Friday, 17 February 2017


 
Hi All,
 
As you all know the beginning of the school year is extremely busy for all teachers from Prep to high school.  You would think that because Distance Ed is done through web-conferencing there would be less preparation but actually I have found that it's quite the opposite.  Although I myself don't have a physical classroom, to create and hang resources in, I do have to be super organised and have those resources ready to mail out in the first week of school to my students.
 
The items I include in my first mail out bag are mixed.  Some are simply to create a relationship between my students and I, some are to establish classroom expectations and others are physical resources that will be used in their lessons throughout the year. 
 

 For getting to know each other I create a craft glyph using the book 'Pete the Cat Rocking in my school shoes'.  After creating their glyph my students have been mailing them back in so I can use them in a display at the school as well as sharing them on our Class Dojo where they can discuss what they have learnt about each other.  I have shared this file on my TpT's store.


Because our time on-air is very limited (1hr/ day for English) I try to use a little of the Flipped Classroom model of having students view digital learning resources before class.  This year to establish classroom expectations for learning and behaviour my students listened to a reading of the book 'How do dinosaurs go to school?' at home and in class we created a Y chart of what we wanted our on-airs to sound like, look like and feel like.  At home they completed a writing task, so I would have a beginning of the year sample and dinosaur name plaque to show cutting skills.  You can find the dinosaur template and writing paper on my TpT store.



I also like to establish with my Home Tutors some communication and teaching norms that will make a their classroom run smoother and unsure continuity.  I send out a Home Tutor Guide and in it I include timetables of lessons, work returns and hints for the tracking of the assistance they gave during the units of work.  This Evidence Of Learning feedback guide is now being used by other teachers to unsure continuity across the school. 


 
Lastly, I include templates for maths resources that can be printed out by my time poor Home Tutors to use with my students during lessons or to assist my students with their rote learning.  After the Home Tutor establishes the routine my students are then expected to independently complete these activities which frees up time for the Home Tutor to do prep work or work with their other students.  I also provide links for where Home Tutors can download songs that will assist with the rote learning of skip counting patterns and number facts.
 

This year I have also added in a Number of the Day sheet.  This allows my students to be increasing their fluency with a range of number concepts and I'm expecting to be seeing improvements in their working time during Maths on-airs. 

  Number of the Day Book/ Board

Some students have received this as a booklet while others have it printed and laminated in A3 size and complete it with a white board pen, as per the Home Tutor's wishes.

As we all know accidents do happen and to ensure that each of my student always have access to the resources they need to ensure their learning success I provide all my Home Tutors with these resources on a USB which they return for updating every five weeks.  I also include additional resources on this USB that I feel may be of assistance to complete the units of learning in those five week.  I will have posts about some of those resources soon.

Another big post but hopefully well worth your time.  Chat to you all again soon.








































Sunday, 1 January 2017

2016...Awesome or Not?

 
 
Hi all,
 
Well 2016 has come to an end and it has seemed to be a year where I couldn't find any forward momentum.  However on reflection, and after a few slaps to the head from some close teaching friends, there did seem to be a bit of gloss to the year that was!
 
I started the year with two beginning teacher mentees and that's were the learning curve began and never stopped!  I quickly learnt that mentoring is not about telling the empty vessel what to do and them enacting it verbatim.  Its actually about relationships!  Who would have thought that?  I have to admit that I had more of an impact on one of the mentees more than the other because 'Baby Minion', as she became known, had a similar teaching style and personality to my own.  We just clicked and we were able to feed off of each other's enthusiasm throughout the year.  With my other mentee it was more about being a listening post.  She was a deep thinker and analyser and needed support to take risks with her teaching.  Coming from a previous career she found the expectations and realities of teaching a challenge. I know my impact with this mentee was limited and I now truly understand how finding the right mentor is vital to the success of beginning teachers.
 
