Posted in Learning, Routines, Technology, wellbeing

Gaining insight into your students’ wellbeing

Screenshot 2016-01-12 20.52.56

As many teachers around Australia are gearing up for another year in the classroom, I am sitting on the couch watching tennis, reading books and painting my toenails. This year is all about wellbeing for me. Yes, I am working 2 days a week in a variety of classrooms and will also put my hand up for relief teaching, but ultimately in 2016, I am putting myself first.

In my Year 2 classroom in 2015 I began to think carefully about not only my own wellbeing, but the wellbeing of those in my care. Some of my students had diagnosed learning difficulties including Asperger’s and Oppositional Defiance Disorder, others came from broken families, some had infant siblings and the list goes on.

With a few prompts from our Student Wellbeing Leader, I began to put this concern for my students into action, by creating a Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Attendance Roll (using Smart Notebook software) that the students were in control of.  Each morning, their names were clustered together under the ‘House’ icon, meaning they were at home. Once they walked in the door, they dragged their name to the appropriate column on the screen. Those students who were absent were still listed under the ‘House’, meaning they were at home.

Some pages were about feelings – “How are you feeling today?” and featured a variety of visual images to students to work with, to assign their name to one of those feelings. I found that these pages often gave me a chance to do a quick one-on-one chat with a child while they were unpacking their bag, or simply keep an eye on them for any signs of emotional distress throughout the day.

I also created pages for graphing what each student ate for breakfast – we found that cereal was always the most popular – and check-ins for the end of playtime, end of the day, or to see how many stars you would give the weekend you just had?

This Smart Notebook document is available from my TPT store, which you can find here.

I’d love to hear any other feedback about how you cater for Social and Emotional Learning in your classrooms – mindfulness is a huge buzz word at the moment, but it’s no good if we don’t put it into action!

Posted in Learning

Choose Your Own Learning Adventure

We’ve all read, or at least seen, these type of books – a storyline that has a variety of paths, complications and resolutions – all with the aim of the reader finishing the book. I decided to try my own style of this, as a Learning Adventure.

Our school had a variety of photos being taken today which meant that multiple students, or whole groups of students would be absent for my room from 10 minutes up to 50 minutes at any given time. Trying to teach my regular lessons would be frustrating – trying to explain and introduce an activity over and over again didn’t really seem all that appealing to me.

This morning I wrote 4 learning tasks on the whiteboard, underneath the title “Choose Your Own Learning Adventure“.  They covered a variety of subject areas, but as the morning is predominantly our Literacy block, that was the overarching theme. Each of the activities explained where the activity needed to be completed (book, computer, iPad) etc. 

We made a deal that by lunchtime, each student would have at least 3 of the activities completed. This allowed for time out of the room for photos, as well as our 30 minute library lesson. In total, they had two hours and fifteen minutes to complete them – in any order they liked.

This was a Learning Adventure for me as well – watching my students self-monitor their learning, their choices of who they sat near and which activity they chose first and last – gave me great confidence in being able to trust my students and spend lots of time with each of them one-on-one. The activities were a combination of paper, books, computers and iPads – it goes to show that a little bit of everything goes a long way!

Posted in iPads, Learning, Technology

Technology Tuesdays

During Term One I attempted to run “Technology Tuesdays” at school to help assist staff to integrate technology, in particular iPads into their planning, teaching and learning. Other schools have “Techie Brekkies” which I feel is a great idea, except the part that means I would have to get up early. After school works better for me!

I had grand plans and ideas. But as the term wore on, there was very little interest in the after school sessions. 

Following a staff survey about iPad use at school, I decided to give Technology Tuesdays another go for Term Three – with a few adaptations.

A term schedule – These sessions will only be held on Tuesdays that we do not have a full staff meeting. Our meeting nights are Tuesdays and Wednesdays, but there isn’t a meeting scheduled for every staff member each Tuesday. I’m also going to add the schedule to the school calendar and invite staff to attend. To see what my plan is (so far) for Term 3, have a look here: Technology Tuesdays

Options – I’ll be uploading the content for each session here, onto this blog. That way, if staff can’t make it – there’s always the option to catch up later! Which leads me to the third adaptation…take-aways.

Take-Aways – Although I’m trying to reduce my paper usage, I’ve learnt that staff love to have a piece of paper with instructions on it to take home and look at later. Yes, I know they can take a photo of it, or just take notes on their iPad, but it can also work this way too! Because I’m aiming to create independent staff members my handouts will be more like step-by-step guide so staff will hopefully be able to teach themselves. The handouts will be uploaded here in the blog post here each week.


