And around we go again!

Where did the holidays go?

For me the holidays were spent catching up with friends over afternoon teas, catching up with a bit of shopping, checking out different blogs on WordPress and getting our house renovated. We had the heating installer crawling around under our house one day and the electrician crawling around in our roof the next.

Well, after being back at school for one week the biggest topic of conversation among the teachers is how tired we are already! It’s actually been fascinating to hear how many of us don’t sleep particularly well before returning to school and during the first week back. The other topic of conversation is how challenging it is to return to getting up on schedule, eating on schedule and going to the bathroom on schedule. If that’s challenging for the teachers, how much more so for the students. At our school it is like starting a new year every term and that is exhausting.

I actually had to congratulate myself the other day: no one in my class has been crying and no one has wet themselves. (Yet!) What an achievement! The average age of my class has dropped by about another six months. I began the year with a Year 2/3. Term 2 I had a Year 1/2 and now I have got mainly Year 1. This term we had a huge influx of Prep children which is why my class is younger. The students have all been pushed up.

 

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(image: http://www.freeimages.com)

Student B is back in my class for this term. He began the week looking very settled and seemed to be understanding most of what I was saying. He seems pretty pleased that he is now one of the ‘old students’ and I have had to ask him to help me with the ‘new students’. However by Thursday, he couldn’t help himself. He began niggling other students in line and got into a fight at playtime. After sorting out the lining up order, the next thing on my list to do is to instigate the floor seating arrangement.

One thing I find fascinating about EAL teaching with new arrivals is how much the students learn and how much one actually teaches in a short period of time. By Wednesday, my class was beginning to settle quite nicely. We had played ‘Classroom instructions’ – which is a bit like musical chairs. The difference is that when the music stops, I call out an instruction like ‘Sit on your chair!’ and the students have to follow. We’d also done colours, days of the week, making requests and numbers to 20. Then… on Thursday I scored my thirteenth student… and the poor kid is having to work out which way is up when the other new students have already learnt this. He gets a crash course in colours and numbers to 20 which we revise but obviously don’t get to do in depth again. The class dynamics change yet again.

Such is life in the New Arrivals Program.

What if…?

A colleague and I were talking the other day. We came to the conclusion that there never seems to be enough hours in the day to get everything done.

Which makes me wonder – What if…?

What if teachers actually walked into school at the time they had to and walked out at the time they paid until?

For me that would mean turning up at work at 8:40am and leaving at 3:40pm. I would have an additional one hour meeting two nights a week and a negotiated hour of work for one night a week. This would make up my allocated 38 hour week.

Last year, the Victorian branch of the Australian Education Union (AEU) commissioned the Australian Council for Education Research (ACER) to survey Victorian teachers on their workload. It found that teachers in Victorian on average work an additional 14-15 hours per week. This number increases for teachers who hold positions of responsibility and increases again for principal class.

This week the Victorian AEU had its 2017 Agreement accepted by the Victorian teacher workforce. It now finalises its deals with the Education Department and away we go for another four years. Two features of this agreement are:

  • Four non-teaching, professional practice days per year for teachers
  • A 30+8 model

Neither of these two things really will do anything towards alleviating the workload facing teachers.

I have face-to-face teaching time for 22.5 hours per week. I am entitled to 2.5 hours of planning time per week. I then have three hours of meetings and .75 hours of yard-duty. Lunch clocks in at 2.5 hours per week where I don’t technically have to do anything work related. This takes me up to 31 hours of allocated time for the week. Then there is 45 minutes of planning time taken if you consider my start time is 25 minutes before the students start and my finish time is 20 minutes after they leave.

And I am still expected to:

  • display/update student work
  • upload photos to the system so that assemblies can go ahead
  • find or make resources
  • assess (whilst I teach or maintain some sort of learning)
  • write reports
  • communicate with parents
  • communicate with colleagues
  • deal with inappropriate student behaviour
  • complete teacher self-reflection
  • submit data and be prepared to justify why students may not have progressed
  • read, read, reflect and comment on the Teaching and Learning Cycle before the next staff workshop
  • reflect on my introduction of learning strategies into our specialist setting

And all of this needs to be done in my own time!

What if teachers turned around and said “No! I’m going home and I am not doing any more today!” Where would that leave the system?