Teaching wise I took on the challenge of being the pilot teacher for the implementation of the program 'Back to Front Maths' for Year Three.  It is a problem-based approach to help children understand maths rather than just memorise it.  Firstly we had to identify their misconceptions before using the lessons created by Tierney Kennedy to fill the gaps before extending their thinking.  Let's just say teaching maths using web-conferencing, with limited internet connection, could be an absolute nightmare some days, and it didn't help that my own knowledge and teaching skills were also being stretched as I had never taught maths at this level before.  That said and done at the end of the year the Year Threes had shown growth with an effect size of 1.33 with highly effective intervention only needing to be between 0.7 and 1.0 for a year.  So 'Yay us'!
 
In the middle of the year I had a slight brain meltdown as this seems to be the only logical reason for why I would apply to be an assessor for Highly Accomplished and Lead Teachers.  I was one of twenty who were chosen to under go the training and then spent the next six months completing four modules of study through AITSL.  The pilot program will roll out in 2017 in the regions of North Coast and Far North Queensland so there seems to be a bit on travel in my future.
 
During 2016, I continued to work with iAIM to refine the school's physical activity program 'Kilometre Club'.  In 2017 there will be a few major changes with the race around Queensland expanding to include parents, Home Tutors and teachers while a trophy will be presented to the victorious house team.  I am also working towards simplifying the tracking sheets so the students can complete them independent of adult assistance which is vital on a busy cattle and sheep property.
 
I also dabbled with Growth Mindset, Whole Brain Teaching and ClassDojo in the later part of the year to support students who were having issues with staying on task and risk taking.  I saw enough success in my students' learning that they will be programs I will be implementing again in 2017.
 
Lastly 2016 had a few big bangs for me with the parents and Home Tutors of my students nominating me for the Office Works 'Exceptional Teacher Awards' and the Commonwealth Bank Teaching Awards.  These nominations along with the feedback I got back about my organisation and implementation of the annual 'Art and Craft Show' and the school's 'Speech and Awards Day' have reassured me that my dedication to my students and school are very much appreciated.
 
 
 
Wishing you all a safe and happy New Year!!
 
 
 
 
 
 


Saturday, 2 April 2016

Kickstart Conference 2016


Hi All,

When I first started working in Distance Education 3 years ago I really struggled with letting go of the every day teaching.  The main reason for this was that I was still responsible for my students reaching National Standards but the majority of the teaching was out of my hands and being done by untrained home tutors.  One way my school attempts to remedy this situation is by holding an annual conference, which not only up skills our parents and home tutors, but also allows our students to participate in learning experiences that are taken for granted by schools on the coast.

It takes 6 to 10 months to plan and organise this event and costs a minimum of $25 000.  This is paid for out of the annual school budget, parents and the school's Parent Liaison Officer applying for grants.  We are very lucky that there is many national sporting organisations in Australia that will send out representatives to work with our students for minimal costs.  This year we had 70 home tutors and 85 children attend for the 3 days, with some driving up to 5 hours to get here.  This will be the first time parents, home tutors and students will meet their teachers, even though school started a week before.  In fact some teachers will never meet their students face to face, due to the large, isolated areas Distance Education covers.

For the three days the parents and students are separated, as our school grounds is too small to accommodate everyone. The students are organised by age groupings and are supervised by teachers as they rotate through a range of activities, with a focus on sports, arts and health and safety.  The majority of our students live on large properties with unfenced dams, rivers and creeks so a big part of school events is the teaching of swimming and survival skills. 

This year the students also participated in hockey, lantern making, weaving and gymnastics.  A lot of time is also spent on team building activities to ensure the students are learning socially appropriate ways to share, turn take and play with each other.

These seven hour days don't seem to exhaust them either as they are all revved up for night time activities!

While the children are playing the adults are learning.  There is a mixture of teacher lead sessions and guest speakers.  These sessions need to meet the needs of beginning to 10 year experienced home tutors who have  limited or no ICT skills and students ranging from Prep to Year 10 .   Also due to the impact of working large properties, in the middle of a drought, we are also mindful that many of our families are needing social and emotional support outside of the classroom as well. 

Some of the sessions this year focused on reading, sight words, ICT support, web-conferencing, mental and emotional wellbeing, personal goal setting and Back to Front Maths and misconceptions with guest speaker Tierney Kennedy. 

