Education Nation | Day Two Session One | Lila Mularczyk

“To sell our children short today is to sell Australia short tomorrow.”
– Gough Whitlam, 1972, cited by Stephen Elder, 27 October 2014

Disclosure: My attendance at Education Nation (#EduNationAu) was through a media pass provided by the conference organisers.

If you have missed previous articles in the Eduction Nation series, you can find them here.

I have to confess to something. By the time Lila arrived, despite her energy and passion, I was struggling to stay focused and engaged. I had conference-brain and I missed much of what Lila said. This was exacerbated  by Lila speaking with so much energy and passion; and speed. It was difficult to keep up and my brain simply said no.So if it seems as if Lila’s presentation is a bit jumpy and the ideas only tenuously linked, that says more about my note taking and ability to focus during her session than it does about Lila’s content.

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Lila opened by remarking that if the education sectors do not work together then the students are the ones who suffer, and it is the students who matter most. Furthermore, of the countries in the OECD whose lead we historically follow socially, culturally and in regards to educational policy, namely the United States and the United Kingdom, their results on PISA testing is going backwards as well, which begs the question of whether we should be following their lead.

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Photos of slides from early in Lila’s session.

Lila spoke about how targeted funding, that is, funding that is targeted to specific needs and/or programs makes a significant difference within education and that for those students in low socioeconomic areas, where eighty percent of students’ families cannot afford to for the student to attend university, university offers are meaningless. She continued ( think) by  saying that we need to be looking to credible, interrogated, and reliable educational research when we make decisions about educational policies and pedagogical practices and she included John Hattie’s research in this.

She continued by making reference to work by Ravitch (see photo above) and Pasi Sahlberg‘s (@pasi_sahlberg) unfortunately, though I suspect deliberately acronymised movement, Global Education Reform Movement (GERM), which has been gaining traction here in Australia, but which was largely informed by myth.

.It was at this point that I must have completely zoned out (though my ears must have perked up automatically when publishers and big business was mentioned as I took the above photo, however, as I tuned back in, an unknown amount of time later, I heard Lila say to the audience that “…it is not money itself that is the answer, but how we use the money ,” a sentiment that sounds very logical and sensible and which I do not think too many people would disagree with. It has echoes of some aspects of The Great Debate and some of what was said there, as well as what I have heard other speakers from Education Nation were intimating in their own presentations.

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A photo captured at some point during Lila’s presentation.

Lila then remarked that many of the educational practices and ideas that are translated from overseas educational systems are informed by myths, referring back to the opening discussion about the Australian tendency to follow the United Kingdom and the United states when it comes to social and cultural developments and that this holds largely true for educational policy. Thankfully, we have not yet completely gone the way of the corporate curriculum being peddled in both those countries, and about which I have heard nothing but negative feedback, scorn, and derision from educators being forced to work in those contexts. It does, unfortunately, feel like we are beginning to move in that direction. I can only hope we manage to avoid the waves being seen in the United States as a result of Pearson’s engagement with education (see here or here for example), where, in many educational jurisdictions they provide the tests, create and deliver the professional development opportunities, write and provide the textbooks and effectively populate the curriculum.

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A comment about tenure was made, with Lila remarking that she could not imagine not having permanency of employment and the uncertainty that that must bring with it.

Lila closed (as far as my notes indicate) by commenting that there is no research which credibly demonstrates a correlation between the decentralisation of educational policy and curriculum with improved academic outcomes for students.

I can only apologise to both Lila and my readers for not having a complete set of notes for this session. I underestimated how intense Education Nation would be cognitively, and it was a late night at the end of day one of Education Nation as I attended the #AussieEd Live event at Kirribilli Club (which was a fantastic night) and had then returned to my hotel to write an article. If anyone has written an article as a result of Lila’s session, or any others, please let me know, as I would be happy to include a link to any articles written from Education Nation by other delegates.

Education Nation | Day Two Session One | Minister Simon Birmingham

Disclosure: My attendance at Education Nation (#EduNationAu) was through a media pass provided by the conference organisers.

When I read that Federal Minister for Education and Training, Simon Birmingham (@birmo@birmo) would be speaking at Education Nation, I was intrigued as to firstly, whether he would actually attend given that there is an ongoing election campaign at the moment, and secondly, what he would actually say. When he arrived, you would not know that he was five weeks into an election campaign, and looked fresh and energetic. Minister Birmingham spoke for approximately twenty minutes and then took questions from the floor for about ten minutes before leaving. Overall, I think he did well to avoid any overt political campaign rhetoric, other than one small comment, which was not in itself particularly inflammatory or accusing of the Opposition, before moving on. He also made some very sensible and thought-provoking comments. I have included here the full recording of his address, with the only editing being the introduction from myself, and a slight adjusting of the audio levels to make them more consistent throughout.

Minister Birmingham began by relating a personal anecdote involving his daughter, Matilda, showing the persistence and enthusiasm of five-year-olds, before relating that he was glad to hear of the discussions that were taking place within Education Nation. He added that as a father, he was confident that he could provide the best for his daughter, but that as the Federal Minister for Education and Training, that his focus to be on ensuring the best for all students across the country.

He then said something which I get the impression was rather unexpected, and which I found quite heartening.

“We have a good [education] system and a lot to be proud of. We need to celebrate our successes more than we do.  In general, we are above OECD averages [on a range of measures] and our system is underpinned by a good basic foundation.”

This was a refreshing message to hear, and to be realistic, it should not have been entirely unexpected; he is in the midst of an election campaign and speaking to a room full of educators, it was unlikely he would give a negative message about education. The measures that he indicated we are above the OECD averages included education funding, literacy, and numeracy results, however, he did acknowledge that there is always room for improvement

Minister Birmingham spoke about the long tail that we have and the falling results of students at the top end of the academic scale and that the challenges of education are largely well-known and understood, which does not make resolving them any easier. Our PISA results, Minister Birmingham commented, have dropped, in both real and relative terms and while they are not the be all, they are an important indicator that does need to be monitored.

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Retrieved from tinyurl.com/jjubjyw on 11 June 2016. Slide Thirty-five.

 

We were then reminded that ten years ago, the iPhone and Netflix did not exist and that Facebook was in its infancy at one year old. We do not know, he continued, what the world will look like in ten years and what the world will look like for our students in the future when they graduate, however, we do know that they will require a richness in varied skills and learning, which sounds rather similar to the now famous Alvin Toffler quote shown below.

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Minister Birmingham said he welcomes the discussions taking place at Education Nation and that his commitment is to make sure that Australia is driven by evidence that is credible and reliable and that appropriately reflects what can best improve student learning outcomes. This, he continued, will be supported by two key goals. The first will be to continue delivering the basics on which all learning now and in the future is based upon, though he didn’t elucidate further as to what, exactly, that meant. The second is to prepare students for the dynamic world they will be entering into as young adults.Minister Birmingham added an additional thought to this. Typically, he told us, the two goals are considered in terms of either/or, however, they should be considered as complimentary goals.

It was here that we heard a modicum of election rhetoric, Minister Birmingham reminded the audience how much funding the Turnbull Government would commit to education, however, and I have respect for this, he also noted that while there were differences between the funding both parties had committed to, under either party, there would be an ongoing increase to education funding. Irrespective of your political stance, it would have been easy for him to make negative comments about the other side, yet he actually paid them a modicum of respect. A politically astute and rather sensible choice.

He continued past this, commenting that funding would continue to be distributed on a needs basis and that they would be working to address the challenges that education faces, specifically reading, writing and science, working to set minimum standards of achievement. This confused me a little, as I thought we already had minimum standards, as laid out as part of NAPLAN, if nowhere else. He spoke about the need to identify clear targets and address reading levels at a young age, to identify and learning difficulties in our children earlier in life.

