Lee Hewes

is totes becoming a teacher…

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Persuasive writing requires critical thinking. Model that.

I’ve been pushing my year one students through a collaborative writing challenge for most of this year. It started off as the #20WC (20 word challenge), where they each had to write 20 words to a visual prompt posted to our class website. To begin with, all I asked of my students was that they merely described what they saw in the prompt. As we moved into term 2 and started looking at creative writing, I pushed them a little further and asked them to write little stories, and at this point it became the #30WC. At the moment we’ve got to the #50WC and we’re looking at constructing persuasive texts. Mainly because we hadn’t done this before and I knew that it would challenge them and make them think.

I guess that’s the operative clause – “make them think.”

The educational interwebz is awash with terms such as ’21st century learner’, ‘innovator’, ‘problem solver’ and ‘collaborator’, ‘critical and creative thinker’. Incidentally, they’re in the Australian Curriculum too.

Fantastic. But how do we model and teach these things?

I dunno. But this is how I tried to get my little  year one kiddiez thinking critically this term.

Wait, I just wanna say something first. For whatever reason, some might shy away from teaching persuasive writing to kids this age, and the syllabus requires only that they do this: 

plans, composes and reviews a small range of simple texts for a variety of purposes on familiar topics for known readers and viewers (EN1-2A)


identifies how language use in their own writing differs according to their purpose, audience and subject matter (EN1-7B)

or this: 

thinks imaginatively and creatively about familiar topics, ideas and texts when responding to and composing texts (EN1-10C)

However I know what my students are capable of and I’m a firm believer that if the syllabus is restrictive, we should teach to the child and not to the syllabus. 

Anywayz, back to my class. 

I used a visual prompt as I have been doing for most of the year, the one below from my recent trip to majestic Yosemite National Park. I freaking LOVE that place. I almost cried when I first entered a couple of years ago. 


We discussed the picture at great length, using as many adjectives as we could muster up to describe the beauty in front of our eyes on the IWB – #Lulz. We spoke about how the air and water looked clean, the trees were lush and healthy, the mountain was beautiful, the stream looked inviting, the meadow would be awesome to play in. We discussed all of the animals that might live there, whether it snowed in the winter and many similar such things.  

Below the picture on our class website I entered the statement, “We must care for nature.”

I asked my students if they agreed, and why/why not?

I explained that persuasive writing has the purpose of trying to ‘change somebody’s mind’ or ‘convince them’ or to ‘make them believe’ something. 

Now, I’m not sure that I did this the right way around, but from here we looked at the Pigeon books by Mo Willems. If you’re a teacher of the early years and you don’t know about these books, I sincerely question where you have been hiding in the last several years. 

Anyway, the pigeon is a somewhat clumsy practitioner in the art of persuasion. He tries to get the reader to let him stay up late, drive a bus, buy him a puppy, and a range of other things by providing a whole swag of peculiar and amusing reasons.

We went back to the books in which he tries to get the reader to let him drive the bus and we pulled out the reasons he offered in his attempts at persuasion. We did the same with the ‘Pigeon wants a Puppy’ book. We then went back to the photo of Yosemite and produced some reasons, both ‘for’ and ‘against’ caring for nature. I reminded the class of The Lorax, another book that we LOVE. We spoke about what the world would be like if we didn’t look after all of the beautiful places in the world. 

We spoke about Thneeds and Gluppity-Glupp and Schloppity-Schlopp.

I then told them that it was their turn to persuade me that we either should, or should not care for for nature. All but one of the students chose the affirmative, the one who chose the negative ended up getting really confused and stressed out and it turns out he’ll be starting again, probably changing his position to make it easier on himself.

To give them some structure and something to aim for, I told them that they needed to give me 3 reasons to support their argument and wrote: 

I think [(or believe) that we (should or shouldn't) care for nature]
(I actually only wrote ‘I think’)




on the whiteboard and I sent them off to get writing. 

Now of course, this wasn’t easy for them and, of course, I went around and helped all of my students as they crafted their works. For a couple of the students in my class I told them that they didn’t have to do this and that they could write whatever they wanted. However the rest worked really hard over the course of a few sessions this week and it was awesome to see them getting their heads around the form. 

One of my students has written her second draft and is up to the stage where she can type it on to her google presentation to share with our mates The Outback Turtles up in North Star and on the interwebz. This is what she has written. 



Pretty fantastic for a 6 year old if you ask me. 

