Connect and

As I gear up for another year at the coalface, I’ve been looking at the digital tools I have at my disposal, and the best way to use them.  For the past four or five years, I have had a class website – – where I have tried to keep all lessons, daily work pads, programs, parent correspondence and items of interest to the students in one place.  In recent years, I moved away from online platforms such as Edmodo, and incorporated my own online testing and social media aspects into the website as well, combining these with each student’s school Google account.

With Connect now up and running (and with new features being added regularly), I’m looking to scale back my use of and move things over to the Connect portal, for a number of reasons:

  • students have an email address that they will take with them to high school, or any WA public school for that matter
  • There is no grey area for student data storage – it is being kept and maintained by my employers
  • The in-built assessment and records module looks flexible enough for my needs (although it will be a step backwards form my current arrangements, it makes sense to use what the Department is offering)
  • In my communications with e-Schooling, they outlined their reasons for teachers to not make use of class blogging systems (e.g. data storage concerns, security issues, overseas hosting)

Last year, I used Connect as a trial – in addition to my use of a class website.  I had one SIS class set up, with all subject areas within it.  It became very messy, very quickly.

This year, I will be setting up multiple classes – English, Mathematics, HASS and Other (Science is taught by a specialist in my school, otherwise I would have had a separate one for that too).  I will still be using to host my developed lessons, however (I enjoy having more control over formatting and linking of videos, PowerPoints etc).  My daily work pad and programs are also available for any parent (or student) to view there, and I will be using it as a “home base” for links to any cloud based learning for my students (Quizlet, Khan Academy, Reading Eggspress, etc).

Parent communication remains an unknown at this stage – parent access to Connect can only be unlocked for a whole school, not class by class, so there needs to be a conversation at our school before that can happen.  If it doesn’t, then I’ll have to think about how I want to keep my parents best informed as to their child’s up-to-date progress.

In previous years, I have provided my students with an email account through our school’s Google Apps account, and used the Google Drive function regularly for collaborative documents and chat sessions.  This year, I will expect my students to correspond using their emails that they have access to through Connect, but I will also set up Google accounts using the same username as their Connect account, so we can still access Drive, and students can also still use their Google accounts to log into third-party websites such as Khan Academy and Quizlet.  I will not be utilising the school email system this year, as a result.

Finally, in previous years my students have run electronic portfolios as part of  With the Department frowning upon this practice, I’ve decided to scale this right back this year.  I’ve developed other programs to run which still target the Information and Media Arts aspects of the curriculum to take its place, and I will tinker with some different options for ensuring student reflection and feedback is maximised.

All in all, I’m looking forward to implementing Connect much deeper into my classroom philosophy, despite some compromises having to be made to the workflow I have developed over the past few years.

Bring on 2015!

iPads: Fixed or Flexible Timetables?

I’m going to use a really dodgy analogy to express my point of view today.  I’m a big believer in flexible timetables over fixed timetables in schools with regard to technology.  And here’s my reasoning, outlined in two corresponding stories:

Our school purchased a class set of iPads during the Christmas break.  They were good ones – pretty expensive, and whizz-bang compared to what we had in our classrooms already.

The first thing we had to do was work out how to use the things – they had plenty of apps and “extra features”, so we planned a couple of lessons around the devices.  Our iMovie editing of Halloween pumpkin carving, our Explain Everything multimedia presentations of the benefits of sheep dips and farming practices, and the Book Creator social stories about strawberry allergies were great ways to learn how to use the iPads!

Once we were comfortable with their use, and could see their potential in future learning journeys, we finished our experimentation and went back to planning our lessons based around our students’ needs and wants.  Last week, we studied the process of farming broccoli, and the students created an interactive flowchart using the iPads.  Just yesterday, we watched a video on live cattle transportation, and students practiced their note taking skills.  We didn’t use the iPads.

What we didn’t do was say, “every Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, we have to use the iPads.”

We used the iPads when they were the best tool for the job.


