How to get the most out of your planning days

How to get the most out of your year level planning days. Teachers working through the curriculum during meetings need agenda, minutes and a set time frame. Read more at #teacherblog #foundationintofirst #teacher #meeting #planning

Planning days. Every term they are essential to teachers. If you're placed in a very lucky school, you will receive either an afternoon or a whole day off class for planning. During that time it can be difficult to feel like you are progressing with group discussions going off track, time pressures and other distractions slowing your planning day down.

I have attended many planning days, some more successful than others.

Here are my observations of how the BEST and MOST PRODUCTIVE planning days occur.

1. SET AN AGENDA AND STICK TO IT!

Setting an agenda is a must for any meeting and, in order for agendas to work, you need to create a culture within your school of sticking to them. Do NOT let anybody railroad this meeting. Send a request for agenda items out a week before the meeting and let people add items they want to talk about. Then collate the information into one list and send to all who will be attending. If anybody wants to talk about an off-agenda item it can be discussed during 'other business' at the end - if there is time!

2. PICK A MEETING COORDINATOR

Somebody needs to steer the direction of the planning meeting. This could be your HOC or Year Level Coordinator or just somebody who is good at sticking to the plan. Look at the personality types in your year level. Who enjoys the job of leading the group and ensuring everybody sticks to the agenda? It's often easier for a person who is not part of the year level team to steer the meeting and prevent topics falling off course.

3. RECORD DETAILED MINUTES

Minutes are vital for effective meetings and let everybody know what was discussed, what the outcome of that discussion was and who was responsible for undertaking any action and by when. These points are essential for making the most of your planning day. So many meetings I've gone to have not had adequate minutes recorded and we're often left wondering who was responsible for what and when! Select a team member to type minutes as you discuss issues and create action timelines for outcomes. You can download some free templates for minute taking here.

4. COME PREPARED

Ideally a head of subject area should have been selected prior to the meeting and that person is responsible for studying the next term's assessments for that subject. Often year level teams will only have one person for Maths and another for English, however HASS, Science, The Arts, Health and Digital Technology (plus STEM/STEAM) also need some discussion. If you feel your Maths and English are going to dominate the planning day then have some mini-planning meetings on one the other subjects in the lead up to your big planning day.

If you're selected to be responsible for a subject, you need to know that subject inside and out. Understand the good and bad points of assessments (it's great if you can find assessment copies from last year to examine the strengths and weaknesses of the assessment). Research resources that might be useful and bring copies of those along as well. You can find a wealth of free resources on Teachers Pay Teachers but remember that if you are sharing copies of any paid resources around your year level you MUST stick to copyright licensing agreements. You can do this by purchasing extra copies at a reduced rate or your school can purchase copies through the TPT schools program (yes - let your school pay for them!).

5. STAY ON TOPIC

When discussing a subject area, stay focused on what students need to achieve and how they must demonstrate their knowledge of it. Always work backwards from the assessment! Backward mapping is essential in order to cover all the concepts and skills that students must demonstrate.

6. NOMINATE A TIME KEEPER

Agree on one person at the meeting who will keep their eye on their watch. This person should give five minute warnings about needing to wrap up discussions and keep the agenda on track. If more time is needed, agree to adjust the agenda as a group and extend or reschedule the time to discuss that topic further.

7. PARK IDEAS

An effective idea for meetings is to place a large piece of butcher's paper in the middle of the room with a pile of sticky notes. As topics come up that are off agenda, encourage members of the team to write them on a sticky note and 'park' them on the paper in the middle of the table. At the end of the meeting allocate some time to reviewing the sticky notes that have been parked.

8. BE HONEST BUT RESPECTFUL

If you know an assessment item for a particular subject doesn't work for students, now is the time to speak up. Do not sit by and say nothing. It's important that you voice your opinions and suggestions for adjustment of assessments. Team members need to be open to some flexibility. Simply saying "Well my students just loved that assessment last year!" is not productive and doesn't give an air of openness to change. Often what works for your students one year may not work for other students. Be open to change and respectful of other's opinions.

9. CONTRIBUTE TO THE TEAM

Being silent in a team discussion is almost as counter-productive as being dominating. Those teachers that say nothing or very little at meetings are not working as part of a team. Everybody has an opinion so now is the chance for you to have your say. Don't let one or two people dominate the discussions and if this happens, try to open the floor to everybody to hear others' opinions.

How to get the most out of your year level planning days. Teachers working through the curriculum during meetings need agenda, minutes and a set time frame. Read more at #teacherblog #foundationintofirst #teacher #meeting #planning

What do you think? How do your year level planning meetings go? Do you work in a well-oiled machine or are there one or two personalities that dominate planning meetings?

