Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Lessons from the Kitchen

As a keen follower of cooking competitions on television, I’ve been reflecting on the similaraities between the challenges faced by learning to become a good cook and those of striving to be a good teacher. Cooking shows make the tasks look easy because the participants have an understanding of how ingredients work together that has been developed over time. In similar fashion, experienced teachers are able to select from their ‘pantry’ of ideas that they know work well together to create a recipe to fit the needs of their students. So what are the lessons to be learned for beginning teachers?
·         Plan with the end in mind. An understanding of the ingredients and an emphasis on quality goes a long way in ensuring that the scene is set for a memorable meal.
For teachers to think about…
Do you have an open pantry or are there restrictions to be taken into account?
What is the dish that is required? 
What is the objective? Is it clear to the learners? Are your expectations high enough?
What ingredients will be needed to ensure the recipe goes to plan?  
Can your students see a link to their own lives? Connecting with the interests of others is contagious. Your passion for a topic will be picked up by the students you teach.

·         Texture counts. Sweet. Sour. Salty. Bitter. Umami(savory). In creating a dish the important thing to remember is that there needs to be a balance in what is offered. A touch of sweet adds depth to a savory dish. A squeeze of lemon can add zing and lift the ordinary into the extraordinary.
For teachers to think about…
 In teaching terms this is creating the balance of challenge between scaffolding for students where necessary and allowing for able students to move at their own pace if the concept has been mastered. Not an easy task, but doable if the lesson is differentiated. Consider pretesting  to establish who will benefit from a slight adjustment of your range of teaching techniques.

·         Know that plating up matters. Food motivates us to ‘eat with our eyes’ first.
For teachers to think about…
Be on the lookout for different ways to deliver content so that the students are challenged by having to think from a different perspective or in an unfamiliar way because doing so can make all the difference . Think about changing the scenery every so often or use positive competition in some lessons. As teacher, you are the one who makes these decisions  and is able to make the recipe your own in  the way that you like it.

·         Make the recipe your own.. Time pressure makes a difference to the result. Good food takes time
For teachers to think about…
All experts start out as beginners. Learn from each other and ask for help if you need it. See challenge as a chance to learn rather than a failure, and don’t forget to share success with others!  There is nothing like a successful lesson to make a teacher’s day. Give your students a sense of control and responsibility by allowing them to work with and learn from each other as well as from you.

·         Constructive feedback improves the product.
If the dish is delicious then the cook will use the recipe again. If it needs tweeking for next time then constuctive feedback from the diner improves the outcome for both. .
For teachers to think about…
Assessment/ feedback is part of the task and should be used to make a difference both for student learning and teacher practice. It doesn’t always need to be in written form. We can learn a lot from stopping to listen to the views of others.
Some ideas to try:
o   Think/ pair/share
Students take a moment to reflect on the response to a prompt, then pair up and discuss with a partner before sharing with the group
o   Doughnut discussion
Divide into two groups. If there is an uneven number then the teacher is a participant. First group makes a ring in the centre. One student from the second group stands behind each person in the centre ring. Teacher determines the topic. Turn and talk. After a set time, stop. Outside ring moves three places to the left and discussion starts over. Repeat as often as desired to allow for cross pollination of ideas.
o   Human continuum
The challenge for students is to place themselves along a line from one side of the classroom to the other to determine their level of understanding.

Bewildered/                                                                               Can clearly explain
Haven’t ‘got it’

·         Have fun!
Participants come to cooking competitions wanting to show what they know already and wanting to learn from the experience. This is true of most students. It’s a matter of finding the right recipes to tempt the palate.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Classroom Word Work Ideas for Busy Teachers

Differentiation has become somewhat of a buzz word in education but all students should be exposed to challenge in order to move from where they are to a higher level of understanding. These activities are useful to increase vocabulary knowledge.

An unusual word is chosen (either by the teacher or the student) from the dictionary or a library book. Choose according to ability level and interest. Use the student’s display pages as a wall display or  to create a personal reference dictionary.
Challenge the students to create a One Page Display of the word including :
·         Another word for the chosen word (synonym)
·         Meaning of the word
·         Opposite of the word (antonym)
·         Use in a sentence
·         Rhymes with…
Extra challenge ideas :
·         Challenge students to keep a tally of the number of times the class has been able to use the word correctly in conversation over the day.
·         Translate from English to other languages of students in the class and create a classroom dictionary.
Interesting links  to explore :

Using the code A=1, B=2, C=3… Z=26 challenge the students to find the highest scoring word they can find. Record the highest scoring word and leave in view with a sign saying… Can anyone beat it?  I start this off with a word that I have chosen and that can be easily beaten so that all the students can see the possibilities for themselves.
For a no preparation start use word  (23 + 15+ 18 + 4 = 60)
Extra Challenge ideas :
Vary the code so that all vowels are worth 5, and all consonants are worth 1. (Or whatever code you choose to use) and the challenge your students to find words that add up to a specific number. This activity could be used to support a vocabulary or math lesson.
You can download a free mystery challenge using the A=1 etc code from my TPT store: .
While you are there, check out other word work resources.

