Not too hard or soft but just right

Goal Setting 

In  his book Visible Learning (p. 164) John Hattie summarises that the right kind of goal setting can have a positive affect on student learning.

This is the second reflection I have in regards to my 2016 personal inquiry. My first one is here. I stated that by the end of September I will have trialled the visible learning  interventions for ELL and then through data analysis ascertain the effect size of the interventions so that the most effective strategies can be applied to accelerate the progress of  targeted  ELL students.

In term 2 of this year I worked with Kahikatea year 5 and 6 students in class. I regularly came in as the third teacher and worked alongside the teachers as part of the class rotation. I found it such a joy to work with my English Language Learners as part of a normal class programme. I was delighted to see my targeted children part of a vertical grouping in maths, reading and in writing. They were not streamed but were placed in groups where problem solving was the main strategy for learning. For example in mathematics I might have been using as the focus for the lesson. Therefore it did not matter what level maths you were at, it was how the problem solving was carried out.


I worked too with writing and reading. I observed how my targeted children managed the tasks set in the innovative learning environment. I marvelled at the way they could structure their days of learning using google calendar. Each day needed to have an hour each of maths, reading and writing. At the beginning of term two I gathered all their reading and writing data. I will compare the new data with the initial gathering of data before the end of term three . This will help determine if having me work in class alongside the teachers made much of a difference. There are a variety of variables to this being successful. Some of these include using google classroom to curate learning, or by using peer feedback to critique work. Other variables could include accountability with how much learning evidence was collected or the challenge of completing all must dos in order to take part in passion projects as part of Discovery Friday.

Goal Setting

I supported the children in setting learning goals. In order for this to be successful they were given their reading and writing data and then their maths data. From these pieces of evidence and mapping these to the learning progression, the children identified where they were at against their National Standards peer group. The children then highlighted any gaps and these became the basis for their next steps. In addition the children set learning goals that were achievable. Hattie speaks about learning goals being not too hard, not too soft but just right. I look forward to the new data and how the students will evaluate these against their learning goals set last term.

Year 4 writing 

I had another group working on writing. They are a group of year 4 students achieving just below national standards for year 4. Their reading levels were much higher. Again I worked in class with this group and began with goal setting for writing. This group of students were not all ESOL funded students because I added two children who were not eligible but yet needed similar support. I have always tried to adjust what I do so that the learning is the most effective. One way of doing this is by me working with one group and the teacher works with another. For this group I chose to make learning authentic and used real learning to motivate their writing For example one part focussed on slaters. The class were investigating a variety of mini beasts. At the end of the writing the children created a video artifact for their class.  I am also particularly interested to see  if the goals that they set at the beginning of term two are achieved by the end of this term.

I believe that by unpacking the data with the learner, they are able to identify what they need to work on. I am developing in my own understandings of the learning progressions and I believe I am fairly accurate in judging a piece of writing. That is where my knowledge of SOLO taxonomy has been invaluable. The work I undertook last year as part of the book I developed with Pam Hook has enabled me to see at a glance the gaps in writing. Here is the link if want to know more about SOLO Taxonomy and English Language Learners

Where to next

I have been interested in seeing the latest development in the Visible Learning project. A key message is limiting teacher talk. This ties in nicely with my next piece of writing which is about my inquiry around teaching and learning of Mandarin. Through the termly observations I can see how much teacher talk takes place.


Hattie, John (2008). Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement. NY: Routledge.



My ongoing personal inquiry is teachers and how they share their learning. I was really excited to  join Arjana and Bart @abfromz @BartVerswijvel and six other global educators on Tuesday 26th of April for a global networking seminar as part of their programme for European teachers called The Networked Teacher. When Shelly opened the session, we had both Arjana and Bart on screen and I was reminded about our history of connections through the TeachMeetINT virtual sessions that we took part in a few years ago. Bart had this cow bell that he used as a timer. That bell was an awesome timekeeper and we tried hard not to hear it.

I shared parts of my ongoing personal inquiry but from my perspective of how I built my professional learning network. I was asked to focus on my New Zealand connections so was extra excited to share about our part of the world to European educators in the eTwinning programme. The hashtag they use is #etwion. The session took place at 5.00am in our New Zealand time zone. You can check out the hashtag and see what the attendees are learning.

I built the slides over a few days. An event like this allows me to reflect on where I am as a learner and from listening to other global educator stories inspires me to set new digital learning goals. I was interested in hearing their stories from their parts of the world. Happening in the chat window was a lot of questions. I am not the best at multitasking so quickly captured the questions asked of me so I could respond to them later. The ones that caught my attention involved teachers of heritage languages wanting to make contact with our Te Reo teachers. So I suggested contacting me via social media and I hope to help them make connections here. I learnt the splot trick from @MissSpeir. So sprinkled purple splots as hyperlinked breadcrumbs throughout my presentation.

I have to mention here how Arjana was an inspiration for the #TeachMeetNZ project which is where New Zealand teachers share their passions and learning in 3 minute video clips. In a way too she plays a part in #Edblognz because it was by tagging me in a #Meme that the list of New Zealand educator blogs was curated by @HelenOfTroy01. I took that over and expanded that to include all other New Zealand blogs which was then added to the #EdblogNZ curated site of New Zealand educator blogs which I now help curate with @nlouwrens and @ariaporo22.

