About Me

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Melbourne, VIC, Australia
2nd Grade Teacher at a school in Melbourne, Australia. My job: push kids to think. My passion: helping kids to tackle the life-long skill of searching for meaning, skills, answers and more questions.

Monday, 12 October 2015

60 Minutes - The rest of the story

Hi there! 

You may be visiting here after seeing the Homework story on 60 Minutes Australia recently.  Welcome.

I hope 60 Minutes doesn't mind me using this image....

I wanted to share this quick blog post with you to help you see that there is indeed a little more to 'the rest of the story'.    Firstly, perhaps check out this clip that made the 'Extra Minutes' section of the 60 Minutes website.

To be clear:  I am grateful to the 60 Minutes team for helping to tell the first part of my story.  I feel it's important for me to now keep the conversation moving.  I think I can start to do that in ten statements.  If you like what you see, please look further back into the story here and let me know what you think.

The 10 things you oughta know about what I do with home learning

A summary of  the last 5 years of study, reading, trial, error, success, review, pilot, debate and toil goes like this:

1.  My students set goals for themselves - both academic and personal.  They are only 7 and 8 years old but they are starting to learn about SMART goals and growth mindsets.  As was shown in the 'extra minutes' section of the show on Sunday, I have by no means just dropped everything.

2.  My students know that, "A goal without a plan is just a wish".  They plan their weeks themselves - learning about time management, balance and a targeted work ethic.  They discuss and negotiate these plans under a gradual release of responsibility model.

3.  I've created scores of activities that will help kids to work towards certain key goals that they should be striving towards at their age level.  They choose tasks that they like, can complete independently and know will help them to reach their goals.  They do sometimes need 'gentle prodding' towards tasks that I know will help them.

4.  I check the plans and talk with kids about their progress every day. 
Every. Single. Day.
I check plans and even write on them, when needs be, but I don't pile on pressure.  I understand that there are nights where we just feel sleepy or Uncle Brian wanted to play with water guns.  I monitor to see patterns of engagement, not checking a tick sheet of worksheets handed in.  Plans can change.  Successful learning behaviours develop over time - when guided by a team of committed adults.  My kids' parents are my partners in this.  None of this happens without their trust, questioning, input and support.

5.  We talk constantly in large groups, small groups and even on an individual level about goals and plans.  We talk about moments that worked, activities that were fun or boring, things that went wrong and so much more.

6.  We read.  We read an awful lot - not because it's a time filler, but because I believe that it is the essence of a learner and I want to empower my students.  I have well over 2000 books in my class library.  These kids are expected to be taking books home every day.  They have enough to choose from!

7.  We do spelling lists... and tests.  I'm in the process of trying to innovate here.  I see this still existing in some form or other when I'm done.  It's important to have some targets.  I've been studying reading and spelling for a few years now.  More later.

8.  While I hate to enter into an adversarial power-trip about 'homework', I will 'call a student out' (quietly and with compassion) if I think they are trying to 'play the system'.  They have got it pretty good with this setup.  I let them know that they oughta respect what they have and to use the opportunity to grow and learn.

9.  These kids are learning to WANT to do work at home.  They are starting to see the benefits of goals, plans and growth.  They are learning to manage their time and they are learning that with greater responsibility comes greater power.

10.  After 5 years of putting my heart and soul into this, it is still a work in progress....

If you want to know much, much more about the journey, please feel free to check out this blog and take a look around.  The posts have been a tad sporadic over the years, I know.  I just often get caught up in the 'doing', rather than the 'blogging about'.  Thanks for your time.

Mr Black
'That dude who really should shave before going on TV'

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Home Learning Task Card #2 - Darts Footy

I've decided that an image of each task card isn't a bad idea.  Takes a bit of time, but these images could come in handy at some point anyway.  Hence... this:

The picture is cool... but if you want to download it for editing, you'll need to use Dropbox.  
You'll need to set up an account quickly, but I promise to make this worth your while.
Free, editable resources, Peeps.

This is a quintessentially Australian version of darts... You don't exactly need to understand Aussie Rules Football to play this, but it might make things a bit more fun if you 'google' AFL first.

One of my 'extension' kiddies this year was blown away by the idea of making goals and behinds worth more than the traditional 6 and 1 points respectively.  You don't even need a dartboard.  Just print one out and play on the carpet, stabbing through the paper with a pencil/chopstick/knitting needle/razor-sharp kitten claw....

Do I really need to tell you to be careful when dealing with these things?
Anyway, this is one of many task cards shared on my Dropbox folder.  You are welcome to have a look, download what you like and use at your leisure.  If it means that some more kids don't have to face traditional homework structures, then I'm happy.  If you go for the goal-setting, weekly planning and children selecting their own tasks, I'll be thrilled.