The first Technology Tuesday’s topic is ‘Twitter‘. I’ve designed a 3-Level Challenge for staff, ranging from beginner, to novice, to expert. These Challenges were based around @mrrobbo‘s 14 Day Twitter Challenge, but adapted to suit my school and the staff who work there.

Feel free to use or adapt! Perfect for anybody new to Twitter as a PLN (Professional Learning Network).

Twitter 101: Twitter Level 1

Twitter Know-How: Twitter Level 2

Twitter Extra: Twitter Level 3

BONUS – Twitter + AITSL


I’d love to hear about your success stories about staff PD for ICT use at your school!
Posted in iPads, Technology, Web 2.0

‘Independent’ research

Technology is making it all too easy for us to access a multitude of information whenever we want. As teachers, it is up to us to empower students with the skills to conduct meaningful research on their own, with some scaffolding and guidance along the way.

I had firsthand experience with this the other day as I guided my students to use the iMathskids website to collect information for their maths investigation. They were to click on links to lead them to websites about famous Australian landmarks to identify their location and the population of the nearest town. Very few of my students were able to discern which information was important on the website. There were so many titles, subtitles, icons, pages, maps and words in bold that my students had no idea how to find the information they needed.

How do you conduct independent research? I know at my school, many sites are blocked. This requires teachers to create a ‘hotlist’ of suitable sites for students to conduct their research on. Great in theory, but when I am running Genius Hour and I have 25 students wanting to research 25 different topics – creating a hotlist of 10 suitable sites for each of them is not sustainable.

Re-thinking my maths investigation, I was lead to 2 technology tools that I am planning on using this week to help up-skill my students for future independent research. The first one is a website, “Into The Book“. My students have used this site before, both on PC and iPad, and I have found that they are engaged AND learning. In the Student Area, there is a section on ‘Evaluating’ which has a few activities on understanding websites – absolutely perfect for the task my students were required to do last week.

I also came across this blog – A Turn To Learn – which had a fabulous post How to Change the Reading Level of Your Google Search Results. I had no idea that this was even possible! My students are often struggling with how to research topics and questions – what words to write, what words to omit – but this looks like a simple process to teach each and every student in my class. 

How do you encourage and implement independent research? Is it truly independent? Or is it ‘independent’?

Posted in iPads, Technology

Summarising doesn’t need to be boring!

Each week, both of the Year 4 classes sit down together and watch Behind The News (BTN).

Sometimes we reflect using the discussion questions and on other occasions I create Miss T’s BTN quiz where students work in teams. I integrate BTN into the ‘Listening and Speaking Interactions’ part of the Literacy curriculum. As my class use the Daily 5 and Literacy CAFE program I am always looking for ways to consolidate the new strategies we focus on.  This week’s strategy was ‘Summarise Text’ I thought that BTN would be the perfect platform to practice this skill.

I prepared 5 QR codes – one for each of the news reports in this week’s episode’ and placed them around the room. After watching BTN I asked the students to use an iPad to scan the QR code using i-nigma and re-watch the news report to refresh their memory. I asked them to summarise the report in 2 sentences; to tell the reader what each report was about, in a shorter version.

I have never seen my class so engaged. As my 24 students got to work, there was constant noise as our iPads don’t have headphones. Each student found a space to work at, some in groups on the floor, some by themselves and it was amazing to see their heads down, watching, listening, analysing and writing. There was barely any talking from my students; the noises coming from their classmates’ iPads were tuned out and I felt that every single student was ‘engaged’, or as I like to call it, ‘in the zone’. Some students were able to summarise all five BTN sections, while others focused on one or two.


What did this teach me? My students like independence. They like clear instructions. A combination of technology and traditional methods can work. Teaching literacy strategies towards the end of the school day can work. No matter how tired my students were, they all managed to produce work.  And last but not least, it taught me that we are not the best at summarising…just yet.

Posted in Technology

Filters and fences.


I love the advances that my school has been making in technology over the last 2 years.

Despite the advances that schools make, there are always bound to be areas to improve upon, points to be refined and strategies to be implemented. Which is why I find technology so frustrating at the moment!

Simple things like internet searches should not be made difficult. I understand the moral obligations and responsibility for students’ safety that a school must uphold, but enforcing strict internet search filters is not the way to encourage students to be deep thinkers.