Thank you Arjana and Bart for inviting me to share our New Zealand teachers learning. To Joe from Canada @Joe_Sheik, Fiona from South Africa @fibeal, Shelly from Texas, USA  @ShellTerrell, Karina from Israel @karinam60, Marie-Leet from Belgium @BensBel, and Annamaria from Brazil @anamariacult, fabulous to meet you all. Hearing your stories was inspirational. To all the attendees of the webinair great to meet you all and I look forward to adding you on twitter.

Understanding my impact

Inferencing Bitmoji

I oversee our English Language Learners progress at Newmarket School.

I monitor their progress against National Standards carefully. At the year 5 and 6 level I have a particular interest in seeing how they are achieving. If the children have been with us since they were 5, I know we should see a greater alignment with children in their cohort. However if children have come to us after they are five years old, then what I do is highlight where they are and watch that progress too against the time they have been in a New Zealand school.

Yes as a school we do report students progress using ELL reports to their parents using the English Language Literacy progressions. However we still gather data on them against National Standards to watch their progress against mainstream children.

Together with my principal I have set my inquiry goal. A a school we are focussing on writing. I have adjusted my goal and removed the writing focus because I did a lot of that last year and I know that from previous inquiries, as the year progresses this goal will become firmer. I also have reflected and believe that other language inputs and outputs are just as important such as speaking and listening and reading and have an effect of writing.

By the end of September I will have trialled three visible learning  interventions for ELL and then through data analysis ascertain the effect size of the interventions so that the most effective strategies can be applied to accelerate the progress of  targeted ELL students.  

Discuss Strategy not content

In my two major intervention groups for this term, I chose year five and six children for a targeted reading intervention. Even within this group I had some adjustments. Three weeks into the session I noticed two students moving very fast with comprehension. The evidence was from observation of them discussing the text with their peers and the way they could quickly move through the three levels of comprehension and justify their responses. Therefore I swapped them out and brought in two other students from the class itself that were at the same level and also needed the same strategies.

So overall I had 8 children. I wrote about them before and the targeted three level guide strategy I would implement.

Evaluate the effect of my teaching on my student’s learning and achievement.

This week after all reading testing was completed I checked the data. Out of my original eight students, yes I achieved my initial goal of seeing them all move up one reading level this term. I had two students continue with that accelerated progress and move up several levels. So much so that they can now be ‘probed.’ I look forward to catching up with their reading asTTle data when they are completed entered. Reading asTTle  will be the second piece of evidence to confirm my findings. From my data I can see the children who need to be on my target list because they are not making the accelerated progress I do expect at this level. Two of them have had every kind of intervention thrown in. Sometimes I do wonder if we interfere too much with natural learning. They have had reading recovery at 6 years old. ( I believe this is too soon for our ELL students and wish we could defer this until they are seven years old.) They have had steps intervention. They have had some RTLit intervention. They have had someone in class that they read to every day.

Not just scores on tests.

However Hattie reminds me that it is not just test scores. He is so right. With my targeted group. I have made positive relationships with the children. I showed them their last score. I gave them their historical data charts at the start of the term and together we set goals. I told them I believed in them and I know they can achieve this. As Hattie said, ensure that the goals were not too hard and not too easy. Their initial goals included retelling what they read in their own language at home, drawing the main idea, pointing to the answer in the text or pictures. Aim for one level higher by the end of the term. These achievable goals were easily achieved. Overall I believe that as a teacher I understood clearly what the students knew already and by studying the reading progressions on TKI I clarified what they needed to work on. I made these comprehension strategies as visible as I could by using images and text. This time I also used part one school journals. So yes I chose texts that were a year beyond their turquoise reading level. But each time I chose articles, stories with settings and contexts that may or may not be outside the student’s’ prior knowledge but they could still relate to them. There was a mix of explicit and implicit content. I thought too that they have probably read everything at Turquoise level because several students had been sitting at this level for far too long. A strategy I learnt too from a previous inquiry was that when student make connections with what they read even if the text was harder than what they were capable of, they were able to shift in their scores.

What success looks like.

I showed the student what success looks like as they began the task. I showed them students at year two who could speak their language reading at and above what they were reading and have the children tell them some of the strategies they used. The regular one was that the successful younger children read every day and retold the story to family members in their own language. I showed the targeted students class members who were their age reading at and above in national standards. These children shared their strategies. The main one was reading everyday for pleasure and information.

Create climate of trust to fail.

I used the three level guides for this section. Between the text and beyond the text, there was no right or wrong answer. The power was in the discussion and in listening to each other. The children also worked regularly in pairs and if they spoke the same language then I encouraged them to have the learning discussion in their language. Comprehension is comprehension, whatever the language of learning. I believe this encouragement of valuing first language helped create the climate of trust.

The learning strategies used.

Teach the learning strategies and provide lots of coaching to reduce that gap of where they are to where they want to be. The children parroted the learning strategies daily. They drew what the strategies looked like. They gave examples in child speak of evidence when they performed the strategy. For one lesson weekly I had the children write down the strategy they were learning and explain what it was in their own words. They include a drawing of what this looked like.

Maximise teacher feedback

I provided piles of feedback and information and gave the student plenty of opportunities to practice to increase their standard and  to reduce their gap.

I stressed the importance of knowing lots of stuff and moving on to extend those ideas and make connections. As the children discussed, I would say things such as.

  • I loved the way you used because… such as…  to extend your ideas.
  • Whoah you used the word if…then  to make connections.
  • Hey … I heard your compare your ideas because I heard you say different…same… is like.
  • When you retold what you read,  I could hear you used sequencing words Then, Next, After Finally.

