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Ep35 – Melissa Carson – Using Technology to Engage Students With Families and So Much More.

Melissa Carson is a Director of Teaching and Learning, and the Coordinator of the Family Bookform Literacy Project. She is a strong believer in empowering students for success, and giving everybody equal opportunities. This is what good teaching is all about.

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Laura

Hello, everyone and welcome to Teacher Chatter,  an Australian podcast made by teachers, for teachers, about all things teaching and education. Today's episode is brought to you by edQuire,  Learning Analytics and AI for schools and teachers. I'm Laura  

Rita

and I'm Rita. Thanks for joining us today as we speak with Melissa Carson about a wonderful project she's been doing with a new digital technology. Welcome Melissa!

Melissa

Hi. Thanks for inviting me to come to see you.

Laura

Yeah.  So, Melissa,  you teach Year  7 and Year 12 English, and you're also the director of teaching and learning at your school, which is in Sydney. Can you just tell us a little more about your roles both as an English teacher and as a director of teaching and learning? And what inspired you to become a teacher?  

Melissa

Okay, well, I'll deal with the English teacher part first. I teach Year  7 and Year12 English, which ah, I suppose, is the core of my business. Ah, and you know is the thing that I think makes me grounded and and think about what I'm doing with it. The other part of my job, which is director of teaching and learning. Ah, I think the main part of my goal is that as a student comes into my class, they have a new appreciation and love of both books and film and everything to do with words that they didn't have before they were part of my class. And that inspiration for the love of learning is why I became a director of teaching and learning. And I think that through every child, that inspiration of wanting to grow and wanting to see what's out in the world and be more a part of your world, um, that's what inspires me to becoming inspired me to become a teacher because that's what other teachers had inspired in me. Yeah, so I like to see that going on. Maybe you do you little part in changing the world that way.  

Laura

Yeah. You plant a seed.  

Rita

Yeah, Yeah, that's right. Particularly when you've had an influential teacher, I suppose, inspire you to do something. It gives you that little bit more passion to pass that on to the students that you're dealing with.  

Melissa

Absolutely.

Rita

Yeah. You have also coordinated the Family Book form Literacy project with Year 7 boys at your college. Before we talk about the specific project can you tell us a little bit more about the Bookform technology and how you got involved with using it?  

Melissa

Yeah, Bookform is a web based platform that teachers and students can sign up for to be involved in any kind of project. But you could also do it is just a general person if you wanted to, ah, you create your book through a template, um there are guide questions to help you. And then at the end you can produce a hard copy book that you can share with others. There's a voice to text feature, which allows you to record an interview with someone that then go straight into your template and your skill as a writer is then tested by how you edit that. And that was what appealed to me as a teacher because a lot of times students don't see that their products, you know that they create going anywhere else. So the fact that they had that as their desired outcome was a great start for us, and it made that we could invest a lot of time in the thing that they don't particularly enjoy, which is making sure their punctuation and grammar is correct. So I, um, first saw Carey, she reached out to me on LinkedIn, and she's that the director of the product and a lot of people contact you on LinkedIn when you have a position like mine, and, uh, very often that is not something that I want to engage with. But this is definitely a technology that I could see working very quickly. Ah, and the teachers that I worked with on the project were also very keen because it was something that they could immediately see fitted in with how syllabus requirements and whether we like it or not. You know what we do have to engage with the syllabus that asks us to do certain things. And sometimes I don't see, I don't think people see that connection between you know the grand vision of particularly Well, you know, maybe what a syllabus has for us. And, you know, by being able to adopt a technology like that into it like that. I think people could see it seamless. Ah, way of working. Um, Yes. So I tried the product I had seen Carey also interviewed Ah, on Sunrise and over a few different sort of media outlets, and I thought that it was that I liked the outreach part. You know, the project as well, that you could engage with the community and on our first try was kind of small just within the students themselves and their families. But you know, we have grand plans for later on.  

Rita

Looks like there's a lot of applications I think that that would be suitable for, just from this little bit that I've seen of the Bookform.  

Laura

Yeah, but also, as you said, there are things that we need to teach and kids need to learn, even if they don't particularly enjoy it. But maybe presented in a fun way, it's lead the way to go and your project so was a literacy project with Year 7 boys. Can you tell us more about the project and its aims?  

