Saturday, March 23, 2013

Guided practice in the workshop

I am writing this post for the first assignment for one of the papers in my diploma in tertiary learning and teaching. The brief was to investigate an active learning approach and then create an online resource that my classmates can access from our course moodle site. It's overdue. Half my problem was choosing a presentation method: I vacillated between voice-threads and videos, I felt pressure to produce a PowerPoint or a Prezi. Now, a couple of weeks overdue, I have decided to just blast out a blog post on the subject of

Guided Practice in the Workshop 

At the moment I'm taking a class of high school aged students through a course in hanging and finishing plasterboard. While there is a theory component to the course (calculating quantities, knowledge of materials available) the main aim is for students develop manual skills with tools and measuring equipment and to gain hands-on knowledge of what people in the industry do with their day. This is the focus for the first few weeks of the program and students develop that knowledge and manual skill in the environment pictured above.

Each student is assigned a cubicle of their own measuring 900 x 1200 x 2400mm with a window, simulated wiring and a pipe penetration in which to hang and stop their own plasterboard to a paint finish. The cubicles are designed so that students are exposed to each of the basic skills a plasterboard worker uses daily - measuring, cutting, nailing, allowing openings for services, plastering flat joins, and finishing internal and external angles. Once they have been exposed to these skills early in the course it should be easier to engage them in the theory related to plasterboard as they have some prior knowledge to which to attach the concepts we are encouraging them to learn.

Guided practice 

From the resources I have found online, guided practice is described as the part of a lesson where students are set free to actively use the knowledge presented to them earlier in the lesson with support from the teacher. It is the stage of the lesson which falls between the presentation of new material and independent practice. It is also where students begin to take accountability for their learning of the day's content.

In a maths lesson, students may work together or individually on a problem requiring use of the day's concept while the teacher oversees them as required.

In my context, for example, after I have demonstrated running paper tape into internal corners, students then disperse to their own cubicles to try and to practice running their own tapes in. I am likely to talk them through the first one step by step, keeping an eye out for obvious misunderstanding while I do so, before encouraging them to complete the rest of their tapes at their own pace. Once they are working independently I am able to circulate through the workshop and give feedback and further instruction to individuals directly where I see it is required.

Practising the skill immediately after it has been presented gives students the chance to apply new knowledge while it is fresh in their minds. 

 Rich learning experiences

The educational theorist we have been particularly exposed to as part of my studies in teaching and learning is L. Dee Fink. According to Fink, a rich learning experience will happen where the three pictured ingredients combine:

Information combined with an experience may mean little without an ensuing reflective dialogue.
Reflective dialogue following new information will be of little help if one has not experienced applying that new information in some way.

The guided practice section of a lesson is an excellent way to create the required experience following new information. Some reflective dialogue will occur when the teacher is giving guidance: I often find myself saying things like "that one is perfect, that one not so much, what did you do differently?" and a discussion follows from there. At other times reflection is done in the classroom, away from the completed task.

Supporting students through guided practice 

When my students are first practising a new skill it is vital that I circulate efficiently and give feedback and further instruction wherever it is required.  This is the time to correct misunderstandings and coach students toward success with the new skill. Without this support the practice becomes independent practice rather than guided practice.

Using the example of running in tapes for internal corners, I am checking for

  • motivation to do the task
  • correct use of tools
  • use of correct tools
  • that students are not ignoring problems that need remedied first, like protruding nails that just need hammered in
  • that tape is folded correctly
  • that enough plaster is being used
So, in short, I am

  • providing encouragement
  • checking for understanding, and re-teaching where necessary
  • modelling good practice.
As each student becomes more proficient with the task, as with most scaffolding type teaching methods, I gradually offer less support and move them towards independent practice of the skill.


The following online resources were helpful in preparing this blog:

Friday, March 30, 2012

Night visitors and job interviews

Last night I lay awake, unable to sleep.

