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I’ve just begun using EduRoo in my classroom. It’s a new online resource for Australian (at present) primary school teachers and it currently is in beta.

An admission

First and foremost, I should advise of my bias here. EduRoo is primarily the creation of my interactive developer husband with a lot of input from me, my husband’s sister and her now husband (the three of us are all primary school teachers with a combined total of over 22 years experience).

A little context

My husband has a background in game development, having been responsible for the build of a world first game on MSN messenger centred around the old favourite Battleships game. Still being a child at heart – and an avid gamer to this day – he recognises how games capture children of this age in such a strong way.

My husband also recognised the limits of many of the current systems already available for teachers to use today. All of these had pre-made and non-customisable games. He could tell that we needed – and wanted – more control over the content that was in these games. Even if we didn’t really realise it yet!

Thus EduRoo was born over countless discussions.

He, rather ingeniously I have to say, has worked out a way for teachers to provide interactive and engaging games and activities for our students that has exactly the content we want to teach. No longer do I have to be content with an interactive memory game with only the sight words the developer thought my students need. Now I can give my students the exact words I know they need.

Now in beta, I find myself able to use many of the systems and games that I have spent hours upon hours discussing with my husband – with many more games in development. I teach Preps (5 year olds) and this has proved an interesting test to the simplicity of the system.

How I’ve used it so far

EduRoo was sent live on the 25th of June 2012 to absolutely no fan fare at all. Just what we wanted actually – a gently, gently approach to help get all the bugs ironed out. Five weeks later and the rest of this blog post sets out how I’ve used the system to date.

Sentence Show

Sentence Show is a versatile tool to use on interactive whiteboards that displays sentences. I’ve used it in a couple of ways so far.

  • On the first day of Term 3 I set up a series of sentences to prompt activities for the whole morning block.
  • This week I put in a few sentences from a story we had read throughout the week. By turning on the drawing overlay I asked my students to come up and circle any sight words they could identify from the now well known sentences.

Sentence Scramble

This tool is an incredibly easy way to take a sentence the students know, bust it apart and have them put it back together. Inspired by the Sentence Making activity in the Reading to Learn program, I loved how my students were all very active in helping each other put the sentence in order again. A game version of this tool is coming where the students complete the same task but receive clues throughout to try and catch the mischievous master of disguise Wiggleston.

  • I chose two sentences from a text we had studied to bust apart on my interactive whiteboard. I found this strategy very useful for ascertaining whether students, particularly for this age group, had a concept of words and the ordering of words within sentences when I used prompts that focused on reading for meaning or letter-sound relationships.

Word Find

The latest game addition to the EduRoo Activity Library, I absolutely love what my husband has created. No where else will you find a word find generator that gives you as much control over the content and direction of the words as this one does! Apparently it actually is no where else – my husband looked extensively online for one.

My class loved this – which is saying something given they have only just learned how to complete word finds! Even with their limited experience, my students we all desperately trying to locate the words. Worked wonders to reinforce letter identification!

  • I introduced the word find, using words from the story we had been reading. I turned on the drawing overlay tool that is turned on whenever a teacher opens a game or tool (very handy for the whiteboard).
  • I supported the students in how to locate the words by giving them a few strategies to find words.
  • I printed 5 copies of the word find, photocopied for Ss and handed them out – Ss quickly realised it was harder to cheat off other people now. The printable version created a great opportunity to assist individual students in developing strategies for locating words that matched their current understandings. Was a great informal assessment of some children’s letter identification competence too.

Rocket Maths

This is a mental maths based game that is highly customisable at all year levels. Using a range of the options provided, teachers can create the exact combination of sums their students need to practise.

  • I have assigned this one student to test…he logged 3 results very quickly and enjoyed playing the game.
  • I have heard good feedback from my sister-in-law who has trailed it with a number of grades and the student’s loved the space theme. Some have even logged in at home to continue playing the game outside of school hours!

