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.

Learn to Listen, Listen to Learn!

School seems eerily quiet at the moment, you know that feeling when something just isn’t quite right?

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Well, the thing is, we have yet to actually welcome any students into school for the new term and, in reality, a school is not really a school at all unless you have students. I had blogged about this concept of students making the learning environment previously in, ‘What is a classroom?’

https://jennyofee.com/2012/08/27/what-is-a-classroom/

In many respects, it seems the wrong way round for teachers to be creating, planning and preparing everything students are ‘going to learn’ in the year ahead when we haven’t even met the students in our classes yet!

It made me think of this wonderful TED Talk by Adora Svitak, ‘What adults can learn from kids’:


So, when the students do arrive at school, we need to listen to them to learn and to facilitate learning; learn what they need from us, learn where they are in their learning journey, learn how they learn and learn what interests them to challenge and ignite a passion for being curious to learn more.

We also are blessed with possibility to learn new skills and knowledge from them, for example, I hope to continue to develop our ‘Digital Leaders’, a role that @mrJonesICT  began to develop with Primary School students last year. These ‘Digital Leaders’ can teach and support learning in classrooms immensely with their extensive skills and knowledge in ICT. Adults learn from kids.

We all have curriculums to follow, standards, benchmarks and perhaps exams to prepare our students for, but ultimately, if we want to connect with and help students achieve their potential we need to listen to them and believe in their capabilities. I fully intend to listen and to learn from the young learners around me. Building self-awareness around listening to our students can only serve to continue strengthening learning in our community. As @adorasv said, ‘Learning between grown-ups and kids should be reciprocal’.

Appreciation

Handing yourself over to be a student in a completely new discipline or unfamiliar territory can be daunting and this was where I found myself this summer during my Yoga Teacher Training at YogaWorks in Soho, NYC. The whole experience has taught me such a lot as both an educator and as a learner, and reminded me just how often we undervalue the power and impact of a truly GREAT teacher.

There have been many articles and posts written about the key ingredients to maximising learning in a classroom, how to engage students, strategies and tools that can be used to connect students with their learning and how to structure a lesson to maintain student interest. When it comes down to it however, what really makes the difference, is the teacher. It is a complex and arduous task to define what actually makes a truly GREAT teacher, but somehow you just know one when they cross your path.

When I found myself in the Yoga Studio, my classroom for a month, with Paula Liberis, I realised she was exactly that, a truly GREAT teacher. Someone who inspires and who is inspired, someone who has passion for their discipline and shares that in every aspect of their teaching. Someone who engages every student in the room and treats everyone equally. Someone who models and encompasses the values that they teach. Someone who connects to their students in an authentic, sincere way. Ultimately, someone who cares about the learning, invests in the learners and is also a reflective learner themselves.

It seemed appropriate then, that at the beginning of a new school year, this be my first post for the term ahead:  Appreciation of GREAT teachers.

My focus this term is to show appreciation for all of the GREAT teachers who are around me, those both near and far. Every time a student leaves with a lasting memory of their learning; an ancedote a teacher has shared to help them understand something or an experience they have participated in that has inspired, amazed or challenged their thinking, a GREAT teacher has been at work. GREAT teachers are a gift to be appreciated.

No Expectations

Expectations.

Think for a moment about what you expect from yourself, your students, your family, your friends & your colleagues. As an educator I have a lot of expectations, of myself, my colleagues and my students. I would convey the idea that I had ‘high expectations’ – I think wanting to empower myself and others to ‘rise to the challenge.’ Well, looking back now I was mistaken…

During this school holiday period, I enrolled in a 200hr Yoga Teacher Training program at YogaWorks in New York, some might say not quite a holiday! I most definitely had expectations.

Expectations of myself, of fellow classmates, of the teachers, the course and of what my body could do. What I hadn’t expected was to come away with letting go of expectations. I was challenged to ask: Does having expectations actually empower us?

In fact, I have left expectations behind, all of them. For all these years, I have been saying it’s good to have high expectations of yourself and of others, when really, what I actually meant all this time was – BELIEF. I am not advocating letting go of striving for the best outcome or challenging yourself or others to reach their full potential what I am saying is remove the negativity that expectation drags around with it. For me, it took placing myself in the midst of a whirlwind of self-expectation and to be challenged in a completely new learning environment. I was fortunate enough to have an amazing, inspirational teacher and fellow students to enable me to recognize the power of belief.

What a revelation!

Belief in yourself, belief in your students, belief in your family, your friends and your colleagues.

Ultimately, I have learnt how powerful a single word can be.

What a difference to say to a student, ‘I believe in you’ rather than ‘I have high expectations of you’. How much more positive, empowering and supportive. I learnt a huge amount during my Yoga teacher training and I am just realising how much of it will connect back to my work as an educator with young learners.

I will be returning to the school year with a focus on choosing my words carefully; freeing myself, my colleagues and students from expectations and; replacing these with belief. So, believe in your students, colleagues, friends, family and most importantly yourself and see the rewards you reap.