Tag Archives: Reading

Consistency and Cohesion vs. Teacher Autonomy

Together as a whole staff we had the privilege of visiting two schools in Palmerston North today. Throughout my career I have highly valued the opportunity to visit other schools and have been lucky enough that the schools I have been involved have also valued this and have embedded it into their school culture and professional learning.

Firstly a huge thank you to the schools we visited. We were warmly welcomed and impressed by your openness to deprivatise your practice. Our focus was looking at deliberate strategies to raise achievement in literacy and we came away with lots to think about.

School A shared with a specific school wide approach to lifting achievement in literacy known as the Daily 5 supported by the Daily Cafe. What struck me about this was the cohesive and consistent approach of the Daily 5 across the whole school. There was a common language seen, heard and followed in all classrooms. Staff had clearly agreed to implement this approach across their school, deliberately setting specific expectations and explicitly teaching self-management approaches. Great stuff.

Contrastingly School B stated their belief that there wasn’t a one size fits all approach to teaching and learning. Teachers had the professional autonomy to adapt their teaching to best suit the learning needs of their students. While there are agreed upon guiedlines and expectations, teachers had the ‘freedom’ to adpot strategies, use resources and group children as appropriate.

Now both approaches are successful, both schools are well led, both have effective management teams and self-review in place. Both approaches can find a strong base in research and best practice e.g. professional autonomy is a recognised feature of the highly ranked Finnish school system. I was impressed by both schools but as I reflect on the day the contrast between the two approaches, while over simplified in this post, made me think a little deeper and out rose a number of questions…

  • Do you need consistency and cohesion before you can go to a state of autonomy? i.e. Do you need to ‘enforce’ a state of consistency to embed behaviours in teaching and learning thus laying the foundation for professional autonomy? What happens then when new staff transition in to the school?
  • Can the two coexist within the same school/team and they still function effectively? i.e. Do you need to be consistently consistent or consistently autonomous? Or is being flexible the name of the game because there is no one size fits all for our teachers? Or… is there a consistent way to implementing an autonomous environment?
  • Is the experience of a teacher a factor that determines their ability to manage an autonomous classroom? Similar to the first question… Could a beginning teacher hit the ground running and operate autonomously?
  • Is it simply a case of teachers teaching to their preferred teaching style? e.g. Not a school decision but a personal preference to operating and managing a classroom of learners. Or is professional autonomy the preferred ideal approach?
  • To what extent does school leadership influence the consistency/cohesion or teacher autonomy approach? A school principal has a strong influence over the direction of a school. Is their belief structure reflected in the schools approach, their confidence in the staff, their leadership style? Is it not about that at all but the student demographic?

Too many questions. What are your thoughts?

Hot Potatoes

Last term saw a focus on building vocab understanding and use with all students across our senior team based on the results of our PAT Reading Vocab test which weren’t quite as sharp as we wanted.

One could take the traditional route to building vocab which is generally done through the spelling or word study classroom programme but to be honest the old spelling notebook home on Monday and back by Friday for a spelling test with word activities in between does not really engage me or my students (and also is not pedagogically sound according to this).

I immediately thought of an old favourite I have used for the past 7-8 years, Hot Potatoes, a suite of six applications “enabling you to create interactive multiple-choice, short-answer, jumbled-sentence, crossword, matching/ordering and gap-fill exercises for the World Wide Web.”

Hot Potatoes, available for Mac, Windows and Linux is not free (but will be from September 01, 2009) however educational and not-for-profit organisations can apply for and receive a licence for free right now “on the condition that the material you produce using the program is freely available to anyone via the WWW.”

So we have used JMatch, JCloze, JCross and JQuiz this term as part of the literacy/reading programme. Students selected reading material based around our context of ecological sustainability, read and discussed the text, drafted and then created the hot potato quiz, published it to their eportfolio and then it’s ready for others to solve, including teachers, peers and parents.

Here are some to try: JMatch, JCloze & here, JCross and a JQuiz. The last example shows the flexibility of Hot Potatoes to embed web content, such as a YouTube clip, to add interest or for future projects where the quiz questions relate to the embedded content.

As we all know there are plenty of web based tools for creating similar puzzles and quizzes online and then linking to or embedding them in your site. However the degree of customisation you can have with a Hot Potato makes a great all round solution.

Admittedly, it is not without a few issues, the main one being that within the save dialogue box on a Mac, you can’t save directly to a networked folder. This creates an extra step when students save to their folder on the network. Also, making the files available to link from the student blogs, required the files to be FTP’d to a directory on our school’s web site due to our blogging provider, and all file hosting sites that I tried, not allowing .html uploads and links. Neither are big issues, but it would be great to see the saving and exporting directly to a networked folder, or even FTP’ing to a remote server, made possible.

Download it and give it a go.