Monthly Archives: August 2014

Pedagogy and Community of Practice

working together_jpg

Perhaps the biggest influences on the quality of teaching and learning in schools today are Curriculum and Pedagogy. These, by definition, must be able to provide students with all that they need to survive in the world. By this, I mean they must be provided with knowledge, skills, morals and attitudes; and strategies to comprehend themselves and others, to be able to build relationships and to connect with the wider world, as demonstrated in the Australian Curriculum.

In her article Beyond Four Walls: Experiential and Situated Learning (2009), Johnson explained how excursions and incursions are significant and important in supporting students in their general learning and in their social and emotional learning as well.

The social theorists, Lave and Wenger, believe that enhanced learning takes place in context, with social interaction (Johnson (2009)

When we look at these approaches, we see that our pedagogical approach must enable a community of practice, in this case – social learning. Students and teachers need to be involved in sharing ideas, exchanging knowledge, questioning, critically examining, helping and even challenging each other continually in an ongoing process. This inspires all to be more open and can change peoples’ ways of thinking.

As educators we constantly ask how we can keep all of our students engaged for the maximum achievement of outcomes. How do we get them involved? First, we must know our students. Their background, their prior knowledge, their culture, their experiences. What do they have to offer?

This leads to extending the community of practice to beyond the walls of the classroom and beyond the school fence. Who has some knowledge or skills that will benefit the community of practice?

When we look at this information, and combine it with the requirements of the curriculum we can start to ask bigger questions about just what the students need.

When thinking about excursions, we open our community of practice to specific individuals and organisations who have knowledge and skill sets that we need to enhance our knowledge and understanding by introducing these. This is used to actively engage and involve students to encourage the taking place of more powerful learning.

This is best accomplished with meticulous planning, not just of the physical aspects but of what the students actually need to learn from the experience. Therefore the teacher needs to be very well prepared before the day and the students must be prepared as well.

Just as important as preparation is the follow-up. Students must be able to reflect on the activity and its relevance to their current learning. When the learner takes action following an excursion and begins incorporating it into the learning of the community of practice.

Pedagogy and curriculum, enabled by a community of practice, create a process whereby students engage in learning to make connections between learning and experiences.

Johnson, J. (2009). Beyond four walls: experiential and situated learning. [online].Teacher (198), 18-20. Retrieved from;dn=173862;res=AEIPT



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Graphic Novels for Young Learners.


As part of my uni course I did some reading on using comics in the classroom, and in particular, using the software “ComicLife”. I must say that I was pleased to see that graphic novels were included. Over the past several years, these books have become more and more popular among young readers, and there is always a waiting list to borrow them from school libraries. The article in some of the readings highlighted their popularity and their functionality as a classroom resource. Read it and comment on what you think about it.

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How often as a teacher have you suddenly had an excursion ‘dumped’ upon you with no idea of what’s going on? Or been told that there is an excursion coming up, permission notes etc are all organised, but the information relevant to the visit/trip is only given out the day before the event?


By following a code of practice, with full sharing of information and organisation, we can make these aspects of education much more useful, relevant and worthwhile to our students.

Many teachers don’t realise the impact that an excursion or visitor can have upon their students. These can, as Johnson states, “challenge a student’s belief system, introduce them to new perspectives and make them more resilient.”

These trips can aid in building and developing student interpersonal relationships, and develop a culture of belonging to the broader school community, as this identity is often emphasised during a school excursion.This enables them to better learn from each other. Their first community of practice.

Having taught for many years in very isolated, outback school, I have seen first hand the effects of an excursion, and the effects of incursions on the school population.

Imagine the delight and wonder on the faces of children when, as near teenagers, they see the ocean for the first time, or snow! Or imagine the impact an African drum performer can have on a group of Aboriginal school children and their world view, just by seeing the colour of his skin. Truly remarkable.

Teachers now, even more than previously, have a responsibility in developing this CoP and developing these ties which will, over time develop into various other forms of CoPs. By enabling them with the skills to become part of a CoP we enable them to become better learners and contributors.


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Online Learning Environment


It always seems that you come across things when you aren’t looking for them. True?

