Monday, February 23, 2015

28 Days of Writing 20 and 21: The Sleepover

I'm running desperately behind on my daily posts now.

We had the twins for their first ever sleepover at the weekend. We had sooooo much fun but looking after 2 one year olds didn't leave any time for anything else- there simply was not an uninterrupted 28 minutes in the whole weekend.

In a desperate attempt to catch up I found 5 minutes today to try out the Storehouse app, a storytelling app where you can load pics, videos and text to create a mini story. I think it will be a great tool in the classroom and this first attempt of mine, telling the story of the twins' sleepover, literally took me 5 minutes to make.

Check it out

Sunday, February 22, 2015

28 Days of Writing 19 : Grammar Gripes

Given that I'm an English teacher I spend a fair amount of my day trying to convince my students of the worth of good spelling and grammar. The point of written language is to communicate meaning to others and while I accept that it is possible to glean some meaning from poorly spelt, randomly put together sentences, there is also a lot lost in the translation of twisted homophones, missing punctuation and lazy pronunciation.

The need for clarity in our writing has never been more important. Texting and social media posting makes up a huge amount of our communication these days and the opportunity for our mistakes to be seen and judged exists on a global scale.

I admit that I do judge people by their spelling and grammar. I can't help it. A poorly edited status update makes me shudder. Ill worded responses to controversial topics elicit a smirk. Lack of punctuation sets my teeth on edge. In my opinion, taking the time to edit your writing on social media is akin to dressing appropriately for different occasions or using good manners.

I understand that not everyone cares as much as I do. And I admit that I, too, occasionally make an error. In fact, sometimes I worry so much about whether or not a word is spelt correctly that I rearrange a whole sentence to avoid it. However, in the interests of grammar pedants everywhere, here's my top 10 list of "please don'ts".

Thanks to Grammarly for the accompanying images.

1. Write your when you mean you're - This is just bone laziness. It drives me NUTS. You're means you are. You can get this right people!
2. Put an apostrophe in a plural - There is NEVER an apostrophe in a plural. Just because you see an s doesn't mean you bung an apostrophe in there!

3. Use a lower case i for the pronoun I - Sometimes you must have to turn your auto spell off to get this wrong.
4. Say pacifically when you mean specific - I do try not to laugh.

5. Put a double m in tomorrow - Tom Morrow is someone's name, not the day after this.
6. Refer to my friends and me, (yes, that should be me, not I), as yous - This word is spelt ewes and they are sheep, not a group of people to whom I belong.
7. Say seen and done without their helpers, have or had.
8. Put an X in espresso or especially.
9. Use the wrong there/their/they're

10. Use 'of' instead of 'have'. Think it through. I'm pretty sure that's lazy articulation as well as poor grammar.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

28 days of Writing 18: Mystery Skype

My year 5-7 English class have embraced the idea of 'Mystery Skyping' this year.

For the uninitiated, Mystery Skype' simply entails linking up with another class via Skype. The 'mystery ' part is that neither class know exactly where the other one is situated and so they ask each other questions until they work out the location. It's like Celebrity Heads combined with 20 Questions, Where in the World is Carmen San Diego and Guess Who all rolled into one 30 - 60 minute exploration of how kids live and learn in different parts of the world.

First we talked to a Te Reo (Maori language) immersion class in Christchurch, NZ who sang us a beautiful waiata and performed a haka for us. This was an easy time zone match for us and we were able to compare lots of the things we have in common as neighbors in the Pacific.

Last week we skyped in to a graduate teacher inservice in New Jersey, USA. This was a harder time match but because the teachers were meeting after school we were able to find a window. Interestingly, the teachers asked pretty closed questions compared to the NZ kids.

Today we talked to a class in the Haryana region of India. This was a really fascinating experience for both groups because very few of them knew anything about the others' country. We did however discover common ground in the students love of cricket; there was a fair bit of good natured heckling about who might win the World Cup! My kids were fascinated by the turbans that the teacher and some of the boys were wearing. I was impressed with the beautiful manners of the Indian class, including the way they stood to attention when the principal entered the room! We were all in awe of their amazing English speaking skills. We finished today's session with a rendition of Waltzing Matilda from us and a Bollywood solo from one of the St Kabir students.

The suggested rules of Mystery Skype are that you just ask 'yes', 'no' questions but we've found that we learn more if we start with these and then let the discussion take whatever turn interests the children. With the Christchurch class we were keen to find out what it was like to live in earthquake territory and the Indian students were fascinated to learn about our native wildlife. Because of the video capability we can hold up artifacts like money and lunch boxes to show how our countries differ. Even our class turtle has made an appearance on Skype.