My wife and I bought a new blender during the Christmas break. It was a good one – pretty expensive, and whizz-bang compared to what we had in our kitchen already.

The first thing we had to do was work out how to use the thing – it had lots of buttons and “extra features”, so we planned a couple of meals around the appliance.  Our pumpkin soup, our cashew and parmesan dip and the strawberry smoothies were delicious!

Once we were comfortable with its use, and could see its potential in future meal creations, we finished our experimentation and went back to planning our meals based around our needs and wants.  Last week, we needed to use up the broccoli from the fridge, felt like broccoli soup, so we used the blender.  Just yesterday, we bought some great rib-eye steak, so we used the barbecue to create our culinary feast.  We did not use the blender.

What we didn’t do was say, “every Tuesday and Thursday night, we have to use the blender.”

We used the blender when it was the best tool for the job.






Extending Google Drive for the Classroom

Over the last few years, I’ve experimented with a variety of ways for my students to submit their work online for marking. Most have revolved around the use of Google Docs / Google Drive, but I have dabbled with Schoology, Edmodo and Turn It In. At the end of the day, I’ve always gone back to Google Drive, since I already have emails set up for students.

However, one of the big bugbears with using Google Drive has been the sharing of files aspect. Usually, I share a file, ask my students to make a copy for themselves, edit it, rename it, and share it with me. Students being students, any one of these steps missed stopped the workflow. Forget to make a copy – students edit the master for everyone! Forget to rename it – I have 30 documents all with the same name, causing a nuisance in my drive. Share it with me – there’s nothing like sitting down to an evening of marking and finding three students haven’t shared it, or have only given me view rights. Aaaargghh!While I’m not intending to go “paperless” as such in my classroom, I do want to use Google Drive as much as possible for the submission of work. So I did some digging, and I think I’ve hit some gold!

In short, I’ve found some great Google Drive scripts that seem to do most of the heavy lifting for me. The following descriptions come from the respective websites:

  • gClassFolders – a free, Google-Spreadsheet-based add-on for Google Apps for EDU that creates class folders for students and teachers to simplify and streamline their experience of using Google’s world class productivity and collaboration tools in the classroom.
  • Doctopus –  gives teachers the ability to auto-generate, pre-share, and manage grading and feedback on templated Docs for group and individual projects.  The script allows teachers to harness all the awesomeness, ubiquitous access, and collaborative authoring power made possible by Google Docs without creating a document management nightmare.  It enables improved workflows for sharing and organizing with students, as well as tracking progress and providing feedback.
  • Goobric – allows for rubric-based grading of Google Drive resources (Documents, Presentations, Spreadsheets, Folders, etc.) and –currently– only works with resources created via the Doctopus Script for teachers
  • Kaizena – giving voice feedback is faster with Kaizena than a word processor, and far faster than red pen. Every feature is designed to save you time, because fast feedback is high quality feedback.

So far, I’ve used gClassFolders to set up all my students’ dropboxes, and it worked like a dream.

The following YouTube tutorials and Google Hangout webinar were very useful to me in learning more about these. I’m looking forward to implementing these for my students this year!

Using Visible Learning in my classroom

My journey to become a better teacher has coincided with my discovery of John Hattie’s Visible Learning principles, and I thought I’d record how my introspective reflection has led to my use of effect size, SOLO Taxonomy and visible learning mantra within my classroom.

My journey began four years ago, with a simple student survey of my teaching habits.
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The previous year, I’d moved from Fitzroy Crossing DHS to Goollelal – from a remote aboriginal community school, to a “leafy green” metro school – and through an analysis of my repertoire of teaching strategies, geared towards engaging weaker, disengaged indigenous students, I identified that there were aspects of my teaching that needed to change.

I have always encouraged my students to be critical of my teaching habits.  The simple student survey I conducted was a reflective PMI towards the end of 2009.  It suggested I wasn’t providing feedback quickly enough for my students’ liking.  Although we negotiated suitable timeframes and guidelines at the time, I began to research the techniques and methodology that other highly effective teachers use.

