24 March 2013

Time for a breather and some reflection......

It's been a stimulating and full-on first three weeks back in the classroom. I think I've got nearly all the students' names learned (thanks to the wee photo gallery I made of each class), which is a great help both from the point of view of showing the students that I'm interested in them personally and also to give me a sense of having a handle on things.

Now it's Sunday night, but no school here tomorrow as it's Otago Anniversary Day. Tuesday is also out with the regional NCEA Jumbo Day with Shirley and Jo Guthrie doing the honours. Good opportunity to 'renouer avec' Otago French teachers. Unfortunately the door was closed on the Southland teachers as there were deemed to be too many to accommodate. I think that's a pity. They can't be all that numerous. So, I have a two-day week before more R&R over Easter. I'm enjoying the peace and quiet of my little house and listening to the incredible amount of birdsong from the Town Belt. Balm to the soul. Not that my soul really needs balm, but it's very uplifting to hear these sounds again after 40 years, especially when I'm working up a sweat on the forest tracks. 

I've just devised a 100 question questionnaire for my Year 11s called 'What sort of a Learner are you'? It's a tick-box one that shouldn't take long but should give me valuable insight into their perception of themselves as learners. It's Guy Claxton inspired, of course, but from a language learning perspective. I was rather rattled after parents' night on Thursday by a mother who told me her daughter was feeling pretty 'déstabilisée' by the radical change in teaching style and that perhaps I should make a more gentle transition and that maybe this feeling wasn't confined to her daughter. Fortunately, there's no evidence that the rest of the class is feeling similarly short-changed and the rest of the parents were very positive. Funny how one tends to focus on the negative feed-back and forget the positive. I defended my pedagogy, pointing out that I felt it was a lost opportunity not to be using French as much as possible as the transactional language, that we were learning French through using it to communicate rather than learning about it to prepare for assessments. Because we're not moving from chapter to chapter in a systematic manner, she feels she's not learning anything. It makes me realise that I should consistently spend more time at the end of each lesson making sure that everyone knows what the focus of the lesson was and reflects on how they feel and whether it was valuable. I don't like to spell things out too much at the beginning as I prefer the students to reflect on the purpose of the activities as they're doing them. If it makes them feel more secure I might even resort to making a list of useful structures (gleaned from the old curriculum) that we'll be covering sometime throughout the year in the natural course of events, so that they can tick them off when they first encounter them and then once they've understood them and finally once they feel they've really sussed them and can transfer the knowledge to a variety of contexts (a la SOLO taxonomy). It might not be helpful to those who are confused by the analytical approach but could appeal to the others. I've also brought down with me a resource which I made a good 15 years ago to fit the old 1987 syllabus. It's a series of stories I wrote based on all the old topics but from a Year 11 perspective. A quick read through has made me think that the content is still highly relevant to the reading standard  and if I make a sound recording of each one, it'll be good for listening practice as well. As you can imagine, because I wrote them, some of them are quite quirky and non-neutral, to make them more memorable. I can pop them on MyPortfolio in digital form.

At the moment the Year 11s are learning some French poetry, ostensibly for the purpose of sharing it with some Lithuanian students on Skype on Thursday, but the more perceptive ones have realised that it's really about developing confidence, fluency and memorising skills. The repetition should also help to reinforce patterns even though they're not all doing the same poems. That's differentiation. I'm trying to make them understand that whatever we do in class has a purpose in the wider scheme of things and that a narrow exam focus gives rise to mechanical academic engagement rather than deeper intellectual engagement. It's quite a departure from the ethos of the school, I feel, but I'm sure my methodology and optimum student achievement are compatible. I can also justify my pedagogy in terms of the NZC which is reassuring.

I'm pretty excited about how smoothly the initial uptake of MyPortfolio is going. The digital natives love it and can see already how useful it could be to store things on the cloud in one tidy place rather than having digital bits and pieces in various places. Of course by the time you come down we'll have plenty of questions to ask you and will be ready to learn new tricks and shortcuts. Here's one for starters. How would you manage a running record of students, class by class, on MyPortfolio? I just wanted to have a sort of page for each class with each student's name and comments that occur to me, which could come in very handy at report time. This doesn't have anything to do with my communication with the students through comments on their work. Do you think it's best to do it directly on MyPortfolio or keep it on some other sort of document that I could upload to MyPortfolio?  I'd like to think I was making maximum use of the tool.

What else have I been doing? With the junior German classes I've been doing the donut activity with an inner circle and and outer circle which moves when I tinkle one of my bells (the cow bell this week) and say 'Tauscht!' (Change). They seem to really see the relevance of holding the same conversation with different class members. I'm lucky to have a delightful German student-teacher at the moment who's a great resource for my minimal German.

I nearly forgot to answer your question about target language in class. It varies from class to class and I do it au pif because it comes naturally or the opportunity arises but I'm no stickler for rules as you know. I tend to use more French with the students I've already identified as being able to cope with it rather than looking at me perplexed. Once again it's about differentiation. The juniors are pretty good about using the formulaic expressions now plastered all over the back wall but like Mainland cheese the habit takes time to form. I quite often say something in French then translate it if necessary. Other times I forget myself and answer a common question asked in English but then chastise myself publicly.  Jacqueline and I always talk to each other in French in front of the students and most of the time between ourselves. It sets a good example and is also a pleasure.

