Posted in Criterion 5, Criterion 7

Innovative Learning Attitude

Written by Christine Wells and Linda Rubens

With all the talk of innovative learning environments it is easy to think, I don’t teach in an ILE so why should I bother? There are many new schools being built which are ILEs and I have been guilty of feeling very envious and wishing that I could knock walls out and have some of what they’re having. Twitter is often full of pictures of beautiful buildings with colourful furniture and learners happily engaged. We have realised that our school will probably never be a total ILE as it would take years and huge expense for this to happen. It is possible to have a change in attitude though. Mark Quigley once said,

“… an innovative learning environment happens between your ears, not just in the physical environment.”

Change of mind is the biggest challenge. So how can we embrace this mindset in an ‘old school’ setting?

1. Create a relaxed and welcoming environment. 

You can have furniture other than the standard old school desks and chairs. Add a few couches to your learning space. They are easier than you think to source. Send out an all staff email and ask if any one has any old couches that they no longer need. You could also contact your learner’s parents or ask your learners. I was driving along one day with a friend and we saw a couple of couches that had been put on the side of the road so we stopped and got them – it took 2 trips as only one at a time fitted into my hatchback. I got a couple of cheap couch covers from The Warehouse to make them look presentable. I ditched my desk and replaced it with an armchair which I placed at the back of the room. When my learners first saw the couches they were really positive about them. There was a bit of a rush to sit on them to begin with but this settled down over time.

There are other ways that you can pimp out your learning space such as having lamps instead of turning on the harsh fluorescent lights. Many learners are more comfortable with low lighting. If you are in a 1:1 environment learners can see their screens better as they often have the brightness turned down to save the battery. Playing music at appropriate times also creates a relaxed vibe which learners enjoy.

2. Attitude is everything.

Be willing to think outside the box and explore ways to create an ILE. The #Hackyrclass movement created by Claire Amos has heaps of great ideas for ways to do things differently. Ideas explored included Design Thinking and having a growth mindset. Joining a PLN of likeminded educators is inspiring when everyone is sharing ideas or posting photos and videos of what is happening in their learning space. Many of us have joined Twitter for this reason and are continually buzzing with new ideas that we have discovered through our Twitter PLN. Becoming involved in these things does take effort and a positive attitude but it is totally worth it.

3. Get away from the front of the classroom.

Adopting different teaching and learning methods such as Project Based Learning or co-created units of work are effective in helping your learners drive their learning. You may ‘stand and deliver’ at the front while you introduce a unit of work but after that your job will be to roam the class giving feedback where needed. I recently decided to co-create a unit with a year 10 class and they really enjoyed coming up with ideas for how they would learn about the text we are studying. I still gave the parameters such as the aspects to be studied, the levels of thinking required and some compulsory tasks such as essay writing but the rest was created by them.

4. Bringing in Experts

With project based learning, one of the guidelines is to bring experts in from the community. But what about your own school community? I was doing static image with my class, so I invited an art teacher into my class. He gave invaluable support regarding their design and layout of the images. Teaching a film or novel with historical background? I found a science and history teacher who had first hand experience of the historic event that was woven into the film text, so they came and gave my class authentic insight into the event because they had lived through it. Thus giving my students a chance for real empathy. Make it real, call your expert colleagues in.

5. Cross Curricular chatter

Due to the sheer size of our school, cross curricular work can be seen to be too difficult. But when the seniors leave (how often do you hear that phrase?) we plan to do some cross curricular work. Blogs make this so much easier to manage. Art and English could be a starting point with blogs the way we bring the artefact together. Choose a class that you have at the same time as your colleague, team teach your area of expertise, and set the learners off on their project. So while we are not breaking down our walls, we are chipping away at the mental barriers that so often separate us. Smash those silos of learning!

6. Digital portfolios

Also known as blogs. Some people love them and are true advocates, others get put off at the mere mention of the word. I think they are a great way for learners to pull all their learning together, and teachers and parents can have a snapshot of all they have done. This makes cross curricular team-ups viable. One of my senior students, who is slightly, dare I say it, tech challenged, was amazed when he saw my blog. My blog is not amazing, but his naive enthusiasm is worth mentioning. He announced, “Guys, miss has her own website! Look there’s her name! And she’s talking about us!”  So maybe he has something there. For those put off by the word blog, think website. Personal website.

So yes, while we do teach in a traditional building, as many teachers around the world do, we don’t confine ourselves to traditional approaches to teaching. And I’m pleased to say we are not alone in wanting to creep out of our silos and give our learners an integrated and personalised approach to their learning.

Posted in Criterion 2, Criterion 4, Criterion 5, Criterion 7, Mindlab reflections

Changes in my practice

Completing the Mindlab course has been an amazing journey and I have learnt about and been challenged by many new ideas. This has led to some changes in my teaching practice, some of which are the inclusion of gamification and the adoption of transformational leadership.