Now, the rest of my students are at various stages of crafting. Some have almost finished their drafts, some are going to go back and start from the beginning. I do know, however, that all of them will get this done and be well on their way to being masters of persuasion – muhahaha. 

We’re going to continue our journey as the term rolls out, and I can’t wait to see how their writing develops. I’m not going to model that they write it in any particular way, I’m going to model thinking critically about things and experimenting with the different ways we can get our point across. 

Below is another Mo Willems character, Amanda’s Alligator. He has his thinking cap on. K/1MEPS are gonna keep their critical thinking caps on at all times.


I’ve no idea if this was the right way to go about it. 

I’ve no idea if I was ‘explicit’ enough – probably not.

All I know is that I’m extremely proud of the work that my students are doing, with the effort and enthusiasm they apply to their learning and that I think they should be extremely proud, too.

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Final photo credit: from the Instagram account of the Buck Institute for Education. Word.

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Observation at another PBL school: a kinda ‘out-of-body experience’.

Today was a great day. Bianca and I were lucky enough to be asked to visit the International Football School on the Central Coast. The IFS is a recently established independent school with a focus on project-based learning and, as the name suggests, football – and when I say football, I mean the type of football which many of us call soccer.

Basically, kids who attend IFS are kids who have demonstrated a strong interest in and talent for soccer and are committed to training every day in the interest of pursuing a career in soccer. They train for two hours every morning, under the tuition of professional soccer coaches before going to class to learn the NSW syllabuses under a project-based learning pedagogy.

Bianca and I were asked to visit the school for the day to share our own approaches to and experiences of project-based learning, before observing classroom practice to give general feedback and suggestions.  I enjoyed the informal, casual approach to the day, the learning that I witnessed occurring and, perhaps most selfishly, the opportunity to be in a PBL classroom other than my own and see first-hand how this works.

Below is the brief and informal presentation I gave to Shane, Karen and Todd in the morning to introduce myself. Basically we just spoke about of some of the reasons for doing PBL, things that should be included when planning a great project, and some outlines of projects I’ve either done or am doing, before jumping straight into teaching and learning.


The project that Shane, Karen and their students are working on atm is based around getting kids to design and develop their own ‘Sideshow Alley’ – the kind of thing you see at places like the circus or Luna Park where you get to place ping pong balls into clowns’ mouths and throw darts at balloons. The students, all in stage 3, have to research and design their own versions of these games, build them, before advertising, promoting and hosting their own sideshow alley for the younger kids at the school.

I was honestly impressed with what I saw. The enthusiasm, engagement and self-direction of the students was fantastic. If I were to offer any word of constructive criticism for Karen and Shane, it would be to consider how they could make the audience for their project more public. Perhaps by approaching a local operator of a business similar to a sideshow alley, Timezone or something.

Anyway, I should probably address my somewhat hyperbolic ‘out-of-body experience’ reference.

For me, visiting Shane and Karen’s classroom felt very much akin to that. It seems that there are increasingly more educators leaning toward PBL here in Australia, all at different levels of knowledge, expertise and experience. There’s no official ‘training agency’ for PBL and I think that’s the way it should always be.

PBL is about inquiry, and the very nature of inquiry is that you don’t have any or many of the answers. So you can never be an expert at inquiry unless you are willing to admit that you know very little. To be an ‘expert’ at PBL, you have to be an expert of the, “I know very little” mindset.

Another thing about PBL is that as a teacher you are constantly moving around. There is constant discussion, chatter, collaboration and noise. You’re involved and invested in all of this and, at times, not entirely sure of where all of it is heading. It can sometimes feel quite chaotic and it’s not until the project is finally over that you have some time to thoroughly reflect on how it all went.

Today, observing was a release from that. I was able to watch other PBLers in action, to speak to the kids and teachers, to learn with them and from them; to watch, listen, engage with and feel what it’s like to be in a PBL classroom. It was like having a bird’s eye view of my own class – an ‘out-of-body-experience’.

Coming from MEPS, I was also interested in how students were engaging with the open and flexible learning spaces. You can see some photos below. I particularly liked the spaceship table that the students had set up for collaborative learning.

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Later,  I visited the stage 2 classroom. I’d introduced Todd to genius hour earlier in the morning and he was enthusiastic about the concept. So much so that he decided to launch it with his class straight away.

After lunch at IFS, students have a bit of  ‘quiet time’. Today, this took place in terms of independent, personal interest research – AKA #geniushour, #AdventureTime, or whatever else you want to call it. I walked into a class of learners researching their genius hour projects and this is some of what I saw.

