Back to School Goals


I’m woefully behind on sharing some more of my small goals for the beginning of the 2014 year here in Australia, but I’ve got a neat little tip that I honestly can’t believe took me 4 years to think of.

Here in Australia, we have 2 break times for students – a morning recess and a lunch time. At my school, morning recess is from 10:40am – 11:10am (30 mins) and the students spend the whole time outside, eating a light snack and running and playing. Our lunch time starts at 12:50pm – for 10 mins (until 1pm) students each their lunch inside the classroom, before they head outside for another 50 mins (until 1:50pm). During these times, staff get their break, while sharing the load of yard supervision. (If people are curious as to how much that is, I’m happy to go into it another post later on!)

HOWEVER. During the Winter months, invariable we have quite a few wet day timetables  – wherein it is too wet (we don’t get snow here in Melbourne, so it’s only wet weather!) for the kiddos to be outside and they spend the equivalent time inside the classroom.

And yes, the classroom ends up in quite a state, if you can imagine!

Last year I found an awesome way to combat some of that – I used a whole stack of Just Dance video clips found on YouTube and put them on the IWB for the kiddos to dance around to if it was a morning recess time. That occupied a group of the kiddos (plus our neighbours in the Grade 3/4 classes who’d come to visit and dance!). On a wet day lunch, I’d normally put on a movie, because it’s a slightly longer time to be stuck inside.

All that said, there are ALWAYS kids who don’t want to dance and don’t want to watch a movie and spend the entire time trying to find things to do in the classroom, all the while trying to remember which resources they’re allowed to use.

Here’s my new tip that I seriously wish I’d thought of in my first year when the kids emptied containers of glitter ALL OVER THE CLASSROOM during a wet day timetable.


This little picture is going to be my saving grace during wet day timetables this year. See that cute little raincloud (drawn by the amazing Mel – From the Pond)? I’m going to laminate a whole bunch of these little cuties and attack them to the containers/tubs that students are allowed to access without asking during wet day timetables.

Obviously, it will take some practise, but I think such a simple visual will help my Preps/Grade 1s to know what is okay for them to take out on their own.

Do you have a new tip or goal that you’re trying out? Feel free to share in the comments!


Do you ‘Pin?’

A short while ago, Bec posted about Pinterest, which really reminded me that I’ve been meaning to do my own Pinterest post for quite a while. I can honestly say this website has changed the way I approach planning for my class.

Pinterest is an online, visual-bookmarking website that allows you to save images that you find all over the net to folders – called Pinboards – for future reference. So far, there’s been no limit to how many Pinboards you can have (and believe me, I’ve been testing this premise!),

Bec mentioned in her post that she’s constantly finding new ideas to use in her classroom, as a teacher. I completely agree with that statement, because there is a wealth of great ideas out there.

The Pinboards

I started out with some generic pinboards, such as Literacy and Numeracy. I’ve since gone back and revised this strategy, simply because I’ve put SO much content up on my pinboards. Now I’ve broken Literacy and Numeracy into specific areas, such as Literacy – ABC & Phonics or Literacy – Sight Words. This has allowed me to re-find things a little bit quicker when planning. I currently have 104 boards running (and no, they’re not all teaching boards!), and they tend to match my desktop folder tree for teaching resources.

How has it changed my teaching and planning?

It’s actually done it alongside my blogging. Every day I’m reading between 80-150 new blog posts from teachers all over the world, sharing the things that they’re doing in their classroom. From them I’ve become inspired and ‘pin’ their ideas to my boards, and then I follow them on Pinterest and find out what inspires them. And the process continues.

How to pin

Pinterest has a ‘Pin It’ bookmarklet that you can install in your browser, which is useful if you come across something in your online travels – you can pin it quickly and easily to one of your boards. You can install the iPhone app and take photos with your camera and upload them directly to Pinterest.

Pinterest has a great step-by-step guide for using their website for those who haven’t had a go yet.

Be warned, it’s highly addictive!

Great People to Follow

Bec Spink

Alex F

Down Under Teacher

Kathleen Morris

Little Miss Kindergarten

Teaching Blog Addict

Jessica Meacham

A Teacher’s Treasure

Hadar Maor

Follow Me on Pinterest

Ideas to Inspire

Here are a few screenshots of the most recent additions to some of my boards.

