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‘Classroom Stuff’ Category

  1. Catching Up

    January 1, 2016 by Mrs Hurley

    Dear Reader,

    Forgive me, it’s been (approx.) 6 months since my last post. What have I been doing in that time?




    I have been absent from social media (other than my personal Facebook page) for many reasons. Firstly, this past year I’ve felt more stretched for time than normal. My time and energy were spent on my classroom and the individuals that required constant attention in there. I’ve also taken on more responsibilities at my school and have been leading a curriculum team for the first time. The classroom has well and truly drained me this year though. It’s funny how different a new group of kids / combination of personalities are from previous classes.

    Personally, I’ve also spent a fair chunk of time planning my upcoming wedding (Yay!)

    I’m sure I’ve said this before (in fact, probably as a New Years resolution from last year?) but I am aiming to publish more posts this year and take the time to reflect on stuff that is working or not. Classroom blogs themselves are going to be reinvigorated at school this year so I will (hopefully) be reigniting my passion with blogs and all of the wonderful possibilities.

    I hope you have all had a wonderful Christmas, New Years and Summer break. I look forward to learning with you again this year.

  2. Collaborative Problem Solving

    August 4, 2014 by Mrs Hurley

    The following is an 800 word essay that I wrote for the MOOC “Assessment and Teaching 21st Century Skills” run by the University of Melbourne through Coursera.

    I found this assignment to be difficult at first but easier as I wrote more. The peer assessment was valuable but I’m not sure how valuable my feedback would’ve been to others. I could tell that other students lacked understanding of the assignment itself and collaborative problem solving skills, based on the three other assignments that I peer assessed.

    “After Sugata Mitra conducted his famous “Hole in the Wall” experiment in a New Delhi slum, he studied for 13 years on the nature of self-organised learning. At the 2013 TED Conference, Sugata invited educators of all kinds to create their own self-organised learning environments (SOLEs). I decided to take this approach in my classroom as a way for students to discover how continents were formed. Large, open, difficult and interesting questions often make the best “big” questions for SOLE inquiries. Instead of posing a “big” question to my students, I made a statement that they had to find evidence to either prove or disprove – “Continents were formed by one man digging many holes and filling them with water, thus separating each continent.” SOLE inquiries employ the basic parameters that students can choose their own groups of approximately four and they can change groups at any time. Students can talk with other groups and see what each group is doing and participants must have the opportunity to share their learning at the end. These were the only instructions given to the students, thus making the task very ambiguous. Each group had access to one computer and one handheld tablet, as well as note taking tools. The SOLE inquiry required collaboration between students because each student was able to take on a different role and bring different resources to the task, all of which are required to solve the problem. Each student brought a different perspective to the task, the task required negotiation skills and agreement on a plan to tackle the problem. The collaborative problem solving SOLE task presented to my students required both social skills and cognitive skills. Students chose to stay in their original groups, despite constant reminders that they were allowed to change. In the beginning, students were sharing information and resources with other groups and started to focus more on their own presentations in the end. One of the major foci for students was using collaborative tools, such as Google Apps, to assist with the collaborative nature of the task. Students exchanged information and discussed vocabulary that they wouldn’t have had the chance to discovery without the SOLE investigation – or else, they would have had this knowledge imparted to them instead of discovering it for themselves and sharing with each other. Such diversity and demonstration of collaborative skills was wonderful to witness.
    Educators play an important role in both teaching students how to think, and giving them room to feed their curiosity. My role as the classroom teacher in the SOLE investigation is purely as a facilitator. The most effective educators are great witnesses, supporters, and structure-providers, but not answer-suppliers. In this SOLE investigation, due to the diverse ability levels and social groupings, it was inevitable that each group would demonstrate differing skill levels in collaborative problem solving. In one small group was a girl who struggles with the concept of student-centred learning and has to be encouraged to discover answers for herself. As I watched her work with her partner, I noticed the low level collaborative problem solving skills she was displaying. Socially, this girl has difficulties anyway and collaboratively solving problems proved no different. She reluctantly participated in the task, contributing very little herself and expecting her partner to complete the task for her. She could not seem to focus due to the lack of structure and or scaffolding given by the teacher before undertaking the task. When sharing her learning with the class, she tended to let her partner divulge all information and made small contributions but did not take into consideration what her partner had already mentioned. This particular girl found it difficult to understand the task and therefore could not resolve differences with her partner to achieve a common goal. Her problem analysis was almost non-existent and she was unable to respond to such an ambiguous situation. Small facts were recorded instead of a wider understanding of the information and how it related to our inquiry focus. With prompting, she was able to undertake the task but did not have the foresight to see the end result or consequences of her inaction. On the other hand, this particular girl’s partner was displaying high level collaborative problem solving skills. He constantly attempted to engage her in order to solve the problem collaboratively. He listened to her contributions and was able to tailor his own contributions and ideas for solutions based on his partner’s understandings. He persevered in the SOLE investigation and prompted input from his partner. Throughout the task, he was able to evaluate his own and his partner’s performance. He attempted to assist his partner by dividing the investigation into smaller tasks and he identified patterns between multiple pieces of information and their sources.”