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Image: www.freeimages.com

 

The latest ‘In Thing’

I forgot to bring home the maths tests that my students did today so that I could finish their reports. Ooops…. so I’ll do a bit of a catch up here instead.

…meanwhile in Victoria…

Schools are forever trying to improve student achievement and data scores and so new strategies for teaching and learning are always being implemented. Victoria’s latest thing is the Framework for Improving Student Outcomes. Our school is focusing on different strategies that research shows to be effective in improving student learning.

After our Professional Development day two weeks ago, the lower primary teachers set about designing a co-operative learning task. The challenge for us was that the task couldn’t be too language based because the group would fall in a heap with some students having very little English and others quite a bit more. We decided as part of our house unit, that the students could make a 3D house together with each student being responsible for a certain aspect of the house. The language would be built in with the criteria – what we were looking for in the group work and also in the debrief session that could be conducted afterwards.

I had my students work in groups of 2-3. One student had orange paper and was responsible for the top part of the house – the roof, the chimney, the TV aerial.

Another student had brown paper and was responsible for the middle of the house – the walls, the windows (there had to be at least four) and the doors (there had to be at least two).

The other student had green paper and was responsible for the garden, the fences and the letter box.

It was fascinating to watch the students. For the most part they were highly engaged and were using lots of English. There were a few little outbursts, but that is to be expected. The students seemed to enjoy taking on the responsibility of their roles and no one really tried to do someone else’s ‘job’. Student B, whom I wrote about a few weeks ago, was fairly subdued, when he realised that no one wanted to work with him. He was put into a group with two girls and together they did a good job.

I was possibly slightly disappointed that no group made 3D shapes for the roof or other aspects of the house considering that we had been learning about 3D shapes earlier in the week. But this could just be a developmental thing – they didn’t or couldn’t think in terms of 3D shapes.

 

 

Another aspect of the strategies, that we are implementing, is putting a Learning Intention up for the students to see  (and anyone walking past the classroom). Whilst I know that other schools have done this for quite a while, it is new for us. Also the idea that students evaluate how much effort they put into different tasks is part of the strategies that we are having to implement.

There was a lot of language in the debriefing session after the activity and the students assessed themselves critically against the criteria for making the houses. They were fairly self-critical too when I gave them a sticky note with their name on it and asked them to place it on the effort chart that you see above.

It was an interesting day of learning. I will never benefit fully from the students learning to work together as some of them will soon be leaving for their new schools. But it is something that needs to be started and learnt somewhere. If I had to sum up the day of learning in one word it would be – intense!

Have you been implementing strategies such as these at your school? What does it look like for you and your students?

 

The Good, The Bad and The Frustrating

This week has had a bit of everything in it. Most teachers would find they have weeks like this. Let’s start off with…

The Good

We headed off to Healesville Sanctuary on Thursday for an excursion to see some Australian animals. We have been learning a lot about Australian animals over the last two weeks. It’s amazing to see the language taught in the classroom come together when we are out and about. Students also want to  communicate with us, because excursions are so exciting!

The bit that I didn’t get is when all them began shouting “Koala! Koala! Koala!” at the same to the poor sleeping creature in the tree.

Some of the other ‘Good’ for this week included some very impromptu and unplanned lessons that resulted in a lot of language being used. After the excursion, the students and I were exhausted on the Friday. So I gave them some finger puppets to make – a platypus, a kangaroo, a koala and an emu. The students had a great time making them and then I bribed them to come up the front in pairs and have conversations between their puppets. It was fascinating to see how much oral language came out from most of the students as they moved into the characters of their puppets. For ‘having-a-go’, and other good behaviour for the day, most of them got chocolate smelling stickers. I just wish I had recorded their conversations with my iPad.

 

The Bad

Believe it or not, the Bad was also Healesville Sanctuary. With a few challenging students from my class and a few challenging students from the other class that we walked around with, it certainly made for a challenging day. Throw into the mix the other teacher and I both had head colds and the public’s perception of what student behaviour should be on excursions…

 

The Frustrating

Being unwell whilst teaching is hard. But leaving work for another teacher can be harder. This week I just continued on. As did most of the other sick teachers at school.

This week also saw two of my students not telling me when they needed ‘to go’. That’s frustrating. Enough said.

