Welcome to my blog! I'm Karen Belt, a teacher and leader of digital learning, working at Lynmore Primary School in Rotorua, New Zealand. I'm teaching in a Year 3/4 class using 1:1 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 am a Google Certified Educator #SYD17 and I'm proud of having been a member of the inaugural Manaiakalani Digital Teaching Academy(MDTA) program and a Spark Manaiakalani Innovative Teacher (MIT) and an inaugural Manaiakalani Google Class OnAir teacher.

Saturday, 26 June 2021

Structured Literacy UnConference

The Structured Literacy UnConference today was really inspiring and backed up many of the things that I am currently doing in my classroom.  

Big Ideas

Structured literacy is most important for those learners in the orange and red zone in the Ladder of Reading.    

Lesson Ideas

  • Struggling learners need to interact with the sounds and ideas ideally 2 - 3 times a day - how can this be incorporated into my timetable?
  • A4 laminated sheet with the 5 vowels and picture visible during all lessons

Structure of the lesson is always:
  • Review (the letters/sounds from previous levels)
  • Explicit Teaching
  • Student Practice
  • Application
Explicit teacher always includes I Do, We Do, You Do and is specific, clear and direct.

Ideas for Review:
  • Zip through the sounds from earlier packs quickly
  • Heart words - say and spell and say again e.g. my  m_y  my
  • Word cards from previous levels/teaching

Ideas for Specific Teaching:
  • Use of Google Slides (even on the iPad to support lessons, particularly with higher levels)
  • Use different colours for new spelling patterns and underline each sound with a dot and new sounds with a dash
  • Use of your full arm for blending - going down the arm
  • Use of a metal tray with the magnetic letters - red letters for vowels
  • Introduce only one new sound each day
  • For new letters, picture cards starting with that letter e.g. yak, yellow, yoghurt

Ideas for Student Practice:
  • Student practices words (encoding)
  • Ensure explicit teaching on how to write a sentence as part of dictation (from approx. level 3)
  • Mix this up each day e.g. dictated sentences/read a book
Ideas for Application:
  • Read and sort words - could do this via Seesaw
  • Pictures to encode - again, could be done via Seesaw
  • Speed words - these could be sent home

Ideas for Sending Home for Further Practice:
  • Speed words e.g. from the back of the books sent home for further practice
  • Heart words
  • Word building sheets (to be shared)
  • Games to play at home (with notes on specific teaching)
  • Little Learners Love Literacy app - stage 1 is free but rest can be purchased
  • Reading fans

Further Readings and Research

Thursday, 2 April 2020

Terry Locke - Poetry PD

Tonight's Professional Development is hosted by poet Terry Locke via Zoom (due to the current Covid-19 lockdown in place!)

Writing Apprehension

Prior to the session we completed a writing apprehension questionnaire - this was interesting as it made me really think about my thoughts on writing.

  • Teachers can be strong influencers of young writers - both positive and negative
  • Can the opinions and apprehensions be changed?

What is Poetry

  • "Best words in the best order" - Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  • "A momentary stay against confusion" - Robert Frost - a sense in that we all need something to hang onto when lives are in disarray - a way of making sense of our lives
  • It can resist definition in many ways
Concrete Language - enable a reader to respond sensuously to an experience
Abstract Language - language or ideas or concepts  - its main purpose is to reason through generalisation or argument

Messages from tonight to consider with future teaching

  • Have you had a 'red pencil' experience from a teacher?
  • Our primary role is to respond to the writing - respond to the ideas in the message

First Sample Piece of Writing

Our first writing task was about a place that had special meaning to us.  Once we had completed the writing we needed to highlight our concrete words/phrases in yellow and our abstract pieces in blue.  This was my piece:

And then feedback received on the above piece of writing from Terry Locke:

Further Research & Readings

Book:  Beyond the Grammar Wars
Book:  Close up for Poetry

Sharp Reading - Comprehension Strategy Instruction

Today's PD focused on a new way of teaching comprehension. This process is for those readers with a reading age of approximately 8 (PM levels 18 - 25).

