Musings of Ms Dunning

Occasionally amusing musings

My new life (or until divorce) partner, The Flipped Classroom. Affectionately known as Flippy.

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Flippy. The Flipped Classroom. For six months we have been carrying on a torrid affair, but Flippy is fast becoming an essential part of my year 12 classroom.

I am loving using the flipped classroom in my year 11/12 classroom. I’ve dabbled in it with my juniors, but I find my seniors far more receptive to the work at home required, which is good because, you know, working at home is kinda necessary for the HSC English course. Just saying.

Before I go into chapter and verse about my developing relationship with the flip and our mutual enjoyment of long walks on the beach and feather boas, I’ll give you a very brief and probably partly bogus run down of what it is.

From my understanding it has largely come out of the USA where their increasing class sizes (40+ students is usual) has led to a situation where teachers are totally unable to get one on one time with their students to help them in the classroom. As always, necessity breeds invention, and so the flip was born. Teachers sought to move the up front in front of the whole class stuff out of their precious face to face time so they could spend that time helping the students one on one and in small groups.

My understanding of the flipped classroom is the method of moving traditional classroom activities (like lectures, demonstrations, note taking, etc.) to homework and moving traditional homework activities (like practising, composing, essay/imaginative writing, etc.) to the classroom. This is usually done through technology, often through videoing of content (videoing lectures, screencasting demonstrations, etc.), bringing what used to need to be done in the classroom into the students’ home.

When you think about it, this makes perfect sense! Much of those traditional classroom activities are using lower order thinking skills like remembering, identifying, summarising and understanding, while a lot of what we’ve asked students to do for homework involves higher order thinking skills like applying, analysing, evaluating and creating. Surely this is where they need the assistance of the teacher and their peers.

Let me give you a quick run down of the way I’ve found my students approach traditional homework:

Student sits down to complete homework. After cleaning their work space, making three cups of tea, eating a packet of Tim Tams and checking Facebook eight times, the student finally, meaningfully, retrieves their books from their bag.

STUDENT: English homework. Right. Ms Dunning went through this in class today and now I have to write an extended response. What the hell is an extended response? Growing increasingly agitated Whatever, I’ll go through my notes.

Student opens their English book. They flick through the pages as frustration and indignation spread across their face. The flipping through pages becomes increasingly fast and aggressive.

STUDENT: I don’t get it! I just can’t do it! I don’t know how to write an extended response. I don’t know how to do anything. Tears forming. I’m so stupid! I’m an idiot and I can’t do anything. I’m going to fail my whole HSC and then I’ll end up homeless.


The next day. The English classroom. MS DUNNING is expectantly moving around the class collecting homework. She is excited to read their take on what they learned in the last few lessons. As she moves, her mood deteriorates and she seems increasingly deflated. She gets to STUDENT.

MS DUNNING (To STUDENT): Homework? I’m pumped for yours. You had really good ideas in that discussion!
STUDENT: I don’t have it.
MS DUNNING: What do you mean? Why not?
STUDENT: I just didn’t understand. I just don’t get it. It’s stupid. 

Scene fades as MS DUNNING appears crestfallen knowing more and more lessons will now be spent writing.

This was the story of my life. No more! I flipped out on those year 11/12s so hard! Oh yeah!

I started with a poetry unit on Bruce Dawe in term 2 of this year. The kids seemed to quite like it and we didn’t go through a single poem line by line in class, which was great! The best moment came when I started using an activity from Crystal Kirch. That’s right folks, my year 11 Standard English students participated in a literary discussion of Bruce Dawe’s ‘Enter Without So Much As Knocking’. And I mean participated! They had ideas and opinions and actually expressed them, even somewhat coherently at times! Life was swell and all because of three little letters: WSQ. (Pink is my favourite colour, what of it?)

What is a WSQ? I hear you whisper. Well,

  • W: Write notes. While watching videos or participating in online context, students must take notes. When we’re annotating a poem or a passage I have them write notes on their copy of the poem. Otherwise, dot point notes are ideal.
  • S: Summarise. Once they’ve finished the online content, they are to write a summary of it. This is in full sentences and should give a good idea of the major points in the content.
  • Q: Question. Arguably the most important (and easily my favourite) part. Students must write down a question/questions about the content. For my class, I have them write a minimum of two questions. At least one of their questions must be a discussion question (something we can use as a discussion starter in class). They can also have genuine questions, but not things they can easily find out themselves like word definitions. I encourage ‘why’ questions because it’s English after all!

