A focus for me this year (and really every year!!) is around getting useful information on where my students are at, and making sure the feedback is useable, useful AND not lost. I have tried various methods for this in the past, and one of the best methods I have found is taking an image of a hand written exam question, popping it in to powerpoint and recording myself marking it. This works well in terms of right then, and for students as individuals, but is a little difficult to track a class as a whole. So this term I am trying to use Microsoft forms and quizes for checkpoints, and then using the feedback feature. Students can see this at the time. I can see if a whole class has missed a key idea, or just a few individuals and so plan revision accordingly. If students pick the wrong answer, they get instant feedback as to why. But then I can download the student responses from the microsoft form into an excel spreadsheet, and mail merge them so each student can also get an individual sheet of their results and the feedback they were given. I can then pop these docs into their class notebook sections (still love me some onenote!!) via teams (I’m still working on a faster way to do this! any ideas welcomed)
So far it has worked well
I can still see how the class as a whole has answered certain questions
Students who got an answer wrong can get (hopefully helpful) feedback on why that answer wasn’t the best choice
I can click on review responses to give individual feedback to students, which they can access by re clicking on the form. I can grade (I usually don’t bother, but the option is there) and comment on individual answers.
And then I can take the data from the excel spreadsheet and using mail merge make a page with the students answers and my feedback (I’ve generally just picked the longer answers for this – the short answer questions get the instant feedback). It did take a couple of goes to get my ‘template’ working, as the questions from the quiz did not show up in the merge, only the answers.
Once you have the documents, you can either email them to the students (their emails are saved with their responses in the form) or print the pages to onenote (I’m still looking for a faster way to do this than one by one)
I have done this a couple of times now, and have been getting faster each time. I’m certainly appreciating that I have access to feedback given to students, and being able to track progressions more closely. There is also a slight element of accountability, I can show that students have or haven’t completed set tasks, and I have (or haven’t) given them feedback on next steps.
Students have found the system easy enough to use, and have been reasonably receptive to the idea. So, so far, it has been a success. Fingers crossed it stays that way
This year I have been tasked with teaching Yr 9 digitech. Which has been a real challenge, but hopefully I’ve now got a handle on what we are doing. I have leaned really heavily on the AMAZING Gamefroot resource at https://takaro.gamefroot.com/ that Dan Milward and Gerard Macmanus put together, it was a real life saver for me as a non-specialist.
The course itself is a compulsory module that runs for 3 hours a week for 10 weeks. But, as with any school, by the time you factor in the odd public holiday, athletics day or camp, we have budgeted on about 26 hours of class time. A open book of do what you like was given. So after having a think, both about what I am comfortable with, and managing the work load, game design as a context was picked, and we are focusing on outcome design and evaluation, as well as Technological modelling.
We (a colleague is teaching the other class running in parallel) started with a fairly simple lets learn some things about games, about formatting, and about algorithms. We snuck in some hour of code in week 2 as it was a useful activity as we had different groups of students out for various camps and orientation events which then didn’t end up happening because if the weather!
My colleague was very proud of the horrendously awful doc he made for the students to reformat!! And the students generally did a very good job of spotting most of the errors. We gave them the doc via an assignment in teams.
And now we are in to the task. I really like the idea in the Gamefroot game design about incorporating a New Zealand myth or legend, but wondered how I could make it more local. So we have set the students the challenge of making a game to teach myself and Mr G the local place names around the Taieri Plains.
We decided to include the history as well as place names in English and Te Reo, because there are several mountains named for Cheifs, as well as street names and park names that are linked to early settlers to the area.
And what they need to do.
We decided that the games could be physical board or card type games because while their might not be a direct ‘coding’ aspect, students still need to look for patterns, write algorithms or instructions and extend ideas, as well as use a mixture of inputs. And there is the block coding component, which could be a dice on a microbit. Or perhaps the coding used to build a world in minecraft.
The students have been set this as an assignment in teams, and the whole doc is formatted so the title page is interactive so they can click to where they need to be
Students can work individual or in twos/threes (a 4 was split into 2 pairs!) Each group has been assigned a private channel in teams, so that they can work together but I can keep an eye of them.
