Sunday, 22 February 2015

Ideas for group work in the high school classroom: Wāhanga Rua

Part Two:

I am ready to roll out my groups tomorrow! I feel I know the students well enough and have enough data to group them appropriately. I have decided I will need to review these groups over the rest of the term. I will be satisfied if they are fully established by the start of Term 2.Here is the written instruction I will provide students tomorrow, after I have told them their groups.

Groups groups groups!

Your first project as a group!

1. Choose an abstract noun that will be a goal for your group to work on. You need to find out the English, Maori and any other relevant translations of the word. I will discuss this with your group over the coming week and will help you decide. Think of this as your core value, like Trident's core values of manaakitanga, kia manawa nui and whaia te iti kahurangi. Once you have made your selections Ohinemataroa [our hapu] will potentially have TWENTY core values to strive to fulfill!!

Then either:

2. Suggest a 'patron' of your group. Think Harry Potter and patronuses except different. They must be: a New Zealander and creating the kind of thing we might study in English. So they could be a lyricist, director, author, actor, illustrator... Again, I will help you choose. Our hapu's patron will be Lorde.


3. Design a flag or sigil for you whanau. Remember that your whanau has up to 30 members across four different classes. How can you best represent those 30 people? Hint: perhaps you could ask me what your other group members have chosen as their core value.

I will be there to help with all of this - it's not a test!

I have also created a poster that will be on my door and probably on the whiteboard. And duh, on my computer's desktop! So the kids will now see this whenever there's no Power Point, video, etc on my projector screen. I'm a genius.

I can take no credit for the creation of the poster. I used the website Canva, literally didn't choose the fonts, found the image on Google Image Search and that's about it. The only thing I came up with was splitting into five. So I'm hoping one of my more artistic students decides to create a more snazzy poster for our hapu. Visual and verbal text credits? Yes please!

I'm sure you can gather from the poster that I have chosen my hapu name as well as the five whanau. Ohinemataroa is the proper Maori name for Whakatane River, and the other five are the surrounding rivers from this region. Some words are supposed to have macrons but unfortunately this font wouldn't recognise the macron-ed symbols.

I'm a little nervous about how the roll out will go, but I think I'll have enough buy in to make it work.

You may have seen my creative writing starters posts and be wondering what that's all about. I plan to talk about them in my next post or so. Suffice to say, my participation in the writing starters seems to be increasing student participation - yay for bribery!

Whāia te iti kahurangi ki te tūohu koe me he maunga teitei
Pursue excellence – should you stumble, let it be to a lofty mountain

Friday, 13 February 2015

Creative writing starters 8

He knew that they were wrong due to the unmistakable scent of smoke fuming from the peak of the island: that slightly sweet, slightly woody smell of warmth and dryness that only comes from a human burning wood that has been stored over the seasons.
Peter questioned whether he should continue to propel his small tinny forward, or whether he should abandon this mission. He loosened his grip on the throttle to slow the vessel and turned away from the island, back towards the navy's intimidating frigate. Even though the distance between himself and the ship was significant, at least half a mile, he could feel the eyes of his superiors burning through their binoculars, questioning his every move, his every decision. 

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Creative writing starters 7

The cherub sat atop the concrete slab building contemplating the consequences of his mistakes. Given that this situation was entirely new, he wondered if it were possible to undo his fateful shot. But therein lay the conundrum: that tricky word 'fate'. Even Cupid could not choose fate. Even the destination of Cupid's arrows was predetermined by some higher being.
All around the innocent victim, a commotion was exploding. The arrow's effect was taking over and the audience members affections were being stirred. Oblivious, the comedian continued to expound his stand-up routine, wooing thousands with every syllable, every smile, every mimed gesture. The security guards were struggling to focus on the task at hand, bursts of love emanating inexplicably from their hearts.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Ideas for group work in the high school classroom

Kia ora all! This blog post is a real train of thought, work in progress entry. I have a lot of ideas about using groups in my class and I'm sure this plan will be refined over the coming weeks. I really look forward to hearing your thoughts, suggestions and questions!

I have mentioned before that my department is invigorating our junior program and that these plans are ongoing. A key part of this change is that we are guided by four Kaupapa or themes throughout the year, one in each term. We are starting the year with Papatuanuku and I have explained to the students that we will be considering our texts through this lens.

I have also started the year with my desks in groups for the first time, having never had room before. And that's what this blog post is all about - how I am going to use these groups in the classroom.

Here is the plan:

- I will name the five groups of desks (six desks per group) after a local body of water or landmark: Ohiwa, Rangitaiki, Tarawera, etc. To be confirmed.
- As Trident is our iwi, I will refer to my classroom as a hapu and each group of desks would be a whanau (across classes, for example, there will be at least three groups of students who are "Ohiwa" across at least three different classes)
- each group, in each class, will decide upon an abstract noun that they will aspire to demonstrate. For example aroha, manaakitanga, perseverance... This idea comes from my husband's plan to integrate the qualities of a good teammate into his Sports in Education class.
- somehow, each group of desks will end up with a flag or sigil, a couple of abstract nouns (from the different groups in different classes) and most excitingly, a patron of the arts. Ideally the patron will be a New Zealand author, director, screenwriter, lyricist or actor.

