Literature Circles: A Powerful Practice to Support Differentiation

Literature Circles. Of all of the practices I introduced as a teacher in the Primary Classroom, I believe this to have been the most powerful. For me, literature has the power to connect us all beyond age, nationality, language, culture, religion or gender and also has the power to provoke thoughts and opinions that lay the foundations for a much deeper understanding. Stories are the way in which we begin to make sense of the world, and literature circles provide a framework through which we can support our students in discussing and sharing their opinions in order to be able to develop deeper understandings.

So, given my enthusiasm for Literature Circles I was delighted to have an opportunity to share this practice with teachers during our recent professional development days at Berlin Metropolitan School. We ran 17 teacher-led workshops in total, that teachers from ElC, Primary and Secondary could sign up to attend, and also our CCEP ( Co Curricula Education Program) educators joined in to both offer and attend workshops.

The theme for our professional Development Days was ´An Inclusive Culture of Learning´ and focused upon differentiation in the classroom. This was the perfect forum for discussing Literature Circles, as indeed, one of the elements as an international educator in a multilingual classroom that I found most appealing when I was first introduced to the practice of Literature Circles, was that they allowed for natural and authentic differentiation for all learners.

The presentation for this session outlining how Literature Circles can support differentiation can be found  by clicking on the link below.

https://app.emaze.com/@AIWWZRLW/literature-circlesPowered by emaze

Sharing Literature Circles with such a diverse group of teachers generated a great deal of interesting discussion and suggestions about how we can implement these at our school.  Teachers came with a variety of experiences of Literature Circles and from working with students from a range of ages. What struck me most was how this framework can function for our youngest students right the way through to our oldest learners. I love the flexibility they allow, and left the session posing questions about how we could transfer this structure to other disciplines or subject areas perhaps, or even work in a bilingual framework. I am looking forward to seeing what interesting ideas our innovative teaching team develop to support deep learning for our students of all ages and abilities through use of Literature Circles as a framework.

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The True Value of Student-led Portfolio Conferencing

2014-04-16 11.23.52I was first introduced to the concept of a student-led portfolio conference many years ago, and quickly became a strong advocate for their use as part of any effective reporting and assessment practice within a school. For further information about student-led portfolio conferences please have a look at the links below:

Student-led Portfolio Conference prezi

Blendspace lesson link: Student-led Portfolio Conferences

The whole process of student-led portfolio conferencing just made complete sense to me from the very beginning, and so I am always taken aback when educators around me require a great deal of convincing into their value and effectiveness as part of the learning process. In the world we live in today, in order to be successful, we must become extremely self-reflective and able to self-regulate and evaluate.

Now, I could list the many valid reasons as to why this type of conferencing has a positive educational impact upon learners, however, following our recent ‘Portfolio Conference Day’ at ISM I was reminded as to the fact there is one over-arching reason to value these:

learner pride = sense of fulfilment

For anyone, at any age, I would argue that pride and feeling valued are crucial in gaining a sense of fulfilment as a learner. Ultimately, isn’t that what we want all learners to feel and achieve? No matter what ‘level’ or ‘grade’ or ‘score’, learning to learn, motivation to learn and gaining fulfilment or feeling proud, is essentially what we should aspire to enable all our students to gain.

Student-led portfolio conferences facilitate young learners in developing crucial life long skills of self-reflecting and communicating effectively. The conference does so in a way in which the learner is encouraged to:

  • feel valued to have those most important to them take time to sit down and listen
  • meet in a space where they can be the ‘leader’ and feel confident
  • exhibit pride in their learning progress
  • find value in, and be encouraged to learn from their mistakes
  • share personal goals in their learning.

Some of the comments by students following our conferences, reinforced for me just how valuable these conference are.

“I felt proud of myself and I also felt quite confident.”

“I’m happy looking back at all my old work and seeing how have improved since then.”

“I felt smart, important and proud.”

“I think my parents enjoyed listening to me show them my work.”

(Year 6 student reflections on their conferences.)

For me, learner pride & fulfilment are the true value of student-led portfolio conferences.

The Power of Blogging & Twitter for Teachers

The Power of Blogging & Twitter Prezi

At our recent #ISMTeachMeet, I shared the prezi above outlining the value of blogging and twitter as valuable tools for personal professional learning and growth. The power of both these tools combined has enabled me to truly ‘make learning connections’ and develop as a leader and learner. Here are some examples of the tweets I shared with ISM teachers which were generated by asking other educators on twitter about the ‘power of twitter’ for educators today.

Spring is in the Air: Time for another #ISMTeachMeet

My school community is filled with educators who come from a range of backgrounds and have a wide variety of expertise so it would be foolish for us not to take advantage of such a skilled and knowledgeable bunch of teachers and encourage a professional sharing practice.

John Jones, @mrjonesICT, and I first introduced the idea of a TeachMeet to the ISM teaching community well over a year ago. Our first session was met with a mixture of extreme caution, some resistance but mostly curiousity and enthusiasm.  We welcomed some risk-taking teachers to stand up and share their experiences, wisdom, learning and innovative ideas to colleagues. They led the way in ensuring that gradually TeachMeets are becoming part of our School community culture.

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Many teachers found it an enlightening experience to hear what fellow colleagues who they share their morning break with every day actually find useful, engaging tools to inspire learning in the classroom. Since then the #ISMTeachMeet has gained momentum and we have scheduled to have these school-wide at least once a term. Our Spring TeachMeet is lining up to have everything from Design Learning presented by Jen Rhodes @JenRhodes to using Pinterest & Smore to create and share revision guides by Michael Cotgrave @Miclaaa.

Now, my next thought is how about we create a StudentMeet for teachers and students! Why don’t we ask students to present for 2 or 5 minutes about the technology tools and learning practices that engage and inspire them in their everyday learning….. Wouldn’t it make sense to hear what they find successful? My next goal has been set!

Focusing on Focus Groups

Consistent policy and curriculum review, responsive actions to school culture and embedding meaningful and lasting practices are, of course, always at the forefront of school leadership. In a busy, dynamic school environment time can be one of the most critical barriers to implementing changes effectively. One of the most effective models I have experienced in order to facilitate change in policy or practice was that of introducing Focus groups as part of leading the Primary School team. Once key areas to focus upon had been selected from the school’s strategic plan this approach was most effective because:

– teachers selected an area of interest from these identified focus areas, therefore allowing them to develop and invest time into something they were particularly passionate about or interested in.

– all community members were involved, class teachers, specialists, assistants and support staff.

–  meetings were flexible – the group decided when to meet each week and how to facilitate this.

– each focus group set their own shared goals.

– a simple, clear structure for the focus groups was developed with teachers.

– regular reporting back time was scheduled into the 8 – 10 week period with a final date given for groups presentations.

– emphasis for focus groups was placed upon gathering, reviewing data and presenting proposals for change or solutions to problems.

– discussion and collaboration became more embedded practice in professional culture.

– teachers benefitted from working in smaller groups, giving individuals greater opportunity to share their own personal ideas and discuss at length with colleagues.

– final decisions could be made in the various ‘focus’ areas by the whole team. This followed the group presentations and feedback, ensuring decisions were shared with the whole team.

Using time productively and effectively made everyone feel like we were progressing forward and sharing the workload in doing so. Just as we would do in a classroom, breaking tasks down, differentiating, giving ownership and allowing individuals the space and time to select areas of interest and take control is always going to be the most powerful approach for everyone!