The elevator pitches will be completed using flip grid, so that students who are uncomfortable sharing up front don’t need to, but also it means that feedback can be placed by multiple people which will assist meeting the responding to feedback requirements.
The check points will hopefully help students scaffold their project, and give me evidence of planning
If you are interested, here is a link to the whole doc (let me know if it doesn’t work for you)
We are also super lucky that our amazing Librarian Lauryn came to my rescue when I was panicky about how to support the students with their research of place names. She deflt provided me with two books on the history of the Taieri Plains, one including some excellent maps. So this has made life so much easier. The fabulous Lauryn also suggested having a show case of the games in the library at the end of the module, perhaps with some other games in her collection, so we will be working through this to make it happen.
So, students were given the task last week. Already they have started exploring and planning what they can do. Some are wanting to use Minecraft, others are using scratch, a pair is planning to make a Taieri Monopoly, while another group of girls who are into Saloon car racing are thinking of a racing game. Some were just spending some time thinking about what games they had played before that had maps so they could explore them. After being so nervous, it was a positive start. Hopefully the students have some fun, learn some things, and we make it to the end of the module in one piece.
For the past two year, I have co-taught a yr 7 digitech module. The first year we (wrongly) based it around the progress outcomes for the new New Zealand digitech curriculum. Last we were ‘encouraged’ to teach the technology standards (posts HERE and HERE) during the module. When it came time for the 2020 timetabling, I found I was timetabled into the yr 7 module, which meant I couldn’t teach junior (yr 9 or 10) science. Which I was gutted about. So I set off to talk to both my HoD and the Tech HoD, and said very politely I did NOT want to be teaching technology please, I struggled to get my head around the technology standards, and I really LOVE teaching science.
So then it was a real downer when I found myself in the yr 9 digitech module instead. With a second year teacher who has also not taught digitech (or any technology for that matter) teaching the other module. So not only was I not trained, had said I didn’t want to, I had received no PLD funded by my school for teaching technology and my self funded PLD around incorporating digitech into the science curric was not designed nor meant to have me teaching a technology course, I found myself in charge of a course, and supposedly supporting a beginning teacher to also teach it. With an expectation that I would rejig the course to be more inline with the new standards.
Which is really where my post about aiming for not bad comes from. Because even with this mindset, I have already sacrificed MANY more hours than this course than I ought to have, which is 15% of my working week when you break it down. I feel my other course, which not only should take more of my time, but I am infinitely more passionate about, have suffered because I simply have not had the time to put in to them. I had to throw my toys to get meetings I needed. I have had to use the systems in place with the specialist classroom teacher and the SLT. I have not had another meeting scheduled by the people that get paid more than me to check in. I am not able to attend meetings because I am mostly based in the Science curric area and need to be at those meetings. I got sent screen shots rather than documents from people unwilling to share. Because I was placed in this course, others were moved out, and there did not seem to be any process around this. Which was hard and created conflict. Which was not of my making and I was stuck in the middle. And now, I have essentially handed another teacher an entire course built from scratch by me despite the unwillingness of others to do the same to help me.
Which makes me cross, because it is not my course. It should be collaborative, and equitable. But this whole process has been the exact opposite. And I feel like it has really impacted my levels of happiness in a profession and how I am choosing to work. Past Rachel NEVER would have said I handed some-one a course of mine.
So how do I fix this?
Because in this job, it seems that you give and you give and you give, and it is never enough. There is always something more that could be done, something more to tweak, another student who needs help.
I am watching people, and not just in my school, crack and sometimes break under pressure. I have watched so many teachers fly away from the job over a number of years. I am seriously pondering a move myself, a friend is a teacher in Melbourne were she is paid more and the houses are cheaper (in the burbs to be fair).
I’m trying desperately to remember I need to work to my own standards, not that of those around me. I need to remember that money and units is not always an indication of peoples worth. That I work for me, not what others opinions of me is.