Do you use Pinterest? How do you use it?

What inspires you?



Teaching and Assessing Quality Comments

Some of you may be aware of the great series of posts on educational blogging written by Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano of Langwitches. As a follow up to her series, she’s proposed a blog post or comment audit meme for educators who use blogging in their classrooms. Having been tagged by the lovely Kathleen Morris, this is my response.


Earlier this year I was involved in a project by the Innovation and Next Practise division of the DEECD on Contemporary Literacies in the Early Years. I’ve blogged a bit about it over the last few months, including some information about the activities involved.

The biggest activity that I ran throughout the project, however, was our class blog, which ran from the start of Term 3 until the end of the year.

I was teaching a prep class, which heavily impacted on how our class blog was run, and how students were involved in the process. When I started the blog – the first official classroom blog in my school – I wasn’t sure about the involvement and participation that I would get from the school, from the students or from the parents.

Suffice to say I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the whole process. I had a couple of families that took it on board and enjoyed having a blog that let them know what was happening each week, and encouraged their children (or was it the children encouraging the parents?) to also share the experience and to write messages jointly or independently.

I’ll admit that my initial goals were more around participation rather than extended comments on the blog – and when I consider that I was working with 5 and 6 year olds that was already setting the bar high. My expectations for students quickly increased, and the bar of higher quality comments was raised as a result as well.

That said, my students are beginning writers in their first year of primary school. And that’s important to keep in mind.


While I was the primary author of the blog posts – which primarily included information about the school week learning outcomes and upcoming events – we also jointly constructed posts as a class about significant lessons or activities that were important to my students, which was great for modelling different text types and writing for an audience.

The biggest part of the blog that students were involved in were jointly constructing comments left on our blog. I was often the ‘typer’ and as a class we would brainstorm the different things we wanted to say in response to a comment left on our blog (usually from another student in the class, or a parent).

For this we had a list of things to keep in mind when replying. This was in the form of a poster that we kept up in the classroom and included the following points:

– Address the author of the comment (eg. ‘Dear X’ or ‘To X’ or ‘@ X’).

– Thank them for leaving a comment/write a compliment.

– Answer any questions they asked.

– Ask questions for more information.

– Write who the comment is from (eg. ‘From Prep G-5’).

– Check with an adult or teacher before posting.

Letter-writing is one of the text types that we teach in Prep and forms the basis of how I demonstrated to my students to write and respond to comments – comments, after all, are really an informal (or formal, depending on your purpose) letter to another person.

We also referred to our Prep 5 Star Writing rubric (which was a very clear link for the preps between physical writing with a pencil and typing on a computer):

– Capital letters

– Full stops

– Sound out words

– Spaces between words

– Write in a straight line


1. Millicent’s comment

Screen shot 2011-12-27 at 5.33.05 PM

Modelling points:

– Used an appropriate greeting

– Began with a question specifically related to the person they’re writing to

– Attempted to use full stops and some capital letters

– Ended with a question

Mini lesson ideas:

– Revision of capital letters for names and titles, and the beginning of a new sentence

– Remembering spaces between words and the end of sentences

– Use of clear paragraphs

– Proofreading with an adult

– Overuse of :):):):):)

2. Tae’s comment

Screen shot 2011-12-27 at 5.33.44 PM

Modelling points:

– Used an appropriate greeting

– Complimented recipient

– Remembered full stops

– Signed comment

Mini lesson ideas:

– Capital letters for names and ‘I’ and at the beginning of a new sentence.

– Lots of ‘compliments’ – expand on ideas or ask questions.

– Overuse of random letters (eg. ooooooo)


In her response to the Quality Blogging and Commenting Meme, Kathleen Morris said that higher quality comments and posts do not automatically come with age.” I agree, whole-heartedly. I don’t think anyone at my school (except me) expected that students would be able to comment on a blog, or even talk about what a blog is, let alone ask to leave comments (independently) during writing times.

For the students who’ve been interested – and interest in blogging and writing comments is essential for students to be successful.

