Saturday, 16 June 2018

Gifted and Talented- Peas in a Pod

This week I dropped in to observe Victoria working with a small group of Gifted and Talented students  who were starting to prepare for The Tournament of Minds competition. They were breaking down a past challenge and discussing how best to approach it. It was interesting to listen to students talking about different aspects of the challenge. An area that stood out to me was the  'Spirit of the Tournament.' This, and the students ability to problem solve within the confines of a planned script and a dramatic performance which stuck to the brief and time limits.

To best achieve these goals mindfulness and clear, kind communication will be really important to these students. As will sharing not only skills and strengths but also areas of weakness or things that unsettle them with the team. It would be important for team mates to know about areas of 'excitability'  and 'sensitivities' which may derail the team as students struggle to cope with unexpected changes, too much loud stimuli etc. Mindfulness is not just about your own wellbeing, but also others you work with. In this way the team can support each other when they know something may be a trigger to 'stress out' one of their team mates. It will also mean that they can plan ahead of time possibly using visualisation techniques to 'see' a positive out come to possible problems.

Although the Peas in a Pod focus was a challenge title I think it lends nicely to an analogy of these students working together. They are all individuals with strengths and commonalities like 'peas in a pod" If they stay together in the pod they will be a cohesive and united group. If they don't,  the pod disintegrates and you are left with individuals without a common purpose or goal. The 'Spirit of the Tournament' becomes lost and they will not be successful.

Finding your tribe in an academic setting is a wonderful thing. I can't wait to see where this learning journey takes them.

Nga Mihi,

Thursday, 14 June 2018

ESOL Reflection

                   Ahakoa he iti he ponamu- Although it is small it is a treasure

How can we encourage  and support our ESOL students within our school setting?

 Ownership- By viewing ESOL students as all of our students not just the assigned 'ESOL teachers'.'
I think this is something we do particularly well at Whakarongo. Staff collaborate to support students in a variety of ways including focusing on them as priority learners. They also really celebrate the success of  all students, including ESOL. There is a real team feeling of pride when our ESOL students succeed. We care about their emotional, academic and social wellbeing. This means students feel safe, happy and secure in our school.

The Silent Period- It is crucial to acknowledge that this is an important stage for many ESOL students. Research shows that those that spend longer in this period have better grammatical English as a result when they do feel comfortable to talk. So the benefits of this time is huge. Teachers need to be mindful of this. Viewing this as a 'normal' part of transition to school is very important for the hauora of these students. However, if they have concerns about learning then they should have access to professionals through RTLB and SENCO support. The professional discussion amongst staff is really important so that a complete picture can be formed and everyone feels supported in this process.

                                                                  Going at my own pace.

Using Translators- Having someone who can translate in a non biased or non leading way is very important. Often if people are not trained or you have a student translate then many things can get lost, misinterpreted or changed to fit the translators cultural beliefs.  They may intentional or unintentionally use guiding questions for the student as well. Sometimes they want to show their culture in the best possible way so they may not translate exactly what you or the student/parents have said. Finding someone who can do this is crucial. Building relationships with translators and having open dialogue about what is best for the student is really important. Some of the best translators for schools have professional or teaching backgrounds which is invaluable.

 Play-I think a play based or a hands on environment will help students to feel comfortable and start to have fun in their new Pod or class. Play is a universal language for kids! It also helps their teachers find out their new students strengths, interests and areas they may need support in. I observed a student I have who stutters in both English and his first language speaking clearly and confidently while role playing being a owner of a noodle shop with his ESOL peers. For some who may feel anxious about speaking English it can be a really safe space to "practice while they play."

                                                  Playing is a universal language for kids.

I'm interested to hear your thoughts!

Nga Mihi,

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Play and Passionbased Learning

Over the past two terms I have started to involve students in more of the decisions about their learning. Through CSI (Communicating, STEM and Inquiry) my learners are starting to take charge and pursue their passions. Increasing student voice and choice or delving into student agency. 

For my younger readers and writers this means discussion about what is of interest to them and giving them time to explore ideas in more detail. This may mean spending several weeks looking at a high interest area. Including but not exclusive of videos, experiments,  reading a variety of books and making/playing with toys. We balance this with having seen readers from the Pod that they have previously read in workshops and discussion about goals and 'where to next'. Having this mix of formal and informal learning is proving to be highly motivational for the 5 and 6 year olds I work with. 

I have been enjoying work along side and collaborating with Pono and Toa Pods and their vision with play based and 'hands on' learning. As a result the students are ready and focused for learning when they come. They are excited to share their learning from the pod and to do any of the reading, writing or making/Science activities we do in Wha Out. Previously reluctant readers have even started reading without much prompting! 

Because they have choices and freedom to develop their interests  they are really ready for learning workshops and utilise that time more effectively. They also have the opportunity to expand on this learning with me or pursue an interest/passion in more detail. 

I have also been incorporating more Science based activities in the past two terms for these learners and my ESOL students. This has mostly been driven by personal passion areas, eg The Titanic (floating and sinking), Volcanoes ( Why do volcanoes explode?) and Tornadoes ( Whirlpool in a bottle.) I have had a number of food based activities using The Kitchen Science Cookbook with ESOL students as well. 

ESOL students have enjoyed making and eating the food, but we have also started to think a little about the Science behind some of the food experiments. We are working on increasing collaboration and communication. I have several older students who I have been coaching to start supporting younger students by instigating conversations, asking questions or supporting with reading and writing.

So key areas of communication, collaboration and passion for learning are starting to come to the forefront. 

Exciting times ahead!