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Retrieved from tinyurl.com/h7nolqd p.85 on 11 June 2016

There will be fourteen measures put in place to lift STEM rates, including additional training and support for teachers, early years support, and the lifting of ambition for graduating students to encourage more to enter into STEM-based Undergraduate programs, though there was no mention of specific steps to ensure these occur.

His next point, the need to address and fix NAPLAN and the way it is implemented in order to foster richer data that is more quickly and easily accessible to teachers in order to make it useful and usable, was one which I believe surprised a few. NAPLAN, from what I have heard this election campaign, has had little attention in this vein, so it will be interesting to find out more about what that looks like if the Turnbull government are re-elected.

We need to ensure, Minister Birmingham told the audience, that students receive one year of learning for one year of teaching and one way that this will be attained will be an improvement in the quality of initial teacher education (ITE). This is an area that does need to be addressed, as there are significant skills that teachers need that were not included in my own ITE, which I have written about in the past.and which I suspect are not an isolated issue.

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Minister Simon Birmingham speaking to the Rethinking Reform Delegates at Education Nation. 8 June 2016

Debates surround educational policy are typically painted as binary arguments; we hear about public versus private education, or about STEM and coding versus traditional subjects, or about direct instruction versus experiential-based pedagogical practices. Minister Birmingham said that these all sit in a grey zone and that we should, in fact, be looking to give autonomy to our teachers, our schools, and our students to make contextualised and evidence-based decisions for the benefit of our students’ learning outcomes. Which of course brought to the fore the point that not all evidence is equal and that we need to be aware of the prejudices inherent in research, whether from the researcher or the commissioner of the research.

Minister Birmingham closed with an idea that I suspect gained him respect throughout the room. He spoke about what he would do, what issue he would resolve; if he could wave a magic wand and fix any single issue or challenge that faces education. It would not, he said, be within schools that he would look. It would, in fact, be in the home of students, to improve the home lives of students where improvement is needed. Minister Birmingham said that whilst teachers provide the greatest influence on a student’s learning outcomes within a school, outside of the school, it is the home life which provides the biggest influence.

The session was opened up at this point to questions from the floor, which I will not cover in this article but will leave for you to listen to in the audio above.

I thought Minister Birmingham’s comments regarding a desire to address and improve the home life of students interesting. I have heard colleagues from both government and non-government, and from early childhood, primary and secondary, all make remarks about students whose home lives negatively impact their learning outcomes.

Thank you, as always, for reading this far, and I would be interested to hear your thoughts on Minister Birmingham’s address.

Education Nation | The Great Debate

Disclosure: My attendance at Education Nation (#EduNationAu) was through a media pass provided by the conference organisers.

In the build up to Education Nation (#EduNationAu), The Great Debate, a showdown about public versus private education, was billed as one of the headline acts for the event, featuring two speakers who typically take opposing views. Dr. David Zyngier (@dzyngier) was arguing for the side of public education against Dr. Kevin Donnelly (@ESIAustralia) who was, of course, arguing for the side of private education.

As promised on Twitter, I have recorded and included here the full audio of the debate. The only editing done to it was to bring the audio levels roughly into alignment as some sections, particularly during the questions from the floor, were rather quiet in the recording.

The Great Debate was structured as follows:

  • Opening remarks from Dr. Zyngier followed by Dr. Donnelly.
  • Five minutes of rebuttal from Dr. Zyngier followed by Dr. Donnelly.
  • Question and Answer which were asked in a turn-about fashion to Dr. Zyngier and Dr. Donnelly:
    • Two questions submitted prior to the event
    • Questions from the floor.

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Dr. Zyngier opened by talking about the negativity towards public schooling being a product which began with the Fraser Government in the 1960s, who introduced public funding for private schools, creating a sense of entitlement and privilege for the few and is an anti-democratic notion. Public funding of private education has continued since then and has resulted in a constant expansion of the private education sector.

Dr. Zyngier then invoked Joe Hockey, currently the Australian Ambassador the United States, who, as Treasurer in 2014, was quoted in the media as saying…everyone in Australia must do the heavy lifting. The age of entitlement is over, the age of personal responsibility has begun…” but, in fact, the public funding private education is about to outstrip public funding of public education vis-a-vis the funding per student amount.

david-zyngier_education-nation-2016-sydney-400hThis constant growth in public funding of private education has, Dr. Zyngier argued, resulted in a growing perception of private schools as being better and played a role in the residualisation of public schools. There is now a growing disparity between funding and this should be seen and felt as a national shame as there are significant consequences for our children. There is a widening disparity in resourcing for students at different ends of the socioeconomic status (SES) scale.

The priority for the Government should be full public funding for public education to help ameliorate the lottery of birth which resulted in parents having a choice, however, the choice was only available if parents could afford the choice. Stephen Dinham (OAM) was then quoted as having said that “It is hard not to conclude that what we are seeing is a deliberate strategy to dismantle public education, partly for ideological and partly for financial reasons.” Rresidualisation feeds further residualisation, was the message I was hearing at this point.

Dr. Zyngier at this point changed tack, asking the audience who had flown on a long-haul flight overseas, and who had travelled by economy class, business class or first class. There were fewer hands up for the higher classes of course, and Dr. Zyngier made the analogy that as those who choose to fly in business or first class do not expect those in economy class to subsidise their flight, why should those who choose to send their children to a private school expect the rest of us to subsidise that choice. I am not entirely sure the analogy is a valid one, given that airlines are a business and education is an investment in the future.

jamie-dorrington_education-nation-2016-sydney-400h-400x300I am not entirely sure the analogy is a valid one, given that airlines are a profit-based business and education is, or should be seen as, an investment in the future. It also seems a stretch to me to argue this point, particularly given that, as Jamie Dorrington, the Rethinking Reform MC remarked, that the airlines would likely argue that the upper-class prices, in fact, subsidise the economy class prices.

Dr. Zyngier argued that this is in fact what does happen in Australia, with public funding of private schools acting as a subsidy for the lifestyle choice of the parents and that we have the highest level of privatisation of education in the OECD. Dr. Zyngier continued by pointing out that countries in the OECD such as the United Kingdom and the United States, though they have privatised education institutions, and perhaps some of the most well-known educational institutions in the world, do not give any public funds to those private education institutes whatsoever.

In closing, Dr. Zyngier made two points; firstly, he noted that Australia has been reported by the OECD as having very high student achievement results as well as significantly different learning achievements between the students at either end of the SES scale, which should be concerning to us all.Secondly, and his final point, we need to come to an agreement about what it means to have a public education system, which, to me, sounds like a national conversation about the purpose and goals of education. Maybe I am just hearing what I want to hear, though.

kevin-donnelly_education-nation-2016-sydney-400h-400x300At this point, Dr. Donnelly took the podium to make his arguments and opened by listing off the adjectives typically used to describe, including misogynistic, homophobic, and extremist and proceeded to share some of his background with the audience, revealing that he grew up in Broadmeadows, Melbourne, as a child with a father who was a member of the Communist Party, whilst he and his brother were members of the Eureka Youth Movement, which he indicated was the Youth Communist Party, and that he had “…a good Catholic mother” which resulted in, as I can only imagine, some interesting discussions at home. He then commented that he did not want to be antagonistic or vitriolic today, which, I daresay, caused some disappointment amongst the audience

Dr. Donnelly then spoke about how Australia has a tripartite education system and that this arrangement has had consensus from the major parties for some years now, and he quoted then Minister for Education Julia Gillard as saying that “…I am committed to parents’ rights to choose the school that is best for their child.”