This week also saw one of my students get so worked up in a fight with another student that he began vomiting. That’s frustrating. Enough said there too.

 

How’s your week been?

Whose Problem Is It?

Well I am certainly procrastinating this afternoon. There are many things I should be doing – like getting my head around my lessons for the next week or getting on with my latest writing course assessment task. Instead, I find myself more interested in planning a family holiday that we will take later this year, or thinking about my latest blog post.

I continued on with some social learning at school this week. We had a lesson on ‘Whose Problem Is It?’ This was inspired by my youngest son’s trip to his psychologist the week before. The psych was getting my son to think about problems and whose job it was to solve problems. I liked this idea. A lot! So I pinched it for my class.

It always seems to happen that at the week three to four mark each term at our school, social problems begin to emerge. Students have enough language to begin ‘dobbing’ (also known as ‘tattling’) on each other. The lack of language does not stop them either. I get “He…(gesture of a punch, kick or slap)… me!” Dobbing is not limited to one particular culture – I think it is just the stage that many six and seven-year-old children go through. It may be heightened for those children who do not have a sibling at home to begin learning how to get along with others.

Anyway, this week I scored:

“Mrs G, Student B colour his emu rainbow colour!”

And “Mrs G, Student C colour his koala yellow!”

And I had told them not to colour their emus pink or purple or their koalas green. (And past tense verbs are on my list of things to cover.) Cue me sighing and inward groaning and eye rolling. In the past I have even been told “Mum forgot to put my homework in my bag!” (really?)

So I made up a series of common ‘problems’ and spent a lesson with the students sorting them into groups. The aim of the lesson was for students to recognise that not all problems are their problems and to take responsibility for the problems that are theirs.

The four groups for sorting were:

  • Mrs G’s problems
  • Mum or Dad’s problems
  • My friend’s problems
  • My problems

 

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The picture above shows some of the scenarios given. (For the record I do not have a Jack or Anna in my class. They are fictitious students who do all sorts of things that my real students relate to.)

Some of the scenarios generated a lot of discussion, such as “Jack said mean things to my friend.” I was also really pleased that the students were able to generate more ideas for each of the four categories after sorting my pre-selected problems. Now I can say to my students when some dobbing occurs ‘Whose problem is it?’

Now I have a question for you. I will give you a scenario. This scenario is somewhat too common in our schools. I will then ask you the question: Whose Problem Is It?

A refugee student is struggling to learn at school. Whose Problem Is It?

  • Is the problem the student’s – who approaches everything with a negative outlook and struggles to retain even basic information?
  • Is the problem the parents’ – who maybe don’t understand their adopted country’s education system and are possibly struggling to stay positive themselves?
  • Is the problem the teacher’s – who scratches her head after trying all sorts of strategies including modelling a positive attitude to approaching learning and trying new challenges?
  • Is the problem the school’s – where the funding has been slashed and there is no longer support programs in place for students such as these?
  • Is the problem the wider community’s – who collectively needs to think more carefully about taking on traumatised refugees and provide not only housing and material assistance but also social and psychological support?

As for my current problem, what I should be doing, that is my problem and I take responsibility for it. But maybe I will go and play video games with my kids for a bit first.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Find out what it means to me

Aretha Franklin’s song lyrics have been ruminating through my mind over the last week or so. Respect can be hard to pin down and define, but it is definitely noticed when it is not present!

I have a challenging little fellow in my class this term who seems to have no idea of even the beginnings of respect. For the sake of privacy and anonymity, I will refer to him as Student B.

Respect is a two-way thing in the classroom. As a teacher, I try to show my respect to the students by treating them fairly and consistently, by listening to them, by minimising their embarrassment over mistakes or accidents and expecting them to have-a-go. Respect for my students is me saying ‘You are somebody. You matter.’

Students show respect when they look, when they listen, when they follow instructions, when they are not answering back or ‘in your face’. Respect from a student shows an openness to learning and a willingness to try something new or different. Student B rarely looks, rarely tries and rarely listens. He then expects my full attention when he wants it. His lack of respect makes him selfish and rude. Add in a strong sense of entitlement, and potentially this child will find it hard to learn to his full capacity.

So where do we learn respect? For ourselves and for others? Surely we learn this at home and through interactions with our primary caregivers?

