Telling or Teaching?

I picked up this 1937 Teachers Quarterly for a $1 at a market over the summer. It was really for a bit of a laugh to read and look at how much had changed.

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But I was a little surprised to see that after all these years, educators are continuing to send the same messages. And it appears, policy writers are reluctant to listen.

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I think the main difference is that this article was written for teachers with a want to change them. Now teachers are very familiar with less talk, more learning. Sadly it a message we try to get through to our government who are supporting teaching as “telling” through their advocacy of programs such as direct explicit instruction.

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As education continues to become a valuable market where NAPLAN results are the currency, educators are having to defend pedagogies and their knowledge of how learning occurs.

And this is likely to become even more extreme as we hand over education to private businesses with discussion turning to Australian versions of Charter Schools.

New beginnings

I always love the opportunities new beginnings offer you and this week my new beginning was starting at a new school. Usually a time of trepidation and nerves I found myself full of excitement and a sense of feeling like I was truly at home. Instead of the agenda for the first day being full of protocols, check boxes, lists of things to do and timetables, my first two days was spent at the school conference, two days focused on learning and teaching, pedagogy and the teacher as a researcher.

From the first few minutes my head was spinning with thoughts, reflections and questions.  The perfect beginning in my mind as I am provoked by those around me and challenged in my thinking, setting the scene for the year ahead both as a teacher and an inquirer.

The conference was made up of a series of presentations such as those which looked at theory, philosophy of learning, the educational environment and assessment. We also heard from different teachers as they shared their own research and past inquiries with students. The most confronting activity for me was when we listed different types of assessment and categorised them according to the learning theory area they aligned with, behaviourist, constructivist or cultural historical. It was interesting to see how I use learning theory to drive my teaching but this had not crossed to assessment.

Our morning back at school after the conference started with a visit to the National Gallery Victoria where we had an opportunity to look through the Emily Floyd Exhibition and meet the Melbourne based artist who uses education and knowledge as themes in her work. Using this as a chance to create our own provocations as educators we stepped through the exhibitions and analysed some of the pieces. It provided a unique opportunity to have another lens with which to view our educational lives and put ourselves in the shoes of learners as well as using it as inspiration for our professional work.

Emily Floyd Exhibition

After two days away with my peers I was able to get a real sense of belonging and by the time we headed back into school on Friday I felt part of a team that was passionate and inspired, ready to challenge each other as professionals to provide authentic and rich learning experiences for students.

 

#beerpedagogy and a new culture

On the weekend I attended the #beerpedagogy tweet up.  I always look forward to a #beerpedagogy event, and no not because of the beer!  You may be wondering what on earth #beerpedagogy is and it is probably just as you think.  A group of people who get together every now and then at a great craft beer location in Melbourne and talk pedagogy.  And we talk a lot of it!  I am lucky enough to attend a lot of educational meet ups in Melbourne and enjoy them all but #beerpedagogy is different to the others.  There are many robust conversations as we agree and disagree on the best way to solve all of the world’s education problems and have discussions on what the problems are. And we are pretty honest with each other as we probe and question our thoughts, learning from each other and being challenged as well.

The conversations are so good that often days and weeks afterwards I continue to grapple with them in my mind.  The one that is sticking in my mind from Friday’s #beerpedagogy was around autonomy and choice in education.  At one point I was questioned on my contradictions of educational philosophies where on one hand I want equity, centralised systems and an end to marketisation of education but on the other I cherish the opportunities autonomy gives me to focus on pedagogy based around inquiry, student centred approaches and the use of ICT in my classroom.  At the time I was quick to reply that I would trade it all if it meant that every child in Australia had the same opportunity for education. One where who your parents are, where you live and how much money you have is irrelevant in learning.

