Welcome to my blog! I'm Karen Belt, a fourth year teacher working at Lynmore Primary School in Rotorua, New Zealand. I'm teaching in a Year 3 class using iPads to engage and motivate learners and improve student achievement. This blog documents my teaching journey and my learning processes with iPads in the classroom. I've proud of having been a member of the inaugural Manaiakalani Digital Teaching Academy(MDTA) program and last year a Spark Manaiakalani Innovative Teacher (MIT) and Manaiakalani Google Class OnAir teacher.

Friday, 26 August 2016

MIT Inquiry - sharing with others

It was great to share my Spark Manaiakalani Innovative Teacher (MIT) inquiry today with those attending the Manaiakalani Hui and also hear in more detail how the inquiries of the other MIT teachers are progressing.

It is my intention to post my presentation on my blog, but will do so in early October following our presentations at the ULearn conference.  That said, as it is now just over half way through the term, its a good time to reflect on the blog commenting challenge which is occurring in my class this term.  So far there have been 182 comments posted (majority by whanau) and our progress graph as of today looks like this:


We continue to share comments in class which helps to serve as a reminder about the challenge.  I'm also seeing some of my learners starting to comment on their friends blogs in the evenings/weekends.  My learners continue to be excited about blogging and many come to school early so they can check their comments before class starts - those that can't quite read their own comments are particularly keen to do this as they know I'm happy to read them before we start our day.

I'm excited to see if the blog commenting continues over the second half of the term and if we can push the total comments closer to 300 before the challenge concludes!





Moving forward ... reflecting on changes that worked

Recently I posted about the changes I was planning to incorporate into my writing program.  I was delighted with my first lesson following that post and wanted to immediately celebrate it's success with a blog post.  However, I was also mindful that sometimes something that is "new" can work as a single one-off lesson but then fail to fire after the newness wears off.  With this in mind, I have waited nearly two weeks (and many writing lessons) to reflect on how its working.

Brainstorming for writing in smaller groups has definitely paid off.  I'm able to pitch each brainstorm at the level of each group and am finding a definite increase in engagement.  Importantly, I'm able to capture the ideas at each level, gift appropriate vocabulary and deepen the ideas and discussion with each group.  Each brainstorm works slightly differently.  With my higher group, I use Padlet which I use my Chromecast to display on the TV.  Learners are also able to access the Padlet directly from their iPad as it is linked on our writing slide.   This group are learning to share their writing with a friend before conferencing with me.

Check out our Padlet of ideas on Shot Put and Valerie Adams
Check our our Padlet of ideas on Kayaking and Lisa Carrington

When I brainstorm with my middle writers, we use the whiteboard.  This group often require more prompting and we often discuss main ideas and sequencing before they begin their independent writing.  My final group of writers complete a dictation task while I'm brainstorming with my other groups.  They then come to the teaching table where we will brainstorm a few main ideas.  This group requires more support and often stay at my table so I can assist with their focus and sentence construction.

It is always great to receive feedback or ideas from others that I can incorporate into my practice as I continually try to innovate for the benefit of my learners.  This was definitely the case with writing recently and I have incorporated some of the great ideas I have received from colleagues into my practice.  Additionally, I received some great feedback from Innes Kennard - "Another suggestion from my peers yesterday was to spend more than one session on a piece of writing"!

This feedback struck a chord as many of my learners would say "How many sentences do I have to write", to which I would reply ... "At least <insert number here based on the learner asking>".  I now realise that by saying "at least", they were taking my number literally and if I said "At least three" they would consider three to be 'good enough' and wouldn't push themselves to write anymore.  I'm extending my writing topic to cover more than one lesson.  I do have a back up writing topic for those 'fast finishes' but I have found that allowing additional time allows me extra conferencing time to work with specific learners and extend them further, but also allows my learners time to make their writing even better.

As always, all my teaching decisions are based on trying to make the maximum impact on my learners, so I feel its only appropriate to end this post with some of the great writing that occurred recently.