Comments or questions always welcomed.  Happy Easter, Tutti.

Friday, 3 April 2015

HomeLearning Task Card #1 - Weekly Number

For this first post, I've decided to add an image of the task card - simply so you can see the format straight away.  I've looked into the best way to share these files and I've decided to create a folder on DropBox.

Making this image took quite a while... dunno if I'll do this each time.
Should I?

If you are interested in downloading the Word Document for your own editing purposes, please do feel free to click the link here.   I am sharing these resources with you for free in a spirit of collaboration.  Please do let me know when you refine my resource and inevitably make it better.

That's one task card shared... so many more to go.
I hope you enjoy.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

HomeLearning - A new, streamlined process explained.

So I had to wait until holidays to share this post.  
I find term time too intense to add blog posts - especially ones as epic as this series is gonna be.  

I'm about to share over 30 Task Cards with you all.   
These cards help my students choose and complete HomeLearning tasks for themselves. 

The Head of Junior School at my new school is a keen supporter of the Gradual Release of Responsibility model that I've called 'Home Learning'.  I am, once again, blessed to work for a boss who is keen to support innovation.  Together we discussed what the parent body would need to support them in implementation.  TheBoss has helped me to build a model that better informs parents about what we are learning, helps them to feel and to become a part of the process, greatly improved communication and helped to establish a healthy degree of student accountability.

Together, we developed the idea of Task Cards.  

After briefly explaining the process of HomeLearning as it exists at this new school, the next 30 or so posts will be a mass-sharing of the Task Cards that we've made....  

I want to share what we've created so that we can continue to build a network of ideas.

Firstly, a quick re-cap of the HomeLearning process as it stands now:

HomeLearning in my Year 2 class is based on the same model as previously - with some cool tweaks:

1.  WE set some SMART goals together. 
These are typed by me, printed and glued in the space at the top of the page.  This process is not as arduous as it may seem though it does take some practice to develop goals quickly with kids.

2.  I incorporate SPELLING 'lists' * into the planning page.
There are two sections - One that I set as a phoneme focus.  The other section is for personal words.
We incorporate words from home, personal writing and personal interest in this section.
* WAY more on spelling lists later!

3.  Students set up a WEEKLY PLAN page.
They are encouraged to add all reading, co-curricular activities and family activities.
Many 7yr old kids CAN plan for themselves when they are shown how, guided at first and then expected to do it for themselves.  Several students in my class can NOT do this independently.
Hence the Gradual Release of Responsibility - differentiated for individual needs.

4.  Students CHOOSE tasks that will help them develop their goals.
This is easy enough at this stage - As I am negotiating the SMART goals, I can advise (if needed) which tasks would help with these goals.  By week 6 of Term 1, I was able to give many students almost full autonomy with this step of the process.

5.  I check that tasks are BALANCED and SUITABLE.
No matter how independent a student has been up to this point, I still check each plan to ensure that it is created properly.  I focus on different areas with different kids.  With less independent kids, I help to plan a balanced week and I help with task choice.  With more independent kids, I help them to see where tasks can be extended to suit their accelerated learning.

6.  Students ENSURE that they have the required task cards and resources for the week.
We have a brief time on Monday afternoons where students are asked to ensure that they have all the resources they will need for the tasks they have chosen.  It's important to note that they will have been shown a task before choosing it.  They will know what is required already.

7.  Parents CHECK that timings are realistic for the week.
This is a really vital part of the process.  The term started with many questions written on plans on Tuesday mornings after parents had seen the week's plan.  By week 6, the only notes on plans were notes to their child such as, "Great plan, Kid!"

So there you have it.  That's the process in year 2 in my little neck of the woods each week.  
I hope this makes the process clear.  
It was pretty stressful to get established, but it has been SO worth it.  
I can't wait to see these kids totally running the show for themselves as this year goes on.

As always - PLEASE ask questions or offer suggestions.

Next post - The first task card!

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Refining the product for its stakeholders

Refining the product for its stakeholders

I'm sorry.