I found this recently and thought that it lends itself rather well to what I have been working on for my Uni course. Take a look and let me know what you think about it. I think there are some excellent possibilities with this.

Image from Google clipart.

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Categories and Tags


I’ve just spent some time learning about categories and tags for labelling blog posts and how they aid in the search for information and enhancing your personal learning network (PLN). At first it started out sounding really rather complicated, but the process all came together in a logical manner that makes the whole system very straightforward and worthwhile.
I managed to create some new categories for my blog posts on here. Only two so far (Young Learners and Course Work), but that will soon change, I’m sure. Under Young Learners I also managed to add some sub-categories as well to help better differentiate my posts into more defined groups (phonics, reading, technology), also with room to grow as the blog develops over time.
Next came tags. They’re just a group of terms that can apply to specific information within the blog post that enable followers to more closely source information from your posting. I used lots of these: classroom, colour, design, location, student needs, first sounds, grapheme, handwriting, phoneme, starting point, blogs, social media, video sharing sites, Web 2.0, wikis, www, creativity, explore and the list goes on. Perhaps I’m using too many to start with, but I’m sure I will settle into it given more time.

Image from Google clipart

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Classroom Design


Setting up a classroom for a class has always been a difficult process. Rarely does the first arrangement last very long, as teachers (and the students) tweak the layout to better suit the needs of the students. As any dedicated teacher will affirm, the needs of the students are paramount, whilst the desires of the teacher are secondary. Students will often have input, and increasingly, so do parents and carers in their desire to see their children achieve.

The articles have shown a number of factors that are increasingly important in the layout of the modern classroom. Whilst there are restrictions placed by design and teachers have an established classroom space to deal with, increasingly there are other factors such as the economy and the socio-political-economic background of the students and their families.

Curriculum today is driven by politics and economy, and teachers are forced to alter classroom layouts in an effort to best achieve competencies for their students. Benchmarks are set by politicians and teachers find that a variety of classroom structures work best for learning particular skills.

Parents also drive this as they want their children to achieve the highest results possible in standardised testing. Parents also affect classrooms in that they don’t want their children attempting practices that are taxing or too demanding of them. Meaning that teachers have to find a balance between the two.

Interestingly, the text by Cinar (2010) indicated that student placement in classrooms mirrored a number of socio-political end economic factors. It was interesting to note the seating positions of village students (often perceived as having lower educational aptitude) and students with mothers with poor educational backgrounds. These tended to sit further away from the teacher than others. Less surprising was the positioning of students relative to their enjoyment of the class or self-perceived competency in the class. Girls tended to sit in more friendship based seats while academically oriented students tended to be at front and centre.

Classroom design plays a part in student interest as do the displays within the room. Read (2010) highlights the preference of young learners for curves, circles and wavy lines. Interestingly, in the centre I taught in in Singapore, the only decorations were coloured swirls and spirals in ‘company colours’ along the walls in the corridors and in the reception are. Classrooms, however, were bare white walls, with no allowance for any displays of any kind. Colour, location, natural light and defined spaces are what inspire younger learners and Read seemed to be very clear on this.

Classrooms with straight rows of desks are very much a relic from the past, but still can be found in the classrooms of teachers who are very ‘old school’ in their approaches and methodology.

Once the physical space is organised to best suit student requirements, it is up to the teacher to organise the students for the ‘best fit’ in the classroom. Teachers constantly revise their classroom seating plan, trying to achieve maximum success and optimum teaching for their class and its students. Who sits at the front? Who sits at the sides? Who should be sitting at the rear? Are there any pairings that should not be allowed or any that should be encouraged, for the benefit of the class? Who sits near the door? Near the teacher? Near the window? The list goes on and teachers continue to balance this against the changing needs of the class.

The biggest difference that this would make to my own classroom design would be in the use of display space, as I think much of the layout of classroom space is dictated by other factors. I think that in future I will use fewer rectangular displays and attempt to use more fluid designs and curving lines. Circular spaces seem to be far more inviting and encouraging to students.