STOP asking content questions 
START prompting for Strategy use

"Once the strategies have been introduced the teacher's role is limited to prompting students to be active in deciding how they might process the text" - Pressley

Follow a clear teaching and learning model:
Explicit Teaching of Strategies - explain; model; guided practice (20%); independent practice (80%)

Use cover cards to: slow down the reader, don't read on, keep their place and show you when they are finished.

Clearing the roadblocks ... three important parts ...
  • Are there any roadblocks?
  • Have a go at clearing it?
  • Have you cleared it?

Convince Me!

This really encourages them to dig deeper into a sentence and teachers provide feedback using the triggers (prompt card).

Ideally, for top groups, three - four paragraphs per day - but start with an easier group and look at less paragraphs.

Further Reading:

Tuesday, 3 March 2020

Otauira - Session 1

Tonight was the first PD session by Horizon Consulting and the team at Owhata Marae which focus on understanding the issues in our local environment.

Our session starting with a brief introduction and receiving some light reading before we headed out to Waikauwau, or Hannah's Bay as it is known to the locals.

As we walked through the reserve we received information about how the land that the airport currently resides on was taken from the local hapu.  Prior to the 1960's much of this land contained housing and was a walkway for tamariki to hikoi between two marae's walking past the fruit trees that still grow on the site today.

Land that is visible on the top of this picture (at the lakefront) was to be returned to the hapu if the ownership of the Rotorua Airport ever changed hands (which it did in 2014) - this was part of an agreement signed back in the 1960's.  Unfortunately the local council have yet to return this to the hapu so they are looking at taking their case to the environmental court to get this enforced and returned to them.

As we walked back along the waterfront, it gave us a chance to reflect on the information that we have received this week and wonder how this reserve would look if it hadn't been repurposed for the airport - how could we use this information in the classroom?  What systems were involved and who has been let down by the systems that were in place last century?

Friday, 11 October 2019

Branching Out: Guiding from ECE to the Early Years of School

Today I attended the above Professional Development session at The Orchard Child Care Centre and Kaharoa School.  The great session gave me a number of ideas and things I'd like to take back immediately to my own Play Based Learning classroom.   These include:

  • instead of 'tidy up time' using the terminology of 'refreshing the space' - a much more positive way to approaching it.  Both facilitators today mentioned this use of music during this time.
  • encouraging students to join into mat time by asking "Are you Ready?" and giving them the opportunity to not quite be ready - this will work nicely with our new 1:1 reading program - rather than me asking a student "Would you like to read with me?" which gives the expectation that they don't have to, an "Are you Ready to read with me?" approach, gives the expectation, that if not now, it will be later.
  • instead of using the name "Learning Stories", change it to "Play Memoirs", a much more authentic name for what is being created.
  • increase my printing budget so all Play Memoirs can be printed and kept in a clear file in the classroom for students to browse at any time and revisit the exciting things they are doing
  • a basket for the Numicon so students can use this in their play
  • stones to indicate if students would like milk that day - similar to this sign in arrangement
Sign in stones - add one to the basket if you are at school

Hanging hooks for the mud kitchen

Dishracks under the mud kitchen to collect equipment
Microwave oven in the mud kitchen

Permanent space for writing nailed to the fence
Some great story ideas with loose parts - we need to challenge ourselves to create these in 2020

A great way of bringing fire into the playground - this is for making popcorn
A great use of the wooden reels - tables!
Native bird puppets - a great way to incorporate bi-culturalism
A free standing sign - explore Gary making these
The option of having tea each day - all sourced from an opshop and herbal tea made each day - great for wellbeing
An awesome way to store shoes and socks and hats

What a welcome on the fence when you come in
Watering cans hung in their place - we need more of these!
A great way of capturing parent voice - could be done each year from PEPs
  • Explore the book Mauri Ora - Alsop & Kupenga - include these short whakataukis on Learning Memoirs alongside some Te Reo

Sunday, 8 September 2019

Couch PD - New Seesaw feature - Multiple Page Feature

A wet and cold Sunday morning in Rotorua provided the perfect opportunity to catch up on some Professional Development that I missed earlier this week about a great new Seesaw feature.