I have two Year 9 classes and a Year 10 class so I'm not sure how to divvy up the research and decision making when it comes to the flags and patrons, but I'm excited about how these decisions can be part of my classroom teaching about visual and verbal texts as well as the context of New Zealand art and literature.

Some decisions I am yet to make are:

- will these groups be flexible? Might I have to jiggle students throughout the year, or is the point to work through any issues with each group by falling back on their core value, as well as my school's core values?
- how will I determine the groups? I will certainly not be splitting them into curriculum levels from lowest to highest. The next obvious choice is to spread each level of ability across each group of desks. Alternatively I could base my decision initially on personality, and subsequently on reshuffling if I notice a predominance of a certain curriculum level at one table. While one of my classes is technically 'streamed' the students do cover a range of two or three curriculum levels, the other two are definitely mixed ability due to their special interest nature (Great Barrier Island group and BYOD class).
- I am also keen to get my seniors to buy into this, but as my Level 1 class is tiny and my Level 2 class is strong willed and very 'cool' I may struggle. They may dismiss the whole thing as very primary school. One strategy might be to not even mention it to them and see if they react to the posters and values going up around the walls.

What do I hope to get out of this?

- accountability, enthusiasm, belonging
- bonding within each group
- I hope that awareness of the other groups who occupy your set of desks will encourage more responsibility as a citizen of the classroom: less graffiti, rubbish and gum under desks.
- More interest in wall displays and therefore other students' work
- behaviour management through positive peer pressure
- more opportunities for peer teaching
- an increase in student progress (hopefully this is the overarching reason why we do anything in the classroom!)

I will see how Term 1 goes and if these ideas are not enough on their own to achieve my goals I may look at introducing some form of inter or intra (or both) group competition. Thankfully we have a fantastic PB4L system of core value certificates and of 'coffee club' stamps that are a simple way to acknowledge and encourage positive behaviour and work ethics. I'm not big on competition in the classroom, but my boisterous junior boys may require that kind of motivation

As you can see I am very excited about how this will work. I'm already thinking about the future and whether I would keep the names the same across the years or whether I could branch out and use different kinds of philosophies, names of novels, international authors, past successful students, the options are limitless...

I would love to hear your ideas, suggestions and advice. Do you use groups in the classroom? Do they stay the same all year? What do kids like or not like about this approach?

Whāia te iti kahurangi ki te tūohu koe me he maunga teitei
Pursue excellence – should you stumble, let it be to a lofty mountain

Creative writing starters 6

Snowflakes melted on the tips of his eyelashes. Swathes of snow crunched underfoot. The smelt distinctly of nothing except cold. His eyes crinkled against the intense white light reflecting off every surface.
In the distance a fir tree trembled and snow fell to the ground with a wumpf. The boy flinched, startled. He shaded his eyes with numb fingers and stared at the tree. Was that...? No, it couldn't be... A large beaver, perhaps the size of a 12 year old child, was standing upright, brushing snow from his glistening coat.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Creative Writing Starters 5

"It's so nice to finally meet you," it said, grinning from ear to ear. 
The shaggy polar bear registered his visitor's glistening white fur and glanced down at his own yellowed pelt.
He emitted a low growl as his eyes cast down to the watery depths surrounding him. Shame engulfed every inch of his being and tears stung at his eyes. The polar bear swallowed back his shame. The visitor realised the impact his presence was having on the captive animal and began to nervously fidget with his own glistening coat, shuffling his plastic paws from side to side.
After a moment of shared anxiety the polar bear could take it no more and pushed his gigantic paws against the thick glass, launching his body away from the visitor, leaving a swirl of bubbles behind.
The visitor drooped his head in disappointment and turned to leave, confused by the whole experience.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Creative Writing Starters 4

It was finally there, after all those years, right in front of him. He reached out a gnarled hand and grasped at the square of glistening air in front of him. The particles shifted and danced under his light touch, drawn towards the density of his skin. The square of air looked to be caressing his arthritic fingers. He flexed his wrist, his palm, his thumb, each taut digit. Slowly, he reached through. Slowly, the tips of his fingers began to disappear: first his nails, then each knuckle 1 2 3 4, then again 1 2 3 4 and now his thumb knuckly and the last 1 2 3 4 and 5. All that remained was his palm, his fingerless palm.
Suddenly he felt his fingers grasped from the other side and his palm, forearm, elbow, his whole being was jerked through the square of air. His feet left the solid ground and he was plunged into darkness.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Creative Writing Starters 3

You have a set of minions for a week...

If I had a set of minions for a week would ask them to:

- complete everything on my to do list (everything at school and at home)
- buy a freezer and prepare a year's worth of food
- make me an emergency kit because I keep putting that off and one should always be prepared
- finish sewing the dresses that I bought the material for over a year ago
- load my iPod with all my new music
- custom build a book shelf and coffee table from recycled wood
- finish the fence on my property so I can get a dog.