So the last couple of days have been spent reflecting on that.  I have been curious as to why we need to decide.  What is it that makes me think we can’t have both.  I think if anything it shows me that we are not yet in the same place when it comes to how we think students learn, what skills are important for students to learn and how best to do that. And the reason I felt I needed to choose is because the way I think our students should be learning is not yet the norm.  It reminds me of a quote I heard on the radio recently.  I have no idea what they were talking about and why it was important but I felt it worthy of writing down. “By treating it as normal it became a new culture.” So today that I have decided that I am not going to choose. I can still push for equity and maybe if I start treating inquiry, student driven learning as normal that together with a few of my #beerpedagogy mates it will become a new culture.

 

Oktoberfest

Image: ‘PUB FLAHERTY‘ Found on flickrcc.net

We hold the answers

This week I have been sent a newspaper article and a blog post, both of which resonated strongly with me and probably shows me that people know me well.

The first came as a tweet “@medg56 RT @Kenjaneth13: A 10 year old who sees the world as it is and envisions the way it should be tinyurl.com/la2l644 .. A young @melcashen….” To be honest I wish I was like this when I was 10 but my interest in politics has only come over the last couple of years.

Please take the time to read the post and even leave a comment.  After reading it I noticed I had tears streaming down my face.  Like Maggie, I have an interest in politics. An interest that started through the frustration of not being able to make a difference in education.  I decided I needed to know more about policy to understand what was happening in our education system so am completing my Master of Education Policy International.  I am hopeful that the more I understand, the more voice I will have to fight for education and the more people (politicians) will listen. Like Maggie I have the same why questions.

Maggie is obviously a special young lady who sees the world not only as it is but as it should be. This is the stuff we dream of teaching but instead there is a focus on tests rather than “potential, creativity and kindness.”

Another article was sent to me today by a colleague and definitely rings true. Last week saw the Education Columnist at the Daily Telegraph, Maralyn Parker, use the opportunity of her last day to share some advice with her readers.  Advice I also advocate.

Everything about your profession is politicised. Your classrooms, the facilities and resources available to you, the number and type of students you teach, what you teach, how you are taught to be teachers, what you are paid, the level of support given to you – all of these things are governed by highly politicised processes.” Her advice to this – be political.  And she is right!

We need to talk about politics, we need to talk to politicians.  We need to understand what is happening and ask questions.  We need to be educating our communities about what is happening.  No longer can we think we can’t make a difference.  It is time to make a difference, whether it is taking Maralyn’s advice and joining a union or a professional organisation, responding to discussion paper or even understanding what is happening through reading white papers such as the recent Victorian Government Action Paper. Talk about it at lunch time, in staff meetings and online. We hold the answers.

2615548443_9d1ea02dacImage: ‘In My Place

I agree with Maralyn that we are at such a pivotal time in Australian Education.  Our new Education Minister is set to make a lot of changes to national curriculum, autonomy in schools and privatising HECS debts as a start. Now more than ever we need to focus on politics. Education depends on it.

And I don’t think it is fair to leave it to Maggie to ask the tough questions.

Mixed Messages

I have been reading about this initiative on the WISE website about lifting the public image of education in Chile.  They are working on changing the perception of education in the public and increasing the image. It has got me thinking about the messages we send out, often without thinking, which impact on the public image.

I remember asking my students in an inquiry unit, “How do I learn best” about what learning looks like.  I was really surprised by their answers.  I thought they would talk about working with friends, real life experiences, hands on learning etc.    Instead they talked of silence, sitting with one child per table and wait for it….worksheets!  Needless to say I was taken back by these responses but I could understand where these messages come from.

Growing up I was told I was great at Maths because I had good recall of my times tables. When people talked about Maths it always related to if I knew the times tables.  Of course I thought that was what was most important about Maths.  Being a good reader was determined by how long the book I was reading was.  “Wow, that’s a big book.  You must be a good reader.”

All around us we see underlying messages of what is important.  The new National Plan for School Improvement, an initiative by the Australian Government, uses an A+ in their logo. This sends the message that improving schools, and in fact learning, is all about getting an A+. Even if there is more to the plan, the message is clear.

