2020- What a Year

As we know, 2020 has been a year like no other. It was the year of uncertainties, ‘new’ ideas, changes, adaptations and really, just a year of mental, emotional and for some, even physical stress. Covid-19 definitely turned the world on it’s head with many people in all types of workplaces impacted in one or another. Education was no different, us as teachers, parents and students had to quickly change the way we taught, learnt and lived our day to day life. One week we were at school, next at home and then back to school- things had to adapt and fast. Safe to say though, we did it. We managed to get through this eventful year and do it well. So to all my colleagues, to parents and to students, congratulations on making it through this tough year!

The craziness of the year between home and work life was not easy at times and I am so very grateful to have an amazing grade partner to have worked through it all. Without Elena, I am not quite sure if I would have got through the year as well as I did. Having someone there to talk to, share your thoughts and feelings, and even just for company is something I think we all take for granted at times. This year has shown me that those ‘little things’ are what helps us get through the tough times. So Elena, thank you!

As the year draws to a close, there is still a little bit of that uncertainty on what is yet to come, but for now, I will enjoy my break with my loved ones, reflect on the year that was and actually stop for the first time this year.

I wonder what kind of year 2021 will be…

Feedback

As mentioned in my last blog, St Luke’s has adapted a new timetable for the rest of the year. As part of our learning from COVID-19, it became evident that feedback was something that connected parents to their children and the teachers. Whilst students were doing home learning, teachers were also providing them with feedback on their learning and giving them steps on where to go next. Once we returned back to full-time face-to-face teaching and learning, we needed to somehow keep this frequent communication with parents, and this is how half-day Friday came about.

On Fridays, ‘official’ learning ends at midday (12pm) for students in K-6. Parents have the opportunity to pick up their children from school at this time and those students who remain at school engage in activities that are supervised by teachers. In this time, teachers are rostered on at different points of the afternoon for 1 hour to supervise the remaining students. Whilst off supervision, the expectation is teachers use the time to provide written or verbal feedback on student work that has been posted on Seesaw. The feedback is given in the form of a ‘star, star, wish’- 2 things that the student has done well with that piece of work and 1 thing they can work on or a next step. For us teachers, this feedback does sometimes take longer than the allocated time given on a Friday afternoon as each piece of feedback is individualised to each student. Both myself and my grade partner are working out ways to make this process easier without hindering the feedback that is given.

As part of this new timetable trial, there is a researcher who is participating in an action research to find evidence on whether or not this timetable is beneficial for students and parents. Unfortunately, from the classroom teacher perspective, the number of parents reading the feedback is not as high as we expected or would have liked. Hopefully this number will increase in Term 4 as the feedback provided by teachers is showing parents and students where they are at and what they need to work on. Some students are loving the feedback as they read it at home because they can discuss their learning with their parents. I can’t wait to see what the research is and the next steps at St Luke’s.

New Timetable

COVID-19 has changed the way we do things in many aspects of our life- both home and work. When many people think of change it scares them and yes, change can be a very scary thing. Sometimes change can be a good thing though, and St Luke’s has taken the opportunity of this change to challenge the ‘norms’ of education- more than what we’ve done before.

As of week 1, term 3, St Luke’s began a new timetable which changed the way teaching and learning happened across the school. One change we undertook was changing the timing of our teaching/learning sessions to 120, 120, 70 (minutes). What an awesome change! This change was welcomed with open arms. It has given me the opportunity to teach Reading Recovery during class time, making it more motivating for the children to want to participate since they are not missing out on recess. It has also given me the chance to get organised and feel prepared for the rest of my teaching day.

The increased length in the morning and middle sessions have felt as though we have been given more time to teach the necessary content in subjects particularly, Maths and English. At times in the past, we used to feel rushed to try and teach all the content and different KLAs in the 100minute blocks. It may sound silly, but that extra 20minutes in the two sessions do give us that little lee-way.