I am trying desperately to remember that I do enjoy my job. I enjoy young people, their energy, enthusiasm, their courage, and their sometimes blatant daft behaviour as they grow into interesting and diverse people.
I am trying desperately to enjoy teaching kids about the world around them, to be curious and critical, to challenge and to understand the building blocks of the world around us.
I am trying desperately hard to remember I like setting things on fire! And seeing students faces when they make a connection, or are in awe of a practical.
I am saying practical things like it will be better next term once I’ve done the module through once. It will keep getting better. I can critique and improve. The kids don’t know any better.
I am trying desperately to avoid going in all guns blazing, because I want to do this well. I am trying to remember the cost to other things I value more. Trying to avoid the well bugger them, I’ll just smash it attitude. Because, in the end, the only person that smashes is me.
I recently asked for some help (boy do I need it) on how to scaffold planning for practice and outcome design and development for the digitech course I am teaching this year. It is a massive learning curve. I was hoping to get a ‘generic’ plan, which was not forth coming. (although I did get some useful ideas, but I still need to build my own) One teacher said he got the students to make their own using smart art in Microsoft word, which is part of our office 365 package. He gave me a quick demo, and I was blown away by how quick and easy the smart art tool was to use. I had previously been using draw.io to get students to draw flowcharts, but the smart draw in word in much simpler to use. You do need to be on the desktop version of word rather than the online/office 365 version to get the smart art option though. Things like dichotomous keys, practical pathways, next steps for A, M and E level answers, well the answer was already there in Microsoft word. They are perhaps a little generic , but in terms of ease, it is an absolute win! I was able to whip up a little flow chart to show file hierarchy in about 2 minutes….
So then I started having a little play, and it is super easy to change colours, fonts, add bits in and take bits out
And you can save as a picture so they are easy to insert into other docs.
And this is a really good example of a little thing I didn’t know. And knowing that the smart art option had these would have saved me loads of time last year. I asked a few times on twitter and various PLNs about flow charting options, and no-one ever suggested this (possibly because lots of other NZ schools are google schools….).
And I guess too it is a reminder to place value on different skill sets. Not everyone has to teach things in the same way, or have the same way of getting to get things done. But this little tidbit that took 2 minutes to receive, was a real game changer for me. I wish there were more ways to share those little gems of knowledge we all have, that people simply don’t know they don’t know.
Things seem a bit grim when you are quoting a lego movie song on repeat in your head to try and get through the first day of school. All over my PLD networks, I am seeing exciting posts about how excited people are, what amazing things they have lined up, ads are advertising all sorts of shiny posters and buy this resource to get off to the best possible start.
And I am just not feeling it.
I know it will get better as the kids arrive. Their energy will pick me up. But the rest of the job is getting harder and harder to push to the not kid things to the boundaries. Maybe I need a change. A new school? A new challenge?
But then this year will be a new challenge. I have two new courses, one is out of Science and in Technology, so I have a whole heap of new learning to do. I have new standards for Level 2 chem to ponder. Some significant changes to some of the L3 chem standards too. But they just don’t excite me right now
I wonder if I just got too tired last year, and have burned out a bit.
And so how do I get through. Cheesey facebook memes perchance?
So, I need to be more realistic with my expectations, and maybe aim for not bad. And to any other teachers out there who are not feeling the back to school jam, be kind to yourselves, and aim for not bad.
Last week I was up in Wellington for the PPTA ICT committee meeting. It was quite a busy meeting, with a LOT of discussion around equity, in terms of access to devices, access to support, some issue with PLD, and digital assessment. There was then a run down of the progress being made by the Te Rito project, which I first blogged about after the meeting this time last year which was a good insight into progress made, and the impact for the Learning Support roles which are starting in January 2020.
As usual, this is my interpretation and memory from what was said, and I am happy to be corrected or put you in touch with the right people for more information. 🙂
I’m putting the Te Rito at the top, as I’m guessing most people will be most interested in that, even though the reps came at the end of the day 🙂
Rachel and Donna came from the ministry Te Rito project to update us on who things are going. They started with this video as an overview of the aims and scope of the project
If you click above, it will take you to the vimeo site (I hope…..)
