Friday, 31 August 2007

Aberdeen chess conference begins

Well we finally made it to Aberdeen for the Chess in Schools and Community Conference. Steve Carroll, Steve Tobias and myself are presenting a paper tomorrow and are enjoying the conference presentations so far. they are focused on getting chess into schools for the benefit of the whole child, to use a cliche, but it's an important distinction to just focusing on finding champions. According to Susan Polgar "Chess should be fun." Our preparations have been finalised so I hope it all goes well tomorrow. This is the first academic conference like this I've presented.
Tonight we attend a civic reception hosted by Aberdeen City Council.

Monday, 13 August 2007

You need to listen to learn

During a meeting last week I began a conversation with a colleague, asked questions, listened and began explaining my thoughts when I realised that his attention was focused on what another person was saying. I was annoyed but realised that not listening carefully is something I do all too frequently. Improving my listening skills has been a goal for a long time. Then on the weekend I read this:

To learn from people, you have to listen to them with respect. [It is] not as easy as you might imagine. ... The trouble with listening for many of us is that while we're supposedly doing it, we're actually busy composing what we're going to say next. ... [During] your next personal encounter, try to employ the tactics we've outlined here:

* Listen.

* Don't interrupt.

* Don't finish the other person's sentences.

* Don't say 'I knew that.'

* Don't even agree with the other person (even if he praises you, just say, 'Thank you')

* Don't use the words 'no,' 'but,' and 'however.'

* Don't be distracted. Don't let your eyes or attention wander elsewhere while the other person is talking.

* Maintain your end of the dialogue by asking questions that (a) show you are paying attention, (b) move the dialogue forward, or (c) require the other person to talk(while you listen).

* Eliminate any striving to impress the other person with how smart or funny you are. ... [You will learn, and as an ancillary benefit] you'll uncover a glaring paradox: The more you subsume your desire to shine [and truly listen], the more you will shine in the other person's eyes."

Marshall Goldsmith, What Got You Here Won't Get You There, Hyperion, Copyright 2007 by Marshall Goldsmith, pp. 148-156.

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Ingmar Bergman writer

Ingmar Bergman is dead. I remember the first Bergman film I saw "Wild Strawberries' when I was about 18. I was a country boy who grew up on Tarzan 'King of the Apes' and Disneyland and had just moved to the big city and Wild Strawberries grabbed me although I really didn't know what to make of it. I think I somehow knew it was arty and I was trying to be arty. But Bergman was also a great writer. Icame across this post in a blog on writing that I read regularly Poynter Online by Roy Peter Clark. This is great to read as you can visualise the scene so well.

It's the opening to "The Seventh Seal," a story about a medieval knight in the days of the Black Plague:

The night had brought little relief from the heat, and at dawn a hot gust of wind blows across the colorless sea.

The knight, Antonius Block, lies prostrate on some spruce branches spread over the fine sand. His eyes are wide-open and bloodshot from lack of sleep. Nearby his squire Jons is snoring loudly. He has fallen asleep where he collapsed, at the edge of the forest among the wind-gnarled fir trees. His open mouth gapes toward the dawn, and unearthly sounds come from his throat.

At the sudden gust of wind the horses stir, stretching their parched muzzles toward the sea. They are thin and worn as their masters.

The knight has risen and waded into the shallow water, where he rinses his sunburned face and blistered lips.

Jons rolls over to face the forest and the darkness. He moans in his sleep and vigorously scratches the stubbled hair on his head. A scar stretches diagonally across his scalp, as white as lightning against the grime.

The knight returns to the beach and falls on his knees. With his eyes closed and brow furrowed, he says his morning prayers. His hands are clenched together and his lips form the words silently. His face is sad and bitter. He opens his eyes and stares directly into the morning sun which wallows up from the misty sea like some bloated, dying fish. The sky is gray and immobile, a dome of lead. A cloud hangs mute and dark over the western horizon. High up, barely visible, a sea gull floats on motionless
wings. Its cry is weird and restless.