As an experienced teacher I held two sessions.  One was about the implementation of our school's phonemic spelling program 'Soundwaves' and the other was about the importance of creating word walls to help build up student vocabulary and understanding.  Both of these presentations can be downloaded from my TpT store by clicking on the links. 

 
 
I also created a set of IWB games that the home tutors could use to practice the spelling pattern for the week.  These can be done individually or with a class of students. In fact I use them as warm ups before our English lessons everyday.  They are made using PowerPoint and are completely editable.
 
  
The week of Kickstart Conference is an extremely busy and tiring week for all involved. It is a time for me to connect with not only my students but also their home tutors.  In no other school setting is it more obvious, and vital, that teaching and learning is about partnerships and give and take.  It's nearly taken me three years but I think I can actually now say my relationship with my home tutors is blossoming.  I have stepped away from the mantle of being the expert in the classroom and now see myself as a mentor and an equal of  those with less knowledge and experience in teaching. 
 
Lots of good things to come...I'm sure!! 
 
 

Friday, 1 April 2016

Establishing Expectation and Goal Setting!


Hi All,

This blog is a little late for the beginning of the Australian school year, but just in time for the start of Term 2.  Many would think that teaching in an online environment would mean no behavioural problems.  And yes, to a certain extend, this is correct due to the lack of physical contact, but how do you get a child, who can be up to 10 hours away, to stay on task and participate?  Would you believe it's actually the same as any other classroom?

I always get my students to establish the learning and behavioural expectations and consequences for our classroom.  This way they have ownership and responsibility for their own actions.

I start the discussion through the use of a picture book to cue the class into types of appropriate behaviours.  My favourite is 'No, David!' by David Shannon.  The behaviours David uses in the classroom seem so extreme and are therefore funny to children in the lower years, which gives a great positive vibe to the discussion, and allow you to have an in-joke for the rest of the year about 'David-like' behaviours.  However, avoid this book at all costs if you have a David in your class!!

This year I used a downloadable book from Heidisongs called 'Wiggles learns the rules at school'.  Basically Wiggles does a series of wrong behaviours and the children in the class teach him the correct way.  It is a very simple, repetitive book but it does have a printable dog puppet and a small version of the book that can be sent home.  Great for the early years! 


We then brainstorm the sorts of behaviours we should be using in our classroom to ensure everyone is having the best opportunity to learn.  I write these behaviours under the headings of personal, classroom and playground and then lead the children identifying no more than SIX expectations that we can use to ensure everyone is feeling safe at school and can successfully learn.  The typical expectations in an online community come down those that encourage courtesy and manners and hold the learner to be personally responsible for their own learning, rather than on the physical expectations.

Click on link to go to Heidisongs website.

At the start of every lesson I go through these expectations as a reminder and at the beginning of every term we discuss if we need to add or take from the list.

While establishing classroom expectations the students also set the positive and negative consequences for their learning.  Negative tend to be along the lines of warnings on-air and parent phone calls.  Positives are the typical stickers and reward boxes as well as using our web conference tools to give claps and praise.  This year I have also included positive reward postcards to acknowledge achievement.   I mail these out to the students along with their sticker reward charts.

 
 
In previous year I will admit I have been a little lax in student goal setting.  However, after much summer reading, I have come to realise its importance in helping students to have control over their own learning and empower them to become independent learners and risk takers.  At the end of Week 1 I had each student tell me their goal for reading, writing and maths.  There is no time limits on these goals, as each student identifies when they believe they have achieved it.  I have the goals displayed on the wall of my office and each child receives a PowerPoint of their goals.  The aim is that every five weeks, or sooner, I will have an extremely quick conference (phone call)  with each child and if they are ready to move up the goal arrow they tell me and explain why.  As they move up there is less and less adult assistance until they are doing their goal independently  Once they have reached the top of the arrow they receive a reward postcard and choose a new goal.   Goal setting for the teacher is also important and my goal, after the Easter Holidays, is to actually have those conferences!  You can click on the links below to download each of the goal setting packs I use with my students.
 
