The role of a team leader and why they are so important.

Why do we need team leaders and what is involved when I volunteer to be a Team Leader?

This information is relevant to Year 5 – 8 teachers who might want to have a go at being a team leader. It has come to my attention that we haven’t really put it out there about what is involved in this role. So here goes …

The numbers who register in any one term can vary greatly. For Term 1 2020 we have 43 teachers already signed up from 34 different schools.

Having used Edmodo as our number one place to connect, we have learnt over the years that a maximum of 6 classes is ideal for this platform. If we place more classes than this in a team the Edmodo groups get too cluttered and full and the students get lost! We have found the smaller number of classes helps to ensure that connecting and collaborating online is manageable. For example, replying to students’ posts in Edmodo can be daunting if there are too many kids. This means at this stage I am looking to organise at least 7 teams each with a leader. This is why we need team leaders!

The team leader role is mainly about communicating! After I have created the teams I let the team leaders know who is in their team; their school, email, and twitter handle if they have one. From this point onwards the team leader is their contact point.

The team leader needs to email their team, introduce themselves, and remind everyone of the chapter breakdown. The main job now is to set up an Edmodo group and guide your team members as to how to sign up.  It would also be worth asking your team what other platforms they might like to use to connect. As a team leader myself, I often have a Flipgrid open for my team and we have also used Padlets for particular activities. To ensure some real-time connectedness happens, as a leader, you could initiate some Google Hangouts or Zoom meetings between students. 

The team leader will often create an activity roster. This is done to make sure all the teachers in the team contribute to the literacy activities the kids in their team can do; as opposed to a team leader being expected to do this. The roster will usually have each teacher allocated a week where they come up with the literacy activity for that week and post it in the Edmodo groups for all the students. 

The last job of the team leader is modelling responding regularly to ALL students in Edmodo. When students are having their discussions in Edmodo, it is really important that ALL teachers go into the groups regularly and involve themselves in the literary discussion that the students are having – especially the team leader. 

Weekly communication is the key!

Hope this helps.


Some misconceptions & a glimpse into a #NZreadaloud session

In this post I am going to explain a few misconceptions and also share a glimpse into a typical session in my classroom. This is not to say you have to do it like I do it. It is purely to share a glimpse of #NZreadaloud potential for better engagement, motivation, and ultimately achievement in literacy by all students. #NZreadaloud, by design, is an inclusive and culturally sustaining pedagogy. Kids can learn from one another as well as the teachers and contributing authors. #NZreadaloud celebrates diversity (books are very carefully selected) and places value on what students have to offer in the creation of understanding.

Misconception #1

When you participate in #NZreadaloud we supply you with materials. No.

All you need is one copy of the book! We will not provide you with a pre-written unit that you follow. We try to make it as student driven as possible; providing opportunities for kids to ask the questions, initiate and lead the literary discussions, and inquire into their curiosities and interests which are sparked from the text. So until you start reading, you don’t really know where the book will take you! Although we may create choice grids and other suggestions for activities and tasks, it does not mean you have to use them; it also shouldn’t be an expectation. Often there are teacher notes which are supplied by the author as well – but all of these are ideas for you to adapt to your needs and your students’ needs.

Misconception #2

#NZreadaloud is coming in after lunch and reading for 10 minutes. No.

#NZreadaloud needs to be the center of your literacy programme if you are to commit fully to this connected experience and not let down other teachers and classes in your team who are expecting meaningful  and regular connectedness. Something has to go if you are intending on participating in #NZreadaloud. To participate with the purpose intended, it requires time. Curriculum integration is a very real outcome if you want it to be and you encourage your kids to inquire!

Misconception #3

#NZreadaloud is the teacher passively reading while everyone else listens. No.

The reading aloud needs to be a performance; you should practice, consider the environment (lighting / displays / sketchnote boards available / how comfortable are your kids), use accents for different characters, and bring the text alive by moving around and acting when you are reading (as opposed to sitting in a chair passively). Kids will draw from your enthusiasm and performance. We encourage teachers to teach their students how to sketchnote so they can sketchnote during the reading. During my last Read Aloud I had my students ask if they could act out a particular scene as I read (River and Huia during their episode of the river flooding) because it was so exciting – how cool is that! It was only the second time my students had asked to do that. The first time was during the reading of Juggling with Mandarins during the chapter called The Bubble Burst. I actually got a student to video this one!

Misconception #4

Team leaders are there to do everything for you. No.

The teachers that volunteer to lead the teams are there to co-ordinate the team of teachers; to make sure support is available for new participants, to provide some guidance, reply to student posts in Edmodo, and to encourage collaboration. Participants have a role too – make yourself familiar with Edmodo and any other platforms that may be used such as Flipgrid, Padlet, Zoom, and Twitter if you want to get the most out of your experience. You are also expected to reply to student contributions in Edmodo – all students – not just your own. #NZreadaloud gives you an opportunity to get out of your comfort zone and try new things – just like we ask of our kids. Team leaders have been awesome at helping to build other leaders!

As with anything new and innovative, it takes participation, commitment, and perseverance to figure out how this might work in your school / class. If it is a lot different to what you have always done – that’s good! We still teach / cover / uncover the same skills as you do during group reading, but this is so much more empowering and exciting. The pedagogy is organic – it grows and differs every time you participate! If you are familiar with the book Timeless Learning by Ira Socol, Pam Moran, and Chad Ratliff I felt this quote from the book really summed up how I see the philosophy around #NZreadaloud.