In my words (and happy to be corrected) the premise and drive is to protect and uphold the mana of the child – which links to the name as Te Rito is the inner of the Harakeke/flax plant, with the surrounding leaves offering protection. Along with this as the idea of ensuring ‘the right’ stories of the children are being told, and the ‘taxonomy’ for different situations is similar enough to be useful.
The aims of the project are
reduce admin burden
make sure those who need to know KNOW
Which has involved a LOT of background work to make the systems ‘interoperable’ – that is, the Te Rito system will work with multiple SMS (Kamar, Edge etc), as well as browsers, health care software, NZQA, google and office 365, lots of things 🙂 There is a lot of work, but Rachel was (quite rightly) quick to stress these are desired outcomes, but getting everything to talk to everything was a VERY big job.
The ‘system’ will be sector owned, but the budget will ultimately be meet by the ministry. They were clear that they do not own the data (the child owns the data – but then could a child really understand what that means?), and there are some very clear guidelines around who can access the data and for what purpose. Which also requires a lot of different law (for example, health and safety trumps privacy, and there is interesting case law in Australia for this were a teacher aide was severely injured by a student).
There was also a lot of talk about how the system has been modified for the new Learning support roles. (ESR = Early Stage Roll out)
And some info on the governance and privacy
There was also discussion around what training would be needed for BoTs, Principals, learning support co-ordinators and teachers. Chatting to a friend going into a LSC role next year, some of the PLD has already begun, as the team are hard at work trying to get the LSC interface ready for Feb 2020. So if you are in one of these rolls, it might pay to check out the information out there and have a think about how the implementation of this might look in your school/Kura.
So there was a lot of information on offer. There are some really awesome aspects, and then some that concern me a little. Mostly around making sure the right information is sorted, and that students are not given a label they don’t deserve. Kids deserve a fresh start I guess, but also, sometimes the information would be useful. It might stop some students ‘falling through cracks’. Or get more continuity with their learning and support. Many around the table who were in more ‘senior’ positions than me in a school were really excited by the prospect. And I guess if it helps students, it is worth it.
There was also a request for a PPTA rep for a the Data for Wellbeing sector advisory group – so there is a PPTA representation in the development team.
And if you are still reading, prior to this presentation and questions, we discussed.
The meeting started (after the perfunctory accepting last meeting minutes etc) with a quick whip around the regions/representatives to see if they were any concerns. Main points of interest were
multifaceted log ins and cell phones – how are people dealing with two part log ins. One school had seen 1500 attacks over the period of 90 minutes, and it is a growing issue. Office 365 two stage log in requires a cell phone… what if kids don’t have on? Many schools round the table had a ‘phone’ box – a clear plastic click clack for phones to go into, either at the start of the lesson, or if they were used innappropraitely. I was firmly on the side of educate, not punish, but also, if I’m not insured if the phone gets broken, I’m not touching it. There was discussions around search and seizure guidelines – can schools legally hold a phone??? So the conversation went slightly sideways, but cyber security is still a big issue, as is the misuse of devices by students.
School donations/Government fees scheme and BYOD. Very mixed spread across the group of schools who had or had not opted in to the fees scheme. Some felt ‘pressured into it’ by communities struggling. Others realised they would have less money, but hoped communities would be better for having the extra money available. Others had chosen not too – did not feel they could offer adequate curric with those costs. When you look at the details, if a students needs a calculator to complete a Chemistry pH calculation, or a maths problem, the school SHOULD provide one if they have opted into the fees scheme. Same with BYOD. Some grey areas around should and MUST. Quality of devices is an ongoing concern, as is access in the community (for homework etc, but also social inclusion). Great discussion around the richness of extra curricular activities – I am not a camp person (I hate not having a nice bed with clean sheets and a good shower) but I make an effort to go on school camps because of the relationships you form, and how refreshing it can be to see a frustrating or shy or outgoing student in a different light on camp. Students remember these trips…. and they do build richness into a curriculum, but how can they be done on such a shoe string budget?