While I admit my obvious bias in regards to EduRoo, I also must say that it has been a wonderful experience to actually use many of the games that I have had a hand in developing. I have used my experience in teaching, my knowledge of what students like and incorporated all the pedagogies that have become part of my daily practise into this product.

My wish is that other teachers can see how a system that is designed by a teacher for teachers can only be of benefit to our practise and to the learning experiences of those we spend so long worrying about and planning for – our students!

In May last year I wrote a blog post about Reading to Learn and today I attended my last PD day for what will probably be a while. I simply loved participating in this amazing program and it has transformed not only my teaching but my professional understanding of how language works and how we need to scaffold students.

I took the opportunity to tweet some observations throughout the day and the aim of this post is to elaborate a little. Home now, I feel that this reflection time will be a beneficial way to sum up my understandings as they currently stand.

The Goal of Reading – To Learn

It is clear that when we read, particularly as adults, we read for meaning. We read to gain new understandings or to walk in someone else’s shoes for a while. We read to learn. Reading is an intensely rewarding experience for me – whether it be a novel or something a little more technical. Children are no different. Those sponges we engage with on a daily basis want to learn an array of new things and it’s our job to inspire them to do this. It does not matter whether the student is in high school or in their first year of schooling, reading – or more the point language – is our main delivery method for this content.

A student’s success in reading – decoding the meaning behind the language – can be highly dependent on not only our text choices but also in the scaffolding we do to support their reading. It is also our job to ensure that all students, whether they be high achievers or those who need a little extra time and patience, have the opportunity to read good quality texts to support their language learning.

Grammar – Why is it important knowledge?

This tweet was prompted by a discussion about how we can support students as they move through the school and encounter different teachers, specifically teachers who haven’t participated in the Reading to Learn PD’s. It was felt that if the staff decide upon a shared language for talking about language then this will help students as they move to different teachers throughout their school life. This is a concept that has repeatedly come up during my pre-service training and over the past 5 years in the classroom. Teachers generally acknowledge that having a shared language to talk about core concepts in a variety of subjects is key to assist student learning. We need to ensure that this is the same when we are talking about language not just about literacy – something I predict will become more apparent with the incoming Australian Curriculum.

Which brings me to the crux of the whole day – grammar. We first looked at functional grammar in the first year of this PD and now in my third year, today was a great revision for something that in many ways was gibberish two years ago. Sure, I knew about nouns, verbs and adjectives – my 1980s/1990s education was excellent at this. Learning Italian in the latter part of high school helped me understand more about grammar, but it wasn’t until two years ago that I really had the opportunity to learn about grammar properly. The above tweet is a slightly paraphrased quote from Dr David Rose, the director of Reading to Learn, but it was a light bulb moment for me.

By the time a child begins school they have a vast understanding of how language works (no matter what language is their first language) and I see this every single day with my Preps. The complex sentences my students can use when discussing things they love and are passionate about are inspiring. Our job is to build on this knowledge. To support our students, across their many years of schooling, to become more aware of how language works or functions. I won’t be teaching functional grammar to my Preps however I have found that having a deeper understanding of grammar myself has certainly helped me be more aware of how I teach about words and sentences in reading and writing sessions.

Texts contain many words. Decoding these many words and their clear or hidden meanings can be troublesome for many students. Some students are great at finding the literal meaning within texts however it’s that pesky inferential stuff that can really impinge on a student’s reading of a text. If our goal of reading is to learn from that reading, content words are immensely important. However the point of the above tweet was that the patterns in sentences – the way words work together – can really impact on comprehension. This next tweet expanded on this also.

The example was Rose’s. If we ‘look up’ something in a Library it means something very different to when we might ‘look out’ a window or ‘look in’ on someone who is sick. Adding the ‘up’, ‘out’ and ‘in’ changes the meaning of look. Some students need more support in this than others and making a point of talking about this with the whole class in texts we encounter can vastly improve our student’s inferential understanding of the texts they read.

