Musings on Initial Teacher Education provoked by a Twitter conversation (Part 2)

“One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child.”
– Attributed to Carl Jung

My previous article outlined a conversation I engaged in with Mark Johnson (@seminyaksunset) while he was the guest host for the @EduTweetOz handle regarding initial teacher education (ITE). As a result of this conversation, I felt inspired to post regarding ITE and I identified six issues from that conversation that I wanted to address via this blog, which were as follows:

  1. Entry into Pre-Service Teacher Training / Initial Teacher Education (ITE) courses
  2. Pre-Service Teacher Training / Initial Teacher Education (ITE) structure and content
  3. The value of teachers and teaching as perceived in the public sphere
  4. The role of the Education minister and his/her (currently his) stance towards education and teachers and the way the Education Minister is perceived by teachers.
  5. The integration of graduate teachers into the profession
  6. The rate of graduation vs the available number of employment opportunities

To refresh your memory, here is the conversation:

Screenshot from Twitter conversation with the @EduTweetOz account being controlled by @seminyaksunset on June 6, 2015
Screenshot from Twitter conversation with the @EduTweetOz account being controlled by @seminyaksunset on June 6, 2015
Screenshot from Twitter conversation with the @EduTweetOz account being controlled by @seminyaksunset on June 6, 2015
Screenshot from Twitter conversation with the @EduTweetOz account being controlled by @seminyaksunset on June 6, 2015

On Friday of last week (June 12), I posted the first article, addressing entry into ITE programs, and it generated some very interesting conversations and I received some very intriguing feedback, both in comments on the article itself, and via some Twitter conversations. My article today will address the issue of ITE structure and content. I will be dissecting my own ITE program and examining how the quality of teachers that it produces could be improved through modification of the structure and content. I also plan to include some ideas based on feedback I received as a result of my previous article.

I completed my Bachelor of Teaching (Primary) / Bachelor of Arts degree through the Ourimbah campus of the University of Newcastle (Australia). I also want to say up-front that on the whole, I am quite happy with the program I completed, and that for me, personally, I found it to be satisfactory and that I am well-placed to be a good teacher as a result. From conversations with classmates during and since, there are of course those unhappy with certain aspects, and as I mentioned briefly in my previous article, there are entire expectations of being a teacher that weren’t discussed at all, but that, I suspect, is to be expected and would be consistent with the majority of universities. What I plan to do, is to outline the program that I completed before examining how I believe it could have been improved.

My degree was a four-year (full-time) program consisting of two semesters per year and four courses per semester for a total of three hundred and twenty units of study. We were required to complete forty units of a discipline depth study (DDS), a Sustainable Community elective and in our third and fourth year or study we had the choice between undertaking the Special Education specialisation stream, the Honours (Graded) program, or an elective course.

I moved a few things around and actually ended up completing three hundred and thirty units of study. I completed my DDS requirements under the mathematics and science umbrella and elected to undertake the Honours program. I also completed eighteen weeks of professional experience placements (two x four-week blocks and a ten week internship) as well as ten sessions of once a week for half a semester. The overview of my degree is below:

An overview of my undergraduate program.
An overview of my undergraduate program.

The degree that I completed has since changed. Beginning at the start of 2015, all Bachelor of Education (Primary) degrees graduate with ungraded Honours. My understanding is that the ungraded Honours component incorporates concepts introduced in graded Honours, such as research methodologies, ethical considerations, epistemology, ontology etc. but that a research project is not undertaken nor a thesis written. If you are curious, click here to read more.

How would I modify the program?

I want to again state that overall I was satisfied with the ITE that I received. As with any situation, however, there are ways in which it could be improved, and below are the ways in which I would change my degree to make it more rigorous, and provide a greater level of preparation for teachers entering the profession.

Year One Semester One

  • EDUC1008 –  Foundations of Primary and Secondary Education provided an overview of the history of education, introduced pedagogy, Piaget, Vygotsky etc. and gave a good awareness of how the teaching profession has developed. This course should contain, if not a four week professional experience placement as suggested by Corinne Campbell (@corisel) in her reply to my previous article, where she indicated that that was the case in her ITE, but at the very least, a series of classroom observations, or ‘teacher shadowing.’
  • SCIM2030- Foundations in Science and Technology was, from the tutorial point of view, absolutely fantastic. Every tutorial contained hands on activities that were able to be transplanted directly into a primary classroom situation, and I have used many of the experiments we did. There was, however, no mention of the curriculum that I can recall, or see in my notes (yes, I still have all of my undergrad notes). Even being shown how to navigate the curriculum, how to utilise the various aspects would have been useful.
  • HIST1051- The Australian Experience was an interesting course, and the lecturer and tutor knew their content, but again, there was no mention of the curriculum. The exact same course, but with the inclusion of how to teach the History curriculum would have been fantastic.
  • FSHN1021 – Nutrition, Health & Exercise for Primary Educators…was a course that held no value whatsoever for me as an educator. Many of my classmates felt the same way, and we were not shy about saying so in the end-of-course feedback survey. I would scrap it completely, and bring in a course that specifically teaches how to read and utilise the syllabus documents. How to navigate around them, how to link them, understanding the structure and the knowledge and skill continuum.