Then there was some more specific discussion around
Online exams – seems to be working well – a few seemingly isolated issues – in schools using it. Questions linked to equity of access were asked (discussed more below) and members asked for some specific info relating to decile of schools and access to online assessment (ie is it mostly higher decile completing them) as well as any information around comparative pass rates (eg high school decile online compared to paper – do schools in decile one have comparable results etc). There was also a request for ‘best practice’ for running online exams – there are lots of info sheets from NZQA on this, but perhaps that information is not finding the right people – often the network manager or perhaps the Principals nominee are not always getting the message…. and which information needs to go where???
EQUITY. Of seemingly everything!! Access to devices, tech support in schools, infrastructure in schools, access to PLD – both for digital fluency for staff, as well specific support for elearning pedagogy. (The upcoming PPTA PLD grants might help with this – there are LOTS of $700 grants, but no news (that I have heard) of how to access them yet.) Mixed in with the general ‘wait and see’ with the new NCEA changes. A comment was made that ‘BYOD is just a policy’ and so should not get the noise it does! Schools who have thought about their policy and procedures are often more successful – so how do you support more schools to have better policies????? What do schools do when students don’t have devices? Loaner devices (but again equity issues, they are often slow, and by the time students go and get them, then take them back, they have missed significant learning time. Questions around is there any BES work that could be shared on this – it seems a little adhoc, and many boards may or may not have the skills to implement this in schools well. There was a similar discussion around BES for digitech integration – I’m guessing it is still too new so the data hasn’t been gathered yet?
Is the committee still relevant?? And WHY? This was an interesting question, and generated good discussion – I feel I get well informed, but often that we lack the ‘clout’ to make real change. Getting information out to time poor members and leads was discussed – how can we improve the information reach. (I bought up my stats from my blog reflections – I generally get between 70-100 people reading these posts….). There was also value in meeting with government departments, partly to share back to the community, and partly to give feedback to them from a wide base of people (ICT has reps from schools, low decile, Te Kura, PPTA itself). So it looks like we will be going for a while yet, and it was a good motivation to push on and get the conference paper on equitable access to ‘ICT support’ in schools for conference for next year.
Topics up for discussion for next year will be checking in on the online NCEA assessment, as well as the changes with tomorrows schools, and of course keeping advocating for more equitable access to device, PLD and learning opportunities
Feel free to flick any questions my way, and I’ll do my best to answer them or put you in touch with some-one who can. If you would like anything raised with the committee sing out. And as always, if I have made an error, please let me know.
This is the second year that Kevin and I have co-taught a yr 7 digital technology course, which runs for about 24 lessons on a rotation. (You can find previous reflections on this course (the first one is from this year when we introduced a greater focus on the technology curriculum here, here and here). We have used the BBC Micro:bit from the start. Micro:bits are reasonably cheap, there are LOADS of resources and ideas available, and the microbits offer lots of different ways to adapt coding for students with different ability and confidence levels. We generally work through some data representation and algorithms before introducing the microbits and coding – sometimes (depending on time) we also include some of the hour of code tutorial activities for a more self directed introduction.
About half way through this year, we introduced a ‘micro:bit monster’ after Kevin saw the idea from a school in Queenstown – he is currently on camp so I apoligise I can’t acknowledge this as much as I’d like. We liked the idea and saw it as a way to get a more authentic brief design and planning for practice task into the course. And so Kevin wrote up a brief design plan for the onenote, and away we went
The currently module group is our third iteration of the project, and I think we have got it ‘right’. Judging by the hour I just spent with 28 yr 7’s who were all working with an engaged hum, they think so too…..
To start, we have a onenote template that scaffolds the expectations for the students – essentially what evidence they need to show to meet the planning for practice learning outcomes.