Dr. Donnelly, remarkably, called Gonski funding a myth and said that needs-based funding had been around a number of years, which generated a number of raised eyebrows in the room. He went on to comment that the ten-year period from 1998 saw a significantly large increase in enrolments in the private education system, and that those enrollments were predominantly in the low-fee paying schools, and that while this voting with their feet movement had slowed down since 2008, the Catholic and Independent education systems received little overall funding in the 2012/2013 budget from the Government.Additionally, argued Dr. Donnelly, high-profile schools such as Kings and Melbourne Grammar are, in fact, outliers in regards to the education fees and resourcing. and that the Australian Education Union

The Australian Education Union should be arguing, commented Dr. Donnelly, not necessarily against the stances of the parties regarding the Gonski funding model, but against those states who did not ever sign off on it. He continued by noting that Julia Gillard, then Minister for Education, signed off on twenty-seven different agreements with various state education bodies, which means that there are at least twenty-seven different funding models in place.

Dr. Donnelly then broached the argument from critics of private education that private schools only get the good kids, or those with high academic ability, and discussed research that demonstrates that the SES status of a student’s family only contributes approximately fifteen to eighteen percent of the academic variance and that the Government has spent billions of additional dollars on education without seeing the expected growth in learning outcomes. He also argues that the public selective schools, selective for academic or sporting or any other reason, are a contributor to the residualisation of public schooling, but that they do not get mentioned, with private education being an easy target

A paper by the OECD which Professor Geoff Masters (@GMasterACER), CEO of ACER (@ACEReduAu), quoted in a recent paper which indicates that Australia is second only to Denmark in regards to intergenerational mobility and that another OECD report from 2008 ranked Australia as one of the most socially mobile countries.

Dr. Donnelly closed out his opening arguments by calling for a move away from the acrimonious debate and to look at high-performing schooling systems and ask what works there that might work for us in Australia, with a move towards a decentralised education structure with increased school autonomy and choice to create the flexibility and diversity in our schools to encourage schools to be innovative.

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Retrieved from tinyurl.com/zkpya7z on 11 June 2016.

 

At this point, Jamie Dorrington asked Dr. Zyngier for his rebuttal comments, however, I will leave the rebuttal from both Dr. Zyngier and Dr. Donnelly, as well as the questions from the floor, for you to listen to, as I would like to explore what we have already heard in a bit more depth.

From conversations with a few people in the room after The Great Debate, there was a feeling that no-one was actually going to change their mind based on any arguments presented today, and that there were going to be a large number of Donnelly-haters and people in the room who would support Dr. Zyngier purely based on what Dr. Donnelly has previously written and said in the media, and who would not actually be interested in hearing what he was saying. I have also heard that someone was told by their Principal they would not be given permission to attend Education Nation purely because Dr. Donnelly would be speaking.

Irrespective of what you think of Dr. Donnelly, this sort of closed-mindedness is not healthy for education debate in Australia. That sort of thinking creates an echo-chamber, where you hear only what you want to hear which creates a stagnant environment and does our students a disservice. Dr. Donnelly (and Dr. Zyngier, for that matter) made some very sensible comments today.

  • We need to move this divisive debate.
  • There are greater areas of importance to learning outcomes that we can address far more productively.
  • Parents have a right to choose the school for their child based on any range of reasons.
  • Public selective schools play a role in residualisation

I do not advocate, let me make it clear, for all of Dr. Donnelly’s views. Personally, I am still working out what my own views are on a range of topics related to education, and trying to work out who I am as an educator and where I fit in the scheme of things. This means that whilst I have made my mind up about some areas, I am open to hearing ideas from all quarters. I engaged in the Twitter conversation that was going on during The Great Debate (you can actually my laptop keys at one point in the audio!) and the reactions I was seeing were a range of adjectives between positive and negative, but I saw some that attacked the man and not the argument which is shameful and contributes nothing.

Dr. Zyngier, as I mentioned, also made some great points in his argument.

  • We need to reach an agreement as a nation about what it means to have a public education system, which sounds, to my ears, like he was on the same page as Dr. Donnelly.
  • Residualisation feeds residualisation
  • The focus of Government education funding should be public education.

Both men threw out numbers, statistics and made references to research with no citations provided. Neither man changed anyone’s mind. The debate, though interesting, and generating a lot of interest, contributed nothing to the overall debate about education in this country. I wholeheartedly agree with Dr Donnelly when he said that “we need to move on from this debate and its acrimonious nature.” The discussions about the impact of a child’s SES background depends on which research you read, is what I drew from that facet of this argument.

We need to move on, there are important issues that need to be addressed.

Some musings about NAPLAN

Last week, students across Australia in Years Three, Five, Seven and Nine were required to sit the annual NAPLAN testing. NAPLAN is ostensibly inflicted upon students to assess their growth over the eighteen months since their previous NAPLAN (or to serve as a benchmark if it is the student’s first NAPLAN). This testing process has a significant number of flaws and causes stress, anxiety and frustration, amongst students and parents, but also amongst some teachers. This year was my first involvement with NAPLAN, as while I am teaching a combined Year Five and Six class this year, last year I was employed in an RFF capacity and had only been in that role for a few weeks when NAPLAN arrived, and thus felt only a minimal impact as a result.

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An example of a note sent home by a teacher to reduce stress in students. Retrieved from tinyurl.com/j6u8uoe on 16 May 2016

 

I remember sitting the Basic Skills Test in Year Five sometime in the early 1990s (though I have no recollection of sitting it in Year Three), and my recollections of it was that it was a low-key test, where my parents received a booklet which talked about grade-level expectations, and indicated where my results across the various tests sat in relation to my peers at my school, and then either across the state or across the country, I cannot recall which. My teacher, Mr. Davies, who is one of the reasons I entered the teaching profession simply told us that we had to sit this test to assess our progress and to just give it our best effort. Mr. Davies was a fantastic teacher, and as far as we knew, the test had little importance beyond what it told him about our results. We sat the test, I rushed through it as I always did (and still do) with multiple choice tests, and then went outside and read a book while I waited for my classmates to finish. Mum and Dad received the results sometime later, we chatted about them, Mum asked if I rushed through the test (cue the head hang, “Yes Mum, sorry, I just wanted to read my book”) and life moved on.

I do not doubt that there was more to it than that, however, from my perspective at that time, as a ten-year-old boy, was that it was just something we had to do, but not something that was particularly important. Things have changed, however, and not for the good. My students seemed to do ok. I had two or three students who were a little anxious, but otherwise, they did not seem overly concerned. There were, however, students across the Central Coast, from conversations with other teachers, who could not cope and actually made themselves sick, including one student in Year Three. Additionally, there were students who would ordinarily write a high-quality narrative, with excellent character development, a complex plot twist, and a clever resolution, who simply froze because of how little time they were given.

I do not know what approach other teachers took in the lead up to NAPLAN, whether much preparation was in class, or set at home; nor do I know how much preparation my students’ put in outside of school, of their own volition (or at the behest of their parents). Personally, I sat down on Monday afternoon to talk to them about it for the first time (I had studiously avoided mentioning NAPLAN) at any point prior to that), and the reaction was immediate. Some students I could tell were worried about it, some were ambivalent, and some were annoyed that they had to complete them due to the time they took out of class. My Year Six students were ecstatic, as they would be spending the time undertaking Peer Support Training with another teacher and myself.