Year One Semester Two

  • EDUC2744 – K-6 Science and Technology (ten class observation sessions). This was an interesting program and gave us an introduction into K-6 SciTech, however it felt that the relationship between the course and the curriculum were sparse and could have been stronger. It was highly beneficial to be able to engage with a class once a week to observe a teacher in practice, however there needed to be a more rigorous engagement. A full day as opposed to only forty-five minute sessions.
  • LING1110 – Foundations of Language. Linguistics was a highly difficult course and was not one of my finer course results. It was interesting to hear and gain an understanding about how students’ speech should be developing, and how we make different sounds. I suspect that this course would have been more beneficial to those pre-service teachers’ who had a preference for working with infants students.
  • MATH1900 – Elementary Mathematics. This course had mixed reactions among my classmates. Most either very much enjoyed it, or highly disliked it. I personally enjoyed it, and the strategy of having us learn how to conduct the four operations in a variety of number bases to convey the understanding of how difficult our students find it to learn these functions in base-ten was quiet clever. I would have liked to have seen stronger curriculum connections, but otherwise, this course was excellent.
  • AART1010 – Foundations in Creative Arts. This was an interesting course, and as with MATH1900, you either enjoyed it or hated it. The attendance was appallingly low, and the assignments, though engaging and challenging had no basis in the curriculum. This would have been better as an introduction to the Creative Arts curriculum, the continuum of skills and concepts that are addressed therein, and how specific pedagogical techniques for teaching the skills.

Year Two Semester One

  • EDUC2102 – Educational Psychology was a course that, at the time, I found to be quite difficult, and I know there were a few in my cohort who had to re-take the course. It was engaging, but conceptually challenging and I think that it was not until I actually entered the classroom in my first professional experience placement that I really appreciated the learning from this course.
  • EDUC1738 – K-6 English was the first course that really delved into a specific KLA and examined the curriculum document from which that KLA is taught. It could have been strengthened by a more explicit examination of the literacy continuum, and explanation of how the curriculum and the continuum link together.
  • EDUC2185 – Managing K-6 Learning Environment (First four-week professional experience placement) was the course containing our first professional experience placement, which I undertook in a Year Six classroom. The tutorial component contained an examination of different behavioural theorist played out in the classroom. There is not much I would change from this course, except that there was constant miscommunication and inconsistent instructions regarding the assignments between the different tutors.
  • HIST1352 – Australian Government and Politics. This course was an over and above from the program outline and we were offered the course at the end of our first year. We were told that it currently fell under the History umbrella but as of the following year it would fall under the Political Science umbrella. It was a highly interesting course, and focused solely on how our political structure developed. I found it to be highly useful, as I was teaching similar concepts during my professional experience placement at the end of the semester in a Year Six class in preparation for the Canberra excursion.

Year Two Semester Two

  • EDUC2103 – Schooling, Identity and Society was a very engaging course and was very much aimed at developing critical thinking skills, by examining education from a sociological perspective and questioning why are the way they are. I think it would benefit from being a more rigorous examination of how we can explicitly embed teaching for thinking in our pedagogical practice across a variety of domains.
  • EDUC2747 – K-6 PDHPE was our first exposure to an explicit explanation of a syllabus document. The course was highly relevant and the practical components allayed many fears in regards to teaching some skills. I think this would have been better as a replacement for the FSHN1021 course in first year, with this specific course then being an extension and more explicit instruction in pedagogical strategies for both theory and practical components. FSHN1021 perhaps focus on the infants portion of the curriculum and EDUC2747 the primary portion.
  • EDUC3746 – K-6 Society and Environment was a third year course that I pulled forward to second year. It was highly useful, with a high focus on global concepts, and included lots of practical lesson activities and ways to structure units on particular concepts, linking them to other KLAs, mathematics and literacy in particular, but also to Science.
  • EDUC3500 – Aboriginal Education, Policies and Issues  is a course I have mixed feelings about. It was, conceptually, a highly valuable course. In execution however, it left a bit to be desired. I do strongly believe that having a course specifically dealing with strategies for being aware and inclusive of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural beliefs, pedagogical strategies required to facilitate high quality learning etc. is of vital importance. For example, I was not aware prior to this course that eye-contact between a ‘student’ and ‘teacher’ in some Aboriginal cultures is offensive and disrespectful. This is, of course, in stark contrast to most of Western society where it is expected that you make eye contact with the person with whom you are speaking as a sign of respect and attention. However the tutors in such courses do need to be of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent to have any credibility, and they also need to not be condescending towards those of who are not and therefore do not possess the cultural knowledge.