We then ‘let the students loose’ for want of a better phrase as they complete their own designs in their own sections
Then the students get to be creative and build their micro:bit costumes 🙂 It is a bit messy, but super fun, and gives some little iteration ideas – like making holes for the buttons, or for the leads to attach speakers too. And create the code for the micro:bits
Some cool costumes made for the micro:bit pets and/or monsters – the blue and red one with the leads coming out of it had to be modified so the speakers could be attached, so it got ‘spiky’ teeth
We then ask the student to make little video clips of their microbit monsters and pets to show us what they could do, which the upload into their onenotes.
These little monsters have been a really fun way for the students to incorporate some code while fitting the technology curriculum goals. We have found students really engaged in this project, and they all push themselves along – one group decides their monsters would use the radio functions and get their monsters to play paper scissors rock with each other!
I’ve been thinking a bit lately about how I/we/the system records learning. My thinking on this has been challenged a few times, and was kicked into gear way back in 2015 when I saw an amazing learning conversation around a thermos flask take place, that these students couldn’t write down but could explain very clearly, and link other ideas they had learned. (a reflection from the time is here ). More recently, this has been playing on my mind as my yr 10’s have been completing a Science capability task.
Now Science capabilities can be a tricky thing when you get to the nitty gritty of them, but are also amazing simple too. I don’t feel our school has really got to grips with them yet (although we are certainly improving all the time), and we are certainly too focussed on the ‘paper trail’ evidence for assessing them. Which has got me back to thinking more explicitly about how I gather evidence for learning.
With this Science Capabilities task, the context was ocean acidification and how increasing the CO2 in the atmosphere increases the dissolved CO2 in the water, which decreases the pH/increases the acidity of the ocean. This then has an impact on creatures in the ocean with carbonate shells or exoskeletons. We investigated the impact of concentration on acids on the reaction rate for carbonates. Reaction rates really sits at NCEA Level one rather than yr 10, so we have tried to scaffold the prior learning and expectations around reaction rates for students final answers.
As part of the task, students where asked to design an experiment that gave them ‘quality data’ (reproducable, no overlaps etc). Students were given a range of material to try and design their method, as we had previously used gas displacement, a lime water test, amount of bubble produced by adding dish washing liquid etc. There was much fun as the bubbles produced from the highest concentration of acid shot out of the test tubes and all over the bench tops and floors. But this is where the really rich conversations started happening, as students realised that this method was the ‘most fun’, it did not produce the more reliable results. Then others discovered that if they used small volumes of acid, the lower concentrations stopped reacting before the amount of gas produced was detectable. Others found it difficult to distinguish between the two most concentrated acids because the times were very similar.
The learning conversation between the students and the students and myself over these 2-3 hours were amazing. It felt really good, I was excited to be in class, the students seemed to be enjoying it, and the frustrations and successes were palpable. Students were really gaining knowledge from the various practical tasks as they were trying to ascertain the best method for them to use. Students saw that they got ‘the same’ end result while using a different method to another group, and had conversation around which way might be better or worse. The conversations around the ‘why’ the reactions where proceeding that way were amazing.
And yet, while it was a valuable learning experience for me and the students, I feel a lot of that valuable learning was lost. How do I record those conversations that were had? How do I translate that into the students written work, or scaffold the questions better so they are encouraged to incorporate more of that learning into their answers?
Or, do I need to? Is it enough that those conversations took place, and they do not need to be included in the gathered data for reports and feedback?
And, how to I replicate those conversation in other settings?? How do I get students to see more explicitly that there is often more than one way to come to a similar answer, and that discovering the path is often much more exciting than getting to the end of it. How to I make sure more of the learning experiences I offer are open ended??
And how do I ensure I capture the ideas that students don’t write down??
It is poetry week at my school this week, linked to New Zealand’s (I’m assuming it is New Zealand’s, it might be all over…) poetry day this friday (23rd August). I am currently avoiding others tasks, but have been spotting all sorts of beautiful poems on twitter, and it has made me think of some of my favourite poems, what they mean to me, and where I remember learning about them. While I often get frustrated with my own stuttering prose and find expressing myself clearly a challenge (not to mention sending my grandmother round the bend with my appalling spelling) I love reading, and greatly admire those who can work their words with such magic.