Quick Guide: Diwali in the classroom

Diwali in the classroom. Teachers need to create inclusive classrooms, celebrating and exploring holidays festivals from around the world. #teacher #socialstudies #freedownload #teacherblog #foundationintofirst

Diwali is an annual celebration held by Hindus around the world. You may have a Hindu student in your class who celebrates this special day and it's important to find out so you can incorporate their annual celebration into your classroom celebrations. Most Hindus do celebrate birthdays but most do not celebrate traditionally religious holidays such as Christmas and Easter so Diwali is a great time to create some inclusivity in your classroom. In addition, you can teach your students about other community celebrations and traditions held around the world.


Diwali in the classroom. Teachers need to create inclusive classrooms, celebrating and exploring holidays festivals from around the world. #teacher #socialstudies #freedownload #teacherblog #foundationintofirst

As a teacher of a student celebrating Diwali this is what you should know:

1. Diwali is celebrated on the fifteenth day of the Hindu month of Kartika so the date changes each year. This year (2018) Diwali will be celebrated on the 7th November.

2. Over 800 million Hindus celebrate Diwali each year around the world.

3. Diwali is sometimes called Deepavali or Festival of Lights.

4. The festival is a spiritual celebration of light over darkness.

5. Diwali is celebrated in different seasons. In the northern hemisphere Diwali is celebrated in the autumn and in the southern hemisphere it is celebrated in the spring.

6. Diwali is founded on an ancient legend about good triumphing over evil (light over darkness).

7. Hindus recognise Diwali as a commemoration for the return of Lord Rama to his kingdom Ayodhya. Traditionally candles are lit to help Lord Rama find his way back.

8. On the same night Jains, Sikhs and Newar Buddhists also celebrate Diwali for different spiritual reasons, so check which religion your students recognise and try to include the correct variation about it.


Diwali in the classroom. Teachers need to create inclusive classrooms, celebrating and exploring holidays festivals from around the world. #teacher #socialstudies #freedownload #teacherblog #foundationintofirst
How to help students make connections with Diwali in your class.

In the past, I've let my Hindu students stand up and give the class a talk about Diwali and they have been so excited to share what this special time means to them. I recall my Prep student telling their classmates it 'feels like Christmas because you get special presents' so it's important to a) recognise these special events in their lives and b) use them as a teaching point for other students.

I often write these similarities on the board as my students discuss Diwali, as these are the key elements of all celebrations.


Diwali in the classroom. Teachers need to create inclusive classrooms, celebrating and exploring holidays festivals from around the world. #teacher #socialstudies #freedownload #teacherblog #foundationintofirst

There are lots of fun ways you can incorporate Diwali into your classroom celebrations such as making some craft, colouring in a poster (free one available here) and perhaps bringing in some sweet traditional foods to share with students.

Diwali in the classroom. Teachers need to create inclusive classrooms, celebrating and exploring holidays festivals from around the world. #teacher #socialstudies #freedownload #teacherblog #foundationintofirst


Diwali in the classroom. Teachers need to create inclusive classrooms, celebrating and exploring holidays festivals from around the world. #teacher #socialstudies #freedownload #teacherblog #foundationintofirst


Diwali in the classroom. Teachers need to create inclusive classrooms, celebrating and exploring holidays festivals from around the world. #teacher #socialstudies #freedownload #teacherblog #foundationintofirst


How to take quick and easy reading running records

How to take quick and easy reading running records for teachers. PROBE and PM Benchmark reading test for students in primary elementary school. #foundationintofirst #teacher #teachingblog

In the classroom life can get super busy.

If you're anything like me, doing reading running records can be time consuming and often consists of numerous interruptions!

From time to time an App comes along that can make a teacher's life a little easier. This is a paid App called Running Record Calculator (link here) but you can get a free version here that is easy to use but doesn't have all the bells and whistles of the paid App. 

How to take quick and easy reading running records for teachers. PROBE and PM Benchmark reading test for students in primary elementary school. #foundationintofirst #teacher #teachingblog

I particularly love this little App for taking running records and here is why:

YOU CAN RECORD STUDENTS

Listening to running records takes a lot of energy and sometimes you can miss an error or a self correction. This App lets you click Start Timer and it will record your student speaking.

How to take quick and easy reading running records for teachers. PROBE and PM Benchmark reading test for students in primary elementary school. #foundationintofirst #teacher #teachingblog

YOU CAN PICK UP ERRORS AND SELF CORRECTIONS AS YOU RECORD

So once you start recording this screen comes up. As the student is reading you can quickly click on Substitution, Omission, Repetition, Appeal or Sounding Out. 