Using three level guides I was able to have the children know and understand surface details before unpacking making connections using between and beyond the text strategies.

Demonstrate the impact that I am having.

One way of doing this is by ensuring my walls are up to date. I use my walls as think aloud spaces. The children went up to our principal and showed her their progress and with no coaching were able to easily answer her questions. I will also create a sketchnote to highlight the strategies I used.

To finish this term with me, I had a reading around how rice is grown. Each of the students eat rice so of course we finished with a rice celebration. I bought in cooked rice and some general ingredients and the students made a dish from their country. I also made a dish from Samoa. Together we shared what we made and made a special connection. Of course the children wanted to share some with their class teachers and so they did.

Hattie states that the success and failure of my students learning is about what I do and don’t do. Two of the children I picked up part way through have had a lot of intervention. Initially I hesitated to bring them in because of this. From this inquiry and after further discussion with my principal I highlighted ELL children who I believe are not making the desired progress. Maybe like when they were earlier readers, I should have monitored their home reading better with a notebook. Even though they did not shift in data I believe they have a better understanding of what inferencing is.

Where to next

I gave the children a bag of journals to read over the holidays because I want to ensure that they do not slide back. This is a strategy I have learnt to do also from a previous inquiry.

I will show them adults from their own culture who are successful who love to read. I will do that next term and have already made connections and plans via social media.

Some of the children did not have a language buddy. I had a Farsi and a Cantonese speaker who did not have a language buddy. However my Korean, Japanese,Mandarin and Hindi speakers did. I had carried out a phonological awareness test with the children but did not do a follow up. I will do that next term too when I retest them after the holidays.


Hattie, J. (2015). What doesn’t work in education: The politics of distraction. Retrieved April 23, 2016, from

Literacy Progressions. (n.d.). Retrieved April 23, 2016, from

Masters, D. (n.d.). Visible Learning; know thy impact. Retrieved April 23, 2016, from

New Zealand Ministry of Education (n.d.). The Structure of the Progressions. Te Kete Ipurangi. Retrieved April 23, 2016, from

Van Schaijik, S. (2015). Innovative Learning.  Edbooknz terms 2015. 44-65. Retrieved April 23, 2016, from

Visible Learning. (2014). John Hattie’s Eight Mind Frames For Teachers. Accessed April 23, 2016, from

Agentic Teacher

On Thursday evening I took part in the fortnightly #EdChatNZ Learner Agency led by Philippa N Antipas.

The topic was, ‘Schools seek to nurture learner agency. What does learner agency look like for teachers, and how do we develop it ourselves to model it for others?’

Last year Claire Amos wrote a brilliant piece explaining  Learner Agency – more than just a buzzword! That she kindly allowed to be used in the EdBookNZ 2015 project unpacking latest buzz words.

I am continually amazed at how connections made online come together in fabulous way.

On Thursday Phillipa was moderator for #EdChatNZ and this was her first time leading this New Zealand Educator chat. I know she would have really enjoyed moderating the chat because she is a passionate educator and really know how to make connections with those that she works with.

I pulled together a storify of the chat because I am always interested in numbers.

I counted 719 entries on the storify over the hour. I deleted anything past that time and also past the next day. However I think it would have also been interesting to include the ongoing discussion because the chat continued for most of Friday too.

When I shared the storify, there were 34 tweeps who took part. You can see them all from the discussion. I have not counted the other educators who continued to contribute to the discussion on Friday. 

The hour long #EdChatNZ conversation was fast and furious. I am always interested in questions asked. I was particularly interested in Thursday night’s topic because teachers as learners is a topic very close to my heart. I have previously blogged about this recently in Children do not come first. Those of you who follow the work I do will know about the spaces and places I have created for teachers to share their learning such as TeachMeetNZ where teachers connect and share their learning in 3 minutes, EdBookNZ  where teachers collaborate and co-construct their own learning and more recently EdBlogNZ where teachers reflect on their learning, a site which I help collate.

Using storify to make connections and to unpack the discussion around teacher agency I churned over several of the quotes and as I further unpacked the discussion I had the feeling of Déjà vu. You can see what I mean because I have written about this before but under a different labeller of ‘ Connected Teacher.

Using the questions fired at us, I searched for some references. The third reference was given to us.

1)What does professional or teacher agency look like?

I found this great article written by Jackie Gerstein that tells us a little more, titled  Teacher Agency: Self-Directed Professional Development

2)Define Teacher Agency

This one has a fabulous video of a teacher sharing practice and explains what a teacher does. John’s story – Agentic positioning. But still couldn’t really find a true definition except for what Clare wrote. Also via the chat a definition for Learner Agency surfaced from ERO site.


Together under Philippa’s guidance we hogged twitter with our ideas to define Agentic Teacher.

Defining Agentic Teacher

(Totally ninjed from the 34 kiwi educators taking part and rehashed.)

Teacher agency is about service to our learners and our community through communication, making connections and seeking collaboration. An agentic teacher has the power to make a difference by becoming involved and owning their own learning through figuring the known and the unknown. An agentic teacher shows mutual respect for collaborative partners through actions with a focus on learning. Current practices are challenged and alternatives ideas are suggested where appropriate. The learning journey of an agentic teacher is lifelong. The ongoing goal is to be the best as you can be by actively and continuously challenging own assumptions, knowledge and practice regarding learning.