But as my Principal told me, the best way to really understand #NZreadaloud is seeing it in action. With no video available at this stage (need to rid myself of camera shyness and get one done) it dawned on me – why not write up what a typical Read Aloud session looks like in my classroom.

So here goes …

In the weeks before we start I get my kids signed into Edmodo. I teach them how to write a post and how to reply to a post. See this guide. They also learn about digital citizenship and the importance of respectful communication with other learners when using the online platforms. Here is a suggested guide to get you started if you need it. I use this as a wall display to sum it up. I will also teach the kids about sketchnoting. This is an important aspect of the #NZreadaloud as the kids can do this as you read. Here is a guide to get you started on this learning and teaching.

All this before the scheduled start date! Before the week that the reading starts, we do a pre-reading activity. I will give the kids a copy of the front cover and we do I See I Think I wonder. This gets the kids thinking deeply about the book. We discuss details such as colour / font choices, setting, characters and their connections, title, and any other wonderings they have. A really good opportunity to get the kids talking and discussing. After this I will give them a copy of the blurb. Then they add any further predictions and questions that may have arisen from this extra information.

Some older examples.

A typical session …

Kids will begin to set up their sketchnote page for the session while I do the same on the whiteboard. I scaffold this every time as some kids will find it difficult to listen and note-take at the same time. But what a great lifelong skill to get them started on! When I have finished the chapters, I get the kids to go and finish their sketchnote – adding on anything of significance that they missed or is of interest. Here is a photo of a few examples of my board before I start reading and after the reading session.

The best thiing is when the kids start to volunteer to do the chapter sketchnote on the board!

If I have a particular focus for the session I will explain before I start reading (today along with the regular notes we are going to focus on conventions of text – these are things the author does with the structure and the way they write the text for effect – for example – sometimes when a character is thinking something it will be written in italics- why might they do this?)

Start every session by recapping the last chapters  –  kids will share what stood out to them. They will help each other to clarify what was previously read. 

I then begin to read – making sure I have pre- read the chapter so I have an idea of character voices to use, words I will stop at, language features to note down and discuss, where a good place is to have the kids make a prediction, what places might initiate questions, and connections I make to the text etc.

The reading will be a stop & start affair! I always endeavour to model what I am wanting the kids to do. So I will ‘think aloud a lot ! I demonstrate parts of the story where a question will arise for me and then I encourage the kids to ask a question and note it down in their sketchnote book. We might stop to discuss a character’s actions, we often stop when kids have connections to share, and we often stop where there is a teachable language feature – what is the feature called, why has the author used this comparison / imagery? What does it make us as a reader do? This is the discussion which sticks with them and transfers to their own writing (I have seen it!)

When we come across a new or unfamiliar word we note them down for later. I always ask if anyone can use the context of the story to figure out what it means – more often than not one of the kids can do this and shares. Others will go back to these words after the reading and use these words for their words work’. Another thing I love about this – ditch your ‘spelling lists’ and have kids learn words which come up in a story where they are in context. Use a variety of ‘activities’ to help them learn these new words and expand their vocabulary – many will then use these words in their own writing. Here is an example of one Word Soup activity grid (I differentiate by creating a grid with different number and types of activities to cater for my kids).

Another thing I always do as I am reading is make a note of things I am curious about. This is important as these topics are what drive their mini inquiries. I explain that the ones I am writing up might be different to theirs but it is important to model what we are wanting the kids to do and how we want them to follow their wonderings and curiosities.

As all of this is happening, children will be sketching / doodling as I read – the pictures help them remember what happened in the chapter.

This session of reading / listening / sketchnoting / discussion usually goes for 45-60 minutes. When the reading has finished we move onto sharing something from our sketchnote in our Edmodo group, on a Flipgrid, on a Padlet, or simply doing a literacy activity in our sketchnote book. It might be a piece of writing you are asking them to do. For example a Diary Entry for a character, some poetry, a letter to a character, questions you would ask a character, a backstory etc. There should also be time for students to inquire into topics of interest that have arisen from the text. This part of #NZreadaloud can take the next 3 or 4 days of your literacy time. During a week of #NZreadaloud there could also be some real time connected experiences for the kids using Google Hangouts or Zoom to lead their own literary discussions!

Something I try to do if I am able to is start a Language & Curiosity Wall. Ideally a large whiteboard that grows over the 6 weeks of the read aloud. A place where some key vocab, language features, questions, predictions, connections, and inquiry topics are added to. Here is an example of an earlier board.

This is a long post! There is so much more I could add in (Edmodo discussions, Tweets between students and authors, videos of the Flipgrids kids have recorded sharing predictions or connections, Padlet contributions, to name a few but will leave it for another time.

I want to conclude with a quote from ‘Digital technologies for learning: Findings from the NZCER national survey of primary and intermediate schools 2016 (Bolstad, R. 2016).

“Many teachers say they would like their students to be using digital technologies to collaborate and communicate with people beyond their school on shared learning projects” 

FACT: 65% of teachers would like this to happen however only 14% are currently doing this often or sometimes.

Why not take the opportunity this term and connect yourself and your kids and transform, not only the way you use digital technologies, but what literacy looks like in your classroom!

Enough from me!

Let a student have the last word!