Handwriting and literacy

I am a firm believer of the power of handwriting. Practicing handwriting from early stages assists in the development of writing and reading skills. It also assists knowledge to be committed to memory.

A recent study reported in the Sydney Morning Herald identified a strong correlation between students being taught to write letters correctly and higher writing/reading in 12 months. The practice of repeating letters and the sounds that connect with the letters commits to memory better for future recall.

Development of handwriting also has to be effective. Barbara Brann developed a writing program called Casey the Caterpillar which breaks down the letter into shapes. Each letter has to begin from the top down and letters formed in the correct order. The develops fine motor skills also that can be applied across other areas of the curriculum.

Executive Function

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How do we break down tasks to support executive function development?

Its not about being smart. Executive function does not impact intelligence. Executive function is doing something with purpose. When we have a purpose, we have a goal. It might include getting ready, completing tasks, writing a paper, staying quiet while the teacher is speaking or planning a holiday. Executive function also affects social interactions.

Think about all the things you needed to do to get ready for today. Take one of those simple task like eating breakfast. It requires developing and sequencing a set of smaller tasks just to have a bowl of cereal on the table ready to eat. It’s not just about the steps, but managing your emotions and energy levels to complete these smaller tasks. And what happens when you get interrupted?

How do we support students in the classroom who struggle organising even beginning a simple task of getting books and pencils ready? Many tasks have implicit instructions and it is assumed students can get ready without a breakdown of steps.

How do we help students to begin and complete a task

We need to focus on the process that help us manage our self to achieve a task or goal. Executive functions affects:

  • impulse control
  • attention
  • emotional control
  • flexible thinking
  • working memory
  • self monitoring for self-regulation and co-regulation
  • planning and prioritization
  • task initiation
  • organisation
  • perspective taking

5 steps to move from select executive functions towards executive functioning

  1. Have a goal
  2. identify a series of sequenced steps
  3. Do each step
  4. Self-regulate your behavior and emotion to complete each task
  5. Be flexible on the plan

It also requires time management and predicting how much time each task will take. For an ADHD student, if they learn to predict time they are not building the tools for time management for executive functioning. The future is now, not in 5min minutes. If you don’t do it now, it will not be done.

If a child is good at video games but cannot organise any other part of their tasks, it does not mean that they have executive function. They are using different parts of the brain. Completing other tasks means that there is difficulty with one of those steps to complete their goal.

Using visuals/objects to create logic and systems thinking helps. Set a task or goal by identifying the beginning and end for time management. Decide what needs to be completed between these two time goals. Compare what the ideal time management should look like to what is happening.

How we document learning: Portfolios

Recently, debate has started in my grade level about how we use our portfolio systems. We have a physical portfolio, SeeSaw, and Managebac.

Teachers view each of these reporting systems differently. From my perspective, what we report, when we report, and how we report determines our connection with parents.

Personally, I like using the physical portfolios as documentation of their best work learning. I’ve created a research book that includes the steps they have taken to get to the final assessments in their portfolios as well as copies of the final summative assessments.

I see SeeSaw as a tool to regularly keep parents informed about discussions and activities in the classroom. Giving parents the information about what is happening allows them to begin conversations with their child. The more a child can talk about what they are doing, the stronger their knowledge and understanding becomes.

Managebac is currently used at our school for uploading twice yearly reading, writing and math assessments. I see very little value in uploading these assessments as reflections on student development and growth are better reported in term reports.

It is important for leadership to clearly define how each portfolio system is to function – otherwise teachers don’t consistently report and connect with parents.

Further thoughts on See Saw

Caring & Inclusive Community

Many schools promote a caring and inclusive community, however very few develop student’s skills to create a caring community.

Team building activities on a regular basis are essential for students to understand how to effectively work with others. Activities at the beginning at the year are not enough to build an effective community. Activities need to be developed weekly or fortnightly as students develop stronger strategies and encounter new issues.

This year in Grade 2 we have begun weekly team building activities. Our first task to students in small, random groups was to build a tall tower. The only resources given were 4 sheets of newspaper and 1.5m of masking tape. There were no rules. Some teams used outdoor resources such as trees or walls, while others struggled to create a plan as a group. It didn’t really matter which team built the highest tower, there was so much talking and listening.

Our next challenge was a Lego challenge. Students in random small groups needed to copy a previously created Lego object exactly. One person in each team was allowed to see the object and needed to explain what the team needed to build. The person viewing was not allowed to touch the Lego.

Our latest challenge was the balloon challenge. Students, with unlimited newspaper and 1.5m of masking tape had to build/create a device that could reach a balloon on the other side of the river. The balloon or stick could not touch the river. During our first attempt no team was successful. Students did observe some ideas that almost made it and will give them ideas for the next challenge.

Internationalising the curriculum

Education is constantly evolving. Not only are pedagogies changing to suit the needs of students, the way in which we teach and what we teach is changing to suit the needs of a very mobile society. Education needs to adapt to the influences of other cultures and societies who have become part of our own culture. Not only does education need to adapt to other cultures by integrating another culture, education needs to adapt to be a global education system. A global education system needs to not be based on one national curriculum, but a combination of systems that best suit the learning styles of the students.

Twice Exceptional Students

Twice-exceptional students fall through the cracks in the education system. Many perform at an average or norm, not attracting any attention. Others show short bursts of giftedness, only when the topic or field suits them. Some students are identified correctly but only supported for the learning difficultly, ignoring the gifted strengths.

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Welcome

I am an educator. I am driven by the connection I have with students and enabling them to follow their passions and push themselves to achieve more than they expect from themselves.

I have taught in three different countries: New Zealand, China and Thailand. I have experienced three different education curriculums (New Zealand, American and United Kingdom) within and without the frame of the IB PYP framework. Travelling around the world I have also experienced the education systems from a parents perspective with now two students studying in the UK and USA and one completing high school in Thailand.