing.  The new e-asTTle writing rubric came out, so we spent time adapting to that.  We knew moderation was important, so we hosted interschool moderation workshops and had a lot of practice and discussion within our own staff.

But we all know that testing and being better at testing, does not make a writer who is passionate about writing! I am very aware of this need.  I can see that not everyone on the staff shares my passion for crafting words into word pictures; word pictures that engage readers and take them away on a magical video in the cinema of our imaginations.

We identified and talked about this need with our change team; it was suggested that Gail Loane might be available before the school year started.  Our principal shared our needs with Gail , on the phone.  Some of us had attended her two hour seminar on Boy Writers last year. Like our students, we wanted a workshop that would be interactive.

I set myself the goal of reading "I've Got Something to Say," Gail Loane's book on writing, in collaboration with Sally Muir.  It had sat on my shelf for two years. Recommended by other colleagues, it was always superseded by the best pulp fiction I could find to take my brain on holiday over the Christmas break.

As expected, I'm embarrassed I didn't open it earlier. Gail and Sally have created a primer for effective writing practice that embraces effective pedagogy, samples of writing, how to present and unpack them and surrounds them with real experiences with students.  Interwoven is Gail's obvious passion for writing and unrelenting belief that every child can write, has a story to write and has a story he or she wants to share.

And that's how she ran the workshop.  I enjoyed recognising pieces I had discovered in the book and knowing that the ideas I wanted to revisit - and that's all of them - were all in the book.

She asked us to question whether we believed that some students' lives were not rich enough to have their own starters and bemoaned the fact that so many draft books were short on work and short on completion. We read the poem "That Was Summer" by Marci Ridlon.

We clarified meaning; not everyone comes to a piece with the same set of experiences and understandings. We used topics that students can relate to: summer, playing hide and seek, building huts and playing a sport. We unpacked and co-constructed criteria that everyone can use.

We wrote our stanza in about ten minutes. We shared and read it as a group poem. We were all writers.

(I've attached my full notes from the day on a Google doc as well as the storified tweets from teacher Kassey Downard @kasseylee11 and myself @mrs_hyde.)

Further note - I was excited when I read, at the start of the book, that Gail had attended a workshop run by Ruie Pritchard in the late 1980's. So had I. I was blown away to discover that we were on the same week-long inservice at Waikato. How marvelous that she has carried it further, so that I may again pick up the threads so many years later.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Dyslexia and Loving Words

Earlier this week I talked with mother from school as we talked over the dentist's chair I sat in. She was concerned about the last school report and her children's dyslexia. Who could she talk to?

It made me think about children diagnosed with or who I knew had dyslexia over the years. I thought about what I did do for them, what I didn't do for them, and that feeling of not having done quite enough.

I thought especially about one young chap who I know is bright; he could solve maths problems easily and was holding things in his head instead of using paper. He loved to discuss and debate and of course, at that stage in my career I told him to quiet down and write his answers. Whoa!

Another young lass more recently, was able to tell great stories. I read her story out at a moderation meeting. After the accolades, I showed my colleagues her written text and told them her name. They were astounded. Then of course, came the debate about how to grade the piece. Therein is the problem: we use tools that give us an overall grade. This wordsmith could capture an audience, by creating amazing word pictures and plot lines.

I knew that these children were getting a raw deal.  I knew that there were people in public and academic life who had found success in spite of dyslexia and a less than satisfactory experience of school.  Even in my own experience, I'd had a student who left my Year 13 English class to complete and English degree for which she planned to use a tape-deck (another decade of course).

I have to admit I still felt helpless as the mother spoke. So when the film,"Dyslexia and Loving Words" by Vicky Morris, was promoted on Twitter by Sir Ken Robinson, I got sidetracked from my reading and started watching. That was me for the next hour or more! (Stopping and starting to reflect, make lunch...)

I'd started out to read about writing in Gail Loane's book, but this was definitely a worthy substitute for the chapter I aimed to read.

I've added my reflections from Storify after the Youtube video:

I didn't formally make resolutions for the year but I have resolved to do things I want and need to do for my soul. One of these is find out more about dyslexia and ensure that our teachers are better informed. I'll be promoting this documentary for a start.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Vizify - Having a little play!

I couldn't see a way of embedding this so click on the image and it will take you to the webpage.

Monday, 6 January 2014

The First Post...for 2014, That Is. A Meme About Me, Me, Me!

I do feel like I've dragged my feet over this. It's a great idea, one which encourages us to reflect and share with folk who have become our confidentes over the last year or so.  It's an idea that I can see could work well with blogging in our school.  I have to say though, that it was lovely shutting down the laptop before Christmas and looking at my pile of books, videos and garden tools!

I do like writing though, and tweeting and thanks so much dear Marnel, who got me into this. Marnel - I absolutely treasure our conversations! Also Monika and Kimberley! That's what happens when everyone tags everyone else and you leave it for a few days. I'm going to start with Marnel's questions and see how I go. I may have to do meme x 3.