The knight's large gray horse lifts its head and whinnies. Antonius Block turns around. Behind him stands a man in black. His face is very pale and he keeps his hands hidden in the wide folds of his cloak.

The man, of course, is Death, but we'll meet him in a minute. Notice how, through his words, Bergman offers us a wide shot, where we can see sky, the gulls, and the horizon; and the close-up, where we can see the parched lips of the knight and the scar on the squire's forehead.Because there will be sound in the movie, Bergman writes with sound: the snores of the squire, the whinny of the horses, the cry of the seabirds. And, of course, we overhear the dialogue:

Knight: Who are you?

Death: I am Death.

Knight: Have you come for me?

Death: I have been walking by your side for a long time.

Knight: That I know.Death: Are you prepared?

Knight: My body is frightened, but I am not.

Death: Well, there is no shame in that.

Monday, 6 August 2007

Footballers who moved to Freemantle

Yesterday afternoon I was listening to the footy broadcast of West Cast Eagles vs Freemantle and the commentators were discussing two players who transferred to Freemantle at the end of last year - Chris Tarrant and Dean Solomon - when one commentator said:
"I was a bit cynical when Solomon came to Freemantle with Tarrant. I thought they got the two shoes without the suit."

Don't you love it when you hear someone say something like this you haven't heard before!

Writing a paper on our chess initiative

"The scariest moment is always just before you start. After that, things can only get better." Stephen King

Steve Carroll, Steve Tobias and I are co-presenting a paper at an international conference on chess and the community in Scotland later this month. As part of this paper, I am writing a section dealing with the introduction of the chess-squared project in our cluster of schools, which includes a brief story of the initiative, comments on the key role of the principals, the teachers and the tutors, a description of our distributed leadership and a number of vignettes from classrooms.

Earlier today I was discussing with a teacher the difficulty of kids not getting their work completed on time and how difficult it is to develop this responsibility in kids. I mentioned that I always told my students that I'm a deadline person unlike my wife, Pat, who when given a task just gets it done. I begin the task and for some reason that I can't figure out, I leave it unfinished until pressure mounts as the deadline approaches, and then I go flat out and complete the task. I'm wondering were many teachers conscientious students who got their work done early and always on time?

Well, today I felt good because I sat down and wrote about 900 words for the paper.

I began this post with a quote about writing from Stephen King and I thought I'd end with one from Hemingway that sums up my feelings about the first draft:

"The first draft of anything is shit." Ernest Hemingway

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Lesson Study at Castlemaine Secondary College

This term I have begun working with a group of teachers at Castlemaine Secondary College using Lesson Study as a professional learning strategy. We have two groups of three teachers involved in a cycle
  • one hour planning,
  • one hour teaching and observing
  • one hour debriefing and evaluating.
Each cycle will take 3 weeks for each round making 9 weeks in total for three teachers. A big commitment, which we might have to adjust.

Research demonstrates that the teacher makes the big difference to students and the most effective professional learning comes when a teacher works with his or her students in her classroom.

A couple of quotes sums this up:
Professional development should be “grounded in inquiry and reflection, participant driven and collaborative, involving a sharing of knowledge among teachers within communities of practice, sustained, ongoing, and intensive and connected to and derived from teachers ongoing work with their students.”
The International Reading Association (2006)

The problem is that there is almost no opportunity for teachers to engage in continuous and sustained learning about their practice in the setting in which they actually work, observing and being observed by their colleagues in their own classrooms and classrooms of other teachers in schools confronting similar problems of practice. (Richard Elmore, (2004). School reform from the inside out: Policy, practice, and performance p.127)

So far we’ve had 4 sessions for each sub-school providing background to Lesson Study as a form of professional learning, working through the schedule, supporting teachers filling out the PoLT (Principles of learning & Teaching) component mapping, conducting PoLT student surveys, presenting the Release of Responsibility model, deciding on what teachers will say to their class when explaining why three other teachers are sitting in, analysing lesson plans, deciding on a lesson format and collaboratively planning a lesson which one of the group will teach while the others observe.

Next week we begin our first teaching and observing lesson.