At my school, I believe we have certain categories that internet sites ‘fall into’ to deem them restricted. Like ‘Entertainment and Games’. I agree that games can be distracting, and that watching endless Youtube videos can lead to disruption in a classroom environment. However, when my student is genuinely interested in researching ‘The Top Ten Cricketers of All Time’, he can’t, because cricket falls into the ‘Games’ category and is therefore blocked. It’s the same outcome when I include a link to a maths game that students can use to consolidate their skills.

I tried to access the Harvey Norman webpage, as I am in desperate need for a new laptop. This was made difficult as it fell into the category of ‘Advertising’. While trying to use my Twitter account on the school network, I am faced with the restricted category of ‘Social Media’. Our school maths program provides a list of suggested websites for students to visit to complete their investigation tasks. When I checked the sites to ensure their quality, I had no problem accessing the site. But under a student log-in, my students found that the sites were blocked. They fell into the category of ‘Other’. The straw that broke the camel’s back and caused me much frustration was the fact that one of my students was unable to post a new post on his student blog, as ‘New Post’ was blocked.

I am a big advocate of Genius Hour, where students pursue their own interests. Like cricket or minecraft, ballet and mythical creatures. Although excited and passionate about their projects at the start, they have become increasingly frustrated with the limitations that are holding them back from accessing the information they need. I love seeing students immerse themselves in content they find meaningful, which is way more engaging than me giving them a list of unblocked websites. I’m a teacher, not a website analyser – I don’t have time to trawl through the endless numbers of possible websites that my students might want to use and request that they all be unblocked.

As an E-learning leader, I have pushed for sites to be unblocked, but feel like a broken record, as I send email after email to get sites unblocked, one by one for my upcoming lessons. Our technicians are not teachers, and as a teacher, I am not a technician. As I don’t have a student log-in, I can access most sites, so am unaware of the difficulties that students will face when they log in. This can sometimes be quickly fixed, or diverted into using something else, but can sometimes detract from the whole content and purpose of the lesson, no matter how flexible I plan to be!

It doesn’t matter how hard we try to prevent children from inappropriate content, they may still come into contact with it. It is more important to teach them how to deal with the inappropriate content, rather than to close the door and ignore it. I discovered this yesterday, as one of my students searched for a Google image of a ghost. Many cartoons and drawings came up, but so did a photo, of a half-naked couple. This photo was able to wrangle its way through our stringent internet filters, and I was able to have a discussion with the small group of boys and the very embarrassed girl about what needs to happen.

Internet filters are like pool fences. We put them in place to protect, but we also need to teach the survival skill.

How does your school filter internet searches?
What is needed to encourage students to think deeply and inquire about their learning when faced with restrictions like this?

Posted in displays

Building independence

This year, I was ‘promoted’ from a Year 2 class to a Year 4 class. I was excited at the higher level of independence I was going to see, the students’ ability to manage their own learning, more personal organisation and responsibility and an increased knowledge of how to listen and follow instructions.

I soon found out that I was living in a fantasy world. Maybe my class had too many exercise books, so it was difficult for them to figure out which book they needed to pull out. Maybe I hadn’t been explicit enough in my instructions. Maybe the task was simply too difficult. Maybe their previous teachers had let them use whatever book and whatever pencils they wanted and didn’t care. Maybe I was too pedantic and too much of a perfectionist.

Or maybe I just wanted my students to succeed. I had high expectations of them. I have high expectations of myself. So it was frustrating for me to learn that I wasn’t being explicit enough. Until my teacher aide said to me, “Fiona, you give some of the clearest instructions I have ever heard.”

I then realised that it wasn’t my fault. I have come to believe (and I am prepared to be wrong) that it is how the students are brought up. If they don’t turn the television down, mum will do it for them. If they don’t make their bed or pick up their dirty clothes, someone else will do it. The rubbish bin will always be out out, regardless of whose job it is. Where they relying on technology to tell them, for a bell to ring, for a whistle to sound? I was sick of being that person to constantly re-explain tasks, just because my students have rarely had to do it for themselves.

For one student in particular, his poor listening skills and inability to following instructions was beginning to wear very thin with me! I decided to invest in some posters that I found on a blog by First Grade Glitter and Giggles.. I edited them to make them more personalised and used language commonly used in my classroom.

I realise that this was reducing the amount of verbal instructions, but it began to make my students more independent. They had to use their eyes, their common sense and their independence. There were absolutely no excuses for not being able to understand the requirements of a task.

Teachers are too busy to constantly re-explain the simple elements of a task. Our time is too precious.

Have you come across any other terrific time-saving classroom displays?