Although I found writing the literature review very challenging, it further developed an interest that I had in gamification and game based learning. On Google+ I came across a post about Classcraft and decided to investigate. I have since implemented the use of Classcraft with my year 9 class and this has helped to improve their motivation and engagement enormously. Their behaviour is also much better and they are developing 21st Century skills as a result. This reflects Criterion 8 which includes the ability to, 

Encourage ākonga/learners to take responsibility for their own learning and behaviour.

Because my learners know that they will earn points for positive behaviours and skills they come into class wanting to help hand out books and get started on their learning. We have been using Classcraft all this term and lately I have tried one or two lessons where we don’t use it to see if the behaviour and motivation is different. I am pleased to report that it is not! Rewarding these skills has helped to make them a consistent and usual way of behaving. Thanks Classcraft!

Transformational Leadership

I have also enjoyed learning about Leadership theory and styles. This has been particularly helpful for me as this is my first year being the head of a department. I identified mostly with the transformational leadership style and have consciously used this style when leading my department. I believe that one of the reasons that I was employed is because of my skills in incorporating technology to enable my pedagogy. I have lots of ideas for changes that I would like to see in my department but am aware that not everyone is as tech savvy as I am and could see a rash of hastily made changes as a challenge. For this reason I have not made huge changes but have discussed ideas for the future and sought opinions on those changes. Some things will be non negotiable such as submitting year 11 moderation digitally next year and adding each year level in subsequent years. But many ideas will be a choice. I am encouraged by the positive attitudes of my people though. I showed them my blog and explained that I used it to record reflections on teaching and learning which were then linked to the PTC and they all are very keen to do this also. So we have begun that journey together. This reflects Criterion 5, the Enabling eLearning website comments:

Effective leadership is crucial for the successful implementation of ICT.

Utilising the transformational leadership style is a non threatening way of leading my department in the adoption of ICT for their own use which will help them become more confident in leading their learners to do the same. As my departments’s confidence in me as a leader increases, more changes will be made but I believe that it is important to first build relationships and earn respect.

The Future…

I would like to keep learning and growing as a leader. I see my department as being leaders in the school in the area of technology enabled pedagogy in the future. To make this happen I would like to develop into a leader that has “the capacity to translate this vision into reality.” (Warren Bennis) I would also like to complete the Masters of Applied Practice offered by Mindlab so that I can continue to learn and think about new ideas and technologies and how they can be applied in teaching and learning.


1. Enabling e-Learning, Professional Learning. Retrieved from:

2. Enabling e-Learning, Professional Learning. Retrieved from:

Posted in Criterion 2, Criterion 7, Mindlab reflections

The importance of Netiquette

Blogging and Twitter

When I was teaching at Orewa College we introduced Twitter and blogging to our learners. I began using Twitter with the intention of it being a back channel to ask questions in class. However, my learners were a little immature and were soon making silly comments about each other so I had to press pause and reflect on how to proceed. I put a stop to the in class use of Twitter as I was concerned about it getting out of hand and becoming a cyber-bullying issue. Blogging was introduced soon after and we realised that it would be a great way of publishing learning that could be shared with families, both local and overseas.  An integral part of blogging is commenting on blog posts so our learners needed guidance on how to do this positively. Often learners are not aware that they are cyber-bullying as they think that ‘everyone does it’. It was important to teach them that this was not normal or responsible behaviour.

The Code of Ethics for Certified Teachers explains that we should:

Teach and model those positive values which are widely accepted in society and encourage learners to apply them and critically appreciate their significance.

I realised that my learners would not be prepared for participating in a mature manner online if I did not teach them how to behave appropriately. I used the following slide show to teach them Netiquette. By explicitly teaching netiquette we were able to teach positive values that are good, not only for blogging, but for life in general.

     As a teacher, my responsibilities at Orewa College included:

     Maintaining a high standard of behaviour in the class, so that all students can access the Internet and use their devices safely and to the best advantage educationally.

    After teaching Netiquette, I saw an improvement in the online behaviour of my learners. Their interaction on twitter became more positive and the comments on their classmates’ blogs were in the form of a ‘compliment sandwich’. My learners enjoyed giving and receiving comments and the conversations created.

    Blogging and the whanau

    Some parents questioned the use of social media and we were able to explain the value of publishing learning on line. Our learners made more effort in creating quality posts when they knew they would possibly have a global audience. Reflecting on their learning was another valuable reason to blog and being able to comment positively and give feedback on each others’ blogs was also a positive. Many parents did not realise how social media could be used to enhance learning.

    We explained that Netiquette was taught as we were aware of our responsibility to “teach and model positive values” and to “maintain a high standard of behaviour in the class…” It was important to have the conversation with parents and to explain our reasons for doing this as they often did not understand the value of this style of social learning. Once they heard our reasons and saw their child’s blog they were mostly happy about it.