It was not, though you might have thought it would be, because my wife had come home with possibly life changing news - the possibility of a new job for her in a new town and all the upheavals one might anticipate with moving teenagers. No, it wasn't that. It was because the cat hadn't jumped on the bed.

As happens normally about that time of night there came the noise of soft footfalls approaching the foot of the bed. Normally after that sound one of two things happens: Either the foot of the bed is viciously attacked to the sound of claws tearing fabric, or a soft purring thing arrives at my feet suddenly, before padding up the length of my body to deposit a couple of loose hairs under my nose and the back to curl up inconveniently between my knees.

This time, nothing jumped on the bed.

This time, the scratching at the foot of the bed was more tentative, accompanied by a soft, rhythmic, emphesemic panting. 

I leaned over the side to look, and by the light of the i-pod in my hand I saw a small round dark shape glide swifly away from the light and under the bed-base.  I leaned over more. Aiming the i-pod towards the middle of under-the-bed I peered at the dimly illuminated scene. I could make out the wallpaper on the other side in almost all directions, except for one small orb of darkness directly beneath where my wife lay.

I rolled myself back up. put the i-pod beside the bed and pulled the covers up to my chin.

"What were you doing?" asked my wife.
"Just looking."
"Is there a hedgehog under the bed?"
I didn't reply. She had enough to think about.
"Tell me there isn't a hedgehog under the bed," she said, a hardness coming into her tone.
"I didn't see one," I said carelessly.

This was almost true. And as I said she had enough to think about just now.
My wife works in the finance section of a large co-operative. Just one small corner of the place. She finds this boring and limiting.
One part  of her job she enjoys is taking care of the use of a particular piece of software specifically written for finance and banking. In the course of her week she speaks to one or other of the team of four who make up the company that wrote and maintain the software, and gets on with them all very well. And for the longest time she has been proclaiming: I want K***'s job at A****!
Well yesterday she was talking to J*** at A*** who happened to mentions that the guy who was supposed to take K***'s job when she left had never showed and the position was open again. I want that job! she declared, and he said Well you'd better get in quick, G***'s interviewing now.
So she e-mailed G*** and he e-mailed back asking if she could get to Christchurch for an interview.

We're driving up tomorrow.

Now she had every reason to suspect that there would be a hedgehog under the bed because the week before, when I was down at the ED waiting for somebody to get x-rayed because their sibling had slammed their wrist in the door, she sent me a fully disgruntled text message to the effect that she'd just made the bed, hedgehogs were disgusting, and how was she supposed to remove a large mother hedgehog and three baby hedgehogs from under it?
By the time we got home, she and the door-slamming sibling, with the aid of a shovel and a cardboard box had solved the problem. Not wanting to spook the mother into abandoning her babies by covering them with human scent, they had shovelled all four into the box and deposited them outside, and the mother had dutifully, over the next hour or so, picked the little ones up one by one and ferried them off to somewhere else. 

Anyway yesterday, while we were sitting in the conservatory discussing the possible ramifications of this interview. (Honestly would anyone expect you to travel nearly four hundred kilometres for an interview if they weren't just a little bit serious about employing you?) While we were discussing this a large hedgehog (they're just not scared of us any more) scurried doggedly across in front of us in the direction of the cat's bowl.
"Is that the mother?" I asked.
"Not big enough, I think," she said. "You know even if the rent up there is double what we pay here we could still..."
Well you get the idea. The next time I thought about the fact that a real hedgehog had walked within six inches of my feet (it no longer excites me, not since they spent a summer crapping on my pantry floor) there was no hedgehog in sight. When we got to a point in our conversation that we realised it was too cold to be outside, we got up and moved into the lounge, shutting the door tightly behind us.

Later, after the dark orb had glided under the bed, I lay thinking about how after about five years of little to no social interaction beyond work, I had finally found a small group of good friends with similar interests who I would sorely miss if we moved; about how the kids had just begun settling at school; about how after a miserable year workwise I have settled in a job which, while not stupendous, I quite like; about how Dunedin is... comfortable; and about how I should really get some sleep.

