Book Corner 2014 - The Power of Twitter

Connecting Authors to Readers

I am, and always have been, an avid reader. Margaret Atwood, Emily Perkins, Robert Glancy and Joanne Harris are among some of my favourite authors. Until recently though, they were people whom I read about, not interacted with. That is, until I discovered Twitter. Each term, I tweet various authors with a series of questions in the hope that we can learn more about them. Here is what we have so far. A special acknowledgement to Paula Pierce, Assistant Head of English, who tirelessly compiles the interviews into our English newsletter each term. Check them out here.

This month we are delighted to hear from New Zealand writer, Emily Perkins. Over the years, I have thoroughly enjoyed reading and teaching Emily's short stories and novels. Her most recent novel, The Forrests, was the first novel I selected on my Kindle. Emily took time out of her busy teaching and marking schedule which we really appreciate. 

Emily Perkins, 2014

Earlier this year, I read Terms and Conditions, by Robert Glancy. Once I finished this amazing read, I discovered that Bob is from Auckland's North Shore, and he was friends with my friend. Immediately I connected with him via Facebook and subsequently, twitter. Bob and his family are lucky to be livinig in France for the year, while he works on his second novel. We have offered to pre read and offer feedback - can't wait.
Robert Glancy, 2014


Creating Curiosity

I Wonder?

I conducted an experiment in the classroom. Using a liquid chalk pen, I wrote on one of our classroom windows 'Curious?'. I wanted to test my assumption. Unfortunately, that assumption was proved right. The writing was on the wall and yet, nothing was said. Nothing at all! Not one student wondered why I had written on the window. Not one student seemed curious. That got me thinking - when did their curiosity disappear? My nickname growing up was, and probably still relevant today, 'curious George/Jo'. I was always asking questions, wondering why?, interrogating my parents, friends and teachers alike. I digress, however, this highlighted the need for us to ensure we have opportunities for the 'I wonder?' moments; curiosity and ultimately, creativity must not be killed. Perfect timing, with the launch of student inquiry. Next, I need to ensure that our teachers are on the same page.

As Head of Learning Area, my aim in every meeting we have is to provide practical PLD which teachers are able to apply the very next day in the classrooms. I believe that relevant, practical development, which directly benefits, engages and empowers our students' learning, is a win win. 


  • spark curiosity - using English AGENDA - I wonder? 
  • promote design thinking - various 'materials', learner as maker
  • creativity - 60 second jewellery task
  • growth mindset - modelling the power of fixed versus growth mindset
A special acknowledgement and thank you to Steve Mouldey and Philippa N Antipas for the inspiration and ideas. Here is what we accomplished in the PLD session during our recent English Learning Area meeting. 

Our '60 second' jewellery designs are displayed below. Using 'Kind, Specific and Helpful' feedback, we refined and improved our creations, before sharing back with the group. Every moment is a teachable moment. 


At first, some teachers were hesitant, reluctant and determined that they could not complete the task. However, as the timeframe was short, their mindset quickly shifted and we all completed the task. In fact, they did not want to stop. We laughed, critiqued, refined and reshaped our designs. The powerful lesson was in the making, the doing, the reflecting and the evaluating. Likewise, the way in which the teachers embraced the challenge, discovering the fun side of making and creating, and realising that this could also happen in their own learning environment. With minimal 'materials', the options are endless. We will awaken and foster curiosity, creativity and embrace a growth mindset. 

Will you? 

Creating much more than a piece of jewellery 

Designed, Refined and ready to wear
Adding colour to the bling - feedback welcomed
Capturing the story behind the jewellery - growth versus fixed mindset

"If you can light the spark of curiosity in a child, they will learn without any further assistance, very often. Children are natural learners. It's a real achievement to put that particular ability out, or to stifle it." 

"Curiosity is the engine of achievement."

 (Robinson, 2013)

From Comfort to Challenge

Stepping out of the Comfort Zone

When this term's Emerging Leaders, EduIgnite, invitation arrived, I knew I had to sign up for three reasons. Firstly, one of my goals this year is to model to my students that I too am a learner, that I will push myself beyond my comfort zone and step up to the challenge. Secondly, the event was being held at Torbay School, which is where my first experiences in education began, back in 1978 as a cute 5 year old. Finally, as we attended EduIgnite Auckland last year, Martin and I knew that when we went back, we would have to present - it's the rules. 

Based on our own Masters Journey, our presentation focused on the findings of our research around Leadership Development and Appraisal of Middle Leaders in New Zealand Secondary Schools (2012). Although this feels like a lifetime ago, we both still feel really passionate about Middle Leadership and the continued lack of effective middle leadership development and appraisal happening in schools. 

