Literacy Continuum

As the first focus of our professional learning teams at Parramatta Marist, we are looking at how we can use the literacy continuum within the classroom. The literacy continuum published by the DET indicates the characteristics of students’ literacy at different levels. This continuum allows us to have a better understanding of where our students’ abilities are, and to therefore target specific skills and set goals for specific students.  The system that Sentral has set up seems to make this an easy process of entering this data, and then performing analysis of the data.

Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 10.29.22 AMFor this particular PLT focus, we will be focusing on the aspects of writing, with all classes across the school. My allocated class is year 7 STEM, which is a new program that PMH has introduced this year. A challenge for this focus will be creating authentic tasks that fit within the scope of our projects, where students see the value of the tasks and are not just “filler” literacy tasks.



For our year 7 STEM program, we are going to start the course with a writing prompt: Will we ever have flying cars? (Think about it from a technological, social and legal perspective).Thanks to for the image. The first unit of work for year 7 STEM is bottle rockets, so the concepts of flight are embedded across the program. Regarding the list of continuum items, these can obviously not be assessed in every sample of student writing, so at this time, I would like to focus on the following points:

  • Uses a legible, fluent handwriting style.
  • Uses a range of editing strategies to improve clarity and consistency of style.
  • Uses correct and appropriate punctuation to support meaning.
  • Self regulates spelling and applies spelling knowledge and strategies to spell complex and subject specific vocabulary.

__4696554_origThis activity will not only allow us to assess which markers are evident on the literacy continuum, but should also give us an understanding of how interested and engaged students are in science, and a glimmer into what level of understanding that they have about scientific concepts. Since these students all come from a different backgrounds, it will be interesting to gain a picture at the onset of the STEM program, and then compare this over time with similar activities later on in the year, and then further in coming years.

Methods of sharing Google Docs to students

Following is a summary of the methods that you can use to create a google doc template and then distribute to students:

1. Google Classroom
2. Copy and Share yourself
3. Get students to copy and share back
4. Using scripts

How does this work Ease of Use Availability Student Perspective Teacher Perspective Disadvantages
Google Classroom Sign up for classroom, create your class, add your google doc. Decide whether you want everyone to have their own copy or edit an actual copy. Super easy.

Create a document, share it on Classroom.

Available for teachers with email addresses with students on the same domain.  Google has now also set up “Trusted domains” where students can be on the same domain but this has to be set up by your systems admin. Student goes to classroom, and clicks on the link to the document. It automatically copies a personalised document for the student, and puts it in a “Classroom” folder on the students’ side.

Students have a “turn it in” button to indicate they are finished.

This is automatically shared with the teacher, and put into their “classroom” folder on their google drive. It also gives the ability to check who has “turned it in” and finished it. The system is sequential, no way to categorise activities/documents. Is good for sharing, easy to use but not a fully powered LMS. But then, neither are any of the other choices here.

A good solution if you want to do this multiple times.

Can be confusing if you have another existing LMS.

Student owns document.

Copy and share yourself Create the document, manually duplicate it and share it with the people you need to Super easy but time consuming. Everyone can do this. Student receives shared document. This sits in their “shared with me” documents, so if you do it this way, teach the kids to add it to their docs and then into a folder with your subject name. This means that you maintain ownership of the document and don’t have to trust students to share it with you. Fine if you have a small group of students.

Really effective if you are doing group work. Lets say you have 25 kids in your class, and you decide to do a group project with 5 students per group. Create five copies and share each copy with five different students. This is really the only method to do this. (Aside from getting students to share back with you)

Time consuming…definitely a “do in front of the TV job.

