Saturday, 21 May 2022

Direction and Position

 This term, our Inquiry is based on computational thinking.  We have been learning the vocabulary to describe the position of an object using everyday language such as "left", "right" ,"quarter turn" on a grid using one step or square for each movement.

The children were given a grid to trace a possible route a bee might take to move from one position, across the page to a blue flower following the reading of a PM text "Speedy Bee".  There were several possible routes that "Speedy Bee" could take but the instructions were that the bee was not allowed to fly diagonally across squares and it had to avoid the hazards.  The children were asked to mark their route then describe it to a partner using everyday language.

When it came time to discuss the routes that they had drawn, I found many children had drawn a diagonal line and could not get the concept of moving on a grid using the squares.  How could one quickly demonstrate this concept?  I though about how the children often built with the magnetic shapes forming a grid base so I asked the children to help me build a small grid, counting the sides to make sure it was even.

Then we got out the Duplo blocks, a princess and a cupcake.  The princess was to be moved across the grid to get to the cupcake and each square filled with a Duplo block to show the route she took.  The blocks could not fit into the grid on the diagonal so it forced the children to fill the squares with a block and look at routes that only used forward and backward movements and quarter turns to the left or right.  They quickly caught on to the directional movement and had fun exploring and trying to describe how they moved the princess across the grid.  

We are now looking forward to using the large 100 square that Mr Jacobsen painted for Team one to use.  It will take quite a while to move across all those squares with many possible routes.  Thank you Mr Jacobsen for helping us with our learning.

Saturday, 26 March 2022

Oral Language and Reconnecting


The Strengthening Of Oral Language programme ties in well with the reconnecting with students as they return to school and re engage into school life.  While focusing on their well being, there is no better way of helping a child than having meaningful discussions with them.  The previous few weeks have been ones of disruption to plans and having to "roll with it", but is has also been time when we as teachers have had the luxury of time to look at our teaching practises and make adaptions.

Having a visit by a Speech Language Therapist to demonstrate using the "strive for 5" techniques with both a small group and a larger class group was invaluable.  Analysing the videos of these sessions helped us to see the techniques she used to engage the children and connect at their level.  She -

* repeated or reaffirmed what a child had said (showing a child that their comments were valued)

* made relevant comments on what a child had said

* asked meaningful questions about something the child had said and

* purposefully gifted words 

Learning not only how to use "strive for 5" techniques but also how to analysis, then reflect on your teaching is a powerful tool to use to make changes.

I have thought about when oral language would best fit in with our daily activities and decided that the opportunities that present themselves in play based activities before school would be a good time for "child talk".  I also plan to read to a small group each day to see if this works better than during guided reading time.  Reading to a large class group is often dominated by one or two more orally able children so I will try to read to smaller groups to see if this helps the quiet, shy children.  One of my priorities will be to "observe, wait and listen" and be mindful of the SSCAN technique.

Tuesday, 22 March 2022

Communication and Connectiveness


mask, n.   Covering... for concealing the face...for protection... disguise...

The Concise Oxford Dictionary p748

Unless we were in the medical profession, theatre or certain professions that used safety equipment, masks were not part of our everyday lives.  The arrival of COVID has changed the way we do many things including having to protect ourselves and others through the wearing of a mask.  We have all had to adapt to new ways of doing things.

The first thing one notices when wearing a mask is that they are a barrier.  They are meant to be a barrier between you and others to prevent the spread of disease but one quickly realises they are a barrier for communication in many ways.  They hinder communication  - muffling sounds, you struggle to "read" peoples faces and you feel isolated or hidden behind a mask.  

Making yourself aware of of these "hinderances" means you are able to think of simple solutions to overcome them, communicate effectively and stay connected with your class.  

If you have an accent it is often harder to understand every word.  We rely on visual clues to fill in the gaps.  But if we have noise, a mask and no visual clues it can lead to difficulty in understanding.  Think about background noises in the classroom when you give clear, concise instructions.   