Creative Writing Starters 2

I am 28. I am absolutely sure that I will never forget the joy of listening to a wide variety of music. Not all adults have forgotten this, but I get the impression that the older one gets the more narrow ones taste in music becomes. I love exploring and discovering new artists, sounds, lyrics. I hope

I am 28. I am absolutely sure that I will never forget the fear that I am missing out on an alternative life. I am on a certain track now: a home, a partner, a job, cats. Could I  be living in New York, being an artist? In France being a nanny? In Asia being a translator? Am I missing out? People older than me seem so certain about their choices and so dedicated to the one life path that they have in front of them. Or perhaps it is that no one wants to give a voice to these fears, no one wants to look a gift horse in the mouth and question their happiness.

Creative Writing Starters

Undercover 101:

1. Get braces.
2. Wear either Vans or Chuck Taylors.
3. If you are a boy, grow your hair long and sweep it to the side. Buy a cap, leave the shiny stickers on. Wear cap always. Do not wash.
    If you are a girl, grow your hair long and wear it out no matter how impractical. You may risk injury in wood tech but that's just a risk you'll have to take.
4. Do not get a pencil case. That would be lame.
5. Avoid getting a back pack if at all possible. That would also be lame.
6. Do not call teachers by their full name. Miss or Mr will suffice. Anything more and you will be noticed by your 'peers'.
7. Avoid reading at all costs.
8. Use your phone incessantly in class.
9. Refuse to engage in any and all attempts at integration of technology by the teacher. That would be lame. Technology is for socialising, not for education.
10. Swing on any chair you sit on all the time.

Sunday, 1 February 2015


I always thought I'd never be one of those people who would start a professional blog only to write a few entries then leave it dormant for SIX MONTHS. But I often make assumptions about my own behaviour and get it very wrong (there's a lesson lurking in that statement!).
BUT, I do have several reasons for my silence, so allow me to attempt to condense six months of work and holidays into one brief, informative blog entry.

Great Barrier Island:

My initial lapse in writing was due to a five week trip on Great Barrier Island. I accompanied 29 Year 10 students on a program run by what was then the Outdoor Pursuits Centre and is now Hillary Outdoors. This trip consumed all of Term 3 - I was at school for the first three weeks of term and entirely focussed on preparing my remaining classes for my absence. The last two weeks of term were all about supporting the Year 10s upon their return and catching up my other classes.
In my naievty I had intended to blog once or twice from the island. There was no time for that! While away I was mother, nurse, teacher, slave driver, friend, coach, chef, cleaner, photographer... And still managed to spend plenty of time fishing, snorkeling, tramping, reading and watching Blackadder!
The five weeks was not devoid of writing - the class's form teacher provided them all with journals in which to record their experiences and a printer to keep up with all the photos. I devoted a lot of time to this project as well in order to preserve my memories of this hectic time. Below is a photo of one page of this journal.
This year I am very fortunate to have the 2014 GBI group as my form class, and I will again teach the 2015 GBI class for English. While I could go on and on about this amazing experience I will save my stories for the future and dish them out in moderation.

A journal entry. The photo is of a beach that Sir Edmund Hillary used to play at, taken by my colleague Nigel.

Returning to school last year:

Just like the students I found the return to school very challenging. I had already decided I would not dean in 2015 and felt demotivated and sapped of energy - not by my time on GBI, but from being back at school. One significant way in which our perception had changed was that we all noticed negativity much more readily. I, like the students, longed to return to our paradise. I knew that I would adjust in time, but did not expect it to take all of Term 4 - it is only now that I am starting the year fresh that I am feeling back to my old teacher self.

The holidays!

These summer holidays we chose to stay at home almost the whole time which has been a first for us. We had two very good reasons - firstly we just bought our own house and secondly we got married mid January. This summer was perfection - full of swimming in the sea and the river, gardening, nesting, family time and the best party ever. I refused to talk about school and avoided reading anything about education online! Without a doubt those six weeks have enabled me to return to work itching to get back into the classroom.

Those are my three very good reasons for not blogging until now. A five week island retreat (yeah right!), a two month period of soul searching, buying a house and getting married!

Term 1, 2015:

Well, a lot is different this year. I am back to a full teaching load and can focus solely on my own classes and being a supportive and productive member of my department. I have two Year 9 classes, one of which is a BYOD class, the Year 10 English class who will go to GBI for 5 weeks, an internal Year 11 class and an exam Year 12 class. I think my next entry will be about the texts I intend to teach. I have lots of new ideas, but for me it's always about trying to limit the amount of new texts I teach otherwise I make it too hard on myself.
The second major thing that is different this year is that I am post-GBI, where I did learn a lot. As I wrote above, I struggled to remain positive upon my return. And so that is my main goal for this year: to remain positive. It is a struggle. So often we want to vent with our colleagues. But a significant component of my training at NZGSE was an acknowledgement of the 'culture of complaint' prevalent in most workplaces and the need to deal with it. I'm not suggesting that my school has a 'culture of complaint' any worse than any other New Zealand secondary school, but I am saying I will try to be more positive this year.

A new year! A new me! A new you? I'm looking forward to the adventure!

 Whāia te iti kahurangi ki te tūohu koe me he maunga teitei
Pursue excellence – should you stumble, let it be to a lofty mountain