Melissa

Yeah, absolutely So looking at incoming data for the group of students that we had coming into that Year 7 cohort, we were a little concerned, we had about 36% of our students who scored quite lowly on their on their writing in terms of the  tests that were used to place their students within classes. So that we can get, you know, the best fit of students together with a different learning gaps and were they had get, 36% were low in in writing and 30% were low in reading. And so we wanted to think of strategies that were going to engage our students from the outset but also target their learning growth. Because for us at our school, it's very important that our students see themselves a successful learners. Typically, many of the students who come to us have not had a successful learning past and or they might have come from a family where that school's not seen as something that's a successful place for them. So that's a really large part of our agenda is to make kids feel pleased about themselves and what they can achieve every lesson, so we could immediately see that book form was going to offer us that opportunity to work on a problem in a way that a student might not necessarily see was kind of painful for them um, and  that definitely has being something that transpired within the classroom. So the students would come to us with this, you know, piece of writing that came from the voice to text that had mistakes all through it. But we said, oh look, that's not really your fault. That's come in because of the way that, you know, maybe your grandpa spoke , it didn't quite pick up the accent. So let's sit down and turn this into a sentences that work for us. And it was amazing the amount of time that students would spend working on that. It was also a great way to engage our families again. Some of the families that work with our school aren't necessarily from a background that have had pleasant dealings with with schools in the past, They might have had poor experiences themselves, and so we wanted to encourage, ah, positive way for them to engage with their sons learning because we all know that that partnership between a student and parent and school is so important to success.   

Rita

Yeah, bringing it home and getting everybody involved as opposed to just sitting there at school and getting it done. Or my kids sitting in the bedroom finishing of their homework.  

Melissa

Yeah, absolutely.  

Rita

So what sort of hurdles and obstacles have you had to overcome to use this technology successfully?

Melissa

Um, there's always that little bit of fear from students when something's new. You know, we well think of kids that's been digital natives, but they're digital natives to them platforms that they use all the time. This certainly wasn't one. They're probably more likely to try things that then adults are with technology, so it doesn't take them very long to adopt. But that was a hurdle. Organization, of boys, is always the hurdle, you know, getting that auntie or uncle to have to come over and have an interview or to go to their house. Um, yeah, just just sort of remembering that that was a key part of what we needed them to do. Uh, also being familiar with the text type. We spent a lot of time at the beginning of the unit, um, showing the samples exemplars and model texts, um, of both autobiography and biography because we were quite concerned that some students might not have somebody they could reach out to to interview and we didn't want to isolate or marginalize them.,so we gave them the opportunity If they wanted to write an autobiography, they could, and some some did show, choose that medium. Um, but that was also a hurdle. Getting them organized with their families. Um, and time. You know, our curriculum is all so packed. Yeah. You know, I would have loved to have spent a lot more time on the process.  

Rita

That's always a hurdle.  

Melissa

And I see the boys definitely would have liked more time.  

Laura

Yeah, but it's nice if the boys really would have liked to have more time. That's an achievement.  

Melissa

Yeah. Yeah, definitely. It's very rare .

Laura

So we just discussed the hurdles, what about the successes?

Melissa

Ah, successes would definitely be engagement with parents. Um, at the end of the process Carey's very keen to, she has a very hands on approach with the product and really likes to see what happens with the projects. So she came out for a presentation. We just spent a little money refurbishing our library. Um, we've had our library out of commission for a couple of years, which, at a school with you know, struggling literacy levels is very helpful. So to, you know, show the library off to families with you know, difference of flexible furniture. We used the Bookform presentation of the students finished products as a launch. Um, and did the stories of the boys work? I have to admit, I did shed a few tears. um, with the presentation of the books to their families and the experience they spoke about the process , so their ownership through their own choices was was a really success for me and the fact that teachers could see “You know I want to try this project somewhere else in the curriculum". That was also a success, I thought.  

Rita

I guess it also helped you improve your relationships with the kids because you got to know them on such a much a much more deeper level.

Melissa

Yeah. And look, I can often be the scary person,they  get sent to,

Rita

You certainly don't look it!you know, when you're not doing so well.. so for me it was a nice way for kids to see that, you know, even though the project took a long time for them to see the fruition because we were kind of holding off on the presentation, you know, at the end they receive prizes and that I think, you know, it just really topped off a really positive experience for them.

Rita

Yeah, we're just gonna take a short break and even mass sponsor will be back soon.  

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Rita

Welcome back Melissa As the director for teaching and learning at your school, what goals do you hope that your school will achieve by by incorporating the book formtechnology?