And after writing the above, I realised I have already written about two of the poems on my mind, all the way back in 2014. It is funny how the past comes back….. and how despite meeting these poems in high school some 20 years ago, they are still with me.
‘So, it is day 2 of Ulearn, and we have been given some time. Time is so precious, and I always struggle to use it wisely. Or I get so caught up in tomorrow I forget about today, or last year, or even before that.
One of my favourite poems is about time
Time out – Hone Tuwhare
Can not catch up with you, Time.
You precede me
like the echo of sad footfalls in my heart,
as I turn back
to find the solace
in a resolute search
for my space
It is resonating with my right now, as I think about the English teacher who first introduced me to it, Ms Fowler. Fowler was hard arse – she reminded me off the teacher Katie Novak talked about in the keynote. Fowler made me work harder than I ever had, and unlocked some potential. I argued with her, got cross, got disheartened and then picked myself up and tried again. I learned to love poetry as a means of expression rather than to loathe it as yucky english – even if I still can’t spell to save my life. I learned resilience, perseverance, and the importance of sticking to you guns despite what others say or think. To go with your gut feeling. That can again be described by a poem (this one I found specifically for a ‘read allowed’ assessment we had to do, I didn’t fully understand it at the time) – she taught it to her classes after which I found amazingly flattering. We ‘bumped’ into each other online recently, and she is still doing amazing things.
The Riders in the Stand
There’s some that ride the Robbo style, and bump at every stride; While others sit a long way back, to get a longer ride. There’s some that ride like sailors do, with legs and arms, and teeth; And some ride on the horse’s neck, and some ride underneath.
But all the finest horsemen out — the men to Beat the Band — You’ll find amongst the crowd that ride their races in the Stand. They’ll say “He had the race in hand, and lost it in the straight.” They’ll show how Godby came too soon, and Barden came too late.
They’ll say Chevalley lost his nerve, and Regan lost his head; They’ll tell how one was “livened up” and something else was “dead” — In fact, the race was never run on sea, or sky, or land, But what you’d get it better done by riders in the Stand.
The rule holds good in everything in life’s uncertain fight; You’ll find the winner can’t go wrong, the loser can’t go right. You ride a slashing race, and lose — by one and all you’re banned! Ride like a bag of flour, and win — they’ll cheer you in the Stand.
Even 5 year on, and maybe always, I often think of these poems. I am thinking specifically of the riders in the stand – I need to work to my standards, not the standards of others. It is so easy to look at others and think, they aren’t doing this or that, so I won’t. Rather than thinking this is where I want to be, now get there.
Another poem on my mind right now is Epiphany by Ted Hughes
From the collection Birthday Letters, which won the Forward prize in 1998
London. The grimy lilac softness Of an April evening. Me Walking over Chalk Farm Bridge On my way to the tube station. A new father – slightly light-headed With the lack of sleep and the novelty. Next, this young fellow coming towards me.
I glanced at him for the first time as I passed him Because I noticed (I couldn’t believe it) What I’d been ignoring.
Not the bulge of a small animal Buttoned into the top of his jacket The way colliers used to wear their whippets – But its actual face. Eyes reaching out Trying to catch my eyes – so familiar! The huge ears, the pinched, urchin expression – The wild confronting stare, pushed through fear,
Between the jacket lapels. ’It’s a fox-cub!’ I heard my own surprise as I stopped. He stopped. ‘Where did you get it? What Are you going to do with it?’ A fox-cub On the hump of Chalk Farm Bridge!
‘You can have him for a pound.’ ‘But Where did you find it? What will you do with it?’ ‘Oh, somebody’ll buy him. Cheap enough At a pound.’ And a grin. What I was thinking Was – what would you think? How would we fit it Into our crate of space? With the baby? What would you make of its old smell And its mannerless energy? And as it grew up and began to enjoy itself What would we do with an unpredictable, Powerful, bounding fox? The long-mouthed, flashing temperament? That necessary nightly twenty miles And that vast hunger for everything beyond us? How would we cope with its cosmic derangements Whenever we moved?