Year Three Semester One

  • EDUC3739 – K-6 Mathematics is a course that I would actually leave as is, other than more explicit connection to the curriculum and numneracy continuum.
  • EDUC3745 – K-6 Creative Arts was an example of the university trying to cram to much content into too small a timeframe. We received one lecture and four x two hour tutorials per strand of Creative Arts; dance, drama, visual art and music, and this course was the sum of our explicit Creative Arts curriculum training. Our lecturers and tutors did their best, and I personally feel they did a good job, but they were not allowed enough time. This course should have been split into two courses with two strands of arts per course to allow a more rigorous engagement with the creative arts, more pedagogical training grounded in the curriculum and a more rigorous analysis of the benfits of creative arts education. I have taken some of the practical tutorials and transplanted them directly into my classes on occasion, but there needed to be more time. Ultimately, this course was an example of the value for arts in education that is held by soiciety.
  • EDUC3026 – Special Education was a very broad brushstrokes introduction to special education. I do not believe that I would change anything in this course, except to remove the pointless online exam, the content of which was not discussed at any point during the course, by design.
  • EDST2090 – Teaching Scientific Literacy was a highly useful course, with lots of practical activities, however it was not, despite it’s name, a course about how to teach scientific literacy. This should either have been an extension of the K-6 Science and Technology course, or what I propose as an explicit thinking for teaching course, with a specific focus on science and technology.
  • MATH2910 – Studying Mathematics with a view to Teaching was the first course in a two-part series. This course challenged us to think about how we actually completed various numeracy functions and explain our processes whilst analysing different strategies.

Year Three Semester Two

  • EDUC3185 – Integrated and differentiated curriculum. This course contained our second four-week professional experience placement, which I completed in a Year One classroom. The theoretical aspect was focused on creating differentiated lessons and I do not believe I would change anything about this course.
  • EDUC4955 – Education Honours I was an introduction to research concepts such as epistemology, ontology, paradigms and included an analysis of the differences between qualitative and quantitative research and the process for forming rigorous and valid research questions. The course was conceptually challenging but it laid important foundations for the subsequent courses.
  • MATH2920 – Working Mathematically was the follow-on from MATH2910 and continued the learning begun there. These two courses introduced practical ways to include student self-assessment and reflection of learning, including challenges and strategies used to overcome them.
  • ENVS2001 – Environmental Concepts: Energy was completed as my sustainable communities elective. It was a very interesting course but completely irrelevant to myself and the only other classmate completing an Education degree. All other classmates were doing Environmental Science degrees. I have no issue with doing a course focused on sustainability, however, the courses offered need to have relevance to education students if they are going to be offered to such. I chose to do this course, as a fifth course this year so as to free up time for my fourth and final year. We had heard throughout the program, that the final year Literacy and Numeracy courses were intensive and required a significant amount of work to get through.
  • EDUC1751 – Knowledge and Communication Technologies was a course that at the time I felt did not provide what it. Offered. Looking back at it now, I realise that it was aimed, in the practical sense, at those classmates who possessed few technology skills. In regards to the theory associated with technology, it was my introduction to TCPK, which has since become a much-utilised framework for technology integration in my lessons. This course was offered in third year but I believe that it would have served better as a first year course to provide a grounding prior to our first professional experience placement. It should also have created a relationship between the teaching of technology or computer skills to students and the curriculum.