Another thing waiting on my wall for students to add their contributions is a blank poster with a cloud in the middle with 'apprendre le français'. Soon I hope it will be adorned with multi-coloured post-its full of good ideas about what learning French might entail. Guy Claxton's Magnificent 8 Qualities are also up there in multi-coloured splendour. I'll post some photos next week.

That about wraps it up for the moment.
Hearty salutations to you and the yoga baleines.
^. .^


  1. Here I am Ruth, your post has been on my mind since it was published and I read it.
    By now you will be winding down from a short week getting and enjoying Easter! Did the meeting with local colleagues live up to expectations? Many you knew I guess and have previously worked with! Am I right to think that you are teaching a yr11 class? As Guy Claxton will say, I am sure you " trust the process (of learning)" to allow your students to be successful there!
    There is a lot to think about in your post and I will endeavor to turn on my sounding board capability and hopefully complement your rich and varied practice.
    First of all I won't hide from you that my jaw dropped when I read you devised a tick box 100- question questionnaire: tick box and 100 that reads pretty out of character coming from you! Will the student get her individual "What sort of a learner am I?" profile upon completing it? Have you published it as a googleform to allow you to gather all in a spreadsheet and analyze the information at the click of the button and distribute individual profiles? That is one good use of a google app for sure. And I could also easily read the questions as you could have shared the link to it in the post.
    You also bring up two interesting aspects of school life:
    - the parent interview where parents were overall positive: were their daughters present? If so did they share their early experience of their participation in your class? I do like the idea that the student leads the conversation at such event and one of our Japanese colleagues has started the student led conference in her college where students bring up their myportfolio page (that they have previously shared with their parents) and talk both parents and teacher through the learning that has taken place for the page to be compiled.
    - the reflection process: to allow this to happen in class is certainly a definite plus. That the students spend some time on this regularly will help them see what their overall purpose for learning French is. To move this from just "level 1 NCEA" is the object of ongoing conversations and them owning the reasons why they are learning French. You describe this state of thing as a "departure from the ethos of the school" so that might be meeting a bit of reticence from your learners who in Yr 11 would be pretty much formatted to work to the assessments. Maybe it is worth linking the information you will learn from your survey to a co constructed success criteria, which may give you another opportunity to weave in NZC and Communication? Also your students could use the Journal function in myportfolio to jot down their regular reflections (remember Ewan McIntosh "Where was I , where am I, where am I going?). It is something they own (and emphasis on this is pretty important I feel especially if they only want to pass exams at this stage) , that they could refer back when in doubt, that they can share and get feedback on. Would you agree that reflection is made easier if the criteria for success is not only clear but also internalized and if they themselves can articulate the next step they need to take?
    (Blogger tells me to continue in another comment box...!)

  2. (so here it is!)
    Your comments about the target language reassure me! It is as anything habit forming indeed! It is great that Jacqueline and you can interact in French to model use.
    I absolutely look forward to the pictures of the poster and all the formulaic phrases. Have you thought about making these posters interactive using QR codes? Your students could record themselves using say SoundCloud, then generate a QR code for the link (just add a QR code generator to the tablets or use a browser one) print and glue. Then they can use the QR code reader to scan it and hear the phrases again. That of course goes for any subsequent posters your students may be producing.
    About myPortfolio, access to all of your students is done by creating a group for each class. Each create a page per purpose (e.g.: Ecrit, Oral, Interaction etc) and must share it with you. From the group you can then access their profile page and their pages' list, comment, put page on watch list to receive notification of it being further edited etc.
    To keep comments and observations about individual students as they occur, you could create a private page on myportfolio with a text box in which you can keep a running commentary. Or else start a googledoc and do the same, and display it on a MP page with other related artefacts (e.g.: results, images etc)
    By the way, what is there at your school in terms of online services? (googleapps, moodle, kamar ?????)
    Oh and if your students are going to use myportfolio for French to start with, here is a great opportunity for them to personalize their Profile Page with something about themselves in French, likes and dislikes maybe, a couple of images they identify illustrate their page, maybe a couple of videos of French singers or else. Above all maybe on this Profile page is the opportunity for them to spell out loud and clear their very own reason(s) to want to learn French (beyond the generic Apprendre le Français parce que…) . This is their own statement, in their own terms, it is visible to you and their friends and something they can revisit if motivation or engagement fades a tad. It provides yet another way for you to know them better still.
    I immensely look forward to learning from your questionnaire and from the feedback you are getting. Upon reading my comment again before publishing, I realize that I can't help but make connections with use of tools. They merely underpin all aspects of learning after all! Yet harnessing their use enables to widen and deepen what we get out of the learning process.
    I have a head very busy with contradicting thoughts on a range of themes, in particular a recurring theme which is very familiar to me as you know: questioning the effectiveness of my contributions! I believe that a couple of small Easter eggs and hot cross buns will help me organize my thoughts that I would gladly submit to your scrutiny LOL
    Two of four of the yoga baleines are away this week end, I ll catch up with Baleine Potelée soon hihihi! I am very blessed to have such fun Francophone friends in the Bay now, I had never sought to meet other French speakers and with these 3 it is our mutual appreciation that is the cement of the friendship, the language being a mere tool!
    Plein de bises, au plaisir de te lire


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