The little fox peered past me at other folks, At this one and at that one, then at me. Good luck was all it needed. Already past the kittenish But the eyes still small, Round, orphaned-looking, woebegone As if with weeping. Bereft Of the blue milk, the toys of feather and fur, The den life’s happy dark. And the huge whisper Of the constellations Out of which Mother had always returned. My thoughts felt like big, ignorant hounds Circling and sniffing around him. Then I walked on As if out of my own life. I let that fox-cub go. I tossed it back Into the future Of a fox-cub in London and I hurried Straight on and dived as if escaping Into the Underground. If I had paid, If I had paid that pound and turned back To you, with that armful of fox –
If I had grasped that whatever comes with a fox Is what tests a marriage and proves it a marriage – I would not have failed the test. Would you have failed it? But I failed. Our marriage had failed.
I was sitting in the staff work room listening to a spirited discussion between two English teachers – they both taught yr 13 classes, one was doing Ted Hughes, and the other Sylvia Plath. I was listening purely from enjoyment as they argued their points about the intricasies and styles of the writers, the different possible interpretations, and how had we really changed in our expectations and realities of relationships since the 1950s and 60s. As an avid fan of Slyvia Plath, I had avoided Ted Hughes, but as there two English teachers teased out ideas I began to become more familiar and would occasionally skim read a poem or two. The ‘team Ted’ English teacher read this to me, and as two people with our own young families discussed how life had changed so much, that risk was now so much harder to take… that consequences were suddenly so much more real. And that epiphanies often strike when you least expect them. (I feel I need to add we are both still with our significant others, and seem to be weathering the occasional twists and turns of life reasonably well)
I also wonder if I’m thinking about this poem because I feel like I am running from a few ideas at the moment. I had a good conversation with a teacher friend yesterday about how I still can’t find a way to pull myself out of assessment driven teaching. How I am uncertain about how to build learning for L2 chemistry next year as the standards are changing. Have I, too, left the fox cub on the bridge and taken the ‘easier’ path that is safe and known??
And last, but not least, Dunedin poem, but Janet Frame. My favourite work of Janet Frame is excellently terrifying ‘The Bath’, but many of her poems pop into my head sometimes.
I thought of this poem yesterday, as I too went to the beach, and stared at the waves, and stood in the sun.
This year I ‘swapped’ classes to pick up a yr 7 class part way through the year. It has been an interesting challenge, for two reasons. 1) I have not taught yr 7 Science before, and 2) I found it ‘difficult’ to pick up a class when expectations and routines had already been set. It took a while before this class felt like ‘my class’, and that challenged me to think about the concept of ‘ownership’ of a class, and who should meet whos expectations.
Anyways, we have recently starting a topic on microbiology. After a typically energy filled monday lesson (For reasons I am still working on, when I have this class on a Monday they are such a different class to Tuesday. They take longer to settle, are disruptive, noisy, and just a bit off on a Monday compared to a Tuesday. I’m still working on the why, and trying to plan activities to make the most of it) I was a little apprehensive about how Tuesday would go – we were going to build some model bacteria based on what they had learned the day before.
And, to be honest, they blew me away. Absolutely blew me away. I had been convinced the lesson before had been a right off, and no-one had learned anything. But the class could tell be that a baceria had a cell wall, a cell membrane, some had flagella, some had a capsule, all the ‘stuff in the middle’ (DNA) and that funny c word (cytoplasm). So, despite the noise, and the seemingly off task carry on the day before, they had still mostly achieved the learning objectives around knowing what the parts of a bacteria were, and what they did.
And they made some fabulous model bacteria displaying these features, and as I went about the room we had some excellent discussions about what the different bits did.
So it was a really good reminder for me that, even though I know learning doesn’t need to be quiet or tidy, that in this case the students did really did learn while being noisy and slightly outrageous. And that many of them really enjoyed the chance to be creative and collaborative, rather than doing a work sheet or a computer animation. That even though I didn’t think they had listened, they had, and had taken on board the key points.
Well played yr 7, well played. Bring on bread mould this week.