I talked to them about NAPLAN for a little while, telling them about my own experience with the Basic Skills Test, and then made it very clear that as far as I was not worried about their NAPLAN results, as long as they put in their best effort. I reminded them of the formative testing in literacy and numeracy that we had completed at the beginning of the year, and that we would be completing those assessments at the end of this term and again at the end of Term Four, and that I was focused on the growth they showed across the three iterations of those tests. I reminded them that NAPLAN did not know or care whether they had slept well the previous night, or had eaten breakfast or not, or are more athletically inclined, or anything else, other than the results that they put on their paper and submitted for NAPLAN.

We talked about the way they get feedback on their learning outputs in class, through the marking systems we use, or through one to one conversation during class time and that I do not get to see what they write and so cannot give them feedback, or know how they went, other than the number which is given for each test result. I could see some of the tension leaving some of my students, and my Year Six students were helpful as well, talking about their experiences and that it was not as hard or as stressful as they thought it would be.

I have a great group of students.

Whether or not we like NAPLAN, it is here, and it is here to stay, though I do not doubt it will evolve over time into something else (such as the move to digital completion which has been discussed for some time). There is a body of research about the impact that it has across the education sector and in the current education environment, where we continually here about the fourth-grade slump and the drop in results across PISA and TIMMS, short-sighted politicians are looking for a quick fix that will get them votes at the next election. There is talk about planning for the future, but I sincerely doubt that it actually means anything, given the way that politicians lie in order to get the support they need.

Students across the country have teachers who know and understand that NAPLAN is relatively meaningless, a single snapshot in time which takes twelve weeks to develop, and where the original negative (student submissions) are not available for checking. NAPLAN is a broken and flawed tool which causes stress and anxiety in students and teachers and from anecdotal reports, some parents far above what it provides in return. I await the result of this year’s NAPLAN test for my students, which will mean little as the text-type for the writing test was a different text-type to what they were required to write when they were in Year Three, making the data comparison invalid from every point of view I can think of.

What was your experience with NAPLAN this year? How did you, your students and your students’ parents cope? Do you prepare your students with pre-testing or give them a speech similar to what I gave to my students? Is your school one in which NAPLAN is a highly important test, or is it largely disregarded? I would appreciate hearing about  your experiences with NAPLAN and the strategies you employ in your context to survive the infliction of NAPLAN each year. As always, thank you for reading.

Education Nation | An Interview with Professor Masters

“There are few things as important in schools as providing all students with sound foundations in literacy and numeracy.”
– Professor Geoff Masters. E-Mail correspondence, 2016

Disclosure: My attendance at Education Nation (#EduNationAu) in June is through a media pass provided by the conference organisers.

All interpretations of Professor Masters’ views are my own and any misinterpretation also mine. The Interview with Professor Masters has been included for the sake of transparency.

After I had accepted the invitation to attend Education Nation in order to write a series of review articles about the event, I asked if it would be possible to conduct a series of pre-conference interviews via e-mail with some of the speakers. I was privileged to have been granted an e-mail interview with Professor Geoff Masters AO, the Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) as well as head of ACER’s Centre for Assessment Reform and Innovation.

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Professor Geoff Masters. Retrieved from tinyurl.com/h2czpd6 on 6th March 2016

In developing the questions for Professor Masters, I felt that it would be remiss of me to not take advantage of the opportunity to ask his opinions about statements by Professor John Hattie in April 2015, where Professor Hattie indicated that he felt classroom teachers should leave education researcher to trained researchers. I recall there being quite the uproar on social media as a result of Professor Hattie’s remarks, with a great number of educators commenting that there is no reason they cannot engage with research.

Professor Masters’ view is that it is unreasonable to expect teachers to be both highly trained and effective educators; and highly trained and effective educational researchers. It is reasonable, however, to expect teachers to be informed users of research evidence; evidence which should be a consideration for teachers when engaging in the informal research process of evaluative reflection upon their pedagogical practice.

The title of the article in which Profess Hattie’s statement was published was certainly clickbait and as with most instances of clickbait, upon reading further, the statements were not as provocative as at first glance. Indeed, Professor Masters’ response to this question implies that Hattie’s sentiment that teachers should leave the research to the researchers is reasonable. Indeed, when you read further in the article, where Professor Hattie is reported as also having said “I want to put the emphasis on teachers as evaluators of their impact. Be skilled at that,” I find it difficult to disagree.

I cannot speak to the level of training that other classroom teachers have received in research. Personally, having only received an introduction to educational research through the Honours program I completed as part of my initial teacher education (ITE) (delivered by Dr. Nicole Mockler), I do not feel that I would be able to put together a large-scale strong and rigorous research project on my own, whilst also managing the day-to-day requirements of teaching and evaluating the effectiveness of my practices. That said, I do feel that I have had enough training through the Honours program to enable me to read and utilise the outcomes of research to inform my reflections, or to work with a researcher to conduct more formal research.

Professor Masters further noted that high levels of training and proficiency are required for certain types of research, which dovetails neatly with Professor Hattie’s comment that “[r]esearching is a particular skill. Some of us took years to gain that skill.” I do not have years to invest in mastering the skills to become proficient with rigorous, high-quality formalised research. I would prefer, at this point in my career, to invest that time in developing my pedagogical practice. In that frame of reference, leave the research to the researcher is not, in my opinion, as provocative a sentiment as it first sounds.

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Professor Hattie. Retrieved from tinyurl.com/z4e2ryr on 6th March 2016

During the last four years in various staffrooms and study sessions with my colleague pre-service teachers, I have encountered a variety of opinions regarding the relationship and relevance that research has to classroom teachers. Whilst there are pockets of teachers who see the value in the relationship, by and large, educational research appears to be seen as irrelevant. Professor Masters stated that too often pedagogical practice is shaped by beliefs about what should work in the classroom and beliefs shaped by fads and fashions of the day (Greg Ashman has written about various fads and fashions in education including here, here, here and here). Additionally, I have heard the “it worked when I was in school/first started teaching/we did it this way in the 70s and 80s”  refrain regularly, with its unstated implication that it will still work.

To improve the quality of classroom teaching, and by extension, the learning outcomes for students, Professor Masters asserts that evidence-based pedagogical practices should be implemented; that is, those pedagogies which have been demonstrated through research and experience to be effective in improving students’ learning outcomes and engagement. The relationship between educational research and classroom teaching is one of sharing, with Professor Masters commenting that “[p]rofessions are defined largely by a shared knowledge base. Educational research is playing an essential role in building that knowledge base.”

It is interesting to note that there is a growing community of educators on various forms of social media sharing with their practices, both the successes and the failures, with each other, and it will be interesting to see what role the online Professional Learning Networks play in contributing to educational research in the future, both as a source of information and participants, and as a vehicle for dissemination.

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Retrieved from tinyurl.com/j8vcs2p on 6th May 2016

I asked Professor Masters what his thoughts were on what stood in the way of Australian education and the heights of PISA and TIMMS testing results that seem to be the benchmark by which educational success is judged. I did so with reference to the ITE programs in Finland and the well-publicised reign of Finland at the top of the table in regards to PISA and TIMMS. Professor Masters’ response was relatively simple. High-performing countries, such as Finland and Singapore have raised the status of teachers.

Professor Masters noted that there are a number of high-performing countries who draw their teachers from the upper echelons of secondary education, typically starting with the top thirty percent and some drawing only from the top ten percent, making teaching in those countries, a highly respected and sought after career. This is not the case in Australia, where the required Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank (ATAR) is quite low, as highlighted in this article from May 2015 which indicates that almost a third of all pre-service teachers achieved an ATAR of less than sixty. That demonstrates the low respect held for teaching compared with some of the ATARs listed in this article from January 2014, indicating that a to enter a Bachelor of Health Science/Master of Physiotherapy degree at the University of Western Sydney required an ATAR of 99.95, or the combined law degrees at the University of Sydney and the University of NSW, both with minimum ATARs of 99.70.