Play CLUE Words : Leader chooses a word and provides the following information…
·         Number of letters in the word
·         Synonyms or antonyms for the word
Players take turns to guess the word from the clues provided. Solver becomes the new leader. If a solution is not found then the leader identifies the word and chooses another.
Example of a student created game sheet. (We used sticky notes to cover the answers).

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Reframing Gifted for Educators


Many of the myths about gifted students still persist in spite of the higher profile that the sector  holds as a result of changes in government focus. What have we learned from the last thirty years in New Zealand education? 
There has been talk about meeting the needs of gifted in education spheres for many of those years  but my contention is that little has changed for these students in the wider education community as a result. Talk is not enough. This has led me to reflect on what I believe to be the things that successful educators do to promote change for gifted students within their sphere of influence in the hope that others can learn from the already converted and successful.


Combine a can do attitude and the desire to find out what works for the students  they work with, beyond getting bogged down with identification issues.

Have  a plan that includes keeping up with cutting edge technology

Advocate for individuals and accept that there may not be school wide agreement but persist anyway.

Negotiate alternatives to keep students interested and on task while meeting the goals required

Give gifted students opportunities to focus on real world issues and interact with experts in their fields to find answers for themselves.

Evaluate own actions and work with the student and extended family regularly to make informed decisions

Is Face to Face a Dying Art?

Can you spare a moment to think about the world that today’s students face as the use of technology increases and the need for face-to-face interaction decreases? The art of informal conversation and the sharing ideas freely is in danger of being misinterpreted through digital means.
We can’t deny the importance and impact that digital platforms have had on communication but miscommunication is one of the major sources of conflict and the problem is increased because of the ease in which the communication is impersonal.
Communication is much more than just words. When a person shares personal views with another in a face to face situation then there are other ‘clues’ that can be detected, including body language, facial expressions, feelings, tone of voice and reactions. It is through these means that the participants can gain a deeper understanding with less chance of the misunderstanding engendered by electronic media… email, text messages and social media. It is my contention that discussion plays an increasingly important part in education if we are to give students the tools to create trust between people in dealing with life beyond the classroom.
1.Facilitated discussion:
Facilitator starts the discussion by sharing his/her view. (can be the teacher, but not necessarily).No interrupting. Facilitator chooses the next speaker who can speak and then choose the next speaker  or pass and choose who is going to speak in their place. Silence is permitted as a response but everyone is given the chance to speak. Once this has happened then move into open discussion.
At a predetermined time the facilitator stops the discussion and students work individually to respond in writing to one of the following (i have the statements printed on cards because they are used frequently in class)...
  • I think the most important point is...
  • I disagree because...
  • I am puzzled about...
  • I don't understand...
  • Something I have learned is...
  • I agree with that statement because...
  • A question I still have is..

Shuffle the cards and call on different students to read them aloud to the group before continuing with the discussion or concluding. Cards can be used to guage understanding of the topic or provide a starting point for further discussion 

2. Circle of Voices.
Start with an individual reflection on the topic of discussion. Allow 2-3 minutes for participants to marshall their thoughts. Then…
  • Start
  • Move around the circle in order.
  • Each person has up to 1 minute to give his/her viewpoint 
  • No interruptions are allowed 
  • Complete the circle before moving on. 
Once everyone has had the chance to speak, move into free discussion with the proviso that every comment has to refer back to something that was said in the first round circle of voices.

Doughnut Discussion
This is a useful way to allow everyone to have a chance to have their say and be heard, allowing for cross pollination of ideas so everyone is not  listening to the same speaker. At the same time.
Divide your total into two even groups.( If the number is uneven in the class then the teacher makes up the numbers to that both groups are equal in number.)
First group makes a circle.
One student from the second group stands behind each person in the centre ring.
TURN to face each other and TALK..
After a set time, stop.
Either the INSIDE ring or the OUTSIDE ring then moves clockwise for three places and faces a new person and the discussion starts over. Moving on for three places reduces the likelihood that the points made by the speaker have already been overheard by a neighbour.

Snowball discussion
Allow time for individual reflection on the topic to begin with
Form into pairs and share reflections
Pairs into quartets
And so on
This is a useful way for everyone to ensure their views have be heard as they move from small to large group or class discussion.
For discussion topic starters try  a conversation cube.

Statement – Question – Swap
For young students to distinguish between statements and questions. Students work in pairs.
Student 1 chooses an everyday object and makes a statement about it. (Can be as simple as..This is a
Student 2 asks a question about it. Then they swap over.

Statement – Question - Analyse
Older students can be encouraged to refect on the kind of questions that are asked to provoke discussion. They can design their own categorising system if they wish (eg. Fat/ skinny questions) or use Blooms taxonomy and aim for questions that encourage higher oder thinking.Work in groups of 3 and allow time afterwards for students to discuss questions that provoked thought.

Student 1
Student 2
Student 3

Choose an object and make a statement about it.
Ask a question about the object
Respond to the question or make a comment about the type of question asked
Student 2
Student 3
Student 1

Make another statement about the object
Make another statement about the object
Respond to the question or make a comment about the type of question
Student 3
Student 1
Student 2

Make another statement about the object
Make another statement about the object
Respond to the question or make a comment about the type of question

To assess how well your students interact with each other you could try this fun activity…