The Morning Literacy Block

“Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope. It is a tool for daily life in modern society. It is a bulwark against poverty, and a building block of development, an essential complement to investments in roads, dams, clinics, and factories. Literacy is a platform for democratization, and a vehicle for the promotion of cultural and national identity. Especially for girls and women, it is an agent of family health and nutrition. For everyone, everywhere, literacy is, along with education in general, a basic human right…. Literacy is, finally, the road to human progress and the means through which every man, woman, and child can realize his or her full potential.”
― Attributed to Kofi Annan

How do you structure your morning literacy block with your students? How do you choose your texts for guided reading, independent reading, and how do you choose the tasks to be completed by students while you are reading with the other groups?  Mrs. W. and I are going through a process of refinement as we work to find the balance between structure and student choice, between finding texts that are interesting and engaging, yet also have a purpose behind their selection, and tasks for our Must Do / Can Do list that engage whilst also serving the educational purpose that we want. as a side-note, as you read, be aware that I am writing this on Monday afternoon, and thus any references to yesterday, today or tomorrow are made within that context.

At this point, the literacy block on my days looks something like this:

  • Students enter and mark their name off on the roll, put any notes or monies on my desk, and immediately commence DEAR (silent reading) while I process the notes and monies, hand out any receipts etc.
  • On Monday morning, we conduct a spelling pre-test. I read out the words for the week, students write them down, we mark and any incorrect words then become the spelling list for the week, with blanks being back-filled by topic words or words from an alternate list.
  • We move into reading groups, where I spend ten minutes reading a text and we go through some comprehension questioning while the rest of the class focuses on their Must Do / Can Do list of tasks.
    • Must Do
      • Look-Cover-Say-Write-Check. There is an element of it’s always been done to this task though I would apply the same CLT thought process to this as I do to multiplication facts.
      • Word analysis: Students to break down the word to determine the number of syllables, consonants/vowels, phonemes, graphemes and any digraphs or trigraphs. Students also then form a Monster word (a word constructed using the same phonemes with different graphemes. E.g. phyti instead of fish (PHysics-pYramid-staTIon))
      • Definition, synonyms, antonyms: To encourage familiarity with the use and alternate vocabulary.
      • Prefixes and Suffixes: Can any alternate words be formed using prefixes and/or suffixes.
    • Can Do
      • Mrs. W has provided a spelling menu with a range of literacy activities that serve various purposes, from vocabulary expansion to etymology awareness.
      • Creative writing using visual prompts, including an editing process.

We are finding mixed standards across our class, both in regards to the quality and the quantity of what is being completed and handed in, and thus far, we have worked on finding a structure for the morning that provides independence to students to carry on with their tasks without needing our guidance every step of the way.

Initially, we provided a list of the tasks that must be completed and those that are then able to be worked through afterward, whilst we were with the guided reading group. This seemed to be too much independence, at this point in the year, as we found we were constantly having to answer questions from students about what they needed to do next, what they could do when they were finished etc. and it was completely ruining the flow of what we were looking to achieve with the reading group.

Following this, I had students decide in advance the order they were going to complete tasks in, thinking that having a plan of attack would allow them to focus on completing the tasks, give them confidence that they knew what they were doing, and allow me to focus on my reading group. This also failed, as some students spent far too long vacillating about the order in which they wished to complete tasks.

Last Wednesday I tried a different scenario and it worked very well, with students on task, engaged, and asking each other questions rather than disturb the reading group I was witrh. Today, I thought that I would use the same structure, given that it worked well last week, and discovered something that veteran teachers probably are well aware of:

Retrieved from 29 February 201


Last week I structured reading groups loosely akin to reading groups that you would find in an infants classroom (indeed, they were very similar to how reading groups were structured in the Year One class in which I completed one of my professional experience placements). I put on the board the order in which I would see the reading groups, and the tasks that the other groups were to complete whilst I was with each group. I suspect that it failed today, whereas it worked last week, as today I attached group names to specific tasks, indicating what I wanted them to start on first.

This cause issues as some of the tasks required less time than I was with a reading group, and those students were left, apparently, floundering, not knowing what to do, and unable it seems to take the initiative to move on to the next tasks on the board. Having thought about it this afternoon, I know how I will structure things tomorrow to hopefully resolve that issue.

Tomorrow, when I indicate to students to move into reading groups, I will put on the screen the exact tasks and the order in which they are to be completed. In between each group, I will take a few minutes to quickly circulate and check students’ progress through the tasks (something I did not do today, which I think compounded the issue), signing off on each student so that I can track how they are progressing through the tasks, knowing that I am spending approximately ten minutes with each reading group. This will also help me gauge the appropriateness of the tasks they are being asked today in a certain timeframe.