The school of thought that simply increasing the minimum required ATAR to enter an ITE program will improve the quality of teachers is not necessarily true. This article from October 2015 indicates that only a small percentage of pre-service teachers enter their ITE immediately upon completion of their secondary education. However, I do not believe that Professor Masters is advocating such a simplistic solution. His comment that “…teaching is a highly respected and sought after career and these countries have succeeded in making teaching attractive to their brightest and best schools leavers…” (emphasis mine) indicates to me that it should be merely one component of the admission process.

Professor Masters observed that in teaching in Australia is trending in the other direction to high-performing countries, becoming less attractive, an opinion I agree with. Personally, I am finding that time I would spend planning and preparing for a lesson is being taken up by mandatory training modules which provide no actual training, or on paperwork which is needed for the sake of bureaucracy. I, like many other teachers around the world, am struggling to balance work and family and am left feeling guilty for not spending time with my family. Perversely, I also find myself feeling guilty for not spending the time I want on marking and writing feedback, or on planning and resourcing a lesson, (often with things from my own home or which we have purchased with our own money).

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One of many memes which can be found on the internet with a similar sentiment. Retrieved from tinyurl.com/hgmax9j on 6th May 2016

The debate about how to improve the attractiveness of teaching as a profession is an old and ongoing one, and I look forward to hearing it discussed during Education Nation. When asked for his view on how the issue could be resolved, Professor Masters pointed out that it would require a series of deliberate policy decisions on a range of issues including teacher salaries, resourcing, and autonomy; as well as the number of admissions into ITE programs. Professor Masters noted that the countries which appear at the top of the international testing results, including Finland, limit the number of pre-service teachers each year. This article indicates that only one in ten applicants is successful in gaining entry into a Finnish ITE program.

There are also come clear benefits to restricting the number of entrants to ITE programs. You are also restricting the number of graduates, thereby helping to prevent what has happened here in Australia, where there is a glut of teachers who are unable to gain permanent employment due to the high number of graduates each year. Professor Masters’ final point was that an important factor in the perception of teaching is the academic rigour of the ITE program itself. I have written previously about my own ITE (part one can be found here), and I do believe that ITE programs, in general, can be improved, and look forward to hearing about that topic at Education Nation.

NAPLAN, which commences next Tuesday for Year Three, Five, Seven and Nine students Australia-wide, is an incredibly high-stakes testing process which has the potential to cause great anxiety and consternation amongst students, parents, teachers and policy-makers, and which invariably receives a great deal of attention in the media. When asked about why he thought NAPLAN moved from being a low-stakes test to what it is now, Professor Masters wrote that it is part of a deliberate strategy to improve performances through incentives.

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These incentives appear to use the carrot and stick method, with some financial rewards for school improvement or, alternatively, the threat of intervention and sanction for poor performance, and yet, the international experience has demonstrated that school behaviour is changed when the stakes attached to tests are increased. This is shown by the annual breaches that occur during the administering NAPLAN tests, including cheating and inappropriate assistance by some teachers, and the way in which many schools prepare their students for NAPLAN, as indicated in this article. Further to this, the public release of NAPLAN allows parents to compare schools and can result in some schools losing students as parents opt to send their child to seemingly ‘better’ schools.

Professor Masters commented that high-quality tests are an important component of education, providing diagnostic data around topics or concepts that require attention, monitoring improvement over time and evaluating the effectiveness and impact of programs and interventions. The widely used Progressive Achievement Test (PAT) is an example of the kind of test that can be an invaluable part of a teacher’s toolkit.

I do agree with Professor Masters about the value of testing. At the beginning of this year, Stage Three students in my school all completed a series of diagnostic tests across reading, spelling, and mathematics. That data was invaluable in identifying those students who need additional assistance in particular areas, and plays a role in developing Individual Education Plans (IEPs) for some students, and also for discussions with parents about the student’s results and progress throughout the year. It will also play an important role in quantifying students’ growth across the year when those tests are re-administered at various points throughout the year.

My final question to Professor Masters was his advice to new teachers as they enter their classrooms pressured to ensure that their students to achieve high NAPLAN results. He responded that “[t]here are few things as important in schools as providing all students with sound foundations in literacy and numeracy.” Professor Masters’ belief that the goal should be to improve our students’ literacy and numeracy levels, and that if we do raise the NAPLAN results, it should be as a result of improved literacy and numeracy levels. The problem, he pointed out, is that NAPLAN scores can be increased in ways that do not lead to better literacy and numeracy levels.

I am grateful to Professor Masters for his time and willingness to engage in the interview process. I very much look forward to hearing him speak at Education Nation, where he is speaking to the title Addressing the five key challenges in school education that matter to you on day one. Professor Masters will also be joining Dennis Yarrington, Dr. Kenneth Wiltshire and Lila Mularczyk for a panel discussion about Student Testing on day two. If you have not yet registered for Education Nation, I would encourage you to do so by clicking here.

As always, my thanks for reading, particularly given the length of this article. Please feel free to contact me with any comments, questions or feedback via the comments section below or on Twitter.

Student Mobility, Wellbeing and Academic Results

“Mobility can be really difficult for children and can often interrupt their learning, so it is important that we focus not only on their education but also their well-being…”
– Lila Mularczyk, President of the NSW Secondary Principals’ Council, as reported here.

In early March of this year, I stumbled upon an ongoing Twitter conversation (storified here) about student mobility and its impacts on student learning that stemmed from this article published in the Sydney Morning Herald. The author, Alex Smith (@alexsmithSMH), wrote an article with the summary of “Students who change schools several times do worse in NAPLAN than their peers and are more likely to drop out of school” and the ensuing Twitter conversation made for interesting reading, with the opening tweet in the conversation being this:

I agree with Alice, in that the reasons behind why students move schools are typically completely out of the realm of influence for schools and teachers, yet the impression that is left after reading the article, for myself at least, and I suspect some others in the conversation, is that the schools are to blame. It is an interesting article to read, and the statistics (based on enrolment data from 2008-2014) are not that surprising, in many ways.

  • Approximately fifty-four thousand students (representing approximately seven percent of the total student population) in NSW alone change schools each year.
  • Just over half of those moves occur during the school year, as opposed to during the holidays.
  • One in four students changes schools at least once during their school lives.
  • Around one in twenty change schools four or more times during their school lives.
  • Based on NAPLAN data, students who change schools three or more times between Kindergarten and Year Three typically return reading results around eighty points lower than students who do not move schools.

The reasons behind why students move schools are myriad, and are, indeed, often outside the sphere of influence of teachers or schools. Speaking personally, I attended six different schools (East Tamworth PS, South Tamworth PS, Orana Heights PS (Dubbo), Inverell PS, West Tamworth PS, Tamworth HS) in three towns (Tamworth, Dubbo, Inverell and back to Tamworth. I wrote five towns in my Tweet, however, I am not sure where I managed to pull five from). The moves, for my family, were mostly related to my father’s occupation, where he would be transferred from one office to another, across towns. The moves within the towns were typically related to the fact that we were renting and the house would be sold, or we needed to move to a bigger house as my siblings were born and we then grew up and needed more space.

There are so many other reasons for student mobility, as alluded to in the above tweet, more than can be covered in this article, but there is no way that any school or teacher would have been able to influence my mobility as a student. There are steps that can be taken by schools and teachers to help students settle into a new school, however, and that was the focus of the majority of the conversation.

Alice’s above Tweet provides an interesting insight into the importance attached to developing strong relationships with students from refugee backgrounds. The tweet implies that developing strong relationships, including characteristics such as mutual trust and respect,  plays a key role in the student’s ability to integration into the school community, form social bonds, and see academic success.

