Sunday, 23 August 2015

QR Code Trail for Book Week

Tomorrow signals the start of Book Week 2015.  Our school has a whole pile of fun events planned - including a fancy dress parade on Thursday (eek!) - including a reading themed  'open house' tomorrow afternoon. We've turned our timetables upside down and are running our literacy blocks after lunch instead of before recess so that parents, grandparents, neighbours, family friends and anyone else interested, can  come and take a peek at the awesome literacy learning we've got going on!

We'll see how it goes. Last year we tried a literacy themed open house one morning and had very few visitors. One of the ways we're hoping to entice more people in this year is with the chance to win a book voucher. We're just that nice! Joking. We totally are that nice, but not made of money so to be in the running to win the book voucher people will need to answer a series of questions based on videos that they'll access using QR codes that will be placed around the school.

Fun idea huh?  I thought so. (Of course I did. I helped come up with it!) I even volunteered to make the trail. It'll be fun I said. It'll be a great learning opportunity I said. It'll be easy I said.

And it has been fun. It has a HUGE learning experience. It has been... Well... OK, it hasn't been easy at all.

I booked a reliever for a half day to get the filming done. And then a meeting was booked, so I lost most of my filming time. Not a huge problem, but it took a little longer than I expected and I was left with less than 2 lessons to film. A lot of the filming I needed to do was in my building, which meant I was right there to witness my kiddos' awful behaviour. Again, not a huge problem, but dealing with it ate up more of my time. A 'social media' related issue broke while I was in the building and I ended up sitting in on the initial discussions with some of the students involved. I'm glad I was there for it, but again... Time was ticking away.  I am so grateful to the teachers who lent me students for filming, rearranged their schedules to let me film and particularly to Ms Sally Slattery who filmed the junior primary students for me.

iMovie is not a daily use programme for me. In fact I'm pretty inexperienced. The movies are OK, but I can't see Spielberg calling anytime soon. I'm so pleased I pushed through and feel much more confident now.  I can't wait to do more movie making with the kiddos now - usually I feel really out of my depth but think I might be able to offer more meaningful advice now.

YouTube is driving me mad. To be fair, it's not YouTube's fault.  The internet speed at my house has been heinously slow on weekends ever since Netflix hit Australia. In the end I packed up my computer and head over to a friend's house with a bottle of red wine and my best puppy dog face. He works at home for HP so usually has a super quick connection. Even there it took a couple of hours! Not happy!!

Next up are the QR codes. No major problems there. Although when I printed the codes and questions I discovered that my son had left some delightful green paper in the tray and we're almost out of black ink. Of course we are. Nevermind. I'll either use these or reprint in the morning at school.  If only my laminator hadn't gone missing during the last school holidays... Hmmmm.

This whole process is gambling on participants having QR code readers on their devices. We've invited them to come to the school library before starting the trail and my kiddos will help them download one if necessary.  Keep your fingers crossed that the school internet is playing nicely! (It hasn't been for the last couple of days.)

I'll update tomorrow when I get some feedback from participants.  I so hope it works, but am pleased to have done what I have even if not a single soul participates because I've learnt a lot.

This relates to the following Australian Professional Standards for Teachers...
Standard 3 Plan for and implement effective teaching and learning
Standard 4 Create and maintain supportive and safe learning environments
Standard 6 Professional engagement
Standard 7 Engage professionally with colleagues, parents/carers and the community

Saturday, 22 August 2015

To Sum It Up

One of the things that constantly surprises me is the way middle school kiddos struggle to take notes of key ideas and then summarise what they've read. Summarising plays a big part of our school's reading scope and sequence so it's somewhat of a mystery but it is what it is, and so we'll work with it!

We do a lot of research in middle school; a lot of  inquiry learning. To my dismay more than a couple of kiddos have recently fallen into the ol' trap of copying and pasting 'facts' that 'answer' their questions. *sigh*  As we're heading into quite a large inquiry topic I decided that it's time to revisit a couple of ways of notetaking and summarising.

One particular lesson really grabbed the kiddos' attention.  I started by sharing a short article from the British Museum's Ancient India website. (We've just started investigating Ancient India. We'll be building a website and would love your input. You can check it out here.)
This is a screen shot from
After reading the text aloud - it's a little complex for some of my kiddos, and we had a friend visiting from the small class for a reverse integration session - I left the article on the screen and asked everyone to choose one word that stood out to them as the most important one in the whole text. I quickly entered these onto and we came up with this:
Each word was justified by its contributor which was quite thought provoking and meant that the next step of writing a one sentence summary of the article was probably easier for everyone.