Get students to copy and share back Students create doc and share with you. Easiest, and can be done on the fly “Ummm…lets create a google doc to answer this question and share back with me. Everyone can do. Student takes ownership of the work (a good thing), learns more, and is more likely to do this when collaborating in a group with others. Students must share with teachers. They forget. A lot. Teacher gets shared in on the document. If you do this a lot, it can become a filing nightmare in your google drive. But if you teach kids to name things properly, this is less of an issue. If student leaves the system, (eg, unenrolls from the school) you lose access to the document. This may or may not be a big deal, but if like me, you have to (and like to)  keep work samples…
Using Scripts Using add ons to Google Drive such as Doctopus or autocrat, which, based off a list of students and their emails, automatically creates documents and shares it with them. Most create folders for the class, and you can add to the folder all the time with different documents by running the same script again. More difficult than any of the above, but it is wizard based, so not particularly hard. Must install the script. Students receive a folder, with their documents in it, so it self-organises for them. Teachers create a spreadsheet of students, and creates their google doc and runs the wizard. This keeps ownership of the document with the teacher. (See notes on work samples above) The major advantage of this is that some of these add ons allow personalisation. For example, you can mail merge and share at the same time.

Works better on browsers that are not chrome (odd)

STEM Links

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Cool Links

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Cool Links

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

The PBL Process

As part of our timetable at my school, we have timetabled professional learning teams. This is always a great opportunity to learn from other KLA’s about how they do things, and I find that the opportunities come from the least expected places.

This term our focus is the PBL Process. A series of activities are designed by our head of PL, and we reflect and discuss these in teams. The final product: a series of blog posts, or a blog post about project based learning.

My thought processes in these cases always goes back to ranking what’s important. I like lists. They help me understand the world. So, if we discuss the elements of a PBL Project, what are the MOST important? Which ones are essential to Project Based Learning, and which can you do without?

If you’d asked me this five years ago, I probably would have said group work. But then, I teach Industrial Technology…all our learning centres around projects, and students collaborate with each other, but they develop individual projects. Some very good ones. All of the learning for the content appears through the process of their development of their product.  This learning is documented, and the research and evaluation of each benchmark drives the development of their project. If it’s done properly. Designers have been doing this for years. We call it the design process.

It’s interesting then, when deciding which is the most important element of the the process, to reflect on how my teaching of Industrial Tech, a traditionally project based syllabus (yes, this is embedded in the outcomes) has changed over the years.

5 years ago, I would have said that the answer to what was the most important element in a PBL project was definitely the needs to know. Know and Need to know elicit student pre-learning, allow you to differentiate and allow students to guide the learning. If you are just presenting your project without the needs to know, are you just guiding students through a pre-designed sequence of learning events that allow them to progress from one benchmark to the other? One of the things that I still use extensively within my year 12 classes, even though they are no longer under the PBL model is the need to know.  Pre-PBL Years I would give my students a list of the things that they needed to research and document in order to get the content that they needed in order to understand their project. My first lesson of research is now to re-order the class into similar types of projects and ask a simple question…what do you need to know in order to complete your project? This is essentially the purpose of the research section, and the students come up with many more elements to research than I could have thought of to get them to research. And, it’s relevant to their project, and it then helps them with the knowledge that they need in order to complete their project.

Why is it necessary for students to follow a set of benchmarks? Yes, they are stepping stones for the product, and it helps to scaffold and guide them, but can students get to the benchmarks without the pre-defined pathway that the teachers give them? Can students not pick their own pathway with the teacher facilitating and sometimes redirecting with a subtle nudge (or a massive push). Most of my students in Ind Tech do their own projects. They are facilitated through the use of benchmarks, which are set and checked pieces of work that must be delivered. They plot their own path and choose their own projects, but can this be done within the PBL model. Why does everyone have to create a movie (for example)  to demonstrate how World War II effected society….can we not leave it open and have students select the product and the pathway of where they go to to learn? Could we have a project where the task is to raise awareness, and you could use any method you want to do this. All it needs is a slight change of the context of the task, and you are opening up opportunity to students to do something different, original, creative and reflective of where they want to go.

