Teaching for the 21st Century: Oracy lessons

Teaching students how to take turns and talk, express opinions and ideas politely, challenge ideas, public speaking and other speaking activities are vital for communicating effectively  in life and the development of social skills. They are skills  which are as important as literacy and numeracy, especially in this digital age where conversation can often be lacking in favour of social networking or texting.  Peter Hyman, School 21 cofounder and executive head teacher, supports this move and says, “We need to elevate speaking to the same level as reading and writing.”  



Powtoon for learning and creativity

I have just discovered Powtoon and I am excited to share it! I was looking for an alternative to Powerpoint and stumbled across Powtoon and am hooked on how simple it is to use but most of all the creativity it displays to enhance learning. Powtoon is an excellent teacher and student tool. Read more about how it can be used in the classroom (eg introducing your subject to your class, school rules/expectations, lesson overview, new facts, book reviews… the possibilities are endless. There is a free version and paid option available.

Is Downs Syndrome really a severe burden?

an educator of children with special needs and as a parent of a child with Down’s Syndrome, this topic tore at my heart.

Why is a person with Down’s Syndrome considered to be so dreadful to the world? Sally Phillips in her documentary, A World without Down’s Syndrome, BBC 2016, highlighted several key points for society to consider including what kind of society are we that wants to abort these fetuses right up until birth? Why is it socially acceptable to do this?

Facts in the UK on DS  (I don’t have Australian data):

  • In the UK 9/10 women choose to terminate a fetus with DS
  • Screening was introduced in the UK 30 years ago with no public discussion – there has never been a public ethical debate on the issue.
  • A new NIPT screening test developed by Lyn Chitty at the Greater Ormond St Hospital gives testing for DS 99% accuracy (more ‘choice’?). This test formerly available to private patients only, is to be rolled out under the NHS described as “the most exciting development in pregnancy care for decades …”
  • A medical description given to parents on DS lists ALL that could possibly go wrong. How about giving the same list to EVERY prospective parent!!!
  • Mothers are given a very grey picture: DS was described by a Professor (fetal medicine expert) “For some people having a child with DS is an intolerable event ….. a burden to the family and society which will last for a long time ….”
  • Comments from a person with DS: “Who is perfect? We have lives just like everyone else.” This person because she has DS, has to justify her existence.  DS is NOT a disease.
  • Counselling services do not have up-to-date advice to give prospective mums on their diagnosis. They listen and then ask the person how do they think they can cope?
  • When a parent spoke from her heart about her journey with her DS child including her second pregnancy and the pressure she was under for testing to a room of nurses and midwives, every single person cried.


How do we change society’s fear and the people who tell prospective parents their child will be a burden? By education. For people born with DS, it is not the end of the world for them!  They love life, they love people and they appreciate any opportunity which comes their way.

This whole issue is very close to me as I received the same pressure in my second pregnancy when I was expecting twins and one was identified as DS. I was offered genetic counselling and the ‘choice’ to abort the DS twin. Again, at labour, I was reminded, “this child will be a huge burden for the rest of your life. We can deny him oxygen …. “(my twins were both prematurely born so needed to be in a premi-crib for 6 weeks).  My third pregnancy resulted in pressure for testing as ‘I already had one child with a disability.’

When we live our lives in a way that we consider some people less worthy to live because of some ‘defect’, or a fear of what might be, we are not appreciating the  existence of that person as a living being, an atma, the person residing within the body, a person with the same feelings and dreams as any of us – yes they are different, but so are we all.  Prospective parents need support and reassurance that their journey will be somewhat different but nonetheless their child will be loved and cherised as any other child.  And just as it takes a village to raise any child, it takes a society to support these individuals in their life’s journey.   If we are looking to eradicate people born with Downs Syndrome, where does it end?  What about people with other disabilities? What about a person with an acquired disability?  What about the elderly? At some point or another, we are all going to be a burden on society. What kind of society or world do we want?


Smart Goals

Goal setting is an important strategy to aim towards success – both for teachers to set goals for their class and for students to set individual positive goals which are achievable. Goals need to be specific, identifiable, reasonable, relevant and the outcome observed. In other words, they are:

S = Specific
M = Measurable
A = Attainable
R = Relevant, Rigorous, Realistic, and Results Focused
T = Timely and Trackable

= SMART Goals

They take a bit of practice to get it right.