Personally, I should have also added Whānaungatanga. An agentic teacher lives and practices Whānaungatanga. Here you can read my personal description of Whānaungatanga. 

3)What kinds of environment or culture would teachers need to develop agency?

This article was referenced in the chat. Swimming out of our depth.

4)Teaching as inquiry has been mentioned. It’s in the NZC. Has this led to agentic teachers? If not, why not?

Agentic Teachers is a way of being.

Q5: What if schools co-constructed professional learning with their teachers? Would that encourage agency?

Q6.What might it look like if everyone in the staff was agentic? Chaos?

So what do you think?

Have I defined Agentic Teacher or is agency a quality and mindset that we develop as is suggested by Jackie. Do all teachers need agency? Or will we just exhaust our teachers?

If you write about the chat, please do use #EdBlogNZ and I will curate them all together.

Philippa has asked to be tagged too so do remember that as she will be reflecting on her session and seeking feedback.

How I use SOLO

Definition and background

What is SOLO Taxonomy? SOLO is the Sustained Observation of Learning Outcomes. I was first introduced to this learning framework during my TESSOL diploma in 1997. I selected to present the work of Biggs and Collier during one of my earliest assignments. We had to present our learning in 5 minutes. A decade later I joined Newmarket School and the school was in the second year of an ICTPD contract with Pam Hook. I was incredibly lucky in my second year to oversee the contract therefore was able to have extra learning time with Pam. My understanding of SOLO was reactivated as we learnt how to use the HOT frames and rubrics.

I used the HookEd maps from Pam to identify where I was on my learning with using ICT with my students. Those who know me know that I am a technology geek and pride myself on getting fabulous work when I am working with children. When I used the frames to self asses where I was and what my next steps would be, I was shocked to learn that my outcomes were multistructural. In focusing on the product and what could be seen, I totally missed the process and reflection from my learners. So I made it a mission to plug this gap in my learning. Over the next year, I read around SOLO. I cyber stalked the work of Pam Hook. I reread the theory behind SOLO. I reread John Biggs and even talked to him via email. On twitter I started to identify teachers who were using SOLO and devouring everything I could. As I followed teachers particularly from overseas I could see the HookED SOLO Taxonomy maps and symbols in all that they were doing and all this led back to the work of Pam.

The rubrics

In gathering the overview for our school about SOLO I quickly identified who the strong teacher users were and one was Virginia Kung. I targeted Ginny for discussion and kept hounding her for feedback. Some of my best outcomes from children were framed using SOLO. Ginny would come in and observe and give me feedback. At the beginning of every session her first question was, ” Show me your rubric.” In my earlier teaching sessions I did not understand the importance of using the rubrics. Ginny still observes me and still has discussions with me and she still says at the beginning of every session, “Show me your rubric.” What the rubric does is clarify what you are looking for with your learners. It allows you to see the progression of your teaching. It highlights key words that jump out and if the children highlight these in their process and reflections and this helps drive identifying next steps and reflecting about what went went well. That learning has finally sunk in. I now always start with the rubric. In addition, if I am writing with the children, I have learnt to have a go first at writing out what I want to see from them. A good example of this is explaining what whānaungatanga is. First I would define whānaungatanga, then describe what it looks like at Newmarket School and make a list of school events that highlight the concept of whānaungatanga. Next I would explain what whānaungatanga means and then if we had an event that brought our school community together, I would evaluate if whānaungatanga was present and maybe identify what we needed to do next time to make the event even better at bringing people together to collaborate, share and celebrate. 

HOT maps and rubrics

In the earlier days I was hooked on using the HookED Hot maps. I pulled them all out, and displayed them on one wall of my teaching space. I aligned all the rubrics underneath them, stood back and tried to make sense of it all. Often early users get stuck on the defining and even the describing maps and cannot see past this part of SOLO. But by targeting a new map each term and learning how it works with the rubric, this drove my learning. For example I targeted the compare and contrast HOT map and used this to frame speech writing, Then I targeted analogy maps for creating new monsters that visited our school. I targeted the sequence map to frame a unit on electricity. Each time I pushed for reflections using teacher generated Rubrics. I then carried out a writing session using paddle crabs and I used describe maps and sequencing together and this is when I began to highlight the key words.

Reflections and extended abstract thinking.

Each time I targeted a new map I kept up the dialogue with Ginny. Over time whenever I saw Pam, I would share with her what I was doing and she would also stretch my thinking by asking probing questions about what I was doing. I looked forward to her visits because it was like self talk. As I reflected more on the process and I clarified my thinking, I could motivate my learners to do the same. I used an explanation map to deepen my own understanding of Matariki. When I worked with the children I pushed for an overall statement. But at that time I still did not see the triangulation of a statement reflecting on the process and sharing where to next.

My inquiry.

Last year I had Virginia as my appraiser. I deliberately asked for her for two reasons. Ginny can drive my thinking deeper and she always asks for visible evidence. That visible evidence is something I also drive with our teachers. This is my ongoing personal teacher inquiry.  ‘If I cannot see what you do, it doesn’t exist.‘ I have been pushing our teachers in curating their own learning via presentations, blog reflections, photo curation via Instagram, google and and micro blogging via twitter. As their skills develop, I also aim to see more learning happening using video. Our teachers’ own learning must be visible for a shift in pedagogy to happen. It is no longer enough to just have learning visible on classroom walls or sitting inside an appraisal folder.