I think now, though, that what I’ve really come to believe is that there is one thing that we can’t really do without in project based learning, and that is a teacher that is interested in intervening on groups. Whether it is to support and scaffold their learning, to give them the look…that shows that you are really not believing what they are saying (see left), or to drop a bomb into a group that are working well, to say….”well, that’s good, but have you considered…” We need to remember that these are students, who are of an age where they need to be reminded to wear underwear (maybe that’s just my son)…..they will need help in order to manage themselves, to work with others, and to be creative. These are all things that an interested teacher can bring them.  Or, you can give them the task, tell them to go for it and sit back and watch them fail. But then, why are you there?

The future of Children’s literature in the Digital Age

There is much discussion over the definition of childhood, when this occurs, and what the general characteristics of this are. Are they social, cultural, or ingrained?  Over time, different theorists have developed different ideas as to what these characteristics are. These characteristics categorise children according to different criteria, but all essentially agree that childhood is that time from birth to around 15-16.However, you can argue that the opportunity for this generations’ access to technology has changed many of the observable attributes of children’s behaviour.

Will this access to technology ultimately be a threat or an opportunity for growth in children’s literature?Reflecting on some readings which are all about the development of children’s literature (see below), it was interesting to note that some of the changes mentioned in access to children’s books had a large effect on me as a child. We did not have a large library of books, but we certainly had access to the Golden Books (around $1.50 by the time I was young) and being a child of the 80’s, I remember each of us children in the family having the treasured possession of a picture book that also came with a vinyl record.

So, the question is…are we simply making a movement from written to digital, similar to the move from oral to written? Does the availability of media and increase in children’s entertainment, changed the times and occasions that the characteristics of adulthood occur?  Does this mirror the introduction of the printing press as a time to reflect and redefine the meaning of childhood? Or, is it a time to set standards of what should be included within pieces of work defined for childhood, to ensure that along with engagement and entertainment, that the point of children’s literature, which is to engage the imagination, and to teach those lessons that society deems useful, still occurs?


Johann Amos Comenius’s Orbis Sensualium Pictus, Jeannie Baker’s Mirror and Arthur teaches spanish Computer game…do they really have different intent? It certainly is possible to include the same themes and ideas within digital technology as it is to have within traditional printed literature, however, like with traditional literature, it must be specifically designed to do so.

Digital technology now gives an opportunity to develop a non-linear narrative, in a way that was not possible before.  Is this similar to the fact that TV series have become more complex…are we as a society demanding a more complex and dynamic narrative? If you compare a TV series like Bewitched, which has a single storyline from start to finish of the series, with a TV series like 24, which has a complex and interwoven narrative, it is obvious that as time goes on, society is demanding a more engaging and dynamic storyline. Digital technology gives the opportunity for this to be developed.

Games really have the opportunity to be the next narrative evolution, however, does this take away from the imagination of the reader?  With the introduction of digital game based literature, are we opening opportunities for young people to read more, or are we relying on young people to use their imaginations less, as all features of the narrative is presented to us, rather than using our brain to “fill in the blanks”.

Is the development of online publishing todays’ version of chapbooks? Abundance of books can’t really be a bad thing, however, the search for quality, particularly for a busy parent or librarian, has become more difficult and time consuming. The opportunity here, however, is for a wider variety of publication, as it is clear that publishers are businesses, and are there to make money. Those riskier children’s literature that is likely to cause concern, or not sell, would not be published if not for online self-publishing.

The development of technologies that read to kids, such as the Leap pad can make reading books more accessible to busy parents, but does this mean that parents don’t need to read to kids any longer? How many adult readers have warm memories of reading books with an adult, whether their parents, teachers, aunts or uncles. Many adult readers I imagine, would attribute developing a love of reading to these experiences.Overall, as a digital person myself, I hear a lot of traditionalist derision for digital technology and digital readers. However,  there is, like any development, invention or new technology, including the development of the printing press, there is opportunity for growth or for decline, dependent upon how it is applied.