In NSW, the ‘Teachers Make a Difference,” videos are meant to lift the perceptions of teachers in the public eye.  Although the videos are great at showing how teachers are more than someone who stands at the front of the classroom there are other messages.  The “First Day of School,” video shows the teacher meeting a student on their way into the school, both on their first day.  So instead of showing how wonderful teachers are at building relationships with students, the message becomes that teachers arrive at school at 9 am as the students are walking in.  I know this doesn’t happen but I have lost count of the times I have been told it must be great to have a job when you only work 9-3.

Maybe the greater message of how teachers change lives or that our government cares about education is more important but we shouldn’t overlook the underlying messages and how they effect how we think of teaching and education.

Me vs Dad

“Why would I need a computer?”

My dad is very much a traditional man, living most of his life outside he pretty much does everything himself.  He is a get it done man. No time for thinking about it or waiting for tomorrow.  And he certainly has no time for the Internet or computers! In fact I think he actually believes that they may harm him in some way.

This week I have been using the term dystopian in relation to how we look at technology and the negative effect it has on society.  I am well aware of a utopian technological view (In fact I see through an edutopian lens all of the time!) But it is hard to believe there is such a thing as anti utopian. That would mean the glass half empty!

When it comes to technology I am certainly stand on the utopian side while my dad is over the other end on the dystopian side.

Me:

  • I love how my phone takes into account the traffic and my location when it tells me when to leave for a meeting.
  • The last thing I do before I go to bed and the first thing in the morning is check twitter.
  • It is amazing to see the look on student’s faces after connecting with someone on the other side of the world in the classroom.
  • I can get consumed in amazing facts when looking up something on Wikipedia and it takes me on a journey of hyperlinks and knowledge.
  • When I have a question I ask my friends Google, You Tube, Twitter and Facebook.
  • I couldn’t be the person I am today without technology.
  • I may have a slight addiction to Minecraft.

 

Dad:

  • Technology makes you less smart.
  • If you don’t know your times tables then you don’t know Maths.
  • Why text something that will take you 3 seconds to say?
  • What would you get me for Christmas if I didn’t have a diary?
  • Why do I need some lady telling me when to turn when I can take one look at the map and save it in my head?
  • You can’t learn something from playing a game.
  • You miss out on the real world when your head is stuck in a computer.
  • You’ll get square eyes looking at that screen.

Dad refuses to convert to a GPS and continues to buy a map, he is happy to receive a text but will not reply to it, his calendar is in a hardcopy diary and he sends out invoices with a stamp and envelope.

So what is it that gives Dad the dystopian view and I the utopian one?  Is it our outlook on life? Our experiences or the knowledge and experience we hold in the area.  Is it influences from the people teaching us or those around us?  Is it the need to survive or the amount of knowledge we have?

One thing I can be pretty sure of – it is not genetic!

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He certainly wouldn’t be happy if he knew this was here but I figure I am quite safe!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why it’s time to say goodbye to report comments

Over the break I spent a lot of time catching up with family and friends, enjoying the festive season.  It seemed that everyone I caught up with had something to say about their child’s school report coming home without comments.

Due to the Australian Education Union’s latest stage of industrial action, many Victorian teachers chose at the end of last year to ban any written comments and numerical assessment data on student reports.

Being a teacher, I was frequently asked my opinion, and many were surprised by my response (which by the way is nothing to do with the ban).Reports are futile and irrelevant and we should have been preparing parents for the demise of them long before now.

Like a good little teacher I always did reports because I was told to and because teachers always have. But what exactly is the purpose? The Department of Education in Victoria (DEECD) say ‘assessment and reporting are vital processes which provide information about what students know and can do, and to make recommendations for their future learning.’ If this is so – then why do we wait until the last day of the semester or school year to share this?

Reports

So here are my 5 reasons why reports should go.