Melissa

Student choice is definitely something that we're trying to embrace. Also, seeing learning as somewhere full success rather than my for failure, um, is our increasing vision for learning. We've been a school that has had a slight cultural shift. I think in terms of the expectations of the community and in working through that, that vision for learning very definitely has to be something that is inclusive of what the students, you know, voice wants and also, you know, the expectations of a contemporary learning environment. So the platform definitely connects with that. But also that idea of growth. You know, there should be an expectation from every student and their family that they grow a year for every year they attend school. And this, you know, project was a great way of us making sure that students' grammar,  punctuation spelling, you know, sentence construction, paragraph construction, their reading all improved, you know, really intensive intervention that you know, I didn't seem like it was like hiding vegetables?  

Laura

Yeah. What kind of feedback did you get from the students on this project? Yeah, that the time thing was was an issue for them, you know, it was a short unit for us.  And I think they all mentioned that they wanted more time because it took them a little while to understand what it was that they were going to come out with in the end, Also that was the first time we'd done it. And so none of their brothers or family or friends had ever seen it. So it was new in that expectation, I think, in terms of what we were asking of them, they also you said that, you know, if they had known you know how good it was going to be they would have put  more effort in Yeah. Uh, if they knew they were gonna win a laptop at the end, I think they would have put more fitting as well. So that also made a difference to some of the boys and tehir families. The feedback at the end from their families. And just on that little presentations that they made, they talked about how they spoken to their dad in a way they may never have. And it was a way for them to show their father how much they loved them and things that, you know, boys would never really say, You know, I told you I shed a few tears.

Rita

Do you see this project and others like it changing the vision for learning?  

Melissa

Yeah, I do that, um, really tangible way of engaging families, which can often be. We often ask families to come to an information evening, and we talk at them for an hour, and that's not really engagement. That's that's like, you know, turning up to an event because you have to. Um, so I think this is definitely a more inclusive way of meeting with families and their needs. Uh, but it's also a way that, you know, there's a final product. I like the fact, you know, that we often have a lot of, you know, um, I suppose like polar opposites in education, where you're either into inquiry or into direct instruction, this is a project that had both there was the inquiry element, but there was also some explicit instruction, and I think that's what people sometimes forget about when they look at the this polar view of education. You didn't didn't have to be a PBL person or a direct, you know, you can be both.  

Rita

Yeah. Yeah. Well, we've spoken to a lot of teachers who have said very similar things. Yeah, it's got to be a bit of both for the right outcomes to be met.  

Melissa

Yeah, and I'd like that to be the narrative that we put out there. It's more about, you know, ah, connected vision rather than you're on one team or the other. Yeah, that doesn't really serve anyone.  

Laura

And do you have any plans for future projects?

Melissa

There's a couple of plans that we like to enact one with our Year 10 students. They do a justice unit in in English again. Ah, and we'd like to get them into outreach groups, you know, work in a collaborative team, maybe rather than a single author and, you know, investigate, You know, maybe domestic violence and stories of survivors, but potentially, um, we'd also like to connect with some of their first nation communities. We have significant first nations population at our school, and that would be great to maybe capture some of the stories of elders. Um, you know, that would be fascinating. It would be. So I think we're in a unique position where we'd be able to do that.  

Rita

So if you could go back in time until you're younger teachers self one piece of advice, What would that be?  

Melissa

Um I feel like I've been pretty blessed to my career. I've had a lot of diversity, and I think embracing all the opportunities that you get offered is an important thing. Don't wait til you think you're ready. You're probably ready already here and maybe don't take things so personally. Yeah. Then sometimes I also think that that drives people to be successful as well. Yeah, it's a catch 22.  

Laura

And if you could take on the person of any superhero or if you could have one superpower, what would you choose?

Melissa

Um, kind of torn  here? I think a younger me would have looked killer in the Catwoman outfit. Uh, but I think maybe Ah, as a child who watched a lot of cartoons of the eighties Shira, Princess of power. I liked her motivation. You know, she worked you know is a freedom fighter fighting against evil. Kind of see myself doing. And she had a cool cape. Yes.  

Rita

Yeah, that's true! Well, that brings us to the end of today's podcast. Thank you so much, Melissa, for joining us. I think our listeners will have learned a lot from today. And thanks again to edQuire for sponsoring us . Ciao for now.

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Melissa Carson
Melissa Carson is a Director of Teaching and Learning, and the Coordinator of the Family Bookform Literacy Project.

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Ep35 – Melissa Carson – Using Technology to Engage Students With Families and So Much More.