I feel, upon reflection on the term thus far, that I was so frustrated by lost time early in the year due to a variety of factors (some of which I wrote about here) that I forgot to spend time bedding down good structures and process in the class in an effort to catch up to where I needed to be according to the scope and sequence documents, and am now paying the price, with structures still somewhat loose which is having repercussions in regards to what we are achieving.

I would very much like to hear how you structure your literacy block and reading groups, so please, leave a comment either here or on Twitter, and as always, thank you for reading. I am unlikely to post an article tomorrow (Wednesday) as I will be attending the FutureSchools expo and conference. If you are going, let me know. It would be great to catch up with some Tweeps. If you have not heard of FutureSchools before or are unable to make it this year, you can find my review of last year below, and this year’s reviews will appear over the week or two post-FutureSchools.

FutureSchools 2015 Review Articles

How to get the best result for my students with limited resources

As you may be aware from this article, I have picked up a temp block for next term as a teacher-librarian. As  I have been working through the process of planning and programming for the term across each stage from early stage one up to stage three, it has occurred to me that I don’t know that I will be able to achieve everything that I want to achieve with each stage group.

Much of what I want students to do, and what I have been asked to do with them requires computer access, and while there are two classes trialing a BYOD program, the rest of the school has no more than two or perhaps three computers in the class, plus an internet connected interactive whiteboard, or Promethean panel. There is a bank of school laptops which can be booked for use, but of course it would be highly unfair of me to book them for the whole term, and so I need to consider how I am going to go about having students, particularly in stages two and three, complete the problem based learning research task.

This, I believe, is where the flipped class will come into play. The specific skills and concepts that students need to learn, I can record videos to teach, and utilise in-flipping, where the video is watched together in the classroom as a whole class group, or the ‘traditional’ out-flipping where the students watch the video at home and bring their learning to the classroom. I may need to apply this to the research process itself though. Have students do all, or at the least the majority of their research at home, and do the synthesis and analysis, and prepare the presentation at school, in their lessons with me.

The other alternative, which will require a conversation with a variety of stakeholders, is to arrange for BYOD for my lessons. That is, allow students with access to devices to bring them in for use in my lessons. This frees up the school’s resources for those students that do no have access to portable devices, allowing them equal opportunity to complete the learning.

I’m still undecided as to which approach I will take, however the point at which I will need to implement that aspect of my program is later in the term, and so I can have that conversation over the holidays via e-mail with the school stakeholders, and then begin the dialogue with the parents early next term.

I would love to hear from any of you who have had to juggle the issues of access to resources in this manner, and how you negotiated the challenges in order to get the best outcome for your students.

Temp Block Ahoy!

“dum loquimur, fugerit invida aetas: carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero.”


“While we speak, envious time will have {already} fled: seize the day, trusting as little as possible in the next day.”

-The Horatian Odes 1.11

I would like to think that I have managed to impress my readers that I enjoyed and valued my time at the FutureSchools expo, ClassTech conference stream and the Masterclass with Jon Bergmann. I also was able to spend some time wandering around the exhibitors stalls, chatting with a few, and networking with other educators from around the country.

Whilst chatting with an e-learning Leader from Melbourne and an Assistant Principal from Brisbane, I received a text message from a Deputy Principal at one of the schools at which I do casual/supply/relief  teaching (I discovered during conversations at FutureSchools that the term ‘casual teacher’ is not universally used) with an offer for a temporary block at their school for term two. I would be acting as a teacher-librarian, and the role would be four days a week for the full term, with the remit to teach computer and research-skills as appropriate for the various age groups from K-6 within the school.

Naturally, I said yes, and have since spent much of my time plotting through what I want to achieve, how I can implement some of my learnings from FutureSchools to this block and how to go about setting the students up to achieve the skills and conceptual understanding I want for them, and also to be able to transfer those skills and concepts to other disciplines. I very much will be working to incorporate flipping, whether it be in-flipping or out-flipping, as well as leveraging student interests such as Minecraft, and trying to shift the locus of control to my students, away from myself, as recommended by Gary Stager when he said during his closing presentation for the ClassTech conference, “Every time you have to engage in an educational transaction, ask if there is more they can do and less you can do to give your students more agency.”

It is a rather exciting time, and at the moment I feel a little bit like this guy:


So it is time to switch off the modem, and take my own advice and start Planning for Learning so that I can provide a draft of my program to my supervisor for feedback asap.

I think the hardest part is going to be remembering all of my students’ names when I only have the classes once or twice a week. Wish me luck!