Barone, D. M. (2011). Children’s literature in the classroom: engaging lifelong readers. New York: Guilford Press.

Madej, K. (2003). Towards digital narrative for children. Comput. Entertain. Computers In Entertainment CIE, 1(1), 12.

Theories of Childhood. Retrieved July 2, 2015, from


Currently Reading: Ron Berger, “An Ethic of Excellence”

I first came across Ron Berger when I saw the below brilliant video, Austin’s Butterfly. It’s the story of feedback to a student, Austin, who started out with a basic drawing of a butterfly, and through specific feedback from his peers and multiple drafts, was able to build a beautiful scientific drawing of a butterfly. I loved this video for so many reasons. It tells the art teacher in me that it means that anyone can draw, so long as they have the mindset to persist through multiple drafts. It tells the compassionate teacher in me that quality work can come from persistant, specific and kind feedback. It tells a powerful story of how feedback can be used to create high quality exemplary work from students.

I have since then spent some time reading Berger’s “Ethics of Excellence”, passed along to me by Larry Rosenstock (Principal of High Tech High) where I was lucky enough to spend a few days at in 2014. This resonated with me…something that my husband and I have discussed over many a breakfast and dinner. How do you get students to select your subject when it comes to selecting electives, if their experience is limited to poor quality finished (or unfinished) projects? How do you generate respect for your subject from parents, unless they are seeing high quality finished peices of work? After all, being a parent of a young boy, I know that the general answer to “How was school today” is generally “fine” and the answer to “what did you do” is always “nothing”. The parent’s experience of the subject generally comes down to two things then….the half yearly and yearly report, and the samples of work that come home.

When your son or daughter brings home the following peices of work, which piece is likely to generate more subject respect as a parent? The toilet paper roll wrapped in foil to make a sword, or the handcrafted timber sword? Who can deny that as a parent, no matter what, we think that the child has done a brilliant job on both of them, but what are our thougths about the teaching behind each one?


So, how do we as teachers, and then as a whole school approach build a culture of exemplary work?

Ron Berger discusses the following 5 areas:

  • Assign work that matters
  • Study examples of excellence
  • Build a culture of Critique
  • Require multiple revisions
  • Provide opportunities for public presentation.

My thoughts on these:
Assign work that matters. This is about assigning meaningful work that will have an effect within the world, but I also think that this should also be about allowing structured choice within a task. Within subject selections we talk about right subject for the student, but we also need to look at right subject, right project, right student

Study examples of excellence: I think that this is really about setting appropriately challenging goal posts for students. Setting student expectations about a quality level. This can include the use of specifying learning intentions, developing rubrics and showing examples of past work. This fits in with other research such as Hattie (2008), and Berger, Rugen, Woodfin (2014) that show that setting student learning targets is an appropriate way to raise achievement. Do these goalposts need to move over time, however? I show examples of exemplary major projects to my students, but I am also sure to talk about how standards of excellence can change over time. Do individual learning targets improve student achievement? I would contend yes. This is something that I used to do all the time, and as I have gotten busier in my classroom, I have done this less, and definately seen a decline in quality.

Build a culture of Critique: This needs to be positive and helpful. By changing the language used and giving staff and students protocols around critiquing work, where students know that honest, but constructive feedback is given.

Require multiple revisions. Developing a culture of drafting is important, and I think that here technology can sometimes take away from this concept. It is much easier to throw away rough ideas drafted on paper than to throw away an idea that has been mindmapped out using software. Pencil and paper should be the key here.
Provide opportunities for public presentation. This doesn’t just include exhibition of work, but I believe links back to the purpose of the project. ie, if the project has an authentic purpose, isn’t the purpose of a designer to see their work shown? The purpose of a scientist to have their work used? Public presentation should be linked into the purpose of the task.