EduIgnite presentations: The Rules

You have 5 minutes, 20 slides with a 15 second autoplay. Although this may sound easy - it isn't quite that simple when you are a perfectionist. As I said though, this year is about stepping out. 

Handy Hints:

1. Be very clear about the WHY? 
2. Work though all your information until you have a very clear point.
3. Keep slides simple, concise and clear.
4. Practice the timing and rehearse your notes. Use cue cards.
5. Always have your Slide Show in the cloud
6. Relax, enjoy and remember to smile.

With all of that in mind, here is our presentation.


Caught in the Middle two sides of the coin

Mid Flight - Jo and Martin - the dream team
It was great to be back at my primary school, thanks for hosting us Torbay School. Furthermore, I enjoyed listening to the various topics, ranging from passions through to enacting a school wide vision. 
Meaningful & Valued Appraisal, alongside regular & ongoing Leadership Development 

Also, thanks for the connections, tweets and instant feedback, both during and after our presentation. 
That is the power of twitter. That is the power of a strong PLN.

If you are interested in our talk, feel free to listen

Our Slides may also be accessed here.

Speak Out - Facing Our Fears Head On

Why Speeches don't have to be Feared

When students feel they are in a safe and trusting learning environment, they are more willing to face their fears, fail - first attempt in learning, fall, try again and eventually, succeed. I guess that is why many English teachers leave the formal assessment of oral presentations until the second half of the year. Well, that is our intention anyway. By building up trust, courage and several opportunities to speak, in many different contexts, our learners, despite their fears, are ready to face their fear. Their fear of public speaking is real and terrifying, that is, unless, you keep it real, keep it low key and disguise it through formative opportunities, design thinking, making and speaking.

This term, following on from the students own choice of novel study, based around the broad theme of 'Friendships that make and Measure Us', and our Film Study, we have moved into 'We all Need Heroes' OR 'Ordinary People, Heroic Acts' - your choice.
Students' defining their topics, with a little help from Shrek 2
Providing scaffolds for students to collate, process and summarise ideas using templates, current newspaper articles, questioning dice / matrix, library time to teach information literacy, debating hot topics, will all help them to overcome their fear of speaking. You see, I believe that knowledge is power - if you know what you are talking about, it is much easier to deliver with confidence. Arming students with the inquiry process, the ability to discern information and to make judgments, draw conclusions and formulate opinions, based on evidence, then the so what? and what if? can be articulated.
Obtaining their prior knowledge is helpful too. It avoids over half the class switching off, it engages, involves and empowers them. Look at what the Year 9 students suggested below.

- Helpful Hints -

Once they selected their information, decided on their presentation format and logically sequenced their work, it was time to bring their information to life, to explore their selected hero, or to argue that perhaps, we don't need heroes at all. Here, there were many great opportunities to start the talking, or should I say debating. We tried informal debates, group slams and the donut pair and share. We took our talking outside, with impromptu speeches, speed talking, no name it, we tried it.

Donuts - pair & share
As you can tell from the photos, the students look composed, happy to be sharing, talking and laughing. This is what speaking should be about. Engaging students and showing them speeches are not to be feared. Giving them the ability to voice their views, opinions, ideally with confidence and flair.
Mix and Mingle - speed talking
Speak Out!

On a continuum, students rated themselves  from most confident to least confident speakers
Next, the most confident students offered sound advice to the less confident students - with a big Good Luck cheer at the end. You can check it out their advice here.

Key Points:

- Trust = Success
- Knowledge is Power - activating our students prior knowledge and building on the skills and strategies for success.
Now the students are delivering their speeches. The audience actively listen and at the end of each presentation, willingly offer feedback which is Kind, Specific and Helpful. I love that the students are honest and confident in their feedback, PLUS the added bonus of further oral practice for their own speech! I am looking forward to conducting a REVIEW with them via Google Form to evaluate the students' perceptions and reflections. Tune in!
Kate Sheppard - ordinary person, heroic act
 We all Need Heroes - don't we?
Clear Slide Presentation enhances speech
Ordinary Person, Heroic Act
Clear argument presented, with relevant examples
Here are some sound bites from our experiences: 
Heroes, Hero? plus Feedback.

Book Chat 2014 - Our Worlds

Reading is Our World

Words, stories, books. Language and Literature are my life, my love. I am proud to say that my love of reading is well and truly instilled in my own children. Life certainly is perfect with a great book, yummy chocolate and good coffee.