 
                Maths Goals                          Reading Goals                       Writing Goals
 
 
So that's the first of five blogs to be written this weekend.  My next blog will be all about our annual school  'Kickstart Conference'.  Till then.
 
 
 
 

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Where has Leonie been? Certainly not blogging!!



Hi to all three of you who are currently reading this blog,

I just wanted to let you know that I haven't abandoned shouting into the deep void of the World Wide Web.  The reason I haven't been blogging of late is that after teaching for 20 years  I made a promise that this year that I would actually find a 'work/life balance'.  I know right!!  As if that's ever going to happen for teachers!!

However, I am making a go of it and so when I leave work, before 5pm generally, that's it no more school work.  And on weekends I am only working Sunday afternoons.  This means I have the same amount of work to plow through and prepare but not 12 hour days in which to do it.  This is also the year I agreed to mentor three beginning teachers, so Sunday's have actually become all about keeping them from the cliff face and no work for Leonie!

Sadly, this means blogging and resource making have taken a back seat to finding a life, still not sure if I've found it yet, but I have discovered Netflix!!  Marathoning  TV shows is a life, right?   I will be having quite a number of updates in a few weeks times though when I am on Easter Break and I'm avoiding my marking pile.  Shhh, don't tell my home tutors!!

Topics which I will be blogging about are:
 1.  Setting classroom expectation and goal setting.  Better late than never!
 2. Kickstart. Conference 2016.   A week of up skilling our Home Tutors. 
 3.  Reading routines.  Who knew there should be a routine?
 4.  Back to Front Maths and misconceptions.  Teaching maths on-line is a challenge people!!
 5.  Roma Mini-school.  A week's worth of learning in one little white box.

Hopefully all three of you will stick around to find out what's been going on in my part of the teaching world, and I promise there will be heaps of freebies, so bribe a friend to come and have a read too.

Chat to you all soon,



Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Building Classroom Rapport!

 
Hi All,

As the new school year quickly approaches, as with any early years teacher in Australia, my thoughts have turned to those first day activities which help you to build a safe and secure learning environment for your students as well as help you gather some information about their abilities.  But what happens when you don't have your students in the room with you and in some instances you won't meet them face to face for another 5-6 weeks, if at all? 

As I would have done on the coast, I mail out a letter introducing myself to my students and letting them know a little about who I am.  I have found this is rather important over the years when you are a very solid, 6ft tall person with strangely coloured hair and glasses.  The odds of them crying by them time they have scanned to the top of my head are usually pretty good.  I've learnt to get over it and now have very bad knees from kneeling all the time.  Working at Distance Ed also means the parents and home tutor also get an introductory letter and an invitation to call or email me at anytime with their questions or concerns.

           

Then, this is where you turn to the rusty old video camera, or iPad for those younger readers of this blog, and prepare yourself for eternal embarrassment!  I still have my first day of school stories, craft and writing tasks, its just that I tape myself reading and presenting them and put them on a USB stick before mailing them out to my students in their first mailbag of the year.  In some cases they will receive this after their first on-air lesson with me but there isn't much you can do about snail mail in the outback.

This year my getting to know you learning tasks are set around the story 'I like myself' by Nancy Cartwright.  After reading the book we then move onto the 'All About Me' graphic organiser and the self-portrait. The self-portrait can be drawn, painted or collaged.  The home tutors then mail these back to me and after reading I include them in a school wall display. that is photographed for the school newsletter, and then kept in their portfolio.


 (Please note video won't show on mobile devices)

         

 
As with students everywhere some children at Distance Ed are reluctant to begin their school year.  Whether this be from anxiety or a desire to be outside working on the property with their parents you as the teacher need to find a way to engage them.  This year I am using monsters and in particular the book 'Glad monster, Sad Monster' by Ed Emberley and Anne Miranda to build a positive attitude in my students about the classroom. 
 
