The Best Writer in the Room Uses an OHP

About five or six years ago I discovered a dusty old overhead projector in a cupboard  in school. It had long been abandoned, long been dismissed as a redundant classroom tool, destined for the scrap heap. However, when I wiped it down, cleared the dust from the glass, I found that it worked perfectly well. Increasingly frustrated by the lack of good internet access at the time  – still am to be honest – I decided to give it a comeback. And I haven’t regretted it one bit.

My OHP is the most important piece of technology in my classroom. You may laugh: you may mock. In fact, I know you probably are. Without doubt, though, it is the one consistent teaching tool I have kept in my class without finding a better alternative. Provision of ICT is a problem where I teach. I have an iPad – I’m writing this post on it, in fact – but it cannot do the things I can do on an OHP. I can connect the Ipad to a projector, of course, but any apps which cater to handwriting are not as accessible or authentic.IMG_0711

I use my OHP every day, especially during writing workshop sessions. Instead of returning marked papers and getting on with the redrafts I can choose one particular paper, type it up, stick it on an acetate and work on improvements with the whole class. We can add bits, take bits out, completely rewrite sentences. We can critique in an open and constructive way, with every student knowing that it will be their work we will be working on soon. It is a very public critique which allows students to  become more confident in their ability to share work, something of which many teenagers are terrified. We can highlight weekly language points and how to add them into redrafts. I haven’t found any other technology which allows me to do all of this in such a way.

It is fantastic for modeling writing. When I read about others modeling writing I’m always looking for tales of teachers writing alongside  the students as they write. I don’t always read that. I read of teachers giving copies of their previously written pieces for students to read which is incredibly  powerful. However, I think modeling the struggle of writing, the constant rereading and redrafting of writing is the most powerful thing we can do as teachers of writing. To show that writing is difficult, that it is okay be untidy on a first draft; that you can score things out and add words and change things as you go. These are the techniques I think my students lacked when I previously focused more on final drafts of work.

My OHP allows me to wander around the classroom and return to it to add a sentence I’ve thought of or noticed an adjective I want to change. It allows me to correct as I write and model the things that writers struggle with throughout the writing process. I write the same tasks as students, displaying how a metaphor might be more appropriate than a simile in one instance or how a complex sentences might not be as powerful as a short, simple one. I am the best writer in the room. Why would I not model that for them?

‘Though students know that writing is hard, they do not realise that more experienced writers often struggle as much as they do. Our students stand a greater chance of internalising and embracing the complexity of writing when they see their teachers struggle to internalise and embrace the complexity of writing.‘

(Gallagher, Kelly, 2006, Teaching Adolescent Writers,

Stenhouse Publishers, Maine, p.50)

I use my Ipad a lot in class. I have students blogging and doing all sorts of ICT related activities when appropriate. However, I can honestly say that my OHP is the most effective and reliable piece of tech in my classroom. I couldn’t live with out. And I won’t until something better takes its place. You may laugh: you may mock. In fact, I know you probably are

Moving on – 2

Thanks to all who have subscribed to this blog, and read it over the last year or two. However, on June 10 it will cease to be. If you would like subscribe to my new blog – same posts, merely self-hosted – then follow me here http://justtryingtobebetter.net/ You can subscribe again on the front page on the right hand side,

thanks for all of your support,

Kenny

Time, Choice and Love – What Makes a Reader?

Before I start this post I want to make to clear that it was not my intention to purposefully be negative about Accelerated Reader or any reading programme: it may well end up like that, however. I do want to suggest a much better alternative. Accelerated Reader in particular, though, is widely used in UK schools and having used it myself and spoken of it in previous posts, I’m aware that many have their views. Of course I can only speak from my own experience but I’ve yet to be convinced by anything I’ve seen or heard about it.

