Monday, 9 May 2022

Reflections on the Reading Design Group workshops 5-6 May 2022

Last Thursday and Friday I participated in the Manaiakalani Reading Design workshops held at Pt England - ten of us from schools around the motu working on creating a PLD programme teaching teachers to effectively teach reading comprehension. The focus will initially be on years 4-8, but I learned a lot that I am taking back to my team (both of English teachers and in a cross-curricular sense) and that I think is of value to us as a Toki Pounamu cluster. My question for teachers and principals at all levels is: what do you do to model that learning new reading comprehension skills is a life-long skill? I think of the new vocabulary I have learned in the last 2-3 years about Covid, the types of graphs I have learned to read and compare and the comprehension skills required when taking my first RAT tests. One aspect we notice at high school is students who tiredly note that they already learned to read at primary school, and nothing more is needed. I think that we can all reflect on how we use language to make clear that reading development is indeed a life-long skill, and not just for those who go on to university. Two days immersed in the language of primary school reading instruction prompted me to make a lot of notes and ask a lot of questions. Something I am interested in understanding more about is how your teachers identify the difference between instructional reading levels and independent reading levels, and what choices they make with that information. We would definitely benefit from taking this thinking into our secondary space, across all curriculum areas.

Saturday, 21 November 2020

English in Te Ao Māori, Lani Wendt Young & reading beyond the white castle

It has been an amazing year.  For us all, we adapted to a new Covid normal that was stranger than anything we had collectively experienced.  For myself, I had surgery in the middle of the year and came back to work slowly, having to adjust to a new normal for myself that I had never experienced before.  The best news is that we learned so much from lockdown, and that I am recovering and moving more and more towards full strength.

A window into Te Ao Māori

Late in 2019, our Kaiako Māori teacher approached me about joining with the English department in 2020.  Catherine had been feeling very isolated.  I said a very excited yes, and made building a languages department (not English plus Māori and Mandarin to the side) one of our goals for this year.  

Also late in 2019, one of our deputy principals approached me about teaching the Kaupapa Māori Pathway class for English.  I had done the Te Ahu o Te Reo Māori course earlier in the year, and I had space on my timetable.  Yes, I would if he felt I had enough skills.  I had loved the course, but I didn't think I had made enough progress at using Te Reo Māori in my lessons subsequently.

Sometimes the winds and the Gods align and I get to learn lots and lots and lots.  That is what has happened this year, as I've shown Catherine how to work the school system (budget - appraisal - teacher standards - timetabling - getting people to say yes!!) and she has taught me about Te Ao Māori and different ways of looking at knowledge.  I did say yes to teaching English to the Kaupapa Māori Pathway class and our rangatahi in that class have also taught me lots and lots.  Next year I am offering a course called 'English in Te Ao Māori.'  Some days I wonder how I dare even think I can do that, and then I have to remind myself that the work of learning about Te Ao Māori is all of our responsibility.

In response to a contribution to the English Online community by Jenny Nagle on the topic of New Zealand short stories, I spent part of this morning learning from Lani Wendt Young's 2019 Read NZ lecture.  

This section really spoke to me:

Why is the castle of literature so white?

Is it because the rest of us just aren’t storytellers? (Even though our ancestors used oral storytelling to pass on our history and culture to their children?)

Maybe we haven’t quite mastered the intricacies of the written language of our colonisers enough to knock out a novel? (After all, we were punished in school for speaking our indigenous languages. Never mind that many of us had parents who made sure we spoke better English than the Queen, because they knew that English was the language that would get us into university and make us successful.)

Or perhaps we don’t write books because we actually don’t like to read? That’s why there are no books by brown people in your local bookstore! We’re too busy playing rugby. Eating corned beef and KFC. Being ‘dole bludgers,’ ‘cheeky darkies’ and ‘leeches.’

Or is there another reason why the castle of literature is so white?

Lani then quotes Arundhati Roy:

 ‘There’s really no such thing as the voiceless. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.’

One of the issues we have wrestled with this year is the marvellous temptations of texts from the canon which come with such a wealth of secondary literature.  It makes it easy for us to transmit knowledge with lots of notes.  It does provide a sense of security for us as teachers, but I'm not sure that this is always helpful.  Some of our year 11 students this year lacked confidence in their own interpretations of Lord of the Flies in the face of so much secondary literature available online and we then had to deal with plagiarism investigations and assigning a not achieved to two hard working, highly intelligent students of colour.  It raised a lot of questions for me.