I began engaging with colleagues in professional discussions – both within my school and utilising my online Twitter network –  and was given a range of starting points – one of which was the research of John Hattie. After reading John Hattie’s Visible Learning, and more recently, Visible Learning for Teachers books, I began applying some of the key recommendations to my own teaching – such as identifying the importance of self-grading and making explicit learning intentions.

If you are unfamiliar with John Hattie, he is an educational researcher from New Zealand who has spent the last few decades examining as many studies into learning as he can.  Based on his meta-analysis of over 60,000 studies, he has developed a quantifiable list of influential factors on a child’s learning.

When you look at the three main recommendations that come out of his analysis – making learning goals transparent for the student, making the criteria for success explicit, and providing explicit feedback about student progress – you get an idea of why his reasoning for maximising impact on learning has been labelled Visible Learning – it’s all about making the journey for success as visible as possible for the student.

So I integrated the concept of SOLO Taxonomy and its explicit nature of expressing success criteria into my teaching and learning programs, and worked with my students to help them identify what was required for their learning, and what success would look like.
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After attending a professional development presented by John Hattie on Visible Learning, I adapted what I had seen of the  New Zealand asTTle student feedback system, to meet my own requirements of my own feedback model for my students, providing them with an overview of gaps in learning and strengths and also providing them with individualised, explicit feedback sheets which they use to identify for themselves areas they need to focus on. The examples here come from pre-testing:Screen Shot 2013-10-27 at 12.09.57 am.

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I utilised Hattie’s effect size measurements to measure the effectiveness of my teaching practices across all areas, using the data I gathered to refine my teaching style into one which I believe is highly effective.

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If you are unfamiliar with effect sizes, it is a measure of learning growth over a period of time, with the salient message being that if we as teachers are to make a difference with our teaching , we need to set our student learning targets at an effect size of 0.40 or better over the course of one year or a unit of work. This is a fairly simplistic summary of effect sizes – I thoroughly recommend reading Hattie’s Visible Learning for Teachers.  Some light bed-time reading!

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Using the SEN Tool

I was fortunate enough to recently take part in a professional development session to use the Students with Educational Needs Tool (SEN Tool – found in the DoEWA Portal under Reporting to Parents), run by the SEN Autism team.

It allows teachers to develop Individual (and Group) Education Plans for their students using standardised objectives – meaning they can be transferred easily from school to school when a student’s Integris data is transferred.  The ease of its use, the professional look of the resulting document, and the ability to use it for reviewing and developing alternate reporting processes for those students for whom the mainstream formal reports are inappropriate makes it an amazing tool… and yet I can find very few cases of it being used in schools!


This week, we rolled it out across our school.  Having added all bar one of my IEPs to the system last term, I demonstrated the ease of adding an IEP to the system for the staff by using my remaining one.  Teachers were then given the opportunity to work together within the library lab setting to add their own IEPs – across the course of the afternoon, our school can now boast to not only having all IEPs up-to-date, but also using clear learning intentions and objectives that should be transferrable across all schools (they are based on Australian Curriculum for literacy and numeracy, and the K-10 Syllabus for Health).

The power of the process comes in the reporting, however.  The ability to go into the Reporting to Parents interface, change the drop down menu from K-10 Curriculum to SEN, and then report on the progress of the IEP for each student is a clear, accountable way for teachers to demonstrate they are catering for all students within their class.

If you are in a Western Australian government school, I recommend you check it out:
Learn more

Just as a side note, working with the kindy and pre-primary teachers, we have come up with a way of also using the SEN Tool to create a formal report that looks similar to the Years 1 to 7 reports, but without fiddling with Word Templates, and also being able to maintain a permanent record – and yet allowing the teachers to report against some of the fine-grain points from the Foundation level curriculum.

How to Address the Australian Curriculum in Composite Classes?

With our school moving across to the Australian Curriculum next year in terms of formal reporting, the question arose about how to tackle composite classes and the year-level specific content – mainly in the Science and History areas.

