Thursday, February 23, 2017

Week 4 - Still Learning!

Today is my quiet day, with only one class. This morning's literacy class was partly word lists and then a story-telling activity. The idea was to have them practise speaking aloud. I felt I ought to demonstrate, to give them the idea of what was required. The storyteller tells a short story, only about three sentences, and the other two group members have to ask questions. The idea was that they would all take a turn at storytelling, but there just wasn't going to be enough time in the session, so after doing my demonstration, I told them that only one in each group needed to tell a story, the others had to ask questions.

I think I did the right thing to give them a demo first - it told them what they had to do, far better than if I'd just issued instructions, even if it did mean there wasn't time for them all to take a turn.

I wrote the story topics on the board and told them I'd like them to choose one of those rather than waste time trying to decide on their own. Then I invited them to choose a topic for me to tell. The vote went to the subject of "food poisoning" and I told them, in four sentences, the(true) story of my father getting sick after a pub meal where he ordered butterfish. I then asked them to ask questions and the ones they asked were generally appropriate, so I knew they had understood the task.

My concern, as I told Chris, the teacher who had devised the activity, was that some would waste their small amount of time arguing over who was the storyteller, then what the story topic was to be - and those would be the ones who were actually making an attempt at the task! There were at least three students, a group of friends, who might just spend the time chatting.

In the end, it mostly worked. There was one group where one of the girls was sulking after an argument with the other two. She refused to participate and there wasn't any point in swapping her with someone in another group, because they were all busy doing the task. Not to mention that the other two girls were doing just fine between them, as a pair instead of a group.

This is the second time that girl has had some drama. One morning, she burst into tears over some childish quarrel at the lockers, but by the time we got to the next class, she was happily sitting next to the girl she had quarreled with only ten minutes before. I'll need to think what I can do, but really, in the end, all you can say is - "Year 7! Oy!"

But for the most part, I was able to tell Chris it had worked, better than I'd expected. In one group, when they had finished, they happily tried a second topic, only a boy in the group asked if he could make his own. That was fine - I'd only asked them to stick to the topics to avoid wasting time.

The other day, in my EAL class, the students were supposed to be writing a profile as the first in a program called Literacy Buddies. One of the girls, who is in my Group 3 Literacy class, wrote that her favourite book was The Hunger Games!

"Isn't that a bit hard for you?" I asked, but she explained that she had worked out hard words from the context, then the dictionary, which is how they should do it. She had seen the film, which helped too. This is a student I trust, so if she said she read it, she did. But does she belong in my Literacy class? Yesterday I took a copy of the book into class and asked her to read the first couple of pages to me, which she did reasonably well. I suggested that she might like to be re-tested - the On Demand tests don't always get it right - but she was dismayed at the thought of leaving my class, so I suggested that perhaps she could just wait for the On Demand tests in April. If she does well in those, she will really have to move - when work is too easy, it gets boring.

At Book Club yesterday I focused on the Premier's Reading Challenge. There was a little bit of interest, not as much as I would have liked, but enough for me to consider registering my school. Then anyone else who wants to try it can. I've never done it before, but I'm not sure it's of much use to my school, which has a lot of students who are reading below their official year level. The Reading Challenge is aimed at kids who are reading at the appropriate level. The rules say that a student may read a book a year below their level if the teacher says it's okay, but they still have to read the same number of books from the official list for their level. That's not a lot of use to kids who are in Year 7 or 8 and reading at Grade 4 level, is it?

I told the group that while the only gift they would get from the Challenge for reading fifteen books this year would be a certificate, we could make a ceremony of it and perhaps I might add a book voucher, seeing it's just then. But I might see if anyone else is interested, perhaps as an English activity, or some such, and we can still do the ceremony.

I don't think I'll get much interest, but I can only try!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Back At School - My New Classes

I'm in my third week back. My classes this year have been swapped around from last year. I was doing Year 7 EAL, Year8 English and Decoding in our literacy program.

Now I'm doing Year 7 English, Year 8 EAL (two new students and a couple who have left, but otherwise the same kids) and I've been moved up to Group 3 - Comprehension Transition - for literacy. Two of my students from last year have moved up with me. They must feel as if they haven't gone anywhere - we're even in the same room!

So, a lot of new stuff to learn. Yes, I know the subjects are the same, but still new to me. Year 7 has to prepare for the NAPLAN exam in May and until that's done, I can't do much other stuff. I adapted my Year 8 material that I used to use for "persuasive writing" and gave them a short grammar pre-test to see what they know. I've told them next week we'll do a grammar lesson on Thursday, when we have a single session. It's been years since I did actual grammar lessons as opposed to sitting down with them one at a time to discuss what they're doing, but it needs to be done. They were okay with the tenses, but I find that is the worst in general, always has been.

 Meanwhile, this morning, we had a brainstorm about whether dogs or cats made better pets. I think they enjoyed it - it's a very basic intro to "persuasion". A couple of them put up their hands to tell me about their own pets and I let them. They're barely out of Year 6, in their first three weeks at secondary school, and they were enjoying themselves. That's vital!

A very kind staff member who has retired sent me a file with a NAPLAN preparation sample. I will need to read that and see if I can fit it in soon.

So far so good, anyway - I think they're a pleasant class, fingers crossed they stay that way!

Three of them turned up in the library at lunchtime and joined Book Club - nice! I made them very welcome in hopes they will continue.

Because I'm teaching the same bunch of EAL kids as last year, I can't do everything the way we did - one session of grammar, one of Behind The News - so I've had a word with the EAL teacher and we've agreed, so far, to do a film text each.

We also have to do something called Literacy Buddies - I just got  my teacher pack today, need to get my head around it. It's a lot of work, which was why the EAL teacher had given up on it - she had too much else to do with them. But these classes are happening when other kids are doing Italian or Vietnamese, so no reason why we can't use the time for Literacy Buddies. The kids exchange letters with volunteers in a workplace, then meet them a couple of times. Two of us will be doing it this year, with Year 7 and Year 8.

Now I have a slightly higher reading level to teach, and activities that are not a lot like what I was doing before. I have had some help in adapting, both from my friend who used to teach this level and from the co-ordinator, who brought me a bag of goodies to use. I'm finding that with a bigger class - about three times the size of last year's -  I have to learn how to fit in more complex activities in the time. I used to be able to leave a reading list till the next day if the kids didn't get it, but we only do the reading lists twice a week. As a result, I'm only on to my second list in the two weeks we've been doing this. But the co-ordinator said that's fine - just take as long as it takes.

So I think I'm gradually getting there in that subject. But only gradually.

The library is gradually getting more kids coming at lunchtimes. The Year 7 kids have started to discover it. I think I have a few more kids interested in Book Club.

Now I have to find something to keep them entertained!