    My feedback for the assignment:

    Suggest any elaboration of the example that could have made it more clearly an example of a collaborative problem solving:
    peer 1 → This task clearly identified that an individual could change groups at any time. In a collaborative problem solving exercise, if it is a requirement that the problem can’t be solved without the input of different people/resources, having members move in and out of the group (even if in this example the teacher noted that they didn’t despite being urged to) would seem to defeat the purpose. What happens to the group if a high functioning individual chooses to leave? If the problem could be solved without the involvement of all members, is this CPS? In this example, if the boy who demonstrated high CPS skills left, most of the group’s ability to solve the problem would go too.
    peer 2 → The text indicates the truism that behaviour cannot change overnight. The two collaborators represent extreme skills in CPS according to their behavioural responses to the situation. Perhaps for the sake of illustration, I would want an instance when the girl with low-level CPS rises above the level she’s at and encourage and affirm her partner by getting more substance into their joint solution to the problem. We are allowed, anyway, to fictionalize a bit.
    peer 3 → A fantactic description of a collaborative problem solving at school. A good example to follow. One suggestion. How about to think of some subtasks to motivate students “not to stay in their original groups”?
    7. Say what you liked best about this example as an instance of collaborative problem solving.
    peer 1 → This example was clearly structured and identified a problem for which there were many possible answers. The process allowed students to discover knowledge for themselves, and to share this with other members of the group. It also identified that not all participants in CPS are ready to be able to contribute at an effective level, and may require other scaffolding to get them to the point of readiness.
    peer 2 → The problem and the CPS skills and the corresponding levels demonstrated by the collaborators are clearly described. Thanks.
    peer 3 → This example is so close to my own professional career. I’m a teacher of English in Ukraine. I often engage my students to work like this. Most of all I liked the level of professional competence of the author because such replics and observations “My role as the classroom teacher in the SOLE investigation is purely as a facilitator. The most effective educators are great witnesses, supporters, and structure-providers, but not answer-suppliers.” prove this. The author knows all the tiny aspects of collaborative problem solving,in particular, how to observe, analyze, interpret and develop CPS skills.

    What do you think? What examples of collaborative problem solving can you think of in your own classroom?

  3. Mid-Year Resolutions

    July 3, 2014 by Mrs Hurley

    I’ve been doing a lot of reading over these school holidays that is really making me start to think about how I run my classroom. I’m starting to see and rebel against this traditional method of teaching and learning so widely accepted by schools. These “non-negotiable codes of conduct” which dictate what our classroom should look like and how the curriculum should be delivered. Every piece of reading that I’ve completed (or am in the process of completing) goes against what these archaic codes tell us.

    I’ll be the first to admit, I am very easily swayed when it comes to new ideas and opinions. There are some ideas which I will just jump on and run with and not stop to think about alternative opinions or different ways of doing it.

    Sometimes, this head first approach really works in my classroom. However, as with anything, sometimes it doesn’t or I haven’t thought it out enough to make it work.

    I am not the most articulate person in real life. I find writing things down gives me a better perspective and makes me sound like I know what I’m talking about. For example, if another teacher was to ask me why I blog with my class, I would give a short-handed answer that really doesn’t convey my passion or extraordinary benefits that I’ve witnessed while blogging with my students. I bumble through answers and sound quite unintelligent and I’ll be the first to admit that.

    In a conversation with a member of my PLN, I asked him how long he had been teaching for as he really seems to have a handle on things. I had mistakenly assumed he was the same age as me and had the same amount of teaching experience but he was always so knowledgeable about everything in education. (Seriously, if you haven’t added @mrkrndvs to your Twitter PLN, do so now!)

    Which brings up another point – I love how age is never a barrier to new learning and never an excuse to improve your classroom. If you have 1 year, 10 years or 35 years teaching experience, you should always be striving to improve yourself as a learner and your practice.