Earlier this week, we got the school credit card and had a buying spree on the Huia website.  We are spending part of our summers working on widening our New Zealand text offerings, and particularly on widening our Māori texts beyond Grace and Ihimaera.  I will be making sure that our mahi includes excellence exemplars for exams.  

Throughout the middle part of the year, wearing my Kahui Ako within school teacher hat, I facilitated a professional learning group on the Kaupapa Māori Pathway.  We helped each other with probing questions and collaboration to support our rangatahi.  You can see some of our work here.

In Term Three we had a hui focused on Māori achieving success as Māori.  I had the privilege of listening and learning in that hui, and one of the key directions from it was PLD for staff.  As we prepared for our Term 4 Toki Staff meeting, where Angela Seyb and I worked with Nicola Minehan and Fiona Grant, and our fabulous team of Grey High teachers to revitalise Learn-Create-Share at Greymouth High School, I decided that my best workshop contribution should focus on how we can put Māori stories and achievements at the centre of our learning.  This presentation is a tiny start, and I am keen to develop this work further in 2021.  If you want to see the Socrative activity on Waitaiki referenced in the slide show, then this link should take you there. You will need a Socrative account (free) though.

Saturday, 8 February 2020

Celebrating & planning

So....  THREE English scholarships!  In our very first year of running scholarship!  All the credit goes to our wonderful students and their passionate, talented and responsive teacher, Lauren Evans.

On 3oth January, I presented my MIT 2019 work to a teacher only morning of all of our Toki Pounamu primary teachers.  I got to hear about some other fabulous inquiries that morning from other colleagues in our primary schools, and especially liked Lyndall Prendergast's work.  One of the very best things to come out of Toki Pounamu, I think, is the increased collaboration across schools, and I've really enjoyed working with primary colleagues.

Our year at Grey High is up and running, and I've got wonderful classes.  I'll write more about new class projects in another post.

My biggest new project for 2020 is doing some post-graduate study of my own.  I was granted a secondary study support award for this year which gives me four hours of release time per week to study.  In late January, tucked into a family road trip to the North Island, I spent three days on a block course in research methodologies in literacy (EDPROFST 700) at the University of Auckland.  Since then, I've submitted the practice assessment (worth nothing, but a useful exercise) and next I have to do a critical synthesis of three studies published in academic journals, each based on primary research.  On the block course we whizzed through a range of research methods used in education, carefully noting that it wasn't about ranking, but about the right fit for each project.

My decision to apply for the grant and to pursue this learning was about supporting my work as literacy leader at Greymouth High School.  I've been doing this role for the last six years, and I thought it was time to bring some substantively new material and thinking into my kete.

We each get to choose what research area we want to focus on (after critical synthesis comes a literature review and then a research proposal).  I have been thinking about the challenges of maintaining effective literacy practices as new initiatives come through a school.  That's definitely a challenge we face at GHS, and I know it is a widely experienced challenge. However, it is too broad, and far too complex in scope for a research proposal from anyone.  The whole challenge is the range of variables involved in a school at any stage, let alone tracing the maintenance of one initiative (literacy) in the face of multiple new initiatives which also deserve support and attention (learn-create-share, wellbeing, growth mindset, etc).

So that is my next challenge - to narrow my focus so that I can find some great studies and make learning progress.  It will definitely be around secondary literacy, and whereas I was thinking whole school literacy before, I may now confine it to English subject literacy.  Primary-secondary transition and literacy skills transfer is also a possibility.

I've been cleaning my incredibly messy office over this weekend while I think about a study focus.  I will refrain from exploring the impact of physical mess on the effectiveness of classroom teachers...  Now there is room for other teachers to work in here with me and I can once again find things easily. 
You can see both the floor and the colour of the top of every desk!  Time for some new photos and posters now...