And that is when the grunting started.


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Funny what you find in old exercise books...

"And so..." he said, smugly for he was a man full of brass and warm wind, happy to stand in the spotlight.
"And so..." he said. louder this time as he had noticed my attention had drifted to the window.
"AND SO!!" he cried, louder than the first two times.

I looked at him, trying to make my eyes impervious. He'd forced my attention, and I had looked at him but I tried to make my eyes impervious, non-communicative cold concrete marbles glazed slick, slippery that you could not fix a stare of admonishment on.

After all he was only a school-teacher, a policeman, the prime minister, the president of some football club erupting like a volcano while you ride your bicycle on his field. He was none of these and all of these bundled into a small man who knew best, full of brass and warm wind who waited for me to listen to his view on rubbish and litter and personal responsibility, on larrikins and layabouts and slow sure paths to anarchy and who was he to say to me, on only his authority, if I couldn't take my rubbish home to put it in the bags...

Friday, May 6, 2011

Love the cat.

The inside cat would like my attention. She wants to sit on the pages of my assignment which are spread around me in a half circle in front of the fire.  When I decide to tidy up a bit she jumps about trying to sit on the papers I am touching, only for me to add them to the pile and reach for another one which she must, in turn, sit on.
I go to the kitchen to check her food bowl and she follows, purring. It's full.
She wants to be with me in the toilet, poking her paw under the door and trying to swing it open enough to get through. On my way out I pick up her dry sick from the carpet with a piece of toilet paper and dispose of it. She's had plenty to eat.
In bed she wants to sit on my chest, padding and purring loudly, before finally settling down at my feet.

I didn't want her.

After the old cat died I had hoped the outside cat would get a second chance to be an inside cat.  When we got the outside cat the old cat made it clear there could be only one.

The old cat was like having my own dog. Whenever I pulled up in the car outside the house he would come running from some hedge or other on the street, where he had been waiting for my return to greet me. I had him for eight years.

One night, when my girlfriend of the time had been out with her friends til the early hours of the morning, I heard the front door open and the sound of her stumbling in.  The next thing I knew there was a pressure on the pillow beside me and something cold and wet in my ear.  The cat had followed her in.

We had never seen this cat before, though we had lived in the house for some months, but he struck me as a very polite cat. We didn't feed him at first and he was very good about it, but after a week it was obvious he was there to stay and we bought that first pot of cat food.

He wasn't the type to twine around your legs in that irritating way to suggest he wanted something. He was content to merely sit at a civilised distance and give you one quiet but assertive meow. If you took a step towards him he would lurch forward and butt your leg with his head. He wasn't terribly keen on being patted, but if you put your face near his he would happily exchange headbutts for ages. I got so much into the habit of expecting headbutts from small animals that when an acquaintance introduced me to his Shi-Tzu I horrified him by pressing my forhead to the dog's before I realised what I was doing

The cat - the old cat - had no tail. For me all cats with tails began to look odd. He outlasted the girlfriend and lived with me in four successive houses. He left a scar on the nose of the Pitbull-SharPei cross a friend brought to our house and who really wanted to make friends with the ball of black fur under the coffee table. 

We had our little games. I would try to make him symmetrical and he would rear back and with both paws scratch me symmetrically on both cheeks - but he never really put his claws out. And whenever I pulled the car up outside the house he would come running from wherever he was.

Eventually the old cat became the disgusting cat.  His bottom was never clean, and neither was the furniture where he used to sit. He started to always be hungry, and lost his politeness about asking. He stopped burying his doings, and soon there was no spot on the back lawn where you could safely put your foot.

I took him to the vet, and they said they could do a test for two hundred dollars but that that would only tell them which thousand dollar course of treatment to pursue. I took him home and read about cat diets on the internet. I snarled at the children to stop giving him milk and stopped feeding him biscuits in favour of pieces of raw meat.