I do not believe I would hear too many opposing voices if I put forward the notion that those ideals form a key part of any teacher-student relationship, and that any student who joins a class after the start of the school year will require assistance. My recollections of changing schools during the year are rather hazy due to the passing of time, however, I do not recall any particular teacher who spent time with me to determine what gaps I had in my knowledge based on what the class I was joining had already covered.

I managed, I completed my HSC (poorly), found myself a job and worked for ten years before returning to undertake my initial teacher education (which I completed with far superior results in comparison to my HSC). I feel confident in saying that any teacher would tell that NAPLAN does not represent the students in their classroom accurately, that Student A gets incredibly anxious with time pressures, that student B struggles to articulate their thoughts in writing, or that Student C is living with a messy divorce, or came to school without having eaten that morning any one of a dozen other emotional, psychological or wellbeing issues that teachers see in their students each day.

The point was raised that teachers invest time and effort and heart in their students who need it, in order to support them, bring them up and the growth that is achieved, across a range of domains can be immense, yet at the same time they are being questioned about NAPLAN or HSC results.

I have a few students in my class who are new to the school, and I am fortunate that my class is very welcoming and supportive (the whole school is incredibly supportive of each other in general, to be honest) and I feel confident that if a student transferred tomorrow, that they would be made to feel welcome by their new classmates, and that myself and my teaching partner, Mrs. W, would also be able to support them and build a positive relationship with them as we have with our other students.

The questions implied in the original newspaper article, or what I see as the questions being implied, is what can be done to better support students and the families who are considered mobile vis-a-vis changing schools after the commencement of the school year, and beyond that, is reducing the need for families to change schools, something that can be impacted?

I would be very curious to hear your thoughts on this complex issue and the variety of factors that play into it.

FutureSchools Review – Day 1 Session 1 – Master class with Jennie Magiera

The next few articles will be based on reflections of my time attending the 2016 iteration of the FutureSchools conference and expo, which, for the 2016 iteration, consists of master classes on Wednesday 2nd March, and the conferences and expo proper on Thursday 3rd and Friday 4th March respectively. When I attended last year (2015 review articles here), I commuted down and back each day, a return journey of approximately three hours total, which made for a long and tiring three days. When I decided to attend this year I made the decision that to engage with the networking aspect of the three days, and in order to not arrive each morning already tired, that I would stay in Sydney for the two nights. Accordingly, I wrote this particular article whilst sitting on the end of the single bed in the small (but very clean and well-kept) room, using an ironing board I borrowed from the staff to iron my shirts for tomorrow as a table of sorts, with my notebook propped up on the obligatory teacup provided in the room. It is certainly one of the more bizarre writing setups that I have used.

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Wednesday was the day for master classes, with three different full-day master classes on offer (you can read the blurb for each by clicking here, here and here). After reading through the synopsis of each on offer I made the decision that the Jennie Magiera’s (@MsMagiera) facilitated master class, entitled Transforming School Culture: Curiosity Based Learning for Students AND Teachers was the best fit for where I am at, currently, as a teacher in regards to my pedagogical approach and interests and the master class from which I would gain the most benefit vis-à-vis being able to put what I learn into practice when I return to school.

When we started, Jennie stated that she wanted us to think about “…building a culture of curiosity…” in our schools and that cognitive dissonance would be the goal of today, to challenge us and to draw us out of our comfort zones in order to open us up to thinking about questioning from a different reference point. She was open that the day would be interactive, practical and not a five-hour long keynote with some breaks throughout, and that the first activity we needed to do was to smile.

She attributed this activity to Roni Habib (@Roni_Habib) and referred to it as clapping for happiness and that it worked with both children and adults. It was a very simple activity wherein we all stood up in a rough circle around the outside of the room, and Jennie timed how long it would take for what was effectively a Mexican-Wave clap to make it all the way around the room, with the goal to achieve a sub-ten second time.  It sounds very simple, and it was, but you could sense the competitiveness in the air the moment a time-goal was mentioned. At the end of the activity, however, everyone was laughing, smiling and had reawakened from their early-morning lethargy that many suffer from in the short period after arriving at work, and you could feel the energy in the room shift.

Jennie took us through an interesting series of analogies and explanations, beginning with Project Based Learning (PBL v1), extending to Project Based Learning (PBL v2) and then to Curiosity Based Learning (CBL). Jennie indicated that she wanted us to think about PBL v1 as a quadrilateral. There are specific qualities needed for a shape to be a quadrilateral though these criteria are quite broad and accordingly many things can be a quadrilateral, though it is often clear when something is not a quadrilateral. To refine a quadrilateral, we need to take the definition a step further. Jennie asked us to think about PBL v2 as being a square. Though still a quadrilateral, it has further criteria that define it as a specific type of shape, and the delineation between a quadrilateral, in general, and a square, specifically, is fairly clear.

The message here is that all squares are quadrilaterals, but that not all quadrilaterals are squares.  Jennie stated that

“…all problem-based learning units are project based learning, as in order to solve the problem, typically, there is some form of creation, an output at the end, achieved by completing a project. But not all Project based learning units are problem-based.”

To situate this in a context we can grapple with more easily, we often ask students to create something, a presentation, a diorama, a poster or some other output. However, the question that Jennie was asking, or my interpretation of the question that Jennie was asking here, is how often is the project based on solving a problem, in contrast to creating an output that meets a specific, already known and quantifiable purpose/rubric/metric?

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Retrieved from tinyurl.com/zz3hbmlk 3rd March 2016

Jennie’s advice was that in PBL v2, a student being successful is not required. In actuality, the greatest learning in PBL v2 may arise from a failure. She provided us with the seemingly trite, but potentially powerful and liberating acronym of FAIL; standing for First Attempt In Learning, and that too often she sees and hears of teachers providing problems that are too small, with teacher’s labouring under the notion that the problem they are working on MUST be situated locally in order to be of significance to them and their learning. Jennie exhorted us to think bigger, to think on a grander scale, and that she and other teachers she has worked with find that the questions, the problems which generate more interest, engagement and learning are those that are deemed impossible.

Jennie gave us a current example from her own career as a Year Four classroom teacher in Chicago, Illinois. Currently, a large contingent of her students are genuinely fearful that if Donald Trump becomes the Republican nominee in the 2016 United States Presidential election that he will come to the south side of Chicago, put them all in trucks and deport them. The question how can we stop Donald Trump becoming the Republican candidate generated a lot of high-quality teaching and learning moments and is of great significance to those students. This exact same unit of work, if it was to be bundled up so neatly, would likely not interest any Year Four class outside of the United States, and even within the United States, would only appeal to particular class groups, depending on their ethnic make-up, based upon Trump’s speeches. The problem is a large-scale one, not situated locally vis-à-vis their specific school, but it is a large scale problem, that has generated curiosity in the student, which takes us to the next level.

PBL v2 starts with a problem, CBL, the next step in Jennie’s analogy, starts with a question. The problem for the students was that they might be deported if Trump succeeds in his Presidential campaign. The problem generated curiosity which led to the question, how can we stop Trump from succeeding?

This chain of thought brought Jennie to reminding us that children do have an innate curiosity and need to ask questions, particularly as young children (pre-school age), but that the process of schooling often stamps out that curiosity and consequently we need to re-instil in our students a sense of wonder and curiosity, and also how to audit their curiosity in a productive manner.

To achieve this Jennie offered up an activity which we all completed which she referred to as a Wonder Catalyst. In essence, this activity involves providing students with a pad of post-it notes on which they are to write any question that comes to mind, without censorship or auditing for sensibility or practicality or answerability as long as it starts with one of the question stems (who, what, when, where, why and how) based upon a series of images, each of which is shown for a short period of time (I believe each was shown for around thirty seconds today, which was ok as adults, however, I certainly think that younger groups would need longer).