Friday, 29 November 2019

Building a culture of scholarship in small and low, isolated and/or low decile secondary schools

No one is an island in teaching and learning, and this year I have been especially fortunate to have Lauren Evans, assistant HOD English, bring to fruition something I've wanted for our students for several years: a culture of scholarship English.  Here is her story:

When I think of Scholarship English, I generally think of higher decile schools and the privilege and access that these students have to such a wonderful opportunity. What about the lower decile schools with equally wonderful and intelligent students who are willing to work hard? My mission as an educator is to make sure that a student’s circumstances do not act as a barrier to their educational experiences and with that in mind, I endeavoured to set up Scholarship English at Greymouth High School. With the support and encouragement of my awesome HoD, and brilliant English department, off I went. 

I pitched the idea to my Year 13 class and seven students took up the challenge. We met once a week for an hour to study a range of authors and directors: Schlink, Nolan, Le Guin, Shakespeare, Neruda, Jackson, Baxter, Ihimaera, and the students pulled on texts that they had personally engaged with. We also looked at philosophers, news articles, music, documentaries, and had many wonderful discussions and debates about the issues they posed. 

I have LOVED running this programme and the students really valued it. The day before the exam, on a stormy Sunday, we met for four hours and ate food, talked, studied and when they left they told me that they weren’t worried if they didn’t get Scholarship because the learning and the experience had been fun and challenging. That’s how I knew I had succeeded. 

Going into next year, I have opened the programme up to all senior students to come along. I emailed all students and their whānau to set interested scholars the challenge of reading a set of recommended texts over the summer. I explained what Scholarship was and called the reading challenge the ‘Scholarship Summer Challenge’ - students read the texts and then email me the answers to four questions:

What did you enjoy about the text?
Which character did you find the most engaging and why?
What major themes and issues do you think the text dealt with?
What does the text teach us about what it means to be human?

So far, I have had twenty students from all year levels email me to take up the challenge and say that they will join the Scholarship programme next year. Some of the students who have expressed a keen interest have really surprised me, in the best way, and that again reinforces why I believe that the programme should be an option for all students. 

Are you also in a small or relatively isolated school, and wondering how to get scholarship up and running?  Lauren and/or I are happy to talk more about our journey and support you with yours.  It would be wonderful to have more of our provincial and/or lower decile schools involved in the fun our students have had this year.

Monday, 25 November 2019

KPMG Day #4: presenting my learning journey

Below you can view and listen to my updated Principals Wananga presentation.  Since I shared my slide show last month, I've now updated the presentation with the end of year PAT results, and recorded my text instead of just adding it on alternate slides.

An explanation of reading on, between and beyond the lines is at 0:55.
If you want to zoom straight to understanding how a Team Game Tournament works, go to 1:42.
For information on how we collaborated as a team of teachers, see 3:00.
For student voice, see 3:30.
For information on the 12 step programme, go to 5:20.

Monday, 18 November 2019

Data update

That's how many of my students made accelerated progress in the last 12 months in reading!

I've been nervous throughout the year as to whether I was making enough difference.  What if Manaiakalani made all this investment in me (time, travel, energy, the trip to Sydney) and I was just tinkering around the edges?  I'd seen evidence of progress at key points in the year, but the mid year asttle data wasn't as promising as what I wanted to see, and norm-referenced tests are what cuts it most when you are sharing your project widely like this.

So I was really thrilled to see huge progress showing up in the PAT reading results this term.  As a leader, I've also been involved in supporting initiatives across English classes, particularly year 10 English classes, and so I'm thrilled to announce that we made a big difference across our cohort: 57% made accelerated progress across the last 12 months.  Interestingly, the summer break wasn't a summer drop for us.  The results for value-added from the beginning to end of year 10 are 32% accelerated progress for my own class and 31% for the year 10 cohort.  That is because a lot of students made improvements between October 2018 and February 2019.  Let them rest and read?  