All in all, an excellent book which makes a huge amount of sense to a Technology/Arts teacher. Ron Berger uses some great examples of how this applies to other subjects, particularly (being US based) english- language arts. I can see clearly how this would apply within a project-based learning classroom. A worthwhile and interesting read. I plan to move now onto his newest book, Leaders of Their Own Learning, Transforming Schools thorugh Student-Engaged Assessment.

Resource Feature: Multiple choice marking software

Last year my school invested in  Remark OMR Software (Optical Mark Recognition) in order to improve students multiple choice responses. Some HSC subjects take 20% of their mark from multiple choice, so although it is important to have students write well for the short answers, and for extended responses, it is also important to give students practice in all types of questions that they will get in their examinations.  Remark also includes a feature to generate reports which give an item analysis which allows teachers to address common misunderstandings of content. Screen Shot 2015-06-14 at 10.19.28 amFor example, the question 5 graph at the right of this paragraph shows a section of the report generated from Remark. This allows me as a teacher to go back and look at distractor A and explain to students why that was not a correct answer. In the case of this question, more students actually got the question incorrect. Since my exam only has 10 multiple choice questions, I used to do this same thing with a pen and paper tally sheet, and graphs in keynote. However, the software helps to save time in the generation of reports.  This is where the power of this software really comes in. It not only saves time, but adds value to the feedback to students.

ZipGrade Cloud is an IOS and Android app that allows you to print off answer sheets, and then use your phone to scan students responses. The beauty of this is that every teacher in the school can have access to it, and do it in class so that students get instant feedback.  Unlike other digital versions such as Flubaroo, or Socrative, teachers don’t have to pre-prepare anything, they can use already existing exams (such as past HSC exams), and keep copies of answer sheets in your drawer.  The answer sheets, unlike Remark, don’t have to be specific to the exam that you are running. The workflow is basically, students sit the exam, then you set up a new exam on your phone, scan the sheets, and generate the results. This doesn’t create the pretty graphs that Remark does, but you can export to CSV and then create the graphs yourself in Excel. The cost difference between this and the Remark system is substantial. The ZipGrade app is free for 100 scans to try out, then they have a variable pricing structure, where you can purchase for either 2 months ($2) or a year ($7). If the school was considering a Volume purchase, they can purchase the app for $10 with no recurring charges.

Aside from answering paper based multiple choice responses, there are also a number of web based tools and apps available that are student response clickers.  Socrative, KahootPoll Everywhere, GoSoapbox and E-Clicker are all systems that allow students with individual devices to respond to a question with then immediate feedback to the teachers. Each of these use different devices and systems. For example, PollEverywhere uses SMS technology, whereas Socrative and E-Clicker are apps. I particularly like E-Clicker, as there is also a computer version for the teacher, so that you can create quizzes on your computer (so much easier to type than ipad). These are all reasonably priced (under $10), or free for teachers, and all are free for students.

Screen Shot 2015-06-14 at 11.28.50 amFinally, if you are a Google Fan, you can create a form in Google forms, which is easy to do, but does require some preparation. I created this one, by looking back through old exams that I had constructed, and copying and pasting across. The good thing is, if you have a list of bullet points, it will allow you to paste into the google form with every point then becoming another option. Once you have answered the form yourself, then you can run an add on for Google Docs, Flubaroo, in order to get it to automatically mark your responses, and then email students their feedback, straight away. It also generates you a spreadsheet, which highlights questions that are worthwhile going over with with students. (see right)

The power with all of these systems are the analytics provided. This gives you the opportunity as a teacher to determine where are the gaps in your student knowledge, and then to design differentiated learning activities in order to address those gaps. There is also the added benefit of giving teachers feedback on construction of multiple choice questions, including appropriate development of distractors.



Best Pen Tool Tutorials

The pen tool is my favourite tool in illustrator, and once learned, gives you the awesome power of a superhero computer user in lots of other programs such as photoshop and after effects. 
My favourite tutorials are here: 

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.