I use Seesaw with my learners frequently, particularly to showcase the great learning that occurs daily by Learning Through Play.  Often I use the activity feature to show the learners understanding of different strategy's or concepts that we have been learning.  One of the things with using this feature was that you could only include one page - that all changes from now and I'm excited to start creating (and have my learners create) using multiple pages!

The PD session showcased how to launch the multiple pages and what would happen from a student and teachers perspective when it was launched (from either the drawing, upload or photo option)!  I think this will be great to capture the learning in the playground also as I often upload directly to Seesaw while I'm observing the learning through play.

I've updated my own iPad to the new version as well as the class iPads and am off to create my first activity, for learners to show what we have been learning in geometry last week around using directional language to give directions!

Sunday, 18 August 2019

Couch PD - More Hive Summits

This weekend I had the opportunity to catch up on some Professional Development which I had "snoozed"* in my email over the past fortnight.

The presenter I watched today was Lisa Johnson - someone I already followed on Twitter and had heard speak previously.   This session was on productivity, something we all struggle with from time to time.  The key messages from the session were:

  • There is no “One Size Fits All” for Productivity 
  • Being mindful of balance is key 
  • To get started, you need to identify goals It’s important to notice that macro goals are composed of micro goals 
    •  Ask yourself: 
      •  What do you want to do more of? 
      •  What do you want to do less of? 
      •  What do you want to finish? 
      •  What do you want to do better?
  • Visually tracking habits helps to stay on track
  • Failure is small mistakes repeated daily 
  • Determine your “Value Buckets” 
    • Choose the three values that are the most important and relevant to you  
  • We live in an era of a lot of distractions - try to minimise these by setting time aside to get through your to-do list
  • A “Brain Dump” can help to be efficient 
  • Being mindful and realistic with your time will help you to be successful 
  • Know what you value -  It is easy to goal-set and to work toward a goal if you have identified what you’re working towards 
  • Recognize that time with your family is your most important time 
  • Email is an inefficient tool - find a system to address sending/receiving emails

* the snooze feature of Gmail is a feature I used frequently to ensure that emails or work that I can't deal with till a later date is removed from my inbox and pops back up on the selected day for me to action!

Sunday, 4 August 2019

Couch PD: Hive Summit Day 1 - 3

This weekend I've chosen to partake in some professional development from the comfort of my couch.   Over the next 14 days the Hive Summit continues and if the first two days are any indication I'm going to enjoy listening to the speakers.

The first presenter on Day 1 was Angela Maiers - a visionary who is passionate about #youmatter!  While the sketch notes for the session are extremely powerful, the messages that related with me are:

  • Every human has a ​need​ to feel like they matter and are extremely important
  • We are the face of influence for our students; it’s crucial we notice them - you can do this by simply greeting them at the door each day.
  • Everyone has a voice that MUST be heard! There is no ego in feeling like YOU MATTER!
  • The first and last 20 seconds you spend with a human are the most impactful
  • Kids don’t see problems and think, “Who’s going to solve that? - A child’s default is action “We can change the world...”

  • The second Hive Day presenter was Michael Matera - the innovator behind the Hive Summit who talked about gamification in learning (not something that I found as useful). 

    As I was about to close this blog post I received the email with the Day 3 speaker.  Casey Bell was inspiring.  Her main points include:

    • Dynamic learning requires teachers to deliver instruction in a non-static way - be different and unafraid to change things up
    • Student-centered learning provides teachers with opportunities to be effective
    • Beyond the Bell: learning does not end when the bell rings
    • Beyond the Grade Level/Subject Area: our content is not the only content-- technology provides access for anyone to be an expert on anything
    • Beyond the Walls: global connectedness can provide our students with authentic audiences
    • Beyond the Tools: access to NEW tools allows our students to do NEW things

    I'm excited about the learning to come over the coming days!

    Friday, 19 July 2019

    Seesaw Ambasssador

    Earlier this week I completed my Seesaw Ambassador training for another year!  I really enjoy using Seesaw particularly as a platform for sharing the learning happening in the classroom with whanau.