  • working collaboratively with my fellow MIT teachers, and Dorothy, Anne, Dave & Gerhard.
  • working with my super English team at Grey High.  Special thanks to Lauren Evans, assistant HoD, who has led the implementation of common assessment tasks in reading each term this year.  We have seen huge gains through this.
  • Seeing my reluctant readers flourish.  One student, who I had to persuade to attempt the reading test each term (whether it was PAT, Asttle or one of our common assessment tasks that we made ourselves) as he was convinced that he was stupid and couldn't do it, has made 20 points of progress since the end of year 9, and 9.7 points of progress from the beginning to the end of this year.  He read his first novel ever, and wrote about aspects of that novel for me in class. 
  • The young man who did increasingly well in the termly common assessments and shared his tips for approaching a text in a test with the class made 21.9 points of progress this year alone (24.6 in 12 months), getting every single question correct in his October 2019 PAT reading test.
  • My student who arrived part way through the year, not keen to talk to anyone or to focus on learning.  We slowly built up trust and started to talk to each other, then we worked on writing volume, after months of her not writing anything.  In the asttle writing test, she wrote 198 words.  I am so proud of her.  Next stop is some serious NCEA progress.
  • Two very quiet boys who grew in confidence to ask questions about their learning through the year, and responded well to our class use of Socrative for formative assessment.  They both made accelerated progress.
Next steps:
  • Some more work on resources for use with my 12 step programme on my tool.
  • Sharing my inquiry more widely in our Toki Pounamu community.  I've been asked to present to primary teachers at a teacher only day in late January 2020, which I'm happy to do.
  • Linking my work with T shaped literacy.  We all read Aaron and Selena's article on T shaped literacy earlier this term in the English department.  We are up for working this in with our 2020 junior programme
  • Further study!  I've been granted a study support grant for 2020 which gives me four hours of release time per week to undertake some postgraduate study in literacy education.  I'm looking at doing one (maybe two) paper(s) at the University of Auckland.
Our Grey High annual plan hui is tomorrow, and my work collating and interpreting our junior literacy data information is here, with my bulletpoints for the slide show below:
  1. Results are improved on 2018.
  2. Looking across two years is valuable, which fits with the year 10 graduate profile approach.
  3. Maori achievement close to, and sometimes exceeding, overall cohort in year 9. 
  4. Writing continues to be a challenge for year 10 boys, and this impacts their access to the full range of subjects from year 12. (Target?) 
  5. Group of struggling year 10 girls evident in the data. 
  6. Has year 9 achievement been adversely affected by very high levels of staffing changes across the curriculum? 
  7. Higher than usual numbers of students absent across three weeks of offering the tests. Impact of truancy/medical/other attendance issues on achievement?

Sunday, 27 October 2019

On the shoulders of giants

It's been an amazing week.  On Thursday we presented our MIT journeys to over 100 principals at the Manaiakalani & Outreach principals' wananga.  I was very very nervous in the lead up to the presentation, and spent hours timing and scripting my pecha kucha speech, only to decide the night before that I should speak without the script so I could connect better to the audience.  I've included the original script for each slide after each visual in the slide show of my presentation below.

Being at the wananga was an incredible experience.  I'd not had the pleasure of meeting or hearing Russell Burt or Pat Sneddon before, and I'm really glad I had that opportunity on Thursday.  Both men talked about equity and what we are here for in really powerful terms.  I would recommend every Manaiakalani & Outreach principal find a way to attend next year because it is inspirational in terms of remembering what we are about.  Russell reminded us that we are whanau and we are about finding solutions and sharing them, not waiting for something from above.  The Pt England students sang beautifully and I was touched by Russell's warmth with them.  In New Zealand society, it takes a great deal of confidence to tell your students you love them, and Russell did that again and again.

There is still more for me to focus on to get the best out of my learning so far this year and build on it in 2020, including sharing the reading research form Woolf Fisher.  But something more important happened this week.

On Tuesday 22 October, Maureen Melse died.  Maureen was deputy principal at Grey High when we arrived on the Coast in 2006.  She also taught in the English department and marked NCEA English exams each year.  She was a very quiet person who remained calm in the craziest of situations.  Maureen was wise, and helped me many many times.  Maureen helped me with marking guidance, and with organising teaching programmes, and with handling difficult situations with other adults.  Maureen always ensured that she had enough timetabling information in time for me to organise childcare when I was part time with small children.  She was kind and calm and organised relief when we had devastating family news and she always found time for my questions.

On Friday afternoon, we gathered at the Anglican church in Greymouth to farewell Maureen.  I was surrounded by people who have helped me develop as a teacher and as a leader at that funeral, as we all reflected on what Maureen meant to us.

As we learn in our classrooms and in our leadership practice, and work and challenge ourselves to pursue equity and excellence for our students, we stand on the shoulders of giants.  Thank you, Manaiakalani Education Trust and thank you, Maureen Melse.