While it has been around since the late eighties, I think I first came across this reading programme about eight or nine years ago. It was an expensive buy-in so, of course, my school wanted it to work. Classes were set up, plans were made. All my younger classes, and one of my older, more challenging classes would, once a week, read from a choice of books which seemed to be geared towards a specific reading level. My understanding is that if, after finishing a book, a student performed well at a small test – multiple choice, from memory – then they could advance to the next level. Certainly, if you looked through that little window in my class door, you would see children reading. And that’s got to be a good thing, hasn’t it?

Well, what I encountered wasn’t good at all. Books seemed to be limited to those chosen by the company who ran AR. I could create tests for specific books I suppose but that seemed like a whole lot of extra and unnecessary work. Students seemed to be discouraged from reading books which may have been too hard for them and I hated that. When we become readers we dip into books like that, giving us a taste of things to come. This seemed to actively discourage that. I also perceived, amongst the more reluctant readers, an eagerness to get to the end of their chosen books so they could get to the computer test. I had classes full of readers but there was no increase in a love of reading. Those who were readers hated that choices were limited and those who weren’t gave up when there was no quiz at the end.

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If you want your classes to be seen to be reading books then I’m sure this will get them doing that. But what Kelly Gallagher says in his book Readicide is right:

‘Many teachers like Accelerated Reader and similar incentive-laden programs because they see students do a significant amount of reading. What they don’t see is that programs such as AR and others that offer extrinsic rewards often lead to demotivating students after they have left the classroom.  ’(Gallagher, Kelly: 2007, Readicide, Stenhouse Publishers)

If you want the kids in front of you to be life long readers then none of these programmes work. I’d even ask those who are convinced that it does work to explain what it is intended to do for it to work.

Having learned from certain Twitter commentators to be aware of passing my opinions off as fact I delved into the research a little. I even tried to find some arguments for Accelerated Reader. Try googling it. You find very little in praise of the programme. Almost everything I’ve read, beyond anecdotal expressions of relief that kids read, comes to the conclusion that it is in fact damaging.

I mentioned Accelerated Reader very briefly during my #pedagoosunshine workshop and noticed the raised eyes along with the nods of agreement. However my intention is not to criticise teachers who use it but to suggest better ways of encouraging life long readers. You see I think it is the relationship with a significant adult which is the best guide to doing that. If there is no-one at home who does that then it has to be you, their teacher.

I’m going to blog on this further after my workshop at #tmlovelibraries in Edinburgh but kids need three things in place if they are to develop into lifelong readers.

  • Time, every day, to read. If that’s in class then make it so.
  • A choice of good quality books: and that means a choice of anything to get them going. Too hard, too easy, at first it doesn’t matter. The important thing is that you get them reading then it is your job to take it from there.
  • And lastly, they need to know that adults read too, it is not a thing that we get kids to do in school. Read with them; share your passion for books. Develop a reading relationship.

I do these things with my younger classes and, you know, it more or less works. No, not every kid will read for the rest of their lives. But they come back to me for book recommendations. They come back to give me book recommendations.

I worry that departments stick with Reading Programmes because they have invested in them and feel they have to make them work. It is so much more rewarding to forget the marketing and get down to the books. It is what made you the reader you are. Let them have a chance.

Moving on.

In two and half years of blogging I have tried to keep things fresh while developing my skills as I go. I started on Blogger then moved here to wordpress.com.  Now, as I hope to develop the blog further I will be moving to a new site justtryingtobebetter.net I hope you follow me there and subscribe once again. Thanks for all of your support and comments. They are always gratefully received,

Kenny

Watching Me, Watching You. Some Thoughts on Observation Lessons

I like to think that I have a good grasp of everything that goes on in my classroom. Fourteen years experience in teaching coupled with meticulous planning allows me to say that confidently. Or so I thought. Experience provides us with an all-seeing eye but does it really tell us everything?  I’ve spent a lot of time in an observer’s role in classrooms recently and it has been revealing in many ways. The concentration on every detail has made me see the teacher through a lot of different eyes. And it has, consequently, made me a better teacher.