The shortened end session has been a great change. As the day goes on, students tend to get tired and become restless and working for 100minutes at the end of the day really did show how tired and not bothered they were. Taking away that 20minutes at the end of the day has seen a change in the way students respond to learning in the afternoon. We are seeing more student engagement and enthusiasm as they enter the afternoon. Students seem to be excited for the afternoon sessions no matter the KLA being taught and seem to be more on task (there is still some restlessness but at the end of the day, they are only 6, 7 and 8 year olds).

There have been more changes to St Lukes’ timetable such as a shortened Friday, but that blog post will need to wait until next time.

Change at St Luke’s is our normal. We like to challenge ‘olden day’ thinking, push the boundaries and try to achieve the very best for our students. So yes, change can be daunting and scary, but not all change is bad.

Half Way Through

What a crazy year 2020 has been, and we are only half way through!

Being a teacher during COVID-19 was an experience that I never thought I would have. There were a million different messages coming from the Australian and NSW government that were definitely new to us and timelines that were given but never set in concrete. But here’s how it went…

Our COVID-19 schooling adventure began in Term 1, around about week 8. We were told face-to-face teaching with no changes would continue for the rest of the term- school is a safe place so no stress!

Week 9 rolled around and suddenly we were moving to home learning to begin in 2 days from the government announcement and that would then be the plan until the end of term. But wait, week 10 arrived and surprise! This is the last week of school, school holidays were to start a week early allowing teachers time to prepare for a Term 2 of connected learning (yes, a little bit of panic had set in, what was life going to be like in general, let alone what was it going to be like teaching my class of 6-8year old’s from home?)

Term 3 arrived and weeks 1 and 2 consisted of connected learning, finally getting into a routine, teachers and students alike! Children were becoming more active online, seemed genuinely happy when we spoke to them through zoom sessions and were actually dealing quite well with this ‘new norm’ of online. So, let’s change it up and weeks 3 and 4 were to then consist of a mixture of connected learning and face-to-face (I couldn’t wait to see the kids again, but my concern was the structure- were they going to be ok? The kids were finally getting into a routine, was this going to throw out everything? How will they adjust knowing that the virus was still ‘hanging around’?). It all worked out though and our class had one of the highest attendances!

Then came Monday of week 5 and it was time to return to full-time face-to-face teaching. Many things were put in place to ensure the safety of all children and staff. Seeing those big bright smiles walking into the classroom on Monday morning just warmed my heart. The kids were so excited to be back at school and us teachers were so happy to see them- going from seeing the kids every day to seeing them once a week (if that) was hard! So, it was a really nice feeling being back. My grade partner and I had to set some new routines for these children who had essentially spent a good 8 weeks at home. Walking into our classroom, students hand sanitised/sanitise each time they walk in the room (mind you, the kids love this part), there was and still is, lots of discussion about hygiene and of course lots of talk about everything we have learnt being at home and the changes that will happen to our day to ease them back into their classroom learning. There were some struggles getting students back into the routine like we had just before leaving, but I think it’s safe to say, we are almost, if not already, back to our normal selves.

Woah, so much to talk about, so little word limit! Needless to say, we have learnt a lot from this year- what needs to stay, what needs to go and what needs to change. My grade partner and I have worked very hard to ensure the kids see school as the same, happy, exciting, safe place like they did before the world turned on its side, we will keep aiming for this as this crazy year goes on. Until next time, don’t forget to stay safe and sanitise!

Inquiry- Living Things

To start the year, Stage 1’s Science unit this term is ‘Living Things’. Students are investigating what are living things, how they grow and change, and how humans use plants and animals in their lives. To start the unit we looked at what students knew about living things, which turned out to be quite a lot! As we continued through the unit, students looked at various plants and animals, the features they have and how they grow and change through their life cycle.