FutureSchools ClassTech conference review. Day 1 Session 3

“Whomever sets up the blog, owns the blog.”
Sue Waters and Richard Byrne

As promised in the previous article, I will be covering three presentations in this review of session three from day one of the FutureSchools expo ClassTech conference stream. Initially, I will be reflecting on the ‘ask the expert’ mini-presentation that occurred during the lunchbreak, led by Sue Waters and Richard Byrne which was about blogging, after that, I will cover the two presentations that occurred session three proper, covering 3D printing and the Connected Classroom.

At the end of session two, there was of course a bit of a mad rush out to the expo hall where lunch was being served, in order to get that, and then get to the ask the expert session with Sue and Richard. This was a topic I was keen to hear about, as I had started this blog with the aim of using it as a place of reflection on my teaching practice (which is yet to occurred), to share insights from my teaching practice (also yet to occur) and to reflect on events and professional development sessions, such as FutureSchools, which is, obviously, happening right now.

The discussion was targeted, primarily, at classroom and student blogs, but much of what they said also applies to personal or professional blogs, such as mine. Richard and Sue believe that as teachers, we don’t self-promote enough about our achievements. They pointed out that there is a different between self-aggrandisement and self-promotion, with one being excessive and over the top, and the other being celebrations about successes, acknowledgements of struggles and the little things that make us smile (my interpretation of their words).

There were some pitfalls around blogs that need to be avoided in order to have a successful blog. We need to be persistent with our writing. A lack of comments, shares, or likes, or views does not negate the value of the writing we are doing. Blogs need to have a clear purpose. For those using them as a learning tool in the classroom, blogs need to be fully integrated into the classroom infrastructure, rather than considered an add-on, and we need to provide our students with the tools to understand how and why to use it, and make it a tool that they will want to use.

Pitfalls facing classroom blogs in particular are the optional nature of blogging. If we are going to have our students blog, make it something for which they are held accountable, as much as you would any other piece of learning. The posting schedule needs to be consistent, whether it’s daily, weekly or monthly should be negotiable, but it should be consistent so readers know when a new post will be up. The purpose of the blog should be clear, both to the students and to the audience. Sue indicated that classrooms in which blogs are used successfully have set routines and strategies that are used consistently around the blogging requirements, including some schools where the blog forms part of an e-portfolio which stays with the students as an artifact of their learning across their entire school career.

As teachers, we should have a goal for the blog – whether it be a presentation of facts, a discussion starter, or a demonstration of has been learned or achieved. In achieving this, we should not constrain our students creativity by limiting them to literacy skills. They should have the opportunity to use other forms of expression, including vlogs, though there should of course be dialogue around when this appropriate in regards to the age of your students.

Statistically, it appears that for younger students, up to around years five to seven, that the majority of students will be on the one class blog, and that the older students are more likely to have individual blogs. That said, there is some intermingling or crossover of when this shift occurs and would depend on your specific context and your students and community.

Additionally, both Richard and Sue agreed that whomever sets up the blog, owns the blog, so in order to allow students ownership of the blog and the likely engagement that comes from that, it is important to allow students to change things such as the theme of the blog, allowing some appropriate non-school postings as both of these encourage not only ownership, but creativity.

The debate over the public vs private nature of student blogs continues on in various settings (including here, here, here and here) and that decision may be made by the school or education department as a matter of policy, or you may have some scope to make a professional judgement on a case by case basis. As with BYO programs though, opening up a dialogue with the parents and students, about the how and why of the blog, whether public or private, is important to its success and the engagement and discussion that it can foster in the school community. Additionally to this, it is vital to have the conversation about privacy and not identifying anyone personally by name or other descriptors that people are able to know exactly who is being talked about, and there are special considerations to take when uploading media such as images or videos such as not showing faces of minors.

To get the blog noticed within the public sphere, it is important to write, and to write often, but not too often. Richard Byrne is a successful blogger and posts up to four or five blog articles a day, however they are only a few hundred words longs. Alternatively, posting once or twice a week, with longer posts may be more effective for you – it is going to vary according to the individual context. If you are curious to see some examples of how classroom blogs have been sued successfully, Richard has provided a list of examples of blogs from the readers of his website.

In closing, Richard and Sue pointed out that Youtube is a form of blog, or rather a vlog, and that links or youtube videos can often be embedded directly into a blog post.

Once the lunchtime break finished, it was time for session three. The first presentation in this session was titled 3D printing – start small, think tall and was delivered by Teresa  Deshon, Deputy Principal and Kirsty Watts, Academic Dead of Technology and e-Learning, both from Kilvington Grammar School. I have to admit that this session didn’t engage me as much as those before had for the simple reason that I had had no exposure to 3D printing beyond what I had seen on the news.