    I asked my PLN member, am I too ambitious for someone with my amount of teaching experience? His self-reflective reply sums everything up perfectly; “I was never ambitious enough. Always thought that it was someone else’s job. Until I realised it was mine for the taking”

    And so, once again, I am feeling inspired. I am going to spend next week working out a plan to totally and radically change my classroom and change my practice to improve learning for my students. My students don’t need set reading groups with one text for all of them to respond to (Not that I’ve actually followed this code of conduct for awhile… Oops!)

    They need voice, they need choice and they need to be able to collaboratively solve problems!

  4. A is for Advanced

    April 9, 2014 by Mrs Hurley

    I am not completing the AtoZ April Challenge as I was too late to join. I hadn’t even heard of the Challenge until a day or two ago. But I like the idea of posting every day (except Sundays) with an alphabet theme. You can read more about it here.

    This blog post is part of a series of posts following an A-Z theme, as adapted from the A to Z April Challenge.

    A is for Advanced

    More specifically, advanced students.

    I have always had such a large spread of abilities in my classes. I know at my school, classes are formed based on a number of requirements; friendships, parent requests, gender and general capabilities. We try to spread across the classes as much as possible.

    Somehow, though, I always end up getting a class where a majority of the students require intervention in literacy, maths or both! Very rarely do I get to teach students who are quite advanced. I’m talking a year or more ahead of their peers in any area. Once, I taught a boy who had literacy intervention but could complete complex maths equations in his head in a matter of seconds. He was a brilliant kid who just blossomed in the 2 years that I taught him.

    But I digress.

    This year, I have a Year 3 student who is working at Year 4-5 level for both Maths and English. He is very similar to the Maths Whiz boy I once taught. So the challenge is, how do I cater appropriately for this child in my classroom? (Where I also have a students working at Year 1 level). I know this is the struggle that teachers have daily because differentiation is essential.

    I also have a Year 4 boy who, according to his December report, is working a year or two ahead in most areas as well. That being said, I can’t say I’ve seen enough to actually believe his previous teacher’s judgement. That sounds awful doesn’t it?

    I know I can pair these two boys up together to complete tasks, but I find that there is always more emphasis on “at-risk” students and that we, as teachers, have to be doing everything in our power to get these “at-risk” students up to scratch. Quite often, these advanced students get ignored as they are not the priority.

    I am planning on creating a rubric type thing for these boys for those times where I feel they are way above what is being covered by their Maths/Reading group so that they can go and complete an investigation or other task.

    Does anyone already do this in their class? Any resources or tips you can share to get me started?

  5. Feedback vs. Correcting

    April 8, 2014 by Mrs Hurley

    Well, it’s been a long time in between posts, hasn’t it? Good to see that I stuck to my goal of posting often! (And also my goal about posting goals for 2014!)

    A tweet caught my eye this morning from Judy McKenzie (@judykmck) in relation to publishing student’s work online. She stated that when uploading work onto their class wiki, she doesn’t correct as it is a record of progress.

    I went along this path for awhile. Lately, I’ve been a little swamped and haven’t looked at student’s books in great detail. I recently requested that they take home their writing books and complete typing up their writing piece onto a Google Doc (which we had already begun at school). A parent (who also happens to be a teacher at my school) unfortunately had an argument with her child because she wouldn’t let my student type up her writing without it being seen by me (as she noticed many spelling mistakes in the writing piece).

    My plan was to leave comments (or highlighting) on the Google Doc notifying students of spelling errors and adding possible improvements.

    When it comes to spelling in particular, I have always been a big believer of notifying students of their errors but not correcting them myself. How will the students learn to spell when they are always told? I have introduced a “Have a Go” booklet this year for Spelling, where students attempt a word 3 times (with different spelling choices) before I will look at their booklets and assist them with the correct choice.

    While I have been trying to be better with it this year, my downfall has always been writing down feedback and correcting work. I vowed to be better this year with the implementation of Google Apps but my students are not yet skilled enough to be solely using Google Apps without paper alternatives.

    A non-negotiable at my school is the use of an exercise book for drafting writing. Having attended a professional development day last year on Holistic Writing, I can see the benefits of keeping all writing together in one book as it is “a record of progress”. I feel trained enough in the Holistic Writing program to able to give effective feedback at the conclusion of the writing piece.

    I do not, however, feel confident enough in writing feedback for other areas. Nor do I feel that students pay enough attention when books are returned with future directions scribbled in the corner. Other than saying “Next time, blah blah blah” I’m not sure how effective my written feedback is and how many of my students pay attention to it and use it to further their learning.

    Which is now making me start to think about the value of written book activities. Although I try to steer away from worksheets, there are factors which make this impossible at times. But that’s a whole different blog post!