    When we had our parent evenings I was able to ask the parents whether they had seen their child’s blog or not. Most of the time they hadn’t so I was able to show them and then explain what learning had taken place. Every parent I spoke to loved seeing their child’s blog and was very positive about it.

    1. Code of ethics for certified teachers (n.d.) Retrieved from

    2. Responsible Use (2011) Retieved from

    Posted in Criterion 1, Criterion 2, Criterion 5, Criterion 7, Mindlab reflections

    Current Issues in my Professional Context

    Organisational Culture

    Whangaparaoa College caters for years 7-13 and has been in operation for 10 years. As part of their job application, our principals completed a Myers-Briggs personality test to ensure there was a balance of personality styles and skills. Recommendations from the Curriculum Stocktake (2002) were also considered, in particular, the review and refining of outcomes in essential learning areas. The principal at the time told everyone planning the curriculum to ‘chuck everything in the bin,’ metaphorically, and then plan based around themes. Once all the curriculum skills were chosen, they then asked what was crucial that was missing, added it in and ditched the rest.

    Hattie’s research was influential in the planning of the school. His identification of the teacher as one of the most important factors in successful learning guided the teacher selection. However, many did not want to teach junior classes only so it was a challenge to find the right staff.

    Academic Counselling is a key value. Learners spend one hour on a Wednesday with their Academic Counsellor. The focus for Term 1 was goal setting and in Term 2 the focus has been planning for the Learner Led Conferences happening in Week 10. Learners are asked to reflect on each subject with the guidance of the AC. They are then coached on how they will present this information to their family.

    The school motto Together, Believe, Achieve reflects the importance of relationships and learner achievement. Our principal, James Thomas, believes in encouraging an Atmosphere of expectation. Boundaries are important: the teacher/coach sets firm boundaries but is not an authoritarian, or a teacher with a laissez-faire style. Communication is valued in the sense that a message is not truly communicated until it has been received. Hattie (2003) found that principals “…who create a climate of psychological safety to learn, who create a focus of discussion on student learning have the influence.”


    My goal is to foster a positive, professional environment by role modelling the ABC and encouraging others to do the same. As I am a new HOL and new to the school, my priority is to build positive relationships with my department members. I have a vision for my department to be the leaders of the school in technology-enabled pedagogy but I am mindful of earning trust before mandating too much change.

    Changes in the Profession

    In the last few years Whangaparaoa College has been introducing BYOD to successive year levels. This has encouraged many teachers to reflect on their pedagogy and think about how they might incorporate the use of technology. The Teaching And Lead Learning group has been formed to address this challenge. I joined the TALL group this year and we have interviewed learners to find out what teachers are doing well and what could be improved. The results were then shared with staff by the learners. We are currently working collaboratively to create resources that will help teachers incorporate technology into their teaching practice.

    In the English department and we are addressing these changes by sharing ideas. Each meeting, someone will share an app or website and show how they have been using it. We have learnt about School A to Z, Zaption, Google Sites, LitCharts, WordPress and MindMups. My department members seem to be enjoying this and we have all tried something new this year.


    1. Hattie, J., 2003. Teachers Make a Difference: What is the research evidence? Retrieved from

    2. Recommendations from the curriculum stocktake. Retrieved from

    3. What Is Laissez-Faire Leadership? Retrieved from

    4. Thanks to James Thomas, Lisa White and Jason Pocock for answering my questions and providing useful information for this post.

    Posted in Criterion 1, Criterion 2, Criterion 5, Criterion 7, Mindlab reflections, Professional Development

    My Community of Practice

    “Communities of practice,” a term coined by Etienne Wenger, is explained as: “groups of people who share a concern or a passion or about a topic, and who deepen their knowledge and expertise in this area by interaction on an ongoing basis” (Wenger, McDermott & Snyder, 2002, p.4).

    Communities of practice interact and learn together.

    My COP is the English department at Whangaparaoa College. The purpose of my practice is to assist our learners to achieve. As a department, we regularly meet and discuss how we can help our learners by using E-Asttle and Kamar data to inform our discussion. We are also learning how to use technology effectively to enable our pedagogy. I contribute to my COP by facilitating workshops and discussions and encouraging others to share their ideas and experiences.

    The core values of Whangaparaoa College are:

    1. The high importance of learning
    2. Valuing the individual
    3. Challenging ourselves
    4. Giving of our best
    5. Respecting oneself, others, and the environment
    6. Being a safe and well managed school
    7.  The importance of strong and appropriate relationships
    8. The vital partnership of home and school

    Our learners are encouraged to value their learning by reflecting on each curriculum area regularly with their Academic Counsellor. Goals are set and plans are made and the AC encourages, guides and gives feedback. Each individual is valued and helped to achieve. Learners and staff are challenged to consider whether they are showing grit and working towards having a growth mindset. These ideas are discussed in Teacher Meetings and we discuss them with our learners.