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I also saw students independently researching spiders, football players, basketball, NRL, Minecraft, fortune-tellers and dinosaurs.

Next,  students showed me some shelter designs for their ‘Survivors’ project. You can see them below.


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Take from this what you will. I took a further enthusiasm for learning.


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Presentation for #TMHills 13/5/14

I figured it’d be a good idea to start logging some of the PL stuff I’ve been doing outside of school hours.

Firstly because I love doing what I do and I think all of my students are epic and I love sharing what they do.

Secondly because I value it in terms of how I reflect on my practice and how best to cater for my students and I also enjoy contributing to the educational community in any way possible.

Thirdly because it’s included in how teachers are ‘marked’ these days according to the AISTL standards (this one 6.3).

Anyway, here’s the presentation I gave for #TMHills this Tuesday – basically a run down and reflection of our most recent class project which I most thoroughly enjoyed. Feel free to flick through – it’s mostly boring. The most interesting stuff you can find on our class blog here and here.


The best kinda structure’s no structure at all.

I’ve probably said this before but I reckon I’m pretty lucky to be working at Merrylands East Public School. It’s an innovative school in many ways; we have the change in opening hours (based on research) to support student learning, the absence of school bells, but perhaps the innovations that I find most valuable are the focus on student-centered  pedagogies.  At MEPS we have been allowed the freedom to experiment with alternative approaches to curriculum delivery, with the support and encouragement of the executive. My students have been relatively successful with project-based learning and I’ve now run cross-KLA projects with students in kindergarten, year 1, year 2, and year 6 on a range of focus subjects such as science, history and English.

As this year I’m on infants with a K/1 class, one of the things I’ve been encouraged to introduce is play-based learning. I’ve been doing a bit of reading on the topic and from what I’ve read, play-based learning involves providing students a range of opportunities for play, observing as they gravitate toward the activities which interest them, and building the curriculum around these natural interests by introducing inquiry questions based on what the kids are doing. I like how this article describes it as the emergent curriculum.

I thought awhile about the best way to implement play-based learning in my classroom. Some had suggested different ‘learning stations’ – tables with a range of different activities to which students rotate on some kind of timed system, with a chance to explore each activity. I thought this sounded OK and started thinking of ways the @K/1MEPS kidz could start getting bizzie wid play.

I found this cool thing posted on fb and these cool things at a local department store:


I also like the idea of adding some dress ups and having a science style station where kids can plant their own seeds into some little clay pots that they can decorate and watch as the seeds sprout and grow into awesome little seedlings for them to care for. I’d like them to eventually plant them in the school garden so we can continue to care for them at school but if they want to take them home, I’d be down with that, too. :-)

Anyway, not having everything that I wanted for them to get stuck into and not exactly sure how I wanted to introduce play-based learning into my class, here’s what I did.

We’ve been ordering heaps of organic veges and getting them delivered to our house and as a result have been accumulating a heap of cardboard boxes. I decided Friday was going to be the day so I brought them to school in Kombi Wheezer along with my newfound love – the Stickle Puffs! How did I structure the process?

I put the Stickle Puffs on a table with a cloth so kids could start to stick them together and create stuff and I put the boxes on the classroom floor. I chose some kids to go over to the Stickle Puffs and some to play with the boxes. Then I sat back and watched for a bit  before eventually helping them with their creations.

The kids were really into what they were doing. I didn’t get a single student ask me to leave the classroom to go to the toilet or get up to get their drink bottle from the back of the room. They were too interested and engaged with what they were doing. In addition to this there was natural problem solving going on.

Some kids had decided to make cardboard cars and others had decided to make stages for puppet shows. Both of these activities necessitated that students find the best way to keep their creations stable enough for proper use. Kids were experimenting with which materials and designs worked best for this. They were down on the floor, cutting away at the boxes, sharing sticky tape, staplers and opening up PVA glue; changing designs and materials as they saw appropriate.

Students were moving in between groups deciding who best to collaborate with and how they could help achieve the best design. They were naturally grouping themselves in pairs, triplets or quadruplets – based on their interests and approach to learning. I saw kids who wouldn’t normally choose to work with each other happily working away together trying to get their creations off the ground.

When it came time to go home, they didn’t want to pack up!

So with little to no structure at all my students have shown me in which way to direct their learning. The best kinda structure’s no structure at all. Of course, I’ll be facilitating and supporting their learning along the way, but I’m looking to continue taking a back seat. I plan to support them through channeling their inquiry – see questions below.