How to take quick and easy reading running records for teachers. PROBE and PM Benchmark reading test for students in primary elementary school. #foundationintofirst #teacher #teachingblog

So, for example, your student repeats a word. You click Repetition and are giving the option to click OK. Every time you do this it is recorded at the top (see the little R). Every error, SC etc.. is recorded along the top of the App as the student is reading. 

How to take quick and easy reading running records for teachers. PROBE and PM Benchmark reading test for students in primary elementary school. #foundationintofirst #teacher #teachingblog

Then when you have finished listening to them read click Done and it shows you on the next screen the number of SC (Self Corrections) and ER (Errors). 

How to take quick and easy reading running records for teachers. PROBE and PM Benchmark reading test for students in primary elementary school. #foundationintofirst #teacher #teachingblog

Then enter the number of words they read.

How to take quick and easy reading running records for teachers. PROBE and PM Benchmark reading test for students in primary elementary school. #foundationintofirst #teacher #teachingblog

Adjust any errors or self corrections.

How to take quick and easy reading running records for teachers. PROBE and PM Benchmark reading test for students in primary elementary school. #foundationintofirst #teacher #teachingblog

Then at the top (this example was done over different sessions) you can see the total. 

How to take quick and easy reading running records for teachers. PROBE and PM Benchmark reading test for students in primary elementary school. #foundationintofirst #teacher #teachingblog

Super fast, super quick and easy to use during a busy classroom day. I love my little running record reading app! 

Do you use this type of app or what other Apps do you prefer for running records?

How to take quick and easy reading running records for teachers. PROBE and PM Benchmark reading test for students in primary elementary school. #foundationintofirst #teacher #teachingblog







6 Simple ways you can give students feedback


6 Simple and effective ways you can give students feedback that actually make a difference. Monitory tasks and summative assessment for primary school teachers. #foundationintofirst #feedback #students #earlyyears #primary

Feedback is so crucially important to students. I always think of a soccer player aiming to kick the ball into a goal. You wouldn't tell them to practice for days then put them on the field and expect them to do well. Coaches will break the process down into smaller steps such as dribbling, shooting, passing and running. They will give feedback on each step including how well they achieved this skill before moving on to the next skill.

As teachers, with so many things to do, we often lose sight of those goal-setting steps and it's understandable with so many students in each class. We're all familiar with monitoring tasks at the start of new unit and the summative assessment at the end of the unit - but what are you doing in between these two points to monitor and give students feedback.

Here are my tips for giving feedback that will actually help your students reach their goals.

1. BREAK IT DOWN

It's seems obvious and as teachers we're doing this all the time but have you actually taken the assessment piece and broken down the skills students need in order to succeed on that assessment. If you haven't read my blog post from last week on backward mapping and data collection click here to read it.

2. MAKE IT TIMELY

Feedback needs to be timely. More so with young students who have a short attention span. There is little point providing feedback on an summative assessment piece three weeks after they have completed it as you'll already be working towards a new assessment. I aim to get my summative pieces back to students within a week of completing it. This means you can discuss their abilities to demonstrate these skills while they are still fresh in their mind.

The same can be said for formative assessment pieces, which I try to return to students the same day or the next teaching day. Pop quizzes give you a quick, daily opportunity to give instant feedback to students. 

3. BUILD A CULTURE OF FEEDBACK

Some students do not accept feedback well. Students who are not resilient see feedback as criticism. It's important to discuss these issues with the student's parents as well as with the student. Make the difference clear to students that it is not criticism and that feedback is essential for students to understand how well they are performing.

Build a culture of peer feedback in your classroom. Encourage students to give and receive feedback regularly to help students build resilience. Introduce the concept of 'yet' to students. I can't do this 'yet' is a powerful tool you can use with students.


4. KEEP RUNNING RECORDS

This is a strategy that is mostly used in early years teaching but can be applied to middle and upper without too much effort. A great suggestion from kindergarten_matters:

"I monitor understanding using running records, observation and questions during guided reading time. Conferencing during writing time, observation during maths time and always end with a maths worksheet or activity where I can easily assess understanding".

The key point here is - have a variety of methods to use. I particularly like the way she uses her guided reading time to ask questions. This is a great strategy for assessing your students abilities and giving them that informal feedback. In addition, I also love using conferencing one-on-one, which can be hard to do when we are so time poor but can give you real results in the improvement of their work.

5. KEEP IT SIMPLE

Feedback doesn't have to be overly complicated. Little Learning Legends suggest a simple but effective strategy for giving timely feedback.

"I get them to write their goals in their book and put three boxes next to them and I tick them off as we go along."

What makes this a great strategy is that that student is participating in the feedback process and using some self-assessment to monitor their own progress.

6. MAKE IT FUN

Here is a recent suggestion from Little Library Learners about a fun way to give students feedback:

"I love to distribute exit tickets to students to monitor their understanding of a new concept or skill!"