An Inspiring Journey

I do not know yet if this is the end of my Reading to Learn journey. What I do know is that the learning I have gained from this program has been immensely beneficial to me professionally and in turn to the students I have taught. I will take this knowledge with me and incorporate it into the work I do…wherever or whatever that is post my maternity leave.

I wish to thank Dr David Rose for the time and effort he has put into the program and for leading us through many days covering heavy material. Also to Dr Sarah Culican who works tirelessly to ensure Reading to Learn continues to be a success here in Melbourne. I strongly suggest you check out the program through their website: http://www.readingtolearn.com.au

I wonder…

How do you foster the goal of reading within your classroom?

Do you see advantages to developing a share language about language?

Are you comfortable with your current understanding of grammar?

What literacy programs have inspired you to really support your students learning in reading and writing?

It’s time to get back to blogging, after all, it’s been about a year since my last blog post.

A quick update

This time in 2011 I was team teaching a fabulous bunch of Grade 3’s and we finished the year on a massive high note.

This year, I am teaching 26 highly active Preps (5 year olds) and am 6 months pregnant with my first child. It’s definitely been a busy year!

New directions as time runs out

So here I am feeling an intense desire to be blogging again. I made a promise to myself at the end of Term 2 (just 3 weeks ago) that I would take it easy in Term 3. Now, I’m 9 weeks from going on maternity leave and my passion for teaching and self development has reached an all time high. I want to document my learning in a way I never have before. I care about this profession in a way I haven’t previously. I am very actively engaged in Twitter again and this, no doubt, has fuelled my fire.

As long as my growing belly doesn’t get in the way of my growing passion, I hope to achieve my goal of blogging more frequently over the next 9 weeks and hopefully into the future as well.

Please share how you love to document your passion for this wonderful profession, I would love to read it.

How do you keep your fire alive?

Time to get back to blogging after a well needed break.

I’ve recently begun my last unit in the TESOL course I’m studying through Melbourne Uni. This course has truly altered the way I tackle and conceptualise additional language learning. In the past it was never highlighted to me the importance of a child’s first language – or strongest language if more than one is known prior to learning English. Many times I would nod along with the laments of colleagues that our ESL cohort ‘only ever speaks English at school’, as sure as they were that this clearly was why they ‘aren’t learning English faster’.

But after much reading and reflection I’ve come to shift my thinking. I forced myself to reflect on the six years I spent learning Italian in high school. I could not have learned all I did about and of Italian had I not been proficient in English. By the last two years of high school I was the only A learning Italian at my school, everyone else was from an Italian background so had a clear advantage over me. I didn’t let that deter me though. I loved learning the language and dearly wish I hadn’t given it up in university. Through learning it I learnt so much more about my first language. I finally understood grammar in a way my English teachers never taught me. I adored learning new vocabulary and seeing the links between English and Italian. It was a rich experience and I miss it. Even conjugating verbs was fun for me – yes, I realise I’m strange but it opened up so many new words and concepts for me!

Fuelled with the fire this reflection ignited inside me again I came to view my ESL learners in a different light. These individuals come with a wealth of language knowledge already present and my problem (the school’s problem, or is the literacy education in general?) was that I hadn’t been told to cherish and utilise that – it was almost as if their native language was a hurdle to overcome, ignore and stamp out for the sake of English – or gaining the next text level. I am probably being unfair there, but it was a powerful realisation for me.

So I began to talk to the children in my class about what languages they know and/or speak at home. One boy in particular loved this and began showing me words in his native language, including bringing in books from the Saturday language classes he attends. Another child brought out a book she had in her bag (that I had never seen) which had translations for everyday content words from her native language into English. It was like I’d empowered them to share their knowledge and I found myself devastated that I had not done this earlier – you live and learn I suppose.