    Additionally this year I've started using the Seesaw Activity Library more extensively and contributed with my own activities.  While still using Explain Everything, the Seesaw activities tend to be able to be completed during one lesson and provide opportunities for students to practise different skills quickly.  They are just as interactive (particularly with the new features added) as using Explain Everything and students don't need to be shown how to upload to Seesaw.

    The above example is an activity created earlier today to practise skip counting to solve multiplication problems.  I look forward to continuing to use Seesaw in the classroom over the coming months!

    Wednesday, 5 June 2019

    Reflection on Kaurihohore School Visit - Class Learning Journal

    This blog post is the first in a series which will document my thoughts about what I observed and the changes I'd like to try in my own Play Based Learning Classroom as a result.  In order to really document and reflect, I'm choosing to focus on one aspect per blog post which provides an opportunity for me to not only document what was seen and its effectiveness but also unpack how I'd like to imitate or innovate what was seen in my classroom.  This blog post focuses on the Class Learning Journal.

    This was an A3 size pad with 50 - 60 pages, spiral bound and quite sturdy. The journal was available for the class to look at anytime and stored by the teaching station.  Over the morning, several students took the opportunity to look back through the journal and review something the class had looked at. 

    Early on in the day, the whole class gathered on the mat and added to the journal.  Firstly, they reviewed the learning from yesterday (about snails) and the teacher prompted them to remember what the pointy bits at the front of the snails were called (they had discovered that they were called tentacles).   After reviewing the picture and words which were added yesterday, they moved onto the journal entry for today.   One question that was posed yesterday was the relationship between snails and worms and the teacher had a child appropriate video for viewing today which showed this.  The conversation, lead at first by the teacher, asked where else the students had seen tentacles.   The discussion turned to an octopus which has 8 tentacles and a question was posed "where is the mouth of the octopus".  The group talked to a "talking buddy" with their ideas and then shared back into the journal with the teacher writing, "The mouth of an octopus is ...." and noting down the ideas shared by the students.   She admitted to not knowing the answer and left this as an un-answered question (learning for tomorrow?).    As the session (approx 10 minutes) drew to a close, it was clear that some students still wanted to share, so while many went off to where they wanted to play, the teacher said she would stay behind if anyone wanted to share - several students took this opportunity.

    During the discussion, the teacher encouraged students to not put their hand up but rather to "look for a gap" when they wanted to say something - if they struggled to find a gap, they could put their thumbs up to show they had something to share and were struggling to find the gap (this way the teacher could support them!)

    This session had a variety of learning opportunities through:
    • reviewing the previous days learning
    • multimedia - video to explain new learning (using You Tube)
    • buddy sharing to hear what your buddy thinks and share back with them
    • modelling of writing questions and ideas into the learning journal (students see their ideas valued and captured)
    • photos to provide a visual link for the students

    After this great session, I looked back through the learning journal so far and noted:
    • All items were dated
    • There was a great variety of learning showcased through the journal - a variety of questions posed (and answered, or suggestions given); photos of the students learning with words added e.g. collaboration, friendship, perseverance; student art which was glued in and shared; photos of animals or things with questions and discussions around (following on from interests of students)

    So What Now for My PBL Classroom:
    I think the journal is great and something we could do as a whole class to start the day (except on Hui days) as a great way to extend thinking, encourage conversations and buddy sharing (oral language) as well as document some of the great learning, key competencies and extend discussions and thinking of the students.   

    I will need to carefully scaffold the sessions and ensure they are not too long (5 - 10 minutes at most) and model and show the use of buddy's to share.   It will be important to include a range of different experiences to cater for the class and also to include photos of the students so they feel part of the process.  I feel it will be easiest to start with photos of play in action (with appropriate language) as this will help reinforce the key competencies that are most needed with my class and then move onto investigating and posing questions that come from interests.

    With a digital hat on I'd like to photo each day's session and place it on Seesaw to allow parents to see what we are discussing in class and provide an opportunity for them to hear from their child the learning they have been doing and encourage that home/school partnership and further the learning for students at home.