Why our schools are NOT failing your children

This morning I read this article by recent graduate Johanna O’Farrell in The Age.  Of course any article which opens with “Why your schools are failing your children: a teacher tells” piqued my interest.  I have always advocated for teachers telling their stories in our media rather than politicians but this one had my heart rate rising as she spoke of schools tossing aside “any sort of rigour, routine or repetition when it comes to classroom learning.”

I am truly concerned of Johanna’s experiences in schools where she believes that the strategy is that students “will simply learn to read and write by osmosis” and that rote learning should be a valid part of learning.

If we want our schools to factories of students who can travel a conveyer belt learning times tables through hours of chanting and memorising the laws of the English Language then maybe she has a point.  But I couldn’t imagine why we would want students to know facts in isolation and that a “blackboard and chalk, a pen and paper, a few good books and some learned teachers will suffice.” Isn’t an education of experiences which connect ideas, is in context with the real world and develop skills of self directed life long learning a more holistic approach?  Sure, we can rote learn many things if we believe the learning journey ends with our VCE results.

I am saddened that Johanna doesn’t have the knowledge to explain why students expression in English is wrong, not because she was denied learning about the laws of the English language but because she was not exposed to experience of curiosity, self directed learning and how to take control of her own learning.

Maybe this is a message that we need to be more articulate in what we are doing in schools.  I too believe that technology is not a silver bullet and have questioned the use of “genius hours” or “inquiry learning days.”  But I do believe that inquiry learning and technology should be embedded into our classrooms and become as normal as pen and paper learning and chalk and talk was in the past. We need to talk about why we do what we do.  It is more than engagement.  It is embedding real experiences and constructing knowledge through context, introducing conflicting ideas, connecting those experiences and developing their own understandings.

Maybe the more we talk about the why, the less misconception will be there about the relevance of education and demonstrate how schools are helping our students to succeed.

Online Dictionaries

Recently the Oxford dictionary announced they would no longer be making paper copies of their dictionaries. Although a tech lover, I must admit I was horrified at the thought and quickly added the recent edition to my Christmas list.  When I told the kids in my class, their response was the complete opposite to mine – ‘Why would you need it in a book anyway?  We just use our computers!’

How honest and true they were.  As, when I thought about it, I couldn’t remember the last time I picked up a dictionary in the classroom, but the online dictionary gets used all the time.


Image: ‘Depth of Field‘ 

So, what do I use in the classroom?


I find this site replaces your everyday dictionary.  This is our favourite dictionary app on the iPad as it is easy to use for the kids. Also it gives you drop down suggestions as you type – great if you are not sure how the word is spelt.

Oxford online

This online version is fantastic for those words you don’t always find in the student dictionary version.  But, as with the paper version, it is not always ideal for the primary classroom.


Now this is a great user friendly dictionary.   It colour codes the words making it easy to see different definitions for the same word or synonyms.  If you are looking for a definition, simply hover your mouse over the word and a box appears defining the word in a simple, clear language.  It is a great resource to look at different words such as nouns, adverbs and adjectives.



Similar to Visuwords, Lexipdeia sorts words into synonyms, verbs, nouns, etc.  What lexipedia does differemtly is have a side bar where the words are sorted into categories.  This makes it really easy if you are looking for alternative adjectives to a word. We recently used this site to find alternative words to said and walk.  The students found the synonyms using lexipedia and added them to wordle to create a word cloud to display in the room.


Thinkmap – The Visual Thesaurus

This visual thesaurus is fantastic.  Although not a lot different to the other ones I have mentioned this thesaurus allows you to hear the key word you have entered and you can also change the key word by clicking on a linked word.  Unfortunately you need a paid subscription for this but you can trial it.

The Visual Dictionary

This is not a a dictionary as such but I love the concept. It is a collaborative project where people have added photos of words to create a visual dictionary.  Type in your keyword and it shows you all the photos with that word.  It adds a great new spin on cutting out words from a newspaper to make a sentence.

The visual dictionary

What online dictionary do you use?

Do you have any great ideas for using online dictionaries?

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