My students’ motivation for blogging increased dramatically when they started to see their friends and parents leaving comments on blog entries. Whenever I posted a new entry we’d discuss it as a class, likewise whenever there was a new comment left on our blog we’d read it as a class (or sometimes the students who left the comments would read their own comments – very exciting for 5-6 year olds). Then we’d construct responses together, which allowed for a great opportunities for whole class mini-lessons on capital letters/full stops/sounding out words/etc. We’d also discuss how to sequence ideas and/or questions.

For individual students leaving comments, feedback was mostly conducted one-on-one with a discussion about why the errors would need to be fixed, where students might go to find words they weren’t sure how to spell, etc. If their comments were written in the classroom we’d conference and fix errors on the spot.

They also learnt a lot from each other. More confident students would help their peers construct their responses. It was also two of my girls who informed the others how to make a smiley face 🙂 appear in posts.


I’m still new to blogging with students, and I may have bitten off more than I could chew by starting to blog with Prep students. That said, I feel it’s been very successful and has had enormous benefits for my students.

You are welcome to visit my 2011 classroom blog to see more examples of my students work over the last 6 months.


Anyone is welcome to write their own evaluation on blog posts of comments, and I highly recommend you visit the Langwitches Blog for more information.

I’d like to tag the following people to complete their own audit (if they choose):

Bec Spink (@MissB6_2) See Bec’s response here.

Cass Burgess (@CassBurgess)

Marie Kennedy (@marieck26)

Learning from Experience

voice-threadToday I introduced my students to VoiceThread. We used it to reflect on their favourite part of our recent school concert extravaganza: You Can’t Stop the Beat.

Teaching such young students, I find that you can explain and explain all you’d like, but it’s only through real life examples and experiences that a lot of my students start to understand what we talk about as a class.

For example, before they recorded their reflections, the listened to my example and we explored how to record a comment. We talked about the need for each student to use a clear voice and to keep a check on their volume. We also talked about the importance of the other students keeping their voices down and not banging pencils and chairs against tables while someone was recording.

One-by-one, students explored the process of planning what they would say and recording their thoughts.

The results? Mixed.

We had quite a bit of background noise, and a lot of my students are very softly spoken, so even with the microphone some were quite difficult to hear.

I don’t see these results as a loss or a waste of time – over my first two years as a teacher (and a prep teacher at that), I’ve learnt the importance of having a go over having a ‘perfect’ final product. What my students produced today was a great example of a first time product that we can improve.

We had a GREAT discussion following our time listening to all the voicethreads. We started with Yellow Hat thinking (good things), Black Hat thinking (things to be improved) and finally Green Hat thinking (improvements, etc). The ‘good things’ were quite generic with students complimenting those students who spoke clearly and loudly. However, it was the Black and Green hat thinking that I loved and am so proud of my students for:

Black Hat:

  • Talk a bit louder.
  • Only talk when it’s your turn.
  • Some people have to speak out louder.
  • You have to be quiet when it’s someone else’s turn.
  • Don’t shout when it’s not your turn.
  • Don’t call out when people are recording.

Green Hat:

  • We can take a laptop into the corridor where it’s quiet.
  • Take it outside.
  • We can use a different classroom.
  • We can take a computer to the hall.
  • We can use Mr Jackson’s (our AP/ICT teacher) room.

Finally, we reflected on alternative ways to record our reflections (technology-based and not). We can:

  • Talk and record our voices.
  • Write them down.
  • Type it up on the computer.
  • Put it on a piece of paper.
  • Use a digital camera.
  • Record on an iPad/type on an iPad.
  • Use a phone.
  • Use an iPod.
  • Use an iPhone.
  • Show on a TV (photos/video, by plugging devices into the TV).
  • Use a video camera.
  • Draw a picture.
  • Make a poster.

I’m quite pleased with the results, because it really highlights how far they’ve come over the last term. Their thinking has expanded and the level of teacher prompting required during this discussion was quite minimal. Part of the Contemporary Literacy project that we’ve undertaken requires the ability of students to critically reflect on the use of technology – and alternatives to using technology and they’re really starting to show that understanding!

How do you use VoiceThread in the classroom?

Mobile Learning

IMG_0009(Preps using an iPad during Literacy Rotations)

This term I’ve been ‘road-testing’ mobile learning devices in my prep classroom. This is in part due to a research project my school is participating in, funded by the DEECD’s Innovation department, and partly inspired by my own grand ideas of using technology.