    Being the best you can be and living your best life are ideas that I believe contribute to a successful life and I try to be a positive role model for my learners and my department. Respecting yourself by completing the tasks expected of you and encouraging others to do the same, is part of respecting others and the environment you are a part of. When learners and staff do this, the school is well on the way to becoming a safe and well managed environment and community.

    Positive relationships between staff and with learners is a key to success in learning.  As a new Head of Learning I am enjoying building these relationships. The relationships that I build with my learners is important as it helps to motivate reluctant learners. Relationships are integral for a partnership between home and school. Contact is made with home when a learner needs encouragement to complete their learning. Parents and caregivers are encouraged to attend the Learner Led Conferences.

    My specialist area of practice is as the HOL in the English department. The broader professional context is to facilitate the learning of our akonga. My role is to help the members of my team to do this to the best of their ability. One of the key theories that underpins this is being a reflective practitioner. One of the reflection tools that our principal encourages us to use is Rolfe’s iterative reflection: What? So what? Now what? This is a simple way of looking at a situation and deciding what needs to be done about it.

    Another reflection tool is the RISE model which asks a practitioner to Reflect, Inquire, Suggest and Evaluate. These models are both valuable in evaluating how we are meeting the Practising Teacher Criteria and also everyday situations. I am a regular reflective practitioner and I aim to encourage the members of my department to regularly reflect.


    1. Wenger, E. Introduction to communities of practise. Retrieved from


    3. Dawson, P. Reflective Practice. Retrieved from

    4. Wray, E. The RISE model for self evaluation. Retrieved from

    Posted in Criterion 10, Criterion 11, Criterion 12, Criterion 2, Criterion 3, Criterion 4, Criterion 6, Criterion 7, Criterion 8, Professional Development, Teaching As Inquiry

    Gamification and Assessment


    The research topic area that will be addressed is the impact of gamification on assessment results. In the reading that I have completed there is much evidence of improved engagement and motivation when game based learning and gamification are utilised in the classroom. “On the one side, experiment qualitative analysis suggests that gamification can have a great emotional and social impact on students, as reward systems and competitive social mechanisms seem to be motivating for them…” (Dominguez et al., 2013, p. 391). However, there is not much evidence to prove that these strategies improve higher order thinking. “…On the other hand, researchers have indicated that merely accessing learning content via playing games might not be sufficient to engage students in higher order thinking, such as analysis, evaluation, organization and creation.” (Hwang, G. J., Hung, C. M., & Chen, N. S., 2014, p. 130).

    I have a very weak year 9 English class who have written essays that have not gained many marks higher than Not Achieved or Achieved. Higher order thinking is necessary for higher grades. I am hoping that the use of the game, Classcraft, will help provide motivation to improve engagement and the effort required to improve essay results. Classcraft is a gamification website in which learners complete their learning in groups that are set up by the teacher. Each learner can set up their own profile and choose to be a Mage, a Healer or a Warrior.

    Points are rewarded based on the behaviours that the teacher wants to encourage. I have created a list based on the Key Competences and 21st Century skills.  In a study of the use of 1:1 devices to improve maths achievement it was found that, “…the use of 1:1 mobile devices showed promise to assist students in 21st-century learning skills…“ (Carr, 2011, p. 278).  One way of encouraging these skills is through gamification and rewarding their use with points. Points can be deducted for being late to class, not handing in an assignment and disrupting the class. Essentially Classcraft is a behaviour modification tool which extrinsically motivates learners to engage, work collaboratively and be motivated to learn. If getting a better result is about engagement, motivation and more effort then the use of Classcraft will be worthwhile. However, I have read that gamification is not successful for all learners, so it will be interesting to see whether it does lead to consistent engagement for all. “These good results don’t happen for everyone though… In some cases the system was even discouraging, as some students don’t find it fun to compete with their classmates for a rank in the leaderboard.” (Dominguez et al., 2013, p. 391).

    21st century skills graphic


    • How might the use of Classcraft increase engagement, motivation and lead to improved essay writing results?
    • How might extrinsic motivation lead to consistent engagement and improve the results of less motivated learners?


    • Tino Rangatiratanga: The Principle of Self Determination

    The skills rewarded in Classcraft that relate to this principle are persistence, managing self, and participating and contributing. These are the skills that are needed for self-determination and independence. Points will be rewarded for using initiative and learning independently.

    • Whanau: The Principle of Extended Family Structure

    Classcraft encourages family involvement by providing a parent code for each learner so that the whanau can see how well their young person is doing. The data and evidence will also be shared with the whanau and they will be invited to respond and share any feedback they may have.