Flash forward six months and I’m ever increasing my flip. I got a youtube channel: You can totally visit, you know, if you want. And I’ve found the video programs that work for me. Watch this space for a post on video programs (And please, when it takes me a billion years to post again, get on my arse on twitter @pollydunning to make me do it!). My year 12s love it and have really embraced it, especially this term as they’ve moved into year 12 and the HSC course. I’ve improved my homework completion rates exponentially! 80% of my students complete their flipped homework on time and I only have one student still not completing at all. My classroom discussions have totally changed. My students take ownership over the content, they learn it at their own pace as they are able to pause and rewind videos, look up information on their computer and ask any questions on edmodo before the lesson. All this means that they come in to the classroom feeling like a bit of an expert and their confidence in expressing their ideas is testament to this.

So as my new lover, Flippy, and I stroll off into the sunset together I want to assure you that I know flipping is no silver bullet to all education issues. In fact, like any partner, Flippy comes with their own issues. They’re hard work, they need me to be organised, they’re not always emotionally (or technologically) available, etc. But I love Flippy for their faults as well as their values and, as Flippy and I enter our life’s next chapter, I know that, if only through the use of extended metaphor, we’ll be okay. And hey, there’s always divorce!

BTW, If you want to read some blogs by people much cleverer and far less irritatingly into extended metaphors than me about flipping:


Written by pollydunning

November 28, 2012 at 5:59 am

Why I’m Over Being Beaten with the NAPLAN Stick!

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So I was fuming this morning when I read this editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald. It basically says that NAPLAN testing is not high stakes in itself and that it is teachers and schools who make it so. Ok, but why? It didn’t used to be high stakes at all. We used to be able to use it to inform our teaching. It isn’t teachers and schools that have changed it is the purpose of the data. It is no longer a diagnostic tool for students, but a big stick to beat teachers and schools with no matter what they do. 

The last two paragraphs were most annoying:

“The truth is that NAPLAN tests have become high stakes in the minds of some teachers only. If children are feeling the pressure, then it’s probably being transmitted from teachers. One of the more disappointing aspects of the survey was that many teachers are not using the tests to improve learning – 55 per cent said the tests were not a diagnostic tool.

Under 20 per cent used it to form individual learning plans, and about a quarter said they glanced at the data but didn’t change their teaching practices. If there is a lesson out of this survey, it is that teachers – some teachers – need to take a chill pill, and use the tests to help children learn.”

Unfortunately, those who’d like to beat up teachers and schools no matter what can’t have it both ways. EITHER NAPLAN testing evaluates student ability and can therefore be used as a diagnostic tool that teachers can use to inform their practice OR NAPLAN testing evaluates the performance of teachers and schools and how well they can teach to the test, in which case we cannot use it to diagnose issues with students as it is reflective of the abilities of teachers, not students. You can’t have your cake and eat it too!

The NAPLAN tests used to be an excellent diagnostic tool for teachers to use when designing lessons and individual learning plans for students. These tests used to provide accurate information about the abilities of each student and allow teachers to tailor their teaching and learning strategies to their students. However, NAPLAN is no longer this diagnostic tool. The very fact that teachers and schools feel the need to coach students for these tests means that we are not actually finding the true abilities of the students, just whether they practised that particular skill enough.

In short, the results have been skewed because they are being used to judge schools and teachers. You can’t have it both ways. Either the tests diagnose student ability or teaching, but they can’t do both. To reflect student ability, teachers would need to stop teaching to the test to get a real idea of what students can actually do. If we did it this way, the tests would not be a reflection of teacher ability, but a true diagnostic tool.

“But then how would we use it to compare schools?” I hear you ask.

We wouldn’t.

We’d use it to inform teaching and learning practices.

What a novel idea.

Written by pollydunning

November 27, 2012 at 6:00 am

Posted in A Tissue for your Issue

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Teachmeets and ‘Quality Teachers’ YOLO!

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Disclaimer: this post has split-personality disorder. It is both about my first experience of presenting at a teachmeet and about my undying hatred of the term ‘quality teachers’ in the way it is currently used.

This rubbish that keeps being bandied about by politicians and media alike about us needing so-called ‘quality teachers’ is really grinding me gears. The very phrases used in this argument imply that at the moment we do not have quality teachers. What rot! The quality of the teachers we have in this country is phenomenal! if you want to see it, just go to a teachmeet!