"Valerie Adams does the shot put and she won the gold and silver  medal.   She won the gold medal in 2008 in London and won the silver medal in 2016 in Rio. One of her throws was disqualified because she stepped out of the circle. Valerie has big strong muscles to throw a long way." - Julia 

"In the shot put Valerie Adams won the Olympic silver medal.  She won 2 gold medals at earlier Olympic Games. In the shot put Valerie Adams was amazing at the shot put. In the shot put she hold a heavy ball. In the shot put she was amazing at throw the ball. In the shot put l like Valerie Adams because she is good at the Olympic Games." - Sivaenah

"Valerie Adams does  the shot put and she got a silver medal. Back in 2008 she won a gold medal and in 2012 in London she also won a gold medal. USA are  winners of the Rio gold medal. Valerie Adams drinks water before she starts her game.

When she get ready to throw she  stands in a  little circle. It is white so she can aim at the hole so she doesn't lose the ball. Valerie Adams  has strong muscles in her arms to make the shot put go far away. She sets a goal so her team can win. Valerie Adams has to learn from her coach before she starts. She has to throw the ball as far as she can with one hand. 

Valerie Adams got a score for New Zealand.  Valerie was a world champion last year. In  the Olympics, Valerie Adams has to use a heavy ball so it can go over 20 metres." - Bradley


Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Tweaking goals and moving forward

As part of our continuing inquiry into practice, yesterday we had the opportunity to reflect on our progress to date and tweak our goals (if necessary) for the remainder of the year.  My inquiry continues to be around motivating (reluctant) learners to write.   I can definitely see progress in many of my writers and the authentic audience provided by whanau commenting more on learners' blogs (part of my MIT inquiry) is definitely helping.

Through reflection I thought about the areas that I feel are still not working effectively and there are two main areas I'm wanting to work on in my inquiry for the remainder of the year:

  • Gifting of ideas and vocabulary to learners who struggle in whole class situations and won't contribute to a brainstorm
  • Finding interesting things to write about or making even the most 'mundane' writing idea seem appealing and exciting to my learners
As always, I try to incorporate specific writing scaffolds and support in areas that learners need during small group teaching, however I have found of late that the whole class brainstorming is not working.  Despite gifting exciting vocabulary and ideas, many learners are not using it and others are still at the "I don't know what to write" stage when we write on any topic that is not 'free choice'.



Yesterday we also had an opportunity to connect with our new school inquiry group - this is a change from the teachers that I have worked with for the last two terms.  In sharing my inquiry with new teachers it gave me an opportunity to hear different ideas as well as formulate a few things to try going forward.  

One of the immediate changes I'm going to make is to brainstorm in smaller groups and depending on the group, in different ways.  I've looked again at the writers in my class and regrouped so that the brainstorm groups can hopefully be more effective.  One of the challenges (particularly in writing) is what to have the other learners doing so they are engaged in meaningful activities.   I'm aiming to use dictation and editing activities which they can do independently until they have had their brainstorm time and are ready to write.  

Another suggestion from my peers yesterday was to spend more than one session on a piece of writing - while this has been problematic in the past, I think the new groupings will support this more effectively.  I look forward to putting this new action plan into place and reflecting on how effective it is.



Monday, 8 August 2016

The Power of Sharing and Collaboration

I really enjoyed connecting, once again, with the other teachers involved in the Spark Manaiakalani Innovative Teacher (MIT) programme for 2016.   This opportunity enables us to share with the group and hear how each inquiry is going and the progress we have all made to date.  Importantly, through collaborating with others we get unique perspectives and ideas to incorporate into our own inquiries as well as providing others with feedback.

Today's session focused on sharing one success from our inquiry to date as well as an opportunity to receive feedback and suggestions on challenges we have come across.   As with many things, the different experiences and ideas we bring to the table provides for unique viewpoints and ways of looking at things which we may not have thought about.  Additionally, today we started working on our presentations for ULearn 2016 and in my case to present at the Manaiakalani Hui later this month - watch this space, as they say!

