Sunday, 18 May 2014

Getting to Know You, Getting to Know All About You..........

If any of us ever needed convincing of the benefits of being a connected educator, the #hackyrclass project must surely allay any doubts. It shows the collaboration, deep reflection and encouragement that can occur within a PLN even if we have never even laid eyes on one another. Wow! This is really powerful stuff that could never have occurred ten years ago! I am really enjoying being provoked by Claire Amos, Steve Mouldey, the edchatnz community and all those participating in the HackyrClass project. I have been challenged to think deeply about teaching as a craft and I find myself noticing things and questioning my practice even more.  Unfortunately, I seem to have found myself a week behind in my blogging already so this is an attempt to catch up, ready for a big week thinking about design thinking!

Awwwww......I am a sucker for cows! Image from

We know getting to know our learners is fundamental to their success. In the past, this meant a real focus on assessment data. Our school prides itself on its pastoral care and donates half a Teacher Only Day to handing over information about our current students to their next year's teacher. We have a kind of speed-dating session (with less emphasis on speed) where we discuss individuals and receive detailed information about how best to ensure their transition into our class is as seamless as possible in regards to both their academic, social and emotional needs. This enables us to pick up where the previous teacher left off and gets the year started with a hiss and roar so to speak. This is significantly different from when I first started teaching and we used to tell parents that reading and maths groups wouldn't start until Week 4 so we could spend the first three weeks doing running records, Gloss, Schonell and a host of other assessments! Why?! Were our colleagues and the data they had gathered not to be trusted? Hopefully, nowadays we trust the data (and our colleagues) a little more. What's that saying about pigs? Weighing the pigs won't make them any fatter? Something like that.......

Anyway, fortunately we now focus more on formative assessments to give us a clearer picture of our learners' academic needs but how do we get to know our learners as people? How do we learn what makes them "tick" and what will engage them? How do we find out what they need to enable them to learn and make them feel valued in the classroom?

Here are a three things we have done in our classroom to help create a community of learners where we have a handle somewhat on knowing our learners and the learners(including me) knowing each other.

1. Google Pres/ Class Smackdown-

Over the summer, my teaching partner and I sent out a letter to each class member. There's nothing like receiving snail mail, right? In the letter, we included a link to a google pres asking the girls to each add a page about themselves, sharing everything they wanted the rest of the class and their teachers to know about them.


I haven't asked the girls' permission to share this so have only included three slides but I'm sure you get the idea. The variety of the slides was quite phenomenal and enabled each student to have five minutes to share the essence of themselves with their new classmates. The girls created their slide during the holidays so sharing the pres was a really fun activity for Day 1 of the new school year.

2. Creating a digital story about ourselves-

Last year, we used Animoto to create short clips about our passions and things that we value. This allowed us to learn a little more about our girls and what makes them happy. (Again, I haven't had the opportunity to ask last year's students for permission to share their work so you are learning more about me that you need to! Sorry about that!)

3. An introductory post on our class blog-

Our first Unit of Inquiry this year was a digital citizenship inquiry with a focus on expressing ourselves in online spaces. In a nod to that 1990s classic piece of Australian film, "The Castle" with its famous "Straight to the Poolroom" quote, we called our inquiry, "Straight to the Blog," acknowledging that the blog would be the place we shared our most prized learning. After watching the clip on youtube, this became a bit of a team joke and hence the name stuck.

Each student created a blog post introducing themselves to our blog readers, taking into account issues surrounding privacy and safety. Girls were encouraged to be creative and ensure that there was enough variety amongst the 88 girls in the Year 7/8 team and four class blogs to keep the readers engaged. Here's a great example;

I hope that these tasks have shown our learners that their teachers care about getting to know them. Perhaps it is not knowing what musical instruments or sports our students play that really matters but more that we have shown them that we really are interested in who they are and want to celebrate and acknowledge their unique interests and experiences.

 What sorts of things have you done in your class to get to know your learners?