 
  (Please note video won't show on mobile devices)
 
I prompt the children into discussing their emotions about school by yet again recording myself reading the story.  Now of course I am not hearing what their answers are but by asking the questions I have hopefully triggered a thought process which may then continue over into meal time where they can discuss it with their home tutors or parents.  Next we have fun! In their mailbag each student gets the template and craft materials to create a name monster.  This activity allows me to also identify each students' cutting ability without using a formal assessment template. I ask the home tutors to take a photo of their child with the monster and email it into me as I then put it up on my cubicle wall and use it for the front cover of their portfolios.  At this time I also get a writing sample from the children by having them write about how they are feeling about starting school and why.  This writing sample allows me to see each child's letter formation, sentence structure, spelling strategies and word bank in a fun and hopefully unintimidating way.  This sample is also added to student portfolios so students and parents can see the progression in their writing from the beginning of the year to the end of the year. 
 
          

 
Thanks for stopping by.  My next post will be about establishing expectations for both students and parents and goal setting.  Till then,
 

 


Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Teaching Partnerships in Distance Ed.

  
Hi All,

I  have always felt it was vital to have an 'open door' policy in my classroom to ensure that parents felt included in their child's education and to encourage a good rapport with myself.  Because let's face it we've all had a student go home and only tell their side of a story and I wanted my parents to question whether what their child was saying was actually a true reflection of me and my actions.

However, when I moved from mainstream schooling into Distance Education two years ago I quickly came to realise that I was really only comfortable with parents being involved on my terms.  They could join in as long as I remained in control of the curriculum, learning activities and behaviour management.   It became very obvious, very quickly, that this approach was not going to be effective in my new working environment.

The reason for this was that I was no longer the primary educator anymore. I was now working in a 'partnership' with a home tutor.  I went from being the planner and deliverer of 25 hours of content a week to maybe 12 hours in a week depending on the Distance Ed school you work at.  This year I am responsible for 2 half hour reading groups a week, an hour of English a day for my Year 2 and my Year 3 classes, an hour of Maths a day for my Year 3 class and a half hour contact lesson, per Year 2 student, per fortnight. 

The primary educator in this learning environment is in fact the home tutor and it is my major responsibility, as the teacher, to support them to teach the students in my class.  Now if you are lucky the home tutor will be a trained teacher but typically they are a parent or a young governess who only have their own high school education behind them and usually have more than one child to teach.  It has nearly taken me two years to get a grasp on what is the best way for me to help and support my home tutors. 

For the past two years I have done up a 5 Week Unit Overview which outlines the units and lessons being taught and the days on which to do them. (See the example below).  I also did up a Handy Hints sheet which would identify any preparation and reductions that could be done for each lesson.


5 Week Unit Overview
Now this format is perfectly fine if you are working with other teachers but it is quite heavy to process if your are new to teaching and have multiply students who each have one of these outlines every five weeks.  This year I have created a set of weekly planners with a monthly calendar which allows my home tutors to put all their planning, preparation and to do lists on the one page.  It is also a great record to show their employer of what they are doing daily and to plan for any special events coming up in the community or on the property.



 
Another daunting task for any teacher, or home tutor, is setting up a daily routine.  After many years of working in the early years and with children who have autism I have found that a visual timetable not only helps the teacher, but also the student, as there are no surprises in the day and everybody knows what is coming up next. Because there can be up to 5 students in a classroom, doing different subjects at the same time, I created several version of the visual timetable to ensure each child has their own to refer back to during the day.  The visual timetable is also a great way to build up independence in the young learner by allowing them to add in brain breaks, game times and free time.
 
 

Finally, as experienced teachers know a lot of precious time is taken up by the tedious job of sorting and labelling workbooks.  To free up a few of those minutes I have created subject title pages and editable book labels for my students.  Although the title pages will need to be glued in the, book labels can be printed straight onto address label stickers and attached to the front of books.  I also use these labels to give each student 'returned work' zippy bags so that finished send-in sheets and assessment tasks can be kept together and delivered straight to me for marking.  I have created versions of the title page for Prep to Year 6 and these can be downloaded through my TpT shop.

   
              Year 2 Subject Title Pages                               Year 3 Subject Title Page



              Australian Animal Book Labels                               Animal Book Labels

My next post will be about setting up first day learning experiences when you don't have a classroom and you won't be meeting your students until a week after the new school year starts.  Till then,