    Now I feel I’ve rambled on and completely missed the point that I was trying to make. When thinking about this post, I was mainly thinking:

    How important is correcting work for students? How important is written feedback on every single task?

    How do you make your written feedback effective? Are there other methods of feedback that you use which are sustainable and effective in your classroom? Please share!

  6. Tall Poppy Syndrome

    February 9, 2014 by Mrs Hurley

    How can a school encourage and foster a sharing culture properly? Can it even be done properly? Will there always be those couple of ‘old school’ teachers in there, ready to chop down any “new” ideas?

    I was asked recently to present something short at a staff meeting after my AP had walked into my room and saw my kids doing Teach/OK as part of us working on Whole Brain Teaching this year. She was really excited about it and, to be honest, so was I because my kids have been fantastic with it so far!

    So, I enthusiastically brought along my ideas to staff meeting. I was shoved to the end of staff meeting as more pressing admin matters needed to be discussed. I get it. Anyway, I was told I had 30 seconds to present as the meeting was almost overtime.

    I gave my hurried explanation and despite my time restrictions, I feel as though I was still able to convey my enthusiasm about Whole Brain Teaching and what it can do for students.

    I was then spoken about behind my back in the staff room because I’m not the only one who uses WBT in the classroom. Nor did I ever claim to be.

    The point is, this happens far too often. I’m asked to share something (whether I already do it or I’ve learned it on a PD day), I’m really enthusiastic about it, I try to ramp it up to whoever I’m sharing with and I get shut down. Or, at least, no one shares my enthusiasm.

    I went to a Handwriting and Spelling PD because I really had no idea how to run a spelling program. I came back with many ideas, shared them with a teacher and was told “Oh yeah, that’s been around for ages!”

    How can we encourage a sharing culture in schools? What things are essential for new teachers to know? How can they get this information so that 3 years later, they’re not still looking for it?

  7. First Days Back!

    February 2, 2014 by Mrs Hurley

    Students at my school started back on Thursday, after I had already been at school for 2 days. Staff spent the first 2 days doing team exercises and team planning for the term. We also looked at our whole school unit “Myself as a Learner”.

    My teaching partner and I have started a shared blog together. I actually went to primary school with Kate and it was a complete coincidence that we’ve ended up in the same workplace, working in the rooms next to each other this year. Please head over to our shared blog to see our room reveals! We’ve both put in a lot of effort for our new classrooms but Kate’s just blows me away.

    I’m also starting Whole Brain Teaching this year. I will endevour to post more about it once it’s up and running in its’ entirety. If you are not familiar with Whole Brain Teaching, the idea is that when students are using all of their brain to learn, they have no room to daydream or become distracted.

    So far, I have introduced; Class/Yes, Classroom Rules, Teach/OK and The Scoreboard.

    Normally, I would make the class rules with the students so that they have ownership over them etc. etc. but I wanted to try Whole Brain Teaching as prescribed before I made any alterations. The kids are aware of this and also of the reasoning behind each of the classroom rules. I explained briefly but we’ll go into it more when we look at the brain during our whole school unit.

    I did, however, change one classroom rule. The 5 rules are:

    #1 Follow Directions Quickly
    #2 Raise your hand for permission to speak
    #3 Raise your hand for permission to leave your seat
    #4 Make smart choices
    #5 Keep your dear teacher happy

    If you haven’t picked up which rule I changed, it’s number 5. Mostly because it sounded really American and a little wanky to me. I changed it to “Respect yourself, respect others & respect your school”, which is a variation I have come across somewhere on the internet during my research.

    Anyway, more about WBT later down the track…

    So far, I am really enjoying my kids. I think they’re a little overwhelmed by me but one thing I LOVE about teaching a younger year level is that THEY THINK I’M FUNNY!!

    How did your first days in your classroom go? Are you trying anything new this year? Have you ever done Whole Brain Teaching before?

  8. Goals for 2014

    January 10, 2014 by Mrs Hurley

    Inspired by Stefanie over at Miss Galvin Learns, I have decided to set some goals for 2014. (see her original post here) I have really started looking forward to the coming year with my new younger kiddies.

    My passion for teaching has been reignited for a number of reasons for this coming year, which I won’t go into for fear of getting too personal. If you’ve read my previous posts, you’ll be getting some idea of why.

    Like Stefanie, I will spread out my goals over a number of posts (hopefully not too many!) so I can explore in further detail.