"If my child is not doing maths at home, how will he consolidate maths learning?"
"My son will do what you tell him to do.  Why not just 'tell him' to do homework?"
"How will this program prepare my daughter for high-school?"
"Should I be hiring a private tutor?"
"What should my child's au pair be doing?  She needs the structure."
"Will my child learn to be lazy?"
"Is my child developing an unhealthy reliance on Minecraft?"
Remember these old chestnuts from a few years back at my Parent Teacher Interviews?  I sure do.  These questions have followed me. They have pursued me across state lines.  They constantly challenge me..... and so they should too.  They are some of the most important challenges that I face.
In two days, some parents will raise these and other challenges.  I am preparing in two ways.  1. A quick blog post to clarify my ideas for myself. and 2. By ironing as many creases out of the product as time will allow.
After consulting with TheNewBoss, the product is becoming more refined already.  His 2c has certainly improved the concept.  Tomorrow - after a day at the MCG for World Cup Cricket today - I will create the A4 sheet where each student will write their goals, their weekly plan and their daily reflections.  This page will be glued weekly into their HomeLearning book and be a one-stop shop for the parents to see what the goals are and what the plan is.
A4 sheet of accountability - That's next.
After that, I am going to get started on task cards for as many Home Learning activities as I can think of.  Some parents finish a hard days work and head home to hear their child cry, "I don't know how to play dart footy!  I don't understand it!"  I can sense their frustration.  I can even imagine them seeing their child playing darts and wondering if this even IS learning what they need to learn. 
Task cards will allow parents (and au pairs) to see:
a) that a task is sanctioned and negotiated with a professional
b) that it is considered worthwhile academically 
c) that it is targeted towards a specific goal 
as well as seeing
d) the steps to completing the task - no more than 5 simple steps.
"Uh..... sounds pretty structured and stale to me....." I hear you think.
Yeah.  For year 2 kids, in an authentic Gradual Release of Responsibility model, I guess it is.  But these kids will learn that With Great Responsibility Comes Great Power.  As they take control of their goal setting, planning and implementation, we adults can step aside and let them show us what they've got.
As a sidebar here... I've searched the internets this morning for this twist on the famous Spiderman quote and found nothing.  I am now claiming it for myself and for TheHomeworkAdventure.  Dibs!
I really do....
A4 record sheets seem a smart way to keep this process accountable.
Task cards give clear directions for activities that the kids themselves choose.  They clear up many questions that parents will naturally have.
This seems a helluvalotta work for the teacher - and it will be for now.  BUT in time, I hope that the story becomes one of 7 and 8yr old kids gaining greater autonomy for their Home Learning.
Time to get ready for Australia vs England at the MCG with 100 000 other people.  See you tomorrow with the first of the resources to share.
Capitano Out.



Saturday, 7 February 2015

The Homework Adventure begins with a single, honest step. Self Evaluation.

I've decided to break up the Homework Adventure journey into its many, smaller parts.  This way, no single post will be too overwhelming or boring - or simply just too draining to read.

Not that kind of 'draining'!

Step One:








Student Reflections.

We began the process on Day Two of the new school year with Student Evaluations.
I shall scan some of my students' responses for you to see next week.  Every step of the way, when showing kids' work, I shall protect their confidentiality.  It will be important to share the thinking, the successes and the failures (which will all be my fault) along the way.

Step 1: Genuine and honest self-evaluations
So here is the first step.  To give a taste test of the rest of the journey, here are the chapters that I foresee.  Please feel free to suggest a chapter title that you think I've missed.
  • Genuine student reflections - more to come on this.
  • Evaluating our areas for improvement
  • Setting SMART goals - remember this old chestnut?
  • The Weekly Planner - a new masterstroke addition
  • Ongoing parent input
  • Fidelity of Implementation
  • Reflect, you must...
    Learn, you can...
    Do, or do not.  There is no 'try'.
    How to deal with changes and problems
  • Morning classroom discussions
  • Individual student conferencing
  • Ongoing evaluation of the process
  • Creating a catalogue of ideas
  • Refining the product with input from each of the stakeholders
  • New, genuine student reflections
  • Episode Four - A New Hope (just wanted a StarWars reference here)
Your thoughts always welcomed.
El Capitano.

New school... New system... New perspective...... Same old 'radical' ideas.

It's been a while. 

Captiano is back.  Tell a friend.

I've started in a new school, in a new city, within a new system, with a new group of teachers and parents.  I'm excited and petrified.  My passions have not changed and I believe that I have something genuinely exciting to sell to this new community.

'This homework thing' has become something of a mini-crusade for me.  I am about to put my still-embryonic reputation on the line.

What I want to sell this community doesn't seem so radical to me.  So this year's blog posts will be my journal, my record of thinking.  These posts will seek your help and sage advice.  These posts will follow the successes and the failures of our precious Year 2 kiddies - with full confidentiality of course.

In two days, I will present my 'Not-Yet-Master-Plan' to the parents of Year 2.  Once I've finished whipping up the presentation, it'll go on here for anyone out there to chew over.  If you find a bone, a pip or anything else that sticks in your craw, I would urge you to let me know and share your thinking.

A short post for now. 

Later, my 'Not-Yet-Master-Plan'.  Hopefully later tonight. 
Now I'm off to create the sales-pitch........ easy............ 
To the Bat Mobile, Robin!