It says in this epic article, “Through play, children learn to take turns, delay gratification, negotiate conflicts, solve problems, share goals, acquire flexibility, and live with disappointment.”

I agree with this statement. Not only have I seen this in action in the play of my two sons, I could already see it in action in my classroom during our brief foray into play-based learning yesterday.

I also agree with the sentiment in this article that all too often educators expect children to behave like miniature adults when they think fundamentally differently to adults and their brains simply aren’t wired to think in this way. Kids need play.

Here are some of the questions I plan to introduce as we continue our classroom play in future. I’m sure that many more will arise.

Why is that box leaning in that way/collapsing?

How can we make it more stable?

What are the best materials to use/why?

Have you ever been to the theatre?

Shall we look at some stages?

Why do we need more than one wheel?

Why did you choose to put that there?

What will your puppet show be about?

What other materials do we need?

What can we do with the cars once they’re built?

Anyway, that’s enough rabbiting on from me. Check out some photos of my wonderful students as they were hard at play yesterday afternoon! :-)

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And here’s a photo of something I made with Stickle Puffs with my nine year old last night – just for fun. I’m hoping my students will make something like this for their future puppet shows. Play-based learning #ftw!



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Project-based learning, group work and natural differentiation.

If you’ve ever heard it said that PBL ‘naturally differentiates’ and wondered how, I can give you an example of how this has worked for me with my class of kindergarten and year one students and the project we’re currently winding up. It’s a collaborative research project about Australian animals, with the final ‘product’ to be a bunch of paper slide videos to share with another kindergarten class from Promise Road Elementary over in Indiana, America. We’ve just finished the first of five videos, with the rest to be filmed at different points throughout the upcoming week.  So anyway, what of all this group work stuff?

I can’t remember where I read it, pretty sure it was in a research article in some educational research journal a while back, but it went a little something like this – for any task to truly be defined as group work, it must involve the completion of something to which all group members must contribute, and something that without any one individual’s contribution, all members of the group will fail to complete the task.

Paper slide videos are a fine example of such a task. They typically involve a number of slides in excess of around five, so that each member of the group must create at least one slide. These tasks also require students to decide to commit to one of a number of roles such as paper slider, narrator or camera person. So paper slide videos necessitate collaboration. Without a meaningful contribution from each individual the fate of the whole group is doomed to failure. This necessity for each member to contribute, coupled with the varied nature and number of roles is what lends this task so well to differentiation. Let me explain.

To successfully complete a paper slide video, students need to plan ahead of time what is going to go on each slide so that they know which art to contribute and which lines to write. They also need to decide who is going to narrate each slide, writing out lines based on whatever the topic is that they have been researching. We’ve been using the proforma you can see below, completed by one of my students. Now with students of the age group in my class, not all will be capable of the writing necessary to complete the proforma below, some may not be capable of planning ahead in such a way, either. So it is naturally the case that the more capable students in this area either step up for, or are assigned this role, as was the case on our current project. Have a look at all the planning that was done by the leader of The Platypuses.


Now whilst not all students are going to be capable of this amount of writing, all students should be able to contribute some artwork for at least one of the slides, some more so than others. Below you can see that one of the students in this group, whilst being unlikely to do much of the talking in the final video, nor much of the writing in the planning or scripting, was able to contribute a whopping four out of seven slides worth of artwork!

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The two kindy kids in the group contributed one slide each, you can see them below.

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With all of the planning done by the student who completed the proforma, he didn’t get around to creating a slide, so he’ll be completing the opening slide at some point before his group can go on to film their video. When it does come time to film, students will need to commit to roles that provide them a suitable challenge and that contributes adequately to the overall group task. Not all students will be comfortable or capable of speaking for an extended period of time on film, so they may be given only one slide to speak over. Others will be quite comfortable speaking, so may be given a number of slides to speak over. Someone will also need to be the camera person whilst another will need to be the paper slider.

All of these different roles provide a range of differentiated opportunities for students to contribute in a meaningful way to the project and feel successful and comfortable with what they are doing at school. Plus it’s fun.

Whilst a paper slide video can be made by students outside of a PBL classroom, the fact that I’ve designed this project around a Driving Question and have been lucky enough to find a public audience has really driven the relevance and motivation for students to complete this task. I also believe that it has added to the quality of the end result. I can’t wait to get the rest of the videos filmed and uploaded so that we can share them with Promise Road Kinder Panthers. I know also that my students are gonna be proud of all their hard work, learning and collaboration. PBL win!