    So, without further ado, I present:



    Goal Number One: Be more consistent with feedback and assessment

    This is something that I’ve never been fantastic with. Usually, I just cannot be bothered writing comments in individual books (this may also be due to the fact that I have team-taught for the past 2 years). It takes a long time, right? It’s hard to think of individual comments when my stomach is rumbling because I’m late to the staff room for lunch! Verbal feedback I can do – I’m also a very fast talker so it takes even less time for me! – and I do regularly. It’s easier for me to tell my students where they need to improve or what they’ve done well in a task than it is to hand write comments.

    This is where it pays to work smarter, not harder. Easier said than done, right?

    I plan to use Google Apps for Education as much as possible during the year. I love the comment function – I can leave feedback for students AS they work on something. Eventually, we will probably use Google Sites for student digital portfolios – perhaps to even showcase their Genius Hour projects – and so being able to leave feedback at my own time, wherever I may be. And also, typing is much easier than handwriting!

    As far as assessment goes, I’m hoping to create some easy to fill in forms using the Kustom Note app so that I can fill in little details and send those forms straight to my Evernote folder for each individual student. (If you haven’t downloaded this app, get onto it! Have a play around and download some free templates.) Otherwise, I have the option of using checklists within Evernote for whole class assessment. With the help of my iPad, I’m going to aim to have some sort of anecdotal notes on each student at least once a week. I’ve heard that this will make report writing time a breeze!

    Big ambitions, hey? I know I have the best intentions of being organised this year and usually it falls by the wayside. I’ll be the first to admit that my head was not really in the game last year and my efforts were being concentrated elsewhere.


    What are your goals for 2014? How do you provide feedback? How do you assess your students ongoingly?

  9. Time for a change

    December 7, 2013 by Mrs Hurley

    It’s official!

    I have been told that next year I will be moving year levels from a 5/6 classroom to a 3/4 class!

    How do I feel about that?

    Well, I actually don’t know. I have mixed emotions about it.

    I am excited because I have had an exhausting year with a bad combination of students in my class (see “It’s been a great year“) and I think having younger students, it will be easier to set clear expectations without challenges.

    I am disappointed because I’ve spent a large chunk of this year gathering ideas to use in my 1:1 classroom. The 3/4s are not 1:1 – they have a trolley of netbooks and tablets (Samsung… which I know nothing about and much prefer Apple) which have 6 netbooks available all the time and if I wanted to do any 1:1 activities, I would have to negotiate to borrow from the other 6 classrooms. I don’t yet know how it’s going to work but I need to be flexible and adapt.

    Also, I don’t know much about AUSVELS Level 3 and 4. I don’t know much about the curriculum below Year 5 and 6 – but I do know what I wish my kids were able to do when they come into 5/6.

    So many ideas are running around my head at the moment – things I need to set up, checklists, blogs ARGH.

     Have you moved year levels or subjects this year? How are you feeling about moving or staying the same position? Any tips or ideas for teaching 3/4s for me?!

  10. “It’s been a great year”

    December 7, 2013 by Mrs Hurley

    … But has it really?

    I’m hearing this said a lot lately, as members of my PLN begin wrapping up their year and reflecting on how their year has gone.

    When I look back on this year, I feel exhausted.

    Has it been a great year for me? It has certainly been a challenging year. I don’t mean in the “my knowledge is being challenged and it’s fantastic” kind of way either. It has genuinely been a tough year for me.

    While I don’t want to sound like I am whinging or making excuses for myself, I will try to explain why…

    1. Firstly,  there are two boys in my class who have completely worn me down. I have spent every lesson repeating myself and reminding them that they are not to sit with each other or talk with each other as the combination of both of them together is lethal.

    2. As the year draws to an end, as in any primary school, year 6s are becoming restless and ready to move on. I have one Year 6 boy who packed up shop 4 weeks ago and hasn’t done anything since. He refuses to complete tasks or follow any instructions – despite the fact that he is already going in to secondary school behind in his learning, which is even more frustrating.

    3. As far as the ‘norm’ goes, I have spent a number of days out of the classroom this year, taking advantage of external professional learning opportunities. That being said, I have also participated in programs where I am required to “work” after school and into the night. Now, I wouldn’t change my decision to participate in any of these professional development days at all – in fact, they have been the best ones I have attended in my whole career – but days out of the classroom (particularly when they are one day a week in sequential weeks) can really make you feel out of whack.

    There are other contributing factors which are a little personal so I won’t list them.

    I’m not sure how I feel about this year. I certainly love this time of year because of how busy it is and with all the extra activities we get to do, such as the swimming carnival and Year 6 Graduation. I am definitely looking forward to a change next year…


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