So I’ve been to a few teachmeets before and absolutely hooked myself! I always leave feeling totally re-energized and ready to take on the rest of the term! This time I thought I would give presenting a go. I’ve been trying out some flipped classroom strategies, mainly in my year 11 class, but a few in year 9 also, so I thought I’d talk about that (seven minutes, how hard could it be?!)

Being the massive stress head that I am, however, on Sunday night I had a bit of a meltdown trying to practice with timed slides changing all on their own! Argh! It was the first power point I’ve ever used (I don’t present in the classroom, I perform like an absolute fool! No room for class clowns in my class, I AM the class clown!). The lovely Monique Dahli spent a fair while calming me down and my brain snap was a distant memory by the time Tuesday night came around!

Finally I decided that I would not time the slides and that I wouldn’t make myself follow them at all, basically I would just talk about the crap I do in my classroom, pay out on my students a bit and hopefully people may at least have a good laugh at my expense!

What a great buzz, as Clarinda Brown said it would be (as usual, she was spot on!). I had a great time and as soon as I start talking and see that people seem to maybe be interested, nerves are gone! But one of the best parts must be reading the twitter stream afterwards. People are so generous. Everyone was really positive and unbelievably supportive and made me feel fantastic, so thank you to the wonderful tmhills goers! I really think that is the best part about our profession, and especially about teach meets. I think I go to teach meets to learn some stuff, but more than that I think I actually go for that re-energizing feeling, that support and acceptance that you just feel pulsing through the room at a teachmeet. THAT is the part that I’d addictive. It reinforces what we are doing with our classes and that what we are doing is fine, in fact probably better than fine! In the closed community of a school it can be really difficult to judge whether what you’re doing is okay, teachmeet gives me that sounding board. It also shows us what we could be doing in our classes, but never in a judgmental way. It’s amazing how that balance is there. There’s a fine line between ‘you could try this’ and ‘you should try this’ and I think that is all about tone rather than what we are actually saying.

Teachmeet seems to me to be the epitome of everything that is great about teachers: our professionalism, our collegiality and unity based on our desire to help others (students, parents, communities and other teachers), an obsession with learning, reflecting and improving, our warmth and strength in developing personal relationships, and our willingness to take our own time and money to help each other, learn and professionally develop. Next time some politician or media outlet talks about ‘quality teachers’ as if they are some mythical angel that does not yet exist, tell them to come to a teachmeet and see heaven, where angels who are working in our schools right now ARE those quality teachers they talk about.

Rant somewhat over for now!

Written by pollydunning

August 16, 2012 at 3:24 am

Using Flipped Classroom Strategies to Run Edmodo Training

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So earlier this year I found Edmodo through my ridiculously good looking PLN. My goal for the year was to use more technology in my teaching so I had tried out using a wiki with my year 11 class. Both they and I found it extremely confusing and not really suited to what we wanted! Meh, at least I tried!

So we started on Edmodo and really liked using it! So much that I had other teachers asking me to show them how to use it because their students used it in my class and had asked them to use it too. After a few explanations of the basics, I decided to put an item in the whole staff meeting and take 15 minutes to quickly show staff the basics on how to use it. This was definitely due to my laziness as I was over explaining the same thing over and over! Little did I know, it would absolutely take off and I would end up running training at the Executive Conference and at a number of committee meetings throughout the last two terms.

Now, if anyone thinks teaching teenagers is difficult, try teaching their teachers! Teachers are some of the worst students I’ve ever seen (myself often included!)! Again, my lack of patience got the better of me and I got mighty tired of re-explaining things 5 times each workshop to those who weren’t listening, were struggling to keep up, were doing their own thing first. I was over having questions randomly yelled out at me and feeling like I was getting no-where in hour workshops!

As always, necessity breeds invention, and I started thinking about how I could work smarter instead of harder to get staff proficient in edmodo, which is what they wanted! So, I decided to use flipped classroom strategies that I had found through Crystal Kirch’s awesome blog ( and that had been fairly successful in my year 11 class. I thought that if I could create screencast videos of less than 15 minutes each showing the real basics and only one or two things at a time, staff, like students, could train themselves at their own pace and be able to re-watch videos to gain a better understanding.

I used to create the videos. It is an amazingly easy way to create videos that is easily understandable even for technologically challenged people like myself! It can create and host whole lessons including pdfs, screencast videos, text, images etc., as well as groups of lessons.

I’ve created four videos so far and emailed them to all staff along with creating an Edmodo training video for staff.