Going into week 6, I would say that the student’s highlight (and possibly us teachers too) was the planting of seeds. Students were given a choice to plant either sunflowers, basil, watercress or radishes. They were then able to put how much soil they thought their plant would need and the amount of water it would need to start its life. Every day, students get the chance to water their plants and see that they are getting enough sun and shade. Each week in their Science lesson, students will observe what is happening to their plant, record it in words and draw it. They will then use this as part of their final project. Throughout the unit, students will have the chance to learn about different living things and their use, along with gaining research skills such as note-taking. For their final project, students will research their chosen plant- its features, habitat and use for humans, its lifecycle and a weekly record of its growth.

I can’t wait to see how the students researching skills improve, watch them learn about living things and finally, see how the plants grow!

 

 

2019- The Year That Was

2019- what a year! This year has been a big one and I have learned so much.

This year I was lucky enough to teach a Stage 1 class, do Reading Recovery, move into a new classroom/building and work with wonderful people. With this, there were many things I came away with, but I’ll just share 3.

  1. You can never be too organised– Teaching itself is not an easy job in any way but one thing that can assist you is to be organised. This year I had to be very organised across the board- planning, programming and just everyday business for both the classroom and Reading Recovery. Throughout my years in teaching I have learnt how to be organised, but this year I acquired more skills to became so much more organises and next year I should be even better!
  2. Share accomplishments– Looking back on where my students began this year (personality wise and academically), boy have they come a long way! At the end of this term we had our student-led conferences where students got to share their learning. I felt extremely happy and proud listening to my students share their learning with their family. All students made such great improvements in one or more areas in their learning and growth in their personalities.
  3. Communicate– Doing Reading Recovery and being in the classroom was not an easy task. Communication between myself and my grade partner was essential. As I was out every morning to teach Reading Recovery, Elena and I had to ensure we were both on the same page in regards to the run of the day, the routines and the learning. This was then passed onto the teacher who replaced me in the morning. Without our communication, our days would never have gone so smoothly.
  4. Appreciate– I am so grateful for having an amazing grade partner this year who supported me, was there to lean on and just to be an overall great friend. It was great coming to school and having a laugh and enjoying where we were and what we were doing. I thank Elena for pretty much ‘running the show’ every morning without me and having the ‘never give up’ attitude. I’m lucky enough to work with her again next year and can’t wait to see what the year will hold.

The Power of Novels

This term in Stage 1 we have been reading the novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl as a read aloud (teacher reads and students listen). Needless to say, Stage 1 Navy are absolutely loving it!

It is the first time this year where we have chosen a chapter book to read every day. Previous to this we chose different picture books and online stories in isolation. The improved engagement and attentiveness of the children is indescribable. They are glued to the reader (myself or Miss Stivactas), little to no fidgeting takes place, the room is silent and 57 pairs of little eyes are looking at the reader hanging onto their every word waiting to find out what will happen next. Thinking about it, I wish we had thought to do this sooner. Saying this though, we still use picture books and stories online as read alouds to give the students variety. Research has shown that having a mixture of picture books and novels is great for students as there is reading for enjoyment and the example of reading more complex texts (which younger students may find difficult to do themselves). This gives students the opportunity to visualise and imagine the book, along with hearing what good reading sounds like.

Reading the chapter book has shown to give students a model on how to read using phrasing and fluency, pitch, tone and expression. There has been some evidence of improvement in the way our students are reading. In Guided Reading sessions, students are beginning to change their voice to suit the characters in their book and put words together to read phrases fluently. Many students are also taking a greater interest in reading. The continuous want for us teachers to read has shown how much they are enjoying listening to the books (particularly Charlie) being read. Students are also asking if they could read aloud their own books and stories.

In writing, we have been looking at writing stories that entertain others. Comparing the students stories from before reading the novel to now, there has been a great improvement in the ideas that are being written and in how they are being written. Students are starting to incorporate a range of features to make their writing engaging and interesting. Students are beginning to incorporate dialogue, a range of characters and settings and adjectives and verbs- all heard/read in the novel.

Thinking ahead to next year, possibly starting from Term 2, begin reading chapter books as well as picture books and online stories as a model for students.

Let’s Set Goals!