It seemed to be working. He perked up and his bottom started being clean again. And then after a week there was a knock at the door. I opened it to two stern faced ladies from the old-folks home kitchen. One of them held the old cat, his back end wrapped in a towel. I should take better care of him they said. They'd cleaned him up they said. They'd been feeding him left-overs and cheese they said.

I took him back and begged them not to feed him again. So much for controlling his diet.

A few days later I came home for lunch and saw him through the window lying very still under a tree in the only sunny spot. I went out to see him. I finally acknowledged how thin he had become. His face was limp and his breathing shallow. I stroked him and told him I was glad he had found the sun, and that night I took him back to the vet...

I didn't want the new cat - the inside cat. She had a tail for starters, and the outside cat had just started showing his face again. But it was hard not to smile at her tiny kitten tail quivering with ecstasy at her first taste of tinned fish.

Now she is walking back and forth over my keyboard, but she at least has the good manners not to actually tread on it. And when I pull the car up outside my house, she comes running.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Twilight? Not yet. Brideshead takes over.

I'm looking, no, staring, at the front page of Twilight by Stephanie Meyer and I just can't do it.  I will. ...just not today.

The problem is I've just finished reading Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, and, perhaps fittingly I'm reluctant to hurry the drifting away of that world from my mind by pushing another story in just yet.

This is the only of Waugh's novels that I have read, but, judging by other of his titles - A handful of Dust, Decline and Fall - there might be an overall theme to his work.  Certainly these two titles would be excellent titles for a review of this novel, which follows the descent out of the heavenly state of youth and into bleak adulthood for its narrator, and also the last years of a wealthy english aristocratic family.  The novel ends with the once grand house empty at the end of world war II, and with the last members of the family unlikely to produce heirs.  The glory of the twenties, both at Oxford, and in the lives of the privileged, so enchantlingly portrayed when the story begins, has drifted away like a handful of dust.

Charles Ryder, who narrates the story looking back from the point of view of a lonely middle-aged army captain at the end of the war, befriends the flamboyant Sebastian Flyte in their first year at Oxford in 1920 after Sebastian, passing by drunk, vomits into his window.  For the next two years Ryder, Flyte, and Aloysius - Flyte's teddybear - are inseparable.  Sebastian, the spoiled second son of a well-to-do aristocratic and catholic family, takes Charles home to meet his old nanny, taking care to avoid his actual family as it seems he is reluctant to involve Charles with them.  That involvement is inevitable however, and as Charles, who for close family has only his hostile and sarcastic father, becomes closer to the rest of the Flytes, Sebastian becomes more distant.  The story, painfully beautiful, gives the impression of an ancient edifice, with time, like a chill wind, blowing through it.

It's been three days since I began this post.  Stephanie Meyer has still not got my attention.  I went  back to read the introduction of Brideshead  and, though I'm a bit busier this week, have found myself halfway through it again.  It's completely put me off fantasy for the moment. Why do you need fantasy if a story on earth can be told so well?

Evelyn Waugh was a convert to Catholicism.  In part the story portrays the passing of an ancient family line; the end of the age of privilege with hints of the rise of mediocrity.  But as much as that it is about catholicism.  The six members of the Sebastian's family are - for want of a better word - infected with Grace, and each responds differently to its overwhelming presence in their lives.  From the eldest son, Brideshead's complete unquestioning, boring adherence to the tenets; Sebastian and Julias' individual rebellions; to their father's - who converted on his marriage -  complete rejection of it, Grace gets them all in the end one way or another.

The book brought meaning to the oft-quoted "once a catholic, always a catholic".  It echoed exactly the way my catholic sister describes her religion, and also came some way to explaining to me why the couple of catholic girls for whom in my late teens I had such deep but unrequited feelings were not interested even when at the same time they seemed they might be.

I haven't been affected this much by a novel for quite some time.  Most people I know think of the TV series from 1981 when the title is mentioned.  I've not seen it but I might have to now.

If you haven't read it, do.