Each term we have hosted Book Chat, targeting avid readers and an excellent novel. This term was no exception. Fleur Beale's long awaited sequel to I am not Esther was up for discussion. Fleur Beale visited us in our foundation year, along with David Hill, Tania Roxborogh and William Taylor. That was ten years ago... a lifetime it feels.

I Am Rebecca Fleur Beale

Armed with the essentials - including chocolate

Sandrea Ware, our fabulous Library Manager, prepares excellent pamphlets for our students to give them ideas about recommended reads - What's Next? Check out Sandrea's blog, 'betweenthelines', for further suggestions.
Icebreaker - #three word introduction

Coloured prompts - discussion starters see below for a detailed sheet 
Students share their reading experiences

We set ourselves a challenge of coming up with seven word reviews. Here is what we came up with.
Seven Word Reviews - what's yours?
Fabulous discussions, questioning and critical thinking

Meanwhile, Last Term...

The Fault in Our Stars John Green

We launched Book Chat with John Green's novel. Since last year, Green's books are always out, with a huge reserve list. We have increased our numbers and added popular titles onto our ePlatform. 

This group of invited students were given a packet of tissues, along with a Whats' Next? pamphlet, with recommended reads, similar to John Green.

The M & Ms chart was from an idea I saw on Pinterest. I adapted the concept to fit our Book Chat. 

What are you currently reading? Leave a comment below.

From Film Analysis to Design Thinking, Theme, and Links

Thinking, Creating & Sharing

After completing a close viewing of our visual text, 'What's Eating Gilbert Grape', directed by Lasse Hallström, I wanted the students to show a deeper understanding. As the film highlights many themes still relevant today, this was also a way of sparking ideas, leading into their personalised inquiry and oral presentations. 

The Brief

Working collaboratively, their challenge was to create a sculpture that encapsulates a relevant theme. Next, they needed to report back to the class, discussing the links to self, other texts or current events / issues.  
From dysfunctional to reconciliation - Gilbert is Momma's "knight in shimmering armour"
Students share their themes with the class + actively listening 

The Grape family needed to be resilient to face their future together
Our short term visitors get involved

Engaged & enjoying the spotlight

I was very proud of their efforts. It was exciting to see so many engaged, focused Year 10 students. It will be interesting to see how these translate into their formative response to visual text essay later on.

The Benefits

There are many added bonuses for employing design thinking in the classroom. Many learners enjoy the opportunity to become makers. Creating tactile sculptures takes the focus off themselves and onto the things that count - collaborating, creating, thinking at deeper levels, speaking, presenting and  the opportunity to consolidate learning in a non threatening way. Students were able to apply their new knowledge of symbolism, and articulate the theme that stood out for them. Don't just take my word for it though - here's what Caitlin, Lauryn and Cole say about their learning this year.

The power of Communication - some characters are open & communicative, whereas the rest are not. Each name is pegged onto the open or closed cup  - the coloured pegs symbolise their disposition

Design Thinking 101: Taking Risks with Empathy & Prototyping

Bringing Year 10 Media Studies to Life

Do you want fries with that? 

 Institute of Design at Stanford -
I love that our Media Studies course is constantly evolving to reflect current trends and ever changing social media. Last year, Instagram was new, well for me anyway. Now, I  blog, tweet, access Feedly, whilst pinning interesting, relevant things on Pinterest. 
This term focuses on Advertising. Advertising is about being responsive to a target audience. This requires active listening, empathy and creativity. Making and Creating - sounds fun to me. This year, is about launching into design thinking to enhance and empower our future.
Using the 'Gift Giving Experience' design thinking model (, I launched into this term with the actual making and creating. Here is what I witnessed.
In one hour, I had music blaring and welcomed the class into their new advertising agency. Today was about listening to your client, showing empathy and offering prototypes - to enhance their gift giving experience.
Materials set up - ready to design
Working through the process  
Building prototypes

Collaboration & creativity = engaged students

Our visiting students were actively involved

Apps designed to assist the giver
Future Focused

My Reflection:

Ideally, you need 90 minutes to do this task justice. At first, the students were unsure and reluctant, however, as they worked through the process, at a fast pace, they relaxed into it. For them, they particularly liked the building stage. I decided that they could just share informally with each other, rather than to the whole group. They took the time to reflect, share and obtain feedback. Overall, they were happy and I was relieved - I took a risk, shifted totally out of my comfort zone and in turn, the students were empathetic, engaged and empowered. A huge THANK you to Stanford for the inspiration. Also to Di Cavallo and Steve Mouldey, from HPSS.