People who are hard of hearing find masks filter out certain sounds especially "ss" and "th" which helps distinguish one word from another.  The higher pitch sounds which are most visible on the lips are often the sounds hearing impaired people have difficulty with. It is also difficult trying to teach young children alphabet sounds with a mask covering the lips.  Face the person and talk as clearly as you can  - common sense things one does without a mask but so much more important with a mask.

Talking with students is even more important to make sure they do not feel isolated or hidden, making sure they understand instructions and have fun learning and doing activities .  Show the children that things have changed but each one of them has something to contribute to the class and that a mask is not a barrier to learning and communicating.

What will I do different when we no longer have to wear masks?  One has become more aware of thinking before giving instructions - it it too noisy, have I got the children's undivided attention, are they looking at me if I use gestures, am I speaking clearly, am I communicating effectively?  It has made us better communicators but we do "talk" and communicate with our faces a great deal.  I am so looking forward to showing a smile with my whole face to my pupils again, feeling the connectivity and not just showing a smile with my eyes.

Communication and connectivity are so much a part of humanity it will be great not to have a barrier hindering this.

Saturday, 19 February 2022

Inquiry 2022: The Importance of Oral Language

Many educationalists believe there is a high correlation between oral language proficiency and success in reading.  Good communication skills give a child confidence and a sense of well being in all aspects of their lives.   

So where does this leave the children who come to school with widely differing oral language capability?  These children  often have a relatively small vocabulary of a mixture of English, their mother tongue and gestures?  How can we mitigate these differences in the classroom setting and make a difference to children's lives? 

I am participating in an oral language workshop run by the Speech Language Therapists team Korero Manaiakalani.  The philosophy behind the workshops is - 

        "Increasing oral language skills for our Tamariki Mokopuna through a strength based approach to collectively impact wellbeing, participation, learning and achievement in our Kahui Ako." 

The action plan from our first session was to attempt to put in place the "Strive for Five" conversation experience with two children in our class.  "Strive for Five" is to have a purposeful conversation with a child where you have five or more exchanges.  During the exchange, you give children two or three opportunities to hear new words in a meaningful context, you ask at least one open ended question and you give a validating response.

By encouraging more talking and drawing out the conversation, a child will hear 

- more quality vocabulary

- grammatically correct sentences

- be given a model of how to ask and answer questions 

- and children learn that their thoughts and ideas are of interest to others.  This encourages them to communicate more which in turn strengthens their oral language even more.

This sounds like a very simple and effective way of helping our children but it is something that needs to be planned for, purposefully done and practised.  I have chosen two children with whom I am actively trying to use the "Strive for Five" technique.  This does not mean I do not use it with the whole class.  One is a lot more conscious of how you engage in conversation with all of the children.

I have been using this technique for a few days.  Sometimes a topic of conversation can arise without planning.  You would normally gift the child words in an ordinary conversation but now you are conscious are your questions open ended or going to close the conversation?  Can you add a personal comment to illicit further conversation?  Do you know something about what the child has commented on?  Can you add to the conversation with some factual information?  All of this takes time to think through.  A teacher will often do some of these actions without thought.  You immediately gift this child with words he or she needs.  It is only later that you think - "I could have asked ... or I could have told the child about ..." all things that would have added to the conversation.    

What happens when a child rejects your invitation to converse and does not engage with you?  What happens when a child does not have the language to begin a simple conversation but relies heavily on gestures to make his wants known?  I am finding in these situations you gift a lot of words and find a way to kindly insert the words into the conversations.  Sometimes there is a repetition of what you offer and there is a reward of a shy smile.  Using photos of the children doing daily activities that have been posted on the class blog has been a great way to start and attempt a "Strive for Five" conversation.  Another time that has been successful is to ask to join in a game or activity they are playing. 

At present I am having to find the time to have a purposeful conversation and planning it in the day so that I can reflect back on it and say perhaps I need to practise this aspect more or I enjoyed practising the questions with that conversation.  Using "Strive for Five" in the classroom looks to be a very practical way of helping children gain a stronger oral language. 


Sunday, 1 August 2021

Learning To Read - Helping Children Who Struggle

Knowing letter names, sounds and their shapes and the ability to remember that words are a sequence of letters is strongly related to a child's success in reading.  But what happens when a child has difficulty grasping the concept that each letter has a different sound and shape?