1.  A bi yearly report is a poor way to communicate a student’s achievement.  Feedback to students and parents should be consistent throughout the year and not in a paragraph written on a piece of paper which is handed to a student to deliver, sealed,  to their parent like a messenger. It should be individual, centred toward the student and personable.

2. What good can come from statements like ‘improve his punctuation and use of tenses, and continue to widen the range of sentence structures that s/he uses?’ How can this mean anything to parents or a student when the context is missing?  It is without personality, individuality or explanation of what the teacher means.

3. The policy and expectations surrounding reports force them to be generic. Over the years I have been at schools where the style guide and protocols for the writing of reports is 5 pages long.  How can this promote individual feedback when teachers are forced to write exactly 5 lines on reading?

4. Written, generic and delayed feedback is certainly not efficient yet we continue the tradition.  Each year the expectations of reports seem to increase.  When I pulled out my school reports from my first year of school they were a single handwritten piece of paper, which we received once a year.  I got an A for using scissors correctly and tying my shoelaces but I only got a B for finishing what I started and cleaning up after activities! I expect that changes be made since the time I finished school but who is asking the why?  What more do parents get from a report card now other than an increase in jargon and some lines on a graph?

5. The school report as a momento is outdated.  I know I have kept my reports from school but I would much prefer to be looking at different learning activities I completed with my own reflection and feedback specific to the task.  Feedback which I knew I received with teacher at the time of learning, not afterwards written in a letter to my Mum. I know many schools use this approach of a portfolio but it often falls by the wayside because on top of the portfolio they are still expected to spend hours writing reports comments.

All this talk about testing

If you live in Australia and read or watch the news there isn’t much chance you missed the breaking news last week that Australia’s Education System is a disaster.  In fact you wouldn’t be mocked for thinking that it might be end of education with words like lacklustre, disappointing, flat line, doubt, disaster.  The list goes on.

The tests were the TIMSS and PIRLS Monitoring tests and students in grade 4 were tested on Numeracy and Reading. The media and our government focussed on how Australia fell well short of Asian countries such as Singapore and Korea.  Who cares?

If we want our students to be compliant robots who are capable of regurgitating knowledge we may well be in trouble and maybe we should care.  If we are looking to produce a conveyer belt of learners who look and act the same then maybe we should be concerned.

 

If we continue to look to limiting tests and comparing ourselves to other nations I do believe we will be in dire straits.  We need to start thinking about what we, Australia, want to achieve in education, not focussing on where we sit in a ladder of test results.

If we start to talk about what skills we want our students to have I believe we will talk about resilience, adaptability, confidence, creative, critical thinkers and acceptance.  Students, who collaborate, communicate and initiate change.  Students who are curious and life long learners and can apply skills they learn in literacy and numeracy to real world problem solving. This should be the more holistic ideal we have for education in Australia rather than to follow others.

If Australian Education was a student in my class I would ask them to reflect on what they want and not worry about what everyone else was doing.  I would encourage them to think about what makes them unique and what they are proud of.

Let’s stop talking about testing and start talking about learning.

Note: This was a post I wrote on Friday evening and planned to post first things Saturday morning.  It was then that I woke to the news of the Newtown shootings on Saturday morning.  I couldn’t bring myself to post it.  It all seemed trivial compared to what was unfolding.  The world was hearing about the heroic actions of teachers and how they put the lives of their teachers before theirs, something I know teachers would do without hesitation. What angered me was that in Australia we were putting down the quality of our teachers, reducing children to test scores and labelling education a disgrace and disaster. Teachers are so much more than delivery drivers of knowledge.

This morning I read a post from Sheryl Nussbaum Beach who was able to put into words some of what I was feeling. As I grieve for the teachers who gave up their lives for the safety of their children I take comfort in knowing that millions of children around the world  are cared for by their teachers everyday because life is more than test results.

I am educator. I am me.

