September 24th, 2012 | Filed under: teaching
Last year I started my first international school teaching job here in The Netherlands at a school implementing the Middle Years Programme. I was so excited! Concept based curriculum, theme-based units, opportunities to incorporate all sorts of texts and assessments, no mandates or state standards to worry about! Just a framework within which I was expected to bring students to a general set of objectives in the subjects I teach, which are English and technology.
Now, there are few “MYP textbooks” out there. And if you talk to most teachers working in the program, many just use their own resources, gather materials from a selection of books, use the Internet, etc. It’s great to be able to do that. Last year I decided not to order any textbooks and instead focus on getting short stories online or from anthologies, use our sister school’s library, etc.
cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by BiblioArchives / LibraryArchives
In short, it was exhausting. I’ve been trying to think about why this was so hard for me and I’ve come to a few conclusions:
There is no curriculum – I’m writing it. This freedom is both exhilarating and overwhelming at the same time. Everything was an option, which sometimes froze me in my tracks.
I haven’t been teaching that long. Veteran teachers have that expert knowledge that comes from years of experience – they know what texts are great for which age group and can work from those experiences. I have a few of those I’m coming from, but not nearly enough to make planning a breeze. It’s still a big learning curve for me.
Scouring the Internet for resources isn’t as easy and relaxing as it seems. In addition to planning MYP units (very labor intensive for those new to it), crafting assessments and task-specific rubrics, marking and starting up the school, searching for resources online late at night to fit my unit question was painful. It wasn’t enjoyable.
So this year I made a decision to purchase some textbooks. A selection of literature textbooks to add to the resources I purchased last year (short story collections, a few novels) and the resources we have at our neighboring school library. For a second I cringed as I made the order – am I failing in a way? Am I taking the easy way out?
I think most of the negativity towards textbooks comes from the fact that they try to sum up an entire course in one book and we know, as teachers of our subject, that’s just not possible. Who do they think they are? Really?
cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by textbookrebellion
And don’t get me started on the corporate nature of textbook companies, the up-selling, the price of these things, etc. There are a lot of reasons to talk trash about textbooks. But, just like timed writing and test preparation, I’m finding they have their place.
So, I’m sitting here on a rare Friday off, sipping some tea and flipping through a collection of myths and folktales in one of the textbooks. During my student teaching, myths and folktales was one of the first units I taught and I loved it. My MYP 1 students (6th graders) are studying oral traditions and storytelling before they compose their own myths to read to our primary students. I’m enjoying what I’m finding in the textbook. There are a few activity ideas I hadn’t thought of and some great guiding questions I could use in discussion with my students. That doesn’t mean I’m going to assign the question list for homework or anything like that, but I’m picking and choosing. And not feeling dirty about it. These textbooks are for me – to the students, nothing much has changed.
As new teachers we’re confronted with a lot of issues and controversies about which we’re supposed to make an opinion, right there and then. Just by scrolling through my Twitter feed I’m confronted with hot button issues, words I’m supposed to stop using, new euphemisms to embrace. I had a lot of strong opinions about what is supposed to happen in a classroom and how a teacher is supposed to do things. That was before I actually worked in a classroom. I’m realizing, somewhat begrudgingly, that there’s a lot of grey area in what we do.
So here I am, flipping through a textbook, and loving it. It’s not the answer. It’s not replacing my planning. It’s not my easy way out. But it is a part of what I do and I’m not going to feel bad about it. In fact, I kind of regret not ordering them sooner.
Tags: curriculum, middle years programme, MYP, realizations, resources, textbooks 5 Comments »
September 21st, 2012 | Filed under: teacher productivity, technology
I’m a month into my second year of teaching at the International School Breda in The Netherlands and I already feel much more prepared for it. We’re still in start-up mode at ISB, with lots of protocols to be established and policies to draft and things to discuss, but it’s amazing what a difference a year makes. Not to mention we’ve doubled in students this year. Sure, we still only have a little over 40 students in the secondary, but coming from 18 last year that’s certainly an uptick.
One of the things I wanted to address this year (one of the many on my year-end reflection list) was how to teach little tech skills here and there. Sometimes skills just don’t fit into a unit or I realize in working with a new student that there’s a bit of a skills deficit I hadn’t anticipated. Our students all have laptops and use their machines every day, so they catch on pretty quickly by being thrown into the deep end. However, I still get numerous questions “Miss, if I download a game will it make my computer slow?” or “Miss, I want to start using Evernote, but how does it work?” or “Miss, I want to put a lion on my desktop background.”
cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Baddog_
Many of these questions come from our youngest students who are just getting to know their new computers. They really like changing the backgrounds and using PhotoBooth on their Macs to take wacky portraits of themselves. These may not fit into my unit plan objectives, but I think they’re important enough to find time somewhere in the day to address. Personalizing your computer can make the whole experience a lot more enjoyable and productive!
Here’s what I do:
- Capture questions for later. All questions are saved for technology class unless they are urgent. I teach both English and tech, so I get these questions a lot from my students, especially in the first month when many are getting their new computers. I try to save them for technology class.
- Just Google It! or Ask Your Neighbor. I encourage students to ask each other and to utilize YouTube tutorials. “Google is your friend,” I tell them. It might be faster for me just to show them myself, but that takes away from my time and doesn’t contribute to my overall goal in learning for my students. I want to foster independence and problem-solving. Learning how to find your own answers is a skill!
- Plan a “Get to Know Your Laptop Day”. I ask students to make a list of the little things. What do you want to learn? What’s bugging you? What are those lingering questions you keep forgetting to ask? Periodically we address them in a technology lesson with demonstrations. While this may be a question unique to one student, I try to demonstrate for the class what I’m doing since it often helps the others. I encourage students to jump in at these points as well. Most recently a student wanted to learn keyboard shortcuts. I demonstrated how to find them in most app menus and introduced them to dashkards – a Mac dashboard app that serves as a cheat sheet for keyboard shortcuts. It’s pretty much the only reason I have for using my dashboard.
- Tech Tip Fridays. I got this idea from my summer experience in Dublin with MAET. My professor Leigh Graves Wolf would start each day by asking the class for tech tips. We would each get a few minutes to share a tech tip if we had one. My youngest students really love Tech Tip Friday, because they take the helm and show the class something cool. There are often a lot of “oohs” and “ahhs” and “I want to do that!” It also makes the presenting student the expert and I can send students to him or her rather than having them come to me for everything.
Our school is small and we don’t have a dedicated technology integrator. In many ways, that is my job, but it has to be a small part since it’s not official and I have so many other roles that take precedent. But more and more I see ICT skills as something all teachers should be prepared to teach. We say in our school (and I imagine in many other international schools) that all teachers are language teachers. I think we’re also all ICT teachers.
cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Bilal Kamoon
I try also to use this workflow with colleagues. I’ve saved one afternoon a week to stay after for meetings and technology integration-related tasks, which makes me available to meet with teachers who have those “little questions.”
Going forward I’m planning to start a tech help team with the students. I’m hoping to make this club a useful part of the school and empower the students to help the teachers learn new things. I’m not sure how to execute it just yet, but in a small school we need all the help we can get!
Wearing many hats means you need to set boundaries. I found last year that I would dive right into helping a colleague or answering a question even when I should have been focusing on something else more pressing. I’m hoping these little changes help me do that this year.
Tags: ict, integration, reflection, tech tips, technology, workflow 1 Comment »