The blogging task includes:

Acknowledge the nominating blogger.  (Thank you for making me feel special ladies!)
Share 11 random facts about yourself. (That will be interesting to narrow it down.)
Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you. (Haven't peeked yet.)
List 11 bloggers. (Hmm - a challenge not to re-tag someone now!)
Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated.  Don't nominate a blogger who has nominated you. (I'm counting tweeting as's also known as micro-blogging.)

11 Random Facts About Me:

1. My name is pronounced An-na-ma-ry. I was named after my German grandmother, Anna Maria, and my mother's Swiss au pair, Annemarie. I have no middle name because they knew it would be the bane of my life! It's a great name - I like a bit of history.
2. My maiden name was Tinga. I got married while I was at teachers' college; obviously thought about the nicknames...tingaling, stinker...
3. I was born in Christchurch, New Zealand and lived there for all but four of my first 21 years.
4. I'm a first generation Kiwi.
5. I lived in Jamaica from the age of six until I was ten and I played on the tourist rafts in Ocho Rios.
6. I used to be shy. I realised I admired people who weren't shy, so I changed! Yes people, honestly, my school reports said, "Annemarie does not contribute to class discussions."
7. I read science fiction from the age of eight. Andre Norton was the first author. I was fascinated by the possibilities.
8. I still love science fiction movies and was addicted to Star Trek. We had no TV when I was six, but ran down the drive to watch it at an old lady's house down the road in Ocho Rios. I was fascinated by all the moles on her neck...
9. When I like an author I read all the books.
10. I started off as a high school teacher of English and Art History.
11. I've run 7 half marathons and a 32 km, and plan to walk the Rotorua Half. Never done a marathon though and not really planning to.

With my little brother in Bishopdale, Christchurch. Love this photo!

My Answers to Marnel's Questions:

What inspires you?
- My twitter PLN is my major source of inspiration.  I love reading what others are doing because I then see the possibilities. Beautiful scenery inspires me. My mother's fortitude in overcoming her disabilities when she was alive. My children. My friends. My students. My teachers.

What are you reading now?
- I've got a pile of books that I grandly put on Twitter at the start of the holidays, many about education and leadership. So far I've read a novella by Monica McInerney, "Odd One Out," Kathy Reich's latest book "Bones of the Lost" and now I'm reading "Bridget Jones, Mad About the Boy," by Helen Fielding. All marshmallow stuff.  Glorious!

If you weren't a teacher, what would you do?
- Probably journalism. Though I just spent a lovely evening with friends solving Rotorua's economic problems and came up with a great tourism idea.

If you could change something about the education system, what would it be?
- Lots more money invested so that we weren't always fundraising for computers and other things. I do believe literacy and numeracy standards for entry to teaching should be higher. I wouldn't mind if it was a masters degree, because we need something to give us more kudos! It's tricky because I do realise that great teachers aren't always the most academically qualified.

When was the last time you wrote a letter to someone on paper and mailed it?
- When I got out of my last jury duty. I try to do one big Christmas letter a year, but it's become electronic now. I realised that the only thing I was handwriting was the shopping list.  But I've now got an app for that...

Android or iPad tablets? Why?
- I have an ipad. It is compatible with my iphone. I still believe there are more educational apps available on Apple. I've got used to these and now don't like my friends' Android phones. Habit?

What do you find hardest to teach your students?
- Attitudes and values. They come from different and sometimes conflicting backgrounds.  The role-modelling they experience at home is often the overwhelming influence.

What will you be doing differently this year?
- That's an interesting one. I think that I'm on a continuum of trying to improve my leadership practice, so I'm always reflecting and adjusting.

If you could be fluent in any other language, what would it be and why did you choose this language?
- I grew up in the sixties and seventies, when parents from other cultures believed it was most important to be assimilated as New Zealanders.  So I don't speak Dutch, my father's first language.  His mother was German, so that language also appeals.

What is your favourite way to waste time?
- Make a coffee, sit in the sun on the deck with a book, chores forgotten (or done).
- Twitter away on Twitter.

What is your life motto?
- Currently: "Life gives you who you need, not who you want, to make you into the person you need to be."

I enjoyed now it's your turn!  I tag you eleven:
My Taupaki friends:@stephen_tpk, @JJPurtonJones, @diana_prince_ww; my facilitator buddies: @AnneSturgess2, @barbs1, @leighhynes, @marykjam; and those Twismas Tweeters not already tagged to my knowledge: @AnnaGerrit, @ChambersJohanna, @MeganCroll1 and @MissDSciTeacher (should have been there).

My Eleven Questions for You:

1. What is your main personal goal for 2014?
2. Where was your most memorable holiday?
3. Which time in history would you like to be teleported to?
4. What is a tip you can share for relieving stress?
5. Who would rate as the most inspirational speaker you've listened to?
6. What are three things you believe you've got right in your teaching practice?
7. What was the best advice you were ever given?
8. What advice would you have given your younger self?
9. Did you always want to be a teacher?
10. What is the best book you read in 2013?
11. If you could describe yourself as a vegetable, which one would you be and why?

Make that coffee, open that laptop and get going!