A process we have put into place this year for Reading and Writing is giving students specific goals for them to work on. In turn, we (the teachers) provide the students with different activities for them to work on these goals.

In Literacy, after our Share Reading, students are asked to initially read to a partner, state their goal and then receive and provide feedback. Once this is complete, students are given the opportunity to choose from a small bank of activities that assist them in working on their goal (Goal Activities). Students have a chance to complete the same activity more than once but taking a different approach on the task. This process has shown us teachers that students are taking more control over their learning while practising the necessary skills they need. At the end of the week, students get the opportunity to choose any activity to complete, whether it be their goal or not. This allows them to try a different task which may focus on a different skill or strategy and keep the children engaged with their learning. Myself and my grade partner have since noticed improvements in students’ skills in different areas and an increased engagement in their learning.

 

Going into next term, we will be changing some student goals and we will be focussing on some key strategies that we have found some of our students are struggling with. Thankfully, the structure we have put into place from the beginning of the year will easily allow us to add and change activities and goals as needed. We will be focusing on the aspects of both Reading and Writing as we have noticed in the last term some students are finding some key skills and strategies difficult. Can’t wait to see how much our students have grown over the year, we have already seen so much growth!

The Beauty of Anchor Charts

Primary School teachers LOVE displays! We love making them and hanging them up for the children to use. Anchor charts are a tool used to assist students in achieving success within the classroom.

At the beginning of my teaching career the focus was mainly on Learning Intentions and Success Criteria stating what students are learning and what they need to do to be successful. I always thought to myself is this enough for the students? They’re not that appealing and there are a lot of words with limited images. In the last couple of years, particularly this year, anchor charts have become something of the norm at St Luke’s. In Stage 1, we build our anchor charts together as a class and students add in their thoughts and what they feel should go on the anchor chart which would help them in their learning. Once the anchor chart is complete, we find that the students are constantly using them when doing different topics or when they need reminding of certain things (e.g. behaviour, class norms, reminders). Anchor charts are visually appealing in the way that they’re colourful, have words, examples and pictures that match.

I knew there had to be value in creating anchor charts but using them in my classroom consistently has showed me how beneficial and valuable they really are. Anchor charts are great visuals for kids, students get involved in creating anchor charts which helps them better understand the content, anchor charts help teachers stay focused on the topic we are teaching as we have a set chart in mind and lastly, they are a valuable resource as students refer to them throughout their day and it allows teachers to reteach a skill if needed.

Like I said, teachers love displays and colours. Anchor charts allow us to create them whilst ensuring they are beneficial for our students- helping them in every way we can!

Classroom Teacher or Reading Recovery Teacher?

Many times I’m asked what grade do I teach, when I respond with I’m a Stage 1 teacher as well as a training Reading Recovery Teacher, many people are shocked. Most cannot believe that I am doing both simultaneously. Isn’t it hard? Isn’t it a lot of work? How do you manage? These are only some questions I receive with various other comments. In natural fact, being a classroom teacher and a Reading Recovery teacher is a fantastic combination. Yes, it is difficult at times, yes, I need to manage my time wisely but I have learnt so much and it has given me skills to benefit my students in the classroom.

The first year of training as a Reading Recovery teacher takes some getting used to. 2 terms in and I’ve learnt to work with being out of class every morning, balance my programming and lesson planning for both the classroom and Reading Recovery, completing all paperwork and going back into class to teach for the rest of the day. Yes, it has taken some getting used to; both components require lots of time, planning and effort but I am valuing this rewarding experience.

Although I have been teaching for 6years, Reading Recovery has given me an amazing professional development experience. It has allowed me to alter the way I teach reading in the classroom and has given me the opportunity to use what I have learnt in Reading Recovery to assist all the students in my class.

At the end of term 2, I was able to successfully refer 3 children off the Reading Recovery program. This success has given me confidence to bring another 3 children onto the program and begin the acceleration in their reading and in turn, help those students in the classroom who do not have access to the program currently. I can’t wait to see where all my students go with their reading over the year!