This morning I was listening to Shelly Terrell‘s webinar at SimpleK12 on “Read World Learning Through Mobile Devices” (at 5am!) – which was particularly fortunate timing for me, given my exploratory use of an iPad and iPod Touch in the classroom. I also particularly enjoyed Shelly’s ebook Effective Mobile Learning (50+ Quick Tips & Resources).

Now, a very quick overview of my class: I teach a class of 22 preps (5-6 year olds) in a government school in the Northern Metropolitan region of Melbourne. I have a wonderful mix of cultures within my classroom, a small number of ESL students, and a wide range of abilities (both in traditional curriculum areas and also in using technology). A handful of students have iPod Touches, 1 has an iPad that he shares with a sibling, a few more occasionally play on their parents’ iPhones, and about half the class have access to a computer (desktop or laptop) at home under parent supervision.

Since the start of this term, I’ve spent quite a bit of time incorporating at least 1 literacy-based technology activity into my literacy rotations (school wireless permitting!). I’ve been very pleasantly surprised by the way all of my students have worked together to respect the rules of using these devices, and have demonstrated great cooperative skills and a willingness to be involved. Needless to say, the enthusiasm of the group using the iPad outweighs most of the other activities!

Activities I have incorporated:

  • An interactive ebook story (The Three Pandas) – students listened to the story, touched the screen to interact with the characters. At the end of each session the groups discussed the story, relating it to other stories they knew of (Goldilocks and the Three Bears), talking about the differences between the ebook and a traditional paper-based book. We also connected it to our IWB and watched it as a class.
  • Watched (downloaded) YouTube videos appropriate to lessons (including nursery rhymes, counting rhymes and other fun little videos based on sounds and word play).
  • Used Halftone to take photos and create a one-page poster with a descriptive sentence. I worked with each student one-on-one (and quite a few of the students worked together, teaching each other, too!) to explore how to take a photo and how to edit and create text in the Halftone app. They then saved these photos to iPhoto and printed them in colour to make a classroom book. They were able to show (and demonstrate) to our Principal – who was amazed at the knowledge and ability of the students after one lesson using the app – and Assistant Principal their creations both on the iPad and then the book. This lead to their introduction to Comic Life during ICT sessions (starting today).
  • This week we’re focusing on short-vowel sounds and are using Spelling Magic 1 (and 2) to listen to and make simple/CVC words using the vowel sounds. The picture at the top of this post is 3 students using the app and recording the words that they hear on a vowel chart. They then took these posters to our desktops (Macs) and (with some help) logged into Voki and created avatars who introduced themselves and shared some of the words from their posters. We’ve put their Vokis onto our classroom blog, to share with their peers, families and members of our school community. Needless to say, they’re all very proud of their work, and I look forward to seeing what else they come up with during the week.
  • I’ve also recorded lots of simple levelled reading texts in Garage Band and uploaded them onto the iPod Touch which, coupled with a headphone splitter, has turned into a portable listening post.

What do I have planned for the future?

  • Inspired by Shelly’s webinar, I’m planning on using MouthOff on the iPod Touch (and our mini HD Flip cameras) to record student communications – most likely with them talking about their weekends!
  • A simple QR code hunt – likely to revolve around either our Sounds of the Week or a text response activity.
  • An activity (still in the planning stages) using the PuppetPals app on the iPad.

Plus a whole host of other activities that I’m determined to design using lots of apps and the cameras and video functions.

I don’t think any of these activities are revolutionary (I see so many fantastic and inspiring activities being posted on Twitter by my PLN on a daily basis, and I feel so behind!) – but they’re a step forward for my school and I’m quite happy to be the one pushing things forward… even just a little bit!

As my AP said in the staffroom – a few years ago you would never have thought to have Prep students creating a Voki. And while I do a lot of the set-up and logging in for them – they type in the text and they create their avatars and that’s fantastic to see!

Are you in the Early Years and using mobile learning devices? What activities have you implemented? (Or, spare some advice on what worked for you/what didn’t work!)