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Don’t get me wrong; I’ve seen some amazing teachers recently. Most of the students I see are taught well by them. But I’ve also seen kids floundering in class; seen them totally disengaged from the learning. I’ve seen kids work only when the teacher is close by; seen them hold their hands up for minutes at a time unnoticed. Usually only one, perhaps two, in a class. Easy to be missed, easy to be ignored even.  Some learn nothing. I suppose my questions is then: While we are happy to observe and ‘critique’ others, finding fault as we do so, are we comfortable applying those criteria to ourselves?

I’ve been very guilty of promoting myself on here, blogging about some of the good things I do in class. When I think they work well I write all about it, hoping to share. This week has, however, forced me to consider every student in my class and whether I’m truly, honestly reaching them all. ‘That worked’ is a comment we read and hear a lot in teaching. How do we know it worked for all? Can we ever know? If you could observe yourself, would you see a teacher who takes into consideration all of their students and is it, indeed, possible to always do that?

If you’re one of the, on average, eleven people a day who read my blog – erm, you might well be from Iran, so thank you – you’ll be aware of the marking approach I’ve adapted since Christmas. It has allowed me, at least once a week, to tailor my lessons to every individual in the class. I am much more aware of the least engaged and the least confident. Even so, my experience of focused observation recently has convinced me that I take too much for granted. One child not learning in one lesson is not good enough; but what happens when that becomes two, three, even five or six lessons?

In my experience, one-off observation lessons are never enough. They become box-ticking exercises with little educational value. It takes a series of lessons, ideally with the same class, to develop the skills to do it properly. After fourteen years I have been given the opportunity to do that. It has taught me to notice the little things. If observation is worth doing at all then we must insist that it given the time and respect it deserves. I have discovered this week that, done properly, it could make us all better teachers.

Watching Me, Watching You. Some Thoughts on Observation Lessons

I like to think that I have a good grasp of everything that goes on in my classroom. Fourteen years experience in teaching coupled with meticulous planning allows me to say that confidently. Or so I thought. Experience provides us with an all-seeing eye but does it really tell us everything?  I’ve spent a lot of time in an observer’s role in classrooms recently and it has been revealing in many ways. The concentration on every detail has made me see the teacher through a lot of different eyes. And it has, consequently, made me a better teacher.

IMG_0400

Don’t get me wrong; I’ve seen some amazing teachers recently. Most of the students I see are taught well by them. But I’ve also seen kids floundering in class; seen them totally disengaged from the learning. I’ve seen kids work only when the teacher is close by; seen them hold their hands up for minutes at a time unnoticed. Usually only one, perhaps two, in a class. Easy to be missed, easy to be ignored even.  Some learn nothing. I suppose my questions is then: While we are happy to observe and ‘critique’ others, finding fault as we do so, are we comfortable applying those criteria to ourselves?

I’ve been very guilty of promoting myself on here, blogging about some of the good things I do in class. When I think they work well I write all about it, hoping to share. This week has, however, forced me to consider every student in my class and whether I’m truly, honestly reaching them all. ‘That worked’ is a comment we read and hear a lot in teaching. How do we know it worked for all? Can we ever know? If you could observe yourself, would you see a teacher who takes into consideration all of their students and is it, indeed, possible to always do that?

If you’re one of the, on average, eleven people a day who read my blog – erm, you might well be from Iran, so thank you – you’ll be aware of the marking approach I’ve adapted since Christmas. It has allowed me, at least once a week, to tailor my lessons to every individual in the class. I am much more aware of the least engaged and the least confident. Even so, my experience of focused observation recently has convinced me that I take too much for granted. One child not learning in one lesson is not good enough; but what happens when that becomes two, three, even five or six lessons?

In my experience, one-off observation lessons are never enough. They become box-ticking exercises with little educational value. It takes a series of lessons, ideally with the same class, to develop the skills to do it properly. After fourteen years I have been given the opportunity to do that. It has taught me to notice the little things. If observation is worth doing at all then we must insist that it given the time and respect it deserves. I have discovered this week that, done properly, it could make us all better teachers.