After this has been done, then the auditing process begins. Questions are to be sorted into three question types; those that can be answered simply by asking Siri, or Google and to which a definitive answer is immediately returned, which Jennie referred to as Googleable questions; those that can definitively answered with some research, whether it is through a series of web searches, phone calls, tracking people down to get dates or places etc, which are referred to as researchable questions; and finally, those questions to which, though  there are best guesses (educated or not), there is no definitive answer, which Jennie referred to as Wonderable questions. You can see an example of what this might look like below.

Questions

The next level in this process is moving away from sentence stems, and towards a shift in mindset towards the curious, asking students to suspend disbelief and ask what if questions. Instead of asking when/where/why/how something occurred, ask what if……something else occurred.

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What if….the microbes in the garbage have a fully functional society? Image retrieved from tinyurl.com/krvg8f5 3rd March 2016

 

Two tools which Jennie provided us to help with this process were rightquestion.org/education and 101Qs.com, both of which generate a series of images and allows you to note down any question which springs to mind about or based on that image, and to also see what questions have been asked in the past for that image.

Jennie related this process back to Understanding by Design (a topic I have touched upon very briefly in the past, following the Teaching for Thinking conference I attended in 2015), and how the process of planning a unit of work in that model is based upon achieving a particular learning goal, getting to which is based around a single essential question, which may then have three or four guiding questions. It was also noted that utilising prompts to generate questions in this fashion, as opposed to simply telling students to write down any questions they have on any topic, may also help to reduce the incidence of choice-paralysis which may also bring about fear of failure to ask the right questions.

Another method which Jennie said she has used to help generate questions in the past is the Earthview extension for Google Chrome. It sets the new tab background to a satellite photo of Earth, which students then generate questions about in order to attempt to determine what or where the photo is of. Each photo also has a link to Google Earth so that more information can be looked at if something appears that you want to pursue further.

This little segue was the close for the morning session and lead into our morning break, which makes it a good place to stop for today. I hope that you have been able to draw something out of this article, as I have found it useful to reflect upon what I learned this morning, and what practices I want to add to my pedagogical quiver when I return to the classroom. As always, thank you for reading, and feel free to leave any questions or comments below, or to contact me via Twitter if you want to engage in a discussion around this topic, or get more information about anything.

Jump straight to Day One Part Two

The Morning Literacy Block

“Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope. It is a tool for daily life in modern society. It is a bulwark against poverty, and a building block of development, an essential complement to investments in roads, dams, clinics, and factories. Literacy is a platform for democratization, and a vehicle for the promotion of cultural and national identity. Especially for girls and women, it is an agent of family health and nutrition. For everyone, everywhere, literacy is, along with education in general, a basic human right…. Literacy is, finally, the road to human progress and the means through which every man, woman, and child can realize his or her full potential.”
― Attributed to Kofi Annan

How do you structure your morning literacy block with your students? How do you choose your texts for guided reading, independent reading, and how do you choose the tasks to be completed by students while you are reading with the other groups?  Mrs. W. and I are going through a process of refinement as we work to find the balance between structure and student choice, between finding texts that are interesting and engaging, yet also have a purpose behind their selection, and tasks for our Must Do / Can Do list that engage whilst also serving the educational purpose that we want. as a side-note, as you read, be aware that I am writing this on Monday afternoon, and thus any references to yesterday, today or tomorrow are made within that context.

At this point, the literacy block on my days looks something like this:

  • Students enter and mark their name off on the roll, put any notes or monies on my desk, and immediately commence DEAR (silent reading) while I process the notes and monies, hand out any receipts etc.
  • On Monday morning, we conduct a spelling pre-test. I read out the words for the week, students write them down, we mark and any incorrect words then become the spelling list for the week, with blanks being back-filled by topic words or words from an alternate list.
  • We move into reading groups, where I spend ten minutes reading a text and we go through some comprehension questioning while the rest of the class focuses on their Must Do / Can Do list of tasks.
    • Must Do
      • Look-Cover-Say-Write-Check. There is an element of it’s always been done to this task though I would apply the same CLT thought process to this as I do to multiplication facts.
      • Word analysis: Students to break down the word to determine the number of syllables, consonants/vowels, phonemes, graphemes and any digraphs or trigraphs. Students also then form a Monster word (a word constructed using the same phonemes with different graphemes. E.g. phyti instead of fish (PHysics-pYramid-staTIon))
      • Definition, synonyms, antonyms: To encourage familiarity with the use and alternate vocabulary.
      • Prefixes and Suffixes: Can any alternate words be formed using prefixes and/or suffixes.
    • Can Do
      • Mrs. W has provided a spelling menu with a range of literacy activities that serve various purposes, from vocabulary expansion to etymology awareness.
      • Creative writing using visual prompts, including an editing process.

We are finding mixed standards across our class, both in regards to the quality and the quantity of what is being completed and handed in, and thus far, we have worked on finding a structure for the morning that provides independence to students to carry on with their tasks without needing our guidance every step of the way.

Initially, we provided a list of the tasks that must be completed and those that are then able to be worked through afterward, whilst we were with the guided reading group. This seemed to be too much independence, at this point in the year, as we found we were constantly having to answer questions from students about what they needed to do next, what they could do when they were finished etc. and it was completely ruining the flow of what we were looking to achieve with the reading group.

Following this, I had students decide in advance the order they were going to complete tasks in, thinking that having a plan of attack would allow them to focus on completing the tasks, give them confidence that they knew what they were doing, and allow me to focus on my reading group. This also failed, as some students spent far too long vacillating about the order in which they wished to complete tasks.

Last Wednesday I tried a different scenario and it worked very well, with students on task, engaged, and asking each other questions rather than disturb the reading group I was witrh. Today, I thought that I would use the same structure, given that it worked well last week, and discovered something that veteran teachers probably are well aware of:

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Retrieved from tinyurl.com/zwqtban 29 February 201

 

Last week I structured reading groups loosely akin to reading groups that you would find in an infants classroom (indeed, they were very similar to how reading groups were structured in the Year One class in which I completed one of my professional experience placements). I put on the board the order in which I would see the reading groups, and the tasks that the other groups were to complete whilst I was with each group. I suspect that it failed today, whereas it worked last week, as today I attached group names to specific tasks, indicating what I wanted them to start on first.

This cause issues as some of the tasks required less time than I was with a reading group, and those students were left, apparently, floundering, not knowing what to do, and unable it seems to take the initiative to move on to the next tasks on the board. Having thought about it this afternoon, I know how I will structure things tomorrow to hopefully resolve that issue.

Tomorrow, when I indicate to students to move into reading groups, I will put on the screen the exact tasks and the order in which they are to be completed. In between each group, I will take a few minutes to quickly circulate and check students’ progress through the tasks (something I did not do today, which I think compounded the issue), signing off on each student so that I can track how they are progressing through the tasks, knowing that I am spending approximately ten minutes with each reading group. This will also help me gauge the appropriateness of the tasks they are being asked today in a certain timeframe.

I feel, upon reflection on the term thus far, that I was so frustrated by lost time early in the year due to a variety of factors (some of which I wrote about here) that I forgot to spend time bedding down good structures and process in the class in an effort to catch up to where I needed to be according to the scope and sequence documents, and am now paying the price, with structures still somewhat loose which is having repercussions in regards to what we are achieving.