I can see some applications for 3D printing, however it is not something that I can get excited about at this point. Teresa and Kirsty spoke about some of the challenges of working out how to use the 3D printing technology from storage, to the time frame required to print objects, the safety requirements, getting used to the CAD software and the need for calibration after moving the devices. They also spoke about their successes, which they said included increased engagement in learning by students, by staff interest in the technology once it had been applied to some school projects that were displayed around the school and the different thinking skills that were required, such as working out the best way to print objects that required physical support, such as printing cylinders vertically instead of horizontally to reduce the stress load on their frame during manufacture.

They felt that the 3D printers were being successfully and authentically used, and from the intial seven students they had utilising them, now have a dedicated room to store the printers and their products in, and have now purchased a total of six printers. They were able to implement the 3D printing in cross-curricular ways, and were investigating ways of further increasing their use, including investigating the use of the 3Doodler, a 3D pen.

The second presentation within session three was titled The Connected Classroom and was delivered by Anne Mirtschin. This topic interested me more, as I can see application for connecting with other classes, domestically and internationally for a wide range of  learning opportunities in a variety of curricula areas. Anne started out by saying that a connected classroom is one that is not just connected internationally. A connected classroom is connected with its students, its teachers, its parents and its local community – that it is about relationships, a theme that has started to emerge from the conference thus far, with it featuring in Richard’s, Matt’s and Simon’s presentations. Anne also pointed out that teaching netiquette is very important to foster those relationships, especially when forming them with online communities.

Anne talked about tools that she has used, including Blackboard Collaborate, which allows for virtual classrooms, and the use of ‘back channels’ to allow sub-discussions to go on at the same time, such as additional questions, or insights from students, and that videoconferencing encourages engagement by students when a back-channel is provided for students not engaged directly in the conversation to be engaged.

Anne pointed out the logical nature of using global days to connect with other schools, such as World Peace Day, World Wildlife Day, World Poetry Day etc ( a list of World Days observed by the United Nations is available here). She also indicated that video conferencing needed to be regular and genuine, and that doing so would help break down the barriers of geography and language, as students would engage more with others when they were used to engaging with others through the medium of a webcam, and that it allowed students to ask questions of other peoples that would not ordinarily be able to ask.

Some tools that were mentioned as being useful by Anne included Skype, Flat Connections, Backchannel chat, Padlet, WeChat, WhatsApp, QQ International and Viber. This is another area of learning that I can see potential for, but at this point in my career, as a casual teacher, I don’t feel that I can implement in a genuine way. It is certainly something that I hope to be able to implement in the future, but as a casual teacher, I don’t see it being a viable tool.

The next post will be the final presentation from day one of the ClassTech conference stream at FutureSchools, and possibly a run down on the expo, and the networking drinks and then dinner.

As always, thank you for reading and leave a comment. I’d especially like to hear from any educators who do use a blog in their classroom, and how you utilise it as far as strategies, routines expectations etc.

FutureSchools ClassTech Conference Wrap Up – Day 1 Session 2

“Moving to BYOD as a financial choice, is a financial choice for the school, not the parents.”
-Simon Crook

At the end of session one, I was genuinely excited to go back home and test out some of the ideas that had been discussed, so knowing that Simon Crook was the first speaker for session two, with the presentation title BYOD, mobile devices and apps in K-12 schools had me champing at the bit to get back into the venue.

Simon started out by saying something that I’ve observed, that many implementations of BYOD, bring your own device, are in actual fact, implementations of BYODD, or bring your own designated device. Schools either give a list of acceptable devices, sometimes with one device listed, sometimes with multiple devices listed, or they give a list of minimum specifications that need to be met for the device to be acceptable. This came about due to the end of funding for the DER (Digital Education Revolution) program, and saw schools wanting to continue with the use of devices, but without the funds to do so. The choice to move to a BYO program is therefore a financial choice. A financial choice for the schools, that is, not the parents as Simon pointed out. Simon also discussed that the move to a BYO program as a drive for pedagogical change is a contentious factor for some people.

Simon posed the question to the audience “is BYOD for everyone?” Of course the answer is not quite as simple or straightforward as a yes or a no, but is a combination thereof. BYO programs are not for everyone if the teachers within a school are not ready for it. Teachers need significant professional development and support to move to a BYO program to facilitate high quality teaching in a different pedagogical framework and utilising a different infrastructure. It’s not enough to simply move everyone to devices, they need to be used appropriately. I’ve written previously about the SAMR model and its application for BYO programs and believe that it plays a significant factor in genuine use of devices in classrooms.