Cinar, I. (2010). Classroom geography: who sit where in the traditional classrooms? Journal of International Research, 3(10), 200-212

Read, M. (2010). Contemplating design: listening to children’s preferences about classroom design. Creative Education, 2, 75 – 80

Schratzenstaller, A. (2010). The Classroom of the Past. In K. Makitalo-Siegl, J. Zottmann, F. Kaplan & F. Fischer (Eds.), Classroom of the Future: Orchestrating Collaborative Spaces (pp. 15-39). Netherlands: Sense Publishers.

Images from Google clipart.

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Phonics: Where to start? Avoiding letters………

When you begin teaching phonics, it’s always good to first find out where your students are developmentally in the learning process. Once you have done this (I’ll give some examples at a later date), it’s time to start. But the big question is how? Let’s start with absolute beginners. These students need you to start from square one and this means learning how to recognise and identify initial (first) sounds in words. Start with simple, everyday pictures, have students name the picture eg. apple and identify the sound ‘a’. I would not introduce any graphemes (letters) at this stage as, in English, the actual letter is not the represented sound. A good example of this is ‘phone’. The initial phoneme (sound) is ‘f’, but the first letter is ‘p’. Totally confusing. As a matter of practice I will never introduce letters until the students have mastered the first sound with automatic access.

Writing student names and letter formation are, at this stage, unimportant. Handwriting development can be done using general shapes and lines, without introducing the confusion of actual letters to the learning process. Students can copy their name, if need be.

Play lots of games using first sounds. Matching them to similar first sounds, discriminating different first sounds, memory games etc are all good ways to reinforce the sounds.

You will be tempted to introduce letters to the lesson, but hold off until your students have automatic access and they will benefit more than you could have imagined.

Image courtesy of google clip art 19 August, 2014

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Using A Learning Space

Children learning some key skills. Listening, following instructions, and sharing ideas and opinions

Children learning some key skills. Listening, following instructions, and sharing ideas and opinions

It’s hard to get many teachers, especially those of a certain generation, to come to terms with the idea of the classroom being a less teacher centred space.

Interestingly, in the places where I have taught in SE Asia, the rigid, teacher centred, students sitting in rows approach is still very much adhered to. As teachers we were strongly discouraged from doing anything ‘radical’ to upset the overall tone of the school.

I recall my Year 6 English class and my Year 8 English class reacting to sitting on the carpet for a story for the first time. Their faces were covered with glee at the idea. It seems that in other classes they had never, even as young students, been allowed to sit on the floor for any reason. So this truly was a new experience for them. Also, this idea of listening to a story just for the enjoyment of it was foreign to them.

Another issue that I brought to their attention was the idea that I could be fallible. Students have it ingrained that teachers are the font of knowledge and that if a teacher says it then it must be true. I encouraged them to question information if they thought it was wrong and to politely debate issues brought up in class. I remember telling them on day 1 that I was, on occasion, going to tell them lies and that it was up to them to decide if I was telling the truth. This definitely encouraged these students to question information and to draw their own conclusions.

I remember my own teacher, back in the 1970’s encouraging us to learn by giving us some information in class and then setting us loose in the library to research these topics more in depth. I loved going to school in those days. He has been a role model for me in my own teaching.


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Web 2.0

Web 2.0 refers to the websites that use technology that takes them beyond being mere static sources of information. Web 2.0 suggests a new version of the World Wide Web, but in fact, it doesn’t actually refer to any kind of tech specifications, but rathe as a change in the the way that web pages are made and used.

A Web 2.0 site will often allow users to collaborate and to interact with each other using social media in a virtual community. Some examples of Web 2.0 sites are: blogs, wikis, video sharing sites, social media and so on.

The key features of Web 2.0 are:

1. Folksonomy

2. Rich User Experience

3. Users as Contributors

4. Long Tail

5. User Participation

6. Software as a Service

7. Basic Trust

8. Dispersion

9. Mass Participation

(image courtesy of google images)

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What is a Blog?

The term ‘blog’ is a shortening of the word ‘weblog’. So, what is it?

A blog is a kind of online journal or diary which is displayed in reverse chronological order. A blog may contain it’s own specific information, or it may contain links to other websites. Previous blog posts are stored and archived. Blogs are about why, not so much about the actual content. They are mostly a means to share information, more conversationally rather than content oriented.

(image courtesy of google images)

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