2015

Hocus Pocus Magic!

The curriculum here is very similar to those found in America by having focuses on reading, writing, and maths. The biggest differences are that instead of having science, they call it Inquiry, which starts out being guided by the teacher in order to build background knowledge, but the final project is student led in the sense that they conduct research on something that they are interested in that fits within the theme of the unit for the term, and prepare a presentation of some sort as a final product. For instance, Year 2 is currently focusing on Australasian animals and their habitats in “Animal Antics.” They went on an excursion to Healesville Sanctuary (I went, too!) to observe their chosen animals, then conducted research and recorded their findings in a formal writing piece, and are now creating their animals and their habitats out of recyclable materials in preparation for their presentations of their creations and all that they have learned about their animals.

Once a week, starting in Foundations, students also go to a class called LOTE (language other than English), where they are learning Chinese. In past years, the language being learned was German, but they recently made the switch to Chinese. Nonetheless, this is definitely something unique that is not found in the majority of public schools in the US as far as I am aware.

Kangaroos at Healesville Sanctuary!

Kangaroos at Healesville Sanctuary!

At the start of the day, starting in Year 1, students typically work on spelling using a program called Smart words. This program allows for differentiation in terms of reading and writing progressions, and has specific activities for students to do each day (five days total for an element such as “ee”). The intention behind the program, which is to encourage teaching how to spell is an interesting one, however, from what I have observed in multiple classrooms, is that students tend to just copy down the words to get it done as fast as they can, and don’t apply the spelling practices to their own writing. Students in the younger grades are encouraged to use inventive spelling, however, by years 4,5, and 6, the amount of misspelt words that I have seen of familiar words is far more than what is acceptable. Personally it is a complete 180 from what they do in Foundations, which incorporates a combination of phonics in their reading and writing instruction (but is not entirely focused just on phonics). I guess this could be a great example as to why teaching reading and spelling is such a hot debate amongst educators!

Rolling Hills encompasses Dr. Brian Cambourne’s (head of the Centre for Studies in Literacy at Wollongong University in Australia) Condition of Learning theory for all subjects, especially in literacy. The summary of the seven conditions (which are interconnected with one another) are as quoted from Rolling Hills’ staff handbook:

The standards that are used here are called AusVELS, and are strikingly similar to Common Core in the sense that there are areas within literacy for reading, writing, speaking, and listening. In maths (for year 4), there are focuses on number and algebra, measurement and geometry, and statistics and probability. Other standard areas for the general classroom include Personal Learning, Science, Thinking Processes, Interpersonal Development, ICT (Information and Communications Technology), Humanities, History, Design, Creativity and Technology, Communication, and Civics and Leadership. At this point in time, I have not seen any history taught in classrooms. Standardized testing (NAPLAN) is done in years 3, 5, 7, and 9, and tests students in reading, writing, conventions, and numeracy. Personally, I think it’s great that students don’t have to take them every single year, because I think that standardized testing doesn’t always show what students are capable of, and the time set aside for the testing takes away from time the students could be having learning!

Rolling Hills has a general pedagogy in place to create consistency across the board. I have seen this in practice in all of the classrooms I have been in so far, and incorporates whole group instruction, individual/small group work time, and whole group reflection during each lesson. This helps students to take some time to regroup and think about what was meaningful to them, and what they took away from each lesson! The overall school pedagogy is well summarized in the staff handbook, stating overall that the pedagogy is multifaceted, and based upon the belief that all students can achieve, while incorporating multiple intelligences, E5, and student-centred interest to drive learning.

Some of my favorite attention grabbers that I have seen in action!

Some of my favorite attention grabbers that I have seen in action!

As a school, there is a universal understanding that if someone is about to speak, and raises their hand (at an assembly, or even in the classroom), the audience will also raise their hands and stop talking to listen to the speaker. This is magical! Each of the classrooms I have been in have different management styles in terms of attention grabbers, but I have found that they all work very well if the students know them, and are are actually quite fun to implement! One of the ones that the Foundation classes use is “5,4,3,2,1…rainbow!” When the teacher gets to the number one, the students clap their hands together and then make a rainbow by spreading their hands apart, and then listen intently!

Another thing that has been very effective in terms of management is the consistency of the daily routine throughout the school, which starts the moment the students walk in the door for the day. The expectations are the same no matter the year or the teacher, which has most definitely made the transition from classroom to classroom easier for me; so I can only imagine how comfortable this routine becomes for the students as well!

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4 thoughts on “Hocus Pocus Magic!

  1. Steffani,

    I find it so interesting that, from the US to Australia to here in England, schools seem to have relatively similar learning goals for the students. I also really like the idea of Inquiry class. I’ve found that I’m drawn to project-based learning because it allows students to demonstrate learning in a way that is unique to their interests. That’s what Inquiry seems to focus on.

    I’m curious as to why the school decided to shift toward teaching Chinese instead of German. Do they feel that Chinese will be a more useful language to the students? Like you said, it’s rare to hear about Chinese being taught, at least in the US. Even at my school here where foreign language knowledge is heavily emphasized, Chinese is not an option. Is this unique to Australia or just to your school?

    I found it very interesting to hear about the different types of spelling and grammar instruction that your school uses. I have made similar observations to you in that students struggle to acquire knowledge from spelling and grammar instruction when it isn’t taught in context. It sounds like your foundations years use a balanced literacy approach. Do you know why it is that they do it differently in the different age groups? Is this a choice made by teachers or by administration?

    Those attention grabbers made me smile! Any classroom management technique that actually works and creates a positive atmosphere is perfect in my mind.

    I’m happy to hear how acclimated you have become to your school. I’m also mildly jealous of the weather (my umbrella has become my most-worn accessory as of late). Keep us updated as you finish out your placement!

    • Carly, I went ahead and looked at several of the other primary schools in Mooroolbark, and some of the schools have LOTE (in which it is Chinese) and some of the schools don’t. So I am guessing it is on a school by school basis. As for the different literacy approaches, that is a choice done by the administration and not the teachers, and I know that the majority of the teachers have mixed feelings about this. If it’s any consolation, we have had several days of rain as well! 🙂

  2. Steffani,
    It sounds like Rolling Hills has an excellent consistency of expectations and continuity of practice in all the classrooms. You are witnessing how beneficial that can be for everyone one involved. Imagine the relief for a substitute teacher who walks in randomly and finds all children following the same rules and responding to similar expectations.
    I have always questioned the idea of creative spelling and wonder, in the long run, if it is a benefit to children. What do you think?
    Sorry to hear that German language got dropped. Sehr shade…. 😦

    Sounds like all is well in Aussie land for you so far.

    • MaryBeth,
      I couldn’t agree more with how nice it would be for a substitute teacher to go into different classrooms and witness such consistency! I think that the creative spelling is an interesting debate. I can see it being helpful when students are becoming more familiar with letter to sound association as a way to continue practicing their writing and spelling, however, the English language is difficult in the sense that words are not always spelled the way they sound. So at some point, there most definitely should be a switch over to accuracy, which I don’t think should happen any later than third grade. Considering that a lot of Australians have European backgrounds, you would think that they would want to keep German around as LOTE! 🙂

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