Often the teacher's profile gives us a big clue as to what part of the world our Skype partners are in and, of course, accents are a big giveaway too. Nevertheless, even once you have the country right, it's hard to narrow right down to the town or city. The kids are learning to be discerning with their questions, zeroing in by using Google Maps and atlases, asking about famous landmarks and using directional words to identify the specific school. There's always a lot of laughter at mispronunciations and a great cheer from both sides when we get it right.

We're learning a bit of geography and extending our speaking and listening and thinking skills through Mystery Skype but best of all, we're learning that the world is much bigger than the boundaries of Mortlake, Victoria and Australia. We're broadening our horizons and learning to see the world through a bigger lens.

If you'd like to Skype with us , please send me a Twitter message @Aaannne or join up to the Mystery Skype web page and find us on there.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

28 Days of Writing 17 : Rules for using your electronic device

We've just moved into pre teen territory with Mr Miracle and for Christmas, Santa, (Come on Mum, I've heard your opinion on organized religion- do you really expect me to believe in Santa? - Do you believe in happiness and magic Taine? Do you believe in GETTING PRESENTS?), bought him his first phone. The rationale behind this was twofold:

1. He's in year 6 and the ability to communicate independently of us is an important skill to develop, under our guidance and while he still has some semblance of common sense, before he becomes a teenager.
2. I'm a helicopter mother and I like to know where my kid is all the time......

He also has an iPad Air for school (Santa bought this last year before the Christmas cynicism kicked in).

These devices come with rules and I think these rules work well no matter what internet connected device your child has. Feel free to copy or amend them for use in your home.

1.When I text or call you, you will respond ASAP. This is a rule for everyone in our family, no matter their age. Acknowledging contact is good manners and good manners are just as important in the digital space as they are in the face to face world.

2. Charging the device is your responsibility and no, you may not unplug my phone from the charger  to put your device on it!

3. All devices stay in the kitchen after bed time. The greatest risk to kids from their devices comes at night when they are alone. These risks include:

  • They will not get enough sleep because they get involved in whatever's on the screen, ((just one more level!)
  • They will not get enough sleep because other kids (whose parents haven't enforced this rule) will text them at 3am in the morning.
  • Cyber bullying is at it's peak when kids are left alone with the internet. Bullies get really brave behind the keyboard when no one else is watching and their hurtful words seem much crueler when you're alone in your room in the dark.
  • Grooming is rare but it happens. It will happen more easily if your child is alone with a device during the time when their family is asleep but the rest of the world's stalkers are awake.

4. If you abuse the privilege of having a device, I will take it away from you. While you live under my roof, this is my right.

5. The dinner table is a device free zone.

6. I have set an R18 restriction on the iPad. When I'm comfortable with your ability to analyze the worth of media on your own, I will give you the password for it. In the meantime I don't want you frightened by some of the images that may inadvertently appear when you search for fluffy cats or when you misspell words like can't.

7. I am in control of the wifi password in our house. If you abuse the privilege of accessing it, I will change the password. ( This also works well if you haven't done your homework, cleaned your room, etc).

8. I am also in charge of the iTunes password. Since it is connected to my credit card this makes good financial sense but it also allows me to control the content downloaded.

9. We will be open and frank about the conversations you have electronically. If you join a social media site, you will add me as a contact. I promise not to post (too many) embarrassing photos of you so long as I am able to observe your emerging digital footprint. Let me be the conscience on your shoulder until you are mature enough to let your own conscience be your guide.

10.Your father and I promise to enforce all of the above rules because we love you and it's our responsibility to mentor and guide you and keep you safe as you venture into the online world.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

#28 Days of Writing 15 : Parenting for school success 101.

I've had a little bit of positive feedback from a few parents who are reading my posts and finding them thought provoking, so at the risk of blowing my own trumpet and/or offending a few I'm going to forge ahead with some advice for parents on how to set your kids up to succeed at school.

Apart from my formal teacher training, I'm backing this with 35 years of classroom experience and 30 years of parenting experience; for 25 and half continuous years of which I have been a parent of school aged children. I'm sure there's an algebraic equation that will tell you that's a whole truck load of recorded, anecdotal and observed information!

YOU, the parents, are the people with the greatest influence on your child's learning. You provide all the early learning that happens before a child enters formal schooling and YOU are the most important role models for everything that your child does. Monkey see, monkey do.

WE, the teachers, are the adults next in line as far as your child's education is concerned. Once your child starts school they often spend more waking time with us than they do with you. The same rules for role modelling prevail.