This feedback idea ticks all the boxes. It's a timely, simple and fun way of giving feedback and is actually something students can look forward to!

What are the best ways you've found to give students feedback?

6 Simple and effective ways you can give students feedback that actually make a difference. Monitory tasks and summative assessment for primary school teachers. #foundationintofirst #feedback #students #earlyyears #primary


How to use data collection to get the best from your students

How to use data collection to get the best from your students. Testing to the test using data analysis to inform your teaching practice. #primary #teacher #school #data #hattie

Aussie teachers are tired. Ask any of them. They are tired for so many reasons. An overcrowded curriculum seems to be one point very Aussie teacher I've met agrees upon. It seems to be a trickle-down effect from knee-jerk political policy that seems to cram our curriculum with more and more topics to be covered.

How to use data collection to get the best from your students. Testing to the test using data analysis to inform your teaching practice. #primary #teacher #school #data #hattie

What politicians (and those that have never taught in the classroom) don't seem to realise is that students need time to:
  • be introduced to a new concept
  • learn the skills required to try the new concept
  • practice the new concept, repeatedly
  • demonstrate their understanding of the new concept in a test format
These things take time. Lots of time. Time that the current curriculum does not allow for. Sadly, when a new concept or topic is introduced, rarely is an old one taken out. Thus we end up with 6 or 7 NEW concepts to cover in a 10 week period. 

Surely 10 weeks is enough time, right?

Of course 10 weeks would be fantastic.. but any teacher out there on the chalk-front will tell you that 10 weeks can get eaten up very quickly by any or all of the following additional activities:
  • school camp
  • band camp
  • excursions
  • incursions
  • book week parade
  • NAIDOC week parade
  • ANZAC Day parade
  • weekly parades
  • parades, parades and more parades
Even if a child is away sick for any length of time, they miss so many key concepts that it can be impossible to catch them up. 

So now what? We're doomed!

Well yes and no. Here is my approach to the madness of our curriculum. It's not popular but it works for my students and that's all that  matters. I teach to the test. There. I said it. I'm not proud of it. I'm a teacher who has resorted to teaching to the test. 

How to use data collection to get the best from your students. Testing to the test using data analysis to inform your teaching practice. #primary #teacher #school #data #hattie

Isn't teaching to the test' kinda old-school?

Perhaps, but let's break it down. We have been so caught up in the madness of C2C and all those concepts that we have forgotten what makes a unit of work. One of the reasons I don't call my products 'units' is because when you write a unit you need to backward map from the assessment (which each school develops themselves).  A unit without an assessment piece is like a burger without the bun. This is something that a lot of new teachers seem to forget. The assessment IS the curriculum. 

In a perfect world I would teach lots of different topics and dive deeper into curriculum areas but the curriculum is just too content-heavy for me to do that and my students' learning suffers on their test scores. 

Aren't students more than just test scores?

Yes. However, teaching has changed so dramatically in the last 5 years that teaching is about being driven by the data. 

How to use data collection to get the best from your students. Testing to the test using data analysis to inform your teaching practice. #primary #teacher #school #data #hattie

Teachers aren't data collectors!

We are now and this is why, sadly, a lot of teachers have left teaching. Data should drive your teaching and not the other way around. This is the way nearly all schools have gone in Australia.  For more information about using data collection to inform your teaching practice read Hattie.

How to use data collection to get the best from your students. Testing to the test using data analysis to inform your teaching practice. #primary #teacher #school #data #hattie


How do you use data to help teach your students?

Firstly I break the final assessment piece into small skills that need to be mastered. For example, a written task might require students to use compound sentences, figurative language etc.. These are the areas I need to teach and collect data on regularly to monitor student learning

I create my own pre-test based on the skills required and analyse that data. This tells me where I need to spend my time (which is valuable) teaching. 

After each lesson I encourage students to reflect on their new skill and every week I give a short pop quiz to see how students are going with this new skill. This data is where the real rubber hits the road. What this data tells me is where I need to work harder or can move to teaching the next skill. 

I keep this pattern up until the assessment and make sure I'm modelling all the time through my teaching and learning wall (Hattie's visible learning). 

The results have been amazing. I can actually see where my students are learning through my data collection. 

What about the creativity in teaching? Where does that come in?

In the concepts being covered. The curriculum is so overcrowded that THIS is where you need to get creative as a teacher. The concepts covered in each subject are the over-arching themes. They are the spaces within which students can develop their skills. 

What are your thoughts? Does your school let data drive the learning? Do you use Hattie?


How to use data collection to get the best from your students. Testing to the test using data analysis to inform your teaching practice. #primary #teacher #school #data #hattie