Some children need a different approach to learning.  Above all it needs to be fun.  Learning through play, observation and exploration can help some children make sense of learning to read.  Reading to them and using multi sensory activities, art, cooking and eating the alphabet, moving your body to make letters, going on a letter hunt are some ways to help struggling learners. 

This term I am in a reception class that has a play based learning area set up for the children to use when they have finished working with the teacher.  The activities are changed every week and include writing, reading and doing multi sensory activities in a fun way.   Although it may be play based, I have already observed a lot of informal learning takes place.  The teacher can join in the children's activities to help the children get the most out of the activity without the children realising that they are learning.

As well as usual activities found in a reception class, this week a "school" has been set up and a sensory table using pipe cleaners to make letters following the shapes on large letter cards.  It will be interesting to observe and participate in their play to see what learning is taking place.

Each child has been tested on alphabet knowledge on entry to school (the name of the letter, sound or a word beginning with that letter).  I have used this information to choose a group that needs extra help and will make time to sit in on some of their play to observe how they use the equipment and to track their learning.  

Thursday, 24 September 2020

Reading Reflection

Reflecting on our reading journey with 4 children has been interesting.  Once the children came back to school, I made time to hear the children reading individually.  They enjoyed using this time together to show me their skills and to gain individual tuition on sticking points without the others putting their ideas forward.  They have found that using previous technics of mumbling an unknown word or quickly turning a page before it is finished being read, don't work when you are flying solo!

I have found the prompts useful - learning how to help a child without supplying too much information but to guide them towards their mistakes.  Having a prompt sheet on the table during reading is a reminder to me, what I need to do during a reading lesson.  

My four readers have made progress despite having their learning disrupted for two periods this year.  They began as a group together but they have moved at different paces and learnt different skills.  

Child A is now at Level 5/6.  He has gained more HFW, is beginning to use strategies and attempts to respond to prompts.  He is noticing similarities and this is giving him more confidence as he reads more fluently.

Child B is reading at Level 7 and is still not focused on his reading but just wants to get reading over and done with.  He doesn't listen to the discussion before reading a new book when I use some of the words I think will trip him up.  Rushing his reading means he doesn't notice endings and words that are very similar (came and come) so the prompt, "Did that sound right?" often gets answered with "I don't know."

Child C is reading at Level 5/6.  Giving her the words to practice that she had not been able to decode has helped Child C become more confident.  When she rereads the familiar book the next day her reading is fluent.

Child D is taking a little more time to acquire the skills and is reading at Level 4.  He is beginning to see the connection between written words and alphabet sound knowledge, looks carefully at the text and is able to answer questions about the text.  He should begin to make greater gains with these strategies. 

Where to from here for me?  There is still work to do so that the prompts become more automatic and are the correct one to help, not confuse the child.  I am also trying to master the skill of asking a question which contains the unknown word a child wants but asking it in such a way that the child still needs to do some work to solve the problem.  


Monday, 24 August 2020

Manaiakalani Create Workshops 2020

 The Tamaki cluster of the Manaiakalani schools got together to explore the "create" aspect of "learn, create, share".  It was an opportunity to choose an area of digital learning to explore.  I choose two coding workshops as this is a fun way to introduce children to digital technology.

The first workshop was how to introduce children to coding using Bee-Bots.  A Bee-Bot is a programable floor robot that looks like a bee.  They have seven instructions - forward, backward, turn left, turn right, pause, memory clear and start, so they are an ideal introductory tool.  They allow children to create, explore and solve problems in a fun way and they can be integrated into all curriculum areas using different mats such as alphabets, numbers, retelling a story.  The children can also design their own mats. 

 The second workshop was using Codey Rocky.  Codey Rocky is another programable robot.  It has two separate parts - a wheel base and a digital screen.  We used a scratch programme to enter a code to make the robot talk and move.  It allows for lots of creativity and is a step up from the Bee-Bot robots.

The workshops were a great way to be thinking about the digital curriculum and to share ideas with others.  Thanks to those who gave up their time to make the presentations and present them to us.