    • Ata: The Principle of Growing Respectful Relationships

    Learners will play Classcraft in teams which will require respect, effort and energy, and discipline. Points will be rewarded for interacting positively with others and collaborating effectively.

    • Mahi Kotahitanga: Co-operation

    Learners will co-operate and consider each other as they learn and play. Points will be rewarded for participating and contributing, interacting positively with others and collaborating effectively.

    • Ngakau Mahaki: Respect

    This is a core value of Whangaparaoa College where learners are expected to respect themselves, each other and the environment. Points will be rewarded for respecting and understanding cultural diversity.


    The communities that I will be engaging with in this project are my Year 9 learners, the staff in my department, and the whanau.   It is hoped that my Year 9 learners will see this as fun and therefore want to put in more effort to gain points and level up. They are mostly quite weak learners whom I have had difficulty engaging and motivating, especially with using their devices. They have mostly preferred to use pen and paper and a few learners did not bring their devices to school until they could see that many of their classmates were enjoying making websites to showcase their learning. From previous experience at Orewa College, I know that using devices is a key to better quality writing, especially among less able learners as they do not see it as such a chore and happily write 500 words in an essay where previously they struggled to write 200 words on pen and paper.  It is hoped that by teaching these learners to become more confident in using their devices effectively by participating in Classcraft,  that this will lead to better quality writing.

    Secondly, I will also keep the staff in my department informed about what we are doing in the hope that if this is successful they may adopt Classcraft as a strategy to help their learners.  Many of my department have had limited experience with using technology to enable their pedagogy but they are mostly interested in how to do this. Showing improved results and the results of a Learner Attitude survey at a Curriculum meeting will help to prove the validity of gamification to those members of the department that are sceptical. I will invite those that are interested to come and watch how I use Classcraft with my learners.

    Thirdly, Classcraft has a parent code for each participant so those parents who are interested will be able to see the progress of their son/daughter and encourage them in the game. This will enable parents to see firsthand what we are doing in class so that they don’t think we are playing games that don’t add value to learning.


    I have data from the essays that were written in Term 1 which I will compare with the results from the essays written in Term 2. This data will show whether there has been improvement or not. I will observe my class and their interactions with the each other to see if they are talking about their learning, gaining points and taking steps to gain those points. During the term I will ask my class to complete a Google Form which surveys their attitudes to Classcraft and their learning in this manner.


    I discussed this project with Lisa White, one of our Deputy Principals, and explained it to her and then asked for her opinion. Check out the video of her response:

    One of the things Lisa suggested was to have points rewarded for progress along the way and the final product at the end so I have added in 3 new categories for receiving points. I think this is a good idea and I have made the point value quite high so that my less motivated learners will think that the task is worthwhile.

    Lisa also suggested asking a group of learners their opinion on my plan. I haven’t done this as I had already started the game before our discussion but this is something that I will do in the future. However, I will ask them about the kinds of rewards and prizes they would like though as I do value their voice and would like them to take ownership with me.

    I asked Lisa whether she thought other teachers might be interested in implementing Classcraft and she offered some useful ideas on how to share what I will do. Sharing what I am doing and the results from it will be the best strategy as having some examples and proof of effectiveness would be more convincing than just saying that learners are engaged.

    The issue of learners doing the bare minimum to get points and not necessarily doing the required learning was something that I had not thought about so having this feedback from Lisa helped me think about ways to prevent this. Her idea of rewarding milestones along the way is one that I will implement.


    The potential impact of the inclusion of Classcraft with my Year 9 class is that their essay writing results will improve through the extrinsic motivation of gamification because they will be rewarded for skills such as TRUMP, collaboration, problem solving, innovation, adaptability and other 21st Century skills. This will hopefully ingrain these skills into their mode of operating and will be carried over into all aspects of their learning in other curriculum areas. I believe that TRUMP and 21st Skills are essential skills for a successful career and life.

    Screen Shot 2016-04-29 at 1.38.16 PM

    I am excited about this because I have been looking for a away to reward these skills for some time now and Classcraft seems to be a great vehicle for this. If the use of Classcraft is successful with my Year 9 learners then I will consider using it in my other classes. I’m not sure whether it will be as effective with senior classes as it seems to be aimed at younger learners but I could try it and see.

    If this inquiry is successful it could be used by many other teachers to encourage and reward TRUMP and 21st century skills which are important for our learners’ futures as many report that the jobs our learners will do haven’t been created yet. Therefore, having these skills and being able to adapt to future environments is of utmost importance.


    • Assessing the relevance of my project

    To assess the relevance of my project I will discuss it with Lisa White, one of our Deputy Principals, to gain feedback on what she thinks will benefit our learners and what other aspects I need to consider. I will also discuss it with members of my department to explain what I am doing and to get their feedback on how they think it will work.