There seems to be little in the way of guidelines from the WA Education Department (and a conversation between our Principal and head office didn’t clear up too much apart from some very general, sweeping statements about “making it work”), so it seems it really is up to individual schools to plan effectively. With the old Schedule A policy, schools were required to formally report on each outcome at least once every two years. This meant a rotation of Science topics over a two-year period – 2010 could have been Earth & Beyond and Energy & Change, and 2011 Life & Living and Natural and Processed Materials. The Australian Curriculum requires all four content areas to be reported on each year – effectively one each term instead of one each semester. The first question asked was, “If we have a Year 4/5 class, do we teach all of the Year 4 and all of the Year 5 content?”

A/B Rotation

Suggestion 1 was to work off an A/B rotation – in even years (i.e. 2012, 2014, 2016 etc), all classes work towards the even year-level content (Yr 2, Yr 4, Yr 6), and in odd years the odd year-level content.  On the face of it, this seems a good solution… until you start digging in and providing scenarios.  There is every likelihood that Jimmy, a Year 2 student in a Year 2/3 class, will learn the Year 3 curriculum on 2013, having learned the Year 1 outcomes on 2012.  In 2014, as Jimmy enters Year 3, and is placed in a Year 3/4 class, he now focusses on the Year 4 content… missing the Year 2 content all together.  End of the world? Maybe not, but certainly not the clean solution that some suggest. Another scenario sees young Alice enter a straight Year 1 class in 2014 and learn the Year 2 content.  In a straight Year 2 class in 2015, she learns to Year 1 content she missed the previous year. Come 2016, Alice is placed into a Year 2/3 class as a Year 3… and learns the Year 2 content she covered in Year 1! All of this A/B concept works perfectly if students remain in the same classes, streamed through primary school.  However, the reality is that composite classes are usually formed out of numerical necessity, and throwing another constraint into class structuring would be a logistical nightmare for administration.

History Key Ideas

Having had discussions at a school level, and reading documentation from other states’ education departments (such as South Australia’s), we decided to take the approach in History of creating composite-class guidelines by focussing on the key ideas of the Historical Knowledge and Understandings. Linking key ideas from (for example) Year 4 and Year 5 allows for a guideline for a Year 4/5 teacher to follow.  History outcomes are still broad enough to allow teachers to choose their own topics and directions to take in delivering content, and the document we have produced will hopefully help us to see the connections that are to be made between year level outcomes. This should ensure that the key concepts are still covered, regardless of whether students are in a straight class or a composite class.  All other skills strands and aspects of the History learning area can still be used as a way of differentiating expectations between different students, and links therefore do not need to be made.

Download a PDF of our draft planning document

Our History document is still in draft form at the moment, and composite statements are yet to be fully discussed and ratified by our staff for 2013, but I feel it is a good start for teachers of our composite classes to begin planning around how to best deliver and cater for both year levels. We’re still discussing Science as a staff – the outcome statements appear to be a little more independent of each other as compared to History, and require more thought.

feature image source: dakardus @ deviantART

Linking Assessment with Reporting to Parents

A recent staff meeting discussion got me thinking about how teachers link their assessment to their formal reports.

With a mind to reporting time, staff were questioning the current Department of Education guidelines regarding the allocation of A to E grades. There were quite a range of opinions floated:
[quote]…an A is given to students who are working two years above current year level.

…an A is given to students who are working one year above current year level.

…an A is given to students who are achieving well above their current year level[/quote] It really hit home a couple of points for me: firstly, teachers really should be all on the same page with reporting, and have a clear understanding of what each of the A to E grades looks like; secondly, thanks to the numerous exemplars and descriptors about what a “C Grade descriptor” looks like, there is little in the way of what a B or an A looks like (discounting isolated exemplars, which while extremely useful for quantifying grades, only give you very small snapshots of the curricula).