My student inquiry

My own student inquiry centred around SOLO taxonomy and my TESSOL training.

Ginny being who she is asked me to prove the following statement and of course by now I knew to begin with the rubric. 

I wonder if what I know using SOLO taxonomy and the prior knowledge and training I have been through the best best practice for second language learners?

Some of what I have did was:

  • gathered student data before and after each team,
  • collated all that was happening in my students books,
  • took heaps of photos and scanned countless pieces of student evidence,
  • displayed the process on the wall with tags and allow the walls to be my think aloud,
  • microblogged some of what I have did via twitter,
  • wrote several blog posts reflecting on where I was up to and also to clarify some of my thinking,
  • published a piece about SOLO Taxonomy and how SOLO frames learning,
  • presented my inquiry to our Board of Trustees.
  • kept up the dialogue with Ginny.

SOLO Taxonomy and English Language Learners

I planned and co-wrote a book with Pam Hook. The initial idea freaked me out because those of you who know me well know how incredibly challenging I find writing and I am the first one to admit that I cannot spell. However I am always up for a challenge. I have never let my spelling skills hold me back. I always find a person with an eye for detail to help me by proof reading what I write. 

Pam framed up the book and I brought in our Newmarket School samples. Doing something on this scale allowed me to continually reflect on my pedagogy and to test ideas using research. Over the year I read what Pam framed up and I added statements, quotes and some references. We used Google Docs to work collaboratively. As I checked our Doc’s history I could see Pam beaver away continuously in the background. She did an amazing work on research and I am truly thankful at how special the writing has turned out. I can hear my voice as I continually stressed to her that everything I did with our children was not at the expense of their first language. We met once a term face to face over scrambled eggs and bacon and kind of debriefed. Those sessions helped motivate me to plan what I would do in the following term with our learners. During the final few months I gave Ginny and Wendy, our principal access to the doc and asked them for feedback. Even during the final edit we were all still making modifications.

My learning

During the process it was incredible exciting. Writing a book is like studying. Some of my best teaching happened when I was a TESSOL student. I liken this to research and practice all wrapped up together. So it is like addressing the why and the how of learning. I also knew the importance of gaining my principal Dr Wendy Kofoed and our Board of Trustees approval before undertaking something that involved our school, our teachers and our children. Wendy is so infectious when she says yes. Getting her approval helped spur me into action. As for our BoT, they asked me heaps of questions about my learning when I presented to them. Both gave approval.  I especially knew the importance of copyright and gained written parent permission to use their children’s image and work in the book. I had the letter translated into the three main home languages of our school. I learned that something like this is not a one person wonder but involves so many people. Even the product itself had a team of proofreaders, editors, designers and our publisher, Essential Resources. Personally I adore the cover and wished I could have had all our languages on it. But I am quietly happy to see our Pacific greetings take pride of place amongst the other dominant languages that are ESOL funded by our Ministry of Education.

Finally the thanks

I am cautious to thank anyone publicly by name and the important ones are already in the book. But I cannot finish without again thanking the amazing children that I teach and who teach me everyday. However I do have to finish by mentioning my two sisters. Kathie Phipps and Astrid Grobben. You know why and you know what you do for me. Your blunt honesty keeps me on track. In this post I want to thank Pam Hook too for giving me this amazing opportunity to share my practice in such a public way. 

Where to next

On Friday Pam and I have our book launch and this happens at our #NPSFab Newmarket School. We have not bought in any books to sell because the afternoon is really a celebration for us. However if you do want a copy, then here is the link on Essential Resources. You have the chance of purchasing both a print copy and an electronic copy. The electronic copy is totally in colour so looks especially amazing. The paper copy is in black and white and that smells and feels amazing. This year my inquiry centres more around my pedagogy and what exactly do I do that makes a difference. Of course SOLO Taxonomy is in there guiding me and of course Ginny is there prodding me. Pam is there too to hold a mirror to my practice.

Screenshot 2015-11-08 at 20.38.13


My inquiry update.

“ E tumau le fa’avae, ae fesuia’i le faiga”

(the foundations remain the same, but the ways of doing it change).

‘If I am not doing anything new then I am not doing inquiry but am just reflecting on pedagogy.’ Say what?

OK After much discussion with my mentor, I basically said, “meh, there is not much more I can do for my inquiry because I already am a skilled teacher and get results from my target ELL children. I am a bit over this target student idea.” Her response was, “Well turn your inquiry on its head and reflect on what it is you do that does make a difference.”

So I have been reflecting heaps. Those of you who follow my blog will see a spike in my writing. But as I gathered my RTC’s and specifically chose only one tag, I can see that I have fabulous strengths in professional development and leadership RTCs but shy away from pedagogy. I have been following #edblognz reflections with great interests and a sense of pride in our outstanding education community. A recent spate of blogs around ‘Inquiry’ caught my eye. To be specific, Rachel Burgess recent post on inquiry.

I reflected back on the success I have had with my ELL students this year and I realised that I have been trialling new strategies and they are making a difference. So here they are.