    • Gathering the data/evidence

    I will record the results from 2 essays that will be written in Term 2. These results will be compared with the Term 1 results to see whether improvement has been made. A survey of learner attitudes to using Classcraft will be completed using a Google Form and I will used the chart making part of this app to collate the data. I want to find out whether my learners found Classcraft enjoyable, helpful and motivating. This should show me whether there were any learners who did not find it engaging and motivating and the reasons why.

    • Sharing the data/evidence with relevant parties

    Once my Year 9’s have completed 2 essays I will compare the results to the Term 1 essay results and then share this data with my class. The purpose of this will be to show them their improved results and explain how Classcraft was instrumental in helping them to gain these improved results. I will explain that TRUMP and 21st century skills are essential for success and tell them that these are the skills they were rewarded for. Because they demonstrated these skills, their results were improved.

    The results and the data from the learner survey will also be shared with my department and Lisa White so that they are able to see the success of Classcraft in improving learner engagement, motivation and essay writing results. This may inspire them to try Classcraft with their own learners. Results and data could also be shared with parents in an email which would explain the whole inquiry. I would invite their feedback to reflect upon and consider for future use of Classcraft.


    1. Smith, G.H. (1990) Principles of Kaupapa Maori. Retrieved from
    2. Te Noho Kotahitanga (n.d.) Retreived from
    3. Carr, J. M. (2011). Does Math Achievement. Journal of Information Technology Education: Research, 11, 269–286. Retrieved from
    4. Dominguez, A., Saenz-De-Navarrete, J., De-Marcos, L., Fernandez-Sanz, L., Pages, C., & Martinez-Herraiz, J. J. (2013). Gamifying learning experiences: Practical implications and outcomes. Computers and Education, 63, 380–392.
    5. Hwang, G. J., Hung, C. M., & Chen, N. S. (2014). Improving learning achievements, motivations and problem-solving skills through a peer assessment-based game development approach. Educational Technology Research and Development, 62(2), 129–145.
    6. VG Business (2010) Amazing Statistics. Retrieved from:
    Posted in Criterion 11, Criterion 2, Criterion 7

    Engaging with variety

    Yesterday we had a teacher only day at Whangaparaoa College where we had guest speakers Steve Kent and Danielle McKenzie,  Olympians who talked candidly about goal setting and their experiences of achieving and failing. It was good to hear that these amazing achievers had experienced failure but had learnt from these experiences. They talked about setting smaller goals which they could achieve in a smaller time frame. They also explained that if they failed it was important to evaluate what had worked, what didn’t and then set another goal. I enjoyed hearing about what they had learnt and how they had moved on from failure.

    Our learners also presented, in a variety of ways, some research that had been done within the school about what teachers were doing well and what did not work for learners. They presented this in 2 role plays which were very entertaining and  challenging as well. One role play showed a class sitting in groups with a teacher who began the class with a video, and then explained an activity for the class to do. While learners were completing the activity, she roamed around the class chatting with learners and answering questions and checking what they were doing.

    The other role play saw the learners seated in rows and the class begin with a teacher droning on and on (very funny). He then sat behind his desk to read a book while the class worked from textbooks. Before long, a couple of learners began fighting so he yelled at them and sent them off to the Deans.

    Another way of presenting information was through the use of a Powtoon video and a video of interviews with several learners. I really enjoyed the variety of presentations which brought to life the data that had been gathered in a fun and entertaining way.

    It got me thinking, what I learnt was that our young people enjoy variety in the classroom. They prefer a range of activities and ways of presenting information. It was the learners who had brainstormed how they were going to present the data we had and it showed us all the ways that many of them like to learn or be engaged.


    What I am going to try is starting class with a video of something that is relevant to the learning. This could be a My Talking Avatar presentation to introduce a unit of learning, a director speaking about a film we are studying or a news item about an issue in a text. After a class discussion on what we have seen, I will explain the activity for the lesson and then let my learners get started. I’ll roam the class and answer questions etc. In the last 10 minutes of the lesson, we can play a game or do a quiz that is relevant to the activity.

    I know that this won’t always work for every lesson but it is something that I want to try to see if it is a successful formula. My goal is to engage and motivate as many learners as I can through this structure. I feel nervous saying this because formulas don’t always work in teaching but it is important to set the goal and see whether it is achievable. If not, I will have learnt some important lessons and I can evaluate what worked and what didn’t and make another goal.



    Posted in Criterion 4, Criterion 5, Criterion 7

    New, new, new!

    This year I started a new role as Head of Learning in a new school (Whangaparaoa College) and the learning curve has been pretty steep. I also got a new car so that accounts for the third new in the title!

    Some things that I have learnt:

    1. Ordering and books and stationery can be quite a drawn out process with lots of opportunity for mistakes to be made. Apparently this is not normal, according to another HOL. I did end up with a present from the stationery company to apologise though so it’s not all bad!