The collaborative approach of the Spark MIT reminded me of my experiences in the Manaiakalani Digital Teacher Academy (MDTA) in my first two years of teaching (2014 - 2015).  Each week we met and collaboratively shared our experiences as well as receiving professional development on teaching in a digital classroom.   This unique program, combined with the Honours study through the University of Auckland gave me such a boost to my teaching career.   Co-incidentally, an Addendum was recently released as an addition to the evaluation report on the MDTA completed by the NZ Council for Education Research and I had an opportunity to read this over the weekend.  Its great to see the success of the program continue through the intake of ten new beginning teachers earlier this year into the MDTA 2016 program.  Pt England is lucky to have three of these MDTAs and I really enjoy hearing about their experiences each week and comparing them to my own journey.




The "Challenge" encourages comments

Just over a week into our class blog commenting challenge and I'm amazed at the comments received to date.  My learners have jumped on board the competition (particularly the girls) and are encouraging whanau to comment.

In the first seven days 103 comments have been made on my learners' blogs.  It is important to note that all comments left are being counted.  I'm also commenting (leading by example), and other teachers at Pt England have also commented.


It is hard to know exactly what has made a difference and encouraged these comments.  Obviously my learners are encouraging their whanau to comment which is most noticeable in the four girls who are leaping ahead.  However other comments are being made by Nana's, mothers and older siblings which is great to see and could be attributable to the help sheet sent home just over a week ago.  Importantly, my "help" video has been viewed 14 times and I would hope that some of these views were by whanau as they learnt how to comment.




It is also great to see some of my learners starting to respond to the comments, and this is a focus over the coming weeks in class - how to create a positive digital footprint.


It will be interesting to see over the coming weeks if the trends demonstrated in the first week of the challenge continue and how I can motivate my learners to ensure they continue prompting and encouraging their whanau to be involved.  We are also about to look at blog commenting in class so we will be able to comment effectively on our peers blogs - hopefully creating additional motivation for my learners to write.


Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Encouraging Whanau Comments

As part of my Spark Manaiakalani Innovative Teacher inquiry for 2016, I'm looking to increase the blog comments my learners are receiving as a way of motivating the to write.  The use of blogs provides an authentic audience for my learners, but I feel that the most powerful motivator will be the learners own whanau regularly looking (and commenting) on their blogs.  Earlier in the year I sent home bookmarks with links to the learners blogs, but wanted to take this a step further by providing some instructions on how to comment as well as some suggestions for comments.

Late last week, all learners in my class took home a laminated sheet providing this assistance as well as a notice for parents/whanau about a blog commenting competition we have having in Room 15 this term.  This laminated sheet includes:

  • a photo of the learner
  • the address of the learner's blog
  • a QR Code linking to the learner's blog
  • a piece of art the learner created (and were most proud of - learners selected this themselves)
  • instructions of how to comment on a blog
  • some suggested ideas of what to include in a comment
  • a link to a "how to comment" video
  • a QR code linking to the "how to comment" video


While this sheet was in English, it is my intention to look at having this sheet translated into Te Reo and other Pasifika languages.  The sheet was created on Keynote, and I plan to share a template file (in Keynote and Google Slides) for other teachers who may wish to use this sheet.

It is my hope that more parents/whanau will be visiting and commenting on their child's blog over the coming days/weeks.  To further assist, I've used an inbuilt tool provided by Blogger (thanks +Dorothy Burt) giving them a clickable link to the "how to comment" video I have created.  


This feature is available under "Settings - Posts, comments and sharing" and displays on the learners blog like this (after the viewer has clicked on the "Comment" link:


I'm looking forward to seeing if there is a noticeable increase in whanau commenting as well as seeing how my learners respond to receiving (hopefully) more comments on their blogs.  For viewers of my blog that would like to leave a comment on some of my learners blogs, they are available here (and will count towards the challenge).