At the very least, Simon pointed out, teachers need to have devices of their own to utilise. I’ve known a school who rolled out a device to each teacher for twelve months to use as they were able to, with support, in the classroom before opening up the door to BYO programs. Only one class went ahead with a BYO program, and that teacher was highly engaged with using the provided device and worked to learn how to gain best results from the BYO program.

Three other questions were listed that need to be asked, to determine if a school is ready for a BYO program: Are the students ready (do they respect devices, will they have access to devices, do they know how to use the devices); Are families ready (has there been an ongoing dialogue with the community about the how, why and when BYO will be implemented, are parents supportive, are all or most parents able to provide a device) and finally is the infrastructure ready (sufficient coverage, sufficient density, cloud or physical storage, power/charging options, secure storage for devices when not in use etc). If you are wanting to know more about the coverage vs density/capacity distinction, I recommend reading pages two and three of this article on the Aerohive website.

“Using technology in school should be about using it to complement the already excellent pedagogy going on, not about the ‘keeper of the kingdom’ saying no to ‘protect’ the school systems. The pedagogical needs should inform the IT decisions, not the other way around.”
-Simon Crook

Buy in from the school leadership is critical, as those schools where the leadership is on board and directs the IT team to find the solution often see more success than those schools where the leadership are ambivalent and simply ask the IT team if it is doable. There are factors to be considered, such as coverage v capacity as previously mentioned, and a genuine need to consider the security and protection of the students from undesirable content on the internet, but it needs to be considered intelligently, rather than simply whitewashing the internet en masse. Additionally, part of the conversation should be about teaching digital citizenship, which may form part of the conversation around Communicating and interacting for health and well being  and  Contributing to healthy and active communities both of which are part of the Australian PDHPE curriculum, and which a variety of age targeted resources are available on the Cybersmart website.

Following on from this was the discussion of ‘equity’ which can often be a cause for consternation around BYO programs. Simon made his position clear – equity is not about the lowest common denominator, it is not about making one software suite dominant and that cloud computing is the way to go. Simon indicated that decisions about hardware and software are going to vary from family to family and that where possible, utilising cloud-based storage would facilitate engagement as it would remove the problems of “I forgot my flash drive” or the issues of “I don’t think that’s the right version, there’s a newer one on my computer at home” that teachers often hear, from both students and colleagues.

Ultimately, BYO programs are for everyone. Prices on the hardware continue to drop, and there are more and more options for those families who are price-point sensitive. The critical thing to remember, however, is that a dialogue needs to be opened up, early in the thinking about BYO programs to address concerns from parents, students and teachers, and that the dialogue needs to be ongoing.

If you are curious about implementing BYOD, there are a growing number of schools who have implemented it, and many of these schools are open to visitors to find out more about what it looks like in practice. Some online resources that Simon provided include the NSW DEC website BYOD Sandpit and the Sydney Boys High BYOD page.

We had a few minutes after Simon finished speaking to stand and stretch, while the second speaker for session two, Matt Richards, set himself up to present Makerspaces.

Matt Richards spoke about the phenomenon known as “Makerspaces” which are student centered spaces where students are able to utilise technology in various forms to create objects. Matt talked about how he took a disused space in his school and transformed it into a student-owned space through allowing groups of students to paint the walls with differing images, and the leveraging of the tech-savvy students who ordinarily hide away as mentors for others wanting to learn more about technology. His aim, he said, was “…to create a space where kids learn how stuff works.”

Makerspaces doe not require large amounts of cash to get started, and Matt related how he started simply with a number of old defunct computers, and the students were dismantling them and attempting to repair them and get them to work again. These achievements generated confidence and a buzz of accomplishment in the room which led to an increase in student self-efficacy as they experienced success, even if it was in the creation of ‘useless devices’ such as the one shown below.

A Useless Device. Image from

Beyond utilising defunct computers, Matt spoke about a range of low-priced resources including Goldieblox,Osmo, Littlebits, Raspberry Pi and Unity amongst a range of small kit computers. Matt said that the Makerspace movement changes teachers roles from content leaders, to relationship facilitators.

Matt’s final point was significant, and I believe ties his, Simon Crook’s and Richard Byrne’s talks together. “We need to evolve learning spaces from teacher-centric to student-centric, and getting there is going to see different paths taken for different schools.” This sentiment can be applied to BYO programs, as well as game inspired learning.

That is the end of day one, session two from my FutureSchools ClassTech wrap up. The next article will include the brief lunchtime session with Richard Byrne and Sue Waters which took place in the expo hall, as well as session three of the ClassTech conference Stream, covering 3D printing and the Connected Classroom