    2. Confidence in yourself is key. My previous principal told me this and she was not wrong, when you feel unsure keep acting as though you know exactly what you’re doing. Fake it until you make it.

    3. The legacy left by a previous HOL can be a blessing and a curse. One teacher’s timetable was arranged to include facilitating a weekly online reading programme from an American company for 3 other teachers’ year 9 classes. Because of this we were obliged to sign up and complete professional development with this company. It has not been a positive experience and we are locked in for the rest of the year.

    Challenging Things I have had to deal with:
    1. Death of a respected and admired friend and colleague.

    2. Okaying attendance to a conference for 2 members of the department and then being told by senior management that it would eat up most of my PD budget so they couldn’t go. Then I had to break the bad news!

    3. Dealing with conflicting opinions and advice on extensions and submission processes. I also had to adapt to a different philosophy surrounding this which goes against what I believe and is different to what I was used to.

    4. Having pre-teaching meetings for assessments and agreeing on how the assessment would be delivered and then some teachers doing something different. People will be people.

    New tasks as an HOL:

    1. Checking that each course is correctly loaded onto the SMS (Kamar). This is still a work in progress as we adapt and change to better suit our learners’ needs.

    2.  Reflecting on the previous year’s results. Fortunately, I was not expected to write a report about this but instead had a discussion with my principal about my impressions so far.

    3. Connecting with department members regularly, listening and empathising, supporting them with difficult learners.

    4. Facilitating Curriculum meetings. I have previously always dreaded these meetings (sorry Meryl 🤓) but I have really enjoyed them this year. It has been great to watch other teachers share apps and websites and how they are using them with their learners. I also like being in charge so I can be the one to move things along, if needed.

    5. Analysing data and drawing conclusions – Asttle and  senior assessment results. This always used to give me cold shivers down my spine but over the last few years I have begun to appreciate the significance of data and how it can inform better practice.

    6. Ordering books and stationery. Enough said on that one!

    Help and support:

    1. Meeting on a weekly basis with DP. This has been really helpful as I can ask stupid questions and get plenty of ideas on how to answer them. Another relatively new HOL meets with us too so it is good to have another perspective.

    2. My colleagues in the English department. Everyone has been super supportive and encouraging. They are a great bunch of people who I’m looking forward to getting to know better.

    3. The staff councillor. This lovely lady took me out for a coffee when she could see that I was struggling and helped me to see what I was doing well. This really helped my confidence.

    4. Friends and family praying for me. Knowing that people are rooting for me and have my back is a great support.

    Fun things:
    1. Using Facebook to source some free furniture for our foyer area and then going on a mission to pick it up. The foyer in our department was looking a bit bare so we put the word out on Facebook and had offers of free furniture within 24 hours. 4 of us got into the school van with a trailer in tow and cruised around and picked it all up after school one day. Such fun!

    2. Having a shared morning tea every Friday. This makes Fridays bearable, having a big feed of cheese and crackers gets you through the day.

    3. Singing a note of opera. This came about because I was helping one of my learners one day and I told him of he needed some more help just to sing a note of opera. He looked at me questioningly so I demonstrated what I meant. He thought I was a bit mad! I told the department at lunch one day and it became a thing.

    So, it has been a steep learning curve this term and I know I’m only part way up the mountain. But I’m having fun and enjoying the climb.

    Posted in Criterion 2, Criterion 4, Criterion 7, Personal TAI, Professional Development

    Fun with Furnware

    2 years ago I was fortunate enough to be able to choose some Furnware for my classroom. I chose green and orange tables, a white board table, a ‘hairdresser’ chair and 6 red, yellow and green splats. I arranged the furniture to reflect Thornburg’s theory of watering holes, caves and campfires to investigate how this theory would work in my class.
    The first time that I let a class into the room I was nervous that they would fight over the splats or the whiteboard table and considered implementing a seating plan. After discussion with colleagues I decided to just see what would happen and was pleasantly surprised. My students walked in and after a few “Wows!” and “This is cool”‘s, they found their preferred seating and sat.



    I found that my year 10 classes couldn’t wait for the watering hole part of the lesson to finish so that they could work in groups or by themselves. I had a couple of students who regularly used the cave area to work quietly by themselves. Most of the class loved working in campfire groups and enjoyed all of the different types of furniture. Quite a few also lay on the carpeted floor and worked. The relaxed environment did not adversely affect their engagement but enhanced it.

    The result of having new furniture has been happier students who sometimes rush into the class so that can get the seat that they want. The colours and styles of furniture have created a positive atmosphere which is a great platform for any lesson. I have found that colour and variety play a big part in encouraging motivation and creativity. 



    For students using pen and paper the splats, beanbags and couches were not so helpful.  My year 13 class, who were not expected to have a device, chose to sit at the tables instead of on the couches and splats. I asked them why they did this and one student summed up most of their responses by saying that it was easier to use pen and paper, if they had devices they would probably sit in the more relaxed seating. With a smaller class this is not a problem as there is enough table space.