Outcomes for Assessment (2006)

One of my first Assessment Profiles – based on the levelled Outcomes and Standards Framework from 2006

Academic Profile (2009)

Outcomes for Assessment Map 2009

For me, it’s really important that there is a seamless transition from my assessment to my records and then on to my grade allocation.  I want to be able to sit down already knowing where my students sit, and have the evidence to back it up without having to explain complex marking systems or the like to parents who enquire.  Being a primary teacher, I use a criteria-based assessment to judge my students.  I have tried adapting criteria-based assessment to numerical methods in the past (mainly to force my square-peg method into the round-hole solutions of Edmodo or spreadsheet record-keeping), but always end up drifting back to what works best for me – a document for each student which lists the outcomes, and allows me to record when and how often they demonstrate their understanding of these outcomes.

Getting back to the staff meeting conversation… I began to reflect on my understanding of grade allocation.  Three years ago, when I was team-teaching with a colleague in a Year 6/7 class, I redeveloped my assessment techniques to produce an “Outcomes for Assessment” document so we were both on the same page with assessment.  It followed the reporting guidelines at the time – students working AT their year level were a “C”, students working in aspects of the year above were a “B”, students demonstrating success in all (or most) of the year above were an “A”.  My document outlined the outcomes necessary for each student both above and beyond their year level (eg a Year 7 student would have Year 6, 7 and 8 outcomes listed), so I could record achievement of At, Above and if necessary, below so I could demonstrate where a student was sitting and what they needed to do to move forward.

It worked, and I was happy.  Come reporting time, my document showed very clearly which students were at a Year 7 level, and which students were above and below.  And I hadn’t really changed in in three years except to re-create it to reflect the Australian Curriculum outcomes for English, Maths, Science and History.  I even adapted one for the draft Geography outcomes just to see how it fit.

So, heading to the DOE Curriculum Support page, I was a little shocked to see that I sat in the “wrong” corner of my grade allocation thinking.  I felt a little cheated… why hadn’t anyone told me!!! More to to point, why hadn’t I kept abreast with things and checked more regularly to see if what I was doing was correct? My bad.  This document was updated in May 2012, so I actually missed the boat for last semester’s reports…

Department of Education Grade Descriptors

A  – Excellent
The student demonstrates achievement that has greatly exceeded the expected standard. Their achievement is well beyond what is expected at this year level.

B – Good
The student demonstrates achievement that exceeds the expected standard.

C – Satisfactory
The student demonstrates achievement at the expected standard. The student is able to progress to the next level of learning.

D – Limited
The student demonstrates achievement below the expected standard. The student demonstrates a quality of learning that is adequate for progression but will still need additional support or assistance to progress.

E – Very Low
The student demonstrates achievement below the minimum acceptable for this year level.

And more to the point, this extract from the Frequently Asked Questions section:

Assessment Overview (2011)

Electronic Outcomes for Assessment Overview, based on Australian Curriculum – 2011

[quote]In order to gain an understanding of what constitutes an A or B in a year level, should I refer to the C Grade Descriptors and A-E Exemplars in the year above the one I teach?
No. The award of a final grade in each learning area is dependent on content knowledge and an understanding of the concepts, and competence in processes and skills relevant to that particular year level. For example, a student does not need to be achieving at a year 7 level to be awarded a grade of A in year 6. A grade A (excellent) in year 6 should be determined by the work done in that particular year only. The awarding of an A or B does not necessarily indicate that a student is working at the year level above, rather it indicates that they are exceeding the standard set for the year level they are in.[/quote]
Outcomes for Assessment (2011)

Electronic Outcomes for Assessment input sheet, 2011

These are very different interpretations, and require different thinking about assessment and reporting.  My first thoughts were that it doesn’t change my classroom teaching methodology at all – I’m still scaffolding my students like I always do – but what I’m measuring and the feedback I’m providing to my students and parents is going to need to change.

I began researching.  I found very, very little on-line conversations from West Australian teachers about their interpretations.  Victorian teachers from my understanding were making the same transition. My big question still remained however: What measures can I use to indicate my student is exceeding the standard set for the year level?

