Sunday, September 23, 2012

Classroom Walls - Who Are They For?

The classroom that I share with my students is a continually evolving and changing space.  The furniture is set out in a way that can be easily moved to suit the activities that we are doing in the class.  Recently I had a conversation about the walls in my classroom and the question was asked as to why I didn't have a lot of student work on display.  Why didn't I have a lot of student work on display...this too has been a thought out process - but don't get me wrong, I do have student work on display, but it all has a specific purpose and reason for being on the wall.

Clutter-free Classroom
With a constantly changing room, I like to have a clutter-free space.  Often I walk into other classrooms and the environment is very 'print-rich'. Work is hanging on wires diagonally across the room and  every space is covered with literacy or artwork.  These spaces make me feel quite claustrophobic and I personally find it difficult to concentrate in such an environment.  Of course when visitors visit these classrooms they are wowed, but how do students feel day-in and day-out in these environments?  Do they really look and engage with the work that is on display?  Who is the display for?  After speaking with a few colleagues most admitted that the work is put up and forgotten about.  Some teachers had work from previous years up - who is this for?

So what are on my classroom walls?
Every wall in my classroom has a purpose.  We have a Twitter wall as we use Twitter in the classroom on a weekly basis.  This wall we constructed at the start of the year.  We deconstructed a twitter page, so students know what certain Twitter terms mean.  They have an example of a tweet (that they have each written) and some rules around using Twitter in the classroom.  Students are referred back to this wall if they have simple questions and students who are new to the class, can easily read this and be up with the play!
We have two displays dedicated to our iWrite programme - adapted from the Big Writing - a UK based writing programme. We have a VCOP (vocabulary, connectives, opening and punctuation wall, where students have been part of creating pyramids for these key elements.  We also have a WOW word (impressive words) wall.  Another wall is set-up at the start of the year and shows the country where each student identifies themselves with.  I like to keep this display up as it shows the diversity of the class.  We also have guidelines for using the iPads.  These are put around the room and are written by the students for the students.  There is the obligatory 'notices' board, where notices relating to the students are posted (e.g. ESOL timetables, school jobs, fitness timetables, etc).  A new addition this term has been a reading response wall, where students have created possible response questions they can answer after a reading (e.g. what emotions do you feel after reading this story? If you could end the story in a different way, what would that ending be?) We also have 'functional' posters on display - a poster which has relavant usernames and passwords for whole class sites (e.g. vimeo, youtube, etc) and booking sheets for devices.

The question was also asked of me, if the students are not online how do they share each others work?  Students are often working collaboratively on a project and sharing is part of this process.  Although the work may not be displayed on the wall, this does not imply that students are not sharing their work.  Often the work we do is not intended to be put on a wall. My students are year 5 and their writing can be pages and pages in length - the intention is not to display this on a wall, instead we have folders for this work, which is easily accessible to anyone in the room.

Food for thought - who is the display for? Who is benefiting from the display?  How is it promoting student learning?

Is the writing on the wall for busy 'print-rich' classrooms?

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Connecting with our Communities

I think including parents/ caregivers/ whanau in their child's online world is so important.  We talk about students having a wider audience and including parents in their audience is such a powerful tool.  I use Wikispaces a lot with my year 5 class and I really wanted parents to be involved in their child's space.  Parents are often mentioning how little they know about the digital world, so to involve them would also mean educating them.  We decided to run parent workshops at night.  We have now run two of these sessions.  Originally we thought we would run them every 4 - 6 weeks.  Our first workshop was on Wikispaces and after feedback realised the parents needed a follow up session the following week.  So we ran a second one this week and had some familiar faces (who became the 'experts') and some newbies.  On the second workshop we also looked at what made a quality comment.
Seems this has been a great success and it has also opened up the path of conversation around this topic even further.  The parents can see the real benefit in using these tools and my students have already commented on their parents feedback. 
To back this all up, we are also emaling a weekly eNewsletter to parents.  In this they can see specific events from our classroom as well as students reflecting on the week (interviews, etc).  This has allowed me greater connection with the parents on a weekly basis as this is often a conversation started either through emails or face-to-face).
Our next session is on Twitter (see Parent Presentation here) and how parents can get involved as many classes use this microblogging throughout the day. 
For me it is great to see the parents connecting with their children on another level and my students are even more aware of the content they put up as they know they have people in their immediate circle viewing this.  

PadCampAkld Reflection

Giving up a Saturday to embark on professional learning with no real agenda set, may seem a bit daunting, but the EduCamp type unconference is a great way to meet and network with teachers who have similar passions and interests.  This past Saturday was the iPad version of EduCamp.  Having attended the previous EduCamp at Stonefields - I was excited to attend an iPad specific event.

As with the last EduCamp, the experience has given me even more to think about, from the set-up to the role these tools play in our students learning.  Here are the main points of interest:

Determining the role that iPads have at your school is a crucial first step and one I wish we had thought a lot more about and had a clear definition for staff.  I see there being two main purposes for the iPad in the classroom and although each purpose may cross over, clearly  defining the devices role will affect the set-up and management of the device in the classroom.
Teacher iPad: some schools issue each teacher with an iPad.  Teachers use this to collect assessment data and keep anecdotal notes on students.  Staff have their emails set-up and it is predominately used for the teacher, although, like staff laptops, students sometimes use these.
Student iPad: The role of the iPad in the classroom for students is all based around student learning.  All apps on the iPad are for student learning and students these apps on the iPad to capture student voice.  The set-up of these iPads may have specific settings disabled according to the schools' e-learning philosophy.

We have not been very clear in our school about the role of the iPads in the classroom.  Some people have the iPads set-up solely for student learning, with no teacher-specific apps on them.  Others have a hybrid version with staff mail being set-up on the iPads, notes from PD courses, then students using the iPads for learning during the school day.  On top of this, we have teachers with apps/ features enabled for their own children (when they take them home), some even have another (personal) iTunes account on the class iPads - is this good practice?  So the role of the iPads in our school are not clearly defined and although I don't like a lot of rules, think this is an important step to take.

Our staff have full access to the App store.  Being able to download anything (as long as they have $'s left) they want.  We have no criteria set and no evaluative process.  On one hand this allows staff to find and install apps when they need then, on the other hand, iPads end up with hundreds of apps that are unused or apps that are similar (e.g. 5 different interactive whiteboards!)

So with all that said and learnt - what is next?
I think a re-definition of the role the iPads play in our classrooms (specific to our school) would be hugely beneficial.  Do we have a nominated teacher iPad, where staff can enable certain features or are they all going to be defined as student learning tools?
We have had a term to 'play' with multiple iPads in the classroom and staff are getting to grips with the management of these.  We have discussed moving from playing to deliberate acts of teaching and learning.  Some staff are well down the road of using the iPads to collaborate and share student voice, but some are still (unfortunately) using them as a digital worksheet.

So How?
Having had a term to get used to multiple iPads and apps, I know I have a handful that we (the students in the class) use all the time. Sitting down in planning teams (year group based e.g. year 5's) and deciding (as a team) the apps that clearly capture student voice, that should be on the iPads.  We need use evidence based on the pedagogy of learn, create, share to justify an app being on the iPads.  This will hopefully get teachers to think critically about apps and ask the question: how does this capture student voice and is so, how can this information be used?