Face to Face Networking

Screen shot 2011-08-10 at 8.12.58 PM

One of the most challenging things about teaching, at the moment, is the integration of technology into daily classroom use. Since starting to build my online PLN, barely a month ago, I’ve been inundated with great ideas from educators who do just that – and they do it well.

While I didn’t grow up with technology from a very young age, by the end of Primary School, I had access to a computer at home and I had a blog on LiveJournal just after I turned 13. (I shudder to think about the things I probably posted on that blog!) I’ve always loved using computers to connect and talk to other people, to write and share ideas. It’s a great way to meet and learn from people who live all over the world, which is the driving force behind online PLNs, Twitter chats and other sources of networking.

However, as a relatively new teacher to the profession, relatively young and – dare I say it – naive to the politics involved in teaching, I sometimes struggle with the idea that there are teachers out there who are reluctant to make use of all the amazing resources available to them – mostly free – online.

As a result, just in the last four weeks I’ve found myself presenting web2.0 tools to parents, colleagues from my workplace and colleagues from the local teaching network. For me, it’s a very strange position to be in, not least because I’m absolutely petrified of public speaking (please don’t ask me what I’ve actually said at any of these presentations, because I’m usually so nervous I can’t remember!). But the sad thing is, it feels like if I didn’t do it, it wouldn’t be presented at all and I think that’s a detriment to teaching in such a digital age.

In a lot of ways, I consider myself a sponge – I want to learn and know as much as I possibly can (usually in the shortest time span), and I’m willing to put the time in to teach myself. In reality, I know that schools can only provide so much professional development on ICT development, tools and skills – there’s just so much that is crammed into each year, so much time spent before and after school at meetings and planning that it’s just not possible.* That said, I think teachers also need to be willing to put in an effort on their own – and spend 15-20mins researching and playing with the different tools they want to use with their students – and ultimately it’s that 20mins that will the most valuable in the long run.

*Unless of course you volunteer your own time (which I recommend, in moderation) to attend PD that you want to. Or attending something wonderful, like RSCON3 – or simply watching the recordings!

To that end, during our most recent Mini-Network Meeting – a gathering of teachers from local schools meeting together in Level teams to discuss areas of interest – which was held at my school for Level 1, it was decided that we would look at free, interactive resources for teachers. (Ultimately, this also included subscriptions that schools had, classroom resources and blogs.)

Screen shot 2011-08-07 at 7.08.22 PM

I’ll admit to getting all exciting and pulling together all the links of great sites I’d come across over the last couple of years (and a few from the last few weeks!) and throwing them into a LiveBinder all ready to share. I organised a short link for ease of access and made sure we had access to an IWB for the session. During the meeting, I was able to easily show examples of sites, explain what they were, etc. Others we able to suggest extra resources (which were recording and added to the LiveBinder) and we had decent discussion going.

And, I think it went well. It was actually quite hard to judge; these were people I see once a term (if that) and I’m not sure if it was what they were expecting, or whether it was an overload or if they just thought it was a waste of time. Most of the suggestions for additional resources were subscription sites/accounts that schools had purchased, which was fine, and there were suggestions for blogs that one of the teachers followed (I internally leaped for joy at the thought of another local teacher following blogs!).

The feedback I got from my AP was very positive though – and it is nice to hear that from school leadership.

Classroom Tools: Countdown Timers

Screen shot 2011-07-07 at 1.20.41 PM

One very handy tool I’ve picked up this year has been to use a timer with those students in my class who struggle to complete an activity within a session time. It’s an unfortunate situation that we find ourselves in, constrained to time limits for activities, but sometimes it can’t be helped, and I’ve found using a timer gives some of my students a motivational boost to “beat” the buzzer.

I’m fortunate enough to have 2 digital timers in my classroom, but I discovered a few online timers that my students really love and we can display on our IWB.

Their particular favourite is the Online Bomb Timer (screencap above) – and once the countdown has started it’s amazing how focused the majority of my preps are… because they want to be finished to watch the bomb explode on screen! There’s also an Egg Timer that we’ve used on the same site.

Two other timers that I’ve used are the KukuKlok Online Alarm Clock and the Countdown Timer.

It’s such a small thing, and I don’t use it all the time, but when I have used the countdown timers I’ve found that it gives just a little more structure for my students who require it.

What are the indispensable tools you use in your classroom?