    I also found that it was difficult to check the work of students in the cave area as they backed themselves into the corner of the room which made it a challenge to sit with them or behind them and comment on their work.



    When I first got the furniture I had several incidents where students who were walking past my class poked their heads in and commented on how cool the furniture was and asked why other classes weren’t the same. It is clear to me that students love the colours and the variety of furniture. One student said that the colours made her feel happy!  I found a great article about how colours can affect learning; orange helps stimulate critical thinking and memory, green is relaxing, yellow in small amounts can make us feel happy and red can improve performance and focus. Furnware have also conducted their own research which is well worth a read.



    Having a class of Furnware means that the class can no longer be used for examinations or formal tests as the environment is too informal and cannot be arranged into exam formation. So if the whole school were to get Furnware there would be a few logistical problems but maybe exams will look different by that stage.


    Posted in Criterion 11, Criterion 2, Criterion 7, Criterion 8, Personal TAI, Student Achievement Analysis

    Personalised Revision

    The Revision Plan

    This year for revision for my middle school classes I created a revision multitouch book with text notes, essay writing instructions, and activities. Each activity is labelled with the level of thinking required – gathering, processing or applying.

    The goal was for students to choose what they would like to work on each period and my role was to check their work, give feedback and answer questions. This means their revision was personalised and they revised what they needed to revise not what I thought the whole class should have done each period.

    Once introduced, students spent most of the first lesson looking through the book and then selecting which activities they would do. Many students didn’t really understand that they were in charge of their learning so I had to explain it again to those who were struggling with the concept.

    I woke in the middle of one night and had a small inspiration to extend some of my students – as you do! Many of my students have Macbooks so I thought that they could create their own personalised multitouch revision books. I wrote the task the next day and students now have the option of doing this if they want to. It’s all about personalisation and choice!


    At the end of the second lesson I noticed that some students were spending a lot of time completing the gathering activities but not moving on to the hard graft of essay planning and writing. To deal with this I challenged the class to write one essay per week in the 4 weeks before the exam.  When and where they wrote each essay was up to them but every Tuesday I would be looking for essays to mark and give feedback on. The reactions on their faces was priceless! Shock and horror! But I told them that they would thank me when they got their exam results.

    Once students had chosen their tasks and started working through them,they came into class and simply got on with their revision without any prompting from me. Each period I zoomed around the class on my roller chair and checked in with each student to see what they were working on and answered any questions.

    Exam Results 

    Year 10 Extension 2014/15 Comparison

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    It is particularly pleasing to see the number of Excellences for the visual text almost double with this class because I tried a new way of teaching. Check out my blog post about this process.

    The number of Excellences increased for the written text also but not to the same extent. We did PBL for our study of The Tempest and also a performance of the play so inquiry based learning definitely played a part in the results being good for this unit of work.

    Year 10 2014/15 Comparison

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    The visual text results for my mainstream class were slightly worse than last year’s. I think this is because the unit of work was not inquiry based but instead involved a list of tasks to work through. I did this because the class needed more structure. Students were able to work at their own pace with me as the ‘guide on the side’ but I would not do this again next year. I will go back to the PBL task that I used last year but provide more structure and feedback.

    The written text results were slightly better this year with a slight increase in Merits and Excellences. This year the class completed a Solo/Gardner’s learning matrix which they were very engaged with whereas last year’s class completed a PBL without the matrix.

    Students Reflections

    I handed the class back their exam results and then asked them to reflect by answering these questions:


    Reflecting on these questions helped students to see what they need to do to improve for NCEA next year. It also helped reinforce the connection between robust revision and good results.

    I also asked them to say whether they thought they had received enough support from me while revising. Most replied that they did have enough support apart from one student who said that she did have some support but not the kind of support that she needed. She wanted me to explain how to write an essay in detail to the class. She also said that not everyone learns the same way and that she wished that I had taught essay writing instead of just having powerpoints to follow in the iBook.

    I think that she makes a fair point and I could offer essay writing tutorials to small groups in class time, if needed. I have done this in the past but forgot to do it through this process.

    Final Thoughts

    The results from my extension class prove that giving students agency to complete inquiry based learning does improve results! Having them create knowledge to demonstrate their understanding of content was a successful experiment that I will repeat again.

    I have discovered that, with a ‘normal’ class, PBL needs to be combined with the structure of a learning matrix. This helps students to stay focussed and engaged but they are still able to have some agency in their learning and create knowledge also.

    As Mark Osborne says,

    “…sustained higher achievement is possible when teachers use pedagogical approaches that enable students to take charge of their own learning. Such approaches do not leave students ‘to discover’ in an unstructured environment. Rather, they are highly structured in supporting student agency and sustained thoughtful engagement.”