Specify a date, what will be achieved and what the benefit will be:

By (date) …

I will (what you wish to achieve) …

so that (why this is of benefit to self or your organisation

Here is an example of a SMART goal a teacher sets for a student:

Topic: Increasing sight vocabulary


Michael will increase the number of ‘tricky words’ that he reads from flash cards to 30 by week 6 term 4 with 100% accuracy on every occasion. (Leading to being able to read these words in texts)

For such a goal to be achievable, it would be necessary to apply intervention for example:


  • Daily practice and revision of target words on flash cards.
  • Present some of the target words in a text daily. (All words covered by end of each week)
  • Play a game with the target words like bingo/memory/go fish daily.
  • Provide parents with a copy of the words to practice at home.

SMART Goals can also be written to assist students in following procedures and managing behaviour. For example,

Peter will comply by following verbal instructions given one to one by the teacher during form class.


  • Whole class is given visual prompt for following instructions.
  • Positive, explicit instructions are given to Peter and what is to be done
  • Allow time for Peter to process the information
  • Check understanding by repeating instruction

More information on writing SMARTer goals can be found here.

Using movies to inspire writing

I have posted before about one of my favourite literacy sites The Literacy Shed which has lots of ideas for using movies to inspire writing.  I recently came across Video Writing Prompts at the Teacher Hub which has an excellent collection of videos which can be used as lesson warm-ups or to promote writing in many ways such as essay writing, reflecting, critical thinking, comparing and questioning – there are many ways to use the videos! Ideas for different writing tasks are given for different year levels.  Videos are undoubtedly a valuable tool to add to engage and motivate young writers.

Literacy Resources for early readers/struggling readers

Fabulous resources are worth sharing!  To help readers with the skills needed to be successful readers Literactive is a fantastic resource for building the basics necessary for good reading skills. Although registration is required, resources are free.  K-grade 1 resources.

Starfall: ABC’s, learning to read, It’s fun to read, I’m reading. A reasonable amount of resources free. Access to full bank of resources is US$70 for teachers or classroom access $150 a year. PreK-Grade 2.

First Steps: Australian Based Literacy Program, made up of four interwoven strands of literacy: Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening, and Viewing, which symbolise the interrelatedness of literacy learning. All strands are threaded with practical, accessible, classroom-tested teaching procedures and activities. Creative Commons versions are available to download as long as resources are acknowledged, now altered and not used commercially.

Inferencing skills

Inferencing skills are an important foundational skill and a prerequisite for higher-order thinking (Marzano 2010).    The understanding that  information is not stated literally but is implied improves skills in drawing conclusions. However,  many students struggle with this concept and using Question-Answer-Relationship (QAR) will assist their understanding.

Using a text, four types of questions can be asked:

1. Answer is right there: Answers are in the text using the same words as in the question

2. Think and search: Answers are in different parts of the text and put together to identify meaning .

3. Author and You: Information is provided in the text and the reader draws on their own experience to provide a response.

4. On Your Own: Prior knowledge is used to answer a question.

How to use QAR is described in more detail here.

Some excellent inferential worksheets are available here.



Apps for Developing Literacy Skills

Although there appear to be a plethora of apps for literacy, I had difficulty finding suitable age appropriate ones for low level literacy learners in high school.  Most of the apps I came across were aimed towards much younger learners.   I was hoping that as more apps came on the market, someone, somewhere would develop something which would excite me.

Well it has happened!  On one one of my favourite literacy  blogs, Mr P’s ICT, (thanks Mr P, I’ve used lots of your ideas), I came across mention of Alan Peat’s literacy resources.  On further investigation of references to Alan Peat’s resources, I discovered Alan Peat pocket app of exciting sentences (great teacher resource) as well as an app for interactive student use  Exciting Sentences Pupil Edition.  These apps are well worth the few dollars they cost.

To find out all about Alan Peat’s Exciting Sentences, google it and you’ll get a pdf of what they are about.

Other great apps from Alan Peat include:

The Alan Peat Pocket Punctuation App, a great teacher resources which has very clear teaching strategies and resources including tasks can be viewed on an interactive whiteboard for student participation.  Again, cost is only a few dollars. Amazing value for the content it provides.

Alan also has a series of story machine apps for story planning, including, The Science Fiction Story Machine,  Writing Gruesome Ghost Stories and The Fairytales Story Machine.  You can read more about them here.

Digital learning is so much fun!

Positive Behaviour Interventions

PBIS World.com  is a fantastic interactive educator resource for positive behavior interventions and support.  Educators are able to  identify behaviours being exhibited by a student and then choose from a selection of interventions.  Data tracking forms are included.  If the intervention is unsuccessful the educator is guided to another tier of interventions.  Functional assessment checklists are included and parent questionnaires.  A one-stop shop for behaviour issues!

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