Category Archives: Classroom

Planning Mind Map

I’ve been teaching a while now and I have never found the perfect way to plan and organise the learning that I am intending to get through in a term. I have always found it really hard to show the links between learning areas and contexts which mirrors they way that they are actually taught and facilitated in the classroom. The degree of integration and intertwining of ideas and concepts is really hard to get across in your traditional table form. That lineal approach doesn’t really suit me nor does it represent what actually happens.

So this term I decided to try a different approach to my planning and unit overviews which was more suited to the way I think and approach planning learning over a term. Most importantly it needed to show the links between different projects with much more clarity than a Word or Pages document.

I have this vague idea or concept that if a teacher plans their units of work separately and in isolation to each other then that is how they are more than likely to be taught in the classroom. Having a way of planning that encourages you to see the big picture and integrate concepts and themes together is surely going to encourage a more authentic integrated curriculum delivery. Maybe someone has done some research on this somewhere…

The exploration started with using FreeMind, an fantastic mind mapping program, free, and  available for Mac, Windows or Linux. I have been a long time user and supporter of Inspiration in the past but I am just loving FreeMind and what I can do with it. Even better is that FreeMind files are a supported format for uploading, editing and sharing online on such sites as MindMeister.

Here is an example of what my planning overview for the term is looking like. It is a work in progress, as any of my planning is, taking direction from the students as and when required. It gets squashed up a bit when it is embedded but you’ll get the general idea. Just in case my appraiser is reading this… this isn’t the only planing I do! Comments appreciated!

ePortfolios: Student Feedback on Learning

My formal teacher inquiry for the year is continuing to develop, not a fast as I would have liked but none the less there is progress. The broad goal of the inquiry is to increase quality feedback from parents in the students’ portfolios, and therefore contributing to improved student achievement. We know that feedback has a huge impact on improving student learning through the research from such people as Hattie, Black and Wiliam and Clarke. Our AP at school has also blogged about it here highlighting our school’s belief on the importance of feedback.

Last term focused on getting the students involved in giving each other quality feedback on their peers learning. This was structured, modeled and discussed with the students and success criteria co-constructed.

The students suggested and agreed that quality feedback would:

  • tell them how to get better
  • give positive comments as well as advice on how to get better
  • use the success criteria to guide your comments
  • make the comments easily understood

A great start to providing quality feedback! Time was specifically set aside for the feedback to take place. It was planned for and valued rather than a last minute or accidental.

Here are some examples of what it looked like in practice:

I think that your art is great!!!! I really like your quote. You didn’t have any dead space and it doesn’t look like you have rushed it. You also have the same style writing as Colin McCahon. Next time you should blend your colours more. :-)

I really like your Colin McCahon art work. I like how you put your picture into three different segments but you could have used a thinner brush and made it a bit more smooth.

I think that you kept it really simple, you used a great range of colours!
Next time I think you could blend your colours a bit better.

Hi, I think that your Colin McCahon art work is really good but I think that you could have blended a bit more and use more colours. I like it how you used lots of sections and I like your colours.

Your crossword was a bit challenging some of the clues I didn’t really get but I figured it out in the end. I think you need to make your clues a bit more easier next time.

I think that it was great because it was hard but not to hard. Next time I think that you should have photo of a snake as well.

Wow that was hard. Your colours where good and you had interesting words and great synonyms. You needed to have picture that were related more to the thing you were talking about.

These are just a selection of some really great examples of student feedback.

So where to now?

The inquiry focus in the classroom context will be to make seeking and receiving peer feedback a natural part of the learning process. At the moment this is very much a teacher directed part of their learning. The second focus of the inquiry leading into the term is with the students themselves taking their understanding of how to give quality feedback home to their parents and involving them in giving quality feedback on learning.

I look forward to the students taking on board the role of the teacher in engaging their parents in this process.

Google Docs, Student Writing & Feedback

Our Education Edition of Google Apps allows access to the suite of apps not only for the staff at school but also the students. All students in my class have their own account allowing them to use Gmail, Chat, Docs, Video, Sites and Calendar within our domain.

Students exclusively use Docs for their formal written language. While the initial planning or brainstorming phase may or may not be completed digitally, the complete draft-share-feedback-improve-publish-share process is completed within the Google Apps environment.

We have a school-wide approach to giving feedback on written work, where highlighters are used to indicate where or how a student has met the success criteria (gold) or areas that can be improved (pink). We use the phrases Gold for Goal and Pink for Think to reinforce this process.

Due to the process being completed digitally and the availability of colours in the Docs highlighting palette, I have extended upon the use of gold and pink highlights to include blue and red for the students to use in their self-assessment reflection cycle. These are shown below in the image I generated for use as a poster around the classroom.


The whole process is made manageable and possible by the sharing function built in to Docs. The simplified process looks like this with examples below:

  1. Student writes 1st draft of writing and checks independently against the success criteria. Improvements made.
  2. Student shares writing with teacher (or another student).
  3. Teacher/student highlights text as required in pink or gold and provides additional written prompts to improve writing.
  4. Posted to eportfolio.
  5. Student improves writing as per teacher/student feedback.
  6. Student completes own assessment with blue and red highlights.
  7. Posted to eportfolio.

Writing with teacher highlights:

Writing with student highlights:

The process works extremely well in terms of a reflective learning cycle. I will stress however that this process does not replace face to face feedback and conferencing. It is perhaps best viewed as a checkpoint in the learning to formalise some of the ongoing learning conversations. The process also clearly indicates how a student responds to feedback and guidance on how to improve their learning.

I think this is a really good example of how Web 2.0 tools, when grounded in sound pedagogy, really do help facilitate improved learning. I would recommend you give it a go even if you only trial it with a small group of children!