The awesome thing about it is that it took me all of 1 and a half hours to create the four videos and staff are able to request videos for me to do or ask me questions on Edmodo without us both having to be available and in the same room together. Also, when I get asked about the stuff covered in the videos I can just direct them to the site.

Creating these training videos has saved me and other staff a lot of time and, in a profession where time is very short while work keeps piling up, I think creating videos for staff training is the way to go for me!

My Edmodo training lessons can be found through the following link:–tutorial

Written by pollydunning

July 22, 2012 at 11:16 am

Introducing disengaged Year 10 boys (and one girl!) to a poetry unit.

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Poetry. Easily my favourite part of English. Crazy, I know! But I think it is the most accessible, the most passionate, the most fun, the most engaging and the most all consuming. The feeling I get when I hear a great song by Jay Z or Rakim or Common or Bliss n Esso or Hilltop Hoods or Eminem is in-freaking-describable. Rap music has always been my tune of choice and I think that is where my love for poetry really comes from. I love contemporary poetry, slam poetry gives me chills and makes me swear a lot! I say things like: How f***ing great is this?! It gives me that crazy uh feeling where you want to punch the air and do a little Rocky Balboa dance! But WHY do kids groan when they hear that we are doing poetry next term? Especially when my other favourite thing about poetry is that kids are freaking great at it!

So, there’s my I ❤ poetry rant!

Because of my love for poetry, I get really invested in getting my kids to love it. My year 10s quite enjoyed it last year when I had them and I really want that to continue. Also, this is one of the rare units and classes where the whole grade assessment can go die in a corner while I actually teach my students. Quick run down, I teach the bottom streamed year 10 class in a Western Sydney High School. When I asked for a show of hands of who definitely wants to continue next year and do Standard English, I had one hand up in the class. There is one girl in this class!

Below is a run down of my introductory lesson for this coming term on poetry. I would love to know what you guys think of it and any tips or other poems you can suggest. We are going towards a study of the Slam Poet Omar Musa and protest poetry more generally.

1. Students watch the video of Bliss n Esso -Addicted (Clean Version) on youtube. They are also handed a copy of the lyrics. They answer the following questions:

  •  Is it poetry?
  • What about it makes it/does not make it poetry?
  • What kinds of things do you expect to find in a poem?
  • Define poetry in your own words in one or two sentences.

Here’s the video:

2. Students share their answers and class discusses what constitutes poetry and who decides?

3. Students watch video of Jay Z on rap as poetry and answer the following questions:

  • According to Jay Z, what makes rap poetry?
  • Does the Bliss n Esso song fit into this understanding of poetry? How?
  • Do you agree with Jay Z? Why/why not?

Here’s the video:

4. Taking what Jay Z says: Rap is thought provoking, and there’s thought behind it, and it’s great writing. The class discusses the purpose of poetry.

Class watches Bliss n Esso – Addicted again and focuses on what the purpose of this poem is. What thought does it provoke? What is the thought behind it?

5. 5 minute reflection: Students write for five minutes about one thing they liked in today’s lesson, one thing they learnt in today’s lesson, and one question they have.

I really would love any feedback you have!!! Thank you my ridiculously good-looking PLN!

Written by pollydunning

July 3, 2012 at 10:56 am

Posted in Lesson Ideas

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What to do to ‘keep them productively occupied’ on the last day!

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Ah, the last day of term. When teachers and students let out a collective sigh both in relief and, hopefully, satisfaction. I’m not going to lie, the lessons I give on the last day to those dwindling students, committed and forced alike, are less than awesome. In fact they’re generally something like: Make as many words as you can using only the following letters: I love holidays! Hooray for Friday! Kids of all ages can do this activity for minimum 15 minutes, usually longer if you give prizes for best word and most words. Then you have each student say their best word, then they all vote, one fun-size Mars Bar later and the bell goes. Fun had by all, and at least I’m not putting on a video!

English is difficult, in my school anyway, because we start a new unit each term, so it’s not as if I can start anything we will go on with next term, and the maximum number of students I usually have in any given class on the last day is about 10, so it’s a conundrum what to do with the little monkeys who, let’s face it, haven’t brought any books or pens anyway because they assumed they’d be watching a movie!