I watched Student B leave after school the other week. He ran to his mother, dumped his bag, jumper and drink bottle on her and then reached up and ruffled her ears much like one would ruffle a dog’s ears. She just beamed at him, like he could do no wrong. Until she saw me and then looked mildly embarrassed. Student B just grinned when he noticed me watching him. I was shocked. My own three children would have been swatted away with a scowl and told ‘I’m your mother, not your wrestling buddy!’ if they had tried this with me.

Student B’s arrival in my class has prompted some social skills lessons. The other week we learnt about personal space and I had my students role play scenarios where someone got too close to them. They had to practise saying  ‘Stop it. I don’t like it!’ and ‘You’re too close. Move back!’ The challenge is to have offenders, like Student B, respect other people’s wishes. Student B has learned that Mrs G doesn’t like fish lips with kissing noises inches from her face. He is learning too that my no means no.

In an effort to understand him a little more, and get his mother alongside in terms of his learning, I set up a meeting with her, another teacher and a first language aide. It certainly provided some insights. His mother agreed that Student B likes to be first, the loudest and the best and that he is not shy about doing so. She mentioned that he didn’t begin talking in his first language until he was three years old which may explain his reluctance with speaking. When we asked her to allow him to take more responsibility for his own things and for things at home, she seemed to understand. But she may have a hard time following through. It is hard to break some habits.

Despite the meeting with his mum, Student B will continue to have his challenges.  I cannot force him to respect me but I can put in place my boundaries and expectations. He will learn and is already learning. I almost laughed, but not with joy, more with exasperation, when I heard his first English sentence this week. He was jostling with some boys about where to stand in line and came out with –

‘I am number one!’

 

Assumptions Not to Make in the English as an Additional Language Classroom.

The last two weeks have been crazily busy with family related things. My youngest turned 8 which required parties and presents, grandparents and cakes. These things are all fun, but did require some serious time for planning and execution.

My oldest, is getting ready for high school next year.  The big transition from Year 6 to Year 7 is looming. And the main issue for us is that we are out of zone for the school that we would like him to attend. So we have been going on school tours and making up application packages. Everything has now been submitted and we have to wait until August 9 to find out where he is off to next year.

Last week at school I was hit by some assumptions that I was making but probably shouldn’t when teaching six and seven year-old New Arrivals in Australia. So for a laugh, here are some photos and some assumptions not to make in the EAL classroom.

 

1: Don’t assume that students have had the same access to physical development programs as in your own country.

 

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This photo shows part of the Physical Education program that we run for the younger students at our school. We try to teach the language of ‘balancing’, ‘jumping’, ‘hopping’, ‘skipping’ and so on as part of the program. The students also need the body confidence and awareness to be able to learn effectively in the classroom. A lot of this learning would typically occur in Australia in Kindergarten programs and in the first year of school. My students are being prepared for the second and third year of school in Victoria. Three weeks into the term and most of our students are running up the ramp and over the A-frame with a jump onto the mat. This child has developed in confidence also, but is still hanging on with her hand as she negotiates the top of the A-frame.

 

2: Don’t assume that students will correctly colour in the flag of your country.

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This is Australia’s ‘official’ flag in terms of country recognition. I know we have our Australian Aboriginal flag but that concept is a little too much at this point for my learners. So despite talking about the Australian flag being red, blue and white and talking about the stars and the parts of the flag, and having a flag on display one student gave me this.

After all, stars are yellow, aren’t they?

They are, especially if you have a Chinese background, and you are six years old.

 

3: Don’t assume that copying is easy.

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This student was so proud of his work and I realised “Copying is so hard….” He copied the date and the sentence ‘Yesterday was ANZAC day.’  The second sentence was his. Compared to his peers, his drawing lacks maturity. There is a lot of work that needs to be done with this student both academically and in terms of overall maturity.

 

4: Don’t assume a student knows how to use a scrapbook.

 

 

This student completed a task at the start of his scrapbook. The next task was glued into the middle of his scrapbook and the last task was glued in near the end of his scrapbook. Oops! I had to get out the date stamp and stamp everything for when I go back through his work. Needless to say that this child is now on my ‘got to get to first’ list when we start new tasks so I can get him to the next page. Hopefully he’ll get the hang of it soon.

What assumptions have you made in your teaching or work? I’d love to hear some of your stories.