Listing my new strategies

  • Virginia Kung recently threw at me the new NZCER Spellwrite site so I have been working my way through using the site as part of reading and writing. Our learning is still new but already results are looking promising. The site is well set up with great bones. Do check it out and share what you think.
  • The regular blog reflections allows me to dig a little deeper into what I do. I have been practicing my own writing using SOLO Taxonomy and this has made a difference to how I teach writing. Pam Hook reminded me about digging deeper with writing especially when I blog.
  • Having the children verbalise their learning and their next steps, record it and play it back to them using QR codes.
  • Create a visual display of key words to help writing. Wendy Kofoed my principal put pressure on me to showcase my students writing as a process. Seeing the wall in front of me has been marvelous for self reflection and as digital as I am, there really is nothing like the children’s face light up when they see their work displayed proudly.
  • Contact home when the children make exceptional progress. I had let that one fall away but a reminder from Virginia Kung of its importance had me revisiting that important school communication.
  • Speed writing to get volume from the students. If there is nothing to mark then what sort of feedback could I give the children.  I also used two books for the children’s writing. One was to keep all their plans and the other was for just writing. This was so they could always see their writing plans without needing to turn pages. Anne Girven stressed both strategies as part of our literacy focus last year.

My TeachMeetNZ project is fabulous for me as a learner and I garner so many amazing ideas. My principal wrote about teachers hacking their professional learning as part of her inquiry. Together with teachers around New Zealand we have been hacking our learning over a number of years. I did not realise that I have been subconsciously using what I have seen and heard and implemented them in my own lessons with the children.

  • Some of the strategies I have used include using minecraft and disney characters to motivate writing. I ninjaed that idea from Steve Katene.
  • Children choosing their own texts even if it is well above their reading levels. I ninjaed that idea from Caro Bush.
  • Continue to monitor the children’s progress in reading and don’t let them suffer from holiday slide. That idea I ninjaed from Fuatino Leaupepe.
  • Show them where they are in relation to their peers. I ninjaed that idea from my learning last year as part of my Flat Connections Global certification. Julie Lindsay gave us the the task of making connections with gaming and education.

Making links

In my inquiry folder I have gathered pre data on my students and I am comparing their progress with post data. I have agreed to share my inquiry with our Board of Trustees and I am really excited especially now that I can explain some of the changes I have made to my programme and show the process.

I am conscious that what I implement is only a small part of the child’s learning. We all know that it isn’t just up to me, or the classroom teacher, or the extra reading mileage, or the Steps programme or the management team or the parents to make that difference. Our children’s learning is all our responsibility.

The foundations remain the same in teaching in learning such as:

  • building relationships with our children and their families;
  • taking the time to identify their interests and use this to motivate their learning;
  • phone calls home to celebrate learning;
  • exchanges and pleasantries when I see parents;
  • knowing our parents and knowing our children.

Where to next:

I will continue to trial spellwrite with my current groups and incorporate it as part of reading.

I want to trial using the chromes to gather easTTle writing samples. Some teachers queried the validity of using devices for writing rather than a handwritten sample. However I believe that because our senior children do most of their writing using devices I cannot see the argument. I would just expect a greater sample than what we see when we ask them to handwrite an easTTle test. Even if our children have all spelling correct because they used google to help correct. Surely with history we can go back and identify editing.

I will prepare my presentation for our BOT and will let you know how I get on.

Data and ELL children

Its that time of the year when most of our data has been entered into our Learning management system and I have a chance to look at the total picture of my children who are eligible for ESOL funding.

These are some of my heart stopping moments.

I have a year 4 student with a 3P in reading and a 2P in writing. She has been in New Zealand for 3 full years and came to us with no English but is fluent at speaking in her first language. She had no literacy in her first language. In three years she has surpassed a year 6 in reading and can match a year 5 in writing. That is what the data tells me. As I have a quiet chuckle. I hope that the teacher makes a teacher judgement and adjusts these marks for feeding back to parents because I know for a fact that these scores are not realistically possible, YET.

I have another student who is a year 4 and has a 2A for reading and a 1B for writing. His probe score matches the reading asttle, so does this mean he is above for reading? Again I don’t think so. The scores do not align. How can he be reading at a year 5 level and writing at a year 1 level? I remind our teachers to lay out the scores and see how they align. Personally either the writing has not been pushed or the reading is far too high.

I have another student. She is year 6. Her scores indicate that she is reading as well as a year 9 student with comprehension. But she her written work shows that she is writing at an early year 5 level. Sooo? What do you think? She came to us as a five year old with no English and had no schooling in her first language.

I know that by year 6 if we have worked really hard, our English Language Learning children will be beginning to meet national standard data.

When I see them surpassing national standard data in the earlier years I know from my vast experience that these same children will fall dramatically by year 4. The teachers have to work really hard to continue to meet the earlier year’s gathering of data and this takes time.

If you are an junior school teacher and have never taught in any other area of the school, then this would be my recommendation to you. Spend some time teaching in other levels so that you have a more realistic grasp of what data should look like.

Myself, I always work in class as much as I can so that my understanding of data remains realistic. I really like teams who come together to moderate their data and even better if this can be spread across schools so that moderation between schools gives us a clearer picture of what we should be expecting and looking for in our data. I wonder what our intermediate teachers would say when they see our student’s data being levelled and benchmarked the same as theirs. These questions I continually have with our teachers as they write their reports.

As for the rest of New Zealand, what do your data tables read? How do the scores align across curriculum areas and across year levels? I have a staff meeting coming up where I will be sharing some of what I see with our staff. I ask them these same questions and ask them to justify their teacher judgements when levelling our students against National Standards. Scoring our children academically is a small part of the total child and I ask them how well do they know the  children. Our parents want to know how their children are aligned with the rest of their peers. However the most important question they usually ask is, ‘Is my child happy at school and do they have any friends?’