Here is a selection of the sentences at this stage:

  • India is an extreme land with lots of challenges and powerful rivers.
  • India is extreme and challenging.
  • In ancient times, the subcontinent of India was challenged when civilization had to make extreme changes to their lives by the Indus River.
  • Ancient India has powerful rivers flowing through it.
  • The subcontinent of ancient India has varied, extreme weather and it is a challenge for the civilisations that live there.
Quite a range of understanding!

The next step involved each student choosing a phrase from the text that they thought carried the most information. Again, I entered them into and here is our outcome:
Again, each phrase was justified by its contributor and everyone wrote a one sentence summary based on both word clouds.

Here is a selection of these sentences.
  • India is an ancient land full of insane rivers and hectic lands.
  • Water flows through ancient India’s land.
  • Ancient Indians lived on rivers which passed as an obstacle with the wild weather.
  • Ancient India has a rough landscape and rough rivers.
  • Ancient India is land that you need to adjust to and is hard to live in.
  • It is very remote and hard in ancient India.
  • It is a strong meaningful article telling us about the rivers and land.
I'm not sure about the mental health of the rivers but on the whole the sentences give a pretty good - brief - summary of the article.

And the kiddos 'got it'. They didn't have the article in front of them to write the sentences, just the word clouds. We discussed the idea that summarising means distilling the important parts out of the text and focussing on them. The word clouds help us do that by showing us visually which we thought were the important words and phrases were.

We looked at one other technique during this lesson.  I, again, chose a short article from the same website and read it aloud.  As a class we decided what the important word or phrase in each sentence was, and highlighted it in orange. We noticed that not all sentences really added anything new and so we didn't need to highlight anything, but that some sentences really had a couple so we went back and added some green highlights.  These words became the keywords that students used to write their summaries. 

This was originally a screenshot from
We've still got a long way to go, but we're making progress.  What techniques do you use to teach notetaking, key words and summarising?

This relates to the following Australian Professional Standards for Teachers...
Standard 1 Know students and how they learn
Standard 2 Know the content and how to teach it
Standard 3 Plan for and implement effective teaching and learning
Standard 4 Create and maintain supportive and safe learning environments

Monday, 17 August 2015

Thinking about Book Clubs Part II

Remember those infographics I created for my book clubs? I blogged about them here. At least one of you asked for a follow up post on how they were received. Here it is! This one's for you Adrienne.

This could, in reality, be a super short post because the individual cards were received extremely favourably and have been described as changing the way a particular book club runs. However, we all know that short, sharp and shiny is not really how I roll.

The first group I used the cards with I was in a bit of hurry and assumed - because they're cluey kids - that they would take the time to read the cards and just know how to use them. Yeah well. We can all guess how well that went can't we? The kiddos returned some time later with miserable looks on their faces because they'd had an argument over how much they needed to read during the book club time. Cue deathly silence.

"You weren't reading during your meeting though were you?"
"Yes. We'd made a couple of predictions and couldn't think of anything else to talk about so we just got on with reading."

I'm surprised I didn't inhale the child standing closest to me as I took a very slow and deep breath. 

"Let's go over the book club process again."

We revisited the process and the purpose of book clubs before reviewing the cards. It was delightful to see the little bulbs of recognition and understanding lighting up as we talked. Less delightful was the growing realisation that I'd left this group to independent meetings way too early. I was left hoping that the damage the premature independence had caused wasn't permanent.  

The following week I offered to join the club - as an observer - but was turned down. They'd talked about my likely offer and had decided to give it another go on their own first. Watching them walk out of the room actually made my stomach churn. 

It shouldn't have.  I went out to check close to the end of the lesson and they were still deeply engrossed in their discussions. They were flipping through their novels and talking about the strategies they were using. I saw all of them refer to the card to help find the words to describe their thinking. And they didn't even notice me loitering in the doorway watching. 


We had our 3-way interviews very soon afterwards and one of these kids described book club as one of his highlights of the year, with the last meeting being an extraordinary experience.  Not bad hey?

The other ongoing book club is a little further along in their development. They've all done it before and know the drill. BUT... They've enjoyed the reminder the cards have offered them. I recorded their meeting last week (for a school wide literacy QR trail that I'm building for book week) and was overjoyed to hear them describe the pleasure, learning and challenge they get from book club.  Listening to them bounce ideas off each other and make connections to other books they've read reminded me of my own book club (with the notable absence of coffee and wine). 
Reading is such an important part of my life, and my book club offers me a different - richer - way to experience reading. I'm pleased that my infographic cards are helping my students along their journey to this experience.

Are you part of a book club? I'd love to hear your reading stories.

Sidenote: if you're in Adelaide I highly recommend the shop that hosts our book club. You can check it out here or on this short video. 

This relates to the following Australian Professional Standards for Teachers...
Standard 2 Know the content and how to teach it
Standard 3 Plan for and implement effective teaching and learning
Standard 4 Create and maintain supportive and safe learning environments