So I don’t want to lose sight of the important things here – we are teaching English but we are also teaching children who come to learning English from a wide variety of cultures and backgrounds. We need to be more inclusive and less derisive of a students native language use at home. We need to become more aware of the structures and features of their native languages in order to better analyse their needs. If you Google ‘Learner English’ and there’s a PDF of a Michael Swan and Bernard Smith book that deals with structures of different languages. The small amount I’ve read of it so far has definitely helped me to see the how and why some of my students make the ‘mistakes’ they do in English. They say knowledge is power so let’s empower ourselves to empower our students!

I feel re-invigorated. After NAPLAN and reports, I had felt completely drained. Going to the latest day of my favourite Literacy PD always does this though. It is always a timely reminder of why I love teaching Literacy.

Reading to Learn (R2L) is a wonderful program and I feel so blessed and grateful to have been chosen to attend this PD. It has developed my understandings and pedagogy of teaching reading and writing, but it has also promoted in me a desire to learn more. In the past I did the standard whole-small-whole Literacy block structure that had been shown to me at university. I see nothing wrong with whole-small-whole at all, there are times when it works and has worked brilliantly for me. I still use it today when it most suits my goals or foci. However, I found my choice of texts was limited, not engaging enough and the tasks associated with them had me bored. I found myself wanting to choose more entertaining and wonderful texts, however the ones I loved were not at my class’ text level.

R2L gave me freedom. Suddenly it was like I was given ‘permission’ to choose a wider variety of texts – the ones I loved and that I adored sharing with my student’s as ‘serial’ stories read while they ate their lunches. You are expected to choose texts that would challenge your top 30% as part of this program. The teaching structures used as part of the program allow for significant scaffolding and comprehension development among the weaker readers. All discussions surrounding the chosen text are in context and then each part is then broken down. Support is provided to each level of student from locating directly stated information for weaker readers to elaborating on wider meanings and connections for your higher achievers. The program itself claims to (taken from their website – see link above):

“accelerate the learning of all students at twice to more than four times expected rates.”

We are currently reading Specky Magee. The Grade 3s LOVE Australian Rules Football and they were ever so excited to hear that our excursion this term is to the Melbourne Cricket Ground. We decided that Specky Magee would be a great lead into that excursion and with R2L I am able to not only engage the students, I am also able to ensure that all 48 children, no matter their reading level or ability, understand the majority of the story. We started today and already the students are discussing their predictions of the story by using evidence from Chapter One – something they were only beginning to do prior to now. They are engaged and willing and again, I am grateful that this program affords me the freedom to really see what these students can do.

I am also aiming to achieve accreditation in R2L by mid-year. I have to film myself demonstrating my competency in all areas of the program. I told my students of this today and they are very excited and really want to help! I will be using my blog to track my preparation and trepidation prior to the filming.  I am very nervous about the filming aspect but I know I need to bite the bullet and just get on with it.

On Tuesday 17th May I attended the latest professional development day for the CTLM (Contemporary Teaching and Learning of Mathematics) project run by the CEOM (Catholic Ed Office Melbourne) and ACU. The focus on this day for the Grades 3-6 teachers was Shape, two-dimensional shapes to be specific. Who knew categorising shapes would be so arduous!

Some of key messages of the day were as follows:

  • The importance of getting the language right. Definitions are important and children need opportunities to explore, manipulate, formulate and develop their own understandings. The final definitions you arrive at should contain the minimum amount of information possible however it must also clearly exclude any non-examples that could allow for confusions. Having a shared language is so important.
  • The properties of 2D shapes. Children need to get many opportunities to ‘work out’ a shapes properties, by this I mean sides, corners, angles etc. They also need to know that a triangle is a triangle no matter what way it’s facing. I conducted a little revision about shape properties on the Wednesday afternoon following this PD and found there was still a proportionately high number of children who didn’t think a triangle was a triangle when it was ‘upside down’. At the PD they reminded of us of a cool trick to help children ‘get’ this concept. Ask a child what their name is. Ask that same child to come up the front. Ask them their name again. Ask them to face another way and ask their name again. Ask them to sit down and tell you their name. Ask them to stand on their head and tell you their name. I did this with our grade 3s when the misconceptions became clear and despite an amazing amount of laughing one child said above the noise ‘I know what your on about!’. Loved that comment. He could then explain it to everyone else. Love those moments!
  • Transformation. Also known more commonly as flip, slide and turn. In our 3-4 focused workshops we explored this concept by using Geoboards, cut up shapes and creating our own tessellation pieces. We found that making a one quarter turn is hard on a geoboard – so no wonder our grade 3s struggled with that on the NAPLAN test a couple of weeks ago. Although I suspect that error went back to the children not having a good understanding on the language involved.
  • Visualisation. Leading on from transformation came the importance of children being able to visualise the movements of flipping, sliding and turning. The need to be able to see in their minds what is taking place to transform the shape.
  • Non-examples. Showing non-examples of a shape can be just as, if not more, powerful in helping children develop good understandings of shapes and their definitions. During my little revision lesson I drew an incomplete square on the board (two lines were not meeting) and asked the children if this was a square. They realised that for it to be a square, the shape must be ‘closed’, e.g. no gaps.

I love teaching Shape. I have never personally been good at division, fractions or algebra, but shape (as well as chance and data) have always held great fascination for me. I always ‘got it’ where I didn’t get the harder, more abstract areas of Mathematics. Maybe that’s the point. Being able to physically manipulate and visualise really does help children to build a good working knowledge of these concepts. I think sometimes we forget that…or not give the time required to really build solid understandings before moving on just because our curriculum documents think we should.

One batch of pinwheels

Today the Grade 3s shared a meal. They planned, prepared, served and cleaned up after this meal. They achieved a goal and impressed a lot of people. I, as one of their teachers, couldn’t be more chuffed to have watched and helped them shine.

The Grade 4s are who we shared this meal with. They will be sharing a very special meal for the first time in just over a week – their First Eucharist (First Communion). The Grade 3s are also learning about sharing the Eucharist meal so they planned a celebratory meal for the 4s. The purpose was to help the 3s appreciate the parts of the Mass and the Eucharist a bit more – but all the other learnings and understandings that have come from it are amazing – including my understanding of these children! The way they worked together, had disputes, solved their disputes, we’re optimistic when time was running out and had the determination to ensure it all went off without a hitch was amazing to watch.

The 3s planned every aspect of this. Food, drink, decorations, a welcoming speech, a gorgeous prayer, many gifts, entertainment and saying goodbye. They cooked all the food (with the amazing help of our wonderful parent helpers – who are angels!). They served the food and helped with the clean up.

We catered for 110 people which meant making many batches of each dish. The dishes they chose were – note all are made from scratch:

  • Sausage rolls
  • Sushi rolls
  • Cheesy Bites
  • Ham and Pineapple Pinwheels

Clockwise: Sushi roll, pinwheel, sausage roll and a cheesy bite

  • Crazy Cupcakes
  • Marble Cake
  • Berry Muffins
  • Fruit Punch

All children who spoke to the whole group spoke with confidence and assurance. They knew what they had to do and just got on with the job. The prayer they wrote themselves (which became part of the many gifts given to the Grade 4s) was a very special moment when it was shared as part of Grace.

All credit must go to our fabulous Grade 3s! They were stars today and they are so proud of themselves. It is truly wonderful watching children do things at school that you don’t normally get to do with them. I could think about assessment in regards to Religion, Interpersonal Development, Literacy, Maths for this task, but right now I want to bask in the success that they created. They got excited about achieving a goal and they went for it. I could give them all an A, but honestly, the individual achievement means so much more than any letter grade could.

If only every day could be like this one…or maybe it can. Hmmm.

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