Saturday, September 18, 2010

Recreational Writers

Several years ago sitting next to Harry Hood over lunch he recalled a conversation he had with Marie Clay about recreational readers. She said "you know whats wrong with this country Harry? We have thousands of kids who can read but don't". How many teachers roll their eyes, nod their heads or say amen to that one. My sons catholic school are so desperate to get their kids to read they have huge signs around their school saying "Boys who read ACHIEVE". The key is "foster a love of" not "able to" read. Harry made the point "recreational readers pass exams"
There is another step to this however. What about those people like me who haven't fostered a love of books, but have fostered a love of conversation, observation, discussion, we read only the relevant bits and watch and listen, we have plenty to say, is their hope for us? We have a love of what we do, our work, our sports, our families, surely Marie Clay has room for us. Through blogging we have become the recreational writers, surely recreational writers pass exams too!
For three years now I have followed a young mans blog he was 9 when he started. He loves sport and in the early blogs of 2008 his teacher/school cleverly used the Olympics as the hook. After a few posts I noticed that he was posting after 3pm and even at night.
The defining moment however came when Tanielu blogged in January in the middle of the school holidays. Name a ten year old pacific island boy who is recreationally writing in their christmas holidays. Yes there was a very real reason for the blog post but the boundaries between the classroom and home had become intertwined. Learning is everywhere, he wasn't writing because he was forced to, it was because he had to, he had something to say and he said it.
Other subtleties that come from this blog is that if you read todays articles and compare them to the very early posts you can see how his writing has developed amazingly (no need for moodle or mahara or scanning rubbish into an eportfolio). By the way Dan you are an observant, intelligent sports writer!
Tanielu keeps his cluster maps before they clear out annually, smart work Dan it can be encouraging to see those dots.
Search Tanielu in google, guess who is the number 1 hit.
If you check the comments you get people writing in Samaon. You get adults giving adult opinion. You get teachers encouraging (but not so necessary now). You get family members. You get classmates and kids from other schools. But the gold is you get someone called Dad, with amazing thoughtful, insightful, encouraging words. This is a winning story.

In many ways I can relate to Tanielu. I started blogging in 2008, I write because I have something to say. It takes time, process, thought. I know it takes maintenance, discipline but the bug is catchy, it's rewarding. When someone posts a comment it's cool. When you see a red dot on the map or follow the live traffic feed, its a buzz, and I'm a Benji Marshall fan too.

If you want justification for elearning, or you are thinking of blogging in your classroom then this says it all. I get ample visitors who look at elearning and I am certain they go back to their schools and do nothing. Stop the inactivity and get active, get the hook going with your kids now. As my old mate Jim Ferguson always said "these kids are year 4 once, make it the best year 4 ever". Foster a love of writing, it's not only possible, it's imperative.
Teachers this takes work, this is one small story, it's not a miracle, it is what is expected for 21st century teaching. Big ups to Dan's school you guys lead the way.
Go the Tigers !

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Building Schools for Key Competencies

Three events have jolted my brain into action. A tweet from the seemingly ever pondering Cheryl (it's the photo). A visit from friends at Torbay School and a session with the ever popular Julia Atkin on building Key Competencies in your school.

Lets start with the fact that many schools are prefabs, crappy old buildings, toilet blocks jammed in cloak bays (cloak bays? never seen a cloak at school!), and disconnected learning spaces. So yes, some schools are fortunate to have new blocks, purpose built spaces bla bla bla. I dont think this automatically banishes you to a default mindset of "we cant do it". The KC's : managing self, relating to others, thinking, participating and contributing. So how do you physically set up a school that supports the KC's? How do you build a school on the KC's?

There are many ways to get the job done and this is one theory, its nothing new, and it's only a suggestion that works for us, it doesn't mean it will work for everyone.
Its the old chestnut - vertical forms - I look at it from a few perspectives. I believe that kids learn heaps of stuff when the teacher isn't around, those social skills, standing up for yourself, real role models from their peers. I might think this, but Nuthall did the research (see earlier post) teachers cant always control what kids learn. So if the learning, the values, the KCs are practiced and learnt when the teachers aren't there then maybe we should try to set up the school so that when we aren't there kids of differing ages (role models) are present. When teachers are present (we do the KC's too) we can direct and model the KC's, we can focus on them, have them as goals, but when its just kids we have no say as to what happens.
So vertical forms, multi level teams, small schools within a school, call them whatever you want, they work. Imagine the kid who is pissing around at a lunchtime and kids follow this behaviour, having kids of more maturity about when the 5 year olds are eating dirt, fighting over a toy, whatever. Role models are everything. How many 5 year olds are amazing role models? If you physically have classrooms of all levels together around the school you may be starting to encourage the positive role models, it's the KC's implementation on a real level. Having the kids work together when directed by the teacher, organising real interactivity between learners of all ages, going on trips together, sharing learning together will spill over into the playground if it's genuine. If your school is set up to make real collaboration work amongst kids then you are getting there.
Hows this: Mrs Podgorani was at pak n save and a mum came to her and thanked her for the way Little Podgorani (year5 at the time) was a great friend and genuine buddy for her 5 year old who had just started at school. The young 5 year old had gone home and talked about her friend at school, how they were mates, how her friend was helping her with her learning and playing with her in the playground. When two of your schools mums are talking at the supermarket about the success of the vertical forms then you've cracked it.

Recently I met a guy who said "yeah I do buddy reading", my mental model of that was one of a cold cup of sick. I know buddy reading can be great, but it can be rubbish too. So if it's setting up structures that support the learning community for our kids then I'm all over it.

So if you're in a Julia Atkin workshop, stuck at a table of teachers who do buddy reading and palm that off as vertical forms and role modelling, or reading twitter and looking at future schools discussions, or talking with kind hearted visitors about why you do things, then try to make connections. I want to draw a symbol like Prince and call it Extended Abstract.

Perhaps its easier to see rather than explain, but think vertical forms done well, on steroids, and working for kids.