Year Four Semester One

  • EDUC4748 – Advanced Literacy was a very intense course, which made me glad that I had put in the effort the previous semester to get through five courses and free up some time this semester. It could have done with being more explicit in the strategies to teach various aspects of literacy such as how to explicitly teach handwriting, or reading skills to those students for whom traditional approaches do not work, rather than creating a presentation for a hypothetical Parent/Teacher evening.
  • EDUC4749 – Advanced Numeracy was very similar to Advanced Literacy, in regards to the intensity of the workload and the learning required. It was highly beneficial, with us examining a NAPLAN test for a student, backward mapping it to the numeracy continuum the mathematics curriculum in order to discern the areas they needed additional assistance in, and then developing an Individual Learning Program to address those areas. I do not believe I would make changes to this particular course.
  • EDUC4965 – Education Honours II was an intense course, as with Honours I. It was highly practical in regards to its application to our Honours Thesis. The two major assignments were, firstly, a presentation of what we were considering doing for our research project in Honours III to our Honours classmates, the Honours course coordinator and some guests from the Education department of the Research Faculty, all of whom provided us with feedback on our proposed research, and then secondly, our research proposal and formal Ethics Application. There was a significant amount of work involved in this course, however I would not change the structure as undertaking this particular course without the framework developed during Honours I would have been a very difficult and de-contextualised task.

Year Four Semester Two

  • EDUC4185 – Teachers, Ethics and Professionalism: K-6 Internship was our final ten week internship, which I completed in a combined Year Five and Six classroom. It was weighted as twenty units and required us to complete the full internship, gradually assuming greater and greater responsibility for the daily operations of the class. I was incredibly fortunate in that he and I ‘clicked’ and it made for a very beneficial, for me, internship experience. My cooperating teacher for this class was the Assistant Principle for the Stage, was highly engaged with technology in the classroom (he was trialing a one-to-one BYOD program with his class. was very rational in his approach to classroom management with the awareness that all behaviours happen for a reason. This internship placement allowed me to engage with BYOD in a genuine manner over a sustained period, introduced me to the SAMR Model (which I have previously written about here and here) and allowed me to consider, for the first time, that I could be both a teacher and an educational researcher.
  • EDUC4990 – Education Honours Course 3 (twenty Units) was the culmination of our Honours, requiring us to conduct the research project, analyse the results and write the twelve thousand word thesis. There was some debate amongst my Honours cohort as to whether we would attempt to stay engaged with our research during our internship, or allow it to sit on the back burner until after the internship. I was doing qualitative research and managed to conduct my participant interviews and transcription of one of them, prior to the commencement of internship. I focused solely on my internship during that ten week period and then had to make the difficult choice of whether or not to accept a month-long block of work in the same school on a Stage Three class at the beginning of Term Four. After discussion with my wife, I made the decision to not take the block, in order to focus on my Thesis, a decision which paid off when I was awarded Class I Honours and the Education Faculty Medal.

There were some interesting conversations, as I mentioned previously, as a result of my previous post. I was contacted on Twitter by Amanda Corrigan (@ajcorrigan) who is the Director of Student Experience, School of Education and Associate Dean (Student Experience) Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Strathclyde (Scotland). Amadna advised that Strathclyde University interview for entry to the second year of their ITE program, with questions around the learning from the first year program. Students, both those who do and do not receive approval to continue, are provided with advice about next steps. All students undergo a first year placement which may be in any institution with children such as traditional educational institutions, but also prisons, asylum seekers, sports clubs etc. Amanda also advised that Scotland’s newest teachers also receive a guaranteed year in school, a mentor and reduced reduced class contact. This has the potential to allow graduate teachers to focus on improving their pedagogy and classroom management with advice and guidance from experienced teachers. I also received insight from Corrine Campbell (@corisel) and Sally-Anne Robertson (@eduemum) regarding their ITE, which you can read at the bottom of this page.

The content and structure of ITE programs, whether it be undergraduate or post-graduate, needs to be more rigorous, with a greater focus on an understanding of how to read and use the curriculum document as a tool for programming, how to apply TPCK and SAMR models to technology considerations, how to and more rigorous and explicit teaching around how to teach the KLAs, and how to program so that the KLA’s are, where possible, integrated in authentic ways that allow content to be covered across broad swathes of the curriculum. These integrated units should be used where suitable to allow time for our students to go about the business of learning how to think. As I said in my final article from the Teaching for Thinking Forum review series:

“…learning is the product of thinking…” (Dominic Hearne)that “…good thinking is a disposition as well as a skillset…” (Simon Brooks), that “…we need to explicitly teach and embed thinking skills, including the metalanguage of thinking and metacognition…” (Dr Jensen) and finally, that “…our job is done only when we see evidence of students’ understanding and reasoning…” (Constantin Lomaca).

Thank you for reading this, for me, exceptionally long article. I would very much like to hear peoples thoughts and feedback on what I have written today, whether it be in the comments here on WordPress, or over on Twitter (@21stCTeaching). This series will continue with a new article tomorrow, which I will endeavour to keep a shorter length.