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Science and Student Choice

This term I have had more of a science focus for my ESOL students. We have previously looked at STEM Challenges where students work co operatively to solve the problem. We still sometimes do STEM challenges but we are looking more at Science based food activities and Science exploration experiments. Students can discuss their observations and draw/write what they think and see. This has increased collaboration, communication and older students coaching younger ones. Using strengths in reading and writing to support younger students encourages tukana-teina as well.

They have loved the food based activities done in the past and asked for more of these. I found out about The Kitchen Science Cookbook on Twitter and decided to incorporate these as they fitted with our school's Science focus.

Although I focus on all students learning I am looking at Molly for my priority learner. She is new to our school this year and has confidence but chooses not to take risks in areas she feels less confident in.  She has really enjoyed our Science and cooking activities and her Mother has connected through Seesaw which is wonderful.

So, what now? I will continue to incorporate Science into our ESOL program during the term and also continue to give students choice about the direction of their own learning where ever possible.

Monday, 9 April 2018

Inquiry and Passion Inspired Writing

After adapting my CSI (Communication, STEM and Inquiry) based literacy learning I have continued to work on the reading and writing link with my 5 year olds. The primary objective has been to build positive relationships where students feel comfortable to try new things and also to have fun! From there the learning, confidence and engagement has increased hugely. I have also focussed on getting students to inquire into their passion areas and then incorporate  their reading and writing through this.

It has wonderful to see the language used after experiments and exposure to different books. Talking about interest areas has really enhanced the language used in writing. Students have also engaged in their peers inquiry in different ways. One of the girls really connected to another students interest in volcanoes. She knew a lot about Taupo and Tongariro and its volcanic history as well as Maori legends about the area. She incorporated that thinking into the mini science experiments about lava and explosions as well. From there we recorded her thoughts orally on Seesaw. Bringing the story telling to the fore front and placing value on her knowledge and heritage.

Having mini STEM challenges based on picture books tied into an interest area has also been a great way to get discussion going and improve writing. This is an option for students to choose after they have read a seen or new text with me.

The collaboration between peers has been wonderful to see. It is really motivational for others to connect to an area you feel passionately about.

Also, students are taking more risks and trying to add language into their sentences that don't consist of simple sight words is wonderful to see! Having a provocation is a fantastic way to let students imaginations take off. I loved how students incorporated learning from their volcano inquiry into their dinosaur provocation!

I am looking forward to continuing with the interest/passion based inquiry for students next term. It is so important to have everyday reading and writing. The mix of structured learning and the oppourtunity to explore through Science, STEM and Inquiry lend a good balance and give a broad scope for literacy learning.

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Transition to School - A Gifted Perspective

At the Connect.Ed. Conference I was lucky to go to a Hook, Line and Sinker 'Taster' Session about transition to school with Carola Sampson. This was both a professional and personal interest as my son will be transitioning to school towards the end of the year. The specific focus was for gifted younger students making this move.
Some of the key takeaways were that both ECE teachers and Primary teachers need to have a strong understanding of Te Whariki and The New Zealand Curriculum. Below are the links between the two in regards to assessment.

It is important that parents share the portfolio through Educa or the paper version and that teachers are open to the importance of this assessment document.  This leads to teachers having access to "reveal previous learning, skills, abilities and progress learning through linking to previously documented learning experiences and episodes at ece and other learning environments." 
(Carola Sampson)

Below are some of the key transition strategies as described by Sally Peters (2010)

It is important to note that although the transition is in some ways a relatively short time, gifted students need to be monitored so we can see their trajectory over a much longer period of time to make sure they continue to be happy in their new school.

 Implementing Transition Booklets so students can take photos of their new school and have input to share how their teacher can help or what they need to do for themselves if they are hungry, tired etc. Having a kindergarten teacher visit the school and the school teacher/s visit the kindy environment are important factors in making that connection for gifted students. 

As valuable a tool as a portfolio is sometimes students don't reveal their true selves in the kindergarten setting so parents may not feel this best represents their childs' abilities or the way they learn.  They may 'adapt' their behaviour to fit in and try to make friends and may not reveal any talents.  Or perhaps teachers don't have an understanding of gifted students. Abilities may be very apparent at home or with someone the student sees as holding that particular area of interest as passionately as they do. Therefore it is vital that parents are advocates to share about their children with ECE and Primary teachers.

So 'knowledge is power' when it comes to giftedness and the links between Te Whariki and The New Zealand Curriculum. The Portfolio should be used as a primary transition tool and parents, whanau and students need to have their voices heard in this process.

Supporting Gifted Learners

Listening to the gifted students speak at the Connect.Ed. Conference with clarity about what helps their learning, what are blockers and how they cope with the daily expectations of themselves and of others was inspirational and tinged with a little sadness. Most were young teenagers and had spent many years searching for other kids who 'think like me' for friendships, for acceptance and just a space to be themselves. Instead most had found bullying, stress, frustration, anxiety and an unrealistic expectation of what giftedness means. But for many they had their own passions that they held high to light their way, to help them find a place to be themselves even if it was without someone with whom to share it with.

The tinge of sadness came from the fact that many suffered from anxiety and high levels of stress due to their teachers not understanding them as individuals. To me, as a teacher the relationships that we make with our students are key. They come first and then the learning and feeling of mana whenua (belonging) come alongside this. They also need to see our own passions and we need to let them know about who we are, our families and our interests so they can connect with us.

The day after the conference I found this poster that had a number of points that these gifted students raised. I think professional development for teachers is essential so that they have a non biased view of gifted students. Unfortunately many teachers only gain this knowledge if they themselves have a gifted child or perhaps a gifted member of their family.

Hopefully with a new 30 year vision for Education coming soon we will see more emphasis for both ends of the learning spectrum to be acknowledged and teachers to gain professional development to help gifted students to reach their potential in a non stressful or anxiety inducing learning environment.