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Kindy PBL: paper slide videos.

This year I have been fortunate enough to be given a temporary block with my very own class of kindergarten and year one students. For this term I have designed a project around the weird and wonderful creatures that are native to Australia. It’s been a joy to implement and watch as my students have been engaged and learning about some of the creatures we have here in our country. They have been researching with stage 3 students, using a range of paper and web-based texts, compiling their information and are now at the stage where they can put all of their learning together to make an informative video for some kindergarten students in the US who know very little about Australia in general, but much less about the creatures we have over here. If you look at the video below, you’ll see what I mean. Polar bears! #Lulz, #adorable.


Anyway, we’ve been working really hard to get all of the videos planned, designed and created so that we can upload them all before the end of term so that the Promise Road Kinder Panthers can view them when they get back from spring break. We’ve used this rubric, and whilst the language of the instructions is probably not suitable for children as my students, I didn’t bother changing it as the basic concept is all they need to understand. Put down your plans for each slide in the boxes provided, write down what is going to be said and who is going to say it. In future, I’d probably simplify the language but I don’t think it’s a massive issue as all of my groups have managed to plan their videos. You can see some examples of the planning below. It’s actually been quite good as a formative assessment tool to see how much students have learned about the content, as well as for basic reading, writing and spelling skills.

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As is always the case with project-based learning, I’ve found that some groups are progressing through the project more quickly than others. So as it stands at the moment, I have some groups who have yet to finish their slides, some who are practising for their video, and one group who has managed to finish their video. You can see it below, I think they did really well!

I love how you can hear them collaborating and whispering to each other as they remind each other of who is the next narrator! To make things fair and to ensure that everybody gets a role, I’ve made sure that the kindy kiddies in each group have been assigned at least one slide to illustrate and narrate. In this video there are two kindy kids in the group. One kindergarten kid narrates the opening slide and the slide with the information about what bilbies eat, whilst the other (quietly) narrates the final slide, followed by a repeat farewell from the whole class! The rest of the slides are narrated by year ones.

So anyway, there you have it, children can engage in project based learning as early as kindergarten. And they can enjoy it!

Thanks for watching!

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My class totes has a theme song!

I love singing with my class. One of the first things I did with them was establish a call and response chant that we regularly sing on the way back to class from recess. I go down to the COLA, get them all lined up, choose a couple of kids to carry the lunchbox tubs and it goes like this.

Me: “We are going back to class.”
Class: repeat
Me: “We will get there really fast.”
Class: repeat
Me: “1, 2…”
Class: repeat
Me: “3, 4!”
Class: repeat

When it’s time to sit down for fruit break/news time we all sit in a circle and get ready for the speaker to speak. Before we do so, we all put our hands on our knees and chant “Ooooh Aaaah Ma Neee” in unison. It’s ridiculous, I know, and based on something silly Ross Noble said during a live performance I once saw on DVD, but the students think it’s hilarious and a fun daily ritual.

I’m often putting a rhythmic or melodic spin on some of the things I say and the kids usually laugh and repeat this when I do. Wherever possible, I like to include music in some way into our whatever we’re doing. One of the greatest @K1MEPS this term has been this phonics song for the letter c.

It was delightful to see the sense of humour one of my students come out as he let out an uncontrollable giggle at the idea of a cat with a cap riding a cow to California and back, hilarious! Whenever I played the song he would say, “I think it’s funny.” When the song asked, “What do you think about that?”

Anyway, with the kids responding so well to music, I thought it would be a cool idea to have a class theme song. So on Saturday night I sat down and wrote a simple chorus that we can add more stuff to later.

You can see the chords and lyrics below.

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We practised it today and the students responded really well. We had our first go with the song to start the day, another run through just after recess and a final run through just before the end of the day. By the time we were ready to go home we even had a chance to give a little performance to a couple of teachers who happened to be walking by. Most of the kids have the timing sorted and, of course we’ll need to try to get everyone in tune, but for our first song I think it’s sounding awesome!

I gave the students some ideas about what they could include in their verse lyrics, but I think these may take a while to get into song. Especially as the kids will have to do these solo and that can be quite nerve-wracking, especially when you’re only 5 or 6!

I’m really happy with it though, stoked my class has a theme song and can’t wait to get them singing it to some of the other classes in the school!


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