I have been thinking lately about how I conduct myself on social media.  After reading George Couros‘ blog post on Professional vs Private I reflected on my own use of social media.  I too have tended to separate my personal life which generally lives on Facebook and my professional life which predominantly lives in Twitter.  I don’t think I planned it this way but when I first started using Facebook I was travelling the world and wanted to share what I was doing to my antipodean family.  Twitter came a bit later and I was wearing my teaching hat when I fell into it.  Slowly, the lines between the two are starting to blend as my Twitter acquaintances become friends and my friends find Twitter.

I do believe that Facebook offers a false sense of security of privateness where as Twitter boldly puts everything into the public realm.  George stated that he is happy to have students follow him on Twitter as it is a completely public arena, whereas on Facebook he won’t ‘friend’ students.

I agree when he points out that although it is in the private section of Facebook we would be very naive to think it is always private.  It does make me wonder if Facebook too was as public as Twitter whether I would sepaprate the two as much.  Maybe I have learnt skills from Facebook that I use on Twitter?

Image: ‘Teaching the Toys
Found on flickrcc.net

I was recently given the advice that I need to draw a line between my professional life and personal life.  I took great offence to this. Education is personal to me.  Even as a young girl I would ‘play school’ with my Barbies, setting up my bedroom to look like my classroom and teaching them how to spell. And today it continues to invigorate me, comfort me, consume me.

I check twitter before I get out of bed in the morning.  I reply to emails or questions at the park on a Sunday. I walk past free postcards and I take a handful as they might come in handy for teaching writing one day. And I am not willing to draw a line between my personal and professional because it would tear me in half.

My  friends expect I am going to talk about learning over dinner  and my students get to know my friends through the stories I tell. I love that I can be there for people who care about the same things I do on Twitter and learn from them, the same as I do with friends I have grown up with.

Being an educator is who I am and I wouldn’t be whole without it.

 

Memories

Recently Julia Gillard, Australia’s Prime Minister, launched a competition to find the country’s best teacher.  She asked people to share memories of their favourite teacher on her Facebook page, unfortunately preventing any student under the age 13 from sharing their favourite teacher.

As much as I love the idea of us talking about educators in a positive way, it seems to be quite contrived and once again it implies that educators in Australia need a competition to bring them to a reputable level.  In fact I can’t think of any other profession where the Prime Minister needed to step in and save their image with a competition.

An indication of this is the fact that the news.com.au article discussing the launch of the competition also linked to an education survey on teacher quality.  A survey deliberately set to show how inept teachers are with questions such as; ‘Have you ever noticed incorrect spelling and grammar from your child’s teacher?’ or ‘ Have you noticed child’s teacher using apostrophes or American spelling?’

I quite often talk about my teachers in conversations.  Whether with friends in a bar, around the table at a family event or with students I teach.  I don’t have an ulterior motive.  I talk about them because they impacted on me in one way or another and I want to share those great experiences.

Over the years I’ve had many teachers who’ve influenced me but if I was asked to choose one I think I would have to go with Ms Mackay.  She was my grade 5 teacher and I always admired her for her beautiful skirts with matching shoes but there was more to Ms Mackay than that! She allowed me to learn. She set up the opportunities for me to be curious.  She cared about learning!

I still remember the afternoon when we started science.  Never before had I done science, well not that I could remember. We turned sugar into carbon.  Well Ms Mackay did.  There was a classroom of wide-eyed 10 year olds with curiosity bursting from their smiles. If this was my only memory of learning I would be happy and I hope the students I have taught over the years have memories about learning they keep with them.

That’s me next to Ms Clarke in the bottom left!

On the flip side to this I also love how teachers remember their students.  Earlier this year I received an email from my Prep (first year of school) teacher.  After 30 years Ms Clarke came across my name when she was doing some PD in her school on the Ultranet and sent me an email.  It really showed how my life had come full circle from being inspired by teachers like Ms Clarke to be a teacher and now she was congratulating me on the work I had done in education!

I agree we should appreciate the care, time and the little part of themselves that teachers give to the students they teach. But not in a competition. And not by continually trying to ‘fix’ education.