The Department only puts out C Grade Descriptors. Am I again to be left to my own judgement to decide what constitutes an A or a B?  I think my answer has come from (somewhat remarkably), a parent forum at, by the user HOWDO (09/06/12 12:12pm):

In all cases a grade is given against the year level they are working at. As are given for higher knowledge and understanding and application to the learning in new contexts.

For example completing a sheet of multiplication algorithms is not a new context. It is showing that the students can repeat the same operation in the same way and perform multiplication. Using multiplication to solve a problem involving a new situation/s and scenarios enables the child to show higher order thinking skills and *that* is actually what is expected at grade level. The more you show you understand this grade level expectation and in more complex ways the more likely you are to move to As and Bs.

The General Capabilities are what students are required to demonstrate understanding and a high level of competence in to receive an A grade. So in mathematics, to get an A, students will be able to compare, contrast, evaluate and so on and demonstrate that understanding in new contexts. It will still be at year level however in that if the requirement at year level is to work up to 10 (Foundation) then the child doesn’t get an A simple because they can count to 100. Getting a A involves being able to work with the numerals 0-9 and count correctly, subitise, connect them to the names in words and use the numbers in increasingly complex ways and in new situations. For example if a child can count to ten and point to each numeral and word as you ask them they are working at D level. There is no new application there. If they can talk about, explain and apply their number knowledge to a new situation, for example count the number of spots on a ladybug out in the garden, then they are beginning to work at C level. When they start to talk about how many is in one group and how that differs to how many is in another group and find number in the world, subitise in real life situations then they are beginning to work above C level. They are still working with the same set of numbers and skills but applying them in increasingly different ways and in new situations.

This appears to me to link closely to what the WA Department documents are stating, and give me some direction for not only how to incorporate the General Capabilities of the Australian Curriculum into my planning and assessment.  It is time to change rewrite my “Outcomes for Assessment” document to reflect this thinking, and this could well be the direction to take.

In Year 6, students MUST BE ABLE TO:  achieve this aspect
In Year 6, students MIGHT BE ABLE TO: apply it to these contexts
If students apply this aspect to some of the contexts, they are exceeding the expected standard.  If they can apply it to all or most of the contexts, their achievement is well beyond what is expected at that year level. A diagnostic plotting map like this would allow me to identify where my students need improvement, and target students’ next progression.
Questions that arise from this reflection:
  1. Am I on the right track?  Will this allow me to correctly assess and report on my students according to the West Australian Department of Education guidelines?
  2. The General Capabilities are organised into bi-yearly statements – does this affect how I should view Year 5 or 7 achievements?
  3. Is this a valid use of the General Capabilities?
  4. Is there a concern that this style of assessment “caps” the learning of students?  Will teachers stop teaching gifted students content from above their year level because they look to find more and more contexts for the students to demonstrate achievement in?

feature image source: wikimedia

Planning for a team-teaching mathematics lesson

This year, I have been fortunate enough to have a support teacher with me for two morning a week.  

I’m normally an English/Integrated guy before recess, and a Maths guy between recess and lunch, but with this opportunity, I felt it was time to move maths to a morning slot to make better use of the extra hands and knowledge that was on hand.

One thing I wanted to do was ensure that the lines of communication were clear between the two of us – although I’m in charge of planning and implementing my mathematics program, Gus brings a wealth of knowledge and teaching skills that I have been learning from.  I decided to prepare a simple one-page template that outlined all the activities that I felt would be beneficial to the students attaining understanding in the topics we were covering.  During the lessons, Gus and I  take smaller groups, whole class or individual students, depending on needs, and use the planning sheet as a guide – not all activities are done during the sessions, and sometimes they are thrown out the window as the students lead us in new directions – often scaffolding well beyond the original planning.

Having the common document between the two of us means we both know exactly what we are looking to achieve, we both know exactly which outcomes we are focussing on, and it means we are able to effectively add value to students’ individual assessment records as well.

Download Assessment and Planning Cycle for Mathematics

feature image source: PortocalaMecanica @ flickr