I also hope that there are no surprises for our parents because I know that most of our teachers communicate regularly through out the year as to how the children are doing in class.

Writing framed with SOLO taxonomy

Untitled drawingIMG_1385

I have to share this piece of writing from one of my students. For this post, I will call him Jimmy. That is not his real name.

Jimmy is a 7 year old who has been with us since he began school. He has had several interventions including reading recovery but continues to lag in national data.

I chose to work with him this year because he has finished the other intervention and currently is not having any other form of withdrawal. He is also one of my ESOL funded students and my inquiry this year was to reflect on strategies I use for writing and to try something different. I know when I work with students I can accelerate their progress. I use SOLO taxonomy to frame the learning and I won’t change this strategy because I know how effective SOLO is for making learning visible for the students that I work with.

However it is what I chose to do with the students that is different. Whenever ever I withdraw my students I shudder at what is happening. I know from international research that withdrawal is the least effective strategy for my bilingual students. They are already on the back foot by trying to catch the moving target of National Standard Data. So withdrawal continues to put them on the back foot. If I do withdraw students it is because the numbers are spread across classes, As much as I can I try and work in class alongside the classroom teacher. This is the most effective strategy for working with bilingual children. I have seen this in action too first hand in Finland and we all know about the Finns and their NSD.

So for my current target group they are spread across two classes. They are all boys who have had reading recovery but are not maintaining their levels and that is an ongoing critcism I have had with reading recovery withdrawing bilingual children with no English. If I had my way with the system I would have them begin after being at school for two years and not when they turn six.

For this intervention I wanted to switch my boys onto writing. Usually, I would align my programme with what the children are doing in class so they are not missing out on learning by just doing language based activities. If the class are writing, then we are writing too. If the class are writing about ANZAC then we are writing about ANZAC too.

However for these boys I have chosen to try a different method.

First I had them list all the things they were interested in. I believed I would find a common theme between them. Well that did not happen. I uncovered a different passion in each student and found out that they all like drawing.  For ‘Jimmy’ it was Minecraft. To clarify how much he knew, I asked him to draw the main character from Minecraft. With my own beginning knowledge I knew it was Steve. So Jimmy drew Steve.

I told him that we would describe Steve and to do this we needed to list our ideas.

I then asked him to list everything he knew about Steve and I would help him. Using SOLO I knew listing is a multistructural out outcome and from my initial observation I knew this was not a difficult task to do. I gave him a piece of paper and asked him to list all he knew about Steve. When he was ready I gave him another colour and asked him to list all the tools that Steve used in Minecraft. Then he was given another piece of paper and asked to list all the monsters in Minecraft that he knew. Then a final piece to list why he liked Minecraft. Keep in mind I am not a Minecraft player. I have an account and have played the night time version only once.

In the follow up lesson Jimmy was given the task of writing up his first piece of paper. I changed the usual strategy for this too. I have often worked in our junior class and could see how challenging it was for the children to have their describe map stuck into their books and then they have to flick back and forth with their writing. So for my group I gave them a separate book for writing and used a different book for planning. This was to keep all the artifacts together and also so they can visually see their plan all the time. It is in front of them. A major challenge I know with children learning how to write in English is keeping the thought in their head. It is hard enough that we are asking them to write in another language but we are also asking them to think and keep the thought in their head long enough to get this down. I understood the importance of this strategy from the work we did last year with Anne Girven.

As Jimmy wrote down his thoughts, I could barely keep up with him. He wrote quickly. As he wrote I reminded him about the importance of ticking off his ideas. Again the writing professional development learning from last year. In two 30 minute lessons Jimmy wrote 4x pages.When it was time to come to me he would run to be the first into my session. He told me he loved writing. His draft was so raw and delightful I did not want to touch it and so I have not made any teacher edits. Unfortunately he became sick and so missed the next two sessions for editing. So his writing has remained untampered with teacher support. How often do we correct because that is how it is done? We don’t do it to their drawings so why do we do it to their writing? Correcting writers work has also been a real issue with me as a teacher. I am informed it is modelling but I know too from my own experience that until I am ready to make my own spelling changes then it isn’t going to happen. I am empathetic with emergent writers because my own writing is an ongoing challenge for me.

Afterwards in the next session I had him draw the monsters. Then I scanned this into the computer, imported the lined drawings into paint and he dumped colour into them. I learned this little trick from our work with Ant Sang a graphic artist.

Jimmy wanted to come back at lunchtime to work with me. I had to turn down his kind offer because I had other student commitments. I did suggest that he return and work in my room while I worked with other students. This he did.

He missed the self publishing part so I typed up his story for him while he read it out. In the published story I corrected all his inventive spelling and left his initial draft in its current state. I used presentation to do this and then imported the graphics in.

Finally I printed off his home copy and I sent him to receive a principal’s sticker from Dr Kofoed.

Where to next?

For me as a teacher, I was surprised at the relational thinking coming through strongly in his writing. I was aiming for a multistructural outcome but this piece of writing is definitely relational. I will get him to identify and highlight all the relational thinking words that he used to link his ideas.

Because the learning intention is to describe Steve, I will have him rephrase the last paragraph about why he liked Minecraft to what is special about Steve. At this stage of the intervention, I am uncertain if I can push extended abstract thinking but think I can start to develop the early sentence structure to include an I believe statement.