But in a rare moment of brilliance on Friday I had the best lesson I’ve had in ages on the last day with my year 10 class, of which six boys actually showed their faces on the last day. I teach the bottom streamed year 10 class. Even though we’re in a co-ed school, there is only one girl in the class and they are all pretty much totally disengaged, but gee they’re gorgeous and lots of fun! They spend most classes making dick jokes and dancing around, so I decided to harness this love of comedy and exhibitionism and use my new toy. iMovie on the iPad.

After a little prodding, they decided on the template they wanted to use for a trailer, then got right into storyboarding it. I hadn’t seen them so focused and into it all year! We decided exactly what would be in each frame and scouted locations around the school. Then, off to film it. They decided it was to be about running late for an English class and so there were a lot of scenes involving running through corridors, commando rolls and fake tripping over up stairs. A number of teachers saw this and thought they were just out of class screwing around. Most saw me and then watched for a while, enjoying seeing them focused on getting the shot just right, but I was really annoyed that a couple of them looked disapprovingly and made snide remarks about how the boys were out of control etc.etc.

What I couldn’t believe was that we actually got the thing finished in the hour period! Definitely the best last day lesson ever!

I have to show them off, so here is the fruit of our labour:

Written by pollydunning

July 2, 2012 at 10:14 am

Posted in Lesson Ideas

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OMG I started a blog!

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So, I decided to start a blog. I don’t know if it was the 5 days in bed with the flu or the prospect of two weeks holiday or the incessant nagging from my ridiculously goodlooking PLN, but here I am.

I suppose I feel like I take a lot from my PLN, reading their blogs and tweets and going to amazing teachmeets, and I just felt like it was time to start to really contribute to the conversation. This coincides with me volunteering to present for the first time at a teachmeet, so maybe the two are related (oooh, I’m liking this blog thing already, all reflective and thoughtful!).

I can’t promise that my blogs will be a repository for pure educational gold (in fact, I think I can categorically say it will not!), but I’m hoping I can share what I’m doing and how I feel about it a bit. For the most part, this will be a blog about my teaching journey (wow, how wanky did that sound?!), which is still pretty new, but occasionally may contain random musings on my crazy life.

This is my first blog, so please bare with me and go easy! I’m still really unsure how this will work so I’ll just start with a bit about my teaching career so far.

I started my teaching degree a year after I finished high school at the University of Sydney. I graduated with a Bachelor of Education: Secondary Humanities (Honours: 1st Class) in 2010, after four years of study.

I started teaching casually in my last semester of uni in 2010 and taught for six months as a day-to-day casual at Canterbury Boys High School. It was awesome. I still think about that school and the students and staff there at least once a week. They were so wonderful and fun and I had the time of my life learning my skills there. That culminated when a random email I sent to the Oprah Winfrey Show ended up bringing rapper Jay Z to our school and sending the whole school to the Sydney taping of the Oprah show. Oprah and Microsoft announced on that day a donation of $1million worth of computers for Canterbury Boys, the largest single donation to a NSW public school in history. Crazy moment!

The day after we all went to the Oprah show, I got a phone call from the DEC telling me I had been targeted and offering me a permanent position at another school. This time in the Greater West. All I’d wanted was to be targeted, and yet I cried! I so wanted to stay at Canterbury, but a permanent position is something I just couldn’t reject!

However, since starting my permanent position I have met students and staff who are just as awesome and fun as those I had left. Sometimes I have rotten days, rotten weeks, even, but most of the time I’m part of a supportive and hilarious team of students and staff who never allow a moment to go by without a joke (just the way I like it).

This year I’ve really got into learning more about innovative teaching practices and have developed my PLN. I’ve started going to teachmeets and investigating particularly Project Based Learning (haven’t really tried it yet) and the Flipped Classroom (I’m using some strategies at the moment).

At the beginning of the year I made goals with my year 11 English students. I made one too and mine was to use more technology in my teaching and they have held me to it! I tried wikis, both they and I hated it! I found out about edmodo from my PLN and omg, fell in love!

My year 11s started asking all their teachers to use edmodo and before I knew it I had teachers asking me to show them how to use it most days! I decided to run a quick tutorial during a staff meeting and things took off! My Deputy Principal really supported me. He asked me to present to the executive conference, allowed me to get a subdomain for the school and got me to present on staff development day. Now most teachers and students are using and we’re running whole school programs totally through edmodo.

If you’re not sick of me yet, maybe consider following my blog? If you are, please follow it anyway and pretend to read it? Thanks.

Oh I hope this works!

Written by pollydunning

June 27, 2012 at 7:38 am

Posted in Uncategorized