Here's my 28 minute guide on the simplest ways to work together to raise a successful learner.

  • Immerse your child in a language rich home environment- read to them from birth, talk to them, sing to them, provide varied sources of literature. The difference in attainment of preps who start with a language rich base compared to those who don't is staggering and the gap they start with often continues and widens as they grow. No amount of intervention by the school will make up for missing out on language learning at home.
  • Identify learning in life and how learning at school is applicable to life outside school. Make lists, read recipes, tally kilometres in the car, add up the footy scores, make connections between real life scenarios and fictional ones. 
  • Be media literate. Your child lives in a new world of digital communication. You MUST understand and guide them with this (a post for another day).
  • Teach them good manners. Please and thank you, respect for authority, good sportspersonship - these things will open doors and invite opportunities.
  • Eat dinner at the table on as many nights as you can. There's a whole lot of research out there that shows family dinner time = increased student achievement. Use it as a chance for more talking, encouraging positivity (what went well for you today?), learning manners and electronic device free time.
  • Identify what your child does well because even if you do all of the above, and we do everything we can to differentiate, some kids won't thrive in school. Unfortunately it's hard for us to formally recognize all your child's strengths and if those strengths don't lie in the academic subjects then it can be tough. Praise effort and persistence. 

And, since I have a few minutes left, here's a handful of things that a parent should NEVER say in front of their child.

1. 'I never read books either'. You may not enjoy reading novels but I can guarantee that what ever your line of work is, you must be able to read to do it effectively. You learnt to read well from reading books. If you don't read well (because you haven't had the practice that comes from reading books!) then be honest with your child and point out some of the draw backs to being a non reader.

2. 'I was never any good at Maths either'. This is a genetic invitation for your child to give up. It's OK to say, 'I found Maths difficult' but don't dismiss your child's success in numeracy as something they can do without. Numeracy and problem solving are vital skills for 21st C graduates.

3. 'I was always in trouble at school'. See the previous genetic invitation. We all love to tell stories of how 'bad' we were at school but we don't like it when our kids are in trouble. It's OK to talk about your own mistakes and what you learnt from them but glorifying disrespect is asking for trouble.

4. 'Your teacher is an idiot'. We accept that at times we might say, do, forget something that may lead you to believe we are less than perfect. There will be times when you disagree with a decision we make. Occasionally we question your IQ too but we NEVER say that in front of your child. Children need confidence in the people who teach them. Maintain that magic triangle whenever you can.

5. 'You're not as good as your brother/sister/next door/neighbor/I was at your age'. Comparison is the root of all unhappiness. Compare your child only with your child. Look for and reward personal growth.

Friday, February 13, 2015

#28 days of Writing Day 13: Friday night homework

It's Friday night here in Australia and I have two jobs to do before I can open a bottle of wine. I need to get some of my correction out of the way and I have 28 minutes of writing to complete. In order to expedite the wine opening, I'm combining the two.

This week's writing topic was 'What does it mean to be Australian?' We're just starting a middle school theme on this topic so the prompt was designed to get a base line on the kids' thinking. We'll revisit the question at the end of the unit.

This blog is as good a place as any to record some of those ideas and it may (or may not) be of interest to overseas readers to see what Aussie kids think about their own citizenship. Here's a range of random sentences from my 11 and 12 yr olds.

To be Australian means:

  • You have to love a sporting team. You can choose from AFL, Rugby League or Cricket. Netball is for girls but soccer doesn't count.
  • Going to the beach.
  • Valuing hard work.
  • You have to have a sense of humor.
  • The underdog will always pull through.
  • True Australians have a BBQ every now and then.
  • Putting vegemite on everything that doesn't have tomato sauce on it.
  • To not hate someone that has done something bad in the past.
  • Australians are allowed to believe in all different religions. You can go to church or be a bogan but you should believe in Santa.
  • It doesn't matter if you were born and bred here or came on a boat, so long as you show aussie spirit you can be an Australian.
  • Having lots of different food, activities, languages and dances from all the people who have come from other parts of the world.
  • Being able to explore beautiful wildlife, sandy deserts, vine forests and skyscrapers cities and always being kind to each other.
  • You always have to annoy your siblings!
  • You can walk down the street or play sport without feeling scared.
  • Being humble and taking everything in your stride.
  • Keep going when the going gets tough.
  • Always waiting for rain.
I think they've got it pretty well covered.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

#28 days of Writing Day 11: 28 words.

Teaching is a juggling act.

Today was too long and I dropped some of the balls. I promise I'll try to pick them up again tomorrow.

28 words.