I would very much like to hear how you structure your literacy block and reading groups, so please, leave a comment either here or on Twitter, and as always, thank you for reading. I am unlikely to post an article tomorrow (Wednesday) as I will be attending the FutureSchools expo and conference. If you are going, let me know. It would be great to catch up with some Tweeps. If you have not heard of FutureSchools before or are unable to make it this year, you can find my review of last year below, and this year’s reviews will appear over the week or two post-FutureSchools.

FutureSchools 2015 Review Articles

The difference a day can make

“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.”
― Attributed to Edward Everett Hale

What a difference a day can make. In my previous article, I perhaps sounded rather more woe is me than I intended. Today, I actually felt like I found traction in my teaching. I got through most of what I planned for my literacy block, all of what I intended for my numeracy block and, unfortunately, none of what I had planned for my science lesson this afternoon due to a guest session about mindfulness from the school counsellor that I had unfortunately forgotten to diarise.

That said, I feel like today was a success and am leaving school happy. I was here at 0600 this morning to achieve that, having left yesterday evening at 1800, and continued to get work done at home, despite planning to relax, but I got there. I am now off to Newcastle for a fitness test, which I mentioned in yesterday’s article and need to leave now in order to get there on time. It will mean another late night and early morning to get myself ready for tomorrow, but I am feeling much more positive as well.

I hope to have time to reflect further on the differences between today and the last few days tomorrow morning, but we will have to see how that goes. Until next time, thank you for reading, and enjoy your afternoon.

Reflections on Teacher Life and Resilience

“Resilience is all about being able to overcome the unexpected. Sustainability is about survival. The goal of resilience is to thrive.”
– Attributed to Jamais Cascio

What strategies do you employ to weather the storm that is the beginning of the school year and the mental chaos and stress that it generates? What advice would you give to pre-service teachers or new graduates to set them up to get through the chaos of term one mentally intact?

I have been finding this term mentally and physically stressful, draining and tiring, despite my contract being for three days as opposed to the four days of last year.That said, last year, I was tasked solely with teaching digital literacy skills in an RFF capacity, a role that I think, as I was reflecting last night whilst talking to Mrs. C21st, I took too lightly, as the skills I was teaching are skills that I think I could perform in my sleep whilst standing on my head, and so allowed some bad habits to creep in, in regards to planning for specific lessons.

This year, I am finding that there is so much more to do than what I was aware of from my ITE and even from last year. There are whole facets of teaching that do not get touched upon in, well, not the ITE program which I completed. The actually planning and programming from a scope and sequence that has been prescribed by the school, the administration required on a daily basis including everything from marking, checking books, interacting with parents, staff meetings, committee meetings, extra-curricular activities such as sports teams and debating, reassuring the student who’s struggling to feel comfortable socially that they do have friends, giving your banana to the kid who has no lunch, buying a water filter because the water in the taps tastes bad and on top of everything else, changing numeracy scope and sequences halfway through the term (though when the one that was being used made no sense, I actually do not mind that one, as frustrating as it is), having to prepare Individual Education Plans for any student who requires an adjustment for their learning.

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Retrieved from tinyurl.com/z44hnvk 22nd February 2016

 

In addition, this is also the start of the football (soccer) preseason, which brings its own time requirements, especially given that I am refereeing with a branch that is an hour away.Pre-season seminars, courses to upgrade my Referee Assessor (coach) qualifications, pre-season trial games, an FFA Cup match, training, fitness tests and other meetings have seen me spend about four or five hours just travelling each week, on top of the actual time at the event.

Then there is the chaos that comes about from Mrs C21st now being pregnant, which though  things have been relatively smooth so far, with more nausea than actually being sick, it has brought its own challenges, especially in regards to food and working out what smells set her nausea off. Thus far, it has not been as bad as it could be, with the smell of red meat cooking, chia seeds, and some yoghurts being the main things that set her off, and our (her) consumption of white peaches necessitating the purchase of a fresh bag of six peaches every two to three days.

At the end of my first day of my first practicum back in 2012, in a Year Six class, I was hooked, I had the buzz, the rush of adrenalin that comes when a student has an a-ha! moment and gets it, and I thought to myself that, yes, I was in the right profession. I would be lying if I denied having wondered about the truth of that thought in the last week. Recently, I asked for feedback about pursuing a permanent posting, and Corinne Campbell (@Corisel) commented that I should continue to pursue a permanent posting, as being  granted that would also see me gain access to significant additional funding for mentoring and guidance in planning and programming and early professional development opportunities.

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How I feel this term. Retrieved from tinyurl.com/hlsjwn9 22nd February 2016

I think it is fantastic that new, permanently-employed teachers have access to that resource to help gain their footing, and I do remember hearing one my friends from university who was permanently appointed straight out of university, talk about that and how she would be struggling even more than she was, without the time that it gave her to get her head around all of the tasks that were never mentioned during our ITE.

As far as I am aware (and if I am wrong, please correct me!), as a temporary or casual teacher, I do not have access to this assistance. Whilst I understand, from a practicality and management point of view why casual teachers do not have access to it (which school manages it etc), I think it is as important that temporary and casual teacher’s gain access to it in some format, even if only on a pro-rata basis.  I am contracted, for the year, at .6. Why should I not be able to access .6 of the full amount in order to gain some guidance, mentoring and assistance in wrapping my head around everything? Why could a casual teacher with a good working relationship, whether with a particular school or a particular teacher, not nominate that teacher/school to be their mentor, and some sort of agreement is negotiated to provide the assistance to the new teacher?

There has to be a way for this to be better, and more equitably managed. There seems to be a regular discourse about the shortage of teachers and the rates of new teachers that are leaving the profession within their first five years being abominably high. Why can we not seem to come up with a way to put in place, for those new graduates who want it, access to assistance that is currently restricted to one small portion of the workforce?

I have not had one of those days since my last article on that topic, however, I have not particularly enjoyed my teaching lately as I am too busy stressing about getting through everything I have ben told I need to get through. I suspect that my desire to complete my referee qualification upgrade this season will fall by the wayside as it will be the first casualty of the year due to the amount of time that refereeing sucks up.

On the plus side, other than a few nights, (including tonight, but Mrs. C21st is out at a training night), I have done well in not doing work at home when Mrs. C21st has been at home as well. That said, I have been getting to school at around 0630, and have often only left earlier than 1800 due to appointments.

I had a bit of a stress-out last night. I had lost Saturday as I was refereeing an FFA Cup (the assessor was happy, I got a result in regular time, ran just under fifteen kilometres according to my GPS unit, and took just under sixteen thousand steps) and then spent the remainder of the day completing paperwork and reports and going through my post-match recovery program. Sunday we spent in Sydney seeing some family and friends we had not seen in a few months, and it was dinner time when we arrived home. I ended up getting a little bit of planning done for what I need to do, and was in bed at 2030, and then here this morning at 0615, with a fresher, cooler head.

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Retrieved from tinyurl.com/guodvkf 22nd February 2016

 

Today did actually well. I get through everything I wanted to, except for three activities, and only half of my reading groups.But I think that, despite what I wrote earlier about taking work home, that I will take the night for myself to relax, go for a light run (I have a fitness test tomorrow afternoon) and then an early night.

I do have faith that I will make it through this term, we are, after all, halfway through. I do remember feeling like this when I first started working in one of my previous occupations, and asking my manager at the time what I was doing wrong that I was not getting through my workload each day, and stressing out about it. I do not know what changed, but it did and suddenly one day, I was the one helping others get through their workload. I believe I will get there, and that at the moment I am somewhere in transitory phase between consciously incompetent and consciously competent.

That said, I would love to hear strategies, whether mental or physical, that you use to get through this chaotic time of year.

As always, thank you for reading.  I do have photo of my new classroom to update the header of this blog, I just have not had time to upload it yet.