For my next session I will introduce the relational words and the describe rubric and explain how both will help them with their next piece of writing. The decision I have is do I continue to write about topics that interests the boys or shall I focus on the writing that is happening in class? I have identified a commonality with this group of boys and that is a love of cartoons. So maybe I should create a collaborative comic with them.

I spent the afternoon with my SOLO mentor who encouraged me to display the process. I am not the best at making things look pretty for the wall and usually just throw things up. As much as I can I like the children to see too that my own handwriting continues to develop and so they see my handwriting in its raw state. So if you see my writing, that is the writing that the children see too. What I do try and do is make it legible ad I even do this for my modelling books. Several of our children still write with a pencil so if they write with a pencil I also write with a pencil/felt.

For more information about SOLO Taxonomy visit.

Teachers as Visible Learners

What a day.

Today we had our school assembly and this time it was led by our senior school students who are known as Te Ako Kahikatea. In the New Zealand native forest Kahikatea is the giant of the forest and with the status of being named after the giants of the forest there is also the expectation that our senior students will step up as Kaitiaki and spread their branches and leaves to lead and protect all the other seedlings growing beneath.

I was there in assembly as usual. I was excited and proud for our Travelwise team because today our principal Dr Wendy Kofoed was presenting us with our school’s silver Travelwise status from Auckland Transport. I am the teacher who works with the Travelwise team. This year the team have really stepped up activities and efforts for our school.

I sat in assembly and spotted my big sister and was feeling worried because I care for my aging parents and wondered if all was ok at my house. Assembly began and I focused back on the what was happening.

First Te Ako Kahikatea shared their learning and explained the process of their discovery Friday. As usual I thought I need to be recording this but have been trying to step back and let the team leaders take up more responsibility of sharing their team and their students learning via their team blogs and sites. The rest of assembly unfolded and we listened to achievements and notices.


Then it was time for our certificate to be presented and we all went up on stage. One of my Travelwise students had written a short explanation of why we were awarded our certificate.  We received our certificate.

Next Te Ako Kahikatea received their principal’s award. I love this part of the assembly because its like mini celebrations of learning for students from the teams.


IMG_2516After that the  assembly came to a conclusion but before then our lead student commentators said they wanted to call up an amazing teacher who deserved the honour of a mention for all that they do for our school. They played a video and it was me. Many children from the team that I taught, teach and work with shared little snippets about why they thought I deserved this recognition. This part was totally not part of our usual assembly.

I sat right up the front in shock and felt overwhelmed by emotions such as incredible pride at hearing them speak so clearly. Some of my bilingual IMG_2547students spoke and  I wiped away tears of joy and was called up to receive a massive bunch of flowers and presented with a red pandanus necklace known as an ula fala which I associate with our Samoan leaders or matai. I was also given a leadership badge and gift that the students work towards and my Travelwsie team had created an amazing card for me.

IMG_2539I stood there listening as some of our teachers spoke too about how I have guided and supported them in their practice. Some from my Travelwise team led our school song and I joined them.


Finally I thanked everyone for the honour bestowed on me, made mention of my big sister and took the opportunity of highlighting our Samoan language week that is celebrated next week.

I believe it is important to be transparent as a teacher, thinker and learner so that children can see your progress. I thought about my Samoan culture and what my grandmother Matalaoa used to say to me, ‘E iloa le tagata i ana tu ma aga’ which means people know you by your actions. I am often asked what is my role at Newmarket School and I often reply jokingly, ‘You do not see what I do but if I was not here the school would fall down.’ At the same time I know that if I was not there and the school did fall down then I have not achieved my ongoing goal of growing others as teacher leaders.

So if you are visiting my reflective blog and were involved in today, thank you, thank you, thank you. I can’t wait to share the children’s video because it shows how awesome their collaborative skills are developing. I can’t believe how they were able to keep it such a secret from me.

Where to next, like Kahikatea we all need mentors and leaders who guide us. We all need feedback about what we do to help with the running of our schools. We must continue to take time to acknowledge each other whether its via words and actions or words on a blog post or tweet.

Faafetai tele lava mo lenei aso matagofie.

Update: my #WELS15 friend Jon wrote this fabulous piece and I have added the link here because he writes with clarity and has included references  I have added his twitter here too. @jca_1975.




Defining TeachMeetNZ

TMNZ key word image (1)TeachMeetNZ is a professional learning community and environment that provides asynchronous and synchronous opportunities for New Zealand teachers to connect, collaborate, create and celebrate with other educational professionals beyond their own school communities.

First teachers build professional relationships by making connections with each other on twitter and google +.

Then they collaborate together as they learn from and with each other on how to use Google Presentation, Google Hangout, Slideshare and other online presentation tools for sharing their work.

Next they create a nano presentation and share an education story, a critical inquiry or an idea that has impacted on personal practice. This presentation is shared with a current cohort where critical feedback is given and received. The practise sessions are recorded using Google Hangout for personal viewing to help with identifying areas of self improvement.

After that teachers celebrate the learning process in a three minute ‘nano’ presentations that TeachMeetNZ curates allowing teachers to leave a learning legacy for the benefit of other educators globally.

Finally a critical reflection including links to professional literature is written and shared with the education community via a blog where again feedback is given and received.

Overall TeachMeetNZ supports teachers professional learning and builds capabilities. Ultimately I  believe that a visibly learning teacher benefits students learning and student achievement. ‘Every child deserves a teacher that never stops learning.’ Something amazing happens when a group of educators connect, collaborate, create and celebrate together. That is TeachMeetNZ.